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

Monday, August 13, 2007

News & Views 08/13/07

Photo: Bayan Mahmoud grieves for her husband, Mahmoud Saber, a 24-year-old police officer killed outside Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2007. Gunmen ambushed a police patrol southwest of the northern city of Kirkuk, killing three officers and wounding another, police Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said. (AP Photo/ Emad Matti)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

In Iraq, sex is traded for survival

When Rana Jalil, 38, lost her husband in an explosion in Baghdad last year, she could never have imagined becoming a prostitute in order to feed her children. A mother of four, Jalil sought out employment, but job opportunities for women had decreased since the US invasion. She begged shop owners, office workers and companies to hire her but was treated with what she calls chauvinistic discrimination. Within weeks of her husband's death, a doctor diagnosed her children with malnutrition. Fighting tears, she recalled the desperation which led her to the oldest profession: "In the beginning these were the worst days in my life. My husband was the first man I met and slept with, but I didn't have another option … my children were starving." She left the house in a daze, she recalled, and walked to the nearest market to find someone who would pay her for sex.

…. Nuha Salim, the spokesperson for OWFI, told Al Jazeera: "Widows are one of our priorities but their situation is worsening and we are feeling ineffective to cope with this significant problem. Hundreds of women are searching for an easy way to support their loved ones as employers refuse to hire them for fear of extremists' reprisals." She said the NGO has documented the disappearance of some 4000 women, 20 per cent of whom are under 18, since the March 2003 invasion. OWFI believes most of the missing women were kidnapped and sold into prostitution outside Iraq. Although few reliable statistics are available on the total number of widows in Iraq, the ministry of women's affairs says that there are at least 350,000 in Baghdad alone, with more than eight million throughout the country.

Water Supplies Dwindle in Besieged Town

Water resources are dangerously scarce in an area just outside of Baghdad where US forces have enforced harsh curfew measures since last month. In the town of Husseiniya, about nine miles north of Baghdad, local sources tell IraqSlogger that residents are sufferring a lack of potable fresh water. The area has been under American siege for weeks as US forces crack down on the Mahdi Army militia. Entrance points have been barricaded by concrete blocks, residents told IraqSlogger. Vehicular traffic is not allowed in the area, and residents must walk or use animal-drawn carts to travel to the outer borders of the city in order to purchase daily necessities, according to earlier reports. US forces have been searching the area for four men associated with the Mahdi Army, the Shi'a militia associated with the Sadrist current, followers of the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, residents report. Skirmishes have erupted between local gunmen and US forces, residents report, saying that some of the airstrikes launched by US forces in response have led to civilian fatalites.

Kurdish Woman Kills Self, 5 Orphaned

Neighbors rushed to the house of a 34-year-old Kurdish woman after learning that her husband a police officer was one of three killed in an ambush Sunday near Kirkuk. But Layla Ridha Mohammed could not be comforted. She went inside, grabbed a pistol and shot herself in the head. The couple's five young children are now orphans. "Layla has a strong personality, but she must have felt undone by this event and not knowing how she could continue without him," said Bahjat Fattah Mustafa, a police officer and relative of the deceased. "They are a poor family." The suicide was a grim illustration of how tragedies often compound in a country being ripped apart by sectarian and other violence. Mohammed's husband, Muhsin Ali, and two of his colleagues were killed in a drive-by shooting while on patrol southwest of Kirkuk, a disputed, oil-rich city 180 miles north of Baghdad. Associated Press photos afterward show a policeman collapsed in grief, still wearing a black bulletproof vest over his blue uniform. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the ambush. Iraqi security forces are frequently targeted by militants who accuse them of collaborating with U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government. Mohammed's children, ages 5 to 11, are now staying with an uncle, Mustafa said, promising they would be well cared for by the extended family in the Kirkuk suburb of Daqouq.

Faction war fears in Iraq city after convoy attack

Residents of the southern Iraqi city of Diwaniya said on Sunday they feared all-out war among rival Shi'ite factions after the governor and police chief were assassinated. Diwaniya governor Khalil Jalil Hamza and police chief Major-General Khaled Hassan were killed on Saturday when their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb. Retired civil servant Akram Adel said residents were worried that fighting could quickly escalate and spread. "The fear is of an open armed conflict," he said. "This could burn down the city completely. It will not be limited to Diwaniya but would extend to all of Iraq, becoming a Shi'ite-Shi'ite war, and God knows when it would end."

