IRAQ 2008-9...
Latest January 6th 2010 - then see IRAQ - The Handover
JANUARY 12th 2008
The situation in Iraq has been covered for the year 2007 on this web site in a file entitled THE WAR ON TERROR. It is now time to revert to coverage on a file in the name of IRAQ itself. There is also
IRAQ (Feb 6th - May 29th 2003) recounting the immediate causes of the war as they occurred and Iraq after the War, Terrorism etc.  (June 5th 3003 to Jan 31st 2005).and BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE  - 2005....

It is appropriate that this file should start by giving an opportunity to the man responsible for the mishandling of the removal of Saddam Hussein and his 'government' to open the batting on 2008.

There is not doubt that even if it had been well handled there would have been postwar opposition to any new regime, and many would say that democracy has to evolve slowly so that its institutions can be populated by those educated in its ways. It can now be claimed that tribal loyalties were the only basis for discipline and stability when most of those with independent means and education in democracy had fled abroad to escape the violence and vengeance unleashed by those deprived of power, income and occupation, let alone the Al Qa'ida element and the religious extremists. The result was a form of civil war mixed with criminality and mayhem; and this should have been foreseen as inevitable in circumstances of such total mismanagement and loss of control.

But we are where we are and many American and coalition lives have been given in getting here, so let us start 2008 with the state of Iraq as set out by George W. Bush who, it has to be said, has not run away. Many of his critics have been even more ignorant and misinformed than GWB himself so let us move on in respect for those who have been victims and those who have served the best intentioned aims in courageous and honourable ways. [Things may get worse, but they will eventually get better as you will see if you cheat by skipping ahead to August 2008]

Here is the REUTERS report, Saturday January 12th 2008

By Tabassum Zakaria and Matt Spetalnick Reuters

MANAMA (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Saturday that America's new strategy had reversed Iraq's descent into mayhem and the United States was on track to complete the withdrawal of 20,000 troops by mid-year.

After talks at a base in the Kuwaiti desert with his military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, Bush said security gains in Iraq "are allowing some U.S. forces to return home".

He added: "Any additional reduction will be based on the recommendation of General Petraeus, and those recommendations will be based entirely on the conditions on the ground in Iraq."

Bush conceded that until last year, "our strategy simply wasn't working", with Iraq riven by sectarian violence and al Qaeda militants strengthening their grip in many areas. He said the new strategy, involving a troop buildup and a focus on counter-insurgency warfare, was turning things around.

Bush later flew to Bahrain, a close U.S. ally which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, where he was greeted by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Bush praised the king for Bahrain's efforts on democratic reforms, citing the holding of elections and that a woman was elected to the parliament. "Bahrain's reforms are making your nation stronger, you're showing strong leadership, you're showing the way forward to other nations," Bush said.

About 200 demonstrators gathered near the U.S. embassy in the capital Manama, carrying anti-U.S. placards and some chanting slogans against the ruling family. "State terrorism - Made in USA," read one placard.

In Kuwait, Bush said: "Iraq is now a different place from one year ago. Much hard work remains, but levels of violence are significantly reduced. Hope is returning to Baghdad, and hope is returning to towns and villages throughout the country."

"Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and it will continue to target the innocent with violence. But we've dealt al Qaeda in Iraq heavy blows, and it now faces a growing uprising of ordinary Iraqis who want to live peaceful lives."

With the Iraq war nearing the five-year mark, Bush has refused to discuss any further troop cuts for now, saying that will depend on his commanders' judgments. The limited phased withdrawal of 20,000 troops was announced by Bush in September.

But he gave a sense of the long-term U.S. commitment when he said in a television interview on Friday that the United States would have a presence in Iraq that could "easily" last a decade.

The war remains deeply unpopular among Americans, keeping Bush's approval ratings stuck around 30 percent and below.

But a fall in violence has taken much of the steam out of efforts by Democratic congressional leaders to try to link war funding to troop withdrawal timetables, something Bush refuses to accept. Most Democrats maintain, however, that dramatic changes are needed in Bush's Iraq strategy.


Petraeus is due to report to the U.S. Congress in March on whether more troop reductions are advisable. Asked on Saturday whether more troops could be withdrawn this year, Petraeus said it was possible but no decision had been made.

Despite heavy U.S. pressure, Iraq's main Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political blocs have failed to agree on major laws seen by Washington as crucial to bridging the sectarian divide. Bush conceded the Iraqi government had to do more.

"Have they done enough? No," he said.

Bush earlier made his first presidential visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, predicting a peace treaty within a year but with no major breakthroughs. Bahrain was the second of five Arab states Bush will visit to enlist their help in containing Iran's growing regional clout.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said talks would now turn to "the threats that we've seen in the Gulf, the problem of extremism, whether it be extremism from al Qaeda, Sunni extremism, or whether it be Iran and its tentacles, like Hezbollah and the part of Hamas that Iran supports".

Gulf states have battled al Qaeda militants in recent years, but they are also concerned about the crises in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.

Local media said Kuwait's emir would tell Bush of his concerns that a U.S. strike on nearby Iran would destabilise the Gulf, key to world oil supplies. Bush is likely to hear a similar message from other Gulf Arab leaders fearful of war.

Bush said in Kuwait that Iran and Syria had to stop promoting violence in Iraq.

"Syria needs to further reduce the flow of terrorists to the territory, especially suicide bombers. Iran must stop supporting the militia special groups that attack Iraqi and coalition forces and kidnap and kill Iraqi officials," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in Manama, writing by Andrew Marshall; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

* * *

On the offensive side, last Thursday saw the most massive strike on Al Qa'ida concentrations since 2006.

So, we shall see if on the constructive side progress can be sustained. This (below) is a good move:

Iraq to reinstate Saddam party followers

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer 

Iraq's parliament voted Saturday to give jobs back to thousands of former supporters of Saddam Hussein's Baath party who were fired after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The long-delayed bill is the first of several major changes in Iraqi law sought by the Bush administration with the goal of easing ethnic and religious tensions. The 275-seat parliament is still deadlocked over how to share the country's oil profits, constitutional amendments demanded by minority Sunni Arabs, and a bill spelling out rules for local elections.

The bill, approved Saturday by a unanimous show of hands, seeks to relax restrictions on the rights of members of the now-dissolved Baath party to fill government posts.

Full report:

JANUARY 23rd 2008

U.S. experts see rare chance for stability in Iraq

By David Morgan  Reutera

The sharp drop in violence that has accompanied the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq has given the war-torn country a rare opportunity for stability, analysts said on Wednesday.

The panel of independent experts on Iraq told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that the fragile successes of recent months in Iraq could easily unwind if the United States is unwilling to maintain a large troop presence in the Gulf region for years to come.

"We may have an opportunity in Iraq that has not been available since 2003 to stabilize the country and avert the downside risks of failure," Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign relations told the House Armed Services hearing.

They said the current lull in violence could be exploited to hold provincial elections that would help ease friction between elected officials and tribal sheikhs.

They also recommended expanding cease-fire agreements, like the ones that have bought relative calm to previous hotspots such as Anbar province, into northern provinces.

But the analysts said a stable Iraq was less likely to resemble a model democracy than modern-day Bosnia or Kosovo, both volatile countries with substantial international civilian and military presences.

The hearing by the Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee was held to examine U.S. options at a time when the Bush administration is scheduled to withdraw about 20,000 troops from Iraq by mid-summer.

The brigades were the extra forces sent a year ago to quell sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites. There are currently about 158,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Lawmakers were told that the 60 percent drop in violence last year was due largely to Sunni tribal leaders' backing of the U.S. military against al Qaeda in Iraq and radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's call for loyal Shi'ite militiamen to stand down.

Those developments, combined with an apparent reduction of Iranian support for violent Shi'ite militias, have altered the calculus of sectarian differences in the country and cast the U.S. mission in a more positive light, they said.

"While the U.S. presence may have stoked insurgent violence in Iraq between 2003 and 2006, the U.S. is, for now, a force for stability," said Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Lawrence Wilkerson, one-time chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, praised the competence of U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker in tackling Iraq's problems.

But he said the U.S. chances of building on recent success would be severely limited by the time President George W. Bush's successor takes office a year from now because of personnel strains on the Army and the burden of $11 billion in costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"To continue to put this money in at the rate we're putting it out now, or even close to the rate we're putting it out now, is going to be virtually impossible," Wilkerson said.

"That's another constraint on the time we have left remaining to exploit these opportunities that we've got."

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

FEBRUARY 1st 2008
There is no doubt that normal life has been returning to Baghdad.

There is no doubt that the total breakdown after the overthrow of Saddam was caused by:
1. The throwing on the scrapheap by Bush and his out-of-touch team of the entire Iraqi military and most of the civil service, leaving them with no option other than rebellion.
2. The total failure to guard the huge stores of conventional weapons and explosives, while looking for WMD and Saddam
3. The total failure to stop looting and destruction

All of this was pointed out at the time, in time to rectify and change the position. It was pointed out on this web site.
Now, Iraq has to live with the fall-out from this, as do the military and workers in the western development agencies trying to help clear up this appalling legacy. So the events recorded today, below, are not totally unsurprising

Twin bombings kill 64 in Baghdad

The popular market is always crowded
At least 64 people have been killed by two bombs in Baghdad, attached to two mentally disabled women and detonated remotely, says a security official.

"The al-Qaeda terrorists and criminals are proud of this method," Brig Qassem Ata al-Moussawi told the BBC.

The death toll in Friday morning's attacks at two animal markets was the highest in months in Baghdad.

Correspondents say a fragile sense of normality had returned to the capital following an influx of US troops.

Security has improved significantly since the US implemented its troop "surge" in the second half of 2007.

A ceasefire announced in August by the Mehdi Army militia of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, as well as the emergence of local Sunni militia armed by the US military that took on al-Qaeda in Iraq, have also contributed to the sense of security.

Confidence shattered

But that renewed confidence could be shattered by Friday's deadly bombings, the worst to hit the Iraqi capital since three car bombs killed 80 people last 1 August.

The operation was carried out by two booby-trapped mentally disabled women
Brig Qassem Ata al-Moussawi
Iraqi security forces spokesman

The blasts came shortly before the call to Friday prayers when many Iraqis were out shopping or meeting friends.

The first device was detonated by a female suicide bomber at around 1020 local time (0720GMT) in the popular Ghazil animal market, killing at least 46 people and injuring a further 80.

A popular spectacle for Baghdadis, the animal market only opens on Fridays and regularly draws large crowds, despite having been targeted by bombers twice in 2007.

Just 20 minutes after the first explosion, a second bomb tore through another crowded market in the Jadida area of east Baghdad, killing at least 18 people and injuring 30.

June 2006 - Four killed by two bombs left in bags
Dec 2006 - Three killed in mortar attack
26 Jan 2007 - 15 killed by bomb hidden in box of birds
23 Nov 2007 - 13 killed in attack blamed on Iranian-backed Shia militants

Iraqi security forces spokesman Brig Moussawi told the BBC: "The operation was carried out by two booby-trapped mentally disabled women. [The bombs] were detonated remotely.

"Forensic and bomb squad experts as well as the people and traders of al-Shorja area of the carpet market have confirmed that the woman who was blown-up there today was often in the area and was mentally disabled...

"In the New Baghdad area the shop owners and customers of the pet market confirmed that the woman who was blown-up there was mentally disabled as well."

Police and medical officials piled the dead and injured into wheelbarrows, cars and the back of pick-up trucks to be transported to five hospitals across the city.

An official at the capital's Kindi hospital said at least 30 bodies had been received.

"We have a disaster here," he said. "There are too many bodies to count."

FEBRUARY 16th 2008
Patrick Coburn continues to tell us that Iraq is a disaster area. There has been a drop in refugees returning from e.g. Jordan because of the lack of security or any accommodation for them to return to, their previous dwelling being destroyed or occupied now by others or in an area where they are not welcome. This despite the statistics related below:

Attacks in Baghdad fall 80 percent: Iraq military

By Aws Qusay Reuterst - Sat Feb 16, 11:21 AM ET

Attacks by insurgents and rival sectarian militias have fallen up to 80 percent in Baghdad and concrete blast walls that divide the capital could soon be removed, a senior Iraqi military official said on Saturday.

Lieutenant-General Abboud Qanbar said the success of a year-long clampdown named "Operation Imposing Law" had reined in the savage violence between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs dominant under Saddam Hussein.

"In a time when you could hear nothing but explosions, gunfire and the screams of mothers and fathers and sons, and see bodies that were burned and dismembered, the people of Baghdad were awaiting Operation Imposing Law," Qanbar told reporters.

Qanbar pointed to the number of dead bodies turning up on the capital's streets as an indicator of success.

In the six weeks to the end of 2006, an average of 43 bodies were found dumped in the city each day as fierce sectarian fighting threatened to turn into full-scale civil war.

That figure fell to four a day in 2008, in the period up to February 12, said Qanbar, who heads the Baghdad security operation.

"Various enemy activities" had fallen by between 75 and 80 percent since the security plan was implemented, he said.

To demonstrate how life had improved, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki toured parts of the city on Saturday, visiting Iraqi forces and checkpoints.

"He wanted ... to send a message to the terrorists that security in Baghdad is prevailing now," one official said.

Central to the success has been the erection of 12-foot (3.5-meter) high concrete walls that snake across the city.

The walls were designed to stop car bombings blamed on al Qaeda that turned markets and open areas into killing fields.

Qanbar said he hoped the walls could be taken down "in the coming months" and predicted the improved situation in Baghdad would translate to greater security elsewhere.

The U.S. military says attacks have fallen across Iraq by 60 percent since June on the back of security clampdowns and the deployment of 30,000 extra American troops.


Vital to the fall in violence was also a decision by Sunni Arab tribal leaders to turn against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda in late 2006 and form neighborhood security units, which man checkpoints and provide tips on militant hideouts.

However, their relationship with Iraqi authorities remains tense. The Shi'ite-led government is wary of the units, called "concerned local citizens" (CLCs) by the U.S. military and whose ranks includes former Sunni Arab insurgents.

"Everyone should know, that the official security forces represent the country. And it is the one side that has the right to bear arms and impose security," Qanbar said.

In a sign of the tensions, one CLC group said it was suspending its activities after three members were killed in an incident near the town of Jurf al-Sukr, south of Baghdad.

The unit blamed American soldiers for Friday's deaths. The U.S. military said attack helicopters had responded with rockets after security forces came under small-arms fire. It said the incident was under investigation but gave no further details.

The CLCs number some 80,000 mainly Sunni Arabs. Qanbar said Baghdad was working on compensating victims of mistakes by the Iraqi army and multi-national forces in Iraq.

While Iraqi and U.S. officials laud the security gains, humanitarian groups say it is still too early to encourage around 2 million refugees who fled Iraq to return home.

"The plight of Iraqi refugees will end with national reconciliation," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, told reporters during a visit to Baghdad.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden, Mohammed Abbas and Ahmed Rasheed, Writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Robert Woodward)

FEBRUARY 23rd 2008
It took a long time for Moqtada to understand what was in Iraq's and even his own interest but it seems that once he understood, he has acted as a man of logic.

Sadr declares new Iraq ceasefire
Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered the renewal of the ceasefire his powerful militia has been observing for the past six months.

He announced in August that his Mehdi Army would not attack rival armed groups or American forces in Iraq.

This was widely credited with reducing sectarian tensions and contributing to the recent overall drop in violence.

BBC Baghdad correspondent Jim Muir says the government and US military will clearly be relieved by the move.

US military officials have publicly recognised this contribution of the ceasefire as helping to stabilise parts of Iraq.

This suspension will culminate in the dissolution of armed groups. The political process and the rule of law should be the basis for arbitrating our differences, not militias
Barham Saleh
Deputy PM

Other key developments that have helped reduce the violence have been the surge of US troops in and around Baghdad, and the emergence of US-backed Sunni militia who have taken on al-Qaeda in Iraq in western areas of the country.

Deputy Iraqi Prime Minister Barham Saleh praised the move.

"This suspension will culminate in the dissolution of armed groups. The political process and the rule of law should be the basis for arbitrating our differences, not militias," Mr Saleh told the Reuters news agency.

In a statement the US military said the truce extension would allow security forces to focus on combating al-Qaeda.


With the approach of the Saturday deadline for the expiry of Moqtada Sadr's original ceasefire tension and speculation had mounted over whether it would be extended, our correspondent says.

The cleric, whose forces have frequently clashed with the Americans in the past, had sealed envelopes distributed to Friday preachers in Shia mosques with instructions that they should be opened and read at Friday prayers.

In the statement read out from the pulpits Mr Sadr ordered the Mehdi Army to continue suspending all military activities for a further six months until August.

The aim, it said, was to give the movement an opportunity to retrieve what it called its ideological position.

Expulsion threat

Since the original ceasefire was announced American and Iraqi forces have kept up a drive against what they regard as rogue elements of the Shia militia who did not abide by the truce.

Spokesmen for the Sadr movement said that any members who did not obey the order would be expelled.

Also on Friday, a ban was imposed on horse-drawn carts and other wagons pulled by animals in Baghdad, after one was used in a bomb attack.

Three people were killed when explosives hidden in a cart were detonated in the centre of the capital.

In other violence, at least four people were killed in a suicide bomb attack outside a mosque in the mainly Sunni city of Falluja, west of Baghdad.

MARCH 2nd 2008  
Ahmadinejad visits Baghdad. The first Iranian head of state to visit since 1980. Only possible since Saddam was removed.

