Iraq Battlefield Report: 3/26 – 4/6
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In the week following Obama’s announcement of plans to shift operational priorities from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as the UK begins their pullout, Iraq is heating up once again. With the increasing hostility between two key US allies, the country is erupting into another round of mass violence.
Here is our report from the frontlines of the Iraq occupation. We divided the coverage into the following categories – click on the headings below to jump to individual sections:
In Iraq, Two Key U.S. Allies Face Off
A new and potentially worrisome fight for power and control has broken out in Baghdad as the United States prepares to pull combat troops out of Iraq next year.
The struggle, which played out in fierce weekend clashes, pits two vital American allies against each other. On Sunday, Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. combat helicopters and American troops swept into a central Baghdad neighborhood, arresting U.S.-backed Sunni fighters in an effort to clamp down on a two-day uprising that challenged the Iraqi government’s authority and its efforts to pacify the capital.
But the fallout from the operation is already rippling far beyond the city’s boundaries. Both the Iraqi security forces and the Sunni fighters, known as the Awakening, are cornerstones in the American strategy to bring stability. The Awakening, in particular, is widely viewed as a key reason violence has dramatically dropped across Iraq. [Continue Reading]
Arrest of Sunni Leaders Raises Fears of Broader Clashes
The arrest of two Sunni paramilitary leaders in Baghdad and the violent clashes that followed this weekend have cast a harsh light on a U.S. program on which Iraq’s future stability may depend – the integration of U.S.-backed militias into Iraq’s security forces and government ministries.
The latest violence, coupled with a pattern of arrests of Sunni leaders in other parts of Iraq, raises fears that the integration plan could collapse, and with it the understandings that led to drastically lower levels of violence throughout the country. [Continue Reading]
Iraqi Sunnis Wary After Paramilitary Leader’s Arrest
The Awakening movement isn’t very happy these days. The U.S. has been paying Sunni militants to turn their guns from American soldiers to al-Qaida foreign fighters, a program that has been celebrated for reducing violence in Iraq and is now falling apart. In the words of one Sunni leader who spoke to NPR, ‘The Americans completely abandoned us.’
…the U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitaries known as the Sons of Iraq kept security in Fadhil.
But when Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested their leader, Adil al-Mashadani, his men fought back. The clashes left more than a dozen people dead and injured.
Iraq’s government says Mashadani headed a secret cell loyal to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. The U.S. military says he was involved in extortion and racketeering. But on the streets of Fadhil, several residents say they felt there were sectarian motives for the crackdown. An older Fadhil resident angrily denounced the raid, shouting repeatedly, ‘This is a war against the Sunni areas.’
Mustafa Kamel, the Sons of Iraq leader in the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, says the government has not kept its word. ‘Honestly, we’re worried about the future. If the government doesn’t pay us and incorporate us into the security services, I swear, bad things will start happening here a month from now,’ he says. ‘We won’t attack them, but the situation will deteriorate again.’” [Continue Reading]
Betrayed in Iraq
Leaders of Awakening Councils are arrested, tortured and killed by Iraq government.
Leila Fadel, Baghdad Bureau Chief of McClatchy Newspapers speaks to Paul Jay about the recent escalation in violence in Iraq’s capital. She says the former fighters termed the “Sons of Iraq” who have turned on al- Qaeda and joined the US are now being persecuted by the Iraq government. She says the Maliki government is afraid of the power they’ve accumulated in the neighborhoods they were put to protect by the US and many are now in exile or in hiding.
Iraqi government releases Sunni paramilitary leader
Ten days after arresting him in the middle of the night, the Iraqi government Thursday freed a prominent Sunni Muslim paramilitary leader and dropped all charges against him.
While freeing Raad Ali, the Shiite-led government continued to hold another Sunni leader, whose arrest Saturday triggered an uprising… and it’s arrested a number of other Sunni paramilitary leaders and members this week.
