Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Saad Shalash and Waleed Ibrahim, was distributred by Reuters, October 25, 2009
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two suicide bombs tore through Baghdad on Sunday, killing 132 people, wounding more than 500 and leaving mangled bodies and cars on the streets in one of Iraq's deadliest days this year.
The two blasts shredded buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River. The first bomb targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on August 19 against the finance and foreign ministries, and were aimed at stopping an election in January.
"It is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people," a statement from Maliki's office said. "They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election."
U.S. President Barack Obama said the bombings were outrageous and the White House said he had called Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to pledge to "stand with the Iraqis."
"These bombings serve no purpose other than the murder of innocent men, women and children, and they only reveal the hateful and destructive agenda of those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that they deserve," Obama said in a statement.
Violence has fallen since U.S.-backed tribal sheikhs helped wrest control from al Qaeda and Washington sent extra troops.
But attacks are still common in a nation trying to rebuild from years of conflict and prepare for the election at the same time as U.S. forces start to withdraw.
Officials have blamed unnamed neighbours for not stopping the attacks -- a reference to Iraqi complaints that Syria provides a safe haven for former Baathists while citizens of other Sunni Muslim states help fund the insurgency in Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, has been accused of funding and arming Shi'ite militia.
"The neighboring and distant countries should immediately refrain, forever, from harboring, financing and facilitating forces that openly proclaim their hostility to the Iraqi state," Talabani said in a statement.
Attacks could rise in the run-up to the election -- the second national vote since U.S. troops invaded in 2003 -- as forces in and around Iraq jockey for influence over the world's third largest oil reserves.
Some lawmakers criticized the security forces for failing to stop the attack. Government officials blamed the bombings on al Qaeda or remnants of former leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party. "Big Failure"
The area near the provincial building was flooded and fire fighters pulled charred and torn corpses off the streets. Burned cars piled up nearby. Workers on cranes combed the broken facade of the Justice Ministry, pulling out bodies wrapped in blankets.
"I don't know how I'm still alive. The explosion destroyed everything. Nothing is still in its place," shop owner Hamid Saadi told Reuters by telephone from near the Justice Ministry.
U.S. forces provided forensics teams and bomb experts.
Police sources said the bombs were carried in vans driven by suicide bombers while others said a truck and car were used.
The al-Mansour hotel, which houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media groups, was also damaged.
U.S. officials say the attacks are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Maliki before the parliamentary poll.
Maliki is widely expected to campaign on improved security. The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multi-billion dollar crude deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world's third largest oil producer.
The bombings raise doubts about the Iraqi forces' ability to take over overall security from U.S. soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centers in June ahead of the complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
"This breach is a big failure of the security forces who are responsible, along with the security officials, for what happened," said Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, who heads the parliamentary bloc of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of Maliki's main Shi'ite rivals in the coming election.
This article, by Oliver Augiust, was posted to the Times Online, October 20, 2009
President Obama’s pledge to withdraw US troops from Iraq and end combat operations there by September 2010 is under threat because of increased levels of violence and bickering within the Iraqi parliament, the top US general in the country has told The Times.
General Ray Odierno said that militant groups were likely to conduct a bloody campaign in the months ahead, as Iraqis prepare for national elections at the beginning of next year.
“It’s clear that al-Qaeda and other groups do not want the elections to occur,” he said in an interview. “What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the Government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process.”
The Iraqi parliament has failed repeatedly to pass a new election law because of arguments over whether ballot papers should give the names of candidates, or of parties only. MPs are now talking about delaying the election, planned for January 16.
The prospect was causing the US serious concern, said General Odierno. “I worry that it calls into question the Iraqi commitment to this form of government. If the parliament doesn’t pass the election law and they delay the elections, that violates their own constitution, which says they have to have elections in January.”
A postponement would almost certainly affect the US President’s pledge to end combat operations in Iraq by August 31 next year and to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011.
General Odierno said he had hoped to send as many as 70,000 soldiers home between March and August, but would keep troop strengths at current levels until 30 to 60 days after elections to ensure a safe transfer of power.
