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 14, 2007

News & Views 08/14/07

Photo: Mohammed Abdullah grieves for his brother Hussein Abdullah, who was killed along with his six-year-old daughter, Zahraa while sleeping on the roof of their Sadr City home in east Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007. Police said four civilians were killed and five others injured early Tuesday morning as U.S. and Iraqi forces were conducting a house-to-house search. Backed by helicopters, the joint force also arrested 12 suspected Shiite militiamen in the raid which took place in three sections and started at 3:00 a.m., a police officer said. The U.S. military said it was checking into the report. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Suicide Bombings Kill 175 In Iraq

More than 175 people have been killed and 200 injured in suicide tanker bombings in northern Iraq. The massacre was caused by three suicide bombers driving fuel tankers in one of the worst single incidents in the four year war. Iraqi army Captain Mohammad al-Jaad said at least 175 people were killed in the attacked on residential compounds which are home to the minority Yazidi sect. He confirmed at least another 200 people were injured in the bombings in the Kahtaniya, al-Jazeera and Tal Uzair areas close to the Syrian border. The mayor of Sinjar Dakheel Qassim Hasoun said US aircraft were helping to ferry the wounded to hospitals.

Violence taking toll on pregnant mothers, infants

Leila Abdel-Karim, 27, longed for a child and, after two years of trying, she got pregnant, but could not foresee that the baby’s delivery - and future health - would be severely affected by the ongoing violence in Baghdad. A resident of Dora District, one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of Baghdad, Leila’s labour began during the night as clashes flared up near her house, preventing her from getting to hospital. “We tried to leave our home but the clashes were getting worse and we had to stay, knowing that my baby could die, as the doctor had told me that I would probably need a Caesarean,” she said. When she finally got to the hospital in the morning and gave birth, her son had suffered brain damage which was affecting his movements - something he might have to contend with for the rest of his life, according to the doctors.

“The violence destroyed the life of my son while he was still in my uterus,” Leila said. According to doctors, dozens of women in Iraq each day face delivery difficulties caused by violence and the curfew that is preventing access to health care during the night. “For at least two women in every 12 who seek emergency delivery assistance here, either the mother or her child dies,” Dr Ibrahim Khalil, a gynaecologist at Al-Karada maternity hospital, said. “Mothers are usually anaemic and children are born underweight as a result of a poor nutrition and lack of pre-natal care,” Khalil said, adding: “There aren’t any official figures but we can see that the number [of such cases] has doubled since Saddam Hussein’s time.”

Four Killed in Raid in Sadr City

"The Americans raided our house from the roof. They were jumping from one roof to another. They jumped on to our roof and killed my brother and my 5-year-old niece, Zahra Hassan," Ali Khamis Eidan, a policeman, told Reuters. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said: "Our troops at the site did not inflict any casualties on civilians. The only people they fired at were people who fired at them." Family members, including the girl's small brother, wept at the scene. On the roof blood had stained a mattress, where relatives said the girl had been killed. Many Iraqis sleep on their roofs in the summer to stay cool. An official at Sadr City's Imam Ali hospital, Qasim Abdul Zahara, said the hospital's morgue had received three dead bodies, including a 5-year-old girl and her father, both killed by gun wounds to the head.

31 Judges Have Been Killed in Iraq

More than 30 Iraqi judges have been killed in the line of duty in Iraq, underscoring the need for the new complex in Baghdad aimed at protecting the justice system, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Monday. The number was disclosed during a press conference to promote a new heavily secured justice complex in eastern Baghdad that began operating last month. The so-called Rule of Law complex has been dubbed by some as a mini-Green Zone for Iraqi judges and investigators who will live there with their families to avoid being targeted by outside violence.

Do US, Iraqi Officials Undercount Detainees?

An Iraqi official who heads the government committee tasked with inspecting detention facilities announced shocking figures this weekend, estimating the number of detainees held in US and Iraqi-run prisons at 67,000. The admission sparked the Iraqi government to release official numbers on Monday more in line with previous estimates. According to Monday's announcement, US and Iraqi prisons house a total of 42,000 detainees, precisely distributed between the two commands. "21,000 detainees are being held so far in the Multi-National forces' detention centres and there are 21,000 others in Iraqi interior, justice and defense ministries' jails," Brigadier-General Abdul Karim Khalaf told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). However, Jasim Bahadeli, who leads an Iraqi government committee that inspects detention facilities, said this weekend that 36,000 detainees were held at US-run facilities, and 31,000 at Iraqi ones. Bahadeli has been outspoken on the appalling conditions detainees are forced to endure, often for months without charge, but his criticisms are often dismissed as the unfortunate by-product of a justice system whose development is lagging. If Bahadeli's estimate of detainees is accurate, the implication that Iraq and US forces could be holding 20,000 more prisoners than they admit is damning. While his numbers may well be exaggerated, the figure the Iraqi government announced Monday is almost certainly underestimated.

