Saturday, February 28, 2009

Regional Courthouse Ready to Serve Justice in Basra

Hundreds of people celebrated the dedication yesterday of a new six-court regional justice courthouse, slated to become the highest court in Iraq's Basra province.

"This courthouse will be a monument of justice," Medhatt al-Mahmoud, chairman for the Iraqi Judiciary Commission, said. "Iraqi justice is very strong. It will not allow outside influences to keep it from serving justice."

The regional courthouse is a $10 million, U.S.-funded project, and is scheduled to become operational in about 10 days. It will serve as the highest court in the province, handling civil and criminal cases.

It took Iraqi contractors about a year to complete the building, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers providing oversight.

In addition to courtrooms, the facility includes investigation rooms, legal offices, a conference room and staff training facilities.

"This is a symbol of the establishment of the rule of law and an increase in the judicial capacity," British Royal Marine Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon, commander of Multi-National Division - Southeast, said. "This is exactly what is required at this stage on the road from where we've been to where we've got to get to, which is a stable and peaceful Basra."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama outlines Iraq pullout plan -BBC

President Barack Obama has announced the withdrawal of most US troops in Iraq by the end of August 2010.

In a speech at a Marine Corps base, he said the US "combat mission" in Iraq would officially end by that time.

But 35,000 to 50,000 of the 142,000 troops now in Iraq will stay on into 2011 to advise Iraqi forces, target terror and protect US interests.

Mr Obama praised the progress made but warned: "Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead."

Some Democrats are concerned that the timetable falls short of his election pledges on troop withdrawal.

Mr Obama had said previously that he would completely pull out troops within 16 months of taking the top job.

Earlier this month, he ordered the deployment of up to 17,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan, saying they had been due to go to Iraq but were being redirected to "meet urgent security needs".

'Hard-earned progress'

In his address at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, Mr Obama said his national security team had drawn up a "new strategy" for US involvement in Iraq.

The strategy recognised that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political and that the most important decisions about its future must now be made by Iraqis, he said.

"We have also taken into account the simple reality that America can no longer afford to see Iraq in isolation from other priorities: we face the challenge of refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan; of relieving the burden on our military; and of rebuilding our struggling economy - and these are challenges that we will meet."

Mr Obama said all US troops would have left Iraq by the end of 2011, in line with an agreement signed between the two countries last year.

The president recognised that the conflict had been "a long war" and paid tribute to US forces who have served in Iraq.

"Thanks to the sacrifices of those who have served, we have forged hard-earned progress, we are leaving Iraq to its people, and we have begun the work of ending the war."

He also announced that his administration would increase the numbers of soldiers and Marines, in order to lessen the burden on those now serving, and was committed to expanding veterans' health care.

Addressing the Iraqi people directly, Mr Obama said theirs was "a great nation" that had persevered with resilience through tyranny, terror and sectarian violence.

He went on: "So to the Iraqi people: let me be clear about America's intentions. The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.

"We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country. We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country."

The two nations would build a future relationship based on mutual interest and respect, he said.

Mr Obama said there were important lessons to be learned from the Iraq conflict - among them that the US must go to war with clearly defined goals, that it must weigh the costs of action and "communicate those costs candidly to the American people".

As a result of these lessons, he had ordered a review of US policy in Afghanistan, he said, and put the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan into the federal budget.

Stressing that Iraq's future was inseparable from that of the broader Middle East, Mr Obama said the US would now "pursue principled and sustained engagement with all of the nations in the region, and that will include Iran and Syria".

The new US ambassador to Iraq would be Christopher Hill, the former US chief negotiator with North Korea, the president added.

'Still dependent'

The withdrawal plan is a middle way between the speedy reduction Mr Obama envisaged during his election campaign and the slower one some military leaders may prefer, BBC North America editor Justin Webb says.

Mr Obama wants only two combat brigades to leave this year but after December elections in Iraq the pace should quicken, our correspondent says.

The BBC's Mike Sergeant in Baghdad says that security in Iraq is now better and people say they are ready for US forces to leave.

However, some people are deeply worried about what exactly will happen when US combat troops disappear, our correspondent says.

While Iraqi forces are much better trained and equipped than before, they are still dependent on US troops for support in many areas, our correspondent adds, and a great deal of American financial and political support may be needed for years to come.

'Too many'

Democrats have expressed concern that the troop withdrawal is being watered down.

Speaking before Mr Obama briefed Congressional leaders about the plan on Thursday, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said 50,000 troops seemed too many for a residual force and needed to be justified.

However, other sceptics have expressed concern that a fast withdrawal could reverse the dramatic but fragile gains in security in Iraq.

John McHugh, the top Republican on the House armed services committee, said after the briefing that Mr Obama had promised the pullout strategy would be revisited if violence in Iraq increased.

Iraq not fazed by pending US pullout: Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki insisted on Thursday he was not fazed by a US withdrawal from the violence-scarred country as President Barack Obama prepared to announce a timeline for pulling out the troops.

"We have faith in our armed forces and our security services, to protect the country and consolidate security and stability," he said during talks with visiting Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Sabah.

"We have no worries for Iraq if American troops pull out," Maliki added, according to a statement from his office. "Thank God we have succeeded in ridding ourselves of sectarianism and racism."

Obama, who took office in January, was due to reveal his timeline for withdrawing US troops from Iraq on Friday during a visit to a Marine Corps base at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

Earlier this month, he approved an extra 17,000 soldiers for Afghanistan, confirming that Washington's focus was shifting from Baghdad to Kabul as the security situation in Iraq improves.

US officials have said that after weeks of discussions with top military commanders Obama is now leaning towards a 19-month Iraq pullout option rather than the 16-month target he backed when campaigning.

The Iraq drawdown is expected to allow more US troops to be deployed to Afghanistan, where the 17,000 troops will add to the 36,000-strong US force already there.

There are 142,000 American troops stationed in Iraq.

In an address to Congress on Tuesday, Obama said he was "now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars.

"I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war," he said.

Under a so-called Status of Forces Agreement signed with Baghdad last year, Washington agreed to withdraw all its combat troops by the end of 2011.

"It appears he's leaning to the 19-month option," an official said in Washington. "I think that's the way it's going." But he added that there was still "no final decision."

Military officers presented Obama -- an opponent of the US-led war on Iraq in 2003 -- with three options for the withdrawal, with deadlines of 16 months, 19 months and 23 months, officials said.

At least 4,249 US military personnel have died in Iraq since the invasion, according to an AFP tally based on the independent website

Meanwhile Foreign Secretary David Miliband of Britain, which will withdraw its 4,100 remaining troops in July, flew in to Baghdad on a previously unannounced visit for talks with Iraqi leaders.

His arrival amid a flurry of diplomacy at a time of improved security in the country coincided with a landmark visit by Sheikh Mohammed in the highest-level visit since Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Miliband was expected to meet British troops in the southern province of Basra where on January 1 they transferred control of Basra airport, Britain's main military base in the south, to Iraqi officials.

British troops withdrew from Basra city last September and transferred security control of the province some three months later after controlling it since the invasion.

On a visit to Iraq in December British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said his country's remaining troops would leave by the end of July, but their mission would already be complete "by the end of May, or earlier."

Iraq open for business - Miliband - BBC

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has declared Iraq "open for business" and a good place for UK firms to do business, during a surprise visit to the country.

After meeting his Iraqi counterpart, Mr Miliband told a press conference the UK was committed to investing in Iraq.

The UK-based Mesopotamia Petroleum Company has just agreed a £277m ($400m) joint venture to drill for oil in Iraq.

Mr Miliband is expected to visit British forces in Basra on Friday, as they prepare for withdrawal in July.

He will also meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during his two-day visit, his first since April 2008.

UK forces have lost 178 troops since the 2003 invasion and currently have a 4,100-strong force in the country.

They handed over control of Basra airport, the main military base in southern Iraq, on 1 January and have been training the Iraqi army.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said Britain's mission will be completed "by the end of May, or earlier" and withdrawal is scheduled by the end of July.

Mr Miliband told the press conference: "With the improving security situation... our relationship becomes one defined not just by defence and security but also by politics, by economics, by culture and by education."

The deal between the Mesopotamia Petroleum Company and Iraq's oil ministry will see 60 oil wells drilled per month, each producing 2,000 barrels of crude per day.

"This sends an important signal, not just to the people of Iraq about the long-term economic commitment of Britain to Iraq, but also... to British business [that] Iraq is open for business," said Mr Miliband.

