Iraq Occupation Focus
Newsletter No. 26
September 21, 2005
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A deadly week in Iraq
The Observer reports (September 18th): In a series of bomb explosions and shootings on Wednesday 14th September, 150 people lost their lives and 500 were injured. This was followed by Saturday's toll of 30 people killed and 38 wounded in a car bombing in Nahrwan, around 30 miles from Baghdad. Earlier in the day police in Baghdad found nine bodies shot in the head and chest in three separate incidents, while in Baquba one man died and 17 people, including three Iraqi soldiers, were wounded when a car driven by a suicide bomber exploded near an Iraqi army patrol.
Following a week in which Zarqawi 'declared total war' on the country's Shia majority after the co-ordinated series of attacks that began in Kadhimiya, British and American officials have admitted that there is growing evidence that al-Qaeda is strengthening its grip in Iraq.
In the most alarming development, officials concede that for the first time that a significant number of suicide attacks in the country are now being undertaken by Iraqis.
'What is striking,' said one Whitehall analyst, 'is that a year ago al-Qaeda would have extravaganzas and then run out of suicide bombers, so there would be a lull. We had 11 on a single day last week.'
Iraqis flee as fears mount of more U.S.led strikes on cities
Azzaman reports (September 15): Hundreds of people are fleeing restive cities in the centre and western parts of Iraq following the massive U.S. led attack on Tal Afar which has led to the displacement of tens of thousands. Many people in Samarra, 120 kilometers north of Baghdad, are reported to be leaving, fearing an imminent U.S. led assault. Long queues of cars are forming at military checkpoints waiting for permission to leave the city.
The attack on Tal Afar, described as the most ferocious after last years assault on Falluja, has resulted in massive relocation and displacement of nearly 200,000 people. It is the second U.S. attack on Tal Afar in less than a year. U.S. troops had moved on Samarra last year but the city is currently under the control of anti-U.S. groups.
The attack on Tal Afar has exacerbated conditions in the nearby Mosul, Iraqs third largest city, where anti-U.S. forces have increased attacks and operations in the past few days. Officials in the province of Salahuddin, of which Samarra is a major district, have voiced concern over governments plans to use military force to subdue the city. Salahuddins deputy Abdulla Jabbara, said the provincial authorities and "the people of Salahuddin categorically reject carrying out an attack on Samarra."
"Previous attacks by U.S. and Iraqi forces on the city have not led to the imposition of security. On the contrary conditions have worsened." Residents say Samarra is in "deplorable conditions" with no functioning public services and absence of law and order. Jabbara said the withdrawal of U.S. and Iraqi forces is the only solution to the plight of Samarras 200,000 people.
Displaced Tal Afar families living rough
IRIN report (17 September): The number of families who have fled their homes in Tal Afar, northern Iraq, due to ongoing fighting between Coalition forces and insurgents has risen to about 5,000, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) said.
"We are talking 20-25,000 people," Jette Soerensen, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva (ICRC) told IRIN on Saturday. The IRCS has set up camps around Tal Afar to host the displaced families. Hundreds of those displaced could be seen in the improvised camps, with the children suffering in the hot weather and without access to clean and potable water.
A spokesperson for the Coalition forces had said earlier food and medical assistance could not be delivered to the city yet.
Tal Afar offensive
Al-Jazzeera report (September 13th): Officials said the toll in three days of fighting in Tal Afar totalled 200 fighters. Seven Iraqi soldiers and six civilians also died, while the US military said no American soldiers were hurt.
Tal Afars prominent residents condemned the behaviour of Iraqi police commandos who were sent from Baghdad and caused much damage to the city, Iraqi journalist Nasir Ali said. The commandos looted and burnt down the homes of those who fled the city, Ali added. These commandos also randomly arrested young and old Sunni Iraqis. Tribal leaders and religious scholars were among those detained. The police officers also arrested displaced Iraqis who were staying in tents, reported the journalist.
Dahr Jamail reports (September 15th): For the last several days at least 6,000 US soldiers along with approximately 4,000 Iraqi soldiers (Read-members of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia Badr Army) were laying siege to the city of Tal-Afar, near Mosul in northern Iraq. It is estimated that 90% of the residents have left their homes because of the violence and destruction of the siege, as well as to avoid home raids and snipers.
