Sunday, September 20, 2009

If your house is made of trash, don't kill the pigs.

Egyptians learned this, the hard way, heh!

Thirty Mahdi Army commanders assasinated in Damascus

Unknown gunmen assassinated 30 Mahdi Army commanders in the Syrian capital Damascus. The killings, made in the past few weeks, were all made "quietly, inside the victims apartments", said an unnamed source in the Sadr movement. The source added that among those assassinated was Laith al-Ka'bi, who commanded the Mahdi Army in the Palestine Street neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The report adds that large numbers of Mahdi Army operatives left to Iran out of fear the assassinations wave could expand to target them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One-time enemies become ‘brothers’

An amazing story of two men, two wars and four jammed missiles:

The moon was full the night of Jan. 17, 1991, and Air Force Capt. Bill Iuliano, an F-111 bomber weapon systems officer, was in the air. It was the second night of Operation Desert Storm, a U.S.-led combat operation in opposition to Saddam Hussein's forces.

"We were flying from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey that night to take out some targets in northern Iraq," Iuliano recalled. "We flew south down the border between Iraq and Iran, turned southeast toward Baghdad, and were going to head back north to hit our targets on the way back to Turkey."

Iuliano said they detected "bandits" in the area, which turned out to be Iraqi IL-76 transport aircraft, heading east toward Iran. The F-15 fighter jets accompanying the F-111s were scrambled to intercept them.

"They came in behind the IL-76s and locked them in as targets," Iuliano said. "Each of the two jets fired two missiles apiece at the Iraqi planes, but something went wrong. Due to a maintenance issue, all four missiles hung and never fired. It turns out they were loaded wrong."

Iuliano, now a lieutenant colonel and commander of the 84th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron and air liaison officer for Multi-National Division - South, said he was upset when he didn't get to see Iraqi planes shot down that night. It was a feeling that would stay with him for 18 years.
"I arrived in Iraq about four months ago," said Iuliano, a native of Boise, Idaho. "I took an interest in helping strengthen the Iraqi Air Force any way I could, and it was through that effort that I met Col. Sami [Saeed]."

Saeed, who commands the 70th Iraqi Air Force Squadron stationed at Contingency Operating Base Basrah, made fast friends with Iuliano. They have worked together and enjoyed each other's company for three months now, but only knew each other about a month when Saeed told Iuliano a story that shook him.

"He told me about being on a mission back during Desert Storm," Iuliano said. "When he told me the moon was full on the night he was talking about, I put two and two together and realized he was talking about that same night. He was piloting one of the planes we engaged that night."
Iuliano said he didn't want to say anything about being in the air that night and he didn't tell Saeed the jets fired on him.

"We had such a good friendship and I didn't want this to get in the way of our work," Iuliano said. "Some of the pilots in the 70th Squadron have asked me if I flew in Desert Storm and I told them I didn't. I just thought it would be better that way."

Iuliano, who is now at the end of his tour in Iraq, knew he couldn't leave the country without telling Saeed. He had a plaque made to present to Saeed and prepared to tell him the truth about that night.

"I'm going to get emotional when I tell him," Iuliano said with a sigh. "I don't know how this is going to go, but I'm ready."

The men met at Saeed's office building Sept. 14 to present gifts to each other in a brief ceremony. Saeed presented Iuliano and two other service members with tokens of appreciation, then Iuliano took the floor. He cleared his throat, looked around the room and began with his story – the part of Saeed's story he didn't know.

"A lot of you have asked me if I flew in the war in 1991," Iuliano said to Saeed and other Iraqi Air Force officers in the room. "I told you at the time that I hadn't, but that wasn't exactly the truth. I said that at the time because I didn't really know how to answer your question, but now I do. On the night of January 17th, under a full moon ..." Iuliano began.

Saeed looked at him in surprise, but allowed Iuliano to continue.

"... I flew in an F-111 bomber as part of a package sent to destroy targets in northern Iraq," Iuliano continued.

When Iuliano got to the part about IL-76s flying east toward Iran, Saeed put his hand on his chest and simply said, "Me?!"

Iuliano looked him in the eye and nodded. The next thing he said caused his voice to catch in a brief display of emotion. "The F-15s were sent to intercept you. They locked you in and fired, but due to a maintenance malfunction, the missiles hung. You are alive today because they were loaded wrong."

