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News from Iraq: US and UK failing to monitor flood of arms into Iraq, Amnesty warns

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  • Zafar Khan
    US and UK failing to monitor flood of arms into Iraq, Amnesty warns · Many weapons reaching al-Qaida insurgents · Report urges treaty to halt trade to Darfur
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2008
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      US and UK failing to monitor flood of arms into Iraq, Amnesty warns
      · Many weapons reaching al-Qaida insurgents
      · Report urges treaty to halt trade to Darfur and Burma
      Richard Norton-Taylor The Guardian, Wednesday September 17 2008


      Iraq is being flooded with weapons despite human rights violations by all parties in the conflict there, and without any proper monitoring by the US and Britain over where the weapons end up, Amnesty International says today.

      There is no clear accountable audit trail for some 360,000 small arms supplied to the Iraqi security forces, many by the US and UK, it says. Subcontracting makes the arms trade even less transparent. Among examples cited by Amnesty are the supply of 63,800 Kalashnikov assault rifles from Bosnia to Iraq and the dispatch via the UK of thousands of Italian Beretta pistols, many of which ended up in the hands of al-Qaida insurgents in Iraq.

      "The easy availability of small arms and lack of accountability in Iraq has contributed to sectarian killings by armed groups, as well as torture and other ill-treatment; extra-judicial executions by Iraqi government forces and the continuing arbitrary detention of thousands of suspects by Iraqi soldiers backed by US armed forces since 2003," says Amnesty.

      It adds: "Very serious failures have occurred in the effective management of huge quantities of weapons and munitions supplied to Iraq since 2003. While Iraqi officials ... have been primarily responsible, a significant share of the responsibility rests with the US and UK coalition forces and their contractors."

      According to US state department figures this week, Iraq has signed more than $3bn worth of arms deals in the past two years. Amnesty estimates that more than 1m small arms have been sold to Iraq since the 2003 invasion and the Iraqi government plans to procure more than 250,000 from the US and China.

      This trade would have been controlled, and the supply of weapons pouring into other conflict zones - notably Burma and Darfur in Sudan - prevented had an arms trade treaty been in place, Amnesty says.

      Weapons are flowing into Darfur despite a UN embargo, it says in a 125-page report, Blood at the Crossroads, which sets out the case for a robust arms trade treaty due to be discussed at the UN next month. It says that on February 19 this year, two Chinese Fantan fighter jets were used in an attack on Beybey in Darfur and three large bombs were dropped on a settlement killing eight people, including children. The aircraft had recently been serviced by Chinese technicians and their Sudanese pilots allegedly trained in China to fly them.

      Russia has agreed to supply 27 helicopters to Sudan, says Amnesty. Last year, Sudan listed its main arms suppliers as China, Russia, North Korea, Belarus, Indonesia, Iran and Malaysia.

      Meanwhile, countries including China, Russia, Ukraine and Serbia have been providing huge quantities of arms to Burma despite human rights violations said by the UN to be widespread and systematic. UN arms embargoes continue to be flouted in Ivory Coast and Somalia, while arms supplies to Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Chad and Uganda show the "catastrophic human rights consequences of unrestrained arms trading", Amnesty says.

      Kate Allen, Amnesty International's UK director, said: "Next month's decision at the UN is crucial. Governments around the world cannot go on ignoring the untold suffering and dreadful abuses caused by irresponsible global arms transfers. World leaders have to uphold their obligations on human rights and to move forward on an international arms trade treaty which is underpinned by the 'golden rule' on human rights."

      Amnesty describes the golden rule as countries undertaking not to approve the supply of "conventional weapons, munitions, military equipment or assistance, where there is a substantial risk that such items will be used for serious violations of international human rights".

      Last week, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, committed himself to pressing for an effective treaty, Amnesty says. But the proposal is opposed by countries such as China while others, including India, Pakistan and the US, are attempting to block, delay or dilute the plans, which would allow the trade in arms to continue unchecked, Amnesty says.

      Iraq: Arrests of Sunni tribal leaders risk giving al-Qaida a way back, says Iraqi vice-president
      · No action yet on promise of jobs for militiamen
      · Growing anger at PM's apparent change of heart
      Jonathan Steele in Baghdad The Guardian, Tuesday September 16 2008


      The Iraqi government is in danger of pushing Sunni tribal leaders back into the arms of al-Qaida and re-igniting major violence across Iraq if it fails to take more Sunnis into the security forces, the country's leading Sunni politician has warned.

      Many tribal leaders who opposed the US occupation switched sides on promises of jobs in the previously Shia-dominated army and police. In a sign of the success of the so-called Awakening movement (al Sahwa), which is also known as the "Sons of Iraq", the US recently handed Anbar province - once a centre of the insurgency - back to Iraqi control.

      But in Diyala province, north of the capital, as well as in Baghdad suburbs, the Iraqi army and police have arrested dozens of al-Sahwa leaders in recent weeks because of their previous anti-American and anti-government activity. The government is dragging its feet on a pledge to take a fifth of the estimated 100,000 al-Sahwa members into the security forces.

