Sunday, January 07, 2007

Daily War News for Sunday, January 7, 2006

Unidentified bodies of people killed by gunmen are transferred a hospital morgue in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, January 6, 2007. REUTERS/Helmiy al-Azawi (IRAQ)


Insurgent small arms fire targeted a Multi-National Division - Baghdad patrol, killing one Soldier in a southwestern section of the Iraqi capital Jan. 6. The unit was providing route security on a well-traveled route in the area when they received small arms fire, killing one Soldier.

A booby-trapped car parked on the side of the road in Al-Yousfiya district, south Baghdad, exploded and killed two U.S. soldiers, Iraqi security sources said Sunday. The U.S. military did not confirm the attack so far, but a military spokesman said investigation was underway and a statement would be issued soon. KUNA sometimes gets details wrong, due to faulty translation into English, but they're a solid source otherwise. --C

UPDATE: MNF has now confirmed this story, giving the death toll as three. As is often the case, KUNA is off on details -- the casualties were Airmen, not soldiers. "A car bomb in Baghdad on Sunday killed three airmen assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's Explosive Ordnance Division, the military said in a statement. One airman was also injured in the explosion." (Note yet another example of personnel in the Air Force and Navy working as ground troops. -- C

A barrage of mortars killed four civilians and wounded five others in central Baghdad. Apparently referring to the same incident, Reuters identifies the location as Karrada.

AP also reports:

Habib al-Shimiri, a senior Education Ministry official, survived a roadside bomb attack on his car near the al-Shaab football stadium in east central Baghdad, but two of his guards were killed, police said. Reuters also reports A roadside bomb killed two people and wounded two in central Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said.

Anbar province

One Soldier assigned to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group died Jan. 5 from wounds sustained due to enemy action while operating in Al Anbar Province.


Police commandos killed one person during a demonstration in Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, denouncing Saddam Hussein's execution, police said.

Reuters also reports Gunmen killed a policeman on Saturday, police said.


Gunmen killed a Shiite cleric and his son as they were heading to a nearby Shiite shrine, police said.


A provincial councilman was injured in an assassination attempt.

AP also reports Police said a parked car bomb killed a woman and wounded 13 people in an outdoor market. In what appears to be a reference to the same incident, Reuters gives the death toll as 2, injured as 11, but says the death toll could climb. It's often difficult to tell if these reports refer to the same incidents, since numbers do not match.

Tuz Khurmato

Gunmen attacked worshippers coming out of a mosque and wounded four of them on Saturday in the town of Tuz Khurmato, 70 km (40 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.


Police found a headless body on Saturday in the town of Riyadh, 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said.

Unidentified location "south of Baghdad"

Attackers shot dead a Defence Ministry employee on his way to work south of Baghdad.

Various unspecified locations

the U.S. military announced that 88 suspects were captured in American and Iraqi raids last week, and a weapons cache used for assembling improvised explosive devices was destroyed. Sixty-nine of those suspects were released after questioning, the military said in a statement. So they capture, and no doubt hood, shackle, an interrogate 88 "suspects," of whom they hold on to 19, no doubt making 69 new friends in the process. -- C

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that U.S. and Iraqi troops rounded up 82 suspects in raids north of Yusufiya, 15 km (9 miles) south of Baghdad, on Jan. 2, the U.S. military said in a statement. Thirteen were detained for links to roadside bombs and the rest were released after questioning. Again, this appears to refer to a separate announcement fromthe one described by AP. However, the same commentary applies. -- C

Other News of the Day

Maliki touts a security crackdown in Baghdad, but it appears to target only Sunnis. Excerpt:

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, The Associated Press Sunday, January 7, 2007 BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Bombings and shootings killed at least 14 people across Iraq on Sunday, as Iraqi troops waged a fresh battle to oust militias and pacify the capital. The sectarian attacks continued despite the major drive to tame Baghdad. The Iraqi army reported killing 30 militants late Saturday in a Sunni insurgent stronghold in the center of the city, just to the north of the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaking only hours earlier at a ceremony marking the 85th anniversary of the Iraqi army, announced his intention for the relentless and open-ended bid to crush militant fighters bedeviling Baghdad. Hassan al-Suneid, a key aid and member of al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said the Iraqi leader had committed 20,000 soldiers to the operation that would call upon American troops and airpower only when needed.


