Iraq Update: April 16 – April 23

Sunni and Shia Muslims unite over nomination for Iraqi PM
Kim Sengupta & Thair Shaikh | April 22

Independent – The largest parliamentary bloc in Iraq, the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), agreed yesterday to nominate the veteran politician Jawad al-Maliki as Prime Minister.

The nomination clears the way for a new government after opposition by Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari serving a second term.

Mr Jaafari agreed, after weeks of resisting calls by the US and Britain, among others, to step down. He had been accused of fuelling the sectarian violence, which has led to a near civil war.

Mr Maliki, an ally of Mr Jaafari, will face the task of putting together a national unity government to try to stem that violence.

Once the president is approved by parliament, he will designate Mr Maliki to form a government within 30 days. Politicians must then approve each member of the Government by a majority vote.

Leaders of the seven parties that make up the Shia alliance agreed Mr Maliki’s nomination yesterday and Sunni and Kurdish politicians signalled that they would accept him. Mr Maliki, a leader in the Dawa Party, spent years living in Shia-dominated Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule. He joined the Dawa Party, the main Shia opposition to Saddam’s rule, and was sentenced to death for his membership of the party.

Older stories after the jump

This is the Iraq news thread. Please post new stories and comments about Iraq on this thread. (Prior weeks’ Iraq Updates here).

However, the positive political developments did nothing to dampen the violence across the country yesterday.

Six off-duty soldiers were kidnapped and killed in the northern city of Beiji. In Tal Afar, northern Iraq, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle near an Iraqi police patrol, killing six people and wounding 11.

Meanwhile in Mosul, four policemen and a member of the public were killed and 11 policemen wounded when two roadside bombs targeting police patrols exploded separately in the Qadisiya district of Baghdad.

Iraqi lawmakers signal breakthrough in selecting PM
Baghdad | April 20

CNN – Iraqi lawmakers decided to postpone a parliament session set for Thursday till Saturday amid a possible breakthrough over the contentious issue of the prime minister’s post.

Acting speaker Adnan Pachachi said the delay will help politicians succeed in forming a national unity government, a sought-after but elusive goal.
Iraqi Troops Move to Tame a Sunni District in Baghdad
Kirk Semple | Baghdad | April 18
NYT – Iraqi troops faced sporadic small-arms fire for the second day in a row as they pushed block by block through the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Adhamiya on Tuesday and sought to tame a local show of armed force and resistance.

The neighborhood, a bastion for some hard-line Sunnis hostile to the Shiite-led national government and their American counterparts, remained sealed within a perimeter cordon of Iraqi and American forces. Residents remained indoors for most of the day.

U.S. arming of Iraqi police skates close to legal line
Washington ¦ April 16

AP – U.S. officials are doling out millions of dollars of arms and ammunition to Iraqi police units without safeguards required to ensure they are complying with American laws that ban taxpayer-financed assistance for foreign security forces engaged in human-rights violations, according to an internal State Department review.

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  • Bomb near Shiite mosque kills 10; blast on Baghdad minibus leaves 3 dead.

    April 16, 2006

    BAGHDAD, Iraq – Six people were killed during a raid Sunday as American troops hunted down an al-Qaida suspect at a safehouse south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

    Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and wounding 25, police said. In the capital, a bomb hidden in a shopping bag on a minibus killed at least three passengers.

    U.S. forces stormed the house in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, about 2:15 a.m. Those inside started shooting, and the troops fired back, a U.S. statement said.

    Soldiers killed two men who were wearing suicide bomb vests, and a third detonated his explosives himself, the statement said. Two other suspected insurgents were killed.

    A woman died in the crossfire, and three women and a child were wounded, the U.S. said. Five American troops were injured, but none seriously.

    Five suspected insurgents, including the target of the raid, were detained and weapons were seized, the statement said.

    Alleged suspect not ID’d
    The alleged al-Qaida suspect was not identified but the military said he worked with foreign fighters to plan bombings. Youssifiyah is located in an area known as the “triangle of death” because of frequent attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces as well as Shiites traveling between Baghdad and Shiite shrine cities to the south.

    On April 1, insurgents shot down a U.S. Apache helicopter in the area, killing the two pilots. A new al-Qaida group claiming responsibility for the attack later posted a gruesome video on the Web showing men dragging the burning body of what appeared to be an American soldier across a field as they shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great!”

    Few details were immediately available about the bombing in Mahmoudiya, a religiously mixed city on the Euphrates river which frequently has been the scene of vehicle bombings over the past two years.

    The minibus bombing occurred near a mosque in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Kamaliyah in eastern Baghdad. At least six others were wounded in the morning blast, police said.