Iraqi leaders recently invited foreign firms to invest in the oil-rich state as security improves.

Praise for Obama

Mr Miliband said a number of UK companies were already interested, not just within the oil industry but in sectors such as education.

"Britain will be a major investor in Iraq," he added.

Mr Miliband also praised US President Barack Obama's administration for its careful and "wholly appropriate" approach to pulling out troops.

Mr al-Maliki has said his country was not worried by Mr Obama's plans for an accelerated withdrawal, as the president prepares to announce a timeline for the process.

The Foreign Office said Mr Miliband's discussions with Mr al-Maliki were likely to focus on trade, education and cultural links, the Middle East peace process and human rights.

Students taking advantage of a UK-funded scholarship scheme to help bright Iraqis attend university in Britain will also talk to Mr Miliband about the scheme.

Collusion claims

Mr Miliband's visits comes after senior figures including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also visited the country this month.

He arrived in Iraq as the UK government faced claims of collusion with US authorities by handing over terror suspects in the country.

Defence Secretary John Hutton said two men detained in 2004 were transferred to US custody and then transported to Afghanistan for questioning.

The government had previously insisted Britain had no direct involvement with these "extraordinary rendition" flights.

Mr Hutton apologised for past incorrect answers given to MPs. Mr Miliband last year admitted two rendition flights had landed to refuel on UK territory in 2002.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Cambs man who helped make Basra safe

A homecoming parade next month will welcome the Royal Anglian Regiment - known as The Poachers - back from their second tour of Iraq. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Browne from Little Paxton, told ANGELA SINGER how different Basra was from the regiment's first blistering tour in 2006 to when it left a calm city in November 2008.

IN 2006 a mission to arrest one man in Basra (whose identify can still not be revealed) involved 24 armoured vehicles and 400 soldiers from the British Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Browne was involved in the action.

"We went to the house and the bloke had done a runner. We had the helicopters out and we were there for 45 minutes fighting with the local militia in the street.

"The irony was that we did get the man in the end but he turned out to be the wrong person."

At this time the British Army in Basra was under siege. Lt Col Brown, 41, a former Kimbolton School pupil who trained at Sandhurst, said: "It was pretty dreadful. We were staying in Basra Palace, the former palace of Saddam Hussein and it was rocketed four or five times a day.

"There was one occasion when we were attacked by 47 missiles in 24 hours. Every time we went out of the gate to get supplies, we had to fight our way in and fight our way out."

When the regiment returned, two years on, in May 2008 - staying there until November - their mission was as different as the atmosphere in the city. This time the Poachers were training the Iraqi Army which was in charge of the city after defeating the militia.

"There has been a huge transformation. The Iraqi Prime Minister (Jawad al-Maliki) had realised that 80 per cent of the wealth of Iraq lies in Basra - that's where the oil is and it is critical for the country's future.

"The Iraqi Army went into the city and pushed the militia aside.

"We realised that there was no need for big groups of British soldiers so we formed small groups and embedded ourselves in the Iraqi Army as mentors. They knew they needed help.

"When we first got there, they had had a long battle with the militia - a trained army can always win a guerrilla war, what is difficult is maintaining the victory."

In two years the atmosphere had changed to another extreme, says Lt Col Browne.

"I went back to the same part of town, sitting in a Ford pick-up truck with a fellow officer and I was not even wearing my helmet.

"I went to the mosque along with hundreds of Iraqis to attend a funeral and I was treated as a guest of honour. I was treated as a guest of honour 24 hours a day for seven months - where before we needed 400 soldiers, often there were now just four of us."

This time, the regiment's mission was to help the Iraqi Army keep law and order and facilitate the rebuilding of Basra - a task that proved to be impossible in 2006.

"It was like Germany after the Second World War - if you don't allow anyone connected with the old regime to get involved, then you have very few people with any experience.

"I knew how to get NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and charities to do the work - but they will only work in Iraq it if it is safe enough."

Lt Col Browne was involved with an important leap forward for Basra, helping to place a contract that allowed $1.5million of repairs to a major power station.

"On the previous tour, we were lucky to get as much as a school repainted."

Now he has completed his two and a half-year tour, and after 28 years in the Army, he says with a sigh that he will now be consigned to a desk job, based near Salisbury assisting with matters of personnel.

But he says Basra is now restored as a safe city and the British Army's mission in that area is nearing completion.

"Women are walking about in western clothes, wearing make-up, going about arm in arm with their partners.

"Iraq has a secular culture, similar to Turkey - people drink alcohol there. One officer said it was safer than Manchester - he was criticised for that but he does have a point.

"After the war people supported the militia but then they saw that they were driven by the fundamentalists. They were used to a secular society, they had given the militia a chance but the Iraqi Army is popular in society and when they stepped up, people thought thank God - they didn't want women murdered and people killed for listening to western music."

Lt Col Browne, who is married with two sons aged 11 and eight, and a daughter aged five, said: "The Iraqis love the British - the Iraqi Army was formed by the British and it is a close copy of it. They say that the British as very good at making friends of their enemies and it's true."

Obama Expected to Set Date for Iraq Pullout - Washington Post

President Obama is expected to announce as early as Friday that he will remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, three months later than promised during his campaign, U.S. officials said.

Obama has not made a final decision on the matter, but it could come during a trip to give a speech in North Carolina on Friday, the officials said.

"He is approaching a decision on this very soon," said one official, speaking, as others did, on the condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made. A senior administration official said Tuesday night that Obama is "nearing a decision" but insisted that no final plans had been made.

The withdrawal timetable of about 19 months was one of several options outlined for Obama by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, including a faster schedule of 16 months and a slower plan of 23 months, one official said. "The risks are different with each option, and there are pros and cons of each one," he said.

"It's the president's desire to conduct a responsible drawdown that won't put at risk the gains and allows for the protection of the troops," he said.

In his address to a joint session of Congress last night, Obama said he and his national security team are "now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war."

About 142,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, including 14 combat brigades of about 4,000 troops each and tens of thousands of support forces. The Obama withdrawal plan would leave a residual force of as many as 50,000 support troops that would advise Iraqi forces and perform other security missions, the officials said.
"It will require a significant number of troops to train the Iraqi military, conduct targeted counterterrorism operations and protect American personnel and assets," said another U.S. official. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, is working out the details of the composition of the residual force, he said.

Obama's expected decision would set in motion a major logistical effort by the U.S. military of pulling out a combat brigade about every five weeks.

The timing of the Iraq withdrawal was not determined by Obama's recent announcement of a troop increase in Afghanistan, the officials said, although senior Army and Marine Corps leaders have often said that the availability of reinforcements for Afghanistan will depend on the pace of removing troops from Iraq.

The decisions will keep the total number of U.S. combat brigades deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan at a relatively high level for at least the next year and a half, exerting continued stress on U.S. ground forces wearied from repeated tours.

"This next 24 months is a critical 24 months in many ways," Mullen told reporters last Friday, saying that the U.S. military had to accept important risks around the world as a result of having so many of its forces rotating in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If we have a significant ground force forward in some other place, that would create huge challenges for us," said Mullen, who recently completed a global risk assessment.

"We are taking more long-term risk, because I don't have the forces out to be engaged and developing relationships," Mullen said. He said that challenge would be alleviated after the Army and Marine Corps complete their planned growth, which will add several more ground combat brigades to the total available to deploy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Proud Heroes on march - The Sun

TROOPS who served in Iraq march proudly through London yesterday cheered on by crowds.

A total of 120 members of the 7th Armoured Brigade were given a rousing welcome after six months helping Iraqi forces keep the peace in Basra.

They later attended a reception with MPs at the Houses of Parliament.

Defence Secretary John Hutton told them: “I am sure everyone in the country is proud of you.”
Brigadier Sandy Storrie said: “This is a great honour. We had a successful time out there and this is a full recognition of what my soldiers achieved.”

Watford residents urged to support homecoming march

An army colonel has challenged 10,000 people to turn up to support local soldiers as they prepare to march proudly through the streets of Watford.

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Browne, of The 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, the urged residents to give the soldiers a hero's homecoming – regardless of their views on the war in Iraq.

The battalion, better know simply as The Poachers, recruits across Hertfordshire and currently has many members from Watford itself.

In November, The Poachers returned from a six-month tour of Iraq, and Lt Col Browne says the troops deserve a warm welcome home.

