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Daily Column
Worrying Signs for Post-Withdrawal Falluja, A Look at Oil Minister Shahristani
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/24/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, we cover whether security is deteriorating or not and why (in Fallujah and elsewhere) and look Iraqi oil policy and the man behind it.

From Iraq
On the front page of the New York Times is a story by Rod Nordland about today’s Fallujah. A year ago, he writes, things were looking good in the city known for being “the site of the war’s only real set-piece battles, in 2004, and probably the fiercest urban warfare involving American troops since the 1968 battle of Hue, in Vietnam.” Reconstruction was buzzing (or rather, construction – given the city’s near leveled status after 2004) and security incidents were at an all-time low. In recent months, there have been deadly attacks on Iraqi security forces, and US military and civilian patrols. “In 2008 it was almost completely stabilized,” said Brig. Gen. Sadoun Taleb, a Sahwa member. “In eight months, not one thing happened. Now these last seven months, it’s getting worse and worse.”
American commanders in the region dispute that perception. “The facts and statistics prove it’s a much safer city than it was a year ago,” said Col. Matthew Lopez, commander of the Marines in eastern Anbar Province. Instances of violence have declined 20 percent in the past six months in eastern Anbar, he said.

The new attacks are aimed at the Iraqi Security Forces, not the Marines, he said. “The leadership of the I.S.F., and especially the Iraqi police, are much more sensitive to attacks on them,” Colonel Lopez said.”
Well, yes – I guess they would be.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal has one of the more compelling oil-related stories you're likely to read for some time. It starts off being about the upcoming smorgasbord oil contract auctions which are set to revitalize Iraq’s oil production. We’ve all read innumerable rewordings of underutilized oilfields, foreign firms scrambling to pick up the slack on limits to Iraqi companies’ capacity, etc. Recently we’ve been hearing about criticism of Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani for failing to increase production and claims of mismanagement and corruption.

What sets this article apart is that it veers off to paint a portrait of Shahristani himself and stays there long enough to be really interesting. His past as the chief adviser to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1970s, a less than pleasant meeting with Saddam Hussein, and the even less pleasant 10 years of imprisonment which followed are recounted. More recently, it should be noted that being called “too by-the-book” is fairly unusual for members of the Iraqi cabinet.
Deals in Iraq often are reached over cups of tea late at night, but Mr. Shahristani doesn't like schmoozing. In a capital built on patronage, he has denied plum jobs to longtime friends. He's earned a reputation as a stickler for rules, including cumbersome purchasing regulations that other oil officials blame for slowing down Iraqi oil development. He has refused even small gifts, such as neckties, from visiting oil executives, he says.

...Mr. Shahristani fired 250 members of the ministry's security staff thought to be militia members, and replaced top security officials with people he trusted. He turned over evidence of wrongdoing to the ministry's inspector general, and fired or transferred those suspected of malfeasance.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi reports on the US city withdrawal/recent violence issue. Recent attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk this week are highlighted, and the argument focuses mostly on the US military’s role in keeping Iraq secure. both Iraqi security forces and politicians must be “nudged”.
The US must figure out how to continue to nudge Iraq to address issues of mutual concern, even as the US footprint lightens, some analysts say.

"Stability in Iraq is going to continue to be based for some time on an American security presence, and we have not done a good job of communicating that reality to either the Iraqi people or the American people," says John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy think tank in Washington.

A less physically imposing but still robust American military and diplomatic presence should focus on developing "good governance" principles at all levels of the Iraqi government, says Mr. Nagl, author of a new report, "After the Fire: Shaping the US Relationship with Iraq." Moreover, the US must concentrate on building professionalism within the Iraqi military.
USA Today, Washington Post, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
The State Department Gets Musicians Together in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/04/2009 01:58 AM ET
There is nothing original in either the New York Times or the Washington Post about Iraq, which is unusual. The main piece is a view of Iraq from the vantage point of Jane Arraf’s nearly 20 year career as a correspondent in Baghdad. Technically, it was published on May 3rd, but did not appear on the Christian Science Monitor’s web site until after yesterday’s US Papers Roundup posting, so is being included today.