    Police discovered three corpses of handcuffed men in Baghdad. River patrols retrieved two of the bodies from the Tigris River, near the central district of Jadriyah, and the third was found in a gutter in Baladiyat in eastern Baghdad, police said.

    In northern Iraq, gunmen attacked a group of Iraqis driving on a rural road south of the city of Kirkuk, killing two civilians and wounding two others. Kirkuk 180 miles north of Baghdad.

    At least five other people were wounded in half a dozen roadside bombings and attacks by gunmen in several cities, including Baghdad.

    Late Saturday, gunmen killed a Shiite legislator’s bodyguard as he was walking alone in the northern city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, police said.

  • Washington ¦ April 16

    timesonline – The American military is planning a “second liberation of Baghdad” to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed.

    Pacifying the lawless capital is regarded as essential to establishing the authority of the incoming government and preparing for a significant withdrawal of American troops.

    Strategic and tactical plans are being laid by US commanders in Iraq and at the US army base in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, under Lieutenant- General David Petraeus. He is regarded as an innovative officer and was formerly responsible for training Iraqi troops.

    The battle for Baghdad is expected to entail a “carrot-and-stick” approach, offering the beleaguered population protection from sectarian violence in exchange for rooting out insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda.

    Sources close to the Pentagon said Iraqi forces would take the lead, supported by American air power, special operations, intelligence, embedded officers and back-up troops.

    Helicopters suitable for urban warfare, such as the manoeuvrable AH-6 “Little Birds” used by the marines and special forces and armed with rocket launchers and machineguns, are likely to complement the ground attack.

    The sources said American and Iraqi troops would move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, leaving behind Sweat teams — an acronym for “sewage, water, electricity and trash” — to improve living conditions by upgrading clinics, schools, rubbish collection, water and electricity supplies.

    Sunni insurgent strongholds are almost certain to be the first targets, although the Shi’ite militias such as the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade would need to be contained.

    President George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, are under intense pressure to prove to the American public that Iraq is not slipping into anarchy and civil war. An effective military campaign could provide the White House with a bounce in the polls before the mid-term congressional elections in November. With Bush’s approval ratings below 40%, the vote is shaping up to be a Republican rout.

    and you thought the ‘liberation’ of Fallujah was bad? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet – stonehouse

  • Baghdad April 17

    Reuters – About 50 insurgents mounted a brazen attack on Iraqi forces in Baghdad on Monday, prompting U.S. troops to provide support in a battle that lasted seven hours, a U.S. military spokesman said.

    The guerrillas attacked Iraqi forces in the mostly Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya in northern Baghdad overnight. Five rebels were killed and one member of the Iraqi forces was wounded. There were no U.S. casualties, said the spokesman.

    “It was quite a battle. It lasted seven hours,” he said.

    While insurgents mount such attacks in their strongholds in western Anbar province, they are rare in the Iraqi capital.

    The bold attack raises fresh questions about security in the capital as Iraqi leaders struggle to form a unity government they hope can avert a sectarian civil war.

    The withdrawal of U.S. troops depends on the performance of
    Iraq’s security forces, who are struggling to curb insurgent suicide bombings, shootings and assassinations as well as a rise in sectarian violence.

    Adhamiya residents said Shi’ite militiamen accompanied the Iraqi forces. That could not be independently confirmed.

    Sunni leaders have accused the Shi’ite-led Interior Ministry of sanctioning militia death squads, a charge the government denies.

    “Adhamiya residents have taken up arms to prevent the Shi’ite militia from entering. There are bodies on Omar bin Abdul Aziz street, but police forces can’t get to the area,” said the police official.

    It was not clear if the bodies were civilians, insurgents or government forces.

    “I could not reach work. Adhamiya is cordoned off. There were fierce clashes last night. I heard explosions. Fighting is still taking place but it is not as heavy,” Adhamiya resident Ghina told Reuters by telephone.

  • Only if you’re an Iraqi…however, for the US military, the Pentagon, and neocons everywhere, it’s good news, as the drive to consolidate permanent basing continues unchecked, all according to plan. Exactly what did people expect when Paulie Walnuts foisted the TAL on any putative government that may emerge after “sovereignty” was declared? The TAL virtually guaranteed that the shambolic FUBAR that has paralysed Iraq since the last “benchmark” election would be the norm, precipitating unrest and instability, and allowing the US to get on with its dirty business and establish long sought-after hardened bases right in the centre of the Mid-East oil patch. I submit that the invasion and occupation indeed has “succeeded” by this metric alone, which in fact is the principal and guiding raison d’etre of Bush’s actions. Oh, you say that the Americans are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on building these huge bases ONLY to turn them over to the Iraqi armed forces, WHEN ASKED? Sure, when pigs fly, they will. By the time an Iraq government is at long last formed, representative of all factions, in control of its territory, able to put down (or at least reconcile) the violent sectarianism, etc., etc.,
    the US will be so heavily entrenched within Iraq, that long after Bush has departed for Crawford and a retirement cutting brush it will be Okinawa or West Germany, or South Korea, or Kosovo, etc., all over again: permanent bases, with some sort of SOFA providing “legal” justification. The hegemon rolls on.