He said: “The guys always look forward to these sort of things because, lets be honest, it is a chance to show off.

“But we call it a homecoming parade and we call it that because many of us are actually coming home and it is a way of the guys being recognised by the communities they come from.

“It is also a way of giving the people of Watford the chance to thank the guys for what they do.”

The parade will be held on Wednesday, March 11, when the soldiers will leave Lower High Street at 12.30pm, and march across Exchange Road into the High Street.

There will then be a short civic ceremony and an inspection of the troops, before the soldiers march on into The Parade.

There they will be dismissed before attending a civic reception in their honour.

Lt Col Browne is expecting a “big full-blown parade” involving about 300 soldiers, a band and lots of “pomp and circumstance”.

He added: “It is a huge honour to be able to march through a town like this because cities and town's don't give us the honour lightly so it will definitely be a huge honour for us.

“It also symbolises the very close relationship we have with the recruitment are.”

The Poachers were in Basra, in southern Iraq, for six months in 2006, leaving behind “one of the most violent places in the world”.

Two soldiers in the battalion lost their lives during the dangerous tour, while 23 were wounded.

Lt Col Browne, however, says the city, with the help of the British troops stationed there, is now a safe, civilised place.

During the last tour, from May to November last year, no soldier from The Poachers was injured.

He says Basra is now a “fantastic, peaceful, fully-functioning city”.

“The great frustration we had in Iraq is that it is a classic case of good news not being good news.

“People who will instinctively be against what we do have a certain view, and in my opinion, it is a pretty jaundice view of what has been going on in Iraq.”

He added: “We do what we have been told, because that is what the army does.

“People might not fully support the war and not fully understand the politics behind it but the guys go there with no agenda, they do the job to the best of their abilities and they have met a huge, huge challenge to help a city that was in a pretty bad state.”

Lt Col Browne also challenged as many people as possible to come and cheer on the parade, warning Watford could be outdone by other towns and cities in the UK.

“All I would say is when our 1st Battalion came back from Afghanistan Norwich managed to get 10,000 people onto the street to support them.

“So there is a challenge – be better than Norwich.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Palkot’s Return - Fox News

Host unlimited photos at for FREE!
by Greg Palkot

This is my 13thvisit to Iraq. But my first in two years. When Anastasia asked me if I wanted to go, I said sure. There was much to catch up on. And besides, I’d be doing it with my good buddy and veteran of countless hot spots with me — cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski. And a nice native New Yorker, producer Marcia Biggs.

Our first stop is the southern city of Basra. I’d been there a few times under Saddam, and a few times after. And it hasn’t been so hot under either guise… it’s a big sprawling marshy port city which always seems to have more garbage in the streets than redeeming features.

It does have one very redeeming feature though: oil. Just about more than anywhere in the world. When you see the place though you can’t believe it. It could be Houston. It ain’t.

It’s been run by the Brits since the fall of Saddam in 2003, and that’s one of the reasons we are down here. The UK is leaving this spring, and the U.S., already overstretched and trying to get itself out of Iraq, has to cover this place as well.

Our assessment is, touch wood, it should be OK. Basra had been relatively calm for several years after 2003. In summer 2005, in fact, I made my last trip to Basra. Folks were eating ice cream cones along the waterfront and families were enjoying amusement park rides.

Then, as things happen in Iraq, the place turned into a blood-drenched maelstrom. Iran-backed militia ran the city, made everyone’s lives hell, and turned the place into a shooting gallery.

It finally took tons of Iraqi armed forces backed mostly by the US to rein the place in. Now, it’s in pretty good shape, tightly wired down by a lot of new and improved Iraqi units.

The hitch, as I noted in my report, is the place that still has a host of social ills: unemployment, lack of services, run-down infrastructure. If the new local government doesn’t deal with that, the US is going to have more headaches.

Anyway it’s nice being with the Brits. They’re always so articulate and accommodating and funny. The press officer we dealt with was named “Dickie.” One of his past times was playing cafeteria bingo. He would sit at a different table every time he went to the Mess. He d keep a chart of the dining room in his office and X off the tables he sat in. Don’t ask me why.

The Brits’ food is also always a pleasure. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding just some of the fare we tucked into. I’m not saying American food on US bases is bad. It’s just a little bit… shopping mall. Brit dining room food is more Ye Olde Thatched Cottage.

We spent time with Lt. Chris Coles and his men, who are training up those Iraqi soldiers. They’re living with the Iraqis in their bases inside the city. And it’s pretty urban rough and tight. But they were very pleased to show off the UK troops’ rec room. With the ever present Brit soccer on the big screen.

We went with the Brits (and Iraqis) on a street patrol. All very well conducted. You always notice how well-spaced and carefully choreographed the UK troops are. It’s those long years of Northern Ireland city warfare under their belts. And no helmets. This is how they’d been patrolling the city for much of their stay — until the local thug gangs started to turn on them and set their vehicles on fire. They must be relieved that it’s all settled down. I know I was, not just for myself but for the battle-weary American soldiers taking over here.

As the very upright British Brigadier General Tom Beckett put it to me, “In any mission you have yours ups and downs, but if you persevere you can get through it.”

As for the residents we met on patrol, they were uniformly friendly and appreciative of the troops’ presence. They all said they were happy the militias were no longer there and there was security again. But they also were full of grumbles about what Basra needed. Just like London. What progress.

Probably the high point of our visit with the Brits though was the combat exercise involving Iraqi troops mentored by UK soldiers. It was run on a run-down, abandoned base with nearly live fire. And it was better than “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon” all rolled into one.

Or should I say the highpoint for cameraman Pierre, who got to run around the shooting, act like the Energizer Bunny he is, and get up as close as possible to the blasts (his hearing has left him about 8 hot spots ago).

The Americans will be training up the police, which, if the Basra Finest are anything like other police forces in this country, will be anything but an easy job. So, I think it s a bit too early to say that we Yanks will have an easy ride of it. Too often in this tough, sprawling country things have gone from good to bad. But it appears easier than other places we’ ve wandered into.

And again, as I mentioned in my report, the other redeeming feature of all this is that it’ll be a quick exit when the U.S. troops get their final marching orders. Kuwait, the land exit ramp for all American forces in Iraq, is right next door! And McDonald’s is not too far beyond that!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Al-Qaeda founder launches fierce attack on Osama bin Laden

One of al-Qaeda's founding leaders, Dr Fadl, has begun an ideological revolt against Osama bin Laden, blaming him for "every drop" of blood spilt in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By David Blair in Cairo

Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, who goes by the nom de guerre Dr Fadl, helped bin Laden create al-Qaeda and then led an Islamist insurgency in Egypt in the 1990s.

But in a book written from inside an Egyptian prison, he has launched a frontal attack on al-Qaeda's ideology and the personal failings of bin Laden and particularly his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Twenty years ago, Dr Fadl became al-Qaeda's intellectual figurehead with a crucial book setting out the rationale for global jihad against the West.

Today, however, he believes the murder of innocent people is both contrary to Islam and a strategic error. "Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers," writes Dr Fadl.

The terrorist attacks on September 11 were both immoral and counterproductive, he writes.
"Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy's buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours?" asks Dr Fadl. "That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11."

He is equally unsparing about Muslims who move to the West and then take up terrorism.
"If they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum," writes Dr Fadl, then it is "not honourable" to "betray them, through killing and destruction".

In particular, Dr Fadl focuses his attack on Zawahiri, a key figure in al-Qaeda's core leadership and a fellow Egyptian whom he has known for 40 years. Zawahiri is a "liar" who was paid by Sudan's intelligence service to organise terrorist attacks in Egypt in the 1990s, he writes.

The criticisms have emerged from Dr Fadl's cell in Tora prison in southern Cairo, where a sand-coloured perimeter wall is lined with watchtowers, each holding a sentry wielding a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Torture inside Egyptian jails is "widespread and systematic", according to Amnesty International.

Zawahiri has alleged that his former comrade was tortured into recanting. But the al-Qaeda leader still felt the need to compose a detailed, 200-page rebuttal of his antagonist.

The fact that Zawahiri went to this trouble could prove the credibility of Dr Fadl and the fact that his criticisms have stung their target. The central question is whether this attack on al-Qaeda's ideology will sway a wider audience in the Muslim world.

Fouad Allam, who spent 26 years in the State Security Directorate, Egypt's equivalent of MI5, said that Dr Fadl's assault on al-Qaeda's core leaders had been "very effective, both in prison and outside".

