Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Draft oil law approved by Iraq cabinet

"Iraq's cabinet approved draft legislation Monday that would enable the government to manage the country's vast oil resources and distribute revenue throughout the country, a step toward meeting a U.S. demand that the country's parliament pass such a law.
. . . The draft oil law, approved by Iraq's cabinet after months of intense negotiations, must still be approved by parliament. Ministers agreed to a goal of enacting the legislation by May, a senior Iraqi official said on condition of anonymity.
'If this law is enacted, it is truly an important breakthrough to establishing the political economy of what we want to see: an Iraq that is democratic, federal and united,' Barham Salih, one of Iraq's two deputy prime ministers, said in an interview.
The draft law calls for oil revenue throughout the country to be deposited in a federal government account and redistributed to Iraq's 18 provinces, most likely on a per capita basis, said Salih, the chairman of the negotiating committee working on the legislation. A secondary piece of legislation will address in more detail the mechanisms of revenue distribution, he added." [1]

"Distributing revenue by population is not guaranteed to placate the feuding parties because no accurate census exists.
. . . The minority Sunni Arabs, who ruled Iraq for decades before the toppling of Saddam Hussein and are now leading the insurgency, have chafed at rule by the Shiites and Kurds partly because they fear that those two groups might hoard oil wealth for themselves. Sunni Arab leaders have resisted attempts by the Kurds and some Shiite politicians to create laws allowing for greater regional autonomy.
The draft law says that all revenues from current and future oil fields will be collected by the central government and redistributed to regional or provincial governments by population, in theory ensuring an equitable distribution of profits. That method could help assuage Sunni Arabs hostile to Kurdish and Shiite autonomy.
The attitudes of Sunni Arabs could also soften if more oil exploration is done on their land. Iraqi officials recently increased their estimates of the amount of oil and natural gas deposits in Sunni Arab territory." [2]

[1] Partlow, Joshua & Londono, Ernesto. (The Washington Post). Iraq's Cabinet Backs Contentious Oil Measure. February 27, 2007.
[2] Wong, Edward. (The New York Times). Iraqis Reach an Accord on Oil Revenues. February 27, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 27, 2007, 11:58 AM ET


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Anti-Qaeda mosque bombed; Habbaniyah resists al-Qaeda's strict Islam

"During what turned out to be the last Friday prayer he led, Imam Mohammad al-Marawi urged worshipers at a Sunni mosque in the western city of Habbaniyah to stand firmly against al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that has a strong following in the area.
. . . Less than 24 hours later, someone in a Mercedes truck drove up next to the mosque and detonated explosives hidden under a load of stone and marble.
. . . [W]itnesses said that unlike other large attacks, this one did not appear to have been driven by sectarian rivalries . . . but rather was probably carried out as a warning from Sunni extremists to Sunnis who support the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
Tribal leaders in Habbaniyah and other Sunni insurgent strongholds in volatile Anbar province have tried to mobilize civilians against al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has sought to impose strict Islamic code in several regions and has frequently attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces.
. . . Despite warnings from Sunni insurgents, women in Habbaniyah are not forced to cover their hair with the traditional hijab, and residents are free to use the Internet and cellphones."

Londono, Ernesto. (The Washington Post). At Least 40 Die in Bombing At Sunni Mosque in W. Iraq. February 25, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 27, 2007, 11:11 AM ET

update: tuesday, february 27, 2007, 12:02 PM ET


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Iraq diverted U.S. from Afghanistan and al Qaeda

"Almost five and a half years ago, America — united by the shock of 9/11 — understood exactly what it needed to do. It had to find, thwart and take down the command structure of Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 innocent people on American soil. Despite years of costly warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, America today is not significantly closer to that essential goal.
At a crucial moment, the Bush administration diverted America’s military strength, political attention and foreign aid dollars from a necessary, winnable war in Afghanistan to an unnecessary, and by now unwinnable, war in Iraq. Al Qaeda took full advantage of these blunders to survive and rebuild. Now it seems to be back in business.
. . . American intelligence and counterterrorism officials believe that Al Qaeda has rebuilt its notorious training camps, this time in Pakistan’s loosely governed tribal regions near the Afghan border. Camp graduates are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq — and may well be plotting new terrorist strikes in the West."

The New York Times. (Editorial). Al Qaeda Resurgent. February 25, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 27, 2007, 10:58 AM ET


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

PRTs understaffed, underqualified

"In Diyala, the vast province northeast of Baghdad where Sunnis and Shiites are battling for primacy with mortars and nighttime abductions, the U.S. government has contracted the job of promoting democracy to a Pakistani citizen who has never lived or worked in a democracy.
The management of reconstruction projects in the province has been assigned to a Border Patrol commander with no reconstruction experience. . . . The post of agriculture adviser has gone unfilled because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided just one of the six farming experts the State Department asked for a year ago.
. . . The provincial reconstruction teams like those in Diyala are often understaffed and underqualified -- and almost unable to work outside the military outposts where they are hunkered down for security reasons. Today, there are just 10 of the 30-person teams operating in all of Iraq.
. . . The teams are supposed to be up and running by next month."

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. (The Washington Post). Iraq Rebuilding Short on Qualified Civilians. February 24, 2007.

posted: sunday, february 25, 2007, 3:02 AM ET

update: sunday, february 25, 2007, 3:09 AM ET


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Saturday, February 24, 2007

National Guard may go to Iraq early

"The Pentagon is planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, shortening their time between deployments to meet the demands of President Bush’s buildup, Defense Department officials said Wednesday.
. . . The accelerated timetable illustrates the cascading effect that the White House plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq by more than 21,000 is putting on the entire Army and in particular on Reserve forces, which officers predicted would face severe challenges in recruiting, training and equipping their forces.
It also highlights the political risks of the White House’s Iraq strategy. Sending large numbers of reservists to Iraq in the middle of next year’s election campaign could drive up casualties among part-time soldiers in communities where support for the administration’s approach in Iraq is already tenuous, according to opinion polls.
A final decision on whether the additional Guard units will be required next year in Iraq will not be made for months, the officials said, and the full extent of the Guard role next year will depend on whether the situation in Iraq improves in the meantime."