      Iraq's vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, who heads the Iraqi Islamic party, said: "The government is very hesitant, and I'm afraid if those groups and individuals are frustrated they might change their minds and instead of fighting al-Qaida and terrorism they will be back to offering them a safe haven, as they did in the past. This is a dangerous development.

      "The Awakening groups have become genuine partners in tackling terrorism in Iraq and they should be rewarded rather than penalised," he said.

      His concerns were strongly echoed by Sheikh Mustafa Kamil Hamed, a leader of the powerful Jibouri tribe, who controls about 3,500 men in al-Doura, an area of farms and small towns east of Baghdad. Sporting a pistol and a leather belt of bullets across his white jalabiya, his story typifies the extraordinary zigzag of many Iraqi Sunnis. Once a resistance leader, he now proudly displays a medal from George Bush and boasts of entertaining General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, at his headquarters, a small compound surrounded by blast walls and concrete watchtowers.

      Al-Qaida arrived in al-Doura in 2005, he said, kidnapping government employees, taking hostages, putting up fake checkpoints, and killing Shias. "Al-Qaida pushed us hard to work with them. They even killed my brother's two sons. We said to them, 'If you've come to resist the US occupation, Iraq is an open field. You're free to do what you want but don't come here and kill our people,'" the sheikh said.

      Gradually, he and his tribal colleagues decided to band together and resist al Qaida. The trend was replicated in other Sunni areas. The Americans saw what was happening and gave the Awakening movement money and other support. Now al Doura is crisscrossed with al-Sahwa and Iraqi army checkpoints. Displaced Shia families started to come home. But the mood in al-Doura changed last month with the arrest by the Iraqi army of two prominent al-Sahwa leaders.

      In Adhamiya, once of the most dangerous Sunni districts of Baghdad, the story is similar. Abu Abed Ali Bahjat has 400 al-Sahwa men under arms since he began to resist al-Qaida. They refuse to let Iraqi army and police, or US forces, into the suburb's rubble-strewn streets. Adhamiya was one of the worst areas during Baghdad's sectarian battles. Now Shia families are returning there too - around 300, according to Abu Abed, or roughly 60% of those who fled.

      Like Kamil Hamed, he is angry with the Shia-led government's apparent switch against al-Sahwa, blaming it on Iranian influence.

      Some Sunni leaders claim the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, wants al-Sahwa disbanded by the end of the year. Gen Petraeus and other US officials have expressed guarded criticism of the delay in taking the promised 20,000 al-Sahwa members into the security forces, as they try to strike a balance between not undermining Maliki while assuring Sunnis.

      Kamil Hamed suspects the US supports the clampdown on al-Sahwa, whatever US officials say publicly. "US forces are playing a cat-and-mouse game," he said. "They cannot support al-Sahwa on the one hand and let the government arrest al-Sahwa leaders on the other. We restored security in this area but now are under threat. My personal feeling is the US has a special agenda to demolish al-Sahwa. We don't think the US cares."

      Iraq: Al-Qaida intensifies its stranglehold in the world's most dangerous city
      Insurgents turn de facto northern capital into war zone by exploiting divisions between Arabs and Kurds
      Jonathan Steele in Mosul The Guardian, Monday September 15 2008


      It is the most dangerous city in the world's most dangerous country, a sad, half-empty relic whose rich and middle classes have long since fled. To reach it, one has to travel incognito in convoys of rundown small cars whose drivers conceal their walkie-talkies and weapons under the seats. Their bodyguards sometimes switch to dented taxis with shattered windshields as an extra disguise.

      Mosul - the de facto capital of northern Iraq - should have been as safe as Basra and Baghdad if a massive military offensive by Iraqi and US forces, which was launched in May, had succeeded. But most al-Qaida insurgents slipped away before it began - and they are now slipping back. "They use car bombs and roadside bombs, and target areas which used to be very safe. Now they are assassinating people with pistols that have silencers. The offensive was not as successful as expected," said Doraid Kashmoula, the provincial governor.

      In June, the Americans trumpeted the killing of Abu Khalaf, who they described as al-Qaida's local kingpin, and the "emir of Mosul". "Killing this man didn't help. When the security forces kill one emir, they have 10 others to replace him," the governor added.

      Mosul's offensive, known as Operation Mother of Two Springs, began well, cutting insurgent attacks by 80% in the first few days. It didn't last. In the past month, dozens of people have been killed in violence ranging from roadside bombs to random shootings, car bombs and attacks targeted at specific individuals. On Saturday, four employees of a Dubai-based television station, including the head of its office in Mosul, were abducted and killed.

      But if the statistics only tell half the story, the other half is apparent from the city centre, a virtual ghost town.

      "For eight months I've not seen my parents, because their neighbourhood is in part of the city centre that is too dangerous," said Yahya Abed Mahjoub, an official of the Islamic party which represents urban Sunni businessmen and professionals.

      That contrasts with Basra, where security is better than at any time since 2005, and Baghdad where, for the first time in three years, sunset brings families to parks along the Tigris as the 44C heat slowly subsides.

