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December 21st, 2003, 01:52 AM
December 21, 2003


Iraq and Its Patron, Growing Apart


BAGHDAD — FROM the roof of a former state-owned cigarette factory, known to the American troops now based here as "Camp Marlboro," the view of one poor and mainly Shiite section is broad: a seething spectacle of dust and fumes, minarets and women shrouded in black, low-slung homes and skittering garbage. In the foreground are soccer fields, built by the occupying United States forces, and on one of them a young Iraqi boy, watched by scrawny dogs, turned cartwheels of a striking perfection.

Gazing out at Sadr City, home to two million people, Maj. George Sarabia assessed the scene. "This is a center of gravity," he said, "because I guess this is still a war here. You have one-third of Baghdad before us and if it goes bad, we have a big problem. Some do not want this to work. They benefit from calamity. But our goal is to stand the Iraqis up, stand up their government, make the place safe and provide an example to the region. We're here not to occupy but to liberate."

That mission was given an important boost last weekend with the capture of Saddam Hussein. Even before that, the boy wheeling in the dust certainly looked liberated, enjoying the soccer field, albeit for an unintended purpose. But more often these days Iraq seems freighted with sullen misgiving as attempts to bridge the distance between Major Sarabia's rooftop exposition of the American mission and Iraqis' street-level experience of the drudgery and danger of the occupation clash.

Mr. Hussein's capture will ease some deep-rooted Iraqi fears, remove a specter and perhaps disorient the insurgency for a time. A remade Iraq in a remade Middle East no longer has an implacable enemy in hiding.

But in some ways the capture is as much about the past as the future. Will joy and relief at the former dictator's detention quickly be overtaken by resentment of his American captors - the providers of new sports facilities, schools and freedom itself, but also the occupiers of a disoriented land?

The American occupation of Iraq has entered a race against time. Liberation is all very well, Iraqis have discovered, but the groceries still have to be acquired, the bills paid, the gas bought at the pump. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germans took to remarking that they had dreamed of paradise but awoken in North Rhine-Westphalia. Iraqis - Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites - have sharply divided dreams, and they have awakened where they slept for more than three decades: in the same bad neighborhood.

The race, put simply, is to bridge the gulf between the American high ground and the Iraqi morass, between the roof and the road, before Iraqis take over the governing of their country a little more than six months from now. Unlike the American presence in Bosnia, or indeed any other recent American military intervention, the undertaking in Iraq is as much about imposing or inspiring a foreign idea - Western democracy in the Middle East - as it is about keeping the peace or changing the guard. For the ideas to take hold, walls must fall away.

But today, Iraq often appears to be a study in estrangement: between the leafy, traffic-free green zone from which the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority governs, and the streets jammed outside; between the sullen Iraqis lining up overnight to buy scarce gasoline, and the nervous American soldiers rumbling by in their Humvees; between American ideas - earnestly expressed, passionately held - of representative government, and the reality of staggering out from under terror into a jobless marketplace.

The violence and insecurity have accentuated these chasms by making mingling dangerous. This has been perhaps the most unsettling achievement of anti-American fighters in Iraq.

L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, is acutely aware of the challenge. In his office in the Republican Palace of Mr. Hussein, just before the former leader's capture, Mr. Bremer said: "We are going to be very aggressive with our information campaign. We want televised debates, town-hall meetings, focus-group meetings, meetings all across the country for people to sit down and talk about what Iraq they want, what democracy means, what does separation of power mean. You know, the kinds of things that are sort of standard, and they're so much part of our culture it's difficult to distance yourself from it. It's the kind of things you do in high-school civics classes. It all needs to happen here. It's never happened here, and it needs to happen rather quickly."

An affecting and self-deprecating determination is evident in Mr. Bremer, who concedes the enormity of his task but refuses to be bowed by the paralyzing notion - one that has confronted many a colonial administrator - that the locals are not yet ready for democracy. Still, even the embryo of Jeffersonian democracy is hard to discern in Iraq today, not least in classrooms where the very word "civics" has no meaning.

Azhar Ramadan, a woman and a journalist chafing under the strictures of Iraqi society, should, at least in theory, be a supporter of American-led Westernization. But she is hesitant, preyed on by all that her country has lived through. She wanted to take part in a recent demonstration against terrorism, but her husband and brothers convinced her that this was inappropriate for a woman, and dangerous.

"I feel humiliated but also afraid," she said. "You know, my son is in fourth grade. He was learning a phrase from his grammar book the other night. It said: 'We have to fight America. America and Zionism are the enemies of the Iraqi people.' " Ms. Ramadan was shocked. She told her son to ask the teacher if he should still be learning that phrase. The reply the next day was sharp: he should, because America and Zionism remain Iraq's enemies. So, did Ms. Ramadan complain to the teacher herself?

"I am afraid to," she replied. "The teacher could give a hard time to my son." But there was something else, something deeper, more subtle. She had been told from childhood not to like America, not to support the Zionists, and had found only one reason in her life to love the United States: the ousting of Saddam Hussein. "So you see, I don't hate the Americans now," she said. "But they gave me so many unfulfilled promises."

Is that what haunts so many looks and glances in Iraq today, a place where waves or smiles at Westerners have become rare? Disappointment at the perception of broken American promises? Or is the message in those often almost expressionless gazes starker: What, they sometimes seem to say, are you doing in my country?

ON a recent Saturday, angry Iraqis gathered at the entrance to the Green Zone, an extended Western fortress on the Tigris River. They were former employees of Mr. Hussein's infamous Information Ministry and they wanted employment, or compensation, or something. "We have families, we have children," said one of them, Abdullah Khalil.

A tense American soldier watched the crowd and radioed a message that quickly produced a rifle-clutching platoon. "O.K.," said the soldier, "Now I'm going to push out these. . . .'' Expletives followed, the targets of said expletives were repelled, and - so it seemed - the distances and misunderstandings between occupier and occupied grew.

In an office not far from Mr. Bremer's, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of allied troops in Iraq, weighs how to bridge those gaps. A central goal, as he puts it, is to minimize the alienation. He believes that fight is being won. "Every time I go out, I ask soldiers if any of them believe we are not winning," he said. "No, they all believe we are winning, making a huge difference. Will there be fluctuations in violence? Absolutely. But the majority of the country has made unbelievable progress."

Measured in many ways, this is true. But the majority of the country is also waiting and watching, wary and weary.

In Najaf, the southern Shiite stronghold, the ayatollahs play a careful tactical game, insisting chiefly on "representative government" in the knowledge that a vote should deliver Shiite rule because most citizens are Shiite. If that does not happen, such quiet calculation could quickly turn to explosive rage.

In the north, the Kurds, having lived separately through the last years of Mr. Hussein's rule, in their own American-protected enclave, now calculate how best to exploit a new presence in Baghdad. They are practical; they also dream. "We are in Iraq, but we have a dream," said Shakhawan Edrees, a Kurdish journalist in Baghdad. "I would love that a Kurdish flag fly over Kurdistan, and I hope that the new constitution will allow the right of secession."

The capture of Mr. Hussein offers the prospect of healing justice to myriad families. But the battle to hold Iraq together remains as complex as removing the coils of barbed wire between the green zone of Mr. Bremer and the rest of Baghdad.

"We're not trying to offload Texas here," said Sgt. Eric Kurzyniec, a soldier at Camp Marlboro with a passionate belief in what he is doing. "We want them to do it their way." Asked what his mission is, he thought for a moment and added: "We're just trying to get them to evolve, to open their eyes. That's the mission."

A big winter sun hung in the dun-colored sky, calls to prayer echoed across Sadr City, Iraqis clamored outside the base for jobs, and the boy cartwheeled on, free at last, not old enough yet to measure just how free or for how long.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

January 13th, 2004, 01:24 AM
January 13, 2004


Bush Team Revising Plans for Granting Self-Rule to Iraqis


WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 — The Bush administration, seeking to overcome new resistance on the political and security fronts in Iraq, is revising its proposed process for handing over power to an interim Iraqi government by June 30, administration officials said Monday.

Officials held a round of urgent meetings in Washington and Baghdad in the wake of the rejection on Sunday by a powerful Shiite religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, of the administration's complex plans to hold caucuses around the country to select an interim legislature and executive in a newly self-governing Iraq. Officials say they are responding to the cleric's objections with a new plan that will open the caucuses to more people and make their inner workings more transparent.

Administration officials also expressed concern about a separate part of Ayatollah Sistani's statement on Sunday that demanded that any agreement for American-led forces to remain in Iraq be approved by directly elected representatives.

Those twin setbacks raise questions about who would have to reach an agreement with the United States that would allow more than 100,000 American troops to remain in the country after power is handed over to the Iraqis this summer.

The administration has not yet begun negotiating such an agreement with its handpicked Iraqi authorities. Such negotiations — in which the American military is expected to ask for wide latitude in its counterinsurgency efforts — could be much tougher if they have to be carried out with Iraqis who are directly elected.

Administration officials acknowledged Monday evening that the remarks opposing the caucus plan from Ayatollah Sistani were a clear rebuff that would not be easy to overcome. The ayatollah, in a decree issued Sunday, said members of the interim legislature must be chosen through direct elections. Administration officials had been trying to convince him that such elections were impractical, but did not succeed.

"We're pushing ahead with this process and trying to deal with Ayatollah's concerns," said a top administration official. "We're looking at the same process we have, but trying to make it as open, inclusive and democratic as possible."

Under an agreement reached between the American-led occupation and the Iraqi Governing Council, a body of Iraqis handpicked by the occupation authorities, an elaborate set of caucuses were mapped out in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, which are known as governorates.

Each caucus was to have an organizing committee chosen by members of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad and by others in each of the governorates. The system was so elaborate and complex that some American occupation officials said it was difficult even for them to figure out.

Now that Ayatollah Sistani has rejected the system as not democratic enough, administration officials said they were intensifying efforts in all of Iraq's governorates and in cities and towns to hold local meetings to select delegates to the caucuses.

The new hope in Washington, the officials said, was in effect to make the caucus system look more democratic without changing it in a fundamental way.

The administration continues to assert that elections cannot be held in time for the deadline of June 30, the target date for handing sovereignty over to a new Iraqi interim government. There are no census rolls, voter registration records or other means to certify a democratic vote, they say.

In addition, the security situation, especially in the Sunni Muslim heartland in the center of Iraq, is not yet strong enough for an election to be held, American officials say.

There were signs on Monday that the administration was taken aback by the ayatollah's comments on Sunday. For weeks, administration officials had been saying the American occupation leader, L. Paul Bremer III, would be able to persuade the ayatollah to change his mind.

Some officials noted that their negotiations with Ayatollah Sistani have been hampered because the ayatollah will not talk directly with Mr. Bremer, and so the Americans have had to use multiple emissaries to communicate with him.

The ayatollah is a revered religious figure among Shiite Muslims, who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's population. He is also regarded as a political moderate, but his refusal to meet with Mr. Bremer or any other American occupation figures was testimony to his not wanting to recognize the legitimacy of the American occupation.

A top administration official said recently that various emissaries had conveyed messages to and from Mr. Bremer and Ayatollah Sistani, but that probably only about two-thirds of the messages got through at any one time. Signals were confusing and contradictory, at least in American eyes.

When Ayatollah Sistani suggested that perhaps a neutral authority could certify that the elections were impractical, as American authorities had insisted, the administration seized on the idea that Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations could fill the bill.

Last week, Mr. Annan passed a message to a group of Iraqi leaders at the United Nations. The message was addressed to Adnan Pachachi, the current chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council and a former Iraqi foreign minister who has been leading the negotiations with the ayatollah.

According to people familiar with the letter, Mr. Annan said in it that "while it might not be possible to have elections in the time available, nevertheless it was essential to have a process that was fully inclusive and transparent."

The Annan letter was transmitted to Ayatollah Sistani by Mr. Pachachi, inspiring hope in the administration that it would prove persuasive, administration officials said. The ayatollah's rebuff was thus seen in Washington as a major jolt that forced a rethinking of American plans.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, was among a small number of lawmakers involved in intelligence briefings on Monday, and he said Monday evening that he did not see how the administration had a choice in the matter.

"Sistani probably isn't going to change his mind, so we're going to have to somehow change our caucus approach or modify it," Senator Rockefeller said. "I think that's going to be very hard to pull off by June 30."

Mr. Rockefeller also urged the administration to consider postponing the target date for transferring power to Iraqis, but administration officials said that was not under review.

The negotiations with the ayatollah and the plans for expanding the caucus process were proceeding even as an impasse remained on another aspect of the occupation.

In that impasse, the American occupation continues to try to persuade Kurdish leaders to back off their insistence on one unified Kurdish state comprising three of the governorates and possibly additional territory, including some oil fields.

Kurds, equally adamantly, are demanding that the United States back off its own position. Some Kurdish leaders are threatening to pull Kurdish members off the Iraqi Governing Council, an American official said. Such a move would be embarrassing to the United States, which chose the council members last summer.

Many in the administration expect an accommodation to be made with the Kurds. Indeed, they say that so many Iraqis expect such an accommodation that the likelihood that the United States would bow to Kurdish demands is probably what emboldened Ayatollah Sistani to take his hard line over the weekend.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

January 18th, 2004, 09:50 AM

In Search of Rescue

Sunday, January 18, 2004

WITH ITS STRATEGY for Iraq on the verge of unraveling, the Bush administration has belatedly embraced an idea it should have accepted long ago: that a political transition conducted by the United Nations is more likely to be accepted by Iraqis than one imposed unilaterally by the United States. On Monday U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and the head of the Iraqi Governing Council will meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to ask for stronger U.N. backing for the U.S. plan to turn over sovereignty in June to an Iraqi government chosen through regional caucuses. The hope is that Mr. Annan can help overcome the objections of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite leader who has been demanding direct democratic elections. It seems unlikely, however, that the Bush administration will rescue its transition without yielding to more changes in its plans.

We have long favored the internationalization of Iraq's postwar management. But it may be too late for the U.N. bailout the Bush administration now appears to seek. Mr. Annan is reluctant to put his organization at the service of a predetermined U.S. strategy, and one letter from the secretary general has already failed to change the mind of Mr. Sistani. If Mr. Annan's continuing concerns about security can be satisfied, the organization may prove valuable in helping Iraqis write a constitution and prepare for elections in the coming months and years. But with or without the United Nations, the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies will have to come to terms with Mr. Sistani, whose tenacity in advancing his agenda they have repeatedly underestimated.

The public exchanges between the occupation authority in Baghdad and the Najaf-based cleric have tended to obscure the real issues. In consistently demanding elections, Mr. Sistani seeks to ensure that Iraq quickly comes under the governance of the Shiite majority -- and that the clergy is consulted when key decisions are made about Iraq's future. Mr. Sistani is widely described as favoring the separation of governmental and religious power, but he has also said that Iraq's future laws should not contradict Islamic law. It's unclear whether or for how long he's prepared to accept a U.S. military presence in Iraq -- but he has said that any deployment agreement must be reached with a new government, not the current Governing Council.

Mr. Bremer has answered that it would be impossible to organize and conduct general elections in time for the scheduled June transfer of power, but the United States -- like Mr. Sistani -- is also weighing issues of control. The indirect caucus procedure favored by the administration and the Governing Council would maximize their chances of preserving influence. Mr. Bremer said Friday that the administration would consider changes to its selection plan, but not the timetable -- a stance that seemed to limit the possibilities for compromise.

All the options in Iraq come with considerable risks. But it seems to us the greatest of these would attach to a decision by the United States to press ahead in choosing a government over the opposition of the Shiite clergy. An Iraqi administration led by followers of Mr. Sistani might prove less amenable to cooperation with Washington, and might alienate the Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish populations. The United States must continue to insist that any government that takes power commit itself to democracy and respect for religious and ethnic minorities and human rights. But a democratically chosen government would at least have a genuine popular mandate and thus a better chance of stabilizing the country. If a democratic choice by Iraqis would produce leaders closer to Mr. Sistani than to the Iraqi Governing Council, then the Bush administration would do better to let such leaders emerge now and to begin looking for ways to work with them.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

January 18th, 2004, 07:59 PM
where are the Somozas, Pinochets and Noriegas when you need them?

January 18th, 2004, 08:43 PM
We just can't seem to locate a trustworthy, compliant, middle-east despot.

January 25th, 2004, 01:09 AM
January 25, 2004

Iraq's Path Hinges on Words of Enigmatic Cleric


NAJAF, Iraq, Jan. 24 — An austere home in a dusty alleyway here has become a center of power rivaling the American occupation headquarters in Baghdad — and the scene of fierce inner struggles for one man's ear.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a reclusive 73-year-old cleric revered by many of Iraq's 15 million Shiites, hears arguments and requests here from the country's most senior politicians, occasionally issuing decrees through them that thwart the plans of the world's sole superpower.

Donkey carts trundle through the mouth of the narrow alleyway, but bodyguards keep most visitors out. On Saturday morning, two dozen men in brown robes pleaded to be allowed to seek the cleric's spiritual advice. Only two emissaries from a Baghdad mosque were allowed in.

The ayatollah's secular power is clear: his insistence on direct elections for a transitional national assembly before Iraqi sovereignty in June drew up to 100,000 supporters to Baghdad's streets on Monday and left the Bush administration scrambling to salvage plans for a caucus-style selection.

Yet this man has not stepped out of his house in six years, rarely gives interviews and is often described as wanting to stay out of politics.

He has a Web site, sistani.org, but it focuses on religious guidance, like whether Islamic law allows the eating of Caspian sturgeon. (Only if close inspection reveals scales, he counsels.)

The world now simply comes to him. The ayatollah's house has become as important a pilgrimage site for Iraq's leaders as the nearby golden-domed shrine of Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, is for the world's Shiites.

The men who visit say they deliver their opinions on the American-led occupation; they are clearly vying for the cleric's backing in the current political free-for-all, with many factions jockeying for a share in the as-yet unshaped Iraqi government. Any endorsement from Ayatollah Sistani instantly bestows legitimacy in the eyes of many Shiites; his support can win votes for politicians and will weigh heavily on further plans for installing an interim government.

The full motives of the men advising Ayatollah Sistani are known only to them, yet they are some of the cleric's main conduits to and from the outside, passing on his messages and bringing him their versions of the latest developments.

That makes them the only tea leaves to read, however murkily, to divine the ayatollah's intentions. They range from formerly exiled Iraqi politicians to local imams to envoys of L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Perhaps to distance himself from the day-to-day fray of politics, and to remain on a level above the occupation forces, he has refused to meet with Mr. Bremer himself.

It is inevitable that those closest to Ayatollah Sistani are Shiite Islamists, many of whom can win popular support by getting his backing. Last week, Ibrahim al-Jafari, a Governing Council member and the current head of the venerable Dawa Islamic Party, visited to discuss the stalemate over direct elections. Other frequent visitors include officials from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a political party recently returned from exile in Iran that clearly wants to play a role in governing the new Iraq.

Adnan Pachachi, the current head of the Governing Council, said he was skeptical of some of the men surrounding Ayatollah Sistani. Mr. Pachachi met with the ayatollah two weeks ago to ask him to back down from his demands for direct elections, only to be rebuffed. Some of the ayatollah's advisers, Mr. Pachachi said in an interview, wanted to keep personal power "under the guise of protecting Shiite influence" and "want to use religion in order to assume power."

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a senior Dawa official in the 1980's who now professes to be relatively secular, meets with the ayatollah once or twice a week and has his own view of the cleric's decision making.

"The major thing in his mind is not to hand over the country to an American-picked government," Mr. Rubaie said. "The fear is that the coalition forces will impose a group of Western-influenced politicians, fanatic liberals who will design the future of Iraq irrespective of the culture and religion of the country."

The ayatollah sometimes delivers his messages through political leaders, but more often through religious representatives, as he did Friday when he asked a spokesman to tell worshipers at a mosque in Karbala to refrain from protests against the Americans. The people should hold off, the spokesman said, while the United Nations is deciding whether to send a team to assess the feasibility of direct elections.

Associates say Ayatollah Sistani does not want to be so politically involved and that he simply sees it as his duty as a marja-al-taqlid, or senior cleric with the authority to interpret Islamic law, to ensure that Iraq has an Islamic identity. They say he is keenly aware that the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population, for centuries were kept from ruling under the Ottoman and British Empires and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab.

That is not to say that he wants a complete intertwining of the state and Shiite Islam, as in Iran. Though the ayatollah was born in the holy Iranian city of Mashad and began studying the Koran there at age 5, he spent his early 20's in Najaf, where he became the protégé of the late Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qassim al-Khoei.

Ayatollah Khoei was a proponent of the "quietist" school of Islamic thought, which advocates a withdrawal from politics, unlike the activist school promoted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran and put into practice there after the revolution of 1979.

Ayatollah Sistani, Mr. Rubaie said, "always says something like this: `I did not find election in the jurisprudence books. I did not go into the Koran and the prophetic tradition to derive the idea of elections. I derived the idea from a textbook on democracy.' "

Befitting a spiritual leader, the ayatollah, through his representatives, interacts regularly with the other three grand ayatollahs in Najaf. Muhammad Hussein al-Hakim, the son and spokesman of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, said people from his organization and that of Ayatollah Sistani consult often. All the ayatollahs have voiced support for Ayatollah Sistani's demands for direct elections, though none have issued similar edicts.

Some Iraqis have wondered whether Ayatollah Sistani's political involvement is an attempt to stave off a power play by a young rival to the older clerics, Moktada al-Sadr, who has also begun calling for direct elections. His father, the respected cleric Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was killed by Saddam Hussein's government in 1999. Mr. Sadr is now trying to use his father's name — and brash anti-American rhetoric — to leverage himself into a position of authority.

But his organization has only a fraction of the popular support and financial resources of the ayatollah's group, which has amassed a fortune through the Shiite tradition of donations.

"I know Mr. Sistani, and I'm sure he's not acting out of personal interest," Mr. Hakim said. "The most important thing for the marjaiah is to act in the general interest of the people. Maybe others just can't grasp this concept."

Last November, Ayatollah Sistani made it clear he wanted direct elections for a transitional assembly by delivering the message through Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Mr. Hakim is one of the politicians closest to the ayatollah and acts as an intermediary between the cleric, the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Hakim's deputies meet often with Ayatollah Sistani, including Imam Jalaladeen al-Sagheir of the Baratha Mosque in Baghdad. At a recent interview with two reporters, the imam took an urgent phone call from one of Mr. Bremer's aides. "I have to go to Karbala and Najaf to take care of that issue," he said quickly before hanging up, indicating perhaps that Mr. Bremer wanted him to talk to the ayatollah.

Two weeks ago, a major battle for the cleric's ear was joined, when it fell to Mr. Pachachi, of the Governing Council, to lead a delegation to discuss the issue of direct elections. Mr. Rubaie, who accompanied the delegation, said the ayatollah sat on the floor of his home opposite them, wearing his customary black turban and black robes. Mr. Pachachi tried explaining that there was not enough time to organize direct elections by the June 30 deadline. He produced a letter from Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, saying as much.

"That didn't cut the ice with him," Mr. Rubaie said. "He had already been convinced that elections were possible."

That had come about, Mr. Rubaie said, because the ayatollah had absorbed the opinions of Iraqi census experts, the minister of trade and a senior United Nations envoy acting unofficially, all of whom had made it known to the cleric that direct elections were feasible.

If American officials end up compromising too easily with Ayatollah Sistani, though, that could quickly alienate Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who fear being marginalized in a Shiite-dominated government. Those groups make up 40 percent of the population, and that is where Ayatollah Sistani's influence ends. Their loyalties lie with their own leaders.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

March 18th, 2004, 09:01 AM
March 18, 2004

Car Bomb at Baghdad Hotel Leaves at Least 27 Dead


BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 17 — A huge car bomb destroyed the five-story Mount Lebanon Hotel in central Baghdad on Wednesday evening, tearing the facade off the building and sending residents tumbling into the street.

At least 27 people were killed and 41 wounded.

The explosion reduced an apartment block across the road to a tangle of steel, masonry and shattered furniture, and it left an inferno of blazing cars and buildings that lighted the night sky for hours.

Iraqi rescue teams clawed at the rubble with hands and shovels deep into the night, but no survivors were pulled clear after the first frenzied hours. At least some victims appeared to be foreigners, mainly from Arab countries, including, the police said, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

The bombing was among the worst to be carried out in Iraq during the American occupation. It came less than 36 hours before the anniversary of the first American bombing raid on Baghdad at dawn on March 19 last year, a raid that signaled the start of the war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Survivors of Wednesday's bombing said Americans and Britons and other Europeans were among those staying at the hotel, which has traditionally attracted visiting Arab business people and, among Westerners, people on modest budgets working for relief agencies. But in the pandemonium at the scene and at neighboring hospitals in the hours after the blast, no clear picture emerged about the nationalities of the non-Iraqis who were killed or injured.

American officers who had cautioned that pro-Hussein insurgents and militant Islamic terrorists might try to mark the anniversary of the start of the war with a new round of attacks were quick to point a finger at a Jordanian-born terrorist leader, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.

Col. Ralph Baker, commander of the Second Brigade, First Armored Division, who led American troops who raced to the scene in armored Humvees, said the blast appeared to have been caused by a car bomb with at least 1,000 pounds of plastic explosives that had been combined with a core of wired-together artillery shells. He said attackers here had used the formula frequently to cause a maximum blast and a widespread curtain of deadly shrapnel.

[The Associated Press reported Thursday that at least two American soldiers were killed and six wounded in Balad, near Baghdad, in a mortar attack on the logistics base there on Wednesday. The military did not identify the soldiers involved.]

Doctors at four Baghdad hospitals visited by reporters said the death toll could rise because of burn and crush injuries among survivors, some of whom lay groaning in poorly equipped emergency rooms while doctors attended more urgent cases.

Hospital entranceways and wards were a bedlam of wailing relatives, agitated Iraqi policemen with automatic rifles pushing back crowds, and gurneys and stretchers being rushed past, carrying bodies under bloodied blankets and black shrouds.

The attack ranked, in numbers of dead, with the bombings last year of the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which killed a total of almost 40 people. The worst single attack in the capital, two weeks ago, killed more than 80 people when three suicide bombers detonated themselves at a religious festival in Baghdad, simultaneously with similar attacks in nearby Karbala, which killed another 120 people.

Colonel Baker told reporters that the blast was "similar to that carried out in the past by Ansar al-Islam and the Zarqawi network." No specific evidence was offered implicating Mr. Zarqawi.

American intelligence has linked Mr. Zarqawi to Ansar al-Islam, a group linked to Al Qaeda. Last month American intelligence agencies named him as the author of an intercepted message urging Qaeda leaders to support efforts by Islamic militants to provoke a civil war among Shiite and Sunni Muslims here, in hope of blocking plans for a Western-style democracy.

A $10 million American bounty has been placed on Mr. Zarqawi's head as the prime suspect in devastating bombings across Iraq in the past few months, including the United Nations and Red Cross attacks. American commanders, dismissing reports that Mr. Zarqawi has fled to Iran, said recently that they believed he was still in Iraq and active in planning new attacks.

Many of the wounded here Wednesday had long waits for attention in the ill-lighted hospitals, which have begun — with American financing — to recover from years of neglect and from the looting and sabotage that followed the American capture of Baghdad. But the hospitals still lack much in the way of basic equipment and medicines. Iraqi doctors said many of the most critically injured had suffered head injuries, and would be operated on overnight.

At the bombing scene, in Karada, a busy commercial district, a gaping crater marked the spot where the bomb had detonated. Iraqi police officers said the bomb might have been carried in an orange-painted car, left a tangled wreck, that was thrown 150 feet clear.

American officials said later that the crater's position, in the center of the narrow street, combined with what they described as the hotel's lack of strategic significance, was read by American investigators as a sign that the bomb might have been detonated accidentally while en route to another target.

For the Americans, the bombing marked an inauspicious start to a new military offensive in Baghdad.. Hours before the blast, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for the American command, said at a news briefing that in the new phase of the counteroffensive, the strikes, based on new intelligence, would give "a clear warning to the enemies of the Iraqi people," meaning the terrorists, that theirs was ultimately a doomed cause.

With no statement claiming responsibility for the blast, the motives were unknown. But the timing, close to the anniversary of the American invasion, and on the night marked for the new offensive, suggested that the attack might have been intended to taunt the Americans.

As well, by striking at another Iraqi target, the attackers might have been seeking to deepen the sense among Iraqis that they have substituted years of repression and fear under Mr. Hussein for a new era of fear, this time of terrorists, and that the American occupiers, who came as self-proclaimed liberators, are now at the root of Iraq's woes.

In any case, the grim tableau at the bomb scene stood as a ghastly anniversary marker. The blast, throwing first a blue flash and then a spreading cloud of smoke and fire above the rooftops, took place about three-quarters of a mile from the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, which are heavily guarded by bomb-proofed blast walls and American tanks and are the headquarters for many Western news organizations.

Arriving at the scene within minutes, reporters who evaded a cordon of volatile Iraqi policemen waving guns at the gathering crowd saw black-silhouetted rescue workers combing through the burning wreckage. From ambulances arriving helter-skelter, loudspeakers boomed out a mournful appeal for people to concentrate on survivors, not the limp and broken bodies of the dead.

Colonel Baker, the American commander, watched American soldiers who had been on standby earlier in the evening for strikes against the terrorists working, instead, to save terrorism's latest victims.

But as it became clearer that no more survivors were likely to be found, the Americans pulled back and left the television cameras to broadcast live images across the world of Iraqi police and firefighters doing the work themselves.

The mood among Iraqis varied widely, reflecting the deeper splits here between those who credit the Americans as liberators and others who regard them as a new evil. Qahcan Shukur, owner of a furniture factory, was across the road when the explosion detonated, and was hit by shards of flying glass. He turned his wrath on the Americans.

"Why don't Americans maintain security?" he said. "All of this technology they have, and they cannot prevent these attacks? I don't believe it."

A block away, another group took a different view. After watching a weeping man rushing toward an ambulance, cradling the limp body of his small daughter, Zaki Mohammad, 41, an electrical engineer, halted a reporter and asked that a message be passed to L. Paul Bremer III, chief of the American occupation authority. "Tell Bremer to hang the people responsible for this in a park in the center of Baghdad," he cried. "The American policy here is tolerance, tolerance, tolerance, soft, soft, soft. This is not the way. The way is execution."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

March 21st, 2004, 07:01 AM
March 21, 2004

Bremer Pushes Iraq on Difficult Path to Self-Rule


BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 20 — For L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator here, the contradictions of Iraq seemed to crystallize in a single moment this month.

In a hastily called public appearance, Mr. Bremer, 62, stood at a podium, grim and ashen-faced, to denounce a horrific wave of attacks that had killed more than 150 Iraqi civilians this month on one of the highest Shiite holidays.

That same day, Iraqi leaders canceled a ceremony to commemorate Mr. Bremer's most significant achievement to date: the completion of an interim constitution intended to chart the country's path to democratic rule.

But instead of bestowing accolades on Iraqi leaders, Mr. Bremer could offer only condolences to the dead.

"Tuesday showed the dark vision of the evildoers," he said, his voice shaking with anger. "They fight to ward off harmony and are happy to pave the road to power with the corpses of their innocent victims."

With that, he walked off the stage.

In the 10 months since Mr. Bremer became the American-appointed proconsul of Iraq, much of his tenure has been like that: full of impressive achievements, clouded by the restless, divided nature of the country he is trying to oversee. Despite a widely admired work ethic, he has made a number of decisions that have been widely criticized and which appear to have undermined the very enterprise he is trying to move forward.

His early decision to disband Saddam Hussein's army, critics charge, created ready recruits for the insurgency and fueled resentment among Iraqis who fault the Americans for failing to protect them. Despite warnings of dissatisfaction with the American plan for the transfer, he failed to anticipate the political assertiveness of Iraq's Shiite majority.

Ultimately, criticism of his decisions will matter little if the new Iraqi state stands on its own after sovereignty is restored on July 1. The democratic institutions Mr. Bremer has helped create are sure to be tested in the months ahead, when American officials believe terrorists are planning major strikes against American and Iraqi targets.

Since May, Mr. Bremer has guided a multibillion-dollar reconstruction campaign that has restored many of the public facilities, like telephone lines and electrical grids, that had been stripped bare by looting that engulfed the country after the Hussein government collapsed. He has put in place a vast security apparatus, some 200,000 Iraqi police officers, soldiers and border guards, intended ultimately to replace more than 100,000 American soldiers trying to crush the guerrilla and terrorist campaigns still roiling the cities and countryside.

Most ambitious of all, Mr. Bremer has spearheaded the Bush administration's plan to implant a democratic system here, a blueprint that includes nationwide elections, a federal constitution and the rapid transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

To accomplish that, he and his team have set up more than 250 city councils across the country and are rapidly preparing the central government to take over when the American occupation officially ends on June 30. And that, finally, will be the measure of his success or failure: whether the institutions he has tried to implant here — at the accelerated pace he demanded — sink or float.

Mr. Bremer, a polished diplomat who does not want for self-assurance, says the desire for democracy he sees in the eyes of Iraqis will prevail over the efforts of those who are trying to destroy it. Success, he says, is much more likely than the nightmare set of events feared by many Iraqis of terrorism and civil war. "I think the chances are very slim," he said of the likelihood of disaster, when he made public remarks on Friday to observe the anniversary of the start of the war. "You can always play `what if.' I just don't think it's going to happen. This country is very different from 12 months ago."

As the man who replaced Mr. Hussein, Mr. Bremer looms large over this occupied land. He is regarded by many Iraqis as earnest and hard-working, the benevolent despot they never had.

In January, when the Americans began replacing the old Iraqi currency, known here as "Saddam money," the face of the deposed Iraqi leader was removed from the new notes. Mr. Hussein's face was replaced by a date palm, but Iraqis quickly gave the currency a new name: "Bremer money."

Some Iraqis ask Mr. Bremer for personal help. Among them is Ali Bressem, a villager who has been searching for a year for a way to help his 12-year-old son. The boy's face was scorched by an American cluster bomb at the start of the war. One day, Mr. Bressem went to a computer shop and had a letter typed.

"Dear Mr. Bremer," the letter began. "Please accept our gratitude. During the last war of liberating Iraq, my house was exposed to a bombing. What is worse is that my son Ayad was exposed to a very severe injury in his eyes and face. We need help. We have no one to resort to but your excellency."

Mr. Bressem, a date farmer in the southern town of Kifil, recently took a bus to Baghdad, looking for Mr. Bremer's driver. "If I could find his driver," he said, "he could take my letter to Mr. Bremer." But when he got to the heavily protected area known as the green zone, he said, soldiers shooed him away.

For Americans in the green zone, the impeccably dressed Mr. Bremer has inspired something of a fad. His one sartorial concession to the war zone is a pair of combat boots, usually worn with a wool blazer, silk tie and white handkerchief. Many American officials now wear combat boots with suits and ties; so, too, when he visits, does Mr. Bremer's boss, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Summing up his accomplishments, Mr. Bremer reminds his questioners that he did not create the disaster that befell Baghdad and much of Iraq in the anarchic days that followed the collapse of Mr. Hussein's government. He was merely asked to clean it up.

"As I drove in from the airport, Baghdad was on fire, literally," Mr. Bremer said. "There was no traffic in the streets. There was not a single policeman on duty anywhere in the country. There was no electricity anywhere in the country. There was no economic activity anywhere."

When he gazes out on Iraq today, he sees a country where a measure of law and order has been restored, where economic growth has resumed, where the basic elements of a modern society, like electricity and running water and schools, have largely returned to what they were before the war. Oil production, the country's fountain of wealth, has returned to its prewar levels. There is a constitution, finally signed by the Iraqis, that provides for individual rights.

Iraq is now poised, Mr. Bremer says, to enter a period of rapid growth, development and prosperity. "So when I look at where we have arrived from where started, it is an astonishing record," he said.

Americans and Iraqis who work closely with him praise his drive and his ability to grapple with the range of Iraq's problems. To many Iraqi leaders, his finest moment came with the completion of the interim constitution, an effort that succeeded in securing the assent of all 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council and reconciling the desires of Iraq's tapestry of ethnic and religious groups.

The agreement was reached after days of intricate bargaining, which Iraqi leaders say Mr. Bremer shepherded at almost every step. When the Iraqis hit a snag around midnight on Feb. 29, the deadline they had set for themselves, Mr. Bremer proved decisive in breaking the deadlock. "It was past midnight, but Bremer said no one was going home," said Rozh Shawais, a senior leader in the Kurdish Democratic Party.

In fact, Mr. Bremer let the Iraqi leaders go home early that morning. They later returned, finally striking a deal at 4:20 the next morning. "Bremer was involved in every detail of the constitution," Mr. Shawais said.

But while few doubt Mr. Bremer's commitment, some Iraqis say that in his drive to impose his vision on the country, he has sometimes failed to listen and, as a result, has made serious mistakes.

The most widely criticized of his decisions was one he made before he had even arrived. On the plane to Iraq, he decided to disband the 400,000-man Iraqi Army, which left thousands of trained soldiers unemployed. American officials say many of those former soldiers later formed the backbone of the guerrilla resistance to the occupation.

Despite the criticism, Mr. Bremer stands by the decision, saying there was no Iraqi army left to deal with anyway. "I don't have any second thoughts about disbanding the army," he said. "Neither did the secretary of defense, and he's my boss."

Other pitfalls have marked Mr. Bremer's tenure here, many of them turning into political embarrassments. According to administration officials, Mr. Bremer assured officials in Washington last fall that he could persuade Iraqi leaders to accept the presence of Turkish troops in the country.

Instead, the Iraqis, deeply suspicious of Turkish motives, rebelled, forcing the Bush administration and the Turks to back off.

Like many Americans and Iraqis, Mr. Bremer also seemed to underestimate the political power of Iraq's Shiite majority, and in particular, of its religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Shiite leaders say they warned Mr. Bremer last fall when he presented them with a plan that called for caucus-style gatherings as the primary means for choosing a national assembly.

When Mr. Bremer persisted, Ayatollah Sistani declared his opposition and sent thousands of Iraqis into the streets. The caucus plan was abandoned.

"Bremer has a personality type which is domineering, determined and decisive," said Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and a neurologist. "He makes decisions on the run. Nine out of 10 times, he makes the right decision. But the 10th time, he makes the wrong one, and that's the really important issue."

Many Iraqi leaders have credited Mr. Bremer with helping transform the Governing Council from an unwieldy debating society into a functioning legislature. At the same time, some Iraqis say he has sometimes gone too far, dictating to the Iraqis what they must and must not do.

In February, with Iraqi leaders nearly finished writing their constitution, Mr. Bremer publicly threatened to veto any attempt to impose Islamic law. The statement enraged Shiite leaders, who say they were so angered by his threat that they inserted stronger terms regarding Islam than they had originally favored.

"When Mr. Bremer said that, we felt that Islam might be excluded," said Hamed al-Bayati, a senior leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a political party. "So we decided to strengthen the role of Islam."

What seems certain is that the next few months will be dangerous. American and Iraqi officials are bracing for new waves of suicide attacks, intended to turn the Iraqis against their would-be protectors.

On a visit to Al Kut, a city southeast of Baghdad, Mr. Bremer found mixed signs. The chairman of the provincial council, Abid Suleman al-Satar, told him that there was not enough time before June 30 to prepare for the transfer. The police were incompetent, Mr. Satar said, and he feared that some local political parties would take advantage of the instability. "We have to have a longer period of time," he told Mr. Bremer. "This is a very short time to ensure that the political process is good."

Mr. Bremer waved away the warnings. "People are going to have to learn faster," he told Mr. Satar. "Most Iraqis do not want elections to be delayed."

Later in the day, Mr. Bremer flew by helicopter to inspect an irrigation project financed by the United States. The scene, choreographed by his handlers, nonetheless contained signs that the Iraqi enterprise was gathering a momentum of its own.

The project, costing $167,000, refurbished or replaced five aging irrigation pumps on the Tigris River. It was the first time in 36 years, said an Iraqi supervisor, that the pumps had operated at full capacity.

"Thank you, thank you!" cried Hekmet Rasoq, the 64-year-old supervisor, shaking Mr. Bremer's hand. Behind him, a crowd of Iraqis had come of their houses to wave.

"They should thank you," Mr. Bremer said of the Iraqis. "You're doing all the work."

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

April 5th, 2004, 07:42 PM
April 5, 2004

U.S. Announces Warrant for 'Outlaw' Iraqi Cleric's Arrest


BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 5 — American officials confirmed today that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose followers launched a coordinated anti-American uprising in several cities over the weekend. The top American official in Iraq labeled him an "outlaw."

The officials said the warrant had been issued by an Iraqi judge after Mr. Sadr was implicated in the death of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a rival Shiite cleric who was hacked to death by a mob in April. The officials did not say when they would attempt to serve the warrant or try to detain the cleric.

"There will be no advance warning," Dan Senor, spokesman for the American occupation authority, said in a televised news conference here. The spokesman suggested that Mr. Sadr's arrest had been postponed because it would be "difficult" and did not directly answer questions seeking to link the announcement of the warrant to the violence over the weekend by Mr. Sadr's supporters.

The announcement of the warrant came as American troops stepped up military action against the various centers of armed resistance to the occupation, cordoning off the volatile city of Falluja and rolling American tanks and combat vehicles into the impoverished Baghdad slum of Sadr City, the scene of the fiercest fighting over the weekend.

The militants said they had rioted in response to the arrest of an aide to Mr. Sadr in connection with the murder of Mr. Khoei and to protest the closing of a Baghdad newspaper by American officials.

President Bush told reporters today in Charlotte, N.C., that he remained committed to the June 30 deadline for transferring power in Iraq in spite of the violence. "The deadline remains firm," Mr. Bush said.

In Baghdad, the top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, labeled Mr. Sadr an "outlaw" and said the 31-year-old cleric was trying to replace "legitimate authority," news agencies reported.

"Effectively, he is attempting to establish his authority in the place of the legitimate authority," Mr. Bremer said, according to The Associated Press. "We will not tolerate this. We will reassert the law and order which the Iraqi people expect.

Mr. Sadr was defiant in response. "I'm accused by one of the leaders of evil, Bremer, of being an outlaw," he said in a statement read in Kufa, near Najaf, Reuters reported. "If that means breaking the law of the American tyranny and its filthy constitution, I'm proud of that and that is why I'm in revolt."

Mr. Senor did not fully explain why American and Iraqi authorities had not already tried to detain Mr. Sadr even though an Iraqi judge had issued an arrest warrant "within the last several months." While 12 suspects connected to the Khoei murder case were taken into custody during an initial round of arrests, the spokesman explained, Mr. Sadr was among another group of suspects that is now being pursued.

"It was more difficult to target some of the other individuals," Mr. Senor said.

Now, however, the judge is prepared to take the case to trial and has ordered that the remaining suspects be rounded up, Mr. Senor said. "He thought he would take another shot at trying to gather up other individuals involved with the case, and that's when warrants were issued and this matter came — sort of bubbled up, if you will, recently," Mr. Senor said.

In a statement ussed by the American military headquarters in Iraq, officials said that an eighth American soldier had died from wounds sustained in the uprising, which began on Sunday among militiamen loyal to Mr. Sadr. Dozens of Iraqis and one Salvadoran soldier have also died in the fighting.

In Falluja, some 1,200 marines and two battalions of Iraqi security forces sealed off the city as part of an operation intended to crush an armed resistance in the city by Sunni Muslims, who were Saddam Hussein's main constituency, news agencies reported. The Associated Press said that explosions and gunfire could be heard coming from the center of the city. An American marine was killed in fighting in the area today, the American military said.

American commanders have been promising to respond to the killing last Wednesday of four Americans working for a security company who came under attack as they drove through town. A frenzied mob beat and mutilated the men's charred corpses.

The troops were poised to raid the city in pursuit of suspected insurgents, officials said.

The Arabic television station Al Jazeera reported today that six Iraqis had been killed in an attack there.

In Baghdad, American troops patrolled the dusty, garbage-strewn streets of Sadr City, where hospital officials said about two dozen Iraqis had been killed in overnight fighting with American troops. The American military reported today that in addition to the eight soldiers killed, more than two dozen had been wounded in the fighting in the slum.

According to a list of the Iraqi casualties posted at the Chuwadir Hospital in Sadr City, 18 people had been killed and about 80 were wounded. A hospital official said the number of dead was higher than 22.

The fighting in Sadr City started late Sunday, when militiamen loyal to Mr. Sadr, the radical cleric, tried to take over police stations in the neighborhood, firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the United States military. Iraqi residents said that American troops in tanks opened fire on a demonstration by Sadr supporters.

News agencies reported that Apache helicopters fired missiles at targets in the Shuala district of northwest Baghdad today, and Al Jazeera reported that five Iraqis were killed in a helicopter strike on an office belonging to Mr. Sadr's supporters.

Elsewhere, the American military reported today that a marine had been killed in the Anbar province, where Falluja is located, but provided not details. The military also said that two soldiers had been killed by explosive devices in Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq.

In the southern town of Basra, a large group of Sadr supporters took over the buildings of the American-appointed governor. The police had been warned that the supporters were coming and were advised to leave, but the governor and police were not in the building at the time of predawn takeover, which was described by one man as a peaceful sit-in.

The violence among the Shiite radicals opens a new front for American-led forces already struggling to contain the Sunni Muslim insurgency centered in Falluja and nearby cities. The fighting also complicates the task of the United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who arrived in Baghdad on Sunday to discuss American plans to pass sovereignty to Iraqis at the end of June.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

April 5, 2004


June 30 Goal Is Questioned by 2 Senators


WASHINGTON, April 4 — L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator in Iraq, is scheduled to hold a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill early this week, two senior senators said Sunday. They warned that the June 30 date for transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis might be premature.

Asked on the ABC News program "This Week" if that date was unrealistic, Richard G. Lugar, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said, "It may be, and I think it's probably time to have that debate."

Mr. Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, and the committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, both said they had been advised that Mr. Bremer would brief them and other legislators this week. Mr. Lugar also said he had scheduled three days of hearings, from April 20 to April 22, to explore the details of the transfer.

The two senators' concerns about the transition date were expressed in telephone interviews and television appearances, Mr. Lugar on "This Week" and Mr. Biden on "Fox News Sunday," that focused on the political and security issues that have bedeviled Mr. Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which he directs.

The issues include the roles of the United States and the ambassador it will send to Iraq, the expected size of the American troop contingent, the role the United Nations may play, the possible introduction of NATO troops and the overriding questions of security in a society studded with armed militias and a relentless anti-American insurgency.

A White House statement on Sunday afternoon reiterating the June 30 deadline said in part: "The United States and our coalition partners are continuing to work closely with Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people on our plan to meet the June 30 deadline. The United States will stay in Iraq until the job is done and there is a free, peaceful and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people."

In a telephone interview, Mr. Lugar said, "I would just say that we want to get someone in the administration who has responsibility for this to address the security issues" of a transfer in a country racked by an anti-American insurgency.

"Specifically," he said, "to whom will sovereignty be given? And how secure are these people?" — a reference to the 3,000 people who will serve in a new American Embassy in Baghdad. Neither he nor Mr. Biden knew the exact timing of the briefing by Mr. Bremer.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Biden said: "We're about to give over authority to an entity that we haven't identified yet, knowing that whatever that entity is, there's going to be overwhelming turmoil between June 30 and January, when there is supposed to be an election. Who is the referee? Who is the graybeard?"

He added: "I predict to you — I hope I'm wrong — that your colleagues writing about this 10 years from now are going to look at 9/11 and they're going to look at 6/30. This administration, as far as I can tell, is at odds with itself, being pulled apart — one portion saying we're going to keep it under our tent and the other half saying, `Let's give it to the U.N.' "

Mr. Biden also reiterated his view that NATO troops should be brought in to supplement the dwindling American forces and give a more international face to the military presence in Iraq — which already includes troops from several NATO members, including Britain, Spain and Italy.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

April 9th, 2004, 09:21 AM
April 9, 2004


Signs That Shiites and Sunnis Are Joining to Fight Americans


BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 — When the United States invaded Iraq a year ago, one of its chief concerns was preventing a civil war between Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country, and Sunni Muslims, who held all the power under Saddam Hussein.

Now the fear is that the growing uprising against the occupation is forging a new and previously unheard of level of cooperation between the two groups — and the common cause is killing Americans.

"We have orders from our leader to fight as one and to help the Sunnis," said Nimaa Fakir, a 27-year-old teacher and foot soldier in the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia. "We want to increase the fighting, increase the killing and drive the Americans out. To do this, we must combine forces."

This new Shiite-Sunni partnership was flourishing in Baghdad on Thursday. Convoys of pickup trucks with signature black Shiite flags flapping from their bumpers hauled sacks of grain, flour, sugar and rice into Sunni mosques.

The food donations were coming from Shiite families, in many cases from people with little to spare. And they were headed to the besieged residents of Falluja, a city that has now become the icon of the resistance, especially after the bombing on Wednesday of a mosque compound there.

"Sunni, Shia, that doesn't matter anymore," said Sabah Saddam, a 32-year-old government clerk who took the day off to drive one of the supply trucks. "These were artificial distinctions. The people in Falluja are starving. They are Iraqis and they need our help."

But it is not just relief aid that is flowing into the city.

According to several militia members, many Shiite fighters are streaming into Falluja to help Sunni insurgents repel a punishing assault by United States marines. Groups of young men with guns are taking buses from Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad to the outskirts of Falluja, and then slipping past checkpoints to join the action. "It's not easy to get in, but we have our ways," said Ahmed Jumar, a 25-year-old professional soccer player who also belongs to a Shiite militia. "Our different battles have turned into one fight, the fight against the Americans."

American leaders had been concerned that the rival sectarian groups would not find a common cause. Now, it seems, they have found a common enemy. "The danger is we believe there is a linkage that may be occurring at the very lowest levels between the Sunni and the Shia," Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the occupation forces, said on Thursday. "We have to work very hard to ensure that it remains at the tactical level."

He also said the call for unity is "clearly an attempt to take advantage of the situation."

Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, an assistant commander of the First Armored Division, said military intelligence indicated that there might be some loose coordination between the renegade Shia movement of Moktada al-Sadr and a Sunni extremist group called Mohammed's Army in the western portions of Baghdad.

He said troops from the First Armored and the First Cavalry Divisions were conducting reconnaissance and offensive operations against fighters from both groups, who have converged on the road to Falluja.

The city, 35 miles west of Baghdad, has become the rallying cry of the resistance. It is in its fifth day of siege. Marines are trying to root out insurgents after four American security guards were ambushed there last week and their bodies were mutilated by a mob. American troops have been fighting house to house and mosque to mosque against a determined group of guerrillas. According to people inside Falluja, the situation is grim and getting grimmer.

"It's a disaster," said Sheik Ghazi Al Abid, a wealthy tribal leader, who was reached by telephone. "There's no food, no water, no electricity."

The sheik said it was so dangerous that bodies have been left on the streets because people are terrified to venture outside to collect them.

"Anybody who moves will get shot," the sheik said. "We need all the help we can get." He also said more than 300 people had been killed, hundreds more had been wounded, and medical supplies and blood were running low." There are so many injured civilians," the sheik said, "they don't know where to go."

In Baghdad, blood banks were packed. Imams at both Sunni and Shiite mosques put out a message that Falluja residents needed blood fast. On Thursday, a group of Shiite men formed a line at one Baghdad blood bank that wended out the door. The men were ready to get pricked with a needle for their Sunni brothers. "We share a cause now," said Mohammed Majid, a taxi driver. "Why not share our bodies?"

Pentagon officials said Thursday that they had no definitive figures on the size or scale of the Sunni or Shiite militias. That is largely because the militia movement seems too fluid, and it is splintered among several factions. "It's a mob mentality," said one intelligence official. "They are recruiting among a lot of unhappy people."

Shiite extremist groups have a long tradition of hiding their true strength, in large part because their history has been marked by persecution by Sunni elites in many Muslim countries. In southern Lebanon in the 1980's, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency was never able to get solid estimates of the number of Shiite fighters involved in Hezbollah or the Islamic resistance that eventually forced the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, former United States intelligence officials said Thursday.

Those former officials pointed out that the practice of Taqiyya — dissembling about one's religion, especially in times of danger — is particular to Shiism. That secretive tradition has made Shiite groups extremely difficult for intelligence officers to penetrate, the former C.I.A. officers said.

Until last week, the Shiite groups had mostly sat out the resistance. Many Sunni fighters were loyal to Mr. Hussein. That alienated Shiites, who had been ruthlessly persecuted by the former Iraqi leader.

All that changed this week when Mr. Sadr activated his militia at the same time Falluja faced its biggest battle. Now, the two sides have joined. There were even reports on Thursday of armed men from Falluja escaping to Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. Mr. Hussein is no longer mentioned. Fighting the infidels is.

James Risen contributed reporting from Washington for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

TLOZ Link5
April 9th, 2004, 09:55 AM

Japan Rejects Iraq Hostage-Takers' Demands
By Masayuki Kitano and Linda Sieg, Reuters

TOKYO (April 9) - Facing his toughest political test, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told an anguished Japan on Friday he had no plans to pull troops from Iraq despite a threat by kidnappers there to kill three Japanese civilians.

Tearful families of the three pleaded for the government to withdraw Japan's non-combat troops from the southern Iraqi city of Samawa, where they have been helping to rebuild the area.

Thousands of protesters gathered in a Tokyo park, waving rainbow-colored peace flags and holding placards reading, ''Government: Don't murder the three people. Pull out the troops.''

Some analysts said mishandling of the crisis could bring down the government, a prospect that worried financial markets.