Cloud, David S. (The New York Times). National Guard May Undertake Iraq Duty Early. February 22, 2007.

posted: saturday, february 23, 2007, 11:48 AM ET


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Many British troops to exit Iraq; Prince H. coming

"Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Wednesday that 1,600 British troops would return home from Iraq in the coming months and that a further 500 soldiers may be withdrawn by the end of summer.
. . . Blair said the British reduction in troops was possible because security conditions were better in southern Iraq, where British troops patrol, than in Baghdad.
. . . military and political analysts disputed Blair's upbeat description of the situation in the Basra area. They also said they believed the timing of the British drawdown may have more to do with plunging polls for Blair's Labor Party, pressure from British military officials and Blair's desire to begin an endgame for Iraq before he leaves office.
. . . British military leaders are increasingly complaining of overstretched forces and low morale, and there has been growing military pressure on Blair to reduce the presence, said Michael Williams, head of the transatlantic program at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies." [1]

"Britain made headlines on Wednesday by saying it would bring some troops home from southern Iraq. On Thursday, it made even more waves here by saying it would send one soldier in the opposite direction: Prince Harry, second son of Diana, Princess of Wales, and third in line to the throne.
Apart from being known as something of a playboy prince, Harry, 22, is a soldier, a second lieutenant in the upper-crust Blues and Royals Regiment of the Household Cavalry, who graduated from the Sandhurst military academy last year. Despite fears among his official handlers that he would be a “bullet magnet” in Iraq, he has long insisted that he would not countenance the idea of the soldiers under his command in an armored reconnaissance unit going without him." [2]

[1] Jordan, Mary & Partlow, Joshua. (The Washington Post). Blair Plans To Withdraw 1,600 Troops From Iraq. February 22, 2007.
[2] Cowell, Alan. (The New York Times). Prince Harry, 3rd in Line to Throne, to Fight in Iraq. February 23, 2007.

posted: saturday, february 24, 2007, 11:36 AM ET

update: saturday, february 24, 2007, 11:53 AM ET


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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sunni extremists enforce strict Islam in Tarmiyah, some say

"Sunni extremists have dramatically altered the fabric of the region in recent months, said a 35-year-old shop owner who lives across the street from the military outpost in Tarmiyah, [a city north of Baghdad].
'You can no longer find someone selling cigarettes, and you won't find men selling women's underwear,' he said, offering an example of strict Islamic codes enforced in the area. Women now cover everything but their eyes and 'barbers can't offer modern haircuts,' added the man, who confirmed the version of the attack provided by Iraqi officials."

Londono, Ernesto & Ricks, Thomas E. Ricks. (The Washington Post). Brazen Pre-Dawn Attack on U.S. Outpost in Iraq Kills 3, Injures 17. February 20, 2007.

posted: wednesday, february 21, 2007, 7:50 PM ET


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U.S. outpost attacked after troops go to Baghdad

"In a rare coordinated assault on an American combat outpost north of Baghdad, suicide bombers drove one or more cars laden with explosives into the compound on Monday, while other insurgents opened fire in the ensuing chaos, according to witnesses and the American military. Two American soldiers were killed and at least 17 were wounded.
The brazen attack, which was followed by gun battles and an evacuation of the wounded by American helicopters, was almost surely the work of Sunni militants, most likely Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, according to American and Iraqi officials.
It appeared to be part of a renewed drive by insurgents in recent weeks as more American and Iraqi troops flood the streets of Baghdad and thousands of marines head to western Anbar Province to try to stem the violence. Hundreds of Iraqis have died in a recent wave of car bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere.
. . . A similar attack occurred last summer, when a suicide driver plowed a truck full of explosives into a military outpost near the town of Baghdadi, in Anbar Province, but that did not seem as coordinated as Monday’s assault." [1]

"The facility [was] a former Iraqi police station in the town of Tarmiyah.
. . . Tarmiyah, with about 150,000 residents, lies on one of the crucial routes to Baghdad, and U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents affiliated with the group al-Qaeda in Iraq have fought vigorously for control of the area. Insurgents had strengthened their grip on the town in recent months after the U.S. military moved a significant number of troops from the area to Baghdad. An Iraqi police unit trained in Jordan deserted last year after being threatened by insurgents.
'This is what happens when you clear and begin to hold, but leave before you finish the hold-and-build process,' a U.S. Army officer stationed nearby said Monday night, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'We created a vacuum, and al-Qaeda filled it. We lost the people's trust.' [2]

[1] Santora, Marc. (The New York Times). Iraqi Militants Launch Attack on U.S. Outpost. February 20, 2007.
[2] Londono, Ernesto & Ricks, Thomas E. Ricks. (The Washington Post). Brazen Pre-Dawn Attack on U.S. Outpost in Iraq Kills 3, Injures 17. February 20, 2007.

posted: wednesday, february 21, 2007, 7:21 PM ET

update: wednesday, february 21, 2007, 7:55 PM ET


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Moroccans recruited as Iraq suicide bombers

"About two dozen men from Tetouan [in Morocco] and nearby towns in the Rif Mountains have traveled to Iraq in the past 18 months to volunteer as fighters or suicide bombers, according to local residents and officials. Moroccan authorities said the men were recruited by international terrorist networks affiliated with al-Qaeda.
. . . Candidates are subjected to psychological assessments from a distance to determine if they are really willing to die for the cause. Background checks are run to ensure that they are not informers, officials said. Those who make the final cut are assigned to 'handlers,' who arrange the trip to Iraq.
. . . 'The recruiters for al-Qaeda are some of the most important players right now in that organization,' [terrorism expert Nick] Pratt said. 'They have a profile, and they know what they're looking for.'
. . . [Parliament member Mustapha Khalfi said] as long as the U.S. military remains in Iraq, many Moroccans will feel duty-bound to help the resistance.
'There's a long tradition in the Muslim world of solidarity against occupation,' he said.

Whitlock, Craig. (The Washington Post). Terrorist Networks Lure Young Moroccans to War in Far-Off Iraq. February 20, 2007.

posted: wednesday, february 21, 2007, 6:54 PM ET

update: wednesday, february 21, 2007, 6:55 PM ET


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Draft oil law to Cabinet; Oil, gas found in Sunni area

"A draft version of the long-awaited law that would govern the development of Iraqi oil fields and the distribution of oil revenues has been submitted to Iraq’s cabinet, the first step toward approving the legislation, two members of a senior negotiating committee said this weekend.
. . . If the cabinet approves the draft law, it would then be sent to Parliament for ratification. Parliament for the most part automatically passes laws that have been approved by leaders of the main political parties, which run along ethnic and sectarian lines." [1]

"Huge petroleum deposits have long been known in Iraq’s Kurdish north and Shiite south. But now, Iraq has substantially increased its estimates of the amount of oil and natural gas in deposits on Sunni lands after quietly paying foreign oil companies tens of millions of dollars over the past two years to re-examine old seismic data across the country and retrain Iraqi petroleum engineers.
The development is likely to have significant political effects: the lack of natural resources in the central and western regions where Sunnis hold sway has fed their disenchantment with the nation they once ruled. And it has driven their insistence on a strong central government, one that would collect oil revenues and spread them equitably among the country’s factions, rather than any division of the country along sectarian regional boundaries." [2]

