Thursday, November 29, 2007

Civil War In Northern Iraq

November 29, 2007: Iraqi Kurds are reporting that PKK leaders in Iraq are increasingly afraid of arrest or capture. Specifically, the PKK commanders believe that Turkish forces are cooperating with some Iraqi Kurd organizations. Here's the scenario: If the Turks move on PKK bases or camps, the Iraqi Kurds and the PKK leaders attempt to sneak away, the Iraqi Kurds will detain them. One report cropped up that PKK fighters have already broken up into smaller groups and are leaving bases in northern Iraq for safe-haven in southern Iraq. Some are allegedly moving into camps close to the Iraq-Iran border. It looks like the PKK are not anticipating a Turkish strike as much as they fear Iraqi police or military cordons. There is also another possibility, that these reports are Iraqi "spin." The Iraqis want to convince the Turks that they are attempting to control the PKK. However, the "spin scenario" isn't very likely. The Turks have been quite willing to accuse the Iraqi government of failing to act – and at the moment they aren't doing that. Turkey has received promises from Iraqi senior officials (including Iraqi Kurdish leaders) that they will act to stop the PKK from launching attacks into Turkey.

November 27, 2007: The Turkish Army has begun a new psychological warfare campaign. Turkish aircraft are "leafleting" – they are dropping propaganda leaflets on PKK base areas in northern Iraq. The leaflets promise any PKK fighters who return to Turkey and surrender that they will "be welcomed" and treated decently.

November 26, 2007: The anti-Iran Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (the acronym is PJAK, or sometimes PEJAK), accused the Iraqi Kurdish regional government of "blockading" (cordoning) routes into the Khandil Mountains. The PJAK is an ally of the PKK (more accurately, it's the PKK operating in Iranian Kurdistan). A PJAK spokesman demanded that the Iraqi government "reopen all roads" into the mountain region. Another PJAK statement essentially accused the Iraqi Kurdish government of being "anti-Kurd" and "anti-nationalist" (ie, anti-Kurd nationalist). These are heavy duty accusations on the part of PJAK. They are another indication that the Iraqis are taking some actions to limit PKK (and PJAK) movement within Iraq.

Strategy Page

Sunnis ink pact to work with U.S. forces in Iraq

HAWIJA, Iraq - Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces yesterday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

But the ability of extremists to strike near Baghdad continues. A woman wearing an explosives-rigged belt blew herself up Tuesday near an American patrol in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, the military announced. The blast - a rare attack by a female suicide bomber - wounded seven U.S. troops and five Iraqis.

Iraqi lawmakers, meanwhile, briefly boycotted the start of a legislative session, demanding that U.S. forces ease checkpoint searches as they try to enter the fortified Green Zone, where the parliament building is located.

The new Sunni alliance - called the single largest volunteer mobilization since the war began - covers the "last gateway" for groups including al-Qaida in Iraq that are seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in western Anbar province and later in and around Baghdad. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias - mainly Sunnis - that had turned against al-Qaida and other groups.

Extremists have sought new footholds in northern areas once loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baath party as the U.S.-led gains have increased in central regions.

The ceremony to pledge the 6,000 new fighters was presided over by a dozen robed sheiks, who signed the contract on behalf of tribesmen at a small U.S. outpost in north-central Iraq. For about $275 a month - nearly the salary of a typical Iraqi policeman - the tribesmen will man about 200 security checkpoints beginning Dec. 7, supplementing hundreds of Iraqi forces already in the area.

About 77,000 Iraqis nationwide, mostly Sunnis, have broken with the insurgents and joined U.S.-backed self-defense groups. Those groups have played a major role in the lull in violence: 648 Iraqi civilians have been killed or found dead so far this month, according to Associated Press figures. This compares with 2,155 in May as the so-called "surge" of nearly 30,000 additional American troops gained momentum.

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq also have dropped sharply, with 34 deaths so far this month compared to 38 in October. In June, 101 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq.

Village mayors and others who signed yesterday's agreement say about 200 militants have sought refuge in the area, about 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk on the edge of northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.


Car bombs found in Iraq Sunni leader's complex

BAGHDAD, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces found and detonated two car bombs in the Baghdad office complex of the leader of the country's main Sunni Arab bloc on Thursday, a security spokesman said.

Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi told Reuters no one was hurt, but the explosions destroyed Adnan al-Dulaimi's office. It was not immediately clear how the cars came to be in Dulaimi's complex

What would Jesus do?

That question was asked yesterday at the Republican Presidential Debate on CNN, and I do not think anyone answered it correctly.

I would suggest that Jesus would be in favor of the death penalty as prescribed by the old testament as he was an observant Jew. And in the case of a criminal offence not covered by "The Law" but part of the penal code of a government, as he would have understood it, he might suggest too "leave to Cesar what is Cesar's"

How Much Safer is Baghdad Now?

"By the way, is it not curious how the U.S. media for the large part has conveniently ignored the so-called "friendship and cooperation treaty" signed by the U.S. and Maliki's government? It passed at a time when the majority of Iraqi parliament opposes an extension of US occupation without a clear timetable for withdrawal. I thought the American line all along was that improvement in security, if it can be called so, would signal the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, not extend it to years with plans for permanent bases and "investment" opportunities. Right? "
Healing Iraq

Maliki Loves "Family Guy"

"Some Iraqi bloggers have argued that pre- and post-Saddam Iraq are exactly the same. Although this is, in my view, a minority position, we should nonetheless search for any instances that would prove this idea wrong. M.H.Z. is an Iraqi blogger (and currently living in Iraq) and is upset with the lack of political progress in Iraq. Using his very good English skills and a fine sense of sarcasm, he recently imagined some of PM Maliki's daily activities ("Seriously, let’s give them a chance and be in their shoes for a week"). Questioned by RhusLancia on the comments page about how he had gained such intimate access to the prime minister, H.M.Z. said that he "threw a small mic through the front window.""

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Credit where credit is due

You know I am always bitching and screaming about what a failure Bush has been, but I have to hand it to him this time. What timing, even I could not have pulled this off.. He has effectively divided our enemies and now has them arguing with eachother just at the same time that their warring armies are in retreat.

I hate to say it, the little fool is a genius.

Turkish Army Urges Kurds to Surrender

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Turkish military, massed in increasing numbers for a possible assault on Kurdish rebels in Iraq, has begun dropping leaflets urging rebels to surrender and "be welcomed with love," an official said Tuesday.

In recent weeks, Turkey has moved more soldiers and artillery units to the border with Iraq for a possible cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebel bases.

At the same time, with an amnesty in effect, army helicopters have dropped thousands of leaflets on mountain paths used by the rebels to infiltrate Turkey, a government official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He did not say when the campaign began.

"Make your decision and leave the organization. Go to the nearest military unit or police station. You will be welcomed with love," said one leaflet found by a villager on a mountain path near the border town of Cukurca, the private Dogan news agency reported Tuesday.

The amnesty program has existed for 17 years but has failed to lure most rebels into giving up. The announcement of the new campaign coincided with the 29th anniversary of the founding of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The leaflet, bearing a photograph of a rebel and a smiling Turkish commando, promised amnesty for rebels who have voluntarily left the group and are not engaged in fighting. Rebel leaders who share critical information about the group also qualify for the amnesty.

The leaflets were dropped from military helicopters taking off from a base near Cukurca, where the borders of Iran, Iraq and Turkey converge, Dogan reported.

In another leaflet, the news agency reported, the telephone numbers of police and paramilitary police were listed, along with a slogan: "The road to freedom is very close."

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish southeast since 1984, when it launched its first attack on a military outpost.

Public pressure on the government to attack rebel bases in northern Iraq has built up as rebel attacks have increased.

The United States, however, worries that a Turkish incursion could bring instability to the north — a region that has been the calmest part of Iraq — and could set a precedent for other countries, such as Iran, that have conflicts with Kurdish rebels.

Washington has agreed to share intelligence about rebel positions in the region. And the Iraqi Kurdish administration in northern Iraq has promised to prevent the rebels from attacking Turkey.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said in the U.S. that Iraqi Kurdish authorities have not taken any "satisfactory measures" against the PKK so far, the state-run Anatolia news agency said Tuesday.


Boy these people live inside their own little world, with the curtains drawn tight. How did we ever end up allied to these people.

UPDATE:Iraq KRG Oil Min: To Sign 20 E&P Contracts By Early '08

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The Kurdistan Regional Government is expecting to sign exploration and production contracts with around 20 more companies by the first half of next year, KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami said Tuesday.
The new contracts would come as tension escalates in Iraq over how the country's massive oil and gas resources should be managed, with the central government - backed by the U.S. administration - pushing for more centralized control.

The relationship between the autonomous Kurdish government and Iraq's federal government deteriorated Tuesday as Iraq's oil minister accused the Kurds of using military force to prevent Baghdad from developing an oil field in the north of the country. A KRG spokesman said "no one" was blocking any development in the region.

Iraq Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani has called contracts the KRG has already signed with companies such as TNK BP (TNBP.RS), a Russian company in which BP Plc (BP) holds 50%, and OMV (OMV.VI), "illegal," while Hawrami says the regional governments are allowed to sign deals under the current constitution.

