Saturday, March 31, 2007
Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul Kareem Khalaf said 347 people were wounded in Tuesday's attack on a Shi'ite area. There was another truck bomb in the mixed northwestern town on Tuesday, but it was small.
Khalaf said 100 homes had been destroyed in the main blast, which officials have blamed on al Qaeda. The explosion left a 23-meter (75-ft)-wide crater.
"It took us a while to recover all the bodies from underneath the rubble of the homes ... what did they achieve by using two tons of explosive to kill and wound 500 in a residential area?" Khalaf asked at a news conference.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Suicide bombers kill 130 in Iraq
By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - Suicide bombers killed nearly 130 people in a crowded market in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad and a mainly Shi'ite town on Thursday, one of the bloodiest days in Iraq in months.
The upsurge in sectarian violence threatens all-out civil war and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, called for restraint and urged Iraqis to work with security forces to prevent the violence spiraling out of control. Bombs earlier this week in northern Iraq sparked mass reprisal killings.
Two suicide bombers wearing vests packed with explosives killed 76 people in a market in the Shaab district of northern Baghdad, police and medical sources said, in what appeared to be the latest of a string of attacks on Shi'ite districts and towns blamed on al Qaeda. More than 100 were wounded.
"It is impossible to tell the exact number of dead because we are basically counting body parts," said a Health Ministry official in Baghdad, who asked not to be named.
Most of the victims were women and children, who had been out shopping in the crowded market before the start of the nightly curfew, he said.
At about the same time, three suicide car bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Khalis, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, killing 53 people and wounding 103, police said.
There has been a spike in bloodshed, particularly outside the Iraqi capital, in recent days. Violence between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis has killed tens of thousands in the past year.
On the night my father left Iraq to attend the OPEC meeting in Vienna (October 1982), Mun'im and Pauline implored my father to come back to Iraq and not defect. My father told Mun'im that Saddam's is a dangerous and bloody regime and that he should take his family and leave, but he replied that his parents, brothers and sisters were virtually hostages and, therefore, could not leave Iraq for good.
From The Argus: Love story led to tragedy in Saddam's Iraq
Knowles-Samarraie found herself trapped within a brutal regime and face to face with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Ruth Addicott tracked her down in Rottingdean, where she now lives, to hear her moving and powerful true story.
'The quaint tea shops of Rottingdean couldn't be further removed from the dusty streets of Baghdad, which has seen one of the most brutal regimes in recent history.
Not many people experience both worlds. Pauline Knowles-Samarraie, however, is someone who has.
In the Sixties, Pauline followed her heart and went to Baghdad, where she witnessed the rise and ruthless dictatorship of Saddam Hussein first hand. Her husband was a senior government minister and Saddam used to call their home so frequently, they began to dread the sound of the phone.
He cast a long, dark shadow over their family life to such an extent their only chance of survival was to flee Iraq.
Pauline, 69, has led an extraordinary life, made even more so by the fact she is here in Rottingdean talking about it today.
Four years since the British first sent troops into Iraq, she has decided to share her own personal experience in her book, I Never Said Goodbye.
Pauline was 18 when she first laid eyes on Munem at the Old Cock pub in Halifax. The name was a source of amusement and still makes her smile today.
"He bowled me over," she says. "All the other boys did was comb their hair and fight over girls. He talked about the world and I admired him."
They got married in a Birmingham registry office in 1958. Pauline became pregnant and a year later their son, Mazin, was born.
Her husband Munem was a student at Birmingham University and, as his education had been paid for by the Iraqi government, he was obliged to go back and work for them.
He returned to Iraq and shortly afterwards, at the age of 25, Pauline flew out with Mazin to join him. It was a stifling 42C and Pauline was in no way prepared for the culture shock.
The cultural divide hit home quite literally when she was introduced to the in-laws. The entire family were standing in line waiting to meet her and wasted no time in airing their disapproval at her Western clothes and ways.
Although Pauline and Munem had their own house in a more cosmopolitan part of town, when Munem went away on business, she was obliged to move in with his family.
On one occasion she discovered her dressing table mirror smashed to smithereens a sign of disapproval at her wearing make-up by one of his brothers.
"They didn't like the fact I would walk down the street in a dress or show my arms and legs," she says..
"But I said, I am me, I come from a different culture and I am not changing for anyone'."
Pauline soon made a lot of friends in Baghdad and got a job at the Iraqi Broadcasting Centre.
In 1966, she fell pregnant and gave birth to a daughter Nada and it was around this time she suddenly saw a new side to Munem.
It was while he was away on business and she was having to endure the usual barrage of cruel taunts from the family that she discovered he'd been having an affair.
He swore it was over but further letters she discovered years later (one proclaiming make love not babies') suggested he'd been unfaithful throughout. Munem dismissed it as unimportant and refused to let her leave Iraq. But, as Pauline herself admits, she still loved him.
Munem's commitment to the modernisation of Iraq was indisputable and it wasn't long before he rose through the ranks to become a senior government minister.
Saddam was second in command when both Munem and Pauline were invited to a glittering reception he was hosting at a new club in Baghdad.
Pauline had briefly seen Saddam previously at the family home, when he was a young revolutionary and had come to pay his last respects to Munem's late brother Bedi. But it was at the reception she met him for the first time face to face.
She describes the dictator as being immaculately dressed in a French designer suit and having a rock-star persona' which made women scream and faint at his feet.
"He came over and shook hands with me. His stare was so penetrating, so focused I had to drop my gaze,"
she says. "Every woman in the room was completely drawn in by the aura of power.
"He always had a smile but he loved himself. He just seemed to bask in the knowledge everyone was spellbound."
She adds: "I said to Munem, He's good, isn't he?' Munem said, He's not all he appears. He'd kill his own mother if she stood against him'."
Her husband's words soon echoed true. Just days after Saddam was inaugurated, he called a meeting of hundreds of Baath officials and read out a list of so-called conspirators'.
One by one they were led out and executed, including Adnan Hamdani who had only a few days earlier been appointed deputy prime minister.
It was broadcast live on TV and proved just the beginning of the tens of thousands of Iraqis including Saddam's own henchmen who went missing under his regime.
Pauline recalls the husband of a close friend being among them. Her friend discovered his bullet-ridden body rolled up in a carpet, dumped on her doorstep.
Another friend's husband was detained at Abu Ghraib prison. She was summoned to visit him and led to a room where his body had been dumped in a freezer.
"The true number of deaths, disappearances and imprisonments will probably never be known," says Pauline.
Saddam's presence had an impact on her son Mazin's schooling. Pauline wanted to enrol him in the best school in Baghdad but feared for his safety.
Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay were the same age as Mazin and known to frequently bring guns into the classroom. In the end, she sent Mazin to a different school.
The Baath party had good and bad phases. While they taught a lot of women in poorer communities to read and write, it caused friction within families, who were used to the old system.
"They also encouraged young people to make a report if they saw or heard anything which was against the party," says Pauline. Even her daughter Nada was asked to spy on her parents which she refused to do.
"The whole atmosphere changed," she says. "People stopped chatting in the street and began to stay indoors for fear they might say or do something that could be taken the wrong way. Everyone was terrified.
"There were two plain-clothed men from the Baath party at the end of our street and they'd watch every time I went to the shop."
In the end she stopped going out after 6pm. Paranoia and fear started to creep into all their lives and it became difficult to know who to trust.
As Deputy Minister of Oil, Munem was ordered to witness executions of colleagues and friends. Pauline could only watch as he sank deeper and deeper into depression. According to Pauline, Saddam called their house so frequently they came to dread the sound of the phone.
Munem changed from a charming, smiling man to a shadow of his former self.
Pauline even suspected their home was bugged.
She recalls: "On one occasion, the phone rang and Munem said, Whoever it is, tell them I'm not in'. I answered the phone and as soon as the voice said in Arabic, This is the Revolutionary Command Council', I knew it was Saddam. I said, I'm sorry he's not in'. He said, He must be in. The driver just brought him home'. I was terrified.
I thought, I've really put my foot in it now. I said, Munem has just gone out for a walk'. He said something I couldn't understand in Arabic and slammed the phone down.' The pressure on Munem began to take its toll: "He wanted to leave but how could he? He was being watched all the time," Pauline says.
All residents had to take Iraqi citizenship and, under the regime, Pauline had been forced to hand over her British passport. No one was allowed to leave Iraq without express permission from Saddam.
Eventually, knowing it was their only chance of survival, Munem asked Saddam if his wife and daughter could have a two-week break in England.
