December 22nd, 2011
03:12 PM ET

A vacuum for terrorists to exploit

By Arwa Damon and Tim Lister

Nature abhors a vacuum but terrorism relishes one. And Iraq appears to be offering new space for al Qaeda and other militant groups, as political rivalries and sectarian animosities deepen.

The coordinated bomb explosions across Baghdad Thursday - which killed more than 60 people - bear the hallmark of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which is closely associated with al Qaeda.

No other group in Iraq has shown itself capable of such synchronized suicide attacks. Some, but not all, of the bombings were in Shiite neighborhoods; frequently al Qaeda's targets appear indiscriminate as part of a strategy to sow fear and stir sectarian tensions.

The attacks come as Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, demands the surrender of Iraq's Sunni Vice-President, Tareq al Hashimi, on charges that he ordered bombings and assassinations.

Hashimi has taken refuge in the northern Kurdish-administered part of Iraq, and the country's always-fragile tripartite balance now appears to be in grave danger - with the restraining effect of a U.S. military presence gone. FULL POST

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Filed under: Iraq
Petraeus back from Baghdad
December 21st, 2011
01:26 PM ET

Petraeus back from Baghdad

EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer for more on this story – Wednesday 4pET-6pET

By Arwa Damon and Wolf Blitzer

CIA Director David Petraeus has just returned from a quick visit to Iraq, sources tell CNN. The trip was initially intended as a chance for Petraeus to thank the CIA team in Iraq as the US completed its withdrawal of forces, an official said. (Read Blitzer's blog on Petraeus' secret trip)

The trip, though previously planned, comes as Iraq is mired in political turmoil. The country’s Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, is in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region as he fights charges from Maliki’s government that he organized a death squad targeting government and military officials.

Petraeus, a former commander in Iraq, also met with the Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the Speaker of the Parliament and Minister of Finance, both senior members of the mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya political bloc, which Hashemi is also a member of. Petraeus then traveled to northern Iraq to meet with senior Kurdish leadership.

The content of Petraeus discussions were not disclosed.  The CIA and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad would not comment.

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Filed under: CIA • Iraq • Petraeus
A grim outlook for some Iraqis
October 21st, 2011
04:35 PM ET

A grim outlook for some Iraqis

By CNN Correspondent Arwa Damon.

Editor's note: Damon has been reporting from Iraq since 2003

I met a young woman, 21-year-old Noof Assi, in Baghdad on my most recent trip to Iraq in September. She says, “I have dreams, I was born a dreamy girl”. But then she pauses and adds: “Sometimes the reality just tells me – wake up.”

Baghdad is not a city that she can dream in. Noof is a gutsy woman. She drives herself around Baghdad, ignoring the Iraqi security forces at checkpoints intent on harassing her for being a female driver.  She demonstrates, despite the government occasionally taking a page out of the historical pagebook and deciding to use brute force and intimidation to silence those who speak against it.

She had survived the worst of it, navigating through al Qaeda killing fields to get to high school, haunted by the images of corpses she saw on a regular basis. But last year, two car bombs targeting the trade bank of Iraq exploded next to her home, destroying her only real sanctuary.

Now Noof says, “When I lost my kingdom, when I lost everything in it, I started to think I have nothing in my own country. I love Baghdad but Baghdad doesn’t love me.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Iraq • Military • Obama • Pentagon