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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Maximall Baghdad Shopping Centre

Maximall baghdad
Customers enjoy shisha pipes and coffee on the balcony of the new Maximall mall in Mansour, Baghdad. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian
Alice Kalyan and her husband sat in the food court on the fourth floor of their local shopping centre, staring down at shoppers milling around on the floors below. It's a scene repeated across the world, but this shopping centre is in Baghdad's Mansour district. Open a year, it is the city's biggest, but others may soon rival it.
The couple live in the Baghdad suburb of Khadra, an area with a heavy military presence, and it is hard for them to get to places like this. "It's our first visit," Alice, 56, explained. "We stayed here throughout the war, though we lived in the UAE for 10 years until 1999. Mostly I don't get out. I mean, we can go shopping in our neighbourhood but there's nowhere like this." The Maximall is popular with younger middle class Iraqi women who can be found on the floors below. It's the template for a new standard for Iraqi shoppers.
On the outdoor balcony overlooking the domes of Saddam Hussein's vast unfinished mosque – planned to be the biggest in the world – a group of young tattoo artists enjoy a shisha. The city is still on edge, and bombings and killings remain common, so Baghdad's social life is conducted in safe places – in people's homes and neighbourhoods where they are known – or in public spaces where they feel comfortable.
The little disco boat that coasts on the Tigris at weekends is largely for groups of young men.
But since the end of the sectarian war in 2008, Baghdad has crept towards a cautious normality, albeit under a very heavy security presence at almost every junction. Although there are no bars, alcohol is tolerated in central neighbourhoods of the capital with Christian populations. At the height of the city's sectarian tensions it was available in only the most secretive of backdoor transactions. In hardline neighbourhoods such as Sadr City, selling it will still get you killed.
New private parks have sprung up in the city's green spaces to rival the long-established Zawara amusement park, with its rides and gardens, popular with both families and groups of young men and women.
One of the recent additions is the Olive Leaves near Jadriya, several restaurants and a playground set among palm trees beside the river.
Like the Maximall it is under a year old. Adel al-Omran, the manager, said: "It used to be my grandfather's farm, but it wasn't that financially viable being in the middle of the city so I had the idea of opening this.
"Baghdadis have a thing for places like this where you can sit outside and it's safe for the children to play. It's nice here with the breeze from the river, especially in summer."
The considerations Baghdadis make over how and where to pursue their entertainment is explained by Mustafa al-Obeidi, 28 and his fiancee, Ala Rubaie, 30, at the al-Faqma ice-cream parlour in Karrada. Both engineering graduates, and unable to get salaried positions, they work as daily contractors for government ministries.
"We get out about once or twice a month. We live on opposite sides of the city," explained Mustafa. The ice cream costs $2 – a treat, he admits, when his salary is only $350 (£235) a month.
"We come to places like this or go out in Mansour. I started going out again in 2009 [a year after the end of the sectarian war]." Displaced from his home district, he only finally returned three weeks ago.
"There are neighbourhoods you avoid and places you feel more comfortable going than others," he adds. "Here it is nice and its secure."
Underlining the recent rising tension in Baghdad, Mustafa admits he no longer stays out as late as he did even three months ago, before protests in Anbar and other western provinces with large minority Sunni populations triggered new fears for the country's direction. "I used to stay out until midnight," he says, "but now I try to get home by 9 or 10 o'clock."
Adel Abbas is the proprietor of the Top Coast coffee shop and restaurant in the Karrada district. "I started with nothing. I sold the Americans a generator then opened a little shop on one of the bases that became a supermarket.
"I got out of that when there were six shops on the base. My business had grown too big for that by then. I bought an old house here and turned it into a restaurant with this coffee shop next door."
He fetched some photographs showing the windows of his restaurant blown out after a bomb attack on a nearby police post. "Things started picking up when people started going out again after 2008 but to tell the truth since the Americans left business has only been average.
"They were pumping billions into the economy and that was trickling down. Now people have less money to spend. To tell the truth it's getting a little worse each month."

13 Year Jail Term for US Contractor

13-Year Jail Term for US Contractor

13 Year Jail Term for US Contractor

An American contractor has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for taking at least $3.7 million in bribes and kickbacks while working for the US army in Iraq.

John Alfy Salama Markus, 40, pleaded guilty in September before a federal judge in New Jersey to taking the money in connection with more than $50 million in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) contracts in Iraq.

Charges included wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and to defraud the U.S. government, money laundering and tax offenses. Two other Army corps employees and two foreign contractors also were charged in the indictment.

NazarethPatch reports that as part of the plea, Salama Markus — a U.S. citizen born in Egypt — agreed to forfeit at least $3.7 million.

Working in Tikrit, he was involved in the review and award process for contractors seeking “lucrative” Army corps contracts, as well as the administration, oversight and modification of the contracts after they were awarded.

Iraq - Sri Lankan Trade Attache

Iraq Requests Sri Lankan Trade Attache

Iraq - Sri Lankan Trade Attache

The government of Iraq has requested that Sri Lanka appoint a trade attache to the Lankan embassy in Baghdad before the two governments joint committee meeting that is to be held three months from now.

According to the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror, the Iraqi Ammbassador in Sri Lanka, Kahtan Taha Khalaf (pictured), said that the relationship between the two countries is growing, and that they are preparing for a high level delegation from both countries to attend the joit committee meeting in July.
The first meeting of the Sri Lankan-Iraq joint committee was held in 1975, and the last meeting took place in Colombo during 2010.

Iraq’s Oil-for-food Corruption Case Dismissed by the US Judge

A US judge on Wednesday (NZT Thursday) dismissed Iraq’s lawsuit blaming the dozens of companies of conspiring with the regime of Saddam Hussein to frustrate the United Nations’ oil-for-food program, and depriving Iraqis of approximately US$10 billion of necessary aid. Sidney Stein, the US District Judge in Manhattan said that the Iraqi government could not improve from the damages and other remedies under an anti-racketeering law because most of the wrongful conduct took place in foreign countries. He also stated that Iraq did fail to allege the companies’ conduct was a major reason for the injury and that laws governing sovereign nations did not let the present government escape their responsibility for Hussein’s abuses. He wrote that the court refuses Iraq’s view that it may sidestep responsibility because the conduct was not legal or the actors held power illegitimately. More than 90 firms, subsidiaries and affiliates were named as defendants in the 2008 lawsuit over the US$ 64.2 billion oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996 to 2003. Amongst them were French bank BNP Paribas SA, which administered a UN escrow account for the program; Swiss engineering company ABB Ltd; Dutch chemicals company Akzo Nobel NV; US oil company Chevron Corp; German automaker Daimler AG; British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc, and German electronics company Siemens AG. A lawyer representing BNP Paribas, Robert Bennett said that it is clearly the total right decision. He said he is extremely satisfied. James Gillespie, another lawyer, representing ABB, said Stein followed the arguments in the defendants’ papers very directly, and in our view properly applied the law. A lawyer representing Iraq, Christian Siebott did not immediately respond to requests for comment. SURCHARGES AND KICKBACKS The UN program let Iraq sell out oil to finance the purchase of medicine, food and other goods for citizens hurt by global trade sanctions. Many of the present government’s allegations had been drawn from a scathing October of 2005 UN report by a panel led by previous US Federal Reserve Chairman, Paul Volcker. According to the report, Iraq had sold US$64.2 billion of oil to 248 companies under the oil-for-food program, while 3614 companies sold US$34.5 billion of humanitarian goods to Iraq. Oil surcharges were paid in connection with the contracts of 139 companies, and humanitarian kickbacks in connection with the contracts of 2253 companies, the report said. RACKETEERING ALLEGED In its lawsuit, Iraq said that the regime of former President Saddam Hussein defrauded the program by selling out oil at below-market prices in exchange for the kickbacks, and paying too much for food and drugs in exchange for side payments. It told that the defendants’ engagement deprived the citizens of Iraq of necessary supplies that should have been paid from the escrow account. While noting the agreement of the parties, that Hussein had been responsible for the alleged injustices, Stein refuses the effort of Iraq to hold the corporate defendants liable under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). It was said by the judge that the alleged racketeering took place outside the United States, even though the United Nations is headquartered in the city, New York, and that applying RICO to such extraterritorial action would not be honest. Stein also rejected the effort made by Iraq for recovering under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, saying that federal law does not afford a private right of action.

