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Archive: February 2007
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Smackdown
Iraq Shuts Out India in Olympic Soccer Qualifier, North Korea Next Foe
02/28/2007 12:51 PM ET
The Iraqi national soccer team defeated India 3-0 today in an Olympic soccer qualifying match in Amman. The Iraqi team's next foe: North Korea March 14. Iraq is top-seeded in its Olympic qualifying Group E -- Iraq, India, North Korea, and Thailand.

Baghdad Buzz
Rumors of Special Team for Hits on Rogue Cadres
02/27/2007 07:39 AM ET
The Mahdi Army may be doing some very deadly housecleaning, according to the buzz around Baghdad.

Sources in the capital say that Mahdi Army members have been disappearing or turning up dead in the Sadr City, Kadhimiya, and Baladiyat areas of the capital.

However, the usual anti-Mahdi Army culprits of the US and rival Iraqi militias are not to blame for the deaths and disappearances, according to the rumor mill.

These are said to be inside jobs.

According to the word on the street, a “special team” has been dispatched from Najaf to dispose of Mahdi Army members who have been criminal or disloyal, or who have “disgraced” the Mahdi Army.

Slogger has not yet been able to confirm these reports.

IraqSlogger reported earlier that the Mahdi Army was shedding members from its ranks. Assassinations of disloyal members would take those purges to a new level.

Video
Soldier's Feel-Good Home Movies to Start Your Day
02/27/2007 06:55 AM ET

IraqSlogger has a new favorite YouTube user: DragonMiTT

His trilogy on "Friendship & Survival in Iraq" chronicles a dog and bunny's friendship in the desert, apparently as pets of American soldiers.

With other short pieces filming a camel spider's lunchtime, and a sandstorm coming towards him, Dragon MiTT offers plenty of clips for Tuesday's entertainment.....

Part One of "Friendship & Survival in Iraq"


Part Two:


Part Three:


Only on Slogger
Slogger Sources: Controversy Confined to Political Levels
02/22/2007 9:32 PM ET
Suddenly, the controversy that swirled around the Sabrin case is “almost dead on the street level,” according to IraqSlogger contacts in Iraq.

Even Sunni Iraqis polled informally by IraqSlogger had begun to doubt the allegations, according to a source.

This does not prove or disprove the allegations, nor does it exonerate the Maliki government from charges of mishandling the case, but it might signal a transformation in the controversy as other pressing matters appear to be overtaking this issue for Iraqis.

However, sources anticipated that the controversy will continue to swirl at the official and political levels, as various groups and parties have seized on the allegations in an attempt to advance a political agenda, or to block a political agenda from their rivals.

As one Slogger source explained, militant groups may continue to conduct attacks in the name of Sabrin, and Sunni politicians may continue to refer to the case of Sabrin al-Janabi to demand that the security plan be halted in western Baghdad (al-Karkh). However, he said, they would have done that anyway, with or without the Sabrin affair.

Many Sunnis fear that the security plan will leave their community defenseless against armed militias, and against the Iraqi state.

Life Goes On
“Secrets of the Fall of Baghdad”
02/22/2007 06:59 AM ET
Saddam Hussein on trial in January 2006.
Photo by Darko Bandic/AFP.
Saddam Hussein on trial in January 2006.
A source “close to the family of Saddam Hussein” has said that the former Iraqi president’s last memoirs are on their way to publication, various sources are reporting in Arabic.

The 400-page document is in the possession of Saddam’s defense team, and reputedly holds “many of the secrets of the fall of Baghdad,” including Saddam’s take on various battles, and his contested relationship with Taha Yasin Ramadan, his deputy currently in custody and sentenced to death.

The source also said that the pages held more information about the Anfal matter, and added that the memoirs provided “evidence” that the gas used in a chemical strike on Halabja was Iranian in origin.

The document will be published in six months, the source said.

Saddam Hussein was also the author of several novels during his lifetime.

Stay Tuned
Medical Report Published on Internet
02/21/2007 10:10 PM ET
At least two political websites have published an alleged image of an alleged US medical report on the case of Sabrin al-Janabi, marked with the writing, in English: “No vaginal lacerations or obvious injury.”

The image will not be linked here. Sabrin’s supporters dispute the claim and maintain that a different medical investigation proves that she was raped.

Buratha News, associated with the SCIRI party, posted the document on its site earlier today. At last count, Buratha has published no fewer than 13 articles on its site that decry the rape accusations, heap criticism on Sabrin al-Janabi, and accuse political rivals of instigating the whole affair.

Earlier, Buratha published a scathing hit piece insulting Sabrin al-Janabi, and another lashing out at al-Jazeera for airing the report, referring to the channel as “al-Khinzeera,” Arabic for "sow," and accusing it of support for terrorism, treachery, forgery, and a raft of other nasty things.

The Sadrist-linked Nahrain Net has also published the alleged image, and has published at least three other articles questioning the “Sabrin affair” and chalking the allegations up to a political project on the part of the Sunni-based Tawafuq party, which has been critical of the government and the security plan.

IraqSlogger observers inside Iraq point out that the furor over these allegations can’t be understood outside the context of the Baghdad security plan. One observer, who doubts the accusations, says, “If I were a Sunni in `Adhamiyya or Slaykh, I would believe that story, because I would have seen the national guard troops be tough and violent with people. These are young men with guns, power, and authority. I would believe the girl’s story.”

Sunnis in the capital have complained of unequal and harsh treatment under the plan.

Only on Slogger
Wrong Guy Fingered in Rumored Hit
02/21/2007 7:42 PM ET
Muqtada al-Sadr in 2006. A man mistaken for the cleric was nearly killed in Najaf, it is rumored.
Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty.
Muqtada al-Sadr in 2006. A man mistaken for the cleric was nearly killed in Najaf, it is rumored.
A man mistaken for Muqtada al-Sadr nearly lost his life in an assassination attempt in Najaf on Friday, it is rumored.

