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NSN Iraq Daily Update 2/27/08

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THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION IS RUINING THE U.S. MILITARY

Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, told a Senate panel that the Army is under serious strain from years of war-fighting and must reduce the length of combat tours as soon as possible. "The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance, consumed by the current fight and unable to do the things we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force and restore our flexibility for an uncertain future," Casey said. The Army's top general said he hopes to reduce combat tours for soldiers in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months this summer and would not go back to the longer tours even if President Bush decides to suspend troop reductions for the second half of the year. However, the number of soldiers retained under the service's "stop loss" policy -- which forces some soldiers to stay on beyond their retirement or re-enlistment dates -- is unlikely to be reduced substantially.
[AP, 2/26/08]

TENSIONS CONTINUE ALONG IRAQ'S TURKISH BORDER


The Iraqi government condemned Turkey's incursion into northern Iraq and demanded that turkey withdraw its troops, while Turkish PM thanks U.S. for "cooperation."
"The council expresses its rejection and condemnation to the Turkish military incursion which is considered a violation to the Iraqi sovereignty," the Iraqi cabinet said in a statement. "The cabinet stresses that unilateral military action is not acceptable and threatens good relations between the two neighbors." The semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government also condemned the raids in a special session on Tuesday. Meanwhile the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, defended the operations, saying the military action was "not aimed at northern Iraq but only the terror organization." He said that the Turkish government was "in communication with" the United States and the Iraqi government, and that Turkey was grateful for "the strong, cooperative attitude of the Iraqi administration" and for "intelligence support and cooperation" from the United States. [NY Times, 2/27/08]

Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed the need for Turkish leaders to remove their troops from northern Iraq in the next few days. It's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave," Gates said. "They have to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty. I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that, not months." Gates said he also will ask Turkish leaders in a series of meetings Thursday to address some of the complaints of the Kurds, and move from combat to economic and political initiatives to solve differences with them. The statement marked the first time that Gates put any time limit on the Turkish incursion launched last Thursday. [AP, 2/27/08]

SECTARIAN VIOLENCE CONTINUES TO RAGE

A suicide bomber carried out an attack outside a bus in northern Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least eight people and injuring another eight. The incident occurred north of the city of Tall Afar in Nineveh province, near the city of Mosul, where the foreign-led group al-Qaeda in Iraq remains strong. In Diyala province, armed men set up a fake checkpoint north of the city of Baquba on Tuesday. The men stopped two minibuses and kidnapped 21 passengers. Near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by Sunni volunteers who had turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq, killing three people, police said. [Washington Post, 2/27/08]

Extremists again targeted Shi'a pilgrims headed to a major religious gathering Wednesday when a roadside bomb detonated near a bus in Baghdad, killing one pilgrim. The blast follows a flurry of attacks on a massive pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala. Pilgrims from across Iraq and some foreign visitors are marking the Shi'a religious holiday of Arbaeen. With the latest fatality, at least 64 people have been slain in assaults targeting pilgrims. The worst of the attacks occurred Sunday when a suicide bomber detonated in a roadside refreshment tent packed with worshippers taking a break as they walked to Karbala. At least 56 people were killed. [AP, 2/27/08]

THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT SQUANDERS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR POLITICAL RECONCILIATION BY PUTTING SECTARIAN NEEDS FIRST

Iraq's three-person presidential council rejected Wednesday a measure setting up provincial elections -- seen as a key step to develop Iraq's nascent democracy -- in the latest setback to U.S.-backed national reconciliation efforts. The panel was deciding on a package of laws that were passed by parliament on Feb. 13. The 2008 budget and a law providing limited amnesty were approved. A statement by the panel comprised of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Shi'a Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said, "No agreement has been reached in the Presidency Council to approve the provincial elections draft law and that it has been sent back to the parliament to reconsider the rejected articles." [AP, 2/27/08]