''I don't think they can be saved if the government does not consider pulling the troops out. There are only two days left,'' Kyodo news agency quoted the mother of 18-year-old hostage Noriaki Imai as telling a news conference.

Koizumi, however, said he was not considering withdrawing troops from Samawa, where 550 Japanese soldiers are stationed.

''We should not give in to these despicable threats from terrorists,'' he told reporters.

He added the government was working to confirm the facts and that if the kidnappings were confirmed, the hostages' safety was the top priority.

Japanese were stunned when a previously unknown group released a video late on Thursday showing what it said were three hostages, blindfolded and with a gun to their heads.

The group vowed to ''burn them alive'' if Japanese troops did not leave Iraq within three days.

Koizumi has spent enormous political capital to push through the deployment of about 1,000 military personnel in total to demonstrate that Japan can take a bolder role in global security.

The mission is Japan's riskiest military operation since World War II and a major shift away from the purely defensive military stance Tokyo adopted after its defeat in the war.

Japanese Senior Vice Foreign Minister Ichiro Aisawa was set to arrive in Amman on Saturday to gather information, accompanied by a National Police Agency ''Terrorism Response Team.'' Police would give no details about the unit.


The whereabouts of the three -- Imai, who had planned to look into the effects of depleted uranium weapons; aid worker Nahoko Takato, 34; and freelance reporter Soichiro Koriyama, 32 -- was unclear.

So was the precise deadline, although a ruling coalition official said it was around 9 p.m. (0800 EDT) on April 11.

Besides the Japanese, seven South Koreans, a Briton, two Palestinians with Israeli identity cards, and a Canadian were reported to have been taken hostage in recent days.

The Koreans were later freed.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who arrives in Tokyo on Saturday at the beginning of an Asian tour, is expected to urge Washington's allies in the region to stand firm in their commitment to the U.S.-led mission in Iraq.

No Japanese soldier has been killed in combat since 1945, and casualties could affect support for Koizumi's government, whose ruling coalition faces Upper House elections in July.

Japan's public is sharply divided over the dispatch. Critics say it violates Japan's pacifist constitution and resent what they saw as U.S. pressure to put ''boots on the ground'' in Iraq.

''As we've said in the past, hasn't this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?,'' Democratic Party leader Naoto Kan told parliament.

Organizers said 4,000 demonstrators took part in a rally at Hibiya Park in central Tokyo to call for the troops withdrawal.

Tokyo residents are worried about a possible attack in the nation's capital, while in Samawa, blasts were reported again on Thursday near the Japanese soldiers' camp.

There were no reports of casualties or damage but the troops have suspended their reconstruction work outside the camp.

Financial markets were on edge. ''If the government mishandles the issue, that could bring down the Koizumi cabinet,'' said Yasuo Ueki, a market analyst at consultancy Poko Financial Office.

The Nikkei share average closed down 1.61 percent at 11,897.51 while the yen was trading at about 106.50 to the dollar after falling as low as 106.78.

04/09/04 07:50 ET

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April 13th, 2004, 10:24 AM
The present state in Iraq reminds me of Tito's Yugoslavia. Although no comparison to Hussein's brutality, the open liberal communism of Tito did not permit nationalistic dissent among the various ethnic groups. The slogan in Yugoslavia was "After Tito - Tito," but no Tito emerged.
After his death in 1980, the region unravelled and the term ethnic cleansing became popular in commentary.

I guess no lesson was learned. Who do we hand over power to, Ahmad Chalabi - who reminds me more of a sleasy businessman than a political leader?

May 9th, 2004, 01:02 PM

Dissension Grows In Senior Ranks On War Strategy

U.S. May Be Winning Battles in Iraq But Losing the War, Some Officers Say

By Thomas E. Ricks

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2004; Page A01

Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.

Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."

Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically," he said in an interview Friday.

"I lost my brother in Vietnam," added Hughes, a veteran Army strategist who is involved in formulating Iraq policy. "I promised myself, when I came on active duty, that I would do everything in my power to prevent that [sort of strategic loss] from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in."

The emergence of sharp differences over U.S. strategy has set off a debate, a year after the United States ostensibly won a war in Iraq, about how to preserve that victory. The core question is how to end a festering insurrection that has stymied some reconstruction efforts, made many Iraqis feel less safe and created uncertainty about who actually will run the country after the scheduled turnover of sovereignty June 30.

Inside and outside the armed forces, experts generally argue that the U.S. military should remain there but should change its approach. Some argue for more troops, others for less, but they generally agree on revising the stated U.S. goals to make them less ambitious. They are worried by evidence that the United States is losing ground with the Iraqi public.

Some officers say the place to begin restructuring U.S. policy is by ousting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom they see as responsible for a series of strategic and tactical blunders over the past year. Several of those interviewed said a profound anger is building within the Army at Rumsfeld and those around him.

A senior general at the Pentagon said he believes the United States is already on the road to defeat. "It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this," he said. "The American people may not stand for it -- and they should not."

Asked who was to blame, this general pointed directly at Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. "I do not believe we had a clearly defined war strategy, end state and exit strategy before we commenced our invasion," he said. "Had someone like Colin Powell been the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], he would not have agreed to send troops without a clear exit strategy. The current OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] refused to listen or adhere to military advice."

Like several other officers interviewed for this report, this general spoke only on the condition that his name not be used. One reason for this is that some of these officers deal frequently with the senior Pentagon civilian officials they are criticizing, and some remain dependent on top officials to approve their current efforts and future promotions. Also, some say they believe that Rumsfeld and other top civilians punish public dissent. Senior officers frequently cite what they believe was the vindictive treatment of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki after he said early in 2003 that the administration was underestimating the number of U.S. troops that would be required to occupy postwar Iraq.

Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's No. 2 official, said he does not think the United States is losing in Iraq, and said no senior officer has expressed that thought to him, either. "I am sure that there are some out there" who think that, he said in an interview yesterday afternoon.

"There's no question that we're facing some difficulties," Wolfowitz said. "I don't mean to sound Pollyannaish -- we all know that we're facing a tough problem." But, he said, "I think the course we've set is the right one, which is moving as rapidly as possible to Iraqi self-government and Iraqi self-defense."

Wolfowitz, who is widely seen as the intellectual architect of the Bush administration's desire to create a free and democratic Iraq that will begin the transformation of the politics of the Middle East, also strongly rejected the idea of scaling back on that aim. "The goal has never been to win the Olympic high jump in democracy," he said. Moving toward democratization in Iraq will take time, he said. Yet, he continued, "I don't think the answer is to find some old Republican Guard generals and have them impose yet another dictatorship in an Arab country."

The top U.S. commander in the war also said he strongly disagrees with the view that the United States is heading toward defeat in Iraq. "We are not losing, militarily," Army Gen. John Abizaid said in an interview Friday. He said that the U.S. military is winning tactically. But he stopped short of being as positive about the overall trend. Rather, he said, "strategically, I think there are opportunities."

The prisoner abuse scandal and the continuing car bombings and U.S. casualties "create the image of a military that's not being effective in the counterinsurgency," he said. But in reality, "the truth of the matter is . . . there are some good signals out there."

Abizaid cited the resumption of economic reconstruction and the political progress made with Sunni Muslims in resolving the standoff around Fallujah, and increasing cooperation from Shiite Muslims in isolating radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. "I'm looking at the situation, and I told the secretary of defense the other day I feel pretty comfortable with where we are," he said.

Even so, he said, "There's liable to be a lot of fighting in May and June," as the June 30 date for turning over sovereignty to an Iraqi government approaches.

Commanders on the ground in Iraq seconded that cautiously optimistic view.

"I am sure that the view from Washington is much worse than it appears on the ground here in Baqubah," said Army Col. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of a 1st Infantry Division brigade based in that city about 40 miles north of Baghdad. "I do not think that we are losing, but we will lose if we are not careful." He said he is especially worried about maintaining political and economic progress in the provinces after the turnover of power.

Army Lt. Col. John Kem, a battalion commander in Baghdad, said that the events of the past two months -- first the eruption of a Shiite insurgency, followed by the detainee abuse scandal -- "certainly made things harder," but he said he doubted they would have much effect on the long-term future of Iraq.

But some say that behind those official positions lies deep concern.

One Pentagon consultant said that officials with whom he works on Iraq policy continue to put on a happy face publicly, but privately are grim about the situation in Baghdad. When it comes to discussions of the administration's Iraq policy, he said, "It's 'Dead Man Walking.' "

The worried generals and colonels are simply beginning to say what experts outside the military have been saying for weeks.

In mid-April, even before the prison detainee scandal, Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, wrote in the New York Review of Books that "patience with foreign occupation is running out, and violent opposition is spreading. Civil war and the breakup of Iraq are more likely outcomes than a successful transition to a pluralistic Western-style democracy." The New York Review of Books is not widely read in the U.S. military, but the article, titled "How to Get Out of Iraq," was carried online and began circulating among some military intellectuals.

Likewise, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), a former Marine who is one of most hawkish Democrats in Congress, said last week: "We cannot prevail in this war as it is going today," and said that the Bush administration should either boost its troop numbers or withdraw.

Larry Diamond, who until recently was a senior political adviser of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, argued that the United States is not losing the war but is in danger of doing so. "I think that we have fallen into a period of real political difficulty where we are no longer clearly winning the peace, and where the prospect of a successful transition to democracy is in doubt.

"Basically, it's up in the air now," Diamond continued. "That's what is at stake. . . . We can't keep making tactical and strategic mistakes."

He and others are recommending a series of related revisions to the U.S. approach.

Like many in the Special Forces, defense consultant Michael Vickers advocates radically trimming the U.S. presence in Iraq, making it much more like the one in Afghanistan, where there are 20,000 troops and almost none in the capital, Kabul. The U.S. military has a small presence in the daily life of Afghans. Basically, it ignores them and focuses its attention on fighting pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda holdouts. Nor has it tried to disarm the militias that control much of the country.

In addition to trimming the U.S. troop presence, a young Army general said, the United States also should curtail its ambitions in Iraq. "That strategic objective, of a free, democratic, de-Baathified Iraq, is grandiose and unattainable," he said. "It's just a matter of time before we revise downward . . . and abandon these ridiculous objectives."

Instead, he predicted that if the Bush administration wins reelection, it simply will settle for a stable Iraq, probably run by former Iraqi generals. This is more or less, he said, what the Marines Corps did in Fallujah -- which he described as a glimpse of future U.S. policy.

Wolfowitz sharply rejected that conclusion about Fallujah. "Let's be clear, Fallujah has always been an outlier since the liberation of Baghdad," he said in the interview. "It's where the trouble began. . . . It really isn't a model for anything for the rest of the country."

But a senior military intelligence officer experienced in Middle Eastern affairs said he thinks the administration needs to rethink its approach to Iraq and to the region. "The idea that Iraq can be miraculously and quickly turned into a shining example of democracy that will 'transform' the Middle East requires way too much fairy dust and cultural arrogance to believe," he said.

Finally, some are calling for the United States to stop fighting separatist trends among Iraq's three major groups, the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds, and instead embrace them. "The best hope for holding Iraq together -- and thereby avoiding civil war -- is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants," Galbraith wrote last month.

Even if adjustments in troop presence and goals help the United States prevail, it will not happen soon, several of those interviewed said. The United States is likely to be fighting in Iraq for at least another five years, said an Army officer who served there. "We'll be taking casualties," he warned, during that entire time.

A long-term problem for any administration is that it may be difficult for the American public to tell whether the United States is winning or losing, and the prospect of continued casualties may prompt some to ask of how long the public will tolerate the fighting.

"Iraq might have been worth doing at some price," Vickers said. "But it isn't worth doing at any price. And the price has gone very high."

The other key factor in the war is Iraqi public opinion. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that a majority of Iraqis want the United States to leave immediately. "In Iraq, we are rapidly losing the support of the middle, which will enable the insurgency to persist practically indefinitely until our national resolve is worn down," the senior U.S. military intelligence officer said.

Tolerance of the situation in Iraq also appears to be declining within the U.S. military. Especially among career Army officers, an extraordinary anger is building at Rumsfeld and his top advisers.

"Like a lot of senior Army guys, I'm quite angry" with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration, the young general said. He listed two reasons. "One is, I think they are going to break the Army." But what really incites him, he said, is, "I don't think they care."

Jeff Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA who has close ties to many senior officers, said, "Some of my friends in the military are exceedingly angry." In the Army, he said, "It's pretty bitter."

Retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a frequent Pentagon consultant, said, "The people in the military are mad as hell." He said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, should be fired. A spokesman for Myers declined to comment.

A Special Forces officer aimed higher, saying that "Rumsfeld needs to go, as does Wolfowitz."

Asked about such antagonism, Wolfowitz said, "I wish they'd have the -- whatever it takes -- to come tell me to my face."

He said that by contrast, he had been "struck at how many fairly senior officers have come to me" to tell him that he and Rumsfeld have made the right decisions concerning the Army.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

May 10th, 2004, 11:44 AM

That's a lot of reading........

May 11th, 2004, 11:58 PM
For Iraqis to Win, the U.S. Must Lose

This has been a crushingly depressing period, especially for people who support the war in Iraq. The predictions people on my side made about the postwar world have not yet come true. The warnings others made about the fractious state of post-Saddam society have.

It's still too soon to declare the Iraq mission a failure. Some of the best reporting out of Iraq suggests that many Iraqis have stared into the abyss of what their country could become and have decided to work with renewed vigor toward the democracy that both we and they want.

Nonetheless, it's not too early to begin thinking about what was clearly an intellectual failure. There was, above all, a failure to understand the consequences of our power. There was a failure to anticipate the response our power would have on the people we sought to liberate. They resent us for our power and at the same time expect us to be capable of everything. There was a failure to understand the effect our power would have on other people around the world. We were so sure we were using our might for noble purposes, we assumed that sooner or later, everybody else would see that as well. Far from being blinded by greed, we were blinded by idealism.

Just after World War II, there were Americans who were astute students of the nature and consequences of American power. America's midcentury leaders — politicians like F.D.R. and Harry Truman, as well as public intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and James Burnham — had seen American might liberate death camps. They had also seen Americans commit wartime atrocities that surpass those at Abu Ghraib.

These midcentury leaders were idealists, but they were rugged idealists, because they combined a cold-eyed view of reality with a warm self-confidence in their ability to do history-changing good.

They took a tragically ironic view of their situation. They understood that we can't defeat ruthless enemies without wielding power. But we can't wield power without sometimes being corrupted by it. Therefore, we can't do good without losing our innocence.

History had assigned them a dirty job: taking morally hazardous action. They did not try to escape, but they did not expect sainthood.

That rugged idealism looks appealing today. We went into Iraq with what, in retrospect, seems like a childish fantasy. We were going to topple Saddam, establish democracy and hand the country back to grateful Iraqis. We expected to be universally admired when it was all over.

We didn't understand the tragic irony that our power is also our weakness. As long as we seemed so mighty, others, even those we were aiming to assist, were bound to revolt. They would do so for their own self-respect. In taking out Saddam, we robbed the Iraqis of the honor of liberating themselves. The fact that they had no means to do so is beside the point.

Now, looking ahead, we face another irony. To earn their own freedom, the Iraqis need a victory. And since it is too late for the Iraqis to have a victory over Saddam, it is imperative that they have a victory over us. If the future textbooks of a free Iraq get written, the toppling of Saddam will be vaguely mentioned in one clause in one sentence. But the heroic Iraqi resistance against the American occupation will be lavishly described, page after page. For us to succeed in Iraq, we have to lose.

That means the good Iraqis, the ones who support democracy, have to have a forum in which they can defy us. If the insurgents are the only anti-Americans, then there will always be a soft spot for them in the hearts of Iraqi patriots.

That forum is an election campaign. There would be significant risks involved in moving the Iraq elections up to this fall. Parties might use their militias to coerce votes. But Iraqis have to see their candidates and themselves standing up with speeches and ideas, not just with R.P.G.'s. The insurgency would come to look anti-democratic, which would be seen to be bad, not just anti-American, which is seen to be good.

If the Iraqis do campaign this fall, then at their rallies they will jeer at us. We will still be hated around the world. But we will have succeeded in doing what we set out to do.

And we will have learned about the irony of our situation.

May 13th, 2004, 08:33 AM
May 13, 2004


Dancing Alone


It is time to ask this question: Do we have any chance of succeeding at regime change in Iraq without regime change here at home?

"Hey, Friedman, why are you bringing politics into this all of a sudden? You're the guy who always said that producing a decent outcome in Iraq was of such overriding importance to the country that it had to be kept above politics."

Yes, that's true. I still believe that. My mistake was thinking that the Bush team believed it, too. I thought the administration would have to do the right things in Iraq — from prewar planning and putting in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of defense for incompetence — because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the country. But I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that's getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so. It has always been more important for the Bush folks to defeat liberals at home than Baathists abroad. That's why they spent more time studying U.S. polls than Iraqi history. That is why, I'll bet, Karl Rove has had more sway over this war than Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns. Mr. Burns knew only what would play in the Middle East. Mr. Rove knew what would play in the Middle West.

I admit, I'm a little slow. Because I tried to think about something as deadly serious as Iraq, and the post- 9/11 world, in a nonpartisan fashion — as Joe Biden, John McCain and Dick Lugar did — I assumed the Bush officials were doing the same. I was wrong. They were always so slow to change course because confronting their mistakes didn't just involve confronting reality, but their own politics.

Why, in the face of rampant looting in the war's aftermath, which dug us into such a deep and costly hole, wouldn't Mr. Rumsfeld put more troops into Iraq? Politics. First of all, Rummy wanted to crush once and for all the Powell doctrine, which says you fight a war like this only with overwhelming force. I know this is hard to believe, but the Pentagon crew hated Colin Powell, and wanted to see him humiliated 10 times more than Saddam. Second, Rummy wanted to prove to all those U.S. generals whose Army he was intent on downsizing that a small, mobile, high-tech force was all you needed today to take over a country. Third, the White House always knew this was a war of choice — its choice — so it made sure that average Americans never had to pay any price or bear any burden. Thus, it couldn't call up too many reservists, let alone have a draft. Yes, there was a contradiction between the Bush war on taxes and the Bush war on terrorism. But it was resolved: the Bush team decided to lower taxes rather than raise troop levels.

Why, in the face of the Abu Ghraib travesty, wouldn't the administration make some uniquely American gesture? Because these folks have no clue how to export hope. They would never think of saying, "Let's close this prison immediately and reopen it in a month as the Abu Ghraib Technical College for Computer Training — with all the equipment donated by Dell, H.P. and Microsoft." Why didn't the administration ever use 9/11 as a spur to launch a Manhattan project for energy independence and conservation, so we could break out of our addiction to crude oil, slowly disengage from this region and speak truth to fundamentalist regimes, such as Saudi Arabia? (Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.) Because that might have required a gas tax or a confrontation with the administration's oil moneymen. Why did the administration always — rightly — bash Yasir Arafat, but never lift a finger or utter a word to stop Ariel Sharon's massive building of illegal settlements in the West Bank? Because while that might have earned America credibility in the Middle East, it might have cost the Bush campaign Jewish votes in Florida.

And, of course, why did the president praise Mr. Rumsfeld rather than fire him? Because Karl Rove says to hold the conservative base, you must always appear to be strong, decisive and loyal. It is more important that the president appear to be true to his team than that America appear to be true to its principles. (Here's the new Rummy Defense: "I am accountable. But the little guys were responsible. I was just giving orders.")

Add it all up, and you see how we got so off track in Iraq, why we are dancing alone in the world — and why our president, who has a strong moral vision, has no moral influence.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 16th, 2004, 08:48 AM
May 16, 2004

Tyranny of the Minorities


Question: What do the Shiite extremist leader Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army have in common with the extremist Jewish settlers in Israel? Answer: More than you'd think. Both movements combine religious messianism, and a willingness to sacrifice their followers and others for absolutist visions, along with a certain disdain for man-made laws, as opposed to those from God. The big question in both Iraq and Israel today is also similar: Will the silent majorities in both countries finally turn against these extremist minorities to save their future?

On May 2, the Jewish settlers mobilized enough members of the right-wing Likud Party to defeat Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and all its Jewish settlements (7,500 Israelis live on 35 percent of Gaza, while 1.3 million Palestinians are squeezed into the other 65 percent). Polls in Israel consistently show a large majority of Israelis want to get out of Gaza. Nevertheless, Mr. Sharon, for now, has submitted to the Likud Party vote — even though Likud is only one faction in his ruling coalition and his coalition represents only a little over half the country.

The ability of the settler minority to impose its will on the Israeli majority means that Israel is not staying in Gaza to defend itself anymore — its own defense minister says it would be safer to leave. It is now staying in Gaza to preserve a settler fantasy — that Israel can and must keep every settlement everywhere.

As Ari Shavit, the Haaretz essayist, wrote on Friday: "The current war has been redefined since the events of May 2. On that day, the current war ceased to be a war on terror. It ceased to be a war for Israel's existence. May 2, 2004, the war became a war of not-a-single-settlement [is to be given up]. The young guys of Givati [an Israeli army unit] who were blown up with their armored personnel carrier on Tuesday in Gaza differ from all of their comrades who have been killed there since September 2000. They differ, because they are no longer the victims of extremist Islam. They are no longer the victims of Arafat's insanity. They are the victims of the settlement enterprise. The attempt of the organized settlement movement to force on the citizens of Israel a war that is not their war is unforgivable."

The Israeli silent majority is now taking to the streets under the banner: "Only The Majority Decides." The question is: Will Mr. Sharon, the patron of the settler movement, take on the settlers in the name of that Israeli majority and in order to save Israel? Meir Sheetrit, an Israeli cabinet minister from Likud who has been urging Mr. Sharon to carry out his plan anyway, told me his advice to Mr. Sharon has been very blunt: "Either you make history, or you will be history." An editorial in Haaretz was equally blunt: "A zealous, religious and messianic minority already led the people of Israel to the destruction of the Second Commonwealth 2,000 years ago. Now the struggle is over the Third Commonwealth."

There is also obviously a struggle for Iraq. Last Tuesday, two big events happened in Iraq — but only one of them made headlines. One was disclosure of the horrific beheading of Nicholas Berg. The other was the peaceful demonstration by 1,000 Shiites in Najaf, telling Moktada al-Sadr to get out of town. Sadr's men fired their weapons into the air and shouted at the demonstrators, but the demonstrators shouted right back. The future of Iraq, and the chances of America salvaging any decent outcome there, depend on which event — the Berg murder or the anti-Sadr march — turns out to be the emerging trend.

This anti-Sadr march was a truly rare event in the modern Arab world — a large public demonstration by Muslim moderates against armed Muslim extremists. It could only have happened in a post-Saddam Iraq, where, even in the turmoil, people have enough freedom to do such a thing. But it will only define post-Saddam Iraq if it becomes a real movement among the Shiite silent majority and not just a one-day parade. "We need the moderate Shiites to take charge of the streets and their own future," a U.S. commander in Iraq told me. "Otherwise, it will become a problem for them and for us."

I am a big believer that what a culture or a society deems to be shameful and illegitimate is the most important restraint on how its people behave. It takes a village. But it also takes a silent majority to act. I'm confident that will happen in Israel, which is already a democracy. And Iraq will only become a democracy if the same happens there.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 23rd, 2004, 09:24 AM
May 23, 2004


How the Iraqis See Their Future


BAGHDAD, Iraq — Here are two brief glimpses into the divided Iraqi mind, at a moment when Iraqis, no less than Americans, are being forced into ever worse choices.

Ghazi Muklif Hamdan, a 31-year-old man without a job, was waiting for hours in front of the trash-strewn entrance to Abu Ghraib prison. He was there to make an appointment to see an uncle inside. The talk on the line was of the abuses at the hands of American guards and a loss of trust so great that even civil war seemed preferable to occupation.

"Let them leave," Mr. Hamdan said. "Let hell come after that."

Inside a tasteful room in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad sat Adel Abdul Mehdi, a chubby, gray-haired, intelligent man whose name circulates here as a possible Iraqi prime minister. He recounted how, a year ago, he was handcuffed during a raid at his political party's headquarters as American soldiers - "in a very brutal way," he bristled - debated whether to kill him.

"Should I shoot him, sir?" Mr. Mehdi said one soldier asked his superior. "Should I blast his head?"

A reporter asked Mr. Mehdi, a Shiite Muslim politician who has since remained largely cooperative with the Americans, if he had been able to forgive the soldiers. He suggested that forgiveness was really beside the point. "We are very patient," he said.

Mr. Hamdan and Mr. Mehdi stand for pretty much the only two choices left to Iraqis: resistance against the Americans even in the knowledge that it could lead to chaos, or bare tolerance of the occupation as the only way of avoiding, or even just postponing, that chaos.

For people like Mr. Hamdan - and the numbers of those who share his opinion seem to be growing - pride and dignity trump any fears for the future.

For people like Mr. Mehdi, resistance is a luxury that Iraq cannot afford. Iraqis must patiently stomach the Americans, for all their faults, and extract promises of money and support for long-term stability. For all the explosions and assassinations now, the fear is that the violence could lead to something far worse, a future that cleaves the nation along ethnic and religious lines, in which neighbor could rise up to slaughter neighbor. Bosnia was bad enough, but it is likely that the killing here would be intensified by a prize absent there: one of the world's largest oil supplies.

For Americans grasping for a reason to stay optimistic about their experiment in Iraq, it may be this: There are still far more people in Mr. Mehdi's camp, people who are skeptical of, and maybe even hate, the Americans but see them as the only way to save themselves.

Sadim Samir, 23, a political science student at the University of Baghdad, found that out in research he did for a recent class paper, in which he canvassed five neighborhoods, mostly in the poorer area of the capital's southern section.

"The answer that everyone gave was, 'It's been a year, and they have done nothing for us,' " he said. "But after that I asked, 'Do you want them to leave?' And they all said, 'No. It's going to be more chaotic.' I don't know if that is a contradiction as much as what I might call a weakness. It's weakness and fear."

But his research also uncovered limits to the hope that Iraqis will make, in the end, a rational and self-protective choice about their future. The recent surge in violence is beginning to make people feel that the Americans are no longer in control, that they have broken faith with Iraqis, that the mere fact of an American occupation in Iraq is what is driving the violence.

No one has to look far for evidence: the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib; the suicide bombing last week that killed Ezzedine Salim, president of the Iraqi Governing Council, literally at the gates of the American headquarters here; continued fighting in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. And even American officials here say they believe that the violence will get worse with the approach of June 30, the day when Iraqis are supposed to gain some measure of sovereignty.

One of Mr. Samir's fellow students, Noor Alan, 18, a modern young woman who does not cover her head like her more religiously observant friends, said she has noticed a shift in her own family's attitude about the Americans' loss of control.

"I used to say to my family that it's O.K. for the Americans to stay because they will bring prosperity," she said. "Then the other day, I started to say it, when I saw on TV the pictures from Abu Ghraib. I couldn't finish my sentence. My family said, 'What are you talking about? It's getting worse.' "

In short, many Iraqis have less reason to leave the category that American officials often call "the fence sitters" - people who do not resist but are unwilling to commit to the American project for fear that it will not work. Added to that is the reality that the insurgents have methodically made targets of Iraqis, like policemen and politicians, who work for new government institutions.

And fence-sitting is seeming like a more reasonable option these days. Who really knows where the American soldiers will be in, say, a year from now? Their withdrawal does not seem impossible, given how Americans back home are recoiling from the violence and the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Iraqis who support the United States outright could become targets in this nation where the memory of bloody reprisal is recent and real. Tens of thousands of Shiites were killed in 1991, their bodies piled up in mosques, for heeding an American call to rise up against Saddam Hussein after the first war in Iraq.

"In the end, maybe Americans will say they want their boys back," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the governing council. "That is bad. The security situation is not good. We need those troops here."

The last empire to tackle the problem of Iraq - or more accurately the empire that created Iraq from three disparate Ottoman provinces - faced similar problems.

"The stronger the hold we are able to keep here, the better the inhabitants will be pleased," Gertrude Bell, the British adventurer, wrote in 1917 after British troops conquered Baghdad from the Ottoman Empire. "They can't conceive an independent Arab government. Nor, I confess, can I."

But the Shiites rose up in the south in 1920, their rebellion quelled only after hundreds of British and Indian troops died and heavy reinforcements were thrown into the fight. As the debate grows back in Washington about whether Iraq needs a similar infusion of more American troops to quell this insurgency, the lessons of history compete with the reality on the ground here: when American troops tried to crack down on insurgents in Falluja last month - just the sort of operation that would seem to satisfy Iraqis' cries for security - even those who despise the resistance stood against the American military. "It's true that we want the resistance to stop," Ms. Alan said. "But innocent people were caught in the middle."

By June 30, local leaders, the United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian head of the American-led operation, must resolve at least some of the Iraqis' contradictory feelings about the last year, which has both elated and terrified them. The plan has not yet been spelled out, but it will in essence create an interim government leading to full elections and a constitution next year. Perhaps even more important, it will have to resolve the conflicts in Iraq's psyche: the split among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

The job might be easier if Iraq could produce a single leader, acceptable to all three groups, who could stand up and say: "We do not trust the Americans. We want them to leave. But to avoid an even worse catastrophe for our nation of Sunni, Shia and Kurd, we must tolerate them."

That catastrophe would be the abandonment of an Iraq that America has only partially built, and that would be likely to fall quickly. Incompletely trained policemen and soldiers might not be able to maintain order, as they could not recently in Falluja. Violent opportunists could roam the streets, as the militia of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr does now, without the check of American soldiers. Banditry might stop the flow of goods that have raised the standard of living for many after Mr. Hussein's fall. And perhaps, the delicate ethnic and religious lines would crack into a future that few here like to contemplate.

The problem is that in the vacuum that Mr. Hussein very deliberately created outside the confines of his own regime, there are no signs of a national leader. Many figures, like Mr. Mehdi or Mr. Othman, who counsel patience with the Americans , are too closely associated with their own groups - in their cases, Shiite and Kurd - to play that unifying role.

Two months before the American invasion last year, a Western diplomat holed up in Baghdad waiting for the bombs to drop, summed up the dilemma he saw then with the impending overthrow of Mr. Hussein, and it remains true today.

"It is important to understand that in Iraqis' minds they have this conflict: 'I want to change my life, and I want my leader to go,' '' he said. 'At the same time, I am a nationalist, I am proud of my country, I am humiliated by American policy.' ''

"It's a mixed feeling,'' the diplomat added. "They are waiting to be liberated, but they are not seeing the Americans as liberators.''

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 23rd, 2004, 11:53 AM
So much has been about muslim humiliation for years now - at the hands of the US, Israel and the west in general - and as the root cause for anti-western terrorism. IMO much (certainly not all) of the humiliation the arab muslim world feels seems to be self-inflicted yet is never even considered. Its sort of a mass case of being in denial.

What's interesting to me is the muslim response to muslim humiliation. Compare it to the humiliation of Germany and Japan after WWII or the humilation of eastern europe at the hands of the soviets or the jews at the hands of the nazis or many other cases.

The natural cultural response for westerners when they are humiliated is to be angry yes, but is also to embark upon a self-improvement to regain self-esteem. The latter seems to be entirely lacking in the muslim arab world.

June 15th, 2004, 06:54 AM
June 15, 2004


21 Killed in Iraq and Dozens Hurt in Bomb Attacks


BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 14 - A suicide bomber rammed a truck packed with explosives into a convoy of foreign contractors on Monday, killing at least 13 people in a busy Baghdad neighborhood during the morning rush hour. Around the same time, two more bombs went off, one south of the capital, one north, claiming eight more lives, making it one of the deadliest days in Iraq in the past month.

One American, two Britons, a French citizen and a Filipino were killed in the Baghdad bombing, military officials said. Three were General Electric employees working on power plants in Iraq, and two were their security guards. Iraqi officials said dozens of Iraqis were wounded in the attack, in addition to the eight Iraqi civilians who were killed.

Iyad Allawi, Iraq's designated prime minister, called a news conference to express his outrage at the violence. "These people were helping to rebuild our country," he said.

American officials said the bombings were part of a well-organized campaign to derail the June 30 transfer of authority. The officials have repeatedly warned of major terrorist strikes in the days leading up to June 30, and more than 80 people have been killed in the past two weeks in a rash of bombings and assassinations.

Yet even as the violence is peaking in Iraq, American forces are deferring, more and more each day, to Iraqi security services. Much of the political handover has already happened, and American officials say it is now important to allow Iraqi security services to play a bigger role. As a result, a power vacuum seems to be forming.

On Monday, for example, minutes after the Baghdad bombing, a crowd of young men flooded into the streets and rushed toward the wreckage of the convoy.

As more than 50 Iraqi policemen stood by, the mob stomped on the hoods of the crushed vehicles, doused them with kerosene and set them alight, sparking a huge fireball in the middle of a crowded neighborhood. Even as angry men ran past them, slipping through police lines to hurl bricks at a squad of American soldiers, few of the Iraqi policemen intervened.

"What are we to do?" asked an Iraqi police lieutenant, Wisam Deab. "If we try to stop them, they will think we are helping the Americans. Then they will turn on us."

The crowd became increasingly hostile, with one man shaking a severed finger, apparently from one of the people killed by the bombing, at a British reporter.

Arab news crews broadcast the mayhem, reinforcing the image of Iraq as a country skidding toward chaos. In Baghdad, the rumble of explosions has become almost like a morning alarm clock. Many of the bombs go off between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., during morning rush hour, to inflict the maximum number of casualties.

American and Iraqi officials say they are improving security cooperation in the days before June 30, sharing more intelligence and running more joint operations. But at the Baghdad bombing on Monday, there was very little communication between the sides. As clouds of black smoke boiled up from the street and the mob grew more and more unruly, American soldiers waited in their Humvees 50 yards behind Iraqi policemen, with neither group talking much with the other.

"The Americans say we are working together," said one police colonel who asked not to be identified. "But I am confused. Nobody is in control here."

Gary Sheffer, a spokesman for General Electric, said the company had been operating safely in Iraq for the better part of a year and would continue to do business there. "We have no intention of pulling our people out," he said.

There have been at least 12 car bombings since June 1, and usually both American soldiers and Iraqi policemen respond to the attacks. But a certain pattern is emerging. As soon as the American soldiers roll in, with their armored Humvees and swiveling guns, the crowds scatter. When the troops back off, no matter how many Iraqi policemen are there, the mobs return, in greater numbers.

Brig. General Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for the occupation military forces, said the Iraqi authorities were responsible for day-to-day public security in Baghdad.

"The Iraqi Police Service personnel feel that they have the situation under control," he said. "We remain ready to support if asked."

So far, the American military has fielded a security force of more than 215,000 Iraqis. Advisers have even formed an all-Iraqi counterinsurgency force and trained them in guerrilla tactics like ambushing trucks and camouflaging themselves as trees. But many American commanders, usually in private, concede that the Iraqi forces are not up to scratch.

"I think we've been focused more on quantity than quality," said one high-ranking American officer. "There's a realization out there we still have a long way to go."

According to witnesses, the contractors were driving near Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on a street they often use to commute to work when a truck came zooming up, against traffic, and slammed right into them. The explosion blasted one vehicle off the road and into a garden 30 feet away, where it landed next to a palm tree. The explosion also ripped the facade off a nearby hotel and gutted several photography shops and juice stands.

Hussein Atiha was selling watermelon up the street when his stand was nearly knocked over by the bomb. Like many Iraqis, he seemed divided in his thoughts on the occupation, the future and the rising tide of violence. At one moment, as he watched the mob pound and kick the destroyed vehicles, Mr. Atiha shook his head.

"That is wrong," he said. "That is disrespectful."

But the next moment, Mr. Atiha, 21, said of the foreigners: "We have lost more than them. They deserve this."

Witnesses to the other bombings said that four Iraqi civil defense soldiers were killed at 9:45 a.m. on a busy street in Mosul, in northern Iraq, after their patrol hit a roadside bomb. The Associated Press reported that around the same time four people were killed in Salman Pak, southeast of Baghdad, when a suicide bomber drove between police vehicles and detonated explosives. American and Iraqi officials blamed the attacks on terrorists connected to Al Qaeda, but they did not offer any evidence to back their claim.

There was a hint of good news on Monday, though. Around 9 a.m., a convoy of marines drove into the heart of the troubled city of Falluja, held a three-hour meeting with sheiks and then drove out without a shot being fired. Falluja remains one of the tensest places in Iraq, even after the marines agreed last month to pull out of the city and allow an all-Iraqi security force to patrol the streets. Masked insurgents continue to operate openly, though on Monday they were nowhere to be seen.

"Everybody was calm," said Jasim Muhammad Saleh, a former military officer and respected elder in Falluja. "The marines said many good things. The people here were happy to receive them."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

July 30th, 2004, 07:15 AM
July 30, 2004

Iraqis Postpone Conference as Kidnappings Rise


BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 29 - Iraq postponed a major national conference billed as one of its first steps toward democracy and national reconciliation on Thursday, as the epidemic of kidnappings widened sharply with insurgents announcing that they had kidnapped five more foreign hostages.

Kidnapping has grown into a major tactic in the conflict here, with roughly 20 people taken hostage since the Philippine government withdrew its troops from Iraq last week to save the life of an abducted Filipino truck driver.

The day after two Pakistani hostages were executed, a group calling itself the Death Squad of the Iraqi Resistance said Thursday that it had kidnapped four Jordanians and would take "appropriate measures" if the transport company they worked for did not shut down operations in Iraq, according to a videotape delivered to Dubai Television.

[Secretary of State Colin Powell made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Friday, flying into Iraq after visiting Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Reuters reported. He is the most senior American official to visit Iraq since the United States transferred sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government on June 28.]

Also on Thursday, a group led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has claimed responsibility for killing several hostages, said it had kidnapped a Somali truck driver and threatened to behead him unless the Kuwaiti company he works for did not also cease operations here.

Meantime, a group that kidnapped seven truck drivers - three Indians, three Kenyans and one Egyptian - last week released a videotape showing a rifle pointed at the head of one terrified Indian, shown wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, as have several hostages who have been executed. A voice on the videotape threatened to kill him within 24 hours unless the captors' demands, which include the withdrawal of the hostages' Kuwait employer, were met.

"If no one responds to us, we will slaughter one of the hostages Friday, July 30, at 7:00 p.m.," said the voice on the tape. A group calling itself the Bearers of the Black Banners has claimed responsibility for the drivers' kidnapping.

The recent spate of kidnappings has added yet another dimension of tension and fear to the conflict here, involving hundreds of thousands of foreigners, from soldiers to diplomats to drivers and manual laborers from poor countries.

It has emerged as a major challenge to the young government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and the American forces in Iraq, one that reverberates down to the scores of companies doing business here and to the hostages' home countries.

It has also confounded assumptions about what lines insurgents here might not cross; many of the hostages are Muslim, like their abductors. Last week, an Egyptian diplomat, later released unharmed, was kidnapped as he was leaving a mosque in Baghdad.

The tactic seems to be reaping some success. Several companies have pledged to stop working in Iraq, and on Thursday a notice went out in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified main headquarters for American officials in Iraq, saying meal service was being cut back to military rations and cold cuts "due to unforeseen circumstances." An American official said the reason was that Pakistani workers in the Green Zone went on strike after the two Pakistani hostages were executed.

The national conference, aimed at selecting a 100-seat interim council that will serve as one branch of new interim Iraqi government, was scheduled to begin Saturday. Iraqi officials said they were postponing it for two weeks

The announcement came on the day that President Bush signed an order officially lifting sanctions on Iraq - already lifted by the Treasury Department - that his father imposed against Iraq 14 years ago, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

The conference is expected to be an experiment in democracy here, as 1,000 delegates from around the country are to converge on Baghdad to elect the council and initiate a broad dialogue on Iraq's future.

Fuad Masum, the conference's organizer, said it was being postponed at the request of the United Nations, which has worried that several important groups refused to take part and that not enough Iraqis knew about it yet for it to have wide legitimacy.

Earlier this week, Mr. Masum announced that the conference would go forward despite the United Nations' concerns, because the transitional law mandated that it begin in July. But he said Thursday that he believed the postponement would allow time for broader participation.

"I am not distressed by the postponement," he told reporters in a brief news conference in Baghdad. "We are determined that this conference represent all Iraqis."

Iraqis officials had argued that postponing the conference could set a bad precedent for a far more important democratic milestone: the first national elections, set for January. One Western official here played down the concern that the elections, too, would be postponed, saying that the conference's delay was due to short preparation time and the sheer size of the event, and that deadlines for elections and writing a constitution would not be as easily put back.

"Those should not slip," the official said. His comments were echoed by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was visiting Saudi Arabia, where he met with Dr. Allawi. The timing of the conference and the timing of the elections, he said, "are not linked to one another."

"Over the last couple of days, it started to look like it might be better to delay it for a while, to make sure we do it right rather than do it in haste," Mr. Powell told reporters.

In the last few days, many concerns have been raised, from reports of incomplete preparations to worries about presenting a large target for insurgent attacks. That fear was underscored Wednesday after a suicide car bomber killed 70 people outside a police station in Baquba, north of Baghdad. Some political parties had also complained of irregularities in the process of selecting the 1,000 delegates to the conference.

United Nations officials have said they were most concerned about the conference's going forward without several crucial groups on board - many representing Sunni Muslims, a minority in Iraq who are already fearful that the new political process will not represent them adequately.

Jamal Benomar, the chief United Nations diplomat advising Iraq on the conference, said the extra two weeks would give organizers a chance to persuade recalcitrant groups.

"The aim of the conference is to close ranks in the one tent that can contain all Iraqis," he told reporters. "This is a historic moment for Iraqis to meet its political and religious diversity under this big tent."

On Wednesday, the Sunni Muslim Islamic Party announced it would pull out of the conference, citing threats it had received and "mistakes and violations" in selecting delegates.

Alaa Meki, a spokesman for the Islamic Party, welcomed the delay on Thursday, saying the party could take part if the problems so far were solved. "Now we are relieved because there will be time to have more talks in order to conduct a serious and decent election," he said.

But one influential group that has refused to attend the conference, the Muslim Scholars Association, made up of Sunni clerics and intellectuals, said the postponement would not change its mind.

Also on Thursday, an American soldier was killed in the hard-line northern Sunni town of Hawija after his convoy came under small arms fire, the military reported.

At least 9 Iraqis were killed and 16 others wounded early Friday in fierce clashes between American forces and gunmen in Falluja, Reuters reported.

Iraqi employees of The New York Times, whose names have been withheld for their safety, contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

August 3rd, 2004, 02:18 AM
$200 billion later..

Leading Muslim Clerics in Iraq Condemn Bombing of Churches

The New York Times
Published: August 3, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 2 - Top Muslim clerics and political leaders united Monday behind Iraq's Christians, condemning the coordinated bomb attacks on five churches the day before as a dangerous escalation of the war and an assault on centuries of coexistence between Christians and Muslims here.

Members of the Assyrian church walked in the Dura neighborhood of Baghdad amid cars that were twisted and blackened by the explosion.

Still, some Christians, who make up less than 5 percent of the nation's 25 million people, said they feared that the attacks were a frightening signal of a rise of fundamentalist Islam - and that the day might come when they were no longer welcome in Iraq. At least 10 people were killed in the bombings, timed as Christians gathered in churches for Sunday evening Mass.

"What else do they want?" asked a Christian woman, who gave her name as Um Khalid, 56, who runs a food shop down the street from an Assyrian Christian church in Baghdad, where twisted and blackened cars still stood from the explosion the night before. "They want us out of here."

Iraqi officials lay blame for the attacks on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant with ties to Al Qaeda. But his group, Tawhid and Jihad, did not claim responsibility for the attacks, as has been its practice for others.

The group did release two videotapes on Monday: one showing what appeared to be a Turkish hostage shot to death with three bullets to the head, the other saying it was releasing a Somali truck driver because his employer had agreed to halt operations in Iraq.

The Iraqi Christian community, concentrated around Baghdad and the Kurdish-controlled region in and around Mosul, is one of the oldest in the world, tracing its roots back 2,000 years. Most of its members are Assyrians, an independent Christian church, and Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who recognize papal authority.

A Christian on Monday in her Baghdad home, badly damaged in the bombing of a church across the street.

Though subject to persecution throughout their history, they considered themselves generally well treated under the largely secular rule of Saddam Hussein, and some of them - notably the deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz - rose to positions of power.

Their numbers have dwindled from about 1 million in 1991, around the time of the Persian Gulf war, to about 800,000 now and falling. The exodus has grown markedly since the fall of the Hussein government last year, with the crumbling of the generally secular atmosphere and the spread of lawlessness.

A recent rise in attacks on retail businesses often owned by Christians and considered blasphemous by Islamists - liquor stores, beauty salons and shops selling Western music - has increased the worries.

Iraqis on Monday viewed damage to the Assyrian church in Baghdad. It was one of five Iraqi Christian churches that were bombed on Sunday.

On Monday, leaders from nearly every major Muslim group, Sunni and Shiite alike, spoke out forcefully against the bombings, in what amounted to a call for national unity against what they said were terrorists aimed at pulling the country apart.

The most revered Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, described the bombings as "criminal actions" and called on the new Iraqi government to end such violence.

"We confirm the necessity of respecting the right of Christians and other religious minorities and their right to live in their country, Iraq, in security and peace," Ayatollah Sistani, who communicates publicly only on matters he regards as vital, said in a statement.

There were similar words from the Muslim Scholars Association, a relatively moderate group of Sunni Muslims which nonetheless has ties to the insurgency here. Even Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel Shiite cleric whose militia is thought to be responsible for many of the attacks on liquor stores, condemned the bombings.

The American military also strongly condemned the attacks. "These terrorists will attack anyone and anything to create widespread fear and destroy the

security and future of Iraq," Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, a military spokesman, said in a statement.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said both the nature of the attacks and evidence collected from the bombing sites pointed firmly to Mr. Zarqawi, possibly working in cooperation with supporters of Mr. Hussein. He said there were direct similarities with earlier bombings believed to have been carried out by Mr. Zarqawi, including the types of explosive and detonators.

"The fingerprints of Zarqawi are all over the place," Dr. Rubaie said in an interview. But he said the fact that only one of bombings, in the northern city of Mosul, was a suicide bomb, Mr. Zarqawi's preferred weapon, suggested assistance from Hussein supporters, who he said were proficient in wiring bombs in cars that are parked and later detonated remotely.

He said Iraqi forces stopped two other car bombs aimed at churches on Sunday. One of those was discovered by an Iraqi soldier in Mosul, according to an American military statement.

Dr. Rubaie said he was worried that Christians might interpret the attacks as a warning to leave Iraq, something that he said would be devastating to the country. He said that the business presence of Christians, their education level and their ties to the West made them assets in this tenuous moment in Iraq - and that he believed Muslims supported their staying.

"We can't afford to lose any of them, to be quite honest with you," Dr. Rubaie said. "Iraq will be a big, big loser. This blow is going to unite Iraqis."

Around the neighborhood of Karrada, the many Christians who live there seemed to be closing ranks in anger and fear. Armed men blocked off streets in front of a private Christian hospital and several churches. At the Alliance Church, residents parked an oversized flatbed truck at one end of the street leading to the church and posted guards next to a barricade of bricks, logs and cardboard barrels at the other.

"This was the work of terrorists," said a guard at the church who refused to give his name. "We have good relations with Muslims in Iraq."

In interviews, Christians debated whether these attacks had been aimed specifically at them or represented a widening of terror attacks that have already been directed at other groups, like Shiites in mosques, police officers and recruits, Kurds at a political headquarters, Muslim truck drivers - or perhaps, most disturbingly, some combination of the two.

"It's not just because I am a Christian," said Sabbah Slewa, 47, one in a group of Christian men milling Monday morning amid the wreckage in front of the Assyrian church. "We are brothers and sisters in Iraq. They are doing this to delay civilization. They do not want the new government."

Across the street from an Armenian church in Karrada that was also bombed on Sunday, Samir Matthews, 30, a painter, said he had been disturbed by what he felt was a recent rise in Islamic fundamentalism - something that made him think "for sure" that Christians may need to leave Iraq.

"I want to tell you something," said Mr. Matthews, surrounded by toppled brick and shattered glass. "Yesterday the daughters of my cousin were wearing crosses around their necks. Their mother pulled the crosses off and said, 'Are your crazy wearing crosses at a time like this?' She did this right after the churches were attacked."

Meanwhile on Monday, there was no indication that seven truck drivers held hostage in Iraq had been released, despite reports on Sunday that they had been freed.

Over the weekend, an Iraqi tribal sheik acting as an intermediary first expressed optimism about release of the men - three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian. But he said talks had broken down over the refusal of the Kuwait trucking company that hires them to pay a ransom.

Kidnappings in Iraq have risen sharply in the two weeks since the Philippine government withdrew its troops from Iraq to spare the life of a Filipino truck driver taken hostage. More than 20 hostages have been seized since then, most of them drivers and other low-level employees from poor countries.

Most of the hostage takers have demanded that the captives' companies stop operations in Iraq as a way to wound the new Iraqi government and the American effort here.

[On Tuesday, a United States marine from the First Marine Expeditionary Force was killed during what a statement from the American military described as "security and stability operations" in the restive Anbar Province in western Iraq, Agence France-Presse reported. The province contains the flashpoint Sunni Muslim cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.]

On Monday, the militia loyal to Mr. Sadr, the Shiite cleric, engaged in a firefight with a convoy of American soldiers who came near his house in Najaf, south of Baghdad. One person was reported killed in the firefight, which lasted 30 minutes, and three were wounded. Mr. Sadr was reportedly not in his house at the time.

In Baghdad, American soldiers arrested a top official of the Muslim Scholars Association, Muthanna Harith al-Dhari, son of the group's leader, Harith al-Dhari, the group said Monday. The military reportedly gave no reason for the arrest, but the group has been accused of having ties to militants.

An Iraqi employee of The Times, whose name has been withheld for safety, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

August 3rd, 2004, 01:52 PM
So maybe Iraquis are thinking that secularism is good?

As an aside, could this church look any more like a gun sight? :shock:
http://graphics7.nytimes.com/images/2004/08/03/international/iraq3.jpg http://www.brazoscustom.com/Images/Pophole.gif

August 3rd, 2004, 04:51 PM
It was secular before we got there and now look at it. Frankly I don't see how turning Baghdad into Belfast is going to helpful to anyone.

August 3rd, 2004, 06:08 PM
Maybe we should just populate the area with Cartman's Sea-People.

September 26th, 2004, 10:16 AM
September 26, 2004

Dance of the Marionettes


It's heartwarming, really.

President Bush has his own Mini-Me now, someone to echo his every word and mimic his every action.

For so long, Mr. Bush has put up with caricatures of a wee W. sitting in the vice president's lap, Charlie McCarthy style, as big Dick Cheney calls the shots. But now the president has his own puppet to play with.

All last week in New York and Washington, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq parroted Mr. Bush's absurd claims that the fighting in Iraq was an essential part of the U.S. battle against terrorists that started on 9/11, that the neocons' utopian dream of turning Iraq into a modern democracy was going swimmingly, and that the worse things got over there, the better they really were.

It's the media's fault, the two men warble in a duet so perfectly harmonized you wonder if Karen Hughes wrote Mr. Allawi's speech, for not showing the millions of people in Iraq who are not being beheaded, kidnapped, suicide-bombed or caught in the cross-fire every day; and it's John Kerry's fault for abetting the Iraqi insurgents by expressing his doubts about our plan there, as he once did about Vietnam.

"These doubters risk underestimating our country and they risk fueling the hopes of the terrorists," Mr. Allawi told Congress in a rousing anti-Kerry stump speech for Bush/Cheney, a follow-up punch to Mr. Cheney's claim that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for another terrorist attack on America.

First the Swift boat guys; now the swift dhow prime minister.

Just as Mr. Cheney, Rummy and the neocons turned W. into a host body for their old schemes to knock off Saddam, transform the military and set up a pre-emption doctrine to strike at allies and foes that threatened American hyperpower supremacy, so now W. has turned Mr. Allawi into a host body for the Panglossian palaver that he believes will get him re-elected. Every time the administration takes a step it says will reduce the violence, the violence increases.

Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet - which is the only way he can gain any credibility to stabilize his devastated country and be elected himself.

Actually, being the president's marionette is a step up from Mr. Allawi's old jobs as henchman for Saddam Hussein and stoolie for the C.I.A.

It's hilarious that the Republicans have trotted out Mr. Allawi as an objective analyst of the state of conditions in Iraq when he's the administration's handpicked guy and has as much riding on putting the chaos in a sunny light as they do. Though Mr. Allawi presents himself as representing all Iraqis, his actions have been devised to put more of the country in the grip of this latest strongman - giving himself the power to declare martial law, bringing back the death penalty and kicking out Al Jazeera.

Bush officials, who proclaim themselves so altruistic about bringing liberty to Iraq, really see Iraq in a creepy narcissistic way: It's all about Mr. Bush's re-election.

As The Chicago Tribune reported, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage alleged that Iraqi insurgents have stepped up their bloody attacks because they want to "influence the election against President Bush."

At a recent G.O.P. fund-raiser, House Speaker Dennis Hastert claimed that terrorists would be happier with a Kerry presidency. "I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another," he said, but "I would think they would be more apt to go" for "somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops."

Faced with their dystopia, the utopians are scaling back their grand visions for Iraq's glorious future.

Rummy suggested last week that a fractional democracy might be good enough. "Let's say you tried to have an election, and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," he said at a hearing on Capitol Hill, adding: "Nothing's perfect in life."

At a Pentagon briefing on Friday, Rummy also blew off Colin Powell's so-called Pottery Barn rule that if we broke Iraq, we own it. "Any implication that that place has to be peaceful and perfect before we can reduce coalition and U.S. forces, I think, would obviously be unwise, because it's never been peaceful and perfect," he said. "It's a tough part of the world."

