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 8, 2007

News & Views 08/08/07

.Photo: Iraqi shop-owners stop their work as U.S. soldiers from the 2nd battalion, 32nd Field Artillery brigade, patrol their market in Baghdad August 7, 2007. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Disaster looms as 'Saddam dam' struggles to hold back the Tigris

As world attention focuses on the daily slaughter in Iraq, a devastating disaster is impending in the north of the country, where the wall of a dam holding back the Tigris river north of Mosul city is in danger of imminent collapse. "It could go at any minute," says a senior aid worker who has knowledge of the struggle by US and Iraqi engineers to save the dam. "The potential for disaster is very great." If the dam does fail, a wall of water will sweep into Mosul, Iraq's third largest city with a population of 1.7 million, 20 miles to the south. Experts say the flood waters could destroy 70 per cent of Mosul and inflict heavy damage 190 miles downstream along the Tigris. The dam was built between 1980 and 1984 and has long been known to be in a dangerous condition because of unstable bedrock. "The dam was constructed on a foundation of marls, soluble gypsum, anhydrite, and karstic limestone that are continuously dissolving," said specialists at the US embassy in a statement. "The dissolution creates an increased risk for dam failure."

Militiants using water to extort “favours” from displaced

Many internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps in Iraq are facing shortages of water, especially clean drinking water, and the situation is being exploited by unscrupulous militants, local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say. Some displaced families have said militants have been delivering clean water to their camps by truck and demanding money, goods or “favours” in return. “They [militants] sometimes ask for money knowing we don’t have any, and then start to search our tents to see if there is something useful, while armed men stay near the truck with their guns aimed at us,” said Omar Lattif, 45, an IDP at Rahman camp on the outskirts of Missan in southern Iraq. “Sometimes they even ask for fun with ‘nice girls’,” he said, adding that two men in the community had been killed for confronting militants demanding sex for water. Fatah Ahmed, a spokesman for the Iraq Aid Association (IAA), said they had informed the local authorities of such cases but had not received a response.

….. South Peace Organisation (SPO), an NGO based in southern Iraq, said water-borne diseases and dehydration were becoming common among displaced children. “At least 58 percent of displaced children in Iraq have one kind of ailment or another, mostly water-borne illnesses like diarrhoea,” said Mayada Obeid, a spokesperson for SPO. “Doctors have found the main reason has been the hot weather and dirty water delivered to them.”

Iraqi security forces lack benefits

Each morning as he leaves for work, Jawad Khatham reminds his family that he might not come home alive. "I tell them, 'Be careful, try to save money just in case something happens,' " the 27-year-old police officer said. He has a verse from the Koran in his wallet for luck, a laminated, pocket-size sheet he was carrying when a car bombing seriously injured him in September as he patrolled the capital. The blast tore off a piece of his skull, portions of his ears and skin from his forearms and right shoulder. "I expected it to happen to me — that there would be an explosion, or I would be shot," he said. Unlike U.S. counterparts, Iraqi police officers and soldiers generally don't have medical or life insurance. And though Iraqi leaders have promised to take care of those injured and disabled in the line of duty, along with the families of those who are killed, some relatives say they struggle to get benefits. The families are not even guaranteed slain officers' pensions because a pension bill is tied up in parliament. Instead, they must apply every six months to receive the officers' monthly salaries, a system commanders concede is rife with corruption.

Continuing violence boosts funeral industry in Baghdad

The continuing violence in Baghdad is fuelling a boom in the funeral industry. Back in Saddam Hussein's time, coffin maker Abdul-Wahab Khalil Mohammed used to sell one or two coffins a day at US$5-US$10 each. Now he produces an average of 15 to 20 coffins a day and charges $50-$75 for each one. "Our business is booming,” said Mohammed pointing to at least seven caskets in front of his tiny shop in Baghdad's central Allawi area. Professional mourners like 51-year-old Um Ali, who attends funerals to add emotion to the ceremony, are also cashing in. "I feel like I'm a death toll meter. Since the end of 2005, I’ve been doing a daily average of three to five funerals," said Um Ali.

Mosul Christian Community Dwindles

They have been threatened because of their Christian faith, their distinctive clothing and their success in business. They have been killed because of a controversy over a cartoon. They have fled to wherever they can find a minimal amount of safety - to Iraqi Kurdistan, abroad to Syria, or just to the countryside outside their city. The Christians of Mosul can recite one horror story after another. Once a solid, middle-class community in this northern city, thousands of them have fled their homes under threat from militants. Their churches have been bombed, their clergy murdered, and community members regularly face threats and kidnappings. The story of Mosul's Christians is not dissimilar to that of millions of other Iraqi citizens who live in a state of fear. But their religion makes them especially vulnerable, in a city where governance and the rule of law are non-existent, allowing criminal gangs and Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda to intimidate and kill with impunity.

