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Daily Column
Anxiety, Pride in Iraq for Iraqis as U.S. Troops Leave Iraq's Cities
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/29/2009 02:00 AM ET
As one would expect, most of the news today is about the US troops largely leaving Iraq’s cities, and the Iraqi forces taking the reigns. Also, a story about a retiring marine pushing for more support for recuperating troops.

From Iraq
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes of some of the Iraqi view on the withdrawal, from regarding “the presence of U.S. troops in their neighborhoods as a necessary evil, to, as one Iraqi put it, “only propaganda for Maliki.” He focuses on Salah al-Jbory, a Sunni tribal elder in Baghdad’s Dora region, one of the fiercest neighborhoods in the height of the sectarian violence, and one of the areas more commonly attacked by insurgent bombings in past months.
In a country where perception often matters more than reality, some Iraqis see the June 30 deadline as little more than symbolic. After all, more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain on Iraqi soil, and a mass drawdown is not expected until after the Iraqi general election in January.

...For Jbory, the withdrawal happened months ago, when American troops left the small combat outpost near his home. This time last year, Jbory was a busy man. Maliki named him head of a local support council that was to act as the eyes and ears of the government. The Americans, meanwhile, appointed him to oversee the transition and rehabilitation of inmates they released back into his neighborhoods. His office was always crowded and his calendar booked. He said he grew to regard the U.S. troops who came to him seeking information and counsel as his sons.

One night last winter, they left their small outpost quietly, never to come back. "I'm in charge of rehabilitation of detainees," he said, smoking a Davidoff cigarette with a plastic filter. "And no one told me they were leaving."
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes of the growing unease with which Iraqi officials and residents are looking on, as US the transition happens. In Baghdad’s neighborhood of Khadra, Chon writes that fears of past sectarian violence are being heightened. A scary example is big red X’s suddenly appearing on some houses, and Chon writes that a Sunni resident said “he thought the symbol had sectarian significance since it seemed, from talking to neighbors, that the mark appeared on homes belonging to Sunni families.” “We're very scared about the meaning of this," the Sunni resident said in an interview. "Maybe we will be targeted for something.”

This brings up one crucial role that the US military has served – a buffer between sects.
U.S. officials worry that as they continue to battle the remnants of an insurgency and efforts to reignite sectarian strife, they will be losing critical, on-the-ground intelligence gleaned from the neighborhoods they once lived in and patrolled. The boots-on-the-ground approach was crucial to the Pentagon's mostly successful surge strategy in Baghdad.

Many Iraqis are still deeply suspicious of the sectarian leanings of the country's nascent security forces. For them, the pullout of American troops means the disappearance of an effective check on suspect Iraqi soldiers and police officers.
Also, she writes that the Iraqi Oil Ministry said Sunday it had pushed back by one day the announcement of winners of a closely watched oil-bidding round, citing a sandstorm that forced the shutdown of the Baghdad airport.

Aamer Madhani of USA Today has a story on a new focus US commanders have as a result of the transition, securing rural areas that they say insurgents are using as hide-outs to plan attacks. "The major mission for us is to stop activity from going into Baghdad," said Lt. Col. Jim Bradford, commander of the 1st Battalion 63rd Armor Regiment, having just moved from Baghdad to an area of surrounding countryside.

Madhani gives some specifics, and a particular example which illustrates the troops’ movement.
At the start of this year, just one U.S. battalion was overseeing the area around Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad, which had been a hotbed of insurgent activity earlier in the war that began in 2003. Now, there are three U.S. battalions, or roughly 2,400 soldiers, in the area.

About 130,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq and will still be available for combat operations if needed by their Iraqi counterparts. An unspecified number of troops are staying in cities to advise and train Iraqi forces. U.S. troop levels are not set to decline significantly until a gradual drawdown begins this fall as part of a security agreement that calls for all U.S. combat forces to leave Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010. All American troops are to be gone by the end of 2011.
Stateside
Derrick Henry of the New York Times reports on Gen. Ray Odierno’s upbeat remarks to other news organizations. “I do believe they’re ready,” General Odierno said from Baghdad on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They’ve been working towards this for a long time. And security remains good.” There is some run-of-the-mill analysis, but it’s mostly Odierno.
General Odierno, who also appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” said that he had seen “constant improvement” in the security force and governance in the region despite some large attacks last week.

Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has called the withdrawal of American troops from cities a “great victory,” a repulsion of foreign occupiers. However, General Odierno said he did not agree.

“That’s not exactly how I read it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They’re seeing it as a progression in their capacities, and I think that’s the important point.”
In the Washington Post, Steve Vogel reports on the efforts of Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell’s efforts to improve the care of wounded marines, often isolated and left with little support past the medical care given. Maxwell noticed that they were living in empty barracks, away from other Marines, and that they had little supervision after being released. Having gone through the experience of being wounded in combat and sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
The simple question Maxwell asked is credited with changing how the Marine Corps supports its wounded. His advocacy for central billeting for Marines recovering from injuries led two years ago to the creation of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, headquartered at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

On Friday, at his retirement ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Maxwell was saluted for his achievements by a crowd of 200 people, among them Gen. James F. Amos, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
Christian Science Monitor, no original Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com



Daily Column
Kurdish-Arab Conflicts Proliferate,Oil Contracts to be Handed by the End of June
By AMER MOHSEN 06/23/2009 5:50 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
Iraq witnesses another bloody day in the week preceding the US withdrawal from Iraqi cities and urban centers. Several explosions and attacks on Monday left over 27 Iraqis dead, al-Jazeera reports, including three school children who were killed in a bus transporting them to take their final school exams. On Tuesday, the news channel says, two soldiers were killed in Mosul by gunmen wielding silenced pistols.

And while security events escalate, al-Hayat’s Mushriq 'Abbas pens a report on the fragile state of affairs in Iraq’s provinces after years of sectarian infighting. Al-Hayat’s correspondent crossed the treacherous road that extends between Baghdad and Kirkuk, 300 kilometers that were among the most dangerous in Iraq. 'Abbas notes that the sectarian identity of every village and township can easily be discerned by a passing visitor. Upon entering the village of Jadeedat al-Shatt, a large placard announces: “Badr welcomes you,” a sign that al-Hakeem’s SIIC dominates the Shi'a town. The city of Khalis, on the other hand, is clearly the domain of the Mahdi Army, with its walls adorned by large photos of the “two Sadrs;” while the adjoining town of al-'Azeem expresses its Sunni identity through anti-American slogans and religious preaching that emanates from its stores. In the desert between these villages, “dozens of burned vehicles are strewn on both sides of the road,” a testament to the effect of IEDs.

The hundred kilometers separating Shi'a al-Khalis, Sunni al-'Azeem and the Hamreen mountains were considered a “death zone” for years, 'Abbas says, and the government has made it a priority to secure that road. Checkpoints by the Army, the police and the pro-government “Awakening” militias line up the way, with an outpost containing several soldiers at every kilometer or so. For years, fake checkpoints frequently appeared on that road, murdering Sunnis in al-Khalis, Shi'as in al-'Azeem, “and everyone in Hamreen.”

Relations between these towns remain extremely tense after years of mutual murders and expulsion; Sunni al-'Azeem played the role of the “counterbalance” to Shi'a al-Khalis, with deadly results. While the traumatized populace has accepted that sectarian slaughters should stop, “enmity between the two towns has reached the level of rupture,” the journalist recounts, “local notables and leaders, many of whom have lost children and relatives ... have not surpassed that era.”

The Americans are also present on the highway, and an American officer whose patrol stopped due to a mechanical failure apologized to the journalist after one of his soldiers attempted to arrest him for “smiling” at the American who was nervously pointing his gun at the passing cars.

'Abbas’ final destination was the Turkoman town of Taza, where a massive explosion last Saturday killed over 73 civilians and injured several hundreds. The power of the explosion, which demolished an entire district of the town, prompted its people to demand that their village be considered a “disaster zone,” “it looks as if an earthquake struck the decrepit buildings (of Taza) and turned them into ruins,” 'Abbas recounts.

In other news, the Oil Ministry decided to go ahead and offer eight of Iraq’s largest oil fields to foreign companies at the end of the month, Az-Zaman reports. The controversial move is sure to flare a crisis with the Kurdistan government, whose Prime Minister described the decision as “unconstitutional and against the interests of the people.” Oil Minister Husain al-Shahrastani said that the coming round of licenses will pertain to oil and gas fields that are already producing, with the aim of maintaining and increasing output, pointing that additional rounds will be dispensed in the near future for untapped reserves. The paper said that the development contracts that will be awarded at the end of the month will include several giants: al-Zubair, Qurna West, north and south Rumaila, in addition to Kirkuk.

