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Daily Column
Mental Health Counselor Killed in Camp Victory Shooting Laid to Rest
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/17/2009 02:00 AM ET
Nothing much about Iraq today, and nothing at all filed out of Iraq. The House’s passing of the $106 billion war-funding bill is briefly covered, as is the burial in Arlington National Cemetery of a counselor in the Camp Victory clinic shooting last month.

Stateside
Perry Bacon Jr. of the Washington Post covers the passage in the House of a bill which will fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. It has been a divisive issue among Democrats, but in the end, Speaker Pelosi managed to rally enough of them to pass it, “despite their misgivings about his strategy in Afghanistan”. A group of 51 Democrats also initially opposed the bill, who “have long pressed for complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq and reduced presence in Afghanistan.”
One of those voting yes was Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who had earlier said that he opposed the war funding. "We are in the process of wrapping up the wars. The president needed our support. But the substance still sucks," Weiner said. All but five Republicans opposed the bill after the White House included language to fund a line of credit for the International Monetary Fund. The GOP said that amounted to a "global bailout."
The bill still faces Senate approval, where a fight is expected over another provision provides $1 billion for vouchers for people who trade in old cars to buy more fuel-efficient ones (called “Cash for clunkers"). Also in the Washington Post Mark Berman writes of Monday's burial in Arlington National Cemetery of Navy Cmdr. Charles K. Springle, 52, who had served for more than two decades before volunteering to go to Iraq to help counsel service members. He was killed May 11 when a U.S. soldier opened fire inside a combat stress clinic at Camp Victory in Baghdad. It is one of several similar articles published in the Post since the ban on media coverage of funerals for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was lifted.

"He knew that his work was very important, and he also knew that it was dangerous . . . in the theater," said a colleague. "It was in the combat zone, and that's where he wanted to be. He volunteered to go there. He felt that that's where he could be most effective."
At Arlington yesterday, the U.S. Navy Band, a sea of crisp white dress uniforms, led more than 100 mourners down Marshall Drive to York Drive. The slow, steady drumbeat of the band accompanied them, the only noise audible besides the clop-clopping of the horses pulling the caisson.

Family and friends gathered in the shade of the willow oaks lining York Drive before emerging into Section 60, following the wooden box containing Springle's cremated remains. Members of the motorcycle-riding Patriot Guard Riders stood watch behind them.
Opinion
Iraq is briefly mentioned in Thomas L. Friedman’s column today, as an example of how the mosque isn’t the only influential gathering place in majority Muslim countries in the Middle-East, an article driven by what is happening in post-election Iran. He likens sites like Twitter a “virtual mosque,” as opposition supporters mobilize online and in the streets.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

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


Daily Column
Al-Sadr Blasts US President, Ashraf Camp Besieged
By AMER MOHSEN 06/05/2009 6:01 PM ET
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
Az-Zaman (international edition) fronted with interesting news: an American military delegation is to be sent to Damascus “to discuss stability in Iraq in the phase following (US) withdrawal from Iraqi cities.” The daily quoted Assistant Secretary of State PJ Crowley, who actually said that “emissaries” will be dispatched to Damascus, without specifying their mission. But an official in the Syrian Embassy in DC affirmed that Damascus is expecting “a military delegation from the US central command,” the Pentagon, the paper added, did not comment on these statements.

These events are part of the US diplomatic campaign in the region surrounding President Obama’s visit and his calls for reviving the Arab-Israeli peace process. Obama’s speech in Cairo and Iraqi reactions to it were the front page story of the local edition of Az-Zaman. The government welcomed Obama’s words, the paper reports, especially the parts where the US President “renewed the commitment of the American administration to Iraq, and to respecting the withdrawal deadlines,” said a statement by government spokesman 'Ali al-Dabbagh.

