DAILY WAR NEWS FOR SUNDAY, MAY 21, 2006
Members of the new Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (3rd L) attend a national assembly meeting in Baghdad. (AFP Photo)
Passers-by walk down the street past a pool of blood left when a roadside bomb missed its target - a police patrol - but wounded five civilians in the mostly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Saidiyah in Baghdad, Iraq Sunday, May 21. (AP Photo)
Note: I've adopted Zig's format of posting links to the full story after the excerpt, for the sake of consistency. As always, constructive suggestions on presentation are welcome in the comments.
A suicide bomber killed at least 13 people and injured 17 when he blew himself up Sunday in a downtown Baghdad restaurant frequented by police.
Bomb targeting police patrol in eastern Baghdad kills three civilians.
Bomb explosion in market southeast of Baghdad injures 15
Additional incidents from Reuters
BAGHDAD - Five people were wounded when a roadside bomb went off in Baghdad's southwestern Bayaa district, police said.
BAGHDAD - Two people were killed and six wounded when a car bomb exploded in the northwestern Shula district of the capital, police said.
NAJAF - Police found the bodies of two beheaded women in the Shi'ite city of Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. Separately, Najaf hospital received the body of an engineer who had been shot dead, hospital sources said.
FALLUJA - Police found the body of a policeman on Saturday near Falluja, 50 km west of Baghdad, police said. He was kidnapped hours earlier. Police arrested five suspects in the killing in a raid on Sunday, police added.
AFP also reports
two oil pipeline guards shot dead in Tikrit; City Council employee shot dead in Al-Madain, south of Baghdad.
AP also reports
gunmen kill a grocer in Shiite neighborhood of Ubaidi; and three attacks in Dora: Mortar rounds hit two separate houses, killing a 4-year-old girl and wounding her mother in one dwelling, and injuring a man and his son in the other, police said. A roadside bomb narrowly missed a U.S. convoy but wounded three civilians.
Note: Every wire service dispatch and newspaper story gives a selection of incidents, but leaves the impression that it is a complete inventory. And of course, many if not most incidents never get reported at all. This means that readers get the impression that the level of violence is lower than it really is. We do our best to round up information from as many sources as we can, but the information you read here is far from complete.
POLITICAL NEWS OF THE DAY
I'm going to provide a range of perspectives on the new government. As usual, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of Today in Iraq, its editors, or your Aunt Fannie.
New Iraq Cabinet takes office, pledging to stop terrorism
By Megan K. Stack and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times | May 21, 2006
BAGHDAD -- Iraq's battling communities came together yesterday to approve their first full-term government since the fall of Saddam Hussein, placing a nation fractured from three years of war into the hands of a diverse but weak Cabinet. In a stuffy chamber tucked deep inside rings of blast walls, barbed wire, and bomb-sniffing dogs, parliament voted in favor of a 35-member Cabinet cobbled together by new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
In the heart of the Green Zone, far from the reach of ordinary Iraqis, lawmakers raised their hands to vet each member of the mostly male government. Although it was marked by a walkout by a handful of angry Sunni lawmakers, the inauguration shattered the deadlock that had paralyzed Iraqi governance since December.
''I stand solemnly before the souls of our martyrs and the precious blood offered by Iraqis, and seek inspiration from our people's steadfastness, sacrifices, and pains, the imprisonment, torture, killing, and terrorism they've faced," Maliki told parliament. ''Just as we did away with the tyrant [Saddam Hussein] and the days of oppression and despotism, we will do away with terrorism and sabotage."
But Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim whose political acumen is tinged with a deep-seated Islamism, faces a perilous obstacle course. He has a Cabinet so wide-ranging it's prone to collapse, a 34-point program that runs the impossible gamut of Iraq's wish list -- and a disillusioned, weary nation to govern.
The new prime minister has yet to quell a swelling crisis over the management of Iraq's security services. In the end, staring down a Monday deadline to appoint a Cabinet, Maliki delayed decisions on the key posts of interior, defense, and national security. To buy time and push the government through parliament, he nominated temporary fill-ins -- himself and his two deputies.
''This government won't be a panacea for solving all problems, but it's a beginning," said Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish foreign minister. ''We wanted to present the whole Cabinet; it would have been better."
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Daunting security challenge ahead of new Iraqi government
By Ola Galal May 21, 2006, 14:06 GMT. Baghdad/Cairo - Following tedious and dispute-ridden negotiations among Iraqi political blocs, a new cabinet - with the exception of three ministerial portfolios - was finally approved by parliament and sworn in on Saturday.
Almost five months after election results brought Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis closer to a national unity government, Iraq's first permanent administration since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 has yet to face the overwhelming challenge of bringing the security melee under control.
With the illegal circulation of arms and the rising civilian death toll, this is not merely a stumbling bloc on the path to political stability, but, in the words of prime minister-designate Nouri al- Maliki, an 'exceptional' challenge.
