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Daily Column
US Papers Fri: Withdrawal as "Iraqi Victory"
7 Bombs Strike in Iraq as Violence Spreads, MEK, Oil
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/26/2009 02:00 AM ET
The bombing continues, as do planes for a major change in US operations in Iraq. Al-Maliki is calling it an Iraqi victory (not the bombing part), while many Iraqis and Americans in the country are bracing themselves. Oil contract auctioning is still on schedule, and an Iranian opposition group in Iraq is hoping for big change to the east.

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora report on the upcoming holiday of “feasts and festivals”. Of course, we could only be talking about June 30, when Iraqi and American officials are telling us that cities will be mostly devoid of US soldiers, and that their convoys will increasingly travel under cover of night.

“When the Americans get out of city centers, a big war will start,” said one woman in Baghdad, write Myers and Santora, while Prime Minister al-Maliki is talking of “a repulsion of foreign occupiers he compares to the rebellion against British troops in 1920.” The article shows the PR and operational gamble in progress in an interesting light, though it is interesting how few specifics are still being released by officials from both countries.

US officials have flatly refused to give out numbers of bases which will remain after June 30, and this seems to have caused conflicting reports in the media. The article quotes an Iraqi official as saying that the 150 US bases closed this year constitutes as 85 percent, but at a press conference as recently as two weeks ago Gen. Odierno claimed that there were still over three hundred bases still remaining. Meanwhile, Al-Maliki is making it sound to his constituency as though every last GI has been sent off with a kick in the pants.
In his discussions with the Americans, officials said, Mr. Maliki has shown far more pragmatism than his public remarks about repulsing foreign occupiers might suggest, requesting, for example, that American explosive removal teams keep sweeping Baghdad’s streets. Still, his strong language and what one Western adviser described as his inflated sense of the abilities of his own forces have left him little room, politically, to backtrack should the security situation worsen significantly.
“Symbolically,” General (Stephen) Lanza said of the withdrawing American forces ahead of Tuesday, “this is what we want for the Iraqis as a sovereign nation.”

In the Washington Post, Ernesto Londoño writes that U.S. military officials fear that the closure of inner-city bases and restrictive guidelines that go into effect next week will leave American troops and civilians in Iraq more vulnerable. Measures such as an Iraqi restriction on US troops using mine-resistant armored vehicles in urban areas during daylight hours and the closing of an outpost near Sadr City, “adjacent to a site militiamen have used to launch deadly rocket attacks on the Green Zone” are pointed out in particular.
The Americans even acquiesced to requests to suspend virtually all American operations — even in support roles — for the first few days of July to reinforce the perception that Mr. Maliki desires: that Iraqi security forces are now fully in control of Iraq’s cities.

...Far from a celebration, the deadline has provoked uncertainty and even dread among average Iraqis, underscoring the potential problems that Mr. Maliki could face if bloodshed intensifies. Even some Iraqi officers are worried. Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Muhsen, a commander with the First Division of the Iraqi National Police, grimly predicted that sectarian violence could return. He warned that control of Iraq’s borders remained ineffective, allowing more foreign fighters to enter.
“They are taking away all the equipment that the Americans provide,” he said, “and with the agenda of countries neighboring Iraq, it is a recipe for disaster.”

On the issue of troops remaining in Baghdad, Londoño writes that “at least 10 facilities that house U.S. troops in Baghdad will remain open past the deadline,” and puts the number of GIs to remain in the city as “thousands.”

Back in the New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Campbell Robertson report on Thursday's bombings in Iraq. They confirm at least seven, but some additional bombings were covered by some local news sources. For the moment at least, we have returned to a time when small incidents aren’t really news anymore. Rubin and Robertson write of the public’s anger at Iraqi security forces’ inability to stop attacks, especially Wednesday’s huge Sadr City bombing. Iraqi Army involvement is claimed by some.
The bombings were widespread, making targets of both Shiites and Sunnis, civilians and Iraqi security forces, and American soldiers. There were at least five attacks in Baghdad. One, at a bus station, killed two people and wounded 30 in the late morning, security officials said, though witnesses at the scene said the toll was higher.

Nine members of the allied forces were wounded when two roadside bombs exploded near their convoy in eastern Baghdad, an American military spokesman said. Iraqi police officers were killed or wounded by bombing attacks in Baghdad, Falluja and Mosul, officials said.
Right in the middle of all this, in fact on Monday - the day before the June 30th deadline – oil contracts for some of Iraq’s largest oilfields will be put up for auction to international oil companies, as Timothy Williams continues the Times’ extensive Iraq coverage. Despite what is written above, and despite unclear laws governing oil production and near unfathomable levels of corruption in the Iraqi government, oil companies are still falling over themselves to get in line.

The quote of the day goes to Larry Goldstein, director of special projects at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that studies energy economics. “Asking why oil companies are interested in Iraq is like asking why robbers rob banks: because that’s where the money is.”
Oil corporations have complained quietly about the corruption, mismanagement and continuing violence in Iraq, as well as rules that force them to become partners with Iraqi oil companies. Another contractual requirement dictates that the oil companies that win fields in the auction make payments totaling $2.6 billion to the government. The Iraqi government has described the money as loans that will be paid back once production begins.

More ominously for the oil companies, stiff resistance to the coming auction has been building among members of Parliament, oil unions and even officials in the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
“The service contracts will put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years,” said Fayad al-Nema, director of the state-owned South Oil Company.

Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reports the latest on the limbo which members of the Iranian opposition group once supported by Saddam Hussein, Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK). Thousands are still holed up in Diyala’s Camp Ashraf, the Iraqi government is still threatening to close it, and just as few countries are still lining up to take them in as refugees. Current events in Iran are obviously of great interest to them, but, as Arraf writes, “their interest isn't in whether the Iranian leader gives in to calls for a recount. It's their belief that the protests could somehow topple the entire system of Iran's religious leadership.”
The prospect of a change in Iran's government is viewed by many to be as unlikely as the MEK's hope that Iraq will change its mind about shutting down a camp that has been a major irritant in Iranian-Iraqi relations.
An interesting part at the end of the article is the story of a woman who was waiting for travel documents at a hotel in the Green Zone until she apparently started lobbying some lawmakers about Camp Ashraff, at which point she was moved to another hotel. Attempts to speak to her or even call her from the hotel phone were stopped by government troops posted there.

Opinion
In the Wall Street Journal, Lt. Gen. Helmick (commanding general of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq and the NATO Training Mission-Iraq) writes an op-ed about the upcoming withdrawal, and what some of the advising we’ve been hearing so much about will include (versus those “combat” troops we won’t be seeing any more of). As you might expect, the Lt. General’s take on the MNSTC-I is somewhat positive.
Primary responsibility for advising Iraqi security forces is assigned to an organization called Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. MNSTC-I is presently comprised of more than 5,600 of America's best soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Defense Department civilians, and contractors. Its mission is to help train and equip Iraq's security forces to the point where they are able to protect the Iraqi people and do so within the rule of law, in accordance to international standards, and while respecting human rights.
USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.


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