Morning Report: March 23, 2007

A Friday morning roundup, including breaking news from Iran, and the good, the bad, and the ugly at CENTCOM.

British troops captured in Iran. Never Yet Melted from Bloomberg: 'Iran seized 15 British naval personnel who were conducting “routine boarding operations” in Iraqi waters, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said. “The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters,” the ministry said in an e-mailed statement. “We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level.” The incident occurred in the Arabian Gulf at about 10:30 a.m. Iraq time today, the ministry said. It gave no details of the units and vessels involved.' (NYM)

Kesher Talk on "Breaking the Silence". Kesher Talk: 'In today's [New York] Times [Steve] Erlanger brings his obtuseness to bear on Breaking the Silence, a group which collects stories of malfeasance by IDF soldiers against Palestinians, and then the soldiers tour around college campuses and synagogues testifying to their misdeeds. A related group Combatants for Peace pairs an IDF soldier with a supposedly reformed Palestinian terrorist who demonstrate how peace can be achieved when the Israeli confesses his misdeeds and the Palestinian agrees with him. ...' Read the rest at the link. (KT)

Belmont Club on the Musharraf era. The Belmont Club: 'Musharraf's tightrope act suggests that Pakistan is divided between powerful forces, some sympathetic to the Jihad and others opposed with a big slug of criminality and thuggery thrown into the mixture. However, the "exit strategy" recommended by [Ahmed] Rashid has dangers too. ...' (Belmont Club)

Iraqi engineers learn new skills. MNF-Iraq: 'A class of Iraqi engineers completed a four-day course in construction quality management, enhancing their job skills to achieve a quality product safely, on time and within budget. The instructor of the course, Peggy McBride is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Quality Assurance lead for the Europe District. McBride explained how the construction quality management course, or CQM, teaches engineers the execution of tasks that ensure construction is performed according to plans and specifications; completed on time within a defined budget, and done in a safe work environment. “This class gives the Iraqi contractors the ability to meet the Corps’ construction contract requirements, and trains them to be contractor quality control personnel,” McBride said. “We give them standards that can be applied throughout Iraq.”' (MNFI)

Stopping corruption at Iraqi oil refinery. MNF-Iraq:
A United States Army captain met with a deputy commander of the Oil Protection Force to talk about security needs for the Bayji Oil Refinery here March 9.

U.S. Army Capt. Kwenton Kuhlman, Company B commander, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and overseer of the oil refinery, and Nabhan Mohammed, deputy commander of the OPF in the Bayji refinery discussed corruption and embezzlement problems as well as the relationship between Iraqi Soldiers and OPF workers.

One of the biggest problems the refinery faced were guards being bribed and drivers being extorted, said Hassan Ahmad, an OPF employee.

“We have caught guys pumping extra fuel, short-changing government fuel tankers and a couple of OPF guys taking bribes from oil tankers,” said Kuhlman.

“The Iraqis are very aware of what is going on at the refinery, and they are fed up with it. Fuel is too important to the Iraqi people to have guards not doing their jobs,” said Kuhlman.

“We have to have a culture in the OPF that doesn’t tolerate corruption,” said Kuhlman.

To combat this corruption, Kuhlman introduced two contracts for new anti-corruption equipment which will be installed inside and outside the oil refinery.

“We will make it really hard and really expensive to steal from (the refinery),” said Kuhlman.

The Iraqi Army also did its part to make sure the corruption stops. Lt. Gen. Abdul-Aziz, commander of the 4th Iraqi Army Division, pledged to permanently station an infantry battalion at the refinery to help with security.

Bush: Mideast peace necessary for US security. CENTCOM: 'Peace in the Middle East is hard work, but it’s necessary for U.S. security and for the development of the region, President Bush said here today. “We have a remarkable country, and we have people from different walks of life, different levels of experience, make the decision to serve America by helping a young democracy survive,” Bush said after meeting with Iraq provincial reconstruction team leaders at the White House. “They understand what I understand, and that is, success in Iraq is important for the security of the United States.” Bush met with team members from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the military. PRTs are joint civilian-military units that support local leaders and empower provincial authorities by working closely with the communities on reconstruction and other activities.' (CENTCOM)

Iraq reconstruction moves ahead. CENTCOM:
The reconstruction effort under way in Iraq is one of the most extensive and challenging of all time, but also one of the most important, the deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs today.

