Saturday, October 14, 2006
The Third International Conference on the EU, Turkey and the Kurds will be held in Brussels, 16-17 October 2006. The EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) has this year chosen as the motto and main theme for the Conference: Time for Justice, Dialogue and Solution.
The developments both in Europe and Turkey over the last year indicate that the time has come for a solution of the single, most important issue that represents a persistent obstacle for Turkey developing into a fully democratic country, with European standards of human rights and respect for minorities, - the Kurdish Problem. This problem is the result of more than 80 years of a harsh assimilation policy and denial of the rights of its Kurdish population.
The steps taken so far by the Turkish government have only scratched the surface. The political statement of Prime Minister Erdogan in August 2005, recognising the Kurdish problem and promising a solution, has so far remained just idle words.
The EUTCC believes that now is the Time for Justice, to establish a new policy and new initiatives in order to secure justice for the Kurdish people, as well as for the Turkish population as a whole. The judiciary needs a complete overhaul. Experience over the last year has shown that both public prosecutors and many judges remain blind to the substantial legal reforms that have been made in the statute books. Instead they seem to be subservient to dictates by nationalistic and military groupings, rather than applying European human rights standards that are now part of Turkish law. The legislation, at all levels, must be cleansed of all discriminatory elements that prevent minority groups from enjoying their rights. It is not encouraging that the government, so far, obstinately refuses to accept the internationally recognised definition of minorities and the rights of such minorities.
The EUTCC also believes that now is the Time for Dialogue, that a genuine, fair and lasting solution of the Kurdish problem can only be achieved through dialogue. Experience from other parts of the world, including Europe (e.g. Northern Ireland, the Basque problem, Montenegro, Kosovo), have shown that a solution of ethnic, nationalistic and religious conflicts cannot be imposed from the top down. The people most involved in the problem must contribute to a solution, and this can only come about through peaceful dialogue and negotiations. In the case of Turkey, the EU should be able to play an important role in establishing the parameters of such a dialogue, and in seeing it through to a successful completion. But the start must come now. Turkey cannot enter the EU without peace within its borders.
The EUTCC further believes that now is the Time for Solution of the Kurdish problem. It believes a solution is possible. Many options are available. The political models range from some form of autonomy or devolved authority at the local level, to various forms of federalism. More important in the initial stages is to establish a plan, a program and an environment based on a genuine respect for the rights of the Kurdish population. This would include social and cultural rights, non-discrimination, a fair election system, full freedom of expression and of association, and in general all steps that are required in order to comply with the Copenhagen criteria, specifically the obligation to respect and promote the rights of minority groups.
The bodies of 26 Iraqis, apparently killed in retaliation for the killing of 14 Shiite construction workers, have been found scattered in and around the city of Balad, according to an official with Salaheddin Joint Coordination Center. The 14 Shiite construction workers, kidnapped on a road in the mainly Sunni town of Dhuluiya in Salaheddin province after leaving work Thursday, were found Friday morning with their throats slit and hands and legs bound, the official said.
Those workers were from the Shiite town of Balad, near Dhuluiya, which is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad. The official said it appeared the 26 deaths around Balad since the discovery of the slain construction workers was part of Shiite retaliation. The bodies were discovered on Friday and Saturday. He said a curfew has been imposed in Balad and Dhuluiya and a team of Iraqi police was sent to Balad to investigate.
The southern city of Najaf is under tight security as Shiites converge for a major commemoration. On Saturday they will observe the martyrdom of Imam Ali, Shiite Islam's most revered imam. A vehicle ban was imposed Thursday and will be in effect through the end of ceremonies Saturday.
Under pressure to take stronger action against sectarian violence, the ministry in charge of Iraq's police force will change top commanders and has already fired some 3,000 employees accused of corruption or rights abuses, a spokesman said Saturday. The Shiite-led police force is widely accused of being infiltrated by Shiite militias blamed in slayings of Sunni Arabs, and critics say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been reluctant to move against the militias since many are linked to parties in his coalition.
When the current government was formed in May, Interior Minister Jawad Bolani was brought to his post - in charge of police forces - in large part because he had no militia links. But his lack of militia connections has also given him less leverage to make change. Spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the ministry intended to carry out a shake up to ensure stronger action to stop the violence. "We are working on reshuffling the ministry's vital posts like (the leaders of the) police commandos and public order forces, as well as some undersecretaries," he told The Associated Press, without elaborating. He said most of the 3,000 employees who had been removed since May were suspected of corruption or human rights violations, but did not specify whether they were involved in militia activities. Up to 600 of them will face prosecution, he said
Still, Khalaf played down the role of the ministry's police forces in militia violence, blaming instead the Facilities Protection Service, rather than the police. The FPS, created to guard government buildings and infrastructure, has some 150,000 members but an unclear command structure. The FPS "is part of the problem in the death squad activities. They are not working under the supervision of either the Interior of the Defense Ministry but under the ministries that use them," Khalaf said. U.S. commanders have also said FPS members may be carrying out a large portion of the killings.
Authorities are investigating the assassination on Friday of Col. Salam al-Maamouri, a commander of the elite Scorpions police battalion, which was tasked with going after both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Al-Maamouri, a Shiite, was killed along with an aide in his office in the southern city of Hillah when a bomb exploded. Al-Maamouri was believed to have received threats from Shiite militias in the area because he was taking action against them. The militias were demanding his forces stay out of areas under their control and pressing him to release jailed fighters, one aide of the colonel told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. The Interior Ministry's Khalaf said the assassination appeared to have had help from "elements inside his office."
Al-Maamouri, 35, and other former army offices established the Scorpion battalion in July 2003 and later it was incorporated into the police. "He was a tough man who paid no regard to ethnic background and didn't operate along sectarian lines," said Hussein Abdul-Sada, a member of Hillah's provincial council.
A group from the Kurdish militia belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) attacked the Nineveh headquarters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement's TV station, Ashur TV. The KDP militia forced the TV station staff, including two female news anchors, out of the building and forcibly confined them in their vehicle outside of the Bakhdeda (Hamdaniya) TV station. The Ashur TV station staff driver was severely beaten by the KDP militia and was hospitalized. This is the latest in a string of attacks by the KDP militia on the independently run AshurTV in the predominantly Assyrian Christian area of the Nineveh Plains.
Many Shiites in Basra say they want British troops to leave, though the region is still bloodied by a persistent grind of killings, including Sunni insurgent bombings and Shiite-on-Shiite slayings amid a competition for political control. Several prominent Basra leaders on Friday agreed with an assessment by Britain's army chief that the British presence only worsens the violence and the soldiers should withdraw soon. Gen. Richard Dannatt backpedaled Friday from the comments he made in an interview a day earlier, saying he meant troops should leave within years, but the statements caused a political storm in Britain.
In Basra, Shiites insist the British presence only provides a target for attackers seeking to end the "occupation", and some said the troops are doing nothing to rein in party-backed Shiite militias that have risen to prominence. The central government in Baghdad underlined on Friday that it wants U.S. and British troops to remain, saying they are needed to contain the violence and train Iraqi forces.
The predominantly Shiite south has long been less violent than Baghdad and the Sunni regions of central and western Iraq, where the anti-U.S. insurgency has been based. But there has still been steady bloodshed, and it has increased this year with the swelling of sectarian killings across the country. Basra province, home to about 3 million people, where most of the 7,000 British troops are based, sees a constant toll of bombings, shootings and kidnappings.
They come in part from Sunni insurgent attacks against British troops and Iraqi civilians with bombings, mortars and rocket fire. But increasingly the area has seen killings between Shiites as party-backed militias vie for influence. Shiite militias also intimidate residents, enforcing strict Islamic laws in some districts, such as banning haircuts seen as Western, forcing women to wear the veil and closing video and music shops.
An Islamic website posted a 17-minute video cassette showing a masked man called "Abu Osama Al-Iraqi" who presented himself as one of the commanders of the jihad in Iraq. In the cassette, he addressed Osama bin Laden with accusations against Al-Qaeda in Iraq and its commanders, and threatened that the Iraqi mujahideen would fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"Abu Osama Al-Iraqi" set out a long list of acts of harassment, murder, expulsion, damage to property, and expropriation of money perpetrated by Al-Qaeda members against the Iraqi mujahideen and their families. He also stated that Al-Qaeda members had expropriated the weapons of the other jihad factions, such as the Islamic Army, and were using the population as a human shield, without consulting with the clerics on this matter. He said that all these actions, including the murder of Iraqi jihad commanders, were aimed at the Iraqi jihad organizations that had refused to join Al-Qaeda or its Shura Council, and that in some Iraqi cities (Ramadi, Falluja, Al-Khalidiya), the Iraqi mujahideen had begun to fight them. As a result of this situation, he said, only the dregs remain in Al-Qaeda in Iraq; all the educated people have left it.
