Thursday, August 30, 2007


Iraq's parliament will not hold a vote of no confidence

(Stratfor) - Iraq's parliament will not hold a vote of no confidence for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government yet, but could do so if the government continues to splinter and loses majority support, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi said in an interview with Reuters late Aug. 28 while visiting Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Abdel Mahdi is one of two vice presidents and could be a successor to al-Maliki, though he denies having ambitions for the position.

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Death squad leader named in abduction of Brits

(The Times) - Iraq’s most infamous Shia death squad commander was accused yesterday of masterminding the kidnapping of five British citizens who have not been heard from since their abduction in Baghdad three months ago. Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, told The Times that a group led by Abu Dera, a legendary figure with strong Iranian connections who is renowned for his brutality, was behind the abduction of the five Britons from the Iraqi Finance Ministry on May 29.
Mr Zebari said there was a striking similiarity between their abduction and that of Iraq’s Deputy Oil Minister by Abu Dera’s supporters on August 14. In both instances well-organised forces broke into heavily protected compounds.
The minister and five colleagues were seized by gunmen dressed in security force uniforms who forced their way into the offices of Iraq’s crude oil marketing agency. The Britons were seized by armed men dressed as Iraqi policemen who broke into the Finance Ministry. “I believe the same group who did this did the Ministry of Finance [raid],” Mr Zebari said in an interview in which he also cautioned of “catastrophic consequences” if
Abdel Jabber al-Wagaa, the Deputy Oil Minister, and his colleagues were released unharmed on Tuesday after what Mr Zebari described as “tough” negotiations with the kidnappers.
These talks enabled the Iraqi authorities to establish who the kidnappers were. However, Mr Zebari said he was unaware of any contact with the kidnappers of the Britons – a computer consultant and four security guards – and could not say for certain that they were still alive. “People say that since there’s not been any announcements or videos they may have been killed, but I really don’t know,” he said.
Britain has consistently refused to discuss its efforts to rescue the hostages, or even to name them, and an embassy spokeswoman in Baghdad declined to comment on Abu Dera’s alleged involvement yesterday. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is in contact with the families of the five hostages and has advised them all not to speak publicly.
The al-Mahdi Army is said to have splintered in recent months, with breakaway factions backed by Iran being blamed for some of the worst violence. Abu Dera is believed to lead one of those. He is an elusive figure who is spoken of with awe in the Shia slums of Sadr City, where he was raised.
After the US invasion of 2003 he is thought to have been a leading member of the al-Mahdi Army and to have led attacks on American troops. And when Sunni extremists bombed the Shia shrine in Samarra in 2006 he is said to have led the Shia death squads that killed thousands of innocent Sunnis in revenge. Locals say the Iraqi police allowed him free passage.
Stories of his barbarity are legion. A profile published by the Jamestown Foundation reports that he once commandeered several ambulances, drove them into a Sunni neighbourhood and announced on loudspeakers that Shias were slaughtering Sunnis. The young Sunnis who rushed to help were killed.
He allegedly offers his victims the choice of being executed through suffocation, shooting or being smashed to death with cinder blocks. There is a video recording of a man believed to be Abu Dera kidnapping Saddam Hussein’s lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi, parading him through the streets of Sadr City, and then shooting him three times in the head.
Abu Dera, whose real name is Ismail al-Zerjawi, is thought to be in his late thirties, married with two sons. His daring raids into Sunni communities have made him a hero to many poor young Shias. To others he is known as the “Shiite Zarqawi” – a reference to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader in al-Qaeda in Iraq who exhorted Sunnis to kill Shias.

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Tribal Sheikhs Forming “Salvation Council” In Salah Ad Din

Security, Tribal
(Asharq Al Awsat Newspaper) - 29 AUG - A number of Salah Ad Din’s Tribal Sheikhs have announced the formation of a new organization to fight Al Qaeda in northern Iraq. The US Army is continuing to arm Iraqi Tribes in the country’s “hot areas” …areas such as Jurf Al Sakhar, [this area is sometimes considered to be part of] southern Baghdad Province [due to Provincial boundary changes made during Saddam’s era; but, previously (and presently by some Iraqis) this area was part of northern Babil Province].
130 Tribal Sheikhs in Salah Ad Din Province have decided to form a new organization in order to combat the “terrorist groups”. A US Army statement, “This historic agreement came about in the “birth city” of Iraq’s former President (Saddam Hussein). All of these Tribal Sheikhs have confirmed that they will support the local government in the fight against Al Qaeda.”
In a separate issue, another US Army statement said: a number of US Army commanders have approved a ‘plan to arm some Sunni Arab groups’. These groups have promised to fight “Al Qaeda”. Some anonymous US Army officers have said: this (or a similar) plan has been proven successful in Anbar Province. American officers have negotiated with Sunni Arab groups in four areas… especially (areas) in central and northern Iraq.
An anonymous source in Tikrit (Salah Ad Din) Province said: authorities in Tikrit have completed the formation of the “3rd Regiment of Salah Ad Din’s Salvation Forces”. (This Regiment will be) under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Al Rijja, a Sheikh of the Dulaim Tribe. This “3rd Regiment” has been named the “Jazeera Support Regiment…to pursue ‘Al Qaeda’.” The Jazeera area is an Al Qaeda occupied area of Salah Ad Din Province. This area (Jazeera) encompasses Lake ThirThar …and extends into Anbar Province.
A source confirmed that the first two “Regiments of Salah Ad Din’s Salvation Forces” were formed earlier this year. Those two regiments are deployed in eastern Salah Ad Din (Province)…between Tikrit and Tuz. These two Regiments are similar to the (Salvation) regiments which Anbar’s Salvation Council formed. The Anbar Salvation Council is an alliance of Sunni Arab tribes; and, it was formed in September 2006…in order to fight against Al Qaeda. The Anbar Salvation Council has been able to expel Al Qaeda from most areas of Anbar Province.
The idea to create “Salah Ad Din’s Salvation Forces” was rejected by a number of Salah Ad Din’s Tribal Sheikhs (the formation of these forces was not unanimous)… (It was) especially (objected to) by some Tribal Sheikhs in the areas of: Tikrit, Bayji, and Al Dor… These Sheikhs said that the formation of this (Salah Ad Din “Salvation”) Council will cause more sedition. Hamid Ibrahim Al Jabouri, who is a member of the Salah Ad Din “Salvation” Council, was attacked by insurgents only a few days after this Council was formed.

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Clashes Between Peshmerga Forces And Anti-Iranian Fighters

(Asharq Al Awsat Newspaper) - 29 AUG - Security officials in Kurdistan announced, “Two days ago at 1:00 AM, clashes occurred between Kurdish border forces and fighters from the Iranian opposition party (Bijak) in the Soorin Mountains in Panjaween, Sulaymaniya. One border guard was wounded.”

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Al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army

(AP) - A look at Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, which he said Wednesday would "freeze" operations for up to six months.
MUQTADA AL-SADR: The radical Shiite cleric commands influence as both a political force and leader of the Mahdi Army, a network of militiamen and other factions involved in community services. Based in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, al-Sadr is the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, the most powerful Shiite clerics in Iraq in the late 1990s. He was killed in a 1999 ambush that his followers blame on the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The younger al-Sadr launched two major uprisings against U.S. and coalition forces in 2004. He maintained his anti-American stance, but later agreed to work with the Washington-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In April, five of al-Sadr's followers resigned from al-Maliki's Cabinet to demand a resolution setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. Al-Sadr disappeared from public view at the start of the U.S.-led security crackdown in Baghdad in February. U.S. officials claimed al-Sadr was hiding in Iran, but al-Sadr never confirmed his whereabouts. He returned to the public stage in May with a fiery anti-American sermon to thousands of followers.
MAHDI ARMY: The militia faction was formed in the turbulent months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 by fighters loyal to al-Sadr. It has grown into one of the most powerful armed groups in Iraq by offering both protection to Shiites and providing needed community outreach such as clinics and welfare services. The Madhi Army — often known by its Arabic name Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM — mobilized the two uprising against U.S.-led forces in 2004 and turned al-Sadr into a major figure in post-Saddam Iraq.
The Mahdi Army began to fragment this year with some factions suspected of forging closer ties with Iran while breaking away from al-Sadr's grip. Mahdi militiamen have recently intensified battles with the Badr Brigade — the private army of Iraq's main Shiite political group — for control of areas across oil-rich southern Iraq.
The number of Mahdi members is unclear. Some estimates range as high as 50,000 to 60,000 hardcore fighters, but others have set the figure lower. There are also many non-militiamen who are sympathetic to al-Sadr and his movement. It takes its name from a messianic figure central to Shiite Islam: the Mahdi, or so-called Hidden Imam, who disappeared as a child in the 9th century. Shiites believe he will return one day to bring justice to Earth.

