Iraqi Civil War
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Iraq getting worse: panel
ASSOCIATED PRESS - December 6th 2006.

WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush’s policy in Iraq “is not working,” a high-level commission said bluntly today, prodding the administration to embrace diplomacy to stabilize the country and allow withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008.

After four years of war and the deaths of more than 2,900 U.S. troops, the situation is “grave and deteriorating,” and the United States’ ability “to influence events within Iraq is diminishing,” the commission warned in an unsparing report.

It recommended the United States reduce “political, military or economic support” for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress toward providing for its own security.

President Bush received the report in an early morning meeting at the White House with commission members. He pledged to treat each proposal seriously and act in a “timely fashion.’’

He was flanked by the commission’s co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton in a remarkable scene — a president praising the work of a group that had just concluded his policy had led to chaos.

“Many Americans are understandably dissatisfied,” Hamilton said later at a news conference that marked the formal release of the results of the commission’s eight-month labors.

“There is no magic bullet,” said Baker.

The report painted a grim picture of Iraq nearly four years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein. It urged Bush to embrace steps he has thus far rejected, including involving Syria and Iran in negotiations over Iraq’s future.

It warned that if the situation continues to deteriorate, there is a risk of a “slide toward chaos (that) could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe.’’

“Neighboring countries could intervene. ... The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized,” commissioners said.

With diplomacy under way, the report said, the U.S. should increase the number of combat and other troops that are embedded with and supporting Iraqi Army units.

“As these actions proceed, U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq,” it said. “By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.’’

Baker, Hamilton and the other members of the commission traveled to the Capitol from the White House to present their findings to senior lawmakers. The report makes 79 separate recommendations on Iraq policy.

“If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is in line to become speaker when the new Congress convenes in January.


Above: Iraqis are overwhelmed by grief and shock after at least 160 people
were killed and hundreds wounded in a series of car bombings yesterday in
Baghdad’s impoverished Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City.


Gates candid on Iraq errors
New defence chief to study exit options, concedes U.S. is not winning the war
TIM HARPER/Reuters - December 6th 2006.

WASHINGTON—The incoming U.S. defence secretary conceded yesterday Americans are not winning the war in Iraq, acknowledged mistakes had been made and said he would consider any option to start bringing soldiers home.

Robert Gates addressed U.S. senators with a brevity and candour that had seemed foreign to the man he will succeed, Donald Rumsfeld, signalling a new era in the Pentagon and foreshadowing changes in U.S. policy in Iraq.

Gates's testimony is key to what is being seen here as a week that will mark a turning point in the U.S. mission in Iraq, which has now lasted longer than American involvement in World War II.

He met with legislators on the eve of today's release of recommendations by the 10-member Iraq Study Group, expected to provide a route out of Iraq for U.S. President George W. Bush — and the soldiers mired there since the 2003 invasion soured into a violent quagmire.

There are 140,000 Americans in Iraq, where more than 2,900 U.S. troops have been killed and 50,000 to 70,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, including more than 100 yesterday alone.

According to Gates, 63, who won unanimous approval from the Senate committee and could be formally confirmed by the full chamber as early as today, Bush understands the course in Iraq must change.

Gates said he could foresee a radically smaller U.S. presence in Iraq, but added he expected some American presence there for "a long time."

Despite the expected swift thumbs-up from the outgoing Senate, there is speculation here Bush will not officially swear him into the job until the new year as a gift to Rumsfeld who, if he remains in his post past Dec. 29, would become the longest-serving defence secretary in U.S. history.

Bush ousted Rumsfeld last month, one day after his Republicans were defeated in mid-term elections.

Gates told senators the U.S. did not have enough troops on the ground for the post-invasion phase in Baghdad, erred in disbanding the Iraqi army and initiating the process known at the time as "de-Baathification" in which Iraqis who held top posts because of their allegiance to Saddam Hussein, but who posed no threat to Americans, were stripped of their jobs and livelihoods.

"We didn't have a full appreciation of how broke Iraq was when we went in," said Gates, a former CIA director who is leaving his post as president of Texas A&M University.

Gates's confirmation will mark the first time the U.S. has changed defence secretaries in the middle of a war for 40 years when Democratic president Lyndon Johnson named Clark Clifford to replace Robert McNamara.

Bush has maintained the U.S. is winning in Iraq, but it took his defence nominee a matter of minutes to contradict the president under questioning from Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who will chair the Senate's Armed Forces Committee beginning next month.

"Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?" asked Levin.

"No, sir," Gates replied.

