Saturday, February 17, 2007


Peshmerga controlling Kirkuk

Security, Politics
(McClatchy Newspapers) Kirkuk is a tinderbox of sects vying for control of an area with billions of dollars worth of oil, but the Iraqi army isn't a neutral presence, and many of its soldiers make no secret that their loyalty is to the Kurdish nation. The oil-rich city, which many fear is teetering on the brink of civil war, is off-limits to Kurdish Peshmerga militia members.
As with Shiite militias in Baghdad, the line between militia members and Iraqi security troops in Kirkuk is so thin that it at times doesn't exist. And U.S. plans to build Iraq's security forces - a process that has cost more than $15 billion nationwide - seem to have strengthened militias instead of discouraging them. The issue of loyalty with Iraqi security forces is proving to be the Achilles' heel of American plans to stabilize the war-torn nation. Without neutral Iraqi soldiers and police, an American withdrawal would almost certainly lead to greater sectarian bloodshed than Iraq is currently experiencing.
In June 2004, the American Coalition Provisional Authority issued an order outlawing militias and calling for their members to integrate into Iraq's security forces. An exemption was made for the Peshmerga, provided that they remained in Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous state in northern Iraq, and not move to outside areas like Kirkuk. Armed groups across Iraq reacted to the 2004 measure by enlisting in the army and police and maintaining large contingents of stand-alone militia groups, making them significantly more powerful.
Asked by e-mail whether there were concerns about the Peshmerga influence on Iraqi troops around Kirkuk, U.S. Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly answered: "No. Our relationship with the IA (Iraqi Army) division is well established since our arrival here six months ago." Requests for comment from four senior U.S. military public affairs officers in Baghdad were unsuccessful.
The dispute over who will ultimately control Kirkuk, which has oil fields with reserves of at least 8.7 billion barrels, is a contentious and potentially catastrophic one, with the city's Arab, Kurd and Turkmen communities all claiming rightful ownership.
"The Kurds who surround Kirkuk claim to be Iraqi army, but their extensive presence on the outskirts of Kirkuk is designed to affect the ethnic balance of the city," said Ali Mahdi, a senior Turkmen political leader in Kirkuk and a member of the provincial council. "They are protecting their sect and working for the benefit of the Kurds in the city and not the others. This is dangerous for the future of the city."
The situation has serious geo-political implications: Neighboring Turkey, a crucial U.S. ally, fears that the Kurds will eventually declare independence if they gain Kirkuk, a move that could lead the large Kurdish population in Turkey to agitate for secession. Former dictator Saddam Hussein displaced tens of thousands of Kurdish families from Kirkuk, replacing them with Arabs, mainly from the Shiite south.
Iraq's constitution provides for a referendum to decide the matter of who will control Kirkuk by the end of this year; meanwhile, tens of thousands of Kurds have moved into the city since 2003, urged by Kurdish political parties to set up homes there. And the Peshmerga have continued to have deep ties with the Iraqi security forces.
"If the heavy presence of Peshmerga in Kirkuk and its outskirts continues as it is now, it will lead to a civil war in Kirkuk," said Abdullah al Obeidi, a Sunni Arab tribal leader and a member of the Kirkuk provincial council. Senior Kurdish leaders have said in public that they'll pursue only peaceful means to wrest control of the city. That same leadership has intentionally stocked Iraqi security forces with Peshmerga, said Fadil Haider, a senior member of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, a small but powerful political party, and a former member of the Iraqi national parliament.
The two main Kurdish parties - the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) - have done so as an insurance policy, he said. "I can give you two scenarios: If Iraq is in an all-out civil war, then the PUK and KDP have put themselves in a position to protect Kurdistan by very quickly taking Kirkuk and making it a part of an independent Kurdistan," Haider said. "Or, if we exhaust the peaceful, political means of gaining Kirkuk for Kurdistan, we will take it by force."
Kurdish officials are confident that when Kirkuk becomes a part of the Kurdish regional government, its security will be maintained by Peshmerga, a process that presumably would be made easier by the fact that so many Iraqi police and army there are former members, said Suzanne Shahab Nouri, a member of the regional Kurdish parliament. "The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are the strongest (Iraqi) military force in Iraq," said Jafar Mustafa Ali, the minister state for Peshmerga affairs - essentially a defense minister - in Sulaimaniyah. "If they (Kurdish opponents in Kirkuk) don't respect the democratic process, we could take over Kirkuk and they could do nothing."

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Peacemaker team hostages released

(Salt Lake Tribune) A former student is safely home after being kidnapped during a service mission in Iraq. Will Van Wagenen was volunteering with Christian Peacemaker Teams in northern Iraq when he, team member Peggy Gish, an Iraqi associate and a translator were taken captive Jan. 27, a CPT spokesperson said. Gish and the translator were released shortly after the abduction and returned to a CPT apartment unharmed, but Van Wagenen and the Iraqi associate were not. After more than a week in captivity, Van Wagenen and his Iraqi colleague were released Feb. 4. Neither was harmed.
Peacemaker Teams is a faith-based, violence-reduction group that sends trained peacemakers into war- and conflict-affected locations around the world. It was formed by Mennonites, Quakers and The Church of the Brethren in 1984, with a mission to help safeguard human rights through nonviolent actions. The CPT has had a presence in Iraq since October 2002 and has suffered kidnappings before. In November 2005, four CPT members were taken hostage, and one, Tom Fox, was murdered. The other three were rescued in March 2006. CPT spokesperson Michele Naar-Obed said the organization is constantly assessing the risks and dangers of working in Iraq, as well as the value of that work.

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FluorAMEC lands $1.1 billion contract

(Los Angeles Business) A joint venture of Aliso Viejo-based engineering and construction management company Fluor Corp. and London-based AMEC plc will build, repair and manage water and sewerage systems in Iraq under two contracts worth $1.1 billion. Under a $600 million contract, Fluor AMEC LLC, of Greenville, S.C., will provide design-build construction services for water distribution and treatment systems in Iraq. The joint venture received a separate contract worth up to $500 million for additional work of the same kind.

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Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran to re-open

(Reuters) Iraq will re-open its borders with Iran and Syria, closed earlier this week in the initial stages of a security crackdown, a spokesman for the officer overseeing the plan said on Saturday. "Seventy-two hours have passed and the borders will gradually re-open, but it will take 60 days for the border crossings to return to normal," Brigadier Qassim Moussawi said, without specifying exactly when they would be reopened.
Moussawi said the borders would be open for a limited number of hours each day, under close scrutiny. They were closed on Wednesday. He said the closure was mainly to allow for the smooth deployment of additional security forces in Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi troops have stepped up an operation to try to stabilise the violent capital. The U.S. military had said the border checkpoints would be revamped, partly to establish "transfer points" to search vehicles coming in.

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Al-Hashimi wants unauthorised weapons surrendered

Politics, Security
(RFE/RL) Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi praised the Baghdad security operation in a February 15 interview with Al-Arabiyah television, saying the plan is "based on neutrality and professionalism." He added that if the plan's principles, outlined by the prime minister earlier this week, are implemented, then it "will proceed well."
Al-Hashimi noted his disappointment, however, that details of the plan were leaked ahead of time, which gave insurgents, both Sunni and Shi'ite, the opportunity to flee or hide. "These criminals should have been targeted, arrested, and brought to justice," al-Hashimi said. "I regret to say these groups have now fled and disappeared." He also called on Prime Minister al-Maliki to develop a comprehensive plan to get all unauthorized weapons off the streets. "I think the government is in dire need of an integrated plan to tempt people to surrender their weapons to the government," he said. "I wish this step would have been taken before the implementation of the Baghdad security plan, but this did not happen."

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Erdogan - Turkey to forge stronger relations with KRG

Politics, Region, Kurdistan
(RFE/RL) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on February 15 that his government should take steps to forge better relations with Iraq's Kurdistan region government, Istanbul-based NTV reported the same day. He added that he will inform President Talabani of his proposal. Talabani's party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), issued a report on Erdogan's comments on its website, saying PUK media chief Azad Jundiyani welcomed the statement. "We consider Erdogan's statements a significant development in the relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey," Jundiyani said. "The courageous statements by Erdogan indicate the adoption of a new and realistic policy by the Turkish government. We are sure that this will have a [positive] impact on the future of the region," he added.

