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Daily Column
Shahrastani Faces an Uncertain Fate, Dozens of Iraqis Killed in Kirkuk
By AMER MOHSEN 06/30/2009 5:11 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
Note from the author: After two and a half years of reporting on the Iraqi and Arab media for the readers of Iraq Slogger, this experience has come to a close. It has been an honor and a pleasure, and I hope that my daily column has been of help to our faithful readers. I also hope that, one day not too far, good news will finally start emanating from Iraq, this fascinating country that has been tormented beyond belief. Please stay in touch: amer@berkeley.edu

Iraqi papers are out today due to the national holiday announced for the occasion of US withdrawal from Iraqi cities and urban centers. However, the day that Maliki described as “a great victory,” calling for Iraqis “to be joyous” and celebrate, has been marred by dozens of victims who fell in a massive explosion in Kirkuk.

Al-Jazeera reports that at least 32 Iraqis were killed in the northern city when a car exploded in a busy market. According to the local correspondent of the news channel, the incident took place in a mixed area containing both Kurds and Arabs, and that the number of casualties is likely to rise as the search for victims continues.

Also on the day of US withdrawal, al-Jazeera reports that four US soldiers were killed in Baghdad in clashes. But the US Army has refused – so far – to reveal the circumstances of their death, contenting to state that an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Another important piece of news pertains to the auction of Iraqi oil fields that began today in Baghdad, live on national television. Arab and international media agencies are reporting very bad news for the Oil Minister Husain al-Shahrastani: the auction was a failure.

According to early reports, the first day of the event (which will continue through tomorrow) did not witness the amount of interest and competition that was expected of the energy giants that attended and bid on several Iraqi oil and gas fields.

Only the Rumaila oil field in the south (the largest on offer) was successfully contracted to British Petroleum, which acceded to the government offer of $2 per barrel produced (above a minimum limit and over 20 years.) Some of the other fields did not receive any offers; and as for the rest, companies were unwilling to match the prices set by the government. In fact, the only bids that were made in some cases exceeded the price limit by several folds – companies cited security threats among others as factors that significantly raise the commercial risk of investing in Iraqi oil.

This uncertain beginning for the first round of oil contracts will put al-Shahrastani in a real bind. The Oil Minister – whose person is already opposed by powerful political forces – has been accused of mismanaging Iraq’s oil wealth and of failing to raise the levels of production. Al-Shahrastani used to point to the upcoming round as the cornerstone of his plan to expand output and investment. Critics will now point out that the Minister’s decision to refrain from offering smaller service contracts (that could have significantly improved the performance of existing fields) in favor of packaged, long-term, contracts was not a wise one. Comparisons will no doubt be made between the fate of Iraq’s largest oil fields – which still remain untapped – and the smaller oil fields of Kurdistan (such as Taq Taq and Tawqe) that have already begun production (through foreign contracts that were fiercely opposed by the Minister. )

In other news, pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat published a report on the pro-US Sahwa militias, who stand to lose the most from the US withdrawal from Iraqi cities. As US patrols stop roaming Iraqi streets, Sahwa leaders exclaim: “we could pay a heavy price.” The Sunni militias find themselves now in direct contact with their nemesis, al-Qa'ida, which has vowed to wage an unrelenting war against these “collaborators.” Sahwa members told the paper that they felt confident near US units, knowing that al-Qa'ida would not dare wage attacks against them, “they knew who was the strongest,” an assurance that is now largely gone with the US Army concentrating its forces in five bases outside the major cities.

Other Sahwa fighters expressed fears that Shi'a militias will also “return” to target them. Worse yet, the Sunni militias face an uncertain fate with the Iraqi government that is now responsible for their equipment and salaries, and which views them with extreme suspicion. A Sahwa fighter standing at a checkpoint gazed at his antique machine gun and exclaimed: “if the terrorists return, they will surely kill us, how do you expect us to defend ourselves with this?”

Daily Column
Obama Faces a Chasm in Mideast: Legacy of Distrust Complicates Speech
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/03/2009 02:00 AM ET
Middle-Eastern views on US policy, namely views held by Iraqis, are the subject of the two main stories today - Obama and Hill are the ones selling the policy. An American serviceman killed in May is remembered.

From Iraq
In the New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland report on the balancing act of US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, that of trying to convince some Iraqis (fearful of too quick a withdrawal) that “support” will be ongoing, while convincing others (for whom a withdrawal couldn’t come quick enough) that there is actually a plan to leave. Of course there are more shades of Iraqi opinion than these two examples, and this is demonstrated in the article. Public opinion normally seems to hover between these two poles, at least in how people talk about the issues.

