Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Report: Iraq's oil industry not attracting foreign companies

BAGHDAD: Iraq has failed to attract foreign investment due to persistent violence, and around 65 percent of the oil pipeline network remained idle due to sabotage and lack of repairs last year, the Oil Ministry said Tuesday.

Inspector General Abdul-Karim Elaibi, in an annual report, blamed frequent sabotage and a lack of maintenance for a reduction to around 35 percent of the capacity of the 4,600-mile pipeline network.

Since 2003, the U.S. Congress has approved $46 billion to rebuild Iraq's devastated infrastructure, including oil production plants and pipelines. The expectation after the U.S. invasion had been that it would take up to 18 months for Iraq to assume responsibility for reconstruction efforts, using its oil revenues.

But the Iraqi government has failed to lure international companies or even local contractors to improve the ailing industry, despite repeatedly seeking bids — sometimes more than 10 times for one project, Elaibi said.

No one "showed interest due to the security situation," the inspector said in his 152-page report.

"The difficult security situation has affected the oil workers and their performance," and hurt production levels and development plans, Elaibi said.

But on Tuesday, Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni of Italian oil and natural gas company Eni SpA, said that the company was planning to bid for a gas project in southern Iraq, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The project will include revamping an existing liquefied natural gas plant that isn't currently working, Scaroni said at a news conference in Rome. He also confirmed the company's plans to bid for Iraqi oil contracts.

Iraq sits on the world's third-largest oil reserves, totaling more than 115 billion barrels. It wants to raise its oil output from 2.4 million barrel now to 3 million barrels a day by the end of 2008 by bringing in foreign companies, and is targeting production of 4.5 million barrels a day by the end of 2013.

But the industry lacks modern equipment and training after decades of U.N. sanctions, war and Saddam Hussein's ruinous rule.

Pipelines have frequently been targeted by insurgents or saboteurs trying to pilfer oil. In the latest act of sabotage, a bomb struck a pipeline carrying oil to refineries in southern Iraq on Friday, wounding eight oil guards and disrupting the flow of crude.

Concern about the frequent violence led Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, an Iraqi-born Shiite Muslim cleric in Lebanon, to issue a religious edict, or fatwa, banning attacks on public utilities in Iraq — mainly the oil industry — on March 31.

Elaibi's report also cited corruption among the barriers to developing Iraq's oil industry.

He said workers and employees at some oil installations were in "collaboration" with militiamen to commit "organized theft operations, either by tankers or jerrycans."

Shiite militiamen dominated by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army are widely believed to covertly control gas stations and distribution centers, especially in eastern Baghdad and some southern provinces. They make large sums of money by selling smuggled gas and kerosene on the black market.


Yeah that, and the Saudis and OPEC most likely have them under threat of blacklisting. The last thing they want is free market contracts working out in Iraq. I mean give me a break, the longer Iraq is off line, the more money they make, and the more control they have over the US economy, and the less of a threat of the rouge Shi'a regime gaining power and influence in the region.

U.S. brings Iraq-like surge to Afghan conflict

LASH KARGAH, AFGHANISTAN — A force of 3,500 U.S. Marines charged into southern Afghanistan this morning in an effort to reduce the heavy casualties suffered by Canadian and British soldiers in the region, bringing with them new pressures on Canada and its allies to adapt to U.S. tactics and methods.
The planned marine attack on Taliban positions on the southern border, described as an Iraq-like "mini-thrust" by some U.S. officers, is a welcome development to Canadian and British NATO commanders who have seen ground lost to the insurgents and increasing deaths and terrorist attacks during the past year.

But this new U.S. contribution is accompanied by a push to "Americanize" the 40-nation NATO mission, especially in the British-Canadian Southern Command. General Dan McNeill, the U.S. Army officer who currently commands the 40-nation NATO coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said in an interview that he hopes Canada and other nations will adopt U.S.-style tactics and doctrines, including lengthier deployments for soldiers, harder-line opium-poppy-eradication strategies and the use of military forces in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

Canadian and British senior officers, in interviews yesterday, said the marines are a welcome relief to their faltering missions. But they expressed reservations about the American commanders' efforts to get their forces to adopt U.S. approaches.

The marines, who have set up their headquarters next to the Canadian troops at Kandahar Air Field over the past month accompanied by 30 aircraft and hundreds of armoured vehicles, have spent the past three days on an aggressive drive into the far south of Helmand province, an area along the Pakistani border that remains held by Taliban militants.

The marines last night planned to take over an abandoned airfield built in the barren south of Helmand. From there, they plan an aggressive, large-scale assault on Taliban positions, designed to regain control of the vital area along the border, according to interviews with marine commanders in Kandahar.

"We want to move into some areas where [NATO] hasn't been, to disrupt the pattern of life for the insurgents," said Colonel Peter Petronzio, commander of the marine force, in an interview at his Kandahar base this weekend. "We hope to interdict their routes: weapons and fighters going north; drugs, money, casualties going south."

The Americans hope that their contribution will reverse a trend that has seen control of some regions slipping away from NATO troops and into the hands of insurgents, and has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in violence across Afghanistan.

Newly released figures from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization show that in the past four months, troop casualties across Afghanistan have increased 89 per cent over the same period in 2007, to 187 from 99. And attacks by improvised explosives have gone up by 43 per cent, to 211 in the four-month period.

Gen. McNeill said that the 20,000 troops currently in the war-torn Afghan south, including the 2,500 Canadians in Kandahar and 7,750 Britons in neighbouring Helmand, have been unable to maintain control of the region, with Taliban going unchallenged in districts across the south. That has allowed a large-scale influx of Taliban fighters and arms from the neighbouring, lawless regions of Pakistan.

"We simply haven't had enough force to push down there. We know there are things down there. We know it's a hive of transit of all kinds: common criminals, ordinary people, narcos, insurgents, truly intractable dudes," Gen. McNeill said. "And if we start to lean on that area, indeed it's going to stir things up, and we're going to keep up steady pressure on the enemy force. And we're going to maintain a presence down there for a while."

While the marines are a short-term force that is scheduled to stay for only seven months, most observers expect further U.S. forces to be added to the campaign. U.S. military leaders are now talking openly about a renewed focus on the Afghanistan side of their global war on terrorism, bolstering troops in the troubled nation as the United States withdraws from Iraq. This week, U.S. President George W. Bush appointed General David Petraeus, who ordered the "surge" of soldiers in Iraq last year, to take over command of all forces in the Middle East and Asia, including Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, senior U.S. generals have visited the Kandahar base to try to persuade Canadian commanders to adopt the tactics they have practised in the eastern provinces, which involve an aggressive military-led approach to drug eradication and economic development, combined with deployments of 15 months for most soldiers. Canadians serve for six months.

Canadian officials in Kandahar largely agreed with the U.S. assessment, but expressed wariness at the suggestion that an Americanization of the approach to the Afghan war is under way.

But the arrival of the U.S. Marines at Kandahar Air Field has caused some anxiety among the Canadians. Other countries have already committed troops under Canadian leadership in the province - Nepalese Gurkhas, Portuguese soldiers, and a British parachute regiment - but it's not clear how much guidance the Canadians will be able to give the American newcomers.

For now, the question of how the new U.S. troops will fit into the Canadians' planning has been rendered mostly irrelevant with the decision to send the first group into neighbouring Helmand province. But the issue will be raised again in the coming months, as 1,000 U.S. soldiers are expected to arrive in Kandahar after the French deployment to backfill the Americans in the eastern provinces.

"It's a good thing they're going to Helmand first," a Canadian official said. "They can do their learning over there, make their mistakes over there."

The Globe and Mail

Carrier = Awesome

"Just caught Hour Six of PBS’s Carrier documentary. One word: awesome. Sure, the Navy brass has been freaking out over the thing — but that’s only because this show has the balls to be complicated, funny and dark, in addition to putting the usual hardware and platitudes on display. Watch. And Navy: relax. This show makes you look good, because it makes you look real. "
War is Boring

I have to agree, it's awesome. As a matter of fact, I'm watching it right now

In Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

"When you exist in the circumstantial vacuum of a war zone, many words and phrases shed their old world catches and connotations. This is often a result of the rebirth-via-military acronym-process, rising like a brevity phoenix from the ashes of English language clichés. Relativity and conditional overload numb the deployed soldier’s reality into a mantra of no apologies; survival is unabashedly priority numero uno for anyone not taking prolonged hits from Uncle Sam’s patriot bong. Not that Uncle Sam smokes weed. He’s drug-tested every month. Been that way ever since the Sixties.

One of those infinitely delicate and ever-malleable terms in combat is “close call.” For a phrase that is sure to be used in every Iraq War yarn spun in bars across America, it certainly leaves a lot to be desired in terms of exactitude. The Gravediggers certainly have had our fair share of close calls – some of which I’ve written about, some not – and our definition of that elusive axiom obviously carries more legitimacy than some pogues’ close calls with an unexploded mortar round that landed on the other side of the FOB. Conversely however, the killing experts in the Other Units operate on levels of precision and death-defiance that I can barely comprehend, let alone compete with. In the Army, there's always someone else more high speed and more badass. We’ve seen more than most, but some have seen more. Like I said. It’s all relative."

