Friday, September 07, 2007


DNO says two Tawke wells confirm deposits

(IDP) - Norwegian independent oil producer DNO said two new wells at its Tawke field in northern Iraq have both confirmed oil deposits. "DNO is pleased to announce that Tawke No. 8 has confirmed oil in the central/down flank position of the field," DNO said in a statement on Wednesday. "Good reservoir properties have been confirmed, and so far the well has achieved a gross rate of more than 17,000 barrels of oil per day aggregated from four tests. A maximum of 8,000 bod was achieved from the most productive test interval." Tawke No. 5A has been drilled to its final depth, DNO said, and confirmed oil in the central area of the lower reservoir.

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Tribes sabotage Kirkuk pipelines

Oil, Tribal
(IWPR) - Despite the presence of special oil ministry units, pipelines around Kirkuk are destroyed and hundreds of tons of oil stolen every day by tribe members from surrounding villages, such as al-Milih, Wadi Zghetun, al-Muradiyya, al-Saduniyya, al-Kanaina and al-Safra. The "oil protection units" were deployed to guard the pipelines after the government cancelled previous failed agreements with tribal forces to protect them. But in spite of this, oil is stolen from pipelines stretching from the al-Riyadh sub-district, 55 km west of Kirkuk, to the al-Fatha area 90 km to the west.
Tribal sheikhs who profit from the stolen oil are likely to obstruct new measures planned by local authorities, including a special protection force, to stop the sabotage of the pipelines. Locals employed to protect the pipes are often from the same groups as those who are stealing the oil. In the first few years after the fall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's government, Sunni insurgents - many of whom as former soldiers had guarded oil routes under the old regime - blew up the pipelines to wreak havoc.
Since then, insurgents have realized that stealing oil is also damaging, and is far more profitable than pure destruction. Today, Kirkuk's oil wealth is evaporating. Qais al-Mifraji, a 34-year-old farmer in the village of al-Safra, 63 km west of Kirkuk, describes how the pipelines are destroyed. "The insurgents usually come at night and plant a bomb to detonate the export pipeline," he said. "But if they want to steal, they just break it and fill their tankers. No one can stop them."
The riddled pipes partially explain why four years after the US invasion, Iraq has not been able to match its pre-war crude production level of 2.5 million barrels a day. In 2006, production averaged 2.1 million barrels per day, mostly from oil fields near Basra in the south, which have not suffered the non-stop sabotage taking place in the north. Kirkuk now produces just 180,000 barrels a day. It could produce at least 400,000 more a day which, at current market prices, would net Iraq seven billion US dollars in revenue per year.
Over the second half of last year, one stretch of pipeline connecting Kirkuk with the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan - the main outlet for Iraq's northern oil exports - pumped oil for only 43 days. The rest of the time, the pipeline lay idle, leaking crude through dozens of holes drilled along its 320-km run through the Iraqi desert. Another pipeline has been tapped into 39 times so far this year, according to the state-owned Northern Oil Company, NOC, which operates the Kirkuk field.
Qadir Omer Rahman, director of the oil products distribution department in Kirkuk, said that the 80km-long pipeline from Kirkuk to the refinery in Bayji suffered many attacks."Those who protect and guard the oil pipelines are recruited from the people of the villages through which the pipelines pass," he said. "They are the ones committing these acts of terror and smuggling, with the help of other groups." Unemployment and poor living conditions spurred Ayad Hamid al-Ubaidi from Hawdh village, who is in his thirties, to join the gangs who target pipelines and steal oil. "There is no one who can give us our rights," he said. "We have to use our own hands to obtain our rights."
Rahman estimated that three million liters of oil are lost every month because of sabotage, which he said severely affects the provision of petroleum products to Kirkuk and the Kurdistan region's three northern governorates. Each stage of oil production in the north is hampered by criminal activity. It is not only the oil and its products which are stolen by outsiders. Pumps, transformers, generators and other valuable machinery and spare parts are frequently looted.
Oil company workers are coming increasingly under fire from militias. Pipeline repair crews have been shot at and hit by roadside bombs. Sunni insurgents have been dropping leaflets in Kirkuk warning all government employees, including oil company workers, to quit or to face death. Last summer, Adi al-Qazaz, then NOC's director-general, went to Baghdad to visit the oil ministry. After his meeting, he was kidnapped by gunmen on the street, never to be seen again. While some NOC employees are threatened, others are suspected of cooperating in stealing both crude and refined oil.
Truck drivers, as well as managers of fuel stations, are taking their share of the illegal business, draining supplies for Iraqi citizens who struggle to find cooking oil and fuel. A source in the NOC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that there is a mafia-like group operating inside the company which smuggles large amounts of oil through pipelines, in cooperation with individuals inside the company. "When an explosion occurs in a pipeline and oil leaks from it, the people in charge neglect it, leaving the leak for several days until a large amount of oil has been taken from it," he said.
Much of the smuggled crude oil is sold to merchants in Erbil through local brokers. They meet to do their deals in a restaurant in the sub-district of al-Gwer, 40 km west of Erbil, according to Ahmed al-Jobouri, an oil tanker driver. At small domestic refineries, the crude is transformed into refined fuel and then sold on the black market. Some will then be smuggled across the border. According to the NOC source, "the revenue from oil smuggled into Turkey is used to support the Turkoman Front in Iraq, and revenue from oil smuggled to Syria is used to support the insurgent groups in Iraq".
Fuel is heavily subsidized in Iraq. Petrol stations receive limited supplies and citizens are given vouchers entitling them to buy a certain amount each week at the official low price. But because there is not enough subsidized fuel, most Iraqis end up buying oil products on the black market. A source in the Bayji refinery near Kirkuk, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IWPR reporters that some officials from the General Company for Oil Products, which is in charge of issuing paperwork for the subsidies, sells authentic as well as false receipts to merchants.The stolen fuel is then smuggled and sold on the black market, either inside Iraq or across the border in Syria or Turkey.
There is also small-scale smuggling. Salah Ali, who has been working as a tanker driver for six months, said receipts are issued at the Bayji refinery for 36,000 liters per tanker, which is their official load. But they are then filled to their full capacity of 40,000 litres, and the additional 4,000 liters are sold on the black market for five times the price of regular fuel. Similar activities go on at the smaller refinery in Kirkuk, said Irfan Kirkukli, the deputy chief of security on the city council. "Several trucks carrying oil products smuggled from Kirkuk have been seized," he said. "Vehicles have been caught smuggling 160 canisters of cooking gas from Kirkuk to Erbil, for example."
Some petrol station owners, he said, sell their share of state-subsidized fuel to black market dealers. "Many such cases have occurred in Kirkuk and legal action was taken against [the culprits]," he said. "The filling stations weren't given [further] allotments and their owners were fined. "To protect the pipelines and prevent illegal smuggling of fuel, several measures are to be implemented. Kirkukli said a special protection force to guard the pipelines will be formed, consisting of members of the Iraqi army, oil protection forces and the tribes from the areas where the pipelines pass through.Officials in charge of particular pipeline sectors will have to pay fines if their stretches are damaged or oil is stolen. Kirkukli also said that funds have been allocated to support oil infrastructure and to build observation towers along the pipelines in western and southern Kirkuk.
Sami Amin Othman, the Kurdish chief of the oil protection force in Kirkuk, has recently hired 290 new security guards whom he plans to deploy along the pipelines. This, however, has already created unrest among the local Sunni Arab chiefs in the area. They seem to be afraid of losing power because the new guards will be paid directly by the government and not contracted through them. Because the people hired to protect the pipelines are often from the same groups that sabotage the pipes, and tribal bonds are often stronger than national loyalty, the illegal drilling is expected to continue. Sheikh Ziyad Hasan, who formerly served as a contractor protecting the pipelines, confirms that people from the area sabotage the pipelines and profit from the oil. Many locals, he said, lack the motivation to prevent thefts. "They believe that this oil serves the Americans and the new government, and that it does not benefit the people," he said.

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14 “Wanted” People, Wearing Women’s Clothing, Arrested In Diyala

(Mashriq Newspaper) - 6 SEP - The Iraqi Police in the Baquba (area) town of Abu Saida announced: yesterday morning, “we arrested 14 “wanted” people (criminals).” The Police noted that these “wanted” people are Al Qaeda members; and, (at the time of their capture) all of them were dressed (disguised) in women’s clothing.
An IP source told the Iraq Voices’ News Agency, “A number of passengers in a Kia minivan were behaving strangely and this caused Policemen at the checkpoint (in Abu Saida) to become suspicious. The IPs searched the passengers and discovered these “wanted” people dressed in women’s clothes.”
The source added, “During the investigation into these terrorists, it appears that they are ‘wanted’ people who were trying to flee from the town of Al Wajihiya, near Muqdadiya (in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad).”
The source continued, “It is interesting that (almost) all of these detainees are between the ages of 15-22 years old…except for two…who are over 30 years old.”
In other news, in Mosul yesterday evening, a suicide car bomber targeted a Mosque in the Ninawa Province city of Mosul, north of Baghdad. The car bomb’s explosion killed a policeman, and wounded 26 others.

