04/01/13: The blog Space War reports Iraq will step up searches of Iranian flights over its airspace to Syria, days after US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticized Baghdad for turning a blind eye to them. But while Prime Minister Nuri al-Malik’s spokesman spoke of newly tightened restrictions, the head of Iraq’s civil aviation authority acknowledged that no planes had been searched since October. “Because of a lot of information which referred to transportation of weapons, we have increased the activity of inspections,” Maliki spokesman Ali Mussawi said Saturday. “We will carry out more random searches, to be assured that there is no weapons transfer.” Kerry said in Baghdad that he “made very clear to [Maliki] that the overflights from Iran are in fact helping to sustain [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and his regime.”
03/24/13: The Associated Press reports Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the US has made clear that Iraq shouldn’t allow Iran to use its airspace to ship weapons and fighters to Syria. Following private discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during an unannounced trip to Baghdad, Kerry said the two had a “very spirited discussion” on the subject of Iranian overflights. The US believes the Iranian shipments are aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and undermining Western-backed opposition groups. “I made it very clear that for those of us who are engaged in an effort to see President Assad step down ... anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said. Kerry also said lawmakers and the American people are “increasingly watching what Iraq is doing and wondering how it is a partner.”
03/17/13: The Miami Herald reports an Iranian opposition group Saturday turned down Albania's offer of asylum to 210 of its members who are living at a former US military base near Baghdad. Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha made the offer after meeting with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf, UN envoy in Iraq Martin Kobler, and other officials. Berisha said the offer of asylum for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq members was made for humanitarian reasons. Shahin Gobadi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which oversees the Mujahedeen, said that while they "really appreciate the [Albanian] government's helping hand," they couldn't accept an offer of asylum for such a small portion of the group. The UN says more than 3,000 members (nearly fifteen times Albania's offer) live at the former US base.
03/17/13: Reuters reports al-Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate said Sunday it carried out a coordinated suicide bomb and gun attack on the country's justice ministry last week that killed at least twenty-five people in the center of Baghdad. The assault near the heavily fortified Green Zone, where several Western embassies and government offices are located, fanned fears about Iraq's still fragile security a decade after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. Three car bombs exploded and a suicide bomber blew himself up in broad daylight in the heart of the capital on Thursday. Another suicide bomber then walked into the justice ministry and set off his device while militants attacked the building. Iraqi security forces eventually regained control.
09/20/12: Reuters reports Iraq on Thursday denied a Western intelligence report that said Iranian aircraft had flown weapons and military personnel over Iraqi airspace to Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad battle an 18-month-old uprising. The allegation, reported by Reuters on Wednesday, said arms transfers were organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Although charges that Iraq has allowed Iran to send arms to Syria are not new, the report said the extent of such shipments is far greater and more systematic than has been publicly acknowledged, thanks to a deal between senior Iraqi and Iranian officials.
09/05/12: The New York Times reports Iran has resumed shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The Obama Administration had pressed Baghdad to shut down the air corridor that Iran had been using earlier this year, raising the issue with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. But as Syrian rebels gained ground and Assad’s government was rocked by a bombing that killed several high officials, Tehran doubled down in supporting the Syrian leader. The flights started up again in July and, to the frustration of American officials, have continued ever since. Military experts say that the flights have enabled Iran to provide supplies to the Syrian government despite the efforts by rebel groups to seize border crossings.
08/19/12: The New York Times reports that for months, Iraq has been helping Iran get around economic sanctions imposed on Tehran because of its nuclear program. According to current and former American and Iraqi government officials and experts on the Iraqi banking sector, a network of financial institutions and oil-smuggling operations has provided Iran with a crucial flow of dollars at a time when sanctions are squeezing its economy. The Obama Administration is not eager for a public showdown with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over Iran just eight months after the last American troops withdrew from Baghdad, but the US has held private talks with Iraqi officials to complain about specific instances of financial and logistical ties between the countries.
08/14/12: CNN reports a Tuesday summit in the Muslim holy city of Mecca will bring together the biggest ally of the Syrian government and its top regional antagonists, with the country’s increasingly bloody civil war topping the agenda. The Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia is among the most prominent countries backing the Syrian opposition, while the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran across the Persian Gulf casts itself and its allies in Damascus as part of an “Axis of Resistance” to domination of the region by outsiders. Even before the summit began, OIC foreign ministers agreed to suspend Syria from their ranks in a show of support for the Syrian people. The CNN piece does a good job of outlining the stakes for the major players at the conference.
