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The Latest
TV Station Quotes Official: "More Than 500,000 Square Meters of Forest" Burnt
06/15/2009 6:00 PM ET

BAGHDAD – On Monday, the Al-Sumaria satellite television channel reported that air raids carried out by Turkish forces against PKK targets have caused major fires in some mountainous regions of northern Iraq.

According to al-Sumaria, “Planning Director in General Directorate for Gardening and Forests in the Ministry of Agriculture in Kurdistan region Najat Soufi Harriri said that the land and air raids carried out by Turkish forces against North of Iraq burnt more than 500,000 square meters of forests north of Iraq.”

The Ministry of Agriculture “has formed emergency groups that include groups of fire fighters and forests and borders guards in order to extinguish the fires that erupt in the forests.”

The Latest
Attacks From Both Sides Continue
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/03/2009 1:00 PM ET
Photo: Daniel W. Smith

BAGHDAD – In a press statement sent to Iraqslogger, the leadership of the PKK’s executive council (The KCK, known as the Kurdistan Democratic Society, or Koma Civaken Kurdistan) announced that the group will extend their cease-fire which was to end on June 1. The “state of non-action” will now be in place until July 15, and “if positive developments took place towards a resolution,” it would be extended again until September 1.

It is clearly stated that the cease-fire does not limit actions of self defense, if PKK members are attacked by Turkish forces. “During this period our military powers will not engage in any action. They will never attack anywhere. However, in case of destructive assaults against themselves, they will use their universal right to self-defense and will reserve the right to retaliate for every assault.”

Turkish National Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul has repeatedly made clear his intentions of wiping out the PKK in North Iraq, and do not generally acknowledge such announcements. Violence continues on both, including more Turkish cross-border bombings of PKK positions in Iraq, and what is thought to have been a PKK-set land mine that killed six Turkish soldiers on May 28, despite the cease-fire that was already in place.

The statement reads, “Upon considering the positive and negative aspects of the process, Leader Apo called for the continuity of non-aggression, which ends on 1st June, also taking into consideration explanations of the President Abdullah Gul in terms of the resolution of the question, discussions amongst the public, invitations by various intellectuals, democratic parties and civilian society organisations, and the expectations of our people in terms of the resolution of the issue.”

Daily Column
Muqtada Condemns the Killing of Iraqi Gays, US Army Begins Dismantling Bases
By AMER MOHSEN 05/29/2009 5:28 PM ET
Several important mechanisms are taking place simultaneously in Iraq: US forces are beginning to withdraw from urban centers, closing 19 bases in Baghdad amid “a security breakdown” (to use Az-Zaman’s terms;) tensions between the Iraqi government and Saudi Arabia became public, with Maliki’s assertion that no further attempts to normalize relations with the Kingdom will be adopted; and domestically, the Prime Minister is announcing a “war on corruption” beginning with elements in his cabinet.

In Falluja, Az-Zaman said, an IED that killed two Iraqis and three Americans (including one soldier and two state employees) claimed the life of the “second-in-command in the American reconstruction project” in Iraq, Terence Barnich.

According to the paper, the Falluja roadside bomb was part of an escalating wave of attacks that has been ongoing for the last days, in parallel with the beginnings of US Army withdrawal from urban bases in Iraq. 19 “joint centers” in Baghdad were announced to be closed on Thursday, the paper said, claiming that a massive movement of “special groups” from Iran into Iraq has been noted recently. “Heavy aircraft movement” is sighted along the borders with Iran, the daily said, with Iraqi Army units in the border regions put on high alert to counter this “return” of armed groups.

Simultaneously, incidents of attacks against US bases are multiplying. The paper said that the US base in Basra International Airport was targeted with Katyusha missiles, the first time since the US took control of the base in April. The US base in the Budayra military airport was also bombed, as well as the “'Ali Bin Abi Talib” base near Nasiryia, one of the largest US bases in the country. Sources told Az-Zaman that “special groups” are attempting to smuggle more modern rockets into the country through the province of Maysan (which is on the borders with Iran,) these sources indicated that the vast majority of the “special groups” are ex-Mahdi Army fighters who took refuge in Iran in recent years.

On a different front, the frostiness in Iraqi-Saudi relations was expressed by Premier Maliki, who complained that his past initiatives towards Saudi Arabia were “understood as weakness,” adding that he will make no additional moves towards the Saudi government “if no wish is expressed by Saudi Arabia to establish relations between the two countries.”