'The upcoming challenges are huge and critical and we are in need of exceptional effort to confront the security challenge and terrorism that is claiming the lives of Iraqis,' al-Maliki said. As al-Maliki was making his statement, there were several bomb blasts across the suburbs of Baghdad, killing at least 19 and injuring 53 others in a wave of violence that has swept through coalition-occupied Iraq.
The bombing of the highly-revered al-Askary Shiite shrine last February and the delay in the formation of a coalition national unity government has caused violence to escalate and edged the country closer than ever towards a civil war. That's why the approval of a new Cabinet - albeit without the key posts of interior, defence and national security - is largely expected to quell the flames of sectarian killings.
The crucial security posts have been given to interim ministers: Sunni Vice-Prime Minister Salam al-Zaubai will temporarily assume the defence ministry, Kurdish Barham Salih, al-Maliki's other vice-prime minister, will act as interim national security minister, and al- Maliki himself will temporarily oversee the interior ministry. 'The defence minister and interior minister posts will be announced within the next three days,' al-Maliki told journalists on Saturday.
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The Decider says "A free Iraq" will be an ally in the "war on terror" and an "example in the region for others who desire to be free." However, U.S. Secretary of State says it is too early to make any commitments about troop withdrawals.
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Juan Cole's Optimism is Somewhat More Restrained
MP Nur al-Din al-Hayali of the Sunni religious Iraqi Accord Front said at a press conference, "the Front has reservations about the program of the government . . . We have reservatons about the laws related to fighting terror, which do not distinguish between the Resistance, which plays a heroic role for the sake of liberating Iraq, and acts of violence that all reject." He added, "It was obligatory to specify the techniques to be used to dissolve the militias altogether, and to transform them into state institutions and to keep them from infiltrating the security apparatuses."
The ironies here are manifold. Iraq has had to wait over 5 months after the December 15 elections for a government finally to be formed. The US intervened with local Iraqi parties to overturn the democratic vote of the United Iraqi Alliance for Ibrahim Jaafari. It got instead a long-time member of the Damascus politburo of the then-radical Islamic Dawa Party, which helped form Hizbullah in Lebanon. Nuri al-Maliki has finally been elected prime minister, but has not presented ministers for any of the key three cabinet posts having to do with national security.
Wouldn't you think that addressing national security might be the first priority? He has given us a minister of Tourism but not a Minister of Defense or a Minister of the Interior?
Of course, it probably doesn't matter that much. The Sunni Arab guerrilla movement will only redouble its efforts to overthrow this new government. And, there is no evidence that the troops and security forces of the new government can effectively curb the guerrillas, even if they had new leadership.
There are now four distinct wars going on in Iraq simultaneously
1) The Sunni Arab guerrilla war to expel US troops from the Sunni heartland
2) The militant Shiite guerrilla war to expel the British from the south
3) The Sunni-Shiite civil war
4) The Kurdish war against Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk province, and the Arab and Turkmen guerrilla struggle against the encroaching Peshmerga (the Kurdish militia).
Moreover, all of these wars involve strongly entrench militias, which both keep some order and also substantially disrupt it. When Basra security fell apart recently, Bice President Adil Abdul Mahdi was asked to send envoys to consult with major forces. He ignored powerful tribal chieftains but consulted with the Badr Corps commanders! As a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, he may believe that party's militia, the Badr, is best placed to calm things down. But many in Basra see Badr as unaccountable and as a part of the problem, not the solution. In any case, what else could Abdul Mahdi have done? It is not as if he has a proper army to send south. If he sent the Sunni Arab or Kurdish battalions, it would anyway be regarded as a provocation. And if he sent the Shiite battalions, there is no guarantee that they would be willing to fight the Badr Corps, as opposed to just going over to it.
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For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq
By JOHN F. BURNS, The New York Times. BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 20 — As Iraq's new government was announced Saturday, some senior American military and civilian officials watched from the sidelines, apprehensive that they were witnessing what might be the last chance to save the American enterprise in Iraq from a descent into chaos and civil war.
While others took a less bleak view, the common feeling among a wide range of officers and diplomats interviewed before Saturday's events was that the formation of the first full-term government since the toppling of Saddam Hussein marked a critical juncture for Iraq, and for the American stake in its future.
The 36 men and women appointed to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's cabinet — in an ominous sign of continuing divisions, three key ministries were left vacant — took over from a transitional government that has been widely viewed as a miserable failure. In his year in office, the departing prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, presided over a rising wave of sectarian violence. Basic government services, especially health and electricity, slipped deeper into the chaos that enveloped Iraq in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion three years ago.
This time, American officials played a muscular role in vetting and negotiating over the new cabinet. Dismayed at what they have described as the Jaafari government's incompetence, American officials reversed the hands-off approach that characterized American policy as Mr. Jaafari formed his cabinet in early 2005.