In Tal-Afar, the propaganda spewed by the US military (and Iraqi "government") was that the operation was to fight terrorists coming into Iraq via Syria. If that were true, why did the US military remove troops from the border with Syria who were supposed to be preventing infiltration by foreign fighters? Instead of guarding the border, as they should, they engaged in the operation against Iraqi Sunni Turkmen. “Correspondents with Azzaman media in Tal-Afar miraculously made it into the city and reported that residents are disputing reports that US and Iraqi soldiers have killed scores of "insurgents."
Like Fallujah, these residents of Tal-Afar are reporting that most of the people killed were civilians who had no place to go so they chose to stay in their homes. People also stayed because they feared persecution at the hands of the Peshmerga and Badr Army.
I recently interviewed an Iraqi man from that area at the Peoples UN conference in Perugia, Italy. He told me, "Most people in Mosul and Tal-Afar would rather be detained by the Americans now, because they know if Iraqi soldiers or Iraqi police detain them they will be tortured severely, and possibly killed. This gives you an idea of how bad it is with these Iraqi soldiers, even in the shadow of what the Americans are still doing in Abu Ghraib."
Insurgents Assert Control Over Town Near Syrian Border
Washington Post reports (September 5th): Fighters loyal to militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi asserted control over the key Iraqi border town of Qaim on Monday Sept 5th, killing U.S. collaborators and enforcing strict Islamic law. Residents said the foreign-led fighters controlled by Zarqawi, a Jordanian, apparently had been exerting authority in the town, within two miles of the Syrian border, since at least the start of the weekend. A sign posted at an entrance to the town declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim."
Fighters loyal to Zarqawi openly patrolled the streets of Qaim with AK-47 assault rifles and grenade launchers. The fighters included both Iraqis and foreigners, including Afghans. They draped rooftops with Zarqawis al Qaeda in Iraq banner of a yellow sun against a black background.
Al-Jazeera reports (September 18th): Angry Shia militiamen took to the streets of the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Sunday after British soldiers and police arrested their local leader, Iraqi army and Shia officials said. Dozens of militiamen from Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadrs outlawed Jaish al-Mahdi (al-Mahdi Army) gathered around the local al-Sadr office.
Iraqi army officials said British soldiers and riot police on Saturday raided the home of local al-Mahdi Army leader Shaikh Ahmad al-Fartusi, arresting him, his brother and an unidentified third man. There has recently been an increase in attacks against British and coalition forces in the area where three British soldiers have been killed in bomb explosions.
Annan: Iraqis right to life in peril
Al-Jazeera reports (September 16th): The right to life of civilians in Iraq has fallen victim to a combination of terrorism, violent crime and military excesses, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says. In addition to attacks aimed at US-led forces, there was continuing concern about military operations by the US-led forces in Iraq that have resulted in "civilian deaths, injury and displacement caused by excessive or apparent indiscriminate use of force", he said.
The Iraqi security forces, which often lack training on how to treat persons and property, also use force to excess and conduct mass arrests "often without attention to due process". First and second-hand reports from Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdish areas in northern Iraq "consistently point to the systematic use of torture during interrogations at police stations and within other premises, in many instances belonging to the Ministry of Interior", the report said.
Security Contractors in Iraq Under Scrutiny After Shootings
Washington Post reports (September 10th): Recent shootings of Iraqi civilians, allegedly involving the legion of U.S., British and other foreign security contractors operating in the country, are drawing increasing concern from Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders. "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. Theres no authority over them, so you cant come down on them hard when they escalate force," said Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division.
The shootings became so frequent in Baghdad this summer that Horst started keeping his own count. Between May and July, he said, he tracked at least a dozen shootings of civilians by contractors, in which six Iraqis were killed and three wounded.
Employees of private security firms are immune from prosecution in Iraq, under an order adopted into law last year by Iraqs interim government.
There are now at least 36 foreign security companies - most from the United States and Britain - and 16 Iraqi firms registered to operate here, according to the Interior Ministry, and as many as 50 more are believed to have set up shop illegally.
Iraqi farmer describes assault by seven British soldiers
The Guardian reports (September 14): An Iraqi farmer told a UK court martial how up to seven British soldiers had beaten him unconscious in an "angry, nervous" rage. Athar Finjan Saddam Abdullah was giving evidence against seven members of the Parachute Regiment accused of murdering another man caught up in the alleged assault.
