Saturday, October 07, 2006
Interview with Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi
Political paralysis and in-fighting is impeding the ability of Iraq's Shi'ite-led national unity government to tackle rampant violence and economic woes, an Iraqi Shi'ite leader said. Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi agreed with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's assertion on Thursday that factional wrangling had led to a dangerous stalemate inside the ruling coalition.
But Mahdi, one of two vice presidents and a senior Shi'ite Islamist, said U.S. involvement in Iraq was an important contributor to the problem. "Decision-making centres have proliferated -- the Multinational Force, the Americans ... and also the very numerous political groups that have taken part in the democratic experience," Mahdi told Reuters. "The most dangerous problem for Iraq today, for the economy, security and politics, is decision-making," he said in an interview on Thursday in his office in the fortified Green Zone government compound.
Since taking office in April, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, also from the Shi'ite Islamist bloc which dominates parliament, has found virtually every decision challenged, whether by minority Sunni Arabs or Kurds or Shi'ite rivals, Mahdi said. "The government's main mission is to overcome these obstacles. The parliament should help, the political blocs should also help in order to facilitate making security, political and economy decisions."
With the spread of sectarian violence many Sunni minority leaders have toned down calls for U.S. troops to leave, while some Shi'ites have become increasingly hostile to their presence and resent U.S. criticism of party militias many see as defending them against a return of Sunni-led oppression.
Around 4,000 Iraqi police have been killed during the past two years, the US army commander in charge of their training has said. More than 8,000 police officers had also been wounded in attacks in the same period, Major General Joseph Peterson said on Friday. Peterson said there were many Iraqi police who had "paid a great price" for their loyalty to their country.
Iraq's police force has been repeatedly targeted by armed Sunni groups and has also been widely infiltrated by Shia militias. Peterson said that it is hard to tell how many militia members have infiltrated the police forces. About 186,000 Iraqi police have been trained, and officials expect to exceed the goal of 188,000 by 10,000 by the end of the year, Peterson said. Currently there are 6,000 US-led forces embedded with the Iraqi police units as training teams. Peterson said the Iraqi police are becoming better trained and more willing to stand up to insurgent attacks.
In Tal Afar, northwest of Kirkuk, a suicide car bomber killed 14 people in an attack on an Iraqi army checkpoint, the latest in a series of deadly suicide bombings in the town since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The fresh bloodshed followed a warning by U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner who said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government had just 60 to 90 days to control the violence that threatens civil war or the United States would have to reconsider its options. Saturday's car bomb attack in Tal Afar was the fourth suicide car bombing on an army or police checkpoint in the town since the start of the holy month two weeks ago. The town has been largely free of violence since U.S.-led forces drove out al Qaeda militants in a 2005 offensive.
Kuwait has received 11.2 billion dollars in war reparations from Iraq for Baghdad’s 1990-1991 invasion and occupation of the emirate, an official report said Saturday. The report by Kuwait’s compensation authority, published in Al Qabas daily, said the UN Compensation Commission had so far approved 41.3 billion dollars in war reparations for Kuwait. The emirate has filed compensation claims worth 178 billion dollars to the UNCC, set up by the UN Security Council after Saddam Hussein’s forces occupied Kuwait in 1990 before being ousted seven months later by a US-led coalition. The emirate agreed in 2004 to an American request to substantially cut the estimated 16-billion-dollar debt owed to it by Iraq.
Thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers launched a major security crackdown in the restive Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk on Saturday, searching homes for weapons after all residents were ordered off the streets for an undisclosed period of time. Kirkuk police chief Major General Shirko Shakir said cars and pedestrians had been cleared from the city's streets after an indefinite curfew was imposed on Friday night and Iraqi security forces began sweeping through neighbourhoods. Iraqi police Major General Jamal Taher said a 15 km trench had been dug south of the city in the last week to try to prevent insurgents and car bombs from entering the city.
A volatile ethnic mix of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, Kirkuk has maintained a tense calm with an argumentative, yet active, provincial council working through various issues, until an insurgent campaign burst to life over the summer. In recent months, a string of car bombs has rocked Kirkuk, targeting its various communities and threatening to plunge a city known for its surrounding vast oil reserves into chaos. The militant Sunni Islamic group Ansar al-Sunna, an ally of Al-Qaeda, has been singled out in particular for its role in these deadly attacks.
Friday, October 06, 2006
A letter that has been translated and released by the US military indicates that Al Qaeda itself sees the continued American presence in Iraq as a boon for the terror network, which has recently shown signs of expanding into the Palestinian territories and North Africa.
"The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness ... indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest," says the writer, who goes by the name Atiyah. The letter, released last week, was recovered in the rubble of the Iraqi house where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by a US bomb in June.
While the letter was released only recently, Atiyah, thought to be a senior Al Qaeda leader whose full name Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, apparently wrote it last December from the Pakistani region of Waziristan. It has surfaced among a flurry of other communiqués from Al Qaeda. On Sept. 28, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, believed to have replaced Mr. Zarqawi as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, published an Internet statement in which he reached out to Sunni tribal leaders who have been in conflict with Al Qaeda.
But the Atiyah letter, reflecting as it does the candid opinions of Al Qaeda, rather than the group's propaganda statement crafted for public consumption, appears to offer the most insight. It is largely focused on the fact that Zarqawi's tactics were alienating Iraqi Sunni leaders, and urges him to move with more caution. He strongly warned Zarqawi against assassinating Sunni leaders. Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization that has been trying to use minority Sunni anxiety in Iraq to build support. The letter also called the Zarqawi-organized bombing of three hotels in Jordan in 2005 a "mistake," arguing that expanding Iraq's jihad beyond its borders too soon will cost them public support.
At one point, Atiyah muses that perhaps Zarqawi should step down from his leadership role, "if you find at some point someone who is better and more suitable than you." Since Zarqawi's death, a "more suitable" figure from Al Qaeda's standpoint has indeed emerged.
"In order to understand this letter one has to see the circumstances of when this letter was released,'' says Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Institute, which is devoted to tracking Islamist militant groups. "This followed after Zarqawi had an audio message ... in which he threatened the tribes of the Sunnis who wouldn't cooperate with him. That was a real turning point. "The letter from Atiyah is basically his response to this. He's telling him that instead of fighting Sunni opponents, you should reach out with more peaceful solutions."
Ms. Katz says Mr. Muhajir's Sept. 28 statement shows he has taken that advice to heart. She points out that a number of Sunni tribes in Iraq's turbulent Anbar Province have turned against Al Qaeda's main umbrella group in Iraq, the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), in recent months. "Al-Muhajir's latest speech was quite interesting, because he basically said sorry to the heads of the Sunni tribes. 'We need you. We'll work together to defeat the enemy.' "
The day before his speech, Al Jazeera reported a statement it said was delivered by Ahmad Naji al-Juburi, head of the tribal council in Salahuddin Province north of Baghdad, in which he lashed out at Al Qaeda for killing "civilians, defenseless people, police and security men ... Al Qaeda said it came to Iraq for jihad and to liberate it from occupation [but] what Al Qaeda is doing is utterly at odds with what it announced." Katz and others say Muhajir is eager to mend fences with Sunni leaders, because he knows that if Al Qaeda loses the support of Sunni tribes, it will be in a very tenuous position.
The Iraqi and U.S. governments signed a Memorandum of Agreement on Sept. 25, to construct 400 kV overhead lines from Tameen Province to Baghdad Province. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) the $49 million project will vastly improve Iraq's national grid and its stability, which the Minister of Electricity has identified as his top transmission priority.
The Memorandum was signed by Dr. Karim Hasan, Iraqi Minister of Electricity, and MG William H. McCoy, Commander of USACE's Gulf Region Division (GRD). As of Sept. 23, the national daily average for power was 12 hours with six in Baghdad. The goal of the project, according to USACE, is to reduce the risk of blackouts as well as improve redundancy and reliability. The estimated completion date for the project is October 2008.
The Iraq Project and Contracting Office (PCO) and its partner, the Gulf Region Division (GRD) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), announced Oct. 4 that the remaining projects under the $13.5 billion apportioned by the U.S. Congress to the Department of Defense for Iraq reconstruction project funds have been started.
In addition to over 2,670 projects completed during the past three years, a significant portion of the reconstruction program has been realized. According to the PCO, this milestone represents a significant step toward completion of the legislation passed in November 2003 entitled the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. The fund appropriated $18.4 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq and Congress identified a three year period for all the funds to be obligated on contract. The U.S. Army's portion includes approximately $4.4 billion for non-construction goods such as security and law enforcement, vehicles, hospital beds and other goods, and $9.1 billion for construction that includes a wide range of infrastructure projects including electricity generation and oil production, water and sewage treatment, school construction and - in limited areas - a 9-1-1 service.