Muqtada al-Sadr, on the other hand, published a harsh statement criticizing Obama, declaring that “he who wages wars and uses occupation and his armies to subject populations and colonize them ... has no right to speak as a savior of peoples and an advocate for their rights.” The statement claimed that Obama “cannot” change American policies towards the Middle East and that his “sweetened and well-crafted” words are but “a new, different method for the subjugation of the world.” Al-Sadr claimed that the change in America’s tone is only due to “the financial crisis, the multiplication of opposition to America ... and the role of the resistance in weakening the US and forcing it to resort to these fake, lying speeches.”

In other news, al-Jazeera reports that the Iraqi police is currently besieging the Ashraf Camp, which hosts the controversial Mujahideen Khalq (MEK) organization, an Iranian faction that opposed the Khomeini regime, and which took refuge in Iraq during Saddam’s war with Iran. MEK is considered a terrorist organization by the US government, and Iran has been pressuring the Iraqi government to deliver the MEK activists to Tehran or expel them from Iraq.

Al-Jazeera reports that, according to sources in Ashraf camp, the police has completely besieged the camp since Friday morning, preventing the movement of goods and people in or out of the camo, which hosts over 3,000 people. The Iraqi government, the news channel noted, had committed to close the camp and disband the organization, affirming that it will not accept the use of Iraqi territory for anti-Iranian activities. Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, meanwhile, quoted parts of an interview that was allegedly conducted by an Algerian newspaper with 'Abd al-'Azeez al-Duri, the ex-vice President and contested successor to Saddam at the helm of the Ba'th party. We had reported on the interview on Thursday, but al-Bayyna focuses on al-Duri challenging the US forces to capture him alive, pronouncing that he will only be gotten “as a martyr.” Al-Duri confirmed that he is still present in Iraq, and that rumors of his death due to blood Cancer were untrue.

On a related front, Iraqi websites circulated a statement sent by Yunis al-Ahmad, the Damascus-based leader of a Ba'thi faction, to 'Izzat al-Duri “and the members of the National Command,” demanding reconciliation between competing Ba'thi wings and the holding of a new party conference to select a unified Iraqi Command. In addition, the statement called for “freezing all current conflicts, and stopping the irresponsible media rhetoric ... between Ba'this” until the election of a “temporary command.”

Lastly, the escalating war of words between Iraq and Kuwait over the issue of war reparations is gaining momentum in the media. We have reported on several anti-Kuwaiti items in the Iraqi press in recent days. Today, an Iraqi political website features several provocative anti-Iraqi pieces published in the Kuwaiti media. “We opposed forgiving the war debt,” says a writer in al-Watan Kuwaiti daily, “because we know that the Iraqi people drank the milk of hatred to Kuwait for a long time ... and because we believe that jealousy and hatred towards Kuwait run with the white blood cells in the veins of many Iraqis!.”

Daily Column
Baghdad/KRG Oil Deal, Terrorist Traffic Via Syria Again Inching Up
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/11/2009 02:00 AM ET
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s surprise visit to Baghdad grabs the headlines, but brings no great developments. News of a re-invigorated insurgent route from Syria to Iraq and the first details on an oil deal between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government are the major stories. Only the New York Times and the Washington Post have original Iraq material today.

From Baghdad
Pelosi’s visit made it in the headline of two of the three Iraq stories. The most-reported sound bite was "We will have intense political involvement as we go forward," as it sort-of addresses future US involvement in Iraq. She didn’t talk troop levels, but the adjective “intense” makes it clear (from a vocally anti-Iraq war Democrat) that Baghdad’s US embassy isn’t being abandoned any time soon. Pelosi met with parliament speaker Ayad al-Samarraie and talked intelligence-sharing with Prime Minister al-Maliki.

