Sunday, January 14, 2007


Residents stand at the scene of a mortar attack in a residential neighbourhood in Baghdad January 14, 2007. One civilian was killed while six others were wounded in the attack, police said. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen (IRAQ)

Baghdad Australian soldiers kill a truck driver near the Australian embassy. The victim is said to be an "international contractor," nationality unspecified. Australian military spokesman says the driver failed to adhere to unspecified procedures.

Fire in Baghdad's Shurga market destroys a multi-story retail complex. The market has been bombed more than 10 times, but there is no information yet on the cause of this conflagration.

Gunmen killed two brothers working as guards for Iraqiya state television on Saturday in Doura district in southern Baghdad, an employee at Iraqiya said.

In an apparently separate incident, a bodyguard for the head of the Iraqi press network is murdered in a Baghdad suburb.

Reuters also reports:

DPA also reports:

(DPA is Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the German news agency. I don't believe we've used their reports previously. Thanks as usual to Whisker for finding this link. C)

An Iraqi worker in As-Sabah newspaper and a driver who were kidnapped on Saturday were found dead with their heads cut off in northwestern Baghdad, a source in the newspaper said.* (Al-Sabah is a government-run newspaper. There are several murders of people working for news media today. These all appear to be separate incidents.)

31 unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad today. 20 bodies were found in the western part of Baghdad (Karkh) as the following {4 bodies in each of the neighborhoods of Amil, Baiyaa, Hurriyah. 2 bodies found in the neighborhoods of Dora and Shula. One body found in the neighborhoods of Saidiya, Hay Ak Jihad, Mansour and Kadhimiya}. 11 bodies were found in the eastern part of Baghdad (Rosafa) as the following {3 bodies in the neighborhoods of Sadr City, Adhamiya, Selikh. 2 bodies found in Raghiba Khatoon}.


A U.S. truck loaded with supplies was burnt up in an explosion in the main street near the northern Iraqi town of Baiji on Sunday morning, a security source in Tikrit said. It was not clear if there were casualties as the U.S. forces closed off the road for several hours and did not allow the Iraqi police to reach the blast scene.*


U.S. forces raided the students dormitories in Tikrit University and detained four students and an administrative official, a university source said on Sunday. "The American forces, the source added, went on the rampage and destroyed furniture and electrical equipments inside the two-storey building and assaulted a number of students. The U.S. troops left the place at dawn today by did not release the students or the official. The raid is the fourth by U.S. soldiers on Tikrit University. Each time they detain a number of students on charges of involvement in armed activities against U.S. patrols in Tikrit."*


The bodies of nine people, with gunshot wounds, were brought to the morgue, a source in the morgue said.

Reuters also reports:


A U.S. marine took his own life by putting a bullet through his head on Sunday morning near the restive city of Fallujah, local police source said. "Early in the morning, a marine took the pistol of an Iraqi policeman in the police station of Amriyah town just south of Fallujah, and put a bullet in his head," the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. "The soldier uttered words saying he was sad and miserable," the source said. The U.S. troops kept the policeman who gave the marine the pistol for several hours, but released him later, he added. Three U.S. helicopters landed at the police station and one of them evacuated the marine's body, he said. The U.S. military did not confirm the incident.

In a separate incident, three Iraqi soldiers were killed and two others wounded when a roadside bomb detonated near their patrol.


A member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan survived a roadside bomb attack.

Police found the body of a man shot in the head.

A source in Kirkuk police directorate said that insurgents exploded a mosque belonging to the Sadrist Shiites in Kirkuk city. The source added that the mosque is still under construction and that was destroyed.

McClatchy also reports:


The spokesman of the MNF in Basra province Katy Brown said that two British soldiers were injured in Al Baladiyat neighborhood 10 Kms west of Basra city. The spokesman said that one of the soldiers was injured when an IED exploded targeting the vehicle he was in. The British troops started searching nearby houses and clashes broke out with some insurgents which caused the injury of the second soldier.

