The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

News & Views 08/22/07

Photo: A man stands in rumble of a collapsed building after a suicide truck bomber targeted a police agency in Beiji, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007. Officials say that at least 27 died and 65 were wounded in the incident. (AP Photo/Bassem Daham)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Another U.S. Military Operation, More Unrest

New U.S. military operations across Iraq appear to be worsening the situation. On Aug. 13 about 16,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops began a massive new military operation north of Baghdad. According to the U.S. military, the goal of the operation, named Lightning Hammer, is to "target insurgents who have fled a crackdown in the restive city of Baquba." The operation is part of a larger military offensive, Operation Phantom Strike, whose goal is "to disrupt al-Qaeda in Iraq and Shia extremist operations in Iraq." Both operations have included extensive use of air strikes. Many residents speak with bitterness about the operations and the language used to describe tem. "This is not the first time that we have heard nice words about military operations that they say aim for our security and prosperity," 50-year-old teacher Kassim Hussein told IPS in Baghdad. "Yet every time it was more killing, sieges and poverty. It is a war that we did not have to fight, but we are the biggest losers every time it is ignited by the Americans."

According to a press release on the official website of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq dated Aug. 13, Operation Phantom Strike "consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing remaining AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements." The MNF press release claimed that the operation had "liberated large segments of the Iraqi population from AQI" and that the operations were "appreciably improving the lives of the Iraqi people." But many Iraqis recall U.S. military offensives in Fallujah (60 km west of Baghdad), al-Qa'im (400 km northwest of Baghdad), Haditha (240 km northwest of Baghdad) and other cities practically destroyed under the flag of fighting terror. "I have no house now because of another phantom operation in my city," Hamid Salman, a retired government worker from Fallujah told IPS in Baghdad. "I have to live with my brother in his small house here in Baghdad, and tens of thousands of Fallujah people are suffering the same situation. That was all the American ghosts and furies did for us."

"Iraq Does Not Exist Anymore" from Democracy Now! Audio and Transcript

Iraq has been changed irrevocably, I think. I don’t think Iraq even -- you can say it exists anymore. There has been a very effective, systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad, of Shias --from areas that are now mostly Shia. But the Sunnis especially have been a target, as have mixed families like the one we just saw. With a name like Omar, he’s distinctly Sunni -- it’s a very Sunni name. You can be executed for having the name Omar alone. And Baghdad is now firmly in the hands of sectarian Shiite militias, and they’re never going to let it go.

Iraq’s “Alamo” Simmers

Across the walls of a neighborhood that has seen better days, Sunni Arab insurgents splash slogans in black Arabic letters: "Death to America" and "Long Live the Resistance." U.S. and Iraqi forces black out the words and replace them with slogans of their own: "Long Live Iraq" and "No to Sectarianism." The graffiti war, with its echo of U.S. ganglands, is a manifestation of a deadly confrontation that has played out for months in the vast southwestern section of Baghdad known as Dora. Sunni militants have chosen to make a concerted stand in Dora against U.S. troops -- their Alamo, as one American military official put it. The Sunni militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq had claimed the area as its base, and U.S. commanders have spent much of the year trying to pry Dora from its grip. At least 233 U.S. troops have been killed or injured in Dora's trash-strewn, bullet-scarred streets since January, according to military figures.

When soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, at Ft. Lewis, Wash., rolled in at the end of June, children as young as 10 tossed grenades at them, and a 13-year-old sprayed them with gunfire. The roads were laced with huge bombs that tore through their Stryker armored vehicles. This summer the military has walled off entire sections of Dora. Soldiers have gone door-to-door, collecting photographs, fingerprints and retinal scans of every military-age man. With the district locked down, life has started to return to the streets. Children once confined to their homes are now seen riding their bikes, and a handful of displaced Sunni families have moved back, said Iraqi soldiers in the district. About 300 shops have opened in the once-deserted market, where boarded-up buildings, shattered windows and piles of rubble reveal the ferocity of the fighting that took place in its narrow streets and alleys.

