Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Iraq War Update: Obama Visits Baghdad Amid Series of Car Bomb Attacks That Killed Dozens

Obama on unannounced Iraq visit

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Iraq on an unannounced visit, US officials have said.

Mr Obama flew into Baghdad at the end of a long overseas trip that included economic and Nato summits in Europe and two days in Turkey.

The visit is Mr Obama's third to Iraq but his first since taking office.

For security reasons, the White House made no advance announcement of the visit, and released no details of his engagements inside the country.

But the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad said there had been speculation that Mr Obama would visit Iraq on his return from Europe.

Mr Obama arrived at Baghdad's international airport on Air Force One in the late afternoon, local time.

Reports said he was taken immediately to meet Gen Ray Odierno, the US military commander in country.

US officials said Mr Obama had also hoped to hold talks in person with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

However, these talks are now expected to take place by telephone, as bad weather will prevent Mr Obama from travelling into the city by helicopter to meet the leaders as planned.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/04/07 14:22:07 GMT

Tuesday, April 07, 2009
14:42 Mecca time, 11:42 GMT

Car bomb hits Iraqi Shia district

An injured baby boy who survived the attack lost his parents and brother in the bombing

At least eight people have been killed and 18 others wounded after a car bomb exploded in the Shia district of Kadhimiya in the northwest of Iraq's capital, police say.

The attack on Tuesday comes one day after a string of such attacks that killed 34 people across Baghdad.

Police said the number of casualties was preliminary and could rise.

US and Iraqi officials blamed Monday's series of bombings on al-Qaeda, which has been accused of targeting Shia areas in the past.

The latest attacks underscore the challenges Iraqi security forces face as US combat troops prepare to withdraw by August 31, 2010, with all US troops due to leave by the end of 2011.

Bombings continue on an almost daily basis in Iraq, despite the sharp fall in violence.

The last large bomb blast in Baghdad killed 20 people in a shopping district on March 26.

Preventing all car bombs in the crowded streets of Baghdad - a maze of crumbling buildings and concrete walls housing millions of people - is all but impossible.

Source: Agencies

Car bomb in Shiite area of Baghdad kills 9

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD – A car bomb in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad killed at least nine people and wounded 18 others on Tuesday, a day after a deadly wave of bombings swept the Iraqi capital and raised concerns that Iraqi forces were ill-prepared to secure the city as U.S. troops thin out.

The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, warned of the likelihood of more car bombings, saying measures were being taken to try to prevent them.

A parked car rigged with explosives went off around noon Tuesday on a busy commercial street in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, not far from a mosque where midday prayers were under way.

Asad Raad, who sells motorbikes at a nearby shop nearby, said he rushed out to a car ignited in the explosion and grabbed a crying baby boy out of the flames through a shattered window.

The baby's dead mother was still inside the car while a badly burned man, presumed to be the father, was taken to hospital. Raad said he took the baby boy, who had minor burns to the face, to his home and would care for the infant.

"I cannot just stand still and watch this," Raad said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack and police officials would not speculate on possible targets. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The blast came as Baghdad was still reeling from Monday's bombings, which killed 37 people and wounded more than 100 others in a stunning sequence of attacks from one end of the city to the other. The bombings targeted busy marketplaces, a police convoy ferrying a senior security officer and day laborers seeking work.

Those attacks also occurred in Shiite neighborhoods.

The government blamed supporters of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida and suggested the attacks were timed for Tuesday's anniversary of the founding of the late dictator's Baath party. They also happened ahead of Thursday's sixth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces during the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam's regime.

Tensions are mounting in Baghdad and elsewhere, along with anger at what is perceived as the government's failure to handle security as U.S. forces are drawing down in the capital. Iraqis worry their own forces may not be able to maintain order if Shiite-Sunni violence flares again once the Americans leave.

The Interior Ministry spokesman warned Tuesday that Baghdad residents should expect more bombings but authorities were stepping up measures to prevent them.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said 400 explosives detection devices had been sent to police and army checkpoints around the city to intercept car bombs.

"We expect some increase in violence in the capital," he told The Associated Press.

Many families of the victims from Monday's blasts were burying their loved ones Tuesday in the holy city of Najaf, a traditional burial site for Iraqi Shiites. Their grief mixed with anger, they openly criticized the government for failing to prevent the bombings.

