Monday, January 29, 2007

Photo: Iraqi soldiers arrest suspects in heavy sandstorm during clashes with gunmen at Zarqa, 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Najaf, Iraq, Monday Jan. 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)
Iraqi officials said Monday that 300 militants were killed in a fierce battle between U.S.-backed Iraqi troops and insurgents allegedly plotting to kill pilgrims at a major Shiite Muslim religious festival. Elsewhere, bombings and mortar attacks targeting Shiites killed at least 15 people. The fighting that began Sunday near the Shiite holy city of Najaf had largely subsided by Monday as Iraqi security forces frisked suspects while others patrolled elsewhere on the battlefield. Brig. Gen. Fadhil Barwari also said 300 militants had been killed, including 30 Afghans and Saudis, and 20 were captured. Iraqi security officials said earlier that one Sudanese was among the fighters detained. The figures could not be independently confirmed. The Iraqi Defense Ministry, which oversees the army, said it could not yet give a casualty toll because sporadic fighting was ongoing.
> The leader of an Iraqi cult who claimed to be the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam, was killed in a battle on Sunday near Najaf with hundreds of his followers, Iraq's national security minister said on Monday.
Women and children who joined 600-700 of his "Soldiers of Heaven" on the outskirts of the Shi'ite holy city may be among the casualties, Shirwan al-Waeli told Reuters. All those people not killed were in detention, many of them wounded. Iraqi troops, backed by U.S. forces, confronted the group after learning it was planning an attack on the Shi'ite clerical establishment in Najaf on Monday.
"One of the signs of the coming of the Mahdi was to be the killing of the Ulema (hierarchy) in Najaf," Waeli said. "This was a perverse claim. No sane person could believe it."
> [The Iraqi government spokesman] Al-Ghanemi said the area where the men were staying was once run by Saddam's al-Quds Army, a military organization the late president established in the 1990s. The commander said "the gunmen had recently dug trenches in preparation for the battle." He added that the area of full of date palm groves. Other officials in Najaf said Saddam loyalists bought the groves six months ago.
Al-Ghanemi said 600 to 700 gunmen had planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and attack Najaf on Tuesday, the day they believed that the Imam Mahdi, or the "hidden imam," would reappear. He said leading Shiite ayatollahs consider such fringe elements as heretics.
> The Iraqi health minister said on Monday the security forces lost five soldiers while 31 others were wounded during the military operation near the Shiite sacred city of Najaf.
> U.S. and British jets played a major role in the fighting, dropping 500-pound bombs on the militants' positions, but President Bush said the battle was an indication that Iraqis were beginning to take control.
"My first reaction on this report from the battlefield is that the Iraqis are beginning to show me something," Bush told NPR.
> An Iraqi army brigade entered the area where a battle with Ahmed al-Hassan's fighters took place over two days near Najaf and arrested 50 gunmen there, a military source said. (…)
The source added "the army troops also held in custody 200 women and children who were found in the area." Describing the area after the two day-long battle, the source said "more than 1,000 corpses that belonged to the armed group fighters were found in the battle area."
> Az-Zaman added that the attackers were repeating slogans calling for the return of the Mahdi, the twelfth Imam who, according to Muslim tradition, will re-appear with the nearing of judgment day to combat injustice in the world and prepare for the final Day of Judgment.
The newspaper pointed to the fact that many of the fighters of the Mahdi army had moved to the South to avoid capture during the Baghdad security plan. It is unclear whether the daily is insinuating that the Mahdi Army is somehow involved with the group of attackers. Some rumors in Iraq and the Arab World accuse Muqtada al-Sadr of holding unorthodox millenarian beliefs that perceive political action as a mean to hasten the reappearance of the Mahdi.
> Two senior Shiite clerics said the gunmen were part of a Shiite splinter group that Saddam Hussein helped build in the 1990s to compete with followers of the venerated religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They said the group, calling itself the Mehwadiya, was loyal to Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri, an Iraqi cleric who had a falling out with Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr — father-in-law of the Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr — in Hawza, a revered Shiite seminary in Najaf.
