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  • November 27, 2008 -- Iraqi police said two people have been killed and 16 wounded in a car bombing in the northern city of Mosul.

    A police official said an explosives-laden car was parked in a western section of the city and apparently targeted a police patrol.

    The official said the two killed were civilian bystanders.

    The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

    Violence has declined across Iraq but Mosul remains one of the most dangerous areas due to a heavy presence of al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents.

    The 2 p.m. blast struck hours before Iraqi lawmakers voted to approve a security pact with the United States that would allow American forces to stay in Iraq for three more years.


    • WASHINGTON, November 28, 2008 -- The United States on Thursday hailed the Iraqi parliament's approval of a landmark accord for US troops to leave the country in three years, but a referendum on the deal next year could complicate withdrawal plans for the next US president.

      President George W. Bush said the parliamentary vote was a watershed for Iraq and its relations with the United States.

      The accord that calls for US forces to withdraw by the end of 2011 would "formalize a strong and equal partnership," US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General Ray Odierno, the top commander of US troops in Iraq, said in a joint statement.

      But as part of political bargaining leading up to the vote, the Baghdad government agreed to demands by Sunni parties to hold a referendum on the accord no later than July 30.

      The move injects a fresh element of uncertainty on the future of US troops in Iraq just as president-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office on January 20.

      "The referendum would create a potentially dangerous political wild card, especially since it would occur around the time of next year's national elections," said the National Security Network, a Washington think tank allied with the Democratic party.

      "The possible consequences of such a referendum are unclear but may well complicate the prospects for a smooth withdrawal," it said.

      Should the Iraqi government decide to cancel the accord after the referendum it would have to give Washington one year's notice, meaning that troops would be allowed to remain in the country only until the summer of 2010.

      The international agreement will be binding on Obama when he becomes president next year, but he could also unilaterally cancel the pact with a year's notice or withdraw all US troops at any time.

      The deal - comprising two separate agreements governing the US military presence in Iraq after December 31 - was approved by a large majority in the parliament after 11 months of difficult talks.

      Iraq's top negotiator and serving national security advisor Muwafaq al-Rubaie insisted that Washington would have to accept the decision to hold a referendum.

      "It is an Iraqi issue and the Americans have to understand our requirements," al-Rubaie said.

      It was too early to forecast the outcome of a popular vote in Iraq's volatile political environment, said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on the Iraq conflict.

      "Predictions are already hard in Iraq and eight months out in the future is even more difficult. It is a wild card and that is about as much as we can say right now," O'Hanlon said.

      Obama's administration would have to prepare contingency plans for an earlier withdrawal if the agreement was rejected by Iraqi voters, he said.

      "You have to have a backup plan to figure out what to do if they vote it down. At least you have eight more months to cope with that wild card," O'Hanlon said.

      Apart from the referendum, there were also legal questions about the precise meaning of the agreement, with the Bush administration releasing the official English translation of the accord only after the parliament approved it.

      "We thought it was an appropriate time to release the text after it had been agreed upon by the Iraqi parliament," said Carlton Carroll, assistant press secretary at the White House.

      He indicated that releasing it earlier might have disrupted sensitive talks on the terms of the agreement.

      A report from McClatchy Newspapers, citing unnamed US officials, said the administration had withheld the English translation in a bid to avoid a public feud with Iraqi leaders and that some provisions remained in dispute.

      "There are a number of areas in here where they have agreement on the same wording but different understandings about what the words mean," said a US official speaking on condition of anonymity.

      The agreement on the future of US troops was made possible in part by security improvements over the past year.

      The Bush presidency has been indelibly marked by the Iraq war, from the invasion spurred by lies that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction to the abuses and torture by US troops of Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib jail and other jails.

      Some 4,200 US soldiers have been killed in the country in a war which has also cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars.

      Figures for Iraqi deaths are unclear, but some estimates put it at around one million.


      • TOKYO, November 28, 2008 -- Japan on Friday ordered an end to its air mission in Iraq, a historic but deeply unpopular military deployment for the pacifist nation.

        Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada instructed air force planes flying goods and personnel into Iraq in support of the US-led coalition to withdraw by the end of this year, his ministry said.

        The government first announced in September that it would bring back the planes.

        The mission, which was deeply unpopular with the Japanese public, is Japan's last remaining military operation in Iraq after the country ended a landmark ground deployment in 2006.