Mr Saddam Abdullah told the hearing he was working as a taxi driver after hostilities ceased in May 2003 when he and his friend, Nadhem Abdullah, 18, were stopped with others by a British military patrol. As he prepared to hand over the vehicles registration documents, he said he was attacked by the soldiers whom he had seen chasing other cars across the desert moments before. Before he could explain who he was, he said, he and his companion were beaten to the floor and left unconscious. Mr Abdullah died from head injuries before his family could hire a car to take him to hospital in Basra.
The soldiers from the Third Battalion Parachute Regiment allegedly used their rifle butts, helmets, fists and feet during the attack while the men lay helpless on the ground.
The Times reports (September 14th): An Iraqi farm labourer faced seven British paratroopers across a courtroom yesterday as he described how the angry and nervous soldiers had allegedly knocked him unconscious and murdered his cousin.
Athar Finnijan Saddam told a court martial that they were struck by rifle butts, helmets, fists and feet in an unprovoked attack in the village of al- Ferkah, close to the Iranian border in southern Iraq.
He said that, like him, his cousin was beaten in an unprovoked assault by the soldiers. "They started beating us while we were standing. Then we fell on the ground. After that I didnt know about him and he didnt know about me. They hit me on my forearm, my elbow, my head, my back, all over my body. At first they were beating him on his back and his tummy. After that, he fell. I fell. I dont know what happened next."
Mr Saddam said that he heard a shot fired during the beating. He subsequently learnt that this had killed a dog. He attended the British Military Hospital in Basra for treatment for his injuries. Upon return to the village he found that his Toyota truck had allegedly been damaged by the soldiers after the beating.
Reporters at risk
The Guardian reports (September 12):Tipped off that police had clashed with gunmen in western Baghdad, the Reuters news agency dispatched Haider Kadhem, a cameraman, and Waleed Khaled, a soundman, to the scene. As their car headed down Ghaziliya bridge American troops opened fire, hitting Khaled in the face and the chest, killing him instantly.
By the time relatives and colleagues arrived American armoured vehicles had sealed off the street and Kadhem, slightly wounded from fragments, was under arrest. Having found nothing suspicious the troops allowed the car to be towed away and handed relatives a body bag. One soldier told them not to look too closely at the corpse. "Dont bother. Its not worth it." Other soldiers standing a few feet away joked among themselves.
For Reuters and many other foreign media organisations in Baghdad the August 28 shooting was further evidence that American troops are out of control. Since the 2003 invasion US forces have killed at least 18 media workers in incidents for which no one has been charged or punished. "Whitewashes. There have been no satisfactory investigations that we know of," said Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute (INSI), a Brussels-based advocacy group.
Sergeant Jailed in Iraq Abuse Case
The LA Times reports (September 10th): A California Army National Guard sergeant has been discharged and sentenced to a year in military confinement for abusing detainees in Iraq, authorities said Friday.
Sgt. David Fimon, 26, pleaded guilty to multiple charges during a court-martial in Baghdad.
The counts maltreatment of detainees, conspiracy to commit maltreatment of detainees, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice were heard in a mid-level court called a special court-martial.
The specific allegations have not been disclosed, but investigators have reviewed accusations that soldiers used an electric stun gun to abuse handcuffed and blindfolded detainees, according to a military official.
Iraq rebuilding under threat as US runs out of money
The Guardian reports (September 9th): Key rebuilding projects in Iraq are grinding to a halt because American money is running out and security has diverted funds intended for electricity, water and sanitation, according to US officials.
Plans to overhaul the countrys infrastructure have been downsized, postponed or abandoned because the $24bn (£13bn) budget approved by Congress has been dwarfed by the scale of the task.
Water and sanitation have been particularly badly hit. According to a report published this week by Government Accountability Office, the investigative branch of Congress, $2.6bn has been spent on water projects, half the original budget, after the rest was diverted to security and other uses.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress also said administrative bungling had played a part.
Some areas now get less than four hours of electricity a day, and there has been a surge in cases of dehydration and diarrhoea among children and the elderly. The cost of providing enough electricity for the country by 2010 is put at $20bn.
U.S. quietly quitting some Iraq infrastructure projects
LA Times reports (September 8th): Even though electricity production in Iraq remains below pre-war levels and many communities remain without a safe water supply, the US will halt work on some water and power plants in Iraq because it is running out of money for projects. Less than half of the $18B reconstruction fund has been spent, but in some sectors security costs have eaten much of the budget. One contractor has stopped work on 6 of its 8 water treatment contract.
