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Power User
Posts: 7833

« Reply #500 on: December 08, 2008, 01:31:43 PM »

I predict that we will look back on W as having achieved the greatest success in the advancment of the Middle East towards peace in decades:

Milestone in Baghdad

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, December 5, 2008; Page A25

The barbarism in Mumbai and the economic crisis at home have largely overshadowed an otherwise singular event: the ratification of military and strategic cooperation agreements between Iraq and the United States.

A Framework for Success in Iraq
They must not pass unnoted. They were certainly noted by Iran, which fought fiercely to undermine the agreements. Tehran understood how a formal U.S.-Iraqi alliance endorsed by a broad Iraqi consensus expressed in a freely elected parliament changes the strategic balance in the region.

For the United States, this represents the single most important geopolitical advance in the region since Henry Kissinger turned Egypt from a Soviet client into an American ally. If we don't blow it with too hasty a withdrawal from Iraq, we will have turned a chronically destabilizing enemy state at the epicenter of the Arab Middle East into an ally.

Also largely overlooked at home was the sheer wonder of the procedure that produced Iraq's consent: classic legislative maneuvering with no more than a tussle or two -- tame by international standards (see YouTube: "Best Taiwanese Parliament Fights of All Time!") -- over the most fundamental issues of national identity and direction.

The only significant opposition bloc was the Sadrists, a mere 30 seats out of 275. The ostensibly pro-Iranian religious Shiite parties resisted Tehran's pressure and championed the agreement. As did the Kurds. The Sunnis put up the greatest fight. But their concern was that America would be withdrawing too soon, leaving them subject to overbearing and perhaps even vengeful Shiite dominance.

The Sunnis, who only a few years ago had boycotted provincial elections, bargained with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, trying to exploit his personal stake in agreements he himself had negotiated. They did not achieve their maximum objectives. But they did get formal legislative commitments for future consideration of their grievances, from amnesty to further relaxation of the de-Baathification laws.

That any of this democratic give-and-take should be happening in a peaceful parliament just two years after Iraq's descent into sectarian hell is in itself astonishing. Nor is the setting of a withdrawal date terribly troubling. The deadline is almost entirely symbolic. U.S. troops must be out by Dec. 31, 2011 -- the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, which, because God is merciful, will arrive again only in the very fullness of time. Moreover, that date is not just distant but flexible. By treaty, it can be amended. If conditions on the ground warrant, it will be.

True, the war is not over. As Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly insists, our (belated) successes in Iraq are still fragile. There has already been an uptick in terror bombings, which will undoubtedly continue as what's left of al-Qaeda, the Sadrist militias and the Iranian-controlled "special groups" try to disrupt January's provincial elections.

The more long-term danger is that Iraq's reborn central government becomes too strong and, by military or parliamentary coup, the current democratic arrangements are dismantled by a renewed dictatorship that abrogates the alliance with the United States.

Such disasters are possible. But if our drawdown is conducted with the same acumen as was the surge, not probable. A self-sustaining, democratic and pro-American Iraq is within our reach. It would have two hugely important effects in the region.

First, it would constitute a major defeat for Tehran, the putative winner of the Iraq war, according to the smart set. Iran's client, Moqtada al-Sadr, still hiding in Iran, was visibly marginalized in parliament -- after being militarily humiliated in Basra and Baghdad by the new Iraqi security forces. Moreover, the major religious Shiite parties were the ones that negotiated, promoted and assured passage of the strategic alliance with the United States, against the most determined Iranian opposition.

Second is the regional effect of the new political entity on display in Baghdad -- a flawed yet functioning democratic polity with unprecedented free speech, free elections and freely competing parliamentary factions. For this to happen in the most important Arab country besides Egypt can, over time (over generational time, the time scale of the war on terror), alter the evolution of Arab society. It constitutes our best hope for the kind of fundamental political-cultural change in the Arab sphere that alone will bring about the defeat of Islamic extremism. After all, newly sovereign Iraq is today more engaged in the fight against Arab radicalism than any country on earth, save the United States -- with which, mirabile dictu, it has now thrown in its lot.

Power User
Posts: 9471

« Reply #501 on: December 08, 2008, 11:05:59 PM »

CCP: "I predict that we will look back on W as having achieved the greatest success in the advancement of the Middle East towards peace in decades"

I personally agree and would say it was an amazing achievement for America under Bush to have acted so strongly and determinedly to see this through to the point where you can find areas of Chicago now more dangerous than Iraq.

There was a very legitimate debate on the way to war where I concede that certain opponents of war were correct for predicting how difficult this would be.

Many war opponents though I think only discovered their dissent when the going got tough and used it opportunistically as an an outlet to vent against Bush.

Stockpiles of WMD weren't found, nonetheless Saddam had and used WMD prior to the war and retained the means and intent to start again.  We were 5-7 years away from a world where Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, according to the Iraq Study Group, 5-7 years ago.  Saddam had attacked 4 of his neighbors and consistently violated his surrender agreement with America, yielding away his right to sovereignty. 

Saddam was not found to have a collaborative, operational relationship with Al Qaeda but he did have ties, communications, cooperations and safe havens with known terrorists.

If nothing else, the fact that he paid huge sums to families of suicide bombers outside his borders should have been grounds enough for his elimination.

I am most proud of the newly freed Iraqis who gave Saddam Hussein a fair trial for the DuJail Massacre and performed a very successful execution.

Those who said we went there to take Iraq oil were wrong as were those who thought we wanted too rule the place.  American theft of Iraqi resources just didn't happen.  We paid for the rebuild of their oil industry and didn't take the oil, or even demand our own money back.

Those like bin Laden who thought we would cut and run at the first sight of heavy casualties were wrong (but very nearly right).  America stayed and finished the job, or so it looks at this point in time.

Those who thought this battle had nothing to do with al Qaeda were wrong, from al Qaeda's point of view.

Those most pleased with the liberation should be the feminists of the world.  Who could have imagined a short time ago that women would attain any rights much less the right to vote.  Women tend to oppose violence and now have a voice.

Those (like Joe Biden) who wanted the America out by splitting the Iraqi territory into ethnic thirds and handing the bulk of the country and it's natural wealth over to the control of Iran as the only way of achieving peace... those people were wrong.

I don't know what the future will bring for Iraq or the Middle East and sometimes democracy has nasty results in places, but these people now have freedom and the opportunity to achieve peace and prosperity within their grasp for the first time in many people's lifetimes.

Like CCP implies, this has implications for Israel and the greater middle east peace.  But, if real and lasting peace is achieved in short order, expect the credit to go to Hillary, not W, and we can discuss it on the media thread, lol.
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #502 on: December 08, 2008, 11:42:30 PM »

From a friend currently traning the Iraqi police:

"Almost every Iraqi I have met has said they fear that if the U.S. leaves, then the sectarian strife will be on like Donkeykong.  There was nothing less than wholesale Shia against Sunni neighborhood ethnic cleansing going on in mixed areas of Baghdad back on 2006.  Some of it directly attributable to Iraqi police and army.  Much of it occurring right in front of them because they were the problem.  Militia infested.  Militia connected.  Militia supporting.  Very simply put, Shia versus Sunni.  The bottom line here.  Time will tell."
Power User
Posts: 9471

« Reply #503 on: December 24, 2008, 07:49:44 PM »

Maybe a sign of success that there are no war posts for a couple of weeks and most posts now are reflective / looking back or about how it will be viewed from the future.

This study:
concludes that Gore would have faced the same pressures, received the same intelligence, listened to his advisers advise war, seen the same public support and made the same decision, but perhaps gone in initially with more troops.  Interesting read.
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #504 on: January 07, 2009, 10:40:13 AM »

Iraq: Stability and Boosting Oil Production
Stratfor Today » January 7, 2009 | 0017 GMT

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-ShahristaniSummary
Iraq’s oil minister has announced a new tender for the development of 11 major energy fields. The tender is part of a plan to restore — and expand upon — Iraq’s status as a major energy exporter. Whether the plan succeeds, however, depends upon Baghdad’s ability to maintain domestic stability.
Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani on Dec. 31 announced a new international tender for the development of 11 major energy (mostly oil) fields as part of an effort to increase oil production. This second bid round comes six months after the first round of bidding was opened; six oil and two natural gas fields were offered for development in the first round. Al-Shahristani said developing the two sets of fields should allow Baghdad to increase production from its current 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to some 6 million bpd in the next four to five years. The Iraqi government plans to sign the contracts of the first round in mid-2009, while the second round is to be concluded by the end of the same year.

(click image to enlarge)

The 11 fields are Majnoon, West Qurna Phase 2, Halfaya, Gharraf, Badrah, East Baghdad, Kifl/West Kifl/Merjan, Qamarim/Gullabat/Naudman, Najmah/Al-Qayara, Khashm al-Ahmar, and Siba (the last two are natural gas fields). Each field is in a politically sensitive area. Majnoon, West Qurna Phase 2, Halfaya, Gharraf, Kifl/West Kifl/Merjan, Khashm al-Ahmar, and Siba are located in southern provinces where rival Shiite factions are pitted against one another. The East Baghdad field in the capital is in a stronghold of the al-Sadrite movement. The Najmah/Al-Qayara field is in Ninawa province contested between the Kurds and the Sunnis. Khashm al-Ahmar and the Qamarim/Gullabat/Naudman field is in the communally mixed Diyala province.

In addition to the domestic issues, three of the fields are jointly owned with neighboring Iran and Kuwait. Majnoon and Badrah are located on the Iran-Iraq border, while Siba is on the Iraq-Kuwait border. Developing them will require agreements between Iraq and its two neighbors, something that will be complicated by a row over oil fields that led to the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and by Iranian interests in Iraq.

Political and security conditions allowing, the development of these fields could allow Iraq to re-emerge as a major oil-exporting state. Despite the global economic downturn, Iraq is the one place that could attract investment from global energy majors given the low cost of development and the potential for success.

As much as 80 percent of Iraq’s energy resources have long remained untapped. Whatever development took place occurred before the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein became president in 1979. From there onward, Iraq’s links to the wider world became constrained. The process began with the 1980-88 war with Iran and exacerbated in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Perhaps the worst period began with the 1991 Persian Gulf War and continued through twelve years of sanctions. The country then experienced nearly five years of insurgency in post-Baathist Iraq.

Together, this sequence of events took the country out of the select club of major oil exporters. This meant there is huge potential for increasing oil production, especially in the light of the technological developments that have taken place in the last three decades and the fact that Iraq has not barely been exposed to them.

The introduction of technology into the country will work well with the nature of Iraq’s oil fields - highly shallow and horizontal pool - and thus immensely facilitate development work. Unlike other oil fields around the world, which are deep below the surface and are in the vertical shafts, Iraq’s oil fields are in many ways large lakes that don’t require a whole lot of drilling. This aspect is extremely important from the point of view of the cost of enhancing production, which is why Iraq is the one place where the world’s energy majors are drawn to.

Having oil fields that require little work to begin production constitutes half the undertaking; being able to ship it is an equally important part of developing the energy sector. The world has many places — like Russia — where there is plenty of oil but where the fields are nowhere near any means of transport, which renders the project cost prohibitive. In Iraq, however, most of the fields are located near existing export points and other transit infrastructure. This means it does not require much effort to transport Iraqi crude.

Najmah/Al-Qayara and East Baghdad are not far from a pipeline running from Baghdad through Baiji to the tri-border area with Syria and Turkey. The Khashim al-Ahmar and Qamarim/Gullabat/Naudman are a little west of the same line. Meanwhile, the pipeline from Basra to Hadith runs through the Kifl/West Kifl/Merjan field near Najaf and runs close to Gharraf. And the Halfaya, Majnoon, West Qurna Phase 2, and Siba are located very close to the pipeline network hubbed at Basra. This leaves Badrah as the only field that is far from any existing pipeline. But since it is close to East Baghdad, it can be linked to the pipeline running north from the capital.

Despite these logistical positives, two key factors have prevented energy majors from leaping at the opportunity since the U.S. move to effect regime-change. The first has been the lack of an internationally recognized government, and the second has been a multifaceted security problem.

The Petraeus strategy allowed the United States to collapse the Sunni insurgency from within in 2007, while U.S.-Iranian dealings took care of the Shiite militia problem. The prospect of violence remains, however, given ongoing Sunni-Shiite and Arab-Kurdish tensions. On the political front, the Shiite-dominated central government has considerably extended its writ in the country. Even so, numerous faultlines at both the intra- and inter-communal levels continue to threaten the gains made over the last two years.

The issue of autonomy, which pits the central government against the Kurdistan Regional Government — especially over energy — continues to prevent the enactment of a national hydrocarbon law. Furthermore, 2009 is an election year, with provincial elections scheduled for Jan. 31 and parliamentary polls slated for later in the year. These votes are the next step in the process toward stabilizing the Iraqi state. If Iraq’s various stakeholders can move past these tensions, they will enhance the chances for success of the Oil Ministry’s plans to expand production.

Given the number of moving parts in the new Iraqi republic, any number of things could go wrong. But so long as Baghdad can maintain status quo in terms of Iraq’s relative security and stability, it stands a good chance to greatly exceed its past status as a major oil-exporting nation.
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #505 on: January 13, 2009, 08:55:48 AM »

A friend in Iraq training Iraqi police reports:

 I leave my hootch at about 0515 to walk down the very dark road to the compound gym.  As I turn onto "Edinburgh Blvd." I can hear a  dog barking.  Very agitated like.  And getting louder.  Within a few seconds I see a white dog somewhat running towards me.  That by itself is enough around here to be  concerned about.  They carry 2 step rabies here.  You get bit, you get to take 2 more steps before you drop dead to the ground.  Of course I am exaggerating but you get the drift.
Well a moment after I see the dog I notice a light coming down the street.  It looks like a flashlight.  Only it's like head high.  As the  light and I get nearer I realize it's a head lamp.  Like bicyclists and orienteers wear.  By this time the dog sees me and darts bbehind some parked cars and essentially goes out of sight.  A couple of seconds later I realiize the guy comiing towards me wearing a head lamp is carrying a  freakin' rifle.  Well around here, while rifles are not uncommon, guys walking down the street at 0515 in the morning with one and wearing a head lamp is still odd.    I admit to instant ppucker factor thinkking holy mierda.  Who's gonna believe I got whacked like this?  I have never been so happy in my life (when he was just meters away) to hear a voice, a German voice at that say, "good morning sir."  And he just kept going.  Looking for the dog.  But I think the dog took deep cover when he saw me, on top of seeing some guy with a flashlight and a rifle looking for him.  And I nnever heard a  gunshot.
I checked my underwear when I got to the gym....
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #506 on: January 22, 2009, 03:58:45 PM »

Another report from my friend:

So yesterday morning one of the women I work with, an American expat/ex-Peace Corp type,  waddles into our office and says "why is there a machine gun in the guard tower.  It frightens me."
"Umm, let's see.  Because this is a war zone.  Umm,  because there are  people out there right now who would kill us if they could."
"Why would anybody want to hurt us?"
I have decided to never speak another word to her.  She is a typical hypocrite.  She won't go anywhere unless it is safe, yet asks "why would anybody want to hurt us?"
I remember in Virginia, during defensive tactics training, she commented that a person with a knife should be disarmed.  Not hurt.  Like there's some magical skill set out  there that guarantees a disarm everytime.
Some people just should not be here.  There's already a scarcity of clean air.
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #507 on: January 24, 2009, 11:27:26 AM »

So it's been about 3 weeks plus now since the Iraqis have been given back their country.  And things seem to feel different.  Sometimes visibly so.
I was out at CCCI the other day (Central Criminal Court of Iraq).  And for about 1/2 hour an Iraqi helicopter was buzzing the place.  Unnecessarily.  As if to  show their ass.  But who was affected?   The Iraqi court system.  That's who.
One sees way more Iraqi military and police vehicles and personnel than before.  Most seem okay.  I personally say a sallam alaikum and put my hand on my heart to every Iraqi I meet.  I have even seen that turn what appeared to be the occasional cold glare into a luke warm smile.  I also take a photo of every security officer who I am in a position to, but I must (and have) give them a copy of the photo. They seem to appreciate the hell out of that.  Most I have meet seem basically okay. Like guys everywhere would be.
I do sense that there is some embarrassment to the reality that in direct force on force warfare we have kicked their ass twice.  Technology has its benefits.
But the reality is they, for a while, were absolutely wreaking havoc on us with their 4th generational warfare vision.  To tell you the truth I think waht happened here in that regard is a harbinger of how "the defeated" can lay waste to an occupying force.
The relative security in Iraq these days came about for four main reasons:

the Surge (liberals hate to hear that) but it was the security foundation that allowed for so much more
General Petraeus:  the man simply realized that it required a total approach by all military and civilian assets
the reality that Iraq had a history of civilization long before we came here.  I don't know that this is the case in Afghanistan
The Iraqis want to take down the t-walls.  I wish them luck.  The enemy is not gone.   Just constrained.  But without the t-wall syystem, man iit's like duck season again....
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #508 on: January 26, 2009, 11:59:04 AM »

I remember reading somewhere that Muslims may not like their photos taken.
Most Iraqis are Muslims.
But I have yet to meet one who did not want their photo taken when the option was offered.  They jump on it.  The only thing is you MUST give a  copy to each and every person in the photo.  If for no other reason than they will torment you to death over it.  And since e-mail is not big over here as far as the grunts doing all the work  go (remember computers and Internet access costs), that means you have to print them out a copy.
So far I have been real good about that.  And it has earned some good mileage.
Sometimes I think about seriously learning Arabic because all the Iraqis I have met so far seem to have a good sense of humor.  It's just that we can't laugh more  about sh!* because we cannot communicate.  If we were going to be in Iraq longer I would do it.  But it's hard to generate the energy to make such a commitment.
Oh, and almost all I have met seem to like Americans.  And if there were anyy issues they revolved more around they would prefer things to be different in an ideal world.  Remember, in straight up combat we have absolutely kicked their asses twice.  As a man it's a hard and bitter pill to swallow.  Any man, anywhere on this planet would feel the same.
So I just front myself off as being no better than them.  Equals.  I am not the infidel who is here to tell you how to stop dragging your knuckles on the ground and walk upright.  "Tell me what YOU think" about this and that (all translated of course).  Positive reinforcement.   "Dude your gun is cleaner than most guys I have worked with" (easy to say when it's true).
Iraq, contrary to Afghanistan, was a society with a long history of civilization before we got here.  They have had very strong legal institutions for a very long time.  Maybe not how we would do things, especially under the evil Saddam Hussein, but they had and still have their ways.  And these ways work for them.
One of the projects I see being floated around is an automated court administration system.  Frankly I have not personally seen a huge amount of interest in converting to that process.  They have their paper way, much like the Colombians did, of doing things.  And it works for them.  They walk into courthouses with huge court documents that look like the construction paper we used as kids.  Light blue.  Yellow.  Orange.  No rhyme or reason as far as I can tell between the colors, but it all works for them.
One final observation.  And this is just my opinion.  I more and more come to the conclusion that most Muslims could care less about the issues that drive the Jihadists.  But the Jihadists are the ones to use violence in support of their view.  The average person, for good reason, is punked out by that reality.  The Iraqis who have gotten sick and tired of that crap have proven that they will kick al-Qaeda's ass themselves.  And they have.  At great consequence to themselves.  But they ultimately prevailed in many places in Iraq.  I don't take the Michael Yon view that all is hunky dory and that there are not serious issues here.
I was against the invasion of Iraq back in 2003.  And I have been a harsh critic of our involvement here on many occasions.  But seeing things close up now makes me start to believe that some of the Bush administrations vision on how to deal with the greatest current threat to Western civilization (in afct to the entire non-Muslim world), the direct confrontation of the Jihadists, may have some very long term prospects.
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #509 on: January 26, 2009, 11:46:35 PM »

In a week of symbolic breaks with the ancien regime, President Obama called in U.S. war commanders last Wednesday to signal his desire to get out of Iraq. Then, meeting over, he issued a vague statement about planning "a responsible military drawdown" that omitted mention of his campaign promise to pull out within 16 months.

