Sunday, April 29, 2007

Excerpts from Gen. Petraeus press conference

"The focus of Multinational Force Iraq is, of course, on working with our Iraqi counterparts to help improve security for the people of Iraq in order to give Iraqi leaders the time and space they need to come to grips with the tough political issues that must be resolved. Resolution of these issues is the key to the achievement of reconciliation among the various ethnic and sectarian groups, political parties and leaders in order to achieve a lasting solution to Iraq's problems.
We are still in the relatively early stages of our new effort, about two months into it, with three of five Army surge brigades and two additional Marine battalions on the ground, and the remainder of the additional combat forces scheduled to be operating in their areas by mid-June.
Baghdad is the main effort, and we continue to establish joint security stations and combat outposts in the city and in the belts around it. The presence of coalition and Iraqi forces and increased operational tempo, especially in areas where until recently we had no sustained presence, have begun to produce results. Most significantly, Iraqi and coalition forces have helped to bring about a substantial reduction in the rate of sectarian murders each month from January until now in Baghdad, a reduction of about two-thirds. There have also been increases in weapons caches seized and the number of actionable tips received.
In the Ramadi area, for example, U.S. and Iraqi forces have found nearly as many caches in the first four months of this year as they found in all of last year.
Beyond this, we are seeing a revival of markets, renewed commerce, the return of some displaced families and the slow resumption of services, though I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and I again note that we are really just getting started with the new effort.
I am well aware that the sense of gradual progress and achievement we feel on the ground in many areas in Iraq is often eclipsed by the sensational attacks that overshadow our daily accomplishments. While the enemy's effectiveness in carrying out such attacks has been reduced by our operations to some degree, there clearly are still far too many of them, and we obviously are focusing heavily on actions to identify and dismantle the networks that carry out car bomb and suicide vest attacks and their supporting infrastructure.
Our achievements have not come without sacrifice. Our increase in operational tempo, location of our forces in the populations they are securing and conduct of operations in areas where we previously had no presence, as well as the enemy's greater use of certain types of explosive devices, have led to an increase in our losses. Our Iraqi partners have sacrificed heavily as well, with losses generally two to three times ours or even more.
Indeed, while some Iraqi forces remain a work in progress, there should be no question that Iraq's soldiers and police are fighting and dying for their country, and a number of them have impressively shouldered their part of the burden of the fight against al Qaeda and the other enemies of the new Iraq. To help them progress, we have steadily been increasing the number of transition teams, the train and equip effort, and steadily strengthening the partnership programs between our forces and Iraqi elements.
The situation in Iraq is, in sum, exceedingly complex and very tough. Success will take continued commitment, perseverance and sacrifice, all to make possible an opportunity for the all-important Iraqi political actions that are the key to long-term solutions to Iraq's many problems. Because we are operating in new areas and challenging elements in those areas, this effort may get harder before it gets easier.
Success, in the end, will depend on Iraqi actions. As I noted during my confirmation hearing, military action is necessary but not sufficient. We can provide the Iraqis an opportunity, but they will have to exploit it.
During Secretary Gates' recent visit to Iraq, we agreed that in early September, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and I would provide an assessment of the situation in Iraq with respect to our mission and offer recommendations on the way ahead. We will be forthright in that assessment, as I believe I have been with you today.
Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all Americans for their support of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and civilians serving in Iraq. Our young men and women in uniform deserve the recognition that Tom Brokaw accorded them when he described them as America's 'new greatest generation.' It's a privilege to serve with them again."

"[QUESTION]: You say that Iraq is now the central focus of al Qaeda's worldwide effort. Are you saying that al Qaeda in Iraq is now the sort of principal enemy of the U.S. forces stationed there? Before it was Shi'a groups. And do you see that al Qaeda in Iraq -- do you see any evidence that it is linked internationally to bin Laden? How many foreign fighters are actually there?
GEN. PETRAEUS: First of all, we do definitely see links to the greater al Qaeda network. I think you know that we have at various times intercepted messages to and from. There is no question but that there is a network that supports the movement of foreign fighters through Syria into Iraq.
It is something we can, you know, keep some track of in a broad way. Obviously, when we can get the final 50 meters, if you will, we then take action against it.
It is clearly the element in Iraq that conducts the sensational attacks, these attacks that, as I mentioned, cause not just horrific physical damage -- and which, by the way, have been increasingly indiscriminate. Secretary Gates noted the other day that al Qaeda has declared war on all Iraqis, and I think that that is an accurate statement. They have killed and wounded and maimed countless Iraqi civilians in addition to, certainly, coalition and Iraqi security forces, and they have done that, again, without regard to ethnosectarian identity.
That significance of al Qaeda in the conduct of the sensational attacks, the huge car bomb attacks against which we have been hardening markets, hardening neighborhoods, trying to limit movement and so forth -- those attacks, again, are of extraordinary significance because they can literally drown out anything else that might be happening.
As I mentioned, we generally in many areas -- not all, but in many areas -- have a sense of sort of incremental progress. Again, that is not transmitted at all. Of course it will never break through the noise and the understandable coverage given to it in the press of a sensational attack that kills many Iraqis.
So this is a -- you know, it is a very significant enemy. I think it is probably public enemy number one. It is the enemy whose actions sparked the enormous increase in sectarian violence that did so much damage to Iraq in 2006, the bombing of the Al Askari mosque in Samarra, the gold-domed mosque there, the third holiest Shi'a shrine. And it is the organization that continues to try to reignite not just sectarian violence but ethnic violence, as well, going after Iraqi Kurds in Nineveh province and Kirkuk and areas such as that, as well. So again, I think a very, very significant enemy in that regard."

"We will have seen [by September] additional Iraqi security forces -- I forget the exact number that is being trained just in the month of May that will graduate from this greatly expanded institutional training capacity of the Iraqis. I think it's in the order of 7,000 to 9,000 in the military alone."

"The Iranian involvement has really become much clearer to us and brought into much more focus during the interrogation of the members -- the heads of the Qazali network and some of the key members of that network that have been in detention now for a month or more."

"I don't think we have found a link [of Iran] to the spectacular car-bomb attacks, which we believe are generally al Qaeda and elements sort of connected to al Qaeda. Typically, in fact, still we believe that, oh, 80 to 90 percent of the suicide attacks are carried out by foreigners. That's a network, again, that typically brings them in through Syria and is again a major concern and certainly a hope that Syria will crack down on the ability of people to come through their airport and so forth and then be brought into Iraq."

"[Prime Minister Maliki is] not the Prime Minister Tony Blair of Iraq. He does not have a parliamentary majority. He does not have his ministers in all of the different ministries. They are from all kinds of different parties. They sometimes sound a bit discordant in their statements to the press and their statements to other countries. It's a very, very challenging situation in which to lead."

"Well, look, I think first of all that the tribal elements of Iraq are a fact of life, and that what Iraq eventually will have is some form of government that at least listens to and incorporates the views of tribes and sheikhs, particularly in an area like Anbar province. Now, it varies when you're in cities; the tribal influence is less.
But I think that, candidly, a mistake that we may have made in early days was not to pay enough attention to these very important elements of Iraqi society, which still play a very, very key role and are really, you know, a lot more than I think sort of the stereotypical view of tribes. I mean, each tribe generally has a construction company, an import-export business, and a trucking company as well. I mean these are entrepreneurs as well as tribes, and they provide a variety of services to the members of their tribes.
So I think, again, that what results in Anbar province will actually have the features of democratic governance representing the citizens of Anbar province and being responsive to them.
But among those elements to whom they are responsive will be certainly the sheikhs and the leaders of the major tribes in that area, because of the allegiance that the people give to them."

