Saturday, September 30, 2006


al-sadr loses control

A radical Shiite cleric reportedly is losing control of his militia as portions break off to become hired guns in Baghdad neighborhoods. Since Moqtada Al-Sadr has taken a more active role in Iraq's government, his militiamen have become frustrated by the constraints and have broken away, the New York Times said Thursday. Splinter groups are hiring themselves out as death squads and criminal gangs, the newspaper said. Shiites dominate Sadr's militia, the Times said, and are organized into neighborhood protection forces. His militias have listened to Sadr in the past, but as violence in Iraq spread, so did the militias' waywardness, the Times said. Sadr still has as many as 7,000 militiamen in Baghdad, the Times said.
COMMENT: The size of the Mahdi militia has grown and as al-Sadr has become more involved in politics some of his followers belive he is not radical enough anymore. COMMENT ENDS.


U.S. threatens to cut funding for Iraqi police

The United States may cut off funding for Iraq's police because of its failure to punish people responsible for torture, the US ambassador to Iraq said in an interview published on Saturday. Zalmay Khalilzad told the New York Times that Washington has yet to formally notify Baghdad that funding may be cut, but officials are reviewing programmes because of a US law that forbids funding armies or police that violate human rights. Khalilzad said he still had faith in Iraq's new Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, who oversees the police, and hoped he would punish those responsible for torture to avoid sanctions under the law, named for Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy.
The United Nations said in a report earlier this month that torture was rampant in Iraqi detention centres and in the widespread sectarian killings seen across the country, based on the signs of abuse on victims' bodies.
The world body has demanded punishment of police responsible for abuse in Iraq after US and Iraqi inspectors uncovered evidence in May of systematic torture at a prison known as Site 4, run by the Interior Ministry's national police.
Some 1,400 inmates were kept at the site. No Iraqi officials have been arrested. Khalilzad said Bolani was waiting for written assurances that indictments had been handed down. Several senior US military officials have briefed reporters this week expressing concern that the new government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed to crack down on Shi'ite death squads since taking office in May.
One of those officials said police units were continuing to cooperate with death squads as recently as the past few weeks, by allowing them to re-enter areas US forces had secured in a seven-week-old crackdown in the capital Baghdad.


Relative of Saddam trial judge killed

Saddam Hussein trial
Gunmen killed a brother-in-law of the new judge trying Saddam Hussain and badly wounded the man's wife and son, in what the Iraqi government said on Friday was a direct attack on the court by Saddam's followers. It was at least the fourth killing closely connected to the US-sponsored court, following those of three defence lawyers, and will raise new questions about its ability to conduct fair trials in a nation on the verge of sectarian civil war.
"This was purposely and intentionally from groups which are connected to Saddam," spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh told Reuters, adding that he expected Ureybi nonetheless to continue presiding over the genocide trial which he took over last week. Day-long television coverage of the trial, in which Ureybi has ordered Saddam from court at each of the three sessions he has chaired so far, has made the judge a national celebrity.
Iraqi lawyers said the attack on his relatives would be grounds for the tribunal to question Ureybi's ability to be impartial and ask him to step down. But a source close to the court said he expected officials to confirm Ureybi in his post. He was appointed after the government sacked his predecessor for telling Saddam the former president was "not a dictator". In all, he is the fourth chief judge to try Saddam, since the first judge in an earlier trial quit nine months ago over what he called interference from the Shiite-led government.
Defence lawyers, who have boycotted the genocide trial since Ureybi took over, have accused Shiite militias of killing their three Sunni colleagues and on Thursday again branded the process a "farce". Tribunal judges, like leading Iraqi politicians, live under tight security. Militants have frequently targeted the relatives of prominent figures, seeking easier targets because the family members enjoy considerably less if any protection.
The trial for genocide against ethnic Kurds in 1988 is in recess until October 9. A verdict in the earlier trial, for crimes against humanity concerning Shiites, is due next month.


Global wins security contract for Camp Victory

Security, Contracts
Global Strategies Group (USA) L.L.C., Washington, D.C., was awarded on Sept. 26, 2006, a delivery order amount of $12,032,541 as part of a $90,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract for Internal Security for the Victory Base Complex. Work will be performed in Baghdad, Iraq, and is expected to be completed by Oct. 1, 2008. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. There were an unknown number of bids solicited via the World Wide Web on June 19, 2006, and 11 bids were received. The Joint Contracting Command – Iraq and Afghanistan, Baghdad, Iraq, is the contracting activity.


Turkey's rejects PKK offer of ceasefire

Region, Kurdistan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected a ceasefire call by Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, urging Kurdish separatists instead to abandon their fight against security forces. "A ceasefire is done between states. It is not something for the terrorist organisation," Erdogan said in an interview late Thursday with Samanyolu private television channel, referring to the Ocalan's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)
"The terrorist organisation must lay down its arms. That is what we are waiting for to restore peace in the (Kurdish) region." Ocalan on Thursday appealed from his prison cell to the PKK to call a truce in its battle with the Turkish security forces. "I appeal to the PKK to call a ceasefire... (and) not use weapons unless it is attacked with the aim of being annihilated," he said.
The Turkish army, which has been battling the PKK in southeastern Turkey since 1984, has ignored such ceasefire announcements in the past. "Such a process ... is very important to build a democratic union between Turks and Kurds," Ocalan said in a statement relayed to AFP by his lawyers. "With this process, the way to democratic dialogue will also be opened," Ocalan said. He met with his lawyers in his cell on the prison island of Imrali, where he has been the sole inmate since his arrest in 1999. But despite serving a life sentence for separatism and treason, Ocalan is believed to retain significant influence over the PKK, which has been plagued by internal fighting since his arrest.
The rebel group, classed as a terror organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States, had called a truce immediately after Ocalan's arrest in Kenya in 1999, but took up arms again in June 2004 and has significantly increased its attacks since, notably this year. It was the longest lasting of four PKK ceasefires over the years, all of which were rejected by the army, which wants the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender or face being hunted down to the last militant.


Turkey threatens to cut off electricity, fuel to N. Iraq

Politics, Region
In a new chapter in the degenerating Turkish - Iraqi relations, Turkey has warned Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that it would sever electricity and fuel supplies to northern Iraq if Baghdad did not adopt any measures against the illegal Kurdish group PKK in the region, the Turkish news channel NTV reported Friday. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told the US television channel PBS that it could paralyse public life in northern Iraq, the report said.
COMMENT: On Friday Kurdish news agency Firat reported that jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has called on his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to implement a ceasefire. Ocalan also urged the PKK to seek a peaceful solution to their conflict with Turkey. Turkey rejected the call. Prior to that on Tuesday 19 September, the Iraqi government banned the PKK. COMMENT ENDS.