APFor Iraq's sake, long may such obfuscation reign. The country faces big tests in the coming year, starting with provincial elections on Saturday. Robust American engagement guided Iraq out of its bloodiest days in 2006. The military commanders who implemented the successful surge now counsel against hasty withdrawal, lest those gains be lost. This is a potential win-win for Mr. Obama. If Iraq emerges from 2009 as a stronger democracy, the White House could then reduce troop levels with little risk of relapse. The President, who prospered in the Democratic primaries thanks to his antiwar stance, will reap the strategic benefit. Let historians appreciate the irony.

The 146,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq today are needed less to end violence than as glue for a still fragile polity. The GIs are the honest brokers in an Iraq recovering from vicious sectarian fighting, and they are crucial to building a steadily improving Iraqi Army. To withdraw in 16 months, the U.S. would have to start immediately to rotate out a brigade roughly each month, taking its eye off those crucial missions.

Why take that risk now, of all times? After Saturday's local elections, the majority Shiites will willingly share power with Sunnis, who boycotted the last poll in 2005. Sunnis have chosen to come back into the fold through the ballot box, along the way helping to give birth to vibrant retail politics. Some 14,000 candidates from 400 parties battle for 440 seats on 14 (of 18) provincial councils. There will also be a referendum on the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement this summer, and parliamentary elections by the end of the year.

American GIs can make sure these elections come off smoothly and are accepted broadly as legitimate. The current campaign has seen an uptick in suicide attacks and bombings, showing that diehard Sunni insurgents and Iran-backed militias still want to sabotage democracy in Mesopotamia. Iran lost its fight to stop the U.S. forces deal last year and is sure to try again. A Shiite democracy on its border is an existential rebuke to the mullahs. Military commanders are bracing for Iran to stir up trouble in the months ahead, particularly in the south. By helping Iraq resist this powerplay, Mr. Obama will only strengthen his hand for his promised diplomacy with Tehran.

General Ray Odierno, the commander in Iraq, says the U.S. will be able to pull out two, possibly three, of 14 brigades in 2009, assuming all goes well. Last year's forces agreement obliges cuts. By summer, American combat forces are supposed to be out of the cities, and out of the country by the end of 2011, well in time for the next U.S. Presidential election.

The new Administration may still be tempted to pull out in bigger numbers sooner -- both to appease its antiwar left and spend less on defense. Another argument is that the U.S. can't beef up in Afghanistan without quick reductions in Iraq. As a matter of arithmetic, that's broadly correct. But before a larger force can do much good in Afghanistan the U.S. needs a plan for deploying it.

Here's the lose-lose scenario: Allow Iraq to deteriorate by withdrawing too soon and push into Afghanistan without a better strategy. Mr. Obama has inherited a victory in Iraq that he can't afford to squander.

« Last Edit: January 28, 2009, 01:48:14 PM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #510 on: January 28, 2009, 01:48:59 PM »

Published: January 27, 2009
BAGHDAD — At a recent meeting with the Iraqi journalists’ union, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki made a pledge that would have scandalized the Iraqis’ American counterparts: the government would give plots of land to thousands of journalists, for a nominal price or possibly even free.

A campaign sign for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq. Mr. Maliki has pledged to give plots of land to journalists.
His timing, a month before provincial elections, as well as his admonition to journalists to focus on stories of progress and reconstruction, might be seen as an attempt to buy favorable news coverage.

But if it was, there were few objections from the journalists, who have been demanding the land giveaway for years.

“The resolution of distributing lands to journalists is part of several rights that the journalists should have,” said Moaid Allami, the president of the union. “These are social and legal rights to the citizen, to the journalist citizen.”

More than just free elections, policy analysts often say, democracy requires democratic civil institutions like a free press. But the popularity of the land-for-journalists program illustrates the challenges newfound democratic principles face when they clash with entitlements and cozy relationships that no one ever questioned before.

The government has been pledging to give land to journalists for years, and there are doubts as to when or whether it will really happen. Yassin Majeed, a government spokesman, said that the process was going forward and that the current plan was to offer plots all over the country to as many journalists in the union as possible.

But there are few doubts among journalists that they deserve it.

Mr. Allami, whose union represents 10,000 employees of state, party and independently owned media, said journalists were entitled to the state’s support given the hardships they faced in the line of duty. For six years running, Iraq has been declared the most dangerous place in the world for journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since the American-led invasion in 2003, 114 Iraqi journalists have been killed, the organization reports, victims of cross-fire, bombings or assassination.

Local press organizations say the number is much higher.

Shihab al-Tamimi, the former president of the union, was shot and killed in his car last February, and Mr. Allami was wounded in a bomb blast outside the union’s headquarters in September.

Before the American invasion, all journalists worked for the government and, like other government-employed professionals, including doctors and teachers, they were well paid and had secure jobs, pensions and other benefits.

But since then, the media have been largely privatized, and those benefits have disappeared. The vast majority of Iraqi reporters are paid salaries too low for them to accrue any savings. And unlike state employees, they have little job security and no health insurance, life insurance or pensions.

The journalists’ union has sought compensation in another program from the era of Saddam Hussein’s government: land patronage. For decades, land was given to soldiers, officers and favored government employees. The union has also asked for pensions, as well as reduced fares for journalists on the state-owned airline.

“Support from the government is not a right, but it’s a necessity,” said Maher Faisal, the managing editor of the independent newspaper Addustour. “The media and journalists have been marginalized in this country.”

Mr. Faisal said he hoped that the deal was not politically motivated. “But,” he said, “journalists need to eat.”

A few journalists, however, are worried about a different kind of survival — that of Iraq’s nascent free press.

Hadi Jalow Merei, a writer for the newspaper Azzaman, said the land distribution plan “would open the door to government interference.”

Ziad al-Ajili, the manager of a Baghdad-based advocacy group, Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, said of the land giveaway: “I would not take it even if I have to live in a tent. As soon as you do, it will be the end of Iraq’s independent journalism.”

He acknowledges the difficulties Iraqi journalists face; his organization keeps a tally of arrests, killings and beatings of journalists, as well as government violations of press freedoms. But the best way to address these problems, he said, is through more journalism, not government handouts.

“They’re not thinking about the future,” he said of his colleagues. “If they think about the future as independent journalists, we can do lots of things.”

(Page 2 of 2)

Under Mr. Hussein, journalists walked a fine line. Those who went too far in their reporting were often arrested and tortured. But Mr. Hussein, whose son Uday was president of the journalists’ union, knew how to use the carrot, too.

Reporters who worked during those years said they were granted leeway to criticize government officials as long as Saddam Hussein, his sons and his special interests were left untouched. Those favored by Mr. Hussein were showered with money, cars and land.

Since his government was toppled in 2003, private news outlets have proliferated, some independent and many affiliated with political parties. A free press was enshrined in Iraq’s new Constitution, which guarantees the right “as long as it does not violate public order and morality.” Laws criminalizing certain types of speech have curtailed that right somewhat.

But the new authorities sometimes acted like the old ones. An American public relations firm hired by the Pentagon paid Iraqi journalists for favorable coverage. Both the American-led coalition and the Iraqi government have closed news outlets and arrested journalists, often without charge or on vague accusations of supporting terrorism.

Last year, Iraq ranked 158th out of 173 countries in the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog group.

But the old habits die hard for journalists, too.

“The union is still begging from the powerful and working hard to satisfy the government,” said Sadiq al-Moussaoui, who runs the Waael news agency. “When the politicians start becoming afraid of us, that will mean we are real journalists.”

But Mr. Majeed, the government spokesman, insisted that a simple benefit program did not mean that the government expected anything in return. Nor was Mr. Allami, the union president, concerned that the program could appear to compromise journalists’ integrity.

“I’m not afraid about the credibility of the journalism in Iraq after these resolutions,” he said. “On the contrary, I’m afraid of the government if we say something or write something honest against them in the future. They may take away our rights if we criticize them at some point. But once we get the lands and those lands are registered in our names, they aren’t going to be able to take them away.”
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« Reply #511 on: February 02, 2009, 11:12:00 AM »

The democracy that President Bush was an idiot to imagine for Iraq held another election yesterday-- not that you would notice it very much in the MSM  angry  Here's Stratfor's initial take on it:


Preliminary results emerging a day after Iraq held critical provincial elections suggested that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s group, the Coalition for the State of Law, has made significant gains both in Baghdad and the Shiite south. A Reuters report cited officials from both the largest Shia political group, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement as acknowledging that al-Maliki had fared far better than expected. Meanwhile, the Sunnis were expected to make considerable gains in certain northern provinces, reversing the gains made by the Kurds in the last elections — which the Sunnis boycotted.

Given the complexities of Iraq’s electoral system, it will be several days before actual results are available to show the precise balance of power between the Shia and the Sunnis. The results of the elections in both the Shiite and Sunni provinces will have a direct bearing on parliamentary election, scheduled for sometime in December. Together, these two elections will determine whether the delicate power-sharing arrangement that the United States shaped will hold.

The fact that elections were held at all, and without any serious violence, speaks volumes about how far things in Iraq have come since 2006, when the Sunni, Shiite and jihadist insurgencies were threatening to tear the country apart. Equally important is the rise of al-Maliki, who was little more than a compromise choice for prime minister about a year ago. Since then, al-Maliki has skillfully exploited Iraq’s factional rivalries and his own government position to enhance his standing.

Though he has been a Shiite Islamist politician throughout his career, al-Maliki went into the Jan. 31 elections promoting himself as a secular, non-sectarian and Iraqi nationalist seeking a strong central government as a counter to regional tendencies. If his coalition did in fact make considerable gains in the Shiite south, he will be able to counter the pro-Iranian ISCI’s moves to create a Shiite autonomous region in the south. Furthermore, his victory will pave the way for improved relations between Baghdad and the provinces, leading to a strengthened central government.

While he maintains strong opposition to the large-scale incorporation of Sunni militias into the state’s security apparatus, al-Maliki’s new makeover as a non-ideological Arab leader, increasingly independent of Iran, has won him a good many allies among the Sunnis. With the help of these Sunni allies, who also are expected to have gained power in the provincial election, al-Maliki is hoping to forge a strong coalition that could serve as a check on both Kurdish ambitions for greater autonomy and the pro-Iranian Shia who also seek a weak national government.

Obviously, new battle lines are emerging in Iraq between ethno-sectarian forces and nationalist ones, and al-Maliki will have a tough time dealing both with Kurds who have been greatly angered by his push for a strong center and fellow Shia who wish to see an Iraq aligned more closely with Iran. For the United States, however, al-Maliki’s gains can facilitate the Obama administration’s plans for an accelerated troop withdrawal and provide Washington with the leverage it needs in moving toward diplomatic engagement with Iran. Considering that it was not too long ago that the United States had all but given up on al-Maliki, this is indeed considerable progress.
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« Reply #512 on: February 03, 2009, 11:21:50 AM »

Was Bush right after all?  evil

Imagine yourself as Barack Obama, gazing at a map of the greater Middle East and wondering how, and where, the United States can best make a fresh start in the region.

An Iraqi man holds up an ink-stained finger after casting his vote in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, Jan. 31.
Your gaze wanders rightward to Pakistan, where preventing war with India, economic collapse or the Talibanization of half the country would be achievement enough. Next door is Afghanistan, where you are committing more troops, all so you can prop up a government that is by turns hapless and corrupt.

Next there is Iran, drawing ever closer to its bomb. You're mulling the shape of a grand bargain, but Israel is talking pre-emption. Speaking of Israel, you're girding for a contentious relationship with the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, the all-but certain next prime minister.

What about Israel's neighbors? Palestine is riven between feckless moderates and pitiless fanatics. Lebanon and Hezbollah are nearly synonyms. You'd love to nudge Syria out of Iran's orbit, but Bashar Assad isn't inclined. In Egypt, a succession crisis looms the moment its octogenarian president retires to his grave.

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And then there is Iraq, the country in the middle that you would have just as soon banished from sight. How's it doing? Perplexingly well.

The final tallies for Saturday's provincial elections aren't in yet. But a few conclusions are warranted. This time, the election seems to have been mostly free of fraud; four years ago, it was beset by fraud. This time, there was almost no violence; four years ago, there were 299 terrorist attacks. This time, 40% of voters in the overwhelmingly Sunni province of Anbar went to the polls; four years ago, turnout was 2%.

In 2005, Iraqis voted their sectarian preferences. Now sectarian parties are out of fashion. "Those candidates who campaigned under the banner of religion should be rejected," Abdul Kareem told Al Jazeera. "They corrupted the name of religion because they are notorious for being thieves. Religion is not politics." Mr. Kareem is a Shiite cleric.

Also out of fashion: Iran, previously thought to be the jolly inheritor of our Iraq misadventure. In 2005, Tehran's political minions in the Iranian-funded Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- itself the funder of the dreaded Badr brigade -- swept the field. Candidates loyal to anti-American fire-breather Moqtada al-Sadr also did well. This time, Sadr didn't even dare to field his own slate, and early reports are that the Supreme Council was trounced.

What's in fashion, electorally speaking, are secular parties, as well as the moderately religious Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This wasn't supposed to happen. The Palestinian parliamentary election of 2006 that put Hamas in power was taken in the West as proof that Arab democracy was destined to yield illiberal results. Saturday's election suggests otherwise, assuming there is a structure that guarantees that Islamists must stand for election more than once.

What about security? A month ago, Gen. Ray Odierno predicted that "al Qaeda will try to exploit the elections because they don't want them to happen. So I think they will attempt to create some violence and uncertainty in the population." But al Qaeda was a no-show on Saturday. Meanwhile, more U.S. soldiers died in accidents (12) than in combat (4) for the month of January. The war is over.

So what are you going to do about the one bright spot on your map -- an Arab country that is genuinely democratic, increasingly secular and secure, anti-Iranian and, all-in-all, on your side? So far, your only idea seems to bid to it good luck and bring most of the troops home in time for Super Bowl Sunday, 2010.

In Today's Opinion Journal


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Main Street: Congress's Phony War on Torture
– William McGurn


Daniel Pearl and the Normalization of Evil
– Judea PearlWhat Other Financial Crises Tell Us
– Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. RogoffHow to Value Toxic Bank Assets
– Robert C. PozenThat's a campaign promise, but it isn't a foreign policy. Foreign policy begins with the recognition that Iraq has now moved from the liability side of the U.S. ledger to the asset side. As an Arab democracy, it is a model for what we would like the rest of the Arab world to become. As a Shiite democracy, it is a reproach to Iranian theocracy. As the country at the heart of the Middle East, it is ideally located to be a bulwark against Tehran's encroachments.

There was a time when American strategists understood the role countries could play as "pillars" of a regional strategy. Israel has been a pillar since at least 1967; Iran was one until 1979. Turkey, too, is a pillar, but it is fast slipping away, as is Egypt.

Within the Arab world, Iraq is the only country that can now fulfill that role. For that it will need military and economic aid, and lots of it. Better it than futile causes like Palestine, or missions impossible like winning over the mullahs. With Saturday's poll, Iraq has earned a powerful claim to our friendship.

Yes, you'd rather look elsewhere on the map for a Mideast legacy. But Iraq is where you'll find it. Don't miss your chance.

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« Reply #513 on: February 04, 2009, 11:50:09 PM »

Iraq's Remarkable Election
The government ensured integrity and security. Iran and sectarianism were the big losers.
When the surge in Iraq began in January 2007, no one imagined that two years later Iraq would plan and conduct provincial elections with limited Coalition assistance and presence, that those elections would proceed smoothly and peacefully, and that the United Nations special envoy would be able to certify its legitimacy immediately. Nor could anyone have dreamt that the news story would be not the smoothness and peacefulness of the polling, but its results and the prospects they offer for political progress in Iraq.

The security was an impressive demonstration of the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and its legitimacy with Iraqis. Iraqi National Police, local police, and Iraqi Army troops were entirely responsible for the physical security of all polling places on election day. They rehearsed procedures for requesting and receiving quick-reaction forces drawn from Coalition and other Iraqi troops, but did not need to implement these emergency plans.

There had been reason to fear suicide bombers at polling sites, but none struck. But Iraqis were confident enough to bring their children to polling places. This was the first time that U.S. forces were not increased prior to an Iraqi election.

The Iraqi High Electoral Commission played a role in conducting legitimate elections. It standardized procedures for ISF securing the polls. Working in conjunction with the U.N. Assistance Mission Iraq, the commission guided the registration of voters and candidates, and oversaw polling procedures, absentee balloting, and the counting of ballots.

Iraqi voters chose nationalist, secularist parties over religious parties by a wide margin. In the mostly Shiite south, candidates associated with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party appear to have gained significantly. This outcome is noteworthy because Dawa came to power in the 2005 elections with virtually no grass-roots support or organization. Few would have predicted Mr. Maliki's electoral success even a year ago.

Moqtada al-Sadr, by contrast, relied on grass-roots support for his movement and seemed poised to dominate elections in the south a year ago. But he lost much of his popular support when Iraqi Security Forces defeated his militias in Basra, Baghdad and Maysan in June 2008. The door was open for the well-organized Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council (ISCI), the clerically dominated party that had controlled many important provincial governorships and councils in the south. Yet Iraqis voted instead for Mr. Maliki's coalition or for the secular Shiite coalition of former prime minister Iyad Allawi.