Ahmadinejad takes swipe at Bush, hails Iraq ties

By Wisam MohammedSun Mar 2, 3:05 PM ET

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed a new chapter in ties with Iraq and took a jab at the United States over its policies in the Middle East during a landmark visit to Baghdad on Sunday.

Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president to go to Iraq since Saddam Hussein launched an eight-year war on Iran in 1980, in which 1 million people died. He is also the first leader from the region to visit since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

His two-day trip to a country where its long-time enemy the United States has more than 150,000 troops is as much about symbolism as about cementing economic and cultural ties between the neighbors, both run by Shi'ite majorities.

He rejected long-standing U.S. accusations, repeated by President George W. Bush on Saturday, that Iran is arming Shi'ite militias in Iraq who kill American soldiers.

"We tell Mr. Bush that accusing others will increase the problems of America in the region and will not solve them," Ahmadinejad said in translated remarks at a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"The Americans have to understand the facts of the region. Iraqi people do not like America."

Ahmadinejad met Maliki at the prime minister's office in the Green Zone -- the U.S.-protected central Baghdad compound that houses government ministries, parliament and the U.S. embassy -- under the almost constant drone of U.S. military helicopters.

U.S. officials in Baghdad have said they will play no role in Ahmadinejad's visit and that the U.S. military will not be involved in protecting him unless they are asked for help.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Rob McInturff said: "The Iranians and the Iraqis share borders -- they are free to develop their own relationships."

Ahmadinejad said at an earlier news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that his visit would open a new chapter in relations with Iraq and help regional cooperation.

"A visit to Iraq without the dictator is a truly happy one," he said, referring to Saddam, who was executed by the Iraqi government in December 2006.

Ironically, his trip was only made possible by the U.S.-led invasion. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for U.S. forces to leave Iraq, blaming them for sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis since 2003.

"A developed, powerful and united Iraq is to the advantage of everyone," said Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian president to visit since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.


Talabani said Iraq would seek to oust the Iranian rebel Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) group, a long-time Iranian demand that was expected to be raised during Ahmadinejad's visit.

"The presence of those terrorists is forbidden by the constitution and we are working to get rid of them," he said.

The U.S. military said in a statement, however, that it was not aware of any armed or organized MEK group in Iraq. It said its fighters had disarmed during the U.S.-led invasion and now lived in a camp with "protected persons" status.

Many of Iraq's Shi'ite leaders were in exile in Iran during Saddam's long rule and analysts say Ahmadinejad will use his visit to show Washington that Tehran is an influential player in Iraq that cannot be ignored.

The Iranian president has also sought to counter U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran over its nuclear program by trying to improve ties with Arab states in the region.

His visit comes a day before an expected U.N. Security Council vote on a third round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes but the United States says is for nuclear arms.

Pomp and ceremony greeted Ahmadinejad on his arrival, the fanfare a stark contrast to Bush's rushed and secretive visits.

Ahmadinejad held hands with Talabani as they walked down a red carpet as a military band played their countries' national anthems. It was Iraq's first full state welcome for any leader since the U.S.-led invasion.

Ahmadinejad's motorcade drove from Baghdad's airport to Talabani's presidential palace. Visiting foreign dignitaries normally fly by helicopter to avoid the dangerous airport road.

Scattered protests were held in Baghdad and towns with sizeable Sunni Arab populations against Ahmadinejad's visit.

(Additional reporting by Dean Yates, Ahmed Rasheed, Aseel Kami, Mariam Karouny, Paul Tait and Mohammed Abbas; Writing by Ross Colvin; Editing by Alison Williams)

March 3rd 2008 
Here's a further good assessment of the pluses and minuses of Irania/Iraqi relations.

Ahmadinejad: US power crippling in Iraq

By ANNA JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer 

Iran's firebrand president wrapped up his landmark visit to Iraq with a bit of added swagger Monday_ insisting that U.S. power is crippling the region and portraying himself as the enduring partner of Baghdad's Shiite-led government.

The parting words and posturing — like nearly every moment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's two-day trip — was powerful political theater seeking to emphasize Iran's growing bonds with its former enemy. U.S. officials had a front row seat.

Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian leader to visit Iraq since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, had no direct dealings with American envoys or the military. But Washington and its Sunni Arab allies were high on his agenda — taking every opportunity to send messages about Shiite Iran's rising influence in the region and its special ties to Iraq's Shiite majority.

For Washington, however, this is not a new lesson.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-heavy regime opened the door for Iran's inroads into the nation it battled during a horrific 1980-88 war that claimed an estimated 1 million lives. The United States — despite having no diplomatic ties with Tehran and accusing Iran of aiding Shiite militias — opened groundbreaking dialogue with Iranian officials last year that acknowledged the Islamic Republic as a critical player in Iraq.

The next step — from the vantage point of Washington and its Iraqi allies — is seeing whether Ahmadinejad's visit translates into a clearer Iranian role in helping stabilize Iraq at a time when violence is dropping and insurgents are under increasing military pressure.

"Iraq and Iran having been deadly enemies, and (Ahmadinejad's visit) shows they have turned a page," said Rand Corp. analyst and former U.S. diplomat James Dobbins.

Iraq's Shiite power bases — both in top posts and on the streets — will be the most closely watched barometers for any possible changes following the visit.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, may now have a more direct pipeline to Tehran for dialogue on Shiite trouble spots. Among the top worries: keeping a lid on Shiite factions clashing for control in the oil-rich south and breakaway Shiite groups that Washington accuses of receiving aid from Iran.

Iran already has appeared to cut its backing for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who directs the vast Mahdi Army militia. Instead, Tehran has thrown its weight behind al-Sadr's rival, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the country's most powerful Shiite political insider and supporter of al-Maliki's government.

Ahmadinejad met with al-Hakim during his visit. In front of live TV crews, Ahmadinejad also held hands and exchanged kisses with the president, Talabani, who told Ahmadinejad to call him "Uncle Jalal."

While the U.S. military has said the flow of Iranian weapons into Iraq has slowed, it has stepped up its accusations that Iran is backing so-called "special groups" — the term for Shiite factions that have broken away from al-Sadr and are responsible for a flurry of deadly rocket attacks recently.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council approved a third round of trade sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment that Washington and others worry could be part of a clandestine nuclear arms program. Iran claims it only seeks energy-producing reactors.

Ahmadinejad repeatedly referred to Iraq as a "brotherly" neighbor, but showed no gentler side toward Baghdad's American allies. He blamed the United States for spreading terrorism in the region, demanded the United States withdraw its forces and dismissed allegations that Tehran is training Shiite militants who target U.S. troops.

"The presence of foreigners in the region has been to the detriment of the nations of the region," Ahmadinejad said during a news conference. "It is nothing but a humiliation to the regional nations."

He even took a swipe at President Bush for the tight security bubble around his visits to the country.

Unlike Bush's trips to Iraq, Ahmadinejad announced his journey in advance, drove in a motorcade down Baghdad's airport road_ once known as "The Highway of Death" — spent the night and even traveled to a Shiite holy shrine in northern Baghdad, albeit under the cover of night.

"The visits should be declared and open. And all those who come on stealth visits, we should ask them why they visit this country in a stealth manner?" Ahmadinejad said.

Despite the beefed-up Iraqi security in some parts of Baghdad for Ahmadinejad's visit, at least 24 people were reportedly killed in two suicide car bombings in different parts of the city, police and hospital officials said. The U.S. military reported 11 people had died in the attacks. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

U.S. officials have tried to brush aside the significance of Ahmadinejad's visit, and the White House on Monday disputed Ahmadinejad's statement that Iran was not aiding terrorists.

"Nice words for him to say in the middle of Baghdad, but the facts on the ground prove otherwise," Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Bush's National Security Council, told reporters traveling with Bush back to Washington.

Richard Russell, who lectures on national security at the National Defense University, also raised suspicions about Iranian motives.

Iran's agenda includes establishing "a clandestine infrastructure in Iraq," and Tehran is "planning to have more influence domestically inside Iraq as Americans downsize their presence," he said.

Some Iraqis, both Sunnis and Shiites, say it is precisely that influence — and the power struggle between the Washington and Tehran — that worries them.

About 1,000 protesters in a Sunni-dominated neighborhood in Baghdad protested Ahmadinejad's visit Monday, a day after scattered demonstrations greeted his arrival.

"We do not want our country to pay the price of the current U.S.-Iraq disputes. The Iraqis' decisions should be independent and not tied to any other country," said Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, a spokesman for al-Sadr in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.


Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Carley Petesch in New York contributed to this report.

MARCH 10th 2008
The flow of blood may be ebbing, but the flood of money into the Iraq war is steadily rising, new analyses show. In 2008, its sixth year, the war will cost approximately $12 billion a month, triple the "burn" rate of its earliest years, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and co-author Linda J. Bilmes report in a new book.

But with all this being spent, how is it that Iraqis supporting the international efforts to stabilise Iraq, and doing a good job, do not apply even the simplest rules of security?
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A female suicide bomber killed a prominent Sunni Arab tribal chief who headed a neighborhood security unit and three others in the volatile Iraqi province of Diyala on Monday, police said.

MARCH 11th 2008
The Reuters report below gives a very good basis for assessing the question asked in its headline. Clearly for those who have lost everything and are still alive, the exercise was certainly not worth it. There again, in any operation that costs lives, and that includes any nation at peace that loses lives every morning as people travel to work, those who die are no longer there to give their opinion; but every achievement in our world is gained at a cost in lives. In the end we all give out lives in the cause of the rise and development of humanity and civilisation. The only measure is what we as individuals and as teams can contribute in the time we are alive and that may include a peaceful or a violent death.

So, what are the points to focus on in the thoughtful report below? I suggest the following:

"Between 90,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians killed."  In other words, nobody knows, as there was not an adequate national identity system in place due to the buttoned down regime of Saddam, nor an adequate recording system under ether Saddam or under the Coalition. "We don't do peace" was the attitude of Rumsfeld's generals at the time of the invasion, who promptly sacked all those who did.

"Sunni Arabs rose up against their new rulers and car bombs turned markets and mosques into killing fields." This is what Saddam threatened in advance and what was predicted on this web site. It was made just a bit more terrible by the failure of the US military to take control of the massive weapons and explosive dumps whic were (obviously) known to and controlled by Sunni elements now deprived of employment. It is impossible to imagine any other outcome that what transpired.

"In February 2006, suspected al Qaeda militants blew up a revered Shi'ite mosque in the town of Samarra".
  Because, in spite of the above, a level of sanity finally looked as if it might prevail in the corridors of US power, those dedicated to rendering the whole operation a disaster and denying either UN or US control played their trump card. It made the integration of Sunni and Shia geographically impossible or so dangerous that no parent would dare allowtheir child to travel to school. The blowing up of this mosque was the most damaging event of all, more than the damage caused by the US invasion or subsequent looting. It was designed to lead to civil war. The event and the subsequent terror is, however, blamed on the US and they must accept that.

"It was a big mistake by America. We will remember it as they remember Vietnam."
This is a very interesting remark. Although most Americans remember Vietnam as a  big mistake it was in fact a big success. Look at the result.  Vietnam  has flourished. US-Vietnamese relations are good at government and at personal levels. Note also Yousif Kamil said "We will remember it...", not "They" (Americans) will remember it. Yet the cost paid by America in money and lives and injuries makes many Americans consider it a failure.

I have no doubt that in the case of Iraq, the war and its aftermath is already a financial and political disaster for America and for some Iraqis a personal disaster in terms of finance, injury, personal loss and suffering. But the truth is History, or if you will Nature, or for others of you God, Karma or Fate uses the elements of humanity to work out its way. So the answer to the question posed below is yes, unless you believe it would be better if nobody had ever lived or ever would again - and everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Iraqis still ask if U.S. invasion was worth it

By Dean Yates  Reuters

Five years after U.S. and British forces swept into Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, many Iraqis are asking if the violence and upheaval that turned their lives upside down was worth it.

The human cost is staggering -- anywhere between 90,000 and 1 million Iraqi civilians killed, according to various estimates; nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead; while 4 million Iraqis are displaced.

On the bright side, Iraqis are rid of one of the 20th century's most ruthless dictators. They held free elections and have a new constitution.

For Iraqis, deciding if the invasion was worth the sacrifice depends partly on their sect and ethnicity and where they live.

Saddam, a Sunni Arab, persecuted the country's majority Shi'ites and Kurds. Shi'ites now hold the reins of power while once-dominant Sunni Arabs have become marginalized.

In Baghdad, epicenter of a sectarian war in 2006 and 2007 that nearly tore Iraq apart, people long for the safe streets of Saddam's era. In the Shi'ite south, they no longer fear Saddam's henchmen, but rival Shi'ite factions competing for influence.

In the north, the economy of largely autonomous Kurdistan is flourishing in a region that Kurds call "the other Iraq."

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, said Iraq was moving in the right direction. Those who felt the invasion was a mistake should remember Saddam's atrocities, he said.

Zebari said proof that a majority of Iraqis supported the overthrow of Saddam was their participation in 2005 elections.

"The brutality of Saddam's regime deformed society in many ways so we have to be patient," he told Reuters in an interview.

"Compared to the experience of other nations I think we have done very well. But yes, it has been very, very costly."

Um Khalid, a 40-year old Baghdad hairdresser, said violence was so random that no one knew if they would be its next victim.

"No, no, no. What happened was not worth it. Those who say things are better are lying," she said.


Many Iraqis vividly recall the chaotic months after the invasion on March 20, 2003, symbolized by the toppling of a big statue of Saddam in central Baghdad.

Their euphoria at new freedoms and hopes the United States would transform Iraq into another rich Gulf Arab state were dashed as Sunni Arabs rose up against their new rulers and car bombs turned markets and mosques into killing fields.

In February 2006, suspected al Qaeda militants blew up a revered Shi'ite mosque in the town of Samarra, unleashing a wave of sectarian violence that meant being a Shi'ite or a Sunni in the wrong neighborhood could be a death sentence.

"Before 2003, we lived under a tough regime, no one can deny that," said Abu Wasan, 55, a former army brigadier-general and a senior member of Saddam's disbanded Baath party.

"But at least we never heard of bodies getting dumped on garbage just because people had a Sunni or a Shi'ite name."

The worst of the sectarian carnage is over, at least for now. A year ago, police would find up to 50 bodies in the streets of Baghdad each day. That number has dropped to single digits thanks to the deployment of additional U.S. troops and ceasefires by many Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs militants. Also in many Baghdad areas ethnic cleansing has already been completed.


The latest tolls from the widely cited human rights group Iraq Body Count show up to 89,000 civilians have been killed since 2003. Research conducted by one of Britain's leading polling groups, however, puts the death toll at 1 million.

The U.S. military death toll stands at 3,975.

Other statistics make for grim reading.

The United Nations estimates 4 million Iraqis are struggling to feed themselves while 40 percent of the country's 27 million people have no safe water. The Iraqi doctors' syndicate says up to 70 percent of specialist doctors have fled abroad.

Iraq's national power grid, devastated by years of war and sanctions, leaves millions in the dark. The country has the world's third largest reserves of oil, but motorists sometimes queue at petrol stations for hours.

"I have been in this queue since dawn waiting to fill my car," said Abdullah Ahmed, 53, a taxi driver in the northern city of Kirkuk, which sits atop huge reserves of oil.

"What democracy? What prosperity? When the statue fell, we thought we would live like the Gulf, but that was just words."

People with such views are overlooking the joy of speaking freely, said Ahmed Sebti, 39, owner of a kebab restaurant in the southern Shi'ite city of Najaf.

In the past, making fun of Saddam could have deadly consequences. The current president, Jalal Talabani, has a keen sense of humor and loves satire.

"Before, civil servants couldn't eat kebabs. Now my income depends on them. Living standards are better," said Sebti.

Some Iraqis fear the invasion has set into motion political forces that could lead to the partition of Iraq into Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish regions -- a prospect that would inevitably be bloody and may drag in neighboring countries.

But Iraq is no longer a threat to its neighbors.

It is also one of the few countries in the region to hold free elections, something unheard of in neighboring Gulf Arab countries. Provincial elections that could redraw Iraq's political map are expected later this year.

Sheikh Fatwa al-Jerboa, a Sunni Arab tribal leader in the northern city of Mosul, said there was plenty to be happy about.

"I feel grateful to the British and Americans for ousting this dreadful dictator. Now we enjoy freedom of speech and the freedom to choose our own leaders," he said.

Yousif Kamil, 25, in the northern city of Baiji, disagreed.

"It was a big mistake by America. We will remember it as they remember Vietnam," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Wisam Mohammed and Aseel Kami in Baghdad, and reporters in Basra, Najaf, Ramadi, Kirkuk, Baiji and Mosul; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

MARCH 19th

Well, here is the view from George W Bush. I have to say I don't agree with any of the comments above or below.
In my view the removal of Saddam was an appalling, painful necessity, carried out by the only country and president who was capable. It was a pity they didn't understand the terrible difficulties but if they had, they might not have done it. The idea that they could have done it better is a nice one, but I am afraid once they had put the truth before the public of the US, they would not have enabled the operation.

So in one way, whatever we think of George Bush he is a greater man than 90 percent of his critics, especially the facile media commentators. He says this is a battle America must win. Unfortunately he has made it harder than it might have been, but he is right. Note that he says it is a battle America CAN and MUST win. He did not say WILL win. That is why the man deserves some respect. The BBC once again does a good report and a really destructive and damaging headline. Bush has learned the lesson about 'hailing victory' and does not claim victory in Iraq now. They should give him the credit for that at least. "A major strategic victory in the War against Terror" also  seems the opposite of the truth to many, but you have to work out the alternative version of history, with the coalition retiring from the borders of Iraq, leaving Saddam in Power, before you can deny this claim. Just because Al Qaida is now organising suicide attacks and sabotage in Iraq does not mean the alternative scenario would be better. Most people cannot compute alternative scenarios, so they should be very careful before rubbishing George Bush, just as he should have been more careful in assessing the alternative to Saddam, which is many mini-Saddams. [CF "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" - Fantasia model.]

