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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ten things I've learned about Desperate Housewives'

Ten things I've learned from Susan Mayer

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By Amber Dowling
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'Desperate Housewives' returns for Season 4 and we've got a tribute to the clumbsiest of the batch to celebrate





Teri Hatcher as Susan Mayer

More often than not she looks like a deer caught in headlights, but there’s something endearing about Desperate Housewives' Susan Mayer that you can’t shy away from. Maybe it’s her ability to ruin the simplest of foods, always find herself in precarious situations, or clumsily get the guy. The bottom line is that we could all use a page from her book:

1. WHEN SPYING ON NEIGHBOURS, BE SURE TO LEAVE FLAMMABLE OBJECTS AT HOME
Otherwise you may wind up burning her house down, and then your house will be subject to engulfing flames in return. If flammable objects happen to fall into a burning candle, remember to remove all evidence (i.e. your empty measuring cup).

2. WHEN FIGHTING WITH YOUR EX-HUSBAND, MAKE SURE TO LEAVE YOUR FRONT DOOR UNLOCKED AND HAVE SOME CLOTHES ON
That way your towel can’t come off when you slam your ex’s car door, leaving you exposed. Hedges are not the most reliable disguise when you’re running around naked because you can’t get in your house.

3. WHEN LOOKING FOR YOUR EX-BOYFRIEND IN THE MOUNTAINS, DON’T DITCH THE GUIDE JUST BECAUSE SHE TELLS YOU TO TRY HAVING LESS DRAMA
Doing so will result in a sprained ankle, grounding you, which will eventually turn you into bear food. However, if you leave a message on your ex-boyfriend’s cell phone telling him you love him, he will probably come to your rescue and whisk you back down to base camp.

4. WHEN YOUR FRIENDS ARE ALL BUSY, YOUR DAUGHTER MAKES AN EXCELLET SUBSTITUTE SOUNDING BOARD
At the very least, you can use her school project to clog the drain and get your cute, plumber-neighbour to come over and help.

5. WHEN CONFESSING TO BURNING DOWN YOUR FRIEND'S HOUSE, WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE OUT OF A BOAT ON THE MIDDLE OF A LAKE TO DO SO
That way you can be sure to end up with your dead neighbour’s ashes in your face.

6. NEVER LOOK AT THE ROAD WHEN YOU’RE DRIVING
If you do, you won’t be able to uncover dead bodies in trunks, crash into your neighbour’s car, or launch yourself into the forest with your cute date.

7. WHEN NEEDING SPLEEN SURGERY, REMARRY YOUR EX SO THAT YOU CAN GET THE INSURANCE
That way, you can kill three birds with one stone: revenge on the new girl who’s dating the ex, a send-off to the guy who broke your heart, and a way to get out of your current relationship with the doctor who is operating on you.

8. GOOD COOKING FILLS BELLIES; BAD COOKING CREATES LASTING MEMORIES
You know, so that when the love of your life goes into a coma and forgets everything about you, his memory will eventually be jogged by the raw pancakes you made him after the first time you slept together.

9. WHEN A GORGEOUS MAN WITH A KNEE-WEAKENING ENGLISH ACCENT PROPOSES TO YOU, FINISH YOUR PIZZA BEFORE ANSWERING
That way he can't rush you home when you say yes, which would leave you with an empty stomach.

10. LEARN TO ACCEPT THAT NO MATTER WHAT, YOU WILL BECOME YOUR MOTHER
Even if she has been engaged numerous times, wants to double-date with you and exasperates you to the point of no return, she's the splitting image of what you're going to become. But hey, you’ll both always have a stable man to fall back on, even if you spill something on him first.

amber@tvguide.ca

Desperate Housewivs returns Sunday, September 30, 9 p.m. ET, ABC and CTV

Published: Friday, September 28, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sayyad-1 surface-to-air missile




Two Iranian women, walk past a Sayyad-1 surface-to-air missile during an Army and Revolutionary Guards display to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007. Iran begun a week of celebration called 'Sacred Defence Week' on Saturday to mark the 27th anniversary of the onset of its war with Iraq, which left more than one million casualties. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran's Army and Revolutionary Guards display missiles to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the outset of the Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988, in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007. Iran begun a week of celebration 'Sacred Defence Week' Saturday to mark the 27th anniversary of the outset of its war with Iraq. The war left more than one million casualties on both sides. A portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at right.(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Iraqis looking Bush Democratic Republic of Iraq


Rocket attack : (AFP/Wissam al-Okaili)

Iraqis looking Bush Democratic Republic of Iraq


Rocket attack : (AFP/Wissam al-Okaili)

U.S. snipers accused of 'baiting' Iraqis


By PAULINE JELINEK and ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press Writers
54 minutes ago



WASHINGTON - Army snipers hunting insurgents in Iraq were under orders to "bait" their targets with suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, and then kill whoever picked up the items, according to the defense attorney for a soldier accused of planting evidence on an Iraqi he killed. Gary Myers, an attorney for Sgt. Evan Vela, said Monday his client had acted "pursuant to orders."


"We believe that our client has done nothing more than he was instructed to do by superiors," Myers said in a telephone interview.

Myers and Vela's father, Curtis Carnahan of Idaho Falls, Idaho, said in separate interviews that sworn statements and testimony in the cases of two other accused Ranger snipers indicate that the Army has a classified program that encourages snipers to "bait" potential targets and then kill whoever takes the bait.

The Army on Monday declined to confirm such a program exists.

"To prevent the enemy from learning about our tactics, techniques and training procedures, we don't discuss specific methods targeting enemy combatants," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.

Boyce also said there are no classified programs that authorize the murder of Iraqi civilians or the use of "drop weapons" to make killings appeared to be legally justified, which is what Vela and the two other snipers are accused of doing.

The transcript of a court hearing for two of the three accused snipers makes several references to the existence of a classified "baiting" program but provides few details of how it works. A copy of the transcript was provided to The Associated Press by Vela's father.

The Washington Post, which first reported the existence of the "baiting" program, cited the sworn statement of Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of a Ranger sniper scout platoon.

"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Didier said in the statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. forces."

The Post said the program was devised by the Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group, which advises commanders on more effective methods in today's unconventional conflicts, including ways to combat roadside bombs.

Within months of the "baiting" program's introduction, three snipers in Didier's platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate, according to the Post.

The Post said that although it doesn't appear that the three alleged shootings were specifically part of the classified program, defense attorneys argue that the program may have encouraged them by blurring the legal lines in a complex war zone.

The court martial of one of the accused soldiers, Spec. Jorge Sandoval Jr., is scheduled to begin in Baghdad on Wednesday. Also facing premeditated murder charges are Vela and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley.

They are part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Baquba lost Police Chief @ Iftar Explosion in Mosque


BAGHDAD, Sept 24 (Reuters) -

BAGHDAD, Sept 24 (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed 20 people and wounded 30 when he blew himself up inside a mosque compound in the Iraqi city of Baquba on Monday, police said.

The dead included the police chief of Baquba and two other senior police officers.

A suicide bomber killed the police chief of the Iraqi city of Baquba and two other senior officers when he blew himself up inside a mosque compound on Monday, police said.

Police said other people were killed and wounded in the attack, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, but they had no details. The wounded included tribal leaders.

The bomber entered the compound while senior police officers and tribal leaders were attending a meal to mark the breaking of the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, police said.

They named the police chief as Brigadier-General Ali Dulayyan. Two other police brigadier-generals were also killed.

Baquba is the capital of volatile Diyala province.

Diyala has been the scene of several U.S. and Iraqi offensives in recent months aimed at combating al Qaeda in Iraq militants who had overrun parts of the province, including Baquba. U.S. commanders say the operations have helped improve security.

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Bomber strikes Sunni-Shiite meeting By LAUREN FRAYER, Associated Press Writer
Mon Sep 24, 4:10 PM ET



BAQOUBA, Iraq - A suicide bomber struck a U.S.-promoted reconciliation meeting of Shiite and Sunni tribal sheiks as they were washing their hands or sipping tea Monday, killing at least 15 people, including the city's police chief, and wounding about 30 others.

Two U.S. soldiers were also wounded in the 8:30 p.m. blast at a Shiite mosque in Baqouba, a former al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, who gave the overall casualty toll.

The brazen attack, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, represented a major challenge to U.S. efforts to bring together Shiites and Sunnis here in Diyala province, scene of some of the bitterest fighting in Iraq.

About two hours after the blast, U.S. soldiers at nearby Camp Warhorse fired artillery rounds at suspected insurgent positions near Baqouba. There were no reports of damage or casualties.

Witnesses and officials said the bomber struck when most of the victims were in the mosque courtyard cleaning their hands or drinking tea during Iftar, the daily meal in which Muslims break their sunrise-to-sunset fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

Security guards approached a man after noticing him walking rapidly through the courtyard. As the guards challenged him, the man detonated an explosive belt, setting off the devastating blast, said police Maj. Salah al-Jurani.

Al-Jurani said he believed provincial Gov. Raad Rashid al-Tamimi was the intended target. The governor was wounded and his driver was killed, al-Jurani said.