US-backed militias

"I took the following stills from a video that was filmed by a member of the US-backed Iraqi armed forces. The video shows how the sectarian Iraqi armed forces torture and execute unarmed Iraqis then burn their bodies. This attack took place in Suq Al-Shyukh in Thi Qar province in southern Iraq, and was referred to by Muqtada Al-Sadr in a letter dated April, 21st, 2008.

The Iraqi police, army, interior ministry forces, and other US backed forces are nothing more than nice titles for militias that happened to be called "governmental". The Sunnis and Shiites allied with the US get to have their militias treated as "good militias" with governmental titles, but the other Sunnis and Shiites who represent the majority of Iraqis and oppose the occupation are the ones with "bad militias" that are described as terrorists and extremists."
Raed in the Middle

The B is at work

"The B is my daughter who is assigned to the 744th MP Battalion and is currently working at Camp Cropper in Iraq. The 744th is slowly settling into its routine and environment at that facility. All reports seem to be good for the unit.

B is finding that she is faced with some of the dull routine and tedium that accompanies such an assignment. As her father I am glad it is so boring and hope it stays quiet for her throughout her tour.

She is otherwise in great spirits and is doing well."
Retired Reservist

How a US Naval Ship Stays Afloat

"From DC1 Bowden:

Many a person has asked me in my 10 years “How does all that steel float?”. Typically my answer would be short and sweet. Compartmentation! However this time I want to expand and give credit where credit is due.

There is a team of special individuals that we call Damage Control Petty Officers or DCPO for short. These DCPOs are the reason we stay afloat when all hell breaks loose. An example is the USS COLE.

Had it not been for the DCPOs the USS COLE would be sitting at the bottom of the sea. Yes, it is true, that many a crew member ran from compartment to compartment closing hatches and scuttles here and there and dogging doors down to prevent the sea from flooding the ship. But who was it that allowed those hatches, scuttles and doors to work in this ships time of need? It was then men and women that maintain them, and they are the DCPOs."
The Destroyermen

Militiamen ambush drives back US patrol in Sadr City

BAGHDAD (AP) - Dozens of fighters ambushed a U.S. patrol in Baghdad's main Shiite militia stronghold Tuesday, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun bursts as the American push into Sadr City increasingly faces pockets of close urban combat.

U.S. forces struck back with 200-pound guided rockets that devastated at least three buildings in the densely packed district that serves as the Baghdad base for the powerful Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. military said 28 militiamen were killed as the U.S. patrol pulled back. Local hospital officials said dozens of civilians were killed or wounded.

Such street battles - in tight confines and amid frightened civilians - are increasingly becoming a hallmark of the drive into Sadr City and recall the type of head-on clashes last seen in large numbers during last year's U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

U.S. troops often have fought intense gunbattles as they cleared neighborhoods in Baghdad and former Sunni insurgent havens such as Anbar and Diyala provinces. But roadside bombings and rocket or mortar volleys against bases have been the more frequent mode of attack in recent years.

Clashes have intensified in Sadr City since the Mahdi Army leader - the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - reiterated his threat of an all-out war against U.S.-led forces last week. U.S. troops, meanwhile, find themselves increasingly drawn into the fight opened by the Iraqi government to cripple the power of Shiite militias.

"We are seeing larger groups of militants actually aggressively attacking Iraqi and U.S. security forces," said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a military spokesman for American troops in Baghdad. "We've seen more of the brazen attacks in the daytime recently."

The ambush Tuesday came as a U.S. patrol of heavily armored Stryker vehicles and tanks moved along a road where the U.S. military is putting up a concrete barrier - which seeks to cut off the militants' movements and hamper their ability to fire rockets and mortars at the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

The militia fighters struck with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns barrages fired from alleys and rooftops, the military said.

As the troops pulled back, one vehicle was hit with two roadside bombs, Stover said. Six American soldiers were wounded.

Stover said 28 militiamen were killed when U.S. forces hit back with rockets

Officials at two local hospitals said about 25 people had died and several dozen were wounded - most civilians. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

Associated Press photos showed men pulling the dust-covered body of a 2-year-old boy, Ali Hussein, from the rubble of one building.

U.S. officials said all precautions are taken to prevent civilian casualties, but blamed the militiamen for taking cover among their neighbors and families.

"The enemy continues to show little regard for innocent civilians, as they fire their weapons from within houses, alleyways and rooftops upon our soldiers," said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad.

AP Television News footage showed children running for cover behind blast walls amid gunshots. Men helped carry several blood-soaked injured people onto stretchers to a local emergency hospital. Outside the hospital, the dead were placed inside plain wooden coffins.

Also in Baghdad, a senior government official was killed in a roadside bombing in the north of the city.

Dhia Jodi Jaber, director general at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, was hit by a roadside bomb as he left his home, the ministry's spokesman Abdullah al-Lami said.

Insurgents frequently target governmental officials and institutions in a bid to disrupt the government's work.

Separately, an Iraqi court adjourned until May 20 the trial of Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's best-known lieutenants, and seven other defendants over charges of allegedly ordering the execution of dozens of merchants for profiteering half an hour after it started.

The judge postponed the trial, saying co-defendant Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein's cousin who is known as "Chemical Ali," was too ill to attend.


Insurgent Car Gets Revenge - Iraq


Marines Battle Insurgents During Major Operation in Taliban Territory in Afghanistan

Several hundred U.S. Marines engaged in a dramatic firefight Tuesday with an army of rebels in a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

The battle against insurgents came during the first large-scale American operation in the area in years.

Hundreds of Marines charged into the Taliban-held town of Garmser before dawn Tuesday, reported FOX News' Dana Lewis — who is embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit that led the mission.

Click here to see Dana Lewis' report.

Many of the 2,300-member unit who conducted the operation are Iraq war veterans. Their goal: to drive out militants and expand NATO's reach to cover a region that's been classified as Taliban territory and is blanketed with opium poppy fields.

U.S. commanders said Taliban fighters were expecting an assault and planted homemade bombs in response.

The British have a small base on the town's edge but Garmser's main marketplace is closed because of the Taliban threat.

Marines moved into town by helicopter and Humvee for Tuesday's assault in the southern province of Helmand, the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The unit arrived last month from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a seven-month deployment. Another 1,200 Marines also came to train Afghan police.

Maj. Tom Clinton, the American commander at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, a British outpost 10 miles west of Garmser, said militants and Marines exchanged fire in two parts of Garmser on Tuesday. There was no immediate word on casualties.

"We haven't seen anybody who isn't carrying a gun," Clinton said of the mostly deserted town. "They're trying to figure out what we're doing. They're shooting at us, letting us know they're there."

Clinton, 36, of Swampscott, Mass., said Marines had also found bomb-making material and rockets in town. He said he was worried about the possibility of attacks using homemade bombs.

The Marines' mission is the first carried out by U.S. forces this far south in Helmand province in years. An operation late last year to take back the Taliban-held town of Musa Qala on the north end of Helmand involved U.S., British and Afghan forces.

Helmand province is the world's largest opium poppy growing region and has been a flash point of the increasingly violent insurgency in the last two years. British troops — who are responsible for Helmand — have faced fierce battles on the north end of Helmand.

Most U.S. troops operate in the east, along the border with Pakistan, but Britain, with 7,500 troops, and Canada, with 2,500 troops in neighboring Kandahar province, have not had enough manpower to tame the south.

More than 8,000 people died in insurgency-related violence last year. Militants set off more than 140 homicide bombs. Taliban fighters have been increasingly relying on roadside bombs and homicide attacks after being routed in force-to-force battles in the past.

The Marines had prepared on Monday by cleaning weapons and handing out grenades. The leader of one of the three companies involved — Charlie Company commander Capt. John Moder — said his men were ready.

"The feeling in general is optimistic, excited," said Moder, 34, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. "They've been training for this deployment the last nine months. We've got veteran leaders."

Many of the men in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once the stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Moder said that experience would affect how his men fight in Afghanistan. "These guys saw a lot of progress in Ramadi, so they understand it's not just kinetic (fighting) but it's reconstruction and economic development."

But on the initial assault, Moder said his men were prepared to face mines and homemade bombs and "anybody that wants to fight us."

One Marine in Charlie Company, Cpl. Matt Gregorio, 26, from Boston, alluded to the fact the Marines had been in Afghanistan for six weeks without carrying out any missions. He said the mood was "anxious, excited."

"We've been waiting a while to get this going," he said.


Looks like the Marines are wasting no time in joining the fight in Afghanistan

What a Way to Go

BAGHDAD — I am sitting in the departure lounge at Baghdad International Airport, waiting for my flight to Syria. My family is there, and I am going to spend a couple of weeks with them before flying to the United States.

I have been invited to spend a year as an international visiting scholar at the University of North Carolina, and today is my last day in Baghdad.

There is a mixture of feelings inside me. I feel very excited because the fellowship is a great opportunity for anyone and especially for an Iraqi like me: a chance to get out of the war zone, away from the violence, at least for some time, and also to learn and see more of the world we hear about and see only on TV.

I am also scared because I’m going to a new world, somewhere unknown to me. I don’t know what I will find there. Am I going to be accepted or rejected? Will I be able to get along, or will I die from homesickness? What about culture shock? I’m an Iraqi and a Muslim, and my traditions and religion are different from what I’m going to see there. Will it be easy for me to deal with? Or will it be difficult?

