Category Archives: US occupation of Iraq

Iranian dissidents’ fate in Iraq shows limits of U.S. sway

Iranian dissidents’ fate in Iraq shows limits of U.S. sway

Last September, Gen. David H. Petraeus told reporters in Baghdad that the United States had been assured by the Iraqi government that the 3,400 Iranian dissidents in a camp in eastern Iraq would continue to be protected after the Americans turned over responsibility for the camp to Iraqi forces.

Last week’s bloody melee between Iraqi police officers and the residents of the camp has not only raised fresh doubts in Washington about the worth of these assurances, but has also exposed just how little leverage American officials now have in a country they largely controlled for almost six years.

It has also forced the Obama administration to confront some of the thorny issues that bedeviled its predecessor: how to prevent Iraq from falling deeper under Tehran’s influence, and how to fashion a tough Iran policy amid delicate negotiations to dismantle the country’s burgeoning nuclear program. [continued…]

Iraqis fear latest bombings signal return of al Qaida in Iraq

Bombings at five Shiite Muslim mosques killed 29 worshippers Friday in a series of attacks that Iraqi army and police officers are interpreting as a sign that insurgents are determined to destabilize the country now that American forces have withdrawn from Iraqi cities and towns.

“You will see them attempting to start the sectarian violence again,” said a high-ranking Iraqi army officer who commands a unit in western Baghdad. He asked not to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Iraqi army and police officers told McClatchy that the pattern of attacks against the armed forces and civilians resembles the tactics that the extremist Sunni group al Qaida in Iraq used before 2006. The increase in car bombs, roadside bombs and death threats indicates that the Islamic extremist group is attempting to restore ground it lost during the “surge” of American forces in 2008, the officers said. [continued…]


It’s time for the US to declare victory and go home

It’s time for the US to declare victory and go home

As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home. Due to our tendency to look after the tactical details and miss the proverbial forest for the trees, this critically important strategic realization is in danger of being missed. [continued…]

Iraqi raid poses problem for U.S.

Violent clashes continued for a second day Wednesday between Iraqi troops and members of an Iranian opposition group whose camp the Iraqis stormed Tuesday, presenting the first major dilemma for the U.S. government since Iraq proclaimed its sovereignty a month ago.

At least eight Iranians have been killed and 400 wounded since Tuesday, when hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers in riot gear plowed into Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, using Humvees donated by the U.S. military, according to group leaders and Abdul Nasir al-Mahdawi, the governor of Diyala province.

Camp residents described the day’s events as a massacre and the aftermath as a tense stalemate. [continued…]

Iraq in throes of environmental catastrophe, experts say

You wake up in the morning to find your nostrils clogged. Houses and trees have vanished beneath a choking brown smog. A hot wind blasts fine particles through doors and windows, coating everything in sight and imparting an eerie orange glow.

Dust storms are a routine experience in Iraq, but lately they’ve become a whole lot more common.

“Now it seems we have dust storms nearly every day,” said Raed Hussein, 31, an antiques dealer who had to rush his 5-year-old son to a hospital during a recent squall because the boy couldn’t breathe. “We suffer from lack of electricity, we suffer from explosions, and now we are suffering even more because of this terrible dust.

“It must be a punishment from God,” he added, offering a view widely held among Iraqis seeking to explain their apocalyptic weather of late. “I think God is angry with the deeds of the Iraqi people.”

The reality is probably scarier. Iraq is in the throes of what some officials are calling an environmental catastrophe, and the increased frequency of dust storms is only the most visible manifestation. [continued…]


After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

Facing what could prove a turning point in tumultuous Kurdish politics, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani vowed Tuesday that he would lead the revival of his party after a surprisingly successful challenge by opponents in last week’s election led some to speculate that it might be the beginning of the party’s end.

In an interview, Talabani, the 75-year-old politician and former guerrilla who founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) more than 30 years ago, sought to cast the election results in the best light. But the success of the Change list, led by former Talabani colleagues , against an alliance of the PUK and the other leading Kurdish party clearly surprised him.

More than a contest among parochial groups in a relatively quiet region, the struggle for political power in the Kurdish north could have sweeping repercussions for Iraq’s mercurial politics. The alliance between Talabani’s party and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party has held for years, though no one has really forgotten the civil war they fought in the 1990s. Their claim to represent Kurdish consensus is crucial, too, in negotiations with Baghdad over today’s most pressing issues: a law to share Iraq’s oil revenue and a resolution to the disputed border between Iraq’s Arab and Kurdish regions. [continued…]

Iraq force soon to be a coalition of one

Commanders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, as the American-led coalition is formally called, have a looming nomenclature problem.

Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no “multi” in the Multi-National Force. As Iraqi forces have increasingly taken the lead, the United States is the last of the “coalition of the willing” that the Bush administration first brought together in 2003.

