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Daily Column
US Accused of Bribing and Murdering Iraqi Journalists During Military Operations
By AMER MOHSEN 06/21/2009 5:01 PM ET
Days before the finalizing of US withdrawal from Iraqi urban centers, a massive explosion hit the town of Taza in northern Iraq leaving over 70 dead and hundreds of wounded. Al-Jazeera quoted sources in the Iraqi police who said that a truck loaded with “tons of explosives” was detonated near a Shi'a mosque in the Turkoman-majority town, which is close to the city of Kirkuk. The blast was so powerful, reports say, that over 30 homes were demolished in its vicinity. The news channel linked the attack to a recent speech by Premier Maliki describing the planned US withdrawal as “a glorious victory” and a prelude to the liberation of Iraq from foreign occupation. The Premier had also warned Iraqis that attacks will multiply following the US withdrawal at the end of the month, calling upon citizens “not to squander the security gains” that he said were achieved in the recent period.

Also in al-Jazeera, the news channel revealed that the US may have bribed Iraqi and foreign journalists to refrain from publishing certain pictures and footage during the first and second battles of Falluja. The source of these reports (first published in a Qatari newspaper) is an officer in the Iraqi Army who refused to release his identity, but said that he serves in the 7th Division of the Iraqi Army. The source claimed that the US paid bribes to journalists to refrain from publishing documentations showing dead and wounded US soldiers, as well as attacks (such as the shooting down of helicopters,) adding that some journalists willingly presented this material to US officers who would place a “value” on the items depending on their “importance and content.”

Furthermore, the unnamed officer accused the US Army of executing journalists who refused to ply to US orders during the Falluja battles in 2004. The news channel pointed out that several Iraqi journalists have been missing since the Falluja fighting and whose families accuse the US Army of being responsible for their sons’ disappearance.

In other news, pan-Arab al-Hayat reports that the popular referendum over the US-Iraqi security treaty (which regulates and legalizes US military presence in the country) will probably be postponed, despite official assurances to the contrary. According to the treaty, the referendum should be held by the end of the next month, but numerous delays in legislating the referendum, as well as budgetary constraints, seem likely to prevent a timely holding of the plebiscite – the paper claims.

Al-Hayat quoted an Iraqi MP who said that the chairmanship of the Parliament has rejected a law proposal to hold the referendum that was presented by Parliamentarians, preferring to wait for a law project formulated by the Prime Ministership, “which means that more time will be wasted,” the MP exclaimed. Parliamentary sources are saying that the Elections’ Commission (which is charged with the technical aspects of the referendum) said that it will need at least 60 days to finalize the preparations after the law has been passed, which makes it nearly impossible to hold the referendum on time.

Meanwhile, Az-Zaman reports that the chair of the Da'wa bloc in the Parliament, Qasim al-Sahlani, was killed in a car accident on the road between Basra and Nasiriya. This makes al-Sahlani the second Parliamentary leader to die in as many weeks, after the assassination of the IAF chair, Harith al-'Ubaidi, early in the month.

Also in Az-Zaman, the paper reports that Syria has accepted to raise Iraq’s share of the Euphrates water beyond the 58% that are allotted to Iraq, a measure that was deemed necessary to save Iraq’s agricultural season, which is threatened by excessive droughts. Water security is likely to be one of Iraq’s main concerns in the coming decades, a problem that is intensified by the fact that the country has to share its main water sources (the Tigris and the Euphrates) with Turkey and Syria.

Lastly, Iraqis were greatly disappointed after their football team, which is playing in the Confederations’ Cup in South Africa, failed to qualify to the second round after tying with the New Zealand team – which is considered the weakest team in the group, having lost by wide margins in previous matches. Iraq needed to win by two goals to guarantee qualification, and sport analysts are blaming the players for not putting in the needed effort during the games. The news channel quoted a member in the Committee to Support the Iraqi National Team who exclaimed that Iraq’s stars, Yunis Mahmud, Nash’at Akram and Hawwar Muhammad, score frequently with their clubs but were unable to score a single goal in three matches during the high-profile competition.