I’m happy because it is a great achievement for me, and at the same time I am sad to leave Baghdad, where I was born and raised. I was hoping to leave it in a better way, to see it happy and loving, not sad and destroyed.

In every street I drive in Baghdad I have memories of my youth and childhood, but it was meant to happen this way. It was meant for me to leave Baghdad with tears in my eyes.

What I’m hoping for when going to the States is to see and learn and test American democracy, the same democracy that was brought to my country — or so I was told.

Because I haven’t really liked it in my country. What is happening now is nothing but chaos.

For instance, yesterday I was driving to Karada, where I could wire my money to Syria instead of carrying it with me. It is dangerous to travel with lots of cash in Iraq, because you don’t know what will happen in any given minute.

My route required me to drive across Jadriya Bridge, but when I got there I saw that an Iraqi Army checkpoint had been set up in the middle of the span and that an American convoy was passing through. We poor drivers have to stop at these places, of course, lest we be considered a possible enemy and get shot.

The American convoy was followed by a convoy of commandos from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, known here as the National Police. The American convoy found its way through the traffic and passed the checkpoint. The National Police convoy, however, was stopped; the Iraqi soldiers guarding the checkpoint didn’t like having the National Police passing without showing them who was boss.

The two sides started arguing, and the argument soon developed into a gunfight, with the soldiers firing on the tires of the police convoy and the police using their radio to call for backup. In a matter of minutes we had more than 20 trucks full of armed men blocking the two sides of the bridge and pointing their guns at one another.

The funny thing was that all of them were Iraqis, members of the security forces, the people who are supposed to keep peace and order in the streets. But what happened was that they were fighting over power, and because of that hundreds of cars — civilian cars, including mine — were stopped, with nobody knowing what to do. If they started fighting, we would all be caught in the crossfire.

I thought in that moment that I could take a bullet. I was carrying all my savings, driving my car and waiting for tomorrow to come in order to fly to my family. And here I was, in the middle of a confrontation that could erupt into a gunfight at any minute, and between whom? The people who were supposed to protect me; me, the poor Iraqi citizen.

This is the kind of democracy we have. You can do whatever you want as long as you have power, and you can express your opinion and force it whenever and wherever you want, not caring about others.

This is democracy in Iraq.

So I’m going to the United States to see, is what we have here an American democracy? Or is it Iraqi democracy?

When I go there, I will know the difference.

Baghdad Bureau

Neighbors Aid Refugees From Hawr Rajab - 04.28.2008

"Baghdad/Abu Dsheer, Iraq - There are many Sunni Families living in Hawr Rajab, and a great number were attacked by people wearing black uniforms similar to the uniform that the Mehdi Army is known to wear, which is also considered similar to the uniform worn by members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Sahwa forces are gathered in Hawr Rajab trying to protect those families from being attacked during the night or the early hours of the morning. Several attacks happened to families living in Hawr Rajab occurring like raids. When men in black uniforms attack a family they often kidnap the father or the brother or sometimes the whole family, and it is normal to find the family member dead after several days.
These actions pushed some families to flee Hawr Rajab and move to a nearby area called Abu Dsheer which seems to be demonstrating ongoing solidarity within Iraq society, as the families who spoke with Alive in Baghdad are Sunni families that fled from Hawr Rajab to Abu Dsheer, which is known to be a majority Shi’a neighborhood.

Since the Sahwa force was established in Hawr Rajab there have been a number of massacres, demonstrating the ongoing instability that discourages many displaced families from returning home.

Hawr Rajab was controlled by Al-Qaeda and used to be known as a major area under Al-Qaeda’s control. In the beginning they targeted anyone who worked with the United States military, and after awhile, Al-Qaeda started to establish rules to be followed by the people living therem like men are not allowed to wear shorts have a short beard, and for all women they must wear a veil on their head when they go out of their homes.

The people lof Hawr Rajab liked the idea of the “Sahwa Forces” and many people joined that force in order to get Al-Qaeda out of their area. Al-Qaeda decided to retaliate against this behavior of people living there and to show them that Al-Qaeda is still strong and still controlling the area. Members Al-Qaeda began to assassinate heads of the tribes that joined Al-Sahwa, and the young people that joined, in order to push them away from the Sahwa. One of the methods of assassinations was to behead the kidnapped person and put the victim’s head on their chest, and leave the body in front of their family’s ho,e

By early 2008 Al-Qaeda had burned and destroyed some houses for random people and killed people only for belonging to a certain tribe that agreed with the Sahwa method and that reason pushed people to flee to anywhere and made many go to a Shi’a neighborhood just to stay alive."

Alive in Baghdad

Follow the link and watch the video

Geek Patrol

"I spent a good chunk of today working a tasking for someone going to Kabul. That certainly brought back memories. It’s been almost a year since I returned home. If I weren’t about to retire, I’d be preparing to deploy again. I don’t know how people keep going deployment after deployment. Those still in the military (I say this because many are leaving) are facing increasingly high divorce rates, suicides, and post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. It’s tough, and getting tougher. I don’t think the populace fully appreciates how tough it is getting. It’s not an exciting adventure; it’s hell, just like General Sherman said."
Afghanistan Without a Clue

More of an update

"know that some of you would greatly prefer that things were all doom and gloom-some of the naysayers charge that all we IVAW members have to offer is negativity. Well, it's a great day outside, and I'm in a great unit with what seems thus far like awesome leadership, so you're all going to have to suck up some positivity.

Once again, I'm not going to name my unit, because they don't deserve the letters I'm sure they would then get from people who don't have anything better to do with their lives. But thus far, the first sergeant and the CO seem to both have their head screwed on pretty tight. Both of them have had a lot of experience, and they seem to understand the Army motto I live by: sometimes things and times have to suck really, really hard. Give your guys as much good times as you can afford, because the day will come when their lives will suck, and they may need that balance. They also seem to take the tack that it is who you are, and what you do for the unit, and not your political views, that matter. I haven't caught any trouble from that Army Times letter, and everyone has been just as helpful as ever."
Active Duty Patriot

Iran and AQI, the prequel and the sequel

"Very quickly, in between things...another edition of "next week's discussions, this week." Today's article in al-Hayat is the latest in a near-flood of allegations of cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq in certain Arab media outlets. It's a fairly obvious propaganda move, interesting because of what it signals about emerging political lines coming out of Anbar, Baghdad, Riyadh and Washington rather than because anything is really going on. But it's worth noting that these claims are proliferating - what's the deal?

It is key to note that virtually all of the allegations are coming from the Awakenings and/or the Saudi media. The allegations have been made before, most notably by the Awakenings figure Abu Azzam al-Tamimi on the Saudi TV station al-Arabiya's key anti-AQ propaganda program 'Death Makers' in January. They really started proliferating a few weeks ago - shortly after Condoleeza Rice's trip to Baghdad, for what it's worth, and in line with the increasing focus by American officials on Iran's negative role in Iraq. Over the last week, Ali Hatem of the Anbar Salvation Council accused Tehran of supporting AQI and called on the government to close the Iranian embassy, while ASC head Ahmed Abu Risha accused the Iranian embassy of funding terrorist groups in Iraq. Today Abu Abed, the head of the al-Amariya Awakening who barely escaped an assassination attempt over the weekend, claimed Iranian support for a new AQI unit. Meanwhile, al-Arabiya's 'Death Makers' ran a two-part program (April 18 and 25) which featured an "ex-AQI" figure claiming, among other things, Iranian backing for AQI. Note - in this context, Ayman al-Zawahiri's extended discourse on Iran in last week's tape may be relevant as well.]"
Abu Aardvark

Obama says he's outraged by former pastor's comments

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday he was outraged and appalled by the latest comments from his former pastor, who asserted that criticism of his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church and the U.S. government was responsible for the creation of the AIDS virus.
The presidential candidate is seeking to tamp down the growing fury over Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his incendiary remarks that threaten to undermine his campaign.

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday," Obama told reporters at a news conference.

After weeks of staying out of the public eye while critics lambasted his sermons, Wright made three public appearances in four days to defend himself. The former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has been combative, providing colorful commentary and feeding the story Obama had hoped was dying down.

"This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright," Wright told the Washington media Monday. "It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition."

Obama told reporters Tuesday that Wright's comments do not accurately portray the perspective of the black church.

"The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago," Obama said of the man who married him.

Wright criticized the U.S. government as imperialist and stood by his suggestion that the United States invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against minorities. "Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything," he said.

Obama said he heard that Wright had given "a performance" and when he watched tapes, he realized that it more than just a case of the former pastor defending himself.

"What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts what I am and what I stand for," Obama said.

In a highly publicized speech last month, Obama sharply condemned Wright's remarks. But he did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member.

On Tuesday, Obama sought to distance himself further from Wright.

"I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia explaining that he's done enormous good. ... But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS. ... There are no excuses. They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced."

Wright recently retired from the church. He became an issue in Obama's presidential bid when videos circulated of Wright condemning the U.S. government for allegedly racist and genocidal acts. In the videos, some several years old, Wright called on God to "damn America." He also said the government created the AIDS virus to destroy "people of color."

Obama said he didn't vet his pastor before deciding to seek the presidency. He said he was particularly distressed that the furor has been a distraction to the purpose of a campaign.