Saeed said he was never aware he was engaged by the U.S. Air Force during that mission.

"I had no idea I was being fired on," he said in amazement.

After Iuliano finished telling his story, he presented Saeed with a plaque that read, "Praise Allah for faulty maintenance. Major Sami, 17 Jan 1991, my enemy. Colonel Sami, 17 Jul 2009, my friend. LTC Bill "Julio" Iuliano, USAF."

The two men shook hands and embraced following the presentation, and Saeed told Iuliano, "Don't worry. Please don't worry about that."

Saeed said he was very fortunate to have survived that night, though he didn't know it at the time. He has certainly lived life to the fullest since then.

"When I took off on my mission that night, I was father to a six-month-old son, Ali," Saeed said. "Now I am father to four children. I also have a daughter, Noor, another daughter, Sama, and another son, Muhammad. Life is good because of them, but it has sometimes been hard."

Saeed said he saw his wife shot in the neck while hanging clothes out to dry, was thrown in jail by an associate of Saddam Hussein and was forced to participate in three separate wars as a result of Hussein's administration.

"I could not understand why we were always at war with Saddam in charge," Saeed said. "The Americans have always tried to help the people of Iraq and he had to make it hard for all of us."

Iuliano agreed with Saeed, saying, "The last people who ever want to see war are those of us in uniform."

However, it was war – two, actually – that brought the two men together. The first war, though neither man knew it at the time, made them enemies. The second has made them more than friends.

"We are now brothers," Saeed said with a smile.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

Presidency council criticizes Maliki over standoff with Syria

Iraq's leaders seem very uncomfortable with what they consider a monopoly of decision-making by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The Iraqi presidency council called for "containing the situation with neighboring Syria and for cooperation between the two countries to resolve disputes through dialogue and diplomatic channels".

A statement released after the council's meeting in Sulaymaniyah stressed the need to do what is in the best interest of both countries and to prevent "enemies" from using one country against the other. The presidency council includes president Jalal Talabani and his deputies Aadil Abdul-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi.

The statement sounds like an attempt to water down Maliki's attitude toward Syria "the call for considering terrorist attacks as crimes against humanity and the proposal to form an international tribunal for this purpose is not about Syria, but about terrorism as a whole". The council intends to send messages to Maliki and to the secretary general of the Arab League to "explain the position of the presidency council which must be consulted and give approval" when it comes to fundamental and important issues.

VP Abdul-Mahdi was the most vocal in his criticism of Maliki. He basically warned against "having one party make dangerous decisions" in reference to Maliki's call for an international tribunal to investigate Syrian involvement in violence in Iraq.

The presidency council also seems very upset by Maliki's orders to fire several senior officers and the arrest warrant that was issued against Iraq's ambassador to Jordan. In this regard, the statement adds that "The council has taken steps to prohibit acts of defamation or other unconstitutional measures against ambassadors and senior officers as such acts damage Iraq reputation and disrupt the legal frameworks of the state".

Accord Front considers aligning with Maliki

A member of parliament from the Accord Front said the bloc was considering a political alliance with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc.

MP Rasheed al-Azzawi told Radio Sawa that "We will announce our new alliance before Ramadan's end [a couple weeks from now]. Our talks with Maliki's bloc continue and it's not unlikely to have an alliance with them...Negotiations are moving within this framework"

Amendments more likely than replacement for Iraq election law

A member of parliament said lawmakers were more likely to agree on amendments for the existing election law than to agree on a whole new legislation.
MP Wa'ail Abdul-Latif, who is also a judge, explained that there is simply not enough time to draft and pass a new election law to replace the existing one that has been in use since 2005. The parliament has to meet a mid-November deadline for agreeing on a legislation under which the next general elections can take place in January.

"Time is not enough to pass a new legislation, therefore we will rely on the 2005 election law and introduce certain amendments, such as replacing the closed slate system with the open slate system" Abdul-Latif added. The open slate system would allow voters to vote for individual candidates instead of whole party slates.

Anti-Syria demonstrations in Babil

More than 300 Iraqis protested on Monday to demand that Syria stop its alleged support for "terrorists and assassins" determined to carry out attacks in Iraq.

The demonstrators gathered in Hilla, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Baghdad, and held up banners, declaring: "Immorality, Bashar, means killing innocent people in cold blood" -- a jibe at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Assad has dismissed as "immoral" and politically motivated allegations by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Syria is harbouring terrorists.