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Talabani speaks out on al-Sadr and security plan

Politics, Security
(RFE/RL) President Jalal Talabani told reporters at a February 15 press briefing in Baghdad that the security plan will yield successful results as the weeks progress, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported on February 16. Talabani praised the work of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, saying al-Maliki "behaved as an Iraqi who rises above personal inclinations and tendencies."
Asked about the whereabouts of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Talabani said he doesn't have definitive information. "But I think that several influential officials in the Al-Mahdi Army were ordered to leave Iraq. I think they were ordered to do so by [al-Sadr] himself in order to facilitate the government's mission of implementing the Baghdad security plan." Talabani later quoted al-Sadr's aides as saying the cleric is eager to see the security plan succeed, adding that al-Sadr "gave the government the go-ahead to arrest every violator who breaks the law.... Hence, I think that Muqtada al-Sadr's stand is positive and very good," Talabani said.

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Rice lauds early progress in Baghdad

Politics, Security
(Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday lauded early progress in a military operation against militants in Baghdad, but said Iraqis had to use this "breathing space" to push ahead with reconciliation. Rice made an unannounced visit to Baghdad as U.S. and Iraqi troops make initial gains in an offensive seen as a final push to end sectarian bloodshed that threatens to tear Iraq apart.
While major car bombings and death squad killings in Baghdad have declined, a double car bombing on Saturday at a crowded market in the northern city of Kirkuk killed at least 10 people and wounded 60, police sources said. The explosions took place in the Rahim Awa district, a predominantly Kurdish area of the ethnically mixed city.
Rice said Iraq's leaders needed to speed up efforts to reconcile warring Shi'ite and Sunni groups, finalize an oil revenue sharing law and hold provincial elections. Rice said she would press those issues when she met Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. "The wait for progress can't be endless. Those (issues) need to move along more quickly," said Rice, who last month said the Iraqi government was on "borrowed time. This is a group of leaders that need to deliver."

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Friday, February 16, 2007


Iraqi media round-up

Presidential Council Discusses Political Process
(Al-Sabah) President Jalal Talabani held a meeting on security and the political process and security with his two vice-presidents, Adil Abdul Mahdi and Tarik al-Hashimi. The gathering focused on providing all possible means of support to the new crackdown and efforts to end sectarian violence. Talabani and the vice-presidents urged all political blocs to put into practice the agreements they signed and to emphasize reconciliation and political participation in order to help the government achieve its goals. (Al-Sabah is a daily independent publicly owned newspaper.)

Funds for Diwaniya Projects
(Al-Iraq al-Youm) The minister for planning and development cooperation has earmarked 115 billion Iraqi dinars (about 90 million US dollars) for drinking water, sewage and school rehabilitation projects in the province of Diwaniya. A source at the ministry said that it will rehabilitate and develop health centres throughout the province and provide them with modern supplies and equipment. (Al-Iraq al-Yoom is a weekly newspaper issued by Isra Shakir.)

Baghdad Security Plan Launched
(Al-Mada) Residents of Baghdad and neighbouring districts saw heavy troop deployments and a slew of checkpoints beginning at 6 am Wednesday morning as part of a Baghdad-wide push to improve security. In Kerbala, Iraqi premiere Nouri al-Maliki announced the launch of the plan aimed at improving security in the capital. The government says these moves are part of a larger strategy to impose the rule of law and stamp out violence. (Al-Mada is issued daily by Al-Mada institution for Media, Culture, and Arts.)


Al-Hashemi says 'resistance' should have option to join political process

Security, Insurgency, Politics
(AP) Sunni insurgents who are "honorable and genuine" must be given the chance to join the political process now that the United States is anxious to pull its troops from Iraq, the country's Sunni vice president said in an interview published Friday. Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi told the Arabic language daily Al-Hayat that U.S. and Iraqi representatives must negotiate "with the participation of the resistance" after "America has failed to run the country.
Furthermore, al-Hashemi said that "the honorable national resistance" must adopt "a new ideology to manage the crisis." Al-Hashemi, leader of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, has in recent months been sharply critical of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over his alleged reluctance to move against Shiite militias linked to sectarian killings. Shiite leaders have recoiled at the use of the word "resistance" to describe Sunni insurgents — especially those who attack U.S. and coalition troops rather than Iraqi civilians. Shiite politicians, including al-Maliki, refer to Sunni insurgents as "terrorists," "Saddamists" or "Takfiris," religious extremists who consider Shiites as infidels.
Al-Hashemi also criticized the militant Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, accusing it of meddling in politics and rejecting the notion that it represents the country's Sunni Arabs. Many Association figures are believed closely linked to insurgents. The vice president accused al-Maliki of squandering the opportunity early in his administration to deal with the Shiite militias. The U.S. has been pressing al-Maliki to crack down on Shiite gunmen, especially the Mahdi Army of his political ally, Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Hashemi said that recently, the prime minister "realized the danger to the law posed by the militias but his move against them is late again." He said al-Sadr's militia had hidden their weapons and their key leaders slipped out of the country to avoid the recently launched crackdown in Baghdad.

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VP ready to serve as PM

(AFP) Iraqi vice-president Adil Abdul Mahdi would be ready to serve as prime minister of his violence-scarred country, he said in an interview with BBC World Service radio. Mahdi unsuccessfully ran for the mainly Shiite United Iraqi Alliance's (UIA) nomination to be prime minister of Iraq's first permanent government against Ibrahim Al-Jaafari in 2006, but lost by one vote.
Nuri Al-Maliki was then named UIA candidate and secured the post. According to extracts released in advance, Mahdi told the BBC he had supported both Jaafari and Maliki but "should there be a change in Iraq, I am still there. If the Iraqi parliament sees in me a prime minister, at the proper time, as an alternative, in a constitutional way, in a democratic way, I've served my country, I'll continue serving my country, that's all."
"I am one of the political players on the scene," he said, adding: "I am not a coup d'etat man."
On January 2 this year, Maliki told the Wall Street Journal newspaper in an interview he had not wanted to become prime minister in the first place and did not want to serve a second term in office.

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SCIRI member denounces raid on mosque

Security, Politics
(McClatchy Newspapers) A U.S. military spokesman Thursday hailed a joint American-Iraqi raid on Baghdad’s leading Shiite mosque as proof that the security plan is being applied evenly across the sectarian divide. The raid, which took place Wednesday, angered the mosque’s imam, who took the unusual step of canceling today’s prayer services at the historic Baratha mosque.
Sheik Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a member of parliament from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), denounced the raid, which the U.S. military said had turned up a cache of illegal weapons. Searching mosques has been a particularly sensitive issue since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In delivering the decree that legalized the security plan this week, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar of the Iraqi army said that soldiers would enter mosques only if they were used “for illegal purposes” or to protect citizens from harm.
The U.S. military said that the mosque was raided “during operations targeting illegally armed militia kidnapping, torture and murder activities.” It said the mosque was used “to conduct sectarian violence against Iraqi civilians as well as a safe haven and weapons storage area for illegal militia groups.” Sunnis have reported being held and beaten in the mosque.
U.S. forces provided protection around the mosque while Iraqi soldiers entered it with the cooperation of its security guards, the military statement said. Three Russian PKC machine guns and 80 assault rifles were seized, the statement said. Saghir said that the mosque was raided by Americans who, he alleged, had relied on false intelligence. He said the Americans were looking for “prisons, vaults and torturing operations.”

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Security operation launched in Basra

(Voices of Iraq) The spokeswoman for the British forces in southern Iraq said on Thursday a large-scale security operation was launched in the southern Iraqi city of Basra to "curb" the armed groups active in the city. Captain Katie said "the operation aims at curbing the criminals and militias and closing the borders through a series of security operations to be carried out by the Multi-National forces along with Iraqi troops."
Captain Brown added "the operation will continue for 72 hours in preparation to impose a buffer zone around Basra. It is a first step for a possible transfer of the security responsibility in Basra to the Iraqi forces," she said. The operation includes, Captain Brown pointed out, "positioning combined checkpoints on the highway to Basra, carrying out naval patrols in the Iraqi territorial waters and closing the borders. A large-scale search and arrest campaign will also be implemented by British and Iraqi forces in various parts of Basra," the spokeswoman added.

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High-level Iraqi govt efforts to release Sadrists in U.S. custody

(Voices of Iraq) A leading Sadrist figure unveiled on Thursday that the Iraqi government was exerting efforts to free the media spokesman for Sadrist movement Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Daraji and health deputy minister Hakem al-Zamli, who were being detained in the US custody. U.S. forces arrested al-Daraji a month ago during a raid along with Iraqi troops in Baghdad, while al-Zamli was detained when a U.S. and Iraqi combined force stormed the headquarters of Iraqi Health Ministry last Thursday in central Baghdad.
The Shiite official pointed out that high-level efforts were being exerted to release the two followers of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. "These efforts were made by Iraq's President Jalal al-Talabani , Premier Nouri al-Maliki, and National Security Advisor Muafaq al-Rubaie," Shanshal added.
Meanwhile, an official source in Shaheed Sadr office in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa described as baseless news on the assassination of Sadr movement media official in Samawa. Media reports on Wednesday said Samawa city was placed under a day-long-curfew after the body of a leading figure at Sadr office was found dumped in the city. The Sadr movement, followers of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is a main component of the Shiite Iraqi Unified Coalition with 30 seats at the 275 member parliament and six portfolio.

