Archive for December, 2011

Iran’s Navy to Launch Second Modern Destroyer

2011-12-26

Iran’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said Sunday that the Iranian navy was constructing its second modern warship destroyer called Jamaran-2.

Talking to the official IRNA news agency, Sayyari said the destroyer, which enjoys capabilities in three areas of surface-to- air, surface-to-surface and sub-surface operations, will join the Iranian fleet soon.

The Jamaran-2 is also capable of offering fuel to helicopters, he said.

The Navy commander further noted that the Jamaran-1 warship destroyer is present in the Velayat-90 war games which are underway in Iran’s southern waters for a 10-day period.

The Iranian Navy launched a 10-day massive naval exercises in the international waters on Saturday.

The naval drills, dubbed Velayat 90, cover an area of 2,000 km stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

Different classes of submarines, including Tareq and Ghadir, the newest ground-to-sea missile systems and torpedoes will be employed in the maneuvers.

It is the first time the Iranian Navy carries out naval drills in such a vast area, Sayyari said at a press conference on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Parviz Sorouri, a member of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said that Iran plans to practice its ability to close the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important passages for exports of crude oil and oil products from littoral states of the Persian Gulf.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said later that closing the Strait of Hormuz is not on Iran’s agenda since Iran believes in upholding the stability and peace of the region.

Source: CRIEnglish.
Link: http://english.cri.cn/6966/2011/12/26/2701s673192.htm.

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Kuwait donates 1 million to support Gaza preschool children

WASHINGTON, Dec 24 (KUNA) — The American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) organization late Friday said it was “absolutely thrilled and grateful” to receive a USD one million dollar donation from the Kuwaiti government to provide nutritional support to children in Gaza. The non-profit relief and development agency said that the substantial donation would provide vitamin-fortified milk and high-energy biscuits to over 17,000 pre-schoolers in Gaza, where the World Health Organization statistics show nearly four out of ten children under five suffer from anemia and malnutrition.

“This is something that’s near to our hearts and I think to everyone in the State of Kuwait that we look upon innocent children and hope that they have the basics of life. This is one of the things we’re trying to provide. This offers them a safety net so that the ravages of anemia and stunting are not something they have to live with day after day,” Bill Corcoran, President of ANERA told KUNA in an interview.

During a visit to ANERA’s Washington headquarters, Kuwait’s Ambassador to the US Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah told KUNA that this is the second donation from Kuwait to fund ANERA’s work with children in Gaza.

He added that Kuwait exerts many efforts to support the Palestinian people throughout the years, which reflect the deep Kuwaiti-Palestinian “distinctive and historic” relations.

He affirmed that the Palestinian issue is among the priorities of the Kuwaiti leadership, stressing the support of the Kuwaiti people to the Palestinians on all levels.

The Ambassador stressed that this donation comes to provide the simplest living requirements for the Gaza children in light of the “difficult political, economic and living conditions” there.

The Kuwaiti Government had also donated in March 2010 USD one million to fund ANERA’s Milk for Preschoolers program with children in Gaza. “This generous gift strengthens ANERA’s capacity to care for Palestinian children at their most vulnerable age,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait and ANERA board chairman Edward Gnehm, telling KUNA, “This really touches children and it touches the hearts of people. They do feel neglected, they do feel ignored by the world and this is a very special way to reach out to them. We are very much a part of their lives and we are happy to be partners with Kuwait.”

ANERA said the USD one million donation is a “valued endorsement of ANERA’s ability to deliver with the highest standards of accountability and responsibility.” For more than 40 years ANERA has been a leading provider of development, health, education and employment programs to Palestinian communities and impoverished families through-out the Middle East.

In 2011, the relief and development agency delivered more than USD 65 million of programs to the people of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan. This was up from the USD 51 million raised in 2010.

Source: Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
Link: http://www.kuna.net.kw/NewsAgenciesPublicSite/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=2210818&Language=en.

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Al-Hashemi blames Maliki for violence

BAGHDAD, Dec. 23 (UPI) — Iraq’s vice president, in hiding to avoid arrest on terror charges, blamed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a sudden surge in sectarian violence.

“We should blame Mr. Maliki — he started a national crisis and it’s not easy to control,” Tariq al-Hashemi told the BBC’s Arabic service. “The Iraqis have a right to be worried.”

