Thursday, April 13, 2006

Iraq's Crisis (6)


BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 1 — Since the shrine bombing, 30,000 to 36,000 Iraqis have fled their homes because of sectarian violence or fear of reprisals, say officials at the International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva. The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration estimated that at least 5,500 families have moved, with the biggest group being 1,250 families settling in the Shiite holy city of Najaf after leaving Baghdad and Sunni-dominated towns in central Iraq. The families are living with relatives or in abandoned buildings, and a crisis of food and water shortages is starting to build, officials say.

"We lived in Latifiya for 30 years," said Abu Hussein al-Ramahi, a Shiite farmer with a family of seven, referring to a village south of Baghdad that is a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency. "But a month ago, two armed people with masks on their faces said if I stayed in this area, my family and I would no longer remain alive. They shot bullets near my feet. I went back home immediately and we left the area early next morning for Najaf." Mr. Ramahi's family and other migrants are now squatting in a derelict hotel in the holy city.
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At least 761 families have settled in Baghdad after moving from Anbar Province and other Sunni-dominated areas to the west, according to Iraqi government statistics. The same is happening on the Sunni Arab end — there are reports of 50 families moving from Baghdad to the Sunni enclave of Falluja. (NYT, April 2, 2006, 'Civilians in Iraq Flee Mixed Areas as Attacks Shift')

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 2 — The fracturing of the Shiites became clear in the late afternoon, as a senior official in the leading Shiite party, Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheir, said in a telephone interview that his party was putting forward another candidate to replace Mr. Jaafari. "I've asked Jaafari to resign from his job," said Sheik Sagheir, a deputy to the Shiite bloc's leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. "The prime minister should have national consensus inside the Parliament, and he should have the support of the international body." Any dispute between the Shiite bloc's two biggest factions — Mr. Hakim's party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the party led by Mr. Sadr — carries with it the possibility of armed violence.
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It was not clear whether the joint visit by Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw, the top emissaries of the two countries that led the invasion of Iraq three years ago, played a direct role in the splintering of the Shiite bloc, and whether that schism would lead to forward movement on forming a new government, which has been stalled for months. Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw, who came here unannounced in a driving rainstorm from a meeting in England ..., told reporters they did not want to intervene in the dispute over the prime minister. But at the same time they pointed out that Mr. Jaafari had been unable to win enough political support to form a government since his nomination on Feb. 12. (NYT, April 3, 2006, 'Iraqi Shiite Bloc Splits Over Call for New Premier')
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 3 — At least nine members of the military were killed in Anbar Province, including four in a rebel attack. Three marines and one sailor were killed on Sunday in the rebel assault, the military reported, offering no further information. At least 13 members of the American military have died so far this month, setting a pace that could interrupt a trend of steadily declining casualties over the past five months. The monthly tally of at least 31 deaths in March was the second lowest since the invasion of Iraq three years ago. The declining American casualties have coincided with a sharp increase in Iraqi civilian deaths, reflecting a significant shift in the nature of the conflict as insurgent groups and sectarian death squads have focused primarily on civilian targets. The American military reported last week that from Feb. 22 to March 22, 1,313 civilians were killed, many in sectarian violence, while 173 civilians died in car bombings, a hallmark of the insurgency.
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The Kurds, and particularly President Talabani, have been at the forefront of an effort to oust Mr. Jaafari. Mr. Talabani was incensed after Mr. Jaafari visited Turkey in late February; Turkish leaders have repeatedly threatened to invade Iraqi Kurdistan if the Kurds tried to secede. (NYT, April 4, 2006, 'Americans in Iraq Face Their Deadliest Day in Months')

The visit by Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw appeared to grate even on politicians who oppose Mr. Jaafari. "They complicated the thing, and now it's more difficult to solve," said Mahmoud Osman, an independent member of the Kurdistan Alliance, speaking Wednesday about Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw. "They shouldn't have come, and they shouldn't have interfered."  (NYT, April 6, 2006, Iraqi Says Visit by Two Diplomats Backfired )

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 6 - In comments to the news media on Thursday, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari hinted that he might be willing to abandon his bid to remain prime minister in the next government. For weeks he has been defiant in the face of multipartisan demands that he make way for a candidate who is more popular among all sectarian groups. But on Thursday, he seemed to signal that he would be amenable to a decision on the matter by the National Assembly. "For me, the position means nothing at all," Mr. Jaafari said. "If they would agree inside the Parliament on a legal way for me to step down, I would step down. The people elected a group of blocs to represent them in the Parliament, and whatever these blocs say, I welcome." (NYT, April 7, 2006, '10 Are Killed in Bombing Near Shrine Holy to Shiites' )

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 — Three suicide bombers, including at least one who appeared to be a woman, exploded in a sea of Friday worshipers at the main mosque of the most powerful Shiite political party in Iraq, killing at least 71 people and wounding at least 140. ... The explosions at the historic Baratha Mosque, in northern Baghdad, took place right after the mosque's head imam, Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheir, delivered a searing speech there, demanding that the incumbent prime minister step down.
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In his Friday Prayer speech, the white-turbaned Sheik Sagheir had called for the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to withdraw his bid to hold on to his job in the next government. "There are rules in the political game, and he who can't read them will lose," Sheik Sagheir said. Last Sunday, the sheik said in a telephone interview that Mr. Jaafari should abdicate to break the deadlock in forming a new government, a demand that fractured the religious Shiite bloc, which dominates the Parliament.

Sheik Sagheir's party, the Supreme Council, is offering one of its deputies, Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, as the new nominee for prime minister. Mr. Mahdi lost to Mr. Jaafari by one vote in a secret ballot in February among the 130 members of the Shiite bloc. Mr. Jaafari has the backing of Moktada al-Sadr ... Both Mr. Sadr and the Supreme Council have formidable militias that have clashed in open street battles. But the mosque attack appeared to be the work of jihadists aligned with the Sunni-led insurgency rather than violence between Shiites. (NYT, April 8, 2006, 'Iraqis Mourn Victims of Mosque Bombing')

WASHINGTON, April 8 — An internal staff report by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation, rating the overall stability of 6 of the 18 provinces "serious" and one "critical."
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The oil-rich Basra Province, where British troops have patrolled in relative calm for most of the last three years, is now rated as "serious." The report defines "serious" as having "a government that is not fully formed or cannot serve the needs of its residents; economic development that is stagnant with high unemployment, and a security situation marked by routine violence, assassinations and extremism." (NYT, April 9, 2006, 'U.S. Study Paints Somber Portrait of Iraqi Discord' )

Zalmay Khalilzad, interviewed on Channel 4 News, Sunday (9 Apr), said that the talks between the US and Iran are on hold until the Iraqi government is formed. He also told Fox News on Sunday, "We do not want to give the impression that the United States is sitting with Iran to decide about the Iraqi government", according to the NYT (April 10, 2006, 'Iraqis Denounce Mubarak's Remarks on Strife').

Some news organisations, like C4 News, reported Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's remarks that Iraq was already in a civil war and that the Iraqi Shi'a were loyal to Iran, but did not mention that he also said that it was imperative for the US and other coalition forces to remain, otherwise Iraq would descend into complete chaos (BBC World Service). Much the same point was made by an Iraqi army officer on the BBC's 'The Insurgency'.

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