Monday, April 28, 2008

Emails suggest cover-up of Vets suicide rate

Internal emails from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) turned over to a federal district court in San Francisco this week reveal that the agency’s mental health unit saw a staggering 1,000 suicide attempts every month among veterans receiving government care last year. emails also indicated that among all US veterans, the VA was aware of a suicide rate of 6,570 per year, or 18 suicides every day on average.
This figure—which corresponds to the suicide estimate CBS News arrived at independently last fall and which VA officials vehemently contested—further underscores the social costs of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The emails also reveal the attitudes and policies of Bush administration and military officials regarding the suffering of veterans and the public’s right to know.

The emails were reviewed by the federal District Court of Northern California on Monday, where a lawsuit against the VA is being heard. The suit, brought by the veterans’ advocacy groups Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, is seeking to force a restructuring of the veterans’ medical system in light of an enormous backlog of healthcare claims, large numbers of suicides and cases of untreated mental trauma among military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the most damning emails, made available by CBS on its web site April 21, was written by VA Mental Health director Ira Katz and headed with the subject line “Not for the CBS News Interview Request.”

Katz sent the message to the agency’s media relations chief February 13: “Shh! Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?”

Everett Chasen, the VA’s chief communications officer, replied: “I think this is something we should discuss among ourselves, before issuing a release…. It might be something we drop into a general release about our suicide prevention efforts, which (as you know far better than I) prominently include training employees to recognize the warning signs of suicide.”

In November, CBS News published the results of a study it commissioned of state-by-state death statistics for 2005. Among the 45 of 50 states for which data was returned, the study found that at least 6,256 veterans had committed suicide that year.

By the network’s calculations, 120 veterans took their own lives each week on average, or about 17 every single day.

At the time of the CBS report, Katz insisted that “Their number is not, in fact, an accurate reflection of the rate.” According to the network, three days after making this statement, Katz admitted in an email, “there are about 18 suicides per day among America’s 25 million veterans,” or about 6,570 per year. This figure, Katz wrote, “is supported by the CBS numbers.”

In contrast, when asked by CBS why the military had not conducted a national study of suicides, Katz told the network, “There is no epidemic of suicide in the VA, but suicide is a major problem.”

Another email exchange turned over to the court, between Katz and VA undersecretary Michael Kussman from December 15, further confirms that top VA officials knew the suicide rate they publicly disclosed was far lower than the actual rate. Kussman wrote, “McClatchy [news agency] alleges that 18 veterans kill themselves everyday and this is confirmed by the VA’s own statistics. Is that true? Sounds awful but if one is considering 24 million veterans.”

In his reply, Katz confirmed the validity of the reports and added that “VA’s own data demonstrate 4-5 suicides per day among those who receive care from us.”

Yet on February 5, VA Secretary James Peake issued a letter to Congress stating that between October 2001 and December 2005, VA records indicated only 144 combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had committed suicide. In March, the VA provided CBS data suggesting that among recently treated VA patients, there were 790 attempted suicides for 2007.

The disparity between the content of internal correspondence and public statements of VA officials suggests a cover-up. Indeed, in one email reviewed by the court, dated March 10, communications officer Chasen commented, “I don’t want to give CBS any more numbers on veterans suicides or attempts than they already have—it will only lead to more questions.”

Since Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth filed suit against the government last July, the Bush administration has sought to have the case dismissed. According to the Justice Department, the advocacy groups did not have the right to sue because they were associations rather than individuals. The Justice Department further declared that veterans were not legally entitled to bring a class action lawsuit against the government. These arguments were rejected in district court, but it is likely that the administration will challenge any unfavorable ruling.

In court this week, VA officials were defensive about the agency’s mental health management system. In an opening statement Tuesday, Justice Department lawyer Richard Lepley told the court that medical claims have increased at the VA by 25 percent since 2001, from 675,000 to 838,000 in 2007. The defense maintained that this increase was mainly attributable to aging Vietnam veterans seeking medical care.

Because of this increase, Lepley said, the VA had failed to reduce the long waiting period for claims processing as it had pledged to do last year. The agency had announced it would shorten the average processing time to 125 days. According to Gordon Erspamer, an attorney representing the veterans’ groups, the VA takes as long as 15 years before compensating veterans for psychological disorders.

Lepley told the court the VA currently took 185 days on average to attend to medical claims. The defense called this processing time “reasonable.”

Kerri Childress, a spokesperson for the California VA in attendance at the trial, told the New York Times Tuesday that, in the newspaper’s words, “News coverage from the current wars has also led to new mental health problems among Vietnam veterans.” Referring to the war in Iraq, Childress told the Times, “I don’t think anybody had any idea how long the war was going to go on,” adding that, as the paper put it, “there was no way to fully anticipate the demand for medical care from Vietnam veterans.”

The connection between the brutality of war, especially colonial war, and psychological trauma is historically well established. Moreover, it is widely acknowledged among sections of the military brass that current US forces are being stretched to the breaking point, and the entire political establishment agrees that the so-called “war on terror” and particularly the occupation of Iraq are intentionally open-ended.

A multitude of social problems and military policies account for the large number of suicides among returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: the recruitment of soldiers with preexisting psychological problems, long and repeated deployments, widespread reliance upon anti-depressants and other drugs to dull mental trauma, as well as the underfunding of post-deployment mental health care and the stigmatization of mental illness within the military. Fundamentally, however, both the mounting social crisis among returning veterans and the VA’s negligence have their source in the nature of the war itself.

In light of the publication of the VA internal emails, Senate Democrats have called for the resignation of Mental Health director Katz. On Wednesday, during a Veterans’ Affairs committee hearing, Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray told VA officials that the agency faced a credibility crisis. “The culture of the VA has to change…. The whole culture is repressing information. We are not your enemy. We are your support system.”

Katz was not present at the hearing. Deputy VA secretary Gordon Mansfield offered to “apologize for the implications here,” but denied that the agency made any effort to stonewall or obfuscate suicide data.

VA personnel undersecretary David Chu suggested that although suicides have increased, it was “good news” that the rate was lower than the national average. This is a gross distortion. The CBS News survey found that among veterans aged 20-24, the suicide rate was between 2.5 and 4 times higher than for non-veterans of the same age. For a subgroup of the population that is young, fit and ostensibly screened for mental problems, the suicide rate is alarmingly high—between 23 and 33 per 100,000 young veterans killed themselves in 2005.

On April 17, the RAND Corporation think-tank released a study that found symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression among 300,000 returned military personnel—nearly a fifth of all those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on interviews of 1,965 service members from 24 areas throughout the US, the study found that of those reporting PTSD or depressive symptoms, only 53 percent have sought treatment for their trauma.

The RAND survey also found that 19 percent of returned veterans—320,000 individuals—had experienced possible traumatic brain injury (TBI), called the “signature wound” of the Iraq occupation because of the frequency of improvised explosive devices, the primary cause of active-duty troop brain injuries. According to the report, “Of those reporting a probable TBI, 57 percent had not been evaluated by a physician for brain injury.”

Despite the fact that the VA has handled some 300,000 cases from Iraq and Afghanistan, the RAND findings suggest that the majority of mentally traumatized veterans go without care. Furthermore, the report notes, “Even when individuals receive care, too few receive quality care. Of those who have a mental disorder and also sought medical care for that problem, just over half received a minimally adequate treatment. The number who received quality care (i.e., a treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective) would be expected to be even smaller.”


Warring factions to gather in Iraq

WASHINGTON - After a weekend of closed-door negotiations in Helsinki, a group of rival members of Iraq's parliament and tribal leaders are set to announce today that they will gather in Baghdad for the first time for a further round of talks that they hope will lay the foundation for peace in their troubled country.

"Progress has been made," Padraig O'Malley, the UMass-Boston professor and veteran peace activist who organized the meeting, said in a phone interview from the Finnish capital.

O'Malley said the participants agreed upon all but three of 16 broad principles, which he hopes the Iraqi Parliament will eventually endorse, laying the framework for negotiations to reconcile Iraq's warring parties and militias. He said the participants hoped that that their talks would lead to a detailed agreement on core issues that have plagued Iraq, including disarming militias associated with political parties, protecting the rights of minorities, and reducing corruption in government.

So far, the participants have declined to make details of their discussions public to avoid creating too much debate and acrimony in Iraq, O'Malley said. They are planning to announce their progress at a press conference at the Helsinki airport today before returning to Iraq.

The first meeting organized by O'Malley, held in September of 2007 at an undisclosed location in Helsinki, was kept secret because of security concerns and out of a desire to have participants freely discuss their views without the scrutiny of the media.

Participants at the weekend meeting included Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organization, a Shi'ite group considered the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the most powerful Shi'ite parties, as well as Fouad Massom, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Parliament's constitutional review committee, and Usama al-Tikrit, the leader of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic party and a former classmate of Saddam Hussein.

Four tribal sheiks - two Sunni and two Shi'ite - also attended.

One notable absence, however, was that of the representative from the movement loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. He had been scheduled to attend but called at the last minute to say he was unable to make the flight. As part of a crackdown ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, supporters of Sadr have been fighting US and Iraqi forces in Sadr City, his Baghdad stronghold, in a battle that has cost dozens of lives.

The weekend's Helsinki meeting was an exercise in unconventional diplomacy. Up until now, most of the reconciliation efforts have been organized by the Arab League, the US State Department, or the Iraqi government. This meeting was organized by O'Malley, the Institute of Global Leadership at Tufts, and the Crisis Management Initiative, a Finnish nongovernmental organization.

