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Everything posted by Stefanie

  1. Well said, Adam. I appreciate your post immensely.
  2. Thought this was a rather interesting link. Anyone have thoughts about this?
  3. Iran threatens U.S. Navy as sanctions hit economy TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran threatened Tuesday to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of saber-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy. The prospect of sanctions targeting the oil sector in a serious way for the first time has hit Iran's rial currency, which reached a record low Tuesday and has fallen by 40 percent against the dollar in the past month. Queues formed at banks and some currency exchange offices shut their doors as Iranians scrambled to buy dollars to protect their savings from the currency's fall. Army chief Ataollah Salehi said the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf because of Iran's naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned. "Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy's carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," army chief Salehi said. "I advise, recommend and warn them over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once." The aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis leads a U.S. Navy task force in the region. It is now in the Arabian Sea providing air support for the war in Afghanistan, said Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich, spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet. The carrier left the Gulf on December 27 on a "preplanned, routine transit" through the Straight of Hormuz, she said. Forty percent of the world's traded oil flows through that narrow straight - which Iran threatened last month to shut if sanctions halted its oil exports. Brent crude futures were up more than $4 Tuesday afternoon in London, pushing above $111 a barrel on the news of potential threats to supply in the Gulf, as well as strong Chinese economic data. Tehran's latest threat comes at a time when sanctions are having an unprecedented impact on its economy, and the country faces political uncertainty with an election in March, its first since a 2009 vote that triggered countrywide demonstrations. The West has imposed the increasingly tight sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is strictly peaceful but Western countries believe aims to build an atomic bomb. After years of measures that had little impact, the new sanctions are the first that could have a serious effect on Iran's oil trade, 60 percent of its economy. Sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve would cut off financial institutions that work with Iran's central bank from the U.S. financial system, blocking the main path for payments for Iranian oil. The EU is expected to impose new sanctions by the end of this month, possibly including a ban on oil imports and a freeze of central bank assets. Even Iran's top trading partner China - which has refused to back new global sanctions against Iran - is demanding discounts to buy Iranian oil as Tehran's options narrow. Beijing has cut its imports of Iranian crude by more than half for January, paying premiums for oil from Russia and Vietnam to replace it. THREATS Iran has responded to the tighter measures with belligerent rhetoric, spooking oil markets briefly when it announced last month it could prevent shipping through the Straight of Hormuz. It then held 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, test firing missiles that could hit U.S. bases in the Middle East. Tuesday's apparent threat to take action against the U.S. military for sailing in international waters takes the aggressive rhetoric to a new level. Experts still say they do not expect Tehran to charge headlong into an act of war - the U.S. Navy is overwhelmingly more powerful than Iran's sea forces - but Iran is running out of diplomatic wiggle room to avert a confrontation. "I think we should be very worried because the diplomacy that should accompany this rise in tension seems to be lacking on both sides," said Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to Iran and now an associate fellow at Chatham House think tank. "I don't believe either side wants a war to start. I think the Iranians will be aware that if they block the Strait or attack a U.S. ship, they will be the losers. Nor do I think that the U.S. wants to use its military might other than as a means of pressure. However, in a state of heightened emotion on both sides, we are in a dangerous situation." Henry Wilkinson at Janusian Risk Advisory consultants said the threats might be a bid by Iran to remind countries contemplating sanctions of the cost of havoc on oil markets. "Such threats can cause market confidence in the global oil supply to wobble and can push up oil prices and shipping insurance prices. For the EU powers debating new sanctions, this could be quite a pinch in the current economic climate." The new U.S. sanctions law, if implemented fully, would make it impossible for many refineries to pay Iran for crude. It takes effect gradually and lets Obama grant waivers to prevent an oil price shock, so its precise impact is hard to gauge. The European Union is expected to consider new measures by the end of this month. A blockade would halt purchase of Iranian oil by EU members such as such as crisis-hit Greece, which has taken advantage of the discounted price of Iranian crude. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris wants new measures taken by January 30, when EU foreign ministers meet. President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed freezing Iranian central bank assets and an oil embargo, Juppe said. A German foreign ministry spokesman said Berlin was in discussions with other EU states on "qualitatively new sanctions against Iran" to "ensure the sources of funding for the Iranian nuclear program dry up." Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said member states would discuss the issue this week in the hope of reaching an agreement on new steps before the January 30 meeting. "The ball is still in the Iranians' court," he said. Iran has written to Ashton asking to restart talks over its nuclear program that collapsed a year ago. The EU says it does not want talks unless Iran is prepared to discuss serious steps, such as halting its enrichment of uranium. CHINA CUTS IRAN OIL IMPORTS Although China, India and other countries are unlikely to sign up to any oil embargo, tighter Western sanctions mean such customers will be able to insist on deeper discounts for Iranian oil, reducing Tehran's income. Beijing has already been driving a hard bargain. China, which bought 11 percent of its oil from Iran during the first 11 months of last year, has cut its January purchase by about 285,000 barrels per day, more than half of the close to 550,000 bpd that it bought through a 2011 contract. The impact of falling government income from oil sales can be felt on the streets in Iran in soaring prices for state subsidized goods and a falling rial currency. Some currency exchange offices in Tehran, when contacted by Reuters, said there was no trading until further notice. "The rate is changing every second ... We are not taking in any rials to change to dollars or any other foreign currency," said Hamid Bakshi in central Tehran. Housewife Zohreh Ghobadi, in a long line at a bank, said she was trying to withdraw her savings and change it into dollars. Iranian authorities played down any link between the souring exchange rate and the imposition of the new sanctions. "The new American sanctions have not materialized yet," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said. The economic impact is being felt ahead of a nationwide parliamentary election on March 2, the first vote since a disputed 2009 presidential election that brought tens of thousands of Iranian demonstrators into the streets. Iran's rulers put those protests down by force, but since then the "Arab Spring" revolts have show that authoritarian governments in the region are vulnerable to street unrest. In a sign of political tension among Iran's elite ahead of the vote, a court jailed the daughter of powerful former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Tuesday and banned her from politics for "anti-state propaganda." Rafsanjani sided with reformists during the demonstrations following the 2009 vote. Daughter Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani went on trial last month on charges of "campaigning against the Islamic establishment," news agency ISNA said.
