Entries in Iraq (192)


Ahmadinejad Says Goodbye to Iraq as Iranian President

(BAGHDAD) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have turned into something of a pariah in his homeland but he's still welcomed in Iraq.

With Ahmadinejad preparing to turn over the civilian reins of power to President-elect Hassan Rowhani, he made one last official visit to Baghdad Thursday to essentially reiterate the new ties the two governments have after years of conflict.

When Saddam Hussein was Iraq's leader, there was no love lost between Baghdad and Tehran. However, Hussein’s ouster, thanks to the U.S.-led invasion, helped bring Iraq and Iran closer together, especially with a Shiite government now in control.

Ahmadinejad, who last visited Baghdad in 2008, said during brief remarks, "We are determined to make use of all available opportunities to develop brotherly relations."

It's expected that these ties will continue unabated with Rowhani in control, although he blamed the old administration this past week for the poor state of the Iranian economy.

Currently, the two countries are engaged in $13 billion in annual trade.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Foreign Minister Says Iraq Can't Stop Iran Arms Shipments to Syria

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Iraq does “not have the ability to stop” the transport of weapons from Iran to Syria through its airspace without help, Iraq’s foreign minister said on Saturday.

“We reject and condemn the transfer of weapons through our airspace and we will inform the Iranian side of that formally,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview published Saturday.

Without elaborating on what Iran may be delivering to Syria, Zebari said to anyone who thought Iraq was ignoring arms shipments, “I invite you, in the name of the government to help us stop these flights across Iraqi airspace.”

His comments come 10 months after ABC News first reported U.S. officials were furious with Iraq for allowing Iran to use its airspace, violating a U.N. Security Council ban on weapons exports from the Islamic Republic.

Last September, State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that the U.S. had warned Iraqi officials about the issue and as recently as March 2013, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Baghdad to begin inspecting planes flying from Tehran to Damascus.

“Anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said in Baghdad. At the time, the New York Times reported that Iranian planes delivering arms to Syria passed through Iraq almost daily.

But Zebari said that their inspections had only turned up non-lethal aid including food and medicine.

The Syrian regime has long been propped up by the Shiite leadership in Iran, which sees the survival of President Bashar al-Assad as a key to its regional strength and leverage. In keeping Assad’s Alawite government afloat, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam, Tehran seeks to counterbalance the U.S.’s relationship with Israel and Iran’s Arab rivals.  Iran has sent money, weapons and fighters to support the Syrian army, though most of the extra manpower has come from Lebanon’s leading Islamic military and political force, Hezbollah, also supported by Iran.

Most recently, a senior State Department official told ABC News that according to the Free Syrian Army, Hezbollah and Iranian fighters played a key role on the ground in the battle of Qusair.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN Reports May Was Deadliest Month in Iraq in Five Years

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As many had feared, May not only turned out to be the deadliest month in Iraq since American forces left the country a year-and-a-half ago but also the month with the most fatalities since June 2008.

According to statistics released last Saturday by the United Nations, at least 1,045 civilians and security personnel died in May due to violence, largely because of the rise in sectarian conflicts.

The greater Baghdad area alone accounted for more than half of those killed by insurgents and militants seeking to stir up simmering animosities between Sunnis and Shiites.

Car bombs and other types of explosives were the primary killing instruments used.

Calling May's death toll "a sad record," Martin Kobler, special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, said, "Iraqi political leaders must act immediately to stop this intolerable bloodshed."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly urged calm, vowing to go after the perpetrators of violent acts.

Nonetheless, his requests for national unity seem to be falling on deaf ears with Sunni lawmakers and tribesmen blaming him for conditions leading to a revival of sectarian tensions.

The U.N.'s death toll may be called into dispute since Iraqi officials claim it's closer to 580. However, the international body claims its numbers are more accurate, saying they're based on direct investigation and credible outside sources.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Iraqi Prime Minister Calls for Unity While Violence Escalates

Photo by Iraqi Prime Minister office via Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- With sectarian-style violence hitting too close to home, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried putting on a display of much needed national unity during a press conference in Baghdad Tuesday.

Since late April, terrorist bombings have picked up in intensity throughout the country with hundreds of fatalities and fears that Iraq could be headed back to the days when Shiites and Sunnis engaged in open warfare following the deposal of dictator Saddam Hussein.