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Ayatollah Al Sistani Demands To Remove Weapons From The Holy Cities

(Al Bayyna Newspaper) - 6 SEP - Yesterday, Prime Minister, Nuri Al Maliki, visited Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani and informed him of the recent progress in the political process. Also, Ayatollah Al Sistani demanded to remove weapons from the holy cities such as Karbala, Najaf and other cities. These cities need to be safe zones. Al Maliki said that he will meet with the Karbala and Najaf Provincial Councils. He confirmed that the vacant ministries will not remain empty. The government will choose ministers for these vacancies.

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Al Rubaie: “Dangerous Decisions” Could Be Made During Meeting With Sadr Movement In Najaf

Security, Politics
(Azzaman Newspaper) - 6 SEP - The Chief of the Sadr Bloc in Iraq’s Parliament – Nassar Al Rubaie has confirmed that “dangerous decisions” could be made during the upcoming meeting, in Najaf, between: Sadr Movement Parliament Members and Sadr Movement political office (headquarters) meetings. This meeting’s purpose is regarding the events in Karbala.
Meanwhile, the (Iraqi) Council of Ministers has released 46 detainees (people initially rounded up as suspects of involvement in Karbala’s clashes) who have been determined to have been detained under “insufficient grounds”. Yesterday, the Council of Ministers issued the following statement, “The investigative committee, which was established in accordance with PM Nuri Al Maliki’s instructions, has released 46 detainees. This committee will continue to execute its’ duties in checking the files (circumstances) of other detainees.”
The Sadr Movement has given the (Iraqi) government a deadline which expired yesterday about releasing the (Sadr Movement/Mahdi Army) detainees. If their prisoners were not released, the Sadr Movement has threatened the government with “disobedience” and “surprising reactions”.
On the other hand, Sadr Movement leaders have presented the “Karbala investigation committee” with evidence which proves that the Sadr Movement is innocent about starting the clashes which occurred in Karbala. A Sadr Movement leader confirmed, “CDs [video downloads?] that have been presented to the Committee show that ‘another group’ started these clashes…not the Sadr group.” According to this leader, the Committee has been convinced by this evidence; therefore, they have begun releasing the Sadr Movement members who had been arrested.
Meanwhile, Sadr Movement Parliament Members and the Sadr Movement Headquarters Office in Najaf will soon hold a meeting in order to reach an important decision about: what actions to take regarding the events in Karbala.
The Chief of the Sadr Bloc in Parliament – Nassar Al Rubaie said, “This is the first time that such a meeting will be held in order to (decide) how to deal with the current situation; and, determine a ‘final Sadr Movement stance’ regarding this situation.” He added: this meeting will focus on the events in Karbala and the ensuing “tremendous pressures which have been applied against” the Sadr Movement.
Iraq’s Voices News Agency reported that Al Rubaie stated, “There are dangerous ‘human rights violations’ which have been committed against the (Sadr Movement) detainees by militias in Karbala! The Sadr Movement members who have been detained since the events in Karbala last week have been tortured, and some have been killed!” Karbala Governorate Council Member – Hamid Khanoush, who is a senior leader in Karbala’s Sadr Movement, was arrested by the “3rd Brigade” and was tortured. Al Rubaie has called for the Iraqi Minister of Human Rights – (Ms.) Wijdan Mikhail (Salim) to: visit the prisons, and report on the “human rights violations” which are occurring.

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Turkey eyes Iraq gas fields

(AME Info FZ LLC) - Saltuk Duzyol, general manager of Turkey's pipeline company Botas, said his firm plans to develop gas fields in northern Iraq to strengthen supplies for the Nabucco pipeline project, reported Reuters. He said more opportunities will be available in Iraq as soon as its government passes a new petroleum law to regulate its reserves.

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Basrah director of military intelligence survives assassination attempt

(Voices of Iraq) - The director of military intelligence for the city of Basra escaped an attempt on his life on Thursday in the center of the city, while two of his bodyguards were killed, a senior Iraqi army source said. "An explosive charge went off targeting the motorcade of Colonel Jabar al-Saad, director of military intelligence in Basra, near the city hall at the center of the city," the source, who preferred not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "The colonel survived the attempt, while two of his bodyguards were killed in the explosion," he added. Basra is 590 km south of Baghdad.

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Former protector of al-Askari shrine arrested

(Voices of Iraq) - Security forces in Mosul arrested the former official responsible for protecting al-Askari shrine in the city of Samara, the official spokesman for the interior ministry said on Thursday. "Aws Tareq Farid, who is suspected of colluding with the gunmen who blew up the mosque on February 2006, was arrested in the city of Mosul at 12:00 pm on Wednesday," General Abdul Karim Khalaf told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) by phone.
"Intelligence reports asserted that the suspect had returned from Syria, where he fled to, and security forces arrested him in Mosul," he also said. "The arrest warrant was issued last year and the judicial order to arrest him was implemented only yesterday," the general said, noting that he was sent to Baghdad for investigation.
The Al-Askari Mosque bombing occurred in the Iraqi city of Samara on February 22, 2006, at about 6:55 a.m. local time. The attack on the mosque, one of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims, is believed to have been caused by al-Qaeda in Iraq. Although no injuries occurred in the blasts, the mosque was severely damaged.

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Kurdistan Region Oil and Gas Law published

Oil, Kurdistan
(KRG) - The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is pleased to publish the Kurdistan Region Oil and Gas Law in Arabic and English, which has now been approved by the Kurdistan National Assembly (parliament). The parliament approved the Law on 6 August, and the Law entered into force upon the assent of President Masoud Barzani on 9 August.
The first draft of this Law was published in August 2006, and has benefited from extensive comments from petroleum companies, NGOs, and citizens of the Kurdistan Region and other parts of Iraq. It was approved by the Kurdistan Region Council of Ministers in July.
The KRG is also pleased to publish an updated Kurdistan Region
Model Production Sharing Contract (PSC), amended to take the new Law into account. The Arabic version of the Law is the official version. The Law will also be published in the Kurdish language in the near future.
Please submit any further comments to: spokesman(at)
Send any investment related enquiries to mnr(at)

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Sadrist denies MNF reports of split in Mahdi Army

(Voices of Iraq) - The head of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc on Thursday slammed the statement made by the Multi-National Forces' spokesman Brigadier General Kevin Bergner on some of the armed activities of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, despite Sadr's order to freeze their armed activities. "All of the Sadr movement, along with its military wing, are adhering to the order of Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr to freeze the activities of Mahdi Army fighters," Nassar al-Rubaie told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
Head of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc added, "despite the continued raids and detaining of Sadr movement followers and Mahdi Army elements, there was no violation of (Sadr's) decision." Last Wednesday, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr surprisingly decided to freeze the armed activities of his followers after the clashes that erupted in the sacred Shiite city of Karbala while Shiite Muslim pilgrims were observing a religious occasion.
The spokesman for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq Brigadier General Kevin Bergner said yesterday that some cells from the Mahdi Army had not obeyed Sadr's order to freeze their activities, accusing them of "practicing armed activities." Meanwhile, an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr said in statements to VOI, "all wings of the Mahdi Army are committed to the decision (to freeze mobilization), despite continued arrests against the movement's followers, the last of which was the arrest of many Mahdi Army elements in Hilla city, 100 km southwest of Baghdad."
A Sadrist leader, who preferred his name not be mentioned, added "all Mahdi fighters are part of a single army under one leadership. The occupation forces should unveil the names of those arrested allegedly forming "special units" with links to Iran and practicing armed activities despite the decision to freeze," said the Sadrist leader wondering, "why they do not reveal their names to the media as a proof."
Brigadier General Bergner revealed on Wednesday the arrest of elements from "special units" that "have links to Iran and al-Quds Corps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards."
"During the last few days, terrorist groups named "special units" were arrested. This network has links to Iran, which has provided the units with arms and explosives," the spokesman for the Multi-National Forces told a news conference.
The Multi-National Forces spokesman also said, "the arrested persons admitted their links to Iran and our intelligence indicated that they have connections to the Revolutionary Guards, Iranian al-Quds Corps and Lebanese Hezbollah." The Sadrist leader, who denied any link between the Mahdi Army and Iran, said, "all Mahdi Army fighters are now under control in order to purge those who want to bring the Sadr movement and Mahdi Army into disrepute."

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$50 mn. compensation for Al Anbar

(Voices of Iraq) - A total of 50 million USD has been allocated to compensate those harmed in the western Iraqi province of Anbar, in addition to another 70 million USD for reconstructing the city, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Burham Saleh said on Thursday morning.
Speaking at the first session of the second forum on the reconstruction of the province, the deputy premier said that 50 million USD had been allocated for owners of houses and stores that were partially or totally destroyed in the violent acts in the province, while another USD 70 million had been allocated to reconstruct the province.
Saleh was delivered Prime Minister Nouri al-Malikis' address at the event. The second forum on reconstructing the province kicked off this morning with the participation of the two vice presidents, Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdul Mahdi, in addition to Burham Saleh and the Minister of State for National Security Shirwan al-Waili. The province's infrastructure was destroyed in armed attacks in 2005.