Warka Bank for Investment

Warka Bank Victory over Central Bank of Iraq - Statement from Warka Bank:

Dear Sirs,
With regards to the legal court case Warka Bank for Investment and Finance has filed against the Central Bank of Iraq Warka Bank for Investment and Finance is delighted to inform its cliental, shareholders and management that the Iraqi Supreme High Court has awarded its decision in full favor of Warka Bank for Investment and Finance confirming its judicial decision that the liquidity crisis and events leading to Warka's declining financial position is entirely due to the fault, malice, mismanagement and misdirection of both the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Iraq their ill actions taken against the bank placing the full blame and cause on both the Central Bank of Iraq and Ministry of Finance their lack to take the proper action measurements and steps to resolve the crisis properly in supporting the rehabilitation of the largest financial enterprise in the country.
Where we are delighted to add that the court decision confirms that Warka Bank for Investment and Finance has implemented, practiced and maintained all legal banking guidelines, protocols and regulations set by the bylaws of the Central Bank of Iraq confirming its true innocence.
We have posted a copy of the court's decision to bring comfort joy and happiness to all those whom have supported our bank, board of directors and management….
Best regards,
Legal Department
Warka Bank for Investment and Finance

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An electrician in Iraq, but not in Queens

Kevin Kirwan veteran
Kevin Kirwan has years of experience controlling complicated Navy logistics, but he is struggling to find a job.

For the second time in two years, Kevin Kirwan, a logistics specialist for the Navy for 14 years in places like North Africa, can’t find a job.

Kirwan, 37, is one of an estimated 210,000 veterans in the city, many struggling to find employment after years of service.

The City Council met Monday to discuss ways to help them get hired.
According to the Council, the unemployment rate for recent veterans rose from 9.1 percent to 11.7

percent from 2012 to 2013. Meanwhile, the general unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent to 7.9, percent.

“People who go out to fight for us, that protect our country, deserve the best, and we need to continue to give them the tools that are going to make them viable when they return,” Brooklyn
Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez said.

Many vets struggle to translate battlefield experience for civilian jobs. And even if they were trained for jobs that exist in civilian life, they return only to find they are qualified to fix plumbing in Iraq, but not Queens.

To apply for a license, many city jobs require experience in the city or U.S. — meaning overseas military experience does not apply.

“If your work as a plumber or an electrician was good enough for the armed forces, it should be good enough for New York City,” Veterans Committee chair Mathieu Eugene said in the Monday hearing.

Metro profiled Kirwan in a 2011 story. After the article, his experience with logistics and administration landed him a job at Chase, but his project ended in January.

After three months of job fairs, visits to veterans’ help centers and countless applications—and with a 13-month-old son – he is worried about paying the bills.

“It’s frustrating,” he told Metro.

Kirwan is also trained as a safety inspector. Despite those skills, he would likely need local experience to get a job. But the Council bill might streamline skipping that step.

“This will definitely help,” he said, adding, “There’s just not get enough jobs until you get yourself in front of the right manager.”

Reliance seeks Iraq play again

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries (RIL), which had washed its hands of the autonomous, troubled and oil-rich Kurdistan region of Iraq last July, is looking to re-enter the arena.

RIL is among the seven companies shortlisted for the development of the over-4 billion-barrel Nasiriya oilfield and construction of an associated 3 lakh barrels per day (bpd) refinery in Iraq.

The six other companies are oil major Total of France, Lukoil and Zarubezhneft of Russia, oil giant CNPC of China, Brown Energy of the US and JGC & Tonen General of Japan.

According to Iraqi media reports, the seven shortlisted companies will be invited to review data packages and discuss contract terms before the project is awarded by the year-end.

Reliance Exploration and Production DMCC, the overseas conventional oil and gas subsidiary of RIL, had bought from the autonomous Kurdish regional government a 100% stake in Rovi and Sarta blocks in Kurdistan in 2007 for a signing amount of $15.5-17.5 million.

The contract had an option for a 15% interest to be exercised by the local Kurdish oil company. Unless exercised, RIL was allowed to hold complete interest in the two blocks.

In May 2010, however, RIL’s stake in the block reduced to 80% when the self-ruled Kurdish government assigned a 20% stake to Austrian oil firm OMV Petroleum Exploration Gmbh.

However, the entire deal was termed illegal by the Iraqi national government which does not recognise the regional Kurdish government that claims political autonomy. As a result, RIL was blacklisted from doing business in Iraq which is part ofOPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, comprising oil-rich countries in the Middle East).

However, in July 2012, RIL was able to sell the blocks to US oil major Chevron at an attractive
valuation. This helped it become eligible for bidding for Iraqi assets again.

But analysts are not impressed. They contend RIL’s main focus should still be the Krishna-Godavari (K-G) D6 block in India. The hoped-for foray into Iraq can at best be a good bet for RIL, given that things are gradually coming back to normal in the warn-torn nation, they said.

Iraq, nostalgia for Saddam Hussein lives on

A man walks through the late dictator’s hometown of Tikrit holding the national Iraqi flag.

TIKRIT, Iraq: A decade after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, years of violence and disdain for the country’s current political class are fueling nostalgia for Saddam Hussein– the man the foreign troops fought to oust.
Though accusations of ties to Saddam and his regime are used to tar politicians in Baghdad, residents of his hometown, Tikrit, express fondness for a man who, though responsible for ordering the deaths of countless Iraqis, is remembered for having imposed stability, which has long been missing.
“I will remain proud, and remember Saddam,” said Khaled Jamal, a watch-seller in Tikrit.
“Our country has not changed or developed in the past 10 years.”
Along with his frustration over the slow pace of rebuilding – many Iraqis, not just in Tikrit, suffer from poor provision of basic services and high unemployment – Jamal also voiced another commonly cited frustration: the apparent rise in sectarianism since Saddam’s fall.
“There was no sectarianism, no Sunni and Shiite,” Jamal said.
“But now, that is the first question you hear when you meet someone,” he added, referring to queries over a person’s province of origin, often used to find out their religious background.
Saddam was born on April 28, 1937 in the village of Al-Oja, just south of Tikrit, which lies north of Baghdad.
An activist in the now-banned Arab socialist Baath Party, Saddam was sentenced to death in 1959 for plotting to kill Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Qassem, and was a senior figure in the party when it took control of Iraq in a 1968 military coup, though he only rose to power 11 years later.
At home, Saddam espoused a secular vision for the country and presented himself as an Arab leader who would stand up to neighboring non-Arab Iran, but was brutal with his opponents.
He is held responsible for the killings of tens of thousands of Kurds in the “Anfal” campaign, and of up to 100,000 people who took part in an uprising against his rule after the 1991 Gulf War, as well as other massacres.
Internationally, he fought a costly and deadly 1980-88 war with Iran and invaded Kuwait in 1990 before being evicted by a U.S.-led international coalition, leading to crushing sanctions and a trade embargo against Iraq.
Saddam was an international pariah by the time of the 2003 invasion, his subsequent capture in 2004 and execution in December 2006.
But in Tikrit, he is remembered far more fondly as a leader who fought for Iraq and was at the helm at a time when Iraqis enjoyed relative domestic stability, especially compared to the brutal violence that followed his ouster.
Saddam lavished attention on Tikrit, to the detriment of other, particularly southern, Iraqi cities, but as a result his legacy in the city remains strong.
“It is natural that we remain proud of him,” said Umm Sara. “Despite the circumstances Iraq was living with, he was leading the country without problems.”
“Saddam helped us a lot, so it is natural that we cherish him just as others are proud of Charles de Gaulle,” said Abu Hussein, referring to the former French president.
“Saddam had a strong personality – he imposed it on those inside and outside the country.”
Residents who lived through the chaos of the post-2003 period, during which tens of thousands were killed in a bloody sectarian war, recall a pre-invasion time when violence was concentrated in the hands of the security forces and Iraqis could – in theory – avoid their wrath.
And though public services were poor – Baghdad residents received full electricity, but those elsewhere saw far less – the regime ran a substantial food-for-the-poor scheme during the U.N. embargo era in a bid to curb opposition to Saddam’s rule.
Now, Iraqis are reliant on private generators to fill the substantial power gap, jobs remain scarce, corruption is rampant and some are dissatisfied with their current elected political leaders.
“I am thankful to the current politicians,” said Ines, a 37-year-old teacher in Tikrit. Referring to the struggles many Iraqis still face, and the frustrations they feel, she said: “They make us love Saddam, they make us proud of him, they make us miss those days.”