Bush speech hails Iraq 'victory'

Mr Bush welcomed co-operation between US troops and Sunni Arabs
President Bush
President George W Bush has delivered a speech to mark the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Mr Bush said "removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision".

And he went on to say that the recent "surge" of US troops to Iraq has brought about "a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror".

The speech comes amid criticism in the US of the war, with some critics pointing to its high cost.

In his speech, Mr Bush dismissed what he called "exaggerated estimates".

He said: "The costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq."

New allies

Mr Bush argued that fighting Islamic militants in Iraq helped to prevent attacks on targets in the US.

"The terrorists who murder the innocent in the streets of Baghdad want to murder the innocent in the streets of American cities," he said.

"Defeating this enemy in Iraq will make it less likely we will face this enemy here at home."

He also made the case that by working with Sunni Arabs from the Awakening Councils to defeat al-Qaeda, the US was successfully driving a wedge between militants and the Arab mainstream.

"In Iraq," he said, "we are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama Bin Laden. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated."

Meanwhile in Iraq, a female suicide bomber killed six people at a bus station in Balad Ruz in Diyala province, according to Iraqi police.

And near the northern city of Kirkuk, US troops shot dead three Iraqi policemen by mistake, an incident officials described as "a tragic accident, which was sincerely regretted".

MARCH 26th 2008
This is a serious step. The Iraqi government is showing its hand in a move to take over the proper government in the South of Iraq. It is going to be a tough moment, and it is hard to say how long it will take to settle. The British forces are not involved other than in logistical support, aerial reconnaissance and support. This moment had to come, though the timing has been forced on the Iraqi government to a certain extent by the criminality and rival militia violence. Rough though it will be for the innocent inhabitants of the region it is probably better sooner than later.

Iraq PM gives militants ultimatum

Militants are entrenched in Basra's back streets
Basra unrest
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has given Shia militants in the southern city of Basra 72 hours to lay down their arms or face "severe penalties".

Mr Maliki issued the threat on the second day of a government offensive, that has left at least 46 people dead.

The leader of the main militia, the Mehdi Army, says Mr Maliki must leave Basra and start negotiations.

The clashes have spread elsewhere with rockets fired at Baghdad's Green Zone, causing a number of injuries.

Many Iraqi towns are under curfew.

Unrest in Basra has been stoked by a variety of militias and criminal gangs.

But the government's unspoken intent is to stop it falling under the sway of the Mehdi Army, led by the radical young cleric Moqtada Sadr, BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says.

No chasing

As night fell, Basra was quieter, after a second day of intensive fighting, concentrated on the districts of Gazaiza, Garma, Khmasamene, Hayania and Maqal.

Third largest city, population 2.6 million approx
Located on the Shatt al-Arab waterway leading to the Gulf - making it a centre for commerce and oil exports
Region around city has substantial oil resources
4,000 UK troops based at international airport

About 225 people are said to have been injured. A Basra city council member said there were few civilian casualties as they were staying inside their houses.

A large number of gunmen have been detained, say officials.

British forces, which patrolled Basra for nearly five years, withdrew to a base outside the city in December and have not been involved in the fighting.

Prime Minister Maliki has been overseeing the operation from Basra.

"We are not going to chase those who hand over their weapons within 72 hours," Mr Maliki said.

"If they do not surrender their arms, the law will follow its course," the Basra Operational Command quoted him as saying.

Hours later, a senior aide to Moqtada Sadr, Hazim al-Araji, told the BBC that the Sadrists would be willing to send a delegation to meet Mr Maliki for talks if he left Basra.

But events might overtake any efforts at dialogue, says the BBC's Crispin Thorold in Baghdad.

Black-shirted members of the Mehdi Army have reappeared on the streets of Sadr City in Baghdad. They had been withdrawn when the movement declared a ceasefire last August.

Across the Iraqi capital, the thud of rockets and mortars has been heard - several fell short of their target, the Green Zone - home to the diplomatic and government offices - killing at least eight civilians.

Inside the heavily-fortified zone three Americans were seriously injured.

In Sadr City, a vast Shia suburb in the capital, there were overnight clashes between Mehdi Army fighters and American and Iraqi soldiers.

Up to 20 people died in the violence and at least 115 people have been injured, according to police.

Here and in other Shia areas of Iraq, many shops and offices are shuttered, indicating Moqtada Sadr's call for a campaign of civil disobedience is being followed.

More clashes also broke out in Kut, south-east of Baghdad, where at least three people were reported dead on Wednesday.

Sadrists are convinced the operation is an attempt to weaken them ahead of provincial elections due in October, but Mr Maliki has embarked on a risky strategy, says the BBC's Roger Hardy.

For one thing, it is far from clear that it will succeed, he says.

The Sadrist movement enjoys widespread support, especially among the young and the poor, and is well entrenched in Basra and many other predominantly Shia towns and cities in the south.

For another, if the ceasefire which the Sadrists have largely followed were to collapse, that would seriously undermine claims by the government - and by the Bush administration in Washington - that Iraq was moving from civil war to political reconciliation, our correspondent says.


We have had the removal of Saddam, the failure of the US or the UN to take ownership of the decapitated and looted country, the formation of the first post Saddam democratic constitution, the election of the first democratically based government, the failure of that government to bring security and peace, the change of tactics by the US to enforce peace with a surge of US troops while bringing Sunni tribal leaders into the plan and on-side. We have had the British troops accede to requests from the Iraqi government and commanders to hand over control of the South to the new Iraqi army and police while remaining on hand at the air base to give support if required. Now we have the next stage, the crucial stage of the history of the region. This is the start of THE BATTLE OF IRAQ.

The Battle of Iraq will be total war at particular levels. We can expect a level of sabotage of what little industry and facilities have been established and brought to effective working condition. We can expect suicied bombings, roadside bombings and full on battles as well as murder and kidnapping. We are dealing here with a clash not just of tribes, religious sects and historical imperatives but between people who have even been neighbours but have different views on vengeance, forgiveness, pride, humility, value, worthlessness, cruelty, friendship, trust, mistrust. The roots of character have been formed by centuries of unchanged perceptions or deformed by years oppression by either persons or circumstances. In either case, the default mentality is one of xenophobia. This situation has several historic precedents. The people of Japan, following their leaders, were determined  to fight to the last man and woman to resist any international imposition of a new regime. They would have done so.

There is no call for a nuclear option in this case of course, as Iraq is not at war with the international community. Its modernisers have called on that community in aid. Nevertheless this is now a real internal war to decide if a democratically elected and accountable government (not necessarily those who govern now but their successors, elected as freely and fairly as can be done) will govern the country.

Fresh clashes grip southern Iraq
Heavy fighting has continued for a third day between Shia militias and the Iraqi security forces in southern Iraq.

There are reports of extensive exchanges of fire between the Iraqi army and militiamen in Basra and in the town of Hilla, just south of Baghdad.

More than 70 people have died and hundreds have been injured in days of violence sparked by an Iraqi crackdown on Shia militias in Basra.

There have also been violent clashes in Kut and the capital, Baghdad.

On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki gave Shia militants in Basra 72 hours to lay down their arms or face "severe penalties".

The leader of the Mehdi Army, Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, has spoken of the possibility of negotiations to end the violence.


In Basra, police chief Adbul Jalil Khalaf said he survived an assassination attempt overnight, in which three of his bodyguards were killed.

Residents in the city have said that they are beginning to run out of food and water.

One told the BBC that the Iraqi army broke into shops, took food and water, then set fire to shops and cars on the street.

Third largest city, population 2.6 million approx
Located on the Shatt al-Arab waterway leading to the Gulf - making it a centre for commerce and oil exports
Region around city has substantial oil resources
4,000 UK troops based at international airport

"I am trying to look out of the window now, but I can't - the smoke's really heavy and smells really bad. Everything is burnt," he said.

An oil pipeline near Basra, which carries oil for export, was damaged by a bomb.

A Southern Oil Company official told the Reuters news agency that the main pumping station of Zubair 1 was shut down and that exports would be greatly affected.

"Firefighters are struggling to control the fire, which is huge. A lot of crude has spilt onto the ground... We will not be able to repair it unless security is provided for the crews," he said.

In other developments across the country:

  • Thousands of Sadr supporters gathered in Baghdad's Sadr City, a vast Shia-dominated suburb, to demand Mr Maliki's resignation over the military operation
  • Baghdad's fortified Green Zone was again hit by several rounds of rockets, causing a fire, Iraqi and US embassy officials said
  • Iraqi police in Kut said dozens of people were killed in clashes on Thursday between Iraqi and US forces, and Shia militiamen, the AFP news agency reported
  • There have also been clashes through the night and the early morning in the towns of Hilla and Diwaniya
  • Late on Wednesday, a US military air raid called in support of Iraqi forces in Hilla caused a number of casualties
  • Power struggle

    The number of gunfights in southern Iraq appears to be growing, says the BBC's Crispin Thorold in Baghdad.

    The fighting still seems to be mainly with members of the Mehdi Army, our correspondent says.

    The Medhi Army had held to a ceasefire for more than a year, contributing to the general fall in violence across Iraq.

    It is not clear what has prompted the government crackdown at this time. The government says its campaign aims to re-impose law and order in Basra.

    However, Sadrists say the government is attempting to weaken the militias before local elections scheduled for October.

    At stake, analysts say, is control of Iraq's only port city and the region's oil fields.

    MARCH 28th 2008
    Mr Maliki is clearly acting on good advice. The law must be enforced but every opportunity must be given, once the iron fist has been employed, to give a chance for all to keep the law. That means providing employment and since that will take time it must start with some funds up front when arms are handed in.

    Iraq extends Shia arms deadline
    Iraq's government has extended by 10 days a deadline for Shia militiamen fighting troops in the southern city of Basra to hand over their weapons.

    More than 130 people have been killed and 350 injured since a clampdown on militias began in Basra on Tuesday.

    US-led forces joined the battle for the first time overnight, bombing Shia positions, the UK military said.

    Aid agencies say the upsurge in violence has made Iraq's already poor humanitarian situation "critical".

    Speaking in Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Unicef and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) called on all the warring parties to allow the passage of food and medical supplies.

    Unicef said it was gravely concerned about the health consequences for children, warning that some families had barely two days of drinking water supplies left.

    Moqtada Sadr's supporters at Friday prayers in Sadr City Basra gunfight

    The IOM said the fighting could add to the 2m Iraqis already internally displaced.

    Meanwhile, a statement from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's office said: "All those who have heavy and intermediate weapons are to deliver them to security sites and they will be rewarded financially. This will start from 28 March to 8 April."

    BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says the extension indicates either the military solution is proving more difficult than Mr Maliki thought or there are behind-the-scenes negotiations for a peaceful resolution.

    Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim said the security forces had been caught off-guard by the scale of the militiamen's fight-back.

    "We were surprised by this resistance and have been obliged to change our plans and our tactics," he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

    'Defining moment'

    The fighting between security forces and militiamen has spilled over in recent days to other Iraqi towns and cities, including Karbala, Hilla, Kut, Diwaniya and Nasiriya.

    President George W Bush called the battle "a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq".

    Third largest city, population 2.6 million approx
    Located on the Shatt al-Arab waterway leading to the Gulf
    Region around city has substantial oil resources
    4,000 UK troops based at international airport

    "Any government that presumes to represent the majority of people must confront criminal elements or people who think they can live outside the law and that's what's taking place in Basra," he told a White House news conference.

    Iraq's parliament called an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis, which has brought a three-day curfew to Baghdad. But just 54 MPs out of 275 managed to get inside the fortified Green Zone to attend the session, because it was under fresh bombardment from mortars and rockets.

    One of the missiles hit Iraqi Vice-President Tareq Hashemi's offices, killing at least one guard.

    UK military spokesman in Basra Maj Tom Holloway said US warplanes had for the first time in the operation carried out bombing raids overnight in the city, targeting "mortar teams" and "a concentration of militia troops".

    The Iraqi prime minister has vowed to continue the fight against the militias for as long as necessary.

    Mr Maliki has personally overseen the operation in Basra, which involves some 30,000 troops and police fighting the Mehdi Army, led by radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

    With the militia remaining in control of some densely populated areas, the prime minister has pulled out of this weekend's Arab League summit in Syria to deal with the crisis.

    MARCH 29th 2008
    The offer of safe passage and funds for militia handing in their arms has (not unexpectedly) been refused by the 'followers' of Muqtada al Sadr. A 'spokesman' said they would cooperate only with a government whose policy is to remove US (and presumably UK and all coalition?) forces from Iraq. Meanwhile the US ad UK forces are getting more involved in the Iraqi government's operations to clear out the insurgents, criminals and uncooperative militias. However the situation is not static, so some progress is being made even though at unfortunate and unnecessary cost in lives, material and infrastructure, not to mention the peace of mind of Iraq's benighted majority of citizens who want nothing more than the chance to live in reasonable security.

    Meanwhile in the UK some politicians and even retired Field Marshals and Air Marshals are in favour of an Iraq Inquiry. Lord Bramall says: "There are two issues which people want to know about: why was there no planning for the aftermath of the war and how did we get involved in the first place". An inquiry is needed but not to answer these these questions as far as the UK is concerned.

    The UK made no plans for the aftermath of war as our government and Prime Minister's position was that the invasion was conditional on Saddam's refusal to submit to UN Resolutions. We did not base our policy on unconditional regime change. To have spent 6 months preparing for the occupation of Iraq was not possible when the UK public did not support regime change, only the UN resolutions.

    The United States on the other hand should of course have prepared for the aftermath, although there again if Saddam had been faced by a united UN he would have had to really show he had no WMD and that would have altered the method of enforcement of UN resolutions and the way his absolute and unaccountable power was progressively restrained. That in no way mitigates the really stupid and incompetent way the US went about the postwar management, as they were fully entitled and indeed obliged to have a full plan to follow an invasion and occupation until the security forces they removed had been replaced.

    As for Bramall's question: "How did we get involved in the first place?", the progress was tracked quite clearly on this web site, with all the pitfalls and inevitable horror predicted. There was no way this was going to be avoided unless Saddam gave in or was removed. What bit does Lord Bramall not understand? The pages are all here:
    There is no need for an inquiry on the points Lord Bramall has mentioned as far as the UK is concerned. There is however a need for an inquiry to deal with the points I have raised here and in all the pages the links above connect to. In the US there is a serious need for an inquiry, as the neo-cons are saying the only mistake they made was in not getting out as soon as they had removed Saddam. That is not a tenable position. They took temporary ownership of Iraq and were obliged to do it properly. Richard Perl still does not admit this.

    ADDENDUM JULY 30th 2009: There will now after all be an enquiry that will go over the whole business of the UK involvement.
    It being now one year and five months after I wrote the above, and many people (including still Lord Bramall?) still not understanding "How we got involved in the first place" and in view of the fact that our military operations in Iraq apart from training and backup if asked are now over, I am all for it. In a sentence, our involvement was inevitable from the terms of Saddam's surrender after the first gulf war and the failure of sanctions and our aerial defence of Kurds and Shia regions to get him to comply with those terms. We did not go beyond the UN approved operation to remove Saddam from Kuwait provided he complied with the terms he signed to and the UN resolutions linked to that. But his claims to have no WMD conflicted with the intelligence he spread internally that indeed he did. The idea that Hans Blix could have found them if he had, or known if he did or did not, is just laughable. The idea that leaving him and his sons in power was the way to a better future for the region and the world can only be held by those who do not think things through very far.

    NOVEMBER 24th 2009
    Iraq war inquiry hearings begin

    The Iraq war inquiry's public hearings have begun in London with top civil servants and a former spy chief giving evidence on the conflict's origins.

    The investigation, looking at the whole period from 2001 to 2009, is expected to last months, with a report not out until after the next general election.

    Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be among the future witnesses.

    Tuesday's session looks at UK foreign policy towards Iraq in the lead-up to the war, which began in 2003.

    'Open mind'

    The long-awaited inquiry began with a statement from its chairman, Sir John Chilcot.


    MARCH 30th 2008
    Now Muqtada himself, the wiley old thug, has thought the better of it as he does from time to time. Hurting badly he has affered to surrender providing the very unfair and uncalled for surprise attacks  on his followers cease.
    I paraphrased his pathetic complaints there, I think he called the attacks illegal. It is the usual ploy from such characters who will use any tactic they can to their advantage.  I would expect the Iraqi government to hang very tough indeed. This business is not over, but neither need it be prolonged if it can be shortened. The BBC reports that Muqrada has retained his credibility and standing with his followers. Well, bully for him. If it helps to get some peace by having him and them think that, why argue. The point is he has to keep his gangs off the streets and hand in their weapons.

    APRIL 5th 2008

    Analysis: Iraqi PM wins rare support

    By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer 

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's faltering crackdown on Shiite militants has won the backing of Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that fear both the powerful sectarian militias and the effects of failure on Iraq's fragile government.

    The emergence of a common cause could help bridge Iraq's political rifts.