Part of the problem, write Rubin and Nordland, comes from an American public and government that would like Iraq all wrapped up and finished, before it is ready.
One of Mr. Hill’s first public statements was an announcement of the death of two embassy staff members who were killed by a bomb on May 25. The problem faced by Mr. Hill and the Obama administration is that the shooting is not over and if Iraq lurches out of control again, it will be on their watch and there will not be a Bush administration to blame. Although Americans might wish it otherwise, Iraq is not yet a stable society, a united country or even a place where the citizens agree on the form of government.
Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post writes a piece for the day before President Obama’s much-hyped speech “to the Middle East” from Cairo. Thoughts on the expectations Obama brings to Cairo are discussed, as are the baggage he must also lug with him as a United States president. Quotes are offered from a few different Middle Eastern countries, but the majority of them are firmly based in Iraq.

Though there is great interest in what Obama will say, there is a reoccurring notion that the proof will be in the pudding, and not a whole lot of pudding is expected. The dateline is Haditha, where a man speaks in a room where four of his brothers were killed by US Marines. "Talk does nothing. Everyone has talked. I talked, others talked. The entire town has talked," he said. “What have all those words brought us? It's just talk."

Some of the hope associated with Obama is due to him being Obama. “Just as important,” writes Shadid, “he is not George W. Bush.”
But Obama will still encounter a landscape in which two realities often seem to be at work, shaped by those symbols. There is America's version of its policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, Iraq and Afghanistan, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, defined in recent years by the legacy of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. There is another reality, from hardscrabble quarters of Beirut and Cairo to war-wrecked neighborhoods of Baghdad, where distrust of the United States runs so deep that almost anything it pronounces, however eloquent, lacks credibility, imposing a burden on Obama to deliver something far more than the unfulfilled pledges of Bush's speeches.
Stateside
Also in the Washington Post, Mark Berman writes a remembrance of Cpl. Ryan C. McGhee of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regimen, who died on March 13 in Iraq. McGhee was 21 years old. His story is told through events in his life and through the words of family.

Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com.


Daily Column
Oil Exports from Kurdistan Begin, Egypt and Iraq Sign Arms' Deal
By AMER MOHSEN 06/02/2009 6:13 PM ET
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
London-based al-Hayat notes that the past month of May was the costliest month for the US Army in Iraq since September 2008. However, half of the 24 servicemen who died in May perished in accidents, not in combat (including an incident where a troubled US soldier killed five of his comrades in a military clinic.) Paradoxically, the same month may have witnessed the lowest number of Iraqi casualties since the US invasion in 2003. The pan-Arab daily says that figures collected by AFP from Iraqi governmental sources show that “only” 124 civilians, six soldiers and 25 Iraqi policemen died in May due to violence.

Meanwhile, Az-Zaman reports that the first US Army casualty in June occurred today in eastern Baghdad, where a soldier died after his patrol was hit with an IED in the Ur district.

Az-Zaman’s front page story today spoke of an arms deal signed between Iraq and Egypt, “the first since the 8 years’ war with Iran.” The paper claimed that the deal was negotiated and signed “under extreme secrecy” and that it involves a training program to raise the combat readiness of the Iraqi Army. The paper’s sources, however, did not indicate the quantity or nature of arms that will be sold by Egypt.

Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, on the other hand, fronted with a worrisome headline “300 oil wells may fall into disrepair due to negligence and lack of maintenance.” The daily was quoting an Iraqi MP in the Oil Committee, Nur al-Deen al-Haiyali, who claimed that hundreds of Iraqi oil wells “have suffered intensive damage and productivity losses” due to lack of maintenance by the Oil Ministry. The MP also said that oil pipelines have also not been properly maintained in recent years.

It should be noted that these statements come as the Oil Minister Husain al-Shahrastani is set to be interrogated by the Parliament over the performance of his Ministry, with several blocs clearly pushing for his replacement. The attacks of Haiyali and other MPs, which squarely placed the blame on the Oil Ministry, should be read in that context - as well as the newspaper’s promotion of these statements. Both the Kurdish bloc and al-Hakeem’s SIIC are considered to be in the anti-Shahrastani camp and their MPs have been leading the offensive against the Minister prior to his appearance in the Parliament.

On a related front, al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the export of oil produced in Kurdistan was inaugurated yesterday in a major ceremony. The event was made possible due to a last-minute deal that was reached with the Oil Ministry, according to which the Kurdistan Regional Government accepts to relinquish control over the proceeds, which will go to the central government.

Also in al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, sources from the Kurdish PUK are saying that the two main Kurdish parties have agreed to appoint Barham Salih as Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region if their coalition list wins the upcoming Kurdistan elections. The news was relayed by Fu’ad Ma'sum, the head of the Kurdish bloc in the Parliament, but the paper quoted PUK MP Mahmud 'Uthman who said that Barzani’s party, the KDP, did not confirm this agreement yet.

If Salih were to be selected, he would replace Nechervan Barzani, nephew of Mas'ud, who has assumed the position since 2006. Barham Salih is considered to be one of the main figures in the PUK and is often described as Talabani’s second-in-command.

