Iraq set for January national elections; U.S. Special Forces linked to Farah attacks

By DANIEL GRAEBER, UPI Correspondent  |  May 18, 2009 at 7:46 PM
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Iraqi national elections set for January

The Iraqi federal court set Jan. 30, 2010, for the next parliamentary elections, Iraqi lawmakers said Monday.

Iraqi Deputy Parliament Speaker Khaled Atiyya told reporters the court had set the date following a request by the 275-member Parliament, the Voices of Iraq news agency reports.

"Earlier this month, we sent a request to the federal court to inquire about the dates set for the end of the current parliamentary term and for parliamentary polls," he said.

Iraq held provincial elections in January in 14 of its 18 provinces. Parliamentary elections in the Kurdish provinces -- Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniya -- are scheduled for July 25, while provincial elections in Iraqi Kurdistan are expected to coincide with national elections in January.

Kirkuk province is considered a special case because of ethnic divisions.

Meanwhile, a public referendum on the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement with the United States is expected in June.

There were several shake-ups in the Iraqi Parliament within the last year. Lawmakers appointed 10 members to the Iraqi Cabinet following the return of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front to the government in July. Baghdad also welcomed Iyad al-Samarrai as the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament in April following months of turmoil in the wake of the December resignation of Mahmoud Mashhadani.

Iraqi voters ushered in a predominately Shiite government to Baghdad during the last national elections in 2005. Following a resounding victory for his State of Law coalition in the January provincial elections, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is widely expected to seek another term in the 2010 elections.

Maliki calls for PKK action

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged to cooperate with Turkey to find a way to defeat Kurdish separatists in the region amid mounting violence.

Maliki addressed reporters at a groundbreaking ceremony for a hospital being built by a Turkish company in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala, Turkish daily Hurriyet reports.

"We will find ways to stop this organization's activities and finish the organization through our collaboration with Turkey and our mutual understanding," Maliki said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Though modestly tense, ties between Iraq and Turkey have improved notably since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In July, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first Turkish leader to visit Baghdad in nearly 20 years.

Maliki spoke of the improved relationship, which centers around a common struggle against the PKK and other militants in the region.

"We have a trustworthy cooperation with Turkey in order to put an end to this terrorist organization and other terrorist organizations that want to harm all neighboring countries," he said.

Ankara stated recently it was considering domestic efforts to tackle what it calls the Kurdish question as several pro-Kurdish groups defeated the ruling Justice and Development Party in March municipal elections. Iran, meanwhile, struggles with its own Kurdish separatist issues, ramping up its military attacks against guerrillas in recent weeks.

Iraqi narrative ongoing, Crocker says

U.S. national interests require continued engagement in Iraq despite security and political progress and military redeployments, a former envoy said.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker spoke with The Seattle Times on his experiences in Iraq and the challenges facing the administration of President Barack Obama.

Crocker, who left his post in Baghdad in February, described a developing narrative in Iraq that requires patience and due diligence on the part of Washington.

"The process of a development of state and society is going to play out over years and decades," he said. "Not, in a time of scarce resources, a message that the Americans like to hear -- because it is in my judgment an argument for continuity of policy and steadiness of engagement."

Crocker, a Washington state native, spoke earlier to students at Whitman College, his alma mater, where he plans to deliver the commencement address Sunday.

On the challenges facing the Obama administration, Crocker, who speaks Arabic, said the greatest threat to regional stability lies in Pakistan.

"The greatest (threat) of them, in my view, it's not Iraq, not even Afghanistan. It's Pakistan," he said. "I don't think you can find sustainable stability in Afghanistan without Pakistan settling down."

Crocker was replaced by Christopher Hill, a career diplomat with experience in Bosnia and North Korea.

Rumsfeld-era unit linked to Farah attacks

A U.S. Special Forces unit described as "cowboys" ordered airstrikes on an Afghan village in Farah province that allegedly killed more than 100 civilians.

British newspaper The Independent reports units in the Special Operations Command with the U.S. Marine Corps called in airstrikes on Bala Boluk in Farah province recently, as well as two controversial events in 2007 and 2008.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld created the unit in 2006 in spite of mounting criticism from the Marine Corps and Special Forces advisers with the Marines, who described the unit as a shameful group of "cowboys," the report said.

In 2007, around 120 members of the Fox Company in the Marine unit reportedly fired on pedestrians and civilian vehicles following a suicide bombing near Jalalabad along the Pakistani border. At least 19 people were killed in that attack.

Meanwhile, in August, 20 members of the Marine unit ordered attack helicopters and gunships to fire on a compound in Herat province, killing at least 90 civilians, including several children.

In the Farah attacks, the same Special Forces unit ordered F-18 and B-1 bomber attacks on the village as American forces became overwhelmed. Eyewitnesses said the airstrikes came well after the fighting was over, however, killing as many as 147 people, including women and children.

In response, Afghan lawmakers have called for legislation that regulates the activity of foreign military forces, and President Hamid Karzai paid a personal visit to Farah province to investigate the matter.

The allegations against the Marine Special Forces unit come as Washington appoints Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal as its top commander in Afghanistan.

McChrystal served five years as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, a unit charged with examining military special operations.

Afghan military may take lead in two years

The Afghan national army should follow the same path as its Iraqi counterpart, taking more leadership in the next few years, the U.S. defense secretary said.

U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a new military strategy in Afghanistan that draws on lessons learned from counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. That strategy coupled military tactics with reconstruction of civilian and national capacities.

In that light, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told CBS' "60 Minutes" that Afghan national forces could proceed along the same path as the Iraqi military, taking the lead -- with U.S. military supervision -- in two to four years.

"I think what you'll see is the same kind of evolution here that you have seen in Iraq, and that is where the Iraqis have increasingly taken the lead and we have increasingly receded into the background," he said. "I think that's what will happen here over time."

Gates pointed to a noted increase in Afghan battalions taking the lead in U.S.-led operations in the country, adding there were about 86,000 national troops, according to his office.

Obama called for a 17,000-strong troop surge to bolster the 47,000 American soldiers currently in Afghanistan. Obama has also called for NATO support for Afghanistan. While several members agreed, they did so only to support the August presidential elections.

Regarding international forces, Gates expressed his frustration with the lack of commitments from NATO allies for the Afghan war effort.

"I've been disappointed with NATO's response to this ever since I got this job," he said.

Karzai brother survives assassination attempt

Ahmed Wali Karzai, a provincial leader and brother of the Afghan president, said he survived an assassination attempt en route to Kabul on Monday.

Karzai, a leader of the Kandahar provincial council, told reporters he was traveling from Jalalabad to Kabul in a convoy of vehicles when he came under attack by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades allegedly from Taliban insurgents, The New York Times reports.

"I was leading the convoy, but all of the bullets hit the second vehicle that my bodyguards were driving," he said. "One of my bodyguards was wounded, and later he died."

The BBC said the provincial leader was the target of attacks in 2008 when a fuel tanker rigged with explosives struck a nearby target, killing six and wounding 40 others.

His house was struck by an explosion in 2003, which Karzai said was an accident from the removal of nearby weapons.

Karzai is allegedly linked to the regional trade in illicit drugs, though he describes those accounts as "baseless."



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