08/14/12: The Washington Times reports the United States’ top military officer will travel to Iraq at the end the month to check on progress in a country that has been beset by sectarian violence and political turmoil since the US withdrew most of its troops in December. Army General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will make a one-day stop in Baghdad, where he is expected to check on the status of US efforts to support Iraq’s fledgling democratic government. His will be the highest-level visit to Iraq by an American official since the withdrawal of combat troops. About 300 US troops remain in Iraq to provide training to Iraqi forces and spearhead security for embassy staff.
08/02/12: The Miami Herald reports an Iraqi court has rejected a request to send a terror commander to the United States for trial, a decision that apparently ends the Obama Administration’s efforts to prosecute the Lebanese Hezbollah figure held in Iraq for the 2007 killings of five American soldiers. The US believes Ali Mussa Daqduq is a top threat to Americans in the Middle East, and had asked Baghdad to extradite him even before two Iraqi courts found him not guilty of masterminding the 2007 raid on an American military base. But the July 30 decision by the Iraqi central criminal court ordered that Daqduq be freed immediately and also makes clear that Iraq believes the legal case against Hezbollah commander is over.
07/25/12: The New York Times reports al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are doing their best to hijack the Syrian revolution, with a growing although still limited success that has American intelligence officials publicly concerned and Iraqi officials next door openly alarmed. While leaders of the Syrian political and military opposition continue to deny any role for the extremists, al-Qaeda has helped to change the nature of the conflict, injecting suicide bombings (the weapon it perfected in Iraq) into the battle against President Bashar al-Assad with growing frequency. The presence of jihadists in Syria has accelerated in recent days in part because of a convergence with the sectarian tensions across the country’s long border in Iraq. Al-Qaeda says Syria’s uprising, like its own insurgency in Iraq, is a religious war pitting Sunnis against ruling Shi‘ites.
07/25/12: JURIST reports an Iraqi appeals court on Tuesday rejected a request by the defense in the terror trial of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to call President Jalal Talabani to testify. The defense had requested Talabani to testify in the case as a character witness and planned to ask about information related to al-Hashemi’s role in terror attacks, but the three-judge appellate panel reasoned that the president's testimony would add nothing to the case. Al-Hashemi ,who is currently in Turkey and being tried in absentia, has denied accusations of him being involved in death squads that targeted Shi’a officials and pilgrims and argued that the current trial is politically motivated. The trial has been postponed again after the rejection of the request for Talabani’s testimony.
07/24/12: The Washington Post has this piece discussing whether the wave of attacks across Iraq Monday that killed over 100 may signal a resurgence of al-Qaeda in the months since the US departed. The attacks, spread across thirteen cities and more than forty locations, targeted mostly Shi‘ite neighborhoods and appeared to be the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a militant Sunni group. Although Iraq typically sees a spike in violence during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began last week, Monday’s attacks were among the most coordinated the country has seen in the past several years. “The size and frequency of these attacks tells me that al-Qaeda is returning and reestablishing networks in Iraq,” said retired Lieutenant General James Dubik, who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces in 2008.
07/23/12: Updating a previous story, the Washington Post reports a wave of deadly attacks rocked at least thirteen cities across Iraq on Monday, leaving at least 100 dead and dozens more injured in what officials described as the bloodiest day in the country in two years. The coordinated nature of the violence and the focus on multiple targets indicated that al-Qaeda in Iraq, the militant group responsible for hundreds of deaths in the country in recent years, may have been behind the attacks. This weekend, an audio statement was posted online by the current head of the group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who ominously predicted a new series of attacks against the military and government in a plan he called “Breaking the Walls.”
07/13/12: ABC News reports a senior Obama Administration official said Thursday that the White House has asked Iraq to review the case of a Hezbollah commander who was accused of masterminding a 2007 attack that killed five American soldiers or hand him over to the United States, even though two Iraqi courts have declared him not guilty. The case is a tricky aftermath of the long US military campaign in Iraq that ended last year and has elements of both Iraqi and American internal politics. Ali Mussa Daqduq has been released from prison but is being held under house arrest in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone as the US considers bringing charges against him.