"The combined expenditure of U.S. and Coalition partners has raised production capacity levels in the critical areas of oil and electricity to exceed pre-war (2002) levels," a PCO statement read. Currently, more than 330,000 grade school students now have improved classrooms and 248 Iraqi border posts protect 2,000 miles of border. Overall, the Army team has completed over 2,670 construction projects out of a total planned program of 3,683 projects.
Kurdish Islamists Say Hizbullah Allegations “Defamatory”
(Aso) Said Ali, a senior figure in the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, IUK, has described as “defamatory” allegations made by a high-level member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, that the Islamic group sent members to help Hizbullah in the Lebanese-Israeli conflict. The KDP insists that it has a list of names, and will publish them in the next few days.
(Aso is a Suleimaniya-based independent newspaper published three days a week.)
Ministry Seek to End Baghdad Fuel Shortages
(Al-Sabah al-Jadeed) A spokesman for the oil ministry says it has set up “an emergency room” to address the fuel crisis that began after a curfew was imposed in Baghdad. He said the ministry has ordered 100 tankers carrying 3.5 million litres of fuel to be brought in from southern Iraq to Baghdad to end the shortages.
(Al-Sabah al-Jadeed is an independent daily paper.)
Tribe Launches Attack After Police Chief’s Removal
(Azzaman) When the provincial council of al-Muthanna governorate ordered Colonel Muhammed Najim Abu-Kahila to step down as police chief in the provincial capital Samawah, his tribe took action. A group of tribal members fired mortar bombs at the provincial governor’s office and police buildings in Samawa.
(London-based Azzaman is issued daily by Saad al-Bazaz.)
Following up a previous communication providing evidence of an Iranian connection to Shi’ite militias in Iraq, specifically Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army, Ansar al-Sunnah distributed on Thursday, October 5, 2006, a six and a half minute video confession of an al-Mahdi Army member who was captured by the group during an attack in Khan Bani Sa’ad in Diyala. The man, identified in the clip as “Rashid,” answers a battery of questions concerning the functions of al-Mahdi Army, where the weapons and bombs originated, and what Iran’s purpose is in Iraq. He is later shown dead in a still-image at the end of the video, a Mujahid walking away with a gun in hand, and words on-screen announce his sentencing by the group’s Shari’a Court to death.
On Thursday, September 28, 2006, Ansar al-Sunnah in Iraq issued a communique describing a confrontation between its Mujahideen and members of al-Mahdi Army in Khan Bani Sa’ad in Diyala governorate, following an attack by the Shi’ite militia on the Sunni villagers. At that time, the group claimed to have captured one of the al-Mahdi Army members, and delayed his execution when they found a communication device on his person. This device, a box, and Katyusha rockets bearing the name of the Iranian Department of Defense were photographed and distributed with the communiqué.
Iraq is to open a new oil refinery near the Shiite shrine city of Najaf with a modest capacity of 10,000 barrels per day, the oil ministry has said. The refinery, which would meet the local needs of the inhabitants and factories of Najaf province, would be formally opened on Saturday. "This is the second refinery to be opened by the oil ministry since April 2003, following the Samawaq refinery," said ministry spokesman Assem Jihad on Friday.
Despite its vast oil resources, Iraq has comparatively modest refining capacity and is forced to import at least a third of its daily petroleum product needs from outside. The largest refinery in Iraq is north of Baghdad at Baiji, in the insurgent-prone center of the country, where it experiences frequent attacks on pipelines and intimidation of oil tanker drivers.The Najaf refinery project was begun at the beginning of the year and took nine months to build, said Jihad. It was built by the ministry's Project Implementation Company. Plans are in place to install new production units to expand capacity.
The ministry has also announced an ambitious move to massively expand the country's fuel production with new huge refineries. In the far north, the 70,000 barrels per day Koia refinery is planned for the town of Kowsinjaq, while the 150,000 bpd Nahrein refinery will be built near Karbala. In the deep south, not for from the rich oil fields around Basra, a 300,000 bpd refinery is in the works for the city of Nasiriyah. A tender committee has been established which will now receive bids for the projects.
According to Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani, Iraq produces 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of refined petrol and imports another seven million liters (1.8 million gallons) per day, while daily demand is 22 million liters (5.8 million gallons). Iraq produces around 2.4 million barrels of crude oil per day.
CBS reports that Sunnis in Baghdad are too afraid to go to the morgue to collect the bodies of their loved ones because they are being watched and know they could be followed, kidnapped and murdered by Shiite militias. Even Sadr's Health Minister acknowledges that this is happening. What he denies is that the Mahdi Army are the people responsible. The bodies pile up in Baghdad morgues, and every couple of days lorries come to take the dead south to be buried in mass graves with no names, only a number. Four months ago, the "cemetery for the unknown" in the southern Shiite city of Kerbala did not even exist; now, there are more than 900 unclaimed bodies buried there.
The morgue itself is believed to be controlled by the Mahdi Army, founded and led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The takeover began after the last election in December when Sadr's political faction was given control of the Ministry of Health. The U.S. military has documented how Sadr's Mahdi Army has turned morgues and hospitals into places where death squads operate freely.
The chilling details are spelled out in an intelligence report seen by CBS News. Among some of the details of the report are: Hospitals have become command and control centers for the Mahdi Army militia. Sunni patients are being murdered; some are dragged from their beds. The militia is keeping hostages inside some hospitals, where they are tortured and executed. They're using ambulances to transport hostages and illegal weapons, and even to help their fighters escape from U.S. forces. A hospital worker says Mahdi Army spies are everywhere, and would only talk with both face and voice masked. More than 80 per cent of the original doctors and staff where she works are gone, replaced by Shiite supporters of the Mahdi Army.
A purported spokesman for a Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, offered to open negotiations with the Americans in an audiotape aired by Al-Jazeera television on Thursday. The tape was said to be from Ibrahim al-Shimmari, whose name has appeared in past statements by the group, which has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings against civilians and attacks on U.S. troops. The tape's authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
Al-Shimmari has offered such negotiations in past statements. He did not elaborate on the goal of any talks. The Islamic Army rejected a call from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki earlier this year for insurgents to join the political process, saying it would not participate until there was a timetable for withdrawal of U.S.-led forces. In sections of the tape not aired, the speaker on the tape said Iraq faces occupation by two powers — "the Crusader Americans and the Iranians ... and the latter is the more dangerous," Al-Jazeera reported. He said his group was allied to former al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed June by a U.S. airstrike. But the speaker criticised al-Zarqawi, saying he "committed some mistakes," including the killing of four Russian embassy workers who were kidnapped, then slain in late June.
COMMENT: The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) is an inclusive Islamic organisation with Iraqi nationalist tendencies. The group has initiated a brutally violent campaign against foreigners within Iraq, specifically anyone believed to be cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition. IAI has been implicated in several gruesome beheading deaths. Often, IAI will kidnap an individual or group of people and then make an overarching demand. Frequently, these demands are indirectly related to the kidnapping victims. IAI does not limit its terrorist attacks to non-Iraqis; the group has also executed Iraqi people who join Iraq’s police and military services. The group’s leader claims that the group is predominantly Iraqi, not foreign-born. COMMENT ENDS.
The world is consumed by fears that Iraq is degenerating into a civil war between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But in this looming war of all against all, it is Iraq's small community of Assyrian Christians that is at risk of annihilation. In 1987, the Iraqi census listed 1.4 million Christians. Today, only about 600,000 to 800,000 remain in the country, most on the Nineveh plain. As many as 60,000, and perhaps even more, have fled since the beginning of the insurgency that followed the United States-led invasion in 2003. Their exodus accelerated in August 2004, after the start of the terrorist bombing campaign against Christian churches by Islamists who accuse them of collaboration with the allies by virtue of their faith.
A recent UN report states that religious minorities in Iraq "have become the regular victims of discrimination, harassment, and, at times, persecution, with incidents ranging from intimidation to murder." It also observed that "members of the Christian minority appear to be particularly targeted." Indeed, there are widespread reports of Christians fleeing the country as a result of threats being made to their women for not adhering to strict Islamic dress codes. Christian women are said to have had acid thrown in their faces. Some have been killed for wearing jeans or not wearing the veil. This type of violence is particularly acute in the area around Mosul. The attacks go beyond targeting physical manifestations of the faith. Christian-owned small businesses, particularly those selling alcohol, have been attacked, and many shopkeepers murdered. Assyrian leaders also complain of deliberate discrimination in the January 2005 elections. In some cases, they claim, ballot boxes did not arrive in Assyrian towns and villages, voting officials failed to show up, or ballot boxes were stolen. They also cite the intimidating presence of Kurdish militia and secret police near polling stations. Recently, however, there are signs the Iraqi Kurdish authorities are being more protective of their Christian communities.
