Friday, October 20, 2006


Mahdi Army seizes Amarah

The Mahdi Army seized total control of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah on Friday in one of the boldest acts of defiance yet by one of the country's powerful, unofficial armies, witnesses and police said. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dispatched an emergency security delegation that included the Minister of State for Security Affairs and top officials from the Interior and Defense ministries, Yassin Majid, the prime minister's media adviser, told the Associated Press. The Mahdi Army fighters stormed three main police stations Friday morning, planting explosives that flattened the buildings, residents said. About 800 black-clad militiamen with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were patrolling city streets in commandeered police vehicles, eyewitnesses said. Other fighters had set up roadblocks on routes into the city and sound trucks circulated telling residents to stay indoors.
Fighting broke out in Amara on Thursday after the head of police intelligence in the surrounding province, a member of the rival Shiite Badr Corps militia, was killed by a roadside bomb, prompting his family to kidnap the teenage brother of the local head of the Madhi Army. The Mahdi Army seized several police stations and clamped a curfew on the city in retaliation. At least 15 people, including five militiamen, one policeman and two bystanders, have been killed in clashes since Friday, Dr. Zamil Shia, director of Amarah's department of health, said by telephone from Amarah.
Mahdi Army militiamen have long enjoyed a free rein in Amarah, the provincial capital of the southern province of Maysan. The militiamen often summon local government officials for meetings at their offices, and they roam the city with their weapons, manipulate the local police and set up checkpoints at will. Since British troops left Amarah in August, residents say the militia has been involved in a series of killings, including slayings of merchants suspected of selling alcohol and women alleged to have engaged in behavior deemed immoral by militiamen.


Iraqi media round-up

Maliki: Saddam Execution Helpful for Iraq
(Asharq al-Awsat) Iraqi prime minister Noori al-Maliki has said he hopes the trial of Saddam will take a short time, and that he will be found guilty and sentenced to death - which will help Iraq. He was speaking at a joint press conference with the Shia hardline cleric Muqtada al-Sadir in Najaf yesterday. He said that by executing the former president, those wanting to come back to power under the umbrella of Saddam and Ba'ath party will lose their last card. The verdict for Dujail trial, in which Saddam is being prosecuted for the murder of 148 Shia in 1980s, is expected on November 5. Saddam and five of his assistants are also being tried for war crimes and genocide against the Kurds in 1988.
(London-based Asharq al-Awsat is a pro-Saudi paper issued daily.)
Baker: Iraq In Absolute Chaos
(Azzaman) Former US secretary of state James Baker, heading a congressional committee on Iraq, was shocked when he recently visited the country. He spoke of the complete mess in which Iraq found itself. His ten-member committee is due to submit recommendations for the Bush administration on changing its policy towards Iraq. The committee is planning to propose the gradual withdrawal of American troops and their replacement with Syrian and Iranian forces. It also suggests a greater focus on stability rather than democracy.
(London-based Azzaman is issued daily by Saad al-Bazaz.)
General Amnesty Proposed in Kurdistan
(Aso) Arez Abdullah, a member of Kurdistan assembly, said it has asked the ministers of interior, health and social affairs to discuss the problems in Kurdistan prisons after representatives of the ministries visited several jails. Abdullah said that the parliament has recently been discussing the possibility of a general pardon and has proposed it to the executive. "In some prisons, you find detainees who have been there for a long period of time without being questioned and others who have served their setences but but not been released," he added. (Aso is a Suleimaniya-based independent newspaper published three days a week.)


Makkah Document in final stages

Religion, Politics, Security, Region
It is being billed as the first serious and tangible step by the Muslim world to halt the growing bloodshed in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis. Nearly 50 Iraqi scholars from both communities were busy yesterday fine-tuning a document that essentially calls for ending the fratricidal carnage in Iraq. Their names were, however, not revealed to the media.
General principles about avoiding inter-Muslim violence, which are the subject of agreement among all sects without exception, have been collated in a document known as the Makkah Document. The meeting tonight at the royal palace in Makkah that overlooks the Holy Kaaba is being held under the auspices of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Expectations in the Muslim street are high but analysts doubt if the accord will have any positive impact.
The document has received full approval and endorsement from Iraq’s key leadership, most notably from Shiite leader Ali Al-Sistani, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and militant leader Moqtada Sadr. Mahdi Fathallah, the director of OIC’s political affairs, at a press conference yesterday said the Makkah Document would form the core of Friday sermons throughout the Muslim world. Fathallah’s optimism was, however, not shared by political analysts who say the problem of sectarianism is a direct result of the American occupation of Iraq.