He repeated that assessment for Arizona Republican John McCain and agreed with McCain's assessment that the status quo no longer works in Iraq.

"In my view, all options are on the table, in terms of how we address this problem in Iraq, in terms of how we can be more successful and how we can, at some point, begin to draw down our forces," Gates said.

Following a lunch break, Gates returned to the committee room to clarify his comments so they would not be misinterpreted by troops in Iraq.

He said he stood by his view that the United States was not winning in Iraq, although he also believed they were not losing.

"I want to make clear that pertains to the situation in Iraq as a whole," he said. "Our military forces win the battles that they fight. Our soldiers have done an incredible job in Iraq. And I'm not aware of a single battle that they have lost."

Prior to last month's mid-term press conference, Bush told reporters that "absolutely" the U.S. was winning in Iraq, but his spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday there was no contradiction between the two men.

Gates is being welcomed by both sides of the floor primarily because he is not Rumsfeld, a man who had long since worn out his welcome, but they also clearly found his blunt answers to their questions to be refreshing.

But, as Gates said, he did not give up a job he loved to return to Washington and endure the confirmation process to be "a bump on a log."

"Developments in Iraq over the next year or two will, I believe, shape the entire Middle East and greatly influence global geo-politics for many years to come," he said.

"Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people and the next president of the United States will face a slowly but steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region, or will face the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration."

Gates also said he could not back an invasion of Iran because Iraq has proved what can happen when the dogs of war are unleashed.

"Iran cannot attack us directly, militarily, (but) I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash a significant wave of terror, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country, is very real," he said.

Iran could also get weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons, into the hands of Iraqi insurgents and could use Hezbollah to further destabilize Lebanon, he said.


Iraq worse than civil war, Annan says
Associated Press/Reuters - December 4th 2006.

LONDON—The level of violence in Iraq is "much worse" than recent civil wars, says outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Speaking to the BBC, Annan agreed the average Iraqi's life is worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein's regime. He called the Iraq situation "extremely dangerous."

"Given the level of violence, the level of killing and bitterness and the way that forces are arranged against each other, a few years ago when we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that a civil war. This is much worse," said Annan, whose term ends Dec. 31.

His interview, to air today, follows a New York Times report that outgoing U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged in a memo just before he lost his job that U.S. strategy in Iraq was not working and it might be better to reduce troop numbers.


Bombs in packed Baghdad market kill at least 51
ASSOCIATED PRESS - December 2nd 2006.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A triple car bombing struck a food market in a predominantly Shiite area in central Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 51 people a day after a U.S.-Iraqi raid against Sunni insurgents in a nearby neighborhood.

Three parked cars blew up nearly simultaneously as shoppers were buying fruit, vegetables, meat and other items for dinner in the busy al-Sadriyah district.

The blast sent clouds of black smoke over concrete high-rises in the area, which has narrow alleys that made it difficult for ambulances and fire trucks to navigate. At least 51 people were killed and 90 wounded, according to police Lt. Mohammed Khayoun and hospital officials.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but it followed a raid on Friday by Iraqi forces backed by U.S. helicopters targeting Sunni insurgents in al-Fadhil, less than half a mile away.

A bombing and mortar attack also killed 215 people and wounded more than 200 in the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad on Nov. 23 as sectarian tensions increase.

The Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq condemned the al-Fadhil raid in a statement Saturday, alleging that six people were killed and 13 detained.

Iraqi police said Friday that one Iraqi soldier and two civilians were killed in the fighting, and the U.S. military said 28 people were detained.

Separately, U.S. and Iraqi forces began an offensive operation in Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province about 56 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, where fighting has raged for a week between Sunni insurgents and police, the U.S. command said.

At least 36 suspected militants were detained during one pre-dawn raid in Baqouba, police said. Later in the day, state-run Iraqiya television said one Al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgent was killed and 43 detained, including two foreigners.

Saturday’s operation was launched two days after the U.S. military said Baqouba was fully operational, despite media reports that fighting had cleared its streets of cars and pedestrians.

Clashes also broke out Saturday between insurgents and U.S troops in the predominantly Sunni city of Duluiyah 45 miles north of Baghdad, police Capt. Qassim Mohammed said.

Elsewhere, a truck driving at high speed slammed into a bus stop in al-Wahada, 35 kilometres south of Baghdad, killing about 20 people, wounding 15 and crushing several cars, police said.

Police Lt. Muhammed Al-Shemari said the crash did not appear to be accidental because the truck, an empty fuel tanker, had no obvious mechanical problems.