He added: "Within these secret organisations, leadership is very important. So when someone attacks the leadership from inside, especially personal attacks and character assassinations, this is very bad for them."

A western diplomat in Cairo agreed with this assessment, saying: "It has upset Zawahiri personally. You don't write 200 pages about something that doesn't bother you, especially if you're under some pressure, which I imagine Zawahiri is at the moment."

Dr Fadl was a central figure from the very outset of bin Laden's campaign. He was part of the tight circle which founded al-Qaeda in 1988 in the closing stages of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. By then, Dr Fadl was already the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an extremist movement which fought the Cairo regime until its defeat in the 1990s.

Dr Fadl fled to Yemen, where he was arrested after September 11 and transferred to Egypt, where he is serving a life sentence. "He has the credibility of someone who has really gone through the whole system," said the diplomat. "Nobody's questioning the fact that he was the mentor of Zawahiri and the ideologue of Egyptian Islamic Jihad."

Terrorist movements across the world have a history of alienating their popular support by waging campaigns of indiscriminate murder. This process of disintegration often begins with a senior leader publicly denouncing his old colleagues. Dr Fadl's missives may show that al-Qaeda has entered this vital stage.

MPs welcome 7th Armoured Brigade

Service personnel who have recently returned from service on operations in Iraq will parade through central London on Monday, 23rd February, as they head for a prestigious Westminster reception.

Members of Parliament from all parties have invited members of 7th Armoured Brigade to attend the event to allow them to show their appreciation for the dedication and sacrifice shown by the troops on Operation TELIC 12.

Around 120 personnel will march from Wellington Barracks, led by the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Sandy Storrie OBE. The parade will depart at 1530hrs, via Birdcage Walk and Parliament Square to arrive at the Houses of Parliament.

7th Armoured Brigade returned from Iraq over a period of several weeks, beginning in Nov 08. Their tour was a story of success.

They arrived in Multi-National Division (South East) (MND(SE)) in June 2008, after the Iraqi Army Operation Charge of the Knights, having trained hard for a different situation to one in which they found themselves.

The Militias had been driven from Basra and an inexperienced though successful Iraqi Army was in charge, assisted by an Iraqi Police Force in poor condition. Basra was secure but very fragile.

Faced with a changed situation, the Brigade swiftly reorganised, adapted to the prevailing conditions and committed over 1,000 of its soldiers into small Military Training Teams (MiTTs) attached to the Iraqi Army.

The aim was to build resilience into the Iraqi Army. Starting with advice on basic tactics, the MiTTs rapidly moved onto command, logistics, administration and specialist training, moving gradually towards an Iraqi lead in each area once confidence and competence improved.

Trust between commanders was vital. At the same time, the remainder of the Brigade tackled the remaining threat from indirect fire to the contingency operating base (COB) through targeted patrolling and searches both on land and in the rivers.

Soldiers in lap of honour at Villa Park

HOMECOMING soldiers returning from Iraq received a standing ovation from thousands of football fans during a lap of honour at Villa Park.

A total of 60 troops from the First Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers were welcomed at the stadium during the match against Chelsea on Saturday. The Fusiliers returned from Iraq in December after a six-month tour of duty in Basra. Among the soldiers turning out at the game was 24-year-old Blues fan Fusilier Tom Williams, who flew back to Birmingham in December for the birth of his first daughter, Kiera.

He said: “When you are out on tour you are never sure how much support you have from people back at home. I’m a Blues fan but it still means so much to me that we get support from people from across the city.”

Blackpool rock called up for military service - Blackpool Today

BLACKPOOL'S most famous sweet-tasting export been called up for a military mission to Iraq.

Sticks of Blackpool rock commemorating the end of military operations have been ordered by Major Steve Hallam, of 2 Divisional Health team. The sweets, made in the resort, are in Iraqi flag colours and feature the words "Op Telic job done".

Troops in Basra hired Blackpool company Stanton Novelty Rock Company after finding it on the internet.The rock is coloured red, black and white, which are the colours of the Iraqi flag, and the rock has the words "OP TELIC JOB DONE" running through it.Stanton boss Geoff Thorp readily agreed to provide the rock at cost price because all profits will go to the 'Help the Heroes' charity.

He also donated a selection of other confectionary which will be given to a local Basra orphanage.

Major Hallam said: "This is a fun way of marking the successful end of the British military mission and raising money for a worthy cause.

"We would like to thank Geoff and his company for his much appreciated contribution and to the 2 Division Health Team and the RAF for getting the 45 Kg package out to us."

Maj Hallam is part of an Environmental Health team based on the COB, Basra, Iraq charged with maintaining the health and hygiene of the troops stationed there.

Heroes protecting fighters at the front get a warm welcome home

A group of Moray-based RAF service personnel have been given a warm welcome home after six months in Iraq.

The forward party of No 5 Force Protection Wing of the RAF Regiment at RAF Lossiemouth were greeted by a piper as they left the aircraft and were given a dram of whisky to welcome them back to Scotland.

Acting station commander Wing Commander James Linter was also there to welcome them off the plane before they were taken to the officer’s mess for an emotional reunion with their family members.

One, Flight Lieutenant Mick Morley, comforted his young son Alfie, who was overwhelmed at seeing his dad after six months.

The service personnel were responsible for the security of civil and military flights now operating at Basra Airport.

They were also able to provide practical support to the local Iraqi community and assisted in numerous building projects.

Wing Commander Derek Read, officer commanding No 5 Force, said: “We are all glad to be back home after running the protection service for the contingency operations base at Basra.

“We have had a successful deployment that saw a period of improved security clearly demonstrated during the recent elections.”

Wing Commander James Linter said: “Once again they have done an excellent job in Basra.

“We are proud to have supported them and their families during this arduous time.

“We are pleased to have them home safe and sound and will welcome 51 Squadron back early next month.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Anti-American cleric faces challenge to power in Iraq - Boston Globe

Followers of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, seen on a poster at center, attended prayers in Baghdad yesterday.

The firebrand anti-American cleric whose militia battled US troops for years is facing a strong challenge for leadership of Iraq's poor, urban Shiites from a small, well-organized faction with loose links to Iran, senior figures within his movement say.

The split within Moqtada al-Sadr's organization has widened as Shiite groups weigh the outcome of last month's provincial elections and prepare for a national ballot this year that will determine the leadership in Baghdad.

The dissident faction is expected to mount a campaign to become a rival force appealing to Sadr's base among poor Shiites, senior officials close to the cleric said in interviews this week. This would offer greater openings for Tehran's influence in Iraq and give political cover to the so-called "special groups" of Sadrists that have continued attacks on US-led forces.

For Sadr, the internal battle may become a crucial test of his credibility and resilience after being weakened by crackdowns on his once-powerful and now disbanded militia, the Mahdi Army.

"Iraq has turned a new page after [the provincial] elections," said a statement attributed to Sadr that was read yesterday at prayers in the Sadr City district, his group's stronghold in Baghdad.

"It marks a gate for liberation; a gate to serve Iraqis and not to keep occupiers to divide Iraqis," the statement said.

Results from the Jan. 31 balloting, announced Thursday, had Sadr's loyalists gaining a handful of seats on influential provincial councils across Iraq's Shiite south. This was seen as a sign that Sadr is politically wounded, although he is considered still capable of staging a comeback.

The splinter group within the movement wants to take on that role, however, and is angling to supplant Sadr amid wider political jockeying among Iraq's Shiite majority.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a more secular-oriented Shiite, saw his allies make strong showings across the south in the provincial races, giving the government the early advantage against an expected challenge in national elections from the largest Shiite political group, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which also has close ties to Iran.

Sadr's sharp rhetoric against the US-led invasion in 2003 and his militia's later battles with American forces catapulted him from relative obscurity to a position of power, particularly among poor and powerless Shiites.

But his standing began to erode after Sadr lost control of longtime strongholds in Basra, Baghdad, and Amarah after Maliki launched offensives against Shiite militias last year.

At the same time, the splinter "special groups" set their own course, pushing on with attacks on US-led forces even after the young cleric declared a unilateral cease-fire in 2007 and then dissolved the Mahdi Army last year.

Now the breakaway faction with ties to the armed groups is planning to field candidates in the elections for the Iraqi Parliament, with the apparent goal of

transforming parts of Iraq into a Shiite state modeled after Iran.

