The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Sunday, August 19, 2007

News of the Day for Sunday, August 19, 2007

A baby injured in a mortar attack is carried into a hospital in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. A mortar barrage slammed into a mainly Shiite east Baghdad neighborhood of Ubaidi Sunday, killing 12 and wounding 31, police said. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim) Note: There are many other photos of children injured in this attack, but I felt they were too intrusive to post. Many of the children are partially clothed, and some of the photos are gory. As at times in the past, I feel torn between the sins of intruding on personal tragedy, and sanitizing the truth. I'll be happy to hear people's thoughts on this. -- C


Reported Security Incidents

Reports today, even from the best sources, are largely limited to Baghdad. I don't know whether this means it was a comparatively quiet day elsewhere, or whether information has been hard to come by. -- C

Baghdad

Mortar attack on Shiite Ubaidi neighborhood in east Baghdad kills 12, injures 31. Witness reports four or five explosions. The neighborhood has had no electricity for two days.

Residents of the neighborhood also report clashes between the U.S. and Mahdi armies in a separate part of the district, apparently unrelated to the mortar strike.

Unknown gunmen stop a minibus, kidnap 15 passengers, in central Baghdad.

Around 9 am several mortar shells hit Green Zone. No further information.

One killed, six injured by bomb in parked motorcycle in central Baghdad.

One killed, three injured by bomb in garbage dump in southern Baghdad.

Kirkuk

Two people injured by a roadside bomb.

Baquba

Iraqi police say 76 "gunmen" killed, 58 detained in joint U.S.-Iraqi operation. No confirmation from U.S. as of this writing.

Other News of the Day

AP's Sally Buzbee (yep) reports that Baghdad's Hurriyah neighborhood, claimed by U.S. and Iraqi officials as successfully pacified, is calm only because it is ruled by the Mahdi Army. Other recent reports have reached essentially the same conclusion: sectarian violence in Baghdad is down because the sectarian cleansing process is largely completed. -- C Excerpt:

BAGHDAD (AP) The street market bustles in the early mornings and late afternoons as shoppers come out to buy fruit, bread, clothes and toys. Late into the hot summer nights, whole families gather to eat grilled kebabs at tiny stalls, their small children shrieking as they play tag.

The Hurriyah neighborhood of northwest Baghdad, gripped by a spasm of deadly ethnic violence a year ago, has grown markedly calmer over the past eight months. It is now the kind of area that both U.S. and Iraqi officials point to when they cite progress at stabilizing Baghdad. But only Shiites are welcome - or safe - in Hurriyah these days. And neither Iraq's government nor U.S. or Iraqi security forces are truly in control.

Instead, the Mahdi Army militia runs this area as it does others across Baghdad - manning checkpoints, collecting rental fees for apartments, licensing bus drivers, mediating family fights and even handing out gas for cooking. The U.S. Army still runs regular patrols, sometimes on foot, sometimes by Humvee. And Iraqi police, on the streets, are nominally in charge.

But underneath the calm, an armed group hostile to the United States holds a firm grip on power. Some fear the Mahdi Army is simply biding its time - eager to grab outward control and run things its way whenever U.S. forces pull back.


Senior military commanders tell British PM Gordon Brown that Britain can accomplish nothing more in Basra, should withdraw. Excerpt:

By Raymond Whitaker and Robert Fox. 19 August 2007

Senior military commanders have told the Government that Britain can achieve "nothing more" in south-east Iraq, and that the 5,500 British troops still deployed there should move towards withdrawal without further delay.

Last month Gordon Brown said after meeting George Bush at Camp David that the decision to hand over security in Basra province – the last of the four held by the British – "will be made on the military advice of our commanders on the ground". He added: "Whatever happens, we will make a full statement to Parliament when it returns [in October]."

Two generals told The Independent on Sunday last week that the military advice given to the Prime Minister was, "We've done what we can in the south [of Iraq]". Commanders want to hand over Basra Palace – where 500 British troops are subjected to up to 60 rocket and mortar strikes a day, and resupply convoys have been described as "nightly suicide missions" – by the end of August. The withdrawal of 500 soldiers has already been announced by the Government. The Army is drawing up plans to "reposture" the 5,000 that will be left at Basra airport, and aims to bring the bulk of them home in the next few months.

Before the invasion in 2003, officers were told that the Army's war aims were to bring stability and democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East as a whole. Those ambitions have been drastically revised, the IoS understands. The priorities now are an orderly withdrawal, with the reputation and capability of the Army "reasonably intact", and for Britain to remain a "credible ally". The final phrase appears to refer to tensions with the US, which has more troops in Iraq than at any other time, including the invasion, as it seeks to impose order in Baghdad and neighbouring provinces.


Gen. Lynch says 50 Iranian Revolutionary Guards are training Shiite militias in the area south of Baghdad. He declines to be more specific, says he's "tracking" them but none have been arrested.

NYT's Damien Cave "does" Nuri al-Maliki. This is rich -- C Excerpt:

BAGHDAD: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has lost the support of the largest Shiite, Sunni and secular parties in Parliament. Some American officials privately describe him as a paranoid failure, while his only recent success has been a meeting on Saturday with senior Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders. It yielded little more than promises of future compromise.

And yet, Maliki remains.

