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

Monday, October 8, 2007

News & Views 10/08/07

Photo: A convoy of oil tanker trucks escorted by the U.S. military blocks the road through Anbar that leads to the border forcing families to detour. (from McClatchy website)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Wall protests are not rare

For some reason many news media are reporting today’s protest against the US wall in Baghdad as unusual event, even Reuters reported it as "Rare march in Baghdad against new U.S. wall". Here is a reminder: since the first wall was erected in Ahdamiya there were at least 12 demonstrations. Funny to mention what Maliki said at that time "Iraq PM orders halt to Baghdad wall": “I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop. There are other methods to protect neighbourhoods.”

Cheap as Sheep

But we can not stop the area is crowded and a traffic jam a head of an Iraqi army checkpoint; there is no way for us to stop unless we pass another parking car… the Peugeot taxi driver I was with stopped the car and both cars stopped. I turned to him and asked him to continue and pointed with my two hands to the man with the Kalashnikov and half body outside the window (TAKE IT EASY)… Ala Keifak, Ehdaa (Take it easy, calm down) I told him but I think when he looked to the road a head of us he realized we have to continue… One civilian car with civilians carrying weapons yelling and threatening people and shooting in the air… Few seconds they passed us and an Iraqi army soldier saluted the man sitting in the front seat… I asked the taxi driver to stop at the check point… opened the door and two soldiers came towards me I think they thought it is weird to stop in the checkpoint without being asked to..

Who are they? I pointed to the car driving away… Why? The soldier replied as he was smoking (many of Baghdad residents are not fasting) Is every thing alright? He said. Because they were about to kill us and I want to know who they are? You saluted them!!! I said to him… They are Chalabi people and I swear to God if you told me before they pass the checkpoint I would have stopped them… I thanked him and left the place and all what all what I was thinking in was: If foreign protection companies have killed people these officials’ protection convoys killed also few meters ahead I stepped down from the first taxi to find another taxi (we do that as a security precaution, take more than one taxi); a bullet broke the relative calmness in the area as someone of the government or political parties was passing… another bullet from the guards. My people’s blood is cheap for the private protection companies and others because our leaders think the same way… cheap as sheep.

Change in Iraqi province obvious in rare drive

The Iraqi soldier at the last checkpoint before the Jordanian border stared at my passport incredulously. He couldn't write "American" in the log. There hadn't been an American at this checkpoint in years. "Are you Iraqi?" he asked. "No," I answered. "What are you?" he asked, confused. "I'm American," I answered, and when that still wasn't enough I added, "I'm Lebanese also." He wrote down "Lebanese." A few months ago, no American would have been foolish enough to do what I had just done: drive from Baghdad west through Iraq's Anbar province, long the hotbed of the country's Sunni Muslim insurgency, and into Jordan. The route was notorious for hijackings, kidnappings and roadside bombs, and passed some of the best-known symbols of the country's mayhem: Abu Ghraib, Hamdaniyah, Fallujah, Ramadi and beyond. But western Iraq has changed, and the drive last Sunday was proof of that. Not once in the seven hours that it took to travel the 360 miles or so was there a threatening moment. The concrete barriers that used to block traffic along the road at al Haswa and then later at al Rutba — so insurgents and bandits could assault cars more easily — had been shoved into the median. Traffic flowed quickly and smoothly.


REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq shows confessions after January Najaf battle

Riyadh al-Garrawi, who was captured after the fighting, said on the video confession that his brother, Dhia, had met both Allawi and Sunni cleric Harith al-Dari outside Iraq. Dhia al-Garrawi had proclaimed himself the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam, and had a cult following. Allawi and Dari, both of whom spend most of their time abroad, are very critical of the Iraqi government and Dari has often accused it of forcing confessions from detainees for political ends. "(Dhia) requested me to arrange an interview with Allawi and (an intermediary) arranged a meeting with Allawi in Jordan," Riyadh al-Garrawi said on the video, shown at an Interior Ministry news conference. He said Dhia also met Sunni cleric Dari at least twice to discuss political issues, in Syria's capital Damascus and the Gulf emirate of Dubai. "He told me they debated politics and agreed they were against federalism and favoured a secular state," he said. Usama al-Nujeyfi, a lawmaker from Allawi's bloc, called the investigation results a sham.

Iraqi MP Found Detained at Meeting of "Al Qaeda in Iraq"

A member of Iraq's parliament is in U.S. custody and being questioned after an Iraqi special forces raid on a suspected al Qaeda meeting, the U.S. military said on Thursday. A spokesman for the Iraqi parliament said the lawmaker was from the assembly's main Sunni Arab bloc. The man was held after a raid in the Sunni Arab town of Sharqat, 260 km (160 miles) northwest of Baghdad, in volatile Salahuddin province on Sept. 29, the U.S. military said in an email in response to queries from Reuters. "The man being held is one of the 275 members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives," the military said. "Officially, he is not considered a 'detainee' at this time. He is being held for questioning after being found at a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq meeting during a combined Iraqi Security Forces/Coalition operation," it said. The military said it would not release the man's name. It is believed to be the first time a member of Iraq's parliament has been detained by Iraqi or U.S. forces.

