Friday, July 20, 2007
Unskilled workers' daily wages will also rise from 3,500 Iraqi dinars ($2.8) to 6,000 dinars ($4.8) and an overtime rate of 1,000 dinars/hour ($0.8) will be paid to all workers," according to the statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The step was taken to boost productivity and improve the lives of workers, the statement added.
It is jointly Chaired by Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, Baroness Jay of Paddington and Lord King of Bridgwater. The Chairs will be supported by nine Commissioners.
The Commission will examine all possible options for Britain's future role in Iraq and will consider evidence from a wide range of viewpoints. The Final Report will be delivered to the incoming Prime Minister and the leaders of the main political parties. Lord Ashdown said, "One of the greatest international challenges of our time is bringing peace and security to Iraq. It is both in Britain’s national interest, and a moral obligation, that a way forward is found for Iraq and its people."
Baroness Jay said, "The Iraq Commission aims to produce a long term strategy for Britain’s role in Iraq – this will incorporate the challenges of reconstruction, rebuilding and humanitarian relief efforts, as well as security for the Iraqi people and British troops." Lord King said, "The current situation threatens the stability of the region, and has major implications for the world as a whole. It is up to policy makers on all sides to consider how best to help resolve it, and enhance the security of Iraq itself and the region."
Allawi says there are plots to assassinate him in Baghdad
Allawi is a Shiite but his Iraqi National List party is secular and moderate and includes members from across the country’s diverse sects, religions and nationalities. The list has 24 deputies in the parliament and is part of the current ruling Shiite-Kurdish government. Allawi said he learned about attempts to have him assassinated “from the U.S. and a number of Arab countries”. He did not elaborate.
Despite his participation in the ruling coalition, Allawi was critical of the government, indicating that he might withdraw if it fails to introduce reconciliation. “If we find that our presence is no longer useful and our presence in the government ineffective, our withdrawal from the government is a measure to resort to,” he said.
He lashed out at the government of Nouri al-Maliki, saying that instead of curbing the country’s unruly militias it was encouraging them. “The militias now target anyone in disagreement with the government,” he said. Allawi is spearheading efforts to form a new ‘moderate’ front but has so far failed to persuade the disgruntled Sunnis to join him.
“I want to set up the front in order to seek real national reconciliation and rid Iraq of the political impasse it is going through,” he said. Allawi strongly opposes a ruling by the Iraqi tribunal trying members of the former regime for sentencing former defense minister to death. “I have called for the release of the former Defense Minister (General) Sultan Hashem Ahmad … We have documents that confirm that coalition forces had given him a promise that he would not be hurt in case he cooperated, and he did,” said Allawi.
The strike was part of Operation Marne Avalanche launched recently to target insurgent strongholds in Baghdad’s southern belts and in central provinces such as Babil, Karbala and Najaf. The operation aims to cut off weapons smuggling into Baghdad from the central and southern regions of Iraq. The military said the operation has so far resulted in the killing of five insurgents, the detention of 42 others and the discovery of a large weapons cache.
Kurds seek to include the city in the autonomous Iraq's Kurdistan region, while Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and Shiite Arabs are inclined to postpone the incorporation. The article currently stipulates that all Arabs in Kirkuk be returned to their original locations in southern and central Iraqi areas, and formerly displaced residents returned to Kirkuk. Kirkuk lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region with Iraq, 250 km northeast of Baghdad.
Hendawi said in a press conference held in Baghdad on Wednesday that the Turks agreed to link part of their network with the Iraqi electrical system, facilitating the transfer of electricity to a large section of the country.
He added that Kuwait declared its readiness to send tanker trucks transporting fuel to central and southern governorates. Hendawi also noted the Committee, which includes Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait and Iran will hold its second meeting next month.
It said the airlift involved "about 200" people. A ministry spokesman reached by telephone could not provide an exact number but said most of the Iraqis brought to Denmark were translators and their families. Danish Ambassador to Iraq Bo Eric Weber said the move followed the killing in December of an Iraqi who had worked with the Danes as an interpreter. Around 80 of those flown out of the country were employed and the rest were family members, he said.
"They had been working for us for about four years, and those who felt their security in Iraq was threatened have been granted visas to go to Denmark" where they can apply for asylum, Weber told Reuters. Britain and the United States have been reluctant to take large numbers of Iraqi refugees, while some European countries have toughened their stance on taking them in.
Last month the Danish government reached a deal with the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DPP) to offer visas to Iraqi interpreters who have aided Danish troops in Iraq out of concern they will be targeted by insurgents when the Danish contingent withdraws in August. Denmark's centre-right government had faced mounting pressure to find a way to help the Iraqis despite the small country's restrictive immigration policy and its increasingly problematic relationship with the DPP.
Denmark has about 470 soldiers in southern Iraq, serving under British command. It will withdraw all of its ground troops from Iraq by August and replace them with a small helicopter unit of 55 soldiers.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
"We agreed on securing the international highway to ensure safety of the passengers including pilgrims and visitors of holy shrines in the province, determining boundaries of security responsibility and areas of joint patrols, and securing the area of Kilometer 160 which lies on the highway between Iraq and Jordan ", continued the governor.
"We also agreed on the necessity of securing the area near Razazah Lake (150 km west of Karbala), exchange intelligence tips, establishing a hotline between the two sides in both operation rooms, reporting any operations within the borders between the two provinces to take the necessary measures, and assist in evacuating bodies of the killed within the geographical boundaries of Anbar province" he added.
