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 21, 2007

News & Views 08/21/07

Photo: Search in Baghdad: US soldiers from 3-509 Para-Infantry Regiment stand guard over an Iraqi family as fellow soldiers search the premises during Operation Marne Husky along the Tigris river south of Baghdad. (AFP/David Furst)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Smell of death permeates ruined Yazidis villages

The pungent smell of the dead hangs low in this village, and not even the colorful headdresses the men have wrapped across their faces can keep it out. “Come here,” a man shouts from atop a pile of rubble, summoning help from other men who are digging through the debris. His shovel has hit something. The digging quickens and dust fills the air. Then a lifeless arm appears, and soon the top half of a woman has been uncovered. The remains are placed in a pink floral comforter and carried off. Nearly one week after four bombs blew apart this village and a neighboring one, Sheikh Khadar, the dead are still being recovered, adding to the toll that already had made last Tuesday’s bombings the deadliest terrorist attack since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. At least 354 people are confirmed dead and 80 more are known to be missing. The toll of the wounded stands at 600. Half of those are in serious condition, and many aren't expected to survive. On Sunday, 10 more bodies were discovered in the rubble of what used to be Tal al Azizziyah’s core. A bulldozer beeped constantly as it pushed through the rubble. American Humvees, absent until last week’s explosions, rolled along the dirt roads. For most of the survivors, there’s no doubt why their villages were targeted.

Power cuts getting worse, affecting lives

In the backyard of the house of Jassim Abdel-Rahman, a 34-year-old resident of Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, there are always six or so jerry cans which he refills daily with petrol for his small generator. With less than four hours electricity a day and with a newborn baby at home, Abdel-Rahman refuses to leave his family sweltering in the hot weather so he spends at least half his US$380 monthly salary repairing and refuelling his generator. “Most of the time we do not have [mains] electricity in my home,” Abdel-Rahman said. “Sometimes, when the generator is broken and it takes hours to fix, my children cry because of the hot weather, and we always throw away a huge amount of food because it goes off.” “Fuel is not available at petrol stations and I have to buy from the black market at a high price, money that I would rather use to feed my family,” he said. The power supply situation has been getting worse and in the past three months millions of people have been getting less than three hours of mains power a day, according to the Iraq Aid Association.

The Iraqi Theatre of Blood

I felt an unprecedented bitterness during the rehearsals for my most recent play, Baghdadi Bath. The play depicts the lives of two brothers who every day drive a passenger bus between Damascus and Baghdad. The text of Baghdadi Bath is, in fact, a biography of these two brothers, with a touch of fantasy that dominates the theatrical action. Both in the written text and in the performance, the characters face sudden violations (or intrusions) during their daily trips, especially after passing the Iraqi border on the way to Baghdad, where hundreds of passengers and drivers are subject to attack, kidnap, robbery and bloody murder. What I described in Baghdadi Bath has unfortunately become real in life. My brother and his son were kidnapped as they were driving a bus. They were stopped by 10 armed men in the area of Radwanieh, not far from the infamous al-Rasheed camp, then driven to a remote area in dense palm tree forests, where armed militia have sprung up in great numbers. The strange thing is that after the escalation of killing, Iraqi drivers, both Sunni and Shia (my brother and his son among them), have got used to carrying two passports: one with a Sunni name to be handed to Sunni militia, and the other with a Shia name to be handed to Shia militia. But my brother and nephew fell into a trap: their kidnappers appeared in the costumes of Shia militia, so my brother and nephew handed them their Shiite passports, thinking that their rescue was guaranteed, only to discover a few moments later that the kidnappers were actually Sunni.

VIDEO: Reality vs. Bush Vision

The Associated Press reports that if President Bush wants to continue the surge past the spring, the military won't be able to do it. And, over the weekend, five active duty troops wrote an NYT editorial against the war. Author Paul Rieckhoff discusses whether the military is at a breaking point.

Five Bombs Defused in Sinjar

Peshmerga fighters managed to defuse five explosive charges on Monday in Sinjar district, a Peshmerga official source said. "Peshmerga fighters managed to defuse five bombs planted on the main road, west of al-Kahtaniya compound, in Sinjar district, at 7:00 pm on Monday," Major Omar Ramadan Kazo told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Four truck bombs were detonated last Tuesday evening in Qahtaniya area, 35 km south of Sinjar, and at al-Jazeera housing compound, leaving more than 800 casualties.

