Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Iraqi Christians Rebuild Churches

VATICAN CITY, JULY 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Christian communities of southern Iraq launched a campaign for the restoration of churches that have been damaged due to negligence and the war, reports Zenit News:

The news, published by the "BaghdadHope" Web site, was given by Father Imad Aziz Al Banna, of the Archdiocese of Basra of the Chaldeans. He explained that the local Christian community requested that the government finance the project. The community is working in cooperation with the office in charge of non-Muslim groups, and other government ministries.

The priest mentioned the recent reopening of the church of Um Al Azhan in Al-Amarah, and expressed his confidence in the preservation of the Christian religious heritage. He affirmed his hope that the present security situation will encourage this initiative, which he said is urgent since some Christian families who fled southern Iraq are now returning.

The church, built in 1880, was restored. A Mass and baptism were held there, celebrated by Father Al Banna at the end of June.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Associated Press: ""US now winning Iraq war" + Iraqi News Roundup

In a press conference, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said that the the surge in Iraq has been a success by any measure:

“By every metric that we measure violence in Iraq, there has been a dramatic improvement from where things were before the surge,” Morrell said. “I’ll just point to one, and that is [that] in July of last year, we had 79 U.S. [servicemembers killed in action] in Iraq. We have four thus far this month.”

The dramatic security gains have provided room for political and economic successes. “You name it, it is happening in Iraq,” Morrell said. “Do you want to talk about political gains? We’ve had basically all the major benchmark legislation passed.”

The Sunni bloc has returned to the government, 10 of 18 Iraqi provinces are under local control, and Najaf International Airport has reopened. “You see a $300 million luxury hotel opening up in the Green Zone [and] $50 million in refurbishment of the airport road,” Morrell said. “There’s economic investment, and there’s political progress. There’s increased security. All those things are undeniable, and they are attributable to the fact that we plussed up forces in there.”

There were, of course, other factors at work in the security improvement, Morrell said, but the surge and the change in U.S. counterinsurgency strategy made all else possible. The “Anbar Awakening” that allied formerly insurgent Sunni Muslims with the coalition and influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s cease-fire were other factors, he said, but he noted they didn’t happen independently of other events.

(See also: "US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost" Associated Press. July 26, 2008).

It's a testament to the improving situation in Iraq that so many of our armed forces are now -- rather than being involved in armed combat -- are participating in what is more properly termed humanitarian services:

Relationships between the Iraqi government and former insurgents have improved, with reportedly more than 1,100 former fighters having reconciled with Iraqi Security and Coalition forces in the Salah ad Din province since May -- reestablishing their ties to the communities, rejoining their families in their homes and becoming active participants in Iraq’s future.

Security patrols continue, together with the confiscation of weapons caches -- During their month-long presence in al-Amarah, battalions from the 10th IA Div. have not seen a single gunfight, not one improvised explosive device attack, nor received any indirect fire:

Operations in al-Amarah began June 19. In a matter of days, IA and Iraqi Police detained approximately 200 criminals and collected more than 220 weapon caches. ISF found the caches in homes, businesses and public areas throughout the city of Amarah, containing 2,262 mortar rounds, 1,034 mines, 971 artillery rounds, 749 rocket-propelled grenades, 598 rockets, 259 missile launchers, 176 improvised explosive devices, 259 grenades, 43 DSHKA barrels, 141 explosively formed penetrators and 22 missiles.

All of this without a single shot fired.

Iraqis are also learning to fend for themselves -- a local Baghdad construction company rebuilt both lanes of a bridge damaged by a VIED in 2007; In July, the governor of Qadasiyah province assumed security responsibility from coalition forces, making it the 10th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to transfer security responsibility to the local government.

Further updates can be obtained courtesty of a blog entitled: Iraq's Inconvenient Truth.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki

On July 25, 2008 Pope Benedict XVI received Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel Al-Maliki at Castel Gandolfo:

A Vatican communiqué stated that the talks were "cordial," and that they "provided an opportunity to examine a number of fundamental aspects of the situation in Iraq, also taking into account the regional situation."

"Particular attention was given to the question of the many Iraqi refugees," added the statement, "both inside and outside the country, who are in need of assistance, also with a view to their hoped-for return."

The text continued: "Renewed condemnation was expressed for the violence that continues to hit various parts of the country almost daily, not sparing the Christian communities which strongly feel the need for greater security.