Iraqi Ba'th party issues hit list targeting key players

Security, Politics
The disbanded Iraqi Ba'th Party issued, on September 5, 2006, a hit list of Iraqi political, judicial and military figures, referred to as criminals, collaborators and renegades, targeted for punishment (assassination). The document, shaped as a flyer was issued by the Dhe Qar Directorate of Operation "Special Operations," and addressed to the commanders of the special units, informing them that the order was approved by the secretary-general of the party and the acting commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The reference is to Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who was Saddam Hussein's vice president and remains on the most wanted list in Iraq, with a reward of $20 million for his capture.
Fifty names are listed on the original hit list of those targeted for assassination, including President Talabani, ex-PM Iyad Allawi, KRG President Barzani, VP of Iraq and head of the Islamic Party Tariq al-Hashemi and high-ranking judges and prosecutors in Saddam's trial. Below are the first 15 on the list. MEMRI Baghdad has provided the information in brackets on the current or previous positions or titles of the vast majority of those appearing on the hit list:
1. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim: [Head of the Supreme Command of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and head of the
ruling Shi'ite coalition in the Iraqi Parliament
2. 'Ammar Abd al-Hakim: [The son of, and often the spokesman for, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, and second- ranking official in SCIRI]
3. Hadi al-'Ameri: [Member of Parliament, head of the Badr Militia (SCIRI)]
4. Sadr al-Din al-Qabanchi: [One of the leaders of the Sadrist movement]
5. Muwafaq al-Rabi'i: [Member of Parliament and National Security Adviser]
6. Nuri al-Maliki: [Current Prime Minister]
7. Ali al-Adib: [Member of Parliament, Da'wa Party]
8. Jalal al-Saghir: [Member of Parliament]
9. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari: [Former prime minister]
10. Baqir Jaber Solagh: [Former minister of interior]
11. Ahmad al-Chalabi: [Head of Iraqi National Congress and former deputy prime minister]
12. Abd al-Karim al-Inzi: [Member of Parliament, head of Da'wa Party - Tandhim al-Iraq]
13. Akram al-Hakim: [Member of Parliament, cousin of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim]
14. Muqtada al-Sadr: [Radical Shi'ite cleric and head of the Mahdi Army]
15. Abd al-Hadi Al-Darraji: [Head of al-Sadr Movement in Baghdad]

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Mosul hit by coordinated attacks, Mahdi Army fights Iraqi police in Amara

A deadly series of bomb attacks in three Iraqi towns has marked another day of brutal violence that left scores of people dead as a fierce debate over how to prosecute the war gripped Washington. The northern city of Mosul shuddered Thursday under 10 apparently coordinated attacks erupting at 20-minute intervals, including several suicide car bombs, mortar fire and small arms assaults against US-led forces and Iraqi police. Further south in the oil city of Kirkuk two suicide attacks a total of 18 people, while in the Shiite market town of Khalis in Diyala province a bomb in a crowded market killed 17 shoppers, police and medics said.
According to US military spokesman Major General Caldwell, the past three weeks have seen a shift in focus of attacks from civilians to both US and Iraqi security forces. US forces now lose an average of four soldiers a day and are thus on course to lose more in October than in any month since the battle of Fallujah in November 2004.
Meanwhile in the southern city of Amara "rogue elements" of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia fought a pitched battle with Iraqi police, forcing the Iraqi Army to send reinforcements into the town. "Three gunmen and four civilians were killed, and 35 people are wounded, including police, insurgents and civilians," said Zamil al-Oreibi, medical director of the city healthy department. "There are more police casualties, but they have not been recovered yet. The fighting is still going on," he added. Military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge said British forces were on stand-by to support the Iraqi troops if needed.
In other violence, five people were killed, including two police, in a bomb attack against a police convoy, and Brigadier General Kadhim Mahdi of the border police was assassinated in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Saidiyah. Across Diyala province, aside from the blast in Khalis, northeast of Baghdad, nine people were killed in separate incidents.


U.S. presses for amnesty for insurgents

Politics, Insurgency
The Bush administration is pressing the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki to issue a “broad” and “painful” amnesty for insurgents in spite of intense opposition to the proposal from politicians both in Iraq and the US, according to a senior administration official. Amid growing anxiety in Washington over Iraq's escalating sectarian violence, the US is advocating more determined moves towards a national reconciliation with the Sunni community that dominates Iraq’s insurgency. It also wants a tougher line on the Shia militias.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy in Baghdad, has supported the concept of a broad amnesty. He said in July he would try to work with Iraqi leaders to “find the right balance between reconciliation and accountability” so that the US dead remained honoured. Suggestions of an amnesty have been opposed by Shia parties advocating tougher security measures against the insurgents. A conference to discuss the plan was recently postponed. One senior Iraqi official said the amnesty would be discussed “at the right time” and that it would not, in any case, include anyone who had been incriminated in violence. Another senior official insisted that an amnesty would have little impact. “It would be seen as a sign of weakness by the insurgents – that’s the mentality here,” he said.


Militias splitting into radicalised cells

In the void forged by the sectarian tensions gripping Baghdad, militias are further splintering into smaller, more radicalized cells, signifying a new and potentially more volatile phase in the struggle for the capital. Iraqis and U.S. officials blame militias for mass kidnappings and slayings, for setting up unauthorized checkpoints and for causing much of the recent carnage. Senior U.S. military and intelligence officials say they have identified at least 23 militias -- some are Sunni, but most are Shiite. Some are paramilitary offshoots of the Mahdi Army or have broken away entirely from Sadr's command structure. Others seem inspired by Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla movement.
The new breed of militias embody the changed texture of violence in the fourth year of war -from attacks against Baathists and loyalists of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, to attacks on average Iraqis purely because of their sect or their wealth. They appear more localized and more ruthless than their predecessors. They deploy death squads and explode bombs to destroy houses. They have carved neighborhoods into fiefdoms, governing through fear and intimidation.
One reason for the militia splintering is that differences have emerged within Sadr's movement over his decision to join Iraq's political process. The senior coalition intelligence official said he knew of at least "six major players" who have left Sadr's movement because they no longer find him radical enough and see him as "too accommodating to the coalition." Yet many of the new groups, described as rogue elements, continue to link themselves with the Mahdi Army. These groups represent a threat to Sadr's image and political aspirations at a time when he controls four government ministries and 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament.
U.S. officials are concerned that the Shiite splinter groups could reach out to the Shiite rulers in neighbouring Iran for support. They share the same ideology, and Iran is eager to provide funding, said the senior coalition intelligence official


Blair: UK troops will leave Iraq in 16 months

Military, International
Tony Blair yesterday shifted ground on the continuing presence of British troops in Iraq by saying it was government policy to leave the country within 10 to 16 months - so long as the security situation allowed. The prime minister also agreed with the chief of the general staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, that the presence of British forces could become a provocation, but disagreed with Gen Dannatt by insisting it was still the government's aim to secure a liberal democracy in Iraq.
Mr Blair's comments at prime minister's questions appear to be an attempt to pacify the restive mood of the British army, as well as to reflect the developing view in Washington that some radical policy change is imminent after the US mid- term elections. In a change of tone, Mr Blair told MPs the aim was to leave the Iraqi forces to organise security, adding: "Otherwise, of course, we are a provocation rather than a help to them."