07/08/12: The Miami Herald reports a judge has adjourned the terrorism trial of Iraq’s fugitive vice-President. Muyyiad Obeid al-Ezzi, the lawyer for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, said that the proceedings will resume once a higher court decides whether the defense can question the country’s president and five lawmakers. Baghdad’s Criminal Court adjourned Sunday’s trial to wait for a federal court ruling on whether President Jalal Talabani can be summoned as a character witness. The politically charged case has sparked a crisis in Iraq’s government and fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi‘ite who critics say is monopolizing power. Al-Hashemi, now in Turkey, denies accusations he ran death squads targeting Shi‘ite officials and says the case is a political vendetta by al-Maliki.
07/07/12: The New York Times reports the Obama Administration on Friday stepped up pressure on a dissident Iranian group to complete a move from its longtime base in Iraq. The State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, suggested that the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, known as the MEK, could remain on the department’s list of terrorist organizations if it does not completely vacate Camp Ashraf, its location since 1986. Under a court ruling, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must decide by October whether to drop or renew the terrorist designation for the group. The Iraqi government has set July 20 as a deadline to close Camp Ashraf, which was given to the MEK by Saddam Hussein. Iraq is now deeply hostile to the group.
07/07/12: The Miami Herald reports a military appeals court on Thursday refused to overturn a soldier’s conviction for killing an unarmed Iraqi detainee in 2008. In a 3-2 opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces sustained First Lieutenant Michael Behenna’s 2009 conviction for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. Behenna, who is from Edmond, Oklahoma, is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence at a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Prosecutors say Behenna took detainee Ali Monsour Mohammed to a secluded railroad culvert and shot him execution-style after interrogating the man at gunpoint. Although the Court agreed with Behenna that the trial court erred in its instructions to the jury on self-defense, a majority found the error was harmless and did not affect the findings or the sentence.
06/24/12: BBC News reports Turkey’s military has confirmed further air strikes against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq. The military said nine attacks were carried out by Turkish aircraft on hideouts of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), mostly in the Qandil region. Last Wednesday Turkey said it had carried out similar strikes, a day after eight Turkish soldiers and twenty-six PKK rebels were killed in clashes. Turkey’s general staff said on its website that its warplanes had hit nine targets belonging to the PKK and that all planes had returned safely. Several thousand PKK rebels are believed to be based in hideouts in northern Iraq. The number of clashes between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces has risen in southeast Turkey over the past year.
06/19/12: The Washington Post reports Brett McGurk, President Obama’s pick to be US ambassador to Iraq, withdrew his nomination on Monday in the face of mounting opposition in the Senate. Senate Republicans last week expressed doubts after a racy e-mail exchange surfaced between McGurk and a Wall Street Journal reporter covering him. The e-mails between McGurk and reporter Gina Chon – whom he later married – date from when McGurk was working in Iraq for the National Security Council under President George W. Bush and Chon was stationed in Baghdad. In a letter to the White House last week, six Republican members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations wrote that such “unprofessional conduct ... will affect the nominee’s credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve.”
06/18/12: The Washington Times reports senior Obama Administration officials said on Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not moved any closer to removing the Iranian dissident group from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations. Representatives for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran have sued the State Department in federal court to take the group off the terror list. The case has dragged on for more than two years, but on June 1 the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit set a four-month deadline for Secretary Clinton to decide whether to de-list the Iraq-based group as required by procedures under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).
06/13/12: BBC News reports a wave of bombings across Iraq, including ten locations in Baghdad, has killed eighty-three people and wounded nearly 300. Many of the dead in the Iraqi capital were Shi’a pilgrims gathering for a religious festival. In Hilla, two car bombs exploded near a restaurant, killing at least twenty-one. There has been a wave of attacks on the Shi’a community in recent days, as it marks the anniversary of the death of Shi’a imam Moussa al-Kadhim. The first car bomb struck a procession of pilgrims in the town of Taji, north of Baghdad, as they made their way to a shrine. A series of four blasts across the capital followed.
06/04/12: The Hill reports President Obama's decision to pull all troops out of Iraq will come under renewed scrutiny this week as the Senate considers his choice for ambassador to Baghdad. Obama's pick, Brett McGurk, led the failed negotiations to extend the US troop presence past the end of 2011. The political situation in Iraq has deteriorated since then, prompting hawkish senators such as John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to lambast the White House. McGurk has testified that the US would only have agreed to keep US forces in Iraq past the end of last year if they remained immune from prosecution by Iraqi courts, something Iraq would not agree to.
05/28/12: The New York Times features a piece discussing the debate among the faculty of West Point as to whether counterinsurgency is a viable military strategy. Narrowly, the argument is whether the strategy used in Iraq and Afghanistan — the troop-heavy, time-intensive, expensive doctrine of trying to win over the locals by building roads, schools and government — is dead. Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a decade in two wars. The debate at West Point mirrors one under way in the armed forces as a whole as the United States withdraws without clear victory from Afghanistan and as the results in Iraq remain ambiguous at best.
