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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

News & Views 08/16/07

.Photo: An aerial view of the village of Kahtaniya, one of two villages struck on Tuesday by garbage trucks packed with explosives, west of Mosul, northwest of Baghdad August 16, 2007. Angry members of a minority sect said on Thursday they feared annihilation and pleaded for help, after suicide attackers killed scores in possibly the worst such bomb attack of the Iraq conflict. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)


Iraq bombs death toll rises to 400

The death toll from Tuesday's huge suicide bombings in north-western Iraq has risen to at least 400, according to a government spokesman. More victims of the attacks - the bloodiest atrocity since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 - have been pulled from neighbourhoods of collapsed mud homes. The areas were destroyed when suspected Islamist extremists targeted members of the Yezidis, a Kurdish-speaking pre-Muslim sect, in Nineveh province. "Their aim is to annihilate us, to create trouble and kill all the Yezidis because we are not Muslims," Abu Saeed, a resident of one of the devastated areas, told Reuters. Mr Saeed told the deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, who made a short tour of the devastated neighbourhood, that 51 members of his extended family had been killed. Around 100 angry Yezidi men gathered as Mr Salih met local officials. "It's like a nuclear site, the site of a nuclear bomb," Mr Salih, a Kurd, told Reuters. Suicide bombers detonated explosives rigged to fuel tankers in three remote Yezidi villages. A spokesman for the interior ministry today said two tonnes of explosives had been used in the blasts. Earlier, local officials had said as many as 500 people had been killed, adding that rescuers were still looking for bodies.

Ana Iraqi……

At that day, her brother who was in shock went to sleep in the afternoon , grandpa kept looking at him from the fence , and he stayed in the same positions for hours , he was sleeping horizontally in his bed!!! , grandpa got suspicious, he came in the evening for the poor neighbor but he was till in the same position and did not respond to my grandpa door knocking or phone calls. Another neighbor came and said" he is tired and need to sleep, don't worry, we will visit him early in the morning ,inshalla"… in the early hours on Friday morning , grandpa , with the help of the police broke the door and they found uncle Berg dead .. Poor man , uncle berg was really a kind peaceful man , may god bless his soul. The biggest problem was the high temperature (56 C. ) , he died at 5 afternoon and stayed in the room until the next day , and there was curfew , the woman who brought the monk live far away, and the cemetery is outside Baghdad !..

Berg and Nazly were my grandparents' neighbors for more than 40 years, so it was very hard for them to lose them both in one day , the neighbors (and friends in the same time ) who kept cooking and tacking care of them before they died were Muslims (Sunnis and Shiites) as well as Christians , what you hear about the fight among the castes is not true , the citizens don't do that (only the politicians as I believe), and I talked about that a lot , the same terrorists who kill a Sunni , kill a Shiite , Christian , Armenian etc , in a name of a caste , religion or so. PLEASE the last thing I need is someone argue with me and tell me the war is for our own good , because I live in Iraq and I can tell you, we had a better life, (who see the death satisfy by fever ) .. at least we were able to make a consolation and bury the people we love .. I can write about our life in the past and now forever, but it won't change some people's minds…… YOU can't know how do we suffer , because you don't live with us , our life in much harder than your imagination , you can't judge us until you live the way we do ..

The Bridges of Baghdad Report

To understand the unfolding struggle for Baghdad, informed observers need the latest and most complete information about the bridges that bind together the strategic transportation infrastructure in the Iraqi capital. Drawing on its unique network of local sources, IraqSlogger has produced an exclusive 95-page report that details the conditions and strategic importance of the city’s major spans. Iraq’s sprawling capital is bisected by two waterways, the mighty Tigris River and the man-made Army Canal. To the southeast, the Diyala River separates the city from Iraq’s southern provinces. It is nearly impossible to maneuver in the city, or to enter the capital from the northern or southern approach without crossing strategic bridges. [The actual report costs $495, but it is interesting that Iraq Slogger decided to take this study on. – dancewater]

