Friday, September 18, 2009

Biden's visit to Iraq, mortars

US Vice President Joe Biden has been in Iraq this week meeting with various leaders. Yesterday's news, unremarked upon in US outlets, would be the political jockeying of Ibrahim Al Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki as both worked overtime to prove they could be the most insulting to a visiting foreign official. Both made pointed remarks to outlets about issues such as Iraq's elections being Iraq -- and only Iraq's -- business. For those late to the party, Jaafari was the prime minster before Nouri. He was also the first choice of Iraqi MPs to be prime minister in the spring of 2006 but the US nixed that and demanded Nouri. Jaafari is part of the new Shi'ite alliance (Iraqi National Alliance) and it's thought that Jaafari's presence was what had Nouri insisting he wouldn't join the alliance unless he was promised that they'd re-nominate him for prime minister following January's scheduled elections. They refused to meet that demand and Nouri has not joined the alliance so far.

What may get some traction in the US news cycle is an interview he gave with CNN's Chris Lawrence yesterday where he downgraded Iran's status as a threat. Thursday was primarily spent in visits with the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Ross Colvin, Tim Cocks, Missy Ryan and Jon Boyle (Reuters)report, "U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pressed leaders of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan on Thursday to compromise on the potentially explosive issue of how to manage and share the country's vast oil wealth. Biden said he did not expect the long-running feud over land and oil between Iraq's minority Kurds and its Shi'ite Arab-led government in Baghdad, seen a main threat to its fragile stability, would be settled before national polls in January." Also the visit, Bill Van Auken (World Socialist Web Site) reports:

On Thursday, the third day of his trip, Biden flew to the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north for talks with Kurdish leaders.
In his meetings with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, and Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Biden apparently pushed for a compromise with the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad on the issues of territorial borders and control of oil.
Concerns that conflicts between the Kurdish Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad could precipitate a new round of civil war were reflected in the proposal made last month by the commander of the US occupation forces in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, to send US forces to the north to act as a buffer between Kurdish and Arab forces. Under the plan, US troops would carry out joint patrols with Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish militiamen, beginning first in Ninevah province, which includes Mosul, and then moving into the oil-producing city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by both Iraqi Kurds and Arabs and has been a flashpoint of violent tensions. The plan would contradict the US-Iraqi status of forces agreement, which called for the 130,000 US troops still in Iraq to cease patrols in Iraqi cities beginning last June.
A senior US official was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying that Biden had told the Kurdish officials the same thing he had told President Nouri al-Maliki and others in Baghdad the day before—all sides should compromise in order “to accept a slightly smaller piece of a much larger pie.”
During the course of his visit, the US vice-president has made clear his concern that a bigger piece of this pie should go to the American oil companies, whose interests have played a prominent role in the prosecution of the Iraq war since well before the invasion of March 2003.

Tuesday, CNN's Situation Room reported on Biden's arrival, video here, transcript here:

WOLF BLITZER: We have an exclusive report from our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

He's in Baghdad -- Chris, talk a little bit about this surprise.

What happened?

You're the only television correspondent traveling with the vice president right now.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. You know, when we got on the plane and left out of Andrews Air Force Base, we didn't even know where exactly we were going or when we would get there. This is one of those secret trips -- not like going to London or Paris or visiting allies like that. So it was all kept very hush-hush.

Once we got in the air, we found out, yes, we are going to Iraq. Vice President Biden did talk about a little bit about some of the purpose for this trip. He said already twice he's been asked to intercede and be sort of a mediator between some of the political factions that have a lot of tension right now here in Iraq, especially the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government up north.

The vice president's mission on this trip is -- is to try to bridge some of those differences and move that political process along.

It's been just a whirlwind day -- off and on one plane, onto a helicopter -- a very, very busy day here in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He has got especially good relations with the Kurds up north, the vice president, having been to Kurdistan many times. I remember before the war, he went there with Chuck Hagel, his former Senate colleague.

But while he was in the Green Zone today, the most secure part of the Iraqi capital in Baghdad, what happened?

LAWRENCE: Yes, Wolf, several people heard a loud boom. And we were actually in a room with General Ray Odierno and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill. We were just starting a briefing, about five minutes in. And you hear this siren -- this alarm start to wail.

You can listen to it a little bit and see their reaction is very key here.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Odierno, the...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I said, it's getting stable.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Duck and cover. Get away from the window. Stay covered and await further instruction.


LAWRENCE: Again now, the Green Zone -- the Green Zone under attack. But, again, we're told this was indirect fire and did not land directly on the embassy grounds. And we took our cue from those two men. They did not seem to panic, so nobody else around us did either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay in close touch with you. And I know later this week, you're going to be sitting down for an interview with the vice president. We'll have that here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File. That can be pretty scary. You're in Baghdad, you're having a briefing with the top U.S. military commander, General Odierno; the U.S. ambassador, Chris Hill; and all of a sudden you hear that siren going off.

CAFFERTY: Yes. What struck me is that nobody did anything. The guy comes on the loudspeaker and says, "duck and cover," and -- and they all just sit there.


CAFFERTY: I mean...

BLITZER: That would...

CAFFERTY: I would be getting under -- I'd be getting under the carpet or something.

Chris Lawrence (CNN video link) reported on day two of the visit:

Chris Lawrence: It's been a relatively quite day here in Baghdad especially compared with last night. We were in the Green Zone when four mortars landed there and two exploded. Now we've learned that two people were killed in those attacks which really highlights just how quickly the security situation in Iraq can change. It's been a whirlwind day for vice president Joe Biden as he meets and exchages gifts with several Iraqi leaders. During one of those meetings, he joked that Iraqis can't seem to get rid of him and, at the end of another meeting, he said, "We still have much to do." This is the vice president's third visit to Iraq already this year. He says it's that familiarity that prompted President Obama to give him the job sort of spearheading the administration's efforts here in Iraq. While so much attention has been focused on Afghanistan, tensions have been rising here in Iraq between the mostly Arab Iraqi government and the Kurdish officials in the north. Land, oil and independence are all in dispute and vice president Biden says he can use some of the trust that he has built up on both sides to sort of mediate on some of those political issues Chris Lawrence, CNN, Baghdad.

Mortar and rocket attacks were a key feature of Biden's visit to Baghdad. This month, Wikieleaks has posted a table of "Mortars in Iraq" for 2007 from the US military which is stamped "For Official Use Only" and breaks down the mortars into four categories:

(1) MO-120-
1961 Max: 8135
RAP: 13000
Min: 1100
Frag HE
10 4-6 18.60 E: 30 to 85
T: 15 total
582 1.5/2 Widely proliferated
(23+ countries
including Iraq).
Rifled mortar
Towed by light
Can fire all standard
120-mm smoothbore
rounds w/o fins.
For additional
information see the
WEG, Chapter 6

(2) SL
Spain Max: 5700
Min: 600
3-5 E: 45 to 85
T: 6 total
295 Bipod &
Base: 50
3/3 Lighter version of the
L with lighter base
plate and shorter

(3) M-160
FSU 1953 Max: 8040
Min: 750
HE 3 6-7 41 E: 50-80
T: 25 total
343 Baseplate
?/7 Towed by light truck.
Breech loaded.
Barrel is 4550 mm in

(4) M-43
Type 56
1943 Max: 5150
Min: 630
HE 3 7 40.8 E: 45-80
T: 25 total
Widely proliferated
(+20 countries)
Towed by light truck.
Towed by light truck.
NOTE: The munitions listed indicate what is available for the specific mortar system, not what munition is in Iraq.

Notice that the four categories did not include (list is 2007) any made in Iran.

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