This timetable gave him little room for manoeuvre, he said. “We would have to make a decision on whether we continue to draw down on the current timeline or delay it. Obviously that’s a decision made by the President, but I’d certainly have to provide recommendations on what our position should be.
“Our plan here will influence how they decide to implement what decision they make on Afghanistan,” he said of a possible second surge being debated by the White House. If troop levels in Iraq remain higher than planned, freshly trained US brigades will be needed to replace those finishing their tours of duty, and would not be available for Afghanistan.
General Odierno, who commands 120,000 troops from one of Saddam’s old palaces near Baghdad airport, highlighted the Kurdish regions in the north as being particularly vulnerable to insurgents. “Al-Qaeda is trying to re-establish a foothold in the north and then extend out,” he said. Since early summer, the ethnically mixed areas around the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk have seen countless attacks.
“We are trying to find solutions for how we can reduce the tensions between Kurds and Arabs. Al-Qaeda is trying to exploit the fissures.”
In addition, he said, Anbar province — where US forces fought some of the most bitter battles early in the occupation — was again showing signs of terrorist activity. “The last ten days have gotten my attention,” General Odierno said of the province, which is the centre of the Sons of Iraq alliance between Sunni tribes and the Americans. Last week there were several attacks on urban areas and bridges.
“We believe we have some cells that are starting to re-emerge in Anbar and we are watching closely. We will work very hard to eliminate those cells.”
This article, by Heath Druzin, was published in Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
BAGHDAD — With more than two years left in the slow, regimented ending to a chaotic war, new rules placing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops under virtual house arrest on their bases mean the American military increasingly finds itself a symbolic force in Iraq.
Whether it’s symbolic of a problem or a solution depends on whom you ask.
Many inside and outside the U.S. military are now calling for the United States to hasten its withdrawal from this still-fragile country. They point to a newly assertive Iraqi national government that has significantly curtailed the U.S. forces’ mission, an Iraqi public largely hostile to U.S. troops and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan urgently seeking more soldiers to wage the increasingly intractable war there.
About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — twice the size of the force in Afghanistan — but many have been moved from the combat outposts that were so key to Gen. David Petraeus’ "surge" strategy. Instead, under the terms of a security agreement worked out between the U.S. and the Iraqi government that pulled back American troops from Iraqi cities, the U.S. forces remain largely confined to sprawling bases resembling fortified towns, such as Baghdad’s Victory Base Complex.
Generally forbidden to patrol, the troops fill their days with training, maintaining equipment and packing up unneeded material for shipment out of Iraq.
Iraqi security forces still have the option to conduct joint patrols with Americans or to request their help, but it almost never happens. American troops are almost invisible in Iraqi cities, moving in the dead of night, and then only with Iraqi permission.
The U.S. is providing behind-the-scenes help with intelligence, training and air support, but day-to-day security is almost entirely an Iraqi enterprise.
"The thing is that we don’t really need the Americans to help us in the cities," said Lt. Gen. Ali Qaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces.
U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, argued in a recent memo titled "It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home" that the United States has done all it can for Iraq and should accelerate its scheduled withdrawal from the country to August 2010 — 16 months earlier than now planned.
"As the old saying goes, ‘guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ " Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."
Reese continued: "Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the [Iraqi government]. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations."
In Baghdad, many troops echo Reese’s concerns, privately questioning how much more the U.S. can offer the Iraqi security forces. But they say that expressing such views publicly would threaten their military careers.
"I agree with [Reese] 100 percent, but you can’t say that out loud," said one officer who has worked closely with Iraqi security forces and who asked to remain anonymous. ‘Rethink the mission’
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst and author of the Brookings Institution’s authoritative Iraq Index, agrees that the U.S. is overmanned for its new, limited missions.
But O’Hanlon does not endorse accelerating the withdrawal as quickly as Reese, citing the U.S. role in bolstering intelligence and training and mediating ethnic tensions in northern Iraq.
"It is true, at the moment we have too many troops for the missions we’re being allowed to perform," O’Hanlon said. "However, the right solution might be to rethink the mission set and consider at least temporarily expanding it somewhat."