His comments followed a series of explosions that ripped through mostly Shiite areas of Iraq’s capital Thursday, killing at least 68 people and injuring nearly 200. The attacks, which began at 6:30 a.m., destroyed schools, markets and apartments.

An ambulance packed with explosives incinerated a government office, The New York Times reported.

The morning blasts killed at least 65 people — Baghdad’s deadliest day in more than a year. Four more blasts shook Baghdad Thursday night, killing at least three more people.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but analysts told the BBC and the Times they appeared similar to attacks conducted by the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq.

Western officials were alarmed at how quickly the withdrawal of U.S. troops had led to deadly sectarian violence, the Times said.

Maliki is a Shiite. Al-Hashemi is one of the country’s most prominent Sunni politicians.

Maliki accused al-Hashemi this week of running a death squad and put out an arrest warrant for him.

Al-Hashemi denied the allegations and fled to Irbil in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, under the protection of the regional government.

Maliki has demanded al-Hashemi return to Baghdad, but al-Hashemi said he would not because he could not receive a fair trial there. The Kurdish government offered no sign Thursday it would heed Maliki’s demand to extradite al-Hashemi, the Times said.

Al-Hashemi told the BBC the attacks occurred because the government was too busy chasing “patriotic politicians” like himself instead of hunting down terrorists.

“The security services are pointed in the wrong direction,” he said.

Maliki added new tension to the political climate Wednesday by threatening to discard Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/12/23/Al-Hashemi-blames-Maliki-for-violence/UPI-24551324627200/.

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Iran’s spies score ‘stunning achievements’

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Dec. 22 (UPI) — Israeli officials say Iran, which has been hit several times by mysterious computer viruses, has launched an “ambitious plan” to boost its cyberwar capabilities and is investing $1 billion in cutting-edge technology.

If the claim is correct, the Iranian effort underlines what veteran analyst Mahan Abedin calls the “stunning achievements in the intelligence, electronic and cyberwarfare fields” against the West by Tehran’s security services in recent months.

The Iranian move is in apparent response to a significant increase in intelligence operations against the Islamic Republic by the United States, Britain and Israel as tensions over Tehran’s contentious nuclear program escalate in a region already gripped by uncertainty and regime change.

“The dramatic spike in CIA activity inside Iran in 2011 has reinforced the Iranian leadership’s conviction that the Western powers are set on a confrontation and a possible military showdown with the Islamic Republic,” Abedin observed in an Asian Times Online analysis Thursday.

“There is a fear in Tehran that Western agencies — working directly and indirectly with radical opposition elements — will try to incite riots and disorder, similar in style if not scope to the ones that rocked the Iranian capital in June 2009 following the disputed presidential elections.”

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which has been tightening its operations for some time, claims it arrested a CIA spy, a former U.S. Marine of Iranian origin named Amir Mirza Hekmati.

It said his mission was to infiltrate the MOIS and feed it disinformation. Hekmati, 28, was reportedly arrested in September but it was only announced Dec. 17. The following day, state television broadcast what it said was a taped confession by Hekmati.

Earlier, Iran said it downed an ultra-secret U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone operating out of Afghanistan, allegedly by electronically hijacking its controls.

Washington admitted to the loss of the CIA-owned Sentinel, which Iran said was recovered intact. Its highly classified electronic systems were a major prize for Iranian intelligence and a serious blow to the Americans.

In November, Iran said it had arrested 12 members of a CIA spy ring. That came hard on the heels of the reported capture of 30 alleged CIA agents in late May.

At the same time, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s most important Arab proxy, claimed it seized several people it said had been recruited by CIA officers working out of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

Arab intelligence sources said the counterintelligence sweeps in Tehran and Beirut were connected.

Iranian intelligence, particularly the intelligence arm of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has long worked hand-in-hand with Hezbollah’s security wing, widely considered to be one of the most effective counterintelligence outfits in the Middle East.

Hezbollah, with Iranian technical help, has been able to electronically penetrate the surveillance systems of the spy drones Israel has been deploying over Lebanon for the last decade or so — a possible link to the RQ-170 debacle.