"[T]he progress is interesting, because it's a negative. It means nothing happened, in most cases. In other words, there were not sectarian murders. Whether that is newsworthy before it goes on for several weeks is obviously arguable.
But anyway, so what I asked was, 'Hey, come on, it's about dusk, let's go -- we'll fly around the city a little bit.' And we flew around. And so -- I mean, it was unbelievable.
This is a day in which I think there was a car bomb in Iraq, some of . . . [Baghdad's] seven million citizens were affected by that, but you could not have told that from what we saw over the city. There were three big amusement parks operational. I'm talking about, you know, roller coaster kinds of -- these are not just a couple little merry-go-rounds in small neighborhood parks. Restaurants in some parts of the city were booming. Lots of markets were open. The people were on the street. There were -- there had to be a thousand soccer games ongoing. They're watering the grass in various professional soccer fields -- the soccer leagues.
You know, all of this is actually so foreign, I think, in the mind of most people who see the news and of course do see that day's explosion or something like that. And actually there is a city of seven million in which life goes on, and again, citizens are determined to carry on with their life."

U.S. Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing with Gen. Petraeus from the Pentagon. (Transcript). April 26, 2007.

The Pentagon Channel. Pentagon Briefing 26 April 2007. (Click appropriate link or use search box).

posted: sunday, april 29, 2007, 5:54 AM ET


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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kurds want their oil fields, Sunnis want oil unity

"Politicians from the . . . Kurdish region say measures in the law that would take undeveloped oil fields away from regional governments and have a new national oil company oversee them are unconstitutional.
'Iraq, frankly, does not have the money to invest in oil fields,' said Ashti Hawrami, the Kurdish region's minister of natural resources. He added that the Kurds are disputing four annexes to the draft law that would dilute their ability to exploit oil in their territory. If the draft isn't 'watered down,' Kurdish regional authorities will not support it, he said.
The Kurds also don't trust the central government to distribute oil revenue, saying it has been behind in payments in other instances. Some have suggested that a fund be set up outside Iraq to dole out that money. 'We are asking for our fair share and guarantees that we will receive it,' Hawrami said.
Sunni Arabs and some secular Shiite politicians, however, stand firm that the central government must control oil production and revenue distribution. 'If we want to keep the unity of Iraq, the best way is to keep the oil under the authority of the central government,' said Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni with the Iraqi National List party of former prime minister Ayad Allawi. *
While some Kurds favor allowing agreements that would share production with foreign oil companies, many Sunnis and Shiites are against them on nationalistic grounds. They prefer service contracts."

Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). Baghdad's Fissures and Mistrust Keep Political Goals Out of Reach. April 26, 2007.

* The main reason for some sort of centralized distribution of oil revenue, whether from the Iraqi national government or somewhere else, should be the fair distribution of these revenues. It should not be used to keep regions or provinces from achieving a more autonomous status, if that's what they want.

posted: saturday, april 28, 2007, 6:07 PM ET
update: sunday, april 29, 2007, 4:42 AM ET

related posting
Should Iraq's oil fields be nationalized? April 11, 2007.


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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mixed marriage massacre

"The bad blood began to rise a few months ago in northern Iraq with the kind of interfaith love so reviled by Iraq's religious extremists: A Muslim woman eloped with a member of the tiny Yazidi religious sect.
It erupted in a massacre Sunday, police said, when Sunni gunmen in Mosul hijacked a busload of mostly Yazidi workers from a nearby town and shot and killed 23 of them, one by one.
The mass killing was the latest attack on religious minorities in Iraq, where human rights groups say Christians, Jews and members of other, smaller sects are often killed, persecuted or forced to convert by Muslim extremists. Last month in Kirkuk, two elderly Chaldean Catholic nuns were killed by armed men who stormed their house as they slept.
. . . 'They don't know the language of negotiation,' he said of the killers, who he said were probably members of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. 'They only know the language of weapons.' "

Brulliard, Karin. (The Washington Post). An Iraqi Massacre Rooted in Interfaith Love. April 23, 2007.

related posting
Mixed marriages targeted: Is mixed region a solution? March 6, 2007.

posted: wednesday, april 25, 2007, 4:37 PM ET


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Sunni "gated community" controversy

"The U.S. military is walling off at least 10 of Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods and using biometric technology to track some of their residents, creating what officers call 'gated communities' in an attempt to carve out oases of safety in this war-ravaged city.
The plan drew widespread condemnation in Iraq this past week. On Sunday night, Prime Minister Nouri-al Maliki told news services that he would work to halt construction of a wall around the Sunni district of Adhamiyah, which residents said would aggravate sectarian tensions by segregating them from Shiite neighbors.
. . . The tactic is part of the two-month-old U.S. and Iraqi counterinsurgency plan to calm sectarian strife and is loosely modeled after efforts in cities such as Tall Afar and Fallujah, where the military says it has curbed violence by strictly controlling access. The gated communities concept has produced mixed results in previous wars -- including failure in Vietnam, where peasants were forcibly moved to fortified hamlets, only to become sympathizers of the insurgency.
. . . [S]outhern Ghazaliyah is a base for al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgent groups." [1]

"The barrier quickly drew criticism from Adhamiyah residents, who . . . likened it to the barriers Israel has constructed around the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which are much-maligned in the Arab world. Other critics joined the outcry, among them human rights activists and representatives of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of whom told reporters in Najaf that the walls amounted to a 'siege of the city.'
. . . Dawood al-Azami, deputy director of the Adhamiyah local council, said 90 percent of respondents to a survey distributed in the neighborhood on Sunday were strongly opposed to the wall, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. military officials say many residents of the city's newly walled-off neighborhoods are pleased with the barriers. Mohammad al-Kabi [a building contractor] is one.
. . . Checkpoints and road closures already have severed his ties to friends and business partners on the other side of wall, he said. There used to be daily clashes on his street. Now, with the wall going up, he said he feels more protected.
'There are no other options,' said Kabi, a Shiite Muslim. 'It has reduced the violence. The snipers are not shooting at us anymore.' [2]

"The strong reaction underscores the sense of powerlessness Iraqis feel in the face of the American military, whose presence is all the more pervasive as an increasing number of troops move on to the city’s streets.
And it has proved to be an unlikely boon for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, making the Shiite politician — at least for now — into a champion for Sunnis because he publicly opposed the wall’s construction." [3]

[1] Brulliard, Karin. (The Washington Post). 'Gated Communities' For the War-Ravaged. April 23, 2007.
[2] Bruillard, Karin. (The Washington Post). Iraq Blast Kills 9 GIs, Injures 20 At Outpost. April 24, 2007.
[3] Rubin, Alissa J. (The New York Times). Frustration Over Wall Unites Sunni and Shiite. April 24, 2007.

posted: wednesday, april 25, 2007, 3:48 PM ET


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What's Iraq?

