Saturday, January 12, 2008

IRAQ: Less Violent But Not Less Hellish

By Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail*FALLUJAH, Jan 11 (IPS) -

U.S. and Iraqi officials claim that security is improving across al-Anbar province and much of Iraq. Security during the last half of 2007 was indeed better than in the period between February 2006 and mid-2007.

But this has brought little solace to many Iraqis, because violence is still worse than in 2005 and early 2006.Top Iraqi and U.S. officials and politicians have been saying that Iraq is back on its feet and that security has been established in the most volatile provinces like al-Anbar, to the west of Baghdad.

Security responsibilities here will be handed over to Iraqis in March, the U.S. military says. Violence levels are down, but attacks have not ceased.

"Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in 24 hours, U.S. B-1 and F-16 bombers dropped over 40,000 pounds of special munitions on the Arab Juboor villages just south of Baghdad, and Awakening (militia paid for by the U.S.) leaders and senior police officers are being assassinated all over Iraq, yet U.S. army leaders and top officials say Iraq is safe and sound," lawyer and human rights activist Mahmood al-Dulaimy told IPS. Dulaimy said U.S. President George W. Bush has succeeded in convincing many people in the United States that everything in Iraq is all right.

"It is you media people who fool the world by transmitting false news about the situation in Iraq," Dulaimy said. "Look around you and tell me what is good here." Looking around, one finds a ruined country. And neither occupation forces nor Iraqi government personnel seem to care about saving the little normal life that remains.

The independent U.S.-based group Just Foreign Policy says more than 1.1 million Iraqis have been killed through the occupation. According to an Oxfam International report, four million Iraqis are in need of emergency aid. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are more than 4.5 million Iraqis displaced from their homes. "Is it good that we still cannot go to Baghdad to sell our crops and buy seeds and other necessary things for our farms," said young Jassim from Fallujah. "Is it good that we only plant ten percent of our land because there is not enough electricity and fuel to run our pumps?"

Many people in Fallujah say they simply want the U.S. forces to leave. "If the U.S. generals mean they will hand over security to Iraqis and leave the province, then I will salute them all," retired Iraqi army colonel Salman Ahmed told IPS in Fallujah. "But I know it is just another comedy like that played elsewhere in Iraq, where Iraqis (officials) are just ropes for American dirty laundry.

We want our country back for real, not just on paper." People in Fallujah, the second biggest city of al-Anbar province after capital Ramadi, say they are still in the grip of draconian security measures implemented and backed by the U.S. military. "If security is so good then let them end the tragedy of our city," a member of the Fallujah City Council, speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS. "We want our freedom back and we want to leave and enter our city without this humiliation by soldiers and policemen. Fallujah is dying, and our masters (Americans) are bragging about security and prosperity." Fifty-five-year-old mother Um Bashar came to the house where IPS was meeting with residents.

"Let them (Americans) take everything and bring me my son back," she said. "He stayed to guard the house in the November 2004 siege and the Americans captured him. Now he is missing. Some people who were released told us he was with them in the airport prison."

Iraqi people do not speak of improvement. They do not see it; they see only that these claims have become important for the U.S. elections.


While President Bush made a visit to U.S. troops in Kuwait on Saturday and was praising the Iraqi government and the Shiite and Sunni members of Iraq's parliament who have buried their differences to pass a controversial bill allowing former officials of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to public life, the following security incidents were taking place in Baghdad and others parts of Iraq:

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces arrested 15 gunmen during operations on Friday and Saturday in central and northern Iraq, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - Two roadside bombs exploded in succession, wounding two people in Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad, police said.

Baghdad - Two unknown bodies found in Baghdad

Baghdad - Around 10 a.m. two roadside bombs targeted civilians in Beirut square, injuring two civilians.

Baghdad - 1 hostage freed, 7 suspects arrested during past 24 hours. The Iraqi security forces managed to set free a kidnapped hostage, arrest seven wanted men and suspects and seize three vehicles owned by gunmen in Baghdad's al-Karkh and al-Rasafa sections within the Baghdad security plan Fardh al-Qanoon during the past 24 hours, an official said.

Diyala - A parked car bomb targeted an Iraqi army convoy in Al Wajihiya, two soldiers were injured, one civilian and one child were injured. [Another story says that four security men were wounded. I don’t know if this is the same incident or not. – dancewater]

Nineveh - Gunmen killed a police officer near his house in Al Sukar neighborhood.

Sulaimaniyah - Gunmen killed Sherwan Uthman, a liquor shop owner, in Sulaimaniyah yesterday night, police said.

DHULUIYA - Gunmen killed six people in attacks on two houses, including a former Iraqi army officer and two members of a U.S.-backed neighbourhood patrol in a village near Dhuluiya, 70 km (45 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

Anbar province - U.S. soldier killed in non-combat incident in Anbar

Basra - Policeman killed, 1 wounded by gunmen fire in Basra


FOX News' Shepard Smith was boasting about how Friday was the first day in a long, long time that there was no violence in Baghdad. It appears as though Shepard Smith and FOX News spoke too soon. Smith went on to say the only thing falling in Baghadad on Friday was snow.