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Barzani calls for implementation of Article 140

(Kurdish Globe) - Heightened anxiety among Iraqi groups and neighboring countries is due to fear that the execution of Article 140 will empower the Kurdistan government and inch it closer to declaring independence. Kurdish political leaders have once again insisted upon the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution as a condition for remaining in the Nouri al-Maliki's government.
According to Qadir Aziz, the representative of Massoud Barzani, President of Kurdistan Iraqi Region, in the four-sided agreement between the Kurds and the Shiite, the primary condition for the Kurds to remain in the al-Maliki government is the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk and the surrounding areas.
The city of Kirkuk and the surrounding areas are rich with oil and comprise a mixed ethnicity of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, and Chaldeo-Assyrians; the situation of these regions can be rectified by Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. In this constitutional article, it mentions that it's necessary to apply three stages for the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk and the surrounding areas. And toward the end of 2007, the people should have the right to vote in a referendum on the decision whether to remain with Baghdad or be annexed to Kurdistan Region.
After the withdrawal of the ministers who were members of the Sunni Accordance Front from the al-Maliki government, the security climate in the country worsened. Consequently, a number of factions signed an agreement for the purpose of resolving this chaos. This agreement comprises 27 points, and is between the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Dawa Party, and the Islamic Revolutionary Council in Iraq.
COMMENT: This puts Maliki in a tricky position, particularly now, when he can ill afford to lose the little backing he has which would likely lead to the toppling of his government. However, Barzani has insisted on the implmentation of Article 140 on several occasions. COMMENT ENDS.

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Seperate attacks in Kirkuk kill four

(Voices of Iraq) - At least four people were killed and ten more wounded in separate attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Wednesday, police sources said. "A car bomb detonated, today at 7:00 pm, in Domiz area, southwestern Kirkuk, killing three civilians and wounding seven more," the source, who spoke on anonymity condition, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
The source added "the explosion also damaged some commercial shops." Meanwhile, another police source told VOI "an explosive charge went off, today at 6:00 pm, near a police vehicle patrol in Domiz area, wounding three policemen." The wounded policemen were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, he added.
The same source added that unknown gunmen opened fire at a shop for selling alcoholics today at 4:00 pm in Domiz, killing the owner inside his shop. Kirkuk is 250 km northeast of Baghdad.
COMMENT: Violence is likely to escalate in Kirkuk between the different ethnic groups in the run-up to the referendum on whether Kirkuk should become part of Kurdistan, something the Kurds want, but most of the rest of the population in the town don't. Gunmen opening up fire on an shop selling alcohol indicates that the gunmen were likely extremists. COMMENT ENDS.

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Al-Sadr calls for halt to attacks on other party offices

Politics, Security
(Voices of Iraq) - In a statement released on Wednesday, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged his followers not to target the offices of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and to protect the headquarters of all political parties. "We call on all Sadrists to observe self-restraint, to help security forces control the situation and arrest the perpetrators and sedition mongers, and urge them to end all forms of armament in the sacred city," according to the statement that was read out by al-Sadr's top aide Hazem al-Araji in the holy city of Najaf.
"We call on Sadrists not to target the offices of political parties all over Iraq and the SIIC's offices in Sadr city in particular," the statement indicated. The statement comes after five SIIC's offices in Baghdad and Babel were attacked and burnt in the past two days. The SIIC is led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is also the head of the Shiite Unified Iraqi Coalition (UIC), the largest parliamentary bloc with a total of 113 seats in the 275-member parliament. Najaf is located 180 km south of Baghdad.

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Yazidis celebrate religious rituals under tight security

Security, Religion
(Voices of Iraq) - The Yazidi community in Iraq celebrated on Tuesday the 'Night of Blessings' at the holy temple of Lalsh, amidst tight security measures that were put in place after recent bombings killed and injured hundreds of Yazidis in Sinjar.
Bishmam from the Supreme Yazidi Spiritual Council said the rituals were significantly reduced during this year's celebration due to the deteriorating security situation and the attacks that targeted the Yazidi community in mid-August. "Some members of the choir were even unable to attend," he indicated.
A member of the security forces that was assigned to protect the temple told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) that they were given strict orders to search and secure the area. "The tense atmosphere prevented many from attending the celebration this year, unlike previous years when scores of people converged on the temple to take part in the celebrations that would last until the early hours of the next morning," he said.
The holy temple of Lalsh is located 50 km north of Mosul. Giving brief background to the celebration, Samir Sheikh Sharwo, a researcher in Yazidi history from Mosul University, said 'Shab-e-Bara'at' is the night between 14 and 15 Shabaan [The 8th month of the Hijri calendar] where Yazidis celebrate the advent of Sheikh Hassan, who gave religious teachings after a six-year absence from his people, according to Yazidi religious beliefs.
Yazidis are primarily ethnic Kurds and most live near Mosul, with smaller communities in Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey. They number around 500,000 individuals in total, but estimates of their population size vary, partially due to the Yazidi tradition of secrecy about their religious beliefs.
Four truck bombs were detonated on August 14, 2007 in Kar Izir area, 35 km south of Sinjar, and at the Siba Sheikh Khidr housing compound, killing or injuring more than 800. Sinjar, 120 km northwest of Mosul, is inhabited by Yazidis, a religious minority whose followers are generally situated in northern Iraq. Some 350,000 Yazidis live in villages around Mosul, 405 km north of Baghdad.

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Leading Iraqi Accordance Front member welcomes al-Sadr's move to suspend Mahdi Army

(Voices of Iraq) - A leading figure from the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) welcomed on Wednesday the order by the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to suspend the activities of the Mahdi army, describing the recent incidents in Karbala as "disastrous". "We welcome this decision which should have been taken by the government in a move to disband all kinds of militias," Omar Abdul Sattar told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
The IAF leading figure also described the clashes that took place in Karbala, 108 km southwest of Baghdad, as "disastrous", noting that "we have warned from the very beginning against the disasters that might take place because of presence of these militias. The government has started more seriously considering the issue of militias following the recent meeting of the political blocs' leaders and Karbala incidents," the Accordance member said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr decided to freeze al-Mahdi army militia and to restructure its fighters, calling for "an impartial and just investigation" into Karbala incidents where 42 Iraqis were killed and 282 more wounded in clashes near two shrines sacred to Shiite Muslims.

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Iraq Business and Investment Conference in Dubai starts

Regional conference
(AME Info FZ LLC) - The vice-president of Iraq Dr Adel Abdul Mehdi opened the first Iraq Business and Investment Conference in Dubai (IBIC) as the head of a delegation of over 100 businessmen from southern Iraq. The conference attracted over 300 UAE and international businessmen interested in exploring business and investment opportunities with their Iraqi counterparts.
Panel sessions covered the legal environment for conducting business in Iraq, financing private sector business, trade and commerce and private sector banking. This was followed by parallel meetings covering specific business opportunities in the seven southern governates of Iraq chaired by their respective governors.
Dr Mehdi said 'Iraq's new investment law will facilitate investment for both Iraqi and non-Iraqi businesses by providing a secure investment environment. Business people know the capacities and resources of Iraq. These delegates are the experts brought together at this conference to present opportunities for investments across a wide range of industries. Iraq is not only oil and gas but also agriculture, infrastructure and tourism, both historic and religious.'
Five Iraqi government ministers are also attending the conference. Sessions will include presentations concerning joint ventures with state owned enterprises, investment in agriculture, free zones, construction and contracting and opportunities in reconstruction and management associated with the port of Basra.

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Iraq dismayed by Ahmadinejad's comments

(Al-Sharqiyah television) - Two parliamentarians told Al-Sharqiyah television in August 28 interviews that they are dismayed by Iranian President Ahmadinejad's comments that Iran is ready to fill a power vacuum in Iraq. Ahmadinejad told reporters in Tehran on August 28: "I truly declare that the political power of the occupiers is on the decline, and the region will witness the emergence of a big power. We are ready to help restore security in the region through collective cooperation with our regional friends and Saudi Arabia," IRNA reported the same day.
Hasan al-Sunayd, a parliamentarian aligned with the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, told Al-Sharqiyah that Iraq should not be used as a playground to settle scores between the United States and Iran. "Iraqi forces should achieve the required standard to fill the security vacuum.... We do not want Iranian or Saudi forces or any Arab, Islamic, or international forces to replace the U.S. forces. Iraqi forces will fill the security vacuum," he said.
Parliamentarian Usamah al-Nujayfi, a representative of the Iraqis List, told Al-Sharqiyah that he is convinced Iran began interfering in Iraq four years ago "and has infiltrated power circles and has a lot of leverage over the political and social situation in Iraq." He said Ahmadinejad's remarks are tantamount to an admission that Iran is interfering in Iraq.

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Iraqi govt demands Iran stops shelling northern Iraq

(Reuters) -- Iraq's government on Tuesday demanded Iran stop shelling Kurdish areas inside Iraq's northeastern border, warning that relations would be hurt, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said. Iraqi Kurdish officials have complained about cross-border shelling from neighbouring Iran since the middle of the month.
Cross-border skirmishes occasionally occur as Iraq's neighbours Turkey and Iran combat Kurdish separatist rebels operating from bases in Iraq's mountainous northern region of Kurdistan. Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Hamoud summoned the Iranian ambassador on Tuesday to protest about the shelling, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"The deputy foreign minister demanded the Iranian side immediately cease these attacks," the statement said.
"The affair would affect negatively the good neighbourly relationship between the two countries." The government in Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region said on Tuesday that 450 families from 20 villages along the border had been evacuated because of shelling.
The Iraqi side of the border area is believed to be home to Kurdish PJAK militants seeking autonomy for Kurdish regions of Iran. There has been no official comment from Tehran about the shelling.