As he said after the early looting in Iraq: "Stuff happens."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Rummy suggested last week that a fractional democracy might be good enough. "Let's say you tried to have an election, and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," he said at a hearing on Capitol Hill, adding: "Nothing's perfect in life."
What's the big deal? Didn't we have a partial election in 2000?

November 26th, 2004, 07:38 PM
November 26, 2004

15 Iraqi Political Groups Call for Delaying Elections


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 26 - Fifteen political groups called today for a six-month postponement of elections scheduled for Jan. 30, giving a huge boost to a movement largely led by Sunni Arabs aimed at delaying the vote.

The groups included some of the most prominent political parties in Iraq, including that led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and that of Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni. Those two politicians have been among the strongest backers of American policies in Iraq, and their support of an election delay adds great momentum to those arguing for a postponement.

The two main Kurdish parties also gave their support, marking the first time the Kurds, usually closely allied with the Americans, have taken a strong stand on the issue.

The 15 groups and dozens of individual political and religious figures issued a collective statement after holding an impassioned two-hour afternoon meeting at the Baghdad home of Dr. Pachachi.

"The participants call to postpone the elections for six months in order to address the current security situation and to complete the necessary administrative, technical and systematic arrangements," the representatives at the meeting said.

Most of the groups are secular and led by Sunni Arabs. The call for delay further widens the growing political rifts between Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds, and underscores the stark sectarian divisions that threaten to unravel the social fabric of this country.

Shiites, who make up at least 60 percent of the population, have been adamant about holding elections by the end of January. Sunni Arabs, and Kurds to a lesser degree, have expressed fears that Shiites will vastly dominate the new government and exercise their power unchecked. The Sunni Arabs and Kurds each make up about a fifth of the population, and the Sunnis ruled the region for centuries until the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Those arguing for a delay today cited the deteriorating security conditions, particularly in Sunni-dominated central and northern Iraq, as the main reason why the election cannot be held on Jan. 30. Violence in those regions continued today, as American military officials said 15 more Iraqi bodies, some decapitated, were discovered in a cemetery in the northern city of Mosul.

Four employees of a British security company, Global Risk Strategies, were killed and up to 15 injured when a rocket landed in Baghdad on Thursday inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the offices of the interim Iraqi government and the American embassy, security contractors said today. Various reports indicated that at least two and perhaps all four of the men who died were Nepali and came from the ranks of the storied Gurkha warriors.

American troops in the devastated city of Falluja continued going house to house searching for insurgents, occasionally engaging in gun battles. Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said troops had cleared about half of the city's buildings in the nearly two weeks since the American-led offensive ended.

An organizer with the Iraqi electoral commission said in an interview that the commissioners will discuss the new demands for an election delay, but expressed doubt that there would be any changes.

"We will talk about this tomorrow, but we don't think we'll postpone the elections," the organizer, Adel al-Lami, said. "There's a schedule and we need to stick to that."

Mr. Lami said the commission was already taking into account the country's precarious security situation in its planning. The deadline by which political groups have to present a list of candidates for the ballots has been extended to Dec. 10, he said. The commission has also extended to Nov. 30 the registration date for political groups based in the most violent provinces of Iraq, he added.

There appeared to be some confusion among commissioners on who has the power to postpone the Jan. 30 date.

The commission set the date last Sunday in accordance with an interim constitution written last spring, which says that elections must be held by the end of January. Mr. Lami said the commission could postpone the elections given extraordinary circumstances. But the head of the commission, Abdul-Hassan al-Hindawi, said in a recent interview that no one had the legal authority to push the vote beyond January.

Iraqis are to elect members of a 275-seat national assembly that will choose a prime minister and other executives from its ranks. The assembly is also charged with writing a permanent constitution. Elections for a full-term government are planned for the end of 2005.

Two other sets of elections are planned for Jan. 30 - one for leaders of the country's 18 provinces and one for a Kurdistan Assembly in the north.

The politicians gathered at Mr. Pachachi's house did not say what they would do if the elections went ahead as scheduled. If Sunni parties and voters decide to sit out the elections, the outcome could be seen as illegitimate, and the guerilla war, which is being led by Sunnis, could intensify. Already, one prominent Sunni group, the Muslim Scholars Association, has called for a boycott of the elections.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Mr. Pachachi said in an interview, when asked what the groups would do if the schedule remained unchanged. "We'll have to look at the situation as a whole and see what is reasonable."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

December 6th, 2004, 09:46 AM
December 6, 2004


Saving Iraq's Election

The Bush administration is telling Iraqis not to even think about delaying the sequence of national elections now set to begin on Jan. 30. Pushing back the electoral timetable, as requested late last month by a number of Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular parties, threatens to push back the timetable for eventual American troop withdrawals, so Iraq is in effect being told to vote in January, ready or not.

This is not helpful advice, especially since one crucial area of the country - the predominantly Sunni Arab region north and west of Baghdad - will almost certainly not be ready to properly participate in a January vote. Postponing the vote, however, risks opposition from the Shiite majority, particularly the well-organized Shiite religious parties that expect to benefit most from a January election. It would be much better for Washington to stand back and encourage Iraq's wary factions to work out their own solution on the election date. That would be good practice for the kind of cross-community bargaining that will be needed to create a legitimate Iraqi government once the voting ends.

The Pentagon now plans to raise troop levels in Iraq to 150,000 by January, to increase security for the elections. A larger increase would be better. Despite the retaking of Falluja, much of the north and west, along with the so-called triangle of death south of Baghdad, is still torn by armed revolt.

Meanwhile, Falluja is in ruins. If the more than 200,000 residents who fled in advance of the fighting can somehow be resettled by late January, electoral politics will clearly not be their primary concern. Even if it were, the Sunni nationalist groups, with whom many Falluja residents identify, have largely stood aside from the electoral preparations.

Moderate Sunni leaders like Adnan Pachachi hope that a postponement of three to four months would open the way to fuller Sunni participation. Going ahead now, they feel, would only entrench and deepen the armed Sunni insurgency. An expanded group of parties and individuals reaffirmed that position again yesterday. The Kurdish position is more ambiguous, and understandably so. A January election that underrepresented Sunni nationalists would result in more seats for the main Kurdish parties. Yet the constituent assembly produced by such elections would almost certainly be dominated by Shiite religious parties likely to oppose Kurdish demands for secularism and regional autonomy.

The most promising solution would be to encourage Sunni moderates and Kurds to put their misgivings about a January vote directly to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the widely respected leader of the Shiite community. In the past, Ayatollah Sistani has shown himself capable of recognizing the broader national interest in peace and legitimacy. Negotiating a consensus Iraqi agreement on the voting-date would do more to advance those interests than sticking to an arbitrary timetable that threatens to produce a dangerously flawed vote.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

December 19th, 2004, 11:07 AM
December 19, 2004


A Political Arabesque


I have long believed that any American general or senior diplomat who wants to work in Iraq should have to pass a test. It would be a very simple test. It would consist of only one question: "Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?"

If you answered "Yes," you would not be allowed to work in Iraq. You could go to Korea, Japan or Germany - but not Iraq. Only those who understand that in the Middle East the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line should be allowed to carry out U.S. policy there.

What I worry about most right now - after a week in the Persian Gulf - is that we have entered a really complex, arabesque phase in Iraq. It requires enormous understanding of the complexities of Iraqi and Arab politics and the ability to produce outcomes not by the traditional, straightforward U.S. approach, but by the more subtle, bazaar-oriented politics in that part of the world.

For instance, with the elections in Iraq only six weeks away, and Iran actively using its influence and money to push its candidates, one thing is perfectly clear: The Bush neocons desperately need an Iraqi neo-Baath.

By that I mean they need to find a political framework that will advance the interests of the pro-Baath Sunni Arab nationalists in Iraq, but do it with a more progressive, pluralistic outlook than the old Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.

This is what we should be most focused on right now in Iraq - not the bogeyman of Iranian influence. There is no way to prevent Iranian influence in Iraq. Iran is next door and it has myriad economic and cultural links with Iraqi Shiites. Moreover, while the Iraqi Shiites are certain to emerge with the most seats in the new Iraqi parliament, and while some are pro-Iranian, the majority of Iraqi Shiites have no intention of being ruled from Tehran. The Iraqi Shiites are Arabs, not Persians, and they are aware of their Arabness. Any Iraqi leader who is depicted or presents himself as the cat's-paw of Tehran will face a backlash.

The best way to reduce Iran's influence, and to prevent civil war, is to ensure as much Sunni participation in the election as possible, so that when the new Iraqi constitution is written, the more secular Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis will balance the more religious-oriented Shiites. If there is not enough Sunni participation, the elections, rather than defusing civil strife in Iraq, will increase it, because all the spoils will go to the Shiites and Kurds, and the Sunnis will feel even more excluded.

For all these reasons, the Bush team should be working with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arab states and even Syria to use all their contacts with Iraqi Sunnis to embolden them to take part in the elections - and to make sure they have bags of money to get out the vote, particularly among the Sunni tribes. It is imperative the Sunnis be brought in, even if some have to be bought.

Unfortunately, America's Arab friends "are doing nothing" right now, a senior Iraqi minister told me. The Americans need to be more demanding of their Arab friends, he said. While many Arab leaders are appalled at the idea of Shiites ruling an Arab state in the otherwise Sunni-dominated Arab world, they also know that a civil war in Iraq would lead to terrible instability at a time when all these Arab regimes understand they have to start reforming.

Yes, the U.S. invasion of Iraq made America some new enemies, but it also has triggered a huge debate about reform in the Arab world, said Ammar Abdulhamid, who helps run DarEmar, a pro-reform NGO in Syria. "For some people it forced the reform issue, because they said, 'Let's change ourselves before the Americans change us,' " noted Mr. Abdulhamid. Some Arab liberals want to use the U.S. presence to pressure their governments to go ahead with reform. Some regimes are feeling very vulnerable and believe the only way to stave off the Americans is to be seen as working on reforms. But one way or another, "the Iraqi issue is forcing the issue of reform on everyone, and in some ways it is independent of what actually happens in Iraq," Mr. Abdulhamid said.

A sophisticated U.S. approach that uses both sticks and carrots with Syria, Iran and America's Arab allies could still shape a decent election in Iraq, but we have to get in gear right now, and be smart. Does this administration have anyone who knows how to play this game? Attention: Iraq is having an election. Elections are rare in this part of the world, so when they happen, everyone in the neighborhood tries to vote. We need to make sure our friends do as well.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

TLOZ Link5
December 19th, 2004, 07:34 PM
To apply what my class has been covering in Topics in Modern Society...

Going with the arguments of Fareed Zakaria, I think it's foolhardy to push for democracy in Iraq without having first pushed for constitutional liberalism — the rights that are guaranteed under a liberal democracy. It's a dangerous precedent to think that democracy can survive without such rights. If Iraq becomes democratic in its current conditions, it could very well be a democracy in the sense that Iran, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Syria and Belarus are democracies — having leaders that reflect public opinion, despite the fact that public opinion is not inclined towards the same social principles as the US, Canada and Western Europe. It would have been a better approach to first nurture constitutional liberalism in Iraq, much like Jordan, Algeria, the UAE and Morrocco do; instead of trying to democratize first. The same argument can be applied to Afghanistan.

January 30th, 2005, 10:17 AM
January 30, 2005

The Vote, and Democracy Itself, Leave Anxious Iraqis Divided


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 29 - For Ghassan al-Atiyyah, the journey to Sunday's elections has been long and painful, sustained by the hope that Iraq would one day embrace the democratic principles that drove him into 20 years of exile.

Last month, back in Iraq from London at the age of 65, he founded a political party that drew together secular Shiites like himself and moderate Sunnis, as well as Christians, Kurds and others united by the bond of civic ideals. Along with 110 other individuals, parties and alliances, the group set out to compete for seats in the 275-member provisional assembly that will be elected in the vote.

It will be Iraq's first multiparty election since 1954, four years before King Faisal II was assassinated in the military coup that led to the rise of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein, who had Mr. Atiyyah condemned to death in absentia. But Mr. Atiyyah is hoping, now, that the voters will reject him.

"I don't want to have on my hands the blood of any candidate or voter," he said in a telephone interview from Amman, Jordan. On the eve of the election, he was heading to Washington to tell American officials they must involve other powers, including neighboring Arab states, in shaping Iraq's future. "I would like to believe that we could still somehow reclaim the Iraq we lost in the 1950's, but holding elections in these conditions will be a calamity," he said. "They will set a course on which we can easily drift into civil war."

For every moderate like Mr. Atiyyah who has turned against the elections, there is another who spoke to reporters with bursting enthusiasm at the prospect of Iraqis at last having the chance to choose their own leaders. One of them, Salama al-Khafaji, a 46-year-old Shiite dentist, has survived three assassination attempts, including one last year in which insurgents killed her 20-year-old son and a bodyguard.

"We have principles, we believe in democracy and human rights," she said. "If I die, it is better to have died for something than to have died for nothing." As she spoke, she struggled into a bulletproof vest and a traditional black cloak to return to Baghdad's streets for a last round of campaigning.

Nearly 22 months after American troops captured Baghdad, lighting a fire of enthusiasm for the freedoms Iraqis had craved so long, it is a measure of how much has gone wrong that Iraqis committed to Western-style democratic ideals can differ so sharply over the best way to secure them. Much of the problem is that the elections are being held under the dominion of the United States.

Many Iraqis, interviews in recent months have shown, do not accept that fundamental choices about the shape of their future political system should be made by a foreign power, particularly one they regard as a harbinger of secular, materialistic values far removed from the Muslim world's.

But questions over the election go far beyond the American stewardship, to issues that touch on whether it was ever wise or realistic to think that Jeffersonian-style democracy, with its elaborate checks on power and guarantees for minority rights, could be implanted, at least so rapidly, in a country and a region that has little experience with anything but winner-take-all politics.

Compounding those objections, the elections are being held in the grip of a paralyzing fear that many Iraqis see as inconsistent with a free vote. A savage insurgency, and the harsh measures America's 150,000 troops have taken in response, have angered and terrified Iraqis, who now face election conditions that have made an obstacle course of the process, at every stage.

Half a dozen candidates have been assassinated. As a result, the names of all others have not been made public; they were available in the last days of the campaign on Web sites inaccessible to most Iraqis, few of whom own computers. Even 12 hours before the polls were scheduled to open, the location of most of the 5,300 polling stations in the country remained secret, with officials saying that signs directing voters to them would be pasted on walls overnight. Even to get to the polls on Sunday, the 14 million eligible voters will have to walk; all but officially approved vehicle traffic has been banned to deter insurgent attacks, especially car bombings. Insurgents have warned that they will kill anybody approaching within 500 yards of a polling station.

Adding to the frustrations, many Iraqis have complained that there was so little campaigning that they knew little, if anything, about party policies, or even if the parties had any, beyond the personalities of their leaders. An exception came in a series of live television debates among prominent politicians, including Sunni and Shiite clerics, that touched on core issues, including the American military presence, the role of religion in politics, and the allegations of Iranian influence over Shiite religious groups. But in many homes, perhaps most, people were unable to watch because the supply of electricity in many towns and cities averages four hours or less a day.

Questions About Democracy

Iraq's receptivity to democracy was questioned before the invasion of March 2003, when many American Middle East experts warned that Iraq, released from the stifling grip of Mr. Hussein, was a tinderhouse of competing tribal, ethnic and religious passions.

But many Iraqis, especially those who remember the period of the monarchy, bridle at the suggestion that the country is somehow too brute, or immature, to serve as a laboratory for American-style democracy in the Middle East. They recall that under King Faisal, Iraq had an elected parliament, with opposition parties, independent newspapers and a justice system that was more than a pliant tool of the government, even if the system, including indirect elections to many of the parliamentary seats, was carefully constructed to make sure that the king could always have his way on major issues.

"I won't say we had a democracy, but we had a system that was quite tolerant," said Adnan Pachachi, an 81-year-old moderate Sunni leader who heads his own list of candidates in the elections. Mr. Pachachi, an Iraqi foreign minister in the last years before the Baathists took power in 1968, is one of the Iraqi politicians most trusted by the Americans here. Although he pushed for the elections to be delayed to allow more time for attempts to lure Sunni insurgents into negotiations, he sees the vote on Sunday as a major step forward.

"You've got to start somewhere," he said in an interview in his heavily guarded home in the Mansour district of west Baghdad. "Establishing a democratic system is a learning process, with its ups and downs, but I think the Iraqi people will gradually get used to it as it develops. Look, the Americans helped to establish democracies in Japan and Germany and South Korea, where there was no strong foundation for it, so why not here? We have a fairly sophisticated population, and they have lived under Saddam Hussein, so they have a very strong understanding of what happens when democracy is absent."

Still, even among senior American officials here, there is an edge of doubt. One, who arrived here as sovereignty was being transferred in June, referred to the Americans who oversaw the 15 months of formal occupation as "the illusionists," and cites as an example the $750 million of American money that the occupation chief, L. Paul Bremer III, set aside to finance a democracy training program, as well as elections. In one case, the money has financed a Muslim cleric who runs a "democracy center" in Hilla, a city south of Baghdad where Americans cannot move without heavy armor.

The cleric, Sayed Farqad al-Qiswini, has remained a fixture on American Embassy helicopter trips for reporters covering the elections, discoursing with enthusiasm about the importance of separation of powers, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, concepts that have been alien, or at least malleable, under the rulers Iraqis have known for centuries. But when a reporter asked him during the Bremer period about his commitment to democratic values, he laughed and replied: "You know, we Iraqis are all chameleons. We learned to be like that from Saddam Hussein."

In dozens of interviews across Baghdad for this article, about as many Iraqis said they would vote as those who said they wouldn't. Among those who said they would, there was appreciation, though muted, for the role the United States has played in holding the elections; among those who said they wouldn't, a cross-section of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, there was pervasive bitterness about the American occupation.

Some even said the only candidate they wanted was not available: Saddam Hussein. "Don't tell me this election has anything to do with democracy," said Isam Jalal, a 57-year-old Sunni who is a bulk trader in wood and steel. "The Americans are playing with us. It was Saddam Hussein who tried to make this into a modern country, but that didn't suit the United States and Britain, or Israel, or even some of our brother Arab countries. If you want my vote, give me Saddam, or a strongman who can rule like he did."

Quickly, many of those interviewed shifted to talking about days and nights without water and electricity, about hours and sometimes days waiting at gas stations for fuel, and, above all, about the violence and crime since Mr. Hussein's iron grip on the country was released, all blamed on the United States. Among people chosen at random on the streets, wariness toward the elections was entangled with complaints about American helicopters clattering low above rooftops at night, Humvee-borne troops bursting into neighborhood homes after midnight and carrying people away, and relatives and friends being killed and wounded in crossfire.

But amid the clamor, one consistent feature was the issue of whether America's political ideals could be matched with Iraq's social, cultural and religious traditions. On that, too, there was discord. Abu Mustafa, a 37-year-old Sunni auto parts salesman, said what Iraq needed was "a strongman ruling according to our traditions," meaning Muslim values and Iraqi culture, not an American-style democratic free-for all. "Islam has more values than all the values that are shouted in Western countries," he said.

But Abu Hussein, a 47-year-old Shiite who owns a bookshop, said he welcomed the American role. "They promised to introduce democracy in Iraq, and I hope they can achieve it," he said. He said he would vote, despite the insurgent threats, and trusted that one result would be a broad-based coalition reflecting all Iraq's ethnic and religious communities. "These values are not American, they are universal," he said. "They should be applied in all Arab countries. I am sure the elections will be a step forward for Iraq, and for all Iraqis."

Still, even top officials at the American Embassy, Iraq's behind-the-scenes powerhouse since the country regained formal sovereignty in June, acknowledge the problem of holding an election so closely identified with the United States, one reason why American troops will be carefully deployed "over the horizon" for the voting, leaving security near the polls to Iraqi security forces.

"We are both a stabilizing factor and a provocative factor at the same time," said one American official with long experience in the Middle East. "If you had foreign troops occupying your country, speaking a language you don't understand, I think it would be a significant source of irritation."

Intimidation and Turnout

Turnout will be one way to judge whether holding the elections now was wise. A key question is how many people will vote in the country's heartland, where a Sunni majority of about 20 percent is concentrated and a widespread Sunni boycott is expected. Senior coalition officials, privately more worried than their public statements have suggested, are bracing for a disappointing, even embarrassing, turnout outside the heavily Shiite and Kurdish population centers.

Increasingly, as the elections neared, officials couched their forecasts in terms that appeared intended to discount a widespread stay-away. One official emphasized the extent of intimidation by the insurgents, especially by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born Islamic militant who has been blamed for many of the most brutal insurgent attacks, including the killing this week of a candidate running as an ally of Ayad Allawi, the American-backed interim prime minister. The candidate was shown in an Internet video being shot after condemning Iraq's "American occupiers."

In a separate audiotape last week, Mr. Zarqawi declared an "all-out war" against democracy itself, which he described as an infidel culture that supplanted the rule of God with that of man. To an official briefing American reporters, threats like those, not a basic alienation from the idea of democracy, have been the biggest impediment. "It's not that people have concluded, 'The democratic system has nothing for me,' " he said. "An election is a very easy thing to intimidate people against."

Then, as if anticipating a poor turnout, he offered a bottom line: "The election is a good thing in and of itself. We believe in voting. We have tried other ways in the Middle East, and all of them have turned out to be pretty bad."

Many moderate Iraqis believe that the Americans' crucial mistake in charting Iraq's course back to full independence under a popularly elected government was the refusal to postpone the elections. In the decision to press ahead with the voting on Jan. 30, and to hold them on a single day, instead of the staggered, region-by-region voting stretching over two or three weeks that might have allowed United States and Iraqi forces to concentrate troops more effectively in each voting district, the Americans found powerful allies. First among these was Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most influential Shiite cleric, who pressed for early elections in the first days after the overthrow of Mr. Hussein, seeing them as the surest way for the country's Shiite majority to wrest power from the Sunni minority.

Ayatollah Sistani and the broad Shiite political coalition that was formed under his patronage, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, strongly opposed a delay, and warned that Shiite restiveness could explode into violence, confronting American troops and the fledgling Iraqi security forces they have trained with a two-front war, against Sunni and Shiite extremists.

Criticism of the U.S.

But Mr. Atiyyah, the former exile and a Shiite, sees the decision as a product of another mistake he believes the Americans have made here, overestimating the power of Shiite clerics, and undervaluing the country's strong secular traditions, entrenched under Mr. Hussein. If the Americans had agreed to the delay that was urged on them by a wide array of political parties that had signed up for the vote, including the Iraqi National Accord, the political vehicle of Dr. Allawi, he said, they would have made time for Dr. Allawi and other mainstream political leaders to reach out for an accommodation with ex-Baathists and Sunni tribal leaders who back the insurgency.

That proposition was put directly to Mr. Bush in a telephone call by Dr. Allawi in mid-January, according to Dr. Allawi's aides, but Mr. Bush was adamant. To Mr. Atiyyah, who spent his exile writing a newsletter cataloguing Mr. Hussein's human rights abuses, the decision showed a familiar pattern: the White House standing tough on issues that the Iraqis felt could be better managed by arbitration among themselves.

"Maybe the Americans like to have such a steadfast leader, but the real courage comes when you admit your mistakes, and then overcome them," he said. "In this case, Mr. Bush, with a moment's reflection, could have taken a decision that would have saved American as well as Iraqi lives."

The concern among those favoring a postponement has been that the voting will produce a heavily lopsided result, with Shiites and Kurds taking a disproportionate share of the assembly seats, and only a small rump of Sunnis.

The problems will be exacerbated if the Shiite alliance of religious and secular groups, the United Iraqi Alliance, wins a runaway victory. Although many of the alliance's candidates are moderate secularists, real power rests with the religious groups, which have close ties to Iran. Fears that Iran will manipulate the government that emerges from the elections appears certain to inflame the Sunni insurgents.

The religious groups, sensitive to the risk of further alienating Sunnis, have let it be known in the past week that they have no plan to place clerics in government, and that they will reach out to Sunnis to make sure they are fairly represented on the constitutional commission to be established by the new assembly, which will have the task of writing a permanent constitution in time for a referendum by Oct. 15 this year. If that deadline is met, and the constitution approved, a further nationwide election will be held by Dec. 15 for a permanent government with a five-year term.

But Mr. Atiyyah says the Americans should not be fooled. "The Iranians are much more clever than the Americans in this game," he said. "They will make life very difficult for the Americans, and the result will be history repeating itself. Just as they did in Afghanistan after they drove the Russians out, and then let matters drift, the Americans will preside over the rise of a new Taliban, except that here in Iraq there will be two Talibans, the Sunni Taliban who are already fighting the Americans, and a Shiite Taliban that the Americans themselves have placed in power."

Dexter Filkins, Edward Wong and Iraqi employees of The New York Times in Baghdad contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

January 31st, 2005, 10:18 AM
January 31, 2005

Allawi Vows to Unite Iraq's Ethnic and Religious Groups


http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/b.gifAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 31 - A day after the country's first free elections in 50 years, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said today that he would work to bring together Iraq's competing ethnic and religious groups.

"The terrorists now know they cannot win," he said at his first news conference after Iraqis defied death threats, mortars and suicide bombers and turned out in great numbers on Sunday.

"We are entering a new era of our history and all Iraqis - whether they turned out or not - should stand side by side to build their future, Mr. Allawi said, adding, "Now is a suitable time for us to work together so that the whole world can watch the capabilities of this great country."

Addressing concerns of Sunni resentment over the expected victory by the majority Shiites, one of the most daunting challenges to Iraq's future, Mr. Allawi said, "Starting from today I will begin a new national dialogue to insure that the voices of all Iraqis are present in the coming government."

"The whole world is watching us," he said. "As we worked together yesterday to finish dictatorship, let us work together toward a bright future - Sunnis, Shiites, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen."

Voters in Shiite and Kurdish areas turned out in especially large numbers, and at the day's end election officials here estimated that the nationwide turnout could exceed 60 percent. The turnout in the Sunni-dominated areas like Falluja and Mosul, where the guerrilla insurgency rages and where many Sunni leaders had called for a boycott, appeared to be substantially lower.

Still, election officials said voting in the Sunni-dominated provinces had appeared to exceed initial expectations, and in some cases might reach 40 percent. In Mosul, a Sunni-majority city and the scene of heavy fighting in recent weeks, Western reporters saw voters in Sunni neighborhoods lined up outside polling stations.In the Shiite-dominated cities of southern Iraq, and through much of Baghdad, Iraqis streamed to polling places, eager to give the country's largest group real political power for the first time. They did so despite relentless insurgent attacks that left 35 people dead, plus 9 suicide bombers.

In some polling centers, the mood turned joyous, with Iraqis celebrating their newfound democratic freedoms in street parties that, until the elections, were virtually unknown in this war-ravaged land.

As the sun went down, some Iraqis ran to the polling centers. Some election workers kept polls open late for them.

Election officials here said that a more accurate picture of the turnout would be known later in the week, as the votes were counted, and that the election results themselves were probably several days away.

Voters chose from among 111 parties for members of provincial parliaments as well as a 275-member national assembly, which will be empowered to write the country's constitution. That is scheduled to be followed by a referendum on the constitution, followed by another round of elections in December.

One group of candidates that appeared to do well was the United Iraqi Alliance, a large coalition of Shiite parties brought together by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's powerful religious leader. One senior aide in that alliance said the party had been told by American and British officials that it appeared to have captured more than 50 percent of the vote.

The slate of candidates led by Ayad Allawi, the prime minister, also appeared to have done well.

At least for now, the large turnout appeared to vindicate the strategy to hold elections sooner rather than later, over the objections of many Sunni leaders and in the face of the ferocious insurgency. That strategy, advocated by Ayatollah Sistani and President Bush, drew criticism that it would further divide the country and that, in any case, the Iraqis were not ready.

In polling places throughout the country, ordinary Iraqis not only braved significant violence to go to the polls, but also demonstrated that they understood the stakes, and that they knew what to do.

"We feel now that we are human beings living in this country," Muhammad Abdul-Ridha, 25, a Najaf goldsmith, said after dropping his ballot into the box. "Now I feel I have a responsibility, I have a vote. Things will go right if people leave us alone to do what we want to do. If they leave the Iraqi people to decide for themselves, things will get better."

The mood among many Iraqi leaders, and those who set up the electoral infrastructure, was jubilant. Some said the success of the vote, in a nation so traumatized by tyranny and war, had put to rest any notion that the Iraqi people, or indeed the Arab world as a whole, were incapable of grasping their political destiny.

"We have established the principles upon which a democracy can be built," said Fareed Ayar, the spokesman for Iraq's electoral commission.

In many parts of the country, the turnout seemed to rebuke the violent campaign to sabotage the balloting and the threats by insurgents to kill Iraqis who voted.

With vehicular traffic banned and American and Iraqi forces imposing especially tight security, the attacks on Sunday were carried out in some cases by men wearing explosive vests who rushed polling centers and blew themselves up.

In the Shiite and Kurdish areas, the strategy clearly failed. In Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, including Sadr City, many Iraqis cast their ballots to the sounds of exploding shells.

In some cases, the violence seemed to goad the Iraqis on. In the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Khadamiya in northern Baghdad, where nearly 100 people were killed in a terror attack last year, the turnout was said to approach 80 percent.

In the Sunni areas, the picture was mixed. With most Sunni leaders calling for a boycott and the insurgents vowing to kill voters, officials said they were expecting a low turnout in the three Iraqi provinces where the Sunnis are a majority.

For Iraqi and American officials, the prospect of a broad Sunni boycott has proved to be the most troubling aspect of the elections. The fear has been that a big turnout by Shiites and Kurds, coupled with a near-total Sunni boycott, could accelerate the feeling of alienation felt by Sunnis and set the stage here for civil war.

On the other hand, a substantial turnout in the Sunni areas would be regarded as a huge blow to the insurgents, who claim popular support but often rely on threats and violence to cow Sunnis.

The dire predictions appeared to be borne out in some areas of the Sunni Triangle, the area north and west of Baghdad where the insurgency burns with the greatest intensity. In the town of Baji in northern Iraq, election officials did not show up. In Ramadi, where Iraqi officials set up a pair of polling places just outside the city, a total of just 300 ballots were cast, many of them by police officers and soldiers.

But Iraqi and American officials, convinced that people in the Sunni areas would vote if they could, said there were signs that more voters than expected had turned out.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, election officials took several extraordinary measures to make voting easier in Sunni areas. They allowed voters in some of those areas to register on election day, and permitted voters to travel outside their neighborhoods to cast ballots. In some of the smaller villages around Ramadi, where many city residents were encouraged to vote, election workers reported that they had run out of ballots. In the refugee camps outside Falluja, set up after heavy fighting there in November, Iraqi officials reported steady voting.

"In Anbar, the number of votes were very good compared to our estimates," Mr. Ayar, the election commission spokesman, said of that province, without telling what those estimates were. "We did not expect a lot of turnout, but we found a lot of people standing in line in Anbar."

Adnan Pachachi, the former Iraqi foreign minister and one of the country's most prominent Sunni candidates, said his own reports suggested that participation by Sunnis might have reached as high as 40 percent. If that holds, he said, it would amount to a repudiation of the violent way.

"The insurgency has been exposed - they have no popular support of any kind," Mr. Pachachi said. "I think this election will weaken the insurgency."

But in Mosul, a Sunni-majority city and the country's third largest, the reports were mixed and contradictory. Some officials reported lines of voters stretching outside polling places in the city's Arab districts, with others saying the insurgents were managing to keep voters away.

In November, more than 4,000 police officers in Mosul fled their posts when they were attacked by insurgents, and earlier this month, the city's entire election commission resigned.

Yet for all of that, there were some signs that Sunnis in Mosul were turning out to vote. Western reporters returning from American military patrols in the city's Arab neighborhoods reported seeing lines of voters streaming into polling places.

Mr. Ayar said initial reports suggested that the turnout in Mosul appeared to mirror that in Anbar Province - that it was much was higher than expected.

Still, there were troubling signs that in some pockets of Mosul's Arab districts, the insurgents were successfully keeping voters away.

"Young gunmen are shooting from the streets and on the rooftops just to scare people away," said Khasro Goran, Mosul's deputy governor. "There is an imam who called from the mosque for people not to vote."

Even if the most optimistic projections for Sunni turnout are met, the biggest challenge likely to face the new government will be persuading the Sunnis to join the political mainstream.

On Sunday, some of Iraq's most prominent Shiite leaders said they were prepared to increase Sunni representation in the new government. They said they would also recruit a number of Sunni leaders to help draft the country's constitution.

In the days leading up the election, some Sunni leaders, including those believed to be close to the insurgents, have indicated a willingness to join in the effort.

"The Shiites will form a majority, but there has to be a prominent presence of Sunnis in the government," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser and a confidant of Ayatollah Sistani. "Now is the time for the Shiites to exercise statesmanship."

In many ways, the day belonged to Iraq's Shiites, the long-suppressed majority that suffered especially harsh treatment under Mr. Hussein. In Shiite cities across southern Iraq, the voters streamed forth, thrilling themselves and confounding their own predictions.

In Basra, the country's second-largest, predominantly Shiite city, one explosion after another echoed down the streets. Even so, as the day wore on, the number of voters swelled, and local officials began to appear to congratulate the Iraqis and themselves.

Abdul Sahib al-Battat, the local elections chief, swept into the polling center at the Black Gold primary school, with a full entourage in tow. One by one, he inspected the voting stations with a military crispness.

Asked how the day had gone, Mr. Battat said in Arabic: "Bekhair. Gebeer. Bekhair. Shamel." Roughly translated: "Excellent. Big. Excellent. All of it."

Some Iraqis found in Sunday's election a victory that may ultimately loom larger than that of April 9, 2003, when Mr. Hussein's rule collapsed. The victory then was largely of American making, and one that, despite their relief that the tyrant was gone, many Iraqis felt they could never build on.

"The election was a victory of our own making," said Mr. Rubaie, the security adviser. "Today, the Iraqi people voted with their own blood."

John F. Burns contributed reporting for this article from Baghdad, James Glanz from Basra, Edward Wong from Najaf, and Christine Hauser from Mosul.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

February 6th, 2005, 03:56 PM
I'm surprised noboby has posted any comment to this thread since the Iraq election was held. That being said, I might as well have at it.

I really don't have a lot of passion on the Iraq thing in general, or on the Iraq election, in particular. But I was impressed that so many turned out to vote in Iraq, despite the threats, bombings, kidnappings, etc. (No complaints about hanging chads, or that the lines were too long.)

Of course, it remains to be seen how all of this will actually turn out. I choose to be optimistic.

February 28th, 2005, 08:50 AM
February 28, 2005

Suicide Car Bomb Explodes in Hilla, Killing More Than 100

By MONA MAHMOUD and TERENCE NEILAN (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=TERENCE NEILAN&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=TERENCE NEILAN&inline=nyt-per)

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/b.gifAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 28 - A suicide car bomber drove into a line of about 400 volunteers for the Iraqi National Guard and police force today in Hilla, south of Baghdad, killing 106 people and wounding 133, medical officials said.

The volunteers were waiting for medical checkups at about 9 a.m. in front of the Hilla medical directorate. The crowded area lies at the site of the town's major market, government buildings and medical centers, and some of the fatalities may have included passers-by.

It was one of the deadliest suicide attacks since President Bush declared the war in Iraq over in May 2003.

Recruits for the national guard and the police have been frequent targets of the insurgents, who see them as aiding the United States in the occupation of Iraq.

Maki Kahdum Rahdi, a spokesman for the Hilla health directorate, confirmed the number of dead. He said casualties were evacuated to three hospitals as the town's main medical center could not contain all of them.

"We have finished now transporting the bodies from the site," Dr. Mahmoud Abdul Ridah, an official in the directorate, told Reuters.

"We've called on people to donate blood and have opened a center for that," he added. "We've called on doctors from Kerbala, Diwaniya and Najaf to come and help and they have started to arrive."

A witness to the attack, Muhammud Abdul Ridha, said there was a huge crowd of men waiting for medical checkups in an area of Hilla called Bal al-Hussein. The suicide bomber, driving a white Mitsubishi, set off a huge blast, he said.

The police in Babil Province said "several people" had been arrested after the blast, but did not elaborate, The Associated Press reported.

Reuters and The A.P. said television footage produced by their agencies showed large pools of blood outside the medical center in Hilla, about 60 miles south of the capital, and bodies being piled into the back of flatbed trucks.

Reuters said television pictures showed nearby market stalls still on fire or smoking soon after the blast.

On Feb. 17, 2004, 117 people were killed and 133 were wounded when two suicide bombers struck in Arbil at the offices of the two main Kurdish factions in northern Iraq.

Twin attacks last March involving three suicide bombers in Baghdad and one bomber in Kerbala killed 171 people and wounded nearly 400.

Mona Mahmoud reported from Baghdad for this article, and Terence Neilan from New York.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 2nd, 2005, 08:13 AM
March 2, 2005

2 Members of Hussein Tribunal Are Assassinated in Baghdad

By ROBERT F. WORTH (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=ROBERT F. WORTH&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=ROBERT F. WORTH&inline=nyt-per)
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/b.gifAGHDAD, Iraq, Wednesday, March 2 - A judge and a lawyer with the special tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein and former members of his government were shot and killed Tuesday by gunmen outside their home here, Iraqi officials said.

It was the first time a member of the tribunal is known to have been assassinated, though a number of criminal and civil judges have been killed here in recent months.

Also on Tuesday, a senior Iraqi official said a half brother of Saddam Hussein who was arrested recently had been captured by Iraqi and allied forces, not by Syria, as Iraqi officials had said over the weekend.

The judge, Parwiz Muhammad Mahmoud al-Merani, 59, was killed a day after the Iraqi special tribunal announced the first charges in the approaching trials of former senior officials in Mr. Hussein's government. His son, Aryan Mahmoud al-Merani, 26, who also worked at the tribunal as a lawyer, was killed with him, according to officials at Iraq's Interior Ministry.

Three men drove up and fired automatic weapons at the two men around 9 a.m. as they stood outside their family home in Adhamiya, a largely Sunni Arab neighborhood that has been a center of insurgent activity. Witnesses saw the attackers speeding away in a green Opel sedan without license plates, the officials said.

The 400 or so tribunal members, including about 100 judges and lawyers, have been provided with security guards, and their names have largely been kept secret to forestall assassination attempts. On Monday, as the first charges were announced, a Western legal expert involved in the trial process said that those working on the tribunal were exposed to dangers and that there had been "some incidents," but he declined to provide details.

On Tuesday evening, seven Iraqi police officers were killed in four separate incidents in and around Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. The attacks began when a police lieutenant was killed by gunmen outside his home in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Doura, Interior Ministry officials said.

A group of officers began searching for the killers, the officials said, and were ambushed soon afterward in an attack that left two officers dead. A second patrol then responded to that attack and was struck by a roadside bomb that killed three more officers, the officials said. A seventh officer was shot and killed by gunmen who forced him to stop as he drove home near Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, they said.

The killings came a day after a suicide bomber drove into a crowd of police and army recruits gathered outside a medical clinic in Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad. The attack left at least 122 dead and 170 wounded, including women and children, and was the deadliest single bombing since the American invasion nearly two years ago.

In a similar attack on Wednesday, a car bomb killed at least six Iraqi soldiers and wounded 28 outside an Iraqi Army base where soldier candidates line up to apply in western Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.

On Tuesday, the network of the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted a statement on an Islamist Web site claiming responsibility for the Hilla bombing, Reuters reported. The claim by the group, which has waged a campaign of bombings and beheadings that has killed hundreds of Iraqis, could not be verified.

Also on Tuesday, the Muslim Scholars Association, an influential Sunni group that includes members who advocate opposition to the American presence here, issued a statement denouncing the Hilla attack. "This operation will open the door for our enemies to carry out more of their evil designs in Iraq," the statement said. "The association demands that all such attacks against innocent Iraqis be stopped."

The contrasting statements appeared to lend support to the idea of a tactical rift within the insurgency between hard-line guerrillas like Mr. Zarqawi and others who may be more willing to soften their stance and enter the political arena.

At a news conference in Baghdad on Tuesday, Iraq's defense minister, Hazim al-Shalaan, provided new details about the recent capture of one of Mr. Hussein's half brothers, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, who has been accused of playing a major role in the organizing and financing of the insurgency.

Mr. Hassan was captured by Iraqi and allied soldiers, Mr. Shalaan said, not by Syrian forces, as Iraqi officials had said Sunday. The Syrians provided the information that led to Mr. Hassan's capture, he added.

He refused to say where Mr. Hassan had been captured or to provide any more information about his arrest, saying simply that it was a "small operation" in which Iraqi special forces and allied forces had cooperated.

Also on Tuesday, a videotape surfaced showing a French newspaper reporter who is being held hostage pleading for help and saying her health is "very bad."

Looking gaunt and frightened, Florence Aubenas, 43, a correspondent for the French daily Libération, appeared seated, clutching her knees with her arms. She stared intently at the camera as she spoke, dressed in a white sweater with her hair falling into her eyes. "I'm very bad psychologically also," she said in English. "Please, it's urgent now. Help me."

Ms. Aubenas disappeared after leaving a Baghdad hotel with her Iraqi interpreter on Jan. 5. The new videotape of her plea was dropped at the offices of a news agency in Baghdad, The Associated Press reported.

General Faults Syria on Iraq Effort

By The New York Times

WASHINGTON, March 1 - The commander of American forces in the Middle East said Tuesday that Syria was not doing enough to halt the flow of fighters into Iraq, nor to arrest or expel Iraqi insurgent leaders on its territory.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, said Syria had "not yet done enough in our view to stop that infiltration" of insurgent fighters and organizers to and from Iraq. Syria, he said, is a "de facto safe haven for former Baathists" in Iraq, although the extent of official Syrian support was unclear.

Senators pressed General Abizaid to assess the Iraqi insurgency, and he said it fielded about 3,500 fighters when the Iraqis held their elections on Jan. 30. But he cautioned that there was "a lot of room for interpretation in the numbers of the insurgency."

Later, Defense Department officials emphasized that that number could not be considered a full tally of the insurgent fighters in the country.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

April 20th, 2005, 07:54 PM
April 20, 2005

Iraq's President Says 50 Bodies Pulled From Tigris River

By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=RICHARD A. OPPEL JR.&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=RICHARD A. OPPEL JR.&inline=nyt-per)
and ROBERT F. WORTH (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=ROBERT F. WORTH&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=ROBERT F. WORTH&inline=nyt-per)
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/b.gifAGHDAD, April 20 - The new Iraqi president said today that more than 50 bodies had been discovered in the Tigris River and suggested they were victims of a massive kidnapping south of Baghdad that Iraqi officials insisted was a hoax just three days ago.

President-elect Jalal Talabani, who made the surprise assertion after a meeting with Shiite leaders over dividing up top jobs in the new government, offered no details about the crime, including when or precisely where the bodies were found.

Mr. Talabani, in his comments to reporters, offered no documentation that could help independently verify his statement, like a list of victims, photographs of the bodies, or the names of witnesses. He said the government knew the names of victims and had such photographs, however.

In the latest bizarre turnabout in a succession of claims about whether any kidnappings occurred, Mr. Talabani said that hostages had , in fact, been killed, and their bodies thrown into the Tigris. An American military spokesman in Baghdad said today that he had no information about the bodies.

The pronouncement came amid continuing violence in the country, as 20 Iraqi troops were taken from their trucks near the western city of Haditha, dragged to a soccer stadium and lined up against the wall and shot, according to an official in the Interior Ministry. Nineteen of the Iraqis died, and one was taken to a hospital, the official said.

Later today, a suicide car bomb went off near the headquarters of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's political party in Baghdad, a police official told news agencies. At least one person was killed.

In an interview this evening, an aide to Mr. Talabani elaborated on the president's comments about the bodies, saying that there are names and pictures of the victims, and names of the killers, in the possession of the government.

"There were hostages who were killed and thrown into the Tigris, and we found 50 dead bodies," the aide said. He said other details would be released soon.

Regardless of whether Mr. Talabani's claims are later verified, the massacre in Haditha came amid a renewed surge of insurgent attacks - including six deaths and three suicide car bombings today in Baghdad - that have underlined anew the challenges facing the new government expected to take power in the coming days.

The violence, which has left dozens dead in Baghdad alone over the past week, has called into question suggestions that the tide in the war here is clearly turning.

The kidnapping dispute threw the nation into turmoil last weekend, as Shiite leaders claimed Sunni terrorists had pulled off a large-scale abduction of Shiite men, women and children in the town of Madaen, south of the capital.

But on Sunday, after surrounding and searching the town, Iraqi troops found no bodies or hostages, and suggested that the accusations were fabricated. Prime Minister Allawi, among other leaders, confirmed that no hostages had been found and said that lurid accusations about violence there appeared to be false.

Shiite leaders remain angry that their assertions of a massive kidnapping were widely discredited. Mr. Talabani made his comments to reporters today after a session with top Shiite leaders where the officials continued their horse-trading over who would be awarded top posts in the new government.

Shiite leaders, who hold a majority of seats in the parliament, are negotiating with other factions - including Kurdish officials led by Mr. Talabani - over how many cabinet posts each side will get.

Mr. Talabani's comments revived accusations that could prove politically explosive. If the hostage massacre is confirmed, it could worsen tensions between Shiites, who form the dominant partners in the new government, and the disaffected Sunni minority. Some Sunni political figures have expressed anger that they are not better represented in the assembly.

Sunnis, who dominated the country under the rule of Saddam Hussein, also dominate the insurgency, and some hard-line Sunni figures have reacted with fury to the accusations about the Madaen hostages, calling the charges a ruse to justify invading Sunni-dominated towns south of Baghdad.

If the past is any guide, many Sunnis will continue to take that stance even if Iraq's political leaders try to resolve the matter by providing the names of the victims and killers, as Mr. Talabani said today that he would do.

Iraqi leaders say they are on the verge of announcing their new cabinet - perhaps on Thursday - and senior Iraqi officials had warned that they expected insurgents to launch a new round of attacks timed to news of the new government.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

April 21st, 2005, 12:06 PM
After Michael Jackson week was Terri Schiavo week, then it was two weeks of the Pope's dying and death, now it's new Pope week. There's still his "crowning", so stay tuned! If you watched t.v. you'd never know that our troops are still fighting a war.

April 21st, 2005, 12:47 PM
A dose of sobering reality.

Lat night on the news, there was an account of a coordinated attack on a remote Marine Corp base near the Syrian border, described by the two sentries that defended the gate. A dump truck loaded with explosives tried to crash through the barrier. The sentries took out the truck, and it exploded 40 yards away. A fire truck loaded with explosives immediately followed, and they took it out also. That was followed by small arms fire from a nearby building.

April 22nd, 2005, 02:46 PM
Fire truck?

That is creative.... I wonder if they rushed it too soon. If they waited 7 minutes or so, they might have tricked the guys into believing that the truck was there, I don't know, FOR THE FIRE?

Ah well, we will see what happens.

May 14th, 2005, 10:55 AM
May 14, 2005
Tragicomedy of Life in Baghdad Is Brought Home in a TV Series

By ROBERT F. WORTH (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=ROBERT F. WORTH&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=ROBERT F. WORTH&inline=nyt-per)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 13 - One morning last month, Qasim al-Malakh, one of Iraq's best-known actors, stood near a dusty vacant lot in a dangerous part of southern Baghdad. He was dressed immaculately in a dark suit and tie, and his co-star, Nagham al-Sultani, stood next to him in a white bridal gown.

They were there to film the last episode of "Love and War," Iraq's most popular television drama. Their characters, Fawzi and Fatin, had just married after a long and troubled romance.

But now it was time for the final scene, and a little dose of Iraqi reality. The cameras zoomed in on a car carrying the newlyweds to their honeymoon. At a signal from the director, the car exploded, sending thick curtains of flame and black smoke into the sky.

Fawzi and Fatin, like so many real Iraqis, had fallen victim to a suicide bomber.

The episode, which will be broadcast in June, is the finale of a series that has captivated Iraqis since it was first shown last year. "Love and War" is a black comedy that could only have been made in Iraq. It mixes slapstick and even a few Bollywood-style musical numbers with a brutally frank portrayal of the violence here. Several of its main characters die in bombings, others are kidnapped and tanks and helicopters are a constant backdrop.

"We wanted to reflect the real atmosphere of life in Iraq," said the show's director and chief writer, Jamal Abed Jassim. "You could get kidnapped here any time. Or a bomb could kill you. This is our life."

In a sense, "Love and War" is a testament to the new freedoms Iraqi artists have gained. Under Saddam Hussein, television and film were strictly controlled, and directors carefully avoided suggesting any criticism of the status quo, said Mr. Jassim, who began making television shows and feature films in 1980.

Since then a number of new television dramas have been filmed, despite the difficulty of setting up an outdoor shot in Baghdad. Like several of the other shows, "Love and War" is produced by Al Sharqiya satellite television network, founded last year by a Dubai-based Iraqi.

But the show is blunt about the price Iraq has paid for its freedom. The first season began with Fawzi and Fatin standing on the Jadriya Bridge in Baghdad hours before the American bombing was to begin in March 2003. "Is it possible that beautiful Baghdad will be burned?" Fatin says. "What about our love?"

Fawzi clutches her hands. "It will survive, even if there is a war," he says, with music swelling behind him. There follows a slow montage of the bombing of Baghdad and of its postwar ruins, while a mournful voice sings about its past glory.

Even the show's comic moments can be violent. In one episode, Fawzi is so busy flirting with Fatin that he fails to notice his car - the hand brake left off - rolling backward downhill. It rolls all the way to an American military checkpoint, where the soldiers, mistaking it for a car bomb, riddle it with bullets.

"Love and War" does not always live up to Western production standards. Most of it was filmed outdoors in Baghdad, and it sometimes has the improvised look of a student film.

But improvisation is part of its charm. Often during the filming, American soldiers walked up, alarmed at the sight of all the cameras, actors and extras. Mr. Jassim often turned the camera onto the soldiers - or the helicopters - and integrated them into the episode.

"When you put up a microphone, the helicopter pilots always think it's a rocket-propelled grenade or a gun," said Mr. Malakh, an elegant 60-year-old who looks, and plays, characters 15 years younger. The constant interruptions often delayed the filming, he said. But they had a side benefit.

"In other countries getting a tank or a helicopter costs thousands of dollars," Mr. Malakh said. "Here we get it for free." Making the entire first season of "Love and War" cost about $150,000, he said.

The show centers on Fawzi, a kind of Iraqi Everyman who struggles to do the right thing under trying circumstances. With his handsome, careworn face and his light blue Volkswagen Beetle, he has an innate kindness and a Chaplinesque tendency to get into scrapes.

In one early episode, Fawzi discovers, through his job at a government telephone exchange, that a ring of kidnappers is planning to abduct a small boy who lives nearby. Fawzi rushes to the boy's house to warn his mother, but the mother is frightened and shoos him away.

When the kidnappers arrive shortly afterward and abduct the boy, the mother names Fawzi as a suspect. It is only after he has been thrown in jail that the police come to believe his story and, with his help, find the real criminals.

Fawzi's beloved, Fatin, shares his beleaguered decency. She works at a mental hospital where most of the staff ran off after the 2003 invasion, and she struggles to take care of the patients along with a few helpers. She is from a rich family, and much of the plot revolves around her mother's efforts to stop her from marrying Fawzi, who is poor.

Part of the show's appeal, for many Iraqis, lies in its presentation of these good-hearted heroes in a world of brutality and violence.

"Iraqis are truly like Fawzi and Fatin, but everyone talks about the criminals," Mr. Malakh said. "This is important for us."

"Love and War" is not the only new series to offer a taste of Iraqi reality. There is also "Al Hawasim," or "The Decisives," a term that Iraqis began using for the looters who have ransacked much of Baghdad after Mr. Hussein called the 2003 invasion "The Decisive Battle." In the series, some of the looters have grown rich. Another is "The Departure," about people who steal Iraqi antiquities, Mr. Jassim said.

Altogether, about 10 series have been filmed since the war, and half of those have been broadcast, Mr. Jassim said. But nothing has drawn the same passionate response as "Love and War," he said. It is popular not just in Iraq, but in many other countries with Iraqi populations, thanks to satellite channels.

After one episode last year in which Fawzi's mother was killed in a suicide bombing, Balkes Razzak, a Baghdad homemaker, found herself sobbing, she said. She called her sister in Romania, who had been watching, too. "It was the talk of all the people in Iraq, and even of the people who live abroad," Ms. Razzak said.

The first season, filmed early last year and shown in the late spring and early summer, got little attention in the West because it coincided with armed uprisings in southern Iraq and with Mr. Hussein's first, televised appearance in court.

The second season, finished in mid-April, is darker, but there are some lighter shades. Fawzi's friend Ahmad (played by Behjet al-Juburi), a midget who had been pursuing an unlikely romance with a beautiful young woman next door, finds happiness. They marry and have twins.

No such happiness is in store for Fawzi and Fatin. Mr. Jassim says he killed them off because he wanted to move on to other projects, including an adaptation of Molière's "Miser" set in prewar Baghdad.

Mr. Malakh said tragedy was the only appropriate way to end the series. "This is our life," he said. "I'm laughing with you now, but for all I know my house has been bombed. This is the black comedy we live."

