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Archive: November 2007
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RUMOR MILL
Were Rogue Militamen Seeking to Form a pro-US "Awakening" Force?
11/29/2007 09:00 AM ET
Composite Satellite image shows Washash in central Baghdad, west of the Tigris.
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.
Composite Satellite image shows Washash in central Baghdad, west of the Tigris.

Four commanders of a powerful militia have been assassinated in the last week in one restive Baghdad neighborhood, in what is rumored to be a coordinated series of operations.

In the western Baghdad district of Washash, Slogger sources say that four Mahdi Army leaders have been killed over the last week, and rumors on the street hold that the assassinations are a series of inside operations, possibly intended to discipline a breakaway faction of the militia group.

One rumor holds that the victims may have been involved in negotiations with the American forces or the Iraqi government to form a local Sahwa or "Awakening" council, according to locals in the district.

The pro-US organizations have sprung up in Iraq's Sunni Arab areas, including many parts of Baghdad, ostensibly to combat al-Qa'ida in Iraq. A new strategy to launch Sahwa councils in Iraq's Shi'a areas appears to be underway now, with the apparent aim of confronting the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia nominally loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr.

However, the Mahdi Army is a notoriously decentralized organization, and in fact, elements of the Washash Mahdi Army have expressed their independence from the Sadrist current under Muqtada's leadership.

In addition, two members of the Washash Mahdi Army were killed yesterday in Iraqi Army raids on the district, and three cars were impounded by Iraqi forces.

The Washash Mahdi Army also made headlines this fall for in a spate of sectarian killings that terrorized the small Sunni community in the district, in defiance of the earlier orders by Muqtada al-Sadr to "freeze" the militia's activities in order to conduct a "restructuring" of the armed group.

Some rumors in the district point to a possibility of retribution by Sadr loyalists against the independent-minded Washash commanders, who are speculated to have taken matters too far by seeking to form a Sahwa in explicit alliance with US forces. Others suggest that the perpetrators may have been other rogue Mahdi Army elements in the district, seeking to abort the rumored formation of a Sahwa force in the area, of which they would be a likely target.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm the veracity of any of the rumors discussed above.

RUMOR MILL
Muqtada Tells Maliki Reining in Mahdi Army Impossible if Arrests Continue?
11/28/2007 09:00 AM ET
An Iraqi Sadrist holds a potrait of Moqtada al-Sadr during a rally August 15 in Najaf to demand that the Iraqi government stop US troops from entering the city and to stop arresting Sadr's supporters.
Qassem Zein/AFP.
An Iraqi Sadrist holds a potrait of Moqtada al-Sadr during a rally August 15 in Najaf to demand that the Iraqi government stop US troops from entering the city and to stop arresting Sadr's supporters.

As members of the Sadrist Current continue to raise vocal complaints about what they say is an unfair campaign of arrests against individuals affiliated with the popular Shi'a movement in the wake of the violent events in Karbala this summer, a rumor is circulating in Baghdad of attempts at direct communication from Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi prime minister.

According to the unconfirmed rumor, Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of by far the largest segment of the Sadrist Current, has sent more than ten letters directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, pleading that the PM intervene to stop the campaign of arrests against Sadrist leaders and activists.

The rumored letters are said to have especially focused on the actions of the security forces in Karbala, where a crackdown has allegedly targeted members of the Sadrist Current and its affiliated militia following the heavy fighting that broke out in the shrine city during the Sha'baniya pilgrimage in August, in which scores of pilgrims were killed and wounded.

In the alleged correspondence, al-Sadr is said to have told the PM that many of the targeted Sadrist individuals were not directly related to the Mahdi Army, and were instead "civilians" involved with the Sadrist Current regarding peaceful religious and social issues.

Sadr is also said to have written that the Current is attempting to rid the notoriously decentralized Mahdi Army of undesirable elements, but that the pressure of the arrest campaign could make it impossible to rein in the militia.