……The Sunni militants don't treat residents any better, said another man, who was handing out water from his private well to neighbors while workmen tried to fix a burst water main that had flooded 12 city blocks and left some homes knee-deep in murky brown water. "All they do is attack and fire at us," he said. The words were no sooner out of his mouth than a bullet snapped by, sending him ducking for cover in a neighbor's yard. U.S. forces now have the neighborhood locked down 24 hours a day, commanders said. They declined to discuss specific numbers but said they had at least doubled their presence across Dora and tripled it in the neighborhood's three worst areas. The Iraqi army has also set up bases establishing a permanent presence in Dora for the first time. The national police run checkpoints along Dora's outskirts, but U.S. forces won't allow any unaccompanied police units inside the neighborhood and have banished them from the three focus areas.

For Baghdad couples, love often lost amid sectarian struggle

Najlaa Abdul Razaq , 32, a Sunni Muslim, remembers the happy mornings when she awoke early to hear her daughters giggling and to make sweet tea and breakfast for her Shiite taxi-driver husband. Najlaa is divorced— her Shiite husband threw her out after his family pressured him to get rid of her. Wissam wouldn't leave her Sunni husband when the Mahdi Army came and forced his family to leave their Shiite neighborhood. So now she lives in the Sunni enclave of Ameriyah and visits her parents in her old neighborhood only with the care of a spy, with two stops to change cars. Her husband never makes the trip. Intermarriage between Sunnis and Shiites was once common in Iraq , but no more. Warfare between the country's two major sects has segregated neighborhoods and divided families. Now it's ending marriages and filling with dread the few unions strong enough to survive.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

The Independent interview of Sadr is claimed to be fake

Meanwhile Sheikh Ahmed al-Shibani, the official spokesman for al-Sadr's office in Najaf, denied that Sadr had given an interview to the British newspaper The Independent on Monday. "The interview published by the paper was fabricated and groundless. His Eminence (Sadr) has never granted this paper any interviews," Shibani told VOI by telephone.

Maliki the convenient scapegoat for frustrated US

Earlier this month, the US president told reporters on the White House lawn before his summer break: "We're watching leaders learning how to be leaders." He also rejected the notion that the Iraqi government was dysfunctional, pointing out how the central authorities were disbursing large amounts of money to the provinces. But now Mr Bush has added his voice to the chorus of negativity bearing down on the beleaguered Mr Maliki, who has been visiting Syria and Iran to try and get their help in stabilising his country. Mr Bush yesterday pointedly declined to offer a public endorsement of Mr Maliki, whom he had previously hailed as "the right guy for Iraq". Echoing remarks made by the US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, Mr Bush instead spoke of a "certain level of frustration with the leadership in general".

Mr Bush, however, did not go so far as Senator Carl Levin, a senior Democrat who has just returned from Iraq with the assessment that the Iraqi parliament should replace Mr Maliki with a less sectarian leader. Mr Maliki, understandably, has reacted angrily to the criticisms from Mr Bush and other top administration officials. The reluctant prime minister - he once admitted he did not really want the position - has been given the virtually impossible job of trying to hold together a country that is fragmenting before his very eyes. The Kurds are going their own way in the north and different Shia factions are fighting for power in the south as the British wind down their presence. Yet here are his allies publicly sniping at him from the sidelines. No wonder he sounded angry today at a press conference at the end of a visit to Damascus. Mr Maliki, who said no one had the right to dictate timetables to his elected government, blamed the US presidential campaign for the latest spate of attacks.

U.S. puts ex-foes on payroll at Iraq front line

Under a tree by a battlefield road in Iraq's "Triangle of Death", Lieutenant- Colonel Robert Balcavage meets his new recruits. The men are Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are about to join the U.S. military's payroll as a local militia. They want guns. "I am not giving out guns and ammo," the U.S. commander says. The men listen carefully as the interpreter translates. "I've been shot at up here enough times to know that there's plenty of guns and ammo. Me personally. Some of you guys have probably taken some pretty good shots at me." Slowly but deliberately, U.S. forces are enlisting groups of armed men -- many probably former insurgents -- and paying cash, a strategy they say has dramatically reduced violence in some of Iraq's most dangerous areas in just weeks. It is a rare piece of good news in four years of war, and successes like this are likely to play a prominent part when U.S. commander General David Petraeus makes an eagerly anticipated report to congress in mid-September. "People say: 'But you're paying the enemy'. I say: 'You got a better idea?'," says Balcavage. "It's a lot easier to recruit them than to detain or kill them."