New security initiatives this week

Two new security initiatives were launched this week in Iraq. The first, initiated by tribal leaders in the Al-Anbar Governorate, seeks to confront Al-Qaeda fighters operating in the area. The second, a joint operation by Iraqi and British forces, seeks to rein in militias operating in the southern governorate of Al-Basrah. Despite the announcement of the two initiatives, several senior U.S. officials continue to question the Iraqi government's resolve in confronting some of the worst violators -- militiamen and security personnel tied to rogue death squads -- saying Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government is either unwilling or incapable of establishing order.
RFE/RL's in-depth report


Curfew announced in Baghdad

Iraq imposed a total daylight curfew on Baghdad on Saturday, banning all movement, as U.S. forces said they had foiled a possible suicide plot to attack the city's sprawling "Green Zone" government compound. U.S. troops on Friday arrested a security guard at the home of Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of the main Sunni political bloc, the Accordnace Front. The U.S. military said on Saturday the man was suspected of planning car bomb attacks on the fortified zone.
It said the man may have been linked to al Qaeda, and the plan might have been to use suicide vests in the attack. U.S. forces did not enter Dulaimi's house, but searched a security trailer there and the suspect's car, it said. A senior official in the Front named the arrested man as Khudhar Farhan and said he was in his mid-20s and had joined Dulaimi's security staff about a month ago. Farhan did not have a security pass to enter the Green Zone, he said.
Another senior Iraqi official said the curfew was imposed because of fears of more widespread unrest after a bloody first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which the U.S. military said suicide attacks had hit a record high. The curfew would remain in place until 6 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office said. The U.S. military said the curfew was the Iraqi government's decision, and such measures had proven effective in the past.

Friday, September 29, 2006


World Bank finances $6m Iraq census

Iraq has been granted $6.6 million to finance its first nationwide census since 1993 so it can draft a poverty reduction plan, the World Bank said on Thursday. The World Bank-administered multi-donor Iraq Trust Fund offered two grants: $5.1 million to finance the survey on income, spending and living standards and $1.5 million for training on analyzing the results.
One generation ago Iraq's income and education and health indicators were high compared with regional averages, but they have since fallen to among the lowest in the region, the World Bank said.
Modern systems for data collection and dissemination are essential for providing Iraq's policymakers with reliable information on which to base their decisions," said World Bank country director Joseph Saba. "This project will enable Iraq's government to establish a poverty line, develop policies to reduce poverty and increase employment, and target social assistance to the neediest."


Iraqi media round-up

Sunni MP Challenges Draft Kurdish Constitution
(ASO) Khalaf Al-Aliyan, a Sunni MP in the Iraqi parliament, has opposed a draft Kurdish constitution which considers Ninawa and Dyala in Kirkuk province Kurdish cities. He also criticised President Talabani's remarks that American forces should stay in Iraq. (ASO is a Suleimaniyah-based independent newspaper published three days a week.)
Iraqi Reconciliation Talks Planned
(Azzaman) The secretary-general of the Islamic Conference Organisation, Akmal-addin Oglo, has said there are plans to hold a reconciliation meeting for Iraqi religious leaders in Mecca during the holy month of Ramadhan. He pointed out that the talks would be aimed at encouraging Sunni and Shia leaders to make a peace pact. (London-based Azzaman is issued daily by Saad al-Bazaz.)
Iraqi Kurds Threaten Separation
(Asharq al-Awsat) The Iraqi Kurdistan regional government has threatened to declare independence unless central government drops its insistence on being involved in the development of the oil industry in the Kurdistan region. In a statement on his official website, Nizheeravan Brazani, the Iraqi Kurdistan prime minister, said the people of Kurdistan people agreed to be part of Iraq on the basis of the new constitution. And if Baghdad refused to stick to the constitution, Kurds would have the right to review their position. (London-based Asharq al-Awsat, a pro-Saudi independent paper, is issued daily.)


U.K. military chiefs want early troop withdrawal from Iraq

Military, Coalition
Senior military officers have been pressing the government to withdraw British troops from Iraq and concentrate on what they now regard as a more worthwhile and winnable battleground in Afghanistan. They believe there is a limit to what British soldiers can achieve in southern Iraq and that it is time the Iraqis took responsibility for their own security, defence sources say. Pressure from military chiefs for an early and significant cut in the 7,500 British troops in Iraq is also motivated by extreme pressure being placed on soldiers and those responsible for training them.
Military chiefs have been losing patience with the slow progress made in building a new Iraqi national army and security services. Significantly, they now say the level of violence in the country will not be a factor determining when British troops should leave. The debate has been raging between different groups in the MoD and has involved the chiefs of staff as well as the permanent joint headquarters, based in Northwood, north-west London, defence sources say. Army chiefs have expressed concern about opinion polls showing the increasing unpopularity of the war and the impact on morale and recruitment.
Political arguments, including strong US pressure against British troop withdrawals, have won, at least for the moment. The fierce debate at the highest military and political levels in the MoD is reflected in a passage of a leaked memo written by a staff officer at the Defence Academy, an MoD thinktank. It reads: "British armed forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq - following the failure of the deal being attempted by COS [chief of staff] to extricate UK armed forces from Iraq on the basis of 'doing Afghanistan' - and we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts."
The MoD, which is downplaying the significance of the memo, said yesterday it was written by a naval commander, the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the army, and that it was reporting views from a variety of military sources. A significant cut in Britain's military presence in Iraq could coincide with the run-up to the election of a new British prime minister. "We can and will run both [Iraq and Afghanistan] - for a period of time," a defence official said last night.


Lockhed Martin awarded IED defeat system contract

Military, Commerce
Lockheed Martin Corp. was awarded on Wednesday a $19,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract for production and delivery of up to 208 Symphony Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Jammer Systems to meet urgent Department of Defense (DoD) requirements in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The Symphony IED Jammer System is a programmable, radio-frequency IED defeat system that is vehicle mounted. Vehicle mounted systems are one element of the DoD’s Joint Counter Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare (JCREW) program. Work will be performed in America and is expected to be completed by September 2007.


al-Qaeda in Iraq speaks of losses, urges abduction of Westerners

The new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, purportedly said in an audio message posted online Thursday that more than 4,000 foreign militants have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the first apparent acknowledgment from the insurgents about their losses. It was unclear why al-Masri would advertise the loss of the group's foreign fighters, but martyrdom is revered among Islamic fundamentalists, and could be used as a recruiting tool. Analysts said the announcement was likely a boast aimed at drumming up support.
U.N. experts said some intelligence officials believe al-Muhajir "is in fact an Egyptian veteran who became an explosives expert in Afghanistan before spending time in Lebanon and Yemen. If so, while this will continue to provide al-Qaeda in Iraq with links to external groups, his appointment may give rise to further tensions between a `foreign' leader and the Iraqi regional commanders," they said.
Also on Thursday, al-Masri called for nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war and urged insurgents to kidnap Westerners so they could be traded for a blind Egyptian sheik who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison. Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a 68-year-old Egyptian cleric who was convicted in 1995 of seditious conspiracy for his advisory role in a plot to assassinate Egypt's president and blow up five New York City landmarks including the United Nations. Abdel-Rahman is considered the leader of Egyptian Islamic militants, and the 1993 World Trade Center conspirators were known to have attended his lectures.
"It's showing the level of dedication to their cause, the level of sacrifice jihadists are making," said Ben N. Venzke, director of the Washington-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications. On the tape, al-Masri offered amnesty to Iraqis who cooperated with their country's "occupiers," calling on them to "return to your religion and nation" during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which Sunnis began observing in Iraq on Saturday and Shiites on Monday. "We will not attack you as long as you declare your true repentance in front of your tribe and relatives," he said. "The amnesty ends by the end of this holy month."