Electricity output meets only half of domestic needs

The Ministry of Electricity has finally acknowledged its inability to meet the country’s needs, blaming the current chronic shortages on lack of fuel. Informed sources at the ministry said current output was less than half what the country needs amid soaring temperatures brushing 50 degrees centigrade. The sources said electrical generation capacity is even worse than in the months before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The ministry blames the present prolonged outages, which may continue non-stop in certain areas for several consecutive days, on fuel shortages. Rows are reported to have broken out at cabinet meetings between Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani and Electricity Minister Kareem Hassan over fuel supplies. Hassan is said to have accused Shahristani of failing to honor commitments to supply power stations with their fuel needs, saying that much of the reduced capacity is due to stoppages caused by lack of fuel.

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.

Checkpoints: Baghdad's Russian Roulette

If there is one thing that has become the defining feature of everyday life in Baghdad, it is the checkpoint. They may be a familiar sight in other regional states where tensions run high, such as Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but checkpoints are nowhere as important as in Baghdad. The once-diverse Iraqi capital has become a patchwork of ethnic and sectarian divisions separated by concrete walls and countless checkpoints. The number of official controls has skyrocketed since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003. Around 1,000 exist in Baghdad at the present time, in addition to an unknown number of informal ones set up by various militias as well as outlawed insurgent groups. The official checkpoints are run by the defence and interior ministries, and they are considerably better organised since the 2005 elections. Each government control is manned by five to ten soldiers or policemen armed with Kalashnikov rifles and equipped with armoured vehicles or four-wheel-drive cars. Some are permanent, while others are set up wherever the security situation requires it. The two ministries have divided the city's various districts between them. The defence ministry, regarded as a Sunni-led institution, controls the checkpoints in al-Karkh, the Sunni part of Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris, while the Shia-led interior ministry is responsible for security in the majority Shia section of the city, Rusafa, which lies on the east bank of the Tigris.

….. A hostage who survived being kidnapped by an armed militia also suggested that police collaborate with groups which abduct civilians and hold them to ransom. The man, who has a business making soft drinks, and asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said he was kidnapped a few months ago at the Jamila wholesale market. The militants who seized him put them in the trunk of their car, which drove off and then stopped after a while. “A policeman at a checkpoint opened the trunk but closed it again, as if he didn’t see me,” he said. “I was later released in return for 25,000 US dollars.” In the general atmosphere of mistrust, ad hoc mobile checkpoints pose the biggest risk to members of the public, as it is impossible to gauge who is waiting there - real security forces, Sunni insurgents or Shia militiamen. To complicate matters, the men in uniform could be genuine policemen, but operating in cahoots with one of the militias. Or it could be Sunni insurgents disguised as security forces. Marwan, a Baghdad journalist who requested that his last name not be used, remembers driving through the embattled quarter of Dora, south of the capital, with three friends. "Suddenly we saw a checkpoint manned with police in front of us, and we were afraid we’d be killed because we were all Sunnis," he said. "But the men were Sunni jihadis [insurgents] in disguise, looking for real policemen to kill. We had to show our IDs, and they let us go." Thousands of people have been killed by Shia and Sunni death squads for belonging to the wrong group, and moving through the city these days is like Russian roulette. This is especially true for people whose names clearly identify them as belonging to a particular group, such as the typically Sunni Omar, or Ali, a common Shia name. Nearly everyone driving around Baghdad carries two sets of identification with them - their real ID and a fake one. One identifies them as Sunni, the other as Shia. Showing the right document can save their lives.

Kirkuk Tensions Rise as Fateful Ballot Nears

Sectarian conflict in oil-rich Kirkuk has increased as Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman vie for control of the city and its resources, ahead of a referendum to decide if it will become part of the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq. Residents of Kirkuk - nicknamed “Little Iraq" because nearly all of the nation's ethnicities and religions are represented here - say they are being targeted by rival sectarian political groups. The intimidation and violence is such that Suni and Shia Arabs do not dare to go to Kurdish neighbourhoods; Kurds avoid Arabs; and Turkoman and Christians rarely move from their areas. Kirkuk's major religious and ethnic groups blame one another for the violence that has increased ahead of the referendum, which will determine whether Kirkuk and some disputed territories close to Mosul will be governed by the Kurdish Regional Government, KRG, or the central authorities in Baghdad. The constitution stipulates that the ballot be held by the end of this year.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