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Iraq only has a third of the doctors it needs

(AP) -- Iraq only has a third of the doctors it needs because killings and kidnappings of the medical professionals prompted many to leave the country, its military surgeon general said Thursday. A recent decline in violence is tempting some to return, said Brig. Gen. Samir Abdullah Hassan, surgeon general for the country's soldiers, sailors, airmen and special forces.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Samir said he didn't have figures for the number of doctors practicing in Iraq now compared to the number before the war. But the military alone has only about a fourth of the physicians its needs - there are 148 and the need is for 600 to 700, he said. For the country overall, the Ministry of Health only has 35 percent of the physicians it needs to staff its civilian hospitals, he said.
Samir, who was trained as an orthopedic surgeon, was in Washington the past week for meetings with U.S. military and civilian medical facilities. He said colleagues who had fled to Jordan, Egypt and other nations have been in touch with him recently, saying they would like to come home. "There is (still) kidnapping, there is assassination, but it's decreased," he said.
"I can assure you if the security improved more and more, the majority of them would return back to the country," said Samir. To attract and keep more in the profession, the government also needs to increase salaries from the roughly $300 a month now paid to newly trained doctors, Samir said in a briefing with Dr. Ward S. Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health.
Casscells said more attention was paid by the U.S. to Iraqi health care before violence spiraled in early 2006. He indicated that he's taking another look at the possibilities now that security seems to be improving in some areas. Like everything else in Iraq, rebuilding the health sector has been greatly slowed by violence and problems within the Iraqi government.
For instance, of some 70 health care centers scheduled for construction by last July, only 44 were completed. Of those, 20 had been turned over to the Ministry of Health to administer and only eight were open at the end of July, according to the most recent report by Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

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A summary of recent reports on the Iraq war

(AP) - Findings and recommendations by recent studies on the Iraq war:
The Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, released Sept. 6:
-Iraq's security forces will be unable to assume control of the country without U.S. help in the next 12 to 18 months.
-Reduction of U.S. forces and handing off combat mission to Iraqis is "possible and prudent," and changes could begin in early 2008.
-The national police force is rife with corruption and infiltrated by militia forces and should be disbanded.
-An adequate logistics system to support the Iraqi army is at least two years away.
-On the Web:
The Government Accountability Office progress report on Iraq, released Sept. 4:
-Of its 18 stated political and security goals, Iraq failed to meet 11 of them with the least progress made on the political front.
-Iraq fully met three of the 18 goals: establishing joint security stations in Baghdad, ensuring minority rights in the Iraqi legislature and creating support committees for the Baghdad security plan.
-Violence remains high, and it is unclear whether sectarian-fueled attacks has decreased because it is too difficult to prove intent.
-The number of Iraqi security forces capable of conducting independent operations has declined, and militias remain armed.
-On the Web:
White House progress report on Iraq, dated July 12:
-Of its 18 stated political and security goals, Iraq has made satisfactory progress on eight of them, including eliminating safe havens for outlaws and deploying three trained brigades to Baghdad.
-Judges Iraq has made unsatisfactory progress on nine benchmarks, including increasing the number of Iraqi security forces able to operate independently and passing major legislation believed critical to calming sectarian feuds.
-Judges that it is too early to judge Iraq's progress on two benchmarks: enacting amnesty legislation and establishing a program to disarm militias.
-On the Web:
The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, released Aug. 23:
-Represented the most authoritative written judgments of all 16 spy agencies, with the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency as key contributors.
-Determined that the Iraqi government is strained by rampant violence, deep sectarian differences among its political parties and stymied leadership.
-Found Iraq's neighbors will continue to try to expand their leverage in the fractured state in anticipation that the U.S. will soon leave.
-Noted some security progress but elusive hopes for reconciliation among Iraq's feuding groups.

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Iraqi govt names new deputy head of anti-corruption body

(AP) -- The Iraqi government has named the deputy head of the country's anti-corruption body to replace his boss, who is accused by a parliamentary committee of corruption himself, officials said Thursday. The change comes as the U.S. Embassy is reviewing allegations that the Iraqi government is riddled with corruption and has, in some cases, sought to derail or prevent investigations into alleged graft by Shiite-controlled agencies or allied officials.
The new chairman of the Public Integrity Commission will be Moussa Faraj, said Sabah al-Saidi, the head of the parliament's anti-corruption committee. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the outgoing chairman, Radhi al-Radhi, had requested retirement and that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accepted. The official said Faraj will replace al-Radhi on a temporary basis until he is approved by parliament permanently to the new post.
Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani has protested al-Radhi's removal, saying in a letter to al-Maliki on Wednesday that the move was "illegal and unconstitutional" because the commission is an independent body and not a government organization, the commission official said. But al-Saidi said al-Maliki has the right to name a replacement for al-Radhi as long as he is approved by parliament later.
Al-Maliki told reporters Monday that al-Radhi fled the country after being charged with corruption - a claim al-Radhi strongly denied, saying he was at a training course at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington.

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Iraqi govt advisor lashes back against U.S. report critical of Iraqi security forces

(AP) -- An Iraqi government adviser on Thursday disputed a new U.S. report critical of the country's security forces, saying the independent assessment was unacceptable interference in internal affairs. Yassin Majid, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said "it is not the duty of the independent committee to ask for changes at the Interior Ministry, especially when it comes to security apparatus."
His comments came a day after a study led by retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones found that Iraq's security forces will be unable to take control of the country in the next 18 months, and Baghdad's national police force is so rife with corruption it should be scrapped entirely. The assessment was expected to factor heavily into Congress' debate on the war. Republicans see success by the Iraqi forces as critical to bringing U.S. troops home, while an increasing number of Democrats say the U.S. should stop training and equipping such units altogether.
"This is an Iraqi affair and we will not accept interference by anyone in such work, whether the Congress or others," Majid told The Associated Press by telephone. "The report is inaccurate and not official and we consider it interference in our internal affairs." Majid also stressed that al-Maliki's government had ordered some members of security agencies fired because of corruption charges and links to militias and said that policy had been extended to other agencies.
"The al-Maliki government will do this with all state agencies. We will not take dictation from reports," he said.
The 20-member panel of mostly retired senior military and police officers concluded that Iraq's military, in particular its army, shows the most promise of becoming a viable, independent security force with time. But the group predicts an adequate logistics system to support these ground forces is at least another two years away. The report also offered a scathing assessment of Iraq's Interior Ministry and recommended scrapping Iraq's national police force, which it described as dysfunctional and infiltrated by militias.

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Al-Maliki determined to flush out Mahdi Army from Najaf, Karbala shrines

(Azzaman) - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is determined to clear the holy shrines of Najaf and Karbala of armed supporters of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, sources in Maliki’s party al-Daawa said. They said Maliki made the pledge in a meeting with the country’s top Shiite clergyman, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Sadr has a political movement with a powerful military wing, the Mahdi Army, whose fighters have had until recently a dominant role among the multifarious Shiite militia groups in southern Iraq. But Sadr has ordered a six-month halt to operations targeting U.S. and Iraqi troops and his supporters are now rarely seen with arms in the streets of the two cities.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Maliki is considering a plan to ‘uproot’ Sadr supporters similar to the policy of debaathification under which members and supporters of the former regime have been prevented from holding government posts. But it is not clear how Maliki would carry out such a pledge amid reports that the popularity of the young cleric and his Sadr movement is growing, particularly among the Shiites in Bagdad and major towns in southern Iraq. The movement which has 30 deputies in parliament and has the right to fill five ministerial posts has frozen its participation in the government in protest against Maliki’s policies.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007


Foreign factions have infiltrated Mahdi Army

(Stratfor) - "Foreign factions" have infiltrated the leadership of radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army in an attempt to expand their control in Iraq, Al-Hayat reported, citing unnamed sources within the movement. The factions reportedly provide monetary support, moral support, weapons and training. The infiltrated elements no longer obeyed al-Sadr's commands and instead targeted Shia and Sunnis without coordination with the al-Sadr movement.
Sheikh Abu Zeinab, spokesman for Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, threatened political and military reprisals if the Iraqi government does not release arrested Mehdi Army members, Al-Hayat reported. Five-hundred movement members and 12 leaders of the Mehdi Army were arrested recently. Al-Sadr's movement also called for the dismantling of the holy site protection force in Karbala, claiming the protection group instigated recent violence there.

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Iraqi security official denies militia infiltration in Basra oil industry

Oil, Politics
(UPI) -- A top Iraqi security official disagrees with allegations Basra’s political leadership’s militia has infiltrated the Basra Oil Protection Force. Issa Jaffar Jabir, director general of the Ministry of National Security Affairs, said at an Iraq energy conference there is no proof militias have infiltrated the force at the behest of the government in Basra.
Jabir, at the Iraq Oil, Gas, Petrochemical and Electricity Summit organized by the London-based Iraq Development Program, told reporters the “accusations” were “not fair.” The Fadhila Party is currently in control of Basra, Iraq’s oil capital, where most of Iraq’s 115 billion barrels of oil reserves are and nearly all the 1.6 million barrels per day are exported.
Since winning government in provincial elections the governor, Mohammed Waili, has been accused of stacking key leadership roles with his party members, including the police and the Oil Protection Force, which guards the oil infrastructure.“It’s true that the governor of Basra belongs to this party, but we cannot accuse an Iraqi official randomly,” Jabir said. He admitted some political parties, not just Fadhila, have been able to “penetrate” ministries of interior and defense, the security apparatus and facilities guards. “We started strongly to purge forces regardless of their parties and names,” he said.