"The Baathists and Takfiris (Sunni extremists) come from your country, Bashar," said another banner at the protest in Hilla, capital of Babil province, referring to the outlawed Baath party of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

It is worth mentioning that Babil was hit by a series of synchronized bombings on August 20, a day after the deadly August 19 attacks in Baghdad.

Syrian intelligence smuggled top suspects in Baghdad bombings to Lebanon

Syrian intelligence used fake IDs to smuggle the primary suspects of masterminding the August 19 bombings to Lebanon, Lebanese security sources revealed.

The report says that Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan were sent to Lebanon using fake passports. Other insurgents are waiting to be sent to Sudan in a similar manner.

Al-Ahmed and Farhan are the two senior Ba'ath Party members whom Baghdad accused of masterminding the August 19 attacks in Baghdad. A crisis between Iraq and Syria started when the Iraqi government asked Damascus to hand over the two men.

In related news, al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that Iraqi Ba'ath Party members residing in Syria are anxiously following developments in the crisis between Baghdad and Damascus and are preparing for the worst. Abu Al-Walid, a Ba'ath Party member told al-Sharq al-Awsat from Syria that he and his colleagues are "following the news and preparing to relocate to another country in case the Iraqi government decided to prosecute them or, in case the Syrian government had to hand over all Ba'ath members; wanted or not".

U.S. sponsored talks between Nineveh's Arabs and Kurds

Al-Sharq al-Awsat:

The US Embassy sponsored yesterday the first session of direct negotiations between Al-Hadba bloc that has an Arab majority and the Ninawah Fraternity bloc that has a Kurdish majority which boycotted the Mosul-based Ninawah Governorate Council's tasks since April.

The negotiations are aimed at achieving rapprochement between the two sides and forming a joint administration for the governorate which has been suffering from a real administrative crisis since the elections of the governorates' councils in January in which Al-Hadba List won 19 out of37 seats and got most of the sovereign posts in the local government after excluding the Ninawah List.

Khisru Kuran, leader of the Ninawah List which won 12 seats in the council, said: "We welcome any meeting with Al-Hadba even if it was just a matter of courtesy, such as a joint fast breaking dinner, so as to break the ice in the two sides' relations." He added in an exclusive statement to Asharq Al-Awsat at the end of the meeting between the two sides' representatives: "We held a meeting which was attended by two members from Al-Hadba and Ninawah Lists, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, and several American friends. The session was dedicated to an exchange of views about the reasons of the estrangement between us and a discussion of the current situations in the governorate in general."

Kuran, who is also in charge of the Ninawah branch of the Kurdistan Democratic Party's organizations which is led by Kurdistan Region President Masud Barzani, added: "We were never opposed to dialogue and negotiations for solving problems. Our doors were and remain open and our hands extended for peace because we want what is good for this governorate. But we believe that the problems in the new Iraq cannot be solved except through rational dialogue, common understanding, and political accord."

Regarding his bloc's threats to split Ninawah Governorate into two, one following Baghdad and the other the Kurdistan Region, if the situations remained as they are now, Kuran said: "The governorate is already actually split. There are 16 administrative units like districts and sub districts which have been boycotting for months the orders, instructions, and sessions of the new administration in Ninawah. This is in itself a split in the governorate's administrative structure but we are seriously seeking to solve the existing problems so as to avoid perpetuating this split." He added: "There is no doubt that if the efforts and negotiations sessions bring positive results then the causes for the split or division taking place will disappear and the opposite is true also."

Maliki to send several senior officers to early retirement

There are unconfirmed reports that Prime Minister Maliki has issued orders to send several top security officials to early retirement. The list includes the chief of the explosives department and the director of internal affairs at the ministry of interior (MOI). The news came only a day after Maliki fired the director of operations at the MOI. Less than two weeks ago, the director of the national intelligence service was also fired, or made to resign his position.

There is no concrete information about the reasons behind the decision to dismiss the three senior MOI officers. However, a senior government official told al-Mada that leaks regarding a sensitive security case were behind the firings.

Iraq has satellite imagery of Syria training camps

The Iraqi government showed Turkey's FM satellite imagery of training camps used by Iraq's ousted Ba'ath Party in Syria, a Turkish newspaper reported.

Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in Baghdad last week for talks on the growing crisis between Iraq and Syria. Iraq had demanded that Syria hands over two senior Ba'ath members suspected of planning the August 19 attacks in Baghdad.

According to the report, Iraq obtained the images of insurgents training camps from a U.S. intelligence service that also monitors PKK (Kurdish separatists) movements in northern Iraq and southern Turkey.

In related news, Iraq's decision to send reinforcements to the Syrian border appears to be part of a greater plan that now has a name. Iraqi newspapers wrote that Iraq launched operation "Iraq Walls" to secure thousands of miles of borders with Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The operation, which will focus initially on the Syrian border, aims to create concentric security belts to intercept infiltrating militants before they can reach safe havens in urban areas.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

ISF find drones in weapons cache

Iraqi security forces found this drone in a weapons cache uncovered in western Baghdad yesterday. There is no available information on the origin, model or capabilities of this machine. If anyone has a clue, please feel free to share in the comments section.

Maliki fires senior MOI officer

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fired a senior officer in the ministry of interior, al-Arabiya TV reported. The officer, Abdul-Kareem Khalaf served for several years as director of operations at the MOI, which oversees the local and federal police forces, among other law enforcement services. The position is roughly the equivalent to that of an army chief of staff.
There is no word about the reasons behind Maliki's decision. There are, however, news that the minister of interior, Jawad al-Bolani is trying to convince Maliki to reconsider his decision.

Syrian Morals

The Syrian regime lashed out at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who stressed that Syria must hand over two senior members of the Ba'ath Party. The Iraqi government had accused the two men (Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan) who are believed to be in Syria, of masterminding the August 19 attacks in Baghdad.

A major Syrian newspaper wrote that Syria's "morals" prevent the handover of the two wanted suspects.

Syria never handed over people who took shelter from the threat of injustice, arbitrary acts and death...They all know what their fate would have been if Syria had such political morals," said regime mouthpiece al-Thawra, referring to al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.

Now let me rewrite this sentence to better reflect the truth:

Syria never handed over people who could be used to undermine its neighbors' stability and further Syria's malicious role in the region. They all know what Syria's fate would have been if not for such immoral practices.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Iraq seeks an international tribunal to investigate foreign interference

Iraq continues to insist on internationalizing the crisis with Syria, which began after Iraq demanded that Syria hands over senior Ba’ath Party members. Iraq now plans to persuade the international community to form an international criminal court, similar to the one investigating the assassination of the late Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stressed at a meeting with the Turkish FM that Iraq “will move forward to demand that the UN forms an international tribunal to prosecute those who committed ugly crimes that target Iraq’s stability and people and killed many innocent lives”.

Foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari echoed the plan and actually hinted that Iraq would want the tribunal to look into more than just the August 19 attacks. “Iraq is to talk to the UN about forming an international criminal tribunal to investigate all crimes that undermined Iraq’s national security” said Zibari.
Maliki’s adviser, Sadik al-Rikabi confirmed that Iraq intends to open the files of foreign interference and is going to do something about “all countries that foment instability in Iraq”.

Rikabi’s statement sounds like an attempt to appease Iraqi politicians who criticized the government for focusing on Syria but not condemning Iran, In my opinion Iraq can hardly handle this standoff with Syria, let alone Syria and Iran simultaneously.

Iraq has so far succeeded in making the crisis an international issue. First, Turkey and Iran stepped in to mediate between Iraq and Syria and now France and the United States too are trying to contain the escalation and calling for resolving it with dialogue.

However, I doubt that Iraq would be able to garner enough international support for a tribunal similar to the one handling the Lebanese situation. The reason for that is that, in my opinion, Iraq has chosen the wrong time for this. The international community, particularly the US and France are trying to reassure Syria and persuade it to break ties with Iran.
The situation in the Middle East is complex. Syria, while having interest in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, prefers to negotiate the situation in these places not with the people who live there, but rather with the greater powers that can offer something in exchange.

In this context, Iraq’s demands could disrupt Western efforts for rapprochement with Syria who might presume that the US stands behind this unprecedented pressure from Iraq. The US, after all, still has considerable influence in Iraq.

This kind of misunderstanding could derail all efforts to reassure Syria and encourage it to break ties with Iran. As a result, Syria could fall back into Iran’s arms, which of course serves Iran’s interests.