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Daily Column
Iraqi Politicians Use Lawsuits against Writers and Intellectuals
By AMER MOHSEN 06/26/2009 9:41 PM ET
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
A report in al-Jazeera painted a somber scenario that could face Iraq if the frail Mosul dam finally collapses: half a million Iraqis could die in the city of Mosul, which will be completely ravaged by a trillion gallon of waters that would drown the city under 65 feet of water. The damages would not be restricted to the northern city – the entire plain between Mosul and Baghdad would be equally ravaged and the capital itself would be flooded by 15 feet of water.

Concerns regarding the stability of the Mosul dam (in addition to several others in Iraq) surfaced years ago, and after initial denials and reassurances by local authorities, the Iraqi government acknowledged that the dam is indeed threatened and requires continuous work to protect its foundations. Local engineers familiar with the dam (originally called “Saddam’s Dam”) state that the project suffered design flaws from the outset, requiring periodic injection of concrete into its foundations. The relative lack of maintenance during the years of the sanctions and after the US invasion may have compounded the problem and threatened the structure further.

Al-Jazeera quoted the Minister of water resources who announced that a 200 meter long concrete barrier will be built under the structure’s foundations, and that work is ongoing on the project. In addition, the Ministry said that it has contacted “international experts” to provide suggestions on the maintenance and upgrade of Iraq’s dams.

In security news, al-Hayat reports that attacks and bombings are continuing in Iraq, costing the lives of seven Iraqis on Thursday, while 16 more were killed on Friday. Nine US soldiers have also been injured yesterday by two IEDs that hit US patrols in eastern Baghdad.

Also in al-Hayat, the pan-Arab paper reports that Iraq is still looking for ways to regain its airplanes that were sent to Iran, Tunisia and Jordan before and during the 1991 Gulf War. However, these countries demand that Iraq pays for 17 years of “parking fees” for these aircraft, while Iran considers these Iraqi assets to be war reparations for the 8-year Iran-Iraq conflict. Regarding the planes parked in Jordan, the Iraqi state has apparently decided to disassemble the aircraft and sell them as scrap in Iraq, given that they are no longer in flying conditions.

In other news, al-Jazeera says that the Kurdistan government has re-affirmed its rejection of the oil contracts that are scheduled to be handed at the end of the month for six major Iraqi oilfields. A statement on the website of the Kurdistan Regional Government on Friday claimed that the bidding round is “illegal” and “unconstitutional,” which could precipitate a long legal controversy over the contracts after they are finalized.

The major point of contention between the Kurdistan government and the Oil Ministry is that two of the fields that will be offered to foreign investors (Kirkuk and Bay Hassan) are in “contested territories” that Kurdish politicians consider as being part of Kurdistan. Kurdish leaders stress that the central government does not have the right to exploit these fields until the conflict over them is resolved.

Lastly, lawsuits between politicians and journalists are proliferating. Vice President 'Adil 'Abd al-Mahdi is suing Iraqi ex-politician and intellectual Hasan al-'Alawi in Syrian courts after al-'Alawi published a book on Shi'a politicians in Iraq; and today, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda says that its editor-in-chief, Sattar Jabbar, was issued an arrest warrant by the head of the transparency committee in the Parliament, sabah al-Sa'idi – which prompted several front-page stories lambasting al-Sa'idi.

Daily Column
Iraq Plies to IMF Demands, Chalabi Involved in Re-Building the I'tilaf
By AMER MOHSEN 06/16/2009 5:27 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
For the first time in decades, Iraq is negotiating to receive IMF loans amounting to over $5 billion, news outlets report. Al-Jazeera says that these funds will not come without strings attached: Iraqi government sources told the news channel that the IMF has presented a package of conditions that Iraq needs to fulfill in order to receive the loans, including structural reforms to the monetary and economic policies.

