Lingering sectarian trends continue to prohibit significant development in the Iraqi political climate, said Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress.
Chalabi, once a favorite of Washington strategists in the run-up to the ouster of Saddam Hussein, spoke with the Iraqi satellite channel, al-Sumaria, on political developments in Iraq.
While praising the climate that brought successful elections to Iraq in January, Chalabi pointed fingers at the sectarian climate in Iraq.
Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress did poorly in the January elections, barely registering in the vote in Qadisiyah province. He blamed the lingering effects of sectarianism for the defeat, while suggesting he would move closer to his former allies in the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance.
He also called for several reforms to the national constitution, from a judicial and executive overhaul to considerations on the so-called disputed territories in northern Iraq.
The United Nations submitted a report Wednesday on administrative disputes in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, notably calling for a unified province of Kirkuk.
Meanwhile, he invited neighbors in the region to stand with Iraq to form a quartet that includes Iran, Syria and Turkey to deal with security and economic issues in a multilateral fashion.
Brits, Kurds praise bilateral ties
British lawmakers praised developments in the Kurdish regions of Iraq but called for expansions in bilateral trade and political relationships.
A delegation of Labor, Conservative and Liberal Democrat lawmakers spent several days in the Kurdish region of Iraq on a fact-finding mission.
The lawmakers, with the All-Party Parliamentary Group, said British respect for the region remains high, "but we fear that opportunities for trade, investment and a host of political, cultural and educational exchanges are not being pursued as vigorously as they should for the mutual benefit of the United Kingdom and the Kurdistan region as part of a wider Iraq."
The British parliamentarians also called for London to play a larger role in settling disputes between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad.
"Although Kurdistan has its own language, culture and now parliament, it wants to remain part of Iraq," said Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative member of the British Parliament. "Unless a better relationship with Baghdad is nurtured, this loyalty is likely be sorely tested in future."
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG representative to the United Kingdom, praised the visit as a sign of the continued friendship between both governments.
"Their continued support for the political, social and economic development of Kurdistan and Iraq is a sign of the steadfast friendship between Kurdistan region and Britain," she said.
Violence up in Iraq; gays targeted
Religious fundamentalists in Baghdad and across the country are contributing to a rising number of attacks on homosexual men in Iraq.
A group operating under the name The Righteous People has pointed to various interpretations of Islamic law that says for a man to behave like a woman is a sin punishable by death.
The group distributed lists and anti-homosexual slogans across the Sadr City slum with the names of homosexual men, threatening them with torture and even death.
Attacks on the gay community in Iraq correlate to a climate where homosexuals are more open with their sexual orientation in public. Security officials said the bodies of several gay men discovered in and around Baghdad showed signs of torture, and hospital officials have reported several men accused of homosexuality showing signs of genital mutilation.
The Iraqi Gay and Lesbians Society said attacks have increased since 2003, with 26 confirmed deaths since then. Eyewitness reports to the Iraqi analytical site Niqash.org claim many of these attacks are carried out by national security forces, who allegedly harass homosexuals with increasing frequency.
Islam takes a negative stance on same-sex relations, and in September several so-called death squads affiliated with the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Badr Organization and the Mehdi Army of firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr coordinated a cleansing campaign at the behest of several leading religious figures in Iraq.
Meanwhile, two suicide bombings in Iraq -- one in the capital Baghdad and another in Muqdadiya in Diyala province -- killed more than 70 people and wounded more than 100 as the security situation there continues its decline.
Petraeus: Challenges ahead in Afghanistan
The situation in Afghanistan is likely to decline before positive results from the new American strategy for the war-torn nation take hold, a top general said.
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus told an audience at Harvard University there would be "tough times ahead" in Afghanistan as American forces redeploy from Iraq to conflict zones in Afghanistan.
Washington has drawn on the lessons learned from the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq, which relies on a "clear, hold and build" operational mentality, to reformulate the war effort in Afghanistan.
While recognizing the theater of war in Iraq differs from Afghanistan, Petraeus said many of the strategies in Iraq are applicable in Afghanistan if they are implemented in "culturally appropriate" ways, the American Forces Press Service reports.
"We don't move into a village in Afghanistan the way that we were able to move into neighborhoods in Iraq," he said. "You have to move on the edge of it, or just near it, but you have to have a persistent security presence."
Petraeus also noted there was a clear sense of mission in Afghanistan, as opposed to the controversies surrounding the reasoning for the Iraq invasion of 2003.
"There is absolutely no debate about the fact that that is where the Sept. 11 attacks came from," he said.
He cautioned, however, that results in Afghanistan would not be immediate.
"We do believe that we can achieve progress, but it's going to get worse before it gets better," he warned.
Government reform key in Afghanistan
The international mission in Afghanistan should incorporate military strategies with an effort to develop an accountable government in Kabul, a study suggested.
A report for the Atlantic Council by former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, "A 10-Year Framework for Afghanistan: Executing the Obama Plan and Beyond," calls for improving government functions in order to sustain any security gains in Afghanistan.
"To succeed, we and our friends and allies must reverse the Taliban's gains and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government," the report said. "Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people."
Ghani pointed to continued threats from al-Qaida and the growing insurgency, the illicit narcotics trade and a poor government structure as undermining development in Afghanistan.
He said the leadership in Afghanistan has an inclination to accept instability as a means to support short-term gains from corruption, advocating a comprehensive relationship between the international community and Afghan government officials.
"A coherent approach to state-building can produce a capable and accountable Afghan government," Ghani wrote.
He called for a 10-year plan to implement reforms in the rule of law, public finance and the construction of a robust national infrastructure to bring stability to Afghanistan.
"The situation in Afghanistan is difficult, but by no means impossible, and renewed international focus combined with shifting internal dynamics provide a real opportunity to change the trajectory of the country and the lives of millions of Afghans," he concluded.
Afghans discuss security with NATO
Afghan leaders met with members of the International Security Assistance Force to discuss necessary improvements in the war effort there.
U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, commander of the NATO-led force, met with government and community leaders in Farah province in the west of Afghanistan.
The Afghan leaders offered a variety of suggestions on how national security forces can cooperate more effectively with international forces, ISAF reported.
U.S. President Barack Obama called for a surge in the number of military forces to 60,000 U.S. and NATO troops to supplement the 140,000-strong Afghan army and to train domestic forces.
Afghanistan has around 80,000 police currently working in the country.
The Afghan leaders also called for additional communication equipment to help with regional efforts.
McKiernan in the past has said the global effort in support of the government of President Hamid Karzai was positive but acknowledged much work is needed to turn the tide in Afghanistan.