A parked car bomb struck a bus carrying Shiites to a holy shrine in northern Baghdad,
killing at least four people and wounding six, police said. The blast occurred when a small car parked nearby exploded about 9:30 a.m. as the pilgrims were boarding the bus on Palestine Street. The bus, which was completely burned out, had been heading to Kazimiyah, which is home to the most important Shiite mosque in the capital.
A bomb hidden under a concrete barrier exploded as workers were paving a street in an intersection in a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, killing one worker and wounding two others, police said.
Three university professors and a student were kidnapped in the Khadimiya district in northern Baghdad when they were on the way home from a seminar at a law college on Sunday, a Higher Education Ministry official said
A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two policemen near Qahtan Square in Qadisiya district in southwestern Baghdad,.
A car bomb killed one person and wounded three others near a square in Sadr City district in eastern Baghdad.
A car bomb killed one person and wounded three others in al-Baladiyat district in eastern Baghdad.
Police said they discovered around 42 unidentified bodies which were dumped in several Baghdad districts overnight. The bodies showed signs of torture and gunshots.
The Association of Muslim Scholars rotested against the capture of 12 Sunni guards from a mosque in Amiriyah district, western Baghdad, by US-led coalition and Iraqi forces. They claimed in a statement that the forces seized the guards' weapons, charity money that they carried, computers and the fuel used for electric generators. They called the seizure 'a robbery' and urged the forces to release the guards and return their belongings
Three mortars killed 11 people and wounded 28 more in Zaafaraniya, southeast of Baghdad,.
A sniper in Karada area shot a policeman who was guarding Hay Al Wihda bank.
A suicide bomber detonated his car at an Iraqi army checkpoint in Al Hurriyah area near Adan square, 5 civilians were killed and 25 others were injured.
A car bomb exploded behind Al Mustansiyriah university, 3 civilians were injured.
21 dead bodies were found in Baghdad, some were handcuffed and tortured, 1 in Abu Ghraib, 3 Bayaa, 3 Aour, 1 Zayuna, 1 Rashad, 1 Adhamiyah, 1 Alwiah, 3 Amil, 2 near Haifa Street, 2 Ghazaliyah, 2 Yarmouk and 1 Dora
Diyala Prv:
Two civilians were killed and three others wounded in a mortar attack waged by unidentified gunmen on the residential section of al-Kubat, north of al-Khalis district.
According to a security and medical source from Baqouba city today, a group of terrorists attacked a residential complex for Al Bayat tribes in Kara Taba village which led to the killing of 8 civilians .
Jurf al-Sakhar:
Mortar rounds rained down on a Shiite neighborhood in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, 40 miles south of Baghdad, Monday morning, police spokesman Capt. Muthanna Khalid said. He said 10 were killed, including three children and four women, and five other people were wounded
According to an Iraqi police source from Al Tuzz area 175km north of Baghdad, this morning 5 unknown gunmen were killed by fires from the American helicopters last night near Sleman Beak area 7km south of Tuzz area. The police source said the gunmen were trying to plant an IED.
Tuz Khurmato:
Five worshippers were killed when a rocket propelled grenade hit a Shi'ite mosque in the town of Tuz Khurmato, 70 km south of Kirkuk.
According to the head of the operation room in Kirkuk province colonel Yazgar Shuku, last evening at about 5o'clock a car bomb exploded near the central market. It was left by the roadside, 6 civilians were killed and 16 others were injured and 25 civilian cars were destroyed.
A car bomb exploded in Al Shurja market near Omar Bin Al Khatab mosque, 5 civilians were killed and 20 others were injured and 12 civilian cars were destroyed.
An Iraqi army soldier was shot dead at by a sniper gunshot while manning a checkpoint in the western entrance of Fallujah City.
Three gunmen in a car showered a policeman with bullets and killed him near his house in the Mualimeen neighborhood in Fallujah.
A roadside bomb went off near a U.S. patrol in the Albu Hatim area in the southwest of the city, damaging a U.S. Humvee. It was not clear whether the U.S. troops sustained any casualty by the blast, the source said, adding that the U.S. troops sealed off the area.