"The Bush administration conjures up the image of a strong global al Qaeda movement to motivate America's support for the war.
By contrast, many Americans who oppose our presence in Iraq focus on sectarian hatreds that have come to affect millions of Iraqis. While there is an element of truth to each of these images of our challenge in Iraq, neither is the most accurate way to understand the war.
Consider first the numbers of those fighting in Iraq. Throughout the first three years of the Iraq war, Brookings' estimates of the size of the resistance, based largely on CENTCOM data, ranged from 15,000 to 20,000 fighters. Only about 1,000 to 2,000 al Qaeda were typically in Iraq. Yet these individuals, altogether representing less than 0.1 percent of Iraq's population, have used sabotage and terror and assassination so effectively as to prevent Iraqi economic recovery, the formation of a strong government, or a sense of hopefulness among the Iraqi population.
Admittedly, guerrilla movements are often relatively small, but Iraq's insurgency has been particularly so. Its al Qaeda element, responsible for most of the suicide attacks such as those that terrorized Baghdad April 18, has been downright tiny."

Op-ed by Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings Institution [1]

And how much of the civil war aspect is being provoked by the insurgency or al Qaeda?

O'Hanlon, Michael. (The Washington Times). A ruthless foe. April 24, 2007.

posted: wednesday, april 25, 2007, 2:48 PM ET


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Ft. Bragg paratroopers killed in Iraq / Special Forces-linked Tillman-Lynch hearings

"Army officials on Tuesday continued the solemn process of contacting the families of nine paratroopers killed in a suicide truck bombing in Iraq, the single deadliest attack for the storied 82nd Airborne Division in nearly 40 years.
Twenty paratroopers from the same division were wounded in Monday's blast, which was also the single greatest loss of life for American ground forces in Iraq since Dec. 1, 2005.
. . . The soldiers were members of the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bragg. A civilian interpreter was also wounded.
. . . An insurgent group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, according to an Internet-posted statement Tuesday.
"The difference between the 82nd and most other combat units is that something like this, instead of diminishing morale, will ultimately strengthen it," [division spokesman Maj. Tom] Earnhardt said.
. . . Earnhardt said 106 soldiers from the division have been in killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001." [1]

"Members of a congressional oversight panel vowed yesterday to investigate whether the White House and top Pentagon officials played a role in deceiving the public about the 2004 'friendly fire' death of a former NFL player, Cpl. Pat Tillman, and argued that five investigations have failed to answer critical questions about the case.
During a dramatic hearing on Capitol Hill, Tillman's brother, Kevin, spoke publicly for the first time about the shooting and how members of the Army Ranger unit they both were with kept him in the dark about how Pat died on an eastern Afghanistan hillside. Kevin Tillman spoke about the 'deliberate and calculated lies' the military told his family and the public, and how he believes military officials 'hijacked' Pat's legacy by transforming his tragic death into 'an inspirational message.' " [2]

"The hearing will cover both Tillman's death three years ago and the 2003 rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq _ a story embellished by the military, which videotaped her rescue by special forces, stirring complaints of government media manipulation." [3]

"[Command Sgt. Maj. Bruce] Coleman, the West Virginia Army Guard's state command sergeant major, was at Fort Bragg, N.C., at the right time to drive Jessica's brother, Pfc. Gregory Lynch Jr., home to Palestine on emergency leave the day or so after his sister was reported to be missing. The brother enlisted in the Army at the same time his sister did and is a helicopter avionics and electronics technician at Fort Bragg." [4]

[1] Thompson, Estes. (The Associated Press). 9 Fort Bragg Paratroopers Killed in Iraq. April 24, 2007.
[2] White, Josh. (The Washington Post). Panel Vows to Pursue Tillman Case. April 25, 2007.

[3] The Associated Press. Lawmakers To Open Tillman-Lynch Hearing. April 24, 2007.
[4] Haskell, Bob. (American Forces Press Service). Special Guards for a Special Family. April 18, 2003.

related posting
U.S. security contractors in Iraq are outside law. April 21, 2007.

posted: wednesday, april 25, 2007, 2:24 PM ET

update: sunday, april 29 2007, 4:58 AM ET


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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Maliki says security takeover by year end; Maysan handover; bombs

"Bombs ravaged Baghdad in five horrific explosions aimed mainly at Shiite crowds on Wednesday, killing at least 171 people in the deadliest day in the capital since the American-led security plan for the city took effect two months ago.
. . . The wave of attacks, five of them involving car bombs, took place as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki declared that the Iraqi government planned to take full control of security from the American-led forces before the end of the year.
. . . Mr. Maliki said the gradual transfer to Iraqi authority would continue, with three provinces in the relatively tranquil region of Kurdistan the next to come under Iraqi security authority, followed by Karbala and Wasit Provinces in the south.
'In this way, province by province, we will reach the end of the line before the end of the year,' the prime minister said in a speech delivered by Mowaffak al-Rubaie, his national security adviser. The speech observed the transfer of the southern province of Maysan from British to Iraqi control. Maysan is the fourth of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed to Iraqi security forces." [1]

"In Maysan, Iraqi police and soldiers will assume control of all law enforcement and security operations. Coalition units will continue to partner with Iraqi security forces, and small military and police training teams will continue to help Iraqi forces as they gain more hands-on experience, . . . [a Multinational Force Iraq] official said.
Iraqi officials can call on coalition forces in Basra province if they face a situation they cannot handle, the official said.
Coalition forces will also help Iraqi border police. The province has a long border with Iran and coalition forces will continue to help the police patrol the border, the official said.
Investment in the province will continue. In all, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed more than 200 projects totalingalmost $100 million in Maysan Province. There are currently 41 projects under construction and another 15 projects planned. Health care, electricity and water are the most important projects in the province, the official said." [2]

[1] Semple, Kirk. (The New York Times). Wave of Bombings Continues in Iraq. April 19, 2007.
[2] Garamone, Jim. (American Forces Press Service). Fourth Iraqi Province Transfers to Local Control. April 18, 2007.

Wikipedia. Maysan Governate. Accessed April 22, 2007.

posted: sunday, april 22, 2007, 3:37 AM ET
update: sunday, april 22, 2007, 3:45 AM ET


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Saudi Arabia to forgive 80% Iraq debt; US leads

"Saudi Arabia has agreed to forgive 80 percent of the more than $15 billion that Iraq owes the kingdom, Iraqi and Saudi officials said yesterday, a major step given Saudi reluctance to provide financial assistance to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.
. . . The Bush administration has been working for months to persuade other governments to follow the U.S. lead and write off all of their shares of Iraq's debts, which Jabr said total $140 billion. Most of those loans date to Iraq's war with Iran from 1980 to 1988, when the United States, Saudi Arabia and other governments saw Iraq as a buffer against Iran.
Iraq also owes $199 billion in compensation for the Persian Gulf War that followed Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, analysts said."
. . . After a U.N.-brokered cease-fire ended the war with Iran, Iraq was unable to win debt relief from key allies, including Sunni countries in the Gulf and Russia, its primary weapons supplier. That heightened economic tensions that contributed to Iraq's decision to invade oil-rich Kuwait in 1990."

