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NSN Iraq Daily Update 3/11/08

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VIOLENCE CONTINUES TO RAGE

8 U.S. soldiers killed in separate attacks in Iraq. In an upscale shopping district in central Baghdad on Monday, a man detonated an explosives-filled vest he was wearing, killing five soldiers and wounding three others and an Iraqi interpreter who accompanied them. In a separate attack in Diyala province on Monday, three more American soldiers and an interpreter were also killed when they were attacked with an improvised bomb. The suicide bombing in Baghdad was the deadliest single attack on American soldiers in the capital since the height of the troop buildup here last summer. Military officials did not release details of the attack or explain how the suicide bomber was able to approach the soldiers so easily. But an Iraqi Army officer at a checkpoint near the site of the bombing said the suicide bomber was a young man who had walked up to the soldiers and engaged them in conversation. "He came and stood beside them and started talking to them and then detonated himself," the officer said. Reports from Iraqi witnesses suggest that the soldiers may have let down their guard because of the relative quite of the last few months, leaving the safety of their Humvees and chatting with residents and shopkeepers. The attacks underscored how fragile security in Iraq remains despite a recent drop in violence. [NY Times, 3/11/08]

At least 16 people were killed when a civilian passenger bus was hit by a roadside bomb in southern Iraq. At least 22 people were wounded in the bombing, which occurred on the Basra-Nasiriyah road some 430 kilometers (267 miles) south of Baghdad, The bus had earlier left the southern port city of Basra, he said. [AFP, 3/11/08]

IRAQI GOVERNMENT IS INCAPABLE OF PROVIDING BASIC SERVICES

Electricity output has fallen since July 2007, and while the insurgency is a major factor, the Oil and Electricity Ministries have bickered ever since they were reconstituted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003. All over Iraq, generating plants sit idle for lack of fuel. The State Department estimates that on a typical day about 1,500 megawatts of power, or one-third of the country's peak output, are unavailable because the Electricity Ministry cannot get enough fuel. The cash-starved Electricity Ministry must beg for whatever fuel the Oil Ministry can spare, while buying as much as it can from places like Kuwait. The number of hours a day of electricity remains a dispiritingly scarce commodity, even though more than $6 billion, mostly in American money, has been devoted to improving supply. From an encouraging peak of 5,530 megawatts last July 11, typical daily peaks have slipped back to around 4,500 megawatts, according to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. That's only about 500 megawatts more than what it was shortly after the start of reconstruction five years ago -- before the completion of thousands of American-supported projects. Summer peak demand in the country will be at least 11,000 megawatts, the State Department estimates. Since the Oil Ministry makes the government so makes $39.8 billion by selling their oil on the market, Prime Minister Maliki does not want to give it up to the Electricity Ministry foe free. [NY Times, 3/11/08]

THE COST OF WAR CONTINUES TO SOAR

Despite fewer troops, cost of British military operations in Iraq to rise. A parliamentary committee warned Monday that Britain's military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq were likely to cost almost twice as much for the past 12 months as they did in the previous financial year, despite a drop in British troop numbers in Iraq. The committee report estimated this year's costs at $6.7 billion. The Defense Ministry said the rise was caused partly by higher combat bonuses paid to troops and partly by increased expenditure on "force protection," particularly new armored vehicles to protect soldiers from roadside bombs that have killed increasing numbers of British troops in Afghanistan. American defense experts have estimated the cost of American military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq at $8 billion a month. [NY Times, 3/11/08]

INVESTIGATIONS INTO PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS CONTINUE

Yesterday, House oversight committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman called for a wide-ranging federal inquiry into Blackwater's employment practices. In letters to the Internal Revenue Service, the Small Business Administration and the Labor Department, Waxman questioned Blackwater's classification of its workers as "independent contractors" rather than employees. That designation has allowed the company to obtain $144 million in contracts set aside for small businesses and to avoid paying as much as $50 million in withholding taxes under State Department contracts, Waxman said. The allegations came as a team of Justice Department and FBI investigators completed a two-week visit to Baghdad, where they interviewed additional witnesses in connection with a Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater security personnel guarding U.S. diplomats killed 17 civilians at a Baghdad traffic circle. [Washington Post, 3/11/08]