Saving Darband Village

High in the mountains of northern Iraq a deadly legacy of the Iran/Iraq war hides amongst the wild flowers and long grass, ready to strike any unsuspecting victim. The spiky crowns of the deadly Valmara land mines are hard to see, but the slightest movement of one of the sensitive spikes could result in death for any person or animal within 30 meters. The first explosion would propel the main body of the mine 40 cm into the air. A millisecond later the main explosion would blast shrapnel at ballistic speeds in a 360 degree radius. All this is not far from Salahadin's mind as he carefully inserts a clip between the crown and the main body of the mine. He then unscrews the top and tips out the two detonators. "I have defused hundreds of these but every time you must be very careful," he says. "I always feel elated afterwards. That could be another life saved! These mines are deadly and there are millions of them across this region. Usually they are planted only a meter apart."

Foundation stone laid for $4 m dam in Kikruk

Kirkuk's governor laid the foundation stone for Sherin Dam, which will cost more than 5 billion Iraqi dinars (4.03 million U.S. dollars), head of Kirkuk's Department of Water Resources, Shihab Hakim Nadir, said on Wednesday. "The project comes as part of considerable efforts by the department to establish a number of dams in the province…," Nadir told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The dam, which is to be built on al-Khasah river that flows into the Tigris River's tributary of al-Zab, is 426 meters long and has a storage capacity of 1 million cubic meters. It is expected to take up to 13 months to build, he added.


Comment on Juan Cole’s blog: Re: Sinjar-Kirkuk connection

Patrick Coburn's article is correct in that the bombing in Sinjar and the unrest in Kirkuk are both related to conflict between Kurds and Arabs over resources. There are similarities but also a few differences. Some of Iraq's best wheat lands lie immediately south of Jebel Sinjar, and this land was the subject of intense competition in the mid 70's. The Yezidis in Sinjar supported Mustafa Barzani's rebellion in 1975. Karim Sinjar (a Muslim) who is now KDP's head of intelligence, was a guerilla leader in Sinjar at that time. Because of Karim's reputation in Sinjar and close relationship with the Yezidis, much of the KDP's intelligence network in Mosul (and some in Baghdad) are Yezidi.

In 1976, after the collapse of the Kurdish rebellion, the Yezidis of that area were removed to collective towns (mujama'at), and their land was handed over to members of Arab tribes, mostly in Mosul, who were loyal to the government and the Ba'ath Party. The sites of the bombing - Qataniyyah and Jazirah -are mujama'at constructed at that time. The residents became laborers on the lands they had previously owned, and other Yezidis were displaced to Dohuk or other Mosul. There was a time when the Yezidis tried to protect themselves by sending different members of the Mir (prince) family to work for different political actors, as sort of an insurance policy. Tahsin Beg, head of the Yezidis, became a "musteshar" for Saddam until he was shot in the neck in 1997 and fled to seek safety in the KRG. Khairi Beg joined the KDP. Another one joined the PUK and a fourth went to Syria.

After 2003, the KDP took over Sinjar, and the Arabs who had owned the lands for the previous 26 years were displaced, many at gunpoint. Most fled to Mosul, others to Ba'aj - a grim town on the edge of the Syrian desert, which depends upon one water pipeline now controlled by the KDP. I visited Ba'aj in 2003 immediately after the war, and it was the only place in Iraq at that time in which I felt my life was in imminent danger. The relations between the Yezidis and the Arabs in that area (with the exception of Ghazi al-Yawar's Shammar tribe) were exceedingly tense. The CPA's Iraqi Property Claims Commission was an utter failure, having adjudicated no land disputes in Sinjar whatsoever. The area was just considered "disputed" and allowed to drift into active warfare between Yezidis and Arabs. In 2003, it might have been possible to have compensated the displaced Arabs. The Yezidis had the right to revert from sharecroppers and laborers to farmers on their own land... but the Arab immigrants had raised families in the area, and were suddenly without employment or in some cases homes (many of the Arab families farming Sinjar also had homes in Mosul). Still, there was a short window when the displaced Arab farmers could have been placated. That opportunity is gone now.