  4. BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Muslim Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi on suspected links to terrorism after the government said it obtained confessions from his bodyguards, an interior ministry spokesman said on Monday. The warrant risks fuelling sectarian tensions in Iraq following the withdrawal of the last American troops almost nine years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. It also puts the country's fragile power-sharing agreement at risk. Interior Ministry spokesman, Major General Adel Daham, told a news conference confessions by suspects identified as Hashemi's bodyguards, linked the vice president to killings and attacks of several Iraqi government and security officials. "An arrest warrant has been issued for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi according to Article 4 of the terrorism law and is signed by five judges... this warrant should be executed," Daham said, waving a copy of what he said was the warrant in front of reporters. The ministry showed taped confessions, aired on state-run Iraqiya television and other local media, of men it claimed were members of Hashemi's security detail. The men said they had been paid by his office to carry out killings. The identity of the men could not be independently confirmed. Hashemi, who could not be contacted for a response, was in Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous enclave in the north, Kurdish political sources said. Kurdistan has its own government and security forces. Political tensions between Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Sunni partners in the country's delicate power-sharing deal have sharpened during the U.S. withdrawal as both parties traded accusations and counter charges. The completion of the U.S. withdrawal on Sunday left many Iraqis fearful that a shaky peace between majority Shi'ites and Sunnis might collapse and reignite sectarian violence. Two days earlier Maliki asked parliament for a vote of no-confidence against another leading Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, who is deputy prime minister, on the grounds that he lacked faith in the political process. Hashemi and Mutlaq are both leaders of the Iraqiya bloc, a secular group backed by minority Sunnis, which joined Maliki's unity government only reluctantly and recently boycotted parliament sessions after complaining of being marginalized, even though it is the single biggest bloc in the assembly. (Reporting by Rania el Gamal; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Serena Chaudhry/Maria Golovnina) Well, someone beat me to it. Oh well.
  5. Here's another article about it too.
  6. BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say a pair of bombs in downtown Baghdad have killed four people and injured seven. Police say a roadside bomb exploded around 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upscale and mostly Shiite neighborhood of Karradah, killing two passers-by. Police who rushed to the scene were hit with a second blast, killing two policemen and wounding three others. Also, four passers-by were wounded. The casualties were confirmed by a medic at Ibn al-Nafis hospital. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. Earlier Thursday, bombs in Iraq's northeast Diyala province killed at six security guards and wounded 35 people. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below. BAGHDAD (AP) — A pair of near-simultaneous bombings killed six security guards Thursday who were waiting in line to pick up their paychecks outside an Iraqi military base, officials said. At least 35 people were wounded in the double-bombing near Baqouba, 35 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, said Diyala Health Directorate spokesman Faris al-Azawi. "We are trying our best to deal with this situation," al-Azawi said. The attack started with a suicide bomber who joined the line of the guards known as Sahwa, and detonated himself around 8 a.m., according to an Interior Ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Two minutes later, a car bomb blew up about 30 feet (meters) away. The dead all were members of Sahwa, or Awakening Councils — a Sunni militia that sided with U.S. forces against al-Qaida in a major turning point of the war. The Sahwa have since been targeted by insurgents who call them traitors. An official at the Baqouba general hospital said at least five soldiers were among the wounded. Violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq, but deadly bombings and shootings still happen nearly every day. Some officials have warned of an increase in attacks as the U.S. withdraws all of its 33,000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year. An Iraqi army intelligence officer said authorities have reliable intelligence that al-Qaida sleeper cells plan to launch attacks in Baqouba and across Diyala province as U.S. troops withdraw and afterward. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the intelligence is confidential, said al-Qaida aims to show Iraqis it is still able to strike. Officials long have said that al-Qaida's current top aim in Iraq is to destabilize the Shiite-led government. Among the terror group's top targets have been government and security officials. Thursday's attacks follow a triple bombing late Wednesday in the southern oil port city of Basra, which killed seven people sitting at nearby cafes.
  7. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, testifies in 2009. (J. Scott Applewhite, AP) It's a rare day when positive news surfaces from the frontlines of Iraq's post-occupation government--or from its troubled economy. However, a U.S. Iraq inspector general report that concluded this week that $6.6 billion in shrink-wrapped cash the U.S. government previously feared had gone missing in the chaotic early days of the Iraq occupation has in fact been safely accounted for. "The mystery of $6 billion that seemed to go missing in the early days of the Iraq war has been resolved, according to a new report," CNN national security producer Charles Keyes reported Wednesday. "New evidence shows most of that money, $6.6 billion, did not go astray in that chaotic period, but ended up where it was supposed to be, under the control of the Iraqi government, according to a report from the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction or SIGIR." Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, had previously testified that as much as $6.6 billion of the $10 billion the United States shipped to Iraq had disappeared due to "weaknesses in [the Department of Defense's] financial and management controls," Keyes wrote, citing the bureaucratese from a previous SIGIR report. The cash had in part been drawn from Iraq's own international assets, accrued during the pre-war, UN-run Oil for Food program. It was flown to Iraq in the wake of the U.S. 2003 invasion; the idea was that it would help pay for the Iraq reconstruction and development efforts under the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led occupation outfit that dissolved in 2004. The original idea was to store most of the money in accounts in the Central Bank of Iraq; U.S. occupation authorities also apparently stored a few hundred million in a vault at one of Saddam Hussein's palaces they used as their headquarters for various cash needs. After the Coalition Provision Authority dissolved in 2004, however, it wasn't clear where the funds had gone, the previous SIGIR report said. But apparently, the money was properly transferred to accounts held at the Central Bank of Iraq, the new SIGIR report found. "But the inspector general's new report says almost all the $6.6 billion was properly handed over to Iraq and its Central Bank," Keyes writes. "'SIGIR was able to account for the unexpected [Development Fund of Iraq] funds remaining in DFI accounts when the [Coalition Provisional Authority] dissolved in June 2004,' the new report says. 'Sufficient evidence exists showing that almost all of the remaining $6.6 billion remaining was transferred to actual and legal [Central Bank of Iraq] control.'" This is not to say that the mystery of all the billions and billions the U.S. spent in Iraq has been entirely resolved. The SIGIR report says that inspectors are still trying to piece together the fate of some of the few hundred million that U.S. officials stowed at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. "While the bulk of the money was transferred to the Central Bank of Iraq, $217 million remained in a vault in a former presidential palace and was held by the U.S. Defense Department and most was doled out for a variety of projects and payrolls, the report says," Keyes reported. A February 2008 SIGIR audit found that $24.45 million of the $217 million stored at the palace vault remained, and was later turned over to Iraq. The next SIGIR report on DoD spending on contracting projects in Iraq is expected in January 2012--after the formal withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from the country.
