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Daily Column
Kurds, Arabs Maneuver Ahead of U.N. Report, 25 Years for Dutch-Iraqi
By DANIEL W. SMITH 04/17/2009 02:07 AM ET
Yesterday, it was only the New York Times, today, it is mostly the Washington Post, for Iraq-related coverage. An explosion at an Iraqi military base in Habbaniya gets conflicting body counts, A US judge sentences a Dutch-Iraqi man to 25 years for crimes committed in Iraq, “smart prosthetics” for veterans, and Kirkuk is still Kirkuk.

From Baghdad
On Thursday, a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi Army uniform made it through tight security at a large military base in Habbaniya, in Anbar province. The main focus of the story by Steven Lee Myers at the New York Times and also the Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño was the sharp contrast between casualty rates reported by Iraqi officers on the scene (which reported 16 killed and as many as 50 wounded) and a statement by the Ministry of Defense (which left no one dead, and only 17 wounded. The Americans aren’t saying anything. Neither paper seemed to trust the ministry account (historically, not a bad call). Myers’ article is the more in-depth of the two.
Confusion often clouds accounts of attacks here, but rarely have senior officials offered such divergent reports about a death toll. ...Journalists were prohibited from entering the base and the hospital, which Iraqi and American officers visited after the wounded arrived.

One of the three officials who reported 15 deaths suggested that commanders were playing down the toll, perhaps reflecting embarrassment over the security breach. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly and were contradicting their superiors.
Ernesto Londoño, again in the Washington Post, writes of ever-troubling and ever-disputed Kirkuk. The more things change in Kirkuk, the more they stay the same. Articles about Kirkuk read basically the same as they did years ago – Kurds say it is quite obviously a Kurdish City, while Arabs there aren’t so convinced (and the city’s Turkman population has their own ideas)

The are a few new developments. A UN report, about to be released, based on an analysis of the region's history, demographics, and election results, the United Nations is expected to suggest a power-sharing deal between Kurdish and Arab parties (a concept not unlike one recently suggested by the UN and refused by both parties). Also, a new Arab political group has just been formed, to strengthen the fight on their side, a group which “intends to deploy the paramilitary groups known as Awakening councils, or Sons of Iraq, to fight insurgent groups in villages in northern Iraq.” In January, the US military increased its numbers in the area from a battalion (about 900 troops) to a combat brigade (of about 3,200), if that says anything.

Londoño has written the “tension rising in Kirkuk” story before, but it still packs a punch.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Arab leaders have accused Kurds of encroaching in areas that are under nominal control of the Baghdad government. Maliki in recent months deployed troops loyal to the central government to stem the influence of the Kurdish regional government.

Hussein Ali Salih al-Juburi, a senior Arab political leader in Kirkuk, said local politicians decided to form the Iraqi Kirkuk Bloc to "strengthen the Arabs' position" on what he called "Kurdish intransigence." He said the group intends to deploy the paramilitary groups known as Awakening councils, or Sons of Iraq, to fight insurgent groups in villages in northern Iraq. Kurdish politicians in Kirkuk say they won't accept any deal that prevents the Kurdish regional government from annexing the city.
Del Quentin Wilber of the Washington Post writes that, in the first sentencing in a US court of a non-American for insurgent activity in Iraq, a federal judge yesterday handed a 25 year prison term to a Dutch national for conspiring to kill Americans in Iraq.

Wesam al-Delaema agreed to accept a 25-year sentence in exchange for his guilty plea, on the condition that he will serve his term in the Netherlands, where a Dutch judge will review his case and could reduce his sentence. Wilber includes interesting tidbits from the trial, including clothes and a bandage which helped al-Delaema be identified in films taken during insurgent operations.
Delaema pleaded guilty in February to conspiring to kill Americans in Iraq. He admitted traveling to Iraq in 2003 to be a member of the group Mujaheddin From Fallujah. But prosecutors and defense lawyers fought for two days over whether Delaema could be considered a terrorist as defined under federal sentencing guidelines.

