Saturday, December 30, 2006


Al-Maliki urges Baathists to join political process

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki urged Saddam Hussein's fellow Sunni Baathists on Saturday to reconsider their tactics and join the political process, after the ousted leader was hanged for crimes against humanity. "Saddam's execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on the return to dictatorship," Maliki said in a statement issued hours after Saddam was executed in Baghdad at dawn. "I urge followers of the ousted regime to reconsider their stance as the door is still open to anyone who has no innocent blood on his hands, to help in rebuilding an Iraq for all Iraqis," he said.
While Saddam's execution was met with celebration by Maliki's fellow Shi'ites, there are fears it will further anger Saddam's resentful Sunni Arab minority, dominant under the strongman's rule, but now the backbone of the insurgency. Struggling to contain soaring sectarian and ethnic tension that has pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war, Maliki said the demise of Saddam should now give way to reconciliation.
Maliki, whose Shi'ite-led unity government also includes Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds, has extended an olive branch to some armed groups and former Baathists under his national reconciliation programme.


Coordinated car bombs kill many in mixed Baghdad district

A series of three coordinated car bombs exploded in a mixed Shiite-Sunni district in Baghdad, killing 15 people and wounding 25, security and military sources said. The three cars exploded in rapid succession some 10 hours after the pre-dawn execution of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. It was not immediately clear whether the attacks amounted to a reprisal from his supporters.
Fifteen people were killed in the blasts and 25 wounded, a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity. A military source confirmed the same toll. In the first major attack Saturday, at least 31 people were killed when a car bomb exploded in a fish market in the central Iraqi Shiite city of Kufa. Car bomb attacks on Shiite crowds in Iraq are usually blamed on Sunni insurgent groups such as Al-Qaeda or the Islamic Army of Iraq, which is linked to Saddam's defunct Baath party.


Iran loans 1 bn dollars to Iraq for reconstruction

Iran is set to loan one billion dollars to Iraq for reconstruction of the war-torn country, the official news agency IRNA reported on Saturday. “The Islamic republic will give Iraq a one-billion-dollar loan for reconstruction of this country,” Economy Minister Davoud Danesh Jafari was quoted as saying by the economy ministry’s public relations department.
“The Iraqi side has committed to using Iranian contractors and experts for the infrastructure projects that will be defined through coordination with Iran,” Danesh Jafari said, without giving details on the conditions of the loan. Iran has signed an agreement with a visiting delegation headed by Iraq’s Finance Minister Bayan Baqer Jabr al-Zubaidi to this end. “We are very happy to have signed this agreement only a few days after submission of the budget bill to the Iraqi parliament,” Jabr al-Zubaidi was quoted as saying.


Strict security measures enforced

Al-Sharqiyah TV, Baghdad, reports that "strict security measures" were enforced by Iraqi and security forces, which sealed all roads leading to Baghdad and other cities, and notes that security forces in the city of Tikrit, Saddam's home town, have enforced a four-day curfew "for fear of acts of violence emanating from anger at the Iraqi government's execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Husayn".


Officials - 905 medical and academic profesionals killed since 3003

A total of 905 university professors and doctors were killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, official sources said on Thursday. “The phenomenon of targeting Iraqi professionals has been rising since the U.S. invasion of Iraq as escalating violence and security deterioration is reaping scientists, doctors and university professors,” Saad Shaker Khodeir, the administrative manager of Iraqi Teachers Union, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). “185 university professors have been killed so far due to violence in the country,” he said.
The union is a civil society organization and is responsible for gathering data on professors assassinated by unknown gunmen. Meanwhile, former undersecretary of health ministry Dr. Sabah al-Husseini said the ministry has so far lost more than 720 doctors who were killed or wounded since the U.S. forces entered Iraq.
Several health institutions are already suffering a clear shortage in their medical staff that were either killed or forced to leave their homes and neighborhoods, Husseini told VOI by telephone. Iraq is witnessing a spiral wave of killings and kidnappings that target teachers and university professors in different parts of the country. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has said in July that teachers, professors and students continue to be severely affected by the violence in Iraq.


Former army officers asked to report to army volunteer centres

Security, Military
The government has reversed a previous order banning former army officers from joining the new army. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has instructed the Ministry of Defense to accept applications from former army officers. The move comes following a pledge he made earlier this month to repair damage to the country’s security due to a U.S.’s disbanding of the former army.
But Maliki’s instructions only cover officers up to the rank of major. Officers with higher ranks are not covered. The Ministry of Defense is working to implement Maliki’s orders and has called on the officers to report to army volunteer centers. The fate of the members of the former army has become a sticky issue in Iraq and the government is apparently willing to solve as part of a national reconciliation drive.
Maliki has set up a new committee under Najeeb al-Salihi to present ideas on how to settle the issue. There are currently about 7,000 volunteers who were once members of the former army. But most of these were selected under a vetting system which leaned towards sectarian affiliation rather than talent and loyalty to the country. Under the new guidelines the number is expected to double.


Saddam's daughter asks for temporary grave in Yemen

The fate of Saddam Hussein's body remained unclear Saturday, with one Iraqi official saying it may eventually be handed over to his family. A member of his defense team, however, was concerned that Saddam's remains would be destined for an unmarked grave. National Security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, who attended Saddam's execution told Iraqi state television that his body may be handed over to his family at some point, but that no decision had been made. The body, he said, was held by the government.
Dubai-based al-Arabiya satellite TV quoted his daughter Raghad as having asked Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to request Saddam's body for temporary burial in the country. She hoped to eventually take her father's remains to Tikrit, Saddam's hometown north of Baghdad.
Saddam's grave site could become a focus for the Sunni Arab insurgency that is particularly strong in the area near his hometown, where the former president was captured by American troops in December 2003. Iraqi officials have refused to disclose the burial place of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7. But Saddam Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai Hussein, were buried just outside Tikrit after they were killed in a July 2003 gunbattle with U.S. troops in Mosul.


