Friday, October 05, 2007


Iraqis prevented from entering Syria without visas

(DPA) -- For the first time under a new visa regime to stem the flow of Iraqi refugees into the country, 10 Iraqis were prevented Wednesday from entering Syria without visas, an Iraqi party leader living in Syria said Thursday. The Iraqi politician, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the 10 Iraqis tried to get visas from Syrian embassies abroad but they were told that there were no instructions as to the new visa system applied two weeks ago by the Syrian government only on Iraqis.
The Iraqi official further added that the Syrian-Iraqi borders seemed the past two days almost deserted after previously receiving between 1,500 and 2,000 Iraqis every day. Any Arab is allowed to enter Syria without a visa. However, after the massive flow of Iraqi refugees from the ongoing conflict in that country into Syria, the Syrian government decided to impose visas on any visiting Iraqi.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres, about 2 million Iraqis have taken refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly in Jordan and Syria, placing a heavy burden on their hosts. In Syria, which sees the arrival of an estimated 40,000 Iraqis a month, refugees are seen to be contributing to a rise in the cost of housing and goods and the overcrowding of schools.
About 1.5 million Iraqi refugees currently live in Syria. The Syrian government provides the Iraqi refugees with free education and health care, but can no longer cope with the influx of Iraqis.

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Women in Basra targeted by religious extremists

(McClatchy Newspapers) - Women in Basra have become the targets of a violent campaign by religious extremists, who leave more than 15 female bodies scattered around the city each month, police officers say. Maj. Gen. Abdel Jalil Khalaf, the commander of Basra's police, said Thursday that self-styled enforcers of religious law threatened, beat and sometimes shot women who they believed weren't sufficiently Muslim.
"This is a new type of terror that Basra is not familiar with," he said. "These gangs represent only themselves, and they are far outside religious, forgiving instructions of Islam." Often, he said, the "crime" is no more than wearing Western clothes or not wearing a head scarf.
Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi women had had rights enshrined in the country's constitution since 1959 that were among the broadest of any Arab or Islamic nation. However, while the new constitution says that women are equal under the law, critics have condemned a provision that says no law can contradict the "established rulings" of Islam as weakening women's rights.
The vigilantes patrol the streets of Basra on motorbikes or in cars with dark-tinted windows and no license plates. They accost women who aren't wearing the traditional robe and head scarf known as hijab. Religious extremists in the city also have been known to attack men for clothes or even haircuts deemed too Western.
Like all of southern Iraq, Basra is populated mostly by Shiite Muslims, so sectarian violence isn't a major problem, but security has deteriorated as Shiite militias fight each other for power. British troops in the area pulled out last month.
Khalaf, who has a reputation for outspokenness in a city where that can get you killed, scoffed at the groups, calling them no better than criminal gangs. He said he didn't care if some were affiliated with the militias, he planned to crack down on them. "If there is a red line related to the insurgents and militias, we will pass it over, because it's one of the factors that destroy the society," he said.
The violence is displacing the few members of religious minorities in the area. Fuad Na'im, one of a handful of Christians left in the city, said Thursday that the way his wife dressed made the whole family a target. "I was with my wife few days ago when two young men driving a motorbike stopped me and asked her about her clothes and why she doesn't wear hijab," he said. "When I told them that we are Christians, they beat us badly, and I would be dead if some people nearby hadn't intervened."
That was enough, he said. "I'm about to leave the city where I was born and where my father and grandfather were buried, because I can't live in a place where we're asked about our clothes, food and drink."

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Corruption has cost Iraqi govt $18 bn.

(Reuters) - Widespread corruption in Iraq stretches into the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an Iraqi investigating judge told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday, and an American official said U.S. efforts to combat the problem are inadequate. Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, who was named by the United States in 2004 to head the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, said his agency estimated corruption had cost the Iraqi government up to $18 billion.
Maliki has shielded relatives from investigation and allowed government ministers to protect implicated employees, said the judge, who left Iraq in August after threats against him. He told a Capitol Hill hearing that 31 employees of his agency had been killed. Radhi said he did not have evidence against Maliki personally, but the prime minister had "protected some of his relatives that were involved in corruption."
One of these was a former minister of transportation, Radhi told the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The U.S. official who testified, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said he also saw a "rising tide of corruption in Iraq." He said U.S. efforts to combat it were "disappointing," lacking funding and focus.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the panel, questioned whether the Maliki government was "too corrupt to succeed" and charged that U.S. efforts to address the problem were in "complete disarray." He criticized what he said was State Department resistance to the panel's investigation, saying the U.S. government apparently was afraid the corruption revelations "might embarrass or hurt our relations with the Maliki government."
Larry Butler, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, declined to publicly answer questions about whether Maliki had obstructed corruption investigations, saying he could only respond in a closed session. Waxman called the request "absurd," but the State Department defended Butler's position. Spokesman Sean McCormack said in corruption investigations it was best to handle matters privately at first to protect the rights of those under suspicion.
Radhi said he did not return to Iraq because of threats to his security, but he also suggested Maliki was behind efforts to prosecute him if he went back. In his statement, he said 31 of his co-workers and 12 of their relatives had been killed because of their work. "This includes my staff member Mohammed Abd Salif who was gunned down with his seven-month pregnant wife," he said. The body of the father of another worker was found on a meat hook, he said. Radhi also said it had been impossible for the commission to adequately investigate oil corruption because Sunni and Shi'ite militias had control of the distribution of Iraqi oil.