Last April, the European Parliament voted virtually unanimously for the Assyrians to be allowed to establish (on the basis of section 5 of the Iraqi Constitution) a federal region where they can be free from outside interference to practice their own way of life. It is high time now that the West paid more attention, and took forceful action to secure the future of Iraq's embattled Christians.
Meeting with political leaders in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for profits from oil sales to be shared equitably across Iraq. Rice met with Mas'ud Barzani, the Kurdish region's president and leader of one of the two main Kurdish parties, in the city of Irbil. The regional government threatened two weeks ago to break away from Iraq because of a dispute over oil profits. Washington fears a Kurdish declaration of independence would accelerate the possible disintegration of Iraq and knows it would be bound to anger regional ally Turkey, which has a restive Kurdish minority of its own.
But the sensitivity of the situation was on display at the press conference itself, where Rice and Barzani stood in front of US and Kurdish flags, but not the Iraqi national flag, which the Kurdish leader has banned. Barzani met with Rice for 45 minutes and said afterwards: "We are for a fair distribution of oil revenues for the Iraqis," adding that the meeting was "constructive" and that their views were "very similar".
Thursday, October 05, 2006
(Azzaman) Four people have been killed and seven injured after a bomb went off in an apartment in Baghdad’s Batawin neighbourhood. The blast seemed to be part of a rising trend in which people rent flats and leave bombs behind to kill the next tenants.
(London-based Azzaman is issued daily by Saad al-Bazaz.)
The Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on Wednesday, October 4, 2006, at an army volunteers center in al-Mosul, in a communiqué issued the same day. According to the message, the suicide bombing caused the death and injury of dozens of volunteers. Yesterday, the group issued a short video clip, twenty-six seconds, depicting the bombing of a Humvee in Diyala.
The Mujahideen Shura Council is composed of eight insurgency groups in Iraq: al-Qaeda in Iraq, Victorious Army Group, the Army of al-Sunnah Wal Jama’a, Jama’a al-Murabiteen, Ansar al-Tawhid Brigades, Islamic Jihad Brigades, the Strangers Brigades, and the Horrors Brigades, collaborating to meet the “unbelievers gathering with different sides” and defend Islam.
From the several communiqués issued by Ansar al-Sunnah between Tuesday, October 3, 2006, and Wednesday, in five messages, the group claims responsibility for murders of individuals affiliated with the Iraqi government and Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and American forces. On Tuesday, September 26, the group states that it killed the female cousin of al-Sadr, who is also the sister of an Iraqi Parliament member, Liqa’a al-Yasin, who is affiliated with Sadr’s party; and on Monday, October 2, Ansar al-Sunnah killed an employee of the Ministry of Finance in Kirkuk. That same day, the district director of al-Tuz, north of Baghdad, was also killed along with a companion by the group’s Mujahideen.
Yesterday, Ansar al-Sunnah claims to have killed all of the American soldiers within a Humvee by detonating an improvised explosive device (IED) as it traveled within a convoy along the road of Kirkuk-Tikrit, in al-Rashad. The previous day, an American barracks, which was a house American forced purportedly took by force in al-Tuz, was bombed with rockets.
COMMENT: Ansar al-Sunnah (Followers of the Tradition) is an Iraqi Jihadist group, dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic state based on Shari’ah in Iraq, which they aim to achieve by the defeat of coalition forces and foreign occupation. They believe that jihad in Iraq has become obligatory for Muslims. The group’s membership is varied, and is comprised of operatives from the Kurdish terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, foreign al-Qaeda operatives, and Iraqi Sunnis. Targets have included coalition military personnel, members of the Iraqi National Guard, new Iraqi governmental institutions, and Kurdish political establishments, which the group sees as puppet regimes of the American occupation. COMMENT ENDS.
The abduction of women and children has become a lucrative business for gangs in many parts of Iraq and particularly in Baghdad. Women are so fearful of being kidnapped that they rarely go out alone, and hire taxis to go to work. The victims are normally from wealthy families, but kidnapping is so widespread that even ordinary families cannot feel safe. Women and children are easy prey because, unlike many men in Iraq these days, they usually do not carry guns; and families respond very quickly to ransom demands for women because they are deeply concerned about their reputation. Shakir Juma'a, 35, a car dealer in Baghdad, immediately paid 30,000 US dollars for his kidnapped teenager daughter who was released unharmed a day later.
Reliable data about the number of women kidnappings is hard to obtain. A source in the ministry of women's affairs, on condition of anonymity, said that they have no figures and that the ministry of interior declined to pass such data on to them. NGOs have come up with figures but they are hard to verify. For instance, Yanar Mohammed, head of the Women's Freedom Organisation, claimed in a press conference last month that about 2,000 women have been kidnapped in Iraq over the last three years. Some suggest that this is a rather conservative estimate. A police lieutenant colonel, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, said most cases go unreported because families prefer direct negotiation with kidnappers to lessen the risk of their abducted loved ones being harmed. But families also refrain from contacting law enforcers out of suspicion of links between the latter and the kidnap gangs. Indeed, people who've witnessed abductions speak of victims being taken away by men in police uniforms and driving police cars. These concerns are further fuelled by the fact that few kidnappers are ever caught.
With so many women apparently being abducted, there are worries that some are falling into the hands of sex-traffickers. In a recent police raid on a house in the southern Baghdad suburb of Dora, officers discovered two kidnapped women together with forged passports - an indication that the abductors were preparing to traffic them abroad, said senior police officer Thair Hamid. Women have turned into "cheap and exchangeable goods" in Iraq, according to the Women's Freedom organisation.
Reports of US-backed Sunni militias being organized have brought new uncertainty to deepening chaos in Iraq. Some Sunni leaders from al-Anbar province recently met away from their tribes to set up the new groups, according to local reports. These new militias have received early praise from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US officials. However, they could in fact undermine Maliki's four-point plan to unite Shi'ite and Sunni parties in his government in an effort to end sectarian violence.
The United States had earlier called for the disarming of all militias for the sake of peace and reconciliation, but that policy has clearly changed. The occupation forces now back both Shi'ite and Sunni militias in different areas of the country. These new groups are drawing strong condemnation from other Sunni tribal chiefs. "They are a group of thieves who are arming thieves, and this is something dangerous and nasty," said Sheikh Sa'adoon, chief of a large Sunni tribe near Khaldiyah city in al-Anbar. "This only means we will have more disturbances here, and it could create local civil war." Another tribal leader in the area, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "They are only doing this in order to kill as many Sunnis as possible, and this time with Sunni hands." He said true tribal leaders should lead any militias they form, rather than issue orders from the Green Zone, the US and Iraqi government enclave in Baghdad. "Leaders should lead their soldiers on the battlefield, but those so-called sheikhs are well protected behind concrete walls inside the dirty zone [Green Zone]," he said. "How can they win a battle by remote control?"
The controversial move also appears to have brought widespread condemnation from academics, Iraqi military leaders and even Shi'ite politicians. "It is a new way of making millions of dollars," said a professor at al-Anbar University in Ramadi. New Iraqi Army Brigadier-General Jassim Rashid al-Dulaimi, from Anbar province, said: "I cannot imagine 30,000 more guns in the Iraqi field. I hope they will reject the idea. Iraq needs more engineers and clean politicians to solve the dilemma of the existing militias rather than recruiting new ones to kill more Iraqis. The idea sounds to me [like] turning the country into a mercenary-recruitment center."
Shi'ite leader Jaafar al-Assadi said the move would bring more violence. "Al-Anbar will fight even more now with the guns given to those fools," he said. "They are surely going to sell their weapons to the terrorists or surrender to them sooner or later." Some of these group leaders have distanced themselves from the new militias. Sheikh Hamid Muhanna, chief of the large tribe al-Bu Alwan, appeared on Al-Jazeera television denying the creation of such militias. He said he and the other sheikhs were in control of their tribes, and those who met with Maliki spoke for themselves only.
Iraq's school and university system is in danger of collapse in large areas of the country as pupils and teachers take flight in the face of threats of violence. Professors and parents have told the Guardian they no longer feel safe to attend their educational institutions. In some schools and colleges, up to half the staff have fled abroad, resigned or applied to go on prolonged vacation, and class sizes have also dropped by up to half in the areas that are the worst affected.