"Dr. Sharistani, he is wrong, plainly wrong," Hawrami said. "We are a federal region...(he) can't do anything...we don't need his approval," he said.

Speaking at a press briefing here, Hawrami said that several of the new contracts could be signed by mid-December, following a trip to Texas. He declined to comment on which companies the KRG was planning to sign contracts with. "Significant companies are negotiating with us now," he said.

Once the contracts are all signed - doubling the number of firms currently in the Northern Iraq region - around $10 billion in exploration and production investment could lead to an boost of around one million barrels a day in the long term, Hawrami said. The KRG was also planning for an additional $4 billion in downstream investments to help solve power and fuel shortages.

Any oil produced in the region could be shipped out of the 1.6 million barrel a day Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, but will still require an export permit, raising additional legal hurdles for the KRG and project operators.

Analysts have said that larger oil majors such as ExxonMobil (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) have shied away from signing deals with the KRG for fear of alienating the oil ministry in Baghdad as the central government gears up to offer contracts on some of the massive prospects in southern Iraq.

Also, the larger companies have wanted to avoid the legal quagmire that any contracts face as the country tries to establish a national hydrocarbons law. Development of that legislation - which would establish federal rules for the management of the country's resources and revenues from oil and gas - has faced tough political hurdles raised by regional and ethnic disputes.

A main point of difference between the KRG and Baghdad is that the Kurds are willing to give foreign energy companies more attractive contractual terms than Baghdad to work in the country, saying Iraq needs the investment, know-how and technology.

Hawrami said the production sharing agreement model the KRG prefers for contracts will ultimately give Iraqis a better rate of return, particularly as many state-run projects are likely to run over schedule and budget, than Baghdad's desire for more national oil company control.

KRG's strategy has been to focus on second-tier companies, as larger companies haven't expressed interest in the smaller blocks drawn by the regional government.

Some Iraqi government and industry officials have said they would blacklist any companies that signed contracts with the KRG.

Hawrami said if Iraq could agree on the Hydrocarbon law, production could rise from its current levels oscillating around 2 million barrels a day to as much as 8 million barrels a day.


Iraq must seize this precious chance for peace

A change in US tactics, and the Sunni tribal uprising in An­bar province, have sharply reduced the level of violence in some important parts of Iraq. The violence and numbers of dead are down to the levels of spring 2006, before the escalation of civil violence that tore the country apart. The worst fighting is now concentrated in and around the mixed areas in Diyala. Large parts of Baghdad and many formerly hostile towns in the west are relatively secure. The number of improvised explosive device attacks has also declined. How much of that is due to Iranian restraint, improved US tactics and technology or less active Shia hostility to coalition forces is as unclear as how long the drop will last.

US and Iraqi forces are scoring important, if regional, tactical victories. However, these cover only western and central Iraq and may well be temporary. For all the claims that the “surge” worked, it is clear that it did not work purely on its own. The build-up of US forces and change in tactics from staying in bases to “win and hold” have accomplished a great deal. However, it was only the combination of the tribal uprising in Anbar, the build-up of troops and the change in US tactics that prevented al-Qaeda and its supporters from dispersing to the areas around Baghdad and intensifying the fighting in central Iraq.

The US team in Iraq deserves great credit for reacting to the Sunni tribal uprising in Anbar, supporting and co-opting it and broadening it to other areas. But that effort may be wasted if the Iraqi government continues to equivocate in allowing the Sunnis to join the police and security services, and if Iraq’s factions cannot agree on how to share the nation’s power and wealth. Everything depends on ­converting a US-led military success into Iraqi political accommodation.

Yet, while the US and Iraqi forces have scored gains in Baghdad, and west and central Iraq, these are fragile and need to be consolidated by bringing Arab Sunnis fully back into Iraq as a nation. The need for decisive political action goes beyond the uprising in Anbar. Unlike US estimates, Iraqi stat­istics do not show a drop in the level of violence in the Baghdad area. The United Nations estimates that the number of displaced refugees continues to grow. Moreover, Baghdad is kept secure only by US force. The Shia militias are largely intact. Without political progress and a US military presence, the result could be a forced Shia takeover of the capital.

The coalition security effort has virtually collapsed in the south. Southern Iraq is now under the control of rival Shia factions and the British-led forces have withdrawn. The US lacks the force strength to intervene in the south if it wanted to, and a Shia-dominated central government will never let US forces take on this mission. Iranian gangs and religious extremist influence are growing in every province in the south. These will continue to grow unless a central government emerges that is both strong enough and willing to act. Iraq’s economy can never properly grow unless an area that contains its only port, has a porous border with Iran and produces 80 per cent of its oil export earnings is part of the country and not a Shia enclave.

The surge and tribal uprising have also had no impact on Arab-Kurdish tensions in the north. These were getting worse before the current confrontation between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey and remain serious along the entire ethnic fault line from Mosul to Kirkuk. The risk of some form of Kurdish separatism or partition remains serious. It could also turn Iraq’s landlocked Kurds into an isolated mini-state with hostile powers on every border and turn any form of US protection of Iraq’s Kurds into a strategic liability.

US policymakers and Iraq’s leaders need to understand the realities. The tactical victory they have secured in a third of the country could lead to the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq and of the most violent and extreme Sunni Islamists. That prospect provides Iraq’s leaders with a real opportunity for political accommodation.

Only Iraq’s leaders can prevent an escalation of the other sectarian and ethnic civil struggles that have already displaced more than 4m people, roughly 15 per cent of the population, and could still tear the country apart. Without more rapid political progress, Iraq’s leaders will waste a priceless opportunity. They will turn our victory into their defeat and into years of further suffering for every ordinary Iraqi.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Republicans Threaten to Cut Aid to Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican senators said that unless Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki makes more political progress by January, the U.S. should consider pulling political or financial support for his government.

The stern warnings, coming from Sens. Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss Monday, are an indication that while GOP patience on the war has greatly increased this fall because of security gains made by the military, it isn't bottomless.

"I do expect them to deliver," Graham, R-S.C., said in a phone interview upon returning from a Thanksgiving trip to Iraq. "What would happen for me if there's no progress on reconciliation after the first of the year, I would be looking at ways to invest our money into groups that can deliver."

Chambliss, R-Ga., who traveled with Graham as part of a larger congressional delegation, said lawmakers might even call for al-Maliki's ouster if Baghdad didn't reach agreement on at least some of the major issues seen as key to tamping down sectarian violence.

"If we don't see positive results by the end of the year I think you'll probably see a strong message coming out of Congress calling for a change in administration," he said in a conference call with reporters.

Republican support for the war is crucial, especially in the Senate where Democrats hold a narrow majority and routinely come up eight or so votes short when trying to pass anti-war legislation.

While GOP support stumbled this summer as voter opposition to the war grew, Republicans have since rallied behind President Bush's Iraq policies because of a sharp reduction in violence largely credited to a buildup of 30,000 additional troops. U.S. combat deaths in Iraq stood at 38 last month, down from 126 in May, 101 in June and 65 in September.

Congressional Democrats contend the troop buildup is only a temporary fix and that security will deteriorate again after the military reduces its force levels, which it plans to do this year.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said he wants to withdraw the 30,000 additional forces by July 1.

Graham and Chambliss said the recent military gains are remarkable, but they agree with Democrats that the political progress has been disappointing. Graham, an early ally of Bush's troop buildup, said he would lose confidence in al-Maliki's government if it could not pass by January a law that would ease curbs on former Baathists from holding government jobs.

Noting the large amounts of reconstruction and other economic aid provided to the central government, Graham said that if progress remains stagnant U.S. might want to consider "putting our money into some of the provinces where they have reconciled."

"There are no more excuses as far as I'm concerned not to achieve some benchmark success," he said.

Both senators expressed optimism that Baghdad would rise to the challenge.

"Time will tell," Chambliss said. "They have committed to doing everything they can," he added.

On their trip to Iraq, Chambliss and Graham were joined by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Utah's Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman.


Dammed Republicans learn quick, don't they?

Even Rush went out of his way today on the show to point out that Rummy's strategy, and it's implementation on the ground by his generals had failed.

It only took them four years, millions of dead and displaced and a few trillion dollars to figure it all out.

Vote republican.

Iraq and US look beyond the war

BAGHDAD: Iraq's Government is prepared to allow the US a long-term troop presence in the country and preferential treatment for American investments in return for a guarantee of security including defence against internal coups.

The US President, George Bush, and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, signed a declaration of principles during a video conference as part of an effort to move forward 4½ years after a US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The proposal is one of the first indications that the US and Iraq are beginning to explore what their relationship might be when the US significantly reduces its troop presence.

The declaration calls for the current United Nations mandate to be extended by one year and then replaced at the end of next year by a bilateral pact governing the economic, political and security aspects of the relationship.

"Iraq and the United States now have a common sheet of music with which to begin the negotiations," Mr Bush's co-ordinator on Iraq and Afghanistan, General Douglas Lute, said.

Those negotiations will address thorny issues such as what mission US forces in Iraq will pursue, whether they will establish permanent bases, and what kind of immunity, if any, should be granted to private security contractors such as Blackwater USA. It also will canvas investment preferences, according to two unnamed Iraqi officials.

Preferential treatment for US investors could provide a huge windfall if Iraq can achieve enough stability to exploit its vast oil resources.