Their real plans had to be kept secret and they had to be careful not to pack anything which could suggest they were going for longer.
The aeroplane on that summer's day, August 16, 1984,was virtually empty.
Pauline had made desperate attempts to try to claim dual nationality for Nada, then 18, and, ironically, it was the aid worker Margaret Hassan, who was later kidnapped and killed herself, who ran onto the plane just before take-off to thrust the papers into her hand.
Recalling the moment she left Baghdad for good, Pauline's voice begins to shake. Fighting back the tears, she says: "It was the last time I saw my son alive."
Munem told Pauline he would do his best to get himself and Mazin, then 24, out.
Tragically, the next Pauline heard of her husband was he had been executed. Mazin was also imprisoned but, despite constant phone calls to Baghdad, she could get little or no information about his welfare.
Clinging to the hope her son was still alive and would one day flee Baghdad, Pauline moved to Florida and bought a business for Mazin.
Then, finally, she got some news via a friend that her son had been released.
In 1993, she boarded a flight for Baghdad, clutching a case of new clothes for Mazin. Arriving at the family home, however, she found it all boarded up and she discovered Mazin had been executed five years earlier.
Pauline still struggles to come to terms with the loss. "For five years I strived in every way I could to get him out of Baghdad, thinking he was still alive," she says, tears in her eyes. "Although he wasn't there in person, he was in my heart and I always lived in hope."
It was only after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 she found out where his body was buried in a mass grave outside Abu Ghraib. All Pauline has today is a reference number.
After leaving Iraq she returned to Florida and sold the business. The pain of losing both her husband and her son took its toll on her health and she moved back to Rottingdean, where she now lives.
Asked her thoughts on the invasion, she pauses before answering: "In a selfish way, I am happy they went in because it finally meant I got some answers. It's not the Government's fault other people brought the wars.
I just feel sorry for those who've lost their loved ones. I understand how it feels for a mother, particularly, to lose a son."
Pauline also has mixed feelings about Saddam's execution. In her book she talks of the rage she felt at his opulent lifestyle and flagrant abuse of power while her son and husband perished. "We have to remember he persecuted people from all walks of life not just Shiite muslims," she says..
"I had so much hate for Saddam, it made me ill but that hate has slowly gone it had to. I just feel a sense of peace now this man has finally been made to pay for what he's done." '
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
'BAGHDAD - Shiite militants and police enraged by deadly truck bombings went on a shooting rampage against Sunnis in a northwestern Iraqi city Wednesday, killing as many as 70 men execution-style and prompting fears that sectarian violence was spreading outside the capital.
The killings occurred in the mixed Shiite-Sunni city Tal Afar, which had been an insurgent stronghold until an offensive by U.S. and Iraqi troops in September 2005, when militants fled into the countryside without a fight. Last March,
President Bush cited the operation as an example that gave him "confidence in our strategy."
The gunmen roamed Sunni neighborhoods in Tal Afar through the night, shooting at residents and homes, according to police and a local Sunni politician. Witnesses said relatives of the Shiite victims in the truck bombings broke into Sunni homes and killed the men inside or dragged them out and shot them in the streets.'
Massive US Navy exercise continues off coast of Iran
ABOARD THE USS JOHN C STENNIS: US fighter jets battled imaginary enemy ships and aircraft off the coast of Iran yesterday during the second and final day of the largest US Navy exercise in the Arabian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. US commanders said the maneuvers were not a direct response to Iran's seizure on Friday of 15 British sailors and Marines, but the parade of two aircraft carriers, 13 support ships and 125 aircraft only 42 miles off Iran's coast was clearly intended to send a message of US military prowess. Rear Admiral Kevin Quinn, commander of Strike Group Three, which includes the USS John C Stennis said the purpose of the exercises was to show "the commitment of the US to stability and security in the region." Commander Chris Rentfrow said that although the Iranians were watching, the operations had not elicited a reaction.
"Operations are pretty much normal," he said, "we've seen some activity from their patrol aircraft, which is entirely normal." The relationship between the US and Iran has grown increasingly strained in recent months over Iran's nuclear program and its alleged support for Shiite militias in Iraq.
Tensions increased even further after Friday, when Iranian forces captured 15 British sailors for allegedly entering Iranian territorial waters. US and British officials insist the team was operating under a UN mandate and with the permission of the Iraqi government to search cargo vessels inside Iraqi waters. Operations onboard the Stennis continued at breakneck pace yesterday as a mass of men and machines conducted their highly coordinated routine. Hundreds of sailors dressed in green, yellow and blue jackets to indicate their functions waved hand signals at each other to communicate through the noise. The smell of jet fuel permeated the air. With one final salute to the men and women on the deck, pilots catapulted off the carrier in waves, producing a shockwave strong enough to knock observers back a step. The deck of the USS Stennis is so large that two planes can land on it, and two can take off, simultaneously.
Captain Bradley Johanson, the commanding officer of the Stennis, said the carrier flew 84 missions with 64 aircraft on Tuesday. Another 79 sorties were planned.
Lieutenant Dennis Cox, who selects weapons for the jets, said he could feel the excitement in the air. "Today, I talked with a few of the crew, and they were flying double hops," he said. "This is fairly unusual. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they had a big day." The war games involve over 13,000 US personnel mounting simulated attacks on enemy aircraft and ships, while hunting submarines and looking for mines. US officials have made it clear that US warships would stay out of Iran's territorial waters, which extend 12 miles off the Iranian coast. The US drills were the latest in a series of competing American and Iranian war games in the region.
Iran conducted naval maneuvers in November and April, while in October the Navy led a training exercise aimed at blocking nuclear smuggling. The Stennis strike group, with more than 6,500 sailors and marines, entered the Gulf late Monday or early Tuesday along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, the Navy said. The Stennis, which had been supporting military operations in Afghanistan from the Arabian Sea, joined the strike group led by the Eisenhower. It is the first time two US aircraft carriers have operated in the Gulf since the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The Eisenhower was operating off the coast of Somalia in January and February. Ships from Bahrain's navy were also operating in the region during the exercise, but US and Bahraini officials denied they were taking part in the maneuvers. US commanders have said that none of America's naval coalition partners in the region joined the exercise. - AP
Oil Rises a 7th Day as Iran Tension Adds to Disruption Concern
By Mark Shenk
March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil rose for a seventh day, climbing close to $65 a barrel in New York, on concern that Iran's capture of British servicemen may escalate, disrupting shipments from the Middle East.
Oil jumped more than $2 a barrel, after surging $5 in seven minutes late yesterday on speculation the U.K. would mount a rescue attempt. The Middle East is responsible for about a third of the world's oil output. Prices also rose on expectations an Energy Department report today will show that U.S. gasoline inventories fell for a seventh straight week.
``The recent price moves show that geopolitical factors are back front and center,'' said Nauman Barakat, senior vice president of global energy futures at Macquarie Futures USA Inc. in New York. ``Sentiment is bullish. Geopolitical tension and tightness in the gasoline market are the twin pillars of this market.''
Crude oil for May delivery rose $1.54, or 2.5 percent, to $64.48 a barrel at 9:45 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices reached $64.86 during the session. Futures are down 2.4 percent from a year ago.
Prices surged from 1979 through 1981 after Iran cut oil exports. The average cost of oil used by U.S. refiners was $35.24 a barrel in 1981, according to the Energy Department, or $79.67 today's dollars.
``Whenever there is a headline about Iran people prick up their ears,'' said Justin Fohsz, a broker at Starsupply Petroleum, a division of GFI Group Inc., in Englewood, New Jersey. ``If the Iranians release the British, oil should come off quite a bit.''
Strait of Hormuz
Almost a quarter of the world's oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Relations between Iran, which sits on the world's second-largest proven reserves, and western governments were already frayed because of the country's nuclear program.
``It is now time to ratchet up the pressure,'' Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Parliament in London today. The capture of the U.K. personnel was ``wrong and completely illegal.''
Vice Admiral Charles Style told reporters in London that Iran's navy ``ambushed'' Britain's boats on the Iraqi side of the Shatt al-Arab waterway. He said GPS navigation data showed the position of Britain's ships and that Iranian officials have given two separate accounts for the location of the vessels.
``It increases people's concerns about how they would behave if they had a nuclear weapon,'' U.K. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement to Parliament. She said she's considering whether to take the matter to the UN and to European Union foreign ministers meeting this weekend.
The United Nations Security Council on March 24 unanimously backed a resolution freezing the assets of a state-owned Iranian bank and imposing penalties on some military commanders, to push Iran to suspend production of the nuclear fuel. The package toughens sanctions approved in December.