Iraq PM to Charge Anti-Corruption Judge Over Testimony Before Congress

Iraq's government announced Sunday it will take legal action against the former head of an anti-corruption committee who told US lawmakers this week that rampant graft is blocking progress in Iraq. "The government will sue the former head of the Commission on Public Integrity (Judge Radhi al-Radhi), for smuggling official documents and for defaming the prime minister," the premier's office said in a statement. "We will work on getting him back to Iraq to submit him to the judiciary to investigate administrative and financial corruption charges against him," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said.

With US Help, Iraqi Warlords Gain New Power

Almost 50 years later—and with Saddam in his grave—Kanan's hometown of Tikrit is still a nest of intrigue. As head of one of the most powerful branches of Iraq's massive Shammer tribe, Kanan, 49, can urge thousands of men to take up arms—or, with a few words, keep them at home. After the U.S. invasion, he rounded up some 1,200 loyalists and helped them enlist in the new Iraqi Army. In recent years Kanan—who wears a silver pinkie ring and snaps the lapels of his pin-striped suit coat when he's punctuating a point—has founded a satellite television station, launched a construction company and renovated a nearby sports stadium. ("Olympic pool," he says, his eyes widening.) Yet the necessary tactics for survival as a strongman in modern Iraq sometimes seem to change from hour to hour. Iraqis, he says, are once again looking for the kind of martinet he knew as a boy. "They want somebody strong like Saddam," Kanan told NEWSWEEK last week in an interview near Tikrit. "Power and money—that's how you [rule] Iraq. If I became like the Prince of Dubai, I would control Iraqis like a remote control."

The U.S. military discovered too late that Iraq's tangled network of tribal leaders is a major key to security. Yet over the past year, "government from the bottom up" has become one of Ambassador Ryan Crocker's favorite catchphrases. As violence has declined in Sunni enclaves like Ramadi and Fallujah in recent months, commanders have tried to replicate the apparent success of the region's Anbar Salvation Council elsewhere. Last summer American military commanders spent millions of dollars on "concerned local citizens" programs—essentially paying off tribal sheiks to keep their followers from planting roadside bombs. In Tikrit's Salah Ad Din province, the Army has spent more than $5 million to buy the loyalty of 26 different sheiks. (Kanan is not among them, although another sheik from the same family is.) With Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's central government weaker than ever—unable to provide basic services even to Baghdad—power brokers in the provinces are enjoying something of a renaissance. That's fine with Kanan al-Sadid. "We have to get rid of central control," he says, exhaling a cloud of French-cigarette smoke.


REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

US Army cordons off al-Doura in preparation for massive attack

US troops on Sunday cordoned off various neighborhoods in the area of al-Doura southern Baghdad, in preparation for launching a military operation against militias using the area as a barricade. The troops, and via megaphones, urged residents to evacuate the area before the Army conducts the storming operation, which will also witness aerial attacks, according to a source at the multinational force in Iraq. Residents who fled the area to nearby ones told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that US army patrols allowed only women and 13-year-old children or younger to leave the area, where men were ordered to stay in position for searching.

UK says to reduce Iraq force to 2,500 from spring

Britain will reduce its force in Iraq -- now numbering more than 5,000 -- to 2,500 troops from spring next year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday. Brown also promised a resettlement package for some Iraqis who had worked with British forces for more than a year.

Suicide bombers head to Iraq from Damascus

Abu Ziad’s is no ordinary business. He takes eager volunteers, inveigles them into Iraq for a fee and delivers them to insurgents who consign them to a bloody death with clinical efficiency. His network includes the imams who drum up the volunteers and forgers who create new identities for their journey across the 390-mile border with Iraq. Then there are the officials he bribes to turn a blind eye, and insurgent groups ranging from the pan-Arab, fundamentalist Al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Iraqi nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigade, started by former members of Saddam’s armed forces. Abu Ziad appears to receive no help from the Syrian authorities, which have been accused by some in the West of aiding the flow of terrorists into Iraq. On the contrary, he seems to live in fear of discovery by Syria’s security apparatus.

…… According to Mohammed Hafez, a visiting professor at the University of Missouri and author of Suicide Bombers in Iraq, the Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom, the influence of the Saudi Wahhabis is key to any understanding of the phenomenon. His study of 139 suicide bombings found that 53 were carried out by Saudis, compared with 18 by Iraqis, seven by Syrians and four by Jordanians. The Saudis had already fought foreign jihads in Afghanistan, Bos-nia and Chechnya, Hafez said. In Iraq they exploited the culture of martyrdom established by Palestinian suicide bombers. The targeting of so many Shi’ites has been consistent with their beliefs.


