Sunday, September 30, 2007
While the mainstream media reports on roadside bombs and missed benchmarks, American soldiers—along with Iraqi security forces—continue to make great security gains (which are the necessary pre-condition for real political progress).'
Friday, September 28, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric meets Sunni leader (thanks bg)
Deep sectarian rifts in Iraq have stymied decision making and hampered progress on key laws that Washington wants passed to help reconciliation between warring majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has lost around a dozen Sunni and Shi'ite Arab ministers from his cabinet and has been left relying on a coalition of Kurdish parties in parliament.
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who heads the Sunni Islamic Party, met the reclusive Sistani in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf in southern Iraq where he lives.
Sistani rarely leaves his home and makes few public statements. But Sistani sponsored Maliki's Shi'ite alliance and is hugely influential among Iraq's Shi'ites.
Hashemi stressed he had not asked Sistani to put pressure on any Shi'ite group to return to cabinet, saying the purpose of the meeting had been to discuss the new initiative, known as the Iraqi National Compact.
"The meeting was profound and many issues related to the political process were discussed," Hashemi told reporters after his meeting with the highly influential Shi'ite cleric.
"I briefed his eminence on the Iraqi National Compact and he informed me he had already seen a copy and read, analysed and expressed his remarks on the initiative," he said.
Sistani's office declined to comment on the meeting.
The Iraqi National Compact is a set of 25 political principles unveiled by Hashemi's party on Wednesday aimed at removing deep mistrust among politicians.
The compact is being distributed to political parties, senior clerics and neighbouring countries. Hashemi said he had asked Sistani for detailed comments on the principles.
Saddam asked Bush for $1bn to go into exile
Saddam Hussein offered to step down and go into exile one month before the invasion of Iraq, it was claimed last night.
Fearing defeat, Saddam was prepared to go peacefully in return for £500million ($1billion).
The extraordinary offer was revealed yesterday in a transcript of talks in February 2003 between George Bush and the then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at the President's Texas ranch.
The White House refused to comment on the report last night.
But, if verified, it is certain to raise questions in Washington and London over whether the costly four-year war could have been averted.
Only yesterday, the Bush administration asked Congress for another £100billion to finance the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The total war bill for British taxpayers is expected to reach £7billion by next year.
More than 3,800 American service personnel have lost their lives in Iraq, along with 170 Britons and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
However, according to the tapes, one month before he launched the invasion Mr Bush appeared convinced that Saddam was serious about going into exile.
"The Eqyptians are speaking to Saddam Hussein," said Mr Bush.
"It seems he's indicated he would be prepared to go into exile if he's allowed to take $1billion and all the information he wants about weapons of mass destruction."
Asked by the Spanish premier whether Saddam - who was executed in December last year - could really leave, the President replied: "Yes, that possibility exists. Or he might even be assassinated."
But he added that whatever happened: "We'll be in Baghdad by the end of March."
Mr Bush went on to refer optimistically to the rebuilding or Iraq.
The transcript - which was published yesterday in the Spanish newspaper El Pais - was said to have been recorded by a diplomat at the meeting in Crawford, Texas, on February 22, 2003.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
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"It is something we never see at home," says Zaidi, of India. "They want to kill each other everywhere except in the USA."
For years, Sunnis and Shiites in this country have worked together to build mosques, support charities, register voters and hold massive feasts for Eid al-Fitr (on Oct. 13 this year in the USA), the celebration at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Now there are small signs of tension emerging in America's Muslim community that are raising concerns among many of its leaders. They worry that the bitter divisions that have caused so much bloodshed abroad are beginning to have an impact here. Such concerns are rising at a time when the USA's Muslim community has grown from less than 1 million in 1990 to nearly 2.5 million today, with two of three Muslims born overseas, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
"You have people who recently arrived from other places where things may have gotten out of hand," says Sheik Hamza Yusuf, the U.S.-born co-founder of the nation's first Muslim seminary, the Zaytuna Institute, in Berkeley, Calif. "It takes just one deranged person with a cousin back home who died in a suicide bombing to create trouble here."