Shortly after the Karbala violence in August, the young Shi'a cleric ordered a "freeze" of all Mahdi Army activity for a period of up to six months, in order to "restructure" the militia. The Sadrists have been tight-lipped about what this means exactly, although Slogger reported earlier that some Sadrist sources indicate that the Current intends to screen and regulate Mahdi Army membership.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm the veracity of the rumored Sadr letters to Maliki.

However, the spread of the rumor itself could be an indication of the level of alarm among the powerful Sadrist Current over the continuing arrests, and a barometer of the ongoing tensions between the government and the Sadrists.

Exclusive
Kurdish Official's Presentation Makes Big Point With Little Map
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 11/27/2007 4:52 PM ET
Map taken from a slide of a presentation given in Washington, DC November 27, 2007 by Dr. Ashti Hawrami, Kurdish Regional Government's Minister for Natural Resources.
Map taken from a slide of a presentation given in Washington, DC November 27, 2007 by Dr. Ashti Hawrami, Kurdish Regional Government's Minister for Natural Resources.
Kurdistan and Baghdad clearly have different aspirations regarding the exact boundary of the Kurdish Regional Government's territorial authority, an administrative border likely to shift with the results of the long-awaited referendum stipulated by article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution.

Pending the final resolution of Kurdistan's boundaries, some tension over regional governance is to be expected--the KRG's recent unilateral moves to sign oil contracts directly with foreign investors is just the latest example.

When Kurdish leaders referred to "liberated Kurdistan" during the era of Saddam Hussein, the implications of their rhetoric had clear meaning. The areas remaining in the domain of the dictator needed to be "liberated" from the control of Iraq's brutal central government.

But the US-led overthrow of Saddam was supposed to change all of that.

It is curious that a current KRG representative would refer the areas now under KRG control as the "liberated areas of Iraqi Kurdistan," while categorizing the rest of the region as the "Kurdistan areas under control of Iraqi government." However, that's the terminology used to describe the territory in a presentation given by Dr. Ashti Hawrami in Washington, DC today. (see map)

The presentation clarifies that the map shows the “approximate current KRG area and disputed territories, which shall be subject to referendum in Dec 2007," but if the implication is that part of the area has been liberated and part not, it appears the Kurdish government may be adopting a hardened stance regarding the future of the disputed territories.

At this point, it is not realistic to expect that the central government will be capable of organizing the census to satisfy the article 140 referendum requirements by the end of the year, setting up Iraq for a serious showdown over the apparent "liberation" of Kurdistan.

Smackdown
Hawrami Says KRG Will Not Seek or Need Central Approval for Oil Contracts
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 11/27/2007 12:30 PM ET
A general view of an oil well digging site near the village of Taq Taq, in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, 23 June 2007.
Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty
A general view of an oil well digging site near the village of Taq Taq, in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, 23 June 2007.

Hussein al-Shahrestani has "no authority" in Kurdistan, the KRG's Natural Resources Minister, Dr. Ashti Hawrami, told a gathering of media in Washington, DC Tuesday, stressing that the oil minister representing the central government in Baghdad "has no control over what we do in the region."

Baghdad has strongly opposed the oil contracts Kurdistan's regional government has unilaterally signed over the past couple of months, which Hawrami reported Tuesday now total 20.

In an interview with Monte Carlo Radio Friday, Shahrestani called any contract signed outside the national framework "illegal."

Xinhua news agency reported an oil ministry official saying the central government had negated all contracts signed by the KRG and would punish any company seeking to bypass Baghdad to deal directly with Kurdistan.

"The government has nullified all the oil contracts signed by the KRG without approval of the Iraqi oil ministry," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"In addition to nullifying the contracts, the government also warned that those companies will be blacklisted from any future deals with the Iraqi central government," the source added.

Sixty Iraqi oil experts released a letter Tuesday supporting the position of Shahrestani, according to the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

"During the past few weeks, Iraq's Kurdistan region announced on its official Web site and through the mass media that it had signed 15 contracts with foreign companies without the prior approval of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and ahead of the parliament's endorsement of the federal oil law," read the statement.

"Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahrestani repeatedly announced his ministry's rejection of these contracts, labeling them as illegal, and threatened to take legal action against the concerned foreign companies and to prohibit them from practicing their activities in Iraq," according to the statement, of which two copies were sent to the oil minister and the Iraqi parliament's oil and gas committee.

"A similar stance was adopted by the parliamentary committee on oil and gas," the statement added.

Oil experts stressed that signing oil contracts should be restricted to the ministry and the Iraqi National Oil Company, the statement added.

Hawrami said he had no knowledge of the experts signing the letter, but thought it a "disgrace" for Baghdad to threaten companies wishing to invest in the future of Iraq, including an obviously-directed criticism as a top conclusion in his presentation about the current state of KRG's energy sector development:

"Those who have failed to do anything useful for Iraq should not be allowed to spoil KRG's achievements by resorting to Saddam's tactics and blackmailing companies investing in Kurdistan."

In Hawrami's view, those who oppose Kurdistan's independent actions in the energy sector "don't recognize the Constitution," which he argues outlines the legal authority for the KRG to manage its own affairs.

Hawrami would not reveal which energy companies are currently in discussions for one of Kurdistan's energy blocs, but if they don't balk at Baghdad's threats, the KRG's unilateral development of its energy sector looks certain to proceed. With 20 more companies currently in talks to sign a contract with the KRG, the tensions with Shahrestani and the confrontation with the Baghdad government looks certain to accelerate.

Life Goes On
Profile of Sunni Enclave in Shia Lands Captures Complexity of Local Deals
11/13/2007 6:02 PM ET
"In this desolate tiny town in what was once called the Triangle of Death, signs of the violent past mix oddly with evidence of today's more tranquil life," McClatchy's Nancy Youssef writes from Jurf al Sakhr, in Babil province south of Baghdad.

"Large plots of land emptied by car bombs sit next to refurbished buildings. A new water treatment plant looks out to blast walls that haven’t been necessary for months. A newly opened clothes shop is next to one that's been shut for ages.

The U.S. calls this former al Qaida stronghold a paragon of post-surge Iraq. Violence has come to a near-standstill. Yet the government that's emerged is far from the democratic republic that the Bush administration once promised."

Youssef profiles the recent progress made in the predominantly Sunni town bordering Shi'ite lands, where a strict snapshot of its current stability could betray the shaky foundation upon which it has been built.

The US military cleared the former Islamic stronghold of its most extreme elements early in the surge, then made a deal with a tribal sheikh of the Islamic Army, Sabah al Janabi, for him to run the town.

But since Jurf al Sakhr is a Sunni enclave amidst a Shia-dominated province--and one whose recent history included sheltering members of al Qaeda in Iraq--the Shiekh and Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage, commander of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, traveled to Musayyib to seek the blessing of the city's Mahdi Army commander, the head of the police, and the local Shiite tribal leader.

Giving reassurances that his town would no longer pose a threat to its Shi'ite neighbors, the Musayyib power brokers agreed al Janabi could manage his own domain.

With that deal in hand, al Janabi was granted an official mayoral post, with salary, from the provincial government.

The US military then cut a deal to employ the sheikh's fellow tribesmen and former insurgents in a security force of "concerned local citizens," paying them $375 a month. From Youssef's reporting, it sounds like the US actually pays al Janabi $375 per head per month, though it's unclear how much makes it to the guards.

Enough made it into the pockets of the newly-employed guards that the infusion of money has sparked economic growth. Combined with ramped up US efforts on reconstruction projects, the town has witnessed a remarkable turnaround.

But with a necessary limit on the monetary and manpower contribution of the United States, and an uncertain future relationship with both Baghdad and the provincial Shi'ite powers, Jurf al Sakhr's security appears far from secure.

Youseff's writes a nearly feel good story, but with a bitterly realistic edge--one that echoes the circumstances in dozens of towns and cities across Iraq.