International reaction to Saddam's death

U.S. President George W. Bush was one of the first leaders to react. The U.S. president issued a written statement saying that the execution was a milestone for the Iraqi people and his trial was, in his words, "the kind of justice [Hussein] denied the victims of his brutal regime." But Bush said Hussein's execution will not end the violence in the country. Just a few hours after Bush's statement, a car bomb exploded in a market in the city of Kufa, killing at least 30 people. U.S. allies Australia and the United Kingdom expressed similar sentiments.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Hussein had been "held to account." She added, however, that the British government did not support capital punishment in Iraq or elsewhere. In Sydney, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said it was significant that Hussein was given "a proper trial" given the pain and suffering Hussein had caused Iraq.
His trial has been described by many human rights organizations as "deeply flawed." Richard Dicker, the director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch's international justice division, said that history will judge Hussein's trial and his execution "harshly." Iran hailed the hanging of Hussein as a deserved punishment for a man they say started a devastating eight-year war against the Islamic republic that left over 1 million people dead.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave a neutral reaction. "The execution of Iraq’s former president is the affair of Iraq’s government," he said. "We wish peace and prosperity and joy for the people of Iraq. It will not have any impact on Afghanistan." But many countries and leaders have condemned Hussein's execution. In Libya, the government of Moammar Gadhafi announced a three-day official mourning period.
In Rome, the Vatican said the execution was "tragic" and risked feeding "the spirit of vengeance." Russia also condemned the death of the former Iraqi leader and expressed concern that it could trigger a new wave of violence. The EU said that it condemns "the crimes committed by Saddam and also the death penalty." The EU's aid and development commissioner Louis Michel said the execution was "barbaric" and said it may turn Hussein into a martyr.
In Iraq, many celebrated Hussein's execution. The residents of the predominantly Shi'ite Al-Sadr City were singing and dancing in the streets. But members of Iraq's Sunni minority have expressed anger at the way the ousted Iraqi leader was treated. There are fears that Hussein's execution will further anger the Sunnis, who were dominant under his rule. Today, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki urged followers of the ousted regime to join the political process. In a statement, al-Maliki said that "the door is still open to anyone who has no innocent blood on his hands." Al-Maliki, who is struggling to contain the soaring sectarian violence that has pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war, said Hussein's demise should now give way to reconciliation.


Saddam's execution

The judge who read the order for Saddam Hussein's execution told RFE/RL that the former Iraqi president said he was "not afraid of death" before he was executed early this morning in the presence of judicial and government figures. "The execution took place after 6:10 in the morning outside the Green Zone [in Baghdad]," Iraqi judge Munir Haddad told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. "There were 14 people present including [myself], a member of the High Iraqi Tribunal, Prosecutor-General Monqeth al-Ferawn, the deputy justice minister, representatives of the Council of Ministers, and other government figures, as well as four prison guards. There were no representatives from American side." Haddad, who also read out Hussein's sentence, described the former leader's last hours. "Saddam Hussein was dressed in black clothes, wearing a Baghdadi hat. He had his beard. In his hands, he was holding his famous Koran," Haddad said.
"He wasn't afraid. He was normal. He said, 'I'm used to fighting, and I'm not afraid of death.' He recited the two shahadas. He also talked about politics, and said, 'I warn you about the Persians. [And for Iraq], I recommend tolerance.' He recited the two shahadas and then he died immediately," Haddad recalled. Iraqis were able to see the moments before the execution for themselves. Footage broadcast on state television showed an apparently calm Hussein chatting with his masked executioners before the noose was placed around his neck. The footage did not show the actual moment of the hanging.
Initial reports that Hussein's half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, and former judge Awad al-Bander were also executed were later denied by Iraqi officials. In the United States, a judge refused to stop Hussein's execution, rejecting a last-minute court challenge by the former Iraqi president. Earlier, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the time of the execution was agreed upon during a meeting on December 29 between U.S. and Iraqi officials.


Reactions to Saddam's execution

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein's execution on Saturday angered many Arabs, but even some who felt the former Iraqi leader deserved to die voiced a sense of justice denied. Many said his hanging for crimes against humanity, on the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, would worsen violence in Iraq. "I don't have any sorrow or compassion for the man, but the timing is very stupid and Muslims will think this was done to provoke their feelings," said Ehab Abdel-Hamid, 30, a novelist and senior editor at Cairo's independent al-Dostour newspaper.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, told Al Jazeera television: "Arab public opinion wonders who deserves to be tried and executed: Saddam Hussein who preserved the unity of Iraq, its Arab and Islamic identity and the coexistence of its different communities such as Shi'ites and Sunnis ... or those who engulfed the country in this bloody civil war?"
No immediate street protests were reported in Arab capitals, where Muslims were preoccupied with the Eid al-Adha holiday. In Afghanistan, which preceded Iraq as the first target in the U.S.-declared "war on terror", a top commander of the resurgent Islamist Taliban movement said Saddam's death would galvanize Muslim opposition to the United States. News of Saddam's death shocked Palestinians, many of whom had seen him as an Arab hero for his missile attacks on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War that ended Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. "What is he (Saddam), a sheep? I think the Americans wanted to tell all Arab leaders who are their servants that they are like Saddam, nothing but a sheep slaughtered on the day of Eid," said a worshipper called Abu Mohammad Salama.
Mushir al-Masri, a lawmaker of the governing Islamist Hamas movement, said: "The execution of President Saddam Hussein was a proof of the criminal and terrorist American policy and its war against all forces of resistance in the world." In Kuwait, where Saddam is reviled for his 1990 invasion, Ahmed al-Shatti, a Health Ministry official, said the Iraqi leader was a criminal whose trial had been incomplete. "He did not answer for the crime of occupying Kuwait and the atrocities he committed in Kuwait," Shatti said, arguing that Arabs should not be angry about his death but about U.S. failure to bring democracy, stability and development to Iraq.
In Shi'ite non-Arab Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Reza Asefi said the hanging of the man who led Iraq into a costly war with the Islamic Republic in the 1980s was a victory for Iraqis. But Yousef Molaee, an Iranian international law expert, took the view that the dawn execution was a failure for justice. "Saddam's crimes in the eight-year war against Iran, such as chemical bombardments, remained unanswered because of the hasty and unfair trial," state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.
In Mecca, Sunni Arab pilgrims voiced outrage that Iraqi authorities had executed Saddam on a major religious holiday. Ahmed Al Mudaweb, a political editor at Bahrain's Al Watan newspaper, predicted that the former Iraqi president's hanging would spur the insurgency by his fellow Sunnis in Iraq. "He will become a kind of martyr, and his status as a political figure will increase," he said. Khalaf al-Alayan, a Sunni Iraqi lawmaker, told Al Jazeera from Jordan: "This was an act of vengeance against Iraq."
Jordanians, once fervently pro-Saddam, said his execution for the 1982 killings of about 150 Shi'ites, was incongruous. Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest opposition group, said Saddam had been judged by an Iraqi government that was not fully sovereign. "His execution will have grave consequences and will deepen the ethnic and sectarian violence in Iraq," he said.
Beyond the Arab world, few Muslims seemed ready to defend Saddam, but many doubted that full justice had been done. In Pakistan, Liaqat Baluch, a leader of a six-party opposition alliance of conservative religious parties, said Saddam was a "bad guy" but his trial had been unfair.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Kurdistan to receive 17 per cent of Iraq's national budget

Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said that the Kurdistan Region will receive 17 percent of Iraq's national budget, and urged the Iraqi government to implement the constitutional article regarding Kirkuk on time. Describing talks with Baghdad as "successful and fruitful," Barzani told reporters upon his return to Erbil International Airport last Tuesday that the KRG reached an agreement with Iraqi authorities over Kurds' share of the national budget. However, he added, "The agreement will be put before the Council of Ministers in Baghdad and they will make the final decision on it."
The KRG has asked the Iraqi government to hand over an alleged sum of $486 million(US) to the Region's treasury. According to previous agreements between the KRG and the Baghdad government, the price of oil per barrel was estimated at $26(US), while oil has been sold at more than $60(US) over the past year. Kurds demand a share of the Iraqi government's extra oil income. The Iraqi government has agreed to pay $364 million(US) to the KRG in three phases. The rest of the money has been spent on projects in Kurdistan carried out by Iraqi government ministries, Kurdish officials say.
KRG officials also participated in talks on oil law in Baghdad. Barzani said he held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on the issue. Oil has been a major issue dividing Kurdish and Iraqi authorities in post-war Iraq. KRG says it is constitutionally allowed to drill for oil in areas under its control, but Iraqi oil officials have threatened that KRG's oil deals will not be "valid."
"Most of the oil wells are in southern Iraq, and the oil law allows KRG to talk with companies and make deals for oil production," Barzani said. "In the future, a law will be issued, according to which each region and part of the country will have its share of oil revenues. We need to have our share of that and we are waiting for that law to be issued."
For most of late November and early December, a Kurdish delegation led by PM Barzani was in Baghdad to hold talks with central authorities over "suspending dossiers." According to preliminary agreements between the KRG and federal authorities, a representative from the Baghdad government will attend talks between the KRG and oil firms. Once the KRG reaches a deal with a company to drill for oil in Kurdistan, the contract will be sent to Baghdad for assessment and approval by an Iraqi government committee. The contract will then be returned to the KRG and it will have 60 days to sign it.
The Iraqi government had earlier asked the KRG to send its strong Peshmerga troops to southern and central parts of the country to provide security. However, KRG has been reluctant to accede to that demand so far, saying that some conditions must first be met. Barzani told reporters that the KRG has asked the Iraqi government to fund Peshmerga forces from its $8 billion 2007 defense budget. But the Iraqi government has not yet agreed to that demand. The KRG has approximately 100,000 Peshmerga forces under its command and Iraq's constitution recognizes them as "regional guards."
Disputes over the oil-rich Kirkuk continued in Baghdad as well. Kurds demand the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk in line with Article 140 of Iraq's national constitution that was ratified last year. The Iraqi government has formed a committee for implementing the constitutional article, led by the country's Minister of Justice. Barzani reiterated the Kurdish stance that no delay in executing Article 140 is acceptable. "We insist on implementing the constitutional Article (on Kirkuk) and PM al-Maliki reiterated that this article has to be implemented on time," PM Barzani said.
Iraq's constitution has set a three-step roadmap to normalize the situation in Kirkuk and other areas that were Arabized by the government of former President Saddam Hussein. A referendum on the city's fate is to be held by the end of 2007 on whether it should remain under central government's control or join Kurdistan Region. The city is populated by Kurds, Turkomans, Arabs, and Christians, and is currently administratively linked to the Iraqi government.


Kurds crack down on Islamists

Kurdish authorities have arrested 30 suspected members of Islamist groups active in the semi-independent Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Many of the suspects were said to be members of Ansar al-Islam, a group whose members are sworn enemies of the Kurdish regional governments in the area. Ansar had their bases in the Province of Sulaimaniya and for long were the Kurds biggest headache. Kurdish leaders had even sought help from former President Saddam Hussein to check their advance on the city.
The U.S. bombed their bases during the 2003 war that toppled Saddam Hussein. But Ansar are reported to have remobilized and are said to be now a force to reckon with not only in the north but also in central Iraq. The U.S. says they are linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, a charge the group’s leaders are ostensibly proud of. The Kurdish crackdown has also touched other Islamic parties namely in Halabja and Shahrazour, south of Sulaimaniya.


Al-Maliki struggling to make changes in government

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not been able to muster enough support to introduce new changes in his government. Parliamentary blocs have been adamant in their attitude not to give any concession that would have seen a reformed government brought to light this year.
Maliki had promised President George Bush during a meeting held in Amman recently that he would form a national unity government as part of efforts to contain terror and violence. The Prime Minister had hoped to have the unity government in place before Bush’s much-awaited for announcement of his new Iraq strategy. Bush is expected to make public his new Iraq policy early next year and Mailiki now fears he might not be able to honor his pledge to have the national unity government ready by then.
“The prime minister is facing huge hurdles in his efforts in this regard. Political forces in the country are still using wrong methods in their approaches,” said Abdulkarim al-Anzi of the ruling unified Iraqi coalition. Anzi said some political parties in the parliament were not willing to accept any changes in the structure of the government while others persisted on certain names. “This is a difficult situation,” he said.


Iranian 'diplomats' released by Americans in Iraq

Two Iranians detained by U.S. troops in Iraq were released early Friday, Iranian state-run television reported. The U.S. military had no immediate comment. There was also no immediate reponse from the U.S. Embassy. Iranian state TV referred to the Iranians as diplomats and said the release happened Friday but provide no any other details. The White House said earlier this week that U.S. troops had caught a group of Iranians in a raid on suspected insurgents in Iraq. Two of the men had diplomatic immunity and were released them to Iran, but the other two were kept in custody.


