Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell; he became an outspoken critic of the Bush administration after leaving the State Department in January 2005.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
To add insult to injury, many "anti-war" activists blame these murders of innocent Iraqis directly on Americans. "Anti-war" journalists like Dahr Jamail apparently had no problems with the wars Saddam Hussein waged before 2003. They said nothing of Saddam's Killing Fields. They would have liked to see Iraq continue to be held hostage by Saddam's regime.
Two nights ago I spoke to a cousin who worked as an economic advisor in Iraq. He told me that Iraq is surrounded by enemies, and for this reason, the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq is ultimately beneficial to Iraqis. Amazingly, my cousin echoed the words of a terrorist recently interviewed by Arab media and said that it is in the interest of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, to cause havoc in Iraq.
Iran has also fought a proxy war in Iraq, supporting Shia militias, supplying them with arms that have been used to kill and maim American soldiers. Some have claimed that the Iranian regime is "fearful of a strong, independent, Arab Shia community emerging in Iraq." The Badr Brigades have been accused of rounding up innocent Sunni Arab men and torturing them to death. Just this morning I heard an NPR report about Iranian influence in Najaf, which worries many Iraqis. Secular Shia like me do not want to see the Shia version of the Taliban in control of Iraq. One thing is clear: the Iranian regime seems to hate America. The photo below illustrates this hatred in a funny way.
So what should America do in Iraq after Al Qaeda is defeated? Should we withdraw all troops? Can Iraq defend itself on its own? Would Iran take over completely?
PS: The question, which nobody has been able to answer, remains: have "Safavids" ever blown up a marketplace?
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Kid writes Iraqi Mojo says he has no homicidal hatred of Sunnis, as he says when he met Sunni Arabs, the way you would speak when you explore a new species in the Amazons: "I have met Sunni Arabs and they are really nice." That's quite lovely of him, but even though Mojo occasionally talks about Muqtada al-Sadr's antics or his lack of love for Shia theocracy, they don't seem to be much of his concern, he rarely posts about them, if at all. For the curious American bystander who is curious to learn about how to get the hell out of Iraq, Iraq's problem, viewed through his blog is one long wail against the solitary horrors and evils of al-Qaeda, Wahhabiya, Saudi Arabia, the Arab Jarab (a term he often uses) and just about everything else you would expect a self-respecting Shia to hate, either intentionally or not, and all of which are, incidentally, the evil creations of the same very nice Sunni Arabs brothers.
I thought I defended myself pretty well in his comments section, and in one comment I wrote "I disagree that the horrors and evils of Al Qaeda are the evil creations of the same Sunni Arab brothers that I've met and befriended. No, actually, my Sunni Arab friends hate what Al Qaeda has done. I think that a majority of Sunni Arabs hate Al Qaeda. I remember an incident I read about in Ramadi, in which Al Qaeda wanted to expel and/or murder Shia residents of the town. The Sunni Arab tribal leaders of Ramadi organized a posse to defend their Shia neighbors against the impending evils of the Wahhabi scum."
In the comments of IBC's latest post, Kid addressed my responses: but please read your blog and see how many posts have you made about the "filthy Wahhabi scum", "the Baathists", and the "Arab Jarab" So would you feel comfortable with a blog that is bascially one long rant against the "Saffavid Scum", "The Fire-Worshipping Iranians" and the "Sons of Mut3a" with an occasional one or two posts praising Shiite seculars like Iyad Jamal al-Din? The truth is terrible.
I guess it depends in what context one would use "Saffavid Scum". Can Saffavids even be compared to Wahhabis? Do Iranians actually worship fire? Do any Iraqi Shia worship fire?? Are all Shia males sons of Mut3a (temporary marriage)? Are ANY Shia males sons of temporary marriage, and if so, is this a bad thing? I responded with the following comment:
'OK, I searched for "Wahhabi scum" and this is what I found:
Wahhabi scum: Two posts that I will never apologize for. In the first post I said "Iraq is being terrorized by the people who LOVED Saddam and the Al Qaeda scum buckets who seek to destroy any hope for democracy in Iraq. Saddam was a piece of shit, and so are the people who love(d) him. So are the Wahhabi scum of earth who believe that Shi'a are infidels and deserve to be murdered." Do I blame all Sunni Arabs? No. Do all Sunni ARabs love(d) Saddam? I don't think so. Please correct me if you believe I'm wrong.