Army Maj. Gen. Ronald Johnson, who served as the first commander of the corps’ Gulf Region Division, reported that the Iraqi reconstruction program “is yielding positive, tangible results every day and has significantly improved the lives of the Iraqi people.”

Despite a challenging and often hostile work environment, Johnson reported that some 4,000 Corps of Engineers soldiers and civilian employees have seen more than 2,800 projects completed. “We have completed 13 refurbished hospitals that can serve 5,500 patients a day, restored water treatment facilities benefiting over 2.3 million Iraqis, completed over 250 border forts, helping to secure more than 2,000 miles of Iraqi borders, completed over 800 new or renovated schools serving 325,000 Iraqi children, and have increased electric power generation, benefiting 1.3 million homes,” he said.

Why is CENTCOM kicking Michael Yon out? Michael Yon: 'A general emailed in the past 24 hours threatening to kick me out. The first time the Army threatened to kick me out was in late 2005, just after I published a dispatch called “Gates of Fire.” Some of the senior level public affairs people who’d been upset by “Proximity Delays” were looking ever since for a reason to kick me out and they wanted to use “Gates of Fire” as a catapult. In the events described in that dispatch, I broke some rules by, for instance, firing a weapon during combat when some of our soldiers were fighting fairly close quarters and one was wounded and still under enemy fire. That’s right. I’m not sure what message the senior level public affairs people thought that would convey had they succeeded, (which they didn’t) but it was clear to me what they valued most. They want the press on a short leash, even at the expense of the life of a soldier.' Captain's Quarters: 'Does the Army want to build honest support for the mission here at home? Or would they rather play bureaucratic games with one of the few journalists willing to go wherever our soldiers go? Someone needs a reality check at CENTCOM.' (Michael Yon, Captain's Quarters)

Blast from the past. Sand Gets In My Eyes links a prescient 1946 War Department report:
Six decades ago, just after WWII and before the start of the Cold War, the US War Department conducted a study on long-term threats to global security. The number one threat according to their study? Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East.

The report is filled with political incorrectness that would today probably lead to lawsuits and sit-ins, but it is also filled with some pretty interesting thoughts.

According to the report – remember it was written long before the terrorist attacks of recent years – paints a picture of a region “full of frustration and discontent”, a region torn apart by two powerful urges: one internal and one, not surprisingly external:

“The Muslims remember the power with which once they not only ruled their own domains but also overpowered half of Europe, yet they are painfully aware of their present economic, cultural, and military impoverishment. Thus a terrific internal pressure is building up in their collective thinking.”

The report goes on to conclude that:

“The Muslims intend, by any means possible, to regain political independence and to reap the profits of their own resources, which in recent times and up to the present have been surrendered to the exploitation of foreigners who could provide capital investments. The area, in short, has an inferiority complex, and its activities are thus as unpredictable as those of any individual so motivated.”

Read the rest at the link. (SGIME)


Morning Report: March 20, 2007

Iraq's navy moves forward despite problems, Iranians unite against the regime, an American general feels safer, and more.

Iraqi Navy moves toward independence. An article by Carmen Gleason, appearing at both CENTCOM and MNF-Iraq, reports on the status of the Iraqi Navy.
The Iraqi Navy will soon add 21 vessels to its fleet, putting it another step closer to being operationally independent, officials said during a Baghdad news conference Sunday.
With a contract on the verge of completion, the Iraqi Navy is the first of the Iraq’s forces to use the Ministry of Defense’s procurement process with Iraqi money in purchasing major capital programs from foreign governments and commercial ventures.

“The Iraqi Navy has come a long way since the end of the hostilities,” United States Navy Capt. Michael Zamesnik, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command liaison officer to Multi-National Force-Iraq, said “They were an organization that had been ravaged by the effects of the war, and they are making great strides to rebuild themselves.” ...