Brent crude oil for May settlement jumped $1.48, or 2.3 percent, to $66.08 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures exchange. Futures touched $69 a barrel yesterday, the highest intraday price since Sept. 4.
By THOMAS WAGNER 03.28.07
More than two-thirds of the world's large cities are in areas vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, and millions of people are at risk of being swamped by flooding and intense storms, according to a new study released Wednesday.
In all, 634 million people live in the threatened coastal areas worldwide - defined as those lying at less than 33 feet above sea level - and the number is growing, said the study published in the journal Environment and Urbanization.
More than 180 countries have populations in low-elevation coastal zones, and about 70 percent of those have urban areas of more than 5 million people that are under threat. Among them: Tokyo; New York; Mumbai, India; Shanghai, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The peer-reviewed scientific study said it is the first to identify the world's low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels. It said 75 percent of all people living in vulnerable areas are in Asia, with poorer nations most at risk.
The study gives no time frame for rising sea levels or the potential flooding in individual countries. It warns, however, the solution to the problem will not be cheap and may involve relocating many people and building protective engineering structures. And, it adds, nations should consider halting or reducing population growth in coastal areas.
"Migration away from the zone at risk will be necessary but costly and hard to implement, so coastal settlements will also need to be modified to protect residents," said Gordon McGranahan of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, a co-author of the study.
IIED publishes the journal Environment and Urbanization. The other two co-authors of the study are Deborah Balk of the City University of New York and Bridget Anderson of Columbia University.
Separately, the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a draft copy of a report expected to be released next week that coastlines are already showing the impact of sea-level rise. The draft copy, which was obtained by The Associated Press, said about 100 million people each year could be flooded by rising seas by 2080.
The draft copy warned that two biggest cities in North America - Los Angeles and New York - are at risk of a combination of sea-level rise and violent storms. By 2090, under a worst-case scenario, megafloods that normally would hit North America once every 100 years "could occur as frequently as every 3-4 years," the draft said.
In February, the IPCC warned of sea-level rises of 7-23 inches by the end of the century due to global warming, making coastal populations vulnerable to flooding and more intense hurricanes and typhoons.
Asia is particularly vulnerable, the study said. The five nations with the largest total population living in endangered coastal areas are all in Asia: China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Between 1994 and 2004, about one-third of the world's 1,562 flood disasters occurred in Asia, with half of the total 120,000 people killed by floods living in that region, the study said. In addition, more than 200,000 people were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Truck bombs kill dozens at Iraqi markets
By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD - Two truck bombs shattered markets in Tal Afar on Tuesday, killing at least 63 people and wounding dozens in the second assault in four days on a predominantly Shiite Muslim city hit by a resurgence in violence a year after it was held up as a symbol of U.S. success.
After the bombings, suspected Sunni insurgents tried to ambush ambulances carrying the injured out of the northwestern city but were driven off by police gunfire, Iraqi authorities said.
The carnage was the worst bloodshed in a day of attacks across Iraq.
A major Sunni Arab insurgent group reported its military leader was slain outside Baghdad, an assault likely to deepen an increasingly bloody rift between al-Qaida in Iraq and opponents of the terror group in Sunni communities west of the capital.
In Baghdad, a U.S. soldier and an American working as a U.S. government contractor were killed by a rocket attack on the heavily guarded Green Zone, U.S. officials said. Another contract worker suffered serious wounds and three were slightly wounded. A soldier also was wounded.
A U.S. Marine died during combat operations in Anbar province, a hotbed of Sunni Arab insurgents west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.
U.S. soldiers, meanwhile, foiled two suicide truck bombers trying to attack their base in a small town 50 miles west of Baghdad and killed as many as 15 attackers, the military said. It said eight soldiers suffered wounds, all but one of them slight, during the firefight in Karmah.
Iraqi police reported at least 109 people killed or found dead nationwide. The toll included two elderly sisters — both Chaldean Catholic nuns in the increasingly tense city of Kirkuk — who were stabbed multiple times in what appeared to be a sectarian killing.
Most of the bloodshed in Tal Afar came when an explosives-laden truck was detonated by remote control as people gathered to buy flour it was carrying in the center of town, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad. A few minutes earlier, a truck loaded with vegetables blew up near a wholesale market on the city's north side.
Brig. Abdul Karim al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the provincial police, said the first blast killed at least 62 people and wounded 150. The other bomb killed one person and wounded four, he said.
Insurgents waiting in cars on Tal Afar's outskirts tried to intercept ambulances carrying the wounded to hospitals in nearby Mosul but fled when police escorts opened fire, said Husham al-Hamdani, head of the security committee in Mosul.
Jaafar Akram, a teacher at a school near the smaller explosion, said body parts were scattered about and vegetables lay in pools of blood.
"I instantly saw smoke, then I heard the blast," Akram said. "Thanks be to God the blast didn't occur during rush hour at the school. That reduced the disaster."
On Saturday, a man wearing an explosives belt blew himself up outside a pastry shop in Tal Afar's central market area, killing at least 10 people and wounding three.
Tal Afar, which is about 90 miles east of the Syrian border, is inhabited mainly by ethnic Turkomen. About 60 percent of the residents are Shiite Muslims and the rest Sunni.
The city was an insurgent stronghold until an offensive by U.S. and Iraqi troops in September 2005, when rebel fighters fled into the countryside without a battle. Last March, President Bush cited the operation as an example that gave him "confidence in our strategy."
But even though U.S. and Iraqi forces put up sand barriers around Tal Afar to limit access, the city has suffered frequent insurgent attacks — Tuesday's was the deadliest since the war started. Among the largest previous attacks were suicide bombings that killed 20 people on Sept. 18 and 30 on Oct. 11, 2005.
In other bombings Tuesday, suicide car bombers struck northeast of Ramadi, killing 10 people, and in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, killing two policemen and wounding four people, police said.
The vehicle bombings and an outbreak of sectarian clashes in southern Iraq underscored concerns that militants have fled the capital in response to the U.S.-led security crackdown, bringing violence with them to the hinterlands.
Nationwide, the number of deaths from car bombs has decreased slightly since the Baghdad security operation began Feb. 14, but it has more than doubled in areas outside the capital, according to an Associated Press tally.
Car bombs killed at least 349 people in Baghdad in the six weeks since the crackdown began, down from 525 such deaths in the preceding six weeks. But the numbers killed by car bombs outside the capital jumped from at least 100 in the earlier period to at least 233 in the latest six weeks.
In an interview with CNBC, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, said it was too early to say how long the expanded U.S. troop presence accompanying the Baghdad operation will be needed. He said it depended on how soon Iraqi forces can take on all responsibility for security.
"I believe that within five to six to eight months, we'll be able to make a good assessment of where they are in building their capacity, and based on that, we'll be able to make a decision on how long this surge will go," he said.
The Sunni insurgent group known as 1920 Revolution Brigades said its military leader, Harith Dhaher al-Dhari, was killed in Abu Ghraib just west of Baghdad. An Iraqi district official said attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at the man's car, but the U.S. military said suicide car bombers attacked his house.
The attack came as the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is reportedly making progress rallying Sunni Arab tribesmen into joining the fight against al-Qaida members in Anbar province west of the capital. Al-Dhari's group is among those rumored to be taking part in secret talks with the government.
Al-Qaida has responded with bomb attacks targeting leaders and key supporters of the tribes allied against them.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, police 1st Lt. Marewan Salih said the slain nuns — 79-year-old Margaret Naoum and 85-year-old Fawzeiyah Naoum, 85 — were killed in their home near the Cathedral of the Virgin. They lived alone and there was no sign of a robbery, he said.
Naoum was stabbed seven times as she stood in the garden just outside the house, while Naoum was stabbed three times while lying on the sofa inside as she was recovering from eye surgery last week.
Chaldean Catholics are an ancient Eastern rite now united with Roman Catholicism. Adherents live mainly in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq and most speak a dialect of Turkish.
In Baghdad, U.S. Charge d'Affairs Daniel Speckhard said a rocket attack killed an American contract worker in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area that is home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices. The U.S. military said an American soldier also was killed and a second soldier suffered unspecified wounds.
The identities of the dead were not released, and U.S. officials did not give the nationalities of the four wounded contract workers.
It was the second rocket attack on the zone in less than a week. A Katyusha rocket exploded just 50 yards from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he spoke with reporters there Thursday during an unannounced visit to the city.