        "Japan will continue to support Iraq through measures such as yen-denominated loans and technological cooperation," Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a statement.

        The government is now expected to focus on extending an Indian Ocean naval mission providing refuelling support to the US-led military operations in Afghanistan, which the opposition is trying to block.

        Some 210 Japanese troops and airplanes operating in Iraq are stationed in Kuwait. Domestic legislation allowing the mission expires in July next year.

        The troops were sent to Iraq by then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi after the 2003 US-led invasion, marking the first time that Japan deployed armed forces to a country where fighting was underway since 1945.

        Japan has been officially pacifist since defeat in World War II.

        Koizumi and other members of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) argue that Japan must do more to ensure global security to win respect on the world stage.

        The ground mission ended in 2006 when the relatively safe area where Japanese forces were on a reconstruction mission was handed over to Iraqi control.

        Japan's opposition, which has been making gains, is staunchly against the missions in Iraq and the Indian Ocean. It briefly forced a halt to the Indian Ocean deployment last year, saying Japan should not be part of "American wars".


        • BRUSSELS, November 28, 2008 -- European Union nations agreed Thursday to try and accept 10,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from war-torn Iraq, with Germany ready to take a quarter of them.

          "The objective could be to take in up to around 10,000 refugees," many of them living in precarious conditions in neighbouring Syria and Jordan, EU interior ministers said in conclusions from a meeting in Brussels.

          They would include "refugees in a particularly vulnerable situation such as those with particular medical needs, trauma or torture victims, members of religious minorities or women on their own with family responsibilities."

          "This has to be done on a voluntary basis and in light of the reception capacities of member states," the ministers said.

          Six EU countries, mainly Sweden and the Netherlands but not Germany, currently accept Iraqi refugees. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble said Berlin was ready to accept 2,500 refugees.

          Germany has focused mainly on refugees from Iraq's Christian minority, a move that sparked criticism since the community is no more venerable than other communities.

          In 2007, 18,559 Iraqis requested asylum in Sweden. In total some 100,000 Iraqis currently live in the Scandinavian country, making it the second-biggest foreign community behind Finns.

          The United States, still embroiled in conflict almost six years after it launched the war, said Tuesday that it expects to meet the "tall order" of admitting a total of 12,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of this fiscal year.

          In the last fiscal year, just 3,040 were admitted.


          • BEIRUT, November 28, 2008 -- Aid groups are scrambling to deal with an influx of Iraqi Christians who have been pouring into Lebanon to escape a wave of killings back home.

            "The number of Christian Iraqis who are coming to us for help has dramatically increased in the last few months," said Isabelle Saade Feghali of the aid organisation Caritas.

            "Every week since June we have had about five families on average arriving here and seeking help," she said. "The problem is huge and the aid is never enough."

            "I have been helping at least 20 new families a week since the start of October," said Rania Chehab as she distributed blankets, medicine and other aid this week at a Lebanese Chaldean church on the outskirts of Beirut.

            The church is one of six venues throughout the country where Caritas has set up a centre to help the refugees.

            "We have a lot of families arriving now without the men because they were either killed or kidnapped," Chehab added. "Some of them escape with only the shirts on their back."

            "Each has a sad story and you can tell that they have lost much."

            Overall there are between 40,000 and 50,000 Iraqi refugees - both Christian and Muslim - living in Lebanon, which is considered a transit country for most as they seek to resettle in other countries, mainly the United States.

            The majority are smuggled in from neighbouring Syria and as such face arrest or deportation since Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

            "From a Lebanese perspective they are perceived as illegal foreigners even though we register them and give them refugee certificates," said Laure Chedrawi, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Beirut.

            She said that on average it takes between seven months to a year to resettle new refugees, with the pace picking up this year.

            "Last year around 470 travelled from Lebanon but this year we expect more than 2,500 to depart, with the majority heading to the United States," Chedrawi said.

            One of those yearning to find a new home in the United States or Australia is Amal Georgis Boutros, 48, who arrived in Lebanon in early November from the Mosul region.

            "My husband was shot dead in March by gunmen as he was working in his store," the mother of three recounted, her voice breaking. "I am now reduced to sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a two-room apartment near Beirut that I share with seven other family members.

            "I am in such a state that my hands shake all the time."