Mr. Maliki certainly used his position as prime minister and his control of Iraq's wealth to enhance his political position among the Shiites. But he delivered more than money. He cleared southern Iraq's urban areas of Shiite militias, including those directly and actively supported by Iran, and re-established civil order in wartorn Basra, Diwaniyah, Karbala, Maysan, Wasit and Dhi Qar provinces. He thereby gave a degree of security to these communities for which he is now being rewarded electorally.

Early results in the Sunni-Arab core provinces of Anbar, Salah-ad-Din and Diyala are equally heartening. Large numbers of Sunni Arabs boycotted the 2005 provincial and parliamentary elections, leading to feelings of political disenfranchisement that helped fuel the insurgency. Furthermore, those Sunni Arabs who did vote in the 2005 parliamentary elections elected a very narrow and extremist slate that claimed to speak for the entire Sunni-Arab community and refused to make compromises with the Shiite government.

The Sunni political spectrum in 2009 encompasses a much wider range of views, which have each achieved a share of the votes. This development offers the possibility of real cross-sectarian coalitions, as Mr. Maliki is no longer dependent on ISCI for influence in the Shiite areas, and can choose among possible Sunni partners in mixed areas.

The most surprising results were from Ninewah province in the north, where a new political entity formed in 2008 called al Habda seems to have won a majority of the council seats. The Sunni boycott of the 2005 provincial elections had left this province largely under the influence of Kurdish council-members. Kurdish leaders took advantage of that fact to try to create conditions on the ground that would support the annexation of large parts of Ninewah, including parts of its capital, Mosul, to the Kurdish Regional Government.

This effort was highly destabilizing. Ninewah is one of the most diverse provinces, and many of its Arabs and ethnic minorities resented what they perceived as Kurdish expansion. Resentment against this expansion, and also against the failure of the provincial government to provide services, perpetuated a low-level insurgency in this area, permitting al Qaeda to retain its last foothold in Iraq.

Al Habda is a provincial coalition that stands against Kurdish domination of the province and for the provision of security and services to the people of Ninewah. Its rise offers an opportunity to deprive al Qaeda of tacit support within Mosul. It will also force Kurdish leaders to re-evaluate their insistence on "maximalist" demands that threatened to unravel Iraq.

The big loser in this election was Iran. Iranian agents spent a lot of money trying to influence the outcome of the elections in the south, and they largely failed. Iran's favored parties did poorly. The Iranians had hoped to persuade Iraqi voters to punish Mr. Maliki for signing the security agreement with the United States. Instead, these elections proved to be a powerful vote of confidence for the prime minister and his policies, including that agreement.

The big winner in this election was the concept of a unitary Iraq. An attempt to hold a referendum on establishing an autonomous Basra failed before the election. ISCI, the only Arab party that had favored the creation of an autonomous Shiite region, lost ground throughout that region, including in its own stronghold of Najaf. Iraqis have sent a clear message that they want to live in a single state with a strong central government connected to strong provincial governments, rather than in some sort of artificially federated state.

Despite these achievements, American forces will continue to play a vital role as honest brokers and impartial arbiters standing behind efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully. National elections will not occur until December, which may cause considerable tension in a parliament whose majority rests on the disfavored parties. The parliamentary conflict between the prime minister and the disfavored parties may be dramatic.

Results in Ninewah and the south offer the prospect of political resolutions to thorny problems that had been generating violence. In the short term, however, those who stand to lose by those political resolutions may well increase violence and brinksmanship.

Al Qaeda will respond violently, if desperately, to the new Sunni political order. Iran has trained and armed Shiite extremists who fled from Baghdad, Basra and Maysan, and who will seek to reinfiltrate and destabilize those areas.

Also, Iraqi and Kurdish security forces narrowly avoided armed conflict in August 2008 in the ethnically-mixed city of Khanaqin. The status of Kirkuk is still unresolved, much more delicate, and has the potential to generate conflict between the central and regional governments in 2009. The seating of the new councils between now and March, and the election of new governors by those councils, will certainly generate friction, if not armed conflict or assassinations. There are still district (local) and parliamentary (national) elections ahead in 2009.

Now that Iraqis have elected provincial governments of their liking, it is essential that those governments succeed. They will have large budgets to execute with new statutory powers. And the expectations of their electorates are very high.

U.S.-run Provincial Reconstruction Teams, civilian-military units working to rebuild government functions, have a growing role to play in Iraq's provinces and depend on the presence and dispersion of U.S. forces to function. U.S. forces and headquarters still help connect the provinces and the central government, aiding the Iraqi government.

Iraq has gone from being an impending disaster to a golden opportunity. Helping Iraqi internal politics develop peacefully and across sectarian lines is a critical part of reintegrating Iraq into the Arab world, making the world's only Shiite-controlled Arab state acceptable to the Sunni regimes that surround it. That reintegration, in turn, offers tantalizing prospects for balancing Iran and stabilizing the heart of the Muslim world. The stakes in Iraq remain very high, but we are finally starting to see the return on our investment.

Ms. Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War. Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power" (AEI Press, 2008).


Iraq's Latest Progress
Political compromise follows security, not vice versa.
One sign that Iraq's local elections went well on the weekend is that there's been so little reporting of the event. Mayhem in the Middle East always gets attention, but a democracy growing in Baghdad is apparently a snooze.

The result is nonetheless worth noting because it showed several encouraging trends in Baghdad while settling some old debates in Washington. While complete results won't be known until the end of the week, the vote itself was peaceful and early returns suggest a victory for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition and other secular parties at the expense of more religious Shiite parties.

This isn't surprising considering that Mr. Maliki is getting -- and deserves -- credit for rescuing Basra, Baghdad's Sadr City and other parts of Iraq from sectarian violence in the last year. Mr. Maliki's coalition ran on a nationalist platform, in contrast to a couple of the religious parties more closely identified with Iran. The theory that a democratic Iraq would inevitably fall under the orbit of the radical mullahs in Qom has taken another blow.
Iraqi Shiites in particular seemed to favor a strong central government in Baghdad, rather than a splintered nation of the kind favored only a couple years ago by sectarian politicians -- not to mention then-Senator Joe Biden. Iraqi Sunnis also participated this time, unlike in 2005, which shows that they too believe they can get their share of power from the still-largely Shiite government in the capital. Ethnic tensions haven't vanished -- especially in Mosul and Kirkuk in the North, where Arabs and Kurds mix uneasily -- but we are a long way from the fragmenting Iraq of famous prediction.

The peacefulness of the election is also noteworthy. When provincial elections were last held in 2005, terrorists attacked more than 100 polling stations, and U.S. and Iraqi military leaders were girding this time for a macabre reprise. But al Qaeda and other terrorists were a no-show, and we'll wager that isn't because they made a strategic decision to be nice. Rather, it's evidence both of al Qaeda's weakness in Iraq, along with the growing effectiveness of Iraq's security forces.

The election is further evidence that President Bush and proponents of the 2007 surge were right on another point as well: to wit, that security would precede political reconciliation. Recall that Senator Jack Reed, Mr. Biden and for that matter Barack Obama insisted in 2007 that a political agreement was needed before the killing would stop. But such an accord was impossible until Iraqis began to feel safe enough to be able to make compromises. The surge brigades (Iraqi and American), the new U.S. counterinsurgency strategy and above all the demonstration of sustained U.S. commitment improved security so much that democratic deal-making became possible.

All this amounts to a huge strategic gift to the Obama Administration. Iraq now stands as a democratic and pluralistic model for other Arab states, and as proof that Iranian-style theocracy isn't in the Shiite political DNA. If the "smart power" that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likes to talk about has any meaning, it's to capitalize on developments like these.

That's why we're puzzled by media reports that Mr. Obama intends to name Christopher Hill to replace Ryan Crocker as America's ambassador in Baghdad. Part of the puzzle is that retired Marine General Anthony Zinni -- a straight-shooter if ever there was one, with long experience in Mideast diplomacy -- claims he was tapped for the job, until the White House withdrew the offer without notice or explanation.

But the greater puzzle is why Mr. Hill -- who has spent the better part of the last few years making unreciprocated concessions to North Korea and whose previous stints included postings in Macedonia, Poland and South Korea -- is qualified to be the ambassador. Unlike Mr. Crocker, Mr. Hill has no real diplomatic experience in the Middle East and is not an Arabic speaker, no small point since Prime Minister Maliki is not an English speaker.

Especially with U.S. troop levels going down, Iraqis need the assurance of someone both more knowledgeable and sympathetic. Plenty of Iraqis -- especially Sunnis -- remain suspicious that the U.S. will bargain with Tehran by conceding Iranian interests in Iraq. As ambassador, Mr. Crocker held talks with the Iranians but emerged with a sober view of Tehran's malignant role in Iraqi politics. The elections were another notable sign of Iraq's democratic progress, and the U.S. needs an emissary who won't lose the Iraqi trust so painstakingly won by so many.
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« Reply #514 on: February 06, 2009, 09:02:01 PM »

Preliminary results from Iraq’s Jan. 31 provincial elections show that the coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gained significantly against the more pro-Iranian Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and that the Sunnis, while divided among themselves, appear likely to erode significantly the political advantages previously held by the Kurds. The biggest winner is al-Maliki, who now has an opportunity to consolidate his own political base independent of Shiite Islamists.

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Iraq, Iran and the Shia
Iraq’s election commission reported preliminary results from the country’s Jan. 31 provincial elections Feb. 5.

According to the results, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Coalition for the State of Law has emerged as the largest political bloc in Baghdad and in Shiite southern Iraq. In Sunni areas, turnout was very strong compared to the 2005 election, which the Sunnis boycotted; this time, the Sunni vote appears to have been split between the incumbent Iraqi Islamic Party and the new political movement of the Awakening Councils. While the three principal Kurdish provinces will be holding their own election later in the year, the Kurds who controlled the province of Ninawa suffered a rout as a result of the mass Sunni participation.

Perhaps the biggest winner in the elections is al-Maliki, who appears to have shed his political dependence on Islamist allies, and in fact has emerged as a strong competitor to the largest incumbent party in the Shiite south, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). He will continue to need allies in order to govern, but the elections place him on a firm political footing from which to deal with both Iran and the United States.

The ISCI, Iran’s closest ally in Iraq, took a beating at the polls, coming second and (in a few provinces) third. This was largely due to its failure to govern effectively, its strong identification with Tehran, its emphasis on Islamism and Shiite sectarianism, and its push for the creation of a Shiite zone in the south. Despite its setbacks, however, the ISCI still has the most well-oiled political machine in the Shiite provinces.

But despite its victory over the ISCI, al-Maliki’s electoral alliance won just 38 percent of the vote in Baghdad and 37 percent in the oil-rich region of Basra, and had smaller majorities in the other eight Shiite provinces. This means al-Maliki will continue to be dependent upon coalitions to govern, and consequently will have a hard time establishing his own core group at the grass-roots level — which, however, he will need to consolidate his gains. Al-Maliki performed as well as he did in the polls because of his position as head of government, his ability to take advantage of the opposition to the regionalist forces, and his skill in forging alliances — particularly with former Sunni insurgents belonging to the Awakening Councils.

Al-Maliki will be able to deal more effectively Iraq’s other sectarian groups, the Sunnis and the Kurds. For the Sunnis, the elections delivered a split mandate. The resulting internal struggle will afford the prime minister some leverage to contain them — but only so long as the factions bicker without resorting to violence. If clashes erupt, however, he will have a security situation on his hands. (The Awakening Councils already are threatening to use force after claims of foul play.) Meanwhile, al-Maliki will benefit from the electoral losses of the Kurds. He is working to check regionalism and impose a strong central order through the creation of alliances that cut across ethnicity, sect, and ideology.

Despite his own gains and the weakened position of his rivals, however, al-Maliki faces numerous hurdles ahead — including national-level elections, the Kurdish provincial elections and the settlement of the controversy over the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Further, al-Maliki is seeking greater centralization of power, but he will need to find the appropriate center-region balance. The new provincial councils have fewer seats than the outgoing councils that came into existence after the last round of elections in 2005, but they will have greater authority. In particular, they will have the power to appoint and remove governors, approve local security arrangements, influence development projects and ratify provincial budgets (which will now be prepared by the governor as opposed to the central government).

Despite these challenges, however, Al-Maliki has reached a point where he has a viable domestic political base and can position himself well between both the United States and Iran. The electoral losses of the ISCI, Tehran’s closest Iraqi ally, will limit Iran’s ability to exert influence in Iraq. This in turn creates more favorable conditions for Washington’s efforts to extricate U.S. military forces from the country and to deal with other emerging issue such as a resurgent Russia and the deteriorating circumstances in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater.

The Jan. 31 elections, while not a national vote, will go a long way toward shaping the nascent political structure of post-Baathist Iraq. The vote has brought the Sunnis back into the political system; it has strengthened Iraqi nationalist elements at the expense of ethno-sectarian elements; and it has weakened Iran’s influence via the ISCI. The system continues to be a work in progress, however, and it remains to be seen how the Kurdish and Kirkuk votes, not to mention the upcoming national elections, will transform it further.
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« Reply #515 on: February 10, 2009, 12:19:34 PM »

S-IRAQ: Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision
By Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (IPS) - CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

Gareth Porter talks to Real News about his investigative piece for IPS.
A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

Petraeus, Gates and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorising large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.

Gates and Mullen had discussed the relabeling scheme with Obama as part of the Petraeus-Odierno plan for withdrawal they had presented to him in mid-December, according to a Dec. 18 New York Times story.

Obama decided against making any public reference to his order to the military to draft a detailed 16-month combat troop withdrawal policy, apparently so that he can announce his decision only after consulting with his field commanders and the Pentagon.

The first clear indication of the intention of Petraeus, Odierno and their allies to try to get Obama to amend his decision came on Jan. 29 when the New York Times published an interview with Odierno, ostensibly based on the premise that Obama had indicated that he was "open to alternatives".

The Times reported that Odierno had "developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama's campaign timetable" and had suggested in an interview "it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly".

The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama's withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the Jan. 21 meeting when retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Gen. Petraeus, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour to comment on Obama's pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal.

Keane, who had certainly been briefed by Petraeus on the outcome of the Oval Office meeting, argued that implementing such a withdrawal of combat troops would "increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months". He asserted that it would jeopardise the "stable political situation in Iraq" and called that risk "not acceptable".

The assertion that Obama's withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus's strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.

Keane, the Army Vice-Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star Army generals, and since Obama's Jan. 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama's troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow U.S. withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network's plans.

The source says the network, which includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama's withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.

If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops.

That line seems likely to appeal to reporters covering the Iraq troop withdrawal issue. Ever since Obama's inauguration, media coverage of the issue has treated Obama' s 16-month withdrawal proposal as a concession to anti-war sentiment which will have to be adjusted to the "realities" as defined by the advice to Obama from Gates, Petreaus and Odierno.

Ever since he began working on the troop surge, Keane has been the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as possible. It was Keane who got Vice President Dick Cheney to push for Petraeus as top commander in Iraq in late 2006 when the existing commander, Gen. George W. Casey, did not support the troop surge.

It was Keane who protected Petraeus's interests in ensuring the maximum number of troops in Iraq against the efforts by other military leaders to accelerate troop withdrawal in 2007 and 2008. As Bob Woodward reported in "The War Within", Keane persuaded President George W. Bush to override the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the stress of prolonged U.S. occupation of Iraq on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps as well its impact on the worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Bush agreed in September 2007 to guarantee that Petraeus would have as many troops as he needed for as long as wanted, according to Woodward's account.

Keane had also prevailed on Gates in April 2008 to make Petraeus the new commander of CENTCOM. Keane argued that keeping Petraeus in the field was the best insurance against a Democratic administration reversing the Bush policy toward Iraq.

Keane had operated on the assumption that a Democratic president would probably not take the political risk of rejecting Petraeus's recommendation on the pace of troop withdrawal from Iraq. Woodward quotes Keane as telling Gates, "Let's assume we have a Democratic administration and they want to pull this thing out quickly, and now they have to deal with General Petraeus and General Odierno. There will be a price to be paid to override them."

Obama told Petraeus in Baghdad last July that, if elected, he would regard the overall health of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and the situation in Afghanistan as more important than Petraeus's obvious interest in maximising U.S. troop strength in Iraq, according to Time magazine's Joe Klein.

But judging from Petraeus's shock at Obama's Jan. 21 decision, he had not taken Obama's previous rejection of his arguments seriously. That miscalculation suggests that Petraeus had begun to accept Keane's assertion that a newly-elected Democratic president would not dare to override his policy recommendation on troops in Iraq.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.
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« Reply #516 on: February 11, 2009, 01:02:31 PM »

Another slice of real life report from our man on the ground in Baghdad:
I was interviewing an Iraqi Judicial Police officer this morning.  I asked him "so have there been any attacks by prisoners inside the courtroom against judges, police, whoever?"
He responds "well there was the one time the 1-legged Afghani prisoner jumped a U.S. Army soldier trying to get his firearm."  (That would mean his M-9 Beretta pistol).  These are all terrorists, insurgents, kidnappers, murderers, show throwers, etc. 
The attack didn't go to well for the Afghani.  For the most part these attacks work better when you are operating from a 2-leg platform.  And I gather the Afghani got pounced on and subdued pretty...hmmm...overwhelmingly.
But overall that took some cojones.


As you may know, one of the things our team really took notice of at CCCI and made major efforts to address, was the cavalier manner in which the Iraqis moved and watched prisoners in the courthouse.
I went back to CCCI today for the first time in about two weeks.  Man the folks couldn't wait to give me the scoop on the goings on.
Yesterday an Iraqi prisoner at CCCI, who had just been sentenced to hang (remember if you are at CCCI you are in the major big leagues), walked away from his guards and walked up to a GI at C3 (the courthouse front entrance) begging for help in English and Arabic.  "Meester, meester.  Help me,  help me."  He was blindfolded yet could clearly still see where he was going.  Freaked out the soldier, who felt a bump against his shoulder, and turned to see this guy blindfolded.  The soldier pushed him away.  A couple of seconds later the Iraqis tackled the prisoner and dragged him down the stairs.
Seems the Iraqis were each moving different prisoners when they bumped into each other at the top of the stairs...less than 10 meters from the courthouse front door exit.  They were like "hey bro, ain't seen you in a while."  "Yeah dude, I been busy."  Kiss, kiss (the kiss each other on the cheek thing).  And I guess the bandit was like "man I need help real bad because today has been a real bad day so far."