Read the rest at either of the links. However, Strategy Page cautions that corruption remains a serious problem: 'Corruption, however, has seen to it that most of the larger boats arrived in poor condition, and attempts to obtain spare parts, and needed maintenance, have not gone well. Money keeps disappearing, as well as shipments of needed materials. Welcome to Iraq. ...' (MNFI, CENTCOM, Strategy Page)

Calling Iranian expats: Your people need you. The Spirit of Man: 'I am hearing that Iranians living in Sweden are collecting money for those workers who have not been paid by the Iranian gov't and are currently on strike across the country. So I was wondering if this could spread to all Iranian expat communities worldwide. Iranians in Canada, America, Western Europe, Australia and Japan are instrumental in helping these people who are struggling to stay alive. Moreover, if we can maintain a good flow of cash to Iran through any possible way, then we might also be able to initiate strikes and ask the rest of the country to go on strike too. I know it is a huge task and a bit hard to do, but it is not impossible. That's where the support of western governments, especially the United States, is going to play a major role. Their financial backing would be a major step towards the removing of mullahs.' (TSOM)

IRI stopped weapons inspectors from visiting underground bunker. Via Shiro-Khorshid-Forever: 'Iran stopped UN inspectors from visiting an underground bunker where it is building an industrial-scale plant to make enriched uranium but the inspectors will try again, diplomats told AFP Monday. Iran had however promised "frequent inspector access" to the site in Natanz, the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in February.' Read the full AFP article here. (SKF)

Mohammed Fadhil: Somebody finally bothered to ask Iraqis. ITM's Mohammed Fadhil at Pajamas Media:
With the constant force buildup many streets now host multiple checkpoints, both fixed and mobile. All are positioned in a manner that allows soldiers in one to have visual contact with those in the next one.

As the operations continue, the interior ministry is introducing new identification measures for vehicles used by its personnel. The new armored vehicles are unique and leave no room for confusion, while the SUV’s are getting new light-green paint with the words ‘National Police’ well visible on the sides.

From my personal experience I can tell that the men staffing the checkpoints do not take their job lightly. One can feel that a long month of hard work did not exhaust them, and I am awed by the courage of those soldiers and policemen. In a city which has absorbed more suicide bombings than all other cities in the world combined every passing vehicle or motorcycle is a threat. ...

You look around in Baghdad now and see hundreds of men working in the streets to pick up garbage; to plant flowers and paint the blast walls in joyful colors. Many of Baghdad’s squares are becoming green and clean. The picture isn’t perfect, but it’s a clear attempt to beat violence and ease pain through giving the spring a chance to shine.

Nights in Baghdad now are far from quiet, but the sounds cause less anxiety for me than they did before. I recognize the rumble of armor and thump of guns and they assure me that the gangs and militias do not dominate the night as they once did.

When Arabs or westerners ask me about the situation and I answer that hope remains and that we’re looking forward to a better future most would say ‘Are you living in this world?’ I answer, ‘Yes, it’s you who live in the parallel world the media built for you with images of only death and destruction’.

If it surprised some of them that a poll found Iraqis optimistic, then I’m surprised that someone finally bothered to ask Iraqis how they feel.

Please go read the full post at the link. (PJM)

Petraeus: "Nobody shot at us." Gordon Cucullu at Benador Associates:
'I WALKED down the streets of Ramadi a few days ago, in a soft cap eating an ice cream with the mayor on one side of me and the police chief on the other, having a conversation." This simple act, Gen. David Petraeus told me, would have been "unthinkable" just a few months ago. "And nobody shot at us," he added.

Petraeus, the new commander managing the "surge" of troops in Iraq, will be the first to caution realism. "Sure we see improvements - major improvements," he said in our interview, "but we still have a long way to go."

What tactics are working? "We got down at the people level and are staying," he said flatly. "Once the people know we are going to be around, then all kinds of things start to happen."