[1] Glanz, James. (The New York Times). Draft Law on Oil Money Moves to Iraqi Cabinet. February 19, 2007.
[2] Glanz, James. (The New York Times). Iraqi Sunni Lands Show New Oil and Gas Promise. February 19, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 20, 2007, 6:03 PM ET


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Govt, media, training, not more troops, needed in Baqubah

"Violence is on the rise in Baqubah, U.S. military officials acknowledge, even as they maintain that it is waning in other parts of oil-rich Diyala province [about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad]. . . . Although the U.S. military has the might to eliminate the insurgents, officials say, keeping Baqubah secure for the long term requires building up the police and army and boosting confidence in the government.
The task is difficult, they add, in a city where former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, Shiites looking to cement their political control, Iranians seeking an Iraqi foothold, Kurds attempting to expand southward and insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq struggle for dominance. The provincial council has not met in six months, and there are few local media the government can use to communicate with the people.
. . . Because of the tribal complexities here 'you can't find just one leader in Diyala,' [Diyala brigade commander Col. David W.] Sutherland said. 'If you're asking what I need, I need the provincial council to come to work and show backbone, and I need local media. . . . I don't need more forces.' "

Murphy, Bill Jr. (The Washington Post). In Baqubah, 'Focus Is Aimed, Controlled Shooting'. February 19, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 20, 2007, 5:46 PM ET


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Insurgents should be part of government, Sunni VP says

"Sunni insurgents who are 'honorable and genuine' must be given the chance to join the political process, Iraq's Sunni vice president said in an interview published Friday.
Tariq al-Hashemi told the Arabic language daily Al-Hayat that U.S. and Iraqi representatives must negotiate 'with the participation of the resistance' after 'America has failed to run the country.'
Furthermore, al-Hashemi said 'the honorable national resistance' must adopt 'a new ideology to manage the crisis.'
. . . He also criticized the militant Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, accusing it of meddling in politics and rejecting the notion it represents Iraq's Sunni Arabs. Many Association figures are believed closely linked to insurgents.
His criticism drew a sharp response from the association's spokesman, Sheik Mohammed Bashar al-Fayadh, who told Al-Arabiyah television that al-Hashemi's comments amounted to an attempt to separate religion from politics. 'This is a secularist ideology, not Islamic,' he said."

The Associated Press. Key Sunni Official Urges Participation. February 16, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 20, 2007, 4:44 AM ET

update: tuesday, february 20, 2007, 4:45 AM ET


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Monday, February 19, 2007

Deleting white bars from embedded YouTube videos

When I added a colored background on my website homepage, I noticed these thick white bars on the sides of my embedded YouTube video. Then I saw a YouTube page that had embedded videos with both a colored and picture background, but with no white bars. I looked at their source code and found that wmode="transparent" was in their source code between x-shockwave-flash and width in the embed section of the object code line, but not in the code that had been embedded in my source code page. So I added this code and the white bars disappeared.

Since then, I've noticed that the correct code (including wmode="transparent") is in the embed box on the YouTube watch page for my video and appears to be in the embed boxes of other videos also. I'm not sure why the original code I imported was different. I think I got it from a different page though.


I also found that you can adjust the size of your embedded video by changing the width and height from the default 425x350 in the embed section of the code that comes after x-shockwave-flash.

There's also another width and height at the start of the object code. These don't seem to make much difference in the size of your embedded video, but you can change it to match your desired size if you want. I did and so did the YouTube page that I looked at.


CORRECTION: In a previous post (Murder Peanuts 2/9/07), I had said that republishing YouTube and Google Video videos causes them to disappear. But on YouTube at least, this is only if you post the video to your blog from the YouTube watch page. If instead, you paste the code from the embed box on the YouTube watch page directly onto your blog, you can republish and the video won't disappear.

In Blogger, you can paste this code directly onto the Compose page and when you publish, the video should be there.

I couldn't find the embed code on the Google Video watch page after a quick look.


And please take a look at my video below. I need the views!

posted: monday, february 19, 2007, 6:10 PM ET
update: sunday, february 25, 2007, 3:14 AM ET


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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Afghanistan will take 5-10 more years, analyst says

" 'We're talking about much more serious problems than the president discussed today,' said Anthony H. Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In testimony to the House Foreign Relations Committee earlier in the day, Cordesman said any victory in Afghanistan will take five to 10 more years."

Baker, Peter & DeYoung, Karen. (The Washington Post). Bush Promises Strong Effort to Counter Resurgent Taliban. February 16, 2007.

posted: sunday, february 18, 2007, 11:59 PM ET



Sadr supports surge

"Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his top deputies to leave Iraq in order to ease the implementation of the Baghdad security plan, which U.S. and Iraqi forces began to roll out this week.
. . . During a news conference Thursday night, Talabani said Sadr told government officials that he was 'eager for the stability of the state and the success of the security plan. He gave the government the green light to detain any outlaws.'
In Washington on Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he believed that Sadr's followers were concerned about the new operation to secure Baghdad and suggested that Sadr and his militia would 'go to ground' over the coming months. 'And the question is, during that space . . . can we and the Iraqis provide enough security so that economic development, improvements in governance, political reconciliation can all begin to make real progress in Iraq?' Gates said."

Londono, Ernesto. (The Washington Post). Leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq Injured in Clash, Official Says. February 16, 2007.

posted: sunday, february 18, 2007, 11:53 PM ET


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Anti-surge resolution passes / Murtha, Biden plans

"A sharply divided House of Representatives passed a resolution on Friday formally repudiating President Bush’s decision to send more than 20,000 new combat troops to Iraq.
The rare wartime rebuke to the commander in chief — an act that is not binding, but that carries symbolic significance — was approved 246-to-182, with 17 Republicans breaking ranks to join all but two Democrats in supporting the resolution.
. . . Democrats argued that Americans should not referee a civil war, that previous efforts to pour more troops into Iraq had failed and that diplomatic measures were the only way out of the crisis.
Republicans, meanwhile, sought to portray the war in Iraq as a key battleground in a titanic global struggle against militant Islam and criticized the resolution as a slap in the face for troops on the battlefield. Failure in Iraq, they said, would lead to widespread instability in the region." [1]

"[House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] backed key provisions already floated by [Rep. John] Murtha, including requirements that troops be given at least a year's rest between combat deployments, special training in urban warfare and counterinsurgency, and safety equipment that the military has struggled to provide.
. . . [Sen. Joseph] Biden, a declared candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said his legislative proposal would authorize the limited use of force in Iraq only as part of a withdrawal plan.
'Congress should make clear what the mission of our troops is: to responsibly draw down, while continuing to combat terrorists, train Iraqis and respond to emergencies,' he said. 'We should make equally clear what their mission is not: to stay in Iraq indefinitely and get mired in a savage civil war.'
. . . 'Opposing the surge is only the first step. We need a radical change in course in Iraq. If the president won't act, Congress will have to attempt to do so. . . . We must resist the temptation to push for changes that sound good but may very well produce bad results.' " [2]