From Baghdad
Jane Arraf’s cover story (on the now-weekly Monitor paper edition that just came out) tracks the lives of two Iraqi friends she has known throughout her tenure as the longest-serving Western correspondent in Baghdad, and how their lives have changed.

She tells of the contradictions of a vibrant, Saddam-era Baghdad “aware of its unique place in history”, the free-seeming days following the US invasion, the horror that followed, and the current contradictions which face both Iraqis, journalists, and those who are in both categories.

It is not a story of a bombing or any particular such event that will make headlines. It is as close to the “real” story of Iraqis as one is likely to get (if there is such a thing) – about change and adaptation over time, while one’s city and culture go crazy around them. Many watched this happen behind them, if they fled Iraq, as is the case with an Iraqi journalist named Nermeen, a friend of Arraf’s from the old Baghdad.
I knew dozens of Americans and Iraqis who died in this war. For Nermeen, it numbers in the hundreds. The challenge is to find meaning in it. On a recent day, I went with her to her apartment on Baghdad's Haifa Street, scene of some of the worst fighting in the war. She has only been back here four times in three years after moving to the relative safety of her parents' Kirkuk house.

"Welcome to my dusty home," she says, her high-heeled boots clicking on the parquet, coated in a layer of fine sand. The kitchen window has shrapnel holes. Seeing Nermeen again is like having a part of my life back – a part I'd lost while covering the war embedded with the US Army and Marines.
Kim Thai of USA Today covers a State Department program called Musical Overtures, a cultural exchange program which sends American musicians to other countries, and vice versa. An effort is being made to include Iraq and Afghanistan. The experiences of an American pianist who found that, music really did function as a universal language, and that he and Iraqi musicians could work cooperate while belting out some Duke Ellington.
Funding for the State Department bureau that runs Musical Overtures and other cultural programs expanded dramatically under President George W. Bush, from $900,000 to $10 million in 2008. The budget for 2009 is at $8.5 million.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has spoken of the need for such cultural exchanges as part of the Obama administration's emphasis on "smart power" — using non-military means as a way to expand American influence.
New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Members of Family Hang Woman and Turn Themselves In, Expecting Little Punishment
05/02/2009 01:43 AM ET
Google Earth image/Iraqslogger

BAGHDAD – This week in Sadr City’s Gayara district, two family members of 27 year old Nadia Ahmad hung her with a rope. The motive was “to protect their family’s honor,” according to a source within Sadr City.

So-called “honor killings” can occur when a female is accused of having a boyfriend, engaging in prostitution, or being the victim of sexual assault, thus shaming her family’s name. In Iraq, mere rumors of a relationship with a male can lead to the label of prostitute, and her death. The same does not happen to males.

Two male family members are now reportedly in police custody for the killing. According to the source (who is familiar with the family), they were not arrested, but turned themselves in, expecting leniency. Honor killings are often looked at by law enforcement officials as family matters. Even if there are strong laws against the practice, perpetrators are sometimes given very short prison sentences, or must simply promise not to do it again.

The family’s reason for deciding that Nadia Ahmad had brought shame to them was unknown. Her mother was said to have been arrested five months ago for alleged involvement in a kidnapping.

Members of Iraqslogger’s network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report, but choose to remain anonymous, for security reasons.
Demonstration in Sadr City, after Twin Bombings and Overflowing Hospital
04/29/2009 6:28 PM ET
Google Earth image/Iraqslogger

BAGHDAD – During Wednesday’s afternoon rush hour, there were six explosions throughout Baghdad, most of them car bombs.

According to a member of the Iraqslogger network, the first explosions happened in late afternoon, close to Sadr City’s al-Maridi Market. The dead and wounded were taken to Sadr City’s Imam Ali Hospital, but the large number of incoming wounded took up all the beds, and the children’s hospital was used for overflow.