  8. ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish soldiers, air force bombers and helicopter gunships launched an incursion into Iraq on Wednesday, hours after Kurdish rebels killed 24 soldiers and wounded 18 others in multiple attacks along the border. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had launched large-scale operations, including "a hot pursuit within the limits of international law." He did not elaborate, but added, "We will never bow to any attack from inside or outside Turkey." Erdogan canceled a visit to Kazakhstan after the attacks as the chief of the military as well as interior and defense ministers rushed to the border area to oversee the anti-rebel offensives. NTV television, without citing sources, said Turkish troops had gone some 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) into Iraq and helicopters were ferrying commandos across the border. The incursion for now appears to be limited in scope. Turkey last staged a major ground offensive against Iraq in early 2008. The new incursion began hours after the rebels, who are fighting for autonomy in Turkey's southeast, staged simultaneous attacks on military outposts and police stations near the border towns of Cukurca and Yuksekova early Wednesday. The Interior Ministry earlier had said 26 soldiers were killed and 22 others were wounded but the prime minister corrected the casualty figures to 24 dead and 18 wounded without providing an explanation for the discrepancy. It was the deadliest Kurdish rebel attack since 1992, according to a tally by NTV television. Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, said clashes were taking place in two separate areas close to the mountainous Iraqi-Turkish border.
  9. My night began as any other normal weeknight. Come home, fix dinner, play with the kids. I then had the thought that would ring painfully in my mind for the next few hours: ‘Maybe should pull the waxing kit out of the medicine cabinet.’ So I headed to the site of my demise: the bathroom. It was one of those ‘cold wax’ kits. No melting a clump of hot wax, you just rub the strips together in your hand, they get warm and you peel them apart and press them to your leg (or wherever else) and you pull the hair right off. No mess, no fuss. How hard can it be? I mean, I’m not a genius, but I am mechanically inclined enough to figure this out. (YA THINK!?!) So I pull one of the thin strips out. Its two strips facing each other stuck together. Instead of rubbing them together, my genius kicks in so I get out the hair dryer and heat it to 1000 degrees. (‘Cold wax,’ yeah…right!) I lay the strip across my thigh. Hold the skin around it tight and pull. It works! OK, so it wasn’t the best feeling, but it wasn’t too bad. I can do this! Hair removal no longer eludes me! I am She-rah, fighter of all wayward body hair and maker of smooth skin extraordinaire. With my next wax strip I move north. After checking on the kids, I sneak back into the bathroom, for the ultimate hair fighting championship. I drop my panties and place one foot on the toilet. Using the same procedure, I apply the wax strip across the right side of my bikini line, covering the right half of my hoo-ha and stretching down to the inside of my butt cheek (it was a long strip) I inhale deeply and brace myself….RRRRIIIPPP!!!! I’m blind!!! Blinded from pain!!!!….OH MY GAWD!!!!!!!!! Vision returning, I notice that I’ve only managed to pull off half the strip. CRAP! Another deep breath and RIPP! Everything is spinning and spotted. I think I may pass out…must stay conscious…must stay conscious. Do I hear crashing drums??? Breathe, breathe…OK, back to normal. I want to see my trophy – a wax covered strip, the one that has caused me so much pain, with my hairy pelt sticking to it. I want to revel in the glory that is my triumph over body hair. I hold up the strip! There’s no hair on it. Where is the hair??? WHERE IS THE WAX??? Slowly I ease my head down, foot still perched on the toilet. I see the hair. The hair that should be on the strip…it’s not! I touch. I am touching wax. I run my fingers over the most sensitive part of my body, which is now covered in cold wax and matted hair. Then I make the next BIG mistake…remember my foot is still propped upon the toilet? I know I need to do something. So I put my foot down. Sealed shut! My butt is sealed shut. Sealed shut! I penguin walk around the bathroom trying to figure out what to do and think to myself ‘Please don’t let me get the urge to poop. My head may pop off!’ What can I do to melt the wax? Hot water!! Hot water melts wax!! I’ll run the hottest water I can stand into the bathtub, get in, immerse the wax-covered bits and the wax should melt and I can gently wipe it off, right??? *WRONG!!!!!!!* I get in the tub – the water is slightly hotter than that used to torture prisoners of war or sterilize surgical equipment – I sit. Now, the only thing worse than having your nether regions glued together, is having them glued together and then glued to the bottom of the tub…in scalding hot water. Which, by the way, doesn’t melt cold wax. So, now I’m stuck to the bottom of the tub as though I had cemented myself to the porcelain!! God bless the man who had convinced me a few months ago to have a phone put in the bathroom!!!!! I call my friend, thinking surely she has waxed before and has some secret of how to get me undone. It’s a very good conversation starter ‘So, my butt and hoo-ha are glued together to the bottom of the tub!’ There is a slight pause. She doesn’t know any secret tricks for removal but she does try to hide her laughter from me. She wants to know exactly where the wax is located, ‘Are we talking cheeks or hole or hoo-ha?’ She’s laughing out loud by now…I can hear her. I give her the rundown and she suggests I call the number on the side of the box. YEAH!!!!! Right!! I should be the joke of someone else’s night. While we go through various solutions. I resort to trying to scrape the wax off with a razor . Nothing feels better than to have your girlie goodies covered in hot wax, glued shut, stuck to the tub in super hot water and then dry-shaving the sticky wax off!! By now the brain is not working, dignity has taken a major hike and I’m pretty sure I’m going to need Post-Traumatic Stress counseling for this event. My friend is still talking with me when I finally see my saving grace…. the lotion they give you to remove the excess wax. What do I really have to lose at this point? I rub some on and OH MY!!!!!!! The scream probably woke the kids and scared the dickens out of my friend. It’s sooo painful, but I really don’t care. ‘IT WORKS!! It works !!’ I get a hearty congratulation from my friend and she hangs up. I successfully remove the remainder of the wax and then notice to my grief and despair…. THE HAIR IS STILL THERE…ALL OF IT! So I recklessly shave it off. Heck, I’m numb by now. Nothing hurts. I could have amputated my own leg at this point. Next week I’m going to try hair color……