  • Newsweek

    By Mark Hosenball

    April 24, 2006 issue – After the Iraq invasion, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi became notorious for his well-publicized campaign of gruesome bombings and kidnappings. The most graphic was the videotaped decapitation of U.S. hostage Nicholas Berg, which U.S. officials believed was performed by Zarqawi himself. Since last December, however, few, if any, new messages from Zarqawi have appeared, leading to speculation that he has been sidelined. Reports in March quoted Huthayafa Azzam, son of one of Osama bin Laden’s mentors, saying that a new council of Islamist Iraqi insurgency groups had ordered Zarqawi to give up his public role because his actions were discrediting the movement.

    In a video taped last November and released on the Internet last week, bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appeared to endorse Zarqawi, calling him his “beloved brother.” Still, it appears that Zawahiri’s message wasn’t entirely glowing: “God knows better his hidden intents, which I hope are [even] better than his public ones.” Two U.S. counterterrorism officials, who asked not to be identified discussing intelligence issues, say analysts believe Zarqawi still commands foreign jihadist fighters in Iraq. But the officials think the Jordanian-born Zarqawi dropped out of sight because his activities were provoking resistance from fellow Sunnis in western Iran, and because he concluded it was better for the insurgency to be fronted by native Iraqis.

    —Mark Hosenball

  • London | April 19

    AFP – A senior British military officer, who worked in Baghdad in 2004, believes US generals try to act like gung-ho movie stars such as John Wayne, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

    Brigadier Alan Sharp made the comments in an academic report on Britain’s influence on US foreign relations, The Daily Telegraph said.

    The 46-year-old, who worked alongside the US military in Baghdad, said there was a “strong streak of Hollywood” among American officers.

  • A Bright Career Unravels in Iraq
    The Pentagon says an officer known for her integrity used her post for personal gain.
    By T. Christian Miller, Times Staff Writer
    April 19, 2006

    WASHINGTON — When Jay Garner arrived as the first U.S. administrator in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, he chose a highly decorated Air Force colonel named Kimberly D. Olson as his right arm because he considered her among the best America had to offer.

    One of the first female pilots in the Air Force, she was a hard-charger with an unblemished reputation for honesty, a high profile in the Pentagon and a commitment to the U.S. goal of creating a democracy in the Middle East.

    Today, Olson is at the center of accusations of audacious impropriety in the corruption-plagued reconstruction of Iraq.

    She is accused of profiting from the post-invasion chaos by using her position to benefit a private security firm that she helped operate, according to interviews and government documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

    Pentagon investigators allege that while on active duty as one of the most powerful figures in Iraq, Olson established a U.S. branch of a South African security firm after helping it win more than $3 million in contracts to provide protection for senior U.S. and British officials, as well as for KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co.

    Olson, 48, has spent more than a year fighting the charges. In military proceedings last year, she denied abusing her position to enrich herself or the security company, but agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges. She was reprimanded and allowed to resign from the Air Force with an honorable discharge and no reduction in rank. Olson was also banned from receiving further government contracts for three years. She is appealing the ban.

    To her defenders, including Garner and other prominent people, Olson’s troubles are evidence that Washington regulators are imposing unreasonable standards of conduct for a war zone. Friends described Olson as a problem solver who moved from crisis to crisis and who was punished for her effort to get things done in a chaotic environment.

    Olson’s legal file is packed with endorsements and letters of recommendations from Garner and his successor as U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, as well as from top military and civilian officials in Iraq and Washington. Some worry the action against her is an overzealous prosecution that might impinge on reconstruction efforts.

    Government officials “are going over there with the best of intentions, and they’re coming back and being grilled,” said Bob Polk, who was the director of plans for Garner. “It will have a chilling effect the next time.”

    But government investigators say Olson took advantage of her position for personal gain and made a mockery of U.S. efforts to establish the rule of law in a country long ruled by corrupt autocrats. Olson is the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be accused of wrongdoing in connection with the reconstruction.

    Olson did not respond to requests for an interview, but she supplied by e-mail a point-by-point response to the charges against her. The e-mail said the military’s version of events contained “numerous factual statements and conclusions that are not accurate.”

