Saturday, November 18, 2006


Group claims responsibility for expat kidnappings

A previously unknown group has claimed responsibility for abducting a private security team of four Americans and an Austrian in southern Iraq, according to an Iranian-run Arabic-language satellite news station. Al-Alam television posted a report on its Web site Saturday saying the group, called Islamic Companies, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. It said the group released a videotaped message saying it was holding the five men and demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the release of all prisoners being held there. The Web site report could not immediately be verified. A photo with the report showed an unidentified man whose face was covered with a checkered Arabic head dress reading the statement.
A press release posted on Saturday 18th on Crescent Security Group's website can be seen here:


Al-Maliki tells Turks Iraq will remain unified

Politics, Security, Turkey
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, on a visit to Turkey, said he will do everything he can to maintain his country's territorial integrity. Speaking in Ankara, during talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, al-Maliki said the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk -- in particular -- "will stay in the possession of Iraqis." Some Turkish officials have expressed concern that Iraq could disintegrate, resulting in the establishment of an independent Kurdistan, with Kirkuk as its capital. Referring to Kurdish militants, al-Maliki said Iraq will not provide sanctuary to "any groups" that harm the country's neighbours.


Baker meets Syrian officials

Politics, International, Security
Former US secretary of state James Baker, who co-chairs a bipartisan group examining strategic options in Iraq, has met several times with Syrian officials to discuss how they might cooperate with the United States, The New York Times reported Saturday. Citing Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha, the newspaper said the meetings involved Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and took place in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria in September.
Moustapha described the meetings as "very promising" and said that Baker had asked the Syrian minister: "What would it take Syria to help on Iraq?" During a 45-minute interview at the Syrian embassy on Friday morning, the ambassador said he had arranged the New York meeting, also attended by other members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, at Baker's request, the report said.
Separately, Ambassador Moustapha met twice with the study group in Washington, according to The Times. The ambassador would not provide specifics, but said he had told the study group "in detail what actual things we can do, and what are the things that we cannot do," the paper said. "We were very candid with each other," The Times quoted him as saying. "We explained to them why it is in our own national interest to try to help stabilize the situation in Iraq."


Iranian RGC commander: strategy based on U.S. weakness

Iran, Security
In an interview on Iran's Channel 2, that aired on November 12, 2006, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi stated that Iran had based its strategy on the U.S. military's strengths and weaknesses. He discussed the capabilities of the Shahab missiles and the weaknesses and the cowardice of the U.S. military, claiming among other things that the Iranian military could disrupt enemy satellite systems.
"As I pointed out, starting a war with another country or attacking it is currently not part of our plans or strategy. But if the Zionist regime or the Americans make problems for us and organize attacks against us... The Zionist regime is about 1,300 kilometers from our centers. If we have a missile range of 2,000 kilometers, it is only natural that a distance of 1,300 kilometers is within this range.
"Therefore, I do not believe that the Zionists would even dream of threatening us. If they do, they will face the greatest danger to their very existence. I say again: We are interested in peace and quiet in the Middle East. We have no policy of attacking [anyone], but we will respond to any invading power with a force that they cannot even imagine. Neither the Americans nor the Zionists know what complex, precise, and intelligence-based plans we have designed in order to defend our country and to deal with their possible attacks."


Brown visits Iraq, pledges £100 in aid

Politics, Reconstruction, International
hancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown today arrived in Iraq to visit troops and announce at least £100 million in new aid for reconstruction. Mr Brown's day-long visit to the southern city of Basra is his first trip to the country. He will meet Iraqi deputy prime minister Barham Salih, as well as having high-level briefings from senior British officers. The new money announced today will be used for reconstruction aid over the coming three years, said a Treasury spokesman travelling with the Chancellor. The UK has already committed £544 million by the end of this year as part of a donors' agreement sealed in 2002. Britain is the first of the donors to draw down all of the money pledged at that stage, and is consequently making a further commitment, said the spokesman. Mr Brown was accompanied on his trip to Iraq by the Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the armed forces' senior officer.


Government divide increases over al-Dhari warrant

Iraq's government was deeply split after the country's vice-president and other Sunni leaders denounced an arrest warrant issued by the Shia interior ministry against a senior Islamic cleric. The cleric, Harith al-Dhari, heads the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, which has close contacts with the Sunni insurgency. But he has been out of Iraq for five months and it was unclear why the warrant was announced now. In Jordan Mr Dhari denounced the warrant as "proof of the failure and the confusion of the Iraqi government". Shia ministers were trying to divert attention from the security scandals involving the links between militias and police, he suggested.
Jawad al-Bolani, the interior minister, said Mr Dhari was wanted for inciting terrorism and violence. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, described Mr Dhari as a man with "nothing to do but incite sectarian and ethnic sedition". But the vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, said the warrant was "destructive to the national reconciliation plan". Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni parliamentary leader, told al-Jazeera that Mr Dhari "is not calling for sectarianism and violence, and he's not calling for terrorism. The government has made a wrong judgment in this case. We consider Dhari one of the best symbols of the Sunni leaders."
Other leading Sunnis urged Sunni ministers to leave the government in protest. Mr Talabani called for an emergency meeting of leaders to prevent the government's collapse. Earlier in the week, a meeting of a security committee had reportedly turned into "a shouting match". The president was quoted as saying: "We have to decide if we want a state or not." Yesterday the deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, a Kurd, sought to distance the government from the affair. He said the warrant had been sought by the judiciary, not the government. "There are some cases that are under investigation and it is up to the Iraqi judiciary to take the decisions," he said. "There is a real struggle going on that is getting deeper. It is not a sectarian struggle but a struggle between extremists and moderates. It is time for the moderates to come together."


U.S. and Iraqi forces raid Sadr City for hostages

U.S. and Iraqi forces raided a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad on Saturday, looking for dozens of men abducted from an Iraqi government office. Coalition forces searched for four American security contractors missing in an attack on their convoy in southern Iraq. Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. helicopters swept through the Sadr City section of the capital motivated by intelligence indicating an armed group was holding the Iraqi hostages, the U.S. military said. The statement did not say whether any hostages were found. No casualties were reported among coalition forces, but Iraqi police said three Iraqi civilians were wounded. The mass kidnapping was widely believed to have been the work of the Mahdi Army, the heavily armed militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Friday, November 17, 2006


20 taken in mass kidnapping

Unidentified gunmen stormed a mall coffee shop in central Baghdad late Thursday, kidnapping 15 to 20 customers, an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua. The abduction occurred at about 9:10 p.m. (1810 GMT) when gunmen in several cars attacked the coffee shop in Wattawin, a mixed neighborhood in central Baghdad, the anonymous source said.
The latest kidnapping came three days after militants in police uniforms stormed a building of the Higher Education Ministry in central Baghdad, kidnapping dozens of people. Eighty hostages kidnapped at the building of the Higher Education Ministry on Tuesday are still held, Minister Abed Thiyab al-Ajili said on Thursday. The minister told the state television that 70 of 150 hostages were released, saying those freed "were tortured."
Al-Ajili, a Sunni Arab, also reaffirmed that he would continue the suspension of his job in the Shiite-dominated government until the rest were released. Earlier, a spokesman for the ministry told reporters that kidnappers tortured and killed some of the captives. However, the government gave different hostage numbers. An Interior Ministry official told Xinhua on Wednesday that the number of hostages in the hands of kidnappers was exaggerated. "About 20 out of some 45 hostages have been released until midnight, including the deputy director of the ministry's Research Directorate," the official said on condition of anonymity.
COMMENT: The government remains divided on the facts of Tuesday's mass kidnapping, with different stories and figures emerging from both sides creating an ever widening chasm between the two. The 20 kidnapped on Thursday night could have been taken by Sunnis in retaliation for the alleged killings of Sunnis from the Higher Education Ministry, on the other hand, the Shia militias may be demonstrating how much they can get away with. COMMENT ENDS.


Message about Tuesday's abductions on jihadist forums

Security, Media
The Iraqi Islamic Media Centre (IIMC), a group which disseminates media reports to jihadist websites issued an atypical message on Wednesday, November 15, 2006, claiming important information about the location of the people who were kidnapped from the Higher Education Ministry in Iraq on Tuesday. The message was distributed to many jihadist forums. Signed by “the Muslim Emir,” the message alleges that the Shi’ite militias belonging to Muqtada al-Sadr are the culprits, and the kidnapped individuals were taken to Sadr City, placed in a school facing al-Suda. Seven people were released at the time, and the author muses that this was perhaps to kill them, as “every person of the Sunni people has a price that rises if he has education or a good position”.
COMMENT: The jihadist web forums usually publish messages describing operations, claiming responsibility, encouraging new recruits, weapons manuals, or occasionally messages from leaders. This is a very unusual message. Usually there is no message covering this kind of incident. It is likely that the insurgents are merely stoking the fire, and using the media to their advantage to incite violence and retribution. They have long waged a superior and successful media campaign which may not have been given enough attention and credibility. To quote the old addage: the word is mightier than the sword. COMMENT ENDS.