      In Mosul, the same river flows by, unwatched. On the east bank where cafes and restaurants once thrived, hardly a pedestrian or a car can be seen. People flee three hours before the 10pm curfew. By day, traffic is light and the Iraqis buying fruit at roadside stalls look anxious and under pressure.

      Al-Qaida's strength in Mosul has risen on the see-saw which has made it weak in Anbar, Iraq's largest Sunni province. Driven out of there, al-Qaida moved many supporters to Diyala, north of Baghdad, and to Mosul. Some Iraqi officials, including Mosul's governor, blame logistics, in particular al-Qaida's easy access from Mosul to northern Syria to bring in weaponry. He says Operation Mother of Two Springs needs "more equipment, troops, and weapons to counter them".

      Al-Qaida also benefits from the absence in Mosul of al-Sahwa, the so-called Awakening movement of Sunni tribal leaders, who successfully confronted al-Qaida in Anbar and western suburbs of Baghdad. They oppose al-Qaida's targeting of Shias and the importing of a conservative Salafi ideology which was never strong in Iraq.

      Al-Qaida is also exploiting one of the central struggles in Mosul, a tussle for influence between Arabs and Kurds, claiming to be at the forefront of resistance to what many Arabs say are Kurdish efforts to take over the city.

      Mahjoub's Islamic party is targeted for "collaborating" with the government in Baghdad, but also with the Kurds on the provincial council. "Six of our party's leaders here have been assassinated since the May offensive started," Mahjoub said. The Communist party, whose Arab support comes from the secular middle-class, has gone virtually underground in Mosul after several leaders were killed.

      The saddest part of Mosul's fate is that no one in the rest of Iraq, apart from the Kurds, seems to care. Unlike Basra, on the border with Iran and at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway to the Gulf, Mosul has little strategic value. Unlike Baghdad, it has no Sunni-Shia tension because there are few Shias.

      Mosul's few optimists are in the Iraqi army. Colonel Rebwar Yunis Abdullah, chief of staff of the 2nd Division's 1st Infantry Brigade, says most of the east bank of the Tigris is safe. He shows photos of huge arms caches his men have found and produces statistics showing a 7O% decrease in insurgent attacks since May. But he admits his area does not cover the city centre.

      He sees another good sign in the fact that Sunni Arab officers from the old army are coming back to duty, including in the 2nd Division, which started as a grouping of peshmergas - the Kurdish guerrillas. "Thirty per cent of this brigade's 220 officers are Arabs, and many in top positions," he says. The lieutenant colonel, who serves as the brigade's operations officer is Fouad Mohammed Ali, an Arab from Baghdad.

      The colonel admits there is still a long way to go. His wife and children live in Erbil. When he gets leave, he never goes to the centre of Mosul. He escapes to Kurdistan.

      Arabs Persona Non Grata in Iraq Schools
      By Afif Sarhan, IOL Correspondent
      Tue. Sep. 9, 2008


      BAGHDAD — Arabs who have been living in Iraq for decades are finding it extremely difficult to enroll their kids in schools nationwide.
      "When they see our documents and notice that we are not Iraqis they start giving us hundreds of excuses for not being able to accept our children with them," Rayan Mohammad, a 34-year-old Palestinian father of three and resident of Baghdad, told IslamOnline.net.

      "They ask for other documents and some principals even ask for some financial donations for the school. We come from a simple and poor family and cannot afford that," he added.

      "As far as I know, education in Iraq is free for all residents."

      According to the Palestinians Association in Iraq, at least 60 percent of their children are out of schools and universities because of financial reasons.

      Yasser Ahmed, 39, a Lebanese father of two, was forced to keep his children out of primary school after being asked to pay more than US $2,000 per child.

      "I have been living here since I was a kid and we never had to pay a single dollar for our studies," he fumes.

      "I don’t know how to afford the thousands of dollars they are asking for since I had to close my business after threats from militants.

      "In many schools the preference is given to Iraqis and with the huge number of displacement, some of them cannot afford even locals."

      The Ministry of Education says places at schools and universities are first offered to Iraqis.

      "It is too expensive to provide quality education for all Iraqis and foreigners in this country," a government official told IOL, asking not to be named.

      "We are under a massive lack of infrastructure and cannot take the places of Iraqis to give to foreigners," he said.

      "We do our best to have all of them enrolled in schools, however, for universities the situation is harder and they have to pay for their studies or search for public services in their original countries."

      But in many schools of Baghdad, empty places can still be seen while school principals claim that schools are full and cannot accept Arab students.

      "I got a place here because my mum is Iraqi and although I have a Palestinian nationality, with the help of someone she knows, I was able to study this year," said Fatima Mohammad, a 10-year-old student at a primary school in Mansour district.

      "Everyday I see many empty chairs in my class."

      Persona Non Grata

      Salwa Abdel-Rahman, a Moroccan student of economics, was forced to leave her college after being asked to pay for her studies.

      "I was born here and now I'm being seen as a foreigner," said the 19-year-old fighting back her tears.