Railway planned for Kurdistan

A railway linking all the main towns in Iraqi Kurdistan and northern Iraq is to be established next year, a source in the directorate of transportation and communication told Hawlati. The cost of the Penjwen-Sulaimaniyah railway will be borne by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Baghdad Ministry of Transportation and Communication, said the source.


Iraq Oil Minister: Iraqi forces ready by end of 2007

Iraqi security forces could be ready to take over the battle against insurgents from U.S.-led coalition troops by the end of next year, Iraq's oil minister said Thursday. But Hussain al-Shahristani stressed that Iraq still needed international help to fight a terrorist threat that could spread to the rest of the world.
"Iraq unfortunately has become a battlefield of international terrorists," al-Shahristani said during a visit to Australia's capital, Canberra. "We expect the international community to stay with the Iraqi people in this war against international terrorism because if these people are allowed to succeed, God forbid, in Iraq, then they'll be a threat to the whole world."
Al-Shahristani said Iraq would "have sufficient trained and equipped Iraqi forces to take over responsibility" for security "by the end of 2007, or perhaps 2008. Over half of the country now is totally under control of the Iraqi forces," he said. But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it was still uncertain when Iraq's military would be ready.


Increase in jihadi websites dedicated to females

The use of female suicide bombers by Islamist militant groups in countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir has exceeded the traditional constraints that Salafi-Jihadi ideology imposes on women. Observers of jihadi cyber activities have noticed an increase in the number of websites dedicated to mujahidat (female mujahideen), linked either directly or ideologically to al-Qaeda. The physical and spiritual preparation of the mujahidat has recently spread to many jihadi websites.
What might be a new practice for the jihadis is the training of mujahidat. Even though it is not the first time that Muslim females have participated in high profile jihadi operations, Islamist websites have only posted female jihadi training documents recently. Some of the postings are of a non-combatant nature, directed at medical assistance; however, interviews with female mujahidat in Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere indicate that female Islamists are being trained for military operations also.
In an interview with a mujahidah in charge of training women in Afghanistan by an Arab Islamic site on March 12, 2003, the woman identified herself by the alias Umm Osama bin Laden (the choice of alias shows her endearment toward Osama bin Laden) and said that women of al-Qaeda had been active in furthering the organization's cause and managed to stay out of the limelight and scrutiny of the enemy. "The mujahidat are trained in camps in Afghanistan and through the internet," Umm Osama said, adding that the mujahidat know how to use M16 assault rifles, AK-47's, hand grenades and pistols. According to Umm Osama, although females are currently tasked with reconnaissance and gathering intelligence, providing logistical support and conveying messages between mujahideen leaders, they have received training on explosives and suicide operations which will be carried out in the future.
Umm Osama asserts that the female section of al-Qaeda is multinational and reports to Mullah Saif al-Din who, in turn, reports directly to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.
Suicide is forbidden in Islam, but some Islamic authorities are still divided about the legality of suicide when it involves killing enemies in the process. If al-Qaeda is able to increase the number of women engaged in the jihad, counter-terrorism and security forces will need to better prepare for this new threat.


National Reconciliation conference announced for Nov. 4

Politics, Security
A much-anticipated Iraqi national reconciliation conference aimed at building political consensus and stemming spiraling sectarian violence in the country will be held Nov. 4, a government statement said Wednesday. The conference was originally scheduled to start this coming Friday, but had been indefinitely postponed for unspecified "emergency reasons."
The postponement reflected the upheaval worsening violence has wrought on efforts to stabilize the government and curb bloodshed that threatened to damage the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who took office just over four months ago vowing to implement a 24-point National Reconciliation plan to heal the nation's severe political wounds.
Wednesday's statement said the conference was postponed because of organizational snags, denying what it said were Western and Arab media reports suggesting the delay was caused by disputes over the gathering. It did not elaborate. Al-Maliki, at the helm of what is formally termed a national unity government, presented national reconciliation plan within days of taking office in May but has been unable to effectively implement any of its stipulations.


Car bomb kills 12 in Mosul

A suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck outside Abi Tamam police station at 7:15 am in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Thursday, killing 12 people and wounding 26, and rebels fired mortar rounds at another station in coordinated attacks, police and doctors said. Another police source said a car bomb, also driven by a suicide bomber, could have exploded before the suicide truck bomb. The governor imposed a curfew and Iraqi forces were patrolling the city, a Reuters reporter in Mosul said. Police fired into the air in several parts of the city, forcing motorists and pedestrians to scurry for cover. Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, has witnessed a recent escalation of violence by Sunni insurgents and between Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds vying to control the urban area and the surrounding area.


al-Maliki consults al-Sistani, al-Sadr on security

Politics, Security
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki consulted with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader - and Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday in Najaf in a bid to enlist support for efforts to build political consensus and tackle widening sectarian violence. "I came (to see al-Sistani) so that the security and political situation can be stabilized, allowing the government to turn its attention to reconstruction," al-Maliki told reporters after his meeting with al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.
Al-Sistani, who usually shuns the media, had no immediate comment, but the visit underscored the influence wielded by Iraq's top Shiite cleric on the government. Following a meeting between the two men in July, the Iranian-born al-Sistani issued a strongly worded statement that upbraided al-Maliki's government for its failure to provide security and services and fight corruption.
In comments to reporters, al-Sadr appeared to soften his opposition to plans by the Shiite bloc in parliament to introduce a federal system in Iraq that would allow provinces to join together in autonomous regions similar to the one established by the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991. Al-Sadr, like Sunni Arab politicians, had maintained that federalism could lead to the eventual breakup of Iraq. But on Wednesday he said the decision should be left to the Iraqi people to make.


