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History > 2008 > USA > Wars > Iraq (VII)




Iraqi Journalist

Hurls Shoes at Bush

and Denounces Him on TV

as a ‘Dog’


December 15, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — President Bush made a valedictory visit on Sunday to Iraq, the country that will largely define his legacy, but the trip will more likely be remembered for the unscripted moment when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush’s head and denounced him on live television as a “dog” who had delivered death and sorrow here from nearly six years of war.

The drama unfolded shortly after Mr. Bush appeared at a news conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement includes a commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.

The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.

As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president’s face to help shield him.

Mr. Maliki’s security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until “he was crying like a woman,” said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges.

Other Iraqi journalists in the front row apologized to Mr. Bush, who was uninjured and tried to brush off the incident by making a joke. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said, continuing to take questions and noting the apologies. He also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as the man’s screaming could be heard outside.

But the moment clearly unnerved Mr. Maliki’s aides and some of the Americans in Mr. Bush’s entourage, partly because it was televised and may have revealed a security lapse in the so-called Green Zone, the most heavily secured part of Baghdad.

In the chaos, Dana M. Perino, the White House press secretary, who was visibly distraught, was struck in the eye by a microphone stand.

Mr. Bush visited Iraq as part of an unannounced trip that later took him to Afghanistan, where he was meeting on Monday with American troops and President Hamid Karzai.

The shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad punctuated Mr. Bush’s visit here — his fourth — in a deeply symbolic way, reflecting the conflicted views in Iraq of a man who toppled Saddam Hussein, ordered the occupation of the country and brought it freedoms unthinkable under Mr. Hussein’s rule but at enormous costs.

Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq. It means that the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty. Crowds hurled their shoes at the giant statue of Mr. Hussein that stood in Baghdad’s Firdos Square before helping American marines pull it down on April 9, 2003, the day the capital fell. More recently in the same square, a far bigger crowd composed of Iraqis who had opposed the security agreement flung their shoes at an effigy of Mr. Bush before burning it.

Friends described Mr. Zaidi as a devoted journalist. “He was committed to his job and after training in Lebanon became chief of correspondents about a month ago,” said Haider Nassar, who worked with him at Baghdadia.

“He had bad feelings about the coalition forces,” said Mr. Nassar, referring to the American-led foreign forces in Iraq. Mr. Nassar also said Mr. Zaidi had asked to cover the news conference. Another friend said Mr. Zaidi often ended his reports by saying, “Reporting from occupied Baghdad, this is Muntader al-Zaidi.”

Like many Iraqi reporters at the news conference, Mr. Nassar said he did not think this was an effective way for Mr. Zaidi to make his points. “This is so silly; it’s just the behavior of an individual,” Mr. Nassar said. “He destroyed his future.”

The television channel broadcast a request for Mr. Zaidi’s release in the name of democracy and freedom of speech. “Any procedure against Muntader will remind us of the behavior of the dictatorship and their violent actions, random detentions and mass graves,” the channel said. “Baghdadia TV channel also demands that the international and Iraqi television organizations cooperate in seeking the release of Muntader Zaidi.”

Shortly before 10 p.m., Mr. Bush headed from the Green Zone by helicopter to Camp Victory, where he was greeted with cheers and whoops from hundreds of soldiers inside the enormous rotunda of Al Faw palace. Speaking at a lectern beneath an enormous American flag that nearly reached the domed ceiling, he praised the soldiers and reflected on the sacrifices of those who had died.

He called the increased deployment of American troops in Iraq last year, a strategy known as the surge, which is credited with helping reduce violence here, “one of the greatest successes in the history of the United States military.”

Mr. Bush’s arrival in Iraq during daylight hours was one measure of progress; his first visit on Thanksgiving Day 2003 took place entirely at night.

As with previous visits, preparations were secretive and carried out with ruse. The White House schedule for Sunday had Mr. Bush attending the “Christmas in Washington” performance at the National Building Museum in downtown Washington. Instead, he left the White House by car on Saturday night, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland at 9 p.m. to board Air Force One. A dozen journalists accompanying him were told of the trip only on Friday and allowed to tell only a superior and a spouse — and only in person.

At his news conference with Mr. Maliki, Mr. Bush described the security agreement as a landmark, signaling a new era in the war he began in the spring of 2003. “There is still more work to be done,” the president said about the war, but with the security agreement and “the courage of the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi troops and the American troops and civilian personnel, it is decisively on its way to be won.”

Mr. Maliki’s partnership with Mr. Bush and his backing of the security deal are unlikely to help him much once Mr. Bush leaves office.

Although a majority in the Iraqi Parliament approved the agreement, on the street, Iraqis have mixed views. Many distrust any pact made with an occupying power, and while Mr. Bush is appreciated for having overthrown Mr. Hussein, he is widely blamed for the violence that raged in the years after the war, which prompted more than a million Iraqis to flee and killed tens of thousands of civilians.

Still, Mr. Bush’s stalwart support for Mr. Maliki — after an initial period when the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, expressed doubts about him — has been a bulwark against domestic political forces who sought to topple him.

With the American president’s term ending, Iraqi politicians from parties other than Mr. Maliki’s have been discussing whether to force the prime minister out with a no-confidence vote. This is not the first time his ouster has been discussed, but with American power in Iraq on the wane and troop numbers beginning to decline in earnest, it seems a more serious threat.

Weighing against it happening, however, is that there is no agreement on Mr. Maliki’s successor or on how to divide cabinet posts. The posts are split among the political blocs that control Parliament and they would be loath to give up anything they had unless they were assured that they would get another position at least as good.

Atheer Kakan, Tareq Maher and Mudafer Husseini contributed reporting.

    Iraqi Journalist Hurls Shoes at Bush and Denounces Him on TV as a ‘Dog’, NYT, 15.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/world/middleeast/15prexy.html






Bush Makes Final Iraq Visit


December 15, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — President Bush flew to Iraq on Sunday, his fourth and final trip to highlight the recently completed security agreement between the United States and the country that occupied the bulk of his presidency and will to a large extent define his legacy.

But his appearance at a news conference here was interrupted by a man, apparently ajournalist, who leaped to his feet and threw one shoe at the president, who ducked and narrowly missed being struck. Chaos ensued. He threw a second shoe, which also narrowly missed Mr. Bush. The man was roughly 12 feet from the lecturn in the center of two rows ofchairs, about two feet from a pool of reporters. A scrum of security agents descended on the man and wrestled him, first to the floor and then out of the ornate room where the news conference was taking place. The president was uninjured and brushed off the incident. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said jokingly. An Iraqi accompanying the pool of reporters, colleague said the man had shouted, “This is a farewell kiss, dog.”

Bush’s arrival here during daylight hours had been one measure of progress; his first visit on Thanksgiving Day 2003 took place entirely at night.

As with previous visits — in November 2003, June 2006 and September 2007 — preparations for the visit were secretive and carried out with ruse. The White House schedule for Sunday had Mr. Bush attending the “Christmas in Washington” performance at the National Building Museum in downtown Washington. Instead, he left the White House by car on Saturday night, arriving at Andrews at 9 p.m. Air Force One remained inside its immaculate hangar until moments before taking off. A dozen journalists accompanying him were only told of the trip on Friday and allowed to tell only a superior and a spouse — and only in person.