Friday’s reported attack came after it was announced, falsely, that Sadr would be present at prayers in Najaf.

On Wednesday of last week, ex-Ba`thist-turned-Sadrist Fatah al-Shaykh, and a former member of the national assembly, said on Iraqi television that Muqtada would attend the Friday prayers.

Sadr did not appear at the service. However, according to rumor, unknown assailants apparently mistook another man for Muqtada and made an attempt on his life, Slogger sources report. The man survived.

Further details were unavailable, and the identity of the rumored assassins is not known.

Muqtada al-Sadr has said in the past that Fatah al-Shakyh is not a Sadrist official, but al-Shaykh apparently persists in speaking as though he represents the Sadrist current, Slogger sources pointed out.

Blogosphere
Silent, Tiny, Guardian "Wasp" Watches Over Troops in Baghdad
02/21/2007 11:57 AM ET
War always drives technological innovation as opposing forces invest in anything that may lend greater tactical advantage over enemies, but Tony Tether, director of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, reveals that this process for the war on terror started long before the American public realized the conflict had begun.

Tether tells Noah Shachtman that as the government first started to grapple with the threat of transnational terrorism in the mid-90s, research dollars began to be invested in new technologies that would boost the effectiveness of small unit operations. It was clear then that the biggest danger wouldn't come on the battlefield between two conventional forces, so the process of innovation turned the dominant thinking towards compact and portable.

One gadget that had been under development for years before 9/11 has become an essential tool for soldiers in Iraq. Tether described how the WASP came to being in his interview with Shachtman.

TT: One of the major things we knew a small unit would need, especially in a city, was situational awareness. Knowing what's on the next block -- not what's 10, 15 miles away. So we developed -- we already had been developing -- a small platform that we call Wasp. It was based on a multifunctional technology approach. This was in the Defense Sciences Office here. The program manager said, We really want things to be electric-driven because they're very quiet, very efficient. Though, usually, if you put just a battery on an airplane you get only 15 minutes of flight time. But why do we have to do it that way? Why can't we make the structure of the airplane the battery? And if we do that we should be able to get much better performance. Well, he developed a little thing called the Wasp, and in the initial version the wings were actually the battery. He found that by doing it that way, rather than 15 minutes of flight time, we were able to get an hour and a half to two hours of time. Once that happened we realized we could put sensors on it. Then we put a comlink on it and GPS.

NS: Sure, and that drains battery time.

TT: And that drains battery time. But we were still maintaining well over an hour of flight time. That little Wasp is in use in Iraq today.

NS: Do you have a sense of ?, I mean, is it in use in tens, hundreds of units?

S: Well, I know it's in use in close to 200 of them. And it's being used by small units--small units that are using it, as they consider it, like a guardian angel. And the reason they like it is because it's very quiet. It can fly over them, and it can't be seen because it's so small. And it can't be heard because it's electric-driven. That exactly fits into the original concept we had way back in the 90s.

Smackdown
No Indication Why Housing Compound Was Suspect
02/21/2007 10:46 AM ET
One night last week, Iraqi security forces, as part of the operation to secure Baghdad, raided a compound housing 110 homes of university professors and their families.

Professor Hameed al-Aathami told a correspondent from The Times of London how the raid went down:

"They dragged us out of our beds as we slept with our wives and children, took us outside, bound our hands and blindfolded us. They beat, cursed and insulted us.”

Dr Salah Bidayat, the dean of the school of law, fired two shots from his licensed gun in the air to get the soldiers’ attention. “They caught him, lay him on the ground and proceeded to beat, kick and curse him in the most aggressive manner and when he explained we were teachers and professors they told him you are all a bunch of asses and terrorists,” Aathami said.

“They gathered all the men in the centre of the compound and proceeded to their homes, where they broke furniture, stole money, mobile telephones and jewellery as we sat outside listening to our women and children scream and cry,” he said.

“It was very hard for us to go through this. This is the security crackdown they have been bragging about. There is no such thing as a security plan; it is all an attempt to rid the country of the few remaining educated and decent people,” said Aathami, who is planning to leave Iraq as soon as he can.

Blogosphere
Swift Absolution of the Accused Only Stokes Sectarian Tension
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/21/2007 10:09 AM ET
Al Jazeera

Iraq watchers are waiting to see how much blood will be spilled in the name of Sabrine, the 20-year-old Sunni woman who alleges she was raped this past weekend after being detained by Iraqi police.

Maliki absolved the accused men less than a day after accusations were raising, claiming that Sabrine's medical examination showed no evidence of sexualt assault. This, however, contradicts NYT reporting, which cites the nurse who examined Sabrine immediately after the incident as saying that her body displayed evidence of physical and sexual abuse.

Whether or not Sabrine was actually raped is fairly inconsequential at the moment, since an incident does not have to be true to explode a powder keg of resentment into full-scale bloody chaos. Sabrine's story is just a culminating representation of abuses--real and imagined--that Sunnis have watched heaped on their brethren.

However, since Sabrine has taken a public stand to speak out about her experience, and Maliki's actions give the impression of cover-up, this incident has the potential to take Iraq from that "brink" of civil war that everyone likes to discuss, and turn it up to full-time sectarian brutality.

For a small glimpse of a native's brewing anger on this episode, I'll excerpt the always articulately opinionated Iraqi blogger Riverbend's rant on Sabine:

I hate the media and I hate the Iraqi government for turning this atrocity into another Sunni-Shia debacle- like it matters whether Sabrine is Sunni or Shia or Arab or Kurd (the Al Janabi tribe is composed of both Sunnis and Shia). Maliki did not only turn the woman into a liar, he is rewarding the officers she accused. It's outrageous and maddening.

No Iraqi woman under the circumstances- under any circumstances- would publicly, falsely claim she was raped. There are just too many risks. There is the risk of being shunned socially. There is the risk of beginning an endless chain of retaliations and revenge killings between tribes. There is the shame of coming out publicly and talking about a subject so taboo, she and her husband are not only risking their reputations by telling this story, they are risking their lives.