  10. BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi lawmakers' move to ban a television drama about events leading up to the historic split in Islam into Sunni and Shi'ite sects lays bare the fears of anything that could ignite sectarian tensions as U.S. troops prepare to leave. Iraq's parliament voted on Saturday to ask the Communication and Media Commission, a media regulator affiliated with parliament, to ban "Al Hassan and Al Hussein" on the grounds it incites sectarian tensions and misrepresents historical facts. "This TV serial includes sensitive issues in Islamic history ... Presenting them in a TV series leads to agitated strife in Islamic communities," said Ali al-Alaq, a Shi'ite politician who heads the religious affairs committee. "We are concerned with Iraqi national unity ... You know that Iraq's reality is sensitive," he said. The fragility of Iraq's security was underscored on Monday when suicide attackers and car bombs killed at least 60 people across the country in apparently coordinated assaults. Authorities blamed the violence on al Qaeda affiliates who they say are testing local security forces just as Baghdad and Washington debate whether U.S. troops should stay past a year-end deadline for withdrawal. The controversy over the programme illustrates how close to the surface sectarian issues remain in Iraq just a few years after inter-communal killings among Shi'ites and Sunnis brought the country to the edge of a civil war. GRANDSONS OF THE PROPHET The banned series, a joint Arab work with a Syrian director and Kuwait production company, revolves around the lives of Al Hassan and Al Hussein, grandsons of Prophet Mohammed, and depicts the infighting between Muslims over the Islamic caliphate after the death of the prophet. The two imams are revered by both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims but their lives, and deaths, mark the start of a deep rift between Muslims -- an era known by many as "the Great Sedition" after which Islam split into Sunni and Shi'ite. Sectarian tensions in Muslim countries are often ignited by issues concerning figures from early Islam. Only one Iraqi channel, Baghdad TV, broadcast the show during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. The channel is owned by a conservative Sunni party, which has a handful of seats in parliament. On Saturday night, the show was still being televised but on Sunday, the channel said it was halted until further notice. Baghdad TV is now running a campaign asking the public to vote on whether to resume broadcasting the programme, each segment of which is preceded by a list of the Sunni and Shi'ite Islamic institutions and religious figures who have approved of its content. Mohammed al-Enezi, a co-owner of the production company al-Maha, said he was surprised about the decision to halt the series. "This is the first time that a TV serial gets stopped like this," he told Reuters. "The show does not contain any insult to any person, or any sect ... They voted for political reasons and not based on what the show contains" The TV series has been criticized elsewhere in the Arab world, though it continues to be shown. In Sunni-led Egypt, the country's highest Islamic authority, al-Azhar, one of the oldest seats of Sunni Islamic learning, has objected to the series on the grounds it "impersonates" the Prophet's family members. In Iraq, Sunni and Shi'ite viewers were divided in their opinions. Some said they watched it despite their disapproval of impersonating the imams, but others saw no harm. "This is just a political sectarian issue. They (parliament) have more important issues to deal with than a TV series," said Mostafa Assem, 38, a Sunni Iraqi in Baghdad. But others welcomed the parliament's vote. "I don't want to watch it. I refused to see it," said Israa Saiedy, a teacher in Baghdad's Karrada district. "It is against Shi'ite people." (Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed in Baghdad, Eman Goma in Kuwait, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Editing by Patrick Markey and Sonya Hepinstall)
  11. BAGHDAD (AP) — A powerful anti-American Shiite cleric called Tuesday on U.S. troops in Iraq to leave the country and go back to their families or risk more attacks. Muqtada al-Sadr's comments came in a rare statement translated into English and directed at U.S. troops in Iraq. The statement was posted on his website. In it, the Shiite cleric appealed directly to the roughly 46,000 U.S. troops still in the country and said Iraq does not need their help. "So, go forth from our holy land and go back to your families who are waiting for you impatiently," al-Sadr said. The comment appeared to be a nod to the unpopularity of the Iraq war in the U.S. where many people are frustrated with the length of the war and the heavy burden it has put on American troops. Iraqi officials are mulling whether to keep some U.S. troops past their December departure date. But they're worried about a potential backlash if the U.S. military remains in the country. Al-Sadr and his militia members have vowed to assault any American force that remains and have already been attacking American troops with rockets and bombs. Al-Sadr added that Iraqi security forces are able to handle the country's security challenges without the help of U.S. troops or trainers. "Enough of this occupation, terror and abuse. We are not in need of your help. We are able to combat and defeat terrorism, and achieve unity," he said. "We are not in need of your bases, your experience." While the security situation in Iraq has improved over the past few years, attacks are still commonplace. In June alone, 14 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat, making it the bloodiest month for the U.S. military in Iraq in two years. Nearly all of them were killed in attacks by Shiite militias, like those headed by al-Sadr, who are bent on forcing out American troops and portraying themselves as driving out the "occupier."
  12. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is due to make a rare appearance before Iraq's parliament on Saturday to push a plan for downsizing a bloated government that critics accuse of inaction. An aide to Maliki, meanwhile, said a meeting of political leaders to discuss the looming issue of whether US troops should stay in Iraq beyond a year-end withdrawal deadline had been cancelled, although American officials have urged counterparts in Baghdad for an early decision. "Nuri al-Maliki will be at parliament tomorrow to explain how he intends to reduce the number of ministers, and also to present a new programme for the government," Ali Mussawi, a media advisor to the premier, told AFP on Friday. Maliki's 46-member cabinet, which he hopes to slash to 30 ministers, is the biggest in Iraq's history, and was only approved in December after protracted horse-trading that followed March 2010 elections in which no party gained a clear majority. The prime minister sent a letter to MPs outlining his proposals on July 13, noting that the size of the government had become "a burden" on government work and the country's budget as it seeks to rebuild from three decades of war and sanctions. His plans require dramatically cutting the number of ministers of state and firing three cabinet ministers. Iraq's government has been criticised for inaction on key issues to do with rebuilding the country after 30 years of war and sanctions, with nationwide protests since February railing against official corruption and ineptitude. The inaction has also affected the issue of whether or not some US forces will be asked to stay beyond 2011. Mussawi said that a meeting of political leaders to debate whether or not any American soldiers should stay on, originally scheduled for Saturday, was indefinitely delayed. He said the talks were postponed because President Jalal Talabani, who was to lead them, had to visit the northern city of Arbil to attend condolence ceremonies for the mother of Massud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. She died on Wednesday.