O'Malley, who has worked to bring warring factions in Northern Ireland and South Africa together in the past, also invited Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, former South African president Nelson Mandela's negotiator, and Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army commander, to chair this weekend's meetings.

But O'Malley's effort follows several reconciliation efforts that failed to put the country on a path toward peace. In 2005, the Arab League hosted a national reconciliation conference for Iraq in Cairo, but momentum was lost when follow-up meetings were postponed because of disagreements over who would attend. In 2006, King Abdullah II of Jordan invited Iraqi tribal and religious leaders to a "reconciliation summit," but those talks did not stem the tide of violence. Maliki has held a series of national reconciliation conferences inside Iraq, but they have been plagued by boycotts and political posturing by the various factions.

"Anything that adds to the amount of discussion [between the various parties] is useful," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist at the Congressional Research Service, an arm of Congress. "But I don't think this group has a monopoly on any formula that will lead to a solution that no one else has found yet. There are underlying rifts in the society that no amount of meetings in Europe or elsewhere are going to resolve."

P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who was on President Clinton's National Security Council staff, said that summits organized by nongovernmental entities can help warring parties clarify their views and come closer to hammering out a political solution. But ultimately, he said, the parties "have to unify behind that vision, and that's the toughest part."

He said the success of the effort in Helsinki will depend on whether parties who did not participate torpedo any progress, and whether those who attended are powerful enough to persuade the communities they represent to accept the decisions made at the meetings.

"One question is: What kind of authority do those who are involved actually have?" Crowley said. "Is there anyone there actually representing the Maliki government? The Badr people are there, but do the Badr negotiators actually have some authority?"

Despite the skepticism, O'Malley, who spent much of last week in Baghdad motivating and organizing the Iraqi participants to come to the meeting, remained relentlessly upbeat. He described a scenario in which peace unfolds slowly, in stages, and begins with a small group of committed individuals like those who he met with this weekend. He said the fact that the Iraqis opted to hold the next meeting within three months in Baghdad - along with their South African and Irish facilitators - is a significant sign of their commitment to broker peace.

"Rather than us having to take people to Helsinki, they have said, 'We will do this in Baghdad," he said. "The important thing is that they have taken ownership of it."


Iraq: small fry thrive as Al-Qaeda big fish flee

KHIDR, Iraq (AFP) — The Sunni Arab sheikh smiled happily as a torch in a darkened room lit up a water tank teeming with pin-sized larvae. Now that the Al-Qaeda big fish have fled, the carp small fry are thriving.

"Last year Al-Qaeda prevented us from doing any fish farming," said Sheikh Jaffar Hussein al-Massudi whose village of Khidr, about 60 kilometres (36 miles) south of Baghdad, is slap-bang in the middle of the so-called Triangle of Death near the major town of Iskandiriyah in Babil province.

"Now they're gone the ponds are being restored, the pumps serviced and the breeding programmes started again," said the sheikh after visiting hatcheries where eggs milked from females are fertilised, hatched into fry, reared to fingerlings and then stocked in dams fed by the Euphrates.

With the season short, the fish farmers of Khidr are scrambling to get their dams restored and restocked with common, grass and silver carp as quickly as possible.

The illuminated fry now dancing in the torchlight represent a good first step in a delicate three-month process that it is hoped will end with fat fish landing on dinner tables in Baghdad.

Carp has been a major part of the Iraqi diet for centuries -- especially when grilled or smoked on an open fire to produce a delicacy known as Masguf.

During the former regime, many fish farms, because they are lucrative, were taken over by the state and given to members of Saddam Hussein's family.

With Saddam's ouster in the 2003 US-led invasion, the farms fell back into the hands of private farmers.

In Khidr, however, the freedom was short-lived.

"Al-Qaeda took over the farmlands around November 2006," said Sheikh Jaffar. "They not only stole and sold all the fish but they smashed the water pumps, causing the water to stagnate and remaining fish stocks to die."

He said that among those who took up residence in Khidr, with its lush green fields, date palms, fish ponds and fruit orchards, was Omar al-Baghdadi, a top leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq who the US military says is a mere "cyber-creation" designed to give the group an Iraqi face.

But Sheikh Jaffar, a gently spoken man in his forties with a bushy moustache, insists Baghdadi was among senior jihadists who set up in Khidr and launched attacks that earned the Sunni area its "Triangle of Death" notoriety.

"For some time he used the farms here as his headquarters," said the sheikh, adding that all but one or two families in Khidr fled the area when the Al-Qaeda fighters began a killing spree. He too had whisked his family away.

Captain James Hart, of the US army's 3/7 Infantry Regiment, was among the American and Iraqi troops who finally put the jihadists to flight after a two-month intensive fight which ended early February.

"Until just a few months ago this was a very dangerous area," Hart said. "Al-Qaeda was in complete control. If anyone came here they would be executed. One of the farmhouses had been turned into a torture chamber."

He said much unexploded ordnance left behind by the jihadists still lies concealed in the fields and canals.

Two locals who had joined an anti-Qaeda "Awakening" front in the district had been blown up by hidden munitions in recent weeks, he said.

According to Sheikh Jaffar, about 100 of the 130 families who had fled Khidr are now back and farming again.

He said that with farmers in adjoining districts also starting to return it had been decided to pool resources to help revitalise the carp industry, a major provider of employment.

A fish farmers' association was formed in February with the sheikh at the helm and with the backing of funds and expertise provided by the US State Department and USAID.

Colonel John Nye, a senior State Department agriculturalist who heads a team of experts working with the association, believes the time, effort and money is well spent.

His North Babil Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team of agriculturalists, economists and a US fish farming expert has doled out micro-grants ranging between 700 and 1,000 dollars to 64 lower income fish farmers in the Iskandiriyah area who recently returned to their lands.

"Most of them are using the money to restore and restock their ponds, to repair their pumps and to buy feed," he said with satisfaction after a weekend tour of some of the farms in the project.

"Each farmer employs about five people, so it is a win-win situation for all if the farms are quickly restored," he said.

Farmer Hamid Bashir, 60, a rake-thin man with grizzled beard and dressed in navy blue robes, says his main concern is getting enough feed for his fish.

"We are using wheat because the feed is too expensive," he told members of Nye's team, referring to a nutritious mash of barley, soya, corn and wheat specially designed to fatten fish, which the farmers' association is beginning to produce.

"With the feed my fish will grow to one kilo within a month but with only wheat it will take a lot longer," said Bashir, whose fish are already at about 500 grams (one pound).

The American experts promised to see what they could do to help. With a goal of seeing the first carp ready for market by early June, they are keen to do what they can to expedite the process.

And with much riding on the project, this is not one they will allow to get away.


Soldier in Iraq about to lose home to hogs

While Warrant Officer Randell Hettinger is serving his country, his countrymen are helping themselves to his property. When Hettinger returns from Iraq, his farmhouse will be downwind from 4,800 hogs in an indoor hog farm a quarter-mile away.

As reported in today's Kansas City Star, placing the hogs so close to Hettinger's house is only possible because Hettinger's service in Iraq takes him away from his house. Under the existing rules in Knox County in northeastern Missouri, a buffer of one-half mile is required around such hog farms. But the builders of the hog farm are claiming the house Hettinger lived in up until his deployment is now "legally vacant."

Even more outrageous, is the lack of protection a serving soldier is getting from his elected officials. As the KC Star reports,
Hettinger “is in a war zone or dangerous area,” Commissioner Mike McGinnis said. “I wouldn’t want to be over there. This is what is making it such a difficult decision.”

According to a March 28 letter from the Knox County Commission, the evidence was running against Hettinger.

What is so difficult? A soldier is protecting his countrymen, allowing them to carry on their daily life, whether that is raising hogs or being a county commissioner. If Hettinger wasn't serving in Iraq, he would be living in his house and the county rules would bar the hog farm. Serving your country in Iraq has enough peril. Hettinger should not have to worry about the possibility of the Knox County commissioners allowing the hog farm.

This is another example of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan being fought by a small minority in America, while many of their neighbors pay no attention to the war or those who serve.

I guess this goes in the Fucking Unbelievable category.

A Kurdish idealist returns to Iraq to 'change attitudes'

Choman, Iraq - Nestled amid Iraq's highest mountains between the Iranian and Turkish borders, lies a town of farmers and traders, smugglers and truckers.

Choman is a place of dramatic beauty with snowcapped peaks and lush valleys. But even though Baghdad seems like a world away, the residents here, and in many other towns in Kurdish Iraq, still struggle to overcome the impact of war.

In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein destroyed these areas to attack Kurdish rebels. Today, Iran and Turkey target separatists hiding in the mountains.

This turmoil has given rise to a generation that knows little more than war and has little hope in the new Iraq.

"It's not easy to rise from the ashes of war, sanctions, and isolation," says Taha Barwari, who returned to Iraq from Sweden with a vision: change the mind-sets of young Kurds.

"We need a creative, educated, democratic, stimulated, employed, equal, and active youth population," says Mr. Barwari, minister of sports and youth for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Since returning to his native northern Iraq two years ago, Barwari has been leading a quiet revolution with the backing of KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, to do nothing less than alter the outlook of young Kurds.

With the help of his like-minded assistant, Asos Shafeek, who is also a recent returnee from Sweden, the minister has established 33 recreational centers around the region especially in deprived communities.