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Islamic State of Iraw claims to have executed a U.S. embassy employee

(AP) -- An al-Qaida front group claimed Thursday on an Islamic Web site known to be used by extremists that it had executed an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The veracity of the claim could not be independently verified and the U.S. Embassy said it was looking into the report but had no immediate comment.
On the site, the Islamic State of Iraq claimed the execution of an embassy "official" it identified as Zaher Abdel Mohsin Abdel-Saheb took place Saturday as revenge for "the Muslim women who are still captives in the prisons of Shiites and crusaders." The Arabic-language statement was signed by the Ministry of Information of the Islamic State of Iraq.

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U.N. reports cholera outbreak in northern Iraq

(CNN) -- More than 2,000 Iraqis in the northern part of the country have contracted cholera, U.N. officials say, citing local authorities. The outbreak of the potentially deadly disease is thought to be the result of poor water quality, the U.N. officials said. "Local authorities report that over 2,000 people have been affected so far by the outbreak, with five deaths reported and 500 patients admitted to hospital with severe diarrhea within the last two days alone," the U.N. Children's Fund, or UNICEF, said on Wednesday.
Forty-seven cases have been confirmed as epidemic cholera, but the number is expected to grow, said
UNICEF, which has rushed emergency aid to the affected area. The outbreak has hit the Sulaimaniya province and the nearby Kirkuk region in northern Iraq. "Although the outbreak is largely affecting adults, children are at extremely high risk," UNICEF said.
Cholera is a bacterial ailment that affects the intestinal tract. The disease is contracted by consuming contaminated water. The outbreak is being attributed to "serious problems with water quality and sewage treatment" -- an assessment repeated by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq. Only 30 percent of the population in Sulaimaniya has an adequate water supply, according to local reports, and "many people have been reduced to digging shallow wells outside their own homes," UNICEF said.
UNICEF is urging families to make sure children stay away from areas contaminated with raw sewage, wash their hands with soap and drink only water that has been purified or boiled. UNICEF is providing material such as oral rehydration salts and safe water kits. "If the epidemic spreads, there will be an urgent need for additional support," UNICEF said.

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Sistani aides kidnapped in Mahdi Army controlled area of Karbala

(KUNA) -- Angered by Tuesday's clashes between policemen of Karbala City and the Shiite militia of Al-Mahdi's Army, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki decided Wednesday to sack commander of police operations' center Major General Saleh Khazal Al-Maliki and run the center by himself. He also fired 1,500 other police officers. Al-Maliki's decree sacking the police chief and other police officers was meant to blame them of professional incompetence, Spokesman of Iraqi Ministry of Defense Staff Major General Mohammad Al-Askari told KUNA here.
The Prime Minister visited the embattled city earlier in the day to defuse the two-day riots and chaos among Iraqis during religious Shiite rites. Soon after his arrival in Karbala, Al-Maliki convened with Minister of Defense Mohammad Abdul-Qader Al-Ubaidi and National Security Advisor Mowaffaq Al-Rubaiei as well as local military and civilian leaders. He imposed a curfew as of Wednesday morning pending further notice and ordered the arrest of anyone who breaks his instructions. Al-Maliki held "criminal gangs" and "remnants of Al-Baath Party" responsible for the riots and attacks against visitors of the holy city. He vowed to track down the perpetrators and culprits of the riots that left 55 dead and some 300 others injured.
The malicious design targeting the stability in the holy city and the safety of its citizens was aborted, the prime minister asserted, adding that the situation was brought under full control of the security forces after the arrival of military backup. The militants targeted to occupy the two holy shrines and topple Al-Maliki's government, Al-Rubaiei said. Commandoes took part in normalizing the situation in the southern Iraqi city, he added.
However, local sources told KUNA two secretaries of the Shiite cleric Al-Sistani; Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi Al-Karbalaei and Ahmad Al-Safi were still seized in areas adjacent to the two holy shrines of the city which are under full control of Al-Mahdi Army.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Bigger rockets being used in southern Iraq

(Newsweek) - Roadside bombs and suicide attackers may be the biggest killers in Iraq. But in many ways rockets are equally vexing and disruptive weapons—and new missiles are being added to the arsenal. Since January 1, 2004, the American military has counted about 26,000 rocket and mortar salvos (including up to 60,000 separate impacts), the vast majority launched against U.S. or coalition targets. The strikes have killed 149 coalition soldiers and wounded about 2,600, along with many other (often unreported) Iraqis and foreigners working on U.S. bases. Missiles are less precise and lethal than car bombs, but the sheer volume of attacks is a constant stress on life for Americans in Iraq. U.S. embassy staff in the Green Zone have long grown weary of the late-night sirens that announce, “Incoming, take cover,” rousting them from their beds into concrete bunkers.
Recent weeks have seen a drop in mortar and rocket attacks countrywide. But the size of incoming rounds is growing. Particularly in southern Iraq, recent attacks have featured 240mm rockets, which are about as big around as oxygen tanks. They have at least twice the explosive power of most other rockets in the field. “It’s concerning as hell. They’re very lethal,” says Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the U.S. commander in central Iraq.
The 240mm rockets carry about 110 pounds of explosives, instead of the approximately 40 pounds used in the next largest common variety of missile. About 100 have been fired—in 40 separate assaults—since they started showing up about 13 months ago, and there was a flurry in the late spring, according to a military intelligence officer who spoke to Newsweek on condition he not be identified. He called the rocket “the most significant new [air] weapon in the last year.”
American officials say they believe the missiles are imported from Iran and say markings indicate they were manufactured there—as they have been claiming for a range of weapons being used by Shiites against U.S. troops. About 80 percent of the 240mm rockets have been fired against British bases in the Shiite city of Basra, near the Iranian border. (None, as of mid-August, had landed in the Green Zone.) So far the 240mm rockets have killed four coalition soldiers and wounded 61. That’s a higher kill rate than with smaller rockets—about 4 percent per impact, compared to less than half of one percent.
The emergence of this new weapon coincides with a shift in the nature of the enemy. In July, for the first time, there were roughly as many attacks on the U.S.-led coalition by Shiite militants as there were by Sunni insurgents, who had dominated the numbers for years. (When asked about the breakdown by Newsweek, a U.S. military official would only give percentages—about 50 percent each, Sunni and Shiite—not the baseline figures.) Sunni insurgents generally favor mortars, and such attacks have been decreasing as more and more Sunni tribal groups sign deals with the coalition. It’s Shiites who fire the rockets. So the sect becoming the most active in the insurgency also has the greater firepower.
Insurgent rockets are hard to stop and very public. A foreign diplomat familiar with an attack on one base pointed out that the rockets were launched during the morning rush hour, making a trail across the sky that could be intended to impress residents with the militants’ strength. They can be fired from home-made frames that are little more than crude iron racks. Most important, they can be fired on timers. By the time they ascend through the radar U.S. forces use to track “points of origin,” the rocket men are long gone. Attempts to fire back with artillery or air strikes will miss them but possibly kill civilians—which counts as a win for the insurgents.
The intelligence officer says that so far the 240mm rockets have the same range—about five miles—as other rockets in use, so they won’t revolutionize the battle. The bigger missiles are also harder to hide and move around. American troops have caught some rocket teams off tips from Iraqis or by tracking them with drones. The 11 Iraqis suspected in the attack on Kalsu, for instance, are now in detention, and launches in the area have decreased. But insurgents have proved skilled at adapting to coalition tactics thus far, and there’s no reason to think the air war will be any different.

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Agility wins tender to supply AAFES

(BUSINESS WIRE) - Agility, a global logistics leader, was awarded a tender by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) - a government agency within the Department of Defense. AAFES operates retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, gas stations, and other businesses on military installations around the globe. The competitive commercial services business will open a new supply chain route through Jordan to service AAFES retail centers in Western Iraq.
Agility will provide an integrated supply chain solution for the clearance and transportation of general department store merchandise destined for AAFES customers in Iraq by utilizing its operations in Jordan. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, AAFES is a joint-service military organization serving soldiers and sailors that offers brand-name retail merchandise to active and retired military personnel and their families. With more than $9 billion in annual revenues, AAFES operates as one of the world’s top 40 largest retail companies.
In order to help AAFES find operational efficiencies while ensuring the highest levels of service quality, Agility will integrate best practices from its award-winning Retail Center of Excellence and Defense & Government Services (DGS) operations. AAFES will have the benefit of Agility’s experience in supporting world-class commercial retailers, optimized for use in a military environment.
AAFES retail operations in Iraq are currently being serviced by a distribution operation in Germany. This has historically left the retail sites in Western Iraq with minimal accessibility and the hardest challenges for re-supply. By partnering with Agility to open a new supply route through Jordan, these Western Iraq sites will realize major improvements in re-supply for the first time.