    The head of the Kurdish self-ruled region, Massoud Barzani, has offered Kurdish troops to help fight anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

    More significantly, Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi signed off on a statement by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and the Shiite vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, expressing support for the crackdown in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

    Al-Hashemi is one of al-Maliki's most bitter critics and the two have been locked in an acrimonious public quarrel for a year. Al-Hashemi has accused the prime minister of sectarian favoritism and al-Maliki has complained that the Sunni vice president is blocking key legislation.

    On Thursday, however, al-Maliki paid al-Hashemi a rare visit. A statement by al-Hashemi's office said the vice president told al-Maliki that "we can bite the bullet and put aside our political differences."

    "The main aim at this critical juncture is to ensure that our political choices are made in Iraq's interest," al-Hashemi said.

    Shiite militias were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Sunni Arabs in the sectarian bloodletting of 2006 and 2007. The Mahdi Army is blamed for much of the killing.

    A top leadership council made up of Talabani, al-Maliki and leaders of major political blocs called Saturday on Iraqi parties to disband their militias or risk being barred from contesting elections and participating in political life.

    The council also affirmed its support for al-Maliki's campaign against militias and "outlaws."

    "I think the government is now enjoying the support of most political groups because it has adopted a correct approach to the militia problem," said Hussein al-Falluji, a lawmaker from parliament's largest Sunni Arab bloc, the three-party Iraqi Accordance Front. Al-Hashemi heads one of the three, the Iraqi Islamic Party.

    The Accordance Front pulled out of al-Maliki's Cabinet in August to protest his policies. The newfound support over militias could help al-Maliki persuade the five Sunni ministers who quit their posts to return.

    If he succeeds, that would constitute a big step toward national reconciliation, something the U.S. has long demanded.

    Still, the Sunnis are looking for concessions from al-Maliki, whom they accuse of monopolizing power.

    "The mission ahead is clear," al-Hashemi's office said in an April 2 statement. "There must be a national program that obliges everyone to reconsider, show flexibility, accept the others and ... work in the spirit of one team."

    Whether that happens depends largely on how the government deals with the issue of Shiite militias.

    The Basra crackdown, ostensibly waged against "outlaws" and "criminal gangs," bogged down in the face of fierce resistance and discontent in the ranks of government forces. Major combat eased after al-Sadr asked his militia to stop fighting last Sunday.

    But al-Maliki continued his tough rhetoric, threatening to take his crackdown to the Mahdi Army's strongholds in Baghdad. Al-Sadr hinted at retaliation, and the prime minister backed down, freezing raids and arrests targeting the young cleric's supporters.

    Barzani, the Kurdish leader, has been at sharp odds with al-Maliki's government over what he sees as its lackluster reaction to Turkish military moves against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. The Kurds are also angry over the national government's opposition to Kurdish deals with foreign oil companies.

    But the Kurds, for years Washington's most reliable allies in Iraq, also see the Sadrists' anti-U.S. fervor as a threat to the country's political process and its stability.

    Al-Sadr is openly opposed to a federal system, arguing that carving up the country into self-rule regions similar to that in Kurdistan would lead to Iraq's breakup. Another source of tension with the Kurds is the Sadrists' vehement opposition to Kurdish claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which they want to annex to their region over the opposition of its Arab and Turkomen residents.

    "I think the events in Basra will help bridge the gap between the central government and Kurdistan authorities," said Fouad Massoum, a senior Kurdish lawmaker.

    Al-Maliki has sought to cast himself as a national leader who is above the country's sectarian divide, saying that he was going after "outlaws" and "criminal gangs" regardless of their sect, ethnicity or party links.

    But other motives may have played a role in the crackdown.

    Provincial elections are scheduled to be held before Oct. 1 and Shiite parties are gearing up for a tough contest in the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, where oil-rich Basra and the wealthy religious centers of Najaf and Karbala are prizes.

    A successful crackdown in Basra would have boosted the election chances of al-Maliki's Dawa party and his Shiite allies in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, whose Badr Brigade militia is the Mahdi Army's sworn enemy.

    The Supreme Council hopes to win the fall vote so it can form a self-ruled region similar to the Kurdish one in the north — something the Sadrists oppose. Key council figures also want the crackdown to continue — even at the risk of a new round of fighting.

    "He must impose the law on everyone, and he (al-Maliki) told us this is his intention," said Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a hardline cleric associated with the Supreme Council, a close ally of Iraq's Kurds. "We reject any deals or negotiations."


    Hamza Hendawi has covered Iraq for the AP on numerous assignments since January 2003. AP reporters Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

    APRIL 15th 2008
    A Terrible day in Iraq

    Dozens dead as Iraq cities bombed  

    Aftermath of Baquba bomb

    More than 70 people have been killed in blasts at three cities in Iraq, in one of the deadliest days there for weeks.

    At least 53 died and another 90 were injured when explosives packed in a bus detonated outside a restaurant near a court in Baquba, north of the capital.

    And 13 more were killed in a suicide bombing at a kebab restaurant where policemen were eating in Ramadi, which had seen a sharp decline in violence.

    Three people were also killed in Mosul in the north, and another in Baghdad.

    The BBC's Crispin Thorold in Baghdad says suspicion for the attacks is likely to fall on Sunni Islamist groups inspired by al-Qaeda.

    Medics struggle

    Police said they expected the death toll in Baquba to rise as there were still charred bodies inside cars at the scene.

    I saw cars on fire, burned bodies and damaged shops with shattered glass everywhere
    Abu Ali, witness

    The bomb there exploded just before noon in a crowded area.

    Most of the dead were women and children and many of the bodies are said to be too badly burned to be identified.

    Witness Abu Ali said: "I saw cars on fire, burned bodies and damaged shops with shattered glass everywhere."

    There were so many wounded that ambulances struggled to get them all to hospital.

    Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, has been an insurgent stronghold, where militants linked to al-Qaeda are said to have regrouped after being driven away from Baghdad.

    The kebab shop attack in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, was carried out by a suicide attacker, police said. There were unconfirmed reports that a second attacker was arrested before he could detonate his bomb.

    Spate of attacks

    Anbar was once the heart of Iraq's insurgency.

    In contrast to Diyala, the region has seen a sharp decline in violence as Sunni tribal leaders have sided with American and Iraqi government forces against al-Qaeda.

    The attack in Baquba was one of the most deadly for months in Iraq, where the US surge strategy has succeeded in reducing the number of deaths.

    However, there have been several attacks already this week. At least 17 people were killed in two bomb attacks near Mosul on Monday, including one which killed 12 members of the Kurdish Peshmerga security force, now part of the Iraqi army, near the Syrian border.

    The attacks come as US and Iraqi forces continue their offensive against Shia militias in Baghdad and further south.

    The US military said it had killed six militants earlier on Tuesday in an engagement with gunmen near Baghdad's main Shia militia stronghold of Sadr City.

    APRIL 21st 2008   Here is a significant extract from the International Herald Tribune

    On surprise Iraq visit, Rice hails crackdown on Shiite militias

    International Herald Tribune, Reuters, The Associated Press
    Published: April 20, 2008

    BAGHDAD: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed Iraq's crackdown on militias during a visit Sunday to Baghdad, where the worst fighting in weeks erupted after the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr threatened all-out war.

    Rockets blasted the fortified Green Zone compound where Rice met Iraqi officials and praised their month-old campaign against Sadr's followers.

    She had harsh words for the reclusive cleric, who on the eve of Rice's visit vowed "open war" if the crackdown continued. Sadr has not appeared in public in Iraq in nearly a year.

    "He is still living in Iran. I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him," Rice said. "His followers can go to their death and he will still be in Iran."

    A military spokesman said U.S. forces had killed 20 fighters overnight in a series of gun battles and helicopter missile strikes in Sadr City, the east Baghdad slum that is a stronghold of Sadr's militia.

    "I would say it's been the hottest night in a couple of weeks," said the spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover.

    U.S. soldiers killed 12 militants Sunday in a series of engagements in Shiite areas of Baghdad, the military said.

    Arriving on an unannounced visit, Rice met Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and said she wanted to support what she called a new political "center" in Iraq that had backed Maliki's anti-militia campaign.

    She praised the Iraqi government's decision to take on Shiite militias in Basra and in Baghdad and said that Iraq had made "remarkable progress" toward achieving political unity.

    Rice, who stopped in the Iraqi capital on her way to a meeting in Kuwait of countries that border Iraq, said that Maliki's government "has made a choice to pursue militias and is willing to bear the consequences." She quoted President Jalal Talabani as saying, "This is a political spring for Iraq."

    Rice had lunch with Maliki, Talabani and other leaders, then spoke briefly at the U.S. Embassy and dedicated a plaque there to commemorate two embassy employees killed in rocket attacks on the fortified Green Zone.

    Iraqi leaders, Rice said at a news conference at the embassy, asked her to carry the message to the upcoming meeting that "Iraq is starting to find its footing internally, and it needs its neighbors to help it find its footing in the world."

    She played down recent violence in Baghdad and other parts of the country, saying that it was in part a byproduct of Maliki's "very good decision" to try to wrest Basra, in southern Iraq, from the control of "criminals and militias."

    Asked how she interpreted the statement Saturday by Sadr, whose Mahdi army militia has been battling the government troops, that he would declare "war until liberation" if American and Iraqi forces continued to battle his militia forces, Rice said she did not know "whether to take him seriously or not." But she said that American and Iraqi forces were not trying to block the Sadrists from the political process.

    "I didn't hear anybody say" that the Sadrists "shouldn't try again to get the votes of the Iraqi people, as long as they are not armed," Rice said.

    Iraq's national security council issued a statement this month saying that all political parties must disband their militias if they wished to participate in provincial elections scheduled for October.

    Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who joined Rice at the news conference, drew a distinction between the actions of Sadr's supporters and those of the Badr group, the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, one of the largest Shiite political blocs.

    The Badrists, he said, "made a choice a while back" that they would "step away" from militia activity and "step into" the political process.

    "That's the choice now in front of the Sadr movement," Crocker said.

    A rebellion by the Mahdi army militia - whose thousands of black-masked fighters control the streets in many Shiite areas - could abruptly end a period of lower violence at a time when some U.S. forces are starting to leave Iraq.

    Maliki's crackdown has led over the past month to Iraq's worst fighting in nearly a year, spreading through the south and Shiite parts of Baghdad. Although fighting in the south has died down, the Baghdad clashes have continued unabated.

    The crackdown has been backed by all parties across Iraq's sectarian and ethnic divide except the Sadrist movement.

    Referring to that support for Maliki, Rice earlier told reporters there was a "coalescing of a center in Iraqi politics" that was working together better than at any time.

    APRIL 30th 2008

    At least 925 people killed in Iraq's Sadr City clashes


    At least 925 people have been killed in clashes between militiamen and security forces in Baghdad's Sadr City that began last month, a senior Iraqi official told reporters on Wednesday.

    Another 2,605 people have been wounded in the firefights that began on March 25 and are still continuing, said Tehseen Sheikhly, one of the spokesmen for the Baghdad security plan.

    MAY 20th 2008
    The Iraqi Government moves further to take control. The question remains: how is a stable peace to be reached that either gives civilian employment to its opponents or recruits them to be part of the government's own army, police or associated services? Forgiveness and reconcilliation is not part of the traditions of these people.

    Iraqi army seizes Sadr's Baghdad bastion

    By Aseel Kami and Adrian Croft   Reuters, Tue May 20, 11:08 AM ET

    Some 10,000 Iraqi police and soldiers, backed by tanks, pushed deep into Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Baghdad bastion on Tuesday, stamping the government's authority on an area until now outside its control.

    The army said they met no resistance as they moved into Sadr City in the early hours, securing three quarters of the sprawling slum where hundreds have been killed in weeks of fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shi'ite militants loyal to Sadr.

    A truce 10 days ago between Shi'ite factions largely ended the fighting in one of Baghdad's poorest districts and paved the way for Tuesday's operation.

    The truce agreement called on gunmen loyal to Sadr to lay down their arms and on the government to restore control over Sadr City.

    Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police and columns of military vehicles moved into the suburb in the early hours, past burned-out wrecks of buildings and along rubble-strewn streets.

    "We are taking control of three quarters of (Sadr) city. What is left is the final quarter," said a spokesman for Iraqi security forces in Baghdad.

    He said around 10,000 police and soldiers were involved.

    Fire-blackened and bullet-riddled buildings in the area gave testament to the recent fighting and U.S. air and tank strikes in Sadr City, home to 2 million people.

    Tanks and armored personnel carriers stood on corners, flying Iraqi flags, while army vehicles patrolled streets. Black-robed women walked nearby and children played.


    Sadr City is the main stronghold of Sadr's Mehdi Army, a militia estimated to number tens of thousands that the U.S. military once called the greatest threat to peace in Iraq.

    The operation, on the second anniversary of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's swearing-in, was the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that the Iraqi army had pushed so deeply into the area. It previously controlled only the perimeter.

    Maliki's government is pushing to extend its control over areas that were under the sway of Shi'ite militias or Sunni Arab insurgents.

    The security forces spokesman said Tuesday's operation was coordinated with Sadr's movement to avoid bloodshed and soldiers had cleared more than 100 roadside bombs before going in.

    The army intended to set up permanent checkpoints, search for wanted people, disarm insurgents and provide basic services to residents.

    "I saw more than 40 Iraqi Humvees (army vehicles) in the major street in my district," said Hamza Hashim, a 53-year-old Sadr City resident.

    Iraqi soldiers took over a disused police station while others moved into high buildings and deployed snipers, he said.

    Shops and schools in the area were closed, residents said.

    A U.S. military spokesman said no American troops were involved and the operation was Iraqi-planned and executed.

    A spokesman for Sadr said the army operation had generally been welcomed, despite some "provocations" such as restrictions imposed on vehicle traffic.

    One Mehdi Army leader, Abu Ammar, complained about some of the army's actions. "The snipers are above buildings watching. They entered a mosque with their shoes. This is a provocative act. They broke the door and entered. We told them we could open the door for you, but they broke it," he said.

    The Mehdi Army staged two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004. A government offensive against it in the southern oil port of Basra in March touched off a wave of retaliatory attacks in Baghdad and other cities.

    Peter Harling, a Damascus-based analyst at the International Crisis Group thinktank, doubted Tuesday's operation would succeed in removing the Mehdi Army from Sadr City.

    "They'll lie low but they could retake control of the city any time," he told Reuters. "The Sadrists feel weakened, feel threatened and this increases the potential for violence."

    Sadr was acquiescing because he did not want an out-and-out confrontation, he said. "The cost to him would be huge."

    Separately, Iraq said U.S. President George W. Bush had apologized to Maliki and promised prosecution of a U.S. soldier accused of using a copy of the Koran for target practice.

    JUNE 21st 2008
    Now they are getting down to the real questions. An excellent bit of reporting from AP

    Battle shapes up over future of US role in Iraq

    By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer Sat Jun 21, 3:25 PM ET

    The decisive battle of the Iraq war is shaping up — not in the streets of Baghdad but in the halls of government where the future of America's role across the region is on the line.

    American and Iraqi officials have expressed new resolve to hammer out far-reaching deals that would allow U.S. forces to remain on bases across Iraq once the U.N. mandate expires at year's end.

    The stakes in the talks are enormous.

    The outcome will shape not just Iraq for years to come — but, more important, America's strategic position all across the oil-rich Persian Gulf at a time when Iran's influence is growing. The U.S. maintains substantial air and naval forces elsewhere in the Gulf but few ground troops except in Iraq.

    A pact also would assure Arab allies that Iraq would not fall under domination by Iran, which is pressuring the Iraqis to refuse any deal that keeps U.S. soldiers here.

    But critics in the United States fear it will tie the hands of the next president when millions of Americans are anxious to bring troops home. Many Iraqis, in turn, worry the deal will allow American domination of their country for decades.

    With so much in the balance, the Iraqi government said Wednesday that both Washington and Baghdad recognize the need to finish the talks by July's end "to avoid any legal vacuum that may arise."

    That came only days after it seemed the deal was dead. But Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the prospects for an accord had brightened because of new U.S. flexibility after meetings in Washington.

    The White House said President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed the talks Thursday via secured video teleconference and affirmed their commitment to completing the deal.

    Nevertheless, the two sides remain far apart on core issues, including the number of bases where the United States will have a presence, and U.S. demands for immunity from Iraqi law for American soldiers and contractors.

    Other obstacles include U.S. authority to detain suspects, fight battles without Iraqi permission and control of the country's airspace.

    Iraq's parliament must sign off on the deal by year's end — and approval is by no means certain.

    Opposition to the initial U.S. demands brought together rival Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders who all complain the deal would leave real power in American hands.

    The oil minister, who is close to the country's powerful Shiite clerical leadership, told the British newspaper The Guardian this week that Iraq will demand the right to veto any U.S. military operation.

    But American commanders believe they need such sweeping powers to protect U.S. soldiers in a combat zone.

    Publicly, U.S. officials have expressed confidence they can find language that will satisfy the Iraqis on all major issues. But the negotiations are taking place against the backdrop of war and intense power struggles among rival ethnic groups in Iraq — each with its own agenda.

    The U.S. operates scores of bases throughout the country, including the sprawling Camp Victory headquarters in Baghdad, Asad air base in western Iraq and the giant air facility at Balad, a 16-square-mile installation about 60 miles north of the capital that houses tens of thousands of American troops, contractors and U.S. government civilians.

    It's still unclear how many of the facilities Washington would want to keep.

    If all else fails, the two sides could go back to the U.N. Security Council and seek an extension of the mandate allowing troops in Iraq.

    But that could prove politically embarrassing — and difficult — in the waning days of the Bush administration or the early days of the new U.S. presidency.