In the second post I wrote "The people who murder Shi'a just for being Shi'a must be the Wahhabi scum from outside Iraq - I cannot imagine that even Ba'thists would commit these kinds of crimes." Hmmm, seems that once again I'm not blaming all Sunni Arabs, and in fact I stated that I cannot imagine that even Ba3thists would commit these kinds of crimes.
I also searched for jarab - it gives just one post in which I wrote "Today my uncle referred to the 'Arab Jarab' (jarab means 'scab'), which reminded me of a recent post by Baghdad Treasure, in which he laments the treatment of Iraqis by Arab countries like Jordan and Syria. Konfused Kid has also reported that undercover Jordanian security forces have been questioning Iraqis to find out if they are staying in Jordan longer than their visas allow."
I admit that I've used (maybe abused) the term "jarab" in my comments section and the comments section of Angry Arab, usually in heated debate, but I have also distinguished between good Arabs and jarab. There IS a difference. I wish I saved a comment I left on Angry Arab a couple weeks ago in which I gave a bunch of examples of jarab, including Zarqawi, Usama bin Ladin, Yusuf al Qaradawi, and even Muqtada al Sadr. Again, most Arabs are not jarab.
I also searched for "Baathists" and nearly crashed my computer, but I don't understand why the use of this term would be offensive. My father is a former Baathist - he had to be in order to work in the Oil Ministry. The hardcore Baathists who still express their love for Saddam can stay in Amman and Damascus forever. That would be nice:)'
It seems that Konfused Kid really is confused! Do I blame all Sunni Arabs? I don't think so. Do you think so? Are all Sunni Arabs Wahhabi scum? Are all Sunni Arabs Baathists? Are all Arabs jarab? My family and I are Arab, after all.
PS: if there is such a thing as "Safavid scum", have they ever blown up a market place?
Saturday, January 26, 2008
This guy is awesome. You will not see this on Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya. Thanks dad for sending me this. Update: MEMRI's clip is longer than the one below.
Following are excerpts from a public address delivered by Iraqi tribal Chief Sheik Th'aban Al-Bazoun, which aired on Al-Fayhaa TV on December 4, 2007:
Sheik Th'aban Al-Bazoun: [We say] to the terrorists, the supporters of takfir, to Al-Qaeda: If you want Iraq to be as Islamic state so badly, shouldn't you make your own countries Islamic first? What, they come from Morocco to establish an Islamic state in Iraq?! Why don't they turn Morocco into an Islamic state? They come from Saudi Arabia to turn Iraq into an Islamic state. They cross the border and blow themselves up - why don't they blow themselves up in Saudi Arabia? After all, the Americans are present in Saudi Arabia, as well as in the UAE, in Bahrain, in Egypt, and in all the Arab countries. They have bases there. Go blow yourself up there. Instead of blowing up Iraqi children in schools, universities, and markets, go blow yourself up there. Go establish an Islamic state in Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan. But one cannot establish an Islamic state by blowing up children, women, schools, or universities, or by means of terrorism and murder. We've become victims of people who come here from across the borders in order to kill Iraqi citizens, because they want to establish an Islamic state in Iraq. They want to force women to wear the veil. In their own countries women do not wear the veil. They want to force Iraqi Christian women to wear Islamic gowns. Christian women here do not wear these gowns. In their own countries, people wear pants and cowboy jeans. In your country, Saudi Arabia, people smoke marijuana on the beach, yet you come to Iraq to establish an Islamic state?!
Thursday, January 24, 2008
JERUSALEM - Israel's Holocaust memorial launched an Arabic version of its Web site Thursday, including vivid photos of Nazi atrocities and video of survivors' testimony, to combat Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world.
Among those featured on the Yad Vashem site is Dina Beitler, a survivor of the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews in World War II. Beitler, who was shot and left for dead in a pit of bodies in 1941, recalls her story on the site, with Arabic subtitles.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Suicide bomber attacks Iraqi school
By CHRISTOPHER CHESTER, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jan 22, 11:37 AM ET
BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber pushing an electric heater on top of a cart packed with explosives attacked a high school north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing a bystander and injuring 21 people — mainly youngsters and teachers.