Several recent incidents pointing to rising tension among Sunnis and Shiites here have led Muslim leaders to call on their followers to reach out to those in other sects. None of the incidents has been violent. But Yusuf and other leaders worry that these could be signs of increasingly cool relations between Sunnis and Shiites here or undermine other Americans' views of a religion that has been under particular scrutiny since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Among the incidents:
•Shiite mosques and businesses in the Detroit area were vandalized in January, and a Shiite restaurant owner said he'd received a threatening call mentioning his sect.
Authorities have yet to identify the vandals. But some Shiite Muslims told local news media they believe Sunnis were behind the broken windows and graffiti because Shiites had celebrated publicly when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, was executed in December by Iraq's Shiite-led government.
•On several Muslim websites in recent months, Sunnis and Shiites from Seattle to Manhattan have traded accusations that they have been rebuffed from worshiping at each other's mosques.
Meanwhile, a small Sunni group known as the Islamic Thinkers Society, which has branded Shiites as heretics and is known for distributing provocative leaflets in New York's Times Square, has gone online to urge its followers to "avoid" contact with a range of Islamic studies scholars and theologians, several at U.S. colleges.
•Muslim Student Associations on a few campuses, such as Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and the University of Michigan at Dearborn, have disagreed so vehemently over which sect could lead prayers that students sometimes have refused to pray together.
Al Sistani appeal[s], Iraqis leave aside your divisions
The highest Shiite religious authority accuses the media of exaggerating the number of victims and speaking of confessional war. But in the interim, Moqtada Al Sadr's men tour bordering nations to explain their anti-American strategy
Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – An appeal to Iraqi's to "forget their divisions" was launched today by the grand ayatollah Al Sistani, the country's top religious authority for Shiite Islam. The Ayatollahs peace initiative came one day after a campaign launched by supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, drawn from the extremist fringes of the Shiite Islam, who are touring neighbouring Arab states to promote their anti-American campaign.
"Your nation is rich and full of resources – the official statement released by Al Sistani reads – I appeal to you to leave aside your divisions with your Sunni brothers". The statement clarifies that the grand ayatollah spoke these words yesterday, speaking to the tribal chiefs in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 150 kilometres south of Baghdad. "Be as a great mountain – he added – immoveable before the attempts of some media to attack our unity, exaggerating the number of the victims and speaking of confessional war".
Ali Sistani's appeal comes however at a very particular moment of the Iraqi conflict. On the one hand tribal leaders, Shiite and Sunni are pondering the possibility of an alliance against terrorism – in a time of relative calm – while on the other there is an ongoing struggle within the Shiite community for overall control. In the background, the chronic weakness of the government and the increasing number of refugees. According to official data released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (Unhcr), the numbers continue to rise: about 4.2 million Iraqi's have been uprooted from their homes.
Q13 of the recent BBC poll asked Iraqis: "Which of the following structures do you believe Iraq should have in the future?" 62% said they want one unified Iraq with a central government in Baghdad. 28% said they want a group of regional states with their own regional governments and a federal government in Baghdad (what Biden is proposing) and just 9% said they want a country divided into separate independent states.
September 26, 2007
When the Democratic presidential candidates gather in New Hampshire tonight for yet another debate, don't be surprised if Joseph Biden walks on stage with an extra spring in his step. The Delaware senator just scored a fairly significant victory on the issue that has dominated his campaign: Iraq's political future.
Today, the Senate overwhelmingly passed an amendment "calling for creation of a federal system of government in Iraq with regions divided along ethnic lines," CongressDaily reports. The measure, sponsored by Biden, marks the first Democratic amendment calling for a change in Bush's war policy to clear Senate negotiations of the defense authorization bill. And it passed with a bipartisan, 75-23 majority.
