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Archive: October 2007
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BODY COUNT
Man Shot Father When Dispute Broke Out Over Division of Spoils
10/30/2007 1:27 PM ET
Baaquba, Oct 30, (VOI) - The official spokesman for the Diala Salvation Council said on Tuesday that the irrigation minister of what is called the Islamic State of Iraq armed group was killed by his son over loot division, south of Baaquba.

"Shalal Youssef Zidan, the irrigation minister of the al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq armed group, was killed on Tuesday afternoon in Abu Khamis village in Bahraz district, south of Baaquba, by his son over loot division," Sheikh Sabah Shukr told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

"Zidan was hit by several gunshots to several parts of his body after differences with his son over loot division," he also said, providing no more details.

For his part, an official source in Dial confirmed the death of Zidan.

"Zidan was included in a list of wanted men," the source added.

Baaquba, capital city of Diala province, is 57 km northeast of Baghdad.

UNDER FIRE
Katyushas Strike Base Echo in Diwaniya Wednesday Morning
10/24/2007 4:22 PM ET
Diwaniya, Oct 24, (VOI) - The Multi-National Forces' Echo base was rocketed in the predominantly Shiite city of Diwaniya, eyewitnesses said on Wednesday.

"The Polish forces' Echo base was attacked, today at dawn, with Katyusha rockets," an eyewitness told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

The witness, who was unable to say if there were casualties among the Polish soldiers, added "Polish forces' helicopters flew over the area following the attack."

Another eyewitness said that pillars of smoke were seen rising from the base after the attack.

Diwaniya is 180 km south of Baghdad.

The Coalition
Testimony Also Leaves Open Possibility of Boosting Troop Level in Iraq
10/24/2007 10:45 AM ET
British troops of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, Cyclop Squadron, sit above the autograph, reading 'To Cyclops, with grateful thanks, Gordon Brown', signed on their tank by the British Prime Minister during his visit to their base in Basra.
Lefteris Pitarakis/AFP/Getty
British troops of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, Cyclop Squadron, sit above the autograph, reading 'To Cyclops, with grateful thanks, Gordon Brown', signed on their tank by the British Prime Minister during his visit to their base in Basra.

British defense officials yesterday ruled out the possibility of ordering any further troop reductions in Iraq before the end of 2009, despite previous indications otherwise, and even suggested the UK could boost its numbers if the security situation in the South disintegrated.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced earlier this month that the 5,000 British troops currently based in southern Iraq would be cut to 2,500 by next spring, with an additional 500 logistics personnel to be re-located to Kuwait.

Brown had said that the decision for further reductions would be driven by circumstances on the ground and the advice of military commanders, though defense officials had indicated expectations that the situation could allow a full withdrawal by the end of next year.

Yesterday, however, speaking at a hearing convened by the defense committee in the House of Commons, Lieutenant-General Peter Wall, Deputy Chief of the Defense Staff, told MPs, "I wouldn't see the scope for wholesale reductions from the numbers that we have described."

Lt. Gen. Wall confirmed that British troops could be sent back into Iraq if security declined, though said that would only become an option if Iraqi, American, or other multinational troops could not be re-located.

James Arbuthnot, a Conservative MP heading the committee and former junior defense minister, rejected the idea as politically impossible.

"In terms of public opinion, it would be inconceivable to send our troops back in once they've been withdrawn," he said.

Lt. Gen Wall indicated that though the 2,500 troops remaining after next Spring would not be returning to the UK imminently, they could possibly "be hosted outside southern Iraq if that were logistically advantageous."

The British media reports widely that references to basing British troops outside Iraq refer to relocating some to Kuwait, though the Guardian's Richard Norton-Taylor writes that defense officials do not mention the country specifically because of the Gulf state's sensitivity to publicity regarding the deployment of western troops on its territory.

IRAQ PARLIAMENT
New Committee to Outline Recommendations for UN on Future of US Presence
10/23/2007 1:02 PM ET
The body of an Iraqi boy killed during fights between US troops and militants in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood lies in a coffin, 21 October 2007.
WISSAM AL-OKAILI/AFP/Getty
The body of an Iraqi boy killed during fights between US troops and militants in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood lies in a coffin, 21 October 2007.

The Iraqi Parliament is forming a committee to review the basis of the government's relationship with the US military, with an eye for formulating recommendations to present to the United Nations for consideration when the Security Council discusses the re-authorization of the US mission later this year.

Parliament posted a statement on its website Monday, following a hastily-convened meeting called in response to the US military's raid on Sadr City Sunday, which has sparked an outcry over reports that the operation killed a number of civilians.

"The consensus was reached during a meeting on Monday morning chaired by deputy speaker Sheikh Khalid Attiya and with the participation of representatives of political blocs," read a statement.

"The meeting stressed the need to release a statement on the violations committed by MNF personnel and their unjustifiable bombings of civilians," it added.

The US military says its operation Sunday targeted and killed 49 members of a kidnapping ring, with no civilian casualties.

Iraqi officials, however, have reported that the assault, in which US helicopters fired on its target while flying low over Sadr City, did not cause such a high number of deaths, but did kill a number of civilians, including children. The Iraqi estimates of the number killed only reach about 14-17.

A number of media reports have verified at least part of the Iraqis assertion--that 2-4 children were killed Sunday--though the US military has not altered its official account of the incident.