05/26/12: The Denver Post reports Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday that the United States can now focus on new global challenges after a long decade of war in an election-year commencement address to jubilant graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point. Biden's speech echoed some of the themes of military success struck by President Barack Obama in his commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy last Wednesday. Biden, like Obama, highlighted that US combat troops have returned home from Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down, and American commandos killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011. "Those warriors sent a message to the world that if you harm America, we will follow you to the end of the earth," Biden said.
05/15/12: Fox News reports that Iraqis are still being held illegally at a Baghdad prison that the government was supposed to have shut down in 2011 after allegations that detainees were tortured and abused there, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. The report by the New York-based rights group raises fresh concerns about the government's treatment of detainees after Iraqi authorities took over the country's prison system following the departure of US troops last December. Iraq's Human Rights Ministry has denied the Human Rights Watch claim as inaccurate, saying the detention center in question was shuttered over a year ago.
05/15/12: ABC News reports that the terror trial of Iraq's fugitive vice president accused of running death squads started Tuesday in Baghdad with witnesses testifying how their relatives were killed in attacks that the authorities have linked to the country's top Sunni official. Tariq al-Hashemi was not in court for the opening of the proceedings that were already twice delayed. Al-Hashemi, who is currently in Turkey, has denied the allegation he orchestrated attacks against Shiite pilgrims and government officials, saying the charges against him are politically motivated and that he would not receive a fair trial in Baghdad's criminal court.
05/13/12: The New York Times reports that in the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here. What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn.
05/08/12: CNN reports Interpol has issued a "red notice" for Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who is suspected of guiding and financing terrorist attacks in the country. The red notice for al-Hashimi "represents a regional [and] international alert to all of Interpol's 190 member countries to seek their help in locating and arresting him, following the issue of a national arrest warrant by Iraq's Judicial Investigative Authority as part of an investigation in which security forces seized bombing materials and arrested individuals," Interpol said in a statement. Al-Hashimi has been living in a Turkish government guest house in Istanbul. In recent months, he has lived in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, but has also traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the invitation of those governments. In February, Iraq's top judicial committee accused al-Hashimi's security detail of carrying out 150 attacks against security forces and civilians between 2005 and 2011.
04/13/12: The Boston Globe reports that two Iraqi election officials said Friday they have been detained after authorities reopened a corruption case against them, a move they dismiss as an effort to pressure the panel. Faraj al-Haidari, chief of Iraq's electoral commission, said by phone that he is being held at a police station after a judge's decision to investigate old corruption charges against the commission. Another member of the Independent High Electoral Commission, Karim al-Tamimi, said he was also detained. Charges have not yet been brought against the men, who were taken into custody on Thursday.
04/09/12: The Washington Post reports that the appearance of calm that has endured for four months in Iraq has come at a price, in the form of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s increasingly authoritarian behavior. Maliki, many Iraqis say, has been moving steadily to consolidate his control over the country’s institutions and security forces with the apparent acquiescence of the Obama administration. Since US troops withdrew in December, Maliki has extended his reach to take on his political rivals, drawing accusations from Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities that he is intent on establishing a dictatorship.
04/06/12: The Washington Post reports that a controversy over oil deals in Iraq is inflaming a bitter political divide between Kurdish and Arab leaders, bringing long-running arguments over autonomy and control of resources to the fore in this oil-rich country. The dispute’s most contested issue is a deal signed last year in which authorities in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region gave Exxon Mobil permission to explore six tracts of land. The contract infuriated leaders in Baghdad, who have never agreed on a means by which the Kurdish region can develop its resources.
04/03/12: ABC News reports that Qatar has rejected Iraq's request to hand over the nation's fugitive Sunni vice president to face terror charges in Baghdad. Khaled al-Attiyah, Qatar's minister of state for international cooperation, says the Gulf nation will not extradite Tariq al-Hashemi because such a move would be contrary to diplomatic protocol. Al-Attiyah told reporters on Tuesday that Qatar will not hand him over because there is no "court verdict against him" and because al-Hashemi is a foreign official with diplomatic immunity.