Then, the policy laid down by John D. Negroponte, President Bush's first ambassador to Iraq, now back in Washington as director of national intelligence, was to respect Iraq's standing as a sovereign state, avoiding heavy-handed American interference in the government's formation to discourage an attitude of dependence among Iraqi leaders.
During these negotiations, diplomatic sensitivities were played down as the envoy who succeeded Mr. Negroponte last summer, Zalmay Khalilzad, acted as a tireless midwife in the birthing of the new government. An Afghan-born scholar who worked on Iraq policy in Washington prior to the invasion, Mr. Khalilzad worked closely with Mr. Maliki, the new prime minister, in reviewing candidates for crucial ministries, and shuttling between rival Iraqi party leaders in an effort to sign them up to the American vision of a national unity government.
How far Mr. Khalilzad succeeded was uncertain as the new ministers were confirmed by Parliament on Saturday. The failure to win the agreement of top Sunni and Shiite party leaders on the interior, defense and national security posts was an embarrassing blow, emphasizing the gulf between Iraq's two main communities on the crucial issues of sectarian bloodletting and the Sunni-led insurgency.
The walkout of key members of the Sunni parliamentary bloc, including hard-liners with links to the insurgency, boded ill for hopes that the new government could draw some elements of the insurgency into talks and an eventual cease-fire.
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The Eternal Six Months
By JOHN DANISZEWSKI, Associated Press Writer BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. ambassador said Sunday the next six months will be critical for Iraq as its new national unity government seeks to win public confidence and improve security so that American and other international troops can begin heading home.
Read in Full
List of government ministers.
Maliki's 34 point program
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
Patrick Coburn Describes Widespread Ethnic Cleansing
By Patrick Cockburn in Khanaqin, North-East Iraq
Published: 20 May 2006
The state of Iraq now resembles Bosnia at the height of the fighting in the 1990s when each community fled to places where its members were a majority and were able to defend themselves. "Be gone by evening prayers or we will kill you," warned one of four men who called at the house of Leila Mohammed, a pregnant mother of three children in the city of Baquba, in Diyala province north-east of Baghdad. He offered chocolate to one of her children to try to find out the names of the men in the family.
Mrs Mohammed is a Kurd and a Shia in Baquba, which has a majority of Sunni Arabs. Her husband, Ahmed, who traded fruit in the local market, said: " They threatened the Kurds and the Shia and told them to get out. Later I went back to try to get our furniture but there was too much shooting and I was trapped in our house. I came away with nothing." He and his wife now live with nine other relatives in a three-room hovel in Khanaqin.
The same pattern of intimidation, flight and death is being repeated in mixed provinces all over Iraq. By now Iraqis do not have to be reminded of the consequences of ignoring threats. In Baquba, with a population of 350,000, gunmen last week ordered people off a bus, separated the men from the women and shot dead 11 of them. Not far away police found the mutilated body of a kidnapped six-year-old boy for whom a ransom had already been paid.
The sectarian warfare in Baghdad is sparsely reported but the provinces around the capital are now so dangerous for reporters that they seldom, if ever, go there, except as embeds with US troops. Two months ago in Mosul, I met an Iraqi army captain from Diyala who said Sunni and Shia were slaughtering each other in his home province. "Whoever is in a minority runs," he said. "If forces are more equal they fight it out."
It was impossible to travel to Baquba, the capital of Diyala, from Baghdad without extreme danger of being killed on the road. But I thought that if I took the road from Kurdistan leading south, kept close to the Iranian border and stayed in Kurdish-controlled territory I could reach Khanaqin, a town of 75,000 people in eastern Diyala. If what the army captain said about the killings and mass flight was true then there were bound to be refugees who had reached there.
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This one's for the Wiz Tommy Franks tells the NRA Iraq dead are the price of security
By COLIN FLY. MILWAUKEE May 21, 2006 (AP)— Those who count the increasing number of American soldiers killed in Iraq are missing the bigger picture, retired Gen. Tommy Franks said Saturday night. "What we're talking about is neither 2,400, 24,000 or 240,000 lives," Franks said at the National Rifle Association's annual banquet. "Terrorism is a thing that threatens our way of life. It doesn't have anything to do with politics."
More than 2,400 soldiers have died since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, the plan for which Franks developed and executed. He also oversaw combat in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "I watched as America changed," Franks said. "That's not near done. We have to secure ourselves. We have to secure our Constitution."
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NEWS FROM THE HOMEFRONT(S)
A backbench MP is to investigate the "unanswered questions" from the official inquiry into the death of weapons scientist Dr David Kelly.
