Iraq update – April 9 – April 16

Iraqi construction workers killed
April 14

BBC – Seven Iraqi workers with a construction company have been killed in the southern city of Basra, police say.

Ten employees were handcuffed and blindfolded and taken to a residential area in the northern part of the city.

They were lined up against a wall to be shot. Seven of them were killed, but three managed to escape.

In other violence in Iraq:

* Two US marines are killed and 22 wounded in fighting in western Anbar province on Thursday, the US military says

* At least four people die in separate bomb attacks on two Sunni mosques in Baquba. The attacks came as worshippers left the mosques after midday Friday prayers

* Two Iraqis are killed and four British servicemen wounded when a British military convoy is attacked by a suicide car bomber in Basra on Friday

* A suicide bomber attacks a police station in the northern city of Mosul, wounding six people, including five policemen.

MAP: “US MILITARY ASSESSMENT OF STABILITY IN IRAQ” after the jump


US MILITARY ASSESSMENT OF STABILITY IN IRAQ

Ratings based on governance, security and economic situations:

Stable: Fully-functioning government; strong economic development; local security forces maintain rule of law
Moderate: Government functions, but with some concerns; economy developing slowly, with unemployment problems; security under control but with potential for instability
Serious: Government not fully formed; economy stagnant; unemployment high; routine anti-Iraq forces activity, assassinations and extremism
Critical: Government not functioning or only single strong leader; no infrastructure for economy to develop; high levels of anti-Iraq forces activity, assassinations and extremism
Assessment made in January 2006. Sectarian violence in Iraq has surged since February
Last Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006, 22:27 GMT 23:27 UK

Deaths of U.S. Soldiers Climb Again in Iraq
Edward Wong | Baghdad | April 12

NYT – The American military on Tuesday announced the deaths of five soldiers, bringing the number of troops killed this month to at least 32. That figure already surpasses the American military deaths for all of March.

When 31 service members died last month, it was the second lowest monthly death toll of the war for the Americans, and the fifth month in a row of declining fatalities, according to statistics from the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, an independent organization.

But deaths have begun to soar. Many of the fatalities this month have taken place in the parched Anbar Province, the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency. The province was rated “critical” in a confidential report written recently by the American Embassy and the military command in Baghdad. Though sectarian violence has recently overshadowed anti-American attacks in much of central Iraq, there are relatively few Shiites in Anbar, so much of the insurgency’s venom is directed at the Americans there.

The military said three soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb explosion north of Baghdad on Tuesday. A soldier died Monday from wounds sustained the previous day in combat in Anbar, and a soldier was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb near Balad.

As the insurgency raged, political tirades burst forth in the capital on Tuesday. Incensed by what he called anti-Shiite remarks from the Egyptian president, the Iraqi prime minister said Tuesday that Iraq would boycott a conference of Middle East foreign ministers in Cairo on Wednesday.

The prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is fighting to keep his job, said at a news conference that the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, had defamed Iraq and its majority Shiite population by saying in a television interview last Saturday that the Shiites here are more loyal to Iran than to Iraq.

Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
Thomas Ricks | Washington | April 10

WaPo – The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Update – Centcom’s response – ”œA recent article citing a military briefing from 2004 has called into question the threat that Abu Musab Zarqawi and Al Qaeda in Iraq pose to Iraq, dismissing it as ”˜propaganda’ ”“ nothing could be further from the truth.

U.S. Study Paints Somber Portrait of Iraqi Discord
Eric Schmitt & Edward Wong | April 9 | Washington

NYT – An internal staff report by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq’s political, economic and security situation, rating the overall stability of 6 of the 18 provinces “serious” and one “critical.” The report is a counterpoint to some recent upbeat public statements by top American politicians and military officials.

The Full Report

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  • Michael Georgy | Baghdad | April 9

    Reuters – Iraq’s acting speaker of parliament said on Sunday he would call on the assembly to convene in the next few days, raising the possibility that political deadlock over a new prime minister may be broken.

    “The Iraqi people are impatiently waiting for this issue to be resolved. When the parliament convenes it will be possible to start the steps to form a national unity government,” Adnan Pachachi told a news conference.

    His announcement was the first public sign of a possible breakthrough for Shi’ite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders who are struggling to form a unity government four months after parliamentary elections.

    Pachachi did not say whether the assembly would vote on a prime minister and there was no suggestion that Ibrahim al- Jaafari would finally agree to widespread calls for him to step aside as the main Shi’ite Alliance’s nominee.

    The United States and Britain are pinning their hopes on a national unity government to defuse an Arab Sunni insurgency and ease sectarian bloodshed still plaguing Iraq on the third anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has angered Iraqi leaders by saying that civil war had started in their country.

    The government criticized Mubarak on Sunday, referring to his comments as “a stab in the patriotism and culture” of Iraqi Shi’ites, even if it was unintended.

    MUBARAK CAUSES TENSIONS

    Mubarak said in his comments broadcast on al Arabiya satellite channel Saturday, that Shi’ites in Arab states were more loyal to Iran than their own countries, echoing accusations by Iraqi Sunnis about their Shi’ite leaders in their country.

    Prime Minister Jaafari, a Shi’ite, said his government had instructed the Iraqi foreign minister to seek clarification from Egypt on the remarks.

    The diplomatic tensions came after three consecutive days of bombings on Shi’ite targets killed about 100 people in Iraq, which is 60 percent Shi’ite

    Sectarian violence has been on the rise since the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in February touched off reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

    Progress on the political front rests in the hands of the Shi’ite Allliance, whose leaders were in talks on Sunday on how they will proceed on the issue of Jaafari.

    As the biggest bloc in parliament, the Alliance has the constitutional right to nominate a prime minister. It needs a simple majority to push through its candidate.

    Jaafari won the nomination by one vote and he now faces public pressure from senior Alliance officials to step aside.

    “The chances of Jaafari staying are getting slim,” said a senior Alliance source. But not all Alliance officials support that view, underscoring the bloc’s divisions.

    Any further indecision could undermine plans to hold the parliament session soon.

    If that happens, Iraqis can only look forward to political paralysis as their country counts more bodies on their streets, victims of sectarian killings showing signs of torture.

    After looking back over the three years since U.S. troops captured Baghdad, Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlak had a grim view of the future.

    “We are at the edge of sectarian war. Many groups are pushing toward this war,” he said.

    canuck April 9, 2006 – 10:31am posted in News Queue

  • Ahmed Rasheed | Baghdad | April 9

    “Three years after Saddam was toppled I am unable to stay up late at night to walk in the street with my family,” he said.

    Reuters – When the giant statue of Saddam Hussein came crashing down in Baghdad’s Paradise Square, its iconic fall seemed to herald the end to decades of repression.

    Three years after Baghdad fell to U.S invasion troops, the ousted leader is on trial for war crimes. But fear still grips Iraqis, now trying to survive sectarian death squads, suicide bombings and violent criminals.

    “When I heard the Americans ripped down the statue of Saddam I was happy because I thought we were finished with his stupid wars,” said traffic policeman Ali Jabar, 34.

    “But If I knew that I would lose my younger brother to a car bomb, I would have preferred to stay under Saddam’s rule”

    Such gloom was never part of Washington’s script for Iraq, when the administration of President Bush promised to replace a brutal dictatorship with a prosperous democracy that could help transform the Middle East.

    These days Firdos (paradise) square is a high security risk. Suicide bombers have rammed their way through cement blast walls around it hoping to blow up hotels housing the same western journalists, whose companies filmed the fall of Saddam’s statue.

    An Iraqi photographer in Firdos square on the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad was quickly approached by three men with pistols who told him not to take too many photographs. The square has been targeted by insurgents several times.

    Some Iraqis around Firdos square had no idea it was the third anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

    WHAT STATUE?

    Jabar al-Hilfi was one of the few people in the square on Sunday. The 67-year-old municipal worker — who was cutting the grass with a knife — said he barely had the energy to get on with his job let alone reminisce about falling statues.

    “What statue do you mean? We have only seen devastation and death since the fall of Saddam. This country is doomed to see agony and sadness. Look at me I can’t even feed my family,” he said.

    (snip)
    originally posted by Canuck as story
    canuck April 9, 2006 – 10:56am

  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4892784.stm

    Iraq angered by civil war warning
    BBC News | Baghdad | April 9

    BBC News – Iraqi leaders have strongly criticised Egypt’s president after he said Iraq was on the verge of a civil war.

    Exactly three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, there is growing disagreement over whether Iraq has descended into civil war.

    Many say the risk of such a conflict would be reduced with the formation of a national unity government.