    In interviews, Garner defended his former aide, saying he thought she was trying to carry out his orders to help his personal bodyguards find work in Iraq.

    “Kim Olson is one of the most honest people that I’ve ever known,” said Garner, who was in charge of the first occupation government in Iraq, known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. “I don’t think she got a proper hearing.”

    The previously undisclosed Olson case is the latest controversy over corruption allegations involving private security contractors in Iraq.

    It also points up the chaotic beginnings of the reconstruction, plagued from its start by accusations of waste and fraud.

    In January 2003, Garner, a retired Army general turned defense contractor, was chosen by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to lead the reconstruction effort in Iraq. Olson, a senior official in the Pentagon’s comptroller office, was initially assigned to work on financial matters, but Garner soon made her his executive officer, impressed by her can-do attitude, he said.

    As Garner assembled his team in Kuwait in mid-March in preparation for moving into Iraq, he found that he would need private security to protect him and other senior U.S. officials. Garner asked for military protection, but was told there would not be enough troops available.

    more here

  • Baghdad teachers beheaded in front of students
    Gunmen brutally kill teachers at 2 primary schools; 8 slain in other attacks

    MSNBC News Services
    Updated: 11:35 a.m. ET April 19, 2006
    BAGHDAD, Iraq – Separate groups of gunmen entered two primary schools in Baghdad on Wednesday and beheaded two teachers in front of their students, the Ministry of State for National Security said.

    “Two terrorist groups beheaded two teachers in front of their students in the Amna and Shaheed Hamdi primary schools in Shaab district in Baghdad,” a ministry statement said.

    A ministry official said he believed the attacks were aimed at “intimidating pupils and disrupting learning.”

    8 others killed

    In other violence, two roadside bombs exploded in the capital, killing at least two bystanders and wounding 15 people. Gunmen in Baghdad killed at least six other people.

    One bomb targeting a police patrol blew up in the western neighborhood of Harthiya, killing one civilian and injuring 11 people, including two policemen and an Iraqi soldier, police said.

    The other exploded near the al-Kindi hospital in eastern Baghdad, killing one civilian and wounding four others, police said.

    In three separate attacks, gunmen in the southern neighborhood of Dora killed a construction worker, trade ministry employee and three power plant workers who had been snatched from their car an hour earlier, police said. At least two cars were stolen in the attacks. Police were investigating whether the attacks were linked.

    In Baghdad’s west Amariyah district, gunmen killed a medic as he walked from house to house administering vaccinations, police said.

    A car bomb exploded in the city of Baqouba, wounding two civilians. Police had earlier received a call about a body in the car, which they retrieved moments before the blast, officials said.

    In the southeastern suburb of Rustamiyah, police discovered five bodies of Iraqis, handcuffed and blindfolded. Late Tuesday, police had found 11 corpses in various parts of the capital.

    Also late Tuesday, five foreigners, including an Egyptian, were killed as they drove near a village 31 miles southwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, police said. Officials declined to reveal the nationalities of the other four victims.

    more here

  • Iraq police, US deny teachers beheaded at school
    19 Apr 2006 15:50:36 GMT

    Source: Reuters

    (Adds US spokesman’s comment, residents)

    BAGHDAD, April 19 (Reuters) – Iraqi police and the U.S. military said on Wednesday they had no evidence to back a government report that gunmen beheaded two teachers in front of their students at Baghdad primary schools.

    Iraq’s Ministry of State for National Security said on Wednesday two groups of gunmen entered two primary schools in Baghdad and beheaded two teachers in front of their students.

    “Two terrorist groups beheaded two teachers in front of their students in the Amna and Shaheed Hamdi primary schools in Shaab district in Baghdad,” a ministry statement said.

    An official in the ministry’s press office also confirmed the report.

    But the U.S. military cast doubt on it.

    “There is no evidence that this happened. The Interior Ministry dispatched Iraqi police to the schools and talked to the guards,” said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Johnson.

    Police Major Kassim Ahmed told a Reuters reporter who went to the scene his unit was acting on a false tip: “This is not true. It is made up.”

    Residents of the area in Baghdad’s Shaab district also said they were not aware of any such attacks.

  • …as a global indicator of troop levels. This is the type of job generally handed to the D-boys (not quite sure how much time DEVGRU or whatever the heck they’re calling it this week spends doing this sort of stuff, but I know Delta does have this role as a tasking) when the manpower’s available. There’s only three squadrons in the unit and they were heavily, heavily tasked already – they were a big part of Task Force 121, probably had some folks still tasked to Afghanistan even though it wasn’t their main focus, I’m sure had some various dispersed “team tasks”, and still had to maintain capability for their primary counter-terror role. If I had had to make the call, I’da made the same one – close protection is one role that can actually be handed off to private sector folks fairly readily.

