Friday, December 22, 2006


Al-Sadr agrees to stop boycott of parliament

Politics, Security
Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has agreed to allow supporters to rejoin the Iraqi government after a three-week boycott, officials close to the militia leader said Thursday, as political rivals pushed to form a coalition without him. In the southern city of Najaf, delegates from seven Shiite parties appealed to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose word is law to many Shiites, to support a planned governing coalition. The coalition would include Shiites, Kurds and one Sunni party, and bridge Iraq's treacherous sectarian divide.
Though al-Sistani is expected to approve the deal, he fears the coalition could weaken the Shiite bloc, officials close to him said on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the press. It seems likely that al-Sistani intervened to persuade al-Sadr to return to government and avoid a Shiite split. The Sadrist boycott has undercut Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and prevented it from passing legislation.
The new coalition would probably govern more efficiently than the current government, which has been criticized for its ties to al-Sadr. Al-Sadr's loyalists, 30 in the legislature and six in the Cabinet, walked off the job to protest al-Maliki's meeting with Bush in Jordan. However, a new coalition government is not likely to end the threat from al-Sadr's militia. By ending the boycott, al-Sadr will retain some influence in parliament, and his apparent compromise may help him resist calls to curb his fighters.
Three politically influential Iraqis said the Sadrist boycott is ending. "Within two days, the al-Sadr movement will return to the government and parliament," said Abdul Karim al-Anizi, a Shiite lawmaker from al-Maliki's Dawa faction. Two figures in al-Sadr's movement, an aide to the cleric and a member of parliament, also said the cleric had agreed to allow his followers to end their boycott. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the talks.
"We will rejoin the government and the parliament very soon," the lawmaker said. "We got some guarantees during our meeting today." On Thursday, al-Sadr loyalists met with members of the Shiite bloc and laid out their demands, the lawmaker said. "Our demands are to hand over the security file and not allow any regional interference in Iraqi affairs," he said, meaning, apparently, that U.S. forces must hand over all control of security forces to the Iraqi government.


Gates to give a report to Bush following meetings with Iraqi leaders

Security, U.S., Politics
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that he hopes to give a report to President Bush this weekend on what he learned during his three days of meetings with military and political leaders here. Gates declined to say whether he plans to recommend a short-term increase in U.S. troop levels. But he said he believes the U.S. and Iraqis have "a broad strategic agreement between the Iraqi military and Iraqi government and our military."
He said Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, was continuing to work with Iraqi officials, with more details expected in the days ahead. Gates said he is "quite confident that what I've heard from the Iraqis of their plans this week, that we will be able together, and with them in the lead, we will be able to make an improvement in the security situation in Baghdad."
Gates also said that he does not believe there is a large split among Iraqi leaders about whether there should be an increase in U.S. troops. The issue, he said, is how the Iraqis assert their own leadership in taking charge of their own fate.
Flanked by Casey and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gates said he has asked Casey to confer with Iraqi military leaders and the prime minister to make specific recommendations on how to improve the security situation. "Clearly success will only be achieved by a joint effort with Iraqis taking the lead," he said. Gates has said he did not talk about specific numbers of U.S. troops with the Iraqi officials. During his meetings here, Gates assured the Iraqis of "the steadfastness of American support."
Gates said he discussed with the Iraqis how their government could reverse the deteriorating security problem. Besides an unrelenting insurgency, killings and kidnappings between Sunnis and Shiites are approaching civil war dimensions with U.S. and civilian casualties rising. "One of the strong messages I received today was the desire of the Iraqi government to take a leadership role in addressing some of the challenges that face the country, above all the security problem here in Baghdad," Gates said Thursday during a news conference with Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obaidi.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Al-Sadr clashes with deputies in video

One day after the Pentagon identified his Mahdi Army as eclipsing al Qaeda in Iraq as "the most dangerous accelerant" of violence in that country, IraqSlogger has obtained a video of Muqtada al Sadr in which he rambles, questions the loyalty of deputies, and appears to struggle to control his own organization. The Arabic-language video, apparently recorded in October, recently surfaced on Iraqi Web sites critical of Sadr. The seven-and-a-half minute video is streamed in its original Arabic-language. A translation of the entire video follows after background on Sadr and his Mahdi Army.
For the full transcription follow the title link.