            At a small roadside cafe in an eastern Beirut suburb, about two dozen Iraqi Christian men were gathered on Thursday, playing cards, discussing current events and sipping tea.

            "I arrived here four days ago with my wife and two kids and I'm willing to go to any country that will take me," said Saad Youssef Aziz, 45, as he fingered a string of worry beads.

            "I just want to go to a safe place where I can start over again."

            Like many others interviewed, he said he was facing an uphill battle finding decent housing in Lebanon where some landlords are taking advantage of the newcomers by raising prices.

            "No one will give me a job here so I sit all day and wait," said Kamal Hammou, 50, who arrived in Lebanon eight months ago and is hoping to join his four siblings in the United States.

            "None of us want to go back to Iraq," he added. "We would rather sleep on the streets than go back to a place where the only thing waiting for us is bloodshed."

            Since the US-led invasion of 2003 more than 200 Christians had been killed.

            A recent report by Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights that sets out the number of deaths in different ethnic communities caused by direct or indirect attacks in Iraq between 2003 and the end of 2007 showed that only 172 fatalities were from Iraq’s Christians: 107 Chaldeans, 33 Orthodox, 24 Catholics, four Assyrians, three Anglicans and one Armenian.

            The report added that about 9,000 Christians were living as IDPs.

            Since the US-led invasion in 2003, some estimates put the figure of fatalities of Iraqis (mostly Sunnis and Shiites) up to one million innocent civilians. Over two million Iraqis are living as IDPs.

            Observers say Christians are no more threatened than average Iraqis.

            Attacks on Christians have increased in the north of Iraq after the recent formation of the country’s first Christian militia.


            • November 28, 2008 -- In Baghdad, thousands of Shiites have protested against the military pact between Iraq and the United States. The pact was approved on Thursday by the Iraqi parliament, despite opposition from MPs allied to Muqtada al-Sadr. The radical cleric opposes the accord. He and his supporters are calling for the U.S. military to depart immediately, and not in the three years stipulated by the agreement. The pact replaces a UN mandate that expires at the end of the year.


              • BAGHDAD, November 28, 2008 (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up among worshippers waiting to be searched outside a mosque run by followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr today, killing at least 12 people, Iraqi officials said.

                The blast in Musayyib, south of Baghdad, occurred a day after Iraqi lawmakers approved a security pact with the United States that will allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq for three more years.

                Proponents of the deal, which awaits the expected ratification by the three-member presidency, say the Americans are still needed because Iraqi forces aren’t ready to take over security on their own despite a sharp drop in violence since last year.

                The U.S. military handed responsibility for security in Babil province, where the suicide bombing occurred today, to Iraqi forces last month.

                The security pact was backed by the ruling coalition’s Shiite and Kurdish blocs and the largest Sunni Arab bloc, which wanted concessions for supporting the deal. But al-Sadr, who commands a 30-seat bloc in the 275-seat parliament, rejected the pact and said U.S. troops should withdraw immediately.

                A key aide to al-Sadr linked today’s bombing to the agreement and warned that the American presence can only to more violence. He appeared to be suggesting that U.S. forces are a source of instability, rather than part of the solution to the Iraqi conflict.

                “The explosion that took place today near a Shiite mosque in Musayyib town is one of the consequences of the security agreement,” Sheik Abdul-Hadi Al-Mohammadawi said during a sermon in the Sadrist stronghold of Kufa. “The Iraqi government cannot survive without the U.S. presence and as long as the Americans remain here, Iraq will be still a battlefield.”

                Al-Sadr called for peaceful protests and urged followers to close his offices and affiliated institutions for three days to show opposition to the pact, according to the statement read by his spokesman, Sheik Salah al-Obeidi.

                “We offer our condolences to the Iraqi people over this calamity that has fallen upon them with the signing of the agreement of humiliation and indignity,” the statement said.

                Hundreds of al-Sadr’s supporters demonstrated against the pact in Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, a stronghold of the cleric.

                A cease-fire order by the Shiite cleric, who is believed to be in Iran, has been a key factor in the drop in violence over the past year. His militia had also been heavily targeted in U.S. and Iraqi operations.

                In the southern city of Najaf, a Shiite cleric whose political party backed the security agreement disputed claims that Iraq was forced to accept the pact against its will.