Air Force One arrived in Baghdad at 4 p.m. after a 10-and-a-half-hour overnight flight from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. It was Mr. Bush’s fourth visit to IraqOn arriving here, he met the two senior American officials, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. Ray Odierno, on the tarmac. He met with Iraqi leaders and was expected to meet with American troops.

The president and his aides have touted the security agreement as a landmark in Iraq’s troubled history, one made possible by the dramatic drop in violence over the last year. They credit the large increase in American troops Mr. Bush ordered in 2007 for creating enough security to allow political progress to take root.

The new security agreements, which take effect on Jan. 1, replace the United Nations Security Council resolutions that authorized the presence of foreign troops in Iraq. Iraqi officials extracted significant concessions from the Bush administration over several months of hard bargaining, including a commitment to withdrawal all American forces by the end of 2011.

Mr. Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen J. Hadley, said the situation in Iraq today was “a pretty optimistic place,” a phrase that few would have credibly used even a year ago. He described the security agreement that will govern American military operations after the new year “a remarkable document.”

Referring to the Iraqi parliament’s contentious and lively debate leading up to a vote last month, Mr. Hadley added that the agreement was a public one: “I think the only one there is in the Arab world, and publicly debated and discussed in an elected parliament.”

There was an unmistakeable hint of triumphalism in Mr. Hadley’s remarks, as in Mr. Bush’s valedictory visit, even though the president is leaving office with the war very much unfinished.

”If you’ve been through 2005 and 2006,” Mr. Hadley told reporters en route to Baghdad, when asked whether the president was “feeling pretty good” about the situation here now, “it’s hard not to feel awfully good about 2008 and into 2009.”

After arriving at the airport, Mr Bush quickly flew into Baghdad itself aboard a military helicopter, under extraordinary security. The flight passed uneventfully, swooping low over neighborhoods along the once notorious airport road. He landed at Salam Palace, boarded a civilian S.U.V. and drove a short distance to an honor guard with Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani.

The president made brief remarks at the end of his meeting with Mr. Talabani and Iraq’s two vice presidents, Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi. The three comprise Iraq’s Presidency Council. The two leaders sat in arm chairs before their respective flags. Mr. Talabani spoke first, praising the president: “Thanks to him and his courageous leadership we are here now in this building.”

Mr. Bush then spoke, calling the security agreements “a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqis realize the blessings of a free society.”

“The work hasn’t been easy,” he said, “but it’s been necessary.”

    Bush Makes Final Iraq Visit, NYT, 15.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/world/middleeast/15prexy.html?hp






5 Blackwater Guards Charged With Manslaughter


December 8, 2008
The New York Times
Filed at 12:07 p.m. ET


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Five Blackwater Worldwide security guards surrendered on 14 counts of manslaughter and dozens of other charges Monday in connection with an investigation into a deadly 2007 shooting at a busy Baghdad intersection.

A sixth guard admitted in a plea deal to killing at least one Iraqi in the shooting, in which prosecutors say Blackwater guards used machine guns and grenade laucnhers on motorists and bystanders. His guilty plea, likewise, was unsealed Monday.

''The government alleges in the documents unsealed today that at least 34 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed or injured without justification or provocation by these Blackwater security guards,'' national security prosecutor Pat Rowan said.

In addition to being charged with manslaughter, the five guards also face 20 counts of attempted manslaughter. They are also charged with using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carrries a 30-year minimum sentence.

Though they are charged in a sealed indictment in Washington, they surrendered at a federal courthouse in Salt Lake City.

Witnesses said the heavily armed U.S. contractors opened fire unprovoked at a crowded intersection. Blackwater, the largest security contractor in Iraq, says its guards were ambushed by insurgents while responding to a car bombing.

''We think it's pure and simple a case of self-defense,'' Paul Cassell, a Utah attorney on the defense team, said Monday as the guards were being booked. ''Tragically people did die.''

Though the case has already been assigned to U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina in Washington, attorneys want the case moved to Utah, where they would presumably find a more conservative jury pool and one more likely to support the Iraq war.

An afternoon court hearing was scheduled on whether to release the guards. Defense attorneys were filing court documents challenging the Justice Department's authority to prosecute the case. The law is murky on whether contractors can be charged in U.S. courts for crimes committed overseas.

The guards face the prospect of 30-year mandatory prison terms under the anti-machine gun law passed during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic.

The indicted guards are Donald Ball, a former Marine from West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard, a former Marine from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty, a former Marine from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn.; and Paul Slough, an Army veteran from Keller, Texas.

The sixth guard was identified as Jeremy Ridgeway.

The shooting strained relations between the U.S. and Baghdad. The fledgling Iraqi government wanted Blackwater, which protects U.S. State Department personnel, expelled from the country. It also sought the right to prosecute the men in Iraqi courts.

''The killers must pay for their crime against innocent civilians. Justice must be achieved so that we can have rest from the agony we are living in,'' said Khalid Ibrahim, a 40-year-old electrician who said his 78-year-old father, Ibrahim Abid, died in the shooting. ''We know that the conviction of the people behind the shooting will not bring my father to life, but we will have peace in our minds and hearts.''

Defense attorneys accused the Justice Department of bowing to Iraqi pressure .

''We are confident that any jury will see this for what it is: a politically motivated prosecution to appease the Iraqi government,'' said defense attorney Steven McCool, who represents Ball.

Based in Moyock, N.C., Blackwater is the largest security contractor in Iraq and provides heavily armed guards for diplomats. Since last year's shooting, the company has been a flash point in the debate over how heavily the U.S. relies on contractors in war zones.


Associated Press writers Jennifer Dobner and Paul Foy in Salt Lake City and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

    5 Blackwater Guards Charged With Manslaughter, NYT, 8.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-Blackwater-Prosecution.html?hp






5 Guards Face U.S. Charges in Iraq Deaths


December 6, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has obtained indictments against five guards for the security company Blackwater Worldwide for their involvement in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians and remains a thorn in Iraqi relations with the United States.

The indictments, obtained Thursday, remained sealed. But they could be made public in Washington as soon as Monday, according to people who have been briefed on the case and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictments had not been unsealed.

A sixth guard was negotiating a plea, those people said.

Peter A. Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment on Friday. Anne E. Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater, also declined to comment.

The six guards have been under investigation since the shootings occurred Sept. 16, 2007, as their convoy traveled through a traffic circle in Nisour Square that was filled with cars, pedestrians and police officers. The guards have told investigators that they fired after coming under attack. Blackwater has maintained that its guards did nothing wrong, and the company itself is not being charged in the case. Investigations by the Pentagon, the F.B.I. and the Iraqi government found no evidence to support the guards’ version of events.

Among those named in the indictment, according to the people briefed on the case, are Paul Slough, a 28-year-old who served in the Army Infantry and the Texas National Guard before joining Blackwater in 2006, and Dustin Heard of Tennessee, a former marine who joined Blackwater in 2004.

Those who have been briefed on the case said prosecutors could seek 30-year prison sentences under a Reagan-era antidrug law focusing on the use of machine guns in the commission of violent crimes. Drugs were not involved in the Blackwater case.

Mark Hulkower, Mr. Slough’s lawyer, would not confirm whether his client was one of those indicted. But if he is, Mr. Hulkower said, “We will contest the charges in court, and we are confident he will be vindicated.”