Global awarded renewal on BIAP contract

Security, Commercial
The Iraqi Ministry of Transportation has awarded a 12 month contract with a six month option to Dubai-based Global Strategies Group to provide all aviation security services at Baghdad International Airport (BIA), the company said in a statement obtained by Gulf News. "Since June 2004 Global has provided this service at BIA and currently retains in excess of 450 Iraqi personnel along with a small project management cell and a team of foreign technical experts," the statement said. Global has been working in support of Iraqi national interests since the commencement of its projects in Iraq in March 2003. In particular, Global conducted the Iraqi Currency Exchange of 2003-04 throughout the country and continues to provide security and logistics support to key reconstruction projects across the country. "BIA is the most critical and politically sensitive infrastructure facility in Iraq and we are honoured to be entrusted with its security," Damian Perl, Global's CEO said in a statement. "The transition from CPA administration to full Iraqi sovereignty precipitated an on-going negotiation and subsequent tenders for this contract."


Basra chiefs urge government to end assassinations

Tribal, Security, Politics
Chieftains and notables from Basra have urged the government to put an end to the assassinations and killings in Basra. In a conference held in Basra by the Bani-Tamim Tribe in Basra and attended by chieftains and notables from the governorate, Shaykh Mansur al-Kan'an, chieftain of the Bani-Tamim Tribe and former member of the National Assembly, accused sides affiliated with the government of being behind the assassination of Shaykh Muhsin al-Kan'an. Gunmen killed Shaykh Muhsin al-Kan'an, a Shiite tribal sheik linked to British forces in a drive-by shooting Friday in Basra. The slain cleric was a prominent Iraqi politician and clan leader, and an elected member of the Basra provincial council.

COMMENT: Among the tribes that were opposed to Saddam's regime, the almost one million strong Beni Tamim tribe (sometimes written Timim or Temim) was one of the most important and had the most prominent Sheikhs of all the tribes opposing Saddam Hussein. The tribe was very well armed with various weapons and would support American forces. Sheikh Taleb had used his connections to attempt a coup against Saddam's regime in 1993. Tribal areas of influence are in Baghdad, Baghdad province, al Zubir and al Basrah province. Clans include the al-Suhail in central and southern Iraq near Abu Ghuraib, the al-Turshan centered in the Diyala governorate, the al-Kan'an in the Basra governorate and across the border in the Khuzestan province of Iran. COMMENT ENDS.


Al-Sadr calls for Muslim unity

An affiliated website of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr published on Monday, December 18, 2006, a statement from Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, responding to the calls of support for the Sunni people in Iraq from the convention held in Istanbul, Turkey last week within the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, in addition to the fatwa signed by thirty-eight Saudi scholars. Sadr states that the only weapon to face the “Western expansion” against Islam is the Muslims’ unity, and therefore supports every conference that supports the Sunnis. He believes that Sunnis and Shi’ites are not naturally inclined to fight one another, and any individual from one side who does assault someone from the other is not truly a Sunni or Shi’ite, but a Nawasib or Ba’athist. Sadr adds: “if I was qualified to give a Fatwa, I would have without hesitation in order to ban the killing of our brothers (the Sunni people) in Iraq and outside of Iraq”.
The conciliatory statement further explains that the events within Iraq are acts of self-defense of the “righteous” against the Western and hostile forces, and Muqtada al-Sadr does not accept divisions between the Sunni people and Shi’ites. He also states that he will attend any conference in the support of the Iraqi people and he will distance himself from any Shi’ite who kills a Sunni, and vice-versa.


Video on Jihadist forums shows beheading of Mahdi Army commander

A beheading video has been circulated amongst jihadist forums on Monday, December 18, 2006, that depicts the grotesque slaying of a man purported to be a commander in Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army [Jeish al-Mahdi]. The 2:41 minute video shows the man blindfolded and bound with his arms tied behind his back, lying on his stomach as the executor uses a small knife to decapitate his head. A voice yells that the executor is a “dog,” but is responded with the justification that he insulted Aisha, a wife of the Prophet Muhammad. It is indicated that the commander was intentionally beheaded slowly and in front of his gang, including his “wicked” father. This gang was then shot to death, though this is not shown in the video.
The accompanying message claims that this Mahdi Army commander, a resident of southern Baghdad, was responsible for the deaths and kidnapping of many Sunni people in al-Dawanem, and a brigade of the Mujahideen Shura Council allegedly captured him three times, but he escaped. In the final capture, they found him beneath a pile of wood in a house after doing a house-to-house search. Allah’s “ruling” was then executed in the form of the beheading. It cannot be confirmed that the Mujahideen Shura Council is responsible for this beheading.