No one would lie about something like this simply to undermine the Baghdad security operation. That can be done simply by calculating the dozens of dead this last week. Or by writing about the mass detentions of innocents, or how people are once again burying their valuables so that Iraqi and American troops don't steal them.

It was less than 14 hours between Sabrine's claims and Maliki's rewarding the people she accused. In 14 hours, Maliki not only established their innocence, but turned them into his own personal heroes. I wonder if Maliki would entrust the safety his own wife and daughter to these men.

This is meant to discourage other prisoners, especially women, from coming forward and making claims against Iraqi and American forces. Maliki is the stupidest man alive (well, after Bush of course...) if he believes his arrogance and callous handling of the situation will work to dismiss it from the minds of Iraqis. By doing what he is doing, he's making it more clear than ever that under his rule, under his government, vigilante justice is the only way to go.

Only on Slogger
Opposition Group Says Top Leaders Arrived Sunday
02/20/2007 7:03 PM ET
Mahdi Army guards a parade in Najaf in 2006.
Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty.
Mahdi Army guards a parade in Najaf in 2006.

Sources in the “Ahwazian Revolution Information Center” have alleged the presence of Sadrist elements and cadres in the Ahwaz region of southwest Iran, which has a large ethnic Arab population.

In a statement, the center says its sources have observed some of the leadership of the Mahdi Army and its elements in the two border cities of Muhamra and Abadan, with the escort of Iranian guards, and under the auspices of the administrative area (qa’im maqama) of Abadan.

The Sadrists arrived in “not insignificant” numbers, the statement says, and their appearance was noticed on Sunday in these two cities on the border near Basra.

This area of Iran, also known as Khuzistan, has a large Arab population. The Ahwazian Revolution Information Center represents an ethnic Arab movement within Iran, and is opposed to the Iranian regime.

The Ahwazian Center's statement alleges that the administrative area of Abadan prepared the facilities for the Sadrists travel in these two cities, and has supplied them with identification and Iranian permits, so that their presence can go unnoticed.

NYRB's de Bellaigue Examines the Kurdish Question
02/20/2007 3:58 PM ET
Last summer, the Turkish army massed on the border of northern Iraq, launching regular bombardments toward Kurdish camps in the Kandil Mountains until the PKK declared a ceasefire--one which only shakily holds today.

Christopher de Bellaigue, writing in "The Uncomfortable Kurds" in the March New York Review of Books, says that Turkey's decisions at that critical juncture...

"shows how constrained it feels in comparison with the final years of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, when it mounted large-scale annual operations in the Kandil Mountains. Turkey is still feeling the effects of its parliament's decision in 2003 to refuse a US request to use Turkey as a launch pad for the Iraq invasion. This decision infuriated the Bush administration and limited Turkey's ability to influence postwar Iraq. America's occupation of Iraq has curtailed Turkey's freedom to move forces in and out of Iraq when it likes; but the Americans have not themselves taken action against the PKK in Iraq, as Turkey has demanded."

De Bellaigue also reports that certain unnamned Turkish officials suspect the U.S. is allowing the PKK free movement in northern Iraq so its Iranian cousin, the PJAK, can keep attacking Iran.

It has been four months since President Bush appointed General Joseph Ralton (ret.) to head a special Iraqi-Turkish Kurd taskforce, but since that symbolic announcement, no further movement has been made.

The majority of "The Uncomfortable Kurds" covers the Turkish side of the Kurdish question, mostly regarding PKK activities, and the bulk of that original reportage is in the first three-quarters. The last section is about Iraq, but doesn't really contain any new revelations. Still, it's a good read for the regional context.

Anonymous Asia Times "Special Correspondent" Reports from Iran
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/20/2007 12:09 PM ET
Politically-active Iranian Kurds are fleeing across the border into northern Iraq to receive military training and indoctrination at a camp high up on the rugged Mount Qabil, run by the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan (PEJAK), a follower of the Turkish PKK.

Educated men and women make up PEJAK, and rumors persist of ties to U.S. or Israeli intelligence. According to the Jamestown Foundation, in 2005 Pejak killed at least 120 soldiers in Iran. iran has shelled Mount Qabil, and the PKK and PEJAK have threatened reprisals.

None of this is "news," which makes it particularly curious that The Asia Times granted anonymity to its "Special Correspondent." It probably has something to do with trying to not get him/her booted from the country.

The piece is supposed to be about Kurdish smugglers, but other than one line on the first page, that topic isn't really discussed until the second half of the second page. It's meandering structure makes it a poorly written/edited piece, though there are a few good nuggets.

In a hilarious reversal of the norm, the anonymous "special correspondent" quotes a former CIA offical by name. Ray Close, former station chief to Saudi Arabia, said:

"If reports are true that we have third-party agents and even a few Special Forces teams of our own inside Iran, why isn't Tehran screaming bloody murder about that?

"Perhaps in the past this was because they were embarrassed to admit that they had not caught any of our agents. But now that we have done so in Iraq, wouldn't you expect that the Iranians are probably launching a major campaign to grab some American and display him on TV as an infiltrator? Stay tuned."

Further Reading

Last year, James Brandon had an excellent two-part series in the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor about Mount Qandil and its safe harbor for the PKK. See here for Part One and here for Part Two.

Only on Slogger
Baghdad Residents Blare Ba`thist Anthems
02/19/2007 7:45 PM ET
Residents of some Baghdad areas heckle Iraqi troops by blasting Saddam-era music from their windows as operate in the streets below.

One song in particular, has blared from CD players in predominantly Sunni areas, especially Adhamiya, witnesses reported to IraqSlogger.

The number, whose lyrics in Arabic mean “Go fight, and leave it to the men,” had been a well-known official anthem of resistance to the US attack during the 2003 war.

After the fall of the Ba`thist regime, the song became something of a joke among many Iraqis, but Saddam-era music has retained popularity in areas.

It is now being revived by some Iraqis as a form of peaceful resistance to the Baghdad security plan, and by extension, the new political order in Iraq.