Thaier al-Daami and Layla Isitfan contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

December 8th, 2005, 08:54 AM
December 8, 2005

Bush Shifts Priorities in Rebuilding Iraq to Smaller Projects

By DAVID E. SANGER (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=DAVID E. SANGER&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=DAVID E. SANGER&inline=nyt-per) and JAMES GLANZ (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=JAMES GLANZ&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=JAMES GLANZ&inline=nyt-per)

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 - President Bush said Wednesday that the strategy for rebuilding Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) was shifting to smaller, more visible projects, while he conceded that the American effort to rebuild Iraq had been ridden with early mistakes.

"Reconstruction has not always gone as well as we had hoped," Mr. Bush said, in an admission that paralleled his concession last week, in the first of four speeches laying out his Iraq strategy, that the United States had not properly armed and trained Iraqis to resist insurgents.

But he argued that the shift in rebuilding was already drawing Iraqis away from the insurgency plaguing the country. He cited, at length, examples from the rebuilding of Najaf and Mosul, two cities that have been the site of repeated battles and bombings, and that he contended are now coming to life.

Mr. Bush's admission was notable because the administration's critics - and Iraqis themselves - have long argued that the early focus on huge electricity, water and fuel projects was misguided, as was the overreliance on huge American conglomerates to run the programs, a strategy that Mr. Bush indicated was ending.

Within the administration, some officials acknowledged that the White House had ignored specific warnings about these flaws before the invasion in March 2003. Mr. Bush's somewhat chastened tone appeared to reflect a new White House strategy of admitting some errors to improve the chances of winning consensus on what he calls a new national "plan for victory."

The atmospherics of Mr. Bush's speech were also markedly different from his recent addresses on Iraq, which have been given in front of enthusiastic audiences, often on military bases. On Wednesday he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations, before an audience that included many who were clearly skeptical, and some highly critical, of the strategy and Mr. Bush's competency.

Instead of the wild cheers he got last week at the United States Naval Academy, where he described changes in military strategy, there was polite and brief applause. The White House declined a request for Mr. Bush to follow council tradition and take questions at the end of his speech.

Mr. Bush was introduced by Richard N. Haass, the council's president and a senior official in the State Department during the president's first term. Since leaving the government Mr. Haass has termed the invasion of Iraq a "war of choice," a characterization the White House rejects.

Mr. Bush's words were tinged with caution, and an acknowledgment of how much remained to be done. "Corruption is a problem at both the national and local levels of the Iraqi government," he said, an issue he had rarely discussed. He also spoke of how militia groups had infiltrated security forces, "especially the Iraqi police."

Mr. Bush acknowledged that when reconstruction began, "our focus was on repairing and building large-scale infrastructure - such as electrical plans and large water treatment facilities." But, he said, "we found our approach was not meeting the priorities of the Iraqi people." The new projects became targets for terrorists, and contracts did not flow to Iraqi companies.

Now, he said, that has changed. "The terrorists and Saddamists have been able to slow progress, but they haven't been able to stop it," he said.

The decision to make huge projects the centerpieces for rebuilding came directly from Pentagon-controlled agencies that ran Iraq after the invasion. But even before the invasion, administration officials now concede, there were warnings from the State Department that smaller, more focused reconstruction projects had worked in other war-torn countries and might be more suitable for Iraq.

James Kunder, an assistant administrator at the United States Agency for International Development, which lost its argument for a small-is-better approach, said he did not think opposing views on reconstruction were actively stifled.

"That debate was a fair debate, it was an open debate, and truth be told, even though I might have gone a different way, those folks had a good argument," Mr. Kunder said.

Some experts said the president's new stance could be forming too late to do much good. "It was a much more realistic tone than I've ever seen," said Rick Barton, co-director of the post-conflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "This approach probably would have been fine when we were saying it one year ago, two years ago, but I just don't think the margins are as generous now."

Depending on how the president's words were parsed, it appeared that he might have been signaling an even larger shift, to a strategy in which America would focus on developing the Iraqi economy and pools of technical expertise in its ministries so Iraqis could carry on much of the reconstruction themselves.

"What you're seeing here is a recalibration and an additional emphasis," Mr. Kunder said.

An even more basic question is where the money for reconstruction would come from if the United States stopped paying for much of it. Iraqi and American officials have repeatedly conceded that little progress is likely until Iraq reduces its crippling subsidies for food and fuel. But after fatal rioting broke out in Yemen when the government there reduced subsidies, there may be little incentive to try the experiment in violence-torn Iraq.

Mr. Bush did not address this problem directly, saying only that the United States wanted to help "establish the institutions of a market economy." With his examples of what he called reconstruction progress in Najaf and Mosul, he also hinted at another key element of American strategy: giving more authority to provincial governments at the expense of the traditional center of power in Baghdad.

"It can take years of hard work to build a healthy civil society," Mr. Bush told the council's members. But, he said, Iraqis are "learning that democracy is the only way to build a just and peaceful society, because it's the only system that gives every citizen a voice in determining its future."

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

December 8th, 2005, 10:08 AM
Reconstruction Revisionism

December 7, 2005

Before the war, we were promised by the Bush administration that Iraqi oil revenues would finance the bulk of their reconstruction. Here’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on 3/27/03 (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r109:S07FE5-0013:):
The oil revenues of Iraq could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years…We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.

Now we are being told that the oil revenues might not pay for any of the reconstruction – it’s completely up to the Iraqis. Scott McClellan today:
QUESTION: Iraq’s reconstruction costs — how much of that should be paid for by Iraq with its oil revenues?

MCCLELLAN: Well, Iraq’s oil revenues are for the Iraqi people. It is overseen by an Iraqi ministry and all those revenues go to help the Iraqi people.

McClellan later instructs the reporter to look for the National Strategy for Victory In Iraq because it “talks about the oil sector and the progress that’s being made there.” Actually, that document acknowledges “oil production is slightly down from a year ago. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/30/AR2005113002255_pf.html)”

Maybe it’s appropriate for the United States to finance Iraqi reconstruction, but the administration should have been upfront with the American people from the beginning. U.S. taxpayers have already spent $18 billion on Iraqi reconstruction (http://www.cfr.org/publication/9185/iraqs_reconstruction_ailments.html?breadcrumb=defa ult), with no end in sight.

December 11th, 2005, 01:53 AM
December 11, 2005

Politics, Iraqi Style: Slick TV Ads, Text Messaging and Gunfire

By ROBERT F. WORTH (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=ROBERT F. WORTH&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=ROBERT F. WORTH&inline=nyt-per) and EDWARD WONG (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=EDWARD WONG&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=EDWARD WONG&inline=nyt-per)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), Dec. 10 - After putting up 100,000 posters across Iraq to promote his political party, Hamid Kifai discovered this week that they had all been torn down, even the ones on the front of his own campaign headquarters in the south.

"They have made it impossible for us to compete," said Mr. Kifai, a stocky, talkative Shiite candidate who spent his entire $50,000 war chest on the posters and has nothing left. "This is not democracy."

It is democracy, but in a distinctly Iraqi style. This country is in the final days of a campaign that is at once more ruthless and more sophisticated than anything yet seen here.

Candidates have been killed, even as slick television spots run throughout the day, showing office-seekers who soberly promise to defeat terrorism and revive the economy. Cellphone users routinely get unexpected text messages advertising one candidate or another.

Thousands of posters decorate the capital's gray blast walls, including one that shows a split face - half Saddam Hussein (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/saddam_hussein/index.html?inline=nyt-per), half Ayad Allawi - in a blunt effort to smear Mr. Allawi, a former prime minister, and his secular coalition.

"Who does this man remind you of?" the poster asks.

In a sense, it is the first full-scale political contest here since the fall of Mr. Hussein. The Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the January election, are now campaigning fiercely, and voter turnout is expected to be considerably higher as a result. All told, 226 political groups will compete in the elections, representing more than 7,000 candidates.

The winners will form Iraq's first full-term government since the war began, and face the task of unifying an increasingly fractious and violent nation. Any American plan to reduce troop levels will depend on the success of that effort.

So far, the campaign has been as turbulent as any endeavor in Iraq. In the past two weeks alone, 11 people associated with Mr. Allawi's group have been killed, including one of its leading candidates in southern Iraq. On Tuesday, gunmen stormed five northern offices belonging to the Kurdistan Islamic Union, killing two party members and wounding 10. It is often hard to distinguish political killings from the terrorism that has become a part of daily life here, but in both cases, the parties have accused rivals of carrying out the attacks.

"I think these negative tactics will backfire," said Azzam Alwash, an ebullient 47-year-old civil engineer who is co-director of the campaign for Mr. Allawi's coalition. Like almost all of his counterparts in these elections, he has no prior experience in the field, though he oversees 80 campaign workers with a budget of $2.5 million. He toils in a "war room" in Mr. Allawi's Baghdad headquarters, where staff members work 18-hour days and coordinate satellite offices in all of Iraq's provinces.

"Our posters got pulled down too, so we decided the best way was with TV, radios and newspapers," Mr. Alwash said. Like many other groups, Mr. Allawi's has its own newspaper and enough money to pay for plenty of television and radio time. About 6 of the nearly 20 Iraqi television stations - and about half of the 200 Iraqi newspapers - are owned by parties. Rates for political spots on the larger Baghdad stations run as high as $3,000 per minute.

At his own desk, Mr. Alwash clicked on an Internet link and a song began to play: a campaign tune recorded last month by Elham al-Madfai, one of Iraq's best-known singers. The words, written in 1941, are about a doctor who can solve all the patient's problems. Every time the word doctor comes up in the song, the accompanying video shows a smiling Mr. Allawi.

"We're playing it all over our radio stations," Mr. Alwash said.

Like Mr. Kifai, Mr. Alwash says he believes the culprit in the poster-tearing - and other incidents involving underhanded tactics - is the United Iraqi Alliance, a religious Shiite group whose main parties now control the government. "We have videos and photographs of police defacing our posters and putting up posters for 555," Mr. Alwash said, referring to the Shiite alliance by its ballot number.

Redha Jowad Taki, a spokesman for the Shiite coalition, said it condemned the removal of posters. Some of its own had also been torn down, he said, and four of its campaign volunteers had been killed while putting up posters.

The campaign is being conducted with few real rules. Technically, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq is in charge, but it has little money to investigate the more than 80 violations that have been reported in the last month, said Safwat Rashid Sidqi, a commissioner. Last year, the commission fined the Shiite alliance about $1,500 for campaigning after the 48-hour cutoff point before the vote, a pittance for a party with deep pockets.

Money has become a campaign issue too, though there are no limits on spending or contributions, and no public funding. Critics of Mr. Allawi, a White House favorite, accuse him of taking American government money, while enemies of the Shiite alliance say that group gets much of its financing from Iran. Both groups deny the charges, though the sources of their large war chests remain mysterious.

One of the more promising aspects of the election is the participation by Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the vote to elect the 275-member National Assembly last January. Many are risking their lives by campaigning in areas where the Sunni-led insurgency is at its worst.

Hatem Mukhlis, the leader of the Assembly of Patriots, a secular Sunni party, has been traveling three or four times a week from Baghdad to Salahuddin Province, an insurgent stronghold whose capital is Tikrit, Mr. Hussein's hometown.

"My father upgraded Tikrit with money and schools," said Mr. Mukhlis, a doctor who lived in the United States for 20 years and met with President Bush at the White House before the war. "They remember my father for the services he provided the people."

Mr. Mukhlis said he hoped the people of Salahuddin would view him in the same light as his father, a respected military officer. He said he has opened up a printing press in Tikrit, and started two mobile health clinics that roam the province in white vans.

Like many other candidates, he has also set up a Web site, www.almalaf.net (http://www.almalaf.net/), to get out his message. On Friday, the home page showed a photo of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shiite prime minister, next to the bruised back of a male detainee, alluding to the Sunni Arabs' fears that government-sponsored militias are abducting, torturing and killing Sunnis.

The headline on the site talked about "secret documents" linking Mr. Jaafari to incidents of torture.

The Web site has other draws. At the bottom of the home page, Mr. Mukhlis has posted photos of Miss Egypt and Miss Puerto Rico in bikinis.
Several American groups are teaching Iraqi politicians the basics of campaigning and helping them polish their messages. Chief among them are the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, both democracy-promotion groups with financing from the American government and ties to the two major American parties. They run workshops, help coordinate media campaigns and give lessons in organizing volunteers and conducting polls.

Still, these campaigns could never be mistaken for American ones. The sheer number of political groups and competing messages make it hard for Iraqis to distinguish one party from another. There are few debates or substantive discussions of the issues in this campaign, which is still mostly rooted in personalities and appeals to ethnic or sectarian loyalties.

Because of the risk of drawing attacks by insurgents or rivals, political rallies and barnstorming speeches are virtually unheard of. Mosques are about the only accessible public spaces here, posing an obstacle for the more secular parties. Some secular candidates, including Mr. Allawi, have accused the Shiite alliance of using religious imagery in their posters to suggest that voting for their own groups is a religious duty.

Especially in southern Iraq, the parched Shiite heartland, the power of the religious hierarchy is often impossible to separate from politics.
One local group, the Islamic Coalition, includes six parties that are loyal to ayatollahs from the Shiite holy city of Karbala. In the past two weeks, the coalition's posters have popped up everywhere there. Some carry images of the group's two main spiritual leaders, Ayatollah Sadiq Shirazi, who lives in the Iranian holy city of Qum, and the Ayatollah Hadi Muderassi, of Karbala.

Clerics who follow these ayatollahs tell their congregations to vote for the coalition. Ayatollah Shirazi's organization finances a local university, satellite channel and radio station, all of which have given exposure to the coalition's candidates.

One option for more secular candidates is alliances with tribal leaders, who often have the clout to deliver a substantial number of votes.

On Thursday afternoon, Sheik Abdul Karim Mahoud al-Muhammadawi, a candidate and the leader of a small party, received several dozen such leaders in the courtyard of a house in eastern Baghdad. For hours, the men sat in two long rows, sipping tea and asking Sheik Muhammadawi for his views on various topics. He responded at length.

Afterward, Ali Feisal al-Lami, the sheik's campaign manager, explained that some of the men indicated they would urge their followers to vote for the sheik's candidates.

Private networks like these are crucial in Iraq's hierarchical society, Mr. Lami said. Similar networks exist among devotees of Iraq's leading Shiite ayatollahs, he added.

Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi and Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)<IMG height=1 alt="" width=1 border=0 name=s_i_nytimesglobal>

December 13th, 2005, 09:31 AM
December 13, 2005

Thursday's Election Won't Stop Violence in Iraq, Bush Says


PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 12 - President Bush hailed Iraq's coming parliamentary election as a "remarkable event in the Arab world" in a speech here on Monday. But he said that the voting would not bring an end to violence and that Iraq was still threatened by Iran, Syria and its own religious and ethnic tensions.

For the first time, the president also put a number on the approximate numbers of Iraqis killed - 30,000 he said - since the beginning of the American-led invasion in March 2003. Mr. Bush gave out the number during a rare question-and-answer session after the speech.

"How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war?" the president said in response to the first question from members of the World Affairs Council, the host of the event. "I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis. We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."

White House officials said that Mr. Bush based the number on public estimates of the death toll, not on an internal government accounting, and was not breaking down the numbers into civilian and military deaths. Iraq Body Count, a group that tracks Iraqi civilian deaths, listed them as being between 27,383 and 30,892 on its Web site today.

Military officials say they have kept only partial statistics on the numbers of Iraqis killed.

Mr. Bush's speech, delivered at the Park Hyatt hotel in downtown Philadelphia, was his third of four in recent weeks aimed at trying to build up sagging public support for the war in Iraq.

This speech, which the president said was delivered in the birthplace of American democracy, was focused on American efforts to foster democracy in Iraq. Like the others, it was meant to offer a more realistic assessment of the troubles ahead, and offered no timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

"No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks and false starts," Mr. Bush said. But the parliamentary elections set in Iraq for Thursday, he said, represent "a remarkable transformation for a country that has virtually no experience with democracy, and which is struggling to overcome the legacy of one of the worst tyrannies the world has known."

Representative John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat and Vietnam veteran whose call last month for a speedy withdrawal of American troops set off a new debate about Iraq, denounced Mr. Bush's speech as more rhetoric and said the war cannot be won militarily.

Speaking just a few blocks from Mr. Bush at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, Mr. Murtha said that if the French had remained in the United States after the Revolutionary War, "we'd have thrown them the hell out of here."

The Iraqis, he said, "are not against democracy, they are against our occupation."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, echoed Mr. Murtha, and said that the redeployment of American troops must begin after the Iraqi election. "Our overwhelming military presence has inflamed the insurgency," Mr. Kennedy said in a statement.

In his remarks, Mr. Bush effectively said that the administration had made mistakes in Iraq. The president recalled, for example, that in the summer of 2003, the United States proposed that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administration that governed Iraq after the war, should continue in office while appointed Iraqi leaders drafted a constitution and then held elections to choose a new government. As proposed by the Americans, Iraq would have been sovereign only when the elected government took office.

"This plan met with the disapproval of the Iraqis," Mr. Bush said. "They made it clear that they wanted a constitution that was written by elected leaders of a free Iraq, and they wanted sovereignty placed in Iraqi hands sooner. We listened, and we adjusted our approach."

Iraq was formally declared sovereign in June 2004.

Mr. Bush said that the parliamentary election set for Thursday "won't be perfect," and that Iraq still faced problems from inside and outside its boundaries. Internally, he said, Iraq had to establish "the culture of reconciliation" among Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who have feuded and warred for centuries.

"Oh, I know some fear the possibility that Iraq could break apart and fall into a civil war," Mr. Bush said. "I don't believe those fears are justified."

The final challenge, the president said, was Iraq's position in a "tough neighborhood" with Syria and Iran. "The vast majority of Iraqis do not want to live under an Iranian-style theocracy, and they don't want Syria to allow the transit of bombers and killers into Iraq," Mr. Bush said, vowing that the "United States of America will stand with the Iraqi people against the threats from these neighbors."

Mr. Bush, who does not often take questions after his prepared speeches, was asked by one member of the audience why he invoked the attacks of Sept. 11 as a justification for the invasion of Iraq when "no respected journalist or other Middle Eastern experts confirm that such a link existed."

The president responded that "there was a serious international effort to say to Saddam Hussein, 'You're a threat,' and the Sept. 11 attacks extenuated that threat." Mr. Bush added that "knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again."

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

December 14th, 2005, 01:37 AM
December 14, 2005

The Elections

Police Seize Forged Ballots Headed to Iraq From Iran


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 13 - Less than two days before nationwide elections, the Iraqi border police seized a tanker on Tuesday that had just crossed from Iran filled with thousands of forged ballots, an official at the Interior Ministry said.

The tanker was seized in the evening by agents with the American-trained border protection force at the Iraqi town of Badra, after crossing at Munthirya on the Iraqi border, the official said. According to the Iraqi official, the border police found several thousand partly completed ballots inside.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Iranian truck driver told the police under interrogation that at least three other trucks filled with ballots had crossed from Iran at different spots along the border.

The official, who did not attend the interrogation, said he did not know where the driver was headed, or what he intended to do with the ballots.

The seizure of the truck comes at a delicate time in Iran's relations with both Iraq and the United States. The American government has said Iranian agents are deeply involved in trying to influence events in Iraq, by funneling money to Shiite political parties and by arming and training many of the illegal militias that are bedeviling the country.

Agents of the Iranian government are believed to be supporting the two main Shiite political parties here - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party -with money and other assistance. Both parties support a strong role for Islam in the Iraqi state; however, compared with the Iranian government itself, which is a strict theocracy, the Iraqi version is relatively moderate.

In recent months, American officials in Baghdad and Washington, along with their British counterparts, have contended that sophisticated bombs have been smuggled across the border from Iran, and that some of them have been used against American and British soldiers. The bombs are thought to be far more sophisticated than most of the powerful but rather rudimentary ones used to attack American tanks and convoys here.

At a news conference on Tuesday, hours before the ballot seizure, the American ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, spoke of what he said were overt Iranian attempts to influence events in Iraq.

"Iraq is in a particularly difficult neighborhood," he said. "There are predatory states, the hegemonic states, with aspirations of regional hegemony in the area, such as Iran. There are states that fear success of democracy here - that it might be infectious and spread."

"We do not want Iran to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs," Ambassador Khalilzad said. "We do not want weapons to come across from Iran into Iraq, or training of Iraqis to take place."

Mr. Khalilzad has been authorized to speak with the Iranians on the subject of Iraq, but said Tuesday that he had not yet done so.

Northwest of Baghdad, four American soldiers were killed when their patrol struck a mine, the American military command said, offering no further details.

In a message posted on the Internet, the Islamic Army of Iraq, an insurgent group, claimed to have attacked an American convoy and killed a number of soldiers near Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. It was unclear whether the posting was referring to the same attack.

The same group posted another Internet message calling on resistance fighters to refrain from attacking polling stations on election day, to "save the people's blood." The group urged Iraqis to continue killing American soldiers.

"This does not mean that we approve of what is called the political operation," the statement said, referring to the election.

Both Islamic Army postings were translated by SITE, a Washington organization that tracks Islamic militant groups.

Despite the disavowal of violence on Election Day, the prospect of electing their own representatives to the Parliament appears to have driven a wedge into the Sunni-backed insurgency. While the Islamic Army called for a cessation of attacks on polling centers, an Internet message posted this week by five militant groups, including Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, denounced the elections as a "crusaders' project," but, perhaps significantly, did not threaten to disrupt them.

At the same time, insurgents in Ramadi, a Sunni city west of Baghdad, have distributed fliers threatening residents with death if they go to the polls. Similar menacing messages have been posted on walls in towns in western Anbar Province.

To protect against insurgent attacks, some 225,000 Iraqi police and soldiers have begun taking up positions around the country, about 90,000 more than during the January election. The Iraqi forces are being backed up by more than 150,000 American troops.

Other security measures began going into effect around the country on Tuesday, including an extended curfew, a prohibition against carrying weapons and a ban on almost all driving.

In other violence, a Sunni Arab parliamentary candidate, Mizhar al-Dulaimi, was killed in Ramadi by gunmen on his way to visit relatives, officials said, and a friend accompanying him was wounded. Jihadist groups have threatened to kill Iraqis who take part in the political process, either as candidates, poll workers or voters.

Mr. Dulaimi was a businessman known for his strong support for the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation, and he participated last month in an Iraqi political reconciliation conference in Cairo. In a recent television interview, he accused Shiites of trying to arrest him on the basis of what he considered a fabricated security case.

So far, the election campaign has been a turbulent endeavor in Iraq. In the past two weeks alone, 11 people associated with a political coalition that includes Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, have been killed, including one of its leading candidates in southern Iraq. Last Tuesday, gunmen stormed five northern offices belonging to the Kurdistan Islamic Union, killing two party members and wounding 10.

It is often hard to distinguish political killings from the terrorism that has become a part of daily life here, but in both cases, the parties have accused rivals of carrying out the attacks.

Khalid al-Khassan contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article, and Kirk Semple from Ramadi.

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

December 14th, 2005, 10:07 AM
Absentee ballots.

December 15th, 2005, 09:17 AM
Undeterred by Violence, Iraqis Head to Polls to Choose New Government

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 15, 2005; 6:00 AM

BAGHDAD, Dec. 15 -- Iraqi voters, undeterred by early violence, went to the polls in force Thursday to elect the country's new National Assembly, which in turn will ultimately form a new government.

Among the voters were many Sunni Arabs in western insurgent strongholds taking part in national elections for the first time, in contrast to previous election boycotts by Sunnis.

Explosions in Baghdad and Ramadi marked the opening of polls. At least one mortar round hit a neighborhood near Baghdad's Green Zone as some leaders of Iraq's transitional government cast ballots behind the fortress-like walls. More explosions hit near a polling center in the far western city of Ramadi, prompting U.S. and Iraqi forces to cordon off the area. There was no immediate word of casualties in either blast.

Lines nevertheless formed early outside Ramadi polling places even before they opened. Iraqis there were encouraged to vote by promises from some insurgent groups to refrain from election day attacks and by Sunni clerics' lifting of a boycott call that had suppressed Sunni turnout in January's national elections.

"Even though there were many explosions last night, and even if there are more now or on my way to the polling center, I will come and vote," declared Mizhar Abud Salman, heading to a schoolhouse polling center in Saddam Hussein's home region of Tikrit.

"Ballot boxes are a victory of democracy over dictatorship," Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari told reporters as he cast his vote. "The real triumph is that people are casting ballots--whoever they choose--and that they've chosen voting over bombs."

Election day featured a heavy presence by police, security forces and U.S. troops patrolling roads in major cities. A three-day ban on traffic and sealed borders were designed to increase security as well.

About 15 million Iraqi voters were eligible to select 275 members of the new National Assembly. Complete returns were not expected until late December or early January.

A total of 7,648 candidates are seeking assembly seats, which will be allocated by population in Iraq's 18 provinces.

The results may determine whether Iraq becomes a more heavily religious nation, and whether factions will split among sectarian and ethnic regions. The new government will face insurgent and political violence that have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

The current alliance of Shiite religious parties was widely predicted to win most seats, as it did in voting in January. But members of the Sunni Muslim minority hoped to win more representation, as Sunni religious leaders encouraged Sunnis to participate in the vote. Many members of the minority boycotted the January elections and an October ballot to approve a new constitution.

It was Iraq's third election since the U.S. invaded the country and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. The first was on Jan. 30 for an interim government. The second was a referendum on a new constitution on Oct. 15.

On Wednesday, Iraqis had staged spontaneous celebrations, taking advantage of a three-day moratorium on vehicular traffic intended to guard against car bomb attacks during the election period.

But explosions could be heard in the capital throughout the night. Residents to the south said they could hear U.S. military helicopters and Iraqi troops battling insurgents.

"Let us make tomorrow a national celebration, a day of national unity and victory over terrorism and those who oppose our democratic march," President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday in a speech on nationwide television. Talabani, a member of the Kurdish minority based in the north, has served in the Shiite-dominated transitional government for 10 months.

The Bush administration considers the elections a third political milestone in the pursuit of its goals following the U.S. invasion and ouster of President Saddam Hussein.

"In spite of the violence, Iraqis have met every milestone," President Bush said in Washington. "We are in Iraq today because our cause has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator," Bush said, confronting growing domestic criticism of the war and of the presence of about 160,000 U.S. troops.

People celebrated on the streets of Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold, after insurgent groups said they would forgo attacks on civilians during the election period. Death threats and the fear of violence contributed to keeping Sunni Arabs away from the polls previously.

Dozens of men joined in street gatherings as women handed out fruit juice at their front gates. Residents said they were elated.

In the predominantly Shiite south, thousands staged protests after a commentator on al-Jazeera satellite TV network criticized the political influence of Iraqi Shiite clerics. Shiite protesters in Nasiriyah attacked and burned offices used by Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, and attacked the Iraqi Communist Party.

Hundreds of uniformed Iraqi policemen joined protests in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, holding their firearms high and chanting slogans. "We came to vote for the Alliance, obeying our clerics' demand," said Ali Hussein, a 45-year-old taxi driver in Najaf casting his vote for the current governing Shiite coalition.

Fred Barbash reported from Washington. Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Salih Saif Aldin in Tikrit contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

December 15th, 2005, 09:23 AM
Iraq Election Primer (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2005/12/15/GR2005121500081.html)

December 20th, 2005, 01:08 AM
December 20, 2005

Religious Groups Take Early Lead in Iraqi Ballots


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 19 - Early voting results announced by Iraqi electoral officials on Monday, with nearly two-thirds of the ballots counted, indicated that religious groups, particularly the main Shiite coalition, had taken a commanding lead. The secular coalition led by Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, had won only meager support in crucial provinces where it had expected to do well, including Baghdad.

The front-runner among Sunni Arab voters was a religious coalition whose leaders have advocated resistance to the American military and have demanded that President Bush set a timetable for withdrawing the American military from Iraq.

The preliminary results accounted for more than 90 percent of votes cast in 11 of Iraq's 18 provinces. About 7 million ballots have been counted, of an estimated turnout of 11 million in the vote on Thursday for a full, four-year government, electoral officials said.

Officials warned that the results could still change. The Iraqi electoral commission has received 692 complaints of campaign violations or voter fraud, at least 20 of which are considered potentially serious enough to "affect specific election results," said Adel al-Lami, the commission's chief electoral officer. Several candidates, including Mr. Allawi, have angrily accused the main Shiite coalition of underhanded tactics, such as tearing down posters and ordering police officers to campaign for it.

A group of 24 former officials from Saddam Hussein's government were released from American detention over the weekend, Iraqi lawyers said Monday, adding that Iraqi officials had pressed to prevent their release before the election for fear of angering Shiites. [Page A19.]

The early election results gave strong indications that Iraqis cast their ballots based on religious or ethnic allegiances, as in the elections in January for a transitional government. The results also indicated that much of the electorate is staunchly religious, even though many experts once believed that the country had a large secular middle class.

The early results for Baghdad Province, the most diverse in the country, provided the strongest indication of the religious nature of the voting. With 89 percent of the ballots here counted, the main Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, had won 1.4 million votes, or 59 percent. The runner-up was the Iraqi Consensus Front, the main religious Sunni Arab coalition, with 19 percent. Mr. Allawi's secular coalition, the Iraqi List, was third, at 14 percent.

Another prominent secular candidate, Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite, won less than a half of 1 percent of the vote in Baghdad, possibly denying him a seat in the Council of Representatives.

Fifty-nine of the 275 seats in the council are up for grabs in Baghdad, more than in any other province.

The results come as a blow to Mr. Allawi, a White House favorite, and his fellow candidates, who had expected to win broad support in Baghdad. In Basra Province, home to Basra, the country's second largest city, Mr. Allawi won only 11 percent; in Sunni-dominated Salahuddin Province, he had 14 percent. Mr. Allawi had been hoping that growing discontent with the transitional government, which is led by religious Shiite parties, and the earnest participation of Sunni Arab voters would get him more support than he had in January, when his group won only 40 of 275 seats in the transitional assembly.

Mr. Allawi has filed formal complaints against the Shiite coalition, accusing it of campaign malfeasance and vote fraud. "We're waiting for their response to the violations and falsifications," Saad al-Janabi, a candidate in Mr. Allawi's coalition, said of the electoral commission. "We're asking for the United Nations, the United States and international groups to intervene at once."

An important question is whether the Sunni Arab parties will be invited to join in the new government. They disagree with the religious Shiites on fundamental issues like whether autonomous regions should exist and how oil revenues should be distributed. If the Sunnis are denied their say, that could further inflame the insurgency and possibly undermine plans to draw down the 160,000 American troops here.

Until all the ballots are counted, it will be impossible to determine exactly how many seats each political group will get. The number of seats will dictate what alliances the parties will make as they negotiate to form a government, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Parliament. The early results show that the Shiite coalition will again be at the center of the negotiations because it will almost certainly win more than a third of the seats, giving it veto power over any proposed government.

Mr. Allawi still has a slim chance of cobbling together a government if he can unite with the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds, and pull away some religious Shiites. That task would undoubtedly be made more difficult, though, by a poor showing and by the influence of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, who has fought hard to put the religious Shiite parties in power.

After a lull around the elections, violence flared across parts of Iraq on Monday. A car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol in Baghdad, killing at least two civilians and wounding at least eight others, including four policemen, an Interior Ministry official said. Gunmen fired on a convoy carrying the deputy governor of Baghdad, Tarik al-Zawbai, killing three bodyguards and wounding Mr. Zawbai, another guard and a pedestrian, the official said.

The American military said a marine was killed Sunday by small-arms fire in Ramadi, the insurgent-rife capital of Anbar Province.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, a Baathist militant group, released a six-second video showing what it claimed to be the killing of Ronald Alan Schulz, 40, an American security contractor abducted earlier this month, according to the SITE Institute, which tracks insurgent postings. Because the victim has his back to the camera in the video, it is impossible to identify him.

In its announcement on Monday, the electoral commission did not release early numbers for several provinces with significant Sunni populations, except for Salahuddin.

The main Kurdish coalition overwhelmingly dominated the three northern Kurdish provinces, as did the main Shiite coalition in the south.

"I feel sorry for some lists," said Hadi al-Amiri, a senior member of the Shiite coalition. "I hope they get at least one seat. This election shows who has support and foundations on the ground."

But protests against the Shiite-led government erupted in some southern cities on Monday, after Mr. Chalabi, a vice prime minister, announced Sunday that the government was cutting back on its consumer fuel subsidies. The price of one liter of leaded gasoline has increased to the equivalent of 10 cents from 3½ cents. Free-market economists say the subsidies have drained the government's budget, and smugglers have been selling the cheap gas for enormous profits in neighboring countries.

Sahar al-Najib and Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi contributed reporting for this article.

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

January 5th, 2006, 03:04 PM
January 5, 2006

Attacks in Iraq Kill 100 as Post-Election Violence Escalates


BAGHDAD, Jan. 5 - Two new suicide bombings rocked Iraq today, killing at least 100 in attacks at a shrine in the Shiite city of Karbala and a police recruiting station in the Sunni city of Ramadi.

Also today, five American soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device while operating in the Baghdad region, the American military said.

Preliminary reports from Iraqi police said that 52 people were killed and 64 were wounded in Karbala, south of Baghdad. In Ramadi, 50 people were killed and 60 were wounded, according Dr. Ammar Al-Rawi from Al-Ramadi Hospital.

The killings come on top of attacks that left more than 50 people dead on Wednesday, as violence was escalating again after a lull around the time of last month's parliamentary elections.

Shiites in Karbala reacted angrily to the bombing, the police said, with many shops closing after the attack.

The new wave of violence could complicate the negotiations going on between Shiite, Kurd and Sunni political parties over the formation of a new government. The insurgency is mostly led by Sunnis, the smallest group of the three, and American officials have pushed strongly for the current Shiite-Kurd alliance to be broadened to include Sunnis.

President Jalal Talabani issued a statement condemning the recent attacks. "These groups of dark terror will not succeed through these cowardly acts in dissuading Iraqis in their bid to form a government of national unity," he said.

Col. Razzak al-Taee, the chief of police in Karbala said the attack took place about 20 yards outside a shrine that is one of the Shiite region's holiest sites at 10:15 in the morning . in the middle of a large crowd. The area is packed with vendors stalls, he said, and the shrine had a higher number of visitors than usual.

Colonel al-Taee said the bomber had been was wearing an explosive belt under clothing packed with metal balls, and was also carrying hand grenades, one of which failed to detonate.

In Ramadi, the target of the attack was a line of about 1,000 potential recruits waiting to apply for a position in the Iraqi police force, according to a statement released by the American military. The statement gave a lower fatality figure than the doctor at the hospital, reporting 30 deaths.

An official in the Iraqi Interior Ministry said that witnesses reported two separate blasts in Ramadi just before 11 am. A firefighter who took part in the rescue efforts said that he personally helped to load 40 bodies into trucks for removal.

The American military statement said that the applicants were responding to a four-day recruiting drive in Ramadi for a new Iraqi police contingent being created for Anbar province, an area in the western part of the country that has been at the heart of the insurgency. The first three days of the drive produced 600 qualified candidates, the statement said.

Other incidents of violence were reported across Iraq, according to news services. Reuters said that two more American soldiers died, killed by a roadside bomb in Najaf along with two civilians, a report that was not confirmed by the American military.

Reuters also reported that a major gas pipeline near the northern city of Kirkuk was seriously damaged in attacks Wednesday night and this morning; the head of criminal intelligence in Diyala province east of Baghdad was wounded in an ambush; and two people were killed by three car bombs in central Baghdad.

The most lethal attack on Wednesday, hit a frequent target - a funeral packed with Shiite mourners - killing more than 30 people and wounding 36 during a two-stage bombing of a mourning procession in Miqdadiya, 60 miles northeast of the capital.

A spokesman for the Iraqi police in Karbala said that a suicide bomber had been arrested there on Wednesday before he could detonate his device. The arrested man said that four other suicide bombers had entered the city.

In Baghdad, residents awoke on Wednesday to huge traffic jams and roadblocks as Iraqi security forces responded to an attack of a more personal nature: the kidnapping of the sister of Bayan Jabr, the interior minister and one of the most polarizing and, among Sunni Arabs, most hated figures in Iraq. Mr. Jabr, a former Shiite militia leader, has been accused by Sunni Arabs of orchestrating a widespread program of assassinating Sunnis, a charge he denies.

The Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera said it had received a videotape showing Mr. Jabr's sister held captive by an insurgent group that demanded the release of female prisoners held in Interior Ministry jails.

After the kidnapping, Iraqi forces shut down bridges, set up checkpoints, rerouted traffic on Wednesday and conducted wide searches of homes in Sunni-dominated neighborhoods of western Baghdad. An Interior Ministry official confirmed that the operations were in response to the kidnapping, but there was no official public acknowledgment by the ministry. It did not release the kidnapped woman's name.

The attack on the pipeline near Kirkuk was part of what appears to be a concerted effort by insurgents to damage Iraq's fragile fuel infrastructure. On Wednesday, they attacked convoys of gasoline trucks making their way to Baghdad from the large refinery in Baiji, about 150 miles north of capital. One attack destroyed three tankers in a heavily guarded convoy near Taji, north of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said. No estimate of the death toll was available.

The capital's fuel supply has been severely strained. Daily gasoline demand has soared by nearly 30 percent, about 500,000 extra gallons, as residents have mobbed gas stations in an effort to fuel electricity generators during a particularly bad period of power shortages, according to the departing oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum. And rumors of a new wave of gas price increases have surfaced, leading to hoarding.

Supplies were drastically cut short late last month after the sabotage of a Baghdad refinery and after the Baiji refinery temporarily shut down when tanker drivers refused to make the drive to the capital because of death threats from insurgents. Convoys from Baiji resumed a few days ago, but while both refineries were down, the capital's gasoline supply dropped by as much as a million gallons a day, Mr. Uloum said.

After news of the funeral blast, Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations urged Iraqis "to refrain from any action which could undermine Iraq's democratic progress." He called the attacks the latest example of an "increasing number of violent incidents" following the vote.

Indeed, despite the tight security throughout Baghdad after the kidnapping of Mr. Jabr's sister, insurgents staged several car bomb attacks, mostly against security forces in Shiite areas.

In Khadhamiya, a large Shiite district, a stationary car bomb ripped through an Iraqi police patrol in the morning, killing 5 and wounding 15, the Interior Ministry said. Later, another car bomb exploded in the dangerous Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad, killing a policeman and 2 civilians and wounding 11.

Gunmen also killed a senior official of the Iraqi Oil Ministry as he drove through the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amariya in the morning, an Interior Ministry official said.

Iraqi officials on Wednesday announced their return to international financial markets with a $2.7 billion bond issue. Under the deal, 650 commercial creditors holding $13.7 billion worth of claims against Iraq agreed to swap those claims for about 20 cents on the dollar's worth of new bonds that have a stronger chance of being repaid. Even though creditors took a huge loss on the face value of the old debts, they all agreed to the exchange, said an American banker who was involved in the deal.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. reported from Baghdad for this article, and John O'Neilfrom New York.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

January 6th, 2006, 10:48 AM
I have to give George W. Bush credit. Democracy really has done wonders for Iraq. As he said, "democracies are by their nature peaceful."

January 6th, 2006, 11:05 AM
It seems like being a suicide bomber became Iraq's most favorite profession. There's no lack of those willing to blow themselves up.

January 6th, 2006, 11:45 AM
"democracies are by their nature peaceful."

Just look at the murder rate in this country for instance.... ;)

January 6th, 2006, 02:46 PM
GW was right about established, working democracies. They are peaceful by nature. But Iraq is not a democracy

January 6th, 2006, 03:12 PM
Let's not kid ourselves.

The history of humanity is the history of violence.

January 6th, 2006, 06:02 PM
GW was right about established, working democracies. They are peaceful by nature. But Iraq is not a democracy

The US is an established and, until recently, working democracy.

Let's see.... some places that benefitted from our peaceful nature... Cuba, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq (I & II), Nicauragua, El Salvador, Columbia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegova, Croatia, Somalia, Lebanon, Libya, Vieques, Haiti...

January 7th, 2006, 02:27 AM
Chile ....

February 21st, 2006, 01:36 AM
February 21, 2006

U.S. Warns Iraq It Won't Support Sectarian Goals


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 20 — The American ambassador to Iraq issued an unusually strong warning on Monday about the need for Iraq's political factions to come together, hinting for the first time that the United States would not be willing to support crucial public institutions plagued by sectarian agendas.

"The United States is investing billions of dollars" in Iraq's police and army, said the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. "We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian."

Mr. Khalilzad spoke at a news conference on a day of fresh violence across Iraq. It was the bloodiest day in almost two months.

He was addressing allegations that Shiite death squads operate within the Interior Ministry. Such reports have grown in recent months, with accounts of hundreds of Sunni men being rounded up by men in police uniforms and found dead days or weeks later.

The deaths have infuriated the Sunni Arabs, whose radical fringe leads the insurgency here, and have sharpened their distrust of the Shiite-led government that swept into power last spring.

Bombing attacks on Monday, including one inside a crowded commuter bus in Baghdad and another in a restaurant in northern Iraq, left at least 26 dead and more than 60 wounded. One American soldier was also killed.

Iraqi political leaders are deep in negotiations over forming a government, more than two months after parliamentary elections.

American officials have long argued that new cabinet ministers should place the interests of their country over those of their sects. But by linking American financing to a fair, nonpartisan army and police force, even if not intended as a direct threat, Mr. Khalilzad pressed the American position more forcefully and publicly than before.

American officials are working to draw Sunni Arabs into the new government in an effort to build a stable society and begin bringing American troops home. Allaying Sunni concerns over overtly biased ministries is seen as an essential part of that effort.

The attacks on Monday, however, raised fresh fears of renewed violence.

The worst of the violence began in Mosul, in northern Iraq. Shortly after 7 a.m., a suicide bomber walked into the Abu Ali Restaurant and detonated his payload, spraying shrapnel into diners, killing at least six of them and wounding six more, the police and local officials said.

The attack was a clear strike against the police force: the restaurant is near a police station and is popular among officers, many of whom were eating breakfast.

"I could not hear anything, and there was heavy smoke," said Said Tharwat, a 30-year-old wounded in the attack.

Several hours later in Baghdad, a man wearing a suicide vest boarded a bus in Kadimiya, a bustling Shiite neighborhood, and blew himself up, killing at least 12 Iraqis and wounding 15, most of them Shiite commuters, a Ministry of Interior official said. One witness said the fiery blast, which ignited the bus, had scattered body parts and severely burned the wounded. A nearby traffic policeman was also killed.

The wounded, with burns on their hands and faces, were evacuated to Kadimiya Hospital, where an official reported a higher death toll: 17.

The violence came amid signs of serious disagreement over the shape of the government. The new Parliament is required by law to meet for the first time on Saturday, and Mr. Khalilzad's remarks seemed calculated to put pressure on Iraqis to overcome their differences.

He has sharply criticized Interior Ministry abuses in the past, echoing Sunni concerns about the ministry's failure to stop the killings. He amplified those concerns on Monday, urging the leaders to appoint interior and defense ministers who are "nonsectarian, broadly accepted and not tied to militias."

If Iraq cannot control the sectarian agendas within its government, Mr. Khalilzad said, it "faces the risk of warlordism that Afghanistan went through for a period." Mr. Khalilzad was born in Afghanistan and served as an American envoy there before coming to Iraq last year.

Tensions between Sunni Arabs and Shiite political groups are not the only obstacle to the kind of unity government that Mr. Khalilzad is advocating, and it is unlikely that a government will be formed soon, some Iraqi leaders said.

The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, also arrived Monday to discuss formation of the new government, Reuters reported.

In more behind-the-scenes political negotiating, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari visited the leader of the Shiite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf.

Mr. Jaafari, who was recently selected by the largest Shiite political bloc to remain prime minister in the next government, said Ayatollah Sistani had urged him to speed up the formation of the government "on the basis of high competence, integrity and transparency."

Across Iraq on Monday, insurgents engineered at least eight attacks. In central Baghdad, a homemade bomb went off near a group of Shiite day-laborers around 8 a.m., wounding 20 of them, an Interior Ministry official said.

North of Baghdad, in Nibai district, five truck drivers were killed and four wounded when their convoy supplying building materials to American forces came under attack, a provincial spokesman said. In Buhruz, another town north of Baghdad, an official from a hospital in Baquba was shot dead.

In the Diyala Bridge area south of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi official's convoy, killing 2 of his guards and wounding 11 civilians, the ministry official said.

American forces faced fresh opposition in Karbala, a Shiite city in the south, when the governor of the province, Akeel al-Khazali, barred American troops from entering government buildings, according to the governor's press office. Mr. Khazali took issue with the Americans' bringing dogs into the building, but it was not clear if there was another, more serious disagreement behind the order.

An American soldier was killed when his vehicle struck a home-made bomb just southeast of Karbala, the military said in a statement.

Also on Monday, an Iraqi government official said the number of confirmed human deaths from the avian flu virus have been just two, fewer than previously thought.

Omar al-Neami contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Mosul, Najaf and Karbala.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

February 22nd, 2006, 12:28 PM
More American crimes...

Shiite Leader Cites U.S. in Shrine Blast

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A Shiite political leader said Wednesday that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad shares some of the responsibility for the bombing of a major Shiite shrine because of his criticism of Shiite-led security forces .

But of course!

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, cited Khalilzad's statement at a press conference Monday that America would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias.

An irresponsible position, for sure.

"For sure, the statements made by the ambassador were not made in a responsible way and he did not behave like an ambassador," al-Hakim told reporters. "These statements were the reason for more pressure and gave green lights to terrorist groups. And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility."

Khalilzad has urged the Iraqis to form a unity government in which nonsectarian figures control the ministries of Defense, which runs the army, and Interior, which is responsible for the police.

…which should, instead, be placed directly under the command of Imam Muqtada al-Sadr, who will reliably maintain order.

The current Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is a member of al-Hakim's party. His commandos have been accused by Sunni Arabs of widespread human rights abuses against Sunni civilians.

February 22nd, 2006, 12:58 PM
Some people are there own worst enemy.

I wonder if this will incite nearly as much outrage as those danish cartoons.

February 22nd, 2006, 07:34 PM
Mosque Attack Pushes Iraq Toward Civil War


The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 22, 2006; 6:14 PM

SAMARRA, Iraq -- Insurgents posing as police destroyed the golden dome of one of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines Wednesday, setting off an unprecendented spasm of sectarian violence. Angry crowds thronged the streets, militiamen attacked Sunni mosques, and at least 19 people were killed.

With the gleaming dome of the 1,200-year-old Askariya shrine reduced to rubble, some Shiites lashed out at the United States as partly to blame.

The violence _ many of the 90 attacks on Sunni mosques were carried out by Shiite militias _ seemed to push Iraq closer to all-out civil war than at any point in the three years since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Many leaders called for calm. "We are facing a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq's unity," said President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. "We should all stand hand in hand to prevent the danger of a civil war."

President Bush pledged American help to restore the mosque after the bombing north of Baghdad, which dealt a severe blow to U.S. efforts to keep Iraq from falling deeper into sectarian violence.

"The terrorists in Iraq have again proven that they are enemies of all faiths and of all humanity," Bush said. "The world must stand united against them, and steadfast behind the people of Iraq."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemned the bombing and pledged funds toward the shrine's reconstruction.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, called the attack a deliberate attempt to foment sectarian strife and warned it was a "critical moment for Iraq."

No one was reported injured in the bombing of the shrine in Samarra.

But at least 19 people, including three Sunni clerics, were killed in the reprisal attacks that followed, mainly in Baghdad and predominantly Shiite provinces to the south, according to the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political group.

Many of the attacks appeared to have been carried out by Shiite militias that the United States wants to see disbanded.

In predominantly Shiite Basra, police said militiamen broke into a prison, hauled out 12 inmates, including two Egyptians, two Tunisians, a Libyan, a Saudi and a Turk, and shot them dead in reprisal for the shrine attack.

Major Sunni groups joined in condemning the attack, and a leading Sunni politician, Tariq al-Hashimi, urged clerics and politicians to calm the situation "before it spins out of control."

The country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sent instructions to his followers forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques, and called for seven days of mourning.

But he hinted, as did Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, that religious militias could be given a bigger security role if the government cannot protecting holy shrines _ an ominous sign of the Shiite reaction ahead.

Both Sunnis and the United States fear the rise of such militias, which the disaffected minority views as little more than death squads. American commanders believe they undercut efforts to create a professional Iraqi army and police force _ a key step toward the eventual drawdown of U.S. forces.

Some Shiite political leaders already were angry with the United States because it has urged them to form a government in which nonsectarian figures control the army and police. Khalilzad warned this week _ in a statement clearly aimed at Shiite hard-liners _ that America would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias.

One top Shiite political leader accused Khalilzad of sharing blame for the attack on the shrine in Samarra.

"These statements ... gave green lights to terrorist groups. And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility," said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the former commander of its militia.

The interior minister, who controls the security forces that Sunnis accuse of widepsread abuses, is a member of al-Hakim's party.

The new tensions came as Iraq's various factions have been struggling to assemble a government after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

The Shiite fury sparked by Wednesday's bombings _ the third major attack against Shiite targets in as many days _ raised the likelihood that Shiite religious parties will reject U.S. demands to curb militias.

The Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, contains the tombs of two revered Shiite imams, who are considered by Shiites to be among the successors of the Prophet Muhammad.

No group claimed responsibility for the 6:55 a.m. assault on the shrine in Samarra, a mostly Sunni Arab city 60 miles north of Baghdad, carried out by four insurgents disguised as police. But suspicion fell on Sunni extremist groups.

The top of the dome, which was completed in 1905, collapsed into a crumbly mess, leaving just traces of gold showing through the rubble. Part of the shrine's tiled northern wall also was damaged.

Thousands of demonstrators crowded near the wrecked shrine, and Iraqis picked through the debris, pulling out artifacts and copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, which they waved, along with Iraqi flags.

"This criminal act aims at igniting civil strife," said Mahmoud al-Samarie, a 28-year-old builder. "We demand an investigation so that the criminals who did this be punished. If the government fails to do so, then we will take up arms and chase the people behind this attack."

U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounded the Samarra shrine and searched nearby houses. About 500 soldiers were sent to Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad to prevent clashes.

On Al-Jazeera television, Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi pledged that the violence would not discourage Sunnis from working to form a new government and claimed the Samarra attack was not planned by Sunni insurgents but "a foreign hand aiming to create differences among Iraqis."

National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said 10 people were detained for questioning about the bombing. The Interior Ministry put the number at nine and said they included five guards.

In the hours after the attack, more than 90 Sunni mosques were attacked with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, burned or taken over by Shiites, the Iraqi Islamic Party said.

Large protests erupted in Shiite parts of Baghdad and in cities throughout the Shiite heartland to the south. In Basra, Shiite militants traded rifle and rocket-propelled grenade fire with guards at the office of the Iraqi Islamic Party. Smoke billowed from the building.

Shiite protesters later set fire to a Sunni shrine containing the seventh century tomb of Talha bin Obeid-Allah, a companion of Muhammad, on the outskirts of Basra.

Protesters in Najaf, Kut and Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City also marched through the streets by the thousands, many shouting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans and burning those nations' flags.

Tradition says the Askariya shrine, which draws Shiite pilgrims from throughout the Islamic world, is near the place where the last of the 12 Shiite imams, Mohammed al-Mahdi, disappeared. Al-Mahdi was the son and grandson of the two imams buried in the Askariya shrine. Shiites believe he is still alive and will return to restore justice to humanity.

© 2006 The Associated Press

February 24th, 2006, 07:39 AM
February 24, 2006

Violent Cycle of Revenge Stuns Iraqis


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 23 — After a day of violence so raw and so personal, Iraqis woke on Thursday morning to a tense new world in which, it seemed, anything was possible.

The violence on Wednesday was the closest Iraq had come to civil war, and Iraqis were stunned. In Al Amin, a neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, a Shiite man said he had watched gunmen set a house on fire. It was identified as the residence of Sunni Arab militants, said the man, Abu Abbas, though no one seemed to know for sure who they were.

"We all were shocked," said Abu Abbas, a vegetable seller, standing near crates of oranges and tomatoes. "We saw it burning. We called the fire department. We didn't know how to behave. Chaos was everywhere."

Of the seven men inside, at least three were brought out dead, said Abu Abbas, 32, who said it would be dangerous to give more than his Iraqi nickname.

Everything felt different on Thursday morning. A Shiite newspaper, Al Bayyna al Jadidah, used unusually angry language in a front-page editorial: "It's time to declare war against anyone who tries to conspire against us, who slaughters us every day. It is time to go to the streets and fight those outlaws."

Many Iraqis, including Abu Abbas, blamed the militia loyal to the Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, for the attacks. The fighters are known as the Mahdi Army but they are little more than large groups of poor Shiites with guns. Indeed, the neighborhoods in eastern Baghdad on the edges of the vast Shiite slum, Sadr City, where most of those fighters live, seem to have been hit the hardest.

The fighters are not organized, but are a powerful force: they fought two uprisings against the American military at the command of the strongly anti-American Mr. Sadr.

It was shortly after noon on Wednesday when truckloads of gunmen identified as Mahdi fighters drove into Al Shabab, a mixed neighborhood near Sadr City, and mounted an attack on Ibad Al Rahman, a Sunni mosque.

Ahmed al-Samarai, who lives in front of the mosque, said he saw about seven cars full of men wearing black, the signature Mahdi dress, fire machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at the mosque, gouging a large hole in a side wall.

They entered the building and led away a man who performs the call to prayer, Abu Abdullah, telling his wife and three children to leave the building, Mr. Samarai said. They returned later, poured gasoline in the mosque, and set it on fire. Neighbors are still looking for Mr. Abdullah.

Sahera Ibrahim, a 60-year-old homemaker who lives nearby, recounted an angry exchange with one of the Shiite attackers, who seemed to hold her entire Sunni sect responsible for the destruction of the Shiite shrine at Samarra, where a bombing on Wednesday set off the violence.

