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The Latest
Border Surveillance, Checkpoints to Block "Infiltration" over Eastern Frontier
06/30/2009 6:34 PM ET
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Iraqi forces in the southern province of Maysan have reinforced their positions along the Iran-Iraq border, according to remarks by the top provincial security officer reported in Arabic.

Maj. Gen. Sa’d Ali Ati al-Harbiya, commander of Maysan Police said that “Intensive security measures have been taken by (Iraqi) Army and Police forces especially along the eastern border with Iran to prevent any infiltration into Iraq.”

The general told al-Malaf Press that the security measures focus on “intensifying surveillance along the Iran-Iraq border” to prevent any cross-border penetration.

The security measures also include intensified inspections at the provincial border crossings as well as sending foot and mounted patrols in principal areas of the province, the security commander added.

Al-Harbiya added that Iraqi police and army forces have become capable of receiving the security file and are equipped to protect the province and to fill the void after the withdrawal of US forces from the cities.

There will be an official ceremony in the Majar al-Kabir district, about 25 miles south of the provincial capital Amara to mark the handover of the security file from the American forces, to be attended by the governor of Maysan Province and the head of the provincial council as well as the provincial police and Army commanders, along with US military commanders and key political and security figures in the province.

Daily Column
7 Bombs Strike in Iraq as Violence Spreads, MEK, Oil
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/26/2009 02:00 AM ET
The bombing continues, as do planes for a major change in US operations in Iraq. Al-Maliki is calling it an Iraqi victory (not the bombing part), while many Iraqis and Americans in the country are bracing themselves. Oil contract auctioning is still on schedule, and an Iranian opposition group in Iraq is hoping for big change to the east.

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora report on the upcoming holiday of “feasts and festivals”. Of course, we could only be talking about June 30, when Iraqi and American officials are telling us that cities will be mostly devoid of US soldiers, and that their convoys will increasingly travel under cover of night.

“When the Americans get out of city centers, a big war will start,” said one woman in Baghdad, write Myers and Santora, while Prime Minister al-Maliki is talking of “a repulsion of foreign occupiers he compares to the rebellion against British troops in 1920.” The article shows the PR and operational gamble in progress in an interesting light, though it is interesting how few specifics are still being released by officials from both countries.

US officials have flatly refused to give out numbers of bases which will remain after June 30, and this seems to have caused conflicting reports in the media. The article quotes an Iraqi official as saying that the 150 US bases closed this year constitutes as 85 percent, but at a press conference as recently as two weeks ago Gen. Odierno claimed that there were still over three hundred bases still remaining. Meanwhile, Al-Maliki is making it sound to his constituency as though every last GI has been sent off with a kick in the pants.
In his discussions with the Americans, officials said, Mr. Maliki has shown far more pragmatism than his public remarks about repulsing foreign occupiers might suggest, requesting, for example, that American explosive removal teams keep sweeping Baghdad’s streets. Still, his strong language and what one Western adviser described as his inflated sense of the abilities of his own forces have left him little room, politically, to backtrack should the security situation worsen significantly.
“Symbolically,” General (Stephen) Lanza said of the withdrawing American forces ahead of Tuesday, “this is what we want for the Iraqis as a sovereign nation.”

In the Washington Post, Ernesto Londoño writes that U.S. military officials fear that the closure of inner-city bases and restrictive guidelines that go into effect next week will leave American troops and civilians in Iraq more vulnerable. Measures such as an Iraqi restriction on US troops using mine-resistant armored vehicles in urban areas during daylight hours and the closing of an outpost near Sadr City, “adjacent to a site militiamen have used to launch deadly rocket attacks on the Green Zone” are pointed out in particular.
The Americans even acquiesced to requests to suspend virtually all American operations — even in support roles — for the first few days of July to reinforce the perception that Mr. Maliki desires: that Iraqi security forces are now fully in control of Iraq’s cities.

...Far from a celebration, the deadline has provoked uncertainty and even dread among average Iraqis, underscoring the potential problems that Mr. Maliki could face if bloodshed intensifies. Even some Iraqi officers are worried. Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Muhsen, a commander with the First Division of the Iraqi National Police, grimly predicted that sectarian violence could return. He warned that control of Iraq’s borders remained ineffective, allowing more foreign fighters to enter.
“They are taking away all the equipment that the Americans provide,” he said, “and with the agenda of countries neighboring Iraq, it is a recipe for disaster.”

On the issue of troops remaining in Baghdad, Londoño writes that “at least 10 facilities that house U.S. troops in Baghdad will remain open past the deadline,” and puts the number of GIs to remain in the city as “thousands.”