VIDEO: Iraqi Interpreters Under Threat, Facing Death

The young Iraqi known as Ronnie fears for his life. Nearly four years ago, as a recent high school graduate, he signed up to be an interpreter for the U.S. military. It seemed like a good job at the time. Today, he is a marked man. "I swear, my god, every other night, I have a nightmare that some militia is trying to kill me," he says. "I've lost hope. I can't see any future to this country. That's why most of the interpreters want to get out of Iraq." But for Ronnie and thousands of other interpreters working with the U.S. military, getting out is unspeakably difficult. And with insurgents and death squads viewing them as collaborators with the enemy, going back home isn't a realistic option, either.

VIDEO: Death is More Than A Number

CNN's Arwa Damon reports on what is left behind after one innocent life was violently taken in Iraq.

Trouble Grows In Iraq's Shiite South

Assassinations and party rivalries roil economically vital southern Iraq as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki bids to solve a national political rift in talks this week. The Shiite-on-Shiite struggle for Iraq's economically important south has taken a violent turn. Qadisiyah Province's governor was killed by a roadside bomb over the weekend, clashes in Basra Province killed at least three, and tensions are rising in Najaf as figures close to the senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have been targeted in a wave of assassinations. "We are going to witness an escalation of this conflict ... the Shiites were never united, the question now is who's going to represent the Shiites," says Mustafa al-Ani, an analyst with the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. The widening split among Shiites parallels the national Iraqi political fissures. On Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for meetings to begin Monday with the country's main political leaders to fix the national political paralysis. Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the largest Sunni block in Parliament that withdrew from Maliki's government, told the Associated Press that Sunnis were being exposed to a "genocide campaign by the militias and death squads that are directed, armed, and supported by Iran." Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, asked for Arab countries to intervene to protect Sunnis.

Sectarian 'Cleansing' In Baghdad

The expressway skirting the Amil neighborhood in Baghdad is only a couple of miles from Mahmoud Mekki's home, but it might as well be a hundred. To reach it, Mekki must pass checkpoints guarded by Iraqi police commandos who he says are really Shiite Muslim militiamen trying to drive Sunni Muslims out of Amil. So Mekki, a Sunni, remains holed up in his home, dependent on sympathetic Shiite neighbors to pick up his groceries and run other errands. "I ask you to help us!" Mekki sobbed on the phone late one hot July night. "I don't want democracy! I just want security." Iraqi and American military officials say incidents of sectarian "cleansing" in Baghdad have decreased since a U.S. military clampdown began in February, but what is happening in Amil and neighboring Bayaa belies the claim. Since May, Iraqi police say, more than 160 bodies have been found in Amil and Bayaa - men without identification, usually shot and bearing signs of torture, hallmarks of sectarian death squads. On many days, the number of corpses found in the two neighborhoods account for half of those picked up across the capital. Before the war, Amil and Bayaa were middle-class neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shiites lived easily among one another. Now, not only are they mainly Shiite, but they have become prime territory for Shiite militias looking to expand into the surrounding Sunni-dominated areas. Representatives of Al Mahdi, the militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, blame the violence on Sunni extremists linked to the group Al Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni leaders blame Al Mahdi men. Residents say that Iraqi security forces are complicit in the violence, and that there aren't enough U.S. forces to stop it. U.S. and Iraqi military officials say the problem isn't as bad as they say.

An unlikely survivor in Baghdad's carnage

Nine months old, underweight, malnourished, fatherless and half Sunni, half Shiite, she already had enough deadly handicaps growing up in Saydia, a battlefield suburb that has become one of the worst sectarian killing zones in Baghdad. On July 25, a death squad shot her mother and uncle - each three times in the head - in their dilapidated half-finished squat. EJKs, in U.S. military shorthand: extrajudicial killings. Fatima's 7-year-old brother fled and flagged down a joint patrol of the Iraqi National Police and U.S. soldiers. The Iraqis found the bodies and collected Fatima's siblings from neighboring houses. But the 7-year-old kept asking, "What about my sister?" Outside, in the garbage-strewn yard, they found the whimpering baby, hidden under a metal sheet in oppressive heat. Fatima survived. She is in the U.S. military's 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Nurses say she weighed less than half the normal weight of a 9-month-old, but she is recovering well.