[1] Zeleny, Jeff & Luo, Michael. (The New York Times). A Divided House Denounces Plan for More Troops. February 17, 2007.
[2] Weisman, Jonathan & Murray, Shailagh. (The Washington Post). Pelosi Backs War Funds Only With Conditions. February 16, 2007.

posted: sunday, february 18, 2007, 11:44 PM ET


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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sadr in Iran, some say

"Two Shiite leaders stepped forward on Thursday to confirm American reports this week that Mr. Sadr had gone to Iran.
But the two, a senior official in Mr. Sadr’s organization who spoke on condition of anonymity, and Sami al-Askari, a Parliament member from a different Shiite party, took exception with suggestions that he had fled because of a crackdown on militias and had permanently moved to Iran. They said that the cleric often visited the country and that it was unclear why he had left or when he would come back; the Sadr official said he could return to Iraq on Friday.
In a sign of how volatile the topic has become, several of the cleric’s aides continued their vehement denials that he had left at all, and accused the Americans of a propaganda campaign to paint him as a coward.
. . . If he actually did leave, it is now unclear whether he could come back: the Iraqi government said Thursday that it had closed its borders with Syria and Iran as part of the new security plan."

Cave, Damien. (The New York Times). Dispute Over Iraqi Cleric, Said to Have Gone to Iran. February 16, 2007.

posted: saturday, february 17, 2007, 1:31 AM ET


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Thursday, February 15, 2007

N. Korea nuclear agreement

"The six-nation deal to shut down North Korea's nuclear facility, four months after Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test, was reached yesterday largely because President Bush was willing to give U.S. negotiators new flexibility to reach an agreement, U.S. officials and Asian diplomats said yesterday.
Ever since the North Korean nuclear crisis erupted in 2002 after the discovery of a clandestine nuclear program, the Bush administration has insisted that North Korea should not be rewarded for its bad behavior -- and many of the U.S. offers have required Pyongyang to give up a lot before it could receive anything in return.
Now Bush has signed off on a deal that accepts North Korea's original position -- a "freeze" of its Yongbyon nuclear facility -- and requires Washington to move first by unfreezing some North Korean bank accounts. The agreement leaves until later dealing with such vexing issues as the dismantlement of the facility, North Korea's stash of weapons-grade plutonium and even North Korea's admission of the nuclear program that started the crisis in the first place." [1]

"For years, Mr. Bush’s administration has been paralyzed by an ideological war, between those who wanted to bring down North Korea and those who thought it was worth one more try to lure the country out of isolation. In embracing this deal, Mr. Bush sided with those who have counseled engagement, notably his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and her chief negotiator, Christopher R. Hill. Mr. Bush took the leap in the hope that in a few months, he will be able to declare that North Korea can no longer produce fuel for new nuclear weapons, even if it has not yet turned over its old ones.
For Mr. Kim, the nuclear explosion — more of a fizzle — that he set off in the mountains not far from the Chinese border in October turned out to be a strategic mistake. The Chinese, who spent six decades protecting the Kim family dynasty, responded by cutting off his military aid, and helping Washington crack down on the banks that financed the Cognac-and-Mercedes lifestyle of the North Korean leadership." [2]

[1] Kessler, Glenn & Cody, Edward. (The Washington Post). U.S. Flexibility Credited in Nuclear Deal With N. Korea. February 14, 2007.
[2] Sanger, David E. (The New York Times). Outside Pressures Broke Korean Deadlock. February 14, 2007.

posted: thursday, february 15, 2007, 2:37 PM ET


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U.S. to take in 7,000 Iraqi refugees. Many more in need.

"The United States will accelerate the resettlement of about 7,000 Iraqis referred by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and will contribute $18 million to the agency's appeal for Iraq, about one-third of the total, Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky said Wednesday." [1]

"The United Nations estimates that two million Iraqis have fled the country and that 1.7 million are displaced in Iraq. Of those, roughly 500,000 have been displaced since February 2006, with 40,000 to 50,000 additional Iraqis fleeing their homes each month.
. . . 'It’s a step we welcome,' Kristele Younes, an advocate for Refugees International, said of the new plan. 'But the numbers remain low compared to what the needs are.' " [2]

[1] Boustany, Nora & Partlow, Joshua. (The Washington Post). U.S. Agrees To Resettle Refugees From Iraq. February 15, 2007.
[2] Swarns, Rachel L. & Zoepf, Katherine. (The New York Times). More Iraqi Refugees Are Headed to U.S. February 14, 2007.

posted: thursday, february 15, 2007, 2:21 PM ET

update: saturday, february 17, 2007, 1:07 AM ET


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Surge begins to take shape

"Thousands of U.S. troops swept house-to-house through mostly Shiite areas virtually unopposed Wednesday in the opening phase of the long-awaited Baghdad security crackdown. But four U.S. soldiers were killed outside of the capital in an area not covered by the operation.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers and police set up new checkpoints across the city of 6 million people, snarling traffic and forcing people to walk across bridges jammed with cars and trucks.
. . . The increased security measures drew a mixed response from Iraqis _ some angry over the inconvenience, others embracing any effort to stop the rampant violence.
. . . Baghdad residents had seen little evidence of the new measures until Wednesday, a day after the Iraqi commander, Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, announced that Iraq will close its borders with Syria and Iran and ordered the return of unlawfully seized homes as part of the drive to end the violence that has threatened to divide the capital along sectarian lines."

Lenz, Ryan. (The Associated Press). Baghdad Sweep Meets Little Resistance. February 15, 2007.

posted: thursday, february 15, 2007, 3:23 AM ET


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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is there an anti-Shiite conspiracy in the Middle East?

"Newspapers are replete with assertions, some little more than incendiary rumors, of Shiite aggressiveness.
. . . [Lebanese] watched the rise of sectarian identity, railed against it, blamed the United States and others for inflaming it, then were often helpless to stop the descent into bloodshed.
. . . Over centuries, differences in ritual, jurisprudence and theology evolved, some of them slight. But the Shiite community . . . is shaped far more today by the underprivileged status it has often endured in an Arab world that is predominantly Sunni.
. . . [A] sense of Western manipulation is often voiced by Shiite clerics and activists, who say the United States incites sectarianism as a way of blunting Iran's influence. In recent years, some of the most provocative comments have come from America's allies in the region: Egypt's president questioned Shiites' loyalty to their countries, Jordan's king warned of a coming Shiite crescent from Iran to Lebanon, and last month King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia denounced what he called Shiite proselytizing."