  13. KIRKS, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's experimental Golden Lions security force made up of old foes is getting ready to stand alone as U.S. forces withdraw along the potentially explosive fault line of Kirkuk, the disputed northern oil city. Assembled as a beacon of stability in a volatile mix of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, the Golden Lions brought together Iraqi soldiers and police with the peshmerga of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region under the watchful eye of U.S. troops, who act as a buffer between the wary allies. In the coming weeks, U.S. soldiers will leave the Iraqi and Kurdish forces increasingly alone on checkpoints and patrols in Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala provinces, in areas claimed by the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish capital Arbil. With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq scheduled for year-end, more than eight years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, American troops hope the members of the amalgamated force can overcome years of animosity and hold together. "We don't have any differences between the peshmerga and the Iraqi army," said veteran peshmerga Captain Ahmed Mohammed, waving toward a Golden Lions patrol in the Gurga Chal neighborhood of Kirkuk. "We look at them like we are the same." Whether that goodwill between historic foes lasts may help determine the near-term fate of the tinder-box city considered a likely flashpoint for future conflict in Iraq. Sitting atop a vast sea of oil -- by some estimates 4 percent of the world's reserves -- Kirkuk is secured by the Arab-led central government but claimed by Arbil, which says the city is predominantly and historically Kurdish. The Kurdish and Iraqi forces came together more than a year ago across northern Iraq but in small numbers; now about 1,200 in the three provinces. By comparison, the Iraqi security forces number more than 600,000, and the peshmerga at least 100,000. A Golden Lions battalion, about 380, trains in Kirkuk. The lion is a symbol of fighting strength for Iraqis. MUTUAL SPYING "It's very good. You know why? Because both sides, now they have become like spies against each other," said Colonel Bethune Mohammed, the police chief of Keokuk's Azadi district. "Each side is not letting anyone do anything wrong." On a recent patrol of upscale neighborhoods around Kirk, the Iraqis arrived in Ford and Chevy pickups, the Americans in massive CRAP armored vehicles. Residents hawked as the one-time enemies -- the Kurd fought guerrilla battles against Iraq's army for years and exploited the 1980s Iran-Iraq war to launch attacks -- walk side by side. While there's been talk of a single uniform for the Golden Lions, for now the Kurd wear distinctive green camouflage while the Iraqi police are in blue and the Iraqi army in khaki. The Iraqis take the lead. The Americans hang back, watching. "They all sleep in the same tent, they all live together, eat together," said 1st Lieutenant Matthew James Trout, an American soldier who patrols with the Golden Lions. He said he has seen little sign of ethnic tension. "All the squabbles are the same ones that I see with my soldiers. Neighborhood children bring glasses of water on trays to the sweating soldiers, who are clad in battle gear. "I like to see the Iraqi and posh force. I feel safer," said Reb war Saba Mohammed, a soda factory worker. But U.S. troops must stay, he quickly adds. "U.S. soldiers have to be a referee between these people and bring them together and talk to them, until Kirk belongs to Kurdish." PLEASE STAY Most Kirk want U.S. troops, now about 46,000 strong, to remain beyond year-end, when a security pact between Washington and Baghdad lapses. The Americans are seen as a critical buffer between factions. "We're going to be so happy if the United States wants to stay here," said Mohammed. For the moment U.S. military leaders see the Lions as a success story and express optimism that they can continue joint patrols as U.S. soldiers pull back. Their hope is that the force can set an example, particularly for squabbling politicians. "It shows how everybody can work together. Everybody will work together and security comes first with a lot of people," said Colonel Michael Pap pal, commander of the U.S. Devil Brigade in Kirk. "It all depends on the politicians ... the hard part is the politics involved in the province." But historic animosities are not easily forgotten in Iraq. Mohammed, the plain-spoken police chief, said 27 members of his family, including his wife, two children, parents and eight siblings died when Sad dam's forces deployed poison gas against Kurd in 1988, killing thousands. "No!" he said sharply when asked whether the Lions would get along after the Americans withdraw. "I swear to God, three days after you guys (Americans) leave, you can hear it blowing up. But, God willing, you guys will never leave us. God willing."
  14. Iran must respect its borders with Iraq, authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan said on Tuesday, after Tehran's forces clashed with Iranian Kurdish rebels, leaving several people dead. Iran said it had taken "full control" of three camps belonging to the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, a claim disputed by Baghdad. "We demand Iran respect the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region as part of the sovereignty of Iraq," Kurdistan regional government spokesman Qawa Mahmud told AFP. "There was Iranian infiltration along the Iraqi border. If there is any border problem, the best way to resolve it is through negotiations and peace, not by bombing civilians." In Tehran, a senior officer in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards demanded on Tuesday that the Baghdad government and Kurdish authorities in Iraq prevent Kurdish rebels from attacking Iran from Iraqi territory. "We are waiting for the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities in Iraq to stick to their commitments and prevent PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) rebels from acting against Iran from Iraqi territory," General Mohammad Pakpour said during an interview with Arabic-language television channel Al-Alam. The fighting, which began on Saturday and appears to have ceased, left at least one Revolutionary Guards member dead and three wounded, according to security officials in Tehran. PJAK, meanwhile, says two of its fighters were killed and four wounded. "Over the past 72 hours, the rebels have taken heavy losses in the Al-Watan region," said General Pakpour, head of the guards' ground forces. He added that "PJAK camps in the region of Jassukan had been destroyed and that journalists could go there to see." He also denied any shelling of Kurdish villagers, saying that the target area "is uninhabited." On July 11, Iran's official news agency IRNA quoted a senior Iranian army official as saying Tehran reserves the right to attack PJAK bases within Iraq. "The terrorists will not be allowed to take sanctuary in Iraq's territory and attack Iran with the support of America and the Zionist regime," the official said. "Action will be taken against these terrorists." Iranian forces regularly shell border districts of Iraq's Kurdish region, targeting PJAK bases.