These setbacks have been grudgingly confirmed by U.S. officials, which Abedin notes, “is suggestive of a major American intelligence defeat, if not a full-blown disaster.”

“The exposure of the agents in Lebanon was apparently due to extremely poor tradecraft on the part of the CIA officers running the operations,” said former CIA official Philip Giraldi, “while the Iranian roll-up was due to badly conceived and insecure Internet communications that were identified by the Iranian security services.”

Last January, Tehran said it had broken a spy ring run by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.

It has been widely blamed for the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists and several bombings, including a military base in November in which dozens of Iranian Shehab ballistic missiles were supposedly blown up.

Abedin says the Iran November roundup of alleged CIA spies indicates that “the CIA is operating a lower threshold of quality control in terms of agent recruitment and managed.

“Second, there are signs that MOIS is moving steadily in the direction of making Iran a forbidding space for hostile foreign intelligence services.”

There have been suggestions that the 30-strong CIA ring was betrayed by an Iranian student who’d been approached by a quasi-academic institution in Malaysia offering grants and scholarships.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi indicated most of the suspects were junior scientists or students who traveled abroad frequently.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/12/22/Irans-spies-score-stunning-achievements/UPI-41431324572626/.

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Hidden victims of Iraq conflict: Women expect little change for better

2011-12-21

By Amelie Herenstein – BAGHDAD

Women remain victims of violence, trafficking, forced marriage at young age, kidnapping for confessional, criminal reasons.

With US forces having completed their pullout, Iraqis are hopeful their country will regain its lofty status in the Arab world, but one group expects little to change for the better: women.

Until the 1980s, Iraqi women were widely considered to have more rights than their counterparts across the Middle East, but they have suffered in the face of brutal violence, Islamic extremism, and a run-down education system.

“It has been a very bad regression,” said Nada Ibrahim, an MP belonging to the secular mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya party, adding that women have paid a heavy price in recent years.

Along with the increase in violence harming their own physical security, it has also resulted in husbands and sons being imprisoned, conscripted into militias or insurgent groups, or killed.

As a result of those factors, as well as the decades of unrest Iraq has suffered — including the 1980-88 war with Iran, the 1991 Gulf War, and the 2003 US-led invasion that unleashed brutal bloodshed — there are more than one million widows and female heads of households in Iraq.

Before the Gulf War and the embargo that followed, Iraqi women enjoyed strong protection and opportunities compared with the rest of the region, according to both Human Rights Watch and the United Nations.

HRW notes that, after coming to power in 1968, the Baath Party, which now-executed leader Saddam Hussein would eventually lead, “promulgated laws specifically aimed at improving the status of women in both the public and private spheres.”

It guaranteed equal rights for women, mandated primary education, and passed labor and employment laws that improved women’s status in the workplace.

But the 1991 war and the ensuing years of sanctions, followed by the violence triggered by the 2003 invasion, eroded those freedoms.

The overall level of violence in Iraq has declined since its peak in 2006-2007, but women remain victims of violence, trafficking, forced marriage at a young age, and kidnapping for confessional or criminal reasons, according to non-governmental organizations.

When the US overthrew Saddam after the invasion, Ibrahim noted, they had good intentions with regards to improving women’s rights, but Iraqis were reticent to take them on board because the American forces “were invaders”.

“People were against them because all the ideas that came from the Americans, they did not like them,” she said.

A UN report issued this year notes that after 2003, “women’s rights and gender equality became symbolic issues for Iraq’s new national agenda”.

“However, as the overall situation in Iraq began to deteriorate after the invasion, the focus on women was lost amidst the violence and overall challenges faced by the country.”

Safia al-Souhail, an MP who ran in March 2010 elections on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law slate but has since defected and is now an independent, said US forces made some progress, but did not do enough in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.

“They were always giving excuses that our society would not accept it,” she said. “Our society is still wondering why the Americans did not support women leaders who were recognized by the Iraqi people.”

She lamented that Maliki had completed a recent official visit to Washington without a single woman in his delegation, describing it as a “shame on Iraq”.

Indeed, only one woman sits in Maliki’s national unity cabinet, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, the minister of state for women’s affairs.

“Yes, women have experienced conflict situations, war and terrorism, but security is getting better in Iraq, and based on that, the situation for women will also improve,” Zaidi said.