Two Chaldean Catholic nuns stabbed to death Kirkuk home
BAGHDAD: Two elderly sisters, both Chaldean Catholic nuns, were stabbed to death in their home in Kirkuk, city police reported Tuesday, saying the motive for the attack was not known.
Kirkuk police 1st. Lt. Marewan Salih said Fawzeiyah Naoum, 85, and her 79-year-old sister Margaret, were stabbed multiple time by two intruders who raided their home Monday night near the Cathedral of the Virgin in Kirkuk. They lived alone and there was no sign of a robbery, Salih said.
Chaldean Catholics are an ancient Eastern rite now united with Roman Catholicism. Adherents live mainly in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq and most speak a dialect of Turkish.
Monday, March 26, 2007
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts: Kanan Makiya's latest creative block seems as imposing as the concrete blast walls that have sprung up across Baghdad in four years of war.
He is having trouble putting words to paper, grappling with a new book that he says is likely to be his final political work on Iraq.
"The thing that's difficult is the form of the book," Makiya said as he sat down in his living room one winter evening. "I never had this problem before the fall of the regime. Things were simpler. The dictator was there, and you knew where you stood."
The dictator was, of course, Saddam Hussein, the target of Makiya's vitriol in a series of acclaimed books that he wrote on Iraq, beginning with "Republic of Fear," published in 1989. Before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, Makiya, an Iraqi-American born in Baghdad in 1949, was the leading intellectual voice crying out for Western and Arab nations to topple Saddam.
He was a close friend of Pentagon darling, Ahmad Chalabi, and had the attention of the neoconservative crowd. Vice President Dick Cheney praised him on "Meet the Press," and he was one of three Iraqi-Americans who met with President George W. Bush in the winter of 2003.
Those were simpler days indeed, before the endless waves of car bombings, before the thousands of Iraqi and American deaths, before the descent into chaos and sectarian violence that has driven liberal idealists like Makiya into bouts of hand-wringing over a single inescapable question: What went wrong?
Which brings us to his next book.
"I want to look into myself, look at myself, delve into the assumptions I had going into the war," he said. "Now it seems necessary to reflect on the society that has gotten itself into this mess. A question that looms more and more for me is: Just what did 30 years of dictatorship do to 25 million people?"
"It's not like I didn't think about this," he said. "But nonetheless I allowed myself as an activist to put it aside in the hope that it could be worked through, or managed, or exorcised in a way that's not as violent as is the case now. That did not work out."
The thing that "did not work out" seemed very far away. Makiya was awaiting the arrival for dinner of a former student of his at Brandeis University, where he is a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. While musing on Iraq, he admitted his inability to foresee the manifold shortcomings in the project.
"There were failures at the level of leadership, and they're overwhelmingly Iraqi failures," he said.
Chief among the culprits, he said, were the Iraqis picked by the Americans in 2003 to sit on the Iraqi Governing Council, many of them exiles, who tried to create popular bases for themselves by emphasizing sectarian and ethnic differences.
"Sectarianism began there," he said.
Makiya said he preferred not to name names. But it is well known that he had a falling out with Chalabi after Chalabi began courting Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, to win support in Iraq's first national elections. For years before the war, Makiya had toiled with Chalabi to organize the Iraqi exiles who, despite disparate ideologies, stood united in their hatred of Saddam.
Then there is the issue of American policy. "Everything they could do wrong, they did wrong," Makiya said. "The first and the biggest American error was the idea of going for an occupation."
At Brandeis, Makiya is exploring all these themes in a class this semester on post-invasion Iraq.
Because of that, Makiya said, he did not intend to work full time on his book until the summer. His days are consumed by teaching duties and by obligations to the Iraq Memory Foundation, a nonprofit group he founded to record the brutalities of Saddam's rule.
In the living room, eight hard drives on a shelf above a desktop computer contain scans of some of the 11 million pages of government documents collected by the foundation. Makiya stumbled across some of the documents himself, in abandoned offices in Baghdad after the invasion. They range from the birth certificates of Baath Party members to military paperwork. The foundation has shared some documents with the Iraqi court that was set up by the Americans to try Saddam and his aides. Yet, Makiya refers to Dec. 30, 2006, the day Saddam was hanged, as "one of the worst days of my life."
"It was a disaster, an unmitigated disaster," Makiya said, his voice rising. "I was just so upset, even on the verge of tears. It was the antithesis of everything I had been working for and hoping for."
The tribunal did little to expose the all-encompassing cruelty of the Baath Party, Makiya said. And in failing to control an execution chamber filled with seething Shiite officials and policemen, the Iraqi government "actually succeeded in making Saddam look good in the eyes of the Arab world." He added, "Just like everything about the war, it was an opportunity wasted." Mustafa Kadhimi, the Baghdad director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, said Makiya's faith in his homeland was wavering.
"When Saddam fell, Kanan started to discover many things he didn't have before in his mind," Kadhimi said in his office inside Baghdad's Green Zone. "Kanan is really shocked about what's going on the ground. He's starting to lose his hope that we can build a new Iraq, a real Iraq."
Last summer, Makiya, who studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proposed a sweeping urban renewal project to Iraqi officials on a trip to Baghdad. The idea was to create, in the heart of the city, a pedestrians-only green space.
"You're talking about a massive rethinking of the city," Makiya said, waving his hand across a satellite map of Baghdad hanging on one wall. "Someone has to keep dreaming."
Like so many things in Iraq now, it would remain exactly that: a dream. Makiya had traveled to Baghdad intending to make his pitch to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. But he met with lower-level officials instead. "There was terrible stuff going on in Baghdad," he said, "and one did not feel right making a full presentation."
The doorbell rang. Yoni Morse, Makiya's former student, had arrived, stomping through the snow with a bottle of wine from Israel. The two sat down at the dinner table with Makiya's 12-year-old daughter Sara and his third wife, Wallada al-Sarraf.
Talk turned to the U.S. presidential campaign. Morse mentioned the pressure that Hillary Rodham Clinton was facing to apologize for her Senate vote authorizing Bush to go to war.
Makiya stared into his glass of red wine. "That's so Maoist," he said. "People shouldn't feel the need to apologize. What is there to apologize for?"
© New York Times 2007
US to "Vastly Expand" Acceptance of Iraqis
If "Vast" Means 500 of the Thousands of Refugees Who've Worked for US
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON
The United States is "working to identify the best way" to address the thorny problem of assisting Iraqis who are under threat inside the country or stateless refugee abroad because they have worked with Americans during the war, but that didn't seem good enough for Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) during his House Foreign Affairs committee hearing Iraqi Volunteers, Iraqi Refugees: What Is America's Obligation?.
Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for poulation, refugees, and migration, said during her opening statement in front of the committee:
"We also recognize the dangers that certain individuals in Iraq might face due to their association with the United States.... Existing legislation created a program that allows Special Immigrant Visas for up to 50 Department of Defense translators per year. The Administration is currently working to identify the best way to broaden our existing authorities to address such situations involving local staff."
While questioning Sauerbrey, Ackerman, chairman of the subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, asked about solving the problem by expanding the number of allowed Special Immigrant Visas.
Sauerbrey said that discussions were underway, and plans had already been laid to do just that.
Ackerman pressed Sauerbrey to give an idea of how significantly the proposal under discussion would expand the acceptance of Iraqis, to which Sauerbrey responded that the US intends to "vastly increase" the issuance of Specialist Immigrant Visas.
When pressed further, Saurbrey defined the proposed "vast" increase as being in the realm of 500 per year.
BAGHDAD: The cityscape of this capital tells a stark story of the toll the past four years have taken on Iraq's once powerful Sunni Arabs.
Theirs is a world of ruined buildings, damaged mosques, streets pitted by mortar shells, uncollected trash and so little electricity that many people have abandoned using refrigerators altogether.
The contrast with Shiite neighborhoods is sharp. Markets there are in full swing, community projects are under way and, while electricity is scarce throughout the city, there is less trouble finding fuel for generators in those areas.
When the government cannot provide services, civilian arms of the Shiite militias step in to try to fill the gap.
But in Adhamiya, a community with a Sunni majority, any semblance of normal life vanished more than a year ago. Its only hospital, Al Numan, is so short of basic items like gauze and cotton pads that when mortar attacks hit the community last autumn, the doctors broadcast appeals for supplies over local mosque loudspeakers.
Here, as in so much of Baghdad, the sectarian divide makes itself felt in its own deadly and destructive ways. Far more than in Shiite areas, sectarian hatred has shredded whatever remained of community life and created a cycle of violence that pits Sunni against Sunni as well as Sunni against Shiite.