The speaker asks bin Laden to replace the amir of the jihad in Iraq and to appoint an Iraqi to this post, as he had appointed an Afghani to head the jihad in Afghanistan. If he did not, Al-Iraqi said, the Iraqi mujahideen would no longer heed him, and would kill and humiliate the members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Asylum claims by Iraqis in mainly European industralised countries in the first six months of the year grew by more than 50 percent compared to the first half of 2005 to reach 8,100, Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said. Iraqis are now the largest single national group seeking asylum in European countries, he told journalists. About 1.6 million Iraqis are now abroad. UNHCR staff monitoring the border say that at least 40,000 Iraqis are crossing into Syria every month, reversing a previous trend of returns.
More than 365,000 people have fled their homes in Iraqi since sectarian violence intensified February, the United Nations said this week. "Many of them are moving on to other countries in what could be termed a steady, silent exodus," Redmond told journalists. "Tens of thousands are moving on to Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gulf states and Europe," he added.
About 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes every month, according to the UNHCR, bringing the total of internally displaced to 1.5 million. In some central areas the number of displaced has increased ten-fold since the beginning of the year, the agency added. The number of Iraqis returning home from neighbouring countries has also slowed sharply from 50,000 last year to 1,000 so far this year, Redmond said. An estimated 500,000 Iraqis are in Jordan and some 450,000 are in Syria. The numbers include Iraqis who were exiled before the US-led invasion in 2003 and had remained outside the country.
Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Friday he would denounce any members of his own militia who are found to have taken part in a spate of death squad killings against Iraqis. "There are rumours that there are groups or persons from the Mehdi Army are attacking the Iraqi people with no right to do so," Sadr said in a statement bearing his signature distributed by his office in the holy city of Najaf. "It is not proved so far but, if proved, I will declare their names and will renounce them with no fear or hesitation," he said, amid growing evidence of links between the Mehdi Army and a surge in sectarian violence around Iraq.
Nevertheless, in recent months black-clad fighters claiming allegiance to the Mehdi Army have once again been involved in fighting with US and Iraqi forces and have been accused of supporting sectarian death squads. US commanders now cite Shiite militias as the biggest single threat to the stability of Iraq and warn that they are awaiting the green light from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to launch an operation to clear Sadr City of gunmen.
Sadr's admitted that some of his supporters might have made "personal decisions" to carry out attacks, and warned: "Criminals should not take righteousness as a shield." He said Mehdi Army fighters who carried out murders should make use of the holy month of Ramadan "to repent", warning that if they do not do so he will no longer seek to protect them from the consequences. "I ask them to do this because I love them, not because I need them," he said.
COMMENT: Having faced criticism that he is losing control of the Mahdi Militia, al-Sadr is trying to show that he is still in control. That rogue elements of the MM will pay heed to his threat is unlikely. Politically he also needs to be seen to be supporting the security effort. COMMENT ENDS.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Authorities imposed a ban on vehicle traffic in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Friday following clashes between police and unidentified gunmen. Eight gunmen were killed and two others wounded, while four policemen were injured in the fighting in three districts of the city Thursday evening, police Col. Abdul-Karim al-Jubouri said. Police arrested 21 of the gunmen and seized 10 cars, including a truck loaded with weapons, he said.
Mosul's usual ban on all vehicle and pedestrian traffic from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m was extended until 3:00 p.m. for vehicles over fears of car bombings, al-Jubouri said. Authorities in Baghdad have for the past several months imposed daylong curfews on Friday, the Muslim holy day of prayer, in an effort to stop sectarian attacks and car bombings that have often targeted worshippers.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett asserted yesterday that she does not support any plans to divide Iraq. She said: "It is not useful to discuss such plans." She added that "the current Iraqi government is a national unity government and we must support and help it", instead of talking about plans to divide the country. Beckett was speaking at a brief news conference that she held for London-based correspondents from the Middle East, the first since she took office.
Britain's new army chief called for a withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, warning that the military's presence there only exacerbates security problems, according to an interview published Thursday. Gen. Richard Dannatt described British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Iraq policies as "naive," declaring that while Iraqis might have welcomed coalition forces following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the good will has since evaporated after years of violence. The British government has not yet set a timetable for the departure of its 7,500 troops from Iraq.
The Defense Ministry responded to the interview by saying: "We have a clear strategy in Iraq. We are there with our international partners in support of the democratically elected government of Iraq, under a clear U.N. mandate." Blair's office referred all questions to the Defense Ministry.
Dannatt's comments are certain to infuriate Blair, who is President Bush's key ally in the Iraq war. It is highly unusual for a sitting British military commander to publicly criticize the government's foreign policy. Dannatt took over as army commander in late August. The general's comments may signal an increasing boldness among senior military officials who fear that the army is overstretched on two fronts - Afghanistan and Iraq. Other commanders have been quoted as saying the military needs to provide greater support for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dannatt said Britain's presence in the country was worsening security problems domestically too, contrary to Blair's claims that the war in Iraq had no link to the terror threat facing Britain. Such fears have been heightened since last year's terror attacks on London's transport system that killed 52 people and four suicide bombers. Dannatt was severely critical of British and American planning for postwar Iraq, describing the rationale behind the invasion as flawed.
Sunni politicians accused Shiite lawmakers Thursday of using dirty tricks to push through a new law on federalism. The passage of the bill has deepened feelings among some Sunni Arabs that their voices are being ignored in the political process, where Shiite parties dominate the government and parliament. The vote on the law Wednesday was marred by a boycott by the Sunni bloc of lawmakers, along with several Shiite parties, who also reject some specifics of the bill.
The boycott delayed the vote for several hours as supporters tried to convince lawmakers to attend and scrambled to achieve a quorum, 138 of the 275 legislators. The session was closed to the public, and after repeated counts it was announced that 140 lawmakers attended. The measure was passed unanimously by a show of hands, with no count of the vote. One of the main Sunni parties, however, accused the Shiites of fudging the numbers, saying quorum had not been reached. "The session was confused and turbulent. They claimed they met the quorum but they did not. There were no more than 126 lawmakers," said Mohammed al-Daimi of the National Dialogue Council. "We will raise an appeal against the process and seek an investigation into the vote," he said.
The number of lawmakers who attended Wednesday's session could not be independently confirmed, and doing so is made more difficult since parliament has sometimes cut corners in procedure. When the voting took place, all hands were raised in favor, so they were not counted. The headcount for quorum is done by parliament employees, each one counts a bloc, to which they are often sympathetic. Employees gave the Associated Press differing accounts: Shiite ones said 140 lawmakers were present, while Sunni ones said only 133. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.
Triumphant with the bill's passage, the Shiite SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim dismissed Sunni opponents of federalism as "Saddamists, Baathists and Takfiris (Islamic radicals)." Al-Mutlaq, of the Sunni Dialogue Front, meanwhile, said the votes of the Shiite lawmakers shouldn't be counted anyway, suggesting they were really loyal only to mainly Shiite Iran. "They hold Persian citizenship ... and so don't have legitimacy to be parliament members according to Iraqi constitution," he said.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
On Tuesday night, October 10, 2006, a fire erupted from an ammunition dump at an American base in al-Dawra, southeast Baghdad, which was claimed by both the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Conquering Army [Jeish al-Fatiheen]. It was also filmed by a Mujahid from the Salah al-Din al-Ayubi Brigade of the Islamic Iraqi Resistance Front, Ja’ami, which acknowledges the claims of the two aforementioned groups. The Islamic Army’s communiqué issued to their website and distributed to jihadist forums Wednesday, states that two Katyusha rockets and mortar shells were launched at the base, falling on a stack of ammunitions, which exploded. The sound from the explosion was heard over Baghdad.
Also on Wednesday, the Conquering Army issued two communiqués, one claiming responsibility for firing Grad rockets at the base at 11:55 PM Tuesday night, burning the ammunition warehouse, and the other assuring of the attack. According to the message contained the video from the Salah al-Din al-Ayubi Brigades, which followed the claims of responsibility, a Mujahid from the group “rushed while carrying his camera and recorded the scene of the fire in the base of shame and disgrace”. The group states that nearly 20 minutes of footage was captured, of which 58 seconds are included in the issued video.
The video is available here
Iraq Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari gave a briefing at the Ministry headquarters on Oct. 11. Zebari indicated that Iraq would shortly sign a trade agreement with the European Union (EU). The agreement would treat Iraq as a friendly country to the EU and give it priority in commercial exchanges, according to the Ministry.On Oct. 8 Zebari met with Ilka Uusitalo, the European Commission's Delegate to Iraq. At the meeting, Zebari emphasised the Iraqi government's pursuit of an agreement on political dialogue between Iraq and the EU, as well as the free trade agreement between them and the United Nations International Compact for Economic Partnership with Iraq.
