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Archive: April 2007
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The Coalition
UK Soldier Gets One Year for "Inhumane" Treatment of Iraqi Detainees
04/30/2007 3:53 PM ET
BASRA, Iraq: Hassan (L) sits with his younger brother Ali as they show off a family photo at their home in Basra, 500 kms south of Baghdad 20 July 2005. British Corporal Donald Payne, 34, faces manslaughter charges over the death of their father.
Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty
BASRA, Iraq: Hassan (L) sits with his younger brother Ali as they show off a family photo at their home in Basra, 500 kms south of Baghdad 20 July 2005. British Corporal Donald Payne, 34, faces manslaughter charges over the death of their father.

The first British soldier ever convicted of a war crime was officially dismissed from the Army on Monday and sent to jail to serve out a one-year sentence for the inhumane treatment of civilian detainees in Basra in 2003.

Following the hearing, a member of Payne's legal team indicated that the condemned soldier, reportedly feeling abandoned by the Army and his superiors, may be ready to talk about others involved in the abuse of prisoners.

The case originated from Payne's time stationed at the Basra Detention Center, where he and other soldiers enacted harsh treatment on detainees under their supervision, beating one to death. Baha Mousa had evidence of ninety-three separate wounds after his death. Six other soldiers were cleared of charges in Mousa's death.

Payne himself was earlier cleared of manslaughter and perverting the course of justice by a court martial, but admissions he made during those proceedings led him to be charged with war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act 2001.

Payne reportedly enjoyed conducting a "chorus" of prisoners: lining them up hooded and shackled, punching and kicking to create the "music" of screams, grunts, and cries. The Guardian's report makes clear that while the judge slammed Payne for doing something "particularly harmful" to the reputation of British troops, Justice McKinnon did not reserve criticism only for the soldier:

But he also criticised Payne's superiors for not supervising him, expressing specific concern that "conditioning" techniques the soldiers used - including forcing prisoners to maintain painful "stress" positions while hooded and handcuffed - were standard operating procedure for the soldiers.

The judge said there had been a "serious failing in the chain of command all the way up to brigade and beyond."

Sitting with a board of seven senior army figures, the judge also highlighted that others involved in the violence had not been brought to justice and said it was "unacceptable" that it had taken so long - more than three and a half years - to get the case to court.

Fleeing Iraq
Even Upholding the Law Becomes Dangerous in Lawless Country
04/30/2007 11:48 AM ET
BAGHDAD, 30 April 2007 (IRIN) - When Iraqi lawyer Muhammad Shami, 44, decided to leave work early on 4 April, he would never have known that doing so would save his life. Soon after arriving home, he received a phone call from someone in the office next to his, saying that two of his colleagues had been shot dead at their desks.

“I was desperate and scared because I thought I was going to be the third victim. We had received many threats over the past three months after defending certain cases, but we didn’t expect to pay with our lives for working according to the law,” said Shami.

“Since that day, I haven’t gone back to my office. Unfortunately, I had to stop employing five people who were working with me,” he added. “Some people in my office building often call me saying that masked men came to the office looking for me. When they don’t find me they leave a message on the door saying: ‘you remained and should be killed’.”

Shami is now planning to flee to Jordan with his family.

Threats to judges and lawyers have escalated over the past 14 months in Iraq, in line with a general escalation in sectarian violence after the bombing of a Shia shrine in February 2006.

Hundreds of legal workers have left the country because of threats and persecution. This is delaying judicial processes and denying thousands of people their legal rights.

According to the Iraqi Lawyers Association (ILA), at least 210 lawyers and judges have been killed since the US-led invasion in 2003, in addition to dozens injured in attacks against them.

“Cases of adultery, honour killings, claims on property, children’s custody and divorces have led to the deaths of many Iraqi lawyers as differences of sects and their religious laws make up a big part of the prosecution or defence,” Safa’a Farouk, a lawyer and spokesman for the ILA, said.

“There are hundreds of lawyers who are being threatened and who have been asked to abandon their cases. The hundreds who have left the country have left a huge gap in the judicial system in Iraq,” Farouk added.

Sectarianism putting pressure on lawyers

The ILA’s Farouk said the number of lawyers offering services in Iraq had decreased by at least 40 percent over the past year or so. Hundreds of cases had been shelved, he said, awaiting lawyers to take them on.

With tensions so high in Iraq between the Sunni and Shia Muslim communities, legal workers are being put under intense pressure to make judgments according to religious sect. Lawyers often find themselves in a lose-lose situation.

“It is a very serious situation. If you win the case, you will be targeted by the other side but if you lose, your client will be the one who will kill you. Nowadays, clients usually look for lawyers from their own ethnic group or sect to help win their cases.” Farouk said.

“Lawyers should be considered a neutral group but in Iraq it is different. Sadly, some lawyers and judges accept bribes and it just tarnishes our image of neutrality,” he added.

''If you win the case, you will be targeted by the other side but if you lose, your client will be the one who will kill you.'' On 18 April, two lawyers were killed after winning a case for a family who had had their house and belongings taken over by another family. The losers shot dead the lawyers while leaving the court, in the middle of the street.

“The most shocking thing is that no one did anything and those responsible for the murders were not charged. They are free and keep threatening the family who won the case,” said Jua’ad Mustafa, a lawyer who was present at the incident.

“We are desperate because we cannot work safely at all. Sectarian violence has now affected lawyers’ offices and the courts. Neither the government nor the security forces are doing anything to change the situation,” Mustafa added.

It is ordinary Iraqis who suffer most from this violence against members of the judicial system. They have to beg lawyers to take up their cases, particularly when the cases are dangerous or involve members of different sects.

“For the past four months I have been trying to find a lawyer who can defend me and my daughter and punish my husband who for years has been torturing and beating us at home. But everyone refuses, saying that if we win, my husband would kill them,” Umm Khalil, a 41-year-old mother of three, said.

“Until I find someone, I will have to run from my husband who has vowed to kill me and my daughter for having him charged in court,” she added.
Baghdad Buzz
If True, Surge in Baghdad Arrests Doubles Daily Average for Whole Country
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 04/26/2007 4:37 PM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: Iraqi police commandos search a house in central Baghdad, 25 April 2007.
Ali Yussef/AFP/Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: Iraqi police commandos search a house in central Baghdad, 25 April 2007.

An Iraqi media report indicates the latest crackdown in Baghdad this week may be creating a surge in the prison population, with a newspaper reporting an official statement claiming more than two hundred arrests by "Iraqi security forces" in 24 hours.

"Security forces have killed one gunman and arrested 217 suspected militants in various parts of the capital over the past 24 hours," the Baghdad operations command said in a statement reported by VOI.

If this report is true, those 217 arrests in 24 hours by "Iraqi security forces" in Baghdad would represent an increase of more than twice the daily average of new detainees taken in operations across the entire country by all arresting powers of the Iraqi government--MoJ, MoD, MoI, MOLSA--and also MNF forces during the month of March.

The UNAMI human rights report released yesterday offered official Iraqi goverment statistics by the Ministry of Human Rights on the number of detainees held by Iraqi and MNF forces.

Ministry of Human Rights/UNAMI

Judging by these numbers, Iraqi and MNF forces increased the overall number of detainees across the country by 2,645 during March, which would average to about 85 new prisoners per day, though the actual number of new prisoners taken per day may be higher, assuming the innocent detainees were released during the same period. Even so, it doesn't seem a conservative estimate to judge the touted 217 in Baghdad to be well more than double the recent average of daily arrests for all Iraqi and MNF forces across the entire country.

At the time of this original posting, Thursday, 4:00 EST, the US military hasn't released any word of a major sweep in arrests through Baghdad.

BATTLE ZONE
US Reportedly Requires Fingerprints, Corneal Scans for Special ID
04/25/2007 2:19 PM ET
Ramadi residents woke up to a new security requirements this morning, as the US military has reportedly begun issuing special identification cards to locals as a measure to keep non-residents away from the city.

"U.S. forces started this morning issuing identification cards to residents of Ramadi city after taking local residents’ finger prints and making cornea scans to isolate wanted persons and to prevent anyone from entering the city without an ID," a "security source in Anbar province" told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) by phone.

"U.S. marines established centres in the city with special equipment to issue these IDs, which will be given only to Ramadi's residents," he added.

A car bomb near Ramadi on Tuesday killed 25 people and wounded 44 more.

IRAQ PARLIAMENT
Al-'Ilyan: Non-Sectarian Bloc Has Support of Armed Groups
04/25/2007 2:00 PM ET
A high-level Sunni opposition MP has said that a new political coalition will soon be formed.