The turmoil is fueling fears that rising tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and between Sunni Arabs and Kurds could trigger a new round of violence and even disrupt the Obama administration’s plans to draw down American forces in Iraq. [Continue Reading]
Ten Iraqi militia fighters arrested: Sahwa leader
Ten members of Iraq’s Sahwa militia, which helped tame the country’s deadly insurgency, have been arrested in Baghdad amid warnings from Premier Nuri al-Maliki that they have no immunity from the law.
“The Iraqi security forces, during the last few days, arrested 10 members of the Sahwa in Dora, including a number under the accusation of terrorism,” said Mohammad al-Gartani, one of the Baghdad’s district’s Sahwa leaders.
He claimed the Sahwa, former Sunni insurgents trained and funded by US and Iraqi forces to battle Al-Qaeda and also known as the “Awakening”, were being persecuted.
“We are very worried about the future of Sahwa forces, and we don’t know where to go, because the government and the American forces are chasing us, and Al-Qaeda is targeting us,” Gartani said.
The arrests included five Sahwa leaders from the southwest Baghdad district, whose Awakening forces number about 2,450. [Continue Reading]
The Return of the Sunni Insurgency
Few observers of the war in Iraq have been more insightful than journalist Tom Ricks. In his military and defense reporting for the Washington Post and in his book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Ricks showed the incompetence of the American occupation of Iraq, and exposed the idiocy at the core of the program to invade Iraq and try to remake the Middle East. In his recent book The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, he tracks the genesis and execution of “the surge.” Mainstream reporting and most political dialog about the surge focused on sending more combat troops to Iraq in 2007, but Ricks shows it was also a fundamental shift from a traditional military occupation to a tactically superior engagement of the entire Iraqi population. Petraeus championed the doctrine of counterinsurgency, and it is indeed one of the factors that had helped reduce violence in Iraq, especially in the Baghdad area. But, Ricks writes in The Gamble”
“[I]t is unclear in 2009 if [Petraeus] did much more than lengthen the war. In revising the U.S. approach to the Iraq war, Petraeus found tactical success—that is, improved security—but not the clear political breakthrough that would have meant unambiguous strategic success. At the end of the surge, the fundamental political problems facing Iraq were the same ones as when it began…Under Petraeus, the American goal of transforming Iraq had quietly been scaled down. But even his less ambitious target of sustainable security would remain elusive, with no certainty of reaching it any time soon.” [Continue Reading]
Fear keeps Baghdad divided and warring sects apart; few Sunnis dare return
The streets are calmer now. The fighting between Shiites and Sunnis has largely ceased. But this is not a sign of normalcy in the Iraqi capital. It’s fear that keeps the peace.
Only an estimated 16 percent of the mainly Sunni families forced by Shiite militiamen and death squads to flee their homes have dared to return.
It takes two sides to have a fight, and there’s really only one side left in Baghdad after violence and fear turned parts of neighborhoods into ghost towns. [Continue Reading]
Vow to Fight Raises Question: Is Calm in Iraq Just the Eye of the Storm?
Most Iraqis think that today’s lower level of violence is the eye, not the end, of the storm, and that the decisive power struggles are just beginning. The U.S.-backed Iraqi government is widely regarded as an undeserving group of exiles who returned to Iraq on the backs of American tanks….
Although the Sunni insurgency that earlier had battled U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces and killed thousands of civilians is weakened, Mohammed is one of many Iraqis who still believe in what he calls the muqawima, the resistance. He always will.
Mohammed is one of the thousands of detainees who’re being released from U.S. detention centers as America prepares to withdraw forces from Iraq. There are about 13,400 detainees in U.S.-run prisons, and on average 50 are released each day. Some are guilty of crimes, others are innocent, many have never been afforded due process and some have become radicalized by their time in prison….
Iraqi officials worry that releasing detainees will trigger a new wave of violence. In some cases, local police are using vigilante law and killing people who’ve been released from U.S. detention centers, according to residents in Anbar. Most are too afraid to talk about it. [Continue Reading]
A Standoff in Central Baghdad: The Iraq surge bubble begins to collapse
The standoff between two U.S. “allies” this weekend in the heart of Baghdad is a harbinger of things to come in Iraq. The showdown between Iraq’s central government security forces and members of Sunni militias, known as “Awakenings,” had nothing to do with the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and almost everything to do with enduring tensions in Iraq—multiple struggles for power between competing Iraqi factions….