Abizaid to retire in early 2007

General John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, said Wednesday he plans to retire from the military in the first half of 2007 but brushed off suggestions he is leaving under pressure. Asked about reports suggesting his departure was precipitous, Abizaid said he had planned to retire in the spring of 2007. Abizaid’s departure follows Donald Rumsfeld’s departure Friday after six controversial years as US defence secretary. Pentagon spokesman Gary Arasin said Rumsfeld had asked Abizaid earlier this year to remain on his post until the beginning of 2007. Abizaid, 55, took over command of the US Central Command from General Tommy Franks after the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The US press had been forecasting changes in the US top brass as President George W. Bush’ prepares to announce a new Iraq strategy in January. Besides Abizaid, they mentioned Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace.
The Washington Post said top US military leaders are against a Bush plan to increase US troop presence in Iraq by 15,000-30,000 for a period of less than eight months, because their mission is unclear. Abizaid on Wednesday said he was “not necessarily opposed to the idea, but what I want to see happen is ... if we do bring more American troops here, they help us progress toward our strategic objectives.” At a congressional hearing last month, Abizaid said boosting US troop numbers was not the solution to Iraq’s problems, but was also against a gradual drawdown of US forces from the region.


Al-Jaafari denies civil war, welcomes Baathists

Politics, Security
Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari attributed the upsurge in violence in the country to activities by what he said were ‘mafia groups’ bent to destabilize the government. Jaafari denied the country was in a state of civil war or on the brink of a whole-scale sectarian strife. “Simply there are mafia groups which are behind most of the violence,” he said. He said the current political rhetoric was void of references to sectarian differences because the authorities “are using patriotism as a basis for distinction.”
However, the Iraqi government itself is built on sectarian grounds with sects, religious denominations and ethnic minorities currently using their positions to steer ministries and armed forces to their advantage. Jaafari’s bloc, the Dawaa Party, is part of the ruling coalition led by Shiite factions in partnership with Kurdish groups. “Iraq cannot coexist with sectarianism which permits the shedding of innocent Iraqi blood,” he said.
He said he was hopeful Iraqis will eventually resolve their differences through the reconciliation meetings the government is holding currently. Jaafari said former Baathists were welcome to take part in reconciliation talks. However, he said there was no place for what he described as “Saddamists”. He did not elaborate. The former premier said neighboring countries should stop meddling in Iraqi affairs. “Their (interference) is exacerbating the problem,” he added. However, he said Iraq needed its neighbors and it was essential for the government to establish good relations. Jaafari said the presence of militias was a threat to stability and they should be disbanded.


Polish contingent to extend tour in Iraq

Poland's government asked President Lech Kaczynski Wednesday to extend the tour of an army contingent in Iraq until the end of 2007, media said. Despite strong popular opposition in Poland to military presence in Iraq, the government asked to keep the number of soldiers there at 900. The proposal said if the security situation improves, Polish troops could be withdrawn earlier, Radio Polonia reported Wednesday.
Elsewhere, Poland plans to beef up its military contingent in Afghanistan from 200 to 1,000 troops in 2007. The move would cost Polish taxpayers $107 million, while the U.S. administration would pay $6 million to cover the contingent`s transportation costs. Polish troops in Afghanistan are expected to control a main road from Kabul to Kandahar in the south, a region that has seen fierce fighting between NATO troops and Taliban insurgents.


Najaf turned over to the Iraqis

U.S. forces ceded control of southern Najaf province to Iraqi police and soldiers, who marked the occasion Wednesday with a parade and martial arts demonstrations. But doubts remain about whether the Iraqis, vulnerable to insurgent attacks and militia infiltration, can handle security in more volatile provinces anytime soon. The handover of Najaf came as new Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Baghdad, seeking advice from top commanders on a new strategy for an increasingly unpopular war just two days after taking charge at the Pentagon. Roadside bombs took the lives of two more U.S. soldiers, one in Baghdad and the other southwest of the capital.
Home to 930,000 people, Najaf saw heavy fighting two years ago, but has been relatively peaceful lately. It was the third of Iraq's 18 provinces to come under local control. British troops handed over southern Muthana province in July, and the Italian military transferred neighboring Dhi Qar in September. U.S. forces closed their major outpost in the region in September, as the 8th Iraqi Army Division and 6,900 police officers assumed greater responsibility in the province. American forces will remain on standby in the area in case violence erupts again.
Critics charge that handing over control here was easy because Najaf is overwhelming Shiite and has not faced the same level of sectarian violence as religiously mixed areas like Baghdad. They have also expressed concern that, with the Americans scaling back, the province could become a key staging ground for Shiite militias with strong ties to soldiers in the largely Shiite army.
"There were the same kind of concerns in Muthana and Dhi Qar and they've done very well," Cichowski countered. Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, deputy chief of staff of the Iraqi Army, acknowledged that militia groups hold sway among many soldiers, but said "they can be weeded out." Abadi, a veteran of Saddam's army, said the handover was "important for Iraq because up until now, everybody thinks that the coalition is doing the governing, so now Iraqis need to take over the responsibility." He said his troops lack basic equipment such as aircraft and tanks that will prevent them from handling security in all of Iraq. But he said that he expects U.S.-led forces to provide key equipment throughout next year.
Najaf is home to the iconic Imam Ali shrine, where Shiites believe the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad is buried. Millions make pilgrimages to the city annually, and Shiites from across Iraq come to bury their dead in the huge cemetery.