British forces in southern Iraq may face a spill-over of violence from an anticipated US troop "surge" in the capital Baghdad,
a senior US diplomat has warned.
David Satterfield, the State Department's senior co-ordinator for Iraq policy, told BBC radio Monday that Washington and London were consulting each other to minimise the risks for British troops in the region around Basra. (…)
Satterfield rejected suggestions that there was a US-British split over Bush's planned surge at a time when the British government stands by a vision of cutting the troops it sent into Iraq during the US-led invasion in March 2003.
He also denied that a build-up of US forces in Iraq and the Gulf presaged direct military action against neighbouring Iran.
Iran is taking steps to greatly expand military and economic ties with Iraq, Tehran's ambassador to Iraq said in an interview on Sunday with New York Times.
The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraqi forces training, equipment and advisers for "the security fight" and was ready to assume major responsibility for the reconstruction of Iraq.
He also acknowledged for the first time that two Iranians detained last month by U.S. forces were security officials as the United States has claimed.
"They worked in the security sector in the Islamic Republic, that's clear," Qomi said in a 90-minute interview at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad. The interview appeared in Monday's New York Times.
The Iranians were in Iraq because "the two countries agreed to solve the security problems," the ambassador said. The Iranians "went to meet with the Iraqi side," he told the newspaper.
Qomi said the Iranians should not have been detained and he ridiculed evidence the U.S. military said it has which proving the Iranians were involved in planning attacks on American and Iraqi forces.
A prominent Shiite leader said Monday that setting up federal regions in Iraq would solve the country's problems, adding that Shiites are being subjected to mass killings but they should not retaliate by using violence.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite bloc in the 275-member parliament, was speaking at a Shiite mosque in central Baghdad to mark Ashoura, one of the holiest days in the Shiite calendar commemorating the 7th century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein. Thousands of people dressed in black in a sign of mourning attended the ceremony at the Khulani Mosque.
"I reaffirm that the establishing of regions will help us in solving many problems that we are suffering from. Moreover, it represents the best solution for these problems," al-Hakim said. "We affirm the necessity of establishing the south and center and Baghdad regions after the people vote on it."
A delegation from the Sadrist parliamentary bloc met on Monday Iraq's Kurdistan President Massoud al-Barazani to "correct" many misunderstandings over the Sadr movement, a legislator said.
"Our meeting with President Barazani corrected many understandings about the objectives and mechanisms of the Sadr movement," legislator Al-Aaraji, currently on a visit to Arbil, said "Barazani expressed support to the Sadr movement and we appreciated his back-up."
This is the first meeting of its kind between Barazani and the Sadrists (followers of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr), the legislator pointed out and added "many issues were discussed during the meeting which made a number of recommendations."
Branding his visit to Arbil as historic, al-Aaraji said "the Sadr movement will back the Kurdistan Coalition demands in the parliament if these demands did not clash with the national and Islamic basics."
Bush will reject any effort in Congress to limit the number of US forces in Iraq because it would hamstring American efforts to stabilize the wartorn country, national security adviser Stephen Hadley has said in an article.
Nine anti-war protesters were arrested Monday when they gathered in a House office building to read off the names of American and Iraqi war dead.
More than 770 civilian contractors have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003. Statistics kept by the Labor Department indicate fatalities among civilian contractors working for American firms escalated rapidly late last year, with at least 301 dying in Iraq in 2006 -- including 124 in the final three months.
There have long been rumors and realities about insurgents using American style PSD tactics. The recent abduction and murder of four U.S. Soldiers from the Shi'a holy city of Karbala is the first major event in which this supposed myth became reality. (…)
Given the confusion and lack of hard details, the tactics are new and disturbing. Rumors in Karbala say this is an Iranian operation designed as payback for the arrest of its citizens. The lack of violence towards Iraqi military and police is an unusual part of this operation. The theory is that the Iranians needed hostages to negotiate the release of its operatives. An American raid on the Iranian embassy the day after the Karbala incident may also be part of the reason for the rumors. President's Bush's decision to allow the killing of Iranian agents in Iraq may also be linked to increased aggression by both sides.
read in full…
This was published by Aswat al-Iraq yesterday, and it speaks for itself.