U.S. intelligence directors paint complex, dire situation in Iraq

Attacks in Iraq reached a high of approximately 180 a day last month, reflecting an increasingly complicated conflict that includes sectarian clashes of Sunni and Shiite militias on top of continuing strikes by insurgents, criminal gangs and al-Qaeda terrorists, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
Attempting to describe the enemy, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the DIA director, listed "Iraqi nationalists, ex-Baathists, former military, angry Sunni, Jihadists, foreign fighters and al-Qaeda," who create an "overlapping, complex and multi-polar Sunni insurgent and terrorist environment." He added that "Shia militias and Shia militants, some Kurdish peshmerga, and extensive criminal activity further contribute to violence, instability and insecurity." In unusually harsh terms, the two intelligence directors spelled out how quickly the violence in Iraq has escalated this year, from about 70 attacks a day in January to about 100 a day in May and then to last month's figure.
Although the Bush administration continues to emphasize the role of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Maples described the current situation as "mostly an intra-Arab struggle to determine how power and authority will be distributed," with or without the U.S. presence. Al-Qaeda and foreign terrorist numbers were put at roughly 1,300, while Hayden, pressed by senators, estimated the number of insurgents in the "low tens of thousands." Maples estimated the number of Iraqi insurgents, including militias, at 20,000 to 30,000, and said there are many more who supply support.
Hayden said he believes that the turning point in the fighting came in February with the bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra. The destruction of the revered Shiite site by Sunni-based al-Qaeda terrorists unleashed what Hayden described as "historic forces" that have created "the satanic level of violence" of today. "Sectarian violence now presents the greatest immediate threat to Iraq's stability and future," he said.
Underlying the sectarian fighting are not only deep-rooted religious differences, but also the more recent political history of Shiite suffering under the iron rule of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni- and Baathist Party-dominated government. The Shiites, who make up more than half of Iraq's population, now want to make certain they control the new Iraqi government and to assure themselves that the Hussein group never regains power. "This fear of a return to Baathism is almost palpable among Shia elites," Hayden said.
As a result, the Shiites have maintained control of the Interior Ministry and the police. "Militias often operate under protection or approval of Iraqi police [when they] attack suspected Sunni insurgents and Sunni civilians," Hayden said. In addition, "radical Shia militias and splinter groups stoke the violence." At the same time, Hayden said, there are fissures within the Shiite groups, and their "power struggles . . . make it difficult for Shia leaders to take actions that might ease Sunni fears." Adding to the problem is Iran, which is supporting even competing Shiite factions. "Iranian involvement with the Shia militias of all stripes . . . has been quite a new development," Hayden said.


Iraq becomes member of ECOSOC

Iraq won membership in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) on the continent of Asia during the elections which took place in the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 2nd. The Council is considered one of the main and important bodies of the United Nations, and it is responsible for designing economic and social policies in this organization. Iraq obtained 181 votes out of 192 (which is the number of Member States at the United Nations) to become one of the few States that have got a high percentage of votes.


Japan offers $171 loan for Basrah oil refinery

According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan intends to offer a loan to Iraq worth $171 million for the development of engineering services in Basrah Refinery project and rehabilitating the fertilizer plant in Khor Al-Zubair, Al Sabah reported. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that the Japanese Foreign Minister pointed out that despite the withdrawal of Japan's troops from Iraq, Japan will continue to support efforts to rebuild Iraq. The Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, said after his meeting with the Minister of Oil, that Iraq is an very important partner for Japan being one of the sources of energy.


Arabs and Turkmen boycott talks on Kirkuk

Arab and ethnic Turkmen members said Thursday they were suspending their participation in a council that governs an oil-rich province in northern Iraq, charging that the body is unfairly dominated by members of the region's Kurdish majority. In a statement, six Arab members, including both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, said they were joining nine Turkmen in boycotting the 41-seat council because their calls for consensus have been ignored by those who hold 26 seats controlled by Kurds or their allies.
Kirkuk council head Rezgar Ali, a Kurd, urged Arabs and Turkmen to "adopt a constructive dialogue by sitting at the table with (Kurdish council members) and reach an agreement that will end their boycott." But Jalil Agha, a leader in the council's Turkmen faction, told The Associated Press that "Turkmen parties will not abandon their right of Iraq's unity and Kirkuk's Iraqi identity."
The Turkmen have a special attachment to Kirkuk because it was under Turkmen control during the Ottoman Empire. Arab tribal leader Abdul-Rahman Munshid al-Asi called for equal representation among ethnic groups living in the city. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking Thursday during a news conference with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki in Ankara, urged power-sharing among ethnic groups in Kirkuk. Turkey is known to have close links with the Turkmen and strongly opposes a Kurdish domination of the city that would lead to annexing it to Iraq's three northern provinces that form Kurdistan.
COMMENT: Without unity and dialogue, a mutual resolution on Kirkuk will not be reached and the violence will escalate. There is a stalemate with neither the Kurds, Arabs or Turkmen willing to concede Kirkuk as each group believes it is theirs by right. COMMENT ENDS.


Security contractors kidnapped in southern Iraq

Four American security contractors and their Austrian co-worker were being held hostage Friday after their convoy was hijacked in southern Iraq, officials said. The other nine civilians who were traveling with the convoy when it was hijacked Thursday, including men from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, have been released, the officials said. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that preliminary reports suggested the convoy included about 19 vehicles.
An official familiar with the incident said preliminary reports being checked by the military indicated that the attack occurred at a checkpoint near Nasiriyah. The convoy was being operated by the Crescent Security Group. The company works mostly in Iraq, and its operations are based in Kuwait. A State Department official informed the family of Paul Reuben, 39, a former Minneapolis resident, that he was among those captured, his brother, Patrick Reuben, told the Star Tribune newspaper and KSTP-TV.
UPDATE: An Austrian was killed and an American was seriously wounded after their convoy of security contractors was hijacked in southern Iraq, an Iraqi police officer said Friday. The body of the Austrian hostage was brought to a morgue in the city of Basra at 2:30 p.m. Friday, and the wounded American captive was taken there so he could be transferred to a British military hospital, the Basra officer said on condition of anonymity out of concern for his own security. In Vienna, Astrid Harz, a spokeswoman for the Austrian foreign ministry, confirmed that a 25-year-old Austrian male from Upper Austria had been kidnapped when the Crescent Security Group convoy was hijacked in southern Iraq on Thursday. However, she could not confirm that he had been killed. U.S. officials could not immediately be contacted about the report that the American had been wounded.
COMMENT: If not accidental or due to wounds, the death of the Austrian could be a combination of a warning of what will happen to the other four hostages if terms are not met (if and when presented), as well as the fact that an Austrian isn't much of a bargaining tool as Austria is not part of the coalition. COMMENT ENDS.


Interior minister issues arrest warrant for AMS leader

Politics, Security
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, announced on state television that Harith al-Dhari was wanted for inciting terrorism and violence among the Iraqi people. Al-Dhari, head of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, is an extreme hard-liner who recently mocked a government offer of reconciliation in return for abandoning the insurgency. But the move against him threatens to drive many moderate Sunnis out of the political system.
Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, spokesman for the Sunni association, condemned the warrant for al-Dhari's arrest. "This government should resign before the Iraqi people force it to resign," al-Faidi told Al-Jazeera television from Jordan. "The association calls on its people to be calm." Al-Faidi accused the interior minister "of supporting terrorism by covering for (Shiite) militias that are killing the Iraqi people."
Earlier this year, the Sunni association blamed the Interior Ministry for the killing of a nephew and cousin of al-Dhari. Their bodies were found in a bullet-riddled vehicle in Baghdad. Al-Dhari regularly travels between Iraq and the Persian Gulf states, as well as Syria, Jordan and Egypt. He was believed to be in Jordan when the arrest warrant was issued Thursday night.
UPDATE: Al-Dhari has emerged on Al-Jazeera television to accuse the Iraqi government of "provoking a crisis" with him to cover up its failure. He described the arrest warrant against him issued by the Shiite-led government as illegal. He said he would return to Iraq "at the appropriate time."
COMMENT: This latest development will increase the tension between the political parties, the Sunnis will continue to threaten to walk out on the political process. They have made this threat on several occasions, but if al-Dhari is arrested that could prove to be the straw that breaks the camel's back, or in this case the arrest that breaks any remaining political compromise. If the Sunnis actually see it through the situation will deteriorate further. COMMENT ENDS.


