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, October 10, 2007

News & Views 10/10/07

Photo: An 18-year-old detainee waits for his release from U.S. military detention in southern Baghdad October 10, 2007. Prison officials marked his left hand with a red "X" mark to signal his imminent release. The U.S. military has promised to release 50-60 prisoners every day in the holy Islamic month of Ramadan which is due to end this weekend. REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Increased violence continues in Iraq

A recent jump in violence across Iraq continued Wednesday, with at least 16 people killed and 45 wounded in various attacks, including seven involving improvised bombs. More than 55 people were killed and more than 110 were wounded on Tuesday. Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the attacks were part of what's become an annual increase in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this weekend. He said the attacks were mounted mainly by al Qaida in Iraq, which he said is trying to reverse a growing movement among fellow Sunni Muslims who are turning against it. "This spike in violence largely targets those it sees as most threatening to it — Iraqi security force leaders, concerned local citizens and other local citizens in areas that are in the process of rejecting al Qaida," he said.

US detains nearly 25000 in Iraq

he US military is holding nearly 25,000 people in its prisons in Iraq, 860 of whom are under the age of 16, the general in charge of their detention said on Wednesday. Eighty-three percent of inmates are Sunnis and 16 percent are Shiite, General Douglas Stone told a press conference in Baghdad. Egyptians, Iranians, Saudis and Syrians number among 280 foreign nationals imprisoned by the US military in Iraq, he said. There are two prisons run by the Americans on Iraqi soil: one at their Camp Cropper base outside Baghdad, the other at Camp Bucca near the southern port of Umm Qasr. These prison receive an average of 60 news inmates each day, according to Stone, while the average length of time for incarceration of a detainee is 300 days. Since the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in mid-September, the US military has freed around 50 to 60 prisoners every day. [I think this is about 10,000 more than a year ago. – dancewater]

Women prisoners languish in jail without trial

A visit to a women prison in a Baghdad neighborhood has revealed that Iraqi authorities are paying lip service to human rights and rule of law. The visit by Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi found the jail over crowded with many women afflicted with contagious diseases due to lack of medicine and medical care. “The tour has exposed a difficult and tragic situation in the whole process, starting with detention and ending with the horrific conditions of the prison,” a statement by Hashemi’s office said. The prison is in the neighborhood of Kadhimiya and is believed to hold mainly Sunni Muslim women. Many of the prisoners, the statement said, were detained because their husbands or sons were suspected of having links to forces resisting U.S. occupation. “This means if anything that the women are taken hostages to exert pressure on their husbands who are wanted by the authorities,” the statement said. There were teenage women among the prisoners some of whom had spent several years behind bars, the statement added.

Iraqis Divided By Constitution's Treatment Of Women

It has been nearly 30 years since she got married, but Iraqi legislator Samira Musawi still bristles at what she considers the ultimate indignity: a law requiring witnesses to certify the rite. She and her husband-to-be grabbed a couple of strangers, gave them each about $10 and were legally wed. "I didn't even know these people; they could have been thugs," Musawi said of the men who validated the 1979 civil ceremony in a west Baghdad court. That memory is one reason Musawi, who heads parliament's Women, Family and Childhood Committee, supports Article 41, a clause in Iraq's interim constitution that supporters say will prevent state meddling in civil affairs by allowing Iraqis to marry, divorce, decide inheritances and settle other personal issues according to their religious sect. For example, under Shiite law, no witnesses are required for a marriage, but Sunnis require two. But a fight over the article's potential effect has presented a stumbling block to lawmakers trying to finalize a constitution by year's end. Article 41 is just one line in the 16-page document, but to critics, it is the worst.

