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Daily Column
Diplomats Are Casting About to Find a New Formula to Influence Politics in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/06/2009 02:00 AM ET
Well, US papers relied largely on wire stories today for their Iraq material. For original work, we have only the New York Times, with a “where we are now” piece worth reading.

From Baghdad
Alissa J. Rubin gives us some analysis of an emerging Iraq with everyday decisions increasingly being made by Iraqis, instead of the guests who invited themselves over six years ago.

Now more than ever, American military and civilian officials do not have the daily contact with national, local, military and tribal leaders, decreasing their influence greatly. Iraqis are operating without their English-speaking buffers, now somewhat out of the loop – something neither side is very used to.
As they deal with Iraqi politics, the Americans must find a new tone. They have a reputation for being heavy-handed, for telling Iraqis what to do rather than asking what they want — a legacy of the period when Americans were in charge as an occupying force. Now that Iraq is in most respects a sovereign country, that approach only generates hostility.
Rubin discusses an Obama administration Iraq policy that has seemed distant to many Iraqis, and Vice President Biden’s trip this week, intended to counter that impression. The big fear, as always, are sectarian divides.
National parliamentary elections set for January already look likely to be run along sectarian lines. Shiite parties are leaning toward forming a united coalition with only nominal Sunni support. That could push Sunnis to run together in order to maximize the number of seats they get — perpetuating a Lebanese style of politics, with ministries and other posts divided along sectarian and ethnic lines.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Kut Commander Reported to Face Charges of Forgery, Fuel Smuggling
06/30/2009 7:44 PM ET
A high-level Iraqi security official in Wasit Province is to be charged with various counts of forgery and fuel smuggling according to reports in Arabic in Iraqi cyberspace.

The anti-government Haq News Agency reports that its sources in the Interior Ministry have disclosed that arrest warrants will be issued for Maj. Majid Latif al-Amara, identifited as the commander of rapid response forces in the province, along with orders dismissing him from his work.

The sources said that al-Amara will face more than one legal charge. The arrest order cited by the Haq Agency includes allegations of falsifying a school degree, although the unidentified sources are also reported to reveal that more than one charge will be issued against the officer.

According to Haq News, the official stepped down from his post to contest the January elections in Wasit Province on the part of the secular al-Iraqiya List, led by former Iraqi Interim PM Iyad Allawi, but returned to the security forces after failing in that bid for a provincial council seat in Kut.

Meanwhile, the Buratha News website, a media organ of the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council led by Shi'a cleric Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, says that unidentified high-level officials in Wasit Province have disclosed documents that link al-Amara to fuel smuggling operations in the province.

Both reports appear on highly partisan websites and cannot be confirmed at this time.

The Latest
Border Surveillance, Checkpoints to Block "Infiltration" over Eastern Frontier
06/30/2009 6:34 PM ET
Google Earth image/

Iraqi forces in the southern province of Maysan have reinforced their positions along the Iran-Iraq border, according to remarks by the top provincial security officer reported in Arabic.

Maj. Gen. Sa’d Ali Ati al-Harbiya, commander of Maysan Police said that “Intensive security measures have been taken by (Iraqi) Army and Police forces especially along the eastern border with Iran to prevent any infiltration into Iraq.”

The general told al-Malaf Press that the security measures focus on “intensifying surveillance along the Iran-Iraq border” to prevent any cross-border penetration.

The security measures also include intensified inspections at the provincial border crossings as well as sending foot and mounted patrols in principal areas of the province, the security commander added.

Al-Harbiya added that Iraqi police and army forces have become capable of receiving the security file and are equipped to protect the province and to fill the void after the withdrawal of US forces from the cities.

There will be an official ceremony in the Majar al-Kabir district, about 25 miles south of the provincial capital Amara to mark the handover of the security file from the American forces, to be attended by the governor of Maysan Province and the head of the provincial council as well as the provincial police and Army commanders, along with US military commanders and key political and security figures in the province.

Daily Column
On Eve of U.S. Pullback, US Forces' New Role is Still Evolving
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/30/2009 02:00 AM ET
The future role of US forces in Iraq is beginning to emerge to fuller extent than in previous weeks, as is a vocabulary to explain it in the writings of American newspapers. It takes more than a soundbite (or even several paragraphs) at this point, but it continues to be boiled down, as official statements are being compared with each other and with what is happening on the ground. Today, most of the stories are based on Iraqi reaction and the prospects for security under the country’s own forces, but from within can be gotten a pretty full grasp of the situation as a whole.

From Iraq
We'll start off with Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post, who gives the best general picture of what’s happening. The celebrations in Iraq are the focus, but there are telling undercurrents, as people dance and sing at a government-sponsored event at Baghdad’s Zahwra Park.
But city streets were also largely empty of Humvees and U.S. troops. Those Iraqis who ventured out were in the mood to party, celebrating a moment that the Iraqi government has said represents its return to full sovereignty. "Out, America, out!" a group of sweat-drenched young men chanted. ...Iraqi policemen, many wearing body-armor vests without plates, bobbed their heads, taken by the moment.