    Talks on the issue are deadlocked and there was little hope that Shia leaders meeting on Sunday would resolve it.

    They are trying to overcome the political impasse over whether Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari retains the support of his Shia bloc.

    Since the December elections, Mr Jaafari’s nomination has been one of the main sticking points in coalition talks with Kurds and Sunnis, and many Shias are now calling for him to step down as candidate.

    Sectarian tensions

    The US military has said 1,313 Iraqi civilians were victims of sectarian violence in March. Some analysts believe the real figure is much higher, as many bodies are never found.

    On Sunday, Mr Jaafari – currently interim prime minister – appeared before reporters to dismiss suggestions made by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak that a civil war was imminent.

    [Mr Mubarak’s] comments have upset Iraqi people who come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds
    Ibrahim Jaafari

    Flanked by Sunni and Kurdish politicians, Mr Jaafari said: “We are astonished that Egypt identifies Iraq’s security problems as a civil war.”

    “Our people are still far away from any sectarian conflict or a civil war,” he added.

    “The comments have upset Iraqi people who come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds and have astonished and discontented the Iraqi government.”

    Mr Mubarak had told al-Arabiya TV on Saturday that civil war in Iraq “was on the doorstep”.

    “Civil war has almost started among Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and those who are coming from Asia,” he said.

    However, Iraq’s leaders appear to be divided on the issue.

    Speaking a day after suicide bombings in a Baghdad mosque left 90 dead, the deputy interior minister told the BBC on Saturday the country had been in a state of undeclared civil conflict for a year or more.

    This is a view rejected by both the US and Britain. UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said the whole situation is “very serious”, but civil war has been averted because of the restraint shown by Shia leaders.

    Sectarian tensions have been high since the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra in February.

    The delay in reaching agreement on a government is thought to be partly responsible for fuelling the violence.
    On 7 April, 2006, BBC News went behind the headlines in Iraq

  • http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200604/s1611868.htm

    Official admits Iraq is in state of civil war
    ABC News Online | Baghdad | April 8

    BBC – A senior official in the Iraqi government has for the first time said Iraq is in a state of civil war.

    The deputy interior minister, Hussein Ali Kamal, was speaking a day after suicide bombers killed at least 70 people at a Shiite mosque in Baghdad.

    A further 160 were injured when three suicide bombers struck the Bharatha mosque.

    Abdullah Haziz Akim, the leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite political grouping told a gathering of his supporters the aim of the attacks was to stop efforts to form a government of national unity.

    But he said everyone had to work together, including Iraq’s Sunnis to try to unify the country.

    Sunni extremists are being blamed for the attack and there is still real fear some Shiite groups will launch reprisals against the minority Sunni community

    – BBC

  • submitted by techadvisor

    The battle for Baghdad’s future
    John Ward Anderson and Jonatha | Baghdad | April 9

    The Washington Post – Three years after capital’s fall, city is pivotal to U.S. success in Iraq

    By John Ward Anderson and Jonathan Finer

    The Washington Post
    Updated: 11:32 a.m. ET April 9, 2006

    BAGHDAD – As American tanks rumbled into Baghdad three years ago, Omar al-Damaluji took to the streets of the bomb-battered city with an old Canon camera and a singular mission.

    An amateur photographer and civil engineering professor at Baghdad University, Damaluji crisscrossed the capital, ducking into doorways during firefights and snapping 15 rolls of film in two weeks. He knew his beloved Baghdad would never be the same, he recalled, and he wanted to document the transformation.

    “This is how it looked. This is how my city looked,” he said as he sat before a computer in his well-appointed study one recent afternoon, armed men manning a makeshift checkpoint on the quiet street outside. He clicked through before-and-after photographs of a government ministry, first shown with pristine white walls and a tidy yard, then with smoke billowing from a fractured roof.

    “It was never a paradise,” Damaluji, now 50, said with a sigh. “But Baghdad has become a wretched place.”

    Three years after U.S. forces swept Saddam Hussein’s government from power, car bombings and political assassination are near-daily occurrences. Neighborhoods, now torn along sectarian lines, are plagued by increasingly violent militias and dysfunctional public services, and occupied by tens of thousands of foreign troops. Some analysts are beginning to compare Baghdad with another Middle Eastern capital that was synonymous with anarchy and bloodshed in the 1970s and ’80s.

    “In Beirut when the civil war began, you had electricity 24 hours a day and running water all the time, and the air conditioning was working, and so were the elevators,” said Francois Heisbourg, a French military analyst. “In the case of Baghdad, it looks like Beirut after 10 years of civil war.”

    Focus on Baghdad
    U.S. officials here have predicted that 2006 will mark the battle for Baghdad, and both insurgent attacks and the effort to stop them are increasingly focused on this city of about 7 million people. Until the situation in the capital is normalized, they say, the United States will not be able to argue that it has brought peace and stability to Iraq.

    “As Baghdad goes, so goes the rest of the country,” said Michael P. Fallon, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Iraq reconstruction programs. “We are now consciously bumping up our efforts in the Baghdad area.”

    Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said that “if you think like the enemy,” the issues would be: “Where is the center of gravity for the people of Iraq? Where do I focus my effort? Where are my attacks going to have the most significant effects worldwide? So he’s focused on Baghdad.”

    Referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, Lynch said, “We’re convinced that Zarqawi now is zooming in on Baghdad.” And so is the United States. “There is indeed a focused effort on Baghdad, both for security and improvement of the basic conditions in Baghdad, so that by the end of 2006 you see a markedly different city,” Lynch said.

    When U.S. troops arrived here on April 9, 2003, they found a giddy and apprehensive capital and a weary populace that appeared willing to give them a chance. U.S. officials predicted that American troops would be welcomed as liberators and that the transfer of authority to new Iraqi leaders would be quick. Instead, a powerful anti-U.S. insurgency took root, led in part by homegrown backers of Hussein and in part by foreign fighters loyal to Zarqawi.

    Baghdad has borne the brunt of the bloodshed. According to a January tally by Iraq Body Count, a British antiwar group, more than 20,000 people have been killed in Baghdad since the March 2003 invasion, accounting for almost 60 percent of the group’s estimate of civilian deaths throughout Iraq. Roughly a quarter of the 2,350 U.S. military deaths in Iraq have occurred in the capital.

    Since the beginning of this year, there have been more than 2,500 violent incidents in Baghdad, according to statistics supplied by the U.S. military. They include more than 900 roadside bombings — about 10 per day — at least 84 car bombs, 70 cases of people firing rocket-propelled grenades, 55 drive-by shootings, hundreds of small-arms attacks and political and sectarian assassinations, and dozens of mortar, grenade and sniper attacks.

    “Weapons are spread in huge quantities among people. Strangers come from other areas to shoot and kill,” said Ahmed Salah, 28, a lawyer in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiyah. “To protect ourselves, people of our neighborhood started guarding the areas at night.”

    Hopes on Iraqi police
    In the most visible sign of the breakdown in law and order, unmarked cars with plainclothes gunmen hanging out the windows are commonplace. Members of private Western security companies, with no authority but their guns, commandeer entire roads, threatening to fire on anyone who approaches. Sectarian and ethnic militias control large neighborhoods, sometimes dressed in uniforms of the country’s security forces. Gunfire routinely breaks the silence; virtually no one is held accountable when someone is shot. On Saturday, an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was scheduled.

    more
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12230211/

  • Knight-Ridder reports that three commanding officers from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, USMC, have been relieved of duty following continued investigations into the circumstances surrounding the killing of 23 Iraqis by US Marines last November (covered in Agonist posts). Although no charges are yet filed, and the officers’ dismissals from their commands was said to be unrelated to the NCIS probe, “… [T]he Marines’ announcement didn’t tie the disciplinary actions directly to Haditha, saying only that Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, had lost confidence in the officers’ ability to command. They were relieved because of “multiple incidents that occurred throughout their deployment,” said Lt. Lawton King, a spokesman at the Marines’ home base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to which they recently returned. “This decision was made independent of the NCIS investigation.”
    http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/14298263.htm
    A story worth reading, as it reflects the precarious nature of life under an occupation and an insurgency/civil war for those Iraqis just trying to make it from day to day. I don’t recall if the Haditha operation has been since deemed a “success” as has the onslaught upon Tal Afar, but the continued brutalisation of both the occupation and the language used to describe it will reverberate throughout American life for years after this sordid period ends, much in the way Vietnam has and is.