That is partly because the Iraqi Parliament left suddenly for summer recess without voting to extend an agreement for the British military to keep a residual training force of 100 soldiers in Iraq. As a result, those troops must withdraw to Kuwait by Friday, according to a British diplomat, who declined to be identified in keeping with his government’s practice.

As for the other two small remnants of the coalition, the Romanians and Australians, the Australians will be gone by July 31, too, and the Romanians left last Thursday, according to the Romanian chargé d’affaires, Cristian Voicu. NATO will keep a small training presence in Iraq, but its troops were never considered part of the Multi-National Force because of opposition to the war from many NATO countries. [continued…]

Gates: Some US troops may be leaving Iraq early

The United States is considering speeding up its withdrawal from Iraq because of the sustained drop in violence there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday following discussions with his top commanders in the war.

“I think there’s at least some chance of a modest acceleration,” this year, Gates said.

It was the first suggestion that the Obama administration might rethink its difficult choice to leave a heavy fighting force in Iraq long past the election of an American president who opposed the war. [continued…]


Deadly clash underscores rift over interpretation of U.S.-Iraq deal

Deadly clash underscores rift over interpretation of U.S.-Iraq deal

When insurgents attacked an American convoy with AK-47 rounds and a couple of grenades on a dusty highway in a Baghdad suburb this week, U.S. soldiers returned fire, chased the suspects through narrow alleyways and raided houses.

Tuesday’s clash killed two Iraqi adults and a 14-year-old and wounded four people, including two children.

When the shooting subsided, another confrontation began. A senior Iraqi army commander who arrived at the scene concluded that the Americans had fired indiscriminately at civilians and ordered his men to take the U.S. soldiers into custody. The U.S. military said the soldiers had acted in self-defense and had sought to avoid civilian casualties; U.S. commanders at the scene persuaded the Iraqis to back down.

The incident, apparently the first time a senior Iraqi commander has sought to detain U.S. soldiers, signals a potential escalation of tensions between U.S. and Iraqi forces trying to find a new equilibrium as Iraq assumes more responsibility for its security. [continued…]

Iraq presses U.S. on pact with Sunnis in Turkey

Iraq’s government said Thursday that it was demanding explanations from the United States and Turkey about a protocol signed this year between an American official and a representative of a group of Iraqi Sunni insurgents in Istanbul as a precursor to negotiations between the two sides.

The Iraqi government said in a statement that the protocol amounts to “an interference in Iraq’s internal political affairs” and that it was expecting “clear explanations” from American and Turkish officials at the embassies in Baghdad.

Contacts between the American government and Iraqi insurgent groups are nothing new, and the most recent ones have occurred with the coordination of an Iraqi government reconciliation unit attached to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office. The goal is to get insurgents to renounce violence and embrace the political process.

But the release of the document of the protocol appears to be an attempt to embarrass the United States and show how deeply involved it remains in Iraq’s affairs. It also underscores just how hostile Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-led government remains to any serious engagement with Sunni insurgents, especially those suspected of having links to Saddam Hussein’s former ruling Baath Party. [continued…]


NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Muntader al-Zaidi

When the shoe fits

In a war that has been punctuated by iconic moments, the shoe will be the symbol that most likely endures longest in connecting George Bush to Iraq. In 2003, the sight of a statue of Saddam Hussein being assaulted with footwear highlighted the moment in which, at Mr Bush’s instigation Saddam’s regime had visibly lost power. In 2008, the sight of the US president ducking to avoid flying shoes conveyed the eagerness among many Iraqis to witness Mr Bush’s exit from power.

While Muntader al-Zaidi may have been simply been venting a spontaneous outburst of anger as he hurled both his shoes at the president of the United States of America, his act of defiance struck a chord with many Iraqis along with fellow Arabs across the region.

As Hazim Edress, a resident of Mosul, told The New York Times: “He has done what the whole world could not.” [continued…]

(via Firedoglake)

Editor’s CommentMarc Lynch is concerned that the Muntader al-Zaidi story might distract attention from Human Rights Watch’s new report, The Quality of Justice: Failings of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court. But reports, however worthy of attention, rarely garner much public interest. Indeed, if reports and rumors about Zaidi’s mistreatment in detention turn out to be true, his case may well serve to draw attention towards Iraq’s failed justice system.

This is a case where one would have thought that out of pure self-interest and political expediency, the White House would be pushing for Zaidi’s prompt release simply to serve its own public relations interests. The longer that takes to happen, the more potent a symbol Zaidi will become.


NEWS & OPINION: Iraq’s illusive political solution

Federalism, not partition

Overall, Shiites see their future based on two fundamental “rights”: Power must be exercised by the political majority through control of governmental institutions, and institutional sectarian discrimination must be eliminated. Kurds see their future bound to their “rights” of linguistic, cultural, financial and resource control within Kurdistan. Sunni Arabs are driven by resistance to their loss of power, as well as fear of revenge for past wrongs and the potential for reverse discrimination.