"The meeting resulted in a form of cooperation between the two provinces to find joint investment projects that meet the needs of the population in the two provinces" said al-Khazaali. "The two provinces share administrational boundaries, tribal relations, and Islamic and national brotherhood that are considered the cornerstone of preserving the unity of Iraq ", explained al-Khazaali.
He pointed out that the two provinces demanded the central government to support this approach between them and to provide the necessary requirements to render the work of the joint committee a success. Karbala, which is 108 km south of Baghdad, shares administrational boundaries with Anbar, 45 km west of Baghdad.
The money, which awaits a sign-off by key committee chairmen in Congress, would allow the military to order another 2,650 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Officials think that the vehicles are best equipped to fend off improvised explosive devices, the most common type of weapon launched against soldiers in the two countries.
Gates has said that getting more of the special vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan is his highest priority, since such homemade bombs are responsible for 70 percent of U.S. casualties. Three times heavier than armored Humvees, MRAPs have V-shaped hulls designed to deflect blasts from below.
"The conference will discuss ways of helping these states cope with burdens caused by Iraqi refugees," it said.On July 12 the UN refugee agency UNHCR said it had more than doubled its annual appeal for funding to help millions of uprooted Iraqis to 123 million dollars, to boost medical care, shelter and other support.
It urged the international community to "put its money where its mouth is" after Syria and Jordan were left with little in the way of direct bilateral aid to cope with some two million Iraqi refugees fleeing widespread violence. The UNHCR has warned that Syria and Jordan's healthcare, education systems and housing are under severe strain due to the continued influx of Iraqis.
Jordan said in May that hosting Iraqi refugees is costing the desert kingdom around one billion dollars a year, and it has commissioned a survey to determine the exact number of Iraqis on its territory. Syria hosts some 1.4 million Iraqis and Jordan about 750,000, including people who had fled before the 2003 US-led invasion, according to the UNHCR.
UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner L. Craig Johnstone commended both Jordan and Syria for taking in so many refugees, during a visit to both countries to meet officials and check on humanitarian services provided to Iraqis, the UN agency said in a statement.
"Registration is the only way that we can effectively identify those refugees that need our help," Johnstone said, adding that the UNHCR has already registered more than 150,000 Iraqis in the region. Johnstone said Jordan and Syria are "both to be commended for their extraordinary generosity toward those fleeing Iraq" and stressed that "the needs are enormous and these governments should not have to cope alone."
Two days later, IAP Worldwide Services Inc., a Cape Canaveral, Fla., contractor, filed its own protest, also citing improper technical or price evaluations, according to Michael Golden, GAO's chief procurement attorney. IAP led a team of contractors that included industry giants Lockheed Martin, CACI and Blackwater. Officials with Contingency Management Group and IAP both declined to discuss the reasons for the protest.
The Army awarded its mammoth 10-year LOGCAP IV contract last month to three firms: the incumbent contractor, Kellogg, Brown and Root Services of Houston; former contract holder DynCorp International LLC of Fort Worth, Texas; and Fluor Intercontinental Inc. of Greenville, S.C. The three companies are each capped at $5 billion per year, although the Army does not expect the firms to reach the maximum value in any given year.
A fourth contractor, Serco Inc. of Vienna, Va., was awarded a $225 million support contract last February. The Army says Serco will assist in its planning and provide independent cost estimates, but will not play any oversight role or conduct any inherently governmental work.
In an e-mailed statement, KBR deferred questions about the protests to the Army, stating only that the company is "proud to have been chosen as one of three logistics support providers under the LOGCAP IV contract. We look forward to continuing our service to the U.S. forces deployed in the Middle East."
The three prime contractors will compete to deliver fuel, water and food, as well as field operations such as postal services, laundry and sanitation, to troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The indefinite quantity/indefinite delivery contract has a one-year base with nine option years and could be worth as much as $150 billion.
The use of multiple contractors is a departure from the sole-source strategy the Army has employed since the first LOGCAP contract was awarded in 1992. The change is "designed to enhance competition and reduce overall risk," said Daniel Carlson, a spokesman for the Army.
Previous incarnations of the logistics contract relied primarily on cost-plus task orders in which the Army and the contractor negotiated a price based on an estimate and adjusted the cost as needed. The government then paid the contractor a base reimbursement fee -- typically 1 percent -- on every task order and an additional 2 percent award fee if the work was done efficiently and honestly.
But watchdogs say the contract has been prone to abuse. KBR, which until recently was a subsidiary of Halliburton, was roundly criticized for its work on the 2001 LOGCAP III contract. Reports by GAO, the Defense Department inspector general and the Defense Contract Audit Agency found KBR overbilled the government for fuel and failed to justify $1.8 billion worth of work in Iraq and Kuwait.
And just days after the Army awarded the LOGCAP IV contract, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released a report alleging that KBR provided its employees with better housing than U.S. soldiers, overspent on food by $4.5 million and failed to provide accurate measurements of the fuel services it provided. KBR is in the process of reviewing the report, company spokeswoman Heather Browne said.
DynCorp, meanwhile, has been rapped for providing vague invoices on a State Department contract in Iraq, while Fluor was heavily criticized for its work on a temporary housing contract for Gulf Coast residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The Army plans to begin using its new LOGCAP IV contract in October, although the protests could delay its implementation. KBR's current LOGCAP contract expires in December, but the Army could exercise an option and extend it if needed.
VERSAR, INC., headquartered in Springfield, VA, is a publicly held infrastructure program management company for the Federal Government and the commercial market specializing in homeland defense, engineering and construction management, environmental health and safety and the management of toxic and hazardous materials.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will chair the meeting, will deliver a speech and so will Ibrahim Gambari, his Special Advisor on the issue. The Report is scheduled to be published tomorrow Wednesday ahead of the meeting.