Pressure grows for troop withdrawal
The Guardian (18 September) reports: Cabinet members yesterday admitted that signs of the breakdown of law and order in British-controlled southern Iraq will place extra pressure on Tony Blair ahead of next week's Labour party conference. ...
Liberal Democrats at Blackpool yesterday restated their demand for a timetable for British withdrawal to be set as soon as possible, even if it means troops leaving before the security situation improves. Although Sir Menzies Campbell, the partys foreign affairs spokesman, has argued that troops may have to stay beyond the end of this year, the partys demand for a pullout has become increasingly explicit. The Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, is expected to make Iraq a substantial feature of his conference address tomorrow.
Labour activists are trying to make Iraq a point of challenge to the leadership at next week's conference in Brighton, but privately are not optimistic. Carol Turner, the Labour CND secretary, said: "A number of constituency parties have put in resolutions linking the London bombings with the invasion of Iraq."
New voices speak out against the war and occupation
Last Wednesday saw Chicago City Council pass a resolution demanding the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. "Chicago is now the largest U.S city to take this stand." On Monday, Church of England bishops issued a report calling for Christian leaders to apologise for the war in Iraq. The bishops fell short of calling for an end to the occupation but were strongly critical of US expansionism and the dangerous illusion[s] of the Christian right. Also on Monday, the Liberal Democrats conference heard the partys foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell reiterate their opposition to the war in Iraq. Campbell said "we must begin to bring this occupation to an end," and called for British troops to be pulled out.
Some unlikely individuals are also starting to turn against the war. Tim Collins the former British army colonel who, on the eve of the invasion in 2003, famously told his troops in the the Royal Irish Regiment that they were launching a war of liberation not conquest wrote a column in last Sundays Observer questioning the point of the war and saying he was naive to have supported it. Even ex-MP Oona King, who lost her Tower Hamlets seat in May due to her support for the war, has begun to change her position saying in an interview published in the Guardian last week that she now regret[s] that we went to war with a country that has shown itself to be incapable of the very basic actions required to deal with post-conflict reconstruction.
American support for Iraq war at all-time low
Reuters report (17 September): Support for the war in Iraq among Americans has tumbled to an all-time low, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
Only 44 percent of those surveyed said the United States did the right thing by invading Iraq, the lowest rating since the question was first asked by the poll more than two years ago, the poll showed, according to The New York Times.
Furthermore, more than eight in 10 Americans are very or somewhat concerned that the war is costing money and resources needed in the United States, the poll showed.
The poll also showed sharp racial divides in how the war is perceived by Americans. Only 36 percent of white Americans felt the war was having a negative impact in their communities, compared to 58 percent of black Americans.
Nearly 60 percent now disapprove of the presidents handling of the Iraqi conflict and nearly half of all Americans are not proud of what the United States is doing in the war, the poll found.
Wednesday 21 September 2005, LONDON: BRENT STOP THE WAR PUBLIC MEETING 7.30 pm Pakistan Community Centre, Marley Walk, Station Parade near Willesden Green station.
Speakers: Yvonne Ridley, journalist, political editor Islam Channel; David Shayler, MI5 whistleblower; Andrew Murray, national Chair, Stop the War Coalition; Umjun Mirza, RMT London Underground and a representative of the Jean Charles de Menezes family campaign. Flyer and map on the BStW http://www.redmagic.co.uk/stopwar
Saturday 24 September 2005 LONDON: NATIONAL DEMONSTRATION
The Stop the War Coalition with CND and MAB have called a National Demonstration to Stop the Bombings, Stop the War, Bring the Troops Home, Defend Civil Liberties and Defend the Muslim Community.
Assemble 12 noon in Parliament Square, march to Hyde Park.
Sunday 25 September 2005 BRIGHTON: Iraq: End the Occupation, Bring the Troops Home!
7-9pm Friends Meeting House, Ship Street, Brighton.
Speakers include: Tony Benn, Michael Meacher MP, Reg Keys, Sami Ramadani (Snr Lecturer, London Metropolitan University), Houzan Mahmoud (OWFI), Gerry Doherty (Gen Sec, TSSA), Milan Rai (JNV), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Christine Shawcroft (LP NEC), Kate Hudson (CND), Andrew Murray (StWC). Chair: Alan Simpson MP.
All Labour Party members and supporters welcome.