More intelligence, for example. Where once tactical units were "scraping" for intelligence information, they now have "information overload," the general said. "After our guys are in the neighborhood for four or five days, the people realize they're not going to just leave them like we did in the past. Then they begin to come in with so much information on the enemy that we can't process it fast enough."

Read the rest to find out what we're doing to make Iraq's gathering place safer, and what other major figure recently took a stroll in the Sunni streets of Ramadi. (Benador)

Azadegan for a free Iran. The Free Iran - ActivistChat message board links to Azadegan's report (PDF) detailing a strategy for change and a vision for a new Iran. Go to the link for excerpts and important related news. (Free Iran)

Commentary. Politicians like Oregon's Senator Gordon Smith ("R"), who opposed the troop surge, are going to be in a tough spot soon. I was cautious at first about making predictions for the surge's success, but every indication - from the sources who actually know what they're talking about - is that it is working.

Cathy Seipp

My one, much-too-brief meeting with Cathy Seipp was at the Pajamas ("Open Source") Media Launch in New York. She is now gravely ill and, her doctors say, has at the most a couple of days to live.

What impressed me most on meeting Cathy was her warmth and openness. It really didn't matter whether I was a "somebody" or a "nobody".

Cathy's daughter posts the following:
As earlier mentioned in the comments section, my mother is in the hospital. The doctor says that right now they're just making her comfortable. She's sedated, with painkillers among other things. Lungs collapsed so right now we just want to make sure she has dignity and is not in pain. The doctor says she has a couple days left. I want to thank all her readers for reading this blog, her friends for supporting her who made up "Team Cathy." Through you all, I learned what a true friend was.

Armed Liberal writes:
Cathy drilled me on my casual assumption that all thinking people were in favor of gay marriage, and when she did that, she didn't only make me think about gay marriage as an issue, but all the other casual assumptions I offhandedly made about what people did and should think. Cathy gave me a zen slap to the head, and it was one of the biggest favors anyone ever did for me.

Richard Fernandez writes:
They say that Good Friday is the ultimate test of faith; but that is wrong. It is Easter Sunday. We have all of us seen paths tracked with tears, but none of us have seen an Empty Tomb. The most heartbreaking thing in life is not to know to sorrow but to see beauty and believe that we will never see anything so beautiful again.

Although I recently quibbled with Cathy (in a post I needn't link here), I've always found joy in her positive and enthusiastic spirit. That magnetism, evident in all of her writing, was tangible and energizing in her living presence. The loss of that presence will leave us all poorer.

Advice Goddess Blog:
Cathy Seipp has lived over five extraordinarily courageous years with lung cancer, and it's 8:10 pm Monday night as I'm writing this, and they took the oxygen mask off three hours ago (because she was suffering so), and she's still hanging on. The doctor apparently thought it would only be "minutes" after he took it off. Apparently, this doctor didn't know Cathy. ...


Afternoon Roundup - March 18

Via LGF: Thailand attack kills 3 schoolchildren.
Three Muslim schoolchildren were killed and seven injured in an attack by suspected insurgents at an Islamic school in restive southern Thailand, police said Sunday.

The attack occurred late Saturday evening at the Bamrungsart Pohnor school, a Muslim boarding school in Songkhla province, said police Col. Thammasak Wasaksiri. Attackers hurled explosives onto the school grounds and opened fire with assault rifles into the sleeping quarters of the school, Thammasak said.

Ritzy Mabrouk: Egypt opposition set to resign. Follow Ritzy's links for details. Global Voices: 'According to Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdulfattah, two bloggers were among more than 20 people arrested for taking part in an anti-government rally called for by opposition movement Kefaya to protest against Constitutional amendments which will allegedly give the ruling party more power.'

Let's blogroll!

Sand Gets In My Eyes has an eye-opening experience on a commercial flight:
Flying is, after all, an equal rights activity: I pay for my little part of the plane, you pay for yours, and as long as your stuff doesn’t encroach on my space or visa-versa, we’re hunky-dory.

That’s the way it should work. But these days, that’s not exactly the reality.

