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 29, 2007

News & Views 08/29/07

Photo: Family members grieve for their relative who died in clashes that broke out during religious celebrations in the city of Karbala, in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007. The clashes in Karbala between rival Shiite militias claimed more than 50 lives and forced an end to a massive religious festival. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)


The Missing in Iraq

With the daily violence currently inflicted on the lives of Iraqis, tens of bodies are found every day, while countless persons go missing. While some of the bodies found can be identified, others cannot. According to official sources in Iraq, from 2006 until June 2007 some 20,000 bodies were brought to the Medical-Legal Institute in Baghdad (MLI). Almost 50 per cent of these bodies were unidentified and brought to morgues throughout the country. When unclaimed, they were buried in cemeteries. Since 2003, according to some sources, 4,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in special cemeteries in Najaf and Kerbala. For an Iraqi family, the process of looking for a missing person may prove to be extremely complicated or even very dangerous, and sometimes impossible. One of the main factors is the current security situation. Today, it is well known that moving in certain areas in Iraq can be life-threatening. Therefore, families cannot move freely asking for the whereabouts of their missing relatives. They try to go through private channels such as individuals or charity organizations. The second step would be looking in hospitals, before inquiring at the MLI, knowing that Baghdad suffers today from the worst security conditions.

Northern Iraq hit by major cholera outbreak

Health officials in northern Iraq are treating nearly 4,000 suspected cases of cholera and eight people have died so far, the health minister for Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region said on Wednesday. "A health catastrophe could emerge in Kurdistan if help is not urgently offered by other states and the World Health Organisation (WHO)," minister Zairyan Othman told Reuters. Othman said Kurdistan had declared a state of emergency to prevent the spread of the acute intestinal infection, which is caught through contaminated water or food. "The epidemic could move to other northern provinces and even to Baghdad," he warned. In Geneva, the WHO said it was aware of two outbreaks -- one in the Kurdish province of Sulaimaniya and the other in Kirkuk, a province abutting Kurdistan with a large Kurdish population. "The response of the main hospital (in Sulaimaniya) has been very well organised and taken very seriously by the minister of health and by various partners, including WHO," said Claire-Lise Chaignat, head of WHO's global task force on cholera control.

Aid agencies unable to gain access to violence-afflicted Karbala

Local aid agencies are finding it difficult to get food and medicines to the southern city of Karbala after Shia-on-Shia violence - in which at least 50 people have been killed - following a religious festival there. One million pilgrims have now been ordered to leave the city. “We are unable to venture into the streets of Karbala to deliver food to people in need,” said Hassan Yehia, a spokesperson for South Peace Organisation, a locally-based non-governmental organisation. Most shops have been closed for security reasons and pilgrims are finding it difficult to get hold of basic necessities. “We have been informed that many pilgrim families are camped in the outskirts of the city and in… central areas but police have prevented us from going in as clashes are still continuing in some locations,” Yehia said, adding: “Some new-born babies are without milk and the elderly are having difficulty escaping from the area.”

High Cost of Translation

In some districts of Baghdad insurgents have distributed leaflets offering US$5,000 to anyone with information on translators working for foreign journalists or military forces. “I was forced to flee my home with my family after a neighbour told me someone had sold information about me and that my home would be targeted,” Imad Mashadanny, 29, a translator in Baghdad, said. “That night I was told insurgents had forced their way into my home, searching for me, but thank God I was far away with my wife and children. I asked for help from my manager in the foreign company I worked for but was told I had to look after myself,” Mashadanny added. “To work as a translator in Iraq one must be prepared to be beheaded, shot dead or to leave the country at a moment’s notice. The profession is seen as sinful; no one is looking after translators,” Fahid said.


Sadr 'freezes' militia activities

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr says he is freezing the activities of his Mehdi Army militia for up to six months in order to re-organise it. He has also called on all its offices to co-operate with the security forces and exercise "self-control". Analysts see the move as an attempt by Moqtada Sadr to regain control over his increasingly divided militia. The order was read out at a news conference in Karbala, where fighting on Tuesday killed more than 50 people. Police blamed the Mehdi Army for the violence, but it denied involvement. …..The Mehdi Army has become one of the major armed forces on the ground in Baghdad and southern Iraq, with a membership of around 60,000, according to a December 2006 report by the Iraq Survey Group.

Maliki: I won't resign, can't be forced out

In a 50-minute interview in his office in Baghdad's Green Zone, Maliki strongly defended his tenure and said that he doesn't expect to be forced out. He said his efforts at national reconciliation, not the surge of additional U.S. troops or actions by Iraqi security forces, are responsible for improved security. He blamed the United States and its early policies in Iraq for the sectarianism that plagues the country, and said he opposed the current U.S. policy of working with former Sunni Muslim insurgent groups who've turned against al Qaida in Iraq because that, too, promotes sectarianism. Still, he said he isn't yet willing to send Americans home. "Now there is a need for them to stay on," Maliki said. "When the security situation becomes stable, the need will no longer be there." The interview was Maliki's first with an American news organization since U.S. officials began a drumbeat of criticism against him last week. Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Hillary Clinton of New York called for the Iraqi parliament to replace him, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq called the government's performance "extremely disappointing" and a new assessment of Iraq by the U.S. intelligence community predicted that Maliki's government would grow even weaker over the next 12 months. Maliki, however, appeared unbowed. "I wish to give reassurance: Those who speak about pushing out the present regime, whether Carl Levin or Mrs. Hillary Clinton or the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, who apologized for his remarks — none of these pose a real threat to the continuance of this government and the continuance of the political process," he said. "As for the Iraqi politicians, our partners in the Iraqi government, they pose no threat even if they called for our resignation, for they have no authority within the democratic frame to depose us."