The International Compact is an initiative of the Government of Iraq for a new partnership with the international community. Its purpose is to achieve a National Vision for Iraq which aims to consolidate peace and pursue political, economic and social development over the next five years.
"He served as the al Qaeda media emir for Baghdad and then was appointed the media emir for all of Iraq," said Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman, who briefed reporters. He is believed to be the most senior Iraqi in al Qaeda in Iraq. During interrogations, al-Mashadani shed light on the workings of al Qaeda in Iraq and its connection with al Qaeda outside of Iraq, Bergner said.
He said al-Mashadani is a close associate of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and served as an "intermediary" between al-Masri, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda. "In fact, communication between senior al Qaeda leadership and al-Masri frequently went through al-Mashadani," Bergner said.
Bergner said al-Mashadani co-founded an organization "in cyberspace" called the Islamic State of Iraq, which he referred to as a "marketing" effort to create a Taliban-like state in Iraq. U.S. counterterrorism officials also told CNN that al-Mashadani was a top lieutenant to al-Masri and regarded as a "jack of all trades," involved in recruitment and in organizing and planning attacks, with particular interest in propaganda activities.
One of those officials said the announcement of his arrest was delayed because officials wanted to "maximize their ability to get information" from him before others he was associated with knew about his detention. Al-Mashadani also shed light on the Islamic State of Iraq, the so-called umbrella group of Iraqi insurgents that includes al Qaeda in Iraq.
That group has claimed responsibility for many terrorist attacks. But Bergner said that al-Mashadani passed on the information that the creation of the group was a ruse to cast itself as home-grown, when in fact it is led by foreigners. It went so far as to create a fictional political head of Islamic State of Iraq, Omar al-Baghdadi and an actor was used to portray him.
Bergner said Islamic State of Iraq is "a front organization" for al Qaeda in Iraq and a "pseudonym" for it as well.
"It is really being controlled, directed and guided by al Qaeda in Iraq leadership." Bergner also said al-Mashadani was a leader in the Ansar al Sunna terrorist group before joining al Qaeda in Iraq two-and-a-half-years ago.
What the U.S. military has learned from al-Mashadani and other operatives they've seized is that "there is a flow of strategic direction, of prioritization of messaging and other guidance that comes from al Qaeda senior leadership to the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership," Bergner said. Bergner emphasizes that that there is a "clear connection between al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda senior leadership outside Iraq."
The arrest of al-Mashadani was announced amid controversy over President Bush's contention that al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq are one and the same. The evidence has been not been significant about the extent of the relationship. But a new U.S. government intelligence analysis released Tuesday said al Qaeda's terrorist activities in Iraq not only serve to bolster the group and recruit more members, but may also be the nexus for another planned attack on U.S. soil.
The declassified portion of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) warns of "a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years" from Islamic terrorist groups, namely al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is increasing its efforts to get operatives into the United States for an attack and has nearly all the capabilities it needs to carry out such a mission, according to the report, which represents the combined analyses of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
Labels: Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, Abu Shahed, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in Iraq, al-Masri, al-Zawahiri, Ansar Al Sunna, Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, Islamic State of Iraq, Khalid al-Mashadani, Mosul, Osama bin Laden
Iraqi experts ask MPs not to approve draft oil law
They said if certain paragraphs and annexes were not amended the country risks losing part of its massive oil wealth to foreign investors. The letter, a copy of which was faxed to the newspaper, is the latest in a series of protests from political factions, traded unions and professionals in the country.
The government ratified the draft early July but the experts said it would be unwise if the legislators passed the law while the various political factions have yet to agree on how to revise the constitution. How to exploit and utilize Iraqi oil resources is among several thorny issues in the constitution which the government is under pressure to amend.
They said the parliament should shoulder its responsibilities and reject any oil development deal without its consent. In the present draft, Iraqi regions and provinces have the right to strike such deals on their own. The Kurds have already put several exploration blocks in their territory for grabs while the controversial draft is still being debated, the experts said.
On the role foreign firms, the experts said it should be restricted to exploration and infrastructure and forbid the allocation of oil reserves to them. The experts called on parliament to re-launch the National Oil Company in a manner that will enable it to run and administer all of the country’s oil fields and reserves. The draft only assigns certain oil fields to the company.
The move comes following devastating car bomb attacks in the city, most of them targeting offices of the two main Kurdish factions ruling the region. The Kurds want to add Kirkuk and its prolific oil fields to their enclave in the north despite regional concerns and opposition from certain ethnic groups in the city.
Koran said Kurdish militias will not be stationed inside the strife-torn city but will try to guard areas surrounding it. He said the militias' main task will be the protection of power pylons and oil pipelines which are scenes of repeated acts of sabotage.
The 44 members of the Iraqi Accordance Front attended Thursday's session after striking a deal with other blocs to reinstate the Sunni speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was ousted by the Shiite-dominated assembly last month for erratic behavior. Al-Mashhadani is expected to gracefully resign after presiding over a number of sessions. Shiite legislator Hassan al-Suneid, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said al-Mashhadani's return came after secret conditions that should not be made public.
However, one official said al-Mashhadani has until Wednesday to step down or parliament will force him out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. "We all have to work together to rescue Iraq from the catastrophe which has befallen it," Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi told parliament. "This is the first step in solving the Iraqi problem and in stopping the bloodshed."