The driver fled the overturned truck but was caught by witnesses and turned over to police, al-Shemari said, adding that other witnesses found a body in the vehicle’s cabin.

Another police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the probe, said the driver blamed brake failure.

A U.S. Army soldier also was killed in fighting in the volatile Anbar province on Friday, the military said, raising to at least 2,887 the number of service members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003.

Eight other people were killed in attacks nationwide, including a driver and his assistant who were shot to death as they were delivering soft drinks to stores in Baghdad’s volatile Sunni neighbourhood of Dora. Iraqi police also found at least 13 bodies in Baghdad and two others south of the capital — apparently victims of sectarian death squads.

Meanwhile, the last of Italy’s troops in Iraq returned to Rome on Saturday, a few weeks earlier than the date promised by Italian Premier Romano Prodi. Italy at one point was Washington’s second largest coalition partner in Iraq, after Britain, during reconstruction efforts after Saddam Hussein was ousted more than three years ago.

Excerpts of Iraq Study Group report
Here are excerpts from portions of the Iraq Study Group report, which was being released December 6th 2006:

"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved.''


"Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another. If they are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America's credibility, interests and values will be protected.''


"If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized.''


"The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. This diplomatic effort should include every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq's neighbors. Iraq's neighbors and key states in and outside the region should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq, neither of which Iraq can achieve on its own.''


"Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively. In seeking to influence the behavior of both countries, the United States has disincentives and incentives available. Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation. The issue of Iran's nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents and terrorists in and out of Iraq.


"The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations. By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. ''


"We thought we took off the head, but the body still lives. Without Saddam to keep the Iraqi populace under control Iraq's civilian problems have spiralled into civil war. Its a battle we cannot win."

Civilian deaths up 43 per cent in Iraq: Official
Associated Press - December 1st 2006.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — An Interior Ministry official said Friday that 1,846 civilians were killed in Iraq in November, a 43 per cent increase from the estimated toll in October.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, did not elaborate on the monthly figure, which was up from an estimated 1,289 civilians killed in October.

According to a count by The Associated Press, 1,923 civilians were killed in Iraq in November.

Rising sectarian tensions have pushed the country toward the verge of civil war. Last month saw the worst attack of the war when suspected Sunni insurgents killed at least 215 people in Sadr City, Baghdad's Shiite slum, on Nov. 23.

The United Nations put the number of civilian deaths in October at 3,709, the highest monthly toll since the 2003 U.S. invasion. The figure, based on reports from the Iraqi Health Ministry, hospitals and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, was three times higher than the Iraqi Interior Ministry figure for that month.

There was no explanation for the discrepancy between the two figures and it was not immediately known whether the figures on Friday from the Interior Ministry used all of the sources cited by the U.N.


Iraqi Conflict Escalates
Into Civil War Dozens taken in Baghdad mass kidnapping
Gunmen storm Iraqi security company offices, abduct as many as 50 workers
Associated Press - March 8th 2006.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Gunmen in Interior Ministry commando uniforms stormed the offices of a private security company and kidnapped as many as 50 employees today, while U.S. and Iraqi patrols reported the discovery of 24 shot or garroted bodies in the capital.

Iraq’s Shiite vice president, meanwhile, signed a presidential decree calling parliament into session, breaking a major logjam that had delayed the creation of a unity government that U.S. officials hope can curb the unrelenting violence so their forces can start going home in the summer.

“He signed the decree today. I expect the first session to be held on Sunday or by the end of next week at the latest,” said Nadim al-Jabiri, head of one of seven Shiite parties that make up the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament.

Unidentified attackers hit the al-Rawafid Security Co. at 4:30 p.m. and forced the workers into seven vehicles, including several white SUVs, said Interior Ministry Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi. The victims, including bodyguards, drivers, computer technicians and other employees, did not resist because they assumed their abductors were police special forces working for the Interior Ministry, al-Mohammedawi said.

Interior Ministry Undersecretary Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Khefaji denied any involvement by his department, saying: “It is a terrorist act.’’

Members of the Sunni Arab minority who dominated under ousted leader Saddam Hussein accuse the Shiite-led security forces of repeated abductions and killings under the cover of fighting the Sunni-driven insurgency. Many of Al-Rawafid employees are former members of Saddam’s armed forces.

The company is one of dozens providing protection for businesses and other clients in the violence-plagued country. One of its main clients is Iraqna, a cell phone firm owned by Egyptian-giant Orascom. Its offices are in Zayouna, a volatile mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in east Baghdad.