    The current standoff has its roots in events last August when leaders of Iraq's rival factions — facing enormous U.S. pressure to resolve their differences — signed a declaration of unity.

    It included a statement that Iraq's government wanted a long-term security relationship with the United States apart from U.N. mandates, which Iraq has long wanted to end.

    A few months later, Bush and al-Maliki signed a statement of principles to negotiate two agreements — a broad security framework and a second deal spelling out the rules for the U.S. military presence.

    Talks began in March but Iraqi officials were outraged over the initial U.S. demands — especially immunity for U.S. soldiers and security contractors.

    The American draft also included no firm commitment to defend Iraq from foreign invasion — which would require U.S. Senate approval — nor a timetable for the departure of American troops, according to Iraqi officials. U.S. officials have released few details.

    After Iraqi negotiators briefed lawmakers last month, politicians from all walks paraded in front of microphones to denounce the U.S. proposals.

    Some commentators likened the U.S. position to the Iraqi-British treaty of 1930, which gave Britain virtual control of the country and is widely seen here as a humiliation.

    Shiite lawmaker Haidar al-Abadi, speaking for al-Maliki's party, said June 4 that "negotiations are at a standstill, and the Iraqi side is studying its options." A week later al-Maliki himself said talks had reached a "dead-end."

    Aides scrambled to clarify that al-Maliki did not mean negotiations were over. But his comments reflected Iraq's resolve not to accept an agreement short of major Iraqi demands.

    "We could not give amnesty to a soldier carrying arms on our soil," al-Maliki said then.

    Such comments reflect each Iraqi faction's need to publicly defend Iraq's rights, amid the country's intense political rivalry.

    Some Sunni groups, for example, privately favor a continued American presence as a counterweight to Iran's influence among Shiites. Yet several leading Sunni politicians signed a letter to Congress insisting on a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal — in part to needle al-Maliki on an nationalistic issue.

    Shiite parties, in turn, believe the agreement would shore up American support for al-Maliki ahead of parliamentary elections next year — a goal they seek. But Shiite leaders are also anxious to take over full control of their country.

    Meanwhile, recent Iraqi military successes against al-Qaida in Mosul and Shiite extremists in the south have convinced some Shiite politicians they don't really need America.

    "Iraq has another option that it may use," al-Maliki said recently. "The Iraqi government, if it wants, has the right to demand that the U.N. terminate the presence of international forces on Iraqi sovereign soil."

    AUGUST 16th 2008
    The last 2 months have brought some advances in Basra. The UK Forces have had to put up with a lot of unjustified criticism for staying in the background as far as possible while Iraqi forces have taken the lead against militias, insurgents and criminals. But the training and mentoring has paid off and the insurgents have been denied sanctuary. There may still be setbacks, but peace is coming and trade is returning to Basra.

    'Time right' for UK Iraq troops

    The outgoing commander of British forces in Iraq has indicated that most of the 4,100 UK troops in the country could be withdrawn by next summer.

    Maj Gen Barney White-Spunner said the Iraqi-led crackdown on Shia militia groups in Basra had improved security and they would not regain control.

    He said there was obvious "scope" for the government to review troop numbers.

    The PM has said the UK's mission will change in 2009, but the MoD said it was too early to be specific on reductions.

    Maj Gen White-Spunner has just completed a six-month tour of duty as the British commander in the country.

    He described Basra as a happier and more secure city, with property prices doubling, thanks to the interest of foreign investors.

    He said Christians and Sunni Muslims were also returning to the city and that he was confident the militias would not regain control.

    "Basrawis realised what a nightmare, literally, that was. They're not going to put themselves back through that period of violent extremism," he told the BBC.

    "They have got better things to do now with their lives and I do not see Basra coming back under militia control. Those days are passed," he added.

    He went on to say he believed conditions were right for the fundamental change to the UK mission in Iraq, which the prime minister outlined in Parliament in July.

    He said: "The troop numbers will be tailored to what that mission is.

    A combination of security and investment means Basra has an extremely bright future
    Maj Gen Barney White-Spunner

    "It's not really helpful to speculate at the moment but as security improves and Iraqi forces improve their capabilities, which they are doing daily, then obviously there's scope for numbers to be reviewed."

    Maj Gen White-Spunner added there was an "overwhelming feeling of optimism" in Basra.

    Gordon Brown told MPs before the summer recess the 4,100 UK troops currently deployed in Iraq would stay "for the next few months".

    He said there had been a "marked improvement" in conditions in Basra and the focus of British armed forces was to complete the task of training and mentoring the 14th Division of the Iraqi Army.

    But in the first few months of 2009 there would be a "fundamental change of mission" to "make the transition to a long-term bilateral relationship with Iraq", he added.

    US 'supportive'

    Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, who recently visited Basra as part of the Commons Defence Select Committee, welcomed the indication but said it was important not to "undermine confidence" by announcing withdrawals too soon.

    He added there was also an opportunity for the UK to maintain a military training and mentoring role for years to come "in a country that is going to become extremely wealthy and important in the region where our influence will be very beneficial".

    A Ministry of Defence spokesman said although it was hoped the UK military presence in Iraq would decrease "significantly in the future", it was too early to discuss the "size and shape of a reduced UK forces' footprint".

    The change of mission would be based on conditions on the ground, the plans of coalition partners and the military contribution requested by the government of Iraq, he said.

    The US was "intimately involved" with the development of future plans and was "fully supportive" of the UK's current position and proposals, he added.

    Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said it appeared the troops were there "more as political cover for the Brown-Bush relationship than to provide any real help to the Iraqi people".

    The government was wrong not to set out a clear timetable and troops should be withdrawn by Christmas this year, he added.

    AUGUST 26th 2008
    Below is an excellent essay by Patrick Cockburn. He underestimates the effects of the 'surge' and adjusts some of his earlier opinions - I have often wondered if he understood the alternatives - but this is a good round-up of current thinking.

    The Big Question: Will Iraq disintegrate if the United States withdraws its troops?

    By Patrick Cockburn - The Independent, Tuesday, 26 August 2008

    Why are we asking this now?

    The United States and Iraq are close to agreeing a security accord under which the US would pull its combat troops out of Iraqi cities, towns and villages on 30 June 2009, and out of Iraq by 31 December 2011. This will only happen if a joint Iraqi-American ministerial committee agrees that security in Iraq has improved to the point where the half million strong Iraqi security forces can take over. Other aspects of the draft agreement show that the government of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is increasingly confident of its own military and political strength.

    The new accord is very different from the one the US proposed as recently as March, which would simply have continued the US occupation, much as it has been under the UN mandate, which runs out at the end of the year. The main point about the agreement, if it is implemented as expected, is that the US will cease to be the predominant military power in Iraq from next summer for the first time since the US-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.

    Will Iraq be able to hold together as US troops depart?

    Yes it will, but not because the three main Iraqi communities love each other. The Shias are coming out the winners, and this was always inevitable once the US had decided to overthrow the predominantly Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein. Shias make up 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, and the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds are each about 20 per cent. Mr Maliki leads a Shia-Kurdish government in which the most powerful element is the Shia religious parties.

    The insurgency in which 4,300 American soldiers were killed and 30,000 were wounded was a rebellion of the Sunni community. This was the war to which the world paid most attention. But there was a second savage civil war between the Sunnis and Shias, which the Shias won decisively. They now control most of the government and the army. They hold at least three-quarters of Baghdad after fierce fighting in the capital in 2005-07. The Sunnis are now too weak to set up a separate canton. The Kurds need to remain part of Iraq, however much they may yearn for independence, because otherwise they face invasion by Turkey. The central government is becoming increasingly assertive against the Kurds, particularly over the issue of who holds Kirkuk and the right to award contracts for oil exploration and exploitation.

    Does this mean that the Surge worked and the US has won in Iraq?

    This is mostly propaganda. The Surge was the increase in US troop levels by 30,000 men, from February 2007, and more aggressive tactics by the US army under the command of General David Petraeus.

    But even before the Surge, it was clear that the Sunni community was being driven out of large parts of Iraq, above all from greater Baghdad.

    There was also a backlash against al-Qa'ida, which had overplayed its hand by declaring "the Islamic State of Iraq" in late 2006. It has sought to marginalise or kill hostile Sunni tribal leaders. It killed or mutilated anybody who failed to obey its extreme fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. Hairdressers were shot dead for giving "un-Islamic" haircuts.

    But, above all, the Sunnis could see that al-Qa'ida's brutal and bloody use of enormous vehicle bombs against Shias had provoked a devastating reaction. Sunni nationalist insurgents had no choice but to end their guerrilla war against the US forces and seek US support and aid. There are now 103,000 members of Al-Sahwa, or the Awakening Movement, who are paid for by the US. American military fatalities are down to only 18 so far this month.

    But the fall in violence is only partly to do with the actions of the US. It is a great mistake to imagine that the US makes all the political weather in Iraq.

    The main reason for the end of the Sunni insurgency against the US forces is the defeat of Sunnis by Shias in the battle for Baghdad.

    Is al-Qa'ida finished in Iraq?

    It is much weaker than it was. It has lost its old bastions in Anbar province to the west and in much of Baghdad. But it is a mistake to think that it is wholly eliminated. The grim evidence for this is carefully planned assassinations of Awakening Movement members, usually by suicide bombers, that would require good intelligence and organisation. Al-Qa'ida clearly still has the capacity of launching massive suicide bombs against Shia civilian targets. Crowded street markets are very difficult to protect.

    Surely life in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq is getting better?

    It certainly is improving, but there is a misconception outside Iraq about what this means. At the height of the Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, some 3,000 people were being murdered every month. In July, this figure was down to about 900, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

    This is better, but scarcely represents a return to normal life. Baghdad is still the most dangerous city in the world. Sunnis and Shias seldom visit each other's districts.

    The best barometer for the real state of security in Iraq is the ability of the 4.7 million refugees inside and outside the country to return home. There are about one in six Iraqis who have lost the places in which they used to live. Often these displaced people live in miserable conditions in Jordan, Syria or other parts of Iraq, but it is still too dangerous, despite all the talk of conditions improving in Iraq, for them to reclaim their homes.

    Where does Iran stand in all this?

    This is the most misunderstood element in the Iraq crisis. The present Iraqi government had two main allies: the US and Iran. Their dispute is over who should have influence over that government. Iran has played a crucial role in the success of the so-called Surge. The Iraqi army fought poorly against the militiamen of the Mahdi Army in March and April. It was Iran that mediated a ceasefire on the Baghdad government's terms. It was Iran which pressured the Mahdi Army's leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, to call his man off the streets. A prime reason why Iraq is not going to disintegrate is that Iran does not want it to.

    So the departure of US troops from Iraq will not mean a renewed civil war?

    No. The main civil war is over. The Shias won and the Sunnis lost. But the Sunni minority in Baghdad looks vulnerable without American protection. The Iraqi army is increasingly moving against the Sunni Awakening Movement in Anbar province and elsewhere.

    Will Iraq fall apart if the Americans go?


    * Shias, Sunnis and Kurds seem unable to agree on anything

    * Almost five million Iraqis are refugees and cannot return to their homes

    * The Americans are the only non-sectarian military force


    * The Shia-Kurdish government looks as if it is here to stay

    * Sectarian killings are down, though Shias, Sunnis and Kurds live in their own enclaves

    * The occupation has always been opposed by the majority of Iraqis outside Kurdistan

    SEPTEMBER 1st 2008
    First let me remind readers of the news in 2006

    Situation Called Dire in West Iraq

    Anbar Is Lost Politically, Marine Analyst Says

    By Thomas E. Ricks
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, September 11, 2006; Page A01

    The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

    The officials described Col. Pete Devlin's classified assessment of the dire state of Anbar as the first time that a senior U.S. military officer has filed so negative a report from Iraq.

    Now, the news today:

    US hands over key Iraq province

    Please turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

    Maj Gen John Kelly and Anbar governor Maamoun Sami Rashid sign papers

    The US military has handed Anbar province, once the centre of Iraq's Sunni insurgency, to Iraqi control at a ceremony in the provincial capital.

    Anbar province began a transformation in 2006 as former insurgents turned against al-Qaeda and became US allies.

    More than a quarter of all US soldiers killed in Iraq have died in Anbar, which is Iraq's biggest province.

    With Anbar's transfer Iraqi forces will control security in 11 of the country's 18 provinces.

    The government headquarters in Ramadi was draped with tribal flags for the handover ceremony, which was presided over by US, Iraqi and tribal officials.

    Iraq's largest, borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia
    Population of about 2m, 95% Sunni Arab
    About 1,300 US troops and 6,000 Iraqis killed there since 2003
    Base for 28,000 US troops, down from 37,000 in February

    US President George W Bush hailed it as a major achievement for US and Iraqi troops as well as "the brave tribes and other civilians from Anbar who worked alongside them".

    "Today, Anbar is no longer lost to al-Qaeda - it is al-Qaeda that lost Anbar," he said in a statement. "Anbar has been transformed and reclaimed by the Iraqi people."

    The BBC's Mike Sergeant in Baghdad says the handover represents a significant milestone for America in Iraq.

    But he says there are major concerns about whether the well-armed Sunni tribesmen who helped the US fight al-Qaeda can ever work comfortably with the national government of Iraq.

    Handover delays

    A top US commander in Iraq, Marine Maj Gen John Kelly, told the Associated Press that US troop levels in Anbar would come down, but there would not be an instant or dramatic reduction.

    The marine force [in Anbar] will be smaller soon. I don't think it will be overnight. I think it will happen incrementally."

    The US military currently has 28,000 soldiers in Anbar, down from 37,000 in February, according to US figures, while the number of Iraqi soldiers and police has reportedly risen to 37,000, from 5,000 three years ago.

    "Our forces are ready to take the security responsibility," Majid al-Assafi, Anbar's new police chief, told AFP news agency. "They are controlling the situation."

    The handover of Anbar was postponed several times. Initially scheduled for March, the transfer was delayed until June before being pushed back again.

    US officials blamed June's delay on a sandstorm and then another hold-up in July on a disagreement between the province's governor and the Iraqi government in Baghdad over the control of security forces.

    Following the 2003 US-led invasion, many members of Anbar's Sunni tribes turned to al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups.

    The ambush of four US contractors in the Anbar town of Falluja in March 2004 - whose burned corpses were dragged through the streets - was a low point for American efforts to pacify the province.

    But in late 2006, Anbar began a dramatic change after Sunni tribal leaders turned against al-Qaeda, accusing the movement of attempting to dominate the insurgency.

    Backed by US money, the Sunni tribal leaders formed "Awakening Councils", and began to take charge of security.

    Anbar became a much less dangerous place, but the Awakening Councils remain a separate military and political force in the country.

    And from

    Signature of peace, security prepares Anbar for Provincial Iraqi Control 

    Story by Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Butler, Photos by Cpl. Erin A. Kirk

    RAMADI, Iraq (Aug. 29, 2008) – The governor and the commanding general of all the Iraqi Security Forces for al-Anbar took full control and responsibility for security from Coalition forces, which has loosened control of the once deadly province.
    The Iraqi leaders signed the Command and Control Memorandum of Understanding in a ceremony at the Anbar Governance Center here Aug. 26, proof that progress for a safe and secure al-Anbar is moving forward for the people of the region and Iraq.
    “Today I, my province and its Army commander, Maj. Gen. Murthi Mush’hen Almhalawi, who led its troops to victory against al-Qaeda, are happy to announce that we will join together to protect and serve Anbar,” said Gov. Ma’amoon Sami Rashim Alawi, al-Anbar’s provincial governor.
    “We will receive its security responsibilities from the friendly forces,” said Gov. Ma’amoon before signing the document.
    Murthi, who now oversees the Army, Police and Border Enforcement for the province at the Anbar Operation Command in Ramadi, has a full measure of respect for his position and the security of the province.
    “Carrying Anbar’s security responsibility is an honor and one that I have been charged with and will protect, and we will fiercely protect the lives of our citizens. We will sacrifice all we have for the well-being of our elders, youths, men and women,” Murthi said.
    “This was really a red-letter day for the province and the United States, because it is the first step in completely turning over responsibility to the local officials,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly, commanding general of Multi National Force -West.
    This was a historic day because the Army, Police and the civil government are working together in unison to provide security for the people of Anbar, said Col. Danny Bubp, Governor Ma’amoon’s military liaison officer said.
    When the war began in 2003, a dynamic change took place that saw a dangerous dictator in Saddam Hussein be removed from power. The region was plunged into chaos by al-Qaeda and the insurgency that attempted to thwart peace and democracy. Now there is evidence of a democracy at works here in Anbar province. “We are seeing it at its very best,” said Bubp.
    “When we talk about a historic day, certainly this will go down as the day that marks the change from Coalition forces turning control of security back to the Anbaris, Iraqi, and the new government,” Bubp said.
    Safety and security of the province were keys to the allowing this change in authority to happen.
    None of the progress could have happened if the insurgents, al-Qaeda, and terrorist had not been dealt with, Bubp said. “Coalition forces have been working together with the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police, training them and developing them. Now they are using their own intelligence sources to work with Coalition forces against the insurgence and terrorists.”
    This is something brand new to the Iraqis, because under the former régime there was no civil authority - there was just Saddom and his military controlling everything.
    “Now we’ve got the governor of Anbar province, the Provincial Council, the elected officials and representatives of the people working with the military and Iraqi Police, all working in unison toward protecting the populace,” Bubp said.
    “We wouldn’t be here today signing this MOU as a prelude to signing the final MOU for the final Provincial Iraqi Control, to be signed next week, without Coalition forces in this province,” Kelly said.
    “It’s been overwhelmingly over the last four years a Marine-led or controlled province,” said Kelly, who commands nearly 25,500 Coalition forces in Anbar. “I am the sixth Marine general officer to command here in the province, but it’s been a joint-team effort; and over a thousand Americans of all ages and wearing all four of our countries uniforms have died here in the province, but (PIC) wouldn’t have happened if the Coalition had not been as good as it is.”
    “This won’t be the first province to PIC, and it won’t be the last province to PIC; but I would say it the most remarkable province because of what has gone on here and what a fight it was, and how infiltrated al-Qaeda was here,” Kelly said.
    Bubp described how al-Qaeda in Iraq had its headquarters in Ramadi and paraded down the main street of Ramadi in 2006. “You can see how dynamic things have changed; the people did not want al-Qaeda, they don’t want insurgents, they want peace, they want to raise their families and they want more for their children than what they’ve got -education being number one, not only for boys but for girls too. It’s exciting to see all of those things coming together in what we call a democracy.”
    With fledgling democracy growing, violence is dying.
    "I would compare the level of violence in a city like Fallujah or Ramadi as much lower than the level of violence in the cities in America, if not all cities in America, of like size," Kelly said.
    Still, Kelly cautions on using the word victory just yet; there is still much to be done.
    For the Iraqis to have victory they need to carry the ball the last 10 yards, said Kelly. He added that economic development and reconstruction are in the hands of the Iraqi government, who has enough money to fund their own initiatives.
    But Kelly says he is not done. “We will not walk away from them; we are still very much partnered with them.”