Mufson, Steven & Wright, Robin. (The Washington Post). In a Major Step, Saudi Arabia Agrees to Write Off 80 Percent of Iraqi Debt. April 18, 2007.

posted: sunday, april 22, 2007, 2:33 AM ET


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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Oil-autonomy increase Turkey-Kurd friction

"The prime minister on Monday warned Iraqi Kurds against interfering in southeastern Turkey, where the Kurdish majority is fighting Turkish security forces, saying 'the price for them will be very high.'
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was responding to Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq, who said Iraqi Kurds would retaliate for any Turkish interference in northern Iraq by stirring up trouble in southeastern Turkey.
. . . Turkey fears that any moves toward greater independence for Kurds in northern Iraq could incite Turkey's own estimated 14 million Kurds to outright rebellion.
Turkey is especially concerned about Barzani's bid to incorporate the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk into his semiautonomous region, fearing that Iraqi Kurds will use revenues from the city's oil wealth to fund a bid for independence.
. . . [T]he Iraqi government decided to implement a constitutional requirement to determine the status of Kirkuk . . . by the end of the year. The plan is expected to turn Kirkuk and its vast oil reserves over to Kurdish control, a step rejected by many of Iraq's Arabs and its Turkmen." [1]

"Kurdish boldness also comes at a critical time for Turkey, which is facing a growing threat in its own Kurdish region from separatist guerrillas raiding out of northern Iraq and has a presidential election coming up that could aggravate tensions between Islamist and secular Turks.
The fallout already has shaken relations between the United States and Turkey, a longtime ally increasingly frustrated that the overstretched American military in Iraq cannot crack down on Kurdish guerrillas.
That has the United States in a bind _ 'unwilling to open a new front in northern Iraq. Nor can it afford to lose its support from Iraq's Kurdish population,' said Dr. Andrew McGregor, a security analyst and Kurdish expert in Canada.
. . . [T]he opponents within al-Maliki's administration [to the Kirkuk resettlement program] caved in after the Kurds threatened to resign from the Cabinet _ a move that would have spelled the end of the fragile, U.S.-backed governing coalition.
. . . The Kurds used . . . hardball tactics . . . to win concessions granting them a major say in what companies are granted rights to exploit Iraqi oilfields in Kurdish-controlled areas." [2]

[1] Fraser, Suzan. (The Associated Press). Turkey Warns Iraqi Kurds on Interference. April 9, 2007.
[2] Reid, Robert H. (The Associated Press). Ambitions of Iraqi Kurds Worry Turkey. April 17, 2007.

posted: saturday, april 21, 2007, 6:04 AM ET

update: saturday, april 21, 2007, 6:17 AM ET


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Sunni nations may lessen Iraq's Sunnis' anger

"[Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri] Maliki faces skepticism from Sunni Arab countries over his government’s close ties with the Shiite government in Iran, as well as doubts about whether his government can bring stability to the country, said a senior American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was speaking before the discussions took place.
American officials are hopeful that by persuading other Arab governments to work closely with Mr. Maliki, they can reduce the hostility for the Iraqi government from Sunnis inside Iraq.
'What we need is for the regional players, like Jordan, and established players in the region, like Egypt, these broadly-based Sunni countries, to show that it recognizes the Maliki government,' the senior official said.
. . . At a regional conference in Baghdad last month, Mr. Maliki appealed for help from his neighbors to stem the violence in Iraq.
But only a few days later . . . the Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, said that the Iraqi government was responsible for defusing the sectarian violence, and that Iraq should revise its Constitution and rescind laws that give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds."

Cloud, David S. (The New York Times). Gates Will Try to Build Support for Iraqi Premier on Mideast Trip. April 17, 2007.

posted: saturday, april 21, 2007, 5:25 AM ET


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Sadr withdraws six cabinet members

"In the first major shake-up of Iraq's fragile coalition government, six ministers loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr pulled out of the cabinet on Monday over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for an American troop withdrawal from Iraq.
The action frees Maliki to pick qualified people to fill ministries that are widely seen as ineffective, corrupt and sectarian. Yet it could also deepen tensions with Sadr within the government and on the streets, which could thwart U.S. and Iraqi efforts to bring about political reconciliation and stability, Iraqi officials and analysts said.
. . . Sadr legislators . . . declared that they wanted Maliki to replace Sadr loyalists in the cabinet with 'independent technocrats' who would not place sect, tribe or religion over the best interests of Iraqis.
. . . 'Maliki doesn't have much time,' said Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni legislator, referring to filling the cabinet. 'Either you make the changes now and deal with the problem. Or else he'll lose everything.' " [1]

"Mr. Sadr . . . went underground at the start of the new Baghdad security plan in February.
. . . Mr. Sadr’s latest call for a timetable for American withdrawal comes as many Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress are pressing President Bush for exactly the same thing.
. . . Mr. Maliki said in a written statement that he 'welcomes the announcement of his eminence Moktada al-Sadr authorizing him the allocation of the six ministries that are held by Sadr’s bloc.' But the prime minister resisted Mr. Sadr’s demand to press the Americans for a timetable, saying that the issue of American withdrawal was dependent on 'the readiness of our armed forces to handle the entire security portfolio in all provinces.'
. . . A senior Sadr legislator, Bahaa al-Aaraji, when asked about the timetable, said American troops should stay in Iraq for two more years at the most, and must ensure that the country has a strong army and police force before leaving.
. . . When the government was formed last year, the 38 ministries were divided up like spoils among the country’s leading political parties." [2]

[1] Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). Six Sadr Loyalists Quit Cabinet in Challenge to Iraqi Premier. April 17, 2007.
[2] Wong, Edward. (The New York Post). Shiite Cleric Has Six Quit Cabinet in Iraq Shake-Up. April 17, 2007.

posted: saturday, april 21, 2007, 5:06 AM ET


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U.S. security contractors in Iraq are outside law

"[P]rivate security contractors, the hired guns who fight a parallel and largely hidden war in Iraq. The contractors face the same dangers as the military, but many come to the war for big money, and they operate outside most of the laws that govern American forces.
. . . The Pentagon estimates that at least 20,000 security contractors work in Iraq.
. . . Private contractors were granted immunity from the Iraqi legal process in 2004 by L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. occupation government. More recently, the military and Congress have moved to establish guidelines for prosecuting contractors under U.S. law or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but so far the issue remains unresolved.
. . . Triple Canopy, a 3 1/2 -year-old company founded by retired Special Forces officers and based in Herndon.
. . . Triple Canopy's 'Milwaukee' project, a contract to protect executives of KBR Inc., a Halliburton subsidiary, on Iraq's dangerous roads. He earned $600 a day commanding a small unit of guards armed with M-4 rifles and 9mm pistols, the same caliber weapons used by U.S. troops." [1]

With these private contractors operating outside the law and at least some of them having Special Forces connections, could some be involved in any conspiracy-type activities?

Fainaru, Steve. (The Washington Post). Four Hired Guns in an Armored Truck, Bullets Flying, and a Pickup and a Taxi Brought to a Halt. Who Did the Shooting and Why? April 15, 2007.

posted: saturday, april 21, 2007, 4:27 AM ET

update: monday, april 23, 2007, 10:34 AM ET


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U.S. & Qaeda colluding, Iraqi village says

"Hassan Alwan Said, the mayor of Buhriz, a violent village on the southern edge of Baqubah, said the persistent insurgent power in the city led many residents to fear that al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Americans were secretly colluding.
"They think, 'Why can't the coalition kick out al-Qaeda?' " he said."