Basra Journalists Face Death Threats

The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) expressed deep concern Monday over violations against journalists in Iraq, mainly in Basra, noting several reporters were killed and many received threats without any official investigation into the cases. "A number of journalists in Basra were threatened to be killed, hampering their work," the JFO said in a statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "Local and security authorities admitted their failure to identify those who threaten journalists," it also said. "Journalist Neamat Abdul Razeq, chief of the (Iranian) al-Alam satellite television bureau in Basra, told the press watchdog that he and his colleague Mohammad al-Fartoussi, a cameraman, received telephone threats, warning them that they would be killed unless they quit working in journalism," the JFO statement said. "He reported the death threats to security authorities to take measures to protect them and determine those who threatening them, but nothing happened," it added.

In Baghdad, Services and Violence Linked

Even in wartime, Iraq’s sprawling capital is a massive market for basics such as food, water, and electricity. However, wherever residents consume vital goods and services, the long arm of powerful militias and militaries is often also found, locals tell IraqSlogger. The great demand for such basic commodities, even under conditions of scarcity, means armed groups have found it profitable or advantageous to use their violent power to put themselves in a position to interfere with the supply. From accusations that US forces manipulate the water and electricity supply in retaliation for attacks, to militia protection at a Baghdad’s most essential wholesale food market, to exorbitant gangland-style extortion in public works projects, Baghdad residents find that vital services are often inseparable from the power of armed groups. In the northeastern Sha'ab area, residents accuse US forces of withholding electricity and water in the area as collective punishment. Electricity services had been improving in the area, but deteriorated after a series of mortar attacks on nearby US installations. The water also has been cut intermittently for long periods, and residents complain of dirtier water.

Ghazaliya Protests Pro-US Fighters

Residents of Baghdad’s ravaged Ghazaliya neighborhood have weighed in on the controversial US arming of Sunni paramilitary forces in Iraq, in a public demonstration expressing concern over the background of the individuals enrolling in a force that operates in the neighborhood. Locals in the western Baghdad district staged a protest Monday against the “Ghazaliya Guardians,” claiming that the members of the force are drawn from armed groups that have ravaged the neighborhood and drove many residents out, Radio Sawa reports in Arabic. The "Ghazaliya Guardians" a Sunni Arab armed force funded and trained by the US and staffed by members of the Sunni district, is one of several Sunni-based armed groups around the country created in a US plan to replicate its successes in Anbar Province by involving local fighters in batles against Sunni militant groups. The Guardians are alternatively known as the "Ghazaliya Awakening," in the same manner as the "Anbar Awakening," the US-backed coalition of tribal forces that operates in that province. Demonstrators in Ghazaliya accused the members of the Guardians of involvement with forced migration of a number of Ghazaliya residents.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Muqtada al-Sadr: The British are retreating from Basra

The British Army has been defeated in Iraq and left with no option but to retreat from the country, claims radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Violent resistance and a rising death toll among UK troops has forced a withdrawal, he said in an interview with The Independent. "The British have given-up and they know they will be leaving Iraq soon," Mr Sadr said. "They are retreating because of the resistance they have faced. Without that, they would have stayed for much longer, there is no doubt." The young nationalist cleric heads Iraq's largest Arab grassroots political movement, and its powerful military wing, the Mehdi army. It has clashed frequently with British forces in southern Iraq, most recently in the battle for power over the oil-rich port city of Basra. Scores of British soldiers have been killed and wounded by Sadrist militants.

…..Shrugging off recent rumours that he had fled to Iran - he dismissed them as American propaganda designed to discredit him - Mr Sadr denied US claims his forces were armed by Iran. "We are at war and America is our enemy so we are entitled to take help from anyone," he said. "But we have not asked for Iran's help." The cleric also said he "welcomed" a recent decision by the UN to expand its role in Iraq. "I would support the UN here in Iraq if it comes and replaces the American and British occupiers," he said. "If the UN comes here to truly help the Iraqi people, they will receive our help in their work. I would ask my followers to support the UN as long as it is here to help us rebuild our country. They must not just be another face of the American occupation."