The school attack and other recent bombings against funerals and social gatherings raised the possibility that al-Qaida in Iraq has shifted tactics to focus on so-called soft targets and undermine public confidence that security is improving in Iraq.
The bombing at a gate in front of the two-story schoolhouse came at about 8:30 a.m., half an hour after classes began. The blast, which left a crater in the road, killed a 25-year-old man and injured 12 students, eight teachers and one policeman, a doctor at Baqouba General Hospital said.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Probe: Iraqi teen bomber sent by family
By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jan 21, 4:18 PM ET
BAGHDAD - His father was a senior member of al-Qaida in Iraq. His mother promised him they would meet again in paradise.
Details emerging in the investigation into a teenage suicide bombing near Fallujah on Sunday suggest the boy was dispatched by his family on the mission and took advantage of tribal ties to pass through tight security — raising concerns about infiltration within Sunni groups now allied with U.S. forces against extremists.
Forced annulment keeps couple apart
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Two years ago, a knock on Fatima and Mansour al-Timani's door shattered the life they had built together.
It was the police, delivering news that a judge had annulled their marriage in absentia after some of Fatima's relatives sought the divorce on grounds she had married beneath her.
That was just the beginning of an ordeal for a couple who — under Saudi Arabia's strict segregation rules — can no longer live together. They sued to reverse the ruling, publicized their story and sought help from a Saudi human rights group.
But the two remain apart and Fatima said she is considering suicide if her recent appeal to King Abdullah does not reunite her with her husband.
"Only the king can resolve my case," Fatima told The Associated Press by telephone in a rare interview. "I want to return to my husband, but if that is not possible, I need to know so I can put an end to my life."
Fatima's case underscores shortcomings in the kingdom's Islamic legal system in which rules of evidence are shaky, lawyers are not always present and sentences often depend on the whim of judges.
The most frequent victims are women, who already suffer severe restrictions on daily life in Saudi Arabia: They cannot drive, appear before a judge without a male representative, or travel abroad without a male guardian's permission.
Recently, the king did intervene and pardon another high-profile defendant — a rape victim who was sentenced to lashes and jail time for being in a car with a man who was not her relative.
The two cases have brought Saudi human rights once again into the international spotlight, revealing not only the weakness of the kingdom's justice system, but the scant rights of Saudi women.
"When I heard that the (rape victim) was pardoned, I couldn't believe it. My case is so much simpler than hers, since my divorce is invalid," Fatima said.
Fatima said her husband, a hospital administrator, followed Saudi tradition in asking her father for permission to marry her in 2003.
"My brother reported good things about him, so my dad accepted his proposal," said Fatima, a computer specialist who was 29 when she married.
She said her father knew that Mansour came from a less prominent tribe than hers, but that he did not mind because he "cared about the man himself."
A few months after the wedding, several of Fatima's relatives, including a half brother, persuaded her father to give them power of attorney to file a lawsuit demanding an annulment, she said.
Then her father died, and Fatima said she had hoped the case would be dropped.
But on Feb. 25, 2006, police knocked on the couple's door to serve Mansour with divorce papers — which said his marriage had been annulled nine months earlier.
"We were shattered. How did this happen? Why?" Fatima asked.
Under Saudi law, a woman needs the permission of her family to marry.
Saudi lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, who used to represent the couple, said local interpretations of Islamic law hold that relatives of a married couple have the right to seek an annulment if they feel the marriage lowers the extended family's status.
He said authorities are reluctant to overrule such annulment orders, believing they are private matters within extended families.
Fatima took the couple's 2-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son to live with her mother, who had persuaded her to let Mansour deal with the legal issues on his own.
But after three months without her husband, Fatima and the children sneaked out of her mother's house and flew with Mansour to the western seaside city of Jiddah, where they sought to live in anonymity.
Saudi police soon discovered them and imprisoned the family for living together illegally.
"The police told me I either return to my (mother's) family or go to jail," Fatima said. "I chose jail."
"My children and I were thrown in a cell with women sentenced for pushing drugs, practicing witchcraft and behaving immorally," Fatima said. Authorities allowed her to send her daughter back to live with her father, but the infant stayed with Fatima in jail.