Sources close to Maliki told the London-based paper that the Iraqi Premier attempted rapprochement with Saudi Arabia at the beginning of his rule, visiting the southern neighbor immediately after being chosen as Prime Minister in 2006. But relations between the two sides soured thereafter, with a famous “snubbing” incident when, in a recent Arab League Summit, the Saudi King refused to meet with Maliki.

Tensions between Iraq and its Arab neighbors were immediately given a sectarian spin by al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda, which headlined with claims that Arab states want a Sunni president for Iraq, “or they would expel it from the Arab league.” The paper mentioned the ex-Chairman of the Islamic Party, Tariq al-Hashimi, as a favorite candidate to replace Jalal Talabani, the first Kurdish President of Iraq (the Republic’s founder and its first President, 'Abd al-Kareem Qasim, was half-Kurdish.)

The paper also claimed that “Sunni” Arab states headed by Saudi Arabia wish to prop up a “liberal Shi'a” Prime Minister, who does not belong to the pro-Iranian Islamic Parties and who is ideologically closer to the US. The daily claimed that five names are currently being touted for the position, but did not reveal them “not to start a controversy at this sensitive time.”

In other news, London-based al-Hayat says that Turkish airplanes have resumed bombing runs over what Turkey claims to be PKK bases in northern Iraq after six Turkish soldiers were killed in an IED ambush in southeastern Turkey. This is the second major attack by Kurdish insurgents in Turkey within a month; in late April, nine Turkish soldiers were also killed by a remotely detonated IED near the Iraqi borders.

Lastly, Az-Zaman quoted statements by Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr where he announced his opposition to the murder and torture of Iraqi gays. The paper says that Muqtada’s pronouncements came after the proliferation of religious rulings by Iraqi clerics encouraging the killing of homosexuals and the increase in murders and abuse directed at Iraqis who are “accused” of being gay. According to the head of external relations in Sadr’s office, Muqtada said that he disowns those who murder homosexuals or torture them (in order to pressure them to change their sexual identity.)

A police colonel in Sadr City was interviewed on the topic; he said that there is no legal text in Iraq laws prohibiting or punishing homosexuality, but added that “we have started taking steps to deal (with homosexuality) as a perverse phenomenon that offends public mores, and this is an offense punishable by law.”

Rumors of Car Bombings to Come in al-Adhamiya
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/08/2009 00:13 AM ET
Photo: Daniel W. Smith

Turkey/Sadr City
Where the government has failed again and again (and, truth be told, made some advances) Turkish officials appear poised to lend a hand in the rebuilding of Sadr City.

“Turkey?” you ask? “Isn’t that where Muqtada al-Sadr just went for some kind of pseudo/quasi state visit?”

According to a source close to the Sadr City council, officials from the Turkish Embassy in Iraq visited the council, and spoke of “investing money in Sadr City” and of financing the reconstruction (possibly to be done by both Iraqi and Turkish firms).

It came as Muqtada al-Sadr met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and his Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed “security developments in Iraq.”

Many have mused on the reason for Turkey being chosen as the stage on which al-Sadr broke his two year shunning of the public eye (except for speeches and comments dictated by his followers). As some within his circle have said he has attained the title of a Marjam, Religious Authority, or even Grand Ayatollah (in two years???), and US force levels are dropping, something seems to be lining up, and it has everyone guessing. The Sayyid hasn’t lost his flair.

As Turkey is poised to take a pivotal roll in regional politics, al-Sadr (speculated to not mind siding with them on Kirkuk) seems to be preparing for a power-packed return to Iraq, both sides have something to gain.

As some in Sadr City are saying (and hoping), why not add the real rebuilding of Sadr City to the deal? It shores up even stronger support for al-Sadr among a constituency which is still very important, and makes him look like he can get things done - an issue on which the Iraqi government might not bear comparison favorably.

Al-Adhamiya Car Bomb Warnings
After the spike in bombings which appear to have targeted Shi’a populations in Baghdad, some in the mostly Sunni al-Adhamiya neighborhood are warning of reprisals. There was a good amount of talk last week that people from al-Adhamiya had orchestrated the twin bombings at the Imam Musa al-Khadhim shrine, just across the Tigris in the Shi’a majority district of al-Kadhimiya. Family elders in al-Adhamiya have denied involvement, but some there say that retribution is coming, and to “stay away from crowds”.

The local Sahwa units around al-Adhamiya have been seen tightening security, giving extra scrutiny to people not known to live in the area. A Sahwa member spoke of their commanders being warned by US forces of up to 20 vehicles fitted with car bombs in the neighborhood. He said they were given information about the cars, including some license plate numbers. On Thursday, several Sahwa checkpoints were comparing plate numbers with some listed on pieces of paper which had been circulated among them.