The Sunnis ended their walkout two days after Shiite lawmakers loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ended their boycott after officials accepted their demands for rebuilding a Shiite shrine damaged by bombings. Those two boycotts had paralyzed the 275-member parliament, which is under strong criticism from U.S. critics for failing to approve key legislation and for plans to take a month's vacation in August at a time when American and Iraqi troops are dying on the battlefield.
The sensitivities displayed by both the Accordance Front and al-Sadr's allies indicates the depth of suspicion and sectarian rivalry prevalent in Iraq after more than four years of war.
Meanwhile, American and Iraqi forces were continuing operations to clear Sunni extremists from the eastern part of Baqouba, 35 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. said. U.S. troops killed three al-Qaida suspects Thursday as they tried to slip out of the city, Iraqi security officials said. Clashes occurred during the day as American and Iraqi forces moved through the streets, securing buildings and clearing explosives. One insurgent explosives expert led U.S. and Iraqi troops to a bombs cache hidden in two homes of Shiites who had fled sectarian tension, police said.
In western Iraq, residents said assailants blew up two bridges in Haditha overnight. The bridges connect Haditha with Anah, about 160 miles northwest of the capital. The American forces are blocking the area now looking for those involved in the operation. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.
In their first interview with the western media since the US-British invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups - responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed forces and police - said they would continue their armed resistance until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians.
Speaking in Damascus, the spokesmen for the three groups - the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Hamas - said they planned to hold a congress to launch a united front and appealed to Arab governments, other governments and the UN to help them establish a permanent political presence outside Iraq.
Abu Ahmad, spokesman for Iraqi Hamas said: "Peaceful resistance will not end the occupation. The US made clear it intended to stay for many decades. Now it is a common view in the resistance that they will start to withdraw within a year. "
The move represents a dramatic change of strategy for the mainstream Iraqi insurgency, whose leadership has remained shadowy and has largely restricted communication with the world to brief statements on the internet and Arabic media. The last three months have been the bloodiest for US forces, with 331 deaths and 2,029 wounded, as the 28,000-strong "surge" in troop numbers exposes them to more attacks.
Leaders of the three groups, who did not use their real names in the interview, said the new front, which brings together the main Sunni-based armed organisations except al-Qaida and the Ba'athists, had agreed the main planks of a joint political programme, including a commitment to free Iraq from foreign troops, rejection of cooperation with parties involved in political institutions set up under the occupation and a declaration that decisions and agreements made by the US occupation and Iraqi government are null and void.
The aim of the alliance - which includes a range of Islamist and nationalist-leaning groups and is planned to be called the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance - is to link up with other anti-occupation groups in Iraq to negotiate with the Americans in anticipation of an early US withdrawal. The programme envisages a temporary technocratic government to run the country during a transition period until free elections can be held.
The insurgent groups deny support from any foreign government, including Syria, but claim they have been offered and rejected funding and arms from Iran. They say they have been under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to unite. "We are the only resistance movement in modern history which has received no help or support from any other country," Abdallah Suleiman Omary, head of the political department of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, told the Guardian. "The reason is we are fighting America."
All three Sunni-based resistance leaders say they are acutely aware of the threat posed by sectarian division to the future of Iraq and emphasised the importance of working with Shia groups - but rejected any link with the Shia militia and parties because of their participation in the political institutions set up by the Americans and their role in sectarian killings.
Abd al-Rahman al-Zubeidy, political spokesman of Ansar al-Sunna, a salafist (purist Islamic) group with a particularly violent reputation in Iraq, said his organisation had split over relations with al-Qaida, whose members were mostly Iraqi, but its leaders largely foreigners.
"Resistance isn't just about killing Americans without aims or goals. Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. We are against indiscriminate killing, fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy," he said. He added: "A great gap has opened up between Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to that."
Wayne White, of Washington's Middle East Institute and a former expert adviser to the Iraq Study Group, said it was unclear, given the diversity within the Sunni Arab insurgency, what influence the new grouping would have on the ground.
He added: "This does reveal that despite the widening cooperation on the part of some Sunni Arab insurgent groups with US forces against al-Qaida in recent months, such cooperation could prove very shortlived if the US does not make clear that it has a credible exit strategy.
"With the very real potential for a more full-blown civil war breaking out in the wake of a substantial reduction of the US military presence in Iraq, Shia and Kurds appreciate that the increased ability of Sunni Arabs to organise politically and assemble in larger armed formations as a result of such cooperation could confront them with a considerably more formidable challenge as time goes on."
Mr. Sadr has been working tirelessly to build support at the grass-roots level, opening storefront offices across Baghdad and southern Iraq that dispense services that are not being provided by the government. In this he seems to be following the model established by Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese Shiite group, as well as Hamas in Gaza, with entwined social and military wings that serve as a parallel government.
He has also extended the reach of his militia, the Mahdi Army, one of the armed groups that the White House report acknowledged remain entrenched in Iraq. The militia has effectively taken over vast swaths of the capital and is fighting government troops in several southern provinces. Although the militia sometimes uses brutal tactics, including death squads, many vulnerable Shiites are grateful for the protection it affords.
At the same time, the Mahdi Army is not entirely under Mr. Sadr’s control, and he publicly denounces the most notorious killers fighting in his name. That frees him to extend an olive branch to Sunni Arabs and Christians, while championing the Shiite identity of his political base. On May 25, in his first public Friday Prayer in months, he explicitly forbade sectarian attacks. “It is prohibited to spill the blood of Sunnis and Iraqi Christians,” he told Shiites in a much publicized sermon. “They are our brothers, either in religion or in the homeland.”