Case in point: My husband and I recently flew to Australia and back. It’s a grueling trip, so we upgraded to business class – more room, better meals, more choices in seating. I like the aisle since I tend to move around on long flights more than my husband does; and my husband doesn’t like the bulkhead area, so that’s the way the tickets were booked – me on the aisle, him on my immediate left and both of us several rows away from the bulkhead.

But, when we arrived at our seats, a young, fully covered Muslim woman arrogantly informed my husband that he could not sit in his assigned seat – the seat on her immediate right- because it was “against her religion” to have a strange man sit next to her! ...

Read the rest at the link.

Captain's Quarters says Israel should have listened to France, and yes, you read that correctly. Check this out:
At the start of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, France sent word through secret channels that it would support Israel in the war if Ehud Olmert attacked Syria and deposed Bashar Assad. Chirac wanted Israel to attack the root of the problem in Lebanon and eliminate Hezbollah's lines of support ...

Go to the post to find out what Michael Ledeen said.

Finally, Baron Bodissey covers the counter-protest in Washington with some great photographs. Go check it out.

Morning Report: March 18, 2007

Morning Report returns after a month-long hiatus. Let's roll.

"Enforcing the Law" reduces violence in northwest Baghdad. MNF-Iraq:
Violence has reduced since moving Coalition forces out of big forward operating bases and into smaller community-based combat outposts as part of the Fardh Al-Qanoon, a senior Army officer serving there said Friday.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division has seen a significant drop in violence over the past few months in the province of Shula and Kadtimiya, said Col. J.B. Burton, the unit’s commander.

Murders are down, from 141 in January to 63 in February to only 16 so far in March, he said. However the area has seen an increase in car bombs targeting Shiite gathering places, Burton said.

About one million people live in the area patrolled by Burton’s troops. It is principally Shiite-occupied in the northeast, Sunni in the west and southwest, and mixed in the southeast. Sectarian fault lines define the areas, and both Sunni and Shiia extremists fight for control over portions of the city and its citizens, said Burton.

CENTCOM explains: 'The Government of Iraq and the Coalition Force officially announced the name for the Baghdad security plan Feb. 17. The operation is named ‘Fardh Al-Qanoon,’ an Iraqi phrase that translates to ‘Enforcing the Law.’ This is the title agreed upon by Government of Iraq, with the support of the Coalition leaders, and reflects the Iraqi-led nature of the operation.' (MNFI, CENTCOM)

Admiral Fallon assumes command of CENTCOM. CENTCOM reports:
Adm. William J. Fallon took charge of United States Central Command here Friday replacing the retiring Gen. John P. Abizaid.

Fallon, the former chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, now leads more than 200,000 service members deployed in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility, which includes 27 nations throughout Southwest Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

Fallon is the first naval officer to assume command of CENTCOM, which began as the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force in 1980.

Secretary of Defense, Robert M.Gates, presided during the ceremony, paying tribute to both Abizaid and Fallon during his keynote remarks.

He thanked Abizaid and his wife Kathy for the wonderful job they’ve both done for the United States and wished them well in their retirement. Abizaid wraps up 54 months at CENTCOM as both deputy commander and commander.

Read the rest at the link. (Note: Site may load slowly.) (CENTCOM)

Al-Qaeda does what it does best. Iraq the Model: 'Al-Qaeda's terrorists-whom AP insists on calling insurgents-expended three suicide bombers and precious resources against their supposedly sympathetic civilian Sunni hosts instead of American and Iraqi soldiers and Shia civilians; their usual enemies. If this indicates anything it indicates that al-Qaeda's is reprioritizing the targets on the hit list. The reason: al-Qaeda is sensing a serious threat in the change of attitude of the tribes toward them and perhaps the apparently successful meeting of the sheiks with Maliki and the agreements that were made then was the point at which open war had to be declared. The tribes in Anbar are stubborn and they have many ruthless warriors. That's a proven fact and it looks like Al-Qaeda had just made their gravest mistake—their once best friends are just about to become their worst enemy.' (ITM)