Shadid, Anthony. (The Washington Post). Across Arab World, a Widening Rift. February 12, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 13, 2007, 7:42 PM ET


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Turkey and Kurdistan "need each other"

"Despite their history, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan need each other. Kurdistan could become a buffer between Turkey and the chaos to the south, while Turkey could become the protector of a Kurdistan that, though still technically part of Iraq, is effectively cut loose from a Baghdad government that may no longer function. In addition, Turkey has a major economic opportunity in northern Iraq; already, more than 300 Turkish companies and substantial investment are a primary engine of Kurdish growth.
Rapprochement would require major undertakings by both sides. The legendary Kurdish leader who is now president of the Kurdish regional government, Massoud Barzani, needs to rein in the PKK and pledge not to interfere in Turkey's internal affairs. A compromise that took into account legitimate Turkish concerns would be necessary on Kirkuk; while this would be difficult, especially for the Turkish military, I believe it needs to be attempted, with strong American encouragement."

By Washington Post columnist Richard Holbrooke

Holbrooke, Richard. (The Washington Post). Opportunity For Turks And Kurds? February 12, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 13, 2007, 7:24 PM ET


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Syria stops taking refugees from Iraq

"Syria, the last Arab country welcoming large numbers of Iraqi refugees, is now all but closing the gates and leaving 40,000 Iraqis who flee their country each month with almost no place to go.
The new rules _ imposed without any official announcement _ also strike fear of deportation into the 1 million Iraqis already here. The worsening humanitarian crisis has resulted in calls for action by members of the U.S. Congress and a plea from the United Nations for more countries to help out.
'It's not fair that the burden is not being shared effectively. A very limited number of countries is paying a very heavy price,' Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said on a recent tour of the Mideast."

Mroue, Bassem. (The Associated Press). Syria Bars Iraq Refugees, Crisis Worsens. February 12, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 13, 2007, 7:17 PM ET


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Security-minded Iraqis avoid U.S. embassy jobs

"The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is finding it increasingly difficult to get local Iraqis to work there because of what one senior official at the embassy called the 'precarious security situation' in the country.
Last year, 35 local employees resigned, 'nearly all due to security issues,' the official said. The State Department is authorized to hire 136 local people for jobs in the embassy, but right now only 47 are filled by Iraqis. Thirteen more are filled by Jordanians brought over in a program specifically set up to fill the chronic gap.
. . . So the plan now is to provide additional benefits -- housing and meals, more vacation, more health benefits and other inducements -- to entice local people hired at embassies in the region and even elsewhere in the world who might be willing to work in Iraq on six-month rotations. There is talk of figuring out ways to hire retired embassy employees from the region to come back in and work in Baghdad as contractors.
The long-term hope is to hire Iraqis for these jobs, but given the chaos and insecurity in Baghdad these days, nobody's counting on that option."

By Washington Post columnist Al Kamen

Kamen, Al. (The Washington Post). Wanted: A Few Good Iraqis. Or Jordanians. Or . . . Anybody? February 12, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 13, 2007, 7:07 PM ET


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Petraeus officially takes control

"Gen. David H. Petraeus, assuming his position as the new U.S. military commander in Iraq, said Saturday that the "rucksack of responsibility" was too heavy to carry alone there and that without cooperation between Iraqi and U.S. forces, "Iraq will be doomed to continued violence and civil strife."
During a handover ceremony below the crystal chandelier and marble columns in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, Petraeus characterized the challenges facing Iraq as daunting but said that "these tasks are achievable, this mission is doable." Promoted to the rank of four-star general, Petraeus will lead a growing U.S. force of more than 130,000 troops in Iraq in an attempt to contain the sectarian killing, especially in violence-racked Baghdad." [1]

" 'The stakes are very high. The way ahead will be hard, and there undoubtedly will be many tough days. But as I recently told members of the U.S. Senate, hard is not hopeless,' said Petraeus, who took over for 58-year-old Gen. George Casey.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was Casey's predecessor and his tenure was marred by the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. He has since retired.
The Sunni insurgency broke out during Sanchez's command, and the conflict in Iraq took on the many of the aspects of a civil war during Casey's tenure. Casey had focused on attempts to train Iraqi forces and on plans to turn over control of security to the Iraqi Army and national police." [2]

"Among American military officers, General Petraeus is considered an imaginative leader with a deep understanding of Iraq’s problems, culled from two tours here. But for some in Baghdad, his assumption of control looked routine.
“The commanders change every now and then,” said Naseer al-Ani, a Sunni member of Parliament. “I don’t think that changing the commander will have a significant impact on the American policy.”
. . . Sami al-Askari, an aide to the prime minister, said the Iraqi government supported General Petraeus and had high hopes for his tenure.
'The character of the commander affects the performance of the military command,' he said. 'General Casey had a certain perspective in fighting terrorism, but we hope that General Petraeus will be more cooperative with the Iraqi command based on his past experience in Iraq, and the relationship will be smoother and more positive.' " [3]

[1] Partlow, Joshua. (The Washington Post). Path in Iraq Hard But Not Hopeless, U.S. General Says. February 11, 2007.
[2] Frayer, Lauren. (The Associated Press). New U.S. Commander Takes Over in Iraq. February 10, 2007.
[3] Cave, Damien. (The New York Times). New Boss Takes Reins of U.S. Forces in Iraq. February 11, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 13, 2007, 6:53 PM ET


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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Alt intel briefing leading up to Iraq invasion questioned

"Senate Democrats and Republicans disagreed yesterday over the meaning and importance of a Defense Department inspector general's conclusion that a Pentagon policy office produced and gave senior policymakers 'alternative intelligence assessments on Iraq and Al Qaida relations' that were 'inconsistent' with the intelligence community's consensus view in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had no evidence that the Pentagon activities were illegal and said they were authorized by then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz.
. . . Democratic senators used Gimble's report and testimony to bolster their contention that the administration misused intelligence to promote the urgency of invading Iraq. Republicans implied that the intelligence community had soft-pedaled crucial reports of a close al-Qaeda relationship with Saddam Hussein and that [former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas J.] Feith's office had put them in the proper perspective."