Now that the leadership is in poor repute, Mr. Sadr has shifted once again. The six ministers in the cabinet and 30 lawmakers in Parliament allied to him have been boycotting sessions. They returned Tuesday, but it is not clear they will stay long. The mainstream political parties in Iraq realize that Mr. Sadr is growing more influential, but appear to be flummoxed over how to deal with him. They see him as unpredictable and manipulative, but too politically and militarily important to ignore.
“He’s powerful,” said Jaber Habeeb, an independent Shiite member of Parliament and political science professor at Baghdad University. “This is a fact you have to accept, even if you don’t like it.” The latest stance by the more conventional political parties is to keep him at arm’s length. The two major Shiite parties, Dawa and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, along with the two Kurdish parties, have been negotiating to form a new moderate coalition.
Mr. Sadr’s political leaders were told he was welcome to join, but the invitation came belatedly, after the other groups had all but completed their discussions. Mr. Sadr’s lieutenants announced that he had no interest in joining. Experts in Shiite politics believe that efforts to isolate Mr. Sadr are bound to fail.
“Sadr holds the political center in Iraq,” said Joost Hiltermann, the director of the International Crisis Group’s office in Amman, Jordan. “They are nationalist, they want to hold the country together and they are the only political organization that has popular support among the Shias. If you try to exclude him from any alliance, well, it’s a nutty idea, it’s unwise.”
The mainstream parties talk about Mr. Sadr carefully. Some never mention his followers or the Mahdi militia by name, but speak elliptically of “armed groups.” Others acknowledge his position but are reserved on the challenge he poses.
The Sadrists exhibit a quiet confidence, and are pulling ever more supporters into their ranks. “The Sadr movement cannot be marginalized; it is the popular base,” said Sheik Salah al-Obaidi, the chief spokesman and a senior strategist for Mr. Sadr’s movement in Najaf. “We will not be affected by efforts to push us to one side because we are the people. We feel the people’s day-to-day sufferings.”
A number of working-class Shiites reflected that sentiment in conversations about the Mahdi militia and Mr. Sadr. Their relatives and neighbors work both for the Sadr offices and for the militia, blurring the line between social programs and paramilitary activity.
Mr. Sadr’s offices are accessible storefronts that dispense a little bit of everything: food, money, clothes, medicine and information. From just one office in Baghdad and one in Najaf in 2003, the Sadr operation has ballooned. It now has full-service offices in most provinces and nine in Baghdad, as well as several additional storefront centers. In some neighborhoods, the militiamen come around once a month to charge a nominal fee — about 5,000 Iraqi dinars, or $4 — for protection. In others, they control the fuel supply, and in some, where sectarian killings have gone on, they control the real estate market for empty houses.
The Mahdi militia is deeply involved in that sectarian killing. In a vicious campaign in the Amil neighborhood in western Baghdad, once a mixed working-class neighborhood of Shiites and Sunni Arabs, it has driven out many Sunnis and isolated others in a few enclaves.
Young men, said by residents to be part of the Mahdi militia, check every car coming into the Shiite section of the neighborhood. And many mornings, the bodies of several Sunni Arabs are dumped in a brick-strewn lot near the neighborhood’s entrance. Local Shiites routinely claim that the bodies are of foreign terrorists.
However, each community insists that it is the victim of the other. A sniper in the Sunni Arab area shoots at Shiites lined up to buy at a gasoline station that straddles the two communities. That, in turn, is used to justify retaliatory attacks on Sunni Arabs.
Among Shiites, the militia is viewed as their best form of protection from Sunni Arab insurgents. “This is the Mahdi Army standing in our streets,” said Rahman al-Mussawi, 38, a community leader who says he is proud that he still has Sunni Arab neighbors on his block, even though Sunni insurgents almost certainly killed his three younger brothers. They disappeared along a deadly stretch of road south of Baghdad where Shiites have been victims of Sunni extremists.
Mr. Mussawi gestured to the end of the block, where young Mahdi guards in T-shirts checked cars entering the neighborhood: “The Americans chase them away. If the Americans just would leave, then the neighborhood would be quiet.” The Mahdi Army’s darker side is rarely discussed in Shiite neighborhoods. In Amil, some people fiercely reject any suggestion that the group runs death squads. Others might admit to some problems, but dismiss them as the excesses of a few bad apples.
Jabar Yawer, deputy minister for security forces in Iraq's Kurdistan, said about 100 shells were fired around the town of Zakho in northern Iraq. No one was hurt but many residents were forced to flee, he told Reuters.
The barrage followed the killing of three Turkish soldiers when their vehicle hit a rebel landmine near the border with Iraq, he said.
Iraqi Kurdish officials said they were not aware of Turkish war planes carrying out bombing raids on Wednesday although some witnesses said they saw a plane bomb a mountain top. Turkey, which never comments on reports it has carried out such military action, accuses PKK militants of using bases in the mountains of northern Iraq to strike at its forces.
The Iraqi government, without specifying dates, said it "regrets Turkish military operations that are using artillery and war planes to bomb Iraqi border villages and cities in Dahuk province". "The Iraqi government calls on Turkey to stop these operations to return to dialogue and understanding," the statement said.
The Turkish army has raised troop levels in the country's restive southeast to 200,000, security sources say. It refuses to rule out the possibility of a cross-border operation. Rumors of a possible Turkish incursion into neighboring, mainly Kurdish, northern Iraq have rattled financial markets and have drawn warnings from the United States, Ankara's NATO ally, to stay out.
