Al-Qaida lays out Afghan strategy
Al-Qaida plans to launch simultaneous attacks on provincial centers and Kabul using strategies learned during combat in Iraq, an al-Qaida commander said.
In statements obtained by The Long War Journal, Abdullah Said, the commander of the so-called Shadow Army, outlined the latest efforts to defeat international forces and the Kabul government.
The Shadow Army contains members from several regional terrorist outfits operating in coordination to take on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
In the statement, Said called on his forces to strike provincial centers in Afghanistan while moving toward Maidan-Wardak province south of Kabul in order to launch attacks on the Afghan capital.
He said the knowledge gained from al-Qaida fighters in Iraq offered his fighters the opportunity to improve their strike capability, saying al-Qaida "employed its military expertise in Iraq to serve the Taliban's project in Afghanistan and Pakistan, such as roadside bombs, which target the military convoys, and the suicide attacks, which have never existed in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks."
He also noted the population in Afghanistan has grown frustrated with the current government because of rampant corruption and its failure to control civilian casualties at the hands of international forces.
Said concluded in part by referencing statements from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, saying the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan will meet a slow demise from "financial breakdown" and sustained "human loss."
Iran to train Afghan police?
Tehran offered to work bilaterally with the Kabul government to help train Afghan national police forces as part of an effort to control the illegal drug trade.
Iranian national police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said Tehran announced its willingness to work directly with Kabul, noting there were no plans to work with international forces in Afghanistan, the Iranian Press TV reports.
"We only recognize the government of Afghanistan, and we therefore pursue this issue only through the channel of government authorities," he said.
Iran and the United States share several regional concerns pertaining to Afghanistan, notably opium trafficking and production. Iran has dug a series of trenches along its border with Afghanistan as part of an effort to control drug smuggling into Iran.
An unnamed European official in Kabul told London's The Daily Telegraph that Iran had previously said it was interested in working with the Afghan police, but there have been no formal talks thus far.
Training the Afghan police force is part of Washington's new strategy to turn the tide in the war-torn country following distractions from the war effort in Iraq.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced in March he would send 4,000 military trainers to Afghanistan to support that mission.
Afghanistan has around 80,000 police currently working in the country.
NATO cites 'possible' civilian casualties
NATO expressed regret over "possible" civilian casualties during airstrikes that Afghan officials said killed six people in the eastern Kunar province.
Afghan officials said NATO helicopters struck one house and damaged surrounding structures early Monday, killing six civilians and wounding another 14, The New York Times reports.
NATO had acknowledged the operation but said the mission targeted insurgents believed to be plotting attacks on its positions in the region.
The International Security Assistance Force, NATO's military mission in Afghanistan, said intelligence related to the raid in Kunar province suggested as many as eight insurgents were killed in the operation. ISAF did not identify any civilian casualties in the raid.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and others have expressed repeated concerns over the occurrence of civilian casualties, prompting U.S. military officials to work closer with their Afghan counterparts to reduce collateral damage.
Zalmay Yousufzai, a provincial leader in Kunar, denied those claims, saying there has been "no coordination with us," the Times reported.
A NATO representative offered condolences, however. "We deeply regret any possible civilian injuries caused by our operations against the enemy," NATO spokesman Capt. Mark Durkin said.
Iraqi Parliament meets without speaker
The Iraqi Parliament convened its latest legislative session Tuesday to weigh a series of constitutional measures -- but without a speaker.
Iraq has been without a parliamentary speaker since Mahmoud Mashhadani stepped down from the position amid political bickering in December.
Lawmakers in a February runoff vote fell just short of the majority needed in the 275-member Parliament to nominate Iyad al-Samarrai with the Iraqi Accordance Front to the position, leaving the matter in the hands of the Iraqi courts.
This is the seventh time Parliament has met without a speaker, choosing First Deputy Speaker Khalid al-Attiya of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance as the interim presider.
Lawmakers considered a variety of measures Tuesday, including the creation of non-constitutional positions in the government in the form of a counter-terrorism division and national security adviser, the Institute for the Study of War reports, citing Arabic-language media outlets.
Kurdish officials, meanwhile, told the Voices of Iraq news agency that lawmakers had agreed to take up the matter of Kirkuk on Thursday, adjourning the Tuesday session because of a lack of quorum.
Kurdish government officials and Baghdad are at odds over the jurisdiction of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. A power-sharing arrangement is under review between Iraq and the United Nations.
Lawmakers are also tentatively set to weigh in on a series of other measures, including a long-awaited hydrocarbons law outlining the natural resource sector in Iraq.
Awakening, Baghdad ties sensitive
Leaders with the Sunni-led Awakening Councils in Iraq warned against targeting the group despite modest political overtures to the Baghdad government.
The Awakening Councils grew out of Anbar province in 2005 as a tribal effort to dislodge al-Qaida elements from the western province. The group has since emerged as a political entity following the success of its paramilitary force, Sons of Iraq, which conducts basic policing duties.
Internal divisions and distrust of the Iraqi government reached a boiling point in March following the arrest of an Awakening Council member, Adel Mashhadani, in Baghdad, prompting a military crackdown on the group.
Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf told Iraqi political Web site Niqash.org that "the mutiny by Awakening members has contributed to the sudden awakening of al-Qaida sleeper cells in the vicinity of Baghdad, causing increased violence during the months of March and April."
Awakening leaders, for their part, have reached out to government officials in an effort to reach a political compromise as the group secured several positions in the Iraqi security ministries following moderate gains in the January provincial elections.
A top adviser for the group, Thamer al-Tamimi, cautioned against "playing with fire," however, calling on both sides to exercise caution during any bilateral talks.
"There should be a point of convergence where the two parties can meet and where every party's expectations can be met," he said.
Syrian delegation visits Baghdad
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Syrian officials in Baghdad to discuss expanding bilateral relations in the economic sector.
Syrian officials converged on Baghdad this week to meet with Iraqi leaders and discuss expanding cooperation in a variety of areas, the Voices of Iraq news agency reports.
Syrian Economics Minister Amer Hassan Lotfi visited his Iraqi counterpart, Bayan Jabr al-Zubaidi, to discuss coordination in the security and industrial sectors in Iraq.
Zubaidi said the meeting was an important step that would pave the way toward formal agreements between the two countries.
Talabani, for his part, thanked the delegation, stressing the importance of the Syrian partnership. Despite allegations Syria had served as a staging point for foreign fighters joining the insurgency in Iraq, Iraq's western neighbor hosts a sizable population of Iraqi refugees.
Several Iraqi Christians also sought refuge in Syria following a spate of attacks on the religious minority in 2008.