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

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

News & Views 08/01/07

.Photo: Members of this Shiite militia wear white burial shrouds proclaiming their willingness to die. Qassim Mohamed/MCT


Car bombs kill dozens in Baghdad

At least 67 people have been killed and almost 100 have been wounded in two separate bombings in Baghdad, Iraqi police have said. In one attack, a fuel tanker exploded near a petrol station in the mainly Sunni suburb of Mansour, killing 50. Earlier, at least 17 people were killed and 32 injured in a blast in the mainly Shia shopping district of Karrada. The Karrada bomb was placed in a parked vehicle and went off in an area with many electronics stores and a popular ice-cream parlour, reports say. A car bomb in the same area killed 25 people last week. Karrada has been hit by a string of bombs in the past 10 days. On Monday of last week, four separate car bombs killed 16 people.

Grim camps for Iraqis avoid the 'pull factor'

Refugee workers call it the "pull factor" -- camps with conditions comfortable enough to attract people in a country where an average of 60,000 Iraqis a month are driven from their homes by sectarian violence. So the challenge for aid workers is to provide safe havens that do not invite permanence. The Qawala camp on the outskirts of Sulaimaniya in northern Kurdistan, a haven of stability in a treacherous country, fits the bill. Conditions are unlikely to pull in all but the most desperate. You smell the camp before you enter it -- the stench caused by the absence of proper latrines and the lack of running water. There is no kerosene for cooking and no electricity. A collection of huts made up of blankets and cardboard, it houses 97 families or 470 people, all Sunni Arabs who left Baghdad and Diyala and Babel provinces because they feared they would be killed by Shi'ites in the mixed neighbourhoods that were home.

Iraqi deaths spike five months into US troop surge

The number of Iraqi civilians killed in the country's brutal civil conflict rose by more than a third in July despite a five-month-old surge in US troop levels, government figures showed Wednesday. At least 1,652 civilians were killed in Iraq in July, 33 percent more than in the previous month, according to figures compiled by the Iraqi health, defence and interior ministries and made available to AFP. Casualties continued to mount as a massive car bomb tore through a major Baghdad intersection -- the fifth such blast to strike the city centre in the past week -- killing at least 10 people. Meanwhile, two critical reports emerged pointing to weaknesses in American efforts to rebuild and stabilise Iraq, which has been in the grip of several overlapping civil conflicts for more than four years.

CWS emergency appeal: Assistance to war-affected Iraqis

The escalating sectarian conflict in Iraq has created a crisis marked by lawlessness and extreme humanitarian distress. Large parts of the population have fled their homes to other regions in Iraq or have sought refuge outside the country. Two million Iraqis are internally displaced and more than two million have fled to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There are an estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and about 750,000 in Jordan. Within Iraq, the lack of security and fear of killings have affected Iraq's social and economic life. In many places, the population is deprived of clean water and electricity. Often public schools do not operate, because teachers and students are prevented from moving freely on the streets. School enrollment has dropped sharply, and of particular concern, many girls cannot attend classes. People are threatened with death because of their affiliation to specific religions, including Iraq's minority Christian communities.

IDP camp in south closes to new arrivals

An internally displaced persons (IDP) camp just outside the southern Iraqi city of Najaf has closed to new arrivals, forcing hundreds of Iraqis fleeing violence in Baghdad and neighbouring governorates to look elsewhere for refuge. Families trying to access Najaf’s al-Manathera camp told IRIN they were desperately searching for a place to stay as their children were getting sick in the hot weather and they had no food or shelter.
“We have been trying to get access to a camp in Najaf for the past five days… but so far no one has offered us help and my two smallest children are getting sick,” said Um Abir, mother of four, recently displaced due to sectarian violence in Baghdad. “It is hard for us to see people getting full assistance inside the camps while we are outside hungry, tired and dirty,” Um Abir said, adding: “Someone should look after us before we get shot, or die in this terrible hot weather, because we don’t have anywhere to shelter and have to cover our heads with newspaper.”