Battle of Diyala. The Fourth Rail: 'Baquba, the capital of the violence wracked province of Diyala, has emerged as the latest battlefield in Iraq. Earlier this week, Multinational Forces Iraq began to redeploy a battalion of Strykers - about 700 soldiers and 100 of their Stryker combat vehicles from the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division - from Baghdad to Baquba to chase down the 2,000 plus estimated al Qaeda fighters who have fled the capital in anticipation of the Baghdad Security Plan. Upon the first day of their arrival in Baquba, the Strykers of the 5-20 have engaged in heavy combat in the streets of the city. Al Qaeda in Iraq was prepared for the arrival of the Strykers, and set up defensive and ambush positions throughout the city. The Strykers arriving in Baquba encountered mortars, snipers, RPGs, a host of Improvised Explosive Devices and possibly anti-tank weapons. ...' Roggio concludes: 'The recent tape released by Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda's political front the Islamic State in Iraq, reflects concern within the terror group. Baghdadi implored tribal leaders and insurgent groups to fight under the banner of the Islamic State in Iraq, and threatened those who will not with death and damnation. Al Qaeda has seen its power decline in Anbar province the past few months and Baghdadi will want to stem this trend in Diyala, Salahadin and elsewhere.' (TFR)

Yemen: bombing closes school. Via Armies of Liberation: 'March 13 — Teachers have refrained from working at Al-Abous district’s Talb School for three months and classrooms remain closed because an identified group detonated a package of explosives in the school, damaging it and intimidating its students, who number as many as 550.' (Armies of Liberation)

Iran: Teachers, workers, veterans protest. The Spirit of Man reports on several protests brewing in Iran now. (TSOM)

Hossein Forohideh execution stopped. Shiro-Khorshid-Forever reports: 'I just got of the phone with one of my contacts and seems like as of yet the execution has not been carried out. I know so many people have worked really hard to try to save Mr. Forohideh's life and I would like to thank everyone. Ofcourse this does not mean that he is out of the woods yet, so please keep the pressure on, until we recieve news that the threat of execution has passed.' Background: 'The Revolutionary Court in the city of Oroumiey has sentenced Hossein Forohideh, a political activist to death and is planning to execute him today March 16, 2007. Four months ago Mr. Forohideh was arrested in the Kurdistan of Iran and was subjected to severe torture. For three months his family had no news about his whereabouts. They tried to find out his whereabouts by going to various Security and Judiciary Agencies but were not successful and slowly started losing hope in regards to him still being alive.' Full article at the link. An important reminder of the importance of grassroots activism. (SKF)

A new home for Amarji. Amarji announces: 'Well, it finally had to happen, I guess. I have just moved my blog to the Tharwa Community.' Sensibly enough, since he's the founder. Here's the new URL: http://www.tharwacommunity.org/amarji/ (Amarji)

Commentary. Amazingly enough, the approach of "Fardh Al-Qanoon" - an Arabic phrase meaning "let's win the war by actually fighting it" - seems to be working. Well, fancy that. We shall have plenty more to say on this subject in due time.


Night Flashes - March 7

ITM goes back to politics:
A new political bloc has emerged. It’s not a fourth bloc as Mohammed anticipated some time ago; it’s a union of, so far, two existing blocs. The core of the new movement is pretty much the same as what Mohammed expected, though. The Accord Front has announced it has joined the bloc led by former PM Ayad Allawi, forming what they refer to now as the “Iraqi National Front”. This new alliance has 69 seats in parliament and is likely to gain an additional 11 seats if the Dialogue Front of the nationalist Salih al-Mutlaq decides to join in, which is not unlikely.

It’s still not decided who is going to be the leader in the new bloc, and none of the leading figures involved has talked about this yet. However I suspect that this position will be filled by Allawi who, although his group has only 25 out of the 69 seats, was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and his charisma, history in leadership and his nonsectarian attitude qualify him over the others.

The second development, which is far more significant than the first, just took place in the corridors of the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shia bloc. This morning, in a frank challenge to ayatollah Sistani’s earlier call for preserving the UIA’s unity, the head of al-Fadheela party -which controls 15 of its 130 seats- declared independence from the Shia bloc and said his team now would act as an independent bloc within parliament.