One of the main requests of the international organization is for Iraq to cut its food coupons program, which dispenses basic foodstuffs to Iraqi families through a massive public distribution system that was fohttp://www.iraqslogger.com/adm/index.php?table=content&pageaction=addunded following the Second Gulf War and the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq. IMF sources said that the government should “reconsider” the program in order to make it target poor families exclusively, rather than the current system where all Iraqis are entitled to these food subsidies.

Az-Zaman’s front page claimed that the government “has begun to abolish the food subsidies” in order to satisfy IMF conditions. The paper said that the authorities started making lists of government employees whose salaries exceed a certain limit in order to cut them off from the program. Another major condition of the IMF will likely be the privatization of state-owned companies, most of which have been closed and unproductive since 2003, but the government continues to pay their employees’ salaries in order to avoid the political consequences of firing them.

It should be noted that the food subsidies, which are credited by many for preventing starvation in 1990s Iraq, have been repeatedly reduced since 2003, but – ironically – the cost of the program (now executed through private contractors) kept rising until it reached over $5 billion last year.

Also in Az-Zaman, the paper reports that the “reconstruction” of the Shi'a I’tilaf coalition will include a pivotal role for Ahmad Chalabi, who joined the I’tilaf two months ago. The paper’s headline claimed that Chalabi has committed to “renovating” the coalition, and that a statement by al-Hakeem’s SIIC said that new forces, which had left the I’tilaf in the past, will return, while new factions will be joining “within a new vision” for the alliance that was the biggest political player in Iraq in the post-2003 phase.

Meanwhile, the headlines of the local edition of Az-Zaman said that “unconfirmed reports” claim that 'Izzat al-Duri – Saddam’s second in command and the highest-ranking Ba'thi still at large – has died 10 months ago. The paper quoted a source “close to the Ba'th party” who claimed to have met al-Duri several times in 2003 and 2004; the source said that al-Duri was extremely sick and was unable to walk more than a few dozen meters in 2004, and that his health condition deteriorated thereafter until he died and was buried in a desolate area in the Hamreen hills – according to his will.

Since the US invasion, rumors said that al-Duri was sick with cancer and claims of his death have been made periodically. However, an Algerian paper published an interview with al-Duri two weeks ago, in which he allegedly denied that he had cancer (the interview, however, was made remotely and through written questions, which does not provide concrete evidence.) Sources in the Ba'th party had also stated that al-Duri’s apparent sickness (which was visible in his public appearances before 2003) was not due to blood cancer as was widely believed, but to an undiagnosed case of lactose intolerance.

Meanwhile, government-owned As-Sabah reports that the Iraqi Parliament has formally requested to summon the Oil Minister, Husain al-Shahrastani, for a Parliamentary interrogation next Tuesday. The Minister is currently one of the most controversial in the cabinet, with the Kurdish bloc, as well as several Shi'a parties, demanding his replacement. Other Iraqi MPs, the paper notes, have demanded that a special session be held to discuss major oil contracts that the Ministry aims to dispense to foreign companies in the coming days.

MP Shadha al-Moussawi said that these development contracts could grant foreign companies “up to 50% of oil revenues” and that the administration of the national oil company in the South has made repeated requests to delay the dispensation of these contracts until they are further evaluated. The Oil Ministry had announced that the winners of major contracts to develop much of Iraq’s idle oil fields will be announced in the coming weeks. The doubts surrounding the Minister and these new protests, however, could put these licensing rounds in jeopardy.

Daily Column
A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/29/2009 02:00 AM ET
Another slow day of Iraq news. There is only one article, about Kirkuk’s oil/population disputes, and a book review.

From Iraq
Timothy Williams and Suadad al-Salhy of the New York Times write about the northern city of Kirkuk, where vast oilfields have caused it to be referred to as Iraq’s “Jerusalem,” again and again. Everyone claims it as theirs, Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen, though the first two are the powerhouses involved.