The dead also included Baqouba's police chief, Brig. Gen. Ali Dalyan, and the Diyala provincial operations chief, Brig. Gen. Najib al-Taie, according to security officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information.

Also wounded was the governor's brother, Sheik Mazin Rashid al-Tamimi, who has spearheaded Sunni-Shiite reconciliation efforts in the province.

"We've tried to persuade the tribes to oust terrorists from their areas because it's a disaster when the tribes cooperate with and provide refuge to al-Qaida," Sheik Mazin told The Associated Press last weekend.

U.S. officials have accelerated efforts to reconcile Sunni and Shiite tribes in Diyala after American soldiers gained control of Baqouba, the provincial capital, in fighting last summer. Al-Qaida had declared Baqouba the capital of its Islamic State of Iraq.

The U.S. announced this month that top leaders of 19 of the 25 major tribes in Diyala — 13 Sunni and six Shiite — had agreed to end sectarian violence and support the government, although the province remains one of the most dangerous in the country with frequent kidnappings and armed clashes.

The effort is loosely modeled on an alliance of Sunni tribes which banded together last year to fight al-Qaida in Anbar province. The leader of that effort, Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed in a bombing Sept. 13.

Also Monday, an American soldier was killed by hostile fire in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. No further details were released.

To the north, Iran shut down five major border crossing points into Kurdish areas Monday to protest the U.S. arrest and detention of an Iranian official accused by the U.S. military of links to an elite force smuggling weapons into this country to kill Americans.

Crossing points elsewhere along the 900-mile border were operating normally.

Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency said the closures were to protest the arrest last Thursday of Mahmudi Farhadi, an Iranian regional official who was detained by American troops at a hotel in Sulaimaniyah, a Kurdish city 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The border stations will remain shut until Farhadi's unconditional release, the Mehr agency quoted Ismail Najjar, general governor of the Iranian Kurdistan province, as saying.

U.S. officials said Farhadi was a member of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that smuggles weapons to Shiite extremists in Iraq. But Iraqi officials say he was here legally and should be set free.

In New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the AP that the border closure was intended to protect religious pilgrims and that "commercial goods and freight transactions continue."

However, a Kurdish merchant from Sulaimaniyah said he had three trucks loaded with construction materials stuck on the Iranian side of the border near Panjwin. "They didn't allow them to cross, they closed the gate," Khalid Aman Sulaiman said.

Merchants and officials said hundreds of trucks were backed up on the Iranian side and no goods were being allowed across.

"We are paying the price for the U.S.-Iranian struggle in Iraq," businessman Rashid Saleh complained as he fretted over his shipment of Iranian dairy products stuck under a blazing sun on the Iranian side of the border at Panjwin. "What is our guilt? We have families to feed."

Iran's move appeared aimed in part at driving a wedge between Iraq and the United States at a time of friction between the two countries over the alleged killing of 11 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater USA security guards.

A long-term closure of the border would have a devastating effect on the economy of the Kurdish self-governing region, the most prosperous and stable part of the country.

The Kurds are also the most pro-American community in Iraq, and the U.S. relies heavily on Kurdish politicians as mediators between the Shiite and Sunni Arab communities.

Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the autonomous Kurdish government, said the Iranian move "will have a bad effect on the economic situation of the Kurdish government and will hurt the civilians as well."

"We are paying the price of what the Americans have done by arresting the Iranian," he said.

Last week, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd from Sulaimaniyah, warned in a letter to U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker that Iran had threatened to close its border with Iraq's Kurdish region over the case and demanded Farhadi's release.

In an interview Sunday with the AP in New York, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki complained that Farhadi's arrest was an infringement on Iraqi sovereignty and that his detention was "unacceptable."

---------------------------
Iraqi truckers kept waiting at Iran borders by Shwan Mohammed
34 minutes ago



BASHMAKH, Iraq (AFP) - Traders in Iraq's northern Kurdish region flocked on Sunday to border posts Iran announced would reopen after a two-week closure but found them still shut, witnesses and officials said.


Queues of trucks formed from early morning at the border points, closed by Iran on September 24 to protest the US arrest of an Iranian national, but by late afternoon traders had given up hope of crossing before Monday.

At Bashmakh, around 130 kilometres (80 miles) northeast of Sulaimaniyah, drivers of around 100 trucks waited for the gates of the most important of five crossings to open but as the day wore on this looked increasingly unlikely.

A similar situation existed at the Haj Umran frontier crossing, said Abdul Wahid Koani, mayor of the nearby frontier town of Joman.

"The merchants went this morning to with their trucks hoping to cross over but the gates were still shut," said Koani.

"But the Iranian side always takes its time," he told AFP. "It could be two days or three hours."

He said later that the hold-up was due to the fact that Iranian officials had failed to arrive to open up the border posts.

"They now will only open on Monday," Koani said.

Iran's semi-official news agency Fars had reported that the border would reopen on Sunday.

"It has been agreed to reopen the borders as of... October 7, 2007" it quoted Iran's Supreme National Security Council's deputy in charge of domestic security, Mohammad Jafari, as saying on Saturday.

According to Kurdistan trade minister Mohammed Raouf, the closure has cost the autonomous Kurdish region one million dollars a day as trucks conveying goods remained stuck at the border.

Tehran had closed its borders with northern Iraq on September 24 following the detention of Mahmoud Farhadi by US forces.

The US military charges that Farhadi is an officer of the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards which is accused by American commanders of helping Shiite militias involved in Iraq's bloody sectarian conflict.

Iran and the Kurdish regional government however say Farhadi is a businessman who was part of a commercial delegation visiting Sulaimaniyah.

"After two days of negotiations, it was agreed that Iraq takes necessary steps to control the border and block the penetration of terrorists into the Iranian soil," Jafari said of the results of recent talks with a high-ranking Kurdish delegation in Tehran.

The talks would continue on October 18, he said.

Iran has accused the United States of turning a blind eye to the actions of the local rebels.

Washington also accuses Tehran of fomenting unrest in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

A member of the Kurdish delegation, Nabhan Omar, told reporters in Sulaimaniyah by telephone from Tehran that the opening of the border was for a trial period of 18 days.

"It is a temporary measure and during this time we will try to agree on a mechanism that will allow for a permanent reopening of the border," Omar said.

"It was agreed that neither side would allow their territory to be used by armed groups as a springboard for attacks across the borders."

Omar said it had also been agreed to reopen the Iranian consulate in Arbil which was shut in January when US forces raided the building and arrested five Iranians they said were Quds Force officers.

Another Iranian consulate would be opened in Sulaimaniyah while Iraqi consulates would be opened in Kermanshah and Urmia, two cities in northwestern Iran near the borders of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

Please help me. I'm asking for help from anyone

IRAQ-PAKISTAN: Iraqi refugees in limbo awaiting third country resettlement
24 Sep 2007 09:34:55 GMT

RAWALPINDI, 24 September 2007 (IRIN) - "I can't go back to Iraq. If I do they will kill me," Iraqi asylum seeker Fadhel Nama Audah, 50, said. He could not return because his political connections with Saddam Hussein's regime effectively barred him.

Married with seven children, his eyes welled up with tears as he recalled the overland journey to Pakistan through Iran eight years ago in the hope of finding a better life for his family.

Audah's case for refugee status was rejected by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in July 1998.

Unemployed, undocumented, unassisted and with no legal right to be in the country, he said he now had to beg outside mosques in Rawalpindi to provide for his family.

"Forget me. I just want a better future for my children," he said, none of whom went to school.

According to the UNHCR, there are over 150 Iraqi refugees in Pakistan today most of whom arrived after the 1991 Gulf war. Scattered in urban areas throughout Pakistan, their plight is now largely ignored by the world's media, which understandably focuses more on the over two million Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

"These people have been forgotten," Aiman Abdul Majeed, consul of the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said. "They need help."

UNHCR refugee card

However, assistance for this small group of Iraqis remains limited, and depends to a great extent on their ability to secure a UNHCR refugee card upon arrival.

In Pakistan the UNHCR does not offer blanket assistance to urban refugees, though needy families can apply for a subsistence allowance and medical help, Vivian Tan, a UNHCR spokeswoman in the capital, Islamabad, said.

Five years ago most of the over 600 Iraqis then in the country were airlifted home with the help of the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad and the UAE government. Those that remain mostly cite security fears as the primary obstacle to return.

"In this country most Iraqi refugees want third country resettlement," Majeed told IRIN. "It's just a waiting game and that's exactly what they are doing."

Some have been waiting for as long as 17 years.

"As with recognised refugees everywhere, they face the challenge of integrating into a new society, learning a new language and trying to resume their normal lives as quickly as possible," Tan said.

But for refugees like Mohammad Fawad Kazim and others, the problems go far deeper.

Unable to legally work and without a family, the 34-year-old from Baghdad admits he has considered suicide more than once - and will do so again if things do not change.

"I can't live like this," he said, explaining how unscrupulous policemen often demand bribes from him and threaten him with arrest if he does not pay up.

He was able to secure a UNHCR refugee card, and this meant he could get enough money to pay the rent for his simple one room apartment in Rawalpindi, but he spends most of his time alone with a tiny TV as his sole companion; a broken man with little hope for a better future.