The current political framework is based on a pluralistic democratic vision that, while admirable, is entirely unsuited to resolving this three-way divide. It ignores underlying issues and expects that a consensus will emerge simply by enacting a liberal constitutional legal order.

Pluralistic democracy will not take root unless the national political compact recognizes and accommodates the fears and aspirations of Iraq’s communities. Resolution can be achieved only through a system that incorporates regional federalism, with clear, mutually acceptable distributions of power between the regions and the central government. Such a system is in the interest of all Iraqis and is necessary if Iraq is to avoid partition or further civil strife. [complete article]

Iraq faces ‘slide back to conflict’ without rapid reconstruction

Iraq’s government must rapidly raise its game to cement the country’s fragile new peace, the United States ambassador in Baghdad has declared.

Iraq was “immeasurably better” than a year ago, Ryan Crocker told The Times, but Nouri al-Maliki’s administration had to provide jobs and services to undercut the militias and prevent a slide back to conflict. “Failure to consolidate security gains with progress in other areas would be highly dangerous.”

In a wide-ranging interview Mr Crocker also urged Britain to maintain a force near Basra, saying it still had an important role advising Iraqi commanders, supporting reconstruction efforts, and guarding American supply routes. [complete article]

Iraq may need military help for years, officials say

Senior U.S. military officials projected yesterday that the Iraqi army and police will grow to an estimated 580,000 members by the end of the year but that shortages of key personnel, equipment, weaponry and logistical capabilities mean that Iraq’s security forces will probably require U.S. military support for as long as a decade.

“The truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq.

The Iraqi government has been increasing its forces “much more aggressively” in response to the high violence levels witnessed in 2006 and early 2007, Dubik said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. [complete article]


NEWS & ANALYSIS: Iraq’s shifting alliances; diminishing authority; imperiled culture

Ruthless, shadowy — and a U.S. ally

“Abu Abed, you’re a hero,” the retired Shiite teacher shouted from the home she had fled last winter, when the bodies of Shiites were being dumped daily in the streets of her Amiriya neighborhood.

The fighter, wearing green camouflage and dark wraparound sunglasses, kept walking, his hand swinging a black MP-5 submachine gun.

No more than 5 feet 6, with a roll of baby fat, this Sunni Muslim gunman is an unlikely savior of Amiriya: a former intelligence officer in Saddam Hussein’s army, a suspected onetime insurgent, a man who has photos of his brothers’ mutilated corpses loaded in his cellphone.

To many Iraqis, Abu Abed is a Sunni warlord whose followers have spilled the blood of Shiite Muslim civilians and U.S. troops. But to the people in Amiriya, he is the man who has, with ruthless efficiency, restored order to a neighborhood where the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq held sway. [complete article]

Shiite lauds, warns ‘Awakening Councils’

Former Sunni insurgents – wearing masks and wailing in grief – joined a funeral procession Friday for a leader killed for turning his guns on Islamic extremists instead of America in a contested city that al-Qaida in Iraq once considered its capital.

The burial of 29-year-old Naseer Salam al-Maamouri, placed in a casket draped with the Iraqi flag, also served as a show of resolve for the tribes that have chosen to back the U.S.-led struggle to regain control of Baqouba, the strategic urban hub of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

For the moment, the tribal militias – known as Awakening Councils, Concerned Citizens and other names – have given U.S. and Iraqi forces a key advantage in seeking to clear extremist-held pockets in and around Baghdad. But the Sunni militiamen are demanding something in return: permanent jobs and influence in Iraq’s security forces.

The Shiite-led government has been slow to respond, despite Washington’s fears that the tribal support could collapse into chaos without swift integration into the standing forces. [complete article]

Do U.S. prisons in Iraq breed insurgents?

American officials have detained thousands of insurgents in the months since the surge of forces began this spring, in an effort that most agree has improved security in Iraq. But now the commander of the American detention facilities in Iraq is wondering aloud if holding all those detainees is breeding a “micro-insurgency” and asking whether it’s time to begin releasing thousands of people.

The two main detention facilities operated by the US military in Iraq, at Camp Bucca near Basra and Camp Cropper in Baghdad, have swollen to hold nearly 30,000 detainees. That’s not the 40,000 individuals Army Gen. David Petraeus allotted for when American forces began to implement the Baghdad security plan this spring. But it may be too many, says Marine Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, who oversees detainees for the US-led force.

Holding thousands of “moderate” detainees runs counter to the notion of winning over a population in a classic counterinsurgency, he says. General Stone believes many of these Iraqi insurgents were never motivated by anything more than money and most only desire to live peacefully. Many can be safely released back to society, back to their families and in their neighborhoods without straining security or their communities, he says. [complete article]

Disaffected Iraqis spurn dominant Shiite clerics

Two years after helping to bring to power a government led by Shiite religious parties, Iraq’s paramount Shiite clerics find their influence diminished as their followers criticize them for backing a political alliance that has failed to pass crucial legislation, improve basic services or boost the economy.