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U.S. military reports find Blackwater at fault

(Reuters) - U.S. military reports from the scene of a shooting incident in Baghdad involving security contractor Blackwater indicates its guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force, The Washington Post reported on Friday. At least 11 Iraqis were killed in the Sept. 16 incident, which has outraged Iraqis who see the firm as a private army which acts with impunity.
Citing a senior U.S. military official, the Post said the military reports appear to corroborate the Iraqi government's contention that Blackwater was at fault. "It was obviously excessive. It was obviously wrong," a U.S. military official speaking on condition of anonymity told the newspaper. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP (Iraqi police) or any of the local security forces fired back at them," the official was quoted as saying.
The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official told the Post. He said U.S. soldiers had reviewed statements from eyewitnesses and video footage recorded at the scene. An Iraqi Interior Ministry official and five eyewitnesses described a second deadly shooting involving the same Blackwater guards minutes after the incident in Nisoor Square, the Post reported.
The FBI is leading a State Department investigation of the incident, which occurred as Blackwater escorted a diplomatic convoy in western Baghdad. The Pentagon and a joint U.S.-Iraqi team are also looking into the incident. North Carolina-based Blackwater has said its guards reacted lawfully to an attack on the convoy they were protecting.
In previously unpublished remarks prepared for delivery at a congressional hearing, Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince said the Blackwater guards "came under small-arms fire" and "returned fire at threatening targets," the Post reported.
Portions of the remarks dealing with the incident were left out of his testimony after the Justice Department warned Blackwater the incident was under investigation, it reported. The Post did not say how they obtained these remarks. Blackwater is also under scrutiny over other shooting incidents involving Iraqis.

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Parliament sacks MP for joining resistance

(Voices of Iraq) - Iraqi parliament on Thursday decided after marathonic debate to sack the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front legislator Abdul Nasser al-Jenabi for he "joined the armed resistance and expressed regret to take part in the political process." The House of the Representatives decided in Thursday's session to sack MP Abdul Nasser al-Jenabi, and ordered that the Sunni Accordance Front, to which Janabi was a member, shall nominate a replacement.
Earlier, Accordance Front demanded to agree to consider al-Janabi as resigned, leading parliament's session to witness a controversy on the legal position of MP Abdul Nasser al-Jenabi following his decision to join the armed resistance. "Member of Parliament Abdul Nasser al-Jenabi did not present his resignation, and his bloc presented a demand, in which it urged to consider him as a resigned member. This demand is illegal and parliament cannot approve it," Sheikh Khaled al-Attiya said.
"Al-Jenabi had to present an official demand with his resignation," he explained. Following a lengthy and hot debate over al-Jenabi's statement and his legal position as a legislator, al-Attiya said, "it seems there are differences on that subject, but al-Jenabi told media that he regretted having participated in the political process and he will join armed resistance, but did not present an official demand to resign from parliament."
The first deputy speaker decided to postpone the whole matter, but the Shiite Unified Iraqi Coalition members rejected to put off the issue and pressed to take a decision against al-Jenabi. The session chairman then decided to sack al-Jenabi and asked IAF to nominate a replacement. Al-Jenabi is a member of the National Dialogue Council, one of the three Sunni components that form the IAF. The council is headed by Sheikh Khalaf al-Eliyan.

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Kuwait will not accept partition of Iraq

(Reuters) - Kuwait will not accept any plan to divide Iraq into federal regions and wants the United States to remain there until the country is stable, the Kuwaiti Emir said in remarks aired yesterday. "We will not accept the partition of Iraq, we consider this to be dangerous to us. It will be dangerous for the whole region," Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah told Al Arabiya television, commenting on a US Senate resolution advocating the division of Iraq into federal regions. "We are against this division and I think that even the Iraqis will not accept this." The non-binding Senate amendment, which was passed last week, says the United States should actively support a political settlement among Iraqis based on a federal system of government.
The amendment has been widely interpreted as a proposal to divide Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions. Shaikh Sabah also called on the United States to keep its troops in Iraq until stability is seen on the ground. "I say it frankly, I would like the United States to withdraw its troops from tomorrow, but do you think that if they pull out there will be stability in Iraq? I think not," he said.
"We will hold the United States responsible for the fighting in Iraq, therefore, I wish that they will not leave now before they maintain a strong army in Iraq that can protect Iraq and its people." Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Monday that the resolution was well-meaning but failed to recognise the ethnic complexity of Iraqi cities and regions. The Arab League criticised the resolution and described the idea as "hostile to Arab interests."

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PUK says Turkey has banned Iraqi airlines from its airspace

(RFE/RL) - The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's website reported on October 3 that Turkey has banned Iraqi airlines from using its airspace. It said that Turkey previously prevented flights between Germany and Iraqi Kurdistan, apparently through a similar ban, but later agreed to permit the flights. "As passengers prepared to [fly on October 2] from Frankfurt and Munich to Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, Hamburg International Company informed Zozik Airline Company in Kurdistan that Turkey decided to stop all the journeys [after] 6:30 p.m. Berlin time using Turkish airspace," the website reported. Zozik Airline Director Nawzad Dizay'i confirmed the ban.