  • Iraqi Soldiers Roll in Their Own Humvees

    By TODD PITMAN

    RAMADI, Iraq (AP) — The troops didn’t go far, the mission didn’t last long and the neighborhood wasn’t the most dangerous in town. But when Iraqi army troops moved out on a recent patrol in central Ramadi, they took a crucial step forward, rolling out in their own armored Humvees for the first time.

    Until now, this unit has mostly patrolled their small, relatively quiet slice of downtown on foot, leaving the worst parts of the turbulent city center to better-equipped U.S. troops.

    American commanders want Iraqi units to operate independently in the more dangerous downtown areas of Ramadi, about 75 miles west of Baghdad. But they lack equipment – especially proper transport. Though they have their own trucks, they rely heavily on U.S. forces to move around.

    In recent weeks, that’s begun to change.

    The Iraqi Defense Ministry has begun distributing armored Humvees to Iraqi units that look nearly identical to their tan-colored U.S. counterparts. The Iraqi vehicles are equipped with bulletproof glass and radios, painted outside with the Iraqi flag and chocolate chip camouflage markings.

    “This is a huge step,” said Marine 2nd Lt. Ryan Hub, who accompanied Iraqi troops on a foot patrol Friday while the Humvees provided back-up.

    Tracing a finger along a satellite map of central Ramadi, Hub circled a roughly one-square-mile area near the Marine base which the Iraqis patrol. He then pointed to other Marine-controlled zones he hoped Iraqis troops would soon patrol in Humvees.

    “It means we can extend their battle space,” said the 25-year-old from Sumter, S.C

    more

  • The Iraqi forces may be able to drive around the safe parts of town in their sparkly new Hummers, but they still have to rely on US forces to defend any important infrastructure in the town.

    I wonder if ‘extending their battle space’ will go as far as putting the Hummers in a position where they might actually get shot at.

  • The truth dawns on Bush
    As the Iraq disaster finally sinks in, will he accept a humiliating defeat — or launch a bloody battle to “secure Baghdad”?

    By Robert Dreyfuss

    April 10, 2006 | Too late, the urgency of the crisis in Iraq, and the sheer ugliness of its civil war, seems finally to be dawning on the Bush administration. As usual, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and their stalwart secretaries of state and defense, are Johnny-come-latelies in their ability to understand how far gone Iraq is. Perhaps, as has been the case in the past, that is because they continue flagrantly to disregard what they are told by analysts in the U.S. intelligence community. Before, during and after the invasion of Iraq, with a rising sense of alarm, the CIA, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and other agencies warned the Bush-Cheney team that the destruction of Iraq’s central government could tumble the country into a civil war. In 2004, of course, the president famously dismissed such CIA warnings as “just a guess.” Well, guess what, Mr. President? It’s civil war. And it isn’t pretty.

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a leading know-nothing on Iraq — it was her utter ignorance of the Middle East as national security advisor through 2004 that allowed the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal to get away with so much — jetted to Baghdad in a hurry over the weekend. She dragged along Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, gallantly sleeping on the floor of her own plane while giving him her bed. No doubt, the Rice-Straw voyage to Britain’s old colonial stomping grounds in Baghdad was the result of a panicky summons from the U.S. ambassador-cum-proconsul in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who seems to be at his wit’s end in trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube of Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic political puzzle. Ambassador Khalilzad spent most of 2005 cozying up to the religious Shiites of Iraq while thundering about the threat of a Sunni-led insurgency. Late last year, however, he began — imperceptibly at first, then with some speed — maneuvering to switch sides: first pledging to talk to the former Baathists and to Sunni resistance groups, then ordering U.S. troops to attack the most heinous outcroppings of the Shiite fundamentalists’ terror-torture-and-militias apparatus.

    Finally, in advance of summoning Rice, the ambassador threw down the gauntlet once and for all. Led by Khalilzad, the United States has definitively broken with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the hopelessly incompetent religious fanatic that Washington helped bring back to Iraq in the first place, installing him as puppet prime minister of the interim government created (after months of back stabbing and deal making) in the aftermath of the January 2005 elections. Khalilzad seems to have discovered what just about everyone else in Iraq already knew: that Jaafari is closely allied to the Iranians.

    In a recent interview in the Washington Post, Khalilzad slammed Iran and its Shiite allies, accusing the Iranian military and secret service of sponsoring the militias, paramilitary forces and death squads wreaking havoc in Baghdad and across southern Iraq. “Our judgment is that training and supplying, direct or indirect, takes place, and that there is also provision of financial resources to people, to militias, and that there is a presence of people associated with [Iran’s] Revolutionary Guard and with the MOIS,” he said, using the initials for Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Khalilzad spent much of last week busily delivering letters from President Bush — letters, no doubt, that he wrote himself, and persuaded the less-than-knowledge-based president then to sign — to various Iraqi political figures, in which Bush declared that the American empire no longer has any use for Jaafari’s services as prime minister. (Delivered to Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the guiding power behind Iraq’s Shiite religious party, the letter was officiously left unopened, and an aide to Sistani told reporters that the ayatollah was most unhappy with U.S. “meddling” in Iraqi politics. As if occupying the country with 130,000 troops isn’t meddling.)

    There are three points to make about the current American scramble to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in Baghdad.

    First, it is by no means certain that the United States can force the corrupt politicians of Iraq’s various parties — Shiite, Sunni and Kurd — to paper over their differences and announce the government of national unity that Khalilzad wants. The full-court press by the Americans is showing signs of having an effect, and Jaafari will eventually probably accede to U.S. pressure and step down. But whoever takes over, the government of Iraq will remain weak, divided and isolated inside Baghdad’s well-fortified Green Zone. It is and, until the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, will remain a collection of charlatans and quislings, leavened with separatist warlords such as the Barzanis and Talabanis of Kurdistan and Abdel Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

    What still holds them all together, and remains the only glue preventing Iraq from splitting into three separate states, is the self-interested greed of the warlords who have been installed by the American forces. None of them want to kill the golden goose that allows them to cash in on billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues and U.S. aid. Increasingly, however, that glue is losing its adhesive power. Iraq is succumbing to centrifugal pressures as more and more Iraqis identify with sectarian and ethnic affiliations. Under these circumstances, it is highly unlikely that even a new Iraqi government including Sunnis could put a halt to the Iraqi civil war.

    Second, the imperial treatment of Jaafari by the ambassador has shocked and stunned Iraqis, opponents and supporters alike. His public humiliation has been a blatant exercise of sheer American muscle, and it happened on the front pages of Iraq’s newspapers. It makes a mockery of President Bush’s alleged commitment to democracy. Paradoxically, since Jaafari — whose alliance with rebel cleric and warlord Muqtada al-Sadr remains strong — can now claim to have resisted American pressure, it will ultimately strengthen his political standing, since any Iraqi politician who opposes the United States becomes instantly popular. By the same token, whoever might now accept the job of prime minister, as Jaafari’s replacement, will take office under the shadow of the U.S. occupation that installed him, giving that new leader zero credibility. Power in Iraq comes not from acquiescing to American might, but from resisting it.

    Third, there is virtually no one in the ranks of the Shiite religious bloc who is any better than Jaafari. The leading replacement candidate from the Shiite alliance is Adel Abdel Mahdi, a chieftain of SCIRI with close ties to Iran’s intelligence service, who is an apologist for the Shiite militias and their death squads. During a recent visit to Washington, when I asked him about reports of Shiite killings, he justified death-squad activities as merely a response to killings by Sunni “terrorists.” He has also repeatedly demanded that Iraq’s Shiite-led police units be unleashed against the Sunnis, and of course the very center of the Shiite death-squad operations is the Interior Ministry, led by a SCIRI colleague. For reasons that are unclear, the United States seems to support Abdel Mahdi over Jaafari, perhaps because SCIRI is seen as an opponent of Sadr’s Mahdi army. Rather hilariously, the New York Times reports that Bush administration officials prefer to overlook Abdel Mahdi’s many years in Iran and instead view him as a “Western-educated proponent of free market economics.”

    Next page: The United States is now facing two robust insurgencies in Iraq

    page two here ~ you might have to watch an ad

  • U.S. Rejects Idea That Iraq Near Civil War

    Monday April 10, 2006 7:16 PM

    By BARRY SCHWEID

    AP Diplomatic Writer

    WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration on Monday rejected assertions by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a close Arab ally, that Iraq is descending into civil war.

    “That’s not our assessment,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. “We don’t share that assessment.”

    Mubarak said in a television interview Saturday that civil war “has almost started” in Iraq and that an American troop withdrawal would only make the situation worse.

    Mubarak also told the Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya that the unrest was Saddam Hussein’s fault and that “at the moment, Iraq is almost close to destruction.”

