Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Baghdad bombings continue, one today claims 9 lives

Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports a Baghdad car bombing today which has claimed at least 9 people and left at least eighteen injured. Aseel Kami, Tim Cocks, Abdul-Rahman Taher, Tim Cocks and Michael Christie (Reuters) add an intriguing note in the speculation over who's responsible for the recent bombings: "But a senior Iraqi intelligence source, who declined to be named, said there was evidence the bombs could be the work of the militant Badr Organisation, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI). ISCI is allied to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party in parliament, but the two have become somewhat estranged."

Meanwhile Aid to the Church in Need reports on Archbishop Louis Sako's press conference in "Archbishop Sako: 'The situation of the Christians in Iraq is a tragedy':"

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk has warned that Christianity may soon disappear in Iraq. Christians in this country have suffered heavily over the past five years, he said, during a recent press conference called at the request of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the organisations Christian Solidarity International, Austria and "Pro Oriente". During this period, he said, a total of 750 Christians had been murdered, including the Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho.
"Some 200,000 Christians have left the country. This is a tragedy for us" said Archbishop Sako. He appealed for support for the Christian community, so that they can remain in Iraq or return to their country.

During the press conference, Archbishop Sako called on the international community to show solidarity with the Christians in Iraq and to help both the refugees and the Christians who have remained in Iraq. The mass emigration of Christians, many of whom are now living in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, is "a great challenge for the Church" he said. Numerous families have also fled to small towns in northern Iraq, where there is virtually no employment. Archbishop Sako thanked ACN and other organisations like Christian Solidarity International in Austria and Pro Oriente for the active help they are supplying through their projects there. "This is helping the Christians to remain there, despite their difficult situation", he remarked.

Also targeted is Iraq's LGBT community. Over the weekend (see yesterday's snapshot) came news of seven brutal murders. KTVU (via Fox Reno link has text and video) reports:

Gay rights activists in San Francisco gathered on Monday evening to lay flowers on symbolic tombs representing slain gay Iraqis.
They called for gay rights in Iraq after various media outlets reported that an Iraqi Interior minister said six gay men were killed in recent weeks after their families disowned them.

Lyanne Melendez (San Francisco's KGO -- link has text and video) adds

Gay leaders like supervisor Bevan Dufty had hoped America's intervention in Iraq would bring more Democratic principles to that country.
"Given the investment in American lives and billions of dollars that have been spent, you would like to think that there isn't just absolute anarchy and people being executed for their sexual orientation," said Supervisor Dufty.
In 2005, religious leaders in Iraq called for homosexuals to be killed in the "worst, more severe way."
A year ago, the U.N. reported an increase in persecutions and killings of Iraqi gays and lesbians.
"Since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime there has been a rise of fundamentalist religious militias around the country and it appears that recently there have been a lot of sermonizing against gays," said Dufty.

Changes are taking place in the Kurdistan Regional Government (part of the reason Jalal Talabani has stated he will not run again for the presidency of Iraq when his term expires in December) and the KRG announces:

New deputy prime minister sworn-in as KRG takes another step towards unification

» Deputy Prime Minister Imad Ahmad Sayfour
Erbil, Kurdistan -- Iraq (KRG.org) -- The Kurdistan Parliament yesterday witnessed the inauguration of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s new Deputy Prime Minister, and the swearing-in of the Minister for Peshmerga Affairs and the Minister of Interior, taking another step towards the unification of all KRG ministries.

At the opening of the Parliamentary session, Speaker Adnan Mufti noted that it was a historic day for the Parliament which was fulfilling the pledge to unify the remaining ministries. The Kurdistan Regional Government had two administrations which were unified in May 2006 under the leadership of Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, except for four ministries that needed more time to merge. The Ministry of Justice was merged in 2007 and yesterday the Peshmerga and Interior ministries were unified. The Ministry of Finance is currently overseen by Acting Minister of Finance Bayiz Saeed Mohammad while current Finance Minister Sarkis Aghajan Mamendu is abroad for medical treatment.

Parliament approved the nominations of Mr Imad Ahmad Sayfour as the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Jafar Mustafa Ali as Minister for Peshmerga Affairs, and Mr Abdul Karim Sinjari as Minister of Interior. All three were then sworn-in.

Prime Minister Barzani, in his opening remarks, expressed his appreciation for Mr. Omer Fattah, the former Deputy Prime Minister, noting that he worked with a spirit of understanding and trust. He also praised the Parliament for its role in supporting the unification and said the first priority of the Cabinet was to build trust in the government.

Another goal of the Cabinet outlined by the Prime Minister was to establish a strategy to improve relations between the Kurdistan Region and neighbouring countries as well as the federal government. He said he remains optimistic about the future of these relations but said there are still some unresolved issues such as hydrocarbons. The Prime Minister reiterated that all oil contracts have been completed in a legal and transparent manner and are in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution.