Back in the New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Campbell Robertson report on Thursday's bombings in Iraq. They confirm at least seven, but some additional bombings were covered by some local news sources. For the moment at least, we have returned to a time when small incidents aren’t really news anymore. Rubin and Robertson write of the public’s anger at Iraqi security forces’ inability to stop attacks, especially Wednesday’s huge Sadr City bombing. Iraqi Army involvement is claimed by some.
The bombings were widespread, making targets of both Shiites and Sunnis, civilians and Iraqi security forces, and American soldiers. There were at least five attacks in Baghdad. One, at a bus station, killed two people and wounded 30 in the late morning, security officials said, though witnesses at the scene said the toll was higher.

Nine members of the allied forces were wounded when two roadside bombs exploded near their convoy in eastern Baghdad, an American military spokesman said. Iraqi police officers were killed or wounded by bombing attacks in Baghdad, Falluja and Mosul, officials said.
Right in the middle of all this, in fact on Monday - the day before the June 30th deadline – oil contracts for some of Iraq’s largest oilfields will be put up for auction to international oil companies, as Timothy Williams continues the Times’ extensive Iraq coverage. Despite what is written above, and despite unclear laws governing oil production and near unfathomable levels of corruption in the Iraqi government, oil companies are still falling over themselves to get in line.

The quote of the day goes to Larry Goldstein, director of special projects at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that studies energy economics. “Asking why oil companies are interested in Iraq is like asking why robbers rob banks: because that’s where the money is.”
Oil corporations have complained quietly about the corruption, mismanagement and continuing violence in Iraq, as well as rules that force them to become partners with Iraqi oil companies. Another contractual requirement dictates that the oil companies that win fields in the auction make payments totaling $2.6 billion to the government. The Iraqi government has described the money as loans that will be paid back once production begins.

More ominously for the oil companies, stiff resistance to the coming auction has been building among members of Parliament, oil unions and even officials in the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
“The service contracts will put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years,” said Fayad al-Nema, director of the state-owned South Oil Company.

Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reports the latest on the limbo which members of the Iranian opposition group once supported by Saddam Hussein, Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK). Thousands are still holed up in Diyala’s Camp Ashraf, the Iraqi government is still threatening to close it, and just as few countries are still lining up to take them in as refugees. Current events in Iran are obviously of great interest to them, but, as Arraf writes, “their interest isn't in whether the Iranian leader gives in to calls for a recount. It's their belief that the protests could somehow topple the entire system of Iran's religious leadership.”
The prospect of a change in Iran's government is viewed by many to be as unlikely as the MEK's hope that Iraq will change its mind about shutting down a camp that has been a major irritant in Iranian-Iraqi relations.
An interesting part at the end of the article is the story of a woman who was waiting for travel documents at a hotel in the Green Zone until she apparently started lobbying some lawmakers about Camp Ashraff, at which point she was moved to another hotel. Attempts to speak to her or even call her from the hotel phone were stopped by government troops posted there.

In the Wall Street Journal, Lt. Gen. Helmick (commanding general of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq and the NATO Training Mission-Iraq) writes an op-ed about the upcoming withdrawal, and what some of the advising we’ve been hearing so much about will include (versus those “combat” troops we won’t be seeing any more of). As you might expect, the Lt. General’s take on the MNSTC-I is somewhat positive.
Primary responsibility for advising Iraqi security forces is assigned to an organization called Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. MNSTC-I is presently comprised of more than 5,600 of America's best soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Defense Department civilians, and contractors. Its mission is to help train and equip Iraq's security forces to the point where they are able to protect the Iraqi people and do so within the rule of law, in accordance to international standards, and while respecting human rights.
USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Uneasy Iraq Weighs Implications of Political Crisis Next Door
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/22/2009 02:00 AM ET
The New York Times has a nice story today that goes beyond the usual security questions and speaks coherently to the imponderably large lack of laws passed by Iraq’s (so-called) lawmakers. The Washington Post looks into the effect the current election crisis in Iran will have on its westward neighbor.

From Iraq
You name the problem, there’s no clear, enforceable law to deal with it. Timothy Williams and Suadad al-Salhy of the New York Times write about the legislative effects of inaction, bickering, infighting - all the things politicians the world ‘round are good at, but which Iraqi politicians seem particularly adept at – or at least, find themselves working within a system that can’t get past these things and pass laws needed to govern the land. This is arguably the most significant problem facing the country because it makes all the others near-impossible to deal with.