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Al-Sadr 'suspends' Mahdi Army activity for six months

(Reuters) - Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army militia to suspend its activities for up to six months and his movement to shut its offices for three days, a top aide said on Wednesday. "First, (let's) freeze (the activities of) the Mehdi Army, without exception, to restructure it in a way that will preserve its principles, for a maximum period of six months," Hazim al-Araji said, reading from a statement he said was signed by Sadr.

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Dr. Torhan Al Mufti: It Is Impossible To Implement Article 140 Now

(Al Qala Newspaper) - 28 AUG - Dr. Torhan Al Mufti, a member of the Kirkuk Governate Council, said that the application of Article 140 of the Constitution cannot be implemented at this time because the government is weak and cannot run the country. He said, “We are not against the original displaced inhabitants of Kirkuk. We call for the [Kirkuk] referendum to be cancelled because the outcome has been [wrongly] determined already. The Turkmen entity members of the Kirkuk Governorate Council have been boycotting the council for ten months.”
In regard to why they have been boycotting the council, Al Mufti said, “The reason behind this boycott is because the Turkmen have not been given a primary role in running Kirkuk and we have been negotiating with the Kurds for four months and we have still not reached any agreement. Recently, the US Councilor in Kirkuk has been heavily involved in the negotiations with the Kurds and he has called on us to end our boycott in exchange for important positions for the Arabs and us. But after the meeting between the Turkmen Front and other Turkmen parties, we have decided to demand we be given the Governor position and to have 32% of the administrative positions in Kirkuk.”
Regarding his opinion of increasing the UN’s role in Iraq, Al Mufti said, “We welcome this development because, frankly, the Iraqi issue needs global involvement in order to reach fair and reasonable solutions. This is particularly true regarding the Kirkuk issue which requires the UN to have a role.” Al Mufti added, “We are waiting for a final answer regarding our demands in Kirkuk and if the answer is negative then we will continue our boycott and we will not be a part of losing our citizens’ rights in Kirkuk.”

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Sadr Movement Denies That They Agree With The Oil And Gas Law

Politics, Oil
(Al Sabah Al Jadeed Newspaper) - 28 AUG - On Monday, Nassar Al Rubaie, the Chief of the Sadr Movement’s bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, issued a “denial” of recent claims that the Sadr Movement supports the Oil and Gas Law. Al Rubaie also demanded: items must be added to this Law, in order to prevent the issuing of contracts to oil companies (of countries) which have (Occupation) armies here in Iraq!
Al Rubaie clarified: there are many problems with the (Draft) Oil and Gas Law; these problems include the distribution of Oil and Gas revenue. (Again,) Al Rubaie stated: the Sadr Movement demands that oil companies…of countries which have (military) forces in Iraq…not be allowed to receive Oil and Gas contracts!
Al Rubaie added: we can not (should not) deal with the companies (of those countries) because that would help finance their (military) forces. We want to put more pressure on these forces… in order to achieve their prompt withdrawal from Iraq!

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Iraqi Turkmen Front Calls For Early Election And A Safe Zone For Turkmen

Security, Politics
(Al Qala Newspaper) - 28 AUG - The Iraqi Turkmen Front has rejected the new four party alliance that was recently announced in order to overcome the crisis facing the Iraqi government. The Turkmen Front considers this alliance as being based on sectarianism and discrimination which may lead to the collapse of the political process.
Iraqi Turkmen Front Executive Officer and President of the Turkmen National Party, Jamal Shan, said in a press conference, “Our options to solve this issue is to return to page one, to establish a new parliament, and a strong central government that consists of all sects, religions, and ethnicities. The option is to conduct an early election because the Iraqi people were not politically mature enough during the last election. Now, the Iraqi people realize the facts because of the dangerous developments facing the country.”
He added, “The parties of this alliance are the same ones that have run the country since it was occupied and based upon the political parliamentary majority. The economic, security, administrative, and political crises are worsening day by day and these parties do not care about the suffering of the Iraqi people. The Kurdish parties are using the Kirkuk issue as a bargaining chip with all of the other parties in order to achieve their ambitions against the rights of the Turkmen. The Iraqi Turkmen Front considers Kirkuk a Turkmen city and the center for the Turkmen “Elee” region which begins from Tall Afar in the north to Mandili in the south. The Front will not compromise Kirkuk as a Turkmen city! This is the primary reason for the strategic political dispute between the Front and the other parties.”
He revealed, “There is a national political project to support the Turkmen that includes the establishment of a safe zone in the Turkmen Elee area in order to protect the third ethnicity from dangers, which will be under the supervision of the UN and international forces. This safe zone will last until security and stability are achieved in Iraq.”

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Jordanian trucks to ferry Iraqi oil to Jordan

Region, Oil
(Azzaman) - More than 2,000 Jordanian tanker trucks have been readied to ferry Iraqi crude oil to the Kingdom’s refinery at al-Zarqa. Iraqi tanker trucks will be involved but will not be allowed to cross the border. They will carry the crude from Kirkuk and unload it into specially built storage tanks on the border. The Jordanian tanker trucks will transfer the crude from the border to the refinery.
Fifteen such storage tanks have been built but no Iraqi tanker truck has surfaced on the border yet. Iraq has agreed to resume exporting discounted crude oil supplies to Jordan. The volume is reported to start with 10,000 barrels a day and steadily rocket to 30,000. Under former leader Saddam Hussein, Iraq met all Jordan’s energy needs of nearly 100,000 barrels a day at preferential prices. Iraqi tanker trucks then drove directly to al-Zarqa refinery close to Amman, the capital.
Analysts say Iraq may not be able to meet its obligation under the deal due to the upsurge in violence along the Iraqi portion of the highway. Iraqi drivers are reported to be reluctant to drive along the highway despite incentives. Tanker trucks are now the main target of Qaeda and other anti-U.S. and anti-government groups.
The trucks are now increasingly being used in suicide bombing attacks. Their drivers are kidnapped and only released after their families pay hefty ransoms. Trucks passing through rebel areas are usually heavily taxed. Drivers refusing to pay are either killed or kidnapped.

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Iranian acts force Kurds to flee homes as the Iraqi govt is blamed for not taking action

Security, Kurdistan
(Voices of Iraq) - Hundreds of panicky Kurdish families inhabiting border areas with neighboring Iran had to flee their homes after Iranian shelling targeted villages at the foot of Mount Qandeel in Sulaimaniya province, 364 km northeast of Baghdad. The families are now living in groups in tents near rivers and wells, waiting for the government's helping hand that is never outstretched.
Iran has been shelling border areas in Qalaat Daza, 135 km northewest of Sulaimaniya; Haj Omran, 147 km northeast of Arbil; and Banjwin district, 96 km northeast of Sulaimaniya for two weeks now under the pretext of tracking down PJAK fighters. Turkey, also, was shelling border areas in the northern Iraqi province of Duhuk under the pretext of fighting members of imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Kurdish sources said the shelling caused damage to property and fires in Kurdish forests.
PJAK (Partiya Jiyana Azada Kurdistanê in Kurdish or Kurdistan Free Life Party) is a Kurdish military opposition group founded in 2004, said to be linked to the PKK. PJAK, although a newly established organization, continuously launches militant operations against Iranian army forces, so that in 2005, in less than 6 months, it killed 120 Iranian police and wounded tens more.
Homeless families complain of a lack of humanitarian relief from any organization, in light of immense material losses, as the shelling sets their lands on fire. Each of the villages of Maradawa, Arka, Aki, Sirw, Sora Kola, Spilka, Eleih and Rash have received more than 50 Iranian artillery shells. Hundreds of acres of orchards were burnt. The attacks caused no casualties.
In the village of Sora Kola, life seems to have come to a standstill. Only seven houses were still standing and all were vacant except one, where the men of the village gathered together. Their families had fled scores of kilometers away. "We hold (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri) al-Maliki responsible for the burnt orchards and gardens. These incidents took place only after his (recent) visits to Syria, Iran and Turkey," 56-year-old Hamad Hassan told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) while leaning on his pillow and sadly looking at the burnt fields.
A spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdistan region's security force (Peshmerga) had held the central government in Baghdad responsible for any decision representing "a reply to Iranian shelling." "The problem is occurring on international borders. It is Baghdad's responsibility," the Peshmerga spokesman Jabbar Yawir, said.
In one of the PJAK strongholds Amir Kerimi, a member of the Kurdish group's administrative body, said "Iran's attacks began right after Maliki visited Syria, Turkey and Iran and made agreements with those countries." On concerns that Mount Qandeel might turn into a haven for al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq if the PJAK and PKK fighters withdraw, Kerimi replied "No force can ever take Mount Qandeel from us."
PJAK is a splinter group of the PKK. It separated from it after PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was imprisoned in Turkish jails. The nearly 3,000 PJAK fighters then started their armed struggle against the Iranian authorities, with the aim of "building federalism for Iran's Kurdistan."

