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Archive: November 2008
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Only on Slogger
Deadly Devices Cling to Vehicles, without Drivers' Knowledge
11/26/2008 5:57 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Slogger sources in the Iraqi capital relate two incidents in which unsuspecting civilians traveled with deadly explosives fastened to their vehicles -- near-death experiences that locals say illustrates the difficulty in detecting the "sticky bombs" that have become common methods of delivering explosives in Iraq.

IEDs designed to cling to vehicles with adhesives or magnets have become increasingly common in attacks in Iraq, often as a low-tech means of slipping bombs into otherwise secured sites or of bringing explosives close to protected assassination targets. IraqSlogger first reported the appearance of the devices in the spring of 2007 as weapons used by militiamen against American armor.

On Sunday, locals say Iraqi forces responded to an explosive device attached to a car in a fuel station located in Baghdad's Sa'doun Street commercial area, east of the Tigris.

Nearby Iraqi Army and Police forces were informed of the device, which was attached to car's engine block.

Iraqi forces immediately performed a controlled detonation of the device, without material or human losses.

After questioning the driver, Iraqi forces concluded that he was unaware of the device or suspected anything unusual about his vehicle.

A week before that incident, on Saturday November 15, a vehicle entered an inspection point in Abu Nu'as Street, manned by a private security company. As it reduced its speed, an IED fell from the car.

The security company immediately deactivated the bomb and detained the driver.

It was determined that the driver was an employee in the Green Zone and had no knowledge of the bomb that had been attached to his vehicle.

Members of IraqSlogger's network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report but choose to remain anonymous for security reasons.

The Latest
Added checkpoints and talk of a prime-ministerial convoy
11/22/2008 03:02 AM ET
Google Earth image/Iraqslogger

Members of the Iraqslogger network report that Highway 2, from Kirkuk, south to Baghdad has much-elevated security. Many new Iraqi Army checkpoints have been set up, in some areas there are two per kilometer present. This is the case at least from Kirkuk and the town of Qaraish, a little more than halfway toward Baghdad. Qaraish is in Diyala province, just south of the Hamrin mountain range.

This level of security is highly unusual, and it has caused speculation of a VIP convoy from Baghdad to Kirkuk. Two Iraqi Army members who were manning checkpoints close to Kirkuk said that they heard that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was to be traveling from Baghdad to Kirkuk today.

Travel plans of VIPs are often kept secret, and when streets are blocked off, murmurs that the prime-minister will be passing through are often heard. Officials in al-Maliki’s office would not comment officially on whether any high-ranking members of the government were to be traveling to Kirkuk today, but one told Iraqslogger that he didn’t know anything about it.

It would be unusual for the prime-minister to travel by land, the usual route being a flight into the U.S. Air Force Base in Kirkuk.

Only on Slogger
"Support Councils" Mobilize Marchers in Support of PM's Policies
11/20/2008 7:27 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Many of the demonstrators who came out in support of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala on Wednesday traveled to the march from the PM's boyhood home in neighboring Babil Province, eyewitnesses report.

Karbala residents told Slogger that a large contingent, if not the majority, of the estimated thousand people demonstrating in the city in support of the prime minister's program to create locally organized "support councils" of tribal groups throughout the Iraqi center and south, and to sign a controversial draft Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, were drawn from the nearby Twayrich area, in Babil Province about 15 miles southeast of Karbala city.

Located between Hindiya and Hilla, the PM's Twayrich district includes the PM's birthplace of Abu Ghariq.

Along with the rally in Karbala, demonstrations, called out by the recently created "support councils" were reported around the country on Wednesday, including in Babil, Salah al-Din, Basra, Muthanna, Najaf, and Qadisiya provinces. Marchers called on the Iraqi Parliament to ratify the SOFA, linking it with the possibility of an American withdrawal from Iraq.

In the center and south of the country, political rivals to the Iraqi PM's Da'wa Party, especially the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and its allies, have alleged that the support councils are a veiled strategy to bolster support for the Da'wa party in the upcoming provincial elections, a charge that the PM and tribal leaders participating in the support councils have denied.

RUMOR MILL
Rumors of Party Brass Preparing Separate Electoral Lists; ICP Opens Local Branch
11/18/2008 6:22 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Rumors are circulating in a restive Iraqi governorate northeast of Baghdad that power struggles in a key political Sunni Arab party may split the organization in advance of the upcoming provincial elections.

Residents of Diyala Province tell IraqSlogger that the Iraqi Islamic Party, recognized as the largest predominantly Sunni Arab party in Iraq to participate in the 2005 elections, may be headed for a split in the elections for local offices in the governorate, scheduled for January of next year.

The rumors, which IraqSlogger cannot confirm at this time, maintain that local Islamic Party figures excluded from the party's electoral list have threatened to contest the elections in a separate list if their demands for inclusion on the electoral list are not met.

Locals say that the Islamic Party is popular among Diyala's Sunni Arabs, but may face heavy competition from rival Sunni Arab factions entering the electoral arena for the first time because of the poor condition of public services in the governorate.