Report: The CIA Increasing Operations in Iraq

CIA agent suit gun red tieOfficial agency portrait.
With the US military pretty much out, and with spillover from the conflict in Syria coming in, CIA operatives in Iraq are doing exactly what you'd expect them to do.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Central Intelligence Agency is ramping up support to elite Iraqi antiterrorism units to better fight al Qaeda affiliates, amid alarm in Washington about spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria, according to U.S. officials.
The stepped-up mission expands a covert U.S. presence on the edges of the two-year-old Syrian conflict, at a time of American concerns about the growing power of extremists in the Syrian rebellion. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist network's affiliate in the country, has close ties to Syria-based Jabhat al Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, an opposition militant group that has attacked government installations and controls territory in northern Syria...In a series of secret decisions from 2011 to late 2012, the White House directed the CIA to provide support to Iraq's Counterterrorism Service, or CTS, a force that reports directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, officials said.
This shift to the CIA [from the U.S. military] in Iraq also is in line with the Obama administration's goal of limiting the U.S. role in the Syrian conflict. The administration is providing nonlethal assistance to the [Syrian] opposition, but refuses to send weapons, in part to avoid aiding extremist elements among rebel forces.
There are roughly 220 American military personnel in Iraq currently working for the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq—and after several military sites get shut down, the number is expected to drop to about 130.
The CIA's ramped-up role comes nine months after officials signaled that the agency planned to cut its presence in Iraq to fewer than half that of wartime levels, when their station in Baghdad included over 700 agency personnel and ranked as the biggest CIA station on the planet. ("Right-sizing," as Obama aides called the CIA drawdown.) Still, as senior US officials made clear last year, Baghdad will of course remain one of the agency's largest stations in the world.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Iran Gas Exports to Iraq

Iran to begin gas exports to Iraq soon

Dubai: Iran will start exporting gas to Iraq within next three months, according to Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi.

Qasemi, who met his Iraqi counterpart Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi in Baghdad, said Sunday the agreement on Iranian gas supplies to Iraq had "reached the stage of final signing".

"The launch of gas exports will proceed by stages. First, gas will start to be supplied to Baghdad and then, within another three months, to Basra," IRNA quoted Qasemi as saying.

Iraq is expected to consume about 20-25 million cubic metres of Iranian gas per day.

Iran, which has the world's second largest natural gas reserves after Russia, is also close to signing an agreement on gas supplies to Syria via Iraq, Qasemi said.

"The signing of this agreement will take place in Tehran with the participation of representatives from the three countries," the minister said.

Iraq rebuilding report has lessons for future

Iraq rebuilding report has lessons for future

 Rebuilding a war-torn country isn’t cheap, but in Iraq it came down to throwing good money after bad because apparently it didn’t work. The U.S. has spent $60 billion in Iraq reconstruction efforts. But in his final report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen concluded the U.S. didn’t get much for the money. Bowen told The Associated Press the reconstruction went way beyond what was anticipated and “not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for a thorough review of State Department and U.S. foreign aid programs with an eye to any future reconstruction projects: “We owe this not only to the American taxpayers, but also to the men and women — civilian and uniformed — that we send into dangerous and challenging environments to secure the area and implement U.S. programs.”

After World War II, the Marshall Plan helped Europe rebuild and U.S. efforts helped Japan to become a world power with a thriving economy. Complicating recovery efforts in Iraq is the to-the-death power struggle between opposing religious factions.

Meanwhile, the United States has spent $90 billion on reconstruction projects during the 12-year war in Afghanistan.

With years of reconstruction ahead there, U.S. leaders should refer to the Iraq report for lessons to be learned to make sure the use of American taxpayer money there is used wisely and is worth the expense.

Iraq Kurdistan Oil Dispute

Iraq-Kurdistan oil dispute could mark end of national partnership

Officials in Iraq and the Kurdistan region are taking a firm stand as a national oil dispute boils over. Baghdad has given the Kurds just a fraction of the billions of dollars requested for oil companies in Kurdistan. The Kurds say all the money should have been included in Iraq’s budget. But the budget was passed last week amid a boycott by all Kurdish MPs in Iraq’s parliament and half of the opposition Iraqiya bloc. Some observers say this now marks the end of national partnership.

Kurdistan previously agreed to restart oil exports via Baghdad’s pipeline. In exchange, Baghdad agreed to pay the expenses of the region’s oil companies.

Baghdad made one payment but Kurdistan suspended exports in December, criticizing the delay in the payments. Baghdad withheld the rest of the money when Kurdistan cut its exports.

The Kurds are now refusing to export oil through Baghdad’s pipeline. Iraq’s Kurdish vice president says he will not return to work until the Kurds’ rights are upheld. Some say the Kurds are now forced to seek other options to achieve their goals. There’s talk of legal action through the federal court.

Gunfire breaks out along Iraq-Kuwait border

Gunfire broke out along the Iraq-Kuwait border on Monday, sources from both sides said, in the latest sign of localized tensions over the position of the frontier that remain more than two decades after Saddam Hussein's invasion.
Kuwaiti media said shots were fired from the Iraqi side of the frontier, aimed at members of a border demarcation team working inside Kuwait.

Iraqi police gave a different account, saying officers had fired into the air to break up a demonstration inside Iraq by locals unhappy about the position of the boundary.

Both countries agreed to map out the exact position of their shared border after the first Gulf War - when Iraqi dictator Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and was forced out by a U.S.-led coalition.

Iraq formally accepted a U.N.-demarcated border line in 1994. But many Iraqis in the area remain opposed to it, saying they lost homes and territory.

Kuwaiti news website Al-Aan quoted a security source saying an exchange of fire broke out on Monday after Iraqis hurled stones at Kuwaitis doing maintenance work on border posts.

Kuwait withdrew the border demarcation team after the shooting "to calm the situation," the country's Al-Rai newspaper reported in a brief story.

State news agency KUNA said Iraqis in the border area had "sabotaged" the border fence and "obstructed U.N.-supervised border signs maintenance," but did not mention any shooting.

Kuwait called on Iraqi security authorities to put an end to such actions, KUNA said, citing an anonymous foreign ministry official.

Iraqi police sources in Um Qasr, near the border, said some officers had fired in the air to disperse demonstrators who had thrown stones at them during a protest against the demarcation.

Leaders from both countries have been working to improve diplomatic ties in the past year despite ongoing public wariness.