                “The approval of the security agreement was an Iraqi decision free of any external pressure and it was done through accord among Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds,” said cleric Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of Iraq’s largest Shiite political party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

                In the bombing Friday, the attacker detonated his explosives belt around noon as he waited in a line to be searched at an entrance to the mosque in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

                Dr. Saad al-Janabi of the local hospital said 12 people died and 18 people were wounded. The police officer earlier said 11 people died, but al-Janabi said one of the injured died in the hospital.

                The U.S. military said eight civilians were killed and 15 wounded.

                Mahdi Rajab, owner of a nearby grocery store, said the force of the blast shattered windows.

                “I went outside to see what happened and I saw dead bodies at the entrance of the mosque and worshippers were running away in panic,” he said.

                There was no claim of responsibility, but suicide bombings are associated with Sunni extremist groups. The U.S. military has warned Sunni insurgents are trying to provoke revenge attacks by Shiites in order to reignite sectarian warfare.

                Under the security pact, U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi towns and cities by June 30 and the entire country by January 1, 2012. Iraq will have strict oversight over the nearly 150,000 American troops now on the ground, representing a step toward full sovereignty for Iraq.


                • CAIRO, November 28, 2008 (Reuters) - Oil contracts signed by the Kurdish regional government (KRG) with foreign oil companies are not legally valid, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani said on Friday. Shahristani was speaking to reporters before a Saturday OPEC meeting.


                  • BAGHDAD, November 28, 2008 (AP) - Parliament's approval of a security pact with the U.S. has propelled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into a position of strength unsurpassed among Iraqi political leaders since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

                    Furious dealmaking preceded the vote Thursday, compelling al-Maliki to make a wide range of concessions to Sunni lawmakers in exchange for their support. As a result, he emerged with his main goal intact: a historic agreement in which the last American soldier would leave Iraq by January 1, 2012, and restore the country's full national sovereignty.

                    Coming on top of a string of military and political successes this year, the agreement has given al-Maliki the aura of a national leader who rises above Iraq's chronic sectarian and ethnic divisions to pursue the greater interest.

                    Experts are divided on how long will the prime minister's political dominance will last however.

                    ''The prime minister is involved in political struggles that have only just begun, and it is far from clear how well he can survive the power struggles and elections to come,'' said Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

                    ''The insurgency is still there, Arab-Kurdish rivalries are growing, Shiite-Sunni tensions are still critical, and no one can predict the future power struggle within each key ethnic and sectarian faction,'' Cordesman said.

                    Al-Maliki risked his future on the agreement with the United States, which many Iraqis see as an occupying power. Failure to win approval might have forced him to step down.

                    ''Some thought they could use the agreement to weaken the prime minister,'' said Haidar al-Ibadi, a senior Shiite lawmaker and a close al-Maliki aide. ''Frankly, they were playing with fire.''

                    Realizing the stakes, a group of mostly Sunni lawmakers sought concessions from al-Maliki in exchange for their support.

                    Al-Maliki said that amounted to blackmail but, in the end, he met most of their demands in a three-page ''Charter of Political Reform.''

                    The declaration doesn't have the force of law. But it has committed al-Maliki to make changes on several thorny issues he had been reluctant to undertake.

                    Chief among them are the full integration into the security forces and government agencies of thousands of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters who revolted against al-Qaida in Iraq and recruiting more Sunnis in the Shiite-dominated army and police.

                    He also pledged to work for the release of thousands of Sunni security detainees not charged with specific crimes and allow wider participation in top-level decision making.

                    ''Many political blocs, including those close to al-Maliki, have had fears that al-Maliki was becoming authoritarian. The Charter of Political Reform will stop him from becoming a one-man government,'' said Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni politician and bitter critic of the prime minister.

                    The Sunnis had long been alone in publicly accusing al-Maliki of monopolizing power. Recently, however, some Kurds have started to repeat the allegation. The Kurds complained that the prime minister was violating the constitution by creating tribal ''support councils'' across Iraq ostensibly as a backup for security forces.

                    Critics see the councils as a move to undercut rival political parties and gain patronage in the Shiite south of the country. The quarrel came to a head last week, when the country's three-member Presidential Council publicly berated al-Maliki and ordered him to disband the councils or find legal coverage for them.