Stay Tuned
Source: "Yes" MoD: It's "Speculative" Harry: Won't "Sit on My Arse"
02/19/2007 5:41 PM ET
CHRIS YOUNG/AFP/Getty Images

The British media is working itself up into a frenzy over conflicting reports that their 22-year-old Prince Harry may be deployed to Iraq by the end of the month.

The Daily Mirror first broke the news Saturday, citing "a senior military source," that Prince Harry and his comrades from the Blues and Royals Regiment would be sent to Basra by the end of February, and then likely deployed along the border with Iran.

The military source said: "The final details are being sorted, but he is definitely going. Naturally, his royal status has to be taken into account - but he will see action."

The Mirror further reported that Harry would likely lead a twelve-man team in three light-armored vehicles on intelligence recon missions along the border.

Later Saturday, the Ministry of Defence released a statement calling the newspaper's account "entirely speculative."

Today's royal watchers brought word that the Metropolitan Police protection officer detailed to Prince Harry's security has already flown to Iraq to begin assessing what measures can be taken to ensure the Prince's safety. However, the anonymous source for the newest report indicates a June deployment for Harry.

And again, the MoD has dismissed the newest media accounts as more speculation.

As for Harry, he was quoted last year as threatening to quit the service if his unit tried to leave him behind when they deployed to Iraq. He has also said in a TV interview: "There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst, and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country.''

Video
Rough Helo Ride Inspires Joyous Tarmac Dancing
02/16/2007 09:47 AM ET

From toofpick151: "This was my '130 degree-delirious-thank God we made it' dance outside of Kuwait on a smokin' hot helipad. That was one of the ruffest rides I had been on."

Leader Says Many Members Weren't at Najaf
02/15/2007 10:44 PM ET
The ongoing interrogations of members of the group “Soldiers of Heaven” has revealed the existence of other groups in this organization which remain at large and are working in various Iraqi cities, according to a report in al-Melaf.

Under interrogation, an alleged authority in the group, captured in Najaf after heavy fighting last month, is said to have offered important confessions, among them the information that not all the members of Soldiers of Heaven participated in the battle that happened near Najaf.

The undisclosed source there are a large number of members, many of them spread throughout the south and center of the country.

The al-Melaf report writes that the members are under a "state of emergency," ready to to advance support to one another or announce rebellion against the government apparatus.

All "Soldiers of Heaven" rumors should be taken with a dose of salt, but IraqSlogger sources are anticipating more state crackdowns to come on heterodox Shi`a groups.

Iran Factor
Iraqi Official Says Militia Leaders in Iran
02/15/2007 5:36 PM ET
Jalal Talabani in 2006.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty.
Jalal Talabani in 2006.
Mahdi Army commanders have left Iraq in order to “facilitate” the security crackdown, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suggested, and an unnamed government source has said that the Mahdi Army leadership have traveled to Iran.

In a statement released by the president's office on Thursday, Talabani is quoted as saying, “I have no information on Sayid Muqtada, but I believe that there are many high-level officials of the Mahdi Army who have received orders to leave Iraq in order to facilitate the task of the security forces in implementing their plan.”

The statement says that Talabani added that Sadr was “very keen on stability of the situation, and on the success of the security plan in Iraq, as he gave the government ‘the green light to arrest criminals, and this is a positive position’.”

Mahdi Army members in 2006 observer the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah al-Sadr, Muqtdada's father.
Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty
Mahdi Army members in 2006 observe the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah al-Sadr, Muqtada's father.
According to a separate report, the top tiers of the Mahdi Army leadership are in Iran to wait out the security crackdown while US and Iraqi forces confront their Iraqi rivals.

“All indications are that Muqtada is in Iran,” an unnamed “high-level” government official said to the UK Guardian, “but that’s not the point.”

“Over the last three weeks, they have taken away from Baghdad the first and second-tier military leaders of the Mahdi army,” the unnamed official said, according to the Guardian’s Michael Howard.

According to the government source, Iran is interested in preventing the dismantling of the Iraqi Shi`a militias during the security plan, with the expectation that US and Iraqi forces will inflict heavy costs on Sunni armed groups. “While in Iran they will be able to get more training and then once the Sunnis have been pacified, they plan to return,” said the official.

SCIRI-affiliated Site Says Allawi Ignored Najaf Warning
02/13/2007 6:49 PM ET
Fallout from the heavy fighting last month near Najaf continues to appear, and the episode seems to be developing into something of a political football among Iraqi parties.

SCIRI-affiliated Buratha News published a piece accusing former Iraqi interim PM Iyad Allawi of knowing in advance of preparations for major operations last month in Zarka, near Najaf, and doing nothing, a charge that Allawi’s office has rejected.

Buratha’s writer alleges that the brother-in-law of the cultish religious leader Daya al-Kara`awi (known as Heaven’s Judge, and allegedly the leader of the group Soldiers of Heaven) contacted “Allawi’s office in London” when he saw what looked like preparations in Zarka for a major military operation. He is reported to have asked Allawi’s people in London the day before the fighting began to contact the UK Home Office, in order to pass the warning on to British, American and Iraqi authorities in Iraq.

Buratha’s article claims that Allawi’s office did nothing to communicate information about the group's alleged buildup to the Iraqi government.

The Buratha report could not be verified, and on its part, Allawi’s party has denied that it even has an office in London, and said that they knew nothing of such contacts and warned that it will not “remain silent” if such allegations continue.

Indeed, many question marks hover over the whole Zarka episode, with conflicting accounts and conspiracy theories circulating in Iraq.

Buratha also recently released a harsh general condemnation of the former Interim PM, that accuses him and his party of "making problems" and dragging up allegations that go back as early as the 2005 Iraqi elections.

Such politics reflects power struggles that go back to the earliest formation of the new Iraqi regime. The long-standing rivalry between Allawi, who once enjoyed major backing from the US, and other Iraqi parties such as SCIRI over power in the new Iraqi regime was decided in the recent elections, and not in Allawi’s favor. It’s well known that there is bad political blood between these rivals, but it is noteworthy that the “Soldiers of Heaven” story is developing into a political device that will be bandied about in this way.

