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The Latest
Handover of Joint Operations Center Scheduled in Sprawling Baghdad District
06/19/2009 7:08 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

A source in the Iraqi Army has announced that Iraqi security forces will receive the security file for the eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City from US forces tomorrow.

The source told INA News that the Iraqi forces will receive the joint operations center in the al-Jaza’ir Center near the Army Canal east of Baghdad in an official ceremony, the agency reports in Arabic.

The joint operations center was established after heavy conflict erupted between US and Iraqi forces and militia fighters last year.

Sadr City, known as Saddam City until the fall of the Ba'thist regime in 2003, is considered one of the largest areas of the Iraqi capital, containing around 3 million inhabitants. Many living in the impoverished area face squalid conditions, lacking vital services. The predominantly Shi'a district is a longtime stronghold of the Sadrist Current and its Mahdi Army militia, with whom US and Iraqi forces faced off in the district repeatedly, including heavy fighting last spring.

Exclusive
"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
Nineveh Witnesses Sharp Political Crisis, Baghdad Metro to be Finally Built?
By AMER MOHSEN 06/09/2009 6:18 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
Media outlets agreed that the release of Laith al-Khaz'ali, an alleged activist in the 'Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH) organization, is part of a deal to release five British hostages who have been detained since 2007 by a Shi'a armed group.

According to al-Jazeera, Sadrist sources confirm that Laith al-Khaz'ali has returned to his home. Al-Khaz'ali is accused of participating in an attack that killed five US soldiers in Karbala two years ago. His brother, Qais, who was arrested along with him, is a key leader in the 'Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq group, and rumors state that the release of Qais and other AAH leaders was the ultimate goal behind the kidnapping of the British nationals in 2007 (an “administrative expert” and four “aides” according to al-Jazeera.)

While the negotiations were probably conducted through British and US channels, and while al-Khaz'ali was let go by US, not Iraqi, orders, Az-Zaman pointed to al-Maliki as the man who plied to the kidnappers’ requests. The daily’s headline read: “Al-Maliki submits to the kidnappers’ conditions by releasing al-Khaz'ali.” Interestingly, Az-Zaman presented contradictory British claims, quoting a Foreign Ministry spokesman who confirmed that the release was made “on the basis of a mediation with the kidnappers.” On the other hand, the paper says that it received an official British statement denying that al-Khaz'ali’s release was part of a deal involving the kidnapped British nationals, and claiming that the event was merely a part of Iraqi government efforts to pacify armed groups and bring them into the political process (which does not sound truthful given that the detainee was in US custody and was transferred to the Iraqi government only last Saturday.)

In other news, a political crisis is developing in the northern Nineveh province, which is sharply divided between Arabs and Kurds, especially after the last provincial elections where the “Arab” list won the majority of the vote.

According to Az-Zaman, the vice-Parliament Chair, 'Arif Tayfour, said that Nineveh should be divided into two distinct provinces, one ruled by the Arab coalition and the second (including Kurdish-majority areas) by the Kurdish bloc. According to the daily, an Iraqi MP demanded that Tayfour be relieved from his position after these statements “that threaten the integrity of the province.”

On the same theme, London-based al-Hayat reported on the calls of local Kurdish leaders who asked that two provincial councils be formed in Nineveh: one for the Arabs and another led by the Kurdish parties. Atheel al-Najeefi, the current governor of Nineveh, described this proposition as “unconstitutional,” claiming that it is mere “media talk.”

In the last elections, the “Arab” list gained 19 seats out of 37, while the Kurdish list (also supported by the Sunni Tawafuq coalition) garnered only 12. Subsequently, the Kurdish coalition was denied any of the main administrative positions in the province – including the governor, vice-governor and Council Speaker, which led the Kurdish coalition to boycott all the activities of the provincial council. The same policy was adopted by local governors of Kurdish-majority counties, who announced that they will refrain from dealing with the new provincial council and threatened to affiliate their counties with the Kurdistan Region.

On a different front, a Canadian court has rejected Kuwait’s request to impound Iraqi aircraft in Canada as part of Kuwait’s compensation for the 1990 Iraqi invasion. The Iraqi aircraft should be released soon, according to sources, and the main reason for the rejection of the Kuwaiti lawsuit was technical: Kuwait had filed the suit against Iraqi Airways, while the aircraft in Canada are owned by the government and the Ministry of Finance.

Lastly, government-owned As-Sabah says that the mayorship of Baghdad may revive the Baghdad metro project, which has been placed on hold since the 1980s. According to the daily, Baghdad’s city council invited international companies to apply for the construction of the first phase of the Baghdad metro, which should include two lines, the first (18 Kilometers long, with 20 stations) linking Sadr City to the A’dhamiya district, and the second (21 Kilometers with 21 station) linking southeastern Baghdad to the Mansour district and the center of the Capital.

The Latest
Four Reported Arrested in Hunt for Wanted Militia Leader
06/04/2009 6:13 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

A security source in the southern Iraqi province of Wasit has reportedly said that an American force arrested four people on suspicion of terrorist links in raids north of the provincial capital of Kut on Thursday.

The source added that US forces conducted the raids at dawn on Thursday conducting raids and inspections of a number of houses searching for a wanted individual in the al-Nu'maniya district about 25 miles north of Kut city.

Four wanted men were arrested in the raids, the security source told al-Malaf Press, the agency reports in Arabic.

The raiding forces were hunting the wanted man Shakib Muhammad, accused of leading a militia force and implementing terrorist operations against innocent civilians and security forces, including murder and abduction. Muhammad did not number among the four arrested men, the security source added.

Multi-National Forces have not commented on the Wasit Province operations.

Exclusive
Demands Replacement of Local Sahwa Leader
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/03/2009 1:02 PM ET
Sadr City Council Chairman Hassan Hussein Shama
Photo: Yousif al-Timimi
Sadr City Council Chairman Hassan Hussein Shama

BAGHDAD - Hassan Hussein Shama, chairman of the Sadr City council, threatened on Tuesday to cut contact with both the US military, if a Sahwa leader within Sadr City is not replaced.

At a previous council meeting, 55 former Sahwa members filed official complaints, accusing that the leader of involvement with special groups, as well as with corruption. Chairman Shama said that he sent a complaint to US forces who operate in Sadr City, but received no answer. According to Shama, a closed meeting was then held between him, an American commander, and other council members, but a resolution was not reached. Shama gave the Americans until next Thursday to “deal with the situation.”

The leader, who is as yet unnamed, was said to replace members in his command every two months, and routinely took money from their salaries. The leader is reported to have told officials that it was the American military was responsible for the two-month turnover rule, but this would be highly unusual. Council member Ali Swadi said, “The Americans have nothing to do with the staff replacement rule, but they should get involved to help solve the problem.”

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