Anyone who works with the government, whether Shiite or Sunni, is an enemy in the eyes of the Sunni insurgents, who carry out attack after attack against people they view as collaborators. While that chiefly makes targets of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army and the police, the militants also kill fellow Sunnis from government ministries who come to repair water and electrical lines in Sunni neighborhoods.
The result of such attacks is that government workers of either sect refuse to deliver services to most Sunni areas. For ordinary Sunnis, all this deepens the sense of political impotence and estrangement. U.S. military leaders and Western diplomats are unsure the cycle can be stopped.
"The Sunnis outside the political process say, 'What's the point of coming in when those involved in the government can do nothing for their own community?' " said a Western diplomat who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Militant religious groups, known as takfiris, "have taken these Sunni neighborhoods as bases, which made these areas of military operation," which stopped the delivery of services, said Nasir al-Ani, a Sunni member of Parliament who works on a committee that is hoping to win popular acceptance of the Baghdad security plan.
"Now the ministries are trying to make services available," Ani said, "but the security situation prevents it. Part of the aim of the takfiris is to keep people disliking the government."
It adds up to a bleak prognosis for Sunnis. Until the violence is under control, there is unlikely to be any progress. But it is hard to persuade Sunnis to take a stand against the violence when they receive so little in return.
"We want to highlight that when the government is denying services to Sunnis, they are pushing them toward the Sunni extremists who attack the Shiite-dominated security forces," said Major Guy Parmeter, an operations officer for the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, of the U.S. military, which operates in the Sunni areas on the west side of Baghdad. "And when that happens, it makes it harder to deliver services to those areas."
Government leaders admit that there has been outright obstruction on the part of some Shiite ministries. The Health Ministry, dominated by Shiites loyal to the militant cleric Moktada al-Sadr, has failed to deliver needed services to Sunni areas, said Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman.
"This is part of the lack of efficiency in the ministry, which didn't improve this year," Dabbagh said. He added, however, that he did not see any remedy in the near term.
But government officials also emphasized that many of the skilled Sunnis who used to keep the ministries going have fled, so the ministries are not delivering services to anyone. Again, security has to come first, they said.
Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite whose most recent role is to lead the committee working to win popular acceptance of the security plan, said he saw four problems particularly plaguing Sunni areas: food distribution, electricity, fuel and health services.
Chalabi said he might have found a solution for the first by ensuring that food agents have members of the Iraqi Army escort them to warehouses.
The other problems are deeper and the solutions will take far longer to find, he said.
Among the poems attributed to Qays bin al-Mullawah, regarding Layla:
“I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the houses that has taken my heart
But of the One who dwells in those houses”
(from Loss of Meaning, Faraz Rabbani, Islamica Magazine No. 15/2006)
Iraqis may allow Baathists to return
By STEVEN R. HURST and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writers
Iraq's prime minister and president will introduce a bill in parliament as early as Tuesday that allows former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to government jobs and join the military, two Iraqi officials said.
The measure — long demanded by the U.S. to appease Sunnis — provides for a three-month challenge period after which Saddam's ex-followers — including those who worked in the feared security apparatus and paramilitary forces — would be immune.
The measure goes to parliament under the names of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. Shiites and Kurds make up nearly 80 percent of Iraq's population and both were severely repressed by Saddam's largely Sunni regime.
"We present the draft law of Accountability and Justice to parliament to build an Iraq that is accessible to all Iraqis determined to build a new, democratic Iraq that is far from sectarianism, racism, tyranny, discrimination, exclusion and disenfranchisement," al-Maliki and Talabani said in a joint statement released late Monday.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Hit on Iraq deputy PM seen as inside job
BAGHDAD - The suicide attack against Iraq's Sunni deputy prime minister is now seen as an inside job carried out by a member of his own security detail — a distant relative who had been arrested as an insurgent, freed at the official's request, then hired as a bodyguard, a senior security official and an aide to the victim told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The assassination attempt, at least the third major security breach involving a top politician in four months, prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to order a government-wide security shake up, including plans to hire a foreign company to guard the Green Zone building where parliament meets, the security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.
A suicide attacker came within feet of Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie and exploded his vest during a Friday prayer service in the private mosque attached to al-Zubaie home. The Sunni official was seriously wounded and nine people were killed.
The senior security official as well as a key aide to al-Zubaie said Wahab al-Saadi, the distant relative accused of involvement in the attack, was the only person at the prayer service who has not been accounted for.
They said al-Saadi's car, which was parked outside the al-Zubaie compound, exploded within minutes of the suicide attack.
The al-Zubaie aide said al-Saadi had recently been removed from the bodyguard detail as a "troublemaker" but was still on the deputy prime minister's payroll and — for that reason and because he was a relative — was not searched when he entered the mosque.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Sunni Officials Reconsider Ties to Insurgents
Clashes Erupt in Western Baghdad; Bombings, Mortar Attacks
By ZEYAD KASIM
Al-Melaf’s correspondent in Baghdad reports that some figures in the Sunni Arab political leadership are reconsidering their connections to insurgent groups in light of the assassination attempt against Deputy Prime Minister Salam Al-Zobai (Sunni, Iraqi Accord Front) in a suicide attack at his residence in Baghdad yesterday. Al-Zobai, a high profile Sunni politician in the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government, was injured in the bombing and remains in intensive care. Iraqi authorities detained several members of his security detail following the attack after Dhafir Al-Ani, a member of Al-Zobai’s bloc in parliament, said the suicide bomber was one of the deputy prime minister’s bodyguards. The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of extremist insurgent groups including Al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement. Several Sunni politicians, such as Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi and the Accord Front leader Adnan Al-Dulaimi, have defended insurgent groups in the past, but the attack against Al-Zobai, the third against Sunni politicians in the last few months, is a clear message from insurgent groups that they are targets as well.
An unnamed Iraqi security official had identified the suicide bomber as Weheb Al-Sa’di, a bodyguard of Al-Zobai who was in detention by Iraqi authorities on terrorism charges last year before the deputy prime minister intervened to secure his release. The state-run Al-Iraqiya TV confirmed the identity of the bomber, while Alaa’ Al-Zobai, the deputy prime minister’s brother, denied the reports in a statement to wire agencies. The Sadrist Nahrain Net website quotes an anonymous Iraqi official who said Al-Sa’di was close to Harith Al-Dhari, the head of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq who is wanted by the Iraqi government on charges of inciting terrorism.
Eye Iraq Media reported fierce clashes between unknown gunmen and Iraqi Army troops in the Jami’a district west of Baghdad near the highway going on since early morning. Residents in western Baghdad have reported massive explosions and U.S. and Iraqi troops have been conducting raids in the Sunni-majority districts of Jami’a, Adil, Ghazaliya, Amiriya, Yarmouk and Mansour for the fourth day in a row, according to residents. Eye Iraq also reported that ten civilians were killed and wounded in a mortar attack at the Shi’ite-majority Abu Dshir district, south of Baghdad, while SCIRI’s Buratha News Agency reported that the Shurta Al-Khamsa district south of Baghdad has also been hit with mortar rounds fired from the rural Sunni-majority Duwanim and Radhwaniya areas.
Meanwhile, Heyet Net reported through eyewitness accounts that Iraqi Army troops have cordoned the Sunni-majority Fadhl district in central Baghdad since 2 a.m., and residents said that Iraqi soldiers are randomly and opening fire on their streets in a provocative manner. The area has been a target of several sweeps by Iraqi and U.S. troops as part of the Imposing Law security operation in the capital. It was also a common nighttime target for Shi’ite militias and mortar attacks. Aswat Al-Iraq also reported that Iraqi troops have closed all streets leading to the Karrada district.
The Islamic Fadhila Party issued an official statement accusing “hundreds of outlaw militants” using official security vehicles of carrying out the attacks against the party’s headquarters in Basrah Thursday, the Iraq News Agency reported. The statement hinted that the attacks were in response to the party’s decision to break away from the United Iraqi Alliance, the majority Shi’ite bloc in Iraqi parliament, and act as an independent bloc. It also revealed that party branches in Samawa and Suwayra were attacked days ago. The party held security forces in the Basrah Governorate full responsibility for failing to intervene and for the involvement of some of its “partisan” elements in the attacks. “The party is extremely pessimistic about the performance of security forces when it takes over security responsibilities from British troops,” the statement concluded.