Saddam's lawyers asked to collect his personal effects

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein's lawyers have been asked to pick up his personal effects but Iraq's Justice Ministry denied it had taken custody of the former president and dismissed a U.S. suggestion he would hang as early as Saturday. Deputy Justice Minister Bosho Ibrahim dismissed a remark by a senior U.S. official who said there were plans to send Saddam to the gallows as early as Saturday. The ministry, which is in charge of implementing court rulings, would not execute Saddam before January 26, he said.
Khalil al-Dulaimi, who led Saddam's defense team until he was sentenced on November 5, told Reuters: "The Americans called me and asked me to pick up the personal effects." On Thursday, Saddam was allowed to see two of his half-brothers, who are also in detention at a U.S. base near Baghdad. A lawyer said the former president was in high spirits.
Although legally in Iraqi custody, U.S. troops physically keep guard over Saddam. And although Iraqis will carry out the execution, U.S. and Iraqi officials say, it seems likely U.S. forces will stay on hand throughout for fear that opponents of the former leader could turn it into a public spectacle. Iraqi officials backed away on Thursday from suggestions they would definitely hang him within a month, in line with a 30-deadline set out in the statues of the tribunal. A cabinet minister told Reuters a week-long religious holiday ending only on January 7 would stall any execution.
"He [Saddam] was in very high spirits and clearly readying himself," Badie Aref, a defense lawyer, told Reuters after the 69-year-old former leader met half-brothers Watban and Sabawi, who are also both held at the U.S. army's Camp Cropper near Baghdad airport. "He told them he was happy he would meet his death at the hands of his enemies and be a martyr, not just languish in jail."
Some of Saddam's fellow Sunnis have warned this could reinforce their community's alienation and many ethnic Kurds want Saddam first convicted of genocide against them in a second trial that is still underway. Saddam is due back in court in that trial on January 8. Iraq's Saddam-era penal code bars executions on religious holidays. Eid al-Adha holiday, which follows the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca, runs until January 7 in Iraq.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Arabic media round-up

The Buratha News Agency reports that a car bomb explosion at a crowded market outside the Imam Abu Hanifa Mosque in the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya after sunset prayers Tuesday killed 20 people and injured 35 others. The agency notes that this explosion, which was confirmed by eyewitness accounts in Adhamiya, is the first of its kind since it appeared to target Sunni Muslims near the most important Sunni shrine and mosque in Iraq.
It concludes that it was either an accidental explosion of a car bomb prepared for another area in Baghdad, or that it was an attack by Al-Qaeda against mostly secular Sunnis in Adhamiya, who have been resisting the infiltration of jihadis in their neighbourhood. Islam Memo also reports the incident but it accuses "Safavids" of planting the bomb in the Sunni district. The Haqq Agency adds that unknown gunmen kidnapped 24 residents of Adhamiya from a Coaster bus at the Bab Al-Mu'adham bus station in central Baghdad.

Aswat Al-Iraq: Christians of the Maysan governorate, south of Iraq, celebrate Christmas at the Umm Al-Ahzan historical church in Amara, and the event was attended by representatives of different religious groups in the city, in addition to political parties and civil society organizations. Jalal Daniel Toma, leader of the Chaldean Christian community in Maysan told Aswat Al-Iraq that only 12 Christian families, with a total of 90 people, have remained in Amara, and one family in the town of Qal'at Salih, south of Amara. "The number of families that come to church is not like it used to be," said Reverend Emad Al-Banna, a Chaldean priest in Basrah. "Many families have left the city in search for safety and employment, but we are thankful to God because the church is full of believers."
Al-Banna also pointed out that the number of Christian families in Basrah is less than 500, while it used to be 1,050 in 2003, and 10,000 during the seventies of the last century. In Hilla, south of Baghdad, Reverend Matti Abdullah told Eye Media Network that Christians in the Babel governorate have cancelled celebrations and the Mass for Christmas and the New Year at the Mariam Al-Adhraa' (Virgin Mary) Church in Hilla because of the deteriorating security situation.

Shiite families ordered to leave homes by Mujahideen Squads
Tariq Karbala reports that Shi'ite families in the mixed Saidiya district, south of Baghdad, received leaflets signed by "Saraya Al-Mujahideen" (The Mujahideen Squads), ordering them to leave the district. Eyewitnesses from the Dhubat neighborhood said that signs such as "Deportation or demolition" were scribbled on several residences inhabited by Shia families in Saidiya. Unknown gunmen assassinated two brothers this morning in a market and three others yesterday, while residents say that over 40 people were killed over the last month in an organized campaign by militant Sunni groups. Tariq Karbala also reports that a mortar attack against Kadhimiya, north of Baghdad, killed two people and wounded four others.

Sunni food ration traders abducted
The Iraq News Network reports that food ration traders of the Sunni majority Adil and Jami'a districts, west of Baghdad, were abducted, allegedly by Mahdi Army militiamen, at the food depots in Iskan over the last three days. 21 traders were kidnapped Sunday, and another 17 on Monday, according to the website, which added that the traders were taken to the sports club in Iskan and then they were relocated to the Iskan shelter.