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U.S. troops may be sent to Basra if British troops withdraw

(The Times) - The US military has drawn up contingency plans to send American troops to Basra if Gordon Brown decides to pull out the entire British force, an American general revealed yesterday. Britain still had “several missions” in southern Iraq, which the US expected it to fulfil. But if the Prime Minister withdrew all 5,000 remaining British troops, the US might have to “send some forces down there”, said Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the second-most-senior US commander in Iraq.
That is the last thing the Bush Administration would want to do at a time when it faces growing domestic pressure to bring home troops, and the US military is already overstretched. A British withdrawal would be regarded in Washington as little short of betrayal. General Odierno
chose his words carefully when asked about Basra, Iraq’s anarchic second city. He said he was comfortable with the British withdrawal from Basra Palace this week, noting that the Iraqi security forces had become a “bit more effective” and reinforcements would arrive within 30 days.
But questioned about the implications for the US military if British troops were withdrawn entirely from southern Iraq, General Odierno pointedly listed Britain’s continuing responsibilities there - maintaining a headquarters in the region, training Iraqi security forces, supporting the coalition’s political work, securing supply routes to the rest of Iraq and providing quick reaction forces. “There are still several missions we need them to do down there and we have laid it out for them,” he said.
“We believe right now that the British forces will stay there in some size. That’s what we have been told so far.”
But he acknowledged that a general election was looming, and disclosed that the US had drawn up contingency plans in case Mr Brown decided to withdraw the entire force: “One could be that we do allow the Iraqis to do most of it and don’t send anyone else down there. One could be that we send some forces down there.”
Basra has been unusually calm since the British withdrew from the palace on Monday. A British army spokesman said the city was quiet. Police said there had been no killings or kidnappings. Iraqi security forces are on the streets in large numbers, and the Iraqi police and Army, who usually steer clear of each other, are manning joint checkpoints. Residents said that the only gunfire heard in the city yesterday came from Iraqi soldiers celebrating their takeover of the palace.
General Odierno was speaking just days before General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, gives Congress his verdict on President Bush’s controversial “surge” strategy, which has resulted in 30,000 extra troops deployed to Iraq this year, bringing the total to 160,000. The idea of expanding US operations further in Iraq would encounter fierce resistance in Washington at a time when Democrats, and some Republicans, are demanding a timetable for withdrawing US troops from a conflict that has cost 3,700 soldiers their lives and $10 billion (£5 billion) a week.
COMMENT: The major players in the power struggle in the south are the Mahdi Army militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, the country's largest Shiite political party and the patron of the Badr militia. Security forces in the region are known to be dominated by supporters of the Supreme Council, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, whose family has been locked in a long-running competition with al-Sadr's family over leadership of Iraq's Shiites. Al-Sadr's supporters are primarily poor Shiites who gain from the services offered by the group and obtain a sense of empowerment through membership of the Mahdi Army. In contrast, the Supreme Council is perceived as a magnet of middle- and upper-class Shiites and enjoying the endorsement of the wealthy and traditional clerical leadership. Additionally there is the Shiite Fadhela Party, an Iranian presence and tribal rivalries. Not to mention the vast amounts of money made through theft and smuggling of oil and corrupt dealings. COMMENT ENDS.

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U.S. commander - British hostages still alive

(The Times) - Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the second-most-senior US commander in Iraq said that he had reason to believe that the five British hostages who were seized from Baghdad’s Finance Ministry three months ago were still alive. General Odierno said he received daily reports on the fate of the five British hostages, and added: “We have reason to believe they are still alive.” He refused to elaborate, and would not say whether there had been any contact with the kidnappers.
However, he confirmed that “rogue elements” of the al-Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to the radical Shia cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, were responsible. He challenged Hojatole-slam al-Sadr and his followers to prove that the ceasefire they announced last week - ostensibly to tackle the breakaway factions - was genuine by identifying the kidnappers. “Identify who these rogue elements are. Tell us where these hostages are. We think that’s something you can talk about,” he said.
One of the splinter groups is led by Abu Dera, an infamous Shia death squad leader who broke with Hojatole-slam al-Sadr last year after refusing to end his sectarian killing spree. General Odierno confirmed a report in The Times last week that Abu Dera was involved in the kidnapping.

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Special Security Procedures During Ramadan

(Al Mada Newspaper) - 5 SEP - An “Operation Enforcing the Law” spokesman has confirmed that Baghdad’s Operations Command has created a (special) security plan for the Ramadan period. It is likely that the curfew hours will be decreased during Ramadan [since Moslems must fast during Ramadan’s daylight hours, curfews will probably be rolled back to allow them to get food, etc. after sundown].
Yesterday, during a press conference in the Baghdad Convention Center, Brigadier General Qassim Atta said: Baghdad’s Operations Command often creates (new) security plans (for special circumstances)…and Ramadan’s security plan will be a good plan. He continued: the Security Force Commanders are considering “decreased curfew hours during the (Moslem) holy month of Ramadan”…however, he did not provide any further details.

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Sayid Amar Al Hakim Confirms It Is Necessary To Implement Article 140 To Guarantee All Iraqi Groups’ Rights

(Badr Newspaper) - 5 SEP - Sayid Amar Al Hakim has confirmed Iraq’s need for (political) work which: “has a technical context” and avoids political disagreements. The day before yesterday, Amar Al Hakim received members of the Article 140 Implementation Committee. They were received in his father’s Sayid Abd Al Aziz Al Hakim’s office. Sayid Abd Al Aziz Al Hakim is the leader of both: SICI and the Shiite Alliance list.
The members of the Article 140 Implementation Committee are: Raid Fahmi (Jahid) – Iraq’s Minister of Science and Technology, Nermin Othman – Minister of the Environment, Dr. Hanan Al Fatlawi – a senior advisor to the Prime Minister and Mr. Sallar – the Article 140 Committee’s secretary.
During this meeting, Sayid Amar Al Hakim confirmed that it is necessary to implement all of the items included in Article 140 (of Iraq’s Constitution) in order to guarantee that all Iraqi groups rights (are protected) and to achieve a just (fair) resolution (to [prior] ethnic and sectarian discrimination). The Committee’s members said they are all working together, in cooperation, in order to complete this important mission. They also confirmed that they have agreed [that it is important] to implement all the items of Article 140.
During the meeting, they discussed many subjects related to Iraq’s provinces’ borders… and returning (reinstating) the boundaries to the “old borders”.

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Tribal leaders, U.S. and Iraqi officials meet in Al Anbar

(AFP) - Tribal leaders joined Iraqi and US officials on Thursday in talks focused on economic development of Anbar province, three days after US President George W. Bush dropped in to endorse peace initiatives in the restive region. US officials said the one-day Anbar Forum in the provincial capital Ramadi is aimed at giving an economic boost to the western province, where former Sunni insurgents have joined with US forces to fight Al-Qaeda.
Some 3,000 US and Iraqi troops were deployed to secure the governate in the centre of the city where the forum was being held, officials said. Among US officials attending are Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, a 2008 White House contender, who arrived in Iraq earlier in the day, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, second in command of US forces in Iraq.
The delegation from Iraq's central government is headed by vice presidents Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdel Mahdi and included deputy prime minister Barham Saleh. Members of the provincial government, including Governor Maamun Sami Rashid, were also among the two dozen or so officials at the meeting, as was Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha and 11 other tribal leaders from the so-called Anbar Awakening Conference.
The group, which comprises Sunni tribes who formed an alliance with American troops to claw back their neighbourhoods from Al-Qaeda's fighters, complains that it is not getting enough backing from Baghdad and that its volunteers are ill-equipped to take on the well-trained extremists. "All we are doing today is very important," Biden said in an address to the gathering.
"You have taken a bold decision in Anbar to fight the forces of destruction and terror ... Unity of Iraq is an Iraqi problem. America wants you to succeed and we will do whatever we can to enable you to succeed," he said. "Iraq's future is in your hands. Only you can determine the future. It's encouraging to see central government assisting you in Anbar. In America we are waiting to see how extensive that cooperation will be," Biden said. "If it is (extensive) you can count on America to stay, if it is not, we can say goodbye now."
Ambassador Crocker and US commander General David Petraeus believed that "if the kind of success we are now seeing (in Anbar) continues, it is possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces," Bush said. Ramadi had until recently been a symbol of the failure of the US military and the Iraqi government to assert their will among the fiercely-independent Sunni tribes living in the deserts west of Baghdad. But since the Anbar Awakening group was formed earlier this year, the tide has turned and a semblance of normality has returned to the streets and market places of Ramadi.