RUMOR MILL
Rumors Abound on Identity, Motives of Shadowy Factions in Baghdad
11/09/2007 5:55 PM ET
Ahmad al-Shaybani in 2004. At the time the cleric was a spokesman for the Sadrist current in Najaf.
Karim Sahib/AFP.
Ahmad al-Shaybani in 2004. At the time the cleric was a spokesman for the Sadrist current in Najaf.

Residents of Sadr City report a tension in the streets as the leadership of the dominant political current in the sprawling eastern Baghdad district fear victimization by mysterious armed groups that have apparently targeted them for beatings.

As reported earlier on IraqSlogger, shadowy so-called "special groups" (majami' khasa) are known to operate in the district, committing acts of violence, but it is unknown who or why these groups have emerged recently, or on whose orders they operate.

IraqSlogger's sources report several rumors swirling around the district as to the origins and motives of these "special groups."

Recently, however, locals report that the local leadership of the Sadrist current, followers of the Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and even local commanders of the Mahdi Army militia, nominally loyal to the Sadrist current, have targeted in beating attacks, and a tension and watchfulness has settled over even the most powerful leaders in the Sadrist organization.

Locals tell IraqSlogger that the attacks seemed to start a couple of weeks ago the brother of Mazin al-Saidi, one of the leaders of the Sadrist offices in the district was mysteriously beaten.

Rumors in the impoverished district implicate the "special groups" in other criminal activity such as stealing cars, sectarian killings, and controlling and manipulating neighborhood electricity generators for profit.

A new rumor links the "special groups" to a man named Ahmad al-Shaybani, who was a spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf before he was captured by US forces and held for more than a hear. Al-Shaybani was released around the beginning of the year, locals say, and some buzz in the district suggests that Shaybani may be leading a faction in separating from the Sadrist offices.

Shaybani is also known for the change in his rhetoric after his release by US forces, locals say. While he was known before as staunchly anti-American and supportive of armed resistance to the foreign presence in Iraq, after his release he made statements that eschewed the use of violence and were less critical of the American presence, words that reinforce the popular impression that Shaybani has differences with Muqtada al-Sadr.

Other rumors point to the involvement of another Sadrist leader, Adnan al-Shahmani, in the leadership of the special groups, although these rumors have not been confirmed.

Shahmani, a Shi'a cleric and former Sadrist spokesman, who led the formation of a small breakaway faction within the Sadrist current. Shahmani went as far as saying that the 30 Sadrist MPs in the Iraqi Parliament "did not represent" the new political grouping, which calls itself the "Iraqi National Gathering." According to reports in the Arabic media, the group is close to the Iraqi Shi'a Cleric Ayatollah Kadhim al-Ha'iri, an associate of Muqtada al-Sadr's father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was a prominent leader in the Sadrist movement after Muhammad al-Sadr's death in 1999 until Muqtada eclipsed al-Ha'iri as the primary leader of the current after 2003. Al-Ha'iri now lives in exile in Iran. In press conferences in September and October, leaders of the breakaway faction criticized the involvement of militias in the political process (alluding to the association of the present Sadrist leadership with the Mahdi Army militia) and have also expressed criticism of the involvement of Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.

A third batch of rumors points to the "special groups" attacks and threats against known Sadrist leaders as possibly originating from inside the Sadrist organization itself, as internal discipline and "housecleaning" operations.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm any of these rumors regarding the identity or origins of the so-called "special groups."

The Latest
Sheikh Kubaisi and Ayatollah Ragheef Reportedly Poised to Order End to Violence
11/08/2007 6:29 PM ET
Top Sunni and Shi'ite leaders are reportedly poised to sign a joint "fatwa against violence" designed to mark a note of reconciliation between the warring factions of Iraq's religious life.

The declaration results from years of behind-the-scenes negotiations by Canon Andrew White, a British Anglican Bishop who has considered Baghdad home for nearly a decade.

Speaking to The Times in London, Canon White confirmed this week that the fatwa will definitely happen.