Eyewitnesses in Basrah said that fliers threatening members of the Fadhila Party were distributed in the city yesterday. The fliers, which did not carry a signature, accused Fadhila members as “traitors that have abandoned the path of the Prophet and the imams,” in reference to the party’s withdrawal from the major Shi’ite bloc in parliament. The eyewitnesses added that tensions remain high in the southern city and that Iraqi security forces continue to man checkpoints on roads leading to the governorate building and the main Fadhila Party headquarters in central Basrah.
Friday, March 23, 2007
This is insane.
A Monitor analysis shows the potential for an extra 1.2 billion tons of carbon released into the atmosphere per year.
Forget the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Disregard rising public concern over global warming. Ignore the Kyoto Protocol.
The world certainly is – at least when it comes to building new electric-power plants. In the past five years, it has been on a coal-fired binge, bringing new generators online at a rate of better than two per week. That has added some 1 billion tons of new carbon-dioxide emissions that humans pump into the atmosphere each year. Coal-fired power now accounts for nearly a third of human-generated global CO2 emissions.
So what does the future hold? An acceleration of the buildup, according to a Monitor analysis of power-industry data. Despite Kyoto limits on greenhouse gases, the analysis shows that nations will add enough coal-fired capacity in the next five years to create an extra 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year.
Those accelerating the buildup are not the usual suspects.
Take China, which is widely blamed for the rapid rise in greenhouse-gas emissions. Indeed, China accounted for two-thirds of the more than 560 coal-fired power units built in 26 nations between 2002 and 2006. The Chinese plants boosted annual world CO2 emissions by 740 million tons (see chart). But in the next five years, China is slated \to slow its buildup by half, according to industry estimates, adding 333 million tons of new CO2 emissions every year. That's still the largest increase of any nation. But other nations appear intent on catching up.
"Really, it's been the story of what China is doing," says Steve Piper, managing director of power forecasting at Platts, the energy information division of McGraw-Hill that provided country-by-country power-plant data to the Monitor. "But it's also a story of unabated global growth in coal-fired power. We're seeing diversification away from pricier natural gas and crude oil. Coal looks cheap and attractive - and countries with coal resources see an opportunity that wasn't there before."
For example, the United States is accelerating its buildup dramatically. In the past five years it built 2.7 gigawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity. But in the next five years, it is slated to add 37.7 gigawatts of capacity, enough to produce 247.8 million tons of CO2 per year, according to Platts. That would vault the US to second place –just ahead of India – in adding new capacity.
Even nations that have pledged to reduce global warming under the Kyoto treat are slated to accelerate their buildup of coal-fired plants. For example, eight EU nations – Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic – plan to add nearly 13 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity by 2012. That's up from about 2.5 gigawatts over the past five years.
Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubayi, the highest ranking Sunni in the Iraqi government, has been seriously injured in a suicide bombing attack at his residence. Four people were killed, including an advisor and bodyguard, and ten were injured, including to a statement by the Interior Ministry.
Zubayi was reportedly hit in the abdomen and shoulder by shrapnel and rushed to the US military hospital in the Green Zone for emergency surgery. Reuters is reporting that Maliki has visited the deputy prime minister and reported back that his condition is "not serious," though Gen. Qassim Atta earlier said Zubayi was in "unstable condition."
The suicide bomber apparently detonated himself in a hallway behind where Zubayi was attending his daily prayers, knocking out the walls of surrounding rooms. Moments later, a car bomb detonated outside the deputy PM's compound.
CNN's Kyra Phillips said the suicide bomber's vest was stuffed with ball bearings to produce the maximum amount of damage and casualties.
The bomber was known by Iraqi officials working in the compound and "worked himself in," according to sources there, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Humanitarian Assistance Blocked by Violence
BAQOUBA, 22 March 2007 (IRIN) - Relentless violence in the Sunni-dominated province of Diyala, about 60km north-east of the capital, Baghdad, has hampered the delivery of humanitarian assistance to displaced families and has paralysed life there, local officials said.
“Humanitarian aid is only trickling as the security situation has deteriorated very much due to attacks by Sunni insurgents against US and Iraqi forces as well as violence between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims,” said Thari Mohammed al-Taie, head of the provincial office of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.
For months, Sunni insurgents have been slowly taking control of Diyala. Now, with violence apparently ebbing in Baghdad, Sunni insurgents believed to be loyal to al-Qaeda in Iraq have fled the capital and increased the intensity of their fight against US and Iraqi forces in Diyala as well as stepping up their attacks against Shias, according to local officials.
Last June, the self-confessed former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a US airstrike near Baqouba, the capital of Diyala. Since then, the Islamic State of Iraq, another group with links to al-Qaeda, has claimed Baqouba as the capital of its self-proclaimed shadow government.
In response, the Shia Mahdi militia, loyal to firebrand leader Muqtada al-Sadr, has been fighting back strongly.
In early March, some 700 US soldiers arrived in Diyala to join 3,500 US and 20,000 Iraqi soldiers already there to fight insurgents.
As a result, Al-Taie said that about 10,300 displaced families, nearly 61,000 individuals, are scattered in Diyala’s abandoned governmental buildings, schools, parks and the empty houses of members of rival sects. A small number of them are staying with relatives.
The year-old sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias, members of Iraq’s major Muslim sects, has driven about 4,300 of these families out of the neighbouring provinces of Baghdad, Salaheddin, Anbar, Babil and Kirkuk, while others have been internally displaced within their provinces.
Late last year, the Iraqi government launched its Social Protection Programme by which it pays a maximum of 120,000 Iraqi dinars (about US $93) a month to a six-member displaced family and a minimum of 60,000 Iraqi dinars (about US $47) for a two or three-member displaced family.
In addition, early this year the government paid 100,000 Iraqi dinars (about US $78) to every displaced family in the country. They were all paid in cheques.
“But these families are still holding the cheques as banks in Diyala have had no money since about six months ago as it is very difficult to protect trucks that bring money from Baghdad,” al-Taie said.
He added that sometimes the Ministry of Displacement and Migration brings in aid items from its stores in the northern province of Kirkuk but “our eight-member team, three women and five men, is unable to roam the city to distribute them as security forces are concentrating on chasing militants and can’t protect us until more troops arrive”.
“Life is paralysed now,” said Ibrahim Bajlan, head of Diyala provincial council. “Ninety-five percent of people’s daily activities are halted as food rations have not come into the province for about five months now, employees have not received their salaries for two months, and telephone communication has been cut as insurgents have been attacking cell phone towers,” Bajlan added.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Talks Aimed at Expelling al-Qa'ida
The Iraqi government has entered into dialogue with some armed groups, a senior official said Wednesday.
Saad Yousif al-Muttalibi, director of international affairs at the Ministry of National Dialogue and Reconciliation, said that the talks were nearing the point where some militants might be persuaded to lay down their arms, the BBC reports.
Al-Muttalibi also said that the government was not talking to al-Qa'ida-affiliated groups.
In fact, the object of the talks, according to Muttalibi, is to bring the armed groups into alliance with the government to fight against al-Qa'ida.
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi earlier made remarks to the BBC expressing support for the idea of negotiations with armed groups, excepting those affiliataed with al-Qa'ida, as reported earlier.
Apart from the BBC's scoop, no further information has emerged as to the content of the negotiations or the specific groups involved.
Soldier pleads guilty to role in murders
'FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - A Fort Campbell soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to being an accessory to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the slaying of her family.
Pfc. Bryan Howard, 20, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice by lying to his superior officers about the attack last year in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad. It was one of the most shocking atrocities committed by U.S. troops in the
Howard could get up to 15 years in prison at a sentencing hearing that began Wednesday afternoon.
Five soldiers were charged in the rape of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the killings of her, her parents and her younger sister. Two of the soldiers previously pleaded guilty and said Howard's role was minimal.'
Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy director for regional operations on the Joint Staff, said Tuesday that a vehicle used in the attack was waved through a U.S. military checkpoint because two children were visible in the back seat. He said this was the first reported use of children in a suicide car bombing in Baghdad.
"Children in the back seat lowered suspicion, (so) we let it move through, they parked the vehicle, the adults run out and detonate it with the children in the back," Barbero told reporters in Washington. "The brutality and ruthless nature of this enemy hasn't changed."
Other U.S. officials said later that three Iraqi bystanders were killed in the attack near a marketplace in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Azamiyah, in addition to the two children, and seven people were injured. The officials had no other details, including the estimated ages of the children.
Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, confirmed Barbero's account but said he couldn't provide more details.
An Iraqi police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concern, said witnesses had reported seeing two children inside the car before it exploded. He said eight civilians were killed and 28 others wounded in the attack in the predominantly Shiite northern neighborhood of Shaab.