Al-Sadr considering a one-month cease-fire

Politics, Security
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is considering a one-month unilateral cease-fire and may push his followers to rejoin the political process after a three-week boycott, officials close to him said. The issue is expected to come up at a meeting Thursday in the holy city of Najaf between al-Sadr and a delegation representing the seven Shiite groups that form the largest bloc in Iraq's parliament, the Shiite officials said on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the talks. The visit is intended to allow the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, to work out some of Iraq's biggest political obstacles in front of al-Sistani, and to pressure al-Sadr to rein in his fighters and rejoin politics, or face isolation, participants said.
As violence rages across Baghdad and much of Iraq, a new coalition taking shape among Shiites, Kurds and one Sunni party is seen as a last-ditch effort to form a government across sectarian divisions that have split the country. While al-Sadr's movement would not be part of this coalition, such an alliance, which reportedly is supported by the Bush administration, might pressure the radical cleric to soften his stance. In Thursday's meeting, the group wants to assure al-Sistani that the new coalition would not break apart the Shiite bloc, said officials from several Shiite parties. Potential members of the coalition said they have been negotiating for two weeks, and now want the blessing of al-Sistani, whose word many Shiites consider binding.
The movement is backed by the U.S. government, said Sami al-Askari, a member of the Dawa party and an adviser to al-Maliki. "I met the American ambassador in Baghdad and he named this front the 'front of the moderates,' and they (the Americans) support it," al-Askari said. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad could not comment on the ambassador's meeting or his position on the possible coalition deal.
After meeting al-Sistani, the delegation will visit al-Sadr to try to persuade him to tell his followers to return to politics, and to assure him that the new coalition, still being completed, will not isolate his movement, said officials from several factions, including al-Sadr's movement. Al-Askari's and al-Maliki's Dawa faction has expressed willingness to join the coalition, but fears it could weaken the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, Dawa officials said on condition of anonymity because the deal was not final.
Officials close to al-Sadr said they believe the firebrand cleric and his followers would turn a friendly ear to the coalition, out of fear of being sidelined in the future. Fearing such political isolation as well as possible attack by U.S. forces, al-Sadr will secretly order his Mahdi Army militia to abide by a one-month halt in fighting, said a Shiite politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the negotiations. He did not give further details. Another official close to al-Sadr did not speak about the planned truce directly, but said when asked about it that "the security situation will improve in the coming month."
Even if al-Sadr commands his militia, the Madhi Army, to halt sectarian attacks for a month, questions remain as to whether violence would decrease. The militia is believed to be increasingly fragmented, with some factions no longer reporting to him, and a call for a truce could further divide it. In exchange for a halt in fighting, al-Sadr's followers want officials from al-Hakim's Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to make a promise in front of al-Sistani that they will not sideline al-Sadr's movement, said a member of al-Sadr's group.
The Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni coalition was not a done deal, though. Several Shiites complained about conditions set by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which they said could jeopardize an agreement. "The demands of the Iraqi Islamic Party are not logical and it is hard to implement them," said Humam Hamoudi, a SCIRI lawmaker. For example, the Sunni party wants all checkpoints leading to and from Baghdad to have an equal number of Shiite and Sunni guards, he said.


New political coalition to be announced in a month

Abbas al-Bayati, a Shi'ite lawmaker from the United Iraqi Alliance, said on December 19 that a new political coalition will be announced within a month, the "Al-Sabah" newspaper reported the same day. Sources indicated that the coalition could be forged between the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Kurdish Alliance, the Sunni-led Islamic Party, as well as the Iraqi National Accord movement, and Prime Minister al-Maliki's Al-Da'wah Party. Al-Bayati said that the aim of the new coalition is to form a moderate nonsectarian bloc to support al-Maliki.