VOI reports participants at Monday's meeting discussed the US military's apparent random shelling of residential neighborhoods under the pretext of hunting down suspects, and the failure of the Iraqi forces to take the lead. The MNF's release of detainees and raids on government institutions without consulting the Iraqis were also discussed.

According to the LA Times, members of parliament speculated Monday that the committee could recommend limiting the U.S. presence to certain areas in Iraq, or express a desire for a mission statement establishing the primary goal of American troops should be to train Iraqi forces. A defined timeline could become one request, though it appears that outright opposition to the UN re-authorization would be unlikely.

"We think the issue is about establishing and developing Iraqi security forces capable of confronting the challenges," Salim Abdullah Jabouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, told the LA Times. "It's not right to speak about not having the presence of the U.S. forces, taking into consideration the chaos and security instability."

The Latest
South Korean Political Parties Look Poised to Block Measure Extending Presence
10/22/2007 6:49 PM ET
Arbil, IRAQ: A South Korean soldier patrols a street in the city of Arbil.
Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty
Arbil, IRAQ: A South Korean soldier patrols a street in the city of Arbil.

The South Korean government's efforts to reduce its presence while extending the stay of its troops in Iraq looks certain to meet resistance in the National Assembly. One major party announced Monday that it would oppose any extension, raising the prospect that the South Korean contingent of 1,200 troops in northern Iraq could be fully withdrawn by the end of the year.

The government of President Roh Moo-hyun reportedly convened a security meeting on Friday in which details of the Iraq plan were hammered out. The Choisin Ilbo reported that the bill was designed to pacify critics by making another troop reduction, while maintaining good relations with the United States by extending its presence for another year.

The legislative measure was due to be delivered to the National Assembly either Tuesday or Wednesday, and the president is scheduled to make a national address Tuesday to rally public support for the bill.

About 3,600 Korean soldiers deployed to Arbil in 2004 to support the U.S.-led Operation Iraqi Freedom and to assist Iraq's reconstruction. The Korean unit consists of engineers and medics, who have focused on humanitarian assistance and building projects.

The decision to participate in the Iraq war has been widely unpopular in Korea, and the government has withdrawn a number of troops each of the three times they have extended their mission.

In Friday’s meeting, according to Choisin Ilbo, some participants called for a reduction to some 600, but Defense Ministry representatives reportedly stressed the need to maintain 900 troops to carry out basic duties. The bill is therefore expected not to specify the number and instead speak of “troop numbers needed to carry out duties."

The progressive Democratic Labor Party (DLP) came out in opposition to the measure immediately, though their 9 seats in the assembly posed little threat to its passage.

Choi Jae-sung, a leading member of the pro-government United New Democratic Party (UNDP), which holds 141 out of 299 seats in the assembly, spoke out against the measure on Friday:

“Last year when the National Assembly agreed to the government's plan to extend the Zaytun Unit’s stay (until the end of this year), the government promised to submit a detailed plan on the withdrawal of the entire unit to the house this year. So we can't approve the plan to extend the unit's stay."

According to the Korea Times, the UNDP Supreme Council discussed the matter and Choi issued another statement on Monday indicating party's intent to attempt to block the measure from passing.

"We've decided to turn down a motion for extended deployment of troops in Iraq after considering the nation's interest and public opinions on the issue," Choi told reporters.

"We will achieve our goal of blocking the motion in a wise manner without causing a national division."

If the UNDP and DLP vote together on the measure, they could succeed in blocking its passage, which would require the government follow through on its original plan to withdraw troops by the end of the year.

The main opposition Grand National Party (GNP), with 127 seats in the assembly, has yet to indicate whether or not it favors or opposes the measure.

The Latest
Party Statement Clarifies Ammar al-Hakim's Comments About Federalism
10/15/2007 10:22 AM ET
Iraqi Shiite leader Ammar Hakim (front C) attends an Eid al-Fitr prayer to mark the end of the fast month of Ramadan, at the SIIC compound in Baghdad, 13 October 2007.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Shiite leader Ammar Hakim (front C) attends an Eid al-Fitr prayer to mark the end of the fast month of Ramadan, at the SIIC compound in Baghdad, 13 October 2007.

The SIIC is rejecting media reports connecting Ammar al-Hakim's call Saturday for the "hasty formation of regions" to the non-binding Senate resolution that recommended a devolution of power to three semiautonomous regions, releasing a statement Monday denying that the son of party leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was recommending anything beyond what is contained in the Iraqi constitution.

"Federalism and establishing regions are considered a constitutional and natural right for the Iraqi people," the SIIC said in a statement cited by VOI.

"The federalism is a clear reality on the Iraqi territory, represented by Iraq's Kurdistan region, based on the Iraqi desire and interest," it added.

Ammar Hakim, speaking to hundreds of supporters gathered for prayers marking the end of Ramadan on Saturday, called dividing the country into semiautononomous regions "an Iraqi interest, wish and decision.

"I call on this holy day for the people of my country to form (self-governing) regions, starting with the region south of Baghdad," Ammar Hakim said from the SIIC headquarters in Baghdad.

Hakim's comments set off a wave of response, with Western media seizing on the idea that the Shi'ite leader was implicitly endorsing the Congressional plan, which has been widely condemned across the Iraqi political spectrum.

Separate comments by another SIIC leader underscored the impression that Hakim was "adding his voice" to the debate sparked by the Joe Biden-sponsored resolution.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that Jalal al-Deen al-Sagheer, described as “a major leader" in the SIIC, said negative reactions to Biden's proposal “falsified the contents of the project, and were a process of political clowning.”