IRAQI REFUGEES

U.S., West seen skirting Iraqi refugee crisis

The Bush administration's cautious approach to Iraqi refugees offers little hope for those trapped in a growing humanitarian crisis that could begin to breed Islamist militancy if left unchecked, experts say. The United States is the biggest aid donor to an estimated 4.2 million Iraqis driven from their homes. But experts say assistance from the United States and other Western nations is only a tiny fraction of what may be needed to stabilize the biggest Middle East refugee crisis since 1948. Host countries in the region, particularly Jordan and Syria, have been overwhelmed by more than 2 million refugees and could need billions of dollars in aid to cope with the social and economic strains. Experts from nongovernmental organizations, aid agencies and think tanks also say alleviating suffering among those refugees and another 2 million people displaced inside Iraq could require hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to be resettled in countries including the United States.

Sudan to host Palestinians stranded on Iraq border

Sudan will host hundreds of Palestinian refugees who have been stranded in terrible conditions on Iraq's border with Syria and Jordan, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday. "It's a few hundred. The president (Omar Hassan al-Bashir) agreed to the request of both Hamas and Fatah to accommodate them and we are going to inform the Arab League and then make our preparations," said a senior Foreign Ministry official. Izzat al-Rishq, a senior Hamas official, told Reuters a proportion of the refugees might not take the Sudanese offer. "Ultimately it is up to the refugees to accept it or not. Hamas has initiated contact with them to see who wants to leave. There is also coordination with Syria and an envoy of President Bashir has been to Damascus," Rishq said. Asked how long it could take for refugees to be evacuated, Rishq said: "We're looking at a short time, not months."

IRAQ-SYRIA: Fire ravages border camp for Palestinian-Iraqi refugees

A raging fire swept through the Al-Tanf refugee camp on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Iraqi border on 6 October injuring 25 Palestinian-Iraqi refugees and burning down 53 tents in the isolated camp, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on 7 October. "We are very angry and very sad. People lost their documents, passports and all their possessions. The situation is very bad," said one of the refugees from the camp who wished to remain anonymous. According to witnesses, an unattended stove started the fire which destroyed the personal belongings, including important papers, of 11 families, and injured several of those who tried to extinguish it. A doctor in the camp, Ahmad Hassan, told IRIN several people had suffered first degree burns, and others had severe breathing problems. Five patients were taken to the Palestinian Hospital in Damascus for treatment.

IRAQ-IRAN: Fear among refugees as cholera crosses border

Despite the efforts of the Iraqi government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to contain a recent cholera outbreak, the disease has already spread to half of the country and has also crossed the border into Iran, according to WHO and Iranian authorities. Refugee camps on Iraq’s borders and inside Iran, Syria and Jordan have been warned of the outbreak by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). “Many of us are suffering from diarrhoea. Doctors are not always available and this week we discovered that two men who were at our camp for a short period of time are now in Baghdad being treated for cholera,” said Haifa Izidin, 36, a displaced woman living in a camp on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


COMMENTARY

US-IRAQ: Unable to Defeat Mahdi Army, U.S. Hopes to Divide It

Although the U.S. military command's frequent assertions that the primary threat to U.S. forces in Iraq comes from Iranian meddling, its real problem is that Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi army is determined to end the occupation and is simply too big and too well entrenched to be weakened by military force. The U.S. command began trying to enter into a political dialogue with Sadr's followers in early 2006 and now claims that such a dialogue has begun, according to a Sep. 12 article by Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times. And Gen. David Petraeus hinted in his Congressional testimony last month at the need to negotiate a deal with the Sadrists. Petraeus said it is impossible to "kill or capture" all the "Sadr militia" and likened the problem to that of dealing with the Sunni insurgents who have now been allowed to become local security forces in Sunni neighbourhoods. But the George W. Bush administration is not prepared to make peace with the Mahdi army. Instead it believes it can somehow divide it if it applies military pressure while wooing what it calls "moderates" in the Sadr camp. Parker quoted an anonymous administration official last month as suggesting that there were Sadrists "who we think we might be able to work with".

Unmasking AIPAC

What does AIPAC's control of our Congress mean for the American people? Arguably, that influence propelled the U.S. into war against Iraq with its inevitable consequences in death, destruction and debt leaving the nation bereft of a resolution; it has solidified perception around the world that Israel's defiance of the UN resolutions demanding that it obey international law regarding right of return for Palestinians and return of occupied territory is not just condoned by the U.S. but is the policy of the U.S., making the United States a co-partner in international crime.

Report Says War on Terror Is Fueling Al Qaeda

Six years after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the "war on terror" is failing and instead fueling an increase in support for extremist Islamist movements, a British think-tank said on Monday. A report by the Oxford Research Group (ORG) said a "fundamental re-think is required" if the global terrorist network is to be rendered ineffective. "If the al Qaeda movement is to be countered, then the roots of its support must be understood and systematically undercut," said Paul Rogers, the report's author and professor of global peace studies at Bradford University in northern England. "Combined with conventional policing and security measures, al Qaeda can be contained and minimized but this will require a change in policy at every level." He described the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as a "disastrous mistake" which had helped establish a "most valued jihadist combat training zone" for al Qaeda supporters.

Quote of the day: Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power." - George Orwell

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