White said the fatwa would be signed by Sheikh Ahmed al Kubaisi, who Iraqis widely acknowledge as the top Sunni religious authority, and Ayatollah Sayyid Ammar Abu Ragheef, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani's chief of staff.

The latest development follows a meeting in Cairo in August organised by Canon White’s Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, which brought together Iraq's top religious leaders and resulted in the group releasing a statement pledging to "end terrorist violence, and to disband militia activity in order to build a civilized country and work within the framework of law."

At that meeting, the leaders also indicated a formal fatwa would be forthcoming at some point.

Robert McFarlane, a former national security adviser to Ronald Reagan, described the meeting as as “truly historic, writing in the Wall Street Journal: “A fatwa such as this will carry the force of law for all followers. Think about that. After more than four years of brutal warfare and untold suffering, the leading religious authorities in Iraq have joined hands and said “Enough,” and have committed to use their authority to bring peace to their country."

It remains to be seen whether the fatwa can have a significant impact on the most religiously radical elements of the Iraq conflict, as the fringes who wreak the greatest violence are also least likely to respond to such edicts. But Canon White recognizes the limitations of such gestures, and vows to continue working for peace and stability in Iraq.

“There is not a quick, easy solution,” he said. “This is long-term work. We have to engage with these people continually. The key thing is talking to them every day. Never before has there been a Sunni-Shia fatwa against violence. It has never been heard of in history. Will it make a difference? Not immediately. But I hope eventually it will.”

The human toll
Ministry Announces Investigation of Police, While Police Point to Mahdi Army
11/08/2007 3:07 PM ET
Iraqi police commandos hold their national flag during a ceremony to mark the end of a four-week training period 25 October 2007 in the holy city of Najaf, central Iraq.
Qassem Zein/AFP/Getty
Iraqi police commandos hold their national flag during a ceremony to mark the end of a four-week training period 25 October 2007 in the holy city of Najaf, central Iraq.

The recent broadcast on Iraq's al-Sharqiyya satellite channel regarding a family's allegations of torture at the hands of a major in the Karbala police force has accusations flying regarding who has committed more human rights abuses in the majority Shi'ite province south of Baghdad.

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced Thursday it had sent an inquiry committee to probe into the human rights abuses reported by the local TV station.

"An inquiry committee, headed by Major General Fakher Marshoosh, was sent to Karbala province to investigate into allegations of torture by a local police officer of a family in the province," the head of the ministry's National Command Center, Major General Abdul Kareem Khalaf al-Kanani, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Al-Kanani did not provide further details, but indicated that the committee will take strict measures if human rights abuses by police personnel are committed.

Karbala police on Thursday deflected charges against their own conduct, instead releasing a statement accusing the Mahdi Army of being responsible for a 4-year campaign of human rights abuses, the first time Iraqi officials have directly accused the Shi'ite militia.

"The Mahdi Army murdered and tortured and kidnapped people under Sharia law," the statement by the police directorate in Najaf province said. "They are the cause of the deaths of hundreds of people. They also committed numerous violations of human rights in Karbala."

AFP reports Brigadier General Raed Shakir, chief of Karbala's provincial police force, outlined the yearly count of violent acts allegedly the work of the Mahdi Army.

In 2004, Mahdi militia members allegedly killed 127 men, five women, six officers in the police force, and 24 policemen, while also carrying out 13 robberies and 23 abductions, and planting five roadside bombs.

The next year saw 158 men and 25 women killed, plus eight abductions, seven robberies, and 11 roadside bombs--all reputedly the work of the Mahdi army.

Shakir said in 2006, 160 men, 17 women, three police officers, and one policeman were killed, and there were were nine robberies, 49 abduction operations, and twenty-four roadside bombs were planted.

So far this year, according to the police chief, the Mahdi militia is accused of killing 92 men, 22 women, three police officers, and 25 policemen, and carrying out 15 robberies, 53 abductions, and planting 11 roadside bombs.

Shakir also responded to Mahdi allegations that local police had shot dead two children a couple of weeks ago, saying that the militia members had been using the kids as human shields.