    Asked to respond, McCormack said, “Certainly, there are great difficulties in Iraq with respect to the security situation.” And yet, he said, “there is progress on the political front and on a variety of other fronts in Iraq.”

    “What we think is important is that the countries of the region, the leaders of the region, do everything they can to help the Iraqi people move forward the democratic political process that is under way,” McCormack said.

    Also, he said, Arab leaders should provide diplomatic support to Iraq and help Iraqis with their security challenges.

    McCormack acknowledged that Egypt was helping with some police training, and he then appeared to chide Mubarak.

    “We would certainly call upon every country to do everything that it possibly could in that regard, including the public diplomatic rhetoric,” he said.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-5746224,00.html

  • Sunni Arab leaders reaffirm opposition to prime minister, call for new candidates
    Baghdad April 10
    AP – Shiite politicians failed Monday to persuade Sunni Arabs and Kurds to soften their opposition to a second term for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leaving the Shiites with little choice but to replace him if they want to break the deadlock on a new government.

    But al-Jaafari’s supporters within the Shiite alliance showed no sign of backing down. Representatives of the seven parties within the alliance planned to meet Tuesday to discuss the standoff, which has blocked formation of a government of national unity.

    “For the alliance to make a change, it needs to have the support of five of the seven blocs within it,” said Salam al-Maliki, an al-Jaafari supporter. “This is impossible to secure.”

    Names mentioned as possible alternate nominees of the alliance include Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who lost the nomination to al-Jaafari by a single vote; deputy parliament speaker Hussain al-Shahristani, an independent; and Ali al-Adeeb and Jawad al-Maliki, members of the prime minister’s party.

    However, none of the alternatives was believed to have broad support among enough alliance factions to be guaranteed quick approval.

  • ‘Losing our country’ – Baghdad blogger

    Three years after US forces symbolically toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi capital, ‘Baghdad blogger’ Salam Pax says things look bleaker than ever for his country.

    “One of the tragedies of this ongoing war is that no one knows how many Iraqi lives have been lost.

    “And those of us who have survived so far now risk losing our country,” he told BBC Newsnight.

    Baghdad resident Mr Pax came to prominence documenting the Iraq war from an Iraqi perspective on his weblog.

    In taking stock of the situation three years on from the symbolic felling of the statue, Mr Pax says he is “more negative about the future than ever”.

    Bad experiences

    Even in the immediate aftermath of the war, he says, hope and excitement was tinged with fear.

    Many Iraqis were having bad experiences with the occupying forces
    Salam Pax

    “A lot was going on and it was amazing how quickly things were changing. For the first time everyone had access to satellite dishes, almost a 150 new newspapers and magazines and about a 100 new political parties suddenly appeared out of nowhere.”
    “But at the same time many Iraqis were having bad experiences with the occupying forces.”

    After the capture of Saddam Hussein, he says, “Saddam’s supporters had joined ranks with the Islamist insurgency”, and it was no longer just the occupying forces civilians had to fear.

    Iraqi identity

    Mr Pax says the country has become so deeply divided that any sense of national identity has been eroded.
    “I have a Sunni name from my father but my mother is a Shia and we are all Arabs.

    “If I want to visit the Shia south I feel safer when using my mother’s name. I am not very welcome in the Kurdish north because I’m Arab; in fact I need a permit just to go there.

    “All these are labels and all I want to be is an Iraqi – but there doesn’t seem to be such a thing any more.”

    more
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/4896654.stm

  • Tuesday, April 11, 2006
    By PATRICK COCKBURN

    BAGHDAD, Iraq — A cruel and bloody civil war has started in Iraq, a country that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to free from fear and establish democracy. I have been visiting Iraq since 1978, but for the first time, I am becoming convinced that the country will not survive.

    Three suicide bombers disguised themselves as women Friday and, with explosives hidden by long black cloaks, killed 79 people and wounded more than 160 when they blew themselves up in a Shiite mosque in the capital. One bomber came through the women’s security checkpoint at the Buratha mosque in northern Baghdad and detonated explosives just as worshippers were leaving at the end of Friday prayers.

    Two other bombers took advantage of the confusion to blow themselves up a few seconds later, killing the people who were trying to escape.

    The savage attack, the worst in months, came almost exactly on the third anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by American and British armies on April 9, 2003. The war was portrayed at the time as freeing Iraqis from fear, but Iraqi officials have told The Independent that at least 100 people are being killed in Baghdad every day.

    The slaughter of Shiite Muslims in the Buratha mosque probably will lead to revenge attacks against Sunni Arabs whose community harbors the Salafi and Jihadi fanatics, who see the Shiites as heretics. Ever since the bombing of the al-Askari Shrine in Samara on Feb. 22, the Shiite militias have retaliated whenever Shiites are killed.

    The bombing of the mosque, a religious complex linked to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, pushes Iraq well down the road to outright civil war between Sunni and Shiite Arabs. Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, the preacher in the Buratha mosque, declared: “The Shiite are the target and it’s a sectarian act. There is nothing to justify this act but black sectarian hatred.”

    Men screamed in anger and fear as they rolled the bodies of the dead onto wooden carts so they could be loaded into ambulances. “This is a cowardly act. Every time I see these bloody scenes it tears apart my heart,” said Jawwad Kathim, a fireman.

    It was the worst sectarian bombing for four months. The day before a car bomb exploded near the Shiite shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, killing 13 people.

    “My house is opposite to the mosque and when we heard the first blast I ran to make sure that my father, who was praying there, was safe,” Naba Mohsin said. “When I entered the mosque a second huge blast occurred and I saw a big blast with flames. I want to know if my father is alive.”

    I have been covering the war in Iraq ever since it began three years ago and I have never seen the situation so grim. More than a week ago, I was in the northern city of Mosul, protected by 3,000 Kurdish soldiers, but even so it was considered too dangerous to send out patrols in daytime. It is safer at night because of a curfew.

    In March alone, the U.S. military said 1,313 people were killed in sectarian attacks. Many bodies, buried in pits or thrown in the rivers, are never found.

    The real figure is probably twice as high. All over the country people are on the move as Sunnis and Shiites flee each other’s areas.

    I was in Lebanon at the start of the civil war in 1975. Baghdad today resembles Beirut then. People are being murdered solely because of their religious identity. A friend called to say he had a problem because his two half brothers had been born in Fallujah, the Sunni Muslim stronghold, and this was on their identity cards. If they were picked up by Shiite militiamen, a glance at their place of birth alone could get them killed.

    Fleeing one danger in Baghdad, it is easy to become victim of another.

    The friend had taken his mother and two sisters to the passport office in Baghdad so they could leave the country. While they were there, a bomb went off, killing 25 policemen outside and breaking his sister’s leg.

    Now the family cannot leave because his sister is in the hospital and his mother is too frightened to return to get a new passport.

    Bush and Blair have for the past three years continually understated the gravity of what is taking place. It has been frustrating as a journalist to hear them claim that much of Iraq is peaceful when we could not prove them wrong without being killed or kidnapped. The capture of Saddam in 2003, the handover of sovereignty in 2004, the elections and new constitution in 2005 have all been oversold to the outside world as signs of progress.

    The formation of a national unity government in Iraq is now being presented as an antidote to the violence. “Terrorists love a vacuum,” said British Defense Secretary John Reid, citing his experience in Northern Ireland. But one Iraqi official remarked that the three main communities — Sunni, Shiite and Kurds — do not hate one another because they do not have a government, but rather they do not have a government because they already hate one another.

    The coalition of Iraqi religious parties, the United Iraqi Alliance, won almost half the seats in the 275-member parliament in the election on Dec.15. They fear the United States and Britain are trying to break up the Shiite coalition. This is why they have resisted demands for Ibrahim al-Jaafari to stand down as prime minister. Even if a national unity government is formed, it will control very little. The army and police take their orders from the leaders of their own communities.

    Three years ago, when Saddam’s statue was toppled, Iraqis were promised their lives would get better. Instead Iraq has become the most dangerous place in the world.

    Iraq survival

    Juan Cole has praised this writer as telling it as it is Iraq.

    —–

    Alert Net.org

    Saudia Arabia also believes Iraq has turned into a civil war.

  • Egypt’s president said Shiites in Iraq more loyal to Iran than own country
    Apr. 11, 2006
    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    BAGHDAD — Iraq won’t participate in a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on efforts to stabilize the country because of comments by Egypt’s president questioning the loyalty of Shiites, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Tuesday.

    During an interview with Al-Arabiya television aired Saturday, President Hosni Mubarak angered Iraqi leaders by saying Shiites in Iraq and the Middle East are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. He also said Iraq was on the brink of civil war.