The Nisour Square shootings have had a profound impact in Iraq, both on the role of contractors in the war zone and on the Baghdad government’s relationship with the Bush administration. The episode was the bloodiest in a series of violent events involving Blackwater and other American security contractors that had stoked anger and resentment among Iraqis.

Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former member of the Navy Seals and heir to a family fortune made in the auto parts industry, Blackwater had developed a reputation among Iraqis and American military personnel for flaunting an aggressive, quick-draw image and for security personnel who took excessively violent actions to protect the people they were paid to guard.

In December 2006, a Blackwater guard who was off duty and reportedly drinking heavily was reported to have shot a bodyguard for an Iraqi vice president in Baghdad. In 2007, the State Department acknowledged that Blackwater had been involved in many more shootings than the two other security contractors in other regions of Iraq.

But the Nisour Square episode prompted so much protest that Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, demanded that the Bush administration pull Blackwater out of the country.

In a profile of Mr. Slough, The New York Times reported this year that he had used dry military language to explain to investigators that he fired his weapon only at targets who posed immediate threats to his life and to those of his colleagues.

He described fighting his way out of a terrifying ambush that began when the driver of a white, four-door sedan ignored numerous hand signals and drove directly at the Blackwater motorcade. And he described muzzle flashes from a shack about 160 feet behind the car, a man in a blue button-down shirt and black pants pointing an AK-47, small-arms fire from a red bus stopped in an intersection, and a red car backing up toward his convoy.

“I engaged the individuals,” Mr. Slough told investigators, “and stopped the threat.”

The F.B.I. concluded that at least 14 of the 17 fatal shootings in Nisour Square were unjustified, saying that Blackwater guards recklessly violated American rules for the use of lethal force. Military investigators went further, saying that all of the deaths were unjustified and potentially criminal. Iraqi authorities characterized the incident as “deliberate murder.”

Still, the guards could not be prosecuted under Iraqi law because of an immunity agreement signed by the Coalition Provision Authority, the governing authority installed by American troops after the invasion. And legal experts have long pointed out that the case faces significant legal hurdles in American courts, which have only vague powers to prosecute Americans for crimes committed abroad.

Immunity for security contractors became a central issue this year in the negotiations between Iraq and the United States over an agreement setting out the terms under which American troops could remain in Iraq. Iraqi officials repeatedly demanded an end to legal immunity for American contractors. The Bush administration eventually agreed, and tens of thousands of contractors will be held responsible for their actions under Iraqi law at the start of next year.

    5 Guards Face U.S. Charges in Iraq Deaths, NYT, 6.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/06/washington/06blackwater.html?hp






Iraq Approves Deal Charting End of U.S. Role


November 28, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — With a substantial majority, the Iraqi Parliament on Thursday ratified a sweeping security agreement that sets the course for an end to the United States’ role in the war and marks the beginning of a new relationship between the countries.

The pact, which still must be approved by Iraq’s three-person presidency council, a move expected in the next few days, sets the end of 2011 as the date by which the last American troops must leave the country.

Its passage, on a vote of 149 to 35, according to a parliamentary statement, was a victory for Iraq’s government as well as for the often fractious legislative body, which forged a political compromise among bitterly differing factions in 10 days of intense negotiations.

After notable failures on some critical issues, including a law to divide oil revenues and another to determine the future of the disputed city of Kirkuk, the vote on Thursday represented a coming of age for the three-year-old Parliament.

“This is the day of our sovereignty,” said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “Together we will go forward toward a free, prosperous and glorious Iraq, where Iraqis can live with pride and dignity and can be proud that they are sons of this beloved country.”

The cabinet approved the final version of the security agreement on Nov. 16. Since then, the government has furiously worked to gain approval of the measure, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, when the United Nations mandate that currently governs American troop operations in the country expires.

In sharp contrast to the atmosphere during the drafting of Iraq’s Constitution in 2005, there was relatively little violence on the streets during the parliamentary negotiations, despite intense and sometimes contentious debates. Within the halls of Parliament, Shiite religious clerics in swirling robes and turbans and women in long black abayas huddled in consultation with secular Sunnis and Kurds in tailored suits. There was far less of the intense mutual distrust that defined the discussions three years ago.

President Bush congratulated the Parliament on the vote.

“Today’s vote affirms the growth of Iraq’s democracy and increasing ability to secure itself,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “Two years ago this day seemed unlikely — but the success of the surge and the courage of the Iraqi people set the conditions for these two agreements to be negotiated and approved by the Iraqi Parliament.”

The security agreement and an accompanying document that outlines America’s relationship with Iraq in areas like economics, health care and education, would grant Iraq considerable authority over American troop operations, requiring court orders to search buildings and detain suspects.

It also sets out a timetable requiring American troops to withdraw from cities and towns by June 30, 2009, and for all troops to leave the country by the end of 2011 unless the Iraqis and Americans negotiate a separate pact to extend the American military presence. (In contrast, President-elect Barack Obama campaigned under a promise to withdraw all American combat brigades from Iraq by May 2010, but set no date for a complete withdrawal.)

The agreement commanded broad support, although it remains unclear how the several dozen lawmakers who failed to show up would have voted. There remained vocal opposition from followers of the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and some hard-line Sunni Arabs who disagreed vehemently with the idea of striking a deal with the United States, a country they view as having waged an illegal war.

“America couldn’t gain international legitimacy before the war,” said Mohamed al-Dayni, a member of the National Dialogue Front, one of the Sunni parties. “And they didn’t have it until a few seconds before the vote, but unfortunately they got it from the Iraqi Parliament.”

Nevertheless, the agreement enjoyed broad support across sectarian lines, largely because of the insistence of Iraq’s pre-eminent religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who from his modest office in Najaf has reached out to leaders from every faction.

The ayatollah told legislators and other members of the Iraqi government that it was not enough just to get the bill through, but that they needed to build a broad national consensus. That meant that the Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers who supported the deal from the outset had to fashion several accompanying measures to satisfy the doubts of a number of wary Sunnis.

Approved Thursday along with the security pact were a nonbinding resolution that included a commitment to address longstanding grievances of minority blocs in the Parliament as well as a law requiring a referendum on the pact to be held in July 2009. This resolution explicitly addressed Sunni demands for the enforcement of an amnesty law for thousands of detainees in Iraqi custody and for a greater sectarian balance in the security forces.

Many Sunnis and independents in Parliament cited the referendum to justify their support of the agreement. With provincial elections scheduled for the end of January, none of the political parties wanted to be accused of making an unpopular agreement with the Americans, who are widely viewed here as an occupation force.

The approval of the referendum was seen as a way to ensure that the Americans respect the pact’s terms — at least in the coming months, said Adnan Pachachi, a senior member of the secular Iraqiya Party. The referendum will make the Americans “more careful and they will not make mistakes that will cause the Iraqi people to reject the agreement,” he said.

Although Sunni lawmakers were the most vocal about their concerns, most of Iraq’s political parties submitted lists of demands to the government, exposing a chasm between Mr. Maliki’s circle and the others. Even some of the toughest holdouts acknowledged that their objections were not to the pact itself; they resisted, they said, because of the likelihood that its passage would bolster Mr. Maliki’s government.

Throughout the government’s negotiations on the pact, which officially began on Aug. 26, 2007, but got under way in earnest last spring, neighboring countries, especially Iran, have been invisible but influential players. As recently as Wednesday night, lawmakers said messages came from Iran expressing disapproval of the political deal that was essential to the pact’s ratification.