RUMOR MILL
Is It an American Cyber-attack or a Known Bluetooth Worm?
11/07/2007 1:08 PM ET
A billboard advertising telecommunication services appears in Baghdad 12 April 2007 nearby destroyed houses, which were demolished during the US led war on Iraq in 2003.
Mauricio Lima/AFP.
A billboard advertising telecommunication services appears in Baghdad 12 April 2007 nearby destroyed houses, which were demolished during the US led war on Iraq in 2003.

US forces are using Bluetooth technologies to attack Iraqis' cell phones, according to an unconfirmed rumor circulating in the Iraqi capital.

According to the unconfirmed rumor, the virus infects Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones when US columns or even aircraft pass.

The first sign of the infection is rumored to be a change in the icon of the phone company on the screen to a green rectangle, according to Slogger's sources. The virus, which locals say bears the name of "Comwaro," according to the rumors, then copies itself to the phone's memory and destroys data stored in the RAM, and makes the phone's functions run very slowly. The rumored Bluetooth virus then allegedly attacks the phone's SIM card, destroying the permanent memory of the device.

Special instructions for dealing with an attack by the as-yet unconfirmed virus are already available on the Internet in Arabic. They involve reformatting the phone in a special way and using card readers and anti-virus programs to clean the memory.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm the existence of such a virus, nor any rumored association with US forces.

Moreover, the name and effects of the rumored "Comwaro" virus appear similar to versions of the documented "Comwarrior" virus, which has been recorded spreading over Bluetooth devices since 2005. It could very well be that the "Comwarrior" virus has reached Baghdad, and has become the stuff of wartime urban legend as it replicates itself over Bluetooth connections between Iraqi civilians' mobile phones, without needing any support from US forces to do so.

An earlier version of this story focused only on rumors of the "Comwaro" virus and its alleged relationship to US forces. The story has been updated after a tech-savvy IraqSlogger staffer noted the possible similarity with the known "Comwarrior" virus.

RUMOR MILL
Unconfirmed Report: "Awakening" Elements Kidnapped Displaced Family
11/07/2007 09:00 AM ET
US forces, Dora, Baghdad, March 2007.
David Furst/AFP.
US forces, Dora, Baghdad, March 2007.

An unconfirmed rumor circulating in a southern Baghdad district holds that pro-US Sunni Arab paramilitary forces may have been involved in a kidnapping in that district.

Residents of Baghdad's Dora neighborhood report rumors that elements of the Sahwat al-Dora ("Dora Awakening") forces, the Sunni paramilitary group in the area that has been working with the US to combat al-Qa'ida in Iraq, were responsible for abducting a displaced Iraqi family over the weekend.

In a raid on Saturday, US and Iraqi forces freed a displaced Iraqi family that had been abducted by unknown gunmen earlier in the day as they were headed back to their home in the area's Street 60, from which they had been displaced.

Although the joint raid freed the abducted family, the kidnappers were not apprehended, locals say.

The rumor mill in the area points to the involvement of "Dora Awakening" elements in the kidnapping.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm this report.

Smackdown
Criminal Charges Imply Iraqi President Active Supporter of PKK
11/02/2007 2:17 PM ET
A Turkish newspaper reported Friday that a special prosecutor in Istanbul was taking up the case against Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Khaled Mohammed/Getty
A Turkish newspaper reported Friday that a special prosecutor in Istanbul was taking up the case against Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is being investigated by a special prosecutor of the Istanbul public prosecutor's office, accused of "acting as an accomplice in the crime of harming the unity of the state and the integrity of Turkey," Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported Friday.

The criminal charges were originally lodged by Pakize Alp Akbaba, head of the Martyrs’ Mothers Association and Gönül Alpaydın, of the Turkey Veterans and Orphans of Martyrs Association.

Akbaba testified to the prosecutor that Talabani was supporting the PKK and had caused as much harm to Turkey as PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The complaint was originally filed with the Istanbul public prosecutor's office, which transferred the case to a public prosecutor in Diyarbakır province, in southeastern Turkey.