VP speaks out on militia infiltration in security forces

Politics, Security
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said on November 14 that Iraq's security services have been infiltrated by militiamen and criminal elements, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Hashimi is a Sunni who heads the Iraqi Islamic Party. Al-Hashimi noted that the dismissal of nearly 5,000 members of the security services run by the Interior Ministry was a clear indication of this. He said Iraq's current problem is not how to draw up security plans, but how to implement them. He added that intelligence services from numerous countries and with conflicting agendas are operating in Iraq. "Different intelligence services from world countries are currently operating in this miserable Iraqi scene and those countries have different agendas that are in tandem with their national security interests. Those agendas are at odds, which explains this conflict of wills in the Iraqi scene," he said. Furthermore, al-Hashimi said the current sectarian divisions plaguing Iraq are a product of the U.S.-led occupation coupled with the shortsighted policies of former Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer.


Talabani accuses Muslim Scholars Association of promoting sectarianism

Politics, Security
During a televised meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki on November 14, Jalal Talabani accused Muslim Scholars Association leader Sheikh Harith Al-Dari of encouraging sectarianism and accused Arab regimes of supporting terrorists under false pretexts, Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "Under the pretext of helping Sunni Arabs, they [Arab regimes] support deviant elements, like Sheikh al-Dari, to promote sectarianism. Al-Dari's only concern is to promote sectarian sedition. Regrettably, some Arab countries are supporting efforts to sow sedition," Talibani said. Also at the meeting, al-Maliki suggested that the number of hostages taken in the November 14 mass kidnapping at the Higher Education Ministry was exaggerated by the media, and he stressed that what occurred was not terrorism. "What is happening is not against the background of terrorism, but rather against the background of differences and clashes among militias affiliated with various sides," he said.
COMMENT: The Muslim Scholars Association or Association of Muslim Clerics (AMS), also known as the Muslim Ulema Council. Ulema is the community of legal scholars of Islam and the Sharia. The Muslim Ulema Council is the highest Sunni authority in Iraq. The Council comprises several religious institutions that existed before the occupation of Iraq. It has many activities on the political, social, economic, and religious levels. The Association is believed to have strong links with Iraqi insurgents and foreign militant groups like Al-Qaeda. Some say it represents the political face of these groups.
They did not recognize the U.S. appointed government as legitimate and have questioned any democratically elected government. They have previously asked for withdrawal of American troops. They publicly support armed resistance against U.S. soldiers and Iraq's new army and police force. They have poor relations with nearly all Iraqi groups, most notably Shia groups, including followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. COMMENT ENDS.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


U.S. rules out Syria, turns to Iran

Region, Security, Politics
The US state department's top official on Iraq policy said yesterday that America had ruled out negotiations with Syria on curbing the violence in Iraq, but was considering talks with Iran. David Satterfield was giving testimony to the Senate armed services committee, which was reviewing Iraq policy for the first time since the Democrats' election victory and the resignation of the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
"With respect to Syria, we do not believe that the issue involving Syria's negative behaviours toward Iraq, Hizbullah, Lebanon, Iran or Palestinian radical groups is a question of lack of dialogue or lack of engagement," Mr Satterfield said. "With respect to Iran, we are prepared, in principle, to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq. The timing of such a direct dialogue is one we still have under review." His remarks appeared to conflict with the position taken by President George Bush - that the Iranians would have to bring a verifiable halt to the enrichment of uranium before talks could occur.
The Senate committee also heard from the head of the US central command, General John Abizaid, who is in charge of military operations across the Middle East and south Asia. He predicted that the next four to six months would be critical to prevent Iraq from reaching a "tipping point" and sliding into total chaos. However, he argued against a timetable for withdrawal, suggested by Democratic party leaders. "At this stage in the campaign we'll need flexibility to manage our force and to help manage the Iraqi force," Gen Abizaid said. "Force caps and specific timetables limit that flexibility." He also argued against an increase in US forces on the grounds that they would have little impact and would undermine the credibility of the Iraqi government. "I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem," he said. "We need to put more American capacity into Iraqi units to make them more capable in their ability to confront the sectarian problem."


Saddam's lawyer says court is obstructing the defense

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein's lawyer on Wednesday accused the Iraqi court that sentenced the former president to death of ignoring his requests for the documents to appeal the guilty verdict. Khalil al-Dulaimi, chief lawyer to the former leader, said in a written statement that the Iraqi High Tribunal was "deliberately procrastinating" to "obstruct defense efforts." An appeals court is expected to rule on the verdict and death sentence by mid-January. Saddam's defense team must present an appeal to a higher, nine-judge panel by Dec. 5. If the nine-judge panel upholds the death sentence, it could be implemented early next year, according to a schedule announced last week by chief Iraqi prosecutor Jaafar Moussawi. There was no immediate comment from Iraqi court officials.
"The Defense is not yet provided with copies of the verdict and incrimination decisions despite the fact that 10 days have passed," al-Dulaimi said. He claimed that he communicated with the court, in writing and in person, several times in the last few days, but that he received no response. "This period, which was deliberately and intentionally wasted and exhausted, is part of the 30-day period allowed for submitting cassation submissions," he added. "We hold the court responsible for this grave and continued violation of our client's right to submit a cassation," he said. He demanded that the court provide him with the necessary documents "within 24 hours."
Moussawi, the chief Iraqi prosecutor, said the Iraqi High Tribunal must send the entire case file to the appeals panel within 10 days, or by Nov. 15. Saddam's defense team would then be required to submit its appeal to the tribunal by Dec. 5. Neither of the final two steps, the preparing of a brief on the appeal by the prosecutor and the court's ruling, is governed by a time limit. However, Moussawi has told AP he would submit his brief within days of receiving the appeal and predicted that the court would also act quickly because currently it is not considering other cases. Al-Dulaimi urged unnamed legal international organizations to help "stop the human rights violations in this trial."


Turkey offers training for Iraqi security forces

Politics, Security, Region
Turkey's prime minister on Thursday offered training for the Iraqi police and army, and urged power-sharing among ethnic groups in the Iraqi oil center of Kirkuk. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, that his nation was ready to offer training for Iraqi security forces to help achieve stability. Erdogan also addressed Turkey's fears that Iraqi Kurds are trying to take control of the oil-rich, northern city of Kirkuk as part of their push for an independent state on Turkey's border. The city lies just south of the Kurdish autonomous region stretching across Iraq's northeast. Kurdish leaders want to annex the city. Iraq's constitution calls for a census and referendum on the issue by the end of next year. "There needs to be a plan for Kirkuk that encompasses all the ethnic groups who live there," Erdogan said.


Minister for Higher education: some hostages tortured, killed

Security, Politics
Kidnappers who seized dozens of men from an Iraqi government building two days ago tortured and killed some of their hostages, the minister for higher education said on Thursday, citing the testimony of freed hostages. The comments from Abd Dhiab, who also said some 70 staff were still missing, underlined the rifts in the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, who has insisted that all but a handful of around 40 hostages have been freed. Higher Education Minister Dhiab told reporters on Thursday that around 70 hostages had been released out of about 150 staff and visitors originally seized from one of his ministry's buildings in central Baghdad.
"There are a number of people who were killed, they are employees and guards," Dhiab said, without specifying how many. "According to the people released, they were killed by torture," he said, adding that several of those released were in shock after being tortured themselves. Dhiab, a member of a Sunni Arab party in the Shiite-led government, reaffirmed his determination to boycott the government until all the hostages are released.Dhiab has said the hostages were taken to a Shi'ite militia stronghold in Baghdad.
A spokesman for the higher education ministry said officials were compiling a full list of names of those seized. It included at least 100 employees of two departments in the building, as well as some 50 visitors. After the release of around 70 - including 30 freed on Wednesday - dozens were still unaccounted for, the spokesman said. The main government spokesman, however, said on Wednesday that 37 people had been freed and only a handful were still missing.


$437 million for transport systems reconstruction

The government has earmarked $437 million for the construction of new roads and bridges and the rehabilitation of the existing transport systems, a senior transport official said. Shirin Barwari, head of contracts at the Transport Communication Ministry, said a large portion of the money is part of the U.S. grant to reconstruct the country. U.S. Agency for International Development is involved in scores of projects in Iraq and is perhaps the only foreign agency actively participating in the Iraqi reconstruction.
Shirin said the agency would directly finance many of the projects which include airports, railways, roads and bridges. Part of the money, she said, will be spent on improving conditions on Iraqi highways and airports. The airports in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul will get priority, she said. Some 110 land projects for which $155 have been allocated will be implemented, she said. In the railway sector there will 99 projects at a cost of $41 million, she added. The rest of the money will be spent on ports at the head of the Gulf to handle a surge in foreign shipments. The port in Basra will be expanded with the addition of new platforms, Shirin said.