Here's ThreatsWatch: 'In regard to Fadhila’s withdrawal from the governing coalition, this is not as significant as it may seem on the surface. Fadhila has withdrawn from the coalition before, and since the formation of the current government under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has never actually participated in the government, having been denied the Oil Ministry due to allegations of corruption. Like the Sadr faction, Fadhila has opposed Maliki’s government on many major votes. Although both voted for Maliki’s nomination and confirmation as prime minister, his core support has always depended on four elements - his own Dawa Party, SCIRI (the largest Shia faction), the Shia independents of the UIA (who make up a fifth of the coalition), and the Kurdish parties.'

A US Navy sailor has been arrested on terrorism charges: 'A former US Navy sailor was arrested on terrorism charges Wednesday for allegedly mishandling classified information that ended up in the hands of a suspected terror financier. Hassan Abujihaad, 31, also known by the name Paul R. Hall, is charged in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money to finance terror.' JPost adds: 'Hassan Abujihaad, 31, from the Western state of Arizona, was arrested in a case that began in Connecticut, on the Atlantic seaboard, and has stretched across the country and into Europe and the Middle East. Abujihaad, who is also known by the name Paul R. Hall, is charged in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money to finance terror. ... During the Ahmad investigation, investigators discovered computer files containing classified information about the positions of US Navy ships and discussing their susceptibility to attack.'

The Defense Department approves more troops for Iraq. 'The US Defense Department has approved a request by the new US commander in Iraq for an extra 2,200 military police to help deal with an anticipated increase in detainees during the Baghdad security crackdown, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday. Gates told reporters at the Pentagon that the extra MPs are in addition to the 21,500 combat troops that President Bush is sending for the Baghdad security plan and 2,400 other troops designated to support them.'

Iranian women arrested at protest for arrested Iranian women. 'Iranian security forces on Sunday arrested around 30 women's rights activists rallying outside a Tehran court where a group of their fellow campaigners were on trial over a demonstration last year. "My clients and other women who had gathered in front of the court were arrested," Nasrin Sotoodeh, the lawyer for the accused, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. ... The protestors had gathered in front of the revolutionary court in solidarity with five women on trial over their roles in a demonstration which was broken up by police in June last year. Nushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Shahla Entesari, Susan Tahmasebi and Fariba Davudi Mohajer were standing trial for organising an "unauthorised" rally to ask for equal rights for women. It was not clear which of the accused were among those arrested.'

Talisman Gate on Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
This is what the Iraqi government told us: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is the pseudonym for Khalid al-Mashhadani, who also goes by the name ‘Abu Zaid’.

This is what we know from following the bitter recriminations among jihadists on internet discussion forums: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ was arrested under the Ba’athist regime as a Salafist (radical Islamist) activist who had broken into a school and defaced Saddam Hussein’s pictures and the Ba’athist slogans at the school.

This is what Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claims about his pedigree: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is descended from the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make him a Husseinite from the Hashemite clan that is part of the tribe of Quraysh.

This is the best I could do to tie all this up together, according to my sources: al-Baghdadi’s full name is Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani. He is in his early 40s, and is known as ‘Abu Zaid’. He had been a Salafist under Saddam, and was briefly detained then over some unknown infraction. He has five brothers (that I know of), the eldest being Aggab (born 1954, served in the Iraqi Army’s 56th Battalion during Iraq-Iran War, last job was as principal of a secondary school in the Tarmiyah area north of Baghdad), and the second eldest is Hatim (a former NCO in the Iraqi Army). Khalid’s father, Khalil al-Mashhadani, used to own three lorry trucks that he would rent out for transporting gravel and the such, and after his death (about seven years ago) Khalid took over the business and converted their small office (at the entrance to the Dabbash neighborhood in Hurriyah, opposite to the Chalabi grove) into a service facilitating car registrations. However, Khalid seemed to have shuttered down his business during 2003. Khalid’s father was considered a respected person among the Mashhadani tribe and among the residents of Hurriya. ...