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$50 million hospital for Hilla

(Azzaman) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has laid the foundation for a $50 million hospital for the city of Hilla, 90 kilometers south of Baghdad. The 400-bed hospital will be built by Iraqi contractors is expected to be ready in two years. The nearly 65,000 square meters allocated for the hospital will include several annexes among them residential units, gardens and car parks. Meantime, Maliki has allowed the University of Babel in Hilla to add a former army camp to its campus. The university is to build a hostels for its students there as well as a veterinary college.

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Strikes in Mosul over fuel shortages

(Azzaman) Taxi and bus drivers are staging a strike in the northern city of Mosul over fuel shortages. The strike has almost brought life to a standstill in the city home to nearly two million people. Drivers taking part in the strike said they had not received their share of subsidized petrol for more than a month.
Iraq’s fuel crisis started shortly after the U.S. invasion and has since aggravated and is felt across the country. Fuel is extremely hard to get and the scanty quantities available in the spot market are beyond the reach of the majority of Iraqis.
The head of the transport union in the Province of Nineveh of which Mosul is the capital said the drivers went on strike without telling the union. “Nonetheless, we support them and will offer whatever it needs to have their demands satisfied,” said Shafaa Taha, the transport union chief. He accused the local authorities of failing to honor promises to provide drivers with the fuel they need.
“Most private factories in Mosul are idle for lack of fuel and as result a great number of workers are without jobs, exacerbating unemployment,” he said. A source at the State Company for Oil Products in the north said Mosul has been without fuel supplies for over a month. He aid the city needed one million liters of gasoline a day and 700 tons of liquefied gas. The refinery complex in Baiji, north of Baghdad, used to supply the city with its fuel needs. But the source alleged that corruption and mismanagement were preventing the complex from working “properly”. “The refinery is under the influence of a mafia-like gang which controls production and distribution,”
he said.

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Audit - $10 billion squandered on reconstruction

(AP) About $10 billion has been squandered by the U.S. government on Iraq reconstruction aid because of contractor overcharges and unsupported expenses, and federal investigators warned Thursday that significantly more taxpayer money is at risk.
The three top auditors overseeing work in Iraq told a House committee their review of $57 billion in Iraq contracts found that Defense and State department officials condoned or allowed repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for shoddy work or work never done. More than one in six dollars charged by U.S. contractors were questionable or unsupported, nearly triple the amount of waste the Government Accountability Office estimated last fall.
The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) identified over $90 million in questioned and unsupported costs when auditing Parsons, who hold contracts to the value of over $2.2 billion for reconstruction. An additional $2.7 billion was questioned under Halliburton's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) and Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO). Halliburton hold contracts to the approximate value of $25.7 billion.
So far, the Bush administration has spent more than $350 billion on the Iraq war and reconstruction effort.

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Iraq violence could lead to 1 million fleeing their homes

(AP) Unrelenting violence and insecurity in Iraq could cause as many as 1 million Iraqis to flee their homes this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday. "The numbers of people that are being displaced are increasing every day," said Jemini Pandaya, spokeswoman for the IOM. "The security situation is not improving. It's not changing." Pandaya said the organization's estimate was made "on the assumption that security conditions will continue much as they are."
The possibility of neighboring countries, such as Syria, closing their borders would mean even more of the displaced would only be able to get as far as other parts of Iraq. On Thursday, the U.N. refugee agency appealed to the European Union to do more to protect refugees fleeing Iraq, saying the war was the cause of the biggest displacement of people in the Middle East in recent history.
Washington announced it will allow about 7,000 Iraqis into the United States this year, up from 202 in 2006, and will pay more to help Iraq's neighbors cope with the surge of refugees. As the bloodshed in Iraq has increased, European governments have come under increasing pressure to open their doors to asylum-seekers. Many are worried that an escalation in violence in 2007 could generate a fresh wave of refugees. The U.N. appeal came as the EU announced it would contribute $13 million more for Iraqi refugees. About 60 percent will go to help those who have fled to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

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Talabani backs al-Sadr

Security, Politics
(RFE/RL) Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to have ordered senior officials of his Imam al-Mahdi Army militia to leave Iraq. Talabani said he believes al-Sadr supports new security operations launched in Iraq this week, and told his officials to leave the country in order to facilitate the security plan. The comments on February 15 came amid speculation that al-Sadr himself was in Iran. Talabani said he had no information on al-Sadr's whereabouts.

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Leader of al Qaeda in Iraq wounded

Insurgency, Security
UPDATE (AP) - A spokesman said Friday the U.S. military has no indication that the al-Qaida in Iraq leader was killed or wounded in a raid, while an Iraqi army officer said his deputy has been jailed for a week.
(Reuters) The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was wounded by Iraqi security forces in a clash north of Baghdad, two Interior Ministry sources said on Friday. A ministry spokesman quoted in a report by Iraq's state-run television Iraqiya and monitored by the BBC indicated that Masri had escaped the gunbattle on Thursday after being hurt.
But the two sources who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity declined to give details on Masri's whereabouts or say how security forces knew he had been wounded. They said a Masri aide had been killed in the clash, which one source said occurred when a group of al Qaeda militants were intercepted by Iraqi police while on their way to the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad. The U.S. military in Baghdad said they were unable to confirm the reports.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007


Mahdi Army commanders leave for Iran

(The Guardian) Senior commanders of the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have been spirited away to Iran to avoid being targeted in the new security push in Baghdad, a high-level Iraqi official told the Guardian yesterday. On the day the Iraqi government formally launched its crackdown on insurgents and amid disputed claims about the whereabouts of Mr Sadr, the official said the Mahdi army leadership had withdrawn across the border into Iran to regroup and retrain.
"Over the last three weeks, they [Iran] have taken away from Baghdad the first and second-tier military leaders of the Mahdi army," he said. The aim of the Iranians was to "prevent the dismantling of the infrastructure of the Shia militias" in the Iraqi capital - one of the chief aims of the US-backed security drive.
"The strategy is to lie low until the storm passes, and then let them return and fill the vacuum," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Tehran authorities were "playing a waiting game" until the commanders could return to Baghdad and resume their activities. "All indications are that Moqtada is in Iran, but that is not really the point," he added.
"They [the Iranians] are calculating that the security operation will continue for a certain period of time, and that it will do serious damage to the Sunni jihadists and the insurgents," the official said. "While in Iran they will be able to get more training and then once the Sunnis have been pacified, they plan to return."
The claims appeared to be partially confirmed in the holy city of Najaf, south of the capital, yesterday by a senior figure in the Mahdi army, Karim al-Moussawi. He said most of the militia leaders had gone to Iran, but on their own initiative.

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Iraq - Syria flights resume

Region, Travel
(VOI) Flights from Baghdad to Damascus have been resumed at Baghdad international airport after a two-week-stop, an airport source said on Thursday. "Two planes so far took off in flights from Baghdad international airport to Damascus after a two-week-stop," the source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Two weeks ago, fights from Baghdad to Damascus stopped for the Iraqi airways could not fulfill its financial commitments towards the Syrian aviation authorities. The source said "the Baghdad security plan in place now has nothing to do with suspending the flights to Syria as it includes only closing the land cross-points with Syria for 72 hours." "The flights schedule includes now a flight per day heading for Syria and it is expected to be doubled soon in view of the increased number of passengers," he added.

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Al-Maliki denies knowledge of arrest warrant for al-Sadr

Security, Politics
(Al Iraq news) Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki denied the existence of a judicial order out for arrest of Muqtada al-Sadr in the Baghdad security plan, that began yesterday. He referred to reports that Sadr has gone to Iran "illogical". Maliki said "There is no order for the arrest of Sayid Muqtada al-Sadr at the present time in relation with the Baghdad security plan". In a press conference in front of the Karbala Province administrative building, Maliki also referred to reports that Sadr has gone to Iran "illogical," saying the story was "unrealistic" and "couldn’t be accepted."
Some media claimed that an arrest order was out for al-Sadr in connection with the 2003 Najaf killing of Shi`a cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoei in the weeks following the US occupation of the country. Maliki denies these assertions as well, saying, "I have not heard of anything like this order, and if there is anything related to an arrest order for Sayyed Muqtada from other authorities . . . we have not heard of it."Iraqi lawmakers and officials loyal to al-Sadr categorically denied that he had left the country but refused to say where he was.

