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 28, 2007

News & Views 08/28/07

Photo: Smoke rises from burning cars as fighting rages in the holy city of Kerbala, 110 km (68 miles) south of Baghdad August 28, 2007. Police ordered hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to leave the Iraqi city of Kerbala on Tuesday as a battle raged between Iraqi security forces and gunmen near two of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines. REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Iraq orders 1 million pilgrims to leave

Police ordered a curfew Tuesday in Shiite holy city of Karbala and told more than 1 million pilgrims to leave after two days of violence claimed least 26 lives during a Shiite religious festival. An Interior Ministry official accused the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr of attacking government security forces in the center of Karbala, site of two Shiite shrines under the control of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. Al-Sadr's forces are battling SIIC for power in regions south of Baghdad. The Interior Ministry official said the 26 dead were killed in gunbattles between security forces and militiamen. The official, who would not allow his name to be used for security reasons, said the government in Baghdad was sending buses to Karbala to take some of the pilgrims out of the city. Gunshots rang out in the area near the Shiite shrines that are the focal point of celebrations marking the birthday of the 12th and last Shiite imam, who disappeared in the 9th century. The festival was to have reached its high point Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Kidnapped deputy oil minister freed in Iraq

Kidnapped Iraqi Deputy Oil Minister Abdul Jabbar al-Wagga was freed on Tuesday along with three other oil officials kidnapped with him on Aug. 14, a spokesman for the Oil Ministry said. "He is in good health along with the others. They are now at home," said the spokesman, Asim Jihad.

Conditions Deteriorating For Many Iraqi Children

As United Nations agencies continued to aid victims of the massive bombings that killed hundreds of people and wounded many more in northern Iraq earlier this month, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) today reported growing risks to tens of thousands of displaced children in other areas of the country due to pervasive heat, poor hygiene and lack of water. "Conditions facing many children are worsening, particularly amongst IDPs (internally displaced persons), whose numbers have now topped 1 million," UNICEF said in an update on the situation. "With little electricity available to power fans and air conditioners, children in central and southern Iraq are in increasing danger from heat-related conditions. Moreover, everywhere adequate water remains a significant unmet need. Of growing concern is that an increasing number of IDPs are being forced to stay in temporary camps longer." The agency noted that living conditions for IDPs and their host communities in Baghdad and Najaf are worst. There are currently at least 50,000 IDPs in Najaf alone, with many living in mud homes and/or camps outside the city and diarrhoea rates near outbreak levels.

Lower school attendance expected in coming year

The Iraqi Ministry of Education has warned of the possible low attendance of pupils at schools in the coming year, saying it expects at least a 15 percent drop compared to previous years. Parents have blamed the government for the poor protection of their children and many have opted to keep them at home. “We are trying to encourage families to take their children to school as there has been a continuous decrease in attendance in the past four years and this has seriously affected pupils’ performance,” Leila Abdallah, a senior official at the Ministry of Education, said. “We have enhanced policing at the school gates of most schools but families are still scared to send their children to school. This might seriously affect their future,” she added. “I don’t blame them for trying to protect their children but we have to start changing the actual situation of violence by teaching pupils how to build a better Iraq.” Parents have also been irked by poor examinations results in the past academic year. According to Leila, there has been a 54 percent increase in exam failure rates compared to previous years. She said many students had not sat the last exams as they had been forced by violence to flee their homes for safer areas. ….“We are having serious difficulties getting teachers. Most of them are leaving their jobs after being threatened by militants or insurgents,” Leila at the Ministry of Education said.