It took me a while to get this photo. 
If you look in the sky between the two trees you can see one of Baghdad's other quirks.  What I call the mortar blimps.  They probably have a more official name.
Essentially they are part of an indirect fire detection system.   And they are tied into an audible alert system on the ground that warns of "incoming."  In theory, and it has had its value in practice, indirect fire (e.g. mortars, artillery, and I believe to a lesser detectable degree rockets) have a signature to them.  The rounds move at a certain speed.  They have a certain angulation to their trajectory.  They have a certain mass.  This combination of factors is what the equipment in this blimp is abble to detect and immediately forward as part of an early warning system.  Additionally, the network of them, if I am not mistaken, can also help in determining with pretty good precision, where the round was fired from.
Anyway on any given day if you look up in the sky you can usually see a couple of these lazily floating in the air.

Iraqi government ceases arrests among Sadrists in Diwaniya
February 10, 2009 - 04:12:29

DIWANIYA / Aswat al-Iraq: The federal government has ordered to cease arresting Sadrists in Diwaniya, the commander of the emergency brigade said on Tuesday.


“There are verbal orders issued to the emergency police by the federal government to cease arrests among Sadrists in Diwaniya,” Colonel Ghassan Mohamed Hassan told Aswat al-Iraq news agency, noting that this comes within the national reconciliation project.


He criticized statements made by some lawmakers, who said that “the emergency police’s arrest campaign against Sadrists in Diwaniya comes within political clearance, asserting that the police implement the judicial orders.


Diwaniya is 180 km south of Baghdad.

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« Reply #517 on: February 13, 2009, 01:42:37 AM »

Subject: Entertaining Iraqi prisoner release story....

A military officer (O-6) who heads up ________________ told us there was a  time when they used to release prisoners from the detention facility in their jumpsuits.  With a brand new $20. bill.
The prisoners would get about 1 block before they would have their money roughed from them (imagine the battering your ego must take when you think you are a big, bad al-Qa'ida terrorist and you cannot even walk one block without being mugged).
So they started releasing  them in civilian clothes.  And the prisoners would get about 1 block before they had that $20 bill roughed from them.
So now they drive them in a non-descript local minivan to either a bus station or train station.  Nobody knows what is//is not happening there.
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« Reply #518 on: February 17, 2009, 08:44:46 AM »

Spent the day at the main courthouse in Basrah.
The main theme that came out time and again today was how much safer the city is since the Iraqi Army operation of several years ago where they basically, and apparently, came in and kicked ass on the militias.  They refer to the pre-Iraqi Army operation down here as "the violence."
I also heard one person say how the Brits did not do enoough when it came to dealing with the militias.   They were never forceful enough.
The Iraqi Army apparently acquitted itself quite well down here.  And they are apparently maintaining these gains on their own.
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« Reply #519 on: February 22, 2009, 12:56:08 AM »

To our Brit friends-- alll the love and respect in the world.  Please take our intrepid reporter's words below in the spirit of brotherly banter.

The Iraqis I met in Basrah basically hold the Brits in utter disdain.  They feel the Brits came but did not come to fight.  They played pussyfoot with the militias down there.  They negotiated things like "we will stay in our bases if you don't attack us."  The Iraqis I met flat out said the Brits are what made the situation so bad down there.
Then several years ago came the Iraqi Army "Operation of the Knights."  This was the Iraqi Army ground operation (supported by U.S. air power) and personally led my Maliki (in Sadr City also).  The Iraqi Army came to kick ass.  And they did for the most part.  When the militias heard that the U.S. Marine Corps was in reserve and they would come in and "Fallujah" Basrah, the militias wanted no part of that and negotiated a solution (that kept them alive).
When I asked so what has become of the militias I was told they are either all dead, in prison or they have have disappeared into the woodwork because they don't want to be dead.  And this was all the Iraqi Army.  The IA rules Basrah.  Let there be no mistake about that.  Good men can argue about whether they could have dominated Basrah the way they did without U.S. support, but it is the IA who killed all the militiamen and sent the rest fleeing for their lives.  And it is the IA who have maintained those gains with essentially zero help from the Brits.
The Brits are held in contempt by the Iraqis in Basrah.  The Americans are held in very high regard.  Because the Iraqis know Americans come to fight and will kill people who need killin'.
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« Reply #520 on: March 02, 2009, 11:32:32 AM »

Obama's withdrawal plan would take U.S. forces in Iraq down from a current 142,000 troops to 35,000 to 50,000. Under the status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Iran, negotiated and signed last year by the Bush administration, all forces must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

In short, though President Obama will get credit, it was Bush's plan — not Obama's.

When Obama first began running for the nation's highest office in 2006, he vowed he would immediately withdraw all U.S. combat forces if elected. At the time, few with any knowledge about the conflict in Iraq took him seriously.

And sure enough, faced with the realities on the ground in Iraq and in the campaign back home, Obama changed his stance last year from immediately withdrawing all combat forces to one of removing, as his campaign Web site said, "one to two combat brigades each month, and (having) all our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."

Now comes his much-awaited plan. Technically, Obama won't be able keep his most recent promise on troop withdrawals, but he'll come close. For that he can thank President Bush and the highly successful "surge" in troops he and Gen. David Petraeus put in place, making withdrawal possible.

In Friday's remarks, Obama told the assembled Marines: "Today I've come to speak to you about how the war in Iraq will end." But in fact, the actual war has been over for some time. We hate to tell the Bush-haters out there, or to relive painful recent history, but President Bush won it, making the current pullout possible.

That victory was underscored in January when Iraq held largely peaceful elections, in which voters mostly repudiated extremist parties in favor of the moderate leadership of Nouri al-Maliki.

In his comments Friday, Obama noted the progress made.

"Thanks in great measure to your service," he said, "the situation in Iraq has improved. Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.

"Al-Qaida in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq's Security Forces, and through our partnership with Sunni Arabs," Obama continued. "The capacity of Iraq's Security Forces has improved, and Iraq's leaders have taken steps toward political accommodation."

He further lauded January's elections showing Iraqis have begun "pursuing their aspirations through peaceful political process."

All very true. Iraq has been a big success, which explains why you never see or hear about it in the mainstream news anymore. Suicide bombings and attacks on troops have become relatively rare, and now that Bush is out of office, there's little political profit remaining for the left in bashing America's bold Mideast initiative.

Whether you agree with Bush or not, he brought a kind of democracy to Iraq that can be found nowhere else in that region. His plan rocked al-Qaida back on its heels, to the point where its survival is in doubt. Iraq is a model.

In short, Obama's policy is really, in most respects, Bush's policy. That the troops can now come home proudly is a tribute to Bush's steadfastness. But Obama will be wise not to remove them all.

We kept troops in Europe and Japan after World War II and in South Korea after the Korean War. Bush's policy proved that democracy can take root where no one thought possible. But as in Europe, Korea and Japan, it must be protected.
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« Reply #521 on: March 22, 2009, 03:05:11 AM »


Excerpt from article:

One of those Mahmoud's men arrested was Salah Khdeir.

He spent seven months in Bucca after soldiers discovered four mines tucked in his truck. He returned to the prison in 2008 after he was caught burying bombs destined for a U.S. patrol. He was released this month. Five days later, he was arrested again, after a roadside bomb that police say resembled his handiwork detonated near Garma.

Innocent, Khdeir declared at the police station, shaking his head.
"I'm a peaceful man," the gaunt 22-year-old added.

"He's an expert at planting bombs," Mahmoud answered.

After Khdeir left, Mahmoud handed out a letter he said Khdeir had sent his brother.

"If you think I abandoned the jihad, I say that I have paid homage to God and with his will, I will do everything," he wrote in childish Arabic, the script barely legible.

He had signed the letter, "Salah, the roadside bomb."
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« Reply #522 on: March 29, 2009, 07:41:43 AM »

Is this the result of Is BO's bugout?

Or , , ,?

Troops Arrest an Awakening Council Leader in Iraq, Setting Off Fighting
Published: March 28, 2009

BAGHDAD — American and Iraqi troops arrested the leader of a crucial Awakening Council in Baghdad on Saturday, setting off a rare spasm of street fighting and raising fresh concerns about the troubled Awakening program, which has brought many Sunni extremists over to the government’s side.

A combined force of American and Iraqi Army troops and National Police descended on Fadhil, a Sunni neighborhood and former insurgent stronghold in central Baghdad, and arrested the head of Fadhil’s Awakening Council, Adil al-Mashhadani, on terrorism charges, according to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. He said firefights broke out afterward.

The Awakening Councils, the Iraqi name for what the Americans call the Sons of Iraq, are neighborhood-based groups of Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, who are now paid by the Iraqi government. They are credited, along with the increase in American troops, with helping to diminish violence in Iraq.

Many of the Awakening groups recently have complained about mistreatment and warned that some of their followers might switch back to supporting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group believed by American intelligence to have foreign leadership. Mr. Mashhadani has been a strong critic of the failure of the Iraqi authorities to incorporate Awakening Council fighters into Iraqi security agencies, as had been promised.

“There’s a 50-50 chance that Awakening guys who are not very loyal to Iraq or who need to support their families may decide to join Al Qaeda again,” Mr. Mashhadani said in an interview a week ago.

Abu Mirna, the media coordinator for the Fadhil Awakening Council, said: “American forces have broken the alliance with us by arresting our leader. Now there are clashes in the area between the Americans and Awakening fighters and you can hear shooting. It’s chaos.” Heavy gunfire could be heard over the telephone while he was speaking.

Fifteen Iraqis were wounded in the fighting, according to a high-ranking police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. American officials did not respond to requests for information.

Five Iraqi Army soldiers were also taken hostage, according to two officials in the Ministry of Interior, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were also not authorized to speak to reporters. The officials said the Iraqi Army called off the fighting to negotiate for the soldiers’ release. Awakening Council members demanded Mr. Mashhadani’s release in exchange for the soldiers’ freedom, the officials said.

It was the first time that disputes between the Sons of Iraq and the authorities have erupted into armed clashes in Baghdad. There have been arrests of some other Sons of Iraq members suspected of still working for insurgents, but not of anyone so prominent.

There were immediate expressions of concern from other Awakening Councils in Baghdad. “Members of the Iraqi Army are trying to pick a fight between them and the Awakening,” said Ahmed al-Rubaie, one of the leaders of the council in the nearby Abu Safain neighborhood. “Do they want the sectarianism to come back, like in 2006?”

Fadhil is a densely populated area of narrow alleyways and congested streets, where some of the city’s most bitter street fighting took place. It was one of the last neighborhoods in the city to join the Awakening movement.

In Adhamiya, another important Sunni area in downtown Baghdad, the local Awakening leader, Abu Sejad, said news of the arrest was received with concern. “All of our guys are asking, ‘What about us? Are they going to arrest us next?’ ” he said.

Mr. Rubaie accused the Iraqi security forces of ignoring Awakening Council members and treating them with disrespect. He also said council leaders’ pay had also been cut recently.

He said Mr. Mashhadani and his followers were particularly volatile about their grievances.

In December, disputes broke out between the Iraqi police and the Fadhil Awakening members, and Mr. Mashhadani ordered his men to abandon some joint checkpoints with the Iraqi police, complaining they had branded the Sons of Iraq as insurgents and Qaeda followers.

The government had pledged to enlist a fifth of the 94,000 Awakening members nationwide in the police and other security forces, and find government jobs for the rest. So far, however, only 5,000 have gotten jobs.

Atheer Kakan and Tareq Maher contributed reporting.
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« Reply #523 on: April 07, 2009, 10:13:31 AM »

So, I have been asked several times what changes I  have seen in Iraq since the changeover on January 1st.  Well at this point I have a couple of thoughts:
I sense that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police are starting to feel their oats.  Not just here in Bahgdad but in the other places I have been.  With the U.S. military stepping ever more back into the shadows I see the Iraqis coming out and testing the waters ever more.
For example, two months back a convoy of Iraqi Army soldiers was driving past an American security post at the main terrorism courthouse in the country.  One soldier let off a round into the air.
Yesterday morning I saw 4 Iraqi Army vehicles (3 SUVs and a pickuup truck) on a joint military base outside of Baghdad driving at least 55 MPH on the military base that used to be exclusively a Coalition Forces base. The speed limit there is 20 MPH.
Yesterday afternoon in Baghdad I saw a 4 vehicle Iraqi police convoy come flying into a traffic circle intimidating all the other vehicles already in the circle.  One Iraqi on one of the vehicles made a gesture of shooting at an American Blackhawk that happened to be passing by.
There have been other little incidents like this I have seen.  It's almost like they now know they can do shit without getting shot like they would have this time last year.  And  every day they seem to test the waters just a little more.
I cannot help but wonder if we have simply  replaced one group of military and police thugs with another group of thugs.
I find myself starting to wonder when the first "friendly" fire incident will occur where they unlooad into a vehicle (not U.S. military of course because they ain't that brave) carrying Americans.
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« Reply #524 on: April 10, 2009, 10:33:07 AM »

During his visit to Iraq this week, President Barack Obama commended U.S. forces for their invaluable work there: "From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement." But the president also cautioned that "now is not the time to lose focus" for the next 18 months will be a "critical period."

He's absolutely right.

Iraq has undergone a quiet transformation since Mr. Obama's first visit to the country as a senator in July 2008. We can no longer speak of Iraqi politics at a standstill, or a lack of political accommodation, or an unwillingness of the Iraqi government to take responsibility. The issues facing the president in Iraq, and his military commanders, are fundamentally different from those of 2007 and 2008.

On a visit to Iraq last month, we had the opportunity to see the transformation firsthand. Iraq is now a fully sovereign country. U.S. Commander Gen. Ray Odierno has insisted on the most rigorous implementation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, which gives Iraqi authorities greater responsibility than ever before. U.S. forces now detain Iraqis only after securing arrest warrants from Iraqi judges, and they are releasing or transferring to Iraqi custody all of the detainees they now hold. The U.S. maintains forces and bases only where the Iraqi government wants them. The U.S. has already turned responsibility for the security of the Green Zone over to the Iraqi government, and Iraqi Security Forces have responsibility for an ever-growing proportion of Baghdad well in advance of the agreement's June 30 deadline.

Moreover, Gen. Odierno and the U.S. Embassy have established joint committees with Iraqi military and political leaders at the highest levels both to coordinate operations and to monitor and ensure adherence to the agreement. There is a committee for each article of the agreement that reviews all questions of implementation and investigates all accusations of infringements. Both sides have agreed that the approved minutes of these committees are legally binding.

January's peaceful provincial elections have reinvigorated Iraqi democracy. Iraqis voted in large numbers and, as dissatisfied voters often do, they voted the incumbents out. This was an important step, demonstrating that Iraqis believe that their vote counts and their leaders are held accountable. Iraqi politicians have gotten the message. The losing parties are working to develop platforms to win back their voters in the upcoming national elections. The struggle to form coalitions in the provinces has forced competing parties to compromise with one another at the local level.

Mr. Obama also said that Iraqis must "decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means." Iraqi leaders of many parties are already showing their determination to do precisely this. For some time, rivals (and even allies) of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been concerned about his apparent efforts to concentrate too much power in his own hands through the establishment of extra-constitutional government bodies. The Council of Representatives has used the 2009 budget to clip the prime minister's wings by eliminating all funding for these "illegal" bodies. In other words, Iraqi representatives have discovered the power of the purse. It is a remarkable advance in Iraqi politics that the parliament could act against the prime minister and his party, while nonetheless passing a law that is constructive for the state.

But the country faces three major challenges in coming months: national parliamentary elections, most likely in January 2010; major budget constraints, resulting from the low price of oil; and the threat of growing Arab-Kurd tensions in the north.

The national elections will lead to the first transfer of power in the democratic Iraqi state. This is always a critical moment in the birth of a new democracy. In Iraq it will be especially challenging because of its parliamentary system. Voters must first elect a new Council of Representatives, which must then elect a prime minister and approve a cabinet. The parties must agree not only on a leader but also about how all of the ministries will be parceled out among parties and ethno-sectarian groups. In 2006, this process took five months. U.S. forces will play a critical role in helping the Iraqis secure the elections, but they will also play an important role after the vote supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and deterring dissatisfied groups from resorting to violence.

Meanwhile, the fall in the global price of oil has presented a major problem for Iraq's balance of payments. The current Iraqi budget is based on the assumption that oil would sell for an average of $50 per barrel. Oil prices have been lower than that for most of the year, generating a significant shortfall of revenue so far and forcing the Iraqi government to slash spending and dip into its reserves.

If prices remain low, important programs that maintain Iraq's security and internal stability may be threatened. Revenue shortfalls have already halted the planned expansion of the Iraqi Security Forces and disrupted plans to acquire equipment for them. And since the Iraqi government is the principal employer in the country, any significant reduction in its spending limits its ability to create jobs, including those central to the process of reconciling former insurgents.

The budget crisis, if protracted, can also prevent the newly elected provincial governments and even the central government from providing the services that the population expects, possibly leading to general disillusionment with the political process if not to a resurgence of violence. Tensions between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds, particularly over the status of Kirkuk, are still capable of destabilizing the country rapidly and profoundly. The unexpected success of the Arab al Hadba Party in Ninewah Province shifted the focus of these tensions from Mosul back to Kirkuk. But the friction over Kirkuk's status is not simply one of rival ethnicities. It also involves fundamental constitutional questions about the relationship between the central government, provincial government, and federal regions.

There is little enthusiasm in Kirkuk itself for a violent resolution of the dispute, and the presence of an American brigade near the city has helped keep the peace by helping Kurdish and Iraqi forces to understand each other's positions and actions. But rhetoric and posturing in an election year could inflame this delicate situation, and the presence of U.S. forces there is necessary.

Mr. Obama has stated his objectives in Iraq clearly: The U.S. must "make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally." This is an attainable goal. Iraq has undergone a profound transformation -- it is no longer a predatory, dictatorial state or a maelstrom of sectarian violence. It no longer threatens its neighbors or stability in the region. Indeed, Iraq has become an attractive political and economic partner for states throughout the Middle East.

But Iraqis remain most interested in establishing a strategic partnership with the U.S. and the West. In the long run, this partnership will not be defined by the numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq but by the depth of our economic and political cooperation, diplomatic support, and strategic alliance. As Mr. Obama said in Baghdad, America must be "a stalwart partner" and Iraqis must "know that they have a steady partner with us."