VIDEO: Iraq Journalist Killed in Heavy Traffic

Suhad, 36, wanted to go to college and become a journalist since she was young. Her parents, like many, tried to dissuade their daughter from going into the arts, pushing her to take more science and math classes. Instead she studied English and became ever more interested in the international community. She briefly held a job with the Washington Post, as well as Al-Atyaaf Radio, Al Iraqiyah, the state satellite channel, and when she was killed she had been working in the Green Zone at an office assisting with the distribution of social services to Iraqis. Her parents describe her as a caring activist who took care of her family and looked closely after her young diabetic brother. February 4th, 2007, the day she was killed, was like any other, she was on her way to work and waiting in line at a checkpoint for the Green Zone.

Faith Give Iraqis Solace

"We console ourselves with faith and patience," says another of Mrs. Salman's sons, Abdel-Karim Hmoud, who was wounded in the same blast. The explosion killed his 6-year-old niece, Aya. "We are believers, so whatever comes from God strengthens our resolve even if it's bad." While religious devotion is partly driving a devastating sectarian war in Iraq, it's also keeping many average Iraqis going in the face of death, kidnapping, destruction, displacement, and lawlessness. For many, faith remains the one constant and the only way to cope with the daily agony and perils. Even though it's difficult to quantify this country's religious devotion, evidence of deeper faith can be seen in all parts of Iraq. Mosque attendance may have fallen in recent years because of the threat of attacks and a weekly curfew in Baghdad on Friday, the Muslim holy day, but the faithful continue to risk everything for major religious events. Nearly 1 million Shiites flocked to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim in Baghdad last week. Intisar Muhammad, a Sunni, lost her husband in a roadside bombing two years ago and was then driven out of Baghdad's Amel neighborhood as Shiite militias consolidated their grip there. In addition to the five daily prayers that all faithful Muslims observe, Mrs. Muhammad now performs an extra nightly prayer known as the "prayer of need." "I just ask God to help me raise my son," she says. Finding fortitude in religion during wartime is "basic human nature," says Tahseen al-Shaikhli, a scholar and Baghdad native. "When everything around you is shifting and you have little trust in anyone or anything, you turn to the one constant thing: absolute faith," says Mr. Shaikhli. "It's like holding on to a stick in the middle of a raging ocean."

Another Summer of Power Shortages

Iraq is generating enough power to meet only half the nationwide demand, and most Baghdad residents are down to an hour or two of electricity a day. The shortfalls are the worst since U.S.-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, Electricity Ministry spokesman Aziz Shimari said. The unreliable electricity supply is a source of constant frustration to Iraqis, who cite it as one of the biggest failings of the U.S.-led invasion. The constant blackouts become unbearable during the summer, when the mercury climbs to between 110 and 120 degrees. Only the lucky few who live near essential services, such as hospitals and water treatment plants, receive nearly continuous power. The rest improvise. Those who can afford it have generators. But with fuel in short supply and costing about $4 a gallon on the black market, many families can keep them on only a few hours a day. Entrepreneurs have filled the gap. In most neighborhoods, residents can buy additional hours from a shared generator that delivers power through a web of wires running to each customer's home. Civil servant Qais Yaseen pays nearly $50 a month for five amperes from a shared generator, enough to power a refrigerator, lights and a few fans. Running an air conditioner takes at least twice that amount. The service is a source of constant arguments in the neighborhood. Tempers flare when the power does not kick in at the allotted time.