                    That blow to al-Maliki raised doubt whether he could muster enough support to retain his office after the 2009 general election. However his winning the security pact appears to put him back on a strong path.

                    ''Assuming (the next elections) are free and fair ... I am not sure al-Maliki can survive them and get re-elected,'' said prominent U.S.-based Iraq expert Juan Cole.

                    Al-Maliki is already showing some of the trappings associated with authoritarian Arab rulers, something certain to be used against him in the run-up to the 2009 elections.

                    He has exploited the dramatic drop of violence as a tribute to his leadership and coverage of his activities, even the most mundane, dominates the state media's news.

                    There are signs to suggest he intends to do the same with the security pact.

                    ''It's a historic day for our glorious Iraqi people,'' he said in a televised speech several hours after the passage. ''We have realized one of our most important achievements in approving the agreement,'' he said in a kind of flowery Arabic usually reserved for a military victory.

                    Prior to the broadcast, state television showed footage of demonstrators hoisting portraits of the prime minister and a recital of a poem that praised his rule, but without mentioning him by name.


                    • BAGHDAD, November 29, 2008 -- Two foreign UN contractors were killed and another 15 wounded when a mortar round slammed into Baghdad's heavily-guarded Green Zone on Saturday, a UN official said.

                      The two killed in the dawn attack were foreign maintenance workers contracted by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

                      Of the 15 people wounded in the attack, seven were in serious condition, the official said, raising fears the death toll could rise further.

                      The heavily-fortified Green Zone in the centre of Baghdad houses the Iraqi parliament and a number of government buildings and foreign embassies.

                      The United Nations dramatically scaled down its presence in Iraq after a suicide truck bombing against its headquarters in 2003 killed 22 people, including its top Iraq envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.


                      • PACIFICA, November 29, 2008 -- War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Capitol Hill this month to testify before Congress and give an eyewitness account about the horrors of war, Democracy Now! reported Friday.

                        Like the ‘Winter Soldier’ hearings in March, when more than 200 service members gathered for four days in Silver Spring, Maryland to give their eyewitness accounts of the injustices occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, Winter Soldier on the Hill was designed to drive home the human cost of war and occupation, this time to the very people in charge of doing something about it.

                        Then name ‘Winter Soldier’ comes from a similar event in 1971, when hundreds of Vietnam vets gathered in Detroit.

                        In a packed public hearing this month, the soldiers testified before a panel of lawmakers from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

                        Former Marine sniper, Sergio Kochergin, gave a firsthand, behind-the-scenes account of the initial days of the US invasion of Iraq.

                        We “were exposed to a lot of dead Iraqi citizens, either enemy combatants or innocent civilians who were killed by initial air strikes or invasion,” noted said Kochergin.

                        During a deployment in Najaf, Kochergin said: “We would shoot their tires out or shoot their windows, putting them on their knees like we’re about to execute them and just shoot in the air and laugh and yell at them and tell them that the next time will be worse.”

                        “Our orders directly from command was to roughen up all the guys up. They would always tell us that everybody is an enemy and that we can’t trust them and the only way to keep them in place is to put as much fear as possible and to let them know that we’re not playing around,” noted Kochergin.

                        In a second deployment, which was in the city of Husaybah in Al Anbar, Kochergin noted: “a lot of enemy combatants that we shot were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

                        “We did not take into consideration that the innocent people are being killed by us, because every time we sent the pictures to the command post through the interlink system, we would receive an approval to kill people with shovels and the bags,” he added.

                        Kochergin told the tale of roommate of his who committed suicide in Iraq, despite being on suicide watch in the US.

                        “If there is no care for your own Marines, what care do they have for the people of Iraq when they give the orders?” Asked Kochergin.

                        Former Army Captain Luis Montalvan, who worked extensively for General David Petraeus, said: “In Iraq, I witnessed many disturbing things. I witnessed waterboarding. I was given unlawful orders by superiors to not offer humanitarian assistance to refugees caught between Syrian and Iraqi borders.”

                        “I witnessed and participated in countless massive operations led by American commanders whose metrics for success were numbers of detainees apprehended without regard to the real effects: tribal, ethnic, sectarian strife,” noted Montalvan.

                        On the security situation, Montalvan said: “from 2003 until today, General Sanchez, Casey and Petraeus, among others ... perpetually painted a rosy picture of the situation to the country, while the country fell into civil war.”