Baghdad Buzz
A New Twist on Sectarian "Cleansing"
02/13/2007 4:00 PM ET
Preparations continue for the upcoming security plan in Baghdad. Iraqi TV has reported that border crossings with Iran and Syria are being restricted, and troops continue to take up positions in the capital.

As US observers might be wondering what these preparations will mean for the deployment of US forces, one issue that will be on the minds of millions of Iraqis will be the effectiveness of the security operations in stemming the tide of sectarian displacement in different neighborhoods of the Baghdad.

In Baghdad’s Ghazalia neighborhood, for example, IraqSlogger has heard reports that Sunni militants are threatening to destroy the houses of Sunni civilians who had earlier fled the area seeking safer quarters, presumably to maintain the demographic presence of Sunnis in the areas.

Long-Winded Al Qaeda #2 Blasts Bush, Warns Americans, AGAIN
02/13/2007 1:52 PM ET
Al Qaeda's #2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has released a new 40-minute audio statement, produced in video form by as-Sahab, AQ's multimedia production unit and released on Islamist websites.

In it, Zawahiri warns the American public that they are now facing a more diffuse threat than the all-dreaded Al Qaeda monolith:

The first matter is that you are not facing individuals or organizations, but are facing the Jihadi Intifada of the angry, alert Muslim Ummah. Therefore, you are just wasting your time and effort by claiming to seek to eliminate this person or that or such-and-such group or organization.

Experts such as Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman have been saying for years that "Al Qaeda the group" had been overtaken by "Al Qaeda the movement," but it's interesting that Zawahiri is also making this case as a way to convince the U.S. that they're losing the war on terror.

Zawahiri also calls Bush a liar and alcoholic, with an addictive personality, and celebrates the electoral punishment suffered by pro-war members of Congress in the last election.

Zawahiri even goes so far as to offer some words directly to the Democratic party:

The people chose you due to your opposition to Bush's policy in Iraq, but it appears that you are marching with him to the same abyss, and it appears that you will take part with him in the defeat and certain failure, with God's permission.

More excerpts and analysis are available on Laura Mansfield's site.

Sixty-Year-Old Woman and Son Disappeared Last Tuesday
02/13/2007 10:44 AM ET
More details have emerged about the kidnapping of two German citizens in Baghdad last week.

The 60-year-old German wife of an Iraqi doctor and her 20-year-old son were snatched from their home last Tuesday morning. The German Foreign Ministry has reportedly been on the case since last week, but didn't share any info with the press because they were afraid it could endanger the hostages.

No demands of ransom have yet to be reported, and it is unclear why the two were taken. The son works for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and the family is relatively well off--both good enough reasons to invite the attention of kidnappers.

However, given the high dollar ransoms surreptitiously paid by certain governments for the return of their own citizens, the pair's German passports might have made them an alluring target.

As Der Spiegel reports:

There are known to be lists circulating in Iraq with details of ransoms paid by different countries -- Germany is often mentioned because it is thought that a significant ransom was paid out for hostages in two previous kidnapping cases, that of the German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff in 2005 and the Leipzig engineers Rene Bräunlich and Thomas Nitschke in 2006.

The rumors of Osthoff's ransom estimate it in the millions of Euros.

Exclusive
Fragments, Conspiracy and Rumors Might Be Overlooking the Obvious
02/13/2007 10:08 AM ET
www.tedrall.com
www.tedrall.com

As the U.S. military finally decides to release its evidence on Iran's complicity in an act of theatrical conspiracy one wonders how obvious Iran's continuous bellicose position towards the U.S. and the mountains of unexploded Iraqi ordnance will go unnoticed. This "investigative" cartoon by Ted Rall suggests that maybe we forgot that the largest provider of weapons to Iraq before 1991 was Russia, France and China. Currently there are thousands of arms dumps all over Iraq, in 2004 there were 800 sites in Baghdad alone needing clearance. Today the UN estimates around 20 children a day are injured or killed by unexploded ordnance and uncleared UXO.

Video
Viewed More than 66,000 Times Since Being Posted Yesterday
02/12/2007 5:55 PM ET

The person who posted the video says it shows a US soldier using a M203 training round to shoot the dog, which runs off yelping after being hit. The video-poster asks: "Under what circumstances could this have been a justifiable action?" Viewer comments are overwhelmingly negative. Puzzling and distressing, indeed. Meantime, more than 100 people were killed by insurgents today.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Contradicts Yesterday's Military Briefing
02/12/2007 4:25 PM ET
Gen. Peter Pace
Gen. Peter Pace

Gen. Peter Pace, speaking on a trip to Canberra, Australia, said Monday that while it is clear that Iranian individuals are involved in the manufacture of weaponry that has been used in Iraq, he could not say with certainty whether or not this is being done with the knowledge or complicity of the Iranian government.

As quoted by Voice of America's Al Pessin:

"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about this," he said. "It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

This comment is notable in that it pretty directly contradicts the message communicated through yesterday's Baghdad briefing on "Iranian Support for Lethal Activity in Iraq," and goes against the regular statements put forth by top U.S. officials and their friends and allies in the media.

Contrast Pace's comment with Pres. Bush's January 11, 2007 quote cited in yesterday's report:

"Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops."

The 16-screen presentation released to the press yesterday in Baghdad is peppered with references to "Iran" providing weaponry and training through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite Qods Force.

If this is such an airtight case implicating the involvement of "Iran" (as compared to Iranian individuals), why has no one informed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

Blogosphere
Embedded Blogger Michael Yon Asks for Help Identifying This Weapon
02/12/2007 3:45 PM ET
The mystery weapon.  The RPG in the foreground provides a reference for dimensions.
Photo by Michael Yon
The mystery weapon. The RPG in the foreground provides a reference for dimensions.

