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RUMOR MILL
Rumors in War-Torn Province Say Nurses, Families Involved in Illicit Trade
03/26/2009 6:08 PM ET
Rumors are circulating in the Iraqi province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, of a clandestine market in newborn children, mediated by nurses or by people posing as nurses in the delivery wards.

A doctor in the provincial capital of Ba'qouba told Slogger that rumors are circulating in the hospitals that nurses in the natal wards have been overheard attempting to persuade new mothers to sell their children in exchange for large amounts of cash. The specific amount is unspecified in the rumors.

One rumored conversation concerned a nurse in Ba'qouba who reportedly offered a new mother the opportunity to sell her newborn son into the hands of an unnamed wealthy family who could not procreate due to fertility problems.

Other rumors also implicate hospital nurses in the rumored trade in newborn children, whereby some nurses are said to have stolen new babies to sell away, telling the families that the babies had not survived. Babies born after midnight are said to be particularly vulnerable due to relaxed security in the hospitals in the late hours.

IraqSlogger sources in Diyala Provice could not confirm these rumors at this time, but note that the circulating accounts appear in tandem with hard economic times and unstable security situation in the war-torn province – which may be fertile ground for a trade in newborn children, but also fertile ground for urban legends about such a trade.

RUMOR MILL
Rumors of a Wave of Crimes Against Young Girls; GoldThieves Nabbed
03/02/2009 9:46 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Residents of the southern Iraqi province of Wasit are talking about a rumored spate of murders targeting young girls in the area. Locals say that rumors are circulating of three young girls found dead in the al-Hawi area of Kut city, while another seven were rumored to be found dead on the road to Badra, between Kut and Baghdad.

Another report circulating locally holds that a girl in the al-Zahra district of Kut city had been found strangled by her headscarf last week, though no further details are available.

Locals say that the rumors have increased the level of fear and tensions among parents who are fearful over the safety of their daughters.

Gold thieves

Police forces in Kut last week retrieved five kilograms of gold (11 pounds) which had been stolen several days ago from a house in the al-Zubaidya district, as well as arresting the criminal ring responsible for the theft. Locals say that the police commander threatened his force with pay cuts if they did not catch this perpetrators before three days time.

Finally, major resurfacing operations are underway in the northern district of Damouk, which locals describe as an important commercial area of Kut whose roads had suffered from neglect over the past years. The paving works started last week, residents say.

Daily Column
Politicians Warn of Sectarian Wars and "Iranian Occupation" if the US Departs
By AMER MOHSEN 03/01/2009 6:14 PM ET
Kull al-'Iraq
Kull al-'Iraq
While the announcement of Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan is causing heated debates in Washington, most Iraqi leaders initially welcomed the news, feeling the need to appear confident and optimistic regarding their ability to manage Iraq without US help.

However, nervous Iraqi leaders have begun to express their fears. Pan-Arab al-Hayat published a report detailing the positions of Sunni and Kurdish leaders who use different arguments to warn against a hasty withdrawal.

Sunni leader 'Adnan al-Dulaimi told al-Hayat that Obama’s announcement was “to hasty” and “dangerous.” Sunni leaders aligned with the Iraqi Accord Front are arguing that “an Iranian occupation” will occur if the US leaves the country too early, adding that Iraqi forces and institutions are inadequate to shoulder the policing of the country.

On the other hand, al-Hayat said, other voices warn of Arab-Kurdish confrontations, especially in the “contested territories” bordering Kurdistan. Others yet say that a Shi'a-Sunni sectarian war could flare up again once the American Army departs.

Az-Zaman quoted a Kurdistan Minister who demanded a “special American envoy” to resolve Kurdish demands before the withdrawal is complete.

The Sadrists stood out in demanding a quicker and more complete US withdrawal. A Sadrist official told al-Hayat that Obama is not committing to his electoral promise of evacuating Iraq within 16 months, adding that the withdrawal in August 2010 will be “partial” since as many as 50,000 soldiers will remain in the country, a fact that “is strongly rejected” by the Sadrist leadership.

