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

Friday, August 3, 2007

News & Views 08/03/07

Photo: Mahmud Wagaa al-Juburi collapses amid the coffins of his five sons in Kirkuk. Neighbours, friends and journalists helped 65-year-old Juburi pay for the coffins and to send his sons for burial, but nothing can replace the young men kidnapped and gunned down by faceless insurgents. (AFP/Marwan Ibrahim)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

In Iraq, death tolls often in dispute

Throngs of Iraqis were busily shopping for the weekend when a truck bomb and barrage of rockets ripped apart the market in central Karrada. Iraqiya television and most Western media outlets reported that 25 were killed and 100 wounded in the July 26 attack, of which virtually no images were shown. But less than a week later, the names of 92 dead and 127 wounded were posted on a list taped to a shuttered storefront. It was compiled by municipal and civil defense crews that led the rescue efforts. The disparity in official numbers and the ones posted in the market, and apparent differences between government figures and eyewitness accounts after other recent bombings, leaves many Iraqis feeling that the government is intentionally downplaying or trying to cover up the numbers of dead. "They want to cover up their incompetence," says Fawaz Hassan of the government. "I plead with you … please deliver the truth to the world. We do not want any compensation. We just want the world to know what happened here."

Mr. Hassan and his brother, Haidar, watched on Wednesday as a municipal tractor removed rubble from the scene. Dozens of black funeral banners displaying the names of entire families hung as a kind of testimony to the level of devastation. Four homes were reduced to rubble and a three-story building, which wrapped around an entire block, was gutted. The Hassan brothers lost a nephew, and their brother and sister were badly wounded. Their homes and businesses, on the same street, were destroyed. Another resident, Maher Hafidh, who helped remove the dead, says that his cousin and a neighbor were among the people that are still missing and have yet to be included on the list of dead.

…The Associated Press said Wednesday that at least 2,024 Iraqis died violently in July, based on its own tally of police reports nationwide. This was 23 percent higher than the June figure of 1,640, making July the second-deadliest month for Iraqis this year. The government has yet to release its figures for the period.

Summer in Baghdad - power cuts and dry taps

Baghdad's residents are miserable in the scorching heat of summer. There is not enough electricity to power air conditioners and taps in large parts of the Iraqi capital have run dry. Surviving summer is always a challenge for residents in a city whose crumbling infrastructure has been difficult to repair and maintain amid the daily car bombings and shootings that have derailed Iraq's reconstruction. The 50 degree Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures drop only a few degrees at night. Power from the national electricity grid is too feeble to run air conditioners so many people resort to sleeping on their roofs to escape the baking heat of their homes. But that offers little respite. Water shortages in Baghdad are nothing new, particularly in the Shi'ite districts on the eastern side of the Tigris River that were neglected under Saddam Hussein's rule. But now a large part of the capital's mainly Sunni Arab west has also dried up. Residents in western Baghdad, known as Kharkh, said they had been without water for about four days and were having to buy bottled drinking water, an additional expense that many poorly paid Iraqis can ill-afford. They are already struggling with the high cost of diesel for their home generators. …..The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent to 70 percent since 2003, while 80 per cent lack effective sanitation, British charity Oxfam said in a report last month.

Ta, But No Thanks

All these good-doers, thousands of them, in four years, what have they presented to the poor Iraqi Man that they all wish to serve? Thousands of reconstruction contracts have been awarded – and the projects said to be implemented. What are they? Where are they? Where are they? Wouldn't a sinking government jump at the chance to show such accomplishments – had there been any? Wouldn't an accused occupier jump at the chance to show some successful, truly fundamental infrastructure developments and shout them from the roof tops? Do we have sanitary drinking water? Do we have electricity? Do we have medical services or basic neighbourhood services?

New US Air Bombing Campaign South of Baghdad

The U.S. military has launched a new air campaign against militant safe havens and weapons smugglers south of Baghdad as it seeks to choke the flow of bombs and weapons reaching Baghdad, a top commander said Thursday. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who leads the 3rd Infantry Division, also said he and other commanders feared insurgents would try to stage a massive attack ahead of a pivotal report due in mid-September to the U.S. Congress on political and military progress in Iraq. "We've been fighting this enemy now for a while. He's the most vicious enemy we've ever seen. He has no respect for human life and what he's going to try to do is to do some catastrophic attack that's going to influence the debate back in Washington," Lynch told The Associated Press. "We've got to stop him from doing that by taking the fight to him all the time."

