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Election recount under way in Baghdad

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm

BAGHDAD (AFP) – A controversial recount that could alter who becomes Iraq’s prime minister began Monday in Baghdad, the latest in a series of pivotal steps threatening the vote’s credibility.


The war-torn country’s March 7 parliamentary poll has yet to produce a government and the outcome remains shrouded in doubt due to the recount and an imminent ruling on whether several winning candidates should be disqualified.

Iraqi electoral employees recount ballots cast during the recent parliamentary election at the Al-Rasheed hotel in Baghdad.AFP photo

The United States is increasingly concerned that an initially credible election could unravel because of a political stalemate, a lack of democratic transparency and the potential disenfranchisement of a large number of voters.


The recount follows a successful appeal by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who alleged that he had lost votes because of violations at polling centres in Baghdad during the March 7 ballot.


No sooner was it under way than allegations of “ballot stuffing” were raised by a leading member of Maliki’s State of Law Alliance, who hit out at how the recount was being conducted, and lodged an appeal to stop it.


Baghdad was by far the biggest prize in the election almost two months ago, with 70 seats on offer in a new 325-seat parliament.


“We will count 600 boxes today,” Qassim al-Abbudi, an official with the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), told reporters at the Rasheed hotel in the Iraqi capital where the recount is taking place.


Officials from the United Nations, European Union, the Arab League, and the US embassy in Baghdad are monitoring the process.


Former premier Iyad Allawi’s secular Iraqiya coalition won the election, defeating Maliki by 91 votes to 89, according to results still to be ratified by the Supreme Court.


Both need 163 seats to form a majority government but coalition talks with smaller parties appear to have stalled.


Maliki won the vote in Baghdad — taking 26 seats compared to Allawi’s 24 — in what was the second national election in Iraq since the 2003 US-led ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.


But the recount could lead to a wider winning margin for the premier in the capital, allowing him to eventually overturn his two-seat defeat nationally.


Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq’s oil minister, and a close Maliki ally, however, hit out at IHEC’s handling of the recount, insisting that voter lists be reconciled with the number of ballot papers sitting in 11,000 boxes.


“We presented a new complaint to the judicial assembly,” said Shahristani, a member of Maliki’s alliance.


“It shows that IHEC insists not to express the desire of voters, and we asked to compare the lists of voters names with voting papers in the boxes.


“So we demand the process stops or changes are made so that it works correctly.”


At a briefing on Sunday, Ambassador Gary Grappo, head of the political section at the US Embassy in Baghdad, said he did not expect significant changes to the election result, following the Baghdad recount.


“We would hope and expect that the recount will take place in as transparent and credible fashion as the elections did on March 7,” he said.


The recount coincides with a ruling expected this week on whether nine election-winning candidates will be disqualified.


The candidates are variously accused of links to Saddam’s outlawed Baath party and military units during his reign.


Grappo said the role of the Justice and Accountability Committee (JAC) that compiled the list of candidates who could be stopped from taking up seats remained opaque.


“From our perspective we see the votes cast by individual citizens as sacrosanct, and now we see we have an organisation of questionable legitimacy trying to alter votes cast by citizens,” he said.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 27 urged Iraqi leaders to resolve their rows and form a new government quickly.

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Source: SGGP

Iraq in ‘open war’ with Qaeda after Baghdad bombs

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 9:40 am

Iraq said it was in “open war” with Al-Qaeda, after bombings in Baghdad killed dozens, as Washington insisted the bloodshed will not delay the withdrawal of its troops from the war-ravaged country.


Six bombs in the capital on Tuesday killed at least 35 people, in the second spate of bloody attacks in three days, increasing fears that insurgents are making a return due to a political impasse following elections.


The blasts destroyed residential buildings in mostly Shiite neighbourhoods, leaving bodies and rubble strewn across streets in scenes reminiscent of the height of Iraq’s bitter sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007.

An Iraqi soldier stands amid the rubble of a destroyed residential building in the western Baghdad district of Shukuk

Tuesday’s attacks, which also injured around 140 people, followed triple suicide vehicle bombings minutes apart on Sunday targeting foreign embassies which killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens more.