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Civilians killed in U.S. air raid near Baqouba

(Al Jazeera) - At least 17 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, have been killed in a US air raid, Iraqi officials and witnesses say. US military officials have yet to respond to the claim, but issued a statement that it had killed 25 Shia fighters in clashes near the city of Baquba, in the same area as the alleged attack on the civilians.
US helicopters attacked the Shia village of al-Jaysani, close to the town of Khalis, at about 2am local time (2300 GMT), witnesses said on Friday. "Seventeen people were killed, 27 were wounded and eight are missing including women and children," an Iraqi defence ministry official, said.
However, Ahmed Mohammed, a witness, said the death toll was higher. "There are 24 bodies on the ground in the village and 25 others wounded in Al-Khalis hospital," he said.
At least four houses in the village, which lies 80km north of Baghdad, were destroyed in the US air raid, witnesses said. An Iraqi army official who spoke on condition of anonymity said civilians were killed when they rushed out to help those hurt in the initial bombing.
Oday al-Khadran, Khalis' mayor, said the US military targeted areas built up by local people to protect their neighbourhood against attacks by al-Qaeda fighters. "These places came under attack by American air strikes," he said.
The US military could not be reached for comment on allegations that it had killed civilians during combat operations, but a US military statement said 25 fighters had been killed near Baquba. The statement said US forces came under fire from opposition fighters who were then killed in an ensuing gun battle, adding that two houses were destroyed in the fighting.
The target of the operation was a "commander believed to be associated with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Quds Force", the statement said. The statement said that one of the oppostion fighters was carrying what appeared to be an anti-aircraft weapon. The US military said at the weekend it had seized Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles that were being used by opposition fighters in Iraq.
Friday's incident comes amid heightened tension between the US and Iran after US forces detained Mahmudi Farhadi, an Iranian national, in northern Iraq a fortnight ago. Farhadi’s detention led Tehran to close its border with the Kurdish semi-autonomous region. The US military says that Farhadi is an officer in the covert operations arm of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. The secret operations wing has been accused by American commanders of supporting Shia fighters involved in Iraq's continuing sectarian conflict.

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Iraqi investigation recommends Blackwater security guards face trial in Iraqi court

(AP) - The official Iraqi investigation into the Blackwater shooting last month recommends that the security guards face trial in Iraqi courts and that the company compensate the victims, an Iraqi government minister told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The three-member panel, led by Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi, determined that Blackwater guards sprayed western Baghdad's Nisoor Square with gunfire Sept. 16 without provocation, Minister of State for National Security Sherwan al-Waili told AP. The panel also found that 13 Iraqis were killed, not 11 as earlier disclosed, according to al-Waili told AP.
A parallel but unofficial investigation by seven members of the Interior Ministry found that 17 Iraqis were killed and 24 wounded, a member of the Interior Ministry panel said on condition that he not be identified because the findings were not public. He said its recommendations were nearly identical to those issued by the al-Obeidi investigative team.
Both reports were to go to the larger joint U.S.-Iraqi panel studying the shooting. The Sept. 16 incident was one of at least six involving deaths allegedly caused by Blackwater that authorities here have brought to the attention of the Americans.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also dispatched a team to Baghdad, and retired veteran diplomat Stapleton Roy is leading a diplomatic review, along with a former State Department and intelligence official, Eric Boswell. The panel, led by Patrick Kennedy, one of the most senior management experts in the U.S. foreign service, was to present an interim report early this month.
Security officials in Baghdad said the State Department report was expected to include information that two Blackwater guards involved in the incident suffered gunshot wounds. The officials would not be further identified because the report had not yet been made public. Blackwater has said its guards used their weapons only after they came under fire. But the official Iraqi investigation found that the Blackwater guards had not been fired on when they unleashed the fusillade. It said no shots were fired at Blackwater personnel throughout.
The report said that the Blackwater guards had violated accepted rules of engagement, should face trial in the Iraqi justice system and that the company should compensate the victims families. The guards currently are immune from prosecution in Iraq under a 2004 decree by L. Paul Bremer, a U.S. administrator in Iraq after the war. He issued the decree shortly before leaving Baghdad when political sovereignty was turned over to a provisional government.
In Washington on Thursday, the House passed a bill that would make all private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. Al-Obeidi's panel finished its work this week and submitted the report and recommendations to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday, according to al-Waili. Al-Waili said the report was issued under the signatures of al-Obeidi, Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Baldawi, the deputy minister of national security; and Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, the deputy interior minister for intelligence and security affairs.
Blackwater is paid millions to protect State Department employees in Baghdad's dangerous environment and is widely known among Iraqis as a group to stay away from as convoys roar through the city, heavy guns at the ready on speeding armored vehicles.

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Calls grow for partition of Iraq