'The British don't bother to guard my daughter'

A year after starting as an interpreter with the British Army in Basra, Hula was dead. She was raped and beheaded, her corpse dumped in a nondescript, rubbish-strewn part of the city. The 24-year-old, a recent graduate in English, signed up in 2004 for a job that would put her in the firing line alongside British troops. It would also make her a prime target for the ruthless, powerful militias who would come to control the streets. "We knew she was taking a big risk," her father, Abu Ali, told The Independent on Sunday. The taxi driver asked that neither his nor his daughter's full names be revealed, fearing his seven remaining children are still under threat.

PHOTOS: Crush of desperation for humanitarian aid in Baquba

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Missing Links blog has several articles on the development of the Iraqi resistance. It is too long, and too complicated, to quote.

Iran Ties Weaken Government Further

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's increasing ties with Iran have triggered a splintering of his government. Several groups, both Sunni and Shia, have followed the Sunni al-Tawafuq bloc (Iraqi Accord Front) in quitting the U.S.-backed government. But Maliki refuses to make the concessions necessary to bring his "unity" government back together. Spokesman Iyad Jamaliddin said on behalf of the Iraqi National List led by former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi that the ministers of his group would now boycott government meetings. The party claims both Shia and Sunni following. "We will inform the President, his deputies and the Prime Minister of the essential happenings and needs (of Iraqis) when necessary," Jamaliddin told IPS in Baghdad. This means that the entire Sunni bloc has refused to deal with Maliki. The al-Tawafuq bloc has 44 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly, and Allawi's group 25. Their decision cannot unsettle the ruling Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance that has 128 seats and rules with the support of some small groups, but it would further deny the government legitimacy in the face of widespread perceptions that the government follows sectarian policies in support of Shias.

……Maliki's visited Iran on the date on which former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein declared victory in his war with Iran. "If the visit were meant to be on that date intentionally, then it would be a terrible mistake by Maliki," Nadim al-Jaburi, general secretary of the Shia al-Fadhila Party that was part of the ruling coalition until its withdrawal from the government in March told IPS. "I am sure Iranians would not have visited Iraq on that date. If it was coincidence, then it only shows how inconsiderate Maliki is about our country." Others too had misgivings about Maliki's visit to Tehran. "Maliki is Iranian and he went there to show his solidarity with his own people," Majid Hamid, a lawyer from Baghdad told IPS. "He has no self-respect and no consideration for the history of his country that was once at war with Iran." Maliki is secretary-general of the Dawa Party, and spent time in exile in Iran after leading insurgent groups against Saddam Hussein.

Interview conducted by Willi Langthaler

Abduljabbar al Kubaysi, influential political leader of the Iraqi resistance and secretary-general of the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance (IPA) elaborates on the new situation evolving in Iraq. Q: In the last period the European media when touching Iraq have been speaking only on a sectarian civil war. What is really happening? A: Actually the US occupiers as well as the government imposed by them are pushing for this sectarian civil war. Also the Iranians have interest in this as they are looking for a federation in the South as well. Their attempt is to make the Sunni, the Christians, the Mandeans leave to have a purely Shiite zone. Under the conditions of war this sectarian drive has an immediate effect. The US uses this as an argument to stay in Iraq as they claim that they would be needed to settle this strife.

There is, however, so much evidence that the intelligence services of the US, of the Iraqi as well as of the Iranian government are the real source of the violence. They plant bombs or pack them into cars which are then being exploded by remote control or by helicopter in both Shiite and Sunni areas deliberately killing civilians not involved in politics. Thus, they try to spark the sectarian conflict. In the beginning, the media used to check on the site of the blast and often eye witnesses contradicted the official version that a person exploded himself. Now they use to cordon off the area and impede questions to the locals. They want to have the news spread that militants did the massacre while it was governing forces or the US who planted explosive loads. In most of the cases there is no person involved killing himself. In these cases you can be sure that the ruling coalition is involved.