“We are in a war. In our case, it is an open war with remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Baath” party of Saddam Hussein, Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta told Al-Arabiya television.


“There has been support for terrorist groups from outside Iraq, from people who don’t want to see the political process be a success,” he added, without elaborating.


Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, said Sunday’s embassy attacks bore the signature of Al-Qaeda and attributed the bombings to groups who wanted to derail the formation of a new government.


“This is a political attack, aimed at derailing the process, sending a message that the terrorists are still in business,” Zebari told AFP.


Iraqi political parties are still locked in negotiations in a bid to form a government, nearly a month after the election left four main blocs each without sufficient seats to form a parliamentary majority on its own.


Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance finished with 89 seats in the 325-member parliament after the March 7 parliamentary elections, two fewer than ex-premier Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc.


Allawi has accused Iran of seeking to prevent him becoming prime minister again by inviting all major parties except his secular bloc to Tehran.


Security officials had warned that protracted coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilise the country.


The latest violence follows a Saturday attack south of Baghdad blamed on Al-Qaeda in which security officials said 25 villagers linked to an anti-Qaeda militia were rounded up and shot execution-style by men in army uniforms.


The United States insisted that the upsurge of bloodletting would not compromise its goal of withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.


“I think many expected that insurgents would use this time to roll back the progress, both militarily and politically, that we’ve seen in Iraq,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.


Gibbs said the White House was in touch with US ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill and US commander General Ray Odierno.


Odierno “believes that this does not threaten our ability to draw down our forces later in the year,” Gibbs said, but added Washington was very focused on the steps needed to be taken by Iraqi leaders to form a government.


Obama has ordered all US combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of August and for all American soldiers to be out of the country by the end of 2011.

Although the frequency of attacks by insurgents has dropped significantly since peaking in 2006 and 2007, figures released on Thursday showed 367 Iraqis were killed in violence last month — the highest number this year.

Source: SGGP

Iraq in ‘open war’ with Qaeda after Baghdad bombs

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 9:40 am

Iraq said it was in “open war” with Al-Qaeda, after bombings in Baghdad killed dozens, as Washington insisted the bloodshed will not delay the withdrawal of its troops from the war-ravaged country.


Six bombs in the capital on Tuesday killed at least 35 people, in the second spate of bloody attacks in three days, increasing fears that insurgents are making a return due to a political impasse following elections.


The blasts destroyed residential buildings in mostly Shiite neighbourhoods, leaving bodies and rubble strewn across streets in scenes reminiscent of the height of Iraq’s bitter sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007.

An Iraqi soldier stands amid the rubble of a destroyed residential building in the western Baghdad district of Shukuk

Tuesday’s attacks, which also injured around 140 people, followed triple suicide vehicle bombings minutes apart on Sunday targeting foreign embassies which killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens more.


“We are in a war. In our case, it is an open war with remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Baath” party of Saddam Hussein, Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta told Al-Arabiya television.


“There has been support for terrorist groups from outside Iraq, from people who don’t want to see the political process be a success,” he added, without elaborating.


Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, said Sunday’s embassy attacks bore the signature of Al-Qaeda and attributed the bombings to groups who wanted to derail the formation of a new government.


“This is a political attack, aimed at derailing the process, sending a message that the terrorists are still in business,” Zebari told AFP.


Iraqi political parties are still locked in negotiations in a bid to form a government, nearly a month after the election left four main blocs each without sufficient seats to form a parliamentary majority on its own.


Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance finished with 89 seats in the 325-member parliament after the March 7 parliamentary elections, two fewer than ex-premier Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc.


Allawi has accused Iran of seeking to prevent him becoming prime minister again by inviting all major parties except his secular bloc to Tehran.


Security officials had warned that protracted coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilise the country.


The latest violence follows a Saturday attack south of Baghdad blamed on Al-Qaeda in which security officials said 25 villagers linked to an anti-Qaeda militia were rounded up and shot execution-style by men in army uniforms.


The United States insisted that the upsurge of bloodletting would not compromise its goal of withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.


“I think many expected that insurgents would use this time to roll back the progress, both militarily and politically, that we’ve seen in Iraq,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.


Gibbs said the White House was in touch with US ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill and US commander General Ray Odierno.