Ms. Kagan is the president of the Institute for the Study of War and the author of "The Surge: A Military History," which will be published this month by Encounter Books. Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


Our man in Iraq (there to train police) comments:

I think what many Iraqis think.  That once we leave the shit will hit the fan.  Some actually believe al Sadr will rule Baghdad.
Back in 2007 when the Iraqi Army attacked Najaf they could not make it happen.  The Americans and Brits had to bail them out.  There were mass desertions.  There was the inability of the Iraqi Army to deal with people (Soldiers of Heaven) who would fight to the death.  I think the huge protests in Sadr City yesterday speak volumes of how many people are not pro-current Iraqi government.
Personally I think it still remains very much a coin toss.  But what do I know....

« Last Edit: April 10, 2009, 11:48:06 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #525 on: April 12, 2009, 05:08:02 AM »


BAGHDAD — Members of the Sunni Awakening Councils, the former insurgents who switched sides to help bring calm to Iraq, are increasingly being besieged from all sides.

Thirteen members were killed by a suicide bomber while they gathered to collect their pay south of Baghdad on Saturday, in the latest of a string of attacks against Awakening members in recent weeks. Some of the Sunnis also worry that the Shiite-led government has begun singling out the councils’ leaders for arrest while their chief patron, the American military, slowly abandons them.
One of the most notable cases is that of Sheik Maher Sarhan Abbas, whom the government detained 27 days ago, according to his family and fellow Awakening leaders.

Sheik Maher’s arrest took place in secret and came to light when The New York Times by chance contacted someone who had seen him in jail. It was one of several such cases in recent weeks that have worried not only Awakening members, but also some American diplomats and military officers.

The Sunni leaders have long been targets for Islamist militants and Shiite militias. And there have been other arrests of senior Awakening leaders in the past few weeks.

Some leaders accuse the government of trying to purge them, or at the least of moving too quickly on anonymous accusations against them.

Tensions between the Sunni Awakening groups and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have been present from the start. American efforts to transfer the Awakening security forces from the American payroll to the Iraqi security forces were initially resisted by leaders in Baghdad, who say that many of the Awakening leaders are still actively supporting antigovernment insurgents.

Sheik Maher, however, was an admired local symbol for the Awakening movement, which began two years ago when American officials started courting Sunni tribes, offering money if they turned against insurgent forces.

The sheik’s Shiite neighbors trusted him and his Sunni followers so much that they took them into their own homes when the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was still strong. United States soldiers at a nearby base say they considered him a reliable ally, and still do.

Yet on March 15, just after midnight, heavily armed men flung deafening smoke grenades into his home in Hawr Jab, a small village on Baghdad’s southern outskirts, his family said.

They burst into the bedroom where Sheik Maher and his wife were watching television as their 3-year-old daughter slept in a small bed next to them.

“He thought Al Qaeda had finally come for him,” said Shada Rasheed, 23, his wife, as she cradled their daughter in her arms.

The Times learned of Sheik Maher’s detention from another Awakening leader, Raad Ali, whom the Iraqi government had similarly detained on terrorism charges but had released under pressure from the Americans.

Asked about Sheik Maher’s detention, Mohammed Salman al-Saady, who leads the ministerial office that deals with Awakening groups, said he knew nothing of the case.

But he said: “An Awakening member is forgiven for everything except murder. The right question to ask is, ‘Why was this person arrested?’ ”

Sheik Maher had long known he was wanted by the Sunni militants he had spent much of the past two and half years fighting. But the troops who arrested him told his family members that they had been sent directly by the prime minister’s office.

Accompanying the Iraqis were American forces, the family members said. The captain of the local American unit said the troops were probably from a Special Operations unit, which typically does not inform the local forces of raids.

“When they detained him, we were all shocked,” said Capt. Kip Kowalski, the American commanding officer at the joint security station in Hawr Jab, near Sheik Maher’s home.

Captain Kowalski’s unit apologized to the family but said they were powerless to help; the local Iraqi Army unit forbade Sheik Maher’s Awakening followers from holding a peaceful demonstration to demand his release.

“He’s the local council leader here,” Captain Kowalski said. “We didn’t have anything on him, but as far as helping to get him released, it’s a government of Iraq arrest. If they have a warrant it just has to work its way through the process.”


Page 2 of 2)

Many Awakening officials, and some American officers who work with them, say they believe that arrests of people like Sheik Maher are the result of a new strategy by Sunni extremists to get their most effective enemies off the streets.

Former members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the theory goes, secretly tell the government that the Awakening leader is himself a Qaeda infiltrator and should be arrested for past crimes. Under the Iraqi legal system, if there are two witnesses, the government can issue a warrant, detain a suspect and then investigate.

A second approach is for members of Qaeda families who have lost some of their relatives to violence to sue the Awakening members, who often are responsible for killing Qaeda members during the last two years of fighting, said Captain Kowalski, who says his unit has heard of several similar cases.

Detention can sometimes last months, and people who are detained on terrorism charges have “no visitors, no lawyers, no sun,” Mr. Ali said, describing the conditions during his detention, which lasted a week.

First Lt. Jobie Siemer, of the First Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, who has worked closely with Sheik Maher in Hawr Jab, said, “There are a lot of good people around here who I know killed a bunch of people, but they were defending their land and they were helping us and that was a good thing.

Shiite government officials have long been suspicious of the Sons of Iraq, worried that they could become the armed core of a future insurgency. But for their part, Sunni Awakening leaders say the government may be too quick to accept accusations against them.

“They should do research for three months before they arrest people,” said Mr. Ali, the Awakening leader in Ghaziliya, who saw Sheik Maher in detention.

“This is how the terrorists are trying to come back in. It is one of their plans to remove us, to get us off the street and then they can sneak back in,” he said.

A senior American official in Iraq was also skeptical of the motives for the arrests. “Why is the government doing this?” said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.

“Every time we said to the government, ‘You have to let this guy go,’ they do it, which they wouldn’t if they thought he was really dangerous,” the American said. “I think they have their hand in the sectarian cookie jar.”

The 13 Awakening members who died Saturday were at an Iraqi Army base in Babil Province collecting their meager pay, which had been delayed for three months. Everyone in the room was dressed in the same Awakening uniform, suggesting that the bomber slipped in disguised as one of them.

At least 12 Awakening figures have been killed in Babil this year, the police said.

Saoud Auda, 30, a father of eight, was badly burned in the suicide bomber’s attack, which came just after he had been paid.

“I was looking forward to going home and paying the grocer and buying my little son a toy airplane,” he said. “But my money burned with my body.”
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« Reply #526 on: April 19, 2009, 11:38:45 AM »

Our man in Iraq reports:


More insurgents for the battlefield.  Frankly I personally do not think Iraq will survive our departure:

23 of Anbar residents released from jail
April 19, 2009 - 02:53:47

ANBAR / Aswat al-Iraq: U.S. forces on Sunday freed 23 detainees of Anbar residents from Camp Bucca after they have been cleared of all wrongdoing, according to a media director in the local police.
“The detainees were released from Camp Bucca in southern Iraq after investigations have cleared them of involvement in acts of violence,” Maj. Abd Sattar Mohammed told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

“Those released have been delivered to their next of kin,” the official noted, providing no further details.

Ramadi, the capital city of Anbar province, lies 110 km west of Baghdad.
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« Reply #527 on: April 25, 2009, 07:17:59 AM »

As our man in Iraq has been warning for some time now , , ,

BAGHDAD — A deadly outburst of violence appears to be overwhelming Iraq’s police and military forces as American troops hand over greater control of cities across the country to them. On Friday, twin suicide bombings killed at least 60 people outside Baghdad’s most revered Shiite shrine, pushing the death toll in one 24-hour period to nearly 150.

Iraqis at the site of one of two suicide attacks outside a shrine on Friday in Baghdad burned incense and placed candles. Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage.

Like many recent attacks, the bombings appeared intended to inflame sectarian tensions, to weaken Iraq’s security forces and to discredit its government.

The bombings on Friday ominously echoed attacks like the one at a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 that unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed and pushed the country toward civil war.

The latest bombings — there have been at least 18 major attacks so far this month — so far have not prompted retaliatory attacks, but they have strained what remains a fragile society deeply divided between Sunnis and Shiites.

Two suicide bombers struck within five minutes of each other on streets leading to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim and his grandson. One of the attacks, and perhaps both, were carried out by women, witnesses said.

Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage to the shrine, a golden-domed landmark in the predominantly Shiite Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad that is devoted to 2 of the 12 imams of Shiite Islam. At least 125 people were wounded, many of them also Iranians.

A loose coalition of Sunni militant forces, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for carrying out many of the recent attacks.

Seemingly attentive to the public wrath, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki took the unusual step of ordering the creation of a special committee to investigate the attack on Friday and the lapses in security that apparently allowed it to happen. The state television network, Al Iraqiya, reported on Friday evening that Mr. Maliki also ordered the detention of two national police commanders responsible for security in the area.

The killing of so many Iranians prompted Iraq to close its border crossing to Iran at Muntheriya in Diyala Province, through which thousands of Iranians a week pass on pilgrimages to Iraq’s holy Shiite sites.

The deadliest of the three bombings on Thursday struck a restaurant filled with Iranian travelers in Muqdadiya, a town in Diyala not far from the border. The toll in that attack rose to 56, with Iranians making up the majority of the dead. Over all, at least 89 people were killed in the bombings on Thursday, and more than 100 were wounded.

After the attacks on Friday, angry Iraqis who gathered amid the bloody debris blamed lax security and corruption of the police and government officials for what had happened. Some of their anger had a strongly sectarian cast.

“They have been ruling us for 1,400 years,” said a Shiite army soldier who identified himself only as Abu Haidar, referring to the Sunni domination of Shiites in Iraq. “We took it over for four years, and they are slaughtering us.”

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, describes the recent attacks as part of a campaign called Harvest of the Good, which it announced in March.

In a statement distributed on extremist Web sites at the time, the group’s leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, ridiculed President Obama as “Washington’s black man” and called his plan to withdraw American forces by 2011 an “implied avowal of defeat.”

On Thursday, Iraq’s military claimed to have arrested Mr. Baghdadi, but what was touted as a major success appeared to be in question.

Extremist Web sites denied his arrest, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors claims and other statements by terrorist and extremist groups. The American military command also said in a statement that it could not confirm “the arrest or capture” of the leader, who the American military believes to be a fictitious Iraqi figurehead of a movement that includes many foreign fighters.

American and Iraqi officials have expressed growing concern that the Islamic State of Iraq, Al Qaeda and other extremists have been able to regroup and exploit gaps in security that are forming as American commanders have closed scores of combat outposts across the country, leaving day-to-day security in the hands of the Iraqis. “All the killing of Shiites is done by Al Qaeda,” a man who identified himself only as Abu Mohammed said after Friday’s bombings. “America was not able to finish them off. How can our forces do it?”

A senior national police official on Friday bluntly cited the limitations of Iraq’s security forces and their equipment for detecting explosives, typically hand-held wands used at checkpoints that the official described as fakes.


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“We need to redeploy our security units to fill gaps because the American withdrawal gave the terrorists motives to reactivate their sleeper cells,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he said he would be punished for speaking frankly about such shortcomings. “We need more cars, modern equipment to detect explosives.”

A relative of a victim of a suicide bombing outside the Kazimiyah hospital in Baghdad on Friday.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed Jasim, a senior commander at the Ministry of Defense, cited other factors behind the recent violence. They included what he called “reactions to political issues” that had divided Iraq since provincial elections in January and the release of thousands of detainees held by American forces into a feeble economy.

As part of a new security agreement with Iraq that took effect this year, the Americans are required to release all Iraqis in their custody or to transfer them to Iraqi jails. “They are releasing detainees randomly, and some of the detainees who have been released might still have contact with Al Qaeda,” General Jasim said in a telephone interview. “And when they return back to their normal life and do not find work, they return back to Al Qaeda.”

General Jasim also lamented the inability of Iraqi forces to stop attacks against what he described as soft targets, like markets and mosques. “The security procedures are continuing,” he said, “but the security forces cannot exist in every inch.”

It was not clear whether the attacks on Friday were specifically aimed at Iranians or the Shiite site they were visiting. The chief administrator at the shrine, Sheik Fadhil al-Anbari, blamed the police for failing to stop the bombings, which he said were intended to disrupt an economy that the visiting pilgrims had bolstered.

“The crowds of the Iranian visitors have brought a boom to the economy in Kadhimiya, and Al Qaeda does not want this,” he said in a telephone interview. “These attacks are clearly meant to sabotage the country.”

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« Reply #528 on: April 27, 2009, 12:50:22 PM »

Iraqi leader: U.S. raid that killed 2 breached accord

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is accusing U.S. troops of violating the security agreement between the two countries after a raid in Wasit province Sunday that left two people dead, Iraqi State TV reported.
U.S. troops raided a house in the city of Kut and arrested six suspected members of so-called "special groups" -- groups that are funded, armed and trained by Iran, according to the U.S. military.
During the operation, which the military said was "fully coordinated and approved by the Iraqi government," a man and a woman were killed by U.S. troops, the military said.
Al-Maliki's accusation that the United States violated the security pact is the first time the Iraqi government has claimed a breach in the deal that governs the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. It was reached last November and implemented in January.
Under the agreement, the U.S. military cannot carry out raids without Iraqi permission and warrants. And Iraq has primary jurisdiction over members of the U.S. military who commit "grave premeditated felonies" outside of certain geographical boundaries and when they are off duty.
Al-Maliki has asked Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to release the suspects detained in the raid, and to hand over "those who committed the crime" -- or U.S. troops -- to the Iraqi judiciary, state television reported.
The U.S. military statement said when troops approached the residence, "an individual with a weapon came out of the home. Forces assessed him to be hostile, and they engaged the man, killing him," the U.S. military statement said.
A woman who "moved into the line of fire" was also killed in the shooting, the U.S. military said.
An Interior Ministry official told CNN the raid was on the home of a tribal leader, and said U.S. forces killed the leader's wife and brother and detained a number of family members.
Speaking on Iraqi State TV, the deputy governor of Wasit province called the killings "cold-blooded murder."
The U.S. military said there was a warrant issued for the arrest of the targeted individual -- "a network financier, who is also responsible for smuggling weapons into the country to support JAM Special Groups and Promise Day Brigade," a U.S. military statement said.

Iraqi State TV reported that Iraq's defense ministry ordered the arrest of two Iraqi commanders in Kut who apparently allowed the U.S. military to carry out the raid.
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« Reply #529 on: April 27, 2009, 01:19:46 PM »

Second post of the day:


BAGHDAD — The United States and Iraq will begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities, focusing on the troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials. Some parts of Baghdad also will still have combat troops.

Some combat troops will remain at Camp Prosperity, which is in the heart of Baghdad.

Everywhere else, the withdrawal of United States combat troops from all Iraqi cities and towns is on schedule to finish by the June 30 deadline, and in many cases even earlier. But because of the level of insurgent activity in Mosul, United States and Iraqi military officials will meet Monday to decide whether to consider the city an exception to the deadline in the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, between the countries.

“Mosul is the one area where you may see U.S. combat forces operating in the city” after June 30, the United States military’s top spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, said in an interview.

In Baghdad, however, there are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.

In addition, Forward Operating Base Falcon, which can hold 5,000 combat troops, will also remain after June 30. It is just within Baghdad’s southern city limits. Again, Iraqi officials have classified it as effectively outside Baghdad, so no exception to the agreement needs to be granted, in their view.

Combat troops with the Seventh Field Artillery Regiment will remain in the heart of Baghdad at Camp Prosperity, located near the new American Embassy compound in the Green Zone. In addition to providing a quick reaction force, guarding the embassy and noncombat troops from attack, those soldiers will also continue to support Iraqi troops who are now in nominal charge of maintaining security in the Green Zone.

The details of troop withdrawals and the transfer of facilities are negotiated by the Joint Military Operations Coordinating Committee, led by the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and the Iraqi defense minister, Abdul Qadir al-Obaidi. At its meeting on Monday, the committee will discuss a host of transfer issues, as well as whether to grant any exceptions to the June 30 deadline, and it will make recommendations to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a final decision.

The spokesman for the Iraqi military, Maj. Gen. Muhammad al-Askari, who is also the secretary to the committee’s Iraqi contingent, said also that a decision on Mosul would be made at Monday’s meeting, which he called “critical.”

“I personally think even in Mosul there will be no American forces in the city, but that’s a decision for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi prime minister,” General Askari said.

General Perkins also expressed specific concerns about Mosul, noting how important the city is to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

“For Al Qaeda to win, they have to take Baghdad. To survive they have to hold on to Mosul,” he said. “Mosul is sort of their last area where they have some maybe at least passive support.”

In Baghdad, whether combat troops remain in the city may well be a function of how they are defined, as well as where the city limits lie.

The Camp Victory complex includes Camps Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer, plus the prison known as Camp Cropper, where so-called high-value prisoners are kept. It also includes the military side of Baghdad International Airport.

General Askari emphatically said that the June 30 provision did not apply to the Camp Victory complex because it was effectively outside the city. General Askari also said having American combat troops at Camp Prosperity would not violate the terms of the agreement, because they are there for force protection and to guard the nearby embassy.

“If there is a small group to stay in that camp to guard the American Embassy, that’s no problem,” he said. “The meaning of the SOFA is that their vehicles cannot go in the streets of Baghdad and interfere with our job.”

The Green Zone was handed over to Iraqi control Jan. 1, when the agreement went into effect. In addition to the United States-Iraqi patrols, most of the security for the Green Zone’s many checkpoints and heavily guarded entry points is still done by the same private contractors who did it prior to Jan. 1.

“What you’re seeing is not a change in the numbers, it’s a doctrine change,” said First Sgt. David Moore, a New Jersey National Guardsman with the Joint Area Support Group, which runs the Green Zone. “You’re still going to have fighters. Every U.S. soldier is trained to fight.”

One of the Green Zone’s biggest bases, Forward Operating Base Freedom, was handed back to Iraqi control on April 1, at least most of it. The United States military kept the swimming pool.


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In addition to troops, Camp Prosperity will house many American contractors and other personnel. Next door, at Camp Union III, the military is in the process of setting up housing for several thousand soldiers, trainers and advisers working for the Multi-National Security Transition Command, which now has its headquarters elsewhere in the Green Zone.

While those principal Baghdad bases will remain, the United States military has been rapidly erasing its footprint everywhere else in Baghdad. The so-called troop surge added 77 small bases, known as combat outposts, patrol bases and joint security stations, spread throughout the city’s neighborhoods to get United States troops closer to the people. At the height, in 2007, there were nearly 100 such bases. All of them will have been turned over to the Iraqis by June 30, and many already have been, General Perkins said. He added that in many cases the Iraqis would choose not to use them for their own troops.