Iran, Iraq sign oil pipeline deal

Iran and Iraq signed an agreement to build pipelines for the transfer of Iraqi crude oil and oil products, the state-run Iran news network Saturday quoted the oil ministry as announcing.

EFPs are Made in Iraq by Iraqis

Okay folks, this one’s simple: Among Shia in Iraq, the U.S. backs the same folks as the Iranians do: The Da’wa Party and the Supreme Islamic Council. The Shi’ites who are fighting our guys are nationalists, and so are somewhat down with the Sunni Arab nationalists and opposed to Iran. Enter Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times, who keeps pushing (without providing evidence) the Vice-President’s propaganda that the new, improved EFP bombs must be coming from Iran. For those who listen to Antiwar Radio, you know I refute this lie every single day, citing CSM and Reuters’ reports that an EFP factory was found in Iraq in April by troops during “Operation Black Eagle,” according to Army Spokesman Lt. Col Scott Bleichwehl. Journalist Gareth Porter, whom I often interview, has written extensively on this matter. Andrew Cockburn took an axe to the lies in this Los Angeles Times article back in February. NBC News and Wired have also run articles casting doubt on the alleged Iranian origin of the bombs. Allisa J. Rubin in the New York Times discusses the discovery of an EFP factory in Iraq (Shhhh! Don’t tell Michael R. Gordon’s editor!) and even the Wall Street Journal has spoken truth to the propaganda.


REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

The Real Reason Why Fewer U.S. Soldiers Are Dying in Iraq

The number of U.S. military fatalities declined to 80 in July after three months of a death toll in the triple digits (104 in April, 126 in May, and 101 in June). The lower death toll has been cited by some U.S. commanders in Iraq and Bush administration supporters in Washington as a sign that President George W. Bush's "surge" of U.S. troops is working. But the sources told me that the lower death toll reflects not some impending victory but just a slowdown in the U.S. ground offensive after the early phases of the surge, which poured more than 20,000 additional troops into Iraq. The sources cited a variety of factors contributing to the decline in U.S. casualties. One U.S. military source said the American troops have not pushed as far from their forward operating bases as the U.S. news media has been led to believe. When Bush unveiled the surge, a key goal was to get American forces out of their secure bases and into small police outposts in Iraqi neighborhoods.

HERE’S WHAT THEY SAID LAST MONTH:

Added forces responsible for decrease in US deaths in Iraq in July

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq today hailed a decline in the number of U.S. military fatalities so far this month as an indication that the increase in American forces was having a positive effect on security in Iraq. After three straight months in which more than 100 U.S. soldiers died, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters that the casualty figures appeared to be going down but said that he needed more time to see whether the trend had staying power. As Odierno spoke, the known death toll in July was 63. However, later in the day the military reported seven new deaths. "We've started to see a slow but gradual reduction in casualties, and it continues in July," Odierno said at a joint news conference with Iraqi military commander Maj. Gen. Abud Qanbar. "It's an initial positive sign, but I would argue we need a bit more time to make an assessment whether it's a true trend."


US Military Begins Major Offensive Across Iraq

A military statement says Operation Phantom Strike "consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing...al-Qaida terrorists and Iranian-supported" extremists. Earlier, officials said coalition forces had killed several militants and captured 13 alleged Iranian-linked arms smugglers in a pre-dawn raid Sunday on Baghdad's Shi'ite Sadr City district. The military statement said coalition forces also destroyed a truck during the raid, "killing an estimated three to five" suspected terrorists.

Howard warns Maliki: act or face pullout

JOHN Howard has demanded the Iraqi Government make faster progress towards resolving the country's political differences or face the prospect of a withdrawal of Australian troops and those of other Western nations.

Chevron joins French firm to pursue oil field in Iraq

The San Ramon oil giant and France's Total SA have agreed to jointly develop one of the war-torn nation's largest oil fields, if the Iraqi government allows them, according to a report published Wednesday. The two companies have signed an agreement to collaborate on the Majnoon field, which lies north of Basra along the Iranian border, the Dow Jones news service reported. So far, neither company has the Iraqi government's permission to work on the field. Despite intense pressure from Washington, Iraqi leaders have not been able to agree on a framework for sharing the country's vast oil wealth. Development of Majnoon can't begin until Iraq passes a law governing foreign investment in its oil industry.

