Thursday 22 December 2011

Unrest and conflict in Syria and Iraq

Activists say 111 killed in Syria's "bloodiest day"

(Reuters) - Syrian forces killed 111 people ahead of the start of a mission to monitor President Bashar al-Assad's implementation of an Arab League peace plan, activists said on Wednesday, and France branded the killings an "unprecedented massacre."

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 111 civilians and activists were killed on Tuesday when Assad's forces surrounded them in the foothills of the northern Jabal al-Zawiyah region in Idlib province and unleashed two hours of bombardment and heavy gunfire.

Another 100 army deserters were either wounded or killed, making it the "bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution," he said.

"There was a massacre of unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday," said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. "It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression."

The United States said it was deeply disturbed by reports of indiscriminate killing and warned Assad the violence must stop. Britain said it was shocked by the reports and urged Syria to "end immediately its brutal violence against civilians."

For article GO HERE

From al-Jazeera
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin reports on Syria

Iraq PM warns Sunnis could be shut from power

(Reuters) - Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority rejected a call for all-party talks on Wednesday, ignoring U.S. pressure for dialogue to resolve a sectarian crisis that has erupted since American forces left the country this week.

With fears mounting that the nation of 30 million might one day fragment in chaos in the absence of the U.S. troops who toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned Saddam's fellow Sunnis they faced exclusion from power if they walked out on his ruling coalition.

The main Sunni-backed party, furious at terrorism charges leveled by the Shi'ite-run authorities against Iraq's Sunni vice president on the day Americans left, rejected Maliki's call for all-party talks in the coming days and vowed to try and unseat the prime minister in parliament, a move unlikely to succeed.

For article GO HERE

Sectarian Feud Roils Post-U.S. Iraq
Politicians Accuse Shiite Prime Minister of Maneuvering to Curb Sunni Power

21 December, 2011

A Sunni-Shiite rivalry threatened on Tuesday to unravel the Iraqi government's fragile coalition, days after the last U.S. forces pulled out, in a resurgence of the sectarian feuding that the Americans tried for years to quell.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni Arab leader, taking refuge from an arrest warrant for allegedly plotting to kill prominent Shiites, accused the Shiite prime minister of fabricating the charges as part of a sectarian political vendetta.

The flare-up began with a bid last week by Sunni leaders in Diyala province to win more autonomy from Baghdad through a referendum.

The effort was quickly crushed by days of protests organized by tribes and political parties allied to the Shiite-led central government, with the aid of security forces reporting to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

By Tuesday, roads in and around the provincial capital of Baquba had reopened, after being blocked for days by protesters. But the Sunni Arab governor of Diyala, a majority Sunni Arab province marked by a volatile mix of Shiite Arabs and Kurds, fled Baquba last week to the semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

His Shiite deputy, from a party allied to Mr. Maliki, is now in charge in Diyala, with the backing of an army and police security force estimated by local officials at about 25,000, that receives its orders from Baghdad.

Mr. Maliki said it was necessary to shut down the Diyala autonomy drive to preserve the country's unity and avoid its partition along sectarian and ethnic lines. His aides said the prime minister had nothing to do with the warrant for Mr. Hashemi's arrest, which was issued on Monday by a panel of five judges.

Mr. Maliki's critics say he manipulates the judiciary, security forces and other levers of power for his own political benefit.

"What happened [in Diyala] was to a large extent a coup against democracy," said Diyala Governor Abdul-Naser al-Mahdawi, in a telephone interview.
Vice President Hashemi has also fled to Kurdistan, which has its own security force that doesn't answer to Mr. Maliki.

In a news conference on Tuesday in the northern city of Erbil, Mr. Hashemi said his home and office in Baghdad had been broken into this week by security forces loyal to Mr. Maliki, who rounded up staff members and seized documents and laptops.

He said he intended to remain in Erbil, where he suggested a new investigation of the charges against him could be conducted in the presence of Arab legal monitors.

"I am puzzled by the statement of President Obama when he says we left a democratic Iraq and that the judiciary is independent and that there's transparency and there's no corruption," Mr. Hashemi said. "I am the vice president addressing him today as my home is surrounded by tanks: What democracy are you speaking about Mr. Obama?"

Diplomatic activity by U.S. officials has taken on an urgent tone in the face of the uproar. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Mr. Maliki on Tuesday, stressing the need for political leaders to meet and work through their differences, according to the White House. James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has spoken with Mr. Hashemi in the last few days, according to the State Department.

U.S. defense officials said they weren't overly concerned that the tensions would erupt into widespread violence or further hamper the Iraqi government.

"Sectarian tensions are not new in Iraq," said a defense official. "We believe the Iraqi security forces have proven capable of dealing with it from a security perspective."

The possibility of instability was a chief concern among U.S. military officials who argued in recent months that it would be better to leave even a relatively small number of American troops in Iraq than to withdraw them all. Such a force would help to keep peace between the ethnic and sectarian factions, they argued.

President Barack Obama agreed with that view, but negotiations with Iraqis for a long-term U.S. troop presence broke down over conditions under which U.S. troops would serve.

Mr. Hashemi has clashed with Mr. Maliki in the past, and his former Sunni-dominated political bloc, known as Tawafuq boycotted the previous coalition government headed by Mr. Maliki in 2007 for almost one year.

Mr. Hashemi's Iraqiya political bloc came in first in last year's deadlocked elections but could not form a government on its own, reluctantly joined a coalition headed by Mr. Maliki with U.S. prodding.

The U.S. formally ended its military campaign in Iraq on Thursday, and the last troops officially departed over the weekend. On Tuesday, the American flag representing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq arrived back home by military aircraft.

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