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

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

News & Views 08/07/07

.Photo: An Iraqi girl fills a pot with water extracted from the Diyala River nearby a garbage dump northeast of Baghdad, June 2007. As Iraqis queue forlornly for food and water, or swelter in homes and hospitals wihout electricity, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition government is collapsing around him. (AFP/File/Wissam Al-Okaili)


Power cuts worsen as Iraqi grid nears collapse

Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid, according to officials. Aziz al-Shimari, an electricity ministry spokesman, said at the weekend that power generation nationally was only meeting half the demand, and there had been four nationwide blackouts over the past two days. The shortages across the country were the worst since the summer of 2003, shortly after the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, he added. Power supplies in Baghdad have been sporadic all summer and now are down to just a few hours a day at most. The water supply in the capital has also been severely curtailed by power blackouts and cuts that have affected pumping and filtration stations. Kerbala province, south of Baghdad, has been without power for three days, causing water mains to go dry in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, the provincial capital.

Iraq Survey Results

Below is a summary of Iraqi attitudes toward key provisions of the draft Oil Law as it was passed by Iraq's cabinet in February, 2007. The data are derived from national surveys of the Iraqi general public conducted in June and July, 2007. More than six-in-ten (63%) of all respondents prefer that Iraqi companies rather than foreign firms take the lead in developing Iraq's oil (32% "strongly," 31% "moderately"). There are no geographic, ethnic or sectarian pockets of preference for foreign companies to develop Iraq's oil resources. Only in the Northern/Kurdistan region do as many as 40% of respondents voice a preference for foreign companies.

Audio: Shi’ite – Sunni Imbalance Intensifies in Baghdad

The U.S. military says it believes that the Shia-led government in Baghdad is trying to cleanse the city of all Sunnis. Sectarian violence has pushed most Sunnis into west Baghdad, and the Iraqi government is suspected of limiting basic services to the Sunnis in hopes of causing them to leave. That would leave Sunnis even further unrepresented in the city, and it has cast a whole different light on the delay of provincial elections. A government official claims, however, that Sunni politicians, fearful of losing to other Sunnis in the elections, are to blame.

Basra Deteriorates

As British forces pull back from Basra in southern Iraq, Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil resources, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq's Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down. Three major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by "the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors," a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.

Video: Repairing Services in Iraq and Adhamiya

At the end of July Oxfam released a report detailing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. It was only the international community that needed this report, Iraqis know well how their country is falling apart around them. Neighborhoods such as Adhamiya lack even the most basic social services. Social services, such as water, electricity, and sanitation have been on the decline since the fall of Baghdad saw widespread looting and a general collapse of Baghdad’s infrastructure. In areas that have seen ongoing fighting and a general lack of security, services have never fully recovered. Even in those areas that might have shown moderate repair previously, the flight of professionals and random destruction is removing any achievements.


In Iraqi South, Shiites Press For Autonomy

When Najaf unplugged its power station from the national grid last week, it was a sign of provincial dissent over the unequal distribution of electricity. But it also indicates a new assertiveness in the south, as Iraq's regional leaders seek to wrest control from a central government in Baghdad paralyzed by political infighting. Multiple visions for unifying the county's southern provinces are emerging. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), one of the most powerful Shiite parties, is leading the charge to form an autonomous "South of Baghdad Region." But 45 southern tribal notables in Najaf last week signed their own pact that envisions creating "the self-rule government of the unified Iraqi south." Regardless of which southern group wins out, Baghdad faces a formidable challenge that could mean not just the loss of electricity, but revenue from the region's ports and oil fields, and further fracturing along sectarian lines. "A federation of regions is one of the more practical solutions to Iraq's problems, but there is real fear that this will only be a prelude to partition," says Thamer al-Ameri, former adviser to the Iraqi parliament and now independent politician. When Najaf pulled the plug on its electricity from Baghdad, provincial spokesman Ahmed Duaibel said it was because the provincial officials felt Najaf was not getting its fair share of electricity. He says the province is prepared to turn on the power station's remote terminal unit, which normally allows Baghdad to manage the output, if Baghdad addresses provincial grievances. But one prominent resident who is familiar with the workings of the local authority says the move is part of a larger effort to include Najaf in the "South of Baghdad Region." The other provinces included in the project are Babil, Basra, Dhi Qar, Diwaniyah (also known as Qadisiyah), Karbala, Maysan, Muthana, and Wasit. In recent weeks, Ammar al-Hakim, the son of SIIC leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, has been leading a passionate grassroots campaign to rally support for the project.