"He learned to speak in jail, he learned to walk in jail and his teeth came out in jail," she said.
Meanwhile, Mansour went to court to appeal the divorce ruling, but a Riyadh appeals court upheld the decision in 2007.
Last September, the head of a prominent Saudi human rights group reportedly asked the kingdom's highest court to review the case.
Bandar al-Hajjar, head of the National Society of Human Rights, submitted two Islamic studies concluding that the divorce was invalid, according to the Arab News, a Saudi English-language daily.
The studies, conducted by Islamic researcher Adnan Al-Zahrani and Bassam Al-Bassam, a counselor at the Court of Cassation in Mecca, said that if a woman's legal guardian represented her at the original wedding, then other relatives have no right to object to the marriage based on compatibility.
Both studies concluded that Fatima married Mansour with her father's permission, and that only the wife can decide whether she wants her marriage annulled, the paper reported.
Despite their legal fight, Fatima and Mansour remain apart.
After nine months in jail, Fatima moved to an orphanage where she and her son share an apartment with several other women.
Fatima said she is holding out hope the king might pardon her, and recognize her as "married to Mansour, before God."
"I love him more than ever. He's the only one who has stood by me," she said.
CAIRO, Egypt - Sympathizers submitted hundreds of questions to al-Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri's "on-line interview" before a recent deadline. Among them: Why hasn't al-Qaida attacked the U.S. again, why isn't it attacking the Israelis and when will it be more active in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria?
So far, there have been no answers.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Below is a series of interviews by Terry Gross, in which she asks her guests when and how should the US get out of Iraq. I think that Kanan Makiya gave the best answers. I also like Journalist Lawrence Wright's response: we should get out of Iraq when the Iraqis want the US to leave, and Iraqis do want the US to leave, but not now. Thanks Datta for sending me the link.
In this wide-ranging Fresh Air series on the future of the Iraq occupation, Terry Gross talks to military leaders, prominent Iraqis, journalists and policy analysts — asking when America should get out of Iraq and how we should go about doing it.
Editor and cofounder of the conservative Washington-based political magazine, The Weekly Standard, and an opinion columnist for The New York Times, William Kristol is a neoconservative voice on the Iraq war; he was among those who advocated for the U.S. to remove Saddam Hussein from power before Sept. 11, 2001.
Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He sits on the Council on Foreign Relations, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 .
Baghdad-born activist Yanar Mohammed directs the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. She left Iraq in 1993, but since 2003, she has divided her time between her home country and her home in Canada. Mohammed's organization works to stop atrocities against Iraqi women and defend their rights; her activism has made her the target of death threats.
Carl Conetta co-directs the Project on Defense Alternatives, a defense-policy think tank. Earlier, he was a research fellow at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies; he served for three years as editor of their journal, Defense and Disarmament Alternatives, and of the Arms Control Reporter.
Lt. Col. John Nagl commands the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor at Fort Riley, Kan. He served in Operation Desert Storm and was the operations officer of a tank battalion task force in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He helped author the Army's Counterinsurgency Field Manual.
Ali Allawi served as minister of trade and minister of defense under the Interim Iraqi Governing Council from 2003 to '04, then was minister of finance in the Iraqi Transitional Government between 2005 and '06. He teaches at Oxford University and is author of The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace.
A former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and a senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Peter Galbraith is author of The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End .
Iraqi-born professor Kanan Makiya teaches Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Brandeis University, outside Boston. He is one of the leading Arab intellectuals who called for the removal of Saddam Hussein; he also advised the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq.
Gen. Sir Michael Rose was best known as the commander of the U.N. Protection Force in Bosnia in the 1990s. In 2006, he called for the impeachment of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair for leading England into war in Iraq under false pretenses.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Stress is when your entire family is jailed for four miserable years by Saddam's Mukhabarat because a family member decided to flee Saddam's army.
Stress is watching your mother beheaded by Fedai'yye Saddam in front of the neighbors.
Stress is being raped by Uday Hussein and later being told on a blog that the rape didn't happen.
Stress is being tortured to death because you did not memorize the license plate of the car used by assailants who tried to kill the rapist and murderer Uday Hussein.
Stress is having to deal with your husband and son disappearing and later discovering that they were murdered by Saddam's filthy regime.