The Turkish troop movements have come before a bitterly contested campaign for Turkish parliamentary elections on Sunday which has triggered an upsurge in nationalism and could strengthen those who demand stronger action against the PKK. Washington fears any major operation by Turkey in northern Iraq could stoke wider conflict in a relatively peaceful region of the war-torn country.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, is scheduled to be in session later the same day to debate a Democratic plan requiring the pullout of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of April 2008. On July 16, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he hoped Iraqi forces would have enough training by the end of the year to take over security duties from the coalition troops.
Minutes later after the attack, a second bomber struck the Haseer market, 700 metres away. Kirkuk residents said that the carnage was aimed at splitting the city and triggering sectarian violence. "The explosions are meant to incite sectarianism among the people of Kirkuk," said Sheikh Ismail al-Hadidi, a Sunni tribesman. The massive lorry bomb carved a huge crater ringed with smoking wreckage, while the streets of Kirkuk were deserted as pedestrians kept indoors, the AFP news agency reported.
Saddam Hussein tried to 'Arabise' the northern region in the 1970s.Thousands of Kurds were driven from their homes and Arabs from around Iraq moved into the region with land grants and cash payouts. In 2003, Kurds streamed back into Kirkuk and now control the local government and much of the security forces.
On March 16, 1988, Saddam's troops strafed Halabja with chemical gases, killing 5,000 Kurds in one of the biggest military operations against the people of the northern Kurdistan region during the Iran-Iraq war. The brutal attack was allegedly masterminded by Ali Hassan al-Majid, widely known as Chemical Ali for deploying poison gas against the Kurds.
An Iraqi court on June 24 sentenced Majid to hang for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the military campaign, which prosecutors claim killed 182,000 people. A nine-member appeals court is currently reviewing the sentence and is expected to give its decision soon. If the appeals panel certifies the sentence, Majid will have to be executed within 30 days under Iraqi law.
The Halabja attack took place during the military campaign but was not part of the trial which saw Majid and six others in the dock. On Thursday a senior Iraqi official said the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was considering hanging Majid in Kurdistan region. "Thousands of our Kurdish people have requested that Chemical Ali be hanged in Kurdistan," said Bassim Ridha, an adviser to Maliki. "The government is considering these requests. However his sentence is still to be certified by the appeals court," he said.
Sadr apparently suspected that Maliki was behind the low-key military action by U.S. occupation troops against his militias, known as Mahdi Army. But the sides have mended their differences, albeit temporarily. The move signals that Sadr is willing to take part in the political process, a bid analysts see as a new tactic to thwart U.S. insistence that Maliki disarm his militias.
To appease the Kurds, Maliki’s allies, Sadr has even indicated a change of heart regarding paragraph 140 of the constitution under which the government is obliged to hold a referendum to determine the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a referendum the Kurds say they are certain to win. Kirkuk on Monday was scene of devastating car bombings in which hundreds of Iraqis were killed and injured.
Sadr’s signal that he would support holding of a referendum in Kirkuk is good news for Kurds who would like to add the city to their semi-independent enclave in northern Iraq. Many of the tens of thousands of Arabs moved to Kirkuk under former leader Saddam Hussein are Muslim Shiites and diehard supporters of Sadr.
If a referendum is held and these Arabs vote for the city to become part of the Kurdish territory, the Kurds would definitely end up with a comfortable majority in the controversial referendum scheduled late this year.
Opposition to Kurdish ambition to link Kirkuk and its prolific oil fields to their enclave in the north now comes from Sunni Arab tribes, mostly inhabiting the city outskirts as well as Iraqi Turkmen.
The comments by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to reporters are the strongest signal yet that the Islamic Republic is prepared for another round of discussions. "Iraqi officials requested Iran hold talks with the Americans and we asked them to tell the Americans to give their official request through the Swiss embassy," Mottaki said.
The Swiss embassy in Tehran handles U.S. interests in the absence of an American mission. The United States cut ties with Iran in 1980 after Iranian students stormed the embassy and took U.S. citizens hostage. "Our view ... is positive on holding a second round of talks, and with a high possibility, a second round of talks will be held in the near future," Mottaki said.
Iraq said talks would take place. "I can confirm that there will be a second round of talks in Baghdad soon. It will be at the ambassadorial level. Iraq will be there and the talks will be about Iraq's stability and security," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters.
Washington accuses Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq while Shi'ite Iran denies backing the insurgency and accuses Washington of igniting tensions between Iraq's Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims. Analysts say Washington and Tehran are both concerned about worsening violence, pushing them to agree to meet. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this month Iran was ready to help establish peace and security in Iraq and Zebari said at the start of July he was pressing Washington and Tehran to hold a second round of talks in Baghdad but that no date had been set.
"A lot of them are former Al Qaeda operatives ... but when they saw the stealing, murder, and terrorism, they realized it was not the way forward for Iraq," says Maj. John Woodward of San Antonio. But the risks of such a temporary solution are high, say critics, and the plan could foster new, powerful militias outside the control of the Iraqi Army. It's a strategy that also threatens to further fuel sectarian battles as LRFs are largely Sunni, posing a major threat to Shiite militias.
So far, however, it is too early to judge the effectiveness of this new group, but its creation clearly demonstrates a desire by the US to look for grass-roots solutions amid increasing frustration with the combat readiness – and even loyalty – of Iraqi forces. It also seems to indicate that the Americans are willing to take a short-term gamble on the LRFs in order to show some successes in the fight against AQI before September, when a highly anticipated progress report on Iraq is due to Congress.