Odierno “believes that this does not threaten our ability to draw down our forces later in the year,” Gibbs said, but added Washington was very focused on the steps needed to be taken by Iraqi leaders to form a government.


Obama has ordered all US combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of August and for all American soldiers to be out of the country by the end of 2011.

Although the frequency of attacks by insurgents has dropped significantly since peaking in 2006 and 2007, figures released on Thursday showed 367 Iraqis were killed in violence last month — the highest number this year.

Source: SGGP

Bomb plot against ministries in Baghdad thwarted

In World on January 13, 2010 at 4:50 am

Iraqi forces seized a large cache of explosives and arrested suspected insurgents allegedly planning to target government ministries Tuesday, in a crackdown across the capital that brought parts of the city to a standstill.


The security measures demonstrated the ever-present fear that insurgents will carry out more bombings, like the ones against government buildings in past months that killed hundreds, ahead of the March elections.


The government’s announcement that it had arrested 25 suspects and seized 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of military grade explosives also set off bitter accusations from some Sunni politicians that the government had exaggerated the incident to burnish its security credentials.








An Iraqi police officer uses a scanner device to inspect a car at checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010.

The charges laid bare once more the stark lack of trust in Iraq between the Shiite-dominated government and the Sunni Muslims who oppose the government.


Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the capital’s top military spokesman, said security forces had seized 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of TNT, 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of C4 explosive and 66 gallons (250 liters) of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient to make explosives, and 60 mortar shells. Twenty-five suspects who had been planning an attack that morning were arrested, he said.


Legislator Abdul Karim al-Samarraie, the deputy head of parliament’s security and defense committee, said the insurgents were planning to target government ministries although he did not have details on which ones.


There was no way to independently verify the reports.


An explosives expert said if the figures al-Moussawi quoted were true, then the security forces had seized enough explosives to make around 120 suicide vests, or around ten average-size car bombs, or a giant truck bomb big enough to blast a crater 32 feet (10 meters) deep in a tarred road.


The expert spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.


“This will not prevent the insurgents from attacking, but it will slow their operations,” said analyst Tim Brown at GlobalSecurity.org. “If the reports prove true, it represents a major success for the Iraqi government.”


The sweep followed hours of cordon and search operations across the capital. Such operations have become rare since security in Iraq improved in 2008. However, every couple of months, insurgents still succeed in carrying out horrific bombings. Hundreds were killed when blasts targeted government institutions in central Baghdad in recent months.


The issue of security is becoming increasingly politicized ahead of March 7 polls. Sunni lawmakers were quick to question whether the lockdown ordered by the Shiite-dominated government on Tuesday was really necessary and emphasized the inconvenience it caused ordinary Iraqis who could not get to work or school.


“The government is trying to leave the citizens with the impression that there is a battle. They terrified and shocked the people,” said legislator Saleh al-Mutlaq. “We think that these measures are totally unjustifiable.”


Iraqi security forces are increasingly taking over duties from the U.S. military, whose combat units are scheduled to leave by the end of August. The stakes are especially high for the prime minister‘s Rule of Law coalition, which is campaigning on its ability to protect citizens and its record in reducing violence.


In a reminder of the continuing instability, four policemen were killed and another wounded when a bomb exploded near their vehicle in Al-Saadiyah, 90 miles (140 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, a policeman and a morgue official said Tuesday.


The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.


Sunni lawmaker Dhafir al-Ani said that the government is preying on people’s fears with the security operations to boost their chances in the polls.


“Now (the government) is afraid of losing their authority, they have started to beat the drums of war and making people live in a military atmosphere … We also noticed how people were greatly annoyed by these measures.”

Iraq’s nationwide election will be a crucial test whether Iraqis can vote in a government capable of overcoming deepening ethnic and sectarian rivalries, or whether those divisions will dissolve into violence that threatens the country’s unity and regional stability.

Tensions have already arisen after a government committee charged with keeping supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime out of politics recommended that al-Mutlaq’s party and 13 others be banned from the elections over alleged links to the former dictator.

“Members of those entities were personnel of the former regime’s repressive security apparatus, or Mukhabarat (secret police) officers, and some of them were collaborators with the former regime,” said Ali al-Lami, the head of the committee.