The announcement was made by Sheik Kahlaf al-'Ilyan, one of the three leaders of the Sunni opposition Tawafuq Front, al-Hayat reports in Arabic.

The new bloc will be non-sectarian, the MP told al-Hayat. The Sunni politician added that the bloc would be made up of groups from both inside and outside the parliament.

'Ilyan stressed that the new coalition has “met the approval of the main armed groups in Iraq,” stating that a number of “primary and secondary resistance factions were briefed on the demands and steps of the program of the new political bloc and supported its orientation,” al-Hayat reports.

An announcement of the new bloc’s unified political program would be made prior to the Sharm al-Shaykh conference, 'Ilyan said.

The Sharm al-Shaykh conference of regional foreign ministers will meet on May 3rd.

'Ilyan stated that the formation of the new coalition follows a series of meetings with Iyad Allawi and a number of party leaders from political blocs such as the Iraqi National List, the Tawafuq Front, the National Dialogue Front, the National Reconciliation Front, al-Hayat reports.

He said that the bloc would not represent any one Iraqi community but would be supported by parties such as Fadhila and the Kurdistan Islamic Union which might enter the bloc, if formed, al-Hayat reports.

As reported earlier, last month the Fadhila Party withdrew from the governing coalition. At the time Nadim al-Juburi, a Fadhila MP, indicated that the party would seek to form new parliamentary coalitions with other parties, both governmental and opposition.

The Kurdistan Islamic union has taken positions very different from the Kurdish Coalition, which is part of the governing bloc.

"High-level sources" have indicated ongoing contacts between the Sadrist current and "independents" in the governing United Iraqi Alliance on the question of forming a new bloc, al-Hayat reports.

'Ilyan told al-Hayat that the new bloc would have conditions for joining the political process, including agreements on the release of prisoners and detainees, amending or postponing work on the constitution, a new timetable for the withdrawal, and dialogue with the national resistance.

Full Report PDF
Report Says Number Held by MNF Without Charge or Trial
04/25/2007 1:26 PM ET
RAMADI-JANUARY 23, 2007: A U.S. Marine leads detainees towards a combat outpost. According to American forces, the detainees were captured after a someone in a vehicle opened fire on U.S. and Iraqi troops. The forces killed one and detained seven others from the vehicle and another following it.
John Moore/Getty
RAMADI-JANUARY 23, 2007: A U.S. Marine leads detainees towards a combat outpost. According to American forces, the detainees were captured after a someone in a vehicle opened fire on U.S. and Iraqi troops. The forces killed one and detained seven others from the vehicle and another following it.

The new UN report on human rights criticized Coalition authorities for indefinitely holding detainees without charge or trial, charging, "The current legal arrangements at the detention facilities do not fulfill the requirement to grant detainees due process."

The UN praised the resumption of joint Iraqi/MNF inspections of detention facilities in January, after the seven-month hiatus following the public exposure of detainee torture by Ministry of Interior personnel in a Baghdad pre-trial holding center. However, the report also cited the "continuing failure of the Iraqi government as a whole to seriously address issues relating to detainee abuse and conditions of detention."

Further, the report continues, "The practice of indefinite internment of detainees in the custody of the MNF remains an issue of concern to UNAMI. Of the total of 16,931 persons held at the end of February, an unknown number are classified as security internees, held for prolonged periods effectively without charge or trial."

According to current procedures, security internees are denied access to defense counsel during their first 60 days in detention, and neither they nor defense counsel are present when the initial review of internment decisions are made.

See here for the full UN human right report on Iraq.

UNDER FIRE
Result: New Report Can't Assess Civilian Deaths During Baghdad Security Plan
04/25/2007 09:52 AM ET
Karbala, IRAQ: An Iraqi displaced woman from the restive province of Diyala attends 25 April 2007, a photo exhibition organized by the province's displaced residents in the holy city of Karbala, central Iraq, for the victims of violence who were killed in
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty
Karbala, IRAQ: An Iraqi displaced woman from the restive province of Diyala attends 25 April 2007, a photo exhibition organized by the province's displaced residents in the holy city of Karbala, central Iraq, for the victims of violence who were killed in

The UN criticized the Iraqi government on Wednesday for refusing to provide casualty statistics for the most recent quarter. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) relies on the statistics in its regular reports assessing the human rights situation in Iraq.

UNAMI issued its tenth such report on Wednesday, covering the period of January 1-March 31, but "unlike previous reports, the new UNAMI Quarterly Human Rights report does not contain official statistics of violent deaths regularly gathered by the Ministry of Health and the Medico-Legal Institute...because the Iraqi Government decided not to make such data available."

The UN press release further states that, "This is a matter of regret because UNAMI reports have been regarded as a credible source of information regarding developments in the human rights situation in Iraq."

The report also outlines the key human rights concerns relating to detention and internment, lack of judicial oversight and treatment of detainees and prisoners and expresses concern over the apparent lack of judicial guarantees in the handling of suspects arrested in the context of the Baghdad security plan. Information provided by the Iraqi government shows that roughly 3,000 detainees have been takes into custody since the beginning of the surge.

With regard to the ongoing Baghdad Security Plan (BSP), the report states, “The challenges facing the Government of Iraq are not limited to addressing the level of violence in the country, but also the longer term maintenance of stability and security in an environment characterized by impunity, a breakdown in law and order.”

The report, as expected, also expresses concern "over rampant violations of human rights standards by insurgency and various armed groups."

See here for the full human rights report.

The Latest
CENTCOM Chief Doesn't Say if Building of Adhamiyah Wall Will Proceed
04/24/2007 6:26 PM ET
Abu Dhabi, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: US Central Command's new Chief Admiral William Fallon speaks at a press conference in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi, 24 April 2007.
AFP/Getty
Abu Dhabi, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: US Central Command's new Chief Admiral William Fallon speaks at a press conference in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi, 24 April 2007.

The US military and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malki have "conflicting views" on the construction of a wall surrounding the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah, Admiral William J. Fallon told reporters at a press conference in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), adding that the Adamiyah "barrier" is being constructed to protect its residents.

According to the Emirates news agency WAM, Fallon said there were consultations with the Iraqi government on the issue but declined to reveal whether there were any response to the Iraqi Prime Minister's orders.

Fallon also told reporters that he would be interested in trying to open a dialogue with Iran.

"I am not interested in planning to attack Iran. I am very interested in trying to get the Iranians to come and start engaging in a meaningful dialogue," Fallon said, according to the Khaleej Times.

Qatar hosts two US military bases, but Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani said earlier this month that his country would “never be a launchpad for any harm against Iran.”

Fallon was speaking in the UAE capital city of Abu Dhabi where he made a one-day visit to the country while on his first regional tour after replacing Gen. John Abizaid as chief of Central command in March. Fallon said he had a "very good discussion" with General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Stay Tuned
Umma Party Aims for 1 Million Signatures in Campaign to Relocate US Diplomats
04/23/2007 3:44 PM ET
Mithal al-Alousi, Iraqi MP and general secretary of the Umma Party, first called for the petition drive to expel the US embassy from the Republican Palace in late March.
Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty.
Mithal al-Alousi, Iraqi MP and general secretary of the Umma Party, first called for the petition drive to expel the US embassy from the Republican Palace in late March.

The Umma Party claims to have collected 350,000 signatures supporting the expulsion the US embassy from the Republican Palace in the Green Zone, and on Monday extended the deadline for their petition drive to May 2.

"The number of Iraqis who so far have joined the campaign reached 350,000," Fareq Hadi, a party senior member, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) over the phone.

The official expected that the number would exceed one million by the date set for the end of the campaign.

"We will continue the campaign till the parliament recognizes our demand, as we find a wide-scale support by Iraqi citizens," the official added.

The head of the Umma Party, MP Mithal al-Alousi, called for the signature-gathering campaign in late March, arguing that the Republican Palace was a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty, making it inappropriate for it to permanently house a foreign delegation.

The day after calling for the relocation of the US embassy in a radio interview, Alousi's house in the Green Zone was raided by US forces.

Diplomatic Buzz
Reportedly Plan to Tie Support to National Reconciliation Progress
04/23/2007 11:43 AM ET
Cairo, EGYPT: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa (R) after their meeting in Cairo 22 April 2007.
Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty
Cairo, EGYPT: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa (R) after their meeting in Cairo 22 April 2007.