But lawmakers nevertheless pushed on with the negotiations, and the final compromise, arrived at less than an hour before the Parliament vote, differed little from the version rejected by the Iranians. Lawmakers who over the past few days had been tense, chain-smoking and sleep deprived, appeared relieved and even a little proud that they had come together and, despite accusations that they lacked patriotism, approved a pact that they had come to call “The Withdrawal Agreement.”

“In 2003 we didn’t have a right to decide, but now we have a chance to deal with reality and to deal with the occupation forces,” said Dhi’aa al-Deen al-Fayeh, a member of the Shiite majority bloc in Parliament. “Now we can regain our sovereignty gradually, and now we have a timetable and the whole world is a witness to this agreement.”

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Farrell, Suadad Salhy, Atheer Kakan and Riyadh Mohammed.

    Iraq Approves Deal Charting End of U.S. Role, NYT, 28.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/28/world/middleeast/28iraq.html?hp

    Related > http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/20081119_SOFA_FINAL_AGREED_TEXT.pdf






Protests in Baghdad on U.S. Pact


November 22, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — More than 10,000 supporters of the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr gathered in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on Friday to protest the Iraqi government plan to sign a security agreement which would maintain American troops in the country for up to three years.

With powerful symbolism, demonstrators hanged an effigy of President Bush from the plinth that once supported the statue of Saddam Hussein that was toppled after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9, 2003.

Preachers and political leaders supporting Mr. Sadr, along with some Sunni opponents of the pact, erected their podium in the same colonnaded traffic circle. The Iraqi crowd applauded the downfall of Mr. Hussein’s regime, and also placed a black hood over the effigy of President Bush. They put a whip in the effigy’s right hand and, in its left, a briefcase on which were written the words “the security agreement is shame and dishonor.”

Chanting “God is great” and “No, no to America; no, no to Israel,” the protesters sat in rows of 50 stretching back more than half a mile.

The rally came on the Muslim holy day as the Iraqi Parliament took time off from discussing the controversial status of forces agreement which Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has negotiated with the Americans and for which he is now trying to secure parliamentary approval in Baghdad.

Protesters arrived overnight to get in place in case Mr. Maliki’s government blocked the central Baghdad square. The crowd was allowed to assemble, but Iraqi Army snipers and machine-gunners took up positions on rooftops overlooking Firdos Square. There was no sign of American forces and the protest seemed peaceful.

A spokesman for Mr. Sadr in Baghdad said his followers opposed the security agreement because they did not believe assurances that the Americans would leave.

“In this protest we want to show the parliament that the popular resistance to this agreement is far bigger than that which has appeared in the last three or four days,” he said. “There is no guarantee that what has been written and the promises the prime minister has made will be practical — for example, the withdrawal.”

    Protests in Baghdad on U.S. Pact, NYT, 22.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/22/world/middleeast/22iraq.html?hp






For some military families, a long goodbye


10 November 2008
USA Today
By Gregg Zoroya


Harold and Mary Mowl were shocked by what they saw when they first visited their son, Kevin, in the intensive care unit at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

A 150-pound bomb had exploded under Kevin's vehicle in Baghdad on Aug. 2, 2007. The blast broke his left arm and leg, his back, ankles and feet. His face was swollen; his eye sockets, nose and jaw were shattered. Doctors later removed some of his skull to allow his brain to swell.

"We didn't know where to touch him," Harold Mowl said.

Clearly, the 21-year-old son he had brought up in Upstate New York had been largely erased by the roadside blast that killed three other soldiers and wounded 11, the father said. The massive brain damage had taken so much away.

"If he recovered, he would be someone else," Harold said. "We said to each other right away: 'We will take care of him no matter what.' "

Kevin Mowl and critically wounded troops like him are symbols of a new type of war casualty on this sixth Veterans Day since the United States invaded Iraq. They are wounded troops who probably would have died on the battlefield in conflicts of previous generations, but thanks to advances in emergency medical care by the military, they come home alive. More than a dozen have lingered for months or even years before dying, usually of infection.

It's a situation that puts families, doctors and military officials in the difficult position of balancing slim hopes of a partial recovery with the desire not to see their loved one, patient and servicemember suffer any more.

"These families have had their hearts wrenched out of them," Marine Lt. Col. Grant Olbrich says of the relatives of the most severely wounded troops. Until recently, Olbrich was an advocate for families of severely burned patients as part of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.

Families are "looking at the choices and saying, 'What should I pray for?' " Olbrich says. " 'Should I pray that my child dies quickly and doesn't suffer anymore? Or should I pray that they survive and have as normal a life as possible?' "

Kevin Mowl's case was typical — months of desperate treatment, brief hope for his family, and then death in February.

"This is not your father's war. The families now are involved almost literally from the point of injury," says Philip Perdue, trauma surgeon and chief of general surgery at Bethesda naval hospital and the doctor who treated Kevin Mowl.

"They see their loved ones in the ICU with the breathing tubes, as sick as can be. … They're at the bedside all day long. Sometimes, the patients don't get better. And they see the person across the way get better. And they see someone else come and go. And it's very wearing."

The Army and Marine Corps have created programs aimed at helping relatives of severely wounded servicemembers. Patient advocates from each service's wounded warrior program work with non-profit groups to pay for family transportation and find lodging for extended family and friends.

"When something happens (to a servicemember), it's like a member of the family getting hurt, especially the critically injured. Because you see them suffer and you see them fight," says Marine Col. Gregory Boyle, commander of the Wounded Warrior Regiment.

Despite such programs, family members of severely wounded servicemembers "don't know what they're stepping into," Olbrich says.

For the Mowls, doctors at the Naval Hospital encouraged them to give their son a chance to get better, Harold Mowl says.

The doctors said the brain remains a mysterious organ with untapped capacity for some recovery.

"We wanted Kevin to have every opportunity to succeed," Harold says, adding that his son's doctors never talked about a major setback until the very end, when Kevin began to fail quickly after seven months of treatment.

"That last day," the father says, "we agreed to just let him go."

Helping families cope

Harold Mowl, 61, is superintendent of the Rochester (N.Y.) School for the Deaf and the third generation of his family born without hearing. He and his wife were interviewed for this story through a sign-language interpreter.

Mary Mowl, 57, also is deaf, and is a volunteer executive directorof a group that advocates for abused deaf people.

Their children, Carlene and Kevin, were born with normal hearing and learned sign language before they could speak, first signaling words such as "milk," "water" and "sleep."

After Kevin was wounded, Bethesda Naval Hospital hired interpreters to help the Mowls every day at an overall cost of $60,000.

Jeannie Jones-Flanagan, a family advocate from the Army Wounded Warrior Program, tapped military and charitable resources to pay for the Mowls' lodging, travel, meals, laundry, medications and myriad other expenses as Mary moved onto the hospital campus to be with her son and Harold traveled there every weekend.

"I'm helping them take care of their business, get through the day, work through situations, make small decisions, sometimes make big decisions," Jones-Flanagan says. "It's a lot of networking, knowing people in certain departments so that you can cut through the red tape and get things done."

She and other advocates are backed by staffs of soldiers, social workers, chaplains and mental health caregivers.

They work with charitable groups to cover mortgage payments, utility bills, lost income and family medical needs.