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KRG, Hashimi call on Iraqi government to do more to protect Kurdish citizens

Security, Kurdistan
(RFE/RL) - Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on August 27 called on the Iraqi government to protect Kurdish citizens from shelling operations carried out by neighboring states, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Hashimi said in a statement released by the Iraqi Islamic Party, which he heads, that the nearly two weeks of shelling is unjustified. He said the Iraqi government is obliged to take action to secure the areas under attack and reduce casualties.
Kurdish officials have said Iran has bombed several villages Tehran suspects of sheltering Iranian Kurdish militants. Meanwhile, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported on August 27 that Kurds demonstrated outside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headquarters in Irbil to protest Iranian and Turkish shelling of villages outside Al-Sulaymaniyah and Dahuk. Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham denied on August 22 that Iran had dropped leaflets warning Kurdish villagers to evacuate the area ahead of a planned military operation, Reuters reported the same day.
Elham refused to comment further on Iranian operations in the area, except to say: "Iran is ready to deal with groups that jeopardize the security of the people in the region without hurting civilians," the news agency reported. Turkey has denied taking part in the shelling, but Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul last week voiced possible Turkish support for a cross-border operation by Iran, reported on August 27. Kurdistan Satellite television on August 28 carried a live broadcast of the Kurdistan regional parliament's extraordinary session to discuss the reported shelling of Iraqi Kurdish villages by Iran and Turkey.
Regional parliament spokesman Tariq Jawhar told Al-Iraqiyah in an August 27 interview that the central government has said little about the shelling. "We have not yet heard any official Iraqi reaction [to the shelling] except for the statements made [on August 26] by the prime minister to the effect that the Iranian and Turkish shelling and operations violate Iraq's sovereignty.... [We] hope the Iraqi government will take practical measures and demand the Iranian and Turkish sides halt their military operations." Prime Minister al-Maliki told reporters at an August 26 press briefing in Baghdad: "The bombardments by Iran and Turkey are violations of Iraq's sovereignty. We will not allow these violations, but this must come through diplomatic channels. We will inform our brothers in Turkey and Iran about that through the Foreign Ministry."

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52 dead in Karbala as rival Shiite militias battle for power

(Al Jazeera) - Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, has ordered an indefinite curfew in Karbala, Iraqi state TV says, a day after fighting left at least 52 people dead during an annual Shia pilgrimage. A spokesman for al-Maliki said on Wednesday that he had arrived in Karbala to inspect the situation. Al-Maliki said on Wednesday that his troops had restored calm to the city and blamed "outlawed armed criminal gangs from the remnants of the buried Saddam regime" for the violence.
However, the violence among rival Shia factions appeared to have spread overnight. Fighters attacked the offices of a powerful Shia party in at least five cities, setting many of them ablaze. In a separate incident on Wednesday in Mosul to the north, armed men raided an Iraqi police checkpoint on Wednesday and killed five policemen and a civilian, police said.
Al-Maliki, in a statement on Wednesday, said: "The situation in Karbala is under control after military reinforcements arrived and police and military special forces have spread throughout the city to purge those killers and criminals." Sporadic and occasionally sustained gunfire could still be heard after dawn in the city, coming from the area around the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas.

The fighting killed 52 people and wounded 206 on Tuesday, a senior security official in Baghdad said. The general director of the al-Hussein hospital in Karbala, 110km south of the capital, said it had received 34 bodies and treated 239 wounded. Ali Kadhum, an official at the shrines' media office, said the two shrines had been slightly damaged, with bullets hitting their domes and minarets and an electric power station ruined.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had gathered in the city to mark the birthday of the 12th and last Shia imam. The interior ministry accused al-Mahdi army, a militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia leader, of attacking government forces in Karbala, the site of two shrines under the control of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC). Al-Sadr's forces are vying with the SIIC for power in the regions south of Baghdad.
Al-Sadr called for calm on Tuesday night but police said SIIC buildings were torched overnight in Baghdad's Kadhimiya neighbourhood, in the city of Kufa, in Iskandariya and in al-Hamza district of Babil province. Another SIIC headquarters was struck by rocket-propelled grenades in the centre of Najaf.
This week's Shia pilgrimage was to have reached its high point on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Thousands thronged the city to mark the12th imam's birthday. Pilgrims had earlier complained about the level of security - which they said was so high it made movement frustratingly slow near the Imam al-Hussein mosque. Security was high as pilgrims have been killed in previous years by suicide bombers.
Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said al-Maliki had dispatched more troops to the area from Baghdad and the surrounding areas. Khalaf described the armed men as "criminals" and said that the curfew was imposed because of fears for the large mass of pilgrims. He said: "The situation now is under control, but what is worrying is that the pilgrims are in huge numbers."
COMMENT: Tensions are high in southern Iraq as the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organisation (the militia arm of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council - SIIC) fight for power. These tensions could easily escalate. Several issues have added to the hostilities between the rival groups; the recent assassinations of two SIIC governors, and the power vacuum left in Basrah as the British have decreased their presence. The security forces in karbala are also heavily infiltrated by the Badr Organisation. COMMENT ENDS.

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U.S. to support Iraqi refugees with $30 mn. education grant

(AP) -- The top U.S. envoy on refugees announced Tuesday that the United States will increase its support to countries hosting Iraqi refugees with a $30 million grant for education. Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey said the money will help pay for schooling in countries like Jordan, where tens of thousands of young Iraqis recently began attending government schools.
Jordan and Syria host the largest percentage of the more than 2 million Iraqis who have been displaced by the war and they have complained of the increasing burden on their health and education systems. Smaller numbers of Iraqis have fled to Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. The grant will go toward a recent joint appeal by the U.N. refugee agency and UNICEF for international donors to provide $129 million that would pay for educating 155,000 Iraqi children in Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
In Damascus, the German development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, announced that her government would give $5.4 million to help Syria cope with the Iraqi refugees it hosts. This month, more than 40,000 Iraqi children went to school in Jordan for the first time since they fled their homeland, amid concerns about the system being overburdened. Education Minister Khaled Touqan said more classrooms and possibly new schools would be needed.
In the past, Iraqi children could attend Jordanian public schools only if a family had a residency permit or paid fees - a serious strain on the finances of the largely unemployed Iraqi refugees. Sauerbrey told reporters the United States expected to allow in some 2,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of September, but ruled out taking in large numbers.
While Washington has a "moral obligation" to aid refugees "in danger because of their affiliation with U.S. forces," she said it also had an obligation to "provide the assistance necessary to help people continue to be in the region for when the day comes that Iraq is a stable country and people will have a home to return to."
The United States has been criticized by some people for accepting so few Iraqi refugees. Only 57 settled in the U.S. last month, bringing the total over the last year to 190. This month it expects to take in 400 Iraqis.

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Nine killed by bombing during prayers

(Gulf News) - At least nine people have been killed after a suicide bomber set off explosives during evening prayers in the city of Fallujah. More than 10 people were injured by the attack on Monday evening. It has been reported that the imam of the mosque had publicly spoken out against Al Qaeda. Three people were also killed during clashes between the police and Shia’s at a festival in Karbala. Fighting broke out in the holy city after pilgrims grew angry at the strict security being imposed.

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U.S. troops release Iranians held in Iraq

(The Guardian) - US troops today released a group of Iranians to Iraqi officials after detaining them at a central Baghdad hotel overnight. "They were detained yesterday by American forces and were released this morning," Yasin Majid, a media adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told Reuters.
American troops raided Baghdad's Sheraton Ishtar hotel and took away a group of about 10 people late yesterday. The seven Iranians included an embassy official and six members of a delegation from Iran's electricity ministry.
Videotape shot last night by Associated Press Television News showed US troops leading about 10 blindfolded and handcuffed men out of the hotel. Other soldiers carried out what appeared to be luggage and at least one briefcase and a laptop computer bag.
The latest incident between the US and Iran came as the US president, George Bush, made a tough speech against Iran. In an address to the American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada, Mr Bush said: "I have authorised our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities."
Relations between the US and Iran are already strained by the detention of each other's citizens, as well as US accusations of Iranian involvement in Iraq's violence and alleged Iranian efforts to develop nuclear bombs.
The US is still holding five Iranians who were seized in January. American officials say the five include the operations chief and other members of Iran's elite Quds Force, which is accused of arming and training Iraqi militants. For its part, Iran is holding several Iranian-Americans on spying charges, although it freed an American-Iranian academic last week.

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Ahmadinejad says Iran is ready to fill power vacuum in Iraq

Region, Politics
(Gulf News) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on Tuesday that US political influence in Iraq is "collapsing rapidly" and said his government is ready to help fill any power vacuum. The hard-line leader also defended Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, a fellow Shiite Muslim who has been harshly criticised by American politicians for his unsuccessful efforts to reconcile Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
"The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly," Ahmadinejad said at a news conference, referring to US troops in Iraq. "Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation."