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Video of kidnapped American-Iraqi soldier found

(SITE) A posting to a Shi’ite jihadist forum, made in the name of a previously unknown Iraqi Shi’te insurgency group, Ahl al-Bayt Brigades, on February 13, 2007, contained a 10 second video showing abducted U.S. Army Sgt. Ahmed Qusai Altaie.
Sergeant Altaie, an Iraqi-American soldier serving as a translator for the U.S. military in Iraq, was declared “duty status whereabouts unknown” after he and a cousin were abducted in the Karrada neighborhood in central Baghdad on October 23, 2006. His cousin was later released. Sergeant Altaie is the nephew of Entifadh Qanbar, a former advisor to Ahmed Chalabi.
Though the video carries no audio, a document was also issued, in which the group states “we warn the American people of the result of sending their soldiers to Iraq so they don’t face the same fate…”

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'Operation Law and Order' ramps up in Baghdad

(Middle East Online) Iraqi and US forces cranked up their joint security plan for Baghdad on Thursday, with low-level runs by fighter jets screaming a message that Operation Law and Order was getting into gear. "Baghdad soldiers and Iraqi security forces increased their operational tempo in several areas of the Iraqi capital today," the US military said.
"Intelligence-focused searches accompanied by clearing operations were conducted by coalition and Iraqi security forces in multiple locations across Baghdad," said US army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Scott Bleichwehl. Since Wednesday, passes by combat aircraft have intensified, with fighter jets racing at low altitude along paths that criss-cross the Iraqi capital.
Three pairs of US Apache attack helicopters circled above the districts of Rusafa and Sadr City in eastern Baghdad around midday (0900 GMT) and numerous detonations were heard in the southeast of the capital.
An Iraqi defence source said operations were underway in northern, eastern and southern districts, including the predominantly Sunni area of Dura and the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.
Iraqi and US troops had not met resistence, the source added, while streets in Saduun, central Baghdad, were deserted. A resident near Tahariyat Square in the south of the capital said: "Iraqi troops entered businesses, warehouses, factories and homes, but US troops did not take part in the searches." Two car bombs struck successively in Dura, however, killing three people and wounding 15, a defence source said.
By May, eight Iraqi and US combat brigades are to join the fight against insurgents and rogue militia units that roam Baghdad pursuing a bitter sectarian war between Sunni and Shiite factions. A total of 85,000 troops are forecast for deployment in the Iraqi capital, and while US forces began their movements more than a week ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Wednesday that the security plan had now begun.
Targeted raids, cordon and searches and clearing operations were spearheads in a major assault "against extremist elements to deny them safe-haven," and 14 suspects were detained early Thursday, Bleichwehl said. "Increased security patrols also discovered four weapons caches," he said.

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Al A'skari warns politicians not to meddle in security plan

Security, Politics
(Al-Sabaah) MP Sami A'skari said that the first phase of the new security plan would be purely Iraqi and that the Commander of the plan would have absolute power. He added in a press statement that Liet. Gen. A'abud Qanbar wouldn’t allow leaders of political blocs to intervene in security forces' affairs, and stressed giving complete powers to the commanders of 10 areas in Baghdad about the same matter. A'skari mentioned that Prime Minister Noori Maliki warned political leaders not to intervene in the security plans and he ordered the Army's officers not to accept any orders from political parties.

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Bush clarifies Iran weapon statement

(CNN) President Bush said Wednesday that "a part of the Iranian government" is involved in sending deadly explosives into Iraq but acknowledged he didn't know whether top Iranian leaders were responsible. "What we do know is that the Quds Force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq," Bush said at a White House news conference, referring to a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. "We also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government." Bush insisted there was no contradiction between statements from his administration and the U.S. military.
The possible involvement of the Iranian government in sending weapons to Iraq has been a hot topic since unnamed military officials told journalists Sunday in Baghdad that Iran's Quds Force was providing munitions to Shiite groups in Iraq. The briefers said the Quds Forces answer directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and that orders for their operations come "from the highest levels of the government."
The officials displayed evidence of the armor-piercing explosives found in Iraq and said they have caused 170 coalition deaths. The weekend briefing generated much controversy, with bloggers, journalists and others questioning whether the military was trying to drum up public sentiment for a confrontation with Iran.
On Tuesday, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not go as far as assertions made during Sunday's briefing in Baghdad. During a trip to Australia, Pace told Voice of America, "It is clear that Iranians are involved and it is clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say, based on what I know, that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."
Also Wednesday, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad would not confirm recent military statements that Iran's leadership is directing the production of an armor-piercing explosive said to be supplied to extremists in Iraq. "I think people want to make an inference," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a briefing. "I think people want to hype this up. What we're saying is that in Iran ... munitions are being manufactured that are ending up in Iraq. We are asking the Iranian government for that to stop. It all boils down to that."

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Al-Askari - al-Sadr in Iran

(AP) An adviser to Iraq's prime minister said Thursday that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran, but denied he fled due to fear of arrest during an escalating security crackdown. Sami al-Askari said al-Sadr traveled to Iran by land "a few days ago," but gave no further details on how long he would stay in Iran. A member of al-Sadr's bloc in parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said al-Sadr left three weeks ago.
Al-Sadr, who is not believed to have visited Baghdad in more than two years, often drops out of public view for weeks or months at a time. He failed to turn up for a planned speech Monday in the southern city of Najaf, where he lives, and has not been seen in public since Jan. 3. He is believed to sleep in a different location every night to guard against attack. When al-Sadr preaches at a mosque in Kufa, a town near Najaf, his security officers send out decoy convoys to confuse would-be attackers. His main fear is said to be an attack by rival Shiites, but he is also worried about the Americans and assassins hired by Sunni religious extremists who consider Shiites to be heretics.
Al-Sadr's militia is widely believed to receive Iranian money and weapons, but his relations with Tehran are not as close as are those of some Kurdish and Shiite parties allied with the Americans. His top aides are mostly seminary students in their 30s and 40s who support him in part out of loyalty to his late father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr. Al-Sadr ensures that none of his top aides become too influential or stay in the media limelight for too long. He has had several spokesmen and chief political aides abruptly pushed aside after they spent months in the public eye. Some of these, fearing the wrath of al-Sadr or his hardcore supporters, go into hiding.

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Iraq considering Malaysian model for new constitution

(AP) Iraq is looking to ethnically diverse and harmonious Malaysia as a possible model for a new Iraqi constitution, an official was reported as saying Thursday. Hummam Hammoudi, the head of a committee considering amendments to the Iraqi constitution, made the comments during a dinner hosted by the northern state of Penang for visiting Iraqi lawmakers and U.N. officials, according to the report by Malaysia's national news agency Bernama.
Neither Hammoudi nor Iraqi embassy officials could be immediately reached to confirm his comments. Hammoudi's committee is studying how the constitution can be revised to foster peace and end sectarian strife.
Hammoudi is a Shiite lawmaker and cleric on the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which makes up the largest party in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ruling coalition. Hammoudi's 29-member committee is dominated by 12 members from the Shiite bloc. The others are Kurds, Sunnis, other minorities and secularists.
The panel is expected to propose the amendments by mid-May. A national referendum will be held on the changes after they are approved by a majority vote in the 275-member legislature.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Iraqi media round-up

Maliki: Iraqi Media Network should work for all
(Al-Sabaah al-Jadeed) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged the Iraqi Media Network, the country’s official news service, to reject sectarianism and teach Iraqis about national reconciliation. Receiving the director general of the network, Habeeb al-Sadr, al-Maliki urged the organization work for all Iraqis. (Al-Sabah is a daily independent publicly owned newspaper, Iraq’s official news service.)

First Anniversary of Samarra Bombing
(Al-Bayan) At a commemoration on the first anniversary of the bombings of the Holy Shrine in Samarra, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the road from Baghdad to Samarra would not reopen for another two months because security forces meant to be guarding the road were still being trained. The bombing triggered a surge in ethnic violence throughout the country. Interior Minister Jawad al-Boolani said his ministry would provide protection to companies rebuilding the shrine. (Al-Bayan is issued four times a week by the Islamic Dawa Party, chaired by Vice-President Ibrahim al-Jafari.)

Syria: Situation in Iraq “Very Dangerous”
(Azzaman) Syria’s foreign minister Waleed al-Mualim called the situation in Iraq very dangerous and complicated at a press conference attended by Arab League Secretary General Amr Mosa. He also said that Iraqis could only resolve their problems through political means that encouraged unity, a schedule for the withdrawal of foreign armies and the strengthening of Iraq’s armed forces. (London-based Azzaman is issued daily by Saad al-Bazaz.)