(The Guardian) - After months of gruelling work, including major counter-insurgency operations in June, US commanders in Iraq have growing reason to believe the controversial "surge" policy is working. But as the military gets a grip, the effectiveness and cohesion of the civilian-led, Shia-dominated government in Baghdad slips by the day. That is renewing talk of partition.
US officials say the number of Iraqi civilians and American soldiers killed in September was lower than at any time since January 2006. The overall trend has been downwards for four months. Lieutenant-general Raymond Odierno, the US deputy commander, said this week that al-Qaida bases and safe havens had been reduced by 60-70% since the surge began. Other contributory factors include increased cooperation from Sunni Arab tribesmen across central Iraq. Up to 30,000 Sunnis have reportedly volunteered to help US and Iraqi-government forces secure their neighbourhoods.
After months of bitter US complaints that Iran's Revolutionary Guard was aiding Shia militias and arming renegade Sunnis linked to al-Qaida, Tehran may be backing off. Gen Odierno said the supply of weapons from Iran grew dramatically from April to July, in support of a summer offensive by insurgents.
But after a deal made with Tehran last month by Iraq's Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the flow is slowing. Sadly for the overall US strategy, political progress is not keeping pace. Mr Maliki's coalition government looks weaker than ever, unable to command a working parliamentary majority, or to pass key reconciliation measures. Seventeen ministries are without a minister and much central government funding remains frozen in the ruins of a collapsed bureaucracy.
Sensing division among Shias and reduced commitment from the Kurds, Sunni Arab and secular parties are threatening a no-confidence vote. US congressional criticism is mounting too. "There was just no sense of urgency on the part of the prime minister to drive the overarching goal that will help cement and solidify Iraq as a united country," said Republican senator Olympia Snowe after visiting Baghdad.
US officials, including President Bush, are leaning hard on Mr Maliki. But ironically, their success in thwarting Democrat attempts to impose a withdrawal timetable, plus the surge's recent advances, may have eased the immediate pressure on him. And if Mr Maliki were to fall, neither Washington nor Iraq's squabbling factions would easily find a viable alternative.
The impotence of the Baghdad government, and the willingness of tribal chiefs and provincial and municipal-level leaders to take charge of their security, budgets and social programmes, is encouraging talk of partition - or at least devolution of power beyond that envisaged in Iraq's federal constitution.
Independence-minded Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, is already going its own way. The Kurdish regional government recently signed five unilateral oil exploration deals, to fury in both Baghdad and Washington.
In the south, Mr Maliki's key Shia backer, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, wants the nine majority-Shia southern provinces to join what could effectively become a state within a state. Its existential power struggle with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, sworn opponent of Mr Maliki and the Americans, is increasingly distracting its attention from "national" priorities.
This has not gone unnoticed among US legislators and policymakers such as Democrat senator Joe Biden, who have long argued for Bosnia style, ethnically based partition. Mr Biden won Senate approval last week for a non-binding measure urging Iraq's division into Sunni, Shia and Kurd regions.
"Attempts to partition or divide Iraq by intimidation, force or other means would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed," the US government said. But many reply that, despite the surge's recent successes, extraordinary suffering is what Iraq has already got; and the illusion of central control cannot be sustained much longer.

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Arabs paid compensation to leave Kirkuk

(Gulf News) - The process of paying compensation for Arabs to leave Kirkuk and settle in other places has started, the governor of the troubled Iraqi province said. Abdul Rahman Mustafa, Governor of Kirkuk, told Gulf News: "The compensation process has already begun and every Arab who wishes to leave Kirkuk is being paid about 20 million Iraqi dinars ($16,000, Dh58,848). The compensation has been approved by the Committee for Normalising Situation in Kirkuk.
"The process is transparent and without any external pressure, and this first phase to implement Article 140 it will be followed by the census and referendum processes to determine Kirkuk's fate," he said. According to Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, compensations will be paid to Shiite and Sunni Arab residents of the province to facilitate their return to native provinces. Kirkuk is facing a struggle for its identity between Kurds on one side and Arabs and Turkmen from the other. Thousands of Kurds were displaced from the province during Saddam Hussain's regime.
Mohammad Arslan, a member of the Turkmen Front in Kirkuk, told Gulf News: "The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party are trying to change the province's demography by forcing Arabs and Turkmen to leave Kirkuk. I think people are being forced to accept compensations ... this will lead to confrontation."

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Leader of Sunni Arab tribal council killed

Security, Tribal
(BBC) - A leader of a Sunni Arab tribal council which opposed al-Qaeda in Iraq has been killed in a roadside bomb attack north of Baghdad, Iraqi officials have said. Sheikh Muawiya Jebara, a senior member of the Salahuddin Awakening Council, and three of his bodyguards were killed as his convoy travelled near Samarra.
His death comes less than a month after the killing of the head of a similar group in neighbouring Anbar province.
Meanwhile, the Shia mayor of Iskandariya died in a separate bombing. Abbas al-Khafaji, a member of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), and four of his bodyguards were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their car at a checkpoint, police said. A mixed Sunni-Shia town 40km (25 miles) south of the capital, Iskandariya lies in a centre of the Sunni insurgency known as the "triangle of death".
The attack on Sheikh Muawiya Jebara occurred in mid-afternoon as he travelled to an area south-west of Samarra to support other members of the Salahuddin Awakening Council who were currently fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. The sheikh survived the initial blast, but died from head injuries shortly after arriving in hospital, his brother said.
The head of the Tikrit-based Salahuddin Awakening Council, Sheikh Sabah Mutashar al-Shammari, recently said the tribal alliance had conducted more than 100 operations against Sunni extremist militants. "Our forces are working in co-ordination with the ministers of defence and interior," he told the AFP news agency.
"Our troops consist of 3,000 fighters distributed across seven headquarters in the province."
Last month, the leader of the Anbar Awakening, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was killed in a bomb attack near his home in Ramadi. US officials have pointed to the formation of the tribal alliances as one of the most positive developments in their efforts to reduce violence in Iraq.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


UIA condemns recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into Iraqi police force