Some key figures in the breakaway groups include former close aides to Sadr's late father, a revered cleric who founded the Sadrist movement and was believed to have been assassinated by Saddam Hussein's agents in 1999.

The breakaway leaders complain about what they say were the younger Sadr's missteps, including dismantling the Mahdi Army, once Iraq's biggest and most feared Shiite militia.

Two senior Sadrists , estimated the breakaway factions represent 30 percent of the movement and say it is better organized and funded than Sadr's camp.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Iraq announces final results of provincial elections

The Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) announced on Thursday the final results of the landmark provincial elections.

The final results showed that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawlat al-Qanun (State of Law) coalition comes ahead in Baghdad and five southern provinces.

Maliki's best results were in Baghdad and Basra, where his coalition won 28 seats of Baghdad's 57 seats and 20 seats out of 36 in the oil hub city of Basra.

Earlier in February, preliminary results covering 90 percent of the ballot showed that Maliki's coalition came first in Baghdad and eight southern provinces.

Maliki's rival powerful Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), headed by Abdul Aziz Hakim, hardly regained power in the three Shiite provinces of Najaf, Maysan and Dhi Qar, where the final results showed that Maliki and Hakim divided equal seats.

On Jan. 31, millions of Iraqis headed to cast their ballots in polling stations across 14 out of the 18 Iraqi provinces to choose their leaders in provincial councils.

In the pipeline

Reading-based Foster Wheeler Energy has been awarded a contract by the South Oil Company for the basic engineering of oil export facilities that will supplement the Al-Basra terminal in Iraq.

The offshore facilities will include new single point mooring tanker loading buoys, together with oil pumping, metering and pipelines, to achieve an export capacity of 4.5 million barrels per day.

The Foster Wheeler contract value for this project was not disclosed and it will be included in the company’s first-quarter 2009 bookings.

Foster Wheeler will prepare a technical definition package, plans and schedules for full project implementation and invitation-to-bid documents for the supply and construction of the offshore export facilities.

‘We have been working with the South Oil Company and Iraq’s Ministry of Oil on the upgrading of these export facilities and we are very pleased to have been awarded this basic design contract,’ said Michael J Beaumont, chairman and chief executive officer of Foster Wheeler Energy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

British soldiers teach Iraqi EOD team

British soldiers based in Basra have been training soldiers from the Iraqi Army's 14 Division Engineer Battalion Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team to use the latest robotic EOD technology.

Their capability is being built up through the efforts of Captain Joe Brown, an Ammunition Technical Officer from the Royal Logistic Corps, and his Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Disposal team, which is part of the Multi-National Division (South East) Joint Force Engineer Group based outside Basra City.

Captain Brown, advisor to 14 Division, said:

"The 14 Division Engineer Battalion attach great importance to EOD work and are always very enthusiastic to take part in training."The Iraqi soldiers will soon be busy disposing of improvised explosive devices planted by insurgents as well as the piles of munitions left over from past wars.

The training, which ran all last week, was held at the 14 Division Training Centre at Shaiba which is staffed by instructors from the British Army.

The robot model in service with the Iraqi Army is the 'Mini-Andros 2' built by Remotec, a subsidiary of Northrop-Grumman in the USA. This equipment enables EOD operators to make explosive devices safe while reducing the risk to the operator or others.

After a classroom lesson the Iraqi engineers were keen to practise what they had learned and demonstrate their growing abilities by defusing a dummy IED using the IED robot.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Suits follow soldiers in Iraq's south - BBC

By Jim Muir

As our Merlin military transport helicopter scudded over the flat dun landscape of southern Iraq, the rear gunner threw himself from side to side on the open tail-flap, peering down this way and that, ever on the alert for potential danger.

Every so often, the juddering craft jolted even more as a bunch of flares were sent arcing down through the sky.

At our destination, an installation that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, we hovered and landed in a whirlwind of brown dust that ravaged washing-lines strung between mudbrick houses nearby.

A small crowd of curious locals turned out to watch what was clearly something of a novel event, as out clambered an odd mixture of British military personnel in combat fatigues and civilians in dark suits awkwardly crimped by flak jackets and topped by ill-fitting helmets.

For this was not a combat mission. Those are few and far between nowadays for the 4,000 remaining British forces in southern Iraq, who are preparing to leave.

Already, since late last year, the primary focus of their mission has been formally changed from security to promoting good governance and economic development.

As part of that revised mandate, here they were ferrying a delegation of Japanese economic officials around the south, where Tokyo is pumping in hundred of millions of dollars in soft loans.

Warm welcome

As their guide and escort, the Japanese had no less a figure than the top British officer in Iraq, Lt Gen John Cooper, who retires shortly as deputy commander of all Coalition forces in the country and is also a former commander of the British troops in the south.

We had landed at the Basra oil refinery, where the visitors were given a warm welcome by director-general Tha'ir Ibrahim and his staff.

"Now that security is so much better, we're launching projects to increase the refinery capacity by about 35% and to upgrade the product specification," said Mr Ibrahim.

"The tank farm [oil depot] here was 60% destroyed during the war with Iran in the 1980s, and then hit again by the Coalition during the occupation of Kuwait in 1990."

"Now the Coalition are helping us rehabilitate the plant. That's life!"

'Big change'

The Japanese delegation were as delighted as their hosts at being able finally to visit projects which they have been involved in from afar for years, without being able to see them on the ground for security reasons.

"I really feel the big change over the past year, and I feel really safe here," said delegation leader Hideki Matsunaga, who heads the Middle East department at the Japanese International Co-operation Agency.

"Of course there are still risks and some incidents and so on, but that's the same all over the world."

"Maybe it will take a little bit more time to change the perception of private-sector people, but maybe first public-sector people like us will come more frequently, and demonstrate that people can now do business as usual."

The Japanese are pledging as much as $1.5bn (£1.05bn) in soft loans (0.75% interest over 40 years, with a grace period of 10 years) and projects will be open to international tender, not just Japanese companies.

Companies cautious

So far, the British forces have helped show 19 companies around the south, where $9bn-worth of investment possibilities have been identified.

But despite the money and lives that it has cost the British to maintain their presence in the strategic, oil-rich south, British companies have been slow to show interest in exploring the investment opportunities.

That's something Lt Gen Cooper would like to see remedied.

"I think there is sufficient potential here, in what is the third largest oil reserves in the world, for British companies, and indeed any others, to come here," he said.

"This may currently be in commercial terms quite high risk, but it is also very high reward, and I would certainly encourage any British company, whether it be in the oil industry or any other part of industry, to get involved in southern Iraq, because the potential is really quite significant."

Militias defeated

Back at the Coalition Operations Base at Basra airport, huge energy is being poured into a co-ordinated effort involving British and American diplomats, development agencies, the military and the Iraqi authorities, mainly focused on bolstering the huge recent security gains by promoting effective regional government and projects that provide benefits and jobs for the people.

The provincial elections on 31 January passed off without a single incident, to the huge relief of Coalition and Iraqi officials.

"The time is now," said one British official.

"There is a significant window. But there is no complacency, because there is still danger."

"The threat now is if the provincial council should fail to deliver, especially in the realm of creating jobs."

Security in Basra and elsewhere in the south was transformed last spring, when the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki threw the Iraqi army into a campaign, codenamed Charge of the Knights, to root out Shia militias which had plagued the area.

With Coalition help, the militia - mainly Moqtada Sadr's Mehdi Army - was heavily defeated.

Officials estimate that there may be around 200 militiamen still underground in Basra, which is controlled by up to 30,000 Iraqi army forces and police.

Nobody can rule out a return of militia rule if the momentum of the state should falter.

That explains the sense of urgency behind the efforts for political and economic development.

Most of the remaining 4,000 or so British troops will end their mission in May and be out of the country by the end of July.

An estimated 400 will stay behind to help train the Iraqi navy and provide other support for the Iraqi forces.

Iraqi forces tested - Financial Times

By Andrew England in Basra

On the streets that lead into Hayaniah, Basra’s most notorious slum, small groups of Iraqi soldiers man a string of checkpoints, peering into vehicles and sometimes questioning drivers.

At some of the posts sit US-donated Humvees or armoured personnel carriers, now with Iraqi flags and surrounded by coils of razor wire. These, combined with the frequency of the checkpoints, add to a sense of militarisation in the area.

However, the fact that the soldiers are deployed in Hayaniah – once a no-go area and hotbed of militia activity – is seen as a sign of true progress for the Iraqi army.