Granted, the "sense of the Senate" measure is nonbinding, which means there's no guarantee that the plan to partition Iraq, which Biden has been touting on the Senate floor and on the campaign trail for months, will be implemented (it probably won't). For that reason, it comes as little surprise that many Republicans were less reticent to jump on board than they have been with binding proposals to change course in Iraq.
But today's vote should still give Biden, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a sense of satisfaction after his GOP rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, led the charge in dismissing the partition plan during the high-profile Iraq hearings earlier this month. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker pooh-poohed Biden's idea during his testimony, but that didn't stop a number of prominent senators and presidential candidates, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Christopher Dodd and Republican co-sponsor Sam Brownback, from supporting it in today's vote. McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama were absent for the roll call.
The Iraq oil grab that went awry
By Dilip Hiro
...Advocating "going after Saddam" during the January 30 meeting, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, according to O'Neill, "Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that's aligned with US interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond. It would demonstrate what US policy is all about." He then discussed post-Saddam Iraq - the Kurds in the north, the oilfields, and the reconstruction of the country's economy (Suskind, p 85).
Among the relevant documents later sent to NSC members, including O'Neill, was one prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). It had already mapped Iraq's oilfields and exploration areas, and listed US corporations likely to be interested in participating in Iraq's petroleum industry.
Another DIA document in the package, titled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts", listed companies from 30 countries - France, Germany, Russia and Britain, among others - their specialties and bidding histories. The attached maps pinpointed "super-giant oilfield", "other oilfield" and "earmarked for production sharing" and divided the basically undeveloped but oil-rich southwest of Iraq into nine blocks, indicating promising areas for future exploration (Suskind, p 96).
According to high-flying oil insider Falah al-Jibury, the US administration began making plans for Iraq's oil industry "within weeks" of Bush taking office in January 2001. In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp's Newsnight program, which aired on March 17, 2005, he referred to his participation in secret meetings in California, Washington and the Middle East, where, among other things, he interviewed possible successors to Saddam.
By January 2003, a plan for Iraqi oil crafted by the State Department and oil majors emerged under the guidance of Amy Myers Jaffe of the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston. It recommended maintaining the state-owned Iraq National Oil Co, whose origins dated to 1961 - but open it up to foreign investment after an initial period in which US-approved Iraqi managers would supervise the rehabilitation of the war-damaged oil infrastructure. The existence of this group would come to light in a report by the Wall Street Journal on March 3, 2003.
Unknown to the architects of this scheme, according to the same BBC Newsnight report, the Pentagon's planners, apparently influenced by powerful neo-conservatives in and out of the administration, had devised their own super-secret plan. It involved the sale of all Iraqi oilfields to private companies with a view to increasing output well above the quota set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for Iraq to weaken, and then destroy, OPEC.
On October 11, 2002, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon already had plans to occupy and control Iraq's oilfields. The next day The Economist described how Americans in the know had dubbed the waterway demarcating the southern borders of Iraq and Iran "Klondike on the Shatt al-Arab", while Ahmad Chalabi, head of the US-funded Iraqi National Congress and a neo-con favorite, had already delivered this message: "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil - if he gets to run the show."
On October 30, Oil and Gas International revealed that the Bush administration wanted a working group of 12-20 people to (a) recommend ways to rehabilitate the Iraqi oil industry "to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible US military occupation government", (b) consider Iraq's continued membership of OPEC, and (c) consider whether to honor contracts Saddam Hussein had granted to non-US oil companies.
Also check out this Ron Paul commercial, which features a 2004 60 Minutes interview with Paul O'Neil that reveals the Bush team planned to invade Iraq as soon as they took office.
Don't minimize Stalin's crimes, Gorbachev says
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In words that appeared aimed at President Vladimir Putin, Gorbachev also emphasized the need to pursue democracy.
His remarks, less guarded than usual, came amid growing concern among Russia's marginalized liberals that Putin's government is recasting Stalin's legacy to justify its own increasingly tight control.