Tribal leaders denounce insurgent 'Islamic State in Iraq'

Tribal, Insurgency
Tribal chieftains in the Al-Anbar Governorate condemned comments made by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council on October 15, declaring the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq. Tribal chief Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah, the leader of the Islamic Salvation Council, told Al-Iraqiyah television on October 17: "We live in an Islamic country.... We do not want to learn Islam from those criminals. Islam is a religion of peace. It is not a religion of murder and terrorism." He stressed that the Al-Anbar tribal chieftains are following the leadership of Prime Minister al-Maliki and vowed to fight the terrorists and reveal their lies.
The Mujahedin Shura Council announced the establishment of an Islamic State in Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Ninawa, and in other parts of the governorate of Babel. The group also delivered a special call to the tribal heads in Iraq, and to all Sunni Muslims in the country, to pledge loyalty to the “Emir of the Believers,” Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, by their adherence and obedience.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Iraq, U.N. plans human rights commission

Iraqi MPs have announced plans to set up a human rights commission for the first time in the violence-wracked country with the help of the United Nations. The announcement came during a press conference after a workshop in Amman organised by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) attended by MPs from various Iraqi political parties and blocs.
According to organisers, plans for the first National Human Rights Commission in Iraq will be submitted to parliament in Baghdad later this month or in early November. While described as "independent" in scope, the work of the nine-member commission to be selected by parliament will be monitored by the legislative body, organisers said. Its goal will be to list and identify human rights violation, including those blamed on international forces, they said.


Leading figure in Al-Sadr's party released

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the release of a leading member of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political organisation who was detained by US troops. Relatives and supporters of Sheikh Mazen al-Saedi confirmed he had been released. The US military has thus far refused to confirm or deny the arrest but state television quoted Iraq's name national security adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, as saying the prime minister had ordered his release. Sadr spokesman Hamdallah al-Rikabi, accused US forces of trying to provoke the movement into armed confrontation. He demanded that the Iraqi government issue a statement to explain Saedi's brief detention.
American commanders privately accuse Sadr's Mahdi Army of being one of the main forces behind Iraq's recent descent into sectarian bloodletting, and a rise in the number of fatal attacks on US troops. Maliki, however, warns it will be difficult to disarm a militia with such popular support and has said that he vetoed a US plan to invade Sadr's stronghold in the impoverished east Baghdad suburb of Sadr City.
Before news of the release emerged, several hundred Sadr supporters gathered in the Shuala district of eastern Baghdad to protest Saedi's alleged detention and demand both his release and "the end of the occupation". Nevertheless, a threatened strike which was to have been organised in Baghdad's hospitals and schools did not materialise, and the protest leader read out a letter from Sadr himself calling it off.


Saudi opposes a divided Iraq

Politics, Region
Saudi Arabia yesterday opposed plans to divide Iraq into autonomous regions on ethnic and sectarian grounds. The Council of Ministers said the Kingdom would side with Iraqi patriotic forces that work for the country’s unity. The Iraqi Parliament has approved the law but the country’s Sunnis opposed it saying it would lead to the creation of sectarian mini-states.
“The Kingdom will stand with all patriotic forces that work for Iraq’s unity,” said the Cabinet in a statement issued after the weekly meeting chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah at Al-Safa Palace in Makkah on Monday night. “The Cabinet hopes that the leaders of Iraq and its wise men and Islamic scholars would uphold their duty of standing against attempts to partition the country under whatever guise,” the statement said. The Cabinet statement comes two days before a meeting of Iraqi religious leaders arranged by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Makkah.


U.S. military: leader of murder cell captured

Special Iraqi army forces, working with coalition advisors, captured the alleged leader of a murder and kidnapping cell in an early-morning raid yesterday in eastern Baghdad, military officials reported. The cell leader is suspected of directing the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Sunni and Shiia Muslim citizens in Baghdad and has connections to illegal armed groups there, officials said. He also is believed to be connected to attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces. The operation was conducted as part of Operation Together Forward with the goal of capturing criminals inciting sectarian violence, denying them sanctuary, and providing for a safe and secure Iraq, officials said.
As of Oct. 15, Iraqi security forces and Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers had cleared more than 95,000 buildings, 80 mosques and 65 muhallas, detained more than 214 terrorist suspects, seized more than 1,700 weapons, registered more than 750 weapons and found more than 41 weapons caches in support of Operation Together Forward. The combined forces had also removed more than 210,810 cubic meters of trash from the streets of Baghdad.


Iraq - China plans to drill for oil

An Iraqi executive said Chinese companies have dismissed security threats and plan to drill for oil in Iraq. The executive said Iraq approached China to participate in the project. Dathar Al Khashab, general manager of Midland Refineries Co./Daura Refinery, told the American Petroleum Institute annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas that China was approached after U.S. companies refused to work in Iraq.
Al Khashab did not provide details of the oil exploration projects offered to China. "Please help," Al Khashab told U.S. oil executives. "Please be brave enough to go to Iraq. Don't just sit there and wait on the opportunity." Iraq has failed in its efforts to raise oil production to 2.5 million barrels per day. The effort has been hampered by Sunni insurgency attacks against oil facilities, pipeline and employees.