The Middle East neighbors came to an agreement over Gulf War-era debts last year. Kuwait's ruler and Iraq's prime minister have also visited each other's countries.

Kurdish view of the Iraq war

Iraq Kurdistan independence

The fall of Saddam Hussein and the end of UN sanctions against Iraq have benefited Iraqi Kurdish communities since 2003. Photograph: Azad Lashkari/Reuters
"Did it happen?" I asked my father instantly after I woke up on the morning of 20 March 2003, to which my father replied with a smile, "Yes". Yes, the United States of America and its allies began their attacks on Iraq. Yes, my life was going to change. And it did. Since that rainy day I spent in the countryside because we were scared Saddam Hussein was going to use weapons of mass destruction against Kurdish cities, my life has never been the same.
Growing up in the 1990s in northern Iraq, where the international committee had imposed a "no-fly zone" sanction to prevent the Iraqi army from aerially attacking us, I lived a childhood isolated from the rest of the world. The sanctions aimed at the Iraqi government did more harm to the people than to the government; it resulted in the death of over 500,000 Iraqi children. My only window into the outer world was a satellite dish that helped my dream grow about how I'd one day see that outer world. It seemed like an unreachable dream up until the US announced war on Iraq. I saw hope for the first time, and my hope represented the hope of one whole nation.
There are many disparities between the views on the war. I understand the American point of view. Millions of Americans opposed the war, believing that their sons and daughters did not need to sacrifice their lives for a country thousands of miles away, nor did they need to spend billions of dollars on a war they deemed unnecessary.
Their concerns are now justified, given the damages that war spending hurt the US economy severely. Moreover, millions feared the bloodshed the war would cause. And it did; thousands of Iraqis and coalition soldiers have lost their lives since 2003.
The views on the war within Iraq at first were largely positive. Shia Iraqis in southern Iraq, subject to continuous persecution from Saddam Hussein, were pro-war. Sunni Iraqis, even though treated better than the rest of Iraqis, were split between those who supported Saddam and those who backed the war. Saddam had dragged Iraqis into two wars: a bloody and lengthy war against Iran and a short war with everlasting effects against Kuwait. The citizens, rather than the government, were paying for both.
Tired of Saddam, the 2003 war seemed like a lifeline for most Iraqis. However, ten years after the war, Iraqis in mid- and southern Iraq haven't gotten much in return. They have exchanged a dictator for insecurity, sectarian conflicts, chaos and corruption.
Kurds – that forgotten nation before the war– have definitely benefitted the most from this war so far. Throughout his reign, Saddam constantly tried to obliterate Kurds. Having lost two uncles throughout the Kurdish struggle against Saddam, I knew what removing a dictator such as Saddam meant. It would cause bloodshed, yes, but I was sure Iraqis – and especially Kurds – would be better off without him.
From 1991 up until 2003, Saddam cut off any financial support for Kurds and we had to live on donations from international organizations, a few low-budget job contracts and the smuggling of goods mostly from Iran and, to a lesser extent, Turkey. Starvation was rampant; ordinary citizens suffered from the UN trade embargoes. Many people had to sell items within their homes in exchange for food.
Ever since 2003, doors have opened for us from every direction. Kurdistan of Iraq, also known as the "other Iraq", is now a safe haven where thousands of Iraqis – including Christians – have sought shelter. Economically, we've started having a boom and the economy is on a continuous rise. Living standards of the majority of Kurds have improved. Salaries have increased exponentially. Numerous job opportunities are opening up. International companies and organizations are constantly flowing into Kurdistan. Kurds now receive 17% of Iraq's annual budget. Besides that, Kurds currently sign oil contracts with many international oil companies independently from Baghdad.
Therefore, while most people agree that the US invasion of Iraq has not been justified by the chaos and insecurity it left Iraq in, the US gave Kurds the self-rule we were promised by the Treaty of Sèvres almost a century ago, but which was later robbed from by that of Lausanne. Kurdistan of Iraq is now a hub that attracts millions of investors from around the globe. While Americans and Iraqi Arabs criticize the US for the war, Kurds are grateful and are holding on to and building up on the lifeline provided them.

Iraq war: six lessons we still need to learn

Iraq 2005 elections

'While the 2005 elections were heralded as an important marker on the road to democracy, they actually served to exacerbate inter-communal tensions in Iraq as politicians increasingly used sectarianism to mobilise support.' Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP
There is a temptation to draw a line under the Iraq war and to write it off as a regrettable occurrence, best consigned to history. But there is much we can learn from the experience about the challenges facing countries in transition, the limitations of our power and the unintended consequences of foreign intervention.

Lesson one: interventions require legitimacy

While the rationale for intervening will always be based on an interpretation of national interests, the levels of local, regional and international support will influence its chance of success. The legitimacy of the Iraq intervention was disputed from the outset and can only be understood against the backdrop of 9/11 and American fear of a further attack on the homeland.

Lesson two: interventions need to have limited, clear and realistic goals – and be well resourced

After the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the rationale for the war shifted from regime change to the grandiose scheme of implanting democracy. There was always a mismatch between goals, plans, organisation and resources.

Lesson three: the collapse of the state leads to communal violence

In any society, it is the state that provides the framework in which different communities co-exist and compete. The challenge is how to purge a regime of its worst elements while at the same time maintaining the state. The decisions taken by the US-UK coalition to formally occupy the country (without enough forces), dismiss the Iraqi security forces (rather than recall them) and implement deep de-Ba'athification (rather than only remove those who had committed crimes against the Iraqi people) led to the collapse of the state and communal violence.

Lesson four: an inclusive elite agreement is critical to gain widespread support for the new order

The elite pact cobbled together in Iraq essentially ensured Shia Islamist domination, supported by Kurdish nationalists. It was heavily weighted towards exiles who had opposed Saddam and who used their relationship with the coalition to exclude key sections of society who had remained in Iraq all along. The road map for transition, therefore, was rejected by those barred from the new order – it led not to stability but to greater violence.

Lesson five: elections do not necessarily bestow legitimacy on the new order

While the 2005 elections were heralded as an important marker on the road to democracy, they actually served to exacerbate inter-communal tensions in Iraq as politicians increasingly used sectarianism to mobilise support. The new elites were more focused on capturing power than on delivering services to the people. Electoral systems are not neutral and the way in which they are designed can affect relations between and among communities. While the first election brings new elites to power, it is the second election that determines how these elites will yield power. It defines whether the new order will be one in which power will be shared or transferred peacefully and democratic bodies strengthened – or whether the state will be captured and institutions subverted to the will of the new autocratic rulers.

Lesson six: interventions inevitably have unintended consequences

The intervention in Iraq led to civil war and the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqis. It turned the country into a battlefield of regional powers, rather than a buffer. The weakness of the new Iraq has helped enable the resurgence of Iran, setting off a regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Turkey on one side and Iran on the other – with tragic consequences in Syria.
There is a risk that we will take the wrong lessons from Iraq. Billions of American and British taxpayers' money was spent on "nation building" in Iraq with unimpressive results as the "new order" remained highly contested. We put insufficient effort into brokering national-level reconciliation between Iraq's elites and into ensuring checks and balances on the power of the executive. And we wasted energies on initiatives that were neither critical nor sustainable.
The Iraq we left behind is drifting towards authoritarianism and disintegration – rather than towards democracy. Some officials continue to place all the blame for Iraq's woes on "ancient hatreds" between the different communities – or to blame al-Qaida and Iran. Saddam's violent rule certainly had created "modern" hatreds among communities that had lived together, mostly peacefully, for centuries – but inter-marriage between Sunni and Shia people remained common and so did a sense of Iraqi identity, at least among the Arab population. Al-Qaida and Iran definitely exacerbated the violence in Iraq – but were not the cause of the civil war. Likewise, there is little reflection on the impact of past policies: our unwillingness to protect the Shia from Saddam's vengeful slaughter after their uprising in 1991; and a decade of sanctions which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children, destroyed the middle class and yet strengthened the grip of the regime over society.
If we internalise the right lessons from Iraq, we will develop a better match between our national interests and our capabilities. If we do not do so, we may well be destined to make wrong assumptions when we consider how to respond to increasing instability in the Middle East.