A British soldier died in a Basra hospital of wounds sustained on Saturday night in western Mosul, the Multi-National forces spokesman in south Iraq said.* (This is interesting -- we hadn't heard much lately about British troops in Mosul. C) However, MoD appears to say the soldier was in fact shot in Basra, although if you read the story carefully it doesn't actually quote the ministry as saying so, this may be an assumption by the reporter. (It is plausible that a British soldier would have been evacuated from Mosul to a British facility in Basra.) Anybody got a clue? -- C


Gunmen attacked a private factory and killed three workers and wounded another on Saturday night.


A source in the Iraqi police in Samaraa city said that a group of insurgents assassinated today early morning the member of Muslim Scholars Association and the head of the Sunni endowment in Samaraa city, sheikh Younis Hameed Al Wohaiyeb while he was leaving his house in Al Jeberiya neighborhood west of the city.


The American forces mention in a statement that a combined force of Iraqi army and US forces raided last night Al Mahdu mosque (Shiite mosque) downtown Balad city and arrested a number of Mahdi army members. The statement said that Mahdi army used to hold meeting and torture kidnapped people during the times of the prayers because they know that the security forces can't raid the mosque during the prayer times.


three people were killed and one wounded when armed gunmen fired at random at civilians. In the same city, at least nine suspects were rounded up by US military forces on charges of terrorism.


t least five security personnel were killed and two were wounded in separate incidents. One policeman was shot down near a checkpoint in the city's north-east, another two were shot in the al- Hadid area, and two Iraqi army soldiers were killed and two were wounded in an attack on their checkpoint. In the latter incident, militants seized the checkpoint's weapons cache after the remaining soldiers fled, Iraqi authorities said.

*These reports are from Aswat al Iraq, Voices of Iraq, which we have started to link to fairly regularly and which appears to be reliable. Their English language home page is here. I'm very pleased to have an Iraqi news service that appears dependable so we don't have to rely largely on western sources. Accordingly, I'm going to link to a few of their stories today so people can get a sense of what they offer. By the way this was a challenging security roundup today because there are so many non-overlapping reports from various sources. I'm sure I missed at least a couple of items. Thanks as always to Whisker for major help. -- C


Oil exports through Basra to be suspended for 4 days for installation of metering equipment.

Iraqi trade minister Abed Falah al-Sudan goes to Damascus to discuss improved relations with Syria:

"Syria has honorable stands towards the Iraqis who opposed the former regime and offered a safe haven for them," the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) quoted a statement by the ministry's information office.

"What happened after the fall of the former regime and terrorists' inflow from the borders have created some problems that caused a gap between politicians of both countries," the statement read.

The statement referred to "the Iraqi government's insistence on turning over a new leaf of non-stop cooperation," adding "the brothers' response in Syria to deal with the new situation will bear fruits in the near future." The government delegation's visit is of significance to these new relations, the statement added.

The Iraqi trade ministry will deal with Syrian companies and would have a bilateral agreement with the Syrian trade ministry to start a new era of economic cooperation, it said, adding Iraq "will benefit from the Syrian experience in the field of ration cards and internal investment."

Talabani is also in Syria.

Maliki urges Parliament to approve the FY 2007 budget to avoid delaying vital projects.

By Santa Michael

Baghdad, Jan 14, (VOI) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday called on parliament to accelerate adoption of the draft budget for 2007 in a bid to avoid postponing vital projects.

"You are all aware of the exceptional circumstances and security pressures Iraq is going through, not to mention the accumulative heavy burdens of the former eras on the government budget," al-Maliki said in a statement read by Parliament Speaker Dr. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani upon the inauguration of Sunday's session.

Maliki said: "The offered budget is based on clear realistic considerations. Iraq is about to build its armed forces with all its formations in preparation to receive the security file from the multinational forces by the end of this year."