Partlow, Joshua. (The Washington Post). U.S. Bolstering Force in Deadly Diyala. April 16, 2007.

posted: saturday, april 21, 2007, 4:11 AM ET


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Qaeda's Baghdadi reaches out to insurgents

"The head of an al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq said the country had become a 'university of terrorism,' producing highly qualified warriors, since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
In an audio recording posted on the Internet on Tuesday, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, said his fighters were successfully confronting U.S. forces in Iraq and have begun producing a guided missile called al-Quds 1 or Jerusalem 1.
. . . Addressing insurgent groups such as the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Ansar al-Sunna, Baghdadi said he strongly opposed any fighting between insurgent groups and vowed to take all necessary measures to prevent bloodshed.
'By God, you will not hear or see but good things (from us),' he said.
Ibrahim al-Shemmari, the spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq, welcomed Baghdadi's remarks.
'If they want to ... preserve the blood of Sunnis, we would be the happiest people to hear this talk,' he told Al Jazeera television in a telephone interview. 'We want to point out weapons at our enemies' chests and not at each other.' "

Sedarat, Firouz. (Reuters). Qaeda group says Iraq a "university of terror." April 17, 2007.

posted: saturday, april 21, 2007, 4:04 AM ET

update: saturday, april 21, 2007, 4:30 AM ET


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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Insurgent groups splitting from Qaeda

"An Iraqi militant group has highlighted the split in the ranks of the Iraqi insurgency by having its spokesman give a television interview in which he accuses al-Qaida and its umbrella organization of killing its members and pursuing the wrong policies.
"The gap has widened and the injustices committed by some brothers in al-Qaida have increased," Ibrahim al-Shimmari told Al-Jazeera television in an interview broadcast Wednesday and repeated Thursday.
. . . Al-Shimmari is the spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, a Sunni militant group that first aired its grievances against al-Qaida and umbrella Islamic State of Iraq on its Web site last week.
. . . He accused al-Qaida of killing 30 members of the Islamic Army, and said the Islamic State of Iraq's claim to constitute a state was both inaccurate and incorrect policy.
. . . He was more critical of Iranian influence in Iraq than American, apparently out of opposition to the growing power of Iraq's Shiite majority, a trend that Shiite-dominant Iran supports." [1]

"Key Sunni militant groups are severing their association with al-Qaeda in Iraq.
. . . The Sunni insurgency in Iraq has long been fractious, in part because secular nationalists [and others] . . . have rejected al-Qaeda's tactics, particularly beheadings.
'They have realized that those people are not working for Iraq's interests,' said Alaa Makki, a Sunni member of parliament with close ties to the insurgents.
. . . Insurgent leaders . . . offered different explanations for their split. Many said their link to the al-Qaeda groups was tainting their image as a nationalist resistance force. Others said they no longer wanted to be tools of the foreign fighters who lead al-Qaeda. Their war, they insist, is against only the U.S. forces, to pressure them to depart Iraq.
. . . About three months ago, al-Qaeda fighters began targeting insurgent leaders.
. . . The Sunni groups are also divided over entering the political process, said Makki.
. . . 'If they maintain their independence from each other and each one has its different strategy, there will be chaos on the ground and chaos at the [negotiating] table,' said Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president and leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party." [2]

[1] Keath, Lee. (The Associated Press). Group Notes Split Among Iraq Insurgents. April 12, 2007.
[2] Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). Sunni Factions Split With Al-Qaeda Group. April 14, 2007.

posted: sunday, april 15, 2007, 3:28 PM ET


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Iraqi Parliament and bridge bombed

"An umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia claimed responsibility on Friday for a brazen suicide bombing the previous day inside the Parliament building. The attack killed one legislator and wounded at least 22 other people.
The group, the Islamic State of Iraq, has a longstanding goal of toppling the government and driving the Americans from the country.
“A heroic knight of the Islamic State of Iraq, may God bless its men, went inside the crowd of the infidels of the so-called Parliament on Thursday, April 12, 2007,” the group said in an Internet posting, according to a translation from the SITE Institute, which tracks jihadist messages. “God has destroyed the crowds of defectors and infidels.”
. . . Parliament held an emergency session on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, to mourn the death of Muhammad Awad, the legislator who was killed. Mr. Awad was a member of the National Dialogue Front, a Sunni Arab political party." [1]

"In a separate and in some ways equally traumatic attack early in the day, a truck bomb destroyed the beloved 60-year-old Sarafiya bridge across the Tigris and killed six people. The heavily traveled bridge has long been a symbol of Baghdad, illustrated on old postcards and drawings from a more peaceful time.
. . . Several lawmakers said that their guards were often able to bully their way through checkpoints without being searched and that some carried high-level badges that made them and their vehicles exempt from being examined when the entered the zone.
'No one can bring bombs into this zone or this building except the lawmakers and their guards, and some of the lawmakers’ convoys are not searched,' said Wail Abdul Latif, a legislator from the secular Iraqiya bloc led by the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi. 'Some of the lawmakers’ guards make trouble at the checkpoints, some of them refuse to be searched. They are not very professional.' " [2]

"A suicide bombing in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone and an attack on a landmark bridge yesterday showed that there is still "a long way to go" in securing the Iraqi capital, a senior U.S. general in Iraq said today, but he also pointed to 'steady progress' overall in tamping down the city's rampant violence.
Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, also told Pentagon reporters in a video news conference that the military is not yet sure whether it will need to maintain higher troop levels -- resulting from a current 'surge' of reinforcements -- into 2008. He said an initial assessment will be made this summer, probably in July or August,' and we'll make a determination then how long we think we need to maintain the surge."
. . . He said, 'Al-Qaeda wants to make it about one or two events. They want to try to incite chaos.'
Asked what he would say to Iraqi lawmakers who pronounced the security plan dead because of yesterday's bombing, Odierno said they were speaking 'out of frustration.' [3]

[1] Wong, Edward. (The New York Times). Qaeda Group in Iraq Says It Led Attack on Parliament. April 14, 2007.
[2] Rubin, Alissa J. (The New York Times). 8 Iraqis Killed in Bomb Attack at Legislature. April 13, 2007.
[3] Branigin, William. (The Washington Post). Commander: Baghdad Bombing Shows 'Long Way to Go' for Security. April 13, 2007.

posted: sunday, april 15, 2007, 2:33 PM ET


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Maliki on withdrawal / Sadr says US provocateur

"Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Tuesday that he saw no need to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from his country.
His comments came a day after tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of two Shiite holy cities, demanding that U.S. forces leave the country. The rally, called by rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, marked the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.
We see no need for a withdrawal timetable. We are working as fast as we can," al-Maliki told reporters while on a four-day trip to Japan. 'To demand the departure of the troops is a democratic right and a right we respect. What governs the departure at the end of the day is how confident we are in the handover process.'
. . . Al-Maliki's visit to Japan came two weeks after Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi was in Tokyo and said U.S.-led coalition forces should not be withdrawn until Iraq's army is fully trained and ready to take over security." [1]

"Calling the United States the 'great evil,' radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday accused U.S. forces of dividing Iraq by stoking violence. He also urged his Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraqi security forces to stop fighting each other in Diwaniyah, a southern city where clashes erupted late last week.
. . . Sadr, a fierce nationalist who has long called for a U.S. withdrawal, stopped short of telling his fighters to rise up against the American troops, a move that would severely complicate an ongoing security offensive underway in Iraq.
. . . 'My brothers in the Mahdi Army, and my brothers in the security services: enough fighting and rivalry, because that is only a success for our, and your, enemy,' Sadr said in a statement brimming with emotion and passages from the Koran. 'Infighting between brothers is not right, nor is it right to follow the dirty American sedition, or to defend . . . the occupier.'
Sadr said the 'enemy' wants 'to draw you into a war to end Shiism, or rather Islam,' and he urged Iraq's army and police to remain independent of U.S. forces and to avoid being 'drawn after the occupier, because he is your stark enemy.' [2]

[1] Talmadge, Eric. (The Associated Press). Iraqi PM: No Timetable on U.S. Pullout. April 10, 2007.
[2] Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). Sadr Blames 'Evil' U.S. for Violence. April 9, 2007.

posted: sunday, april 15, 2007, 1:58 PM ET


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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Should Iraq's oil fields be nationalized?