Daily Column
Contractor Held in Green Zone Death to Go Free, the "Piano Man of Baghdad"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/11/2009 02:07 AM ET
In today's editions, a bombing causes an angry crowd, a contractor held in connection to the death of another may have been freed, and what it's like to tickle the Baghdad ivories.

From Baghdad
On Wednesday, a car bomb struck a market in the southern city of al-Batha, out side of Nasiriya, killing over 30 and wounding dozens. Anger afterward was turned toward security forces for allowing the breach in security. Though this is a common occurrence of past months, the angry shouts turned to stoning in this case, and shots were fired by police to subdue the crowd, reportedly resulting in at least one injury. The governor of Dhi-Qar province, where al-Batha is located, fired the city’s chief of police immediately following the event.

Rod Nordland of the New York Times writes a detailed account, fairly comparable with the Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid. Nordland focuses on the crowd’s anger.
A crowd, including many survivors and lightly wounded people, gathered at the scene, voicing similar complaints. About midday, many of them began stoning police officers who were securing the bomb site, witnesses said.

...Police officers fired automatic weapons toward the demonstrators, dispersing them but also wounding one, according to a police official. The trouble subsided after local officials intervened to calm residents.
“Our men, our women and our children have been killed right in front of police eyes, and they did nothing. Now they come here to push around the poor people who lost their relatives,” said one of the protestors.

Shadid has an account of someone who likely witnessed the perpetrator.
Survivors at the hospital said a man in civilian clothes had parked the car, which bore a license plate from the southernmost city of Basra. Unlike most residents, dressed in traditional clothes, he stood out in his Western-style shirt and pants, said Aqil Mohammed, a 21-year-old grocer whose store was near the site of the blast.
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes less about the event and more of a big-picture story, framing the bombing within a context of Iraqi security and politics. A recent minibus bombing in Baghdad’s Dora district is brought into the picture.
Hadil Kamel was injured by shrapnel in the minibus explosion. She and her brother blame politicians for the recent flare-ups. She didn't blame any particular party, but suspected the violence is a move to stir up trouble in Iraq so politicians can use it to place blame on each other as they strive to get the upper hand in the upcoming elections.

"Our politicians still don't know how to solve their differences peacefully and they can only physically attack each other," said Ms. Kamel's brother, who declined to give his name for fear of retribution.
Anthony Shadid earns his money today by returning with a second article, this one about the five American contractors who were arrested this week as part of an investigation into the stabbing death of another US contractor in the Green Zone in May. It was announced that one of them will be released on Thursday. The main Iraqi government spokesman is said to be under the impression that the contractor, Don Feeney Jr., was released on Wednesday night. Throughout this entire affair, Iraqi and US sources have been out of tandem, and have often given conflicting statements.
The men were arrested a week ago as part of an investigation into the death of Jim Kitterman, 60, whose body was found May 22. An Iraqi intelligence official said Kitterman, also a contractor, had been stabbed twice in the heart, bundled in a plastic bag and dumped in a lot less than a mile from the contractors' residence.

At the time, U.S. Embassy officials stressed that the men had not been arrested on suspicion of involvement in Kitterman's killing. During a search of their house, carried out by Iraqi forces in coordination with the FBI, evidence had been found on an unrelated matter, the officials said, without disclosing details. Since then, the men have been held at an Iraqi police station in the Green Zone.
Christopher Garabedian, known as the piano man of Baghdad, is featured in the Washington Post, in a friendly profile by Nada Bakri. Garabedian, or “Christo” as he is also called, plays a mixture of eastern and western music while sipping red wine, every night “in a city where pianists are rare and music venues are few.” His basic story, from playing with bands in the 80s to selling his own piano during the violent sectarian strife of recent years, is a nice little read.