Video clip shows kidnapped security contractors may be alive

Four U.S. security contractors and an Austrian co-worker who were kidnapped in southern Iraq six weeks ago appear to be in good physical condition in a videotape that was shot two weeks after they were taken captive. The footage, which hasn't been made public, is the first proof that all five men, including Minnesota native Paul Reuben, survived an ambush and abduction Nov. 16 in the town of Safwan. The clip was shown to McClatchy News Service in Baghdad on Tuesday night on condition that the provider's name and other identifying details be withheld.
The last man on the tape identifies himself only as "Paul," although it's clear that it's Reuben. The provider said the video was shot in response to a demand for proof that the men were alive before negotiations for their release could begin. The provider was confident that the men are still living and remain in the hands of a little-known Shiite Muslim militant group -- the "Mujahedeen of Jerusalem Company."
Representatives of the U.S. military, the U.S. Embassy and the men's employer -- the Kuwait-based Crescent Security Group -- said they hadn't known of the video and called it the first significant development since the kidnapping. "The families were relieved and glad to hear some news," said a Crescent Security representative who also asked to withhold his name because of security concerns. "I feel good there's a tape out there, but I'm more happy that it's a means to communicate with the kidnappers."
In the video, which runs for 1½ minutes, each of the men repeats the same presumably scripted demand: that U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq. None of the captors appears in the video, and no ransom demand, explicit threat or deadline is given. Three of the hostages are shown together, while the other two appear in separate shots that may have been taken elsewhere. The video begins with a shot of the three with their hands cuffed in front of them, standing in a row against a backdrop of gold-colored drapes. The men identify themselves as John Young, 44, of Kansas City, Mo.; Jonathan Cote, 23, of Gainesville, Fla., and Bert Nussbaumer, 25, of Vienna. All three wear identical white short-sleeved undershirts, gray pajama-like pants and socks. The video shows all three men, then zooms in on each hostage's face.
Young, with a mustache and calm demeanor, blinks rapidly several times before beginning. "I work in private security in Iraq," Young says. "I am asking the people of my country to please help me and my friends get out of Iraq and to pressure the government to remove troops from Iraq." Next is Cote (pronounced "Ko TAY"), who's the only hostage with visible signs of injury. He has slight bruising and swelling around his nose and red splotches on his face. He speaks calmly. "I work for a private security company," Cote says. "I'm asking the American people to put pressure on the government to leave Iraq to help me and my friends get out of here." The last of the trio is the dark-haired Nussbaumer, who speaks with a thick accent and describes himself an "Austrian citizen." His voice is the least clear, but he appears to say, "I want you to get me and my friends out of Iraq."
The video then cuts to a shot of a fourth hostage, who identifies himself as "Josh Munz, from California, USA." He's clean-shaven and doesn't appear to be handcuffed. He also is dressed in nondescript pajama-style clothing and speaks before a white backdrop -- not the same golden curtains as the previous scene. "I was in the United States Marine Corps, in Haditha and Fallujah," Munz says, referring to two predominantly Sunni Muslim towns where fighting has been fierce.
The clip then cuts to a similar white backdrop, but of a different material. The last man appears to be sitting down, though his legs aren't visible. His hands aren't cuffed. The hostage identifies himself only as "Paul," though it's clear that he's Paul Reuben, a former St. Louis Park police officer whose family had previously released his name and photo. His twin, Patrick Reuben, said in an e-mail that the brothers had turned 40 on Nov. 24, eight days after the kidnapping. Paul Reuben alludes to his birthday in the video. "I'm 39 years old, or 40; I'm not quite sure of today's date," he says. "I'm from Buffalo, Minnesota. I'm married. I have twin daughters -- they're 16 -- and I have a stepson that's 16." He grins nervously when he flubs a line at the end of his recorded statement. "I'm asking America to release us by getting our troops out of America," he says. Then Reuben turns his gaze from the camera, apparently in response to someone who points out the error. He gives a little laugh and says, "I'm sorry, out of Iraq."
The camera zooms in for a close-up of Reuben's face and the video ends with a tight shot of his toothy smile.
Reuben's family was relieved to hear the news, said Patrick Reuben, a Minneapolis police officer, who said he got a call early Wednesday about the videotape and later listened to the audiotape.
Patrick also said he has been told by U.S. government officials to not discuss the situation, but he acknowledged that the videotape brings hope for his brother's release.


Possible details of Saddam's execution

A satellite news channel recently posted a report on its website quoting Iraqi experts and officials that unveils details of the possible execution of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussain; his last night till the execution. According to the officials, the execution would not be carried out in the Victory Arch public court, as claimed by a British newspaper recently. It would not be public and the media would only be allowed to take pictures after the rope has been removed from around his neck, said Al Arabiya website.
While some experts voiced doubts that Saddam would be executed, others are sceptical that Saddam might be hanged, and some experts and observers pointed out that he might be killed in prison gradually to tackle the anger of the his supporters. Others say he might face the same destiny as Slobodan Milosovic and would be left to die slowly in his cell. The general prosecutor of the tribunal holding the trial, Jaafar Al Musawi, and the Iraqi legal expert, Mohammad Al Shaikhli, both agreed in interviews by over the details of the possible execution of Saddam Hussain.
Both stressed that the execution would not be carried out in the public court under the Victory Arch, because the law allows execution to be carried out anywhere in the prison defined by the Ministry of Law. The execution would not be public for everyone to see, but would be attended by a number of people as stipulated by the law. The execution would be covered by media outlets, only after the rope has been removed from around Saddam's neck, for everyone to see that the execution has been carried out.
Both Al Musawi and Al Shaikhli said the execution would be attended by a religious figure, medical examiner and the area judge. So if the execution is carried out in Abu Ghraib, the misdemeanours court judge in that area would attend the execution. Saddam Hussain's advocate would also attend the execution along with a representative of the prosecution and the prison commander. Al Shaikhli said Saddam would not be told about the execution date but both his family and the medical examiner would be informed. Saddam would be wearing the orange prisoners' overalls at his execution.
Al Musawi denied that hundreds of Iraqis volunteered to take the role of the hangman, as mentioned by the British newspaper. "It would be carried out by an official employee who belongs to the prisons department in the Ministry of Law, as an ordinary person would not be allowed to carry out the task." Both Al Musawi and Al Shaikhli said Saddam would spend his last night with a religious man who would recite verses from the Quran and dictate the Shahada, saying that there is no God but Allah, and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is his messenger, to him. Saddam would also be allowed to take a bath and shave. He would be granted all his wishes, even to see his family. Al Musawi said Saddam would be offered a meal 12 hours before his execution. He said that he had entered Saddam's cell on several occasions, and has seen the food orders the former Iraqi president makes. "Saddam still smokes Cuban cigars, and he likes pizzas and hamburgers. He occasionally is given newspapers and watches documentary films chosen by the security group in charge of him," he added.
On the other hand, Al Shaikhli believes that Saddam would be eliminated through other methods, like the way the Russian spy was killed in London, exposing him to radio active materials, so that the "government would distance itself from clashes with people and their reaction would not be as strong as those if Saddam was executed". "And, for example, if he is subjected to injury or taken to hospital, treated and then moved to intensive care, it would help deal with the the public reaction gradually until Saddam is totally eliminated," said Al Shaikhli. In his opinion, this would be done to ward off clashes with the public who might respond strongly to the execution. Reaction would be less severe if an announcement could be made that Saddam is ill or has been admitted to hospital, and that he is dying, Al Shaikhli said.


Barzani - Kurds will not agree to amending the constitution

President Massoud Barzani said Tuesday that Iraqi sides have failed to find a final solution for their conflicts. In an extraordinary session of the Iraqi Kurdistan National Council, Barzani pointed out that there is no confidence between the Iraqi sides. He said Kurds will not agree on amending the Iraqi constitution, saying changes must be made only in accordance to the constitution.
He dismissed UN interference in Iraq's affairs by holding an international conference on the Iraqi constitution. Barzani accused some regional states, which he did not name, of interfering in the issues of Iraq, and giving themselves the right to host terrorists and to hold sectarian conferences, calling on them to leave the Iraqi people determine their fates themselves. He stressed that if these countries care about the interest of Iraq they should stop interfering in its issues.