U.S. commanders are increasingly walking a political tightrope, praising the competence of Iraqi forces and downplaying their own security role while simultaneously endorsing the decision to keep a mid-sized city’s worth of troops on standby. Some speculate that the troops are being kept as backup for an expected increase in violence during Iraq’s national elections, scheduled for January.
Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of Multi-National Corps–Iraq, said at a recent news conference that there are no plans to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal.
"We’re happy with our current schedule; we think our strategy is sound," Jacoby said. "We’re enabling and assisting [the Iraqis] as they ask. They don’t need our combat forces in the city."
Yet, a recent spike in violence, punctuated by devastating truck bombs last month outside two Iraqi ministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, has renewed doubts about the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with an insurgency that appears bent on rekindling sectarian violence.
August was one of the deadliest months for Iraqi civilians in the past year, according to an Associated Press tally.
There is also concern about continuing violence in northern areas claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, where insurgents have staged bombings in Kurdish towns in hopes of triggering ethnic reprisals.
Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has proposed a more active role for U.S. troops there, including trilateral patrols grouping Kurdish, Arab and American soldiers. But that idea is still in the planning stage and Iraq is not much nearer to solving the territorial dispute than it was at the beginning of the war.
Many U.S. troops who have worked closely with their Iraqi counterparts scoff at the idea that the Iraqis are capable of standing up to the insurgency, citing infiltration, corruption and a general lack of discipline. One lieutenant in Baghdad said his Iraqi counterpart openly skims between 20 and 30 percent of his soldiers’ salaries off the top, a practice difficult to track in Iraq’s cash economy. Slower pullout?
Despite his confidence that his troops can stand on their own, Majeed, the Iraqi ground forces commander, says he still needs U.S. backup, even leaving the door open to a longer-than-planned U.S. commitment if Iraqi forces prove unready by the time remaining U.S. combat forces pull out.
The agreement between Washington and Baghdad calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
"If it doesn’t happen by 2011, we would have to find a new mechanism to work with the Americans," he said.
In the end, the U.S. may not have much say in the matter.
Iraqi voters are scheduled to vote in January whether to rescind the status of forces agreement that allows the U.S. military to operate in the country. The Iraqi parliament would then need to ratify the results of the referendum and order the complete U.S. withdrawal to be sped up by a year.
The outcome of that popular vote is not in much doubt. With the exception of the Kurdish north, anti-American sentiments are widespread in Iraq. Iraqis may be unsure of their country’s fledgling security forces, but they have grown increasingly weary of the U.S. presence, which many remember for heavy-handedness and the daily frustrations of passing through checkpoints and enduring long traffic jams behind slow-moving military convoys.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the same time as the January referendum, and candidates are finding anti-occupation platforms popular with Iraqis.
Elected officials and military commanders frequently challenge the Americans. For example, U.S. convoys are now regularly stopped at Iraqi checkpoints, a source of irritation for many American troops.
If Iraqis do decide to boot out the U.S. a year ahead of schedule, it would require a complete focus on the logistics of leaving at the expense of other tasks, such as sharing intelligence and training, said Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, who is overseeing the exodus of U.S. equipment and troops.
"Is [a rapid redeployment] doable? Yes, but you pay the price," she said.
During a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. would follow the lead of Iraqi officials regarding the timetable for the pullout.
"Whatever the Iraqi people decide," Biden told reporters, "we will abide by it."
This article, by Ernesto Londoño, was published in the Wahington Post, August 18, 2009
BAGHDAD, Aug. 17 -- U.S. troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year ahead of schedule under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, creating a potential complication for American commanders concerned about rising violence in the country's north.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which has quietly lobbied against the plebiscite. American officials fear it could lead to the annulment of an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2011, and instead force them out by the start of that year.
The Maliki government's announcement came on the day that the top U.S. general in Iraq proposed a plan to deploy troops to disputed areas in the restive north, a clear indication that the military sees a continuing need for U.S. forces even if Iraqis no longer want them here.
Gen. Ray Odierno said American troops would partner with contingents of the Iraqi army and the Kurdish regional government's paramilitary force, marking the first organized effort to pair U.S. forces with the militia, known as the pesh merga. Iraqi army and Kurdish forces nearly came to blows recently, and there is deep-seated animosity between them, owing to a decades-long fight over ancestry, land and oil.