Delaema, who grew up in Fallujah and became a Dutch citizen in 2001, was videotaped with other insurgents planting roadside bombs designed to kill Americans. In one video taken in the Fallujah area, a hooded Delaema can be seen brushing dirt away from an explosive device and then helping to rebury it.
As of April 1, 871 amputee patients wounded in combat had been treated in U.S. military facilities. Christian Davenport, again in the Post, writes of how one of them has become Walter Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s “bionic man”, with a set of high-tech battery-powered legs.

Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson lost both legs above the knee after his convoy was hit in Iraq by an IED in 2007. Though Davenport only speaks of the state of prosthetics in an upbeat way (possibly giving the misimpression that problems for amputees have been swept away with this new gadget) the Power Knee really does seem promising. "It's radically different from any prosthetic available today," said Mike Corcoran, a certified prosthetist who has worked with Gadson through his rehabilitation.
The new prosthetics, sleek and silver and white, are lighter, more stable and quieter than their predecessors. And because they can predict movement as well as react to it, they are smarter, too, Walter Reed officials said.

Corcoran can wirelessly "log in" to Gadson's knees and tell, in real time, whether his gait is symmetrical, how long his strides are and whether he's walking up or down hill. With that information, Corcoran can adjust settings, giving Gadson a better fit and smoother ride. The legs even have an odometer in them, "so I know what he's done over the weekend. If I tell him to walk four miles and then see that he hasn't, he's busted," Corcoran said.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Parties Rush to Claim Victory, Post-Electoral Alliances Decide Ultimate Victors
By AMER MOHSEN 02/02/2009 6:13 PM ET
Now that the provincial elections' results are starting to leak, indicating wide gains for Maliki and his Da'wa party alliance, a two-front dynamic has begun: parties trying to shed a positive interpretation on their results (and claiming contradicting outcomes,) and a hustle and bustle of political maneuvers that aim at forming ruling alliances in the newly-elected provincial councils. The latter process is extremely important: little matters if a certain list (say, Maliki’s) won a plurality of votes – and, consequently, council seats – in a given province; when no party can command an absolute majority of seats (which seems to be the case in most southern provinces where the vote was widely dispersed between competing list,) a majority alliance will likely form and elect a governor from its ranks. Therefore, parties that did well in the elections could still find themselves excluded from effective rule and decision-making if smaller blocs coalesce against them and form a majority.

In some cases, deals were struck prior to the elections with parties committing to form a common bloc in the future provincial council. One such deal was revealed yesterday in Najaf, consisting of an agreement between Ayad 'Allawi’s Iraqi List and the Sadrist-backed Ahrar List to form a majority coalition in the council – along with a few smaller parties – once the final results are announced. Az-Zaman quoted the leader of the Iraqi List in Najaf, Waheed al-'Isawi, as saying that “a majority bloc” will be formed under the leadership of the Sadrists in the provincial council (Grouping the pro-Sadrist Ahrar, 'Allawi’s Iraqi List, a coalition of independent politicians and ex-Premier al-Ja'fari’s Islah party.)

Al-'Isawi also said that Sadrists had asked Ayad 'Allawi to replicate the same coalition in all Iraqi provinces, a claim that remains unconfirmed. Az-Zaman, however, headlined with a prediction that “('Allawi’s) Iraqi List is gravitating towards alliances that will change the electoral situation in the provinces.” Iraqi List MPs who were contacted by the paper, however, did not confirm or deny the news, claiming that “it was too early” to speak of post-electoral coalitions when the results have not been known and announced yet.

On the other hand, parties that did not fare well with the voters are expressing their openness to political coalitions in the hope of limiting their political losses and maintaining a position of power in the new councils. The Islamic Party chairman in Anbar, who may have lost his grasp over the province to a tribal coalition, announced according to a local news agency that he is ready “to enter into alliances with any political entity that wishes to cooperate with it.”

Al-Hakeem’s SIIC, thought to be the other big loser of the elections, issued a statement according to the Iraqi Independent Press Agency (IPA) defending the party’s performance in the elections and calling for “openness and sharing (of power) between the factions that won, as well as those that did not win (!)” It also spoke of “wide-ranging coalitions and alliances” that will follow the announcement of the results.