As Americans adapt to the vaguely defined terms of the security agreement that set June 30 as the deadline for soldiers to leave the cities, there is little talk among U.S. commanders and diplomats of engineering a victory in the 2 1/2 years they expect to remain here. Some officials have begun saying privately that the best-case scenario would be to depart with a "modicum of dignity." Doing so will mean contending with a resilient insurgency, volatile politics and a growing assertiveness among Iraqis whose patience with the U.S. presence long ago wore thin.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf continues her coverage of Mosul, where a joint US/Iraqi ceremony included Ninewa Governor al-Najafi announcing "June 30 is the first day in the history of the true and complete independence of Iraq," and the top US general in the region displayed a sign reading "Iraqi approved US assistance teams" that will be placed on American military vehicles. Arraf has been pushing the understanding of the future US presence in Iraq through here Mosul reporting for weeks, and keeps it coming.
Six years into the war, it has become politically untenable for both Iraq and the US to have American combat troops in the streets. But although the intent of the security agreement is clear, the mechanics of how it will be carried out and how well it will work are much less certain.

The effectiveness of the agreement will come down to coordination – so far not the hallmark of the Iraqi military. Although there is an Iraqi officer embedded at the battalion tactical operations center, the Iraqis have not provided someone to fill the same function at the higher brigade level in Mosul.

...As if to underscore the concerns, last week at a major checkpoint in the city an IED packed with ball bearings exploded just after a US military training team drove past. The blast missed its apparent target and shattered the windows of a passing Iraqi car. The IED had been placed just a few hundred yards from the Iraqi Army checkpoint.
Marc Santora of the New York Times writes about US forces pulling out of Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, where the prospect of less security (even with more than 500 army soldiers, 700 National Police officers and 400 members of the Sunni Awakening - plus several hundred others) brings with it the specter of past sectarian violence. Though it marks improvement from the worst of times, it is a picture much more grim than that seen through the rose-colored lens of Iraqi state-run television.
Schools are open, including one where a teacher had been strung up by her feet and had her face cut off by extremists. For the first time since the outbreak of the war, major thoroughfares are lit up at night. Streets where raw sewage once streamed are now merely battered and strewn with trash.

But beneath the calm, the original sectarian tensions that exploded into civil war remain. Few displaced families have moved back into their houses, with Shiites living in the northern half and Sunnis in the south. Responsibility for security is also equally divided — the National Police for the Shiite area and the Iraqi Army for the Sunnis.

“Right now we are balanced on a knife’s edge,” said one Sunni man. “We do not like the Americans, but we also thank God when we see them with the Iraqi Army, because we know we can trust them more than the government forces.”
Aamer Madhani and Nadeem Majeed write, in USA Today, about the Zahwra Park celebration as well, and about other things less celebratory, such as the death on Mmonday of four US soldiers.
U.S. troops weren't in sight in the capital Monday. Instead, Iraqi police and soldiers flooded the streets — their vehicles covered in plastic flowers and streamers. Troops blared martial music and patriotic songs from speakers mounted at checkpoints throughout the city.

...While Iraq celebrated the switch-over, violence continued. The U.S. military announced Monday that a soldier was killed in combat on Sunday, but his name was not released. More than 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003.
"We are grateful for what the U.S. military did in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime and fighting the militias and al-Qaeda," said government spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhly said. "What we need now is their help rebuilding our country."

"I pray our police and army will be able to provide us security," said Kareem Abdul Hassan, 56. "But I still feel uneasy about the situation."

From Elsewhere
Bidding on huge Iraqi oil contracts Tuesday are foreign companies far and wide – and one of the wider players is looking to be China. Keith Bradsher files from Hong Kong, and details some of China’s current and likely future involvement in Iraqi oil.
As the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing consumer of oil, China is showing increasing interest in oil fields in a country that has until very recently seemed to be firmly in the American sphere of influence for natural resources: Iraq.

...Chinese oil companies have been particularly interested in buying oil fields ever since crude oil prices plunged late last summer, because that dragged down the cost of oil fields as well, Mr. Andrews-Speed wrote. And with their experience in some of the most turbulent countries in Africa, Chinese oil companies may have the ability to cope with the unpredictability of Iraq.

The Latest
In Aftermath of Bombing, Demands for National Unity and Purge of Security Forces
06/26/2009 6:16 PM ET
Google Earth image/

Supporters of the Sadrist Current demonstrated in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday demanding that the Iraqi government provide protection for minorities, especially the Turkmen minority in the province.

Followers of the populist Shi'a trend took to the streets after the Friday prayers in the Sadrist Khaz'al al-Tamimi mosque in central Kirkuk, chanting slogans and carrying signs and Iraqi flags.

Shaykh Ra'd al-Sarkhi, the director of the Sadrist offices in Kirkuk, said “We came out to day to demonstrate our demands that the government protect minorities and guarantee their rights, especially those of the Turkmen.”

A bomb blast in Taza Khurmatu, a predominantly Turkmen town in Kirkuk Province, killed over 80 people last Friday.

“Today we ask the Iraqi government to remain committed to the specific date for the American withdrawal and to hand over the security file to the Iraqis” in Kirkuk, al-Sarkhi added.

The local Sadrist leader also said the protestors demanded that the government install machinery to detect explosives in Kirkuk and to pass a national security law.

“We ask the Iraqi people to support the security forces in the province to preserve the security and unity of Iraq, and especially Kirkuk,” al-Sarkhi said. Oil-rich Kirkuk province is the subject of overlapping claims to its territory, pitting the province’s Kurdish population, many of whom seeking to attach the province administration to the Kurdistan autonomous zone to the north, against its Arab and Turkmen populations who have opposed these demands.

The Sadrist demonstrators also asked the Iraqi government to purge the security forces of “followers of the occupation, of terrorism, and of the Ba'th, all enemies of the Iraqi people,” al-Sarkhi added.

Demonstrators carried signs bearing the slogan “No to America, No to Israel, Unity among Iraqis,” along with Iraqi flags and photos of the Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist Current.

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