    “We have taken a decision not to participate in the conference” Wednesday, al-Jaafari said after criticizing Mubarak’s comments.

    Mubarak’s remarks reflected a concern among Arab countries that Iran has too much influence in Iraq and that its Shiite-majority Islamic theocracy could spill over onto into their largely Sunni countries. Iraq is one of the few Arab countries with a Shiite majority like Iran.

    “Definitely Iran has influence for Shiites,” Mubarak said in the interview. “Shiites are 65 per cent of the Iraqis. . . . Most of the Shiites are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in,” he added.

    Al-Jaafari, who is a Shiite, complained the Egyptians had still not provided a satisfactory explanation for the comments. He said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari would not take part in the Cairo meeting.

    “Shiite societies differ from one country to another,” al-Jaafari said in a nationally televised news conference. “Every Shiite society has its unique characteristics. I am surprised that this confusion would occur among intellectuals, especially a man with such stature as the president of the biggest Arab country.”

    Al-Jaafari said he hoped “this mistake can be corrected.”

    “We take pride in our Iraqi identity. This means we respect the other identities,” al-Jaafari said. “It is a strange thing that such comments would come from a country that we respect and appreciate. We cannot allow ourselves to be part of a country other than Iraq and we don’t allow anyone to accuse us of such.”

    Egyptian officials said the meeting of Arab foreign ministers planned for Wednesday to discuss Iraq would go ahead despite the absence of Baghdad’s foreign minister.

    “This has happened before, when meetings were held without the Iraqi brothers,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.

    Hundreds of Iraqis marched Tuesday in the southern city of Basra to protest Mubarak’s remarks.

    “No to Mubarak, yes to al-Jaafari,” the protesters chanted, carrying Iraqi flags and posters of al-Jaafari and the top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

    “Mubarak is a U.S. agent,” they shouted.

    The Star

    —–

    Iraqi Shiites aren’t a subset of Iranian Shiites.

  • April 12

    AP – A Minnesota reservist who spent the past eight months in Iraq was told he couldn’t board a plane from Los Angeles to Minneapolis because his name appeared on a watch list as a possible terrorist.

    Marine Staff Sergeant Daniel Brown, 32, was in uniform and returning from the war with 26 other Marine military police reservists. But he was delayed briefly in Los Angeles Tuesday morning.

    The other reservists arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as scheduled. Brown arrived more than an hour later.

    Brown, of Coon Rapids, also had airport trouble when he was trying to go to Iraq — and he missed his plane then as well.

    He was trying to board a plane last June for training in California before heading to Iraq in September. But Transportation Security Administration screeners found gunpowder residue on his boots — he had been back from a previous tour in Iraq for two months and sometimes, Marines in Iraq get gunpowder on their boots.

    I know that ‘insurgents’ have infiltrated the Iraqi military – but the Marines?!! 🙂 – stonehouse

  • Iraqi Shiite mosque bombing kills 26

    BAQUBA, Iraq : At least 26 people were killed and 70 wounded in a car bombing near a Shiite mosque in a restive area of Iraq late Wednesday, the latest in a wave of sectarian attacks plaguing the country.

    The bomb went off in a busy market street as worshippers were leaving the mosque in the town of Howaider, near Baquba, 60 kilometers (36 miles) northeast of Baghdad.

    “The car full of explosives was parked close to the mosque and those killed were worshippers who were leaving the sanctuary after evening prayers,” a defence ministry official said.

    An interior ministry official said the latest toll was 26 dead and 70 woiunded, adding that some of the injured were taken to a US military base near Baquba.

    Sectarian violence has engulfed the country since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra in February, leaving hundreds of people dead and raising warnings that the country was in the throes of civil war.

    The attack was similar to a bombing last Friday when three suicide bombers, two dressed as women, blew themselves up near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad after weekly prayers, in the deadliest attack this year on Iraq’s dominant majority Shiite community.

    Wednesday’s strike came after parliament announced it would convene next week in a bid to break months of deadlock on the formation of a new government, blocked by disputes over the fate of Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

    In a sign the impasse could be nearing an end, speaker Adnan Pachachi told reporters that parliament was set to meet April 17, marking only the second time the body has met in the four months since a landmark election in December.

    “There are signs that there will be agreement on all problems concerning formation of the government,” Pachachi said.

    The new parliament was inaugurated on March 16 but swiftly adjourned amid little sign of a deal on a government of national unity.

    A key bone of contention has been the candidacy of Jaafari, who has continued to defy mounting pressure even from some Shiite allies to withdraw.

    Kurds and Sunni Arabs cite his inability to curb sectarian violence that has raged since the Samarra bombing, leaving hundreds of people dead in tit-for-tat killings.

    Shiite leaders from the dominant United Iraqi Alliance, who broke off talks on Tuesday after failing to reach a decision on Jaafari, cancelled another meeting Wednesday.

    “The meeting has been cancelled to allow more time for the alliance to discuss within themselves the issue of Jaafari,” said Bassem Sharif, spokesman of alliance member the Fadhila Party. “They will now meet on Thursday.”

    Asked if parliament will vote on Jaafari’s fate, Pachachi said his candidacy still neededapproval from the presidential council.

    more

  • Posted: 13 April 2006 1540 hrs

    US reporter’s kidnap a mistake; ransom paid: Iraqi insurgent

    WASHINGTON : An Iraqi businessman linked to Saddam Hussein told a US television network the kidnapping of US journalist Jill Carroll was a mistake and a ransom was paid for her release.

    Sheikh Sattam al-Gaood, a middleman behind Carroll’s release on March 30 and self-proclaimed insurgency leader, told ABC News in an exclusive interview how her release was arranged and why he supports the insurgency in Iraq.

    “They are defending their country,” he said in an interview at his summer house outside Amman, Jordan. “They are an honest resistance. And sometimes they do mistakes.”

    One of those mistakes was kidnapping Carroll, a 28-year-old freelance journalist mainly working for The Christian Science Monitor, Gaood said.

    Carroll was abducted in Baghdad on January 7 by an armed group, which shot dead her Iraqi translator and was held hostage for 12 weeks.

    Gaood, once one of Saddam Hussein’s closest business associates, said he used his influence to help free Carroll, even refusing kidnappers’ demands for a huge ransom.

    “There was a demand for eight million dollars,” he said.

    Instead, at the kidnappers’ request, he told ABC News he agreed to arrange payment to widows and orphans tied to the resistance.

    “We did good donations,” he said. “I don’t want it to go into the wrong hands, the money.”

    He did not say how much was given, but says he was willing to arrange payment for as much as one million dollars. Within a few weeks, the kidnappers contacted him saying she was going to be released, and 10 hours later she was freed.

    The editor of The Christian Science Monitor said on Wednesday he was unaware of any ransom paid by anyone.

    “While we are grateful for the efforts made by so many people to obtain Jill’s release, as of today, with the information we have, neither The Christian Science Monitor nor Jill’s family is aware of any evidence to support that claim,” Richard Bergenheim said in a statement.
    Posted: 13 April 2006 1540 hrs

    US reporter’s kidnap a mistake; ransom paid: Iraqi insurgent

    WASHINGTON : An Iraqi businessman linked to Saddam Hussein told a US television network the kidnapping of US journalist Jill Carroll was a mistake and a ransom was paid for her release.

    Sheikh Sattam al-Gaood, a middleman behind Carroll’s release on March 30 and self-proclaimed insurgency leader, told ABC News in an exclusive interview how her release was arranged and why he supports the insurgency in Iraq.

    “They are defending their country,” he said in an interview at his summer house outside Amman, Jordan. “They are an honest resistance. And sometimes they do mistakes.”

    One of those mistakes was kidnapping Carroll, a 28-year-old freelance journalist mainly working for The Christian Science Monitor, Gaood said.

    Carroll was abducted in Baghdad on January 7 by an armed group, which shot dead her Iraqi translator and was held hostage for 12 weeks.

    Gaood, once one of Saddam Hussein’s closest business associates, said he used his influence to help free Carroll, even refusing kidnappers’ demands for a huge ransom.

    “There was a demand for eight million dollars,” he said.

    Instead, at the kidnappers’ request, he told ABC News he agreed to arrange payment to widows and orphans tied to the resistance.

    “We did good donations,” he said. “I don’t want it to go into the wrong hands, the money.”

    He did not say how much was given, but says he was willing to arrange payment for as much as one million dollars. Within a few weeks, the kidnappers contacted him saying she was going to be released, and 10 hours later she was freed.