Al-Sagheer pointed out that the Senate plan “did not discuss partition, but federalism,” but noted that the only flaw in the plan is that it made decisions that should have been left to “the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government.”

The impression that the US Congress meddled in Iraqi affairs with the Senate resolution has been a popular idea in Iraqi political circles, and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has consistently favored a strong centralized locus of power in Baghdad, took the opportunity Monday to tie his Shia rivals to the unpopular Congressional plan.

"After the US Congress voted to divide Iraq, it is clear that insisting on applying federalism in the current tragic Iraqi situation is a flirtation with" the US Congress resolution, Sadr's spokesman Sheikh Saleh al-Obeidi told AFP.

But the SIIC distanced itself from American political moves Monday, emphasizing in its statement that Hakim's comments have not changed the official position of the SIIC, and are not connected to the recent Congressional resolution.

"We have urged to take this move before and emphasized on its necessity during earlier meetings," the statement affirmed.

RUMOR MILL
Unconfirmed Talk of "Revenge Attack" on American Facility
10/15/2007 09:00 AM ET
US army Blackhawk helicopter flies over former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's al-Salam palace, transformed into a US base dubbed Camp Victory, in Baghdad 13 March 2007.
Patrick Baz/AFP.
US army Blackhawk helicopter flies over former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's al-Salam palace, transformed into a US base dubbed Camp Victory, in Baghdad 13 March 2007.

Rumors are swirling in southwestern Baghdad concerning a mortar attack that struck a major American base in the Baghdad area last week.

Locals in Shi'a areas near the Baghdad International Airport (BIA) say that the word on the street has it that Mahdi Army commanders have expressed that the operation last Wednesday, in which in which at least nine mortar shells landed on US Camp Victory, at BIA, was a "revenge" operation in retaliation for continuing American arrest raids against Mahdi Army members in Baghdad.

US raids against Mahdi Army elements have continued in spite of a "freeze" in Mahdi Army activity announced by Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr at the end of August.

US forces have been tight-lipped about the mortar attack on the American base. The military initially said that two Coalition troops were killed in the attack, without specifying further. It was confirmed over the weekend by the military that the two killed were American soldiers.

The military also said that among the at least 40 wounded in the attack were two "third-country nationals," meaning neither Americans nor Iraqis, but further details have not been forthcoming.

The rumor of Mahdi Army involvement cannot be confirmed or denied at this time.

Speculation has centered on the involvement of Iraqi security forces in the attack, as US forces captured six policemen and a police lieutenant in Bayya' district on Thursday. The attack appears to have been launched from a nearby abandoned school, the US military said.

Iraqi Diary
Returning Displaced Suffering Illness, Lack Supplies, Food, Clean Water
10/14/2007 10:45 AM ET
IRIN

BAQUBAH, 14 October 2007 (IRIN) - Some families have started returning to Diyalah Province in eastern-central Iraq after US troops ended operations against al-Qaeda fighters there on 8 October. However, most residents lack basic essentials, including food.

“Dozens of families were seen returning to Diyalah after fleeing the city , scared of the US air strikes,” said Mahmoud Shahir, a senior official in the Diyala Provincial Council.

“The main problem is that they are returning without money or supplies. Many families who were living as displaced persons near Baghdad or in safer areas within the province have lost everything... and now request urgent support from local aid agencies who cannot cope,” Sharir added.

About 50 families are believed to be arriving daily in the province, which is sandwiched between Baghdad and the Iranian border. Many of the children have been diagnosed with diarrhoea and malnutrition.

“Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have delivered aid to families but many villages in the northern parts of Baqubah are still unreachable for security reasons,” said Faris Abdallah, a spokesman for Diyala provincial council.

“The military are offering protection to aid convoys arriving in the province but they have warned aid workers to reduce their numbers inside trucks for security reasons,” Abdallah added.

Shops closed

According to Nafie Obeidi, vice-president of the local NGO Iraq Aid Association (IAA), the most affected area is Jayzani al-Imam village and nearby locations between Baqubah and the River Tigris where the US offensive was more intense.

“Families around these areas are in desperate need of supplies. Shopkeepers have closed their businesses and left the villages, leaving hundreds of families without access to shops, and water has been reportedly unavailable,” Obeidi said.

“Constant military operations inside the province might help target insurgents but are seriously affecting the daily lives of residents who are being forced to move from one place to another in search of safety, and when they return home, they find themselves living in poverty,” Obeidi added.

Over 3,000 individuals reportedly fled the province after military operations began in mid-September and about 30 percent have returned to the province since 9 October.

On 8 October, about 70 tribal leaders, representing 25 tribes from Diyalah Province, met at an Iraqi army base in Muqdadiya, north of Baqubah, to discuss the future and the need to unite in the fight against “terrorism”.

RUMOR MILL
Slogger's Sources Get the Word on the Street in Southwest Baghdad
10/12/2007 3:11 PM ET
Baghdadis flee the scene of a car bomb in central Baghdad on Tuesday.
Ali al-Saadi/AFP
Baghdadis flee the scene of a car bomb in central Baghdad on Tuesday.

Rumors are circulating in Baghdad's southwestern areas suggesting that recent car bomb attack was not intended to kill people per se, but instead was an attempt consolidate a wave of sectarian "cleansing" and forced migration in the district.