The Iraqi government must step up efforts at national reconciliation if it expects support from Arab nations, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was reportedly informed on his trip to Egypt this weekend.

"Arab diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said al-Maliki was told that Arabs will link their support to a package of demands before they give substantial help to his fledging government," according to the AP.

After talks with al-Maliki, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told reporters, "Egypt stands by Iraq to achieve peace, security and stability and stresses the need to achieve national reconciliation between all sects of the Iraqi society."

Maliki will leave Egypt tomorrow to continue on his tour through the Middle East, with stops planned this week in Kuwait, the UAE, and Oman.

BATTLE ZONE
Sunday Massacre in Mosul Killed 23 Members of Religious Minority
04/23/2007 11:02 AM ET
MOSUL/BAGHDAD,, 23 April 2007 (IRIN) - Members of the Yazidi religious minority have asked the Iraqi government and international NGOs to protect them after gunmen on Sunday killed 23 Yazidis in Mosul, northern Iraq. "It is unacceptable because Yazidis, in addition to being a minority in Iraq, have been discriminated against for their beliefs and are forced to isolate themselves to stay alive," Hebert Yegorova, a spokesman for Yazidi Peace Association, said.

"The attack against the sect was clear after the gunmen asked Christians to leave the bus in which the Yazidi workers were, shooting to death only people from our community," he added.

Yazidis are members of a culturally Kurdish, syncretistic religious group, which is neither Christian nor Muslim, who worship an angelic figure considered by some Muslims and Christians to be the devil. The group is pre-Islamic. While most of its adherents live in northern Iraq, smaller communities live in Syria, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Russia.

"Whatever we worship doesn't affect the normal lives of Iraqis and as we respect their beliefs, we have to have ours respected too," Yegorova said. "We don't worship the devil but they are confusing terminologies and this is unfair."

Sunday's victims were from the small town of Bashika, near Mosul, some 390 km north of Baghdad. Hundreds of Christians and Yazidis have been taking refuge in the area, fleeing from religious violence in other parts of Iraq.

According to the Yazidi Peace Association, 204 Yazidis have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. There are about 600,000 Yazidis remaining in Iraq with roughly 80 percent of them living in the towns of Bashika and Sinjar, which are under the control of the Kurdistan regional government, specialists say. Yazidis can also be found in other Kurdish cities and a small number remain in the capital, Baghdad.

"There have been demonstrations for the past two days in Bashika and the few Muslims living in the city have received threats and are afraid to leave their homes," said Lt. Col. Barak Muhammad, a senior official of Ninevah province. "Shops have been closed and Muslims have asked the central government for protection as they are afraid of reprisal by the Yazidis."

"We do not know the real reason for massacre but probably it was a response to the killing by Yazidis, two weeks ago, of a Yazidi woman who had recently converted to Islam to marry a Sunni Muslim. Yazidis stoned her to death in Bashika. Some unofficial sources said that the killings were preceded by threats by Sunni extremists against Yazidis," Muhammad added.

Yegorova has asked neighbouring countries and European nations to help members of their community flee Iraq. "We're desperate and with this massacre we're sure that soon there'll be more killings. Dozens of Yazidis have been individually killed over the past four years and we have to save the remaining ones," he said. "Today, our organisation received a threatening letter saying that the massacre was just the beginning of the fate of all Yazidis."

Yazidis have long claimed discrimination in Iraq for matters such as employment and education. But now, with sectarian violence escalating over the past year, the threat of death hangs over them.

"We don't have schools near our towns that can cater for our children's education and our children cannot go to university in Mosul or in Baghdad after the constant reprisals. We are a minority but we are human beings too and have the same rights as any other Iraqi," said Hanan Quewal, 43, a resident of Sinjar who is desperately looking for a school for her grandsons.

"Our community has been forgotten and has been threatened on a daily basis. We don't have anywhere to go and if things continue as they are, the only thing we can do is to wait for someone to kill us in the coming months," Hanan added.
BATTLE ZONE
Joint Operation Captures Five Gunmen, Including Foreigner
04/20/2007 1:26 PM ET
Muqdadiya, Apr 20, (VOI) - A joint force of Iraqi and U.S. troops launched a security crackdown in Muqdadiya district, 45 km north of Baaquba, where they arrested five gunmen including an Afghan, an official security source said on Friday.

"A joint force from Iraqi and U.S. troops waged a security operation on Friday in Muqdadiya district," the source, who asked not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

"The operation ended with the arrest of five armed men, including an Afghan," he added.

Amounts of weapons and ammunitions were also confiscated during the operation which targeted a number of neighbors in the district, he added.

The source said, "Captives were sent to an Iraqi army base for interrogation."
Baaquba is the capital city of Diala province and is located 57 km west of Baghdad.
Baghdad Buzz
US Military Announces Plans to Turn Baghdad Neighborhood Into Gated Community
04/20/2007 11:18 AM ET
A 12-foot-tall, three-mile-long wall is being built to enclose Adhamiyah--a predominately Sunni neighborhood in eastern Baghdad--as "one of the centerpieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces," according to the US military.

The 407th Brigade Support Battalion broke ground on the wall on April 10 and will continue working on it "almost nightly until the wall is complete," according to Capt. Scott McLearn.

“The area the wall will protect is the largest predominately Sunni neighborhood in East Baghdad. Majority-Shiite neighborhoods surround it on three sides. Like other religiously divided regions in the city, the area has been trapped in a spiral of sectarian violence and retaliation,” the military's press release states.

"Shiites are coming in and hitting Sunnis, and Sunnis are retaliating across the street," McLearn reports.

It's unclear when this became a "centerpiece" of US strategy, since just Wednesday, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the top spokesman for coalition forces in Iraq, said at a press briefing that he was unaware of efforts to build a wall dividing Shiite and Sunni enclaves in Baghdad and said that such a tactic was not a policy of the Baghdad security plan.

“We have no intent to build gated communities in Baghdad,” Caldwell said on Wednesday.

“Our goal is to unify Baghdad, not subdivide it into separate .”

Today, however, Reuters cited military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver explaining, "It is not the stated goal of the Baghdad security plan to divide everything up into these ... small gated communities."

He said this was not "completely incongruous" with the wall at Adhamiya because local commanders could conduct operations appropriate to conditions on the ground.

L.A. Times coverage cites local residents not at all pleased with the development, "Are they trying to divide us into different sectarian cantons?" said a Sunni drugstore owner in Adhamiya, who would identify himself only as Abu Ahmed, 44. "This will deepen the sectarian strife and only serve to abort efforts aimed at reconciliation."

Some of Ahmed's customers come from Shiite or mixed neighborhoods that are now cut off by large barriers along a main highway. Customers and others seeking to cross into the Sunni district must park their cars outside Adhamiya, walk through a narrow passage in the wall and take taxis on the other side.

Another local the LA Times spoke to, Najim Sadoon, 51, was worried that he would lose customers at his housewares store. "This closure of the street will have severe economic hardships," he said. "Transportation fees will increase. Customers who used to come here in their cars will now prefer to go to other places."

Majid Fadhil, 43, a Shiite police commissioner in a neighborhood north of the wall, said flatly, "This fence is not going to work."

BATTLE ZONE
Shia Cleric and Sunni Scholars Attacked Returning From Meeting With Sistani
04/20/2007 10:18 AM ET
NAJAF, IRAQ: Iraqi cleric Ammar al-Hakim gestures as he speaks during a press conference in the holy city of Najaf, central Iraq, 24 February 2007.
AFP/Getty
NAJAF, IRAQ: Iraqi cleric Ammar al-Hakim gestures as he speaks during a press conference in the holy city of Najaf, central Iraq, 24 February 2007.

Unidentified gunmen attacked a convoy carrying a group of Sunni scholars and Shi'ite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, son of SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, while it travelled through al-Dora in southern Baghdad on Friday.

"Hakim and members of his accompanying delegation have not been hurt in the attack as the escorting guards fired back at the gunmen," a source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

The convoy was just returning from Najaf, where Hakim had invited the Sunni scholars--hailing from Kurdistan, Kirkuk, and Salah al-Din--to meet with Shia leaders, Grand Ayatollahs Ali al-Sistani, Mohammed Saed al-Hakim and Bashir al-Najafi.

"The convoy was attacked because it was an official-looking convoy, (the attack) was not targeting Ammar al-Hakim personally," Reuters reports a media official in Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's office as saying.

AFP reports that an official from Hakim's office said four police escorts and two of Hakim's personal bodyguards were wounded in the attack.