Baathists threaten U.S. and peace process if Saddam hangs

Politics, Security
The Baath Party, the political movement that ruled Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era, is warning there will be "grave consequences" if former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is executed. Saying it would hold the United States responsible, a message appeared on Tuesday that read: "The Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate in all ways and all places that hurt America and its interests if it commits this crime."
If the execution is carried out, the largely Sunni-Arab Baathists said they also will retaliate against members of the Iraqi High Tribunal. And they vowed a complete shut-down of peace negotiations between the Baathists and coalition forces. The Baathists have been operating as part of the insurgency against the U.S. and its allies since Hussein's regime fell in 2003.
The Baathist message went on to call Hussein's execution a "most dangerous red line" that the Bush administration shouldn't cross. "The entire world knows that the final decision is in the hands of the American administration and not the agent government in Baghdad," the message said. The execution "will make later negotiations between the resistance and the Baathists" and the U.S. "impossible." It would further embolden and strengthen the resistance, the message warned.
The Baathists also issued a warning to Iran, which is regarded as a key supporter of Iraq's Shiite-led government. The Baathists believe that the government and Iran are behind sectarian killings of Sunni Arabs. The Baathists are asking Iran's "real leader" -- a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- "to be rational and study this matter and not to spill more Iraqi blood, because our retaliation will be in the heart of Iran and impact its leadership." The Baathists also warned that there will be "no safe place" for Iraqi High Tribunal jurists and those who protect them, calling them "traitors" and "tools for the occupation."


2007 budget of $41 bn approved

The government has approved the budget for 2007 estimated at $41 billion. The budget is the biggest in the years since the 2003 U.S. invasion due to skyrocketing oil prices. Saffa al-Safi, state minister for parliamentary affairs, said the figures for the 2007 budget “are encouraging in comparison with previous budgets.”
One fourth ($10 billion) of the money available for 2007 has been earmarked for development and reconstruction. Allocations for security are the second largest, totaling $7.5 billion. Allocations for education have been doubled to $2.6 billion and there will be a 7% increase for the health sector for which $1.8 billion has been earmarked. Some $5.2 billion will go to provincial municipalities. If implemented properly, the budget should create 136,000 new jobs, said Safi. The cabinet has passed the budget to the parliament for approval.


Coordinated bomb attacks as Saddam given death verdict

Three bombs killed 23 Iraqis in Baghdad on Thursday, and the U.S. military announced the deaths of three American soldiers. Two bombs exploded shortly after 10 a.m. opposite a park in the South Gate area, killing nine civilians and wounding 43, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. South Gate is often crowded with commuters and shoppers.
A bomb planted under a car killed 12 civilians and wounded 26 others near al-Sha'ab stadium in eastern Baghdad, police said. The bomb exploded among a group of people lining up to buy kerosene. Another blast targeted a police patrol in western Baghdad but missed, killing two civilians instead, police said. Four others were wounded and taken to Yarmouk Hospital.
The U.S. military said three U.S. soldiers died in roadside bombs on Wednesday. Two soldiers were killed when a bomb exploded near their foot patrol southwest of Baghdad, and one died in a bombing in an eastern section of the Iraqi capital. With 98 American troops dead so far this month, December is the second-deadliest month of 2006 for U.S. military personnel. A total of 105 troops died in October.


Allawi to organise a regional peace conference for Iraq

Regional, Security, Politics
Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on December 24 that he will move to organize a regional conference to seek a way out of Iraq's current security and political crisis, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. During a meeting in Cairo with a group of prominent Egyptian analysts and intellectuals, Allawi said his proposed conference must include Iraqi parties, concerned neighboring states, as well as influential world powers, provided that the conference is held under the auspices of the UN. He described the current political process as "defunct" and stressed that the conference must result in initiating a new political process in Iraq, including the participation of the Ba'athists and resistance groups, that would bring about national reconciliation. Allawi did not offer any details concerning his planned conference, but said he will discuss them with Arab leaders.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Sadrists accuse U.S. troops of killing a senior Sadrist officer

Security, Politics
A spokesman for radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al -Sadr's bloc accused U.S. forces of killing a senior Sadrist official near Najaf. The U.S. military said Iraqi army troops with U.S. advisers raided the home of a man implicated in a bomb attack on a police chief in October. A U.S. statement said a U.S. soldier shot the man dead after seeing him point his rifle at an Iraqi soldier during the raid.
Nassar al-Rubaei, head of the Sadrist bloc in parliament, accused "occupation forces" of storming the home of Saheb al- Amiri at dawn and killing him in front of this family. "We call on the government to launch an investigation," Rubaei told a news conference in Baghdad. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said the raid was ordered and planned by Iraqi authorities.


Draft law to distribute oil revenue almost complete

Iraqi and U.S. officials have announced near agreement on a draft law that gives the central government in Iraq the authority to distribute oil revenues among Iraqi regions based on their population. A U.S. official said on condition of anonymity that the committee working on the draft law for several months was comprised of ministers and politicians from Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish blocs, and has expedited its work recently.


Iranian diplomats held in U.S. raid on SCIRI leader's compound

Iran, Politics
Iraq’s president protested on Monday against the arrest by US forces in Iraq of two Iranian diplomats who US officials said were seized in raids against Iranians suspected of planning attacks on Iraqi security forces. Iran said the diplomats had been invited by the Iraqi government and warned their detention would “provoke unpleasant repercussions”, a local Iraqi news agency said.
“Two Iranian diplomats were detained by the Americans,” said Hiwa Othman, media adviser for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. “The president is unhappy. He is talking to the Americans about it as we speak. The diplomats came to Iraq at the invitation of the president,” Othman told Reuters. He said he was not aware if they had met Talabani. Talabani, a Kurd, travelled to Iran last month in the latest of a series of high-level contacts between the two neighbours. Washington accuses Shia Iran of backing Shia militias who are blamed for fuelling rampant sectarian violence in Iraq.
The US State Department said “a small number” of Iranian diplomats were among those initially detained in the raids, but that they were turned over to Iraqi authorities and released. Several other Iranians remained in custody, it said. “Our actions (to release the diplomats) were in no way dictated by pressure from the Iraqi government or any party in the government,” it said in a statement. “Our actions were instead in accordance with our international legal obligations.”
“We suspect this event validates our claim about Iranian meddling,” said a White House spokesman. The New York Times on Sunday said the US military was holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including senior military officials, who were seized in two raids last week. Othman and an official in the Shia-dominated government said they were not aware the diplomats had been freed.
“We are only aware of the arrest of the two diplomats. I don’t think that there are any military officials,” the Shia official from the powerful Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) party told Reuters. In Tehran, the ISNA student news agency said the Foreign Ministry had summoned the Swiss ambassador to Tehran to discuss the arrests. The Swiss embassy represents US interests in Iran since diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington were cut after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
A US military spokesman in Baghdad declined to comment and referred all questions to the Pentagon. There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon. It was unclear what kind of evidence American officials possessed that the Iranians were planning attacks, and the officials would not identify those being held, the Times said. One official said that “a lot of material” was seized in the raid but would not say if it included arms or documents that pointed to planning for attacks, the paper reported.
The Times said that one of the raids took place in the Baghdad compound of SCIRI head Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shia leaders, who travelled to Washington three weeks ago to meet President George W. Bush. Iraqi and US officials have long accused Iran of interfering in Iraq’s affairs.