Barzani - oil law meetings with al-Maliki 'promising'

Politics, Finance
Kurdish regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said on December 18 that his recent meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki concerning an oil law were promising, "Irbil Peyamner" reported the same day. "Regarding the issue of fuel, our views were similar and I am positive that we will reach an agreement. As for the law on oil, it will be announced in the next few days. According to the constitution, oil is the property of all Iraqis," he said. Barzani also said both sides agreed to allocate 17 percent of the national budget to the Kurdish region. Barzani expects the agreement to be formally endorsed on December 21.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


International Zone guide book written

Lonely Planet, take note. A new guide book has been written for Americans who plan to spend some time in Baghdad's Green Zone, the relatively secure area in the heart of the occupied Iraqi capital. Called "A Visitor's Guide to Baghdad's International Zone," the book bills itself as "a comprehensive guide to local landmarks and history of the International Zone (formerly the Green Zone) in Baghdad, Iraq." With tongue in cheek, it adds that it's "written by tourists for the tourist."
Although it hasn't been officially published,
photocopied and e-mail versions of the 41-page work are being passed around among U.S. Embassy and military officials, contractors and aid workers in Baghdad. There's even a copy of the guide in the waiting room to U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's office; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received a copy after a recent visit to Baghdad, and took it back to Washington with her. "It's floating out there," says the guidebook's author, Richard Houghton III, a former Capitol Hill staffer who has spent the last 19 months working for an NGO in the Green Zone. Though, he jokes, the version that has been circulating doesn't have the latest additions and may have "some typos."


International Crisis Group - After Baker-Hamilton: What to do in Iraq

ICG Report
The rethinking of U.S. Iraq policy represented by the Baker-Hamilton report is an important and welcome start but insufficiently radical if Iraq’s collapse and an unprecedented regional war are to be avoided.
After Baker-Hamilton: What to Do in Iraq,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation in Iraq and the wider region in the wake of the Iraq Study Group. Co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the Study Group described with necessary candour the magnitude of the Iraqi calamity. But though Crisis Group endorses many of its key recommendations, the change the report advocates is not nearly far-reaching enough, and its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis.
“We are looking at Iraq’s complete disintegration into failed-state chaos, threatening to drag down much of the region with it”, says Crisis Group President Gareth Evans. “More troops in – or out – are not going to solve this. What is needed above all is a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi players.”
All Iraqi actors who, one way or another, are involved in the country’s internecine violence must be brought to the negotiating table and pressed to accept the necessary compromises. That cannot be done without a concerted effort by all Iraq’s neighbours, which in turn cannot be done if their interests are not reflected in the final outcome.


Insurgents succeeding in cutting off Baghdad's power supply

Security, Electricity
Over the past six months, Baghdad has been all but isolated electrically, Iraqi officials say, as insurgents have effectively won their battle to bring down critical high-voltage lines and cut off the capital from the major power plants to the north, south and west. The battle has been waged in the remotest parts of the open desert, where the great towers that support thousands of miles of exposed lines are frequently felled with explosive charges in increasingly determined and sophisticated attacks, generally at night. Crews that arrive to repair the damage are often attacked and sometimes killed, ensuring that the government falls further and further behind as it attempts to repair the lines.
What amounts to an electrical siege of Baghdad is reflected in constant power failures and disastrously poor service in the capital, with severe consequences for security, governance, health care and the mood of an already weary and angry populace. “Now Baghdad is almost isolated,” Karim Wahid, the Iraqi electricity minister, said in an interview last week. “We almost don’t have any power coming from outside.” That leaves Baghdad increasingly dependent on a few aging power plants within or near the city’s borders. Mr. Wahid views the situation as dire, while Western officials in Baghdad are generally more optimistic.
Mr. Wahid said that last week, seven of the nine lines supplying power directly to Baghdad were down, and that just a trickle of electricity was flowing through the two others. Western officials agreed that most of the lines were down, but gave somewhat higher estimates on the electricity that was still flowing. “There’s quite a few that are down, and that does limit our ability to import power into Baghdad,” said a senior Western official with knowledge of the Iraqi grid. “The goal and the objective is to get them up as quickly as we can.”
Mr. Wahid said he has appealed both to American and Iraqi security forces for help in protecting the lines, but has had little response; Electricity Ministry officials said they could think of no case in which saboteurs had been caught. Payments made to local tribes in exchange for security have been ineffective, electricity officials said. Neither the Defense Ministry nor the American military responded to requests for comment on the security of the lines.
In response to the crisis, Mr. Wahid has formulated a national emergency master plan that in its first stage involves bringing some 100 diesel-powered generators directly into Baghdad neighborhoods by next summer. That would be followed by the construction of a spate of new power plants in Baghdad and major work on existing ones.
All together, Mr. Wahid estimates, the program would cost $27 billion over 10 years, although some electricity experts knowledgeable about the plan say that even under optimistic assumptions, those enormous expenditures would not bring electrical supplies in line with demand before 2009.