The Islamic Party was one of a few Sunni Arab organizations to participate in the 2005 elections, when many Sunni Arabs boycotted the polls. Some expect that the pressures of increased participation and continued poor public-sector delivery could cause the party to slip in its popular base.

Meanwhile, locals report that in advance of the upcoming elections, the Iraqi Communist Party opened a branch in Diyala.

RUMOR MILL
Militiamen Returning to Area, Some Say Action to Resume in January
11/12/2008 7:10 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Militiamen appear to be returning to a southwestern district of Baghdad notorious for being host to some of the deadliest violence in the capital in 2006 and 2007, IraqSlogger sources report.

Residents of the al-'Amil district report that Mahdi Army militiamen who fled the area to evade capture, and others who have been recently released by US or Iraqi forces, have begun filtering back into the area.

A militiaman told one resident that members of the powerful force are expecting to be "back in action" by January of next year, the resident told IraqSlogger.

Although eyewitnesses have confirmed to IraqSlogger that known Mahdi Army elements have returned to the area, IraqSlogger is unable to confirm the intentions of the militiamen in the area.

The Mahdi Army, nominally loyal to the Sadrist Current, is currently on stand-down, on orders of Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Current's leader. However, elements of the notoriously unruly militia have bucked these cease-fire orders on many occasions.

The al-'Amil district and surrounding neighborhoods formed one of the most dangerous areas of the Iraqi capital in 2006 and 2007 as sectarian gangs fought a smoldering turf war that led to massive sectarian cleansing and high death tolls.

Tensions have flared at times between rival forces in the area, and so-called Sahwa groups of local armed Sunnis have become a feature of the local landscape.

RUMOR MILL
East Baghdad Residents: Forces Asked for Monthly Payments before IEDs Blew
11/10/2008 7:36 PM ET
Google Earth Image/IraqSlogger.com.

Residents of the Shaykh Omar area in central Baghdad, east of the Tigris River, tell Slogger that rumors in the district point to the possible involvement of the locally organized irregular forces known as Sahwa in recent deadly explosions in the area.

Two IEDs exploded on Shaykh Omar Street, the area's main road, on Wednesday of last week, residents report. Both were planted in piles in the area where residents deposit household rubbish. The explosions killed one and injured eight people, locals say. A resident told IraqSlogger that rumors in the district connect the locally organized Sahwa forces that operate in the district with the blasts.

Last week, Sahwa members came to houses in the district and demanded a sum of 150,000 Iraqi dinars per house, per month, from each household in return for providing security for the area, locals say.

Residents explain that the area's inhabitants refused this demand, which they viewed as an attempt by Sahwa members to extort funds from residents.

The Sahwa forces that operate in many of Iraq's predominantly Sunni Arab areas have been involved in an ongoing dispute with the Iraqi government over their pay. The irregular groups were originally compensated by US forces, but the Iraqi government took responsibility for them at the beginning of last month. Sahwa forces across the country have demanded that they be incorporated into the regular Iraqi security forces, but accuse the central government of foot-dragging and resistance to this demand.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm this rumor at this time.

Exclusive
Iraqi Politicians speak out quietly
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/07/2008 06:17 AM ET

BAGHDAD - So much of what makes the news in Baghdad is off-the-record. When one talks to officials on a regular basis, one hears many comments on the side that may be common knowledge to other officials or journalists, but which many others may not be privy to. They’re not always true, but they’re usually interesting. From time to time, Iraqslogger will take a moment to list comments that might not make a news story by themselves, but which are relevant, due to the content itself, and/or how many people seem to be speaking of it.

Results of Investigation into Christian Displacement Withheld?
We have been talking to prominent Christian MP (Member of Parliament) Yonadam Kanna a lot recently, concerning both the minority quota in Parliament and the violence toward and displacement of Christians in Mosul. He is quick to state and restate that the recent acts toward Christians do not fit the pattern of groups allied with al-Qaeda, but that it is something “new”, something “organized”. It is clear that he is talking about an institution larger than a typical insurgent group, and that it is a secret plan, but he has been unwilling to even speculate on who is responsible until recently.

Other MPs have told me the results of the government investigation into the Christian's displacement is being withheld, because it was very clear that the KRG(or at least parts of the PDK) was behind it. The release of the information has clearly been postponed, and the MPs told me that it was because it would be too big a scandal. One Iraqi Army squad is reported to be arrested, and the makeup of the squad is said to be “mixed”, but with a Kurdish commander. Kanna blames them, but in the opinion of the other MPs I spoke to, they were likely scapegoats.

Security Agreement
In the past week, no less than six Parliament members told me that the passing of the security pact was a done deal, despite the public wrangling, and no matter who won U.S. elections. Two said that the powers that be were just waiting to see who whether Obama or McCain would win. One told me that “It is all about looking tough for the Iraqi people.” Another said, laughing, “When the United States threatened to take their troops to sit back in the bases all day, many of us, that is the MPs, were not so brave anymore. I think they remembered that the United States soldiers are part of their own personal security, too.”