What happened this weekend in central Baghdad between Iraqi security forces and members of the Sunni Awakening groups was not unexpected, in large part because many of the tactics used in the 2007 “surge” of U.S. forces built a shaky and unstable foundation….
The stated goal of the surge, according to the Bush administration, was to reduce violence in order to help Iraq’s political factions bridge their divides over power, but that has simply not occurred in a meaningful way. Iraq remains plagued by enduring political divisions… [Continue Reading]
A Wave of Suicide Attacks in Iraq: Are Insurgent Groups Making a Comeback?
March was the deadliest month this year in Iraq, as suicide attacks across the country claimed the lives of at least 115 people. Such actions killed 51 people in February and 70 in January. [Continue Reading]
Black Monday as car bombings kill 32 in Baghdad
A series of bloody car bombings in Baghdad on Monday recalled the blackest days of violence in the capital as at least 32 people were killed and nearly 130 more were wounded.
Shortly after midday, twin car bombs tore through a popular medical clinic and a crowded bazaar, killing 12 and wounding 23 in Um Al-Maalif just west of the city centre, defence and interior ministry officials said. A total of six car bombs shattered the city’s fragile security situation… [Continue Reading]
Series of bombings in Baghdad Shiite areas kill 37
Six bombs rocked Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad on Monday, killing 37 people and wounding more than 110 in a dramatic escalation of violence as the U.S. military is thinning out its presence before a June 30 deadline to pull combat troops out of the cities. [Continue Reading]
Britain begins Iraq pullout
The handover of the British-led coalition base to US forces in Basra overnight was tinged with sadness, as America’s senior military officer in Iraq admitted he had mixed emotions about the departure of its key ally…. Gen Odierno set the tone for a solemn occasion which paid tribute to the 179 British servicemen and women who have died in Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion [Continue Reading]
British army hands control of Basra to US forces
Britain today handed the US control of Basra airport, where thousands of its troops have been based since the invasion of Iraq, six years ago…. Most of the 4,100 British troops will go by 31 May, the day they complete their combat mission. Around 300 will stay, mentoring and training Iraqi officers and sailors. [Continue Reading]
Report: Despite Obama’s Vow, Combat Brigades Will Stay in Iraq
Despite Obama’s pledge, new evidence has emerged that the US plans to keep combat brigades in Iraq, but they will operate under a different name. Investigative reporter Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service reveals some of the brigade combat teams currently in Iraq will stay beyond August 2010 and will be renamed so-called “advisory and assistance brigades.”
Read Gareth Porter’s report here.
US general: American forces may not leave key Iraqi cities
The top commander of ground forces in Iraq says that US troops may stay longer than the June deadline in Baquba and Mosul.
In an exclusive interview, the top US ground commander in Iraq says that while Iraqi forces have made huge strides, Iraqi officials are likely to ask for US help in the key cities of Baquba and Mosul, meaning that American troops may stay there after the deadline for redeployment to major bases. Senior military commanders say US troops will also likely stay on in the southern city of Basra.
“In Mosul and Diyala [Province], as we do a combined or joint assessment of the situation on the ground, I have every expectation that both sides will say we need to stay with this a little bit longer until this improves,” says Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, echoing sentiments of Iraqi officials concerned about ongoing fighting in those areas. [Continue Reading]
Obama’s Blackwater? Jeremy Scahill on Triple Canopy, the New Lead US Mercenary Force in Iraq and Israel
The Obama administration has confirmed it’s hired the mercenary firm Triple Canopy to take over Blackwater’s contract to protect US diplomats in Iraq. Part of the firm’s job will be to protect the “monstrous” US embassy in Baghdad. Blackwater, now known as Xe, that’s “zee,” lost its State Department contract in Iraq after the Iraqi government refused to grant the company a new license because of the September 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, when Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians.