Iraqi Oil Minister - 60 oil field contracts to be offered

Oil, Reconstruction
Earlier this week, Iraqi Oil Minister said that his country will offer contracts to develop 60 oil fields in several batches, starting next year, Canada's National Post reported.The minister said that only 20 of 80 discovered oilfields are in production in the holder of the world's third-largest oil reserves.The government is waiting for parliament to approve a new hydrocarbons law early next year to start offering contracts to develop the remaining fields, the official said. Contracts to develop oil fields were given about a decade ago by the regime of former president Saddam Hussein to companies such as Total SA, OAO Lukoil and China National Petroleum Corp. Wars and sanctions have curtailed Iraq's ability to develop its oil wealth.


Reconciliation conference a failure

Security, Politics
The reconciliation conference the government convened to bring the disparate Iraqi groups together has failed. The organizers, in a bid to hide the failure, said the meeting was the first in a series of future gatherings aimed to reconciling Iraqis. There was no consensus even among the groups which attended the conference. Some factions withdrew as the conferees debated future moves while some key factions had already stayed away, particularly anti-U.S. groups.
The conference’s failure is yet another blow to U.S. strategy. President George Bush was keen to see the conference reach at least some form an agreement so that he could sell his new Iraq strategy to the U.S. public. But the president will have no encouraging signs that Iraqis were moving to put their house in order and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proves once again it cannot or is not willing to bring about national reconciliation.
There is little the U.S. can do to turn events around. The deployment of more U.S. troops will send a wrong signal to the armed groups bent on forcing the U.S. to cut and run. The government banned private reporters from covering the conference’s proceedings, limiting the coverage to state-run media. Analysts said the ban was yet another indication that the authorities wanted to keep the differences among the groups attending the gathering under wraps.
Sources close to the conference told Azzaman that there were more points of difference than agreement. The powerful faction of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr opted not take part, vowing to boycott any future gathering that calls for accommodating the Baathists. The influential Iraqi Muslim Scholars Commission, which reportedly wields immense power among Iraqi Sunnis, currently bearing the brunt of anti-U.S. resistance, now sees the U.S.-backed government as illegal and has openly asked for the scrapping of the whole political process since it is being carried out in the presence of U.S. occupation troops.


Iraqi leaders divided on U.S. plans for Iraq

Politics, Security
Iraqi leaders are no less divided than America's when it comes to the way forward in Iraq, with sharp disagreements emerging on key issues, especially the idea of "surging" or increasing U.S. troops in Baghdad in the short term. The discord is likely to complicate U.S. efforts to develop a new approach to an increasingly unpopular war. President Bush has promised to announce his plans next month after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended changes to reverse the "slide toward chaos," and after Bush also got separate recommendations from military officials and other advisers.
It is unclear what Bush will decide. But key Iraqi figures have spoken out against several recommendations either floated by Washington military and political officials or contained in the study group report. The biggest fight could be over an idea that seems to be gaining currency in the United States: Increasing the number of American troops in Baghdad, at least in the short term, in a major bid to suppress sectarian militias. U.S. officials consider the militias a greater threat to Iraq's fragile government than the Sunni Arab insurgents.
That idea has the support of the Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, who met Bush at the White House last week. Al-Hashemi heads the biggest Sunni Arab political party and has spoken out often about the threat posed by Shiite militias, some of which have links to Shiite political movements. But Shiite leaders, who dominate Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, want to see a smaller American military footprint in the capital. They want a bigger role for Iraq's army and police, whose ranks are majority Shiite.
During his meeting with Bush last month in Jordan, al-Maliki told reporters that he and the president agreed on the need to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqis. "And be assured that the Iraqi forces and the security forces have reached a good level of competency and efficiency to protect Iraq as a country and to protect its people," al-Maliki said. Indeed, Iraq's Shiite national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said the government has drafted a plan for moving most American troops out of central Baghdad to bases outside the city, where they would be available to back up Iraqi soldiers and police if needed.
An aide to al-Maliki, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 10 Iraqi divisions are prepared to take over from the Americans across Iraq by March 2007, under the supervision of U.S.-led forces. But many analysts question whether Iraqi forces are up to the task. Divisions over the "surge" idea within Iraq could greatly complicate any U.S. effort to implement it, worsening Sunni-Shiite tensions both within the government and on the street. U.S. officials would like to see al-Sadr's influence curtailed. But al-Maliki has opposed using force to destroy the Mahdi Army in its stronghold of Sadr City. Even Sunni leader al-Hashemi sees risk in moving too quickly against al-Sadr, who enjoys vast influence among poor Shiites.
The idea of boosting American advisers does not sit well with President Jalal Talabani, a major Kurdish figure with close ties to the Iraqi army command. He told reporters this month such an increase in American advisers would violate Iraqi sovereignty and reduce the government's control over its own forces.