  15. ROME (Reuters) - The leader of an exiled Iranian opposition group rejected a U.S. proposal to move the residents of a dissident camp in Iraq to a new location following deadly clashes in April, saying the plan would lead to a "massacre." The settlement known as Camp Ashraf, some 65 km (40 miles) from Baghdad, is the base of the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran, or PMOI, an Iranian opposition group that Washington officially considers a terrorist group. In April, the camp was the scene of clashes between residents and Iraqi security forces, during which 34 people were killed, according to a U.N. investigation. "In order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations must step in," PMOI leader Maryam Rajavi told Reuters in an interview late on Tuesday. Rajavi, in Rome to meet Italian parliamentarians, called for a permanent monitoring team backed by the United States and the European Union to be set up at the camp to ensure the safety of the residents. "The U.S. has a legal and moral responsibility to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf," she said. The future of the camp has been uncertain since the United States turned it over to Iraq in 2009 under a bilateral security agreement. Baghdad, which also considers the group a terrorist Organization, wants the camp cleared by the end of 2011. Iraqi authorities said the clashes in April broke out after security forces responded to rock-throwing and threats by residents during an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers. Following the clashes, U.S. officials drew up a plan to relocate the camp's residents to a site to be chosen by the Iraqi government. SAYS IRAQ ACTING UNDER IRANIAN PRESSURE Rajavi said the proposal would leave the residents open to attack by the same security forces she blamed for the April clashes. She said Iraq was acting under pressure from Iran, which wants to destroy the group. "Any kind of internal displacement of the residents of Camp Ashraf would lead to more bloodshed," she said, speaking through a translator. "If such a displacement took place, they would go to a place which is not known to the international community, they would lose their communications and they would be further isolated. It would lay the ground for their massacre." "Not only does internal displacement not serve any problems, it makes the situation worse." The PMOI, also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, mounted attacks on Iran from Iraq before the downfall of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003. In the 1970s, it led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed shah of Iran, including attacks on U.S. targets. Saddam gave it refuge in the 1980s and some of its fighters joined Iraq in the 1980-1988 war against Iran. The group surrendered its weapons to U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam. The European Union removed the group from its list of terrorist organisations in 2009.
  16. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Welcome to the USA
  17. BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is reviving fears of sectarian violence with a warning he will unleash his Shi'ite Mehdi Army militia again if U.S. forces stay in the country beyond a year-end deadline. But for Mehdi Army veterans like Ahmed, who once battled U.S. troops on Baghdad's streets, the fighting days are over as Sadr's militia enters mainstream politics, struggles with splinter groups, and ex-combatants resist a return to war. "All I need to do is stay away from any trouble for another three years," said Ahmed, who wants to put his guerrilla days behind him to focus on college exams and becoming a lawyer. He asked that his surname not be used because of his militant past. At the height of Iraq's 2006-2007 sectarian slaughter, the Mehdi Army was seen by Washington as one of the biggest threats to Iraqi security with its young fighters toting rocket launchers and battling U.S. and Iraqi troops in the streets. Sadr disarmed his militia after Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's troops -- backed by American forces -- defeated them in Baghdad and southern cities in 2008. His movement has since become a potent force in mainstream politics. Sadr's anti-U.S. rhetoric still inspires followers, and U.S. and Iraqi security officials say Mehdi Army splinter groups still pose a security risk, emerging in the form of Shi'ite militia that Washington says are backed by Iran. But former fighters and security officials say many Mehdi Army veterans have too much to lose to pick up the gun again. VIOLENCE EBBED Iraq's violence has ebbed eight years after the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, but Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite militias still carry out daily attacks. The United States still has 47,000 troops in Iraq, but their mandate expires at the end of this year and Iraq's leaders are debating the divisive question of whether to ask some to stay. Sadr threatened in April to revive his Mehdi Army if the U.S. troops do not all leave Iraq by December 31. He has since brought thousands of Shi'ite supporters onto the streets of Baghdad in a show of strength. Once a rabble-rousing militant agitator, Sadr is now a powerful member of Maliki's cross-sectarian coalition. His group controls 39 seats in the 325-member parliament, an important bloc in a body divided among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish groups. The scion of a family of revered Shi'ite clerics, he has taken on a more statesman-like approach even if he has not toned down his anti-U.S. rhetoric. Last year he acted as the kingmaker whose support allowed Maliki to form a fragile, cross-sectarian coalition government. That mainstream political clout and the benefits his supporters enjoy mean many Mehdi Army veterans may be much less keen to return to arms if Sadr makes that call, Mehdi leaders and Iraqi security officials say. "Despite his huge number of supporters, if Moqtada decided to fight now, only a few would fight," said Abu Sadiq, a senior Mehdi Army leader in Sadr City, the vast, poor Shi'ite district of east Baghdad named for Moqtada's slain cleric father. "The only ones who will fight are those who have not become contractors, or parliament members or gained salaries, cars, homes or government posts," he said. SADRIST SPLINTERS U.S. military commanders and Sunni Arab leaders blamed the Shi'ite Mehdi Army for much of the bloodshed when thousands of Iraqis were killed during sectarian slaughter in 2006-2007. Sadr's threats have fueled Sunni Arab worries of a return to religious violence. U.S. and Iraqi officials say a small Mehdi Army faction, the Promised Day Brigade, is still behind attacks on U.S. forces even after Sadr stood down the majority of his fighters. "He admitted to attacking us and continuing these attacks, and the Promised Day Brigade, that is a Sadrist organization and reports to him, have been making attack claims all along," said U.S. Army Major Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, a military spokesman. Sadr spent much of the most violent period in Iran. His return to Iraq this year may have been prompted in part by a need to clean house as rivals within the Sadrist movement were challenging his authority. Such splits undermine the prospect of a Mehdi Army revival, former fighters say. "The danger that Moqtada faces is from his leaders who are competing with each other for posts, wealth and positions," Abu Moqtada, a former Mehdi fighter, said. The biggest splinter group, Asaib al-Haq, is already challenging Sadr, eroding his militia from within by infiltrating the top echelons of his organization, Sadrist sources say. Asaib, or the Leagues of Righteousness, is headed by Qais al-Khazili, who was a former Sadr spokesman before he broke away. Asaib has its own television station and websites, and Washington says it is funded by Iran. "We have some leaders inside Sadr's offices and among Mehdi Army troops who follow Sadr publicly but they receive orders from Asaib," said one Sadrist lawmaker who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. One senior Iraqi security official, who declined to be named, said Asaib had attracted some skilled Mehdi Army fighters but others were less committed. "They are not as strong as before, we know most of them are not willing to fight," he said. But Sadr can still inspire loyal and unquestioning support from young, impoverished men within Sadr City, where some believe he is a holy Imam or saint. "For me, Moqtada is a saint," said Mehdi fighter, Abu Karar. "I am ready to die for him." (Writing by Suadad al-Salhy; Editing by Patrick Markey and Peter Graff)