He referred to "the state's commitment to spend on the ration cards system and the social safety network despite their financial burdens on the budget." Maliki pointed out that the 2007 budget has allocated 10 billion dollars for investment, the largest sum ever in the history of Iraqi budgets to be appropriated for investments.

"This year's budget does not meet all the government's ambitions. We hoped that the largest sums would be channeled into the field of investment, but it is a realistic budget that took into consideration Iraq's exceptional circumstances," the Iraqi premier said.

Kurdish Army brigade trains for expected assault on the Mahdi Army. (Yup, that appears to be the plan. This should do wonders for the national unity thing. -- C) This story also gives some background on the dispute over the appointment of a new commanding officer for the Baghdad campaign.

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Bassem Mroue

Baghdad, Iraq — A Kurdish army brigade from northern Iraq is undergoing intensive urban combat training for deployment to Baghdad, where it expects to take on the Mahdi Army Shiite militia, its commander said Saturday.

Meanwhile, three Iraqi generals told The Associated Press that the Iraqi commander who will lead the Baghdad security mission was the government's second choice and only got the job after the U.S. military objected to the first officer named to the post by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.


In the northern city of Irbil, Brig. Gen. Nazir Assem Korran, commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division of the Iraqi army, said “we will head to Baghdad soon. We have 3,000 soldiers who are currently undergoing intensive training especially in urban combat and how the army should act inside a city.”

Korran told the AP he did not know how the operation would unfold but said the Defense Ministry had asked his brigade to take part in the security operation along with thousands of other Iraqi and U.S. troops. The forces were to conduct neighborhood-to-neighborhood searches to clear the city of Sunni Muslim insurgents and local militias such as the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been an ally of al-Maliki.

“We are going to confront any terrorist elements or militias. We will confront any outlaws,” the general said. He did not name the Mahdi Army, but the Shiite militia is blamed for much of the capital's sectarian killing and is the only true militia presence in Baghdad.

Later in the day, al-Maliki issued his first comment on the new Bush administration plan outlined on Wednesday, declaring it “identical to our strategy and intentions.” President Bush said he would send additional 21,500 troops to help pacify the capital and other parts of the country. Al-Maliki, however, continued to avoid naming al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

“Our strategy that aims to control security is based on using force against any outlaws whatever their background or identity,” al-Maliki said in a brief appearance aired on state-run Iraqiya television. Al-Maliki has repeatedly used that kind of formulaic language during his eight months in office, but has blocked American forces from taking on his militia allies. The prime minister told a small group of Iraqi reporters that “what we have seen in the American strategy is that it is identical to our strategy and our intentions.”

On Wednesday, Iraqi military officials said al-Maliki had chosen Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar a week ago as commander of the new security plan in the capital, where sectarian bloodshed built to a crescendo at the end of last year, with more than 100 people killed on many days.

On Saturday, three Iraqi generals, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Gambar's appointment had not been publicly confirmed, said al-Maliki's first choice — Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Freiji — had been vetoed by American officials. The U.S. military did not respond to an AP e-mail asking for verification of the dispute.

The army generals who spoke to AP said al-Maliki appointed Gambar a week ago when he told the nation that a new security plan was to be launched within days, but the prime minister has refused to confirm the appointment. The generals said al-Freiji and Gambar topped the list of candidates to run the drive.

The generals said Gambar, a Shiite veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and the 1991 Gulf war, would have two deputies, a Shiite and a Sunni, one on each side of the Tigris River that curls through the center of Baghdad. During the 1991 Gulf War, one of the generals said, Gambar was captured by U.S. troops on the Kuwaiti island of Fialaka and briefly held prisoner in Saudi Arabia.

Under Saddam Hussein's rule, military men normally were fired if taken prisoner, but the former president made an exception for Gambar and his brigade because of their brave defense of Fialaka Island. Gambar, in his early 60s, was decorated by Saddam. Gambar will report directly to al-Maliki.