The Stalin era is being portrayed as a "golden age," said Gorbachev, whose 1980s "glasnost" campaign as the last Soviet president prompted stunning revelations about Stalin's murderous policies.
"We must remember those who suffered, because it is a lesson for all of us — a lesson that many have not learned," Gorbachev said at a discussion marking the 70th anniversary of the bloodiest year of Stalin's Great Terror.
"It is impossible to live in the present or build long-term plans for the future if the disease of forgetfulness afflicts the country and society, or at least certain sections of it," he said.
Rather than reckoning with one of the most traumatic episodes in Russian history, scholars and activists said during the discussion at Gorbachev's charitable foundation and think tank, Putin's government is reshaping that legacy for its own purposes.
"It's not just forgetfulness, not just a lack of cultural memory — what's happening is a massive attack aimed at revising our memory," said Irina Shcherbakova of Memorial, a prominent non-governmental group dedicated to investigating Stalin's repression.
As one of the signs that Stalin's crimes are being swept under the rug, she said a teacher's manual that suggests his actions were justified by the need to modernize the economy is being pushed on high schools nationwide.
"Textbooks today are aimed not to ensure the memory (of Stalin's abuses), but to push this memory to the distant periphery of the consciousness," said Arseny Roginsky, also an official at Memorial.
Roginsky said that despite repeated requests, the state has done little or nothing to help establish the names of the millions killed under Stalin or the locations of their remains — only a fraction of which are known decades later, he said.
More than 1.7 million people were arrested in 1937-38 by the Soviet security services alone, and at least 818,000 of them were shot, Roginsky said.
But there is "decidedly no political will" on the government's part to preserve a "national memory" of those abuses, he said, and he contrasted the atmosphere in Russia with the way Germany has acknowledged the Holocaust.
In central Berlin, he said, there are signposts pointing to Nazi concentration camp sites: "A child passes by and asks his mother, 'What's Dachau, what's Buchenwald?' That's how national memory is preserved and passed down."
In Moscow, he said, "There is not a single memorial plaque that says, 'This person was a victim of the Terror."'continued
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
"Did the average Iraqi here switch sides or were most of them always against Al Qaeda?" I said.
"The average Iraqi post-Fallujah was not very happy with us being here," he said. "If the insurgency only attacked Americans, the people of Ramadi would not have been very upset. But Al Qaeda infiltrated and took over the insurgency. They massively overplayed their hand. They cut off citizens' heads with kitchen knives. The locals slowly learned that the propaganda about us were lies, and that Al Qaeda was their real enemy. They figured out by having dinner and tea with us that we really are, honest to God, here to help them."
Monday, September 24, 2007
|Ahmadinejad's Columbia Speech Stirs Protest|
| By Victoria Cavaliere |
24 September 2007
Listen to Cavaliere report
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University created a furor in New York City. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York Bureau protests reverberated all the way to U.S. Congress in Washington.
|Crowds in front of Columbia University listen to the simulcast of a speech by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 24 Sep 2007|
Columbia's decision to host the Iranian leader at its World Leader's Forum met with sharp criticism from U.S. politicians, New York City officials and Jewish groups.
In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky criticized Columbia for inviting Mr. Ahmadinejad.
"Think of the irony," said Mitch McConnell. "Columbia University, home of the core curriculum that prizes an in-depth undestanding of Western civilization and the free exchange of ideas, is brining to its campus a state sponsor of terror."
Last year, Columbia canceled an invitation for Mr. Ahmadinejad to speak after an outcry from Jewish groups. Mr. Ahmadinejad has said he supports the destruction of Israel and has described the Holocaust as a myth.
Columbia's president Lee Bollinger defended the prestigious university's decision to go forward with the speech this year, saying it was a testament to the freedom of speech guaranteed under the U.S. Constituion.continued
by Deborah Amos
Morning Edition, September 24, 2007 · A high-ranking member of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party — who now supports efforts by insurgents in Iraq — describes American military reports of progress in Anbar and other hotspots as "lie after lie."