Constitution amendment committee elects chairman

The newly formed committee to consider amending Iraq's constitution on Wednesday elected its chairman and two deputies and will begin its work soon on such controversial issues as federalism and the status of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, members said. Shiite legislator Hummam Hammoudi was elected as president and lawmakers Fouad Massoum, a Kurd, and Ayad al-Samarraie, a Sunni Arab, were named deputies. Twenty-two of the 29-member committee attended Wednesday's meeting, member Abdul-Karim al-Ineizi said.
The committee includes 12 members from the Shiite bloc, five Kurds, four members of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front, two from former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular Iraqi list, five representing minorities and one from the bloc of Sunni Arab politician Saleh al-Mutlaq. Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders in parliament formed the constitutional committee in September and its job will be to review any changes on the constitution and see to their approval.
Hammoudi said the committee should have proposed amendments before parliament by mid May 2007. They must be approved by a majority vote in the 275-member legislature. Two months after they are approved by parliament a referendum will be held throughout the country, he said. Al-Samarraie said types of amendments will be either technical or political such as Iraq's identity as an Arab country, federalism and de-Baathification. The new constitution was adopted in a national referendum Oct. 15, 2005.


Interior Ministry dismisses over 1,000

The Iraqi Interior Ministry announced on November 13 that it has dismissed 1,258 employees and prospective employees, Baghdad satellite television reported the same day. In a statement, the ministry said 559 current employees and 699 applicants who were still in the process of selection were dismissed. In addition, the ministry said 1,907 complaints concerning employees have been received and were being investigated. The statement added there are 181 cases in court, 41 cases were awaiting trial, and that 25 cases have been dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence. In addition, disciplinary actions were taken in 812 cases. Recently, the Interior Ministry has taken aggressive steps to counter corruption and weed out personnel suspected of having links to militias. On October 17, the ministry reassigned two top police commanders who Sunni Arabs suspected of having links with Shi'ite death squads.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Government rift increased by hostage situation

Politics, Security
The Iraqi cabinet split on Wednesday over the fate of dozens of hostages snatched in a mass kidnap that raised new fears that sectarian militias can defy the government at will on the streets of Baghdad. Abd Dhiab, the Sunni Higher Education Minister for universities whose staff were snatched, said up to 80 were still missing, possibly in a Shi'ite militia stronghold, and said he would boycott the government until they were found. He said 27 employees had been released as well as a number of people who were visiting the ministry annex. "Around 70 or 80 still being held," Dhiab said.Several families, all Sunnis, said they had not heard from kidnapped relatives and feared the worst.
However, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the 37 people who had been freed accounted for nearly all of those taken -- only a few, perhaps two to five, were still missing. He said the Higher Education Ministry was mistaken in saying that about 100 people were initially abducted and put the total number of hostages hauled away on Tuesday at around 40. A lack of records at the ministry meant the figures were approximate. Minister Dhiab said he could neither confirm nor deny a report that many hostages were held at a school in Sadr City.
Maliki himself played down the mass kidnap, which has put further strain on his government to disband militias involved in sectarian violence. He called the raid the result of a dispute among various armed groups and has said lately that he can deal with Shi'ite militants using political negotiation, not force. "What happened was not terrorism, rather it was due to dispute and conflict between militias from one side or another," he said in televised remarks. He later said the government's response had been strong and vowed to catch those responsible. Iraqi leaders and U.S. commanders accept that the police force is heavily infiltrated by exactly the Shi'ite militias that the government has sworn to get off the streets.
Kidnapped employees' families said at least several of their relatives were still missing. Four of those identified by Reuters as still being missing are all Sunnis, while the only person identified as being released, a senior ministry official, is a Shi'ite. However, officials declined to characterize the raid as a Shi'ite militia attack and would not comment on similarities to other such mass kidnappings, when hostages have been segregated according to their religion and either freed or killed.


Iraqi media report on mass kidnapping

According to an Iraqi reporter working for Iraqirabta the kidnappers took the hostages from the High-education Ministry, riding on the highway to an Area near the "Iraqi National Stadium" which is near the Interior Ministry, there they got rid of the police, took them back to the Ministry [where they belong] and then continued riding different cars to Sadr-City, to reach Sadr-City they must pass through three American checkpoints.
They are now all in a school in Sadr-City, they man who was behind it is "Sheik Azhar" [???]. The Iraqirabita reporter also managed to contact on the released hostages and he said: They isolated women from men and searched all the floors of the building. It seems that the number of gunmen was very significant to these procedures, then they handcuffed us and blindfolded our eyes with adhesive tape, they put us in cars, I do not know what, but it seemed to me a small bus or similar.
Note that the armed men were Iraqis speaking the southern dialect, who took us to a place I believe was a home because I heard the voices of women and children. They exchanged the handcuffs with plastic wires and with the continuation of severe beatings and continuing investigations. They asked me if I am a Sunni or Shiite, because my name is neutral [can be Sunni or Shiite…ie Mohhamed, Ali], I told them I am Shiite, they asked me to enumerate the twelve Shiite imams, tell their names, then they told me what the prayers conditions at the Shiites, I gave the answers because I have some knowledge, and I am ready for this moment, thank God .. After that the kidnappers shaved my beard, and somebody said "set him free", when I went out, I knew I was in Sadr-City.


'Salvation councils' against Iran formed in Diyala, Basra

So far there have been reports of provincial-level self-help "salvation councils" in Al-Anbar province (originally in response to the AlQaeda/Islamic Emirate presence in Ramadi); and then in Ninawa province (which includes Mosul, in response to Islamic Emirate activities in that city). Today the news service Quds Press reports on something similar in Diyala province, directly north of Baghdad. There have been reports of AlQaeda/Islamic Emirate activity in that region, but this effort is described as a defence not against AlQaeda or the Islamic emirate, but rather against the Iranian influence.
The report says: "Ten political and civic groups have formed a broad front to protect Diyala from Iranian influence, which has turned the city of Diyala into one of the most violent in the country, after Baghdad". The announcement said the new coalition "will take upon itself the protection of Diyala from Iranian control". The coalition is called "Patriotic (Wataniy) Front for the Salvation of Diyala". The member-groups include: Arab Socialist Movement; Iraqi Front for National Dialogue; Islamic Party; Independent Patriotic Notables Group (?); Turkmen Justice Party; Diyala section of the Iraqi Commission for establishment of a Civic Assembly; and others. The initial announcement said the security situation in the province is intolerable, with problems including killing of patriotic citizens by both the forces of the Interior Ministry and the Defence Ministry of the government.
The group's statement describes Diyala as strategically the gateway to Baghdad [from the north and east], making it fertile ground for the foreign elements to organize themselves, and in particular the Iranians. It said the national and local governments have proven themselves incapable of defending against this, and instead have in effect opened the gates to an inundation of agents and destroyers moving from Iran to Iraq via this province. And it said these views about Iranians coming to Iraq, and Revolutionary Guard people and Iranian intelligence people penetrating the Iraqi law-enforcement agencies, has started to be taken up by politicians too, citing a recent accusation made by one Saad al-Janani, head of something called Iraqi Republican Assembly, who said the Iranians are behind the collapse of security in Iraq.
This item concludes by noting something similar is happening in Basra, where an armed group calling itself "Southern Brigades" has formed to fight what it describes as agents of the Iranian regime in Basra.


Iraqi media round-up

Millions of Landmines Remain
(Azzaman) The Iraqi presidential council has agreed to sign Iraq up to an international treaty banning the use, storage and transportation of anti-personnel mines. According to official statistics, there are more than 25 million uncleared mines and UXOs in Iraq, especially in the southern, eastern and northern parts of the country. Mines were laid by the former Iraqi regime during wars in the Eighties and Nineties and many Iraqis fell victim to them. (London-based Azzaman is issued daily by Saad al-Bazaz.)

Cleric: Islamic Law From State
(Awene) Ali Bapeer, the head of an Islamic party in the Kurdish parliament, told Awene that Islamic law should play a key in the running of the country. He said that some Muslims wrongly think that their religion is like the Christian faith which can be separated from politics. He warned that secularists have exploited this misunderstanding and deceived Muslims. (Awene is a Sulaimaniyah-based independent newspaper issued weekly.)