Such a deal would also enable the US to maintain leverage against Iranian expansion amid growing fears about Tehran's nuclear aspirations.

Members of the Iraqi parliament were briefed on the plan during a three-hour closed meeting on Monday, during which MPs loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr objected to the formula.

The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and American troops would relocate to bases outside the cities.

Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 US troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.

American troops and other foreign forces now operate in Iraq under a UN Security Council mandate, which has been renewed annually since 2003.

Iraqi officials have said they want the next renewal - which must be approved by the UN Security Council by the end of this year - to be the last.

The Iraqis also want an end to all UN-ordered restrictions on Iraq's sovereignty, the Iraqi officials said.


The Wake-Up Call

"It's taken me a while to write about this. Never had the time, never had the will to do so. I spent Thanksgiving in a guard tower, doing a lot of thinking.

"Suspect, what are you thankful for?"

I drew a blank. Let me back up.

We lost three guys. I'm sparing the specifics and the backgrounds and the things that make you go, "Oh man...that's so fucked...that's terrible man."

This place, this new area of operations was almost like a vacation for us. Only a few wounds now and then, nothing too major for the most part. Then the fates backhanded us, hard.

That's all I've got to say about that for now, maybe forever."
The Unlikely Soldier

Running on Java and Jolt

""It is impossible to know who to trust here - the best advice is to trust no one"

That is surely the best advice I got from the outgoing team, and if I didn't hear it from CI-Roller dude, I am sure he would have said it. Everyone here you work with wants something from you and has some scam they are trying to run. People show up every day with some urgent information we should drop everything in order to discuss. Most of it is crap, or recycled intel they were able to sell to the last rotation, or the FOB down the road. Or worse, they are from the "enemy/insurgent/AIF/ACF/freedom fighter/Abu dirt-bag/take-your-pick" and they are trying to figure out what we already know."
Sergeant Grumpy

My war is gone…I miss it so.

"Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What a crazy notion.
For what kind of madman would miss the war and all its ugliness? After such a hard and troubling assimilation back into a “normal” society you think I’d be happy, no giddy, to be back among the safety and the sanity of a place called home. So why do I feel so out of place sometimes?
Why does a smell or a sound bring me crashing back to a time best forgotten? In the beginning I figured out that instead of remembering those events as they happened I was actually reliving them and all the pain, anger and fear was twisting my guts and my mind into some cosmic pretzel until soon I was wondering which reality and which world to believe in.
The mind is such a strange and beautiful thing. The logical side kept saying “Look, we’re home, it’s all over!” but somehow the other…darker side, whispered of the things not said, the things not easily conveyed at cocktail parties and of the things that still go bump in the night. It was much easier to go back to Afghanistan than it was to return home. Perhaps it’s because we revert back to our roots of savagery easier then to this thin veneer of western twentieth century society."
My War Stories

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saudi Says Rape Victim Was Adulteress

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi Arabia's Justice Ministry said a girl who it sentenced to jail time and flogging after being gang raped by seven men was an adulteress who invited the attack because at the time she was partially dressed in a parked car with her lover.
The statement from the ministry, carried by the Saudi Press Agency late Saturday, defended the court's decision to sentence the girl to six months in prison and 200 lashes for violating the country's strict sex segregation laws.

It also sought to ease international outrage over the case by discrediting the woman who had told reporters earlier that she was meeting a friend from high school when the attack occurred.

"The Saudi justice minister expressed his regret about the media reports over the role of the women in this case which put out false information and wrongly defended her," the statement said. "The charged girl is a married woman who confessed to having an affair with the man she was caught with."

Known only as the "Girl from Qatif," the 19-year-old rape victim said she was a newlywed who was meeting a high school friend in his car to retrieve a picture of herself from him when the attack occurred in the eastern city of Qatif. While in a car with him, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area where others waited, and then she and her companion were both raped.

The ministry's latest account of the incident alleges that the woman and her lover met in his car for a tryst "in a dark place where they stayed for a while."

"Then they were spotted by the other defendants as the woman was in an indecent condition as she had tossed away her clothes, then the assault occurred on her and the man," the statement added.

It said the sentence of prison and lashes, handed down last week following an appeal, was legal and followed the "the book of God and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad," noting that she had "confessed to doing what God has forbidden."

The woman and her husband were "convinced of the verdict and agreed to it," it said.

The girl was initially sentenced to prison and 90 lashes for being alone with a man not related to her. When her lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, appealed the sentence, he was removed from the case, his license was suspended and the penalty was doubled to 200 lashes.

The increase in sentence received heavy coverage in the international media and prompted expressions of astonishment from the U.S. government. Canada called it "barbaric."

Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives. Also, women in Saudi Arabia are often sentenced to flogging and even death for adultery and other crimes.

The seven men convicted of gang raping the woman were given prison sentences of two to nine years. The initial sentences for the men ranged from 10 months to five years in prison.

The case has sparked rare domestic debate about Saudi Arabia's legal system, which gives judges wide discretion in sentencing criminals, rules of evidence are shaky and sometimes no lawyers are present.

Justice in Saudi Arabia is administered by a system of religious courts and judges appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council. Those courts and judges have complete discretion to set sentences, except in cases where Sharia outlines a punishment, such as capital crimes.

That means that no two judges would likely hand down the same verdict for similar crimes. A rapist, for instance, could receive anywhere from a light or no sentence to death, depending on the judge's discretion.


Dammed religion of peace! But why was her boyfriend raped too. I don't see the connection to her being a harlot, and her boyfriend getting up the ass?

British Versus the Americans: The War Over Strategy

"Attacks perpetrated against the British in and near Basra are way down, as are attacks perpetrated against the Marines in Anbar. There is currently a debate at the highest levels of military leadership as to why this has occurred and how these seemingly contradictory metrics are related to strategy. The British have de-escalated, while the U.S. has escalated - or so the problem is posed. But before we engage this debate, some background information is necessary to set the stage for the discussion as it applies to Afghanistan where the British are struggling. Far from a merely academic fancy for military strategists and historians, the answers to this dilemma not only develops the narrative for history, but this narrative also trains future military leadership. The answers also may literally decide whether the campaign in Afghanistan can be successful."
Captain's Journal

Happy Thanksgiving: Baqubah Update

"Happy Thanksgiving from Iraq!
I had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with General Petraeus. Very interesting series of helicopter flights to several bases. Bottom line is that progress is clear and real, but there are tough days ahead and al Qaeda, for instance, is far from dead. The mood is of cautious optimism, with a concern that some of the very positive media lately might set expectations too high. (That’s right: many military leaders are concerned that the media lately might be too positive.)

Bottom line is that I am more optimistic than ever before, but I share that caution. It’s obvious, too, that the tough fighting is not over."
Michael Yon

Afghanistan and Afghans; Random Observations

" know that I've talked about Afghanistan and how beautiful it is. I've also talked about Afghans. Forgive me if I repeat myself on any of these observations. I'm just kind of going through things that I notice about both.

There are more rocks in Afghanistan than anywhere else on earth. In places, you would swear that they are actually farming them. This is the easiest place on Earth to roll an ankle.

I can't speak for the rest of the country, but there seems to be plenty of water in the area where I work. The local farmers manage it really well; they direct and divert the water to where they need it. Afghans are more likely to kill each other over water than any other single reason. We have seen a group of men rush up to a man who was hacking into a small ditch with running water in it and beat the tar out of him with shovels because he was apparently violating local water policy.

Wow... what if your neighbors came over and beat you with garden implements because your toilet was running all night or you had a sprinkler on?"
Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure

Friday, November 23, 2007

Iraq invited to attend Annapolis conference

Baghdad, Nov 23, 2007 (VOI)- Iraqi Foreign Ministry on Friday said that it received an invitation to attend the Annapolis Middle East peace conference, to be held in the United States on November 27.

"The ministry received an invitation sent to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari from his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice to take part in the conference," the ministry's deputy minister for political affairs Labied Abbawi told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

"The government will discuss this invitation and our participation will be a political and moral one," he asserted.

"On Iraq's position regarding the issue, he said we support the Palestinian government," the official also said, noting that solving the Israeli-Palestinian cause will positively affect the stability in the whole region.

The U.S. State Department formally announced on Tuesday that the United States has invited representatives of nearly 50 countries and institutions - including Saudi Arabia and Syria - to sit down with Israelis and Palestinians in Annapolis on Tuesday in a conference designed to kick-start substantive peace talks in the region.

The conference at the U.S. Naval Academy will be "a signal opportunity" to launch bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Assistant Secretary C. David Welch told reporters, noting that it comes after "a long period in which there have been no such negotiations."

The Arab peace initiative follow-up committee has decided to accept a US invitation to attend the Annapolis Middle East peace conference on a ministerial level, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Friday.

The committee took the decision as the agenda of the conference will deal with the peace process within an overall and complete frame, Prince Saud, who chaired the meeting of the committee added.


Hey, maybe we could waterboard them all into submission once we have them all in one place...maybe not

Thanksgiving slips up on Hoosier soldier in Iraq

As a Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, 24-year-old Matt Kensill would like to be home with family and friends this holiday season, savoring a Thanksgiving Day win by the Indianapolis Colts and wolfing down leftovers.

But as an Army lieutenant and platoon leader serving his country in Iraq, he's not complaining.