"The hope was expressed that Iraq may definitively discover the road to peace and development through dialogue and cooperation among all ethnic and religious groups, including minorities, which, while respecting their respective identities and in a spirit of reconciliation and of searching for the common good, together undertake the moral and civil reconstruction of the country.

"In this context, the importance of interreligious dialogue was reiterated, as a way to religious understanding and civil coexistence."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Anbar Awaking Leader questions Obama's Plan of Withdrawal

During his tour of Iraq, Obama met with leaders of the awakening councils and tribal leaders in Al-Anbar province. According to Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, during the meeting: Ahmad Abu-Rishah, head of the Iraqi Awakening Council, called on the Democratic candidate, Obama, to avoid talking about a near withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, ... saying the US withdrawal should take place after building up the Iraqi forces is completed in order to be ready to defend the sovereignty and the homeland, away from partisan, tribal, and sectarian affiliations."

At 1510 gmt, Al-Arabiya anchorwoman Maysun Azzam carries a three- minute live telephone interview with Ahmad Abu-Rishah, from Al- Ramadi. Following from BBC News is the full translation of the interview:

[Azzam] Does not this demand contradict the support that Obama received through statements by Iraqi political leaders on the importance to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops?

[Abu-Rishah] We stressed the need to support the Iraqi forces and security agencies in order to be able to protect the country after the US forces leave. We also stressed the need to provide economic and scientific support so as to rebuild infrastructure, which has been damaged because of wars. Thirdly, we stressed the importance of preserving the unity of the Iraqi people and land and denounce any plan to partition Iraq.

[Azzam] Excuse me, but cannot these requirements be met within a specific timetable for the withdrawal of US troops? Many countries depend on US military training and financial and economic support while US troops are not actually present on the ground.

[Abu-Rishah] As I told you, we stressed the need to support the Iraqi forces to be able to protect the country after the withdrawal of US troops. We also said it is necessary to implement the agreement between us and President George Bush on reinstating the former Iraqi Army on national and professional bases.

[Azzam] You say that the withdrawal should not take place unless the Iraqi forces are capable of taking control of the situation on the ground, while Obama speaks of withdrawal after two years. Does this mean you are pessimistic about the chances of the Iraqi forces taking control of the situation on the ground?

[Abu-Rishah] If things go seriously, the Iraqi forces can be built within a year. In the Iraqi war [word indistinct]. We used to form brigades in the army within months. Should things go seriously, the Iraqi Army would be built in a year. In the present, we do not have an army that can protect the country after the US forces leave. This army is not capable enough. We need to support this army by providing it with weapons and supplies. The Iraqi defence minister complains about the rise in the prices of weapons. Sometimes he takes weapons from Al-Ramadi. We want weapons from one country and the entire Iraqi Army should be trained on these weapon. It is not right to have part of the army trained on weapons from Al-Ramadi while the other part trained on Italian weapons, for example. We want weapons from the US Army that can be effectively used to protect the country, and the Iraqi Army should be fully trained on these weapons."

Originally published by Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1504 22 Jul 08.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Iraqi Military express reservations about Obama's plan of withdrawal

Iraqis like Obama more than his strategy by SABRINA TAVERNISE and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. The New York Times July 17, 2008:

BAGHDAD — A tough Iraqi general melted into smiles when asked about Sen. Barack Obama.

"Everyone in Iraq likes him," said the general, Nassir al-Hiti. "I like him. He's young. Very active. We would be very happy if he was elected president."

But mention Obama's plan for withdrawing American soldiers, and the general stiffens.

"Very difficult," he said, shaking his head. "Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: For now, we don't have that ability."

Thus in a few brisk sentences, the general summed up the conflicting emotions about Obama in Iraq, the place outside America with perhaps the most riding on its relationship with him.

There was, as Obama prepared to visit here, excitement over a man who is the anti-Bush in almost every way: a Democrat who opposed a war that many Iraqis feel devastated their nation. And many in the political elite recognize that Obama shares their hope for a more rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

But his support for troop withdrawal cuts both ways, reflecting a deep internal quandary in Iraq: For many middle-class Iraqis, affection for Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war. Many Iraqis also acknowledge that security gains in recent months were achieved partly by the buildup of American troops, which Obama opposed and his likely Republican opponent, John McCain, supported.

"In no way do I favor the occupation of my country," said Abu Ibrahim, a Western-educated businessman in Baghdad, "but there is a moral obligation on the Americans at this point."