Tribal Leaders Denounce Terrorism
(Al-Mada) Tribal leaders of Najaf said they rejected their members who supported terrorists in the city. The 500 leaders denounced violence in a vast meeting held in Najaf and attended by Governor Asaad Abu Gulal and other officials. They also said they backed the government in its fight against terrorisms throughout Iraq. (Al-Mada is issued daily by Al-Mada institution for Media, Culture and Arts.)

Politicians Agree on Return of Displaced
(Al-Ittihad) Baghdad’s security plan is also a strategy to rebuild the country, develop human and economic resources and improve public services, said Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi during a visit with the governor of Diwaniya province in south-central Iraq. Mahdi also said that all political blocs supported the return of displaced families to their homes. (Al-Ittihad is published daily by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.)


DNO to extract oil from Tawke well in March

(Kurdish Media) Norwegian oil company Den Norske Oljeslkep says that the first oil from the company's Tawke well in Kurdistan is on target to be extracted by the end of March this year. Major international oil companies have hesitated to become involved in Kurdistan whose ultimate relationship to Baghdad has yet to be resolved leaving the ground to a few smaller concerns such as DNO who are seizing opportunities such as Tawke that is estimated to contain 100 million barrels of oil.
For its 55 per cent stake in the venture, the Norwegian firm is undertaking to meet all costs of its production sharing agreement including installation of pipelines and central processing facilities increased its investment. The contract has yet to be endorsed in Baghdad, and while the Kurdish north and central government argue over oil licenses an even bigger issue is looming with regard to Kirkuk and its adjoining major oilfields.

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Video released of Iraqi-American soldier

(AP) A Shiite militant group has released a video of an Iraqi-American soldier who was kidnapped nearly four months ago while visiting his wife in downtown Baghdad, an American television network reported Wednesday. The U.S. government has offered a $50,000 reward leading to the recovery of Iraqi-born American Army translator Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old reserve soldier from Ann Arbor, Mich., who was abducted by gunmen on Oct. 23.
The video was broadcast by CNN and it was unclear when it was made. Al-Taayie's uncle identified him from the video, the network said. The Associated Press could not immediately find the video in a search of militant Web sites.

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al-maliki announces security plan, security forces step up presence in Baghdad

(Voices of Iraq, AFP) Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Tuesday that the Baghdad police commander is expected to announce the details of the new security plan to be applied in the Iraqi capital. Maliki, who is currently on a visit to the university in Babel province, 100 km south of Baghdad, to meet with the officials and teaching staff, said "the plan will be in effect this week."
He indicated that "there would be no curfews and life will be normal and people may practice their activities normally." There, however, will be wide-scale deployment of police forces in the streets to maintain security ins the capital, added Maliki.

More security forces were deployed in the Iraqi capital Baghdad as a number of main streets in the area of al-Rasafa were sealed off on Tuesday morning, eyewitnesses said. "Security forces set up checkpoints on most of the main roads in Rasafa and bridges suffered traffic congestions due to the numerous barricades," an eyewitness told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
U.S. warplanes kept hovering in the skies of Baghdad since Monday night and until Tuesday morning, the eyewitness added. Baghdad has been witnessing wide-scale deployments of Iraqi army and police forces backed by armored vehicles on the main roads since last week in a measure preceding the enforcement of a security plan, codenamed Order Imposing.
Al-Maliki denied charges that the plan would favour either Sunni or Shiite factions, insisting that it would target armed extremists from either camp."There will be no safe haven for outlaws even in holy places, because human life is holier. We will drive out all those trespassing on the dignity of man." On Tuesday, Lieutenant General Abboud Gambar appeared on television to warn: "All those who breach the terms of this decree will be judged under the law on terrorism."
The first measure announced was the closure of Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria, both of which have been accused of allowing weapons and extremists to enter the country. A senior Iraqi security official said the frontiers were closed late Tuesday. Three crossing points to Syria and four to Iran will reopen after 72 with reinforced security measures. Others will stay shut indefinitely.
In addition, weapons permits will be suspended for everyone in Baghdad except Iraqi and US-led security forces and registered private security firms. The city's nightly curfew will also be lengthened. Gambar will command a combined police and military force and be empowered to crack down on rogue security force units in the capital. The decree authorises him to "impose necessary restrictions in all public places and centres and clubs and organisations and unions and businesses and institutions and offices to protect citizens and people who work.
"Searches will be done on public streets, and precautionary measures will be applied on packages, mail, messages and communications and telecommunications equipment," Gambar said, reading the decree. "Security forces will be authorised to block or search public or private property ... (and) will have the right to impose travel restrictions on individuals or vehicles," he added. Iraqis living in housing belonging to displaced persons will be given two weeks to leave or face eviction, he warned.

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Abdulmahdi shows Sistani security plan

Security, Politics
(Al-Sabaah) Grand Ayatollah Mr. Ali Sistani received a message from Prime Minister Noori Maliki delivered by the vice president, Dr. A'adel Abdulmahdi, a source accompanying Abdulmahdi said. He added that the vice president showed Sistani the governmental preparations to execute a security plan and its resolution to provide services for citizens simultaneously with its progress on the plan. This indicated the Government's effort to gain the cleric's support for the plan before launching its first step.

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Al-Zawahiri says U.S. troop surge is bound to fail

(Al Jazeera) Al-Qaeda's deputy leader has described the US plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq as a gamble that is bound to fail. In an audio tape posted on the internet on Tuesday, Ayman al-Zawahiri also criticised the Democratic Party for not changing US policies.
"[Bush's] addiction to gambling ... motivates him to continue to place losing bets until he goes completely bankrupt," he said. "Were the Americans to leave [Bush] alone, he would continue to send their forces to Iraq until the Mujahideen kill the last one of their soldiers." Al-Zawahiri's statement was transcribed on the website of the SITE Institute, a US private organisation that tracks Islamists' use of the internet. It was not immediately possible to authenticate the statement.

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Possible war over Kirkuk

(AP) While the world focuses on Baghdad's security, a series of bombings in Kirkuk may be the long-feared start of a second deadly war in Iraq -- this one between Kurds and Arabs, both with claims on a territory atop one of the world's largest oil reserves. If the escalating violence in Kirkuk erupts into all-out fighting between heavily armed Kurdish and Arab groups, it could spark a wider conflict involving Turkey or Iran. That risk puts the United States in a bind, caught between ally Turkey, which is on the side of Arabs and ethnic Turkomen here, and the Kurds, another strong U.S. ally.
The issue is coming to a head because of a provision in the Iraqi constitution that calls for a referendum by year's end on Kirkuk's future. Arabs and Turkomen, backed by Turkey, want to put the vote off -- worried about Kurdish dominance and more violence if the referendum is held and Kurds win. But Kurds are determined to press ahead. They deny it's because of the black gold in the ground.
In the past two weeks, the city 180 miles north of Baghdad has suffered a wave of bombings, including six car bombs on one day alone. One targeted a main Kurdish political organization. Another bomb this week seriously wounded a Kurdish teacher. Some Kurds claim that Sunni Arab groups with al-Qaida links are now operating here, but Turkomen and Arabs also have been hit by violence.
The dispute centers on whether this ancient city should become part of the semi-independent Kurdish zone in northeast Iraq, or remain as it is, part of broader Iraq, governed by the Arab-led coalition government in Baghdad. The referendum, whose date has not been agreed upon, would settle that by asking residents which they preferred.
Unlike in Baghdad, in Kirkuk there are sharp lines between the warring sides, a legacy of a battle for dominance here that predates the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Chillingly, each side has increased its warnings that it is armed and ready to fight. Kurds, in particular, have well-armed, highly trained peshmerga militias with years of experience fighting in the past conflicts of northern Iraq. But Arabs too say they are ready to fight. "We tell the Kurdish political parties to have a clear understanding, that if they try to make Kirkuk a part of Iraqi Kurdistan, then war is coming here," warned Sheik Abdul Rahman Munshid, a Sunni Arab leader. Munshid's neighborhood is known for its links to Saddam's loyalists and Sunni insurgents, some with al-Qaida links, according to residents.
A powerful ally of the Arabs are the Turkomen, a minority in Iraq concentrated in the north. They accuse Kurds of intimidation bombings and kidnappings against them. They say that by resettling their people, the Kurds are changing the city's ethnic balance and taking away Arabs' and Turkomen's voting rights. "If Kirkuk goes to Kurdistan, we will fight. I will fight," warned Ali Mehdi Sadiq, a representative of the Turkomen. Such a war, he warns, "will bring in other countries in the region, Turkey and Iran. They care about what happens here."
American experts agree that the referendum carries high risks. The U.S. Iraq Study Group, the panel led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, said in its report in December that "given the very dangerous situation in Kirkuk ... a referendum on the future of Kirkuk would be explosive and should be delayed." So far, President Bush's administration has not supported canceling or delaying the vote. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has warned Turkey against interference.
So far, Turkey has held its fire, despite what is says are frequent provocations. Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish independence movement within its borders and has faced harassing attacks by Kurdish guerrillas, aided by allies who cross the border from Iraq. Turkey and Iran also fear an economic boom in Iraq's Kurdish region. Should Iraqi Kurds gain control over the Kirkuk oil fields, it could embolden and finance the Kurds inside their own countries to push harder for autonomy. Kirkuk has six oil fields containing one of Iraq's largest oil reserves of about 8 billion barrels.
Both Iran and Turkey have sent additional troops to their borders this year, and fights between Kurdish guerrillas and Iranian security forces also are up. There are no accurate figures of the numbers of Kurds to return to Kirkuk in the last three years, but estimates range as high as 300,000. Most believe Kurds are now a majority here. The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the city.

