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"Shari'a Court", Showdown With Sadr Followers Expected
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/12/2009 6:01 PM ET
Photo: Daniel W. Smith

BAGHDAD - The release this week by US forces of Sheikh Laith al-Khazali, a high-ranking member of the militant Shi’a group Asa’ib Ahil al-Haq, has fueled a rumor in Sadr city that has many residents concerned. Developments related to the group, which is thought to be backed by Iran, are said to be in the works.

Al-Khazali’s brother Qais, who leads the group, is also expected to be released soon. Both were arrested in connection to incidents which lead to the killing of US soldiers and the kidnapping of five British civilians, one of whom has been killed. The releases are thought to be the first part of a behind-the-scenes deal which could culminate in the release of the four remaining hostages.

In Sadr City, there is said to be a sizable disagreement between groups within the power structure that has previously made up the Mahdi Army. Some of its former high-ranking members are thought to have stopped dealing with the Sadrist leadership altogether, and have joined the ranks of Asa’ib Ahil al-Haq. The group is generally thought to be fully supported by Iran - receiving weapons, funding, training, intelligence, etc. Some of the other leaders are said to be currently in Iran, receiving training and direction.

With a return of Muqtada al-Sadr to Iraq looking imminent in the near future, a showdown between the two factions over control of Sadr City is being anticipated. Even though both are assumed to have Iranian backing, Iran is seen to be omnipresent in Iraq, even supporting multiple rival factions and newspapers with opposing ideas. There are jokes about politicians complaining that an election wasn’t fair, because “Iran backed all of the candidates”.

One option particularly feared in Sadr City (often called “al-Medina” – Arabic for “The City”) is a return of the “Shari’a Court”. In the days of 2006 and 2007 when the Mahdi Army walked the streets of Sadr City openly, this strict interpretation (and a misguided one, perceived by many) of Islamic law was enforced by self-styled “courts”, made up of Mahdi Army appointed leaders. Offenses of a wide range of “non-virtuous behavior” (including clothing and hair style) were dealt with harshly and often violently. The extremist interpretation of Shari’a threatened all without the mafia-like clout enjoyed by the leaders of Baghdad’s militias, and the violent subjugation of women in particular led to the usage of the term, “the Talibanization of Iraq”.

If indeed, a showdown between the current followers of al-Sadr and Asa’ib Ahil al-Haq occurs, and if a clear winner gains dominance over large parts of al-Medina, one of two forms of the Shari’a Court is expected, even if it is not expected to be employed to the same extent as in past years. Though neither form are relished by Sadr City residents, the one expected to be enforced by Asa’ib Ahil al-Haq is seen as being closer to Iran’s form of Shari’a, milder and less-restrictive than the more severe version preferred in the past by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr.


Daily Column
Prisoner is Suspect in Death of 5 GIs, Minibus Passengers Die in Baghdad Bombing
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/09/2009 02:00 AM ET
The lead story today is what appears to be a hostage/prisoner swap between American forces and a militant Shi’a group. Also, a bombing in Baghdad, MRAPs made for Iraq are refitted for Afghanistan, a remembrance of a soldier killed in Iraq, and more Colbert.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Michael R. Gordon cover the release of Laith al-Khazali, a Shi’a insurgent who was being held for his part in an attack in Karbala in 2007 which killed five American soldiers. The group to which he belongs (Asa’ib al-Haq) is thought to be backed by Iran, and also believed to be holding five British hostages who were kidnapped from the Iraqi Finance Ministry two years ago.

It is a well-written article, showing the apparent disconnect between the United States government’s public stance of not making such deals and what is actually happening on the ground. US officials say the release of al-Khazali is part of a “reconciliation” effort, but in an interview last week, chief negotiator for the Iraqi government Sami al-Askari said, “This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners.” He continued, “So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join in the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned.”

Campbell Robertson, also in the New York Times, covers a bomb which exploded in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Dshir on Monday, killing as many as seven and wounding as many as two dozen. There were conflicting opinions on the nature of the bomb – with interior ministry officials announcing that a sticky bomb had been used, but witnesses saying that the force of the explosion (apparently large enough to blow a child’s body onto a nearby roof) was too extensive for a sticky bomb.