If Iraqi lawmakers sign off on Maliki's initiative to hold a referendum in January on the withdrawal timeline, a majority of voters could annul a standing U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, forcing the military to pull out completely by January 2011 under the terms of a previous law.
It is unclear whether parliament, which is in recess until next month, would approve the referendum. Lawmakers have yet to pass a measure laying the basic ground rules for the Jan. 16 national election, their top legislative priority for the remainder of 2009.
Before signing off on the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement last year, Iraqi lawmakers demanded that voters get to weigh in on the pact in a referendum that was to take place no later than last month. Because it did not happen, American officials assumed the plebiscite was a dead issue.
U.S. officials say they have no way to know how the referendum would turn out, but they worry that many Iraqis are likely to vote against the pact. Maliki billed the withdrawal of U.S. forces from urban areas at the end of June as a "great victory" for Iraqis, and his government has since markedly curbed the authority and mobility of U.S. forces.
Senior Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Odierno probably will make an announcement later this week or early next week the accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which now stand at 130,000, by one or two brigades between now and the end of the year. Each brigade consists of about 5,000 troops. Odierno said Monday that he has not decided whether to speed up the plan, which he said remains on schedule.
The acceleration would still be much slower than if the referendum nullified the agreement.
Still, senior Pentagon officials played down Maliki's announcement, saying it was an expected part of Iraq's political process. Senior Iraqi officials did not raise the possibility of the referendum with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates when he visited the country earlier this month, Pentagon officials said.
Bahaa Hassan, who owns a mobile phone store in Najaf, south of Baghdad, said he would vote for a speedier withdrawal.
"We want to get rid of the American influence in Iraq, because we suffer from it politically and economically," he said. "We will vote against it so Iraq will be in the hands of Iraqis again."But many Iraqis, particularly Sunnis and Kurds, consider the presence of the U.S. military a key deterrent to abuses of power by the Shiite-led government.
"After six years of Shiite rule and struggle, we still have no electricity, so what will happen if Americans leave?" said Dhirgham Talib, a government employee in Najaf. "The field will be left to the Shiite parties to do whatever they want with no fear from anybody."
A poll commissioned by the U.S. military earlier this year found that Iraqis expressed far less confidence in American troops than in the Iraqi government or any of its security forces. Twenty-seven percent of Iraqis polled said they had confidence in U.S. forces, according to a Pentagon report presented to Congress last month. By contrast, 72 percent expressed confidence in the national government.
Zainab Karim, a Shiite lawmaker from the Sadrist movement, the most ardently anti-American faction, said she was pleasantly surprised that the government is backing the referendum.
"I consider this a good thing," she said. "But we have to wait and see whether the government is honest about this or whether it is electoral propaganda."
As the Iraqi government took steps to force U.S. troops out earlier than planned, Odierno said Monday that he would like to deploy American forces to villages along disputed areas in northern Iraq to defuse tension between Kurdish troops and forces controlled by the Shiite Arab-led government in Baghdad.
"We're working very hard to come up with a security architecture in the disputed territories that would reduce tension," Odierno told reporters. "They just all feel more comfortable if we're there."
Scores of Iraqis have been killed in recent weeks in villages along the 300-mile frontier south of the Kurdish region. U.S. military officials say the attacks bear the hallmarks of Sunni extremists, but local leaders have traded accusations to bolster their positions on whether specific areas should be under the control of Baghdad or the autonomous government of Kurdistan.
The pesh merga currently controls some villages that are nominally outside the three-province Kurdish region. The expansion of Kurdish influence in northern Iraq has prompted Maliki to deploy more troops loyal to Baghdad to northern provinces south of Kurdistan. The new provincial leadership in Nineveh province, the most restive among them, has made curbing Kurdish expansion its top priority and has called for the expulsion of pesh merga forces.
The tension, Odierno said, has created a security vacuum that has emboldened al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that he said was almost certainly responsible for recent sensational bombings in the province. The number of civilian casualties in Iraq has increased since the urban pullout, Odierno said, largely as a result of attacks in the disputed territories.
What we have is al-Qaeda exploiting this fissure between the Arabs and the Kurds," he said. "What we're trying to do is close that fissure."