Alternative medicine in Iraq booming

Doctors have fled the country, and others have been assassinated - a U.N. report says at least 102 have been killed, with 250 more kidnapped. Sunnis are afraid to go to hospitals in Shiite neighborhoods. There hasn't been a new hospital built in Baghdad since 1986. Iraq's Ministry of Health recently reported that the country has lost 720 doctors and health employees since April 9, 2003. Informal statistics estimated that more than 2,000 doctors have left the country. Recognising the problem, the ministry recently announced that it would allow doctors to open private clinics in state hospitals without paying rent as a way of protecting them.
In addition to the 102 doctors that the U.N. found had been murdered in Iraq from April 2003 to May 31, 2006, 164 nurses have been killed and 77 wounded. Lack of consistent electricity hampers medical services, as does corruption. Militias and other security forces intimidate medical staff into prioritising patients who are their members.
Instead people are turning to the ancient craft of Hijamma, or cupping. Using small glass-like jars and a surgical knife, Hijamma men make small cuts in one of 123 areas of the body, depending on the patient's complaints: high blood pressure; blood sugar; migraines; back, hand or leg pain; and even some conditions of sterility.


UN report - Al-Qaeda's activity in Iraq may decrease

Al-Qaida's activity in Iraq may diminish as violence escalates and distinctions blur between sectarian attacks, criminal acts and the fight against Iraqi and non-Iraqi forces, according to a U.N. report. In Afghanistan, the report said, Taliban rebels continue to benefit from a close relationship with al-Qaida and other foreign terrorist groups. As an example, it said, "new explosive devices are now used in Afghanistan within a month of their first appearing in Iraq."
The report by terrorism experts working for the U.N. Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaida painted a grim picture of escalating violence and the spread of attacks. "While the Taliban have not been found fighting outside Afghanistan/Pakistan, there have been reports of them training in both Iraq and Somalia," it said.
In the last six months, the experts said, "the violence in Afghanistan has increased considerably, and there has been no let up in Iraq, with al-Qaida's contribution remaining disproportionate to its size."
But as Iraq "continues to slide towards civil war, al-Qaida may paradoxically see more losses than gains," the experts' report said. "It has gained by continuing to play a central role in the fighting and in encouraging the growth of sectarian violence; and Iraq has provided many recruits and an excellent training ground," it said. But the experts said "the prominent role of al-Qaida may diminish as the violence escalates between communities, and distinctions blur between sectarian attacks on markets and places of worship, or purely criminal kidnapping and protection rackets on the one hand, and the fight against Iraqi and non-Iraqi forces on the other."
Also on the down side for al-Qaida, the report said several intelligence and security agencies told the experts that fewer foreign fighters have been killed or captured in Iraq in recent months, "suggesting that the flow has slackened." On returning home, they noted that some fighters had expressed dissatisfaction that they were asked to kill fellow Muslims rather than foreign soldiers and that the only role for them was to be suicide bombers.


Iraqi, U.K. forces launch operation in Basrah

Some 2,300 Iraqi and 1,000 British soldiers on September 27 launched Operation Sinbad, which is aimed at rounding up insurgents and militias operating in Al-Basrah, AP reported. The operation is supported by another 2,000 British soldiers stationed in the area, U.K. military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge told AP.
Burbridge said the operation "is akin" to Operation Together Forward, which was launched in Baghdad in June. Operation Sinbad will likely last several months, he said. "We're gradually inching our way forward," Burbridge noted, adding that the end goal is to secure the city so that Iraqi forces can take over security responsibility. Part of the operation will focus on police corruption, with a special team going station by station to weed out corrupt officers, he said. It will also focus on raising the standard of living for local residents through employment programs, initially aimed at infrastructure repairs, hospital restoration, and revitalizing a date plantation. "In time, it will employ several thousands of people," Burbridge said.
In June, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in Basrah following a rise in violence among mostly Shiite groups competing for power. Since January 2005, the city has fallen under the influence of Shiite militias, which have infiltrated police and government institutions there.


Kurds suspicious over Turkish visits to Kirkuk

Region, Kurdistan
Earlier this week a Turkish parliamentary delegation visited Irbil, Tuz Khurmatu, Tal Afar, Kirkuk, and Mosul and a series of meetings were held with Iraqi Kurdish and Turkoman leaders, as well as U.S. and U.K. consulate personnel. Justice and Development Party deputy Turhan Comez told reporters before leaving Ankara on September 25 that the delegation was on an "unofficial" visit to send the message that Turkey is ready to assist in a peaceful resolution to the Kirkuk conflict. Iraqi Kurds and Turkomans, who are ethnic Turks, are engaged in a bitter battle over oil-rich Kirkuk. Turkey has consistently supported the Turkoman population of Kirkuk, and Turkoman claims to the city.
Kurdish press reports echoed the distrust felt by some Iraqi Kurdish officials, and widely reported that the delegation was in Iraq to help set up a coordination group for Iraqi Turkomans in the Turkish parliament. "If the delegation aims to provide its government with guidelines on the conditions in Kirkuk, the referendum issue [on Kirkuk, slated to be held in 2007], and Article 140 [of the Iraqi Constitution regarding the status of Kirkuk], we would consider it interference and will never accept such moves," Kurdistan Democratic Party International Relations Director Saffin Dizay said, the "Hawler Post" reported on September 27. While it remains unlikely that Turkey will follow up on its threat of armed conflict, the standoff between Turkish and Iraqi officials does not bode well for regional security. Turkey is likely to continue its intermittent bombing of Iraqi Kurdish areas where it claims PKK militants are based, while trying to agitate the Kurdish region's government with its support of Iraqi Turkomans, particularly in Kirkuk.
A kurdish news agency has reported that jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has called on his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to implement a ceasefire. Ocalan also urged the PKK to seek a peaceful solution to their conflict with Turkey, Firat news agency says.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Migration Ministry - a quarter million Iraqis homeless

Some 80,000 Iraqis have fled their homes and registered with the government as refugees over the past two months, data showed on Thursday, taking the total in seven months of sectarian violence to a quarter of a million. A spokesman for the Migration Ministry, Sattar Nowruz, told Reuters that figures for the end of September showed that more than 40,000 families were claiming aid after leaving homes since Feb. 22, when the destruction of a major Shia shrine at Samarra sparked heavy and continuing sectarian bloodshed.
The ministry estimates the average Iraqi family at six people, giving a current total of more than 240,000 people compared to 27,000 families and 162,000 people at the end of July. Nowruz acknowledged that many more people do not register with the ministry or have fled abroad, and so are not counted.
“The reason for this increase is that the security situation in some provinces has deteriorated considerably, forcing people to flee their homes in fear for their lives,” he said. Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, had seen a particular increase in people escaping fierce conflict among militants from the area’s Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities. On the other hand, security operations in parts of Baghdad, such as the southern district of Dora, had seen people moving back to homes they had abandoned, Nowruz said. The southern oil city of Basra had also seen people returning, he added. For months, many Iraqi arabs have been fleeing to Kurdistan.