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Unemployment in Kurdistan

(Kurdish Globe) - Foreign laborers being imported into Kurdistan, who gladly work at lower wages than local laborers, are quickly rendering Kurdish workers jobless, elevating the region's jobless rate. Many in this overcrowded city of Erbil don't rake in millions of dinars monthly. In fact, there are some who take delight at the opportunity to earn even a little money, even enough to buy bread.
If you examine the Erbil market, you will see businessmen who work out big deals and count their money inside the shops; contrarily, there are a great number of people waiting outside the stores to enter and spend the little money they have. Ahmad Hama Ahmad, 48, works as a laborer to feed his eight children and pay rent. He took out a handkerchief to clean his wrinkled face after he sat down under a wall, shaded by a lorry, which he and his colleague had just finished unloading.
"I have to do this work however unbearable it is to me. I am old. I can get no other job," said Ahmad. "Getting a good job means you have to have some education or a close relative to help you find suitable work." When asked how much he earns daily, he sighed and said, "It depends on the market and our luck; some days 10 thousand dinars (about $8), some days 15 thousand..."
Due to Kurdistan Region's safe conditions in comparison to other parts of Iraq, the noticeable economic development has produced ample employment opportunities for laborers. However, many Kurdish laborers remain jobless. Most of the companies, contractors, and big markets, and even some governmental sectors, prefer foreign laborers because they work harder and ask for little money. This in turn has narrowed the job marker for native workers.
"The use of foreign workers is not to our advantage; it will raise the unemployment rate throughout the region," said Dr. Hussein Chawshin, assistant professor of Economic and Finance at Salahaddin University. "Apart form this, these laborers are taking a large amount of money out of the region." According to some media reports, Iraq's unemployment rate has risen and approximately 60 % of Iraqi people are jobless. Kurdistan Region in the north, which is undergoing wide economic and construction development, has also been affected by the high rate of unemployment.
Alongside foreign workers, several thousand Arab families fleeing civil unrest, religious conflict, and terror threats in southern and the center of Iraq officially settled in Kurdistan Region. This further decreases work opportunities for Kurds. The stable security situation in Kurdistan and the investment law have been attracting a vast number of foreign companies to come to work and serve people in Kurdistan Region.
"We are mostly in need of production rather than service. The government should start with the small business and little by little develop it for people to work. " In 2006-07, thousands of college students graduated. This came at the same time the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) stopped accepting employment. According to KRG statistics, there are over 1,100,000 employees who are paid by the government, but until now there are no exact unemployment statistics released by the region.
"I think there is no real 'joblessness' in Kurdistan; most people have jobs, but the money they are earning is not enough," said Farhan Muhammed Rasoul, head of Erbil's professional training center. "Since 2004 up to now, 11,835 people have enrolled here, but investigations show that most of them have work and are searching for better jobs," Ahmad said.

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The armies of Iraq

(Al Jazeera) - Four years ago the fighting in Iraq was just beginning. The armed group al-Qaeda in Iraq did not even exist and Sunni and Shia groups were working together against the US-led forces. Three years ago, sectarian divisions escalated into a battle some believe has reached civil war proportions.
Now the fighters have turned against each other. This year has seen Shia infighting on the streets of Iraqi cities such as Karbala and Sunni armed groups fighting to keep al-Qaeda out of their regions. In a series of reports, Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid looks at the new reality of Iraq's many armies.
Part One - Sunni armed groups
Sunni armed groups are a complicated web of alliances of Iraqi nationalists, Islamists, former Iraqi army officers and a few Baathists. For the past four years, the groups have become better organised and more popular among disaffected Sunnis. They see them as a legitimate resistance which also protects civilians from foreign troops and Shia militia death squads. These days most of the Sunni fighters are Iraqis, and that means the US and Iraqi governments have no choice but to talk to them. Sources say negotiations are under way, but until Sunni fighters feel their role in the future is recognised they are unlikely to give up their arms.
Click here to watch Part One
Part Two - Shia militias
The Mahdi Army is said to have morethan 60,000 militiamen [AFP]The conflict between Iraq's Shia rivals has been ongoing since 2003. The Jaish al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army, is loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al Sadr. Said to have 60,000 men in its ranks, it is by far the biggest militia in Iraq. Its rival, the Badr organisation, is the military wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, previously known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. This influential Shia party was formed in Iran during the presidency of Saddam Hussein and its leaders were exultant after the US invasion.
Click here to watch Part Two
Part Three - Iraq's security forces
In the remote desert areas of Iraq, US soldiers are training Iraqi recruits to form the nation's new army and police force. But outside the cocoon of a training camp, the newly graduated security forces must tackle one of the most challenging environments in the world. The US is currently allied with some tribes in its fight against al-Qaeda. Incorporating Sunnis would ease some of the sectarian tensions. But the main question remains: When will the security forces be really able to deal with the challenges of Iraq?
Click here to watch Part Three
Part Four - The US army
They were supposedly welcomed as liberators who would bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. But the most powerful army in the world was not ready for handmade road-side bombs that have killed hundreds of soldiers so far and maimed thousands more. It blamed all the attacks in these early stages on al-Qaeda and disgruntled members of Saddam's former government. But now, on the eve of the report by General David Petraeus, head of US forces in Iraq, into the success of the recent troop "surge", the US presence in Iraq is already at the heart of the presidential debate in the US and withdrawing or staying has become a national debate.
Click here to watch Part Four
Part Five - Al-Qaeda
The Bush administration is building its new case to stay in Iraq as a war against al-Qaeda. However, it is not the largest group fighting today, nor is it the one that carries out most attacks - only 15 per cent in the first half of 2007 according to the US military. However, it is behind the vast majority of devastating car bombs and suicide attacks which fuel the sectarian war.

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U.S. generals want to disband Iraqi Police Force

(Al Jazeera) - Iraq's police force is infiltrated by sectarian militias and should be disbanded and reorganised, a panel of retired US generals led by former Nato commander James Jones has told congress. And while military special forces are "highly capable and extremely effective", and some army units are becoming better at counter-insurgency, overall, the security forces "will be unable to fulfil their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months", the report says.
The leaked report is one of several independent studies that congress commissioned in May.
John Warner, the second-most senior Republican on the senate armed services committee, who last month called on the US president to pull out some troops by this Christmas, said he wanted an assessment on the capability of Iraq's military and police forces because their success is considered by George Bush's administration as necessary for US troops to leave.
General Jones, who was also formerly Marine Corps commandant, is scheduled to testify before congress on Thursday. His report says militia infiltration in the police force, overseen by a "dysfunctional and sectarian" interior ministry, renders it unable to provide security to civilians. "Its ability to be effective is crippled by significant challenges, including public distrust, sectarianism [both real and perceived], and a lack of clarity about its identity - specifically whether it is a military or a police force," the report says. "Sectarianism in its units undermines its ability to provide security; the [police] force is not viable in its current form."
It is a sentiment echoed by a senior member of congress who on Wednesday demanded the US stop providing funds and weapons to Iraqi forces. "It's just a bad policy to train and equip Iraqi forces and policy makers should resist equipping forces in a failed state and must resist adding further fuel to the fire that is raging in Iraq," Maxine Waters, a Democrat, said.

"We also acknowledge there have been real sectarian problems within the national police force," Geoff Morel, a Pentagon spokesman, said. "The Iraqi government is committed to fixing this problem. Has it happened at pace the US wants? No, we want it to happen sooner than it has. But I don't believe the projects should be abandoned because progress has not happened at the pace we want. We must wait until Iraq can police itself without US help," he said.
The Jones report does acknowledge that the security situation has improved dramatically in al-Anbar province and sees "signs of encouraging tactical successes in the Baghdad capital region". It says those "circumstances of the moment" may provide an opportunity for beginning to transition US forces to a "strategic overwatch posture" in early 2008, re-tasking them to concentrate on border defence and infrastructure defence.
The leak of the report comes a day after another congressionally mandated report was formally published - after it too was leaked – giving Bush's troop "surge" strategy failing marks. General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, is set to give his assessment of the Iraq situation to congress next week.

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Swede is named new U.N. envoy to Iraq

(AP) -- Staffan de Mistura, a Swede who has worked at the U.N. for 30 years, was appointed Wednesday as the new U.N. envoy to Iraq.De Mistura, who has served as the U.N.'s deputy envoy to Iraq since 2005, replaces Pakistani diplomat Ashraf Qazi, who was named Tuesday as the top U.N. representative to Sudan. Both of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's appointments must still be approved by the Security Council.
Qazi, a respected Pakistani diplomat who has served in key posts around the world including in Washington, has been the top U.N. envoy in Iraq since July 2004. He replaced Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was one of 22 people killed in the Aug. 19, 2003, bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. After the bombing then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan pulled all international U.N. staff out of Iraq, but he allowed a small contingent to return to Baghdad in August 2004. The number of staff has remained low since then - currently 65 - because of security concerns.
Last month, the Security Council voted unanimously to expand the U.N. role in Iraq, opening the door for the world body to promote talks to ease Iraq's sectarian bloodshed. Ban said at the time the U.N. "cannot shy away" from its responsibility to help Iraq, but he added that staff security will remain "a paramount concern." He urged the General Assembly to approve additional funds for secure housing for U.N. staff in Baghdad.
De Mistura, who speaks seven languages including Arabic, has spent three decades working at the U.N., mainly in humanitarian operations. Prior to becoming deputy envoy to Iraq, he served as U.N. envoy to southern Lebanon. He is also the director of the U.N. Staff College in Turin, Italy.