On Saturday, a stern al-Maliki told the nation the Iraqi army operation in Baghdad would continue "until all goals are achieved and security is ensured for all citizens. We are fully aware that implementing the plan will lead to some harassment for all beloved Baghdad residents, but we are confident they fully understand the brutal terrorist assault we all face."

State television said eight militants, including five Sudanese fighters, were captured Saturday in the battle near Haifa Street, a Sunni insurgent stronghold on the west bank of the Tigris, where police reported finding the bodies of 27 torture victims dumped earlier in the day.

Al-Suneid, who is also a member of parliament, said the new drive to free Baghdad from the grip of sectarian violence would focus initially on Sunni insurgent strongholds in western Baghdad.

Sunnis were likely to cry foul, given that a large measure of today's violence in Baghdad is the work of Shiite militias, loyal to al-Maliki's key political backer, Muqtada al-Sadr.

Read in Full

Investigators find images of the Haditha massacre on Marines' computers

Under investigation … one of the images taken by US soldiers of the massacre of civilians in Haditha in November 2005. Photo: AP

Josh White in Washington. January 8, 2007 Investigators have tracked down dozens of gruesome photographs taken by marines of 24 Iraqi civilians massacred in Haditha. The images, found on laptop computers and digital media drives, provide evidence of a series of shootings beside a taxi and inside three homes that military criminal investigators have alleged were murders. The images have provided the Naval Criminal Investigative Service with powerful and visceral evidence of what happened in Haditha on November 19, 2005.

Many photographs were on laptop computers that had been shipped back to the US, and deleted images were also recovered from a Sony PlayStation Portable memory drive, investigative documents showed. Marines were found to have downloaded the images from each other's devices, traded them and loaded them onto personal websites. One marine told investigators he saw some photographs set to music on another marine's computer. Some were emailed from Iraq to a civilian in the US.

There were also photographs showing the bomb crater and the destroyed vehicle in which Corporal Miguel Terrazas was killed and which triggered the Haditha killings.

There was a picture of a young boy with a helicopter on the front of his pajamas, slumped over, his face and head covered in blood and in another a mother was lying on a bed, arms splayed, the bodies of three young children huddled against her right side.

The images were contained in thousands of pages of investigative documents obtained by The Washington Post, though it was decided that most of the pictures were too graphic to publish in the newspaper. A leaked copy of the inquiry quotes a horrified witness as saying that the marines went "crazy" after the roadside bomb.

They took revenge on the occupants of the taxi, which arrived at the scene shortly afterwards. The report described how, after telling the passengers to get out of the vehicle, the marines' squad leader, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, allegedly opened fire on the Iraqis even though some of them had their hands up. The men dropped to the ground as an Iraqi soldier attached to the marines unit looked on in horror.

Sergeant Asad Amer Mashoot, who later gave evidence to the naval inquiry, said in his statement: "They didn't even try to run away."

Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz described how he later urinated on one of the corpses.

Marines Dela Cruz, Wuterich, Justin Sharratt and Stephen Tatum have been charged with murder, and face life imprisonment if found guilty.

Read in Full New U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi suggests Dems could use power of the purse to thwart escalation (Excuse me, "surge") of U.S. occupation force, but it's far from clear that will happen.. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said newly empowered Democrats will not give President Bush a blank check to wage war in Iraq, hinting they could deny funding if he seeks additional troops.

"If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request, we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now," she said in an interview broadcast Sunday. "The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them. But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it and this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions," said Pelosi, D-Calif.

Her comments on CBS' "Face the Nation" came as Bush worked to finish his new war plan that could send as many as 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq and provide more money for jobs and reconstruction programs. Bush is expected to announce his plan as early as Wednesday.