The government covers daily expenses and lodging for up to three family members attending in-patient relatives.

Advocates must arrange charitable support for extended family and friends.

"What is new for the (advocates) is that they've been in place long enough now to get the system down and be more effective case managers and advocates," says Liza Biggers, whose brother, Ethan, lived for a year after he was shot in the head by a sniper in 2006. She is an appointee to a Department of Veterans Affairs committee examining the treatment of wounded.

"Being in the military medical system is incredibly complicated," Biggers says.

"It's absolutely essential to have someone help navigate the veterans and their families through it."

A message from the Army

Spc. Kevin Mowl was about six weeks into an extension on a year of duty in Iraq when insurgents detonated 150 pounds of explosives inside a storm drain under the Stryker vehicle in which he was riding Aug. 2, 2007. The Stryker was ripped apart and overturned.

The next day, Harold and Mary Mowl returned from her first trip to Europe when they found a torn slip of paper in the door of their home in Pittsford, N.Y., outside Rochester. Scribbled words said to call the Army.

Using a video interpreter service provided by the phone company, Harold Mowl used sign language to speak with an operator who made the call. He learned that his son was "seriously hurt" and heading home.

He called his daughter, Carlene, 25, in Manhattan. The operator passed along the news to Carlene. Harold Mowl watched the operator sign back, drawing imaginary lines down her cheeks. She was saying his daughter was weeping into the phone.

The Army flew Harold, Mary and Carlene to Washington, put them up in the Navy Lodge, a hotel on the hospital campus and provided each $64 in expense money for every day they were there.

Harold Mowl commuted to Bethesda every weekend or whenever his son was in surgery. His son underwent 12 major operations and countless lesser procedures, Perdue says.

Carlene arrived every other weekend. Two charities, Operation Hero Miles and Air Compassion for Veterans, used donated frequent-flyer miles to buy the Mowls' airline tickets.

The non-profit Armed Forces Foundation covered lodging for Kevin Mowl's grandmother, Jane "Betty" Mowl, and extended family and friends who visited.

Navy doctors worked for weeks mending Kevin Mowl's many fractures and defeating multiple infections in his body.

Like other severely wounded servicemembers, Kevin Mowl could not speak because of a tracheotomy that helped him breathe. But he could sign.

Doctors watched with amazement as he communicated, confusingly at first, but then in periods of lucidness, with his hands.

It was rare insight into a brain-damaged patient's progress, doctors told Harold Mowl.

In a blog they began to discuss Kevin's situation, family members seized on such reasons for hope.

An entry from Sept. 1, 2007, says, "Today was a most exciting day for us … he flashed an 'I love you' to Carlene."

'He is very quiet'

Kevin was in ICU for five months before he was moved to a ward, to the frustration and exhaustion of his family.

"Kevin continues to be a mixed bag psychosocially," his father blogged last January. "He is very quiet, and he does not respond consistently."

"We often asked the doctor what would be his quality of life," Mary Mowl recalls. "They couldn't give the answer, but they were optimistic."

She remained with her son every day, preparing her own meals in the kitchenette in her hotel room or lunching at the hospital's restaurant.

In January, she moved to a hotel in Richmond, Va., paid for by the Army, when Kevin entered a rehabilitation program at a VA clinic there.

The end was very fast: infection.

Kevin Mowl had been returned to Bethesda for brain surgery. A week later, he was wracked by fever and growing weaker. It was sepsis.

Doctors told the family that recovery was nearly impossible. Kevin had previously signed a do-not-resuscitate order. His father directed that life support be removed.

Kevin died Feb. 25.

"We got to see him a little bit longer," Harold says of the anxiety the family endured during Kevin's treatment.

"I wanted to see the doctors taking care of him. I wanted to see him taking every chance to succeed. It was not successful. OK. I think, for me, that was better than getting a call saying that he died."

His wife nods in agreement.

"It's hard," says Carlene Mowl, "because you're in between" a combat death and survival.

"In one sense, it's nice to have the time to say goodbye on your own terms," she says.

"But it's also hard to watch somebody try so hard to get better and then just not make it."

    For some military families, a long goodbye, UT, 10.11.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2008-11-10-casualties_N.htm






Extremist Leader in Iraq Sends Message to US


November 7, 2008
Filed at 7:32 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- The self-styled leader of an Iraqi al-Qaida front group is calling on President-elect Obama and other Western leaders to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The purported leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, makes the call in a speech posted on the Internet.

It was reported Friday by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist Web sites.

Al-Baghdadi makes the call ''on behalf of my brothers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Chechnya'' and says it's better ''for you and us'' to ''withdraw your forces'' and ''return to your homes.''

He also blames the financial crisis on the wars ''launched in Muslim countries.''

The U.S. military says al-Baghdadi is an actor who provides a voice for al-Qaida propaganda.

    Extremist Leader in Iraq Sends Message to US, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-ML-Iraq-Al-Qaida.html






Troops hope Obama brings them home responsibly


Wed Nov 5, 2008
3:08am EST
By Tim Cocks


BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Watching election results that showed Barack Obama would be their new commander-in-chief, U.S. soldiers in Iraq said they hoped he would fulfill his promise to bring them home quickly and responsibly.

Breakfast was already being served in Baghdad on Wednesday morning when Tuesday's polls closed back home, and at Forward Operating Base Prosperity all eyes in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne were on the dining hall's giant TVs.

Someone whooped when NBC called the election, but mostly the troops sat in rapt silence, eyeing their new president while eating their eggs.

"What soldier's going to say they don't want to go home? I have a wife and four kids. I want to go home. But one thing we all want is to make sure the friends we lost over here weren't for nothing," said Captain Ryan Morrison, from Colorado Springs.

"We have to pull out responsibly. I have the feeling he wants to do it responsibly," he said.

Obama has pledged to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office, a promise that seemed bold when he first made it last year but now coincides roughly with the timetable favored by Iraq's government.

"I'm excited. He's going to be president and he's going to pull us from over here," said Sergeant First Class Norman Brown.

"If McCain had won we'd be over here for years, and I mean years and years. I reckon even people here don't want us here."

With levels of violence falling -- last month saw the fewest violent deaths among both Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops since the war began -- Iraqis increasingly express their hope that the force of more than 150,000 U.S. troops can leave soon.

"I as an Iraqi am asking Obama to keep his promises about the withdrawal of the U.S. security forces from our land," said Baqi Naqid, a Baghdad journalist. "We don't need an occupation."


The Iraqi government is negotiating a security pact with the outgoing administration of President George W. Bush that would require U.S. troops to exit by the end of 2011. But some Iraqis still fear violence may return if U.S. troops leave too rapidly.

"They came on a mission. They should complete it. There should be 100 percent security before they leave," said Baghdad housewife Um Saba, 58. She said she preferred the Republicans for supporting an increase of troops last year that she credited with helping to curb violence.

Among U.S. troops, political loyalties were divided and debate spirited during the long campaign. African American soldiers described Obama's victory as inspirational.

"It gives me hope that anybody can accomplish anything no matter what your race, color or creed," said Los Angeles native Staff Sergeant Andre Frazier, adding he hoped it would improve the U.S. image abroad.

"We're going to get back to where we were as a nation before the turmoil kicked in, in terms of other nations not seeing us as we are," he said.

There was also a great deal of support for Obama's defeated rival John McCain, whose own war record makes him popular in a military that socially tilts toward the right.