The fate of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki hangs in the balance, as a result of the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad. This development comes in the wake of increasing talk in Iraqi political circles about the near departure of Al Maliki, because of the collapsed security situation. Sources close to Adnan Al Dulaimi, the chairman of the Sunni Conciliation Front, who met up with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her last visit to Baghdad a few days ago, told Gulf News: "Al Dulaimi told Rice that Al Maliki's good intentions were not enough.
Al Maliki is under tremendous pressure from his political bloc. The Shiite coalition wants Al Maliki to intensify huge security operations to crush armed groups, putting an end to the declining security situation. The Sunni political forces want Al Maliki to hit the armed militias. It is also said in Iraqi political circles that Rice mentioned the establishment of a National Rescue Government if sectarian strife continues to escalate.
Al Maliki has two options: one is to offer more concessions towards dialogue with Baathists and former-regime figures in the upcoming reconciliation conference. The Minister of State in Al Maliki's government told Gulf News the Prime Minister might issue new pardons, but releasing key figures from the former regime is out of the question. The second option is accelerating devastating strikes to armed groups. This may help in improving the security situation.
The Jordanian Al Rai newspaper's polls in Baghdad say sectarian strife has increased the popularity of Eyad Allawi (the former Prime Minister). Many believe he is the right man to control the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. Allawi, who is open to the idea of dialogue with the Baathists, may strengthen the chances of the reconciliation success. In addition Allawi greatly opposes the activities of armed militias.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will visit Turkey this weekend for talks that are expected to focus on the issue of Turkish Kurdish rebels who operate in northern Iraq and southern Turkey, the foreign minister said Wednesday. Al-Maliki will fly to Turkey on Sunday for the talks accompanied by a large team of advisers, including an official from the autonomous northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan, to talk about a wide range of issues between the neighboring countries, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters.
"The most important issue is known, namely the Turkish concern over the development of events, and the movement of the PKK," Zebari said, using the abbreviation for the Kurdistan Workers Party. The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984 in a fight that has left some 37,000 dead. Turkey has been pressing the United States to crackdown on the rebels, which operate out of bases in northern Iraq.
The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. It declared a unilateral cease-fire which came into effect on Oct. 1 following a surge of violence that left more than a dozen soldiers and policemen dead and injured tourists over a period of a few weeks. But Turkey has ignored the truce and has vowed to fight on until all rebels surrenders or are killed.
The Iranian Minister of Transportation said that Iran will invest $1 billion in Iraq concentrated in the energy, oil and transportation fields. The Minister added that Iran will also rebuild the port of Um Qasir.
The US military may soon be able to communicate better with Iraqis in their own language, thanks to technology developed by IBM that quickly translates spoken English into Iraqi Arabic. The technology could help the military overcome a major hurdle in Iraq, which is the inability of most soldiers to speak Arabic beyond basic phrases, and a shortage of interpreters, International Business Machines Corp and military officials said.
IBM says it has delivered 35 notebook computers with the voice recognition software to be initially used by medical personnel, US Special Operations forces and the US Marine Corps. It will be used to ease communication in medical situations and with Iraqi security forces and citizens.
For now, however, it will not be used in combat or conflict situations that require split-second communications and decision-making, according to IBM. "Our goal is to enable units operating in areas where human interpreters are scarce to communicate effectively with speakers of different languages in real-world tactical situations," said Wayne Richards, branch chief of the US Joint Forces Capabilities Division.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference has organized a meeting between Iraqi religious leaders representing Sunnis and Shi'is on Oct. 19-20, 2006. The meeting will take place in Mecca and the aim is to adopt a reconciliation document calling for ending the bloodshed in Iraq. The document, entitled "Mecca Al-Mukarramah Document", will be proclaimed in Mecca during the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramadan with the participation of senior Muslim scholars and authorities in Iraq.
The meeting is an initiative by the OIC to end the bloodshed in Iraq. It is emphasized that the meeting is religious and not political and is held under the umbrella of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, a subsidiary of the OIC. Once the reconciliation document is adopted, it will be a call to every Iraqi, stating the clear position of Islam on the prohibition of shedding a Muslim's blood. It will also call on Iraqi Muslims to abide by the clear principles of Islam in this regard.
Young Christian women are among the preferred targets of Iraq's growing abduction problem with many being raped and some committing suicide as a result of the shock, violence and shame they experience. AsiaNews says that this is all happening in Baghdad where kidnapping has become a growth industry. Criminal gangs are lining their pockets as the number of victims grows and the line-ups at border posts grow even longer with people trying to flee the country. Christians from any denominations, clergy or laity alike, are one of the preferred targets in the capital. Unofficial estimates put the number of young women and girls abducted in the last two weeks at 12.
On Monday, October 9, a prominent Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) priest, Fr. Paulos Iskander (Paul Alexander), was kidnapped by an unknown Islamic group. His ransom was posted at either $250,000 or $350,000. This group had demanded that signs be posted once again on his church apologizing for the Pope's remarks as a condition for negotiations to begin. Father Alexander was beheaded on Wednesday.
Meanwhile Iraqi Christians are increasingly scared. Sources in northern Iraq told AsiaNews that "hundreds of families are on the run, fleeing towards the border with Syria".
For planning purposes, the Army is gearing up to keep current troop levels in Iraq for another four years, a new indication that conditions there are too unstable to foresee an end to the war. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, cautioned against reading too much into the planning, which is done far in advance to prepare the right mix of combat units for expected deployments. He noted that it is easier to scale back later if conditions allow, than to ramp up if they don't.
Schoomaker's comments were the latest acknowledgment by Pentagon officials that a significant withdrawal of troops from Iraq is not likely in the immediate future. There are now 141,000 U.S. troops there. At a Pentagon news conference, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said that as recently as July he had expected to be able to recommend a substantial reduction in U.S. forces by now. But that plan was dropped as sectarian violence in Baghdad escalated.
While arguing that progress is still being made toward unifying Iraq's fractured political rivalries and stabilising the country, Casey also said the violence amounts to "a difficult situation that's likely to remain that way for some time." He made no predictions of future U.S. troop reductions.
The Iraqi parliament on Wednesday approved a law which would allow the country's 18 provinces to hold referendums to merge themselves into larger federal regions with a measure of self-government. All 138 lawmakers present approved the law - in a vote broadcast live on state television - giving the bill's supporters the barest possible majority of the total 275 members of the house. The reform has proved extremely controversial, with some leaders fearing that it could lead to the break-up of Iraq, but lawmakers have agreed that no province can begin the merger process for another 18 months.
Absentees included the two biggest Sunni blocs and two of the factions which make up the big Shia alliance - Moqtada Sadr's group and a smaller one called Al Fadhila - also boycotted the proceedings. Spokesmen for these groups later said they were totally opposed to the federal region's law. The Sunni group said they feared it heralded Iraq's fragmentation. Some Shia spokesmen said they believed it would have a negative impact on the political process and on hopes for national reconciliation. But Abdul aziz Hakim, the leader of the biggest Shia faction, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), described it as a blessed day.
Once the moratorium has passed, provinces seeking to merge with neighbouring areas can trigger a referendum at the request of a third of legislators in the provincial council or a tenth of their electorate. If approved by a majority of voters in the provinces concerned, the mergers will create super-provinces with more autonomy from Baghdad. This, in turn, is expected to confirm the de facto self-rule already enjoyed by the Kurdish north and lead to a new Shiite homeland in the oil-rich south. It also not clear what will happen to Baghdad under federal rule. The city's population is a volatile mix of Kurds, Shiite Arabs and Sunni Arabs and is already in the grip of a vicious sectarian conflict.
Reconstruction, Politics, Security
But first, Caldwell said, the Iraqi government recognizes that it must move forward with its proposed National Reconciliation and Dialogue Project, an initiative announced earlier in 2006 aimed at bringing Iraq's diverse communities together.
Caldwell reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met October 1 with political and religious leaders who signed a pledge to try to end sectarian violence in Baghdad by establishing new district committees tasked with monitoring and addressing Sunni-Shia violence in their communities. On October 7, Maliki met with ministerial officials and influential sheiks from al-Anbar province to develop and discuss solutions to the security and economic development challenges facing their region, second only to Baghdad in violent attacks. At the local level, Iraqi government and tribal officials across the country have met to consider ways to improve security.
Sunni and Shia religious leaders currently attending the Organization of the Islamic Conference in neighboring Saudi Arabia also are discussing the issue, Caldwell said, adding that later in October hundreds of Iraqis will meet for the third of four scheduled national conferences at the heart of the Iraqi government's national reconciliation initiative.