Building on the security gains highlighted by last month’s peaceful provincial elections and continuing the development of Iraq’s fledgling security forces will be critical to its stability as the US and Britain look to withdraw their troops.

It is in areas like this that the Iraqi forces could be severely tested. The slum is notorious as a stronghold of the Mahdi Army, the militia nominally loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric.

It saw some of the heaviest fighting last year as the army sought to wrest control of Basra from the militias.

An air of caution still hangs over Hayaniah, but there is little doubt that today Basrawis have a renewed sense of security because of the offensive which has been dubbed Charge of the Knights.

Its success was an important factor behind the strong showing of the political bloc backed by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, at last month’s elections.

There are lingering questions about whether the militias were defeated or simply melted away, and the operation did highlight the Iraqi security forces’ weaknesses as well as their gains.

Iraqi troops had to depend on help from coalition forces, not least logistics support for food, water and ammunition, experts say. Both the army and police also suffered desertions, estimates of which vary from hundreds to more than 1,000.

Western and Iraqi military officials say the army has made progress in the months since, improving its command and control structures and its logistics capacity. However, they acknowledge a lack of strength in depth at both officer and non-commissioned officer levels.

An Iraqi army officer says the biggest problem is the army’s lack of heavy equipment and complains of “tank drivers without tanks”.

He also expressed concern that any future wrangles between the political parties in government could affect the military’s effectiveness.

But it is the police that are the biggest concern in Basra. Before the Charge of the Knights campaign, they were seen as a part of the problem – a force infiltrated by militias and often suspected of involvement in killings and kidnappings.

During the operation, many police fought alongside the militias and some 4,000 were dismissed because of ties to the Mahdi Army. A police officer undertaking forensic training in Britain says the force has improved, but that militia members remain in high positions.

Significantly, he shares many Basrawis’ fears that the militias could well resurface – given the opportunity.

“They [militias] do nothing now . . . but they are only waiting for the lion [American troops] to leave and the rat to come back to their position again,” he says.

Asked if the police could control Basra if the army pulled out, both he and a colleague shake their heads.

The officer blames the US-led coalition for the problems, arguing that it asked the political parties, many of which have their own ­militias, to choose who should be in the force. “And suddenly I find myself serving the militia.”

Some British officials say there was no proper training plan, and that the coalition was seduced by the number of recruits rather than their talent and ability.

US military police are being drafted in to provide additional training. But there are also complaints about the interior ministry’s inability to supply the force with everything from pens to bullets. It will take much work before many Basrawis put their trust in the police.

“The police were hiding under their blankets [when the militias roamed Basra] and if the army goes the Iraqi police will return to their blankets,” says one.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Four Britons to join first tourist trip to Baghdad - Telegraph

Four Britons will be among the first tour group of westerners to risk a holiday in the Arab areas of Iraq for six years when they fly to Baghdad in March.

They will be accompanied at all times by armed guards and forbidden from leaving their hotels at night or wandering off alone during their two-week tour by minibus of a dozen sites including Baghdad, Babylon, and Basra.

Surrey-based Hinterland Travel, which has organised the tour, ran trips to the country during Saddam's rule and then briefly in October 2003 before violence made it too dangerous.

Geoff Hann, the company's managing director, said he now was the right time to go back. "We're seeing the beginnings of a new Iraq," he said. "They want normality, and tourism is part of that. If we make this trip and show that it is possible to do it successfully, that will contribute to normality."

The first, tentative return of tourists to what has been one of the most dangerous countries in the world is being seen by Iraqi officials as a vote of confidence in its improved security over the last year. There are still car-bombings and assassinations, but the level of violence has fallen dramatically since its peak, when thousands of Iraqis were being killed each week.

"It's an encouraging sign of our return towards normality that tourists are willing to consider a trip here," one official said.

None of those on the first tour - including two Americans, a Canadian, a Russian and a New Zealander - have visited Iraq before.

Tina Townsend-Greaves, aged 46, a civil servant from Yorkshire who works for the Department of Health, said she jumped at the chance after visiting Afghanistan, Iran and other places in the Middle East.

"Most people are interested in seeing your holiday photos afterwards, even if they think you're a bit mad for going," she said.

"I wouldn't go if I thought there were serious risks. I'm really looking forward to seeing the historical sites, especially Babylon."

The tour will include Baghdad and the nearby town of Samarra, a flashpoint in the sectarian conflict after its golden mosque was blown up in 2006. The ancient sites of Babylon, Nimrud and Ctesiphon will be visited, and the great Shia pilgrimage sites of Najaf and Kerbala which are on the way to the southern city of Basra where 4,000 British troops are still based.

Mr Hann said the party would be avoiding the most dangerous places like Fallujah and Mosul.

"Iraqi friends have said there will be places where you won't be welcome, and if we encounter that, we will move on. People who come on this trip must understand the risk," he said. "But Iraqis say that things are getting better day by day and in Baghdad it is changing fast."

Violence has fallen sharply in Iraq in recent months and provincial elections last weekend went smoothly with few reports of attacks.

The trip will cost £1,900 including flights to Baghdad via Damascus. The itinerary includes Baghdad's museum, which was looted in 2003, and the party will attempt to see some of Saddam's old palaces, if occupying British and American soldiers will allow access.

The trip will be made despite a standing warning from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office against travel in nearly all of Iraq, including Baghdad, because of the high risk of terrorism. The british embassy in Baghdad points out that terrorists, insurgents and criminals are likely to target organisations or individuals of western appearance and describes road travel as "highly dangerous".

Heavy Metal Heroes - Daily Star

ARMED to the teeth, the “heavy metal” infantrymen from The Rifles leap ashore from Combat Assault Boats.

Their target: The insurgents who have dedicated their lives to bringing about the deaths of Our Boys.

The lads from 5th Battalion, The Rifles, have traded in the Warrior armoured vehicles and Challenger 2 main battle tanks in which they usually go into battle for tiny flat-bottomed boats – as they learn new ways to win against the bad guys in Iraq.

Their key task is to stop terrorist teams raining down high explosive rockets on to Basra’s Contingency Operating Base (COB), home to the 4,100 UK troops still here until summer.

Last year Iraqi rocket gangs made our lads’ and lasses’ lives a living hell, with round after round of 107mm rockets crashing down on the base.

Massive and expensive efforts were made to safeguard British troops – cinder block “Baghdad bed” bunks with 4in steel roofs, dinner halls built with 2ft concrete walls and automated machine guns trained to radars to shoot mortars and rockets out of the sky.

But the best answer turned out to be old-fashioned boots on the ground.

The boys live by their old motto – Swift and Bold – touring the waterways and marshlands of southern Iraq in their 30mph Mark Six boats to snuff out the rocket menace.

And they need sharp eyes, too. Rocket gangs patrol these waters disguised as locals, using traditional fishing boats to transport deadly 107mm Katyusha rockets and even more terrifying 240mm anti-ship missiles.

They tee up their evil weapons on sloping ground aimed at the COB, arming them with sophisticated 59-minute timers which were most probably designed in neighbouring Iran.

But now the fight is being taken to the enemy. Our Boys have built Forward Operating Base Oxford – little more than a row of tents on a muddy island but a vital stronghold in the battle to save UK and coalition lives.

The men there live on food-in-a-bag rations, sleep on the floor and go to the toilet in plastic bags.

One of the few leisure options is the collection of weights benches that the lads have put together to work out and build their muscles. They call their home-made gym “Operation Massive”.

Based in the marshlands north of the main base, the lads spend nine days at a time in these very spartan conditions as they patrol the watery countryside, silencing the rockets and mortars.

And their success is measured in one simple statistic – the last major volley of Katyushas hit home six months ago.

Now the enemy, known as the Northern IDF Team – which stands for the up-and-under indirect fire of mortars and rockets – are on the run. And they are the lucky ones.

When asked if any rocketeers had been killed or captured, one source simply told us: “Well, there used to be a Southern IDF Team. But there isn’t one any more.” Lt Mike Foster Vander Elst, 25, told us: “A lot of indirect fire attacks have come from the area to the north, which is pretty sparsely populated.

“We are here to stop that fire happening and we have been very effective."

With Brit forces due to quit the country by the end of July, some of the Rifles have served FOUR tours of duty – starting with the 2003 invasion, through the bad times and now seeing security for ordinary Iraqis improving.

Cpl Mark Calvert, 27, from Durham, said: “This is my third tour here and it does feel a lot different now. It’s a lot
quieter – we haven’t seen any baddies since we’ve been here!”