The Yezidis also captured a video of Izad ad-Duri meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1998 or so in which he suggested eliminating the Yezidis in Sinjar completely. Saddam allegedly demurred, but Izad ad-Duri is feared and reviled by the Yezidis. The authors of this bombing may well be linked to the reorganized Ba'ath, under Izad ad-Duri, even if they managed to find some foreign youths to drive the vehicles and blow themselves up.
This situation in Sinjar is superficially similar to Kirkuk, but the actors involved - the Arab tribes in Mosul and the Yezidis - are actually quite different. The ultimate fate of Sinjar will depend upon whether the KDP can occupy and hold both areas when the US leaves, or whether they will sacrifice Sinjar in order to devote their resources to Kirkuk. My guess is that the Kurds will prioritize Kirkuk, and the Arab tribes will ethnically cleanse Sinjar - with exceptional violence.

The general premise we already knew – but here are some details: Shiite militia infiltrates Iraqi forces

Abu Mohammed is a policeman by day, patrolling the Shiite Muslim district of Sadr City. Come sundown, however, Abu Mohammed commands a platoon of Jaish al Mahdi, or the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia associated with radical cleric Muqtada Sadr that is widely accused of sectarian killings. Abu Mohammed is not alone in this double life. By his account and those of U.S. military and Iraqi sources, Mahdi militia members have infiltrated much of the country's security apparatus, including the army, where they reportedly intimidate and bribe troops and commanders to look the other way as militants execute their brutal sectarian "cleansing" agenda. "There is a Mahdi Army member in every family and in every home across Iraq and the military is not exempt," said Abu Mohammed, leaning nonchalantly in a Sadr City alley, as children played in the street. "The army wouldn't go after the Mahdi Army because many elements in the army are Mahdi Army. Here in Sadr City for example, there is one company and 35 of them are Mahdi Army."

…..The use of sympathetic or infiltrated Iraqi army battalions to drive out Sunnis has been most evident in the western neighborhoods of Hurriya and Ghazaliya. In November 2006, Iraqi soldiers watched as Shiite militiamen forced thousands of Sunni families out of Hurriya after a bombing in Sadr City, U.S. and Iraqi officers said. A month later, an Iraqi commander and four staff officers responsible for the Hurriya district were arrested on suspicion of murder, extortion and links with the Mahdi Army. The judge released them after seven days when no evidence was presented. The day they were released, an Iraqi lieutenant colonel who had filed a statement against the five was killed at a checkpoint. In the northern part of Ghazaliya, Iraqi soldiers helped the Mahdi Army take back territory from Al Qaeda in Iraq militants. But the army also allowed the militia to lay claim to three additional streets inhabited by Sunnis, U.S. officers and Sunni residents said. In June, the Iraqi army warned the area's battalion commander, a Sadr sympathizer, against any further misconduct and moved him to Amiriya to fight insurgents. An air of suspicion now pervades the northern Ghazaliya battalion. At least two of its commanders are suspected of working with the Mahdi Army.

….Recently, the Mahdi Army pulled off a coup: hijacking the leadership of a highly lauded Iraqi battalion in east Baghdad, using it to mount strikes in Fadil, a bastion of Sunni insurgents. The 2-26 battalion, led by Col. Talib Abdul Razzaq, was one of several rated strong enough to operate independently. In April, the government arrested Col. Abdul Razzaq and 11 of his staff members. They were accused of being involved with executions of Sunnis that led to a car bombing in a Shiite market that killed 141 people.
"Talib was playing both sides of the fence," one officer said.

Comment on this article from War in Context Blog

Comment -- Ever since foreigners invaded Iraq, one of the most durable ironies has been that the "enemies" that those foreigners find themselves in conflict with are viewed as foreign or tainted by foreign influence. Consider then the definition of infiltrate -- as in "Shiite militia infiltrates Iraq forces": 1) a.To pass (troops, for example) surreptitiously into enemy-held territory. b.To penetrate with hostile intent: infiltrate enemy lines; terrorists that had infiltrated the country. 2) To enter or take up positions in gradually or surreptitiously, as for purposes of espionage or takeover: infiltrated key government agencies with spies. If the Madhi Army is engaged in infiltration, can the same be said about right-wing evangelical Christians in America?