Sunnis kidnapped form mosque found dead

The bodies of three Sunnis kidnapped from a Baghdad mosque Friday were found Monday, sources tell IraqSlogger. Friday, Shia militiamen belonging to the Mahdi Army raided the Abdullah Bin Omier mosque in the Binook area near the Sadrist stronghold of Al-Sha'ab in eastern Baghdad. The raid occurred during the important noon prayer, when a large congregation gathers to hear a sermon. The mosque's sheikh, the muadhin who calls to prayer, and a third man who opened fire on the Mahdi Army men were all kidnapped. Their corpses were found today, showing signs of torture, and it was revealed that the third man who opened fire during the raid was actually the sheikh's son.


Indian rival oil companies plan to share southern oil field

State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) and its private competitor Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) are in talks to jointly develop Tuba oil field in southern Iraq, top ONGC officials said on Tuesday. ONGC, through its overseas investment arm ONGC Videsh Ltd, along with RIL and Algeria's Sonatrach tried in 2000 to secure the field in Iraq for production of crude oil. A senior company official, who did not wish to be identified, said ONGC had initiated talks with RIL and Sonatrach to revive the consortium and pursue the opportunity jointly. ONGC chairman and managing director R. S. Sharma confirmed the project was being discussed, and said: "Yes we are in talks with Reliance on Tuba field."
A Reliance official declined to comment. The ONGC official who declined to be named said discussions were still at a preliminary stage. He said ONGC and RIL were expected to hold a 30 per cent stake each in the project-specific consortium and Sonatrach would hold the remaining 40 per cent. Iraq is expected to enact an oil law that would allow the regions to negotiate oilfield contracts with foreign investors. Analysts say if the consortium works out, it will be the first time that two arch rivals, ONGC and Reliance, work together abroad rather than competing. India imports 70 per cent of its crude oil demand.


3,500 additional U.S. troops could be in place by January

U.S. Military
The Pentagon is expected to send 3,500 troops into Kuwait to stand ready for use in Iraq, senior defense officials said on Tuesday as the Bush administration weighs adjusting force levels in the war. The "call-forward" force was requested by Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the military command responsible for the Middle East, and must be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
According to one official, Abizaid's request came before Gates' fact-finding trip last week to Iraq to assess possible alternative strategies in a war that he and President George W. Bush say America is not winning. Options for changing course in the war include a short-term increase, or "surge," of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. force level there now stands at 134,000. "If we're going to surge, this makes sense," the official on Tuesday.
Gates questioned U.S. commanders last week about the possibility of a surge and what it might accomplish. He has given little hint of his thoughts on the concept, but said generals in the war zone worry an increase in U.S. forces could allow Iraqis to delay taking responsibility for security. Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not know if Gates had yet approved the deployment of the standby force, but said the announcement was expected as early as Wednesday. The troops could be in place in Kuwait by mid-January.


Polish companies to invest in Iraq

The Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki confirmed, after a meeting with his Polish counterpart Yaroslav Kajinski who arrived in Baghdad Wednesday on a surprise visit, his country's desire to attract Polish companies to invest in Iraq. Al-Maliki said during a joint press conference with the Polish Prime Minister that "there is a desire to cooperate with the Polish companies in the areas of oil, gas and in the military field". He added, "We asked the companies to come to Iraq and hold discussions with the ministers concerned in these areas and we agreed that the cooperation would not limited to oil".
Al-Maliki said that "there are military deals between Iraq and Poland to import weapons and helicopters wthin the military cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense". Al-Maliki pointed out that Iraq "looks forward to consolidate relations with friendly countries, including Poland". On his part, the Polish Prime Minister said that "the talks tackled all areas practically and in detail". In response to a question about the future of the Polish forces deployed in southern Iraq, he said that "the future of our forces stay in Iraq is due to the completion of some tasks that they were charged with (...) We believe that this is necessary not only to Iraq but to the entire world".


Brazil - first Latin American country to re-open embassy in Iraq

Brazil will be the first Latin American country to reopen its embassy in Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War, local media said on Friday. Brazilian Ambassador Bernardo de Azevedo Brito presented his credential to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Bagdad this week. Brito, however, will keep living in Amman, Jordan's capital, until Iraq offers safer conditions, as it would be excessively expensive to resume operations in the Brazilian Embassy's former building in the Iraqi capital.
According to the ambassador, Brazil envisions doing business with the currently unstable country. He said the fact that Brazil did not support the U.S.-led military invasion, which deposed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, does not mean it does not wish to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. Iraq offers great opportunities for food exports, such as beef and poultry meat, in transportation equipments, including airplanes, and in the construction and medical service sectors, said Brito, adding bilateral relations will help Iraq's oil and gas industry to purchase services and technology from Brazil.
There is plenty to do and there is room for everyone, he said. In the 1980s, Brazil was an important supplier of industrialized products to Iraq, and it imported significant volumes of oil from Iraq. At that time, trade between the two countries reached up to 4 billion U.S. dollars per year.