We received this appeal from Michael Yon, a blogger who's in the midst of a year-long embed assignment with US forces in Iraq:

"During an Iraqi Security Forces raid in Mosul, I was there when our own forces (1-24th Infantry Regiment) captured tons of enemy weapons and explosives. Among the tons of munitions, I photographed 27 SA-7 Surface to Air Missiles that night. There were also a few strange weapons. None of the many military people I have shown this photo to could identify this weapon or where it might have come from. It looks homemade. Can you ask your readers to try to identify it?"

Here's Michael full post on this blog.

RYP: Looks like a modified Heckler & Koch 69 Grenade Launcher

HK69
HK69

Another version

BBC
BBC

Former Pilot, General Cody Says "No Change in Trends"
02/10/2007 11:22 AM ET
Apache Helicopter
Apache Helicopter
Gen. Richard Cody, a former Apache helicopter pilot during the first Gulf War, told AP that U.S. helicopter pilots have flown more than 1.4 million hours in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 and have lost a little over 100 aircraft.

Speaking from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the 56 year old General and Army vice cheif of staff said that "There is no basis for believing that insurgents’ recent success in shooting down U.S. helicopters in Iraq means they have developed new attack methods or discovered new U.S. vulnerabilities."

He goes on to point out that the military "studies the heck out of these things" and reinforced the idea of continaully changing tactics and procedures to prevent the enemy from getting the upper hand.

Having researched various dangers Sloggers might fight the following comparative facts from Failure Analysis Associates, Inc. (excerpted from Design News, 10-4-93) and other government sources. Integrating Gen. Cody' estimate of 140,000 hours per crash would make flying an American helicopter during wartime less dangerous than skydiving and about 5 times more dangerous than general aviation flying. Its impossible to match various statistics because a hang glider crash kills one person yet a military helo may kill a dozen or more. So for relevant risk we have used fatal events instead of fatalities

Fatal events per million hrs of exposure

Skydiving 128.71

Ultralight Flying 72.50

FLYING HELICOPTERS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN 71.42

Motorcycle Racing 35.00 Private Aviation 30.00 General Aviation 15.58

On-road Motorcycling 8.80

Scuba Diving 1.98

Living (all causes of death) 1.53

Swimming 1.07

Agricultural Flying 2.00

Snowmobiling .88

Passenger cars .47

Water skiing .28

Bicycling .26

Flying (scheduled domestic airlines) .15 Hunting .08

Cosmic Radiation from transcontinental flights .035

Home Living (active) .027

Traveling in a School Bus .022

Passenger Car Post-collision fire .017

Home Living, active & passive (sleeping) .014

Residential Fire .003

Exclusive
A Conversation on Saydia With Ali Hamdani
By IBRAHIM MUSTAFA 02/09/2007 12:18 PM ET
Saydia, Southeast Baghdad, Iraq
The Atlantic Monthly
Saydia, Southeast Baghdad, Iraq

After reading the short profile of Saydia, a middle-class neighborhood in southern Baghdad, in The Atlantic Monthly (on stands now!), I thought to get in touch with its authors to learn a little bit more about the neighborhood and its demise.

Over the past day I’ve had a nice exchange with Iraq native, Ali Hamdani, The Times of London reporter in Baghdad, who was e-mailing me from a mile away from Saydia. Below is a condensed version of our conversation.

In your piece in The Atlantic Monthly, you profiled a sample of twelve houses in the Saydia neighborhood of Baghdad. How representative would you say were the stories of those twelve houses, when compared to the neighborhood as a whole?

It is very representative and totally reflecting the reality of the entire district nowadays. So that sample was a smaller version of the general situation there.

Also, your piece seemed to have one case of ethnic replacement, do you see a lot of evidence there of Shia families moving in after Sunni families have fled?

Yes, there has been evidence there of Shia families moving in after Sunni families have fled, although in general the area is becoming progressively deserted, and that's the case with both Sunni and Shia for various reasons--on top of which is security.

But don't forget that it's not the favorite place to live in for Shia anyway, given closed roads and shut markets.

Since you have spent so much time watching the turnover of the neighborhood, does it seem to you that this shift from Sunnis to Shia has been the result of an orchestrated campaign?

This wasn't just an "orchestrated" campaign in Saydia, instead it happened all over the capital over the last year. It was a very well-organized ethnic cleansing campaign because the Shia have realized that if you take over Baghdad you can simply take over the entire country in such a centralized system. The main tool used in that campaign was the so called Mahdi Army. . . that belongs to the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

the biggest number of seats within the Shia block in the Parliament... and played a major role in this cleansing campaign all around the capital.

Moqtada is considered an "outlaw" (except when he isn't), so it's obvious he'd be the big culprit, but as part of the Shia alliance in the government, he also has close ties to other governing factions.

Do you think the rest of the "legitimate" government leadership allows Moqtada to continue to exist because this brutal clear and hold policy the Sadrists have been pushing is actually in their interests?

It was clear that Maliki, the prime minister, tried to gain Sadr to his side simply because Maliki is from Dawaa Party, which has the weakest militia within the Shia alliance. So he needed Sadr's militia to keep himself in power.

In many incidents he intervened directly to stop military operations in areas dominated by Sadr supporters--like that plan to take on the Mehdi army in Sadr City at the beginning of Ramadan... about four months ago. Maliki directly intervened to stop it.

Another incident was in Kut down south, when the Iraqi security forces engaged with Mehdi army there. Just as they were about to raid the Sadr office, Maliki made a phone call himself and ordered to stop the operation--wasting three days of efforts by the Iraqi troops to recover the city back from the hands of Sadr’s militia.

Blunders
Green Zone Shooting Just One of Many Industry "Dirty Secrets"
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/08/2007 10:18 PM ET
There have been rumors buzzing around the contractor community about murder. It started when a Blackwater employee drunk and fresh from a Christmas party in the Green Zone got into an argument with an Iraqi security contractor. The Iraqi worked for the Vice President as a security guard. It is not cleared what transpired but the Blackwater employee emptied the entire magazine of his pistol into the Iraqi.