As Maliki himself has been criticized for marginalizing Sunnis and Kurds, the leader gathered his top ministers and leading Sunni politicians "to send a message of reassurance that all are in agreement on shouldering their responsibility in confronting the outlaws regardless of their affiliation, sect or political party they belong to."

In perhaps his toughest pronouncement since the current crisis began, the prime minister vowed, "We will chase down all the illegal militias and armed gangs that want to instigate a wave of societal fighting. As far as we are concerned this constitutes a red line."

Al Qaeda militants have taken advantage of this period of uncertainty by launching more deadly bomb attacks.  Even before al-Maliki spoke, an explosion at a bus stop in Baghdad's teeming Sadr City slum killed six people and wounded 20.

This followed Monday's barrage of bombings in the capital that left nearly 70 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Southern Iraqi City Invaded by Snakes, 60 Dead

iStockphoto(SAYID DKHEEL, Iraq) -- The residents of a southern Iraqi city have to worry about more than a war and deadly militants. The city of Sayid Dkheel is also facing an invasion of snakes, many of them venomous.

The snakes, which include cobras, have shown up with the rising temperatures in search of a cooler refuge. Since then, they've reportedly attacked scores of people, leaving 60 dead.

To make matters worse, according to residents, the central government in Baghdad has ignored their requests for medicine and proper equipment to treat the often fatal snake bites. Without medical supplies, bites that could have been treated prove fatal.

As a result, many people have fled their homes while they wait for assistance or until the snakes leave town.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Brit Convicted of Selling Fake Bomb Detectors, Many in Iraq Still Using Them

Oli Scarff/Getty Images(LONDON) -- An antenna on a black hinge was once a silly, useless gift for anyone trying to find lost golf balls. But British businessman Jim McCormick claimed the device could detect bombs, drugs, even ivory, turning a piece of plastic into a multi-million dollar business -- despite knowing it was ineffective. And for that, a British court ruled, he has blood on his hands.

McCormick, 57, slapped a new label on the $20 "Golfinder" and marketed it as an "Advanced Detecting Equipment," selling them for as much as $5,000 each to Iraqi officials, whom he bribed. He improved the design and sold 6,000 second-generation devices for as much as $40,000 each, amassing a fortune of more than $75 million, according to legal documents.

A British court Tuesday convicted McCormick of three counts of fraud, and now police vow to go after his riches, which include a $7 million British home formerly owned by Nicholas Cage, houses in Florida and Cyprus, and a $1 million yacht.

"McCormick is a fraudster who over the last 10 years has made, manufactured, and sold a device that is completely incapable of detecting explosives, drugs, or any other substance," Detective Superintendent Nigel Rock told reporters. "There are no working parts in that device. It is empty."

McCormick's main market was Iraq, where he traveled at the height of the sectarian war and sold $40 million worth of the devices, according to a BBC Newsnight investigation that led to a British government ban on its sale.

Iraqi police officials introduced "Mr. Jim" at press conferences, and officers fanned out across the city, holding the simple-looking antennas, believing they would detect bombs.

But the court ruled Tuesday McCormick knew all along that the devices couldn't even detect a golf ball, and that he put people at risk.

"McCormick for 10 years has sold this device in countries that are wracked with terrorism and wracked with explosions," said Rock. "He has paid no heed to the people who've stood on checkpoints and security posts believing this device worked."

Officials in Iraq have said they provided a false sense of security. In one case, according to the British media, a bomb that exploded in Baghdad crossed through 23 checkpoints where McCormick's fake bomb detector was being used.

"He has no conscience. He is morally bankrupt," Haneen Alwan, an Iraqi woman who needed 59 operations after being injured in a January 2009 bomb blast, told the BBC. Alwan’s unborn child was lost in the blast. "How could he sell them just for money and destroy other people's lives?"

McCormick's claims were extraordinary. He said his company, ATSC, had four laboratories working independently and that an employee "like Q in James Bond" had created the technology. He commissioned low-budget commercials in which a house and car blow up before the screen fills with the words "PREVENT IT." His commercials and literature claimed to detect explosives within 200 feet, even if they were deep underground or inside lead-lined rooms. As one expert witness who testified in the trial put it: the device's antenna "was no more a radio antenna than a 9-inch nail."