Iraqi PM to Visit Turkey
(Kuridstani Nwe) Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is to visit Turkey on Wednesday for talks on bilateral relations between the two countries. Al-Maliki will be accompanied by the foreign and water resources ministers. Firyad Rawanduzi, an Iraqi MP, said issues such water supplies, commercial relations and the joint Turkish, Iraqi and American committee to solve the PKK problem will be addressed in Al-Maliki's visit. It is expected that Iraqi Kurdistan government and the normalisation of Kirkuk will also be discussed. Recently, Turkey has expressed concern about article 140 of the constitution which attempts to address the Kirkuk issue, calling for the process to be delayed. (Kurdistani Nwe is a political daily issued by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.)

Coalition Forces Urged to Keep Low Profile
(Asharq al-Awsat) National Security Advisor, Mwafaq al-Rubaiyee, has called on Coalition Forces to reduce their presence in cities and accelerate the arming of Iraqi forces. Meanwhile, Adnan Al-Dulaimy, head of the Iraqi Accord Front, the main Sunni block in parliament, has accused the government of covering up the "organised killing of Sunnis". (London-based Asharq al-Awsat, a pro-Saudi paper, is issued daily.)


Education Ministry says some abductees released

Security, Politics
The Higher Education Ministry said Wednesday that "about 40" people abducted from its offices had been released. No official was able to say how many were still held captive. Government ministries have given wildly varying figures on the number of kidnap victims in the assault in central Baghdad Tuesday, with reports ranging from a high of about 150 to a low of 40 to 50. "The (Higher Education) ministry confirms the release of a group of employees, guards, and visitors who were kidnapped yesterday. The information available to the ministry indicates that the number of the people released as of Wednesday morning is about 40. There is another group that is still held," the ministry said in a statement. However, an aide quoted by CNN said fewer than 100 were kidnapped, and 16 had been freed, most of them Shiites.
Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language network, quoted Maha Abdullah, a woman described as a sister of one of the captives, as saying he and at least 10 other people remained in custody. "The government's news that most of them were released is false," Abdullah said. Al Furat, a Shi'ite-controlled TV station, said 25 hostages were still missing. Tareq Hassan said he had not heard from his brother Jabar since he was seized from his office. He said other relatives were in the same position: "I don't know if he's alive or dead." But amid conflicting reports of how many were seized in the first place, employees' families said at least several of their relatives were still missing.
Iraq's interior minister ordered the arrest and interrogation of several high-ranking police officers over their handling of security in the Baghdad area where scores of people were kidnapped from a government research institute Tuesday. Facing discipline are the police brigade commander in charge of the area, the police chief of Karrada -- where the kidnappings took place -- and a number of police officers. However, they are not suspects in the actual kidnappings.
"What happened was not terrorism, rather it was due to dispute and conflict between militias from one side or another," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in televised remarks. Under pressure from Washington to disband such groups, Maliki has insisted the main threat to Iraq's security comes from minority Sunni Arab insurgents and says he will deal with militias loyal to his Shi'ite Islamist allies in his own time. In a speech at Baghdad University, apparently timed to allay academics' fears for their security, Maliki said universities would remain open and should be free of sectarian influence.
COMMENT: It appears the politicians are trying to downplay the scale of the incident and show some disciplinary action. It is likely Shias were released, it is also likely Sunnis will be killed. By quoting lower numbers, it will seem everyone has been released. COMMENT ENDS.


Muslim Scholars Association negative on cabinet reshuffle

Dr. Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, a spokesman for the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association, said during a November 12 interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's announcement of a major cabinet reshuffle will result in only cosmetic changes. "Unless al-Maliki and his government abandon their exclusion, marginalization, and crushing policies, then these initiatives will not amount to anything more than an improvement of their positions in this era," he said. Al-Faydi said that even if Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani were replaced, it would not matter because the ministry is unwilling or incapable of controlling the Shi'ite militias widely accused of carrying out sectarian attacks against Sunnis. Al-Faydi also noted that since al-Maliki launched his reconciliation initiative five months ago, there have been more forced displacements and sectarian killings than before, which underscores his belief that a cabinet reshuffle will change nothing.


Iraqi Turkomen Front expels 'terrorist' members

The Iraqi Turkoman Front has issued a statement saying it has expelled a number of terrorists from the party, the Kurdish newspaper "Khabat" reported on November 13. The statement named Dr. Bashar Abdullah as one of those ousted. Abdullah is suspected of leading a "group of terrorists, killers, and wrongdoers who have attempted to create rifts and foment trouble between the Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman peoples." The statement also indicated that high-ranking officials in the front and others living in Turkey are trying to inflame tensions between the three groups. The Turkoman Front pledged to strengthen the spirit of coexistence among the three peoples and fight terrorism. "We, the legitimate representatives of Turkomans, who were the first to open the Turkoman Front headquarters in the town of Tal Afar, promise, side by side with all the patriotic forces and with our Kurdish and Arab brothers, to stand against terrorism and terrorists," the statement said.
COMMENT: The Iraqi Turkman Front was established in April of 1995 and is a Turkoman Ethnic Opposition Group led by San'an Ahmad Agha and funded by Turkey. It is popularly perceived as campaigning for the interests of Turkey in Iraq. The group repeatedly issues statements complaining that it has not been allowed a voice in the new Iraqi government. The front is a coalition of 26 Turkman groups including: the Turkoman Shura Council, the Iraqi Turkoman National Party, the Turkomaneli, and the Independent Turkomans. Strongly supports having a major role in the future governance of Kirkuk (which it portrays as the Turkman capital) and Irbil, which it identifies at Turkman territory. COMMENT ENDS.


Iraq to transport oil to Jordan overland

Commerce, Region
Jordan's "Al-Ra'y" reported on November 13 that Iraq is prepared to begin transporting oil overland to Jordan within two days. Informed sources said the Jordanian-Iraqi Overland Transportation Company will handle the transportation of oil until the end of this year. After that, the transportation contract will be offered to one of nine companies that have submitted bids. The transportation of Iraqi oil to Jordan is based on a memorandum of understanding signed between Jordanian Prime Minister Ma'ruf al-Bakhit and his Iraqi counterpart al-Maliki to supply Jordan with 10-30 percent of its oil needs at preferential prices. The understanding is based on a barter system under which Jordan will import Iraqi oil at preferential prices and export Jordanian goods and products to Iraq. Meanwhile, Jordan and Iraq agreed to begin a series of meetings to determine Iraq's debt to Jordan following disagreements about the amount owed.
COMMENT: The routes from Baghdad through al-Anbar to the Jordanian border have been dangerous for a long time, with Baghdad drivers charging extortionate fees to travel west or turning down jobs altogether due to the dangers involved. Militants and criminals regularly attack convoys on the road. Lorries carrying oil have been a particular target as the insurgents often kidnap and kill the drivers and use the lorries as VBIEDs. COMMENT ENDS.


Al Jazeera launches english channel

Arabic television station Al Jazeera launches an English-speaking channel on Wednesday to report world news from a Middle East perspective and challenge the dominance of Western media. The station, which has angered Washington and some Arab governments with its reporting from Iraq, said it wanted to give a fresh voice to under-reported regions round the world. The English-language Al Jazeera will broadcast via satellite from four centers in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington. It is funded by the Emir of Qatar, as is the Arabic channel.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Premier Raises Weapons Concerns

Politics, Security
(Kuridstani Nwe) The prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told a session of parliament that the army is suffering shortages of ammunition and weapons. He told parliamentarians that currently the insurgents were better equipped than the security forces. The premier was speaking at a session devoted challenges facing the government, especially those in the field of security.
(Kurdistani Nwe is a political daily issued by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.)
COMMENT: It is interesting that Maliki has admitted this as he has been pressing the U.S. to move more quickly to hand security affairs over to his army, claiming it could crush violence in the country within six months, while President Talabani has asked the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq for a long time. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, recently said it would take 12 to 18 months before Iraqi security forces were ready to control the whole country with some U.S. backup. There are a total of 302,000 Iraqi security forces, which include the army, national and local police. The country's 10 military divisions include around 130,000 troops, many of whom are not well enough trained and lack equipment. Another problem is that the Iraqi army is not considered to be very mobile and lacks the armoured transport vehicles or planes that would allow it to quickly deploy large groups of soldiers. There are 140,000 American soldiers in Iraq, plus 7,000 British soldiers, as well as soldiers from other countries. COMMENT ENDS.