Under normal circumstances the contractor would have been arrested (the Green Zone is in effect a U.S. base) under the Patriot Act, MEJA, the military code or Iraqi law but he wasn't.

He was dealt with just like any other contractor who commits a crime in Iraq. He was bundled into an aircraft, returned to the US and dropped from the payroll. According to Blackwater's lawyer, he was "off duty" returned to the US and is being "investigated" by the FBI.

The yet to be identified contractor is a perfect example of how and why contractors are accountable to no one.

The recent jailbreak of the former Electricity Minister by DynCorp contractors is yet another example (this was the second time Ayman Alshammarae was sprung from jail) and the most egregious example. The recent Triple Canopy lawsuit brought by two former employers (one I met during a training program detailed in my book). The two Triple Canopy employees filed a lawsuit because they say they were fired for reporting that another employee wanted to "kill an Iraqi" on the way to the airport. The Triple Canopy employee tried twice to kill Iraqi civilians with his M4 and then his pistol.

I personally interviewed three Iraqis who had family members killed by PSDs in Baghdad. There are many more that have been either shot, run over or wounded.

The famous Aegis Trophy Video sat on a site run by a disgruntled employee until it was put into circulation by people who knew exactly what they were looking at. Aegis went after the video owner by suing for copyright infringement of all things. The DoD (their client) said there was nothing to investigate.

Those in the industry remain tight lipped about these dirty secrets. The Blackwater Christmas party shooting also started as an dirty secret. The most famous "dirty secret' was the Custer Battles shoot out in which a entire hotel of drunken contractors fired thousands of rounds into the streets of Baghdad after an Iraqi policeman had fired his Ak at someone who ran a check point.

None of these events have ever been made public and they will continue to be dirty secrets until the courts or congress brings them to light.

The Atlantic Monthly Profiles Half-Abandoned Saydia
02/07/2007 9:59 PM ET
Saydia, Southeast Baghdad, Iraq
The Atlantic Monthly
Saydia, Southeast Baghdad, Iraq

Ali Hamdani and Ilana Ozernoy take a look at "the middle-class neighborhood of Saydia, an area of wide, palm-shaded avenues and ocher-colored villas" in this month's Atlantic. (Thanks to Scott Stossel at The Atlantic for making it publicly available for CitizenSloggers.)

The story is familiar--a vibrant, thriving, intermixed community under Saddam, now racked by violence and half-empty. The "World in Numbers" gives a sample of twelve houses and describes their inhabitants.

What's interesting is the possible impression it gives of the type of targeted violence that has plagued Baghdad, but that just leaves me wondering if the twelve houses could be considered a "random sample," or if a complete survey of the neighborhood would offer a differently-shaded portrait.

Some of those houses were abandoned are for obvious reason: fomer Baathist officials, a former Iraqi Army brigadier, a Saddam relative, a man threatened because he had worked for the Americans, or a Yemeni diplomat who was recalled for security reasons.

But it is interesting to note how many of the others just sound like they were targeted because they were middle class Sunnis--possibly because they had a bit of money, but most likely because other elements wanted to intimidate them into leaving.

Some Sunni families have endured, but mostly with significant protection while facing serious daily peril.

One Shia family moved in and began paying rent after a Sunni Baathist family had left--another example of the realignment of Baghdad neighborhoods along sectarian lines.

It leaves me wishing The Atlantic had been able to do a complete census of one area. I think I'll check in with Ilana and see if she can give me a sense of how Shia-dominated the neighborhood has become overall.

Click here for an enlargement of their Saydia map.

Iraqi Diary
Four Million People Displaced Due To War
02/07/2007 3:40 PM ET
The BBC writes: "The flow of people being forced to leave their homes by violence in Iraq has become a humanitarian disaster, the United Nations refugee chief has said. Antonio Guterres said there were almost four million displaced people inside Iraq or in neighbouring countries. He said the international community had been "overwhelmed" by the problem, and needed to do much more to help. About 1.8 million have left their homes within Iraq, with two million in Syria, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.According to figures collated by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, some 640,000 out of Iraq's population of 26 million fled their homes in the past year."

A map from the article shows the flow of migration out of Iraq.

Maliki Tells Al Hayat in Interview
02/06/2007 12:09 PM ET
Al Hayat released a lengthy Q&A with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki this week. Some of the highlights include:

On enemy penetrations of Iraqi security forces:

"I frankly say that our security apparatuses and police are penetrated and maybe there is a lot of talk about penetrations of the police, but the penetrations of the army may exceed them since they are penetrations of senior positions in the army. We have to admit that our security staff need purging."

On Pres. Bush's refusal to talk to Iran or Syria:

"As for us, our constitution, policies, and history--in which we have endured as a result of adventurous policies pursued with the neighboring countries--the policy of a good neighborhood is seriously and openly imposed on us while we are looking for peaceful, political and diplomatic solutions to any problem with any of our neighbors as we want Iraq to achieve stability on the basis of cooperation and complementarity with its neighbors, and not on the basis of enmity and confrontation. Therefore, the American attitude in this respect is not binding to the Iraqi government in its relations with Syria, Iran, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia; the Americans rather realize and understand that the Iraqi government does not discuss this issue since it pertains to its sovereignty and interests, and my round trip with the president of the republic to some of the neighboring states reflects this fact."

On the possibility of a deadline for pull out of American troops:

"I have previously said that the American government has the right to put a ceiling for itself to delineate the amount of support delivered to us because the Americans will not accept, nor will we accept, to see the process of American backing and involvement in a war of attrition going unrestrained."

On national reconciliation:

"The dialogue is open and there are tens of tribes and political figures who were opposed to the political process and now have changed their attitude. We have formed committees to bring back former army officers, to work on the integration of the staff in the disbanded security appartuses and to grant them rights or to benefit from their potential. There is also a dialogue with armed organizations that are accused of different crimes."