Security, Tribal, Politics
(Washington Post) - The largest Shiite political coalition in Iraq demanded Tuesday that the U.S. military abandon its recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police, saying some are members of "armed terrorist groups" and are engaged in killing, kidnapping and extortion under the guise of fighting the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The statement by the
United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is the most direct rebuke to a policy that U.S. military officers hold up as one of their most important achievements over the past year.
U.S. forces have given wide support to thousands of Sunni tribesmen across the country who have pledged to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. U.S. officials describe the effort as promoting grass-roots reconciliation that brings disenfranchised Sunnis into the government and provides protection for their neighborhoods. U.S. officials acknowledge that many of the recruits have been involved with various Sunni insurgent groups; expressions of antipathy toward the Iraqi security forces and government are common among them.
"We condemn and reject embracing those terrorist elements which committed the most hideous crimes against our people," the United Iraqi Alliance statement said. It also condemned "authorizing the groups to conduct security acts away from the jurisdiction of the government and without its knowledge." The statement went on: "We demand that the American administration stop this adventure, which is rejected by all the sons of the people and its national political powers."
The U.S. military credits the partnerships with local Sunnis, a concept developed in
Anbar province and replicated in many Sunni areas in and around Baghdad, as a primary factor in the declining violence over the past several months. In Washington on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, described these partnerships as a "success story" and said 1,700 volunteers from the town of Abu Ghraib graduated last week after a month of police academy training. "Anbar now stands as an inspiring example to the rest of the country for what is possible, as citizens come together to reject extremist behavior," Odierno said.
But some Iraqi and U.S. officials have long expressed reservations about whether the experience in Anbar province, which is largely Sunni, could be repeated in areas with mixed populations, such as Baghdad. "Now the problem is that the
American Army has started to arm some Sunni groups . . . and give them salaries, and they've enabled them to control some mixed areas," Humam Hamoudi, a senior Shiite leader in the coalition, said in a recent interview. "This has provoked astonishment, rejection and rage."
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, said there are insufficient U.S. and Iraqi troops to defeat the extremists, so the local tribes provide an important supplement. He said the recruits should be accountable to the Iraqi security forces. "At this particular moment, we need these tribes. It might be for a short period," he said in an interview. "I can't understand the fears. Frankly, it's people talking nonsense, that these tribes might turn into militiamen the next day and be a threat to the Shias and attack whomever."

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Iraq orders $100 mn. worth of light military equipment from China

(Reuters) - Iraq has ordered light military equipment from China worth $100 million because the United States is unable to meet Baghdad's requirements, the Washington Post reported President Jalal Talabani as saying. The weapons are intended for Iraq's police where only one in five officers are armed, it quoted Talabani as saying in an article published on its Web site on Thursday.
The Iraqi president also called for faster U.S. weapons deliveries to strengthen Iraq's army. "The capacity of the factories here are not enough to provide us quickly with all that we need, even for the army," the newspaper quoted Talabani, who is visiting the United States, as saying. "One of our demands is to accelerate the delivery of the arms to the Iraqi army".
Last week the Pentagon said it was ready to sell Iraq weapons worth up to $2.3 billion to help its army expand and take over missions now carried out by U.S. and other foreign forces. It said the sale would include vehicles, small arms ammunition, explosives and communications equipment, as well as upgrades to 32 additional UH-1 helicopters.
The newspaper said U.S. officials conceded Washington faced problems delivering everything Baghdad needed. "We're working hard just to supply our own troops," an administration official told the newspaper. "Our factories are working for our own troops. So it's true we don't have the ability to provide these rifles and other equipment they're looking for."

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Chemical Ali's execution delayed till after Ramadan

(Reuters) - Iraq will put off carrying out the death sentence against Saddam Hussein’s cousin, widely known as ‘Chemical Ali’, until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 10 days time, the prime minister said on Wednesday. An Iraqi appeals court upheld Ali Hassan Al Majeed’s death sentence at a hearing on Sept. 4, with the sentence to be carried out within 30 days of that decision. That deadline was to expire on Thursday.
‘We seek a legal path for postponement because we do not want the execution this time to be carried out during Ramadan,’ Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki told a news conference. The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan will end in about 10 days. Majeed, former Defence Minister Sultan Hashim and Saddam’s former army chief of staff Hussein Rashid were sentenced to death in June for planning and directing a military campaign in 1988 that prosecutors said killed up to 180,000 Kurds.
Rumours had swirled soon after the appeal court decision that Maliki’s Shia -led government would move to hang Majeed before the start of Ramadan last month but he remains in custody in a US detention facility. Sunni Arabs, dominant under Saddam, accused the government of acting with unseemly haste in carrying out Saddam’s death sentence on Dec. 30, four days after a court rejected his appeal in a separate case.
Sunni Arab governments, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, also criticised the timing of the execution, which took place at the start of the Eid Al Adha religious feast. Majeed has also gone on trial for his role in crushing a Shia rebellion in southern Iraq in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. Prosecutors in that case had warned he could be executed before the trial was completed.

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Iraq Defence, Security and Communications Summit announced

(AME Info FZ LLC) - The Iraq Development Program (IDP) is proud to announce confirmation of the Iraq Defence, Security & Communications Summit for 16-17 February 2008, Dubai, UAE. H.E. Shirwan Al-Waili, Iraqi Minister for National Security Affairs has confirmed he will lead the government delegation that will also include ministers, deputies and director generals from: the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Communications, the Ministry of Science & Technology, the KRG Ministry of Interior and the KRG Ministry for Peshmerga Affairs
The two-day summit will include detailed presentations of all ministerial requirements plus dedicated roundtables to allow for private one-to-one meetings between delegates and ministers. Quite simply, the summit will allow for best in breed contractors to meet over 40 decision-making government officials under one roof, providing incomparable reach and return on investment. A substantial part of the summit will be devoted to US Department of Defence procurement for Iraq and accordingly will include the most appropriate and senior officials.
IDP now has an exemplary track record in organising high-level meetings-based events in partnership with the Iraqi Government. The first Iraq Security was held in September 2006 and led to outstanding testimonials from companies who achieved tangible commercial returns:
'The Summit allowed us to personally meet various Government and Military Officials in one venue which would have taken countless hours had we not attended. We have been pleased with the responses so far and we are looking forward to the next Summit,' according to Streit Manufacturing.
"It allows all delegates to understand and to be understood, as well as offer the foundation for lasting and trusted friendships and partnerships," said Raytheon.