Nationwide, the American military presence is also changing quickly as June 30 approaches. A survey of northern and central Iraqi provinces by New York Times reporters confirmed that American troops had already withdrawn from all of the bases situated in the centers of major towns or cities, with the exception of Mosul.

General Perkins said that American combat forces had already been drawing down steadily in Iraq’s cities, replaced by Iraqi troops. By September 2008, the number of American troops in Iraq had dropped by about 20 percent from the peak during the so-called troop surge in 2007, he said. An additional 8,000 left by the end of January.

As of April 17, there were 137,934 American service members in Iraq, according to Lt. Col. Amy Hannah, a public affairs officer. An additional 16,000 will go by September, General Perkins said.

“We don’t want to lose the gains we’ve had so far,” he said. “We don’t want to rush to failure here. This isn’t just, we’re going home. We’re just moving.”

“We don’t mean you won’t have soldiers trained in combat skills in the city,” General Perkins said. Trainers and advisers can stay, under the terms of the agreement, and combat troops can re-enter on operations if invited by the Iraqis, he said.

General Perkins gave the example of sending the 82nd Airborne Division to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “The 82nd are combat troops, but that was not a combat mission,” he said.
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« Reply #530 on: May 06, 2009, 09:17:24 AM »

I am  sitting here right now in a deep state of sadness.  I was  just speaking with "Mercury", the incredibly nice  woman from Basrah who is the house manager at the complex I stay at.  She was sitting at her laptop and  I noticed she had  a picture of a precious, beautiful young girl on the screen.  So I asked about her.  She  immediately became very misty eyed and said "that was my daughter.  She is gone now."  She must have read my thoughts, which were "oh my God,  what happened?"  She then said to me that her husband and her daughter "were killed by the Americans by mistake."  No anger.  No hatred.  She just sounded dead inside for that moment.  Her English is exceptional so there was no mistake in what she said.  I can now hear her through my door "happily" doing her usual  job.
How in God's name do you ever get over something like that?
These people have been through a lot of crap in the last 30 years.  Saddam's war against Iran.  The Gulf War and its aftermath.  Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The years of violence.  And frankly I fear within a year of our departure,  if  not sooner,  it will be on like Donkey Kong again.
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« Reply #531 on: May 11, 2009, 09:14:55 AM »

Holy f&$#!  A rocket just flew over our hooch and landed not too far away.  Pretty decent boom too.
They are telling us the rocket landed one street over from our hooch.  In some guy's garden.  He had apparently just finished planting his garden and grass.  Now it's all a mess.  And he's pissed!
Interestingly the whoosh sound associated with this one, which landed quite close, was only about 1/4 second (if that).  The  one that flew over in December was quite longer (seemed like 2 seconds or so).  That one landed much farther away.
I  guess the lesson might be if you hear only a very, very short whoosh, don't dither in hitting the deck. They make the most unmistakable whoosh kind of sound.

The security situation is so good that a friend of mine, and her whole unit, is having to leave Fallujah for a safer place.


MARC writing now:

Is President Obama throwing away what we have achieved in Iraq?
« Last Edit: May 11, 2009, 09:20:18 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #532 on: May 11, 2009, 10:58:47 AM »

OMII forwards us this and comments:
5 U.S. soldiers killed in Baghdad
May 11, 2009 - 02:35:03

BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: Five U.S. soldiers were killed on Monday in a shooting inside a U.S. base in Baghdad, the U.S. army said.

“Five Multi-National Forces were killed in a shooting inside al-Houriya base in Baghdad at 2:00 p.m. on Monday (May 11),” the U.S. army said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq news agency.  “The incident under investigation,” it added, without giving further details.

I become ever more convinced that Michael Yon was on Kool-Aid when he passed through Iraq.  I say that matter of factly, not to be disrespectful.  This country will not survive our departure.  I pray I am wrong.


In response I have asked if maybe we are leaving too quickly, too soon, and are throwing away what we finally accomplished.  I await his answer.

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« Reply #533 on: May 11, 2009, 11:11:34 AM »

His response:

Personally, and this is only what I think, the Iraqis will not be able to stand up on their own when crunch time comes.  The infiltration of militias and insurgents into both the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police, as evidenced by the number of Sudden Jihad Syndrome attacks, tells me all I need to know.
Again, that's just me....

My response was to ask whether his conclusion implied that we were leaving too soon.  His answer:

"Yes we are leaving too soon.  But I do not believe that even 5-years from now would work."
« Last Edit: May 11, 2009, 11:43:07 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #534 on: May 17, 2009, 02:44:37 PM »
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« Reply #535 on: May 29, 2009, 03:59:29 PM »

Geopolitical Diary: The Reality of Iraqi Geopolitics
May 29, 2009 | 0010 GMT
Iraq’s oil ministry has announced plans for oil exports to Turkey, from newly developed fields in the northern autonomous Kurdish region, to begin on Sunday. The Taq Taq and Tawke fields in Dahuk province will be the first new fields brought online in Iraq in more than three decades. Together, they will yield 100,000 barrels per day (bpd), with production growing to 450,000 bpd by 2011.

Though the Kurds are already celebrating the occasion, this is a bittersweet moment for Sunni and Shiite leaders in Baghdad. Iraq’s Shiite-dominated central government has long been in a fierce contest with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over oil reserves in the north. On a strategic level, Iraqi Arabs — as well as Iraq’s neighbors — have a core interest in keeping the Kurds on a leash and quelling separatist hopes. The central government is doing its part to keep the Kurds boxed in: It wants to ensure that Baghdad gets sign-off on any oil deals the Kurds make with foreign companies to develop their energy fields, and that all oil revenues go through the central government before being distributed to the regional governorates.

But after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds knew they had limited time to secure their influence before being ganged up on by an array of rivals (which is happening now.) The KRG signed production-sharing agreements left and right with foreign firms, giving companies 10-20 percent of the profit and partial ownership of the fields, to rush in investment. The Iraqi oil ministry, however, has declared all of these deals void, insisting that Baghdad must be the one to approve agreements and that all deals must be based on less attractive, fixed-fee service contracts, which deny foreign companies ownership of energy fields.

The row between the KRG and Baghdad is ongoing, and it remains to be seen how the foreign companies developing the fields will end up getting paid. But with oil production stagnating at just under 2 million bpd, the Kurds have found a way to exploit the central government’s vulnerability. With the budget in danger, Baghdad reluctantly agreed to get these fields pumping, in order to raise exports and generate more cash for government coffers. The Kurds are getting a nice break, but they are still beholden to central government-controlled infrastructure and the interests of their rivals, like Turkey, to continue exporting oil from KRG territory.

While keeping a close eye on the Kurds, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is also busy picking out scapegoats for the fall in Iraqi oil production. He recently launched a massive anti-corruption drive that has brought down the trade minister and is now targeting the oil and electricity ministers, who could end up getting axed in a widely rumored cabinet reshuffle. Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, who has close ties to Tehran, is expected to be summoned by the Parliament soon to explain why his mismanagement of the ministry (never mind the effects of the global economic crisis) has prevented production increases.

Al-Maliki is doing this for several reasons. He needs to blame someone for the economic pressure Iraq is under, but he also needs to clean house, consolidate power and prepare his government for the day that U.S. forces leave Iraq and Baghdad will have to fend for itself against a host of powerful neighbors — who all feel they have some stake in Iraq. The Turks are on a resurgent path and are privately discussing with the United States their desire to move into the north to contain the Kurds. The Iranians harbor aspirations about carving out Shiite-dominated southern Iraq for themselves. And Saudi Arabia and other Arab states see themselves as the defenders of Iraq’s Sunnis against the Shia; they do not regard al-Maliki as a legitimate leader or even see Iraq as a legitimate country.

Al-Maliki is on a mission to revive Iraq’s standing as a strong Arab state — only this time, under Shiite leadership. Iraq is already an extremely fractious country, split geographically, ethnically and politically among Shia, Sunnis and Kurds. What al-Maliki wants to avoid is a “Lebanonization” of Iraq that would brand the country as paralyzed, fractured and sufficiently vulnerable to be preyed upon by outside powers. The only way to overcome these internal weaknesses is to impose some level of authoritarianism at home.

Al-Maliki is the leader of the Arab world’s newest democracy, but some of his statements hint at an authoritarian strain of thought. He said recently that in the first stage of post-Hussein Iraq, “consensus was necessary for us.” “But,” he continued, “if this continues it will become a problem, a flaw, a catastrophe. The alternative is democracy, and that means majority rule … From now on, I call for an end to that degree of consensus.” Al-Maliki also has begun standing up to Iraq’s neighbors — telling the Saudis, who among other Arab powers continue to snub him at regional summits, that “Iraq has no intention of making new goodwill gestures towards Saudi Arabia because my initiative has been interpreted in Riyadh as a sign of weakness.”

Contrary to popular perception, this behavior is not necessarily a reflection of al-Maliki’s personality. Whether the person at the helm of Iraqi politics is al-Maliki or anyone else, Baghdad will see a need for the Kurds to be contained and — depending on who has the upper hand — for either the Shia or the Sunnis to rule with an iron fist. Such is the reality of Iraqi geopolitics.
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« Reply #536 on: June 02, 2009, 01:16:20 PM »

Unfortunately I cannot upload a pic or two I wanted to right now.
While on the road to haditha yesterday I saw out in the distance (over the course of several miles) about 5-6 Soviet MIGs.  Just sitting out there in the desert.  A couple looked in mint condition.  Others falling apart.  One looked like Swiss cheese.  They were all a light green color so they stood out against the sand.
Apparently pre-invasion Saddam tried to hide his jets in the desert.  I don't know how one could possibly do this but he nonetheless tried.
One story is that you used to be able to go fool around over at the planes.  Take cool guy pcis.  Sit inside the pilot's seat.  And in the case of one U.S. serviceman discover that the ejection seat still worked.  It launched him way the hell into the air which resulted in him crashing back to Earth.  Yes he died.  It was apparently a huge drop.
One night in Haditha proper, al-Qa'ida kidnapped and captured dozens of people, including 20 Iraqi police officers.  They made the townspeople come to the soocer stadium and watch their beheadings.  It was this night, the story goes, that the Sunni Awakening Councils began.  Ultimately, and together, the USMC and the Sunnis kicked the snot out of al-Qa'ida.  Some of the fiercest fights the USMC had were in haditha.
Driving, and then walking a considerable distance, down the street I have never seen so many Iraqis wave to our soldiers (Marines).  Kids, adults, elders.  I never received so many trully warm "salaam a'laikums."  It was amazing because they seemed so genuine.  People driving down the street in cars beeping their horns.
They are facing huge water problems in the future though.  Dams in Turkey and Syria have reduced the Euphrates River to a fraction of its former self.  The water level is so low now that the dam only produces something like 10% of its prior capacity.  And the watewr treatment facility is overleaded because there is so much sediment in the water that does get treated.  Back in Saddam's day apparently they had an understanding.  If enough water does not come down the Euphrates into Iraq he would bomb the dams.  Now an Iraq with no teeth does not have that option.  The Americans are trying to work out some sort of oil for water scenario with Turkey and Syria.  Meanwhile the average Iraqi faces a potentially bleak future as far as water goes.
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« Reply #537 on: June 04, 2009, 01:34:14 PM »

(There is an attached foto which for security reasons is not posted here)

Hard to  believe that just a  couple of years ago al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) beheaded 60 people in the soccer stadium and announced to the people of Hadithah that Hadithah was now the caliphate of AQI.  And here I am the other day on the rooftop of the Hadithah courthouse, where very few criminal cases were allowed by AQI for that period of time, without a single care in the world. 
The only reason I am wearing PPE (personal protection equipment) is because regulations require it.  Else, as USMC LT Wong said, you could walk down the streets of Hadithah in your PT uniform.
The people there are quite happy to have the Marines there.  The USMC saved them from the utter cruelty of life under AQI.  Of cousre, there was no AQI before we invaded.  Saddam would not have tolerated that crap.  He would have had them in the soccer stadium.
Today it bothers me immensely that we broke this place and plan on leaving before we fixed it.  Not because I believe we can make Iraq a democracy in our image.  I simply do not believe we can.  But because these people are trying very hard in the here and now to figure out what their new post-Saddam/post-AQI/post-militia world will be/should be like, but they haven't quite glued it all together.
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« Reply #538 on: June 26, 2009, 11:29:09 AM »

Iraq’s oil minister is being forced to defend himself against various charges stemming from the country’s stagnant oil production. The charges come during a period of heightening tensions over oil among Iraq’s feuding Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. Ultimately, it will probably be up to an outside power to manage this political maelstrom — and of these powers, Turkey is the one to watch.

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani returned to the Iraqi parliament on June 25 to defend himself against a multitude of complaints from parliamentarians involving such issues as Iraq’s declining oil output, its languishing hydrocarbons law and the corruption and mismanagement of the Iraqi oil industry’s profits.

Due to a steep drop in once record-high crude prices over the past year, and aggravated by budget constraints and political infighting, Iraq’s current oil output has stagnated at around 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) — well below the country’s enormous oil production potential. Since oil revenues account for 95 percent of the state’s income, Shahristani has become the natural scapegoat for Iraq’s current political and economic woes. And with a major oil auction on the horizon, the country’s first since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi oil brawl is bound to escalate in the coming weeks. Given what he is up against, there is no guarantee that Shahristani will make it out of these June parliamentary grill sessions in one piece, but he has given no indication that he is prepared to bow out of this fight.

Shahristani’s plan to breathe some life back into Iraq’s oil industry involves circumventing parliamentary approval to allow 32 of the world’s major energy companies on June 29-30 to bid on 20-year-long service contracts to develop Iraq’s six largest oil producing fields and two untapped natural gas fields. These energy companies, which include ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch/Shell, ConocoPhillips, Turkish Petroleum Corp., BP, France’s Total, Italy’s Eni, Russia’s Gazprom Neft and LUKoil, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp. and China National Petroleum Corp., are taking a risk in investing in a country that has yet to pass an oil law, and whose politics pose a severe threat to business deals. Despite the risks, all these firms have a deep interest in securing these potentially lucrative contracts.

But first, the oil minister must answer to the Federation of Oil Unions in the Shiite southern oil hub of Basra. The southern labor unions produce the bulk of Iraqi crude and are extremely hesitant to allow foreign companies a piece of their contracts. The union federation has strongly criticized the oil minister for offering long-term service contracts, asserting that Iraqi companies and their employees are fully capable of developing the fields themselves. Shahrahstani’s opponents in parliament argue that oil exploration — not production of existing fields — is needed to increase production. Shahristani, on the other hand, claims that exploration will take too much time, and there is a stronger need to focus on boosting current production. He argues that the foreign companies are the ones that the have the training, technological expertise and tools to more rapidly and efficiently boost Iraq’s oil output by an additional 1.5 million bpd within four to five years.

This debate is not only about southern oil unions worried about being edged out by foreign oil majors. As Shahristani himself has claimed, there is a much wider political agenda involving multiple Iraqi factions currently in play.

The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), currently the largest Shiite party in parliament and the political bloc most closely aligned to Iran, carries a great deal of clout in the Shiite south that could strengthen the anti-Shahristani movement. After having fared poorly against Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies in January provincial polls, the ISCI is doing whatever it can to weaken the prime minister’s power base so that it can be on a stronger political footing for legislative elections slated for Jan. 30, 2010.

The ISCI’s strategy involves using its clout in parliament to chip away at al-Maliki’s Cabinet appointees. Already, Iraqi Trade Minister Falah al-Sudani and former Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani have been forced to resign. Shahristani, who maintains his political independence — and yet is in agreement with al-Maliki’s vision of a strong, centralized government — is next on the target list.

In addition to natural political competition, the ISCI and al-Maliki are on two different wavelengths in trying to shape the future of Iraq. The ISCI, and the Iranians by extension, envision a federalist model of Iraq that essentially carves out a Shiite autonomous zone in the south (similar to the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north). This would augment Iran’s influence in Iraq via their Iraqi Shiite allies. This vision, however, is directly at odds with that of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, smaller regional Shiite parties and the mainstream Sunni parties, who all agree on the need for a strong, centralized government in Iraq that can build up its immunity to foreign penetration. Al-Maliki and Shahristani have been able to draw support from Sunni and Shiite factions for their strong stance against federalism and their iron-fist approach with the Kurds, but they are also up against a number of sore losers from the provincial elections who want to see the prime minister weakened.

Click to enlarge
The ISCI has no shortage of allies to use against al-Maliki. The oil unions in the south do not always get along politically with the ISCI, but they do share a common interest in fighting Shahristani’s oil investment program. The ISCI also has a parliamentary alliance with the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which recently succeeded in getting its own man in the parliamentary speaker position to use as a platform to challenge al-Maliki directly. Finally, the ISCI has found an ally among the Kurds, who have the most to lose in this oil battle against al-Maliki and Shahristani.

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is locked into conflict with Baghdad over how to manage the country’s massive oil wealth. Blessed by its energy resources and cursed by its geography, the Kurdish region is up against not only Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Arab communities, but also by its far more powerful neighbors — Turkey, Iran and Syria, who all share a common interest in extinguishing any notion of Kurdish independence or even expanded autonomy.

The Kurds’ best defense against their rivals is to gain as much control as possible over energy resources in the north and to use their region’s energy appeal to lure in foreign investors. The more foreigners buy into the Kurdish region, the more protection the Kurds receive against outside penetration. Consequently, from the moment Saddam Hussein fell from power and the Kurds organized politically, the KRG has been extremely active in inviting foreign firms to explore and develop Iraq’s northern fields.

To sweeten the pot, the Kurds have offered these firms extremely attractive Production-Sharing Agreements (PSAs) that offer firms ownership stakes in the fields. This policy directly opposes Shahristani’s push only to allow foreign firms to charge fees, as opposed to offering them ownership rights that would undermine Baghdad’s central authority, for raising output. The Kurds know they have a narrow window of opportunity to secure these energy rights, and will thus fight tooth and nail in parliament to shoot down Shahristani and al-Maliki’s policies that aim to assert central authority in Iraq and undermine Kurdish autonomy.

But the Kurds can only go so far in their dealings with foreign energy firms, dealings Baghdad terms “illegal” and “unconstitutional.” Energy companies have been exploring and developing fields in the north, but any plan to export for real profit must have both Turkey’s (as the export link) and Baghdad’s approval. The Kurds, however, are feeling more emboldened after the central government — under heavy pressure to raise Iraq’s oil output — reluctantly allowed oil to flow from KRG fields in the north to the Turkish port at Ceyhan for export beginning June 1. The budget pressure on Baghdad allowed the KRG to take another step forward in furthering Kurdish autonomy, but the Kurds also know this export opportunity can just as easily be snatched away by their rivals. For now, the Kurds are trying to exploit the wider criticism against Shahristani, a move that will allow them to continue with business as usual on the energy front while Baghdad remains at odds with itself.