According to the source, there was a spontaneous demonstration of residents, who attributed the blame for the bombings to different sources. Most common were condemnations of the Iraqi Army, (who have a heavy presence in Sadr City) for not preventing the blasts. Vehicles which enter the huge neighborhood were said to not be searched enough, but most seemed to agree that the bombs were made within Sadr City.

Al-Maridi Market is often frequented by young people. It is also know as a place to sell equipment often found in dumpsters at US military bases, or sold by US soldiers such as laptops, Play-stations, American magazines, DVD’s, boots, and cans of food or MRE’s. Fake documents and IDs are also available there.

A member of Iraqslogger’s staff witnessed a car bombing at 6:30 PM in Western Baghdad’s al-Shurta al-Raba’a area (Fourth al-Shurta district), while he was driving through a nearby checkpoint with his family. After the blast, a large black cloud rose into the air, and Iraqi security forces immediately forced all vehicles to leave the area by the way they had come in, snarling the already heavy traffic. Six people were said to have been wounded.

An IED also went off in al-Doura, and two bombs went off at the same time near a Sunni mosque in al-Hurriya.

Daily Column
Tuesday Night, Wednesday Morning News
04/29/2009 04:48 AM ET
By Daniel W. Smith and Yousif al-Timimi

There weren;t a lot of new items, but there were developments in ongoing stories. After their boycott of Ninewa’s provincial council by the Kurdish-led Brotherhood List (for receiving no key posts in the council) the make-up meetings which al-Maliki had pushed for actually seem to have started, but further ones have been “postponed to an unknown date.” Governor Atheel al-Najafi (pictured) showed a slightly softer side, saying “Our talks with he Brotherhood List so far... were positive.” Ninewa-based MP Hanin al-Qaddo, an ethnic Shabak and outspoken critic to Kurdish parties in Ninewa, described the boycott as a “mutiny.”

Sahwa leader and Anbar boss Ahmed Abu Risha demanded that new Karbala governor Amal al-Din al-Hir “avoid” statements like he made last week – namely that two regions of Anbar which were part of Karbala until the 1970s be returned. Abu Risha said that such proclamations “instigate tumult.” He added, “What Abu al-Hir should do is to demand the return of the areas which were taken by Iran, such as Om al-Rasas Island (a disputed island in a waterway shared by Iran and Iraq).

Though getting on board with all the stories about the government claims of the capture of Islamic State of Iraq leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, Al-Sharqiya keep repeating that the US military refuses to confirm it.

The Interior Ministry was reported to have arrested three members of al-Qaeda in the city of Diwaniya, one of whom is employed by the ministry. (MP Taha Dirah Al-Saadi said that the ministry “lives in managerial chaos"). The detainees are said to have confessed to killing, kidnapping, and IEDs throughout Iraq. One of them is said to be Shi'a, not Sunni, and worked for the group for purely financial gain.

As far as the public uproar over two Iraqis killed in a raid in Kut on Sunday morning, the news keeps coming, but it is mostly more of the same. A formal apology from Gen. Ray Odierno is being demanded by Iraqi government spokesmen, and a new statement came out, urging the American government “to be committed to the text of the security pact.” Apologies from military brass not quite as shiny as Odierno have been made, but Al-Baghdadiya reported that family of the victims “reject the American apology, and demand punishment instead.”

The IIP’s Baghdad TV gave lots of coverage to another incident involving at least the wounding of another Iraqi at the hands of US forces in Taji, north of Baghdad, but no one else seems to be covering it.

One big story, especially after al-Maliki being snubbed by the leadership of Saudi Arabia, is that Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal promised to visit Iraq “as soon as possible," to establish a Saudi ambassador to Iraq, and work on relations between the two countries.

Comments on the Iraqi TV roundup are welcome at

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