Syria, Iraq create joint security committee

Security, Region
Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani and his Syrian counterpart Major General Bassam Abd al-Majid agreed on December 16 to form a joint security committee to better coordinate security operations between the two countries, KUNA reported the same day. The two also discussed the need to cooperate in the areas of immigration, passports, residence permits, and the extradition of wanted people in coordination with each country's Ministry of Justice. Al-Bulani said Iraq is especially looking forward to learning from Syria's experience in fighting terrorism and organized crime. Iraqi Minister of State for National Security Sharwan al-Wa'ili, who was also present at the meeting, thanked Syria for its assistance in the security field and called for increased bilateral cooperation in future.


Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces at all time high

The U.S. Defense Department says the number of Iraqi insurgent attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces and civilians has risen to a record high. Statistics released by the Pentagon say the average number of insurgent attacks per week rose to 959 during the three-month period ending November 10. This was a 22 percent increase over the previous three-month period. The report was issued on December 18 as Robert Gates officially took over as U.S. defense secretary, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. In a speech, Gates said a U.S. failure in Iraq would be a "calamity" that would haunt the United States for many years.
"All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again," Gates said. "But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come." Gates, a former CIA director, said he intends to travel to Iraq soon to hear the views of U.S. commanders on how to improve the situation there.


Gunmen steal $875,000 in bank robbery

Gunmen including some wearing police uniforms stole at least 1.25 billion Iraqi dinars ($875,000) in cash in the second major heist in central Baghdad in 10 days, a police source said on Tuesday. The source said the gunmen took the money from Industry Ministry employees who were picking up money for salaries from a bank in the Karrada district of Baghdad on Tuesday morning.
An Interior Ministry source said the gunmen stormed the bank itself and took as much as 2 billion dinars ($1.4 million). There were no injuries reported in the robbery. Last week gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms ambushed a security vehicle transporting money to the Central Bank and made off with $1 million in cash, police and Interior Ministry sources said.
Four private security guards were kidnapped in the daylight robbery in busy Sadoun Street in central Baghdad in an attack that highlighted the lawlessness gripping the capital.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Saddam's trial resumes

Saddam Hussein
The genocide trial of Saddam Hussain resumed in Baghdad on Monday, with the former Iraqi President appealing against charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in a military offensive against Kurds. More witness testimonials against Saddam and six other co-defendants were expected to be heard in court over the Operation Anfal offensive, with all seven men pleading not guilty. The prosecution estimates that 180,000 Kurds were killed in 1987-88 when Saddam’s army waged war against Kurdish separatist guerrillas, destroying hundreds of villages and reportedly killing residents or forcing them to flee.
Saddam and another defendant have also pleaded innocent to a further charge of genocide. All seven face the death penalty if found guilty. Saddam has already been given the death penalty in a separate trial where he was convicted of ordering the execution of 148 Iraqis, including children, after an attempt to assassinate him in the town of Dujail in 1982. His lawyers appealed against the sentence. Iraqi officials have suggested that Saddam's prosecution on genocide charges would be halted if the appeals court upholds the death sentence of the first trial.


Ministers announced

An authorized source at the government has said that government has issued an order to assign five acting ministers to continue ministries works, adding that another five ministers will be included in cabinet reshuffle, in addition to deputy prime minister, Salam al-Zobaiee. The source said that Raffea al-Esawii will hold minister of health position, and Akram al-Hakim will be minister of agriculture, while Sherwan al-Waielii will be minister of reconstruction and Abdul Rahman Sultan will be minister of provinces affairs and Hassan al-Sari will be minister of tourism.