This article, by Prashant Rao, was posted to Yahoo News, July 31, 2009
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Britain's troop presence in Iraq formally concluded Friday, ending six years of controversial military involvement in the country that began with the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Under a deal between Baghdad and London signed last year, the last of Britain's forces left this week ahead of the July 31 deadline for their withdrawal, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Baghdad told AFP.
A small contingent of around 100 naval trainers currently de-camped in Kuwait could return once Iraq's parliament has considered a new agreement between London and Baghdad. Parliament will reconvene in September.
"As our forces? existing permissions expire on July 31, we are now withdrawing the Royal Navy trainers while we discuss the position (of the new deal) with the Iraqi authorities," a spokesman for Britain's defence ministry said, adding that their departure was "unfortunate."
Friday's withdrawal deadline comes a day after Britain launched an inquiry into its role in the war. The probe will quiz key decision-makers, including ex-prime minister Tony Blair and be free to criticise government decisions.
Under Blair, Britain was a key ally of the United States when president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 to topple Saddam, in the belief he was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Britain's decision to take part was opposed from the start by a large part of the population including cabinet minister Robin Cook, whose prediction that WMDs would never be found proved correct.
London's troop numbers in the campaign were the second largest, peaking at 46,000 in March and April 2003 at the height of combat operations that resulted in the dictator's overthrow and eventual execution for crimes against humanity.
Britain last year decided to switch its military emphasis to the struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Baghdad and London signed a deal that all British soldiers in Iraq would withdraw completely by the end of July 2009 once they had completed their mission, which in recent months focused on training the Iraqi army.
The British embassy spokesman said the proposed deal for naval trainers to return has been endorsed by Iraq's cabinet and Britain will continue to offer training to Iraqi army officers as part of a NATO mission in the country and will provide training for Iraqi military personnel on courses in Britain.
The new agreement has faltered in parliament, however, as MPs loyal to radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have repeatedly walked out of debates on the accord, ensuring the assembly failed to reach the quorum required for a vote.
If approved, it would allow around 100 British sailors and five naval vessels to remain in Iraq until next summer in a "non-renewable" deal, according to government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh
Since the 2003 invasion, 179 British soldiers have died in Iraq.
Most of Britain's troops were based in the predominantly Shiite southern port city of Basra.
Basra, Iraq's third-largest city and a strategic oil hub, had been under British command since the 2003 invasion, but the province and its airport returned to Iraqi control earlier this year.
As well as training its soldiers, Britain was instrumental in the rebirth of the Iraqi navy.
The withdrawal comes 50 years after Britain's previous exit from Iraq, in May 1959, when the last soldiers left Habbaniyah base near the western town of Fallujah, ending a presence that dated back to 1918.
It also comes a month after US forces pulled out of Iraq's towns and cities as part of a deal between Baghdad and Washington that calls for all American soldiers to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
This analysis, by Mohammed A. Salih, was originally distributed by IPS, March 3, 2009
COLUMBIA, Missouri, U.S., Mar 3 (IPS) - When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan last week to pull out all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2010, the news did not generate much enthusiasm among Iraqi Kurds.
A simple math operation reveals the reasons behind the Kurds' anxiety - add the withdrawal plan to the recent staggering victory of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's supporters in the country's recent provincial elections.
Kurds are now counting on Obama's oft-repeated pledge for a "responsible" withdrawal, hoping their interests will be preserved. But a review of statements by Kurdish and U.S. officials reveals the two sides are mostly talking at cross purposes when they speak of "responsibility."
Recently, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani gave his interpretation of the term "responsible."
"I restate that the role of the United States should be to help resolve the problems in Iraq such as Article 140, the oil law, and the law on the distribution of its oil wealth," Barzani told reporters in the northern city of Irbil, tallying the list of contentious issues between Kurds and Iraqi government.
Article 140 refers to a constitutional provision to settle the critical issue of disputed territories between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs, including the gold-prize contested city of Kirkuk which is afloat on some of the world’s largest oil reserves.