But she has said that violence is not the only threat to women’s rights, noting last month that one in five Iraqi women is subjected to either physical or psychological abuse, often inflicted by family members.

“One-fifth of Iraqi women are subjected to two types of violence, physical and psychological, constituting a very serious danger to the family and society,” Zaidi told a conference on fighting violence against women in November.

Anou Borrey, senior gender adviser at the United Nations Development Program, remains hopeful, despite the uncertainty over Iraq’s stability after the US military’s withdrawal from Iraq, completed at the weekend.

“There have been discussions about a possible increase in violence, but there’s also an understanding of the rule of law, and that people will get punished should women be harassed or hurt or violated,” she said.

Borrey added: “I think women are getting more and more organized, they recognize they have potential, they also know they have rights.”

In the end, though, Ibrahim said, the responsibility for improving women’s rights fell to women themselves.

“The US did nothing for the women in the country when they were here,” she said. “I think the struggles of women’s rights activists, and strong advocates for women’s rights, will change the situation in the country.”

“It is with Iraqi women that we will change things,” she said.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=49604.

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Iraq throws open doors to US firms as army exits

Washington (AFP)
Dec 13, 2011

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued an open invitation for US firms to help rebuild Iraq on Tuesday, as his oil-rich nation closes the door on a nearly nine-year American military presence.

Hailing a new phase in the country’s history, Maliki declared the long war-scarred nation was ready to build a new economy that held “limitless” opportunities for US firms.

“It is not now the generals but the businessmen and the corporations that are at the forefront” of Iraq’s future, he told a business gathering just steps from the White House.

“Circumstances have improved because of better security,” said Maliki, playing the role of salesman-in-chief for an economy that was ravaged by authoritarian rule and multilateral sanctions even before the war began in 2003.

“We are not satisfied with the number of US corporations in Iraq,” he added. “All sectors of the economy are there, open for business for American business.”

Oil is at the top of that list of sectors.

With massive proven reserves of 115 billion barrels of oil, the fourth largest in the world — much of it untapped — foreign oil companies are girding to return to the country.

Output today is around 2.5 million barrels per day, but could be nearly doubled by 2016 according to oil cartel OPEC.

But a political tug-of-war between the semi-autonomous Kurdish north and Baghdad has stalled efforts to create a new law governing the sector for the last three years.

While many companies, including ExxonMobil, have piled into Iraq despite the absence of a clear regulatory framework, there has often been confusion about their legal status.

Crafting such a law that makes the most of the country’s resources, while attracting knowledgeable and deep-pocketed foreign firms, will be essential to putting the country on a sound footing.

Oil exports already account for around two thirds of Iraq gross domestic product, but actual revenues could be increased dramatically if production can be ramped up and if an estimated $100 billion of funds to rebuild the oil sector can be found.

Maliki gave little indication that a deal on the so-called hydrocarbons law was imminent, but said, “we do need a great package of new laws.”

On Monday Maliki held talks with US President Barack Obama in an attempt to create a new paradigm in relations that have frequently been overshadowed by Iraq’s descent into civil war and fierce divisions in the United States over the war’s prosecution.

Source: Energy-Daily.
Link: http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Iraq_throws_open_doors_to_US_firms_as_army_exits_999.html.

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Iraq’s weak ‘partners’ deal of Green Zone government crumbles

2011-12-18

By Salam Faraj – BAGHDAD

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on lawmakers on Sunday to withdraw confidence from one of his deputies, as the country’s political crisis deepened as US forces completed their withdrawal.

Maliki’s push for the ouster of Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni Arab who described him on television as “worse than Saddam Hussein”, came a day after the deputy prime minister’s Iraqiya bloc said it was boycotting parliament in protest at the premier’s alleged centralization of power.

The latest moves come with the US military having completed its withdrawal from Iraq on Sunday morning, nearly nine years after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam from power.

“The prime minister sent an official letter to parliament, asking it to withdraw its confidence in Saleh al-Mutlak after his recent statements,” Ali Mussawi, media adviser to Maliki, said.

Mutlak, who had been accused of being a supporter of Saddam’s outlawed Baath party in the run-up to March 2010 elections that he was barred from standing in, told CNN on Tuesday that Washington was leaving Iraq “with a dictator”.