Professionals in higher education, particularly those teaching the sciences and in health, have been targeted for assassination. Universities from Basra in the south to Kirkuk and Mosul in the north have been infiltrated by militia organisations, while the same militias from Islamic organisations regularly intimidate female students at the school and university gates for failing to wear the hijab. Women teachers have been ordered by their ministry to adopt Islamic codes of clothing and behaviour. "The militias from all sides are in the universities. Classes are not happening because of the chaos, and colleagues are fleeing if they can," said Professor Saad Jawad, a lecturer in political science at Baghdad University.
COMMENT: While this is noteworthy and has a serious knock-on effect, it is not news. The educated professional classes such as teachers and doctors have been targetted for a long time and most have fled the country in fear of their lives. This has left both the health and education systems in a mess and caused problems for those Iraqis who can't afford to go abroad for treatment or education. Without access to conventional medicine, people are turning to the ancient craft of Hijamma, or cupping. A U.N. report says at least 102 doctors have been killed, with 250 more kidnapped, 164 nurses have been killed and 77 wounded. Sunnis are afraid to go to hospitals in Shiite neighborhoods. 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. 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. COMMENT ENDS.
Iraqi tribal leaders have met in Babylon governorate south of Baghdad and signed a pact of honour to end the violence and the forced eviction of people from their homes. About 70 tribal leaders representing tribes in Babylon and Wasit governorates held their meeting on Wednesday in a school building near al-Hilla, the capital of Babylon, and exchanged views on how to stop death squads from killing and forcing people out of their homes along sectarian lines.
The leaders agreed to form committees to work on locating those who have been displaced and bring them back home. Muhamad al-Ghurair, an Iraqi journalist attended the meeting, said the leaders were frustrated. "They were full of determination and hope, but at the same time they knew they do not have the ability to work independently to achieve what they agreed on. They need a lot of cash and equipment," he said. Senior Iraqi army and police officers attended the meeting and promised to help the leaders to achieve peace.
COMMENT: Tribal leaders promising to help with the security situation is a subject which keeps cropping up and is of relevance because Iraq is still a tribal society to a certain degree and therefore the sheikhs hold a certain amount of power. Tribal leaders from al-Anbar had pledged in September to outroot militants, however some of these tribes support the insurgents and following that pledge there was a disagreement between the tribal leaders in which some decided to excommunicate and ‘shed the blood’ of those who had pledged to fight Al-Qaeda fighters in Anbar during meetings with PM Nuri Al-Maliki and American military commanders at Baghdad. The tribal leaders threatened were from the large Sunni Dulaim clan. COMMENT ENDS.
A political solution must be found to the problem of Iraq's sectarian violence that will lead to militias to "dissolve themselves," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday ahead of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Enroute to Baghdad on Thursday, Rice underlined that Iraq's leaders "don't have time for endless debate of these issues. They have really got to move forward."
"The dissolution of militia must be through the political powers. There is more than one way leading to a solution, and the militias will dissolve themselves," al-Maliki told the Associated Press during an "iftar" dinner, the meal that ends the daily Ramadan fast. "Militias do not conform with a government. Political parties have militias and they are part of the government and participate in the political process. The parties are required to dissolve these militias," he said.
Al-Maliki has frequently called for militias to be dissolved, insisting that weapons must only be in the hands of national security forces. But Sunni leaders have accused the government of balking at moving forcefully against Shiite militias blamed in much of the violence because of their links to Shiite political parties.
COMMENT: al-Maliki has been under pressure to crack down on the militias, something that was part of his original security plan when he took office but to-date he has failed to deal with the problem, possibly in part due to the fact that al-Sadr's party - who were key to getting al-Maliki in - and SCIRI are both allied to large militias (the Mahdi Militia and the Badr Corps) and he needs their political support. The militias are unlikely to 'dissolve themselves', even with political pressure as some forces are very large and spread across the country with rogue elements who probably won't heed their political counterparts. al-Maliki's reference to the security forces is also interesting as in parts of the country these have been infiltrated by both the Badr Corps and the Mahdi Militia. COMMENT ENDS.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The verdict in the first trial of Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity will not be issued as expected on October 16, the chief prosecutor has said. The session on that date will instead see the presentation of more defense arguments, prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi said. Saddam and seven co-defendants face possible execution by hanging if found guilty on charges of crimes against humanity over a crackdown on Shiites in the town of Dujail launched in 1982. A five-judge panel will decide the ruling by a majority vote. The judges adjourned July 27 to consider their ruling, and had been expected to announce it Oct. 16. "Politically, (the judges) are not ready (to rule) because of their fear of the insurgency. Procedurally they are not ready because they might have to execute him before the next trial is completed," said Monasebian, an international law professor at New Jersey's Seton Hall University. "And thirdly they are not ready (because) they haven't reviewed the evidence." Both Iran - who has filed complaints against Saddam - and the U.S. have pushed for a speedy resumption to what has turned into a long drawn out trial.
Citigroup, in cooperation with US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), yesterday announced the launching of a $70 million structured credit facility for the benefit of the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI). The move allows it to issue Letters of Credit which would be confirmed by leading financial institutions. The $70 million structured facility was arranged, structured and coordinated by Citigroup's Export and Agency Finance group.
By supporting the bank's reimbursement obligations to confirming banks via a special trust, the trust will facilitate the provision of goods and services vital to Iraq's reconstruction after decades of international isolation. Specifically, the trust will only guaranty reimbursement obligations on TBI letters of credit that are not, or not entirely, supported by export credit agency cover. This unique facility represents the first time commercial lenders such as Citigroup and others are able to extend letters of credit in Iraq that are not fully cash collateralised.
Iraqi authorities have taken a police brigade out of service and returned them to training because of "complicity" with death squads in the wake of a mass kidnapping in Baghdad this week, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday. The kidnapping took place on Sunday, when gunmen stormed into a frozen meats factory in the Amil district and snatched 24 workers, shooting two others. The bodies of seven of the workers were found later but the fate of the others remains unknown.
"There was some possible complicity in allowing death squad elements to move freely when they should have been impeding them," he told a Baghdad press conference. "The forces in the unit have not put their full allegiance to the government of Iraq and gave their allegiance to others," he said. The suspended brigade has about 650-700 policemen, Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Karim Mohammedawi said.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said Tuesday that the commander of the unit, a lieutenant colonel, had been detained and was being investigated, and that the major general who commands the battalion that includes the suspended brigade has been suspended temporarily and ordered transferred. Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the chief ministry spokesman, said a random selection of troops in the suspended unit were being investigated for ties to militias.
COMMENT: Whether there is a link or not - highly likely as there has been such a high degree of infiltration of militias into security forces - this is a move by the government to make a statement that they are 'dealing with the situation' and have it under control. There have been several previous events when questions have been raised about the behaviour of Interior Ministry Forces or other security forces, in some cases the coalition have produced proof of death squad activities, however those forces were never reprimanded. COMMENT ENDS.
Extracts from: Iraq: The Geopolitics Of Oil. The following paper was presented by Issam al-Chalabi at the 27th Oil and Money Conference held in London on 18-19 September 2006. Mr Chalabi is a former Iraqi Minister of Oil and a former President of the Iraq National Oil Company.
My presentation today will only relate to Iraq, a country that has remained at the center of attention for many years .... Whether or not oil was the real target of that [U.S.] invasion will surely remain a subject of controversy for researchers and politicians for decades to come. However, one of the architects of the war, US Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz, when asked why the US did not attack North Korea after it admitted to possessing weapons of mass destruction, replied without hesitation: "Iraq floats on oil."
The Iraq war has become more controversial as virtually everything has turned sour: the political process is deadlocked, security deteriorates year after year and month after month and the economy is in shambles, with unemployment reaching 51% and severe shortages of fuel, electricity, water and every other indicator. On top of that, the performance of the oil industry has fallen short of the minimum expectations both upstream and downstream.
When Iraq's draft constitution was promulgated in August last year, I said from this podium that "the relevant articles on the oil and gas industries seem to contain the seeds for conflicts and possible fragmentation." That was one of the main reasons for threats to boycott the 15 October 2005 referendum... It has been almost eight months since that date, and the deputies are still arguing about the definition of the starting date.
This led to two major developments in the form of attempts to establish controversial laws prior to any possible amendments to the constitution. The first relates to the insistence of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on the full ownership, control, development and operation of the oil industry, both upstream and downstream, in accordance with its own interpretation of the disputed articles on oil and gas. As an example, Article 111 of the constitution states that "oil and gas is the property of all the Iraqi people in all the regions and provinces." However, the KRG says that such resources within Kurdish areas are owned only by the people of Kurdistan. It also says that the regional parliament of Kurdistan is the sole legislative authority over all petroleum operations in that region.