COMMENTARY

OPINION: Two are missed

Yesterday, the first session of a new trial started. The trial is for the top personals of Saddam’s regime who participated happily in killing thousands of innocent people in the southern governorates of Iraq after the crazy war of Kuwait liberation. For those who have no idea, the Iraqi army invaded Kuwaitin 1990. Saddam ordered the Iraqi army to invade Kuwait. Of course, he took the permission from the USadministration at that time headed by Bush the father. That was the first act of the play. The second act was to liberate Kuwait(as Bush the father said). So, the Great Bush riding his white hours came to save Kuwait. He sent his soldiers and he did it. That was the end of the second act. The third act was only for the second hero, Saddam. The man ordered his army to leave Kuwait and while they were back homes, Iraqis couldn’t stand it any more and the uprising started sweeping 14 governorates. Iraqis were so happy that they could at last get ride of Saddam’s regime. But. Again, the main hero, Bush the father didn’t expect these things to happen, So he allowed his enemy (enemy only in the play) to crush the uprising. Suddenly, the Iraqi helicopters started flying and bombing the cities of the south and the north of Iraq under the supervision of the US army and administration. The result was hundreds of mass grave yards and thousands of widows, thousands of crying mothers, thousands of weeping fathers and thousands of orphans. The crime was committed by Bush the father when he allowed Saddam to kill the innocent Iraqis. Saddam did it with cold blood.

Now, Saddam is executed and I wish I can get back to life to execute him again. 15 of his followers are facing death penalty now and I wish they get the penalty they deserve BUT where is the main criminal? Where is the man who allowed Saddam to kill the innocent? Where is Colin Powell? And the most important question is (Where is Bush the father?) Justice is to judge all the criminals. No criminal is better than another. All the criminals are criminals and they must be punished. Two criminals are missed and they must be in jail with their colleagues.

OPINION: Breaking bread in Iraq

This week, key Iraqi religious leaders are meeting in Cairo to discuss what they can do about violence shredding their country. The press was not invited, since a certain amount of cover was required to assemble this diverse group. That they're gathering is itself remarkable, and welcome. The coming together is largely thanks to the persistent effort of an Anglican priest, Canon Andrew White, who has lived in Baghdad for nearly a decade. Not illness, death threats, nor lack of funds has deterred Canon White from his drive to involve Iraq's clerics – from Muslims to its dwindling minority faiths – in unifying the country. Religious and political issues in Iraq are inextricably linked, and it makes sense to find a way to formally engage Iraq's spiritual leaders in reconciliation.


IRAQI REFUGEES

"Inshallah"

The Iraqis wanted to assure us that the violence between Iraqis is caused and encouraged by the Americans who want Iraqis fighting each other to create this chaos that allows America to steal their oil and otherwise destroy their country.

Another Test in Iraq: Our Aid to Refugees

But the credibility of one of the Bush administration's central arguments -- that America should not abandon Iraqis to chaos and genocide by leaving prematurely -- would be strengthened if America showed its commitment to displaced Iraqis now. Helping Iraqi refugees on a larger scale is not an embarrassing necessity. It is an opportunity to show consistency, humanitarian concern and constructive, long-term engagement in the Middle East. [None of these elements are present in the bush/cheney plan to occupy Iraq and stir up violence across the Middle East. – dancewater]

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: According to an Aug. 19 air power summary from the U.S. Air Force, a B-1 bomber destroyed three buildings in Baghdad, and F-16 fighter jets dropped guided munitions and fired cannon rounds in Baghdad and Iskandariyah (40 km south of Baghdad). A total of 68 air support missions were flown in Iraq that day alone. – Dahr Jamail

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