In Baghdad's Bayya' district, residents report that unconfirmed popular speculation regarding a car bomb blast last week suggests that the attack, which exploded near the local Directorate of Properties, did not target people, but instead sought to destroy the property registries contained inside the directorate building.

As IraqSlogger has reported before, the operations of forced sectarian migration is often linked in Baghdad to property confiscation and rental rackets, in which the vacant houses of the displaced are rented out by those who have seized them by force. Some new "landlords" even go to the trouble of generating forged deeds proving their ownership of the property.

The rumor in Bayya' suggests that individuals involved in rental rackets, leasing out the homes of forcibly displaced Iraqis, sought to destroy the archived property records for the area, in order to weaken the claims of those displaced from the area.

This rumor cannot be confirmed or refuted.

Members of IraqSlogger's Iraqi staff point out that duplicate copies of property records would exist elsewhere.

The Latest
Unconfirmed Report US Military Arrested Seven in Raid on Baghdad Precinct
10/11/2007 11:21 AM ET
The US military has reportedly raided a police precinct in Western Baghdad, arresting a lieutenant and six policemen on suspicion of being involved in last night's attack on Camp Victory.

A series of mortars were fired into Camp Victory Wednesday night after dark, killing two and injuring forty. London's Times reported a Western security contractor on the base said that he heard nine mortar rounds after dark last night and four explosions inside the compound, though VOI cited a policeman who said twelve mortars had been fired.

The US military has released little information about the attack itself or any direct response, but VOI reports a number of policemen have been taken into custody.

"U.S. forces, backed by helicopters, raided at dawn a police precinct in al-Bayaa neighborhood in western Baghdad, where they arrested Lieutenant Dureid Abd el-Hussein and six policemen," a police source told VOI.

"The force confiscated a police vehicle and damaged some properties," he added.

"The main reason for arresting the officer was his suspected involvement in the attack on the U.S. Camp Victory military base near the Baghdad International Airport," he explained.

Exclusive
Planning Documents Reveal Partnership Solely to Satisfy Contract Requirements
By DAVID PHINNEY 10/10/2007 5:16 PM ET
Riding on the success of winning the $592-million Baghdad deal to build the largest diplomatic compound in the world, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting last year partnered up with the Rockville, MD-based Grunley Walsh LLC to bid on other US embassy and consulate building contracts in other countries.

In September 2006, the wedding bore fruit, as Grunley Walsh won three new contracts worth over $100 million for embassy and consulate work in Africa, India, and Indonesia.

Though GW bid on the work as the prime contractor in partnership with First Kuwaiti, documents acquired by IraqSlogger reflect an arrangement that looks largely devised as a way for First Kuwaiti to sidestep State Department contract requirements.

Because only US-owned and headquartered companies may perform classified embassy work, First Kuwaiti apparently partnered with Grunley Walsh in order to be considered for a number of lucrative, high-security contracts they wanted.

As First Kuwaiti’s general manager Wadih al-Absi wrote to Grunley Walsh president, Kenneth M. Grunley in a March 2007 email, "Both parties are fully aware and reconfirm that the arrangement of Prime/Subcontractor is solely for the purpose of satisfying the requirements of OBO (State Department Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations)."

Absi was writing to Grunley, he said, in order to "set some policies and procedures in place as to avoid further complications and to continue a good and long working relationship.”

In the draft of working policies between the two firms (see document below), the relationship Absi outlines gives a strong indication that First Kuwaiti dictates the terms of the partnership, despite Grunley Walsh's role as the prime contractor.

Absi reminds Grunley that his firm is not to send any written communications to OBO without FKTC approval, or forward any communications from FKTC with additional comments, though, "It is FKTC sole decision whether such communications are to be discussed with GW or not prior to submittal to OBO."

GW also has to immediately forward to FKTC any communications from OBO, Absi says, and inform First Kuwaiti of any conversations.

Absi also advises Grunley that First Kuwaiti will do all the negotiating for contracts, and that, "GW shall not enter into any contracts or agreements without prior written approval of FKTC... (and) will bear any consequences to any agreements entered without prior written approval of FKTC."

Meanwhile, the marriage of the two firms continues to show promise. First Kuwaiti and Grunley Walsh are thought to be poised for building a State Department project in Saudi Arabia. They also were believed to have been at the top of the list for building a new US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, until the US State Department nixed this summer after protests from the U.S. ambassador there who said the area was unsafe.

FKTC_POLICY___PROCEDURES_BETWEEN_FKTC_AND_GW.doc

David Phinney is an independent investigative journalist based in Washington, DC. He can be reached at david.phinney@verizon.net.

Exclusive
State Official: Contract Didn't Require $28 Million Guard Camp Be "Livable"
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 10/10/2007 12:29 PM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq.

"We're not going to buy ourself a turkey here. We're going to make sure that we get what we paid for," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told an impatient press corps probing for answers on the delayed completion of the US embassy in Baghdad.

IraqSlogger has learned, however, that the official public line may differ from the opinion of those directly overseeing the project, one of whom has reportedly advised colleagues that nothing in the contract for the construction of the embassy compound's guard camp stipulates that the trailers intended to house security personnel need to be "livable."

Slogger first reported two weeks ago that the embassy compound faced an estimated one year and $100 million overhaul before it would be finished--news significantly advanced by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post Sunday.