04/02/12: ABC News reports that Iraq's deputy prime minister has called on Qatar to hand over the nation's fugitive Sunni vice president to face terror charges in Baghdad. Hussain al-Shahristani made the demand during a Monday news conference in Baghdad. He said Qatar's decision to host Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni official in Iraq's Shiite-led government, was "unacceptable." Qatar has criticized what it calls the marginalization of Iraq's minority Sunnis.
04/01/12: The New York Times reports that today, analysts and others at the CIA who are struggling to understand the nuclear ambitions of Iran are keenly aware that the agency’s credibility is on the line. The intelligence debacle on Iraq has deeply influenced the way they do their work, with new safeguards intended to force analysts to be more skeptical in evaluating evidence and more cautious in drawing conclusions. Former intelligence officials say that this shows appropriate vigilance in dealing with often murky information, while some detractors argue that the agency is not just careful but also overly skittish.
03/28/12: The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that an Iraqi refugee who later pleaded guilty to 23 terrorism-related charges drew multiple diagrams of roadside bombs he used in Iraq between 2003 and 2006, and investigators concluded that explosives built to the specifications in the drawings would have worked, the FBI said in two search warrant applications. FBI Special Agent Richard Glenn said 30-year-old Waad Ramadan Alwan drew diagrams of four types of roadside explosives with the intent of passing them along to someone he thought was involved with Al-Qaida in his home country.
03/26/12: The New York Times reports that as Arab leaders converge on Baghdad for a landmark summit meeting this week, they will be treated to carefully chosen glimpses of a new Iraq: gleaming hotel lobbies, renovated palaces and young palm trees lining an airport highway once called the Road of Death. For Iraqi diplomats and officials, the three-day meeting of the Arab League is a banner moment for a country emerging from decades of war, occupation and diplomatic isolation. Iraq’s leaders see a rare chance to reassert themselves as players in a transformed Arab world by hosting the first major diplomatic event here since American troops withdrew in December.
03/24/12: The Boston Globe reports that an Iraqi police official says prison officials and guards have been detained after 17 prisoners including 10 al-Qaida-affiliated detainees broke out of jail in a northern Iraqi city. Police on Saturday said the entire staff of the detention center is being questioned as part of the investigation into the prison break in the city of Kirkuk on Friday. A police official said that one of the escaped prisoners has been recaptured.
03/19/12: The Washington Times reports that the State Department has said the US and other countries are consulting with Iraq about Iranian flights of weapons to Syria after Iraq’s prime minister denied a report in The Washington Times saying Baghdad is allowing such flights. “We are concerned about the overflight of Iraq by Iranian cargo flights headed to Syria,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday, adding that the US and other nations want to work with Iraq to be “absolutely sure about any cargo that’s overflying its territory.
03/18/12: The Washington Times reports that wearing a US Army uniform and flanked by Iraqi lawmakers, an American citizen announced Saturday that he was being released from more than nine months of imprisonment by a Shiite militia that for years targeted US troops. The man did not identify himself. But at a bizarre press conference outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, lawmakers showed US-issued military and contractor ID cards that identified him as Randy Michael Hultz. Speaking calmly and tripping over Arabic names in a monotone voice, Hultz said he was grateful for his release.
03/17/12: The Washington Times reports that Iraq's prime minister said Friday that his government does not allow Iran to fly weapons into Syria, denying a report in The Washington Times saying Baghdad has refused US requests to stop the flights. "Iraq does not allow its territories or airspace to be used for trafficking weapons in any direction and from any source,” Nouri al-Miliki said in a statement. The Iraqi prime minister added that his government is “moving forward [in] drying up the sources of violence and weapons in general and for the case of Syria in particular.”
03/09/12: Newsday reports that Iraqi Shiite Muslims are demanding that the king of Bahrain be banned from attending this month's Arab League summit meeting in Baghdad. About 2,000 Shiite protesters, followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, on Friday came out in support of Bahrain's Shiite majority, which is demanding more rights from Sunni King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Iraq's support for Bahrain's Shiites has angered Sunni Gulf states. That was one of the reasons the League canceled plans to hold its summit in Baghdad last year. The protesters also complained that Syrian President Bashar Assad was not invited.
03/07/12: The Miami Herald reports that Iraq's top diplomat says UN chief Ban Ki-moon will attend the annual Arab League summit meeting scheduled for later this month in Baghdad. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday that Ban accepted an invitation "just a few days ago." UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey in New York would not confirm that Ban will attend the gathering. The three-day annual meeting of the League's 22 member nations is set to convene in Baghdad for the first time since 1990. It originally was scheduled for last year, but was delayed due to political unrest across the Mideast.