The KRG on 7 August published the draft of a proposed petroleum act and followed it last week with a final draft to be submitted for enactment. This move came as a surprise to the central government, which was itself preparing a draft hydrocarbon law for the whole country in a ministerial committee headed by the deputy PM, Barham Salih who happens to be a leading Kurdish figure and representing the Kurdish parties in the central government. Among other controversial articles in the Kurdish legislation, it is stated that it will apply to all "disputed territories," meaning the currently-producing Kirkuk, Mosul and other oil fields as well as all other undeveloped fields. It clearly states that no law, contract or license issued by the central government can be applied without the explicit agreement of the KRG.
The Iraqi Oil Minister Husain al-Shahristani said a few weeks ago that there will be only one authority in control of oil resources. Yet there has so far been no official reaction to the latest Kurdish move, and it remains unclear what will be the fate of the draft hydrocarbon law that is supposed to be finalized and submitted to the Iraqi parliament for legislation by the end of the year. The KRG is continuing to sign production-sharing agreements for blocks and structures under its control, as with DNO of Norway, Genel Energi of Turkey, PetOil of Turkey and Canada's Western Oil Sands and Heritage. In one of these agreements profit oil will be shared on a 51-49% basis and cost recovery oil could reach as high as 80-90%.
The second major development is politically motivated but is also focused on the oil wealth in the southern part of Iraq. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the main groups in the present government, last week submitted to parliament a controversial draft law detailing the mechanism for establishing regional governments similar to that in the Kurdish region... A federal region in the southern part of Iraq could encompass up to nine provinces, including three oil-rich provinces - Basrah, Misan and Thi-Qar -- which contain oil fields with proven reserves of nearly 80bn barrels, or over 70% of Iraq's current proven reserves. These include undeveloped super giant oil fields such as West Qurna, Majnoon, Bin 'Umar, Halfaya, Nasiriya, and Ratawi and nearly 30 other fields.
Currently Iraq's oil exports are limited to those from the Basrah oilfields and some from Misan. These generate all the oil revenue on which the central government depends. The mishandling of oil and oil products has been known for some time but only came to light after the formation of the new government last May. Reports of missing oil barrels, smuggling and mishandling of funds have been made public through various channels, including inter alia official reports from the Inspector General of the Ministry of Oil and the Audit Board formed by representatives of the UN, IMF, World Bank and the Arab Fund. The report of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Oil listed seven illegal berthing facilities used for smuggling of oil products that had cost Iraq nearly $1.5bn. The Audit Board talks about hundreds of millions of dollars misplaced or missing.
The current Iraqi National Security Advisor, Muaffaq al-Ruba'i, said on 14 June that oil is at the heart of much of the heavy fighting around Basrah. "These oilfields are the richest in Iraq and constitute all the current Iraqi exports," he said. "If you don't understand what's happening there, follow the dollar sign. There is a 6,000 b/d difference between the level of production for exports and the level of actual exports. It goes into the pockets of warlords, organized crime and political parties." This figure for missing barrels is in fact much lower than estimates by other sources, but even at this level it adds up to nearly $130mn over and above the $1.5bn for smuggling and mishandling of imported oil products in the official ministry report.
In conclusion, I would like to make a second reference to my presentation a year ago at this conference, which some participants thought was rather pessimistic. The figures for production and exports were as I predicted. For the first eight months of 2006, production was 2.090mn b/d compared to the 2mn b/d I predicted, with exports averaging 1.506mn b/d compared to 1.5mn b/d. As for the future, I do not think that 3.5mn b/d will be attained before 2009-10 or that 6mn b/d will be reached before 2012 at best.
At least 14 people were killed and 75 wounded in a car bomb attack in central Baghdad on Wednesday which targeted the convoy of Industry Minister Fawzi al-Hariri, Interior Ministry sources said. Hariri, a Kurd, was not in the convoy when it was attacked. The car bomb detonated in the capital's Karrada district in the Christian neighborhood of Camp Sara as the convoy passed, police said. A subsequent roadside bomb blast also caused casualties. Insurgents fighting the Shi'ite-led national unity government have frequently targeted government ministers. A car bomb also killed one person when it exploded in Baghdad's restive, mainly Sunni, Dora district. There have been sectarian attacks in Dora previously and it is an area of Baghdad that was searched during Operation Forward Together, however, despite the searches, death squads and militants return to the areas that have been cleared.
According to Al-Sharqiyah television on October 3, 1,980 civilians were killed in Baghdad in September, the "Los Angeles Times" reported. Reuters reported on October 1 that partial statistics compiled by the Health Ministry and released by the Interior Ministry indicated a 42 percent rise in the civilian death toll from August to September. According to that report, some 1,089 civilians died in September, compared to 769 in August and 1,065 in July. The number apparently does not include the number of unidentified bodies that pass through the Baghdad morgue in a given month. A morgue official told Reuters that the number of bodies fell by 17 percent in August; September figures were not available, and officials said they have been ordered not to release data on deaths
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes to escape sectarian violence is rising dramatically. The group says almost 9,000 Iraqis per week are seeking safer lives elsewhere in the country. The IOM says there are now around 190,000 internally displaced persons in central and southern Iraq. The IOM says they urgently need shelter and jobs but that aid is running low.
The Iraqi parliament has cautiously welcomed a government plan to end sectarian violence. The four-point plan -- reached during talks on the night of October 2-3 with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- would create committees in Baghdad and elsewhere to monitor efforts against sectarian violence. Details still need to be worked out, and some Sunni lawmakers are skeptical Shi'ite leaders will allow security forces to crack down more strongly on Shi'ite militias. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said under the plan, parties with militias have agreed to take responsibility for the militias' actions.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
The United National Company for Organising Conferences and Fairs announced that it will arrange a conference and an international medical fair for reconstruction in Iraq on the 3rd of March 2007 in Kuwait. The purpose is to support and encourage investment in the medical field and health services in Iraq through exchanging point of views among the Gulf, Arabic and international companies who are interested in entering the Iraqi market in this field. Head of the organising committee, Badr Al-Inizi, said in a press conference that more than 500 international companies and institutions will participate in the fair.
The American Chamber of Commerce of Iraq (AmCham-Iraq) and the Iraqi Development Program (IDP) have announced plans for industry-government summits on the proposed hydrocarbon laws of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to take place in Amman, Jordan and Erbil during the fourth quarter of 2006. These events - the first of their kind - are designed to further the dialogue between global and regional oil companies interested in participating in the development of the Iraqi oil sectors and officials of the governments of the Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Initially in Amman, details of this process will be explained and leading oil and gas executives will have the opportunity to comment on the forthcoming legislation. Feedback will be filtered through AmCham Iraq and presented to the legislative decision making authorities in Iraq. Under AmCham-Iraq planning, the high-level summit in Amman will be followed by a two-day summit in Erbil with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Here there will be an opportunity to obtain the latest information on the KRG proposed hydrocarbon law and to engage in private one-on-one meetings with KRG senior decision makers.
Efforts to halt sectarian violence in Iraq have been thwarted, in part, because Shiite Muslim militiamen and the politicians who support them routinely intimidate members of Iraq's nascent police force into allowing the militias to control the streets, according to a top U.S. military official, Iraqi politicians and Iraqi police officials. The intimidation of police officers and their commanders is as big a threat to the police's ability to stop murders and kidnappings as the infiltration of the police force by Shiite militiamen, the U.S. military official said. Intimidation is a tougher problem because it can't be addressed by plucking infiltrators from the police department, the official said. U.S. officials have warned that the militias pose a bigger threat to Iraq's stability than Sunni insurgents, and they've pressured Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to root out militia members from the police force.
But U.S. officials say intimidation is a separate problem, one they don't know how to fix. More police officers are being threatened by militia members to look the other way — and they do so rather than risk retaliation. In the meantime, police officers say the threat of intimidation is heightened by their sense that the government can do little to protect them. In many Baghdad neighborhoods, Shiite militiamen, especially members of the Mahdi army, are the only security visible on the streets. Police feel obligated to the militiamen for their protection as well as for the safety of their homes and families in neighborhoods where the government cannot muster enough forces to stop attacks by Sunni Muslim insurgents.
A lawmaker in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party on Monday criticised Syria's decision to move troops from the Iraqi border to reinforce its border with Lebanon, saying it would make it easier for terrorists to pass into Iraq. The U.S. and Iraqi governments have long accused Syria of not doing enough to stop insurgents crossing into Iraq to fight U.S. troops. Syria denies the allegation, saying it is impossible to fully control the long desert border it shares with Iraq.
In remarks released on Sunday, Syrian President Bashar Assad disclosed for the first time that Syria is moving troops from the border with Iraq to strengthen its forces on the border with Lebanon. Europeans nations have also pressured Syria to secure its Lebanese border to prevent weapons from moving into that region, Moustapha said. He criticised the U.S. for excluding Syria from participating in talks about stabilising Iraq. Syria shares a 605 km. long border with the Iraqi governorates of Al-Anbar and Ninawa, both of which are insurgent strongholds in areas, as well as with Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. The long border is practically impossible to patrol and easy for smugglers and insurgents to cross without detection.