The project's primary contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting, has come under fire for rumored shoddy construction that has led to cost overruns and a delay in completion, most recently becoming the subject of a sharply-worded letter from House oversight committee chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Kessler, who has been covering the developments on this story closely, first reported on the project's delays back in July, when serious problems with the compound's guard camp--originally scheduled to open last December--became a leading indicator of what to expect from the craftsmanship invested in the embassy.

The guard camp, designed to house 1200 security personnel, represents only a small part of the embassy compound--its $28 million expense a fraction of the $600 million price tag of the overall project.

Kessler first reported back in July that the 252 trailers purchased for the guard camp had become uninhabitable because of the presence of formaldehyde fumes, which the manufacturer, Red Sea Housing Services, confirmed had been used to treat the units.

Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen linked to nasal and lung cancer, and a known respiratory irritant, which can cause cause persistent breathing difficulties after long-term low levels of exposure. It is often used to treat plywood, textiles, and other materials used in construction.

Red Sea had advised the problem could be rectified by opening the trailers' windows and letting the units air out, though that had negligible effect.

IraqSlogger has learned from a tipster that the formaldehyde levels are not just a little elevated, but actually three times the maximum allowable limits. Officials from the Environmental Health and Safety Department of State's Overseas Building Operations are reportedly furious.

The US Occupational Health & Safety (OSHA) agency, if it had jurisdiction over government installations, would require personal protective equipment to be used by anyone working in an environment with such a high level of formaldehyde present.

Despite this, Slogger's source reports, David Vivian, the State Department contracting officer and James Golden, the program manager for the project, have insisted that First Kuwaiti should be paid in full.

The source quoted from an e-mail Vivian sent recently, which said, “There is nothing in the contract that states the trailers must be livable, therefore we should pay First Kuwaiti."

By those standards, I guess McCormack is right--the State Department will be getting what it paid for.

The Latest
September Completion Date Passed, State Department Yet to Schedule Transfer
By DAVID PHINNEY 10/05/2007 2:41 PM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Cranes litter the skyline as construction workers continue work on the new United States Embassy compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on August 31, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq.

Widespread construction flaws and substandard work have delayed completion of the US State Department’s mammoth new $592-million embassy in Baghdad, numerous sources familiar with the project claim, despite previous official statements that the ambitious fortified compound would be finished in September.

Touted as the largest embassy in the world with over two dozen fortified buildings, the 104-acre compound spans an area equal to two-thirds the size of the National Mall.

Iraqslogger reported buzz last week that the project has so many problems that State Department is considering as much as $100 million in new spending to bring the new embassy compound up to snuff.

Those charges now seem to be partially corroborated by the Associated Press and Reuters. Both news agencies report that the sprawling, Vatican-sized embassy compound has been beset by construction and logistical problems.

"They are substantially behind at this point," and it would be surprising if any offices or living quarters could be occupied before the end of the year, one official told The Associated Press.

Reuters reports that in a letter to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos said such delays raised concerns over the adequacy of the department's management of overseas building operations.

"These delays and deficiencies undermine the security and the living standards of almost 1,000 foreign service officers and other embassy staff that will be housed at the Baghdad Embassy," wrote the California lawmaker, who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Asked about the completion date, State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson stressed recently that the embassy project is nearly finished but that no determined time has been set for ribbon cutting. She said the official handover to the State Department and final inspection -- known as “accreditation” -- has yet to be scheduled. Those things, says Thompson, won’t take place until the project is deemed complete and State Department officials have combed through the compound “with a white glove.”

The State Department spokeswoman also said that no formal requests for additional funding have been made although “the project is in a constant state of evaluation.”

In July, the State Departments director for US embassy construction assured Congress in July that the contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, would be completing the project in September.

“We have received numerous accolades as to the extremely high quality of construction,” Charles E. Williams told the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on July 26. “It is among the best.... We are slated to complete the project in September of this year and personnel can begin to move into offices and residences shortly thereafter.”

But some say that officials now may be scrambling to adjust the move-in schedule, which could be well into 2008, according to once source who insists that government inspectors have found “widespread and serious flaws” in the project and have refused to allow occupancy of the new compound until the problems are repaired.

Some of alleged troubling issues include poor water filtration, weak blast walls, electrical problems, sinking foundations and substandard water lines in the fire extinguishers. If true, these issues could take six months to address, the source said who added that if more spending is called for, the sum may be veiled as new additions to the project, but, in fact, also cover up defective and incomplete work that “will be hidden forever.”

The Associated Press quotes a State Department official saying there will be no additional funding and that “delays would have no direct cost to taxpayers because contractor First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co. had agreed to deliver for a set $592 million price.”

The project has come under increasing scrutiny of US Congress and an investigation by the US Justice Department into allegations of fraud and labor abuse.

The State Department’s own inspector general also entered into the fray just days before being accused of ignoring allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse related to the project. The inspector genera was also singled out for “highly irregular procedures in exonerating the prime contractor, First Kuwaiti Trading Company, of charges of labor trafficking,” by House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.

Sources say that Inspector General Howard Krongard opened an investigation of the embassy and First Kuwaiti after ignoring complaints for more than a year only days before receiving Waxman’s September 18 letter. “The investigation opened on a Friday and people were working until 9 pm that night,” once source said.

The following week, Krongard then made a personal trip to Afghanistan and then Baghdad, sources said.