    “We declared war on terror, it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.” – Jon Stewart.

  • but I really think security should have been assigned to the military. Just like base protection. We pay our military to protect us but then we pay someone else to protect the military? Sounds like a Karzai type of thing. ;)It just does not compute for me I guess.

  • Should Batiste have criticized Rumsfeld? 1st ID troops weigh in

    By Geoff Ziezulewicz, Stars and Stripes
    Mideast edition, Thursday, April 20, 2006

    With former 1st Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. John Batiste joining the handful of retired generals calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, some 1st ID troops who served under Batiste in Iraq differed in their opinion of the former commander’s criticism.

    Last week, Batiste echoed about a half-dozen other retired generals who have gone public with what they characterize as Rumsfeld’s mismanagement of the war in Iraq and micromanagement of military affairs in general.

    The head of the Pentagon is in need of a “fresh start,” Batiste said in an interview with CNN. “It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense.”

    Batiste commanded the 1st ID through an Iraq deployment in 2004 and 2005. Some 1st ID soldiers interviewed by Stars and Stripes this week defended their former division leader and the right he has to criticize Rumsfeld, while others said it does not help the war effort.

    None, however, would state how they feel about the content of Batiste’s criticism.

    Some soldiers and officers agreed to speak with Stripes only on condition of anonymity.

    “He can say whatever the hell he wants to say,” said one 1st ID officer outside the shoppette at Würzburg’s Leighton Barracks. “He was a great commander, and he genuinely cared for the soldiers. And once you’re a civilian you can say anything you want. That’s freedom of speech.”

    Some soldiers have been talking about the “bashing” among themselves, the officer said.

    One staff sergeant at Leighton said Batiste and the others have gone about airing their grievances in the wrong way.

    “[Batiste] should call [Rumsfeld] up and tell him to his face,” he said.

    Something is wrong when subordinates don’t tell their commanders what is going on, said 1st ID Sgt. Robert Perez, a member of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment.

    “We paint the battlefield for them, and they should do the same,” he said, adding that the criticism from Batiste and other generals came too late to help the war effort in Iraq. “I don’t agree with it, not this late in the game. It’s just not valid anymore.”

    The military urges noncommissioned and commissioned officers to keep their commanders apprised of combat conditions, and the generals who advise Rumsfeld, Perez said, should repeat that frankness.

    Also at Ledward on Wednesday, 1st ID Staff Sgt. Shawn Brooks said it was not right for Batiste to speak out against Rumsfeld.

    “I think it will hurt morale,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair for them to criticize, especially being at war.”

    Even though Batiste and the other generals are retired, they are still primarily identified and affiliated with the military, Brooks said.

    “For someone who’s recently served, it has more of an impact,” he said. “If it was someone from 10 years ago, that would be different.”

    While the words of the former 1st ID commander are being talked about in GI circles to some extent, many soldiers aren’t too concerned, said a private first class from the 3rd Brigade at Ledward.

    “Lower enlisted don’t care about politics,” he flatly stated.

    But three 1st ID, 2nd Brigade NCOs spending a lunch break outside at Ledward said Wednesday that they were glad to see Batiste speak up.

    “A lot of us that do fall under the political ring are happy that someone is standing up for something,” said one sergeant first class. “We finally have people standing up and getting our backs.”

    The NCOs were evasive on what they thought of Batiste’s critique in particular.

    “President Bush is still our commander in chief,” one sergeant first class said before adding, “I back Gen. Batiste 100 percent.”

    Regardless of the criticisms, many deployed troops don’t have time for the wordplay that goes on stateside, said one of the NCOs.

    “We don’t give a [expletive] who’s in the White House,” he said. “We’re trying to come home.”

    After stating that she respected Batiste and Rumsfeld, Spc. Hope Nisbet of the 1st ID’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company said that the criticism leveled by Batiste should not have a demoralizing effect on soldiers.

    “It gives us an opportunity to examine our thoughts and how we feel about it,” Nisbet said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to grow.”

  • Day 2,027 of the Iraq War…

    [According to the Pasadena Weekly]

    As of Tuesday, day 2,027 of the Iraq War…

    * 2,379 American soldiers have been reported killed in Iraq.
    * 17,648 have been reported wounded in action.
    * 34,493 is the minimum number of civilian casualties in Iraq.
    * $255 billion in taxpayer funds have been spent on the war, enough to have provided more than 153 million children with health insurance for one year.