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U.S. Army says list found of 500 Al-Qaeda members

(AFP) - The US military said on Wednesday it had seized a list of some 500 Al-Qaeda members recruited to fight in Iraq from the Middle East and Europe during a raid in northwest Iraq that killed eight militants. Major General Kevin Bergner said the September 11 raid near Sinjar targetted a senior Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, known as Muthanna, who was killed along with seven colleagues.
"Muthanna was the emir of Iraq and Syrian border area and he was a key facilitator of the movement of foreign terrorists once they crossed into Iraq from Syria," Bergner told a news conference in Baghdad. "He worked closely with Syrian-based Al-Qaeda foreign terrorist facilitators," he added. "During the operation, we captured multiple documents and electronic files that gave an insight into Al-Qaeda's foreign terrorist operations not only in Iraq but throughout the region," he said.
The files revealed "a list of some 500 foreign terrorists being recruited by Al-Qaeda, biographies on 143 foreign terrorists en route to Iraq or who have already arrived, including personal data, photographs, recruiters' names, route and date of entry into Iraq." Bergner said they came from a range of countries including Libya, Morocco, Syria, Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.
The Iraqi and US governments have accused neighbouring countries such as Syria and Iran of not doing enough to check the flow of foreign fighters across their borders into Iraq. Among the documents were pledges by foreign recruits who were committed to suicide operations, Bergner added.

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Key SIIC leader in Diwaniyah killed

(Voices of Iraq) - A key leader from the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) was killed in the predominantly Shiite province of Diwaniya, a local official said on Wednesday. "Unknown gunmen attacked, on Tuesday evening, Ali Husssein al-Zamli outside his house in Efak district, 30 km southeast of Diwaniya, killing him instantly," Hussein al-Budairi, head of the provincial council's security committee, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
Al-Budairi added that al-Zamli is a key leader of SIIC in Diwaniya and a member of Efak district local council. "Police forces were sent to Efak district following the incident and laid a cordon on a nearby orchard in search for the perpetuators," the local official said. Diwaniya, 180 km south of Baghdad, have been a scene of assassinations that targeted political and religious leaders in the province.

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Gunmen in uniform kidnap civilians in Diyala

(Voices of Iraq) - Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniform kidnapped 13 civilians on Wednesday afternoon at a fake checkpoint in Diala, central Iraq, a police source said. "Unknown gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms positioned a fake checkpoint on the main road linking Baaquba and Khalis, and forced 13 civilians at gunpoint to an unknown location," the source, who requested anonymity, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The source, who provided no further details, said "among the captives were women and children." Diala is 57 km northeast of Baghdad.

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MNFI - Iranian detainee is key leader in Quds Corps

(Voices of Iraq) - The Spokesman for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq Brigadier General Kevin Bergner said on Wednesday the Iranian national detained two weeks ago in Sulaimaniya was "a key leader" in the Iranian Quds Corps, and was involved in transferring armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators.
"The Iranian national who was detained by the U.S. forces in Sulaimaniya is involved in transferring armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators from Iran into Iraq and he is currently under questioning," Brig. Gen. Bergner told a news conference in Baghdad today.
The spokesman added "the detainee is a key leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds corps if compared to the Iranian persons detained in last January in Arbil."U.S. forces arrested an Iranian trade delegation member upon arrival in Sulaimaniya in Iraq's Kurdistan region two weeks ago. Mahmoud Farhadi, the Iranian detainee, was accused by U.S. forces of transferring weapons and infiltrators into Iraq. Tehran claimed that Farhadi is a civil-servant at Karminshah province.
The spokesman also said that Farhadi is "a commander of Zafar Battelion within Ramadan Brigade which is responsible for most Quds corps activities in Iraq. "With Farhadi, U.S. army in Iraq held five more Iranians who were detained from the Iranian Consulate in Arbil on 11th January 2007.

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Iraq reconciliation drive offers bonuses for mixed marriages

(Reuters) -- Iraq is offering a cash bonus to married Iraqi couples from different sectarian groups in a drive to heal rifts between communities and foster reconciliation. At a ceremony in Baghdad to launch the new initiative on Tuesday, 250 recently married couples from across Iraq accepted awards from Sunni Arab vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. Those in mixed marriages received $1,500. Hashemi did not specify whether all couples getting married in the future would qualify for the bonuses but said there would be a programme of ceremonies to celebrate mixed marriages.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in sectarian violence since the U.S. invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, a minority Sunni who suppressed the majority Shi'ites and Kurds in the north. Feuding between politicians from the sectarian groups has all but paralysed the government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and stymied progress on reconciliation reforms Washington wants. "Today we have a new programme in which we want to break the sectarian strife," Hashemi said. "We will allocate a special bonus to those who break this hateful sectarian yoke and get married on the basis that his wife is an Iraqi, not because she is a Sunni or a Shi'ite."
Shi'ite Ali al-Kilabi, 29, married a Sunni woman two months ago and was happy with the $1,500 he received to pay off his marriage debts. "There are people who are so fanatical. We are neutral, we do not pay attention to these matters. We do not differentiate between Shi'ites or Sunnis," he told Reuters. "My wife and I do not argue because we are from a different sect. We condemn people who are sensitive about these matters."
The sectarian violence in Iraq has forced hundreds of thousands of people to move out of neighbourhoods dominated by one sect or another, leading to huge displacement of Iraqis. According to an Iraqi Red Crescent report for August 2007, nearly two million Iraqis have left from their homes since the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 sparked a wave of sectarian violence.
Um Fuad's son, a Kurd, married a Sunni Arab a year ago. The couple was keen to get the money to pay hospital bills as his wife is about to have a baby. Um Fuad's other son married a Shi'ite and needs the cash to pay off wedding debts. "We do not differentiate between sects," she said.
But for some at the ceremony, the money was scant compensation for the loss and suffering they have endured since Saddam was toppled. Um Ubaida, a 25-year-old Sunni civil servant, looked pale and expressionless as she went to receive the wedded couples bonus to help with her debts. She married last year and had a baby two months ago, but has not seen her husband for seven months. "My husband is missing, he went to visit his brother in prison and he never came back," she said.

