Sunday, July 29, 2007

Iraqis greet Asian Cup triumph with joyful gunfire

Jul 29 03:35 PM US/Eastern


Iraq erupted in joy and celebratory gunfire on Sunday when the country's national football squad won the Asian Cup and united its bitterly divided communities in a rare moment of celebration.

Thousands of Iraqis, including members of the security forces, defied a strict government ceasefire order to welcome the team's 1-0 victory over local rivals Saudi Arabia with an intense barrage of gunfire.

Soldiers, police and civilian gunmen loosed off long volleys of automatic fire skywards and into the waters of the Tigris within seconds of the final whistle in Jakarta, beamed live to cafes and homes across the country.

The Iraqi victory against the three-time Asian Cup champions was a precious moment of shared national joy in a country beset by civil strife.

"Now it is our right to enjoy this victory that our heroic team has brought to us. They have brought us joy that we never experienced in the past, when we suffered greatly," said Haidar Mustafa, a Baghdad student.

Around him in a downtown coffee shop, dozens of fans leapt and sang with joy after seeing skipper Younis Mahmoud's powerful header seal a first Asian Cup victory for his mixed team of Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds.

From the southern Shiite port city of Basra, to executed Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein's northern hometown of Tikrit and even to Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, flag-waving crowds celebrated.

Earlier, Baghdad security authorities had imposed an overnight vehicle curfew in order to prevent insurgent car bomb attacks and ordered police to arrest anyone who took part in the traditional celebratory gunfire.

In the hours leading up to the match there were reports that two foreign Arab fighters had been apprehended while trying to move car bombs into Baghdad's Zayuna district, which has been targeted by Sunni extremists.

Zayuna was struck by one of two car bombs that went off following last week's semi-final victory against South Korea, shattering the celebrations and killing at least 50 people.

"The security leadership of Baghdad operations has decided to enact a curfew for vehicles, motorbikes and carts," Brigadier General Qassim Atta, spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, said before the match.

A senior interior ministry official strongly advised Iraqis to hold their celebratory fire and to stay in their own areas of the city.

Nevertheless, troops and cops were among the first to start pumping out rounds from their AK-47 assault rifles and Glock pistols at checkpoints and barracks in the centre of the war-torn capital.

Elsewhere in the city large crowds gathered in the streets waving flags, dancing and -- in Shiite neighbourhoods -- bearing aloft large banners with pictures of revered saints.

Iraqis traditionally celebrate sporting victories by firing guns into the air, a practice grown more lethal in recent years as arms have proliferated across the war-torn country.

People nevertheless welcomed the victory from their heroic team, one that would -- at least temporarily -- unite their divided country in jubilation.

In a statement released immediately after the match Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called the victory "a lesson in how to triumph over the impossible to realise victory".

"May you and Iraq live in freedom and victory, with no place for destroyers or killers. Your greatness will remain in the hearts of the Iraqi people, and your joy is stronger than the hate of the terrorists."

Since US-led forces overthrew Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in March 2003, the country has slipped into a chaotic turf war between rival armed factions, with extremists driving a wedge between Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds.

With Maliki's coalition government riven by internal rivalries the national football team carries the rare honour of commanding support from across the country's fractured society.

The United States is pressing Iraq's government to make progress in national reconciliation efforts, and a senior US diplomat said politicians should follow the players' example.

"They were truly united, unlike the government and the political process, where the unity that exists is very much hedged," UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington's former envoy in Iraq, said following the match.

"This unity was truly a united effort by the team that produced results. And I hope that the Iraqi politicians will learn from the soccer team," he added.

Earlier this month, the White House released an interim report that found satisfactory progress by Iraq's government on only eight of 18 security and political benchmarks set by Congress.

Copyright AFP 2007, AFP stories and photos shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

US troops in Iraq mark July 4 holiday

Yahoo News July 4, 2007

Hundreds of U.S. troops marked the Fourth of July by re-enlisting in the military Wednesday while others took their oaths of American citizenship in ceremonies at the main U.S. headquarters in Iraq.

A total of 588 troops signed up for another stint in the military, according to a U.S. military statement. Another 161 became naturalized American citizens.

"No bonus, no matter the size, can adequately compensate you for the contribution each of you has made and continues to make as a custodian of our nation's defenses," the top U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, told the audience at Camp Victory.

"Nor can any amount of money compensate you adequately for the sacrifices you make serving here in Iraq or the burdens your loved ones face at home in your absence. And we certainly cannot put a price on the freedoms you defend or those we are trying to help the Iraqis establish and safeguard here in the land of the two rivers."

Petraeus dedicated the Independence Day ceremony to the memory of two soldiers who were killed in action before they could be sworn in as citizens.

They were Sgt. Kimel Watt, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was killed June 3 in Baghdad, and Spc. Farid Elazzouzi of Paterson, N.J., who died June 14 in a bombing near Kirkuk.

"Words cannot express the admiration I feel for these two men or the sadness I feel for our nation's loss and their families' sacrifice," Petraeus said.

Visiting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., congratulated the new citizens and spoke of the hardships endured fighting in an unpopular war.

"You know that you who have endured the dangers and deprivations of war so that the worst thing would not befall us, so that America might be secure in our freedom," McCain said. "As you know, the war in which you have fought has divided the American people. But it has divided no American in their admiration for you. We all honor you."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., led the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance.

At a U.S. base outside Baqouba, Sgt. Jesse Jones, 24, of Olympia, Wash., spent Independence Day by taking a shower and getting a haircut. His platoon was on break before heading back to fighting in Baqouba.