The police officer also said three other cases had been registered since last year in which women and children were used in parked car bombings, although they reportedly got out of the cars before the explosions in those cases.
The U.S. military has warned that insurgents are proving adaptable and finding new ways to bypass stepped up security measures and kill as many people as possible. A series of bombings using toxic chlorine since Jan. 28 also raised concerns.
U.S. forces killed five suspected insurgents, detained three others and used an airstrike to destroy a bomb-making factory that contained large-caliber ammunition and several 50-gallon barrels of explosive material near Taji, an air base 12 miles north of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. No American troops or civilians were injured during the operation, it added.
A Sadrist lawmaker, Bahaa al-Araji, also said U.S. troops raided his office Wednesday, seizing the memory card from his computer along with a gun and a rifle. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.
Al-Araji, one of 30 members of parliament loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, called the raid a violation of Iraq's sovereignty. "It is a message of provocation sent to the al-Sadr movement," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We will not be drawn into this confrontation."
"We are with the security plan, but we think that the searches should be done by Iraqi forces," he added.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
PS (3-21-07): This post has been revised by IraqSlogger*
Baghdad's Sectarian Hate Leaflets
Militants Reach Back in Islamic History for Epithets
Above is an image of an anti-Shi'a leaflet, distributed last week in the Yarmouk area of Baghdad.
The militant Sunni group apparently originating the leaflet refers to itself as Hussad al-Khawarij or the “Harvesters of the Khawarij.”
The leaflet was recovered and scanned by a Slogger source in the capital. It is, according to local sources, one example of a widespread type of literature: The sectarian hate flyer. It is also a piece of propaganda from what appears to be a Sunni-based group that has emerged relatively recently, Slogger sources say, and is apparently opposed to both Shi'a political power in Iraq and to the al-Qa'ida presence in Iraq.
Featuring a pejorative caricature of what appears to be a Shi'a individual, the leaflet begins: “The Sunni people between the two fires of the Safawiyoun and the Khawarij.”
The group presents itself as a defender of the Sunni community from both the Khawarij and the Safawiyoun. Both of these Arabic terms are references to political formations from Islamic and regional history. The term Safawiyoun, or Safavids, a term used by militant Sunnis in derogatory reference to the Iraqi Shi'a. The term Khawarij is employed here to refer to extremist Sunni groups, especially those affiliated with al-Qa'ida.
The Safavid Empire was a 16th-to-18th-century political formation based in present-day Iran and including parts of current-day Iraq (and other areas surrounding Persia). Although it included at times much of what is now Iraq, the empire is seen as part of Iranian political history, and outside of Arab political tradition. Most importantly, the empire was closely associated with the spread of Shi'a Islam at the hands of the state.
By referring to the Iraqi Shi'a as Safavids, sectarian Sunnis are able to imply that Iraqi Shi'a are at the same time agents of Iran, premodern in their orientation, and interested in forcing the rest of Iraq to embrace Shi'ism. This slur is used very derogatorily among sectarian Sunnis.
The group authoring the leaflet reaches even farther back in Islamic history to refer to another set of its enemies as the Khawarij. The Khawarij (Singular, Khariji In English, literally, “those who exit” or "those who secede," also known as "Kharijites" in some historical writing), were a group formed in the year 658, in the dispute over succession to leadership in the relatively early times of the Islamic political community. In the contest over community leadership between the supporters of 'Ali (the forbears of the Shi'a tradition), and the supporters of Mu'awiya, the Khawarij "seceded" from the group supporting 'Ali, essentially rejecting both men’s authority over the community.
The Khawarij in that time adopted radical methods to attempt to undermine the existing authorities in the Islamic community, including armed activities and assasssinations. The authorities responded in kind to the challenge. The label "Khawarij" is applied here by this militant Sunni group, Slogger sources say, to distinguish itself from the al-Qa'ida affiliated groups in Iraq, who have "seceded" from the Sunni community, presumably by committing the same offenses of which the Iraqi Shi'a are accused.
After the title, “The Sunni people between the two fires of the Safawiyoun and the Khawarij,” the flyer continues, listing alleged offenses of the Shi'a community against the Iraqi Sunnis, under the heading "Safawiyoun."
The list of allegations appears as follows:
1. Killing the scholars and symbols of the Sunni community. 2. Destruction of the economy of the Sunni community.
3. Destruction of the infrastructure of the Sunni community.
4. Burning mosques, and the forced migration of their leaders.
5. Cutting off the way in the development of the youth of the Sunni community in knowledge and studies.
6. Strewing corpses in the streets, torture, and decapitations.
Next each of these accusations, under the heading “Khawarij” the leaflet writes: “Likewise,” suggesting that the actions of the al-Qa'ida-affiliated Sunni militants are just as deleterious to the Sunni community of Iraq as the alleged actions of the Shi'a.
The leaflet closes: “However intense the trials, know that truth is appearing, and God is mighty.”
It is illegible in the scan, but Slogger sources relay that the group's emblem at the bottom says "If you see them , kill them."
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misrepresented the intent of the "Khawarij" moniker. We regret the error.
'On the morning of October 13th, an Iraqi official with U.S.A.I.D. named Yaghdan left his house in western Baghdad, in search of fuel for his generator. He saw a scrap of paper lying by the garage door. It was a torn sheet of copybook paper—the kind that his agency distributed to schools around Iraq, with date and subject lines printed in English and Arabic. The paper bore a message, in Arabic: “We will cut off heads and throw them in the garbage.” Nearby, against the garden fence, lay the severed upper half of a small dog.
Yaghdan (who wanted his real name used) was a mild, conscientious thirty-year-old from a family of struggling businessmen. Since taking a job with the Americans, in 2003, he had been so cautious that, at first, he couldn’t imagine how his cover had been blown. Then he remembered: Two weeks earlier, as he was showing his badge at the bridge offering entry into the Green Zone, Yaghdan had noticed a man from his neighborhood standing in the same line, watching him. The neighbor worked as a special guard with a Shia militia and must have been the alaas who betrayed him.
Yaghdan’s request for a transfer to a post outside the country was never answered. Instead, U.S.A.I.D. offered him a month’s leave with pay or residence for six months in the agency compound in the Green Zone, which would have meant a long separation from his young wife. Yaghdan said, “I thought, I should not be selfish and put myself as a priority. It wasn’t a happy decision.” Within a week of the threat, Yaghdan and his wife flew to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Yaghdan sent his résumé to several companies in Dubai, highlighting his years of service with an American contractor and U.S.A.I.D. He got a call from a legal office that needed an administrative assistant. “Did you work in the U.S.?” the interviewer asked him. Yaghdan said that his work had been in Iraq. “Oh, in Iraq . . .” He could feel the interviewer pulling back. A man at another office said, “Oh, you worked against Saddam? You betrayed Saddam? The American people are stealing Iraq.” Yaghdan, who is not given to bitterness, finally lost his cool: “No, the Arab people are stealing Iraq!” He didn’t get the job. He was amazed—even in cosmopolitan Dubai, people loved Saddam, especially after his botched execution, in late December. Yaghdan’s résumé was an encumbrance. Iraqis were considered bad Arabs, and Iraqis who worked with the Americans were traitors. The slogans and illusions of Arab nationalism, which had seemed to collapse with the regime of Saddam, were being given a second life by the American failure in Iraq. What hurt Yaghdan most was the looks that said, “You trusted the Americans—and see what happened to you.”
Yaghdan then contacted many American companies, thinking that they, at least, would look favorably on his service. He wasn’t granted a single interview. The only work he could find was as a gofer in the office of a Dubai cleaning company.'
The Iraqis who trusted America the most.
by George Packer
'Whenever I asked Iraqis what kind of government they had wanted to replace Saddam’s regime, I got the same answer: they had never given it any thought. They just assumed that the Americans would bring the right people, and the country would blossom with freedom, prosperity, consumer goods, travel opportunities. In this, they mirrored the wishful thinking of American officials and neoconservative intellectuals who failed to plan for trouble. Almost no Iraqi claimed to have anticipated videos of beheadings, or Moqtada al-Sadr, or the terrifying question “Are you Sunni or Shia?” Least of all did they imagine that America would make so many mistakes, and persist in those mistakes to the point that even fair-minded Iraqis wondered about ulterior motives. In retrospect, the blind faith that many Iraqis displayed in themselves and in America seems naïve. But, now that Iraq’s demise is increasingly regarded as foreordained, it’s worth recalling the optimism among Iraqis four years ago.