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Key figures about Iraq

Key figures about Iraq since the war began in March 2003:
August 2007: 164,000
January 2007: 137,000
-Confirmed U.S. military deaths as of Sept. 4, 2007: 3,739
-Confirmed U.S. military wounded as of Sept. 4, 2007: 27,662
-U.S. military deaths for August 2007: 83
-Deaths of civilian employees of U.S. government contractors as of June 30, 2007: 1,001.
-Iraqi civilian deaths: Estimated at more than 66,000, with one controversial study last year contending there were as many as 655,000. According to Associated Press figures, there were at least 1,975 Iraqi deaths in August 2007.
-Assassinated Iraqi academics: 331.
-Journalists killed on assignment: 112.
-Stepped-up military operations are costing about $12 billion a month, with Iraq accounting for $10 billion per month, according to U.S. congressional analysis.
-Total cost to the U.S. government so far is more than $448 billion. A January 2007 study by Linda Bilmes of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government put the total projected cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan at $350 billion to $700 billion.
-Prewar: 2.58 million barrels per day.
-Aug. 22, 2007: 1.15 million barrels per day. (Power outages on August 16 and 17 affected crude oil production.)
-Prewar nationwide: 3,958 megawatts. Hours per day (estimated): four to eight.
-Aug. 14, 2007, nationwide: 4,110 megawatts. Hours per day: 10.
-Prewar Baghdad: 2,500 megawatts. Hours per day (estimated): 16-24.
-Aug. 14, 2007, Baghdad: Megawatts not available. Hours per day: 6.1.
-Note: Current Baghdad and nationwide megawatt figures are no longer reported by the U.S. State Department's Iraq Weekly Status Report.
-Prewar land lines: 833,000.
-March 13, 2007: 1,111,000.
-Prewar cell phones: 80,000.
-March 13, 2007: 8,720,038.
-Prewar: 12.9 million people had potable water.
-July 13, 2007: 15.4 million people have potable water.
-Prewar: 6.2 million people served.
-July 13, 2007: 11.3 million people served.
-Aug. 28, 2007: According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, approximately 2.2 million people. An estimated 750,000 have been internally displaced since the beginning of 2006.
-Aug. 25, 2007: The Iraqi Red Crescent says the number of registered displaced families inside Iraq doubled since January 1, 2007 - from 447,337 to 1,138,000 as of July 31, 2007.
-Prewar: 500,000 Iraqis living abroad.
-Aug. 28, 2007: More than 2 million in neighboring countries.
Sources: The Associated Press, State Department, Defense Department, Department of Energy, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, The Brookings Institution, Iraq Body Count, The Lancet, Iraqi ministries of health and education, U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Committee to Protect Journalists, Harvard University, Economist Intelligence Unit, National Priorities Project, International Telecommunication Union, The Brussels Tribunal, USAID, Iraqi Red Crescent, Office of the Secretary of Defense.

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Electricity employees struggle with reconstruction due to insecurity

Security, Electricity
(Azzaman) - Eight electricity engineers on a mission to repair power lines were abducted and killed in Baghdad. The kidnapping and brusque murder of the engineers took place in Waziriya, an upmarket Baghdad district supposedly one of the most secure in the capital. The bodies of the engineers were dumped on a street in Baghdad.
Electricity engineers and workers have become main targets of attacks. Meantime operations directed to cripple the already rickety power grid are reported to have increased recently. The killing of the engineers brings the number of electricity personnel killed on duty to 150 since the U.S. invasion of the country.
The Electricity Ministry says almost half of Baghdad is a dangerous area for its employees. “Our technicians and engineers cannot enter many areas in Baghdad, particularly in the Karkh Side of the city, to repair power failures due to the presence of gunmen,” a ministry source refusing to be named said.

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26,000 U.S. and Iraq forces go on offensive in n. Iraq

(CNN) -- About 26,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces are taking part in an offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said on Thursday. Iraqis gather at the site of a U.S. airstrike on Baghdad Thursday. Residents said people were killed in their sleep. The operation, Lightning Hammer II, is an extension of an earlier operation in Diyala province.
About 14,000 Iraqi security forces stationed throughout Nineveh province and 12,000 U.S. soldiers are conducting the operation, which started Wednesday evening. The military said the operation "follows Lightning Hammer I ... to deny al Qaeda safe haven in the provinces" of Salaheddin, Nineveh, Diyala, and Kirkuk.
The military said the original Operation Lightning Hammer -- August 13 to September 1 -- ousted militants from the Diyala River valley, northeast of Baquba, the capital of Diyala province. "Al Qaeda cells were driven from Baquba in Diyala due to Operation Arrowhead Ripper in June and July and then pursued in the Diyala River valley during Operation Lighting Hammer in August," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Task Force Lightning and Multinational Division-North.

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U.S. air strike kills 14 in Baghdad

(Gulf News) - A US air strike on a Baghdad neighbourhood overnight killed 14 people and demolished several houses, the police said on Thursday. US military spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment. Two police sources said the air strike took place at about 3 a.m. in the Washash neighbourhood, a stronghold of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, in western Baghdad's Mansour district.
Police said nine people were wounded in the attack, which one official said destroyed five houses. The US military has launched a series of operations, including air strikes against what it calls rogue elements of the Mehdi Army. It says many of these "special groups" have links to Iran, which it says is supply weapons and training, a charge Tehran denies.
Sadr last week ordered the Mehdi Army to suspend its operations for six months in what was seen as a move to restore his authority over the militia, which US officials say has fractured into splinter groups that do not obey him.

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Yazidis consider forming own militia

(Gulf News) - Until August 14 this year the word Yazidi, a reference to the followers of an ancient religious group, was hardly heard of in Iraq, although most Iraqis have started to add their tribal and sectarian backgrounds to their identities after the collapse of Saddam Hussain's regime. Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in addition to Christians started to highlight their issues through parties and religious entities after the fall of Saddam, but Yazidis, whose population is around 600,000 of the 26 million Iraqis, remained out of the game because their leaders felt they had very little chance of being heard in the troubled country.
On that day in August, four suicide attacks ripped the peace of two Yazidi villages killing more than 500 civilians and injuring 1,000, (credible news reports mentioned half the previous figures, but community leaders told Gulf News the death toll had increased in the following days). The magnitude of the crime has, however, highlighted the issues of the forgotten Yazidis and alerted them to their fragile security.
In a telephone interview from her refuge in Germany, Princess Aruba Esmail Bik, the daughter of the popular Yazidi leader, Esmail Bik, told Gulf News Yazidis have lived in the Sinjar province, a mountainous area in the north west of Iraq for around 14 centuries. They have been subjected to 72 waves of ethnic and religious cleansing over their history, but the recent attacks were the worst. She said Yazidis had seriously started planning their own militia to protect their villages and towns.
"As a leader to my community, I feel a special Yazidi militia will be the right answer to the worries of thousands of innocent Yazidis in Iraq," she said. Like many Iraqis, she said Yazidis, who embrace an ancient Mesopotamian religion, thought the removal of Saddam Hussain's regime would put an end to the tragic life they had experienced under the tyrant regime, but that proved wrong. "A few months after the invasion the Yazidis' hopes evaporated as they realised that they had became a target of sectarian intolerance that prevailed in the new Iraq," she said.
The security forces of the old regime, which fought a merciless war against Kurds in northern Iraq, had targeted Yazidis more than once for being considered a security threat. After Saddam, Yazidis were targeted by different groups and suffered from ethnic cleansing aimed at uprooting them from their homes and villages. Thousands of Yazidis fled the country and the August 14 attacks provided clear evidence of the critical security conditions the community is facing," said Princess Aruba. She fled Iraq in 2001 and has not returned to her home since then but she is still in contact with the community inside Iraq and in exile.
She said the Tal Azir and Qahataniya explosions, the deadliest in the history of the war in the country since the 2003 invasion, has opened the eyes of Yazidis about the deficit in their representation in the federal government and in Parliament.
"Yazidis need to live in peace and enjoy the security they deserve. They are a very peaceful community and had never been involved in a conflict with other communities living in the country," she said. "We have no minister or a representative in the federal parliament. The government has to check our case seriously and look into solutions to our security concerns," she said. Yazidis are considered infidels by both Christians and Muslims.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Al-Maliki seeks Sistani's advice on filling empty ministerial posts

(Reuters) - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met on Wednesday with the reclusive leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to discuss a government crisis in which nearly half his cabinet has quit. Sistani is the sponsor of the prime minister's ruling United Alliance and rarely leaves his home in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf in southern Iraq.
Speaking after the meeting, Maliki told reporters he had come to Najaf to seek Sistani's advice on filling empty ministerial posts and to get his thoughts on the possibility of reforming the government. "I discussed with him the case of the government. I asked his help in forming a government and nominating new ministers, or if there is the possibility to form a new government based on technocrats," he said.
Maliki did not say how Sistani responded, and the cleric's office declined to comment. One of the biggest blocs in the United Alliance, the movement of fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, pulled out of the government in April in protest at Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for a U.S. troop timetable.
The biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, the Accordance Front, has also pulled out its ministers, accusing Maliki of sectarianism. The walkouts have dealt a blow to efforts to bridge the deep divide between Iraq's Shi'ite and Sunni Arab communities and reach agreement on laws seen by Washington as vital to fostering national reconciliation.
Amid calls by some Democrats in Washington for his ouster, Maliki is under growing pressure to show political progress to match the military gains that have been made in certain areas. Maliki also said he was considering a proposal to declare Iraq's holy cities, which are home to some of the most important shrines in Shi'ite Islam, weapons-free zones, with only the military entitled to be armed.
"I am considering that holy shrines and sacred cities be peaceful places and disarmed of weapons and under the protection of the Iraqi army," Maliki said, without elaborating. The proposal follows fierce fighting near the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in Kerbala last week in which dozens of people were killed. The fighting disrupted a major religious festival and forced hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to flee. The gun battles appeared to involve Sadr's Mehdi Army militia and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, a rival Shi'ite faction whose armed wing controls police in much of the south.