When asked about the possibility of cutting off funds, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer declined to say whether Democrats might do so, saying only that the current strategy clearly is "not working."

Read in Full

Likely successor to Tony Blair condemns the "manner" of execution of Saddam, declares there will be no change in British policy while suggesting current policy "may" result in drawdown of British troops.. Excerpt:

LONDON (AFP) - The man tipped to succeed Tony Blair as British prime minister, finance minister Gordon Brown, condemned the manner of Saddam Hussein's execution as "deplorable" and "completely unacceptable". His forthright condemnation, in an interview broadcast on BBC television Sunday, stands at odds with Blair's own silence on the issue, which has led to criticism from within his governing Labour Party.

"Now that we know the full picture of what happened, we can sum this up as a deplorable set of events," Brown said of deposed Iraqi president Saddam's execution on December 30 for crimes against humanity.

The execution was carried out at the start of a key holiday while leaked mobile phone video footage showed Saddam being taunted as he stood on the gallows, prompting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to order a probe.

"It is something, of course, which the Iraqi government has now expressed its anxiety and shame at. It has done nothing to lessen tensions between the Shia and Sunni (Muslim) communities," Chancellor of the Exchequer Brown said.

"Even those people, unlike me, who are in favour of capital punishment found this completely unacceptable and I am pleased that there is now an inquiry into this and I hope lessons in this area will be learnt, as we learn other lessons about Iraq."

Brown is the highest-ranking member of Blair's government to speak out against the manner of Saddam's execution and echoed comments by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott last week. Prescott also said the manner of the execution and the leaking of mobile phone footage was "deplorable" and "completely unacceptable".

Blair kept silent in the immediate aftermath, leaving Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett to give the government line that Saddam had now been "held to account" for his crimes. In his first engagement since returning from a New Year holiday in Miami, Blair on Friday said he would speak about the matter next week. But his office has said that Maliki's inquiry into the way the execution was conducted has the prime minister and the British government's full backing.


Britain still has about 7,100 troops in Iraq, most of them based around the southern city of Basra, but there are mounting calls at home for them to be withdrawn. Blair has lost standing within his own party and across Britain for his decision to send troops in support of the March 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam. He is to step down by September.

Brown insisted there would be no change in Britain's military activities in Iraq, saying "that policy will be the policy we are pursuing now" -- one of training Iraqi troops and reconstructing the country. "I am pleased that our armed forces are playing a part in that, so that we can over the next few months start to scale down our troops' presence in Iraq. By the end of the year, there may be thousands less in Iraq than there are now."

Read in Full

Bush said to be planning 20,000 additional U.S. troops for Iraq, but faces skepticism. Excerpt:

By Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson. The Washington Post Jan 7, 2007

President Bush is putting the final touches on his new Iraq policy amid growing skepticism inside and outside the administration that the emerging package of extra troops, economic assistance and political benchmarks for the Baghdad government will make any more than a marginal difference in stabilizing the country. Washington's debate over Iraq will intensify this week as Bush lays out his plans, probably on Wednesday or Thursday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials face tough questions from Democrats in congressional hearings.

Although officials said the president has yet to settle on an exact figure of new troops, senior military leaders and commanders are deeply worried that a "surge" of as many as five brigades, or 20,000 troops, in Iraq and Kuwait would tax U.S. ground forces already stretched to the breaking point -- and may still prove inadequate to quell sectarian violence and the Sunni insurgency. Some senior U.S. officials think it could even backfire. "There is a lot of concern that this won't work," said one military official not authorized to speak publicly about the debate at the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, the political and economic ideas under consideration all appear to be variations on initiatives that U.S. and Iraqi authorities have proved unable to implement successfully since the 2003 invasion or have tried and found wanting, according to former U.S. officials and experts on reconstructing war-torn countries.