"Everyone understands that we have a mission to do over here, and they go out and do it every day," said Kensill, a

2002 grad whose boyhood fascination with the Army led to his enrollment in the Army ROTC as a history major at Xavier University.

After graduating cum laude and with "distinguished military graduate" honors in 2006, his hitch as an Armor officer in the 82nd Airborne Division began.

"Growing up as a child, I wanted to do the kind of job that I associated with the Army. And that was being out in front . . . in a fighting capacity."

Not surprisingly, his chosen specialty soon took him on a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq, where the 73rd Cavalry officer and his men help secure Highway 1 as the main supply route for military convoys in the Babil province.

"It's like an I-69 that goes from Kuwait to Baghdad," says Kensill. "I've actually thought about that several times. Interstates are interstates no matter where you are in the world, and there's some places that look remarkably like home."

Despite the holiday season in full swing back home, and family and friends sending their love and best wishes, it was just this week that Kensill realized Thanksgiving Day was at hand.

While it's no longer the 130-plus degrees that greeted him on arrival this summer, it's still hot in Iraq. There are no leaves falling from trees. And snow is not on the horizon. It took the mess hall's Thanksgiving decorations to bring him up to date.

"Over here time passes, and it's a good thing because every day you're here is one day closer to going home," he said.

At his old Fishers homestead, parents Kim and Sherry Kensill looked forward to spending some time with their son this week. They and his sister Jennifer, a law school student, gathered for a family feast and a long-distance call from Matt.

"It's hard, I'll be honest," said Sherry Kensill, who is proud of those who serve in the military but also mindful of the baggage.

"It's what he's always wanted to do. . . . On the other hand, it's difficult for the parents. Difficult for his sister. Fifteen months is a long time."

Meantime, she was glad for the opportunity to keep in touch.

"That is one of the things that I'm thankful for," her son agreed. "My grandfather was in World War II, and I can't imagine what it must have been like without e-mail and telephone service, because that makes it seem like home's not so far away."

When Lt. Kensill and his team aren't boarding Humvees to clear Highway 1 of improvised explosive devices, dead animals or other threats to safe transport, they're often patrolling neighboring towns, where they combine their security role with one of service.

They do what they can to provide basic staples taken for granted here, such as electricity. And they've done it enough to know how thankful many Iraqi's are for the soldiers' presence.

"That's actually one of the things that caught me off guard," Kensill said. "The people, especially in my area, are very positive. The kids love us. The adults are receptive and understand that we're trying to help them."

After serving his troops their Thanksgiving meal and watching the Colts take on the Falcons before hitting his bunk, Kensill expected to be visiting such a town this weekend.

Then, come Sunday, he'll replace his gold 2nd lieutenant's insignia with silver and a promotion to 1st lieutenant.

After that, few things are certain beyond his commitment to duty in Iraq through mid-September and his plans for Thanksgiving next year.

"Hopefully, back in Fishers, with no body armor and no helmet," he said. "I'll still be in the Army . . . but at least for those few days, they'll be mine."


Iraq’s Mandaeans

The Quran groups together « Believers, Jews, Christians and Sabians » (or Sabaeans, also known as Mandaeans) as those who believe in God and the Last Day and do what is right (Sura 2:62 and 5:69). Despite that, Shi’ite clerics in Iraq have issued fatwas against the Mandaeans, deeming they are not « People of the Book » and therefore not considered worthy of « protection » : right to life in exchange for subjugation and payment (Sura 9:29).
As followers of John the Baptist, Mandaeans traditionally live close to rivers where they regularly participate in ceremonial baptismal cleansing. They speak a dialect of Eastern Aramaic and traditionally work as fine craftsmen, primarily jewellers. They are pacifists and their Mandaean faith prohibits the bearing of arms. As totally un-protected non-Muslims, Iraq’s Sabian Mandaeans are amongst the most endangered and vulnerable people in Iraq. The situation for thousands of Mandaean refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan and Syria is not much better.

On 14 November, SBS radio in Australia broadcast a documentary by Czech investigative reporter Ika de Detrich entitled « Mandaeans — the last Gnostic community at the brink of extinction ? » The 32-minute audio can be accessed at .


Ika de Detrich’s radio documentary addresses both the suffering of the Mandaean remnant in Iraq who are just hoping against all odds to get out of the country alive and the suffering of the thousands of Mandaean refugees and asylum seekers who are struggling with trauma and terrible hardship in Syria and Jordan.

De Detrich speaks with John Clugston, the legal advisor for the Sabian Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA). Clugston is certain that Muslim fundamentalists are waging a systematic campaign to eradicate the Mandaean community and its culture through killings, rapes, forced conversions and terrorism.

Importantly, Clugston observes that while other groups are also suffering — notably the Christians — the suffering of the Mandaeans is particularly acute because they are such a small and localised community. The Mandaeans do not have co-religionists in Turkey, Syria or Jordan to assist them, shelter them or care for them in their distress. Furthermore, unlike some other ethnic-religious diasporas, the Mandaean Diaspora in the West is truly miniscule and without funds or political influence.

Ika de Detrich explains that in Iraq the Mandaean remnant has no rights because the law is based on Islamic Sharia. They have no Mandaean schools and no Mandaean publications. Mandaean children are forced to attend Islamic schools where they face aggression and constant pressure to convert to Islam. They are always at risk.

De Detrich reports that in 2003, before the US-led invasion, there were around 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq living between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Attacks on the community commenced as soon as the regime was toppled. Multitudes of Mandaeans have been killed while thousands have fled for their lives. Today only 5,000 remain. Some 2,000 Mandaeans are refugees or asylum seekers in Jordan while some 10,000 are in Syria. They are a small, vulnerable and relatively voiceless minority amongst 4.2 million displaced Iraqis.

The radio documentary contains a moving testimony from SMAA founder, Alla Khamas, who migrated to Australia in 1981. Khamas recently made a visit to Jordan to assist relatives who had fled Iraq. He laments that conditions in Jordan were far worse than he ever could have imagined. He says he could not hold back his tears when he saw the suffering and hardship of Mandaean refugees and asylum seekers forced to live with no money, little food, limited electricity, poor sanitation and deteriorating health.

As Ika de Detrich notes, Jordan closed its borders two years ago due to the difficulties it was having coping with the influx of refugees. Then on 15 October 2007 Syria closed its borders. (Note : This will be disastrous for Iraq’s Christian and Mandaean remnants if/when conflict erupts in northern Iraq over the status of Kirkuk.)

De Ditrich talks by phone to Taniana Onano, an Australian immigration agent visiting clients in Damascus. Onano describes the suffering of Mandaean refugees in Syria as « heartbreaking » and « unbelievable ». She says that because the refugees do not have the right to work, they have no money for rent or for school or for anything. Some refugees work illegally for cash, out of desperation, but they are exploited : underpaid for their work and overcharged for rents. Onano says they are all terrified of being arrested or deported and they are all terribly depressed. She believes the suffering is much worse than she is able to observe. Onano explains that, while Syrian authorities give some assistance to those formally recognised as refugees, those with only Temporary Protection status get no assistance at all. (Note : Syria’s « open door » policy was in the name of pan-Arabism, so Assyrians and Sabian Mandaeans might not be as welcome as Arabs.)

Futher to this Ika de Ditrich reports that Temporary Protection status is no longer given. Iraqi refugees in Syria are now given an « appointment card ». This means that until refugee status is approved the Iraqi refugees have no legal protection or status in Syria and are forced to wait an anxious six months or more before they can even talk to a UNHCR official. Furthermore, there is great concern that the Iraqis will be deported as soon as their visas expire.

As Ika de Detrich reports, fatwas issued against Mandaeans are valid everywhere, not just in Iraq. Mandaean priests are especially at risk because they are seen as the bearers of Mandaean religion and culture and their distinctive appearance makes them easily recognisable. De Ditrich reports that many Mandaean priests have become hunted fugitives, forced to stay on the move.

Doubtless Ika de Ditrich is right when she asserts that the Mandaeans are unlikely to be ever able to return to Iraq safely, even after « stabilisation ». Their fate and future is in the hands of other countries prepared to take them.

« Who will take them ? » she asks. « According to the 1949 Geneva Convention and 1977 additional protocols, governments waging an armed intervention in another country have a duty to the affected civilian populations. »

De Detrich reports that in four years the USA has only accepted some 500 Iraqi refugees including a handful of Mandaeans. However, American policy has been changing and De Detrich’s figures are not up to date. America is finally opening its doors, albeit slowly (details at link 1).

According to de Detrich, no Mandaeans have ever been accepted into the UK.

The SMAA reports that since January this year, 7 Mandaean families have been accepted into Australia while 184 applications have been refused. Refugees applying from Syria and Jordan have no right of appeal after rejection. According to de Detrich, in August 2007 the Australian government, under pressure from the UNHCR, agreed to take in 13,000 Iraqi refugees, 35 percent of them Christians and Mandaeans. However, Mandaean applications continue to fall on deaf ears.

SBS subsequently challenged the Minister for Immigration, MP Kevin Andrews, over this. His response can be heard at link 2. Andrews contradicts de Detrich and claims that the « 35 percent » relates of the percentage of refugees that would come from the Middle East. Apart from that, Andrews says the policy remains « non-discriminatory ». Be that as it may ; surely the policy would be more humanitarian if it were to prioritise and be quick to take in those who are most desperately in need.