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U.S. helicopter was shot down

(AP) A Sea Knight helicopter that crashed last week northwest of Baghdad was shot down, the U.S. military said Wednesday, reversing earlier statements that it appeared to have been due to mechanical failure. The Marine CH-46 troop transport went down northwest of Baghdad on Feb. 7, killing all seven people on board, and an al-Qaida-linked Sunni group claimed responsibility and aired a video.
At least seven U.S. helicopters have crashed or been forced down under hostile fire since Jan. 20. In the wake of the recent crashes, U.S. officials have said they were reviewing flight operations and tactics but maintain there is no evidence of sophisticated new weapons used in any of the latest attacks. Wednesday's statement raised to five that were known to have been shot down. Two private security company helicopters also have crashed but the cause was unclear.
The military statement declined to comment on insurgents weapons' capabilities or tactics to counter them, citing security concerns. The Islamic State in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iraqi insurgent groups that includes al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for downing the helicopter and issued an Internet video on Feb. 9 it said was proof. The group also claimed the recent downings of two other U.S. helicopters.
COMMENT: More helicopters are being successfully shot down by insurgents than in previous years indicating that insurgent groups have obtained more advanced anti-aircraft systems and / or become more adept at handling them. This is likely to increase, making air movement more dangerous than before. COMMENT ENDS.

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Where is Muqtada al-Sadr?

Politics, Security
(AP) Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to be in Tehran, where he has family, a U.S. official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. monitoring activities. The official said fractures in al-Sadr's political and militia operations may be part of the reason for his departure. The move is not believed to be permanent, the official said. However, Associates of Muqtada al-Sadr insist that he has not left the country in advance of a security crackdown.
A close aide who meets regularly with him said al-Sadr was not in Tehran. The aide said the U.S. report probably stems from a campaign by al-Sadr's people to put out false information about his movements amid fears he will be detained by U.S.-led forces. The cleric also is sleeping in different places each night, the aide said. An official in al-Sadr's main office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf said the cleric had decided not to appear publicly during the current month of Muharam, one of four holy months in the Islamic calendar. Lawmaker Nassar al-Rubaie, head of Sadrist bloc in parliament, also denied the U.S. report.
The U.S. official said it is not clear how firmly the radical Shiite cleric is controlling his organization and the associated Mahdi Army militia. "The question for us is to what extent his organization is going to participate in the political process," the official said, referring to al-Sadr's on-again, off-again relationship with the fragile democratic government in Baghdad. Al-Sadr's militia is widely seen as the main threat to Iraq's unity and high on the list of targets for the Baghdad security operation. U.S. officials have for months pressed Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to move against the militia, but he has so far done little to comply, largely because he does not want to lose al-Sadr's support.
Two key members of al-Sadr's political and military organization were gunned down last week, the latest of as many as seven key figures in the al-Sadr organization killed or captured in the past two months. The deaths and captures came after al-Maliki, also a Shiite, dropped his protection for the organization.

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Saudi envoy criticises Iraqi politicians

Politics, Security
(RFE/RL) Prince Turki al-Faysal, former Saudi ambassador to Washington and chairman of the King Faysal Center for Islamic Research and Studies, told London-based "Al-Hayat" that sectarian violence in Iraq harms Arab and Muslim states, the daily reported on February 11. "All of us will be affected by the increase in any sectarian escalation in the region," he said. Regarding sectarian violence, al-Faysal said: "What is happening in Iraq today is not a sectarian war, as much as it is a political war that dons the garb of sectarianism. The fact is they are politicians who want to achieve political aims and objectives by using a sect, be it Sunni or Shi'ite, or by using ethnicity, be it Arab or Kurdish, and here lies the danger: that the sect or ethnicity becomes the instrument through which politicians aspire to achieve their goals."

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Iraq to close borders with Syria and Iran

(Reuters) - Iraq announced plans on Tuesday to close its borders with Iran and Syria and lengthen a night curfew on vehicles in new emergency measures to try to curb unrelenting violence in Baghdad. The measures were unveiled during another day of bloodshed in the capital in which a suicide bomber blew up a truck rigged with explosives near a Baghdad college, killing 18 people just a day after bomb blasts ripped apart two crowded city markets.
They are the clearest sign yet from Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that an offensive against militants who are tearing Iraq apart is picking up pace. Speaking on Iraqiya state television, the official in charge of the crackdown, Lieutenant-General Abboud Qanbar, said the borders with Iran and Syria would be shut for 72 hours. He did not say when, but a government official said an announcement would be made when the frontiers had been closed.
Qanbar said other measures included confiscating illegal weapons and explosives, imposing restrictions on the movement of vehicles and individuals and setting up checkpoints in the city. In addition, "all patrols of the ministries of defense and interior would have to identify themselves, otherwise security forces will deal with them as outlaw forces," he said.
The new measures are on top of emergency powers already granted to Maliki by parliament. U.S. military officials say the Baghdad crackdown is in its early stages and that it will take months to peak. Previous attempts to halt bombings and death squad killings in the capital have failed. Indeed, critics say it is too little, too late, while weary Iraqis question whether the plan can end the threat of all-out civil war between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs. Qanbar gave no reason for the border moves, but American and Iraqi officials have accused Syria of not doing enough to stop alleged foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq.

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Islamic State of Iraq accuses media of incorrect reporting

(MEMRI) A communiqué by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), posted February 13, 2007 on Islamist websites, accuses satellite channels of deliberately avoiding any mention of the ISI in their reports, and of attributing ISI operations to Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The message stresses that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has become part of the ISI army, which now includes many groups - Jaysh Al-Islam, Jaysh Al-Mujahideen, Jaysh Al-Fatihin, Jaysh Ansar Al-Sunna, Kataib Al-'Ishrin, and 'Asaib Al-Iraq, as well as other groups that were part of Majlis Shura Al-Mujahideen.
The communiqué further states that following the ISI's establishment, all these groups pledged allegiance to its leader, Emir Al-Muaminin (Commander of the Believers) Al-Baghdadi. The message concludes by calling on the satellite channels to follow the rules of professional news reporting and stop distorting the truth.

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Hospitals not safe

(IRIN) Iraqi troops, US-led coalition forces and insurgents are all guilty of breaking Geneva conventions that govern the neutrality of hospitals, say health specialists. The increasing risk of being shot or arrested in a hospital in Iraq is preventing ordinary citizens from seeking medical attention.
"The Geneva convention states that a hospital is and should remain neutral and accessible to everybody, particularly civilians. Yet, when it's occupied by armed groups or official forces, people would not have this free and humanitarian access," said Cedric Turlan, information officer for the NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq (NCCI). Turlan said that hospitals are getting caught in the midst of violent clashes between insurgents and US or Iraqi troops, and between Sunni and Shia militias. In the course of these battles, ambulances are sometimes destroyed or confiscated and entire hospitals, particularly in the restive Anbar province, are taken over by a particular armed group - whether official or non-official.
The Geneva convention states that a hospital is and should remain neutral and accessible to everybody, particularly civilians. This is deterring patients from seeking medical help in hospitals and is making the provision of health care an almost impossible task, say specialists.



Iraqi media round-up

Shia-Sunni Grouping Call for Return of Displaced
(Al-Mada) During a recent meeting held in the city, the Sadrist current, Sunni Endowment and the Islamic Party called for Sunni mosques to reopen and Sunni displaced families to return to Basra. The groups pledged that security would be provided to Sunni interests. A joint Sunni-Shia committee was formed to follow-up on these promises, said Sheikh Adnan al-Silani, who is in charge of tribal affairs and public gatherings for the Sadr office in Basra. The two sides recently held a conference on Sunni-Shia brotherhood during which they pledged to end sectarian violence in the city. (Al-Mada is issued daily by the Al-Mada Institution for Media, Culture, and Arts.)