In January 2007, the Department of Justice contacted Krongard’s office to request assistance investigating allegations of misconduct by First Kuwaiti, according to Waxman, who quoted an internal email stating that "the allegations are basically contract fraud and public ... corruption." According to the e-mail, the public corruption allegations implicated a senior State Department offrcial overseeing the embassy construction project.

State Department project manager in Baghdad, Mary French, and First Kuwaiti have not responded to emails about the clams of faulty work, however some familiar with the project said the allegations may be overblown and reflect simple delays in finishing the details.

“No US embassy has ever been finished on time,” said one former project manager of the Baghdad embassy project under contract with the State Department, Juvencio Lopez. “First Kuwaiti is a first rate company” and “had a first-rate team in place.”

Lopez said two inspections of blast walls around the perimeter of the compound during construction by State Department inspectors had no “negative observations” although one perimeter fence needed replacement because it “just gave out.”

But even Lopez speculated that the project will not be complete until well into next year. He said he recently met with Verizon on installing communications systems but that the company did not anticipate starting work until January 2008. On Thursday, he said he had been told the embassy was near completion and the keys would be handed over to the State Department within two weeks. He said a celebration was planned for the opening in Washington, DC.

Another worker for the embassy subcontractor Hardline Installation, which installed security doors and windows, said talk about the delays are not surprising because of the security environment. “I know that the building is behind on the target opening day,” he said. “The unsafe work is probably due to the fact that there are thousands of workers there from India, Philippines, etc., and they probably were not watched closely enough.”

One former labor foreman claims that First Kuwaiti employed 2,000 to 3,000 migrant low-paid laborers from South Asia and Africa – many more than were necessary if they had been skilled construction workers, he said. “Some were just goat herders from Pakistan and didn’t even know they were going to work in Baghdad.”

The new embassy project, located along the dusty banks of the Tigris River inside the US-controlled Green Zone, has lagged behind its projected finish dates in the past. The original target date was set for June 2007, but was first extended to July and then again to September. Some blame routine matters exacerbated by the war-time environment that delay shipments of needed materials and periodic interruptions caused by incoming rockets and mortars.

David Phinney is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. He can be contacted at phinneydavid@yahoo.com
The human toll
MNF Press Release Cites 25 Dead "Criminals," But Some Iraqis Disagree
10/05/2007 1:48 PM ET
Iraqi relatives inspect bodies of victims of a US air raid on the village of Al-Jayzani, near Baquba, northeast of Baghdad 05 October 2007 as they pass through Baghdad on the way to be buried in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
Ali Yussef/AFP/Getty
Iraqi relatives inspect bodies of victims of a US air raid on the village of Al-Jayzani, near Baquba, northeast of Baghdad 05 October 2007 as they pass through Baghdad on the way to be buried in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

A US bombing run is again being blamed for scores of civilian casualties, amid mixed reports regarding those killed and injured in an operation northwest of Baquba early Friday morning.

According to the US military, troops were pursuing a "Special Groups" commander they believe to be associated with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard when they came under fire from a number of gunmen.

Calling in air support, one helicopter and one fixed-wing aircraft launched two separate bombing runs that the military reports destroyed two buildings and killed 25 "criminals."

According to AFP, however, cites local residents reporting four houses were leveled during the bombing, and quotes a police spokesman who said women and children were among those killed and injured by the raid.

VOI's single anonymous police source, however, refers to all of those killed and injured as civilians, and says the number of casualties will rise as more are extracted from collapsed houses.

Al Jazeera cites an anonymous Iraqi defense ministry official as acknowledging there were women and children among the casualties, and an Iraqi Army official saying the civilians were killed by the second bombing run when they rushed out to help those hurt in the initial aerial attack.

Iraqi police spokesman Khudhayir al-Timimi told AFP that women and children were among the dead and wounded in the raid. "Twenty-five people were killed and 40 others wounded, including women and children in the US air strike that targeted Al-Jayzani."

Witnesses told AFP US helicopters attacked Jayzani Al-Imam, near the mainly Shiite town of Al-Khalis, at around 2:00 am (2300 GMT), destroying at least four houses.

An AFP photographer saw at least four trucks, each carrying several bodies from the village, being driven through Baghdad to the Shiite holy city of Najaf for burial. One of the dead was clearly an elderly man.

Ahmed Mohammed, 31, said he had travelled with 15 wounded, among them women and children, to the Medical City Hospital in Baghdad.

"There are 24 bodies on the ground in the village and 25 others wounded in Al-Khalis hospital," he told AFP.

US Major Winfield Danielson said he had received no reports that any Iraqi civilians were killed as a result of the US air strikes.

"I can say that we had personnel on the ground who engaged a hostile force, and they didn't assess that there were any women or children present in the area," he told AFP.

"Coalition forces only engage hostile threats and take every precaution to protect innocent civilians," he said.

VOI's police source said that all the attacks casualties were civilian: "U.S. aircrafts pounded at dawn Gezani al-Imam villages in Habhab district, north of Baaquba, killing 25 civilians and injuring 40 others, including women and children."

"The number of casualties is most likely to increase as many bodies are waiting to be recovered from under the destroyed houses," he added, noting that casualties were sent to nearby hospitals.

"The strong blasts jolted the village. We found out that a number of houses were destroyed," an eyewitness said.

"Locals recovered dead bodies and scores of wounded from under the destroyed houses," he added.