The SMAA is « baffled » and « bewildered » by this pattern of rejections. . The Mandaeans, they note, are just « desperate for help ».


Wounded Iraq veterans driven out of public pool when told they might scare children

Soldiers who suffered appalling injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan were verbally abused as they swam in a public swimming pool.

During a weekly rehabilitation class at a council leisure centre, 15 servicemen – including several who have lost limbs or suffered severe burns – were heckled and jeered by members of the public.

One woman was so incensed that the troops were using the pool at Leatherhead Leisure Centre in Surrey that she told them they did not deserve to be there.

She became increasingly abusive, screaming that it was wrong for staff to rope off a lane exclusively for the injured personnel from the nearby Headley Court rehabilitation centre.

The swimmer, thought to be in her 30s, is understood to have said: "I pay to come here and swim – you lot don't."

The abuse was witnessed by 79-year-old Korean War veteran Charles Murrin, who said yesterday: "I could not believe what she was saying.

"The lane was roped off, which they do every week. It wasn't as if the pool was completely closed. Her group had the rest of the pool to swim in.

"She said the men do not deserve to be in there and that she pays money to come in the pool and they don't."

The soldiers, who use the pool as part of a water therapy course, were quickly ordered out by their instructor to avoid further embarrassment.

Mr Murrin, who served in the Royal Navy, added: "I spoke to the instructor in the changing room afterwards and he was livid.

"I know what these people are going through, because I talk to them and I have got quite friendly with them."

Linda Sinclair, of Leatherhead, also witnessed the abuse.

She said:"It was a few people that were complaining and it made me cross. I really felt for those soldiers."

The incident, which took place on November 13, came as a national appeal was launched to raise £5million to build a new rehabilitation pool and gym at Headley Court.

The centre treats 180 injured servicemen who have to make a half-hour trip to Leatherhead to use the pool.

Last night, Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, a former infantry commander, told of his dismay at the incident.

He said: "It may well be that these people had paid for the use of the pool, but our soldiers have paid so much more for their country."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We are disappointed that a small number of people objected to the closure of swimming lanes so that patients of Headley Court could use them."

A spokesman for Mole Valley District Council, which owns the leisure centre, said: "There appears to have been a rare incident where two members of the public queried the provision of lanes of the swimming pool for Headley Court.

"While we wouldn't condone what happened, staff did their best to accommodate all concerned and acted professionally in dealing with the situation."


I guess the Baghdad Diarist was not far off the mark, even if this is London and not Iraq, or Kuwait.

Sad either way.

Iraq's top Christian cleric appeals to Christians to return home

Rome - Iraq's top Christian cleric, Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad Emmanuel Karim-Delly, on Friday urged thousands of Iraqi Christians who have fled the violence in the country to return home. Karim-Delly made the appeal in Rome where he will be inducted as Iraq's first cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony in St Peter's Square on Saturday.

Speaking at a news conference, the 80-year-old patriarch described his elevation to cardinal as a honour for "all Iraqis and not just Christians."

Karim-Delly said he had assured Iraqi leaders he would continue to use his position "to convince those who have left Iraq to return and help build the country."

The mostly Chaldean Christians still living in Iraq are now estimated to number 600,000 compared to the 1.2 million living in the country before Saddam Hussein's 2003 overthrow.

The Baghdad patriarch said he had recently discussed with members of Iraq's Shiite Muslim-dominated government measures on safeguarding Iraq's Christian community, which makes up around 3 per cent of the population.

Pressed by a reporter for details on the measures discussed the patriarch chose not to answer, but said the situation in "tortured Iraq" was gradually improving.

He also said several churches forced to shut down because of the sectarian violence had recently reopened their doors to the faithful.

Karim-Delly in the past has denounced what he called the "persecution" of Christians in Iraq, but on Friday he was more reconciliatory towards the Baghdad government.

Iraqi leaders had given him "full support" as shown by a government delegation headed by Human Rights Minister Wijdan Mikhail Salim, herself a Chaldean, who will attend Saturday's ceremony.

"He has done all Iraqis proud," said the minister, who was also at Friday's news conference.

Karim-Delly is to be made a cardinal along with 22 other clerics at Saturday's ceremony.

Benedict has repeatedly expressed concern over conditions faced by Christians in Islamic countries and the decision to promote to cardinal the Iraqi cleric is widely seen as one more opportunity for the pontiff to draw attention to the issue.


Gen. Raymond Odierno Says There Is a 'Window' for Success in Iraq

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno will not say the United States is winning the war in Iraq, but he clearly thinks it.

"I think we have created a window. I think we can be successful here," he told ABC News today during a whistle-stop Thanksgiving tour of nine U.S. military bases in and outside Baghdad.

Other top military and civilian leaders have talked up the situation in Iraq in the past. But Odierno, the No. 2 general in Iraq under Gen. David Petraeus, is known as a straight shooter  not given to hype.

His barely suppressed optimism was reinforced by a series of interviews with commanders on the ground. Casualties and roadside bomb attacks are down. An increasing number of citizens are abandoning the insurgency and coming over to the American side, registering as community police officers to bring back security to their neighborhoods.

"We're cautiously optimistic [about] the direction we're heading," said Lt. Col. John Kolasheski at Combat Outpost Cashe, southwest of Baghdad.

"It is a positive trend right now," said Lt. Col. Myron Reineke at Combat Outpost Aztec, south of Baghdad's troubled Dora neighborhood. "I am certainly grateful for that."

Odierno, whose troops captured Saddam Hussein during a previous deployment in 2003, said the United States has pushed al Qaeda extremists out of Baghdad. This has helped to sharply reduce violence in the capital, and they are now attempting to mop up al Qaeda cells in the provinces to the north, south and west.

Odierno said that a campaign of raids targeting Shiite militias, which began in December of last year, also contributed to the drop in killings in Baghdad.

But the general is not yet convinced that Iran has reduced its supply of weapons to militants in Iraq. He said that the United States has had some success in reducing foreign fighters crossing the border from Syria, and that has helped reduce the number of suicide bombings in Baghdad.

Expressing his frustration at the slow level of political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites in the national government, Odierno said that, at a local level, Sunnis and Shiites who used to live together peacefully for decades are now starting to reconcile with each other as they are tired of the violence.

And as security improves, he said, Iraq becomes more of an economic and political challenge than a military challenge.

"This is about jobs. It is not only about security. It is about people getting paychecks, and that is very important."


Rumsfeld Torture Case Dropped in France

PARIS (AP) — A Paris prosecutor has thrown out a complaint against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture in Iraq and at the U.S. military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer for one of the four groups that filed the case said Friday.

The prosecutor dismissed the case on the grounds that Rumsfeld benefits from immunity, said attorney Patrick Baudoin, president of the International Federation of Human Rights. The organizations that brought the complaint have asked the prosecutor to reconsider.

The complaint was filed Oct. 25 during a visit by Rumsfeld to Paris.

Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin said Rumsfeld is covered by the immunity accorded to heads of state or government and foreign ministers for acts during their time in office, according to a letter seen by The Associated Press. The French Foreign Ministry advised the prosecutor's office in the matter, the letter said.

Rumsfeld's one-day visit last month was enough time for the European and American human rights groups to take advantage of a French disposition by which people suspected of torture can be prosecuted in France if they are on French soil.

The complaint said that Rumsfeld, in his former position as U.S. defense secretary, "authorized and ordered crimes of torture to be carried out ... as well as other war crimes."

It cited documents including memos from Rumsfeld, internal reports and testimony from former U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski — the one-time commander of U.S. military prisons in Iraq.

The Bush administration has repeatedly denied the government tortures people.

The complaint was filed by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and two Paris-based groups, the International Federation of Human Rights and the League of Human Rights.

The International Federation for Human Rights cited cases it claimed had set a precedent for a new interpretation of immunity. Those included Chile's late dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who was pursued in Europe in 1990s and, more recently, former Chad President Hissene Habre, indicted by a Belgian court last year for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Dammed French! You can't depend on them for anything.

Fifth-Grader Shows Gratitude By Knitting Caps For Troops In Iraq

ALEXANDRIA, Va - Many Americans' thoughts and prayers are centered around the troops on this Thanksgiving holiday, but one girl is taking action to show an Army unit stationed in Iraq just how grateful she is for their service.

Samara Yego has a talent for making knitted caps, so when the Alexandria fifth-grader learned a friend's husband would be stationed in Iraq over the holidays, she went into overdrive, News4's Jane Watrel reported.

It's a labor of love for Yego. For the past two weeks, her fingers have been flying over a circular knitting spool.

Yego is working to create as many as 30 knit caps to send to an Army unit stationed in Iraq.

"It will keep them warm and let them know that people really appreciate what they have done for us," Yego said.

So far Yego has knitted eight caps out of camouflage-colored yarn. Each one takes at least two hours to create.

It's a hobby the Tucker Elementary School student shares with her little sister after learning the craft from a teacher last year.

"I try to make a variety of sizes. This is the main size, but I can do different lengths because they are not all going to be the same size," Yego said.

The cap idea came to Yego after seeing images of the war on TV and hearing a family friend's husband was deployed to Iraq for a second time in an Army transportation unit.