"I told one of them, 'You do not have the fear of God — how could you attack this house of God?' " she recalled. "He answered me, 'Did you not have the fear when you attacked the shrine of the imam?' "

Still, the neighborhood itself did not divide along sectarian lines: Shiite residents also condemned Wednesday's assaults. Neighborhoods all over Baghdad reported similar camaraderie.

"As a Shiite, I do not accept this," said Saadiya Salim, a 50-year-old homemaker. "These acts will lead to violence, because the Sunnis will attack" Shiite mosques.

As the afternoon dragged on and law enforcers were nowhere to be seen, neighborhoods seemed to shrink into themselves, setting up makeshift roadblocks out of the trunks of palm trees and, pieces of castaway metal stoves.

It was behind such a barricade that a frightened group of Sunni men took refuge, blocking off the entrance to their mosque, Malik bin Anas, in Al Moalimin district. Men with machine guns stood on the roof, their faces wrapped in scarves.

The scent of burned plaster hung heavily in the air. The mosque's interior had been ignited shortly before 3 p.m., and the men, who were worshipers, said they had spent the late afternoon dragging out damaged carpets and furniture.

"We were watching our own house burn, so you can imagine our feeling," said one man, Abu Yusef.

"They burned our beliefs," said another, who spoke in English.

A third held out a cellphone with a short video of smoke billowing from the mosque. "It's obvious the Shia people feel safer here," he said of the neighborhood. He said neighborhood Shiites helped put out the fire.

The men said a police commando vehicle was parked near the mosque and did nothing, echoing a frequently repeated complaint.

Many Shiites condemned Wednesday's violence, while at the same time acknowledging that their sect had been responsible for it. Most said they had heeded the advice of their religious leaders, who all called for restraint in a flurry of statements on Wednesday.

In some cases, that advice came too late, or was simply ignored. One Mahdi fighter, Ahmed Saheb, said in an interview on Wednesday that he had been summoned to Mr. Sadr's main office in Sadr City in the morning to await orders, but that none ever came.

"People attacked Sunni mosques because they were angry," said Mr. Saheb, who said he had not taken part in the attacks. "We couldn't control them, they were doing it on their own."

A demonstration moved slowly along Sadr City's main boulevards on Thursday. Men and boys, many holding guns, real and toy, waved green flags and portraits of Shiite saints. Many said they planned to go to Samarra on Friday to help protect the shrine.

"We cut the hands of those who try to twist Shiite hands around," the crowd chanted.

All the pain and anger of the past three years seemed to burst to the surface in the bombing of the Samarra shrine, said one marcher, Abbas Allawi Metheb, an employee in the Trade Ministry. It was as if the Shiites' heart had been torn out.

"You have a TV, you follow the news," he said. "Who is most often killed? Whose mosques are exploded? Whose society was destroyed?"

Shiites are fed up, and heeded their leaders' calls for restraint only grudgingly. The anger, he said, is simmering. "Maybe this is just the beginning."

"If they have 100 people, we have millions," Mr. Metheb added, motioning to the wide stream of demonstrators. "Look at these people. I'm just a drop in this ocean."

Mona Mahmoud and Hosham Hussein contributed reporting for this article.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

February 24th, 2006, 09:15 AM
^ I'm sorry, but aside from the fact that folks are dying, this displays all the maturity of kindergarten playground antics.

These people have never grown up. Hate to say it, but it looks an awful lot like they're infantilized by their religion.

February 24th, 2006, 02:04 PM
The movie "Syriana" is more relevant than ever.

March 14th, 2006, 08:26 AM
Bush Sets Target for Transition In Iraq

Country's Troops to Take Lead This Year

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 14, 2006

President Bush vowed for the first time yesterday to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year, setting a specific benchmark as he kicked off a fresh drive to reassure Americans alarmed by the recent burst of sectarian violence.

Bush, who until now has resisted concrete timelines as the Iraq war dragged on longer than he expected, outlined the target in the first of a series of speeches intended to lay out his strategy for victory. While acknowledging grim developments on the ground, Bush declared "real progress" in standing up Iraqi forces capable of defending their nation.

"As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006," he said in a speech to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "And as Iraqis take over more territory, this frees American and coalition forces to concentrate on training and on hunting down high-value targets like the terrorist [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and his associates."

The president made no commitments about withdrawing U.S. troops, but he repeated his general formula that Americans could come home as Iraqis eventually take over the fight. He also used the speech to urge Iraqis to form a unity government three months after parliamentary elections, and he accused Iran of providing explosives to Shiite militias attacking U.S. forces in Iraq.

The beginning of a new campaign to rally Americans behind the war effort nearly three years after the U.S.-led invasion comes at a time of deepening public misgivings about the campaign in Iraq and Bush's leadership of it. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month, 34 percent of Americans surveyed said they think the president has a plan for victory in Iraq, six percentage points lower than in December and the lowest level recorded by that poll. By contrast, 65 percent said Bush has no Iraq plan.

How meaningful or achievable the president's new goal is seems uncertain. In the speech, Bush said Iraqi units today have "primary responsibility" over 30,000 square miles of Iraqi territory, an increase of 20,000 square miles since the beginning of the year. As a country of nearly 169,000 square miles, Iraqi forces would need to control about 85,000 square miles to fulfill Bush's target.

What constitutes control, however, depends on the definition, since no Iraqi unit is currently rated capable of operating without U.S. assistance. And vast swaths of Iraq have never been contested by insurgents, meaning they could ultimately be turned over to local forces without directly affecting the conflict.

Bush said 130 Iraqi battalions are participating in the battle with radical guerrillas, with 60 units taking the lead, an increase from 120 battalions and 40 in the lead when he last delivered major speeches on Iraq at the end of 2005. But Democrats pointed out that a Pentagon report last month showed that the number of Iraqi units rated "Level 1," or fully independent of U.S. help, has fallen from one to zero.

Democratic leaders hammered away at the president's latest effort to win public support for the war. "Instead of launching yet another public relations campaign, President Bush should use his speeches this week to provide a strategy to bring our brave men and women home safely and soon," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in a statement. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (N.J.) said: "It is time for President Bush to stop the spin and start telling the truth about the harsh realities we are confronting in Iraq."

Others praised Bush for committing to a specific target, if not a comprehensive timeline. "This was a step in the right direction," Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), a centrist Democrat invited to the speech, said in an interview afterward. "Benchmarks set clear, defined goals, and if we see more and more Iraqis being trained and put on the ground, then that means we can bring more Americans home."

In his speech at George Washington University, Bush focused on the threat of improvised explosive devices, called IEDs by troops, and said his administration has increased funding to fight them from $150 million in 2004 to $3.3 billion this year. In stark language, he also accused Iran of helping the bomb makers. Just last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also accused Iran of dispatching elements of its Revolutionary Guard to conduct unspecified operations.

"Some of the most powerful IEDs we're seeing in Iraq today include components that come from Iran," Bush said. Such actions, along with Iran's nuclear program, he said, "are increasingly isolating Iran, and America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."

After a deadly spasm of sectarian conflict last month sparked by the bombing of a Shiite shrine, the president presented a dour forecast of continuing mayhem. "I wish I could tell you that the violence is waning and that the road ahead will be smooth," he said. "It will not. There will be more tough fighting and more days of struggle and we will see more images of chaos and carnage in the days and months to come."

But Bush said he saw hope in the fact that the country has not fallen into civil war, as some had forecast. "The Iraqi people made their choice," he said. "They looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw."

Bush vowed not to retreat in the face of violence, reading a letter from the mother of Sgt. William S. Kinzer Jr., who was killed last year. "Don't let my son have given his all for an unfinished job," she wrote, according to Bush. "I make this promise to Debbie and all the families of the fallen heroes," he said. "We will not let your loved ones' dying be in vain. We will finish what we started in Iraq. We will complete the mission."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

March 14th, 2006, 08:44 AM
So, by his own definition, is Bush being unpatriotic?

March 14th, 2006, 08:17 PM
Not if I read this correctly ...

Bush : "We will finish what we started in Iraq."

We started a mess.

We finish with a mess.

Mission Accomplished.

March 15th, 2006, 10:02 AM
Bush Sets Target for Transition In Iraq

The president made no commitments about withdrawing U.S. troops, but he repeated his general formula that Americans could come home as Iraqis eventually take over the fight.

Abizaid says U.S. may want to keep bases in Iraq

By Vicki Allen
Wed Mar 15, 2006


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect the flow of oil, the Army general overseeing U.S. military operations in Iraq said on Tuesday.

While the Bush administration has downplayed prospects for permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid told a House of Representatives subcommittee he could not rule that out.

Abizaid said that policy would be worked out with a unified, national Iraqi government if and when that is established, "and it would be premature for me to predict."

Many Democrats have pressed President George W. Bush to firmly state that the United States does not intend to seek permanent military bases in Iraq, a step they said would help stem the violence there.

Abizaid also told the Appropriations subcommittee on military quality of life that while an Iraqi civil war was possible, "I think it's a long way from where we are now to civil war."

Echoing Bush's statement on Monday on the outlook for reducing U.S. forces in Iraq, Abizaid said if Iraqis can form a unified government, "I think there's every reason to believe ... that we'll be able to bring the size of the force down much more so by December of '06."

Abizaid cited the need to fight al Qaeda and other extremists groups and "the need to be able to deter ambitions of an expansionistic Iran" as potential reasons to keep some level of troops in the region in the long term.

But he said it would be far less than the 200,000 currently deployed in the region, including 132,000 in Iraq.

"Clearly our long-term vision for a military presence in the region requires a robust counter-terrorist capability," Abizaid said. "No doubt there is a need for some presence in the region over time primarily to help people help themselves through this period of extremists versus moderates."

Abizaid also said the United States and its allies have a vital interest in the oil-rich region.

"Ultimately it comes down to the free flow of goods and resources on which the prosperity of our own nation and everybody else in the world depend," he said.

Rep. David Price, a North Carolina Democrat, questioned "what kind of signal that sends to the American people and to the Iraqis and the region ... if somehow there is ambiguity on our ultimate designs in terms of a military presence in Iraq."

Rep. Jane Harman of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in a letter to Bush last week said his "continuing failure to clarify U.S. intentions provides an excuse for certain Iraqis to avoid compromise and jeopardizes our ability to succeed in Iraq."

© Reuters 2006

March 15th, 2006, 10:22 AM
Bush's optimism begins to appear pathological ...

Bush Sets Target for Transition In Iraq

But Bush said he saw hope in the fact that the country has not fallen into civil war, as some had forecast. "The Iraqi people made their choice," he said. "They looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw."

Iraq Edges Closer to Open Civil Warfare

Associated Press Writers
March 15, 2006

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/iraq&printer=1;_ylt=Akfn_KC3gCXJqs6JtVggO2YUewgF;_ylu=X 3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE-

Iraqi authorities discovered at least 87 corpses — men shot to death execution-style — as Iraq edged closer to open civil warfare. Twenty-nine of the bodies, dressed only in underwear, were dug out of a single grave Tuesday in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.

In Baqouba Wednesday, a suicide bomber on a bicycle missed a police patrol and killed at least two civilians north of Baghdad, police said.

Six others were wounded in the attack in downtown Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.

Meanwhile, some of the bloodshed appeared to be retaliation for a bomb and mortar attack in the Sadr City slum that killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 200 two days earlier.

Iraq's Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, meanwhile, told The Associated Press security officials had foiled a plot that would have put hundreds of al-Qaida men at critical guard posts around Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies, as well as the Iraqi government.

A senior Defense Ministry official said the 421 al-Qaida fighters were recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages. Several ranking Defense Ministry officials have been jailed in the plot, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that he had not received anything definitive on the report, but cautioned that earlier accounts are often adjusted later on.

"We've always known that there are people who have tried to infiltrate the various security forces and tried to get close access to places that they ought not to be," he said. "There's nothing new about that that I know of."

Police began unearthing bodies early Monday, although the discoveries were not immediately reported. The gruesome finds continued throughout the day Tuesday, police said, marking the second wave of sectarian retribution killings since bombers destroyed an important Shiite shrine last month.

In the mayhem after the golden dome atop the Askariya shrine in Samarra was destroyed on Feb. 22, more than 500 people have been killed, many of them Sunni Muslims and their clerics. Dozens of mosques were damaged or destroyed.

Underlining the unease in the capital, Interior Ministry officials announced another driving ban, from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 4 p.m. Thursday to protect against car and suicide bombs while the Iraqi parliament meets for the first session since the Dec. 15 election.

After the driving ban was announced, the Cabinet said Thursday would be a holiday in the capital, presumably because residents would not be able to get to work. Restrictions on movement also had been put in place on the two weekends after the Samarra bombing in an attempt to quell the violence.

The most gruesome find Tuesday — the 29 bodies dressed only in underwear — was made after police, acting on a tip, discovered an 18-by-24-foot grave in an empty field in Kamaliyah, a mostly Shiite east Baghdad suburb, Interior Ministry official Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. He estimated the victims were killed about three days ago — before the Sadr City attack Sunday evening.

Residents watched, some covering their eyes in horror, others offering scarves and newspapers to cover the bodies as they were pulled from the grave.

An abandoned pickup truck containing 15 other bodies was found earlier on the main road between two mostly Sunni west Baghdad neighborhoods — not far from where another minibus containing 18 bodies was discovered last week, al-Mohammedawi said.

At least 40 more bodies were recovered elsewhere in Baghdad, in both Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods, al-Mohammedawi said. Police found three other corpses dumped in the northern city of Mosul.

Also Tuesday, the U.S. military reported the deaths of two more soldiers in fighting in Anbar province. The soldiers, assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, were killed Monday, bringing the number of U.S. military members killed to at least 2,310 since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Rumsfeld hinted that U.S. troop levels may increase slightly in Iraq in the coming days because of pilgrimages connected to the holiday of Ashura. The holiday, which ends March 20, includes pilgrimages to holy sites in Najaf and Karbala. Increased attacks marked the celebration during 2004 and 2005.

Rumsfeld said Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, "may decide he wants to bulk up slightly for the pilgrimage." He did not elaborate.

Scores of frightened Shiite families have fled predominantly Sunni parts of Baghdad in recent weeks, some at gunpoint. More than 100 families arrived between Monday and Tuesday alone in Wasit province, in the southern Shiite heartland, said Haitham Ajaimi Manie, an official with the provisional migration directorate.

More than 300 Baghdad families — 1,818 people — have taken shelter in the province after fleeing the capital, he said.

North of the capital, a roadside bomb exploded Tuesday among Shiite pilgrims headed on foot to the holy city of Karbala, killing one person near Baqouba, police said.

The sectarian violence has complicated negotiations for Iraq's first permanent, post-invasion government. A caretaker government has been in charge since the December elections and U.S. and Iraqi officials fear the vacuum in authority has fueled the bloodshed.

Once parliament meets Thursday, it has 60 days under the new constitution to elect a president and approve the nomination of Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his Cabinet.

After members of all the major Iraqi political blocs met Tuesday with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, no breakthrough was reported on solving the deadlock over the nomination of al-Jaafari to head a new government.

But in an interview with Fox television, U.S. Embassy Political Counselor Robert Ford seemed guardedly optimistic.

"I can't say that we've had a breakthrough, but we had good talks today," Ford said.

But Iraqis in the meeting said the sides were still so far apart that major Sunni politicians were again pressing for the new constitution be thrown out, despite its adoption late last summer and approval in a subsequent national plebiscite.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iraqi forces and civilians, as well as coalition forces, need to provide stability to allow the new government to do its work.

"The Iraqi people themselves are standing at a crossroads," Pace said Monday night in a speech at the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs, "and they are making critical decisions for their country right now about which road they'll take."

Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Bushra Juhi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report from Baghdad.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press

March 18th, 2006, 11:18 AM
Another thing we all have to look forward to when 'self-rule" goes into effect ...

Iraqi cleric wants gays killed in "most severe way"

The Advocate
March 16, 2006


In the midst of sectarian violence that threatens to drag Iraq into civil war, the country's influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a violent death order against gays and lesbians on his Web site, according to London-based LGBT human rights groups OutRage.

Written in Arabic, the fatwa comes from a press conference with the powerful religious cleric, where he was asked about the judgment on sodomy and lesbianism. “Forbidden,” Sistani answered, according to OutRage, “Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”

Considering Sistani's stature and influence within the Iraqi Shiite majority, OutRage member Ali Hili declared the cleric's statements extremely dangerous.

“Sistani's murderous homophobic incitement has given a green light to Shia Muslims to hunt and kill lesbians and gay men,” said Hili. “We hold Sistani personally responsible for the murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iraqis. He gives the killers theological sanction and encouragement.”

Sistani is a leading member and voice of the Shiite sect, which in Iraq has approximately twice as many followers as the Sunni sect.

Associated Press material © Associated Press

March 25th, 2006, 10:08 AM
Apparently the USA has brought Iraqis the freedom to fight it out amongst themselves ...

Battle for Baghdad 'has already started'

By Patrick Cockburn in Arbil
The Independent
25 March 2006


The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest.

"The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said.

"Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

Many Iraqi leaders now believe that civil war is inevitable but it will be confined, at least at first, to the capital and surrounding provinces where the population is mixed.

"The real battle will be the battle for Baghdad where the Shia have increasing control," said one senior official who did not want his name published. "The army will disintegrate in the first moments of the war because the soldiers are loyal to the Shia, Sunni or Kurdish communities and not to the government." He expected the Americans to stay largely on the sidelines.

Throughout the capital, communities, both Sunni and Shia, are on the move, fleeing districts where they are in a minority and feel under threat.

Sometimes they fight back. In the mixed but majority Shia al-Amel district, Sunni householders recently received envelopes containing a Kalashnikov bullet and a letter telling them to get out at once. In this case they contacted the insurgents who killed several Shia neighbours suspected of sending the letters.

"The Sunni will fight for Baghdad," said Mr Hussein. "The Baath party already controls al-Dohra and other Sunni groups dominate Ghazaliyah and Abu Ghraib [districts in south and west Baghdad]."

The Iraqi army is likely to fall apart once inter-communal fighting begins. According to Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and expert on Iraq, the Iraqi army last summer contained 60 Shia battalions, 45 Sunni battalions, nine Kurdish battalions and one mixed battalion.

The police are even more divided and in Baghdad are largely controlled by the Mehdi Army of the radical nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organisation that has largely been in control of the interior ministry since last May. Sunni Arabs in Baghdad regard the ministry's paramilitary police commanders as Shia death squads.

Mr Hussein gave another reason why the army is weak. "Where you have 3,000 soldiers there will in fact be only 2,000 men [because of ghost soldiers who do not exist and whose salaries are taken by senior officers]," he said. "When it comes to fighting only 500 of those men will turn up."

Iraqi officials and ministers are increasingly in despair at the failure to put together an effective administration in Baghdad. A senior Arab minister, who asked not to be named, said: "The government could end up being only a few buildings in the Green Zone."

The mood among Iraqi leaders, both Arabs and Kurds, is far gloomier in private than the public declarations of the US and British governments.

The US President George W Bush called this week for a national unity government in Iraq but Iraqi observers do not expect this to be any more effective than the present government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. One said this week: "The real problem is that the Shia and Sunni hate each other and not that we haven't been able to form a government."

The Shia and Kurds will have the advantage in the coming conflict because they have leaders and organisations. The Sunni are divided and only about 30 per cent of the population of the capital. Nevertheless they should be able to hold on to their stronghold in west Baghdad and the Adhamiyah district east of the Tigris. The Shia do not have the strength and probably do not wish to take over the Sunni towns and villages north and west of Baghdad.

Though the Kurds have long sought autonomy close to quasi-independence, their leaders are worried that civil war will increase Iranian and Turkish involvement in Iraq. Mr Hussein said he feared that civil war in Baghdad could spread north to Mosul and Kirkuk where the division is between Kurd and Arab rather than Sunni and Shia.

Already Baghdad resembles Beirut at the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, when Christians and Muslims fought each other for control of the city.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

March 25th, 2006, 10:27 AM
^ Is it OK to think these people are acting like idiots?

March 26th, 2006, 10:18 AM
Already Baghdad resembles Beirut at the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, when Christians and Muslims fought each other for control of the city.
Will Baghdad get a Green Line?

March 26, 2006

Bound, Blindfolded and Dead: The Face of Revenge in Baghdad


BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 25 — Mohannad al-Azawi had just finished sprinkling food in his bird cages at his pet shop in south Baghdad, when three carloads of gunmen pulled up.

In front of a crowd, he was grabbed by his shirt and driven off.

Mr. Azawi was among the few Sunni Arabs on the block, and, according to witnesses, when a Shiite friend tried to intervene, a gunman stuck a pistol to his head and said, "You want us to blow your brains out, too?"

Mr. Azawi's body was found the next morning at a sewage treatment plant. A slight man who raised nightingales, he had been hogtied, drilled with power tools and shot.

In the last month, hundreds of men have been kidnapped, tortured and executed in Baghdad. As Iraqi and American leaders struggle to avert a civil war, the bodies keep piling up. The city's homicide rate has tripled from 11 to 33 a day, military officials said. The period from March 7 to March 21 was typically brutal: at least 191 corpses, many mutilated, surfaced in garbage bins, drainage ditches, minibuses and pickup trucks.

There were the four Duleimi brothers, Khalid, Tarek, Taleb and Salaam, seized from their home in front of their wives. And Achmed Abdulsalam, last seen at a checkpoint in his freshly painted BMW and found dead under a bridge two days later. And Mushtak al-Nidawi, a law student nicknamed Titanic for his Leonardo DiCaprio good looks, whose body was returned to his family with his skull chopped in half.

What frightens Iraqis most about these gangland-style killings is the impunity. According to reports filed by family members and more than a dozen interviews, many men were taken in daylight, in public, with witnesses all around. Few cases, if any, have been investigated.

Part of the reason may be that most victims are Sunnis, and there is growing suspicion that they were killed by Shiite death squads backed by government forces in a cycle of sectarian revenge. This allegation has been circulating in Baghdad for months, and as more Sunnis turn up dead, more people are inclined to believe it.

"This is sectarian cleansing," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of Parliament, who has maintained a degree of neutrality between Shiites and Sunnis.

Mr. Othman said there were atrocities on each side. "But what is different is when Shiites get killed by suicide bombs, everyone comes together to fight the Sunni terrorists," he said. "When Shiites kill Sunnis, there is no response, because much of this killing is done by militias connected to the government."

The imbalance of killing, and the suspicion the government may be involved, is deepening the Shiite-Sunni divide, just as American officials are urging Sunni and Shiite leaders to form an inclusive government, hoping that such a show of unity will prevent a full-scale civil war.

The pressure is increasing on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, but few expect him to crack down, partly because he needs the support of the Shiite militias to stay in power.

Haidar al-Ibadi, Mr. Jaafari's spokesman, acknowledged that "some of the police forces have been infiltrated." But he said "outsiders," rather than Iraqis, were to blame.

Now many Sunnis, who used to be the most anti-American community in Iraq, are asking for American help.

"If the Americans leave, we are finished," said Hassan al-Azawi, whose brother was taken from the pet shop.

He thought for a moment more.

"We may be finished already."

The human rights office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a mostly Sunni group, has cataloged more than 540 cases of Sunni men and a few of Sunni women who were kidnapped and killed since Feb. 22, when a Shiite shrine in Samarra was destroyed, unleashing a wave of sectarian fury.

As the case of Mr. Azawi shows, some were easy targets.

Mr. Azawi was the youngest of five brothers. He was 27 and lived with his parents. He loved birds since he was a boy. Nightingales were his favorite. Then canaries, pigeons and doves.

During Saddam Hussein's reign, he was drafted into the army, but he deserted.

"He was crazy about birds," said a Shiite neighbor, Ibrahim Muhammad.

A few years ago, Mr. Azawi opened a small pet shop in Dawra, a rough-and-tumble, mostly Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad.

Friends said that Mr. Azawi was not interested in politics or religion. He never went to the Sunni mosque, though his brothers did. He did not pay attention to news or watch television. This characteristic might have cost him his life.

On Feb. 22, the Askariya Shrine in Samarra was attacked at 7 a.m. But Mr. Azawi did not know what had happened until 4 p.m., his friends said. He was in his own little world, tending his birds, when a Shiite shopkeeper broke the news and told him to close. He stayed in his house for three days after that. His friends said he was terrified.

The day of the shrine attack, Shiite mobs began rampaging through Baghdad, burning Sunni mosques and slaughtering Sunni residents. Some Sunnis struck back and killed Shiites. The mayhem claimed hundreds of lives and exposed tensions that until then had been bubbling just beneath the surface.

Two Shiite militias, the Badr Organization, which once trained in Iran, and the Mahdi Army, the foot soldiers of a young, firebrand Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, were blamed for much of the bloodshed. Mr. Sadr's men often wear all-black uniforms, and many of the relatives of kidnapped people said men in black uniforms had taken them. Many people also said the men in black arrived with the police.

Around 9 on the night of the shrine bombing, a mob of black-clad men surrounded the Duleimi brothers, family members said.

The brothers lived in New Baghdad, a working-class neighborhood that is mostly Shiite. They were all gardeners and religious men who prayed five times a day. They had relatives in Falluja, in the heart of Sunni territory.

Where a family hails from in Iraq often reveals whether it is Sunni or Shiite. Nowadays, because of the sectarian friction, people are increasingly aware of the slight regional differences in accent, dress and name. Some first names, like Omar for Sunnis, or Haidar for Shiites, are clear giveaways. Others, like Khalid, are not. Tribal names can also be a sign.

A cousin of the Duleimi brothers, who identified himself as Khalaf, said the four men were taken at gunpoint from the small house they shared. The next day, their bodies turned up in a drainage ditch near Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army. All their fingers and toes had been sawed off.

That same day Mushtak al-Nidawi, 20, was kidnapped. According to an aunt, Aliah al-Bakr, he was chatting on his cellphone outside his home in Bayah when a squad of Mahdi militiamen marched up the street, shouting, "We're coming after you, Sunnis!"

Ms. Bakr said they snatched Mr. Nidawi while his mother stood at the door. His body surfaced on the streets seven days later, his skin a map of bruises, his handsome face burned by acid, his fingernails pulled out.

"I told his mother he was shot," Ms. Bakr said.

Sheik Kamal al-Araji, a spokesman for Mr. Sadr, said "the Mahdi Army does not commit such crimes."

He also said the militiamen would soon change their uniforms so they would no longer be confused with thugs.

The question of who exactly is behind these collective assassinations has become a delicate political issue. So has the disparity in the killings.

Many Sunni politicians, including secular ones like Methal al-Alusi, accuse the Shiite-led government of backing a campaign to wipe out Sunnis. Many Shiite leaders, including Prime Minister Jaafari, blame "foreign terrorists," without being more specific.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, has expressed increasing alarm about militia violence, saying it is a bigger killer than car bombs, the former No. 1 security threat. But he has been careful to paint the problem in broad strokes, implying both sides are at fault.

There are a few Shiite victims, such as Mohammed Jabbar Hussein, who lived in a mostly Sunni area west of Baghdad. He disappeared on Feb. 26 and was found four days later, shot in the head.

But the militias under the greatest suspicion, and the ones with the strongest ties to the government, are Shiite. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the American military, said Shiite militias have played a role in the killings and "the government of Iraq has to take action against the militias."

Then there is the question of prosecution. While countless Sunni insurgents have been arrested and tried on murder charges, very few Shiite militiamen have been apprehended.

Thamir al-Janabi, who is in charge of the Interior Ministry's criminal investigation department, declined to comment. So did several other Interior Ministry officials.

A new round of revenge attacks began March 12, around 6 p.m., when a string of car bombs exploded in Sadr City, killing nearly 50 civilians. Most security officials, Shiite and Sunni, blamed Sunni terrorists for the attack.

An hour and a half later, half a dozen gunmen arrived at Mr. Azawi's pet shop.

Wisam Saad Nawaf was playing pool across the street. He said a man wearing a ski mask arrived with the gunmen, who were not wearing masks, and that when they grabbed Mr. Azawi, the masked man nodded.

"He must have been an informant from the neighborhood," Mr. Nawaf explained.

Mr. Azawi got into a car. The gunmen closed the doors. The next morning Mr. Azawi's body was found at the sewage plant. Autopsy photos showed how badly he was abused. His skin was covered with purple welts. His legs and face had drill holes in them. Both shoulders had been broken.

His brother Hassan carries the autopsy photos with him, along with a pistol.

"I cannot live without vengeance," he said.

Hassan said there were a few Shiites at his brother's funeral, which he took as a grim speck of hope.

One week later, on March 20, the body of Mr. Abdulsalam, another Sunni, was found under a bridge. Mr. Abdulsalam, 21, worked with his father in a real estate office. His family said he was last seen in his BMW, stopped at a Mahdi Army checkpoint.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

March 26th, 2006, 10:45 AM
...he had been hogtied, drilled with power tools and shot.
Holy cow!

Or should that be: "Holy Imam!"?

March 26th, 2006, 12:42 PM
How depressing is this ...

Bound, Blindfolded and Dead: The Face of Revenge in Baghdad

...most victims are Sunnis, and there is growing suspicion that they were killed by Shiite death squads backed by government forces in a cycle of sectarian revenge. This allegation has been circulating in Baghdad for months, and as more Sunnis turn up dead, more people are inclined to believe it.

"This is sectarian cleansing," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of Parliament, who has maintained a degree of neutrality between Shiites and Sunnis.

Mr. Othman said there were atrocities on each side. "But what is different is when Shiites get killed by suicide bombs, everyone comes together to fight the Sunni terrorists," he said. "When Shiites kill Sunnis, there is no response, because much of this killing is done by militias connected to the government."

The dogs of hell have been unleashed. Genocide seems to be the correct term.

The imbalance of killing, and the suspicion the government may be involved, is deepening the Shiite-Sunni divide, just as American officials are urging Sunni and Shiite leaders to form an inclusive government, hoping that such a show of unity will prevent a full-scale civil war.

The pressure is increasing on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, but few expect him to crack down, partly because he needs the support of the Shiite militias to stay in power.

Corrupted from the start. What chance does this give the Iraqi people?

Too bad Bush didn't heed his own advice about not wanting to get involved in "nation building".

Now many Sunnis, who used to be the most anti-American community in Iraq, are asking for American help.

"If the Americans leave, we are finished," said Hassan al-Azawi ... He thought for a moment more.

"We may be finished already."

What is the way out of this for America?

All you experts -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Hadley, Rice, Perle -- please, don't all talk at once, just raise your hands and the American people will call on you individually for you answers. You are each accountable.

"I cannot live without vengeance," he said.

And so the cycle continues ....

March 26th, 2006, 05:03 PM
30 Beheaded Bodies Found; Iraqi Death Squads Blamed

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/g/jeffrey_gettleman/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
NY Times


BAGHDAD, Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), March 26 — The bodies of 30 beheaded men were found on a main highway near Baquba this evening, providing more evidence that the death squads in Iraq are becoming out of control.

Interior Ministry officials said a driver discovered the bodies heaped in a pile next to a highway that links Baghdad to Baquba, a volatile city northeast of the capital that has been wracked by sectarian and insurgent violence.

Iraqi army troops were waiting tonight for American support before venturing into the insurgent-infested area to retrieve them.

"It's too dangerous for us to go in there alone," an Iraqi Army commander, Tassin Tawfik, said.

Earlier in the day, the corpses of 10 other men, all bound, blindfolded and shot, were discovered in Baghdad, adding to the hundreds of bodies that have recently surfaced on Baghdad's streets.

The widespread suspicion is that Shiite death squads are aiming at Sunni Arab civilians in a wave of sectarian revenge. The death squads are thought to be connected to Shiite militias and Shiite-controlled police forces. They seem to be the response to a bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of Shiite civilians and destroyed a number of Shiite mosques, most notably the revered golden-domed Askariya Shrine in Samarra last month.

That attack lifted the lid on simmering tensions between Shiites, who make up the majority in Iraq, and Sunni Arabs, who used to hold power under Saddam Hussein (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/saddam_hussein/index.html?inline=nyt-per). Most of the big terror attacks, including suicide bombs, are thought to be the work of Sunni Arab insurgents. Now, it seems, Sunni Arab civilians are paying the price.

But it is not at all clear who killed the 30 men found beheaded this evening.

The area where they were discovered is mostly Sunni Arab and controlled by Sunni insurgents. It would be very difficult for Shiite death squads to operate there. Interior Ministry officials said they did not have enough information tonight to identify the victims.

Elsewhere today, a Kurdish writer was sentenced to a year and a half in jail for criticizing Kurdish leaders. The writer, Kamal Karim, had published articles on a Kurdish Web site accusing one of the most powerful men in Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, of corruption.

Mr. Karim was originally sentenced to 30 years for defaming Mr. Barzani but he was retried. A judge said he was giving Mr. Karim a lenient sentence because he is an academic.

Also today, a mortar shell narrowly missed the home of the militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/moktada_al_sadr/index.html?inline=nyt-per). Mr. Sadr immediately blamed American forces for the shelling.

"Either they overlook these attacks or they do it themselves," Mr. Sadr said in a statement.

The mortar wounded a child and a guard, but it did not harm Mr. Sadr.

Copyright 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 28th, 2006, 01:58 PM
We're here, we're queer ...
and the death squads are killing us.

Pacific Views
March 25, 2006

Acting on a fatwa issued last fall by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, death squads from the Badr Corps — the military arm of Iraq's largest Shi'a political group — is persecuting and killing gay and lesbian Iraqis. When asked for help or to give sanctuary, US forces are reported to be 'met with indifference and derision.'

Exiled gay and lesbian Iraqis have told journalist Doug Ireland that the Badr Corps is 'is committed to the "sexual cleansing" of Iraq, and they accuse Iran of providing support and advice to the death squads.

[Photo: OutRage! London]
Left, Ammar, aged 27, was abducted and shot
in back of the head in Baghdad by suspected
Badr militias in January 2006.
Right, Haydar Faiek, aged 40, a transsexual Iraqi,
was beaten and burned to death by Badr militias

in September 2005.
Speaking by telephone from London, [Ali Hili of the Abu Nawas Group — an organization of exiled gay Iraqis] said that "there is a very, very serious threat to life for gay people in Iraq today. We are receiving regular reports from our extensive network of contacts with underground gay activists and gay people in Iraq -- intimidation, beatings, kidnappings and murders of gays have become an almost daily occurrence. The Badr Corps was killing gay people even before the Ayatollah's fatwah, but Sistani's murderous homophobic incitement has given a green light to all Shia Muslims to hunt and kill lesbians and gay men."

Hili says,"Badr Corps agents have a network of informers who, among other things, target alleged 'immoral behavior'. They kill gays, unveiled women, prostitutes, people who sell or drink alcohol, and those who listen to western music and wear western fashions.
Those still in Iraq tell a bleak story:

Tahseen is an underground gay activist in Iraq, and a correspondent there for the British Abu Nawas Group. A 31-year-old photography lab technician, Tahseen told me by telephone from Baghdad this weekend that, "Just last week, four gay people we know of were found dead. I am afraid to leave my room and go out in the street because I will be killed. We all live in fear."

Tahseen said that men who seem obviously gay "cannot walk in the street. My best friend was recently killed for being gay."

Tahseen confirmed the murderous efficiency of the Badr Corps' Internet entrapment program. "Within one hour after they meet a gay person in an Internet chat room, that person will disappear and be found dead," he said, adding that "since Sistani?s fatwa, the life of a gay person is worth nothing here, and the violence and killings have gotten much, much worse...."

"We desperately need protection!" pleaded Tahseen. "But, when we go to the Americans, they laugh at us and don't do anything. The Americans are the problem!" The Abu Nawas Group's Hili confirmed from London that representations to officials of the U.S. occupation in Baghdad's famous "Green Zone" had been made by underground gay activists, only to be met with disdain and indifference.
Ireland's post has many more details about the current situation for lesbians and gay men in Iraq, and links to other of his reports on LGBT people in Iraq and Iran. What I've presented in this post barely scratches the surface.

You can read Ireland's full story here (http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2006/03/yet_another_gay.html) at his blog, or at here (http://www.gaycitynews.com/gcn_511/iraq.html) at Gay City News.

How you can help: The Abu Nawas Group desperately needs money for its work to protect and publicize the plight of gay men and lesbians in Iraq. The Abu Nawas Group works closely with the British gay rights group OutRage!, so checks should be made payable to "OutRage!", with a cover note stating that you want the money to go to "Abu Nawas Iraqi LGBT - UK".

Mail donations to: OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England, UK.

March 30th, 2006, 06:56 PM
In the spirit of self-determination ...

Bush Opposes Iraq's Premier, Shiites Report

By EDWARD WONG (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/w/edward_wong/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
NY Times
March 29, 2006


BAGHDAD, Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), March 28 — The American ambassador has told Shiite officials that President Bush does not want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country's leader in the next government, senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday.

It is the first time the Americans have directly expressed a preference in the furious debate over the country's top job, the politicians said, and it is inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting on Saturday to pass on a "personal message from President Bush" to the interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite member of Parliament who was at the meeting.

Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari as the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. It was the first "clear and direct message" from the Americans on a specific candidate for prime minister, Mr. Taki said.

The Shiite bloc, which won a plurality in the parliamentary election in December, nominated Mr. Jaafari last month to retain his post for four more years.

American officials in Baghdad did not dispute the Shiite politicians' account of the conversation, though they would not discuss the details of the meeting.

A spokeswoman for the American Embassy confirmed that Mr. Khalilzad met with Mr. Hakim on Saturday. But she declined to comment on what was said.

"The decisions about the choice of the prime minister are entirely up to the Iraqis," said the spokeswoman, Elizabeth Colton. "This will be an Iraqi decision."

In Washington, the State Department said it would not comment on diplomatic conversations, but Adam Ereli, the deputy spokesman, reiterated American support for "a government of national unity with strong leadership that can unify all Iraqis."

The Americans have harshly criticized the Jaafari government in recent months for supporting Shiite militias that have been fomenting sectarian violence and pushing Iraq closer to full-scale civil war.

Mr. Khalilzad has sharpened his criticism in the last week, saying the militias are now killing more people than the Sunni Arab-led insurgency. American officials have expressed growing concern that Mr. Jaafari is incapable of reining in the private armies, especially since Moktada al-Sadr (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/moktada_al_sadr/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the anti-American cleric who leads the most volatile militia, is Mr. Jaafari's most powerful backer.

Haider al-Ubady, a spokesman for Mr. Jaafari, said the prime minister had received the ambassador's message and accused the Americans of trying to subvert Iraqi sovereignty.

Tensions between Shiite leaders and the American government, which had been rising for months, boiled over after an assault on Sunday night by American and Iraqi forces on a Shiite mosque compound in northern Baghdad.

Shiite leaders say at least 17 civilians were killed in the battle, most of them members of a Shiite political party. American commanders say the soldiers fought insurgents.

The reported American pressure over Mr. Jaafari's nomination is another sign of White House impatience over the deadlocked talks to form a new government. American officials say the impasse has created a power vacuum that has encouraged lawlessness and civil conflict.

The nomination has become one of the most contentious issues in those talks, with the main Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular blocs calling for the Shiites to replace Mr. Jaafari. On Monday, Shiite leaders suspended their participation in the negotiations, saying they were enraged by the assault on the mosque complex.

In Baghdad on Tuesday, at least 21 people were abducted in four separate incidents in the biggest wave of kidnappings in a month, an Interior Ministry official said. In one incident, 15 men in Iraqi Army uniforms dragged at least six people from a money exchange shop and stole nearly $60,000. In two other cases, people wearing Interior Ministry commando uniforms snatched victims from two electronics shops.

The police in western Baghdad discovered 14 bodies on Tuesday, all killed execution-style with gunshots to the head, apparently the latest victims of sectarian bloodletting. On Monday, Iraqi forces found 18 bodies near Baquba with similar wounds. Earlier reports of 30 beheaded bodies found in that area were wrong, the Interior Ministry official said.

An American soldier was killed Tuesday by small-arms fire in Baghdad, and another was killed and three were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Habbaniya, the American military said.

The Iraqi security minister, Abdul Karim al-Enizi, said on the state-run Iraqiya network on Tuesday night that the Iraqi forces who had raided the mosque compound in Baghdad were not part of the Interior or Defense Ministry. A survivor said the soldiers did not speak Arabic well, implying they may have been Kurdish militiamen working with Americans, Mr. Enizi said.

At the Pentagon, senior officials defended the raid, releasing photographs they said proved that weapons and bomb-making materials had been seized inside the compound, which they described as a school complex that had been turned into a base for a "hostage ring."

When the soldiers entered the compound, "they found that there was a building there that had a small minaret and a prayer room inside it," said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Some people are calling that a mosque."

The surge in violence has shaken confidence in Mr. Jaafari, who has been widely criticized by Iraqis for failing to smash the Sunni-led insurgency, letting Shiite death squads run rampant and doing little on reconstruction.

Mr. Jaafari won the Shiite bloc's nomination for prime minister by one vote in a secret ballot of its members of Parliament, beating out the deputy of Mr. Hakim, the bloc's leader. As the largest bloc, with 130 of the 275 seats, the Shiites have the right to nominate the prime minister.

But a two-thirds vote of Parliament is required for approval of the new government. As long as the other major blocs oppose Mr. Jaafari, the process is at a standstill.

Thom Shanker and Steven R. Weisman contributed reporting from Washington for this article.

Copyright 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 30th, 2006, 07:03 PM
Beleaguered Premier Warns U.S. to Stop Interfering in Iraq's Politics

Christoph Bangert/Polaris, for The New York Times

Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari
during an interview in his office in the
Green Zone in Baghdad.

By EDWARD WONG (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/w/edward_wong/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
NY Times
March 30, 2006


BAGHDAD, Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), March 29 — Facing growing pressure from the Bush administration to step down, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Iraq vigorously asserted his right to stay in office on Wednesday and warned the Americans against interfering in the country's political process.

Mr. Jaafari also defended his recent political alliance with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/moktada_al_sadr/index.html?inline=nyt-per), now the prime minister's most powerful backer, saying in an interview that Mr. Sadr and his militia, now thousands strong, are a fact of life in Iraq and need to be accepted into mainstream politics.

Mr. Jaafari said he would work to fold the country's myriad militias into the official security forces and ensure that recruits and top security ministers abandoned their ethnic or sectarian loyalties.

The Iraqi government's tolerance of militias has emerged as the greatest source of contention between American officials and Shiite leaders like Mr. Jaafari, with the American ambassador contending in the past week that militias are killing more people than the Sunni Arab-led insurgency. Dozens of bodies, garroted or with gunshots to the head, turn up almost daily in Baghdad, fueling sectarian tensions that are pushing Iraq closer to full-scale civil war.

The prime minister made his remarks in an hourlong interview at his home, a Saddam Hussein (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/saddam_hussein/index.html?inline=nyt-per)-era palace with an artificial lake at the heart of the fortified Green Zone. He spoke in a languorous manner, relaxing in a black pinstripe suit in a dim ground-floor office lined with Arabic books like the multivolume "World of Civilizations."

"There was a stand from both the American government and President Bush to promote a democratic policy and protect its interests," he said, sipping from a cup of boiled water mixed with saffron. "But now there's concern among the Iraqi people that the democratic process is being threatened."

"The source of this is that some American figures have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process," he added. "These reservations began when the biggest bloc in Parliament chose its candidate for prime minister."

Mr. Jaafari is at the center of the deadlock in the talks over forming a new government, with the main Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular blocs in the 275-member Parliament staunchly opposing the Shiite bloc's nomination of Mr. Jaafari for prime minister.

Senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday that the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, had weighed in over the weekend, telling the leader of the Shiite bloc that President Bush did not want Mr. Jaafari as prime minister. That was the first time the Americans had openly expressed a preference for the post, the politicians said, and it showed the Bush administration's acute impatience with the political logjam.

Relations between Shiite leaders and the Americans have been fraying for months and reached a crisis point after a bloody assault on a Shiite mosque compound Sunday night by American and Iraqi forces.

Mr. Jaafari said in the interview that Ambassador Khalilzad had visited him on Wednesday morning but did not indicate that he should abandon his job.

American reactions to the political process can be seen as either supporting or interfering in Iraqi decisions, said Mr. Jaafari, the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party and a former exile. "When it takes the form of interference, it makes the Iraqi people worried," he said. "For that reason, the Iraqi people want to ensure that these reactions stay in a positive frame and do not cross over into interference that damages the results of the democratic process."

According to the Constitution, the largest bloc in Parliament, in this case the religious Shiites, has the right to nominate a prime minister. Mr. Jaafari won that nomination in a secret ballot last month among the blocs' 130 Shiite members of Parliament. But his victory was a narrow one: he won by only one vote after getting the support of Mr. Sadr, who controls 32 seats.

That alliance has raised concern among the Americans that Mr. Jaafari will do little to rein in Mr. Sadr, who led two fierce rebellions against the American military in 2004. Mr. Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, rampaged in Baghdad after the Feb. 22 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra and after a series of car bomb explosions on March 12 in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. The violence left hundreds dead and Sunni mosques burnt to the ground.

After the secret ballot last month, Sadr politicians said Mr. Jaafari had agreed to meet all their demands in exchange for their votes. Mr. Sadr has been pushing for control of service ministries like health, transportation and electricity.

Mr. Jaafari did not say in the interview what deals he had made, but he insisted that engagement with the cleric's movement was needed for the stability of Iraq. He said he had disagreed with L. Paul Bremer III (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/l_paul_iii_bremer/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the former American proconsul, when Mr. Bremer barred Mr. Sadr and some Sunni Arab groups from the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003.

"The delay in getting them to join led to the situation of them becoming violent elements," he said.

"I look at them as part of Iraq's de facto reality, whether some of the individual people are negative or positive," he said.

Mr. Jaafari used similar language when laying out his policy toward militias: that inclusion rather than isolation was the proper strategy.

The Iraqi government will try "to meld them, take them, take their names and make them join the army and police forces."

"And they will respect the army or police rather than the militias."

Recruiting militia members into the Iraqi security forces has not been a problem under the Jaafari government. The issue has been getting those fighters to act as impartial defenders of the state rather than as political partisans. The police forces are stocked with members of the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, an Iranian-trained militia, who still exhibit obvious loyalties to their political party leaders.

Police officers have performed poorly when ordered to contain militia violence, and they even cruise around in some cities with images of Mr. Sadr or other religious politicians on their squad cars.

There is growing evidence of uniformed death squads operating out of the Shiite-run Interior Ministry, and Ambassador Khalilzad has been lobbying the Iraqis to place more neutral figures in charge of the Interior and Defense Ministries in the next government. That has caused friction with Shiite leaders, and some have even accused the ambassador of implicitly backing the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

But Mr. Jaafari said he supported the Americans' goal.

"We insist that the ministers in the next cabinet, especially the ministers of defense and the interior, shouldn't be connected to any militias, and they should be nonsectarian," he said. "They should be experienced in security work. They should keep the institutions as security institutions, not as political institutions. They should work for the central government."

In the first two years of the war, Mr. Jaafari emerged as one of the most popular politicians in Iraq, especially compared with other exiles like Ahmad Chalabi (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/ahmad_chalabi/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the former Pentagon favorite. A doctor by training and well-versed in the Koran, Mr. Jaafari comes from a prominent family in Karbala, the Shiite holy city. But since taking power last spring, Mr. Jaafari has come under widespread criticism for failing to stamp out the insurgency and promoting hard-line pro-Shiite policies.

Copyright 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 30th, 2006, 08:46 PM
Gunmen Storm a Baghdad Store, Executing 8

Many witnesses have accused Shiite-led police and commando units of running death squads,
but the Shiite-led government insists that foreign terrorists in stolen uniforms are the killers

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/g/jeffrey_gettleman/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
NY Times
March 30, 2006


BAGHDAD, Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), March 29 — Gunmen in Iraqi commando uniforms burst into an electrical supply shop in Baghdad on Wednesday, rounded up all the employees and riddled them with machine-gun fire, Iraqi officials said.

The attack, which killed eight people and seriously wounded six in the Mansour neighborhood during morning rush hour, provoked an extensive military response, with the Iraqi Army shutting down large swaths of Baghdad.

The shop, the Ibtikar Company, may have been a target because it worked in the past for the American-led occupation government, one of the wounded employees said. The employee, who identified himself only by his first name, Bakar, said that when the gunmen stormed into the shop, they brought a masked cameraman with them to record the killings on videotape.

The gunmen lined up all the employees against a wall and shot them one by one at point-blank range, Bakar said. He survived, he said, because a heavy-set colleague fell on him after he was shot and knocked him to the ground, making it look as if he were dead, too. He said the gunmen drove off afterward.

Despite additional American troops in Baghdad and increased patrols, violence in the capital has continued unchecked. Dozens of bodies are found nearly every morning, and the rate of killings has reached a record of 33 a day.

On Wednesday, at least nine bodies were found in Baghdad apart from the Ibtikar attack. And American military officials said Iraqi soldiers discovered the bodies of 13 people alongside a highway in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Many witnesses have accused Shiite-led police and commando units of running death squads, but the Shiite-led government insists that foreign terrorists in stolen uniforms are the killers. On Wednesday, Iraqi Army units were stopping commando units on the street and questioning them about the shooting at the electrical supply shop, hinting at rising suspicion and tension between the two branches of the security forces.

Also on Wednesday, three Iraqi police officers were killed by a roadside bomb near Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city that has grown increasingly violent in the past weeks. And seven more people, a mix of police officers and civilians, died in other insurgent attacks.

The Education Ministry issued a warning to students across the country to not accept candy from strangers because it "might contain explosives." Last week, several people were killed after a box of sweets blew up in a Baghdad tea shop.

Still, Iraqi politicians on Wednesday delayed, once again, talks to iron out political differences.

American officials have recently complicated the political situation by insisting that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari step down, according to Iraqi politicians.

Ali Adeeb contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

April 15th, 2006, 03:41 PM
So much for a small US presence in the future "independent" Iraq ...

U.S. Building Massive Embassy in Baghdad

AP Special Correspondent
Fri Apr 14, 2006


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.

Security, overseen by U.S. Marines, will be extraordinary: setbacks and perimeter no-go areas that will be especially deep, structures reinforced to 2.5-times the standard, and five high-security entrances, plus an emergency entrance-exit, the Senate report says.

Higgins said the work, under way on all parts of the project, is more than one-third complete.

Associated Press news researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright &#169; 2006 The Associated Press.

Copyright &#169; 2006 Yahoo! Inc.

May 6th, 2006, 10:31 AM
Iraqi police 'killed 14-year-old boy for being homosexual'

By Jerome Taylor
The Independent
05 May 2006


Human rights groups have condemned the "barbaric" murder of a 14-year-old boy, who, according to witnesses, was shot on his doorstep by Iraqi police for the apparent crime of being gay.

Ahmed Khalil was shot at point-blank range after being accosted by men in police uniforms, according to his neighbours in the al-Dura area of Baghdad.

Campaign groups have warned of a surge in homophobic killings by state security services and religious militias following an anti-gay and anti-lesbian fatwa issued by Iraq's most prominent Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Ali Hili, the co-ordinator of a group of exiled Iraqi gay men who monitor homophobic attacks inside Iraq, said the fatwa had instigated a "witch-hunt of lesbian and gay Iraqis, including violent beatings, kidnappings and assassinations".

"Young Ahmed was a victim of poverty," he said. "He was summarily executed, apparently by fundamentalist elements in the Iraqi police."

Neighbours in al-Dura district say Ahmed's father was arrested and interrogated two days before his son's murder by police who demanded to know about Ahmed's sexual activities. It is believed Ahmed slept with men for money to support his poverty-stricken family, who have fled the area fearing further reprisals.

The killing of Ahmed is one of a series of alleged homophobic murders. There is mounting evidence that fundamentalists have infiltrated government security forces to commit homophobic murders while wearing police uniforms.

Human rights groups are particularly concerned that the Sadr and Badr militias, both Shia, have stepped up their attacks on the gay community after a string of religious rulings, since the US-led invasion, calling for the eradication of homosexuals.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani recently issued a fatwa on his website calling for the execution of gays in the "worst, most severe way".

The powerful Badr militia acts as the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which counts Ayatollah Sistani as its spiritual leader. Another fatwa from the late and much revered Ayatollah Abul Qassim Khoei allows followers to kill gays "with a sword, or burn him alive, or tie his hands and feet and hurl him down from a high place".

Mr Hili said: "According to our contacts in Baghdad, the Iraqi police have been heavily infiltrated by the Shia paramilitary Badr Corps."

Mr Hili, whose Abu Nawas group has close links with clandestine gay activists inside Iraq, said US coalition forces are unwilling to try and tackle the rising tide of homophobic attacks. "They just don't want to upset the Iraqi government by bringing up the taboo of homosexuality even though homophobic murders have intensified," he said.

A number of public homophobic murders by the Badr militia have terrified Iraq's gay community. Last September, Hayder Faiek, a transsexual, was burnt to death by Badr militias in the main street of Baghdad's al-Karada district. In January, suspected militants shot another gay man in the back of the head.

The US State Department has yet to document the surge in its annual human rights reports. Iraq's neighbours, however, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are often criticised for their persecution of gays.

Darla Jordan, from the US State Department said: "The US government continues to work closely with our Iraqi partners to ensure the protection of human rights and the safety of all Iraqi citizens."

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

May 26th, 2006, 11:48 PM
Iraqis shot 'for wearing shorts'


The coach of Iraq's tennis team and two players were shot dead in Baghdad on Thursday, said Iraqi Olympic officials.