"Today I'm just basically relaxing and refitting, getting ready to go back into the city," he said. "As much as I want to be home, I don't regret being here. This is a good place to celebrate the Fourth of July. Not only are we celebrating independence, we're fighting for independence, too."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

CAR BOMBS - The west's new problem

Taken from The Independent - UK:

The hunt for the London terrorists: Attempt may show change of tactics
Did the attackers simply fail to make a bigger device, or is this al-Qa'ida's new way of igniting fear on the streets?

Paul Lashmar and Cole Moreton report

Published: 01 July 2007

The London car bombers could not have destroyed the Tiger Tiger club and killed people in it, experts said last night. The huge manhunt for the would-be mass murderers by police and security services was given new urgency by an attack on Glasgow airport yesterday and the fear of further incidents.

However, it emerged that the Haymarket gas and nail bomb was almost certainly not big enough to have brought down the building, as previously reported. It would have killed and maimed within 100 metres.

Security forces have two theories. The first is that a recent crackdown stopped the terrorists getting their hands on as powerful a bomb as they would have liked. The second is that al-Qa'ida - still the most likely suspect - has changed its tactics. Instead of striking at showpiece buildings it is choosing smaller, unpredictable targets that will cause fear and panic on ordinary streets. One may, of course, have led to the other.

Police are also believed to be urgently seeking three men who went missing while under anti-terror control orders. One of them, a 26-year-old former Tube driver of Algerian descent, is alleged to have talked about wanting to blow up a nightclub. All three were previously thought to have left the country.

A first bomb was found in a Mercedes outside the Tiger Tiger club in Haymarket just before 2am on Friday. An ambulance crew treating a man who had hurt his head saw vapours in the car and alerted the police. Bomb disposal officers risked their lives to defuse the lethal combination of petrol, gas and nails inside.

Police think that an explosion here might have been intended to draw panicking revellers out on to the streets, where they would be have been joined by the emergency services. Then another, bigger bomb in a second Mercedes among them could have been triggered, causing hundreds of deaths.

A blue 280E model Mercedes was illegally parked in Cockspur Street, near Trafalgar Square, but was towed to a Park Lane car pound at 3.30am on Friday. The explosive device inside did not go off. If successful, the trap would have resembled the attack on backpackers in a Bali nightclub in 2002, when a suicide bomb led those escaping straight into the path of a van packed with explosives.

"The danger here is that we are entering the era of the car bomb," said an intelligence source. "In the past, al-Qa'ida-style terrorists have used high-explosive bombs aimed at symbolic, high-profile targets," he said, but that might have changed out of necessity. "It's easy to make a gas and nail car bomb without raising suspicion."

The plot has striking similarities with one that resulted in Dhiren Barot being jailed for life last November, for conspiring to park limousines packed with gas canisters underneath high-profile buildings, with the intention of later detonating them. Another member of the gang jailed in connection with that plot had a brother called Lamine Adam who allegedly spoke of attacking clubs. Adam was put under a control order with his younger brother Ibrahim, 20, and their friend Cerie Bullivant, 24. But all three disappeared.

It is now known that the bomb outside Tiger Tiger would have been set off by a call to a mobile phone in the car triggering a home-made incendiary detonator. This would have set light to petrol vapour, instantly exploding petrol cans in the car and the fuel tank. As the car burned very quickly the heat would have detonated gas cylinders containing compressed gas, causing a large explosion and scattering the nails.

Although deadly - the ambulance crew and any revellers on the pavement would have been killed - it would not have caused serious damage to the club or brought down the building.

The two cars were meant to have burned in the attacks, destroying all evidence. Instead they are now in the specialist Forensic Explosives Laboratory concealed in the countryside in Kent. That is where experts pored over the double-decker bus blown apart in the 7 July 2005 attacks in London.

In lab X47 teams of scientists are examining the two Mercedes, looking for evidence such as hair, skin, sweat or clothes fibres. Others are examining the chemical make-up of the bombs, which may lead them to a particular part of the country, even a specific supplier.

There could also be incriminating documents that were meant to be destroyed by fire. Police will take the mobile phone removed by the bomb disposal team and find out whether it had been bought or stolen. They will find the numbers it has called and received.

Although delighted at this high-quality forensic evidence, the police hope to capture clear images of the drivers and any passengers. The London car bombers chose to strike in one of the world's most heavily filmed areas. Yesterday there were reports that the police had captured a "crystal clear" image of a suspect leaving the vehicle outside the Haymarket club, but no pictures have yet been made public.

Experts were last night sifting through hours of material recorded by a network of 33 street CCTV cameras in the West End. Three more cameras are located in vans that tour the area, and Westminster council has an additional 30 cameras that can be moved around and operated through laptops. Detectives were also looking to trace the routes the cars took towards their destination, using 52 cameras that monitor every road entrance to central London.

This so-called "ring of steel" may tell police where the cars came from, enabling them to trace their starting points.

Whitehall sources said there had not been any specific intelligence and no one had claimed responsibility for the attempted bombings.

Intelligence sources say that two rather than one car bomb points to the existence of a cell of al-Qa'ida sympathisers. The unsophisticated devices suggest a "home-grown" cell of radical British Islamists rather than a cell infiltrated from abroad.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command, said yesterday's attack on Glasgow made it obvious that the public should be on their guard.

MI5 said last year it believed Islamist radicals were plotting at least 30 major terrorist attacks in Britain and it was tracking some 1,600 suspects.