    SEPTEMBER 14th 2008       Bombings still take place but....  This Reuters report gives credit where it is due.

    Petraeus to leave behind a very different Iraq

    By Dean Yates     Reuters

    When General David Petraeus took over as U.S. military commander in Iraq in February 2007, the country was on the brink of all-out civil war.

    Car bombs rocked Baghdad every day -- including 42 alone during the month he assumed command.

    But backed by 30,000 extra U.S. soldiers, Petraeus implemented a new counterinsurgency strategy that combined with other factors helped drag Iraq back from the abyss.

    Petraeus hands control of U.S. forces in Iraq to Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno, on Tuesday. Odierno, who served as number 2 U.S. commander in Iraq for 15 months until February, will be promoted to full general on the day of the handover.

    Petraeus leaves behind a very different Iraq. Violence has dropped to levels not seen since early 2004 and Iraqi officials now eagerly talk about drumming up foreign investment.

    The wiry, scholarly looking Petraeus acknowledges he harbored dark thoughts at times during his command.

    "Certainly you do have moments where if you are honest with yourself in something as difficult as this has been, you occasionally wonder if it will be achievable," Petraeus told Reuters in an interview in Baghdad in late July.

    "But we are in a very different place now than from where we were a year, a year and a half ago."

    Petraeus will still be involved in Iraq policy when he takes over next month as head of the U.S. Central Command, the headquarters that oversees operations in a swathe of countries across the Middle East and beyond, including Afghanistan.

    He has spent more time in Iraq than just about any other American soldier since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

    While some critics question whether the security gains in Iraq are sustainable and have been matched by enough political progress, Petraeus was pivotal in getting violence down.

    Upon taking command in Iraq he moved troops off their big, fortified bases and into population centers in Baghdad where al Qaeda was wreaking havoc with car bombs and sectarian death squads were roaming the streets at will.

    This meant setting up small joint combat outposts throughout Baghdad and other places where U.S. soldiers lived and fought with Iraqi troops. Petraeus also ordered a wave of aggressive operations against insurgents of all stripes.

    The initial stages were costly -- during the months of April-June 2007 more than 330 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq, making it the deadliest quarter of the war.

    But then troop deaths began to fall rapidly as all "surge" forces deployed, increasing numbers of Sunni Arab tribal groups joined the fight against al Qaeda and Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr imposed a ceasefire on his Mehdi Army militia.


    Petraeus kept up a grueling schedule.

    He made regular visits to the battlefield to speak to troops and to seek feedback on how the war was being fought.

    Arriving at a military base in volatile Diyala province last October on a trip accompanied by Reuters, Petraeus went straight into a meeting with junior officers. He wanted their views without the base commander present.

    That was part of Petraeus's approach, say aides: encourage the lieutenants and captains who were in the field every day to talk freely, without their immediate superiors around. Ordinary soldiers would send him emails.

    Petraeus also showed media savvy in Baghdad and Washington, never getting drawn into over-optimistic predictions about Iraq when statistics showed violence dropping sharply. Even now, he repeatedly says there will be no "victory dance" in Iraq.

    Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina, said Petraeus has the highest public profile and popularity of any U.S. general in years but cautioned that could change if Iraq unraveled or he did not impress in his next job.

    Petraeus would face even more difficult challenges, such as the war in Afghanistan and militancy in Pakistan, when he takes on the Central Command job, Kohn said.

    "He's got an even more complex situation on his hands," Kohn said.

    (Additional reporting by Andrew Gray in Washington, Editing by Ralph Boulton)

    NOVEMBER 11th 2008
    There are car-bombs and other terror attacks these days in and around Baghdad and recruitment to al-Qaida never ceases, but the majority of Iraqis are dedicated to a peaceful future.

    Baghdad bridge of death becomes bridge of hope

    By Wisam Mohammed and Khalid al-Ansary Wisam Mohammed And Khalid Al-ansary  -   Reuters

    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Sunnis and Shi'ites made an emotional reach across the sectarian divide on Tuesday, reopening a Baghdad bridge between the two communities closed since a 2005 stampede, the deadliest incident of the war.

    The Bridge of the Imams connects the Adhamiya and Kadhimiya neighborhoods of Baghdad, named for mediaeval Sunni and Shi'ite holy men whose landmark shrines on opposite sides of the Tigris are surrounded by homes of members of the separate communities.

    It had been closed since 2005 when rumors of a suicide bombing panicked thousands of Shi'ites crossing the bridge for a pilgrimage to the Kadhimiya shrine. About one thousand people died in that stampede, clogging the river below with corpses.

    But on Tuesday Sunni children from Adhamiya raced to see their Shi'ite friends in Kadhimiya. Women from the two communities met up on the bridge, kissing and hugging each other with joy.

    "When the faces met, the lips smiled, hands shook, bodies hugged, the tears flowed out of joy. This is the Iraqi citizen," said Sheikh Ahmed al-Samaraie, head of Iraq's Sunni Endowment, which runs Sunni religious offices and mosques in Iraq.

    A banner across the bridge read: "The bridge of love and reconciliation between the people of Adhamiya and Kadhimiya."

    Officials said the event was a sign that the sectarian hatred that fueled years of violence in Iraq is ebbing away. The number of Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops killed last month was the lowest monthly toll since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

    "This day is a remarkable day, a day of a great Iraq. The day of meeting, love, brotherhood, affinity ... The day we proved to the whole world that we are one nation," Sayyid Salih al-Haidari, Samaraie's Shi'ite counterpart said in a speech. Delegations accompanying the two officials then went to pray together at a nearby mosque.

    Traders and students said the bridge would improve their lives, by cutting out an arduous detour through the city center.

    Despite reconciliation between Adhamiya and Kadhimya, concrete blast walls still divide Baghdad districts, many along sectarian lines, making commuting difficult. Frequent bomb attacks still take a deadly toll.

    But for many people the main impact of the bridge's reopening was to help heal old wounds and move on.

    Sheikh Ihsan al-Tamimi, whose three sons and a nephew had been kidnapped and killed, had come to bury the hatchet.

    "I am here today to show that an Iraqi can forgive a brother Iraqi, even if there is blood between them," he said.

    Volleys of mortar rounds and gunfire had passed over the Tigris River between Kahdimiya and Adhamiya districts for years. Now each side slaughtered a sheep in each other's honor.

    Widad Ahmed, a doctor, was hit in the leg by a bullet on the Adhamiya bank of the Tigris two years ago.

    "We came today to forget the wounds of the past," she said.

    (Writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Dominic Evans)

    NOVEMBER 16th 2008

    Iraq's government approves security pact with US

    By HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writers 

    BAGHDAD – Iraq's Cabinet overwhelmingly approved a security pact with the United States on Sunday, ending prolonged negotiations to allow American forces to remain for three more years in the country they first occupied in 2003.

    The deal detailing the conditions of the U.S. presence still needs parliamentary approval, and lawmakers could vote as soon as Nov. 24. For Iraqis, the breakthrough was bittersweet because they won concessions from the Americans but must accept the presence of U.S. troops until 2012.

    "It's the best possible, available option," said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. He was referring to the conflict between Iraq's desire for full sovereignty and control over security and its need for American support and cooperation to achieve that goal.

    Al-Dabbagh described the pact — intended to supplant the U.N. mandate expiring Dec. 31 — as an "agreement on the withdrawal of U.S. troops," and Washington welcomed the Cabinet's approval.

    "While the process is not yet complete, we remain hopeful and confident we'll soon have an agreement that serves both the people of Iraq and the United States well and sends a signal to the region and the world that both our governments are committed to a stable, secure and democratic Iraq," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House's National Security Council.

    There is a good chance parliament will pass the agreement with a large majority, since the parties that make up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government dominate the legislature.

    The pact was due to be completed by the end of July, but negotiations stumbled over parts pertaining to Iraqi sovereignty and judicial oversight.

    Al-Dabbagh said Iraq's government has received U.S. assurances that the President-elect Barack Obama would honor the agreement, and pointed out that each side has the right to repeal it after giving one year's notice. Obama, who takes office in January, has said he would pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of moving into the White House — or May 2010.

    Iraq's neighbors and U.S. adversaries, Iran and Syria, oppose the pact, arguing that the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces offered the best option for Iraq.

    The Iraqi government sought to allay their fears, amending the document to prohibit the Americans from using Iraqi territory to attack neighboring nations.

    The Cabinet's decision was made amid violence, despite a dramatic improvement in security over the past year. Fresh attacks underlined doubts about whether Iraq's nascent security forces can stand without U.S. military support and training.

    Hours after the Cabinet vote, seven people died and seven were wounded in a suicide car bombing at a police checkpoint in Diyala, a turbulent province northeast of Baghdad, according to police Col. Ahmed Khalifa, chief of Jalula police station.

    The U.S. military said the attack in Jalula occurred at a police station and that four police and six civilians died. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the reports.

    Earlier Sunday, a roadside bomb killed three people and wounded seven in northern Baghdad, Iraqi authorities said.

    Al-Dabbagh said all but one of 28 Cabinet ministers present in Sunday's meeting, in addition to al-Maliki, voted for the pact. The sole vote of dissent came from Minister of Women's Affairs Nawal al-Samaraie, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni Arab party.

    She said she voted against the pact because she preferred that it be put to a nationwide referendum. She also wanted the U.S. military to free Sunni security detainees not charged with specific crimes, rather than hand them to Iraqi authorities as provided by the agreement.

    The Cabinet vote followed Washington's decision last week to grant a request by al-Maliki for final amendments.

    Khalid al-Attiyah, parliament's deputy speaker, said the changes removed ambiguous language that could have allowed U.S. forces to ignore a timeline for their withdrawal from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009 and from the country by Jan. 1, 2012. The changes also tightened Iraq's control over security raids and the arrest of Iraqis.

    The agreement is believed to have met Iraqi concerns over its sovereignty and its security needs as it continues to grapple with a diminished but persistent insurgency. It gives Iraq the right to try U.S. soldiers and defense contractors in the case of serious crimes committed off-duty and off-base.

    Al-Attiyah said he expected parliament to vote on the agreement by Nov. 24. If parliament approves the deal, President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies must ratify it.

    Iraq's parliament is due to go into recess at the end of the month or in early December because of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, when many lawmakers travel to Saudi Arabia on the annual pilgrimage.

    Parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani canceled all leave for lawmakers and suspended foreign and out-of-town visits to ensure a quorum for the security pact vote, al-Attiyah said.

    "I'm optimistic that this agreement will be passed through the Council of Representatives (parliament)," spokesman al-Dabbagh told Associated Press Television News. But he added: "You cannot guarantee 100 percent approval of anything."

    Barring unforeseen developments, the document should receive the support of the 85 lawmakers of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, the 54 Kurdish lawmakers and most of the 44 lawmakers in the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni Arab bloc.

    Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who commands the loyalty of 30 lawmakers, urged parliament in a statement Sunday to reject the agreement "without the least hesitation." The statement was read by a top al-Sadr aide on Iraq's al-Sharqiya Television.

    Al-Sadr, whose militiamen battled U.S. forces in the past, has threatened to resume attacks on U.S. forces if they don't immediately withdraw from Iraq. He called for a mass prayer and protest in a central Baghdad square on Friday.

    The Cabinet vote came a day after Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, indicated he would not object to the pact if it passes by a comfortable majority in parliament.


    Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Sinan Salaheddin and Saad Abdul-Kadir contributed to this report.

    DECEMBER 18th 2008
    We now have a date for UK forces to leave Basra. Contrary to various claims they have done a good job, though it suits some Iraqi politicians to claim they did not. A tougher line against the Shia Militia could only have been pursued with more political will from both Iraqis and the British population. As it was, they held the line and trained Iraqi troops until the UK retirment to Basra airport was actually the spur that was required to get the Baghdad government and military to step up to the challenge in the Charge of the Knights. Of all the mistakes that were made after the initial invasion to remove Saddam, the British military made the fewest, though it was indeed a mistake to think that experience in Northern Ireland could be applied to the Basra situation other than to give training to the troops themselves in relation to terrorist attacks.

    Iraq pullout is 'met with relief'

    By Caroline Wyatt
    Defence correspondent, BBC News

    For the first time, a rough official timetable for British forces to leave Iraq has been made public.

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that the British mission there will end no later than 31 May, 2009.

    He is expected to provide further details of the withdrawal to Parliament on Thursday.

    His visit to Baghdad came after the Iraqi cabinet agreed a draft law on Tuesday, which should be approved by the Iraqi parliament before the end of the year.

    It states that foreign forces - including Britain - will have until the end of next July to leave the country.

    US forces are covered under a separate Status of Forces Agreement, which will allow them to stay until the end of 2011.

    Car bomb attack

    This statement marks the beginning of the end of the British military mission in Iraq, almost six years after the US-led invasion in 2003.

    British troop numbers peaked in Iraq that year, with 46,000 in total, in the operation which toppled Saddam Hussein from power and plunged the country into years of deadly insurgency and brought it to the brink of civil war.

    Some 178 servicemen and women from Britain have lost their lives in Iraq since the invasion.

    Only 4,100 British forces are still left in Basra, the majority of them based at the air station outside the city.

    Their main task now is training and mentoring Iraqi forces, including the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Navy, the latter a key task, as Iraq's oil platforms need to be protected.

    Once the bulk of British forces have left, a few hundred are expected to remain to continue that training mission.

    On Wednesday, the day Gordon Brown announced the planned withdrawal, a loud explosion rang through central Baghdad.

    It was a car bomb, followed by an improvised explosive device (IED), which killed 18 and left 52 people injured, an indication that life for most Iraqis is still far from normal.

    The security situation has improved markedly since the US troop surge last year, but every day still brings bombs, IEDs or shootings somewhere in Iraq.

    Cities such as Mosul, in the north, still see regular violent clashes, in a nation that feels bruised, battered and bloodied by more than five years of conflict.

    'Unpopular war'

    However, Basra, home to the British area of operations in the south, has been much more peaceful since Operation Charge of the Knights, the operation led by the Iraqi Army in March.

    It was designed to rid the city of Shia militias and gangs of criminals who had controlled much of the city.

    British forces helped train Iraq's 14th Division, which took part in the mission, but the UK played only a minor role in the operation itself, apparently taken by surprise by its timing.

    Critics said the UK's earlier decision to leave Basra Palace and withdraw to the air station in December 2007, allowed a security vacuum to develop in the city which only ended with the successful Iraqi military offensive.

    When British troops withdraw, it is expected they will hand over Basra air station to US forces, who will remain in the south to ensure security and protect the vital supply route that leads from Kuwait to Baghdad.

    The withdrawal is likely to be met with a sense of relief in Britain that a controversial and unpopular war is at last drawing to a close.

    Initial expectations that the invasion in 2003 could be quick and light, with US and UK forces and their allies handing the country back rapidly to a new Iraqi government, were dashed in the sectarian clashes that followed.

    Iraqis now hope their country is finally on the path to a more peaceful future where it can determine its own path politically and economically, and is able to prosper without the presence of foreign armies on its soil.

    DECEMBER 21st 2008
    The media are very fond of the concept of 'humiliation' every time we don't win a cricket match or there is a difference of opinion with another government. Personally I think anything that gets the Iraqis taking responsibility for their own country is a good thing. If it helps then to sell it to their own people by dressing it up as a humiliation of the UK, then bring it on. Humiliation can only ever be in the mind of the humiliated and there is no chance of that as far as anyone other than our absurd media prima donnas are concerned. As for the failure of the Iraqi parliament to approve the terms agreed between Gordon Brown and Nouri al-Maliki, we can change them or, if that would be disastrous for too many Iraqis, just wait for their parliament to change its mind.

    Humiliation: Iraqi MPs reject UK exit deal

    Parliamentary vote on mandate for British forces could leave them without legal cover next month. Kim Sengupta in Basra and Brian Brady report

    The Independent on Sunday  -  Sunday, 21 December 2008

    Foreign Office sources insist that UK troops will not be confined to barracks in the new year

    Britain's exit strategy from Iraq suffered a setback yesterday when the country's parliament rejected a draft law paving the way for withdrawal of forces by the end of July. The reversal was embarrassing for both Gordon Brown and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, after the two leaders publicly declared last week that an agreement had been reached on the pullout.