                        Vincent J.R. Emanuele, who served with the United States Marine Corps from September 2002 through January of 2006 with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon as a rifleman and a squad automatic machine gunner, also gave testimony.

                        Emanuele addressed the issues of rules of the engagement, the death of innocents, the destruction of civilian property, the abuse of prisoners, and the mishandling of the dead.

                        In the town of Al Qaim when an Iraqi car was approaching a United States convoy, “our rules of engagement stated that we should first fire warning shots into the ground in front of the car, then the engine block, and then the driver and passengers. Most of the time, however, the shots made their way straight to those very individuals in the car. That is if the car was even moving in the first place. Many times, cars that had actually pulled off to the side of the road were also shot at,” revealed Emanuele.

                        “Of course, the consequences of such actions posed a huge problem for those of us who patrolled the streets every day. This was not the best way to become friendlier with an already very hostile local population. This was not an isolated incident and took place for most of my eight-month deployment,” explained Emanuele.

                        On attacking civilian infrastructure, Emanuele said: “On occasion, when the counter-battery could not call in a specific location, our unit would fire upon the town anyway, sometimes in the hills off to the west of the town where we thought the mortar fire was coming from and other times straight into the town of Al Qaim itself, onto buildings, houses and businesses.”

                        “Almost all the time these incidents went unreported and not investigated. This was not an isolated incident, as well,” explained Emanuele.

                        Detainees who were deemed innocent and then released back into the local population did not escape abuse either.

                        “Our unit engaged in punching, kicking, butt stroking or generally harassing and abusing these very prisoners until the point at which our unit would take them in the middle of the desert, miles from their respective homes, and at times throw them out of the back of our Humvees, all the while continually punching, kicking and at times even throwing softball-sized rocks at their backs as they ran away. This, once again, was not an isolated incident,” noted Emanuele.

                        On mishandling of the Iraqi dead, Emanuele said: “When encountering [dead] bodies, standard procedure was to run over the corpses, sometimes even stopping and taking pictures... this, along with neglecting to account for many of those who were killed or wounded.”

                        The US military was “continually dehumanizing Iraqis by referring to them as ‘hajis’ or ‘sand ******s’. Even the racist and sexist nature that exists within the military itself, which was obviously—overtly obvious on a daily basis,” noted Emanuele.

                        On the rules of engagement, Marine Corps Adam Kokesh said: “During the siege of Fallujah, our rules of engagement changed so often that we were often uncertain of them. And at one point, anyone who was described as a suspicious observer would be a legitimate target: anyone holding a cell phone, binoculars or, at one point, anyone out after curfew.”

                        “And this led to an incident where Marines were firing at firefighters and cops silhouetted against a fire that our indirect fire had caused who were trying to help out the civilians that were being affected by that fire,” he added.

                        Kokesh said: “I realized that we in civil affairs were a fig leaf. We were there to make the occupation look good... you do not have to be an expert on international relations to see the disastrous effects of our foreign policy. Ignorance, propaganda and distraction have made up the last refuge of those Americans who would rather remain in denial about our current state of affairs.”

                        James Gilligan served a four-year and a two-year contract for the United States Marine Corps. While on active duty, he achieved the rank of corporal and was promoted in the Individual Ready Reserve to the rank of sergeant.

                        “Destroying Iraqi property was such a pleasure for some, but for me one day it was orders. I was ordered to take Lance Corporal Jerome with me as security, and I received orders via inter-squad radio to destroy a civilian’s pickup truck. I slashed as much as I could, and I kicked in the windshield for good measure. It was later with regret that I thought that this might have been this man’s livelihood,” noted Gilligan.

                        On how high up the chain of command goes in the responsibility of the first attack on Fallujah, Kokesh said: “I think the manipulations that led to the unnecessary deaths in Fallujah happened at the highest policymaking levels. There were State Department personnel present during the negotiations that created the Fallujah Brigade at my facility, and it is those manipulations of the process that led to those deaths. I don’t think even the generals who were conducting that—those battles had any say in the timing or the actual conduct, really, of those engagements.”

                        “The way that the siege was handled absolutely led to the unnecessary innocent deaths of civilians,” added Kokesh.

                        On the harm the Iraq war brings to US security, Kokesh said: “the more enemies we make over there, which we are making every day, the more there will be to follow us home.”