UAE's Bloom inks deal for major Iraq development

Bloom will build the development along the banks of Lake Razaza. (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Bloom will build the development along the banks of Lake Razaza. (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Abu Dhabi-based Bloom Properties have announced the signing of a contract for a major development along the banks of Lake Razaza in Karbala, Iraq.

Bloom, the property development and real estate arm of National Holding, said the deal has been signed with the Iraqi National Investment Commission and the Governorate of Karbala.
The 20 sq km Shores of Karbala project will include close to 40,000 homes distributed among four districts and will be built over eight years.

It will be home to a population of nearly 250,000 people and the four districts will comprise villas, townhouses, apartments, hotels, business centres, open markets, commercial offices, clinics and dispensaries, schools, mosques, public parks, children's playgrounds, government, social and sports facilities, as well as restaurants, cafes and related infrastructure.

Following the signing ceremony, Nouri Al Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq, laid the foundation stone for the project.

Dr Sami Al Araji, chairman of National Investment Commission, Iraq said: "The project will contribute to the urban planning development of Karbala. Our strategy is to take the holy city to a new level by improving the distribution of population density and urban centres and shaping it into a vibrant metropolis.

"Karbala will also comprise multiple modern centres that will be complemented by the establishment of a series of ecosystems. This is in line with our strategy to augment landscaping areas across all plots."

Simon Azzam, CEO of Bloom Properties, added: "With the signing of this contract, we are set to commence work on the preliminary planning phase.

"This is one of the largest real estate projects in Iraq and will be developed on several phases taking into consideration high quality standards suitable for such a project. The Shores of Karbala will cater to all sections of the society and it will offer will offer significant investment opportunities, which in turn help generate considerable job opportunities for Iraqis. "

According to the terms of the contract, initial work will include the surveying of land, issuance of licences and obtaining the preliminary approvals.

Bloom will also work on submitting the final detailed master plan in line with the blueprint initially presented to the National Investment Commission and the Governorate of Karbala.

Iraq finance minister resignation sparks selloff

The resignation of Iraq’s finance minister amid an upsurge in violence in the oil-producing nation added to investor concerns that are sending bond yields to the highest in four months.

The yield on the Iraqi 5.8 percent dollar-denominated government bonds maturing in January 2028 rose 56 basis points from a 12-month low on Jan. 17 to 6.72 percent Friday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with a 25 basis-point gain to 4.24 percent Thursday in the average yield on regional debt, the HSBC/Nasdaq Dubai Middle East Conventional Sovereign U.S. Dollar Bond Index shows. Iraq’s yield rose to 6.76 percent on Feb. 27, the highest since Oct. 11.

“From the point of view of domestic policymaking, yes there’s going to be more turmoil, and yes we see stagnation continuing at least until after the election and formation of the next government,” scheduled for next year, said Liz Martins, a Dubai-based senior economist at HSBC Bank Middle East Ltd. “This will continue to impact on investment in both the public and private sector outside of the oil sector.”

Finance Minister Rafaie al-Issawi, one of the most senior Sunni Muslims in the Shiite-led government, stepped down March 1, heightening tensions nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein from power. Unrest has spread to eight regions as protesters demand that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki share more power. Authorities in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish north are withholding oil from the central government-controlled export pipeline amid disputes over energy contracts and land.

The premium investors demand to hold Iraqi sovereign bonds over U.S. Treasuries has widened by 71 basis points, or 0.71 of a percentage point, since Jan. 17, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG Sovereign Spread Iraq index shows. The spread was 496 basis points Thursday. The average premium for Middle East government bonds rose 36 basis points to 431, the data show.
Violence has escalated since the U.S. withdrew its last combat troops at the end of 2011, with 4,568 civilians killed in 2012 compared with 4,144 in the previous year, according to the Iraq Body Count website.

Forty-eight Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi troops were killed this week inside Iraq, raising concern that the civil war in neighboring Syria may spill over and destabilize parts of the country. A pipeline for oil products in northern Iraq was attacked on March 4 for the fifth time in less than a month, according to the Oil Ministry, and the government deployed troops the same day to break up a protest by people seeking work at the OAO Lukoil-run West Qurna-2 oil field.

Lukoil and other international companies are helping Iraq restore its crude oil output and generate revenue to rebuild an economy hobbled by decades of conflict and economic sanctions. Output swelled by 24 percent last year as Iraq became the biggest producer, after Saudi Arabia, in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Iraq’s oil fields produced 3.2 million barrels a day in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The country, which holds the world’s fifth-largest crude deposits, has budgeted $118 billion in spending for 2013, up 18 percent from 2012.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that Iraq’s economy will register the region’s quickest growth in each of the next four years, after expanding 14.7 percent this year. Iraq’s stock exchange drew investors after the Feb. 2 listing of Asiacell Communications PJSC, which raised $1.3 billion in Middle East’s biggest initial public offering since 2008.

“Asiacell is important because it attracts global investors to look at Iraq for the first time,” said Sanjay Motwani, president of Sansar Capital Management LLC. “Are there a lot of issues in Iraq? Yes, it’s all there, we get it, but it’s already included in the risk,” said Motwani, who runs the Sansar Capital Frontier Fund with about $30 million invested in Iraqi equities.

Still, political strife between Iraq’s ruling coalition and other groups, including Sunnis leading the protests and the Kurds, has hurt investment. Investors are also discouraged by the country’s failure to pass an energy law, and the Oil Ministry failed to find bidders for most of the blocks in its latest auction of energy rights. The government has also been slow to invest in industries unrelated to oil.

Iraq Oil Minister Abdul Karim Al Luaibi

Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Karim Al Luaibi to speak at Iraq Energy conference in Abu Dhabi

UAE has become an important business partner for IraqThe Iraqi Minister of Oil, His Excellency Abdul Karim Al Luaibi, will be the headline speaker at the upcoming Iraq Energy 2013/14: Opportunities for UAE-Iraq Cooperation conference in Abu Dhabi from 22-24 May. This event, organized by The Energy Exchange and co-hosted by The Iraqi Business Council Abu Dhabi (IBCAD), will focus on the enormous opportunities for UAE-Iraq cooperation in the oil and gas industry.
Increasing business between Iraq and UAE
The Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the official Platinum Sponsor for this event and the Chairman, His Excellency Mohamed Thani Murshed Ghannam Al Rumaithi, is also a keynote speaker.

The event furthermore has the official support of the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq Abu Dhabi. The Vice Chairman of the IBCAD, Mr Auday Almoman, says: "We are proud to be hosting the first event of its kind with The Energy Exchange in Abu Dhabi, UAE. It is very important for Iraq to involve UAE based national and international companies in the rebuilding of Iraq given their vast experience and know-how."

He explains that Iraq Energy 2013/2014 will contribute to smoothing the way for foreign investors as "many high-level Iraqi officials from various sectors will be involved in this event which will provide confidence for many to work and invest in Iraq."