We speak to independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has also just revealed that the administration is using Triple Canopy to protect US diplomats in Israel.
Obama’s Blackwater? Chicago Mercenary Firm Gets Millions for Private “Security” in Israel and Iraq
Now, it appears that the Obama administration has decided on its hired guns of choice: Triple Canopy, a Chicago company now based in Virginia. It may not have Blackwater’s thuggish reputation, but Triple Canopy has its own bloody history in Iraq and a record of hiring mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records. What’s more, Obama is not just using the company in Iraq, but also as a U.S.-government funded private security force in Israel/Palestine, operating out of Jerusalem….
…like Blackwater, Triple Canopy has hired mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records and histories of violent counter-insurgencies. Among them: Peru, Chile, Colombia and El Salvador. In fact, in Iraq, Triple Canopy hired far more “Third Country Nationals” than Blackwater and DynCorp and has used more TCNs than US citizens or Iraqis. [Continue Reading]
Ex-Blackwater Workers May Return to Iraq Jobs
BAGHDAD — Late last month Blackwater Worldwide lost its billion-dollar contract to protect American diplomats here, but by next month many if not most of its private security guards will be back on the job in Iraq.
The same individuals will just be wearing new uniforms, working for Triple Canopy, the firm that won the State Department’s contract after Iraqi officials refused to renew Blackwater’s operating license, according to American diplomats, private security industry officials and Iraqi officials. Blackwater — viewed in Iraq as a symbol of American violence and impunity — lost the contract after being accused of excessive force in several instances, particularly an apparently unprovoked shooting in downtown Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed.
Despite the torrent of public criticism against Blackwater, American officials say they are relieved that the old guards will stay on. Otherwise, Triple Canopy, they say, would not be able to field enough qualified guards, with the proper security clearances, before the new contract goes into effect in May. [Continue Reading]
Iraq Disappearing From America’s News
For the first time since 2002 Iraq did not reach the top 10 news stories in America according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. For the four weeks from March 2 to 29, 2009 Iraq did not reach the top ten once. The Pew Center covers stories across newspapers, radio, the internet, and network and cable TV. [Continue Reading]
‘Billions wasted’ in Iraq reconstruction
Between $3 billion and $5 billion have been wasted in the US-effort to rebuild Iraq since 2003, the US official assigned to oversee reconstruction efforts in that country said today.
Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, warned politicians on Capitol Hill that mistakes made in trying to rebuild Iraq were being repeated in Afghanistan.…
In Iraq, the biggest culprit in cost overruns were “cost-plus contracts” in which a contractor is paid for a job regardless of extra costs it incurs, Mr Bowen said….
An August 2008 GAO report estimated that Iraq had spent less than $4 billion between 2005 and April 2008 on maintaining and rebuilding key civil infrastructure.
The United States has appropriated $50 billion for Iraqi reconstruction, “about 25 times greater than we originally anticipated”, Mr Bowen said. [Continue Reading]
Baghdad as a “Walled Fortress Town”
Iraqi officials announced that work had begun to convert the city into a modern version of a walled fortress town.
Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Baghdad operations command of the Iraqi military, outlined plans to build four major entry points to the city, as well as 18 minor ones, and force all traffic through them to submit to systematic searches, using sophisticated X-ray and sonar equipment, and explosives detectors.
Some of the construction on the checkpoints has already begun, but General Atta did not say when it would be complete.
“Everyone who comes to Baghdad will be thoroughly searched so we can make sure the terrorist groups cannot come into the area,” he said. [Continue Reading]
Kurdish rebel leader in Iraq vows not to disarm
The military chief of Kurdish rebels launching attacks into Turkey from hideouts in Iraq said his group will not lay down its arms until there is a political settlement between the Turkish government and the militants, according to an audio tape released Saturday.
Murat Karayilan’s audio recording, sent to Iraqi Kurdish journalists, came less than a week after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani called on the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, stop fighting or leave Iraq. [Continue Reading]
AP Investigation: Terrorist eludes US in Iraq
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Ibrahim had managed to elude coalition forces – possibly while aiding the Sunni insurgency – before he recently crossed into Syria, federal law enforcement and former CIA officials believe.