His application for third country resettlement has been rejected five times. Life has lost all meaning for the former hairdresser, and, though he still dreams of joining his family in Canada, he concedes that his options are running out.

Pleas for help

"Please help me. I'm asking for help from anyone," he said, claiming that the UNHCR had now closed his case.

Asked why he does not simply return to his country, he replied with a hint of desperation: "According to the UN, Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world. Why would I go back?"

That is a good question, but one that leaves him and other Iraqi asylum seekers in Pakistan in a quandary. Should they return to an unsafe Iraq or face an uncertain future in Pakistan?

Like Audah, Mohammad Shakir Salman has been in Pakistan for eight years, but appears to have applied for refugee status only on 25 January 2007.

"My family is all in America. Why should I go back [to Iraq]? I have nothing there. And I'm a Sunni living in a Shia neighbourhood," he said, alluding to the increased sectarian violence that now grips his country.

"Pakistan is like a jail for me," another despondent Iraqi told IRIN. "Please help us."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Visiting Harar, Ethiopia



The walls that ring the city of Harar, Ethiopia, look much as they did hundreds of years ago, July 21, 2007. For 1,000 years, this city on a hilltop has been a center of Islamic faith in the Horn of Africa, with a forbidding, 4-meter (13-foot) wall surrounding ancient mosques and serpentine alleyways. Harar was named a UNESCO World Heritage site last year, joining some of the world's top landmarks such as the Grand Canyon in the United States, the Great Wall of China and the Acropolis in Greece. It is also the fourth holiest city in Islam — behind Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Anita Powell)


An antique hand written Quran is displayed inside the museum in Harar, Ethiopia, July 21, 2007.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Iran case shows ground zero access tight

By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer
Thu Sep 20, 10:13 PM ET



NEW YORK - Almost everyone agrees Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't belong at ground zero. So who gets access these days to the 16-acre pit where the World Trade Center once anchored the Manhattan skyline, a slice of the city that many regard as hallowed ground?

Construction workers. The families of victims. The occasional journalist. And not too many others, in stark contrast to the days immediately after Sept. 11 when the smoldering site was overrun with celebrities, politicians and even Playboy playmates.

Amid the chaos after the twin towers fell, rescue workers and cleanup crews mingled with a parade of well known visitors: Muhammad Ali, Robert De Niro, cast members from "The Sopranos," Martha Stewart.

Miss America Katie Harman signed body ID tags for grateful workers. Boxing promoter Don King toured the site, as did U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other world leaders. Almost half of the Senate arrived en masse.

The vast majority came to offer support and condolences, although critics suggested others viewed a trip to the devastation as a photo op.

"It was like you had celebrity status only if you got in at ground zero," recalled Brian Jordan, a Franciscan priest who spent long hours in lower Manhattan in the weeks after two hijacked planes struck the towers.

Within a month, the city was turning down hundreds of requests to visit the site and began asking celebrities to avoid the area as the treacherous search for remains continued.

Six years later, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said a proposed ground zero visit by Ahmadinejad during next week's U.N. General Assembly had no chance. Police cited ongoing construction and security concerns, and the Iranian president, who is under Secret Service protection while in the U.S., was told to steer clear.

"We have communicated our concerns to the Iranian Mission," Kelly said. "I am sure they will abide by our statement ... Our position is that he will not be permitted to go."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would provide protection for all guests of the United Nations without requiring that they pass a "litmus test for views." He said of Ahmadinejad: "I personally find what this guy has said abhorrent, and I think it would be inappropriate to have him visit."

Some objected to Ahmedinejad's visit on political grounds.

"To have the leader of the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world visit the site of the most heinous terrorist attack on America would be an affront to the victims and families of 9/11 and to all who lived through that day," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The sentiment was echoed by the State Department, where deputy spokesman Tom Casey called the idea of an Ahmedinejad visit "rather appalling and the height of hypocrisy." New York-based presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani also expressed their opposition to the suggested visit.

Giuliani, the mayor at the time of the attacks, was caught in a dust-up when he took a Saudi prince on a tour of the site in October 2001. Giuliani then rejected the prince's $10 million relief check after the prince suggested U.S. policies in the Middle East were partly to blame for the carnage.

The Iranian president, in an interview to air Sunday on "60 Minutes," indicated he would not press the issue. "I won't insist," Ahmadinejad said, although he expressed disbelief that the visit would offend Americans.

When reminded by interviewer Katie Couric that the United States considers Iran an exporter of terrorism, he said: "We are very much against any terrorist action and any killing. ... Usually you go to these sites to pay your respects, and also to, perhaps, air your views about the root causes of such incidents."

The reaction to Ahmadinejad's request to lay a memorial wreath was the latest reminder of the still-raw feelings about the site.

Before last week's anniversary of the attacks, family members battled with city officials to gain access to the area where the 110-story buildings once soared. The official ceremony was held in a nearby park, but the mourners were permitted to walk down into the site during the service, perhaps for the last time.

Some family members stayed home rather than participate in the first yearly memorial not held on the site itself.

Hard hats and construction equipment are a daily presence at ground zero. The stream of tourists who visit the site every day must stand on a sidewalk and peer through a fence.

Though Ahmadinejad may not be welcome at ground zero, he is at Columbia University, where he is scheduled to appear Monday at a question-and-answer session with faculty members and students as part of the school's World Leaders Forum.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn, though, is not happy and has called for Columbia to withdraw the invitation, saying it was providing a forum for the leader's "hate speech."

"The idea of Ahmadinejad as an honored guest anywhere in our city is offensive to all New Yorkers," council speaker Christine Quinn wrote. "Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier, here for one reason — to spread his hate-mongering vitriol on the world stage."

Columbia president Lee Bollinger has described the event as part of "Columbia's long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues."

Last year, the university scrapped plans for a speech by Ahmadinejad after the Jewish Defense Organization expressed outrage. The university cited security and logistical problems when it made the announcement.

"Go, Go, Go"


Survivor recalls Blackwater shootings By BUSHRA JUHI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 42 minutes ago



BAGHDAD - Lawyer Hassan Jabir was stuck in traffic when he heard Blackwater USA security contractors shout "Go, Go, Go." Moments later bullets pierced his back, he said Thursday from his hospital bed.



Jabir was among about a dozen people wounded Sunday during the shooting in west Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood. Iraqi police say at least 11 people were killed.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki described the shooting as a "crime" by Blackwater, a N.C.-based company that guards American diplomats and civilian officials in Iraq.

"No one fired at them," Jabir said of the Blackwater guards. "No one attacked them but they randomly fired at people. So many people died in the street."

Blackwater's operations have been suspended pending completion of a joint U.S.-Iraqi investigation. In the meantime, most U.S. diplomats and civilian officials are confined to the Green Zone or U.S. military bases unless they can travel by helicopter.

As Jabir posed for photographers in Yarmouk Hospital, an Interior Ministry official came by to register his name as a victim in connection with the investigation.

Jabir's account is among several versions which the investigators hope to reconcile. Blackwater insists that its employees came under fire from armed insurgents and shot back to protect State Department employees.

The New York Times reported in its Friday editions that the Iraqi government has concluded the Blackwater guards weren't fired upon and that the shooting was unprovoked.

An Iraqi Interior Ministry report stated that "the Blackwater company is considered 100 percent guilty through this investigation," according to the Times. The document also recommends the dozens of foreign security companies in the country be replaced by Iraqi companies, their immunity lifted, and that Blackwater pay compensation to the families of the victims.

A U.S. official in Washington who's familiar with information collected by investigators said the accounts given by witnesses are widely different. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is not over.

Jabir, whose left arm and chest were bandaged, said he was driving toward the Ministry of Justice when he found the road clogged with traffic. He saw several armored vehicles with armed guards on the roofs parked ahead of the traffic jam. Three black SUVs were behind them.

"After 20 minutes, the Americans told us to turn back," he said. "They shouted 'Go' 'Go' 'Go.'... When we started turning back, the Americans began shooting heavily at us. The traffic policeman was the first person killed."

The shooting set off a panic, Jabir said, with men, women and children diving from their vehicles, trying desperately to crawl to safety.

"But many of them were killed," he said. "I saw a 10-year-old boy jump in fear from one of the minibuses. He was shot in his head. His mother jumped after him and was also killed."

Suddenly, Jabir felt two bullets strike his back — one pierced his left lung and the other lodged in his intestines.

"I kept on driving my car because if I left it, I would die," he said. "Then I was hit with two other bullets, one in my right hand and the second in my right shoulder just under the neck. ... I was rescued by Iraqi special forces" who rushed to the area.

"I swear to God that they were not exposed to any fire," Jabir said of the Blackwater guards. "They are criminals and thirst for blood."



U.S. officials have refused to discuss details of the shooting pending completion of the investigation.

President Bush told reporters in Washington that he expects to discuss the incident with al-Maliki during a meeting in New York next week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session.

"Folks like Blackwater who provide security for the State Department are under rules of engagement," Bush said. "They have certain rules. And this commission will determine whether they violated those rules."