    Since the last Count…

    * 19 more American soldiers have been reported killed in Iraq.
    * 99 more American soldiers have been reported wounded in action.
    * 463 more Iraqi civilians have been reported killed.
    * 6 retired generals have publicly called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The generals calling for his resignation are critical of the way Rumsfeld has handled the war in Iraq, but the Bush administration has dismissed the criticism, saying that Rumsfeld has no plans to resign.

  • Al-Jaafari Clears Shiites to Replace Him

    BAGHDAD, Iraq, Apr. 20, 2006

    (AP) Embattled Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari cleared the way Thursday for Shiite leaders to withdraw his nomination for a second term, a step that could mark a breakthrough in the months-long effort to form a new government.

    Shiite lawmakers planned to meet Saturday to decide whether to replace al-Jaafari, who faced fierce opposition from Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni Arab parties.

    “The alliance is leaning toward changing (the nomination). The majority opinion is in favor of this,” said Bassem Sharif, a lawmaker in the seven-party Shiite coalition.

    The move represents the first sign that al-Jaafari has abandoned his quest to keep the prime minister’s post, only a day after he had repeated his steadfast refusal to step down.

    The United States had put strong pressure on the Shiites to resolve the standoff to quickly form a government able to stabilize Iraq amid increasing sectarian violence.

    The dramatic announcement was made shortly before a planned session of the Iraqi parliament to try to jump-start formation of a new government. The Shiites asked that the session be postponed until Saturday or Sunday, after they resolve the issue of al-Jaafari’s nomination, said Shiite official Ridha Jawad Taqi.

    But the deputy parliament speaker, Aref Tayfour, told reporters the session would be held Thursday, though it would likely be brief. “It is almost certain that it will adjourn and be held at the beginning of the next week, most probably Sunday,” he said.

    Parliament has met only once since the Dec. 15 election. The assembly convened March 16 and adjourned after members took their oath of office.

    Jawad al-Maliki, spokesman for the prime minister’s Dawa party, told reporters that “circumstances and updates had occurred” prompting al-Jaafari to refer the nomination back to the alliance “so that it take the appropriate decision.”

    Al-Maliki said the prime minister was not stepping down but “he is not sticking to this post.”

    Al-Maliki and another leading Dawa politician, Ali al-Adeeb, have been touted as possible replacements for al-Jaafari.

    The largest bloc in parliament, with 130 lawmakers, the Shiite alliance gets to name the prime minister subject to parliament approval. But the Shiites lack the votes in the 275-member parliament to guarantee their candidate’s approval unless they have the backing of the Sunnis and Kurds, whom they need as partners to govern.

    The Sunnis and Kurds, however, rejected al-Jaafari, blaming him for the recent rise in secular tensions in Iraq.

    Al-Jaafari won the alliance nomination two months ago by only one vote, relying on support from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

    With the deadlock dragging on, more Shiite lawmakers have shown a willingness to dump him _ though they have been reluctant to do so overtly and break the coalition. Al-Jaafari, meanwhile, repeatedly refused to step aside, saying as recently as Wednesday that doing do was “out of the question.”

    President Bush on Wednesday urged the Iraqis to “step up and form a unity government so that those who went to the polls to vote recognize that a government will be in place to respond to their needs.”

    Resolution of the prime minister issue could smooth the way for filling other posts, including the president, two vice presidents, parliament speaker and the two deputy speakers. The Shiites could block Sunni and Kurdish candidates for those positions in retaliation for the standoff over al-Jaafari.

    Late Wednesday, the Sunnis decided to support Adnan al-Dulaimi for speaker, a post held by a Sunni Arab in the last parliament.

    Thursday’s parliament session was intended to vote on the parliament speaker and his deputies. But in the wake of al-Jaafari’s announcement, the Shiite coalition said it would not attend and asked that the session be put off until the weekend.

    Parliament leaders were meeting to decide whether to hold the session. Lawmakers have met briefly only once since the Dec. 15 election.

    Iraqi leaders are under enormous pressure from the United States and Britain to form a new national unity government to stem the country’s slide toward chaos and enable Washington and London to show political progress to electorates becoming ever more skeptical of Iraq policy.

    Sectarian tensions have been running high since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra and the reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics that followed.


    The Associated Press
    Friday, April 21, 2006

    BAGHDAD, Iraq — Shiite politicians agreed Friday to nominate Jawad al-Maliki as prime minister, replacing the incumbent in a bid to clear the way for a long-delayed new government, two Shiite officials said.

    Al-Maliki is a top ally of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose nomination had sparked sharp opposition from Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders and caused a deadlock lasting months.

    Iraqi President Jalal Talabani addresses a press conference Thursday April 20, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi political parties agreed to postpone their scheduled parliament session until Saturday as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari cleared the way for Shiite leaders to withdraw his nomination for a second term Thursday, a step that could mark a breakthrough in the months-long effort to form a new government.