"I supported McCain because he's closer to the constitutional values I believe in and because he clearly supports the military," said another soldier from Colorado who asked not to be named when giving his political preference in uniform. "But in the end it doesn't matter. We'll serve whoever is the commander in chief."

(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)

    Troops hope Obama brings them home responsibly, R, 5.11.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE4A441P20081105






US Soldiers in Iraq Focus on War in Voting


October 31, 2008
Filed at 2:33 p.m. ET
The New York Times


MOSUL, Iraq (AP) -- Car bombs rather than Obama, making it home rather than McCain dominate the talk among many U.S. soldiers in Iraq's deadliest city during the final countdown to America's presidential election.

Dangers, distance from home and the dawn-to-dark effort in an alien environment push U.S. politics into a corner for many soldiers -- especially in combat outposts where television and the Internet are not readily available.

''Regardless of who wins the election, we are going to be here 15 months. And our mission is not going to be fundamentally affected, at least in the short term,'' said Capt. Justin Davis Harper after returning from a patrol into the northern city of Mosul's most violent zone.

Harper, of Sherman, Texas, said ''a small minority are excited about elections'' in his 130-member ''Killer Troop'' of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. But most have not voted although they have had the opportunity to do so.

The U.S. military has traditionally tilted toward the Republican Party, and analysts said they do not expect this election to be different. But they also said Barack Obama's appeal to youth, African-Americans and Hispanics -- all groups over-represented in the military -- could cut into support for John McCain.

''Most soldiers talk about what they are going to get out of the election -- our pay raises, who will want to send us home or not,'' said Cpl. Sean Morton, a 25-year-old reconnaissance scout from Boston.

The voting process for troops overseas has been criticized as overly bureaucratic, antiquated and flawed.

Soldiers must request by mail an absentee ballot from the local election district where they last lived. Then they are sent a paper ballot to fill out and mail back. Some soldiers said they never got ballots.

But voting assistance officers stress they made every effort to help and encourage the 146,000 soldiers in Iraq to vote.

''Be Smart. Do your part. Vote!'' reads a poster in the Mosul unit's main room.

''It's cool to be able to vote out here and not miss out on what others at home are doing,'' said Morton, adding that he sent in his request for an absentee ballot six months ago but only received it last week.

The number of absentee military ballots applied for that ultimately get counted is consistently low. In the last federal election, only about 30 percent of overseas military ballots were tallied, according to data from the federal Election Assistance Commission and the Pew Center on the States.

At meal times in the vast dining hall at Mosul's Camp Marez, some soldiers set their trays near a large-TV screen invariably tuned to Fox News, which is widely regarded as espousing conservative viewpoints. But in line with the historic separation of military and civilian government, the troops have been told to keep their political opinions close to their chests.

''The general policy for anything to do with voting is to not expose any of our military members to interviews or filming during the election season. As service members, it is not appropriate to give any indication on how we feel concerning the presidential election,'' said Lt. Cmdr. David Russell, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

Some officers say they did not send in absentee ballots to underline their political neutrality.

''You can find every shade of opinion among the troops, right across the board,'' said Maj. John Oliver, an operations officer in the cavalry regiment. Oliver, from Fontana, Calif., did not vote.

How soldiers in Iraq or anywhere else vote will not be accurately known since government agencies do not make such data public.

''My guess is that the military will continue to vote Republican but less so in that direction because this time there are conflicting impulses at work,'' said Richard H. Kohn at the University of North Carolina.

McCain, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam War POW, is attractive to service members and ''adept at its language,'' Kohn said. ''But at the same time, I detect a disappointment and even anger at the way Bush has managed, ranging from treatment of the wounded to gross errors in waging the war in Iraq.''

Peter D. Feaver, a political scientist at Duke University, said Obama has appeal among the youth, African-Americans and Hispanics, which could boost his votes from the military where those groups are disproportionately represented.

In Mosul, some officers seemed less focused on the U.S. vote than the upcoming Iraqi provincial elections, which they hope will calm violence in this city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Others hoped Iraqis will be inspired by seeing democracy in action in the United States.

In January ''we'll have a new government after a long political process and we will not have shed one ounce of blood,'' said Lt. Col. Brian R. Bisacre, of Wakefield, Mass., who commands the 728th Military Police Battalion. ''I think the Iraqi people will watch that and want to emulate that process.''


Associated Press photographer Maya Alleruzzo in Mosul contributed to this report.

    US Soldiers in Iraq Focus on War in Voting, NYT, 31.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-ML-Iraq-Voting-From-War.html






U.S. deaths in Iraq on track for record low


30 October 2008
USA Today
By Charles Levinson


BAGHDAD — October could be the first month of the Iraq war when no U.S. servicemembers will have died in combat in Baghdad.

As of Thursday, the Pentagon had reported 13 U.S. troops killed in combat and non-combat incidents this month in Iraq. If the number holds, it would tie July for the lowest monthly U.S. death toll of the 5½-year-old war.

Security has improved in the Iraqi capital and elsewhere thanks to truces by sectarian militias, more effective U.S. counterinsurgency strategies, and a dramatic increase in the size and effectiveness of Iraqi forces.

Militant groups such as al-Qaeda have shifted their base to Afghanistan, where U.S. fatalities in October were higher than those in Iraq for the second consecutive month.

"What you're seeing is a migration of the extremists from one area to the other," said Navy Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a spokesman for the U.S. military's Central Command, which is responsible for both Iraq and Afghanistan. "They're not having the success that they had in Iraq and they're looking for other places to go."

Fifteen U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan in October, as of Thursday, all from enemy fire. There are about one-third as many U.S. troops in Afghanistan as in Iraq.

"The main U.S. effort has been in Iraq, and in Afghanistan we've been trying to tread water and buy time until we have the resources to devote there," said Nathan Fick, a retired Marine officer and fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

The U.S. will start shifting resources next month when 2,000 Marines originally set to deploy to Iraq will be sent to Afghanistan. In January, the Army is rerouting 3,700 soldiers to Afghanistan.

Gen. David Petraeus takes over Central Command today, putting the leader of last year's U.S. troop "surge" in Iraq in charge of forces in Afghanistan as well.

Thursday, negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq over a long-term security pact appeared to hit another snag.

Ali al-Adeeb, a close adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, told the Associated Press that Iraq wants a guarantee U.S. forces will leave by 2011 — a condition resisted by the Bush administration.

Failure to reach an agreement before year's end could force a suspension of American military operations.

Contributing: Paul Overberg in McLean, Va.

    U.S. deaths in Iraq on track for record low, UT, 30.10.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2008-10-30-iraqnews_N.htm






Syria and Iran Blame U.S. in Blast on Iraq Border


October 28, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — An explosion on Sunday killed nine construction workers and wounded 19 others near the border of Iraq and Syria, the police in Anbar Province said.

Local witnesses said they believed the blast was caused by American shelling, but Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Youssef, the provincial police chief in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, which borders Syria, said that could not be confirmed.

The police statement did not indicate on which side of the border the blast had taken place.

Syria’s state-run news channel later reported that United States helicopters had attacked an area within Syria, near the town of Abu Kamal. The official news agency, SANA, cited an anonymous official as saying four American helicopters had “launched aggression on a civilian building under construction,” killing eight people, and that the Syrian deputy foreign minister had summoned the chargé d’affaires from the American and Iraqi Embassies in protest.