"The most telling sign of progress toward reconciliation is that the leaders from diverse factions, with different interests, are working together and are communicating with each other," the general said. Caldwell was joined by Rob Tillery, chief of staff for the State Department's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, who updated journalists on the progress of the U.S. provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs). He said the teams are aiding community authorities in achieving greater self-reliance by helping build strong local governments.
COMMENT: It all sounds dandy except al-Anbar tribes are increasingly joining the Mujahideen, tensions between Shias and Sunnis - particularly the politicians - are still running very high, to the extent that following the murder of al-Hashimi's brother, some Sunni politicians have threatened to take matters into their own hands. The insurgents are conducting attacks on a daily basis. Last, but by no means least, despite talk of it, the militias have still not been officially disarmed and bodies continue to pile up by the day. COMMENT ENDS.
Gunmen raided the Baghdad offices of a new Sunni television station Thursday, killing four guards and two employees, police said. An unknown number of gunmen pulled up at the southeastern Baghdad offices of Iraq's Shaabiya satellite station in six cars, stormed in, opened fire, and fled, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid said. The raid on came at around 7 a.m., police 1st Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun. The station went on the air earlier this year.
Shaabiya is owned by the National Justice and Progress Party, a small secular party which contested the last two elections but failed to win any seats in parliament. Shaabiya has so far only done test broadcasts, mainly of patriotic songs. Kamil said the staff had been a mix of Sunnis, Kurds and Shi'ites and that the station had no political agenda. Kamil said among those killed was the head of the party, Abdul-Rahim Nasrallah, who was also head of the station's board of directors.
Around the same time, a bomb exploded at 7 a.m. near a Shiite mosque in the Qahira neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad. Two minutes later, another bomb exploded nearby, wounding four people who had gathered at the site of the first explosion, police 1st Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said. Insurgents increasingly are detonating secondary bombs to cause high casualties among onlookers and rescue workers responding to the first explosion.
Elsewhere, in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, gunmen broke into the city's Hamza police station, killing one policeman and freeing 10 prisoners who were being held on various criminal charges, police Lt. Raid Jabir said. The raid came at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jabir said.
COMMENT: It is likely the raid on the TV station was carried out by Shia militias such as al-Sadr'sMahdi Militia or an offshoot of it, or SCIRI's Badr Corps. The bombs near the Shia mosque were possibly the act of Sunni insurgents. Both incidents are likely to lead to reprisal attacks. Following fighting in Diwaniyah between the Mahdi Militia or rogue elements of it and Iraqi and U.S. forces, arrests were made. It is probable that the gunmen were releasing fellow fighters who had been arrested. COMMENT ENDS.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
A video bearing a message from the Emir of the Twentieth Revolution Brigades in Iraq to the Iraqi people was issued by the group today, Tuesday, October 10, 2006. Within the 9:41 minute video, a man is shown seated, his face covered in white cloth, and holding his right hand extended and index finger raised, reminding Muslims of the purported evils of the Iraqi government. His speech seeks to incite the Iraqi people to jihad and support of the Mujahideen, questioning: “You have to know that Allah will ask you on the last day about what you did - and how will you reply?” The message bears the common vitriol of the insurgency groups, condemning the United States for its arrogance and alleged War on Islam, and branding the Iraqi regime as mere deceivers, conspiring to tighten their control of power.
The Emir’s message emphasizes the necessity for jihad, considering it a pillar of Islam, and urges: “Burn the unbelieving occupiers and their followers and agents, and make your land a grave for them. Spill the blood and join your brothers the Mujahideen with your souls and money, and read the truth and do not be deceived by the drumbeats of the media”.
COMMENT: The 1920 Revolution Brigades is a Sunni Islamic extremist group in the Iraqi insurgency that has claimed responsibility for several attacks on U.S. forces. Their name comes is in reference to the 1920 uprising against British colonial occupation, the 1920 Revolution Brigades is the military wing of the group once known as the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance. Like other insurgent groups, the 1920 Brigades fights to remove coalition troops from Iraq. Most of the 1920 Revolution Brigades’ attacks have focused on the area west of Baghdad, in the Sunni Triangle, with major assaults on U.S. troops and vehicles. Roadside improvised explosive devices and rocket and mortar attacks are their modus operandi. According to the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, the brigades released a statement on Feb. 13 of this year that claimed the group would “carry on jihad until the liberation and victory or [until they are] martyred.” COMMENT ENDS.
Two car bombs detonated almost simultaneously near the ministry of labour in the northeast of the city, killing two civilians and wounding 12 more. Another booby-trapped vehicle exploded in the southeast of the city, killing two bystanders and wounding 22 people, including eight policemen.
Gunmen assassinated Sheikh Raad Mutar Saleh, a leader of the tiny sect of Sabeans, sometimes known as Mandeans, a small pre-Muslim Gnostic group which is thought to have links to Judaism and early Christianity. The Sabeans are monotheistic, practice baptism and are mentioned in the Muslim Koran - along with Christians and Jews - as a "people of the book". Traditionally known as skilled silversmiths, Sabeans historically live in small numbers - fewer than 20,000 - in Iraq and Iran, although many have fled regional unrest and taken refuge in western countries.Muta Saleh was shot dead in Suweira, 65 kilometres (35 miles) southeast of Baghdad in the Tigris river valley, police said.
The Yazidis' Baba Sheikh, Khurto Hajji Ismail, leader of Iraq's embattled Yazidi religion, called for continued support from the US-led coalition, saying his half-million-strong community is threatened by Islamic extremists. "If no coalition forces were here, we would suffer from persecution and oppression," he added. While Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sunna and other Sunni extremist groups in Mosul have carried out assassinations against Iraqis of all religions, the Yazidis say their community is singled out because it is neither Christian nor Muslim. "We are caught between the borders of the Kurdish and Arab areas and sometimes the Sunni tribes threaten our villages and ask us to leave," the sheikh said.
Hundreds of Yazidi families have fled Mosul in the past two years leaving little more than a half dozen now. Most have found safety in the Kurdish Autonomous Region in the country's north where security is much better than the rest of the Iraq. Yazidis speak Kurdish and are granted full religious freedom under the regional government in which they also hold two ministerial posts. Ismail, however, maintains that minor officials resent them and prevent their villages from receiving adequate services.
"We are afraid of Islam," said Shirwan al-Fakir, whose family is charged with taking care of the main temple. He paused. "Not all, just the terrorists, because someone told them that the Yazidis are a problem."
COMMENT: The Yezidi religion dates to the 14th century, but some scholars believe that it could be even older. The belief system draws from Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Gnostic, and Zoroastrian beliefs and traditions. The Yezidi worship Malak Tawus, or "Peacock Angel," aka Lucifer. However, Lucifer is viewed differently from the Christian Lucifer, or devil. Yezidis see him as the chief archangel and creator of the material world. Yezidis have been careful to shield their religion due to criticism over being wrongly viewed as "devil worshippers," but their secrecy has also helped to fuel speculation about their religious practices.
The Yezidi pray twice a day, in the direction of the sun. Wednesday is considered their holy day, and Saturday is a day of rest. The Yezidi religion is practiced almost exclusively by Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Armenia, with the majority in Iraq. A large number of Yezidis also reside in Germany. The Yezidi religion is centered in the village of Lalish in northern Iraq's Ninawah Province. There are about 60,000 Yezidis in Iraq and Syria, 200,000 total worldwide. Yezidi religion places taboos on the eating of fish or the meat of gazelles; the wearing of blue clothing is forbidden. Fire, cocks, peacocks, snakes, bulls and scorpions all have religious significance and symbolism to the Yezidis.
Part of the ongoing persecution of the Yezidis by Arab governments, especially in Iraq, is to deny them even their separate identity as Kurds; in Iraq, the official policy is to refer to them as "Ummayad Arabs," connecting them (through improper historical data) to a branch of the Arabs rather than the Kurds. This effort to erase Yezidi identity has effected the Yezidi culture considerably, and it is common for higher-class Yezidi to take on Arab dress and language in an effort to conform and protect their property, while lower-class Yezidis continue to hold on to their Kurdish traditions. COMMENT ENDS.
For years, Parsons Corp. has profited from a steady stream of U.S. government contracts for major infrastructure. The Chairman and CEO is James McNulty, 64, a retired Army colonel who joined the company in 1988 and took over as CEO in 1996. The low-profile engineering giant has remained under the radar of most public interest groups and oversight bodies to become a key player in the reconstruction of Iraq, with contracts worth about $2 billion.
But shoddy work recently prompted the U.S. Corps of Engineers to cancel its $75 million contract to renovate a critical police training academy in Baghdad. Parsons also lost deals to build a prison and dozens of medical clinics in that country after the government cited missed deadlines and cost problems. Parsons said it has done the best work possible under the conditions in Iraq, where its reliance on subcontractors fearful of attacks has led to the delays and cost overruns. Despite the problems, the government has little choice about funneling lucrative contracts to Parsons and a small cadre of other companies capable of taking on such large-scale projects, said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group. "Regardless of how many there are or are not, the government doesn't do a good job of overseeing these projects," Schatz said.
