Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Arab League

Iraq's Crisis (4)
KHARTOUM, Sudan, March 27 — Arab foreign ministers who gathered here over the weekend to prepare for a summit meeting agreed on a proposal to increase their diplomatic presence in Iraq. The draft resolution, which does not offer a timetable, is expected to be approved by the 22 members of the Arab League meeting here on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Bush administration has urged Arab nations to open diplomatic missions and embassies in Iraq to help give the new government legitimacy. But the ministers appeared to be less concerned about pleasing the United States than staving off the growing influence of Iran. In particular, the agreement this month for the United States and Iran to hold talks about the future of Iraq was viewed with alarm.

The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, criticized the Arab countries for failing to support Iraq by providing full diplomatic presence and debt forgiveness. "Why are you complaining about the Iranian role in Iraq when the Iranians are there and you are not?" Mr. Zebari said. "We have been asking for you to play a role for the past three years and you have not responded."
Arab diplomatic missions have maintained minimal staffs in Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003 and particularly after two Algerian diplomats and an Egyptian envoy were kidnapped and killed there in July. Iraq also remains saddled with billions of dollars in debt to Persian Gulf states that helped finance the 1980-88 war with Iran. The Arab leaders are expected to discuss the issue of debt forgiveness this week. (NYT, March 28, 2006, Arabs Discuss Wider Presence in Baghdad to Bolster Government )

KHARTOUM, Sudan, March 28 — Concerns over growing Iranian influence in Iraq, and the lack of Arab involvement there, dominated the opening of the annual Arab League summit here on Tuesday. "Any solution for the Iraqi problem cannot be reached without Arabs and Arab participation," Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, said in his opening speech.  ... "They fear Iraq is drifting from the Arabs, being divorced from the Arab world, and the increased influence of another neighboring country," said Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister. "This time, we are seeing some positive moves by the Arab League toward more realization of the situation on Iraq." (NYT, March 29, 2006, Influence in Iraq Emerges as Key Issue as Arab Conference Opens - Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebari can be seen in the photograph published by the NYT, behind and between Lahoud and  Bouteflika.)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 27 — In the village of Kasak, between Mosul and Tal Afar, a man wrapped in explosives detonated himself at an army recruitment center on Monday, killing at least 40 people and wounding at least 30, an official at the Interior Ministry said. The center is situated in front of a joint American-Iraqi base, though the American military said that no American troops had been wounded. Gen. Muhammad al-Dosaki, deputy commander of the Third Division of the Iraqi Army, said the suicide bomber waded into a crowd of about 70 applicants who had gathered outside the center and detonated a vest of explosives.

And in Baghdad, Iraqi police recruits stumbled across nine bodies, all garroted, an official in the Interior Ministry said. At least 267 bodies showing signs of execution-style killings have been recovered in Baghdad in the past three weeks. In southern Baghdad, a missile hit a building containing two offices of the Shiite-led Fadhila and Dawa parties, killing 6 people and wounding 12, an Iraqi police official in Zafaraniya said.

Frayed relations between Iraq's Shiite leadership and the American authorities came under increased strain on Monday as Shiite leaders angrily denounced a joint American-Iraqi raid on a Shiite compound and suspended negotiations over a new government. The raid on Sunday evening, which killed at least 16 people, also prompted the governor of Baghdad to announce a halt in cooperation with the American authorities...

President Jalal Talabani said he would lead a joint Iraqi-American committee to investigate the Sunday evening raid... Shiites said the victims were civilians gathered in a mosque, while the Americans said they were insurgents holed up in a guerrilla headquarters. ... Some Shiite leaders warned that the raid had been widely interpreted among their constituents as a strong-arm tactic to cow them into making political concessions, including forcing the largest Shiite bloc to drop Mr. Jaafari as its nominee for prime minister in the new government. They demanded that the American authorities give a public and transparent accounting of the raid. "There was something tragically wrong, and it's got to be explained or it's going to be seen by many to be a crackdown on certain political factions in Iraqi politics," said Haydar al-Abadi, a top adviser to Mr. Jaafari. "We are facing a crisis." ... Talabani said at a news conference that Gen. George W. Casey Jr. agreed to the formation of the joint investigative committee, which was confirmed by a spokeswoman for the American Embassy.

