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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Baghdad

IRAQ: Government to disband tribunal set up for Saddam Hussein trial

A special court set up to prosecute former leader Saddam Hussein and his associates after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq will be disbanded, the Iraqi government said Wednesday.

A proposed law to disband the tribunal has been sent to the parliament, according to a government statement. The legislation sets June 30 as a deadline to close the court, a spokesman, Raid Juhi, told the Associated Press. Juhi said the court had completed its work, aside from a few minor cases.

Hussein was hanged in 2006 for his role in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims after an attempt on his life in 1982.

The fairness of the court's proceedings, involving the trials of dozens of former officials, has been questioned by members of Iraq's Sunni Muslim community and a number of international human rights organizations.

-- Emal Haidary


IRAQ: At least nine killed in Baghdad bombing

At least nine people were killed and many wounded Tuesday in a car bomb explosion in south Baghdad, officials in Iraq said.

The blast occurred in front of a cafe, according to news reports. Many of the dead and injured were young people, police and medical officials said.

"It was a bomb inside a vehicle which resulted in the death and injury of a number of civilians in the district of Abu Dshir," said Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta Moussawi, spokesman for security forces in Baghdad, Reuters news agency reported.

No one had claimed responsibility for the attack by late Tuesday.

-- Emal Haidary

IRAQ: Baghdad commuters turn to ancient tradition of ferries to avoid hazardous roads

Another workday draws to a close in Baghdad, and tired commuters gather on the banks of the Tigris to exchange small talk and wait for the ferryboats, a traditional way of traversing its silt-colored waters since Ottoman times.

"I inherited the job from my father, and now my sons are working with me," said Hamid Saleh, 58, who owns one of dozens of small boats that ferry travelers between Karkh, the western half of Baghdad, and Rusafa, its eastern side.

"After 2003, the job got better because people prefer to take the boat in order to avoid traffic jams," he said, "especially when an explosion happens, and there is also the danger of explosions at checkpoints." 

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IRAQ: Airport closed after U.S. troops kill engineer near checkpoint

Iraqi employees of Baghdad International Airport shut down the facility for two hours to protest the killing of an Iraqi engineer by American soldiers near a checkpoint, an airline official told Babylon & Beyond.

An engineer named Karim Obaid Bardan was shot dead in his car after he allegedly failed to stop or slow down as he neared a checkpoint before dawn Sunday morning, a U.S. military spokesman told the Associated Press.

An official at Iraqi Airways, speaking on condition of anonymity, said outraged airport personnel closed down the airport for two hours in protest. "Why such killing?" the Iraqi official demanded. "Where is the security agreement between the government and the U.S.? Was this the democracy they brought to us? Democracy of killing?"

He added of the victim, "He was an official going to his job."

-- Los Angeles Times Baghdad bureau

IRAQ: Mysterious killings continue to shake Baghdad

Baghdad’s scourge of mysterious killings continues almost seven months after a national election that has so far failed to produce a government.   Assailants regularly target their victims with silencer pistols or small bombs.  

In the latest such attack, a police officer was gunned down in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Khadra on Monday morning, according to police sources.  On Sunday, gunmen with silencers killed a civil servant from the cabinet. Also killed in other attacks were an official from Iraq’s anti-corruption commission; a lieutenant colonel in the police’s counter-terrorism unit; and an army major, police said. In a separate attack, a state television announcer was wounded when assailants planted a bomb on his car Monday.  Another state television announcer was killed a few weeks ago in a near-identical attack.

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IRAQ: Baghdad's Green Zone also to suffer electricity blackouts


Officials living in the Green Zone will have to endure the same electricity shortages as other Iraqis following a decision to ax their special privileges in the wake of violent protests over prolonged power outages.

Acting Electricity Minister Hussein Shahristani, who is also the oil minister, announced the measure today at his first news conference since taking over the electricity portfolio Wednesday after the resignation of the previous minister.

“We have made the decision to cut all exceptional supplies of electricity for officials, starting with the Green Zone, as well as other [official] neighborhoods in Baghdad,” Shahristani said.

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IRAQ: Human Rights Watch interviews detainees from Baghdad secret prison

Last week, the Los Angeles Times revealed the existence of a secret Iraqi government prison that operated from last fall until its closure this month.

Human Rights Watch has now interviewed detainees who had been held in the facility. The detainees described in detail to Human Rights Watch the torture allegations first mentioned in the Los Angeles Times report. Below are the findings, in a formal release issued by Human Rights Watch.

Iraq: Detainees Describe Torture in Secret Jail

Detainees in a secret Baghdad detention facility were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks, and sodomized, Human Rights Watch said today. Iraq should thoroughly investigate and prosecute all government and security officials responsible, Human Rights Watch said. 

Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 of the men in the Al Rusafa Detention Center on April 26, 2010. They were among about 300 detainees transferred from the secret facility in the old Muthanna airport in West Baghdad to Al Rusafa into a special block of 19 cage-type cells over the past several weeks, after the existence of the secret prison was revealed. 