According to the official in Washington, most of the Iraqi witnesses say Blackwater guards fired on a car which had acted suspiciously. The car then burst into flames and exploded, according to the Iraqi witnesses.

American witnesses maintain they were taking fire before the car approached, and fired back. Some insist the car exploded without being hit, the official said. That version suggests it was a car bomb.

Some Iraqis didn't seem to care which version was correct. For them, the real problem is that their country is occupied by foreigners — whether soldiers or civilians.

"Our problem is rooted in the occupation, regardless of whether it's by security firms or foreign troops," a Baghdad resident, who have his name only as Abu Ahmed, told Associated Press Television News. "This is one of the grave consequences of the occupation."


Blackwater security company back on the streets of Baghdad 23 minutes ago


BAGHDAD (AFP) - US private security company Blackwater was back on the streets of Baghdad, four days after being grounded following a shooting incident in which 10 people were killed, a US official said Friday.

Blackwater guards were giving protection to US embassy staff and other officials on "limited" missions, US spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo told AFP.

"We have resumed limited movement today. It is very limited and all missions need to be pre-approved," she said.

"The decision was taken by us in consultation with the Iraqi government. All convoys will be protected by PSDs (private security details). Yes, it is Blackwater."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thousands protest racial injustice in U.S. South after black students beat up white student

Friday, September 21, 2007 at 07:38 EDT

JENA, La — Thousands of demonstrators marched through this small Louisiana town Thursday protesting racial injustice after stiff criminal charges were brought against a group of black students who beat up a white student in a school fight.

The case, which has become a potent example for civil rights leaders of widespread inequality in the U.S. criminal justice system, comes after a series of race incidents at the high school in Jena.

Racial tensions first erupted after a black student tried to cross an invisible color line and sit under the schoolyard's "white tree" to be greeted the next morning by nooses hanging from the tree.

Several fights broke out on and off campus afterwards and a fire was set in the school after the authorities refused to expel the three white students who hung up the nooses — long a symbol of anti-black violence in the south — calling it an "adolescent prank."

In most of the incidents, the white students escaped any criminal charges. But tensions flared to a new height when after a December schoolyard brawl six black students were charged with attempted murder.

While the charges against the Jena Six, as they have become known, were eventually reduced, the students still face stiff penalties.

Civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson likened Thursday's protest to the great civil rights marches in America in the 1950s.

"Just as Little Rock defined desegregation ... today we march, fighting for criminal justice equality," Jackson told the crowd.

"The Department of Justice in Washington's gone silent," he said. "We are intent to have hearings of the matter of criminal justice in Jena because there is a Jena in every town, a Jena in every state."

Critics here accuse the local district attorney of racism for failing to hand out equal punishment to the white students who started fights with their black peers.

"It's not equal," said Tina Jones, the mother of one of the Jena Six.

"The black people get the harsher extent of the law whereas white people get a slap on the wrist," she told CNN.

"I hope the DA will wake up and realize that he's doing the wrong thing and to release these kids and let them go."

But LaSalle Parish district attorney Reed Walters told a press conference with the white victim of the school beating, Justin Barker, standing silently behind him, that the case "is not and never has been about race."

He denounced the students who hung the nooses from a tree last September but said he was unable to prosecute them because it did not qualify as a hate-crime — a conclusion also reached by the region's federal prosecutor.

"This was an awful act," Walters said. "It was not a prank but a vicious and crude statement ... The people who did it should be ashamed of themselves and mortified at the havoc they have unleashed on this community."

President George W Bush said on Thursday: "The events in Louisiana have saddened me. And I understand the emotions.

"The Justice Department and the FBI are monitoring the situation down there. And all of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice."

Bush insisted the Republican party had a "good record" on race relations, but Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who is black, seized on the protest to call for change.

"When a noose hangs from a schoolyard tree in the 21st century and young men are treated in a way that is not equal nor just, it is not just an offense to the people of Jena or to the African-American community, it is an offense to the ideals we hold as Americans," he said in a statement.

Uneven sentencing for blacks and whites is common across the country, according to a report by the New York-based Urban League.

African-American men are three times more likely than white men to face jail once they have been arrested: 24.4% of blacks arrested in the United States in 2005 ended up in jail compared with 8.3% of white men.

They also receive jail sentences that are on average 15% longer than whites convicted of the same crime.

The biggest disparity is among men convicted of aggravated assault: black men were sentenced to an average of 48 months in jail, which is 33% longer than the average sentence of 36 months received by white men, according to the League's annual State of Black America report.

Iran: Allow Baha'i Students Access to Higher Education

19 Sep 2007 21:15:42 GMT
Source: Human Rights Watch


(New York, September 20, 2007) ? Iran should immediately end practices aimed at barring Baha'i students from attending universities, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should quickly resolve the situation of some 800 Baha'i students whom it prevents from obtaining their educational records and completing the university admission process.

International Baha'i organizations and Baha'i students in Iran reported to Human Rights Watch that authorities at the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization have denied 800 Baha'i students access to their National Entrance Examination scores. The test is a national matriculation exam required for admission to Iran's universities.

"This week, as universities begin the new academic year, hundreds of Iranian students will be absent from campuses because of blatant religious discrimination," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Students who have taken the National Entrance Examination can obtain their results and check the fields they are eligible to study on the website of the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization. In the past, the authorities published results in newspapers and made them accessible to the general public. The government shifted to an electronic format two years ago, making the test results available only to individual students checking their scores.

The 2007 National Entrance Examinations were administered on June 28-30, and the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization made the first results available on their site (www.sanjesh.org) on July 31.

This year, when some 800 students of the Baha'i faith logged on to the website, they received an error message informing them that their files were "incomplete." Three of these students told Human Rights Watch that authorities at the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization did not respond to numerous phone calls and letters requesting clarification about why their test results were inaccessible.

Two other students who inquired in person to the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization office in Tehran told Human Rights Watch that officials said explicitly that they had been targeted because they were Baha'is. One student said that an official told him they had "received orders from above not to score the tests of Baha'i students." Another student said that the official he spoke to suggested that he would be able to receive his test scores only if his family renounced their faith.

Iran is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights which obligates it to make higher education equally accessible to all without discrimination. Iran is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 of which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

With an estimated 300,000 members, the Baha'i community is Iran's largest religious minority. The Iranian government considers Baha'is to be apostates from Islam and does not recognize their faith as legitimate, unlike Iran's Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian communities. Baha'is in Iran cannot practice their faith in a public manner.

Until 2004, the Iranian government required a declaration of religious affiliation on the application for the National University Entrance exam. The application included slots only for Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian students, effectively disqualifying Baha'i students. After the requirement was dropped in 2004, Baha'i students were able to participate in the exams, but their applications were rejected at later points in the admissions process until 2006, when over 200 Baha'i students were allowed to enter national universities.

"Special" Mahdi Army Squads Emerge In Baghdad


Sadr Loyalists Honor "Freeze" as New Groups Attack US Forces.


Billboard shows Muqtada al-Sadr, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.

The freeze in Mahdi Army activity ordered by Muqtada al-Sadr is beginning to reveal splits in the militia in some areas of Baghdad.


A hitherto unknown group claiming the heritage of the Sadrist Current has announced that it will not honor the "freeze" of the Mahdi Army militia ordered Wednesday by Muqtada al-Sadr.

BAGHDAD, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. military detained an Iraqi police colonel on Thursday on suspicion of aiding Shi'ite militias in Baghdad in attacks on Sunni Arabs.

Colonel Thamir al-Husayni, also known as Abu Turab, is alleged to have targeted Sunnis wanted by Shi'ite militias as well as ordering his men to abuse detainees and force detainees into wrongful confessions, the military said in a statement.

"His arrest is the most recent in a series of arrests focused on members of the Iraqi Security Forces who are complicit with illegal and militia activities," the statement added.

It said 11 members of Iraq's security forces had been detained since May. Iraq's national police force has long been plagued by accusations of sectarianism.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Iran's Ahmadinejad denied visit to NY Trade Center

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been denied a request to visit the World Trade Center site of the Sept. 11 attacks, New York police said on Wednesday.

Ahmadinejad, who regularly accuses the United States of arrogance in his speeches, had asked to visit the site while in New York for the United Nations General Assembly this month.

"The site is closed to visitors because of construction there," police spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement. "Requests for the Iranian president to visit the immediate area would also be opposed by the NYPD on security grounds."

Police said they were unsure why Ahmadinejad wanted to visit.

The mere notion of Ahmadinejad visiting drew fire from White House hopefuls on both sides of the political divide. Washington has long accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism.

"It is unacceptable for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who refuses to renounce and end his own country's support of terrorism, to visit the site of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in our nation's history," Democratic U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

Former Republican New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani also opposed any such visit.

"This is a man who has made threats against America and Israel, is harboring Bin Laden's son and other al Qaeda leaders, is shipping arms to Iraqi insurgents and is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons," he said.

"Assisting Ahmadinejad in touring Ground Zero -- hallowed ground for all Americans -- is outrageous."