The fifth-grader told her mother last month she had to do something.

"She has always been very caring from when a little girl. That's just who she is," said Ruth Koech.

"I think that this is one of the best things I can do for them, but I also think that more people should start caring about the Army because some people did go every day and not notice that people die and injure themselves for our country to keep us free," Yego said.

Yego is hoping to have the caps in the mail by next week so they will arrive in Iraq time for Christmas.


Now we know.

'Al Qaeda rolodex' found in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As many as 60 percent of the foreign fighters who entered Iraq in the past year have come from Saudi Arabia and Libya, according to documents discovered in a raid in September near the Syrian border, a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad confirmed to CNN Thursday.

The documents confiscated in that raid listed the identities of more than 700 foreign fighters in Iraq, whom the United States believes entered that country since August 2006. The official describes the documents as "an al Qaeda rolodex."

Scrutinized along with other intelligence in the hands of the U.S. military, the documents show that 60 percent of the foreign fighters who entered Iraq during that time frame came either from Saudi Arabia or Libya, the official said.

The United States believes 305 foreign fighters came from Saudi Arabia, and 137 came from Libya.

The raid took place in Sinjar, close to the Syrian border. That raid has been discussed in the past by the U.S. military, but this is the first time the intelligence findings have been discussed in such detail. The New York Times first reported the new information on Thursday.

The official said the number of foreign fighters has dropped off since the Sinjar raid. The U.S. military believes both Syria and Saudi Arabia in recent months have taken a number of actions to reduce the flow of foreign fighters.

"We continue to work with the countries in the region to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and appreciate the efforts they've made," said White House spokeswoman Nikki McArthur from Washington.

"These statistics remind us that extremists continue to go to Iraq because they do not want the United States nor the Iraqis to succeed in establishing a democracy there that is an ally in the war on terror," she added.

The official said in particular both countries are more closely watching military-age males who buy on- way airline tickets. The majority of foreign fighters have entered Iraq either by coming across the Syrian border, or flying into Iraq from Syria.

The official said intelligence had shown that the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq in recent months had come into Iraq via airports in Syria after arriving there from their home countries.


This story brings to mind an earlier story that said that Syria was deporting Iraqis in mass back to Iraq. I guess the next wave of suicide bombers is on the way, or now on the ground in Iraq.

I expect more war. Don't let your guard down, be vigilant and stay safe, and be ready for the shit soon to hit the fan.

Medical aid agency urges "humanitarian surge" in Iraq

LONDON (Reuters) - Aid agencies should use a recent improvement in security in Iraq to launch a "surge" in humanitarian assistance needed to rebuild communities torn apart by sectarian violence, a global medical charity said on Friday.

"If we want security to lead to long-term stability, then a humanitarian surge has to occur immediately," Agron Ferati, Iraq country director for International Medical Corps (IMC), told Reuters in an interview.

Aid groups, he said, must use "the window of opportunity that we have, to sustain the change and basically bring dignity back to the Iraqis".

Despite a sharp drop in violence in the past few months -- partly due to a "surge" of an extra 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq -- the United Nations estimates there are still more than 2.4 million displaced within Iraq.

Another 2.2 million refugees in neighboring countries. Many had left their homes as sectarian strife surged after the bombing of a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February 2006.

Ferati said Iraqis had started to go back to their homes in major cities in the past six weeks as violence eased, and it was essential for aid agencies to make a difference within the coming year by boosting efforts to improve living conditions.

"The trend has reached the level where people have no access to basic services, they have no access to jobs, so they cannot sustain their own families," he said.

"The shift in the security situation really gives us a window of opportunity where we have to increase our assistance to Iraqis -- bridge the gap in the current vacuum of services that the government of Iraq is not able to deliver."


But Ferati, who is from Kosovo and has been based in Baghdad since March 2003, said sectarian divisions have started to become less important.

"In the past couple of months, we have noticed that the sectarian differences are suddenly becoming a secondary issue -- jobs, family, unity are becoming a priority for Iraqis," he said.

"It's not that they want us to help them but they have no other alternatives at this point in time."

IMC called on the international community to boost its humanitarian support to Iraq -- not just by providing more aid money, but by contributing human resources and working at a local level to integrate communities.

More than two-thirds of aid groups which worked in the country in 2003 have left as violence threatened their staff, according to the NGOs Coordination Committee in Iraq.

But IMC, which provides health services, emergency food aid, water and sanitation in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces, continued to manage its operations from Baghdad.

Ferati conceded that the risks for aid workers in Iraq were likely to remain high but said they could operate most safely and effectively by gaining the trust of local communities.


Hurry the resistance is in desperate need of new funding source. Send all you can.

Tribal leader: Evicting Iranian regime is only solution for Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The leader of a prominent group representing tribes in southern Iraq is calling for "the eviction of the Iranian regime from our homeland."

Sheik Jasim al-Kadhim, president of the Association of Nationalist and Independent Iraqi Tribes from the south, condemned what he called Iran's meddling in Iraq by those affiliated with Quds Force, an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The United States accuses the Quds Force of aiding Shiite militias in Iraq and has designated it as a terrorist group.

Al-Kadhim, speaking by phone Friday, said evicting the Iranian regime -- in particular from the southern Iraqi provinces -- is "the only solution and hopeful prospect for Iraq."

Al-Kadhim's comments represent another kink in the relationship between the two nations, who share the Shiite faith and whose friendliness toward each other has raised U.S. concerns.

Additionally, 300,000-plus Iraqi Shiites signed a petition calling for an end to what they call "Iranian terrorist interferences" and demanding the United Nations investigate the Islamic republic's involvement in Iraq.

The United States has been at the forefront of a bitter battle over Iran's nuclear program. Washington suspects Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran has said its program has only peaceful aims.

On Tuesday, the Iraqi Shiite groups announced they had completed the six-month process of gathering signatures for the petition.

The groups demand the United Nations "dispatch a delegation to investigate the four years [of] crimes in the southern provinces by the Iranian regime and its proxies," according to the Independent National Tribal Organization in Southern Iraq.

The petition has the support of 14 clergy members and 600 sheiks as well as the signatures of 25,000 women, the release said.

"The most painful stab on the back of the Shiites in Iraq by the Iranian regime has been its shameful abuse of Shiite religion to achieve its ominous ends," the petition said.

The People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran -- or Mujahedeen-e Khalq -- which seeks to overthrow the Islamic regime in Iran, also backs the petition.

The organization has been labeled a terrorist group by the United States, Iraq and Iran -- all for different reasons -- but it continues to operate in Iraq under the U.S. military's protection. The United States considers the group a source of valuable intelligence on Iran.

Iran has blamed the group for supporting Shiite insurgents, but the organization has said "these allegations are only to cover up the crimes of the Iranian regime and its mercenaries in Iraq," according to the Shiite group's statement.

Another Iran-Iraq tiff emerged this week when Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh announced upcoming talks that he said will "help to establish security and stability in Iraq and to dispel the tensions in the region."

According to Iran's Press TV, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini expressed concern about some of al-Dabbagh's remarks.

"Al-Dabbagh earlier said that as Iran had cut its support for insurgents in Iraq, Tehran and Washington should take advantage of the situation to hold a new round of talks," the report said. "Hosseini vehemently dismissed the accusations, calling on the Iraqi government not to be influenced by the [psychological war] waged by the U.S."

Al-Dabbagh's office then expressed "surprise and regret" at Hosseini's comments.

In the 1980s, Iran and Iraq fought a nearly decadelong war that left more than 1 million dead. The two countries have been working to improve ties since the U.S.-led invasion ushered in a Shiite-dominated government.

No date has been set for the expert-level talks, which will follow three earlier meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials in Baghdad. But Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said another round of talks will occur in "the near future," according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1980, and the Swiss Embassy represents U.S. interests in Iran.

Some signs suggest tensions are easing: Iraqi and U.S. officials have indicated recently that Iran is using its influence to improve security in Iraq by restraining cross-border weapons flow and militia activity, and U.S. commanders released nine Iranian prisoners in Iraq this month.


You see why I want to keep my powder dry for now. The real war for Iraq has yet to start

Political Crisis Deepens in Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) - Lebanon's political tumult intensified as President Emile Lahoud said the country is in a "state of emergency" and handed security powers to the army before he left office late Friday without a successor. The rival, pro-Western Cabinet rejected the declaration.

Lahoud's final announcement created new confusion in an already unsettled situation, which many Lebanese fear could explode into violence between supporters of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's Western-backed government and the pro-Syria opposition led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

The departure of Lahoud, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime during nine years in office, was a long-sought goal of the government installed by parliament's anti-Syria majority, which has been trying to put one of its own in the presidency.

Hezbollah and other opposition groups have blocked legislators from electing a new president by boycotting ballot sessions, leaving parliament without the required quorum.

The fight has put Lebanon into dangerous, unknown territory: Both sides are locked in bitter recriminations, accusing the other of breaking the constitution, and they are nowhere near a compromise on a candidate to become head of state.

The army command refused to comment on the developments. The military, under its widely respected chief, Gen. Michel Suleiman, has sought to remain neutral in the political chaos, and Lahoud's statement did not give it political powers.