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Sectarian Militias Attack Basrah Grand Mosque And Sunni Endowment

(Dar Al Salam Newspaper) - 4 SEP - Sectarian militias have attacked the Grand Basrah Mosque. Eyewitnesses said that the militias opened fire on the mosque and a civilian was wounded. The militias have also attacked the Sunni Endowment office in Basrah, injuring one of the guards. Eyewitnesses reported that the militias were using a vehicle and a motorbike. One of the attackers was arrested and his motor bike was confiscated. It is worthy to mention that Basrah’s mosques are often attacked by militias.

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Iraqi List: Signs Of An Agreement Soon Between Allawi And The Sadr Movement

(Azzaman Newspaper) - 4 SEP - Iraqi List Parliament member, Hussam Al Azzawi said that Iraqi List leader, Ayad Allawi is continuing his negotiations with important blocs and Parliament members. Al Azawi added that these negotiations are with the Accord Front, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, The Fadhila Party and the Sadr Movement.
Al Azzawi pointed out that there are some agreements with the Sadr Movement, but recent problems between the Sadr Movement and the government as well as with the American forces are making these conversations difficult. He also said the Iraqi List has been in contact with prominent people in the Shiite Alliance and many of them have shown cooperation and support for the national project of the Iraqi List.
About the Iraqi List’s leaders visit to Kurdistan, Al Azzawi said it was a successful visit with positive negotiations that will solve the political crisis in the country. Al Azzawi added, “The Iraqi List’s project to solve the current crisis, which Allawi has introduced to the Kurdish parties, was welcomed by these parties.” He said, “The two Kurdish Parties are an important side in the political domain and they are a number you cannot ignore, and in the end, they are close to the patriotic liberal national project.
On Saturday, Allawi ended his visit to Sulaymaniya where he met with President Jalal Talabani and other Kurdish officials. About the Iraqi List’s vision to solve the crisis Al Azzawi said, “The solution is in the patriotic conversations between the political blocs and to participate in decisions, and not to put aside others.”
He added, “The Iraqi List is not an enemy of the Prime Minister, Nuri Al Maliki. We have some notes on the nature and performance of the government which have led the country into more fighting and disputes.” About their withdrawal from the government, Al Azzawi said, “Our position is unwavering on our withdrawal because there are many reasons and disagreements.” Al Azzawi believes that the crisis will not end because the government is continuing in its ignoring of other’s opinions. The Iraqi List has suspended its ministers, but they have given them time to run their ministries.

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Bomb explodes at Sadr City bus station

(AFP) - A roadside bomb ripped through a crowded bus station in Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City, killing one person and wounding at least 11, a medic said Wednesday. The bomb went off near Al-Hamza square as buses were picking up commuters to ferry them to work, an interior ministry official said. A medic at the Sadr Hospital in Sadr City said one body had been brought to the facility while 11 wounded people were admitted.
Teeming Sadr City, with a population of more than one million, is a bastion of the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. It has been a frequent target of Sunni extremists setting off bombs amid the country's Shiite-Sunni sectarian conflict. A week ago Sadr ordered his militia to halt their armed actions for six months after they were accused of sparking bloody firefights with police in the shrine city of Karbala which turned a major Shiite pilgrimage into a bloodbath and killed 52 people.

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Iraqi FM calls for immediate halt of Iranian shelling

(Voices of Iraq) - Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari called for an immediate halt of the Iranian shelling operations on northern Iraq as they causing severe damage to the civilians' property in these regions.
"Zibari asserted during his meeting with the Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday afternoon in Tehran that Iraq was ready to set up a joint technical committee to discuss all details related to this subject and to agree on suitable solutions," read a foreign ministry statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
"The minister met with Mottaki in Tehran, during which they probed issues of mutual interest as well as the meeting of Iraq's neighboring countries, Egypt, Bahrain, in addition to the U.N. Security Council's five permanent countries and the G8, due in Baghdad," the statement also said. The statement pointed out that the two sides discussed the Iranian shelling of the border regions in Sulaimaniya and Arbil, adding no more details.

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Detained Sadrists released in Karbala

(Voices of Iraq) - A number of detained Sadrists were released in the Shiite sacred city of Karbala after being arrested following the clashes that erupted two weeks ago between Iraqi security forces and gunmen near the Shiite holy shrines in the city while Shiite pilgrims were observing the birth anniversary of their 12th Imam, the governor of Karbala said on Tuesday.
"A total of 55 detainees from the Sadr movement were freed," Aqeel al-Khazaali told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "They were arrested by security forces and proved that they were not involved in the incidents," he also said, noting that he would demand the release of all detainees that found not guilty.
"The investigation committee, assigned by prime minister to probe into the Karbala incidents, stopped arresting followers of Sadr in Karbala," Director of al-Sadr's office in the city Abdul Hadi al-Mahmadawi said. He told VOI earlier "the investigation committee called on me and told me that the arresting campaign against the Sadrists stopped." He described the move as "a good step".
Karbala local authorities said that committee started its work on Monday, while the city's police chief said that his forces arrested more than 400, suspected of having involvement in Karbala clashes. Karbala witnessed a series of clashes between gunmen and police forces, where 35 people were killed and over 130 injured according to the Iraqi defense ministry's estimates.
The clashes took place in Karbala while the Shiite city was receiving hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims heading to the shrines of imams al-Hussein and al-Abbas as a prelude to celebrating the birth anniversary of Imam al-Mahdi. Karbala is 108 km southwest of Baghdad.

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Iraqi parliament urges Syria to cancel visa requirements

(Voices of Iraq) - The Iraqi parliament urged Syria on Tuesday to cancel its decision to impose a visa requirement on Iraqis seeking entering Syria, while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent a senior official to Damascus to discuss this question.
"The parliament called on Syria during its first session of the second legislative term the Syrian government to cancel the visa requirement to be imposed on Iraqi nationals as of September 10," Member of the parliament Abdul Khaleq Zangana, the head of the displaced committee, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
"The Iraqi government is obliged to find a solution for the current crises facing the Iraqi refugees abroad," he also said, calling on the government and the U.N. Higher Commissioner for Refugees to take a quick action to solve the problem. The Syrian government decided last Thursday to impose a visa requirement on Iraqis seeking entering Syria as of September 10.
"The Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed al-Moualim informed his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zibari by telephone that his country decided to impose a visa requirement as of September 10, 2007, on Iraqi nationals seeking entry to Syria for economic, commercial and scientific purposes, and asked for the Iraqi government cooperation in this respect," the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said last Thursday.
The move is seen as an attempt by Syria, home to as many as 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, to reduce the flow of more than 30,000 Iraqi refugees every month. The MP said that the parliament sent a number of lawmakers to talk with the Syrian government in an attempt to cancel the decision, urging the Iraqi government to adopt measures to help Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan. Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Iraqi government Ali al-Dabagh told VOI "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent a senior envoy to Syria to avoid the negative repercussions of that decision on the Iraqi refugees."
Syria is one of the easiest countries for Iraqis to visit because they can stay up to six months then simply leave any border crossing and re-enter the country the same day to have a new six months' stay permit. It was unclear how the rules would affect Iraqis who try to enter Syria simply to take refuge.
Syria and Jordan host the largest number of the more than 2 million displaced Iraqis and both governments complain of the increasing burdens on their health and education infrastructures. Jordan has made it more difficult to Iraqis to enter in the past to help reduce the flow. During a visit to Syria last month, al-Maliki pledged to help Syria on the increasing flow of refugees from Iraq, most of them are living in the capital, Damascus, and the suburbs. Diplomatic relations were restored between Iraq and Syria in 2006.