      "I was forced to leave my college, crying everyday for seeing that the supposed democracy the Americans brought to Iraq just helps those who have money and not poor families, whatever their nationality is."

      Abdel-Rahman is not the only case.

      "Since last year I have seen dozens of similar cases and despite trying to find help, we lose at the end because as some officials say we have to be thankful for being able to live here and it is better to content with what we have."

      Many Arabs blame the Iraqi government for standing on the fence and watching them being discriminated against.

      "We have been living here for years," says Mohammad, the Palestinian father, with bitterness.

      "Now, we are seen as foreigners, losing our rights and most of the time we are discriminated against."

      "Acting in this way, the government is closing its eyes for our problems and making clear that they want us out from this country," Ahmed Falah, spokesperson for the Palestinians Association in Iraq, told IOL.

      "Our children have the same rights of education as any Iraqi and during Saddam Hussein’s regime we even had especial places designated to Arabs," he recalls.

      "We don’t want so much but just the recognition of our presence here and the ability to have our kids get their education."

      Millions of Arabs, who have been living in Iraq for years, have been enduring various forms of discrimination since the 2003 US-led invasion.

      The whole community became targeted over suspicion of fighting against the foreign troops and their Iraqi allies.

      Many families, unable to leave for economic reasons, take a life risk to stay.

      Some have sought shelter in the more stable, secure areas of Iraq's northern autonomous region of Kurdistan.

      There are no statistics of how many Arabs remain in Iraq today.

      Local associations say there are about 900,000, a number reduced to half after the invasion. Most of them were killed or fled the country to safety.

      "We are seen as part of the invaders, being discriminated against even when we are paying our bills," laments Ahmed, the Lebanese father.

      Should the Americans leave now?
      Mona Mahmoud asks Iraqis from around the country
      Mona Mahmoud The Guardian, Thursday September 11 2008


      Inmates tell of sexual abuse and beatings in Iraq's overcrowded juvenile prison system
      · Children as young as nine held in sweltering cells
      · No money to improve conditions, says ministry


      Jonathan Steele in Baghdad The Guardian, Monday September 8 2008

      Hundreds of children, some as young as nine, are being held in appalling conditions in Baghdad's prisons, sleeping in sweltering temperatures in overcrowded cells without working fans, no daily access to showers, and subject to frequent sexual abuse by guards, current and former prisoners say.

      At Karkh juvenile prison, Omar Ali, a 16-year-old who has spent more than three years there, showed the multiple skin sores he and many other fellow inmates have contracted through lying on thin, sweat-soaked mattresses night after night.

      "The electricity comes from a generator and it's only switched on during the two-hour weekly session when visitors come in, and for two or three hours in the evening. We are convinced the guards sell the generator fuel on the black market," he said.

      Daytime temperatures in Baghdad last week averaged 44C (112F). They barely drop below 38C at night. Water supplies in Karkh are spasmodic, and Omar said he was able to shower only once every three days. Boys sleep in four dormitories, averaging 75 inmates in a cell about 5 metres by 10 metres, on double bunks or the concrete floor.

      Guards often take boys to a separate room in the prison and rape them, Omar alleged. They also break prison rules by lending their mobile phones to boys to ring home, on condition that each time their families top the phone up by $10 or $20. The teaching staff resigned en masse in November because of low pay, according to an international official. As a result, the children lounge around aimlessly with no daytime activities, other than an exercise yard.

      Though the boys in the prison have been convicted, international standards for fair trials are never met. "Trials last on average for 25 minutes, no witnesses are called, confessions are used as the only evidence, and court-appointed defence lawyers get the case file on the day of the trial, leaving no chance to consult the defendant in private," an international adviser in Baghdad said on condition of anonymity.

      Omar Ali was 13 when interior ministry special forces raided his house in a predominantly Sunni suburb in October 2004. He and his 14-year-old brother were arrested. A week later the special forces came back and took their father. All three are still in custody.

      The ministry is under Shia control and its forces have repeatedly been accused of targeting innocent Sunnis. Sahar Muhammad, the boys' mother, told the Guardian that when she was able to visit her sons they told her they were beaten repeatedly in the first days of custody and ordered to sign a blank sheet of paper on which charges would be written later.

      Raad Jamal was 17 when US forces raided his home in the mixed Sunni and Shia district of Doura in June last year. His mother, Suad Ahmed Rashid, who was with him during the interview, told the Guardian: "During the US raid an American officer told my daughter: 'Tell your brother to confess he is with al-Qaida so we can send him to Camp Bucca [a US prison near Basra] or else we'll hand him to the Iraqis and they will torture him'."

      Raad and a friend were taken to a US base and were transferred next morning to the seventh brigade of the Iraqi army's second regiment. Raad said he and his friend were hung from the ceiling on ropes, beaten with electric cables, and taken for interrogation one by one. "They said everyone who comes here has to confess," Raad said.

      He was then sent to another Iraqi army base. "I stayed there about six months. I didn't confess anything I didn't do. They write false statements and ask you to press your thumb on it. I refused but they forced my thumb on to the paper," he said. At the juvenile court Raad encountered a sympathetic judge.