Many officials at the State and Defense departments also doubt that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable of making the necessary reforms, given its track record of promising but not delivering since taking power in May and despite Maliki's assurances in a speech yesterday that he would hold Iraqis accountable for implementing a new Baghdad security plan.

A sense that the White House is preparing more of the same is generating deep skepticism among Democrats in Congress, many of whom have signaled strongly in recent days that they would resist sending additional troops to Iraq. And although Republicans say they are open to what Bush proposes this week, they are also asking much more pointed questions about the premises of the White House Iraq policy.

Administration officials are pushing lawmakers and the public to withhold judgment until they see all the elements of the new Iraq policy. Bush consulted with advisers yesterday, and White House speechwriters were working on this week's address. There are signs that there could be some surprises as the administration's debate moves from the staff level to the final deliberations of the president and his closest advisers.

Responding to skepticism about Maliki within some parts of the administration, the White House may make a deeper involvement in Iraq contingent on Maliki cracking down on militias and death squads while also undertaking bold political initiatives and developing a wider economic plan, U.S. officials say. The addition of new U.S. troops, for example, may be phased over several months and conditioned on Iraq following through on promised political reforms, the officials said.

One senior White House official said yesterday that the president considers the skepticism of lawmakers and the public "warranted" and that Bush will not "commit resources to a strategy that is not working." But the official said Bush was heartened by recent promises and plans from Maliki, citing the prime minister's speech in Baghdad yesterday in which he pledged a crackdown on sectarian militias, with U.S. assistance.

The official said U.S. and Iraqi leaders have been refining a new Iraqi security plan, first discussed when Bush and Maliki met in Jordan in November, in which Iraqi forces would take the lead with Americans in support. "It is not just rhetoric," the official said of Maliki. "He is actually putting forward specific plans and making different commitments than he has in the past." Speaking on the condition of anonymity because the president has not settled on a final plan, the official said Bush expects "a different result" from that of previous security plans.

Others have doubts. "I don't know that the Iraqi government has ever demonstrated ability to lead the country, and we shouldn't be surprised," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, who was the first U.S. official in charge of postwar Baghdad. "You'll never find, in my lifetime, one man that all the Iraqis will coalesce around." Iraqis are too divided among sectarian, ethnic and tribal loyalties, he said, and their loyalties are regional, not national.

Read in Full. And I do recommend doing so, as this story goes on to fill in more detail and quote extensive criticism. -- C

New plan is said to include a short-term make-work jobs program, to lure young men away from the militias. Critics have their doubts. Excerpt:

By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press January 06, 2007

WASHINGTON - Just as debate rages over sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, there are differing views about whether economic incentives such as micro-loans and U.S.-funded jobs programs would coax militiamen to trade guns for tools. Some reconstruction experts say giving Iraqis jobs that include clearing streets and fixing water and sanitation systems would produce little economic benefit for a country on the brink of all-out civil war. Others say civilian jobs programs -- an idea President Bush is considering -- are designed to build security. Only when violence is under control, they say, can business flourish.

Details have not been disclosed about the economic incentives Bush will announce as early as Wednesday. But those familiar with the plan say he is favoring short-term jobs programs, extending micro-loans to small businesses and increasing the amount of money military commanders can spend quickly on local projects to improve the daily lives of Iraqis.

"Job creation is the most promising," said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. "I don't know why we haven't done it before. It's not the best way to build a new economy, but we need to address security even if that doesn't conform to Econ 101." Military analysts say Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who recently finished his tour as the No. 2 general in Iraq, has recommended a short-term jobs program. So did Donald Rumsfeld in a memo he wrote two days before he resigned as defense secretary.

Keith Crane, a senior economist at the RAND Corp., is skeptical because such programs employ insurgents but have little effect on their political activities. "In some instances, insurgents have participated in make-work schemes during the day, then fought the coalition at night," he said.

The president also is expected to propose a significant increase in discretionary funds available to military commanders who can use the money to solve local problems quickly. Crane, an adviser to the Iraq Study Group, said it is unclear how effective this money is in countering the insurgency or fostering conditions for economic growth and permanent employment. He said funds in the military commanders' program are best used in moderation because commanders are not specialists in development projects. "In some cases," he said, "the commanders have been manipulated by the local sheiks, in essence ripped off."