Maybe if Iraq's oil fields were nationalized, the Sunnis would feel more secure about getting their fair share of oil revenue and wouldn't object to the federalist-autonomous-region preferences of a majority of the Shiites and Kurds. *

Nationalizing the fields might also lessen some of the concerns of Turkey over the possibility of Kirkuk being annexed to Kurdistan.

Iraq's constitution already says that the country's oil belongs to all Iraqis. ** Nationalizing the fields in which that oil lays would just be another step in that same general direction.

* In a
March 19, 2007 poll by ABC News and others, 59% of Shiites and 79% of Kurds favored either regional states with a federal government or independent states. Only 3% of Sunnis favored either of these two options, favoring a strongly centralized national government instead. (question 14)
** "Oil and gas are the ownership of all the people of Iraq in all the regions and governorates." (
Iraqi Constitution, Article 110)
*** I'm having second thoughts about this idea. Nationalization could lead to manipulation or coercion by those controlling Iraq's oil or revenue distribution. (see More thoughts on draft oil law).

posted: wednesday, april 11, 2007, 11:55 PM ET
update: tuesday, may 18, 2007, 6:38 PM ET


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Monday, April 09, 2007

Waiting to see surge effect; need reconciliation

"While Washington appears headed toward a political endgame on Iraq . . . the war on the ground is at an ebb tide. All sides -- including U.S. military strategists and Iraqi sectarian leaders and insurgents, as well as regional players such as Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- are waiting to see whether the new U.S. approach to make the Iraqi capital safer will work.
. . . An official in Iraq warned that executing the new approach will take time. . . . '[T]here is no way we can defeat this insurgency by summer. I believe we can begin to turn the tide by then, and have an idea if we are doing it. To defeat it completely is a five-to-10-year project, minimum.'
. . . In Baghdad . . . [s]ectarian killings are down about 50 percent since the new strategy began, according to U.S military spokesmen. Car bombings are up, but so are tips from Iraqis. It is impossible to know how much of the decrease in violence is attributable to the biggest Shiite militia -- radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army -- deciding to lie low.
. . . The U.S. government keeps pushing for reconciliation, but there are few signs of movement toward that goal. 'Nothing is going to work until the parties are ready to compromise, and I don't see any indicators yet that they are,' said A. Heather Coyne, who has worked in Iraq both as a military reservist and as a civilian. 'Until then, any effect of the surge will be temporary.' " [1]

"The Sunni Arabs . . . want Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a conservative Shiite, to make good on his promise to replace ineffective or corrupt ministers. Mr. Maliki promised the shake-up months ago, but the proposal now appears moribund.
The Sunni Arabs also want the Constitution amended to bring power back to Baghdad and reduce the chance that areas in the oil-rich, Shiite-dominated south will follow the model of Kurdistan and create an autonomous state.
. . . The Sunni Arabs continue to push for a rollback of purges of Sunni Arabs from government.
. . . The ruling Shiites must deal with Sunnis outside the government, in the factionalized insurgency, who can offer few guarantees on any promises to stop bombings against Shiites.
'We talk to people who say they represent the insurgents and they all say the same thing: ‘We oppose the occupation, but we don’t believe in killing civilians, in killing women and children,’ ' a senior adviser to Mr. Maliki said. 'But our people are dying in bombs every day. Who is killing them?' " [2]

[1] Ricks, Thomas E. (The Washington Post). Politics Collide With Iraq Realities. April 8, 2007.
[2] Rubin, Alissa J. & Wong, Edward. (The New York Times). Patterns of War Shift in Iraq Amid U.S. Buildup. April 9, 2007.

posted: monday, april 9, 2007, 3:33 PM ET

update: tuesday, april 10, 2007, 10:05 PM ET


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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Is terrorism the main cause of violence in Iraq?

In a recent interview on PBS's NewsHour, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said:

"The enemy, al-Qaida in particular, has certainly still sought to and, in fact, carried out sensational attacks at various points, trying to reignite sectarian violence and, in some cases, ethnic violence in, for example, Kirkuk.
Those have generally, almost always, been unsuccessful in reigniting sectarian violence, although that was the case in a horrific incident in Tall Afar in western Anbar province in the northwestern part of Iraq a week or so ago and had to be tamped down by interior ministry, defense officials in the Iraqi army.
So, again, mixed results, to be truthful, some encouraging indicators in Baghdad, but then the enemy seeking to take violence outside of Baghdad. And we've certainly gone after al-Qaida, as they have sought to open new fronts in Diyala province north of Baghdad, in the far north, and in the northeast, around Kirkuk."

And in answer to a question involving more than 5,000 Iraqi civilian deaths in the past seven weeks, Gen. Petraeus said that "al-Qaida is still capable and able to cause significant death of innocent civilians." [1]

Does this mean that al-Qaida is responsible for most of the current violence in Iraq, both directly through acts such as the Tall Afar bombing and through acts of provocation, again like the Tall Afar bombing, that intend to ignite sectarian violence? How much of the violence is the Sunni insurgency responsible for? Are al-Qaida and the insurgency working together at all?

If al-Qaida is responsible for much or most of the current violence, then would it be fair to characterize much or most of the current violence as a result of either direct or indirect terrorism, and not a direct result of sectarianism?

And if al-Qaida terrorism, and not Iraqi sectarianism, is responsible for much or most of the current violence, would that increase the motivation for the U.S. to remain in Iraq at least until Iraq is able to successfully defend itself? The reasons for this would be: 1) The U.S. had dismantled Iraq's previous security forces which would have presumably been able to defend itself against al-Qaida; 2) The U.S. turned Iraq into an al-Qaida target by overthrowing it, a Muslim nation; and 3) The U.S. is apparently motivated to oppose al-Qaida in its so-called war on terror.

Concerning reason #2, some have said that the U.S. is also causing much or most of the violence in Iraq through its continued occupation of that country. If America is causing most of the violence, then it should withdraw, especially if the government and/or people of Iraq formally request this. If its presence is causing much of the violence, then its withdrawal will have to be balanced against how much violence it is preventing through its continued presence. And also, on whether the government and/or people of Iraq have formally asked it to stay or go. *

The U.S. military should also withdraw for reasons #1 and #3 if the government and/or people of Iraq formally ask it to withdraw. Currently, this has not happened. Public pronouncements by many of Iraq's leaders and a recent poll conducted by ABC News and others [2] seem to indicate that both the government and people of Iraq want America to stay at least until Iraq is able to defend itself. I am not aware of any Iraqi leaders outside of Sadr who have requested America's withdrawal before this level of competency has occurred.

The question of who al-Qaida and some of these insurgent groups are, exactly, remains though. At least for me.

* I'm not sure what America should do if one formally asks it to stay and the other asks it to go, however.