As a private company, Parsons does not release financial figures and is not followed closely by Wall Street analysts. In addition, it's not tracked by the watchdog group Project On Government Oversight, which investigates waste and fraud. Parsons spokeswoman Erin Kuhlman said revenue climbed from $2.5 billion in 2003 to $3 billion in 2005 and now has about 11,600 employees and carries no corporate debt, she said.
Japan's ambassador for Iraqi reconstruction pledged continued assistance to the Middle East country during a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Gotaro Ogawa, who met al-Maliki on Monday, told the prime minister that Japan would "continue to contribute to Iraqi reconstruction" and invited him to visit Japan, the ministry said in a statement.
Al-Maliki replied that while Iraq faced grave difficulties in security, providing public services and rebuilding its economy, its situation was moving ahead "one step at a time" with the help of the international community, according to the statement. He said he would be happy to visit Japan, the statement said.
Japan backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and from 2004 provided troops for non-combat, humanitarian mission in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah. Tokyo withdrew the troops in July, after Iraq's own government was installed. It has since expanded its Kuwait-based air operations to ferry U.N. and coalition personnel and supplies to Iraq.
Iraqi lawmakers have unanimously approved a law which they hope will encourage foreign investment in the rebuilding of their war-torn oil-based economy. Among the sweeteners contained in the new investment law, however, is an offer of tax-free status over 10 years for licensed projects, and a vow not to expropriate or nationalise foreign-owned firms. "The law is passed in order to push forward the economic and social process, bring expertise and scientific expertise, develop human resources and create jobs for Iraqis," the text said.
Under the law, a National Committee on Investment will be formed under the prime minister's office to set Iraq's broad economic strategy and priorities for investment. A second panel, dubbed the Committee for Investment in the Provinces and Governorates, will issue licences to foreign investors and maintain offices in Iraq's 18 provinces. "Regardless of his nationality, the investor shall enjoy all merits and facilities and shall be subject to the obligations hereby mentioned," the 16-page law stipulated. Some politicians had expressed concern that foreigners might buy up vital assets in Iraq's potentially lucrative oil sector at fire-sale prices amid the post-war chaos, but the final draft was broadly welcomed.
Reports coming in from Northern Iraq indicate that a security operation carried out in Kirkuk by Kurdish peshmerge fighters has resulted in the deaths of 14 Turkmeni. US forces and helicopters reportedly provided backup support for the Kurdish forces. According to information provided by the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC), the security operation was started on Saturday by Kurdish peshmerge, and continues on even now, with fears that the number of dead Turkmeni will rise in coming days. The ITC also reports that Iraqi Arabs are being targeted in addition to the Turkmeni in the latest Kurdish operation.
A controversial new study contends nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war, suggesting a far higher death toll than other estimates. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington criticised the way the estimate was derived and noted that the results were released shortly before the Nov. 7 election. "This is not analysis, this is politics," Cordesman said.
In the new study, researchers attempt to calculate how many more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. Their conclusion, based on interviews of households and not a body count, is that about 600,000 died from violence, mostly gunfire. They also found a small increase in deaths from other causes like heart disease and cancer. "Deaths are occurring in Iraq now at a rate more than three times that from before the invasion of March 2003," Dr. Gilbert Burnham, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
The study by Burnham, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and others is to be published Thursday on the Web site of The Lancet, a medical journal. The major funder of the new study was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A fire broke out at an ammunition holding area at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Dora, southern Baghdad on Tuesday night, setting off a series of explosions from detonating tank and artillery shells that shook buildings miles away. The U.S. military said there were no immediate reports of casualties. It was not clear whether the ammunition holding area at FOB Falcon was hit by an attack. The cause of the fire was not immediately known, said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a military spokesman.
The Islamic Army in Iraq, an insurgent group believed to include former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, his intelligence service and army, claimed responsibility Wednesday in a statement posted on the Internet. "With the help of God, the mortar and rocket squads of the Islamic Army have shelled a U.S. Army base with two rockets and three mortar shells," said the statement posted on a Web site known to be used by insurgents. "The rockets and shells fell on ammunition dumps causing them to explode. Sounds of explosions were heard in Baghdad." The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified.
The six-month wave of Sunni-Shiite killings has fueled the flight of Iraqis from their homes. Iraq's Immigration Minister Abdul-Samad Sultan said more than 300,000 Iraqis have been displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Half of them, he said, fled their homes after the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra that sparked waves of violence. Those displaced mostly moved in with their own sectarian communities - Shiites fleeing mainly Sunni or mixed areas to Shiite-dominated ones, and vice versa -exacerbating the segregation of the country of some 30 million. Some 890,000 Iraqis have moved to Jordan, Iran and Syria since 2003, Sultan said.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
On Monday, 9 October, the Preparatory Group for the International Compact with Iraq (ICI) held its second meeting at UNAMI’s office in Baghdad. Co-chaired by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Saleh and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq Ashraf Qazi, the meeting was also attended by a high level delegation of the Iraqi Government including the Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, advisors to the Vice President, advisors to the Prime Ministers, the Government Spokesman and the Baghdad representatives of the ICI Preparatory Group member-states (EC, US, UK, Italy, South Korea, Germany, France, Japan.) The meeting was also attended via video-link by the EU presidency, World Bank, UN HQ in New York, the Arab Fund and the Islamic Development Bank.
The meeting discussed progress made thus far, and the upcoming steps to ensure success of the ICI. These steps will include, among others, expanding and reviewing the ICI draft to reflect comments by Iraqi officials and donors. Outcomes of the first round of Sector Working Groups and the second iteration of the ICI Document as updated will be presented to the Preparatory Group Members at the next PG meeting to be held on Oct 19 in Baghdad.
The sixth conference of reconstructing Iraq will be held in Washington DC, from 6-7 December. The organizing board of the conference said that it authorized the Iraqi Commissariat of Civil Society Institutions in Iraq to invite authorities of the business community and interested parties. The Commissariat indicated that this conference will be attended by senior Iraqi officials, as well as officials from major American governmental agencies that possess reconstruction contracts and which are interested in finding Iraqi partners and contractors. The conference will also be attended by delegates from firms from other countries interested in creating opportunities for contracts with Iraqi companies.
New Power Stations In Marsh Lands
(Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed) The director of electricity distribution in Dhiqar province said that two power generating stations have been built in the towns of Hammar and Al-Akeeka in the marsh areas south of the province. The two power stations will put an end to the regular electricity cuts affecting the region which has a population of 30,000. The project is part of accelerated reconstruction plans for the marsh lands.
(Al-Sabah al-Jadeed is an independent daily paper.)
Kirkuk Security Operation Ends
(Kurdistani Nwe) A major security sweep of the Kirkuk area by Iraqi army and police in cooperation with Coalition forces has netted 184 suspected insurgents, including a number of Syrians and Palestinians. Nearly 450 AK-47s and other types of machine guns were seized in the operation. Senior police officer Colonel Anwar Qadir said among the detainees were three Ansar Al-Sunna members.
(Kurdistani Nwe is a political daily issued by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.)
As sectarian violence spreads in iraq, shiite and sunni death squads are using the internet to advertise names, addresses and even occupations of those people they want to eliminate, a media report said on Monday. Sunni and Shia websites offer warnings to Iraqis about neighbourhoods and ministries that may have been infiltrated by militias, but the sites are also increasingly used as tools by those seeking names, addresses and occupations of citizens to kill, Newsweek reported.
Until recently, death threats in Iraq arrived the old-fashioned way of a flier found on a family's doorstep, warning them to leave the neighbourhood or suffer the consequences. Now Iraq's sectarian killers have discovered the anonymity and long reach of the Internet, the report says. The news magazine says it has found at least eight of these sites, but decided not to publish their web addresses.
The practice is openly endorsed by some Iraqi leaders. Jalal al-din saghir, an influential Shia cleric and parliamentary deputy sponsors several sites, it says. Some of the websites can be used to catch spies by tracking their movements, he was quoted as saying by the news magazine. Sunni sites, the report says, provide arabic-speaking users with a place to swap information about people who allegedly collaborate with shiite death squads in Baghdad.
Under intense pressure to put an to the violence, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a week ago announced a four-point security plan aimed at uniting the divided parties behind efforts to stop Shiite-Sunni killings. In a first step, officials said Tuesday that all security checkpoints in Baghdad would soon be manned by an equal number of Shiite and Sunni Arab troops to ensure the security forces do not allow sectarian attacks.