The men’s stories were credible and consistent. Most of the 300 displayed fresh scars and injuries they said were a result of routine and systematic torture they had experienced at the hands of interrogators at Muthanna. All were accused of aiding and abetting terrorism, and many said they were forced to sign false confessions. 

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IRAQ: Coup rumors paralyze Baghdad


When Baghdadis awoke this morning to find their streets sealed off and the city under virtual lockdown, the rumors began to fly.

Army officers had staged a coup in the Green Zone, one version said. No, it was Baathists loyal to the former regime who had taken over, according to another.

Mostly, the rumors concerned the Sunni lawmaker Saleh Mutlak, who has been recommended for disbarment from the upcoming March elections by the former De-Baathification Committee, now known as the Accountability and Justice Committee.

Wire1_kvxbtwnc Mutlak had been assassinated, according to the most widespread rumor, a variation of which had Mutlak staging the coup in the Green Zone. The Mutlak rumors reached Kurdistan, where anxious travelers fretted over whether it would be safe to fly back to Baghdad.

At midday, government officials appeared on television to calm the capital.

"The security forces can't stage a coup. Our security forces are professional," military spokesman Mohammed Askari told a news conference. "The era of coups is gone."

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IRAQ: Baghdad warns neighbors, airs militants' confessions on TV


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has turned the heat up on his Arab neighbors after last month’s double bombings at the foreign and finance ministries, which killed about 100 people. Maliki and his government have repeatedly accused Syria of providing shelter to those behind the blasts. Syria has denied the charge, and some Iraqi politicians have raised serious questions about whether Syria or the Baath Party was involved.

Today, Maliki once more slammed his neighbors. “We will continue looking [for a way] to close all the gaps and the doors from which the killers can breathe again. We censure the others from our brothers, friends and the neighborly countries,” Maliki said on a visit to the southern city of Karbala. “They used to say that they are with us and they did stand with us in certain situations, but how can we describe the practice of embracing the killers. To where will they be exported [next] time, to Iraq again or to a different country? Can the evil be contained to one specific country?” 

Maliki has asked the U.N. Security Council to establish a formal investigation into the bombings. He has also accused Syrian intelligence agents of sitting in on a meeting in July of Baath Party officials and Islamic militants. The government sees it as the latest episode in which Syria has allegedly been complicit in the activities of anti-Iraq militants. Iraqi security officials confirmed today that they had sent additional security forces to reinforce the vast Syria-Iraq border. 

Since the bombings, the government has revived the practice of showing taped confessions from alleged militants. Two confessions have been shown on state television and a third was aired at a news conference. The first confession was of an Iraqi arrested for the Aug. 19 attack, who blamed Baath Party leaders in Syria for planning the attack. The other confessions have shown foreign fighters recounting their alleged travels through Syria. There is no way to verify whether the taped remarks were genuine or staged.  But they mark a concerted effort to blame Syria in part for recent security breaches.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the state channel broadcast the purported confessions of an alleged fighter from Yemen named Mohammed Oud.

The following are excerpts from the broadcast:

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IRAQ: A Baghdad religious holiday without a major bombing


A major Shiite pilgrimage went smoothly Saturday in Baghdad, marking a success for Iraqi security forces after the departure of most US troops from the cities.

The four-day religious festival, which concludes Sunday, has been marred by violence in the past, but this year, the hundreds of thousands descending upon western Baghdad's Imam Mussa Kadhim shrine were spared catastrophic violence. Less than six people were killed in isolated attacks, according to security officials.
Pilgrims applauded the safety. “I trust the Iraqi police and army,” said Mohammed Fadel Hassan, 18, a pilgrim from Hilla who had walked to the shrine in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya neighborhood.

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MIDDLE EAST: Daily headlines from Gaza, Israel, Iran in your mailbox

Newsletter_3The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily e-mail newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East and the Muslim world.

It includes stories from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as links to articles about the frictions and encounters between Islam and the West in the United States and Europe.

The newsletter also includes links to the latest Times editorials and opinion pieces about the Middle East, Islam and national security.

You can subscribe by logging in or registering at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

— Los Angeles Times staff

SAUDI ARABIA: Stopping militant passions

Baghdad bombing Why do young Saudi men keep popping up to do bad things in dangerous places?

Saudi militants are instigating terror and death from Yemen to Europe and from Iraq to Pakistan. The Saudi government has been attempting to calm jihadist passions by enrolling extremists in reform schools and silencing radical preachers. There has been progress, but the kingdom’s ultra-conservative brand of Wahhabi Islam keeps churning out those with masked faces and crisscrossed bandoliers.

Tariq Alhomayed, editor of the English-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat, explored the problem Saudi Arabia and the Arab world face in an opinion piece headlined: "Saudi Youth and Terrorism: When Will It End?"

“The ideological war in Saudi Arabia [against extremism] continues to be fought but below the expected level, even though the Saudi media is fiercely in opposition to extremism and the extremists, and there is a social aversion to Al Qaeda, the takfiris, and those who support them,” writes Alhomayed. “But despite this we continue to witness the destruction of our youth.”

He adds: “We should blame ourselves.”

Read the rest of the story here.

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: The aftermath of a suicide bombing in Baghdad. Credit: Reuters


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