Thursday, August 30, 2007
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
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.
Tribal Sheikhs Forming “Salvation Council” In Salah Ad Din
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.
Labels: Al Qaeda, Dulaim Tribe, Hamid Ibrahim Al Jabouri, Jazeera Support Regiment, Jurf Al Sakhar, Salah Ad Din, Salvation Forces, Sheikh Ahmed Al Rijja, Sunni militant groups, tribal sheiks, U.S. military
Clashes Between Peshmerga Forces And Anti-Iranian Fighters
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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.
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.
Dr. Torhan Al Mufti: It Is Impossible To Implement Article 140 Now
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.”
Sadr Movement Denies That They Agree With The Oil And Gas Law
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!
Iraqi Turkmen Front Calls For Early Election And A Safe Zone For Turkmen
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.”
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
"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.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
"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."
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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.
"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..."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.