Despairing Iraqis Wonder If Violence Will Ever End

“I wish I had died, not my husband,” a woman cried as she surveyed the devastation. Minutes after the explosion, an arm was still clinging from a branch of a tree and half a head lay on a nearby building. Pools of blood collected in the road along with lumps of flesh, whole ears, severed fingers and clumps of hair. A furious man kicked the charred trunk of the body of the suicide attacker, while survivors, mainly women, cried in despair. “You see all this damage, all this blood? In one hour the authorities will clear it up and that will be it. When will this stop?” an onlooker asked as he tried to make sense of what had happened. A 14-year-old boy stood in the road sobbing: “My brother, he was 18, he was killed in the blast.”

JFO Decries Warrants for Four Journalists

The Journalistic Freedom Observatory (JFO) said on Friday that an Iraqi court in the southern city of Nassiriyah issued an arrest warrant against four local journalists, according to a lawsuit submitted by the al-Nassiriyah police department. "The al-Nassiriyah court of appeal issued an arrest warrant against four journalists, working in Thi Qar province, according to a lawsuit submitted against them by the police department," the JFO said in a statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "The journalists are: Jawad Kadhem Ismail, Ibrahim Abdul Hassan, Adnan al-Fadhli and Latif Ghejeri and all of them are editors working for "summareon.net" website, specialized in the city's news," the statement added. "The complaint against the journalists has the signature of the chief of the criminal investigation department in Thi Qar," it noted.

Sistani Aide Assassinated in Najaf

Unidentified gunmen assassinated an aide of top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani near his home in the northern part of Najaf on Thursday night, an official security source said. "Three gunmen in a vehicle assassinated Sheikh Fadel al-Aql, a deputy of Sistani, in the neighborhood of al-Milad, (11 km) north of Najaf at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday," the source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) on Friday.
The security source did not give further details about the incident. He said security agencies were "conducting intensive investigations" into the assassination. The assassination is the fourth of its kind in two months in which assistants of the senior Shiite cleric were targeted.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Maliki's Impact Blunted By Own Party's Fears; Hussein-Era Secrecy Persists

As the U.S. military attempts to pacify Iraq so its leaders can pursue political reconciliation, Iraqi and Western observers say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his inner circle appear increasingly unable to pull the government out of its paralysis. At times consumed by conspiracy theories, Maliki and his Dawa party elite operate much as they did when they plotted to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- covertly and concerned more about their community's survival than with building consensus among Iraq's warring groups, say Iraqi politicians and analysts and Western diplomats. In recent weeks, those suspicions have deepened as U.S. military commanders have begun to work with Sunni insurgents, longtime foes of the Shiite-led government, who have agreed to battle the group al-Qaeda in Iraq. "The level of mutual trust is so low that you really have to not just rebuild trust, you have to build trust in the first place, and that is still very much a work in progress right now," said Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the top U.N. envoy to Iraq. [This quote does not really support the assertion that the Maliki government is not concerned about building consensus, as its placement seems intended to suggest.-JFP] The prime minister's close aides counter that Maliki can lead and that party leaders are committed to building a broad-based government.

A Nail in Maliki Government's Coffin?