The idea for LRFs was born out of the links US troops have sought to foster with Iraqi tribal leaders in Diyala Province as part of the US-led offensive "Arrowhead Ripper," which has been under way here for about a month. But the LRF initiative has little in common with the high-profile tribal Anbar Salvation Council, which was formally endorsed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and helped reduce violence there. Mr. Maliki has backed a Diyala version of that group called the Isnad (support) Council, but it has had much less impact due to the more fragmented nature of Diyala's tribal, ethnic, and sectarian makeup.
Maliki warned US forces last month against creating new militias in their fight against Al Qaeda-linked operatives. He insisted that all collaboration with local groups must be done through his government. "What the Americans are doing is very risky and unwise. They are planting the seeds for future wars," warned Sami al-Askari, a parliamentarian close to Maliki, commenting on groups like the LRF.
"The danger is that once they run Al Qaeda out, they may turn on you, the Iraqi government, or both."
Lt. Col. Keith Gogas, who commands the Diyala-based 6-9 Army unit, agrees with the concept of the LRF, but says he thinks the term itself may be problematic. He's working to cement local ties in other creative ways. Last Friday, he reunited a local tribal sheikh with his nephew, whom he helped get released from a US-run prison after the man had been detained for nearly 10 months on suspicion of being a member of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia and committing crimes against Sunnis in Diyala.
"You see how loyal and truthful the Americans are," says Sheikh Saad al-Siriwati to his kinsmen as he puts his arm around Colonel Gogas. "My tribe and I are eternally indebted to Gogas." Abu Saida, the predominantly Shiite town of Shiekh Saad, has come a long way from being one of the most violent in Diyala to the most cooperative with US forces in the fight against extremists. But just as the line between friend and foe is murky so, too, is the division between war and peace.
Police Col. Ragheb Radhi al-Omairi said 29 members of a Shiite tribe were massacred overnight in Diyala province when dozens of suspected Sunni gunmen raided their village near Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. The dead included four women, al-Omairi said. Al-Omairi said he had not seen the bodies and it was unclear whether they had been retrieved.
An Iraqi army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information, said the attack occurred in the village of Diwailiya and that at least 10 bodies were mutilated in the hour-long raid.
In Baghdad, the deadliest bombing occurred when a suicide driver detonated his vehicle near an Iraqi army patrol in Zayouna, a mostly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad, killing 10 people, including six civilians, police said. Police said 11 people, including seven civilians, were wounded.
The blast near the Iranian Embassy occurred in late morning a few hundred yards north of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, sending a huge cloud of black smoke over the city. Three civilians also were wounded, said police. All the Baghdad police officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.
The movement holds 30 of parliament's 275 seats and also accounts for a quarter of the seats in the ruling Shi'ite Alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Sadrist bloc withdrew from parliament on June 13 after the destruction of the twin minarets of the Golden Mosque in Samarra by suspected al Qaeda militants. It complained that Maliki's government had not done enough to protect the shrine.
Rubaei said the bloc ended its boycott after the parliament responded to its demands on pressing the government to protect shrines. The bloc also pulled its six ministers from Maliki's cabinet in April in protest at his failure to set a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Company officials say they believe the carrier’s 8 a.m. flights out of Baghdad beginning Aug. 7 will help speed U.S. and Western contractors through Baghdad International Airport where daylong delays, overbooking and no-show planes are common. Royal Jordanian Airlines and Iraqi Airways are the only two scheduled commercial carriers flying between Baghdad to Amman, a gateway to Europe and the United States.
More than 180,000 contract workers are on the U.S. tax-funded payroll in Iraq, ferrying supplies, controlling checkpoints and other duties. Some 21,000 of them are Americans. About 118,000 are Iraqis. The rest are from Pakistan, Peru and other foreign countries. U.S. combat forces number about 150,000. Pro Group, with offices in Amman and the United Kingdom, is launching Expat Airways in conjunction with the Jordanian Air Force. The Baghdad flights will use Jordan’s Marka Airport.
Ashraf Mraish, managing director for Pro Group, based in Amman, said Jordan’s tight visa restrictions drove the decision to exclude non-Westerners. Refugees have overwhelmed Jordan, which has imposed strict entry requirements for Iraqis. “It would cost us much more to accommodate non-Westerners,” Mraish said this week. “We hope this flight is a solution to make (contractors’) lives easier.”
Despite fares of $450 each way, the 500-mile jaunt aboard a 42-seat Russian Antonov turboprop is strictly no frills. Passengers have to load and unload their own luggage. There is no beverage or meal service. Passengers cannot bring their own booze aboard “for obvious reasons,” according to a recent e-mail Expat Airways sent contractor firms.
“Seats cannot be reserved,” the e-mail stated, “so it will be on a first-come first-served basis and (seats) will not be numbered.” Expat planes won’t even have a logo painted on them. In interviews, many contractors recalled cramped, sweltering rides out of Baghdad on U.S. military C-130 transports, or nights of uncertainty spent on cots or the airport floor. “You never know if the plane’s going to get out or not,” said American contractor Daniel Thorsen. “And if you get dropped off at Baghdad International and your personal security detail leaves you, you’re in trouble.”
"Families left to care for children who have lost one or both parents are already stressed to the limit, unable to cope with extra burdens. Many of Iraq's skilled social workers have been leaving the country," the report said.
Citing the UN's civilian casualty figures for 2006 which indicate up to 100 civilian deaths per day, UNICEF said: "Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of children will have lost at least one parent. And if violence continues at current levels, even more will lose a parent in 2007."