Also in Az-Zaman, a Sadrist “mediation” that attempted to soften the conflict between the Arabs and Kurds of Mosul has apparently failed. Both sides have refused to show much elasticity, the paper claimed, with Kurdish leaders insisting that the Arab coalition (which won the recent provincial elections, and subsequently excluded Kurds from the top posts in the governorate) concede several positions before ending their boycott of the provincial council. The Arab leaders, on the other hand, insist that the conflict “is not over positions” and that Kurdish parties should accept the principle that the provincial council is the sole authority in the counties of the governorate.

Escalation occurred, the paper recounts, when the local leader of the KDP ordered teachers and administrators in a country bordering Mosul (but under Kurdish Peshmerga control and with a Yezedi majority) to stop instructing students in Arabic in the county’s schools.

Exclusive
In a Disputed District of Ninewa, Kurdish Officials Up the Ante
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/20/2009 11:00 PM ET
Photo: Iraqslogger

BAGHDAD – In the latest chapter of the ever-rising tensions between Arab and Kurdish parties in Ninewa province, Kurdish leaders have sought to strengthen one district’s Kurdish identity with a controversial and likely provocative move.

A stalemate began in April, when the Kurdish-led Brotherhood List began their boycott of Ninewa’s provincial council, after the majority Sunni Arab-led Al-Hadba List give all key provincial positions to its own members, leaving Kurdish politicians completely out of the mix. Since then mayors of more than one district within Ninewa with high Kurdish populations have threatened to secede to nearby provinces administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

On Saturday, Brotherhood List leader and former Ninewa Deputy Governor Khasro Ghoran held a meeting with the teaching staff of schools in Ba'shiqah, one of the increasingly-disputed districts. In the meeting, Ghoran laid out rules that teachers were to abandon lessons in the Arabic language, and to conduct lessons in Kurdish only. “We must be separate from the Mosul in this way and have our own education. He also talked at length about “differences” between the Brotherhood List, and Al-Hadba. Much of the attending educators appeared less enthusiastic about the announcement than Ghoran.

Later that day, Mosul Radio, an Al-Hadba official stated that “Such remarks are aggressive and speak to the sectarian hearts of people and spread animosity between them.”


Members of Iraqslogger’s network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report, but choose to remain anonymous, for security reasons.

Daily Column
2 US Contractors Transfered to US Facility, Iraq's Unfortunate Foreign Laborers
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/15/2009 02:00 AM ET
Possible repercussions from the assassination of a Sunni political leader are still big news, as are the two US contractors still held in Iraqi custody – sort of. Also, low-level foreign workers in Iraq are often swindled and treated like slaves.

From Baghdad
Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the continuing reverberations of mistrust from Friday’s assassination of Tawafoq leader Harith al-Obaidi. Tawafoq is the leading Sunni-led political coalition, and the possibilities that Iraq’s Shi’a-led government security forces could have either been involved in, or are just unable to stop such attacks, are causing concern with many in the Sunni community.

"It is very clear that the Iraqi military forces are not ready yet," says Saleem al-Jbori, spokesman for Tuwafaq , the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament. "I expect the sectarian conflict will revive." Obviously sensing the delicacy of the killing, Tawafoq (always an extremely vocal crew) has requested lawmakers not publicly comment on the killing until the results of an investigation are in. Al-Maliki made Obaidi’s ceremony on Saturday a state funeral, and had it aired on state television. His own presence, and that of other Shi’a politicians, was quite noticeable.
Rasheed al-Aazawy, a member of parliament with Obeidi's Iraqi Islamic Party, the major player in the Tawafaq bloc, says he was heartened by the show of unity condemning his colleague's killing. But appearing to lay the groundwork for accusations casting wider blame, Mr. al-Aazawy says they do not want to jump to conclusions that insurgent groups were behind the killing.
Nada Bakri of the Washington Post writes that the two US contractors who still haven’t been released from Iraqi custody, have now been transferred to a US military facility, “at the request of Iraqi officials.” That’s about it for the new information, except that there are even more officials from both sides who continue to give conflicting accounts.
The embassy declined to elaborate on why the two men were relocated, although a spokesman said that, technically, they remain in Iraqi custody. He said their transfer conforms to a U.S.-Iraqi agreement that went into effect this year under which crimes committed by contractors would be covered by Iraqi law.