The FBI is eager to catch Ibrahim, whose real name is Husayn al-Umari, and has ramped up efforts to find him, releasing an age-enhanced sketch of Ibrahim to the AP, the first known picture of him ever made public. [Continue Reading]
The Spoils of War: Chevron asked to bid on Iraq field
The Iraqi Oil Ministry asked Chevron Corp. and two other oil giants to bid on developing an oilfield in the south of the country, according to news reports….
This field, Nahr bin Umar, is north of the Tigris River in Basra, in southern Iraq near the Persian Gulf and the border with neighboring Iran. It’s thought to contain some 6 billion barrels of oil.
Hussain al-Shahristani is Iraq’s oil minister. The ministry recently published proposed changes to its standard contract with oil companies for eight other oil and gas fields from an earlier bidding round…
Lawsuit filed against Spain’s ex-PM over Iraq
Spain’s Supreme Court is to rule whether the former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, can be prosecuted for the country’s involvement in the US-led invasion of Iraq.
A private lawsuit is to be presented at the nation’s highest court on Friday accusing the former ally of Tony Blair and George W Bush of responsibility for taking the country to war.
The suit, filed by the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and a group called “Trial of Aznar” and signed by 22,000 members of the public, also names the previous administration’s ministers of defence and foreign affairs, Federico Trillo and Ana Palacio, as those responsible for supporting the intervention in Iraq.
It alleges that the Madrid train bombing on March 11, 2004 by Islamists was a direct result of Spain’s decision to send troops to the Middle Eastern country. [Continue Reading]
Senator: US can’t ignore Iraqi refugees
A Democratic senator warned that as U.S. troops leave Iraq, the U.S. should not ignore the plight of millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes or living as refugees in other countries.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who chaired a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that addressed the issue, said that the displaced populations may be susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups….
Casey said in his prepared testimony that the U.S. should bolster efforts to resettle Iraqi refugees to the United States and develop a more comprehensive strategy to address the issue.
According to U.N. statistics, more than 220,000 Iraqis who fled abroad or were displaced in the country after the 2003 invasion returned home in the last year. Nearly 2 million are estimated to remain outside the country, mostly in Syria and Jordan, and an additional 1.6 million, forced from their homes by sectarian and ethnic violence, are displaced inside Iraq. [Continue Reading]
Iraq: Stories You May Have Missed
Part of our job at Mosaic News is to monitor more than 36 broadcasters originating from the Middle East. What we’ve been seeing lately on these different networks portrays a totally different image of Iraq compared to what has been reported in the US media. I’d like to share with you a few of the stories reported by Iraqi and regional networks:
Stories about poor health conditions, the spread of disease and poverty have been abundant. A recent story on Al Iraqiya TV portrayed Iraqis living off garbage in dumps…. Another report focused on a new phenomenon happening at Iraqi hospitals where children are being abandoned by their parents due to hardship…..
Then there were the two most disturbing stories: the first dealt with the effect of war on an Iraqi village. Due to the use of depleted uranium and other chemicals by US soldiers, many of their newborns are suffering from deformities….
The other, one of the most chilling stories I’ve seen, was about Iraqi women recounting their rape by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib. On New TV, a victim of rape becomes a suicide bomber after she was dumped on a freeway by her rapists. She decided to exact revenge from her rapists rather than become a victim of honor by her family. [Continue Reading]
Why do militaries keep using white phosphorus?
Human Rights Watch accused the Israeli military of “deliberately or recklessly” using white phosphorus shells over densely populated civilian areas…. The Israel Defense Forces are not alone in their use of white phosphorus – during the 2004 battle of Fallujah, for example, U.S. troops used the incendiary weapon….
White phosphorus, known in martial circles as “Willy Pete,” may cause horrific burns when used as a weapon (click here for a gruesome visual and here [PDF] for a report on its health effects)…[Continue Reading]
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