Iraq: the Bloody Disaster is Working

In Iraq this week, officials say a school got a fresh coat of paint. In other news …

Iraq to Scrap Food Program by June to Comply with World Bank
By Ali Jawad

The government has decided to end the rationing food program which has saved millions of Iraqis from starvation.

The decision, the government said, was in line with the obligations it has made to the World Bank.

But Finance Ministry officials, refusing to be named, said they opposed the move and feared it could lead to unexpected hikes in food prices.

The government said it was also determined to end fuel subsidies, but it declined to say when.

The food rationing system was started by former leader Saddam Hussein to offset the hardships emanating from U.N. trade sanctions.

For nearly 13 years, the program continued without hiccups with the United Nations praising it as the world's largest and most effective relief effort.

But the program has run into serious trouble since U.S. troops landed in Baghdad. The volume of rations was slashed several times and food failed to reach many beneficiaries.

The system which cost the treasury billions of dollars a year was mired in corruption.

The government took the decision without parliamentary approval.

Analysts say millions of Iraqis will be affected, particularly families with no income earners and the jobless -- currently estimated at about 40 of the workforce.

Iraq Braced for More Cholera Outbreaks
By Emad al-Shara'
Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Health experts are warning that the country could be hit by new cases of cholera once temperatures start to rise.

The government said its last cholera case was recorded in late November and has credited a public-awareness campaign and the colder winter temperatures for halting the spread of the disease. However, doctors warn that cholera could recur as summer approaches because of poor sanitation.

Adil Abdul-Muhsin, general inspector at the ministry of health, said that Iraq suffered its worst bout of cholera for forty years, with 4,691 cases, resulting in 24 fatalities.

Deputy Health Minister Amir al-Khuza'i said the ministry of health has "totally controlled the disease."

"There aren't any cholera cases in Baghdad or in any other provinces," he said.

But doctors say it's only a matter of time before the disease reappears.

"Nothing can prevent a cholera outbreak next summer," said Ni'man Mohammad, a physician in Baghdad.

Read more here.

Iraqi Official: Baghdad Is Drowning In Sewage
Agence France Presse

Baghdad is drowning in sewage, thirsty for water and largely powerless, an Iraqi official said on Sunday in a grim assessment of services in the capital five years after the US-led invasion.

One of three sewage treatment plants is out of commission, one is working at stuttering capacity while a pipe blockage in the third means sewage is forming a foul lake so large it can be seen "as a big black spot on Google Earth," said Tahseen Sheikhly, civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security plan.

Sheikhly told a news conference in the capital that water pipes, where they exist, are so old that it is not possible to pump water at a sufficient rate to meet demands -- leaving many neighbourhoods parched.

Read more here.

Row Over Killing of Iraqi Family
BBC News

An Iraqi couple and their son, 19, have been killed when US soldiers stormed a tiny one-room house north of Baghdad.

The US military says its troops killed the two men in self-defence after gunfire came from the house, but local people say the victims were unarmed.

At least one of the couple's daughters was also wounded in the raid, in the village of al-Dawr, near Tikrit.

The military said it was unclear who had fired at the female casualties and the incident is being investigated.

Read more here.

Parliament Walkout Freezes Bill on Iraqi Local Elections
Gulf News

Editor's note: this is the latest chapter in an ongoing power struggle between the executive branch headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet, and the Iraqi legislature

Baghdad: Dozens of Iraqi legislators walked out of parliament to protest parts of a draft law that would lay out rules for provincial elections later this year.

Thursday's walkout by nearly 90 members of the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Kurdish allies postponed a planned vote on the measure on redistributing power in Iraq.

The main sticking point was a dispute over whether the authority to fire provincial governors should rest with the prime minister or with the Iraq's governing councils.

Council members walked out after lawmakers approved giving power to the prime minister. Voting on the rest of the 56-point package was scheduled to resume on Saturday.

Orphans Face Uncertain Future
By Hazim al-Shara'
Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Five-year-old Layla Mohammad clings to one memory: her mother combing Layla's hair, styling it like the popular Lebanese singer, Nancy.

A year and a half ago, a bomb ripped through a market in Sadr City in Baghdad, killing Layla's mother, father and two-year-old brother.

"After her parents died, Layla became afraid of markets and crowded places. She thinks that someone will blow himself up," said her grandmother Bardia Hassun.

Hassun said her late son was the breadwinner of the family, supporting four of his sisters and his mother in addition to his wife and children. Layla and her grandmother are now reduced to begging, the latter concerned that she won't have enough money to send her granddaughter to school next year.

"When Layla became an orphan, we also became orphans," said Hassun. "We have no one to take care of us."

There are no accurate statistics on how many orphans are in Iraq. Government sources estimate the figure ranges from the hundreds of thousands to upwards of four to five million.

With little support from the government or non-profit organisations, most orphans are taken in by family members, in line with Islamic tradition. Because of Iraq's weak economy and its high inflation, many of those families barely make ends meet themselves. According to United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, most Iraqi families are facing additional economic difficulties as they take in other family members.

