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, September 27, 2007

News & Views 09/27/07

Photo: A car at a traffic circle in central Baghdad where a shoot-out on Sept. 16, with private security company Blackwater, left 9 Iraqis dead and 15 injured. Hussein Kadhim/MCT

To our Muslim readers: Ramadan Mubarak

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Stress gnawing at mental health of Iraqis

He lost two sons to car bombs. She lost her husband to a death squad. Both are depressed, weepy, anxious, filled with rage and in denial. The mental scars of the war in Iraq run deep and jagged. Compounding the problem, says Dr. Shalan al-Abbudi, director of Baghdad's Ibn-Rushd psychiatric hospital, is the flight from the country of psychiatrists -- those best equipped to help shell-shocked Iraqis deal with their mental demons. "A year ago I had 14 psychiatrists, today I have four. They are all leaving Iraq," Abbudi told AFP in his small office in the hospital, crowded daily with outpatients desperate for relief from images of horror that haunt them often in the day, always at night. He and his ever diminishing team make sure every person who turns up at his hospital in Baghdad's central Karrada district gets help. "We get 80 to 100 patients a day," said the doctor, as the queue outside his door grew ever longer -- many women, fewer men, a handful of children. "When they arrive here, they are really desperate. They have first been to their local imams and spiritual guides, some even to charlatans. They come here as a last resort," said the doctor.

Assessing the Surge: A Survey of Baghdad Neighborhoods [From 09/06/07]

To study the ground-level effects of the American troop buildup, reporters and video journalists for The New York Times visited Baghdad's neighborhoods, interviewing residents, Americans on patrol and Iraqi officials. To explore the videos and written reports, select a neighborhood below.

IRAQ: Khitam Bahir, Iraq, “I no longer recognise my insurgent son”

“I no longer recognise my son since he turned into an insurgent. He used to be a very popular, easy-going and modern person but now he has changed completely. He has decided to fight US-troops, even if he is killed. I’m desperate because I didn’t raise my son to be a fighter. At home we gave him love and tenderness, good food, education, health care. His siblings always considered him the most lovely person in our family. He left home in November and is living with other fighters but I don’t know where. Sometimes he drops me a line, saying that he is happy and has helped in an attack. It just breaks my heart and makes me cry.”

Thousands of Iraqis paid to leave Kirkuk

Thousands of Iraqis have accepted financial compensation to leave the northern city of Kirkuk, which leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region are seeking to control, a minister said Thursday. Around 2,000 Arabs living there had agreed to return to their home provinces under an initiative launched by the committee in charge of overseeing relations in Kirkuk, Environment Minister Nermeen Othman said. "The supreme committee... finished approving 2,000 applications submitted by Arab residents in Kirkuk who want to receive compensation of 15,000 dollars to return to their original residence places," Othman said. According to Othman, herself a Kurd, a budget of 200 million dollars has been allocated by the Iraqi government to pay the compensation packages of those willing to leave the city.

Arvand-Rood pollution threatens Iraq

"The river is facing a very dangerous state of contamination, with sewage being drained directly into the Euphrates and Tigris, as well as industrial waste and products," said Malik Hassan, an official with the University of Basra. Pointing out that the lack of dredging operations had allowed the waste materials to become poisonous, Hassan said: "The corrosion of munitions and the interaction of industrial and microbial pollution from hospital waste are producing poisons which can be active for decades and get into peoples' bodies." "All this could increase cancer among the people who live nearby and who depend on the river for their lives. It could also lead to an increase in waterborne diseases such as cholera," added the official. "Now only 20 percent of the palm and other trees remain as most have been damaged by these waste materials. We have also seen a significant decrease in the number of fish," he noted.

Trucks must unload cargo before entering Iraq

Foreign trucks on way to cross Iraqi borders must unload their cargo before being loaded once again into Iraqi vehicles, according to a new government ruling. The decision makes it compulsory for custom officials and border guards at the country’s border crossings to force all incoming trucks to empty their cargo for inspection. “Through this measure we will be able to uncover the trucks hiding weapons, explosive and even humans,” said Lt. Gen. Muhsen Lazem, commander of Iraqi border forces. Lazem said the country’s crossings with its neighbors are being electronically monitored now and passengers finger-printed as they cross into Iraqi territory. The government blames the raging anti-U.S. insurgency on what it describes as ‘foreign fighters’ who reportedly sneak into the country for attacks and suicide bombings. Lazem said his troops have captured “a great number of forgers and people wanted by the authorities” particularly at the Waleed crossing with Syria.