Full Report PDF
New Report Advises Rushed Referendum Could Spark Civil War
04/19/2007 12:26 PM ET
Kirkuk, IRAQ: Iraqi Turkmen demonstrate in the oil rich city of Kirkuk to protest against federalism and to insist on the Iraqi Identity of the ethnically mixed city, 11 October 2006.
Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty
Kirkuk, IRAQ: Iraqi Turkmen demonstrate in the oil rich city of Kirkuk to protest against federalism and to insist on the Iraqi Identity of the ethnically mixed city, 11 October 2006.

“Imposition of exclusionary Kurdish rule in Kirkuk via an ethnically-based, simple-majority vote and annexation is a dead-end street”, says Robert Malley, Middle East director for the International Crisis Group, upon announcing the release of ICG's latest report--"Iraq and the Kurds: Resolving the Kirkuk Crisis."

“A lasting settlement requires a deliberative and consensus-based process," Malley advises.

The report examines the tensions growing from the Kurdistan Regional Government's insistence on a status referendum by year’s end, despite bitter Arab and Turkoman community opposition; and exploitation by Jihadi fighters, who have found fertile ground for chaos by exacerbating communal tensions.

According to ICG's assessment, a referendum conducted against the wishes of the other communities in 2007 could cause the civil war to spread to the Kurdish region, until now Iraq’s only quiet area. A referendum postponed without a face-saving alternative could lead the Kurds to withdraw from the Maliki cabinet, producing political crisis.

The ICG recommends that Washington, with UN help, should encourage the Kurds to forge an alternative Kirkuk strategy, which will need to incorporate progress on Iraq’s hydrocarbons law (key elements of which are still to be negotiated) so as to cement the Kurdish region within Iraq; and address Turkey’s concerns about the PKK, the Turkish-Kurd guerrillas.

The complete recommendations from "Iraq and the Kurds: Resolving the Kirkuk Crisis" appear below, or the entire report can be read here.

RECOMMENDATIONS



To the Government of Iraq:

1. Invite the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to assume a greater role in mediating the Kirkuk crisis and invoke if necessary Article 58(B) of the Transitional Administrative Law, as absorbed into the constitution, to request the UN secretary-general to appoint an independent international arbiter for Kirkuk.

2. Implement the decisions of the Article 140 Committee regarding normalising the Kirkuk situation with the proviso that any departure of Arabs settled in Kirkuk by the previous regime should be strictly voluntary.

3. Agree with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and other Iraqi interested parties to an oil-revenue-sharing law that allows for the equitable distribution to all Iraqis of royalties from oil and gas sales.

To the Kurdistan Regional Government:

4. Forge internal PUK-KDP unity on a new approach toward the Kirkuk question, including agreement to postpone a referendum and to start serious dialogue over status with other primary stakeholders, as outlined below, so as to prevent one party from undermining accommodating proposals offered by the other.

5. Initiate serious dialogue at senior leadership level with the full spectrum of Arab, Turkoman and Chaldo-Assyrian parties in Kirkuk, as well as the Iraqi government.

6. In return for U.S. guarantees that it will protect the federal Kurdish region, cancel or at least postpone the referendum planned for the end of 2007 until a mutually satisfactory arrangement for determining Kirkuk’s status is reached with all other interested parties.

7. Implement confidence-building measures as serious negotiations begin, including release of prisoners held without charge in detention centres in the Kurdish region, return of confiscated properties to Turkoman owners and reallocation of administrative posts in Kirkuk to reflect the city’s and governorate’s ethnic balance.

8. Prepare the Kurdish public for necessary compromises on Kirkuk and Kurdish national aspirations.

9. Agree with other interested Iraqi parties to an oil-revenue-sharing law.

10. State publicly that it will not tolerate the PKK in the Kurdish region unless it agrees to abandon its armed struggle and disarms, and in the meantime:

(a) continue to contain and isolate it and deny it freedom of movement within the Kurdish region;

(b) halt all supplies to it; and

(c) shut down its media operations and prevent journalists from visiting it on Qandil Mountain.

11. In response to a Turkish amnesty for lower- and mid-level PKK cadres, allow senior leaders, once disarmed, to integrate into the Kurdish region and similarly agree to absorb any refugees from the Makhmour camp who refuse to return to Turkey.

To All the Parties in Kirkuk:

12. Reduce inflammatory rhetoric in public addresses and the media and agree to use dialogue and consensus as essential bases for resolving the Kirkuk dispute.

13. Make a public commitment to refrain from violence and take all necessary measures to prevent others from carrying out acts of violence.

To the U.S. Government:

14. Formulate and implement with full diplomatic and financial support a proactive strategy on Kirkuk that will enable a peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and consensus building.

15. Promise to protect the Kurdish region in exchange for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s agreement to abandon, or at least postpone, its referendum bid.

16. Continue to push the Baghdad government, the Kurdistan Regional Government and the various political parties toward a compromise oil-revenue-sharing law.

17. Allocate significant funds to rehabilitate the Kirkuk countryside and reconstruct the city and governorate, making sure to fairly distribute such funds among all communities.

18. Persuade the Kurdistan Regional Government to further restrict the PKK’s freedom of movement and Turkey to amnesty lower- and mid-level PKK cadres.

To the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq:

19. Provide political and technical support, once the referendum has been postponed or cancelled, to pursuit of an alternative Kirkuk solution through dialogue and consensus building and begin discussions with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to delineate the Kurdish region’s boundaries.

To the Government of Turkey:

20. Reduce inflammatory rhetoric and commit to the peaceful resolution of the Kirkuk question, including not to send military forces into Iraq or to undertake measures of coercive diplomacy.

21. Issue an amnesty for lower- and mid-level PKK cadres, allow senior leaders, once disarmed, to be absorbed into the Kurdish region in Iraq and allow refugees from the Makhmour camp to return to homes in Turkey.

To the PKK:

22. Extend indefinitely the unilateral ceasefire declared in September 2006 and agree to disarm in response to a Turkish amnesty.
PETROL POLITICS
IHS Estimates Another 100 Billion Barrels in Western Desert
04/19/2007 11:54 AM ET
IHS Inc., an energy and engineering corporation, today announced their forthcoming release of "the first and only detailed analysis of oil reserves, production and development opportunities developed since the start of the Iraq conflict."

According to the advance notes on the report, IHS estimates that Iraq currently has 116 billion barrels in reserve, and potentially 100 billion more barrels-worth buried under the western desert.

The new assessment of previously unknown reserves is largely based on the "establishment of new play concepts in the Western Desert of Iraq, which have been generated from a recent study of the Western Arabian Platform."

Further, the report projects that with the right investment and management, Iraq's oil industry could double its output within five years.

“Most of Iraq’s oil production comes from the south of Iraq and is exported via the Persian Gulf because of repeated sabotage attacks on facilities in the north,” said Mohamed Zine, IHS regional manager for the Middle East. “This has resulted in a current production capacity of two million barrels of oil per day. However... given a stable political and civil environment, Iraq has the potential to produce four million barrels a day in the near term if necessary investments are made in repairing and modernizing facilities.”

Zine added: “The cost to produce oil in some Iraq fields is less than $2 per barrel according to our estimates and investments involved in developing the fields are minimal.”

Prior to Iraq’s war with Iran in 1980, the country had a production capacity of 3.6 million barrels of oil per day. It was 3.2 million barrels per day before the first Gulf War in 1990 and 2.7 million barrels per day before the start of the most recent conflict.

IHS, Inc will release the full report on May 9.

Baghdad Buzz
Gates Makes Unannounced Visit for Talks With Commanders
04/19/2007 09:59 AM ET
Tel Aviv, ISRAEL: US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates listens on during a joint press conference with Israel's Defense Minister Amir Peretz (unseen) at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, 18 April 2007.
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty
Tel Aviv, ISRAEL: US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates listens on during a joint press conference with Israel's Defense Minister Amir Peretz (unseen) at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, 18 April 2007.

Robert Gates dropped into Iraq for a previously unnanounced visit this morning while travelling through the region on his Middle East tour.

Gates reportedly flew into Fallujah by helicopter, and headed straight into a meeting with US commanders.

Gates said in a speech in Tel Aviv that the carnage from car bombs in Baghdad on Wednesday would not deter Washington from its security plan.

"We have anticipated from the very beginning... that the insurgency and others would increase the violence to make the people of Iraq believe the plan is a failure," Gates said. "We intend to persist to show that it is not."