Indicating that the new security plan was near its formal opening, military officials said Saturday that Iraq's army 4th Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division arrived in Baghdad's southern neighborhood of Rustomiyah. They said the brigade came from Fallujah, west of Baghdad, but refused to give further details.

Korran, the general in Irbil, said his troops would face a language barrier and rely on translators because 95 percent of the brigade is Kurdish and unable to speak Arabic. Kurds, a separate ethnic group, are largely Sunnis but not Arabs. His brigade is one of two coming from the Kurdish region. The other will arrive from the northern city of Sulaimaniyah. Another brigade will come from southern Iraq.

“We do not represent any sect or ethnic group,” Korran said, adding that he expect to be fighting against “militias in residential areas.”

However, many Kurds are not happy with this plan, fearing that they will be dragged into the Arab sectarian conflict. Excerpt:

By LOUISE ROUG Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Already a dangerous battleground for an array of forces, Baghdad could soon be flooded with another volatile element: thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq. As part of President Bush's new strategy for Iraq, between 8,000 and 10,000 Iraqi troops will deploy to Baghdad from elsewhere in the country in the coming weeks, according to American and Iraqi officials. As many as 3,600 of them could be Kurds. It would be the first time such a large number of Kurdish forces have been sent to the capital.

The impending deployment has raised fears among Kurds, most of whom live in a well-protected autonomous enclave, that they are being dragged more directly into Iraq's bloody and complex civil war. Most of the fighting in Iraq takes place between Sunnis and Shiites, but Kurds fear that could change if they are seen as players in the country's main struggle. [Note: Kurds are mostly Sunnis. Roug should have written "Sunni and Shiite Arabs. -- C]

"I don't think it's wise," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker in Baghdad. "This is a Sunni-Shiite conflict."

Kurdish troops are not acquainted with Baghdad, many speak neither Arabic nor English, and their participation could create an even deeper conflict between Kurds and Arabs, he said. While large numbers of Kurds mix with Arabs in the Kirkuk and Mosul areas of northern Iraq, and a small number live in the capital, Sunni and Shiite politicians also question the wisdom of bringing Kurdish soldiers into the conflict.

"I advise the Kurdish people to apply pressure on their leaders to prevent this step," said Mohammed al-Dayni, a lawmaker from a main Sunni bloc. Kurdish forces, he said, "will face firm resistance from both the Sunnis and the Shiites."

Sheik Abdul-Razzaq Naddawi, an aide to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, agreed that Kurdish troops would not be welcome. "The Kurds, frankly speaking, consider themselves superior to other Iraqis," he said. "Would they allow troops from the middle or the south to arrive in Kurdistan?" he asked. "Their borders are closed, and they are practically independent."

The idea of using Kurdish troops to quell violence in both Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad originated in backroom talks among the country's main power brokers. With a chance to live their dream of autonomy, Kurdish lawmakers were reluctant to take part in the plan. But Iraqi officials as well as U.S. military and political officials told them that if they failed to participate, it would show their lack of commitment to the nation.

Word of the planned deployment took ordinary Kurds by surprise. In their small but prospering northern enclave, they shook their heads at the prospect of getting involved in a conflict that has bedeviled the most powerful army on Earth.

"If America and the Arabs aren't able to stop Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other indiscriminately, then what use will it be to send in our forces?" asked one Kurd in an online forum. "We do not need to have our young men getting killed in a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites," read another posting. "They are both our enemies."

U.S. claims Iranians seized in Irbil "have links" to the Revolutionary Guard. Iran continues to protest. VP Cheney and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley continue to threaten Iran. Excerpt:

The White House said today that Iranians are aiding the insurgency in Iraq and that the US has the authority to pursue them because they “put our people at risk.”

“We are going to need to deal with what Iran is doing inside Iraq,” national security adviser Stephen Hadley said. And said Vice President Dick Cheney: “Iran is fishing in troubled waters inside Iraq.”