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, agreed with the police decision and accused Iran of supporting violent groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We do not support that the tragedy that happened on a site where so many people lost their lives be used as a photo op," Khalilzad told reporters.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, some Iranians held impromptu vigils in Tehran.

In 2002 U.S. President George W. Bush famously labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil" that also included Iraq and North Korea. Since then Iran has defied western pressure to suspend its nuclear program.

Officials at the Iran mission to the United Nations were not immediately available for comment.

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold)

Beirut car bomb kills at least five

BEIRUT, Sept 19 (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded in the Christian eastern part of Beirut on Wednesday, killing at least five people and wounding four in an attack that may have targeted a political figure, security sources said.

Television footage showed several cars on fire and bodies being carried away from the scene.

"The explosion took place in the Sin el-Fil area near the Metropolitan hotel," a security source said.

Beirut has been hit by a series of bomb attacks in the past two and a half years, many of them aimed at politicians.

In Feb 2005, former Prime minister Rafik al-Hariri was killed along with 22 other people in a massive car bomb attack.

-----
The lawmaker, Antoine Ghanem of the Christian Phalange party, was killed by the blast in a Christian district of the Lebanese capital. At least 19 other people were wounded by the bomb in the busy commercial and residential area of Sin el-Fil.

Several cars were set ablaze and rescue workers carried bodies from the scene in eastern Beirut. Ghanem, 64, was a member of the anti-Syrian governing coalition which has been locked in a power struggle since November with factions backed by Damascus.

Parliament is due to convene on Sept. 25 to elect a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. But political sources say resumed contacts between the rival leaders are unlikely to bear fruit in time for the vote to go ahead then.

Pierre Gemayel, the industry member and lawmaker who was assassinated in November last year, was a member of the same party as Ghanem.

Eight anti-Syrian figures have been killed in Lebanon since 2005 in a series of assassinations that started with the Feb. 14, 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

In June this year, anti-Syrian lawmaker Walid Eido and 9 other people died in a car bomb attack.

Hariri's family says Syria was behind the killing of the former prime minister and later attacks, but Damascus denies this.

Members of Fadhila political party speak during a joint news conference with Moqtada al-Sadr's political movement party in Najaf




Members of Fadhila political party speak during a joint news conference with Moqtada al-Sadr's political movement party in Najaf September 15, 2007. The political movement of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Sadr said on Saturday it had withdrawn from Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Alliance, dealing a further blow to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
REUTERS/ALI ABU SHISH



Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks with journalists at his office in Najaf in this August 25, 2005 file photo. The political movement of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on September 15, 2007 it had withdrawn from Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Alliance, dealing a further blow to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Picture taken August 25, 2005.
REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

US halts diplomatic convoys from Iraq's Green Zone

19 Sep 2007 01:50:33 GMT
Source: Reuters


WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (Reuters) - The United States has barred diplomats and civilians from leaving Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" after a shooting involving the Blackwater security firm that drew protests from Iraq and prompted investigations, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

Separately, the United States and Iraq plan to conduct a joint investigation of Sunday's incident involving Blackwater guards in which 11 people were shot dead, American officials said.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said the Blackwater guards were reacting to a car bomb that went off near an official convoy. According to other accounts, however, the Blackwater guards fired randomly after mortar rounds landed near their motorcade.

The Green Zone houses the U.S. Embassy as well as many Iraqi ministries and senior officials who are largely protected from the daily violence in other parts of the Iraqi capital.

One U.S. official said the decision to suspend civilian convoys from leaving the area was to permit a review of security procedures after the Blackwater incident.

"Basically, they did a temporary stand-down of land convoy travel outside the Green Zone because we had a terrible incident here," he said on condition of anonymity. "One of the things that makes sense under any circumstances is to stop ... and look at our procedures."

The official said the decision only affected non-military convoys that carry U.S. diplomats and civilian officials.

The Blackwater incident has angered Iraqis, many of whom believe that the estimated tens of thousands of private American security guards in their country act with impunity.

U.S. officials said they expect to announce the plan to conduct a joint inquiry on Wednesday, changing their initial decision to have the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security look into the incident on its own.

"We want this to be a cooperative process and, ultimately, what's important here is that we and the Iraqis feel that we have a common set of facts to work from," said one official.

Additionally, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates directed his staff to calculate the department's use of and reliance on private security contractors and determine what rules guide contractor conduct and operations, according to Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. The department was expected to gather that data by Wednesday.
------------------------------
U.S. curbs road travel for its officials in Iraq19 Sep 2007 10:33:27 GMT
Source: Reuters


By Waleed Ibrahim and Dean Yates

BAGHDAD, Sept 19 (Reuters) - U.S. civilian officials have been barred from road travel in Iraq outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone because of possible attacks after a deadly shooting involving American security firm Blackwater.

Iraq has said it would review the status of all security firms after what it called a "flagrant assault" by Blackwater contractors in which 11 people were killed while the firm was escorting an embassy convoy through Baghdad on Sunday.

In a statement seen by Reuters on Wednesday and sent to Americans in Iraq, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said the temporary ban was imposed to reassess security procedures.

"In light of the serious security incident involving a U.S. embassy protection detail ... the embassy has suspended official U.S. government civilian ground movements outside the International Zone (IZ) and throughout Iraq," it said.

"This suspension is in effect in order to assess mission security and procedures, as well as to assess a possible increased threat to personnel travelling with security details outside the International Zone."

The sprawling International Zone, also known as the Green Zone, houses the U.S and other Western embassies as well as many Iraqi government ministries.

The order barring U.S. civilians and diplomats from leaving the compound further isolates American officials from Iraqis amid already tight curbs on movement because of security fears.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Tuesday the cabinet had backed an Interior Ministry decision to "halt the licence" of Blackwater and launch an investigation.

The Interior Ministry has said the incident was sparked when Blackwater contractors opened fire indiscriminately after mortar rounds landed near to their convoy in western Baghdad on Sunday.

Blackwater, one of the biggest private security operators in Iraq, said its guards reacted "lawfully and appropriately" to a hostile attack.

The Iraqi and U.S. governments have set up a joint committee to investigate the killings.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told a news conference the review of security firms in Iraq would examine their rules of engagement and also an earlier regulation that gave such firms immunity from Iraqi law.

He said there were more than 180 security companies in Iraq. Estimates of the number of security contractors employed by mainly U.S. and European firms range from 25,000 to 48,000.

"This gives us an opportunity to review the methods and work of these companies, especially what rules of engagement these companies work by," Rubaie said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking to reporters en route to Israel, said she discussed the incident with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by telephone on Monday.

"I committed to him that we were as interested as the Iraqi government in having a full investigation into what happened, a transparent investigation into what happened and to working with the Iraqi government to make certain that this sort of thing doesn't happen," she said.

Iraq's military said contractors working for Blackwater "indiscriminately opened fire at civilians" on Sunday.

Brigadier-General Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman, said the Interior Ministry had "suspended the work of the Blackwater company inside Iraq and would take legal procedures against it".
Many Iraqis see security contractors as private armies that act with impunity. (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Aseel Kami)
------------------------------


RPT-FEATURE-Shooting shines light on world of Iraq security19 Sep 2007 06:58:52 GMT
Source: Reuters


By Paul Tait

BAGHDAD, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Their helicopters buzz through the Baghdad sky, their patrols bristle with the latest weaponry and their armoured vehicles carry the latest hi-tech gadgets.

It's not the U.S. military but another lethal fighting force in Iraq -- private security contractors.

Iraq has vowed to review all local and foreign security contractors, described by critics as mercenaries who act with impunity, after a shooting incident involving U.S. firm Blackwater on Sunday in which 11 people were killed.

It said it will revoke the licence of the high-profile Blackwater and prosecute those involved in the incident.

But the government might find it difficult to prosecute the case, and even harder to revoke Blackwater's licence because it most probably does not have a current one.

Blackwater said its employees reacted "lawfully and appropriately" to a hostile attack. .
The Iraqi Interior Ministry says 11 people were killed when Blackwater contractors fired randomly after mortar rounds landed near their convoy.

Security sources in Baghdad say they operate in a murky world of little regulation where few companies hold up-to-date licences and many bribe their way into work.

The workings of security contractors in Iraq are so unclear that the State Department, whom Blackwater protects in Iraq, was still unable to say more than 48 hours after Sunday's incident whether the company holds a legitimate licence.

The U.S. embassy also could not answer questions about the legal status of security contractors, and whether any possible proceedings would be prosecuted under Iraqi or U.S. law.


"TOP COVER"

Based in North Carolina, Blackwater was founded in 1997 by former U.S. Navy SEAL Erik Prince and says it works in two main areas: training and protection.

It says on its Web site (www.blackwaterusa.com) that its vision is to "support security, peace, freedom, and democracy everywhere".

It employs about 1,000 people in Iraq and has an immediately visible presence, its small helicopters buzzing in circles as they provide "top cover" whenever U.S. embassy officials travel around the capital.

Estimates of the number of security contractors employed by mainly U.S. and European firms range between 25,000 and 48,000 in what can appear like multinational militias.

Peruvians man checkpoints around Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Fijians in blue helmets guard the U.N. compound.

