Thursday, July 05, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 5th edition

July 5, 2003: US soldiers with bayonet-fixed rifles guard the entrance to the U.S. administration office in Baghdad as Iraqis protest the arrest of former Parliament Speaker Hamadi

July 5, 2002:

White House downplays Iraq invasion report

The Bush administration refused comment Friday on a reported preliminary plan to attack Iraq, saying it never comments on military plans.

"We don't comment on military plans or military planning," a senior administration official told CNN.

According to a report in Friday's New York Times, the U.S. military has put together a preliminary planning document that calls for air, land and sea-based forces to attack Iraq. The assault would involve tens of thousands of U.S. Marines and soldiers, the newspaper reported.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed as speculation any notion the report is significant.

"The Pentagon engages in contingency planning of all types all around the world," Fleischer told reporters en route to Kennebunkport, Maine, where President Bush is spending the weekend with his family.

Bush has made it clear he is keeping all options on the table, including a military assault, to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.

"Our position with respect to Iraq and the Iraqi regime is well known," a senior aide said.

About three weeks ago, Bush repeated he had no war plans on his desk. The senior aide said that remains the case today.

Read the rest at CNN

July 5, 2003:

Iraqis wait for US troops to leave

A group of doctors sits round a table in an air-conditioned side room of Balad's only hospital, enjoying a late lunch and respite from the sweltering summer heat. These days, some of their sickest patients are whisked off to the US air force base which has sprung up a few miles away. "They've been very co-operative. They established a military hospital there and help us," says Mustafa Mahmoud, 30, an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Medicine was taught in English in the best Iraqi universities, and many doctors speak it well. So it was natural that professional contacts with their uniformed new neighbours turned into social get-togethers. The Iraqi doctors occasionally ate at the base and invited the Americans to restaurants in town.

Not any more. "We can't invite them to eat with us now. People wouldn't like it, and they might accuse us of being collaborators," says an older doctor at the end of the table. "I won't give you my name because I'm afraid to. I'm an Arab and I will not accept disrespect. Tell them please. The American people must know that Iraqis no longer trust America".

None of his colleagues matches this unexpected vehemence, but there is no dissent from his views. The doctors' attitudes changed three weeks ago, they explain, when the US army conducted an offensive north of the town, allegedly to hunt down armed remnants from Saddam Hussein's regime but killing and wounding several farmers. They were rushed to the hospital for treatment.

Operation Desert Scorpion, as it was called, gave a huge push to a mounting wave of quiet disappointment here. "It's not true that only pro-Saddam people are attacking US troops. I don't think it's only that. When a man has lost everything, his job, electricity, fuel, and water, he may develop feelings against them," says Dr Mahmoud. "The US response to any attack is very violent, even brutal."

Yesterday's killing by US troops of 11 Iraqis who tried to ambush a military patrol near Balad will harden such attitudes in the town...

"The old police left during the war, but the mosques and tribal leaders organised security volunteers, and we had almost no looting," he says before leading the way upstairs to a cell where he claims he was tortured as a suspected Shia militant for a week last year.

The tribal chiefs or sheikhs urged people not to take revenge on the town's Ba'athist leaders, and none did, he says. A few Ba'athists still live locally.

He is a veteran of the war with Iran, and this military experience was his main qualification to be a policeman, at least on a temporary basis. "We got a one-off payment of $50, but have had no regular wages," he says. Life is hard for him, his wife and their children. Electricity supplies were better a year ago, and the water is about the same.

The big problem is economic. Before the war the old Iraqi government handed out three months' rations under the Oil for Food programme but Mr Mohammed says he has had nothing from the new authorities.

"Our living situation was better a year ago. The US and the UK have toppled Saddam but we want them to fulfil their promises and provide jobs and an economy."

The town used to survive mainly on catering for tens of thousands of pilgrims who visited a famous Shi'ite shrine nearby. In the last years of Saddam's rule, when life in Iraq generally improved, according to several people in Balad, the government organised buses for the pilgrims.