Some additional details are also included about the five American contractors who were arrested in connection to the killing of one of their own in the Green Zone last month.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Jane Arraf writes of the first taping of Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” in Baghdad. "It must be nice here, because I understand some of you keep coming back again and again and again," Colbert said, as his persona (a mock-Bill O’Reilly style host) said. Arraf sets the scene, writes of the dark humor which always seems to accompany the military, and provides some highlights.
Holding up a Risk boardgame and saying the rules state it's not over till someone declares victory, he said: "You heard it here first – I, Stephen Colbert, by the power invested in me by basic cable, officially declare: 'We won the Iraq war.' "

"That's a little concerning. We're not quite ready to declare victory yet," guest star Gen. Ray Odierno told him, adding there was still some work they had to do with the government of Iraq. "It's about long-term stability. It's still dangerous out here."
Stateside
The Wall Street Journal’s Yochi J. Dreazen provides yet another demonstration of resources being redirected from Iraq to Afghanistan, IED-resistant MRAP vehicles are being retooled at about $100,000 per vehicle to operate in Afghanistan’s rocky, mountainous terrain. Iraq’s roads are largely developed, but in the Afghanistan, broken axles can be the result of driving such a monumentally heavy vehicle where there is no asphalt.
The effort is on full display at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a sprawling military testing facility north of Baltimore. Engineers here are testing bomb-resistant trucks that have been outfitted with new suspension systems designed for Afghanistan's unpaved roads and rocky mountain passes.

On a recent visit, military contractor Mark Jackson maneuvered one of the trucks down a steep hill. The truck's cabin shook violently, but the vehicle -- a "mine-resistant ambush protected" truck, or MRAP -- made it to the bottom without any problems. "You'd never even have tried that with an old MRAP," Mr. Jackson said inside the truck. "It wouldn't have made it even halfway down the hill."
There is another tribute to a fallen U.S. soldier, which has been made possible by the lifting of the ban on media coverage of military funerals for GIs who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, Mark Berman writes of Spec. Jessica Sarandrea, of Miami, was killed in Mosul at age 22 when “enemy forces attacked her forward operating base with mortar fire”. She was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday.

USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com.


The Latest
Basrans in Busy Market Spot, Lead to Capture of Bomber
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/04/2009 8:30 PM ET
Google Earth image/Iraqslogger

BAGHDAD – In Basra on Thursday, shoppers and merchants led to the apprehension of a man described as an Iranian.

Just before noon, a shopper noticed a man dressed mostly in black set down a black plastic bag among stalls in Basra’s bustling Um al-Broum Market and walk away hurriedly. The shopper called out, and people surrounded the man in black, restrained him, and found a bomb in each bag. Police quickly arrived as people began hitting the would-be bomber, and apprehended him. Iraqi Army forces showed up soon thereafter and took custody of the prisoner.

The man’s style of clothing led many at the scene to believe that he was from Iran. Aswat al-Iraq quoted a police source as saying, “The person is a resident of the Iranian Ahwaz area,” but this, as yet, can not be confirmed.

After the man was taken away, a spontaneous celebration took place between the people who had been involved.

Daily Column
Iraq-Kuwait Crisis Escalates, More Corruption Trials to Come
By AMER MOHSEN 06/03/2009 5:55 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
Iraq news is relatively scarce today. But al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda opens with two interesting items: firstly, Maliki is continuing his efforts to present himself as an anti-corruption statesman who is willing to stand up to rampant corruption in the Iraqi state (in electoral terms, such a reputation may have better echoes with the frustrated Iraqi voters than sectarian or nationalist slogans.)

The paper’s headlines today quoted a “pledge” that Maliki made in an interview with the editors: “I promise myself never to protect a corrupt person.” The Premier told the Iraqi daily that “we have launched a broad campaign against corruption ... and we will not relent ... we will not hesitate to turn a corrupt Minister or civil servant to the legal system, even if he was a friend of mine.”

This comes after the arrest and prosecution of 'Abd al-Falah al-Sudani, a Minister in Maliki’s cabinet who came from Maliki’s own Da'wa party. The choice of al-Sudani as the first target in the anti-corruption campaign was clearly meant to disarm Maliki’s political opponents who may claim that corruption prosecutions are done on a political basis.

Another important item is the escalating crisis between Kuwait and Iraq, and the Iraqi government (or elements within it) is now more comfortable in launching political attacks against Kuwait and other Arab neighbors.

Following an exchange of angry statements over Kuwait’s policy towards Iraq (namely, its refusal to facilitate Iraq’s emancipation from UN Chapter VII mandate,) al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda is reporting that Kuwaiti MPs are lobbying for a decision to withdraw Kuwait’s Ambassador from Iraq. This comes after Iraqi MPs said that they will initiate a legislation demanding “war reparations” from Kuwait for its role in the 2003 US invasion.

In a new round of (dangerous) escalation, the Iraqi daily is claiming that “a number of Iraqi MPs” are preparing a project to launch a popular referendum in Iraq “over Kuwait being a part of Iraq.” This discourse that questions the political borders of the two countries had largely disappeared after the trauma of the 1990 Kuwait invasion, its reappearance in Iraq (even in a symbolic form) is likely to enrage Kuwait’s officials.