Implementation of Security Plan
(al-Sabah al-Jadeed) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that a plan to impose the rule of law would be implemented gradually until it reached its conclussion this week. He said that it would be in force in all neighborhoods at the same time and denied reports that there were disagreements over its implementation in some areas. He also said that according to the plan, displaced families would be returned and their affairs seen to. (Al-Sabah is a daily, publicly-owned newspaper.)

Human Rights Curriculum Included in All Schools
(Tareek al-Shaab) A source in the human rights ministry said that minister Wijdan Michael had met with a joint committee made up of representatives from the education, higher education, environment and interior ministries to discuss the implementation of a human right curriculum in schools. The human rights ministry, established after the fall of the Saddam regime, has been trying to add human rights issues to curriculum and educate security forces about human rights. (Tareek al-Shaab is issued by the Iraqi Communist Party.)

Plans to Address Pollution and Cleaner Environment
(Al-Mashriq) Environment minister Nermeen Osman announced the formation of a consultancy board to clean up the environment and to reduce pollution in the country. She added that this move came as part of the ministerial council’s instructions to monitor pollution in drinking water and soil, and address industrial and oil pollution. The board will work with neighbouring countries by exchanging information and guaranteeing international funds to make the projects a successs. (Al-Mashriq is published daily by Al-Mashriq Institution for Media and Cultural Investments.)


Insurgents in Iraq using sniper rifles sold to Iran by Austria

(Daily Telegraph) Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned. The Steyr HS50 is a long range, high precision rifle. More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids. The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year.
The sale was condemned in Washington and London because officials were worried that the weapons would be used by insurgents against British and American troops. Within 45 days of the first HS50 Steyr Mannlicher rifles arriving in Iran, an American officer in an armoured vehicle was shot dead by an Iraqi insurgent using the weapon.
Over the last six months American forces have found small caches of the £10,000 rifles but in the last 24 hours a raid in Baghdad brought the total to more than 100, US defence sources reported. The find is the latest in a series of discoveries that indicate that Teheran is providing support to Iraq's Shia insurgents. They said 170 American and British soldiers had been killed by such weapons.
The Foreign Office expressed "serious concerns" over the sale of the rifles last year and Britain protested to the Austrian government. The rifle can pierce all body armour from up to a mile and penetrate armoured Humvee troop carriers. It is highly accurate and fires a round called an armour piercing incendiary, a bullet that the Iranians manufacture.
The National Iranian Police Organisation bought the rifles allegedly to use them against drug smugglers in an £8 million order placed with Steyr in 2005. The company was given permission to export them by the Austrian government, which is not a Nato member.

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Peshmerga deployed to Baghdad for security plan

(Gulf News) Kurdish troops are being deployed in Baghdad in a process that is expected to conclude this week, while three Kurdish military brigades are heading from Kurdistan territory to Baghdad, Kurdish military officials confirmed yesterday. Shaikh Ja'afar Al Barazanji, Kurdistan Peshmargas forces minister, confirmed Kurdish brigades have been sent to take part in the new Baghdad security plan, they will be under the authority of the central government Iraqi army commander. "Kurdish brigades are well-trained to fight inside cities and neighbourhoods, and they will contribute vigorously in cleansing Baghdad's suburbs of armed men and outlaws," he told Gulf News.
The growing role of the Kurdish Peshmergas forces inside the Iraqi capital might be considered reassuring to the strong Sunni political forces which accused Iraqi forces of affiliation to Shiite political parties and involvement in sectarian violence against Sunni neighbourhoods during the previous security plans. Also, the US forces distrust the Iraqi Interior Ministry troops which are accused of allegiance to Shiite armed militias and Iran. It was also said that enhancing Kurdish military coexistence in Baghdad is a US request.
Citizens of Adhamyia, the Sunni neighbourhood in Baghdad which has been besieged by Iraqi-American troops told Gulf News that Kurdish forces from the Iraqi army are participating with US troops in enclosing the neighbourhood which is believed to include Sunni armed men. Amer Al Hussaini, a prominent figure in the Shiite Sadr group, told Gulf News: "Some Kurdish forces are seen stationed in some entrances of the Sadr Shiite neighbourhood."
The Kurdish Peshmergas forces which most of the Iraqi army brigades are formed from, stationed in Dohuk, Arbil and Suleiymaniya, amount to 80,000. This might rise to 120,000 because of the escalation of security threats in Baghdad and also Turkey's threats to the federal Kurdistan region regarding ownership of Kirkuk. The parliament in Kurdistan is witnessing disagreement on the issue of sending Kurdish brigades to Baghdad amid strong pressure from Kurdish clans, who do not want their sons to be involved in the sectarian bloody quagmire.

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Iraqi embassy re-opens in Riyadh

(Voices of Iraq) Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari arrived on Monday in the Saudi capital Riyadh for re-opening the Iraqi embassy there, Saudi TV said. "Zibari will meet his Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faysal and other officials on the latest developments in Iraq and the region" the TV added. The Iraqi embassy in Riyadh was closed in 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi-Saudi ties were resumed after a visit by the former Iraqi Prime Minster to Saudi Arabia in July 2004.

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World Bank to support electricity sector in Iraq

(Voices of Iraq) The Iraqi government said on Monday the world Bank adopted a program to support the electricity sector in Iraq. "Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed in a meeting with the World Bank director, currently on a visit to Baghdad, the necessary means for the Bank to support Iraq in view of the international pact with Iraq," a Prime Minister's office said in a statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
The statement added "the arrangements to activate a $500 million loan to Iraq were also dealt with in the meeting." The World bank also adopted a program to support the electricity sector in Iraq, the statement said. The statement added "the Iraqi Prime Minister appreciated the stands by the World Bank and other international organizations that contributed to lend support to Iraq."

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Four detention centres handed over to Justice Ministry

(Voices of Iraq) A Human Rights Ministry senior official said on Monday the responsibility for running four detention centers were handed over to the Iraqi Justice Ministry. "The Justice Ministry started to run four Iraqi detention centers that were previously run by the ministries of Defense and Interior," a senior official, who asked not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
The official who did not say when the transfer of responsibility occurred expressed "the preparedness of the Justice Ministry to run all the prisons and detention centers now under Interior and Defense ministries responsibility." He said "the transfer that occurred was intended to avoid any human rights abuses against the inmates and to accelerate referring the detainees to courts of law to look into the charges directed against them."
Last week, the Iraqi Human Rights minister Wijdan Michael called upon the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to place the responsibility of running all detention centers under the Justice Ministry to prevent human rights abuses. In Iraq, there are still detention centers and prisons that run by U.S. forces apart from those run by the Iraqi authorities.

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Iraq govt - different stand on Iran to U.S.

Security, Politics, Region
(Asharq Alawsat) The Iraqi Government has affirmed that there is a clear US position towards Iran and that this position does not necessarily reflect that of its government. Maryam al-Rayyis, the Prime Minister's adviser on foreign relations, said the Iraqi Government and people have deep respect for neighboring countries, including them Iran. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone to comment on the US accusations against Iran, Al-Rayyis said, "We should separate between the Iraqi Government's stand toward Iran and the American one. The Iraqi Government does not want to be a party in the conflict between this and that country."
On its part, representatives of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr denied receiving any backing or support from Iran. Nassar al-Rubay'i, the spokesman for Al-Sadr bloc in Iraq's parliament, asserted that the Al-Sadr group has no knowledge of any support that Iran gives to any party or armed group in Iraq.
However, Kurdish Deputy Mahmud Uthman did not rule out Iran's support for the Shiite militias in Iraq and said: "There is no doubt that Iran is backing the Shiite militias. They are bound together by old ties." He explained however in a telephone contact with Asharq al-Awsat that the United States has its reasons for these statements, is in dispute with Iran, and "is pinning the reasons of its failure in Iraq on Iran, Syria, and the Iraqi Government." Regarding the presence of sophisticated weapons that the armed groups have started to use in their fight against the American forces in Iraq, the Kurdish deputy said that these did not necessarily come from Iran since the gunmen "can bring them from any other sources like Syria or the former Iraqi army."