One mourner, Mustafa Radhi, buried his relatives — a young husband and wife who died together with their newborn son at one of the market bombings Monday.

"We hold the security forces responsible for what happened," Radhi said. "Innocent people and children died because of their negligence."

Another mourner, Kamil Sabah, 25, criticized the government for claiming to have curbed the attacks that long terrorized Baghdad. "Where is the government now?" he said.

In other violence, a suicide car bomb killed three people at a police checkpoint in Fallujah, a Sunni city 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad.

And in Iskandariyah, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital, police found the bullet-riddled body a member of the Awakening Council, a group of former Sunni insurgents who sided with the U.S. in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. The councilman was kidnapped Monday.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009
13:32 Mecca time, 10:32 GMT

Baghdad car bombings kill dozens

US officials doubted claims that Awakening Councils may have been behind Monday's attacks

Six car bombs have exploded across Baghdad, killing at least 34 people and wounding scores more, in what officials say was a co-ordinated attack by al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters.

A blast at a popular market in the Shia neighbourhood of Sadr City in east Baghdad killed at least 10 people and wounded 65 others in Monday's attack.

Another car bomb blew up next to a group of people waiting for work, killing six people and wounding 16 more.

Hours later, south Baghdad's Um al-Maalif neighbourhood was shaken by two blasts in a market, killing 12 and wounding 25 people.

An explosion hit a market area of Hussainiya in Baghdad's northern outskirts, killing four people. A second, in a street in eastern Baghdad, apparently targeting the convoy of an interior ministry official, killed one of his guards and a bystander.

Sahwa arrests

The attacks followed a week of arrests in Baghdad by the Iraqi government of Sunni Arab fighters known as Awakening Councils, or Sahwa.

The Iraqi government insists it is only detaining those wanted for grave crimes, but the fighters - many of them former fighters - fear it is settling sectarian scores.

Kadhum al-Muqdadi, a Baghdad University professor, suggested the bombs might be an attack in response to the raids, one of which sparked clashes just over a week ago between Iraqi forces and supporters of an arrested Sahwa leader.

"Any security action carries the risk of a reaction," he said.

"These could be the work of Sahwas or just of opportunists exploiting this issue."

The Sahwas first switched sides and joined with US forces to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq in late 2006, manning checkpoints and conducting raids.

US officials have doubted claims that the Awakening Councils may have been behind Monday's bombings.

Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Smith, a military spokesman, said: "Our assessment is that the attacks today were a co-ordinated effort by al-Qaeda. There were no indicators that the [Sahwa fighters] ... were involved in any of the attacks."

Sheikh Hameed al-Hayyes, a founder of the Sahwa movement, also said the bombs were unlikely to be the work of the guards.

"There were bombings in Baghdad before the arrests and after the arrests," he said, blaming al-Qaeda in Iraq for the attacks.

Al-Qaeda fingerprints

Qassim al-Moussawi, a Baghdad security spokesman, said the attacks "carry the fingerprints of al-Qaeda-linked groups".

Iraqi and US officials say a small number of the 90,000-odd Sunni guards still have links to al-Qaeda and other fighter groups. But the government insists they are a minority.

"Al-Qaeda is trying to infiltrate the Sahwa, but I think it will not succeed, because the Sahwa have seen their crimes and brutality," Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said.

The latest attacks underscore the challenges Iraqi security forces face as US combat troops prepare to withdraw by August 31, 2010, with all US troops due to leave by the end of 2011.

Bombings continue on an almost daily basis in Iraq, despite the sharp fall in violence.

The last large bomb blast in Baghdad killed 20 people in a shopping district on March 26.

Preventing all car bombs in the crowded streets of Baghdad - a maze of crumbling buildings and concrete walls housing millions of people - is all but impossible.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Monday, April 06, 2009
20:39 Mecca time, 17:39 GMT

Deadly car bombs hit Baghdad

Although violence has fallen dramatically, fighters often carry out deadly attacks

At least 32 people have been killed and 124 others injured in six car bombings across Baghdad, Iraqi defence ministry officials say.

The deadliest attack on Monday occurred in Sadr City, a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in the northeastern part of the Iraqi capital, where a car bomb killed at least 10 people and injured 60 others.

In the central Allawi district, another explosion killed four people and wounded 15 others.

A car bomb targeting the convoy of a senior interior ministry official killed one civilian and a policeman and injured four policemen in the southeastern neighbourhood of New Baghdad.