Saboteurs mount more attacks against national grid

The country’s power generating systems have come under fresh attacks putting more stations and units out of order. The attacks come as the national grid is passing through its worst period since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Despite allocations of hundreds of millions of dollars the grid has been deteriorating and currently the power generating capacity is less than the nearly 4500 megawatts it produced in the months leading to the overthrow of former leader Saddam Hussein. The generating capacity is now less than half the country’s needs. As a result major cities like Baghdad and Mosul may go without electricity for several days in a row. An Electricity Ministry source said saboteurs last week blew up power pylons disrupting supplies from six generating units servicing the capital Baghdad.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

VIDEO: Maliki Wins in Tehran

Bush warns Prime Minister Al Maliki that he would “pay a price” for cozying up to Iran. But if the picture speaks for a thousand words, then he warning must have fallen on deaf ears. What’s behind Maliki’s cordial visit to Tehran? And will he survive the wrath of the Bush Administration and the upheaval at home? [Video includes a clip of bush walking hand in hand with a Saudi Arabia leader. – dancewater]

U.S. forces hand over Falluja's security file to Iraqi police

U.S. forces handed over the security file of the city of Falluja, Anbar province, to local police forces, Falluja police chief said on Tuesday. "The city's security file was transferred on Tuesday morning from the Marines to police forces, which will become fully responsible for maintaining security and stability in the city," Chief of the Falluja police department Faisal al-Zawbaei told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). According to the hand over agreement, U.S. troops will support police forces only outside the city in the first stage, followed by full withdrawal from all posts outside the city when security condition improves. "The hand over came as police forces became capable of boosting security and stability and hunting down militants," the chief of the police said.

Iraq's deputy oil minister, four others kidnapped from government compound

More than 50 gunmen dressed in Iraqi security forces uniforms and using 17 official vehicles broke into an Oil Ministry compound in eastern Baghdad Tuesday and abducted a senior deputy of the oil minister, and four other officials, a ministry spokesman and police said. Abdel-Jabar al-Wagaa, the senior assistant to Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, was spirited away by the gunmen in what were believed to be military vehicles, said Assem Jihad, the Oil Ministry spokesman. An Interior Ministry official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information, said a top official in the State Oil Marketing Organization and three directors general in the operation also were kidnapped.

Basra falls to unruly militias as British troops’ role recedes

The most powerful authority in Basra is not the British garrison where more than 5,000 British troops have withdrawn behind barbed wire and cement blocks. It is the Iranian consulate where major decisions regarding the city are taken. And it is not difficult to see who is in control of the city’s thoroughfares and residential quarters. The roundabouts, major squares and even some small streets and neighborhoods are decorated with portraits of Iranian religious and political leaders. Basra is perhaps Iraq’s most important province from which most of the country’s oil production and exports originate. Within Basra’s provincial borders, the country’s most prolific oil fields are to be found. When bombs fall on the British garrison in the city or a British armored vehicle is knocked out, many of Basra residents celebrate with gunfire and shouts of joy. The Brits have left a huge power vacuum in southern Iraq in the aftermath of their miscalculated adventure. Their influence does not exceed the few square miles of their only base in Basra.

Security officers arrested for carrying explosive belts

Two security officers have been arrested in the religious city of Karbala as they were trying to smuggle into the city explosive belts to target holy shrines, Karbala governor said. Aqeel al-Khazaali said preliminary investigations have shown that the two arrested officers were members of the Islamic Army, an armed group fighting U.S. occupation troops as well as the country’s U.S.-sponsored government. Khazaali said the two, whose have not been identified, have admitted to committing “horrendous crimes” in the province. The arrest was made as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites began flocking to religious shrines to commemorate the death of one of their saints buried in Baghdad.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

U.S. launches major new offensive in Iraq

U.S. forces launched a big offensive in Iraq with an airborne assault targeting al Qaeda guerrillas on Tuesday, part of a major new countrywide push. The Americans also raided Baghdad's Shi'ite slum of Sadr City targeting militants they said are linked to Iran. Relatives said a 5-year-old girl was among four killed in the raid. Suicide bombers driving fuel tankers killed 20 people in an apparent attack on an ancient minority sect in northern Iraq, police said. In a separate attack, a suicide truck bomber killed 10 people and destroyed a bridge linking Baghdad to the north. Five U.S. service personnel were killed when a military transport helicopter crashed during a routine flight west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The military said 16,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops were involved in Operation Lightning Hammer against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda in the fertile area of the Diyala River north of Baghdad.