Newspaper: Syria open for talks on Iraq

Politics, Region, Security
Syria welcomes the suggestion that the United States might seek its help to stabilise Iraq and is waiting to see whether Washington will open the way for talks with Damascus, a government daily said on Tuesday. "Syria is ready for dialogue with the United States to achieve security and stability ... and extends its hands sincerely as always waiting for a response. The ball is in their court," an editorial in Tishreen said. "Statements on the need for dialogue with Syria and how to start addressing the problems of the region as a whole are interesting," Tishreen said.
U.S. President George W. Bush has in the past refused to ask Iran and Syria to help end the insurgency in Iraq, but the recent Democrat capture of both U.S. houses of Congress in mid-term elections, largely because of voters' anger over the Iraq war, has led to signs of a change of course. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's main ally in Iraq, sent a senior adviser to meet President Bashar al-Assad last month and asked Syria to do more to help stop an alleged flow of weapons into Iraq across their long border. In an annual foreign policy speech on Monday, Blair said that a "new partnership" was possible with Damascus and Tehran and urged the two countries to help stem the violence in Iraq and stabilise the situation there. A U.S. bipartisan panel, the Iraq Study Group, is reviewing policy on Iraq and will report to Bush in about a month. Some of its members favour engaging with Iran and Syria over Iraq.
Relations between Syria and the United States, bad for years, worsened after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that removed Saddam Hussein from power. Syria called the invasion "armed robbery" and Washington accused Damascus of letting fighters and weapons cross the desert border to join the mounting anti-U.S. insurgency there. Relations worsened sharply after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's anti-Syrian ex-prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri.
Syria says a stable Iraq is in its national interest and has called on the Iraqi government to patrol its side of the border more effectively. Around one million Iraqi refugees have fled to Syria since the U.S.-led invasion, driven out by sectarian killings as well as the insurgency.


UPDATE - 150 kidnapped, Sunnis taken

An Iraqi who said he saw dozens of people seized on Tuesday from a Baghdad government building said police stood by as gunmen checked identity cards to sort Sunnis from Shia and then drove off with Sunni men. The man, a Sunni himself is well known to a Reuters employee but did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “They gathered them all in the pick-ups. At the same time, I saw two police patrols watching, doing nothing,” said the witness, who works at the office of delegations and cultural relations at the Higher Education Ministry.
Higher Education Minister Abd Dhiab, a member of a Sunni Arab party in government, told Iraqiya state television he had asked the Interior Ministry and Defence Ministry to provide more protection for his staff some time ago because he had information that they were vulnerable to attack. “As far as we know, this area is full of police and Defence Ministry checkpoints and we know police vehicles followed the kidnappers to a specific area and after that we don’t know what happened,” Dhiab said.
He said the gunmen, who were wearing police uniforms, claimed they were from the Interior Ministry. That ministry, which is controlled by the majority Shia, has repeatedly denied charges of links to Shia militias blamed by Sunni Arabs and Washington for operating death squads and kidnapping cells.


Anti-U.S. protests follow raid on al-Sadr followers

Angry protestors chanted anti-US slogans and carried coffins through a Baghdad district where Iraqi officials said US forces killed six people in an overnight raid on the homes of followers of radical anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday. The US military did not confirm any operations in Shula, a Shiite enclave west of Baghdad. Interior Ministry sources said 13 people were also wounded after US troops called in an air strike when they came under fire from Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to the cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. Recent US raids in Shiite areas that targeted suspected sectarian death squad leaders have prompted angry protests from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s Shiite constituency. Maliki has previously distanced himself from past operations in Shiite areas. But last month he criticised a US raid on Sadr City in east Baghdad where US troops were seeking a renowned warlord known as Abu Deraa.


Karbala overwhelmed with displaced families

Iraq's Karbala province, 80 km south of the capital Baghdad, is overwhelmed with displaced families and can no longer host and provide services for an additional influx, a local official said on Monday. Ghalib al-Daami, a member of Karbala Provincial Council said that as of Saturday the council took the decision to stop hosting displaced families, other then those who could afford to rent houses or those who could take refuge with relatives.
The provincial office of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) said that 70 per cent of nearly 8,000 displaced families, about 50,000 individuals, are living in tents at the IRCS camp in the city's main park, in mosques as well as in abandoned government buildings. "About 30 percent have either ended up with their relatives or have rented houses," said Haitham Dhafir Hussein, director of the IRCS office in Karbala. "We don't have a problem in terms of providing assistance. We are in the process of distributing winter items to them, including four blankets [per refugee], pots, lanterns and detergents.”
The IRCS is meeting the needs of displaced families from Baghdad, Babil, Salaheddin, Anbar, Mosul and Diyala, Hussein said. Some 16,000 individuals are fleeing their homes on a weekly basis to different neighbourhoods of the capital, Baghdad, or to other governorates in the country according to Mowafaq Abdul-Raoof, the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration's spokesman.


Oil minister to go in cabinet reshuffle

Iraq's Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani is among the 10 cabinet ministers that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is intending to reshuffle during the next few days, a close aide to Maliki and an Iraqi lawmaker said Tuesday. "The Prime Minister will change 10 cabinet ministers and one of them would be Hussein al-Shahristani," the aide told Dow Jones Newswires. On Monday key lawmakers from al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party said that in the coming Cabinet shake up, which the prime minister promised during a closed-door parliament session Sunday, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani was at the top of the list to lose his post because police and security forces were failing to quell the unbridled sectarian killing that has reached civil war proportions in Baghdad and the center of the country.


Fuel crisis in Baghdad

Iraq’s fuel crisis is worsening with filling stations running short of gasoline, kerosene and cooking gas. Long queues of cars stand at filling stations in Baghdad with drivers openly venting their wrath at the country’s leaders for failing to meet urgent needs. Iraq was self-sufficient with fuel before the U.S. invasion but has since been facing severe shortages despite having the third largest oil reserves worldwide. Government ministries are blaming each other for the crisis. The Ministry of Oil says power cuts are leading to fuel shortages while the Ministry of Electricity says fuel shortages are leading to power failures.
Iraq which used to export fuel products under former leader Saddam Hussein despite U.N. trade sanctions is currently importing oil from Iran, Turkey, Syria and Kuwait. It has upped its fuel import bill to $800 for this year. The country’s three main refineries are reported to be running at less than half their capacity mainly because of repeated insurgent attacks on pipelines. Despite the substantial hike in allocations for fuel imports, fuel shortages have not improved. The current shortages have made the cost of gasoline, kerosene and cooking oil extremely expensive and beyond reach for many families. A liter of gasoline on the black market now costs more than 1,500 dinars (US$ 1) in Baghdad. A senior oil official in charge of the Northern Fuel Distribution Company said last week both Turkey and Syria had stopped shipping oil to Iraq. He did not say what prompted the countries to halt shipments but last year Turkey prevented fuel trucks from crossing its border into Iraq due to government’s failure to pay.
COMMENT: Five employees of the state-owned North Oil Company, one of them a woman, were ambushed and killed in the northern outskirts of Baghdad as they drove into the capital. It is unclear if the motives were sectarian or whether the attack was part of the ongoing insurgent campaign to disrupt oil supply to Baghdad. The obvious tactic is to blow up the pipelines, another is to terrorise employees associated with oil supply. COMMENT ENDS.


Iran may not accept request on Iraq

Politics, Region
Iran has reacted coolly to calls for contacts with the United States to stabilise Iraq. "We are ready to consider any kind of request but that does not mean that we would accept," Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister said on Tuesday. "The position of the Islamic republic is clear. We are not asking for negotiations." Moves by the US to open up talks with Iran in Baghdad to promote peace in Iraq earlier this year came to nothing amid mutual recriminations, despite initial cautious expressions of acceptance.
"Before, some Iraqi officials asked for negotiations between Iran and the United States to help Iraq," said Mottaki. "Iran accepted but owing to the bad character of the United States and its desire to make propaganda, Iran cancelled," he said. "There is no new decision." There has been speculation in the US that the bipartisan Iraq study panel would endorse contacts with Iran and Syria in its final report. But President George Bush rejected calls for new overtures. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, had also issued a stark warning to Iran.