    The editor of The Christian Science Monitor said on Wednesday he was unaware of any ransom paid by anyone.

    “While we are grateful for the efforts made by so many people to obtain Jill’s release, as of today, with the information we have, neither The Christian Science Monitor nor Jill’s family is aware of any evidence to support that claim,” Richard Bergenheim said in a statement.

    more

  • IRAQ: Women were more respected under Saddam, say women’s groups
    13 Apr 2006 08:11:15 GMT

    Source: IRIN

    BAGHDAD, 13 April (IRIN) – According to the findings of a recent survey by local rights NGOs, women were treated better during the Saddam Hussein era – and their rights were more respected – than they are now.

    “We interviewed women in the country and met with local NGOs dealing with gender issues to develop this survey, which asked questions about the quality of women’s life and respect for their rights,” said Senar Muhammad, president of Baghdad-based NGO Woman Freedom Organisation. “The results show that women are less respected now than they were under the previous regime, while their freedom has been curtailed.”

    According to the survey, women’s basic rights under the Hussein regime were guaranteed in the constitution and – more importantly – respected, with women often occupying important government positions. Now, although their rights are still enshrined in the national constitution, activists complain that, in practice, they have lost almost all of their rights.
    more

  • April 12, 2006

    UCSC anti-war protest prompts military reps to flee

    By ROGER SIDEMAN
    SENTINEL STAFF writer
    SANTA CRUZ — Dozens of UC Santa Cruz student and faculty anti-war activists launched protests in the rain Tuesday morning outside a campus job fair, prompting military recruiters inside to retreat from the event.

    One student was arrested during the demonstration.

    “It’s not just about the action today, it’s about creating sustained movements that directly resist the militarization of our communities,” said second-year student Sam Aranke, among some 60 demonstrators. “This is about creating a community where we make the change we want to see in the world.”

    After a tense, hourlong standoff at the College 8 West Field House, recruiters packed up and departed in a play of events similar to a protest last April that put Students Against War, or SAW, in the national spotlight.

    The student group, according to a MSNBC report, was labeled a “credible threat” to national security on a Department of Defense database after similarly forcing military representatives to leave a job fair last year.

    This year, the local Marine recruitment office, also present last year, passed on the event, citing quotas that were already satisfied. The Navy, also present last year, said they applied too late to secure a table.

    That left four recruiters from the Army and Army National Guard.

    Advertisement

    At first, the recruiters vowed to remain stationed at their tables set in a secluded, private room next to the job fair’s main hall, even while protesters outside blocked the entrance. However, when a delegation of 10 female students was allowed in to speak with recruiters, protesters tried to force themselves through the line of police guards.

    “The recruiters thought the crowd was getting out of control,” said campus Vice Chancellor David Kliger.

    The public, including the press, were not allowed in the job fair because of security concerns. The recruiters could not be reached for comment after the event.

    MORE

  • April 13, 2006, 9:43AM
    Briton Who Refused 3rd Iraq Tour Sentenced

    By DANICA KIRKA Associated Press Writer
    © 2006 The Associated Press

    LONDON — A military court Thursday convicted a British air force doctor of disobeying orders and sentenced him to eight months in prison after he called the Iraq war illegal and refused to return for a third tour of duty.

    Flight Lt. Malcolm Kendall-Smith, who said U.S. actions in Iraq were on par with those of Nazi Germany, was convicted by a panel of Royal Air Force officers, dismissed from the service and sentenced to prison after a three-day court-martial.

    Kendall-Smith, 37, had served twice in southern Iraq but refused to return a third time in June because he said he was not prepared to take part in an “act of aggression.”

    He had pleaded innocent to five charges of failing to comply with a lawful order after refusing to deploy to the city of Basra last year.

    Kendall-Smith’s lawyer, Justin Hugheston-Roberts, said he planned to appeal.

    Outside court, Hugheston-Roberts read a statement from Kendall-Smith in which the doctor said he had “two great loves in life _ medicine and the Royal Air Force.”

    “To take the decision that I did caused me great sadness, but I felt that I had no other choice,” the statement said.

    Speaking on behalf of the air force, Wing Commander Ailsa Gough restated the Ministry of Defense’s position that “the orders given to Flight Lt. Kendall-Smith were lawful and, therefore, should have been obeyed.”

    MORE

  • Iraq Reconstruction Teams Delayed at State Department
    Thursday, April 13, 2006; Page A19
    WaPo

    Earlier this year, the State Department began soliciting personnel for provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) for Iraq, a new concept designed to take diplomats out of Baghdad and into the provinces.

    “We urgently need talented State Department Foreign Service and Civil Service volunteers to staff sixteen new teams being formed beginning now and in early 2006,” a State Department cable told employees. “The PRTs will assist Iraq’s provincial governments with developing a transparent and sustained capability to govern, promoting increased security and rule of law, promoting political and economic development, and providing the provincial administration necessary to meet the basic needs of the population.” The cable called for team leaders, deputy team leaders and provincial assistance officers, who it said were needed as early as January.

    “Our nation’s highest foreign policy goal is helping Iraq become a democratic, stable, and prosperous country. A strong State Department presence is essential to achieving this goal,” the cable said. “The best, most skilled members of the State Department family should consider serving in Iraq. In particular, we urge personnel with regional expertise, post conflict reconstruction experience and Arabic language capabilities to volunteer and to increase their chances to contribute significantly to our foreign policy goals.”

    The rollout of the PRTs has been slowed by a debate between the Pentagon and State over whether the military or private contractors should provide security. As of April 7, job applications had been received for only 12 of 35 positions, according to the State Department’s internal bid list. And, of all applicants, only one is deemed qualified based on grade level and previous expertise, according to the bid list.

    Graph link

  • Update 13: American Troops Step Up Patrols in Baghdad
    By SAMEER N. YACOUB , 04.13.2006, 05:05 PM

    U.S. troops have stepped up patrols in Baghdad by 45 percent since the spike in sectarian violence, a U.S. general said Thursday, raising questions about the capabilities of Iraqi forces. A car bomb killed least 15 people in a Shiite area of the capital.

    At least 21 other people, including an American soldier and seven members of a Sunni family, were killed Thursday.

    With sectarian violence on the rise in Baghdad, the U.S. command boosted the number of armed patrols in the capital from 12,000 in February to 20,000 since the beginning of March, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters.

    Tit-for-tat killings between Shiites and Sunnis soared after the Feb. 22 bombing of a major Shiite shrine in Samarra, triggering reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics. Violence was worse in religiously mixed areas of Baghdad, forcing the Americans to return to neighborhoods such as Shula that had been turned over to the Iraqis.

    That casts doubt on the capability of Iraqi forces to deal with sectarian violence, despite assurances from American officials that the new army and police forces were gaining steadily in professional skills.

    The renewed American presence has not been enough to stop the carnage. The car bomb exploded in a vegetable market in Shula packed with shoppers buying food for their evening meals, police said. At least 15 people were killed and 22 were wounded. Last week, a car bomb injured 13 people in the same neighborhood.

    A roadside bomb Thursday killed a U.S. soldier southwest of Baghdad, the military said. The U.S. command also reported that a Marine died Wednesday of wounds suffered in hostile action near Baghdad.

    More American troops were killed in the first two weeks of April – 37 – than in the entire month of March, when 31 died, according to an Associated Press count. At least 2,366 members of the U.S. military have died since the war started in 2003, according to AP.

    more

  • …frequent statements of military personnel on the ground saying that they desperately need long-term support from State for regional development, things look pretty grim.

    On the more meta-picture front, look for all of the trends identified in Dana Priest’s The Mission to intensify further.

    “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.

  • It looks like the Marines are being ordered off their bases and back into the field now that the vaunted Iraqi military and police forces are showing themselves incapable of staunching sectarian violence.

    On the other hand, Anbar province could mean anything. Maybe Fallujah isn’t as secure as we are led to believe.

    Either way, 22 wounded Marines suggest a large opposing force, not exactly an insurgency in its last throes.

  • submitted by techadvisor

    Military to Protect U.S. Aid Teams in Iraq
    Bradley Graham | Washington DC | April 14

    The Washington Post – U.S. military forces will provide security for new reconstruction teams being set up in Iraq’s provinces to coordinate U.S. aid, the State Department announced yesterday.

    The announcement followed months of disagreement between the Pentagon and the State Department over whether to use U.S. troops or private security guards to ensure the safety of dozens of diplomats, aid workers and other civilian specialists who would staff the new outposts. State has argued that the teams warrant U.S. military protection, but the Pentagon, eager to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, had resisted committing to the new mission.