Read in Full

A little noticed change in U.S. law has ended the immunity from criminal prosecution enjoyed by mercenaries and other U.S. contractors in Iraq. However, it could have apparently unanticipated effects that are highly dubious. One conclusion you could draw from this is that turning over military operations to private contractors is a bad idea in the first place. -- C. Excerpt:

By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff | January 7, 2007

WASHINGTON -- An estimated 100,000 employees of US defense contractors working in Iraq are no longer immune from military prosecutions, because of a little-noticed provision in a 2007 defense spending bill aimed at holding private contractors accountable for crimes committed in war zones.

For the past three years, an unprecedented number of private contractors in Iraq have performed jobs previously reserved for the military, with immunity from military rules that govern troops and from criminal prosecution in Iraqi courts.

The legal loophole caused outrage during the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. Soldiers involved in abusing prisoners were sentenced in military courts, but the civilian interrogators working alongside them for Titan Corp. and CACI International, two private firms, faced no punishment.

The 2007 Defense Bill, enacted in October, placed contractors and others who accompany the military in the field under the same set of military laws that govern the armed forces.

"Basically 100,000 contractors woke up to find themselves under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," said Peter W. Singer , a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes on civilian military contractors and whose article on a defense blog Thursday called attention to the change.

Previously, the code applied to "persons serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field" only during a war, which US courts interpreted to mean a war declared by Congress. No such declaration was made in the Iraq conflict. Now, Congress has amended the code to apply to persons accompanying an armed force during a "declared war or contingency operation."

The amendment, spearheaded by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was the latest in a series of moves by lawmakers to plug legal loopholes that had allowed contractors who had committed crimes overseas to escape justice. A Senate aide said the amendment passed with little discussion. "There was a concern about whether we have an adequate allocation of legal responsibility for contractors," said the aide, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "If they are not subject to Iraqi law, what law are they subject to?"

But the provision might also have unintended consequences, if the military chooses to use its new power to court-martial civilians. For instance, the language in the law is so broad that it can be interpreted as saying that embedded journalists and contract employees from foreign countries would also be liable under the military code. Other punishable offenses under the code include disobeying an order, disrespecting an officer, and possession of pornography -- far less serious than the crimes that Congress envisioned when drafting the bill.


Some military law specialists said the move to allow civilians to be tried in military courts would raise alarm bells with human rights groups and the United Nations, and in US civilian courts.

"I think there should have been some kind of hearing before Congress passed this measure," said Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, a nonprofit organization in Virginia. "Ultimately, if this power is used, it will create a substantial issue that would likely reach the Supreme Court, and it will put us at odds with contemporary international standards."

Fidell said that US courts have a history of throwing out convictions of civilians who were tried in military courts, including the 1957 case of a wife who killed her husband on a military base.

Read in Full.

In-depth Reporting, Commentary and Analysis

War adds major risks for expectant Iraqi mothers. Like many stories we read, this one suggests there are shadowy forces at work with unknown sponsorship and motives. Indeed -- C Excerpt:

By Nancy Trejos, Washington Post | January 7, 2007

BAGHDAD -- Noor Ibrahim lay shivering underneath two blankets on a bed at Al Jarrah Hospital. Steps away was a red plastic bassinet. It was empty.

A few doors down, her recently born son lay wrapped in a pink blanket. He was a chubby boy of nearly 9 pounds with a big patch of black hair. His eyes were closed, his head cocked to the left, his mouth slightly open. He was in a cardboard box, destined for the morgue. "Fresh death," Ibrahim's obstetrician said as she reached into the box and lifted the boy's limp right arm.