Conducting a comeback: Baghdad's music makers play on

The many tragedies that have befallen Iraq in recent years include the wholesale destruction of much of its cultural heritage. But one plucky band of musicians has continued to play through the bloodshed and the bombs. Kim Sengupta meets the world's bravest symphony orchestra. A US Apache attack helicopter roared across the sky, flying low and fast. In the distance, there was the dull thud of an explosion followed by brief machine-gun fire. Everyday noises of Baghdad. Then, suddenly, from behind a flaking white wall, the sounds of a Chopin concerto floated up in the air. The people hurrying by in the street paused, momentarily, to listen as the notes faded away. The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing for a series of concerts. It was one of the first times they had got together after the summer break, which had been an eventful time for some of the ensemble, two of whom had been kidnapped and two more had fled abroad. But the orchestra plays on, part of a reawakening of art and culture in Baghdad, faltering steps in a society imploding under brutality, intolerance and death. Formed in 1959, the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra was once one of the most renowned in the Middle East, able to recruit conductors and musicians from Europe, South America and the rest of Asia.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Sistani meets Iraqi vice president

Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Sistani has met Sunni vice president to discuss a way for unifying rival political parties. Sistani met Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who heads the Sunni Islamic Party, in the holy Shia city of Najaf in southern Iraq where he lives. Hashemi stressed he had not asked Sistani to put pressure on any Shia group to return to the Iraqi cabinet, saying the purpose of the meeting had been to discuss the new initiative, known as the Iraqi National Compact. "The meeting was profound and many issues related to the political process were discussed," Hashemi told reporters after his meeting with the highly influential Shia cleric. "I briefed his eminence on the Iraqi National Compact and he informed me he had already seen a copy and read, analyzed and expressed his remarks on the initiative."

Sunni Insurgents in New Campaign to Kill Officials

Sunni Arab extremists have begun a systematic campaign to assassinate police chiefs, police officers, other Interior Ministry officials and tribal leaders throughout Iraq, staging at least 10 attacks in 48 hours. Eight policemen have been killed, among them the police chief of Baquba, the largest city in Diyala Province. Two other police chiefs survived attacks, though one was left in critical condition, and about 30 police officers were wounded, according to reports from local security officers. "We warned the government just a few days ago that there is a new plan by terrorist groups to target senior governmental officials, and particularly Interior Ministry officials," said Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister for information and national investigations. The Interior Ministry is dominated by Shiites. One group, the Islamic State of Iraq, took responsibility on Tuesday for the attack in Diyala, which killed at least 18 people on Monday. The group has ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group whose leadership has foreign ties, according to American intelligence officials.

Iraq insurgents slam U.S. help in Anbar

An Iraqi insurgent group accused Iraqis who help the U.S. military of being criminals and bandits, referring to Sunni tribes fighting al-Qaida in the western Anbar province, according to a new video posted Wednesday. In the 105-minute documentary style video that shows masked members of the Sunni insurgent group Ansar al-Sunnah interviewing fighters in Ramadi, the militants lashed out at Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of the effort in Anbar who was killed in a bombing Sept. 13. "The Americans did not find a more vicious villain. He is a bandit and a thief and they used him for this purpose," one of the insurgents said. Abu Risha died 10 days after he met with President Bush during a surprise visit the U.S. leader made to highlight the turnaround in Anbar. He headed the Anbar Salvation Council, also known as the Anbar Awakening - an alliance of clans that were backing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces. Al-Qaida front group the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for Abu Risha's killing. Ansar al-Sunnah said it and other loyal Sunnis are the ones protecting the people in the Anbar province, not the "enemy."

The Occupation and its Three Successive Governments Stood Against the Interests of the Masses

We have gathered in Altahrir square which we want to turn it to a square for liberating Iraq from the occupiers and their agents. This sit-in is the beginning of the liberation which has to be by the progressive forces and not the sectarian militia and forces of terrorism. We are here in this square as we promised to protest the infamous Iraq petroleum law which is to be passed in dark rooms after it has been drafted by the planners of American monopolist companies who want to control our wealth which is the right of the deprived people and the right of the coming generations. Hussein Alshahristani, the Iraqi oil minister, the enemy of the Iraqi working class asked his government to lodge a legal case against us because we stood against donating the rights of the Iraqis to the occupiers, the enemies of people who brought for us the democracy of terrorism, militia and mercenaries and puppets, the democracy stained with blood has claimed the lives of over a million innocent Iraqis and four million refugees inside and outside the country.