      "The judge did not accept my confession. He said I was innocent but for administrative reasons I would have to go to Tobchi until I was released." He spent a few months in Tobchi and was released in March.

      Last year officials from the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (Unami) visited Baghdad's Tobchi prison, where children awaiting trial are held. They reported that detainees provided "particularly worrisome allegations of ill-treatment or other abuse of juvenile males, several of whom told Unami they had been beaten and sexually abused while held in the custody of the ministries of the interior and defence prior to transfer to a juvenile facility. Upon examining them Unami observed injuries consistent with beatings."

      The UN found severe overcrowding at Tobchi, with around 400 inmates in a prison with an official capacity of 206. "In some cells juveniles were taking turns to sleep on the floor without mattresses," the UN reported. The ministry of labour and social affairs (Molsa), which manages the prison, said shortages of funds prevented improvements.

      Kadhim Raouf Ali, deputy director general of Molsa's juvenile department, told the Guardian that inmate numbers in Tobchi had been sharply reduced this year thanks to speeded-up releases under the new amnesty law. There were only 226 inmates now. But he admitted Karkh was still overcrowded. It was holding 315 children while capacity was 250.

      Child detainees in US custody in Iraq fare better than those in Iraqi hands, said Shatha Alobosi, an Iraqi woman MP. Former inmates interviewed by the Guardian confirmed that there is less overcrowding and brutality.

      Now, as Iraqi pressure mounts for a return of sovereignty, the US has been moving to release all under-18s. In December last year it held 950 children. The current total is 180.

      "We anticipate having less than 100 juveniles in detention by the end of Ramadan [later this month], and hopefully release all juveniles to their families before the end of this year," First Lieutenant Randi Norton, a US military spokesman, said.

      The Iraqi Islamic party, the main Sunni party in parliament, takes a special interest in detainees, adult as well as juvenile, since the majority are Sunnis. It gives aid to poor families who have no breadwinner, and has urged the authorities to improve conditions and release prisoners.

      "We still have a long way to go. The problem is how to make a major and drastic reform of the judicial system, and change the mentality of officers in the army and police," its leader, the Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashemi, told the Guardian.

      · An Iraqi contributed reporting for this article. Names of inmates and family members have been changed.

      'Divided' US Govt Spied on Iraq Leaders
      IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
      Fri. Sep. 5, 2008


      CAIRO — The Bush administration has spied on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government despite President George W. Bush's rhetoric of strong relationship with Iraqi leaders, reveals a new book by investigative reporter Bob Woodword, reported the Washington Post on Friday, September 5.
      "We know everything he says," one of Woodward's sources on the extensive spying operation says in the book.

      The book, "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008," scheduled for release Monday, says the spying on Maliki worried senior US officials who questioned whether it was worth the risk.

      An official familiar with the surveillance "recognized the sensitivity of the issue and then asked, 'Would it be better if we didn't?'"

      The Bush administration has long doubted Maliki and his willingness to fight militias fanning violence in Iraq.

      A classified memo by Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in 2006 doubted Maliki's intentions and abilities to act on the violence.

      US officials were not immediately available to comment on Woodword's book.

      Woodward is well known for his investigative work with fellow reporter Carl Bernstein that forced President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974 in the Watergate scandal.

      The new book is Woodward's fourth to examine the inner debates of the Bush administration and its handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

      His third book on the Bush presidency, "State of Denial", was a bestseller, in which he wrote that Bush resisted demands to boost US troops in Iraq and was misleading Americans about the level of violence there.


      The new book shows that the Bush administration was riven with divisions over the progress in Iraq.

      While Bush publicly maintained the US were "winning", he privately came to believe that the military strategy was failing.

      "Eventually, the president lost confidence in the two military commanders overseeing the war at the time: Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then commander of coalition forces in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid, then head of US Central Command," Woodword writes.

      In October 2006, Bush asked his national security adviser Hadley to lead a closely guarded review of the Iraq war.

      "We've got to do it under the radar screen because the electoral season is so hot," Hadley tells Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is described as challenging Bush on the wisdom of surging troops in Iraq.

      "You're not getting a clear picture of what's going on on the ground," she told Bush, the book says.


      Woodword's book describes a "near revolt" in late 2006 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff over Bush's plans to deploy more troops to Iraq.

      The book says the Joint Chiefs of Staff believed their advice was not reaching Bush and Admiral Michael Mullen, then chief of naval operations, feared the US military would "take the fall" for any failure in Iraq.

      General George Casey, then commander of US-led forces in Iraq, and General John Abizaid, former head of US Central Command, strongly opposed the troop surge that Bush ordered, as did then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

      Casey even referred to Baghdad as a "troop sump." Only Bush's national security staff strongly supported the troop surge strategy.

      Over the internal divisions, Bush decided during the internal debate to sack Rumsfeld, who had served as defense secretary throughout the war.

      Bush selected Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert Gates, without consulting Vice President Cheney, Woodward writes.