Coach Hussein Ahmed Rashid and players Nasser Ali Hatem and Wissam Adel Auda were killed in the al-Saidiya district of the capital.

Witnesses said the three were dressed in shorts and were killed days after militants issued a warning forbidding the wearing of shorts.

Other Iraqi athletes have been targeted in recent incidents.

In this case, according to accounts, the men dropped off laundry and were then stopped in their vehicle by gunmen.


Two of the athletes stepped out of the car and were shot in the head, said one witness. The third was shot dead in the vehicle.

"The gunman took the body out of the car and threw it on top of the other two bodies before stealing the car," said the witness, who requested anonymity.

He said leaflets had been recently distributed in the area warning residents not to wear shorts.

Last week, 15 members of Iraq's taekwondo team were kidnapped between Falluja and Ramadi, west of Baghdad, said a member of the Iraqi Olympic Committee. The kidnappers have demanded $100,000 for their release.

&#169; BBC MMVI

May 28th, 2006, 10:49 AM
You know what God thinks of shorts...

July 4th, 2006, 02:47 PM
Iraq Provincial Governor Threatens to Quit

myway.com (http://apnews.myway.com/article/20060704/D8IL8V301.html)
Jul 4, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A provincial police chief resigned Tuesday and the governor said he would leave his post after coalition forces turn over security to Iraqi forces in the southern area later this month, citing fears that violence will increase.

A member of the Muthanna provincial council said the decisions were made at a meeting after nearly 300 fired policemen stormed into the local government headquarters in Samawah earlier in the day to protest their lost jobs. Other former policemen also reportedly beat another council member after breaking into his house Monday night.

The panel accepted the resignation of Col. Mohammed Najim Abu Kihila, the chief of Muthanna police, "amid the deteriorating security, demonstrated by the assault on the provincial council's members and some citizens," councilman Mohammed al-Zayadi said.

He also said provincial Gov. Mohammad Ali Hassan offered his resignation and the council agreed to accept it as long as he stayed in his position until security was transferred from coalition forces to Iraqis later this month.

Another council member, speaking on condition of anonymity because he said he wasn't authorized to disclose the information, said earlier that other members of the panel also had offered to resign to protest the security handover because Iraqi forces were not ready.

"We reject the transfer of security from the coalition forces to the Iraqi forces because security will deteriorate more and more," the council member said.

But Kihila said it was only the governor and the police chief. He said Col. Ali Mutashar was appointed to fill the police post until a new chief is chosen.

The Japanese Kyodo News agency also said last-minute negotiations were under way between Hassan and the commander of the multinational forces in Iraq to complete the transfer of provincial security to the Iraqis on July 13.

Japan is in the process of withdrawing its 600 troops from its base near the provincial capital, Samawah. British and Australian troops also operate in the province but are preparing to withdraw after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi forces would be ready to take over security responsibilities sometime this month.

Handing over control of provinces does not necessarily mean the Americans or their allies would pull out entirely.

Instead, U.S. officials have said it means the provincial governor would have control, and civilian police would be the first to respond. U.S.-led coalition forces would only nominally intervene following a request from Iraqi officials.

© 2006 IAC Search & Media. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press.

July 9th, 2006, 10:30 AM
37 Sunni Arabs Slain in Baghdad Ambush

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html?hp&ex=1152504000&en=6283ecf2b792a76e&ei=5094&partner=homepage)
July 9, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Masked Shiite gunmen stopped cars in western Baghdad Sunday and grabbed people off the streets, singling out the Sunni Arabs among them and killing at least 37, police said.

The attack in the Jihad neighborhood apparently was retaliation for the car bombing of a local Shiite mosque the night before.

Police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said 37 bodies were taken to hospitals and police were searching for more victims reportedly left dumped in the streets. He also said U.S. and Iraqi forces had sealed off the area.

Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, a Sunni, called the attack ''a real and ugly massacre.''

He blamed Iraqi security forces that are widely believed to have been infiltrated by Shiite militia.

''There are officers who instead of being in charge should be questioned and referred to judicial authorities,'' al-Zubaie told Al-Jazeera TV. ''Jihad is witnessing a catastrophic crime.''

At about 10 a.m. gunmen pulled up in four cars in the dangerous Jihad neighborhood in western Baghdad and began seizing pedestrians and people in vehicles, according to police and witnesses.

An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said Shiite militiamen wearing masks and black uniforms were roaming the neighborhood, checking people's identity cards, presumably for Sunni names. ''They are killing civilians according to their identity cards,'' he said.

The Sunni Arabs were singled out and driven away. Their bodies were found later dumped on streets throughout the neighborhood, Abdul-Razzaq said, adding that police had collected at least 37 bodies.

Clashes also broke out in northwestern Baghdad between U.S. forces and members of the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Three militia members were killed, police said. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

In other violence Sunday, gunmen killed an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, one of several deadly shootings targeting security forces.

The officer was gunned down after his car was intercepted in the center of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, health official Salim al-Abadi said.

Gunmen also opened fire on a foot patrol in eastern Baghdad, killing a policeman, police said. Another policeman was killed in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Kirkuk.

A funeral was held Sunday for a former senior Baath Party official and his 5-year-old granddaughter. Both were gunned down Saturday night while driving in the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, police said.

A mortar round hit a home in another area in Dora, wounding three children.

In other violence Saturday, gunmen on a motorcycle shot to death two men who were security officers during Saddam Hussein's regime as they were walking in separate locations of Karbala, police said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

July 9th, 2006, 10:50 AM
These people are so into death and hatred, the heritage of Islam.

Get that 5-year-old granddaughter.

November 21st, 2006, 08:59 AM
Iraq to Restore Long-Severed Relations With Neighbor Syria

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BAGHDAD, Nov. 20 -- Iraq said Monday that it would restore diplomatic ties with neighboring Syria after a break of nearly a quarter-century in an effort to solidify links with a neighbor seen as a conduit for insurgents fueling the violence in Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made the announcement after a historic meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who pledged his country's help in quelling the sectarian violence that threatens to propel Iraq into civil war. Maliki, for his part, pressed Syria to step up efforts to keep Sunni Arab fighters from crossing into Iraq to join the insurgency.

"We refuse to let any regional neighbor countries become a passage or a headquarters for the terrorist organizations that hurt Iraq," he said in a statement after the meeting.

Syria and Iran, another neighbor, have offered to help bring stability to Iraq's fractured government, but the Bush administration has long-standing concerns about Iran's support for Shiite Muslim militias and Syria's failure to stop foreign fighters from joining the Iraqi insurgency.

The administration is under intense pressure to put aside those concerns and engage in talks with the two countries, even though it considers them adversaries. The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), is expected to recommend in an upcoming report that the United States start such a dialogue.

On Monday, reports surfaced of a possible weekend summit in Tehran involving the Iraqi and Syrian presidents, but U.S. and Iraqi officials quickly denied that any high-level three-way meeting would take place.

In Baghdad, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had no intention of attending a meeting with both Iran and Syria. Maliki's close aide Hasan Suneid said Talabani had accepted an invitation from the Iranian government to visit Tehran, but he did not specify when that would take place. "Iran has a great wish to hold a peace summit with Syria and Iraq, but still it is just a thought," Suneid said, "and if it happened, we should study it very well."

The Associated Press reported Monday night that Talabani would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this weekend but that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not attend.

State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey in Washington said that the administration welcomes "discussion and dialogue" among Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus because it wants Iraq to have strong relations with all its neighbors. But he also expressed doubts. "The problem is not what they say, but what they do," Casey said.

He added that "it's up to the Iraqi government to make the decision as to whether this is something useful for them or whether they would attend."

Muallem is the highest-level Syrian official to visit Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. His visit marked a major step toward restoring ties between the two countries, which have been at odds since the 1980s, when Syria backed Iran in its war against Iraq.

But Syria's oversight of its borders has become a major point of contention. Muallem denied that Syria has allowed foreign Islamic fighters to infiltrate Iraq but also said that sealing the long, porous border is an impossible task.

At a briefing in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said that so far this year Iraqi security and coalition forces have killed more than 425 foreign fighters in Iraq and captured about 670. Of those detained, he said, more than 20 percent came from Syria.

Caldwell said the U.S. government is not accusing Syria of aiding the fighters, but added, "We don't know how much they have tried to preclude it from happening, though, either." Caldwell also responded to Muallem's comment this past weekend that if the United States were to establish a timetable for withdrawing troops, the violence in Iraq would decrease. He said Iraqi officials continue to ask for military help.

"There's that acknowledgment that there is a need right now in their minds for additional security, and that the coalition forces can help provide for them as they develop their forces or capabilities and exert their influence," he said.

The political developments came as violence continued to flare across the country.

A deputy health minister, Hakim al-Zamily, escaped an assassination attempt in Baghdad that killed two of his bodyguards. He was the fourth high-level government official, and the second deputy health minister, to be targeted by kidnappers or killers in recent days.

"I think the terrorists are trying to show that the situation in Iraq is unbearable and it cannot be solved by the government," said Ali Adib, a Shiite lawmaker. "They would like to show the Democrats that they control the situation and not the government."

In Kirkuk, a police captain said unknown gunmen had attacked a restaurant frequented by policemen and civilians, killing the restaurant's owner and another employee.

Unknown gunmen killed a Babylon University medical school professor as he and his driver traveled from Hilla to Baghdad. Iraqi army and police forces found 19 corpses in Latifiyah, south of Baghdad. The U.S. military also announced that a Marine was killed in action Sunday in Anbar province.

Iraqi government officials continued their investigation of a mass kidnapping at a Ministry of Higher Education building last week. Speaking at a news conference, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said investigators are trying to determine whether the kidnappers were aided by people within the ministry. He also ruled out sectarianism as a motive because the victims came from different backgrounds.

Officials continued to contradict each other about the number of people who were kidnapped. The higher education minister said as many as 150 people were taken, while a government spokesman put the number at about 60.

Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington, special correspondents Naseer Mehdawi and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Doesn't much matter, once they start killing comedians.

Comedian among latest victims in Iraq

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Gunmen on Monday shot and killed a television comedian who was famous for mocking everyone from the Iraqi government to U.S. forces to Shiite militias to Sunni insurgents.

Walid Hassan's slaying came as the Iraqi death toll rose to at least 1,371 for the first 20 days of November — the highest for any month since The Associated Press began tracking the figure in April 2005.

Assailants also shot to death Fulayeh al-Ghurabi, a Shiite professor at Babil University in the province south of Baghdad, as he was driving home at midday, police said.

In all, 25 Iraqis were killed Monday in a series of attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi and Baqouba, police said. The bodies of 75 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured also were found on the streets of the capital, in Dujail to the north of Baghdad and in the Tigris River in southern Iraq.

The Iraqi death toll this month is already well above the 1,216 who died in all of October, which had been the deadliest month in Iraq since the AP began its count.

The actual totals are likely considerably higher because many deaths are not reported. Victims in those cases are quickly buried according to Muslim custom and never reach morgues or hospitals to be counted.

A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Saturday night and a U.S. Marine died during combat in Anbar province on Sunday, the military said, raising to at least 2,865 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war. This month in Iraq, 47 American service members have been killed or died.

In addition to the victims of violence, countless Iraqis have had close calls. Among them were two government officials who escaped assassination attempts Monday.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

November 26th, 2006, 09:41 PM
In Search of the Fixers

Ahmad al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
MASKED A militiaman in Baghdad carries a rocket launcher and a Koran during a parade by the
Mahdi Army, a militia that is reported to be splintering, as other armed gangs proliferate.

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/weekinreview/26glanz.html?_r=1&ref=weekinreview&oref=slogin)
November 26, 2006



Armed militias are stalking the streets of Iraq’s cities and towns, but that only begins to describe the problem that the United States faces here. As the violence on those streets increases, there seem to be more and more militias or armed gangs — smaller and more loosely controlled fragments of armed groups — than ever before, and in many ways that is the most serious part of the picture. It would be far easier for the United States if these groups, no matter how antagonistic they are to the Americans, had stuck together; then, at least, they could negotiate, make binding agreements and help knit together a nation.

In America, generals, congressmen and commentators across the political spectrum are embroiled in a debate over troop levels and exit timetables. But if the United States seeks to establish stability so its troops can leave, it must answer the question: whom does it talk to?

Which Sunni and Shiite militias, armed tribal groups and even criminal gangs need to be fought? Which can be bargained with? Which are potential allies as the United States seeks to break the increasingly chaotic cycles of attack, revenge and rivalry for turf and spoils?

Last week, it was Sunni militiamen who staged deadly attacks on the Shiite-led Health Ministry and Sadr City, presumably in retaliation for a mass kidnapping from the Sunni-dominated Higher Education Ministry the week before. Those kidnappings, in turn, were carried out by men in official uniforms who were thought to be Shiite militiamen who had infiltrated the army and police force. But, as always, it was unclear which militia was responsible, or whether the kidnappers were from a breakaway group.

The largest Shiite militia, led by Moktada al-Sadr and called the Mahdi Army, has been widely reported to be splintering. But there is also a growing profusion of other groups: in addition to longstanding rival Shiite militias like the Iranian-trained Badr Organization and the Fadhila militia, both of which are powerful in the south, there are Sunni fighters attached to tribal leaders, ex-Baathists or Al Qaeda cells; Iraqi private security contractors; quasi-government militias originally assembled to guard oil pipelines and power lines; criminal gangs; and neighborhood watch groups.

For the Americans, the disintegration of order has complicated any effort to deal with the armed groups, said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director of the International Crisis Group, an organization of experts on dealing with conflicts that is formulating its own last-ditch plan to salvage peace in Iraq. “Now you have purveyors of violence that are completely independent of everyone else,” Mr. Hiltermann said.

With one or two exceptions, he added, the politicians who nominally head some of the larger militias that are now splintering “don’t control anything.”

The most violent militia is the Mahdi Army, led by Mr. Sadr. Recent conversations with American military commanders in Iraq indicate that the United States ultimately may have to attempt to disarm it in its base in Baghdad — and it will be some time, if ever, before Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who needs Mr. Sadr’s support in Parliament, will be a willing partner.

But because there have been so many reports that freelance commanders have broken away from Mr. Sadr’s group and are operating on their own, carrying out their own kidnappings, executions and paramilitary operations, the impact of such an operation is difficult to calculate. For one thing, nobody knows exactly how much Mr. Sadr controls his group. For another, nobody knows to what extent commanders who have seemed to operate on their own might retain loyalty to Mr. Sadr in a major fight.

Some American commanders believe that Mr. Sadr retains influence over some groups he has declared to be renegades. If that were the case, the splinter groups would be functioning like the Salvadoran death squads of the 1980s; those operated quasi-independently and gave their government a measure of deniability even when it almost certainly had ordered killings.

If a similar situation applies here, it could lend credence to the arguments of American commanders who believe that the United States military may ultimately have to go in force to Mr. Sadr’s base of power, a place where it has trod lightly for the past three years, in order to disarm militiamen who remain defiant. Mr. Sadr’s base is a northeastern Baghdad slum populated with two million Shiite Arabs and named after his father.

But Iraqis mostly believe that such a step would be folly because it could inflame Shiites in general. No matter how unruly the groups in the Mahdi Army have or have not become, this argument goes, Mr. Sadr’s own popularity, as well as the number of men in the Mahdi Army, has soared throughout Baghdad and the south as the American military has worn out its welcome.

“This is actually very dangerous,” said Qasim Daoud, a former Iraqi national security advisor who is now a member of Parliament representing the southern holy city of Najaf. “It will go to a flare-up of the whole southern area.”

The roots of the problem with independent armed groups in Iraq trace back to when the United States invaded the country with the help of a strategically placed militia: the fighters who were loyal to two Kurdish clans in the north. In the aftermath, the United States had little appetite for disarming the Kurds, especially since their fighters are under the firm control of their leaders.

Less well known is that before the invasion, the United States also cozied up to some of the Shiite militias, who were then expatriates, with promises that they would not be immediately disbanded if they returned to Iraq, said Amatzia Baram, director of the Ezri Center of Iran and Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel. Before the invasion, when he was a scholar based in Washington, he warned of the dangers of letting the militias keep their arms.

The problem, Mr. Baram said, was that the most powerful of those groups, the Badr Organization, never really returned the warmth. The Badr leadership, Mr. Baram said, “never wanted to be engaged more than, ‘Yes, when you kick Saddam out, we will be there.’ They were very standoffish.”

With those precedents, the United States had little standing to disarm the other militias after the invasion, and they gained steadily in power.

There is, however, a temptation for American officials to see the possibility of working with some armed groups, even today. Travels with American military units and a reading of recent embassy initiatives in Iraq indicate that along with preparations for potential military activity against the Mahdi Army, the United States is stepping up efforts to identify militias associated with Iraqi tribes, political parties, geographic regions and even insurgent groups — to placate and co-opt those they can, and even play some off against each other.

In an indication of that strategy, some local American field commanders now give snap analyses of differences between the Janabi, Juburi and Duleimi tribes, an arresting shift from the early days of the conflict when words like those would have drawn blank stares in an American Humvee rumbling through the desert.

Such efforts have sometimes seemed promising. In September, 25 tribes in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province agreed to cooperate militarily in order to combat the local influence of Al Qaeda. But so far, that agreement seems to have had little influence on security; American and Iraqi troops continue to die at a disheartening rate in Anbar.

Looking forward, Representative Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who is expected to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in January, says the cultural importance of guns in Iraqi society, combined with the practical need for Iraqis to protect themselves, makes it all but impossible for the prime minister to disarm the militias, despite his pledges to do so.

“I don’t know how he’s going to do it,” Mr. Skelton said.

Mr. Daoud, the former security adviser, said that a better strategy would be to absorb militias loyal to the elected government into the official armed forces and give the rest jobs under the civilian government if they take appropriate training courses.

“I prefer, really, to make a sort of evaluation of each single person,” Mr. Daoud said.

That approach, which would amount to absorbing many of the militias into the government, may bring less order than hoped, said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The question is not whether the militias can rule much of the country, which I don’t think they can,” Ms. Ottaway said. “The question is whether they can make it impossible for anyone else to rule the country.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

November 28th, 2006, 02:31 AM
Note: I highlighted in green the portion of the text (below) that also applies to this forum topic (Iraq Study Group):

Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq

By MICHAEL R. GORDON (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/g/michael_r_gordon/index.html?inline=nyt-per) and DEXTER FILKINS (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/f/dexter_filkins/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
Published: November 28, 2006
The New York Times - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 — A senior American intelligence official said Monday that the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/h/hezbollah/index.html?inline=nyt-org) had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/moktada_al_sadr/index.html?inline=nyt-per).

The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/lebanon/index.html?inline=nyt-geo). A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) to help with training, the official said.

Iran has facilitated the link between Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, the official said. Syrian officials have also cooperated, though there is debate about whether it has the blessing of the senior leaders in Syria.

The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity under rules set by his agency, and discussed Iran’s role in response to questions from a reporter.

The interview occurred at a time of intense debate over whether the United States should enlist Iran’s help in stabilizing Iraq. The Iraq Study Group, directed by James A. Baker III (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/james_a_iii_baker/index.html?inline=nyt-per), a former Republican secretary of state, and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic lawmaker, is expected to call for direct talks with Tehran.

The claim about Hezbollah’s role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran.

The new American account is consistent with a claim made in Iraq this summer by a mid-level Mahdi commander, who said his militia had sent 300 fighters to Lebanon, ostensibly to fight alongside Hezbollah. “They are the best-trained fighters in the Mahdi Army,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The specific assertions about Iran’s role went beyond those made publicly by senior American officials, though Gen. Michael V. Hayden (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/michael_v_hayden/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/central_intelligence_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org), did tell Congress this month that “the Iranian hand is stoking violence” in Iraq.

The American intelligence on Hezbollah was based on human sources, electronic means and interviews with detainees captured in Iraq.

American officials say the Iranians have also provided direct support to Shiite militias in Iraq, including explosives and trigger devices for roadside bombs, and training for several thousand fighters, mostly in Iran. The training is carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, they say.

In Congressional testimony this month, General Hayden said he was initially skeptical of reports of Iran’s role but changed his mind after reviewing intelligence reports.

“I’ll admit personally,” he said at one point in the hearing, “that I have come late to this conclusion, but I have all the zeal of a convert as to the ill effect that the Iranians are having on the situation in Iraq.”

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/d/defense_intelligence_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org), offered a similar assessment in his testimony.

Neither General Hayden nor General Maples described Hezbollah’s role during the hearing.

In the interview on Monday, the senior intelligence official was asked for further details about the purported Iranian role.

“They have been a link to Lebanese Hezbollah and have helped facilitate Hezbollah training inside of Iraq, but more importantly Jaish al-Mahdi members going to Lebanon,” the official said, describing Iran’s role and using the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army.

The official said the Hezbollah training had been conducted with the knowledge of Mr. Sadr, the most influential Shiite cleric.

While Iran wants a stable Iraq, the official said, it sees an advantage in “managed instability in the near term” to bog down the American military and defeat the Bush administration’s objectives in the region.

“There seems to have been a strategic decision taken sometime over late winter or early spring by Damascus, Tehran, along with their partners in Lebanese Hezbollah, to provide more support to Sadr to increase pressure on the U.S.,” the American intelligence official said.

Some Middle East experts were skeptical about the assessment of Hezbollah’s training role.

“That sound to me a little bit strained,” said Flynt Leverett, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a Middle East expert formerly on the National Security Council (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/n/national_security_council/index.html?inline=nyt-org) staff. “I have a hard time thinking it is a really significant piece of what we are seeing play out on the ground with the various Shiite militia forces.”

But other specialists found the assessment plausible. “I think it is plausible because Hezbollah is the best in the business, and it enhances their position with Iran, Syria and Iraq,” said Judith Kipper, of the Council on Foreign Relations (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/council_on_foreign_relations/index.html?inline=nyt-org).

The Mahdi Army and other militia fighters traveled to Lebanon in groups of 15 and 20 and some were present during the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel this summer, though there was no indication they had taken part in the fighting, the American intelligence official said.

Asked what the militia members had learned, the official replied, “Weapons, bomb-making, intelligence, assassinations, the gambit of skill sets.”

There is intelligence that indicates that Iran shipped machine tools to Lebanon that could be used to make “shaped charges,” sophisticated explosive devices designed to penetrate armor, American officials have said. But it is not known how the equipment was in fact used.

The officials said that because the Iraqi militia members went through Syrian territory, at least some Syrian officials were complicit. There are also reports of meetings between Imad Mugniyah, a senior Hezbollah member; Ghassem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; and Syrian representatives to discuss ways of stepping up the pressure on the United States in Iraq.

The mid-level Mahdi commander interviewed this summer said the group sent to Lebanon was called the Ali al-Hadi Brigade, named for one of two imams buried at the Askariya Mosque in Samarra. The bombing of that shrine in February unleashed the fury of Shiite militias and accelerated sectarian violence.

According to the Mahdi commander, the brigade was organized and dispatched by a senior Mahdi officer known as Abu Mujtaba. It went by bus to Syria in July, and was then led across the border into Lebanon, he said. He said the fighters were from Diwaniya and Basra, as well as from the Shiite neighborhoods of Shoala and Sadr City in Baghdad.

“They travel as normal people from Iraq to Syria,” one of the militiamen said. “Once they get to Syria, fighters in Syria take them in.”

Among American officials, concern over the purported Iranian, Syrian or Hezbollah role grew recently when an advanced antitank weapon, an RPG-29, was used against an American M-1 tank in Iraq.

“The first time we saw it was not in Iraq,” Gen. John P. Abizaid (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/a/john_p_abizaid/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters in September. “We saw it in Lebanon. So to me, No. 1, it indicates an Iranian connection.”
American intelligence officials said the source of the weapon was still unclear.

General Abizaid also said it was hard to pin down some details of relationships between armed factions in the Middle East, adding: “There are clearly links between Hezbollah training people in Iran to operate in Lebanon and also training people in Iran that are Shia splinter groups that could operate against us in Iraq These linkages exist, but it is very, very hard to pin down with precision.”

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington, and Hosham Hussein from Baghdad.


November 28th, 2006, 08:51 AM
Doesn't much matter, once they start killing comedians.
Surprised they even had comedians. Now they probably don't.

November 28th, 2006, 11:35 AM
Iraq: Do Amman Talks Signal A New Regional Approach?

By Andrew Tully (http://javascript%3Cb%3E%3C/b%3E:newWindow%28%27/features/authors/tully.asp%27,325,280%29)
Radio-Free Europe Radio Liberty website

WASHINGTON, November 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is due to meet for two days on November 29 and 30 with U.S. President George W. Bush in Amman, Jordan.

The Amman talks come as Washington awaits the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group -- a bipartisan U.S. commission that will offer Bush suggestions on how to stabilize Iraq.

A Wider Approach

The U.S. daily "The New York Times" says the congressionally established commission -- which is due to make its report in December -- will urge the administration to mount a broad diplomatic initiative throughout the Middle East, including direct consultations with Iran and Syria.

“Out of chaos and destruction there are always opportunities for peacemaking and reconciliation and dialogue," analyst Judith Kipper says. "And [the U.S.] administration makes rhetoric and it makes war. I haven't seen it make serious diplomacy."

So far, the Bush administration has refused talks with Iran on any issue, including its suspected nuclear-weapons program. And Washington is reported to have had only limited contact with Syria's government, though it has an embassy in Damascus.

Nathan Brown, a Middle East specialist at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says that Bush may have elected to meet al-Maliki in U.S. ally Jordan because security is far easier to assure there than in violence-wracked Baghdad.

But he says Bush may also be trying to signal to congressional critics that his administration already is looking to at least some of Iraq's neighbors for help in finding solutions.

A Regional Initiative?

Brown notes that the Amman meeting follows closely on a recent trip by Vice President Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia, another U.S. ally.

But Brown says that as Washington reaches out to its Middle East allies, it remains far from clear whether the administration is prepared to undertake any broader diplomatic initiative that includes Tehran and Damascus.

“What we have, I think, is a Bush administration recognition of the importance of regional diplomacy," Brown says. "What is absolutely striking, however, is that we're reaching out to our friends -- Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- and trying to coordinate with them. This could be the springboard to a broader regional initiative, but it certainly isn't that. So even if the Iraq Study Group is going to recommend reaching out to some adversaries, that's not what we're doing here.”

Brown also says inertia -- that is the tendency to follow a course one is already taking -- also may play a role in any reluctance in the Bush administration to speak with Iran and Syria. Any talks would represent a major reversal of existing policy.

“It sounds very, very strange to describe this administration -- which launched a major war -- as indecisive," Brown says. "But I think one of the hallmarks of our Iraq policy, basically since the minute the fighting ended, has been -- the president can call it 'staying the course' -- but it's just a really slow and reactive policy.”

Judith Kipper, the director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that Bush faces an important opportunity at the Amman meeting.

Some Unexpected Guests?

Kipper says the meetings in Amman may include some unexpected guests.

“I wouldn't be at all surprised if, in fact, other leaders may join in," Kipper says. [Bush] doesn't need two days to meet with [al-Maliki]. So I think that with the vice president's trip to Saudi Arabia and other things that seem to be bubbling in the region that there is some kind of initiative that may include others. Somebody from Saudi Arabia might come; [Jordan's] King Abdullah is there; there might be Egyptians to show that the U.S. is

going regional, asking for help and so on.”

Unlike Brown, Kipper says she believes direct talks with Iran and Syria are "inevitable." And she says there's every reason to expect that the talks with both of these countries would go beyond securing and rebuilding Iraq.

In fact, Kipper says, it wouldn't be overly optimistic to expect talks with Iran to yield tangible progress on the nuclear issue. Likewise, she says, talks with Syria could lead to some resolution of tensions over U.S. concern that Damascus supports militant groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

“Out of chaos and destruction there are always opportunities for peacemaking and reconciliation and dialogue," she says. "And this administration makes rhetoric and it makes war. I haven't seen it make serious diplomacy. Hopefully they will be able to do that. It's long overdue, the potential is there and the administration -- up to now known for a failed misadventure in Iraq -- could change its legacy.”

But Kipper says it is still far too early to predict what might actually come out of any regional diplomacy that starts over Iraq.


November 29th, 2006, 12:57 AM
Bush Adviser’s Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki greeted residents of Sadr City on Sunday,
after the series of attacks.

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/29/world/middleeast/29military.html?hp&ex=1164776400&en=e26b5b9841cd9c54&ei=5094&partner=homepage)
November 29, 2006

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 — A classified memorandum by President Bush’s national security adviser expressed serious doubts about whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had the capacity to control the sectarian violence in Iraq and recommended that the United States take new steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader’s position.

The Nov. 8 memo was prepared for Mr. Bush and his top deputies by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and senior aides on the staff of the National Security Council after a trip by Mr. Hadley to Baghdad.

The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps, it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing “monetary support to moderate groups,” and by sending thousands of additional American troops to Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is a current shortage of Iraqi forces.

(Text of Memo in next post)

The memo presents an unvarnished portrait of Mr. Maliki and notes that he relies for some of his political support on leaders of more extreme Shiite groups. The five-page document, classified secret, is based in part on a one-on-one meeting between Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki on Oct. 30.

“His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,” the memo said of the Iraqi leader. “But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

An administration official made a copy of the document available to a New York Times reporter seeking information on the administration’s policy review. The Times read and transcribed the memo.

The White House has sought to avoid public criticism of Mr. Maliki, who is scheduled to meet with Mr. Bush in Jordan on Wednesday. The latest surge of sectarian violence in Baghdad and the Democratic victories in the midterm elections are prompting calls for sharp changes in American policy. Such changes are among options being debated by the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton.

A senior administration official discussed the memorandum in general terms after being told The New York Times was preparing an article on the subject. The official described the document as “essentially a trip report” and not a result of the administration’s review of its Iraq policy, which is still under way.

He said the purpose of the memo “was to provide a snapshot of the challenges facing Prime Minister Maliki and how we can best enhance his capabilities, mindful of the complex political and security environment in which he is operating.”

The American delegation that went to Iraq with Mr. Hadley included Meghan L. O’Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser, and three other members of the National Security Council staff. The memo, prepared after that trip, has been circulated to cabinet-level officials who are participating in the administration’s review of Iraq strategy.

There is nothing in the memo that suggests the Bush administration is interested in replacing Mr. Maliki as prime minister. But while Mr. Bush has stated that he has confidence in the Iraqi leader, the memo questions whether Mr. Maliki has the will and ability to establish a genuine unity government, saying the answer will emerge from actions he takes in the weeks and months ahead.

“We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others,” the memo says. “Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq.”

In describing the Oct. 30 meeting between Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki, it says: “Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so.” It said the Iraqi leader’s assurances seemed to have been contradicted by developments on the ground, including the Iraqi government’s approach to the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia known in Arabic as Jaish al-Mahdi and headed by Moktada al-Sadr.

“Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister’s office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq’s most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries — when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) killings — all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.”

Among the concerns voiced in the memo was that Mr. Maliki was surrounded by a small group of advisers from the Shiite Dawa Party, a narrow circle that American officials worry may skew the information he receives.

The memo outlines a number of short-term steps Mr. Maliki could undertake to establish control. The Iraqi leader has recently indicated his intention to take some of those steps, like announcing his intention to expand the size of the Iraqi Army and declaring that Iraq will seek an extension of the United Nations mandate that provides for the deployment of the American-led multinational force in Iraq. The United Nations Security Council voted on Tuesday to extend that mandate.

The memo also lists steps the United States can take to strengthen Mr. Maliki’s position. They include efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia to use its influence with the Sunnis in Iraq and encourage them to turn away from the insurgency and to seek a political accommodation.

Addressing Mr. Bush, the memo said one option was for the president to “direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action.” Although the memo did not offer specifics, this appeared to be an allusion to a more active American role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Recently, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has reached out to the Palestinians and has said he wants to move ahead with peace talks. But the memo’s authors also contemplate the possibility that Mr. Maliki’s position may be too tenuous for him to take the steps needed to curb the power of Shiite militias, to establish a more diverse and representative personal staff and to arrest the escalating sectarian strife.

In that case, the memo suggests, it may ultimately be necessary for Mr. Maliki to recast his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by pressing moderates to align themselves with the Iraqi leader and providing them with monetary support.

The memo refers to “the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad,” a seeming acknowledgment that there is a substantial shortfall of troops in the Iraqi capital compared with the level needed to provide security there, in part because the Iraqi government has not dispatched all the forces it has promised. An American brigade generally numbers about 3,500 troops, though Iraqi units can be smaller. While Democrats have advocated beginning troop withdrawals as a means of putting pressure on Mr. Maliki, the memo suggests that such tactics may backfire by stirring up opposition against a politically vulnerable leader.

“Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq,” the memo says.

The memo lists a number of possible steps to build up Mr. Maliki’s capability. They include asking Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander, to develop a plan to strengthen the Iraqi leader.

This could involve the formation of a new National Strike Force, significantly increasing the number of American advisers working with the Iraqi National Police, a force that has been infiltrated by Shiite militias, and putting more Iraqi forces directly under Mr. Maliki’s control.

In addition, the memorandum suggests that Mr. Bush ask the Pentagon and General Casey “to make a recommendation about whether more forces are needed in Baghdad.”

The administration appears to have already begun carrying out some of the steps recommended in the document. Among them were a trip over the weekend by Vice President Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia as part of an effort to seek help from Sunni Arab powers in encouraging Sunni groups in Iraq to seek a political compromise with Mr. Maliki.

The senior administration official who agreed to discuss the memo would do so only on condition of anonymity. The official said some of the steps projected in the document were being carried out.

The official also stressed that the administration retains confidence in the Iraqi leader. “What we are seeing is that he had the right intentions and is willing to act,” the senior official said. “Our own review has opened a consultative process on where Maliki wants to take the government. A successful strategy has to be one that is driven by the Iraqis.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

November 29th, 2006, 01:05 AM
Text of the National Security Adviser’s Memorandum
on the Political Situation in Iraq

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/29/world/middleeast/29mtext.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
November 29, 2006

Following is the text of a Nov. 8 memorandum prepared for cabinet-level officials by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and his aides on the National Security Council. The five-page document, classified secret, was read and transcribed by The New York Times.

We returned from Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others. Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq.

Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so. Maliki pointed to incidents, such as the use of Iraqi forces in Shia Karbala, to demonstrate his even hand. Perhaps because he is frustrated over his limited ability to command Iraqi forces against terrorists and insurgents, Maliki has been trying to show strength by standing up to the coalition. Hence the public spats with us over benchmarks and the Sadr City roadblocks.

Despite Maliki’s reassuring words, repeated reports from our commanders on the ground contributed to our concerns about Maliki’s government. Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister’s office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq’s most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries — when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi’s (JAM) [the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] killings — all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.

While there does seem to be an aggressive push to consolidate Shia power and influence, it is less clear whether Maliki is a witting participant. The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality. His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.

Steps Maliki Could Take

There is a range of actions that Maliki could take to improve the information he receives, demonstrate his intentions to build an Iraq for all Iraqis and increase his capabilities. The actions listed below are in order of escalating difficulty and, at some point, may require additional political and security resources to execute, as described on Page 3 of this memo. Maliki should:

&#182; Compel his ministers to take small steps — such as providing health services and opening bank branches in Sunni neighborhoods — to demonstrate that his government serves all ethnic communities;

&#182; Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM actors that do not eschew violence;

&#182; Shake up his cabinet by appointing nonsectarian, capable technocrats in key service (and security) ministries;

&#182; Announce an overhaul of his own personal staff so that “it reflects the face of Iraq”;

&#182; Demand that all government workers (in ministries, the Council of Representatives and his own offices) publicly renounce all violence for the pursuit of political goals as a condition for keeping their positions;

&#182; Declare that Iraq will support the renewal of the U.N. mandate for multinational forces and will seek, as appropriate, to address bilateral issues with the United States through a SOFA [status of forces agreement] to be negotiated over the next year;

&#182; Take one or more immediate steps to inject momentum back into the reconciliation process, such as a suspension of de-Baathification measures and the submission to the Parliament or “Council of Representatives” of a draft piece of legislation for a more judicial approach;

&#182; Announce plans to expand the Iraqi Army over the next nine months; and

&#182; Declare the immediate suspension of suspect Iraqi police units and a robust program of embedding coalition forces into MOI [Ministry of the Interior] units while the MOI is revetted and retrained.

What We Can Do to Help Maliki

If Maliki is willing to move decisively on the actions above, we can help him in a variety of ways. We should be willing to:

&#182; Continue to target Al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Baghdad to demonstrate the Shia do not need the JAM to protect their families — and that we are a reliable partner;

&#182; Encourage Zal [Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador] to move into the background and let Maliki take more credit for positive developments. (We want Maliki to exert his authority — and demonstrate to Iraqis that he is a strong leader — by taking action against extremists, not by pushing back on the United States and the Coalition.);

&#182; Continue our diplomatic efforts to keep the Sunnis in the political process by pushing for the negotiation of a national compact and by talking up provincial council elections next spring/summer as a mechanism for Sunni empowerment;

&#182; Support his announcement to expand the Iraqi Army and reform the MOI more aggressively;

&#182; Seek ways to strengthen Maliki immediately by giving him additional control over Iraqi forces, although we must recognize that in the immediate time frame, we would likely be able to give him more authority over existing forces, not more forces;

&#182; Continue to pressure Iran and Syria to end their interference in Iraq, in part by hitting back at Iranian proxies in Iraq and by Secretary Rice holding an Iraq-plus-neighbors meeting in the region in early December; and

&#182; Step up our efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role in supporting Iraq by using its influence to move Sunni populations in Iraq out of violence into politics, to cut off any public or private funding provided to the insurgents or death squads from the region and to lean on Syria to terminate its support for Baathists and insurgent leaders.

Augmenting Maliki’s Political and Security Capabilities

The above approach may prove difficult to execute even if Maliki has the right intentions. He may simply not have the political or security capabilities to take such steps, which risk alienating his narrow Sadrist political base and require a greater number of more reliable forces. Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq. We must also be mindful of Maliki’s personal history as a figure in the Dawa Party — an underground conspiratorial movement — during Saddam’s rule. Maliki and those around him are naturally inclined to distrust new actors, and it may take strong assurances from the United States ultimately to convince him to expand his circle of advisers or take action against the interests of his own Shia coalition and for the benefit of Iraq as a whole.

If it is Maliki’s assessment that he does not have the capability — politically or militarily — to take the steps outlined above, we will need to work with him to augment his capabilities. We could do so in two ways. First, we could help him form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind.

This approach would require that we take steps beyond those laid out above, to include:

&#182; Actively support Maliki in helping him develop an alternative political base. We would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki’s new political bloc;

&#182; Consider monetary support to moderate groups that have been seeking to break with larger, more sectarian parties, as well as to support Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists; and

&#182; Provide Maliki with more resources to help build a nonsectarian national movement.
• If we expect him to adopt a nonsectarian security agenda, we must ensure he has reasonably nonsectarian security institutions to execute it — such as through a more robust embedding program.

• We might also need to fill the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad with coalition forces if reliable Iraqi forces are not identified.
Moving Ahead

We should waste no time in our efforts to determine Maliki’s intentions and, if necessary, to augment his capabilities. We might take the following steps immediately:

&#182; Convince Maliki to deliver on key actions that might reassure Sunnis (open banks and direct electricity rebuilding in Sunni areas, depoliticize hospitals);

&#182; Tell Maliki that we understand that he is working his own strategy for dealing with the Sadrists and that:
• you have asked General Casey to support Maliki in this effort

• it is important that we see some tangible results in this strategy soon;
&#182; Send your personal representative to Baghdad to discuss this strategy with Maliki and to press other leaders to work with him, especially if he determines that he must build an alternative political base;

&#182; Ask Casey to develop a plan to empower Maliki, including:
• Formation of National Strike Forces

• Dramatic increase in National Police embedding

• More forces under Maliki command and control
&#182; Ask Secretary of Defense and General Casey to make a recommendation about whether more forces are need in Baghdad;

&#182; Ask Secretary of Defense and General Casey to devise a more robust embedding plan and a plan to resource it;

&#182; Direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action;

&#182; If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base:
• Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki

• Engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

November 29th, 2006, 06:11 AM

December 1st, 2006, 05:35 AM
Bush, in Meeting on Iraq, Rejects a Quick Pullout

By JOHN M. BRODER (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/john_m_broder/index.html?inline=nyt-per) and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/sheryl_gay_stolberg/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
The New York Times: 12/01/06

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 — President Bush on Thursday rejected the idea of a quick troop withdrawal from Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), even as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/nuri_kamal_al-maliki/index.html?inline=nyt-per) of Iraq said his country’s forces would be ready to take over substantial security responsibility by next June.

Mr. Bush, at a news conference with Mr. Maliki after a meeting in Jordan, directly referred to reports the day before that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group would recommend to him next week that the United States begin a substantial troop pullout in the near future. Some analysts have suggested that the report could offer a face-saving way for Mr. Bush to begin withdrawing from Iraq, but he adamantly rejected that view.

“I know there’s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there’s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq,” the president said. “This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.”

The study group is said to be shying away from recommending a firm timetable, and it envisions a force of 70,000 or more American troops in Iraq for some time to come. And despite a Democratic election victory this month that was strongly based on antiwar sentiment, the idea of a major and rapid withdrawal seems to be fading as a viable option.

Mr. Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have given optimistic projections before about the strength of local forces and their ability to control the insurgency and the sectarian warfare. But senior Bush administration officials and American commanders continue to say that creating a competent Iraqi military from scratch will take an intensive training effort and years to accomplish.

Mr. Maliki lacks full operational control of the military, and he is menaced by numerous armed militias and insurgent cells operating with virtual impunity.

One approach expected to be put forward by the Iraq Study Group is that, as the size of the American combat force is reduced, the Pentagon would send thousands of additional trainers to assist in the building of Iraqi Army and police forces. Mr. Maliki seemed to embrace that idea on Thursday, saying that his government would be fully ready to take command by June 2007. Democrats (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/d/democratic_party/index.html?inline=nyt-org) in Congress have been demanding that the United States begin removing its troops in the next four to six months and give control of Iraq to the Iraqis.

“I can say that Iraqi forces will be ready, fully ready to receive this command and to command its own forces, and I can tell you that by next June our forces will be ready,” Mr. Maliki told ABC News after meeting President Bush in Jordan.

He said that the president had assured him that he was not preparing to remove American forces any time soon and that he would provide additional training and support for the Iraqi military. He said any decision on American troop withdrawals was up to the Bush administration.

For his part, Mr. Bush insisted that American troops would stay in Iraq unless the government asked them to leave. “We’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done as long as the government wants us there,” he said.

Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said that the United States was working diligently to improve the ability of the Maliki government to maintain some semblance of order in Iraq and to assume control of its own armed forces. He refused, however, to give any estimate of how long the task would take.

“Building a military, a successful and high-quality military, is something that, obviously, takes some time,” Mr. Hadley said in a briefing for reporters aboard Air Force One while returning to Washington from Jordan. “We’ve been at it for a while. There is going to be more work to do. But you can get units to the point that they can take increasing responsibility for security. That’s what we’ve been doing, that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

He said the United States and Iraq were speeding up the schedule under which Iraqi forces would come under Iraqi, and not American, command.
Mr. Hadley added that the Iraqis were aware both of the security problems that they faced and of the diminishing American public support for the military mission there.

“There is a real sense of urgency, but there is not a sense of panic,” Mr. Hadley said. “And that is a good thing for a government that’s under — has a lot of challenges before it.”

The meeting of Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki, a two-hour session in Amman, Jordan, took place against a backdrop of rising sectarian violence in Iraq and increasing tensions between the leaders.

Earlier this week, news reports brought to a light a classified memorandum by Mr. Hadley in which he raised doubts about Mr. Maliki’s leadership. And on Wednesday evening, Mr. Maliki took the unusual step of backing out of a planned three-way meeting with the president that would have included the Jordanian leader, King Abdullah II (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/a/_abdullah_ii/index.html?inline=nyt-per).

But in their news conference, the two men appeared to be on the same page. During his appearance with Mr. Maliki, Mr. Bush offered to speed up the transfer of command of Iraqi forces to the Iraqi government. Mr. Maliki is under pressure at home to demonstrate more independence from the United States, but Americans, as well as Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq, have been concerned that the Iraqi troops would be used by the Shiite government against the Sunni populace.

The president also rejected the idea of partitioning Iraq to create buffers between the country’s main sectarian groups, an idea that Mr. Maliki has publicly opposed though some other Shiite leaders have backed it.

During his statement, Mr. Maliki issued a pointed message to its neighbors, Syria and Iran, whom the United States has accused of supporting militant groups in Iraq, not to interfere with Iraqi affairs. “Iraq is for Iraqis,” Mr. Maliki said.

The much-publicized meeting — a breakfast attended by aides including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/condoleezza_rice/index.html?inline=nyt-per) and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, followed by a 45-minute one-on-one session — took place as both leaders face intense pressure to bring the bloody sectarian violence in Iraq under control.

At the news conference afterward, Mr. Bush stood at Mr. Maliki’s side and showered him with praise, saying, “He’s the right guy for Iraq.”
In Washington on Thursday, Senator Carl Levin (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/l/carl_levin/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the Michigan Democrat is to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee in January, welcomed the reported recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, saying they were similar to what he and other Democrats had been proposing for months.

“It sends a message to the Iraqis that our presence there is not open-ended and that we are going to pull back, redeploy in a reasonable amount of time,” Senator Levin said in an interview. “They share our premise that the Iraqis have got to feel a sense of urgency if they are going to reach a political settlement.”

He said that the panel’s recommendations, if they are adopted even in part by the White House, signaled an “important shift” in the debate on Iraq policy.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/r/republican_party/index.html?inline=nyt-org) member of the Armed Services Committee from Texas, said he believed that it would be necessary to send tens of thousands more troops to Iraq in the short term to stabilize Baghdad and control the sectarian militias that were killing one another and Americans.

He said he was gratified to hear Mr. Maliki’s claim that his forces would be adequate to the task by the middle of next year, but said he did not think the Iraqi prime minister was being realistic.

“I would love to believe it,” Mr. Cornyn said in a telephone interview from Texas. “Perhaps it’s useful for him to set goals for his own security forces. But it’s pretty clear to me that, at least from a logistical standpoint, Iraqi troops will need to receive support from the United States for quite a long time.”

John M. Broder reported from Washington, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Amman, Jordan. Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Washington.


December 1st, 2006, 07:42 AM
November 29, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Ten Months or Ten Years


Here is the central truth about Iraq today: This country is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war.

There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons — religion, crime, politics — that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. It was possible to settle Bosnia’s civil war by turning the country into a loose federation, because the main parties to that conflict were reasonably coherent, with leaders who could cut a deal and deliver their faction.

But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.

Anyone who tells you that we can just train a few more Iraqi troops and police officers and then slip out in two or three years is either lying or a fool. The minute we would leave, Iraq would collapse. There is nothing we can do by the end of the Bush presidency that would produce a self-sustaining stable Iraq — and “self-sustaining” is the key metric.

In his must-read new book about the impact of culture on politics and economic development, “The Central Liberal Truth,” Lawrence Harrison notes that some cultures are “progress-prone” and others are “progress- resistant.” In the Arab-Muslim world today the progress-resistant cultural forces seem to be just too strong, especially in Iraq, which is why it is so hard to establish durable democratic institutions in that soil, he says.

“Some may hark back to our successful imposition of democracy on West Germany and Japan after World War II,” adds Mr. Harrison. “But the people on whom democracy was imposed in those two countries were highly literate and entrepreneurial members of unified, institutionalized societies with strong traditions of association — what we refer to today as ‘social capital.’ Iraq was social capital-poor to start with and it now verges on bankruptcy.”

On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my “pottery store” rule for Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.

That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today. The Sunni Muslim world should hang its head in shame for the barbarism it has tolerated and tacitly supported by the Sunnis of Iraq, whose violence, from the start, has had only one goal: America must fail in its effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region. America must fail — no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.

This has left us with two impossible choices. If we’re not ready to do what is necessary to crush the dark forces in Iraq and properly rebuild it, then we need to leave — because to just keep stumbling along as we have been makes no sense. It will only mean throwing more good lives after good lives into a deeper and deeper hole filled with more and more broken pieces.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

December 1st, 2006, 10:34 AM
This has left us with two impossible choices. If we’re not ready to do what is necessary to crush the dark forces in Iraq and properly rebuild it, then we need to leave — because to just keep stumbling along as we have been makes no sense.

Why "impossible"?

By all indications no matter how long we stay the purported goal will not be achieved.

Early and prompt phase-out of American troops in Iraq is the only possible option.

December 1st, 2006, 01:02 PM
Early and prompt phase-out of American troops in Iraq is the only possible option.
Absolutely correct. The US & British forces are part of the problem rather than part of any solution. They're seen, quite rightly so, as an occupation force. Bush & Blair cocked-up big-time, its time for them to publicly admit. No amount of window-dressing will hide the fact that there will never be "democracy" in Iraq, its an alien concept to Middle East politics.

December 19th, 2006, 09:11 AM
December 19, 2006

Attacks in Iraq at Record High, Pentagon Says


WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 — A Pentagon assessment of security conditions in Iraq concluded Monday that attacks against American and Iraqi targets had surged this summer and autumn to their highest level, and called violence by Shiite militants the most significant threat in Baghdad.

The report, which covers the period from early August to early November, found an average of almost 960 attacks against Americans and Iraqis every week, the highest level recorded since the Pentagon began issuing the quarterly reports in 2005, with the biggest surge in attacks against American-led forces. That was an increase of 22 percent from the level for early May to early August, the report said.

While most attacks were directed at American forces, most deaths and injuries were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians.

The report is the most comprehensive public assessment of the American-led operation to secure Baghdad, which began in early August. About 17,000 American combat troops are currently involved in the beefed-up security operation.

According to the Pentagon assessment, the operation initially had some success in reducing killings as militants concentrated on eluding capture and hiding their weapons. But sectarian death squads soon adapted, resuming their killings in regions of the capital that were not initially targets of the overstretched American and Iraqi troops.

Shiite militias, the Pentagon report said, also received help from allies among the Iraqi police. “Shia death squads leveraged support from some elements of the Iraqi Police Service and the National Police who facilitated freedom of movement and provided advance warning of upcoming operations,” the report said.

“This is a major reason for the increased levels of murders and executions.”

The findings were issued on the day Robert M. Gates was sworn in as defense secretary, replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld.

At an afternoon ceremony at the Pentagon attended by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gates said he planned to travel to Iraq shortly to consult with military commanders as part of a broad administration review of Iraq strategy.

“All of us want to find a way to bring America’s sons and daughters home again,” Mr. Gates said. “But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.”

Over all, the report portrayed a precarious security situation and criticized Shiite militias for the worsening violence more explicitly than previous versions had.

It said the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki has not confronted despite American pressure to do so, had had the greatest negative impact on security. It is likely that Shiite militants are now responsible for more civilian deaths and injuries than terrorist groups are, the report said.

But the report also held out hope that decisive leadership by the Iraqi government might halt the slide toward civil war.

While noting that efforts by Mr. Maliki to encourage political reconciliation among ethnic groups had shown little progress, it said that Iraqi institutions were holding and that members of the current government “have not openly abandoned the political process.”

The Pentagon assessment, titled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” is mandated by Congress and issued quarterly.

The new report, completed last month, noted two parallel trends.

On the one hand, the Iraqi security forces are larger than ever, with 322,600 Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other troops, an increase of 45,000 since August. Iraqi forces also have increasingly taken the lead responsibility in many areas.

The growth in Iraqi capabilities, however, has been matched by increasing violence. That raises the question of whether the American strategy to rely on the Iraqi forces to tamp down violence is failing, at least in the short term.

The Bush administration has decided to step up substantially the effort to train and equip the Iraqi forces. A major question being pondered by Mr. Bush is whether that is sufficient, or whether more American troops are needed in Baghdad to control the violence and stabilize the city.

According to the Pentagon, the weekly average of 959 attacks was a jump of 175 from the previous three months. As a consequence, civilian deaths and injuries reached a record 93 a day.

Deaths and injuries suffered by Iraq’s security forces also climbed to a new high, 33 a day, while American and other allied deaths and injuries hovered at 25 a day, just short of the record in 2004, when the United States was involved in battles in Falluja and elsewhere.

The increase in violence coincided with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when there had previously been a temporary spike in attacks, but also reflected the deeper sectarian passions that have flared since an attack in February 2006 on a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

According to Pentagon data used in formulating the report, there were 1,028 sectarian “executions” in October. That was a slight dip from July, when there were 1,169 executions, but a major increase since January, when there were 180. During this period, “ethno-sectarian incidents” have steadily risen, the report noted.

Security difficulties varied in different parts of the country. While sectarian strife was the biggest problem in Baghdad, in Anbar Province it was attacks by Sunni militants. North of Baghdad, in Diyala and Bilad, terrorists linked to Al Qaeda have been battling the Mahdi Army, it says.

While Shiite militias are active, the group known as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is still a major threat, despite the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, its leader. “The emergence of Abu Ayub al-Masri as leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq demonstrated its flexibility and depth, as well as its reliance on non-Iraqis,” the report noted.

Indications of progress were few. The report credited the Iraqi government with taking “incremental” steps at assuming more responsibility and said its security forces “have assumed more leadership in counterinsurgency and law enforcement operations.” But it remained “urgent” for the Iraqi government “to demonstrate a resolve to contain and terminate sectarian attacks.”

In a briefing for reporters, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, a senior aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Baghdad operation had been constrained because the Iraqi government had not allowed American and Iraqi troops to “go in and neutralize Sadr City,” the base for the Mahdi Army.

Crude oil output was 2.3 million barrels a day, 7.5 percent higher than in August but still below the government’s goal of 2.5 million barrels.