The war stopped the pilgrimages and since then lack of funds, plus poor security on the roads, has kept numbers down. The only industry, a factory making tomato paste, has lost a huge amount of business thanks to the opening of Iraq's borders to cheaper imports...

Few people in Balad want the Americans to leave now, but many say they should go when an Iraqi government is in place, which they hope will be soon. Dr Mahmoud says people are too impatient, though he also feels disappointed. "Iraqis thought the Americans would provide protection but when looting got out of control they realised they had come to oust the regime and not to protect democracy.

"In the past we had a bad system. Now we have none," says another angry doctor who also does not want to give his name. "The United States has moved Iraqis from one extreme to another, from excessive control to chaos."

Read the rest at the Guardian

July 5, 2004:

Iraq regime ponders downgrading Bremer legacy

Less than one week after receiving formal sovereignty, Iraq's interim government is seeking to regain powers that the disbanded US-led occupation had stripped away during the 13 months of its rule.

At stake is whether the 129 decrees by the former US chief administrator Paul Bremer, who left on June 28, are "the law of the land" or can be disregarded by the new government.

The first test cases are likely to be a series of commissioners and inspectors-general appointed by the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), who were designed to curb the powers of the ministries and, say Iraqi officials, give the CPA life after death.

Mohammad Ali Al-Hakim, Iraq's new communications minister, has already taken exception to Mr Bremer's Order 65 establishing the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (ICMC), whose CPA-appointed commissioners are authorised to issue mobile, television and radio licences and safeguard the independence of the airwaves from government control.

"Order 65 is definitely not a law," Mr Hakim told the Financial Times yesterday. "The [Iraqi] government does not recognise them [Mr Bremer's decrees] as the law of the land, but as orders. We are not mandated to follow them line-for-line."

That could threaten the carefully crafted legal edifice that the CPA hoped would be its lasting legacy in Iraq, providing for the creation of democratic institutions and impeding the return of dictatorship.

Some of the CPA decrees were more significant than others. Among the regulations, almost a quarter of which were rushed through in the last four weeks of Mr Bremer's rule, is a new traffic code that stipulates the use of a car horn in "emergency conditions only" and requires a driver to "hold the steering wheel with both hands".

But Order 65 will in effect determine whether the interim government can control media licensing. Mr Hakim insisted this was a function of government, and licensing authority should remain with his ministry during the interim period until parliamentary elections are held.

"Until the ICMC has its own charter and board of directors and is accountable to parliament, responsibility [for licensing] should rest with the ministry," he said, stressing that in principle an independent regulator was "a great democratic idea".

Coalition officials insisted that Order 65 remained intact, but warned that a faction had emerged in the interim government, which was "so concerned with security they want to take over the levers of everything".

To keep its decrees intact, the coalition expects to be able to bring financial pressure to bear on the government. A coalition official warned that if the Iraqi authorities sought to erode the commissions' powers, Iraq stood to forfeit funding and resources, including $25m (€20m, £14m) of equipment earmarked for the ICMC.

"If they do away with the ICMC, they can kiss goodbye to any European funds for the media, and I would suspect considerable US resources could be withheld," he said.

Read the rest at Financial Times

July 5, 2005:

Tensions in Kirkuk Could Lead to Fighting Throughout Iraq

Hamid Hwakram, at work building his new home. About a year ago, Hwakram, his wife and eight children returned here to the village of Topzawa, outside the city of Kirkuk.

Like thousands of other Kurds, they were driven from their homes in 1987 in a sweep by Saddam Hussein's forces. It was part of Saddam's policy of "Arabization," designed to shift the ethnic balance in Kurdish strongholds by bringing Arabs in. More than a quarter million Kurds were forced from their homes across the region.

The reason why lies just beyond the village: Kirkuk's oil refinery, the headquarters for the oil industry in northern Iraq that Saddam Hussein didn't want in Kurdish hands. To ensure that, Saddam redrew Iraq's internal boundaries, to remove Kirkuk from the Kurdish region and link it with the Arab south.

Hwakram and his family are among tens of thousands of Kurds to return to the region since Saddam Hussein was removed from power two years ago. And many have returned to tense relations with their Arab neighbors.