Sectarianism Splits Security in Diyala

Militia from the Shia organisation Badr have taken over the police force in Diyala province north of Baghdad, residents say. The government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is believed to have backed such infiltration, and this has reportedly led to clashes with U.S. military leaders. The Daily Telegraph in London has reported that Maliki and General David Petraeus, U.S. commander of the multi-national force in Iraq, have clashed over moves by the U.S. general to arm some Sunni groups. Sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims has grown amidst Iraqi government policies seen as supportive of Shias. Maliki is from the Dawa Party backed by Shia Iran. In Baquba, 50km northeast of the capital, and capital of Diyala, residents say the Shia Badr Organisation, the armed wing of the politically dominant Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), has been dominant in the province since the early months of the occupation. The Badr Organisation managed to fill leadership positions in city and province, while Sunni Iraqis remained largely unrepresented. In this set-up, many sectarian killings have been carried out by the Badr Organisation, often under cover of the local police, residents told IPS. The SIIC and the Dawa Party of the Prime Minister are politically affiliated. Maliki is secretary-general of the Dawa Party, and spent time in exile in Iran after leading insurgent groups against former president Saddam Hussein. Maliki came to be Prime Minister after political pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former British foreign secretary Jack Straw forced former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, also from the al-Dawa Party, to resign. Residents of this violence-plagued city told IPS that it is common for Iraqi police and army forces, most of whom are militiamen with the Badr Organisation, to raid homes of Sunnis during the night, and take away men who are later found dead in the street.


Names and nationalities of known suicide bombers in Iraq

This list contains the names and countries of 139 suicide bombers in Iraq. The bombers came from the following countries: Saudi Arabia (53), Iraq (18), Italy (8), Syria (8), Kuwait (7), Jordan (4), Libya (3), Egypt (3), Tunisia (3), Turkey (3), Belgium (2), France (2), Spain (2), Yemen (3), Lebanon (1), Morocco (1), Britain (1), Bengal (1), Sudan (1) and Unknown (18). (Source: Adapted from "Suicide Bombers in Iraq" by Mohammed M. Hafez)

A Saudi bomber who lived to tell his tale is back home denouncing jihad

The story of Ahmed Abdullah al-Shayea sounds like a fairy tale, and not a very pleasant one. Recruited as a jihadi in the conservative Saudi town of Buraida as a 19-year-old, he volunteered to go to Iraq as a fighter. Once there, he balked when insurgents — including Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mussab al Zarqawi himself — tried to persuade him to become a suicide bomber. So instead, he claims, they told him his mission was to drive a huge fuel truck—with no truck-driving experience at all—through Baghdad neighborhoods—with which he had no familiarity whatever—and drop it off at the Saddam Towers. It was Christmas Day, 2004. Two other militants rode with him, but jumped out suddenly, leaving him alone. A less guileless person might have taken that as a sign, but al Shayea carried on driving toward his destination. Then as he approached the residence of the Jordanian ambassador in the Mansour neighborhood, another militant cynically pushed a remote control button and blew up the truck behind him, setting off a fireball that killed eight or nine people and wounded many others. Shayea really had no idea they were doing this, and certainly didn't intend to become a human fireball.