“Now the street is blaming what’s happening on the top clerics and the government,” said Ali al-Najafi, the son of Bashir al-Najafi, one of four leading clerics collectively called the marjaiya. Speaking for his father, the white-turbaned Najafi said he wished that the government, all but paralyzed by factionalism and rival visions, was more in touch with ordinary Iraqis.

“We were hoping that it would have been better,” he said.

The marjaiya, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, still wield enormous power in Iraq. But if a critical mass of Iraqis stops listening to them, it could hinder efforts toward political reconciliation and strain the fragile unity of the Shiite parties that head the government. The loss of clerical influence could also hurt the political fortunes of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politicians and America’s main Shiite ally, who has closely aligned himself with Sistani. [complete article]

Can Iraqi sites that have survived seventeen centuries survive the US military?

American soldiers in Iraq have been issued with thousands of packs of playing cards urging them to protect and respect the country’s archaeological sites, in an effort to curb the destruction and plunder of Iraq’s antiquities.

Each card in the deck is illustrated with an ancient artefact or site, with tips on how to preserve archaeological remains and prevent looting.

The seven of clubs, for example, is illustrated with a photograph of the great Ctesiphon arch in Iraq, with the words: “This site has survived for seventeen centuries. Will it survive you?” The seven of spades declares: “Taking pictures is good. Removing artefacts for souvenirs is not.” The jack of diamonds is even more blunt. Alongside a picture of the Statue of Liberty, it asks: “How would you feel if someone stole her torch?” The effort to induce greater cultural awareness among US troops comes amid dire warnings from international archaeologists that Iraq’s ancient heritage is in greater peril than ever. [complete article]

U.S. convoys struggle to adjust to policy change

In the first month that they were in Iraq, someone threatened, shot at or tried to blow up the soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard’s B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery 12 times. Last month, there were only three such incidents.

But confirmation that the roads have become safer came a few weeks ago when a flier went up in the 2-138’s office at this base 20 miles north of Baghdad.

“Effective immediately,” it read, “assume all civilian vehicles are friendly.” [complete article]


NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: In Iraq, division will undermine reconciliation

Editor’s Commentchanging-baghdad.gif — The good news coming out of Iraq is that most Iraqis see an end to the U.S. occupation as being the key to national reconciliation. The bad news is that the damage done to Iraq’s social frabric over the last five years is going to be extremely difficult to repair. The problem is starkly depicted in these two maps of Baghdad. In the space of eighteen months, the city has transformed from being predominently made up of mixed neighborhoods (depicted in yellow), to being sharply divided between Shia and Sunni sectors. Now, colliding with this division are returning refugees:

A small fraction of the millions of refugees who fled Iraq have come back. While the government trumpeted their return as proof of newfound security, migration experts said most of them were forced back by expired visas and depleted savings…

The American military has expressed deep concerns about the Iraqi government’s ability to feed and house its returnees, or manage people who wish to reclaim their homes. It is widely feared that property disputes or efforts to return to newly homogenized neighborhoods could set off fresh waves of sectarian attacks.

For most Iraqi refugees, the trip home is just the beginning of their troubles. Many return to find their homes destroyed or filled with squatters, most of them displaced people themselves. But the government committee that decides property disputes is charged with hearing only cases that predate the invasion of 2003.

Strategy that is making Iraq safer was snubbed for years

[A] USA TODAY investigation shows that the strategy now used to defeat the bombmaking networks and stabilize Iraq was ignored or rejected for years by key decision-makers. As early as 2004, when roadside bombs already were killing scores of troops, a top military consultant invited to address two dozen generals offered a “strategic alternative” for beating the insurgency and IEDs.

That plan and others mirroring the counterinsurgency blueprint that the Pentagon now hails as a success were pitched repeatedly in memos and presentations during the following two years, at meetings that included then-Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

The core of the strategy: Clear insurgents from key areas and provide security to win over Iraqis, who would respond by helping U.S. forces break IED networks and defeat the insurgency.

Bush administration officials, however, remained wedded to the idea that training the Iraqi army and leaving the country would suffice. Officials, including Cheney, insisted the insurgency was dying. Those pronouncements delayed the Pentagon from embracing new plans to stop IEDs and investing in better armored vehicles that allow troops to patrol more freely, documents and interviews show.

Even after the Pentagon began committing substantial resources to combat IEDs, USA TODAY found, its spending focused mostly on high-tech devices with limited utility. Some silver-bullet solutions, such as microwave beams designed to destroy IEDs before they blew up, never worked.

By the time the Pentagon moved to a counterinsurgency strategy at the end of last year, the bombs had been the top killer of U.S. troops for three years, claiming more than 1,160 lives. To date, they are responsible for more than 60% of combat deaths. [complete article]


NEWS: Murder and chaos in Basra; U.S. concentrates forces in Baghdad

UK has left behind murder and chaos, says Basra police chief

The full scale of the chaos left behind by British forces in Basra was revealed yesterday as the city’s police chief described a province in the grip of well-armed militias strong enough to overpower security forces and brutal enough to behead women considered not sufficiently Islamic.