In many ways, the article is a laundry list of problems which haven’t real legislative solutions, but it is actually helpful to read it as such - instead of just a corruption story here, or a sectarianism story there. There is analysis, and options are looked at, but none give too much confidence.
There is a growing concern that if the country’s Parliament does not soon approve a series of critical legislative measures, Iraq’s democratic experiment could erode as America pulls back, militarily and politically. By the end of this month, the United States is required to withdraw combat troops from Iraq’s cities and, by the end of 2011, from the entire country.

Some legislation that could help strengthen and diversify the economy has been awaiting passage in Parliament for as long as three years, even as large numbers of Iraqis live in poverty and without adequate housing, health care and other basic needs.

...Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who some members of Parliament blame for holding up several bills, has become so frustrated with the slow pace that he has began to lobby publicly for a switch to a presidential system, including holding direct elections for the nation’s leader.
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño and Nada Bakri report on how the outcome of Iran’s disputed election might affect Iraq – strangely, a harder topic to report on than one would think. There are no big visible movements or indications of some grand consensus in Iraq, and it takes several interviews and plenty of explanation to write a story about it. Londoño and Bakri do just that, bringing in the usual suspects of Iranian influence in Iraq, US/Iran aggression playing out in Iraq, the effect of a significant change in US operations at the end of the month, and what either leader might mean for a future Iraq.

Iraqi officials say it is impossible to predict how -- and to what extent -- the unrest in Tehran will affect their country. In interviews, several politicians said they hope the crisis will make it harder for Iran's government to meddle in Iraqi affairs in coming months. Iraq is gearing up for a national election and is asserting more control over security as U.S. troops continue to draw down.

...Iranian leaders deny using Iraq as a staging ground to wage a proxy war against the United States. But many Iraqis accuse Iran of fomenting violence and instability in their country.
"All their energy is diverted to how to deal with the situation," Kurdish lawmaker Tanya Gilly said. "I think this is keeping them busy with their own affairs, rather than getting involved with other people's affairs. Maybe we'll have some quiet."

"I am so happy about what's going on in Iran," said a civil engineer from Baghdad. "I hope the demonstrators succeed and topple the regime. I don't want the violence there to end soon. They should suffer what we have suffered during the past six years, because they have been feeding that."

Gina Chon writes a piece about Saturday’s major bombing in Taza, south of Kirkuk, but since the Wall Street Journal doesn’t have a Sunday edition, it won’t be news for those who aren’t exclusively Journal devotees. She does get a little more into the local politics of the area than the Times and the Post did yesterday, though.
Arabs and Turkmen have been pushing to divide the provincial council to give each group 32% of the seats, but the Kurds have been resisting because they say they make up the largest population in the area. Arabs and Turkmen accuse the Kurds of moving their own people into the Kirkuk region to artificially boost their population to aid Kurds in the elections. "The other side doesn't seem to want to cooperate and so we are just stuck," said Rizgar Ali, a Kurd and chairman of the local provincial council.
Christian Science Monitor,USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

The Latest
Iranian-Made Missiles Found Among Massive Cache in House
06/18/2009 7:46 PM ET
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Iraqi forces seized three and one-half tons of weapons and explosives, including 27 Iranian-made missiles from a house in Wasit Province, southeast of Baghdad, according to reports in Arabic.

The weapons were uncovered during raiding and inspection operations in the provincial capital of Kut, al-Malaf Press writes.

The commander of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's rapid response force in Wasit Province, Col. Aziz al-Amara, told the agency that Iraqi forces found the weapons and explosives in a residence located in the al-Shuhada neighborhood of Kut, located in the north of the city.

The raid came following “precise intelligence information” regarding the location of the weapons, the officer said.

Arabic Website Claims High Ranking Gov't Officials Voted in Secret
06/16/2009 11:00 AM ET
BAGHDAD - According to the Arabic online news site, IWFFO, The Iraqi Writers for Freedom Organization, some members of the Iraqi government (said to hold Iranian passports) cast ballots in this week’s contested Iranian election. These claims have in no way been verified, and sources were not given.

The site reports that their ranks include “ministers, members of the House of Representatives and officers of the Interior and Defense ministries, and some party leaders,” had gone “in secret to the Iranian embassy, neighboring the Green Zone for the purpose of casting their ballots.” Most are connected the Supreme Council or Dawa.

The names given by IWFFO include Dawa leader Ali al-Adeeb, Supreme Council leader Ammar al-Hakim, The Interior Ministry’s Adnan al-Asadi, MP and Deputy Speaker Khaled al-Attiya, prime ministerial advisor Kata Ndjeman Rikabi, and Finance Minister Bayan Jabr Solak.


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