Turkish PM reacts to Talabani's accusations

Politics, Region
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted sharply to the statements of Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani that Iraq can "make trouble" for its neighbours (Turkey, Iran and Syria) if they do not stop interfering in his country's internal affairs, online edition of Turkish newspaper Sabah reads today. Mr. Erdogan qualified Mr. Talabani’s words as ‘ugly and indecent’ and ‘not suitable for the position he is holding’, the newspaper notes.
Talabani accused the neighboring countries of interfering with Iraq’s internal affairs. In statements for a US TV station President Talabani explained that he meant Iran, Syria and Turkey and all the other Middle East countries with the exception of Kuwait. “The patience of the Iraqi people is now running out and if these attempts of interfering are not ceased Iraq will undertake reciprocal activities by supporting the opposition in the countries in question. We could do this in Iran, Syria and Turkey but we haven’t so far,” Jalal Talabani said cited by Turkish press.
A possible reason for Talabani’s statement is thought to be Ankara’s sensitivity toward Kirkuk. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul had said turmoil in Kirkuk would threaten all of Iraq to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In a statement he issued, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan said Turkey’s Iraq policy was transparent.


U.S. military - Iran arming militas

Insurgency, Iran
Iran is funnelling weapons and cash to buy the loyalty of armed groups in Iraq, but its long- term influence is bound to wane as Iraqis focus more on their own interests, a senior U.S. military official said. The United States and Britain have in the past accused Iran of fostering violence in Iraq. The Islamic Republic denies it.
But the official gave far more detail, and said the latest weapons finds -- including explosives bearing factory stamps indicating they come from Iran -- show that the policy of arming Iraqi militia is supported at high levels in Iran and not the work of rogue Iranian operatives.
The senior military official was discussing intelligence issues under condition he not be named, in a briefing with journalists in Baghdad on Wednesday, the transcript of which was made available on Thursday. He estimated that Iran has sent "millions of dollars" to the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, including rogue elements that had slipped out of Sadr's direct control.
Iranian weapons found in Iraq include surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank rockets like those used by Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel, as well as tank-destroying Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) that have become common in roadside bombs used to attack U.S. and British troops.


Iraqi oil minister to visit China, Japan, Australia

Oil, Commerce
Iraq could give China the first foreign contract to develop its oil resources if Beijing agrees to revive a deal originally signed under Saddam Hussein's government, the Iraqi Oil Ministry said Sept. 27. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has plans visit China, Japan and Australia to discuss oil development and export projects, specifically noting that he will talk with the Chinese about honoring Saddam Hussein-era contracts. Iraqi officials believe China will first agree to develop the Ahdab oil field in south-central Iraq, which has a capacity of 90,000 barrels per day, for an estimated $700 million. The field was awarded to China National Petroleum Corp and Chinese state arms manufacturer Norinco by Saddam. The deal, like others signed by Saddam, was effectively frozen by international sanctions and then Saddam's overthrow.
Russian and French companies that signed or negotiated deals under Saddam have been keen to hold onto the advantage in the face of challenges from firms from the United States and elsewhere. New Iraqi leaders, brought to power by the U.S.-British invasion, have yet to take decisions.
COMMENT: While American oil companies - who were exluded by Saddam - wait for Iraq to pass new investment laws in the oil sector, the Iraqi Oil Ministry is starting negotiations with old partners who are more willing to work in high-risk environments than the Americans. This could lead to American oil companies losing out on Iraqi oil deals to other more eager, historically more established and less fussy foreign investors. COMMENT ENDS.


Iraqi public - U.S. presence causes more conflict than it prevents

About three-quarters of Iraqis believe U.S. forces are provoking more conflict than they are preventing in Iraq and should be withdrawn within a year, a survey released on Wednesday showed. The poll of 1,150 people, conducted in September by the Program on International Policy Attitudes from the University of Maryland, also found growing support for attacks against American-led forces, with a majority of Iraqis now favoring them.
The release of the survey came a day after President George W. Bush declassified a national intelligence report saying the Iraq war had become a "cause celebre" that was breeding deep resentment in the Muslim world and helping Islamist militants cultivate supporters.
The findings were similar to those of a State Department study reported in The Washington Post on Wednesday but not released publicly. That poll found a strong majority of Iraqis wanted American forces to leave immediately. It asked whether people favored U.S. troops leaving immediately, staying until the government asked them to leave or saying until the violence stopped.
The University of Maryland poll found that 78 percent of Iraqis believe the U.S. military presence causes more conflict than it prevents. Among Iraq's three main communities, only Kurds tended to see the U.S. military presence as a stabilising force, with 56 percent agreeing with that statement versus 17 percent of Shi'ites and 2 percent of Sunnis. Ninety-seven percent of Sunnis said they believed the American presence caused more conflict than it prevented, compared with 82 percent of Shi'ites and 41 percent of Kurds.
Most Iraqis -- 71 percent -- said U.S. soldiers should be withdrawn within a year, but only 37 percent favored an American withdrawal in the next six months. Only Sunnis wanted U.S. forces out within six months, and only Kurds favored a longer U.S. presence, as much as two years or more.
The poll found that most Iraqis -- 53 percent -- believed the Iraqi government would be strengthened by a commitment from Washington to withdraw within a fixed timetable. It also found growing confidence in the Iraqi security forces and a high level of suspicion the United States intends to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq.
The poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which was conducted for, used face-to-face interviews and a complicated methodology to try to get a representative sample.


KRG, Iraqi Oil Minister dispute Kurdish oil contracts

Kurdistan, Oil
Iraq's Kurdish regional government raised the threat of secession on Wednesday if the Baghdad government did not drop its claims to a say in the development of oil resources in their northern districts. In a strongly worded response to comments by the Iraqi oil minister, the premier of the autonomous Kurdistan region said he "resented" the remarks by Hussain al-Shahristani and accused him of trying to "sabotage" foreign investment in Kurdish oil.
"The people of Kurdistan chose to be in a voluntary union with Iraq on the basis of the constitution," Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said in a statement on his official Web site. "If Baghdad ministers refuse to abide by that constitution, the people of Kurdistan reserve the right to reconsider our choice." Barzani said he was responding to an interview Shahristani gave to a Baghdad newspaper this week in which he restated the view of the Oil Ministry that recent contracts signed by the Kurdish regional government with foreign firms to develop oilfields in the area were subject to the ministry's review.
Shahristani, from the dominant Shi'ite Islamist bloc in the national unity government, has said he favours strengthening central control of Iraq's oil, although a new constitution gives autonomous federal regions a role in developing such resources. The issue of just how powers are divided between Baghdad and the regions is at the heart of a bitter sectarian and ethnic dispute. The government is drafting legislation to clarify how oil investment and revenues should be shared with a view to encouraging foreign investment to develop its vast resources.