Sunnis May Stop Work With U.S. in Diyala

A U.S. effort to recruit former Sunni insurgents north of Baghdad - considered crucial to expanding the fight against extremists - is in danger of collapse because the government has been unable or unwilling to accept the volunteers into Iraqi security forces. The potential breakdown in Diyala - described by U.S. and Iraqi officials in interviews this week - underscores the challenges of copying the military-militia alliances that uprooted al-Qaida in Iraq and other factions from strongholds in Iraq's western desert. It also could threaten some of the gains of the U.S.-led security crackdown in Baghdad and surrounding areas, including the important battleground of Diyala where al-Qaida in Iraq claims the capital Baqouba as its base. In Diyala, more than 2,200 former militants have renounced the terror network and teamed with U.S. soldiers. But American officials fear the volunteers could halt cooperation if the Iraqi government continues to deny them police jobs.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

U.S. Soldier: 'I Was Ordered to Murder Unarmed Iraqi'

He breaks down while testifying that his sergeant laughed after ordering him to kill a man with his hands held up. A U.S. soldier broke down in tears Thursday as he testified that he was ordered to shoot an unarmed Iraqi man, and that his sergeant laughed and told the trooper to finish the job as the man convulsed on the ground. The military reported, meanwhile, it had opened an investigation of the deaths of five women and four children killed earlier this week in a village south of Baghdad where American forces had carried out ground and air assaults. Sgt. Evan Vela's testimony came during the court-martial of Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, of Laredo, Texas. Sandoval is on trial for allegedly killing Iraqis and trying to cover up the deaths by planting weapons at the scene. Vela, Sandoval and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley of Candler, N.C., are all charged in the case.

State Dept. Intercedes in Blackwater Probe

The State Department has interceded in a congressional investigation of Blackwater USA, the private security firm accused of killing Iraqi civilians last week, ordering the company not to disclose information about its Iraq operations without approval from the Bush administration, according to documents revealed Tuesday. In a letter sent to a senior Blackwater executive Thursday, a State Department contracting official ordered the company "to make no disclosure of the documents or information" about its work in Iraq without permission. The letter and other documents were released Tuesday by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), whose House committee has launched wide-ranging investigations into contractor abuses and corruption in Iraq. The State Department order and other steps it has taken to limit congressional access to information have set up a confrontation between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Waxman, who has repeatedly accused the State Department of impeding his inquiries. In his own letter to Rice on Tuesday, Waxman called her department's latest efforts to withhold information from the committee "extraordinary" and "unusual." "Congress has the constitutional prerogative to examine the impacts of corruption within the Iraqi ministries and the activities of Blackwater," Waxman wrote. "You are wrong to interfere with the committee's inquiry."

Blackwater guards killed 16 as U.S. touted progress

On Sept. 9, the day before Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Congress that things were getting better, Batoul Mohammed Ali Hussein came to Baghdad for the day. A clerk in the Iraqi customs office in Diyala province, she was in the capital to drop off and pick up paperwork at the central office near busy al Khilani Square, not far from the fortified Green Zone, where top U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work. U.S. officials often pass through the square in heavily guarded convoys on their way to other parts of Baghdad. As Hussein walked out of the customs building, an embassy convoy of sport-utility vehicles drove through the intersection. Blackwater security guards, charged with protecting the diplomats, yelled at construction workers at an unfinished building to move back. Instead, the workers threw rocks. The guards, witnesses said, responded with gunfire, spraying the intersection with bullets. Hussein, who was on the opposite side of the street from the construction site, fell to the ground, shot in the leg. As she struggled to her feet and took a step, eyewitnesses said, a Blackwater security guard trained his weapon on her and shot her multiple times. She died on the spot, and the customs documents she'd held in her arms fluttered down the street.

Before the shooting stopped, four other people were killed in what would be the beginning of eight days of violence that Iraqi officials say bolster their argument that Blackwater should be banned from working in Iraq. During the ensuing week, as Crocker and Petraeus told Congress that the surge of more U.S. troops to Iraq was beginning to work and President Bush gave a televised address in which he said "ordinary life was beginning to return" to Baghdad, Blackwater security guards shot at least 43 people on crowded Baghdad streets. At least 16 of those people died.

Arab League official slashes U.S. Senate bill on separating Iraq

A senior official of the Arab League (AL) on Thursday slammed a non-binding bill passed Wednesday by U.S. Senate on dividing Iraq into sectarian and ethnic entities, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported. Ali al-Garoush, Director of the pan-Arab bloc's Arab Relations Department and an official in charge of the Iraqi file, called for confronting such subversive schemes firmly. The U.S. Senate passed a non-binding bill on Wednesday calling for limiting the power of Iraq's federal government and giving more control to Iraq's ethnically divided regions. The bill, passed with a vote of 75-23, advocates establishing apower-sharing agreement among ethnic factions similar to the one established in Bosnia in the 1990s, said U.S. media Wednesday. According to an earlier MENA report, the U.S. Senate bill proposes to separate Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni entities, with a federal government in Baghdad in charge of border security and oil revenues. Garoush said he was astonished that the U.S. Senate managed to reach such a resolution, although it failed repeatedly to reach a resolution on supporting Iraq or even gradual withdrawal from Iraq. [Green Zone Government is (so far) silent on this issue. – dancewater]

'Classified' Iraq Corruption Report Posted Online

The State Department thinks the Iraqi government is larded with corrupt officials who protect their own at the expense of their country. But they don't want you to know they think that. Amid a clash with Congress over details on the problem of corruption in Iraq, the State Department classified a previously unclassified new report which details the pervasiveness of fraud, intimidation and misdirection within Iraqi ministries. However, the "Secret" stamp appears to have come down too late: a watchdog group obtained an early version of the report, stamped "Sensitive but Unclassified," and published it online. Iraqi officials' malfeasance undermines the legitimacy of the Iraqi government and hamstrings its anti-corruption efforts, according to the version of the State Department report posted by the Federation of American Scientists, the group which made the document public. "Currently, Iraq is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws," it states.