New report urges donors to boost humanitarian aid

Aid activists hope a new report on the dire conditions of eight million Iraqis will open the eyes of the world to a looming humanitarian crisis and push the international community to help. "We have issued several recommendations to the Iraqi government and the UN and called on involved countries to take action in order to avoid a severe disaster," Sasra Mofarah, executive coordinator of the Non-governmental organisation Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI), told IRIN on 1 August in the Jordanian capital, Amman. NCCI is a network of about 80 international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and 200 Iraqi NGOs. It issued a detailed report on the humanitarian needs of Iraqis on 30 July. The same day, international humanitarian aid groups warned of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq if swift action is not taken. "Everybody is talking about death and bombing, but the world is forgetting the suffering of the living, whose basic needs are to be met," Mofarah said.

Iraqi National Anthem?

On the soccer player’s jerseys, next to the Iraqi flag, team members had a picture of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. No pictures of Iraqi leaders were in sight. Then the Iraqi National Anthem played. It wasn’t the unofficial anthem, Mawtani, my homeland, a popular Arabic folk song. Out rang the words that were cast out when Saddam Hussein was deposed. “The Land of Two Rivers,” an anthem about national pride and pride in his party, the Baath. “A homeland that extended its wings over the horizon, And wore the glory of civilization as a garment-- Blessed be the land of the two rivers, A homeland of glorious determination and tolerance..” And thousands of Iraqis in the stands of the indoor stadium sang a long, holding two fingers up to make a peace sign. They broke into screaming cheers and chants of “with our soul, with our blood, we sacrifice for you Iraq.” An accident? A pretty announcer with her head wrapped in a fashionable headscarf told the audience they were proud “to celebrate on Arab land.” A statement directed at Iraq as it struggles with its own identity. Many liken its new Shiite-led government to tools of the Persian regime next door and the constitutional review committee debates how to define Iraq. What it has settled on is something like, An entity active in its Arab and Islamic environment,” the head of the committee, Homam Hammoudi, said in an interview last month. We all looked at the television in shock. “I hope it’s insulting,” said an Iraqi friend as he looked up with a smile. “I hope that Maliki wakes up tomorrow and says am I nothing? Are we a state?”

“Who Is There To Defend Us?”

When asked about his hope for the future or Iraq, Abu Ahmed said, “We left Iraq and we stay away so that we won’t be involved in this bloody issue; neither to kill nor to be killed. Before, it was only those who actively opposed the regime politically who left. Now all the professionals are leaving – those who would rebuild Iraq are gone. Before, Iraq was losing money under Saddam and under the sanctions. Now we are losing all of our lives, and losing the brains of the society. Iraq is empty. All of our best brains are gone—to Jordan, Syria, Europe, and to America. That is why, without them, there is no future.” His son Ahmed disagrees. He believes there is a future for Iraq, but his hope grows dimmer with each passing day. “There is only one way to change things in Iraq,” says Abu Ahmed, and Ahmed and his mother agree. “You have to change the minds of the people ruling the United States, those in the places of power. “Everyone wants to have peace for their people. But America looks for peace not through commerce, not through diplomacy, but through violent means. And this is no way to bring peace. We suffered under Saddam, and we left Iraq because we opposed him. But now, if you can believe it, Iraq under America is worse than Iraq under Saddam.” In the beginning, other Iraqis thought that things would get better after the regime fell. But Abu Ahmed knew differently. He remembers telling his wife, “Now, we are not climbing to a new mountain. We are falling from one valley to another and this valley will be a very black one.”