But for the U.S., "responsibility" appears to mean making sure Iraqi security forces can take over the task of protecting the country against rebellious forces once it leaves. To achieve that end, the U.S. is equipping and training Iraqi security forces. But this is hardly reassuring to Kurds, many of whom see a conflict with Baghdad forthcoming in some form in the future.
When asked whether the U.S. will act to resolve the problems between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds before leaving the country, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood replied: "It's not really up to the United States to reassure anyone" and that Iraqis had to work out their differences through their "democracy."
But the balance of power in Baghdad is quickly tilting toward forces which Kurds do not perceive as amenable. Just shortly before Obama officially declared the U.S. withdrawal plan, the Kurds’ number one opponent in Baghdad, PM Maliki, found himself in a boosted position as his coalition of the State of Law scored a quite unexpected victory in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, the country’s most populous city of around six million. With Kurds and Baghdad at odds over several crucial issues, Obama’s withdrawal plan would only further strengthen Maliki’s position.
Disputes between the country’s Kurds and central government go back to the early days of the foundation of modern Iraq by British colonialism in 1920s. At the heart of contention are large chunks of territory marking the separation line between Kurdish and Arab Iraq.
Iraqi governments, most notably under Saddam Hussein, expelled tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkomans from those areas and replaced them with Arab settlers. While Kurds want to annex these areas to their autonomous region known as Kurdistan, the vast majority of the country’s Arab political parties vehemently oppose such plans. Kurdish attempts to expand their federal region have sparked fierce reactions in Baghdad.
Spearheading a growing trend in Iraqi politics to abort Kurdish efforts and stalling the establishment of new autonomous regions is Shia Prime Minister Maliki. He has called for further centralisation of power in Baghdad, accusing Kurds of going overboard with their demands.
Besides strengthening Maliki’s position, the provincial elections delivered a major blow to the Kurds’ only powerful ally in Arab Iraq that advocates federalism: the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, previously known to be the most powerful Shia Arab party in the country.
With their power in Baghdad thought to be in decline, Kurdish leaders are these days loudly beating their anti-Maliki drum to draw international attention to their problems with the rest of Iraq. PM Barzani told the Associated Press last month that he thinks Maliki is seeking a "confrontation" with the Kurds.
Kurdish officials have even reportedly called on Obama to appoint a special envoy to resolve their long-standing problems with Iraqi Arabs.
One Kurdish official took it even further, telling the Associated Press that al-Maliki was a "second Saddam." The alleged statement by Kamal Kirkuki, Kurdish parliament deputy speaker, was so ill-calculated that he had to issue a statement denying that he ever gave an interview to the AP.
As tensions appear to escalate, a consensus is taking shape among many analysts that things are moving toward a possible flare-up point.
"The threat (of conflict) is real," Kirmanj Gundi, head of the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) in North America, told IPS in a phone interview from Nashville, Tennessee, where the largest Kurdish community in North America resides.
"It’s unfortunate that the Kurdish leadership became more vocal about this only recently," Gundi said. KNC is a non-profit organisation lobbying for Kurdish interests in the U.S. and Canada.
But concerns about a possible outbreak of conflict between Kurds and the Iraqi government have gone far beyond Kurdish circles.
"It is critical for the U.S. to start thinking about this now because as we proceed with the disengagement, our influence will wane in Iraq," said Henry Barkey from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of the need for the U.S. to address existing problems between Kurds and the Iraqi government before it leaves the war-torn country.
Barkey authored a report for the Washington-based think-tank on how to prevent conflict over Kurdistan. "Therefore, we need to hit the iron when it is hot. And so, it is very important to help and we haven't done this in the past, to help look at some of these issues," Barkey said on the sidelines of an event at Carnegie to discuss his report last month.
While Washington appears indifferent, at least in its official discourse, to calls for helping forge a common understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, tensions are continuing to build.
In an attempt to flex its muscles, the Iraqi government recently announced it will not recognise the visas stamped by Kurdish government on the passports of foreign visitors. It also tried to send an army division to take over security tasks in Kirkuk but had to halt the plan for the time being as it met stiff Kurdish opposition.
The coming two years - from now until the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq - will be decisive in determining how the Kurds’ relations with the central government and the country’s Arabs will turn out. But all signs are that Iraq is far from a long-term stability.