Mr Almoman continues: "Iraq has signed service contracts with many IOCs and requires experienced companies, investors and professionals to execute the huge scope of work." He deems the UAE as most qualified, also being the regional headquarters of several well-renowned national and international contractors and service providers.
Increasing opportunitiesIraq Energy 2013/14 event Director, Jinanda Sheth, says Iraq has seen tremendous progress in the development of its oil and gas sector since 2003. She adds: "The past 2 years alone have witnessed the agreement for the $17.2 billion gas flaring project and the fourth licensing bid round which led to a further three blocks being awarded."
Fast tracking forward, says Sheth, it is widely anticipated that Iraq will invest around $200 billion in its upstream oil and gas sector in the next six years, "which is on top of $20 billion earmarked for its downstream sector, where investment is expected to start with its refinery and petrochemical facilities. Such downstream investments would turn Iraq into a major player in the international trade of petrochemical and refined products."
She continues: "as IOCs continue to gain momentum with their projects and ramp up activities on the ground, there are now even more opportunities for investment partners and support services to get involved."

UAE oil and gas hubAccording to Sheth, UAE-based companies have featured heavily in the rebuilding of Iraq's oil and gas sector in recent years. She explains: "Abu Dhabi and Dubai based companies have established the UAE as an oil and gas hub with exceptional readily available products and services that Iraq can easily access."
In 2010, Etihad, Abu Dhabi's national airline became the first UAE operator to establish flights to the Iraqi capital; an important step reflecting a commitment from the UAE to strengthen ties with Iraq. More recently, Dubai's Emirates airline has increased weekly flights from 4 to 7. Jinanda Sheth says January 2012 saw the re-establishment in Abu Dhabi of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs-led initiative, known as the 'Iraq - UAE Joint Committee Meeting'. "All positive indications that there are big business and future mutual opportunities between Iraq and the UAE."

Iran, Iraq resume talks on gas deal

TEHRAN - Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi has started a new round of talks with Iraqi officials in Baghdad, discussing the implementation of a previously signed deal with the Iraqi side to export Iranian gas to Iraq.
Heading a 9-member delegation, Qasemi exchanged views with Iraqi officials on oil, gas and electricity ties, the Shana News agency reported.
On Thursday, Qasemi met with Iraqi deputy oil minister Falah al-Ameri. The Iranian minister is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Electricity Minister Abdul Karim Aftan today.
The Iraqi government has said it gave consent to a preliminary agreement to build oil and natural gas pipelines from Iran to Syria.
The Iraqi Cabinet issued a statement, obtained by the Platts news service, saying it consented to "an agreement between the Iraqi Oil Ministry and the Iranian Oil Ministry and the Syrian Oil and Mineral Resources Ministry about a gas pipeline construction project through Iran-Iraq-Syria-Europe and the agreement would be effective from the date signed."
Gas from the project would come from Iran and help support electricity for the Iraqi and Syrian markets. An oil pipeline would run from the southern Iraqi port of Basra and deliver about 1 million barrels of oil per day to the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.
Iranian officials have said that Tehran also aims to extend the pipeline to Lebanon and the Mediterranean to supply gas to Europe.

Iraq war veteran's death raises issue of post-traumatic stress

Iraq war veteran's death raises issue of post-traumatic stress

Probably no one will ever know what thoughts were going through Iraqi war veteran Jason Glover’s head when he allegedly pointed a handgun at a St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputy Friday night. Fearing for his life, the deputy shot and killed Glover.

Hearing of the incident on Saturday, however, several military veterans said they suspect Glover knew what he was doing.

“He wanted to do it, but he didn’t want to pull the trigger himself,” said Andrew O’Brien, a 24-year-old Iraqi war veteran who attempted suicide two years ago by swallowing a bottle of pills. “Thank God I didn’t have a gun or I would’ve done that.”

After returning from Iraq, Glover had struggled “greatly” to reintegrate into civilian society, St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain said in a statement. “Sadly, he and his family were ultimately unable to find the help he truly needed.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder, whether diagnosed or not, is common among military veterans. An average of 22 veterans -- and one active-duty soldier — take their own lives each day, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
There have been several instances of veterans committing so-called “suicide by cop” in cities nationwide. On March 4, for example, 32-year-old Santiago A. Cisneros III, an Iraqi war veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, fired shots at Portland police and was killed by their return gunfire.

There are between 300,000 and 320,000 veterans of all wars living in Louisiana, said Shawn Cronan, a Gulf War veteran and executive director of NOLA Patriots, a nonprofit organization that seeks to help military veterans and their families in the New Orleans area.

As the roughly 5,000 Louisiana soldiers who are currently deployed overseas start to return home, Cronan said, he is concerned about the growing problem of military suicides.

“This (Glover incident) could very well have been prevented had someone been able to reach out to this veteran or his family,” Cronan said. “We’ve got to be very, very cognizant that this is, sadly, not going to be an isolated incident.”

Veterans say they often experience haunting nightmares form their war experiences, as well as intense guilt for having survived when some of their comrades were killed.

“You’ve been through an experience that only can be thought of as hell, and nobody understands, and it really haunts you,” Cronan said. “You sleep with your eyes open; you’re suspicious of everyone everyplace you go.”

It’s often hard for military veterans to keep up personal relationships because they feel nobody can understand what they’ve been through, Cronan and O’Brien said.

Further exacerbating the problem, veterans are often reluctant to seek treatment for their mental illness. They often fear employers will discriminate against them if they seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder, Cronan said.

But there are also psychological reasons that veterans don’t seek counseling or other services they may need. “It’s hard for any man to ask for help,” O’Brien said. “For soldiers, it’s even harder because you’re supposed to be stronger, you’re supposed to be the backbone of the nation. You feel weak if you ask for help.”

“Even at my age today, I still struggle with it,” said Landon Allen, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran. “It never goes away.”

Those looking for more information on NOLA Patriots can email info@nolapatriots.org or call the office at 504.309.0898.

Kurds eager to end dependence on Iraq

A Kurdish flag flies at the Citadel fortress in the old center of Irbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.
A Kurdish flag flies at the Citadel fortress in the old center of Irbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.
IRBIL, IRAQ — At an elite private school in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, children learn Turkish and English before Arabic. Kurdish university students dream of landing jobs in Europe, not Baghdad. And a local entrepreneur says he doesn’t like doing business beyond the self-rule zone because the area outside Kurdish control is still too unstable.

In the decade since U.S.-led forces toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Kurds have trained their sights toward Turkey and the West, at the expense of ties with the still largely dysfunctional rest of the country.

Aided by an oil-fueled economic boom, Kurds have consolidated their autonomy, increased their leverage against the central government in Baghdad, and are pursuing an independent foreign policy often at odds with that of Iraq.

Kurdish leaders say they want to remain part of Iraq for now, but that increasingly acrimonious disputes with Baghdad over oil and territory might just push them toward separation.

“This is not a holy marriage that has to remain together,” Falah Bakir, the top foreign policy official in the Kurdistan Regional Government, said of the Kurdish region’s link to Iraq.

A direct oil export pipeline to Turkey, which officials here say could be built by next year, would lay the economic base for independence. For now, the Kurds still can’t survive without Baghdad.

Their region is eligible for 17 percent of the national budget of more than $100 billion, overwhelmingly funded by oil exports controlled by the central government.

Since the war, the Kurds have mostly benefited from being part of Iraq.

At U.S. prodding, majority Shiites made major concessions in the 2005 constitution, recognizing Kurdish autonomy and allowing the Kurds to keep their own security force when other militias were dismantled.

Shiites also accepted a Kurd as president of predominantly Arab Iraq.

Iraq’s central government strongly opposes the Kurds’ quest for full-blown independence.

Iraqi leaders bristle at Kurdish efforts to forge an independent foreign policy, and the two sides disagree over control of disputed areas along their shared internal border.

Papers focus on Iraq anniversary

Sunday newspapers
As the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq draws near, the Sunday Telegraph says Tony Blair has "major new questions" to answer about the conflict.

Sir Christopher Meyer, who was Britain's ambassador to Washington, tells the paper that Mr Blair's world view was "more evangelical than the American Christian Right"."