And in a separate interview with his own Babiliyah satellite television channel, Mutlak charged: “Maliki is worse than Saddam Hussein, because the latter was a builder, but Maliki has done absolutely nothing.”

Meanwhile, security officials said at least two guards of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also a Sunni Arab and an Iraqiya member, were arrested in connection with a November 28 attack on parliament.

Local Iraqi news outlets reported that an arrest warrant had also been issued for Hashemi himself, but judicial and police officials declined to comment.

On Saturday, Iraqiya, which emerged as the largest bloc in March 2010 elections and has 82 lawmakers in the 325-seat parliament, issued a statement saying it was suspending its participation in parliament to protest what it said was Maliki’s centralization of decision-making.

“We can no longer remain silent about the way the state is being administered, as it is plunging the country into the unknown,” it said.

Iraqiya, which garnered most of its support from Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, was out-maneuvered for the premiership by Maliki, who, after finishing second in the elections, struck a deal with another grouping to broaden his power base and lead the government.

The bloc, which controls nine ministerial posts, has not pulled out of Iraq’s national unity government, however.

Iraqiya said the government’s actions, which it claimed included stationing tanks and armored vehicles outside the houses of its leaders in the heavily-fortified Green Zone, “drives people to want to rid themselves of the strong arm of central power as far as the constitution allows them to.”

Provincial authorities in three Sunni-majority provinces north and west of Baghdad have all moved take up the option of similar autonomy to that enjoyed by Kurds in north Iraq, drawing an angry response from Maliki.

Key political issues such as reform of the mostly state-run economy and a law to regulate and organize the lucrative energy sector also remain unresolved, to say nothing of an explosive territorial dispute between Arabs and Kurds centered around the northern oil hub of Kirkuk.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=49557.

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Qatar embraces Wahhabism to strengthen regional influence

2011-12-18

Qatari Emir inaugurates ‘Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab’ Mosque in Doha, vows to spread ‘teachings of Islam in whole world’.

DOHA – Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani inaugurated on Friday the “Imam Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab” Mosque in Doha.

During the opening, Sheikh Hamad reaffirmed his commitment to spare no efforts to carry the message and spread the teachings of Islam in the whole world, noting that the Muslim nation is now in need of renewal and inspiration of the experience of Wahhab’s da’wah (call) while keeping pace with the era and its developments.

The inauguration started with a recitation of verses from the Holy Qur’an followed by the screening of a documentary on the mosque.

Ibn Abdul Wahab (1703-1792) preached a return to “pure Islam” and called for purging Islam of what he considered “impurities and negative innovations.”

In his teachings, he urged Muslims to uphold only “the original principles of Islam as typified by the Salaf” and to reject “corruptions introduced by bidah (negative innovations and heresy). The scholar emphasized that there could be no intercession between God and worshipers.

Located in the Jubailat district of Doha the newly-built State Mosque will be formally opened for prayers on Friday.

Situated on the northern side in the central part of Doha city, it overlooks the Qatar Sports Club.

The mosque covers a total area of 175,164 sq.m. As many as 11,000 men can offer prayers in the air-conditioned central hall of the mosque and the adjacent special enclosure is spacious enough for 1200 women.

Ideologically, in recent years Qatar, which like Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi, has assisted Islamic movements in the Arab world.

Islamists, of course, have proved to be major players so far, and with influential clerics such as Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi theologising for years on al-Jazeera’s screens, Qatar has since long had a direct channel to most Islamist parties in the region.

Rather than imposing an Islamist agenda on the region, as some have accused it, Qatar is taking advantage of the clout it has built with them over the years to position itself as a leading interlocutor.

Equally at ease with Islamist and secular parties, with liberals and conservatives, Qatar is reaping what it sowed and patiently nurtured years ago, giving it enough political capital on top of its formidable wealth to influence the region.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=49555.

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Kuwait frees detainees in return for vow not to protest again

2011-12-18

Authorities release 20 stateless people arrested two days earlier during protest that was forcefully dispersed by riot police.

KUWAIT CITY – Kuwait authorities on Sunday released 20 stateless people arrested two days earlier during a protest that was forcefully dispersed by riot police, a judicial source said.