The raid on Sunday happened at the Mustafa husayniyah, a small Shiite community center and mosque in Ur, a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad. The mosque, with a small minaret, is built around a central open-air courtyard and was frequented by followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

In a conference call with reporters in Baghdad late Monday, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the day-to-day operations of the multinational forces in Iraq, said the building was "an office complex," and not a mosque. He said the raid, which involved about 50 troops from the Iraqi Special Forces, assisted by about 25 American advisers, explosives technicians and medical personnel, singled out an insurgent group that was using the building as a base of operations for conducting kidnappings and executions.  General Chiarelli said that as the troops approached the complex, they came under fire from "several buildings" in the area. The troops killed 16 insurgents, wounded three, detained 18 other people, discovered a weapons stockpile and freed a dental technician who was being held hostage there, he said. The soldiers were met with gunfire from many rooms in the building, American commanders said. "The Iraqi forces did the fighting, make no bones about it," the general said, adding that the dead were all killed by Iraqi troops. ... The general said he believed that the scene was disrupted after the raid to make the building look like something other than a terrorist headquarters, although he did not give details on how it was done. "After the fact someone went in and made the scene look different than it was, for whatever purposes," he said.

But Iraqi government officials and political leaders vociferously disputed the American command's version of events, insisting that Iraqi and American troops had raided a mosque, not a fortified office complex, as a political party meeting was under way and unarmed worshipers gathered for evening prayer. Khudair al-Khuzaie, the spokesman for the Iraq Branch of the Islamic Dawa Party, said he knew of 16 victims, all of whom had been attending a meeting in the party's office at the time of the raid. The office is accessible through a doorway from the mosque's courtyard. Of the victims, he said, 13 were party members and 3 were civilians. ... In the hours after the attack, an official in the office of Mr. Sadr claimed that members of his Mahdi Army were among the victims. But on Monday, another Sadr representative said no Mahdi Army fighters died in the raid. (NYT, March 28, 2006, Shiite Leaders Suspend Talks Over Government )

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 28 — The American ambassador has told Shiite officials that President Bush does not want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country's leader in the next government, senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday.  ... The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting on Saturday to pass on a "personal message from President Bush" to the interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite member of Parliament who was at the meeting. Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari as the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. American officials in Baghdad did not dispute the Shiite politicians' account of the conversation, though they would not discuss the details of the meeting. A spokeswoman for the American Embassy confirmed that Mr. Khalilzad met with Mr. Hakim on Saturday.

In Baghdad on Tuesday, at least 21 people were abducted in four separate incidents in the biggest wave of kidnappings in a month, an Interior Ministry official said. In one incident, 15 men in Iraqi Army uniforms dragged at least six people from a money exchange shop and stole nearly $60,000. In two other cases, people wearing Interior Ministry commando uniforms snatched victims from two electronics shops. The police in western Baghdad discovered 14 bodies on Tuesday, all killed execution-style with gunshots to the head, apparently the latest victims of sectarian bloodletting. On Monday, Iraqi forces found 18 bodies near Baquba with similar wounds. Earlier reports of 30 beheaded bodies found in that area were wrong, the Interior Ministry official said. An American soldier was killed Tuesday by small-arms fire in Baghdad, and another was killed and three were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Habbaniya, the American military said.

The Iraqi security minister, Abdul Karim al-Enizi, said on the state-run Iraqiya network on Tuesday night that the Iraqi forces who had raided the mosque compound in Baghdad were not part of the Interior or Defense Ministry. A survivor said the soldiers did not speak Arabic well, implying they may have been Kurdish militiamen working with Americans, Mr. Enizi said. At the Pentagon, senior officials defended the raid, releasing photographs they said proved that weapons and bomb-making materials had been seized inside the compound, which they described as a school complex that had been turned into a base for a "hostage ring." When the soldiers entered the compound, "they found that there was a building there that had a small minaret and a prayer room inside it," said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Some people are calling that a mosque." (NYT, March 29, 2006,  'Bush Opposes Iraq's Premier, Shiites Report')

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