On Al Qaeda:

"Al Qaeda is now in a very weak position. We have been able to penetrate its organizational defenses/hierarchy and the map relative to this organization has become clear in front of us. It is suffering from divisions and there are fights going among its members, especially between the Iraqis and the non-Iraqis because non-Iraqis have perpetrated brutal crimes even against those they pretended to defend."
Video
Soldier's Video Includes Too Much Obscenity For MSM Telecast
02/05/2007 5:44 PM ET
With so many U.S. military service members doing heroic work in Iraq, it's sickening to see a U.S. soldier do something this offensive and idiotic.

This video posted on LiveLeak yesterday has already been viewed more than 37,000 times, with most viewer comments being harshly negative.

Iraqi Pres Denies Civil War, Asserts Kurdish Independence Not Option
02/05/2007 4:32 PM ET
Jon Lee Anderson has written a lengthy profile of Iraq's Kurdish President Jalal Talabani in the latest issue of the New Yorker. What emerges is a portrait of Talabani as a ebulliently charming, cigar-smoking gastronome with an endless capacity of political reinvention, a hint of corruption, and long-standing ties to Syria and Iran.

Some of Talabani's comments perhaps give an indication as to why confusion on the state of sectarian violence in Iraq has persisted in the top ranks of the U.S. government.

In his November 2006 interview with Anderson, Talabani continued to insist that Iraq was not on the eve of civil war, and that cooperation between Sunni and Shia leaders were increasing on a daily basis.

Later in the article, an exchange makes it obvious that the Kurdish leader has a particular way of thinking about the conflict.

Talabani went on, “One of the main mistakes the Americans have made in ?ghting terrorism is tying our hands and the hands of the Shiites, while at the same time the terrorists are free to do what they want. If they let us, within one week we will clean all Kirkuk and adjacent areas.” (Talabani’s implication was clear: “to clean” is a euphemism for wiping out your opposition, for killing or capturing your enemies.)

Talabani then adopted a high-pitched, whining voice, to mimic the Americans: “ ‘No-o, Kurds must not move to the Arab areas, this is sensitive.’ If they let the Shiites clean the road from Najaf to Baghdad, they can do it within days. If they permit the people of Anbar to liberate their area, they will do it, but they say, ‘Ah, no, this is another kind of militia.’ They don’t understand the realities of Iraq."

Talabani doesn't specifically articulate what form this "cleansing" would take in practice, but the implication of what he asserts as the "realities" of Iraq does not bode well for future quelling of bloodshed.

Most interestingly, Anderson probes Talabani's mind for his perspective on the controversial issue of an independent Kurdistan. Talabani claims that no "realistic" Kurdish leader would want independence from Iraq.

"Let us imagine that Iraqi Kurdistan declared independence, and Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq didn't fight it but just closed their borders. How could we live? Let us say, we've got our oil--how could we export it?" He went on, "And you can be sure that if Kurdistan declares independence Iran will attack, Turkey will attack, Syria will attack--and Iraq will not accept it. We cannot resist all these countries."

Anderson's profile of Talabani is not available online, but is worth a special stop at the newsstand.

Video
Wild Ride in Baghdad as Humvee Rear Ends Cars, Bus; 350,000+ Viewers
02/05/2007 06:54 AM ET

This video that first surfaced two weeks ago has prompted outrage from hundreds of people who have seen it on YouTube, where it's been viewed more than 350,000 times since being posted January 26.

While the driving appears reckless and provocative to hundreds of YouTube viewers who commented on it -- many wrote that such driving surely prompts resentment among Iraqi civilians -- it's not unusual to see US military convoys driving aggressively in Baghdad in an effort to avoid being stuck in a spot where they might be spotted and fired upon by enemy forces. But the driving depicted in this video appears to go beyond the norm for US military convoys.

Hat tip to Arlen Parsa, author of the The Daily Background blog.

The Bush Plan
Soldier: Can't Change Fighting That Has Gone On For Thousands Of Years
02/04/2007 10:33 PM ET
Tom Lasseter of McClatchy newspapers writes that many soldiers in Iraq think it's a lost cause to send more troops, though it may pacify Baghdad.

From the story: Army 1st Lt. Antonio Hardy took a slow look around the east Baghdad neighborhood that he and his men were patrolling. He grimaced at the sound of gunshots in the distance. A machine gunner on top of a Humvee scanned the rooftops for snipers. Some of Hardy's men wondered aloud if they'd get hit by a roadside bomb on the way back to their base. "To be honest, it's going to be like this for a long time to come, no matter what we do," said Hardy, 25, of Atlanta. "I think some people in America don't want to know about all this violence, about all the killings. The people back home are shielded from it; they get it sugar-coated."

While senior military officials and the Bush administration say the president's decision to send more American troops to pacify Baghdad will succeed, many of the soldiers who're already there say it's a lost cause. "What is victory supposed to look like? Every time we turn around and go in a new area there's somebody new waiting to kill us," said Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Gill, 29, of Pulaski, Tenn., as his Humvee rumbled down a dark Baghdad highway one evening last week. "Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting for thousands of years, and we're not going to change that overnight."

"Once more raids start happening, they'll (insurgents) melt away," said Gill, who serves with the 1st Infantry Division in east Baghdad. "And then two or three months later, when we leave and say it was a success, they'll come back." Soldiers interviewed across east Baghdad, home to more than half the city's 8 million people, said the violence is so out of control that while a surge of 21,500 more American troops may momentarily suppress it, the notion that U.S. forces can bring lasting security to Iraq is misguided.

Baghdad Buzz
Iraqi VP Says: Training Of Iraqi Security Forces Suffered "Setbacks"
02/01/2007 11:31 AM ET
Sally Buzbee of the AP writes from Dubai:

The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big "setback" in the last six months, with the army and other forces being increasingly used to settle scores and make other political gains, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said Monday. Al-Yawer disputed contentions by U.S. officials, including President Bush, that the training of security forces was gathering speed, resulting in more professional troops.

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