As British forces finally handed over security in Basra province, marking the end of 4½ years of control in southern Iraq, Major General Jalil Khalaf, the new police commander, said the occupation had left him with a situation close to mayhem. “They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world,” he said in an interview for Guardian Films and ITV.

Khalaf painted a very different picture from that of British officials who, while acknowledging problems in southern Iraq, said yesterday’s handover at Basra airbase was timely and appropriate. [complete article]

U.S. to keep most troops in Baghdad

In a change of plans, American commanders in Iraq have decided to keep their forces concentrated in Baghdad when the buildup strategy ends next year, removing troops instead from outlying areas of the country.

The change represents the military’s first attempt to confront its big challenge in 2008: how to cut the number of troops without sacrificing security.

The shift in deployment strategy, described by senior U.S. military officials in Iraq and Washington, is based on concerns that despite recent improvements, the capital could again erupt into widespread violence without an imposing American military presence. [complete article]


NEWS: Gang-rape cover-up by U.S., Halliburton/KBR

Gang-rape cover-up by U.S., Halliburton/KBR

A Houston, Texas woman says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad, and the company and the U.S. government are covering up the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 22, says that after she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.

“Don’t plan on working back in Iraq. There won’t be a position here, and there won’t be a position in Houston,” Jones says she was told.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave. [complete article]


NEWS: Mosul “center of gravity for the insurgency”; Gates cautiously optimistic; Cheney irrationally exuberant

Pushed out of Baghdad, insurgents move north

Sunni insurgents pushed out of Baghdad and Anbar Provinces have migrated to this northern Iraqi city and have been trying to turn it into a major hub for their operations, according to American commanders.

A growing number of insurgents have relocated here and other places in northern Iraq as the additional forces sent by President Bush have mounted operations in the Iraqi capital and American commanders have made common cause with Sunni tribes in the western part of the country.

The insurgents who have ventured north include Abu Ayyub-al Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a predominantly Iraqi group that American intelligence says has foreign leadership. American officials say the insurgent leader has twice slipped in and out of Mosul in Nineveh Province to try to rally fellow militants and put end to infighting. [complete article]

Gates cautiously upbeat on Iraq

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that a stable and democratic Iraq is “within reach.” But he cautioned that threats remain, pointing to insurgent efforts to create a stronghold in northern Iraq as U.S. commanders seek more than 1,400 additional Iraqi and U.S. troops there.

Gates, who during Senate confirmation hearings a year ago stated that the United States was neither winning nor losing in Iraq, was unusually upbeat in his remarks. He said several recent trends have given him hope, including the lowest levels of violence since early 2006, a substantial increase in the number of displaced Iraqis returning to their homeland, rising international investments and the willingness of more than 70,000 Iraqis to volunteer to protect their neighborhoods.

“More than ever, I believe that the goal of a secure, stable and democratic Iraq is within reach,” Gates said at a news conference in the fortified Green Zone. “We need to be patient, but we also need to be absolutely resolved in our desire to see the nascent signs of hope across Iraq expand and flourish.” [complete article]

Top U.S. military brass in Iraq resist quick drawdown

The U.S. military’s internal debate over how fast to reduce its force in Iraq has intensified in recent weeks as commanders in Baghdad resist suggestions from Pentagon officials for a quicker drawdown.

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day military commander in Iraq, said he was worried that significant improvements in security conditions would sway policymakers to move too quickly to pull out troops next year.

“The most important thing to me is we cannot lose what we have gained,” Odierno said in an interview last week with The Times after he toured Nahrawan, a predominantly Shiite city of about 100,000 northeast of Baghdad with a market that is now showing signs of life. “We won’t do that.” [complete article]

Cheney: Iraq to be self-governing by 2009

Vice President Cheney today predicted Iraq will be a self-governing democracy by the time he leaves office, calling the current U.S. surge strategy “a remarkable success story” that will be studied for years to come.

In an interview with Politico, Cheney offered a remarkably upbeat view of Iraq, despite continued violence and political paralysis in the war-torn nation.

Cheney, who has been widely criticized for overly optimistic — and sometime flat wrong — projections in the past, sounded as confident as ever that the Bush administration will achieve its objectives in Iraq. [complete article]


NEWS: “More a cease-fire than a peace” in Iraq

A calmer Iraq: fragile, and possibly fleeting

The reduced violence in Iraq in recent months stems from three significant developments, but the clock is running on all of them, Iraqi officials and analysts warn.

“It’s more a cease-fire than a peace,” said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd, in words that were repeated by Qassim Daoud, a Shiite member of Parliament.