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WHO - cholera outbreak in Iraq spreads

(AP) -- The toll of people in Iraq infected with cholera has risen to 3,315, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. The number of confirmed infections compares with 2,758 cases reported Sunday by the U.N. health agency. The death toll of 14 has been unchanged in recent days, WHO said. The outbreak first detected Aug. 14 in Kirkuk in northern Iraq has now spread to half of the country's 18 provinces. "The case-fatality rate has remained low throughout the outbreak indicating that those who have become sick have been able to access adequate treatment on time," WHO said.
Cholera is a gastrointestinal disease that is typically spread by drinking contaminated water and can cause severe diarrhea that, in extreme cases, can lead to fatal dehydration. It can be prevented by treating drinking water with chlorine and improving hygiene conditions. The global health body estimates that more than 30,000 people have come down with acute watery diarrhea, which may later be confirmed as cholera.
Kirkuk with 2,309 cases and Sulaimaniyah with 870 are the hardest-hit provinces, with numbers still rising. Both are in northern Iraq. But the disease is continuing to spread and it is "highly possible" it will reach as yet unaffected areas, WHO said. "The numbers of cases are remaining stable in Basra, Baghdad, Dahuk, Mosul and Tikrit," it said. "However, a case has now been confirmed in Wasit, a province that has previously been unaffected by the outbreak."
Diyala, a province neighboring Baghdad, has reported an increasing number of cases of acute watery diarrhea. Although the province has no confirmed cases of cholera, the symptoms indicate the presence of the disease, it said.
The agency said the Iraqi government has taken steps to curb the disease, but that the overall quality of water and sanitation is very poor, which greatly facilitates cholera contamination. "WHO is in the process of procuring 5 million water-treatment tablets, and two international WHO epidemiologists are being deployed to support the Ministry of Health in Iraq," it said.

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Iraqi insurgent groups announce new coalition

(AP) -- Nearly two dozen previously unknown Iraqi insurgent groups announced a new coalition to fight foreign occupation but it also set conditions for talks with the U.S. in a statement on a Web site affiliated with the country's deposed Baath party. The 22 groups said their leader is Izzat al-Douri, the highest ranking member of Saddam Hussein's former ruling party still at large.
In the nearly half hour video message, an unidentified man, face blurred, was shown sitting behind a table with an Iraqi flag on his right side reading a statement announcing the formation of the new alliance called "The Jihad and Liberation."
The new alliance laid down a series of conditions for talks with the U.S. It demanded an unconditional withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, immediately or within a short timetable, the release of all detainees, return of the security forces to their status before the occupation and a halt to all operations against the people.
"If the enemy wants to withdraw and save face, they should sit down and speak directly with the resistance to discuss implementing these sacred principles. Otherwise, the only alternative is their collapse and flight," the statement said. Ayad Allawi, Iraq's first post-Saddam prime minister, has recently said he held talks with members of the Baath party loyal to al-Douri, for which he was severely criticized by Iraq's current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The statement made no mention of al-Qaida in Iraq, but it contained slogans praising Arab nationalism and the Arab nation's great past. Al-Qaida's extremist ideology does not recognize nationalism, but calls for an Islamic state. There have been reports of clashes in Iraq between the more nationalist and secular elements of the insurgency with groups following al-Qaida.
The coalition is led by a group linked to al-Douri, who in his later years ascribed to a moderate, mystic Sufi form of Islam. An Islamic Web site linked to extremist groups such as al-Qaida also carried the announcement, but ridiculed al-Douri and the new group.

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Kurdistan signs four more oil deals