The capital was calm, and all sides were vowing to avoid violence. Even before the president's vague announcement, the military was in place to guard against the two sides' supporters taking the conflict to the streets. On alert for days, hundreds of soldiers stood with tanks, armored personnel carriers and jeeps in the area around the downtown parliament building as well as on roads leading into Beirut.

Lahoud stepped down when his term expired at midnight, smiling as he reviewed an honor guard on the way out of the presidential palace in the Beirut suburb of Baabda. "My conscience is clear," he told reporters. "Lebanon is still well."

Before getting into his car to go, he blasted Saniora's government, calling it "illegitimate and unconstitutional. They know that, even if (President) Bush said otherwise."

In the capital, some 2,000 government supporters gathered in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood cheered his departure, setting off fireworks, beating drums and shouting, "Lahoud Out!"

His departure left the presidency vacant after parliament failed again to convene earlier Friday to vote on a successor.

Lahoud's vaguely worded final statement, two hours before midnight, wasn't a formal declaration of a state of emergency, but he enflamed tempers with his reference to a "state of emergency" in Lebanon.

"Because a state of emergency exists all over the land as of Nov. 24, 2007, the army is instructed to preserve security all over the Lebanese territory," the presidential spokesman, Rafik Shalala, said.

The constitution requires the Cabinet to approve any state of emergency, and Saniora's government quickly rejected the announcement.

"It has no value and is unconstitutional and consequently it is considered as if it was not issued," said a government spokesman, who asked not to be identified because an official announcement had not yet been made by the prime minister.

Later, a government statement said the Cabinet "continues to shoulder its responsibilities and exercise its full authority."

Shalala argued Saniora's position didn't matter because his government was not constitutional - the position voiced by Lahoud and the opposition since the Cabinet's five Shiite Muslim members quit last year.

Further complications came with the expiration of Lahoud's term. Under the constitution, the government is supposed to take on the president's powers if he leaves office without a replacement. Lahoud had vowed not to hand his authorities to Saniora - and his reference to a state of emergency might have been an attempt to escape doing so.

Saniora signaled earlier that his government planned to assume the powers. His top ally, the United States, said Friday that was the proper path.

"This is the procedure stipulated by the Lebanese constitution, and will ensure that the government is able to continue conducting its business without interruption," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

Calling for the election of a new president "as quickly as possible," McCormack said, "We urge all Lebanese political groups to do their part to maintain calm and promote security for Lebanon's citizens."

Opposition leader Michel Aoun warned the Cabinet that "usurping the role of the presidency" would increase its "illegitimacy." But he appeared to be trying to ease fears of violence by adding that the opposition would "calmly confront" the situation.

The military command declined to comment on the president's statement, but Suleiman, the military commander, told his troops earlier in the week to ignore the constitutional wrangling and "listen to the call of duty."

The anti-Syria camp has sought to capture the presidency to seal the end of Syria dominance of Lebanon, which lasted for 29 years until international pressure and mass protests forced Damascus to withdraw Syrian troops in 2005.

Hezbollah, which is an ally of Syria and Iran, and its opposition allies have been able to stymie the government's hopes by boycotting parliament, as they did Friday afternoon when the majority tried to convene a session to vote before Lahoud left office.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aligned with the opposition, scheduled another session for Nov. 30 to give the factions more time to try to find a compromise candidate - something they failed to do in weeks of talks mediated by France's foreign minister and others.

Leaders from each side had been pledging not to take steps to provoke the other - though Lahoud's announcement raised the heat.

"We have no choice but to have a consensus," Saad Hariri, leader of the anti-Syria majority in parliament, said after the failed session. "It is not in Lebanon's interest that the (presidential) palace is left empty."

Another factor complicating the crisis was the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference next week.

Government supporters have accused Syria of using its allies in Lebanon to block a deal on the presidency until it sees what it gets in the conference. Damascus wants the meeting in Annapolis, Md., to address its demands for the return of the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

France on Friday called for patience to resolve Lebanon's crisis but also chided Syria. French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said it's up to the "Syrians, like everyone else, to remember that the goal is not to hinder the process but to help it."


On the bright side, he left at the end of his term. We should celebrate him as a hero of the Islamic world.

Military Probe Focuses on Iraq Contracts

KUWAIT CITY (AP) - The flashy Laila Tower office building in this wealthy oil capital is a world away from the mean streets of Baghdad. But the U.S. government says they are linked by a web of fraud and bribery that stole millions of dollars provided by American taxpayers to support U.S. combat troops in Iraq.

The U.S. military and prosecutors have launched 83 criminal investigations into alleged contract fraud, including a total of $15 million in bribes.

It was the apparent suicide of an Army major in Baghdad a year ago that brought them to the 15th floor of the Laila Tower. There, overlooking the Persian Gulf, is the firm run by American George H. Lee and his family, a small part of that huge web.

None of the Lees has been charged with any crime. But the Army suspended them from doing business with the U.S. government, and a federal judge in Huntsville, Ala., upheld the order in August, as a military investigation into their case continues.

The case of Lee, a 64-year-old former Army supply clerk from Pennsylvania, provides rare insight into how fraud was able to occur, in part by exploiting the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It also shows the flaws in the U.S. system of bids between private contractors and the U.S. military officers who doled out billions of dollars in contracts since 2003, often with little oversight.

Kuwait's close-knit expatriate community also played a role, in a place where business is traditionally done away from the glare of public scrutiny.

"Bribery and kickbacks are common with big projects," said Ali al-Nemash of the Kuwait Transparency Society, a private organization that seeks to combat graft and corruption. "They call it 'gifts,' but it is bribery."

Teams of U.S. investigators are reviewing a sample of about 6,000 U.S. military contracts worth $2.8 billion that were awarded by a single Army office at Camp Arifjan, a huge logistics and supply base about 40 miles south of the Laila Tower.

The U.S. has publicly identified only some of the companies and individuals linked to the alleged bribery and fraud. The Army cited the need to protect "the integrity of the ongoing investigation" in refusing a request by The Associated Press for an interview at Camp Arifjan.

The biggest bribery case brought so far involves Maj. John Cockerham, a former Army contracting officer, his wife and sister. They have been charged in U.S. federal court with receiving $9.6 million in bribes from companies seeking contracts to provide bottled water and other supplies.

The apparent suicide last year in Baghdad of Army Maj. Gloria D. Davis set in motion a chain of events that has shed light on the Lee case and others in the web.

Before her death on Dec. 12, Davis told Army investigators she had received $225,000 in bribes from Lee in return for granting his company $14 million in contracts to provide warehouses and management services in Iraq.

She took the bribes while a contracting officer at Camp Arifjan in 2003 and 2004, according to a July memorandum by the Army's Legal Services Agency.

Davis also told investigators that Lee and his son, Justin W. Lee, paid other American officers in return for getting U.S. contracts, according to the memo. A copy of the memo was obtained by AP.

The memo included allegations that another, unidentified former Army contracting official said he received $50,000 for helping Lee win contracts worth $11 million. The officer was identified in the memo as a "cooperating witness in the investigation."

The government disclosed its findings against the Lees in court papers seeking to uphold the banning order, including a statement by the Army investigator who interviewed Davis.

Lee, who served as an Army supply clerk from Jan. 20, 1965, until Dec. 23, 1966, did not respond to telephone calls and an e-mail from AP seeking comment. An AP reporter who visited his offices on the 15th floor of the Laila Tower in Kuwait City's glittering Salmiya commercial district was told by an executive that Lee was unavailable. The reporter left a business card with a local telephone number but no one from the company responded.

AP uncovered no previous history of wrongdoing by the Lee family.

According to the court papers, Davis said she received the $225,000 through bank accounts established in Thailand by Lee's Thai wife, Oai, and then deposited the money in American and Swiss banks.

At the time, Lee was president of American Logistics Services, another Kuwait-based company. In 2005, he set up his current company, Lee Dynamics, and won a $12 million warehousing contract.

Davis, then working at the Pentagon, told him he would receive a "glowing report" during the bidding process, court documents allege.

"Maj. Davis also alleged that payments were provided to other contracting officers by both George H. Lee and Justin W. Lee in an effort to have contracts awarded" to their companies, the Army said in the July memorandum.

In a seven-page declaration, Army investigator Larry Moreland said a former officer identified only as "Person B" visited Lee's office in Kuwait in March 2004 and provided him with inside information on an upcoming warehouse contract.

Lee's company was awarded the contract in May 2004, Moreland said. One month later, the contract was increased by $3.5 million. Moreland quoted an unidentified former associate of Lee's as saying Lee knew more money was available "based on information from Person B," who has agreed to cooperate with the government.

One of the most striking aspects of the fraud investigations has been the number of those caught up in it who have apparently killed themselves - at least three Army officers so far.

Until her death, Davis, a native of Portageville, Mo., appeared to have been a model Army officer.

Her daughter, Candace, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Davis had mentored fellow black military officers, worked in women's shelters in the Washington, D.C., area, and encouraged disadvantaged black children to attend school.

Davis' children are seeking to reverse a government order seizing their mother's bank accounts, which were frozen one day before she was found dead of a gunshot wound in Baghdad.

She and others may have fallen into what Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, referred to as a "culture of corruption" at Camp Arifjan, where about a dozen people gave out contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.