Barwari calls the centers "factories for attitude change."

His ministry is also involved in a project to publish 60 books in the Kurdish language distilling the concepts and ideas of world thinkers. He has pushed for the creation of a special committee made up of representatives of key ministries just to deal with the needs of the youth. His ministry sponsored the first coed summer camp in 2007.

Barwari estimates that about 65 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's population of about 4.5 million is made up of people between the ages of 14 and 30, while 75 percent of his government's budget is spent on public sector salaries.

His initiatives are primarily aimed at promoting the virtues of volunteerism, critical thinking, independence, and entrepreneurship among the young people in a society overwhelmingly bound by a near-blind allegiance to the two main ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

He says that for Kurds to ever attain their true potential and fulfill their dream of statehood one day, they must first begin to change their own outlook and attitude.

"It's the beginning of something … they are leading the young to be different for the future. Not only to be political fanatics," says Handrin Hassan, an intern at the ministry visiting from Sweden, which is home to a significant Kurdish community as well as other Iraqis of all sects and ethnicities who have found refuge there over the years from their war-ravaged country.

But in his quest Barwari has faced strong criticism from some members of the old guard in his own KDP who view his ideas as being "too Western."

Nowhere is the impact of what Barwari is trying to accomplish more evident than in some of the remotest and most impoverished corners of the region, such as Choman.

In 1983-84, Mr. Hussein leveled the town in his so-called Anfal campaign against the rebelling Kurds.

"Even the walnut trees were blown up with TNT," says Abdul-Wahid Gwany, the town's mayor.

Residents started returning to Choman and rebuilding their homes in 1991 when the semiautonomous Kurdistan region was established here.

One year ago, Barwari and his aides opened a recreational center here complete with a library, a gym, a movie theater, and a radio station – all facilities that did not exist in the area. Now, three local young people are trying to keep it going on a volunteer basis, despite waning interest from residents, skepticism by local officials, and huge logistical challenges including the lack of reliable electricity supply.

"We have nothing here, so by being involved in this center, I feel like I am giving something to our community," says Suham Mirhamed, who is a nurse by training and dedicates a lot of her time to managing the center.

One of her assistants, Salar Ismail, a high school student who runs the radio station, says that if it were not for the center he and many of his friends "would just spend most of their time on the streets."

Mr. Gwany, who is also the local KDP boss, is not convinced of the value of the center when most of the area's young people come from families struggling to make ends meet in a place beset by inadequate infrastructure and basic services.

"The Kurdish youth are at a boiling point … kids do not have jobs and some can't even meet their most basic needs. Volunteerism is not possible under these circumstances," says the mayor, adding that the youth must be paid salaries in order to be involved in the center. "Barwari's idea is bad and it's coming from Europe."

Mr. Shafeek, Barwari's assistant, says that it's precisely this attitude that they are trying to battle.

"We want our youth to be empowered. We want to create a movement of young people that are strong, motivated and free," he says. "They want slaves."


Should cadet's NFL status keep him out of Iraq?

Detroit Lions draft selection Caleb Campbell comes from an extraordinary sports family. His older brother Jacob was a professional bull rider, and his younger brother Jeremy is a USA Paralympian in track who played quarterback in high school despite having a prosthetic leg.
But Campbell also belongs to another fraternity -- at the U.S. military academy. His selection in the seventh round Sunday made him the first cadet taken in the NFL draft since Green Bay chose quarterback Ronnie McAda in 1997.

Ignoring players from the Army, Navy or Air Force academies is understandable, considering their commitment to serve in the military after completing college. But Campbell could break ground. He could become the first football player to take full advantage of a new rule that allows athletes with pro potential to fulfill their military commitment as an Army recruiter and with time in the reserves.

(Center Pete Bier could have been the first last year. An undrafted free agent, Bier was signed by the Green Bay Packers but was released before training camp.)

Campbell likely would be headed to Iraq or Afghanistan if he hadn't been drafted by the Lions. He acknowledged to ESPN that there has been some backlash from other cadets about his possible loophole.

"I've heard some of that," said Campbell, recently featured on ESPN's E-60. "It's tough for me because as an officer, I trained to take a platoon into battle. It was initially sort of a tough thing, but who's to say I can't still have a career as an officer?"

Campbell also said he hopes to "show a lot of people who are skeptical about the academy's policy that this can really be good."

What do our readers say? Should the ability to play sports professionally be a reason to keep a cadet out of combat?


I don't understand this at all.

Doesn't it create a new class of soldier, those in the NFL and those not?

US accuses Iran and Syria of trying to destabilize Iraq

UNITED NATIONS: The United States accused Iranian-backed groups of launching numerous attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S.-led multinational forces this year and said estimates suggest that 90 percent of foreign terrorists enter Iraq through Syria.

"Iran and Syria must stop the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Iraq, and their malign interference in Iraq," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Monday in a report to the U.N. Security Council on behalf of the multinational force in Iraq.

The Iranian and Syrian governments have repeatedly denied trying to destabilize Iraq and insist there is no proof.

But Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati told reporters "we know (there is) intereference by neighbors. I can't state names, but we know some neighbors are helping militias, armed groups. And (the) Iraqi government is trying to stop intereference in internal affairs."

In his speech to the council, Al Bayati highlighted Iraq's request "for the support of the international community in putting an end, and preventing, foreign interference in Iraq's internal affairs that destabilizes the country's stability and security."

Khalilzad told the council that "recent clashes between criminal militia elements and Iraqi government forces in Basra and Baghdad have highlighted Iran's destabilizing influence and actions."

"The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Quds Force — continues to arm, train, and fund illegal armed groups in Iraq," he said. "The bulk of weapons used by these groups are made in Iran and supplied by Iran, including mortars, rockets and explosively-formed penetrators."

Khalilzad said "this lethal aid poses a significant threat to Iraqi and multinational forces and to the stability and sovereignty of Iraq," undermines Iraqi efforts to rebuild the country, and violates a Security Council ban on such arms transfers.

The U.S. ambassador's report to the council echoed the assessment last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military official, who said it is clear that recently made Iranian-made weapons are flowing into Iraq, including to insurgents leading the fight recently in Basra in southern Iraq.

But Mullen, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he has "no smoking gun" proof that the highest leadership in the Iranian government has approved the stepped up support for insurgents who are killing U.S. and Iraqi forces.

As for the Syrian border, Khalilzad said, "Syria continues to allow foreign fighters to transit Syria en route to conducting attacks in Iraq, and we know that al-Qaida terrorist facilitators continue to operate inside Syria."

Nonetheless, Khalilzad said, "the overall security environment in Iraq continues to improve, and there have been some gains on the political, economic and diplomatic fronts as well ... (though) progress has been uneven in certain areas, and many challenges still remain."

During recent military operations, he said, "some Iraqi units were found wanting," a reference to the fighting in Basra where some officers and units fled or refused to fight.

"But overall the Iraqi Security Forces are quite capable and their performance is solid," Khalilzad said.

More than 540,000 Iraqis are now part of the country's security forces, an increase of 24,000 since January, he said, and the United States expects an additional 50,000 Iraqi soldiers and 16 Army and Special Operations battalions to be trained by the end of the year as well as more than 23,000 police officers and eight national police battalions.

The multinational force has about 140,000 U.S. troops and some 10,000 personnel from other countries.

The force is authorized under a Security Council mandate, which expires at the end of the year. Khalilzad said the Iraqi government does not want the council mandate to be renewed, and the United States is currently discussing a bilateral agreement with the United States "to regulate the presence of foreign forces."

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin raised the timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops in his remarks to the Security Council, and questioned the prospect of a bilateral U.S.-Iraqi agreement.

"Many Iraqis, let us admit this quite frankly, consider them as occupying troops," Churkin said of the multinational force.

"Naturally, we are not speaking here of the immediate evacuation of the multinational forces, since so far conditions do not exist for this," he said.

Churkin cited recent events in southern Iraq and elsewhere including Baghdad as an indication that Iraqi forces "are still not ready to full shoulder responsibility for providing for security in the country and for effectively countering various types of militias."

At the same time, however, he warned that if a bilateral agreement on the further presence of foreign forces "turns into a mere change of signs, this will not help clarify the issue of the continuation of such a presence — and that will hardly help in a radical improvement of the situation in Iraq."

Asked about Churkin's comment, Khalilzad called the Russian ambassador's concerns "premature" since "we are in the middle of those discussions with Iraqis ... (and) we don't quite know what the outcome would be."


Iraq says Turkish air strikes "unfortunate"

BAGHDAD, April 28 (Reuters) - Turkish air strikes on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq are "unfortunate" and will do little to address Ankara's concerns about security, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said on Monday.

Turkey has stepped up strikes in the past week on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in remote parts of northern Iraq. It has also launched operations against rebels inside Turkey.

"It's unfortunate. Undoubtedly these military attacks are not helpful, will not do (their) job and ensure Turkish security concerns -- nor Iraqi security concerns," Salih told Reuters.

"We have been clear that we recognise the legitimate security concerns of Turkey. But we believe this can only be achieved through dialogue and cooperation between the two governments, not by unilateral military action by Turkey."

Air strikes by Turkey late last week were the biggest this year, according to Turkish military sources.