Bombings, gunfire and other violence claimed at least 12 other lives, Iraqi police and the U.S. military said today. Among the reported deaths was a U.S. soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb Tuesday near the northwestern city of Tal Afar. Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, the military said.

An American military patrol found 18 of the bodies — all males — in an abandoned minibus Tuesday night on a road between two notorious mostly Sunni west Baghdad neighborhoods.

The bodies were brought to Yarmouk Hospital and lined up on stretchers for identification. Most had bruising indicating they were strangled and two were shot, said Dr. Muhanad Jawad. Police believed at least two of the men were foreign Arabs.

Police found the bodies of six more men — four of them strangled and two shot — discarded in other parts of the city.

The gruesome discoveries followed a surge of sectarian violence unleashed by the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in the central city of Samarra and reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics. Sectarian killing has diminished in recent days, but other attacks have increased, the Defense Ministry said.

A string of explosions today killed at least six people — including two young boys — in the capital, police said.

One bomb hidden under a parked car detonated as police from the interior minister’s protection force were driving through Baghdad, killing two officers and injuring another, police said. Four bystanders were injured. The minister was not in the convoy at the time.

Another roadside bomb hit a police patrol in northern Baghdad, killing two officers and injuring four others, police said.

A third one missed an American convoy on the northern outskirts of Baghdad and killed two Iraqi boys — about 10 or 11 years old — who were selling gasoline by the roadside, police said.

A car bomb targeting another U.S. convoy in north Baghdad injured five bystanders, police said. There was no immediate word on American casualties.

An Iraqi patrol saw four gunmen pull a man from the trunk of a car and shoot him to death in west Baghdad, police reported. They said the patrol tried to intercede, but the gunmen fired at them and fled.

More gunmen pulled over a school bus carrying about 25 high school girls and shot the driver in front of his terrified passengers. The wounded driver was hospitalized, police said.

Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s signature today on an executive order opened the way for the much-delayed first session of the parliament elected Dec. 15 — and also signaled fundamental disagreement within the once-unified majority Shiite ranks.

The constitution dictates that the first meeting be held no later than Sunday, but negotiations were still under way on a specific date, said al-Jabiri, the Shiite official.

The first session had been delayed by weeks of intense political infighting and reached an impasse after Abdul-Mahdi refused to sign President Jalal Talabani’s decree Monday.

The dispute centers around Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s bid for a second term, which is opposed by a coalition of Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular Shiite politicians.

Talabani, a Kurd, has openly challenged al-Jaafari’s candidacy on grounds he is too divisive and would be unable to form a government representing all Iraq’s religious and ethnic factions. There was also great unease over al-Jaafari’s close ties to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr

The Shiite Alliance is itself divided over al-Jaafari’s candidacy. He defeated Abdul-Mahdi by a single vote in a Shiite caucus last month, due in large part to al-Sadr’s support.

Talabani had hoped to bring the dispute to a head by convening parliament Sunday. Under the constitution, parliament is supposed to elect a new president within 15 days of its first meeting. It then has 15 more days to approve the prime minister, and 30 days after that to vote on his Cabinet.

To convene the session, Talabani needed the approval of his two vice presidents. Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni who is out of the country, gave Talabani power of attorney Monday to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi initially declined, but reversed his position today.

Another key Shiite political figure, speaking anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the information, said Abdul-Mahdi had acquiesced after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad sought the intervention of powerful Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim in breaking the stalemate during a meeting Tuesday.

Abdul-Mahdi heads the Shiite parliamentary bloc loyal to al-Hakim, who leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Al-Jabiri, however, said the decision to sign was taken on advice today from Iraq’s Federal Court, which said parliament could be convened through an alternative process if Abdul-Mahdi continued to hold out.

As political negotiations progressed, the violence raged on.

Gunmen shot and killed a Sunni imam, Sadi Mahmoud, on his way home from a mosque in west Baghdad, police said.

A former brigadier in Saddam’s army was shot and killed in west Baghdad, police said. Gunmen also attacked the convoy of Interior Ministry Undersecretary Hekmet Moussa in west Baghdad, killing two bodyguards and injuring two others, police said. Moussa was not in the convoy.

A bomb exploded at the Basra headquarters of Iraq’s South Oil Co., causing minor damage but no casualties. Crude production and exports were not affected, said Jabar Luaibi, the company’s director general.

Also today, an Iraqi civilian was killed in a collision with a U.S. Bradley Fighting vehicle after failing to heed warnings to stop, the military said.

The death of the U.S. soldier that was reported today brought to at least 2,302 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.

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