An Iraqi interpreter wears a mask to conceal his identity while he assists a soldier delivering an invitation to an Imam for a meeting with an American colonel. Photograph by James Nachtwey.
On the morning of January 18, 2004, a suicide truck bomber detonated a massive payload amid a line of vehicles waiting to enter the Green Zone by the entry point known as the Assassins’ Gate. Most Iraqis working in the Green Zone knew someone who died in the explosion, which incinerated twenty-five people. Ali was hit by the blowback but was otherwise uninjured; two months later, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt while driving to work. Throughout 2004, the murder of interpreters and other Iraqi employees became increasingly commonplace. Seven of Ali’s friends who worked with the U.S. military were killed, which prompted him to leave the Army and take a job at the Embassy.
In Mosul, insurgents circulated a DVD showing the decapitations of two military interpreters. American soldiers stationed there expressed sympathy to their Iraqi employees, but, one interpreter told me, there was “no real reaction”: no offer of protection, in the form of a weapons permit or a place to live on base. He said, “The soldiers I worked with were friends and they felt sorry for us—they were good people—but they couldn’t help. The people above them didn’t care. Or maybe the people above them didn’t care.” This story repeated itself across the country: Iraqi employees of the U.S. military began to be kidnapped and killed in large numbers, and there was essentially no American response. Titan Corporation, of Chantilly, Virginia, which until December held the Pentagon contract for employing interpreters in Iraq, was notorious among Iraqis for mistreating its foreign staff. I spoke with an interpreter who was injured in a roadside explosion; Titan refused to compensate him for the time he spent recovering from second-degree burns on his hands and feet. An Iraqi woman working at an American base was recognized by someone she had known in college, who began calling her with death threats. She told me that when she went to the Titan representative for help he responded, “You have two choices: move or quit.” She told him that if she quit and stayed home, her life would be in danger. “That’s not my business,” the representative said. (A Titan spokesperson said, “The safety and welfare of all employees, including, of course, contract workers, is the highest priority.”)
A State Department official in Iraq sent a cable to Washington criticizing the Americans’ “lackadaisical” attitude about helping Iraqi employees relocate. In an e-mail to me, he said, “Most of them have lived secret lives for so long that they are truly a unique ‘homeless’ population in Iraq’s war zone—dependent on us for security and not convinced we will take care of them when we leave.” It’s as if the Americans never imagined that the intimidation and murder of interpreters by other Iraqis would undermine the larger American effort, by destroying the confidence of Iraqis who wanted to give it support. The problem was treated as managerial, not moral or political.
One day in January, 2005, Riyadh Hamid, a Sunni father of six from the Embassy’s political section, was shot to death as he left his house for work. When Firas heard the news at the Embassy, he was deeply shaken: he, Ali, or Ahmed could be next. But he never thought of quitting. “At that time, I believed more in my cause, so if I die for it, let it be,” he said.
Americans and Iraqis at the Embassy collected twenty thousand dollars in private donations for Hamid’s widow. At first, the U.S. government refused to pay workmen’s compensation, because Hamid had been travelling between home and work and was not technically on the job when he was killed. (Eventually, compensation was approved.) A few days after the murder, Robert Ford, the political counsellor, arranged a conversation between Ambassador John Negroponte and the Iraqis from the political section, whom the Ambassador had never met. The Iraqis were escorted into a room in a secure wing of the Embassy’s second floor.
Negroponte had barely expressed his condolences when Firas, Ahmed, and their colleagues pressed him with a single request. They wanted identification that would allow them to enter the Green Zone through the priority lane that Americans with government clearance used, instead of having to wait every morning for an hour or two in a very long line with every other Iraqi who had business in the Green Zone. This line was an easy target for suicide bombers and insurgent lookouts (known in Iraq as alaasa—“chewers”). Iraqis at the Embassy had been making this request for some time, without success. “Our problem is badges,” the Iraqis told the Ambassador.
Negroponte sent for the Embassy’s regional security officer, John Frese. “Here’s the man who is responsible for badges,” Negroponte said, and left.
According to the Iraqis, they asked Frese for green badges, which were a notch below the official blue American badges. These allowed the holder to enter through the priority lane and then be searched inside the gate.
“I can’t give you that,” Frese said.
“Because it says ‘Weapon permit: yes.’ ”
“Change the ‘yes’ to ‘no’ for us.”
Frese’s tone was peremptory: “I can’t do that.”
Ahmed made another suggestion: allow the Iraqis to use their Embassy passes to get into the priority lane. Frese again refused. Ahmed turned to one of his colleagues and said, in Arabic, “We’re blowing into a punctured bag.”
“My top priority is Embassy security, and I won’t jeopardize it, no matter what,” Frese told them, and the Iraqis understood that this security did not extend to them—if anything, they were part of the threat.
After the meeting, a junior American diplomat who had sat through it was on the verge of tears. “This is what always calmed me down,” Firas said. “I saw Americans who understand me, trust me, believe me, love me. This is what always kept my rage under control and kept my hope alive.”
When I recently asked a senior government official in Washington about the badges, he insisted, “They are concerns that have been raised, addressed, and satisfactorily resolved. We acted extremely expeditiously.” In fact, the matter was left unresolved for almost two years, until late 2006, when verbal instructions were given to soldiers at the gates of the Green Zone to let Iraqis with Embassy passes into the priority lane—and even then individual soldiers, among whom there was rapid turnover, often refused to do so.
Americans and Iraqis recalled the meeting as the moment when the Embassy’s local employees began to be disenchanted. If Negroponte had taken an interest, he could have pushed Frese to change the badges. But a diplomat doesn’t rise to Negroponte’s stature by busying himself with small-bore details, and without his directive the rest of the bureaucracy wouldn’t budge.
In Baghdad, the regional security officer had unusual power: to investigate staff members, to revoke clearances, to block diplomats’ trips outside the Green Zone. The word “security” was ubiquitous—a “magical word,” one Iraqi said, that could justify anything. “Saying no to the regional security officer is a dangerous thing,” according to a second former Embassy official, who occasionally did say no in order to be able to carry out his job. “You’re taking a lot of responsibility on yourself.” Although Iraqi employees had been vetted with background checks and took regular lie-detector tests, a permanent shadow of suspicion lay over them because they lived outside the Green Zone. Firas once attended a briefing at which the regional security officer told newly arrived Americans that no Iraqi could be trusted.
The reminders were constant. Iraqi staff members were not allowed into the gym or the food court near the Embassy. Banned from the military PX, they had to ask an American supervisor to buy them a pair of sunglasses or underwear. These petty humiliations were compounded by security officers who easily crossed the line between vigilance and bullying.
One day in late 2004, Laith, who had never given up hope of working for the American Embassy, did well on an interview in the Green Zone and was called to undergo a polygraph. After he was hooked up to the machine, the questions began: Have you ever lied to your family? Do you know any insurgents? At some point, he thought too hard about his answer; when the test was over, the technician called in a security officer and shouted at Laith: “Do you think you can fuck with the United States? Who sent you here?” Laith was hustled out to the gate, where the technician promised to tell his employers at the National Endowment for Democracy to fire him.
“That was the first time I hated the Americans,” Laith said.
In June, 2006, with kidnappings and sectarian killings out of control in Baghdad, the number of Iraqis working in the Embassy’s public-affairs section dropped from nine to four; most of those who quit fled the country. The Americans began to replace them with Jordanians. The switch was deeply unpopular with the remaining Iraqis, who understood that it involved the fundamental issue of trust: Jordanians could be housed in the Green Zone without fear (Iraqis could secure temporary housing for only a limited time); Jordanians were issued badges that allowed them into the Embassy without being searched; they weren’t subject to threat and blackmail, because they lived inside the Green Zone. In every way, Jordanians were easier to deal with. But they also knew nothing about Iraq. One former Embassy official, who considered the new policy absurd, lamented that a Jordanian couldn’t possibly understand that the term “February 8th mustache,” say, referred to the 1963 Baathist coup.
In the past year, the U.S. government has lost a quarter of its two hundred and six Iraqi employees, and many have been replaced by Jordanians. Not long ago, the U.S. began training citizens of the Republic of Georgia to fill the jobs of Iraqis in Baghdad. “I don’t know why it’s better to have these people flown into Iraq and secure them in the Green Zone,” a State Department official said. “Why wouldn’t we bring Iraqis into the Green Zone and give them housing and secure them?” He added, “We’re depriving people of jobs and we’re getting them whacked. It’s not a pretty picture.”
It's a long article, but worth it. Read the rest here.