But the attacks do not necessarily herald another land incursion like the big offensive in February, analysts have said. That prompted concern in Washington about further regional instability and was watched closely on financial markets.

The Turkish army said it killed 240 rebels and lost 27 of its own men during February's eight-day-long incursion.

In early March, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani visited Turkey, partly to smooth relations strained by the PKK issue.

"We have had some serious discussions and we are hopeful these discussions will lead to meaningful processes by which these problems could be resolved," Salih said.

Ankara has criticised Baghdad for not cracking down on the several thousand PKK rebels who use a remote part of northern Iraq to stage attacks inside Turkey.

Iraqi officials say the government has taken some measures, while noting it has major security headaches elsewhere.

Ankara blames the PKK for 40,000 deaths since 1984 when the group took up arms to try to establish an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey. Like the United States and the European Union, Turkey considers the group a terrorist organisation.


Hundreds of Iraq reconstruction projects abandoned

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Hundreds of contracts to rebuild Iraq have been abandoned short of completion for reasons that range from poor performance to the killing of the contractor, a US audit said Monday.

The audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said at least 855 contracts have been terminated for default or convenience as of March 20.

The statistics understate how many contracts actually have been abandoned because they not all US government agencies report the information to a centralized database, the report said.

Most of the contracts on record -- 743 -- were terminated by the government because it was no longer considered to be in the US interest to continue.

In one case cited by the report, a contract for construction of a police station was terminated because "the building was blown up prior to completion."

In another, a contract to build power lines was ended when the Iraqi contractor was killed, it said.

Another 112 contracts were terminated for "default," the failure of the contractor to perform the work whether it be building roads or schools or prisons, the report said.


CBS' Butler says he isn't sure who kidnapped him in Iraq

NEW YORK (AP) — CBS News journalist Richard Butler said he believes he was kidnapped in Iraq by policemen with sympathies toward the Hezbollah but isn't entirely sure who held him captive for two months or why.

Butler, a British journalist kidnapped with his interpreter on Feb. 10, was rescued by Iraqi troops on April 14 when he was found with a sack over his head in a house in Basra.

He was taken from a hotel room in Basra, where he was on a trip to meet the chief of staff for anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Butler told CBS News' Allen Pizzey. Portions of the interview were being shown on the "CBS Evening News" on Monday.

Men wearing police fatigue uniforms and armed with AK-47's hustled him out of the room and into a car. He was first taken to a police station in Basra and then was held in different places — including three nights where he was sealed into a small room between two walls, he said.

He said he tried not to be belligerent and make a human connection with his captors.

"Straight away you assess the situation," he said. "I am standing there, in front of these eight guys with AK-47s, and I am in a pair of underpants and a T-shirt. The odds are not in my favor. so there is no point in trying to do anything heroic or stupid."

While he was held, he heard a lot of Hezbollah propaganda video and Hezbollah ringtones on mobile phones, but he can't be sure his captors were affiliated with the organization.

As time went on, his captors treated him better, but he was still held with a sack over his head and arm restraints. He eventually got the sense that his captors didn't intend to kill him, and had backed themselves into a corner.

There were points that he thought he was going to die, the first when he was taken from the police station, Butler said.

"I was aware that we were driving out into a quieter area," he said. "I couldn't tell exactly where we were going, but I was aware that there were no more streetlights, for instance, and there were no more dogs barking. You didn't hear any cars. So I thought we were being taken out into the desert and, you know, we were just being shot in the desert."

Butler said he felt it was better to be kidnapped in Iraq then taken into custody by Americans in Afghanistan.

"I was pleased I wasn't being mortarboarded in Guantanamo or being held for six and a half years like an Al-Jazeera cameraman, for instance," he said.

Butler said he lost about 42 pounds and during the last 12 days of his captivity, ate one tangerine and four boiled eggs.

On the day he was found, he heard voices outside where he was staying that escalated into a gunfight. The door to his room was kicked in. A soldier aimed a gun at his head, but when the Iraqi army realized Butler was a Westerner he was taken away to a superior officer.

The Iraqi army wasn't out specifically looking for him, Butler said. They were looking for an arms cachet.

After continuing to recover at his house in France, Butler said he wants to go back to reporting in the world's danger spots. He doesn't plan to go back to Basra anytime soon, however.


The Role of the 'Sons of Iraq' in Improving Security


In August 2006, tribal sheikhs in Iraq's Anbar province turned against a chief U.S. threat: al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The decision to cut ties with AQI was dubbed the "Anbar Awakening" by Iraqi organizers, and has been hailed as a turning point in the U.S.-led war effort. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told lawmakers in Washington the uprising has reduced U.S. casualties, increased security, and even saved U.S. taxpayers money. "The savings and vehicles not lost because of reduced violence," the general said in April 2008, "far outweighed the costs of their monthly contracts." Yet the future of the Awakening -- Sahwa in Arabic -- is a matter of increasing debate in foreign policy circles. Internal disputes within the predominantly Sunni groups have threatened the stability of the revolt, some experts say. Sunni groups have also complained about low pay and a lack of opportunities for employment within Iraq's army and police forces. CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon writes in Foreign Affairs that while the Sahwa strategy may bring short-term stability to Iraq, the long-term effect could be runaway "tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism."

Anbar Awakes

While the U.S. military considered aligning with Iraqi tribes soon after the war began, it was the brutality of al-Qaeda in Iraq that eventually gave birth to Iraq's Awakening movement. By the summer of 2006, the insurgent group, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had deeply entrenched itself in Anbar province west of Baghdad. The relocation of U.S. military forces to the capital that summer contributed to the group's gains, experts say. Col. Sean MacFarland, who commanded a U.S. combat team in the provincial capital of Ramadi that summer and helped initiate the Awakening movement, told reporters in July 2006 that government buildings had "become really little more than shells" used to "hide snipers and IED triggerman." Military commanders say al-Qaeda in Iraq relied on "indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology" to further its goal of establishing a caliphate -- a single, transnational Islamic state. But the heavy-handed approach backfired. Alienated by a foreign-led, religiously zealous insurgency, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha approached MacFarland (TIME) about shifting his allegiance to the United States. Thousands of Sunni civilians ultimately joined a U.S. alliance.

But experts stress the moves by Sunni sheikhs was less an embrace of U.S. objectives and more a repudiation of al-Qaeda in Iraq's actions. David Kilcullen, a counterterrorism expert who has advised Gen. Petraeus, says the Awakening was motivated in part by concerns about protecting Iraqi women. In a 2007 essay for the blog smallwarsjournal.com, Kilcullen writes that al-Qaeda strategy in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere has been to intermarry senior al-Qaeda forces with local brides. The aim is to sow deep roots in a community. But in Iraqi tribal structure, "marrying women to strangers, let alone foreigners, is just not done," Kilcullen says. This tribal protocol led to the rejection of al-Qaeda in Iraq advances and, eventually, he adds, "this let to violence." Other points of contention for Iraqi tribesmen was the widespread belief that the insurgent group had links to Shiite Iran, viewed with vitriol by Iraq's Sunnis; and reports that it disrupted tribal business ventures, including smuggling and construction enterprises.

The Spread of a Movement

The Awakening movement quickly spread beyond Anbar. By spring 2008, it had reached nearly two-thirds of the country's provinces with Sunni volunteers -- dubbed "Concerned Local Citizens" or "Sons of Iraq" by the U.S. military -- in Nineveh, Diyala, Babil, Salahuddin, and Baghdad. In nearly every case, local security forces were created from the ground up, with sheikhs, tribal leaders, and other power brokers entering into security contracts with coalition forces. Lists of potential recruits were then vetted by U.S. and Iraqi officials. These groups, who are self armed, form a kind of neighborhood-watch program, coordinating operations with U.S. and Iraqi combat commanders in their particular regions.

By April 2008, more than 95,000 citizens had joined the anti-al-Qaeda movement, according to Lt. Col. Rudolph Burwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. Roughly 80 percent of the forces are Sunni; 19 percent are Shiite. It is estimated that 91,000 are under contract with coalition forces, each receiving the equivalent of $300 in U.S. currency a month for the security services they provide (in early 2008 the United States was spending $16 million a month on these salaries). Some observers say the payments are tantamount to bribery. "The Americans think they have purchased Sunni loyalty," Nir Rosen, a fellow at New York University Center on Law and Security, told Congress in April 2008. "But in fact it is the Sunnis who have bought the Americans" (PDF) by buying time to challenge the Shiite government.

Yet few dispute that security and stability have increased dramatically since the Awakening began. Col. Martin N. Stanton, chief of reconciliation and engagement for Multinational Corps-Iraq, told journalists in November 2007 the uprising against al-Qaeda in Iraq was a "watershed in this war" (PDF), and violence in some districts declined 90 percent following the formation of tribal security forces. In April 2008, Petraeus echoed those gains in testimony before U.S. lawmakers. Tips from Sunni volunteers have "reduced significantly" al-Qaeda in Iraq's ability to strike, the general said, and have increased the number of weapons caches uncovered and confiscated. Analysts also believe the movement has taken a toll on the insurgent group's capabilities. Farook Ahmed of the Institute for the Study of War, a nonpartisan research institution, estimates that in the six months leading to February 2008, the number of AQI fighters dwindled (PDF) from around 12,000 to about 3,500. The Washington Post reported in February 2008 that AQI leaders are softening their tactics to try to regain the support of an alienated Sunni population.