Mehdi fighters 'trained by Hizbollah in Lebanon'

Lebanon's Hizbollah has trained Shia fighters from Iraq in advanced guerrilla warfare tactics, according to Mehdi army militants who have been fighting British forces in the south of the country. Members of Muqtada al-Sadr's powerful militia said they had received instruction from fellow Shias from Hizbollah, the movement that fought Israel's vaunted military machine to a bloody standstill in last year's July War. One Iraqi militiaman, who asked to be named only as Abu Muhannad, said he had spent a month in Southern Lebanon, Hizbollah's stronghold. "I was one of the experienced fighters from the Mehdi army to go for training there," he said. "We learned how to take advantage of an armoured vehicle's weakness, and how to wait and kill the soldiers who try to escape." The 39-year-old from Suwayrah, a city 40 km south of Baghdad was one of several fighters to confirm the links between the two groups. The US has long claimed that Hizbollah, Iraq's Shias and Iran have formed a broad alliance opposed to Israel, the US and its Middle Eastern allies. Earlier this year, the US military said it had captured a Hizbollah fighter in southern Iraq who had been involved in the abduction and murder of American soldiers. Hizbollah has a reputation of being able to carry out such complex operations, in contrast to the more amateurish Mehdi Army. [Would the Iraqis at this abduction site know the difference between a Hizbollah fighter and an Israeli acting like a Hizbollah fighter? After all, they are “amateurish” per this article – they have managed to kill a lot of well armed US troops for being amateurs, no? And didn’t the US authorities say that Iranians did this ambush thing? – dancewater]

Former Saddam commanders on trial for '91 uprising

Former commanders of Saddam Hussein's military go on trial in Baghdad on Tuesday for their role in crushing a Shi'ite rebellion in southern Iraq at the end of the 1991 Gulf War in which tens of thousands were killed. Standing alongside the military officers are Saddam's former defence minister at the time and his personal secretary. The most high profile of the 15 defendants is Saddam's feared cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali". The rebellion, and a simultaneous one in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, erupted spontaneously in early March 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition routed Saddam's army in Kuwait. Rebels seized control of many cities and towns in the south. The rebels expected U.S. forces to come to their aid, especially since U.S. President George Bush had called on the Iraqi people and the military to oust Saddam. But, in a decision that has since been much debated, Bush and his coalition partners held their troops in check and Saddam was given a free hand to launch a swift counter-attack with tanks and helicopters. Tens of thousands are estimated to have been killed in the crackdown, either by the pursuing security forces or in prison. Prosecutors in the case have put the death toll at 100,000.

Basra Police Moonlight With Militias

Some Iraqi police officers in Basra are doing double-duty as members of Shi'ite militias, according to the UK's top police adviser, Mike Colbourne. Colbourne told BBC's The World at One that in spite of an anti-militia drive by the new provincial director of police, Major General Jaleel Khalaf Shuwail, a number of officers were still linked to violence. He added: "The corruption that we are talking about does range from financial corruption through to serious offences such as murder, kidnap. "There are a number of Iraqi police service officers who are clearly aligned to militias. "I think it is fair to say that there is sectarian violence that is being committed by both police officers and other Iraqi security forces officers. That is just the truth of the situation as it is at the moment.”

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

NEJAD TO VISIT IRAQ

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad will visit Baghdad soon in what will be the first-ever visit of an Iranian president to Iraq.The invitation for Ahmadinejad came during a recent visit to Tehran by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying on English Press TV website.

COMMENTARY

Opinion: Iraq news that speaks for itself

Opinions, subjective though they are, ideally rest on facts, widely garnered and reasonably interpreted. Sometimes, facts alone are enough, obviating the need to pontificate. Such is the case with several recent small news items about Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

False intelligence: For about a year, American troops in Iraq had been looking for the leader of a shadowy insurgent group.

In May, the Iraqi interior ministry announced that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed. But, then, he was heard from. Now, to everyone's further embarrassment, comes word that he didn't exist at all. He was an invention of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) – either to inflate the number of resistance groups or to counteract local backlash against the AQM being infiltrated by foreigners (Egyptians, Saudis, etc.). Hence the name Baghdadi (someone from Baghdad). The revelation that he was a fake comes from an AQM man captured by the Americans. How do they know he is telling the truth? They don't. That, in turn, has led to new speculation: his ratting may be the real ruse – to protect a person who does exist.