Surge of Suicide Bombers

In the video that serves as his last will and testament, the youthful, well-dressed Saudi, known only as "Fatima's FiancĂ©," is laughing and joking with the cameraman who will record his death a few minutes later. "Pray for Allah to make my mission easy," he says, and waves as he climbs into a maroon sedan, grinning broadly. "May Allah make it easy for you," the cameraman says obligingly, and laughs. The scene cuts away to an earlier interview, where the Saudi announces that when he gets to heaven he plans to marry a woman named Fatima, who was allegedly abused in Abu Ghraib Prison. Then the scene shifts to a highway in Iraq, with a line of 18-wheelers roaring along and a red circle superimposed over the bomber's approaching car. As the music swells and the screen fills with an orange-and-black fireball, the cameraman cries, "Thanks to Allah!" ….In the first three years of the war, there were fewer than 300 such attacks; in the year ending June 30 there were at least 540, according to a U.S. Department of Defense intelligence analyst in Iraq who specializes in the subject but is not authorized to speak on the record. Since January, the U.S. military says, more than 4,000 Iraqis have been killed or injured by suicide bombers. Last Wednesday, 50 more died in a truck bombing in Baghdad. "Iraq has superseded all the other suicide-bomb campaigns [in modern history] combined," says Mohammed Hafez, author of "Suicide Bombers in Iraq" and a U.S. government consultant.

….What's perhaps even more surprising is that the majority of the bombers are not Iraqi. National-security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie says that Saudis account for half the suicide bombings in Iraq. U.S. military estimates agree, and put Iraqis a distant second; in analyzing cases where the bomber's identity is definitively known, Hafez comes up with similar figures. Saudis play a little role in the insurgency as a whole but are key to the suicide-bombing campaign: the U.S. intelligence analyst estimates that "about half the Saudis crossing into Iraq come as suicide bombers."

U.S., Iranian Ambassadors Hold Talks

The U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq met Monday for their third round of talks on security in Iraq in just over two months, a U.S. official said, despite renewed military claims that Tehran is fueling the violence. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker met with his counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi for about two hours after U.S., Iraqi and Iranian experts held their first talks as part of a security subcommittee, according to the U.S. Embassy. The high-level discussions were "frank and serious," embassy spokesman Philip Reeker said. The diplomatic activity came a day after the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, blamed Iran for sharply increasing its support in providing weapons and training to rogue Shiite militiamen who he said had launched 73 percent of the attacks that killed or wounded American forces last month in Baghdad. That was nearly double the figure six months earlier, Odierno said, adding he believes Iran is trying to influence public opinion ahead of a pivotal September report due to U.S. Congress on political and military progress in Iraq.

IRNA also reported that the Iranian delegation enumerated the U.S. "support for veteran (militant) elements, giving terrorists a free hand in specific locations in Iraq" as well as the "weak points of the U.S. security-political plan in Iraq." The agency said the Iranian delegation insisted on Tehran's support for Nouri al-Maliki's government to establish security and bring stability to Iraq, an apparent reference to the political crisis surrounding the Shiite leader. Iran holds considerable sway in Iraq, where the majority of the population is also Shiite Muslim and where Shiite political parties have close ties to Tehran. Al-Maliki was slated to visit the Islamic republic Wednesday, a day after a trip to Turkey. His government has said it wants good relations with Iran while insisting there should be no interference in its internal affairs. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the session as professional and useful, adding that another will be held at some point.

The meetings were welcomed by the fragile Iraqi government, which has called on both sides not to let their tensions disrupt efforts to bring stability to Iraq. President Jalal Talabani expressed hope the experts meeting would "succeed in achieving security and stability in Iraq," his office said. "The president hopes that Iran will play a positive role in finding a way to achieve the ambitions of the Iraqi people."