Al-Maliki's overall plan called for the creation of local Shiite-Sunni committees that will oversee policing in each district of Baghdad, reporting back to a Central Committee for Peace and Security to coordinate with the security forces and the prime minister. The effort to balance the checkpoints that dot the streets of Baghdad underlines the deep mistrust between Shiites and Sunnis within al-Maliki's government. Each side accuses the other of backing militias, and Sunnis in particular say the Shiite-dominated police force often allows Shiite militias to carry out kidnappings and murders.
The parties agreed Saturday on the makeup of the Central Committee, said a member of the new committee, Bassem Sherif, who represents the Shiite Fadila party on the body. The Central Committee includes four representatives each from the Shiite coalition that dominates parliament and the main Sunni coalition, along with one representative each from the Kurds and the Iraqi List, a mixed, secular party, Sherif said. The Central Committee will meet in the coming days to work with the Interior and Defense ministries on arranging the balanced checkpoints, Sherif said.
Iraqi police have been kitted out in new uniforms in an attempt to tackle death squads they claim are dressing as officers to carry out sectarian and political killings. Police officers wearing the new blue, black and grey uniform, in a digital camouflage pattern similar to that used in US uniforms, paraded in front of Jawad al-Bolani, the Iraqi interior minister, at a ceremony in Baghdad.
"We are all proud today that the national police force is wearing new uniforms to encounter all circumstances," Bolani said. "These new garments will not be counterfeited," he promised. Dozens of people are killed in sectarian attacks every day across the country. Many of the attacks are carried out by gunmen in police uniforms and vehicles.
Police commanders say many of the attackers are impostors have bought, stolen or produced their own counterfeit police uniforms. The old-style uniforms are freely available in many Baghdad markets. Police Colonel Abdul-Munim Jassim explained why the new uniform would be difficult for criminals to fake. "The Americans take a photo of the policeman together with the number of the uniform. If found elsewhere, it will immediately be recognised as stolen," he said.
Bolani promised tough measures against anyone caught counterfeiting or trading in the uniforms and praised his officers, telling them their work had begun to turn back the tide of violence around Iraq.
An audio interview with the purported spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq was posted on an Islamic Web site. Ibrahim al-Shammari said the insurgent group is capable of fighting for a dozen years, but isn't opposed to negotiations with the United States. Its authenticity could not be confirmed, but the site it was posted on is known for its access to militant groups.
COMMENT: A purported spokesman the Islamic Army in Iraq, offered to open negotiations with the Americans in an audiotape aired by Al-Jazeera television on Thursday 5th. 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 death of the brother of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the country's most prominent Sunni Arab politician, alarmed Sunnis and fueled their demands that the government crack down on Shiite militias. Critics of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accuse the Shiite leader of hesitating on reining in the militias because many of them, like the Mahdi Army, belong to parties in his government.
"The clock is starting to strike after today's events," Khalaf al-Alayan, a Sunni parliament member told The Associated Press. "They (Shiite militias) consider Sunnis terrorists who must be killed. If the zero hour is coming, we will take the decisions needed to defend ourselves." "We say to the government, you still did not disarm the militias," Salim Abdullah Tawfiq, a Sunni politician, said in a statement read in parliament. "And here is what it has led to." Al-Maliki condemned Monday's killing as an "ugly, terrorist crime."
Al-Hashimi's brother, Lt. Gen. Amir al-Hashimi, a Defense Ministry adviser, was slain when gunmen wearing military uniforms broke into his north Baghdad home, al-Moussawi said. The gunmen also abducted six of the general's guards and a neighbour, who is also an official in Tariq al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party, according to party officials.
The vice president already has lost two other siblings in violence: His sister and another brother were killed within two weeks of each other in April, both in shootings in the Iraqi capital. Two militiamen were arrested in the slaying of al-Hashimi's sister, but the government did not say to which militia they belonged. Al-Hashimi has one other brother, who is believed to be living abroad.
Authorities found the mutilated bodies of 60 men in Baghdad in the 24 hours ending Tuesday morning, likely the latest victims of the sectarian death squads that roam the capital. The bullet-riddled bodies all had their hands and feet bound and showed signs of torture - hallmarks of death-squad killings, police 1st Lt. Mohamed Khayon said. The victims were from 20 to 50 years old, and their bodies had been dumped in several neighborhoods. A car bomb exploded in a market in a Shiite district, killing at least 10 people and wounding 23, an attack likely carried out by Sunni insurgents.
Iraqi authorities arrested the head of the mess hall at a base where up to 400 mainly Shiite policemen suffered food poisoning during a Ramadan meal amid concerns it may have been the first known attempt by insurgents to carry out a mass poisoning against police. A military spokesman, Brig. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the poisoning likely was intentional, though he did not rule out that spoiled food was used in the meal as part of a scheme by contractors or officers to skim off money from food funds. Also detained for questioning was the Iraqi contractor hired to provide food for the base and a number of other people, al-Moussawi said, without providing details. Authorities were still investigating what substance may have been used in the case of a poisoning.
The Sunni Bubaz tribe, a large clan in the region of Samarra, Baghdad and Diyala in Iraq, issued a statement on Wednesday, October 4, 2006, which has appeared on jihadist forums. The message announces the formation of a Shura Council composed of leaders from the three areas, and further, responds to the call of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for reconciliation between the Mujahideen and tribes, which was approved of by Sunni scholar, Sheikh Hareth al-Dhari. Recognizing what they perceive as the enemy’s attempts to ruin the relationship between the Mujahideen and tribes, the group has decided: “To declare permanent reconciliation between the warring groups… [such] opens the field for the sons of the tribe to follow any faction or Jihadi brigade they wish to join in the quest for reward from Allah and destruction of the Crusader invade”.
The Shura Council of the Bubaz Tribe states: “Accordingly we will strike with an iron hand according to Shari'a and spill the blood of all who stand in the way of the project of reconciliation and brotherhood among the people of the tribe and our brothers on the path of Jihad, whatever their name is or rank in the tribe”. In an audio statement issued by the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq on Thursday, September 28, 2006, the Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, offered reconciliation for the month of Ramadan between the Mujahideen and those Sunni tribes which had fought them.
COMMENT: If the Mujahideen Shura Council accepts these terms, the extra tribal support will strengthen the Sunni insurgency, there is a possibility other tribes will follow the Al-Bubaz and with the tribes united with the Mujahideen as opposed to fighting them they can switch their focus to the U.S. and Iraqi security forces which means violnece against them is likely to escalate. This announcement shows how important it is to win the tribes over and to try and involve them politicallyin order to stabilise the country. However, in the past, giving them to much power has become a problem.
The history of the Al-Bubaz tribe is complex and they have fought the insurgents as well as collaborated with them. A year ago the Al-Bubaz tribe were asked to cooperate with the Americans by providing security. This offended the other tribes and led to fighting with the Al-Bubadri tribe. The Al-Bubaz tribe is one of the six tribes that refused to support the Iraqi government and hunt al-Qaeda. According to the New York Times on October 6, 2006, 25 out of 31 tribes in al-Anbar vowed to fight al-Qaeda. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) on June 30, 2006, the Al-Bubaz decided to oversee the movements of the tribes between Samarra, Tikrit and Baiji in coordination with local police.
Nine tribes agreed to purge the region of Al-Zarqawi's men, to fight the [Islamist] extremist ideology from the bottom up, and to establish a committee for defending the borders of the Salah Al-Din [district] in order to prevent foreign [jihad fighters] from entering it - Al-Bu'abas, Al-Bubaz, Al-Bunisan, Al-Bubdari, Al-Hamadaniyan, Al-Qaysiyin, Al-Jbour, Al-Dulaym, and Al-Janabiyin. A cease fire was reached in February 2006 under which the Al-Qaeda leader was expelled from Samarra and supporters of Al-Zarqawi stopped operations in the city and killing the Al-Bubaz tribesmen. In exchange, the tribe undertook to provide logistical help to Al-Qaeda in its war against the American forces. COMMENT ENDS.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Sunnis in Iraq are studying Shia religious history and customs to enable them to bluff their way through illegal checkpoints set up by Shia death squads. Relatives and neighbours meet to share knowledge on the 12 imams revered by Shias Muslims, test each other on the dates of Shia festivals or advise on where best to buy fake IDs with Shia names, in case they are challenged at gunpoint. Websites have also been established to help Sunnis learn how to pass themselves off as Shia.
Such knowledge can be a matter of life and death as Shia militias stop cars in the capital and demand to know if the driver is Sunni or Shia. Any driver identified as Sunni risks being kidnapped and tortured. Their bodies usually found dumped in the River Tigris or on a rubbish tip. Since Saturday at least 74 bodies have been found around the capital — often, Sunnis claim, killed with the complicity of the predominantly Shia police force in the city.