Officials attribute the relative calm to a huge increase in the number of Sunni Arab rebels who have turned their guns on jihadists instead of American troops; a six-month halt to military action by the militia of a top Shiite leader, Moktada al-Sadr; and the increased number of American troops on the streets here.

They stress that all of these changes can be reversed, and on relatively short notice. The Americans have already started to reduce troop levels and Mr. Sadr, who has only three months to go on his pledge, has issued increasingly bellicose pronouncements recently. [complete article]


NEWS, OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Time to get out, not dig in

Iraqi insurgents regrouping, says Sunni resistance leader

Iraq’s main Sunni-led resistance groups have scaled back their attacks on US forces in Baghdad and parts of Anbar province in a deliberate strategy aimed at regrouping, retraining, and waiting out George Bush’s “surge”, a key insurgent leader has told the Guardian.

US officials recently reported a 55% drop in attacks across Iraq. One explanation they give is the presence of 30,000 extra US troops deployed this summer. The other is the decision by dozens of Sunni tribal leaders to accept money and weapons from the Americans in return for confronting al-Qaida militants who attack civilians. They call their movement al-Sahwa (the Awakening).

The resistance groups are another factor in the complex equation in Iraq’s Sunni areas. “We oppose al-Qaida as well as al-Sahwa,” the director of the political department of the 1920 Revolution Brigades told the Guardian in Damascus in a rare interview with a western reporter. [complete article]

U.S. No. 2 general in Iraq cites 25-30 percent reduction in foreign fighters entering Iraq

The U.S. second-in-command in Iraq said Sunday there has been a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in foreign fighters entering Iraq, and he credited Syria with taking steps to limit the flow.

The Americans and Iraqi officials have demanded that Syria do more to stop foreign fighters from crossing its borders to fight in Iraq, where they threaten U.S. forces as well as Iraqi civilians.

Damascus says it has taken all necessary measures but that it is impossible to fully control the sprawling desert along the porous 570-kilometer (354-mile) border. Syrian authorities say they have increased the number of outposts to one every 400 meters (yards) in some zones along the frontier. [complete article]

Iraq as a Pentagon construction site

The title of the agreement, signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in a “video conference” last week, and carefully labeled as a “non-binding” set of principles for further negotiations, was a mouthful: a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” Whew!

Words matter, of course. They seldom turn up by accident in official documents or statements. Last week, in the first reports on this “declaration,” one of those words that matter caught my attention. Actually, it wasn’t in the declaration itself, where the key phrase was “long-term relationship” (something in the lives of private individuals that falls just short of a marriage), but in a “fact-sheet” issued by the White House. Here’s the relevant line: “Iraq’s leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq.” Of course, “enduring” there bears the same relationship to permanency as “long-term relationship” does to marriage.

In a number of the early news reports, that word “enduring,” part of the “enduring relationship” that the Iraqi leadership supposedly “asked for,” was put into (or near) the mouths of “Iraqi leaders” or of the Iraqi prime minister himself. It also achieved a certain prominence in the post-declaration “press gaggle” conducted by the man coordinating this process out of the Oval Office, the President’s so-called War Tsar, Gen. Douglas Lute. He said of the document: “It signals a commitment of both their government and the United States to an enduring relationship based on mutual interests.” [complete article]

See also, Big Media blackout on Iraq (Jeffrey Feldman).

Editor’s Comment — The fact that the U.S. military is now offering some qualified credit to both Syria and Iran for the reduction of violence in Iraq is a tacit acknowledgment that even while it claims “success” in the surge, the current respite is as much a gift — it can easily be taken away. This is the time to get out — not dig in.


OPINION: The algebra of occupation

The algebra of occupation

In 1805, the French army out maneuvered, outsmarted, and outfought the combined armies of Russia and Austria at Austerlitz. Three years later it would flounder against a rag-tag collection of Spanish guerrillas.

In 1967, it took six days for the Israeli army to smash Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and seize the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 2006, a Shiite militia fought the mightiest army in the Middle East to a bloody standstill in Lebanon.

In 1991, it took four days of ground combat for the United States to crush Saddam Hussein’s army in the Gulf War. U.S. losses were 148 dead and 647 wounded. After more than five years of war in Iraq, U.S. losses are approaching 4,000, with over 50,000 wounded; 2007 is already the deadliest year of the war for the United States.

In each case, a great army won a decisive victory only to see that victory canceled out by what T.E. Lawrence once called the “algebra of occupation.” Writing about the British occupation of Iraq following the Ottoman Empire’s collapse in World War I, Lawrence put his finger on the formula that has doomed virtually every military force that has tried to quell a restive population. [complete article]


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]


NEWS, OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Iraq – the shifting narrative

Bomb at a market shatters lull for Baghdad

Last Friday, the Ghazil animal market was a crowded bazaar in a city willing itself into recovery. Cautious but hopeful parents led fun-starved children by the hand to show them parakeets, tropical fish and twittering chicks painted in bright, improbable hues.