BAE profits soar on Iraq conflict

The UK's largest defence firm, BAE made a pre-tax profit of £657m ($1.4bn), compared with £378m a year earlier. BAE said the "high tempo" of UK and US military operations was increasing demand for land systems to support armed forces overseas. BAE, which is facing an anti-corruption probe by US authorities, saw its half-year revenues rise by 10%. The firm said its sales had benefited from its US operations, which achieved organic sales growth of 12% during the period. Overall sales at BAE's Land & Armaments business, which includes everything from tanks to munitions, rose 43%.

Scared Straight: Iraqi Style

Wiry and lean, Abdullah looks on with a glassy stare as the instructor explains the subject for the day: revenge. The case study is the first gulf war, and the instructor lists religious and moral reasons why it was wrong for Iraqi soldiers to loot and kill in Kuwait. Abdullah, 17, and the nine other teenagers sitting with him on wooden benches in the class nod impassively. This isn't an ordinary high school. The teens, all decked out in orange uniforms, are detainees at Camp Cropper, the high-security facility in Iraq that once held Saddam Hussein. Some of the teens may have tried to kill American or Iraqi soldiers, others may have been picked up for smaller offenses like breaking curfew. But the group, all Sunnis, have one thing in common: they've all been brainwashed for jihad. "They get their education from Wahhabis," says Sheik Abdul Jabbar, 37, an Iraqi cleric working with the teens, as he looks on from the side of the class. "They say their enemy is the Shia first and then the Americans." Abdullah has had his dose of radical education. He is convinced that his stepmother, who is Shiite, is a kafir, or nonbeliever. He has told the instructors in the class that, given the chance, he would kill her. "If they let them out, they would all become suicide bombers," says Jabbar. "Soon we will have two generations of terrorists." And that's what the "religious education" program at Cropper is trying to prevent. It's not exactly "Scared Straight," but the goal—winning back hearts and minds—is the same. Last week, NEWSWEEK was given an exclusive tour of the facility and allowed to sit in on classes. The program was started two months ago and the classes are taught by imams, psychiatrists and counselors, all Iraqis, who are trying to bring the most hardened youth back into the fold. It's an uphill battle. The number of detainees in U.S. custody has increased by 56 percent since January to a whopping 23,083. A disproportionate number of those in custody, roughly 85 percent, are Sunni.

COMMENTARY

Oh well. At least losing all those AK-47s builds a market

George Bush is a true glass-half-full kind of guy. He won't let a mere 190,000 weapons missing in Iraq break his stride. ….. The vignette merely illustrates that no matter how obviously dire a situation, there is usually some idiot on hand, someone who is bewilderingly able to "put a new perspective" on horrifyingly high civilian death tolls, or suggest that one can't make a big democracy omelette without breaking a few hundred thousand eggs (I paraphrase slightly). Yet occasionally a statistic comes along that seems indefensibly absurd. And so it was with this week's news that the United States has lost 190,000 weapons issued to the Iraqi security forces since the 2003 invasion - a statistic on which Mr. King has unsurprisingly yet to break his silence.

No civil war but terrorist attacks against Iraqis – Hakim

he head of the Shaheed Al-Mihrab Foundation Ammar Al-Hakim, son of Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim, accused neighboring countries Monday of complicity in the attacks targeting MNF forces in Iraq. "It is in those countries that multi-national forces (MNF) were based before launching attacks that toppled the former Iraqi regime" he said during a meeting with some 70 Sunni Muslim politicians as well as religious and laymen personalities. Hakim, who is tipped to replace his ailing father in the leadership position, said the unrest in his country was not a civil conflict but a "terrorist war against local residents."


RESISTANCE

Iraq Oil Law – two petitions to sign at this link, already signed by prominent Iraqi and American activists.

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: Many of the fixers fled Iraq and are now refugees in neighboring countries. Those who remained risk their lives every day. Some of them have big families to feed, so they stay. But some fixers I know refuse to leave the country merely out of loyalty to their trade. We welcomed the U.S. war with a lot of hope. We changed careers and became fixers to help Iraq. Some of us paid with our lives. Now we are no longer sure we will ever be able to fix anything. - Ayub Nuri

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