The statement claimed that the party’s list “and the independents” did extremely well in the elections, “garnering first or second place in 11 out of 14 provinces where the elections took place.” It also predicted that the SIIC may achieve 20-25% of the total number of council seats in all of Iraq, a stark contrast with prevailing “leaks” that expect a significant defeat for al-Hakeem’s lists.

It should be pointed out that all leaked results and estimates cannot be trusted until official tallies are announced sometime later this week. Parties that were rumored to have done badly, such as the Islamic Party and the SIIC, rushed today to issue their own version of the results, leading to a proliferation of contradictory tallies. For example, al-Hayat places al-Hakeem’s lists at second place behind Maliki’s in most southern provinces, while az-Zaman insists that the SIIC was not among the top three in these districts.

Al-Jazeera spoke of “a race to victory announcements” among the competitors, with government officials entering the fray. Government spokesman 'Ali al-Dabbagh announced that Maliki’s coalition is heading for a massive victory in the south, giving credibility to the leaks. Government-owned As-Sabah, however, refrained from publishing specific results, contenting to say that “the political map will change” after the dust of the elections has settled.

The Latest
British MOD spokesman denies any decisions have been made
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/17/2008 8:32 PM ET
Photo: Daniel W.Smith

For the past few months, British officials have been hinting at a major drawdown of British soldiers in Iraq, but numbers, dates, or other specifics have been avoided.

Mawafaq al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser, made a public statement on Thursday, however, that "By the end of next year there will be no British troops in Iraq.” This appeared to be a surprise to the British Ministry of Defense, and was followed by one of its spokesmen denying that any timetables had been set, concerning the withdrawal of British troops. An Iraqi govenmental statement then quoted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saying, “Iraq will establish a negotiating team to discuss the future of the British forces in Iraq.” He added, “It is important to reach an agreement between Baghdad and London before the UN Mandate expires on December 31, 2008."

46,000 British soldiers were sent to Iraq in 2003. About 4,000 remain, mostly in the southern city of Basra.

The Latest
Kurds Oppose; "Support Councils" Debate Takes Shape in Northern Iraq
11/14/2008 8:11 PM ET
Google Earth image/

Tribesmen in a predominantly Arab town in the disputed Iraqi province of Kirkuk will stage a demonstration in support of the Iraqi prime minister's bid to form "support councils" in the governorate and to denounce remarks by Kurdish political leaders to oppose the bid.

Ali Salih, the president of the district council in the Hawija area said on Friday that "the district will see a peaceful demonstration Saturday morning to announce that the Arab tribes support the formation of support councils in Kirkuk."

Fault lines over the Iraqi Prime Minister's national initiative to form locally based tribal "support councils" are deepening in northern Iraq, following on the PM's controversial bid to create such councils in the center and south of the country. A battle of words has now erupted in northern Iraq over the PM's bid, with Arab and Turkmen leaders decrying recent remarks by the principal Kurdish parties that the so-called "support councils" would be illegal and unwarranted in northern Iraq.

Salih told Newsmatique on Friday that "The principal goal of the demonstration" in Hawija "is to denounce the remarks of Kurdish officials who described the support councils as juhoush," or "donkeys," a term used by Kurds to describe collaborators. "It is important that every official in Iraq be careful in his remarks, especially if they are related to the Kirkuk question because this is a complicated and thorny issue," he said, describing "recent remarks by some of the officials in the Kurdish parties" about the support councils as "provocative."

The Hawija official added that the demonstration will show that Arab tribes are supportive of Prime Minister's initiative to form support councils, and all the decisions issued by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki." Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has agreed to the request of a delegation of Arab tribal leaders in Kirkuk to form support councils linked directly to the central government, Newsmatique notes.

Hawija, located about 30 miles west of Kirkuk city, had been under control of armed groups, some linked to the al-Qa'ida in Iraq organization, before locally organized councils under the name Sahwa or "Awakening" were formed in the province, with US backing, as in many of Iraq's predominantly Sunni Arab areas. The Sahwa forces have taken over the Hawija security situation to a large extent, in cooperation with Iraqi and American forces in Kirkuk province.

The PM's initiative to form "support councils" would possibly spread unarmed versions of the Sahwas to other parts of Iraq, as well as provide a direct political link between Iraqi tribes and the Baghdad government.