Pincus, Walter & DeYoung, Karen. (The Washington Post). Senators Debate Significance of Pentagon Report On Intelligence. February 10, 2007.

posted: sunday, february 11, 2007, 11:25 AM ET


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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mahdi Army improving, Sadr City residents say

"Bombings here [in Sadr City] have become less common than in other parts of Baghdad, though a coordinated series of explosions last fall killed 144 people. Residents and Sadr party officials said they felt more secure because the Mahdi Army kept watch.
. . . Sadr officials said the militia’s members would disarm temporarily during the Baghdad security plan, even if Sunnis or Americans attacked.
. . . Sunni officials said Sadr officials had calculated that if they stayed quiet for the security plan, American troops would eventually withdraw, giving Shiites even more freedom to exercise power.
. . . The Sadr organization, whose members once whipped people on the streets for selling alcohol, now works out of a centrally located office.
. . . Residents said the building reflected the move from insurgent group to established player. After winning control of six ministries and 30 seats in Parliament, residents said, the Sadrists have become a more traditionally political, less religious force, with leaders primarily interested in safety and power."

Cave, Damien. (The New York Times). Shiite District, Flash Point in Baghdad, Rebuilds. February 9, 2007.

posted: saturday, february 10, 2007, 11:11 PM ET


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Friday, February 09, 2007

Billions in cash to Iraq not well monitored

"A House committee report . . . questioned whether some of the billions of dollars in cash shipped to Iraq after the American invasion — mostly in huge, shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills — might have ended up with the insurgent groups now battling American troops.
The report was released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing when Democrats sharply questioned the former American civilian administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, about lax management of the nearly $12 billion in cash shipped to Iraq between May 2003 and June 2004. [1]

"House Democrats criticized former Iraq occupation administrator L. Paul Bremer . . . for disbursing nearly $9 billion in Iraqi oil revenue without instituting accounting systems to track more carefully how Iraqi officials were using that money.
. . . The Democrats cited an audit conducted two years ago by the special inspector general for Iraq's reconstruction that found that Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) engaged in 'less than adequate' managerial and financial control of the money.
. . . [Bremer said] that he was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Iraqi ministries, he said, lacked modern financial management systems, and the country's banks could not handle electronic fund transfers. Waiting to implement new accounting and banking practices, he insisted, would have resulted in lengthy delays in paying salaries and pensions.
'Delay would have been demoralizing and unfair to the citizens of Iraq,' Bremer said. 'Delay might well have exacerbated the nascent insurgency and thereby increased the danger to Americans on the ground.' " [2]

[1] Shenon, Philip. (The New York Times). House Panel Questions Monitoring of Cash Shipped to Iraq. February 7, 2007.
[2] Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. (The Washington Post). Democrats, Bremer Spar Over Iraq Spending. February 7, 2007.

posted: friday, february 9, 2007, 11:18 PM ET


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Possible redeployment if surge fails, Gates says

"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged Tuesday that Pentagon planners were considering alternative war plans in case the current buildup of forces in Iraq failed to quell ongoing violence in Baghdad.
Although he insisted the administration would give the new offensive the time and funding it needed, Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the strategy did not show the hoped-for results, the military would probably shift its efforts to a strategy centered on moving U.S. troops 'out of harm's way.'
. . . Despite Gates' vow to give the troop buildup the funding and support it needed, he reiterated his view that the increased manpower would be needed only for several months.
. . . The tepid endorsement by some in the Pentagon of the plan . . . has angered Republican advocates.
. . . 'If you're asking somebody in eight months to solve a 1,400-year-old religious dispute, bring people together who have suffered under a dictatorship for 30 years, reconstruct an economy that was raped by a dictator — that's a pretty tall order,' [Sen. Lindsey] Graham said."

Spiegel, Peter. (Los Angeles Times). Pentagon considering alternatives for Iraq. February 7, 2007.

posted: friday, february 9, 2007, 10:50 PM ET

update: tuesday, february 13, 2007, 7:45 PM ET


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Senate debate quashed; Dems shun fund cut debate for now

"The fact that . . . Democrats could pull together only 49 of the 60 votes needed to break a procedural impasse on the resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s plan was a product of many competing agendas.
There was the Democratic desire to avoid getting tied up on any vote that could be perceived as undercutting United States troops or endorsing Mr. Bush’s plan. At the same time, a surprising number of Republicans showed they were not yet ready to abandon the president even though many blame him for their November election losses and worry he will hurt them again next year. Then there were the presidential ambitions of several senators who are trying to distinguish themselves from others on the issue.
. . . [Republicans] knew that the bipartisan plan . . . did not have 60 votes. But the plan calling for no reductions in spending . . . was likely to get at least 60, meaning the only resolution that would have passed would have been one that essentially backed the president.
Most Democrats are not ready to begin the politically charged discussion of restricting war spending."

Hulse, Carl. (The New York Times). Many Voices, No Debate, as Senate Is Stifled on War. February 7, 2007.

posted: friday, february 9, 2007, 10:29 PM ET


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Reconstruction part of surge lags; jobs & peace linked, study says

"Senior military officers . . . have told President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the new Iraq strategy could fail unless more civilian agencies step forward quickly to carry out plans for reconstruction and political development.
. . . Mr. Gates said Tuesday that Ms. [Condoleezza] Rice had told him that her department needed six months to locate and prepare civil servants and contractors to send abroad.
. . . [F]rom the standpoint of personal security, taking those jobs — many of them, by definition, outside the relative safety of the Green Zone — is widely seen as an unattractive career option.
. . . Tasia Scolinos, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department . . . provided a fact sheet that showed that the Justice Department had 200 employees and contractors in Iraq as of last August." [1]

"The State Department has asked the Pentagon for 129 people to fill slots in 'business development, agribusiness, medicine, city management' and other areas for 10 new provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), according to David Satterfield, [Condoleezza] Rice's coordinator for Iraq, who spoke to reporters in an afternoon briefing.
Deployments will last at least six months until Congress provides supplemental funding to pay for private contractors. The State Department has already filled its own slots on the new teams with 19 Foreign Service officers, Satterfield said, adding that the department is actively engaged in identifying appropriate contractors. The Agency for International Development will also supply personnel, he said.
. . . The administration has asked Congress for $538 million in supplemental funds to pay for the program. The PRTs, which are projected to be up and running by the end of next month, will be housed with U.S. military combat brigades." [2]

. . . [A] recent classified study, conducted by the Joint Warfare Analysis Center of the Defense Department . . . found that a 2 percent increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30 percent decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17 percent decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence." [1]

[1] Shanker, Thom & Cloud, David S. (The New York Times). Military Wants More Civilians to Help in Iraq. February 7, 2007.
[2] DeYoung, Karen. (The Washington Post). Military Must Fill Iraq Civilian Jobs. February 8, 2007.

posted: friday, february 9, 2007, 10:06 PM ET

update: saturday, february 10, 2007, 11:37 PM ET


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Maliki takes blame for delay / Would curfew help?

"Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that his government had stumbled in its efforts to carry out a new security plan in Baghdad and that the delays and mounting violence were hurting its credibility with the Iraqi people.
. . . Pressure is increasing on the Maliki government to show signs of progress on the security plan that was announced more than a month ago, especially after three weeks of bloody violence that has killed 3,000 civilians.
. . . The stepped up pace of the violence against Shiites since the plan was announced, which American and Iraqi officials say is part of a strategy by Sunni insurgents to undermine the government, has further convinced many Shiites that the Iraqi security forces are hapless.
. . . American officials have defended the pace of the operation, emphasizing that it involves a rolling buildup of forces that will take time." [1]

Would a curfew help minimize the violence until the surge takes effect?

[1] Santora, Marc. (The New York Times). Iraqi Premier Admits Errors in Introducing Security Plan in Baghdad. February 7, 2007.

posted: friday, february 9, 2007, 9:31 PM ET


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Murder Peanuts (video)

Update of Murder at the Peanuts Instead Photo Shoot

This video disappeared on a previous post when I added tags and re-published. This happened before on a Saddam Hussein video. The lesson? Don't republish a Blogger posting that contains YouTube or Google Video videos.

posted: wednesday, february 7, 2007, 7:10 PM ET
re-posted: friday, february 9, 2007, 6:15 PM ET


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The disengagement solution

Edward N. Luttwak of Center for Strategic and International Studies says that "[disengagement] would start with a tactical change: American soldiers would no longer patrol towns and villages, conduct cordon-and-search operations, or man outposts and checkpoints. An end to these tasks would allow the greatest part of the troops in Iraq to head home.
. . . The remaining American forces, including ground units, would hole up within safe and mostly remote bases in Iraq — to support the elected government, deter foreign invasion, dissuade visible foreign intrusions, and strike at any large concentration of jihadis should it emerge. . . . The Americans would operate training programs within safe bases.
. . . The total number of American troops in Iraq — even including any surge — is so small, and their linguistic skills so limited, that they have little effect on day-to-day security. Nor have they really protected Iraqis from one another. At most, the presence of American soldiers in any one place merely diverts attacks elsewhere.
. . . Intelligence is to counterinsurgency what firepower is to conventional warfare, and we just do not have it or the capacity to gather information on our own."

Luttwak also says that America disengaging would cause the Shiites and Sunnis "to find ways to stabilize relations with each other."

Op-ed by Edward N. Luttwak, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Luttwak, Edward N. (The New York Times). February 6, 2007. To Help Iraq, Let It Fend for Itself.

related posting
Sadr's redeployment plan not covered enough / Is war for U.S. almost over? January 23, 2007.

posted: wednesday, february 7, 2007, 5:32 PM ET


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Surge off to bad start; Petraeus may not make difference

"A growing number of Iraqis blamed the United States on Sunday for creating conditions that led to the worst single suicide bombing in the war, which devastated a Shiite market in Baghdad the day before. They argued that the Americans had been slow in completing the vaunted new American security plan, making Shiite neighborhoods much more vulnerable to such horrific attacks.
. . . In advance of the plan, which would flood Baghdad with thousands of new American and Iraqi troops, many Mahdi Army checkpoints were dismantled and its leaders were either in hiding or under arrest, which was one of the plan’s intended goals to reduce sectarian fighting. But with no immediate influx of new security forces to fill the void, Shiites say, Sunni militants and other anti-Shiite forces have been emboldened to plot the type of attack that obliterated the bustling Sadriya market on Saturday." [1]

(It's strange that after repeatedly saying that protecting people was the foundation of the surge, the U.S. would dismantle the old security system before installing the new. Is it reasonable to assume that dismantling old checkpoints without replacing them with new ones would make it easier to bring bombs into Baghdad? The recent increase in deaths has been mostly caused by bombs. Bombs have also been the favored weapon of the insurgents and terrorists. Who's in charge here and what are their motivations?)

"At a White House briefing on January 10 by two anonymous senior administration officials, one made this startlingly verifiable promise . . . :
"SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: . . . The Iraqis are going to have three brigades within Baghdad within a little more than a month. They have committed to trying to get one brigade in, I think, by the first of February, and two more by the 15th. . . .
'So people are going to be able to see pretty quickly that the Iraqis are or are not stepping up. And that provides the ability to judge.'
Alright, so now it's past the first of the month, and how's it going?
Steven R. Hurst reported on Thursday (Feb. 1) for the Associated Press: 'Local commanders. . . . said only about 2,000 of the additional troops had reached Baghdad or were nearby. . . .
'An Iraqi army brigade from Irbil, about 3,000 men in principle, will have at most 1,500 men when it finally arrives in Baghdad. The commander says 95 percent of the men don't speak Arabic. A brigade from Sulaimaniyah, also in the Kurdish north, has reached the Muthana Airport in central Baghdad, but it is only 1,000-men strong, not the expected 3,000.' " [2]

"Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals -- including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders -- in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war.
. . . Many military insiders are skeptical that . . . lessons learned by [Col. H.R.] McMaster in Tall Afar or Petraeus in Mosul will be easily applied in the far larger arena of Baghdad.
The joke among some staff officers was that Petraeus operated in such a freewheeling manner in Iraq's north that he had his own foreign policy with Syria and Turkey. In Baghdad, by contrast, he will have to operate constantly with Iraqi officials, with the U.S. government bureaucracy, and in the global media spotlight. Also, experts agree that the basic problem in Iraq is political, not military.
. . . 'It wouldn't surprise me if Congress pulled the rug out or the Iraqis blocked major revisions in strategy,' said Erin M. Simpson, a Harvard University counterinsurgency expert." [3]

[1] Cave, Damien & Oppel, Richard A. (The New York Times). February 5, 2007. Iraqis Fault Pace of U.S. Plan in Attack.
[2] Froomkin, Dan. (The Washington Post). February 6, 2007. Bush Daring Dems on Iraq.
[3] Ricks, Thomas E. (The Washington Post). February 5, 2007. Officers With PhDs Advising War Effort.

posted: wednesday, february 7, 2007, 4:47 PM ET

update: friday, february 9, 2007, 12:54 PM ET


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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Iraq's refugees increasingly unwelcome in Mideast

"Once a popular singer in his native Baghdad, he [Saad Ali] is now unemployed.. . . Outside, Ali, 35, avoids police officers and disguises his Arabic with a Jordanian dialect. He returns home before 10 p.m. to stay clear of government checkpoints. . . . Six months ago, near his home in Baghdad, two men threatened to kill him. Singing romantic songs, they said, was un-Islamic.
. . . For decades, Jordan welcomed refugees. . . . According to the United Nations, 500,000 to 700,000 Iraqi refugees live in Jordan, but aid officials say the actual number is nearer to 1 million because many Iraqis live under the radar. Jordan's tolerance has waned, however, since a group of Iraqis bombed three hotels in November 2005, killing 60 people, according to Iraqis, aid officials and human rights groups. The government fears that Iraq's mostly Sunni Arab refugees could remain in the country permanently or become recruits for Iraq's insurgency.
Now, the exodus is generating friction and anger across the region, while straining basic services in already poor countries. Iraqis are blamed for driving up prices and taking away scarce jobs. Iraq's neighbors worry the new refugees will carry in Iraq's sectarian strife."