Turkey To Warn Iraq On Rebel Sanctuaries

Turkish leaders this week will give visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki what Turkish military commanders and analysts said could be a final warning to act against anti-Turkey Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq - or to stand by while Turkish forces go after the rebels themselves, risking a new front in Iraq's war. Leaders of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party appear to be in agreement with Turkey's generals that the time has come to move against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish initials, PKK, in its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, former generals and a military expert close to the Turkish military's general staff said. At least 30,000 people have been killed since the Kurdish rebels launched a campaign in 1984 for an independent Kurdish homeland in eastern Turkey. Clashes and bombs this week killed 14 Turkish soldiers and rebel fighters. The rebels also kidnapped eight residents of a Kurdish village in the east.

Turkey accuses Iraq's Kurds - who have built a nearly autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq under protection of the U.S. military since the early 1990s - of giving the Kurdish rebels a haven and allowing them free passage back and forth across the Iraqi border into Turkey. It could be any moment, basically," said Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow and director at the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute in Washington who is familiar with the Turkish military command. Turkey's military, outraged at what it says have been escalating attacks on its troops by the PKK, has been warning for months of an imminent invasion of northern Iraq in pursuit of the PKK. The timing of a Turkish attack is a matter of "whenever it's convenient," Baran said. "August or September," she added. Baran and some others expect U.S. forces to join in if Turkey does act against the rebels in northern Iraq. The scenario most often cited is an operation involving U.S. and Turkish special forces already in northern Iraq.

Turkish Commandos Inside Iraq?

Hundreds of Turkish commandos have crossed the border into northern Iraq, according to a report by PUKmedia, a news service associated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The news comes just as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is scheduled to lead an Iraqi delegation to Ankara for talks on Tuesday. There has been no official confirmation, but PUKmedia reported that on Saturday the Turkish military began an intense shelling of Zakho district, followed by the infiltration of 300-350 Turkish commandos into Sari Spi region, northeast of Zakho. Villages in the area, situated along the northwestern border with Turkey, face regular bombardment by Turkish mortars, and it is not unheard of for a limited number of Turkish troops to cross the frontier in hot pursuit ops. However, if the PUKmedia report that these troops have deployed across the border and taken control of strategic sites is accurate, that would seem a more significant operation may be imminent.

In the Middle of a Civil War

I ordered a concrete barrier to be built around Amiriyah and limited entry to one checkpoint controlled by the Iraqi army. The goal was to keep Sunni insurgents from bringing in weapons and to prevent attacks by Shiite militias. But while the barrier helped isolate the neighborhood from outside insurgents and militias, it could not stop, and actually facilitated, killings within Amiriyah. The security we helped provide for Sunnis gave them increased freedom to go out and kill Shiites or, more recently, to conduct fights against local al-Qaeda members. Amiriyah became one of the safest areas in Baghdad for Sunnis but lethal for the few remaining Shiites.

On many days I watched families moving in or out of Amiriyah. The families moving in were Sunni and often had been told to leave another area of Baghdad that was predominantly Shiite. If they were moving out, they were Shiites whom the Sunni locals or insurgents had threatened. Sometimes I saw homes burning, having been set aflame because the owner or occupants were Shiite. The war that I faced was an insurgency within a civil war. I wish it had been the other way around. Had it been a civil war within an insurgency, the extremes could have been targeted and controlled and the large center of the people moved toward local compromise. My primary objective as a commander was to protect all the people. I felt a measure of responsibility every time a Shiite body showed up on the streets. One day last October, my patrol came upon a scene I keep trying to forget. A man was lying on the street; his wife, who had blood running down her face, stood nearby crying as she clutched their baby. The child in her arms was dead, shot in the head, as the father had been. The man, who was a Sunni, and his child were killed by Sunni insurgents or local Sunnis -- sometimes it was hard to tell them apart -- because he had married a Shiite woman. How can this not be civil war? [This does not make sense. The Sunni insurgents murdered a Sunni for marrying a Shi’ite women, and murdered their child, but did not kill the women? It is possible that the murdered man was cooperating with the occupying forces, but that does not explain the murder of the child. – dancewater]

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: What the United States did is destroy an entire state, entire infrastructure, all of the institutions, so that there, you know -- so, of course, life was better when you had a system that was functioning. – Sinan Antoon