U.S. military - suicide attacks hit new peak

With UN and Iraqi officials now estimating the death toll at more than 100 per day, a spokesman for the US-led coalition confirmed that suicide attacks had hit a new peak, three-and-a-half years after the fall of Saddam Hussein. "In terms of attacks, this week's suicide attacks were at the highest level of any given week, with half of them targeting security forces," Major General Caldwell told reporters in a briefing, without providing details. In a bid to quell the violence and combat insurgents, US and Iraqi forces have launched a large-scale security drive in Baghdad, securing the city district by district, hunting for weapons and boosting economic development.
But US commanders say the time is approaching when Maliki will have to bite the bullet and allow his forces to confront Shiite militias, some of which have links to powerful factions within the fragile ruling coalition. "We have to fix this militia issue. We can't have armed militias competing with Iraqi security forces, but I also have to trust the prime minister to decide when it is that we do that," said Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli. Maliki has in the past vowed to disarm militias, such as radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. So far, his forces have made little progress and Sunni and US officers accuse the groups of having links to death squads.
COMMENT: The large Shia political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revoltion in Iraq (SCIRI), led by Abdul al-Aziz al Hakim also has a militant wing accused of sectarian murder, the Badr Corps. Maliki could be dragging his feet on tackling the militias because SCIRI and OMS (the Office of Moqtada al-Sadr) are unlikely to agree to disarmament of their militias. In a government where Maliki's powers of control are being questioned, he needs every ally he can get. COMMENT ENDS.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Saudi Arabia to build fence along Iraq border

Security, Region
In a sign of regional concern over terrorism, Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead with plans to build a fence along its entire 900 kilometer (560 mile) border with Iraq to prevent terrorists from entering the kingdom from the chaotic north. The barrier, which will likely take five to six years to complete, is part of a US$12 billion package of measures including electronic sensors, bases and physical barriers to protect the oil-rich kingdom from external threats, said Nawaf Obaid, head of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, an independent research institute that provides security advice to the Saudi government.
All of Iraq’s neighbours, including the Saudis, fear that violence could spill over the borders and threaten their own security. For the Saudis, those threats could come from Saudi militants returning home to continue the struggle against the pro-US monarchy or from Shiite extremists seeking to stir up trouble among the country’s Shiite minority.
Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has spent about US$1.8 billion to shore up its defenses along the border with Iraq.
US and Iraqi officials have long complained about Saudi extremists crossing into Iraq — mostly through Syria — to join the battle against American and coalition forces.
In addition to political extremists, the Saudis want to prevent drug smugglers, weapons dealers and illegal migrants from using Iraq as an avenue into Saudi Arabia, Obaid said. The spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said Iraqi officials had heard of the Saudi plans to improve border security “and we thank them for it.” Obaid said contracts for work on the fence, expected to cost about US$500 million, have not been awarded and work is not expected to begin before next year.
US officials said last April that Saudis were among the top five nationalities among foreign fighters captured by coalition forces in Iraq. Twenty-three Saudis were arrested in Iraq between September 2005 and April, compared with 51 Syrians and 38 Egyptians, US officials said earlier this year. But the fence would do little to stop that flow because most are believed to enter Iraq by going through Syria, Jordan and Iran.
The Saudis are especially sensitive to the possibility of unrest among the country’s Shiite minority because it is centered in the oil-producing east of the country. In another sign of Saudi concern over sectarian tensions, the kingdom plans to host a meeting next month of top Iraqi Sunni and Shiite clerics in the holy city of Mecca in hopes of bringing the two sects together.


Sunni tribes in Al-Anbar vow to fight militants

Politics, Tribal
Sunni tribal leaders who have vowed to drive al Qaeda out of Iraq's most restive province met the Shi'ite premier on Wednesday, marking what Washington hopes will be a breakthrough alliance against militants. Sattar al-Buzayi, a Sunni sheikh from Anbar province who has emerged in recent weeks as a leader of a tribal alliance against Osama bin Laden's followers, said he and about 15 other sheikhs had offered their cooperation to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Maliki's office issued a statement praising the chiefs for their commitment to fighting the militants. "This is admired and respected by all Iraqis. We are fully prepared to back your efforts," the prime minister said. It was the first time Maliki had met the sheikhs since they pledged to fight al Qaeda in a meeting at Buzayi's compound in Ramadi, the provincial capital, two weeks ago.


Inflation rises in Iraq

After three years of the U.S.-led invasion, Iraqis are struggling with a surge in violence as well as rising prices as inflation spirals out of control. Fuel and electricity prices are up more than 270 per cent, according to Iraqi government statistics. Tea in some markets has quadrupled, egg prices have doubled. The rise in living costs has come as a shock to many Iraqis, who make about 150 dollars to 200 dollars per month on average if they have jobs. Estimates of unemployment range from 40 to 60 per cent.
Many Iraqi families struggle to make ends meet. Though more than three years after the collapse of the Saddam regime, the Iraqis still face a severe shortage of electricity. The government provides electricity for four to six hours a day, nearly every family turns to alternative power sources such as generators, which cost an average of 35 dollars per month. Gasoline in state-run gas stations is sold at 350 IDs (0.24 dollar) per liter, but is in short supply. Many people have to purchase gasoline 1,500 IDs (1 dollar) per liter in black markets.


Turkey Accused of Bombing Iraqi Kurdistan

(Al-Sabah al-Jadeed) Eyewitnesses said that the Turkish forces have intensified their military operations inside Iraqi Kurdistan. They have bombed the outskirts of the villages of Nizdoor, Kashan and Alush, close to the town of Zakho on the border with Turkey. A Kashan resident said 30 shells landed in the village causing some locals to flee. The residents of the border villages called on the Iraqi Kurdistan authorities to try to stop the Turkish army artillery bombardment.
(Al-Sabah al-Jadeed is an independent daily paper.)


Korean to invest in Iraqi oil industry

Commerce, Oil
Korean companies are preparing to invest in oil fields in southern and central Iraq following a meeting between the Iraqi Oil Minister and the Korean Ambassador in Baghdad. A source from the ministry said that South Korea wants to enter in joint projects to invest in oil fields.