Iraqi militant group urges Sunnis to wage war on Shias

An Iraqi militant group linked to al Qaeda urged Iraq's Sunni Muslims in a Web recording posted on Sunday to wage war on the country's Shi'ite Muslims. "Stand like one man ... and cut their (Shi'ites') throats, spill their blood, burn the ground underneath them, and rain bombs on them," said the speaker, who said he was the official spokesman of "the Islamic state in Iraq". Iraqi Sunni militant groups including al Qaeda announced in October the creation of what they described as an Islamic state in Iraq. "They (Shi'ites) have done more than the crusaders (U.S.-led forces) have been doing. They killed men, rendering women widows and children orphans, burned houses of God and tore his book."
The authenticity of the recording posted on a Web site used by Sunni militant groups could not be verified. The recording was posted on Sunday but its stated Islamic year date corresponded with Saturday. Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on Saturday for the return of all officers of Saddam Hussein's disbanded army in an overture to disaffected Sunni Arabs aimed at reducing sectarian violence.
On the Web recording, the spokesman called on Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other groups to "join the ranks of your brothers in the Islamic state of Iraq". "God has guided the Mujahideen since the early moments of jihad to (realise) the necessity of targeting the hateful rejectionists (Shi'ites)," he said. "It is high time that the nation woke up from its deep sleep, both men and women, so that the ranks of all believers face the ranks of all infidels," he said, vowing to free Baghdad from the grip of Shi'ites and U.S.-led forces.
The speaker also criticised Sunnis who cooperate with the Shi'ite-led government as a "worse evil" and signalled out Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who he said praised Bush during his visit to Washington earlier this week.


Saudi report - Shia state in Iraq

Security, Politics
Iran has effectively created a Shi'ite "state within a state" in Iraq providing both logistical support of armed groups and funds for social programs, The Washington Times reported on Monday citing a security report commissioned by the Saudi government. The 40-page report says Iranian military forces are providing Shi'ite militias with weapons and training and that Tehran is actively supporting pro-Iranian Iraqi politicians, the newspaper said.
"Where the Americans have failed, the Iranians have stepped in," it said, quoting the report. The findings were submitted to the Saudi government in March but have not been publicly distributed, The Washington Times said. The report described the Badr organization, the armed wing of the biggest party in Iraq's government SCIRI, as the "key vehicle Iran is using to achieve its military security and intelligence aims," the newspaper said.
In details on the Sunni insurgency, the report cites Iraqi tribal leaders as saying that it is run mainly by former commanders and high level-military officers of the dismantled Iraqi Ba'athist government. The assessment concludes that, given historical ties, "Saudi Arabia has a special responsibility to ensure the continue welfare and security of Sunnis in Iraq," the Times reported.
It recommends that the Saudi government prepare a strategy to deal with the worst-case scenario of full-blown civil war and to share the report with the United States, the article said. The study was compiled by the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, a group commissioned to provide security and intelligence assessments to the Saudi government, the newspaper said. The article said the report was directed by Nawaf Obaid, who recently was fired after writing an opinion piece in The Washington Post that suggested the Saudi kingdom would back Iraq's Muslim Sunnis in the event of a wider sectarian conflict.


Red Crescent emloyees kidnapped

Humanitarian, Security
UPDATE - Gunmen who kidnapped 30 people at a Red Crescent office in Baghdad on Sunday have freed 17 hostages, an official of the humanitarian group said on Monday.
Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms burst into Red Crescent offices on Sunday and kidnapped more than two dozen people at the humanitarian organization in the latest sign of the country's growing lawlessness. In the latest violence, gunmen in five pickup trucks pulled up at the office of the Iraqi Red Crescent in downtown Baghdad and abducted 25 employees, police said. A Red Crescent official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said the gunmen left women behind.
Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in Geneva that seven abductees were released. The Dutch Foreign Ministry said three Iraqi security guards at its embassy building in Baghdad, adjacent to the Red Crescent offices, were also kidnapped, but were later released. A day after the abductions, the organization's secretary-general, Mazen Abdullah, said that only the Baghdad operations were stopped, to create more "pressure to free those who have been kidnapped."
The Red Crescent, which is part of the international Red Cross movement, has around 1,000 staff and some 200,000 volunteers in Iraq. It works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits detainees and tries to provide food, water and medicine to Iraqis. Antonella Notari, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Geneva said the organization was in contact with the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which denied any involvement and had assured that they were searching for the abductees. Mazin Abdellaha, secretary-general of the Iraqi Red Crescent, appealed to the kidnappers to release the captives.

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