Australian, English and New Zealand accents abound, many of them former special forces soldiers who learned their martial skills for a fraction of their current wages.


Some security companies try to keep low profiles, but Iraqis have long complained about the heavy-handed approach of others whose convoys of armoured vehicles muscle their way through traffic and shoot at cars which come too close.

Private security industry representatives in Britain said the Blackwater episode highlighted ambiguities in the status of security contractors and a need to update laws governing them.

Security firms still operate under memorandum 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority, written in 2004, which makes foreign security contractors immune from Iraqi law.

"Circumstances in Iraq have changed drastically since then," said Andy Bearpark, head of the British Association of Private Security Companies.

"We would still wish certain elements of immunity to be maintained. The Iraqi (legal) system is simply not robust enough at the moment to allow for them to be removed," he said.

One Baghdad security source said: "They're operating under Iraqi law but there are so many loopholes in it."

GOVERNMENT POLICY UNCLEAR

Other security sources, who asked not to be named, said few foreign security companies hold current licences, most simply not bothering to renew their one-year permit after landmark 2005 elections because the new government's policy was unclear.

Companies wanting to work in Iraq must register with the ministries of trade and the interior, lodging documentation for personnel, vehicles, weapons, training, fire and safety and first aid, and pay a bond of between $20,000 and $55,000.

David Claridge, managing director of London-based Janusian Security Risk Management which employs about 1,000 mostly Iraqi staff, said the rules on licensing private security companies (PSCs) had not been consistently applied.

"You have to apply those rules evenly. Otherwise it does introduce a level of uncertainty ... and create a sense that some people are totally immune and can behave as they wish and others not," he told Reuters in London.


Claridge and several Baghdad security sources said it was widely known Blackwater was operating without a licence because they worked under the protection of the U.S. embassy.

"From our perspective, it's unwanted attention and unwanted bad publicity for our industry as a whole but we don't consider ourselves to be in the same group as Blackwater," Claridge said.

But many believe Blackwater will survive the incident relatively unscathed, mainly because of its close ties to the State Department.

"Smart money says that Blackwater is in Iraq for the duration," said security author and blogger R J Hillhouse (www.thespywhobilledme.com). (Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan in London)

IRAQ-SYRIA: Iraqis stream into Syria ahead of visa clampdown

DAMASCUS, 18 September 2007 (IRIN) - Iraqis are once again crossing into Syria in large numbers, taking advantage of the Syrian government's relaxation, for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, of newly-introduced visa regulations that prevent asylum seekers from Iraq entering the country.

According to Syrian witnesses working at the main border crossing of Al-Tanf, over 1,000 Iraqi refugees are now making their way into Syria each day.

While the number is down on the more than 2,000 that arrived daily prior to the introduction of the new visa restrictions, it marks a substantial increase on the trickle that entered after the implementation of the new system.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Damascus, the Al-Tanf border crossing was "virtually empty" following the introduction of the new regulations, with one official saying only five Iraqis crossed on one day.

On 10 September the Syrian government introduced visa regulations in an effort to stem the influx of Iraqi refugees into the country, who currently number 1.5 million and are placing huge pressures on domestic services. Under the new system only Iraqis carrying a visa for education, business or scientific reasons will be permitted entry into Syria.

Ramadan reprieve

Speaking to IRIN from the Syria-Iraq border one Iraqi refugee, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed his delight at the Ramadan reprieve. Forced to travel to Baghdad briefly for personal reasons, the relaxation of the law during Ramadan meant he was able to return to the safety of Syria.

"It is a huge relief. Before, I did not know if I was going to be able to return to Syria and it was very scary. But now, so long as I come back before the end of Ramadan, I know I can get back in," he said.

Syrian government officials said the relaxation of visa restrictions during Ramadan was intended to allow families to meet during the month of fasting.

However, the officials confirmed that visa restrictions will be reintroduced after Eid al-Fitr, which will mark the end of Ramadan around 13 October. A spokesperson for the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) in Syria, who requested anonymity, also confirmed that visa restrictions would be applied after the end of Ramadan. The SIIC has conferred closely with the Syrian government on the visa issue.

The UNHCR has expressed fears for Iraqis displaced by the ongoing violence in their country, given the Syrian decision.

"The regulations effectively mean there is no longer a safe place outside for Iraqis fleeing persecution and violence. An estimated 2,000 Iraqis flee their homes daily inside the country, so we are increasingly concerned about their fate as their options for safety are reduced," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond in Geneva last week.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iraqis Fear "bridge Wars" Is Plot To Divide Baghdad, 3rd Day 2nd Bridge collapsed: Busharon Plan working !

CAR BOMB ON SOUTHERN BAGHDAD BRIDGE KILLS 10, WOUNDS 11-POLICE
Bridges Blown; Muqtada Reappeared; Death to America; Israel; Maliki
a suicide car bomb exploded on a major bridge in downtown Baghdad, killing at least 10 people, police said.

At least 15 people were wounded in the attack, which occurred on the Jadriyah bridge over the Tigris river. The extent of damage to the bridge was not immediately clear.

It was the second attack on a major bridge in Baghdad this week.

On Thursday, a suicide truck bomb collapsed the al-Sarafiyah bridge in northern Baghdad, killing 11 people and sending cars plummeting into the waters below.
--------------------------------------------------------------
(Repeats to fix conversion in paragraph 18)

By Ibon Villelabeitia and Mussab Al-Khairalla

BAGHDAD, April 15 (Reuters) - When insurgents blew up the Sarafiya Bridge in Baghdad, a piece of Yaseen Kathim's past was sent forever crashing into the muddy waters of the Tigris River.

"When I heard it was destroyed, I felt I was hit. It was my bridge. I used it everyday," said Kathim, a 37-year-old doctor, lamenting the destruction last Thursday of the steel span.

But the bombing of one of Baghdad's most enduring symbols was not only an attack on the city's infrastructure. Some residents and officials fear it could be part of a more sinister plot by insurgents to split Baghdad, with a Shi'ite east bank and a Sunni west bank.

On Saturday, a suicide car bomber blew himself up at a ramp leading to the Jadriyah bridge, causing no structural damage.

It is unclear if the two attacks were related, but the U.S. military said insurgents appear to be changing tactics.

"The constant strategy of the terrorists is to look at ways to divide and create terror and make life difficult for the people of Iraq," Rear Admiral Mark Fox, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq told reporters on Sunday, adding military planners were "studying carefully" the two incidents.

"The terrorists are planning to split Karkh from Rusafa," said a senior Shi'ite lawmaker, using Baghdad's ancient names for the west bank (Karkh) and the east bank (Rusafa).

"This has been the plan by terrorists and their political allies all along to try and drive Shi'ites out of Karkh so they can split Baghdad in half."

On the other side of the sectarian divide, parliament speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani, an outspoken Sunni politician, called the destruction of Sarafiya a "conspiracy to isolate the two halves of Baghdad".

BAGHDAD'S "BRIDGE WARS"

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, has been religiously mixed for most of its history since it was founded some 1,200 years ago on the banks of the Tigris River by Abbasid Caliph al Mansour.

Its dozen bridges linking the east side with the west side were once a symbol of Baghdad's diversity, where Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs, ethnic Kurds and Christians lived together.

But since the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February 2006, a wave of communal violence has reshaped the city's fabric, carving out sectarian fiefdoms. Sunnis now mainly live on the west side of the river and Shi'ites on the east.

Some talk gloomily of Baghdad's "bridge wars". Although the Sarafiya Bridge was built in the 1940s by the British, its destruction prompted eulogies in local newspapers, as if it was a repeat of the shelling of the fabled Mostar bridge, which became a worldwide symbol of Bosnia's 1992-95 civil war.

Saad Eskander, director of Iraq's National Library and a historian, said blowing up Baghdad's bridges has been a military strategy to conquer and defend the city since ancient times.

Medieval rulers burnt Baghdad's bridges, then wooden planks laid over boats roped together, to stop invading Mongols from sacking the city. The U.S. military, in its wars against Saddam Hussein, destroyed bridges in Baghdad to hinder troop movements.

"Destroying the Sarafiya bridge is an attempt to break Iraq's unity and to polarise our society," Eskander said.

"It is a message that Baghdad will soon become two Baghdads -- one for the Shi'ites and one for the Sunnis."

But for those who share childhood memories of swimming under the 453 metre (l,485 feet) long span as trains chugged along its railway tracks above, Baghdad bridges will never be severed.

"If they think they can split Karkh from Rusafa they are dreaming," said Saadi Ahmed, who runs a money exchange store.

"The terrorists are trying to destroy Baghdad's landmarks to erase our proud history of civilisation." (Additional reporting by Wathiq Ibrahim)

More here.

Basra: After the British;a glimpse of what follows

By Sam Dagher | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

BASRA, IRAQ
When British forces took Basra on April 6, 2003, their artillery damaged a statue of an Iraqi soldier straddling a writhing(To twist, as in pain, struggle, or embarrassment.) shark. It was commissioned by Saddam Hussein to commemorate the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. Looters have stolen the soldier.

But the shark, meant to represent Iran, remains.