In other news, al-Jazeera reports that Saudi Arabia has responded to recent criticisms of Saudi policy by Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki, who claimed that the Kingdom “did not adopt a positive attitude” towards the Iraqi government. The news channel quoted the Saudi Minister of Interior, Prince Nayif Bin 'Abd al-'Azeez, who denied al-Maliki’s claims adding, however, that the Kingdom does not stand “with those in Iraq who work against their country’s interest.”

Daily Column
Gunman Kills Soldier Outside Recruiting Arkansas Station
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/02/2009 02:00 AM ET
Another slow day for Iraq news coverage. An explosion in Baghdad got some mention, as did a US shooting of US military recruiters by someone angry with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Baghdad
Marc Santora of the New York Times gives a briefing on a bombing at a market in southern Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood, the third in a month. Four were reported killed and fourteen wounded. According to Iraqi government statistics, May had the least amount of civilian lives lost to violence this year, even as US military deaths were at their highest rate since September.

Stateside
Also in the New York Times, Steve Barnes and James Dao report that a 23-year-old man upset about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan opened fire from his truck at two soldiers standing outside a military recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas on Monday morning, killing one private and wounding another. Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, of Little Rock, was arrested soon after the shooting with a Russian-made SKS semiautomatic rifle, a .22-caliber rifle and a handgun in his possession.

It is a pretty straightforward article, with background on the two victims, also from Arkansas, and in Little Rock as part of a recruiting program which uses soldiers just out of basic training. There is also a good amount of information about the suspect in custody.
In a lengthy interview with the police, Mr. Muhammad said he was angry about the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chief Thomas said. Previously known as Carlos Bledsoe, Mr. Muhammad told investigators that he had converted to Islam as a teenager, Chief Thomas said.

Chief Thomas said investigators believe that Mr. Muhammad acted alone. He seemed to be familiar with the Army recruiting office because it was not far from his home, the chief said, but might have been on the prowl for anyone in uniform.
“I would say he was looking for any and all targets of opportunity that happened to be military,” the chief said in a telephone interview. “That may have well been the first place he found.”

Michael D. Shear of the Washington Post writes, in another brief article, that President Obama visited with more than four dozen patients of the National Naval Medical Center during a stop at the Bethesda hospital, one of the nation's largest military medical centers. U.S. troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as military veterans, are served there. White house press secretary Tommy Vietor said, "The president met with 26 inpatients and approximately 30 outpatients and their families. He also met with hospital staff."

That's all.

Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com.


Daily Column
Lovelorn Iraqi Men Call on a Wartime IED-Setting Skills
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/30/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, there are only two pieces of original Iraq reporting, both in the New York Times. Though casualties haven’t been particularly high in recent days, the stream of them is steady. Some spurned young men are also reported to set IEDs either as revenge, or to further their cause.

From Baghdad
To start off the Times’ coverage, Rod Nordland reports that after six years of war, an anger management problem is present in Iraq. “That,” he says, “along with a lot of men with a lot of experience fashioning bombs and setting ambushes, makes for a lethal mix.” Nordland writes an interesting little article about something every jilted youngster has thought of doing, but which is actually occurring in Iraq.

Though the number isn’t high, and casualties have reported, this kind of bombing is frequent enough to warrant its own name among Iraqi security forces, a “love IED”. “These guys, they face any problem with their girlfriends, family, anyone, and they’re making this kind of I.E.D.,” said an Iraqi police captain.
The police say that many of the men are former insurgents who are no longer trying to kill foreign troops but who have an array of bomb-making skills and a stash of TNT. Even without explosives, a popular type of explosive device can be made from common household items including gasoline, a soda can and a plastic water bottle, with the innards of a cellphone as a remote detonator.

...“I’m a detective, and I don’t even know how to make one of these, but all these kids do,” the captain said. “There was a percentage of young men who were cooperating with the Al Qaeda organizations, or the Shia militias. They’ve changed their minds about fighting now, but they still have good experience in how to make I.E.D.’s.”
Examples are given of young men who turned to explosives for reasons of dissatisfaction in realms of both romance and school grades.

Campbell Robertson covers the deaths in attacks in Ninewa and Diyala on Friday. Other than the 11 Iraqi deaths reported, another is added to May’s record high tally for US military deaths since September.

The brief article has some particulars on the attacks, which include an IED attached to a motorbike, and the increasingly common practice of lobbing a grenade at a passing patrol - responsible for the death of the US service member in this case.
The increase in the number of deadly attacks on American forces may be related to the deadline of June 30, when the Iraqi-American security agreement signed last year dictates that coalition forces are to withdraw from the cities.

But Mosul is in many ways an exception to that deadline. An enormous American base on the edge of Mosul — a city that has remained a redoubt for the insurgency even as attacks have decreased substantially around the rest of Iraq — will remain open.
That’s all for today.

USA Today, no Saturday Edition.

Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no original Iraq coverage.

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


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