Kurdish Peshmerga force deployed to Sinjar district for protection

A 340-strong Kurdish Peshmerga force was sent to northwestern Iraq's district of Sinjar to restore security and provide protection to the afflicted community, an official Peshmerga source said on Thursday. "The force will remain in the district until the security situation is secure," Peshmerga Commander Maj. Gen. Aziz Waizy told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Four truck bombs were detonated on Tuesday evening in Kar Izir area, 35 km south of Sinjar, and at the Siba Sheikh Khidr housing compound, killing and injuring more than 500 people. In the aftermath of the attacks, Iraq's Kurdistan President Massoud al-Barazani called on Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi Ministry of Interior to provide protection for Kurdish minorities and accused a number of countries in the region of being behind the attacks. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced on Thursday a day of mourning for the victims of the blasts. [Roads to Iraq blog says that this bombing, and the sending of Peshmerga forces to the area, are part of a plan to secure an oil pipeline to Haifa. Don’t know if that is accurate or not – for one, why would the Yazidis care about an oil pipeline – but thought I would include the link. – dancewater]

Extraordinary interview with pro-resistance Iraqi Nationalist

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. For example, they changed the name of an important road in the Al Adhamiye district in Baghdad from a Sunni religious figure to a Shiite one during the night. It was the Shiite community of al Adhamiye itself to change it back to the original name. Then they came again with their Hummers… But actually they did not success succeed in creating the rift between Sunnis and Shiites. Yes, in officials politics there is. The Sunni Islamic Party, which is with the Americans, and the Shiite block, which is with Iran and the US, litigate along such lines, but they did not succeed in pushing the ordinary people to go with them. Here and there, there might be some minor conflicts but in substance the broad masses on both sides insist that they are Iraqis regardless of their confession.

The New Shi’a-Kurdish Alliance

Four ruling Iraqi parties have agreed to a "new" political alliance and set of principles after intense deliberation. As reported earlier, the Shi'a Islamic Da'wa Party and Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council have signed an agreement with the two principal Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Notably absent from the "new" agreement are any Sunni Arab political forces. The Iraqi Islamic Party of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi left the negotiations. Also absent are any other opposition groups, including the secular Iraqi National List of former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and the Shi'a groups that have most harshly criticized the government of the Islamic Da'wa Party's PM Nuri al-Maliki, namely the Sadrist bloc and the Fadhila Party. Indeed, the four signatory Shi'a and Kurdish parties already share power, and represent, respectively, the major pro-government constituents of the Shi'a and Kurdish blocs that entered into alliance to form the parliamentary majority after the December 2005 elections.

'Surge' Has Led To More Detainees

U.S. military operations associated with the troop increase in Baghdad have boosted the number of detainees held in American facilities in Iraq to about 23,000, up 5,000 from four months ago, according to Army Col. Mark Martins, the top military lawyer in Iraq. That number represents an all-time high since the U.S. occupation began in 2003. Iraqi security forces have picked up 4,052 detainees during the increase, bringing the overall number of security detainees now held in Iraqi prisons to 60,000, said Judge Abdul Satar Bayrkdar, spokesman for the Iraqi Higher Judicial Council. About 1,100 of those picked up since the increase began were later released for lack of evidence, while the rest were transferred to the criminal court system, he said. The disclosures of a burgeoning prison population came amid continuing criticism of the detention system's fairness. Anthony H. Cordesman, a specialist in Middle East military matters at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who recently returned from an eight-day trip to Iraq, wrote last week that although the United States has made major improvements in its handling of detainees, "the process of review and release is still ineffective."

Cordesman said that U.S. military commanders told him their detainee numbers could grow to 30,000 by the end of this year, and up to 50,000 in 2008. He said he found that Shiite detainees "are often freed, while Sunnis are warehoused." He added that the two main U.S. prison facilities, Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper, "are still de facto training centers for hard-liners." The United States has only recently developed "a systematic method of segregating and training detainees and developing a coherent non-sectarian release program that contributes to the perception and reality of fairness," Cordesman said.