Military commanders write of the lack of time they were given to prepare because of "political nervousness" about publicly committing to sending troops.

Mark Etherington, a Foreign Office official who was sent to govern an Iraqi province, says he "never met an Iraqi who viewed the country's occupation with equanimity."
Dictator fall
The Observer has tracked down an Iraqi man who became the "face of the fall of Baghdad", when he was photographed helping to demolish a huge statue of Saddam Hussein.

But he says nothing has changed for the better: "Then we had only one dictator. Now we have hundreds."

The difficulties of managing a country after the fall of a dictator are also highlighted in the Sunday Express.

One of Egypt's most eminent archaeologists tells the paper that ancient sites have been turned into farmland and thousands of illegal digs have taken place since the revolution.

Dr Zahi Hawass says the edifice of one pyramid has been left pockmarked "like a Swiss cheese", as looters carry out excavations to plunder its treasures.
Regent question
Several of the tabloids' front pages show photographs of former England footballer Paul Gascoigne alongside dramatic headlines.

"Back from the dead" says the Sunday People. "I was dead," says the Sun.

The paper reports that Gazza's life "hung by a thread" as he lay in hospital in the US, where he was receiving treatment for alcohol addiction.

He says the experience has inspired him not to drink again.

"Is Britain ready for a regent?" asks the Sunday Times.

Fifty-one per cent of the British public think not, according to a poll carried out for the paper.

Royal biographer Robert Lacey says he does not think the Queen "cares tuppence about what's fair for Charles", and he believes that - unlike the Pope - she would never abdicate.
Deciding ballots
The selection of a new Pope is shaping up as a battle between Romans and Barbarians, according to the Observer.

"Many of the cardinals in Rome are seething with resentment" towards the Vatican administration because of what the paper describes as the "blunders" which marred Benedict XVI's papacy.

The "Barbarians", led by cardinals from the US and Germany, want to see a new broom sweep through the Vatican.

But the floating voters of the emerging countries are likely to cast the deciding ballots.

Hollywood is revisiting one of the oldest scripts, says the Sunday Times.

Biblical epics costing almost £700m are going into production, including a film about Noah starring Russell Crowe.

This being Hollywood you will not have trouble keeping up even if you have forgotten the original story, says the paper's editorial.

And it will be easy to spot that the Egyptian pharaoh is a baddie: "He'll be the only one with a British accent."

Iraq war: the key players in the march to war

In the weeks before the invasion of Iraq fierce arguments raged over the question of Saddam Hussein’s ability to acquire and unleash Weapons of Mass Destruction and what the West should do to neutralise the threat. We look at the key players in the march to war.

Smoke over Baghdad
Thick smoke rises skywards as a US Apache helicopter hovers over Baghdad's restive Haifa street district.
Alastair Campbell
Tony Blair’s director of communications
Played crucial role in formulating arguments for war against Saddam, overseeing preparation and release of two documents arguing dictator building up Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and was danger to Britain.
The September Dossier, published September 2002, and February 2003’s Iraq Dossier, nicknamed the Dodgy Dossier, criticised by opponents of the war as exaggerating or distorting actual findings of intelligence services, particularly claim that Saddam had WMDs deployable within 45 minutes.

Campbell admitted to Iraq inquiry part of the September dossier “could have been clearer”, but denied it misrepresented Iraq’s threat. Resigned as director of communications August 2003, during Hutton Inquiry into death of Dr David Kelly, the scientist who believed the Government exaggerated Iraqi threat.
Campbell went on to publish diary of his years inside Number 10 and established himself as successful public speaker, appearing on several TV shows, including Question Time, Top Gear, Have I Got News for You and Panorama.
Of invasion, he told Iraq inquiry: “I think that Britain, far from beating ourselves up about this, should be really proud of the role that we played in changing Iraq from what it was to what it is now becoming.”

Sir John Scarlett

Chairman of the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)
Career spy, recruited to MI6 after leaving Cambridge. Criticised for allowing Alastair Campbell to influence content of September dossier.
Butler review of 2004 concluded that intelligence used to justify the war was unreliable and criticised Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), for leaning heavily on third-hand accounts and Iraqi dissident sources. However, it stated explicitly Sir John should not be forced to resign.
Sir John denied claims intelligence had been consciously manipulated, but did state that Mr Blair’s foreword to dossier – which claimed intelligence service had “established beyond doubt” Saddam had WMDs – was “overtly political” and “quite separate” to rest of document.
Also admitted claim Saddam could fire chemical weapons in 45 minutes was “lost in translation”, as it did not make clear it referred to battlefield munitions not weapons such as missiles.
After war served as head of SIS from 2004 to 2009. In 2011 appointed to board of Times Newspapers and hired as strategic adviser for Statoil, Norwegian petroleum giant granted exploration rights in oilfields near Iraqi city of Basra. Also sits on advisory board of Chertoff Group, risk-management and security consulting company founded by Michael Chertoff, US Secretary for Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009.

Jack Straw

Foreign Secretary
Became Foreign Secretary just months before September 11 attacks and in November 2002 helped negotiate UN resolution giving Saddam “final opportunity” to disarm.
Despite failing to get second resolution explicitly authorising military action, Mr Straw argued Saddam had failed to comply with initial resolution ordering him to cooperate with inspectors and provide full disclosure of weapons capability.
Later admitted to the Iraq inquiry that '45-minute’ claim about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capability “haunted us ever since”.
Retired from front bench politics August 2010. Following year appointed £30,000 a year consultant to E. D. & F. Man Holdings, a British commodities company. Also appointed visiting professor to University College London School of Public Policy
Write in his memoir Last Man Standing, published last year (2012): “I made my choice to support the war on the best available evidence. I do not back away from it now. As for the outcome, democracy in Iraq is, I admit, taking a long time to achieve. But the reality — however inconvenient it may be to those who opposed the war — is that Iraq is a better place now than it was under Saddam.”

David Kelly

Biological warfare expert and UN weapons inspector
Scientist and expert on biological warfare employed by MoD. Had been a UN weapons inspector in Iraq and sceptical about British government’s insistence Saddam Hussein had developed WMD, particularly '45-minute’ claim.
After his name leaked by MoD as source for report by Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC journalist, about government’s dossier on Saddam’s WMD, Kelly called to appear before parliamentary foreign affairs committee. Questioned aggressively by committee about which journalists he had spoken to. Two days later found dead on Harrowdown Hill, in Oxfordshire.
Hutton Inquiry concluded Kelly had committed suicide. But doubts raised over true cause of death, with some even claiming he had been murdered. In October 2010, sealed post mortem made public by new government. Report confirmed all findings of Hutton Report.
Group of doctors which investigating death of Dr Kelly wrote to Chief Coroner last month (Feb) calling for inquest to be resumed and suicide verdict re-examined.

Lord Goldsmith

Attorney General
His advice to Tony Blair over whether invasion of Iraq would be legal proved controversial from outset.
His original memo to PM on 30 January 2003, stated that UN Resolution 1441 did not sanction use of force and that further resolution needed. Subsequent memo, on 7 March 2003, concluded “reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation [of the use of force] in Resolution 678 without a further resolution.”
In his final advice, on 17 March 2003 – two days before outbreak of war (March 19) – stated more clearly that use of force would be legal. This led to claims he had bowed to political pressure to find legal justification for invasion.
Admitted to Iraq inquiry he had changed view on the legality of war, but said “complete nonsense” to claim he did so because of political pressure.
Stepped down as Attorney General same day Blair left No. 10. Became head of European litigation at London office of Debevoise & Plimpton on reported salary of £1m a year. In August 2008 appointed independent non-executive director of Westfield Group, an Australian property trust.