Iraq Misses Deadline For Electoral Roll

Iraq's government has missed its deadline to compile a list of people eligible to vote in a December referendum that will determine the fate of a large, oil-rich and bitterly disputed swathe of the country, officials of northern Iraq's Kurdistan autonomous region said yesterday. Politicians from the Shia-led bloc that dominates the government and the Kurdish parties that are its main allies had agreed before the formation of the national unity government in June 2006 that today would be the deadline for a "census" of the inhabitants of Kirkuk and other "disputed territories" of northern Iraq. However, the deadline appears to have passed without a census being completed, raising doubts as to whether the government is willing to follow through on its commitments. The failure to meet the deadline "shows a lack of seriousness from all parties to implement. . . articles that were in the constitution that people had agreed and voted upon," said Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdistan regional government's department of foreign relations. For many Kurds, the referendum is a chance to reclaim Kirkuk, which Jalal Talabani, Iraq's Kurdish president, has called the "Jerusalem of Kurdistan" - a historic capital purged of much of its non-Arab population by the regime of Saddam Hussein, the deposed leader. But although Iraq's constitution calls for the referendum - which would ask people whether they wished to be part of the Kurdistan autonomous region - to be held no later than December 31, many Sunni and Shia Arabs strongly oppose Kirkuk ever becoming part of Kurdistan. The Article 140 process - designed to undo the "Arabisation" policies pursued by Saddam aimed at solidifying Arab control of northern oilfields - has also drawn criticism from others who fear it will feed instability. The former regime pushed Kurds and other non-Arabs out. Arab settlers were brought in from other parts of the country, particularly the Shia south. In addition, it shuffled the borders of the region's provinces, handing away slices of Kirkuk to its neighbours in what Kurdish officials claim was an attempt at gerrymandering, ensuring the north's main oilfields were in an Arab-majority province. To reverse this demographic engineering, Arab settlers are to be offered nearly $16,000 in compensation and land in their home provinces to leave. Kurdish officials claim 16,000 families have voluntarily signed up. Iraq's presidency council was supposed to have addressed the border issue by restoring the north's pre-Arabisation administrative boundaries. But the approval of parliament has yet to be granted.

Iraq's biggest Sunni block quits government

Attempts at political reconciliation in Iraq suffered a further setback when the country's largest Sunni Arab political bloc withdrew from the government today. The Iraqi Accordance Front said its six cabinet members would submit their resignations from Nouri al-Maliki's government. The bloc - which last week suspended the work of its ministers - had demanded a greater say in security matters, accusing Mr Maliki's Shia-led coalition of failing to consult it on key issues. The resignations threaten to undermine the government's "national unity" status, diminishing its legitimacy at a time when the White House and the US Congress are pressing for progress on national reconciliation. Critics of US policy have argued that unless the Iraqi government can bridge the country's sectarian divides, any military progress from George Bush's troop "surge" will count for little. Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the Accordance Front and an outspoken critic of Mr Maliki, told the Associated Press his bloc was "still insisting on withdrawing from the government if it doesn't meet our fair and objective demands".


Report: Iraq expenses sloppily kept - to the tune of $19.2 billion

The Pentagon cannot fully account for $19.2 billion worth of equipment provided to Iraqi security forces, government auditors said Tuesday. The finding by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, comes a few days after the Pentagon acknowledged that the U.S. and its allies have delivered a little more than a third of the equipment in the pipeline for the Iraqi Army and less than half of what is destined for the Iraqi police. Baghdad officials have long complained that the lack of equipment has made it difficult to train and equip Iraqi forces. Since the program's beginning, the GAO found, consistent records confirming the date of issue, what type of equipment was received, and by what Iraqi unit were not kept. Before December 2005, no centralized records were kept. While the situation started improving in 2006, problems still exist, the GAO said. "GAO's review of the January 2007 property books found continuing problems with missing and incomplete records," the report said.

U.S. officials: Militias main threat to Iraq

Despite President Bush's recent insistence that al Qaida in Iraq is the principal cause of this country's violence, senior American military officers here say Shiite Muslim militias are a bigger problem, and one that will persist even if al Qaida is defeated. "The longer-term threat to Iraq is potentially the Shiite militias," one senior military officer said, echoing concerns that other American officials raised in recent interviews with McClatchy Newspapers. Military officers hail the fact that violence is down as evidence that their campaign against al Qaida in Iraq is succeeding. But there's no sign of reconciliation between Sunni Muslims and Shiites, the rationale the Bush administration cites for increasing the number of U.S. troops in the country.