That prosecutor ruled the investigation into Talabani outside his office's jurisdiction and referred the case back to Istanbul with a recommendation that a special prosecutor take up the case.

News that the special prosecutor will be looking into the case comes just as Ankara somewhat snubbed President Talabani by not inviting him to the currently proceeding conference of Iraq's neighbors and supporters.

The Turkish Daily News reports Iraq's ambassador to Turkey, Sabah Omran, said Talabani had told Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan at a recent meeting in Baghdad that he intended to attend the meeting. Though Babacan had extended a verbal invitation at the time, no formal one had followed.

"Up to this minute we have not received any invitation from Turkey for a visit to Ankara or Istanbul either for a working or official visit or for the foreign ministers' meeting." he said.

Ankara has refused to meet with Talabani or KRG President Massud Barzani because of their history with and perceived bias towards (or support of, the new charges imply) the Kurdish rebel group.

Talabani and Barzani released a joint statement earlier this week condemning the actions of the PKK and pledging full cooperation to assist Turkey assure its security.

Historic Forces
New Police Barracks Construction Suspected to Impact Ancient Site
11/01/2007 10:35 AM ET
SAMARRA, IRAQ: A US convoy passes the ancient stone minaret tower of the Great Mosque, which dates back to 847 A.D., in Samarra, Iraq.
Scott Nelson/Getty
SAMARRA, IRAQ: A US convoy passes the ancient stone minaret tower of the Great Mosque, which dates back to 847 A.D., in Samarra, Iraq.

Archeologists fear that the 9th century Great Mosque in Samarra, with its 170-foot tall spiraling minaret, may be endangered by the nearby construction of a new police barracks and training center.

Samarra served as the capital of the Abbasid Empire between 836 and 892 AD. At the time of its construction around 848-852, the Great mosque was the biggest in the world, made to hold some 80,000 worshippers.

UNESCO added the ancient city of Samarra to its list of World Heritage Sites in danger earlier this year, but has not been able to send a team to the city to assess the status of the Great Mosque, and the nearby Askariya Mosque, which has seen both its Golden Dome and minarets destroyed in two separate bombings. The Great Mosque itself suffered some damage to its minaret resulting from an insurgent's bomb in 2005.

Archeologists and historians have long been concerned about the damage continuous fighting could have on Samarra's ancient Abbasid city, considered one of the largest archeological sites in the world. A 30-mile area on both sides of the Tigris contains the remains of palaces, mosques, markets, racetracks, and hunting grounds that hold clues to life in the Middle East a millennium ago.

According to Dr Alastair Northedge, Professor of Islamic art and archaeology at the Sorbonne, Paris, and an expert on ancient Samarra, recent pictures of the construction of the new police headquarters in Samarra show the barracks being built adjacent to the remains of Sur Isa, a palace believed to have been built by Caliph Al-Mutawakkil around 852 to 853 AD.

Dr Northedge told the British publication Art Newspaper that he is concerned that even if construction did not touch the palace, accompanying activities would certainly affect its security.

He also said that the barracks appear to cover the site of a residential quarter of the Abbasid city once inhabited by influential Turkish princes.

Christina Dahlman, Programme Specialist at the UNESCO Office for Iraq, told The Art Newspaper that no measures for the physical protection of the site have yet been possible and that her office, which is currently based in Jordan, was never consulted on the construction of the police barracks.

“To our knowledge the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage which manages the site and is UNESCO’s main partner in Iraq, was not consulted either,” she said.

UNESCO and the government of Iraq worked together to establish a plan for the reconstruction of the Askariya mosque shortly after it was bombed for the second time in June.

UNESCO has a $10 million budget for the first phase of the project, with $5.4 million from the European Commission and $4.6 million from the Iraqi Government.

Dahlman said preparatory work had commenced and that work on the site is expected to start before the end of this month, as soon as the Iraqi government could guarantee the security of the project.

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