The boys also work hard to get the locals on side. “Hearts-and-minds patrols” dish out footballs, pens and trendy wristbands to Iraqi children.

We accompanied a patrol to a school where engineers came up with a scheme to bring in water and electricity. If their plan works that’s another 165 six to 14-year-olds with a reason to thank the Brits for coming to Iraq.

And the troops say the cuddly tactics work – villagers’ tip-offs about insurgent activity are now up to 900 a month.
With the British pull-out from Iraq so close, soldiers here are convinced that they have made a difference.

Major General Andy Salmon – the man in charge of UK and US forces in South-East Iraq – told the Daily Star Sunday: “The British people can feel proud of the efforts of everyone out here who stuck it out through thick and thin – even when their friends were killed. They all rolled up their sleeves and got on with it.

“We can see the consequences here of all our work and know that the sacrifices, particularly of the 179 dead and all the wounded, were not in vain.”

Lieutenant-General John Cooper: death of 179 troops is price worth paying for our success - Times

Britain deserves its share of the credit for what has been achieved in Iraq, and its achievements vindicate the losses suffered by its troops there, the senior British military commander in the country has told The Times.

“When our mission ends in Basra [on May 31], we will be leaving behind a city that is in far better nick than it was when we arrived in 2003. It’s more stable and the people have faith in, and a vision for, the future,” said Lieutenant-General John Cooper, Deputy Commanding General Multinational Force Iraq. “Our losses will be vindicated in the same way our losses in Northern Ireland were. Part of Service life is to make sacrifices. We accept it and live with it. We don’t wring our hands but we never forget those we leave behind.” Since the invasion in March 2003, 136 British personnel have been killed by enemy action and 43 have died in noncombat incidents. British Forces have come in for strong criticism for their role in Iraq, in particular since the withdrawal of all the troops from Basra city in September 2007, when extremist Shia militia forces were still in control of the streets.

Six months later thousands of US-backed Iraqi troops from Baghdad drove the extremists out of the city in Operation Charge of the Knights, led personally by Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister. Mr al-Maliki is known to have been angered upon discovering that Britain had been negotiating with al-Mahdi Army, the Shia militia he was trying to expel.

General Cooper was in command of the Multinational Division Southeast, encompassing Basra, in 2006, before the deal was negotiated to allow the last 500 British troops in the city to leave in 2007 without being attacked. “In 2006 there was increasing violence and there was a fear that it was going to slip into civil war, although this proved unfounded. But it was a tough time,” he told The Times, in his small office in the vast new US Embassy complex in Baghdad.

Charge of the Knights was undoubtedly a key moment in the postSaddam era, transforming the city’s security, and the military and the Ministry of Defence deny they were pushed on to the sidelines. But the British were kept unaware of the plan to send in Iraqi forces with US support until the last moment.

Up to 500 Shia militia were killed and the rest fled in the fighting, although the campaign got off to a shaky start when 3,000 British-trained Iraqis surrendered their weapons and fled, leaving their vehicles burning in the streets. The British provided Challenger 2 tanks as well as artillery units and RAF Tornados, but no combat troops were requested.

Nigel Hayward, who arrived as consul-general in Basra in the middle of Charge of the Knights, said that it would have been extremely difficult for the British battle group, by this time in an airbase outside Basra, to take on the militia, who could muster hundreds if not thousands at short notice, and to be able to sustain the operation for any length of time. “It wasn’t practical,” he told The Times.

General Cooper, 54, who is coming to the end of his appointment as deputy to the overall US commander, now General Ray Odierno, took up that post on March 23, 2008. This was, he pointed out, the Wednesday before the Iraqi Prime Minister announced, at short notice, that he was going down to Basra to launch the Iraqi operation.

He is keen to defend the British record. “You don’t get a decent history written until everyone involved is dead, but I hope that people will look back and say Iraq isn’t doing too badly,” General Cooper said.

“It has been a success for the Iraqis. The Iraqi Government have the people on their side and there’s a burgeoning democracy. The Iraqis have an appetite for democracy and that’s been achieved in six years, which is not a bad legacy.

“The Iraqi Army’s 14th Division in Basra, we built it up and trained the troops, and they have shown they can take full responsibility. Our mission, therefore, is complete, because the Iraqi security forces have Basra under control.”

Was it worth a war and the huge number of casualties to achieve this nascent democracy? “There’s no point in debating what has gone on before. The key is that we were deployed and given a task to do and we’ve done that pretty well. Now we will extract in good order.”

Basra gets better beds and burgers as US takes over from the British - Times

The last of the Challenger tanks are in the cargo bays and the Basra airport base has been renamed Camp Charlie. After six years and 136 deaths from enemy fire, the British are packing up in Iraq and coming home.

Although Britain's mission does not end formally until May 31, when American forces take over, all the heavy equipment, including 500 vehicles, has been shipped back to Southampton.

The first British troops from the 4,100-strong force will return home next month as part of the transition programme, known as Operation Archive. There are already 2,000 Americans in Basra preparing for their own mission.

The withdrawal operation was described by Major-General Andy Salmon, the British commander of Multinational Division Southeast, as “radical housekeeping”.

“This is one of the largest military transition programmes undertaken for many years,” General Salmon, a Royal Marine, told The Times. “There's a lot of tidying up and auditing to do. I need to make sure that we move stuff out in good order. It's a big logistic challenge. Everything has to be sent back home, properly manifested and labelled.”

The activity has brought a distinct end-of-an-era feeling to Basra. The American troops have changed the name of the Basra airport base from Contingency Operating Base to Camp Charlie and introduced their Mail Post Exchange shopping malls and burger bars.

The Americans have even rejected the concrete-roofed, bomb-proof beds inside basic huts and produced plans for more salubrious sleeping arrangements, happy in the thought that the chances of being rocketed or mortared in their beds are now negligible.

The Americans are taking over the base with a divisional headquarters to run the new Multinational Division South (all provinces in the south), absorbing what has been Britain's area of operations into a nationwide network of forces.

Life is so quiet in Basra that the US chiefs in Baghdad have not yet decided whether it is necessary to send a top general down to Camp Charlie to take charge. Conscious of the relative tranquillity of southern Iraq, the Americans have also reduced their southwards deployment to about 2,500, about half the British presence.

Apart from guarding their rear — protecting the convoys from Kuwait to Baghdad — the Americans have military police taking on the training of the Iraqi police force and will also have special Customs advisers serving with the Iraqi border force along the frontier with Iran.

The realisation that the British are leaving seems not to bother the people of Basra city, who now no longer worry about security. They do complain that they still have limited electricity supplies, jobs are scarce and the sewerage system is dire.

The British-trained Iraqi Army 14th Division units charge around the city in American Humvees, displaying supreme confidence in their new independence — albeit with a singular lack of appreciation of other road users. The British just watch and advise.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Basra inspection to pave way for yen-loan reconstruction projects

In the first full-scale government inspection since a Ground Self-Defense Force unit withdrew in 2006, Japanese officials recently visited Basra in southern Iraq to pave the way for yen-loan-financed reconstruction projects.

The move, welcomed by Iraq, is part of an attempt by Japan to catch up with other countries in getting its private sector involved in on-the-ground reconstruction support for the country, which is seeing gradual improvement in its security situation.

"We've been waiting for you for 30 years," Abdul-Hadi Saad, general deputy of the State Company of Fertilizers, said as the company welcomed a total of six officials from the Japanese Embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

During the two-day visit from Monday, the six met Iraqi officials of the fertilizer plant in Khor Al-Zubair and the South Refineries Company in Basra as well as authorities of Umm Qasr port. Japanese companies have been involved in the construction of the three areas.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. was involved in building the Basra facility, which started to operate in 1979.

But war and economic sanctions imposed on Iraq have made it difficult for the plant to import replacement parts from Japan and led the workers there to carefully maintain the equipment to avoid using poor-quality components instead.

Click here for the full story

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Iraq sees a revival - Time Magazine

TIME photographer Yuri Kozyrev tracks how daily life in Baghdad and elsewhere has regained a semblance of normalcy.

For a more Time photos click here

Private Ryan Wrathall dies in Basra

It is with great regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of Private Ryan Wrathall in Basra, Iraq, Thursday 12 February 2009.

Private Wrathall was serving with 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment as part of 5th Battalion The Rifles (5 RIFLES) (Strike) Battle Group. He was found at Basra's Contingency Operating Base having suffered a gunshot wound. Immediate medical assistance was provided, but sadly he died from his wounds.