A recent spike in attacks on women has forced many in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to retreat into their homes or resort to armed escort by relatives and tribal guards. In recent weeks, Mosul residents have witnessed an unprecedented rise in the number of female corpses found throughout the city. Most of the women have been kidnapped and found with their throats slit or with bullet wounds to the head.
The increase in attacks on women has also been accompanied by a proportional increase in threats against clothiers and boutique shop owners, security officials have said. In the Sarj Khanah district in Mosul, where many western fashion boutiques are located, shop owners have found threatening flyers and messages left on their doors. One such flyer condemned "sacrilegious" clothing which it claimed corrupted young women with revealing clothes baring their shoulders and knees and called on all mannequins to be covered with proper Islamic garb. The flyers included verses from the Quran as well as hadith (oral traditions of the Prophet Muhammed) followed by threats and a promise of death.
COMMENT: The rising attacks on women and threats to clothes shops could indicate a stronger presence of Sunni extremist organisations who believe women should be covered up. There could also be an increase in attacks on security officers in the form of kidnapping and killing family members. COMMENT ENDS.
Security, Reconstruction, International
The United States is pressing some Latin American countries to send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq for non-combat missions as the Pentagon struggles to transition those operations from war to reconstruction. U.S. Gen. John Craddock, who heads the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, said discussions were under way at a meeting of nearly all the Western Hemisphere's defense ministers on how Latin American experiences might be applicable in both war zones. Colombia, for example, may send military personnel to Iraq to help secure some infrastructure, such as oil pipelines, Craddock said. Nicaraguan Army Gen. Moises Omar Halleslevens said his country may send a team to Afghanistan to remove mines.
The move comes as violence in both Afghanistan and Iraq has kept infrastructure improvements in many areas from progressing. Those improvements are seen as vital to bringing the combat phase of operations to an end and returning the countries to some level of relative calm, U.S. military officials say. They may also be critical to American plans to start bringing troops home, an issue that has garnered much attention in U.S. campaigns before November elections that will determine control of the U.S. Congress.
Those efforts are all part of Washington's push to maintain leadership and influence in the Western Hemisphere -- a part increasingly challenged by both U.S. foes and other global powers courting Latin American nations, officials and analysts say. Iran, for example, has built close relationships with both Venezuela and Cuba -- the two Western Hemisphere countries most hostile to the United States. Russia has become more active in the region too, recently selling $3 billion in weapons to Venezuela, while China offers arms sales and other agreements.
Iraq's prime minister announced a new plan Monday aimed at ending the deepening crisis between Shiite and Sunni parties in his government and uniting them behind the drive to stop sectarian killings that have bloodied the country for months.
The four-point plan, which emerged after talks between both sides, aims to resolve disputes by giving every party a voice in how security forces operate against violence on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood level. Local committees will be formed in each Baghdad district — made up of representatives of every party, religious and tribal leaders and security officials — to consult on security efforts. A Sunni representative, for example, could raise a complaint if he feels police are not pursuing a Shiite militia after an attack. A central committee, also made up of all the parties, will coordinate with the armed forces.
In addition to the local and central committees, the plan calls for establishment of a media committee and a monthly review of progress, al-Maliki said. However, the new plan does not directly tackle the issue of cracking down on Shiite militias, a step Sunnis demand but many Shiites oppose. In theory, the committees would give Sunnis a venue to press security forces to take action against militias. But Shiites on the committee would have an equal chance to try to prevent action.
The top parties are to meet Tuesday to work out the details of how the committees will work, but already divisions were showing — even over wording. Shiite parties want the new plan to be focused on "terrorism," which would suggest insurgents, while Sunnis want it to address "violence," which would include Shiite militias.
COMMENT: In theory this is a good plan and could have some success. It's not too different from how inter-tribal scores are settled. However, a lot of talking may be done and little action taken. If the two factions can't agree on wording in a document, they will struggle to agree on taking action. Al-Maliki announced a 24-point reconciliation plan when he took office in May, which laid down ways to tackle violence — including an amnesty for militants who put down their weapons as well as security crackdowns. The plan also sounded good in theory but has failed to bring the security situation under control and the pledge to deal with the militias was never honoured. The new plan still fails to deal with the militia issue directly, and that is the main issue that needs to be tackled. COMMENT ENDS.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Information recovered from safe houses when al Qaeda's leader in Iraq was killed six months ago placed the group's leadership in the Waziristan region of Pakistan, The Washington Post reported on Monday. A member of Osama bin Laden's high command said in a Dec. 11 letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that he was writing from al Qaeda headquarters in the semiautonomous tribal region where Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have been active, the report said. Zarqawi was killed in June when U.S. warplanes bombed his hide-out in a village north of Baghdad.
The letter to Zarqawi was signed by "Atiyah," a person counterterrorism officials believe is Atiyah Abd al Rahman, a 37-year-old Libyan who joined bin Laden during the 1980s, The Washington Post said. "I am with them," Atiyah writes Zarqawi of the high command, "and they have some comments about some of your circumstances," the article said.
If accurate, the letter would confirm their location at the time it was written, the newspaper said. Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere along the porous Afghan-Pakistan border. In the letter, Atiyah spoke of the difficulty of direct communications between Waziristan and Iraq and suggested it was easier for Zarqawi to send a representative to Pakistan than the other way around, the newspaper said.
According to the report, Atiyah's letter also shed new light on the depth of al Qaeda's concern over Zarqawi and the limits of its control over him. An English translation of the letter was released last week by the U.S. military's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the report said. It was the first document to emerge from what the military described as a "treasure trove" of information when Zarqawi was killed, the newspaper reported.
During the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is distributing food parcels for destitute families in Iraq. It has already delivered 3,660 parcels – each sufficient to cover the needs of a family of five for a month – to various charitable institutions in the country. Almost half the parcels went to Sunni and Shiite Waqfs (religious endowments) in Baghdad. The ICRC is also delivering relief goods to displaced people and others in need. Since June, in cooperation with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, it has been distributing such items as food parcels, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, jerrycans and blankets to 5,000 families every month, and it will continue to do so until November. In all, 30,000 families will benefit.
Jordan plans to resume importing cheap oil from Iraq, the Jordanian prime minister announced Monday, bringing a three-year hiatus to an end under a deal that envisions setting up a pipeline between the neighbours. Jordan is one of a few Arab countries that does not have significant oil reserves. It hiked fuel prices three times in the past year — the last time in April, almost doubling fuel costs for consumers. An additional increase is expected next March.
Prime Minister Marouf Al Bakhit said the oil would be bought at international market price, minus an unspecified number - referring to a preferential price, which economic analysts believe may be as much as US$10 (Ð7.9) lower than on the international market. He declined to reveal figures. Al Bakhit announced additional details of the deal that was first revealed in August in Baghdad. Jordan will import 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) -- about one-tenth of its daily requirements. He did not say when importing would resume.
At a later stage, Jordan will increase the figure to 30,000 bpd and that amount could be doubled, the prime minister told reporters.
Before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Jordan received all of its oil from its neighbour at highly preferential prices under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates stepped in to provide the cash-strapped kingdom with oil at prices that are believed to have been below market levels, though they were not made public. That deal only lasted for a year.
Iraq will give Jordan a discount because of their close ties and its history of providing its neighbour with inexpensive oil. Al Bakhit said the oil would come from the northern Iraqi refinery of Kirkuk and that it will be trucked overland across the desert into the kingdom by a joint Jordanian-Iraqi firm. Next year, Jordan will issue a tender to open up the transport of Jordan’s oil imports to other companies to guarantee shipment,” he added.
On Monday gunmen snatched 14 employees from computer stores in downtown Baghdad in the second mass kidnapping in as many days. Seven cars pulled up to the shops in front of Baghdad's Technical University, and gunmen wearing military-style uniforms fanned out to surround the buildings, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said. The attackers then forced the employees outside and into sport utility vehicles at gunpoint, he said.
On Sunday evening, 24 workers at a food factory in Baghdad were seized by gunmen who shot and wounded two workers who refused to climb into a refrigerated truck with their fellow captives. Similar mass kidnappings in the past have been blamed on either Sunni extremists or Shiite death squads, who sort the captives by their sect and kill their targets.