6,000 families flee to Dahouk

More than 6,000 families have fled to the Kurdish city of Dahouk in the past two months, the Red Crescent said. The group said most of those who made it to the city were Christians who have been fleeing in droves from Mosul, Baghdad and other violence-ridden parts of the country. The Red Crescent’s head in Dahouk, Abdulmajeed Shukri, said these were only the families which the group could register. He said thousands more families might have moved to the provincial districts. He said his group lacks the means to register the internally displaced families whose numbers are on the surge.


U.S. reviews Iraq policy

Politics, Security, Region
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), which was asked by the US Congress to examine the effectiveness of American policy in Iraq, has reportedly been looking at the two options - a possible phased withdrawal of troops and involvement of Iran and Syria. The ISG, which has consulted 150 outside experts including Syrian and Iranian representatives, is focusing on two broad options. The group, led by former US secretary of state, James Baker, is also said to think that "staying the course" is untenable.
One is entitled "Stability First" and it would involve focusing the military effort on pacifying Baghdad while attempting to draw some insurgent groups into the political process and opening talks with Syria and Iran. The second has been called "Redeploy and Contain", pulling US troops back to bases outside Iraq and conducting military operations from there in support of Iraqi government forces.
Violence in Iraq could end "within months" if Iran and Syria joined efforts to stabilise the country, says Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. He told the BBC the move would "be the beginning of the end of terrorism". However, Mr Talabani said he was not worried by reports that James Baker's panel may recommend an early - or phased - withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq. Mr Baker's commission, which is due to report in the next few months, is reportedly considering recommending significant changes.


al-Hashimi visits Jordan

Politics, Security, Region
Tariq al-Hashimi, Iraq's vice president, arrived in Amman on Tuesday for talks with Jordanian officials that will focus on Iraqi security developments and bilateral ties. Aljazeera reports that the Iraqi official's visit is aimed at winning over tribal chiefs of Anbar province against a backdrop of opposition voiced by the US administration and Saudi Arabia to the idea of Iraq's division along sectarian lines.


Palestinians on Iraq Jordan border to be sent to Canada

Jordan has reportedly decided to send the Palestinian refugees who fled violence in Iraq to Canada, Ramattan news agency reported on October 16. Some 280 Palestinians have been stuck on the border between Iraq and Jordan for months, after the kingdom refused them entry. Jordan is home to the largest number of Palestinian refugees in the region. Palestinians in the West Bank reportedly criticised the decision, and called on Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to ask Jordan to reverse its decision, Ramattan reported.


Iraqi MPs threaten to close news channel, newspaper

Media, Politics
A statement by the Iraqi parliament urges Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki to close down Azzaman newspaper. The statement also asks Maliki to ban Al-Sharqiya television, the nation-wide network operated in coordination with Azzaman newspaper. The statement issued Monday cites what the parliament describes the outlets’ coverage of a recent draft law the legislators passed on turning the country into a federal state. Both the newspaper and al-Sharqiya television were critical of the law, warning that it represents a prelude to the division of the country on sectarian and ethnic grounds.
Azzamman is Iraq’s most read newspaper. Al-Shariqiya is the most viewed television network in the country. It is not clear whether Maliki will heed the parliament’s request which is not binding. Saad Bazzaz, who heads the media group that includes Azzaman and Al-Sharqiya, said those seeking the closure of the two outlets wanted to “muzzle the mouth of free press” in Iraq. Al-Sharqiya's offices are spread across the country. Azzaman has several editions inside Iraq as it is now being printed in both Baghdad and Basra. Both news outlets have a mild secular, Arab nationalist tone.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Mahdi Militia threatens to hold demonstrations after arrests

The Shiite movement loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Al Sadr threatened Tuesday to hold demonstrations in Baghdad, in a new test to the authority of Iraq's beleaguered government. Sadr's party reacted with fury to the alleged arrest of one of its top officials, whom they said was seized overnight by US forces, and vowed to stage protests in volatile west Baghdad, the scene of recent sectarian violence. "The government is determined to fight the armed groups by all political or military means," Maliki's cabinet office said Tuesday. "It will not hesitate to strike whoever tries to violate the security of the country and threaten the civil peace," the statement added.
"US forces raided the home of Sheikh Mazen Al Saedi, head of the Sadr movement offices in Karkh [west Baghdad] and arrested him," Hamdallah Al Rikabi, a spokesman for Sadr's movement, said. "Five other members of the office were arrested as well in a series of raids in Shuala," he said, referring to a Shiite neighborhood in northeast Baghdad. The coalition would not immediately comment on the claim, but in recent weeks joint US and Iraqi raiding teams have been targeting alleged death squad cells linked to Shiite militias in an effort to stem sectarian murders. "Sadr's office is preparing for an official massive demonstration tomorrow in Karkh in which schools and some government departments will be involved," Rikabi warned. In addition to fielding several thousand armed Mehdi Army militiamen, Sadr's movement also has 30 seats in parliament and controls three ministries.


