A U.N. delegation from Iraq traveled to Northern Ireland to examine reconciliation measures there for a lessons-learned approach to handling issues over Kirkuk.
Officials with the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, along with members of the Kirkuk provincial government, traveled to Northern Ireland to vet conflict-resolution experiences for possible use in resolving territorial disputes in Iraq, UNAMI reported.
Conflicts between Protestants and Roman Catholics erupted in a violent ethno-political conflict known as The Troubles, which culminated in a series of peace agreements and power-sharing arrangements whereby the paramilitary Irish Republican Army laid down its weapons in 2005.
UNAMI has chosen Northern Ireland as a model for resolving the issue of Kirkuk. The Iraqi Parliament tasked members of UNAMI with finding power-sharing arrangements between varied ethnic groups in Kirkuk.
The delegation examined Northern Ireland's power-sharing arrangements, where both communities shared positions at the executive and civil-service level.
On police reform, UNAMI and Iraqi officials looked at ways in which the police in Northern Ireland moved away from biased enforcement to political independence.
Meanwhile, constitutional provisions allow unique provincial relationships with both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, something that could prove useful in settling divisions between the Kurdish and central governments of Iraq, officials said.
"UNAMI believes that what we saw together in Northern Ireland has a lot of relevance for Kirkuk," said Andrew Gilmour, deputy special representative of the U.N. secretary-general, according to UNAMI.
Leaders from Northern Ireland told the Kirkuk delegation that to establish peaceful resolution in northern Iraq, all parties to the dispute should understand that all demands from all sides cannot be met.
Kurdish oil foundation for reconciliation?
Baghdad's reluctant acquiescence to Kurdish oil contracts amid a sagging economy creates an environment conducive to reconciliation, a scholar said.
The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq last week announced it would begin exporting oil from its Tawke and Taq Taq fields on June 1. The KRG announced in a follow-up statement Sunday that the Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad said Kurdish oil exports "should be expedited."
Baghdad officially opposes Kurdish oil contracts, saying the KRG lacks the authority to sign such measures unilaterally. The KRG, for its part, uses Kurdish suppression under Saddam Hussein as justification for autonomous oil dealings.
Meanwhile, with oil prices plummeting from July highs of more than $147 per barrel to around $55, Baghdad, heavily dependent on oil revenue, is expected to post an $18 billion budget deficit for 2009, prompting the central government to go along quietly with Kurdish export plans.
Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, writes in Foreign Policy magazine that the current economic crisis could provide an opportunity for mediation in longstanding disputes between the KRG and Baghdad.
He said concessions on Kurdish exports could lay the foundation for the resolution of broader disputes, including administration in the so-called disputed territories and a federal hydrocarbons law.
"Economically speaking, the time couldn't be more fortuitous to give KRG-Baghdad talks a serious go," he concluded.
U.S. freezes Syrian-based al-Qaida operative's assets
The U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of a Syrian national, Abu Khalaf, for supporting the al-Qaida in Iraq network with equipment and foreign fighters.
"We will continue to aggressively implement the international obligation to target al-Qaida-linked terrorists, like Abu Khalaf, who threaten the safety of coalition forces and the stability of Iraq," said Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The Treasury Department said Khalaf, also known as Sa'ad Uwayyid 'Ubayd Mu'jil al-Shammari, served as a top commander of the Syrian network of AQI, acting as early as January as the insurgent leader in charge of foreign fighters for the terrorist group.
"The facilitator recruited a few suicide bombers, who attempted to travel to Iraq," a Treasury Department news release said.
The sanctions come on the heels of warnings from Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council Senior Director Daniel Shapiro, who raised the issue following a visit to Damascus last week. The U.S. State Department said it would monitor the issue.
"We continue to have very deep concern about this issue of the flow of foreign fighters going into Iraq via Syria," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said following the visit.
HRW calls for U.S. military reform
The U.S. military in Afghanistan needs to adopt fundamental changes to reduce civilian casualties, including target assessments, Human Rights Watch says.
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, called for a review of operations in the Afghan province of Farah, where civilians were allegedly killed by U.S. military strikes May 3.
"Afghans have heard promises from the U.S. before that they would take all possible steps to avoid civilian casualties," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "But if the U.S. is to have any credibility, this latest outrage needs to be the last of its kind."
A review of the Farah operation by HRW considers the U.S. military response to Taliban insurgents in the area disproportionate, saying military officials did not vet target information in the area appropriately.
"The U.S., working with its Afghan counterparts, should have known that there was a large civilian population in the village at the time of the airstrikes," Adams said.
HRW called for sweeping reforms in military strategies and strict accountability measures to avoid further civilian casualties, including putting an end to the use of heavy artillery in populated areas and stricter intelligence and strike guidelines.
"Even if some Taliban remained in the village, dropping a dozen bombs into a residential area doesn't seem to make much sense," Adams said.
The report also condemned U.S. military officials for accusing the Afghan government of exaggerating the claims and blaming civilian casualties on the alleged use of "human shields" by the Taliban.
Kabul pays 'lip service' to reform
Despite calls for government reform in Afghanistan, establishing a standard for improvement is complicated by local and national coordination, a study showed.
Sustained insurgency and government corruption created an atmosphere in Afghanistan where government reform based on national traditions became urgent. However, putting reform strategies in place is complicated by senior appointments in Kabul and subnational practices, a report by the Kabul-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit said.
AREU said government reform is not complicated so much by recruitment procedures for official positions but by how that recruitment took place.
The report said government reform is based on accepted counterinsurgency doctrines that rely on a bottom-up strategy to develop relationships, but in practice, the system is disconnected, creating parallel bodies that negate the overall intent.
"It also illustrates how policies and procedures do not necessarily change the rules of the game but rather provide a different vocabulary for the various power struggles," the report said.
AREU said the central government in Kabul exploited reforms based on the bottom-up measures "while paying lip service to the policies that their practices are undermining."
U.S. bases create local Afghan problems
U.S. decisions to raze farmland and irrigation systems in southern Afghanistan to make room for the surge highlight difficulties in winning domestic support.
In its rush to expand Forward Operating Base Wolverine in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, the U.S. military took possession of farmland and an underground irrigation system dating back to 1,000 B.C.
A review of the situation by The Wall Street Journal said the expansion plans are a sign of the growing complexity of employing the latest counterinsurgency strategy, which links domestic civilian support to military operations, in Afghanistan.
"If before we put the first U.S. soldier on the ground, we alienate the closest village to the ... base, we're putting the thing in reverse before we even get started," Lt. Col. William Schaper, an engineer at FOB Wolverine, told the Journal.
With U.S. President Barack Obama calling for the deployment of some 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan and U.S. lawmakers passing a $97 billion supplemental funding measure, military forces are scrambling to expand base perimeters and general infrastructure throughout the country.
In the race to expand, however, the U.S. Army failed to account for the irrigation system, called "karez," which waters about 75 percent of provincial agriculture.
"The resulting water-production loss experienced by Bowragay Village karez system supports Taliban claims of base expansion negatively impacting the community and confounds counterinsurgency operations," a hydrological report on the region said.
Army officials are assessing new plans in order to avoid causing further damage to the regional landscape, but officials there say the damage was already done.
"We're fighting a counterinsurgency, and it's all about narratives," said Capt. Paul Tanghe, an Afghan army adviser. "It doesn't matter what really happened. It matters what they think happened."