Ahmadinejad did not elaborate on his remarks, an unusual declaration of Iran's interest in influencing its neighbor's future. The mention of a Saudi role appeared aimed at allaying the fears of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim nations that Iran wants to dominate in Iraq. Even though Saudi Arabia and Iran have not cooperated in the past, it "doesn't mean it can't happen," Ahmadinejad said.
Iran fought a brutal eight-year war with Saddam Hussein's regime and welcomed the elimination of a deeply hated enemy. But Iran also strongly objects to the presence of America, another rival, over its eastern and western borders in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Occupation is the root of all problems in Iraq," Ahmadinejad said. "It has become clear that occupiers are not able to resolve regional issues. They rudely say (the Iraqi) prime minister and the constitution must change," Ahmadinejad said of US critics. "Who are you? Who has given you the right" to ask for such a change, he added.
Ousting Al Maliki, a longtime Shiite political activist, would require a majority vote in the 275-member Iraqi parliament. As long as the Kurdish parties and the main Shiite bloc back al-Maliki, his opponents lack the votes for that. Ahmadinejad dismissed the possibility of any US military action against Iran, saying Washington has no plan and is not in a position to take such action.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007


As the British leave Basra the militias take over

(Christian Science Monitor) - The last contingent of British soldiers based in the center of Basra will leave by Friday, says a senior Iraqi security official, adding that a deal has been struck with leaders of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army to ensure their safe departure. As they pull back to a base outside Basra, the British will leave a vital provincial capital in the throes of a turf battle between Shiite factions – one that Mr. Sadr's militia appears to be winning.
"By the end of August, there will be no presence for British forces at the palace or at the joint coordination center. Both will be in the hands of the Iraqi government," says the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter. "I think it's best if they leave, because they did nothing to stop the militias, which were formed in the womb of their occupation."
Ahead of the pullout, an agreement between British and Iraqi authorities resulted in the transfer of more than two dozen Mahdi Army prisoners from British to Iraqi custody, according to the security official. They were then released by an Iraqi court in an attempt to pacify the militias during the highly symbolic handover of the palaces to Iraqis, he said. The British did not comment on any arrangements.
The departing force will join 5,000 soldiers at the Shaibah air base, about 10 miles southwest of the city, also home to the US and British consulates. Unlike their US counterparts elsewhere in Iraq, British forces have been gradually trimming their presence in the south since May 2003, when they numbered 18,000.
The Iraqi official says the palaces will be handed over to an Iraqi force dispatched from Baghdad and will not be given to the controversial provincial authority, which is embroiled in a power struggle between rival Shiite political parties. This 3,000-strong Iraqi force will consist of two Army battalions and elements from the Ministry of Interior's commando unit.
The Mahdi Army, which according to one estimate, numbers about 17,000 in Basra and is divided into about 40 sariyas (company-size military unit), is the strongest among its rivals in the militia-infiltrated police force and it has influence over vital sectors such as health, education, power distribution, and ports.
Although Basra, an economically important port city in a province with some of the largest oil deposits in the world, is considerably calmer and less violent than Baghdad, it faces a low-intensity, yet vicious, battle between the Mahdi Army and its many competitors that has spread fear and apprehension among many of the city's estimated 1.8 million residents. One local official says about 5,000 assassinations have occurred inside the city in the past two years.
The Iraqi official said releasing Mahdi Army fighters – combined with the absence of an excuse for militias to launch attacks on the palace – would give Lt. Gen. Mohan Hafidh, head of the Basra Operations Center appointed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, enough breathing room to stabilize the province. But the PJCC left by the British Saturday was the scene of a four-hour looting spree Sunday, according to security officials.
"We will lessen the attacks against them [the British] and we will stop altogether if they release all our prisoners," said one of the Mahdi Army leaders at the Friday meeting. A colleague, who appeared more senior, disagreed: "The resistance will continue until the last soldier leaves Basra." Indeed, overall attacks against British forces have increased despite the gradual decline in troop numbers. This year, 41 soldiers have died, compared with 29 in all of 2006.
Although members of the Mahdi Army pledge allegiance to Sadr, many operate according to conflicting agendas and some are linked to Iran, according to security officials. Last week, efforts by police chief Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf to hem in the notoriously corrupt and militia-controlled intelligence and criminal investigation units of the police force were met with protests and threats. There have already been two attempts on his life since Mr. Maliki appointed him three months ago.
A candidate for the same post at the time said the Mahdi Army is the most formidable force in the province. He said that he was visited by five militia leaders who told him: "We will support you but people should know you are with us."
On the streets, there is a sense of jubilation and victory over British forces. In central Arousa Square, a street was renamed after the "martyr Jaafar Muhammad," killed in clashes with the British. "He's one of my guys. One of the valiant heroes of the Imam Mahdi Army," says a bearded company commander who gave his name as Uncle Abed. "God has blessed us with victory over the occupation."

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Authorities evacuate pilgrims from Kerbala

(Reuters) - Local authorities began evacuating Shi'ite pilgrims from the holy Iraqi city of Kerbala on Tuesday after fierce clashes between security forces and gunmen during a major religious event, police said. Police said buses had been readied to take pilgrims out of the southern city while police and army reinforcements were heading toward the Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein shrines, the focal point of the celebrations.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are in Kerbala, many having come from other Shi'ite cities and also Baghdad. A senior hospital official in Kerbala said six people had been killed and 28 wounded in the clashes. Police earlier said gunmen armed with automatic weapons and pistols tried to take control of the area around the two shrines. They confronted the police and army who opened fire.
The violence follows clashes between police and pilgrims on Monday night in which at least six people were killed on the eve of one of the holiest events on the Shi'ite calendar. Pilgrims are celebrating the 9th century birth of Mohammad al-Mahdi, the last of 12 imams Shi'ites revere as saints and who they believe never died and will return to save mankind.

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Deputy oil minister released

(Reuters) - Kidnapped Iraqi Deputy Oil Minister Abdul Jabbar al-Wagga was freed on Tuesday along with three other oil officials, a spokesman for the Oil Ministry said. "He is in good health along with the others. They are now at home," said the spokesman, Asim Jihad.
Wagga and four other officials were kidnapped on Aug. 14 by a large group of gunmen who stormed the state oil marketing organisation's building. One of the officials was freed a few days later, but Wagga and three others were held until Tuesday, the spokesman said. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has said as many as 100 gunmen had carried out the attack, carrying "sophisticated weapons" and wearing official uniforms. He described the kidnapping as political.

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Islamic Army in Iraq signs ceasefire with Al Qaeda in Iraq

(The Times) - The Islamic Army is one of Iraq’s best known resistance groups, made up largely of former members of Saddam Hussein’s army and security forces. In a turnaround that heartened proponents of the US troop surge, it has lately been firing its weapons at Al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of American soldiers. The US military has been discreetly putting out feelers to the Islamic Army in the hope of winning it over permanently.
But Ibrahim al-Shammari, a representative of the Islamic Army, had an uncompromising message for the Americans. The Islamic Army and other armed factions would agree to talks only if they accepted that the “Islamic resistance” was the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people and agreed to set a clear timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. The government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, was finished, he boasted. “The final countdown has started. It has lost the support of Iraqis and the American people.”
It was hard to disagree when Senator Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, had just joined a chorus of US politicians demanding Maliki’s removal. She said she hoped the Iraqi parliament would replace him with a “less divisive and more unifying figure”. Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador in Baghdad, told Time magazine, “the fall of the Maliki government, when it happens, might be a good thing”.
Yet many opponents of the US troop build-up, including Clinton, are coming round to the view that the surge is partially working – at least to the west of Baghdad in Anbar province, where Sunni tribesmen have been aiding Iraqi security forces and the Americans.
According to Shammari, however, the gains in Anbar will be shortlived. He said the Islamic Army had signed a ceasefire with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The country was to be carved into spheres of influence where the Islamic Army and Al-Qaeda in Iraq could operate independently of each other. It would represent an enormous setback for the surge. Shammari admitted Al-Qaeda in Iraq was unpopular. “Local people consider them enemy number one. They tyrannised people and killed and assaulted tribal leaders. They lost their bases and supporters and provoked the clans into rising up against them,” he said.
But the Islamic Army resents the way the Americans have tried to turn the infighting in Anbar to their advantage. “We’ve had big problems with Al-Qaeda ever since they began targeting and killing our men,” he said. “Eventually we had to fight back, but we found American troops were exploiting the situation by spreading rumours that exacerbated the conflict.”
The Islamic Army has also noted President George Bush’s comments about the success of the surge. “Bush foolishly announced to the world that all the Sunnis in Iraq were fighting Al-Qaeda so he could claim to have achieved a great victory,” Shammari said. “It’s nonsense.”
The Islamic Army is considering resuming the kidnapping of foreigners as a sign of renewed militancy, Shammari said. In the past, it was responsible for murdering Enzo Baldoni, an Italian journalist, and a number of foreign workers. It also kidnapped two French journalists who were later released. “Every foreigner in Iraq is a potential target for us no matter what his nationality or religion,” Shammari said. “If he is proven to be a spy, he will be punished and an Islamic court will determine his fate.” The purpose of taking hostages would not be to kill them, he added. “We want western governments to listen to the Iraqi people and stop supporting the occupation by sending their citizens to Iraq.”
The Islamic Army’s defiance sharpens the dilemma for American forces. Could progress in Anbar quickly unravel? If the US draws down its forces, will the Sunnis take the fight, not to Al-Qaeda, but to the Shi’ite government in Baghdad? And if so, will the US military have helped to build up a brutal sectarian force?
In Baghdad, Colonel Rick Welch, head of reconciliation for the US military command, told The Washington Post earlier this month that Sunni groups had recently provided 5,000 fighters for policing efforts in the capital. But he admitted that Maliki’s government was “worried that the Sunni tribes may be using mechanisms to build their strength and power and eventually to challenge this government. This is a risk for us all”.
The National Intelligence Estimate, drawn up by US intelligence agencies and published last week, spelt out similar dangers. “Sunni Arab resistance to Al-Qaeda in Iraq has expanded in the last six to nine months but has not yet translated into broad Sunni Arab support for the Iraqi government or widespread willingness to work with the Shia,” it noted.
Back in the villa, Shammari said Maliki’s government would soon be gone. “The daily contradictions in the statements by American leaders about Iraq prove that the Iraqi resistance is going in the right direction.”
He added: “The next president should take prompt action to withdraw all US troops from Iraq.” And Gordon Brown should follow suit, he said, though he could hardly fail to be aware that plans for British withdrawal in the coming months are already advanced. “The new prime minister should save Britain from the humiliating stupidity of Tony Blair and Bush and start withdrawing troops from Iraq now,” he said.