Stress is being an Iraqi Shi3i who's accused of being Iranian in a country run by a Sunni Arab dictator and being arrested by the Mukhabarat and escorted to the Iranian border, from where you had to walk through a mine-infested desert in order to reach safety.
Stress is watching your husband and son shot to death in your home because they are Shi3a.
Iraqis have been stressed for decades, sadly.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
A few Baathists and Americans are not completely happy with the revision of the de-Baathification law, apparently because not all Baathists are allowed to work for the government - the murderers are excluded from this offer. Also, Baathist leaders still claim that they are the legitimate and sole representatives of the Iraqi people and will not stop fighting until they return to power. Yeah, good luck with that.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Friday, January 11, 2008
When snow falls in Baghdad ...
Well it did! Iraqi capital wakes up to first snowfall in memory
BAGHDAD - After weathering nearly five years of war, Baghdad residents thought they'd pretty much seen it all. But Friday morning, as muezzins were calling the faithful to prayer, the people here awoke to something certifiably new.
For the first time in memory, snow fell across Baghdad.
Although the white flakes quickly dissolved into gray puddles, they brought an emotion rarely expressed in this desert capital snarled by army checkpoints, divided by concrete walls and ravaged by sectarian killings — delight.
"For the first time in my life I saw a snow-rain like this falling in Baghdad," said Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, a 63-year-old retiree from the New Baghdad area.
From Michael Totten's The Rings on Zarqawi's Finger: 'For all the hatred in the Middle East, there is also forgiveness, and moderation. Where are the moderate Muslims? ask many Americans. I find the question bizarre. I meet them every day in Iraq, and everywhere else in the Middle East, too. The problem is they have a hard time getting attention in newspapers and magazines that wallow in sensationalism.
"What happened before, happened," said Omar, returning to the discussion of the American invasion with the Iraqi Police. "One mistake was committed, but it's gone. Let's just close it and not keep analyzing the same problem again. According to our analysis, American troops are now here to help Iraq."
January 10, 2008
The administration also imposed sanctions on the Iraqi businessman who owns the station, along with a top general in Iran's Revolutionary Guard and two men accused of directing terrorist attacks.
Al Zawraa television, called "Muj TV," short for mujahedin, by some Westerners, has been a source of frustration for U.S. officials since 2005 as it has beamed bloody video of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq across the region. One program, called "Hidden Camera Jihad," showed clips of attacks along with laugh tracks, sound effects and mocking captions in English.
The station became an irritant to U.S.-Saudi relations because the Saudi-controlled Arabsat satellite operator was carrying its signal, despite entreaties from American officials. Saudi officials believed it represented a point of view that they had to tolerate, U.S. officials said.
The station was founded by Mishaan Jaburi, a former lawmaker who fled to Syria in 2006 amid charges that he had stolen millions from the Iraqi government. In a statement, U.S. Treasury Department officials alleged that the station has received money from the group Al Qaeda in Iraq and that it has aired coded messages to the Islamic Army in Iraq, another Sunni insurgent group.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I wonder why the Lancet's estimate is so much higher than this one:
By Stephen Fidler in London and Steve Negus, Iraq,Correspondent
Published: January 10 2008 02:00 | Last updated: January 10 2008 02:00
At least 150,000 Iraqis died violently in the 40 months following the US-led invasion in 2003, according to an estimate derived from the most comprehensive survey yet of mortality in post-war Iraq.
The new estimate, based on an Iraqi government survey supervised by the World Health Organisation, falls in the middle of the two most commonly cited assessments of the death toll following the invasion. It is published in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Iraq Body Count, which uses media reports and is therefore considered likely to underestimate the actual numbers of people killed, counted 47,668 deaths between March 2003 until June 2006. A study published in the Lancet, another leading medical journal, based on far fewer household interviews, estimated more than 600,000 deaths.
There is no reliable death registration system in Iraq and the past efforts to estimate the numbers killed have become the focus of deep controversy.
The new estimate suggests violent deaths increased 17-fold when compared with the years immediately preceding the invasion. Salih al-Hasanawi, Iraq's health minister, said he viewed the survey as "very sound, based on an accurate methodology".