U.N. to talk to Iraqi armed groups

The United Nations intends to include all parties and factions in the talks it is going to hold to bring about national reconciliation in the country, Iraq U.N. spokesman said. Saaeed Arikat said the talks will involve armed groups currently fighting U.S. troops and the Iraqi government. He did not reveal whether U.N.’s desire to conduct comprehensive talks with the political factions represented in parliament and those opposing the government would include groups with links to al-Qaeda organization. Iraq-linked Qaeda is better organized and equipped than any other group fighting U.S. occupation troops in Iraq. U.S. tactics to mobilize tribes to oust it from their areas have so far failed in containing its influence. Qaeda is responsible for most suicide bombings and attacks targeting U.S. invaders and Iraqi troops and security forces. The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on August 10 expanding the U.N.’s role in Iraq in a move aimed at reconciling the country’s rival groups, winning support from neighboring countries and tackling Iraq’s humanitarian crisis. The resolution authorizes the U.N. at the request of the Iraqi government to promote political talks among the country’s ethnic and religious groups and a regional dialogue on issues including border security, energy and refugees.

Suicide: 3% of US Deaths in Iraq

About 3% of US deaths in Iraq have resulted from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and suicide can create casualties of war months after troops have left the field of battle. The Pentagon's official tally counts 118 troops who have taken their own lives in Iraq, but does not maintain statistics (at least publicly) on the number who choose death even after they have survived the war zone and returned home. E&P's Greg Mitchell discusses the perplexing riddle that leaves for journalists reporting on the deaths: "In a sense, the press doesn't know what to do about them. Did they serve their country well, but ultimately let it down? Or is their country fully responsible for putting them in a suicide-producing situation in the first place and has blood on its hands?"

The suicide rate among all veterans is now about twice the national average as that of nonveterans, according to Michael Koplin, suicide-prevention coordinator for the VA medical center in Salt Lake City. In the Army, suicide rates between 2003 and 2006 for soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom were higher than the average Army rate, 16.1 versus 11.6 soldier suicides per year per 100,000, according to U.S. Army Medical Command spokesman Jerry Harben.

Iraq's Coming Robot Wars

Robots are playing an ever-increasing role in the war. iRobot, for example, has about 1,000 of its PackBots, ranging in price from $80,000 to $150,000, in Iraq scoping out IEDs, buildings and other places too dangerous for flesh-and-blood troops. Other companies have robotic Iraq veterans too. In Defense News, Kris Osborne reports that Exponent, a California firm, has had its MARCbot series since April 2004. It costs about $10,000 apiece, weighs 25 lbs and is able to be used at night. Meanwhile, Defense News says that Foster-Miller, a Massachussets company, may propose a lighter-weight version of its current 115 to 140 lb. TALON model to try to win the bid. Nevertheless, like troops, robots can be wounded - and even damaged beyond repair. Some end up at Baghdad's Camp Victory, at the Joint Robotics Repair Facility. "A lot of times, they send this guy down and the insurgents are waiting," says one of the guys who fixes them. "They shoot at it because they know it is effective." But robots, thankfully, have no next-of-kin.

COMMENTARY

Escalation By The Numbers

As historian Marilyn Young noted in early April 2003 with the invasion of Iraq barely underway: "In less then two weeks, a 30 year old vocabulary is back: credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics, winning, or more often, losing hearts and minds." By August 2003, the Bush administration, of course, expected that only perhaps 30,000 American troops would be left in Iraq, garrisoned on vast "enduring" bases in a pacified country. So, in a sense, it's been a surge-a-thon ever since. By now, it's beyond time to call the President's "new way forward" by its Vietnamese equivalent. Admittedly, a "surge" does sound more comforting, less aggressive, less long-lasting, and somehow less harmful than an "escalation," but the fact is that we are six months into the newest escalation of American power in Iraq. It has deposited all-time high numbers of troops there as well, undoubtedly, as more planes and firepower in and around that country than at any moment since the invasion of 2003. Naturally enough, other "all-time highs" of the grimmest sort follow.

Number of U.S. dollars invested in "standing up" (training) the Iraqi military and police: $19.2 billion. This works out to $55,000 per Iraqi recruit, according to a bipartisan U.S. Congressional investigation.

Amount the Pentagon has requested for continued training and equipping of Iraqi security forces: $2 billion.

Percentage of equipment the Pentagon has issued to Iraqi security forces since 2003 that cannot be accounted for: 30%. That includes at least "110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets," according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). According to the Washington Post, "One senior Pentagon official acknowledged that some of the weapons probably are being used against U.S. forces."

Number of U.S. steel-shipping containers in Iraq and Afghanistan now considered "lost": 54,390 or one-third of them, according to the GAO.