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Islamic State of Iraq announces changes in 'government'

(MEMRI) - An ISI communiqué posted August 25, 2007 on Islamist websites announces changes in the ISI government, including the dismissal of the present chief qadi and the appointment of a new one, and the appointment of a new education minister. The following are the main points of the communiqué:
"The office of the Commander of the Believers, Abu 'Omar Al-Baghdadi, has decided to dismiss the present chief qadi, Abu Suleiman Al-'Atibi, and to appoint in his place Sheikh Abu Ishaq Al-Jabouri. "We announce to the Islamic nation that the shari'a courts in all the ISI provinces are continuing to implement Allah's law, and to mete out punishment according to the laws of Islam, especially for [crimes of] theft, robbery and adultery...
"On the occasion of the new school year... and in order to bring up a new generation that will be raised according to the pure tenets of the Islamic faith, away from the impurity of secularism and deviant faiths, the Islamic government of our blessed Islamic State [of Iraq] is happy to announce the appointment of Muhammad Khalil Al-Badri to the role of education minister... "Oh Allah... Defeat America and its allies, turn them and all their equipment into booty in the hands of the Muslims... and destroy America..."

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Child fighters on the rise in Iraq

(Los Angeles Times) - Child fighters, once a rare presence on Iraq's battlefields, are playing a significant and growing role in kidnappings, killings and roadside bombings in the country, U.S. military officials say. Boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber foreign fighters at U.S. detention camps in Iraq. Since March, their numbers have risen to 800 from 100, said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the commander of detainee operations. The Times reported last month that only 130 non-Iraqi fighters were in U.S. custody in Iraq.
Stone attributes the rise in child fighters in the country, in part, to the pressure that the U.S. buildup of troops has placed on the flow of foreign fighters. Fewer of them are making it into the country, he said, and the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq is having a difficult time recruiting adults locally. Thus, it has turned to children." As our operations have increased, Al Qaeda [in Iraq] and others have used more minors in the fight against us, and in the process we have detained more and more juveniles," Stone said.
He said the children make effective fighters because they are easily influenced, don't experience fear in the same way as adults and don't draw as much scrutiny from U.S. forces. Other causes for the increase in detentions may be that U.S. forces are simply coming into contact with more children because of the troop buildup, and that financial pressures may have pushed some Iraqi families toward the militants. Stone said some children have told interrogators that their parents encouraged them to do the militants' dirty work because the extremists have deep pockets.
Insurgents typically pay the boys $200 to $300 to plant a bomb, enough to support a family for two or three months, say their Iraqi instructors at a U.S. rehabilitation center. About 85% of the child detainees are Sunni and the majority live in Sunni Arab-dominated regions in the country's west and north. In these deeply impoverished, violence-torn communities, the men with money and influence are the ones with the most powerful arsenals. These are the children's role models.
The rise of child fighters will eventually make the Iraq conflict more gruesome, said Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution expert on child fighters. He said militant leaders often treat children as a cheap commodity, and peace will be less attainable because "conflict entrepreneurs" now have an established and pliable fighting force in their communities.
Websites feature stories of child martyrs as an inspiration, and on the other side of the sectarian divide, radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army also boasts of youngsters' involvement. "This shows that the Mahdi are a popular resistance movement against the occupiers. The old men and the young men are on the same field of battle," Sadr spokesman Sheik Ahmad Shebani told the London Daily Telegraph. The boys are arrested under a wide range of circumstances, and their commitment to insurgents is believed to vary greatly. Although some of their alleged offenses include kidnappings and killings, the vast majority are held for allegedly planting bombs in the road in exchange for money, authorities said.
The rise in young fighters compounds the savagery that has already shuttered many schools, left children wounded and hungry, and killed parents before children's eyes. For their American captors, the apparent surge of child fighters confuses enemy and friend on the battlefield even further, and it causes renewed scrutiny of the military's detention policies and lack of judicial access for juvenile detainees in custody. To accommodate the influx of boys, and to break the hold of the militants, a new education facility opened here Aug. 13. It sits a bus ride away from Camp Cropper, the U.S. detention area where the boys, between the ages of 11 and 17, live segregated from many others of the estimated 24,000 suspected insurgents in American custody in Iraq.

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KRG in discussions with Austrian Airlines to resume flights

(Kurdistan Observer) - The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its airport authorities are in discussions with Austrian Airlines, and all are hopeful that the airline will resume flights to Erbil. The KRG was informed by Austrian on 25 August that it would temporarily suspend flights between Vienna and Erbil International Airport.
Austrian took the decision following an alleged incident at Sulaimani International Airport reported by the pilot of Nordic Airways, a Swedish charter airline, earlier this month. After thorough investigation, the KRG has found no evidence of foul play at or in the area surrounding Sulaimani airport. The Erbil International Airport authority understands the concerns that led Austrian to its decision, even though the alleged incident took place at another airport and KRG investigations have found no evidence to substantiate the report.
The airport authorities and the KRG would like to stress that the safety of passengers and crews is their priority. The cities of Erbil and Sulaimani and their international airports are peaceful. Security in and around both airports is the KRG’s highest priority and is maintained to the highest degree. The KRG, Erbil International Airport and Sulaimani International Airport are in discussion with Austrian, and all sides hope and expect Austrian Airlines to continue to operate its very successful and popular flights to Erbil. Meanwhile flights from Frankfurt, Dubai, Istanbul, Amman, Beirut, Tehran, Damascus and other cities to Erbil have maintained their regular schedules. Flights from Munich, Dubai, Amman and other cities to Suleimaniah continue.

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Iraq Business and Investment Conference to take place Aug. 28 to 30 in Dubai

(PortAl Iraq) - The Iraq Business and Investment Conference (IBIC) will take place at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Dubai on Aug. 28 to 30.
The first of three conferences, the first IBIC's attendees will include companies based in Southern Iraq looking for investors; entrepreneurs with plans to start a business in Southern Iraq; Iraqi government officials responsible for many aspects of investment in Iraq, including investment laws and publicly-private investment partnerships; and investors, both domestic and international, seeking opportunities to invest in businesses in Southern Iraq.
According to the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the IBIC will be a venue for companies with clearly defined projects in need of outside financing to meet with qualified investors. Investment opportunities will range from smaller businesses in need of a minimum of $1 million in financing to large enterprises seeking $200 million. No specific industry is targeted. Instead, the conference is focused on clearly defined investment opportunities that are ready to move forward immediately.
The conference will also include discussions on the investment environment and related laws in Iraq. The second and third IBIC conferences will take place later this year and will focus on investment opportunities in Central and Northern Iraq.

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Five cholera deaths in northern Iraq

(RFE/RL) - The Kurdistan region's health minister, Ziryan Uthman, announced on August 26 that five people have died from cholera in the cities of Al-Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported. Saying there have been a few cases of diarrhea in Kirkuk, he added, "There have also been about 2,000 cases of severe diarrhea in Al-Sulaymaniyah, and medical examinations showed that three of [the deaths] in Al-Sulaymaniyah were [due to] cholera." Uthman said those infected were all elderly persons already battling other diseases, suggesting that the victims may have had impaired immune systems. Uthman added that there are currently 150 to 200 known cholera cases in Al-Sulaymaniyah. "We have requested assistance from the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and the Ministry of Health in Baghdad," he noted.

