Monday, May 18, 2009

Continued tensions in Iraq

Tensions between Sunni Arabs and Kurds are boiling over in Nineveh, the northern Iraqi province that includes Mosul, as Kurds fight the result of a provincial election in January that shifted power to Arabs.

That's the opening of Sam Dagher's "Tensions Stoked Between Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis" in this morning's New York Times which underscores how Iraq really is a juggling act. Forget the waves of Operation Happy Talk, there are very real conflicts that do not just compete for press attention but also for control of the region. You have the bombings by Turkey (going after the PKK). You have Iran shelling. And you have all these competing factions internally. In the 'big picture' and 'broad strokes,' Iraq is repeatedly reduced to a Shia and Sunni story. Dagher's offering many examples including the refusal to allow the governor of Nineveh Province to enter Bashiqa two Fridays ago for a hot air balloon exhibition. Nada Bakri's "Dispute Over Land Simmering in Iraq: Kurd-Arab Conflict Echoes in Parliament" (Washington Post) also covers the topic:

For a few frantic minutes, Iraq's most dangerous fault line came perilously close to becoming a battlefield. As with another standoff last fall between the pesh merga and the Iraqi army in the dusty border town of Khanaqin, Bashika has emerged as a flash point in a growing test of wills over who will control land claimed by Arabs and the Kurdish autonomous government in the north of Iraq that many fear may be resolved only through violence.
After the standoff, Nujaifi hurried to Baghdad, where he met Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki has remained quiet about the dispute, though it has created controversy in Iraq's parliament. Neither the governor and his Arab allies in Nineveh nor his Kurdish opponents consider the matter resolved.
"There would have been blood if they let him enter," Kurdish legislator Ahlam Mohammad said on the sidelines of a parliamentary session Saturday. "The pesh merga was worried about his life. Had he entered, he would have been killed."

UPI covers/summarizes some of the conflict here. And it is competing stories for little attention. Alan Gomez covers another source of conflict in "Militants test readiness of Iraq's forces" (USA Today):

The recent incident in Mosul highlights how, despite vast strides made by Iraq's police and army during the past two years, some U.S. troops still have concerns over whether they can be effective and trustworthy partners in maintaining Iraq's hard-won security gains.
Baghdad has seen a renewed round of violence in recent weeks. Nearly 200 people died in attacks by Sunni insurgents over a one-week span last month. But nowhere is the U.S.-Iraqi relationship more important than in the northern city of Mosul, where two large-scale offensives in the last two years against al-Qaeda militants have failed to drive them out of their final remaining urban stronghold.
The city of 2.2 million remains a dangerous place to operate for U.S. and Iraqi troops. A suicide truck bombing here April 10 at the entrance to a U.S. military base was the worst single attack on U.S. forces in more than a year, leaving five dead.
Adding to the fears among the 3,000 U.S. troops stationed here is the possibility of compromised Iraqi security forces attacking Americans. On May 2, an Iraqi soldier opened fire on Americans, killing two and wounding three near Mosul. That followed a February incident in Mosul in which four U.S. soldiers were shot dead by a man wearing a police uniform.

Meanwhile Aseel Kami, Muhanad Mohammed, Mohammed Abbas and Alison Williams (Reuters) report that Iraq will hold national elections January 30th. Yes, these are the elections which were supposed to be held in December. Yes, these are the elections that Barack's used as his excuse for breaking his promise to withdraw one brigade a month from Iraq. (He made that promise in a debate . . . after Hillary Clinton had made the promise immediately before him.) AFP adds that Khalid al-Attiya, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, confirms that the date will be January 30th and notes that December 15, 2005 was when Parliamentary elections were last held.

Hector Becerra (Los Angeles Times) covers Bryan E. Hall who , "When Army Staff Sgt. Bryan E. Hall returned to Iraq from leave early last month, his 2-year-old daughter, Addison, hugged a fabric doll with his image. She would squeeze the doll, which caused her father's recorded voice to tell her how much he loved and missed her." Hall died April 10th from a Mosul car bombing. He was one of five US soldiers killed in the bombing -- Gary L. Woods Jr., Edward W. Forrest Jr., Jason G. Pautsch and Bryce E. Gautier were the other four killed in the bombing. From Becerra's article:

Five years ago, the couple were married. Rachel Hall said her husband seemed to delight in her pregnancy even more than she did. "I always knew Bryan would be an amazing father. He was like a big kid himself," she said. "When it came time for [Addison's] being born, you could barely see his eyes from smiling so much."
During his last leave, Hall celebrated Addison's second birthday and his fifth wedding anniversary. The couple also took a trip to Lake Tahoe.
On April 4, he bade farewell to his family and said he would see them in the fall, when his deployment was up. His wife said she last spoke to him a few days before he was killed, when he was still in Kuwait.
"It was short and sweet," she said. "We probably talked for only five minutes. . . . He was definitely not a complainer. He never said anything negative."

May 14th, the DoD announced that "Cpl. Ryan C. McGhee, 21, of Fredericksburg, Va., died May 13 from wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces while conducting combat operations in Central Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga." Vermont's WCAX notes McGhee "spent most of his life in Vermont[,] . . . attended Springfield High School" and that he had already served three tours of duty in Afghanistan. Susan Smallheer (Rutland Herald) adds:

Padraic Scanlon, a classmate at Springfield High School, said he last talked to McGhee via Facebook, the social-networking Web site, and that McGhee told him he was bringing his high school sweetheart and fiancée, Ashleigh Martin, to Vermont.
Scanlon and McGhee grew up in the same neighborhood near Union Street School and Park Street, and he said for as long as he could remember, he played with McGhee.
Scanlon said McGhee had been a member of the class of 2006.
Classmate and friend Tim Putnam was on duty at the Springfield Fire Station on Friday afternoon, and said he found out about his friend's death from another friend earlier in the day. He said he immediately went to McGhee's Facebook page and then Googled until he found Virginia newspaper articles about his friend's death.

Bonnie notes Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Cult of St. Barack Hold Feet to the Fire" went up last night.

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sam dagher
the washington post