Earlier today, the US military in Baghdad said that five Iranians arrested in northern Iraq last week were connected to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents in Iraq. Raids that US President George Bush has approved against Iranian targets in Iraq are part of broad efforts to confront Tehran’s aggression, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday while in Jerusalem.

“We do not want them doing what they can to destabilise the situation inside Iraq,” Cheney said.

President Bush’s revised war strategy seeks to isolate Iran and Syria, which the US has accused of fuelling attacks in Iraq. The president also says that Iran and Syria have not done enough to block terrorists from entering Iraq over their borders.

“We know there are jihadists moving from Syria into Iraq. ... We know also that Iran is supplying elements in Iraq that are attacking Iraqis and attacking our forces,” Hadley said. “What the president made very clear is these are activities that are going on in Iraq that are unacceptable. They put our people at risk. He said very clearly that we will take action against those. We will interdict their operations, we will disrupt their supply lines, we will disrupt these attacks,” Hadley said. “We are going to need to deal with what Iran is doing inside Iraq.”

Iran’s government denied the five detainees were involved in financing and arming insurgents and said they should be released.

Hadley asserted that if Iranians in Iraq “are doing things that are putting are people at risk, of course we have the authority to go after them and protect our people.” Hadley side-stepped a question about whether US forces would move across the border to pursue Iranians who are helping Iraqi insurgents. He said the priority “is what’s going on inside Iraq. ... That’s where we’re going to deal with his problem.”

He added, “Anytime you have questions about crossing international borders there are legal issues. ... We intend to deal with it by interdicting and disrupting activities in Iraq sponsored by Iran,” Hadley said.

Main Turkish opposition leader supports incursion into Kurdistan to attack PKK. Excerpt:

ANKARA, Turkey: As Turkey's prime minister increased pressure on the United States to act against separatist Kurdish guerrillas based in Iraq, the main opposition leader on Sunday said his party would back a cross-border offensive if needed. Turkey has repeatedly said that it will not tolerate the disintegration of neighboring Iraq leading to Kurdish independence, and military officers have spoken of the possibility of sending in troops to prevent that.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has severely criticized the United States this week for not keeping its promises and finishing off Kurdish guerrillas holed up in the northern Iraqi mountains.

Deniz Baykal, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, called on the government to urgently debate a possible military action in Iraq and empower the military. "We're ready to back the government on this issue," Baykal told his supporters. "We're planning to invite parliament to debate this."

Erdogan, leader of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, said earlier this week that the United States was ignoring Turkey's suffering in the fight against the autonomy-seeking Kurdish guerrillas.

The U.S. has been cooperating with Turkey against guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, but Turkish officials increasingly have found the level of cooperation unsatisfactory. "We want solid results," Erdogan said earlier this week during an interview with private NTV television. Asked about past threats of a possible invasion, Erdogan said, "When the time comes, Turkey will do whatever is necessary against those threatening our country with terror."

But invading a country that is already occupied by U.S. troops could be a disaster for Turkey, provoking a conflict with the country's best ally.

In-Depth Reporting and Analysis

Baghdad morgue took in 16,000 unidentified bodies in 2006. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Baghdad morgue took in about 16,000 unidentified bodies last year, the bulk of them victims of death squads and other sectarian violence, a source at the morgue told Reuters on Sunday.

About 1,350 bodies were received in December, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Iraqi government has banned officials from releasing data on casualty rates. As throughout the year, between 80 and 85 percent of these were victims of violence.

The morgue data -- for Baghdad only -- suggest that a figure of 12,320 civilian deaths in "terrorist violence" in 2006, given two weeks ago by Interior Ministry sources, does not include all the victims of the bloodletting in Iraq. The Interior Ministry statistics exclude violent deaths classed as "criminal."

Since the morgue statistics also do not take account of the many deaths outside Baghdad, nor indeed of all violent deaths in the capital, the total death toll is certainly higher.

A Health Ministry official told the Washington Post last week that nearly 23,000 civilians and police were killed in the year, according to Health Ministry data. A deputy minister said he could not confirm the figures.