RUMOR MILL
Whispers in the Capital of Government Cholera Cover-up
10/03/2007 7:00 PM ET
Baghdad's Nu'man Hospital (pictured) figures into a rumor circulating in the capital about the recent cholera outbreak in Iraq.
Wissam Sami/AFP.
Baghdad's Nu'man Hospital (pictured) figures into a rumor circulating in the capital about the recent cholera outbreak in Iraq.

A rumor circulating in the Iraqi capital alleges a stepped-up role for Iranian intelligence in confronting the American presence in the capital, and another rumor alleges a major government cover-up in Baghdad related to the recent cholera outbreak.

IraqSlogger sources in the capital report that a rumor holds that new forces have appeared on the streets of Baghdad, with the express goal of killing American troops.

The unconfirmed talk of rumored new armed groups holds that these forces are staffed by Iraqis who act as mercenaries, and are paid ultimately by Iranian intelligence.

Slogger sources in the capital say that the rumor holds that the “mercenaries” will receive $5,000 for every US soldier killed.

Cholera “cover-up”

As the Iraqi Ministry of Health launches education programs about the recent cholera outbreak in Baghdad, a rumor is circulating that 2,500 people in Baghdad alone have contracted the disease, in spite of the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures putting the total number of cases in the country at around 3,300, only two of which were confirmed in the Iraqi capital.

The unconfirmed rumors hold that those facing the disease are getting treatment in Baghdad’s Nu'man Hospital, but the hospital has treated many cases that don’t make it into the public figures

As WHO points out in its most recent “Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response,” over 30,000 cases of acute watery diarrhea have been observed in Iraq, of which 3,315 have been confirmed cases of cholera. 2,309 of these have occurred in the Kirkuk area, and 870 in Suleimaniya province. Cholera cases have been confirmed in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces, and the outbreak may spread as the time wears on, the Iraqi health ministry warned.

Another rumor concerning cholera holds that Iraqis carrying the disease traveled to Amman and touched off an outbreak there, but that this has also been covered up by the Jordanian authorities.

It bears mentioning that the rumors relayed in this report are very much unconfirmed.

Iraqi Diary
NGO Reports Army, Warring Groups Preventing Delivery of Rations
10/03/2007 11:38 AM ET

BAQUBAH, 3 October 2007 (IRIN) - The humanitarian situation in Diyala Province, eastern-central Iraq, is deteriorating because of continuing tension between armed factions and the difficulty of accessing internally displaced persons and the needy, said local aid workers.

“We are unable to reach thousands of families because of the serious security situation in the area. Many armed factions have prevented us from delivering humanitarian assistance to groups opposed to them, leaving families without food and other support,” said Nafie Obeidi, vice-president of the Iraq Aid Association (IAA), a local nongovernmental organisation.

“We were advised to leave the delivery of aid to the military or to warring factions but with the increase in violence we doubt if food will reach local families,” Obeidi added.

According to him, in some parts of the province there are two or three checkpoints controlled by different factions every kilometre. Volunteers tend to turn back rather than confront insurgents or militants.

“We had three of our volunteers seized by a militia and held for over three days because they were accused of supporting the insurgents. We were lucky because one of the faction’s sheikhs recognised one of our volunteers who used to deliver aid to his relatives last year, and he persuaded the fighters to release our volunteers,” he said.

Local officials say that in Diyala the challenge is not only to get Sunnis to deny al-Qaeda insurgents refuge, but also to bring about reconciliation between the warring Sunni and Shia factions.

“Warring tribes, Sunni fighters, Shia militants and elected officials who don’t participate in the affairs of the province are making the security situation worse,” said Mahmoud Shahir, a senior official in the Diyala Provincial Council and a member of the reconciliation group.

“The officials are Shias who aren’t able to move around the province to familiarize themselves with the general situation, as they might be killed any time,” he said.

Reconciliation talks

“Reconciliation talks which started last week between US troops and local tribal leaders will fail,” Shahir said. “Diyala was the scene of sectarian violence before the US-led invasion and now the situation is worse, with families fleeing the city after seeing hundreds of innocent civilians killed by different factions.”

Fahed al-Daragi, a political analyst at Mustansiriyah University, Baghdad, said reconciliation meetings should be thought through carefully otherwise they would not change the anarchy in the province.

“To start with they should meet outside Diyala for security reasons. Another point is that in an area with mixed sects Shias shouldn’t be allowed to hold power alone,” al-Daragi added.

“Moreover, local people should be given the opportunity of expressing their hopes and desires. At the moment they aren’t involved in the talks. Instead, it is the leaders who are involved, and these leaders are often under the influence of particular parties,” he said.

“Humanitarian chaos”

“People are suffering as a result of the fighting; children don’t go to school, pregnant women are losing their babies because the hospitals aren’t functioning properly, and yet such issues are not discussed during the meetings,” analyst al-Daragi said.

The IAA’s Obeidi said he had received reports from local people in Diyala that many women had died as a result of poor health care during delivery. Children had also been falling ill with diarrhoea, amid worries about the spread of cholera, according to the health authorities.

“We can say there is humanitarian chaos in Diyala where families are unable to get assistance because we are unable to deliver it. We were informed that the US and Iraqi militaries are distributing food rations locally, but families in hot spots have been without assistance for more than four weeks. They have no food or milk for their new-born babies,” Obeidi said.