Parliament approved another month's extension of the state of emergency, in place since November 2004. The measure allows for a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems them necessary. It applies everywhere except the northern Kurdish autonomous zone. "This extension of the state of emergency is needed because we are still in a big confrontation with terrorism," al-Inazi told the lawmakers. "Terrorists are planning to break into crucial areas. We have information proving that. These terrorist groups, which consist of 50 to 100 gunmen, are gathering in a camp-like areas in Baghdad's outskirts and Anbar," he said, without elaborating.
Parliamentarians, meanwhile, have been at loggerheads after revelations a senior Sunni politician's bodyguard had been implicated in a bomb plot against Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the seat of the government. Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani cut off further debate on the subject and forced the fractious deputies to focus on the legislative agenda, including renewing the long-running state of emergency.
But Sunni parliamentarians said the powers needed to be reviewed since they clearly were not improving the situation, and alleging security forces were corrupt.
Even after the measure passed with only 32 deputies out of 275 voting against, Sunni parliamentarian Hussein al-Falluji loudly disputed the action. The parliament had been expected to discuss the federalism law Monday which would set down the conditions for creating autonomous regions -- another contentious issue -- but instead chose to focus on minor laws. The atmosphere has been tense in parliament after the news of the bomb plot, and several Shiite deputies have called for investigations into Sunni politicians, suggesting they have links with insurgent groups. The Sunnis riposted that Shiite political parties are sponsoring armed militias responsible for much of the midnight killings across Baghdad.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday she plans to ask Saudi Arabia to do more to help stabilize Iraq by encouraging it to influence Iraqi Sunnis to become more involved in the political process. Speaking as she flew to the Middle East, Rice said she planned during her trip to talk to U.S. allies in the region about how they can assist the Iraqi and Lebanese governments as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rice's trip to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories is her first journey to the region since a July visit at height of the war between Israel and Hizbollah militants in Lebanon. During the trip, she plans to have a group meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the six Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Saudi Arabia considers itself the bastion of mainstream Sunni Islam. But its support for Sunni tribes in Iraq is tempered by concern that Saudi Islamists who have gone to fight alongside insurgents could return to fight in Saudi Arabia. "Saudi Arabia has a lot of standing with a number of the forces in Iraq and they have actually been very helpful in trying to get Sunnis involved in the election," Rice said. "So I think it would be very helpful if they were supportive of, and working toward, helping Prime Minister (Nuri) al-Maliki's national reconciliation plan. They have a lot of contacts among the tribes" she added.
Saudi officials have expressed fears that sectarian violence in Iraq between Sunni groups and the Shi'ite-dominated government could spill over Iraq's borders into neighboring countries or lead to the break-up of the country.
Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to put down their weapons temporarily, three of his aides told McClatchy Newspapers on Friday. According to three top al-Sadr aides, who agreed to discuss the meeting only if they weren't identified because it had been secret, al-Sadr told the commanders to: Reduce the size of units to 75 fighters, from as many as 400, to make the units more manageable, issue new identification cards to Mahdi army members to replace IDs that have been forged, send every member to an orientation course that would outline the group's mission and to lay down weapons temporarily.
Analysts differed on the significance of the directive, which al-Sadr delivered in secret to his commanders two weeks ago in the southern city of Kufa. Some saw it as al-Sadr's way of distancing himself from rising sectarian violence, most of which has been blamed on his followers. Others said the order was little more than an effort by al-Sadr to head off an offensive by American and Iraqi forces against his militia, which increasingly is seen as a shadow sectarian security force. Controlling many of Iraq's larger cities, the Mahdi uses its political hold on several government ministries to win new supporters.
Whichever view is correct, al-Sadr's directives suggest that his organization is feeling pressure to curb the violence between Shiites and their Sunni Muslim rivals. U.S. officials have blamed al-Sadr for much of the killing and have pledged to move against his forces. Now many think the Mahdi army controls security in much of Iraq through death squads and its infiltration and intimidation of Iraqi security forces. Al-Sadr's political supporters are influential with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who won his post through the backing of al-Sadr, who controls the largest voting bloc in the parliament.
Analysts also think that al-Sadr is having trouble controlling his organization. Some militant members have criticized him for joining the political process last year, accusing him of straying from his pledge to reject the American-created government and rid Iraq of foreign forces. A senior U.S. military official said this week that at least six former Mahdi army leaders no longer answer to al-Sadr. Those leaders now are members of rival groups that are competing for power, popularity and money from the same sources as al-Sadr.
Germany is to take part in the 2nd annual Kurdistan DBX International Trade Show which will be held in Suleimaniya from November 11th to 14th, 2006. German companies are interested in developing electrical services in Sulaymaniyah. The official spokesman of the German companies, Hoshiar Mustafa, said that their aim is to introduce the German companies to ministries, government institutions and regional companies.
Iraqi army forces started intensive raids on Sunday on houses in the western district of Hurriya in Baghdad, eyewitnesses told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The forces confiscated unlicensed weapons found in some houses during the search campaign, he said. The Iraqi forces did not give details over whether or not some arrests were made. Despite the curfew imposed, unidentified gunmen killed two civilians Saturday night in Hurriya. U.S. and Iraqi forces have intensively deployed in Hurriya over the last two days.
COMMENT: It should be noted that the Hurriya district has been plagued by dozens of violent sectarian incidents over the last few weeks, with many Sunni families asserting that they are the victims of an ongoing campaign of assassinations and kidnappings by armed groups associated with the Office of Moqtada al-Sadr (which maintains four branches in the Hurriya district), and that local police forces are heavily involved in many of these incidents. An inside source at the Hurriya police station stated that sympathetic policemen would notify the local Sadr offices during unannounced visits by American forces so that they would have time to hide their weapons and any hostages held at the offices. He added that Sadr’s offices routinely collect information on Sunni families residing at Hurriya.
Hurriya is a Shia majority district in western Baghdad. Its population is mostly Shia but sections of the district contain sizeable Sunni communities, most of which hail from al-Anbar. There have been countless tit-for-tat assassinations going on in the district and surrounding areas since the bombing of the Shia Samarra shrine last February. Several mosques have been attacked and there were a couple of suicide attacks over the last few months. A large number of Sunni families have been forced to leave the district. COMMENT ENDS.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Gunmen kidnapped 26 workers from a Baghdad meat processing plant on Sunday, police said, the latest of many mass kidnappings that officials say are motivated partly by money and partly by sectarian conflict. Men in civilian clothes drove into the factory in the mixed Amel district in the southwest of the capital, police said. One of their three vehicles resembled those used by police units. They drove their captives off in three trucks belonging to the plant, which specialises in making kibbeh spiced meatballs. There have been sectarian attacks in the area before.
Iraqi Shi'ite politicians called for a major cabinet overhaul on Sunday, two days after U.S. troops arrested a bodyguard for Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, one of the largest Sunni parties, on suspicion of plotting to bomb the fortified government compound. The arrest sparked angry comments from Shi'ite politicians and increased the tension between parliamentary blocs, which are built on sectarian and ethnic lines and struggled for months to agree the allocation of cabinet posts.
Bahaa al-Araji, an outspoken senior Shi'ite deputy from the United Iraqi Alliance, parliament's largest bloc, said on Sunday that the national unity government was "infiltrated by terrorists," drawing sharp rebukes from Sunni Arab lawmakers. Araji, whose affiliation is to the fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said a reshuffle should focus on ministers who provide security and basic services -- two areas where the government, like its predecessors, has struggled. Another senior Shi'ite official, from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party, said Maliki wanted to make changes but faced pressure from other factions to keep specific ministers.
COMMENT: Considering Araji is a Shia affiliated with al-Sadr, it is of interest that the ministers he is attacking are all Shias affiliated to Shia parties, with the exception of one Sunni and one Kurd. This indicates the widening chasm within the Shia bloc but also shows that as with Shia militias affiliated to Shia parties, certain ministers are not seen to be performing but are protected as they are Shias and Maliki is not strong enough to stand up to current allies whose support he depends on.
Minister of Interior - Jawad Al-Bolany, Shia, Minister of Defense - Abdu Alqadir Al-Ubaydi, Sunni who opposed Saddam, Minister of National Security - Sherwan Al-Waili, Shia and member of the al- Daw’wa Party, Minister of Municipalities - Riadh Ghareeb, Shia and member of the SCIRI, Minister of Electricity - Kareem Waheed, Shia and member of the UIA, Minister of Health - Ali Al-Shimmery, Shia and member of al-Sadr's bloc, Minister of Water Resources - Dr. Lateef Rasheed, Kurdish and member of the PUK, Minister of Education - Khudair Al-Khuzai, Shia. COMMENT ENDS.