The release came as another group of the so-called bidoon went on trial in connection with similar protests earlier this year and were charged with illegal assembly with the intent to commit crimes.

The men who were freed had been arrested on Friday when hundreds of stateless people, known as bidoon, demonstrated in Jahra area northwest of Kuwait City demanding citizenship and other basic rights.

Two teenagers were among those freed after they were made to pledge that they will not take part in protests in the future, the source said on condition of anonymity.

The 17 bidoons denied any wrongdoing at the start of their trial, during which they were also charged with assaulting security forces.

They are among a group of 52 stateless people facing trial on similar charges in Kuwait.

A first group of 31 stateless people were charged last Monday with illegal assembly and assaulting police during demonstrations earlier this year to demand citizenship and other basic rights.

Mubarak al-Shemmari, one of several lawyers who volunteered to defend them, said last week that the defendants face between three to five years in jail if the charges were proven.

He however described the whole case as “politically motivated” because no crime was committed and authorities could not provide any substantial evidence.

A trial for four others started on Wednesday.

All of the defendants are free on bail.

Under Kuwaiti law, only citizens have the right to hold public gatherings.

A number of Kuwaiti political groups and activists called for a gathering in Jahra on Monday in support of stateless people.

The interior ministry threatened that it will not allow such demonstrations to proceed anywhere in the kingdom.

Former MPs and political groups have warned the government against what they called “repressive” measures against bidoons and urged a peaceful and humanitarian solution to their problem.

Kuwait launched a crackdown on the estimated 100,000 bidoons in 2000, depriving them of health care, education and jobs.

The stateless claim they are Kuwaiti citizens who have been denied nationality. The Kuwaiti government meanwhile insists that a large number of them hold nationalities of other countries.

The wealthy Gulf state, which considers bidoons illegal residents, has said that it is studying the issue of the stateless carefully and is prepared to grant citizenship to those deemed deserving.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=49568.

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Iraqis joyful as US leaves but wary of leaders

Baghdad (AFP)
Dec 18, 2011

Iraqis expressed joy at the news that US forces had completed their withdrawal on Sunday, but voiced doubts their politicians could come together to rebuild the violence-wracked country.

Their lack of confidence in their leaders was highlighted by renewed political crisis as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sought to oust one of his deputies and the main Sunni-backed political bloc boycotted parliament, just as the final US troops crossed into Kuwait to end the nearly nine-year war.

As news of the pullout reached Baghdad, the streets of the Iraqi capital and other major cities were little changed, with heavy commuter traffic snaking through police and military checkpoints.

“I am proud — all Iraqis should be proud, like all those whose country has been freed,” 26-year-old baker Safa, who did not want to give his real name, told AFP in Baghdad’s Karrada commercial district. “The Americans toppled Saddam, but our lives since then have gone backward.

“The situation will only improve if politicians work on fighting corruption and adopt reforms,” he added.

Sunday’s completion of the withdrawal brings to a close nearly nine years of American military involvement in Iraq, beginning with a “shock and awe” campaign in 2003 to oust Saddam, which many in Washington believed would see US forces conclude their mission in Iraq within months.

But key decisions taken at the time have since been widely criticized as fueling what became a bloody Sunni Arab insurgency, eventually sparking devastating communal violence.

“I don’t think we can ever forgive the Americans for what they did to us, from killings to terrorism,” said a 50-year-old mother-of-four who gave her name only as Umm Mohammed, or mother of Mohammed.

“Those people (Americans) think only about themselves, and not about the consequences of their actions.”

More than 100,000 Iraqis have been reported killed in violence since the invasion, according to British NGO Iraq Body Count, and countless others were wounded.

In the mostly Sunni Arab north Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiyah, where Saddam Hussein was last seen publicly before his capture, 60-year-old retiree Mohammed Abdelamir said he felt “freed from the occupation,” referring to US troops as many Iraqis long have, as an occupying force.

“We must all cooperate and work to improve the economy, the society, and begin rebuilding, and not fight because we are seeing that some politicians have already begun putting a stick in the wheel.”

He was referring to signs of unraveling in Iraq’s year-old national unity government which emerged just as US forces completed their withdrawal.

On Sunday, Maliki conveyed an official message to parliament, calling on lawmakers to oust his deputy Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni Arab and member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc.