September 24, 2007
A joint U.S.-Iraqi commission was expected to hold its first meeting within days, the American Embassy said.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki demanded Wednesday that the embassy find a replacement for Blackwater USA and that the North Carolina-based company's activities in Iraq be frozen after Blackwater guards were involved in the lethal shooting Sept. 16 in Baghdad. U.S. officials asked him to wait for the results of a joint investigation.
A spokesman for Iraqi security efforts in the capital acknowledged Sunday that Blackwater was one of the main companies protecting foreign embassies and said it was not feasible to expel the firm, which has about 1,000 employees in Iraq.
"If we drive out this company immediately, there will be a security vacuum that would force us to pull troops out of the field to protect these institutes," Tahseen Sheikhly said. "That would cause a big imbalance in the security situation."
BAQOUBA, Iraq - A suicide bomber struck a U.S.-promoted reconciliation meeting of Shiite and Sunni tribal sheiks as they were washing their hands or sipping tea Monday, killing at least 15 people, including the city's police chief, and wounding about 30 others.
Two U.S. soldiers were also wounded in the 8:30 p.m. blast at a Shiite mosque in Baqouba, a former al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, who gave the overall casualty toll.
The brazen attack, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, represented a major challenge to U.S. efforts to bring together Shiites and Sunnis here in Diyala province, scene of some of the bitterest fighting in Iraq.
About two hours after the blast, U.S. soldiers at nearby Camp Warhorse fired artillery rounds at suspected insurgent positions near Baqouba. There were no reports of damage or casualties.
Witnesses and officials said the bomber struck when most of the victims were in the mosque courtyard cleaning their hands or drinking tea during Iftar, the daily meal in which Muslims break their sunrise-to-sunset fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
24 September 2007BAGHDAD - A mass grave with the bodies of 20 murdered students was found in the Iraqi province of Diyala, north of the capital Baghdad, an Iraqi security spokesman reported Monday.
According to the Aswat Al Iraq news agency, the bodies were of young men taken by extremists from a main street, and killed and buried in the area of Al Abara near the provincial capital Baquba.
Diyala province has become a centre of Sunni extremism primarily after a US-led military push to remove Al Qaeda extremists from western province of Al Anbar.
The city of Al Maqdadiya has become of the most dangerous locations in the province, where on Sunday seven people were found murdered. US and Iraqi soldiers claimed to have captured five suspected Al Qaeda terrorists on the same day.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
A parade featuring a Ghadr missile was held the day before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's departure for the United States. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)
Ahmadinejad is noisy, but look behind him to find real power in Iran
By Michael Slackman
Published: September 23, 2007
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first elected president, he said that Iran had more important issues to worry about than how women dress. He even called for allowing women into soccer games, a revolutionary idea for revolutionary Iran.
Today, Iran is experiencing the most severe crackdown on social behavior and dress in years, and women are often barred from smoking in public, let alone from attending a public event in a stadium.
Since coming to office two years ago, Ahmadinejad has grabbed headlines around the world and in Iran for outrageous statements that often have no more likelihood of implementation than his soccer plan. He generated controversy in New York last week by asking to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Towers - a request that was denied - and by agreeing to speak at Columbia University on Monday.
But it is because of his provocative remarks, like denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, that the United States and Europe have never known quite how to handle the firebrand president, say politicians, officials and experts in Iran.
In demonizing Ahmadinejad, they say, the West has served him well, elevating his status at home and across the region at a time when he is increasingly isolated politically because of his go-it-alone style and ineffective economic policies.
Political analysts here are surprised at the degree to which the West focuses on their president, saying the denunciations reflect a general misunderstanding of their system. Unlike in the United States, say, the Iranian president is not the head of state nor the commander in chief. That status is held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, whose role combines civil and religious authority. At the moment, this president's power comes from two sources, they say: the unqualified support of the supreme leader, and the international condemnation he manages to generate when he speaks up.