From intra-Shiite rivalries to panicky oil unions to Kurdish-Arab political battles, there are a number of reasons for the world’s oil supermajors to be nervous about the June 29-30 auction. These political fissures run deep, and will continue to hold the country back from checking off critical items on the parliamentary agenda, such as signing a viable oil law. With the central government on the defensive, it will most likely be up to an outside power to manage this political maelstrom.

Of these powers, the United States is too distracted to enter into Iraqi internal politics to resolve these conflicts, and Iranian influence is largely limited to their Shiite allies. Turkey, however, is the country to watch in Iraq’s energy evolution. The Turks are already on an ascendant path in the region, and have been busily shoring up ties with key members of each of Iraq’s warring factions, including the Kurds. If Turkey intends to fulfill its long-term objective to control a substantial portion of Iraq’s energy industry, it is only a matter of time before Ankara dives deeper into Iraqi politics.

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« Reply #539 on: June 26, 2009, 11:33:35 AM »

second post

STRATFOR learned June 25 that ailing top Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim’s health has worsened. Al-Hakim was a key player in both Iranian and U.S. plans for the future of Iraq, and his death will complicate matters for Iran. Meanwhile, U.S. forces are preparing to withdraw from urban areas in Iraq on June 30. The main question is whether Iraqi security forces are ready to take on more security responsibilities at a time when a lot could go wrong in their country.

STRATFOR learned June 25 that the condition of ailing top Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim has deteriorated and that U.S. military authorities are preparing for his death. Al-Hakim, who had long received treatment in Tehran for lung cancer, leads Iraq’s largest and most pro-Iranian Shiite political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Al-Hakim’s worsening condition comes at a very critical time, considering that he has been a key player in both U.S. and Iranian plans for post-Baathist Iraq.

As far as the Iranians are concerned, al-Hakim’s death will complicate matters as they seek to consolidate the gains they have made in Iraq since the rise of a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Iran is embroiled in a huge internal power struggle between rival conservative factions that came out into the open with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial election victory June 12. A loss of a key foreign policy asset at a time of intense domestic turmoil limits the extent to which Tehran can counter Washington’s moves to finalize the security environment in Iraq.

U.S. plans revolve around a June 30 deadline for the implementation of a key phase of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that requires U.S. troops to complete the withdrawal of combat forces form Iraqi cities. This will not be a sudden or rapid process; the United States has been preparing for this deadline for months, carefully monitoring the progress of Iraqi security forces and slowly drawing back. Nor will the process be uniform. As per a deliberate vagueness in the text of the agreement, U.S. forces likely will retain a significant presence in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, the scene of continuing jihadist violence.

The SOFA is the guiding document crafted to oversee the transition of day-to-day security responsibility from U.S. troops to Iraqi forces in preparation for a 2011 withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from the country. Since the agreement’s signing in December 2008, Iraqi forces have taken on more of these responsibilities, while U.S. forces have moved into more of an advisory capacity. Iraqi forces have been running the routine street patrols, checkpoints and other security facilities and have been taking an increasingly greater role in counterinsurgency operations against jihadists.

That said, in places like the capital and Mosul, Iraqi troops still depend heavily upon U.S. troops. Therefore, as U.S. forces transition from tactical oversight to strategic oversight, the main question is the extent to which Iraqi forces will be able to maintain the relative calm that has existed since 2007, when the U.S. military turned Sunni nationalist insurgents who were fighting U.S. troops into critical forces combating al Qaeda in Iraq. The next few months will be a crucial test for Iraq’s security forces, revealing whether they can act as a national force or whether they will succumb to ethno-sectarian struggles. In turn, the Iraqi forces’ success (or lack thereof) will determine the degree to which U.S. forces will have to intervene to stabilize the situation. It should be noted that most of the violence in Iraq has been in urban areas — the same areas from which some 130,000 U.S. forces are leaving under the SOFA.

With their independence and proficiency still a work in progress, it is unclear how capable and willing Iraqi security forces are to perform in a manner that will prevent another descent into sectarian bloodshed. A larger concern is that the violence level in Iraq has remained steady in recent months, with periodic attacks taking place across the country. In the past few days there have been two noteworthy attacks, in Kirkuk and Baghdad, on Shiite targets affiliated with the movement of radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Realizing that this is the time to try to stir up ethno-sectarian tensions and stage a comeback, suspected jihadists have carried out suicide attacks. The June 30 pullback date is also a symbolic time for attacks, as it gives the impression that the jihadists are driving U.S. forces out and that Iraq remains unsafe.

The principals of the country’s three major ethno-sectarian groups have an interest in making sure that the political disputes among them do not escalate to the point of violence. In spite of their intention to remain peaceful, they run into problems when they try to pursue their respective political objectives. A particularly problematic issue is the lingering — and potentially explosive — induction of Sunni tribal militiamen affiliated with the Awakening Councils into the state’s Shiite-dominated security apparatus. Despite his moves away from Islamist sectarian politics and toward a secular Iraqi national platform (which gave him significant gains in recent provincial elections), Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to limit Sunnis’ power, and thus has refused to allow more than 20 percent of these militiamen into the security apparatus. Though the Awakening Councils also made significant gains in the provincial vote and have a bigger stake in the system, there is still a major concern that many of these tribal fighters could revert to their old ways.

At the intra-Shiite level, internal rivalries continue to simmer even though al-Hakim’s ISCI performed badly in the provincial polls and the al-Sadrites’ political and military power has been diminished. After al-Hakim’s death, his successor — likely his son Ammar al-Hakim — will need to consolidate his hold over the movement and ward off rivals’ attempts to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the power vacuum. Iran, which has played the various Iraqi Shiite factions off one another, will have to re-establish an intra-Shiite balance of power. Iran also could try to stir up trouble in Iraq in order to reposition itself in relation to the United States after the Iranian election crisis.

In northern Iraq, the Kurdish bid for greater autonomy pits the Kurds against the Sunnis and Shia. Furthermore, the Kurds will be holding their own regional elections this month. With President Jalal Talabani — leader of one of the two major parties in the Kurdistani alliance that controls the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) — nearing retirement from political activity due to health conditions, the internal balance of power among the Kurds is also in play. The ongoing dispute over sharing energy revenues between the federal government and the KRG and tensions over the future status of the contested oil-rich northern region of Kirkuk are also issues that could easily create security situations.

In other words, there is a lot that can go wrong at a time when Iraqi forces are supposed to demonstrate that they can function as a national force capable of keeping the various ethno-sectarian groups in Iraq from succumbing to multi-directional centrifugal forces. Therefore, the next several months — especially ahead of the Jan. 30, 2010, parliamentary elections that could shake up the political establishment formed after the 2003 regime change — will be very telling in terms of the Iraqi factions’ abilities to keep their disputes within acceptable parameters.

From the U.S. point of view, the Iraqi forces’ performance will be critical in terms of Washington’s ability to focus on Afghanistan and ultimately disengage militarily from the Islamic world.

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« Reply #540 on: June 26, 2009, 12:05:08 PM »

third post

A couple of weeks ago while en route to al Kut I got to see during the course of 3-minutes the best Iraq has to offer security-wise, and their typical slackers.
Hard to explain but we were in MRAPs crossing Suicide Bridge (as affectionately named by the soldiers at FOB Delta).  Suicide is a one lane bridge.  So at one point we had to stop and wait for the bridge to be availlable to us.
As we were slowing down for the stop I could see two Iraqi Army soldiers standing security.  Beforfe the MRAP even stopped I thoought to myself these guys are STRAC.  You could see it in their demeanor, the way they comported themselves and their alert behavior.  As soon as our MRAPs stopped they both went into hyper alert mode.  Scanning 360.  Weapons more ready.  Basically they were ready to instantly shoot.  Clearly in good shape.  Out of the ordinary camo uniforms.  Helmets on in 115 degree weather.  The kind of guys in appearance that 99 out of 100 of us would probably not want to take on.  It's like they instinctively knew halted Army MRAPs = exponentially elevated threat level.  I tried to get a photo but it did not come out.  Damn shame.
So after a minute or two we start moving.  We get to the other side of the bridge and there were a couple of Iraqi soldiers and police basically sitting on their fat asses, cigarettes dangling from their fat worthless faces.  Utter disgraces to a professional military and law enforcement presence.
I could not help but wonder if when I read aboout all the soldiers and policemen getting killed around the country every day at checkpoints were these worthless, disgraceful clowns.  And conversely, whoever trained these other two soldiers I hope they have gotten to see the end result of their labor.
June 30th draws ever nearer and I am not convinced the Iraqis have it together to repel the coming juggernaut.
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« Reply #541 on: June 26, 2009, 08:17:28 PM »

4th post

SAS troopers have carried out the first major combat parachute operations since Suez more than 50 years ago, it can now be disclosed.

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
Published: 5:04PM BST 26 Jun 2009

Using advanced parachuting techniques Special Forces carried out a series of operational jumps onto the outskirts of Baghdad targeting insurgent leaders and bomb-making factories, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
The airborne operations - which can only now be disclosed - played a significant role in removing so-called insurgent “high value targets” and reducing their ability to make roadside bombs.

On at least a dozen occasions SAS soldiers using BT80 parachutes jumped from the back of a Hercules aircraft at around 15,000ft. After steering for several miles, they landed silently close to insurgent strongholds on an area the size of a football pitch.

The troops of up 12 men then quietly made their way on foot either to begin an operation or set up a covert observation post where they would mount electronic devices linked to voice and facial recognition software to spy on insurgents.
Dressed in the SAS’s latest pixellated combat uniforms with some carrying the heavy-hitting Heckler and Koch 417 weapon mounted with silencers, the men either assisted other SAS helicopter-borne troops or mounted the raid themselves.

“It was the surprise factor that we were after,” said a special forces soldier involved in the operations. “You could have some time under canopy to travel a few kilometres from the point of opening onto the ground.”
Using a special chest rig mounted with satellite navigation, radios and altimeters and oxygen masks the soldiers at first gathered in the sky and then steered towards the ground as a group.

“These jumps took place all over city but particularly Sadr city on the eastern edge of Baghdad where it heads into countryside. You would land on the outskirts, on the right side of the Tigris, and then tab in.
“It gives you the ability of surprise for a hard knock or to get to that point where you have eyes on the target without anyone having a clue that you are in there. As soon as you put a helicopter up people know what’s going on.”
On some occasions a helicopter force in Pumas was called in to start an operation otherwise they were used to extract the soldiers.

“We had the means to get into a building and means to fight our way out,” the soldier said.
“We did arrests. We are not going in to neutralise everything but to try and capture targets. However, if you are in the course of apprehending somebody and your life is under threat, if somebody is pointing a gun at you then they will be very lucky to survive.”

News of combat jumps, which were made over the last two years, comes at a time when a shortage of RAF Hercules and pilots has meant that a third of the 2,400 paratroopers in 16 Air Assault Brigade are not qualified to jump.
Airborne officers argue that by keeping a parachute capability it maintains Britain’s ability to launch rapid reaction forces that could for instance take a hostile runway in Africa or at the very least “give the enemy something to think about”.
A few parachute jumps were used by the SAS and SBS in Afghanistan in 2001 and on two occasions the Parachute Regiment has come close to making drops in Afghanistan.

During the Suez operation in 1956 more than 700 paratroopers landed in Egypt to successful seize airfields, to enable transport of troops and supplies. The operation by Britain, France, and Israel followed Egypt’s decision to nationalize the strategically-important Suez Canal.
Currently Parachute Jump Instructors are in Afghanistan assessing the situation for parachuting that is made difficult by the high altitude and rough terrain.
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« Reply #542 on: June 30, 2009, 10:01:15 AM »


Today is a milestone in Iraq. Under the terms of the Strategic Framework Agreement, U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraqi cities. In retrospect, however, June 30 will likely mark another milestone: the end of the surge and the relative peace it brought to Iraq. In the past week, bombings in Baghdad, Mosul and near Kirkuk have killed almost 200 people. The worst is yet to come.

While the Strategic Framework Agreement was negotiated in the twilight of the Bush administration, President Barack Obama shaped the final deal. He campaigned on a time line to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, and his words impacted the negotiation.

Iraq has shown us time and again that military strength is the key to influence in other matters. Just look at the behavior of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric.

Under Saddam, Mr. Sistani was an independent religious mind, but he was hardly a bold voice. Like so many other Iraqis, he stayed alive by remaining silent. Only after Saddam's fall did he speak up. Though he is today a world-famous figure, the New York Times made its first mention of the ayatollah on April 4, 2003, five days before the fall of Baghdad.

Mr. Sistani is as much of a threat to Iran as he was to Saddam. In November 2003, he contradicted Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei when asked what night the holy month of Ramadan would end, a determination made by sighting the moon. Mr. Sistani said Tuesday, Mr. Khamenei said Wednesday.

To the West, this might be trivial, but it sent shock waves through Iran. How could the supreme leader claim ultimate political and religious authority over not only the Islamic Republic but all Shiites and be contradicted?

Perhaps this is why Iran bolstered its support for militias. When I visited Najaf in January 2004, I saw dark-clad militiamen on the streets outside Mr. Sistani's house. Mr. Sistani quieted until the following year, when U.S. forces retook the city.

Militias are not simply reactions to sectarian violence, nor are they spontaneous creations. They are tools used by political leaders to impose through force what is not in hearts and minds.

Because of both ham-fisted postwar reconstruction and neighboring state interference, militia and insurgent violence soared from 2004 through 2006. The fight became as much psychological as military.

Iranian and insurgent media declared the United States to be a paper tiger lacking staying power. The Baker-Hamilton Commission report underscored such perceptions. Al-Jazeera broadcast congressional lamentations of defeat throughout the region. Iranian intelligence told Iraqi officials that they might like the Americans better, but Iran would always be their neighbor and they best make an accommodation. Al Qaeda sounded similar themes in al-Anbar.

Then came President Bush's announcement that he would augment the U.S. presence. The surge was as much a psychological strategy as it was a military one. It proved our adversaries' propaganda wrong. Violence dropped. Iraq received a new chance to emerge as a stable, secure democracy.

By telegraphing a desire to leave, Mr. Obama reverses the dynamic. In effect, his strategy is an anti-surge. Troop numbers are not the issue. It is the projection of weakness. Not only Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani have also reached out to the Islamic Republic in recent weeks.

In Cairo, Mr. Obama said the U.S. had no permanent designs on Iraq and declared, "We will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron." Indeed. But until the Iraqi government is strong enough to monopolize independently the use of force, a vacuum will exist and the most violent factions will fill it.

Power and prestige matter. Withdrawal from Iraq's cities is good politics in Washington, but when premature and done under fire it may very well condemn Iraqis to repeat their past.

Mr. Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.

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« Reply #543 on: July 02, 2009, 07:09:54 AM »

The huge difference I see between June 29th and today is the much greater Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police presence inside the IZ.  There is some sort of machine gun plus armed military or police vehicle every 200 meters or so.  Occasionally you will see a convoy sized line of military or police vehicles pulled off to the side of the road.  There are more Iraqi Army guys walking around the vicinity of what is called "the GRD" (which stands for Gulf Regional Development) compound.
What you almost don't see any more is much in the way of U.S. military vehicles moving around.  They are not completely gone but you just don't see them like you used to.  The sense is that there is no more cavalry to come to the rescue anytime quickly.
Some of the Iraqi Army soldiers and Iraqi Police officers are their usual, typical, reasonably friendly selves.  They will wave and smile as they always have.  But others have that feeling their oats look in their eyes.
We live in interesting times here in the IZ...
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« Reply #544 on: July 05, 2009, 12:00:14 PM »

Crafty from Russian thread: "To harp on a point I have made several times before, in the 2004 election even his weenie opponent was calling for expanding the US military by 50,000 troops-- but Bush-Rumbo, still too proud to admit that what was going on in Iraq was more than a bunch of Saddamite remnants, refused to admit that we needed to expand our military."

Not fully disagreeing but adding my comment from armchair to armchair...

Some lessons of the Iraq war are still unknown IMO.  The beginning of the war was impressive.  The execution of the surge was truly amazing.  The part in between was brutal.  The consequences of rushing our exit are unknown at this point.

Obviously we would like to have won faster with less damage.  For sure, plenty of mistakes were made, big ones.

My main thought is that I don't believe with any certainty that a surge could or would have had the same success if only it had been ordered earlier.  The strategy and success was built on information/intelligence/knowledge on the ground that we didn't necessarily have earlier.  Unfortunately we didn't know who was blowing up Mosques and setting explosives for American troops until they blow up Mosques and set off road bombs, repeatedly, and until our troops developed relationships and trust with witnesses and civilians enough to tell us what they know about the insurgents and locations.

The small footprint, 100,000 in a country of 25 million, limited our ability to get the job done, but a larger footprint might also have flailed away in the early insurgency. A larger footprint would have meant more targets early on for the enemy, possibly more loss of American life during the worst parts of the war, and perhaps more collateral Iraqi civilian damage, turning them even more against us.  In other words, to have gone stronger - earlier - with the wrong strategy would have had its own consequences.

I blame others more than I blame Bush-Rumsfeld.  I blame our so-called allies who for the most part were absent, starting with Turkey who IIRC blocked a key entry/supply route right from the beginning.  I blame our domestic opposition who while troops were in harm's way were constantly sending the message that the American commitment was fragile and temporary.  Our troops fought through the domestic political bullshit bravely, but the enemy was certainly energized by it, causing more loss of life on both sides than was otherwise necessary.   And I blame our media for the same.  They overplayed the death toll and terror accomplishments of the enemy (was a ground war in the heart of the middle east supposed to be easy?) and they missing the real story line (Michael Yon was almost the sole exception to this) of what a brave, amazing, wonderful and historic accomplishment we were actually in the process of achieving by deposing this thug and leaving behind a republic if they choose to keep it.  JMHO.
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« Reply #545 on: July 05, 2009, 03:30:22 PM »

Good post.

"My main thought is that I don't believe with any certainty that a surge could or would have had the same success if only it had been ordered earlier.  The strategy and success was built on information/intelligence/knowledge on the ground that we didn't necessarily have earlier.  Unfortunately we didn't know who was blowing up Mosques and setting explosives for American troops until they blow up Mosques and set off road bombs, repeatedly, and until our troops developed relationships and trust with witnesses and civilians enough to tell us what they know about the insurgents and locations."