A Sunni-Shiite fraternal council, organized by [an institution commemorating Moqtada's father] and the Islamic Party of Iraq, wound up two days of activities in Basra today. Abdulkarim Jarrad, head of the Islamic Party in Basra, told Voices of Iraq that attendees, in addition to representatives of the two sides, included also other religious and social leaders, and he said these meetings "differ from earlier meetings we have had together with [the Sadr group] in that it included legal and political studies and [the creation of] working groups that will continue efforts to make sure the recommendations are translated into action".
Jarrad added that the council issued a final statement that included disavowing takfiiris and Saddamists, agreeing on rejection of the occupation, and declaring that it [the occupation] is the first and the last cause of sectarian fitna.
He said the final statement also stressed the need to work to spare the blood of Muslims, Shiia and Sunni alike; to end the practice of forced migrations on both sides; and to invite the return of those who have been subjected to that; and to set up a council to implement that.
The final statement also urged the following: that other religious, tribal and political leaders organize similar fraternal meetings; that there be a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq; and that security in Basra be turned over to the Iraqi government once there has been established a sound security force based on national loyalty.
It remains to be seen whether the "surge" in forces, and the alleged new strategy behind it, can yield results. Given that this is likely to be the last big US push in Iraq, the determination of American politicians and military commanders should not be underestimated. But the configuration of US infrastructure in Iraq and the dynamics that determine its relationship with the new Iraqi elites would suggest that the "new" strategy is doomed from the outset. In fact, it could exacerbate the sectarian divide by the summer and make a horrendous bloodletting in Baghdad - once the Americans begin to depart the arena - that much more inevitable.
As for countering Iranian influence, the US surge in Baghdad may in fact contribute to its growth by drawing the rebellious Shi'ites (as opposed to the elites in the Green Zone) closer to the Islamic Republic. While important sections of Iraq's Shi'ite community were deeply wary of Iran at the outset of the invasion four years ago, their attitudes have steadily changed to the point where pro-Iranian sentiment in Shi'ite Iraq is pervasive and near-hegemonic. This will likely subside as the sectarian conflict eases in the long term, but for the foreseeable future it seems that the longer the Americans stay in Iraq the deeper Iranian influence becomes.
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The genocide option threatens Iraq, where the United States is engaged in direct military action against another virtually defenceless population-in contrast with El Salvador where proxies did the dirty work. Military technology has advanced further, and the complete amorality of the Deciders and their willingness to kill without limit to achieve their goals or save face is clear. It is important for the Deciders that not too many U.S. service personnel be killed, as this has a definite negative effect on the national willingness to move forward to "victory" (or at least temporarily fending off acknowledging defeat). If U.S. casualties can be reduced by more intensive firepower, at the expense of greater Iraqi civilian casualties, that has been and will continue to be the route taken. Furthermore, U.S. pacification violence applied to Sunni-dominated towns is implemented out of sight of the mainstream media (although not completely hidden given the bravery of some non-imbedded Western journalists and Al Jazeera).
The Bush "surge" is a desperation maneuver, and in a context of ever-stronger political objections to more U.S. personnel in Iraq and sensitivity to U.S. casualties, there is good reason to believe that the Bush answer will be even more intensive firepower in Baghdad and other cities and villages in which the insurgents mingle easily with the civilian population. Bush even warns U.S. citizens of more blood and gore "even if our new strategy works exactly as planned." Furthermore, partly via the use of the Salvadoran Option and partly by U.S. manipulation of sectarian conflict, [7] the invasion-occupation has produced a deadly civil war in which the Sunnis and Shiites engage in large-scale communal ethnic cleansing and killing, adding to the toll.