Before leaving Tel Aviv for Baghdad, Gates told reporters that he would like to see faster progress. "The Iraqis have to know... that this isn't an open-ended commitment," Gates said.

Baghdad Buzz
Maliki to Name "Independents" to Replace Shia Sadrists
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 04/17/2007 11:54 AM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: Head of Al-Sadr parliamentary bloc Nassar al-Rubaie (C) speaks during a press conference in Baghdad, 16 April 2007.
AFP/Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: Head of Al-Sadr parliamentary bloc Nassar al-Rubaie (C) speaks during a press conference in Baghdad, 16 April 2007.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki--whether intentionally or unintentionally--looks set to follow Moqtada al-Sadr's recommendation regarding the selection of non-partisan independents to replace the withdrawn Sadrist ministers.

"In the near future, the names of the ministers will be announced ... from the independents, technocrats and those who believe in a new Iraq," Maliki said Tuesday in a press conference in Amman.

Maliki said the appointment of technocrats would help the government "escape from (sectarian) quotas and also helps in choosing ministers who are professionals and politicians".

While the majority of the Western press focuses on whether or not the Sadrist move will weaken Maliki's ruling coalition, they miss what in the Iraqi press is a major point of debate over another apparent intended consequence of Sadr's political wrangling.

Reuters reports that "Analysts had said they did not expect the walkout to affect the day-to-day performance of Maliki's government since the ministers did not hold any key portfolios, but it could increase pressure on him to draw up a troop withdrawal timetable, a demand of many Iraqis four years after the U.S.-led invasion."

The semi-official al-Sabah newspaper, however, had other pressing questions to ask its experts: "Some political analysts considered the withdrawal of al-Sadr Movement from the government as the first serious attempt to dismantle the quota system and adopt a right political and parliamentary approach."

According to the newspaper, "Other politicians believe that it will certainly serve the Iraqi political process, which they say is suffering from the burdens of the quota system, if other political blocs followed suit."

Sectarian parties dominate Maliki's government, and Iraqis have long complained that the deliberately careful ethnic makeup of the national unity government hinders Maliki, forcing him to tread carefully to keep his various constituencies happy, and turning ministries into personal fiefdoms of political blocs.

Diplomatic Buzz
Latest Numbers: 50,000 Newly Displaced Per Week
04/17/2007 10:56 AM ET
Geneva, SWITZERLAND: Two Iraqi refugees appear with their faces blurred while delivering testimonies in video shown at the opening of a two-day United Nations conference, 17 April 2007 at the UN Office in Geneva.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty
Geneva, SWITZERLAND: Two Iraqi refugees appear with their faces blurred while delivering testimonies in video shown at the opening of a two-day United Nations conference, 17 April 2007 at the UN Office in Geneva.

GENEVA, April 17 (UNHCR) – They were driven from their homes in Iraq, face increasing poverty as refugees or internally displaced and long for the day they can resume normal lives. The words of the victims of the violence in Iraq conveyed the human tragedy to the delegates at a conference opened on Tuesday by the UN Refugee Agency more forcefully than statistics.

"We escaped with our lives and left," says a man now living on a deserted farm in southern Iraq, describing on a short film how the families of five brothers received a written warning ordering them to leave their homes in Baghdad because they were Shiite Muslims. A bullet is still attached to the threatening note he is holding. "Can you believe five families leaving without even their clothes? Some people collected some clothes for us?"

As told repeatedly in the film, those driven from their homes have escaped death but now face dire circumstances as the last of their resources run out. An elderly man, interviewed while lined up to register with his wife at the UN refugee agency in Damascus, describes a woman surgeon selling her belongings, knowing that the alternative is to return to possible death in Baghdad.

The film was shown at the opening of a two-day international conference on the humanitarian needs of nearly 4 million refugees and displaced people in Iraq and surrounding countries that has attracted 450 participants from governments and international and non-governmental organisations. Interviews on one side of the screen – with faces blurred to protect identities – were combined with still photos on the other showing the violence, displaced people and refugees in tents, and children now forced to sleep on floors.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, chairing the conference, called for a sustained, comprehensive and coordinated international response to ease the plight of nearly four million Iraqis uprooted by the conflict. The number of displaced is rising at the rate of 40,000 to 50,000 per week.

"What caused us to leave is the deteriorating security situation in the country. They attempted to assassinate my husband and also the conditions for life for my two young sons are too bad," says a woman interviewed while lining up outside the UNHCR office in Damascus. "We are Sunnis and living in Sunni areas and we are persecuted in Iraq."

The woman, one of up to 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, had arrived in the country three months ago. She was seeking the help of UNHCR, knowing the organisation had provided assistance to others.

"We know that it is an international organisation and provides Iraqis with some security, some assistance and that they might help us with a visa to go some place," she says. "There isn't any country that would receive us without the help of the United Nations."

As the refugees' funds are used up, and their last belongings are sold, they face an increasingly bleak situation. A woman interviewed in a soup kitchen run by the Ibrahim Khalil Church in Damascus, explains that she has come because her family's resources have been exhausted after two years in exile.

"Whatever we brought from Iraq is finished now," she says. "This is why we came to this centre – that they might give us some help and financial aid, to help with the daily expenses because our financial situation is very bad."

The numbers forced to neighbouring countries are too large for permanent integration, while resettlement is a solution only for the most vulnerable of Iraqi refugees. The solution for most Iraqis will be their voluntary return to their homeland – once that can be done safely.

"We left Baghdad because the situation is very difficult. We were threatened with death and they took our houses and also our shops," says a man who arrived in Syria from Iraq with his family three months ago. "I had an antique shop. I had to leave it and leave all of the merchandise behind to save ourselves and the lives of our children."

He is not able to work in Syria and fears what will happen when his savings run out. He wishes he could go home but believes nowhere is safe: "You see what the situation is there – just destruction and death."

"I wish I could return tomorrow or even I would return today if they would provide us with security and our houses. Our whole life is there," he says. But his plans for the future are frozen. "The future is dark and I don't think about it."

BATTLE ZONE
"Several" Arrested in Multiple Raids, VOI Reports
04/16/2007 2:18 PM ET
Baghdad, Apr. 16, (VOI) – A joint Iraqi-U.S. force backed by helicopters raided some neighborhoods in Sadr City and arrested a number of civilians in eastern Baghdad during the early hours of Monday, local residents said.

"The force raided houses in the 70th and 71st sectors in Sadr City and al-Asala elementary school in Abu Zhar al-Ghafari street in the city's peripheries," an eyewitness told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

The joint force "arrested several civilians after firing stun bombs in the environs of these houses," the witness added.

No official statements were issued by the U.S. forces or Iraqi security authorities on the reasons for this raid.
BODY COUNT
Rights NGOs Say Homosexuals Targeted for Kidnapping, Torture
04/16/2007 11:10 AM ET
BAGHDAD, 16 April 2007 (IRIN) - BAGHDAD, 16 April 2007 (IRIN) - The Iraqi lesbian and gay community and NGOs dealing with gay issues have called for urgent action to protect gays and lesbians in the country.

The groups say that the number of victims of "sexual cleansing" is growing on a daily basis.

"In the past three months, more than 30 gays have been executed in Baghdad. The bodies have been found tortured, mutilated - sometimes with signs of rape," said Mustafa Salim, spokesman for the Rainbow for Life Organisation (RLO), a Baghdad-based gay rights NGO.

"Notes were found near some of the bodies with messages saying that this is going to be the fate for any Muslim who denies the Islamic religion," Salim added.

RLO was set up in 2005, and Salim claims that since then they have recorded more than 230 cases of abuses against gays and lesbians, including more than 64 deaths - with the last three months being the most bloody.

"The gay community continues to be subjected to systematic terror by Shia militias, especially the Mahdy Army controlled by the religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The government of Iraq is refusing to offer protection," he added.

In an interview, one member of the Mahdy Army, Ali Hassany, said that the militia will target Iraq's gays and lesbians. "They deserve death. Those people are an embarrassment to our society. Killing such people is a job for their families, but if they cannot do so by their own hands, we will do it," Hassany said.

For security reasons, RLO has been keeping a very low profile. The whereabouts of its offices are unknown and it maintains clandestine contacts with victims and volunteers.

"Four of our volunteers have been killed since 2005 and many threats have been received, but we will not stop trying to help those people. They don't have anyone to help them and even the government considers them victims of common violence rather than victims of special targeting," Salim added.

The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior denies that the gay community is being singled out for violent attacks, and claims that the problem is general and related to sectarian violence.