Donald Rumsfeld

US Secretary of Defence
Within hours of the September 11 attacks he put US on path to war with Saddam, instructing officials to look for evidence of Iraqi involvement.
There was none, but following destruction of al Qaeda bases and ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan, he conceived lighting invasion of Iraq by smaller number of troops than envisaged by Pentagon’s planners.
Rapid overthrow of Saddam appeared to justify the plan, but chaos that followed – with looting and collapse of civilian infrastructure giving way to bloody sectarian terror – left Rumsfeld open to criticism he had failed to plan for post-invasion and reconstruction.
Of the chaotic aftermath he said: “Stuff happens ... and it’s untidy and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.”
Resigned as Defence Secretary in 2006, after Democrats won control of House and Senate. Published memoirs, Known and Unknown, in 2011, donating proceeds to veterans groups, and set up foundation, giving grants to individuals from private sector who wanted to serve in government.

Condoleezza Rice

US national security adviser
National security adviser at time of September 11. Denied ignoring CIA warnings of increased terrorist activity in months before the attacks.
Strong supporter of invasion of Iraq on grounds Saddam had WMDs, but their absence left her open to charges of distortion and deliberate scaremongering.
Also defended invasion of Iraq despite Saddam having no role in September 11, stating that “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a part of the Middle East that was festering and unstable, [and] was part of the circumstances that created the problem on September 11.”
Mooted as running mate for John McCain in 2008 presidential election before Sarah Palin chosen. In March 2009 returned to academia as political science professor, becoming director of Stanford University’s Global Center for Business and the Economy. Appeared as herself in 2011 on the sitcom 30 Rock

Colin Powell

US Secretary of State
Respected Vietnam veteran, four-star general and first African American to serve as secretary of state. Criticised for his role in building case for invasion of Iraq. Initially opposed to forcible overthrow of Saddam, preferring policy of containment. Eventually agreed to go along with Bush administration’s determination to oust Saddam.
Told UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, “there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more” and “no doubt in my mind” that Saddam working to obtain key components to produce nuclear weapons.
But Iraq Survey Group concluded the evidence Powell offered to support claim Iraq had WMDs was inaccurate. Later described UN speech as “blot” on his record.
Moderate Republican. Initially supported John McCain’s run for president but later endorsed Obama as a “transformational figure”. Expressed support for legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Hans Blix

Executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission
Served as director general of International Atomic Agency between 1981 and 1997. Called out of retirement by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to lead monitoring team charged with ensuring Saddam did not rearm with WMDs.
But his findings were at odds with pronouncements of Bush and Blair administrations, who insisted Saddam had WMDs.
Speaking a year after the invasion Mr Blix said: “There were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction.”
Chairman since 2003 of Stockholm-based Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC), an independent body funded by the Swedish government. Also appointed the chairman of a panel of advisers who will oversee establishment of UAE’s atomic energy programme.

Gunmen kill protest organisers in North Iraq

Gunmen killed an anti-government protest organiser in north Iraq on Sunday, while a city council member and a farmer were shot dead in other attacks, police and doctors said.

Unknown gunmen shot dead Bnayan Sabar al-Obeidi in front of his house in the northern city of Kirkuk, they said.

Protesters have taken to the streets in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq for more than two months, calling for Prime Minister Nuri Maliki's resignation and decrying the alleged targeting of their minority community by Shiite-led authorities.

Obdeidi's death comes two days after activists said security forces fired on a demonstration in Mosul, another north Iraq city, killing at least one protester and wounding others.

Also on Sunday, gunmen killed Abdul Monam Mohammed, a city council member in Heet, northwest of Baghdad, while other gunmen killed a farmer and a roadside bomb wounded three people near Baquba, north of the Iraqi capital, police and doctors said.

Violence in Iraq has decreased from its peak in 2006 and 2007.

But even 10 years after the US-led invasion of the country, attacks remain common, killing 220 people last month, according to an AFP tally based on security and medical sources.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Iraq Investor Guide 2013

Interested in Iraq?

Want an Iraq Investor Guide 2013? - for free of course?

We have just released the 2013 Investor Guide for investors whom are interested in Investing in Iraq.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

3G Network Iraq - Zain Iraq

Zain Iraq looking to roll out 3G Network

Baghdad Invest - 03/03/2013 Baghdad.

Zain Iraq aims to reinvest 15 per cent of its revenues this year to build up its infrastructure.

The country's largest mobile operator in terms of revenue and subscribers plans to roll out a third-generation (3G) network once it receives the necessary spectrum from the country's communications and media commission (CMC).

"Our revenue for 2012 was US$1.73 billion [Dh6.35bn] and we are targeting double-digit growth for the coming years.

Last year, Zain Iraq invested more than $200 million in expanding and modernising its network; this year we plan to invest 15 per cent of our revenue in the infrastructure," said Wael Ghanayem, the chief financial and operating officer at Zain Iraq.

Mr Ghanayem said the CMC was in the final stages of granting the operators the spectrum required for 3G. "A big investment will be required for 3G infrastructure. We are working with Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Huawei."

All three mobile operators in Iraq run 2G networks, which provides limited speed and capacity for mobile broadband connections. With 3G connectivity, data usage is expected to grow exponentially in the country.

"In Iraq data penetration is less than 10 per cent so there is huge potential for growth. In neighbouring countries, where they have 3G, data contributes 20 to 30 per cent to total revenues," said Mr Ghanayem.

Zain Iraq, a subsidiary of the Kuwaiti Zain Group, is working on launching its initial public offering in line with the terms of its licence issued in 2007. All three Iraqi mobile operators were required to float 25 per cent of their shares on the Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX). Asiacell is the only one to have completed its offering, raising $1.24bn last month.

"We are in the final stages of changing the company from a private one to a joint-stock company. Once we get the approval from the companies registrar there are other procedures we have to go through before listing on the ISX," said Mr Ghanayem.

The company is hoping to begin its share offering by the end of the first half of this year. Mobile penetration in Iraq is about 80 per cent. In 2009, the market value of the telecoms sector in the country grew by 19 per cent, but last year growth slowed down to 12 per cent.

"Growth is there but slowly, we need new services like 3G to boost it. The World Bank has predicted 13 per cent GDP growth for Iraq compared to 2 to 3 per cent globally.

The GDP per capita will grow and that will impact spending on telecoms services," said Mr Ghanayem. At the end of last year, Zain Iraq had 13.7 million subscribers.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kuwait Flight to Iraq

Travellers stand in line with their luggage at Baghdad International Airport

Baghdad Invest - 27/02/2013 Baghdad.

After a freeze that lasted more than two decades, Iraq's state airline on Wednesday launched its first flight to Kuwait since former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invaded the neighbouring nation in 1990.

Iraq's foreign and transport ministers travelled on the symbolic Iraqi Airways flight, hailed by officials as a sign of improving relations between the oil-producing neighbours, and they were greeted by Kuwaiti officials upon landing.

The Iraqi transport ministry said there would now be regular flights between the countries.

"Today was the first flight between Iraq and Kuwait after a stoppage that lasted more than 22 years," the ministry's media advisor Karim al-Nuri said.

"This visit shows that Iraq has started to be open, especially with the state of Kuwait ... I believe that relations are heading in a positive direction."

The invasion of Kuwait led to the first Gulf War in which a U.S.-led coalition intervened to force Iraq out.

Diplomatic ties between the Middle East neighbours were bolstered last year after they came to a settlement over Gulf War-era debts, and by a series of bilateral visits involving Kuwait's ruler and Iraq's prime minister. In December, Kuwait's state-run airline dropped legal cases against Iraqi Airways in return for compensation of $500 million.

Although one small private carrier offers direct flights between the two countries, major airlines route through cities such as Dubai even though the nations' capitals lie just 560 km (346 miles) apart. Kuwait's state-run carrier has yet to restart flights to Iraq.

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