NEWS, ANALYSIS & OPINION: Permanent bases; Kurdish-Shia coalition; language of war

US, Iraq deal sees long-term US presence

President Bush on Monday signed a deal setting the foundation for a potential long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq, with details to be negotiated over matters that have defined the war debate at home — how many U.S. forces will stay in the country, and for how long.

The agreement between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirms that the United States and Iraq will hash out an “enduring” relationship in military, economic and political terms. Details of that relationship will be negotiated in 2008, with a completion goal of July, when the U.S. intends to finish withdrawing the five combat brigades sent in 2007 as part of the troop buildup that has helped curb sectarian violence. [complete article]

See also, War Czar: Permanent Iraq bases won’t require Senate ratification (TPM).

Iraqi Shiite leader defends Iran

Iraq’s most influential Shiite politician said Sunday that the U.S had not backed up claims that Iran is fueling violence here, underscoring a wide gap on the issue between Washington and the Shiite-led Baghdad government.

A draft bill to ease curbs on ex-Saddam Hussein loyalists in government services also drew sharp criticism from Shiite lawmakers, opening old wounds at a time when the United States is pressing the Iraqis for compromise for the sake of national unity. [complete article]

Even more good news for Maliki

The tug-of-war between Ba’athists and leaders of post-2003 Iraq has dominated political life in Baghdad. What’s new is the apparent willingness of Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist bloc, to coordinate with Kurdish politicians. Muqtada also sent a very strong message to Kurdish politicians through one of his top loyalists, member of Parliament Bahaa al-Araji. Speaking to the Iraqi newspaper Ilaf, Araji defended article 140 of the constitution, pertaining to Kirkuk. That is certainly a new line for the Sadrists. The article, which has caused a storm in Iraqi political circles, calls for a census and referendum in the oil-rich city to see whether it can be incorporated into Iraqi Kurdistan.

In 1986, as part of his Arabization process, Saddam called for the relocation of Arab families to Kirkuk, the center of Iraq’s petroleum industry, to outnumber the Kurds living there. He also uprooted thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk. Since the downfall of Saddam’s regime, the Kurds have been demanding Kirkuk, something that both Sunnis and mainstream Shi’ites curtly refuse.

Recently, however, after Maliki’s main allies in the Sadrist bloc and Iraqi Accordance Front walked out on him, he was left with no other option but to cuddle up to the Kurds and support them on Kirkuk. He backed article 140, calling it “mandatory” and called on 12,000 Arab families brought to Kirkuk by Saddam to return to their Arab districts. When that is complete, and the census and referendum are held, then Kirkuk would become 100% Kurdish.

Saddam’s deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz once told Kurdish politicians, “You [the Kurds] have one right: to weep as you pass through Kirkuk [since it will never become a Kurdish city].” But if Maliki and Muqtada support article 140, then Kirkuk very much might become “Kurdish”.

Muqtada’s about-turn was expressed by Araji, who said: “The article is constitutional and it should be handled accordingly.” When asked if this means giving Kirkuk to the Kurds, Araji did not say, “No, Kirkuk is an Arab city and will remain an Arab city.” He surprised observers by saying: “The Iraqis are the ones who decide on this.” Clearly, Araji could not have made such a bold statement without getting prior approval from Muqtada.

In the past, Muqtada has vehemently opposed any division of Iraq, claiming that even the Kurdish north (which is now Iraqi Kurdistan) should be re-incorporated into the Iraqi republic. Federalism was out of the question for Muqtada, even if it meant granting another oil-rich district in southern Iraq to the Shi’ites. Kirkuk was – until this weekend apparently – a red line for Muqtada. [complete article]

Iraq has only militants, no civilians

“Sometimes I think it should be a rule of war that you have to see somebody up close and get to know him before you can shoot him.” — Colonel Potter, M*A*S*H

Name them. Maim them. Kill them.

From the beginning of the American occupation in Iraq, air strikes and attacks by the U.S. military have only killed “militants,” “criminals,” “suspected insurgents,” “IED [Improvised Explosive Device] emplacers,” “anti-American fighters,” “terrorists,” “military age males,” “armed men,” “extremists,” or “al-Qaeda.”

The pattern for reporting on such attacks has remained the same from the early years of the occupation to today. Take a helicopter attack on October 23rd of this year near the village of Djila, north of Samarra. The U.S. military claimed it had killed 11 among “a group of men planting a roadside bomb.” Only later did a military spokesperson acknowledge that at least six of the dead were civilians. Local residents claimed that those killed were farmers, that there were children among them, and that the number of dead was greater than 11.

Here is part of the statement released by U.S. military spokeswoman in northern Iraq, Major Peggy Kageleiry:

“A suspected insurgent and improvised explosive device cell member was identified among the killed in an engagement between Coalition Forces and suspected IED emplacers just north of Samarra…. During the engagement, insurgents used a nearby house as a safe haven to re-engage coalition aircraft. A known member of an IED cell was among the 11 killed during the multiple engagements. We send condolences to the families of those victims and we regret any loss of life.”

As usual, the version offered by locals was vastly different. Abdul al-Rahman Iyadeh, a relative of some of the victims, revealed that the “group of men” attacked were actually three farmers who had left their homes at 4:30 A.M. to irrigate their fields. Two were killed in the initial helicopter attack and the survivor ran back to his home where other residents gathered. The second air strike, he claimed, destroyed the house killing 14 people. Another witness told reporters that four separate houses were hit by the helicopter. A local Iraqi policeman, Captain Abdullah al-Isawi, put the death toll at 16 — seven men, six women, and three children, with another 14 wounded. [complete article]

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