"All Iraqis might be victims of violence. We cannot afford protection to a special group because the situation is delicate for all Iraqis and we cannot confirm that they have been targeted for being gays or lesbians," said Lt. Col. Hussein Jaboury from the ministry.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) says that it agrees that gays and lesbians are being targeted by the militias.

"Armed Islamic groups and militias have been known to be particularly hostile towards homosexuals, frequently and openly engaging in violent campaigns against them," a report released in January by UNAMI said.

"There have been a number of assassinations of homosexuals in Iraq. We were also alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by religious scholars, where homosexuals allegedly would be 'tried', 'sentenced' to death and then executed," the report added.
BATTLE ZONE
Three Iraqi Police Killed in Return Fire by US Forces in Ramadi
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 04/16/2007 10:19 AM ET
"US Forces Kill 3 Iraqi Police in Friendly Fire," reads the Reuters headline, echoing the tone of the CPIC press release.

The tragedy of blue-on-blue usually results from confusion and/or carelessness, but a close read of the limited information offered in this press release leaves one to wonder if the fire in this incident really was so friendly.

During a raid in Ramadi on Monday, "ground forces began receiving small arms fire from armed men in two separate buildings. Using appropriate self-defense measures, Coalition Forces returned fire."

Three of the armed men were later identified as Iraqi police.

The official statement from Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, MNF-I spokesperson expressed regret for the tragic error: “Coalition Forces express their deepest sympathies to the families of the Iraqi Police who were killed.... We do everything we can to reduce risk to friendly forces.”

However, the press release also made clear that: "Prior to the operation, Coalition Forces coordinated their operation and no Iraqi Police were known to be in the area."

Maybe there was a failure of communications and US forces had not been properly informed of an Iraqi operation in the area; or perhaps the Iraqi police presence there was "unofficial."

With persistent reports of "rogue" elements of the Iraqi police cooperating with insurgents, or official uniforms being used as disguise in attacks, the possibility that these three casualties were not the result of friendly fire should be considered.

It would be difficult for the US military to explicitly acknowledge as much--because of the diplomatic tensions it would cause with Maliki's government--but that possibility almost seems like too obvious an undertext of the official account. I wrote CPIC an e-mail inquiry, but don't expect a response beyond the standard auto-reply. If any Baghdad reporter feels like asking during your daily briefing, we'd love to hear more about the investigation into this incident.

Fleeing Iraq
Conference Coincides with Criticisms, Changes in U.S. Refugee Policy
04/13/2007 6:19 PM ET
Beirut, LEBANON:  Iraqi refugee Sarah look at her sleeping daughter Rand as her husband plays with their son 21 March 2007 in a dark and damp room of an aparment in Beirut's Christian suburb of Dikwaneh.
Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty
Beirut, LEBANON: Iraqi refugee Sarah look at her sleeping daughter Rand as her husband plays with their son 21 March 2007 in a dark and damp room of an aparment in Beirut's Christian suburb of Dikwaneh.

The United National High Commissioner for Refugees will meet in Geneva to discuss a growing Iraqi refugee crisis next week, coinciding with escalating domestic criticisms of the U.S.'s refugee policy, and a vote for change in the Senate.

Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Bush Administration Friday for failing to admit more Iraqis into the U.S.

"This is crazy...Even Iraqis who were given security clearances to work with U.S. troops in combat positions in Iraq where they could have betrayed the Americans to ambushes are now waiting years and years to get approval," he said, according to the AP.

Current U.S. legislation grants a maximum of 50 Special Immigrant Visas per year to Iraqis who have worked as translators in the war, though Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey recently told Congress that the White House was discussing a "vast" increase in the number of Special Immigrant Visas to Iraqis to 500 a year.

The Senate went ahead last night passed a bill by unanimous consent that would increase the number of visas allotted to Iraqi and Afghan translators to 500. Similar legislation is pening in the House as well.

Almost four million Iraqis have fled or been displaced since the start of the war, straining the governments and economies of neighboring countries Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and Lebanon. Syria and Jordan have borne the brunt of the exodus, together taking in about 2 million refugees, according to UNHCR figures.

By comparison, the U.S. resettled a total of 466 Iraqi refugees in the country between 2003 and 2006. The White House said in February that it would admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees who have already fled to neighboring countries by the end of September.

The number 7,000 originated from a UNHCR request, said Peter Eisenhauer, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrations. "The 7,000 is by no means a limit," he said, according to the AP. "It is just an estimate."

Kelly Ryan, deputy assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in remarks to the Washington-based Heritage Foundation April 11 that the president "is seeking a legislative change that would restore to the executive branch the discretion it previously had to deal with refugees on a case-by-case basis."

UNHCR has said that it expects to resettle just 20,000 Iraqis - less than one percent of the total - to new countries this year. The April 17-18 conference will bring together U.S., European, Iraqi and other Middle East officials and will focus on supporting countries with large refugee populations.

According to UNHCR, Jordan has admitted 500,00 and 750,000 Iraqis, who now make up 20 percent of the country's total population. Egypt has taken in around 120,000 refugees, and another 200,000 are scattered throughout other countries in the region. Lebanon has recovered from its own refugee crisis during last summer's conflict with Israel, and is home to 20,000 Iraqis fleeing the war.

The ease of settling in other Arab countries depends on border controls. Syria's borders are the easiest for Iraqis to cross, while Jordan recently began enforcing border rules more strictly, Reuters also reports.

The State Department has said that it plans to admit about 60,000 refugees and asylum seekers worldwide in 2007, saying that budget constraints limit the number it is authorized it admit each year.

BODY COUNT
Child Reportedly Sold to Al Qaeda for $10,000
04/13/2007 2:24 PM ET
BAGHDAD, 10 April 2007 (IRIN) - The dreams 13-year-old Barak Muhammad (not his real name) had of leading a normal teenage life were dashed when his father sold him to al-Qaeda militants. Being mentally handicapped, he said he was considered a burden by his family and was told he would be better off sacrificing his life for his country.

“I don’t have a mother and never went to school. I was dreaming of a day that I would go to school like my other brothers, but I was considered different. My father was always telling me that I was a mistake in his life, a boy that was just bringing expenses and problems,” Barak said.

Barak's father sold him to al-Qaeda in Iraq for US $10,000 to support his remaining five children. Now, Barak is in training to fight US and Iraqi troops.

“Today, I help some men who say they are from al-Qaeda group. They fight people who are occupying Iraq and they said that if I do my work well, God will protect me and make me be a healthy boy,” Barak said, adding that fighters promised him that he would soon join his mother in heaven.

Carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, Barak said he accompanies insurgents during night time raids and when needed acts as a decoy to divert the attention of US or Iraqi forces in the run-up to an attack.

My father was always telling me that I was a mistake in his life, a boy that was just bringing expenses and problems.

Abu Ahmed, who claims to be a spokesman for al-Qaeda in Iraq and Barak's trainer, said they were giving him a better life.

“We're doing a favour to Barak. We're giving him the chance to be useful and not suffer daily beatings from his father. Here, with us, he gets Islamic lessons and is soon going to be a good fighter and maybe one day even become a suicide bomber in the name of God,” Abu Ahmed said.

Suicide bombers and spies Like Barak, dozens of other mentally handicapped children are being used by insurgents to fight US and Iraqi forces.

On 21 March, two children were used by al-Qaeda militants in a suicide attack on a market in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighbourhood, according to government officials.

“They were put in the back of a car with another two adults in the front. The military let their car pass though the check point since it had children as passengers. When they reached the market, they left the car with the children inside and detonated a bomb in the vehicle, killing the children and another five Iraqis,” Khalid Sami, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said.

“Those children were later identified to have had mental problems and for sure they didn’t know what they were doing there,” Sami added.

Officials at a local NGO, who refused to be named for security reasons, said they had received many reports that mentally handicapped children were being used in insurgent attacks, especially in cities such as Diyala, Ramadi and Fallujah.

“Some children were given by their families but many others were kidnapped by insurgents when they knew that those children had mental problems. Some of them were even taken from the doors of their houses or schools,” the NGO’s spokesperson said. “We have registered many cases of the disappearance of children with mental problems. According to information we got from Anbar province, those children are working with insurgents.”

They told me to say that I’m happy working with them but it's not true. I want to go back home and stay with my mother.

The spokesperson added that some children, who had become orphans since the US-led invasion in 2003, had also been helping insurgents as spies.

“They are sent to make relationships with locals, to gather information and others are used to distract troops when insurgents are preparing to detonate bombs near them. At least 12 children have died in such operations when bombs exploded and they couldn’t leave the area in time,” he added.