….He said he has the support of Iraq's supreme Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, and that he talks to him regularly. He said he'd stopped meeting with fiery Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, whose supporters in parliament were critical to his election, because Sadr no longer is influential even within his own movement.


US Troops Release Seven Iranians Held in Iraqi Capital

The Iranian embassy in Baghdad says U.S. troops have freed seven Iranians hours after detaining them at a hotel in the Iraqi capital An embassy official said the men were handed over to Iraqi authorities early Wednesday morning. American troops raided Baghdad's Sheraton hotel late Tuesday and seized the Iranians. Video footage also showed soldiers leaving the hotel with what appeared to be luggage and a laptop computer bag. The Iranian embassy said those detained included an embassy staffer and six members of a delegation from Iran's Electricity Ministry. Earlier Tuesday, President Bush criticized Iranian interference in Iraq and authorized U.S. military commanders to confront what he described as Iran's "murderous activities." Iran denies supporting insurgents in Iraq. The U.S. has been holding five other Iranians detained by American forces in January in northern Iraq.

US admits Iranian arrests mistake

The US military has admitted to what it called a "regrettable incident" after it arrested a group of eight Iranians in Baghdad. The Iranians were held at a checkpoint and detained overnight. They were freed after the Iraqi government intervened. Iran says the men were in the city at the invitation of Iraq's government, and that the US action was unjustified. An aide to the top US commander in Iraq later said the US accepted that the Iranians were on official business. Dr Saadi Othman, adviser to Gen David Petraeus, told BBC News that the incident had "nothing to do" with US President George W Bush's speech on Tuesday, in which he strongly criticised Iran for its alleged interference in Iraq.


More Iraqis Flee As Figure Tops Four Million: UNHCR

More than four million Iraqis have fled their homes because of sectarian violence, the largest population movement in the Middle East since Palestinians left the new state of Israel, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday. "An estimated 4.2 million Iraqis have been uprooted from their homes, with the monthly rate of displacement climbing to over 60,000 people compared to 50,000 previously," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists. More than two million Iraqis are displaced within their own country, with around half being uprooted following the February 2006 Samarra bombings, seen as the catalyst for the latest wave of sectarian conflict, the UNHCR said. "Many are barely surviving in makeshift camps, inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons," Pagonis warned. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, and Pagonis said many families were "choosing to leave ethnically mixed areas before they are forced to do so." More than 1.4 million have crossed into neighbouring Syria with between 500,000 and 750,000 heading into Jordan, the UNHCR said. The UNHCR and UN children's agency UNICEF have jointly appealed for help in paying for the education of 155,000 Iraqi refugee children, putting forward a figure of 129 million dollars to get them into schools for the 2007-2008 academic years.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


Kucinich: Congress Must Tell The President 'No' To Additional War Funding

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) issued the following statement calling on Congress to not appropriate any more funds for the war in Iraq, in response to today's Washington Post report that President Bush plans on asking Congress for $197 billion in funding for the Iraq war for FY 2008: "We do not have to fund the war. The Democratic leadership must tell the President NO to any additional funding. No legislation is required. No vote is required. We have the money to bring the troops home. It does not require a vote. The only thing required is honesty, integrity and a willingness to end the war," Kucinich said. "The President's request escalated by $50 billion to continue the surge-a surge that is failing. "More than 3,700 Americans have died and an estimated one million innocent Iraqis have perished in an unjust and unnecessary war. It is commonly accepted that there is no military solution in Iraq, so why are we there?

"Each year this war is getting more and more costly-both in the amount of money spent and in the number of lives lost. Now the Administration is asking for almost $200 billion for one year alone-just so we can continue down a path of destruction and chaos. "If the $197 billion was spent on education instead of the war, the federal education budget would triple. "Congress needs to take a stand against this President and say they will not give him any more money. That is the only way to end this war and bring our troops home. "The Administration is undermining the political process in Iraq. This money is fueling the occupation, which in turn, is fueling the insurgency. The Democratic leadership must act to end this war and end it now," Kucinich said. Kucinich introduced HR 1234 on February 28, 2007, which is a plan for the United States to use existing money to bring the troops and necessary equipment home and transition to an international security and peacekeeping force.

Active-Duty US Troops Become Outspoken Critics Of Iraq War

A recent op-ed about the war in Iraq charged that upbeat official reports amount to "misleading rhetoric." It said the "most important front in the counterinsurgency [had] failed most miserably." And it warned against pursuing "incompatible policies to absurd ends." Five years into a controversial war, that harsh judgment in a New York Times opinion piece might not seem surprising, except for this: The authors were seven US soldiers, writing from Iraq at the end of a tough 15-month combat tour. In books and professional journals, blogs, and newspapers, active-duty military personnel are speaking publicly and critically as never before about an ongoing war.

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: Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of a private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. (FDR: message to Congress proposing the monopoly investigation, 1938)