    One senior State Department official involved in the interagency dispute said a general understanding was reached after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed concerns about relying on private guards, and after it became clear that State could get the funding and the personnel for the teams and was moving ahead with them.

    “In terms of the Department of Defense and Department of State working together on this issue, there’s a total policy agreement,” Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said in opening remarks at his regular briefing yesterday. “Department of Defense will be providing security.”

    A Pentagon spokesman confirmed that U.S. forces will be involved but said, “In general, the arrangements include facility and site security,” omitting any mention of movement security. That appeared to leave open how team members would be protected while traveling off base.

    Plans to establish the groups, known as provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, were announced last fall and billed as an important initiative for rebuilding Iraq. A similar program has been tried in Afghanistan with some success.

    In Iraq, the idea is to staff the teams with political, economic, legal and civil-military relations specialists who can help not only distribute aid but also advise regional Iraqi officials, thereby fortifying provincial governments that had little authority under Saddam Hussein. But since three pilot groups were set up quickly — in Mosul, Kirkuk and Hilla — in November, the Pentagon and the State Department have haggled over a number of security, staffing and funding issues.

    Defense officials have warned that guarding the PRTs could draw forces from more critical counterinsurgency missions. They noted that private guards are already being used extensively to protect State Department personnel throughout Iraq.

    But State Department officials have argued that hiring and equipping more guards for the new teams would delay the program and run up the cost. Rice was described as having been particularly worried about ensuring adequate coordination between an expanded private security force and U.S. troops.

    “She was concerned that, no matter how hard you try, there would be differences in radio frequencies, in vehicles, in a variety of things that could get in the way of rapidly rescuing people,” the senior State Department official said. “She felt more comfortable if it could be all military.”

    Pentagon officials had also raised questions about the willingness of Congress to fund the teams and the ability of the State Department to staff them. They “wanted to ensure that we would come up with actual teams of real people who would be assigned for significant periods of time — typically a year — before they committed their forces,” said the senior official, who was granted anonymity to speak more freely about internal deliberations.

    McCormack told reporters yesterday that PRT recruitment is doing well, saying that 37 of 43 available slots have been filled. Earlier in the day, The Washington Post published a chart based on the State Department’s computer-generated internal bid list as of April 7, indicating a much lower level of interest in working in the PRTs. But a department official said yesterday that the bid list did not appear to have been updated and did not reflect a number of PRT placements.

    State Department officials were somewhat vague about when the new understanding about the use of troops was reached. One official suggested that the issue may not have been entirely settled. He said the Pentagon’s willingness to provide troops may remain dependent on the establishment of PRTs on or near U.S. military bases.

    ” ‘Agreement’ is too serious a term,” the official said. “I think there was just a general meeting of the minds. We believe that if we can come up with a PRT team in an area that makes sense for the coalition forces, the coalition will provide what we need.”

    A fourth PRT was inaugurated late last month in Baghdad. Plans now call for a total of eight U.S.-led PRTs, four others to be run by coalition partners, and another six by Iraqi authorities.
    WaPo>http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/13/AR2006041302073.html?nav=rss_world

  • Yes the reconstruction teams need protection. Lord knows that Iraqis want this much more than fixing this. If Basra’s hospitals and clinics have problems I can’t imagine how the rest of the countries medical is. And didn’t they say there is no more US money earmarked for reconstruction?

  • By Jonathan Charles
    BBC – 14 April 2006

    A senior US marine officer says he is willing to apologise for the damage caused by his troops to the ancient Iraqi site of Babylon.

    US forces built a helicopter pad on the ancient ruins and filled their sandbags with archaeological material in the months following the 2003 invasion.

    We will appologize if you want us to, and it could have been worse, people might have stolen things instead of them just being destroyed. That’s what this sounds like to me.

  • April 14 Baghdad

    AP – The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River here will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq’s turbulent future.

    The new U.S. Embassy also seems as cloaked in secrecy as the ministate in Rome.

    “We can’t talk about it. Security reasons,” Roberta Rossi, a spokeswoman at the current embassy, said when asked for information about the project.

    A British tabloid even told readers the location was being kept secret — news that would surprise Baghdadis who for months have watched the forest of construction cranes at work across the winding Tigris, at the very center of their city and within easy mortar range of anti-U.S. forces in the capital, though fewer explode there these days.

    The embassy complex — 21 buildings on 104 acres, according to a U.S.
    Senate Foreign Relations Committee report — is taking shape on riverside parkland in the fortified “Green Zone,” just east of al-Samoud, a former palace of
    Saddam Hussein’s, and across the road from the building where the ex-dictator is now on trial.

    The Republican Palace, where U.S. Embassy functions are temporarily housed in cubicles among the chandelier-hung rooms, is less than a mile away in the 4-square-mile zone, an enclave of American and Iraqi government offices and lodgings ringed by miles of concrete barriers.

    The 5,500 Americans and Iraqis working at the embassy, almost half listed as security, are far more numerous than at any other U.S. mission worldwide. They rarely venture out into the “Red Zone,” that is, violence-torn Iraq.

    This huge American contingent at the center of power has drawn criticism.

    “The presence of a massive U.S. embassy — by far the largest in the world — co-located in the Green Zone with the Iraqi government is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country,” the International Crisis Group, a European-based research group, said in one of its periodic reports on Iraq.

    State Department spokesman Justin Higgins defended the size of the embassy, old and new, saying it’s indicative of the work facing the United States here.

    “It’s somewhat self-evident that there’s going to be a fairly sizable commitment to Iraq by the U.S. government in all forms for several years,” he said in Washington.

    Higgins noted that large numbers of non-diplomats work at the mission — hundreds of military personnel and dozens of
    FBI agents, for example, along with representatives of the Agriculture, Commerce and other U.S. federal departments.

    They sleep in hundreds of trailers or “containerized” quarters scattered around the Green Zone. But next year embassy staff will move into six apartment buildings in the new complex, which has been under construction since mid-2005 with a target completion date of June 2007.

    Iraq’s interim government transferred the land to U.S. ownership in October 2004, under an agreement whose terms were not disclosed.

    “Embassy Baghdad” will dwarf new U.S. embassies elsewhere, projects that typically cover 10 acres. The embassy’s 104 acres is six times larger than the
    United Nations compound in New York, and two-thirds the acreage of Washington’s National Mall.

    Original cost estimates ranged over $1 billion, but Congress appropriated only $592 million in the emergency Iraq budget adopted last year. Most has gone to a Kuwait builder, First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting, with the rest awarded to six contractors working on the project’s “classified” portion — the actual embassy offices.

    Higgins declined to identify those builders, citing security reasons, but said five were American companies.

    The designs aren’t publicly available, but the Senate report makes clear it will be a self-sufficient and “hardened” domain, to function in the midst of Baghdad power outages, water shortages and continuing turmoil.

    It will have its own water wells, electricity plant and wastewaster-treatment facility, “systems to allow 100 percent independence from city utilities,” says the report, the most authoritative open source on the embassy plans.

    Besides two major diplomatic office buildings, homes for the ambassador and his deputy, and the apartment buildings for staff, the compound will offer a swimming pool, gym, commissary, food court and American Club, all housed in a recreation building.

  • …dealing both with sites that have been looted and sites that have had military fortifications built into them, I can tell you that this isn’t an entirely illogical position to take a priori.

    The looting going on in Iraq right now is extreme and could easily be much more difficult for an excavator to deal with than some types of military fortifications, particularly if archaeological mitigation efforts to deal with the aftereffects of military operations are embarked upon immediately. I’ve seen photos of robbers pits as far as the eye can see on some of these sites – that’s gonna be damned tough to deal with in coming years. To be clear, the amount of sediment being moved around by the military is staggering, and damned dumb in a lot of circumstances (and the practice of driving high ground pressure vehicles over sites should stop immediately), but it might actually be easier to document and contain that damage than damage from some of the looting. Both are really, really bad, but the “either/or” decision isn’t always that looting is better than having Camp Alpha on top of a site.

    “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.

  • They’re talking about how successful they are because they’ve filled 37 out of 43 slots on the PRTs? Well whoop de doo – even were all the positions filled, that works out to over half a million Iraqis per slot.

    Yep, that’s a metric for success.

    These guys are gonna dig into their billion dollar embassy and never, ever come out.

    “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.

  • Record haul headed to Syria valued at $28 million

    By Jonathan Finer and Nelson Hernandez

    April 15, 2006

    BAGHDAD– Police and anti-corruption officials have broken up a vast smuggling ring, stopping more than 1,200 trucks full of crude oil illegally bound for Syria over the past three weeks, the Iraqi government said Friday.