The Latest
Rumors Circulate More Cuts Coming as Opponents Charge 'Photo Op' Diplomacy
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 10/02/2007 11:41 AM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - OCTOBER 02: Prime Minister Gordon Brown talks with British soldiers on October 2, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - OCTOBER 02: Prime Minister Gordon Brown talks with British soldiers on October 2, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.

British Prime Minister expressed optimism that 1,000 British troops would be "home by Christmas" during a surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday--even as rumors circulate that further cuts will soon be announced, and his political opponents charge he's playing "political football" with troops' lives.

While most of the news media is reporting that Brown has just announced the withdrawal of 1,000 British troops, 500 of those were already scheduled to redeploy before the end of the year, making the political spin on the latest development mildly disingenuous.

Brown's announcement and surprise visit occurs as the Conservative party is holding its annual conference, where Tory leaders have been beating the dead horse of the Iraq war in speech after speech.

Speaking at the conference, shadow defence secretary Liam Fox accused Brown of using the trip for a photo opportunity with military servicemembers.

"A week ago Gordon Brown gave only around a minute of his 67-minute speech to the issues of Iraq, Afghanistan and our armed forces combined; but today he is happy to use our armed forces for a pre-election photo opportunity," he said.

"Most people will see this cynicism for what it is. Our troops should not be used as a political football."

Brown's move has effectively stolen the media spotlight away from the conservatives, and undercuts their criticism that he is moving too slow to drawdown British troops.

There is also speculation that Brown may be building his support in advance of a rumored plan to schedule a general election for November. Brown's Labour Party has suffered a hit to its electoral popularity as a result of the war, and a clear directive laying out the plans for the final stages of the conflict would go a long way to appease disaffected former supporters.

The Daily Telegraph says that the Prime Minister may be poised to announce further cuts next week, reporting that Downing Street sources have confirmed that Brown would make a statement to Parliament on Monday addressing the issue of when security in the whole of Basra province can be handed over to the Iraqis.

Although Mr Brown will not lay out a hard and fast "timetable" for withdrawal, it is understood that the current force of 5,250 troops based in southern Iraq could be reduced by up to 2,000 over the next six months.

The remaining forces would then play a role of "overwatch", securing supply lines, training the Iraqi military and standing by to intervene again if the situation deteriorated, sources said.

Army chiefs are reportedly considering sending one battalion of up to 600 troops to Helmand Province in Afghanistan to joint the fight against the Taliban. Plans are also being made to move some Merlin helicopters based in Iraq to Afghanistan.

Defense sources have also reported that the British mission will continue in Iraq for at least another two years and will not completely wind down until American troops leave.

However, the UK does have a scheduled troop rotation this coming May, and it seems likely that any further announcement for a reduction of British troops could involve not replacing those rotated out. But as Brown has said, and further reductions will be decided by circumstances on the ground.

While Basra has witnessed some significant violent incidents since the UK withdrew forces to the airport in early September, British military leaders report the situation overall is much calmer.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed that Basra is trending in the right direction, telling Brown during his visit to Baghdad that Iraqi forces "are prepared to take over security of Basra within two months and we will."

"Basra will be one of the provinces where Iraqi forces will completely take over security," he said after the meeting in his Green Zone office.

RUMOR MILL
Do Changes at Crucial Wholesale Market Point to a Deal with Feared Militia?
10/02/2007 09:00 AM ET
A worker surveys empty oil drums at a warehouse in Baghdad's northeastern Jamila neighborhood in January 2004.
Saba Arar/AFP.
A worker surveys empty oil drums at a warehouse in Baghdad's northeastern Jamila neighborhood in January 2004.

IraqSlogger sources in the Iraqi capital have noticed a subtle -- but very important -- change in patterns of delivery of wholesale goods to Baghdad’s markets, as well as rumors of a very lucrative deal involving one of the country’s most powerful militias.

Jamila market, just southwest of Sadr City in Baghdad's northeast, is the most important wholesale center in Baghdad, the recieving point for millions of dollars of market-bound goods into the capital.

As reported earlier by IraqSlogger, the wholesale markets in the Jamila area are under the protection and control of the powerful Mahdi Army militia, nominally loyal to the young Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sunni Anbari truck drivers, moving goods, often from Jordan and Syria, through western Iraq to market in the capital were -- until recently -- forced to transfer their load to another hauler outside the city, in order to avoid the notorious Mahdi Army at Jamila.

However, Slogger sources confirm that of late the Anbari truckers have been finishing the entire trip to Baghdad, and have resumed making the delivery in Jamila, without complications involving Mahdi Army interference.

Rumors in the Jamila area point to a possible agreement involving wholesale merchants, truckers, and the Mahdi Army, although Slogger sources were unable to confirm this. It appears, however, that the Iraqi authorities are not involved, and that the Mahdi Army militia remains in control of the Jamila area.

With the high volume of goods arriving at Jamila market on a daily basis, bound for Baghdad’s millions of consumers, any arrangement allowing a militia to take a cut of the action in exchange for non-interference with shipping operations could pay very well indeed.

Current-day Iraq is rife with examples of militia involvement in the regulation of economic activity, but Slogger sources point to control of the Jamila market as a very lucrative possession for the Mahdi Army.

If the rumors of a Mahdi Army deal with merchants and truckers are true, it would be a telling example of conditions in Iraq, i.e., that the smoother flow of goods into Baghdad’s markets capital might go hand-in-hand with a steady income for a powerful militia.

Jamila wholesale market from space.
Google Earth image.
Jamila wholesale market from space.

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