Estimated cost of training Iraqi (and Afghan) security forces over the next decade, if present course continues: At least 50 billion dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Number of major U.S. bases in Iraq: More than 75, according to the New York Times.


Statement of the Iraq Freedom Congress on Shahrastani's Statements Regarding General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE)

The Iraqi oil minister Shahrastani said in a meeting with the workers of GUOE that their union and all other trade unions are not legitimate because they carried out a series of strikes and demonstrations to prevent the government from passing the oil law. The irony is Shahrastani himself forgot that his government is not legitimate or recognized neither among Iraqis nor on the international forums. Such government that failed to provide basic security and social services to the society since its formation, a government that more than half of its members have resigned, a government that is linked to many sectarian militias which are involved in killing and slaughtering thousands of innocent people in cold blood on the basis of identity for a handful of dollars and power, a government who issues bizarre decrees like providing ministers implicated in corruption with immunity fearing of withdrawal of their parties from the government.... such government exists only in science fiction and fairy tales, such government is too tenuous to pass resolutions. Shahrastani also has forgotten that the workers alone can decide on their unions, form or disband them. Apparently, democracy according to Shahrastani's view is to approve the policies of the occupying forces, otherwise you are illegitimate! It is a Bush like democracy that states "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."


RESISTANCE

When a US Soldier in Iraq Won’t Soldier

No one looked comfortable at the sentencing hearing. Not family and friends who packed the US military courtroom's straight-backed benches. Not the rookie Army prosecutor in stiff dress greens who flushed with every "Your Honor." Not Judge R. Peter Masterton, whose usually animated face was now grave. And not the convicted deserter – Army medic Agustín Aguayo – on the stand in a US military court in central Germany last March, pleading for understanding. "I'm sorry for the trouble my conscience has caused my unit," Private 1st Class Aguayo said, his voice thick with emotion. "I tried to obey the rules, but in the end [the problem] was at the very core of my being." Colonel Masterton, a veteran military judge, stared down at his bench. The defense wanted him to free this man of conscience. The prosecution asked that he put the coward away for two years to show other soldiers that "they are not fools for fulfilling their obligation." Aguayo craned to face the judge. "When I hear my sergeants talking about slashing people's throats," he said, crying openly, "if I'm not a conscientious objector, what am I when I'm feeling all this pain when people talk about violence?" Next door in the press room, where reporters crowded to watch the proceedings on bleached, closed-circuit TVs, a soldier guarding the door wiped tears from his face.

Every war has its deserters, troops who abandon their posts. And every war has its converts to pacifism. The Defense Department reports that 5,361 active-duty service members deserted the US Armed Forces last year; nearly 37,000 since October 2001. In today's all-volunteer force, that means a desertion rate of less than half a percent – much lower than the Vietnam War draft era, when it reached a 1971 high of 7.4 percent. In the past six years, 325 Army soldiers have applied to be recognized as conscientious objectors (COs), soldiers who no longer believe in war; 58 percent were accepted.

US Army struggles with soldier who won't pull the trigger

For six hours, Aguayo and superiors relived his year in Tikrit. Under squad leader Sgt. David Garcia, Aguayo had dressed wounds, cleaned Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and patrolled the streets of the former Iraqi dictator's hometown. Sergeant Garcia testified respectfully of Aguayo as a soldier, saying he'd been working on getting him legally discharged. "I told him what he needed to do was stick by his guns, if that was how he felt." Lt. Aaron Roberts considered Aguayo "fully capable" in his medical duties, but found his refusal to carry a weapon "a major concern.... We would have exhausted all other resources ... before sending Aguayo out on patrol" again, he said. Still, as Lieutenant Roberts headed to Iraq with 800 men, only a third of whom had combat experience, a levelheaded, experienced soldier like Aguayo could have been "an invaluable asset to me," he added. The twins leaned into Helga as Judge R. Peter Masterton read his verdict: "Of all charges and specifications, guilty." Sentencing followed, and Aguayo's superiors described the effect of his flight on fellow soldiers. "There's a lot of talk, a bit of embarrassment to the unit, to the regiment," Garcia said. Though sympathetic to Aguayo's beliefs, the sergeant said, "If I've got 20 other guys who do the same thing Pfc. Aguayo did, I've got a problem."

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: "'We no longer need television documentaries about the Stone Age. We are actually living in it. We are in constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having” said Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a stall in the Karbala market.

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