Iraq Daily Update 11/08/07

Iraq Daily Update 11/08/07
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A report from the Iraqi Red Crescent contradicts assertions by U.S. and Iraqi officials that Iraqi refugees are returning to Baghdad. According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, the drop in violence as a result of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq has prompted refugees to begin returning to their homes. Tahsin al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said 46,030 displaced Iraqis had returned last month from outside the country to their homes in the capital. He declined to comment on how the government determined those statistics. Such estimates run counter to the overall trend detailed in a recent report by the Iraqi Red Crescent, which said the number of internally displaced people had more than quadrupled over the past year, reaching 2.3 million by the end of September. [Washington Post, 11/8/07]


Labor Department fails Vets: Reservists report problems returning back to work. Defense Department data shows that growing numbers of military reservists say the government is providing little help to soldiers who are denied their old jobs when they return home. A Pentagon survey of reservists in 2005-2006 found that 44% of reservists polled said they were dissatisfied with how the Labor Department handled their complaint of employment discrimination based on their military status, up from 27% in 2004. Among the survey's other findings: about 23% of reservists reported they did not return to their old jobs in part because their employer did not give them prompt re-employment or their job situation changed in some way while they were on military leave. Additionally, 29% of those choosing not to seek help to get their job back said it was because it was "not worth the fight." [AP, 11/8/07]

Interior Ministry officials acknowledge for the first time that weapons have been lost - blame U.S. military "because they were not distributed properly."
During a tour of the Interior Ministry compound in eastern Baghdad, Iraqi government officials said for the first time that they accepted estimates by American oversight officials that some 190,000 pistols and automatic rifles supplied by the United States to Iraqi forces in 2004 and 2005 were unaccounted for. Iraqi officials took great pains to show reporters an elaborate computerized database that was created to help recover the weapons and ensure that no more were lost. Many of the weapons were distributed when Gen. Petraeus, now the American commander in Iraq, was in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005. General Petraeus has said that he decided to arm the Iraqi forces as quickly as possible, before tracking systems were fully in place. [NY Times, 11/8/07]


"They are called security companies. They are not called violate-the-law companies." An Iraqi Interior Minister said he would authorize raids by his security forces on Western security firms. The raids are to ensure that they were complying with tightened licensing requirements on guns and other weaponry, setting up the possibility of violent confrontations between the Iraqis and heavily armed Western guards. "Every company will be subject to such examination, and any company that does not follow the law will lose its license," the minister, Jawad al-Bolani, said of the planned raids. "They are called security companies. They are not called violate-the-law companies." [NY Times, 11/8/07]

Friction is increasing between Iraqi Security Forces and private security guards over who controls the streets of Baghdad. Within Baghdad's relatively safe and heavily guarded Green Zone, there have been early indications of a battle over who controls Iraqi streets. Private security guards say that Iraqi police officers have already descended on Western compounds and stopped vehicles driven by Westerners to check for weapons violations in recent weeks. Any extension of those measures into the rest of the country, could quickly turn into armed confrontation. Westerners are wary of Interior Ministry checkpoints, some of which have been fake, as well as of ministry units, which are sometimes militia-controlled and have been implicated in sectarian killings. Western convoys routinely have to choose between the risk of stopping and the risk of accelerating past what appear to be official Iraqi forces. Because Western convoys run by private security companies are often protecting senior American civilians and military officials, the Iraqi government's struggle with the companies has in some cases become a sort of proxy tug-of-war with the United States. [NY Times, 11/8/07]

State Department cleared security team after a brief probe, despite witnesses' assertion that shootings were unprovoked. Last February, a sniper employed by Blackwater USA, opened fired from the roof the Iraqi Justice Ministry, killing three guards. Witnesses in the compound said that none of the slain guards had fired on the Justice Ministry, where a U.S. diplomat was in a meeting. An Iraqi police report described the shootings as "an act of terrorism." However, after interviews with the Blackwater guards, the State Department determined the security team's actions "fell within approved rules governing the use of force." The February incident was one of at least 10 fatal shootings involving Blackwater since June 2005, including three that led to confrontations between the security company and the Iraqi government in the months before the pivotal September 16 incident in Baghdad. [Washington Post, 11/8/07]

Rep. Jan Schakowsky proposed legislation that would call for the phasing out of some 800 armed contractors. The hundreds of armed security contractors who work for Blackwater, DynCorp International, and Triple Canopy, who provide protective services for the State Department in Iraq. She proposes that the contractors be replaced with military or diplomatic security personnel or military police. "There's been major examples of how these companies adversely affect the mission," Schakowsky said. "They jeopardize our uniformed men and women, and they jeopardize the morale of our troops. They strain our diplomatic relations. They're unaccountable." [Washington Post, 11/8/07]

The State Department's requested $1.5 billion for private security contractors, including Blackwater, to protect U.S. diplomats and reconstruction teams in Iraq. The bid will boost existing security spending by one-third in 2008. Over $500 million of the proposed 2008 spending would go to three private security firms, including Blackwater Worldwide, which has been denounced since a September 16 shooting in Baghdad left 17 Iraqis dead. The Baghdad security money also will pay for armored vehicles, bulletproof vests, ammunition, X-ray machines, bomb-sniffing dogs, barriers to prevent attacks by suicide bombers, and overhead shields to deflect mortar attacks, according to an October 22 budget document sent to Congress. The request is part of a larger $3.2 billion supplemental spending measure separate from the Bush administration's annual budget submission for the State Department. Nearly $1 billion of the total is for security in and around Baghdad where many State Department employees work in a makeshift complex while the new embassy is being built inside the city's fortified Green Zone, the budget document says. [Washington Post, 11/8/07]


Iraq and Iran sign agreement to build two oil pipelines. The countries signed an agreement Wednesday to build two pipelines, one to export Iraq's crude oil to Iran and the other to pump oil products form Iran to Iraq. [Dow Jones, 11/8/07]


The US military in Iraq says it has released about 500 detainees in what was described as an effort to foster goodwill and reconciliation. Sunni Arab leaders complain a large proportion of about 20,000 people held in Iraq - often without charge for long periods - are from their community. They were freed at a ceremony at Camp Victory near Baghdad. [BBC, 11/8/07]


Karbala Police accuse Mahdi Army of killing spree in Iraq shrine city. The police directorate of Karbala province accused the Mahdi Army, the militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, of carrying out a four-year killing spree in Iraq's central shrine city of Karbala, which has left hundreds dead. The statement marks the first time the Iraqi authorities have directly accused Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia of carrying out killings. The killings, as well as other gross human rights violations, were carried out by the militiamen in its attempt to impose Sharia law. "The Mahdi Army murdered and tortured and kidnapped people under Sharia law," the police directorate said. The police statement and comments appear to have been prompted by accusations by the Mahdi Army that police in Karbala two weeks ago shot dead two children of militiamen. The statement said the children had been killed because the militiamen had used them as human shields. [AFP, 11/8/07]

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