"The United States pays too much attention to Ahmadinejad," said a political scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "He is not that consequential."
Ahmadinejad Appearance Prompts Criticism of Columbia University Public-Speaking Decisions
Sunday, September 23, 2007
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans
NEW YORK — Columbia University said it would welcome any notable figure visiting the United States — even Adolf Hitler himself — to speak to students and faculty at the Ivy League college.
But there are those who question what the New York college's standards are. They ask why a school that will not allow an ROTC program to be part of its curriculum would allow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of America’s avowed enemies, onto its campus.
Critics wonder why the leader of a nation that exports terrorism is allowed to speak, but the leader of an American organization that seeks to secure U.S. borders was not.
On Monday, Columbia will play host to Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust "a myth," encouraged the destruction of Israel and who leads a nation that has supported Hezbollah terrorists in the Middle East and insurgents in Iraq.
Snatched: Israeli commandos 'nuclear' raid
ISRAELI commandos from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit – almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms – made their way stealthily towards a secret military compound near Dayr az-Zawr in northern Syria. They were looking for proof that Syria and North Korea were collaborating on a nuclear programme.
Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources. President George W Bush was told during the summer that Israeli intelligence suggested North Korean personnel and nuclear-related material were at the Syrian site.
Israel was determined not to take any chances with its neighbour. Following the example set by its raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak 1981, it drew up plans to bomb the Syrian compound.But Washington was not satisfied. It demanded clear evidence of nuclear-related activities before giving the operation its blessing. The task of the commandos was to provide it.
Today the site near Dayr az-Zawr lies in ruins after it was pounded by Israeli F15Is on September 6. Before the Israelis issued the order to strike, the commandos had secretly seized samples of nuclear material and taken them back into Israel for examination by scientists, the sources say. A laboratory confirmed that the unspecified material was North Korean in origin. America approved an attack.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The real story of Baghdad's Bloody Sunday
Six days ago, at least 28 civilians died in a shooting incident involving the US security company Blackwater. But what actually happened? Kim Sengupta reports from the scene of the massacre
Published: 21 September 2007
The eruption of gunfire was sudden and ferocious, round after round mowing down terrified men women and children, slamming into cars as they collided and overturned with drivers frantically trying to escape. Some vehicles were set alight by exploding petrol tanks. A mother and her infant child died in one of them, trapped in the flames.
The shooting on Sunday, by the guards of the American private security company Blackwater, has sparked one of the most bitter and public disputes between the Iraqi government and its American patrons, and brings into sharp focus the often violent conduct of the Western private armies operating in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, immune from scrutiny or prosecution.
Blackwater's security men are accused of going on an unprovoked killing spree. Hassan Jabar Salman, a lawyer, was shot four times in the back, his car riddled with eight more bullets, as he attempted to get away from their convoy. Yesterday, sitting swathed in bandages at Baghdad's Yarmukh Hospital, he recalled scenes of horror. "I saw women and children jump out of their cars and start to crawl on the road to escape being shot," said Mr Salman. "But still the firing kept coming and many of them were killed. I saw a boy of about 10 leaping in fear from a minibus, he was shot in the head. His mother was crying out for him, she jumped out after him, and she was killed. People were afraid."
At the end of the prolonged hail of bullets Nisoor Square was a scene of carnage with bodies strewn around smouldering wreckage. Ambulances trying to pick up the wounded found their path blocked by crowds fleeing the gunfire.
Yesterday, the death toll from the incident, according to Iraqi authorities, stood at 28. And it could rise higher, say doctors, as some of the injured, hit by high-velocity bullets at close quarter, are unlikely to survive.