"The explosion caused major damage to buildings and they even hurt some children," Abdul-Jabar Saad, a shopkeeper who witnessed that attack, said.

"God damn these people."

Two other people were also killed and 12 others wounded when a vehicle exploded near a market in the district of Hussainiya.

Another car bomb exploded near the Doura district, killing four people and injuring 15 more, according to police.

Interior ministry officials have declined to comment on whether the bombings were co-ordinated.

The attacks came after Iraqi forces last week put down an uprising by members of a so-called Awakening Council group in Baghdad angry over the arrest of their commander.

Although violence has fallen dramatically in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, arious armed groups are still able to strike with deadly results.

At least 250 Iraqis were killed in violence in March.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Monday, April 06, 2009
00:36 Mecca time, 21:36 GMT

Iraq 'vows to protect' Palestinians

During his meetings, Abbas did not address reports of rights abuses against Palestinians living in Iraq

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has received guarantees that Iraqi leaders will protect Palestinians living in Iraq.

The assurance was given on Sunday during his first visit to the country since the US-led invasion in 2003, which toppled Saddam Hussein from power.

Abbas said that the Iraqi officials he met consider Palestinians living in Iraq to be "part of the Iraqi people, so we believe that they are in safe hands".

He praised Iraq's pledge to support Palestinians, but did not publicly mention reports of human-rights abuses against Palestinians living in Iraq.

"We would like to thank the Iraqi government for its concern about Palestinians living in Iraq," Abbas said after a meeting with Jalal Talabani, his Iraqi counterpart.

Abbas also met Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, in a trip that marked a major step in improved ties between the Baghdad government and the Palestinian leadership.

Reversal of fortunes

Under Saddam, the more than 34,000 Palestinians living in Iraq enjoyed a privileged status.

Some families of suicide bombers in the occupied Palestinian territories were paid millions of dollars in compensation. But since Saddam's government fell, Palestinians have been attacked, especially by Iraq's armed Shia groups.

Hundreds of Palestinian Sunnis are believed to have been killed in the ensuing sectarian violence.

S aeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the fate of thousands still stranded at refugee camps along the Iraqi-Syrian border, was the main objective of Abbas's visit.

The UN estimates that more than 2,000 Palestinians remain stranded in desperate conditions, unable to return to Iraq or cross into neighbouring countries.

Since the war, the number of Palestinians living in Iraq has dropped by nearly 50 per cent, according to the UN.

"Palestinians in Iraq have been forcibly evicted, arbitrarily arrested, abusively detained, publicly slandered, kidnapped and killed," a UN report on refugees in Iraq in April 2008 said.

Source: Al Jazeera and Agencies

Monday, March 30, 2009
23:50 Mecca time, 20:50 GMT

US soldier jailed for Iraq murders

The court martial was held in southern Germany, where the defendant's unit is based

A US army sergeant has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the killing of four Iraqi detainees, the army said.

Joseph P. Mayo, who was sentenced on Monday by a court martial in southern Germany where his unit is based, faces a maximum of 35 years in jail after pleading guilty to murder and conspiracy to murder.

Mayo said that he and two other sergeants shot bound and blindfolded prisoners in the back of the head with nine-millimetre pistols and dumped their bodies in a Baghdad canal.

"I thought it was in the best interests of my soldiers," he told the court martial in the town of Vilseck.

"I take full responsibility for my actions," he said. "Now I have to pay for my mistake."

The prisoners had been detained after repeated attacks on Mayo's unit, including a sniper attack in which one of his friends and a fellow sergeant were killed.

The defendant had been almost killed by an explosive device a few months earlier, and suffered a brain injury, Michael Waddington, his lawyer, said.

'Frustration and fear'

Captain David Nelson-Fischer, a witness for the defence, said the unit suffered from "frustration and fear" because of a high frequency of attacks on Mayo's small, highly exposed post in the West Rashid neighbourhood of Baghdad.

But Captain John Riesenberg, the army's trial counsel, said the defendant had "demonstrated a total lack of moral courage".

He had urged the judge to deliver a sentence that would "send a message to the army and to the world".

Mayo has agreed to testify at the forthcoming trial of Master Sergeant John Hatley, another US soldier identified by witnesses as having taken part in the murders in 2007.

In February, Sergeant Michael P. Leahy, an army medic, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, while two other soldiers have been convicted of lesser crimes linked to the incident.

Source: Agencies

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