Only on Slogger
PDS Flour, and Wheat, Recirculated by Households, Mills, and Traders
11/03/2008 8:16 PM ET
Sabah Arar/AFP.
Baghdad, April 2006: An Iraqi woman holds her baby as she waits to receive PDS rations

Some Iraqis explain that the flour provided to Iraqi families as part of the rations that are distributed by the Public Distribution System (PDS) lives a strange after-market life made possible by the system of price supports and subsidies in place that make the PDS function.

In essence, to make the flour portion of the PDS system function, the Iraqi government buys wheat from farmers at fixed rates, and then sells the wheat at a loss to Iraqi flour mills, who grind the grain for distribution to Iraqi families.

But Iraqi families and entrepreneurial traders have given the flour a fascinating after-market life, by exploiting price differentials in the system and some Iraqi household's less-than-robust demand for finished flour.

Iraqis explain that itinerant traders, known as duwara, travel around Iraqi neighborhoods with trucks, repurchasing the flour distributed in the PDS system from Iraqi households that won't use it, paying a higher price than the negligible rate at which it is distributed for in the PDS rations system.

With the help of these middlemen, PDS flour travels from the Iraqi public and back to the mills where it was ground: Slogger sources explain that the flour purchased back from households is often sold back to the mills that are contracted to grind the PDS wheat into flour in the first place.

According to the scheme, as recounted by Slogger's sources, these flour mills then re-sell the flour to government distributors, who send it out again as part of the PDS.

But there is still another dimension to the operations: The re-distributed flour frees up wheat at the mills. The grain, sold at below-market rates by the Iraqi government for use in the PDS system, can now itself be re-sold by the mills -- unprocessed -- to other customers.

Sources familiar with the operation say that demand for wheat is heavy in the Kurdish north of Iraq, and that buyers in Kurdistan are purchasing wheat at below-market rates from PDS-affiliated mills in other regions of Iraq.

Iraqi households, on the other hand, often use the proceeds from selling the flour to the duwara to buy their bread, since many families don't bake their own bread at home.

Locals say that sometimes the PDS distributors cut out the middleman -- and repurchase the flour right back from Iraqi consumers themselves.

Such schemes are common throughout the country, Slogger's sources say.

The PDS system, a successor to the rations system in place from the United Nations Oil-for-Food program from the time of the UN sanctions against the former Iraqi regime, distributes staple foods to Iraqi families. Many Iraqis are dependent on the PDS for their food needs, but complaints about quality and food safety are rife.

RUMOR MILL
Camel Herders Insist Great Cats Preying on Their Livestock, Blame US Forces
11/03/2008 6:31 PM ET

In one of the more outlandish rumors reported to Slogger, reports are spreading among herders in Maysan Province of "tigers" attacking their livestock in the area.

Camel herders in Maysan Province told Slogger that their animals have been attacked by "strange-looking tigers" in recent weeks.

One herder said he lost four of his seven camels to the so-called "tigers." He told Slogger that he sold the remaining three for fear of losing those as well.

Camel keepers say as many as 55 camels were eaten by the "tigers" in eastern Maysan province, near the Iranian border.

Herders accuse US forces of bringing the "tigers" into the country, Slogger sources say.

Tigers, while native to the Asian continent, are not found in the wild anywhere west of Pakistan, and are not found in the wild in Iraq or Iran.

The rumor recalls conspiracy theories that spread in Basra last year after a wave of attacks by strange animals, later identified as honey badgers.

Follow-Up
"I just want to clarify who’s funding the intelligence service of Iraq"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/01/2008 9:30 PM ET
Ahmed Chalabi Photo: Daniel W. Smith
BAGHDAD - Just as we published our interview with Ahmed Chalabi yesterday, another media/legal storm was brewing, with him square in the middle.

A spokesman for the Iraqi National Intelligence Service told the Azaman Newspaper that the agency intend to sue both Chalabi and Iraqi National Congress Party spokesman, Mohammed Hassan Al Musawi, for publicly calling for the service to reveal where its budget comes from. To date, there is no mention of the lawsuit on the agency’s web site.

“We welcome this, of course,” Chalabi said, when we checked back with him tonight on the matter. “They said that they are concerned about the fact that I questioned the source of their funding, so it would be a great opportunity for them to clarify the situation.”

When asked who he suspected was providing the budget, he said “I don’t know who’s funding them.” Prodding didn’t make any difference. “There’s lots of speculation, but I don’t want to jump the gun and say anything. I don’t have any firm information. I just want to clarify who’s funding the intelligence service of Iraq."

In the past, he has said outright that foreign governments were payrolling the intelligence service (the assumption of most Iraqis being that it’s America, Iran, or both). He did touch on this, if subtly, by mentioning sovereignty in the following statement. “It is somewhat curious that the intelligence service of a country which is sovereign – that no one really knows who’s funding it,” That inference was as specific as he is now getting, since the announcement of the lawsuit.

When asked what he thought prompted the announcement at this time, he said, “Frankly, it’s very puzzling to me. Why this severe reaction? I’ve been making comments like that since 2004.”

As is often the case with the media which surrounds Ahmed Chalabi, one is left to wonder what’s really behind it all.
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