Nine-year-old Saleh Ahmed (not his real name) said he was forced to help insurgents after they forced their way into his home and threatened to kill his mother and sisters if his father did not hand him over.

“They told me to say that I’m happy working with them but it's not true. I want to go back home and stay with my mother,” Saleh told IRIN in privacy. When his trainer, Abu Ahmed, returned to the room, Saleh changed his tune and said he was happy to fight US forces and would die to save his country.

A Claim of Credit, Calls for Unity, Demands for Security
04/13/2007 12:47 PM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - APRIL 13: Flowers rest on the seat of Sunni lawmaker Mohammed Awdh during a defiant special session of Parliament April 13, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - APRIL 13: Flowers rest on the seat of Sunni lawmaker Mohammed Awdh during a defiant special session of Parliament April 13, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.

The group, the Islamic State of Iraq, issued a statement today claiming responsibility today for a suicide bomb attack on the Parliament building Thursday that killed one person and wounded 22. The statement said it waited a day after the attack because it said it wanted to give its members time to withdraw from the area.

In a new assessment of the casualties, the US military said that Thursday’s suicide bombing in the cafeteria of the Parliament building killed one lawmaker, Sunni MP Mohammed Awad of the opposition bloc National Dialogue Front, and injured 22. Earlier reports put the number of dead at eight, among them two MPs, but US authorities say this figure is incorrect.

The Iraqi government may have had some advance knowledge that an attack was imminent, as Reuters cites a "government source" as reporting, "We had prior intelligence that there would be an attack on the parliament," though no specific details of when the information had been received or what the nature of the threat was.

Reuters also spoke to Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, who called for unity in confronting the threat:

"This is undeniably a difficult blow, but it should unify us to confront the evil of terrorism and it proves that terrorism is indiscriminate -- Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds and Arabs were maimed in this attack."

At the special session of Parliament held today, the dominant theme turned out to be the call for national unity and reconciliation.

The session began with Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani, a Sunni, asking MPs to read verses of the Koran to commemorate the death of Mohammed Awdh, a member of the NationaFront for Iraqi Dialogue, a small Sunni party. Mashhadani said:

"We are all in one ship. If this ship sinks we all drown ... We are a people and they are a gang. Have you ever heard of a gang that has conquered a people in history?"
Shi'ite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who survived an assassination attempt in February, later told parliament, "Whether we are in or out of the government and the political process, we have to find a solution to national reconciliation."

The Australian reports that three cafeteria workers are being held for questioning, and cite Hasan al-Senaid, from the ruling Shia Alliance bloc, as reporting that some parliamentary guards were also being investigated, but none were held.

"The investigations are ongoing inside the parliament," he said outside the building, adding that charges had not been filed.

The L.A. Times reported this morning that an Iraqi security official who asked not to be named said suspicion centered on a woman who passed through the parliament's security screening without being searched.

For the second day, rumors swirled that a member of a MPs security may have been the bomber. A "senior government source" told Reuters, "It seems initial, initial evidence points to the possibility a member of a security detail of a Sunni member of parliament might have been involved. That is based on talks with survivors and some of the wounded."

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters in a satellite hook-up from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, that the Iraqis should continue to handle security for their government building.

"It doesn't help them for us to provide that security, they have to do that," said Odierno, adding that he has confidence in the Iraqi security forces' ability.

However, Hadi Amiri, a Shiite Muslim lawmaker, said the attack demonstrated the security had become careless. Searches of those entering the building have been supposed to be strictly enforced since a bomb detonated in a parliamentarian's motorcade in November, "but some lawmakers are not taking so much care," Amiri said on Al Arabiya. "Some of those who are searching are being lax with the parliament members."

News Magazines
Tales of an ex-Mossad chief, a German uberspy, and GOP lobbyists
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 04/12/2007 3:38 PM ET
Israeli-American Schlomo Michaels lobbied US officials early in the war to award almost a billion-and-a-half dollars to the regional government in Kurdistan, which provided the Kurds funds to hire that same enterprising businessman on lucrative contracts, Laura Rozen reports for Mother Jones in a thorough investigation into the man's activities in northern Iraq.

Rozen writes, "According to his business associates, as well as public records and Israeli media reports, (Michaels) reached out to contacts in Washington, seeking high powered lobbying help to get the Kurds a greater share of United Nations Oil-for-Food Program money."

In June 2004, just days before transferring power to the Iraqis, Paul Bremer ordered $1.4 billion in 100 dollar bills to be ferried by US helicopter to Kurdistan--the designated allotment to make up for previous oil-for-food shortages.

"Even as he helped connect the Kurds to those who lobbied for them to receive more money, Michaels positioned himself to be in line for some of the cash. A year before the invasion of Iraq, Yatom and Michaels had formed an investment and security consulting company called the Interop Group (short for international operations group) that has since done millions of dollars of business in Kurdish Iraq."

Michaels’ main business in Iraq is a joint venture called the Kurdish Development Organization, or KUDO, which has a piece of the $300 million project to build an international airport in Irbil. Another Michaels project recruited former Israeli military officers to train Kurdish fighters at a secret "Camp Z" inside Iraq.

It was that last venture that led to trouble for Michaels, since partial exposure of the presence of ex-military commandos training Kurds sparked rumors--which the Israeli government knew to be untrue--that Mossad was recruiting Iraqis to infiltrate Iran.

You'll have to read Mother Jones to discover what the investigations into Michaels' businesses has uncovered. As Rozen writes, "It's a story about influence-building, buying, and profit, albeit with subplots that were equal parts John le Carre and Keystone Kops, and a cast of characters ranging from ex-Mossad head Yatom to a former German superspy, with Israeli counterterrorism commandos, Kurdish political dynasties, powerful American lobbyists, Turkish business tycoons thrown in—not to mention millions of dollars stashed in Swiss bank accounts."

Smackdown
Claims Baghdad Plan Not Improving Security for Citizens
04/11/2007 10:33 AM ET
NAJAF, IRAQ - APRIL 09: Thousands of Iraqis turned out to protest the presence of US troops in Iraq at the behest of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on the fourth anniversay of the fall of Baghdad.
Wathiq Khuzale/Getty
NAJAF, IRAQ - APRIL 09: Thousands of Iraqis turned out to protest the presence of US troops in Iraq at the behest of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on the fourth anniversay of the fall of Baghdad.

The Sadrist bloc is threatening to pull out of the ruling Shi'ite Alliance, condemning Prime Minister Maliki's recent statements on Coalition troops staying in Iraq, and criticizing the ineffectiveness of the Baghdad security plan.

Maliki recently said on his trip to Japan that he would not support a timetable for withdrawal of US troops because they will provide critical assistance until the Iraqi security forces are prepard to stand on their own.

The statement from the Sadrists accused Maliki of "ignoring the will of the people," and said, “We reject these statements which coincide with the failure of security performance through not implementing the security plan in all parts of Baghdad."

“We discussed withdrawing from the Iraqi government, which will not be able to fulfill citizens’ demands in the security and services fields,” adding that they are "serious" in their consideration of withdrawing support.

The Sadrists hold 30 of 275 seats in Parliament, plus six ministry portfolioes, including health, transportation, tourism and agriculture.

UNDER FIRE
Calls for Application of Constitutional Article 140
04/10/2007 12:29 PM ET
Amman, JORDAN: Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud al-Barzani speaks during a press conference in Amman, 20 March 2007.
AFP/Getty
Amman, JORDAN: Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud al-Barzani speaks during a press conference in Amman, 20 March 2007.

Massoud al-Barazani, president of Kurdistan, on Tuesday called for the Iraqi parliament to move forward on applying article 140 of the Constitution--the provision stipulating Arabs must be moved out of Kirkuk before normalizaion can occur.

State-run satellite channel al-Iraqiya quoted al-Barazani, during his speech before the opening session of the Democratic Forces conference in Arbil, saying that the "Kirkuk issue is an internal affair and can be resolved by Iraqis according to article 140 of the Iraqi constitution."

"We do not say that Kirkuk will be for Kurds only, but it is an Iraqi city carrying Kurdish identity and all historical facts confirm this," the president said during the conference. Further, he said, "We will defend our rights and not submit to anyone except God."

Many Kurds push for the application of article 140 because of the presence of former Baathists in Kirkuk's government institutions, though critics label the ethnic realignment as sectarianism designed solely to solidify Kurdish hold on the disputed oil-rich city.