The struggle for Iraq's oil flares up as Kurds open doors to foreign investors

With the Bush administration pressing the Iraqi government to pass a new hydrocarbons law, there are widely voiced assumptions that it will bulldoze the oil industry into privatisation, and that foreign firms - meaning US ones - will unfairly reap the rewards. A survey published yesterday by a group of British and American NGOs suggested most Iraqis oppose plans to open the oilfields to foreign investment. Yesterday, in a nudge to their counterparts in Baghdad who have taken a summer break, the Kurdish parliament in Irbil passed its own petroleum law. It has also listed 40 exploration blocs in the Kurdistan region it is putting out for tender. "We do not want to be hobbled by the political paralysis in Baghdad," said Mr Hawrami. "We believe that the production-sharing agreements are the best way to move swiftly forward and help not just the Kurds but all Iraqis." The operations at Taq Taq and Tawke are based on controversial production-sharing agreements signed with the Kurdistan regional government, under which the private companies get between 10%-20% of the profit. The rest goes into government hands.

Such production-sharing agreements are anathema to much of Iraq's oil establishment, as well as to the country's oil unions. The unions, which are strongest in the southern oilfields around Basra, have also rounded on the Iraqi oil minister, Hussein Shahristani, threatening to disrupt production and exports if foreign oil companies are granted too much access to Iraqi oil. In response, Mr Shahristani has ordered his ministry's agencies and departments not to deal with the unions. The prospect of the Kurds going it alone on oil has raised concerns among neighbouring countries, some of which view the move as an attempt to establish an economic platform for future independence. Kurdish officials dismiss such claims as nonsense and stress they want cooperation with Baghdad and their regional neighbours, not confrontation. "It will be very difficult for the Kurds, who have little oil experience, to produce and export in the face of opposition from Baghdad and the region," said a western diplomat in Iraq. "Baghdad controls the existing pipeline infrastructure, and neighbouring Turkey is where Kurdistan's oil would be pumped." However, he said: "It will be very difficult and probably unwise for the oil minister to try to undo the Kurds' achievements on the ground."

Battling for Power in Basra

Exerting military clout and carving up lucrative businesses are the order of the day in southern Iraqi politics. The concrete walls that surround the Fadhila party's compound in Sharish, north of Basra city centre, resemble the barricades around the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. Last spring, fierce clashes erupted between Fadhila and the Mahdi Army, a paramilitary group loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Several people were killed on both sides and offices and buildings belonging to the two parties were destroyed. Mediators from tribes and other political parties managed to end the fighting but as Abu Ali al-Baaj, a mid-level Mahdi Army commander, put it, "The tensions were not buried for good.” The reason for the battle was simple - as the governing party in Basra, Fadhila had replaced the head of the local electricity deparment, who happened to be a Sadr supporter. Behind the fa├žade of democratic institutions such as councils and the police force, Iraq’s second-largest city with about 2.6 million inhabitants, has fallen into the grip of competing militias who are as suspicious of one another as rival mafia families. When the two militias began fighting over the post of electricity chief, the police force divided into factions which turned their weapons on one another. Police cars were used to transport militia members.

…..The real conflict in oil-rich Basra is about who controls the resources. Illegal oil exports, which along with control over security and public resources, counts as the most important income source for all the parties, is carved up among them. A fragile balance of power has evolved where Fadhila is in charge of the government’s oil protection force and, with it, the oil production infrastructure and export terminals. The Sadrists dominate in the local police force, the facilities protection service and the Basra port authority. Together with the small Iraqi Hizbollah party, they also have a strong presence in the customs police force, while the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council dominates the intelligence apparatus and the well-equipped commando units that formally come under the interior ministry in Baghdad.

Unholy War in Karbala

When Saddam Hussein’s regime fell in April 2003, the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf overnight became the focus of great hopes and fears all at once. Under Saddam, Iraq’s Shia majority was repressed, their political and religious aspirations crushed and their clerics kept firmly under the control of the state. With the arrival of the United States-led coalition, the clerical establishment in the twin cities was back centre stage. Najaf and Karbala were seen as key to winning the battle for Shia hearts and minds - at least that is what Washington hoped, Tehran feared and many Iraqis believed. The general perception seemed to be that a central order would establish itself among Iraq’s Shia community and would exercise control over the different shrines and the “hawzas”, the Shia colleges or seminaries. But these expectations proved badly mistaken. Today no one force - neither the Iranian-influenced clerics nor the Iraqi nationalist scholars - is in full control of Najaf and Karbala. Instead, there is constant turmoil as different factions struggle for power. The Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Badr militia of Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir al-Hakim, and the followers of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, regarded as Iraq’s supreme Shia authority, all compete for influence. Amid the anarchy, a new kind of Shia leader emerged which no one had anticipated, and which now represents a serious threat to the rule of law in the most important Shia religious centres: self-appointed clerics who combine the might of armed militias with an almost messianic sense of purpose.