The Interior Ministry said 1,231 policemen were killed.

The United Nations has added Health Ministry data for the country as a whole to Baghdad morgue figures to come up with figures showing 3,700 civilians were killed in October alone -- or about 120 people a day.

The Iraqi government has called that an exaggeration but given no comparable official figures of its own. No U.N. data are yet available for the period since October.

While the total death toll remains disputed, no officials challenge the indications given by various sets of data that killings have increased markedly in the past year, notably since the destruction of a major Shi'ite shrine in February.

The Interior Ministry figures showed three and a half times more civilian deaths in December than in January.

Boston Globe reporters Farah Stockman and Bryan Bender contemplate the risks of the proposed "surge" campaign. (Or whatever we're supposed to call it.) Excerpt:

WASHINGTON -- US military officials say the Bush administration has given them new authority to target leaders of political and religious militias in Iraq who are implicated in sectarian violence, including the powerful Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Such a showdown, key to Bush's plan to increase the number of US troops in Baghdad, could spark a deadly confrontation with Shi'ite militias, which enjoy widespread popularity in Shi'ite neighborhoods. It could also erode support for the fragile government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has agreed to the plan.

Senior US and Iraqi officials said last week that Maliki has pledged to confront the militias with the help of additional US troops. But many analysts doubt that Maliki has the will or the firepower to take on Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia is blamed for much of the tit-for-tat violence in the capital.

In recent months, Maliki and other top Iraqi officials routinely vetoed US raids on Sadr's operations, fearing the reaction of his legion of followers. Maliki's government kept a list of militia leaders who were off-limits to US troops, a senior Pentagon official told reporters in a background briefing in Washington, but now Maliki has agreed that the list would no longer be used.

The officials said the new approach will include pinpoint strikes against top leaders in the Mahdi Army as well as other militias from the Shi'ite majority accused of kidnapping and murdering civilians from the Sunni Muslim minority. They said they would focus on methodical man hunts for key leaders, such as the one in June that killed key Al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, rather than full-scale battles.

Pursuing the militias carries significant risks, both for Maliki, a far less popular figure than Sadr, and for the United States, which could be drawn deeper into dangerous urban warfare and an increasingly sectarian conflict.

"Even if the Iraqis had the will -- and that's a big question -- to do something about sectarian violence, it's going to be a very bloody business," said Phebe Marr, a specialist on Iraq's emerging political parties and author of "The Modern History of Iraq." "This could make Sadr even more popular," Marr said. "He could play this as 'the imperialist Americans are coming to attack me.' "

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that Sadr must be neutralized. "The Iraqis are going to have to deal with Sadr," she said, in response to a question. "They're going to have to deal with those death squads, and the prime minister said nobody and nothing is off-limits."

Bush's plan envisions adding 17,500 more US forces in Baghdad -- which would more than double the American military presence there -- to operate alongside about 40,000 Iraqis from the army and police. The joint forces, which will include American units embedded in Iraqi brigades, would take on both Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite sectarian death squads, US military officials said Thursday in a background briefing.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday that Maliki's willingness to allow these joint forces to enter Sadr City and other key neighborhoods in Baghdad is "central to the success of this entire operation." Sadr City, a Baghdad slum with an estimated 2 million residents, was named after Sadr's father, a revered cleric assassinated during Saddam Hussein's regime. But many politicians and military analysts expressed doubt that Maliki would follow through on pledges to support the crack down.

Senators Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, told Rice at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Thursday that their talks with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad three weeks ago left them with the impression that Iraq's fractured, Shi'ite-dominated government has little interest in stopping sectarian death squads from murdering Sunnis. "Our mouths about dropped open when the national security adviser, Dr. [Mowaffak] Al-Rubaie, said . . . 'This is not a sectarian war,' " Nelson said.