    The bust, the largest ever by Iraqi authorities, evolved over more than a month of investigation, surveillance and periodic arrests. It culminated this week with the apprehension of the alleged ringleader, Ahmed Omar al-Khatab, in the northwestern border town of Rabiyah, where the trucks are now parked in a giant depot under police guard.

    Iraqi officials said they seized roughly 50,000 metric tons of oil — roughly equivalent to 400,000 barrels, about a fifth of Iraq’s average daily production — valued at nearly $28 million, according to Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, an adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari. U.S. forces were not involved in the sting, Ali said.

    The governor of Iraq’s Nineveh province, Duraid Kashmoula, confirmed details of the operation in an interview, as did Dawood al-Baghistani, the head of the Commission on Public Integrity in Nineveh. The commission, the government’s anti-corruption arm, led the investigation.

    “This is a hugely important event. It shows we can put a stop to some of these activities,” said Kadhimi, who outlined the operation in a telephone interview Friday.

    (more)

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12310253/

  • At least 12 killed in car bombing near Baghdad restaurant, other attacks.

    BAGHDAD, Iraq – Shiite politicians suggested a formula Saturday for replacing their nominee for prime minister to break the deadlock over Iraq’s new unity government, officials said. At least 12 Iraqis died in a car bombing near a Baghdad restaurant and other attacks.

    Two Shiite officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the sensitivity of the discussions, said the formula called for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside in favor of another candidate from his Dawa party.

    In return, the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would not push Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi for the post, the officials said.

    It was unclear, however, whether al-Jaafari had signed off on the plan, and it appeared there was no agreement even among Dawa on a replacement. Al-Jaafari, who defeated Abdul-Mahdi for the nomination in a vote among Shiite lawmakers in February, and has refused to give up his bid for a second term.

    4-month impasse
    Sunni and Kurdish opposition to al-Jaafari has stalled efforts to form a unity government four months after parliamentary elections. Shiite officials are under intense pressure from the United States, Britain and the Shiite clerical hierarchy to resolve the impasse so a government can take power.

    On Friday, representatives of the main political blocs agreed to create a six-member committee to choose names of candidates for the posts of president, vice president and prime minister, said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish elder statesman.

    The committee was to meet Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday, before parliament convenes the next day, he said.

    “The (committee) members will study and discuss the names, make their choices and then present them to the heads of the blocs either tonight or tomorrow,” Othman said Saturday.

    The aim is to have a list of agreed-upon names by the session, he said.

    Leading Shiites say they will attend Monday’s session even if no agreement is reached on all the names. But there were indications Saturday that the session could be postponed if the al-Jaafari problem has not been solved.

    “If we reach an agreement, then it’s a good step,” said Khalid al-Attiyah, an independent Shiite politician. “If not, we will present a proposal to postpone the parliament session for two or three days.”

    Al-Attiyah said that proposal wouldn’t be presented until Sunday.

    In an interview Friday with a British television station, al-Jaafari repeated that he would not step down.

    “I was the legitimate and democratic choice,” he told Britain’s Channel 4 News. “I wouldn’t have accepted the responsibility if I thought it was against the will of the people. I don’t see how I could repay my people’s faith in me by letting them down.”

    The lack of political progress has sharpened sectarian divisions and frustrated Iraqis, especially as continued violence chips away at their patience and threatens to push the country into a large-scale civil war.

    (more)

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12328607/

  • The money quote in the above article is this one:
    “Iraq’s interim government transferred the land to U.S. ownership in October 2004, under an agreement whose terms were not disclosed.”
    Now, there will be this rather substantial island of US sovereignty stuck right in the middle of the capital city of Iraq, admixed with the so-called “Iraq government” quarters, and no doubt bristling with all matter of IT/NSA/DIA/Echelon hardware, “secure” buildings, heli-pads, its own (large) security force, everything that seems to point to a “Vatican City”/Guantanamo sort of installation, with complete freedom to exercise whatever policies come from Washington, irrespective of the wishes of the host country. This, in addition to the 4,5, 6 or more “enduring bases” already well on their way to completion, suggests what? Go on, take your best educated guess here.

  • It’s going to be massively expensive when they leave in terms of written off sunk costs. Not to mention the fact that they’re highly likely to end up compromising a goodly amount of classified hardware that they inevitably won’t have the manpower to destroy in the time alloted. Sure hope they’re pre-prepping for demo…

    “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.

  • The Fall of Saigon in a MANPADS-rich environment? Ugly.

    “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 a respectful occupation of the site would have been far better than the one it has apparently had these past couple of years. That looting may have caused worse destruction and loss is no excuse for the damage done through careless planning and management of the base.

    Just another cost of Bush’s policies to add to the tab.

    Carib

  • When this one goes, I fear it’s going to be really ugly.

    “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.

  • be that the compound never opens. Rereading the article, if I was an Iraqi I would be pissed as hell over the money spent ensuring the embassy has water and electricity 24/7.

  • Dust Bowl Uncertainty Grows in Iraq

    Farm production has fallen below prewar levels. Without a plan to revive the agricultural sector, a nation’s identity may wither, officials say.

    By Doug Smith and Raheem Salman,
    Times Staff Writers
    April 15, 2006

    UMM AL GHAREEJ, Iraq — Like hundreds of villages that dot the Tigris River south of Baghdad, this cluster of cinder block-and-mud dwellings draws its livelihood from small farming plots cultivated by hand and crude machinery.

    This is the heart of Mesopotamia, the biblical land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where one of the world’s first civilizations thrived on the bounty of the land.

    Today that land is sick.

    Qassim Mohammed, 20, whose family has farmed here since 1980, has left more than half his 30 acres unplanted this year. The harvest was so poor last year, he said, that he couldn’t recoup the cost of seed and fertilizer.

    “This land is weak,” he said, strolling in a flowing robe through a field where the salt-crusted earth offered only a scruff of dead weeds.

    Mohammed’s acreage is typical of much of the farmland south of Baghdad.

    Reliable agricultural statistics have been unavailable since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But the level of wheat imports, which surged during the United Nations oil-for-food program in the late 1990s, shows the extent of the decline of agricultural production.

    Three years after the invasion, Iraq still imports about three-quarters of the wheat its population consumes, said Jamil Dabagh, economist for the Ministry of Agriculture.

    The agricultural decline began under the centrally controlled economic system of Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime. Neglect of the intricate system of irrigation canals that crisscross Iraq aggravated centuries-old problems with salt buildup and poor drainage. As the land deteriorated, free fertilizer and guaranteed prices kept farms going, Dabagh said.

    Yet agriculture, which has provided the primary means of support for more than a third of Iraq’s population, was an afterthought in U.S. rebuilding efforts, which concentrated on oil, electricity and municipal water systems.

    “Everybody looks at Iraq as an oil country,” said Col. Randy Fritz, the former agricultural counselor to the U.S. military.

    Three years after the ouster of Hussein, no coherent policy has emerged on resuscitating Iraq’s agricultural sector, and most indicators show the situation worsening. Much of Iraq’s degraded farmland could be restored, experts say, but there are sharp disagreements on how to do it.

    U.S. officials would like to increase the yield on farmland still in production and see Iraq move toward a free-market system. But Iraqi agricultural officials contend that crucial resources are too short for farmers to make a quick transition into the world market. The Ministry of Agriculture continues to pay more than $200 a ton for wheat, more than the price on international markets. Bahadli said the phaseout of price supports should be done over a 10-year period.

    Iraq’s U.S.-educated minister of Agriculture, Ali Bahadli, contends that the problem threatens both Iraq’s economic stability and cultural identity.

    “This is our life,” Bahadli said of farming. “If we cannot do it, our future will be very dark.”

    A plant pathologist trained at UC Davis, Bahadli advocates massive expenditures for land reclamation, the slow and costly process of washing salt-laden soil. Such a program, centered in the south, could cost tens of billions of dollars, he estimated, far more than either the Iraqi budget or the U.S. development program can support.

    In contrast to such sweeping reform proposals, the U.S. military has established some direct programs to assist Iraqi farmers. Many commanders have used discretionary funds to clean irrigation canals, set up co-ops and repair facilities. U.S. Army civil affairs officers, who see the rural unemployed as a source of recruits for the insurgency, sometimes take issue with U.S. agricultural officials who they say are in Iraq to open markets for U.S. exports.

    “How can you expect someone who represents Iowa wheat to give impartial advice to farmers in Iraq who could raise their own wheat?” one civil affairs officer told a visiting congressman last year. The Iraqis “need to grow some of their own, not import all of it” from the United States.

    2 more pages here

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