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NSN Iraq Daily Update 1/22/08

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ASYLUM PROGRAM FALLS SHORT

Asylum program is insufficient for Iraqis who have aided U.S. forces. Thousands of Iraqis have assisted U.S. forces since the 2003 invasion, risking their lives and leaving their families vulnerable to retaliation from insurgents. More than 250 of the interpreters working with the U.S. have been killed. However, the U.S. asylum program for translators seeking to leave the country has fallen far short of demand and, at times, short of what other coalition countries have offered their Iraqi staff. Iraqi interpreters seeking U.S. asylum must file an application, pay a $375 fee, and provide proof that they worked for U.S. units for more than one year and a recommendation from a flag officer certifying their service and their security clearances. They must be interviewed by the departments of State and Homeland Security, either in Iraq or a neighboring country. The United States does not pay the cost of travel outside Iraq for these interviews. [Washington Post, 1/22/08]

SECTARIAN RIFTS DEEPEN AMONG SUNNI TRIBES

The possible rise of militias puts Marines in the middle of a longstanding Sunni tribal spat. The Sunni power brokers in Husaybah--the mayor, the sheiks, and the local Iraqi army general-- are from the Albu Mahal tribe, the most powerful in the region. The Mahals were the first of the tribes to join with the U.S. in fighting the insurgency, and they are particularly suspicious that their archrivals, the Al Karbuli tribe, may be trying to form a militia by creating all-Karbuli units within the Iraqi security forces. Moreover, The Mahals also believe that the Karbulis have ties with the Shi'a-led government in Baghdad that will allow them to secure favors and contracts. The Karbulis have denied it, and Lt. Col. Peter Baumgarten spends most of his time in a kind of shuttle diplomacy among the four major tribes, trying to assure them that they will share in the construction contracts and job creation. [LA Times, 1/22/08]

LACK OF POLITICAL RECONCILIATION IS CRIPPLING IRAQ

Iraqi MPs are refusing to ratify the 2008 budget, reflecting the deep political divisions that also surround the draft oil and gas law, which has been stalled before parliament for more than a year. Parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani called leaders of the various political blocs to a meeting Monday to urge them to endorse the budget, saying the delay was harming the interests of the Iraqi people, but the leaders refused to budge from their positions. The leader of the Shi'a bloc Fadhila said they were unwilling to vote for the budget because it "does did not cater to the needs of Iraqis" and "there are unjustifiable allocations." The head of the Sadrist bloc said his MPs rejected the budget because it did not give enough money to teachers nor did it resolve the issue of monthly food rations to citizens. Most of the unease stems from a decision to allocate 17% of the budget to the oil-rich autonomous Kurdish region and pay for its peshmerga security force from the national defense budget. MP Iyad al-Samarrai, head of parliament's finance committee and MP for the powerful Sunni National Concord Front, accused the government of evading questions about the budget and of not being accountable for its spending. [AFP, 1/22/08]

IMPORTANT VEHICLE QUESTIONED

Hopes for MRAP questioned after blast. The first fatality inflicted by a roadside bomb on an MRAP, the new Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armored vehicle that the U.S. military is counting on to reduce casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq, occurred Saturday when the vehicle rolled over a bomb buried beneath a road southeast of Baghdad. The military has been careful to point out that the new vehicle is not impervious to attack, and that a sufficiently powerful bomb can destroy any vehicle. Still, a forensic team was flown in immediately to inspect the charred wreckage, from which wires and tangled metal protruded, to determine whether the bombing had revealed a design flaw. "Before this, lots of soldiers thought the MRAP was indestructible, but nothing is indestructible," Specialist Matthew Gregg, 24, an MRAP gunner, said after driving past the wreckage. "To drive past it three or four times now, it reminds you that everything is unpredictable out here." [NY Times, 1/22/08]


SECTARIAN VIOLENCE RAGES ACROSS IRAQ

A Shi'a cult clashes with Iraq Security Forces, killing 80 and leaving scores injured. "Supporters of the Mahdi," a messianic Shi'a cult, fought with police in the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriya, as thousands of pilgrims mark Ashura, the most important holiday for the sect. The cult's leader, Ahmed Hassan, was killed along with nearly 50 of his followers in the fighting in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. About 60 gunmen were arrested and large quantities of weapons were seized from a mosque linked to the group. Southern Iraq, which is overwhelmingly Shi'a, is home to a number of small doomsday-style cults whose leaders either claim to be the Mahdi or believe they can hasten his return by spreading chaos. Fearful that the bloodshed could spread, authorities imposed indefinite curfews in Basra, Nasiriya and the holy city of Najaf. [LA Times, 1/19/07]

Teenage bomber targets meeting of tribal leaders. A 13-year-old boy wearing an explosives-packed vest blew himself up Sunday among a group of tribal leaders in the western province of Anbar, becoming one of the youngest suicide bombers since the U.S.-led invasion. The explosion killed at least three other people and wounded eight. The attack targeted a meeting of leaders from the Anbar Awakening Council, a U.S.-supported group that has turned against Sunni extremists in Iraq. [Washington Post, 1/22/08]

Suicide bomber kills 17 at funeral. A suicide bomber infiltrated a funeral Monday evening, killing 17 people and injuring twelve in northern Iraq. The funeral for a local man was being held in a mainly Sunni village south of Baiji, the oil refinery town that was the scene of a major bombing last month. Police there speculated that the bomber might have been targeting Interior Ministry officials attending the funeral. [Washington Post, 1/22/08]

Crowd turns on actor reenacting the slaying of Iman Hussein. During an Ashura celebration in Basra, the crowd turned on the actor who was performing the part of his killer and beat the man so badly that he returned with an assault rifle to exact revenge. At least one onlooker was killed in the crossfire when soldiers tried to subdue the man and his relatives, security officials said. [LA Times, 1/19/07]