Hélène Mulholland, The Gurdian. Friday May 19, 2006
The former Liberal Democrat environmental spokesman Norman Baker today revealed his decision to stand down from the shadow cabinet two months ago was based on a quest to establish the "truth" behind Dr Kelly's death. Mr Baker said he wanted to return to the issue because the 2003 Hutton inquiry had "blatantly failed to get to the bottom of matters". He vowed to question ministers and to unearth new facts in a bid to establish the "truth" of the case.
Dr Kelly was found dead on July 18 2003 after being named as the possible source of a BBC story on the government's Iraq dossier. Later that month Lord Hutton was appointed head of an independent inquiry into the events surrounding Dr Kelly's death. After a two-month inquiry, Lord Hutton concluded the scientist had taken his own life.
Oxford coroner Nicholas Gardiner subsequently looked into the possibility of reopening the inquest into Dr Kelly's death, but after reviewing the evidence with the lord chancellor, decided that there was no case for doing so. Mr Baker explained that he had decided to wait until he relinquished his environmental role before embarking on an investigation to find out the "truth" that the Hutton inquiry had failed to deliver.
"It did not answer questions," he told Guardian Unlimited today. "It was not carried out using proper rules of evidence, people were not giving evidence under oath and the whole thing became a criticism of the BBC."
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Army Ranger's Testimony: war crimes in Iraq were ordered from higher up the chain of command.
There is a current story in the US press about a squad of Marines that are being investigated for "war crimes" after they murdered a whole Iraqi family one night a few months back. US officials are approaching this story as if this wasn't standard procedure, and are focusing on holding the individual Marines accountable.
Jessie Macbeth blows the lid off that story. Macbeth is a former US Army Ranger, who served in Iraq for 16 months before being wounded and ultimately discharged. His squad did night raids, using the same techniques the Marines are accused of, 4 or 5 times a night for many months. Macbeth, who is now a member of "Iraq Veterans Against the War," was interviewed for the public access TV show "Indymedia Presents." His story is available here: www.peacefilms.org. In this interview Jessie describes killing children to make the parents talk. He describes one episode where his squad responded to the much-reported incident in Falluja where 4 US mercenaries were killed and hung from a bridge. Shortly after Iraqis killed the mercenaries, according to Macbeth, his squad of Rangers gunned down Iraqis praying inside a mosque on a holy day, then hung some of the bodies from rafters, and defaced the mosque with graffiti. Macbeth's hand held the smoking gun, and his testimony in this interview shows clearly that the Marines who are now in trouble for very similar actions are not the exception to US tactics in Iraq, but represent only one in many incidents of war crimes.
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Video of interview with Macbeth is here
Some Iraq war vets go homeless after return to US
by Daniel Trotta NEW YORK (Reuters) - The nightmare of Iraq was bad enough for Vanessa Gamboa. Unprepared for combat beyond her basic training, the supply specialist soon found herself in a firefight, commanding a handful of clerks.
"They promoted me to sergeant. I knew my job but I didn't know anything about combat. So I'm responsible for all these people and I don't know what to tell them but to duck," Gamboa said. The battle, on a supply delivery run, ended without casualties, and it did little to steel Gamboa for what awaited her back home in Brooklyn.
When the single mother was discharged in April, after her second tour in Iraq, she was 24 and had little money and no place to live. She slept in her son's day-care center. Gamboa is part of a small but growing trend among U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- homelessness.
On any given night the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps 200 to 250 of them, and more go uncounted. They are among nearly 200,000 homeless veterans in America, largely from the Vietnam War.
Advocates say the number of homeless veterans is certain to grow, just as it did in the years following the Vietnam and Gulf wars, as a consequence of the stresses of war and inadequate job training.
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Now, this will definitely work
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Los Angeles will stand in for Baghdad this weekend for the filming of a $1 million, special effects-laden commercial against suicide bombings that will air on Iraqi television.
The 60-second public service announcement is being filmed through today in the warehouse district near downtown. The commercial is being co-produced by Los Angeles-based 900 Frames and a Beirut, Lebanon, company called EFXFilms.
"They probably could find a place closer to Baghdad, but it was a question of the talent and know-how and that exists in Hollywood," Jonathan Zaleski, a publicist for the production, said Friday. "It was the type of thing that you don't normally expect out of Beirut."
The production will use 200 cast members, simulated explosions and a "Matrix"-style time-suspension moment utilizing numerous cameras to portray the consequences of a suicide attack. There will be cars flipping and people flying through windows, Zaleski said.
"It covers the moments before, during and after a suicide attack: Someone walking into a square wearing explosives ... how that moment changes the lives of innocent people," he said. In Iraq, where there are dozens of suicide bombings each year, the idea is to give a would-be attacker "one more opportunity" to think about the consequences, Zaleski said.
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Quote of the Day
What America has done over the last six years makes plain that the lesson of the Titanic, even with its last US survivor gone, has yet to be learned in Washington. It is 1912 again.
-- James Carroll