In Tehran, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the attack on Monday, saying a violation of the territorial integrity of any sovereign state was unacceptable, The Associated Press reported. Syria’s state-run media intensified its criticism of the United States on Monday, with the government newspaper Tishrin accusing American forces of committing “a war crime,” Agence-France Press said.

A senior American military official, however, said United States military helicopters were not involved in the incident.

The United States is trying to negotiate a strategic agreement with Iraq that would allow American troops to remain in the country and carry out military operations. The pact faces strenuous opposition from neighboring countries, especially Syria and Iran, because of fears that the United States might use Iraqi territory to carry out attacks on them.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran and has withdrawn its ambassador to Syria.

Also late Sunday, an Iraqi lawmaker announced that the country’s oil and gas law had been sent on to Parliament. The law had been stalled in Iraq’s cabinet since February 2007 because of disputes over control of Iraq’s oil fields, and has gone through several revisions.

Abdul-Hadi al-Hasani, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on oil, gas and natural resources, said the latest draft of the law had been received by his committee on Thursday and was undergoing careful review before being presented to the full legislature.

“The draft still needs more discussion and the opinion of experts in this field before it really goes to the Parliament,” Mr. Hasani said in a telephone interview. “We wish to activate the law very soon, and we’re serious about it. We talked today with the parliamentary leadership and went through some points concerning the draft of the law.”

Also Sunday, the chief of the Wasit provincial council announced that he had refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with United States forces that was intended to formalize Wasit’s transfer to the control of Iraq’s own security forces. Wasit, a province that borders Iran, was due this week to become the 13th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed over to full Iraqi control.

The council chief, Muhammad Hassan Jasem, said he had rejected the memorandum because its first article gave the United States permission to continue military operations in Wasit.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, Mudhafer al-Husaini from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Ramadi and Wasit Province. Alan Cowell contributed from Paris.

    Syria and Iran Blame U.S. in Blast on Iraq Border, NYT, 28.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/28/world/middleeast/28syria.html?hp






Insurgent Commander Killed in Iraq


October 16, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — The American military announced on Wednesday that its soldiers had killed the second in command of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia who directed the group’s operations in northern Iraq, the area of the country that remains the most troubled by extremist Sunni insurgents.

The insurgent was identified as Abu Qaswarah, also known as Abu Sara, and was a Moroccan. He was a close associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a previous leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and a Jordanian exile who was killed in 2006. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni extremist group that American intelligence agencies say is led by foreigners.

The military said Abu Qaswarah was killed on Oct. 5 in the Mosul area in the north of Iraq. The area has been the focus of an ongoing military operation since last summer when Iraqi forces accelerated their efforts with the Americans to stamp out the insurgency there.

However, the insurgents’ hold has been hard to break and complicated by ethnic tensions in the city between Kurds and Sunni Arabs. Adding to the tensions, attacks against Christians have escalated dramatically in the last two weeks and more than 1,000 Christian families have fled their homes in fear, according to Christian leaders.

Mosul is the capital of Nineveh Province, which was a center for Sunni Baathists with ties to Saddam Hussein and fertile ground for the insurgency, which attacked both Iraqi government forces and the American military.

Members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia combined with other insurgent groups and former Baathists to stage bombings, assassinations and kidnappings in the area. In January, American officials said the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, had regularly slipped in and out of Mosul to try to rally the militants there.

Although Abu Qaswarah was responsible primarily for the north of Iraq, he was the organization’s senior operational leader, the military said.

He planned and coordinated operations and helped run the smuggling operations that brought foreign extremists into the country, primarily through Syria. Foreigners have been blamed for many of the suicide attacks throughout the country.

In an operation in Mosul on Oct. 5, American forces, acting on intelligence, were led to a building where Abu Qaswarah was staying with some associates.

The extremists opened fire on the American forces and the Americans returned fire, killing five of them, the military said.

Amid the attacks on Christians, on Tuesday a church in Mosul was bombed.

On Wednesday in Mosul, Iraqi government security forces cordoned off several neighborhoods where many Christians lived until recently and imposed a curfew. People in the area and provincial council officials said these steps were the first in a newly intensified military operation in the area.

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Mosul, Iraq.

    Insurgent Commander Killed in Iraq, NYT, 16.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/world/middleeast/16iraq.html?hp






Iraqi Christians Flee Mosul

in the Wake of Attacks


October 15, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — A church in the northern city of Mosul was bombed Tuesday as Christians continued to leave the city to escape recent violence that has been directed at them.

Several church leaders accused the Iraqi government of trying to cover up the extent of the problems facing Christians there and of overstating its success in improving security in Mosul, one of the country’s most volatile cities.

As the government announced plans on Tuesday to send officials to Mosul to assist the Christian community, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, sent some of his most senior aides from the holy Shiite city of Najaf to Baghdad to meet with church leaders in an expression of solidarity.

“For Christians in Mosul this is a time for tears, because from the beginning we did not get support, least of all from state officials,” Msgr. Shlemon Warduni, the auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Patriarchate, told the Shiite delegation during a meeting on Tuesday at the Virgin Mary Church in eastern Baghdad.

“The government acted only belatedly,” he said.

One of Mr. Sadr’s representatives at the meeting, Sheik Muhanned al-Gharrawi, said that he had just spoken to Mr. Sadr by telephone and that he was instructed to convey a message from his leader: “We will not hesitate to turn into human shields for our Christian brothers if need be.”

Another Shiite cleric, Hazem al-Araji, said that some of the families that had fled Mosul to predominantly Christian villages in the Nineveh Plain, northeast of the city, sought the protection of his movement.

“We told them that we cannot provide military help but that we will exert pressure on the government,” Mr. Araji said.

He added that his movement would send trucks with food, mattresses and blankets to aid displaced families.

Mr. Sadr’s followers say their militia, the Mahdi Army, has been dismantled.

Both Monsignor Warduni and a Christian community leader, Iyad al-Ashouri, accused the Iraqi government, notably the Ministry of Defense, of belittling the extent of the crisis in Mosul.

The government, which ordered additional forces to Mosul on Sunday, said in a statement that it was sending a ministerial delegation there to “address the problems and needs of our Christian brothers.”

On Tuesday, a homemade bomb placed at the door of the Miskinta Church in the Old City district of Mosul detonated and caused some damage to the building but no casualties, Monsignor Warduni said.

Security officials in Mosul confirmed the episode, the first known attack on a Christian site on the city’s west side since a wave of attacks against Christians began in late September. Most of the violence has been on the east side of the city.

Ramzi Mikha, a Christian member of the Nineveh provincial council, said that although the pace of Christians leaving Mosul had slowed on Tuesday, dozens were still leaving, with some heading to the relative safety of some neighborhoods in Baghdad.

It is unclear who is responsible for the attacks. Some Arab politicians have blamed the Kurds; Kurdish politicians have said that former Baathists and “terrorists” are responsible.

Five Sunni insurgent groups issued separate statements over the past few days disavowing the attacks, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militants’ Web sites.

The Rev. Nadheer Dakko of the St. Georges Chaldean Church in the Ghadeer neighborhood of Baghdad, who is also acting as a liaison for various Christian groups, said he had compiled a list of 1,795 families who had left Mosul since late September.