Proponents of sending more troops to Iraq cited the report to argue that only Americans could ensure security in the short term and that more were needed. Critics said it showed that the initial effort by the American military to reinforce Baghdad had failed to stop the killing.

Gen. James T. Conway, who took over this fall as commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters in Missouri on Saturday that among other options, President Bush was considering sending five or more combat brigades to Iraq, or about 20,000 troops.

General Conway said he believed that the Joint Chiefs would support such an increase as long as “there is a solid military reason for doing so.” He said sending more troops just to be “thickening the mix” in Baghdad would be a mistake.

Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was opposed to more troops. “Everything I’ve heard and everything I know to be true lead me to believe that this increase at best won’t change a thing,” he said, “and at worst could exacerbate the situation even further.”

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.


Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

December 19th, 2006, 09:16 AM
On the road to the Middle Ages

December 19, 2006

Iraq Insurgents Starve Capital of Electricity


BAGHDAD, Dec. 18 — Over the past six months, Baghdad has been all but isolated electrically, Iraqi officials say, as insurgents have effectively won their battle to bring down critical high-voltage lines and cut off the capital from the major power plants to the north, south and west.

The battle has been waged in the remotest parts of the open desert, where the great towers that support thousands of miles of exposed lines are frequently felled with explosive charges in increasingly determined and sophisticated attacks, generally at night. Crews that arrive to repair the damage are often attacked and sometimes killed, ensuring that the government falls further and further behind as it attempts to repair the lines.

And in a measure of the deep disunity and dysfunction of this nation, when the repair crews and security forces are slow to respond, skilled looters often arrive with heavy trucks that pull down more of the towers to steal as much of the valuable aluminum conducting material in the lines as possible. The aluminum is melted into ingots and sold.

What amounts to an electrical siege of Baghdad is reflected in constant power failures and disastrously poor service in the capital, with severe consequences for security, governance, health care and the mood of an already weary and angry populace.

“Now Baghdad is almost isolated,” Karim Wahid, the Iraqi electricity minister, said in an interview last week. “We almost don’t have any power coming from outside.”

That leaves Baghdad increasingly dependent on a few aging power plants within or near the city’s borders.

Mr. Wahid views the situation as dire, while Western officials in Baghdad are generally more optimistic.

Mr. Wahid said that last week, seven of the nine lines supplying power directly to Baghdad were down, and that just a trickle of electricity was flowing through the two others. Western officials agreed that most of the lines were down, but gave somewhat higher estimates on the electricity that was still flowing.

“There’s quite a few that are down, and that does limit our ability to import power into Baghdad,” said a senior Western official with knowledge of the Iraqi grid. “The goal and the objective is to get them up as quickly as we can.”

Mr. Wahid said he has appealed both to American and Iraqi security forces for help in protecting the lines, but has had little response; Electricity Ministry officials said they could think of no case in which saboteurs had been caught. Payments made to local tribes in exchange for security have been ineffective, electricity officials said.

Neither the Defense Ministry nor the American military responded to requests for comment on the security of the lines.

In response to the crisis, Mr. Wahid has formulated a national emergency master plan that in its first stage involves bringing some 100 diesel-powered generators directly into Baghdad neighborhoods by next summer. That would be followed by the construction of a spate of new power plants in Baghdad and major work on existing ones.

All together, Mr. Wahid estimates, the program would cost $27 billion over 10 years, although some electricity experts knowledgeable about the plan say that even under optimistic assumptions, those enormous expenditures would not bring electrical supplies in line with demand before 2009.

“I don’t know how the people in Iraq are going to accept that reality,” said Ghazwan al-Mukhtar, an Iraqi electrical engineer who recently left the country because of the security situation, “that after five years, six years, they are still suffering from a lack of electricity.”

The reason that the attacks on the high-voltage electrical lines, known as 400-kilovolt lines, have been especially devastating is that they serve as the arterial roads of the national grid, the gargantuan electrical circuit that was designed to carry power from the energy-rich north and south to the great population center in Baghdad.

Throughout the country, there are perhaps 15 particularly critical 400-kilovolt lines, carried by their unmistakable 150-foot towers. The entire network runs for 2,500 miles, often passing through uninhabited desert, said Fouad Monsour Abbo, the assistant director for transmission in the Electricity Ministry.

Statistics maintained by the ministry over this year chronicle the dissolution of sections of the grid and the gradual isolation of Baghdad.

In March, at most one or two of the lines were severed at any one time, but by the summer the typical number had risen to six or seven and had soared to a peak of 12 by early fall. Electricity officials say the decisive moment came July 6, when saboteurs mounted coordinated attacks across the country, gaining a lead in the battle that the government has not been able to reverse.

“They targeted all the lines at the same time, and they all came down,” Mr. Abbo said.

Mr. Abbo said a typical strategy was to set off explosives at the four support points of a single tower, which would then pull down two or three more towers as it toppled. As repair crews moved in hours or days later, another tower farther up the line might be struck, and then another, in a race the government had little chance of winning.

On Sunday, Mr. Abbo recited the most recent measures of the devastation. That day, 40 towers were down on a line running to Baghdad from one of the nation’s largest power plants in Baiji, in the insurgent-ridden north, and 42 more towers were down on a line connecting Baiji to a huge power plant in Kirkuk.

Towers were also down on two lines that pass through the “triangle of death” to connect Baghdad with a power plant to the south in Musayyib, and on four other lines in the Baghdad area or its environs. And the city was entirely cut off from the huge hydroelectric dam at Haditha, to the west in Anbar Province, the homeland of the Sunni insurgency.

Even the destruction of one tower generally shuts down a line.

“All the transfer lines are in hot spots and are targeted by terrorist attacks,” said Saadi Mehdi Ali, who as the Electricity Ministry’s inspector general follows the issue closely.

The attacks have an immediate impact on the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Last week even the official United States State Department figures, which many Iraqis contend lean toward the optimistic side, said there was an average of 6.6 hours of electricity per day in Baghdad and 8.9 hours nationwide.

Before the war, Baghdad had 16 to 24 hours of power and the rest of Iraq 4 to 8 hours, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent United States federal office. While the redistribution has always been cast by American officials as a deliberate reversal of Saddam Hussein-era inequities, the statistics revealing the isolation of Baghdad show that the government no longer has much choice about the amount of power to direct to the city.

Also included in Mr. Wahid’s master plan is a centralized, automated control system to move that electricity around what is now an antiquated grid run by engineers who manually throw switches at power stations and substations scattered around the country. The control system would also help stabilize a grid that is increasingly unstable and prone to large-scale blackouts — and make deliberate manipulation of the electricity supply harder.

Iraqi and American officials say another reason that the amount of electricity in Baghdad is down is that power-rich areas like southern Iraq are finding ways to work their switches to keep more of the electricity they generate for themselves.

“That’s a fact of life,” said a senior Western official who would not be quoted by name. But with the plans for a control system, the official said, “it is becoming less and less of an issue.”

The combination of factors draining the city of electricity is reflected in a separate set of figures that gauge the electricity on the so-called “Baghdad ring” of power lines. Those figures reached a peak of 1300 megawatts in early June and had dropped to 800 megawatts by November. It rebounded slightly to 890 megawatts this month. In contrast, current demand within the Baghdad ring is estimated at 2000 megawatts and growing.

As Baghdad relies increasingly on aging local plants to satisfy the bulk of its demand, Iraqi officials say that poor decisions in the American-financed reconstruction program have made those plants much less effective than they could be.

For example, the Qudis plant, just north of Baghdad, was outfitted with turbine generators modeled on 747 airplane engines that work efficiently only when using fuel of higher quality than the Iraqis can provide with any regularity, a fact that has led to damaging breakdowns.

But there have also been important successes, including the installation of two enormous new turbines by the American contractor Bechtel at the Baghdad South power plant on the banks of the Tigris River. Without the approximately 200 megawatts generated by the turbines, which were transported under heavy security across the perilous Anbar desert to Baghdad in 2004, basic services in the city could be verging on desperate by now.

“It is a battle,” said Mr. Abbo of the Electricity Ministry. “But we still have hope.”


Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

December 19th, 2006, 10:13 AM
calamity / catastrophe / pandora's box :(

December 19th, 2006, 03:21 PM
Sick thing?

This would make for a very good video game.

You have limited resources, and a large country has occupied an area close to home. Your mission, to get them out of there any way possible and claim as much land/resources in the process.

These guys are playing it just like a huge game, the only difference being, it is not "points" they are playing for/with.

December 19th, 2006, 05:40 PM
Iraq Insurgents Starve Capital of Electricity
Meanwhile ...

Iraqi Ex-Minister Escapes Jail in Green Zone

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/19/world/middleeast/19iraq.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
December 19, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 18 — Iraq’s former electricity minister, the most senior official arrested on corruption charges here, made a brazen escape Sunday afternoon from an Iraqi jail in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

There were conflicting reports about how the former official, Aiham Alsammarae, who is a citizen of both the United States and Iraq, was able not only to break out of jail but also to elude capture in the four-square-mile area that includes the American Embassy, Iraq’s Parliament and the homes of politicians and members of the American military command.

In fact, the Americans were not even told about the jailbreak until the next day, said a senior Western official familiar with the investigation.

As of late Monday, neither the Iraqis nor the Americans had any idea of where Mr. Alsammarae had gone.

Iraqi officials initially blamed the Americans and later claimed that a private security detail used by Mr. Alsammarae when he was a minister was responsible, saying that a fleet of S.U.V.’s filled with “Westerners” pulled up to the jail and spirited him away, perhaps with the complicity of some of his jailers.

“The majority of police were on duty patrolling” away from the jail, said the chief of Iraq’s Public Integrity Commission, Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi . A private security detail, he said, “used this opportunity to storm the station and take him away.”

American officials familiar with the investigation disputed that account, but spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the facts were not completely known and they did not want to contradict the Iraqis publicly.

“I don’t want this to get pinned on the Americans because this is clearly an Iraqi problem,” said the senior Western official. The prison is run by Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which has been plagued with problems, ranging from infiltration by militias to corruption.

“Outside the Green Zone, they complain that security is the reason they cannot do their jobs,” the Western official said, referring to the Iraqi police. “In the Green Zone they just have to do their jobs.”

While the Green Zone is the most protected part of this country — a maze of massive concrete blast walls and military checkpoints with thousands of armed guards working for private security firms and American soldiers — Mr. Alsammarae was hardly kept under tight security.

He was not even locked up in a cell. Instead, he was quartered in a spare officer’s room near the lobby of the prison. He had at least two cellphones and a computer with access to e-mail. He behaved more as a friend to his jailers than a prisoner.

During a recent visit by a reporter and a photographer from The New York Times, Mr. Alsammarae was allowed to walk out in front of the jail and guide a tour of sorts around the facility. He went to where the cells are located and chatted with a deputy finance minister who was also in jail.

Western officials familiar with the investigation into his escape said that there may have been confusion about the involvement of American or other foreign private security forces because, hours before Mr. Alsammarae disappeared, a fleet of S.U.V.’s did stop by the prison.

However, the official said, they were there to pick up two Iraqi policemen for a joint search of a suspected weapons cache elsewhere in the Green Zone. The official said Mr. Alsammarae was seen at least an hour after those vehicles left.

Mr. Alsammarae arrived in Iraq just after the American invasion in 2003 and was appointed electricity minister that summer by L. Paul Bremer III, the leader of the American occupation authority. He stayed on until May 2005.

Mr. Alsammarae was convicted on one of several charges of corruption related to public expenditures by the ministry during his tenure. Though that conviction was overturned, other charges were pending.

In other developments on Monday, Saddam Hussein returned to court as prosecutors presented evidence that they said links him to the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 1980s. Mr. Hussein, who was an ally of the United States at the time, is accused of leading a campaign that left 180,000 Kurds dead.

In violence on Monday, a car bomb killed five people and wounded at least 19 near a vegetable market in Sadiya, a Sunni area in the south of Baghdad. At least 44 bodies were found around Baghdad, many showing signs of being bound and tortured.

The United States military said three American soldiers had been killed. That raised the American death toll in December to 60, The Associated Press reported.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

December 19th, 2006, 07:24 PM
These guys are playing it just like a huge game,
Can I be the Kurds?

December 19th, 2006, 10:55 PM
Can I be the Kurds?
Ofcourse but you will need American support, without it you don't stand a chance...( Iran, Turkey, Syria)

December 20th, 2006, 11:33 PM
Iraqi Ex-Minister Escapes Jail in Green Zone

Escaped Minister Says
He Fled Iraqi Jail ‘the Chicago Way’

Christoph Bangert for The New York Times
Aiham Alsammarae in a photo taken in his room
in a Baghdad jail before he escaped Sunday.

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/20/world/middleeast/20minister.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
December 20, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 19 — In a lengthy phone conversation on Tuesday, the former Iraqi electricity minister who escaped from a Baghdad jail on Sunday ridiculed American and Iraqi officials and said he fled because he did not trust the police and had received a tip that he would be assassinated within days.

The official, Aiham Alsammarae, who telephoned this reporter, said, without offering proof, that he was already outside Iraq after finagling his way aboard a flight at the Baghdad International Airport.

Incredulous Iraqi security and justice officials disputed parts of his account, saying that a figure as recognizable as Mr. Alsammarae could not possibly have slipped onto a flight when he was the subject of a manhunt.

Mr. Alsammarae, who holds dual American and Iraqi citizenship, scoffed at those assertions and said they were made by officials who spent too much time inside the protected Green Zone in central Baghdad and did not understand how the country really worked.

“Those suckers who are sitting in the Green Zone, they cannot go out and see the people they are governing?” asked Mr. Alsammarae, whose unmistakable speech patterns in English reflect his Iraqi and American backgrounds. “This is a joke."

“So why I cannot take the airport? It’s not because I am a smart cookie. Any Iraqi can do it, even if they have 10,000 court orders against him. This is Iraq.”

One fact Iraqi officials could not dispute: Mr. Alsammarae, who had been jailed four months ago on corruption charges stemming from deals made when he was the electricity minister from August 2003 to May 2005, was still free.

If correct, Mr. Alsammarae’s tale of escape would mean that he not only worked his way free of the Iraqi police guarding the jail but also eluded the thousands of Western and Iraqi security forces stationed in the dense maze of checkpoints and blast walls in the Green Zone, which is the fortified heart of the American occupation and the Iraqi government.

When asked how he could have pulled off such an escape, Mr. Alsammarae, who moved to Chicago in 1976 but returned to Iraq just after the invasion, laughed uproariously for 20 seconds. Then, recycling a famous line from an exchange about Al Capone in “The Untouchables,” Mr. Alsammarae said with undisguised glee: “The Chicago way.”

Mr. Alsammarae was the most senior Iraqi official of the post-Saddam Hussein era to be arrested and jailed. His career over the past three years has had a meteoric trajectory, from his meeting with President Bush at the White House in September 2003 to his arrest in August.

Although an appeals court overturned his only conviction last week, he faced additional charges and it was unclear whether he could be freed on bail under Iraqi law.

His escape is a serious embarrassment for the Interior Ministry and the American-led forces that are guarding the Green Zone and struggling to shape the Iraqi police into an effective security force. Iraqi officials expressed consternation when informed that Mr. Alsammarae had telephoned a reporter while on the lam.

“I have no information,” said Brigadier Abdul Karim Khalif, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. “He escaped from us.”

Mr. Khalif did say that the police chief and his assistant at the station where Mr. Alsammarae had been held were under arrest and that they were being questioned on the escape.

“We are not just embarrassed by that, but we are very angry with our employees and this thing should not happen again,” Mr. Khalif said.

Mr. Khalif said that a jailbreak was a crime under Iraqi law and that Mr. Alsammarae would be pursued on those grounds as well.

“Now, he is a fugitive from justice,” said Rathi al-Rathi, head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, whose investigation led to Mr. Alsammarae’s prosecution. “He will be on the run, and he will be pursued by Interpol for the rest of his life.”

But Mr. Rathi said he did not believe Mr. Alsammarae had left Iraq yet because the borders had been sealed. When informed of that assertion in an e-mail message, Mr. Alsammarae could scarcely contain his disdain of Mr. Rathi, whose investigations Mr. Alsammarae believes are politically motivated.

“Ask him if he wants me to stop and pick him up tomorrow and show him the way out!!!” Mr. Alsammarae wrote in response.

In a measure of just how murky the matter has become, Mr. Rathi himself has recently been accused of corruption in the finances of his own office. He has in turn dismissed those charges as political.

Mr. Alsammarae shed little direct light on the two leading theories of how he escaped: either with the help of a mysterious Western private security firm that appeared at the station on Sunday, or with the complicity of the Iraqi police.
“I don’t like to harm these people who helped me,” he said.

Despite the charges against him, Mr. Alsammarae said he did not believe that the American authorities would arrest him in Chicago. “I hope they are smarter than that,” he said.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

January 17th, 2007, 08:47 AM
January 17, 2007

Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud/Reuters

Vehicles lay destroyed at a gate of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad Tuesday, after two vehicle bombs and a suicide bomber rocked the area.

Iraqi Death Toll Exceeded 34,000 in 2006, U.N. Says

BAGHDAD, Jan. 16 — The United Nations reported Tuesday that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed in violence last year, a figure that represents the first comprehensive annual count of civilian deaths and a vivid measure of the failure of the Iraqi government and American military to provide security.

The report was the first attempt at hand-counting individual deaths for an entire year. It was compiled using reports from morgues, hospitals and municipal authorities across Iraq, and was nearly three times higher than an estimate for 2006 compiled from Iraqi ministry tallies by The Associated Press earlier this month.

Numbers of civilian deaths have become the central indicator for the trajectory of the war, and are extremely delicate for both Iraqi and American officials. Both follow the tallies, but neither will release them.

An Iraqi government spokesman called the count exaggerated, and said that it had been obtained using “incorrect sources.” Though the government closely tracks deaths through the Interior and Health Ministries, he said it did not have a system in place for compiling a comprehensive figure.

Despite the criticism from the Iraqi government, the United Nations said it used only official sources, most of which relied on counts of death certificates. A vast majority of Iraqi deaths are registered, at least to local authorities, so that Iraqis can prove inheritance and receive government compensation. Some deaths still go unreported, however, and the United Nations tally may in fact be lower than the true number of deaths nationwide.

As death tolls have risen, the lack of security has become the single most important barrier to success of the American enterprise here. The numbers of dead, at least at the Baghdad morgue, are running at double their number in 2005.

Underscoring the challenge, even as the United Nations released its figure — 34,452 deaths, a number that does not yet include the December totals from all provinces — at least 70 more Iraqis were killed on Tuesday when a series of bomb blasts struck a largely Shiite university in northeast Baghdad.

After almost four years of war, in which Americans have focused largely on fighting an elusive enemy — Sunni militants and, more recently, Shiite death squads — military commanders say keeping Iraqis alive has now moved to the center of the new strategy proposed by President Bush.

For many Iraqis, the pledge comes too late. The numbers reported by the United Nations were more than tenfold the number of American deaths for the entire war. As previous attempts to secure Baghdad have failed, tens of thousands of middle-class Iraqis have given up and fled the country. Those who remain are becoming increasingly radicalized as the violence draws them into a cycle of revenge.

The United Nations report said an average of 94 Iraqis died every day in 2006, with about half the deaths occurring in the capital. A majority died from gunshot wounds, in execution-style killings that are a common method for death squads, both Sunni and Shiite. The report registered the most lethal month as October, with deaths declining slightly in November and December.

Violence between Sunnis and Shiites, virtually unheard of in the early years of the war, has become the main driver of the tallies.

Military commanders have acknowledged that they underestimated the seriousness of the sectarian killings, which took off after the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra last year drew Shiites into the war. Before that, Sunni militants did most of the killing. Now, the capital is mired in violence, as the two groups fight bitterly over territory.

In the shootings, bodies surface days later in sewers and garbage dumps. The report said that most unidentified bodies were found in six neighborhoods of Baghdad, three Sunni — Dora, Rashidiya and Adhamiya — and three Shiite — Sadr City, New Baghdad and the hardscrabble slum of Shuala.

“It’s important to identify the root cause of the violence,” said Gianni Magazzeni, chief of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq’s Human Rights Office, which compiled the report. “Lack of accountability for crimes generates the urge for justice through armed groups.”

One result, described by the report, is a society in collapse. At least 470,094 Iraqis have fled their homes since February. The number of displaced Iraqis was the highest in the embattled Sunni province of Anbar, where 10,105 families fled, followed by Karbala in the south, Baghdad, and Dohuk in the north.

Iraqi government forces also suffered painful losses. The report cited an Interior Ministry figure of 12,000 Iraqi security forces killed, both the Army and the police, since 2003.

The general breakdown in order has led to a wave of crime, and many of the killings were part of that.

“This law and order vacuum has an encouraging effect on criminal groups of various affiliations, many of whom use the Internet, mobile phone messaging systems, videos and pamphlets to promote their criminal activities,” the report said.

The Iraqis most tormented by the violence are those least able to protect themselves against it: the poor. Um Qasim, a Baghdad cleaning lady, has lost three brothers, a sister-in-law, a nephew, a stepson and a son, all in the past three years. Two of her other sons are in jail in the northern city of Mosul for playing minor roles in a kidnapping arranged by her brother.

Her life improved in a brief but joyous spurt immediately after the invasion. During the looting that followed, her family stole pieces of metal and bricks to build a solid roof and second story on their modest house.

But her life quickly unraveled as two of her sons, looking for money, got involved in a kidnapping and got caught. Another son, just 16 years old, was killed by Sunni extremists not far from their house near Haifa Street, a poor, mostly Sunni area that has been the scene of intense fighting in recent weeks.

Ms. Qasim works several jobs cleaning affluent homes; she takes minivans around the city to get to work. Under Saddam Hussein, her main worry was how to feed her family. Now it is how to keep them alive.

“I never thought that one day I would have to think about how to keep them alive,” she said. “Now, when I go out of my house in the morning, I pray to God that when I return, I will see all of them there alive.”

The violence has expanded to the point of leaving hospitals and morgues overflowing with bodies. The report described the discovery of several recent mass graves. In the southern city of Najaf, one grave was shallow, with bodies partly visible, and local people asked authorities to dig it up to protect children in the area. In Baquba, north of Baghdad, 28 bodies were found of members of the Shimari tribe, who had been kidnapped and killed.

In Baghdad, where dozens of broken bodies turn up daily, the most feared site is on the edge of Sadr City, the largest Shiite enclave in northeastern Baghdad. Bodies are dumped in pre-prepared holes in the area, called al-Sadda, the report said.

“The area is considered very dangerous and controlled by the militias,” it said. “No one, including Iraqi security forces, can visit the area without authorization of the militias.”

The report also provided details on the outcomes of a number of mass kidnappings that tormented Iraqis throughout the fall. The attacks seem to be a signature of Shiite militias.

Around 70 Iraqis, almost all Sunnis, are still missing after being kidnapped in November from the Ministry of Higher Education in downtown Baghdad. The attack took place on a day when teachers from the Sunni areas of Anbar, Salahuddin and Mosul were visiting.

The kidnappings have completely redrawn the composition of neighborhoods. Sinek, a wholesale market in the heart of Baghdad, once thoroughly mixed, is slowly emptying of Sunnis. Men in uniforms seized around 50 merchants on Dec. 2. About 29 were later released. All were Shiite.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

January 17th, 2007, 08:59 AM
The kidnappings have completely redrawn the composition of neighborhoods. Sinek, a wholesale market in the heart of Baghdad, once thoroughly mixed, is slowly emptying of Sunnis. Men in uniforms seized around 50 merchants on Dec. 2. About 29 were later released. All were Shiite.
How can they tell each other apart? Do they carry ID that tells their denomination? Do they ask the neighbors?

Do they test you on dogma?


January 29th, 2007, 12:34 AM
January 28, 2007

It Has Unraveled So Quickly



A PAINFUL measure of just how much Iraq has changed in the four years since I started coming here is contained in my cellphone. Many numbers in the address book are for Iraqis who have either fled the country or been killed. One of the first Sunni politicians: gunned down. A Shiite baker: missing. A Sunni family: moved to Syria.

I first came to Iraq in April 2003, at the end of the looting several weeks after the American invasion. In all, I have spent 22 months here, time enough for the place, its people and their ever-evolving tragedy to fix itself firmly in my heart.

Now, as I am leaving Iraq, a new American plan is unfolding in the capital. It feels as if we have come back to the beginning. Boots are on the ground again. Boxy Humvees move in the streets. Baghdad fell in 2003 and we are still trying to pick it back up. But Iraq is a different country now.

The moderates are mostly gone. My phone includes at least a dozen entries for middle-class families who have given up and moved away. They were supposed to build democracy here. Instead they work odd jobs in Syria and Jordan. Even the moderate political leaders have left. I have three numbers for Adnan Pachachi, the distinguished Iraqi statesman; none have Iraqi country codes.

Neighborhoods I used to visit a year ago with my armed guards and my black abaya are off limits. Most were Sunni and had been merely dangerous. Now they are dead. A neighborhood that used to be Baghdad’s Upper East Side has the dilapidated, broken feel of a city just hit by a hurricane.

The Iraqi government and the political process, which seemed to have great promise a year ago, have soured. Deeply damaged from years of abuse under Saddam Hussein, the Shiites who run the government have themselves turned into abusers.

Never having covered a civil war before, I learned about it together with my Iraqi friends. It is a bit like watching a slow-motion train wreck. Broken bodies fly past. Faces freeze in one’s memory in the moments before impact. Passengers grab handles and doorframes that simply tear off or uselessly collapse.

I learned how much violence changes people, and how trust is chipped away, leaving society a thin layer of moth-eaten fabric that tears easily. It has unraveled so quickly. A year ago, my interviews were peppered with phrases like “Iraqis are all brothers.” The subjects would get angry when you asked their sect. Now some of them introduce themselves that way.

I met Raad Jassim, a 38-year-old Shiite refugee, in a largely empty house, recently owned by Sunnis, where he now lives in western Baghdad. He moved there in the fall, after Sunni militants killed his brother and his nephew and confiscated his large chicken farm north of Baghdad. He had lived with Sunnis his whole life, but after what happened, a hatred spread through him like a disease.

“The word Sunni, it hurts me,” he said, sitting on the floor in a bare room, his 7-year-old boy on his lap. “All that I have lost came from this word. I try to avoid mixing with them.”

“A volcano of revenge” has built up inside him, he said. “I want to rip them up with my teeth.”

In another measure of just how much things have changed, Mr. Jassim’s Shiite neighborhood is relatively safe. The area is now largely free of Sunnis, after Shiite militias swept it last year, and it runs smoothly on a complex network of relationships among the local militias, the police and a powerful local council. His street is dotted with fruit stands. Boys in uniforms roughhouse. Men sit in teahouses sipping from tiny glass cups.

Just to the south, the Sunni neighborhood of Dawoodi is ghostly at almost any time of day. Wide boulevards trimmed with palm trees used to connect luxury homes. Now giant piles of trash go uncollected in the median.

A serious problem is dead bodies. They began to appear several times a week last summer on the railroad tracks that run through the neighborhood. But when residents call the police to pick up the bodies, they do not come. The police are Shiite and afraid of the area.

“Entering a Sunni area for them is a risk,” said Yasir, a 40-year-old Sunni whose house is close to the dumping ground.

A few weeks ago, a woman’s body appeared. It was raining. Yasir said he covered her with blankets and called the police. A day later the police arrived. They peeked under the waterlogged blanket and drove away. It was another day before they collected the body. They took it at night, turning off their headlights and inching toward the area like thieves.

For those eager to write off Iraq as lost, one fact bears remembering. A great many Shiites and Kurds, who together make up 80 percent of the population, will tell you that in spite of all the mistakes the Americans have made here, the single act of removing Saddam Hussein was worth it. And the new American plan, despite all the obstacles, may have a chance to work. With an Iraqi colleague, I have been studying a neighborhood in northern Baghdad that has become a dumping ground for bodies. There, after American troops conducted sweeps, the number of corpses dropped by a third in September. The new plan is built around that kind of tactic. But the odds are stacked against the corps of bright young officers charged with making the plan work, particularly because their Iraqi partner — the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — seems to be on an entirely different page. When American officials were debating whether to send more troops in December, I went to see an Iraqi government official. The prospect of more troops infuriated him. More Americans would simply prolong the war, he said.

“If you don’t allow the minority to lose, you will carry on forever,” he said.

The remarks struck me as a powerful insight into the Shiites’ thinking. Abused under Mr. Hussein, they still act like an oppressed class. That means Iraqis are looking into a future of war, at least in the near term. As one young Shiite in Sadr City said to me: “This just has to burn itself out.”

Hazim al-Aaraji, a disciple of the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, understands this. A cleric himself, he is looking for foot soldiers for the war. On a warm October afternoon, as he bustled around his mosque in western Baghdad, he said the ideal disciples would have “an empty mind,” and a weapon. Surprised by the word choice, an Iraqi friend I was with stopped him, to clarify his intent. Once again, he used the word “empty.”

The frank remark spoke of a new power balance, in which radicals rule and moderates have no voice. For many families I have become attached to here, the country is no longer recognizable.

I met Haifa and her husband, Hassan, both teachers, in a driveway in western Baghdad. They had just found the body of their 12-year-old son, who had been kidnapped and brutally killed, and were frantic with grief. They finally decided to leave Iraq, but its violence tormented them to the end. They paid a man to drive them to Jordan, but he was working with Sunni militants in western Iraq, and pointed out Hassan, a Shiite, to a Sunni gang that stopped the car. Over the next several hours, Haifa waved a tiny Koran at men in masks, pleading for her husband’s release, her two remaining children in tow.

Hassan, meanwhile, knelt in a small room, his hands behind his back. His captors shot a man next to him in the neck. Haifa, a Sunni, eventually prevailed on them to let him go. The family returned to Baghdad, then borrowed money to fly to Jordan.

Now they live there, in a tiny basement apartment without windows in a white stone housing project on the side of a hill. Like many Iraqis there, they live in hiding. Residency permits cost $100,000, far beyond their means. Hassan cannot work, nor even risk leaving the house during the day for fear the Jordanian police will deport him.

He tries not to talk to people, afraid someone will recognize his Iraqi accent. He doesn’t bargain in the vegetable market. He accepts mean remarks by Jordanian cabdrivers wordlessly.

Most of all, he wants to go home. “But death is waiting for us there,” he tells me. “We are homeless. Please help us.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

January 31st, 2007, 09:46 AM
U.S. may have botched training of Iraqis

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
January 31, 2007

WASHINGTON - Training the police is as important to stabilizing Iraq (http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?p=Iraq) as standing up an army there, but the United States has botched the job by assigning the wrong agencies to the task, two members of the Iraq Study Group say.

"The police training system has not gone well," former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the bipartisan commission, said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was joined in his statements by another member of the study group, Edwin Meese III, who was attorney general during the Reagan administration.

The U.S. erred by first assigning the task of shaping the judicial system in a largely lawless country to the State Department and private contractors who "did not have the expertise or the manpower to get the job done," Hamilton and Meese said in testimony obtained by The Associated Press.
In 2004, the mission was assigned to the Defense Department, which devoted more money to the task. But department officials also were insufficiently trained for the job, Hamilton and Meese said.

As a result, Iraq has little if any on-the-street law enforcement personnel or a functioning judicial system free of corruption, they said.

Justice Department officials, they said, should lead the work of transforming the system. Police executives and supervisors should replace the military police personnel now assigned.

And the FBI (http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?p=FBI) should expand its investigative and forensic training in Iraq, Hamilton and Meese told the panel.

The recommendations about the Iraqi judicial system were included in the Iraq Study Group's report last year, but got little attention. Hamilton and Meese said Wednesday that unless the U.S. helps create a capable, trained professional police force and functioning criminal justice system, "ordinary Iraqis will not live in peace and will not have confidence in their new government."

"Long-term security depends as much on the Iraqi police and judicial system as the Iraqi Army," they testified.

The hearing comes as lawmakers increasingly line up against President Bush (http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?p=President+Bush)'s escalation of the unpopular war in Iraq, many citing the findings of the Iraq Study Group as they urge an end to U.S. involvement there.

The Iraq Study Group recommended the administration pull U.S. combat brigades out of Iraq by early 2008, launch new diplomatic initiatives with Iran (http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?p=Iran) and Syria (http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?p=Syria) and vastly increase the number of U.S. military advisers in the country.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/politics/news/ap/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq/21767041/*http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news?fr=news-storylinks&p=%22Nancy%20Pelosi%22&c=&n=20&yn=c&c=news&cs=nw), bio (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/capadv/bio/ap/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq/21767041/SIG=117oqqabu/*http://yahoo.capwiz.com/y/bio/?id=447), voting record (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/capadv/vote/ap/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq/21767041/SIG=11g9ra9e6/*http://yahoo.capwiz.com/y/bio/keyvotes/?id=447)), just returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan (http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?p=Afghanistan), told a Capitol Hill news conference on Tuesday that her delegation saw no sign that U.S. efforts in Iraq were moving ahead with urgency.

"We went with the hope and expectation that what we would see in Iraq was some coordinated effort to have political solutions, to relieve the civil strife and violence there, and diplomatic efforts to bring stability to the region," Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "We saw no evidence of either, sadly."

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/politics/news/ap/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq/21767041/*http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news?fr=news-storylinks&p=%22Harry%20Reid%22&c=&n=20&yn=c&c=news&cs=nw), bio (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/capadv/bio/ap/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq/21767041/SIG=11716otss/*http://yahoo.capwiz.com/y/bio/?id=370), voting record (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/capadv/vote/ap/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq/21767041/SIG=11geijvn3/*http://yahoo.capwiz.com/y/bio/keyvotes/?id=370)) informed Bush on Tuesday that they supported his idea for a bipartisan group to advise him on the war on terror. Bush pitched the idea as a way to strengthen his relationship with Congress and gather regular input from lawmakers.

Pelosi and Reid jointly called Bush to take up the offer, said Dana Perino, deputy White House press secretary. The first meeting will be next week, probably at the White House, although the date and attendees have not been set, Perino said.


February 19th, 2007, 09:05 AM
Yesterday, 60 Minutes did a report on Kurdistan.

The region is moving toward federalism, if not complete independence, which is not supported by the U.S. government.

Complete video:


April 2nd, 2007, 01:01 AM
Pop star "unifies" Iraq


Iraqi Shatha Hassun holds up her national flag after winning the
Arabian Star Academy talent show and competition, in Adma,
north of Beirut, March 30, 2007. Picture taken March 30.


http://www.waleg.com/photos/albums/starac4/students/shatha-bfr-in/normal_a-shatha6.jpg (http://javascript%3Cb%3E%3C/b%3E:;)

After bloody week in Iraq, singer delights with win

By Aws Qusay (Reuters) March 31, 2007

After enduring one of the bloodiest weeks in Iraq's sectarian conflict, Iraqis on Saturday were united in celebrating the win of an Iraqi woman in the hit pan-Arab television talent show Star Academy.

Shatha Hassoun, 26, fell on her knees on stage and wrapped the red, white and black Iraqi flag around her shoulders after learning she had garnered the biggest share of the public vote in the reality show, which is broadcast from Lebanon and is one of the most popular programs in the Middle East.

The announcement came shortly before midnight in Iraq. In Baghdad, a power cut meant many who had been following Hassoun's fortunes over the past four months were unable to see her beat her three remaining classmates, from Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt.

But in those areas with power generators, cheering erupted from many homes along with the sound of celebratory gunfire, which began slowly at first and then intensified as the news swiftly spread by phone and text message.

While Hassoun, the daughter of a Moroccan mother and an Iraqi father, lives in Morocco, many Iraqis saw in her an opportunity to forget their own troubles in the war-ravaged country and restore some national pride.

More than 500 people were killed this week in an explosion of violence between minority Sunnis and majority Shi'ites, that ignored calls for national reconciliation by Iraq's leaders and fueled fears the country was slipping closer to civil war.

"I voted for the government and they did nothing for us. She deserves the vote more than the government does," Um Farah, a store owner in Baghdad's dangerous, mainly Sunni Yarmouk district, told Reuters.

In an emotional interview with Iraq's al-Sharqiya television station shortly after her win, Hassoun said: "I thank Baghdad and I thank Iraq."

Members of both Sunni and Shi'ite sects claimed her as one of their own.
"Her win is evidence of the unity of Iraqis supporting each other," said Hassan Kadim, a cosmetics shop owner in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf, referring to the public vote by paid text message and telephone.

One enthusiastic fan told Sharqiya television: "I'm a doctor and my salary is $400. I spent $300 just to vote for her. How can I live now until the end of the month?"

Star Academy Middle East is the Arab version of the French show Star Academy produced by Dutch company Endemol.

(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami in Baghdad)

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


April 2nd, 2007, 06:13 AM
^ Her hair is showing.

April 29th, 2007, 08:58 AM
The New York Times
April 29, 2007
Rebuilt Iraq Projects Found Crumbling

By JAMES GLANZ (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/g/james_glanz/index.html?inline=nyt-per)

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo), inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

The inspections ranged geographically from northern to southern Iraq and covered projects as varied as a maternity hospital, barracks for an Iraqi special forces unit and a power station for Baghdad International Airport.

At the airport, crucially important for the functioning of the country, inspectors found that while $11.8 million had been spent on new electrical generators, $8.6 million worth were no longer functioning.

At the maternity hospital, a rehabilitation project in the northern city of Erbil, an expensive incinerator for medical waste was padlocked — Iraqis at the hospital could not find the key when inspectors asked to see the equipment — and partly as a result, medical waste including syringes, used bandages and empty drug vials were clogging the sewage system and probably contaminating the water system.

The newly built water purification system was not functioning either.

Officials at the oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said they had made an effort to sample different regions and various types of projects, but that they were constrained from taking a true random sample in part because many projects were in areas too unsafe to visit. So, they said, the initial set of eight projects — which cost a total of about $150 million — cannot be seen as a true statistical measure of the thousands of projects in the roughly $30 billion American rebuilding program.

But the officials said the initial findings raised serious new concerns about the effort.

The reconstruction effort was originally designed as nearly equal to the military push to stabilize Iraq, allow the government to function and business to flourish, and promote good will toward the United States.

“These first inspections indicate that the concerns that we and others have had about the Iraqis sustaining our investments in these projects are valid,” Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who leads the office of the special inspector general, said in an interview on Friday.

The conclusions will be summarized in the latest quarterly report by Mr. Bowen’s office on Monday. Individual reports on each of the projects were released on Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Bowen said that because he suspected that completed projects were not being maintained, he had ordered his inspectors to undertake a wider program of returning to examine projects that had been completed for at least six months, a phase known as sustainment.

Exactly who is to blame for the poor record on sustainment for the first sample of eight projects was not laid out in the report, but the American reconstruction program has been repeatedly criticized for not including in its rebuilding budget enough of the costs for spare parts, training, stronger construction and other elements that would enable projects continue to function once they have been built.

The new reports provide some support for that position: a sophisticated system for distributing oxygen throughout the Erbil hospital had been ignored by medical staff members, who told inspectors that they distrusted the new equipment and had gone back to using tried-and-true oxygen tanks — which were stored unsafely throughout the building.

The Iraqis themselves appear to share responsibility for the latest problems, which cropped up after the United States turned the projects over to the Iraqi government. Still, the new findings show that the enormous American investment in the reconstruction program is at risk, Mr. Bowen said.

Besides the airport, hospital and special forces barracks, places where inspectors found serious problems included two projects at a military base near Nasiriya and one at a military recruiting center in Hilla — both cities in the south — and a police station in Mosul, a northern city. A second police station in Mosul was found to be in good condition.

The dates when the projects were completed and deemed successful ranged from six months to almost a year and a half before the latest inspections. But those inspections found numerous instances of power generators that no longer operated; sewage systems that had clogged and overflowed, damaging sections of buildings; electrical systems that had been jury-rigged or stripped of components; floors that had buckled; concrete that had crumbled; and expensive equipment that was simply not in use.

Curiously, most of the problems seemed unrelated to sabotage stemming from Iraq’s parlous security situation, but instead were the product of poor initial construction, petty looting, a lack of any maintenance and simple neglect.

A case in point was the $5.2 million project undertaken by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build the special forces barracks in Baghdad. The project was completed in September 2005, but by the time inspectors visited last month, there were numerous problems caused by faulty plumbing throughout the buildings, and four large electrical generators, each costing $50,000, were no longer operating.

The problems with the generators were seemingly minor: missing batteries, a failure to maintain adequate oil levels in the engines, fuel lines that had been pilfered or broken. That kind of neglect is typical of rebuilding programs in developing countries when local nationals are not closely involved in planning efforts, said Rick Barton, co-director of the postconflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization in Washington.

“What ultimately makes any project sustainable is local ownership from the beginning in designing the project, establishing the priorities,” Mr. Barton said. “If you don’t have those elements it’s an extension of colonialism and generally it’s resented.”

Mr. Barton, who has closely monitored reconstruction efforts in Iraq and other countries, said the American rebuilding program had too often created that resentment by imposing projects on Iraqis or relying solely on the advice of a local tribal chief or some “self-appointed representative” of local Iraqis.

The new findings come after years of insistence by American officials in Baghdad that too much attention has been paid to the failures in Iraq and not enough to the successes.

Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps, told a news conference in Baghdad late last month that with so much coverage of violence in Iraq “what you don’t see are the successes in the reconstruction program, how reconstruction is making a difference in the lives of everyday Iraqi people.”

And those declared successes are heavily promoted by the United States government. A 2006 news release by the Army Corps, titled “Erbil Maternity and Pediatric Hospital — not just bricks and mortar!” praises both the new water purification system and the incinerator. The incinerator, the release said, would “keep medical waste from entering into the solid waste and water systems.”

But when Mr. Bowen’s office presented the Army Corps with the finding that neither system was working at the struggling hospital and recommended a training program so that Iraqis could properly operate the equipment, General Walsh tersely disagreed with the recommendation in a letter appended to the report, which also noted that the building had suffered damage because workers used excess amounts of water to clean the floors.

The bureau within the United States Embassy in Baghdad that oversees reconstruction in Iraq was even more dismissive, disagreeing with all four of the inspector general’s recommendations, including those suggesting that the United States should lend advice on disposing of the waste and maintaining the floors.

“Recommendations such as how much water to use in cleaning floors or disposal of medical waste could be deemed as an intrusion on, or attempt to micromanage operations of an Iraqi entity that we have no controlling interest over,” wrote William Lynch, acting director of the embassy bureau, called the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.

Copyright 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)


What I bolded ^^^ will eventually be paraphrased in Zippy's "Iraq - What Went Wrong? (http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4060)" topic.

(This thread is starting to look gruesome, but hey, war is hell.)

May 3rd, 2007, 05:48 AM
May 3, 2007

Congress Angry Over Iraqis' Summer Break

Lawmakers divided over whether to keep U.S. troops in Iraq are finding common ground on at least one topic: They are furious that Iraqi politicians are considering a lengthy break this summer.

"If they go off on vacation for two months while our troops fight _ that would be the outrage of outrages," said Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn.

The Iraq parliament's recess, starting this July, would likely come without Baghdad politicians reaching agreements considered key to easing sectarian tensions. Examples include regulating distribution of the country's oil wealth and reversing measures that have excluded many Sunnis from jobs and government positions because of Baath party membership.

Talk of the adjournment comes amid a heated debate in Congress on the pullout of U.S. troops in Iraq.

President Bush this week vetoed $124.2 billion legislation ordering troops to begin leaving Oct. 1. Failing on Wednesday to gain a two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, Democrats were expected to begin negotiations Thursday with top White House aides on the next step.

Numerous possible compromises are being floated on Capitol Hill, all involving some combination of benchmarks. The key impasse, however, is whether to require redeployments of U.S. troops if the benchmarks are not met.

Democrats contend that initiating troop withdrawals will pressure Iraqis into making the necessary political compromises. Republicans say the Iraqis could still refuse to work together and the consequence would be a blood bath.

The only area of agreement between the two sides is that the Iraqis are testing their patience.

"That is not acceptable," Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said of a two-month recess. "An action of that consequence would send a very bad signal to the world that they don't have the resolve that matches the resolve of the brave troops that are fighting in the battle today."

Added Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb: "I certainly hope they're not going to take any sort of recess when the question is whether they're going to make any progress."

Republicans and Democrats themselves remain gridlocked on how far to go to force Bush's hand on the war. When asked about progress made on bipartisan cooperation in Congress, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., declared to reporters Wednesday there had been "discussions about talking" but nothing more.

Congress leaves for four weeks each August and takes a week off, sometimes more, around prominent holidays. Lawmakers frequently adjourn for the August recess without reaching agreements on important legislation.

However, sectarian violence continues to rage in Iraq. In one particularly devastating attack, a bomb struck the Sadriyah market last month, killing more than 120 people and wounding more than 140 more.

More than 3,350 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. April was the deadliest month for the military this year.

The violence in Iraq and lack of structure in the new government are partly to blame for the slow political progress. For example, getting a quorum among Iraqi politicians can be difficult because a number of top Sunni legislators do not spend much time in Baghdad due to security reasons. Parliament leaders are also still struggling to impose party discipline among their rank-and-file members.

The Iraqis have been able to reach consensus in some areas, but not necessarily ones that would calm sectarian violence.

On Monday _ the same day Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., issued a statement urging the Iraqi politicians to reconsider their summer break _ the Iraqi parliament called for a ban on U.S. troops near a holy Shiite Muslim shrine.

Protests were led by the radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc after U.S. and Iraqi troops conducted a raid near the shrine.

Copyright © 2007 Yahoo! Singapore Pte. Ltd.


May 3rd, 2007, 11:27 AM
SHAME ON THEM for daring to take a vacation in the middle of a war!!!!

Who do they think they are? US congressmen? :rolleyes:

June 18th, 2007, 07:06 PM
Iraq now ranked second among world's failed states

By David Morgan
Monday, June 18, 2007; 10:10 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq has emerged as the world's second most unstable country, behind Sudan, more than four years after President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, according to a survey released on Monday.

The 2007 Failed States Index, produced by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, said Iraq suffered a third straight year of deterioration in 2006 with diminished results across a range of social, economic, political and military indicators. Iraq ranked fourth last year.

Afghanistan, another war-torn country where U.S. and NATO forces are battling a Taliban insurgency nearly six years after a U.S.-led invasion, was in eighth place.

"Iraq and Afghanistan, the two main fronts in the global war on terror, both suffered over the past year," a report that accompanied the figures said.

"Their experiences show that billions of dollars in development and security aid may be futile unless accompanied by a functioning government, trustworthy leaders, and realistic plans to keep the peace and develop the economy."

The index said Sudan, the world's worst failed state, appears to be dragging down its neighbors Central African Republic and Chad, with violence in the Darfur region responsible for at least 200,000 deaths and the displacement of 2 million to 3 million.

The authors of the index said one of the leading benchmarks for failed state status is the loss of physical control of territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

Other attributes include the erosion of legitimate authority, an inability to provide reasonable public services and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

Foreign Policy magazine is published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank. The Fund for Peace is an independent research group devoted to preventing and resolving conflicts.

© 2007 Reuters

June 20th, 2007, 12:39 PM
When is the US going to pull out of Iraq? Its inenvitable, there is no chance of it "winning" in any sense of the word, its simply a matter of how and when the withdrawal occurs. The British have reduced their force down from circa 40,000 to around 5,000.

When will Israel attack Gaza? A Hamas-controlled Islamist mini-state cannot surely be tolerated by Israel?

When will Hezbollah start trouble again in south Lebanon? Will Fatah maintain control on the West Bank?

Questions, questions, questions ........ !!!!!

June 20th, 2007, 10:10 PM
If you want to see something really disturbing, do a search for Iraqi atrocities under Saddam Hussein...and seek out the really graphic stuff that was presented at Hussein's trial. It will creep you out, that his regime was so ridden with evil thugs who thought nothing of cutting off hands, breaking arms with bats, throwing bound prisoners off 5-story buildings, etc. You simply cannot believe that people can be so vicious, so evil. It's heartbreaking. Imagine if you were one of the victims having to endure the terror of imminent death, or the loss of one your eyeballs to an electric drill.

June 21st, 2007, 05:34 AM
If you want to see something really disturbing, do a search for Iraqi atrocities under Saddam Hussein...and seek out the really graphic stuff that was presented at Hussein's trial. It will creep you out, that his regime was so ridden with evil thugs who thought nothing of cutting off hands, breaking arms with bats, throwing bound prisoners off 5-story buildings, etc. You simply cannot believe that people can be so vicious, so evil. It's heartbreaking. Imagine if you were one of the victims having to endure the terror of imminent death, or the loss of one your eyeballs to an electric drill.
Bob I hate to say this but its still happening in Iraq, only this time Saddam isn't around. Nothing changes unfortunately, the hatred & divisions run deep.

August 13th, 2007, 07:02 AM
He added: “The economy now is stalled, so he is doing just what F.D.R. did in the Great Depression.”
Somewhat different circumstances, and dare I say it, wishful thinking on the part of those proposing such a scheme in Iraq. This is not simply a country with an ailing economy but a country bitterly divided along religious, ethnic & cultural lines.You have death squads from the different ethnic/religious militia's, some who are members of the Police and Army, going around killing, maiming and creating general mayhem. The only small part of the country that is generally "safe", is the so-called Green Zone, and even there there has been bombings and killings. No-one knows who is on who's side, road-side bombs, car bombs, snipers are creating double-digit numbers of dead on a daily basis, yet somehow people are talking about making jackets for Wal-Mart, how surreal is that?

I guess the same people would have come up with the crazy idea of suggesting that the prisoners in the death camps of Nazi Germany would have been better off gainfully employed making clothes for Sears as it would at least take their minds off the inevitable gassing that was coming their way! Let's get real, forget the "surges" and all the rest of the hype, the coalition forces need to get out now, oil or no oil. Trouble is Halliburton, Cheney, et al won't allow it!

August 18th, 2007, 06:25 AM
Cap'n, how d'ya like this one? Instead of trying her for terrorism, put her in charge!
When the sins of our fathers visit us
We do not have to play host.

August 25th, 2007, 01:15 PM
I've always liked this quote. But at this point, is it apropos to Iraqi self-rule? The only hope that Iraq may have of "unifying" is if a powerful leader (Saddam's daughter?) is given control and resumes with Saddam's... sins.
Do you really think the majority Shia would allow that for one second? I don't. Even the Kurds would reject the idea, and as for Iran & Syria .......

September 1st, 2007, 10:03 AM
Progress In Iraq (Not!) [hilzoy]

Andrew Sullivan (http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/08/progress-in-ira.html#more)
31 Aug 2007

From the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/31/washington/31policy.html?ex=1346212800&en=141219721d615f1b&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss):
"An independent commission established by Congress to assess Iraq’s security forces will recommend remaking the 26,000-member national police force to purge it of corrupt officers and Shiite militants suspected of complicity in sectarian killings, administration and military officials said Thursday.

The commission, headed by Gen. James L. Jones, the former top United States commander in Europe, concludes that the rampant sectarianism that has existed since the formation of the police force requires that its current units “be scrapped” and reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization, according to one senior official familiar with the findings. The recommendation is that “we should start over,” the official said.

The report, which will be presented to Congress next week, is among a number of new Iraq assessments — including a national intelligence estimate and a Government Accountability Office report — that await lawmakers when they return from summer recess. But the Jones commission’s assessment is likely to receive particular attention as the work of a highly regarded team that was alone in focusing directly on the worthiness of Iraq’s army and police force."
Start over. On the entire national police force. This is hardly encouraging news, though it's not a surprise either, especially not after "the working draft (http://www.thenation.com/blogs/capitalgames?bid=3&pid=228339) of a secret document prepared by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad" obtained by the Nation, which says the following about the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), which is in charge of the police force:

MOI is a 'legal enterprise' which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the 'legal enterprise' to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc."Meanwhile, the National Security Network has compiled a list (http://www.nsnetwork.org/node/194) of problems with assessing the administration's claims that violence in Iraq has been reduced:

"For the past month, the Bush Administration and General Petraeus have asserted that a drop in violence is evidence that the "surge" is working. Unfortunately, the evidence is difficult to validate. Underreporting civilian deaths is, sadly, nothing new. A number of U.S. agencies differ with the Administration's assessment that sectarian violence is down and in fact there are inconsistencies within the Pentagon's own reporting. The Iraq Study Group concluded that in the past car-bombs that don't kill Americans, murders, and inter-ethnic violence were not tracked in order to demonstrate reduced violence. Recent analysis indicates that some of these trends continue. More importantly, the military has refused to show the public any evidence to support the claim that violence is down."The full list of issues with the numbers is worth reading in its entirety. One item is particularly striking:

"There were significant revisions to the way the Pentagon’s reports measure sectarian violence between its March 2007 report and its June 2007 report. The original data for the five months before the surge began (September 2006 through January 2007) indicated approximately 5,500 sectarian killings. In the revised data in the June 2007 report, those numbers had been adjusted to roughly 7,400 killings – a 25% increase. These discrepancies have the impact of making the sectarian violence appear significantly worse during the fall and winter of 2006 before the President’s “surge” began."Spencer Ackerman (http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/004043.php) reports this as well, with useful graphs. As he points out, this might be an artifact of a change in methodology. In any case, it would be nice if the Pentagon explained what accounts for a 25% increase in its own figures for the same month.

It would also be nice if the administration would share with us its basis for the claim that violence in Iraq is coming down. But from where I sit, it doesn't seem to be true. (See, for instance, Kevin Drum (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2007_08/011931.php).)

And it certainly won't go down if the Iraqis have to disband their police force.