Probably False: Iranians killed by U.S. troops in Iraq

Three gunmen killed by U.S. troops in Iraq this week were members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, a U.S. military statement said in Baghdad. The U.S. Army statement said that in several anti-insurgency attacks this week, a total of nine gunmen were killed. However, in one raid in northeastern Baghdad targeting a leader of the Iranian Guards' foreign fighters known as Al-Quds, three of his aides were killed by U.S. forces, Kuwait's KUNA news agency reported. The unidentified leader was arrested on suspicion of supplying arms to Iraqi insurgents, the statement said. Iran has repeatedly denied coalition allegations it provided training and weapons to Iraqi rebels. Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Defense said it was planning to designate the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist operation, which would disrupt the group's considerable foreign business transactions.

Troops in Iraq To Reach Record Levels

The number of U.S. troops in Iraq could jump to 171,000 this fall — a record high for this war — just as military leaders expect stepped-up insurgent attacks timed to a much-anticipated progress report from American commanders in Baghdad. Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that the planned rotations of five brigades moving out of Iraq and their replacements coming in will create the temporary surge in U.S. forces. Once the transitions are complete, Ham said the troop level will drop back down to about 162,000, which is where it is today. And he said current plans are to stay about at that number into early next year — unless a reduction in forces is recommended by the commanders in their September report.


No Light, Just Tunnel

We invaded your country. We occupied your country. We wrote your constitution, in which the arbitrary decrees of our colonial viceroy were imposed as fundamental law. We looted your money. We armed your sectarians. And we are going to keep a large number of troops in your country, come what may. But we aren't going to baby-sit you anymore. No, if you don't get your act together -- and sign the goddamned Oil Law already -- we are just going to withdraw to our permanent bases and watch you kill each other. -- That is the sum total of the leading Democratic candidate's position on Iraq.

Editorial: Sheer Savagery

WHEN the history of the shambles into which Bush’s ignorant invasion plunged Iraq comes to be written, few atrocities will better illustrate sheer savagery than Wednesday’s brutal bombings of two Yazidi villages in the Kurdish-controlled north of the country. This Iraqi community is among the poorest of the poor. To blast apart their mud-brick homes was an act of extreme wickedness. If, as feared, maybe 500 Yazidis have perished, it will be the single worst outrage in a campaign that has already notched up a series of lows in base human behavior. It must be wondered how these thugs manage to sleep at nights. What cause could ever justify such massive shedding of innocent blood? All decent observers are by now running out of ways to express their horror and disgust at the barbarous activities of the killers in Iraq as well as the cynical revenge attacks on Sunnis by Shiite death squads. Yet the US administration that unleashed this violent anarchy can express no more than passing regret for any of the victims. Its military prefer to measure the bloodshed in dispassionate strategic terms. The commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus preferred to see the slaughtered Yazidis are proof that the “surge” was driving Al-Qaeda out of its old strongholds and forcing them to operate in less-protected areas.


A durable solution

Resettlement has been described by UN officials as the only “durable” solution for the Iraqi refugee problem. Since Syria is one place that foreign journalists can work and interact with Iraqis, the problem has received coverage. Nonetheless, the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen. In Damascus, I’m staying with S. and A., who left Baghdad less than a month ago after their house was raided by militiamen because S. worked as an accountant for the Iraqi government inside the green zone. He decided to take a leave from his job after that, but it seems unlikely he will return — he was also threatened by a different group after filing a report that implicated members of an Iraqi political party of embezzlement. Perhaps their six-month old son, Hamoudi, will not grow up in Baghdad. He will have a lot of company. The lights suddenly go out. Damascus now has rolling blackouts, a function of the sprawl that is driven in large part by Iraqis. The hospitals, schools and other infrastructure, in a country that already suffers from problematic unemployment, are being further taxed. Iraqis here wonder how long Syria, the only country that still keeps its borders open to them, will do so.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

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: The soul of our country needs to be awakened . . .When leaders act contrary to conscience, we must act contrary to leaders: Veterans Fast for Life