[1] The Online NewsHour. Petraeus Cites Areas of Improvement in Baghdad. April 4, 2007.
[2] ABC News. ABC News/USA Today/BBC/ARD poll -Iraq: Where things stand. Ebbing hope in a landscape of loss marks a national survey of Iraq. March 19, 2007.

posted: sunday, april 8, 2007, 11:44 AM ET

update: sunday, april 8, 2007, 3:49 AM ET


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Secularists want more influence in Iraq

"The forgotten secularists of Iraq are making political maneuvers they hope will strengthen their voice and position them to seize more power before the next elections."
. . . Iyad Jamaleddin, a Shiite cleric who says that the people of Iraq want a secular government, "has a conference planned for this summer to launch what he calls the Iraqi Democratic Secular Movement. Former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi and former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi, meanwhile, have been barnstorming Iraq and the Middle East in recent weeks to gain support for a proposed coalition of groups both inside the parliament and outside the government that would unite secularists and moderates from different sectarian backgrounds.
. . . Critics of the current Shiite-led government complain that Islamic theology infuses many of its decisions.
. . . 'We want to be very careful not to push the country toward civil war . . . ,' said Hachim Hasani, a secular Sunni member of Allawi's faction. 'It's going to be very difficult. . . . You've got all these different groups who are not in harmony among themselves. I don't know if they're going to be able to build something out of that.' " [1]

There are also bills coming before Parliament like the draft oil law and the draft Baathist law that, if passed, could do much to curb the violence and make it easier for the secularists to get things they want. So while it's important for the so-called secularists to organize and have influence within the Iraqi political structures, they don't want to do things that would harm these important steps towards national reconcilliation.

They might also think about forming a secularly governed, mixed region or province when the new federalism law takes effect in about a year. The Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have their own regions or provinces from which they can live their lives as they want while still working towards building a better country for all Iraqis. Why can't secularists, who apparently comprise a significant portion of Iraq, have the same thing?

And if it is going to truly be a mixed, secularly governed province or region, then its mixed, secular nature should be the foundation of harmony on which it is built, despite differences that the various groups may have. (This new province or region would not be anti-religion.)

[1] Partlow, Joshua. (The Washington Post). Putting Faith in the Masses To Forge New Secular Rule. April 6, 2007.

related posting
Mixed marriages targeted: Is mixed region a solution? March 06, 2007.

posted: sunday, april 8, 2007, 10:02 AM ET

update: sunday, april 8, 2007, 10:20 AM ET


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Monday, April 02, 2007

Areas of uncertainty for draft oil law

"There is concern that foreign oil companies might try to get better terms by playing the provinces against one another.
But some oil experts are skeptical of the significance of the measure.
'It will not mean anything on the ground,' says A.F. Alhajji, an oil economist at Ohio Northern University in Ada. As long as Iraq suffers from political instability, major oil companies will shy away. 'The situation is so bad no one in his right mind wants to go there to be attacked or nationalized a second time.'
. . . One sensitive provision allows 'production sharing agreements' (PSAs) with foreign oil firms. In theory, Iraq would retain ownership and ultimate control of the oil in such a deal. A PSA would merely grant the firm or consortium the right to explore, develop, and sell the oil, while getting a share of the oil extracted. History, however, is full of 'unequal' PSAs highly favorable to oil companies and less favorable to oil nations.
. . . In the future, Iraqi lawyers could . . . argue that any oil deal signed while Iraq was occupied was done under duress and thus was invalid, [said Alhajii]." [1]

"The law grants regions and regional oil companies the right to draw up contracts with foreign companies for exploration and development of new oil fields. It does not specify what kinds of contracts are allowed, thus making room for production sharing agreements (PSAs).
. . . One of its first tasks could be the consideration of the five PSAs signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government and foreign companies, as well as six outstanding PSA contracts between the Saddam regime and companies.
. . . The draft law is a key precursor to international involvement in Iraq's hydrocarbons sector, and many aspects of the law will be attractive to international oil companies (IOCs). Yet, a national framework for contracts and regulation is not sufficient to attract IOCs in the near term.
. . . The per capita distribution of funds will require a politically sensitive census to be undertaken.
. . . The Ministry of Oil and INOC [Iraqi National Oil Company] will struggle to recruit skilled hydrocarbons sector technocrats." [2]

"Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) . . . has been lobbying to have language included in the emergency supplemental war spending bill that will prevent 'United States control over any oil resource of Iraq.'
. . . House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), though, didn't see the bill as pressuring Iraq to privatize. 'Democrats support an Iraqi oil bill that fairly distributes revenues among the Iraqi people in a way that the Iraqi people decide is best for them,' spokesman Drew Hammill said.
. . . [Antonia Juhasz of Oil Change International] said that many Democrats don't seem to understand that pushing Iraq to meet Bush's benchmarks could unwittingly hand international oil companies a victory, a charge echoed by [Congressmembers Dennis Kucinich and Lynn Woolsey].
. . . For John van Schaik, an oil industry analyst with Energy Intelligence, the law is so obscurely written that it's hard to know what to make of it.
'It's written such that it's open to interpretation,' he said. 'Iraq will never accept a law that can be read as a privatization law, no matter how the Americans try to pressure Baghdad.' " [3]

[1] Francis, David R. (Christian Science Monitor). Why Iraq's new oil law won't last. March 5, 2007 (commentary).
[2] Oxford Analytica. Iraq Oil Law Necessary But Not Sufficient. March 7, 2007.
[3] Grim, Ryan. (The Politico). Some Democrats Oppose Forcing Iraq To Accept Foreign Investment in Oil. March 27, 2007.

posted: monday, april 2, 2007, 8:41 PM ET

update: wednesday, april 4, 2007, 4:31 PM ET


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American Idol of Mideast contestant unites Iraq

"In the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, thousands packed into a shopping mall courtyard and stood before a massive screen, shouting for the victory of their candidate: 'Shada! Shada!'
The chestnut-maned object of their obsession was Shada Hassoun, Iraq's contestant on the fourth season of the Lebanese talent show 'Star Academy,' the 'American Idol' of the Arab world. . . . Iraqis everywhere were in a Shada frenzy this week -- causing many to observe that, win or lose, Hassoun, a 26-year-old who professes to love jet-skiing and Antonio Banderas, had managed to engender a sense of national cohesion that has eluded Iraq for years.
. . . Hassoun might seem an unlikely ambassador for Iraq, because she's never been to the country. Born in Casablanca, Morocco, she lays claim to Iraqi nationality through her father.
. . . But what really counts, fans said, is that the beautiful, Paris-educated Hassoun embraced bombed-out, struggling Iraq. Iraq, in turn, embraced her.
'She is doing all the things that all the Iraqi girls cannot do now: singing, dancing, being free. She is representing freedom,' she [an Iraqi anchorwoman] said. 'Vote for Shada and make Iraqis feel happiness again.' "

Brulliard, Karin. (The Washington Post). Iraqis Unite Behind Their Heroine on Arab 'Idol'. March 31, 2007.

posted: monday, april 2, 2007, 5:25 AM ET


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Kirkuk compensation for voluntary exit

"The Iraqi government will soon begin relocating Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk under an edict by Saddam Hussein to force Kurds out of the disputed northern city, officials said Saturday.
The controversial step for the oil-rich city could help determine whether it becomes part of an autonomous Kurdish region, but critics warned that it would stoke sectarian tensions.
Iraq's cabinet on Thursday endorsed a committee's recent recommendation to compensate eligible Arabs who voluntarily leave the city, said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Those who choose to move will receive about $15,000 and a plot of land in their home town. Officials will soon accept applications to determine eligibility, he said.
. . . Abdul Rahman Munshed al-Asi, leader of the Arab advisory council of Kirkuk, said Saturday that many Arabs fear that the repatriation would be voluntary in name but carried out with force by Kirkuk's Kurdish-led security forces." [1]

"Iraq's constitution sets an end-of-the-year deadline for a referendum on Kirkuk's status. Since Saddam's fall four years ago, thousands of Kurds who once lived in the city have resettled there. It is now believed Kurds are a majority of the population and that a referendum on attaching Kirkuk to the Kurdish autonomous zone would pass easily." [2]

[1] Brulliard, Karin. (The Washington Post). Iraq Prepares to Resettle Arabs Sent to Kirkuk by Hussein Edict. April 1, 2007.
[2] Hurst, Steven R. (The Associated Press). Iraq Endorses Arab Relocation for Kirkuk. March 31, 2007.

posted: monday, april 2, 2007, 4:59 AM ET

update: monday, april 2, 2007, 5:35 AM ET


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2005 bill called for move to Iraqi sovereignty

"The effort to force Bush to change direction in Iraq began in late 2005, when the Senate, in a 79 to 19 vote, passed legislation that called for a 'significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty' in 2006."