  18. By REBECCA SANTANA and SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press Rebecca Santana And Sameer N. Yacoub, Associated Press – 14 mins ago BAGHDAD – Assailants set off a suicide car bomb, then stormed a government compound in a complex attack Tuesday that killed nine people in a former Sunni insurgent stronghold northeast of Baghdad. The morning attack on the government compound in Baqouba matched a growing series of assaults in central Iraq this year where insurgents strike government compounds and buildings hoping to undermine support for the Baghdad administration by showing that even their most protected facilities are not safe. The attack on Baqouba, 35 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, only deepened concerns that the Iraqi security forces cannot protect the country once remaining 47,000 U.S. forces leave at the end of the year. "The repetition of the attacks shows that the security forces suffer from serious shortcomings," said Omar al-Haigal, a lawmaker from the Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition. The Baqouba assault began when a suicide bomber exploded a car bomb at the entrance to the compound, according to the commander of the Iraqi army's 5th Division, which is in charge of Diyala province. Gen. Dhiaa al-Danbos said two other attackers were killed in the compound yard surrounding the provincial government building, while a third person got inside and opened fire. The spokesman for Iraq's defense ministry, Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, told state television that four militants entered the yard; three of them were killed and one managed to make it into the building. The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled. Some of the assailants were disguised as policemen while one was wearing traditional Arab dress, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement. The attacker who made it into the building killed three civilians before he was wounded by security forces. In total, nine people were killed including at least three attackers. An Iraqi employee, Ibrahim al-Sahmkhani, said he was in his room with some guests drinking tea when he heard explosions and gunshots. He ran to the window in time to see two rifle-wielding assailants running toward a building while a guard opened fire on them. One of the men fell to the ground while the other blew himself up, al-Sahmkhani said. The explosion shattered his windows and al-Sahmkhani hid inside the room along with the guests and employees already there. About 15 minutes later, a policeman entered the room and told employees to flee. Then a gunmen outside opened fire on them. As the policeman fired back and bullets flew overhead, al-Sahmkhani and the group fled the room. He spoke from a nearby hospital where doctors were removing shrapnel from his thigh. He said he would return to work. "The terrorists tried several times to frighten us, but they failed in the past and they will fail in the future," he said. Television coverage obtained by The Associated Press from a local station showed at least three dead bodies on the bloodstained ground of the building's reception office. Shattered glass and rubble were strewn everywhere. Violence in Iraq has fallen dramatically since 2006 and 2007 when the insurgency was in full swing, and Sunni and Shiite militants battled each other for supremacy. But Iraqis still suffer through daily violence, reflecting the tenacious nature of the insurgency and the havoc that a small, but determined group of insurgents can cause. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but al-Qaida in Iraq has claimed previous assaults this year on government compounds similar to the one carried out Tuesday. In March, gunmen wearing military uniforms over explosives belts charged into a government building in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. The attack killed 56 people. In early June a suicide bomber attacked a mosque filled with Iraqi politicians and policemen in Tikrit and another blew himself up inside the hospital where the wounded were taken. Twenty-one people died. Sunni militant groups like al-Qaida often target Iraqi government facilities or Iraqi security forces because they abhor the Shiite-led government. They say they view anyone working for the government as a collaborator. Shiite militants, on the other hand, tend to target U.S. forces in an attempt to show they are pushing the U.S. out of the country. Two U.S. soldiers were killed Monday during operations in southern Iraq, U.S. military officials said. The new deaths bring to 4,462 the number of American service members who have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Eight American soldiers have been killed so far this month. Iraqi government and politicians are weighing whether to ask the U.S. to keep some of its 47,000 troops in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline for them all to withdraw.
  19. By YAHYA BARZANJI, Associated Press Yahya Barzanji, Associated Press – 2 hrs 29 mins ago KIRKUK, Iraq – Twin bombs that lured policemen out of their fortified headquarters in a northern Iraqi city killed 27 people on Thursday, most of them police officers. Scores were wounded in the double blasts in Kirkuk, and a third explosion 45 minutes later on a road to a city hospital brought the number of injured to at least 70, said provincial health director Siddiq Omar. The ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen, is one of the more politically volatile parts of the country. U.S. officials have long worried about what will happen in the city and region when American forces pull out of Iraq, as they're scheduled to do by the end of this year. Eyewitness Adnan Karim described "a chaos of terror and fear" at a parking lot outside the police compound in central Kirkuk where the first two bombs went off. "I saw a lot of dead bodies, burned dead bodies," said Karim, who owns a small shop about 100 yards (meters) from the police building and ran to the parking lot after the first explosion. The second one came about three minutes later, he said, and then "ambulances began to evacuate casualties of dead bodies and injured people." At one hospital, bloodied and bandaged victims lay on the floor because the beds were already filled with patients. A patient blackened by the smoke from one of the explosions sat on a hospital bed, his head bandaged and bloodied. Around him a chaotic scene unfolded as doctors and nurses tended to patients and security officials brought in more victims. A police truck pulled into the hospital driveway with four bodies laying in the bed of the truck. It was not clear whether they were alive or dead. Kirkuk police Capt. Abdul Salam Zangana said the first explosion around 9 a.m. was from a bomb stuck to a car in the parking lot, which sent policemen rushing outside their secure headquarters compound to investigate. That's when the second blast hit, Zangana said. A police officer who was caught in the violence said he had just parked his car and was rolling down his windows when the first blast went off. He said the staff usually roll down their windows when parking their vehicles so they don't shatter in case of a bomb. Police personnel gathered in the parking lot after the first blast to assess the damage when the second bomb exploded. "I was pushed away by the blast," he said. "I saw the bodies of 12 officers. ... The boots of police officers were scattered at the scene. I saw a severed hand on the ground." The double blasts killed 27 people, most of them policemen, and wounded more than 62, he said. It also blew out the windows of the police headquarters, where officials frantically tried to evacuate workers and find victims. In the parking lot of the police station, vehicles were pockmarked with shrapnel and the carcass of one vehicle lay over a fence. Bloodied pools of water dotted the parking lot. The third bomb, planted on a road, set cars and trucks ablaze when it exploded about 550 yards (500 meters) away, targeting a police patrol near a mosque, said Zangana, who oversees security units at the hospital where the dead and wounded were brought. Zangana said eight people were wounded in that blast. Together, the explosions marked the worst strike in Kirkuk since early February, when a suicide bomber at the city's Kurdish security headquarters set off a series of rapid-fire attacks that killed seven and wounded up to 80 people. Located 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Kirkuk has been an ethnic flashpoint for years among Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen who each claim the oil-rich city as their own. Tensions directed at the mostly Arab national police and predominantly Kurdish peshmerga forces have been especially rife. The Kurdish government, which has a separate president and parliament, sent thousands of its troops into positions around Kirkuk on Feb. 24. It said it needed to protect the city from planned demonstrations that it thought might turn violent due to efforts of al-Qaida-linked insurgents and allies of the outlawed Baath Party, which used to rule Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But the incursion scared many of the city's Arab and Turkomen residents, who thought it was a thinly veiled attempt to encircle the city with Kurdish forces. The Kurdish forces have since pulled out and the crisis passed without bloodshed. A Sunni lawmaker from Kirkuk, Omar al-Jabouri, said the city had experienced a recent jump in kidnappings and attacks on police officers, and that the deteriorating security situation reflects the tensions between Kirkuk's three main ethnic groups. But in a reflection of the suspicion that dominates this city's long tumultuous history, he also called on the Kurds to not use Thursday's blast to their political advantage. "Such attacks should not be used by the Kurds to stretch their military control in Kirkuk province," he said. "Those behind the current attacks aim at inciting more tension among the Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen in the city."