This article, by juan Cole, was posted to Informed Comment, February 5, 2009
It is being alleged by US pundits that the outcome of the provincial elections in Iraq, as far as it is known, indicates a defeat for the religious parties and for Iran.
This allegation is not true. In the Shiite provinces, the coalition of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Islamic Mission Party (Da'wa) will continue to rule. Both parties are close to Tehran, and leaders of both spent time in exile in Iran. Da'wa appears to have become more popular than ISCI. But Da'wa was founded in the late 1950s to work for an Islamic republic in Iraq, and current leader Nuri al-Maliki has excellent relations with the Iranian leadership.
Da'wa is more "lay" in the composition of its leadership, which is made up of lawyers, physicians and other white collar types. ISCI has more clerics at the top, though it also comprises technocrats such as VP Adil Abdul Mahdi. But Da'wa will need Iranian economic and development aid just as much as previous governments did.
In the Sunni provinces there appears to have been a turn to more secular parties, but neither the Sunni fundamentalists nor the Arab nationalists have much use for Iran to begin with.
The Kurdish leadership is also quite close to Iran. They will have elections in May.
This article, by Rochdi Younsi, was posted to eurasia.foriegnpolicy.comn, February 5, 2009
As U.S. combat troops begin a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, a growing number of Iraqi politicians, militia groups, tribal leaders, and others will compete to fill the power vacuum that Americans leave behind. Last weekend's provincial elections across the country have exposed some of the emerging tensions within Sunni and Shia communities.
Most Sunnis boycotted the most recent provincial elections in 2005. But tribal leaders in Sunni-dominated al Anbar province successfully mobilized the community to vote this time, and leaders of the Islamic Iraqi Party (IIP) are determined that control of the provincial council will allow them to claim the speakership of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad. Official voting results won't be announced for several weeks, but IIP members have already declared victory in several districts.
In response, Sheikh Ahmad Abu Risha, leader of the collection of Sunni tribes known as the Awakening Council, has charged the IIP with fraud and threatens to take up arms. Without intense mediation by both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government, these rival Sunni factions may well provoke new turmoil across Iraq's central provinces.
Local authorities imposed an overnight curfew Tuesday to reduce the risk of armed clashes, but there is little assurance that Iraq's central government and U.S. forces can quell the threat of violence indefinitely -- particularly since the Awakening Council is armed with weapons provided by the U.S. in exchange for cooperation in targeting foreign-born al Qaeda-inspired militants. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki will try to limit any outbreak of violence, but other Shia leaders in Baghdad will view divisions among Sunnis as an opportunity to consolidate their influence.
Then there's the risk of violence among Shia groups. Early (and incomplete) results suggest that al Maliki's State of Law Coalition leads in Iraq's southern Shia-dominated provinces. Until now, the prime minister has depended on leading Shia factions for support. Victory for his coalition could shift the local balance of power in al Maliki's favor.
Why might that provoke violence? Because members of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Fadhila party, both Shia-dominated groups, fear that al Maliki means to enact constitutional reforms that would strengthen the power of the central government at the expense of local authorities and replace the current parliamentary system with a strong presidential regime. Several Shia political parties worry that this plan would reverse the political gains they've made through greater representation in parliament and thwart their plans for regional autonomy (and tighter control of local oil wealth).
Al Maliki has yet to publicly propose a specific plan, but he'll face strong resistance if he backs any idea that strengthens Baghdad at the expense of provincial governments.
This article, by Leila Fadel and Jamal Naji, was published by McClatchy's Washington Bureau, February 4, 2009
BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials moved to quell rising tensions between rival Sunni Muslim Arab factions in once-restive Anbar province Wednesday by recounting some of the ballots that were cast in last Saturday's provincial elections, even before the official results are known.
The Independent High Electoral Commission in Baghdad said it had acted after Sunni tribal leaders accused the province's ruling Iraqi Islamic Party of rigging the vote.
"The committee came in today to investigate the allegations of forgery," said Aqeel al Mashhadani, the spokesman for the Independent High Electoral Commission in Anbar province. "They recounted several boxes today."