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1.14 million Iraqis displaced

(AP) -- The number of Iraqis who have fled their homes under threat of sectarian violence has more than doubled since the start of the year, despite the increase in American troops that began in February, a humanitarian organization said. The number of displaced Iraqis shot upward from 447,337 on Jan. 1 to 1.14 million on July 31, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization said Saturday.
Though the addition of some 30,000 U.S. troops since February has brought down violence in Baghdad, it also led to increased clashes with militants. "Does this surge have anything to do with it? We don't know," said Saeed Haqi, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent - the local partner organization of the International Committee of the Red Cross. "But they're leaving because of the security situation in general."
In addition to those who have fled their homes but have stayed within the country, some 2 million Iraqis have fled, with many now living as refugees in neighboring Syria and Jordan. In its midyear assessment last month, the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration also reported a spike in internally displaced people, saying the trend started with the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, which sparked fierce sectarian fighting.
It said 63 percent of those assessed reported that they fled direct threats to life, and that more than a quarter had been forcibly displaced from their property. Ninety percent said they were targeted because of their religious identity. Shiites have been the largest group to be displaced, representing 64 percent, with Sunnis making up 32 percent, and Christians 4 percent, the IOM said. Shiites make up about 60 percent of the population; Sunnis are about 20 percent. Most of the people have been forced to flee their homes in Baghdad, though Haqi said all of Iraq's 18 provinces were affected.
The IOM said broad trends suggested the displacements were leading to an even greater religious polarization of Iraq, with Shiites tending to move from the center to the south, and Sunnis tending to move from the south to the upper-center of the country. In large cities like Baghdad and Baqouba, both Sunnis and Shiites were displaced to homogeneous neighborhoods of their own sect, the IOM said. Christians and Kurds, meanwhile, primarily fled to the northern provinces, the agency said.
"These large movements of people will have long-lasting political, social and economic impacts in Iraq and the increasingly protracted nature of displacement in the past 1 1/2 years may well be entrenching communal divisions," the IOM warned. "The stability that was anticipated as a result of various security plans has not materialized, and as the violence continues in Iraq, so will the displacement."

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Pilgrims shot on the way to religious festival

(AFP) - Four Shiite pilgrims were shot dead on Tuesday on their way to join the hundreds of thousands flooding the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala for a major religious festival, security officials said. Two devotees were killed when gunmen raked their vehicle with bullets as they passed through the town of Iskandiriyah, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Baghdad, local police official Lieutenant Numa al-Amari said.
In another attack near Iskandiriyah, Amari said a man and his daughter were shot dead also while driving to Karbala, huge where crowds of pilgrims are gathering to celebrate an eighth-century imam. Tuesday's killings come after five people were shot dead by police gunfire in Karbala late on Monday when pilgrims became agitated at tight security cordons which created long queues. An AFP correspondent said the atmosphere in the city's winding streets was calm and the mood festive on Tuesday, with pilgrims carrying the green flags of Islam thronging the city's two main shrines.
Karbala police expect two million pilgrims to gather to mark the birth anniversary of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th imam of Shiite Islam, who the faithful believe disappeared from the northern Iraqi town of Samarra and will return one day to save the world. Leading Shiite cleric Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Mahamadawi appealed for calm after Monday's shootings. "Everyone should comply with the orders of the leader Moqtada al-Sadr," Mahamadawi, a senior cleric in Sadr's office in Karbala, said through loudspeakers at the Hussein shrine. "A Muslim should not kill another Muslim," he quoted Sadr, one of Iraq's most influential Shiite leaders, as saying.
Police said 15,000 security force members have been deployed across the city while medical officials said 53 ambulances and 24 medical teams are on standby and 750 units of blood have been stored in case of emergency. A vehicle ban has been in place since Sunday.
Unlike other Shiite rituals in Karbala, usually to mark the deaths of the two imams buried there, pilgrims will not be flagellating themselves with iron chains or cutting their foreheads with swords. Instead they will pay homage in the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas to observe Imam Mahdi's birth anniversary although there is no shrine to Mahdi himself as he is still believed to be alive.
Karbala became a pilgrimage site for Shiites after the slaying of Imam Hussein in 680 by armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid. A grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, tradition holds that Hussein was decapitated and his body mutilated by Yazid's armies.

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Sunni politicians have doubts on political deal

(Al Jazeera) - Iraq's Sunni politicians have expressed doubt that the US-backed prime minister will deliver on goals set down in an agreement hammered out by the country's top leaders over the weekend. Under intense US pressure, Nuri al-Maliki and four other senior leaders declared on Sunday that they had reached a consensus on a number of issues. These included freeing detainees held without charge, easing the ban on former Saddam Hussein supporters in government posts, regulating the oil industry and holding provincial elections. No details were released, and most measures require parliamentary approval.
Some key Sunni figures on Monday dismissed the agreement as a stalling tactic by al-Maliki to ease pressure from Washington.
"Our position is that this meeting represents a new phase of procrastination and does not honestly aim at solving the problems quickly," Khalaf al-Ilyan, a leader of the Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, said. "I think that no real or practical solution will come out of this."
Another Front leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said the accord included "good decisions that would serve the whole Iraqi people". "But we doubt that they will be implemented," he said. "All our experience with al-Maliki indicates that this is another new set of delaying measures. They give you a glimmer of hope, but at the end of the day you get nothing but promises."
Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, has expressed frustration over the lack of movement towards political reconciliation among the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions, but called Sunday's accord an "important step forward for political progress, national reconciliation and development". He attended Sunday's meeting with al-Maliki along with Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the Shia vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, the Sunni Arab vice-president, Massoud Barzani the head of the northern autonomous Kurdish region and President Jalal Talabani, who is also a Kurd.
But the deal did not convince the main Sunni Arab political bloc to take back the government posts they abandoned this month over differences with al-Maliki, a Shia. The Sunni walkout has paralysed the government ahead of a crucial report to the US congress by Crocker and General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq. In a step towards implementing the deal, US and Iraqi officials announced on Monday that US-led forces would increase the number of detainees released during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in September. They did not say how many would be freed.

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Hussein linked terrorist leader 'caught'

(CNN) -- Iraqi forces detained the suspected leader of a terrorist cell network believed to be funded by Saddam Hussein's eldest daughter, who is wanted by Iraqi authorities on terrorism charges, the U.S. military announced Monday. Raghad Hussein is currently living in Jordan under the protection of the royal family. The raid happened Sunday in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. It was carried out by Iraqi forces, advised by U.S. Special Forces, the military said.
The network, believed to be funded by Raghad Hussein, has been "linked to a series of attacks on coalition forces" using rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs, the military said. "These attacks have claimed the lives of numerous Soldiers and Airmen," a military statement said. Other leaders of the network have been detained in previous raids, the military said.
The international police organization Interpol last year issued an alert to authorities across the world that Raghad Hussein is wanted by Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi government has issued an arrest warrant for the 38-year-old daughter of the late Iraqi leader on charges of inciting terrorism and crimes against life and health. Interpol -- based in Lyon, France -- issued a Red Notice in the case. That is a request to police anywhere to help track her down and extradite her to Iraq. She has been living in Jordan under the protection of the royal family.

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A move towards national reconciliation

(The Guardian) - Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, and fellow leaders in the country have reached consensus on key areas of national reconciliation, under mounting US pressure to demonstrate political progress on the eve of a key report to Congress on the Baghdad security "surge". The Shia prime minister appeared on television flanked by Jalal Talabani, the country's Kurdish president, and the Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, to announce a deal on easing restrictions on former members of the Ba'ath party joining the civil service and military.
Easing de-Ba'athification laws passed after the 2003 US invasion has long been seen as a vital step if disenchanted Sunnis, who formed the backbone of Saddam Hussein's regime and, since its fall, of the insurgency, are to be persuaded to take part in Iraqi political life. Agreement was also reported on holding provincial elections and releasing detainees held without charge across the country, two more of the "benchmarks" set by the Bush administration for political movement it hopes will stave off mounting congressional demands for a withdrawal from Iraq.
It was not immediately clear how, or when, these moves would be implemented and how far they would go to reversing the almost total Sunni boycott of the cabinet - the centre of Mr Maliki's difficulties. The beleaguered prime minister, facing mounting criticism from within the Bush administration, announced earlier that Mr Hashemi's Iraqi Islamic party was about to join with the four Shia and Kurdish parties which recently forged an alliance.
Mr Maliki said a committee formed by the parties had reviewed the current political stalemate and "accomplished some solutions". Last week a US national intelligence report cast doubt on Mr Maliki's ability to heal the country's sectarian divide and predicted "the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months".
There were further signs of Mr Maliki's weakening grip on power when the former temporary prime minister, Ayad Allawi, removed his faction from the "unity" government on Saturday and put himself forward as an alternative. The growing pressure on the Iraqi leader comes at a sensitive moment in relations between Washington and Baghdad. The American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, will soon present Congress with his analysis of the success or otherwise of the so-called "surge".
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence said last night that British forces have withdrawn from a base in Basra that they had shared with Iraqi police in the first phase of a plan to move all troops out of the city centre. A small number of troops had been stationed at the provincial joint coordination centre where they had been helping to train Iraqi police. Control of the facility has now been handed over to the Iraqi army.

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Governor of Salahuddin in assassination attempt

(Gulf News) - The governor of Iraq's Salahuddin province escaped an assassination attempt on Monday when two bombs exploded near his convoy, police said. Governor Hamad Al Qaisi escaped unhurt when the two roadside bombs exploded near his entourage. Two of his bodyguards were hurt, police said. The incident took place in the Qadisiya neighbourhood of ousted leader Saddam Hussain's hometown of Tikrit. On Sunday, US troops launched air strikes in the Salahuddin city of Samarra, where they killed 18 rebels. Five children and three women were among the dead, police said.

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