Williams and al-Salhy give a basic description of where things stand and how they got there. Both Saddam’s removal of Kurds from the region, and the mass influx of Kurds after 2003, much more than ever were there before – with the intention of establishing an artificial majority. If you know the politics of Kirkuk, there will be nothing too new here, but there is good information there.
Both Kurds and the central government have long claimed Kirkuk as their own — and many residents and Western observers fear that the awarding of the contract, along with the bonanza of jobs and cash expected to follow, may decisively stoke hostility among the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens who live here. Many worry this may tear at Iraqi unity and embroil the disputed territory in greater violence. At worst, it could bring the open ethnic warfare that many have predicted since security for the province was handed over to Kurdish forces after the 2003 invasion.
Books
In the Washington Post, Carolyn See reviews ”The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans” by Hala Jaber. See writes that Jaber might not be “the most stable person in the world,” but a more stable person wouldn’t have as colorful a past. The story begins with pre-war Iraq in 2003, and lasts into the years which followed. A central theme is the dangerous combination of Jaber’s own despair over her inability to have a child, and the terrible situation for so many children in Iraq.
Her husband, Steve Bent, had taken the iconic photograph of an armless boy of 12, gazing at the world with a beautiful, suffering face, that made front pages everywhere. After the boy was flown out of the country for medical treatment, Jaber's editor exhorted her to find an orphan from the pediatric ward to launch a fundraising drive to help child victims of the war -- another iconic face to prick the Western conscience.

The author found Zahra, a terribly burned child, being fanned by her grandmother with a piece of cardboard. The rest of the girl's family -- mother, father, all of her siblings except for one 3-month-old sister, all of them innocent civilians, of course -- had been destroyed by American fire. "The sight of Zahra and the sound of her voice provoked an overpowering urge to take care of her. The maternal instinct I had worked so hard to suppress was surging back and I had no defenses against it." Zahra became the fund's poster child, and, inevitably, plans were made to move her so she could receive better medical attention. Distraught, the grandmother demanded a promise that Zahra would make a full recovery, and, equally distraught, Jaber promised just that. The child died.
And on the story goes – with a mix of journalism, war, and instability of both country. Though the author provides analysis which See doesn’t always agree with, the review is nonetheless a positive one.

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

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


Exclusive
Team From Baghdad to Assess Year-Long Basra Operation, Fire Suspicious to Some
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/17/2009 9:04 PM ET
After a Large Fire in Basra's Wholesale Market
Iraqslogger
After a Large Fire in Basra's Wholesale Market

A security team from Baghdad sent by the Interior Ministry arrived in Basra on Saturday to assess the security situation after one year of Operation Sawlat Al-Forsan. Though security has been greatly improved throughout the province in comparison to one year ago, there is a perceived rise in assassinations and other violence. The team includes six high-level officers from the ministry, and they have reportedly begun questioning suspects and witnesses of recent violent acts. Police and army forces have been conducting raids, arresting dozens of other suspects in the past week.

An IED in downtown Basra killed an lieutenant colonel in the Basran police on Monday. On Sunday, IEDs exploded in al-Jamiyat and al-Askari districts with no casualties reported and police announced that they diffused an IED near a public park in Basra.

Last week, a major fire (pictured above) broke out in the main Basra wholesale market in Al-Khadara in Al-Ashar. Seven large stores were burned to ground because of the fire, as well as many smaller merchants’ establishments. While officials announced the cause was faulty wiring, local business owners are mostly of the opinion that that fire was set intentionally. No unified theory of motive was agreed upon.

Daily Column
Is Iraqi Oil Production Declining? Government Tightens Noose on Sahwa Leaders
By AMER MOHSEN 05/05/2009 5:24 PM ET
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
As Baghdad and other Iraqi cities are reeling under the effect of blinding sandstorms, the security situation continues to escalate despite the proliferation of “reconciliation” conferences that seek to bring armed and unarmed opponents of the regime into the fold of the “political process.”