  20. By YAHYA BARZANJI, Associated Press Yahya Barzanji, Associated Press – 1 hr 27 mins ago SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – An Iraqi lawmaker from the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc escaped an assassination attempt Thursday in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk. Two bombs planted on the first floor of the house of Arshad al-Salehi, a Turkomen member of the Iraqiya political alliance, exploded shortly after sunrise but missed their target, said Kirkuk police chief Maj. Gen. Jamal Tahir. Though al-Salehi and his family were inside, they all were sleeping on the second floor and nobody was injured, Tahir said. Two more bombs were found upstairs but did not detonate. It was not immediately clear how the attackers might have gotten inside the house. "That was absolutely a terrorist attack meant to assassinate me and to kill my family," said al-Salehi, who was chosen this week as the leader of the Turkomen Front, a local party in Kirkuk. "I leave it to the security forces to investigate the incident and to find out who was behind it." Ethnic tensions have long simmered in Kirkuk among Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs, who each want to claim the city's power as theirs. Located about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Kirkuk sits atop of about a third of Iraq's oil reserves. Officials now are questioning more than 30 guards stationed near the house in central Kirkuk, according to another policeman who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. In Baghdad, meanwhile, an Iraqi army patrol hit a roadside bomb that wounded six people, officials said. Violence has dropped dramatically around Iraq over the last several years, but extremists are seizing on the country's unstable political horizon to raise new threats against lawmakers and security forces. Nearly five months after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seated his government, parliament approved three candidates for vice presidents on Thursday. The decision adds a new vice presidency post to the already top-heavy government. Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, remained in the positions they have held for the last four years, and Khudayer al-Khuzaie, a Shiite from Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party, got the third seat. Iraq's government has 44 Cabinet ministers. Iraq is still without permanent defense or interior ministers — two of the top posts — as al-Maliki and parliament bicker over whom to name.
  21. By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Sinan Salaheddin, Associated Press – 33 mins ago BAGHDAD – Iraq's prime minister said Wednesday he might ask thousands of U.S. troops to remain in the country next year provided that a solid majority of the main political parties back the request at a meeting this month. Nouri al-Maliki's comments indicated a shift from his earlier stance that there would be no U.S. troops past this year. But his insistence on having a consensus before making the decision indicates al-Maliki's worry that he'll be blamed for such a politically risky decision. The prime minister told reporters he will meet with Iraqi political leaders by the end of May to gauge support for having U.S. troops stay beyond a December withdrawal deadline. The Obama administration has said it wants to know within weeks whether Baghdad will seek to continue more than eight years of a heavy U.S. military presence in Iraq. During a trip to Iraq in April, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged the Iraqis to decide very soon, saying they had a matter of weeks, because the U.S. must begin planning its exit. Sunni and Kurdish leaders generally want U.S. troops to remain to help the nation become more stable and to continue training security forces that are still unprepared to defend their borders. But hardline Shiites who helped al-Maliki secure a second term in office last year have threatened to revolt if American soldiers remain. In recent weeks Iraqi demonstrators in the northern city of Mosul and in the western Anbar province have demanded American forces leave on time. "I will bring the leaders of the political blocs together. If they say yes, I will agree and if they say no, I will reject it," al-Maliki, a Shiite, said during a 90-minute news conference at his office in the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad. He refused to say whether he personally supports keeping troops in Iraq. "Whole countries have failed to do this, and you want to make me say yes or no before I gather the national consensus?" al-Maliki retorted when directly asked. "I will not say it." Al-Maliki said at least 70 percent of leaders representing the major Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish political parties must support the continued U.S. military presence before he will ask the White House for the troops to remain. "It is impossible to have a 100 percent agreement," he said. "But when the consensus reaches 70, 80 or 90 percent, then I call this consensus. The rest should respect this." His words seemed to be a direct warning to his political allies, followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, to go along with the general agreement. Al-Sadr is virulently opposed to any American troop presence and has threatened violence if they stay past Dec. 31. "The decision (to keep troops) is the responsibility of the political arena, and al-Sadr and the Sadrist movement are part of the political arena," al-Maliki said. There are currently about 46,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from a peak of near 170,000 in August 2007 at the height of sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shiites that killed dozens of people daily. Al-Maliki said American leaders have asked Baghdad for an answer before August so they can start withdrawing soldiers and shutting down dozens of bases scattered across the country. The Dec. 31 deadline was set under a 2008 security agreement between Washington and Baghdad. A new agreement would have to be reached for troops to remain in 2012, al-Maliki said, although the White House and Pentagon have signaled they are open to that. However, it took months for both sides to hammer out the original pact, and time is running out this year for a new one to be negotiated. Sorry about the duplicate. At least this one has a link
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