In war-torn Iraq, giving birth is becoming increasingly risky. Spontaneous road closures, curfews , and gun battles make even getting to the hospital a challenge for expectant mothers. Once they arrive, the women have no guarantee they will receive adequate health care from a qualified physician. "It's spiraling downward. It's getting worse each day," said Annees Sadik, an anesthesiologist at Al Jarrah.

Iraq once had a premier health care system. But the trade embargo of the 1990s and now the exodus of medical professionals have made it no better than a Third World system, doctors say. Hospitals lack the equipment, drugs , and medical expertise to make labor easier or to handle complications.

Women are forgoing prenatal visits to doctors as a result. Fearful of going into labor during the nighttime curfew, they are having elective caesarean sections. Others are relying on midwives in their neighborhoods.

Doctors, especially women, have been targeted by unknown groups for kidnapping and murder. The kidnappers often appear to be motivated by money, seizing professionals because they are among the wealthiest people in Iraq. But many Iraqis also say insurgents are waging a campaign to eliminate the people with the skills most needed to rebuild Iraq.

As is often the case in Iraq, where bombs usually kill civilians rather than their intended targets, the death of Ibrahim's son was a matter of bad timing. Her mother-in-law, Amira Saeed, told their story as Ibrahim recovered at Al Jarrah. Ibrahim would later confirm the details.

Ibrahim felt labor pains at 9 p.m. Dec. 23 at her home in Madain, a town 15 miles south of Baghdad that has become a flash point for tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. Few ambulance crews are willing to pick up patients at night for fear of encountering death squads. Few doctors are willing to work at hospitals at that time for fear of being kidnapped. Ibrahim decided to bear the pain until morning . At 3 a.m., her water broke. Once the sun rose, she, her husband and her mother-in-law drove to the public hospital in Madain.

When they arrived, there was no obstetrician and no anesthesiologist, Saeed recalled. A surgeon had just been kidnapped and the doctors refused to go to work. That left the nurses to deliver Ibrahim's baby. For several hours, Ibrahim pushed. But her baby was big and she got tired. The nurses used forceps to try to pull him out. When that didn't work, they told her to go to another hospital, Saeed said.

The family decided to go to Al Jarrah, a private hospital in Baghdad. The ambulance driver refused to take them into the capital, even after they offered to pay him, Saeed said. Ibrahim, her husband and Saeed got back into their own car and drove for 30 minutes as Ibrahim's baby languished.

One of Al Jarrah's most experienced obstetricians carries a pistol to work. She has received three death threats. Her ultrasound machine has been stolen. She agreed to speak to a reporter only if her name were not used because, she said, she feared for her life.

"I came here to serve my people," said the Iraqi-born and London-educated doctor, who wears a purple hijab, or head covering, and green scrubs when delivering babies.

According to a December 2006 report by the Washington-based Brookings Institution, 34,000 physicians were registered in Iraq before the 2003 U S -led invasion. Since then, about 12,000 have fled and 2,000 have been killed, it said. At Al Jarrah, two doctors have been kidnapped and killed. Two were kidnapped and released. Three have left Baghdad. Thirteen remain on staff.

"It's a campaign to drain the country," said Aviad Najeed, a surgeon at Al Jarrah. "A very, very well-organized one. We don't know who's behind it."

Read in Full.

And it's 1, 2, 3, what are we fighting for? You can go ahead and ask me, because I do give a damn. Strangely, this thoroughly reported story from The Independent does not seem to have a by-line. -- C Excerpt:

So was this what the Iraq war was fought for, after all? As the number of US soldiers killed since the invasion rises past the 3,000 mark, and President George Bush gambles on sending in up to 30,000 more troops, The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the Iraqi government is about to push through a law giving Western oil companies the right to exploit the country's massive oil reserves.

And Iraq's oil reserves, the third largest in the world, with an estimated 115 billion barrels waiting to be extracted, are a prize worth having. As Vice-President Dick Cheney noted in 1999, when he was still running Halliburton, an oil services company, the Middle East is the key to preventing the world running out of oil.