Poor record-keeping, overwork and inadequate supervision contributed to the problem, as a relative handful of personnel scurried to support complex operations - set up quickly in the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq - which have lasted far longer than foreseen.

A handful of soldiers and civilians and military officers working out of a small office in the bleak Kuwaiti desert found themselves doling out contracts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, often with little contracting experience.

Several former civilian contractors who worked in Iraq spoke of a climate where costs didn't seem to matter, where equipment disappeared without accountability and where inept managers were simply shifted from job to job rather than fired.

"I think some people just saw all that money coming through and decided to take a piece of it for themselves," one of them said.

All spoke on condition of anonymity because they still work for firms doing business with the U.S. government.

Kuwaiti law requires companies operating here to have a Kuwaiti partner. But the government has shown little interest for looking into the activities of firms doing business with the Americans, considering it an internal U.S. matter and possibly to avoid embarrassing well-connected Kuwaiti businessmen.

Kuwait is a tiny country that thrives on commerce and trade, with a long tradition of wheeling and dealing by powerful trading clans that grew rich even before oil was discovered here. Although the country has public disclosure regulations, many business deals are still considered a private matter.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this month that the Pentagon will act on recommendations that the Army needs 2,000 more military and civilian workers to better manage contracts - to ensure the years of waste, fraud and abuse don't happen again.

A Nov. 1 report by an independent Army panel said the Army "lacks the leadership and personnel (military and civilian) to provide sufficient contracting support." The report said the Army has seen a 600 percent increase in its contract workload, yet staffing has declined or remained stagnant since 1990.

Such shortcomings, the report said, "have significantly contributed to the waste, fraud and abuse."


And of course fueled and funded the Glorious Foreign Resistance.

If these people and all like them, and or the Republican politicians that conveniently looked the other way and used the money to fund the last round of elections, are found guilty, they should be executed for treason.

Returnees Find a Capital Transformed

BAGHDAD, Nov. 22 -- Iraqis are returning to their homeland by the hundreds each day, by bus, car and plane, encouraged by weeks of decreased violence and increased security, or compelled by visa and residency restrictions in neighboring countries and the depletion of their savings.

Those returning make up only a tiny fraction of the 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But they represent the largest number of returnees since February 2006, when sectarian violence began to rise dramatically, speeding the exodus from Iraq.

Many find a Baghdad they no longer recognize, a city altered by blast walls and sectarian rifts. Under the improved security, Iraqis are gingerly testing how far their new liberties allow them to go. But they are also facing many barriers, geographical and psychological, hardened by violence and mistrust.

Days after she returned from Syria, 23-year-old Melal al-Zubaidi and a friend went to the market on a pleasant night to eat ice cream. It was a short walk, yet unthinkable only a month ago for a woman in the capital. Still, her parents were nervous, and Zubaidi wore a head scarf and an ankle-length skirt to avoid angering Islamic extremists.

The Zubaidis, a Shiite Muslim family, have yet to pass another boundary. When they fled Iraq five months ago, a Sunni family took over their large house in Dora, a sprawling neighborhood in southern Baghdad. When the Zubaidis returned this month, they were too scared to ask the new occupants to leave. So they rented a small apartment in Mashtal, a mostly Shiite district.

"Security is better," said Melal al-Zubaidi, who has a degree in engineering. "But we still have fear inside ourselves."

Over the past two months, the level of nearly every type of violence -- car bombings, assassinations, suicide attacks -- has dropped from earlier this year. The downturn is a result of a confluence of factors: This year, 30,000 U.S. military reinforcements were funneled into Baghdad and other areas. Sunni tribes and insurgents turned against the al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgent group and partnered with U.S. forces to patrol neighborhoods and towns. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, seeking to improve his movement's image, ordered his Mahdi Army militia to freeze operations.

U.N. refugee officials estimate that 45,000 Iraqis returned from Syria last month, while Iraqi officials say 1,000 are arriving each day.

The returnees find a capital that offers greater freedom of movement. Shops are open later in many neighborhoods, and curfews have been reduced.

But those freedoms still come with constraints. Weddings, accompanied by honking cars and lively bands, are reappearing on the streets, but they still end before darkness falls. Visits to relatives and friends across Baghdad are more possible but still hinge on which group or sect controls each neighborhood. Some stores are selling alcohol, but fundamentalists watch for those who breach their codes.

Luay Hashimi, 31, returned to his house in Dora with his wife and three young children last month after fleeing to Syria nine months ago. Since then, 11 other relatives who also had left for Syria -- Sunnis like him -- have come back, too.

Hashimi no longer sees bodies in the street when he opens his front door. Sunni extremists no longer man checkpoints to search his vehicle for alcohol or signs of collaboration with the government or the Americans. Roads are being paved, and municipal workers are sprucing up parks and traffic circles. His patch of Dora is now a fortress, surrounded by tall blast walls that separate entire blocks.

"It's totally secured," said Hashimi, who was an intelligence officer during the government of Saddam Hussein. But a few days ago, he drove across the main highway to another section of Dora. He felt a familiar fear. "You're lost there. You don't know who controls the area, Sunni or Shia, American soldiers or Iraqi security forces. It's still chaotic."

He never drives on side streets, afraid of the unknown. On a recent day, he wanted to visit a Shiite friend in Amil, a district controlled by the Mahdi Army, whom he had not seen in a year. But his friend advised him not to come. Hashimi felt relief. "I'm afraid to go to Shiite areas," he said.

Before Hashimi left Iraq, he used to pick up a friend every day from the mixed enclave of Bayaa and take him to the security firm where they both worked. But during his time in Syria, Shiite militias cleansed Bayaa of Sunnis. "It's impossible for me to go there now," he said.

So he spends most of his days in his once-mixed neighborhood, now a mostly Sunni area. A nearby tea shop is open until 10 p.m., but all other shops close by 7 p.m. Under Hussein, they used to be open past midnight. The walled-off streets have squeezed the pool of customers. Electricity, Hashimi said, is still scarce.

Kareem Sadi Haadi, a civil engineer, did not want to return to Baghdad. Nor did most of the Iraqis he knew in Syria. He and his family had escaped there five months after the U.S. invasion. But he ran out of money after two failed attempts to smuggle his family to Europe. Two weeks ago, they returned to Karrada, the mostly Shiite district where the family once lived.

Today, they live in a rented apartment with furniture given to them by relatives. Haadi said he is shocked by Baghdad's metamorphosis -- the checkpoints, road closings, traffic jams, razor wire on buildings, and the blast walls.

"Baghdad feels like a military base," said Haadi, 48, a Sunni. "Safety without these barriers is real safety."

Although he has been back in the capital for two weeks, he has not yet seen his sister who lives in the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Alam, controlled by the Mahdi Army. She warned him that any stranger would be killed.

"Security is when I can get in my car at 10 p.m. and drive to see my sister," Haadi said.

Four days ago, gunmen kidnapped a man outside the house of Haadi's in-laws, also in Karrada.

"We don't go outside Karrada," said his wife, Anwar Mahdi, 43. "Now I am afraid to go to my parents."

As soon as they can save enough money, Haadi said, they hope to go back to Damascus. That could prove difficult. Syria now allows only Iraqis with special visas to enter.

Melal al-Zubaidi is optimistic. When she fled to Syria, she was terrified to drive through Anbar province, where Sunni militants were pulling Shiites from buses and killing them. This time, the bus drove throughout the night.

"That comforted me," Zubaidi said. "I expect that security will improve day by day. People are tired of conflict."

Still, she has lines that she is not yet willing to cross. She has not visited her old university, fearing car bombs or kidnappings. In a nation where neighbors are often as close as relatives, Zubaidi is wary of trusting people in her community. "We're still afraid to meet new people," she said. "This district is still strange for me. . . . I don't want to take risks."

She wonders when, or if, her family will return to Dora. Their old neighbors, all Sunnis, had phoned her parents, urging them to return. But they also told them that they were scared to ask the Sunni family to vacate their house.

"People are saying Dora is better, but we're still afraid to go," Zubaidi said. "We don't know that family's background."

Her mother, who once ran a preschool in Dora, is worried over one of their former neighbors there. He encouraged them to leave their house because they were Shiites. And now he says he has a friend who wants to rent her preschool, now shuttered. He insists the area is too dangerous for the family to return.

"He is always terrifying us. He told us there's always a storm after the calm," said Um Melal, which means mother of Melal, who said she feared having her name published. "We are suspicious. We can't go back, although other Sunnis are telling us to come back, and saying, 'We'll protect you.' "

She said the improved security was not the only reason for returning to Iraq. She wanted to pick up her pension payments as well as winter clothes the family had stored away. Their Syrian residency permit has not expired.

"The situation is much better, but it still feels soft, unsteady," Um Melal said. "Until now, we have not made a final decision to go back or stay. We're waiting to see what happens.

"I expect Baghdad will come back sooner or later," she continued. "But that needs time. If you want to build a wall, it takes you 10 days. But if you want to demolish the wall, it takes you 10 minutes."

Hashimi is worried that the wall could easily crumble. He recently applied to join the Iraqi police. But he doesn't trust the Shiite-led government to integrate Sunnis into the political system, the police and army. And what if the American troops leave?

"Of course, if the political process is still the same, and the Americans withdraw from Dora, in a couple of days everything will collapse again."