      "Well, Mr. President, I disagree," Cheney is quoted as saying when Bush informed him with his decision on November 6, 2006 -- the day before US elections in which the Republicans lost control of Congress.

      "But obviously it's your call."

      Woodward says the troop surge was not the main factor in the reduction in violence in Iraq over the past year.

      He credits "groundbreaking" covert intelligence operations that helped identify leaders of resistance groups and key figures in Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

      In the book, Bush defends the Iraq war, describing it as part of a reshaping of US power in the Middle East.

      "And it should be," Bush is quoted as saying.

      "And the reason it should be: It is the place from which a deadly attack emanated. And it is the place where further deadly attacks could emanate."

      The US president, who will leave office early next year, also acknowledges that the Iraq war has caused bitter opposition at home.

      "This war has created a lot of really harsh emotion, out of which comes a lot of harsh rhetoric.

      "One of my failures has been to change the tone in Washington."

      Maliki drops the mask
      With his tough stance on US withdrawal, Sunni militias and the Kurds Iraq's leader risks doom
      Jonathan Steele in Baghdad The Guardian, Friday September 5 2008


      What's up with Nouri al-Maliki? As security anxieties subside in this slowly calming city, political speculation has rarely been so intense. First, it was Maliki's demand that all US troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Then came signs that his government wants to undermine the Sunni tribal militias, known as the Awakening councils, on whom the Americans have relied to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq. Now there are moves to take on the powerful Kurdish peshmerga troops and push them out of disputed areas in the strategic central province of Diyala.

      Why is the prime minister doing this? Is "the puppet breaking his strings", as one Arab newspaper put it? Or is the more appropriate metaphor "dropping the mask"? Those who knew Maliki in exile in Syria during Saddam Hussein's time now recall that he opposed the US-led invasion. His Daawa party did not attend the eve-of-invasion conference of US- and UK-supported exiles in London, and he opposed the party's decision six months later to join the hand-picked "governing council" set up by the first occupation overlord, Paul Bremer.

      Maliki's new line has discomforted the Americans. Some officials put on a brave face, saying it is a sign of Iraqi confidence in their own sovereignty, a development that, of course, they support as proof that the Bush administration's strategy of rebuilding a proud country is succeeding. Others say it reflects overconfidence, even hubris, as Iraq is a long way from being able to survive without US military protection.

      Either way, playing the nationalist card has huge potential consequences in Iraq. With provincial and parliamentary elections expected next year, it will sharpen the struggle for dominance in the Shia community. It is designed to undercut the appeal of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a consistent opponent of the occupation who is re-profiling his movement on the lines of Lebanon's Hizbullah. Its Mahdi army militia will be slimmed into a group of experienced resistance fighters, kept in reserve for action against US troops rather than to fight Iraqi Sunnis, while the rest of the movement goes into communal politics.

      Posing as the nationalist who managed to get the US to accept a timetable for withdrawal (the tense negotiations could yet founder) allows Maliki to distance himself from his main Shia allies in government, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), seen as keen backers of the occupation. It also diverts attention from the chronic power cuts and other economic troubles. Every government has to fight on its record in office, but, by turning himself into a patriotic Iraqi hero, Maliki may sidestep this. Some observers suggest he may even go to the elections on a "prime minister's list", to redefine himself as no longer a Shia or a political Islamist, so as to win support from Iraq's secular and non-sectarian urban middle class. But there are uncomfortable echoes here of the effort by Ayad Allawi, the prime minister appointed by the US in 2004, to project himself in the December 2005 elections as a strong man. His vote total fell a long way below his

      But if Maliki wants to present a new image as a man who stands up to the Americans, why does he choose this moment to go after Sunnis and Kurds? The principle of disarming all militias, and not just those of his Shia rivals, such as Sadr, may be laudable but the timing is highly risky and threatens to overload the circuits. Going after the Sunnis and Kurds may fail, dooming Maliki to defeat. Many Sunnis already believe he is a tool of the Iranians. Now they say his sudden anti-Americanism is no proof of Iraqi patriotism, but just shows he is a tool of Tehran. The Iranians want the US out of Iraq, not only in order to undermine US credibility in the region. They interpret Washington's support for the Awakening councils as a tilt towards the Sunnis and an effort to re-balance Iraqi politics from the Shia dominance of the early post-invasion period.

      Maliki's tough stance towards the US could doom him personally. The US toppled his predecessor, Ibrahim Jaaferi, and, even though US power in Iraq has declined since then, it may find a way to remove Maliki too. It would not demand that the prime minister go, as it did in 2006, but could undermine his parliamentary majority. The US has alternative candidates, including the ambitious vice-president, Adel Abdel Mahdi, and the Sunni defence minister, Abdul Qader al-Obeidi, who told the New York Times in January that US troops would be needed for another 10 years.

      Whatever his motives, Maliki's move has certainly shaken up Iraqi politics and forced the issue of a clear US departure timetable on to the agenda. The Iraqi prime minister has put Bush and McCain on to the back foot, and given help to Obama. Whether Maliki or Bush blinks first remains to be seen.


