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 30, 2007

News & Views 08/29/07

Photo: Young boys light up candles for the victims of clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. Clashes between rival Shiite militias, that broke out in Karbala during a religious festival, claimed more than 50 lives. Security was heightened in other Shiite areas to prevent clashes from spreading. (AP Photo/Ghassan al-Yassiri)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Violence Batters Baghdad Schools

Kidnappings of students, murders of teachers and chaotic classrooms leave education in the capital close to collapse. …..The chaos caused by violent attacks and kidnappings is felt at nearly every level, with students misbehaving and missing class, and teachers refusing to come to work. Approximately 600 teachers were murdered across Iraq in the 2006-2007 academic year, according to the ministry of education. "Education in Baghdad's schools is a joke," said 35-year-old Ali Abdul-Hussein, who has moved to a different Baghdad neighbourhood and pulled his two children out of school because of the violence. "The ministry [of education] can't provide education and protection for our children." The day-to-day operation of schools is disrupted by the number of displaced students moving in and out of educational institutions. The education departments in both al-Karkh in west Baghdad and al-Rasafa in the east are packed with parents appealing to bureaucrats to move their children to safer areas of the city or postpone their studies for another year.

Conflict in Basra Spreads to Campus

Students linked to rival Shia parties and militias are throwing their weight around at the University of Basra. Students with links to the political and religious parties vying for control of the southern city of Basra are intimidating both lecturers and classmates at university. “Either you let me pass this class, or you will be in danger," is typical of the threats received by lecturers at the University of Basra from students attempting to use their political – and paramilitary – connections to get better grades. Students at the university, which has 17 colleges with 34,000 students and 2,000 lecturers and assistants, complain that politicised classmates are harassing them and telling them what to wear and how to behave. Some lecturers say that this threatening behaviour, which causes conflict and feuds on campus, shows how the local political parties are trying to exert control and disrupt university life through their student supporters. Conditions in the universities are already difficult. Ongoing security problems cause classes to be suspended for days at a time, and there is a severe shortage of teaching materials. At many colleges, the curriculum has not been changed since the Seventies or Eighties. Some lecturers have already fled the city to escape the threat to their lives posed by a campaign to kill university professors, lecturers and intellectuals throughout Iraq, which began in 2004.

A Lost Country

All the troops in Baghdad couldn’t provide security for the residents for one day.. just one day. Not a week... Not a month ... But 12 + 12 hours. And if you have read or heard about such a day believe me it didn't exist. I can not believe they couldn't provide security for one day. I can not believe this day is so hard to provide after four years of war… Even in times of curfew there were IEDs or mortars and bodies found and who knows how many killings were not reported. I am not suggesting conspiracy; I am suggesting incompetence and ignorance. I am suggesting lack of leadership skills among the Iraqi elected politician. What is happening in my country now is what will happen to any nation that loses its identity…

Hospitals in north struggle to contain cholera outbreak

Doctors in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah have asked for more help to cope with the rapidly increasing number of cholera cases. “We need urgent medical support as the disease is spreading. We didn’t expect an outbreak in this area,” said Dr Dirar Iyad of Sulaimaniyah General Hospital. “There is a shortage of medicines to control the disease and the focal point [source of the disease] hasn’t been identified yet… Five deaths have so far been reported here and in Kirkuk, and we believe more could occur over the next couple of days as victims are already in an advanced stage of the illness,” he said. According Dr Juan Abdallah, a senior official in Kurdistan’s health ministry, over 2,300 cases of cholera have been reported in the area, including Kirkuk over a four-week period. “The disease spread very fast. It is the first outbreak of its kind in the past few decades,” said Abdallah.

Sadr City Under Siege

Iraqi security forces have besieged Sadr City in eastern Baghdad and sealed off the city's main outlets, eyewitnesses said. "Iraqi security forces closed bridges over al-Jaish Canal, which represent the main outlets to Sadr City, and banned anyone from leaving without specified reasons, however they are allowing entry into the city," an eyewitness told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "Last night was calm and the city witnessed no clashes or unrest, so residents were surprised at today's siege," another eyewitness said. The siege came one day after the decision taken by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to freeze al-Mahdi Army for six months. The decision was taken after recent speculation and accusations against al-Mahdi Army of being involved in the violent acts in the city of Karbala, where scores were killed and injured.

