AP informs us, citing a post to an unnamed jihadist wesbite, that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, "emir" of the Islamic State in Iraq, formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, has announced a merger with Syria's Nusra Front to form a new organization, the "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham"—the latter term refering to Syria, or the whole Levant. "It is time to declare to al-Sham and to the world that Jabhat al-Nusra is simply a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq," the statement reads. Al-Baghdadi said the Iraqi group is providing half its budget to the Syrian counterpart, and that the Nusra Front will not have a separate leader but be led by the "people of Syria themselves"—implying that he will be in charge of both.
Ten years after the US-led invasion, Iraq remains enmeshed in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, torture of detainees and unfair trials, said Amnesty International in a new report March 8. "A Decade of Abuses" documents a chronology of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees committed by Iraqi security forces and by foreign troops in the wake of the 2003 invasion. Information was gathered from multiple sources including interviews with detainees, victims' families, refugees, lawyers, human rights activists and others, plus reviews of court papers and other official documents. The report accuses Iraqi authorities of a "continuing failure to observe their obligations to uphold human rights and respect the rule of law in the face of persistent deadly attacks by armed groups, who show callous disregard for civilian life."
Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government announced Feb. 25 that ExxonMobil has begun exploring for oil in the region, stressing that the constitution allow the KRG to sign contracts with foreign oil companies. KRG spokesman Safeen Dezae Spokesman said the KRG looks forward to the development of new oilfields in the region by the transnational giant. But Bahgdad reiterated its rejection of the deal as illegal, and stressed that Exxon must choose between contracts with the KRG or the central government. "We made it clear to Exxon in the last meeting that the answer we expected from them is to either work in the Kurdistan region or to work in southern Iraq," Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi told reporters in Baghdad. (World Bulletin, Turkey, Feb. 26)
A suicide bombing on Feb. 16 killed Brig-Gen. Aouni Ali, the head of Iraq's main intelligence academy, and two guards in Tal Afar, near the northern city of Mosul, while in Sulaiman Pak, just north of Baghdad, a judge was killed by a magnetic "sticky bomb" attached to his car. The judge, Ahmed al-Bayati, had previously received threats while working as an anti-terror investigator, and had to pay kidnappers a $150,000 ransom after his son was abducted last year. That same day, a roadside bomb killed an army lieutenant and wounded two other soldiers in Heet, northwest of the capital. Iraq has seen a rise in attacks in recent weeks, with January the deadliest month since September, according to a tally, although the level of violence is nowhere near that during the peak of the sectarian war in 2007.
OK, the last we heard Mujahedeen Khalq or the People's Mujahadeen Organization of Iran (as the with the spelling of "Qaddafi," the media can't settle on a single rendering, variously presenting the acronym as MEK, MKO or PMOI) had just been dropped from the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list and moved from their Saddam-era headquarters at Camp Ashraf, where they had been protected by the dictator, to Camp Liberty, a former US military base near Baghdad, pending resettlement in an unnamed third country. Months later, they appear to still be at Camp Liberty—and Al Jazeera reports Feb. 9 that unknown militants fired Katyusha rockets down on them there, killing at keast five of their followers.
A military contractor that was accused in a lawsuit by former detainees of the Abu Ghraib prison of conspiring to commit torture has paid $5.28 million to detainees held at the prison and other US detention centers in Iraq. The detainees filed suit against two military defense contractors in federal court in 2008 for alleged torture occurring over a period of four years. The cases against CACI International Inc.and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc were dismissed in September 2011 on the grounds that the companies have immunity as government contractors. A 14-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled 12-2 in May that the dismissal was premature. L-3 Communications Holdings Inc settled the dispute and each of the former detainees who were parties to the lawsuit received a portion of the settlement. The case against CACI is likely to go to trial this summer.
At least 23 people were killed and scores more wounded in a series of attacks across Iraq Dec. 31. At Mussayib on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, seven people—three women, two children and two men—were killed when three houses were blown up. In central Baghdad, a parked car bomb went off next to a tent for Shi'ite pilgrims in Karada neighborhood, killing five people and injuring 25 others. At Khalis, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad, two more Shi'ite pilgrims were killed. Another pilgrim was killed and 11 wounded at Latifiyah, south of Baghdad. Near Baquba, west of Baghdad, gunmen assaulted the house of Kalid Luhaibi, a local leader of the government's National Reconciliation dialogue initiative, killing a security guard and wounding two. (Al Jazeera, Middle East Online, Dec. 31; al-Shofra, Dec. 6)
An ongoing stand-off between an elite force of Iraq's national army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces around the contested northern city of Kirkuk led to skirmishes that left two dead and several wounded at the village of Tuz Khurmatu this week. The army's Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command (DOC), launched in June by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was ostensibly sent to put down the remnants of insurgency in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahaddin governates. But local Kurdish leaders—including Kirkuk governor Najmaddin Karim, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—charge that the real aim of the deployment is to prevent Kirkuk governate from be annexed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), now made up of the governorates of Erbil (also Arbil or Irbil), Slemani (Sulaymaniya) and Duhok. (See map.) A referendum on the future of Kirkuk, mandated by Aritcle 140 of Iraq's constitution, has been repeatedly put off by the central government.