    US to replace British forces in southern Iraq

    By CHELSEA J. CARTER, Associated Press Writer Chelsea J. Carter, Associated Press Writer 

    BASRA, Iraq – American troops will move into southern Iraq early next year to replace departing British forces, the top U.S. general in Iraq said.

    His comments came as Iraq's major parliamentary parties reached a compromise Sunday to allow approval of a resolution allowing all foreign troops other than Americans to remain in Iraq until July 2009. Britain has said its 4,000 troops will withdraw from the southern port city of Basra by the end of May.

    Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, said in an interview with The Associated Press late Saturday that he is considering moving either a brigade or division headquarters — about 100 personnel — as well as an undetermined number of combat troops to Iraq's second-largest city.

    Moving a headquarters unit to Basra would essentially give the U.S. complete responsibility there and across the rest of the country for providing training and support to all Iraqi security forces.

    "It will be a smaller presence than what is here now. We think it's important to maintain some presence down here just because we think Basra is an important city, and we think it's important to have some oversight here," Odierno told The AP in Basra, where the general was briefed by British Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon about the area's stability and preparations being made to withdraw.

    Odierno said Multi-National Division — Center, which is responsible for the area south of Baghdad will expand south to the Persian Gulf and the Kuwait border. Basra is at the heart of the country's vital oil industry.

    Britain will withdraw its 4,000 troops by the end of May. After the Dec. 31 expiration of the U.N. mandate authorizing military operations in Iraq, the only coalition troops to remain will be the U.S., Britain, Australia, El Salvador, Estonia and Romania.

    Abbas al-Bayati of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance said parliament will vote on Monday after political blocs reached a compromise to approve the draft resolution. He told AP that it would "give the government the authority to keep some troops for training purposes."

    The compromise comes after Iraq's parliament twice rejected the resolution. If it is not passed before a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31, those troops would have no legal ground to remain.

    According to Ali al-Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's inner circle, said the political blocs agreed to pass the resolution.

    A separate agreement approved by the Iraqi government on Dec. 4 allows the United States to keep troops in the country until the end of 2011. That agreement, which takes effect on Jan. 1, gives Iraq strict oversight over the nearly 150,000 American troops now in the country.

    Odierno has said that even after that summer deadline, some U.S. training teams will remain in Iraqi cities.

    He also said no decision has been made to withdraw the nearly 22,000 Marines in Iraq, mostly in Anbar province, where insurgent violence is relatively low, despite comments from the Marine commandant that there was a greater role for his troops in Afghanistan.

    "Any decision on force structure here in Iraq will be made by me," he said, adding he would then make recommendations to Gen. David Petraeus, commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    "We will take into account what is going on in Anbar, in the rest of the country, to make sure that we have the proper force structure to continue our mission to make sure we don't give up any of the security gains we have," Odierno said.

    Chief among Odierno's concerns about maintaining stability in Iraq is providing adequate security for the Jan. 31 Iraq-wide provincial elections.

    He will make a decision about the future duties of American troops about 60 days after January's provincial elections, enough time to monitor and deal with any violence that might arise.

    "So we have to make sure in the election those who didn't win understand that, and we will be able to seat the new government properly," Odierno told AP. "And once we get to that point, it's now time for us to take a look at what is right for the future."


    Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

    FEBRUARY 7th 2009
    UN hails Iraq election results

    The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has made a surprise visit to Iraq to congratulate voters there on the outcome of nationwide local elections.

    After talks with political leaders in Baghdad, Mr Ban said the vote showed how far Iraq had come.

    However, he said there was still a long way to go before Iraqis could claim to have "genuine freedom and security".

    Allies of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki swept to victory in Baghdad and key provinces in last Saturday's poll.

    The United Nations played a key role in organising the elections - seen as a test of stability before a general election, due later this year.

    The BBC's Jim Muir, in Baghdad, says that like everyone else, the UN is relieved that both the polling day itself and the announcement of the results passed off with virtually no violence at all.

    Celebratory mood

    Election commission preliminary results announced on Thursday showed Mr Maliki's State of Law coalition had made spectacular gains in southern Shia areas.

    The coalition won 38% of votes in Baghdad and 37% in Iraq's second city Basra - curbing the previous dominance of rival Shia parties.

    Meanwhile, the once-dominant Sunni Arabs regained political power in other parts of the country - having boycotted the 2005 election.

    There were fears of violence in the mainly Sunni flashpoint province of al-Anbar, where tribal leaders had threatened to take up arms over the result.

    In the event, they came in just half a percentage point behind another Sunni party to which they are allied.

    Mr Ban was expected to hold talks with Mr Maliki as well as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani while in Baghdad.

    He will "reiterate the UN's commitment to the country", and "above all congratulate the Iraqi people on the success of largely violence-free elections", UN spokesman Said Arikat told the AFP news agency.

    The election was an extraordinary achievement in a country that has been wracked by violence for the last nearly six years, our correspondent says.

    Healthy and peaceful political competition, and change through the ballot box, have become the name of the game, he adds.

    Just over half of Iraqis voted in Saturday's election, lower than some had predicted.

    Final results are not expected to be known for weeks.

    FEBRUARY 28th 2009
    The decision Obama has taken puts a date on withdrawal and a date on the end of military operations. Only a change agreed at those dates at the request of the Iraqi government could extend these.

    Obama moved toward commanders in Iraq decision

    By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven, 

    WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama leaned heavily toward field commanders' preferences in settling a time frame for ending the war in Iraq, as he weighed the fervent desires of the anti-war community that propelled him into office and the equally strong worries of the generals commanding troops in the war zone.

    "To this very day, there are some Americans who want to stay in Iraq longer, and some who want to leave faster," Obama said in making the announcement Friday, summing up a debate that has divided the country like no other since the former President George W. Bush launched the U.S. invasion six years ago.

    Obama's description suggests he arrived at a split-down-the-middle compromise with one of the first and most important tasks of his young presidency.

    But accounts of the process from officials in the White House, at the Pentagon and across the administration, who all requested anonymity so they could speak more candidly about behind-the-scenes discussions, show otherwise.


    MARCH 30th 2009
    Today, Britain formally hands over the overwatch and training in Basra and Southern Iraq to the US The boys (and girls) will be coming home. They have done a great job. Iraqis and Brits have been through hell, as I predicted at the start of all files on Iraq, but they have reached a point where Iraq will have a chance to shape its own future through an open political system. There is still a lack of security in Baghdad, there is still a tough deal for many women, but the terrifying tyranny of Saddam is gone forever.

    APRIL 30th 2009
    The final stage in the Basra handover took place today, with a ceremony at which the names of the British lost on operations were read out. In spite of the mistakes that were made there is no doubt our services did well and the people of Basra, even those who during the peak of the insurgency fought against us, are grateful. They have said so publicly. Let us hope they get on OK with the Americans who are taking over.

    MAY 27th 2009
    I like General Casey and his 'reality check'. He is indeed ready to take the troops home any time the Iraqi's want that. Unfortunately, things being the way they are in the world as a whole, they could want the US to delay the pull out when the time comes. No way to tell just now, miracles could happen.... Casey's point is that he has to be prepared for either eventuality.

    Army chief: Troops could be in Iraq after 2012

    By TOM CURLEY, Associated Press Writer 

    WASHINGTON – The United States could have fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade, the top Army officer said, even though a signed agreement requires all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by 2012.

    Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said Tuesday his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained U.S. commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East.

    "Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction," Casey said. "They fundamentally will change how the Army works."

    He spoke at an invitation-only briefing to a dozen journalists and policy analysts from Washington-based think-tanks.

    Casey's calculations about force levels are related to his attempt to ease the brutal deployment calendar that he said would "bring the Army to its knees."

    Casey would not specify how combat units would be divided between Iraq and Afghanistan. He said U.S. ground commander Gen. Ray Odierno is leading a study to determine how far U.S. forces could be cut back in Iraq and still be effective. Casey said his comments about the long war in Iraq were not meant to conflict with administration policies.

    President Barack Obama plans to bring U.S. combat forces home from Iraq in 2010, and the United States and Iraq have agreed that all U.S. forces would leave by 2012. Although several senior U.S. officials have suggested Iraq could request an extension, the legal agreement the two countries signed last year would have to be amended for any significant U.S. presence to remain.

    As recently as February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeated U.S. commitment to the agreement worked out with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

    "Under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011," Gates said during an address at Camp Lejeune. "We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned."

    The United States has about 139,000 troops in Iraq and 52,000 in Afghanistan.

    Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war as quickly as possible and refocusing U.S. resources on what he called the more important fight in Afghanistan.

    That will not mean a major influx of U.S. fighting forces on the model of the Iraq "surge," however. Obama has agreed to send about 21,000 combat forces and trainers to Afghanistan this year. Combined with additional forces approved before President George W. Bush left office, the United States is expected to have about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year. That's about double the total at the end of 2008, but Obama's top military and civilian advisers have indicated the total is unlikely to grow much beyond that.

    Casey said several times that he wasn't the person making policy, but the military was preparing to have a fighting force deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. Casey said his planning envisions 10 combat brigades plus command and support forces committed to the two wars.

    When asked whether the Army had any measurement for knowing how big it should be, Casey responded, "How about the reality scenario?"

    The reality scenario, he said, must take into account that "we're going to have 10 Army and Marine units deployed for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan."

    Casey stressed that the United States must be ready to take on sustained fights in the Middle East while meeting its other commitments.

    He reiterated statements made by civilian and military leaders that the situation in Afghanistan would get worse before it gets better. "There's going to be a big fight in the south," he said.

    Casey added that training of local police and military in Afghanistan was at least a couple years behind the pace in Iraq, and it would be months before the U.S. deployed enough trainers. There's a steeper curve before training could be effective in Afghanistan, requiring three to five years before Afghanis could reach the "tipping point" of control.

    He also said the U.S. had to be careful about what assets get deployed to Afghanistan. "Anything you put in there would be in there for a decade."

    As Army chief of staff, Casey is primarily responsible for assembling the manpower and determining assignments. He insisted the Army's 1.1-million size was sufficient even to handle the extended Mideast conflicts.

    "We ought to build a pretty effective Army with 1.1 million strength," Casey said. He also noted that the Army's budget had grown to $220 billion from $68 billion before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

    He said the Army is two-thirds of the way through a complete overhaul from the Cold War-era force built around tanks and artillery to today's terrorist-driven realities. The Army has become more versatile and quicker by switching from division-led units to brigade-level command.

    Casey said the Army has moved from 15-month battlefield deployments to 12 months. His goal is to move rotations by 2011 to one year in the battlefield and two years out for regular Army troops and one year in the battlefield and three years out for reserves. He called the current one-year-in-one-year-out cycle "unsustainable."

    JUNE 22nd 2009
    When the hostages were taken back in 2007 from the Baghdad 'Green Zone' by a squad of terrorists acting convincingly and dressed as police it was clear we were up against the most ruthless and feared of Shia extremists. They must have already put blood-curdling fear into enough people to be able to set up this carefully planned coup, and they had selected targets they knew Britain would pull out all the stops to rescue. It was an awful challenge and they knew it. For the years since then, every  resource has been brought to bear to gain their safe release. Now we know they may all be dead or at best three still allive. When we read the headline on the front page of the Independent "FAILED BY THE FOREIGN OFFICE" it is equally clear that the British Press are at war with the government of this country. They have done some bean counting and have decided that the number of people suffering the credit crunch and blaming the Government for their woes, added to the number richer people who think Gordon Brown has passed his use-by date, represents a majority who have to be arse-licked.

    Up till now I (as David Steel the previous liberal leader) favoured a private but totally independent inquiry into the Iraq war, going right back to the beginning and through to the present day/ I can now see that so little has been understood by at least half of the UK public, probably because they were not paying attention until the operation was imminent, that asmuch as possible will have to heard in public and open to the public, even if it is not basically a public enquiry. There are still those who think we could be now facing a better global future if, having got weapOns inspectors back in by advancing a coalition army to Iraq's border, we had all gone home because we had not found some (IN A COUNTRY WHERE IT LATER TOOK SOME YEARS, WHEN WE HAD COMPLETE FREEDOM, TO FIND FULLY EQUIPPED UNDERGROUND STORES COVERING THE AREA OF MANY FOOTBALL FIELDS COMPLETE WITH AIR CONDITIONING).

    At the time, the evidence against this, even for all those who (myself included) were against the way US foreign policy was conducted and desperate at what comedian Sean Locke so aptly called the 'anti-cleverness' of Bush, was overwhelming. The US had decided regime change was the only possible course, hopefully by threat of invasion, if not by actual. The UK policy was to make the threat a UN threat. It might have worked if France and Germany had agreed to make that threat genuine. Blair faced a choice, abandon America or not. There was definitely no good option here and the one he took will likely prove the best for the world and for Iraq in the long term. In the short term it is just as bad as the critics say.

    That brings me to the families of soldiers suing the MOD for sending their sons to war without equipment to guarantee their safety. I offer two views, my own and that of a soldier who saw action and deaths in Basra.

    My own:
    I have always thought that since we never choose the time and place of military operations, not being the aggressor, we are never properly equipped at the start of anything and this will always apply, as the aggressor will always choose tactics their enemy is not equipped to deal with.  We never planned to invade Iraq, but it became unavoidable. We never anticipated the Basran's would be so divided that some would do anything to kill us - after all this was the part of Iraq we had defended from Saddam by no-fly zones for a decade, and then removed him at their request. The Snatch was the best we had at the time to get about with.

    A soldier's:
    I think it's understandable when someone's son has been killed but there is no logic and too much emotion.  People seem to expect a war with zero casualties; when they occur people look for someting or someone to blame.  Why don't we all have personal hovercrafts as well?  Armoured vehicles take years to field - and in fact we were all amazed at how fast the BULLDOG vehs were developed and delivered; and although we can just buy 'off the shelf' , and have done in many cases, there is only so much money we can throw at the problem unless the public want to start closing schools and hospitals.  Comds on the ground weigh up the decisions for every op: often the best choice is no veh at at; sometimes Snatch is the best thing available and better than going on foot; sometimes Snatch is better than other vehs (in Basra only Snatch could fit down narrow streets; they are at least bullet proof; and enabled heavy ECM kit to be carried without weighing down troops).  The SAS have used open-topped unarmoured landrovers since WW2 and they are not short on funding: it's less about the kit, more how you choose to use it.  Also, Snatch are a damn sight safer than Humvee, but no-one ever mentions that.  Ultimately no veh will defeat a buried AT mine - those will flip a main battle tank on its back.

    Bottom line is technology evolves.  There will always be a better vehicle. We have to make do with what we've got.  Suing is unhelpful; let us keep the money to buy better kit!  If they want to complain, complain about the shortage of helicopters.  War means risk and unless we're prepared to take a bit more we might end up losing it, in which case all the death will have been in vain.
    My closing comment on the subject:
    Unless we wish to retire from supplying military support for alliance and UN political imperatives and leave world security to others, we have to do the best with what we can produce or buy at the time of action. If people want the MOD to spend more, suing them will not achieve that end. The soldier says casualties are inevitable whatever we spend. The aim is to avoid far worse.

    JUNE 24th 2009
    The public and media, still on a role, have asked that this enquiry should attribute blame. No problem there, I think it will be fairly safe to attribute blame to Saddam Hussein, who could have abided by all the terms he signed up to at the end of the first Iraq war a little earlier. I do hope the UK public will take into account, before blaming the UK military, that all the guys and gals who went in to remove the SOB so as to have him replaced by an elected government were volunteers. We do not have conscription. Mistakes were made, but the job they were given was a bit more complicated than most of them anticipated when joining the armed services, and that goes for all ranks.

    There is absolutely no problem in anyone giving evidence under oath if that is what the public want. It will not make any difference to the evidence given. What will make a difference is that people might well be prepared to volunteer opinions in private that they will not in public. The original aim of this enquiry was to learn lessons, and I hope Chilcott will offer private sessions to anyone at any who can contribute informed opinion and wishes to do so. The British Public will not learn anything in public that has not already been said. Chilcot may learn things in private and, having sorted it through and cross-checked, may come up with some conclusions in public. That could be enlightening and was what the private equiry was designed to achieve.

    Blame on politicians can be divided into several kinds:-
    The first comes as usual from those who disagree with the theory that any alliance of states has the right to remove any dictator just because they think is damaging his country, threating his neigbours and likely to spawn a disastrous future. These blamers also think previous support for the dictator is relevant to their argument.

    The second comes from those who complain the operation was ill prepared. That is obvious as far as the postwar phase is concerned but unfortunately the time to do that was restricted to the very short time between realising abd admitting that the UN would not back up its resolutions and the start of hostilities. Only the US, whose political basis for the operation was regime change, and who had never counted on the UN anyway, could have prepared. They did not, as they belived naively in the rightness of their cause and the support of Iraqis who wuld unite in the cause of peace, even though the US would remove the entire military and security establishment on the grounds it was tainted.

    The third kind of blame will come from the political opportunists. Thes will make the most noise and signify the least.
    The fourth may come from some families of service personel who lost their lives, though we shall have to see at the end of the enquiry if, unless they are in the first category listed here, they wish to attribute blame.