Abeer Mahdi, head of orphanages at the ministry of social affairs, said that most Iraqis refuse to send orphans to orphanages even if they can better care for them. There are currently 19 orphanages housing about 420 children in Iraq.

"The extended families are usually taking care of the orphans, even if they can't provide them a suitable environment in terms of food, clothing and education," he said.

"It is impossible to create a family-oriented environment" in an orphanage, said one woman who recently took guardianship of a three-year-old girl.

The woman, who asked not to be named, was standing with the child, waiting for food from an aid organisation.

The problems facing Iraqi orphans came to light in June 2007, when US Marines found children in an orphanage for children with special needs tied to beds and starving.

Read more here.

U.S. Admits Killing Iraqi Civilians
BBC News

The US military has admitted accidentally killing nine Iraqi civilians, including a child, during raids south of Baghdad.

In a statement, it said the civilian deaths occurred on Saturday near the town of Iskandariya, 50km (30 miles) from the Iraqi capital.

It added that three more civilians, two of them children, were wounded "as coalition forces pursued al-Qaeda."

Witnesses say 20 people were killed in an US air strike in the area.

They said the dead included 17 members of the same family.

Read more here.

VP Supports Forming New Government
Voices of Iraq (via Iraq Updates)

Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel al-Mahdi on Thursday expressed his support for forming entirely new government.

Speaking at a press conference held in Najaf, Abdel Mahdi said, "I supported making complete changes to the government, bringing in new efficient ministers unaffected by the quota system."

Yet, he also called for considering "the power of he parliamentary blocs for the new government since the prime minister can not go to parliament without holding the confidence for approving his government," he pointed out.

Read more here.

No Improvement in Electricity Output- Minister
By Falah al-Maamouri

There has been no improvement in the production of electricity in the country in the past 12 moths, Minister of Electricity Kareem Waheed said.

Waheed warned hard-hit Iraqi households not to expect better power supplies before 2011.

Waheed's remarks come as most of the country is currently plunged into darkness with the national grid barely capable of providing two hours of continuous supply a day.

The minister said the electrical sector's stagnation was not due to lack of allocations. In a press conference in Baghdad, he gave no figures but it is estimated that his ministry's budget has been in billions of dollars since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

He said he hoped Iraqis will see 'tangible improvement' by the end of 2008 as new power plants with a total capacity he estimated at more than 1000 megawatts come on stream.

Correspondents say the minister made similar promises at the start of 2007 but instead of improvement power output plunged to levels unseen before.

Read more here.

Members of Sadr Movement in Iraqi Parliament Urge Cleric not to Renew Ceasefire with U.S.
Middle East Online

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Thursday warned members of his Mahdi Army militia not to break a six-month ceasefire as his fighters clashed with US and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad.

"Any member of the Mahdi Army who conducts violent acts during the ceasefire will no longer be part of the Mahdi Army," Sadr's spokesman Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi said in Najaf, a shrine city in central Iraq.

Leading members of the Sadr movement in parliament have urged the anti-American cleric not to renew the ceasefire he declared last August 29 because, they say, security forces are persecuting their members.

Earlier this month, Obeidi gave notice that Sadr was considering ending the ceasefire because the security services had been infiltrated by "criminals."

Read more here.

Radical Shiite Group Raises New Security Concerns
By Basil Adas
Gulf News

The emergence of the radical Shiite organisation Ansar Al Mahdi has raised many questions among Shiite political groups. They include its size and number of supporters in Iraq and abroad and whether the group is part of the "Heaven's Army" organisation or a separate extremist religious organisation.

The group's emergence has also raised fears of possible security outbreaks in Shiite southern provinces, especially after the bloody events in Basra and Nasiriyah.

"The Ansar Al Mahdi organisation led by Abu Hassan Al Yamani was established in 1998 and led by Al Yamani himself, whose real name is Ahmad Esmail Gate'a Al Siamer, an engineering graduate who later studied Sharia and fiqh science," said Mohan Al Fahad Al Fareji, Basra chief commander in a statement to Gulf News.

"Al Yamani is an Iraqi citizen from Basra, he used the Al Mahdi name to recruit people," he added.

The Iraqi military official said that most of those recruited for the Al Yamani organisation are unemployed and poor people and many are illiterate.

Al Fareji said about 10 out of 250 are educated, adding that hundreds of Ansar Al Mahdi members are gunmen from Basra and other southern provinces and that Al Yamani is hiding in Najaf or a province close to it.

Read more here.

Kurds Say They'll Leave Government if Demands not Met
By Kareem Zair

The Kurds will withdraw from the government of Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki if their share of the country's oil revenues is reduced.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament, and a veteran Kurdish politician accused "certain political factions" in the government of attempts to "slash the gains Kurds have made" since a U.S.-led invasion toppled the regime of former leader Saddam Hussein.

Othman accused some Arab parliamentary blocs, both Shiite and Sunni, of attempts to "ignite Arab-Kurdish strife."

Tension between Arab Sunnis and Shiites has subsided recently with tribal leaders, clergymen and politicians of both sides working together to reduce levels of violence.

Othman said both Arab Sunnis and Shiites were trying to undermine the Kurds.

Read more here.

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