US Arming Tribes Around Baghdad

The US military is conducting “accelerated” operations to arm Sunni tribes in the areas surrounding Baghdad, according to a report in an Arabic-language news source. Iraqi security officials have informed al-Melaf that the US military is proceeding with a plan to arm Sunni tribes in areas surrounding the capital, enrolling them in special brigades that report directly to the US military. The agency reports that the tribal fighters earn “good salaries” as a “first stage” in the enlisting of the tribesmen to support the police forces. According to the report, the leadership of the tribal forces have been granted military ranks without the involvement of the Iraqi interior ministry.

Iraq Joining Turkish Fight Against PKK

The PKK may be facing tough times ahead, and not only from the Turkish military. In a dramatic turn of events, Kurdistan's Prime Minister Negervan al-Barazani on Tuesday confirmed the presence of a limited number of Turkish troops inside the governate, explaining they are in northern Iraq with the permission of the Kurdish regional authorities. Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreeing to join with Anakara in combating the Kurdish rebel group that has long enjoyed sanctuary in Kurdistan.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

US Funded Lincoln Group Producing Comics for Iraq

Here is the official US Government notification of the sole-source contract award to the Lincoln Group to produce yet another in a series of US military-funded Arabic-language comic books depicting Iraqi security forces as heroes in the fight against terrorists and insurgents.

U.N. Offers to Bolster Presence in Baghdad

The United Nations has offered to bolster its presence in Baghdad for the first time in more than three years, laying the groundwork for a more ambitious role in mediating the country's sectarian disputes. The move comes three weeks after President Bush delivered his second personal appeal to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to help resolve some of Iraq's intractable religious and ethnic conflicts. The top U.N. political adviser, B. Lynn Pascoe, told the Security Council Tuesday that the United Nations would be prepared to increase the size of its mission in Baghdad by nearly 50 percent, raising the ceiling from 65 to as many as 95 international staffers in the coming months. The United Nations is also seeking $130 million in funds to build a heavily reinforced compound in Baghdad to house its growing mission. Ban has been committed to do more in Iraq than his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who vigorously opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Ban has been constrained by the worsening violence and resistance among some U.N. officials who fear inheriting some of the responsibilities in Iraq.

The surge: a special report by Patrick Cockburn

The war in Iraq passed a significant but little remarked anniversary this summer. The conflict that President George Bush announced was in effect over on 1 May 2003 has now gone on longer than the First World War. Like that great conflict almost a century ago, the Iraqi war has been marked by repeated claims that progress is being made and that a final breakthrough is in the offing. Six months after the surge was actually launched, in mid- February, it has failed as dismally as so many First World War offensives. The US Defense Department says that, this June, the average number of attacks on US and Iraqi forces, civilian forces and infrastructure peaked at 177.8 per day, higher than in any month since the end of May 2003. The US has failed to gain control of Baghdad. The harvest of bodies picked up every morning first fell and then rose again. This may be because the Mehdi Army militia, who provided most of the Shia death squads, was stood down by Sadr. Nobody in Baghdad has much doubt that they could be back in business any time they want. Whatever Bush might say, the US military commanders in Iraq clearly did not want to take on the Mehdi Army and the Shia community when they were barely holding their own against the Sunni. In fact, he himself forgot this almost immediately. A year later, the US forced out the first democratically elected Shia prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, with the then US Ambassador in Baghdad, Zilmay Khalilzad, saying that Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, and doesn't accept that Jaafari should form the next government".

More lies have been told about casualties in Iraq and the general level of violence there than at almost any time since the First World War. In that conflict, a British minister remarked sourly that he suspected the military authorities of keeping three sets of casualty figures: "One to deceive the Cabinet, a second to deceive the people and a third to achieve themselves." The American attitude to Iraqi civilian casualties is along much the same lines. The Baker-Hamilton report drawn up by senior non-partisan Democrats and Republicans last year examined one day in July 2006, when the US military had reported 93 attacks on US and Iraqi forces. Investigation by US intelligence agencies revealed that the real figure was about 1,100. The Iraqi government has sought to conceal civilian casualty figures by banning journalists from the scenes of bombings, and banned hospitals and the Health Ministry from giving information. In July, AP reported, 2,024 Iraqis died violently, a 23 per cent rise on June, which was the last month for which the government gave a figure.

