Iraqi leaders announced Aug. 3 they had agreed to start negotiations on keeping an American military presence in the country after the current Dec. 31 deadline for a withdrawal of all US troops under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The decision was announced after more than four hours of closed-door talks led by President Jalal Talabani. Deputy Prime Minister Rosh Nuri Shawis said in a statement: "All those present agreed to authorize the government of Iraq to start negotiations with the American side." There are currently 46,000 US troops in Iraq. US officials have broached a number of 10,000 remaining after the deadline. (CSM, Aug. 3)
In a July 13 statement, Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to revise a draft law it said would limit freedom of assembly and expression, in contravention both of international standards and Iraq's own constitution. The bill contains provisions that would curtail the right to protest hold demonstrations that are seen to violate the "public interest" or the "general order or public morals"—without providing any definition of those terms. Those provisions, as well as the proposed criminalization of speech that "insults" a "sacred" symbol or person, clearly violate international law, Human Rights Watch said. “This law will undermine Iraqis’ right to demonstrate and express themselves freely,” the watchdog’s deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, said. (AFP, HRW, July 13)
A roadside bomb killed two US soldiers July 7 at a checkpoint outside Victory Base Camp in Baghdad. The attack follows the deadliest month for US troops in Iraq in two years. June saw 15 US soldiers killed in Iraq, nearly all in attacks by Shi'ite militias. The 46,000 US troops currently stationed in Iraq are to leave by year’s end under a 2008 withdrawal agreement. However, the White House is "offering" to keep up to 10,000 soldiers in the country beyond that deadline, if asked by Iraq's government. (AP, July 7)
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has maintained for months that he'll stand by his agreement for the withdrawal of all US troops from the country by the end of this year, has in recent weeks done a turnaround—now saying he'd support keeping some troops in Iraq after the deadline. Maliki outlined his position at a press conference, saying he's willing to meet Iraq's elected officials and consider whether some US troops should stay beyond this December. "We won't get unanimous agreement on this issue," Maliki said. "But if we get 70 or 80 percent, isn't that the will of the people? Isn't this the democracy we have worked so hard for?" (NPR, May 29).
Security forces stormed the provincial council building in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on March 29 after an hours-long shootout with gunmen that left 41 dead and 95 wounded. The gunmen, wearing military uniforms and suicide vests, swarmed into the council building immediately after a suicide bomber detonated his payload and cleared the way. A car bomb exploded shortly afterwards as police reinforcements were arriving. Those who did not die as a result of explosions were murdered, execution-style, by the gunmen, authorities said. A curfew was imposed in Tikrit, capital of the Sunni-majority Salaheddin province, which has long been a bastion of the insurgency.
Thousands of protesters converged on cities and towns across Iraq March 4, streaming in on foot in defiance of vehicle bans for rallies over corruption, unemployment and poor public services. Some 2,000 gathered in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, while large protests were also reported in Mosul, Basra and Nasiriyah and Basra. The Baghdad rally eventually ended when security forces overran the square, forcing the remaining 200-odd protesters to leave. In Basra, security forces used water cannons to disperse demonstrators. The wave of protests has prompted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to give his cabinet 100 days to instate reforms or face the sack—but he remains the target of popular ire. The Baghdad protesters chanted "Liar, Liar, Nuri al-Maliki" as well as "Oil for the people, not for the thieves" and "Yes for democracy and the protection of freedom." (Middle East Online, March 4)
UN Special Representative to Iraq Ad Melkert issued a statement March 1 expressing concern about reports of human rights violations in the nationwide protest campaign now shaking the country. Melkert said reported violations included "disproportionate" use of force by security forces against protesters. "Fundamental changes are needed for creating stability and trust," said Melkert, who is the head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). (AP, UN News Centre, March 2)
Protests were held in towns and cities across Iraq Feb. 25, with marchers filling Baghdad's Tahrir Square in a national "day of rage." In Mosul, three were killed when security forces fired on the crowd. Four were also killed in clashes between protesters and security forces in Haweija, a town north of Kirkuk. (