The recent resignations of Iraq's Army Chief of Staff and several of his council military leaders underscore a continuing decomposition of Iraq's U.S.-backed government. Everybody in Iraq -- politicians, political analysts, poets, scientists, porters – seems to agree that the U.S.-backed Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a total failure. Security, basic services, and all measurable levels of Iraq's infrastructure are worse now than under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, the U.S., Britain and Iran all continue to support this government. "Politicians in this country are the best at serving their personal interests, and that is what has kept al-Maliki in power," Amjad Hussein, an Iraqi journalist in Baghdad told IPS. "Wherever I go in Iraq, people complain of the very bad living conditions caused by the wrong policies of this government. Even those who voted for the (Shia) Iraqi coalition bite their fingers in regret for the support they gave to this group of people who have led the country into darkness." Withdrawals from the government by individual ministers and by political groups was the first sign of the end of al-Maliki's political life, but the U.S. government has remained insistent on keeping al-Maliki at the top of Iraq's leadership. "I strongly believe that it was American pressure on the (Sunni) al-Tawafuq Sunni group that stopped them from withdrawal from the government," a senior member of al-Tawafuq told IPS on condition of anonymity. "I preferred to clear my conscience and so I have decided to end my political activities. I am looking for a way to take my family across the border for their safety. It is a sin to be a politician in Iraq nowadays."

US-Iraqi Forces Raid NDF HQ - Sunny Party a Part of IAF Bloc That Withdrew From Government This Week

A joint U.S.-Iraqi force raided the headquarters of Khalaf al-Ilyan's Sunni National Dialogue Council (NDC) on Thursday and ransacked its contents, an NDC media source said on Friday. "The raiding force deliberately smashed the furniture and doors of the building, located in the al-Jamea neighborhood, western Baghdad," the source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
The source said none of the members present were arrested and nothing was seized, adding that the reason behind the raid was "the NDC's stand vis-à-vis the Iraqi government." No explanation was available from the Iraqi or U.S. forces.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

The Iran Attack That Wasn't

On July 2 and 3, The New York Times and the Associated Press, among other media outlets, came out with sensational stories saying that either Iranians or Iranian agents had played an important role in planning the operation in Karbala, Iraq last January that resulted in the deaths of five American soldiers. Michael R. Gordon and John F. Burns of The New York Times wrote that "agents of Iran" had been identified by the military spokesman as having "helped plan a January raid in the Shiite holy city of Karbala in Iraq in which five American soldiers were killed by Islamic militants …" Lee Keath of the Associated Press wrote an even more lurid lead, asserting that U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner had accused "Iran's elite Quds force" of having "helped militants carry out a January attack in Karbala that killed five Americans."

….What Bergner said in his prepared statement was that both Hezbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq, who was in liaison with the militia group which carried out the attack, and Kais Khazali, the Iraqi said to have been in charge of the group -- both of whom had been captured on March 22 -- "state that senior leadership within the Qods Force knew of and supported planning for the eventual Karbala attack …" Using such indirect language -- "knew of and supported planning" -- is a far cry from claiming actual participation or assistance in planning the attack. Bergner gave no indication of when or how the Iranian Qods Force might have learned about the attack plans, for example, or how much they might have known about them. That vagueness implied that the prisoners had not implicated Iran in the planning of the operation.

…..But the success of this media operation also depended on journalists who would fill in the blanks cleverly left open by Bergner with their own imagination. As the transcript of the briefing shows, Michael Gordon was not just a passively recording the line presented by the administration. He was actively pushing the sensational -- and unsubstantiated and highly suspect -- story of "Iranians killing Americans" that would then become a mantra of the war-with-Iran crowd.

Budget Office Analysis Says War Could Cost $1 Trillion

The war in Iraq could ultimately cost well over a trillion dollars at least double what has already been spent including the long-term costs of replacing damaged equipment, caring for wounded troops, and aiding the Iraqi government, according to a new government analysis. The United States has already allocated more than $500 billion on the day-to-day combat operations of what are now 190,000 troops and a variety of reconstruction efforts. [Good thing we don’t need the money for infrastructure, education or health care. – dancewater]

And here’s where the money is going: As Iraq Costs Soar, Contractors Earn Record Profits

While Congressional Budget Office reports showed a gloomy outlook for U.S. costs in Iraq, last week several of Washington's biggest defence contractors released profit reports disclosing huge growth in divisions benefiting from military contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Northrop Grumman's information and services, and electronics divisions showed 15 percent and 7 percent growth, respectively, for the second quarter compared to the same fiscal quarter last year. General Dynamics' combat systems unit experienced a 19 percent growth in sales due to continued demand for tanks and armored vehicles while Lockheed Martin announced a 34 percent rise in profits to 778 million dollars. Lockheed's newest revenue projections are now as high as 41.75 billion dollars. "2008 [military related] appropriations are the highest it's ever been. 2007 was the highest before that. War spending continues to go on. In addition [contractors] are cashing in on increasing military budgets that have nothing to do with the war, such as the F-22 Raptor and large scale weapon systems," Miriam Pemberton, research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS.

