President-elect Barack Obama reaffirmed on Monday that he wants to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration. That would be well before the December, 2011 deadline enshrined in the new security agreement between the two countries. The agreement stipulates that its details can be altered by mutual consent, or by one side giving one year’s notice.
Obama, who is retaining Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, said he would give him a new mission, of getting out of Iraq and combatting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. (I don’t think there is any al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; at least, no captures there have been announced to my knowledge since 2002).
As many as 38 persons were killed and 100 wounded in a series of attacks in Iraq on Monday. Guerrillas detonated 2 bombs near a police academy in Baghdad, killing 16. An suicide bomber targeted the convoy of Gen. Mudhhir al Mawla, a right hand man of PM Nuri al-Maliki, seriously wounding him and killing 3 others.
In the northern city of Mosul, a man with a suicide bomb vest detonated it near a US convoy, killing some 16 Iraqis.
Iraq will support supply cuts by OPEC to force the price of petroleum back up, even though the US frowns on this practice. Remember the Neoconservative theory of Perle and Wolfowitz that after Saddam was overthrown, Iraq’s production would sink OPEC and impoverish Saudi Arabia? Turns out, not so much.
Tension is increasing between PM Nuri al-Maliki and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Al-Maliki has criticized Irbil for trying to act like an independent country– letting oil bids without checking with Baghdad and giving out visas, etc. The Kurds in turn are suspicious of the Support Councils al-Maliki has been forming among tribes, which have a paramilitary element and are personally loyal to him. In particular, they are upset that he has sought to organize the Arabs of Hawija in this way. These Arabs oppose the Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk.
Turkey bombed Iraq again striking at bases of the Kurdish Workers Party holed up in its mountains on the border with Turkey.
Iran has decided to back the Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the US, which parliament passed last week. The Iranians mainly want US troops out of Iraq; the agreement stipulates that all must be out by the end of 2011.
The Chicago Tribune profiles the Iraqi army in Mosul, finding improvement but serious remaining problems of equipment and corruption.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the governor of Diyala province is requesting a postponement of provincial elections in his province. He notes that the election in Kirkuk Province was postponed, and points out that Diyala is more racked with violence than Kirkuk. He also estimates that some 26,000 families have been displaced from the province (that would be 100,000, from a population of about 1.2 million, or nearly 10 percent!)
But I am suspicious of this plea. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite, pro-Iran party, has a commanding position in Diyala, even though it is thought to be 60% Sunni. The election will redress this situation, which stems from the Sunnis’ refusal to vote in January, 2005. Things weren’t quiet in 2005, either, but the province voted anyway.
For his part, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has expressed reservations about the security agreement, which to some extent infringes on Iraqi sovereignty. But his office says he is content to let the people decide on it. Parliament already voted it in, and a national referendum is to be held by June.
Iraq is seeking to license 14 oil fields to corporations for development.
The Iraqi government is seeking to revive 2.5 million square acres of land by removing excess salinity from it. In some provinces of Iraq, salinization has reduced crop yields to half of what they used to be.
McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Monday:
‘ – Three people were killed and 10 others were injured including security guards by a bomb that was planted in Sleikh neighborhood in east Baghdad near the house of General Mudhhir al Mawla, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Al Mawla was seriously injured and his driver was among the killed people. The incident took place around 9 a.m.
– 15 people, including policemen, were killed and 45 others were wounded when two explosions took place near the gate of the police academy on Palestine Street in east Baghdad on Monday morning. The first explosion was done by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest followed by an explosion of a parked car bomb.
– Four people (2 policemen and 2 civilians) were wounded by a bomb in Palestine Street in east Baghdad around 8 p.m.
– Seven civilians (6 women and 1 child) were injured by two adhesive bombs which were stuck to the main gate of two houses in al Yarmouk neighborhood in west Mosul city on Sunday evening.
– Gunmen killed two women in al Yarmouk neighborhood in west Mosul city on Monday morning.
– 16 Iraqis were killed, most of them policemen, and 37 others were injured when a suicide car bomber attacked a joint convoy of Iraqi police and US military in New Mosul area in west Mosul city around 1 p.m.
– Gunmen killed two school teachers in two separated in south Mosul on Monday afternoon.
– Gunmen kidnapped a doctor in al Sarij Khana area in downtown Mosul city on Monday afternoon.
– Police found 12 unidentified bodies in south Kirkuk.’