Gunmen in police uniforms kidnap 150

Gunmen wearing Iraqi police commando uniforms kidnapped up to 150 staff members from a government research institute in downtown Baghdad on Tuesday, the head of the parliamentary education committee said. Alaa Makki interrupted a televised parliamentary session to say between 100 and 150 people, both Shiites and Sunnis, had been abducted in the 9:30 a.m. raid. He urged the prime minister and ministers of interior and defense to rapidly respond to what he called a "national catastrophe." Makki said the gunmen had a list of names of those to be taken and claimed to be on a mission from the government's anti-corruption body. Those kidnapped included the institute's deputy general directors, employees, and visitors, he said.
Police and witnesses said gunmen closed off roads around the institute in the downtown Karradah district and loaded their handcuffed captives onto pickup trucks before driving away to an unknown destination. Police spokesman Maj. Mahir Hamad said the entire operation took about 20 minutes. Four guards at the institute put up no resistance and were unharmed, he said. A female professor visiting at the time of the kidnappings said the gunmen forced men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men, and loaded them aboard about six pickup trucks. She said the gunmen, some of them masked, wore blue camouflage uniforms of the type worn by police commandos.
The abductions appeared to be the boldest in a series of killings and other attacks on Iraqi academics that are robbing Iraq of its brain trust and prompting thousands of professors and researchers to flee to neighboring countries. Recent weeks have seen a university dean and prominent Sunni geologist murdered, bringing the death toll among educators to at least 155 since the war began. The academics apparently were singled out for their relatively high public stature, vulnerability and known views on controversial issues in a climate of deepening Islamic fundamentalism.
Ali al-Adib, a Shiite lawmaker, said there was little question Tuesday's incident was a mass kidnapping and demanded that U.S. troops be held responsible for the security lapse.
COMMENT: It is likely that the operation was conducted by a Shia militia possibly with assisstance from interior ministry security forces which are heavily infiltrated by Shia militias. The attack may be in retaliation for an incident on Saturday near Latifiyah when Sunni gunmen ambushed a convoy of minibuses at a fake checkpoint on the highway south of Baghdad, killing 10 Shia passengers and kidnapping about 50. COMMENT ENDS.


U.S. commander warns Al-Maliki to disband Shia militias

Security, Politics
Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, sternly warned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that he must disband Shiite militias and give the United States proof that they were disarmed, according to senior Iraqi government officials with knowledge of what the two men discussed. One of the militias, the Mahdi Army, is loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. On Monday night, U.S. forces raided the homes of al-Sadr's followers and U.S. jets fired rockets on their northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Shula, residents said. Police said five residents were killed, though a senior al-Sadr aide put the death toll at nine. The U.S. military said it had no comment.
In their meeting, Abizaid also asked the Iraqi leader to give the U.S. military a firm timetable for when Iraq's security forces could take full control of the country, the officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks. Al-Maliki has been pressing the U.S. to move more quickly to hand security affairs over to his army, claiming it could crush violence in the country within six months. On Monday, Abizaid asked the prime minister to give a detailed explanation of how he would do that. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, recently said it would take 12 to 18 months before Iraqi security forces were ready to control the whole country with some U.S. backup.
The U.S. did not respond to requests for comment on Monday's meeting. But a brief statement by the Iraqi government said Abizaid told al-Maliki he had come to "reaffirm President Bush's commitment" to success in this country. It also said the two discussed the "effect of neighboring countries on the security situation in Iraq," a clear reference to Iran and Syria. That was particularly significant given that al-Maliki had said only a day earlier that he was ready to take "five steps" toward Syria if it took one in Iraq's direction.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Militias, Interior Ministry hard to distinguish

Heavily armed militias riding in cars with Interior Ministry marks have intensified their attacks on residential areas. It is now extremely difficult in Baghdad to distinguish between vehicles government forces use and those the city’s murderous militias deploy. Residents say the line separating marauding militias from government police and military forces is so blurred. Many now say the militias’ brutal activities are being carried out in cahoots with government forces. Last week gangs of factional militias belonging to groups which are part of the current coalition government attacked two Sunni mosques in Baghdad, killing four and injuring 18. Eyewitnesses said the gangs, wearing government army uniforms were openly assisted by Interior Ministry commandos in their attacks. As sectarian violence continues, there are reports of a surge in crime and attacks by different groups across the country.


The Shia Zarqawi

As the self-appointed defender of his Shia kith and kin, his nom de guerre is "The Shield". But to his Sunni foes – and many of his own people – only one name does justice to the savagery with which Abu Deraa wages Iraq's sectarian war. He is, they say, the "Shia Zarqawi". Less than six months after an American airstrike ended Abu Musab al Zarqawi's campaign of Sunni terror, an equally brutal fanatic has emerged on the other side of the religious divide. Abu Deraa's trademark method of killing is a drill through the skull rather than a sword to the neck, but his work rate is just as prolific as the former al-Qaeda leader's and shows the same diabolical artistry. In the past year, he and his followers are thought to have murdered thousands of Sunnis, their victims' bodies symbolically dumped in road craters left by al-Qaeda car bombs. The rise of monsters such as Abu Deraa is another blow to American hopes that Zarqawi's death, in June, would halt the sectarian violence, which now regularly claims 100 lives a day.
Yet, while Abu Deraa may have replaced Zarqawi at the top of the American wanted list, Iraq's Shia-dominated government has shown a marked reluctance to sanction the kind of large-scale operation necessary to arrest him in his stronghold of Sadr City, a vast Shia slum in east Baghdad. Taking action against him could cost it valuable support among other Shia militias who, despite official disdain for Abu Deraa's bloodthirstiness, value the fear that such a loose cannon inspires in their enemies. Increasingly, men such as Abu Deraa appear to operate beyond anyone's control at all. He is among at least 20 former Mehdi Army commanders who are pursuing their own agendas, sometimes sectarian, often simply criminal. The former commander, Moqtada al Sadr, may be a thug himself, but at least he represented a single, identifiable authority. If dozens of freelance players emerge alongside him, negotiation becomes impossible.


Iraq's morgues overwhelmed

Baghdad's morgues are full. With no space to store bodies, some victims of the sectarian slaughter are not being kept for relatives to claim, but photographed, numbered and quickly interred in government cemeteries. The fear of leaving the bereaved without a corpse to bury is so strong that some Iraqi men now tattoo their names, phone numbers and other identifying information on their upper thighs, despite Islam's strict disapproval against such practices. In October, a particularly bloody month for Iraqi civilians, about 1,600 bodies were turned in at the Baghdad central morgue, said its director, Dr. Abdul-Razaq al-Obaidi. The city's network of morgues, built to hold 130 bodies at most, now holds more than 500, he says.
In morgues across Iraq where capacity stretches beyond thin, bodies are even being turned away. Iraq's bureaucracy of death is overwhelmed. The task of identifying and interring bodies is all the more difficult because of the clandestine nature of the killings: Increasingly, Iraqis are being killed far from home and in secret, the victims of kidnappers and sectarian death squads. With nowhere else to look when a friend or loved-one goes missing, family members first check the local morgue.
The government cemetery in Kut, opened on Sept. 24, already holds the graves of 135 unidentified victims. Hundreds of such bodies have been fished ashore at the town of Suwayrah where they are snagged in nets stretched across the Tigris to prevent river weed spreading into the surrounding canal network. Health Ministry officials are discussing how to handle the overflow of bodies. One proposal under consideration is the use of refrigerated trucks, manned by staff entrusted specifically to help identify bodies.
With government unable to handle the load, the task of burial usually falls to Islamic charities and other social groups that rely on public donations. One of the biggest, the organization of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has buried more than 3,000 unidentified bodies outside the southern holy city of Karbala since Sept. 1, according to an al-Sadr aide, Raad al-Karbalaie. Trucks from the capital arrive several times a month carrying loads of 50 or more bodies each. Mosques affiliated with the organization take up special collections at Friday prayers to fund the burials, while the men who inter them donate their time and labor, he said.


Interior Minister top of list to lose post

The Shiite prime minister promised Sunday to reshuffle his Cabinet after calling lawmakers disloyal and blaming Sunni Muslims for raging sectarian violence that claimed at least 159 more lives, including 35 men blown apart while waiting to join Iraq's police force.
Among the unusually high number of dead were 50 bodies found behind a regional electrical company in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and 25 others found scattered throughout the capital. Three U.S. troops were reported killed, as were four British service members. Also Sunday, the country's Sunni defense minister challenged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's contention that the U.S. military should quickly pull back into bases and let the Iraqi army take control of security countrywide.
Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi rejected calls by al-Maliki for the U.S. military to speed transfer of security operations throughout the country to the Iraqi army, saying his men still were too poorly equipped and trained to do the job. Al-Maliki wants the Americans confined to bases for him to call on in emergencies, but he boldly predicted his army could crush violence within six months if left alone to do the work. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey last month said it would take 12 to 18 months before Iraq's army was ready to take control of the country with some U.S. backup.
Key lawmakers from al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party said that in the coming Cabinet shake up, which the prime minister promised during a closed-door parliament session Sunday, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani was at the top of the list to lose his post because police and security forces were failing to quell the unbridled sectarian killing that has reached civil war proportions in Baghdad and the center of the country. “Ten ministers are set to change,” said lawmaker Abbas Al Bayati from the ruling Shiite United Iraqi Alliance. There are 37 ministers in the cabinet.
Al-Bolani, a Shiite who was chosen in June and a month after al-Maliki's government was formed, is an independent. The United States demanded that the defense and interior posts be held by officials without ties to the Shiite political parties that control militia forces. Al-Maliki is dependent on both Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, with its Badr Brigade military wing, and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement for his hold on power. The interior minister controls police and other security forces which already are infiltrated by the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of al-Sadr's political movement.
Some Shiites had complained al-Maliki was being unduly harsh in dealing with Shiite militia members. Al-Maliki told the lawmakers that their speeches were affecting the security situation, according to Shiite legislator Bassem al-Sharif. Dhafer al-Ani, of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, told AP that al-Maliki's comments "were disappointing because they were sidelining (Sunnis) and included threats." In remarks earlier in the week, al-Maliki blamed Sunnis alone for Iraq's violence.
On Saturday, al-Maliki told editors of local newspapers that Syria, which the U.S. and his government accuse of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq, wants to start afresh with Iraq.