It was fear of such a fate that led Omar, a van driver who takes food produce to markets around the city, to decide last month only to travel if he had two ID cards on him. Omar is one of the most recognisable of Sunni names, so for $25 (£13) he paid a friend with contacts in the printing industry to have another printed for him with his name as Haider, a typical Shia name. He also carries in his car a round piece of clay, which Shia Muslims place on their foreheads when they pray. A green cloth, the traditional symbol of the Shia, is kept in the glove compartment for him to place over his car's gear stick when he enters Shia neighbourhoods.
"I am fortunate because my cousin's wife is Shia so she helps me and my family learn how to act like a Shia," he said. "I make all of us learn what she says. My children can now name all the imams and the year they were born and died. My oldest son even has a Shia religious ringtone on his mobile phone he switches to when he has to go to Shia areas."
The doctrinal differences between Shia and Sunni date back to the death of the Prophet Mohammed and a dispute about who should lead the Islamic community. Sunnis believe that it should have been Mohammed's companions, while Shia say that it should have stayed within his bloodline, through his son-in-law Ali and grandson Hussein.
Just two years ago the suggestion that relations between the two sects in the country could ever reach such a nadir was ridiculed by Iraqis, who would describe how for generations Shia and Sunni Muslims had intermarried, lived on the same streets and worked beside each other.
RAF Hercules transport aircraft are flying secret missions into the heart of insurgent territory in Iraq to re-supply long range desert patrols. Up to three sorties a week are being flown into Maysan province. The large but agile aeroplanes land on hastily constructed airstrips to deliver food, fuel and ammunition to cavalry soldiers operating far from friendly bases.
The missions have enabled troops from the Queen's Royal Hussars battlegroup to double the time spent watching the porous border with Iran for smugglers carrying bombs, guns and cash to fuel the insurgency in Iraq. Flying mostly at night from Qatar, the C130 Hercules land on runways made by Royal Engineers on dried lake beds, roads or abandoned airstrips.
"We never land in the same place twice," a pilot said. "The locals would be waiting for us if we went back." Soldiers on patrol along the border began relying on the air re-supply after British troops pulled out of Camp Abu Naji, in the lawless town of Al Amarah, in August. Senior RAF officers said the Army requested the covert re-supply effort so that they could regain their "freedom of manoeuvre" and avoid getting pinned down in fixed bases that were mortared daily.
An Army officer in Iraq said the drops had allowed elements of the 600-strong Queen's Royal Hussars group to remain in the desert for up to a month. Fluorescent strips that are visible only to the pilots mark the landing zones for the four-engine aircraft. On the ground, the Hercules keep their engines running and loadmasters push out cargo and unload any passengers in under nine minutes.
The 3rd International Rebuild Iraq Exhibition opened on Sunday in Amman at the Abdali Urban Regeneration site. At a press conference held last week, organisers announced that 1,025 companies from 48 countries would be participating in the exhibition, which spans over an area of 60,000 square metres
The exhibition, which extends through May 11, is so far the largest to have ever taken place in Jordan, with 5,000 Iraqi and 15,000 global visitors expected to attend, they said. The opening ceremony will be attended by an array of Iraqi ministers and officials. Exhibitors include companies from Austria, UK, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Cyprus, Greece, Luxembourg, Romania, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland and Poland. France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are taking par for the first time.
Running alongside the exhibition will be the 3rd International Conference "Doing Business in Iraq" which will take place at the Amman Inter.Continental Hotel on May 9 and 10 and will be attended by top Iraqi officials along with international and Jordanian experts. Two major new projects to set up new cement factories and new IT systems in Iraq will be announced at the conference,organised by the American Chamber of Commerce to update delegates on the business environment in Iraq.
Eleven soldiers were kidnapped when gunmen overran a military checkpoint in Baghdad on Monday. The gunmen arrived at the Sadr City checkpoint in a minivan and a car at 7 am, said police lieutenant Thaer Mahmoud. They seized all the soldiers on duty and made off. Mahmoud said it did not appear that anybody was shot in the incident. It was not clear who kidnapped the soldiers, but Sadr City is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr. The incident came a day after the US-led coalition killed 30 Mahdi fighters in the predominantly Shiite city of Diwaniyah in southern Iraq.
The brother of the Sunni Iraqi vice-president has been killed in his Baghdad home. General Amir al-Hashimi, brother of Tariq al-Hashimi, and an adviser in the defence ministry, was killed on Monday by unidentified gunmen wearing military uniforms in his home in north Baghdad, Brigadier Qassim al-Moussawi, the government spokesman said.
COMMENT: Hashimi heads the Iraqi Islamic Party, which operates under the umbrella of the Iraqi Accord Front—the first major alliance established within the Sunni Arab community. He is loosely associated with Egypt's fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and his party was the sole Sunni group to participate in the January 2005 elections. Hashimi strongly opposes autonomous regions in Iraq, supports removing Shiite militiamen from security forces, and undoing the purging of former Baathists. It is likely that Hashimi's brother was murdered by a Shia militia as a warning to him. The murder could have a destabilising effect on political negotiations as Hashimi is likely to blame Shia parties, in particular those with militias such as al-Sadr's party and SCIRI. COMMENT ENDS.
Politics, Commerce, International
Foreign minister Hoshiar Zibarri , received an official invitation from his Japanese counterpart to visit Tokyo to discuss the bilateral ties between the two countries in different fields. Zibari received the official invitation while he met with Japanese Ambassador in Iraq, Heshaw Yuma Goghy, at his office in the Foreign Ministry.
The Syrian Organisation for Human Rights in Syria (SOHR) said on Sunday that it was deeply concerned about "the deteriorating humanitarian condition" of the Palestinians who are stranded on the Iraqi-Syrian border and who include about 150 children. At present, there are 344 Palestinians at the Tanaf checkpoint and they are all reluctant to return to Iraq.
Iraq's ousted President Saddam Hussein had provided Palestinian refugees in Iraq with privileges, including free housing, stipends and government jobs. The largesse he showered them enraged many Iraqis, who coped with the deprivations of nearly 13 years of UN imposed sanctions, which ended after Saddam's ouster in 2003.
Scores of Iraqis attacked Palestinian homes in Baghdad after the Saddam regime's fall since Palestinians were seen as Saddam supporters. The attacks forced many Palestinians to flee the country or go into hiding.
Palestinians began flocking to the Tanaf checkpoint, some 306 km north-east of Damascus, last May, two days after the Syrian authorities allowed 287 Palestinians who were stranded for two months on the common border to enter its territory in what Syria said was a "humanitarian" gesture. Later, however, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that it would not allow additional Palestinians from Iraq to enter its territory. Syria seems reluctant to allow them in fearing that so doing would encourage other Palestinians who live in Iraq to head to Syria and thus overburden it. Already, Syria hosts about 500,000 Palestinians and more than 500,000 Iraqi refugees.
Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's genocide trial resumed after a two-week adjournment, despite a continuing boycott by his defence team. The defendants, Saddam and six former senior officials accused of ordering the brutal Anfal campaign against Iraq's Kurdish minority, were all present in court as the hearing began. Hearings were halted last month to allow the defendants time to sort out their defence. But the former strongman's lawyers said at the weekend they would not attend the trial at Saddam's own orders, in protest at alleged Iraqi government interference in proceedings.
Bombings and shootings are increasing in northern Iraq as part of a power struggle between Arabs and Kurds. Car bombings in oil-rich Kirkuk grew fivefold last month and hundreds of Kurdish families have left the north's biggest city, Mosul, to escape the violence. The bloodshed suggests growing strains in another of Iraq's sectarian divides. Baghdad has been suffering from violence between Sunni and Shiite death squads. In the north, the tensions are between Arabs and Kurds, who claim Kirkuk as part of their autonomous zone of Kurdistan to the north.
The number of car bomb attacks in the city jumped from three in August to 16 in September, according to figures from Kirkuk police. The number of deaths from violence in the city rose from 12 to 42. Numbers for the rest of Tamim province, where Kirkuk is the capital, were not available. But Associated Press figures gathered from police reports show a swell of violence. July was the peak with at least 93 dead, compared to around 20 a month in the spring. The attacks are largely blamed on Sunni Arab insurgents targeting Kurds and the Kurdish-dominated police force.
Sunni Arabs dominate Mosul — but not by much, with some 1.8 million out of the province's four million people, living alongside a population of some 1.3 million Kurds. The rest are a mixture of Turkoman, Yazidi and other ethnicities. Police could not provide official death figures from the province, but AP reports showed that deaths numbered around 80 a month from July through September, up from a few dozen a month in the spring.