Kurdish denunciation

In a joint statement issued this week, the two principal Kurdish parties announced their opposition to al-Maliki's project to enlist Iraqi tribes in "support councils" in disputed areas in parts of northern Iraq as an attempt to create armed forces that could undermine Kurdish claims to disputed areas, calling the move "unconstitutional" and "reactionary."

It was in this statement that the two parties referred to the support councils as "a revival of the juhoush forces," referring to militias organized by the Saddam Hussein regime to combat Kurdish ambitions, and threatened that the Kurdistan regional government would take legal action against anyone participating in the support councils project.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki shot back with his own statement expressing his "disappointment" at the Kurdish parties' positions and defending the support councils project as an attempt to preserve security in Iraq. Accusing the Kurdish parties of intimidation, the PM insisted that the support councils would be unarmed.

The Iraqi prime minister's moves to form as-yet unarmed support councils among tribesmen in the center and south of Iraq has also been met with controversy, although along different fault lines. In these predominantly Shi'a areas, the PM's initiative has been denounced by the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council (ISCI) of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, and its allies. These groups view the move as a potential measure to increase al-Maliki's power base in these areas of the country in advance of the upcoming Iraqi elections.

Turkmen support

Meanwhile, Ali Mahdi, vice president of the Turkmanili Party and member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council with the Turkmen bloc has also criticized the position of the Kurdish leadership on the issue of forming support councils in Kirkuk. In a press conference on Friday, Mahdi remarked that he was disappointed that the Kurdish parties opposed the initiative, affirming that the councils, if formed, would support the central government of Iraq.

The mechanisms by which the councils would operate and their goals are still unclear, adding that his party called at an earlier time to call for a National Unity council in Kirkuk, saying "We in the Turkmanili Party suggested that a National Unity Council be formed in Kirkuk contaning a committee of the sects and ethnicities to look at the divergent opinions in the province and to enhance national unity and the democratic process in Kirkuk.

Mahdi added that Kirkuk was in need of such councils to organize the relationship between its diverse ethnic groups, especially with the approaching arrival of a fact-finding committee to the province.

"We confirm the necessity of institutions in Kirkuk to look at the principal problems between the ethnicities in the province," Mahdi said, adding "we view the formation of these councils as a way to organize relations between the sects and ethnicities and to help the political process and to bring viewpoints together, especially in a time that the Parliamentary Committee special to article 24 of the elections law is going to arrive in the province to resolve the pending issues in Kirkuk."

Although the players are different, parallels exist between the debate over the support councils in the north and south of Iraq. In both areas, factions that have traditionally aligned with the idea of a stronger central government seem to support the PM's initiative, while those that have backed wide-ranging sectarian or ethnic federal regions in the country, namely the Kurdish parties in the north and the ISCI in the south and center, have viewed the initiative with hostility.

Suicide Attack Killed 15, Including Sahwa Leader in August
By SLOGGER NETWORK 09/08/2008 6:12 PM ET
Google Earth image/

Members of the Sahwa forces in the Adhamiya district, in Baghdad east of the Tigris River, have told IraqSlogger that they have identified the suicide bomber who targeted a member of the pro-US irregular forces in a deadly attack last month.

The attack, which occurred on Sunday August 17, left at least 15 dead and over 25 wounded near the Abu Hanifa mosque. Among those killed was Farouq Abu 'Umar al-'Ubaydi, also known as Farouq Abd al-Sattar, a deputy leader in the local Sahwa forces that are active in the province had who have been credited with turning back the 9influence of armed groups in the predominantly Sunni Arab district.

Sources in the Sahwa forces explained to IraqSlogger that their members photographed the upper half of the dead bomber’s body and asked Adhamiya residents if they could identify the individual.

A woman in the district told the Sahwa forces last week that she that she recognized the man, saying that he was a resident of Adhamiya. The woman guided Sahwa forces to the home where the man allegedly lived, according to IraqSlogger's sources.

According to the Sahwa sources, the bomber was originally from Yemen, the brother of a Yemeni woman who married an Iraqi man who used to live in that country and who owns the house in Adhamiya where the bomber allegedly stayed before conducting the suicide operation. Members of IraqSlogger's network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report but choose to remain anonymous for security reasons.


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