"Such children will be automatically deprived of their rights and are likely to fall into potentially harmful forms of labour," said Kholoud Nasser Muhssin, a researcher on family and children's affairs affiliated to the University of Baghdad. "Some 60-70 percent of Iraqi children in Iraq are suffering from psychological problems and their future is not bright," Muhssin said.
"Some lost their parents or one of their family members or relatives; others witnessed traumatic events or were subjected to sexual harassment," Muhssin added. "Iraq's conflict is taking an immense and unnoticed psychological toll on children and youth that will have long-term consequences," said Bilal Youssif Hamid, a Baghdad-based child psychiatrist.
"The lack of resources means the social impact will be very bad and the coming generations, especially this one, will be aggressive," Hamid added. According to UNICEF, half of Iraq's four million people who have fled their homes since 2003 are children. Many were killed inside their schools or playgrounds and gangs routinely kidnap children for ransom.
Since the beginning of this year, Hamid has treated 310 children and teenagers for psychological problems, most ranging in age from 6 to 16. In the past year he has seen about 750 cases. Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a survey of 600 children aged 3-10 in Baghdad: 47 percent were found to have been exposed to a major traumatic event over the past two years.
Of this group, 14 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a second study of 1,090 adolescents in the northern city of Mosul, 30 percent showed symptoms of the disorder. Many of the children Hamid treats have witnessed killings. They have anxiety problems and suffer from depression. Some have recurring nightmares and wet their beds. Others have problems learning at school.
The US military believes 45 per cent of all foreign militants are Saudi, another 15 per cent are from Syria and Lebanon and 10 per cent from North Africa, according to official US military figures released to the Los Angeles Times by the officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners currently held in US detention facilities in Iraq are Saudi.
Saudi fighters are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than any other nationality, said the senior American military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity for the US government. It is apparently the first time a US official has given such a breakdown on the pivotal role played by Saudi nationals in Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency.
He added that 50 per cent of all Saudi fighters here are suicide bombers. In the last six months, such bombings have killed or injured 4,000 Iraqis. The situation has left the American military in the awkward position of facing an enemy whose top source of fighters is a key regional ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in sending jihadists to commit attacks against US forces, civilians and Iraq's Shiite-led government.
The situation also casts a spotlight on the tangled web of alliances and enemies that often swirl just below the surface in the political relationships between Muslim nations and with the US government. The threat of suicide attacks by a Sunni insurgent group that calls itself Al Qaida in Iraq is the greatest short-term threat to Iraq's security, US military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner warned last Wednesday. The Saudi government does not dispute that some of its youth are ending up as suicide bombers in Iraq, but says it has done everything it currently can to stop the bloodshed.
The bombings in Iraq mainly target Iraq's Shiite majority whom Sunni Arab extremists consider unbelievers.
"Saudis are actually being misused. Someone is helping them come to Iraq, someone is helping them inside Iraq, someone is recruiting them to be suicide bombers. We have no idea who these people are. We aren't getting any formal information from the Iraqi government,'' said Gen. Mansour Al Turki, spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry. "If we get good feedback from the Iraqi government about Saudis being arrested in Iraq, probably we can help."
The seminar, which was concluded on Friday evening, was attended by U.N. envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qadhi, legislators and top officials from the central and Kurdistan governments. "Federalism is the best form for applying democracy in Iraq as it is a guarantee for preserving the rights of all communities in the country. Federalism in Iraq should be locally shaped and not imported from other countries' experience. Its application may take a gradual division of powers among central and local authorities," the seminar recommended.
The committee supervises the implementation of article 140 offered Arabs who voluntarily return to their original cities a compensation of 20 millions Iraqi dinars (roughly $16,000) in addition to a plot of land and a right to have his work transferred if he held a public job.
The oil-rich city of Kirkuk is inhabited by a mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Christian communities. The participants in the seminar also highlighted "a need for establishing more solid traditions in ties linking Kurdistan region parliament and the Iraqi House of Representatives, and that more cooperation should be achieved between the two parliaments that should be regulated by a protocol to be signed between the institutions." The final session also witnessed statements by the participants condemning violence in Iraq and describing armed attacks as "terrorist and sabotage acts" that would hurt all Iraqis without discrimination and cause a great deal of damage to the country's infrastructure.
MPs opposing draft oil law want to put it to referendum
The draft law, which the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has passed, needs the parliament’s approval to become law. The law’s opponents have prepared a bill calling for a new referendum which, in their opinion, will spare the country further infighting and division. The draft oil law if passed without substantial amendments is bound to deepen divisions between various Iraqi political factions and different sects.
The draft was revised by the State Consultative Council, the highest judicial body whose decisions are binding, but the revisions were turned down by the Kurds, the second largest bloc in the current coalition government. “The amendments the council had introduced were unacceptable because they would have undermined the prerogatives of the Kurdish autonomous region,” said Ashti Horami, minister of natural resource in the Kurdish regional government.
The draft’s opponents say the government and the parliament are under obligation to take into account the amendments by the judicial council. According to the amendments the central government should be he only body with power to sign oil contracts, and handle oil exports and proceeds. But the Kurds and their Shiite allies want regional and provincial governments to have the authority to sign oil deals and determine other issues related to extraction, refining and exports.
Most of Iraq’s oil wealth is in the predominantly Shiite provinces in southern Iraq. The fields of Basra and Missan hold more than 65% of the country’s proven reserves estimated at 115 billion barrels. Other major oil fields are situation in Kirkuk, a disputed province which the Kurds say they are determined to annex. Central Iraq, a predominantly Sunni region, is the poorest in the country with regard to oil fields; hence most of the opposition to the draft law comes from Sunni factions in the parliament.