Now, unnoticed by most amid the furore over civil war in Iraq and the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the new oil law has quietly been going through several drafts, and is now on the point of being presented to the cabinet and then the parliament in Baghdad. Its provisions are a radical departure from the norm for developing countries: under a system known as "production-sharing agreements", or PSAs, oil majors such as BP and Shell in Britain, and Exxon and Chevron in the US, would be able to sign deals of up to 30 years to extract Iraq's oil.

PSAs allow a country to retain legal ownership of its oil, but gives a share of profits to the international companies that invest in infrastructure and operation of the wells, pipelines and refineries. Their introduction would be a first for a major Middle Eastern oil producer. Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's number one and two oil exporters, both tightly control their industries through state-owned companies with no appreciable foreign collaboration, as do most members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Opec.

Critics fear that given Iraq's weak bargaining position, it could get locked in now to deals on bad terms for decades to come. "Iraq would end up with the worst possible outcome," said Greg Muttitt of Platform, a human rights and environmental group that monitors the oil industry. He said the new legislation was drafted with the assistance of BearingPoint, an American consultancy firm hired by the US government, which had a representative working in the American embassy in Baghdad for several months.

"Three outside groups have had far more opportunity to scrutinise this legislation than most Iraqis," said Mr Muttitt. "The draft went to the US government and major oil companies in July, and to the International Monetary Fund in September. Last month I met a group of 20 Iraqi MPs in Jordan, and I asked them how many had seen the legislation. Only one had."

Britain and the US have always hotly denied that the war was fought for oil. On 18 March 2003, with the invasion imminent, Tony Blair proposed the House of Commons motion to back the war. "The oil revenues, which people falsely claim that we want to seize, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN," he said.

"The United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council Resolution that would affirm... the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people."

That suggestion came to nothing. In May 2003, just after President Bush declared major combat operations at an end, under a banner boasting "Mission Accomplished", Britain co-sponsored a resolution in the Security Council which gave the US and UK control over Iraq's oil revenues. Far from "all oil revenues" being used for the Iraqi people, Resolution 1483 continued to make deductions from Iraq's oil earnings to pay compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Read in Full

The Unmentionable Hypocrisy: Hussein Hanged, Bush and Blair Remain in Power. Excerpt:

By Sean M. Madden iNoodle.com

01/06/07 "Information Clearing House" -- -- East Sussex, UK – Saddam Hussein was hanged a week ago, today, for executing 148 people. Yet, even by conservative estimates, George W. Bush and Tony Blair are responsible for hundreds, or thousands, of times more deaths due to their war of aggression — the supreme international crime — in Iraq.

But, while Saddam Hussein is hanged, Bush and Blair remain in power with apparent impunity.

Why the double standard?

This afternoon I listened to BBC Radio 4’s call-in program, Any Answers?, hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby. The first caller did what the 'free press' — in both the UK and the US — have failed to do. She pinpointed the obvious yet unmentionable hypocrisy hovering over last week’s hanging of Saddam Hussein:

I find I get so angry when I hear expressions of disgust of the way Saddam Hussein was hanged or the procedure. What about the over 400,000 people who have been killed in Iraq, innocent people who didn’t do anything, who died by the invasion of their country by America and Britain? George Bush did not declare war on Iraq. So this is not a genuine war in which civilians are accidentally killed. This was an invasion of their country, illegally. George Bush declared war on terror. There had been no terrorist threat from Saddam Hussein, from Iraq, either to America or to Britain. And, yet, it was invaded. […] My goodness, compared to the 400,000 people — and the country it has devastated — and for no reason whatsoever. Why aren’t they accountable? Why isn’t George Bush being made accountable? If Saddam Hussein has been made accountable for anyone whom he killed, then look at the enormous … [caller was, here, cut off by the BBC host].