He plays at Al-Rif, a restaurant in Baghdad’s neighborhood of al-Arrassat. Patrons can again be seen in restaurants these days, but Al-Rif seems to be less than bustling, at least on the night that Bakri attended. Garabedian’s varied evening performance is followed, interspersed with his personal history. It worked as an advertisement for me – I’ll be checking him out soon.
At age 12, Garabedian started playing the harmonica at the Armenian school in Baghdad. But when his Russian teacher, Mrs. Natasha, overheard him perform the piano, she enrolled him in her lessons, he recalled. Impressed by his talent, she suggested that he travel to Moscow, where he would study to become a professional. But money was an obstacle, and Garabedian never left Iraq. Neither did he finish school or complete his lessons. Instead, he played with local bands at restaurants, parties and nightclubs for about $2 a performance, which he gave to his father.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
In Iraq, Colbert Does His Shtick for the Troops
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/08/2009 02:00 AM ET
The first arrests and possible charging of American citizens in post-Saddam Iraq is the main story, followed by Steven Colbert, following in Bob Hope's formidable footsteps.

From Baghdad
On May 22, the body of Jim Kitterman, a 60-year-old contractor from Houston, was found bound and stabbed to death in a car parked in a parking lot in the Green Zone. It was originally called a “crime of passion” or the result of “an argument gone bad” by State Dept. spokesmen. The immediate conclusion that was drawn by most Americans seemed to be obvious – the killer was Iraqi. On Sunday, five American civilians, contractors as well, were arrested by joint US/Iraqi forces, and they are now being held by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.

Of the two articles offered, read Nada Bakri’s in the Washington Post, as it has the most information. Conflicting accounts of possible charges have been given by Iraqi and US officials (in Iraq, formal charges aren’t made until a suspect faces a judge). FBI agents are said to have tipped Iraqi forces off on something, leading to a joint search of a residence, where weapons and drugs were reportedly found. An American official said that the five were being held on “unrelated” charges, but an interior Ministry official said they were being held for the murder.

Both the story in the Post and the one in the New York Times, by Marc Santora and Alissa J. Rubin, write if this being the first instance of the possibility of Americans being tried in an Iraqi court, since across-the-board immunity for contractors was lifted with the sighing of the security agreement.

Continuing in the Times, Campbell Robertson reports on the first taping of this week’s episodes of Steven Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” as a USO event in Baghdad’s Green Zone. As Roberston writes, Colbert’s blowhard persona made it “easy to wonder if, given the setting, he would be a little less mock Bill O’Reilly and a bit more risk-free Rich Little.”
Any doubt was dispersed the minute Mr. Colbert ran out onstage wearing a business suit made of Army camouflage and, shortly afterward, declared himself the only person man enough finally to declare victory in Iraq. (General Odierno, whom Mr. Colbert compared to Shrek, diplomatically talked that declaration down.)
According to Colbert, “There’s a thesis statement there, which is something for my character to hang on to.” He said, “My character thinks the war is over because he doesn’t hear about it anymore. He’s like a child. A ball rolls behind the couch and he thinks it’s gone forever.” Well, I guess fake news bureaus aren’t that different from real ones, after all.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Iraqis Seek Death Penalty for Ex-U.S. Soldier Convicted in Rape/Murder of Iraqis
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/09/2009 01:58 AM ET
A pretty strong showing of news stories today. There aren’t a ton of them, but what we have are worth while and of compelling subject material. Other than the stories mentioned in the titles above, there is a look at the rising violence in Iraq, the possible US withdrawal exceptions, and poetry returning to Basra.

From Iraq
The New York Times’ Timothy Williams reports on the death of a 12 year old boy on Thursday, after a US convoy fired in response to a grenade being thrown at them. There are more details and bystander’s quotes than usually come out of Mosul, particularly a neighborhood like Raes al-Jadah which local merchants say is “controlled by jihadist groups that collect extortion payments from shopkeepers in order to finance their organizations.”

The US military said the boy, named Salwan Aido Iesho, had been the one to lob the grenade at them, but several witnesses familiar with both the boy said he was innocent, and well known in the area. Though a US military spokesman said that the incident “might reflect a new insurgent tactic of paying children to commit violent acts against American and Iraqi troops,” the article points to someone else, the other person killed by US gunfire. It was a man in his 20s, a shopkeeper said, and locals knew him too, as he had demanded extortion payments from them, accompanied by a local sheikh. Judging from comments made by Salwan’s sister, he was a Christian.
Another merchant, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that as the American vehicles approached, he saw a man standing next to him holding a grenade. He said he asked the man to leave.