Civilian deaths in Iraq air strike probed by U.S.

U.S. forces are investigating an air strike in southern Iraq this week which local police said killed five women and four children, a U.S. military statement said on Thursday. The U.S. attack took place on Tuesday in the village of Bahbahani, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Baghdad. A military spokeswoman said on Wednesday there had been two strikes targeting buildings "pointed out by locals in Bahbahani as al Qaeda in Iraq safe houses". Asked then about civilian casualties reported by local police, the spokeswoman said the U.S. military had no reports that civilians were killed. Thursday's statement said U.S. forces were "investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of nine civilians". It said U.S. forces had "conducted operations in the area using ground and air assets prior to the discovery of the bodies".

HISTORY

Bush threatened nations not backing Iraq war

US President George W. Bush threatened nations with retaliation if they did not vote for a UN resolution backing the Iraq war, according to a transcript published Wednesday of a conversation he had with former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar. In the transcript of a meeting on February 22, 2003 -- a month before the US-led invasion of Iraq -- published in the El Pais daily, Bush tells Aznar that nations like Mexico, Angola, Chile and Cameroon must know that the security of the United States is at stake. He says during the meeting on his ranch in Texas that Angola stood to lose financial aid while Chile could see a free trade agreement held up in the US Senate if they did not back the resolution, the left-wing paper said. The confidential transcript was prepared by Spain's ambassador to the United States at the time, Javier Ruperez, the paper said. Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, Washington unsuccessfully lobbied the 15 members of the UN Security Council for a second resolution paving the way for military action against Iraq if Saddam Hussein failed to comply with demands to disarm. But during the meeting with Aznar, Bush made it clear the US would invade Iraq by the end of March 2003 whether or not there was a UN resolution to authorize it, El Pais reported. "We have to get rid of Saddam. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be ready militarily. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March," Bush said in the transcript which was translated into Spanish by the newspaper. Victory would come "without destruction", he added. The meeting between Aznar and Bush came just days aft

IRAQI REFUGEES

Refugees? What refugees?

In January, Sweden admitted 1,500 Iraqis, compared to 15 that entered the United States. In April, the respective numbers were 1,421 and 1; in May, 1,367 and 1; and in August 1,469 and 529. True, the Iraqis in Sweden are asylum-seekers, whereas those reaching these shores have refugee status conferred by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. But the numbers — representing the bulk of the Iraqis getting into a country of nine million and another of 300 million — are no less of an indictment for that. When Tobias Billstrom, the migration minister, says, “Yes, of course the United States should do more,” you can feel his indignation about to erupt like milk boiling over. He notes that given the huge population difference, Sweden’s intake of Iraqis “is the equivalent of the U.S. taking in about 500,000 refugees.” Of all the Iraq war scandals, America’s failure to do more for refugees, including thousands who put their lives at risk for the U.S., stands out for its moral bankruptcy. Last time I checked, Sweden did not invade Iraq. Its generosity shames President Bush’s fear-infused nation.

Syria morally responsible for Iraqi refugees-Iraq VP

A senior Iraqi official urged Damascus on Thursday to improve the lot of Iraqi refugees whose arrival in Syria has raised tensions between the two countries. "The refugees are the responsibility of the Iraqi government but they're also victims of regional and international circumstances everyone helped create," Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi said in Damascus. "Syria must guarantee their full rights as far as security, residency if possible, education, health and minimum living standards," Mahdi said after meeting his Syrian counterpart Farouq al-Shara. The refugee issue is a thorn in relations between Damascus and the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad. Syrian officials accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ignoring the crisis during a recent visit to Syria. Syria opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that removed Saddam Hussein from power and brought sectarian tensions to the surface. [These ‘sectarian tensions’ were not just brought to the surface, there were many actions that the US took that promoted these sectarian tensions. – dancewater]

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

Quote of the day: In Blackwater's only statement regarding the Sept. 16 incident, Anne Tyrell, the company's spokeswoman, denied that the dead were civilians. "The 'civilians' reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies," she said in an e-mail, "and Blackwater personnel returned defensive fire." [One of the dead was an infant. This quote came from the article above. – dancewater]

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