    Three Years of WarThree Years of War

    Three years after U.S.-led troops invaded Iraq, the country is still struggling to find peace, repair war damage and form a permanent government.

    Leaders of the seven parties that make up the Shiite alliance agreed on al-Maliki’s nomination in a meeting Friday evening, said Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest party in the alliance.

    Al-Maliki won the nomination with agreement from six of the parties, said another SCIRI official, Ridha Jawad Taqi. The seventh party, Fadhila, had presented its own candidate, but only five of seven parties were needed to win a “consensus” agreement on a nominee.

    The Shiite nominee is to be presented to a session of parliament on Saturday.

    If Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties accept al-Maliki _ and some have indicated they will _ it could be a breakthrough in the two-month standoff that has prevented the forming of a national unity government.

    Al-Maliki is one of the top figures in al-Jaafari’s Dawa party and has often appeared as his spokesman. Still, little is known about him since he fled Iraq in the 1980s, settling in Syria and working in Dawa’s political office. He returned to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

    SCIRI and other parties in the alliance had initially expressed opposition to al-Maliki because it feared he would be unacceptable to Sunni Arabs.

    Al-Maliki was a top official in the commission in charge of purging members of Saddam’s ousted Baath Party from the military and government. Sunnis, who made up the backbone of the Baath Party, consider the commission a means of squeezing them out of influence in post-Saddam Iraq.

    But the Dawa party warned of further problems within the alliance if al-Maliki were rejected after Dawa leader al-Jaafari was forced to give up the nomination.

    Sunnis appeared willing to take al-Maliki, after fiercely opposing a second term for al-Jaafari, who bowed out Thursday.

    “If anyone is nominated except al-Jaafari, we won’t put any obstacles in his way. He will receive our support,” Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the main Sunni Arab coalition in parliament, told The Associated Press.


  • Iraq Shia alliance selects new PM candidate
    By Steve Negus, Iraq correspondent
    Published: April 21

    Iraqi political leaders moved closer to creating a new government on Friday with the nomination of a new prime minister.

    Jawad al-Maliki was selected to replace the incumbent Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose candidacy met fierce opposition from rival Sunni and Kurdish politicians. Mr Maliki was chosen after a meeting of the seven Shia parties in the United Iraqi Alliance – the largest block in parliament. It had previously supported Mr Jaafari’s nomination.

    If he is accepted by other non-Shia parties it is likely to be a breakthrough in Iraq’s four-and-a-half-month political crisis, which has seen sectarian violence flare and governmental decision-making reportedly stall.

    Mr Jaafari had also been under increasing pressure from both the US and UK to move ahead on forming a government.

    The U-turn paves the way, on Saturday, for the first substantive session of parliament since the December 15 elections and the eventual creation of a national unity government. Iraqi leaders said earlier this week that today’s session should also see the announcement of the president and speaker of parliament, although the distribution of ministerial posts – a source of tension between the parties – may take some time.

    The name of Mr Maliki, a close ally of Mr Jaafari and a member of his Dawa party, has circulated for several weeks as a possible replacement. Yesterday Sunni and Kurdish leaders welcomed him as a potential end to the stalemate.

    “We have no objection to Jawad al-Maliki,” said Iyad al-Samarrai, of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic party. “Although there is not much difference [from Mr Jaafari] from the ideological point of view, we have a feeling he is more practical, more willing to solve problems. We don’t want to complicate the process [further]. It’s better to move on.’’

    Independent Kurdish politician Mahmoud Osman said: “We don’t object as the Kurdistan coalition . . . We hope he will succeed. It’s about time to move forward.’’

    Kurds and Sunnis first objected to Mr Jaafari remaining in the prime minister’s post in February, accusing him of Shia “sectarianism’’ and of failing to keep his commitments. But the 55-year old former doctor had refused to back down.

    In recent days however, Shia politicians reportedly came under pressure from venerated cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to end the deadlock.

    Financial Times

    See Juan Cole, Saturday, April 22, 2006 for an analysis of the selection.

    “The candidate for president will be Jalal Talabani. The candidate for speaker of the house will be Mahmud al-Mashadani from the Iraqi Accord Front (fundamentalist Sunni Arab).”

    Noteworthy, by Hamed el-Hmoud Next Iraqi Government and Shiite Militias

    Associated Press

    Baghdad — Iraq’s president formally designated Shiite politician Jawad al-Maliki to form a new government Saturday, starting a process aimed at healing ethnic and religious wounds and pulling the country out of insurgency and sectarian strife.