…..Other U.S. military officers, who agreed to speak only if they weren't named because of the sensitive nature of the subject, point out that Shiite militias regularly battle one another in largely Shiite southern Iraq, where there's never been much of an al Qaida presence. Adding to concerns is a realization among American officials that they don't know the Mahdi Army's intentions in Baghdad. Will Sadr's group be satisfied with driving Sunnis into traditionally Sunni districts or will it seek to purge those districts too? "A lot of what goes on in the wee hours of the morning, whether it's Shiite death squads or Sunnis in al Qaida in Iraq, we don't know about," a senior military official said. "Single-sect neighborhoods tend to be more stable. It may not be ethical and moral the way they're created, but the results are undeniable." [I would say the US military and US elites are the main threat to Iraq. But maybe it is the guys discussed in the article below. – dancewater]

A very private war

There are 48,000 'security contractors' in Iraq, working for private companies growing rich on the back of US policy. But can it be a good thing to have so many mercenaries operating without any democratic control? It was described as a "powder keg" moment. In late May, just across the Tigris river from Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, a heavily armed convoy of American forces was driving down a street near the Iraqi Interior Ministry. They were transporting US officials in what is known widely among the occupation forces as the "red zone" - essentially, any area of Iraq that does not fall inside the US-built "emerald city" in the capital. The American guards were on the look-out for any threat lurking on the roads. Not far from their convoy, an Iraqi driver was pulling out of a petrol station. When the Americans encountered the Iraqi driver, they determined him to be a potential suicide car bomber. In Iraq it has become common for such convoys to fire off rounds from a machine gun at approaching Iraqi vehicles, much to the outrage of Iraqi civilians and officials. The Americans say this particular Iraqi vehicle was getting too close to their convoy and that they tried to warn it to back off. They say they fired a warning shot at the car's radiator before firing directly into the windshield of the car, killing the driver. Some Iraqi witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked.


Why is Half of Iraq in Absolute Poverty?

Prior to your liberation, there was no starvation in Iraq. Prior to your liberation, there was no abject poverty, the kind we witness today. Prior to your liberation, kids did not stutter out of fear. Prior to your liberation, they went to free schools, learned, grew up and became full functioning adults, with degrees, diplomas and expertise. No, we did not have learning impediments before your liberation. Today 92 % of Iraqi children suffer from it. Today, 99% of Iraqi children are traumatized for life. So I ask you again - Why ?
What have Iraqis done to you? Did they invade you? Did they steal your homes? Did they imprison you? Did they torture you? Did they rape you? Did they occupy your lands? Of course, some of you will come and present me with your usual condescending, paternalistic, patronizing lists of political theories, attempting to explain the inexplicable.
Save your time and energy. I know all about your theories. I know all about your theories of imperialism, neo-cons, zionists...I also know all about your handy explanations regarding oil, cartels, monopolies, globalization... None of that satisfies me. I still need to know why? Why us? why Iraq? why this? why now? If you fail to answer that question, then you would have not learned one single thing about yourselves.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

Iraq Moratorium Day – September 21 and every third Friday thereafter ~ "I hereby make a commitment that on Friday, September 21, 2007, and the third Friday of every subsequent month I will break my daily routine and take some action, by myself or with others, to end the War in Iraq."

Quote of the day: I saw Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings on CNN Sunday saying he thought that the violence was less now. (O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack also gave us that uh, optimistic, op-ed about 'a war we could win' in the NYT.) I'd be interested in knowing how he is measuring this supposed fall in violence. If it is the deadliest July ever for US troops in Iraq; if there is a 23% increase in Iraqi deaths over June; if there were more attacks in June than any time since April 2003-- how is that a decrease in violence? Somebody explain that to me.- Juan Cole