British Investors
As Prime Minister al-Maliki was in London touting the perks of investing in Iraq, a delegation of 14 British investors arrived with little fanfare at Baghdad’s Sheraton Ishtar Hotel. Apparently, he is not to be outdone by al-Sadr. More of the British investors were said to be expected by mid-May.

Members of Iraqslogger’s network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report, but choose to remain anonymous, for security reasons.
Daily Column
Sadrist Convention in Turkey Could Change the Face of Iraqi Politics
By AMER MOHSEN 05/06/2009 5:48 PM ET
A “surprise,” unannounced, convention for the Sadrist movement ended two days ago in Turkey. Headed by Muqtada al-Sadr himself (who was effectuating a formal visit to Turkey) and 70 of the Current’s key leaderships, Sadrist sources who attended said that the convention was a critical juncture for the Sadrist movement and will shape the future of its activism in the coming years.

According to al-Hayat, the Turkey visit and the convention represented Muqtada al-Sadr’s first public appearance since 2007, when he decided to limit his contacts with the outside world to letters and speeches communicated through his associates. The convention may thus mark al-Sadr’s return to the political life, with Sadrist officials affirming that al-Sadr has finished his religious formation in Iran and will soon return to Iraq as a full-fledged Marja' (source of emulation.)

Al-Hayat’s sources said that a major concern of the conference was designing an electoral strategy for the upcoming legislative elections, set for early 2010. Two important decisions emanated from the convention: on the one hand, al-Sadr asserted his refusal for transforming the Current into a traditional political party; on the other, the Current’s leadership formally decided to abandon its coalition with the Shi'a United Iraqi Alliance (UIA,) which has been the main platform for Shi'a representation since 2005.

Sadrist leader Akram Tarazi told the London-based daily that the upper echelons of the Sadrist Current, led by Muqtada, flatly rejected the notion of the Current turning into a classical political party, arguing that such a measure would limit the “large popular base” that currently identifies with the Sadrists.

More significantly, Tarazi confirmed that Sadrist leaders pronounced their alliance with the UIA “a failure” and that “a new map” of coalitions will be drawn for the coming elections. In that sense, the Sadrist convention has formally buried the broad and heterogeneous alliance that defined Shi'a politics for the last years, and has officially launched a new phase of political competition on the Shi'a scene in Iraq whose results and ramifications will – without doubt – be immense.

In security news, a car bomb in a busy vegetables market in Baghdad has caused more than a dozen deaths, al-Jazeera reports. The news channel noted that in last April over 290 Iraqi civilians died in similar acts of violence, the highest recorded number since November.

Meanwhile, Iraqi government officials keep reiterating that their forces will be sufficient to guarantee stability after the US withdrawal. Today, al-Maliki went on record as saying that the scheduled phases of the US withdrawal will not be modified and that his government has no intention to extend the mandate of US troops in troubled areas such as Mosul and Diyala. The Premier, however, said that his forces will require “intelligence” support from the US to thwart attacks and locate suspects, adding that the government can still ask the US forces for help if the situation worsens in the future.

In other news, Az-Zaman focused in its front page on statements by UN officials accusing the Iraqi government of meting out execution orders to suspects whose confessions were obtained under torture. These allegations began after 12 convicts were hanged on Sunday, after an 18-months unofficial moratorium on executions.

On a different front, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda exhibited the unique situation of the media in Iraq, after it announced that it will (willingly) suspend its publication for three days as a form of self-inflicted punishment for a report that was perceived as attacking Muqtada al-Sadr.

The paper, which maintains an unapologetic Shi'a sectarian tone, fronted with a profuse apology to Muqtada: “if not for you, not a single Shi'a would have remained in Baghdad ... we apologize, Sayyid Muqtada, the symbol of resistance ... a thousand apologies” read the headline. Perhaps, as a form of “compensation” another front page item pronounced: “Italian expert: Muqtada al-Sadr dons a political mind and great tolerance.”

If all that was not enough, the paper’s editor wrote a piece explaining that he left the hospital (where he is being treated from cancer) “to express my solidarity and apologies.” Another item noted that the paper had originally decided to close for an entire week, but claimed that the Sadrist office and Muqtada himself said that they were against the closure of the paper! At any rate, the paper informed its readers that “al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda will not be published, as an apology to Sayyid Muqtada ... for three days (!)”

Lastly, the Swine Flu scare has reached Iraq. In Basra, Az-Zaman reports, a campaign is being launched to exterminate the population of wild boars that inhabits the regions of Faw and some parts of the marshlands surrounding the southern city. According to the daily, Basra officials are demanding to be supplied with military aircraft to carry out the mission.


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