BATTLE ZONE
Biggest Battle Since Beginning of Law Imposing Plan
04/10/2007 10:34 AM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: Iraqis escape from the fire range of a sniper at Baghdad's al-Fadel district, where security forces were carrying out raids to flash out insurgents, 10 April 2007.
Ali Yussef/AFP/Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: Iraqis escape from the fire range of a sniper at Baghdad's al-Fadel district, where security forces were carrying out raids to flash out insurgents, 10 April 2007.

A heated battle raged in Baghdad's Sunni-dominated neighborhoods of Fadhil and Sheik Omar on Tuesday, the most violent engagement since the beginning of Fard al-Kanoon.

Western media accounts report ongoing exchanges of gunfire between armed insurgents and American and Iraqi troops, and US helicopters providing muscled back-up.

Reuters cited eyewitness accounts of US helicopters firing on buildings, and gunmen moving through the streets:

Abu Omar, a local journalist and resident in Fadhil, said the operation by U.S. and Iraqi troops started before dawn. He said he saw helicopters rocket several buildings while gunmen armed with belt-fed machine guns roamed the streets.

Another resident also said he saw U.S. helicopters firing at buildings. One flew off trailing smoke, he said.

AP reports a senior U.S. military official, "speaking on condition of anonymity because U.S. officials were still investigating the incident," said that a US helicopter involved in the battle came under fire but was not shot down.

Both sources cited by Reuters reported that the fighting now appeared to have shifted out of Fadhil into neighbouring Sheikh Omar, an industrial area, and Bab al-Muadham district. Many shops in the area had closed.

Police said six people, including an Iraqi soldier, were killed and 21 wounded. Repeated artillery fire rang out across Baghdad at midday, but the target was unclear.

An MNF press release reported that: "In Baghdad, Coalition Forces detained nine suspects with ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq courier operations."

The U.S. military said in a statement that three gunmen and four Iraqi soldiers were killed and 16 American soldiers wounded. Iraqi police reported 10 people had died.

Map by Zeyad Kasim
PETROL POLITICS
Relocation Plan Aims to Reverse Saddam's "Arabisation" of Kurdistan
04/03/2007 4:48 PM ET
Kirkuk, IRAQ: Iraqi Arab residents of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk take part in a sit-in demonstration, 13 February 2007. Iraqi Arabs protested today against a decision aiming to relocate them.
Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty
Kirkuk, IRAQ: Iraqi Arab residents of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk take part in a sit-in demonstration, 13 February 2007. Iraqi Arabs protested today against a decision aiming to relocate them.

BAGHDAD, 3 April 2007 (IRIN) - The Iraqi government should delay the relocation of Arabs from the northern city of Kirkuk as the move could prompt inter-ethnic tension and violence, analysts say.

On 29 March, the Iraqi cabinet endorsed a decision adopted by a governmental committee to relocate and compensate thousands of Arabs who had moved to Kirkuk, about 250km north of Baghdad, as part of former president Saddam Hussein’s ‘Arabisation’ policy, dating back to the 1980s.

"Any measure should be postponed during this difficult time that the country and Kirkuk are going through," Hafidh al-Jawari, a Kirkuk-based political analyst, said.

Relocating thousands of Arab families who have lived in the area since the 1980s and “turning the city into a Kurdish one overnight will only increase violence between the Kurds on one side and Arabs and Turkomen on the other", al-Jawari added.

There are reportedly about 8,000 Arab families who have indicated their willingness to leave Kirkuk in exchange for a compensation package.

But it is those Arabs who are not willing to leave that could end up in violent clashes with Kurds. “There are some ‘Wafidin’ who refuse to leave under any condition. If they are forced to leave, there would most likely be violence,” Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for International Crisis Group (ICG).

I will never leave this city, only my dead body.

"I didn't steal the house or the land of a Kurd," said Jassim Hassan, a 55-year-old Arab who moved to Kirkuk in 1984 from the southern province of Missan.

"The government gave me a piece of land, which belonged to no one, and helped me to build my house," added Hassan, a father of six and retired teacher. "I will never leave this city, only my dead body.”

Saddam’s ‘Arabisation’ policy

During the 1980s and 1990s, Saddam’s government carried out an ‘Arabisation’ policy by which pro-government Arabs, particularly Shias from the impoverished south, were moved into the region and Kurds were pushed out.

After the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Kirkuk was seen as a ticking time-bomb as many former residents of the city - Kurds and other non-Arabs - streamed back to find their houses had either been sold or given to Arabs from the south.

Over the past few years, many Arabs have been forced by returnees to leave the city, despite Sunni and Shia Arab leaders pleading them not to. This Arab resistance has largely been a result of Kurds seeking to incorporate Kirkuk into their autonomous Kurdistan region. Arabs and Turkomen oppose this.

"We strongly reject any incorporation of Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Regional Government," said Sheik Abdullah al-Obeidi, a member of the Kirkuk’s provincial council and representative of Sunni Arabs.

Iraqi Justice Minister Hashim al-Shibli, who heads the committee overseeing talks on Kirkuk's status, said that the return process would be "voluntary" and the decision would be implemented "without coercion".

Those who moved to Kirkuk from other parts of Iraq after July 1968, when Saddam's Ba’ath party took over, would be paid about US $15,000 and given land in their hometowns, if they returned, according to officials.

"Forms will be distributed soon to the Arab residents of Kirkuk to determine who had been part of Saddam's Arabisation campaign," al-Shibli added, without giving specific details on the initiative.

Iraq's constitution calls for a separate referendum on Kirkuk's future by the end of this year. Opponents of the referendum want to put the vote off - concerned about Kurdish dominance and more violence if the referendum is held and the Kurds get the outcome they have been advocating. The relocation of Arab residents from Kirkuk would help the Kurds ensure a majority in favor of incorporating the city into Kurdistan, they say.

Baghdad Buzz
NGOs Replaced Religious Flags With Nationalist Ones Secretly Overnight
04/03/2007 09:36 AM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: An Iraqi Shiite worshipper uses the Iraqi flag as a praying carpet as he performs Friday noon prayer at Imam Mussa al-Kazem shrine in Baghdad, 24 March 2006.
Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: An Iraqi Shiite worshipper uses the Iraqi flag as a praying carpet as he performs Friday noon prayer at Imam Mussa al-Kazem shrine in Baghdad, 24 March 2006.

Baghdad, Apr 3, (VOI) – Local residents in some neighborhoods in the capital Baghdad woke up on Tuesday morning to find Iraqi flags hung on lamp posts, house roofs and traffic lights.

"The flags were hoisted by NGOs in several places in Baghdad," the media official from the Nissan 9 municipal council told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Majid Soliman said, "NGOs put Iraqi flags in place of the colored ones indicating religious occasions, in a show of national unity and to renounce sectarianism."

On the timing of this step, Soliman said it "coincided with the circumstances Iraq is going through and the Fardh al-Qanoon security plan and also to emphasize that we're working for one Iraq that has no place for sectarian sentiments."

Breaking News
Captors Release Video Giving Merkel 10 More Days for Afghan Pullout
04/03/2007 07:51 AM ET

Fears that two German hostages have already been executed by their captors were relieved on Tuesday with the release of a new video showing the pair, though the reprisal of previous demands and threats made it clear the woman and her son remain in grave danger.

"We are giving the German government another 10 days to begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan or we shall kill this criminal woman and her son who works in the Foreign Ministry of the government of Maliki," stated one of the captors speaking from off-screen while the camera stayed focused on Hannelore Marianne Krause and her son Sinan sitting on a floor.

Krause and her son were kidnapped from their Baghdad home in early February. The "Swords of Righteousness" previously released a video showing the German woman stating the same demand on March 10.

Angela Merkel has refused to pull German troops from Afghanistan, and March 20 passed with no word of the hostages, leading to fears that they had been killed.

In the latest video, under a new deadline for her execution, Krause pleads, "I urge the German people to help me in my difficult situation."

She is shown again sitting on the floor next to her son, as she addresses two other children living in Germany:

"Maybe for the last time...I urge you. Perhaps you can go to the newspapers, perhaps you can organise a protest march.... Contact people who can help you, please, please, please."

When the militant spoke he revealed that Krause had been targeted bcause she woked for the Austrian embassy, and Krause also voiced an appeal to her former employer:

"I also urge Austria to stand by me as I have worked many years in the (embassy's) commercial section.... Austria also has troops in Afghanistan and now I am going to be killed for that. I urge you to please help me."

The full video will be posted on Slogger as soon as it is available.

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