The article estimates with 95 per cent certainty a range of violent deaths between 104,000 and 223,000, with 151,000 the central estimate. It uses a survey of 9,345 households - five times more than the Lancet survey.
However, government researchers were unable to visit 10.6 per cent of the households they had planned to, mainly in Anbar province and Baghdad, because these areas were too dangerous. The article estimated deaths in these areas using ratios of reported deaths in the Iraq Body Count statistics.
Ties Boerma, a WHO director, said the discrepancy between the new estimate and the Lancet estimate could have derived from the smaller sample in the earlier survey that may have exaggerated results from some unusually violent areas.
Les Roberts, one of the authors of the Lancet article, said the two articles had more in common than appeared at first glance.
"The NEJM article found a doubling of mortality after the invasion, we found a tripling. The big difference is that we found almost all the increase from violence; they found half the increase from violence," he said.
He said the survey may have suffered under-reporting, because some people may have not have wanted to report deaths to government employees. The Lancet report, he said, showed a sharp jump in deaths to about 900 a day in 2005-06, an increase not reflected in the WHO-supported survey but reflected elsewhere, including in graveyards.
Since mid-2006, the IBC statistics show a sharp jump in the number of deaths, followed by a significant slowing later in 2007.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Monday, January 07, 2008
Saturday, January 05, 2008
This is a great innovation — the streets of Europe could soon be lit by "solar trees". These self-contained streetlights could save cities energy and money too. Unlike regular streetlights, they do not require costly underground wiring to install, and they are immune to blackouts. Designed by Ross Lovegrove, the lights have 10 solar panels arrayed at the top of tree-like branches, which charge built-in batteries. The batteries then power LEDs for illumination. Compared to conventional streetlights, they emit much less light pollution, because LEDs generate a very directed light. The trees also incorporate light detectors! So the lights automatically turn on sunset and off at sunrise.
The solar trees went on display for four weeks in October on a busy street — the Ringstrasse — in Vienna, Austria. They were able to provide enough light during the night-time even when the sun did not show for as much as four days in a row. The director of the program, Christina Werner said. "Someday soon solar trees could well be the main form of street lighting in Europe."
Putting solar powered LED light systems on trees would cut down on the carbon emissions and also slash the bills of local authorities, she said.
Street lighting consumed 10 percent of all the electricity used in Europe in 2006 or 2,000 billion KWh, and resulted in carbon emissions of 2,900 million ton.
The use of more energy-efficient lighting in the Austrian city of Graz, with a population of almost 300,000 saved the city 524,000 KWh of electricity and 67,200 euros [US $96,800] in 2005.
Meanwhile in America, Bush's EPA (the "Environmental Protection" Agency!) told the state of California that it could not raise its own emissions standards! At least we have people like Will Ferrell to make fun of it all:
Thursday, January 03, 2008
By HAMZA HENDAWI
BAGHDAD (AP) — A top Shiite politician on Thursday acknowledged the contribution of U.S.-backed Sunni Arab groups to the decline in violence across Iraq and called for their use in the continuing fight against al-Qaida. Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported the deaths of three soldiers — the first Americans killed in the new year.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's praise for the role of the Sunni groups, many of which had fought U.S. and Iraq's Shiite-dominated security forces before switching sides last year, runs contrary to the hard-line position recently taken by Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki's government.
The government said last month it will disband the groups, known as Awakening Councils in some regions and Concerned Local Citizens in others, after restive areas are calmed. It said it did not want them to be a separate military force and would not allow them to have any infrastructure, such as offices.
The Sunni militias, more than 70,000-strong, have been credited by U.S. commanders as being instrumental in what they say is a nearly 60 percent reduction in violence in the last six months. It also was affected by the dispatch of additional U.S. troops and a six-month cease-fire declared in August by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia.
But al-Maliki's government has been deeply uneasy about the potential for the Sunni fighters — now better organized and armed — to switch sides again, posing a threat to stability and the Shiite domination that followed the ouster of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime.
However, al-Hakim, head of parliament's largest bloc and the country's most powerful political party, was conciliatory in his comments Thursday, although his praise for the Sunni groups was moderate and he did not say whether their future role should be permanent.
Noting the decline in violence, he said the credit should go to the role played by the groups, adding: "We still believe in the necessity of continuing with this strategy."