On a related front, Az-Zaman reported that the US military base in Dhi Qar, currently occupying the archaeological site of Ur, will be finally evacuated during the month of March. Aside from limiting the damage that the site has suffered due to military operations, the ancient city of Ur will be once again able to receive tourists and researchers.

In other news, a high-level Iranian visit to Iraq is stirring anti-Iranian feelings among a section of Iraqis. Az-Zaman (in its local Iraqi edition) claimed that “a popular boycott” is facing a visit by the ex-President 'Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani to Baghdad. The paper (whose coverage of Iran always comes with a negative tilt) claimed that over 1,000 Iranian security personnel have been sent to Baghdad to prepare for Rafsanjani’s visit. A Southern tribal leader interviewed by the paper said that Rafsanjani is especially polemical due to his role during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. The paper made a point of interviewing – obscure - southern (Shi'a) sheikhs, rather than Sunni figures, to show that opposition to Iran is not fomented by sectarian calculations, and is not limited to Sunni Iraqis.

On the developing case of MP Muhammad al-Dayni, who is currently fleeing the authorities after his Parliamentary immunity was suspended (al-Dayni is demanded for trial on terrorism charges,) al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that authorities have asked al-Dayni to turn himself in, or, alternatively, to be tried in absentia.

Brigadier 'Abd al-Kareem Khalaf told the paper that al-Dayni’s approximate location is known by security forces, pointing that the fugitive MP is currently hiding in one of Baghdad’s suburbs, adding that his forces are “coming close” to capturing him.

Lastly, Kull al-'Iraq reported that a new political front, mainly composed of Sunni parties, has been officially formed to compete against the IAF in the coming Parliamentary elections.

Several of the factions in the new front are parties that used to belong to the IAF but seceded in the last two years. The ex-Parliament Speaker, Mahmud al-Mashhadani, announced that the new coalition will group the National Dialogue Council (led by Sheikh Khalaf al-'Layyan,) the Dialogue Front (led by Salih al-Mutlaq) and the National Democratic Assembly.

While the new alliance is clearly a “Sunni” one, al-Mashhadani claimed that the agenda will no non-sectarian, pointing that the new front will be a refuge for Sunni MPs who do not identify with the IAF or its dominant faction, the Islamic Party, as well as Shi'a MPs who do not identify with religious parties.

The Latest
Makki Slams Budget Cuts to Education, Warning of Decline in Quality
02/25/2009 7:51 PM ET
Iraqi MP Ala Makki, chair of the education committee in Parliament.
Tawafuq Front.
Iraqi MP Ala Makki, chair of the education committee in Parliament.

Budget cuts for education spending in Iraq will create difficulties for the country’s education sector, said the Iraqi MP who chairs the Education Committee in the Parliament.

Makki added that the financial allocation for the education sector in the 2009 Budget is just under six percent in total, down from 6.8 percent in 2008.

The MP, a member of the predominantly Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party announced that to meet educational demand, Iraq will need to build “four thousand new schools at a budget of $100 million during the next five years,” al-Malaf Press writes in Arabic.

Just four percent of Iraq’s next budget has been allocated for pre-university education, the MP said, adding “This means that (Iraq) will not be capable of building the requisite number of schools,” and also warning of “a decline in the hiring capacity of the Ministry of Education, and a decline in the standards of education in regards to the distribution of educational necessities.”

As for Iraq’s higher education budget, Makki said that higher education spending was down to about two percent of the total budget, which he said would mean a decline in the number of professors who would be appointed to jobs this year, as well as a decline in the possibility to distribute laboratories to universities and difficulty absorbing the growing number of students admitted to universities.

Iraq is facing belt-tightening as slumping petroleum prices amid a global economic slowdown cut into the oil exporter's revenues.

A Hit-And Run in Sadr City?
01/22/2009 6:38 PM ET
File Photo: Iraqi Army Vehicles in Sadr City
Daniel W. Smith
File Photo: Iraqi Army Vehicles in Sadr City

BAGHDAD – Residents of Sadr City are claiming that an Iraqi Army vehicle was seen hitting a young girl, and then failed to stop. According to the claims, the driver “did not pay any attention to her,” and a bystander took her to the hospital in his car. Her identity and current condition has not been released.

An Iraqi Army official denied knowledge of the event.

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