[UPDATE: More on the Pentagon's numbers below the fold.]

UPDATE: IraqSlogger (http://www.iraqslogger.com/index.php/post/4157/Is_the_Pentagon_Guilty_of_Fuzzy_Math) has a useful story on changes in the Pentagon's figures. A graph from the story, courtesy of Ilan Goldberg of the National Security Network:

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/08/31/image002_9.png (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/08/31/image002_9.png)

And an explanation:
"Goldberg explains the abnormalities as best he can:

Abnormality A: Between August and November 2006, DOD started reclassifying “casualties” as “deaths by execution” and suddenly you see a dramatic drop in killings. For example, in March 2006 right after the Samarra Mosque bombings you go from 1,750 “casualties” to 750 “deaths by execution.” Between November 2006 and March 2007 “Deaths by Execution” becomes “Sectarian Murders” but the numbers remain the same.

Abnormality B: Between the March 2007 report and the June 2007 report there was a dramatic change in the number of killings that were reported for the second half of 2006. In both cases the numbers were described as “sectarian murders.” The impact here is that it makes the “pre surge” situation look extraordinarily dire and therefore signals progress thereafter.

Abnormality C: Somehow the reclassification that occurred between the March and June 2007 reports caused the violence numbers in April and May of 2006 to drop dramatically. This was in the months following the Sammara bombings in February 2006 when sectarian violence was escalating."

September 2nd, 2007, 07:56 AM
September 2, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

The Kurdish Secret


Erbil, Iraq

Iraq today is a land of contrasts — mostly black and blacker. Traveling around the central Baghdad area the past few days, I saw little that really gave me hope that the different Iraqi sects can forge a social contract to live together. The only sliver of optimism I find here is in the one region where Iraqis don’t live together: Kurdistan.

Imagine for a moment if one outcome of the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been the creation of an American University of Iraq. Imagine if we had triggered a flood of new investment into Iraq that had gone into new hotels, a big new convention center, office buildings, Internet cafes, two new international airports and Iraqi malls. Imagine if we had paved the way for an explosion of newspapers, even a local Human Rights Watch chapter, and new schools. Imagine if we had created an island of decency in Iraq, with public parks, where women could walk unveiled and not a single American soldier was ever killed — where Americans in fact were popular — and where Islam was practiced in its most tolerant and open manner. Imagine ...

Well, stop imagining. It’s all happening in Kurdistan, the northern Iraqi region, home to four million Kurds. I saw all of the above in Kurdistan’s two biggest towns, Erbil and Sulaimaniya. The Bush team just never told anybody.

No, Kurdistan is not a democracy. It has real Parliamentary elections, but the region’s executive branch is still more “Sopranos” than “West Wing,” more Singapore than Switzerland — dominated by two rival clans, the Talibanis and the Barzanis. It has a vibrant free press, as long as you don’t insult the leadership, and way too much crony-corruption. But it is democratizing, gradually nurturing the civil society and middle class needed for a real democracy.

On Oct. 17, the new American University of Iraq will open classes in Sulaimaniya. “The board wanted three campuses, one in Kurdistan, one in Baghdad and one in Basra, but this is the only part of the country where an American University can open and function safely,” said Owen Cargol, the school’s chancellor.

Iraq is a disaster in so many ways, but at least America’s invasion midwifed something really impressive in Kurdistan. And in the best way: we created the opening and the Kurds did the rest. But while the Kurds liberated their region from Saddam’s army in the 1990s — with U.S. air cover — their current renaissance was only possible, they say, thanks to the overthrow of Saddam, their mortal enemy.

“Saddam’s eyes were always on this region,” said Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government. Once he was toppled, “it gave us psychological hope for the future. Those who had even a limited amount of money started to invest, start small businesses or buy a car, because they thought they could see the future. The uncertainty was removed. ... We have to thank the American people and government. But we are a lover from only one side. We love America, but nothing in response. They don’t want to give the perception that they are helping us.”

Added Hoshyar Omar, a 23-year-old student-translator: “My father was buried alive [by Saddam’s men] when I was 3. I want to thank Mr. George Bush personally. ... He may have made some bad decisions, but freeing Iraq was the best decision he has ever made. ... We had nothing and we built this Kurdistan that you see.”

Why is Kurdistan America’s best-kept secret success? Because the Bush team is afraid the Kurds will break away. But the Kurds have no interest in splitting from Iraq now. Iraq’s borders protect them from Turkey, Iran and Syria.

The Kurdish autonomous zone should be our model for Iraq. Does George Bush or Condi Rice have a better idea? Do they have any idea? Right now, we’re surging aimlessly. Iraq’s only hope is radical federalism — with Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds each running their own affairs, and Baghdad serving as an A.T.M., dispensing cash for all three. Let’s get that on the table — now.

Months after Saddam’s capture, a story made the rounds that he was asked, “If you were set free, could you stabilize Iraq again?” He supposedly said it would take him only “one hour and 10 minutes — one hour to go home and shower and 10 minutes to reunify Iraq.” Maybe an iron-fisted dictator could do that. America can’t.

“No one here accepts to be ruled ever again by the other,” Kosrat Ali, Kurdistan’s vice president, told me. “If you get all the American forces to occupy all of the towns and the cities of Iraq, you might be able to centralize Iraq again. That is the only way.” Otherwise, “centralized rule is finished in Iraq.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

September 11th, 2007, 10:39 AM
From another Forum.

Your thoughts on the Generals Report?

Posted on 09-10-2007 at 04:47:38 PM http://img.tomshardware.com/forum/uk/themes_static/images_forum/18/offline.gif (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/profile-44497.htm)http://img.tomshardware.com/forum/uk/themes_static/images_forum/18/viewbbcode.gif (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/viewbbcode.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&cat=11&numreponse=490358)http://img.tomshardware.com/forum/uk/themes_static/images_forum/18/config.gif (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/configuration.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&pseudo=phukface)http://img.tomshardware.com/forum/uk/themes_static/images_forum/18/pv.gif (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/message.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&cat=prive&sond=&p=1&subcat=&dest=phukface)http://img.tomshardware.com/forum/uk/themes_static/images_forum/18/favorisb.gif (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/user/addflag.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&cat=11&post=20716&numreponse=490358&page=2&ref=44&p=1&sondage=0&owntopic=0&subcat=40)http://img.tomshardware.com/forum/uk/themes_static/images_forum/18/exclam.gif (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/user/modo.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&cat=11&post=20716&numreponse=490358&page=2&ref=44)

Ninjahedge wrote : (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/20716-11-bush-opinions#t489509)

<Other posters name>, if the military did not keep changing its definition of "casualties" maybe we could get a better idea of what was actually happening.

This "improvement" is a load of horse poo.

http://www.politico.com/pdf/PPM43_ [...] r_2007.pdf (http://www.politico.com/pdf/PPM43_general_petraeus_testimony_slides10_septembe r_2007.pdf)

pdfs of the Gen. Petraeus briefing, since the surge check out the decline in numbers.

June 25th, 2008, 03:19 PM
Don't Miss the Train

June 25, 2008
by William S. Lind (http://www.antiwar.com/lind/?articleid=13038)

Improbably, an opportunity has arisen in Iraq for the U.S. to attain two of its most important goals, namely obtaining some legitimacy for the Maliki "government" and getting American troops out. This could be the last international express leaving Baghdad Central Station, and we should be on it.

The opportunity arises from a breakdown in negotiations to draw up a status of forces agreement and a so-called "security framework," which is an (unequal) alliance in all but name. According to the June 11 Washington Post,

"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shi'ite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki."If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"
Washington should be dancing in the streets. There could at this point be no better way for American troops to exit Iraq than in response to a request from the Iraqi "government." Contrary to the neocons' promises, the Iraqis did not welcome American troops with flowers, but they might be willing to toss a few our way as we pulled out. We could withdraw from a failed enterprise with flags flying and drums rolling, maintaining a halfway credible pretense that we did not lose. We are not likely to do better than that.

At the same time, the Maliki "government" has a heaven-sent opportunity to acquire what it needs most, namely some legitimacy. So long as it is propped up by American troops, it will remain Vichy. But if it ordered the Americans out, it would suddenly begin to look like a real Iraqi government. That is far from enough to restore a state in Iraq, but it would be a step in the right direction.

There is little doubt that if a referendum were held in Iraq on sending the Americans home, it would win in a landslide. Iraqi politicians know where their public is on this issue, and like politicians everywhere they want to swim with the tide.

More, some seem to sense that the Americans' time in Iraq is ending if not over. As usual, the Desert Fox, Moqtada al-Sadr, is making all the right moves. He is positioning himself as leader of all Iraqi resistance to the American occupation, not just head of a Shi'ite faction. By welcoming Iraqi troops (many of whom are his militiamen) into areas he controls but fighting the Americans, he is splitting his opposition. Most importantly, he is maintaining his credentials as the Iraqi leader least willing to condone a continued occupation, thereby gaining that decisive quality, legitimacy.

If the Iraqi government orders American troops out, the result would be a win-win situation. America would win, and so would Iraq. In fact, it would be a win-win outcome, and there's the rub. The third winner would be Iran. A Shi'ite-dominated Iraq free of American occupation would have a close relationship with Iran. In fact, in order to defend itself in a nasty neighborhood, Iraq would probably conclude a formal alliance with Iran.

Washington's response should be a rapprochement with Iran. After all, our real enemy is not any state but the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation. But that is not how the Bush administration will view the matter.

On the contrary, faced with the possibility of an Iranian strategic victory, courtesy of the American troops who overthrew Saddam, the U.S. government is likely to take the fool's way out, escalation. Inside the White House bubble, the argument for attacking Iran might become irresistible, driven as it would be by panic. As I have warned repeatedly, the outcome of such folly could very well include the loss of the American Army now in Iraq, not to mention another doubling in the price of oil. As usual under the second-worst president in American history (Woodrow Wilson still ranks number one), we have seen the enemy, and he is us. All we have to do to get out of Iraq with some dignity while strengthening the government we installed there is push that government into ordering us home. That should be easy enough; what intransigence in the ongoing negotiations cannot achieve a few million Swiss francs should certainly manage. Instead, we will refuse to board the last train out, then blow up the railroad. If it were happening to someone else, it would all be comical.

January 30th, 2009, 10:48 AM
Monument to Bush shoe-throwing shines at Iraqi orphanage

A monument to a shoe thrown at former President Bush
is unveiled at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

AP stock video footage of the monument [0:42] (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xvahcU7JR4&eurl=http://news.google.com/news?client=safari&rls=en&q=shoe%20orphanage%20iraq&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&um=1&i&feature=player_embedded).

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) (http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/01/29/iraq.shoe.monument/index.html) -- For the war-beaten orphans of the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, this big old shoe fits.

A huge sculpture of the footwear hurled at President Bush in December during a trip to Iraq has been unveiled in a ceremony at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

Assisted by children at the home, sculptor Laith al-Amiri erected a brown replica of one of the shoes hurled at Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by journalist Muntadhir al-Zaidi during a press conference in Baghdad.

Al-Zaidi was jailed for his actions, and a trial is pending. But his angry gesture touched a defiant nerve throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He is regarded by many people as a hero. Demonstrators in December took to the streets in the Arab world and called for his release.

The shoe monument, made of fiberglass and coated with copper, consists of the shoe and a concrete base. The entire monument is 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) high. The shoe is 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long and 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide.

The orphans helped al-Amiri build the $5,000 structure -- unveiled Tuesday -- in 15 days, said Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, the orphanage director.

"Those orphans who helped the sculptor in building this monument were the victims of Bush's war," al-Naseri said. "The shoe monument is a gift to the next generation to remember the heroic action by the journalist."

"When the next generation sees the shoe monument, they will ask their parents about it," al-Naseri said.

"Then their parents will start talking about the hero Muntadhir al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at George W. Bush during his unannounced farewell visit."

Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader toppled by the United States in 2003, was from the Tikrit region.

Al-Zaidi marked his 30th birthday in jail earlier this month. One of his brothers said he is "in good health and is being treated well."

Al-Zaidi's employer, TV network al-Baghdadia, keeps a picture of him at the top left side of the screen with a calendar showing the number of days he has spent in detention. The network has been calling for his release.

By tradition, throwing a shoe is the most insulting act in the Arab world.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

January 30th, 2009, 11:34 AM
1. I don't like GWB
2. I think that the shoe throwing was a symbol of how frustrated many feel with this war.


A statue/monument?


Come on guys! Save the protest to public squares, lets leave the kids out of this.

What's next, puppies?

January 30th, 2009, 12:17 PM
As hilarious as it is to the Western world - I mean, we can't help it, a classic joke decades from now; it's not funny at all to Iraqis.

So, completely appropriate.

I wonder how they'll deal with it in the Bush library.

January 30th, 2009, 12:51 PM
I wasn't saying it was funny Zip.

I was saying they are breeding hate for no constructive purpose right in the faces of every child that is housed there.

That is absolute bile that will not bode well for our relations in the future.

I am not, in any way, validating what we did, but still. All I see with this is one more generation being trained to hate....

January 30th, 2009, 01:12 PM

Muntadhir al-Zaidi is the Iraqi John Hancock.

http://th06.deviantart.com/fs39/300W/f/2008/350/0/a/Size_Ten_Has_A_Posse_by_DivaLea.png (http://divalea.deviantart.com/art/Muntadar-al-Zeidi-Has-A-Posse-106391732)

January 30th, 2009, 01:44 PM
Iraq's Election: What to Watch For

posted by ROBERT DREYFUSS on 01/28/2009 @ 2:47pm (http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dreyfuss/402719)

The following is an election guide to Saturday's provincial elections in Iraq. Tomorrow and Friday I will report on interviews with two spokesmen for opposing sides of the vote.

On Saturday, January 31, Iraq will conduct its first elections since 2005, when Iraqis went to the polls to select both their national parliament and provincial councils. This time, the election will decide only the provincial councils in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Still, the election is likely to be a turning point for Iraq. Which way it turns -- toward greater democracy, or toward further instability and a return of violent resistance -- depends on what happens on Saturday.

It's not a pretty picture. The elections promise to be marred by violence, fraud, intimidation, vote-buying and bribery, bloc voting by tribes and ethnic constituencies, and undue influence by Shiite clerics.

If things don't go smoothly, and if the elections don't result in gains for parties that were shut out of the political process in 2005 -- especially among Iraq's disenfranchised Sunni bloc -- then it's very likely that violence will increase once again. It's even possible that many Sunnis will return to armed resistance, and some of them will rejoin Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Viewed most broadly, the election is a test of the ability of Iraq's ruling coalition to cling to power despite having presided over a catastrophic collapse of Iraq's economy, social services, and utilities, and despite widespread public perceptions that the ruling parties are guilty of vast corruption, mismanagement, and rule by paramilitary force through party militias. The four ruling parties are the two Shiite fundamentalist religious parties, the Islamic Dawa party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and the two Kurdish separatist parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). According to many sources I've interviewed, including Iraqis involved in the elections, large numbers of Iraqis view all four ruling parties with disdain. They are blamed for their inability to provide basic services such as electricity, health care, fuel, water, and trash collection, all of which are intermittent at best and nonexistent at worst. They are blamed for their mismanagement of the economy, and especially Iraq's oil, and for the unemployment rate that is estimated at 50 percent. Under ordinary circumstances, all four parties would suffer massive repudiation at the polls. But these are not ordinary circumstances.

The election is also seen as a referendum of sorts on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose Dawa party is a powerful player in Saturday's vote. Although Maliki's Dawa has split and split again -- it is down to a miniscule six seats in the 275-member parliament, after schisms -- it benefits from Maliki's heavyhanded use of political power as prime minister. Despite Dawa's history as a secretive, cell-based and cult-like religious movement with obscurantist Shiite views, Maliki is drawing electoral support from Iraqis who view him as a strongman, sort of a Saddam-lite ruler, and he has recast himself as a nationalist. He's built a fiefdom in the Iraqi army, shifting and reappointing generals who support him, in a naked effort to turn the army into Dawa's private militia. He's used a pair of security organizations that report directly to the prime minister's office to carry out arrests and intimidation of rival politicians and parties, especially against Muqtada al-Sadr's allies. He's constructed paramilitary "tribal councils" in provinces all over Iraq, lavishing tens of millions of dollars in government funding on these organizations, which are in fact nothing more than outright arms of Maliki's office. And he's using the Iraqi government's state-owned media openly on his behalf.

Here's what to watch for on Saturday:

First, can the religious parties hold on? According to many accounts, liberal, nationalist, and secular Iraqis believe that the population at large is disenchanted with Dawa, ISCI and the Sadrists. Will that result in gains for parties of a distinctly secular approach, especially the party led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who has broad appeal to many nationalists and Sunnis? Or will the built-in advantages of Dawa and ISCI, who control the media and the government, allow them to continue as dominant forces?

Second, will the Sunnis gain power in the provinces where they are either dominant or strong? In 2005, the Sunnis boycotted the vote, and only about 2 percent of Sunni Arabs voted at all. That led to a victory for the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), a fundamentalist religious party of Sunnis tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2009, many analysts expect that the IIP will be decimated. Since 2003, the IIP has cooperated with the United States and with the Kurdish-Shiite ruling alliance, so if the IIP is knocked out, expect a more militant, more nationalist force to take its place. Many of the former resistance groups, the Awakening movement, and Sunni tribal parties have formed parties for the Jan. 31 election.

Key battles will be in Mosul, capital of Nineveh province in the north; in Baghdad, the capital and a province of its own, with nearly one-fourth of Iraq's population; and Diyala province, a mixed area northeast of Baghdad.

In Nineveh province, because the Sunnis boycotted the last vote, the provincial council is controlled overwhelmingly by Kurds, who are a small minority in Nineveh, confined to eastern Mosul city. The Kurds are angling to suppress the Sunni vote, and they've even armed a Christian militia. By all accounts, though, the Sunnis ought to seize control of Nineveh. If they don't, an angry and violent resistance movement is likely to emerge in the north.

In Baghdad province, now controlled by ISCI and Dawa, there's a chance that nationalist parties, Sunnis, and secular parties can win a large number seats on Baghdad's 57-seat council, and if they make the right alliances -- say, with Sadrists -- they could oust ISCI and Dawa in the heart of the country. But Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed, and many Sunnis have been displaced. It's not clear if displaced Iraqis will be allowed to vote, or if so, for whom. If the Shiite religious parties maintain control of Baghdad, again it's possible that there will be a violent reaction from former insurgents and elements of the Awakening movement.

In Diyala province, where Sunnis and Shiites are more balanced, the outcome up for grabs. Sunni and Shiite enclaves are walled off, violence is endemic, candidates can't easily campaign or promote their parties, and the results will make no one happy. It's a tinderbox.

There is also the question of outside support. Iran is undoubtedly pouring money into support for its allies, including ISCI. To a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia is probably supporting some Sunni parties and possibly some secular parties as well. Turkey is suspected of backing the IIP. And it's hard to believe that the CIA isn't giving cash to back favored candidates.

Meanwhile, the election will be incomplete because there is no vote in disputed Tamim province, whose capital of KIrkuk is claimed by expansionist Kurds. The problem in Kirkuk is so explosive that the Iraqi government decided to put off elections there altogether. And there are no provincial elections in the three Kurdish provinces in the north, which are increasingly seen as part of a separatist, independence-minded zone -- something that both Sunni and Shiite Arabs reject.

January 30th, 2009, 01:47 PM
Iraq's Elections: ISCI's View

posted by ROBERT DREYFUSS on 01/29/2009 @ 09:59am (http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dreyfuss/402980/iraq_s_elections_isci_s_view)

This is the second of a three-part series in advance of Saturday's provincial elections in Iraq. Today I report on an interview with a leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Tomorrow I'll provide an account of an interview with a leader of Iraq's secular, nationalist bloc.

Karim Almusawi is the Washington representative of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). On Monday, I interviewed him in his office in downtown Washington about the upcoming elections in Iraq.

SCIRI was founded in Iran in 1982, and its military wing, the Badr Brigade, was originally a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which helped to install SCIRI as a powerful part of Iraq's ruling elite, SCIRI and Badr have used both religion and paramilitary force to consolidate their influence in Baghdad and the south, and there have been widespread reports of Badr-led assassination teams carrying out hundreds of killings of opponents, including former Baathists.

Today, ISCI is a leading party in Iraq, especially in Najaf and the south, and it controls the provincial councils and governorates in six Iraqi provinces: Baghdad, Najaf, Babil, Qadisiyah, Dhi Qar, and Muthanna. According to many analysts, ISCI is expected to suffer a significant setback in the January 31 vote, losing seats both to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa party, an allied but rival Shiite religious party, and to a resurgent secular and nationalist movement that includes, for the first time, many Sunni-led parties.

But Almusawi isn't expecting losses. Indeed, he says that ISCI will expand the number of provinces it controls. "We are working very hard to get Basra, to get Karbala, and others," he says. Controlling those cities is critical to ISCI's grand design, namely, the creation of a large, autonomous region in Iraq's nine southern provinces. Critics, including other Shiite parties, say that ISCI is laying the groundwork for the partition of Iraq.

I asked Almusawi, a former engineer who's represented ISCI in Washington since 2002, if he thought Iraqis would use the election to repudiate the Shiite-Kurdish ruling alliance, especially because of its failure to provide jobs and to deliver basic services such as electricity, gas, water, and trash collection. Almusawi says that Iraqis will blame Maliki, not ISCI, for the government's failure. "Iraqis recognize who is leading the country--the prime minister. That's why we ran by ourselves. Iraqis recognize that ISCI is not in power," he says.

After allying with Maliki's Dawa party in 2005 as part of the United Iraqi Alliance, this time ISCI is running on its own, using the powerful imagery of the ayatollah who founded the movement during his exile in Iran, Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim. (Hakim was assassinated in 2003, after returning to Iraq, and the movement today is led by his brother, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim.) The party's name on the ballot is Shahid al-Mehrab, a honorific title widely seen as referring to the founder. In its election material, ISCI makes generous use of religious Shiite imagery, despite a supposed ban on doing so.

Now Almusawi lambastes Maliki. "We don't agree with many of his policies. He's calling for amending the constitution [to] centralize power. He's against federalism. He believes that federalism will divide Iraq. We totally disagree." Almusawi also says that Maliki is using Iraq's state-controlled media unfairly, and he critizied Maliki sharply for creating tribal councils with government funds. "We told him, frankly, we don't support your councils, we don't like using government money for tribal leaders."

Recent polling shows that ISCI, widely perceived by Iraqis to be a Shiite religious movement, has lost favor. According to data released by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, in Washington, only 27 percent of Iraqis have a positive opinion of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, while 65 percent have a negative opinion. According to the same poll, only 8 percent of Iraqis support ISCI as their first choice. Many reports have indicated that Iraqis are disenchanted with the power of the Shiite (and Sunni) religious parties, and that they are leaning toward the secular parties.

Almusawi rejects that. "I don't like the seculars. But ISCI is not calling for an Islamic republic. We have a constitution. But Iraqis, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, have a religious mentality. We are mostly a religious people. So people are thinking mostly to vote for the religious parties, not for seculars or liberals."

Of course, ISCI is widely seen as an ally of Iran, even as agents of Iran, and it's assumed that Iran's intelligence service provides funds to support ISCI. When I asked Almusawi if ISCI gets money from Iran, he replied, "Of course not!" He admitted that, in Iraq, some people say that ISCI is too close to Iran, yet he rejects the charge that ISCI does Iran's bidding. "We are friends of Iran. But we are not Iranian agents," he says. "The Americans know that we have an ongoign dialogue with Iran, and we've called for a dialogue between the United States and Iran."

January 30th, 2009, 01:50 PM
Iraq Votes: Can Non-Sectarian Parties Gain?

posted by ROBERT DREYFUSS on 01/30/2009 @ 08:49am (http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dreyfuss/403310/iraq_votes_can_non_sectarian_parties_gain)

This is the last of the three-part series on Iraq's provincial elections, scheduled for tomorrow.

After four years under a government dominated by Shiite religious parties with close ties to Iran, Iraqi voters are ready for change, says Aiham Alsammarae. An American citizen who returned to Iraq in 2003, and who served as Iraq's electricity minister from 2003-2005, Alsammarae is a fierce, secular Sunni nationalist who is working with Iyad Allawi, the secular Shiite former Iraqi prime minister, to elect candidates in Saturday's provincial election who represent a turn away from ethnic and sectarian identity politics.

"I don't want to underestimate the religious parties," Alsammarae says, referring to the Islamic Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim. "But our analysis is that over the last four years the religious parties tried everything and proved that they are not successful leaders. They couldn't deliver what they promised. They could not do anything right."

As a result, says Alsammarae, who is working not only with Allawi but with tribal leaders in his native Salahuddin province north of Baghdad and with elements of the Awakening movement that began in Anbar province in 2006, voters are turning against the religious parties.

"In the south, people are asking: What have they done for us?" he says. "There are no jobs. There is no electricity and water. The schools and hospitals are terrible. And there is so much corruption."

The January 31 election will severely test Alsammarae's thesis. Many analysts agree that the religious parties have lost support across Iraq, but they retain built-in advantages, including control of the media, illicit use of government funds, and quiet support from Iraq's clerical establishment. And Alsammarae says that Dawa and ISCI are getting help from Tehran, too. "Most of their money comes from Iran," he charges. "But we know that these parties do not have a real political base."

The secular parties, Sunni-led parties, and nationalist alliances in Iraq hope to make major gains in Saturday's vote, especially in three key provinces. In Nineveh, up north, they hope to oust a minority Kurdish government in a province that is three-fourths Sunni Arab. In Baghdad, home to a quarter of Iraq's population, they hope to lay the groundwork for a coalition that can topple the Dawa-ISCI bloc. And in mixed Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, they also expect major gains.

"Most of all we are targeting Baghdad," says Alsammarae. "In Baghdad, the Awakening movement is the biggest party. It represents probably 25 percent of the vote, even if the election is only semi-fair. Wwe've built a real organization there, and there are a lot of liberal and secular parties. There is a good chance we will make major gains in Baghdad." He expects that Dawa and ISCI will get only 15 percent of the vote. "Baghdad leads the country, so success there will show where the country is going," he says.

Iyad Allawi, leader of Iraqiya, agrees with Alsammarae that Iraqis are ready for change. "The mood is definitely changing," he says. "Iraqis have been angry at the way the sectarian forces have handled the situation." According to Allawi, Iraqis are not especially religious. "That was one of the mistakes committed [by the United States] aftyer 2003, when the Iraqi Governing Council was formed along sectarian lines. And after that the religious, sectarian grops really mushroomed." Both Allawi and Alsammarae expect the series of elections in 2009-2010 to redraw the map of Iraqi politics.

But both men say that enormous obstacles remain, and that the election is likely to be marred by fraud, vote rigging, and violence. "I am very worried," says Allawi. "I have been subject to many threats." During the last round, in 2005, at least thirteen of the candidates affiliated with Allawi's movement were assassinated. Alsammarae has found it impossible to return to Baghdad, spending time in Amman, Beirut, and in Irbil, in the Kurdish north, where security is better.

Already this year, at least five candidates in the provincial elections have been assassinated, and in many districts campaigning is nearly impossible.

Going into tomorrow's vote, many Iraqis who've been shut out of power since 2003 expect to make gains. They include the Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the last round, the disenfranchised Shiites who have tended to support Muqtada al-Sadr's movement in the past, and a wide range of secular, liberal, nationalist, and communist parties and groups. The biggest question is: What will happen if the election goes against them, especially if it is considered fraudulent or rigged? Many areas, from Mosul to Baquba to Baghdad, could descend into violence, and it's possible that an armed resistance movement could re-emerge, targeting the Iraqi government, its security forces, and key Iraqi leaders from the religious bloc. If so, it could start to gather momentum just as President Obama begins withdrawing US forces.

January 30th, 2009, 02:44 PM
I wasn't saying it was funny Zip.I was pointing up the difference in cultural views.
To me, it's the funniest thing that's happened in the last eight years that's connected to the name G W Bush. But in Iraq, it's a serious cultural slap in the face, a man is in jail awaiting trial - so elevating it to monument status is appropriate.

I was saying they are breeding hate for no constructive purpose right in the faces of every child that is housed there.Iraqi children learn the culture of Iraqi adults. The symbolism is long-standing in Iraqi culture; it has nothing to do with the sort of hate that's fostered by bigotry. A few years ago, it was directed at Saddam Hussein , if I remember correctly, by someone very young.

Could there have been better bookends to a presidency?

That is absolute bile that will not bode well for our relations in the future.It was directed at Bush and his war, and the sooner we divorce ourselves from him, and convince Iraqis that we're not about what he did, the better our relations with them will be.

January 30th, 2009, 04:25 PM
Iraqi children learn the culture of Iraqi adults. The symbolism is long-standing in Iraqi culture; it has nothing to do with the sort of hate that's fostered by bigotry. A few years ago, it was directed at Saddam Hussein , if I remember correctly, by someone very young.

Pardon me, but you missed what I was saying.

Bush is already blamed as bringing on the deaths of many parents in Iraq.

What are orphans missing?

What good would it be to remind them EVERY DAY of who was responsible for taking their parents lives?

And, this is what is the dangerous part, how many will be able to realize that there are different political views in the US and that not everyone was supporting this that were responsible for killing their parents?

They can put up as many monuments of the shoe-thrower as they want. I really do not give a crap about that.

But putting it there seems to be just for the purpose of throwing salt in a wound that will never fully heal to begin with.

What would we need to do to amend it? Put a giant Shoe monument down in Crawford?

January 30th, 2009, 04:39 PM
BTW Zip. I am coming off a little strong on that and I apologise.

I am not disagreeing with you saying that it is funny, but sometimes even joking around can make it harder for things to get back on track.

I would rather FORGET everything I can about Bush and what he did.

At least, until he is brought up on charges......

January 30th, 2009, 07:45 PM
Pardon me, but you missed what I was saying.I get what you're saying - you don't think it's appropriate for an orphanage. I don't agree. I only mentioned the cultural reason (that it wasn't funny) because the other reason is absurd. See following.

Bush is already blamed as bringing on the deaths of many parents in Iraq.

What are orphans missing?

What good would it be to remind them EVERY DAY of who was responsible for taking their parents lives?One could say the same about this. (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4463&page=145)

And, this is what is the dangerous part, how many will be able to realize that there are different political views in the US and that not everyone was supporting this that were responsible for killing their parents?Again in reference to this (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4463&page=145), how many Americans still believe that Iraqis were involved in 09/11?

But putting it there seems to be just for the purpose of throwing salt in a wound that will never fully heal to begin with.One man's respectful remembrance is another man's fear-mongering.

January 31st, 2009, 09:32 AM
Bush shoe sculpture 'taken down'

From BBC

The unveiling of the sculpture took place on Thursday

A sculpture of a shoe erected in Iraq to honour a journalist who threw his footwear at George W Bush has been dismantled, reports say.

Foreign media say the bronze-coloured fibre-glass shoe was removed from its site in the city of Tikrit on the orders of the local authorities.

It had been erected in the grounds of an orphanage.

The monument was reportedly taken down just a day after being unveiled in the late Saddam Hussein's home town.

The head of the Childhood organisation, which owns the orphanage, said she had been told to remove the monument immediately by the Salaheddin Provincial Joint Coordination Centre.

"I did take the shoe down immediately and destroyed it, and I did not ask why," Shahah Daham told the German news agency DPA.

Salaheddin's deputy governor, Abdullah Jabara, told DPA: "Children should be put away from any political-related issues. Since this is an orphanage, this monument can instil in children's heart things for which the time is not now."

Mr Jabara was also quoted by CNN as saying: "We will not allow anyone to use the government facilities and buildings for political motives."

'Source of pride'

When the sculpture was unveiled, artist Laith al-Amari insisted it was not a political work, but a "source of pride for all Iraqis".

Mr Bush managed to dodge the shoes but the man who threw them, Muntadar al-Zaidi, was arrested and awaits trial.

As he pulled off his shoes, Mr Zaidi, now 30, shouted: "This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq."

He also told Mr Bush, who launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was paying a final visit to Iraq last month: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog".

Mr Zaidi shot to fame as a result of his action, which signalled extreme contempt in the Arab world, and inspired rallies across the Middle East and beyond.

Since his arrest, the TV journalist has reportedly been beaten in custody, suffering a broken arm, broken ribs and internal bleeding.

He has been charged with aggression against a foreign head of state, and faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted. His family denies he has done anything wrong.

January 31st, 2009, 01:22 PM
In the US, what would the sentence be for a shoe thrower?

February 1st, 2009, 01:51 AM
If you threw it at the President? Nothing short.

February 1st, 2009, 02:52 AM
You don't wanna do it.

U.S. Code Title 18:

§ 1751. Presidential and Presidential staff assassination, kidnapping, and assault; penalties

(a)(1) any individual who is the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President, or, if there is no Vice President, the officer next in the order of succession to the Office of the President of the United States, the Vice President-elect, or any person who is acting as President under the Constitution and laws of the United States,

(e) Whoever assaults any person designated in subsection (a)(1) shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

February 1st, 2009, 11:58 AM
Note that the statute does not require that physical contact be made with the victim; the threat of contact alone is enough to be guilty of assault:

Assault (http://www.nolo.com/definition.cfm/Term/22542B6F-FEDB-450A-889A82A49EA50CEB/alpha/A/)

A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault. Compare battery (http://www.nolo.com/definition.cfm/term/17A1E180-3796-4CCB-8E65996C566DDC20).

February 1st, 2009, 12:22 PM
I don't think there's a law preventing self defense against the head of state of one's invader, occupier, and government's puppet-master.

The general common law principle is stated (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-defence_in_English_law#Common_law) in Beckford v R (1988) 1 AC 130:
"A defendant is entitled to use reasonable force to protect himself, others for whom he is responsible and his property. It must be reasonable."

With what is reasonable coming from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-defence_in_English_law#Reasonable_force) the Jamaican case of Palmer v The Queen, on appeal to the Privy Council in 1971:

"If an attack is serious so that it puts someone in immediate peril then immediate defensive action may be necessary. If the moment is one of crisis for someone in imminent danger he may have [to] avert the danger by some instant reaction. If the attack is all over and no sort of peril remains then the employment of force may be by way of revenge or punishment or by way of paying off an old score or may be pure aggression. There may no longer be any link with a necessity of defence... If a jury thought that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought was necessary that would be most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken."

I would argue that throwing a shoe to show extreme displeasure and to discredit with an insulting rebuke is a reasonable defense against the imminent and ongoing dangerous implications of Bush's unchallenged assertion that Iraqis are pleased and satisfied with US occupation and that they accept the death and suffering inflicted upon them by US policy. This does not preclude or minimize the self-defense argument that Iraqis and their immediate family seen as complicit in the continued occupation are in grave physical danger (media members especially).

February 1st, 2009, 12:51 PM
I'm gonna hire you as my attorney when the time requires ;)

February 1st, 2009, 01:02 PM
As your attorney, I advise you to - s l o w l y - p u t - t h e - s h o e - d o w n . . . :p

February 1st, 2009, 01:37 PM
I don't think there's a law preventing self defense against the head of state of one's invader, occupier, and government's puppet-master.A self-defense approach would leave open the counter-argument - what threatening action was to be mitigated by throwing the shoe. Was the intent to incapacitate the person, thereby stopping an aggression? That would elevate an act that I think was intended as a protest. In a landscape where suicide-bombing has been commonplace, shoe throwing seems closer to civil disobedience. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_disobedience)

February 1st, 2009, 03:11 PM
The shoe thrower wasnt under immediate danger. He was voluntarily in that room with Bush who didnt show any aggression towards him. The fact Bush ordered the invasion doesnt seem relevant.

February 1st, 2009, 06:42 PM
If you're an Iraqi it probably seems a tad more relevant.

Imagine it is the summer of 1783 and you are a citizen of NYC who has experienced years of hardship and war in and around your home city. Those who continue to occupy your land refuse, despite all indications that their time has come to an end (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evacuation_Day_(New_York)), to give you due respect by acknowledging the pain which has be dealt to you and your countryman. Furthermore they continue to withhold the full sovereignty that you and your fellow citizens deserve. Instead the leader of that opposition comes into the midst of the city, tries to play nice and seeks self-glorification.

How much of a welcome would you give such an interloper?

February 1st, 2009, 07:40 PM
Not the point. My point was whether or not it would be breaking the law. As far as I know the Iraq parliament decided when the US should leave by.

February 2nd, 2009, 10:01 AM
Salaheddin's deputy governor, Abdullah Jabara, told DPA: "Children should be put away from any political-related issues. Since this is an orphanage, this monument can instil in children's heart things for which the time is not now."

That is all I was saying.

February 2nd, 2009, 10:03 AM
How much of a welcome would you give such an interloper?

"What think you, Captain, of a halter round your neck--ten gallons of liquid tar decanted on your pate--with the feathers of a dozen wild geese laid over that to enliven your appearance?" (http://www.answers.com/topic/tarring-and-feathering)


February 2nd, 2009, 01:07 PM
That ^ could wreck your day

But as punishment such actions -- along with installing a set of stocks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stocks) in the Public Commons -- might go a long way towards curbing non-civil behavior.

Hopefully Iraq will not return to old forms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_prison) regarding citizens who greet their leaders with civil disobedience, nor take any tricks from the bag of our Anglo heritage when it comes to protests (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillory) and retribution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scold%27s_bridle) for those who speak out (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_scold) against those in power.

February 2nd, 2009, 03:42 PM
Punishments probably stemming from societal repression.

The more forced to refrain from impropriety, the more likely to participate "in defense of morality and the common good".


June 30th, 2009, 09:37 AM
US soldiers leave Iraq's cities
From BBC

Celebrations mark handover to Iraqi forces

US troops have withdrawn from towns and cities in Iraq, six years after the invasion, having formally handed over security duties to new Iraqi forces.

A public holiday - National Sovereignty Day - has been declared, and the capital, Baghdad, threw a giant party to mark the eve of the changeover.

Hours before the midnight deadline, four US soldiers were killed in combat.

US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The US military said the four soldiers served in Baghdad, but did not provide further details before families had been notified. They died as a "result of combat related injuries", the military said.

Iraqi and US troops have been on the alert for insurgent attacks during the handover.
Despite the pullback from cities and towns, due to be completed on Tuesday, US troops will still be embedded with Iraqi forces.

We think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready
Christopher Hill

US Ambassador to Iraq

Both American and the Iraqi commanders say they are expecting al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups to attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions.

BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson says that while the pullback is significant, the actual withdrawal of US combat troops in 2010 will pose a greater challenge.

The success of that depends on Iraq's political leaders and their ability to tackle the country's many outstanding problems and tensions, he says.

Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January.

'Now is the time'

Iraqi soldiers paraded through Baghdad's streets on Monday in vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags, while patriotic songs were played through loudspeakers at checkpoints.

Signs were draped on some of Baghdad's concrete blast walls reading "Iraq: my nation, my glory, my honour".

US soldier on leaving Iraq's town centres

US commanders have said security and stability is improving, and that Iraqi forces are now ready to take over security operations.

The US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, said there would be no major reduction in forces until 2010 but the pullback was a "milestone".

"Yes, we think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready," he said.

"We have spent a lot of time working very closely with Iraqi security services... and I think there is an understanding that now it is the time."

Mr Hill stressed that there would still be "a lot of US combat capabilities in Iraq for months to come".

"After 30 June, with US combat forces out of cities and villages, localities, we'll still be in Iraq," he said.

"We will still have a very robust number of US troops in Iraq and, in fact, those troops will not begin to withdraw from Iraq until probably several months from now."

The pullback comes two years after the US "surge" of extra troops between February and June 2007, which saw US troop levels in Iraq reach about 170,000.

There was a decline in violence, but recent months have seen an upsurge.

In the past 10 days nearly 170 people have been killed and many more injured in three attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk.

June 30th, 2009, 06:27 PM
Civilian deaths in Iraq
Dead reckoning
Jun 30th 2009
From Economist.com

Iraq's civilians are a little bit safer

AMERICAN troops are pulling out of Iraq's town and cities but will continue to provide support to Iraq'a army and security forces from military bases close by. Keeping Iraq's civilians safe will remain a difficult task, particularly if insurgents, emboldened by the lower profile of American soldiers, attempt to launch a fresh round of violence. Overall the lot Iraq's civilians has improved of late. In the course of 2006, at the height of the violence, 27,652 civilians died, according to the Iraq Body Count, a group that collates a tally of casualties from media reports. Last year that figure dropped to 9,214 and so far this year the death rate is well down compared with the same period of 2008.


June 30th, 2009, 09:12 PM
June 30, 2009


The First Deadline

After six bloody, ruinously costly years, there is an end in sight to the American occupation of Iraq. Under an agreement with the Baghdad government, American combat troops are to leave Iraq’s cities by Tuesday. President Obama has pledged that by Aug. 31, 2010 — 14 months from now — all combat troops will be out of Iraq and by the end of 2011 all American troops will be gone.

For a badly overstretched American military it will certainly be time to go. Repeated deployments have taken a huge toll on soldiers and their families. The Iraq war — an unnecessary war — has diverted critically needed resources away from Afghanistan, the real front in the war on terrorism. Many Iraqis are eager to see the Americans gone. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has declared June 30 to be a day of “feast and festivals.”

But there is an enormous amount to do — and not a lot of time — to help Iraqis prepare for the withdrawal and to reduce the chances the country will unravel as American troops leave.

We once hoped that a clear timetable for an American withdrawal would finally persuade Iraq’s leaders to make the political compromises that are the only way to hold their country together without an indefinite occupation. That has not happened. The Parliament has still not passed a law to divide Iraq’s oil resources equitably.

Indeed there are worrying signs that Iraqi politicians are doing the opposite — looking for ways to shore up their communal interests in case the civil war reignites. Many of Iraq’s neighbors are making the same calculations. Violence is down, but extremists are still trying to spark a new cycle of attacks and retaliation. In June, more than 300 Iraqis and 10 Americans were killed.

Mr. Obama was right to commit to a carefully paced and responsible withdrawal, and he was right to say that the United States cannot solve all of Iraq’s problems before it leaves. But we are concerned that Iraq may not be getting all the attention it needs in Washington.

The top American military commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, is a strong leader, and Christopher Hill, the new American ambassador in Baghdad, is a talented diplomat. Still, Mr. Obama has a high-level adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan, for Middle East peace negotiations, and for Iran, but there is no marquee name for Iraq to ensure that the president and the bureaucracy are fully engaged.

We understand that for political reasons, in both countries, the United States cannot be seen to micro-manage events. But there are still many problems that need sustained and high-level American attention.

Iraqi Readiness

Until a few weeks ago, American commanders were hoping that Iraq’s government would invite them to keep combat troops in certain Baghdad neighborhoods and in the northern city of Mosul, where sectarian tensions are high and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is still active. It didn’t, and Washington decided not to insist, given Iraqis’ sensitivities.

Most analysts give the American military training program good marks. They differ on whether Iraq’s army — still plagued by corruption, discipline problems, equipment shortages and security breaches — is ready to keep the peace in the cities. The police force and the interior ministry need even more work.

A January report to Congress by the Pentagon said that as of last fall, 17 of the Iraq Army’s 174 combat battalions were capable of conducting counterinsurgency operations without American support. All of Iraq’s army is dependent on the American military for intelligence, logistics and air support.

For now American troops — there are 130,000 in Iraq — are not going far. Baghdad’s sprawling Camp Victory has been designated as outside of the city limits, although it is just a 10-minute helicopter ride from the Green Zone.

Before American troops can really go, Iraq’s Army will need to develop enough of those missing capacities to be able to fight on its own. The United States is also going to have to help Iraq build an air force and a navy so it can defend its own borders — an effort that will stretch far beyond the 2011 withdrawal deadline.

Iraq is in a dangerous neighborhood, but it also has its own history of menacing its neighbors. Washington is going to have to decide how much firepower it is willing to sell Iraq, knowing that Baghdad can buy elsewhere.

Sunni Anger

Iraq is still awash in bitter resentments and the Sunni minority, which once dominated the country, is particularly resentful of the Shiite-dominated government. Areas with large Sunni populations are short-changed on services. Baghdad has not carried out a law allowing former members of the Baath Party to return to their positions or collect pensions.

We are particularly concerned about the Iraqi government’s cavalier — or worse — treatment of the Awakening Councils. Those are the former Sunni insurgents who decided to switch sides, at Washington’s urging. Members have complained about delays in being paid. The government has barely made a down payment on its commitment to find jobs for the group’s 94,000 members in the security services, ministries or private sector.

Baghdad blames dropping oil prices and a budget squeeze for the employment problems. But keeping these fighters, and their relatives and neighbors, on the government’s side should be a top priority. Mr. Maliki has further alienated many Sunnis by ordering the arrest of several council leaders and a few high-profile Sunni politicians. Iraqi officials say the arrests are justified. United States officials need to impress on the prime minister the dangers he is courting.

Kurdish Ambition

Speaking privately, many American officials say they are even more worried about rising tensions between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq.

The disputes are over boundaries, oil and the power of Iraq’s central government. The autonomous Kurdish regional government insists that it has a historical claim to towns and villages in three provinces just over the present regional border that were forcibly purged of Kurds and repopulated with Arabs by Saddam Hussein. Since 2003 — often with Washington’s blessing — the Kurdish government has deployed its militia, the pesh merga, to some of these areas and spent millions of dollars on services in an attempt to assert its control.

Fearing displacement or Kurdish domination, Sunni Arabs have turned to hard-line politicians or extremists, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, to defend their interests. American troops have had to defuse confrontations between government forces and the pesh merga. Tensions are particularly high in Nineveh Province and its capital, Mosul. The Sunnis won the majority on the provincial council in January’s election and immediately stripped the Kurdish bloc, which came in second, of all positions and patronage.

The most dangerous dispute, however, is over control of the oil-rich, multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk and the surrounding province. In April, the United Nations issued a report with several options for Kirkuk, including making it an autonomous region jointly run by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. Washington must press Baghdad and the Kurds to appoint responsible negotiators and urge them not to stake out extreme positions. If an agreement for Kirkuk cannot be reached, all three governments may have to consider outside administration, possibly United Nations-led, for some period.


One of the war’s great tragedies has been the forced flight of an estimated four million Iraqis — more than one out of 10 — from their homes. A small number, perhaps 100,000, have begun trickling back; a still smaller number have been permanently resettled abroad.

Millions live under extremely difficult conditions. Many are from the former Sunni elite. Others are Shiites whose mixed-population neighborhoods became Sunni during the upheavals of 2006-7. They all need the chance to return safely. Iraq needs their talents. Large numbers of refugees also put dangerous economic and political strains on Iraq’s neighbors.

Working out the politics and logistics of whether refugees return to their old homes (now occupied by others) or get new ones will require international aid and advice and enlightened leadership. While waiting for that to happen, millions of people need housing, food and education assistance. Syria and Jordan, which host the largest numbers of refugees, need continued international and American help. The United States needs to take in many more Iraqis, especially those who risked their lives to work with the Americans.


More than anything, Iraq needs competent, inclusive government. To win public loyalties, the government must do a much better job of providing basic services to all Iraqis. With improved security, there has been an encouraging leap in electricity production, although there are still too many interruptions and shortfalls. Clean water is in desperately short supply.

American advisers have been working with Iraqi ministries, but United States officials say they are staggered by the lack of skilled managers and the pervasive corruption. Tackling those problems nationally and regionally must be a top priority. As American troops leave, the Pentagon must continue to provide security so civilian advisers can work throughout the country.

Iraq’s politicians also need to show a far greater willingness to address and resolve long-deferred political problems. In February, on the same day he outlined his withdrawal plans, Mr. Obama said “ a lot of the ultimate outcome” in Iraq would depend on how difficult issues, including the oil law, are resolved. American officials now say that is unlikely to happen any time soon and they will be satisfied if legislators manage to pass a new election law in time for January’s national elections.

There are growing concerns that Prime Minister Maliki may be accumulating too much power, undercutting rivals and building a cadre of military and intelligence officers loyal only to him. Washington must make clear that it will not support any power grab and find ways to encourage other political leaders, while dissuading them from making their own power grabs.


A stable Iraq is in the clear interest of all of its neighbors. Unfortunately few have seen it that way. Iran and Syria have meddled constantly — driving up the violence and backing off only when it looked as if the war could spin out of control and over Iraq’s borders or the Americans might retaliate. Tehran would still like to control Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government.

Meanwhile, many of America’s closest regional allies have withheld their support. Egypt’s Sunni-led government has only recently named an ambassador to Baghdad. Saudi Arabia’s Sunni royal family still has not.

Washington must do a lot more to persuade these allies that their interests would be far better served by building strong diplomatic and economic ties with Iraq. That is the best way to counterbalance Tehran. And with closer ties come more influence and more opportunity to help defend the interests of Iraq’s Sunni minority.

Relations with Tehran are particularly difficult right now, but at some point the Obama administration will have to renew its offer for dialogue. Iraq’s stability will have to be part of those discussions. We assume those discussions are already under way with Damascus.

The United States cannot fix Iraq. That is up to the Iraqis. But in the time left, this country has a responsibility and a strong strategic interest to do its best to help Iraq emerge from this disaster as a functioning, sovereign and reasonably democratic state.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

July 1st, 2009, 08:38 AM
Few Bidders to Develop Iraqi Oil and Natural Gas Fields

Published: June 30, 2009 (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/business/global/01iraqoil.html)

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government stumbled once again on Tuesday in its frequently delayed effort to award development rights to its most valuable oil fields. In a public auction it largely failed to attract the lucrative offers it sought from dozens of international oil companies invited to the bidding.

After the daylong event, which was broadcast live on national television, the government came away with just a single deal struck from among the six giant oil fields and two gas fields it had put up for bid.

The single successful contract went to a joint venture of BP and the China National Petroleum Corporation for the largest field offered: Rumaila, near the southern city of Basra, which has proven reserves of more than 17 billion barrels.

The auction, celebrated by the Iraqi government as a milestone for the fledgling democracy, came on the same day as the deadline for American combat troops to pull out of Iraqi cities.

It is the most significant attempt to open up the country’s oil industry since it was nationalized by Saddam Hussein in 1972, and the centerpiece of a plan to raise oil production to 6 million barrels a day by 2015, from the current level of 2.4 million.

Instead of garnering an infusion of foreign cash to rebuild and to prop up its limping economy, however, the auction of fields that contain about 80 percent of Iraq’s oil output appeared to further polarize the country. Four of the eight oil and gas fields offered Tuesday received only a single bid from oil corporations, and an undeveloped gas field in violence-plagued Diyala Province in northwest Iraq received none.

“These oil companies want to make as much money as they can, so they submitted low bids,” Hussain al-Shahristani, the country’s embattled oil minister, said during a news conference following the auction. “But I sent them a message that there are people in Iraq who are protecting Iraq’s wealth.”

But observers said the event could be deemed a success only if viewed strictly in populist political terms, because foreign presence in Iraq’s oil industry is a contentious issue. Many believe the 2003 American-led invasion was carried out to wrest away Iraq’s enormous oil reserves, the third largest in the world after Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s.

Ruba Husari, editor of the Iraq Oil Forum (http://www.iraqoilforum.com/) Web site, which covers the country’s oil industry, said what remained unresolved was how Iraq was to modernize its oil industry without giving in to the desires of oil companies, which prefer owning a share of the oil they pump. Iraq has so far rejected such arrangements, which are known as production sharing agreements.

Iraq has an estimated 9 percent of the world’s crude oil, but its pipelines and other infrastructure are aging. Many of its most productive fields, laced with water because of mismanagement, are no longer able to produce as much oil as they once did. The country lacks the money to rebuild the industry, which accounts for almost all of its foreign earnings.

The auction on Tuesday, held in a heavily secured ballroom at the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad’s Green Zone, was reminiscent of a professional sports draft lottery. Bids were placed inside a large plastic box that had been set up on a stage. The oil companies were given 20 minutes to mull over each oil and gas field, with the time shown counting down on a giant video screen.

The sight of executives walking onstage to drop sealed bids in the plastic box brought cheers of delight from Oil Ministry employees in the audience.

The executives themselves, representing Exxon Mobil, Lukoil, Japex, Royal Dutch Shell, Total and the Korea Gas Corporation, among others, then stood aside as their offers were displayed on a screen before the bids were compared to those of rival companies seeking the same contract.

The Oil Ministry said it chose to conduct its business on television and in front of an audience of reporters and others to combat allegations of widespread corruption in the ministry, which led it to cancel a group of no-bid oil contracts last year. Major oil companies had little interest in the terms of those contracts, either.

Because the financial risk of a 20-year investment in Iraq was considered to be too great for even the largest oil corporations, the companies for the most part formed joint ventures.

Throughout the day, clusters of men in dark suits spoke to each other in their common language: broken English, with Dutch, Chinese, Russian and Thai accents. A member of a Korean delegation wore a flak vest inside the hotel ballroom.

The only successful bidders, BP and the China National Petroleum Corporation, will negotiate with the Oil Ministry through the summer to complete a contract to revive the Rumaila oil field.

Iraq says only about a million barrels of oil a day are pumped from Rumaila — far less than the 1.75 million barrels the government believes that the field should be producing, and little more than one-third of the 2.85 million barrels that BP and the Chinese company say they can extract.

The companies had originally requested a premium of $3.99 for every barrel of oil they produced over an Iraqi government-established baseline, but the government offered only $2.

While the companies finally agreed to the government’s price, it was the only time all day that the usually wide gaps between what the government was willing to pay and what the companies said they needed to be paid were bridged.

Reporting was contributed by Campbell Robinson, Alissa J. Rubin and Abeer Mohammed from Baghdad, and Keith Bradsher from Hong Kong.