Swimming Pool A Rare Oasis

Against the dust-colored, dreary Baghdad skyline, the bright colors of this social club glitter almost unnaturally. The turquoise water of the swimming pool jumps out at you along with the bright, rainbow-like colors of swimming trunks, towels and inner tubes. It's an illusion of normalcy, carefully guarded from the horrors of the streets of Baghdad. Here, boys cannonball into the water; young girls sit along the edge of the pool in tight jeans and fashionable flowing summer tops; and parents relax in their chairs. It's a mix of Baghdad's remaining elite -- be it Sunnis, Shiites or Kurds. Here, ethnicity doesn't matter. The club costs $400 a year for a family membership. They seemingly don't have a care in the world. That is, until you listen to what they have to say. Fatma -- an Iraqi woman wearing designer sunglasses, an elegant brown jacket and fancy gold jewelry on this day -- talked with her friend, Amal, about a recent car bombing that killed 15 people. "I was arguing with myself yesterday and I was saying, 'I am going to the pool to have a good time, and they are dead. But if I stay at home, what can I do for them? Will it change anything for them?' " She pauses. "I couldn't help it. I cried for them." But moments later, the two women laugh, not at a joke, but at their lives -- or what has become of them.

Iraq says 72 gunmen arrested after Kerbala chaos

Iraqi security forces have arrested 72 gunmen following clashes in the city of Kerbala this week that forced hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to flee a religious festival, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday. The ministry also said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had ordered a mechanised Iraqi army unit to permanently protect two holy Shi'ite shrines that were lightly damaged by gunfire in the violence. "The city of Kerbala is now witnessing stability and calm," the ministry said in a statement, adding a number of weapons had been confiscated during a search of homes across the southern city. The gunbattles appeared to pit Iraq's two biggest Shi'ite groups against each other -- followers of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army, and the rival Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), whose armed wing controls police in much of the south. Maliki, who visited Kerbala on Wednesday, blamed "outlawed armed criminal gangs from the remnants of the buried Saddam regime" for the violence. Up to 52 people were killed in day-long fighting.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Da''wah Party admits breach in Karbala security

The Iraqi Islamic Da'wah (Call) Party admitted Thursday that security responsible for protecting visitors to Karbala had been breached, leading to the recent riots which resulted in the death of 55 people and the injury of many others. The party called in a statement on all citizens to support Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's decision, allowing justice to prosecute those responsible for the crime.

Hired Tribesmen Save SIIC in Sadr Stronghold

US forces are not the only ones hiring Iraqi tribesmen to bear weapons for them, IraqSlogger sources report from Baghdad. Tribal fighters bussed in to Baghdad from southern Iraq by a powerful Shi'a party fought pitched battles with elements of the Mahdi Army in Sadr City on Tuesday, in heavy fighting that destroyed several homes, part of a spiraling pattern of attacks between armed elements of rival Shi'a parties in Iraq. The Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), one of the principal Shi'a parties on the Iraqi political scene, hired tribal forces from around the southern city of 'Amara in Iraq’s Maysan Province, bringing them to Baghdad for the purposes of guarding the offices of the SIIC and the Badr organization -- widely recognized as the paramilitary wing of the SIIC -- in Sadr City. Support for the SIIC in the Eastern Baghdad district, stronghold of the Sadrist current and its Mahdi Army, is a minority position to say the least, and SICC earlier moved in the tribal forces in a bid to tip the balance of forces in its favor in the Sadrist bastion, Slogger sources say.

Maliki Tours Karbala, Sacks Security Chief

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made an “emergency visit” to Karbala on Wednesday, accompanied by two government ministers, amid attempts to defuse tensions between the major Shi'a parties in the wake of heavy fighting between gunmen and security forces in the shrine city. Meanwhile, Sadrist officials followed their announcement that the Mahdi Army, its unruly militia, would “freeze” its activities for up to six months with appeals for calm and de-escalation of tensions in Karbala, but not without denouncing the arrest of a prominent Sadrist politician in Karbala province and demanding an independent inquiry into the fighting that killed 52 people, many of them Shi'a faithful on pilgrimage to the holy sites in the city. Maliki toured Karbala with the Defense minister Abd al-Qadir al-'Ubeidi and Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani, “as well as a number of senior officers to supervise the special operations room in the province," a security source told VOI. The PM issued an order extending the full curfew in the city “until further notice,” the agency reports, citing an announcement on al-Iraqiya state television.