The Islamic Republic's influence is indeed felt throughout Basra, Iraq's second-largest city where Shiite parties, militiamen, and criminal gangs all are locked in a vicious fight for power. The streets in the provincial capital are even abuzz with talk of Iranian-trained sleeper cells at the ready.

With the British exit earlier this month, which some analysts say is a prelude to the 5,500-strong contingent's complete withdrawal from Iraq, comes great uncertainty for this city: Will Iran bolster its strategic foothold? Will the Shiite militias control the streets? Is the Iraqi Army strong enough to mediate the fight between rival parties?

What happens here may provide a window on the future for the rest of Iraq.

This is a city that operates according to a fragile balance of military force, fear, cronyism (Favoritism shown to old friends without regard for their qualifications, as in political appointments to office.), and business interests. All of Iraq is perilous. But the violence and fear in Basra takes place mostly outside the sphere of Sunni-Shiite killings. Al Qaeda is not a factor.

Basra is a predominately Shiite city, yet it is still imbued with fear of kidnappings, assassinations, and being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This instability reveals that the violence in Iraq is not only sectarian or the result of insurgent activity, but is also caused by deep-seated political and tribal rivalries and an intense scramble for power.

"I came back to Iraq when the American and British tanks rolled in … things looked promising and we thought our dream of a democratic and tolerant state may materialize," says a university professor, who, like dozens of people interviewed by the Monitor during a recent trip to Basra requested anonymity for fear of retribution from militias. "The dream has been shattered. I feel trapped now and I am very pessimistic. I am looking for a way out."

The British say they can return if necessary. In a statement issued Sept. 5, Britain's Ministry of Defense said that despite the pullout they "still retain security responsibility" for Basra Province. They will hand over full control to provincial authorities by year-end.

"Troops will retain the capability to intervene in support of the Iraqi Security Forces should the security situation demand it," it said.

But should British forces decide to venture back, they will inevitably face a den of Mahdi Army fighters. During the occupation, Moqtada al-Sadr's militia made a habit of targeting the Hussein-era compound of palaces in the city center that had been the British base until its hand-over to the Iraqi Army earlier this month.

17,000 Mahdi Army militiamen

Billboards glorify Mahdi militiamen who died fighting the British. Streets carry their names. Upon the British departure, the Mahdi Army claimed victory. It had been leading the fight against the occupation since its early days. On Sept. 8, thousands of militiamen roamed the city center in vehicles and on foot brandishing Mr. Sadr's posters in what they billed as a "victory parade."

They are trying to "falsely claim credit for 'driving us out,' " says Maj. Mike Shearer, spokesman for the British forces.

In the fight between Shiite factions, Mr. Sadr's army has emerged as the most formidable force.

The militia is said to number 17,000 in Basra alone and is divided into 40 company-size military units, according to a senior Iraqi security official. Little is known about their local leader, Muntasir al-Maliki, who had replaced a commander killed by British forces in late May, except what's said about him having killed his own father a few years ago because he was an unrepentant supporter of the former regime.

They control multiple units in the 14,500-strong police force, and hold sway in hospitals, the education board, the university, ports and oil terminals, and the oil products and electricity distribution companies, says a Basra-based, Iraqi researcher.

There is no doubt of the militia's power. In an Aug. 24 meeting, witnessed by the Monitor, two Mahdi commanders pledged to a senior Iraqi security official not to attack British forces as they withdrew, in exchange for the release of 26 of their members.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of coalition troops in Iraq, confirmed this in his testimony to the Senate on Sept. 11. And the Mahdi Army nationwide has been ordered by Sadr to freeze their activities for six months after intra-Shiite clashes in Karbala Province to the north of Basra in late August. But no one is sure whether that will be obeyed here.

"The issue of resistance depends on central decisions but this may change from place to place in Iraq depending on the conditions," says one Basra-based Mahdi Army commander, cryptically.

He boasts that the militia has rockets that possess a range farther than the air base, where British troops are all concentrated now, and that it controls vast weapons depots dating from the former regime that "will last us from here until eternity."

In fact, British forces said one of their soldiers was killed Sept. 5, just days after the withdrawal from the palaces, bringing to 42 the number of soldiers killed this year alone, compared with 29 in all of 2006.

The Iranian connection to the Mahdi Army, as US officials have insisted, indeed exists, says the Basra researcher. These Tehran-backed groups are often referred to in US military communiqués as "Special Groups."

The researcher says one form of support is free shipments of food from Iran that are then sold in markets. The proceeds, he says, are used to purchase arms in weapon markets in Mahdi Army strongholds in the city like Khamsa Meel (Five Miles) and Hayaniya.

"The [Sadrist] movement is basically a state within a state in Basra that is able to confront the occupation," he says. "No one dares say a word and no one really knows who's in control of the movement."

With the British largely now out of the picture, many expect the Mahdi Army to turn on its main rival – the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, known by Iraqis simply as "the Majlis," or council. It's the dominant Shiite party in the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.


300 assassinations

The council, previously known by its acronym SCIRI, and its affiliates were all based in Iran before Mr. Hussein's ouster. Its paramilitary unit, the Badr Brigade, was trained by the Iranians.

Badrists, as members of the Badr Brigade are known, now hold senior positions throughout central and southern Iraq as governors and commanders in the security forces. In Basra, a senior Badrist, Khalaf al-Badran, heads customs, after founding the police intelligence unit. All border crossings, including Shalamja to Iran and Safwan to Kuwait, are controlled by Badrists. Another top Badrist, Hassan al-Rashid, had been Basra's governor before losing out to Muhammad Mosabeh al-Waeli of the Fadhila Party in 2005.

Already the provinces of Maysan, Dhi Qar (Nasiriyah), and Muthana (Samawa), which had been handed over by the British-led coalition troops to Iraqis starting in 2005, have seen several episodes of pitched battles between the Mahdi Army and government forces beholden to Badr.

Last month saw the assassination of two top Badrists – Muthana Province Gov. Muhammad al-Hassani and Diwaniyah Gov. Jalil Hamza – with most fingers pointing to elements of the Mahdi Army.

"I expect the tit-for-tat assassinations to increase," says a Basra-based newspaper editor, adding that at least 300 partisans of Badr and its sister parties in the Supreme Council have been assassinated in Basra alone since the start of the year.

One resident of the middle-class neighborhood of Jazayer describes how he witnessed the drive-by shooting of a Badr official on his street on Aug. 19 that was promptly followed by the kidnapping, torture, and killing of a Mahdi Army operative in the same neighborhood.

"Facing the often invisible enemy, the terrorists that plague Basra, is not for the fainthearted," says Cpl. Ross Jones in a story posted last month by the British Army on the Ministry of Defense's official website.

God's Revenge

One Shiite party bears the brunt of charges by residents of Iranian influence: Thaar Allah, or God's Revenge. It's described by one Basra journalist as a "time bomb."

On a recent afternoon, the party's leader, Yousif al-Mussawi, stood in front of his SUV with its tinted windows in the courtyard of his headquarters. He spoke on a sleek mobile phone. The bearded Mr. Mussawi wore a shirt unbuttoned at the neck and black jeans. A large pistol was stuffed in his waist.

"Thaar Allah is a party founded by divine purpose," is scrawled on the outside wall. His party has a penchant for(Have a tendency or taste for) graffiti.

Heavily armed men in military fatigues guard the two-story building painted in deep green. In the hallways, men and women mill around waiting to see party officials for help in resolving disputes or landing government jobs.

Inside his office, Mussawi becomes slightly hostile when asked about the origins of his party. He finally relents and says that it started in 1995 as a guerrilla group that conducted operations against the former regime from its base in the marshes along the Iranian border. Mussawi, a former naval officer, was later imprisoned in Baghdad's infamous Abu Ghraib prison and was among the thousands released by Hussein in October 2002 ahead of the US-led invasion.

He does not hide his affection for Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and says that his party desires to establish in Iraq a wilayat faqikh, a state ruled by clerics along the lines of Iran. But he denies any military or financial links to the Iranians.

Mussawi speaks of plans to expand his party's presence throughout Iraq including Baghdad and the need to fight all coalition forces until they leave. "Coalition forces are usurpers, plunderers, and occupiers and must be resisted … by force. I am doing that," he says, refusing to give details.

He rolls out a classified map of Basra prepared by the British military showing the level of violence in July. Asked how he obtained it, he says with a laugh, "They steal it for us."

He denies accusations made by his opponents that the party is bankrolled by protection money paid by wealthy traders including the Ashour family, which dominates the port of Abu Flous, south of the city. He calls the money he receives from these families "donations from party members."

Mussawi has bolstered his position by forging an alliance with what's known in Basra as the Bayet al-Khumasi, or the Pentacle House.

The Bayet al-Khumasi comprises the council and its affiliates the Badr Organization – the new name for the Badr Brigade – the Shaheed Al-Mihrab Foundation, the Sayed al-Shuhada Movement, and the Hizbullah Movement (no relation to Lebanese Hizbullah).

They all want to oust Governor Waeli.