Mujahideen Shura Council claims attack on police recruits

The Islamic State of Iraq took credit for two suicide bombing attacks in the Baghdad region on November 12, 2006. The first attack targeted groups of Shi’a standing in line at a police recruitment center in Baghdad, killing at least 35, according to media reports. The second attack, perpetrated by a member of the Mujahideen Shura council, was against an American convoy in the al-Taji region, north of Baghdad.


UN holds meeting with Ministry of Human Rights

The UNAMI (U.N. Assistence Mission for Iraq) Human Rights Office (HRO) together with the Ministry of Human Rights (MOHR) is holding a meeting between 13 and 15 November 2006 in the Al-Rasheed Hotel on Strengthening the Human Rights Protection in Iraq – The role and functions of the Ministry of Human Rights. The meeting is designed to provide senior officials from the Ministry of Human Rights with the opportunity to present the new structure and core functions of the Ministry as well as discuss how best to improve cooperation, sharing of information and coordination within the Government and with state institutions. The meeting will be co-chaired by H.E. Ms. Wijdan Salim, Minister of Human Rights and UNAMI Chief of Human Rights Office, in presence of the Media.
Representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, Education, Social Affairs, and National Dialogue and Reconciliation together with Members of the Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, the Office of the Prime Minister, the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and of the High Judicial Council have been invited to participate. The meeting is part of the ongoing activities that UNAMI HRO has organized together with the MOHR and other Ministries in compliance with its UN-SCR 1546 mandate to “promote the protection of human rights, national reconciliation, and judicial and legal reform in order to strengthen the rule of law in Iraq”.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Baath resistence leader denies laying down arms

Al-Quds al-Arabi publishes a summary of a statement by Baath resistance leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri denouncing the recent AP-originated story about laying down their arms, and attributing it to the occuption's disinformation campaign. Al-Duri writes: "Let the dogs of Rome (meaning the empire), and before them the Safavid dogs of Persia know, crouched in their Green Zone fortress, that the coming days will be darker for them than a moonless night..." which is his way of saying they haven't laid down their arms. Moreover, Al-Duri goes out of his way to deny that there are any contacts at all between the Baath resistance and the Americans, in Amman or anywhere else. And he says there won't be until the conditions that were originally laid down have been met (timetable for withdrawal, restoration of the Baath). Which suggests that at least from the Baath point of view, any contacts there may have been in the past have not led to any continuing contacts.
Also, al-Duri calls on supporters for a high degree of cooperation between the Baath resistance and other armed anti-occupation groups. He called on "members of the [Baath] party to participate in facilitating the entry of Arab and Islamic mujadideen, in order that they can join the ranks of the fighters against the occupation, and so that the land of the Rafideen will become an open front for retaliation against the American and British occupation, and those who cooperate with them."
In another report on the same page, Al-Quds cites remarks by Sheikh Ali al-Abeidi, head of the Abeid tribe in central Iraq, who said: "The leaders of the Abeid tribe understand that the American occupation and the Maliki government have ignored their demands" in connection with reconciliation, presumably made in the recent talks in Amman. And he added that "the death-sentence for Saddam was imposed by order of Bush." In a similar vein, Sheikh Hamid al-Ajili, speaking for a number of tribes around Baiji, Tikrit, Samara and Balad, north of Baghdad, said his group had a quick meeting to discuss ending all discussions with this sectarian government, for which, they are convinced, the Saddam sentencing will prove to have been the "beginning of the end" for it (the government).


400,000 barrels of oil lost per day to violence

Oil exports from southern terminals are to increase by 200,000 barrels by the end of the year, the Oil Ministry says. Assem Jihand, the ministry’s information officer, said the boost will bring exports close to pre-war levels. The southern terminals are almost Iraq’s sole export outlets where approximately 1.7 million barrels are shipped a day.
However, oil analysts depict a gloomy picture of the industry, saying factional fighting and strife in southern Iraq may bring the exports to a halt. Exports from the south are Iraq’s only source of hard cash and any suspension would deal a heavy blow to the country’s battered economy. The analysts say Iraq currently is losing 300,000 – 400,000 barrels of exports a day due to violence. As sectarian and factional strife mounts, there are fears that the factions’ next battles might center on control of oil fields and export installations.
Government troops have failed in efforts to control pipelines and pumping stations to secure shipments to international oil markets from the northern oil fields. Kurdish militias and government troops have yet to exert control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. In southern Iraq, militias are wrestling for control and influence of the Southern Oil Company and its staff. The government is even not in full control in Basra, where some of Iraq’s most prolific oil fields are situated. Militia groups whose leaders are occasionally referred to as ‘oil warlords’ are said to have infiltrated the Southern Oil Company whose workers and staff openly brag about their factional allegiance.


Al-Maliki announces cabinet reshuffle

A ministerial statement said on Sunday that al-Maliki had called for a complete cabinet reshuffle. The statement said: "The prime minister called for a complete ministerial reshuffle in accordance with the current situation. Al-Maliki says the changes are to remedy failures to end sectarian violence and reverse the country's economic collapse. Despite signs of agreement, parliament took a no vote, claiming that al-Maliki gave no details on what changes he might make, chamber officials said. Al-Maliki, who has been in power for six months, told an Iraqi newspaper on Saturday: "By this reshuffle, we want to send a message to all ministers that they may be replaced if they don't succeed.
Khaled al-Attiya, the Shia deputy speaker, who chaired the closed session, said: "The government's performance has been unconvincing. That's why the prime minister wishes to change the cabinet. What we want now is to develop its performance. The cabinet was formed to achieve a political consensus. But some ministers have not been competent. So we need change."
Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesperson, said there had been a "good response" and said the blocs in parliament, most of which have posts in the coalition, had themselves wanted a reshuffle. He said he did not expect all ministries to change hands, though the premier's language indicated that the scope of the reshuffle was greater than the handful of posts al-Maliki said he wanted to reassign in August. Individual ministers could be replaced and there could be changes in the distribution of the ministries among the blocs. The division of ministries followed months of argument after last December's election.
The spokesman for the main Sunni Arab bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, said there was broad agreement that change is needed. Leading Sunnis have complained that their voice is not being listened to by the Shia-dominated administration. Saleem al-Jibouri said: "We have yet to discuss the issues but there is a consensus that change is needed. "Every minister is open to replacement without exception and ministries may even change hands between political blocs as long as the balance is maintained." Nasser al-Saadi, a member of parliament for the Shia movement of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said: "Parliament has given him a free hand to make any reshuffle he wants."


35 recruits killed

A suicide bomber killed 35 people at a police recruiting center in the western neighborhood of Al-Qadissiyahon Sunday as Iraq's prime minister announced a cabinet reshuffle in an apparent response to his government's failure to rein in sectarian violence. The blast, claimed by an al Qaeda-linked Sunni militant group, also wounded 58 people when a bomber wearing an explosive vest walked into a crowd of young men lining up outside a police commando recruiting center in Baghdad. It was the bloodiest attack in months against recruits hoping to join Iraq's fledgling security forces, a key part of Washington's plan for an eventual withdrawal of its troops.
A roadside bomb along a highway east of the capital, apparently targeting a police patrol, killed four civilians and the bodies of five apparent torture victims were found dumped in various parts of eastern Baghdad. The bodies were all blindfolded with their legs bound. Police patrols were looking for gunmen who ambushed a convoy of minibuses at a fake checkpoint, killing at least nine people and kidnapping at least 10 others. The kidnapping and killing occurred on November 11 near Al-Latifiyah, south of the capital. The men murdered 10 Shia passengers before taking the rest captives to an unknown location, said the spokesman. A leading Shia politician said that local tribes had armed themselves and were headed to the area to join in the search, a step likely to set off more killings. In an address to parliament, politician Abd al-Karim al-Anzi said the kidnappers had worn Iraqi army uniforms.

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