He said 10 families had come from Mosul to his church seeking food, supplies and shelter.

Shukria Youssef, a member of the St. Georges congregation whose sister is a nun at an orphanage in Mosul, said many of the Christians remaining in the city were destitute and could not afford to leave.

“As long as there are people my sister and the other nuns will not leave,” she said. “They consider themselves spiritual soldiers.”

Haitham Haazem, a Christian who fled to Baghdad from Mosul with his wife on Sunday, said Iraqi forces had restricted themselves to fixed checkpoints and had little control over entire neighborhoods on the east side, where killings and intimidations took place.

In other developments, an American soldier was killed Tuesday in an attack while he was on patrol in western Baghdad, the United States military said in a statement.

In London, Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, met on Monday with representatives of 35 oil companies that have qualified to bid on long-term service contracts at six major oil fields and two gas fields. The winning bids will be announced next summer.

Major foreign oil companies are returning to Iraq 36 years after losing concessions when the industry was nationalized.

Mohammed Hussein contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Mosul.

    Iraqi Christians Flee Mosul in the Wake of Attacks, NYT, 16.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/15/world/middleeast/15iraq.html?ref=middleeast







Nearing the End


October 9, 2008
The New York Times


No matter who wins the presidential election, the United States is on its way out of Iraq. Senator Barack Obama offers the most specific and speediest withdrawal plan, but even Senator John McCain will not be able to keep a large number of combat troops there for long.

Without a major pullback from Iraq, the Pentagon will not have enough troops to fight in Afghanistan — where the United States is in danger of losing the real war on terrorism against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

If that is not reason enough to begin serious preparations for a withdrawal, the Iraqis have decided that it’s time to scale back the American military presence. That’s the crux of a new security agreement that American and Iraqi officials say is nearly finished.

It would require American combat troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 unless Baghdad asks them to stay. That’s longer than Mr. Obama’s mid-2010 target but still the kind of finite framework that President Bush and Mr. McCain long opposed but are now being forced to accept.

We still do not know what Mr. McCain means with talk about some kind of magical “victory” in Iraq. Even American military commanders acknowledge that recent security gains are fragile. And there is no near-term expectation that Iraq can be the kind of stable democracy that Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain had envisioned.

What we do know is that only by setting a clear deadline and a sound withdrawal plan can America hope to keep encouraging Iraqis to make and implement the political reforms needed to stabilize the country. There is a lot to be done, and done quickly, to ensure that the withdrawal is safe, orderly and limits further damage to Iraq and its neighbors.

One of the most urgent tasks for the Bush administration is to ensure that Iraq’s Shiite-led government fulfills its commitment to integrate about 54,000 members of the Awakening Councils — Sunnis paid by the United States to provide security in local neighborhoods — into security and other government jobs.

The Sunnis’ 2006 decision to work with the Americans instead of attacking them has dealt a crippling, perhaps fatal blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq and is a major reason for the decline in violence.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his allies have never trusted the councils and fear the Sunnis are just biding their time for a fight against the Shiites. Instead of trying to co-opt them, they are still looking for ways to defeat them — a very dangerous course.

Recently, the government arrested some Awakening Council leaders and balked at providing promised jobs to council members. For Iraq to function peacefully, all ethnic groups have to be part of the system.

The Iraqi Parliament, meanwhile, should be commended for finally approving a long-overdue law that paves the way for provincial elections by the end of January. Baghdad and Washington must make every effort to ensure the election is as free and fair as possible.

The elections will give a chance for participation in politics to tribal Sunnis and impoverished Shiites who previously opted out or were frozen out. But the elections also mean that some groups now in power may lose clout and may be tempted to return to violence. Emboldened by unconditional American support, Mr. Maliki has not shown enough interest in accommodating political rivals. Mr. Bush must insist that he work with other Iraqi leaders to ensure the election results are respected.

Lamentably, there is still no solution to a fierce dispute over the ethnically mixed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk — where provincial elections have been postponed until next year — or to the demand by Iraq’s Christians and other minorities for representation in government. There is still no law apportioning Iraq’s oil resources. Time is quickly running out for Washington and Baghdad to find answers. As The Times’s Alissa Rubin reported last week, there are still “scores to settle” in Iraq.

    Nearing the End, NYT, 9.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/09/opinion/09thu1.html






11 Killed in Iraq Raid, U.S. Says


October 5, 2008
Filed at 12:09 p.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- Eleven Iraqis, including women and children, were killed Sunday after U.S. forces came under attack by gunfire and a suicide bomber during a raid in Mosul, the military said. No U.S. casualties were immediately reported.

Elsewhere in the northern city, gunmen opened fire on mourners in a funeral tent, killing four people and wounding three others, according to Iraqi officials.

Violence has declined drastically throughout Iraq, but Mosul remains a major security challenge despite recent U.S.-Iraqi military operations aimed at routing al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents from the city.

''Most of the Mosul residents live in fear because of such raids conducted by U.S. forces, and even sometimes the Iraqi forces,'' said Thaier Ahmed, a 32-year-old teacher. ''It is a horrible incident that has led to the killing of innocent people, including children.''

In a boost to peace efforts, the first Egyptian foreign minister to visit Iraq in nearly two decades arrived in Baghdad and promised to help Iraq face its challenges.

''We reject sectarianism, extremism, violence,'' Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. ''And we hope that peace and security will prevail in Iraq.''

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari welcomed plans to open a new Egyptian Embassy soon in Baghdad. Cairo currently has several diplomats based in the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

The high-level visit reflected decreasing tension between Iraq's Shiite-led government and mainly Sunni Arab countries in the region.

In the Mosul raid, American troops came under heavy gunfire after entering a house believed to be holding a suspected insurgent on Sunday, and a man inside detonated a suicide vest, the military said in a statement.

Five ''terrorists'' as well as three women and three children were killed, according to the statement. It did not specify how the people died, nor reported their nationalities.

Two other children, including one who was injured, were found near the building and moved to safety, the military said. A weapons cache was later found inside.

''This is just another tragic example of how al-Qaida in Iraq hides behind innocent Iraqis,'' U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll said.

Iraqi police officials in Mosul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information, said the 11 people killed were all family members, including a 7-year-old boy.

Hours later, the funeral tent was struck in western Mosul's restive Zanjili neighborhood, according to police and hospital officials.

Four Iraqi employees of a television station were kidnapped and killed in the area last month.

A secondary school teacher, who was an ethnic Turkomen, also was shot to death near his house in central Mosul on Sunday, a police officer said.

The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

In other violence, a bomb targeted a convoy carrying Western contractors in the southern city of Basra, officials said. One Iraqi was wounded, but no one in the convoy was harmed.

The attack occurred as the contractors headed to a new children's hospital to inspect work on the building, said Maj. Bill Young, a spokesman for the British military in Iraq.

He said there were three civilian cars with workers from a Western construction company. No members of the British military were present.

An Iraqi police official in Basra said one Iraqi civilian was wounded. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military raised the number of people injured in a helicopter crash in Baghdad the previous night from four to five. It said three were Americans.

Two U.S. helicopters collided while landing at a base in Baghdad late Saturday. One Iraqi soldier was killed.

The U.S. military said it is investigating, but that hostile fire did not appear to be the cause.


Associated Press writer Bushra Juhi

and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

11 Killed in Iraq Raid, U.S. Says, NYT, 5.10.2008,



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