In security news, al-Jazeera relays that over 30 gunmen have been killed in the tumultuous province of Diyala, and another 60 apprehended, according to Iraqi security sources. The spokesman for the security operations in Diyala, Colonel Salam Najm, cited these figures, adding that the operation targeted al-Qa'ida-affiliated groups and also led to the confiscation of weapons’ caches. It should be noted that the Diyala campaign against armed groups entrenched in the province’s hills and mountains has now entered its sixth day.

In addition to al-Qa'ida, the Iraqi state is also mounting a relentless campaign against Sahwa leaders – yesterday’s allies that are now described as “criminals” and “terrorists” by the government. In a raid in al-Hamadaniya district of Baghdad, the Iraqi police reportedly killed a member of the Abu Ghreib Sahwa and arrested another, the two individuals in questions are said to be the bodyguards of the Abu Ghreib Sahwa leader, who resigned his post days ago. In Tikrit, police sources say, the leader of the Dulu'ya Sahwa – Nadhim al-Jubburi - and his brother have both been taken to a local prison “to be interrogated regarding the crimes they are accused of.”

Also in al-Jazeera, the news channel reports that two US soldiers were killed on Tuesday when their patrol, east of Mosul, was attacked by unidentified gunmen. UPI relayed the story, claiming that the attackers threw hand grenades at the patrol before running away, the US Army has not confirmed the story yet.

Az-Zaman had a front-page story on missile attacks against US bases. The paper said that, according to eyewitnesses, at least two missiles were launched yesterday at Camp Echo, located near the city of Diwaniya in the south. As often happens, both Katyusha rockets missed their target and hit a nearby civilian area, without causing damages or casualties. The paper noted that the Abu Ghreib base was also subjected to repeated missile attacks in the last two weeks, but that most of the rockets have also strayed “without causing mentionable human or material damages.”

Meanwhile, a major conference in Arbil is expected to group a large number of Iraqi politicians, some from within the “political process” and others who oppose it. Al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda quoted a Kurdistani MP who said that the three-day conference has been in preparation “for months” and that it is sponsored by international NGOs and the governments of Italy and Greece.

Al-Hayat, however, remained cynical as to the expected results of the conference. The London-based paper quoted Iraqi Parliamentarians who doubted that the Arbil conference will achieve any material results, describing it as “a formality,” “not serious” and “similar to other conferences that were held under the title of ‘national reconciliation.’”

In addition to Iraqi Parliamentarians and politicians, the conference organizers said that 40 “international figures” will be present, as well as activists in the Iraqi opposition, but those will be limited to factions that “peacefully oppose the government,” sources said.

On a related front, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda said that the vice-President and leading SIIC figure 'Adel 'Abd al-Mahdi has decided to extend bridges to Arab nationalists and dissident Ba'thi factions that opposed the Saddam regime.

The pro-SIIC paper saw 'Abd al-Mahdi’s overtures towards marginal Arab nationalist groups as “proof” that al-Hakeem’s SIIC “represents the Arabism of Iraq” and “has nothing to do with the Iranian agenda.” Other SIIC officials, the paper added, have been receiving Arab nationalist figures from the US and neighboring Arab states.

Lastly, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda focused in its front page on international reports claiming that Iraqi oil production could decline significantly between now and late 2010. The Oil Minister, Husain al-Shahrastani, announced that his objective is to raise Iraq’s production to over 6 million barrels/day in the coming years (from less than 2.2 million today.) But these expansions, which rely on foreign partnerships, are yet to begin materializing. Meanwhile, economic reports claim that Iraq’s production might actually decline by 10% from current levels by December 2010.

Most of the decline will occur in the southern fields, which currently provide over 70% of Iraq’s production, the paper said. But these fields (including Rumeila South and North, West Qurna and Maysan) have suffered from over-production and under-investment for many years, with their combined production falling by 100,000 barrels/day in 2008, this decline is expected to continue and accelerate, the paper said, reaching 200,000 barrels/day in 2009 and 2010.

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