Missing arsenal: A third of the weapons issued to Iraqi troops are unaccounted for, says the U.S. Accountability Office. Missing: 110,000 AK-47s, 80,000 pistols and 135,000 body armour items. Unless the stash is sitting somewhere unbeknownst to the Americans, the weapons were most likely sold on the black market or just passed along to the insurgents. That raises the disturbing possibility that the U.S. supplied some of the weapons being used to kill the Americans and create the chaos the Americans can't control.

Ayatollah power: Iran, neighbour to Iraq and Afghanistan, has been accused by Washington of arming the Taliban and the Iraqi Shiites with roadside bombs and other equipment. Skeptics include a growing number of Americans. They see it as George W. Bush's propaganda to deflect attention away from his two foreign crises or, more ominously, to build the case for attacking Iran. However, the leaders of Afghanistan and Iraq, despite their near-total dependency on Bush, are refusing to play along. Hamid Karzai said in Washington that Iran's role in Afghanistan has been that of "a helper," especially in development projects. Hosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Kabul Tuesday, he again praised Iran. Nouri al-Maliki, on a visit to Tehran, lauded Iran's "constructive" role in "fighting terrorism" in Iraq.

OPINION: How the Big Blogs Mislead You

Here again political incorrectness plays its role, in a peculiar form. The blog-correctness is that American policy in Iraq is a shambles, without rime or reason, incoherent, a "failure", with no legitimate party to support, and this is the strongest justification for "withdrawal". But this is the narrowest form of political correctness imaginable because it puts any substantive criticism beyond the pale. Substantive criticism of the attacks on Sadr would be met with Sadr-bashing. And it seems the need to fight AlQaeda in any possible way serves as a bulwark against criticism of the arming of non-government Sunni groups. So "Sadr bad" and "AlQaeda bad" serve as building blocks for a position that says: Fighting the bad guys in Iraq is fine in isolation, but in context it is incoherent, because there is no party to support: So withdraw. Just as evil agents in Washington plot coups and spread propaganda; evil agents in Iraq kill indiscriminately. The heck with both of them: Withdraw.

This idea that US policy in Iraq is "incoherent" depends on suppressing important Iraq-domestic factors, for instance: (1) that the Sunni resistance is resistance to two occupations, one of them Iranian, so arming them is promoting confrontation with Iran. (2) that driving Sadr out of the Maliki government was a polarizing policy, hence aimed in the same direction. But underlying all of this is the bedrock of misunderstanding, namely the suppression of the fact there is such a thing as a right to resist foreign armed occupation, and that there is such a resistance in Iraq. I have yet to see where American progressives recognize that right, and certainly the failure to recognize the aims and aspirations of its proponents is a recipe for all kinds of spinoff misunderstandings. The most important of which, at the moment, is the failure to see how American policy in Iraq, far from being incoherent, is on a straight road to confrontation with Iran.


IRAQI REFUGEES

VIDEO: Iraqi Exiles in Jordan

Zeinab Majid describes fleeing her war-torn homeland and her new life in Amman. She describes her love and her sorrow for Iraq.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


RESISTANCE

Iraq, The Gift That Keeps on Bleeding

IVAW was founded in 2004 and today it is a rapidly growing, grassroots, independent anti-war group with members active in 43 states and deployed on bases in Iraq. These rank and file soldiers are not partisans; they are Americans who have seen first hand the greatest political betrayal of our lifetime, the US attack on Iraq and the long occupation. Iraq Veterans Against the War are not the concoction of a liberal think tank or PR firm; they have very little funding; they are not avoiding criticism of Democrats; and they are not playing political games trying to bank-shot Democratic candidates into the White House and Congress in 2008. They are in open non-violent revolt against US foreign policy, criticizing politicians of all stripes who would exploit the war for political gain. Many IVAW soldiers are on active duty opposing the war openly and at personal risk; such is their conviction. On Saturday August 18, 90 IVAW soldiers demonstrated in St. Louis against a recruiting exhibit at a business expo, conducting the largest single action yet organized by anti-war veterans of Iraq. IVAW is stepping up its "truth in recruitment" efforts this September.

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 complacency of the many will always get us more than the lunacy of a few would. Most of the time, even the worst among us LIKE LIVING. - Posted by En Ming Hee

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