      Media Targeted in New Iraq
      By Afif Sarhan, IOL Correspondent
      Fri. Aug. 15, 2008


      BAGHDAD — The freedom of the press in post-invasion Iraq is reportedly at its worse with reporters, particularly Iraqis, and even ordinary Iraqis who speak to them being targeted by militias, militants and in some cases the government.
      "There isn’t journalistic freedom in our country," Khalil Mustafa, an Iraqi journalist who survived two attempts on his life since last year for writing about tortures practiced by militants, told IslamOnline.net.

      The continuous arrests, abductions and murders of journalists in Iraq have undermined the ability of media outlets to report on what happens in the war-ravaged country.

      "We have to be careful in each word we write," said Mustafa.

      "If we write something that isn’t in favour of the militants, resistance groups, the military or the government, then we are in a dangerous situation."

      Cameras, recorders and sometimes notebooks have become enough reason to target the owner.

      Photographers carrying cameras in Baghdad are an easy target for militants who don’t want coverage in areas where they are in control.

      Nine journalists and associates have been killed and five kidnapped in Iraq since the begging of 2008, according to Reporters Without Borders.

      On July 21, Soran Mama Hama, a journalist working for a Kurdish magazine, was killed by gunmen in Kirkuk.

      A month earlier, Mohieldin Abdul-Hameed, a presenter for Nineveh 's local state-run TV station, was killed in Mosul.

      Three of the five abducted journalists have been released after being tortured by militants. Two remain missing and are believe to be dead.

      The Iraqi Journalists Association is worried that violence against reporters could erupt again to the same levels of 2004 and 2005 when dozens of journalists were killed and tortured.

      It estimates that 246 Iraqi journalists and media workers have been killed since the 2003 US-led invasion, while the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says at least 130 journalists and 50 media workers have been killed in this period.

      No Protection

      Iraqi reporters lament the lack of protection to freely practice their profession.

      "For being Iraqis, we are in a more delicate situation because we don’t have anywhere to hide or anyone to support," said Mustafa.

      "Sometimes we have to hide behind foreigners to be protected."

      Khalid Abdel-Kareem, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Journalists Association, criticized the inaction of the parties concerned.

      "Nothing is being done to protect journalists covering the Iraq situation," he told IOL.

      "It is becoming intolerable, especially when you see that the proposed democracy is just for politicians but not for other professionals or ordinary Iraqis."

      He regretted that while media people are still being targeted in Iraq, those responsible remain "immune."

      The CPJ says that more than 80 percent of all media people and associates killed have been Iraqis working for local and international news outlets.

      "In addition to being easy targets, to survive we have to accept working as journalists but having our names hidden while foreigners take all the credit by using our stories under their by line," said Fariz Obeidi, an Iraqi journalist working for a foreign media.

      "They don’t offer any protection and even if we are killed, our families don’t have the right of insurance as they have."

      Those lacking protection are not only reporters, but ordinary Iraqis they interview.

      In some districts of the capital Baghdad, for example, militants have distributed leaflets prohibiting locals from talking to reporters, threatening to kill those who do not comply.

      Three ordinary Iraqis in the Gazelia and Dora districts of Baghdad have been killed by militants this month alone after giving interviews to journalists.

      "My son was killed for speaking with a journalist about US elections," said the victim’s father, a resident of Gazelia, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.

      "They made him two questions and it was enough reason for them to kill him. He wasn’t aware of the new law imposed in our district and was a victim of the daily violence in Iraq where democracy is just an illusion."

      A marriage of inconvenience
      Violence and political instability have made weddings in Baghdad virtually impossible. Caitlin Fitzsimmons joins one family who crossed the border to celebrate
      Caitlin Fitzsimmons
      The Guardian, Tuesday August 12 2008


      Hind Al-Rubawawi twirls on the dance floor with her groom. Dressed in white, including the obligatory hijab, the 22-year-old university student from Baghdad beams as she gazes at her new husband, Sami Al-Tameemi, and the 50 or 60 guests gathered to celebrate her wedding. Instead of confetti, her new mother-in-law throws sweets, while her young brothers run about with a spray can sending fake snow flakes into the air. It is a joyful occasion, but this wedding, at a dance hall in Damascus, Syria, nearly didn't happen.

      These days it is almost impossible to have a wedding in Baghdad. Some couples, like Hind and Sami, are choosing to marry abroad at great expense, while others forgo the wedding in favour of perfunctory legal and religious formalities. "Often fundamentalists come to break up parties and set off bombs, or fight with the military or the family to make instability," explains Hind.

      Before 2003, it was common to have up to 1,000 people at a wedding, and when Hind's parents got married in the 1980s, their guest list numbered well into the hundreds. They had a big party at a hotel in Baghdad with a singer and a band, and went on honeymoon for a week in the Iraqi countryside. Yet for many of Hind's friends, getting married has been a much quieter affair. "Since the war everyone has been afraid and they've reduced the weddings, so it's only at home, it's not so big, and it's without music because the fundamentalists and military don't allow it," she says. "Some people only go to get the bride from her father's home and take her away without any celebration."