With public anger among Iraqis showing no sign of abating, the US administration has suspended all land movement by officials outside the heavily fortified Green Zone.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Reports: Weapons linked to employees may have gone to terrorist groups
BAGHDAD - Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C., is handling the investigation with help from Pentagon and State Department auditors, who have concluded there is enough evidence to file charges, the officials told The Associated Press. Blackwater is based in Moyock, N.C.
The U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina, George Holding, and a spokeswoman for Blackwater did not return calls seeking comment Friday. Pentagon and State Department spokesmen declined to comment.
Some U.S. diplomats again under guard of security firm being investigated
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Future Look of Iraq Complicated by Internal Migration
By JAMES GLANZ and ALISSA J. RUBIN
Published: September 19, 2007
BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 — A vast internal migration is radically reshaping Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian landscape, according to new data collected by thousands of relief workers, but displacement in the most populous and mixed areas is surprisingly complex, suggesting that partitioning the country into semiautonomous Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enclaves would not be easy.
The migration data, which are expected to be released this week by the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization but were given in advance to The New York Times, indicate that in Baghdad alone there are now nearly 170,000 families, accounting for almost a million people, that have fled their homes in search of security, shelter, water, electricity, functioning schools or jobs to support their families.
The figures show that many families move twice, three times or more, first fleeing immediate danger and then making more considered calculations based on the availability of city services or schools for their children. Finding neighbors of their own sect is just one of those considerations.
Over all, the patterns suggest that despite the ethnic and sectarian animosity that has gripped the country, at least some Iraqis would rather continue to live in mixed communities.
The Red Crescent compiled the figures from reports filed as recently as the end of August by tens of thousands of relief workers scattered across all parts of Iraq who are straining to provide aid for an estimated 280,000 families swept up nationwide in an enormous and complex migration.
A bird’s-eye view of the data suggests that since the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in February 2006 triggered severe sectarian strife, Sunnis generally have been moving north and west, Shiites south, and Christians to the far north. But the picture in the mixed and highly populous center of the country is, if anything, becoming more complicated.
It is this mixed population center, the often violent interface between more homogeneous Sunni and Shiite regions, that some advocates of partition have suggested would separate into more homogeneous areas as Iraqis seek safety among members of their own sects.
But the new figures show that the migration is not neatly dividing Baghdad along the Tigris, separating Sunnis who live predominantly on the west bank from Shiites, who live predominantly on the east. Instead, some Sunnis are moving to the predominantly Shiite side of the river, into neighborhoods that are relatively secular, mixed and where services are better, according to Red Crescent staff.
Just last week within Baghdad itself, a Sunni tribe of 250 families that lived in Dora, one of the most violent neighborhoods, was forced to flee. Rather than going to an area where they would be with others of their sect, they went to their neighbors to the south, in Abu Dshir, a Shiite area. They were welcomed by the local tribe and given places to stay in people’s homes, according to field staff both for the Red Crescent and the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency.
Still, some poor Iraqis, for example those fleeing ethnic cleansing by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia in villages in the eastern province of Diyala, make the only choice available to them: head for Baghdad and stop in one of the refugee camps on the fringes of the city amid the other desperately poor.
The size and scope of the migration has elicited deep concern on the part of aid officials. Relief workers “have a mammoth task to alleviate the sufferings of this vast number of Iraqis,” a draft report on the Red Crescent figures says.
Although Iraqis of every income level, sect, ethnicity and region of the country have been caught up in this migration, perhaps the most tragic consequences turn up where enormous numbers of poor Iraqi villagers have collected in camps, shantytowns and urban slums after leaving behind almost everything they owned, said Dr. Said Hakki, a physician who is the president of the Red Crescent.
“It’s tragic, absolutely tragic,” Dr. Hakki said. “I have been a surgeon all my life, and I have seen death many times; that never scared me, never shook me. But when I saw the toll here in Iraq,” he said, referring to the groups of displaced people, “that definitely shook me.”
“How could a human let human beings suffer so much for so long?” Dr. Hakki said.