                        Gilligan concluded: “When you meet an Iraqi teenage male on the street, you’re not meeting your average American male. You’re meeting an Iraqi male who has experienced a conflict, an occupation, that has been going on for the past five years in his homeland, in his neighborhood, in his streets, in his schools.”

                        “They’re trying to continue this resistance, and this act of resistance is not going to end until we are actually out of that country,” he added.


                        • BAGHDAD, November 29, 2008 -- Iraq's supreme Shiite religious authority Ali Husseini al-Sistani on Saturday expressed concern about a military pact approved by lawmakers that would allow US troops to remain another three years.

                          An aide to the reclusive cleric - who rarely appears in public, preferring to communicate through close associates - said Sistani feared the controversial agreement would sow "instability" in the war-torn country.

                          "The guide expressed his concern about the agreement for several reasons. First, there was no national consensus on it, and that it will cause instability in the country," the aide said on condition of anonymity.

                          The wide-ranging agreement contains a roadmap for US combat forces to withdraw from all Iraqi cities and towns by the end of June 2009 and to pull out of the country completely by the end of 2011.

                          Iraq's parliament approved the deal Thursday, but it was condemned by followers of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

                          And the bill was passed only after the Shiite-led government agreed to Sunni and Kurdish demands for a popular referendum to be held on the agreement no later than July 30.

                          Sistani's aide said the cleric - who ahead of the vote had said it was up to Iraq's elected leaders to decide on the pact - supported the referendum.

                          "The guide will leave the accepting or rejecting of the agreement to the Iraqi people through the referendum that will be held within seven months."

                          Either country can unilaterally terminate the agreement with one year's notice, so if the referendum leads to the cancelling of the agreement US troops could be forced to withdraw as early as the summer of 2010.

                          Sistani - a spiritual authority who rarely intervenes in politics - has steered away from commenting on the contents of the deal, insisting only that it must preserve Iraq's "sovereignty."

                          But on Saturday, his aide warned that the pact contained "no guarantee that Iraq will have its sovereignty recognised by other countries," without providing further details.

                          The agreement was to be sent on Sunday to Iraq's presidential council, which would then have 10 days to reject it. If the three-man body representing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds takes no action the bill would become law.


                          • Dimanche 30 Novembre 2008 -- Après les Algériens de Guantanamo et ceux détenus en Libye, un autre dossier pourrait bientôt atterrir sur le bureau des Affaires étrangères et intéresser également Farouk Ksentini. Des Algériens sont actuellement incarcérés dans des prisons irakiennes, condamnés à de lourdes peines d’emprisonnement, mais qui continuent toujours à crier leur innocence. L’information a été relayée par le quotidien saoudien Charq El-Awsat, basé à Londres, dans son édition de mercredi dernier, dans un reportage consacré aux 260 détenus arabes dans la prison de Soussa près de Souleimania, au Kurdistan. Citant des ressortissants tunisiens, saoudiens ou encore syriens, le reportage s’arrêtera sur le témoignage de l’Algérien Khaled Abderrahmane qui s’interroge encore sur les raisons de sa condamnation. “Comment peut-on me condamner pour violation de frontière, alors que je suis naturellement résident en Irak, étant étudiant à l’université de Bagdad ?” soutient-il. Khaled, qui s’en remet à l’ambassade algérienne à Bagdad, accuse les Américains d’avoir monté tout un scénario pour l’inculper en confisquant notamment son passeport, “preuve de mon innocence”. Condamné à 15 ans, Khaled a jusque-là passé 4 ans derrière les barreaux, transféré de la sinistre Abou Ghraïb à Soussa en passant par la prison de Badoch. Profitant des colonnes du quotidien saoudien, Khaled Abderrahmane lance un véritable appel à l’aide à l’adresse du gouvernement algérien accusé d’avoir “laissé tomber ses ressortissants en ne leur envoyant ni officiel ni avocat pour leur défense”. Le cas de l’Algérien n’est pas unique puisque la plupart de ses codétenus arabes se disent également victimes des Américains. Rappelons qu’en 2005, l’Algérie avait perdu deux de ses diplomates en poste à Bagdad, son chef de mission diplomatique Ali Belaroussi et l’attaché diplomatique Azzedine Belkadi, assassinés par la branche irakienne d’Al-Qaïda après leur enlèvement. Se contentant depuis du minimum diplomatique, l’ambassadeur d’Algérie accrédité à Bagdad est basé à Amman ; Alger s’apprêterait pourtant à rouvrir sa chancellerie prochainement dans la capitale irakienne.