Sadr militiamen heed Iraq truce order

The armed men of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia vanished from the streets of Baghdad on Thursday, saying they were obeying their leader's order for a six-month truce. The black-clad Mahdi Army militiamen, normally dominant in their bastion of Sadr City, a teeming Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, were absent from the streets, an AFP photographer reported. "In Baghdad we will now lie low and obey the order until there are new orders to restart our activities," fighter Abu Moqtada said. Another, who asked not to be named, said "we cannot break his word. His word is an order for us." On Wednesday Sadr ordered his militia to suspend for six months all activities, including attacks on US troops, after his fighters were suspected of involvement in gunbattles during a Shiite religious festival in the city of Karbala. [Sadr said to suspend actions for up to six months – which means he could call an end to it sooner than six months. – dancewater]

Iraqi Shiite heir

When a Shiite religious leader's phalanx was waved through a security cordon and into the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala on Monday night, a crowd of rival militiamen grew incensed, sparking fighting that claimed the lives of at least 50 people and left parts of the holy city smoldering. The man at the center of it was a soft-spoken 36-year-old cleric who has emerged this summer as the likely next head of the party that is the United States' most powerful political ally in Iraq. Ammar Hakim is far from the secular, Western-educated men whom U.S. policymakers hoped would govern this land once Saddam Hussein was toppled. He wears the black turban of those who claim to be descended from the prophet Muhammad and was educated in the Shiite seminaries of Iran. In the last few months, Hakim has taken the helm of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, stepping in for his father, Abdelaziz Hakim, while he is being treated for lung cancer. The younger Hakim's rise comes at a crucial time for the party. The supreme council commands one of the two largest Shiite Muslim groups in Iraq's parliament but has been losing influence on the streets to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, who controls the other bloc. If Hakim is able to counter Sadr, it could boost the Bush administration's hopes of maintaining Iraqi support for a continued U.S. presence here. [Of course, the bush/cheney criminals only say we are there to help the Iraqis, so if peace broke out, then there would be no further need for US military and mercenaries in Iraq, no? – dancewater] ….He [Hakim] cautioned against a sudden drawdown of U.S. forces, saying it would be dangerous for Iraq. He said he supported a U.S.-sponsored bill to regulate the distribution of Iraq's massive oil wealth. And he expressed willingness to compromise with Sunni Arab politicians. [What a coincidence! – dancewater] ….The elder Hakim's direction is one that U.S. officials describe as a voice of moderation in Iraq, despite the party's strong Islamist values and close ties to Tehran. U.S. officials regard the Badr Organization, which has been accused of running death squads targeting Sunnis, as more restrained than the Mahdi Army, also blamed for sectarian killings. [But how would anyone know, since “we don’t do body counts”. – dancewater] And Badr has avoided open confrontations with U.S. forces, unlike Sadr, who has led two uprisings against American troops. The tacit alliance has shielded Badr fighters from U.S. raids. But with tension mounting between the U.S. and Iran, it is increasingly difficult for Hakim's party to juggle the relationships with its two key benefactors.


REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Abu Ghraib Justice Ends With Enlisted Soldiers

Tuesday's acquittal of Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan on charges related to the Abu Ghraib prison abuses means that no officers have been found criminally responsible for the mistreatment of prisoners at the Iraqi prison near Baghdad. During Jordan's weeklong court-martial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, his lawyers argued that he was not directly responsible for training and supervising the soldiers who abused detainees at Abu Ghraib prison from mid-September to late December 2004. Two generals who investigated the abuses found that Jordan offered "tacit approval" for abuses committed by military police under his supervision in November 2003, which was "the causative factor that set the stage for the abuses that followed for days afterward." However, the jury of nine military officers was not convinced by prosecutors or the generals' investigation and sided with Jordan's attorneys, who argued that their client was nothing more than a manager at the prison and that interrogation techniques were the responsibility of Colonel Thomas Pappas, the highest ranking officer at the prison, and Captain Carolyn Wood, leader of the Interrogation Command Element unit. Jordan was found innocent of charges that he was responsible for training and supervising soldiers who had been convicted of abusing prisoners, as well as charges that he was personally involved in supervising the use of forced nudity and the use of dogs to intimidate detainees during interrogations.