The next caller seconded the unmentionable:

I’m really following-up the same point as your previous caller. I hold no brief, whatsoever, for Saddam Hussein. He committed terrible atrocities during his reign. But, he was actually convicted and found guilty of a crime against humanity, condemned to death, and hanged on the narrow charge that he authorized the murder of 200 [148] civilians in a village in northern Iraq. Now compare that, as your previous caller said, with the many thousands, mostly civilians — women and children — who were killed by the American bombing of Baghdad and so forth which was authorized by President George W. Bush in his capacity as the commander-in-chief of the United States forces.

The power of simple, common sense truths.

Read in Full

U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad thinks the problem is a bad PR strategy. (Well, you can call it propaganda but those insurgent videos depict stuff that actually, you know, happened. -- C Excerpt:

Andrea Faville, of Newsweek

NEW YORK, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- A draft report recently produced by the Baghdad embasy's director of strategic communications Ginger Cruz suggests that despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the United States has lost the battle for Iraqi public opinion, reports Baghdad Bureau Chief Scott Johnson in Newsweek's January 15 issue (on newsstands Monday, January 8). "Insurgents, sectarian elements and others are taking control of the message at the public level," the draft states. Videos of U.S. soldiers being shot and blown up, and of the bloody work of sectarian death squads, are now pervasive. The images inspire new recruits and intimidate those who might stand against them. "Inadequate message control in Iraq," the document warns, "is feeding the escalating cycle of violence." (A U.S. Embassy spokesperson claims the draft reflects Cruz's personal views, not official policy.)

Sunni insurgents in particular have become expert at using technology to underscore -- some would say exaggerate -- their effectiveness. "The sophistication of the way the enemy is using the news media is huge," Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told Newsweek just before he returned to the United States. Most large-scale attacks on U.S. forces are now filmed, often from multiple camera angles, and with high- resolution cameras. The footage is slickly edited into dramatic narratives: quick-cut images of Humvees exploding or U.S. soldiers being felled by snipers are set to inspiring religious soundtracks or chanting, which lends them a triumphal feel. In some cases, U.S. officials believe, insurgents attack American forces primarily to generate fresh footage. Advancements in technology have also made these videos easy to download and disseminate. "Literally, it's only hours after an attack and [the videos] are available," says Andrew Garfield, a British counterinsurgency expert who has advised U.S. forces in Baghdad. "You can really say it's only a cell-phone call away."

What the insurgents understand better than the Americans is how Iraqis consume information, reports Johnson. Popular Arab satellite channels like Al- Jazeera and Al-Arabiya air far more graphic images than are typically seen on U.S. TV-leaving the impression, say U.S. military officials, that America is on the run. At the extreme is the Zawra channel, run by former Sunni parliamentarian Mishan Jibouri, who fled to Syria last year after being accused of corruption. (Jibouri says he's being persecuted for political reasons, and can return to Iraq whenever he wants.) Since November the channel has been spewing out an unending series of videos showing American soldiers being killed in sniper and IED attacks. The clips are accompanied by commentary, often in English, admonishing Iraqis to "focus your utmost rage against the occupation." Among Sunnis and even some Shiites, Zawra has become one of the most popular stations in Iraq. "I get e-mails from girls in their 20s from Arab countries; some of them are very wealthy," Jibouri boasts. "Some offer to work for free, some offer money."

The U.S. military's response, on the other hand, usually sticks to traditional channels like press releases. These can take hours to prepare and are often outdated by the time they're issued. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, director of the military's press operations in Baghdad until last September, complains that all military-related information has to be processed upward through a laborious and bureaucratic chain of command. "The military wants to control the environment around it, but as we try to [do so], it only slows us down further," he says. "All too often, the easiest decision we made was just not to talk about [the story] at all, and then you absolutely lose your ability to frame what's going on."

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Quote of the Day

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with countries that criticized the execution of Saddam Hussein. He defended the decision to execute him on the Sunni feast of sacrifice, saying that Saddam had profaned religious holidays. Note to al-Maliki: 1. Don't compare yourself to Saddam and 2. when you have a capital so dangerous that countries are afraid to send embassies, it isn't really that much of a threat when you say you'll cut off diplomatic relations.

Who else but Juan Cole


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