Basra council cuts ties with UK troops following police station raid

Security, Politics
The British military’s demolition of a Basra police station that they claim was used as a base for death squads has caused a political backlash, creating possible complications for the British campaign to purge the southern port city’s notoriously corrupt police force. However, in an environment where militias, criminal gangs, political parties and factions within the police force all overlap in a patchwork of often competing alliances, it is difficult to tell exactly how widespread is the opposition to the British move against what they called a rogue police unit.
Several local leaders, including the head of the city council and a Basra police commander, have condemned Monday’s raid. Mohammed al-Ibadi, provincial council chairman, said the council had decided to cut off ties with British forces pending an explanation of why they destroyed an “Iraq government building flying the Iraqi flag” and removed detainees he described as suspected terrorists. But a British military spokesman said it was unaware of any boycott by the full council, and some local officials including the governor offered their support for the operation, which involved Iraqi as well as British forces. Over 1,000 British troops participated in the raid that culminated in the demolition of the Jamiat police station.
A British spokesman said 127 prisoners were discovered in the basement, some of them with their kneecaps shot off, their hands or feet crushed, or with cigarette or electrical burns. He said the police station was a base of a criminal gang associated with the local Serious Crimes Unit, which had access to weaponry, vehicles and police intelligence used in death squad activity. He said the gang might have targeted competitors, as well as “anyone they did not like the look of or [who] had crossed them in some way”. British officials also say that the unit was associated with the capture of two British soldiers in September 2005, which precipitated a raid on Jamiat station to free them. It was also said to be involved in the abduction and murder of 17 police employees in October.
Basra citizens frequently complain about their police force, which many say is the product of a local authority that is fractured between several large Shia Islamist factions, including the Fadila party, the radical Sadrist movement, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, plus a handful of smaller ones. In the absence of clear dominance by one faction or the other, each has cultivated its allies within the police force.
Some citizens have praised Mr Maliki for taking a firm hand against local corruption. Militias such as the Mahdi Army, however, are believed to have strong roots in the city’s extensive slums, where many people reportedly blame the British for the lack of any improvements in their conditions over the past three years. At least twice in the past the Basra provincial council has promised to cut off relations with British forces, but such boycotts have been relatively short-lived.


Female students and teachers raped

Three female students from the University of Mustansiriya were kidnapped, then raped and then killed and then their mutilated bodies passed to the Baghdad morgue. The horrendous crime has shocked many in Baghdad and unleashed yet another wave of terror in the violence-torn city home to a quarter of Iraq’s population. The female students were raped and killed “in a horrific manner at the hands of militias,” said the non-governmental Organization for the Defense of Women in Iraq. “This is a fresh horrifying indication that the level of crime and violence is taking unprecedented proportions in Iraq,” the group said in a statement.
The crime has terrorized the university community in Baghdad, prompting many parents to stop sending their girls to classes. Universities and high schools in Baghdad already suffer from high level of absenteeism due to the spiraling violence. Teachers complain that most of their students now stay away. Militia groups work freely in Baghdad and frequently U.S. and Iraqi troops turn a blind eye to their atrocities.
A female teacher from the Ghazaliya district in Baghdad was also kidnapped, raped and killed and her body later found on a street in the same district. University officials in Baghdad, refusing to be named, say teaching is under threat and classes may be suspended any time unless the authorities do something to halt the violence. Scores of Iraqi professors have either been killed or kidnapped, forcing many of them to flee the country.


Escaped former minister of electricity arrives in Jordan

A former Iraqi Cabinet minister who escaped from a Baghdad prison this month has arrived in Jordan on a U.S. plane, Jordan's prime minister said Tuesday. Ayham al-Samaraie, a former minister of electricity with dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, had been serving time for corruption when he escaped mid-December. Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit told reporters Tuesday that al-Samaraie "arrived in Amman as an American and on an American plane," an apparent reference to a U.S. military plane. He did not elaborate on the former official's escape.
"Jordan did not receive any demand from the Iraqi authorities" for al-Samaraie's extradition, al-Bakhit said. Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the U.S. government was not involved in al-Samaraie's escape "in any way." He also denied in "unequivocal terms" the claim that al-Samaraie flew out of Iraq on an American plane.
Fintor said U.S. was supporting the Iraqi government's investigation into al-Samaraie's escape. He declined to say whether al-Samaraie, who has a home in the Chicago area, would be allowed to return to the United States.
In 2003, al-Samaraie became a member of the transitional Iraqi government that was set up after U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. He was detained in August, convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years imprisonment. The charges concerned an estimated $2 billion in missing funds for contracts on rebuilding Iraq's electrical infrastructure.
On Dec. 19, al-Samaraie called the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times and said that a "multinational" group had helped him escape from a police station inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. He gloated about the escape, saying he got away "the Chicago way", a reference to the 1987 film about Al Capone called "The Untouchables." Al-Samaraie told the Times he had managed to leave Iraq on a flight from Baghdad International Airport. He said it had been easy to board a plane, saying "any Iraqi can do it."
He also derided Iraqi and U.S. officials in the interview. "Those suckers who are sitting in the Green Zone, they cannot go out and see the people they are governing?" he was quoted as saying. "This is a joke." It was al-Samaraie's second escape from Iraqi custody. He also managed to flee a few days after his October conviction, when Iraqi officials caught him at the Baghdad airport with a Chinese passport.


Saddam to be hanged within 30 days

Saddam Hussein
Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam Hussein's appeal Tuesday and said the former dictator must be hanged within 30 days for ordering the killing of scores of Shiite Muslims in 1982. The sentence has already stoked Iraq's sectarian rage, with the Shiite majority demanding Saddam's death and his fellow Sunni Arabs calling the trial tainted. In upholding the sentence, imposed Nov. 5, the Supreme Court of Appeals also affirmed death sentences for two of his co-defendants, including his half brother. And it said life imprisonment for a third was too lenient and demanded he be given the death penalty, too.
Some international legal observers, however, called Saddam's trial unfair because of alleged interference by the Shiite-dominated government. But the announcement delighted Shiites, who endured persecution under Saddam and are eager to remove a symbol of the old regime. Some Shiites are concerned that insurgents, many of them Sunni Arabs, will try to disrupt or prevent the execution. Under Iraqi law, the appeals court decision must be ratified by President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's two vice presidents. One of the two deputies is, like Saddam, a Sunni Arab.
Talabani, a Kurd, has said he is opposed to the death penalty. But he previously deputized Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite Muslim, to sign execution orders on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi has said he would sign a death warrant for Saddam.
The Sunni vice president, Tariq Al-Hashimi, has also pledged to support Saddam's execution as part of a deal that gave him the job last April 22, witnesses at the meeting told The Associated Press in October. Raed Juhi, a spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, said the judicial system would ensure Saddam is executed even if the presidency does not ratify the decision.
Human Rights Watch, an international rights group, said figures in the U.S.-backed Iraqi government had undermined the credibility of Saddam's trial. Those officials publicly criticized a judge early in the case, leading to his resignation. The rights group also cited other "political interference." Saddam's televised trial was watched throughout Iraq and the Middle East as much for theater as for substance. The fallen dictator was ejected from the courtroom repeatedly for political harangues, and his half brother once showed up in long underwear and sat with his back to the judges. Three defense lawyers and a witness were murdered during the course of its 39 sessions. Saddam is currently in the midst of another trial, charged with genocide and other crimes during a 1987-88 military crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq.

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