Report Finds Little Progress On Iraq Goals

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration. The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.

Pentagon won't make surge recommendation to Bush

In a sign that top commanders are divided over what course to pursue in Iraq, the Pentagon said Wednesday that it won't make a single, unified recommendation to President Bush during next month's strategy assessment, but instead will allow top commanders to make individual presentations. "Consensus is not the goal of the process," Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters. "If there are differences, the president will hear them." Military analysts called the move unusual for an institution that ordinarily does not air its differences in public, especially while its troops are deployed in combat. "The professional military guys are going to the non-professional military guys and saying 'Resolve this,'" said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "That's what it sounds like." White said it suggests that the military commanders want to be able to distance themselves from Iraq strategy by making it clear that whatever course is followed is the president's decision, not what commanders agreed on. Bush has said on several occasions that he will follow the recommendation of Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, but the Pentagon plan makes certain that other points of view are heard.


COMMENTARY

Comment: Conflict Foils Change in Schools and Universities

Iraq once had one of the best educational systems in the Middle East. Baghdad and Mosul were thriving university and intellectual centres, and school enrolment and literacy rates were high. War changed that – first the decade-long conflict with Iran, then the first Gulf War, and finally the effects of United Nations sanctions from 1991. The school system began to collapse, and enrolment fell as many children, functioning in survival mode like the adults around them, were forced to earn money rather than study. Within a decade, only 53 per cent of children were enrolled in schools, according to the US Agency for International Development.

…….Local education directorates filter requests from schools to the ministry, but education, like other governance efforts, is taking a back seat to the more pressing issue of security. The conflict is being fought on the streets of Iraq and its once-flourishing capital, Baghdad, affecting every aspect of life and effectively halting governance there. In the capital, IWPR correspondents report, the lack of law and order is destroying education. Teachers are refusing to show up to work because of the security situation; schools, particularly in mixed Sunni-Shia neighbourhoods, shut down for months on end; and pupils are pulled out of school by their parents.

Opinion: The Legacy of Oppression and the Legitimacy of Resistance

But now there is a wedge in this imperial path, driving the American neo-conservative empire to a screeching halt. The Iraqi people - who are, in fact, the Iraqi resistance - are succeeding where we could not. What’s not to love? We cannot start examining history from September 11th, 2001. Since WWI, Arabs have been lied to, manipulated, and used by the U.S., Great Britain, and other colonial powers. Next year will mark the 60th year of Al Nakba in Palestine-the Catastrophe. Iraqis have now seen that illegal occupation extended to include the Fertile Crescent, their land between two rivers, their Mesopotamia. Iraqis see the close to 6 million Palestinian refugees, illegally denied their right of return. Iraqis see the U.S. Army building walls to make impoverished ghettos, like the Nazis did, and like the Israelis are doing with their apartheid wall. Iraqis see the open-air prison that is Gaza, strangled and starving as we speak because of our political agenda. The crime of these prisoners? They were born Palestinian. Iraqis are living under occupation tactics such as daily house raids, uprooting of trees, looting of property, psy-ops death squads and the use of depleted uranium - all of which they know too well by watching our joint actions with Israel in Palestine.

And do you know what Iraqis are saying? I don’t speak Arabic, but I can translate for you. They’re saying, “Get out!” They’re saying, “NO way - you’re staying for 60 years.” They’re saying, “Get your oil the old-fashioned way - pay for it!” And why are they saying this? Because they have a dignity and self-respect rooted in 7000 years of civilization. Iraq is the center of Arab nationalism. Actually, this is what my father says, and I would argue that my father is the center of Arab nationalism. Modern-day Iraqis are the descendents of ancients who devised the first system of writing, the 24-hour day, the bases of mathematics, law, science and medicine. Once corrupt American corporations, the U.S. military, and its death squads, prisons, and bombings are out of the picture, true reconstruction by Iraqis can and will begin.

Quote of the day: "When Iraq becomes strong enough in our opinion to stand alone, we shall be in a position to state that our task has been fulfilled, and that Iraq is an independent sovereign state. But this cannot be said while we are forced year after year to spend very large sums of money on helping the Iraqi government to defend itself and maintain order." Winston Churchill - 1922

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