                            • November 30, 2008 -- Authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have admitted they are powerless to prevent 'honour killings' in the city following a 70 per cent increase in religious murders during the past year.

                              There has been no improvement in conviction rates for these killings. So far this year, 81 women in the city have been murdered for allegedly bringing shame on their families. Only five people have been convicted.

                              During 2007 the Basra security committee recorded 47 'honour killings' and three convictions. One lawyer in the city described how police were actively protecting perpetrators and said that a woman in Basra could now be murdered by hired hitmen for as little as $100 (£65).

                              The figures come despite international outrage which followed The Observer's coverage of the death of 17-year-old Rand Abdel-Qader, who was murdered by her father last April in an 'honour killing' after falling in love with a British soldier in Basra. The 4,000 British troops stationed in the city since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 withdrew to the airport last September.

                              Rand Abdel-Qader was killed after her family discovered that she had formed a friendship with a 22-year-old infantryman whom she knew as Paul. She was suffocated by her father then hacked at with a knife. Abdel-Qader Ali was subsequently arrested and released without charge.

                              Rand's mother, Leila Hussein, who divorced her husband after the killing, went into hiding but was tracked down weeks later and assassinated by an unknown gunman. Her husband had told The Observer that police had congratulated him for killing his daughter.

                              Seven months after the murders, the problem of these killings in Basra has become worse, according to lawyers. Ali Azize Raja'a, an Iraqi prosecutor who has represented the victims of 32 'honour killings' since 2004, said that, despite accumulating sufficient evidence to prove who was responsible in each murder, he had won only one case.

                              He said that the greatest issue was the decision by police to release suspects. Seven in 10 of those thought to be responsible for such a killing have left the city, with little attempt made to track them down.

                              The father of Rand is also understood to have left Basra. He was held by police in connection with his daughter's murder for only two hours. A local businessman who described the actions of Rand's father as 'courageous' is believed to have given a considerable sum of money to him and his two sons, who disowned their mother after she objected to Rand's killing. Raja'a said that when he was approached by Leila over Rand's case, his family was threatened by relatives.

                              Another Iraqi lawyer, who requested anonymity, said that some fathers had started to hire professional hitmen to carry out 'honour killings' which were then covered as 'sectarian murders'. He said: 'The life of these women isn't higher than $100. You can find a killer standing in any coffee shop of Basra, discussing prices of a life as if he was buying a piece of meat.'

                              Mariam Ayub Sattar, an activist in Basra, said that any woman caught speaking to a man in public who was not her husband or a relative was considered a prostitute and punished. A fortnight ago three women were burned with acid while walking through a market in Basra after stopping to speak to a male friend, Sattar said.

                              Nine of the 12 voluntary organisations helping women in Basra have closed down since the US-led invasion.

                              The Women's Rights Association in Basra was forced to close down after death threats were made following the murder of Rand's mother last May. Two women from a voluntary organisation who had been helping her to hide from her husband were also injured.

                              Alia'a Obeidi, the organisation's president, said that one of her colleagues was killed while driving to work and, fearing for her family's safety, she later moved to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

                              The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights said that it was working on new projects to end gender discrimination in the country. 'We try to make a difference by teaching students at schools about gender equality, but it only will be possible when parents don't teach the opposite at home,' said Hameed Walled, senior official in the Ministry of Human Rights.


                              • BAGHDAD, November 30, 2008 (AP) — U.S. broadcaster NPR says some of its journalists have escaped injury when a bomb exploded in their car as it was parked along a street in west Baghdad.

                                NPR's foreign editor Loren Jenkins said the journalists left their vehicle Sunday to interview people inside a restaurant.

                                Iraqi soldiers ran up and warned them that a bomb had been placed in their car while they were inside the restaurant. Moments later, the vehicle exploded in flames. No one was injured.

                                NPR said on its website that Iraqi soldiers arrested a shopkeeper from a store next door.

                                Use of "sticky bombs" attached to cars, buses and trucks has become increasingly common in Baghdad since increased security has made it difficult for extremists to use truck bombs.


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