The incident, which occurred at approximately 0630 hours local time, will be subject to a full investigation. No enemy forces were involved and there is no evidence to suggest that anyone else was involved.

Private Ryan Wrathall

Private Ryan Wrathall, aged 21, from Surbiton, Surrey, was serving in 1 Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) - known as 'The Armoured Tigers'.

He enlisted into the Army in November 2007 at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, prior to joining 1 PWRR in Paderborn, Germany, in June 2008.

On arrival in the battalion he joined his company in their preparations for deploying to BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Canada and subsequently deployed on Exercise Medicine Man 2. While in Canada he also took part in Exercise Fast Air (free-fall parachuting) which he thoroughly enjoyed. The remainder of 2008 was spent preparing for Operation Telic 13 in which he played a full and active part.

He deployed to southern Iraq in November 2008 and was about halfway through a six-month tour of the country as a member of the 5 RIFLES (Strike) Battle Group.

Friday, February 13, 2009

As Britain Leaves, Basra Dares to Dream of Peace - Time Magazine

A picture of a genial Tom Cruise hangs above the door to the King beauty parlor in downtown Basra. For more than a decade, Sameer Abdalhadi has been snipping and shaving and primping in the cramped salon with its display case of Dr. James Freckle and Acne Soap and Muscular Man perfume.

On this February afternoon, he has given street vendor Mustafa Abdalsada a modish en brosse haircut and shaved his beard, leaving just a hint of designer stubble. Local men tend to cultivate beards or luxuriant mustaches of the kind that make even despots look avuncular, but Abdalhadi encourages his clients to try something new. The barber, driven like many Basrawis to erase reminders of a painful past, is giving his battle-scarred city a makeover, one man at a time. (See pictures of Iraq's revival.)

The challenge to remake Basra is daunting. Caught in the cross fire of the Iran-Iraq war and Iraq's occupation and retreat from Kuwait, brutally punished for uprisings against Saddam Hussein only to see his tyranny give way to the mob rule of Shi'ite militias, both the city and province of Basra have sustained deep wounds over almost 30 years.

British forces and government agencies based in Basra after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion became a magnet for militia attacks and struggled to deliver on promises of reconstruction and development. But in March 2008, the Iraqi army launched an operation code-named Charge of the Knights to disperse the militias. Since autumn, violence has been replaced by an uneasy calm, and with Britain preparing to withdraw all but a small rump of its 4,100 troops in southern Iraq by May 31, Basra is daring to dream of peace.

"I'm probably being wildly over the top, but I do find this an incredibly encouraging place to be right now," says Nigel Haywood, Britain's consul general in Basra. The transformation from battleground to bustling municipality has been so rapid that it's natural to question whether a return to violence might not be as swift. Major General Andy Salmon, the commander of the multinational forces in the region, believes that widespread optimism — among Basrawis as well as their soon-to-depart overlords — is justified and itself a force for change. His mission, he says, has been "to protect that optimism, shape it and build it. I am confident Basra is not going to go back to the previous darkness."

For barber Abdalhadi, the change has brought immediate benefits. He works late and without a bodyguard. When the militias held sway, he employed security and had to shut up shop at 4 p.m. "If I had stayed later, they would have come to kill me," he says. The militias declared that shaving was un-Muslim, but some gangs were simply running protection rackets, says Abdalhadi. In 2007, his friend and colleague Shareef was tortured and murdered with a drill, but Abdalhadi continued to ply his trade. "I'm the breadwinner. Who would feed my family?" he asks.

Few Basrawi families have escaped the years of upheaval unscathed. The militias targeted women they deemed guilty of loose behavior. That meant that until recently, sisters-in-law Yusra Mahmoud and Saleema Abdalhussein hurried home before dark. Now, on a balmy February evening, they linger in the amusement park overlooking the Shatt al-Arab waterway and discuss their children. Mahmoud has five, ranging in age from 19 to 7; Abdalhussein has just one, a son born in 1981 not long before her husband, an Iraqi conscript, was killed fighting Iran. "We're always talking about the future of the children and what it holds for them," says Mahmoud. "We have been through many wars as a generation. We hope our children will have happier lives."

Mahmoud voted in the regional elections in January for candidates she felt could best realize her dreams for "sustained security, jobs for young people and a better Iraq." Voting went off without violence in Basra (the only incident to mar the process came when an overenthusiastic Iraqi policeman fired a gun into the air to encourage voters into a polling station). The bloc affiliated with Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, reaped benefits from his strong action against the militias; in Basra, messages of national unity played better with the electorate than did religious or sectarian appeals. "We have a new breed of politicians who can take Basra into a new phase," says Emad al-Battat, the representative to Basra of Iraq's most senior Shi'a cleric, Sayyed Ali al-Sistani. "The fact that Iraqis chose secular politicians over religious ones does not mean Iraq has become any less religious. But the top priority of the Iraqi people is national unity."

"The politicians made promises in their manifestos. Now they have to walk the walk," he adds.

That walk is strewn with trash — stinking tangles of plastic and organic matter and decaying animal carcasses fester on sidewalks. Until recently, the Basrawis' focus was on security. Since autumn, private polling undertaken by the British government has seen the poor state of public services and infrastructure leapfrog that concern; phone-in programs on the local Al-Mirbad radio station are dominated by discussions of sewage and the electrical brownouts that hit the city several times every day.

Tackling these problems is essential if the economy is to continue to grow and provide jobs. Unemployment currently stands at 17% and reaches 30% among younger Basrawis. Major General Salmon says the provision of jobs and services is key to stability. "The only people who listened were [the militias]," he says. "That's why Hizballah did well elsewhere. They promise to tend to the needs of the people."

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" At a multifaith school run by the Chaldean church in Basra, a class of 4-year-olds is addressing that universal question. Several kids want to be doctors; there's a would-be teacher too. Allawi plans to be a businessman. Moqtada intends to join the army "so I can give protection." If the optimists are right, his services won't be required to keep the peace in his city.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Soldier dies in Iraq

It is with regret that the Ministry of Defence must announce the death of a soldier from 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment in Basra, Iraq, today, Thursday 12 February 2009.

The soldier died during a shooting incident in the early hours of the morning at the Contingency Operating Base.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are still being investigated.

Next of kin have been informed and have asked for a period of grace before further details are released.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Britons hail successes in Basra - Middle East Times

British defense officials praised the success of the Iraqi provincial elections and general security improvements during a tour of Basra.

British Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth paid a visit to members of an artillery regiment and military transition teams operating in Basra, the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Ainsworth hailed the work of his troops, saying they helped pave the way to a peaceful election in January that went by with few reports of violence.

"Democracy is flourishing, and people can now go about their daily business," he said.

He added the ability of Iraqi security forces to coordinate operations in the bustling port city, as well as the opportunity for provincial council candidates to campaign openly, was a triumph for British forces.

"I came here a year ago, and Basra was still a troubled place," he said. "It is now a testament to the success of (England's) transition strategy that Iraqis are solving Iraqi problems and Basra is now a secure city."

Click here for the Middle East Times

Orphanage get a new dining room

The Al Zahara Childrens orphanage in the Al Andolous area of Basra has a new dining room thanks to funds provided by the British Forces and furniture thanks to Iraqi benevolence.

To grand opening was marked by a late breakfast attended by the orphanage’s patron, Doctor Wathib Al-Amood, and the Second-in-Command of the Queen’s Royal Hussars, Major Tom Mallinson.

Prior to getting their new dining room, built onto an under used terrace, the children ate in a corridor.

Dr Al-Amood said: “Thank-you for this project, you have seen the value of this to the children. Because of their past and their poverty they are now dreaming of better things and I hope, one day, you will meet one of my children as a doctor or an engineer”

Major Mallinson said: “I was only too happy to finish this project; I regard this as a joint British and Iraqi effort as we have all played our part and it shows Iraqis can look after their own. I hope, Dr A-Amood, that the children remember what you have done for them for a long time”

The children then sang “Welcome to our home” in English and further demonstrated their command of the English language before singing an Iraqi song for their guests.

The orphanage provides a secure environment and education to 70 children. The school also provides an education to a further 180 local children.

Dr Al-Amood was a candidate in the recent elections, and while he was not successful he remains committed to the democratic process saying: “This was a very good activity and the elections went very smoothly with no disturbance”