Hundreds of members of an Iraqi police unit fell sick and three died after eating a suspect meal, their commander said, although officials played down the idea of a deliberate poisoning. Colonel Badr al-Ziadi said his men started falling ill immediately after breaking their daylight Ramadan fast on Sunday at the Numaniyah training base in eastern Iraq, and that 60 of them had required hospital treatment. "We are not sure whether there was something in the water or if the food was spoiled," the commander from the 4th police division, a largely Shiite unit answering to the interior ministry, told AFP.
A spokesman for the inerior ministry, Brigadier Abdel-Karim Khalaf, played down the incident, which he said appeared to be caused by food poisoning.This analysis was backed up by the regional governor, Latif al-Tarfah, who confirmed that three officers had died, but also said that an accidental contamination was the most likely explanation. Iraq's police force, which is dominated by Shiite officers, has become a target of choice for Sunni insurgents opposed to the US-backed government and more than 4,000 of them have been killed on duty over the past two years. The rebels' weapons of choice remain, however, car bombs and roadside booby traps, and there have been no prior reports of mass poisonings.
Al-Latif said food and water at the base are provided by an Australian contractor working through Iraqi subcontractors. He did not identify the Australian firm.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
An independent commission set up by Congress with the approval of President George W Bush may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions, according to well informed sources. The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former US secretary of state, is preparing to report after next month’s congressional elections amid signs that sectarian violence and attacks on coalition forces are spiralling out of control. The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls “cutting and running” or “staying the course”. The commission is considered to represent a last chance for fresh thinking on Iraq.
His group will not advise “partition”, but is believed to favour a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue. The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference.
Baker, a leading exponent of shuttle diplomacy, has already met representatives of the Syrian government and is planning to see the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations in New York. His group has yet to reach a final conclusion, but there is a growing consensus that America can neither pour more soldiers into Iraq nor suffer mounting casualties without any sign of progress. It is thought to support embedding more high-quality American military advisers in the Iraqi security forces rather than maintaining high troop levels in the country indefinitely.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, said last week that the unity government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, had only two months left to get a grip. Rumours abound that the much-admired ambassador could depart by Christmas. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, have resisted the break-up of Iraq on the grounds that it could lead to more violence, but are thought to be reconsidering. In Baghdad last week Rice indicated that time was running out for the Iraqi government to resolve the division of oil wealth and changes to the constitution.
Many Middle East experts are horrified by the difficulty of dividing the nation. “Fifty-three per cent of the population of Iraq live in four cities and three of them are mixed,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, who fears a bloody outcome.
Kurdish leaders and armed Sunni insurgents are close to striking a truce deal, said the secretary of the Kurdish Democratic Party. Fadil Mirani told Gulf News that contacts between Kurds and armed insurgents had reached an advanced stage. "President Jalal Talabani wants a more vital Kurdish role in backing the reconciliation process, initiated by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. Talabani wants to take executive steps that will help consolidate reconciliation and national unity.
"The most important of which will be disarming of political parties and elements linked to them, thus putting an end to weapons used in terrorist acts and sectarian violence." said Sa'adoun Al Faili, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Al Maliki, who succeeded in conducting two reconciliation conferences in Baghdad, for tribes and civil society organisations, failed in putting an end to sectarian violence.
Al Maliki was not successful in talking to Sunni insurgent groups, while Talabani was successful in this respect. Kurds do not believe that such conferences will yield tangible results and improve the security situation in Baghdad. The Kurds also want Al Maliki to cease dismantling the previous Iraqi army, in an attempt to win over the army's officers, to back the reconciliation process. Talabani, who has good relations with both former Baath leaders and Americans, can offer assurances to these armed groups in the event of an agreement on a cease fire. Al Maliki does not have this ability.
On the other hand, Talabani's moves towards presenting suggestions to back Al Maliki's initiative comes as a result of criticism directed towards the Kurds that they live in relative peace and prosperity. Al Maliki is facing tremendous pressure from Shiite religious and political leaderships, forcing him to reject talks with the Baathists and prominent figures from the former regime.
Religion, Security, Politics
Iraqi Sunni and Shiite religious leaders are planning to sign in Saudi Arabia a declaration that forbids inter-Islamic fighting, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference said on Saturday. "Four representatives of Sunni and Shiite parties started yesterday a preparatory meeting in Makkah ... to draft the covenant," the OIC's undersecretary for political affairs Izzat Mufti said. He said that the document will be discussed during a meeting of Iraqi religious leaders, which will take place in Makkah before the end of Ramadan. "This meeting aims to ban the fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in order to avoid a civil war" in Iraq, he said, adding that it is an OIC initiative "to help in ending the killings and bombings". Mufti said Iraq's revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani is strongly in favour of holding the meeting, but he did not disclose names of the Iraqi figures who will be attending.
COMMENT: A causiously optimistic move if enough Shia and Sunni religious leaders throw their weight behind it. Playing the religious card has been successful in the past when Sistani (the main Shia religious leader) issued a religious edict banning Shias from retaliating when attacked by Sunnis. This worked for a surprisngly long time, but has since been broken by militias and individuals. If some (all is unlikley) religious leaders, politicians and tribal leaders (sometimes one and the same thing) can cooperate on the issue, there may be a hope of controlling the security situation. If they don't listen to the politicians, most Iraqis will listen to either a tribal leader, a religious leader or both. COMMENT ENDS.
A referendum set for late next year over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Iraq shouldn't go ahead, according to ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party Balikesir Deputy Turhan Comez, who warns it could trigger a civil war.
"Parliament should convene for a closed-door meeting to discuss the situation in northern Iraq and reserve the right to launch a cross-border operation to protect the Iraqi Turkmens if a civil war erupts in Iraq," said Comez in a report published on Friday after his key visit to northern Iraq. The report was prepared after he and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Tokat Deputy Orhan Ziya Diren paid a four-day visit to the region late last month.
The report, which was submitted to Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc, the General Staff and leaders of political parties, urges Ankara to request a 10-year normalization period for Kirkuk instead of a referendum, to prevent the region from heading into civil war.
Comez concluded by saying, "If there's a referendum on Kirkuk's status, the region will most probably be dominated by the Iraqi Kurdish administration since some 600,000 Iraqi Kurds have moved to Kirkuk. Following such a referendum, inevitable chaos would ensue in the region and so the 2007 referendum shouldn't be held." Comez also warned that the referendum results, which wouldn't be accepted by the Turkmens or Arabs living in the region, could trigger a civil war in Iraq.
Comez, in his report, also urged Ankara to encourage the Iraqi Turkmens, who are politically divided, to unite and become an influential group in Iraqi political life. The report went on to suggest the opening of Turkish schools in Erbil and promoting Turkish language radio, TV and publications. Stressing the need to open a second border gate between Turkey and Iraq, the report also urged Ankara to consider opening consulates in Kirkuk and Erbil. Comez also underlined the need for Turkey to begin the construction of the Ilisu Dam in the southeast, stressing that it will be a strategic trump card in Turkey's hand.
U.S. and Iraqi troops killed 30 militants early on Sunday in fierce fighting in the flashpoint southern Shi'ite city of Diwaniya, the U.S. military said. The clashes broke out after a joint U.S.-Iraqi unit raided the house of Kifah al-Greiti, a Mahdi Army commander, said Iraqi Army Capt. Fatiq Ayed. The military said an M1A2 Abrams tank was severely damaged in the battle that erupted after militants opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades on U.S. and Iraqi forces on a mission to detain a "high-value" target. Diwaniya's southern districts are a stronghold for the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose movement is a key player in the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government of national unity.
A Mehdi Army official, who declined to be named, denied any involvement in the fighting and blamed rogue gunmen. He said Sadr had issued orders to the Mehdi Army "not to attack anybody, including the Americans". Another Mehdi Army official denied reports of the 30 killed and said only three people had been wounded. Hospital sources said four civilians were wounded, three men and a woman.
By midday, Diwaniya, 180 km (115 miles) south of Baghdad, was reported to be quiet, but there was a heavy U.S. military presence. U.S. and Iraqi troops have launched numerous operations in recent weeks against the Mehdi Army in their hunt for sectarian death squads accused of carrying out indiscriminate killings. The U.S. military statement said the high-value target, whom it did not name, had been captured by Iraqi troops during the operation. It said the suspect was accused of involvement in the deaths of Iraqi soldiers on August 28, when 20 soldiers were killed in a battle with Shi'ite militiamen in the city.
COMMENT: It is possible that al-sadr is speaking the thruth as Mahdi Militiamen who still listen to the cleric may have held their fire. However, al-Sadr is losing control of the Mahdi miltia with splinter groups forming who are hiring themselves out as death squads and criminal gangs. This could be the opposition the U.S. and Iraqi forceshave been up against in Diwaniyah. al-Sadr is likely to have lost more credibility with members of the Mahdi Militia if he actually did issue the order not to fight. COMMENT ENDS.