On the same front, Az-Zaman quotes al-Maliki calling for “dialogue” and for “calming” the political rhetoric between Iraq and Kuwait. The PM’s comments were made while he was receiving the Kuwaiti Ambassador in Baghdad in an effort to relieve the diplomatic crisis.

Also in Az-Zaman (local edition,) harsh positions against Kuwait were reported via Usama al-Najeefi, the Mosul MP, who complained that Kuwait’s conditions will lead to Iraq not regaining its sovereignty “for many years to come.” Kuwait’s attitude, al-Najeefi claims, has left a bad impression among the Iraqi public “and brought back the painful memories of 1991 ... we have seen nothing but intransigence (from Kuwait.)”

In other news, London-based al-Hayat says that Parliamentary blocs are criticizing the government “disinterest” in the popular referendum over the Security Treaty that was signed between the Iraqi government and the US last year.

According to the terms of the agreement, a popular referendum should be held by the end of July, which, if rejected by the populace, will annul the treaty and leave the US with no legal cover for its military presence in Iraq.

MPs from the Tawafuq and Ayad 'Allawi’s blocs complained that no legislation has been proposed so far to hold the referendum and that the poll may not be held on time if preparations are not stepped up. According to the chair of the Elections’ Commission, Faraj al-Haidari, holding the referendum will require a budget of $90 million, which has not been made available by the Parliament as of yet.

Lastly, Az-Zaman says that an Algerian paper claims to have conducted an interview with 'Izzat al-Duri, the highest-ranking Ba'thi still at large, who claimed that he will send President Obama a “document of demands” that will include a call for negotiations with the US administration.

The paper said that it was able to reach al-Duri after six months of contacts with Ba'thi leaders inside and outside of Iraq, and that the ex-Vice President responded to the paper’s questions in writing. Al-Duri allegedly denied rumors of his death, and said that he remains in Iraq and did not take refuge in a neighboring country (as is often claimed.) Al-Duri also reiterated his rejection of the current “political process,” describing it as “an American project that is executed by Iraqi hands.”

Daily Column
Crisis with Kuwait Escalates, Parliament Considers Imposing "War Reparations"
By AMER MOHSEN 06/01/2009 4:54 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
Original news from Iraq were relatively scarce today, but according to al-Jazeera, the “Front for Struggle and Change” – an umbrella organization grouping a dozen Islamist insurgent factions – has chosen Sheikh Harith al-Dhari as “its spokesman and representative in international arenas” and has called upon “all resistance factions” to follow suit.

Jordan-based al-Dhari is the head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, an organization formed after 2003 opposing the US occupation and the US-sponsored political process. Eventually, the Association was banned and its leader is currently considered a wanted man by the Iraqi government.

On its website, the “Front for Struggle and Change” published a statement explaining its choice of Dhari as its political face, adding that several smaller factions have also asserted their delegation of Dhari as their spokesman. The “Front” may be one of the largest insurgent coalitions among Iraq’s Sunnis, flanked by “the Supreme Command for Struggle and Liberation,” which is loyal to 'Izzat al-Duri and especially active in north and northeastern Iraq. Apparently, Shi'a insurgent groups are not part of these political developments.

In other news, the crisis between Iraq and Kuwait over war reparations and Iraq’s Chapter VII status is escalating, with Iraqi officials making (for the first time since 2003) statements that are openly critical of Kuwait.

Az-Zaman reports in a front-page story that, in response to Kuwait’s insistence on recuperating the full sum of the UN-imposed war reparations, Iraqi Parliamentarians have suggested that Kuwait should be also liable for war reparations to Iraq “for its role in facilitating the (US) invasion.” Iraqi politicians fear that if Kuwait does not soften its position, Iraq may not regain its sovereignty and remain under UN Security Council mandate for years to come.

The Parliament Speaker Ayad al-Samirra’i was quoted as saying that “Iraqis are in pain today because of some of positions originating from Kuwait,” asking the Kuwaiti government for “a positive approach in bilateral relations.”

Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, meanwhile, which regularly features harsh editorials against the Arab Gulf states, seized the occasion to remind readers of “the hate of the Sabahs (towards Iraq.)” In the throwback to pre-1991 political discourse, the chief editor of the daily reiterated claims (that had become taboo) on Kuwait allegedly being historically a part of Iraq. “The Kuwaiti adviser to the Prince” the editor wrote “is touring the world to convince (leaders) not to emancipate Iraq from Chapter VII so that the (Iraqi) people can be starved further and so that Kuwait remains a state ... does Kuwait merit that we turn a blind eye to its Iraqiness?”

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