Two Iraqi officials said they were unaware of the decision. A third, in the Interior Ministry, said a U.S.-Iraqi committee was still interrogating the two and had made the decision "for the safety of the investigation and the safety of the men."
Something isn’t quite coming to the surface here, but at least their names are agreed upon - Jason Jones and Micah Milligan. Nothing else, including the charges, is very clear.

The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes an excellent report on a population whose very existence would be a surprise to many, but whose sorry numbers continue to grow. Well-paid security contractors aren’t the only foreign workers in Iraq, there is also an army of foreign low-wage workers, filling positions such as housecleaners and restaurant/hotel workers. They are all-too-often an army conscripted by fraud. Labor companies, many of which can be accurately portrayed only as human traffickers lure poor workers to Iraq, often with inaccurate claims of where and what they’ll be doing, and for how much.

Upon arriving, they often find that they are treated like slaves, and that their passports are held by either their employer or the labor company, leaving them defenseless. With One Bangladeshi worker named Mitu Ananty is featured.
The 29-year-old father of two had sold his house and borrowed the life savings of two siblings to come up with the $5,000 demanded by labor brokers. Like a growing number of struggling foreign workers, Ananty had come to regard a temporary job in Iraq as a passport out of poverty.

He soon realized he had been duped. Instead of the $400-a-month position he had been promised in northern Iraq's safe autonomous Kurdish region, Ananty, who left his wife and children behind, ended up with a job paying half that much at a steamy bakery in Baghdad.
Even in Baghdad’s current unemployment crisis, these workers are a common sight, creating the added pleasure of fielding resentment by some Iraqis. Still, the labor companies keep making promises, and the desperate workers keep showing up.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

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


Daily Column
Questions of Guilt, Fears of Sectarian Backlash
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/14/2009 02:00 AM ET
There really isn’t much at all today, but Sunday editions of both the New York Times and the Washington Post both cover the funeral of Harith al-Obaidi, the high-ranking Sunni politician assassinated on Friday.

From Baghdad
It is common that there are differing media accounts of violent events anywhere, and this can be the case particularly in Iraq. Still, it is interesting that there is little more available a whole day later in the killing of such a high-level politician, in broad daylight, at a mosque just after Friday prayers. Either way, Tawafoq Bloc leader Harith al-Obaidi was shot and killed, there were other casualties, a grenade went off, and he was laid to rest on Saturday.

There is no consensus on who was responsible – suspicion falls, among others, on al-Qaeda, the Shi’a-led Iraqi government, or someone connected to the ministries of interior, defense and justice, as al-Obaidi announced that he was going to have the ministers of each called before parliament to answer for allegations of prisoner and human rights abuses. Al-Maliki and other government officials showed up in force, seemingly to deflect possible suspicions or to temper any sectarian response.

In the Washington Post, Nada Bakri reported the following...
Outside the cemetery where he was buried, an angry crowd chanted: "The Koran is our constitution, the prophet is our leader and jihad is our way." Mustafa al-Bayati, a Sunni preacher at the mosque where prayers for Obaidi were held, said: "They did not kill him because he is a lawmaker. They killed him because he is Sunni."
Marc Santora of the New York Times has a fuller article, with more analysis.
The party leaders rushed to condemn the killing of the Sunni leader, Harith al-Obaidi, and the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki went to great lengths to accord Mr. Obaidi respect, staging an elaborate funeral that was broadcast live on Iraqi state television. “We cannot understand how the sanctity of mosques can be violated in this way,” said Adel Abdul Mahdi, a vice president and a member of a leading Shiite party. He called the killing “sordid” and “depraved.”

While the sectarian fighting that raged here until about a year ago has mostly ended, many in the Sunni community remain deeply distrustful of the Shiite-led government. It was unclear if the killing would stoke more Sunni fears.
Both articles also mention the release of two more of the five US contractors who had been held, reportedly in connection with the slaying of another US contractor last month in the Green Zone. All have been cleared of involvement with the murder by the Iraqi legal system, but vague charges of the weapon and drug possession are still active. The New York Times also reports the death on Friday of a US soldier secondary to an IED explosion, but with no more details at all.

Stateside
Bradley Graham's lengthy piece in the Washington Post about Donald Rumsfeld's final months as defense secretary was covered in Friday's US Papers roundup.


Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

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


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