“I saw him with the grenade and asked him to move away in case the Americans fired back,” he said. “He refused.” He added: “Suddenly the Americans were firing. They hit the boy in the back and the back of the head. My heart burned when they killed this boy.”
Also in the New York Times, Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan write that Iraqi officials and civilians called Friday for the death sentence for a former American soldier who was convicted of the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and the killings of her and three members of her family.

On Thursday, Steven Dale Green, an Army private in March 2006, when the event occurred, was convicted on the 17 counts brought against him, in United States District Court in Paducah, Ky. The jury is scheduled to meet Monday to begin weighing a sentence, as Robertson and Kakan write, “that will reach far beyond the fate of the convicted.” All over Iraq, and in particular Mahmudiya where the event occurred, people are waiting to see what the decision will be. The article gives plenty of background, and focuses on the decision as something of a test for Iraqis, as to whether America is serious about prosecuting its own who commit crimes in Iraq.
Three other soldiers from Mr. Green’s unit, the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne, were convicted of being present at or participating in the attack, and are serving sentences of 90, 100 and 110 years in military prisons.

...Mr. Green was charged with being the instigator, moving the girl’s parents and her young sister into a back room while two of the soldiers raped her. Mr. Green shot the family members before raping the girl and then shooting her repeatedly in the head and trying to set fire to her body.
Charles Levinson of the Wall Street Journal has a pretty darn thorough article on several disconcerting elements of Iraqi security. He begins as follows.
Violence is on the rise in Iraq as American troops withdraw. A ground-level look at the handover provides one explanation: The Iraqi government is neglecting many of the successful counterinsurgency initiatives it is inheriting from the U.S. military.
Levinson spends a good deal of time on ways that Iraq’s dwindled budget, combined with dried-up US funds are ending a lot of the jobs which might have kept would be insurgents busy and off the streets (among them, the 100,000 strong Sahwa fighters). Other issues are brought up as well, such as the closing of US bases which helped to provide security in violent neighborhoods, but the budget’s effect is the main focus. A graph showing Iraqi civilian deaths reaching low 2008 levels is included.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Jane Arraf writes sort of a sister-piece to her story a few days ago about improved security bringing back much of the city, except for jobs. Today, she writes of one thing that has come back – poetry.

When militia members openly walked the streets during the worst of the post-2003 sectarian violence, poetry (along with other examples of truly traditional Iraqi culture) could get one killed for activities deemed “un-Islamic”. Now, they’re yelling it from the rooftops – or at least from the radio stations. Arraf weaves quotes, observations, local understanding, and a clear love of Iraq into the kind of piece we need to see every once in a while, to balance out the bombs and less-than-perfect governance.
The station, an offshoot of Baghdad's Al Rasheed radio, which combines music, poetry and talk, is just two months old. But poetry here goes back centuries. To Iraqis, it is like breathing. In radio programs in Baghdad, callers phone in to request poems the same way one requests a favorite song. The death of a major poet is an occasion of national mourning.

Basra, as part of ancient Sumer, had an advanced civilization 5,000 years ago. The Sumerians were believed to have invented the first system of writing. The city, on the Shatt al-Arab, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, is the setting for the epic tale of Sinbad the Sailor and tens of thousands of poems that followed.
Back in the New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller reports on an estimate by Gen. Ray Odierno, at a Pentagon briefing, which was the most specific yet for the extension of American combat operations in Baghdad and Mosul. According to Odierno, American combat troops have largely moved out of most other urban areas in Iraq. Though he declined to give numbers (saying they’re always changing), he did say that one-fifth of American combat troops would stay behind in Iraqi cities even after the June 30 deadline – a deadline which Iraqi politicians are constantly telling Iraqis is one which will be stringently adhered to.

There’s nothing too surprising, but Bumiller gives plenty of curt-sounding Odierno quotes provides and some analysis, too.
What General Odierno did not say was that the number is sensitive politically in both Washington and Baghdad at a time when President Obama and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq have pledged to reduce American troops in the country but as high-profile suicide attacks have increased. American commanders have already said that those combat troops who remain in the cities will be “remissioned” as trainers and advisers to the Iraqis, although many will still go on combat patrols.

Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, no 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

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