Raghavan, Sudasan. (The Washington Post). February 4, 2007. War in Iraq Propelling A Massive Migration.

posted: tuesday, february 6, 2007, 9:44 AM ET


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Some Shiite-Sunni tension in U.S. also

"Escalating tensions between Sunnis and Shiites across the Middle East are rippling through some American Muslim communities. . . . Political splits between those for and against the American invasion of Iraq fuel some of the animosity, but it is also a fight among Muslims about who represents Islam.
. . . Some students and experts on sectarianism also attribute the fissure to the significant growth in the Muslim American population over the past few decades.
Before, most major cities had only one mosque and everyone was forced to get along. Now, some Muslim communities are so large that the majority Sunnis and minority Shiites maintain their own mosques, schools and social clubs.
. . . 'I don’t want Shiite students to feel alienated,' said Nura Sediqe, the president of the Ann Arbor student group. 'But the dominant group never sees as much of a problem as the minority.'
. . . Not all campuses have been affected. Some, like Georgetown University and Cornell University, were considered oases of tolerance."

MacFarquhar, Neil. (The New York Times). February 4, 2007. Iraq’s Shadow Widens Sunni-Shiite Split in U.S.

posted: tuesday, february 6, 2007, 9:27 AM ET


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Surge to count contractors as part of security force

"During an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new top commander in Iraq, said he counts the 'thousands of contract security forces' among the assets available to him to supplement the limited number of U.S. and Iraqi troops to be used for dealing with the insurgency.
A former senior Defense Intelligence Agency expert on the Middle East, retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, said last week that contracting out intelligence collection and security for Army units and their contractors 'results from actual military forces being too small.' He added: 'I can't remember a subordinate commander considering mercenaries as part of his forces.'
Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who once headed the U.S. Central Command and today serves on an advisory board of a defense contractor, said there is a role for private firms taking on security missions. But he warned that problems can arise 'when they take on quasi-military roles.' "

Pincus, Walter. (The Washington Post). Security Contracts to Continue in Iraq. February 4, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 6, 2007, 9:12 AM ET


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Arab League's Iraq diplomat resigns; criticizes everyone

"The Arab League sent Mokhtar Lamani to Iraq to persuade its bitterly divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders to make peace. He failed, and has now resigned.
. . . He says his mission was doomed by feeble support from the Arab governments that hired him, U.S. policies and the refusal of Iraq's leaders to work together.
. . . Throughout [his 8 months in Baghded], Lamani was working on the main goal of his mission, which was little noticed in the West: to convene a national reconciliation conference between Iraq's fractious parties and sectarian groups.
. . . Iraq lacks the key requisite for reconciliation _ trust, Lamani told AP.
. . . In his Jan. 22 resignation letter . . . Lamani said of the Iraqi leaders: 'My only problem was their own relations with each other, their strong feeling that each is a victim of the other.'
. . . Lamani said he ultimately blames Washington for Iraq's deterioration. 'Its ways of dealing with the Iraqi problems, including the Iranian intervention, are not right.'
. . . Lamani also faults the 22 nations of the Arab League, saying they did not give Iraq 'the necessary priority or seriousness.'

Sinan, Omar. (The Associated Press). Arab Diplomat Resigns After Iraq Mission. February 4, 2007.

posted: tuesday, february 6, 2007, 9:02 AM ET


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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Serbia rejects Kosovo plan / Partition alternative

"Serbia rejected a United Nations proposal on Friday that paves the way for an independent Kosovo, setting up a possible showdown between its supporter, Russia, and the West over the disputed territory’s final status.
. . . The proposal, which is still subject to weeks of negotiation between the two sides, will require Russian acquiescence in order to win Security Council approval. Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power over the plan, has until now backed Serbia’s position that Kosovo must remain an integral, even if an autonomous, part of Serbia.
. . . While the plan does not mention independence, its provisions describe de facto statehood for Kosovo — providing for an army, constitution and flag — though it would still be protected by NATO and overseen by the international community for the indefinite future. The plan would also allow Kosovo to declare independence if the package is approved by the Security Council." [1]

"Kosovo, which is more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has struggled since the early 20th century to free itself from the dominance of Belgrade. With the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s the fight began anew, but Serbia resisted fiercely.
The war was marked by atrocities on both sides and a horrific cycle of 'ethnic cleansing,' as the formerly mixed Serbian and ethnic Albanian populations pulled apart.
. . . While many people see fixing Kosovo’s eventual independence as the last chapter of Yugoslav disintegration, Serbs see it as the dismemberment of their homeland.
The province . . . is home to the Serbian Orthodox Church’s most sacred sites.
. . . [F]ew Americans . . . have as deep an emotional connection to place as many Europeans have.
That is why Europe . . . is not united behind the United Nations plan. Countries facing their own secessionist movements . . . are skeptical of what they see as an American effort to jam a solution into place so Washington can turn its attention elsewhere." [2]

"[E]very proposal assumes partition must be ruled out.
. . . The international community’s all-Kosovo fixation has forced it to concoct complex power-sharing schemes to accommodate two mistrustful populations before considering independence. The costs of this ‘‘standards before status’’ approach have been predictable: an uncertain investment environment, frustrated expectations and a fragility that destabilizes the region.
It would be one thing if these mutually suspicious populations were inextricably linked, but they aren’t. The majority of Serbs in Kosovo live in a small strip in the far north. Partition would allow them to continue living in Serbia. The remaining pockets would be less threatening to Albanians, making Kosovo more governable, and the small, remaining Serbian population safer.
. . . There is nothing magic or moral about Kosovo’s borders. They are an artifact of Tito’s Yugoslavia, and they never corresponded to ethnicity or contributed to social peace. If borders fail to ensure security or promote welfare, they should be changed. That’s why we favored separating Kosovo from Serbia in the first place. That is a partition, too. So why is severing a smaller part of Serbia inherently wrong?"

Op-ed by Timothy William Waters who "helped prepare the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in Kosovo." [3]

[1] Smith, Craig S. (The New York Times). Serbia Rejects Plan That Could Lead to Kosovo Independence. February 3, 2007.
[2] Smith, Craig S. (The New York Times). On Road to Kosovo Independence, a Warning: Go Slow. February 4, 2007.
[3] Waters, Timothy William. (The New York Times). A Separate Peace. February 1, 2007.

posted: sunday, february 4, 2007, 10:06 AM ET


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