Challenges Ahead

Despite the gains, the alliance is still viewed with suspicion by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, which worries local forces -- some of whom targeted U.S. and Iraqi soldiers before switching sides -- seek to threaten government authority. Col. Stanton acknowledged "there's a lot of distrust in the government for the Sunnis. One could almost use the word 'paranoia.'" The Pentagon, in a March 2008 report to Congress (PDF), said ongoing challenges include "the potential for infiltration by insurgents; the possibility of distortions in the local economy if salaries are not carefully managed; and the need for a comprehensive plan to transition Sons of Iraq to sustainable forms of employment in the [Iraqi Security Forces] or in the private sector."

To assuage such fears -- and to ensure the identification of any volunteer that turned against the coalition -- U.S. and Iraq officials in 2007 established a registration and vetting process for members. In exchange for employment and pay as U.S.-allied guards, recruits are required to submit fingerprints, retinal scans, photographs, addresses, and other identification data. While many members are themselves former insurgents, military commanders report few have risked (Weekly Standard) turning against the coalition because the registration process makes identifying turncoats easy. Volunteers receive "limited training," Lt. Col. Burwell says, but are not given ammunition or guns.

Targeting the Sons

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has taken note of the Awakening movement's success; Sons of Iraq commanders and volunteers have routinely been targeted by AQI strikes. Sheikh Abu Risha, the initiator of the U.S.-backed tribal revolt, was killed ten days after meeting with President Bush in September 2007. His death preceded an ultimatum from insurgents, warning Sunnis they would be attacked if they cooperated with the United States. Those threats continue to result in bloodshed. In April 2008, at least sixty people were killed in a village near Kirkuk, when suicide bombers triggered explosive vests at a funeral for two council members (al-Jazeera). CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot argues that militants consider the Awakening the most serious threat they face. "That's why they are putting so much effort into targeting Awakening members." It is unclear how many U.S.-allied fighters have been killed by the insurgent group. In response to an e-mail query about casualty figures, Lt. Col. Burwell said "that data is not releasable," noting only "it is safe to say that [Sons of Iraq members] have been targeted for attacks because of their effectiveness in providing security for their areas of responsibility."

Some Sons of Iraq guards have been inadvertently targeted by U.S. gunfire. In February 2008, two Iraqi volunteers were killed in a U.S.-led raid, the third such attack that month. The incident, which military officials attributed to Iraqi guards not following procedure, underscored the coordination challenges between Sons of Iraq fighters and their U.S. and Iraqi security counterparts.

Where from Here?

How to demobilize the Awakening forces, such as integrating civilian security forces into the Iraqi government and civilian sectors, is another serious question mark. Because the Sons of Iraq program was meant to be temporary, and U.S. funding is not open-ended, Sunni volunteers have sought long-term employment in the Iraqi Security Forces. But officials in Baghdad have resisted; only 8,200 have been integrated into the Iraqi Security Forces, according to Lt. Col. Burwell. An additional thirteen thousand have been accepted into "other government jobs," according to Petraeus. The United States has launched a civilian job corps to help transition some Sons of Iraq members into the work force. Additionally, some Awakening Councils are hoping to transform their growing cachet into viable political movements, an ambition that worries (FT) the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

The potential for violence if Sunni fighters are not transitioned into permanent government jobs is seen by some analysts as a necessary evil. CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle argues that the bottom-up strategy of forging local cease-fires may not be the best military strategy. "But given the alternatives," he told lawmakers in April 2008, "stabilization from the bottom up may be the least bad option." Terrence K. Kelly, an expert with the RAND Corporation, an independent research organization, says the short-term security gains achieved by turning tribes, criminal gangs, and other groups against al-Qaeda in Iraq can't be overstated. Kelly, who worked on militia demobilization efforts for the U.S. government in Iraq in 2004, acknowledges the long-term challenges of incorporating Sons of Iraq fighters into Iraq's governmental structure or otherwise reintegrating them into society. But he adds: "For right now we need them."

But other experts are not so sure the risks are worth taking. Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile, a history professor at the U.S. Military Academy and former battalion commander in Iraq, tells CFR.org he does not agree that U.S.-allied Sunni security forces will want to reconcile and share power with Baghdad. " The Sunnis want to resume their place where they hold the preponderance of power and to do that they have to fight to get it. The Shia, conversely, want to crush them." CFR's Simon takes an even darker view. "For many Sunnis, Shiite rule remains unacceptable," Simon writes in Foreign Affairs. "When former Sunni insurgents no longer believe that Washington will restore them to dominance, their current U.S. paymasters will once again be their targets."


In Iraq, Peaceful Protests and Attacks

BAGHDAD — The latest episode in the struggle between the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and the Iraqi government unfolded Sunday on the streets of Sadr City, where members of Parliament demonstrated peacefully while clashes occurred a few blocks away.

Several hours later, Shiite militiamen in the Sadr City district took advantage of a huge dust storm that enveloped Baghdad and kept American aircraft grounded to fire at least a dozen mortar rounds at the Green Zone, the home of the American Embassy and of many Iraqi government officials.
American and Iraqi troops killed 22 militants who attacked a checkpoint in northeast Baghdad during the fighting on Sunday, the American military said.

The mix of peaceful protest and armed attacks is characteristic of the many levels on which the Sadr movement and the government are locked in an all-out fight for political advantage. At stake is the outcome of October provincial elections in which other Shiite parties in the government stand to lose seats to Mr. Sadr’s supporters.

However, for now, members of Parliament from several parties — with the apparent exception of some of the Shiite blocs that rival Mr. Sadr’s — seemed to be trying to transcend the fight for power and focus on the terrible living conditions for residents of Sadr City, the impoverished Shiite neighborhood where militiamen and American and Iraqi troops have fought for more than a month.

“What is different about this delegation is that it is composed of all kinds of Iraqis,” said Azzad Barbani, a member of Parliament from the Kurdistan Democratic Party. He was among 40 lawmakers who protested Sunday.

“The situation is so bad,” he said. “But from a political point of view, the solution is dialogue, without getting rid of any bloc in Parliament.”

Mustafa al-Heeti, a Sunni member of Parliament who led the delegation on Sunday, said, “We want to solve the problem peacefully.”

Mr. Heeti, of Anbar Province, said the goal of the protest was to demand an end to the fighting and the withdrawal of military forces. He added that a committee of Sadrists and other members of Parliament hoped to meet with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to discuss their concerns.

The residents of Sadr City “are Iraqis,” he said, “they are very poor people with very few services, and the military action has caused so much loss of life.”

Mr. Maliki has said that, before the government will stop its fight, Mr. Sadr must comply with four conditions: hand over heavy weapons; stop fighting the security forces; stop menacing government workers; and hand over outlaws sought by the government.

But on Sunday, an aide to Mr. Sadr in Najaf rejected those terms, accusing the government of trying to resolve political differences by force.

Qassim Atta, a spokesman for the government’s effort to restore order in Baghdad, the capital, told a news conference that the government had earmarked $100 million in aid for Sadr City and listed many services that the district would receive. However, it was apparent that little had arrived, primarily because the fighting made it dangerous for city service workers to venture into the worst areas, but also because government officials remained ambivalent about helping a neighborhood where their enemies lived.

Mr. Sadr’s officials, however, lost no time in reaching out to beleaguered residents. Hazim al-Araji, a member of Parliament from Mr. Sadr’s bloc, announced that Mr. Sadr’s offices would compensate families who had lost a close relative and would make payments to those who had been wounded.

While Mr. Araji did not say the exact amount that each family would get, a reporter attending a funeral in Sadr City said the family had received a half million Iraqi dinars, about $425, from an official in Mr. Sadr’s office. Seriously wounded people were said to be getting about $200 and those with minor injuries were receiving about $110. Sadr officials were also said to be paying for funerals, which include a three-day period of mourning when relatives and friends come to the home of the bereaved and must be offered food and drink.

In Nasiriya, in southern Iraq, where there has also been fighting between Mr. Sadr’s supporters and government troops, a bloc of members of Parliament representing him made a formal visit and drafted a memorandum of understanding between the sides.

At a news conference on Sunday, one of the Sadrist lawmakers, Akram Fawzi said: “The aim of this visit is to solve Nasiriya’s troubles. This is an exceptional phase, and it can be ended by cooperation between the different groups in the province.”

A car bomb killed three people in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Shaab in northern Baghdad. Two other car bombings struck the west side of Baghdad, one in Harthiya, an affluent neighborhood, and another in Jamiya.

Mortar shells landed in three Baghdad neighborhoods, killing two people and wounding 18.

In Samarra, a car bomb killed one woman and wounded four other people, including two children, the local police said.

In Muqdadiya, in Diyala Province, a mass grave with at least 50 bodies was discovered in an orchard, officials said. Some of the bodies were badly decayed, but others appeared to have been of people executed recently.

The High Iraqi Criminal Court announced that the chief judge had dismissed four other judges. The criminal court is the new name for the court that tries people connected to former President Saddam Hussein.

“The four judges were dismissed because they had connections with Baath Party,” said Munir Haddad, the deputy chief judge of the court. “The decision was made on the 17th of April.” He added that it was in accordance with court rules that prohibit anyone with connections to the Baath Party from serving on the court.


The Arab speak continues, hopefully once they parse it out someone will explain it to me.