"The small footprint, 100,000 in a country of 25 million, limited our ability to get the job done, but a larger footprint might also have flailed away in the early insurgency. A larger footprint would have meant more targets early on for the enemy, possibly more loss of American life during the worst parts of the war, and perhaps more collateral Iraqi civilian damage, turning them even more against us.  In other words, to have gone stronger - earlier - with the wrong strategy would have had its own consequences."

MARC:  Please allow me to clarify that I was not saying that these additional troops that should have been raised should have been sent to Iraq.  My intended point was that we were using up too large of a % of our bandwidth on Iraq-- ESPECIALLY given the policies we were following viz the Russians.

"I blame others more than I blame Bush-Rumsfeld.  I blame our so-called allies who for the most part were absent, starting with Turkey who IIRC blocked a key entry/supply route right from the beginning.  I blame our domestic opposition who while troops were in harm's way were constantly sending the message that the American commitment was fragile and temporary.  Our troops fought through the domestic political bullshit bravely, but the enemy was certainly energized by it, causing more loss of life on both sides than was otherwise necessary.   And I blame our media for the same.  They overplayed the death toll and terror accomplishments of the enemy (was a ground war in the heart of the middle east supposed to be easy?) and they missing the real story line (Michael Yon was almost the sole exception to this) of what a brave, amazing, wonderful and historic accomplishment we were actually in the process of achieving by deposing this thug and leaving behind a republic if they choose to keep it.  JMHO."

We are in complete agreement.  I would give a medal of dishonor to the French in particular.
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« Reply #546 on: July 14, 2009, 10:42:34 AM »


July 14, 2009

Iraq Suffers as the Euphrates River Dwindles


JUBAISH, Iraq — Throughout the marshes, the reed gatherers, standing on land they once floated over, cry out to visitors in a passing boat.

“Maaku mai!” they shout, holding up their rusty sickles. “There is no water!”

The Euphrates is drying up. Strangled by the water policies of Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey and Syria; a two-year drought; and years of misuse by Iraq and its farmers, the river is significantly smaller than it was just a few years ago. Some officials worry that it could soon be half of what it is now.

The shrinking of the Euphrates, a river so crucial to the birth of civilization that the Book of Revelation prophesied its drying up as a sign of the end times, has decimated farms along its banks, has left fishermen impoverished and has depleted riverside towns as farmers flee to the cities looking for work.

( Added by Lightfighter, Revelation 16:12 NIV / Verse 12: The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. )

The poor suffer more acutely, but all strata of society are feeling the effects: sheiks, diplomats and even members of Parliament who retreat to their farms after weeks in Baghdad.

Along the river, rice and wheat fields have turned to baked dirt. Canals have dwindled to shallow streams, and fishing boats sit on dry land. Pumps meant to feed water treatment plants dangle pointlessly over brown puddles.

“The old men say it’s the worst they remember,” said Sayid Diyia, 34, a fisherman in Hindiya, sitting in a riverside cafe full of his idle colleagues. “I’m depending on God’s blessings.”

The drought is widespread in Iraq. The area sown with wheat and barley in the rain-fed north is down roughly 95 percent from the usual, and the date palm and citrus orchards of the east are parched. For two years rainfall has been far below normal, leaving the reservoirs dry, and American officials predict that wheat and barley output will be a little over half of what it was two years ago.

It is a crisis that threatens the roots of Iraq’s identity, not only as the land between two rivers but as a nation that was once the largest exporter of dates in the world, that once supplied German beer with barley and that takes patriotic pride in its expensive Anbar rice.

Now Iraq is importing more and more grain. Farmers along the Euphrates say, with anger and despair, that they may have to abandon Anbar rice for cheaper varieties.

Droughts are not rare in Iraq, though officials say they have been more frequent in recent years. But drought is only part of what is choking the Euphrates and its larger, healthier twin, the Tigris.

The most frequently cited culprits are the Turkish and Syrian governments. Iraq has plenty of water, but it is a downstream country. There are at least seven dams on the Euphrates in Turkey and Syria, according to Iraqi water officials, and with no treaties or agreements, the Iraqi government is reduced to begging its neighbors for water.

At a conference in Baghdad — where participants drank bottled water from Saudi Arabia, a country with a fraction of Iraq’s fresh water — officials spoke of disaster.

“We have a real thirst in Iraq,” said Ali Baban, the minister of planning. “Our agriculture is going to die, our cities are going to wilt, and no state can keep quiet in such a situation.”

Recently, the Water Ministry announced that Turkey had doubled the water flow into the Euphrates, salvaging the planting phase of the rice season in some areas.

That move increased water flow to about 60 percent of its average, just enough to cover half of the irrigation requirements for the summer rice season. Though Turkey has agreed to keep this up and even increase it, there is no commitment binding the country to do so.

With the Euphrates showing few signs of increasing health, bitterness over Iraq’s water threatens to be a source of tension for months or even years to come between Iraq and its neighbors. Many American, Turkish and even Iraqi officials, disregarding the accusations as election-year posturing, say the real problem lies in Iraq’s own deplorable water management policies.

“There used to be water everywhere,” said Abduredha Joda, 40, sitting in his reed hut on a dry, rocky plot of land outside Karbala. Mr. Joda, who describes his dire circumstances with a tired smile, grew up near Basra but fled to Baghdad when Saddam Hussein drained the great marshes of southern Iraq in retaliation for the 1991 Shiite uprising. He came to Karbala in 2004 to fish and raise water buffaloes in the lush wetlands there that remind him of his home.

“This year it’s just a desert,” he said.

Along the river, there is no shortage of resentment at the Turks and Syrians. But there is also resentment at the Americans, Kurds, Iranians and the Iraqi government, all of whom are blamed. Scarcity makes foes of everyone.

The Sunni areas upriver seem to have enough water, Mr. Joda observed, a comment heavy with implication.

Officials say nothing will improve if Iraq does not seriously address its own water policies and its history of flawed water management. Leaky canals and wasteful irrigation practices squander the water, and poor drainage leaves fields so salty from evaporated water that women and children dredge huge white mounds from sitting pools of runoff.

On a scorching morning in Diwaniya, Bashia Mohammed, 60, was working in a drainage pool by the highway gathering salt, her family’s only source of income now that its rice farm has dried up. But the dead farm was not the real crisis.

“There’s no water in the river that we drink from,” she said, referring to a channel that flows from the Euphrates. “It’s now totally dry, and it contains sewage water. They dig wells but sometimes the water just cuts out and we have to drink from the river. All my kids are sick because of the water.”

In the southeast, where the Euphrates nears the end of its 1,730-mile journey and mingles with the less salty waters of the Tigris before emptying into the Persian Gulf, the situation is grave. The marshes there that were intentionally reflooded in 2003, rescuing the ancient culture of the marsh Arabs, are drying up again. Sheep graze on land in the middle of the river.

The farmers, reed gatherers and buffalo herders keep working, but they say they cannot continue if the water stays like this.

“Next winter will be the final chance,” said Hashem Hilead Shehi, a 73-year-old farmer who lives in a bone-dry village west of the marshes. “If we are not able to plant, then all of the families will leave.”
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #547 on: July 29, 2009, 03:45:10 PM »

So I just heard that DynCorp has been told by the Iraqi government that they have to bring all 60 of their PSD vehicles down at the same time to be formally  documented so as to allow their continued presence and operation in Iraq. They will have to pay a 5% import surcharge per vehicle.
These armored Suburbans can run about $200K.  So say the tax is $10K per vehicle.  That would be about $600,000.
And that's just DynCorp.
Power User
Posts: 42479

« Reply #548 on: August 28, 2009, 08:41:03 AM »

Iraq: The Shifting Balance Between Iran and the U.S.
IRAQ’S MOST INFLUENTIAL, pro-Iranian Shiite leader, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, died Wednesday after a two-year battle with lung cancer. Al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) — a group created in and with the backing of Iran in 1982 — was also very close to Washington, particularly during the move to topple the Baathist regime in early 2003 and the ensuing years of effort to establish a stable coalition government in Baghdad. His death, interestingly, came two days after the formation of a new Tehran-leaning Shiite coalition was announced, with the ISCI as its main driver.

The ISCI is Tehran’s main proxy — an instrument of Iranian foreign policy objectives – in Iraq. But it is not the only proxy: Iran wields a great degree of influence over other Shiite factions as well as maintaining leverage with the Kurds and, to a lesser degree, the Sunnis. This relationship is not a new phenomenon.

The Persians have a long history of venturing beyond their mountainous fortress core into the outside world via influence in Mesopotamia. Iraq has always been a buffer securing the Iranian core from threats on its western flank, which is where the Persians historically have faced external aggression. But the land of the two rivers — the Tigris and Euphrates — is also a potential launch pad for Persian power projection, into the heart of the Middle East and beyond.

“Al-Hakim’s death and the creation of a new pro-Iranian Shiite coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance, have re-ignited the U.S.-Iranian struggle over Iraq.”
It is for this very reason that in the imperial age, Iraq was the battleground between the Safavids and the Ottomans, and in early medieval times (before the advent of Islam) between the Sasanids and the Byzantines — a geopolitical condition that dates back to Persia of antiquity. In each of these epochs, the Iranians relied on peoples and groups in what is modern-day Iraq to facilitate the security of the Persian homeland, which is enclosed by mountains from the west, north and east and bordered by the Persian Gulf on the south. The Iranians have relied greatly on non-Persian people to their west to deal with foreign powers that amassed forces in Iraq and had alliances of their own with the locals.

In recent times, al-Hakim and the ISCI have been unique in that they existed at the intersection of U.S. and Iranian interests. Al-Hakim’s death and the creation of a new pro-Iranian Shiite coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), have re-ignited the U.S.-Iranian struggle over Iraq.

Though a staunch ally of Iran, al-Hakim was always careful to strike a balance between Washington and Tehran. His son Ammar, who is expected to take over as ISCI chief, is likely to be more beholden to Iran, given that the ISCI is trying to emerge from its recent defeat in the January provincial elections at the hands of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s faction — which has been used by the United States as a counter against Iranian influence in Iraq.

The Americans also harbor suspicions about Ammar. In February 2007, he was arrested and detained for several hours by U.S. forces at an Iranian/Iraqi checkpoint while returning home. Some two and a half years later, as Washington tries to draw down forces and increasingly relies on al-Maliki, Ammar likely will lead a new constellation of Shiite forces more closely aligned with Iran.

Meanwhile, Tehran — which is dealing with domestic political problems and is nearing a critical U.S. deadline to commence negotiations over its controversial nuclear program — is relying all the more on the INA to remind Washington that it can upset the American calculus for Iraq. Consequently, Iraq is re-emerging as an arena for a U.S.-Iranian geopolitical struggle.

« Reply #549 on: September 11, 2009, 01:12:21 PM »

Missing in Action
Obama has opted out of the Iraq–Syria crisis.

By John P. Hannah

It’s hard to believe, but nearly three weeks into a major crisis involving Syrian sponsorship of terrorism in Iraq, the United States is feigning neutrality. That’s a big mistake. Given that almost 130,000 U.S. troops remain in harm’s way trying to bolster Iraq’s stability, and given America’s longstanding concern with Syria’s role in fomenting violence in Iraq, the United States has a huge stake in supporting the Iraqi government’s efforts to pressure Syria out of the terrorism game.

First, some background. On August 19, two massive truck bombs exploded outside Iraq’s ministries of foreign affairs and finance. Up to 100 people were killed and several hundred more injured. Within days, Iraqi TV aired the confession of an alleged accomplice to the finance-ministry attack, who claimed that the bombings had been directed by two members of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party living under Syrian protection. Iraq demanded that Syria extradite the men. Syria refused. Iraq recalled its ambassador to Damascus. Syria responded in kind.

Refusing to back down, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki publicly accused Syria of serving as a terrorist safe haven and of harboring a long list of wanted insurgents. Maliki noted that 90 percent of foreign jihadists crossing into Iraq passed through Syria. For good measure, Iraqi TV broadcast a second confession, this one by a Saudi extremist who spoke in some detail of being trained by Syrian intelligence. In a subsequent briefing for foreign ambassadors, Maliki shared evidence of a meeting held outside Damascus in late July between Iraqi Baathists and Sunni extremists in the presence of Syrian security officers. By the end of last week, Maliki had dispatched thousands of police reinforcements to the border with Syria to guard against further infiltrations. He also lodged a formal request with the United Nations for an international investigation of the August 19 bombings and other terrorist attacks, with a special emphasis on the destructive role played by neighboring states.

Remarkably, as tensions escalated between Baghdad and Damascus, the United States had almost nothing to say. The one exception came on August 26, when the State Department spokesman was asked about the deteriorating situation. Reading from prepared guidance, he replied:

We understand that there has been sort of mutual recall of the ambassadors. We consider that an internal matter. We’re — we believe that, as a general principle, that diplomatic dialogue is the best means to address the concerns of both parties. We are working with the Iraqis to determine who perpetrated these horrible acts of violence. But as I said, this is — it’s an internal matter for both — for the Iraqi government and the Syrian government. . . . We hope this doesn’t hinder dialogue between the two countries.

An internal matter? Let’s review a few essential facts. Iraq is a struggling democracy and putative ally of the United States, whose existence was forged in the crucible of an American-led war of liberation. Syria is a brutal anti-American dictatorship that, along with its closest ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a charter member of the State Department’s “state sponsors of terrorism” list. Since 2003 — despite multiple attempts by the U.S. and Iraq to resolve the problem through “diplomatic dialogue” — the Syrian-Iranian axis has worked tirelessly to defeat the American project in Iraq and force a humiliating U.S. withdrawal.

Hundreds of unreconciled Baathists are harbored in Syria. Thousands of foreign jihadists have been welcomed at Damascus International Airport. After receiving money, training, and arms, they have been transported to the Iraqi border to engage in jihad — resulting in the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis. Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) — headed by President Bashar al-Asad’s brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat (sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for his links to Iraqi terrorism) — has been up to its eyeballs in this activity, its agents actively facilitating the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s most lethal foreign-fighter networks.

True, as the U.S. military has reported, the flow of jihadists from Syria has slowed significantly in the last year. But this has far more to do with the success of the surge, the overall improvement in Iraq’s security environment, and al-Qaeda’s diversion of recruits to the more promising Afghan theater than it does with any Syrian measures. It’s also true that Syria has in recent years conducted a harsh crackdown on Islamic extremists — but only those who refuse to play by SMI’s rules and stubbornly insist on targeting the Syrian regime in addition to that of Iraq. The objective of the Syrian crackdown has by no means been the elimination of deadly foreign-fighter networks per se, but rather their monopolization under the control of Syrian intelligence. The fact is that while there may be far fewer al-Qaeda-linked networks operating, those that remain continue to conduct lethal operations against Iraq with the knowledge, blessing, and assistance of the Syrian authorities — just as the Maliki government has alleged.

Knowing all this, and bearing in mind all the United States has at stake in Iraq’s success, how can the Obama administration adopt the posture of a disinterested bystander in this conflict? For the first time since 2003, an Iraqi government is prepared to stand up to one of its terrorist-sponsoring neighbors and to take the lead in rallying the international community to its side. And the U.S. remains on the sidelines? What message does that send about U.S. resolve to stand by allies who are under terrorist attack? If Iraq, whose independence has been purchased with immense sacrifice of U.S. blood and treasure, can’t count on American solidarity, what lessons will be drawn by others who look to Washington for support and reassurance against aggressive tyrants?

Even if the United States can’t confirm Maliki’s claims about Syria’s responsibility for the August 19 bombings, it could still easily craft a statement that makes clear whose side it stands on in light of Syria’s violent legacy in Iraq. Something along the lines of: “While we are working closely with Iraq to determine exactly who perpetrated these specific attacks, the United States has longstanding concerns about Syria’s role as a major transit point for foreign fighters and a haven for armed insurgents. We fully support Iraq’s call for the international community to take vigorous steps to enforce U.N. resolutions that require Iraq’s neighbors to prevent the transit of terrorists to and from Iraq, and of arms and finances that would support terrorists. Syria must be made to choose: It can become part of the solution in Iraq, or it can remain a major part of the problem. It cannot be both.” A reassuring phone call from President Obama to Maliki expressing outrage and support would also be helpful, as would a commitment by Secretary of State Clinton to make the issue of Syrian and Iranian support for violent activities in Iraq a talking point in all her meetings at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in late September.

It’s hard, of course, not to wonder whether the administration’s removal from the Iraq–Syria crisis is not heavily influenced by its ongoing efforts to engage the Assad regime. Before undertaking his own mission to mediate the crisis, Turkey’s foreign minister spoke of an August 30 phone conversation with Secretary Clinton in which the need to insulate U.S.–Syrian relations seemed an important priority. The minister said that “there are extremely positive developments which have recently been emerging in relations between Syria and the U.S. — developments which we also encourage. We attach great importance to this depression between Syria and Iraq not influencing bilateral relations between Syria and the U.S.”

There certainly has been a significant effort by the administration to reach out to the Assad regime, though to what effect remains unclear. Six high-level delegations have visited Damascus in the past several months, pleading for greater Syrian cooperation on a host of Middle East problems. Two of the delegations have consisted of senior military officers from U.S. Central Command seeking Syrian help in shutting down the foreign-fighter pipelines — the second of which traveled just a week ahead of the August 19 Baghdad massacre. The administration has announced that, in response to Syrian demands, it will return a U.S. ambassador to Damascus and ease restrictions on the issuance of export licenses for Syria.

Though U.S. officials privately acknowledge that there has been little meaningful change in Syria’s policies on Lebanon, Palestine, or Iraq, President Obama seems personally committed to wooing Assad. Rumors have circulated of a recent Obama letter underscoring his desire for improved U.S.–Syrian relations. Uppermost in the president’s mind is said to be the goal of re-convening direct peace talks between Israel and Syria after an almost decade-long hiatus. It’s easy to imagine, therefore, that the administration’s hesitancy to enter the Iraq–Syria fray is being driven, at least in part, by its determination not to offend Assad and put at risk the chances for this kind of perceived diplomatic breakthrough.

That would be unfortunate. The United States never does particularly well, especially in the vortex of Middle East power politics, when it disregards the interests of its friends in an effort to appeal to its adversaries. The latter usually perceive such gestures as signs of weakness and indecision, and proceed to intensify their bad behavior. The former, meanwhile, spooked by such demonstrations of U.S. faithlessness, often end up cutting bad deals with America’s enemies in an effort to save their own skins.

When it comes to anti-American dictatorships in general, and Syria in particular, history suggests that leverage and pressure, not reassurance and unconditional concessions, are the most reliable ways to ensure that diplomatic engagement advances U.S. goals. It’s a lesson the Obama administration would do well to heed.

— John P. Hannah, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served as national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2005 to 2009.

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