Says Hwakram, "I hope to God no one can come kick us out from our land again."

Others have less to return home to -- often living in places such as a soccer stadium turned into a refugee camp. Officials admit they have limited resources to help the returning population -- and anger is rising.

"There's no electricity, there's no water, there's no one in charge visiting us to ask what we need," says one man. "There are no services. I was forced out in 1988 and since I've come back, no one does anything to help me. For my children and me, this is not a life. I've got just 100 dinars left. This is just not a life."

Officials admit those conditions have fueled a potentially explosive situation between Kirkuk's Kurds and Arabs. But politician Mahmoud Othman says it is possible to normalize relations between the two groups.

"We have the remnants of 35 years of very concentrating ethnic policy, and that has created a lot of problems. Saddam Hussein did all those to create problems between. So I think we need some time, we need some wisdom, we need some concessions."

The Kurdish region is ethnically, culturally and geographic distinct from southern Iraq. To many, it is the faultline upon which national unity in post-Saddam Iraq lies -- ethnic fighting here could ignite the rest of the country. Kirkuk and its oil fields are the faultline's weakest points.

By the time Saddam Hussein's government collapsed in 2003, Kurds had already enjoyed 12 years of self-rule thanks to a no-fly zone over the region imposed by the U.S. after the 1991 Gulf War.

And the Kurds have gotten used to it. Many want independence, and see the decision to remain with Iraq as a political compromise. But in return, Kurds want to retain a high degree of autonomy through a federalist constitution. And they want Kirkuk back.

Adnan Mufti, the speaker of the Kurdish regional parliament insists, it's not about the oil. "Historically, Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan, and the majority are Kurd, and they suffered too much. Thousands and thousands of them have suffered and been killed during the dictatorship. So, it is very normal that we are looking for the right of Kirkuk people, and the right to return back to Kurdistan area. But the oil, it is no problem. Kurdistan is rich. All Iraq is rich. Oil is everywhere."

In Topzawa, Hamid Hwakram has got a long memory for the crimes committed against Kurds, and little sympathy for the concerns of his Arab neighbors in Kirkuk. "Why should I feel sorry for them when, 20 years ago, we were the ones forced from our villages?"

Kirkuk's and possibly Iraq's future future may hinge on getting past that anger.

From VOA

July 5, 2006:

Army charges officer for refusing to fight in Iraq

The U.S. Army filed three charges on Wednesday against an officer who refused to fight in Iraq due to objections over the legality of the war.

First Lt. Ehren Watada, who supporters say is the first commissioned U.S. officer to publicly refuse to serve in Iraq and face a military court, remained at Fort Lewis base in Washington state when his unit shipped out to Iraq on June 22.

Watada called the war and U.S. occupation of Iraq "illegal" and said participation would make him a party to war crimes.

In a statement, the Army said it had charged Watada, 28, with missing movement, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer.

"Officers are held to a high moral and legal standard. Acts contrary to this standard may be tried by court-martial," said the Army statement.

If found guilty of all charges, Watada could face several years in confinement, dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay, according to the Army. The missing movement charge carries the heaviest punishment of confinement of up to two years.

Watada's lawyer said he expected the missing movement charge, but was somewhat surprised by the decision to charge the officer with contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer, because it raises free speech issues.

"What he said about the war and the way the war began and the misrepresentations by the Bush administration are all true. Not only does he have a right to make those statements, he has an obligation to make those statements," said Eric Seitz, Watada's Honolulu-based attorney.

"The reasons why they are going after him for the things he said is because they want to muzzle him," Seitz said.

Watada's objection to the war sparked rallies in support and protest near Fort Lewis, Seattle and in other U.S. cities.

Watada, who had said he did not apply for conscientious objector status because he isn't against war in general, now faces a pre-trial investigation and will continue to work at the base, Army officials said.

He first attempted to resign in protest over the war in January, but the Army refused to accept his resignation, according to his supporters. Watada has said he would be willing to serve in Afghanistan, but not Iraq.

Read the rest at the Washington Post