Iraqi Shiite residents of Baghdad's Sadr City have expressed anger on over a picture of a grinning Jesus they mistook for a Shiite holy figure that appeared in the area after a joint US-Iraqi operation. Residents found a picture of "Buddy Jesus" from the 1999 film "Dogma" posted in the streets, accompanied by a badly photocopied pamphlet bearing a crude approximation of a US military crest and outlining a US "plan" to subjugate the neighborhood.
"That picture abuses our Imam Mahdi and his holy character, and mocks our sacred figures," said resident Abu Riyam Sunday, apparently mistaking the satirical movie still of Jesus for one of Shiite Islam's historical imams, whose images adopt a Jesus-like iconography. The grinning, winking model of Buddy Jesus giving a thumbs-up sign appeared in the comedy film as a fictional attempt by the Catholic Church to present a kinder and more accessible image of Christianity.
"If it wasn't so serious it would be funny," said a coalition spokesman, Major Will Willhoite. The pamphlets outlined a so-called plan to discredit the militias in the sprawling Baghdad slum of two million people, a stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "Destabilize security in the militia areas with explosions and assassinations to create panic" and "killing, raping and kidnapping women" were all measures the pamphlet recommended to cause people to lose faith in the militias. "Do not tell the suspect militias of these plans, but keep them among friendly forces," admonished the pamphlet.
The US military did not confirm that it had conducted an early-morning raid into Sadr City on Sunday, but said that an Iraqi force accompanied by coalition advisors did conduct an operation in "northeast" Baghdad.
Much of Baghdad's violence has been laid at the feet of Shiite militias, many of whom are based in Sadr City, but US forces have yet to enter the neighborhood in force.
COMMENT: The Buratha News Agency, a Shi’ite news organisation sponsored by SCIRI, reported on Saturday that a large number of American armoured vehicles entered the vicinity of sectors 47 and 48 of Sadr City. Their correspondent added that helicopters were circling the area and that flares were seen burning in the night’s sky with sporadic gunfire. As the pamphlets are of such poor quality it is possible they were planted in Sadr city in conjunction with a U.S. raid to make it look like the Americans left them there which would turn the population against the U.S. The Americans have used pamphlets before and the Iraqis succumb easily to gossip and outrageous rumours spread like wild fire with many convinced they are true. COMMENT ENDS.
Iraqi military forces have defeated what they called an attempt to create a breakaway Sunni religious territory in Iraq's eastern Diyala province, an army spokesman said on Saturday. "We foiled an attempt to establish an emirate in Diyala," said Brigadier General Shakr Al Kaabi of the Iraqi Army's Fifth Division on the second day of a wide-ranging operation sweeping through the provincial seat of Baquba. He added that according to their intelligence, this "emirate" – a term which can mean an independent state under a religious leader – was to have been announced at the end of Ramadan, around Oct. 22 or 23.
One of Iraq's most mixed Sunni-Shiite provinces, Diyala has in recent months been the site of brutal attacks mostly aimed at driving out civilians from rival sectarian groups. "Inside the Al Aqsa mosque we found leaflets calling for the forcible displacement of Shi’ites and promoting sectarian strife," Kaabi said, adding that they also found explosives tucked inside a coffin hidden in the mosque. By the second day of the operation, 130 people had been arrested, including 85 who were on wanted lists. Diyala has long been a haven for extremist Sunni groups.
COMMENT: Diyala province has a population of 1.3 million, lies northeast of Baghdad and extends as far as the Iranian border, with its capital at Baqubah (pop. 154,000). Diyala is among the more violent provinces in Iraq. It had been the site of a major Baath military base, and has a Sunni majority but substantial Shiite and Kurdish minorities. The border with Iran is mountainous and porous, facilitating smuggling routes and paths for insurgents. COMMENT ENDS.
Commerce, Security, Region
Fear of abductions and attacks on commercial convoys has prompted merchants in Iraq’s western Anbar province to divert their trade routes from Baghdad to Syria. The decision to deal directly with Syrian goods and products came after several drivers from the Anbar province were found killed along the highways to Baghdad. Their trucks hauling produce and other commodities had been looted and burned. Iraqi policemen who patrol the highways say they are unable to challenge the armed gangs and militias that operate near the towns such as Ramadi and Falluja that lie between much of Anbar province and Baghdad. The police say they are lack communications for use in emergencies and do not have enough weapons.
Many drivers say that the risk of being caught by ''death squads'' is now too high for them to venture near Baghdad. As a result, rather than sending goods to and from the Iraqi capital, an impromptu trading bloc has instead developed between Anbar province and neighbouring Syria.
Goods including vegetables, fruits, kitchen wares, water tanks and pipes, cement for construction projects and filters, flow into Iraq, while dates and other Iraqi fruit from the Iraqi towns of Qaim and Rudba are exported into Syria. The Iraqi traders say they expect trade across the Syrian Al-Walid border post to increase over the coming months, pointing out that the booming Anbar-Syria trade suits both sides. The Iraqi merchants, they say, by operating largely with the knowledge of the government can avoid taxes and duties, while the Syrians see Al-Anbar as a valuable new market for their goods.
COMMENT: The routes from Baghdad to towns in al-Anbar have been dangerous for a long time, with Baghdad drivers charging extortionate fees to travel west or turning down jobs altogether due to the dangers involved. While this initiative may well open lucrative trade options between the two countries, it is only a matter of time before militants and criminals start attacking the new route. COMMENT ENDS.
Security, Politics, Region
The deputy chief of staff of intelligence for multinational forces in Iraq (MNFI) says the coalition continues its effort to block foreign influence - including that of neighboring Iran. Army Major General Richard Zahner told reporters in Baghdad on Wednesday that, as part of the coalition's strategy for success in Iraq, "we're having to block Shiite extremists from linking with Iran." Zahner also outlined his understanding of Iran's strategy regarding Iraq. He said Iran is promoting a stable Iraq, but one in which Iran is a dominant force and there is no western counterbalance to Tehran's influence. Zahner said this is why Iran is so keen to hire, rent or control surrogates-such as the Shiite Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia and its affiliates. The JAM members started out as loyalists to religious cleric Muqtada as-Sadr but, as he has placed restraints on their actions, many have broken off and are operating as freelance militants.
"And, thus," Zahner said of Iran, "you see them enabling all comers, not just rogue JAM; they'll take anybody."
Iran is tactically smart, the official said, because it would not send Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps across the border to carry out military operations, but those forces will work with any number of useful surrogates.
He pointed to the southern Iraqi city of Basra as an example of a place where some of the violence "has been basically enhanced by Iran." But even while Iran is exerting its influence, Zahner said, the Iranians do not want violence to spiral out of control, "because it's not in their best interest to have a destabilized Iraq" since an Arab challenge to Iran from the south and a Kurdish challenge from the north "pose significant challenges to Iranian internal stability."
Since the Iranians are not sure which ethnic or sectarian faction will emerge as the most powerful political force in Iraq, Zahner said, "basically they fund everybody." Asked to estimate how much money Iran has given to JAM in 2006, he said it ranges "in the millions of dollars."
An insurgent website announced that leaders from several clans of the Dulaim tribe met on Saturday in Ramadi at an Iftar banquet held at the residence of a tribal leader from the Mahamda clan, known for its strong support for the insurgency. The tribal chiefs decided to excommunicate and ‘shed the blood’ of tribal leaders who had pledged to fight Al-Qaeda fighters in Anbar during meetings with PM Nuri Al-Maliki and American military commanders at Baghdad.
The tribal leaders are: Sheikh Sattar Bizai’ Al-Fitaikhan, leader of the Al-Bu Risha clan; Sheikh Hameed Farhan, of the Al-Bu Dhiyab clan; Sheikh Amer Ali Al-Salman, of the Al-Bu Assaf clan; and Sheikh Khalaf Al-Tarmouz, of the Al-Bu Ghanim clan. All are influential leaders of the Dulaim tribe. An ultimatum was sent to their family members to disavow them within three days. Their clan members will meet to elect new leaders at a forthcoming meeting in an undisclosed location at Ramadi. Sheikh Sattar Bizai’ Al-Fitaikhan had announced Friday that his clansmen had captured five Al-Qaeda members, three of whom were Yemeni, between Ramadi and Hit in the Anbar governorate. The 1st and 7th divisions of the Iraqi army backed by American troops are still stationed near entry points to Ramadi.
COMMENT: The clash follows an annoucement on Wednesday by 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, saying he and about 15 other sheikhs had offered their cooperation to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. This latest development could indicate an increase in violence as tribal disputes increase, pro-insurgency tribes provide continued support to militants and combat Iraqi and U.S. security forces, and al-Maliki loses more of the valuable tribal support in the struggle to contain the violence at a time when there aren't enough Iraqi forces to control the al-Anbar province and the Americans decrease their postion there in order to attempt to combat the militias in Baghdad. COMMENT ENDS.