As Baghdad’s relative lull in violence had extended from weeks into months, Sunnis and Shiites alike made the calculation — one shared by this reporter — that the Ghazil market was safe enough to risk walking around on a sunny Friday.

It was. But one week later, the market in the shadow of the Mosque of the Caliphs was a scene of carnage, a cruel reminder that the decline in violence in this city is relative and may not last. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — While American officials have been keen to attribute the recent drop in violence in Baghdad to the success of the surge, there seems to be evidence that this drop can also be attributed to another significant event: an isolated but effective disruption in the supply chain of suicide bombers.

A New York Times report last Thursday on a raid on an insurgent camp at Sinjar, close to the Syrian border, focused on intelligence findings that reveals where foreign fighters entering Iraq are coming from. The political significance of this data is obvious: At a time when Iran is frequently blamed for fomenting violence in Iraq, the U.S. military is making it clear that the most significant foreign element has actually been coming from Saudi Arabia. What this report and surrounding coverage has not focused on are the practical consequences that seem to have followed from this raid: a substantial drop in the number of suicide bombings. Friday’s bombing in the Ghazil animal market while apparently intended to look like the re-emergence of the trend of suicide attacks aimed at causing mass civilian casualties is noteworthy because it wasn’t a suicide bombing.

There’s no place like … Iraq?

Dawood is happy to be back in Baghdad. Not that he had much choice. Late last year the cautious, soft-spoken Shiite fled to Syria and on to Lebanon, leaving his wife and their three children in relatives’ care while he looked for a safer home. He had begun getting death threats after helping create an Internet hookup for the U.S. Army base at Taji. Dawood (he won’t risk the use of his full name) is a 33-year-old IT engineer, but he couldn’t find work outside Iraq. His Lebanese visa ran out, and Canada refused his asylum application. So a few weeks ago, practically broke, he returned to Baghdad. His old district is torn by an ongoing Shia-Sunni turf war, but Dawood says he feels safe in the family’s new, mainly Shia area. His youngest child, now 3, called him “Uncle” at first, and he’s still looking for work, but it’s good just to be with his family. “I’ll tell you something about missing Baghdad,” he says. “When I’m in Baghdad, I don’t want to hear any Iraqi music. But when I’m somewhere else, all I want to hear is Iraqi music.”

Thousands of Iraqis are finally returning, lured by news of lessening bloodshed in Baghdad and increasingly unwelcome in the neighboring lands where they tried to escape the war. Although they’re scarcely a fraction of the roughly 2.2 million who have fled into exile since 2003, they represent a big shift: for the first time since the war began, more Iraqis seem to be re-entering the country than leaving. At the desert outpost of Al Waleed, the main crossing on the Syrian frontier, border police reported 43,799 Iraqis coming home in October—more than five times the number heading out, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Other statistics remain patchy at best, but the signs point toward home. “I can tell you this,” says Abdul Samid Rahman Sultan, Iraq’s minister of Displacement and Migration (the job title alone tells how bad the problem has been). “Flights from Syria are always full. Flights out are not.” [complete article]

Railroading a journalist in Iraq

At long last, prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein may get his day in court. The trouble is, justice won’t be blind in this case — his lawyer will be.

Bilal has been imprisoned by the U.S. military in Iraq since he was picked up April 12, 2006, in Ramadi, a violent town in a turbulent province where few Western journalists dared go. The military claimed then that he had suspicious links to insurgents. This week, Editor&Publisher magazine reported the military has amended that to say he is, in fact, a “terrorist” who had “infiltrated the AP.”

We believe Bilal’s crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see. That he was part of a team of AP photographers who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Iraq may have made Bilal even more of a marked man.

In the 19 months since he was picked up, Bilal has not been charged with any crime, although the military has sent out a flurry of ever-changing claims. Every claim we’ve checked out has proved to be false, overblown or microscopic in significance. Now, suddenly, the military plans to seek a criminal case against Bilal in the Iraqi court system in just days. But the military won’t tell us what the charges are, what evidence it will be submitting or even when the hearing will be held. [complete article]

Iraq nullifies Kurdish oil deals

Iraq’s oil ministry has declared all crude contracts signed by the Kurdish regional authorities with foreign companies null and void, a government official said on Saturday.

“The ministry has nullified all contracts signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government,” the official told AFP, asking not to be named. “They will not be recognised.”

The government in Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdish region has signed 15 exploration and exportation contracts with 20 international companies since it passed its own oil law in August, infuriating the Baghdad government. [complete article]


ANALYSIS: Peace through division

In Iraq, the silence of the lambs

The separation of religious groups in the face of sectarian violence has brought some semblance of relative calm to Baghdad. But many Iraqis see this as the uncertain consequence of a divide and rule policy.

Claims are being made that sectarian violence in Iraq has fallen because that the US military “surge” has succeeded in reducing attacks against civilians. But Baghdad residents say that they now live in a largely divided city that has brought an uneasy calm.