Hey Shep: You spoke too soon!

Factbox - Security developments in Iraq, 11 Jan 2008

Jan 11 (Reuters) - Following are security developments in Iraq at 2000 GMT on Friday.
* indicates new or updated item

* BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomb blew up outside a bakery in New Baghdad district in eastern Baghdad, killing two people and wounding eight others, police said.

* BAGHDAD - Three bodies were found dumped across Baghdad on Friday, police said.


Baghdad Embassy Is Called A Fire Risk'Serious' Problems Were Ignored, Says State Dept. Official

By Glenn KesslerWashington Post Staff WriterSaturday, January 12, 2008; A01

The firefighting system in the massive $736 million embassy complex in Baghdad has potential safety problems that top U.S. officials dismissed in their rush to declare construction largely completed by the end of last year, according to internal State Department documents, e-mails and interviews.
Some officials assert that in the push to complete the long-delayed project, potentially life-threatening problems have been left untouched. "This is serious enough to get someone killed," said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation. "The fire systems are the tip of the iceberg. That is the most visible. But no one has ever inspected the electrical system, the power plant" and other parts of the embassy complex, which will house more than 1,000 people and is vulnerable to mortar attacks.
Other sources involved in the project, also requesting anonymity, insist that disputes involve technical paperwork issues, largely because the contractor had never built an embassy and did not realize that under State Department rules it needed approval for substituting certain materials. Now, much of that work needs to be reexamined and checked, they said, substantially delaying the project's completion.
The finger-pointing over fire safety is a microcosm of the suspicion that hangs over the troubled project, which is built on acreage almost four times the size of
the Pentagon. Originally expected to be completed by July 1, 2007, at a cost of $592 million, the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world has been plagued by poor planning, shoddy workmanship and design changes that have added to the cost. The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of the contract and related subcontracts, sources said.


Saddam Redux: U.S. Allies Itself with Sunni Strongmen

By Basil Adas, Gulf News. Posted January 11, 2008.

Sunni awakening has decreased attacks on U.S. troops, but increased Iraqis' suffering.

The Sunni "awakening" groups formed by American forces to fight Al Qaida have successfully decreased attacks on Iraqi security forces and US troops, but have not eased the fears of citizens, according to residents.

"Abu Riyad, the awakening leader in our district, is stronger than the Americans, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. He orders, arrests and releases [people], pardons and punishes and this situation is no different from when the Al Adhimiya district was under Al Qaida's control," Najeel Ahmad, a resident of Al Adhimiya, told Gulf News.


"The residents of the district have many fears and concerns. The decision to arrest and kill residents is done by Riyadh, so the situation is still bad," he added.

Abu Riyadh, Abu Abed, Abu Nour and Abu Mashriq are all leaders of Sunni "awakening" groups.

It has become very normal, in many Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad, to see hundreds of gunmen inspecting visitors, strangers and even residents, locals say.

Haja Um Zuhair told Gulf News: "I am from Al America and every time I go shopping, my basket is subject to inspection. On every street are members affiliated to awakening leader Abu Abed.

"The reality has not changed for the better, raids and shootings are still happening. I can say that the situation has improved in terms of not targeting American or Iraqi forces, but people are still living in fear," she added.

Locals say that if someone wants to visit another district, he must inform the leader in his district, who will contact his counterpart in the other district.

One resident, Munaf Al Jabori, described the system. "I live in Al Saydia and in order to visit Al America district I have to inform Abu Noor, the leader in Al Saydia, who will contact Abu Abed, the leader in Al America, then Abu Nour gives me a paper to enter Al America and this will keep me safe. I wonder where the government and law are?"

The suffering of Sunni residents does not end there. Haji Abu Ragheed said: "The district's leader sent his followers to ask my son to join them, otherwise he will be barred from the district. Anyone who refuses to join the awakening groups will be killed, arrested and charged with cooperating with Al Qaida."

Muthefer Al Esawi, a political researcher, told Gulf News: "The American army financed and trained warlords in Sunni neighbourhoods to fight Al Qaida. I think Americans did not consider Iraqis' feelings."


Judge in San Francisco Allows Suit Charging VA Denies Some Vets Health Care

Thanks to Sharin Bowers for the tip on this article.

By Bob Egelko
The San Francisco Chronicle
Friday 11 January 2008

Veterans' advocates can proceed with a lawsuit claiming that the federal government's health care system for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan illegally denies care and benefits, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, a conservative jurist and a World War II veteran, rejected Bush administration arguments that civil courts have no authority over the Department of Veterans Affairs' medical decisions or how it handles grievances and claims.

If the plaintiffs can prove their allegations, Conti said, they would show that "thousands of veterans, if not more, are suffering grievous injuries as the result of their inability to procure desperately needed and obviously deserved health care."

He said federal courts are competent to decide whether those injuries were caused by flaws in the health care system and the VA's grievance procedures.

Conti did not rule on the adequacy of the treatment system, which will be addressed in future proceedings. But he decided one disputed issue, finding that veterans are legally entitled to two years of health care after leaving the service. The government had argued that it was required to provide only as much care as the VA's budget allowed in a given year.