The governor's dilemma

Mr. Waeli, who is a member of the Fadhila Party, is accused of mismanagement of public funds, corruption, and using the 15,000-strong oil facilities protection force, dominated by Fadhila partisans, in Basra and neighboring provinces as a paramilitary unit specializing in crude oil theft.

His enemies have a chant, making the rounds here on cellular phones, that derides Fadhila, which means virtue, as "Radhila," meaning sin.

Some of his detractors also charge that he's an agent for British forces and the Kuwaitis.

Fadhila follows the teachings of the late Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Moqtada's father, but it does not believe the young cleric is fit to carry the Sadrist mantle. Fadhila leader Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, one of the senior Sadr's disciples, has fashioned the party as a Shiite Arab Islamist party opposed to Iran.
This has made Fadhila's relationship with the Mahdi Army tense and put it on a direct collision course with the Supreme Council, the pro-Iranian heavyweight.

Waeli has accused Iran and the council of wanting to remove him because he tried to contain their influence and opposed a plan that would include Basra in a nine-province region friendly to Iran.

"In concert with its allies in Iraq, Iran wants to change the governor of Basra by hook or crook," says the portly Waeli, sitting in his enormous office. He has challenged a no-confidence motion passed by a majority of the provincial council members and a subsequent request by the central government that he quit.

"Arab countries have noticed my nationalist tendencies and have supported me," he adds.

Waeli regularly travels to Gulf Arab countries in what's billed as investment promotion trips.

Throngs of heavily armed bearded men in military pants and black shirts guard the perimeter of Waeli's provincial headquarters.

To up the ante against Waeli, Mussawi from Thaar Allah was tasked with organizing and leading a demonstration in April that degenerated into clashes. The governor himself took up arms to defend his office.

His rivals do not hide their desire for a super Shiite region comparable to the Kurdistan region in the north. They deny any military or intelligence links to Iran and say ties are economic and social in nature.

"Iranians are anxious to work with us, but the Arabs are absent and they keep labeling us as an extension of Iran. There is no truth to this," says Qassim Muhammad, a provincial council member from the Sayed al-Shuhada Movement, which was founded by Dagher al-Mussawi, a former anti-Hussein guerrilla fighter based in Tehran, who is now a parliament member close to Mr. Maliki.

Although Iran is closest to the council and its affiliate parties like Badr and Sayed al-Shuhada, it's also backing many other Shiite groups in southern Iraq including those that are openly using violence to oppose British and coalition troops, according to Ali Ansari, an Iran specialist at London's Chatham House.

"The Iranians are backing as many horses as they can," he says. "But there is a limit to their influence, given how fractious Shiites are in Iraq."

Baghdad's bid to control Basra
Amid this chaotic and dizzyingly complex picture in Basra, the central government has attempted to wrest control in this vital province which, with its oil exports, accounts for nearly 90 percent of Baghdad's revenues.

In June, one year after Maliki had declared a state of emergency in the province, he appointed Lt. Gen. Mohan Hafidh to head the Basra Operations Center (BOC), a body in charge of security in the province in coordination with the British. Iraqi Army forces under General Mohan's command were the ones that took over the palaces vacated by the British. The Army routinely sets up checkpoints now at night all over the city to try to curtail militia movements.

"The BOC and Mohan are the last hope for Basra and many parties want to see him defeated because they do not want to see their gains eroded," says Majid al-Sari, an adviser to General Mohan.

Maliki also appointed Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf to purge the police force of militias. He has already faced two assassination attempts and street protests as he seeks to fire unqualified officers, prevent policemen from using the force's vehicles when moonlighting as militiamen, and enforce a requirement that all policemen shave their beards.

"Criminal activity in Basra is a virus being nurtured by the police force's weakness and its multiple loyalties," the police chief told the Basra-based Al-Manara newspaper.

Few people, let alone the police force, can offer any explanation of the brazen crimes that occur in broad daylight such the theft Aug. 19 of an armored truck transporting nearly $1.2 million worth of funds belonging to the local agricultural board, according to an official with one of the city's main transport companies.

A group of doctors protesting in July the killing of two of their colleagues, possibly because they were former military doctors in the Hussein era, and the kidnapping of leading Basra surgeon Zaki Faddagh, were bluntly told by a provincial official to hire their own guards for protection, according to one of the protesting doctors.

Dr. Faddagh has left Basra after a ransom was paid for his freedom, and the doctor recounting the story says he now will sell all his belongings and leave Basra after his teenage son was kidnapped in August and held for two weeks. He was freed once a hefty ransom was paid. He says he has proof that policemen were aiding the kidnappers.

"If the British took their role as occupiers seriously and dealt with things firmly from the get-go, we would not have gotten to this situation," he says.

Britain's 'light touch'

Martin Navias, an analyst with Britain's Center for Defense Studies, offers a similar assessment. "The light touch [of the British approach here] has allowed various competing groups to gain ascendency in Basra, and Britain has very little control. We are really marginal there."

The British have been preoccupied with training the police and Army, ensuring key that supply routes from Kuwait are secure, and shielding themselves from an increase of attacks by militiamen. Otherwise, they left the competing Islamist parties and militias to their own devices.

British troops in Basra turned down repeated requests by the Monitor for interviews.

In a statement issued Friday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown touted the training of 13,000 Iraqi soldiers as his Army's crowning achievement and said that full control of security in Basra would be handed to the Iraqis by the end of the year, with British forces assuming an "overwatch" role.

He said supply routes would continue to be protected by the British.

Asked on Wednesday if US troops may have to fill any void left by the British, General Petraeus said more Iraqi soldiers would be dispatched to Basra while American Special Operations soldiers would conduct pinpoint missions with their Iraqi counterparts as they did March 20, when they captured in Basra two senior leaders of the Mahdi Army and a Lebanese operative with the pro-Iranian militia Hizbullah.

Now, the Mahdi Army has put banners in Basra warning against "the secret US Army."

In his testimony in Washington last week, Petraeus called Iran's deepening influence in Iraq, particularly in the south, one of the most "unsettling" developments of the past eight months.

He said the various Islamist parties and militias have found a way to "accommodate" one another in order to keep Basra functioning.

"Interestingly there is an accommodation down there right now that is the kind of Iraqi solution to problems in the south that is mildly heartening, I guess is the way to put it," he said. "We are in a wait-and-see approach with Basra but we have every expectation that Basra will be resolved by Iraqis."

A guide to the key Shiite players in Basra


Sadrists and Mahdi Army: The movement of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is a formidable force in Basra. The Mahdi Army is estimated to number 17,000 in the province. Security officials say that some of the Basra militia are infiltrated by Iran and beholden to Tehran. It opposes a super-Shiite region, but supports the ouster of the Fadhila governor.

The Council: The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, previously known by its acronym SCIRI, embraces four other affiliate parties in Basra:


• The Badr Organization – Once the council’s Iranian-trained paramilitary arm, known as the Badr Brigade.


• The Shaheed Al-Mihrab Organization – A nationwide movement headed by Ammar al-Hakim, the son of the Council’s chief.


• The Sayed Al-Shuhada Movement (Master of Martyrs Movement).


• The Hizbullah Movement in Iraq (no relation to Lebanese Hizbullah) and another small Iraqi party called Hizbullah al-Iraq (see below).


All five parties were previously based in Iran and have strong ties to Tehran. The Council and its affiliates hold 21 of the 40 seats in the provincial council. Badr still controls several police units, including customs.


The Pentacle House: The Council and its four party affiliates make up the Bayet al-Khumasi, or the Pentacle House. The goal: to create a nine-province Shiite group called the “South of Baghdad region.” Billboards in Basra tout the project as a “Shiite Renaissance.”


The Islamic Fadhila (Virtue) Party: Fadhila is a national party founded by Basra natives. Its spiritual leader is Najaf-based cleric Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, who broke ranks with Moqtada al-Sadr in 2003.

The movement continues to espouse Sadrist ideas but has increasingly fashioned itself as a Shiite Arab Islamist party opposed to Iranian meddling in Iraq. It opposes the pro-Iranian Council and its affiliates over a number of issues, including the supersouthern region.


Fadhila holds 12 seats in the Basra provincial council, including the governorship and one of the two deputy governor slots in Basra. Fadhila dominates the 15,000-strong oil protection force.


Thaar Allah (God’s Revenge) Party: A small party based in Basra and headed by Yousif al-Mussawi. He is suspected by many city residents of being an Iranian agent. The party derives much of its funding from wealthy merchants who rely on it for protection. It has allied itself with the Council and its Pentacle House in the fight to oust the Fadhila governor. Mr. Mussawi blames the governor for the death of three members of his family during a raid on his party headquarters in 2006.


Hizbullah al-Iraq: A small party headed by tribal chief Abdul-Karim al-Mahamadawi, based in neighboring Maysan Province. The Prince of the Marshes, as Mr. Mahamadawi is known, has a large, armed tribal following and presence in Basra. He has tense relations with the Council and its affiliates.


Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi: The cleric broke ranks with the Sadrists and is believed to be in the holy city of Karbala with the bulk of his militia. But he still has a following in Basra. His posters adorn many streets. The controversial cleric has challenged the authority of the marjiya, the Shiite religious authority dominated by the Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.