Mr Barzani said the Cabinet would be forward-looking with respect to the needs of the people and the government would continue its focus on improving public services, including the construction of two new power-generation stations in Erbil and Chamchamal to improve the delivery of electricity. The KRG has hired a world-renowned company PriceWaterhouseCoopers to strengthen good governance practices and improve transparency at all levels of the government, he said. The Cabinet will also be working with the Parliament to create an anti-corruption taskforce and financial auditing commission.

We'll note this from Iraq's Foreign Ministry:

6 April, 2009

Palestinian President Visits Baghdad

His Excellency President Jalal Talabani received the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas on 5/4/2009 and conducted friendly talks between the two sides. The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and several officials and ministers and discussed the Palestinian issue and developments and the Iraqi firm stance in supporting the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people to form a state with Jerusalem as its capital. Bilateral relations were also discussed and the conditions of the Palestinian community living in Iraq.

During his visit President Abbas, met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Vice-President of the Republic. The discussions focused on strengthening the Palestinian stance and the success of the Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue and the Arab peace initiative.

And staying on the topic of that visit, IRIN reports on Iraq's Palestinians trapped on the border between Syria and Iraq:

The remaining estimated 14,000 Palestinians in Iraq or holed up in camps on the Iraqi-Syrian border still face a precarious existence, despite a slowly improving security situation, say observers.
During a recent visit to Iraq in a bid to improve their plight, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the Iraqi government to issue Palestinian refugees with internationally recognised passports rather than Iraqi travel documents, a Palestinian diplomat told IRIN on 5 April.
Iraq has been issuing travel documents to Palestinians since 1948 “when they were exiled from Palestine”, said the Palestinian chargé d’affaires in Baghdad, Dalil al-Qasous.

And the KRG announces:

Lebanon's tourism minister leads delegation to Kurdistan Region

Erbil, Kurdistan – Iraq (KRG.org) – Lebanon's Minister for Tourism Mr Elie Marouni led a large delegation from his ministry and the Lebanese business community on a three-day visit to the Kurdistan Region to promote partnership and collaboration on tourism and to strengthen relations generally.

The delegation, which visited Erbil from April 4 to 6, included Director General of Tourism Mr Nada Sarduq, members of the Lebanese business community, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and members of the Lebanon-Kurdistan Friendship Association.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said, “I am pleased to welcome each of you to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. You’ve been able to see first-hand the progress and many successes in our Region and I am confident that the friendship between Lebanon and the Kurdistan Region will be long and prosperous for both sides. Lebanon has much to offer and I would encourage you to view the Kurdistan Region in Iraq as an important gateway for the rest of Iraq.”

The delegation met with Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and other KRG officials including Minister for Tourism Mr Nimrud Baito, Chairman of the Board of Investment Minister Herish Muharram, and Head of the Department of Foreign Relations Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir. Among the opportunities discussed were coordination on tourism packages, training at Lebanese institutions and flights by scheduled airlines. At the conclusion of their visit, the delegation visited the new Erbil International Airport which is due to be opened during the second half of this year.

Minister Baito accompanied the delegation as they toured local hotels, restaurants, historical sights and the popular tourist resort of Shaqlawa. He expressed his warm welcome to the delegation and said, “It would be a pleasure to welcome Lebanese tourists and all others to experience first-hand the beauty of our Region and to see the new face of Iraq.”

Minister Marouni said of the visit, “I am impressed with the positive changes and progress we have seen during our visit to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Our perception has changed for the better and I am eager to share the story of the Region’s success with the Lebanese Council of Ministers as well as continue working to strengthen our friendship.”

Minister Muharram, Chairman of the Kurdistan Board of Investment, also noted that Lebanese businesses currently rank second in foreign investment in the Kurdistan Region and that this visit provided an important opportunity to strengthen economic ties between Lebanon and the Kurdistan Region.

In continuing efforts to strengthen relations, Minister Bakir, Head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations, encouraged Lebanon to open a consulate in Erbil noting the need for Lebanon’s presence. He said, "I would be pleased to welcome Lebanon as the first Arab country to join the 14 other countries that currently have a diplomatic representation in the Kurdistan Region.”

For more information about tourism in the Kurdistan Region, please visit the Tourism section of KRG.org.

And the Iraq War isn't over just because so many outlets have lost interest in it. Paul Fattig (Mail Tribune) reports on Oregon's National Guard:

The citizen soldiers took turns sighting in their rifles Monday afternoon, carefully placing each shot as the April sun warmed the shooting range at the Jackson County Sports Park.
But they know things are about to get hotter.
They are among more than 600 members of the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry bound for Iraq.
"They're 'zeroing' in," explained battalion commander Lt. Col. Greg Day, 44, as the rifles popped in the background. "They have iron sights and CCO's — close combat optics. They are zeroing in those two different sight systems so when we do the qualifications ranges it will save a lot of time."
Headquartered in Ashland, the unit leaves Sunday for training at the Army's Camp Roberts in California. then it will be sent to Fort Stewart, Ga., for additional training in May before heading for a year's deployment in Iraq in early summer.

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aseel kami