Lincoln Group wins $6m Iraq PR contract

A public relations company known for its role in a controversial U.S. military program that paid Iraqi newspapers for stories favorable to coalition forces has been awarded another multimillion dollar media contract with American forces in Iraq. Washington-based Lincoln Group won a two-year contract to monitor a number of English and Arabic media outlets and produce public relations-type products such as talking points or speeches for U.S. forces in Iraq, officials said Tuesday.
The contract is worth roughly $6.2 million per year over a two-year period, according to Johnson. The idea is to use the information to "build support" in Iraqi, Arabic, international and U.S. audiences for what the military describes as its goals in Iraq, such as destroying the insurgency and helping Iraqis build a democracy, according to contract documents.
The Lincoln Group was mired in controversy last year when it became known that the company had been part of a U.S. military operation to pay Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about coalition activities. According to the company's website, it was created in 2003 to do public relations and communications work in challenging environments such as Iraq.
Multi-National Forces-Iraq already has in place a one year contract with The Rendon Group, a Washington D.C.-based company, to perform many of the same functions this current contract would fulfill. The Rendon Groups contract, worth $6.4 million over one year, was scheduled to expire this September but it has been extended until Oct. 27 while the winner of the new contract is determined.
A key question is whether any public relations campaign in Iraq will work. Nabil Khalid, the executive news director of Al-Arabia, one of the most popular Arabic-language television stations in the Middle East, said right now, the multinational forces in Iraq are losing the public relations battle. "If you asked me who better influences the media, the insurgents or the multinational forces, I would say that the insurgents," Khalid said, speaking by telephone from the station's Dubai headquarters.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Turkish MPs visit Kirkuk

Politics, Region
Two Turkish MPs on Monday began a four-day visit to the disputed city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq where a 2007 referendum is expected to settle the status of the city, which is in a Kurdish area. Kirkuk was forcibly arabised under Saddam Hussein, and has a sizeable Turkmen population. The visit comes as Ankara - facing renewed attacks on troops police and civilians from militants linked to the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - steps up diplomatic efforts to try to put an end to the PKK's presence in Northern Iraq.
Turhan Comez of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Orhan Ziya Diren of the main opposition Republican People Party (CHP) are scheduled to meet with the consul generals of Britain and the United States as well as the governor of Kirkuk and the head of the Turkmen Council.
Comez said they would prepare a report outlining their impressions upon their return and present the report to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, CHP leader Deniz Baykal as well as to Parliamentary Speaker Bulent Arinc. Arinc over the weekend sent a letter to his Iraqi counterpart urging Iraq's assistance in the fight against members of PKK who have found a safe heaven in Northern Iraq.
Ankara is extremely concerned about any moves towards independence in Iraqi Kurdistan in case they encourage Kurdish nationalists in Turkey. Ankara is also wary about the situation in Kirkuk where the status of the city will be decided upon after the results of a referendum in 2007. Ankara argues that demographic structure has been altered in favour of Kurds, saying that this might lead to a repression on Turkish-origin Turkmens, who constitute 35 per cent of the total population according to Kurds and 45-50 per cent of the population according to Turkmens.


Talabani - PKK announce ceasefire

Iraq's President has said he has convinced the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to announce a ceasefire in its fight against Turkey. In an interview with the magazine Newsweek, which appeared Monday, President Jalal Talabani the PKK will declare a ceasefire within days.
Talabani said that the cease fire would open a new chapter in his country's relations with Turkey, which has repeatedly called on Baghdad to act against the PKK and its bases in the north of Iraq. The Iraqi givernment issued a statement banning PKK last Tuesday.
COMMENT: The PKK, also known as KADEK and Kongra-Gel, is an armed militant group, whose stated aim is to create an independent Kurdish state in a territory (sometimes referred to as Kurdistan) that consists of parts of south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Iraq, north-eastern Syria and north-western Iran. Its ideological foundation is revolutionary Marxism-Leninism and Kurdish Nationalism. It is an ethnic secessionist organisation that uses force and the threat of force against both civilian and military targets for the purpose of achieving its political goal. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation internationally by several states and organisations, including the USA and the EU. In August, the U.S. State Dept. announced the appointment of Retired U.S. Air Force General Joseph W. Ralston, a former NATO supreme allied commander, as U.S. special envoy for countering the PKK. COMMENT ENDS.


Kurdish TV - Iraqi govt warned of military coup

The Iraqi government has received intelligence about a coup plot by military officers, the Kurdistan Democratic Party-run Kurdistan Satellite TV reported in its 1030 gmt bulletin on Monday. The TV quoted Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i as saying that his government had received intelligence about a coup plot by army officers. The officers, who cannot be named for security reasons, had received relevant training.
(Kurdistan Satellite TV, Arbil)


Kurdish bloc walks out of parliament

The Kurdistani coalition and the deputy parliament speaker and member of the Kurdistani coalition Aref Tifoz withdrew from the parliament session in protest over a statement by National Iraqi List MP and former Minister of Industry Dr. Osama Al-Najifi. Al-Najifi's statement said the villages in Mosul are dominated by Kurds in efforts to integrate them into the Kurdistan region and stressed that these villages were of Arab origin. He also indicated that Mosul was an Arab city; historically and geographically.
The 55 MPs of the Kurdistani coalition left the parliament in protest over Najifi's statement which they described as "chauvinist." A number of the Kurd MPs tried to interrupt Al-Najifi but the Parliament speaker requested Al-Najifi to continue his statement , virtue of his right as MP, which did not sit well with the Kurdish coalition. The leader of the Kurdistani coalition Dr. Fuad Maassoum also left the Parliament in protest over the statement and the actions of the parliament speaker who was followed by Deputy Prime Minister Aref Tifor.
The leader of the Iraqi communist party and head of the Iraqi National List said the statement only represents the personal view of Al-Najifi. After leaving Parliament, Dr. Fuad Maassoum expressed in a press conference shock over the statement which instead of focusing on the country's current security and stability focused on Mosul's past history and geography. In this respect, Maassoum put blame on the Iraqi National List for choosing Al-Najifi as spokesman and said the MPs left Parliament in protest.


$7.8 million to revitalise Iraq's agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns on Monday announced $7.8 million in extension funds to revitalise Iraq’s agriculture. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is requesting proposals from U.S. land-grant institutions to strengthen agricultural extension and training at Iraqi agricultural universities. Johanns said USDA is providing USDA staff as needed in Iraq and is working to develop agricultural credit training there.
The Iraq Agricultural Extension Revitalisation Project will provide extension training programs for Iraqi nationals. The project goal is to assist in restoring and expanding a sustainable agriculture sector in Iraq that includes effective extension service based on education and research. Iraq’s agricultural sector is the second largest contributor to the national economy and employs one-quarter of its workforce.


Talabani asks neighbours not to interfere in Iraq

Regional politics
In an interview to air on National Public Radio on Tuesday, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani said his patience was wearing thin with the interference in Iraq's internal affairs by Iran, Syria and Turkey. "We are asking them to stop interfering in our internal affairs and respect the sovereignty and independence of Iraq otherwise we will be obliged to say something," Talabani said in excerpts of the interview released on Monday.
Asked what Iraq would do if the interfering continues, Talabani said his people would respond in kind. "The Iraqi people will respond in the same way, we'll support the opposition of other countries, will try to make trouble for them as they are doing for us," he said. "We can do it in Iran, in Syria, in Turkey, but we are not doing it," Talabani said. "Our policy is not to interfere in the internal affairs of these countries and ask them and beg them not to interfere in our internal affairs because it creates chaos in the Middle East."
Bush has also accused Syria and Iran of interfering in Iraqi affairs and pressed them to halt the flow of militants through their borders.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Cyprus cancels Iraq's debts

Cyprus cancelled all debts owed by Iraq and confirmed its continual support to the reconstruction of the country, said a spokesman of the Finance Ministry. He added that Finance Minister Baqer Jabbr and his Cypriot counterpart Michaels Sazeeres signed a dual agreement in Singapore which included cancellation of 100 per cent of Iraqi debts.