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UNHCR appeals for $60 million for Iraqi refugee crisis

(AP) The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and Arab countries are struggling to absorb a flood of Iraqis fleeing the violence in their country. A look at the problem:
Overall, an estimated 3.8 million Iraqis have either fled the country or fled their homes and gone to other parts of Iraq, according to the U.N. Syria, which has taken in an estimated 1 million Iraqis, has just imposed new restrictions that could curb the flow of Iraqis into its territory in future. It was the last Arab country to take in large numbers. Jordan and Egypt, with 700,000 and 130,000 Iraqis respectively, had already previously signaled they would take no more Iraqis.
The U.N. estimates 40,000 to 50,000 people flee Iraq each month and have dwindling options of where to go. The U.N. classifies most Iraqis as having only "temporary protection status," rather than as permanent refugees - presumably because it assumes most will return to Iraq after the fighting ends.
This month, the Geneva-based UNHCR made an emergency appeal for $60 million to help fleeing Iraqis. The UNHCR said it hopes to permanently resettle this year up to 20,000 Iraqis who it considers the most vulnerable, including women, children, survivors of torture, the seriously ill and minorities. The United States has taken in 466 Iraqis since 2003, including 202 last year.

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Monday, February 12, 2007


U.S. helicopters increasingly targeted

(LATimes) An Army pilot said Sunday that enemy fire hit at least 17 U.S. helicopters a month in Iraq but that flying time for troops was growing because of the risks of road travel. Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, briefing reporters after a spate of helicopter crashes blamed on hostile fire, said pilots were dealing with a "knowledgeable, thinking enemy" and that investigators were looking into the possibility that two recent helicopter shoot-downs were the work of the same group. At least five U.S. helicopters have crashed since Jan. 20, and witnesses north of Baghdad, in Taji, said they had seen another helicopter go down Sunday. Military officials in the capital said they had no reports of the incident, which, if confirmed, would be the third helicopter crash in 10 days.
Because of roadside ambushes, U.S. helicopter usage in Iraq rose from 240,000 flying hours in 2005 to 334,000 in 2006, Simmons said. This year, pilots are expected to fly more than 400,000 hours. Army pilots alone are involved in about 100 incidents per month of enemy fire, with about 17 resulting in direct hits on aircraft, Simmons said. Since the war began, he said, the Army has lost 29 helicopters, all to enemy fire. He did not have figures for the other branches of the military. Despite the clear danger, he said, there were no plans to scale back flights.


Iraqi media round-up

Talabani Thanks Sadrists
(Al-Mada) President Jalal Talabani held a meeting with the Sadrist movement parliamentary deputy Salam al-Maliki to discuss latest political developments and efforts to maintain security and stability in Iraq. Talabani expressed his appreciation of the Sadrists support for the security plan and their efforts to enhance and strengthen the government. Talabani also met Ahmad al-Chalabi to talk about the practicalities of the plan. (Al-Mada is issued daily by the Al-Mada Institution for Media, Culture, and Arts.)

Anger at Kirkuk Arab Resettlement Plan
(Azzaman) Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk have dismissed a decision by local authorities to return Arabs there to central and southern parts of Iraq. Hundreds of Shia and Sunni Arabs and Turkmen demonstrated against the move, carrying slogans rejecting what they see as efforts to divide the country. Head of the Sadr office in Kirkuk Raad al-Sarkhi said that his movement was opposed to the removal of Shia Arabs who had lived there for three decades. He added that the Sadrists were against any moves to destroy national unity. Meanwhile, the head of the supreme commission for refugees said that the displacement of four million Iraqis, forced to leave their home because of the escalation in sectarian violence, constituted a real humanitarian disaster. (London-based Azzaman is issued daily by Saad al-Bazaz.)

Government Transparency
(Al-Taakhi) Kurdistan Alliance parliamentary deputy Abdullah Salih Abdullah called for greater government transparency, in particular the disclosure of all documents that did not deal with Iraqi national security issues. He urged the authorities to mobilise the public against any country that tried to worsen the situation here, accusing Syria in particular of backing the opposition. He called for the closure of the Syrian border with the start of the Baghdad security plan. (Al-Taakhi is issued daily by the Kurdistan Democratic Party.)

Baghdad Database to Assist Security Plan
(Tareek al-Shaab) The Baghdad provincial council's security committee held a meeting to discuss the implementation of the new security plan and the role of the council in making it a success. Council member Majid al-Shuwaili said the security committee possessed a database about Baghdad that might help the security forces to successfully carry out the plan. (Tareek al-Shaab is issued by the Iraqi Communist Party.)


Missing Germans believed to be kidnapped

(AP) Two Germans have been missing in Iraq for almost a week, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier confirmed on Monday. "We cannot rule out that it was a kidnapping by force," he told reporters at an EU meeting in Brussels. "Of course we hope there is going to be a good outcome on this and needless to say we are doing all that we can to ensure that ... it ends well."
Steinmeier said the two had been missing since Feb. 6, adding that a special crisis panel within the German foreign ministry had been set up to work on their release. He declined to give further details and did not identify the two. The Berliner Morgenpost newspaper reported in its Monday editions that the two apparently were kidnapped in Baghdad some days ago. Three Germans previously taken hostage in Iraq were released unharmed. Last May, two German engineers were freed after 99 days in captivity in Iraq. Another German was released after three weeks in December 2005.


Islamic Group of Kurdistan official arrested

Politics, Security
(VOI) A force of three Hummer vehicles raided the house of a member of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and arrested him, an official source at the group's political bureau said on Sunday. "An unidentified armed force raided the house of Hedayet Aziz, arrested him and took him to an unknown place," Aram Qader told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Qader said the group is contacting the government and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to get an explanation. He said his group does not know the identity of the raiding force but eyewitnesses affirmed members of this force were speaking both Kurdish and Arabic. A security official in Sulaymaniya ruled out that the raiding force was American, telling VOI "the force seemed like the anti-terrorism squad, which belongs to the Iraqi Kurdistan region's government."


Parliament criticises arrest of deputy health minister

(Azzaman) The parliament has harshly criticized the arrest by a joint U.S. and Iraqi force of the deputy health minister on Thursday. Parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani described the arrests as “a violation … of Iraqi sovereignty”. He said so long as Iraqi sovereignty was “dented” due to U.S. practices, the government will have no integrity in the eyes of the Iraqi people. The speaker made the comments following a speech by Health Minister Ali al-Shamari who had gone to the parliament to explain the circumstances of his deputy’s arrest.
The deputy minister, Hakim al-Zamili, is a key member of the political group led by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr whose group is in control of the health ministry, among others. He was reported to have aided Sadr’s militias known as ‘Madhi Army’ by allowing them to use ambulances to move weapons.


Saddam's vice president sentenced to death

(AP) An Iraqi court on Monday raised the sentence against Saddam Hussein's vice president to death by hanging for the killings of Shiites in the town of Dujail. The decision had been expected after an appeals court ruled that Taha Yassin Ramadan's previous sentence of life in prison was too lenient. Saddam, his half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were sent to the gallows in the case.


U.S. accuses Iran of arming insurgents in Iraq

(RFE/RL, Agencies) Unnamed senior U.S. defense officials say Iranian-built bombs smuggled into Iraq have killed at least 170 U.S. and allied soldiers since June 2004 and wounded 620 others. The allegations were made yesterday at a background briefing in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. Three coalition officials met reporters to point the finger at the Al-Qods Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, part of Tehran's elite forces accused of links with foreign militants.
One official said the "Qods Force arms extremists and insurgents to carry out terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare." He also said the "Qods Force provides advice, training and weapons to proxy forces in Iraq." The men spoke on condition of anonymity for their security. Reporters were issued with a disc containing photographs of alleged Iranian weapons seized in Iraq showing manufacturing dates in late 2006.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini rejected the claims saying, "Such accusations cannot be relied upon or be presented as evidence. The United States has a long history in fabricating evidence. Such charges are unacceptable."


Bombs kill 64 on first anniversary of al-Askari shrine attack

(Reuters) Three bomb attacks at markets in central Baghdad killed at least 64 people on Monday as Iraqis marked the first anniversary of a Shi'ite shrine bombing that pitched the country to the brink of civil war. In the deadliest attack, twin car bombings exploded in quick succession in the Shorja wholesale market, killing at least 59 people and wounding 150, police said. Interior Ministry sources said the blasts were caused by a car bomb and a roadside bomb.
A separate roadside bomb attack at the Bab al-Sharji market, also in central Baghdad and home to Sunni Arab and Shi'ite traders, killed at least five people, police sources said. The attacks occurred around the same time as Shi'ite government officials, including Maliki, held several minutes of silence to mark the first anniversary under the Islamic calendar of the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra. Under the Gregorian calendar the bombing was on Feb. 22.Earlier, Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged followers not to seek revenge against Sunnis.Sistani said the Samarra bombing, blamed on Sunni militants, had plunged Iraq into a cycle of "blind violence".

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