The devices were also sold to Pakistan and have been used outside of major American hotel chains in Karachi, as witnessed by this reporter.

"We will now pursue McCormick's wealth," Rock said, "and make sure crime does not pay."

Iraqi General Jihad al-Jabiri, who used to lead the Baghdad bomb squad and helped McCormick win his contract, is now serving a jail term for corruption.

Reporters cornered McCormick outside the courtroom. Asked how he could continue to defend his product, he said simply, "I'm still defending it. I still am."

Meanwhile, Iraqis are still using his device at checkpoints across Baghdad.
As part of the BBC investigation, a whistleblower described how he walked away from the company after confronting McCormick.

"I said, 'If this really doesn't work, I can't be any part of it,'" the whistleblower told the BBC. "He said, 'It does exactly what it's designed to.' I expected him to say detect explosives, ivory, gold. He never said that. He said, 'It makes money.'"

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Kerry Urges Iraqis to Stop Iranian Aid to Syria

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State John Kerry made his first visit to Iraq on Sunday as America's top envoy in an effort to convince leaders there that they must stop Iran from using Iraqi airspace to transport military assistance to Syria.

Washington has been specific with Baghdad that such allowances should cease. Yet despite assurances from Iraq, the transfer of Iranian arms and fighters continues with Baghdad apparently looking the other way.

Kerry's message to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is that the over flights must end, or at least, Iranian cargo needs to be examined before it is allowed to continue to Syria.

The U.S. government isn't buying the excuse that Iranian planes are only carrying "humanitarian" aid to Damascus. Tehran remains one of President Bashar al-Assad's few allies in the region.

Kerry's unannounced trip was also intended as an appeal to the Shiite government to stop marginalizing the Sunni majority.

The Shiites now wield most of the power in Iraq with both Sunnis and Kurds accusing al-Maliki of cutting them out of important decisions to determine Iraq's progress forward.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Deadly Car Bomb Blast in Southern Iraq

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq to depose then-dictator Saddam Hussein, violence still plagues the country.

A car bomb explosion in the southern port city of Basra Sunday killed at least 10 people and wounded another 16 people, according to the head of the Basra provincial council security committee.

Basra is a Shiite-dominated city and the center of the region's vast oil production, which fuels the Iraqi economy.

During the war, which began on March 20, 2003 and ended in December 2011, Basra was occupied by British forces.  It was also among the first cities to see a foreign military presence end as the war began to wind down.

Since then, Basra, like much of the southern part of the country, has escaped most of the post-war violence that has been concentrated in central and northern Iraq.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


US Says Iraq Looking the Other Way as Iran Ships Weapons to Syria

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. is losing patience with Baghdad for allegedly permitting Iran to use its airspace for flights to Syria.

An unidentified American official complained that Iranians are supplying weapons to government forces in Syria as President Bashar al-Assad tries to hold onto power in a conflict that is now entering its third year.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the Obama administration last October that Iranian planes would be regularly searched but the official claimed that there have only been two searches since then that the U.S. knows of.

However, according to al-Maliki's government, there isn't much it can do to prevent the flyovers.  Meanwhile, two Iraqi lawmakers contend that the prime minister knows about the weapons transfer from Iran to Syria and chooses to do nothing about it.

The Shiite government in Iraq is fearful that if Sunni Muslims take over Syria, it will pose a threat to their regime, the same concern Iran has.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Iranian Refugees in Iraq Killed by Mortar Attack

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- The Iraqi government is being pressed by U.S. and United Nations officials to conduct an investigation into Saturday's attack on a refugee camp on the outskirts of Baghdad that killed at least six Iranians and wounded dozens of other people.

At least 40 rockets and mortars were fired at Camp Liberty, where 3,000 members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, or the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), are staying.

They had initially resided at Camp Ashraf, a former paramilitary camp of the 1980s near the Iranian border, but were relocated to Camp Liberty at Baghdad's insistence.

No one yet has claimed responsibility for the assault on Camp Liberty, a one-time base for American soldiers.

In Washington, the State Department condemned the "vicious and senseless terrorist attack" and demanded Iraq provide more protection for the Iranian refugees.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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