There can be little doubt that the rate of civilian killing in Iraq is about to rise from something like the recent Lancet estimate of 655,000 to a larger figure. If "genocide" was committed in Bosnia, where recent establishment analysts concluded--embarrassingly, given the earlier institutionalized total of 250,000-- that approximately 100,000 people died on all sides, including military personnel, [8] surely we have a case of genocide in Iraq just during the period 2003-2006. And Bush is about to give us more, with the Democrats and UN looking on but doing nothing to restrain the killing machine.
read in full…
Whatever It Is I'm Against It: HOORAH
Here’s what we’re supposed to believe: in Najaf American and Iraqi soldiers killed 250 militants from a group that no one’s ever heard of before this very day.
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Born at the Crest of the Empire: SURPRISES IN NAJAF
So, the militants in Najaf were an apocalyptic Shia cult targeting the symbols of the mainline Shia? (Reuters)
And, this fractious Shia group had "shoulder-fired rockets, antiaircraft guns and Katyusha rockets?" (WaPo)
What next?
(This would explain why the Shia dominated government took on this fight, eh?)
For two days now, CNN has been running a long segment about what they call a possible "nightmare scenario" in Iraq, in which the training and weapons being given to Iraqis might eventually be turned on Americans. Two days ago, Wolf Blitzer even asked Dick Cheney (pdf link) about it in an interview.
Gee, I wonder where I've read all this before...two years ago?
Is there any chance at all that the U.S. is not only training Iraqi pilots, but also preparing to leave attack planes, helicopters, and cruise missiles behind for the Iraqi government to use on that mythical day when American forces leave? Are you kidding? And let them fall into the "wrong hands" when that government falls the week after the Americans leave?
Issandr El Amrani: THE NEW SADDAM
Having made a mess of Iraq, continuing to refuse to play a constructive and even-handed role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and having gotten bored with democracy promotion, the Bush administration now appears to be fanning the flames of sectarian strife region-wide. Since September 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials have made trips to the Middle East to rally the support of what Rice has described as the “moderate mainstream” Arab states against Iran. This group has now been formalized as the “GCC + 2,” meaning the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman) as well as Egypt and Jordan.
I suggest that this new coalition be renamed to something less technocratic: the Sunni Arab-Dominated Dictatorships Against the Mullahs, or SADDAM. I have to confess I was inspired by historical precedent. In the 1980s, some of you may remember, there was another Saddam who proved rather useful against Iran. Saddam invaded Iran without provocation, sparking an eight-year-long war that was one of the 20th century’s deadliest. Along the way, the U.S. and the Arab states listed above provided much in funding, weapons and turning a blind eye when Saddam got carried away and used chemical weapons against Kurds (it did not raise that much of a fuss when he used them against Iranians, either).
By forming SADDAM, the Bush administration hopes to do several things. Firstly, encourage countries with ambivalent policies towards Israel to accept a new regional security arrangement with the Jewish state firmly as its center—the holy grail of the neo-conservatives who, despite reports to the contrary, continue to craft U.S. Middle East policy. (Otherwise, why would Elliott Abrams still have his job?) Secondly, it is securing the support of these countries against Iran, in preparation for a possible strike against its nuclear facilities or some other form of military action, or at least to ensure the recently announced United Nations sanctions against Iran are effective. One tactic is getting the oil-producing SADDAM countries to up production and bring the price of the oil barrel back to under $50, as Saudi Arabia is obviously doing by boycotting calls by fellow OPEC members to cut production.
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Another Day in the Empire: PEACE TRAIN: IMAGES FROM IRAN
A slideshow of images from Iran with music by Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens. Click here to view in browser.
A Newsweek Magazine poll found that more than seven-eighths of Americans oppose President Bush's plan to send 21,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq. Consequently, for the first time in office, his approval ratings have sunk below Adolf Hitler’s. When asked what he thought about the comparison, the President said pointedly, “It takes a strong leader to do what’s in your heart and not what’s popular. Adolf had the courage to act on his convictions, and I admire that. He didn’t care about approval ratings or Poles.”
read in full…
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "They kidnap 10 Sunnis, they get ransom on five, and kill them all, in each big kidnap operation they make at least $50 000, it's the best business in Baghdad." -- a Shia man close to the Mahdi Army quoted in the Guardian special report "'If they pay we kill them anyway' - the kidnapper's story"


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