Marine Gets Time Served in Iraqi's Murder

A jury sentenced a Marine corporal Friday to time served and reduced his rank to private for conspiring to murder an Iraqi civilian during a frustrated search for an insurgent.
Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, 24, has already served 448 days in custody and was to be freed Friday.

Marine Gets 15 Years In Iraqi’s Death

On Thursday, Hutchins became the first and only member of an eight-member squad to be convicted of murder in the killing. He had been charged with premeditated murder, but jurors struck premeditation from the verdict, meaning Hutchins no longer faced a mandatory life sentence. Testimony from several of his comrades pointed to him as the mastermind of the plot to kidnap and kill a suspected insurgent.


COMMENTARY

Bush and Ahmadinejad turn Iraq into score-settling arena

For the second time the administration of U.S. President George Bush and that of the Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad turn the land of Iraq as a venue for their meetings. These meetings show as if the two countries are engaged in a ferocious war and Iraq is a neutral state, a venue they need to solve their conflict peacefully. As for us Iraqis, we watch the ongoing talks hoping of the better, forgetting that the two leaders are the ones who are violating our land and our honor, stealing our money and shedding our blood. The mere fact of them meeting in Iraq is by itself flagrant meddling in our country’s affairs. The two sides should have sought to meet at some other place to solve their intractable issues – the issues which have nothing to do with the daily miseries and tragedies our country and people are experiencing. Those claiming they are working of Iraq’s independence should have raised their voice and denounced the meetings. But such voices are rare in today’s Iraq as most of those at the helm of power owe their existence to either Bush or Ahmadinejad.

When the “good fight” is anything but

Bricmont begins with the sensible observation that nearly every regime claims altruistic motives for its actions, however self-interested or malicious they may be, and therefore that using a regime's humanitarian rhetoric to judge its intentions is close to useless. He goes on to provide a damning account of the anti-democratic violence that has been perpetrated by the United States under the rhetoric of "spreading freedom", ranging from the CIA-backed coups in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s to the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras 30 years later. These examples and others effectively make the point that the United States and other Western powers have always deployed human rights rhetoric in a selective and self-serving manner, ignoring their own abuses and those of allies while using the wrongdoing of unfriendly regimes as an excuse to justify intervention. What is surprising is not that regimes have falsely claimed altruistic motives for their military actions, but that self-described humanitarians so often believe them. Particularly, Bricmont shows, the fact that so many of the Iraq war's architects had previously supported gross violations of human rights in Latin America and elsewhere should have been a warning sign to liberal humanitarians. [It was a huge red flag for me – a red flag big enough to cover the state of Texas. But then, I am not totally ignorant of American history for the last 50 years, unless the vast majority of people in this country. – dancewater]

Good news from Baghdad at last: the oil law has stalled

Glad tidings from Baghdad at last. The Iraqi parliament has gone into summer recess without passing the oil law that Washington was pressing it to adopt. For the Bush administration this is irritating, since passage of the law was billed as a "benchmark" in its battle to get Congress not to set a timetable for US troop withdrawals. The political hoops through which the government of Nouri al-Maliki has been asked to jump were meant to be a companion piece to the US "surge". Just as General David Petraeus, the current US commander, is due to give his report on military progress next month, George Bush is supposed to tell Congress in mid-September how the Maliki government is moving forward on reform. The signs are that, on both fronts, the administration will carry on playing for time. Bush and his officials are already suggesting they will maintain the surge for another year, and that Petraeus's report will merely be an interim score card. It will not use the fateful Vietnam-era language of light at the end of the tunnel, but it will say progress is under way and therefore more congressional patience is needed.

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: "You should remove your plantation from my cattle" says the trespassing cattle - heard in an old Iraqi proverb. – from McClatchy Baghdad Bureau bloggers.

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