U.S., Iraq troops kill 33 in airborne assault

U.S. and Iraqi troops killed 33 insurgents in an airborne assault and airstrikes north of Baghdad aimed at reopening a major irrigation canal that had been seized by gunmen, the U.S. military said on Tuesday. "The pre-dawn assault, involving several hundred Iraqi and Coalition forces defeated numerous small-arms attacks throughout the day, resulting in a combined 13 insurgents killed," the U.S. military said in a statement. "Attack helicopters and close air support ... killed 20 more," it said. Residents in Khalis, a religiously mixed town 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, told Reuters that insurgents had shoveled earth into the irrigation canal some days ago, cutting off water to farmland. The canal is in the Kobat area, which has strong presence of al Qaeda fighters, they said. The U.S. military said it had successfully reopened the spillway and seized weapons and explosives. Protesting Khalis residents last week closed the main road between Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk to demand the local authorities take stronger steps to restore security to the area, which has witnessed bitter sectarian violence. Residents said they had also been without drinking water for nearly a month. An official in the local electricity office said a power plant that serviced the town's water treatment plant needed to be repaired.

From Juan Cole’s blog: Iraqi Kurdistan health minister announces five cholera deaths

Fallujah Finds a False Peace

Fallujah is quiet these days. After all the fighting and destruction of 2004, U.S. and Iraqi forces call this success. Many residents are not so sure. Fallujah, 60km west of Baghdad, produced some of the strongest resistance yet to U.S. forces and their Iraqi collaborators. These forces led two severe assaults on the city, in April and November of 2004. Three-quarters of the city was destroyed, massive numbers of people were killed. There has been little by way of reconstruction. The city sees no more of the kind of resistance attacks of old, and no more of the 2004 kind of crackdown. "We are so happy that our city is peaceful and quiet after all the battling that killed thousands of our citizens," a captain in the local police force of Fallujah, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "We can patrol the streets without fear now, and arrest any person that we suspect to be a terrorist." There has been a good deal of this, residents say. Hundreds of suspected resistance fighters are now held at the Fallujah police station. Many have been killed on the streets; the police speak of finding "unidentified bodies". Several of those found dead had been arrested earlier, eyewitnesses and families of several of the men killed have said. "This is fascist behaviour that shows the brutality of the Americans and the so-called Iraqi government," a former member of the Fallujah city council who asked to be referred to as Mahmood told IPS. "Those young guys were executed without any trial. This brutality was not known in our city before this occupation began."

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq To Allow Ex-Baathists To Regain Jobs

Hours after Iraq's political leaders declared a deal to return former Baathists to government jobs, Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab leader said Monday that it was too small an olive branch for Sunnis to rejoin the government. The Sunni leader, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, welcomed the "great achievement" of a compromise to ease measures imposed by the American occupation authority in 2003 to stop Saddam Hussein loyalists from returning to senior posts. But Hashemi said nothing had changed regarding the Aug. 1 decision by his Iraqi Islamic Party and others, which make up the Iraqi Consensus Front, to quit the government. The announcement on Sunday has been hailed as evidence of movement toward national reconciliation by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's widely criticized Shiite-led administration, which is under intense international pressure to address the concerns of Iraq's disaffected Sunni minority. The chief measures sought by Sunni leaders are laws to ensure fair distribution of oil revenues and tougher steps to curb Shiite militias closely linked to parties within Maliki's governing coalition.

As British Leave Basra, Militias Dig In

The last contingent of British soldiers based in the center of this southern city will leave by Friday, says a senior Iraqi security official, adding that a deal has been struck with leaders of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army to ensure their safe departure. As they pull back to a base outside Basra, the British will leave a vital provincial capital in the throes of a turf battle between Shiite factions - one that Sadr's militia appears to be winning. "By the end of August, there will be no presence for British forces at the palace or at the joint coordination center. Both will be in the hands of the Iraqi government," says the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter. "I think it's best if they leave, because they did nothing to stop the militias, which were formed in the womb of their occupation." A spokesman for the British military in Basra confirmed that a small force left the Provincial Joint Coordination Center (PJCC), site of a British-Iraqi security task force, Saturday. He declined comment on the timing of the pullout of 500 soldiers from a compound of four Saddam Hussein-era palaces that are located on the strategic Shatt al-Arab River. The buildings have been occupied by coalition troops since the start of the war in 2003. Ahead of the pullout, an agreement between British and Iraqi authorities resulted in the transfer of more than two dozen Mahdi Army prisoners from British to Iraqi custody, according to the security official. They were then released by an Iraqi court in an attempt to pacify the militias during the highly symbolic handover of the palaces to Iraqis, he said. The British did not comment on any arrangements. The Mahdi Army, which according to one estimate, numbers about 17,000 in Basra and is divided into about 40 sariyas (company-size military unit), is the strongest among its rivals in the militia-infiltrated police force and it has influence over vital sectors such as health, education, power distribution, and ports.