Murray, Shailagh & Weisman, Jonathan. (The Washington Post). New Perspective, New Unity Among Hill Democrats on Iraq. March 31, 2007.

posted: monday, april 2, 2007, 3:52 AM ET

update: monday, april 2, 2007, 3:54 AM ET


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PRT leaders update progress

Counselor James Knight, Team Leader PRT Ninawa,
Minister Counselor Steven Buckler, Team Leader PRT Salah ad Din,
Counselor John Melvin Jones, Team Leader PRT Diyala
Dr. Charles Hunter, Team Leader PRT Babil

"MR. KNIGHT: Well, you've heard about the (inaudible), the major crimes court. This is probably our greatest recent success. It's resolved, to a great extent, the problem of intimidation of judges which was blocking the pursuit of insurgent trials. We've successfully seen that a process for capital improvement projects both -- are funded both by Iraqi firms and by those provided in the coalition. They are held to a consensual process involving the provincial council's reconstruction committee as well as the Provincial Reconstruction and Development Committee, which deals especially with the coalition funds. We have business programs that are making a difference. We have the Ninawa Business Center which has been a very effective micro-loan program. It has created several hundred jobs in the city of Mosul, hoping to expand the same kind of program to Talafar at the small business center there.
We are also focusing on ways in which international investors can participate in some -- industrial base in Ninawa. And the other side of the rule of law piece is that we are providing significant training in an enhanced crime lab for the Iraqi police in Ninawa. That's a very quick outline of the major things that we've accomplished. I think all of these contribute to a better environment in the province of Ninawa.
Again, going back to the major crimes court, the governor believes that we have reduced the number of security incidents by half since the court has been set up, which has been a period of three months. This is a significant change in quite a short time and I'm quite proud of that.

MR. BUCKLER: On the Major Crimes Court in Salah ad Din province, we're still in the process of trying to construct a building in which the court activities can take place. We recently sponsored a conference of judges, prosecutors and those involved in judicial system in Salah ad Din. To hear back from our rule of law expert, it was really quite astonishing because it's the first time that apparently all of those who are -- who have to coordinate their activities for the rule of law had really sat down and had the opportunities to discuss procedures and court activities together, so he was very pleased with that. It carries forward with what we're trying to do in many cases and that is, bring Iraqi parties together to communicate, to coordinate. This is something that I certainly, during my coming year in Iraq, hope to enhance a great deal, is enabling Iraqis to come together. We want to facilitate that.
I hope this doesn't sound mundane, because it really is of extraordinary satisfaction and importance to us, but this last week, the provincial council approved its capital budget for the year 2007. This kind of proceeding, an elected body, certainly in the United States, we take largely for granted, but at the conclusion of this, our civil affairs officer was absolutely delighted to see how pleased the provincial council was to have done this, to sit down, negotiate, allocate in a fair manner $100 million for the capital budget to province for the coming year was a first-time thing and they were tremendously pleased and so are we. Our next step now is to work with them on spending it wisely.

MR. JONES: In Diyala province, we are a little more basic. We have had a great success with the opening of our radio and television station. In a province, as you know, that has been experiencing a great deal of violence recently, this is a major step in the direction of getting the warring parties to at least sit down and listen to radio stations that broadcast a message of reconciliation. We have five young people who have spent their time at the station, of course guarded by U.S. troops, but they've been able to put together a program that's on the air 23 hours per day and their message is both to the Sunni and the Shia community, and they speak of reconciliation.
This is a major break for us because it, I think for the first time in Diyala province, gets the message out that there is hope for the province.
On a more basic note, we have had success in terms of getting money, for example, from the central bank here in Baghdad up to Baquba so that salaries could be paid to public servants. We've already set in place a process by which we can get fuel oil into the province. And we are working now on a procedure whereby we can get food into the province. So this is an attempt by the PRT and our support brigade to assist the people of Diyala province in spite of all the violence that's going on up there right now.

DR. HUNTER: In Babil we're active in many of the areas you've already heard cited. I've spoken the Arabic remarks about things that we've done in rule of law and to support the provincial council. We're also a largely agricultural province and so there at sometimes a very basic level the team has been active in carrying out projects that both have an immediate impact on people and help build capacity for the future, things like cleaning canals, for instance. It doesn't sound very exciting, but it's really vital for agriculture to be able to flourish there. And the work that we've done this year -- this past year, I should say, 2006 -- has prompted the provincial council to set aside substantially more funds than we had spent to continue those activities for the future, things like providing sheep dip tanks. Again, not very exciting, nor are seed cleaners, but those sorts of things make a real concrete difference in people's lives.
There are quite a few examples of those things. And to be honest, another thing that we're focusing on more and more is simply trying to raise awareness of the partnership that's out there. The simple name of our enterprise has created a lot of expectations, some of it misplaced, about what we're going to be able to do in working here in Iraq because we no longer have the budgets to carry out huge reconstruction projects.
Instead, it's more about building people's capacity, trying to provide skills that can be used far into the future. And so part of our work now is to try to get that message out to people and to do it as much as possible, also through our Iraqi partners in the provincial council, in the government's office, to be educating people about what this partnership is and to manage expectations thereby.
So whether it's me or other people on my team starting to talk with local media to get this message out, that too is an important thing that may not be very tangible or very exciting from the U.S. perspective but I think is making a concrete difference in how the situation is viewed in building appreciation for the partnership that is there. And there is a very substantial partnership. Another way in which that's been critical for us in Babil province is the PRTs work in supporting security forces there. Babil, fortunately, has been a very comparatively secure place and that has in part been because of the strong links that the PRT developed with the security leadership, which in some cases has met making sure that the political leadership in the province fully appreciates what an asset it's got and the importance of protecting it.

. . . QUESTION: I wonder if you could each describe the status of the major reconstruction projects in your areas even if that's not your current focus? How many of them are up and running? How many of them are still awaiting completion?

MR. KNIGHT: I'm not sure that's a fair question. There have been projects going in now for four years and the ones that were funded and have been completed are the vast majority of that. There is a significant fuel problem and electricity problem in Ninawa which is blocking those -- many of the ones that have been more recently completed from being fully effective.
As the PRT, we don't reconstruct anything. What we do is facilitate the process of allocation contracting and follow-up. But I can say that process is working quite well. The money flowing from the Government of Iraq now dwarfs anything coming through the coalition forces. The coalition funding is less than 10 percent of what goes in. The process worked quite well last year. It's something that we will expect it to work equally well this year. But again, the issue in Ninawa right now is getting the economy moving. Economic recovery has now slowed enormously by the energy problems we have there."

U.S. Department of State. On-the-Record Briefing With Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Leaders on Iraq. March 30, 2007.

posted: monday, april 2, 2007, 3:38 AM ET


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