U.S. troops enter Balad to try to restore calm

U.S. troops joined Iraqi forces and police Tuesday in patrolling the city of Balad, where a surge in sectarian fighting has killed at least 91 people. American and Iraqi officials said the violence in the city 50 miles north of Baghdad has eased but not stopped. Unidentified gunmen in police uniforms hijacked 13 civilian cars and abducted their occupants at a checkpoint outside Balad on Monday night after the post had shut down for the night, an officer at the Salahuddin provincial police headquarters said. He said those abducted were taken to another neighborhood nearby, but there was no further word on their fate. The officer spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
By Tuesday morning, the U.S. military said American forces had responded to Iraqi requests to back up security forces in the town, which lies near a major U.S. air base an hour's drive north of the capital. As the violence had raged over the weekend, the American military initially said it had not been asked for help.
Martindale also said U.S. troops detained a pair of Iraqi police officers in the neighboring Sunni town of Duluiyah. The men were suspected of being involved in the slaying of 17 Shiite Muslim workers last week that sparked a wave of revenge killings by Shiite militiamen, Martindale said.
That announcement reflects claims that local security forces have aided both sides in the sectarian fighting. Sunnis fleeing Balad across the Tigris River to Duluiyah said Shiite police in the city had teamed up with death squads who killed at least 74 Sunnis. Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Iraqi parliament's security committee, said Balad was being blockaded to prevent more fighters from entering. Across Iraq, bombings and shootings killed at least 32 people, including 10 who died in shootings in the southern, predominantly Shiite city of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. Among those killed by gunmen in both police and civilian vehicles were four students outside the city's university and a well-known doctor who was leaving her house for work, said a Basra police captain speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


Over 3,000 police officers sacked

Iraq's National Police is being completely reorganized and over 3,000 officers have been dismissed, the Iraqi interior ministry spokesman has said. Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf told reporters at a press conference in the heavily fortified Green Zone on Tuesday that 1,228 had been sacked for breaking the law while nearly 2,000 more were dismissed for dereliction of duty. "This restructuring was applied this week to the leadership of the National Police," Khalaf said. "The headquarters of the two divisions were dissolved and all brigades were brought directly under the commander of the National Police." The interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, was chosen by the national unity government specifically for his lack of ties to the political parties. Ultimately, however, it appeared this lack of a political base hampered his abilities to effect reforms.


AP: October death rate higher than ever

Four days of sectarian slaughter killed at least 91 people by Monday in Balad. Elsewhere, 60 Iraqis died in attacks and 16 tortured bodies were found. The U.S. command said seven American troops died in fighting a day earlier. That raised the U.S. toll to 58 killed in the first two weeks of October, a pace that if continued would make the month the worst for coalition forces since 107 U.S. and 10 British soldiers died in January 2005. Iraqi deaths also are running at a high rate. According to an Associated Press count, 708 Iraqis have been reported killed in war-related violence this month, or just over 44 a day, compared to a daily average of more than 27 since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005.
The U.S. military has kept a low profile in Balad, where violence began Friday with the slaying of 17 Shiite Muslim workers. Revenge-seeking Shiite death squads then killed 74 Sunnis, causing people to flee across the Tigris River to the nearby Sunni-dominated city of Duluiyah. An American spokesman did not directly respond when asked if the Iraqi government had sought U.S. military assistance in quelling the violence. "Coalition force units are partnering with Iraqi police and Iraqi army units involved in operations around Balad. We are also providing quick reaction assets to the Iraqi police and army. The IA and IP are in the lead with the operations around Balad," Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said.


Saddam verdict could be given on Nov 5

The trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain and six former aides resumed on Tuesday.
All the defendants were present in the second trial on charges of genocide against Kurds in the 1980s. The court could deliver a verdict November 5 on another charge against Saddam for killing 148 Shiites after an attempt on his life in the village of Dujail in 1982.


Security Ministry - Mahdi Militia infiltrated by criminals

Security, Politics
Hundreds of criminal gang members have joined the Al Mehdi army, following Moqtada Al Sadr's Al Sadr Movement, said a report by the Ministry of National Security. Some of these criminal gang members have taken cover in Al Sadr city in Baghdad, where they hide from the prying eyes of police forces and carry out their illegal operations, said the same report. The report also said that some of these gang members have been elevated to leading positions in the Al Mehdi army, where they have become decision makers. This has contributed greatly to the increase in crime in Baghdad.
"Al Sadr ordered those close to him to investigate the truth in this respect," said Riyad Al Nouri, one of the leading figures in the Al Sadr Movement. "Al Sadr's renouncing of all criminal elements that might have infiltrated the Mehdi army is one step towards clarifying matters. But the US army is close to initiating a huge military operation against the Al Sadr Movement and the Mehdi army," he added.
"There were intensive meetings between leading Shiite political and religious figures and Al Sadr, and it was agreed that Al Sadr must renounce the criminal acts associated with the Al Mehdi army. All parties agreed to cooperate to bring the criminals to justice. Al Sadr also agreed to monitor the elements working under the banner of the Al Mehdi army," said Dia Al Deen Al Fayadh, a Shiite religious leader. Al Sadr Movement activists expect the condemnation to put Arab Sunnis at ease, as many believe the Al Mehdi army intends to wage a sectarian war against Sunnis.


Iraqi oil delegation heads to Asian countries

An Iraqi delegation from the ministry of oil is heading Monday for some Asian countries. A ministry statement said Sunday, "Mr. Hussein Al-Shahristani, the head of the delegation will leave Monday heading for Australia, Japan and China."


Covenant drafted in Mecca to prevent inter-Islamic fighting

Security, Religion
Regional governments are now becoming involved in the effort to stabilise Iraq. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference is currently sponsoring a new initiative aimed at reconciling Iraq's religious communities. The 57-member OIC invited Iraqi Sunni and Shiite leaders to Jeddah for a series of preparatory meetings, during which they drafted a covenant, dubbed "the Mecca al-Mukarramah document," which forbids inter-Islamic fighting. The declaration will be proclaimed during a wider gathering of senior clerics scheduled to take place next week in the holy city of Mecca.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Maliki - disbanding militias will take a long time