Lack Of Equipment Hampers Iraqi Army

Although Washington has made the readiness of Iraqi forces a key benchmark of progress, the Baghdad government is still failing to supply Iraqi commanders in this northern city with adequate equipment to go it alone, U.S. commanders say. Equipment shortages are a major concern in Mosul and other areas as U.S. offensives in Anbar province in the west and belts of cities surrounding Baghdad drive Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters and other militants north. "Bottom line, things are just not getting here," said Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Twitty said Iraqi security forces in Mosul are among the most active and independent in the country, patrolling neighborhoods and coordinating their own raids and searches. They operate with the support of a single U.S. battalion, compared with 11 a year and a half ago and 27 in Baghdad, the military said. But Twitty said Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries have failed to supply Iraqi commanders with much-needed equipment for their missions - the armored trucks, attack helicopters and bomb-detecting robots that U.S. forces have trained them to use.

Lobbyists Hired to Press Maliki, Former Premier Says

Former interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, who is trying to put together a new coalition to replace the current Baghdad government headed by Nouri al-Maliki, said yesterday that a powerful Washington lobbying firm is working on his behalf, funded by an Iraqi whom he cannot identify. Allawi confirmed on CNN's "Late Edition" yesterday that Barbour Griffith & Rogers had been hired "to help us advocate our views, the views of the nationalistic Iraqis, the nonsectarian Iraqis." Allawi said reports that Barbour Griffith is to receive $300,000 over six months are accurate, "but that these figures are really much less than the figures that are being paid by others, our adversaries." Asked the source of the funds, Allawi said, "I cannot unfortunately divulge his name," adding: "He is a supporter of our program."

Iraqi Insurgents Using Bigger Rockets

The emergence of this new weapon coincides with a shift in the nature of the enemy. In July, for the first time, there were roughly as many attacks on the U.S.-led coalition by Shiite militants as there were by Sunni insurgents, who had dominated the numbers for years. (When asked about the breakdown by Newsweek, a U.S. military official would only give percentages—about 50 percent each, Sunni and Shiite—not the baseline figures.) Sunni insurgents generally favor mortars, and such attacks have been decreasing as more and more Sunni tribal groups sign deals with the coalition. It’s Shiites who fire the rockets. So the sect becoming the most active in the insurgency also has the greater firepower. Insurgent rockets are hard to stop and very public. A foreign diplomat familiar with an attack on one base pointed out that the rockets were launched during the morning rush hour, making a trail across the sky that could be intended to impress residents with the militants’ strength. They can be fired from home-made frames that are little more than crude iron racks. Most important, they can be fired on timers. By the time they ascend through the radar U.S. forces use to track “points of origin,” the rocket men are long gone. Attempts to fire back with artillery or air strikes will miss them but possibly kill civilians—which counts as a win for the insurgents.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Iraq Weapons Are A Focus Of Criminal Investigations

Several federal agencies are investigating a widening network of criminal cases involving the purchase and delivery of billions of dollars of weapons, supplies and other matériel to Iraqi and American forces, according to American officials. The officials said it amounted to the largest ring of fraud and kickbacks uncovered in the conflict here. The inquiry has already led to several indictments of Americans, with more expected, the officials said. One of the investigations involves a senior American officer who worked closely with Gen. David H. Petraeus in setting up the logistics operation to supply the Iraqi forces when General Petraeus was in charge of training and equipping those forces in 2004 and 2005, American officials said Monday.


IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraqi refugees are 'forgotten people': World Vision

Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria are "forgotten people," the president of the Christian relief organisation World Vision said Tuesday. "We have great concern for the Iraqi refugees that are in Jordan. We're working there. We're concerned about the refugees in Syria. These are forgotten people," Dean Hirsch, World Vision's international president, told AFP. The United Nations has said about four million of Iraq's 26 million people have fled the country, including those who left before the 2003 US-led invasion and warfare that followed. An estimated 1.4 million of those went to Syria and 750,000 to Jordan. "The US government does not want to recognise them. The European Union wants to keep quiet on it," and the refugees are also a sensitive matter for the Jordanians, Hirsch said on the sidelines of a meeting of World Vision's top governing body. Hirsch said World Vision and other international relief agencies present "the only hope" for the refugees who lack proper shelter, water and food. "It's a very tragic story... and it is wrong," he said.

U.S. grants $30 mln for Iraqi refugees' education

The United States on Tuesday pledged $30 million of emergency funds to help uprooted Iraqi children attend schools in neighbouring countries hosting families who have fled the war in Iraq. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey said the money would contribute to a recent $129 million joint appeal by U.N. agencies to get some 155,000 young Iraqi refugees into the classroom for this school year. "The United States believes the response to needs of displaced Iraqis is best addressed through a multilateral effort," Sauerbrey said during a tour of a Jordanian public school where Iraqi children enrol with no restrictions. About 4 million of Iraq's 26 million people have either fled the country for Syria, Jordan and other nations or left their homes for safer havens within Iraq, according to aid agencies. About 500,000 of those who fled are of school age and most have limited or no access to education in their host countries, which face economic problems of their own.

Iraq: Rate of displacement rising

The humanitarian situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate with the number of displaced Iraqis, both inside and outside the country, rising. Now, an estimated 4.2 million Iraqis are have been uprooted from their homes, with the monthly rate of displacement climbing to over 60,000 people compared to 50,000 previously, according to UNHCR and the Iraqi Red Crescent. Displacement is rising as Iraqis are finding it harder to get access to social services inside Iraq and many Iraqis are choosing to leave ethnically mixed areas before they are forced to do so. Some Iraqis who stayed in the country until the end of the school year recently started leaving the country with their families. More than 2 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, with over 1 million displaced since the February 2006 Samarra bombings. While most of the security incidents happen in the centre and south of the country, the displaced are not confined to these regions. In the north, there are more than 780,000 displaced Iraqis, over 650,000 in the centre of the country, and 790,000 in the south. Many are barely surviving in makeshift camps, inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


COMMENTARY

More Sacrificial Lambs

By Friday, all the British troops will have pulled out of Basrah. The Brits have effectively handed over the whole of Southern Iraq to shiite militias. Need I remind you that these militias are Iran's proxies in Iraq or do you get it by now? So :

1) the whole of Southern Iraq is loyal to Iran. Include Najaf, Kerbala etc...
(see my previous posts. I can't keep on repeating myself) The fact that there are shiite factions fighting one another is irrelevant to the rest of the story. It's a power fight for control not a political ideological fight.

2) the Iraqi government in Baghdad is another of Iran's proxies in Iraq. Its parties, its militias, its armed forces i.e police and military guards. Today Ahmadinajad stated the following : "Iran is happy to fill the political vacuum in Iraq." Iran has already filled the political vacuum in Iraq. Iran has done everything possible for it to be a political vacuum in Iraq and so it can nicely fill it up. Ahmadinajad furthermore accuses the USA of interfering in Iraqi affairs!!! And adds that: "any effort to topple Iraq's PM Al-Maliki will fail."

3) Today, Bush wagged his finger against Iran again, and Iran responded with more pavlovian drooling. Two dogs, a pitbull and a doberman barking at each other. Not more not less. Hear what Ahmadinajad has to say to that: "He dismissed the possibility of any U.S. military action against Tehran, saying Washington had no plan and was not in a position to take such action." Repeat after me: The U.S is in no position to take such action.


RESISTANCE

California Assembly passes Iraq ballot measure

After nearly two hours of passionate debate, the California Assembly approved legislation Monday to ask voters whether they support ending the Iraq War and immediately withdrawing troops.

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 penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs, is to be ruled by evil men." -- Plato (429-347 BC)

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