A day earlier, Iraqiya said it was boycotting parliament in protest at the premier’s alleged centralization of power. It has not, however, withdrawn from the government.

Key political issues such as reform of the mostly state-run economy and a law to regulate and organize the lucrative energy sector also remain unresolved, to say nothing of an explosive territorial dispute between Arabs and Kurds centered around the northern oil hub of Kirkuk.

“Today is a historic day, and our happiness is great,” said Abdul Hussein Hosh, a 59-year-old government employee in the sprawling Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City.

“But what makes us sad is that this occasion came at a time when Iraqiya announced they were withdrawing. … This shouldn’t have happened when the occupier was leaving our country.”

Some observers also fear a return to bloody sectarianism, doubt the strength of Iraq’s political structures, and feel that Maliki has entrenched his power base to the detriment of the country’s minorities.

“Today marks the first day of danger for Iraqis,” said Roudi Slewah, a 25-year-old Christian shop owner in multi-ethnic Kirkuk. “We didn’t want the Americans to stay in Iraq, but the region could explode at any time.

“The danger starts from today,” he said.

Key Iraq bloc boycotts parliament as US quits
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 17, 2011 – A secular bloc which won the most seats in Iraq’s March 2010 vote suspended its participation in parliament on Saturday, sparking a political crisis just days after US forces ended their mission.

The Iraqiya bloc, led by ex-premier Iyad Allawi, walked out of parliament in protest at what it charged was Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s monopolizing of decision-making.

The boycott represents one of Iraq’s most serious political crises, and comes just a day after US forces handed over control of their last remaining base, with virtually all remaining American troops due out of the country in the coming days.

Iraqiya, which garnered most of its support from Iraq’s minority Sunni community, was out-maneuvered for the premiership by Maliki, who despite finishing second in the elections formed a larger coalition in their aftermath.

The bloc, which controls nine ministerial posts, has not, however, pulled out of Iraq’s national unity government.

“We can no longer remain silent about the way the state is being administered, as it is plunging the country into the unknown,” the bloc, which holds 82 seats in the 325-member legislature, said in a statement on Saturday.

“The Iraqiya bloc is suspending its participation in parliament from Saturday and calling for the opening of a round-table to find a solution that will support democracy and civil institutions.”

It continued: “Iraqiya rejects this system of policy-making that consists of ignoring other political parties, politicizing the justice system, exercising sole power and violating the law.”

The bloc accused Maliki’s government of “placing tanks and armored cars in front of the homes of Iraqiya leaders in the Green Zone,” the heavily-fortified home to leading politicians and ministers, as well as the US and British embassies, in central Baghdad.

“This sort of behavior drives people to want to rid themselves of the strong arm of central power as far as the constitution allows them to,” it said, referring to moves by majority Sunni Arab provinces to take up the option of similar autonomy to that enjoyed by the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Votes in favor of autonomy by provincial authorities in Anbar, Salaheddin and Diyala have drawn an angry response from Maliki.

When the Salaheddin provincial council voted in October to push for autonomy, Maliki retorted that it “does not have the right to announce this,” citing constitutional procedures that were not followed.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, another ex-premier and head of Maliki’s pan-Shiite National Alliance bloc, criticized Iraqiya’s walkout and accused unspecified Sunni parties of using federalism, which they were hostile to when the constitution was approved in 2005, “to divide the country into regions”.

“We are getting bogged down in a marginal fight instead of preparing ourselves for the withdrawal of foreign forces,” Jaafari said in parliament.

The bloc loyal to anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr offered to undertake a mediating role to resolve the dispute.

“Taking that sort of decision a day after the end of the US occupation is going to light the fire of division and we will do all can to put it out,” Baha al-Araji, the leader of the movement’s parliamentary bloc, said in a statement.

An independent lawmaker from the autonomous Kurdish region, Mahmud Othman, urged Maliki “to negotiate with all political parties so that Iraqiya does not feel marginalized.”

But he also criticized Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, an Iraqiya member, for his rhetoric in a recent television interview, when he compared Maliki to a dictator worse than Saddam Hussein.

“This is not the way to speak of the head of government,” Othman said.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iraqis_joyful_as_US_leaves_but_wary_of_leaders_999.html.

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