Indeed, Rice acknowledged to the senators that Maliki's original request, made in the run-up to his meeting with Bush in November, was for US troops to withdraw to the outskirts of Baghdad, leaving the task of handling sectarian militias to Iraqis alone. But Rice said that after extensive talks with US commanders, Maliki eventually agreed to an aggressive US-Iraqi plan to tackle them.

"I think it's become such a critical situation for them that they recognize they've got to take on anybody who stands in their way of bringing population security," she said, in response to a question about whether Maliki could survive a confrontation with Sadr.

Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party is the weakest of the three Shi'ite parties that dominate Iraq's government. Dawa has no militia of its own.

Sadr, on the other hand, is believed to command the loyalty of some 60,000 fighters across Iraq, although specialists differ on how much direct control he exercises over them. His movement is so powerful that some of his followers were allowed to attend the execution of Hussein. They called out Sadr's name as the former dictator was being led to the gallows, a moment captured on a video that was viewed on the Internet around the world.

Sadr's followers control four key ministries and hold 30 of 275 seats in Iraq's Parliament. They cast the deciding votes that brought Maliki to power but suspended their participation in the government to protest Maliki's meeting with Bush in November. Rice said the Iraqi government was functioning without them. But the boycott has left Iraq's Parliament in turmoil. The US military has already gotten a taste of all-out confrontation with Sadr. In 2004 they used aircraft and tanks to drive off his forces from a Najaf cemetery near the revered shrine of Imam Ali. Sadr's movement went quiet for about a year, but then grew stronger, attracting tens of thousands more followers with his nationalist call for a unified Iraq and the withdrawal of US forces.

Sadr's vehement opposition to US troops has only raised his profile among Shi'ites who see his militia -- not American or Iraqi troops -- as their only protection from Sunni insurgents.

Paul Hughes, a retired Army colonel who served as a military strategist in Iraq, warned that Bush's plan to pacify neighborhoods with an overwhelming military presence is designed to fight a classic insurgency, not the sectarian conflict that has swept up thousands of armed civilians.

"There is this real minefield that the United States is going into," he said. Three weeks ago, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Najaf after US and Iraqi forces killed a top Sadr deputy. On Friday, Sheik Abdel Razzaq al-Nadawi, a senior official in Sadr's movement, warned that US soldiers who come to Iraq "may return in coffins."

Baghdad families imprisoned, divided by fear. Reuters' Claudia Parsons reports that because death squads mostly target men, many have left their families behind for their own safety.

Now this is interesting. Non-profit organizations in Niger to sue U.S. over false WMD claims. Excerpt:

SOME 30 non-governmental organisations in Niger said overnight they are going to sue the United States for nearly two billion dollars for "unfairly accusing" Niger of selling uranium to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

"Our lawyers are about to file a lawsuit against the US calling for damages of about 1000 billion CFA francs ($2.42 billion dollars) for the harm suffered" by the country, Moustapha Kadi, president of the Collective of organisations in Niger defending the right to energy (CODDAE). The lawsuit by the collective will be filed at either French or Belgian courts, Kadi added.

In January 2003, US President George W. Bush accused Saddam of having bought uranium from Niger to make weapons of mass destruction. The Niger collective said in a statement that investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), world media and US officials, all concluded that it was a "false accusation" against Niger.

That false information was used by Bush "to invade Iraq," said the collective's statement, which also called for support from Niger's President Mamadou Tandja, who back in 2003 said the US allegations were "harming Niger's image".

Quote of the Day

In many ways, George W. Bush is the perfect man for the job, if one understands what his real work entails as an emissary of the ruling class. He possesses all of the qualifications the vocation requires: callousness and indifference to the needs of others, the absence of conscience, truncated mental capacity; the inability to reason and to analyze; the incapacity to admit wrong doing; a penchant for cruelty that includes the enjoyment of inflicting pain and torture on others, as well as a powerful sense of nobility and entitlement that stems from being born into wealth and privilege. He is also a pathological liar.

-- Charles Sullivan. (Gee Charles, why can't you focus on his good qualities?)


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