This is almost certainly an underestimate. In a single bombing in the district of Karada in Baghdad on 26 July, Iraqi television and Western media cited the police as saying that there were 25 dead and 100 wounded. A week later, a list of the names of 92 dead and 127 wounded, compiled by municipal workers, was pinned up on shuttered shopfronts in the area. The US military began the war by saying that it was not keeping count of Iraqi civilians killed by its troops. It often describes bodies found after a US raid as belonging to insurgents when the local Iraqi police say they are civilians killed by the immense firepower deployed by the American forces. Almost the only time a real investigation of such killings is carried out is when the local staff of Western media outlets are among the dead.

COMMENTARY

Analysis: Time to withdraw Iraq oil law?

Iraq's citizens suffer from the August heat, little electricity and fuel. Death is seemingly around every corner. So the time may not be right for an oil law, especially the one the Bush administration wants. United Press International has found a recurring theme over recent months during coverage of the Iraq oil law: creating a law governing the bloodline to Iraq's economy should be less of a priority than stopping the bloodletting of Iraq's citizens. "There is no hurry whatsoever," said Muhammad-Ali Zainy, senior energy economist and analyst at the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies. "Iraq really, now, is bleeding and losing its people in this horrible way and there is terrorism and all that and lack of the provisional basic services. "Everything bad, there is in Iraq. Why should the government leave all these urgent needs to be addressed and then go to the hydrocarbon law?" The Bush administration has focused on Iraq's oil since at least 2001. Remodeling the nationalized oil sector has been part of the U.S. occupation's effort to rework Iraq's economy overall. Washington has pushed the oil law because it views it as legislative and economic progress. And President Bush, as well as Congress, included the oil law as a benchmark for Iraq's government, supposedly marking success and reconciliation. For average citizens, there is little to no regular electricity, and they stand in hours-long lines to buy transportation, heating and cooking fuels in temperatures that average well above 100 degrees in summer. There's a countrywide fuel shortage and, with average unemployment reaching past 60 percent, mass poverty.

Most Iraqis don't have access to potable water, according to the United Nations, thus waterborne illnesses are on the rise in a country with an overburdened hospital system. To put an infrastructure problem in American terms, since 2003 Iraqis have already experienced devastating bridge collapses that eclipse last week's in Minnesota. And, every day in Iraq, there are a number of Virginia Tech-grade massacres. A third more Iraqi civilians died in July than June, according to the Iraqi government; at least 81 U.S. troops were killed last month - nearly double July 2006. "There are certain priorities that one must look at," said former Iraq Oil Minister Issam al-Chalabi, now living in Amman, Jordan. "The situation is so chaotic, people there - nobody can even walk on the streets. Forget about what you've been told by the press, by the media, by the government, by the United States. "But we're talking about what the people are seeing with their own eyes in a country that people are afraid to send their children to school, people are afraid to go to work, hundreds of Iraqis are being killed every day. "What's so important about issuing a law that cannot even be implemented?" Chalabi asked. [Well, I think we all know the answer to that one. – dancewater]

The myth of mistrust

"Clearly the withdrawal of the Sunnis from the government is discouraging at the national level," said US defence secretary Robert Gates. "We probably underestimated the depth of mistrust [between Sunnis and Shias]." This is disingenuous. While bemoaning the "depth of mistrust" between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, the Bush administration has been playing it up in the rest of the Arab Middle East. Two days earlier, Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice announced a massive $63bn arms sale to the Sunni monarchical regimes in the Persian Gulf and Egypt - ostensibly to counter the influence of Iran, a predominantly Shia state. Their criticism of the Sunni Arab regimes for failing to implement the commitments - specifically setting up embassies in Baghdad - they had made about backing the Shia-led Maliki government two months earlier, highlighted the contradictions in America's policy in the region.

It has been crystal clear that the government of Maliki - who spent several years in Iran as a fugitive during the Iraq-Iran war from 1980 to 1988 - is on the friendliest of terms with the regime in Tehran. This was also the case with the preceding Iraqi government led by Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shia leader who had also taken refuge in Iran in the 1980s. So, here is the Bush White House trying, on one hand, to secure support for the pro-Tehran, Shia-led Iraqi government from other Arab regimes, all of them Sunni; and, on the other hand, encouraging the Sunni Arab leaders to be robust in their public rejection of Iran.


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: "Life was better under Saddam," said a 35-year-old Christian businessman in Mosul who asked not to be named because he feared retaliation by militant groups. "I used to go out socially and was well-respected, but not any more. In the past, there was law and order, but now nothing stops the extremists or criminals."

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