Oil, Kurdistan
AFP) - Iraq's Kurdistan regional government announced four more oil deals on Wednesday, ignoring criticism from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government and Washington of its unilateral sell-off of the country's national resources. The regional government said in a statement posted on its website that it had approved four contracts for exploration and production, and had sanctioned two new refinery projects in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.
Two production sharing contracts (PSCs) had already been signed, with Heritage Energy Middle East Limited, a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Heritage Oil and Gas, and Perenco S.A., an affiliate of a French company of the same name. "The signing of the other two PSCs with experienced international companies will follow shortly," the statement said.
"The combined initial exploration investments on the upstream projects will be approximately 500 million dollars," it said. "Estimated investment on the two new refinery projects will be around 300 million dollars."
The Iraqi oil ministry did not immediately comment on the new deals, but Amira al-Baldawi, an MP from the Shiite coalition that leads the Baghdad government and a member of parliament's economic, investment and reconstruction committee, said the contracts were "illegal". "They shall be revised and put in accordance to the Iraqi law and the new oil law to be issued," Baldawi told AFP.
Last month, the Kurdish regional government inked a deal with Texas-based Hunt Oil Company, the first major oil contract awarded by any Iraqi authority to a foreign company since UN sanctions were imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990. No details of the contract have been released but the Dallas company, which has links with the White House, has said it would begin its geological survey work in Dohuk province, near the border with Turkey, by the end of this year and would begin drilling in 2008.
The Hunt contract was declared "illegal" by Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, sparking a war of words with the regional government, which told him to stop meddling in its affairs and said he should be sacked. A senior US embassy official speaking on condition of anonymity told reporters in Baghdad last week that the Hunt deal had "needlessly elevated tensions" in Iraq. He said the US State Department had advised Hunt to wait for the Iraqi parliament to pass a much-anticipated oil and gas law that will establish a new framework for the industry but that it went ahead anyway.
The bill opens up the long state-dominated oil and gas sector to foreign investment and provides assurances that receipts will be shared equally between Iraq's 18 provinces, a measure Washington regards as key to efforts to reconcile the country's divided communities. The draft law was approved by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national unity cabinet in July but faces a tough passage in the 275-seat parliament, where the Kurdish bloc has 53 seats. The bill is expected to come before MPs this month.
The regional government said the PSC awarded to Energy Middle East Limited covered the 1,015 square kilometre (406 square mile) Miran Block in Sulaimaniyah Governorate, "a low to medium exploration risk area." Perenco S.A. has been awarded the "high exploration risk" 2,358 square kilometre (943 square mile) Sindi/Amedi Block along the Turkish border.
Regional natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami defended the deals. "The projects will spearhead international investment for the whole of Iraq," he said. "New oil discoveries under these contracts will bring large amounts of new revenues for sharing throughout Iraq."

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Blackwater denies charges

(The Guardian) - The US company at the centre of the scandal over the role of private security guards in Iraq brushed aside accusations that it was a cowboy outfit yesterday, even as details emerged about a incident in which an allegedly drunken member was involved in a fatal shooting. Testifying before a congressional hearing Erik Prince, the normally secretive head of Blackwater, denied his company was overly aggressive.
The company is in the middle of a tug of war between the Iraqi government and the US state department following the alleged killing of 11 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad on September 16. Blackwater has been blamed.
The Iraqi government has called for the company to be expelled but the state department, which relies on Blackwater for protection of its diplomats, wants it to stay. The hearing offered the first opportunity to hear Blackwater's side of the story in detail. But the US justice department unexpectedly stepped in at the last minute and asked that the congressional committee and Mr Prince avoid specific questions about the September incident.
In an opening statement before the House oversight committee, Mr Prince, 38, defended his company in relation to the killings. "There has been a rush to judgment based on inaccurate information, and many public reports have wrongly pronounced Blackwater's guilt for the deaths of varying numbers of civilians," he said. "Congress should not accept these allegations as truth until it has the facts.
Based on everything we currently know, the Blackwater team acted appropriately while operating in a very complex war zone on September 16."
But a memo by congressional staff said Blackwater has been involved in an average of 1.4 shootings a week. The memo detailed various incidents, including one on December 24 when a 26-year-old Blackwater staffer killed a 32-year-old guard to Adil Abd al-Mahdi, the Iraqi vice-president, provoking an angry response from the Iraqi government.

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U.S. contractors in Iraq may be liable under U.S. law

(Gulf News) - The House of Representatives is expected to vote on legislation that could see US government contractors who commit felonies in Iraq and Afghanistan being prosecuted in US federal courts, a human rights activist said yesterday. "It's time to close the legal loopholes that allow contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to commit crimes with impunity," Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch told Gulf News.
Under regulations originally imposed by the US government an estimated 180,000 private contractors working in Iraq are immune from local criminal prosecution. A US-Afghanistan agreement means thousands more have immunity in Afghanistan.
The legislation, if passed, will extend the reach of a federal law, called the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), to cover all US contractors overseas. Currently, only Department of Defence (DOD) contractors and other contractors supporting US forces are explicitly covered by the law.
Under Iraqi law, initially imposed by US occupation authorities in 2004, all non-Iraqi contractors are immune from prosecution in Iraqi courts. Because the Blackwater employees were contracted by the State Department - not DOD - prosecutors must first establish that they are acting in support of DOD in order to bring a case under MEJA.

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Poland to keep troops in Iraq despite attack on envoy

(Gulf News) - Poland's ambassador to Iraq was wounded in a triple bomb attack on his diplomatic convoy in central Baghdad yesterday, which killed a Polish bodyguard and an Iraqi passer-by, officials said. A determined Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said following the attack that Poland would not withdraw the 900 troops it has stationed southwest of Baghdad. Iraqi police initially said one passer-by was killed in the blasts and five people were wounded, including three embassy officials. A Polish Interior Ministry spokesman later said a Polish bodyguard died in hospital. "Our ambassador, General Edward Pietrzyk scrambled out [of the wreckage] on his own," a Polish statement said.
The attack came as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki said amid mounting anger yesterday that Blackwater should leave the country because of the mountain of evidence against the under-fire US security firm. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on legislation that could see US contractors who commit felonies in Iraq and Afghanistan being prosecuted in US federal courts, a human rights activist said yesterday.

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