Security, Politics
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said he needs several more months to begin disarming the powerful Shiite militias which US commanders say are the biggest threat to his country's security. In an interview published Monday in the American daily USA Today, Maliki said he had formed a committee to oversee a political and military strategy to isolate and confront the militias, but that this would take time. "The initial date we've set for disbanding the militias is the end of this year or the beginning of next year," he told the newspaper.
"The problem that we face in disbanding militias - and the militias have to be disbanded - is that there are procedures, steps that need to taken, which take time," he explained, in an interview conducted in his Baghdad palace. In his interview, however, Maliki said that - while he would allow precision raids against precise targets - he had vetoed any bigger push to avoid hurting and alienating the area's large civilian population.
"We have told the Americans that we don't mind targeting a Mahdi Army cell inside Sadr City," he said. "But the way the multinational forces are thinking of confronting this issue will destroy an entire neighborhood. "Of course it was rejected," he said. Maliki was also critical of heavy-handed American counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq in the three-and-a-half years since US-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein, blaming the coalition for the poor performance of Iraqi forces. "The problem we are facing is the way the army, police and security forces were formed by the multinational forces, during (former Coalition Provisional Authority chief administrator Paul) Bremer's time," he said.
Today, Iraq's army and especially police are often accused of collaborating with sectarian militias. US generals admit privately that in their haste to build a local force they incorporated entire militia units into the police. "The phenomenon of cooperating with militias exists in the interior ministry and, to a lesser degree, the defence ministry," Maliki confirmed. "It is not a matter of investigation. This is something that is not hidden, people know about it," he said.
"We are still paying the price for the mistakes made by the Multinational Forces in establishing the interior and defence ministries in a random way and according to wrong theories." Maliki decribed current US military strategy in fighting militias and militant groups like Al-Qaeda as the "wrong approach." "Terrorism and militias -especially militias - cannot be dealt with only by using tanks, guns and aircraft. You need security cells that gather information and infiltrate the areas where they operate," he said


Al-Sadr tells Mahdi Militia not to drive people from homes

Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the most influential figures in Iraq, called on his followers to stop driving people from their homes. "They should forbid the forced displacement of either our brother Shiites or Sunnis, but naturally this should be done through peaceful and political means in coordination with political bodies," he said in a statement entitled "directives of Moqtada al-Sadr to the Mahdi Army".
The latest directives to the militia also told them to "exert their efforts to return the Sunnis and Shiites who have been displaced to their homes". Finally Sadr called on his followers to help restore the services that most Iraqis are deprived from on a daily basis for the last three years. Maliki has refused to give the green light for any operation into Sadr City for fear of destroying the whole neighbourhood.


Nationalist insurgents claim to have started talks with U.S.

Masked nationalist insurgents in Iraq told AFP they have begun talks with US forces, after a weekend meeting of Sunni tribal sheikhs called for the restoration of ousted leader Saddam Hussein. In the northern oil city of Kirkuk, an Iraqi calling himself Abdel Rahman Abu Khula said his movement, a group of former Baath party officials and army officers known as the Islamic Army, would not meet the Iraqi government. “In reality, we only negotiate with the ruling power in Iraq and that is the occupier,” he said. “Today it is us and the Americans who are controlling the situation in Iraq.” A US military spokesman had no immediate comment on the claim, which AFP cannot independently verify.
Abu Khula said his group represents some 17 nationalist insurgent organisations, and is seeking the withdrawal of US forces and the release of detainees from US and Iraqi government prisons.
Abu Khula was at pains to distance his group, which is made up of largely secular former regime elements, from Islamist insurgent outfits such as Al Qaeda and Ansar Al Sunna, which are known for attacks targeting civilians.
The leaders of many of the Sunni Arab tribes, which met on Sunday also criticised Al Qaeda and other religious groups for provoking divisions in the resistance and attacking members of their tribes.


Iraqi religious leaders meet in Saudi

Security, Region
Saudi Arabia's King met yesterday with prominent Iraqi Sunni and Shiite clerics and urged them to practise patience and serenity in their country, an official statement said. The meeting of the clerics with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz in Makkah underlined the growing concern over sectarian violence in Iraq. A prominent hard-line Iraqi Sunni cleric, Harith Al Dhari, who leads the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, was among those who met with King Abdullah. Al Dhari has expressed his readiness to meet with top Shiite religious leaders, part of an initiative to curb sectarian violence.
Saudi Arabia fears Iranian influence on Iraq's new Shiite ruling elite and that the growing Shiite-Sunni tensions inside Iraq might spill over into other countries. The Saudis are especially sensitive to the possibility of unrest among the kingdom's Shiite minority because it is centred in the east of the country.
Last week in Jeddah, a preparatory meeting was held by the 57 member nations of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to formulate a document on reconciliation between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites. The document is to be proclaimed at the next meeting of the OIC, which is scheduled for Thursday and Friday.


Mujahideen Shura Council announces Islamic state in Iraq

The Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq, an umbrella organisation of Sunni muslim insurgents including branches of Al Qaeda, has proclaimed an independent Islamic state in Iraq. The group announced in a video statement that the new state consisted of six provinces with large Sunni populations and parts of two others which are predominately Shi'ite. The insurgents' spokesman claimed the Islamic state stretched 250 kilometres north of Baghdad to Kirkuk. Ten people died and dozens more were injured when six bombs exploded in the ethnically-mixed city on Sunday. It's believed several of the explosions involved car bombs detonated by suicide attackers.
He said, “Your brothers announce the establishment of the Islamic State in Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Ninawa, and in other parts of the governorate of Babel, in order to protect our religion and our people”. Further, the Mujahid delivers a special call to the tribal heads in Iraq, and to all Sunni Muslims in that country, to pledge loyalty to the “Emir of the Believers,” Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, by their adherence and obedience.