Many signs of voting fraud were reported. Poll workers at five centers told McClatchy that they saw Iraqi Islamic Party loyalists filling out blank ballots for registered voters who didn't show and stuffing the ballot box. In one case, a poll worker said he was asked to fill out the ballots himself.
In another, a polling center employee said that he was ordered to leave at the end of the day so that party loyalists could fill in the ballots of voters who didn't show up.
The formal accusations of vote rigging came from Ahmed Abu Risha and other tribal leaders. Abu Risha — the Anbar head of a political movement, Iraq's Awakening Council, that grew out of a tribal group formed to battle militants — is widely credited with pacifying the province that was once a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and al Qaida in Iraq.
At a news conference Wednesday at his compound, Abu Risha brandished polling-result forms that he charged had been altered and demanded that fraudulent counts be disallowed.
"We will not fight with weapons; we will fight with these documents," he said.
The city of Ramadi, at one time a killing field for U.S. soldiers who patrolled the hostile streets and deadly for residents, now is relatively calm. If Saturday's elections aren't considered credible, however, that could ignite a new round of violence.
Nearly all residents of the Sunni Arab province boycotted national elections in 2005, denouncing what they said was an illegitimate vote held under U.S. occupation, and many joined the armed resistance against a foreign army on their soil. Saturday's provincial elections were the first in which they'd participated.
Tribal leaders such as Abu Risha now think that they're entitled to political representation in view of the sacrifices they made to cleanse the province of al Qaida in Iraq and other militants. His brother, the former head of the movement, was killed.
However, the Iraqi Islamic Party, which took power in the province by default because it was the only Sunni Arab group that participated in the 2005 election, also thinks that it took big risks for a democratic outcome. The party, which has ruled the province since then with a governor appointed by the provincial council, has little popular standing with many Sunnis, who consider it unrepresentative, corrupt and linked to violent groups.
Complaints about the election have been gathering force since Monday, when tribal gunmen took to the streets in what security officials said was a protest of fraudulent voting results. Security officials imposed a curfew.
Abu Risha said Wednesday, however, that the gunmen weren't protesting but celebrating what they thought was a win for their movement.
Saleh al Mutlaq, the head of another Sunni party, the Gathering of the Iraqi National Projects, said in an interview after returning from Anbar province that tribal leaders were outraged at the idea that the Iraqi Islamic Party would continue to govern there.
"Unless the electoral commission treats the complaints fairly, conflict is coming to Anbar," he said. "They cheated, and the tribal leaders will not allow them to govern them."
Security officials in Anbar braced for possible violence.
"We will not allow the province to return to square one," said Gen. Tariq Yousef, Anbar's police chief. "We will not be merciful. We will not be merciful with those who violate the law no matter who they are."
The poll workers who told McClatchy that they'd witnessed fraudulent voting all spoke on the condition of anonymity, afraid of retaliation.
One employee said he was forced to enter votes on ballots for the party by the head of the center, a party loyalist.
"The news is bad," he recalled the official telling him, referring to the party's number of voters. The official said he'd watch for observers so the man wouldn't get caught.
The man said he told the official that he was afraid, and the head of the center responded with one remark.
"They need to send complaints, and this can only be sent through me," he said. "Don't be afraid."
A request for a response to the accusations e-mailed to the head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Tareq al Hashemi, who's also one of Iraq's vice presidents, wasn't answered Wednesday.
This article was originally posted to antiwar.news, February 4, 2009
The results of Iraq’s provincial elections could be released as soon as tomorrow, and many in the government have praised it as a rousing success. But while it has been presented as a testament to the progress made by the United States in propping up the Iraqi government, serious irregularities have left the results in serious doubt, and violence may result.
The US warns that those who lose in the elections may take out their frustrations with violence, and Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin says “my hope is that those who are not elected will support those who are.”
But there is more at issue than just sour grapes. Tens of thousands of voters were turned away on election day, and a top Sunni leader claims to have hundreds of documents proving electoral fraud in Anbar. The number of complaints has risen to the point that the Iraqi electoral commission is promising to investigate.
While hardly the only place where fraud is being alleged, Anbar seems to be the biggest flashpoint. Officials imposed a curfew over protests, and the government has announced it will recount the ballots.