Orthodox church attacked in Baghdad

Security, Religion
On Sunday around noon, St. Mary's Cathedral in Baghdad was attacked with a series of bombings that involved the use of at least three explosive devices.Worshippers were preparing to leave the church after the Sunday ceremony. Located in the Riyadh district of Baghdad the cathedral experienced dual bombings, a small IED followed, few minutes after, by a car detonation carrying a large amount of explosives.
Minutes later, a second car exploded, causing substantial damage, including two confirmed deaths and at least 20 critically injured, mostly parishioners of the church. The injured included four police officers who arrived to the scene after the first bomb exploded.
COMMENT: It is unclear whether the chruch was targetted as a result of the Pope's recent remarks on Islam or not, although threats were made to Christains in Iraq following his speech. However, the chruch was not Catholic, but Orthodox. COMMENT ENDS.


Committee formed to amend constitution

On Monday legislators formed a 27-member committee to begin talking about amending Iraq's constitution. Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders in parliament formed the constitutional committee, which will take about a year to review any changes and get them approved — first by parliament and then by referendum. A separate Shiite-sponsored federalism bill will be read to the legislature Tuesday and then debated for two days before parliament breaks for the Iraqi weekend. The legislation would be read again, with any changes made by legislators, Oct. 1.
A vote would come four days after the second reading, with the bill needing a simple majority for passage. If approved, it would be implemented 18 months later — in 2008 — according to the deal made by the parties.
The deal was a victory for Sunni Arabs, who had been fighting the federalism bill proposed by Shiite cleric Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance. They fear that if not amended, it will splinter the country and deny them a share of Iraq's oil, which is found in the predominantly Kurdish north and the heavily Shiite south.
But they agreed to break a two-week deadlock after all parties accepted a Sunni demand that the parliamentary committee be set up to discuss amending the constitution. Sunni Arabs hope to win an amendment that would make it more difficult to establish autonomous regions. Although federalism is enshrined in the constitution approved by Iraqis in a referendum a year ago, the right to seek amendments to the charter was a key demand made by Sunni Arabs when they agreed to join Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national unity government in the spring.


Iraq discusses trade cooperation with neighbours

IRAN: Iraq and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding for agricultural cooperation. The memorandum included providing training for Iraqi staff in Iran and importing agricultural machinery from Iran.
TURKEY: Iraqi Minister of Agriculture Yaarub Al-Abodi met with the Turkish minister of agriculture to discuss joint cooperation in the agricultural sector and Turkish technical assistance to Iraq in the form of training and modern agricultural equipment.
JORDAN: According to a source in the Jordanian Ministry of Industry and Trade on Sunday, Jordanian Minister of Industry and Trade Sharif Zuabi recently met with the Iraqi Minister of Industry and Minerals in Amman to discuss development of bilateral relations for the mutual benefit of the Iraqi and Jordanian people.


Talabani asks for longterm U.S. military presence

Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, has asked for a long-term US military presence in Iraq, saying his country needs two permanent US air bases to deter "foreign interference." "I think we will be in need of American forces for a long time - even two military bases to prevent foreign interference," Talabani told The Washington Post in an interview published on Monday. "I don't ask to have 100,000 American soldiers - 10,000 soldiers and two air bases would be enough."
The president indicated that the bases would be most welcome in Kurdistan. But he suggested that the Sunni Arab segment of the Iraqi population would also welcome a long-term US military presence in Iraq. "In some places Sunnis want the Americans to stay," he argued. "Sunnis think the main danger is coming from Iran now."
The comments come as top US military commanders admitted that the United States would not be able to reduce its 147,000-strong contingent in Iraq in the coming months because of spreading sectarian violence and the possibility of the country slipping into civil war.


DEBKAfile - Turkey, Iran ready to invade Iraqi Kurdistan

According to DEBKAfile’s exclusive military sources in Iraq and sources in Iran, Turkish and Iranian military units are poised for an imminent coordinated invasion of the northern Iraqi autonomous province of Kurdistan. DEBKAfile’s sources pinpoint the target of the combined Iranian-Turkish offensive as the Quandil Mountains, where some 5,000 Kurdish rebels from Turkey and Iran, members of the PKK and PJAK respectively, are holed up. Iranian and Turkish assault troops are already deployed 7-8 km deep inside Iraqi territory.
Turkey to the northwest and Iran to the east both have Kurdish minorities which have been radicalised by the emergence of Iraqi Kurdistan in the last three years. The three contiguous Kurdish regions form a strategic world hub. A jittery Washington foresees a Kurdish-Iranian military thrust quickly flaring into a comprehensive conflict and igniting flames that would envelop the whole of Iraqi Kurdistan as well as southern Turkey and Armenia.
Tehran is quite capable of using the opening for its expeditionary force to grab extensive parts of Kurdistan and strike a strategic foothold in northern Iraq. Informed US officials would not be surprised if Turkey took the chance of seizing northern Iraqi oil fields centered on the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, the source of 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil output.
COMMENT: A week ago Iraqi newspapers reported that Israeli soldiers have trained Kurdish troops, but the Kurdish authorities deny allowing any Israelis into Iraq. Former Israeli commandos secretly trained Kurdish soldiers in northern Iraq to protect a new international airport and in counter-terrorism operations, the BBC reported on Tuesday. Former Israeli special forces soldiers entered Iraq from Turkey in 2004 to train two groups of Kurdish troops,one of the former Israeli trainers told the BBC's "Newsnight" programme. The Kurds' political enemies have long accused them of an alliance with Israel while Israel's critics suspect it wants to use the Kurdish region as a strategic base to get closer to its arch-enemy Iran.
Iraqi Kurdistan lies between Iran to the east and Turkey to the north-west. Both countries have significant Kurdish minorities and are worried about the prospect of a Kurdish state emerging in northern Iraq. "Newsnight" also reported that an Israeli security firm called Interop and two Swiss-registered subsidiaries, Kudo and Colosium, were among the main contractors at Irbil airport, providing security fencing and communications equipment. COMMENT ENDS.


Baghdad questions Kurdistan's oil deals

Iraq's oil minister on Sunday disputed the validity of deals signed between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and international oil companies, reportedly saying that the central government was not bound by the investment contracts. The comments represent a continuation of an ongoing dispute between the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country and the central government over the control of oil resources.
Hussein al-Shahristani, the oil minister, was quoted by the state-run al-Sabaah newspaper as saying: "The ministry isn't committed to oil investment contracts signed in the officials of the government of the Kurdistan region which were announced as contracts for investment and the development of oil fields."
The Kurds have signed production-sharing agreements in the past year allowing several international companies, including Norwegian and Turkish groups, to begin drilling in the north, and the KRG's oil minister Ashti Hawrami said last week that more contracts will be signed in October. Baghdad, however, has consistently insisted that only the federal government has the right to make such deals. Both sides say they are discussing the issue as part of negotiations over a federal hydrocarbons law, to be passed either by the end of this year or at the beginning of the next.