    JUNE 30th 2009
    We are approaching the stage which should have been reached less than a year after the removal of Saddam Hussein, when Iraq is handed back to Iraqis. The delay is due to nothing more or less than the plan shared by many of different persuasions united only in one cause, to get the coalition forces into Iraq, keep them there and kill them and all those who asked them in or tolerated them, day after day, as many as possible. The reason being they do not wish to join an international community they consider dominated by alien cultures, against whom they harbour not a little resentment and in whose world they hold no hope. They have set us and those Iraqis who believe in a peaceful and democratic future a tough challenge to prove them wrong.

    Deadly market bomb hits Iraq city

    At least 27 people have been killed by a car bomb at a market in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, officials say.

    The attack in the Shurja district came as Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of US troops from towns and cities in Iraq, six years after the invasion.

    US President Barack Obama said the move was an important milestone for Iraq, but that "difficult days" lay ahead.

    The Kirkuk blast came 10 days after a truck bomb killed more than 70 in the city's deadliest attack in over a year.

    Iraqi and US troops have been on alert for attacks during the pullback, which was declared a national holiday.

    Police Brig Gen Sarhat Qadir told the Associated Press news agency that at least 40 people had been wounded in the latest blast, caused by an explosives-laden vehicle parked near the crowded outdoor Shurja market.

    Volatile mix

    A teeming maze of shops and stalls, Shurja is one of the country's best-known markets, attracting buyers and sellers from all over Iraq, say correspondents.

    Kirkuk, about 250km (155 miles) from Baghdad, was also the scene of two suicide bombings last month, in which 14 people were killed.

    The city is the centre of northern Iraq's oil industry, and home to a volatile mix of Kurds, Arabs, Christians and members of the Turkmen community.

    The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says Tuesday's car bomb appears to be just the kind of attack designed to stir up ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs.

    Most of the other bombs that have killed around 250 people in the past fortnight have been aimed at Shia areas.

    Our correspondent says the clear aim is to reignite the sectarian carnage that took the country to the brink of civil war three years ago.

    With American troops now taking a back seat, the big question, our correspondent adds, is can Iraqi forces cope with the challenge?


    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is adamant they can.

    Those who think Iraqis are unable to protect their country commit a big mistake
    Nouri Maliki Iraqi Prime Minister

    "Those who think that Iraqis are not able to protect their country and that the withdrawal of foreign forces will create a security vacuum are committing a big mistake," he said earlier, in a nationally televised address.

    Our correspondent says Mr Maliki's police and troops will have to prove on the ground that they are Iraqis - not Shias or Sunnis or Kurds - if they are to prevail.

    In Washington, President Obama called the Kirkuk bombing "senseless", adding: "The future belongs to those who build, not to those who destroy."

    Meanwhile, despite their pullback from cities and towns, US troops will still be embedded with Iraqi forces.

    Hours before the Monday night deadline for the withdrawal, four US soldiers were killed in combat in Baghdad.

    US commanders have said security and stability are improving.

    Iraqi soldiers paraded through Baghdad's streets on Monday in vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags, while patriotic songs were played through loudspeakers at checkpoints.

    The pullback comes two years after the US "surge" of extra troops between February and June 2007, which saw US troop levels in Iraq reach about 170,000.

    US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.

    Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January.

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    JULY 8th 2009
    As the US pulls out, leaving 'advisers' in place and troops still nearby to be called on, it is time to realise just how much damage has been inflicted on the country and its people in the name of world peace and the prevention of the rise of what the west and, to be fair, most of the other major world powers considered a dangerous and violent regime. It is a mistake to justify either side of the argument, suffice to say Saddam Hussein could very easily have avoided the invasion and remained in power if he had not had a mistaken view of his own personal importance to life on this planet. Here is a considered view from
    Maximilian Forte at

    "Is it necessary to recount how badly the U.S. has bludgeoned Iraq since 1991, with almost two decades now of warfare and sanctions that were just as deadly? Do people outside Iraq need to be reminded that in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, as many as 200,000 Iraqis were killed, then left to suffer the effects of depleted uranium, damaged civilian infrastructure, heightened poverty, and a sanctions regime that left about 500,000 Iraqi children dead, part of a total of 1.7 million Iraqis to die just from sanctions just between the two invasions? Do they need to be reminded that at least 100,000 Iraqis died from direct violence stemming from the second U.S. invasion? How about the internally displaced, and the refugees who streamed to other countries, in total numbering around 4 million? And all this in a country of about 31 million people, just a little over one-tenth of the population size of the U.S. When one recalls the streaming tears of Americans for the losses of 11 September 2001, one has to wonder if they ever add up what they did to Iraq, which amounts to a thousand 911’s to say the least? (sources: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11])

    The question cannot be what do Iraqis have to thank the U.S. for, but when will they ever be able to say that they have made America pay enough for what it has done. Is it then any surprise that people, who in their massive numbers have overwhelmingly expressed their hatred for the American presence in any poll ever done since the 2003 invasion, demanding that all U.S. forces be withdrawn immediately, and demanding that year after year, should now be reticent about saying, “Thanks America!”? What would lead an American commentator to believe that the U.S. could ever be forgiven for what it did to Iraq?"

    Unless we could know what would have happened to Iraq and the world if the coalition had packed up its tents and gone home leaving Saddam intact with sanctions removed, the above question is impossible to answer. As far as the unfortunate Mr Blair is concerned, he and his advisors foresaw a scenario that would have made the admittedly terrible events recounted above look like a picnic. But they could have been wrong.

    AUGUST 19th 2009
    The worst carnage for a long time. With enough money at their disposal and the threat of a man's family being wiped out if he does not comply, Al Qaida can put a lot of pressure on people to carry out and assist their treachery.

    Iraq: Wave of Baghdad blasts kills at least 95

    By SINAN SALEHEDDIN, Associated Press Writer

    BAGHDAD – A truck bomb exploded across the street from Iraq's Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone Wednesday, knocking out concrete slabs and windows and leaving a mass of charred cars outside as a wave of explosions around Baghdad killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 400.

    A suicide truck bomber also targeted the Finance Ministry minutes earlier in the deadliest apparently coordinated attack in Iraq so far this year — a major challenge to Iraqi control of Baghdad. A steady escalation of attacks following the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. troops from urban areas has heightened fears that government troops are not ready to provide security.

    Iraqi officials blamed al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents, echoing U.S. military warnings that the militant group is trying to provoke new bloodshed to undermine public trust in the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

    "The terrorists are trying to rekindle the cycle of violence of previous years by creating an atmosphere of tension among the Iraqi people," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a statement. "Our security forces must be more alert and firm. Also, the political groups must unite."

    Sunni and Shiite extremists remain active in Iraq, and the U.S. military has detected some political violence ahead of next year's national elections. But truck bombs and suicide attacks bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq.

    The attacks dealt a new blow to Iraqi government efforts to restore a sense of normalcy in the capital as the overall level of violence remains low compared with recent years. Iraqi security forces have promised to remove concrete blast walls from the main roads in Baghdad by mid-September with the aim of improving appearance and easing traffic congestion.

    "The security forces have failed to protect the government buildings despite tight security measures and advanced equipment and this reflects huge shortcomings," said Saeed Jabar, a 35-year-old government employee. "It is a message to Iraqi officials that they should stop their exaggerations about the stability of this country."

    The most devastating strike blackened the facade of the Foreign Ministry, killing at least 59 people and wounding 250, according to police and hospital officials. Rescue workers dug through rubble and debris near the ministry, which is adjacent to the Green Zone, the most heavily protected part of the capital.

    The explosives-laden truck was parked in a largely unguarded parking lot across the street, but the force of the blast tore through the 10-story building, which itself is surrounded by a concrete blast wall, as well as nearby apartment blocs.

    Dozens of cars were charred and plumes of smoke rose into the sky.

    That attack occurred just minutes after a suicide truck bomber took aim at the Finance Ministry in northern Baghdad, detonating his explosives near a joint Iraqi police and army patrol outside and causing part of a nearby overpass to collapse.

    Hospital officials said at least 28 people were killed and 117 wounded in that blast.

    Mortars also slammed into the Green Zone, Iraqi officials said, with one landing near the U.N. compound, briefly delaying a press conference being held to discuss humanitarian issues on the sixth anniversary of the Aug. 19, 2003, bombing at the world body's headquarters that killed 22 people, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

    The U.S. military, which turned over responsibility for securing the Green Zone to the Iraqis on Jan. 1 as part of a new security pact, said it could not confirm any mortar attacks.

    Another blast in the commercial area of western Baghdad's Baiyaa district killed two people and wounded 16, while a bombing in the commercial district of Bab al-Muadham killed six people and wounded 24, authorities said.

    An Interior Ministry official, speaking separately, put the total death toll at 88. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

    Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday that he wanted to deploy U.S. soldiers alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops in northern Iraq where some of the worst attacks in recent weeks have been carried out.

    U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq's cities on June 30 under a security pact that outlines the American withdrawal by the end of 2011. President Barack Obama has ordered all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving a contingency of up to 50,000 U.S. troops in training and advising roles.

    Odierno said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been receptive to the idea, though has not approved it.


    Associated Press Writers Hamid Ahmed and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

    OCTOBER 25th 2009
    Twin Baghdad blasts kill scores

    At least 132 people have been killed and 520 injured in two car bomb attacks in Baghdad, Iraqi officials say.

    The blasts hit the ministry of justice and a provincial government office near the heavily fortified Green Zone.

    They came in quick succession at 1030 (0730 GMT) as people headed to work during the morning rush hour.

    This is the deadliest attack in Iraq since August 2007 and comes three months after the US handed security control of cities to local forces.

    Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC News, Baghdad

    The Iraqi authorities say that they believe these two attacks today and those of the 19 August are linked. Damascus [accused by Iraq over the 19 August attacks] has strenuously denied any involvement.

    But there have been warnings that as Iraq approaches parliamentary elections, which are due in the middle of next January, that insurgents and other fighters will cause more attacks to try to destabilise the situation here.

    The Americans officially pulled back from urban areas at the end of June. The Iraqi security forces are now in charge. They have been trumpeting their success here. But these massive explosions and the ones on 19 August will raise serious questions about how capable they are of maintaining security.

    The attacks have drawn comparison with those of 19 August, when truck bombs hit two ministry buildings and killed at least 100 people.

    Iraq then blamed foreign fighters and accused Syria of involvement, demanding a UN investigation.

    The US condemned the latest attacks as "hateful".

    'Destructive agenda'

    Prime Minister Nouri Maliki visited the site of Sunday's provincial government office attack near Haifa Street and later issued a statement blaming al-Qaeda and supporters of former president Saddam Hussein.

    "These cowardly terrorist attacks must not affect the determination of the Iraqi people to continue their struggle against the remnants of the dismantled regime and al-Qaeda terrorists, who committed a brutal crime against civilians," he said.

    "They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election."

    President Jalal Talabani said: "The perpetrators of these treacherous and despicable acts are no longer hiding their objective... they publicly declare that they are targeting the state."

    The White House said President Barack Obama had spoken to Mr Maliki and Mr Talabani to pledge his support.

    Mr Obama said the attacks were an attempt to derail the peace process.

    "These bombings serve no purpose other than the murder of innocent men, women and children, and they only reveal the hateful and destructive agenda of those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that they deserve," Mr Obama said in a statement.

    The UK's Foreign Secretary David Miliband said "such acts of terrorism can have no justification, and must be condemned without reservation".

    Plumes of smoke were seen rising in Baghdad on Sunday morning after two vehicles packed with explosives blew up just outside the International Zone, or Green Zone, the administrative heart of the capital.

    The Iraqi authorities said the attackers were suicide bombers.

    Their vehicles were driven into parking bays and detonated, officials said.

    A number of workers for Baghdad's provincial council, which runs the city, were thought to be among the dead.

    "I don't know how I'm still alive," local shop owner, Hamid Saadi, told Reuters by telephone from near the justice ministry.

  • Aug 2007: More than 500 killed in attacks on villages near Sinjar
  • Jul 2007: 150 killed in truck bombing in Tuz Khurmato
  • Apr 2007: 191 killed in car bombings in Baghdad
  • Mar 2007: 152 killed in truck bombing in Tal Afar
  • Feb 2007: 135 killed in truck bombing in Baghdad
  • Nov 2006: 202 killed in multiple blasts in Baghdad
  • Mar 2004: 171 killed in bombings in Baghdad and Karbala Source: News agencies, BBC
  • "The explosion destroyed everything... it's like it was an earthquake, nothing is still in its place."

    A number of bystanders blamed the security forces and politicians for failing to keep order.

    Ambulance driver Adil Sami told Agence France-Presse: "We don't want the parliament any more - let them leave us alone, we can live in peace and solve problems ourselves."

    Baghdad provincial council member Mohammed al-Rubaiey said: "This is a political struggle... Every politician is responsible and the government is responsible, as well as security leaders."

    The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad said he felt the force of the explosions, even though he was several miles away.

    He says the finger of blame is likely to point to insurgents or foreign fighters trying to destabilise the security situation ahead of Iraqi elections in mid-January.

    Overall, violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq compared to a year ago, but sporadic attacks still continue in several parts of the country.

    A selection of your comments may be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

    NOVEMBER 8th 2009

    Iraq electoral law passes, sets up national vote

    By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer

    BAGHDAD – Iraq's parliament ended weeks of debate Sunday and passed a long-delayed law paving the way for the planned January election to go forward, sidestepping a crisis that could have delayed the U.S. troop withdrawal.

    The decision appeared to resolve a key sticking point — who will be allowed to vote in the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The issue had threatened to delay Iraq's key parliamentary elections, which in turn would affect how quickly American combat forces could leave the country.

    In a sign of how intensely Washington was following the debate, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill could be seen shuttling between various political factions before the law's passage. President Barack Obama, speaking at the White House, welcomed the new legislation.

    "This is an important milestone as the Iraqi people continue to take responsibility for their future. I want to congratulate Iraq's leaders for reaching this agreement," Obama said. "The United States will continue to stand with Iraq as a strong partner and as a friend."

    Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, in a statement posted on his Web site, hailed the election law's passage as a "historic victory of the will of the people," and described it as a strong response to the people who are trying to undermine the country's security.

    The U.S. ambassador, speaking to reporters after the vote, said the American troop drawdown will proceed as scheduled. Military commanders have said the U.S. troop withdrawal would start in earnest about 60 days after the vote, the idea being that the country would be on stable footing by then.

    "What is important is that with the election law, we are very much on schedule for the drawdown," Hill said.

    Under the president's plan, all U.S. combat troops will be out of the country by the end of August 2010, leaving about 50,000 trainers and support troops, who in turn would leave by the end of 2011.

    It was not clear exactly when the election would be held — Jan. 16 as originally planned or a later date in January. The head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, Faraj al-Haidari, told The Associated Press that he expected the vote to be held within a week of Jan. 16.

    Deputy Parliament Speaker, Khalid al-Attiyah said it would likely be held January 21 or 23. The Iraqi constitution mandates that the vote takes place in January, but does not specify which day.

    Once the legislation is approved by the president and his two vice presidents, the election commission will decide how many days are needed to hold the vote, al-Haidari said. Then the commission will send a letter to parliament and to the prime minister to inform them of their decision.

    The law's passage had been repeatedly delayed by sharp disagreements over how voting would take place in the northern city of Kirkuk, claimed by both Arabs and Kurds and a major flashpoint in the country.

    Kurds consider Kirkuk a Kurdish city and want it part of their self-ruled region in northern Iraq. During the rule of former dictator Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands of Kurds were displaced under a forced plan by Saddam to make Kirkuk predominantly Arab, though many of these have since returned.

    The Arab-led central government vehemently opposes anything that would remove Kirkuk from its control.

    Under the legislation passed Sunday, the vote in Kirkuk would be held just like in other regions around the country, but the votes — and those in other disputed areas — could be subject to a special review if it is determined that there was a large population increase. Arabs and the Turkomens claim Kurds have packed the city with immigrants to tip the balance in their favor.

    The legislation did not include any guaranteed seats for Arab and Turkomen lawmakers from Kirkuk, something which had been discussed in earlier versions.

    Both Kurds and Arabs appeared to claim victory after the sometimes raucous parliament session that was televised live on Iraq state TV.

    "This is a good law because it occurred after broad agreement, and it presents a solution to a problem that we have now solved. It doesn't achieve all our (Kurdish) ambitions, but it achieves a balance," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker.

    But Omar al-Jabouri, a Sunni member of parliament, called the voting "a great victory," because, he said, Kurds were forced to accept special circumstances in regards to the Kirkuk voting.

    The law passed with 141 votes, but it was not immediately known how many of the parliament's 275 members voted against the legislation or even attended the session. Low turnouts are common in Iraq's parliament, which often does not have enough people to form the necessary 138-person quorum.

    "It's a good step that we have a resolution to this and have elections," said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst at the New York-based Century Foundation.

    However, he added that the disputes such as the long-brewing debate over the election law, have paralyzed Iraq's political process and "have shown that it's incapable of solving the big questions," such as how to deal with disputed territories.


    AP Writer Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.

    JANUARY 06 2010
    Read Mohammed Hussein at
    You may have to search there to find it.
    Sectarian conflict is all about land and jobs and power, not really about religion, but whatever the reason a country divided against itself will not succeed in reaching stablity, peace and security. Revenge has been a principle in many Middle Eastern cultures, used as the ultimate deterrent. Justice in the hands of an elected government has no historic roots. They have to be laid down. It's a long road. There will be elections and eventually the results will be respected. A Coalition is likely in the next stage and for some time.

    It is now time to start a new file as the US prepares to hand over control progressively.

    IRAQ 2010