The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid and Nada Bakri have an article dedicated to the visit, and has the basics. Fears among Iraqis that US disengagement is adversely affecting security are spoken of, as are the basics minutes of Pelosi’s discussions with the Iraqi leaders.
The talks focused on challenges in that relationship: the U.S. role in helping broker boundary disputes between Iraq's Arab and Kurdish regions, cooperation in intelligence to fight a lingering insurgency as the U.S. military presence diminishes, and efforts to combat sometimes spectacular corruption that has undermined faith in the Iraqi government.
Campbell Robertson of the New York Times has an article that splits itself between Pelosi and a deal between Baghdad and Erbil on oil contracts in Iraqi Kurdistan. For years, the issue of whether or not contracts signed by the KRG are legal has been a huge sticking point, and the political rhetoric has been repetitive, to say the least. Robertson covers the announcement of, if not the details to, a pact that would allow the Kurds to start exporting oil from two oilfields under its control.
Iraq’s central government had long insisted that it alone had control over Iraqi oil, and had refused to recognize any oil contract signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. It remained unclear on Sunday why Baghdad had softened its position or how the Kurds might benefit.
Both articles include mention of the ongoing corruption scandal in the Trade Ministry. After being on the lam for a week, the brother of Minister Felah al-Sudani was arrested.

Stateside
Karen DeYoung writes of evidence that a network which smuggles foreign fighters into Iraq via Syria has again become active, just as the Obama administration is exploring a new diplomatic dialogue with Syria. In a departure from declarations of administrations past, US officials (from whom the information comes) point to unnamed elements within Syrian intelligence, but “have been careful not to directly accuse Damascus of supporting the traffic”.

From the title, it sounds like a story about insurgents, but ends up really being a fairly captivating policy piece. The carrots and sticks America is simultaneously using with Iraq’s neighbor are prominent, and the release of the information about the insurgent transit route comes across as being part of the US's policy strategy.
On Wednesday, acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro arrived in Syria for their second visit since Barack Obama's inauguration as president. Two days later, however, Obama renewed U.S. sanctions against Syria, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorism in the Middle East and undermining Iraqi stability.

"I think it sends the message that we have some very serious concerns," Robert Wood, a State Department spokesman, said of the sanctions renewal. Feltman, he added, was "in Damascus to talk about . . . how we can get Syria to change its behavior and see if it's willing to really engage seriously in a dialogue, be a positive role in the Middle East. Up until now, Syria hasn't played that positive role."
Gen. Odierno said Syria, "has the opportunity" to stop it, and called on the Syrian government to "demonstrate a commitment to eliminating the use of its soil as a staging area."

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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


Daily Column
Can Iraq Go It Alone? Foreigners Filling Jobs That Iraqis Often Shun
By DANIEL W. SMITH 04/22/2009 02:00 AM ET
A new US ambassador to Iraq is confirmed with little fanfare, the prospect of a G.I.-less Iraq is looked at as the question “Can Iraq Go It Alone?” is asked, and the point of view of people moving to Iraq to snag often low-paying jobs.

Hill Confirmation
Some in Iraq have been made to feel that they’ve been going it alone already, but I guess the US Senate figured that if even the Iraqi parliament could elect a speaker, then they’d better follow suit and confirm the most basic of positions in foreign relations – an ambassador. If you look carefully in both the New York Times and the Washington Post, you might find a paragraph or two in daily briefing sections committed to the confirmation of Christopher Hill to the post. The voting tallied in at 73-23, and critics said his record showed he was an ineffective North Korean diplomat, and that he lacked Middle East experience.

From Baghdad
“There is little ambiguity in President Obama's plan for an accelerated US withdrawal from Iraq,” writes Jane Arraf, in the beginning of her article in the Christian Science Monitor, on whether or not Iraqi forces are ready to tackle the country’s security challenges. The general answer by US sources she speaks to (some of them speaking freely and off-the-record) is just as clear – no.

"The question is can the Iraqis keep it down without us being here, and we would assess right now that they cannot," says a senior US military official, adding that Iraq's security forces "are clearly better than they were, but they still do not have the capability to be their own self-sufficient counterinsurgency force." The lack of intelligence-gathering capability, airpower, and budget shortfalls which threaten to severely limit possible Iraqi troop levels are all named as factors.

Arraf doesn’t speak to any Iraq officials, but the near-uniformity in opinion of the US guys she talks to (while, at the same time, stressing that "there are no current plans to keep American forces here past 2011"), makes its own point.
While the Iraqi Army has become relatively adept at conventional operations and has improved its planning and logistics, much of the drop in attacks over the past year has been achieved through counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations increasingly partnered with Iraqi troops but still led by US forces.