That appears to be, in part, because neither the Americans nor the Iraqis can agree on who is supposed to lead. In the absence of a strong alternative to Maliki, both camps have come to rely on a game of criticize and run. The Americans bash him, then say it is up to the Iraqis to decide what to do. The Iraqis call him a sectarian incompetent, then say they are waiting for the Americans to stop acting as his patron.

The latest salvo came Saturday from the American ambassador, Ryan Crocker. Traveling with General David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, Crocker acknowledged that the public's frustration with the government was "pretty striking."

He noted that there was as much anger within the government as outside, on the streets. But the Americans, he said, would not respond to that pressure anytime soon. When asked whether the Americans might push for a change of leadership, he said, "That's a discussion the Iraqis have to have."

According to the Constitution, either the president or one-fifth of the 275-member Parliament can make a no-confidence motion. Then an absolute majority vote would mean the administration had been "resigned."

Maliki established an alliance this week between Iraq's two Kurdish parties, his Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Party. But the four do not control a majority in Parliament; if every other member voted against Maliki, a no-confidence proposal would pass.

Still, Crocker noted that removal only raised another question: "Then what do you do?"


While Richard Oppel, Jr. reports that the present calm in Fallujah depends on tight control by U.S. Marines, but the city is neglected by the Baghdad government, has not developed effective political institutions, and violence is likely to return if the Marines leave. Excerpt:

FALLUJA, Iraq: Falluja's police chief, Colonel Faisal Ismail Hussein, waved aloft a picture of a severed head in a bucket as a reminder of the brutality of the fundamentalist Sunni militias that once controlled this city. But he also described an uncertain future without "my only supporters," the United States Marine Corps.

Nearly three years after invading and seizing Falluja from insurgents, the Marines are engaged in another struggle here: trying to build up a city, and police force, that seem to get little help from the Shiite-dominated national government.

Fallujans complain that they are starved of generator fuel and medical care because of a citywide vehicle ban imposed by the mayor, a Sunni, in May. But in recent months violence has fallen sharply, a byproduct of the vehicle ban, the wider revolt by Sunni Arab tribes against militants and a new strategy by the Marines to divide Falluja into 10 tightly controlled precincts, each walled off by concrete barriers and guarded by a new armed Sunni force.

Security has improved enough that they are planning to largely withdraw from the city by next spring. But their plan hinges on the performance of the Iraqi government, which has failed to provide the Falluja police with even the most routine supplies, Marine officers say.

The gains in Falluja, neighboring Ramadi and other areas in Anbar Province, once the most violent area in Iraq and the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency, are often cited as a success story, a possible model for the rest of Iraq. But interviews with marines and Iraqi officials in Falluja suggest that the recent relative calm here is fragile and that the same sectarian rivalries that have divided the Iraqi government could undermine security as soon as the Marines leave.

Rank-and-file marines question how security forces here would fare on their own, especially when the vehicle ban is lifted.

If Falluja were left unsupervised too soon, "there is a good chance we would lose everything we have gained," said Sergeant Chris Turpin, an intelligence analyst with a military training team here.


The party of Iyad Allawi will not attend the ongoing political realignment talks convened by Maliki. The talks continue to lack meaningful representation of Sunni Arabs.

James Glanz and Stephen Farrell discuss U.S. tactic of promoting local security forces in Sunni Arab districts, unconnected to the Shiite led Iraqi government. Note: If you put 2 and 2 together, it appears clear that the occupation strategy has morphed, whether intentionally or by following the path of least resistance, into de facto partition, tracking the political evolution. It would be helpful if somebody in the political or media elite would notice this basic fact. -- C Excerpt:

BAGHDAD: The United States is pressing ahead with an American-financed effort to recruit and pay local Sunni Arabs to protect neighborhoods in districts scattered across a wide swath of central Iraq.

The initiative has generated deep skepticism in some members of the Shiite-led Iraqi government, who fear that the strategy could intensify the already intense sectarian warfare here.

The American military says it is not arming the new forces, at least initially, but in some areas, tribal groups bring their own weapons.

On Saturday, in the ravaged Sunni neighborhood of Ghazaliya, freshly recruited members of the local force were on display in crisp new cargo pants and flak jackets during a visit by the top American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the American ambassador, Ryan Crocker. Both made it clear that the United States sees the creation of the so-called Guardian forces as a major new initiative to improve security on the streets of Iraq.

The effort is loosely based on successes the United States has had in Anbar, the desert province where Sunni tribes have been paid to ally themselves with American-led multinational forces in fighting insurgent groups. In an interview in the back of a tiny shop in Ghazaliya, Petraeus said that the United States was pressing to set up Guardian forces in places where the tribes were not strong or prevalent enough to serve as a backbone of the program.

Iraqi streets are both protected and terrorized by militias of all kinds, leaving the United States open to criticism that it could simply be creating a fighting force whose loyalty to the legitimate government is open to question.

Some of the existing militias are loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, some to other Shiite political groups and many to no one but local commanders. At the same time, the Sunni tribes have armed wings, and a wide spectrum of insurgent groups and criminal gangs also wield the power of the gun.

The Guardians could also be seen as natural targets for some Shiite militias, potentially generating violence even as they try to tamp it down.


Quote of the Day

[T]he most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.


-- Spec. Buddhika Jayamaha, Sgt. Wesley D. Smith, Sgt. Jeremy Roebuck, Sgt. Omar Mora, Sgt. Edward Sandmeier, Staff Sft. Yance T. Gray, Staff Sgt. Jeremy A. Murhpy, United States Army.

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