“I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased and that everything is fine,” retired general Waleed al-Ubaidy told Inter Press Servce (IPS) in Baghdad. “But the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq.” [complete article]


NEWS, ANALYSIS, OPINION & FEATURE: In Iraq, it’s getting harder to find any bad guys

Who’s the Enemy?

Who is the enemy? Who, exactly, are we fighting in Iraq? Why are we there? And what’s our objective?

Nearly five years into the war, the answers to basic questions like these ought to be obvious. In the Alice in Wonderland-like wilderness of mirrors that is Iraq, though, they’re anything but.

We aren’t fighting the Sunnis. Not any more, anyway. Virtually the entire Sunni establishment, from the moderate Muslim Brotherhood-linked Iraqi Islamic Party (which has been part of every Iraqi government since 2003) to the Anbar tribal alliance (which has been begging for U.S. support since 2004 and only recently got it) is either actively cooperating with the American military or sullenly tolerating what it hopes will be a receding occupation. Across Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq, the United States is helping to build army and police units as well as neighborhood patrols — the Pentagon calls them “concerned citizens” — out of former resistance fighters, with the blessing of tribal leaders in Anbar, Diyala, and Salahuddin provinces, parts of Baghdad, and areas to the south of the capital. We have met the enemy, and — surprise! — they are friends or, if not that, at least not active enemies. Attacks on U.S. forces in Sunni-dominated areas, including the once-violent hot-bed city of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, have fallen dramatically. [complete article]

Inside the surge

Joint Security Station Thrasher, in the western Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya, is housed in a Saddam-era mansion with twenty-foot columns and a fountain, now dry, that looks like a layer cake of concrete and limestone. The mansion and two adjacent houses have been surrounded by blast walls. J.S.S. Thrasher was set up last March, and is part of the surge in troops engineered by General David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq. Moving units out of large bases and into Joint Security Stations—small outposts in Baghdad’s most dangerous districts—has been crucial to Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy, and Thrasher is now home to a hundred American soldiers and a few hundred Iraqis. This fall, on the roof of the mansion, amid sandbags, communications gear, and exercise equipment protected by a sniper awning, Captain Jon Brooks, Thrasher’s commander, pointed out some of the local landmarks. “This site was selected because it was the main body drop in Ghazaliya,” he said, indicating a grassy area nearby. “There were up to eleven bodies a week. Most were brutally mutilated.” [complete article]

2008: The year of federalism in Iraq?

In all the speculation about the fate of the US “surge” policy in Iraq, many analysts have overlooked a date on the 2008 calendar which is bound to become fateful: 11 April. On that day, the current moratorium on creating new federal entities – a last-minute addition to the Iraqi federalism legislation in October 2006 – comes to an end. From April 2008 onwards, the administrative map of Iraq could change dramatically.

The Iraqi constitutional and judicial modalities for creating new federal entities are poorly understood in the West. Under the legal framework adopted in October 2006, there are two paths to a federal status for an existing governorate: based on grassroots initiatives (by one tenth of its voters or by one third of the governorate council members) any Iraqi governorate can call a referendum for the creation of a new federal entity – consisting either of itself, or of itself in union with other governorates where the same kind of initiatives are launched (except Baghdad). A successful bid for federal status requires a simple majority of Yes votes in all governorates concerned. This is a complicated procedure, but it is at least a method that is based on popular initiatives. As such, it is antithetical to the recent resolution by the US Senate on federalism in Iraq, where there are suggestions about foreign “assistance” and elite conferences to “help” the Iraqis design a new administrative map – in other words, a plan to impose federalism on the entire country, not only “from above”, but also from the outside. [complete article]

Iraq to ease Baghdad controls

Iraqi military commanders signaled on Monday that they will soon remove some roadblocks, blast walls and other restrictions that had been imposed over the past nine months as part of the effort to reduce violence here in the capital.

However tens of thousands of American troops will remain on the streets of Baghdad, and the announcement appears to have been made to indicate to their constituents the Iraqi leaderships’ desire to change the emphasis from the military crackdown in the earlier stages of the operation to providing vital utilities and social services to the Baghdad population. [complete article]

The plight of American veterans

As an unpopular, ill-planned war in Iraq grinds on inconclusively, it can be a bleak time to be a veteran.

There is little outright hostility toward returning military personnel these days; few Americans are reviling them as “baby killers” or blaming them for a botched war of choice launched by the White House. Indeed, both Congress and the White House have been hymning their praises in the run-up to Veterans Day. But all too often, soldiers who return from Iraq or Afghanistan — and those who served in Vietnam or Korea — have been left to fend for themselves with little help from the government.

Recent surveys have painted an appalling picture. Almost half a million of the nation’s 24 million veterans were homeless at some point during 2006, and while only a few hundred from Iraq or Afghanistan have turned up homeless so far, aid groups are bracing themselves for a tsunamilike upsurge in coming years. [complete article]