Sunnis flee from Balad

Sunni Muslims were fleeing across the Tigris River on Monday, trying to escape a four-day rampage of sectarian fighting in their Shiite-dominated home city north of Baghdad. At least 91 people have died, all but 17 of them Sunnis. Sunnis, a minority in the city of Balad, said militiamen had been going door to door, giving them two hours to clear out of their homes, and one police officer said the bodies of the city's Sunni minority lay unclaimed in the streets.
The government and its police and armed forces appeared unable or unwilling to stop the bloodshed in Balad and its environs that may set the standard for the building inter-communal conflict should it spread further and the pace hasten, which appeared likely. About 70 per cent of Balad's 80,000 people are Shiite, slightly higher than the nation as a whole. Shiite-Sunni fighting has raged increasingly out of control since a bombing in February destroyed one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines in Samarra.


Saddam Hussein urges Iraqis to unite

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is telling Iraqis that "victory is at hand" and is urging insurgents to show magnanimity toward fellow countrymen, saying he himself has forgiven Iraqis who aided the killers of his two sons. The messages are contained in a letter dictated to his chief lawyer during a meeting on October 14 in prison. Hussein says Iraqis should put aside differences and unite to drive U.S. troops out of Iraq. On Sunday, 35 Sunni Arab tribal leaders from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk called for Saddam's release in a meeting in which portraits of the former leader were hoisted along with banners declaring allegiance to him.


National reconciliation meeting postponed

A national reconciliation conference in Iraq has been postponed indefinitely for "emergency reasons." The announcement was made today by the Ministry of State for National Dialogue. The conference, which was meant to be a forum for representatives of Iraq's different sects and ethnicities to meet, was scheduled for October 21. It had already been postponed several times amid raging sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq.


Iran, Iraq to form security working group

Security, Region
Iraq and Iran have agreed to form a working group to forge closer security and intelligence ties. Iraq's cabinet said in a statement today that an agreement had been reached by Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i and Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei. The United States has expressed concern over what it describes as Iran's role in fuelling violence in Iraq.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Najaf Shia religious ceremony peaceful

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims thronged the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf in a peaceful commemoration Sunday of the death of one of their most revered figures, while bombs exploded elsewhere in the country. Officials in Najaf estimated that at least a million pilgrims arrived in the city to pay their respects under heavy security at the golden-domed shrine to Imam Ali, one of the sect's pivotal figures.
Najaf, in contrast to the rest of the country, was peaceful, with carefully organized city services receiving the massive influx of pilgrims from all across Iraq and neighboring Iran and funneling them to the shrine. Pilgrims paid their respects, kissing the doorways and walls of the shrine itself, before making prayers and vows to the founder of the Shiite sect, assassinated in 661 AD.
All traffic in the old city was banned and pilgrims were ferried from outlying checkpoints to the shrine by specially marked cars to prevent the possibility of car bomb attacks. "The ceremonies went off as planned without any incident on a security and organizational level," said Najaf deputy governor Abdul Hussein Abtan.


Sunni politician seeks to replace Maliki's government

Iraq's fragile democracy, weakened by mounting chaos and a rapidly rising death toll, is being challenged by calls for the formation of a hardline “government of national salvation”. The proposal, which is being widely discussed in political and intelligence circles in Baghdad, is to replace the Shi’ite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, with a regime capable of imposing order and confronting the sectarian militias leading the country to the brink of civil war. Dr Saleh al-Mutlak, a prominent Sunni politician, travelled to Arab capitals last week seeking support for the replacement of the present government with a group of five strongmen who would impose martial law and either dissolve parliament or halt its participation in day-to-day government.
Other Iraqis dismissed the idea that a unilateral change in the leadership would be desirable or even possible. Any suspension of the democratic process would be regarded as a severe blow to American and British policy.
Anthony Cordesman, an influential expert on Iraq at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there was a “very real possibility” that Maliki could be toppled in the coming months. “Nobody in Iraq has the military power to mount a traditional coup, but there could be a change in government, done in a backroom, which could see a general brought in to run the ministry of defence or the interior,” Cordesman said. “It could be regarded as a more legitimate government than the present one as long it doesn’t favour one faction.”
This weekend Mutlak, who leads the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, the fifth largest political group in the national assembly, vowed to press ahead with his plans. “Maliki must step down. He has done nothing up to now. Hundreds of Iraqis are being killed almost daily and thousands are being removed from their homes in sectarian purges, and he takes no action.” The main focus of a new regime, Mutlak said, would be to bring security back to Iraq by “cleaning out” the ministries of defence and the interior, widely seen as having been infiltrated by sectarian militias. He said he had the support of four other parties including al-Fadila, a Shi’ite party based in Basra.


Al-Qaeda in Iraq dismisses insurgent tape

Al-Qaida in Iraq said Saturday that a recent video tape made by a man claiming to be an insurgent who called for the replacement of the head of the terrorist group was fabricated. The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of insurgent groups, including al-Qaida in Iraq, said in a statement posted on its Web site that the video was "a lie and a media trick."
The statement could not be independently confirmed. The Shura Council said the false video tape "shows the great dilemma that the Crusader's coalition is passing through in Iraq especially after the calls for withdrawal that were released by the British army."


Sectarian revenge killings escalate

Suspected Shi'ite militiamen killed 46 Sunni Arab in a weekend rampage of revenge killing in the city of Balad, north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Officials say the killings, committed late on Saturday and early on Sunday, were in apparent retaliation for the slaying of 17 Shi'ites whose decapitated bodies were found in Balad on October 13.
Meanwhile, police in the Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk says 10 people were killed on Sunday in five attacks. In Mosul, northwest of Baghdad, a husband, wife, and two of their sons were killed early on Sunday. In the capital itself, an Interior Ministry official survived a roadside bomb attack that killed seven others.

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