      Another reason why Hind and Sami came to Damascus is that 42-year-old Sami is a refugee, legally resident in Norway. The expense and difficulty of organising a wedding and obtaining visas for both families meant that a Norwegian wedding was impossible, so Damascus was chosen as the next best option to Baghdad. Sami left Iraq in 2006 because, having been a member of the Ba'ath party as a student, the situation had become dangerous. "I was not in a high position - it was normal within the university," Sami says. "But with the US invasion, they were starting to kill many Ba'athists and were making troubles for me so I decided to leave." Sami was accepted as a humanitarian rather than political refugee after al-Qaida seized his father's house and burned his papers.

      The couple had not met in person until a week before the wedding, but the courtship started seven months ago. In December, Sami told his friend Hashim, Hind's uncle, that he wanted to marry. Hashim played matchmaker by contacting Hind's family and securing permission to pass on her telephone number and email address. The courtship was carried out by phone and on Yahoo! Messenger, with a webcam. Though the couple's first meeting was at the airport in Damascus, both say it was their own decision to marry and that they are very much in love. Once Sami had proposed to Hind, his family paid a visit to her family. On the second occasion they brought her the engagement ring, a gold necklace and another ring as an engagement present. Sami is also expected to provide Hind with £2,600 as security in the event of divorce. "The internet helps many young couples connect with each other and make a family," Sami says. "It was, of course, my dream to get married in
      Baghdad, but the particular situation was too difficult to arrange a marriage there, and for me to go to Iraq."

      Marrying in Damascus might be practical for security reasons, but it is an expensive exercise. Hashim, a businessman with interests in Damascus, played an instrumental role in securing passports, visas and car hire, and renting apartments in the Sayedah Zeinab area, 10km from central Damascus, where many Iraqis live.

      Sami is one of 10 children and his mother, father and three siblings travelled to the wedding from Baghdad, while a fourth came from his home in Vienna. Hind's mother, grandmother and two brothers travelled to the wedding, but her father and another brother and sister remained behind because of the expense. For the Baghdad contingent, costs ran to £180 each for a passport and visa, £50 each for the businessman's card that the Syrian government require for every visitor, even Hind's 78-year-old grandmother, and £20 each for car hire. Hind's family faced a 14-hour drive from Baghdad to Damascus, but the 10-hour stopover at the border made the journey much longer.

      When the bride and groom arrived in Damascus, their first step was to be married by a mullah. Since Sami and Hind are practising Shia Muslims, they could not be together in public until they were married, so the mullah came directly to the family home. During the ceremony, as is customary, Hind was asked three times, in private, if she was being forced into the marriage, to which her answer was no. A few days later came the civil wedding in the courts in Damascus. Sami and Hind repeated their vows before the court officials, and Sami and Hashim shook hands - symbolising the contract between both families. Sami then spent the rest of the day getting papers signed and stamped by various officials.

      Finally it is time for the party. It might not be on the scale of pre-2003 Baghdad weddings, but the number of family and friends present is an indication of how many Iraqis are now living in Damascus. There is a band with a singer - though many people cover their ears to the Arab pop music as the sound system is so loud. There is a western-style cake, which Sami and Hind cut with a sword. The guests drink Fanta - although a few sip beer secretly under the tables so as not to offend the more religious family members - and eat roast chicken, pita, tabbouleh and hummus. Ordinarily in Iraqi culture, there is a breakfast for family the day after the wedding - so they can check the sheets for the signs of blood they believe prove the bride is a virgin. The custom is waived in this case, not because of any modern sensibility, but because it is deemed sensible to preserve Hind's virginity until she has the visa to join Sami in Norway.

      Hind studies French at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and only has one more year to go, so the couple have decided that she should finish her studies before she moves to Norway. "I would like to get married to a woman who has education so I can have a discussion with her," Sami says. He is also keen that she study English and Norwegian when she arrives in Norway, so that she can mix with the community. Sami works at a gas company in Molde and he says that while there are a few other Iraqi families there, he has been making an effort to integrate, participating in a government programme that twins refugees with local families, and joining a political party. "The Norwegians have given me peace and stability and this is what I hope to give to Hind so that she does not sit at home and feel lonely," Sami says. "I love her and she loves me, and everything will be OK. This is most important. But also she should learn the language so we can introduce [her
      to] the culture and the people and she will feel at home."

      This trip to Damascus has been Hind's first glimpse of life outside Iraq. Living in Baghdad has, she says, become increasingly constrained. "Now, when the sun sets we should be at home. Before 2003, we could go to the theatre, make excursions. Now it's impossible, it's all closed," she says. "We live in a Shia area so it's not so bad as the mixed areas, which is where they have the most problems, but I still can't go with my friends on the streets."

      Hind is not nervous about her impending move to Norway. "I think it will be not such a big problem because they have a few Iraqi families there," she says. "My dream is to make a happy family and I will give 100% to fulfil that vision".
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