Saddam's defense boycott trial

Saddam Hussein is back in court without his defense team, presided over by the new judge, Mohammed al-Ureybi, who replaced the last judge, Abdullah al-Amiri, accused by the government of being biased because he said, "Saddam was not a dictator".
Lawyers for Saddam and his six co-defendants said on Sunday they would stay away from the court, partly in protest at the Iraqi government's sacking of the chief judge last week. The defense team stormed out of Wednesday's hearing and the chief defense lawyer said on Sunday it would "suspend attending the trial sessions in protest at the judge's behavior". "The court is committing intolerable mistakes -- overtly interfering in the trial procedure and removing and replacing judges," Khalil al-Dulaimi told Reuters.
Saddam and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, dubbed "Chemical Ali" over alleged gas attacks, face genocide charges for what prosecutors say are the deaths of 180,000 Kurds, some poisoned with chemical gas. Five others face charges of murder and crimes against humanity; all seven could hang.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


al-Sadr tells followers to engage in a 'peaceful' war

The Shiite radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr seems to be willing to compromise and is urging his followers not to use force in opposing the Iraqi government and the presence of U.S. troops. Sadr commands one of Iraq’s most powerful and lethal militias in Iraq and has so far waged two major uprisings against U.S. troops and numerous mutinies against the government.
His military wing, the al-Mahdi Army, easily defeated Iraqi government and security forces in the southern city of Diwaniya early this month. The troops sought U.S. troops’ help to regain some semblance of control. Sadr said his call for comprise and civil resistance was for the sake of sparing Iraqi blood. But still he had harsh words for the United States.
COMMENT: Al-Sadr's statement follows a deadly bombing in Sadr city on Saturday carried out by a Sunni extremist group, Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba (Soldiers of the Prophet's Companions). The attack was possibly in retribution for attacks by the Brigade of Two Sadrs, a Shia group that attacked Sunni homes and mosques on Friday. The group handed out leaflets saying that for each Shia killed, 10 Sunnis would die. There are critics who say that splinter groups have formed from the Mahdi Militia and al-Sadr is losing control over them. He has previously apologised and called for calm in violent incidents involving the Madhi Militia. Because al-Sadr is almost a recluse and rarely speaks out, and when he does, his messages are usually emotional causing his followers to listen to him, his hope may be that he will be able to maintain some control over the situation by making this statement. COMMENT ENDS.


Federalism debate to be put off for 18 months

Iraqi leaders have struck a compromise between Shia and Sunni politicians disagreeing on the draft legislation for a federalism law put forward by SCIRI three weeks ago. Political party leaders agreed to hold a debate on federalism as urged by Shiites and also to review the constitution as demanded by Sunnis.
"The first reading of the draft law for the formation of regions will be on (Tuesday)," said deputy parliamentary speaker Khaled Attiya Sunday, adding this would be preceded Monday by the formation of a committee to review the constitution.
Sunnis originally rejected a Shiite draft law on dividing the country into regions, sometimes even threatening to boycott the assembly. At the same time, they demanded that before anything, a committee had to be formed to study their long-held desire to amend the constitution.
The deal to allow both measures to move forward was reached in a closed door meeting involving the Shiite list, the Kurdish Alliance, the Iraqiya list as well as the Sunni parties.
The compromise ensures the constitutional committee will have a year to amend the constitution, while the federalism law will not be implemented for 18 months after it has been passed.
COMMENT: This appears positive. All parties have been involved and the Sunnis will be satisfied that the constitution will be reviewed which they have wanted since before the elections - amendment of the constitution was on of the conditions they gave for agreeing to come to the political table. The Shias who are pushing for federalism will still be involved on debates on the subject without actually implementing it which pleases the other Shia groups such as the Al Fadheela party and the Sadrists. Putting the federalism issue on hold will hopefully stop some of the political infighting and shift the focus towards uniting the country, stabilising it and dealing with some of the security issues. COMMENT ENDS.


Insurgents deny capture of leader

The Iraqi government claimed on Saturday it had captured Muntasir Hamoud Ileiwi al-Jubouri, a senior leader of the Ansar al-Sunnah group, and two of his aides near Muqdadiyah. An internet statement posted Sunday denied the claim. "At the time we deny this report," said the statement posted on a Web site used by Islamist militants and attributed to Ansar al-Sunnah. It charged that the announcement of the arrests "indicates clearly the weakness and bankruptcy of this government." The statement whose authenticity could not be verified, said "our jihad continues as well as our operations." Ansar al-Sunnah's statement contained no information demonstrating that al-Jubouri or his aides remain at large.


Video footage released of mutilated U.S. soldiers

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organisation of insurgent groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, posted a web video on Saturday purporting to show the bodies of two American soldiers being dragged behind a truck, then set on fire in apparent retaliation for the alleged rape-slaying of a young Iraqi woman by U.S. troops from the same unit - the 101st Airborne Division.
The group posted a previous video in June showing the soldiers' mutilated bodies, and claiming it killed them. It was not clear whether Saturday's video was a continuation of that footage, or why it was released. It was impossible to identify the bodies in the second video, but it was believed to show Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, 25, who went missing after being attacked by insurgents on June 16 at a checkpoint south of Baghdad. Their remains were found three days later, and the U.S. military said they had been mutilated.
The U.S military has charged four soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in the March 12 alleged rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad.


U.S. intelligence report - terror threat worse since Iraq

A previously classified U.S. intelligence report which has been released claims that Islamic fundmentalism has increased and spread since the war on Iraq. Titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," the intelligence estimate is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by US intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began and represents a consensus view of the 16 different spy services inside the government, The New York Times said citing unnamed officials who have read the report. Analysts began working on the estimate in 2004, which was finalised in April 2006, The Times said.
Bush, in contradiction, has outlined successes in the US war on terror, and argued that Iraq was key to defeating terrorists around the world in a series of recent speeches to mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
It is unclear whether the final draft of the intelligence estimate criticises specific government policies, The Times pointed out, but intelligence officials involved in preparing the document said its conclusions were not softened or massaged for political purposes. Meanwhile, The Washington Post noted that although intelligence officials agree that the United States has seriously damaged Al-Qaeda and disrupted its ability to plan and direct major operations, radical Islamic networks have spread and decentralised.
Many of the new cells, the estimate concludes, have no connection to any central structure and arose independently, The Post said. They communicate only among themselves and derive their inspiration, ideology and tactics from the more than 5,000 radical Islamic websites, according to The Post report. They spread the message that the Iraq war is a Western attempt to conquer Islam by first occupying Iraq and establishing a permanent presence in the Middle East.


Al-Sistani announces beginning of Ramadan for Shias

A statement released from the office of Ayatollah al-Sistani, one of the highest Shia religious authorities in Iraq, announced that the holy fasting month of Ramadan will begin Monday for Shias. The beginning of Ramadan is determined by the first sighting of the crescent moon, marking the beginning of each month in the Islamic calendar, which follows the lunar cycle. Differences of opinion among religious authorities in different parts of the Islamic world about the citing of the crescent moon often result in Ramadan starting on different days in different places.

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