The potential exclusion of al-Mutlaq, who holds the second largest bloc of Sunni seats in parliament, raised fears that Sunnis might boycott the polls again, as they did in a January 2005 election. That boycott was followed by a surge in insurgent attacks.


Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Iraqi leaders come under fire over Baghdad blasts

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi leaders were set to come under fire Wednesday, having failed to prevent a spate of attacks in Baghdad that killed 127 people, the third major set of bombings to hit the capital since August.


The blasts undermined the government’s claims of improved security and MPs quickly demanded that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the government’s security ministers answer for any failings that led to the attacks.








Iraqi rescue workers remove a body at the scene of a bomb blast near the Finance Ministry in Baghdad. (AFP photo)

The United States, United Nations, Arab League and Britain, meanwhile, led international condemnation of Tuesday’s bombings, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon calling them “horrendous” and “unacceptable.”


Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, whose department is responsible for police forces across Iraq, welcomed being questioned by lawmakers in the Council of Representatives over the attacks, which a senior security spokesman said bore “the touch of Al-Qaeda.”


“I am ready to go to parliament on the condition that the session be public,” Bolani told AFP.


The bombings all struck Baghdad within minutes of each other on Tuesday morning.Related article: Emergency workers soldier on.


One suicide attacker detonated his payload at a finance ministry office, another struck at a tunnel leading to the labour ministry and a third drove a four-wheel-drive car into a courthouse.


A fourth suicide bomber in a car struck a police patrol in Dora in southern Baghdad, causing 15 deaths, 12 of them students at a nearby technical college, an interior ministry official said.


Another car bomb hit interior ministry offices in central Baghdad.


An interior ministry official said 127 people had been killed and 448 wounded in the bombings.


Maliki called Tuesday’s attacks a “cowardly” attempt “to cause chaos… and hinder the election,” and said they were deliberately timed to come after MPs on Sunday agreed on a new electoral law.


He blamed “foreign elements” who backed Al-Qaeda.


The courthouse bombing destroyed a large part of the building, with falling concrete killing several people, emergency workers said.


Mangled wrecks of cars, some flipped on their roofs, lined the street opposite the courthouse, and several parked vehicles were crushed by collapsed blast walls.


Near the finance ministry, several houses were completely destroyed and a two-metre (6.5-foot) deep crater marked the site of the explosion.


Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, the timing of the blasts and the fact that three targeted government buildings suggested an Al-Qaeda operation.Related article: Recent bloodshed in Iraq


“This has the touch of Al-Qaeda and the Baathists,” Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, told AFP, referring to the outlawed Baath party of now executed dictator Saddam.


Both groups were blamed for bloody attacks — including truck bombings of the finance, foreign and justice ministries — in Baghdad in August and October that killed more than 250 and punctured confidence in Iraq’s security forces.


“Such attacks are war crimes,” London-based rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.


Those caught up in the devastation described scenes of horror.


“I heard the sound of the explosion, I fainted, then I found myself on this bed covered with blood,” Um Saeed, who was wounded in the face and arms by the courthouse blast, told AFP at a local hospital.


Jamal Amin, who works at a restaurant near the finance ministry, said: “I was standing in front of the restaurant. People started to shout, ‘suicide bomber, suicide bomber!’


“I saw a mini-bus, and then the explosion happened and I lost consciousness. I woke up in the hospital.”


An official at Medical City hospital said many of the 39 bodies they had received “had been blown apart.”


Violence across Iraq dropped dramatically last month, with the fewest number of deaths in attacks recorded since the invasion in 2003. Official figures showed a total of 122 people were killed in November.


Both the Baghdad government and the US military have warned of a rise in attacks in the run-up to the election.


Presidential chief-of-staff Nasser al-Ani told Iraqi state television on Tuesday the election will be on March 7, after the presidency council said earlier that March 6 had been chosen as the date for the vote.


Despite Tuesday’s attacks US forces remain on track to begin withdrawing from Iraq in large numbers next year, the top US military officer said.


Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that while the withdrawal of US forces in Iraq was “on a balance” with the buildup in Afghanistan, nothing that has happened so far would upset plans.


Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share