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Iraqi Supreme Court denies accusation against Iranian opposition group

(Voices of Iraq) - The spokesman for the Iraqi Supreme Court denied on Tuesday any official accusation against the Iranian opposition organization of Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MKO). "The Iraqi Supreme Court headed by Aaref al-Shahen appointed me as an official spokesman for the court," Judge Mounir Haddad told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "The repeated unofficial statements started embarrassing the court," he also said.
The chief prosecution in the Supreme Criminal Court Jaafar al-Mousawi said last month that the organization would face charges on killing and repressing Iraqi Shiite Muslims during the uprising that erupted in southern Iraq following the second Gulf war in 1991. Regarding al-Mousawi's statements, Haddad said that "I asked the chief prosecutor and we discussed the case. It is just a lawsuit moved by al-Mousawi against the Iranian organization and he has not taken any action so far."
"This means that there is nothing against the organization and there is no official accusation issued against it so far," the spokesman affirmed. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabagh said last February that the government would expel members of the (MKO) because of reports on coordination between the MKO and gunmen in Baghdad and Diala.
The Iranian opposition organization of Mujahideen-e-Khalq has been based in Camp Ashraf in Diala province, 57 km northeast of Baghdad, since 1980s during the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war. Many political parties in the Iraqi government have been striving to drive the organization out of the Iraqi territories claiming that the Mujahideen-e-Khalq fighters took part in suppressing the Shiite uprising that broke out in southern Iraq after the second Gulf War in 1991 against the former regime.
COMMENT: The MEK is the primary opposition to the current Iranian government and acts as the focal point of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iranian opposition groups which claims to be the transitional parliament-in-exile with 570 members. The NCRI was headquartered in Iraq, with representative offices in other countries including a presence in Washington where it has previously received support from the US Congress. After the 9/11 attacks however, the US government actively courted cooperation from the government of Iran and further sidelined any unofficial support for the MEK.
The MEK philosophy mixes Marxism and Islam. Formed in the 1960s, the organization was expelled from Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and its primary support came from the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein since the late 1980s. The MEK’s history is filled with anti-Western attacks as well as terrorist attacks on the interests of the clerical regime in Iran and abroad. The MEK now advocates the overthrow of the Iranian regime and its replacement with the group’s own leadership. First designated in October 1997.
Most exiled members live in the camp at Ashraf, north of Baghdad. After Hussein was toppled, the MEK agreed to turn over its weapons to U.S. military officials. In 2004, the U.S. military granted its members the status of "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions and has since provided security for the camp. COMMENT ENDS.

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$760 mn. into Iraqi businesses making slow progress

(AP) -- Efforts to rebuild Iraq's shuttered industrial base, including an infusion of $760 million in U.S. funds over the past year, is making slow progress but has had little success getting Iraqi products to American consumers. Paul Brinkley, deputy under secretary of defense in charge of business transformation, said Tuesday that the U.S. government spent $180 million of that total in July alone on Iraqi goods and services.
But he acknowledged that U.S. companies, which have many questions and concerns about production and stability in Iraq, are still slow to stock Iraqi products. Considering the state of play in Iraq, Brinkley said, people are cautious about placing orders for Iraqi goods. Fawzi Hariri, Iraq's minister of industry and minerals, told Pentagon reporters that the unemployment rate in his country is about 40 percent, but that number is an improvement of 7 to 10 percent over last year.
Underscoring the difficulties, Brinkley said that "measurable progress" has been made in putting Iraqis back to work. Conservatively, he said, that number so far is just 5,000 people in 17 different factories.
Speaking at a Pentagon briefing, Hariri and Brinkley said they have earmarked $40 million of the $50 million that Congress approved earlier this summer for economic development in Iraq. The funding will go to about 30 Iraqi businesses scattered across the country, mostly around Baghdad and up in the largely Kurdish north.
The factories are in more secure areas of the country and include automotive, mechanical, textile, cotton, pharmaceuticals and fertilizer businesses that are either private or state-run.
Most of the money will go toward training, buying raw materials and getting the factories up and running again. Of the 240 factories operating before the war began, about 175 are open now, but many are at just 10 to 30 percent production capacity.

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Iraq resumes pumping of oil from Kirkuk to Ceyhan

(AP) -- Iraq's oil minister said Tuesday that crude oil began to flow from his country's northern oil-rich Kirkuk to a Turkish export terminal last week - for the first time since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003. "We're pumping between 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day of Kirkuk crude to the Turkish export terminal of Ceyhan," Hussain al-Shahristani told Dow Jones Newswires in a telephone interview from Baghdad.
The pipeline - Iraq's main export route from Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan - has been mostly closed because of constant sabotage since the U.S.-led war. Two weeks ago, Iraq agreed with Syria to repair and subsequently reopen another key pipeline, a 550-mile-long link connecting Kirkuk and the Syrian port of Baniyas. Once the Baniyas line - built in the 1950s but bombed by U.S. forces during the invasion that ousted Saddam - is reopened, Iraq would be using two terminals on the Mediterranean Sea. Currently, Iraq exports nearly all its oil through the Persian Gulf.
Al-Shahristani told Dow Jones that Iraq's current production capacity from its northern oil fields stands at 700,000 barrels a day, of which about 300,000 barrels a day are destined for a refinery in the nearby northern industrial city of Beiji for domestic use. The remainder is for export.
Last week, Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization announced a tender to sell 5 million barrels of Kirkuk crude through Turkey's Ceyhan port - the third tender of its kind this year. "As far as I know, we have over 5 million (barrels) of crude stocks in Ceyhan," al-Shahristani said.
He said he expected Iraq to maintain the same level of exports from its northern fields, citing new measures to prevent sabotage of pipelines. He said the measures include dispatching a security force, made up of tribesmen from the area and affiliated with his ministry, to guard the pipelines.

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U.S. troops have detained over 22,000 Iraqis in prison camps

(Azzaman) - U.S. invasion troops detain more than 22,000 Iraqis in their prisoner camps across the country, senior government officials say. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said many of those languishing in U.S. jails are innocent and have been incarcerated for long periods without trial or charges. Most of the prisoners come from central Iraq where an anti-U.S. rebellion is raging. The region is predominantly Sunni.
Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi is leading the campaign to free the prisoners and see to it that U.S. prisoner camps meet international standards and that the jailers respect prisoner rights. Hashemi is determined to have all the innocent Iraqis in U.S. jails freed as quickly as possible, one official said. The officials said there are currently more jails in Iraq than under former leader Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi government has no jurisdiction over U.S.-administered jails and has no say in U.S. troops’ military operations which normally result in arbitrary and summary arrests. The U.S. has agreed to release 50 Iraqi prisoners a day during the holy month of Ramadan. But the number falls short of Hashemi’s expectations who wanted to see most of the prisoners released.
Hashemi is said to have demanded U.S. troops pay reparations to prisoners arrested without charges. Hashemi’s adviser, Omer al-Jibouri, said the government has reached what he called ‘a working paper’ with U.S. occupation troops under which U.S. jailers violating human rights will be persecuted. Jibouri did not say how the government will punish U.S. troops at a time they are immune from prosecution and trial by Iraqi courts.

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U.S. forces claim cature of 'Iran agent' in Iraq

(CNN) -- U.S.-led coalition forces say they have captured a "highly sought" individual in Iraq with alleged ties to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force. The raid took place early Wednesday south of Baghdad in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala, a U.S. military statement said.
According to the military, the detainee was suspected of coordinating with high-level Quds force officers, whose goal it was to transport Iraqis into Iran for terrorist training. Although the coalition is still assessing the individual's connection with the Quds force, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver described the arrest as an "integral part of dismantling terror networks that seek to kill innocent Iraqis and security forces."
For months U.S. officials have stated Iranian agents from the Quds force have been helping train and equip militants in Iraq and have been supplying insurgents with the high-tech, armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators. Iran has denied these assertions.
Last month U.S. soldiers arrested -- and later released -- eight members of an Iranian government delegation at a hotel in Baghdad for allegedly carrying weapons without permits. The Iranian foreign ministry described the detentions as an "interventionist act."

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Petraeus hints at withdrawal next year

(The Guardian) - America's leading military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, last night signalled that the Bush administration may be ready to reverse its troop surge in Iraq and begin pulling soldiers out as early as next March.
Only days before he is to deliver his progress report to Congress on the 'surge', Gen Petraeus told ABC television he did not forsee maintaining present troop levels in Iraq because of the strain on the military. "The surge will run its course. There are limits to what our military can provide, so my recommendations have to be informed by, not driven by, but they have to be informed by the strain we have put on our military services," he told ABC during an interview in Baghdad.
The general refused to be more specific. But asked whether the US would begin pulling out the 30,000 extra forces deployed during the 'surge' by next March, he replied: "Your calculations are about right." Another official told ABC the reduction could begin as early as December with further withdrawals every 45 days.
Yesterday's interview came a day after George Bush made a surprise visit to a US air base in Anbar province. Mr Bush also raised the possibility of withdrawing some forces from Iraq, but warned Congress he would not bow to public opinion in setting his war strategy. The US forces in Iraq rose to more than 160,000 after Mr Bush ordered more troops into the war zone earlier this year.
Mr Bush's direction of the war also came under attack from an unexpected quarter yesterday: Paul Bremer, who in 2003 was America's proconsul in Baghdad. An angry Mr Bremer released two letters to the New York Times yesterday to reject Mr Bush's comments that the official had acted on his own accord in committing one of the most calamitous mistakes of the Iraq war. The disbanding of Saddam's military left hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers stranded without jobs or income, and is recognised as one of the most disastrous measures undertaken by Mr Bremer.
Mr Bremer told the newspaper he sent a draft of the order to the Pentagon on May 9 2003 and that it had been circulated to the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and other officials. In the first letter, from Mr Bremer to the president, dated May 22 2003, Mr Bremer writes at length about Iraqis weeping tears of joy at their liberation, and the dissolution of Saddam's ruling Ba'ath party. He deals with the disbanding of the army in a single sentence. "I will parallel this step with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam's military and intelligence structures to emphasise that we mean business."
The breezy tone was at odds with the opposition from US military officials at the time. Mr Bush responded the next day, in a brief reply sent from his ranch in Texas. Though it was such a big step in the de-Ba'athification process, there is no direct reference to dissolving Saddam's army. "Your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence. You also have the backing of our administration," Mr Bush writes.

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