Already a hiring freeze by the Iraqi government has stalled plans to increase the size of its security forces from 615,000 to about 646,000.

Iraqi security forces still rely on the US for combat and logistical help, including close air support, communications, intelligence and surveillance, as well as clearance of roadside bombs and medical support.
In the other piece of original Iraq-related reporting today, the New York Times’ Timothy Williams and Tareq Maher have an interesting feature on the foreign workforce in Iraq. “These are not contract workers recruited by American firms like KBR or Halliburton to work at American military cafeterias or to pull guard duty on the perimeter of American bases,” they say, “but men and women who have come to work for Iraqi businesses that would otherwise hire Iraqis.”

As cleaners, cooks, and other positions which many Iraqis may not want to do, despite high levels of unemployment (for all you who think there’s no cultural common ground between Iraqis and Americans) foreigners from places like India, Uganda, Bangladesh, Nepal and Ethiopia are proving reliable - and what’s more – cheap. “Sometimes I hear loud booms, but I don’t care,” said Zahandwir Aloui, a 25-year-old waiter from Bangladesh. “I like working here.”
Since the 2003 invasion by United States-led forces, few foreigners have strayed outside the heavily secured Green Zone, with the exception of well-armed American soldiers, because foreigners had been targets of Sunni and Shiite militias, which carried out kidnappings and executions. Even though Baghdad is safer now than it was in the first few years following the invasion, most of the recently arrived workers say they do not go far from their workplaces.

Mr. Aloui, the waiter, who earns double what he would at home, lives in a room at a hotel next door to the restaurant (where diners are searched for suicide belts before eating). He says he knows almost nothing about Baghdad aside from the dozen or so steps between the restaurant and the hotel. He has been told not to walk the street alone.

And while he works as many as 15 hours a day, six days a week, for his $250 monthly salary, not including a $50 monthly bonus, the restaurant’s Iraqi-born waiters earn more than double that — even when they work far fewer hours.
The relevant issue of exploitation is brought up, as many of these low-wage workers have found themselves in Iraq with few prospects and needing to take what jobs are offered to them, even if it wasn’t quite what they were promised by the employment companies who brought them. It is worth reading, for a glimpse into an increasingly common part of everyday life in Iraq that many would not expect.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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


Exclusive
Males Cutting Hair Short For Fear of Anti-Gay Killings, Al-Dabbagh To Be Fired?
04/14/2009 8:06 PM ET
Photo: Daniel W. Smith


Hair Length/Anti-Gay Killings
Recent killings of men and boys thought to be gay in Baghdad, mostly in Sadr City, have raised fear of among homosexuals, as well as others who do not want to be mistaken for them. Different numbers have been reported by different news agencies, but as many as twenty bodies have been found in past weeks, some with notes which have the Arabic word for “puppy” a local pejorative term for homosexuals.

Many males who have let their hair grow longer since the militia-strong years of 2006 and 2007 when long hair, facial hair, or dress could singe anyone out for violence, are cutting their hair short again. Iraqslogger spoke to a male in his thirties who was warning his younger brother, who lives near Sadr City, to have his hair clipped back to its previous short style.

In recent weeks, clerics in and around Sadr City (though not restricted to this area) have focused on the immorality of homosexuality, and the need for families to reign their young men in. Some of the killings are thought to be analogous to "honor" killings, where a family member might kill a female who is seen to have damaged the family's honor. The issue been covered in the Iraqi press, but not prominently. Al-Sharqiya, for example, though usually not afraid of controversy, recently had a story about it on their web-site, but did not air the same story on the station.

Changes in Government Positions Rumored
A shake-up in high-level government positions is being rumored around political circles. The most visible object of the rumor is government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. The rumors were made public enough that he appeared on television to deny any possibility that his job was in jeopardy. Still, with new officials taking positions every day in the wake of the provincial elections, and with national elections coming up, there is much talk.

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