    The move ends months of political deadlock among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that threatened to drag the country into civil war. Al-Maliki has 30 days to present his cabinet to parliament for approval.

    Parliament elected President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to a second term and gave the post of parliament speaker to Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab. Mr. al-Mashhadani’s two deputies were to be Khalid al-Attiyah, a Shiite, and Aref Tayfour, a Kurd.

    The tough-talking Mr. al-Maliki was nominated by the Shiites on Friday after outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari gave up his bid for another term. Mr. al-Jaafari’s attempt to stay in office was adamantly opposed by Sunnis and Kurds, causing a months-long deadlock while the country’s security crisis worsened in the wake of December’s election.

    U.S. and Iraqi officials hope that a national unity government representing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will be able to quell both the Sunni-led insurgency and bloody Shiite-Sunni violence that has raged during the political uncertainty. If it succeeds, it could enable the U.S. to begin withdrawing its 133,000 troops.

    White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Bush administration is hopeful that the latest political developments in Iraq will lead to significant progress in forming a permanent government.

    “We hope to see good progress in the coming days,” Mr. McClellan told reporters travelling with U.S. President George W. Bush to California. “We’ll be watching.”

    Suspected insurgents, meanwhile, set off two bombs in a public market in central Iraq, killing at least two Iraqis and wounding 17. The second blast was timed to hit emergency crews arriving at the scene.

    The first bomb exploded at 7:30 a.m. in the middle of Muqdadiyah, about 100 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, causing a large fire, police said.

    When fire engines arrived, the second bomb went off, killing a firefighter and a civilian, and wounding 17 civilians, police said.

    The bullet-ridden bodies of 10 Iraqis were found in and around Baghdad, many blindfolded with their hands and legs bound in rope. Some appeared to have been tortured, and one had been decapitated, police said.

    Police also found a body with signs of torture floating in the Tigris River in Kut, 160 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, said Hadi al-Ittabi, an employee of the Kut Forensic Centre.

    In Baghdad, gunmen in a speeding car sprayed a police patrol with machine-gun fire, killing one officer, police said. Gunmen killed a civilian riding in a car, and a roadside bomb wounded two policemen, police said.

    On Friday, at least 22 Iraqis were killed, including six in a car bombing in Tal Afar in western Iraq and six off-duty Iraqi soldiers slain in Beiji in northern Iraq, police said.

    An Australian soldier shot himself in the head in a “tragic accident” inside Baghdad’s Green Zone housing the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government buildings, Australian defence officials said Saturday.

    He was the Australian military’s first casualty since the Iraq war began in 2003. Last year, an Australian-British citizen serving in Britain’s Royal Air Force was killed.

    Mr. al-Maliki has a reputation as a hardline, outspoken defender of the Shiite stance — raising questions over whether he will be able to negotiate the delicate sectarian balancing act.

    From exile in Syria in the 1980s and 1990s, he directed Dawa guerrillas fighting Saddam Hussein’s regime. Since returning home after Saddam’s fall, he has been a prominent member of the commission purging former Baath party officials from the military and government.

    Sunni Arabs, who made up the backbone of Saddam’s ousted party, deeply resent the commission.

    Mr. al-Maliki also was a tough negotiator in drawn-out deliberations over the new constitution passed last year despite Sunni Arab objections. He resisted U.S. efforts to put more Sunnis on the drafting committee as well as Sunni efforts to water down provisions giving Shiites and Kurds the power to form semiautonomous mini-states in the north and south.

    Sunnis and Kurds blamed the rise of sectarian tensions on Mr. al-Jaafari, saying he failed to rein in Shiite militias and Interior Ministry commandos, accused by the Sunnis of harbouring death squads. Those parties refused to join any government headed by al-Jaafari.

    Mr. al-Jaafari, prime minister since April 2005, was nominated by the alliance for a second term in February by a one-vote margin, relying on support from radical, anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

    The new prime minister nominee will now face the task of putting together a national unity government.

    One source of conflict is likely to be the powerful Interior Ministry, which currently is held by SCIRI. Sunnis probably will push for a change and demand the uprooting of Shiite militias from the ministry’s security forces.

    Globe and Mail

  • Roadside bombs kill 5 U.S. soldiers in Iraq
    22 Apr 2006 19:23:42 GMT

    Source: Reuters

    (updates with 5th death)

    BAGHDAD, April 22 (Reuters) – Two roadside bombs attacks killed five U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Saturday, the U.S. military said.

    Four died when their combat patrol south of Baghdad was hit by a bomb, the military said in a statement.

    A fifth soldier died on Saturday night after being hit in a separate bomb attack south of Baghdad, a military spokeswoman said.

    No further details were available.

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