McChrystal squares off against U.S. lawmakers; Kurds weigh in on Kirkuk

By DANIEL GRAEBER, UPI Correspondent  |  June 2, 2009 at 12:01 PM
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McChrystal faces questions on Afghan, Iraq duty

U.S. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal testified on Capitol Hill for the top military post in Afghanistan, answering questions on strategy and detainee affairs in Iraq.

McChrystal appeared Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee to answer questions regarding his plans for Afghanistan, but also on his role as special operations commander in Iraq.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced his latest strategy for Afghanistan in May, coupling military efforts with non-military aid and civilian reconstruction. That effort is based in part on the counterinsurgency doctrine employed by U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

As part of that military shift, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates abruptly called on Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, to make way for McChrystal, a Special Forces specialist in the model of Petraeus.

McChrystal led the Joint Special Operations Command since 2003, coordinating efforts in the continued search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. In Iraq, forces under McChrystal's command led the way in finding and killing al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Military officials tell The Washington Post that McChrystal may transform operations for U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, assigning military and civilian units to specific tasks rather than regions.

McChrystal faced tough questions during his Senate confirmation hearing on his role in alleged detainee abuses in Iraq, which he described as "acceptable and legal," and for a fratricide incident involving Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who the Pentagon initially said was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan.


Haqqani network gravest Afghan threat

The Haqqani network poses a grave threat to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan given its close ties to Pakistani intelligence and Arab insurgent groups, officials say.

Jalaluddin Haqqani emerged as an influential warlord during the fighting against Soviet forces in the 1980s. The Haqqani insurgent network was behind some of the more elaborate attacks in Afghanistan, including an attack on the luxury Serena Hotel and the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008.

Analysts in a review of the Haqqani network for the Christian Science Monitor describe the group as one of the more organized and well-connected insurgent groups in Afghanistan.

"The Haqqani network has proven itself to be the most capable (of the insurgent groups), able to conduct spectacular attacks inside Afghanistan," said Matthew DuPee, a researcher at the Naval Postgraduate School in California.

The Haqqani network operates along the volatile southeastern provinces in Afghanistan, acting as a de facto government in some cases. Lawmakers in the eastern province of Khost say permission from the group is required for travel in the region.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials point to ties to the Pakistani intelligence networks and Islamic insurgents gained from the Soviet era as lending to the pervasive threat posed by the Haqqani network.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the rebel leader and planner of a 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is reportedly leading the group.

Jalaluddin Haqqani last appeared in a jihadist propaganda video in March 2008.


Deputy UNAMA envoy arrives in Kabul

Peter Galbraith, the newly appointed deputy envoy to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, arrived in the country Tuesday offering pledges of respect.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Galbraith on March 25, replacing Canadian diplomat Christopher Alexander, who concluded his UNAMA assignment at the end of March.

Galbraith told reporters in Kabul that his service in Afghanistan will be based on a respect for the nation, the U.N. Mission Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reports.

"I come to Afghanistan with the utmost respect and admiration for its people, religion and history," the envoy said. "I want to listen closely to the needs of ordinary Afghans and step up efforts in support of all Afghans."

Galbraith will head the political affairs division with UNAMA to work on conflict resolution, disarmament efforts and regional partnerships. He will also work in support of an election unit with UNAMA.

Galbraith served as an ambassador to Croatia and a top adviser to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He served as a senior fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and has founded an international negotiation company, Windham Resources Group LLC.

He is also the author of two books critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.


Kurds submit report on Kirkuk

Kurdish lawmakers submitted a report on possible power-sharing arrangements in Kirkuk while officials squabble over government disputes in Ninawa province.

Elections in Kirkuk are delayed indefinitely while Iraqi and international officials hammer out power-sharing arrangements between the ethnic communities in the region -- Kurdish, Arab and Turkomen -- and administrative disputes between the Kurdish and central governments.

Two constitutional provisions deal with the issue. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution considers whether enough Kurds have returned to the area to consider it Kurdish, while Article 23 calls for a power-sharing arrangement between Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs at the local level.

Khaled Shawani, a lawmaker with the Kurdistan Alliance, presented a report to an Article 23 committee, noting an increase in the number of Kirkuk residents, the Voices of Iraq news agency reports.

"The report highlighted the number of citizens in Kirkuk which was 800,000 in 2003 and jumped to 1.25 million in April 2009," he added. The VOI report did not specify the ethnicity of those residents.

Meanwhile, Saleem al-Juburi with the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni slate, said he would dispatch a delegation to Ninawa province to hammer out disputes between Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers.

The Sunni-led Hadbaa list won a surprise victory in the January provincial elections, taking control of the Ninawa government. Kurdish lawmakers announced a boycott of the government following a Hadbaa decision to deny them Cabinet positions.


KRG praised for election work

The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq received praises from the United Nations for conducting its first full week of voter registration without incident.

Iraq held provincial elections in 14 of its 18 provinces in January with national elections scheduled for January 2010. The three Kurdish provinces -- Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniya -- hold parliamentary elections in July with provincial elections coinciding with Iraqi national elections.

The Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq vetted scores of candidates and political slates for the July 25 parliamentary contest.

IHEC officials added there will be five polling stations opened in Baghdad and 89 in the three Kurdish provinces.

Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, praised the KRG "for completing a successful and peaceful first week of the voter registration."

The IHEC reports more than 40,000 people arrived at voting centers to verify their eligibility to vote. The United Nations, meanwhile, estimates some 2 million people are eligible to take part in the Kurdish vote, which de Mistura said was a "positive signal."

The KRG faced criticism over its democratic progress as the two main political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, announced they would compete in the parliamentary elections on a unified slate, though a modest opposition is expected to surface.


SOFA deadline honored

American combat units will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 in accordance with a bilateral Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad, officials said.

U.S. combat forces are obligated under the SOFA to pull back to their military bases by June 30. With Iraq witnessing a modest outbreak of violence, many had questioned that deadline.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, however, said Baghdad is committed to the SOFA, saying in May the June 30 deadline would not be extended.

His comments were backed by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Keith Walker, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group, who said American military commanders would honor the bilateral agreement, the Pentagon said.

"We will adhere to the security agreement," Walker promised. "So, all combat forces will be out of the cities unless there is a specific invitation from the government of Iraq."

Walker pointed to improvements in the ability of Iraqi security forces to conduct independent operations, while political disputes in Baghdad are settled before lawmakers rather than in the streets.

Critics have pointed to a looming insurgency in Mosul as a possible special circumstance to the SOFA, with top U.S. military generals saying they would stay on if requested to do so by Baghdad.

Walker, however, said the SOFA covers all of Iraq, so no special consideration will be granted to any parts of the country.

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(dgraeber@upi.com)

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