Middle East Diary

Our own security adviser, an older Brit who sneered at what he considered Blackwater’s unprofessional behavior, was conducting his rounds late one night when he noticed shadowy figures lurking about the hotel. From his balcony, he later told me, he observed the fully armed, camouflaged men creeping around corners as if ready to attack. Alarmed, our guard took the safety lock off his weapon and prepared to fire. Then he realized it was the Blackwater boys, apparently drunk and playing war games after dark. Our security adviser was livid and lodged complaints with the hotel. I don’t remember whether he also contacted Blackwater. In any case, this wasn’t the first time managers had received such gripes and the Blackwater team was kicked out. Some of the Blackwater contractors had moved into the hotel next door. Among them was Jerko Zovco, one of the four guards killed in a brutal ambush of a Blackwater convoy in Fallujah in March 2004. Some of my journalist friends knew Zovco quite well and were devastated at images of the four charred and mutilated corpses dangling from a bridge over the Euphrates. Blackwater finally moved out of our neighborhood and into the Green Zone, but the company remained a daily part of our lives – and the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

I ran into the contractors escorting U.S. officials to the Bank of Baghdad, where Blackwater commandeered the entrance and ordered Iraqi patrons out of the bank. I saw them guarding American diplomats in Najaf, where I teased a Blackwater contractor for carrying nunchucks and sporting black greasepaint under his eyes. (He told me he was in Iraq for the six-figure paycheck and the chance to be assigned to guard Victoria’s Secret models at the lingerie company’s annual fashion show.) "They think they’re bloody Rambo!” our exasperated British security adviser would say. Tuesday was ladies-only day at the pool of the nearby Babylon Hotel – the only time when middle-class Iraqi women could strip off their modest cloaks to swim and sunbathe within the privacy of the hotel’s tall walls. On more than one occasion, Blackwater interrupted a serene ladies’ day at the Babylon. The company’s tiny helicopters with gunners dangling out the sides would dip perilously close to the outdoor pool, presumably for a rare glimpse of Iraqi women in bikinis. The Muslim women screamed and reached for towels to cover themselves. [Read the rest of this one. – dancewater]

Hakim returns to Iraq in full health

The Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council Chairman Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim has returned to his homeland in full health after receiving a 4-month treatment for lung cancer in Tehran, an informed official said on Wednesday.

Iraqi children return to school with hope and fear

Nearly six million Iraqi children are going back to the classroom this week - a remarkable achievement due to extraordinary efforts by parents, teachers and local officials to keep Iraq's schools open and functioning. However a quality education amidst the ongoing conflict remains an uphill struggle for many Iraqi families, and more needs to be done to support their efforts. The new school year follows one of the most difficult in recent memory. Poor exam pass rates at the end of the last school year reflect the damaging toll of displacement and the pervasive insecurity. According to figures released by Iraq's Ministry of Education, only 40 per cent of final year students in Iraq (excluding the Kurdistan Region) passed their high school exams during the first examination session of 2007, compared to last year's pass rate of 60 per cent. Even more concerning, the same figures showed that just 28 per cent of Iraq's graduation-age population took their exams at all - 152,000 out of approximately 642,000 children aged 17 -- although a supplementary exam session currently underway should increase these figures.


REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

DEVELOPMENT: U.S. Presents a Dismal Record

"We count U.S. aid to Iraq as only 10 cents to a dollar," Centre for Global Development research fellow David Roodman, architect of the Commitment to Development Index, told IPS. "We see aid as not working very well in Iraq." The benefits of aid have been lost due to corruption and mismanagement, Roodman says. The Index, produced annually by the Centre for Global Development (CGD), an independent Washington research and policy organisation, ranks 21 high-income industrialised countries on how well their policies and actions support poor countries' efforts to build prosperity, good government, and security. The U.S. figures for Iraq are one indicator how actual aid can be so much less than aid figures claim. "We count U.S. aid to Iraq as only ten cents to a dollar," CGD research fellow David Roodman, who is architect of the CDI, told IPS. "We see aid as not working very well in Iraq." The benefits of aid have been lost due to corruption and mismanagement, Roodman says. And this level of aid may not last, even in aid figures. "The U.S. put ten billion dollars into Iraq, and at some stage that's going to slow down," he said. "That's probably the largest bilateral aid transfer ever. And that certainly could bring down the overall total." The figures as they stand are also significantly inflated by debt cancellation, under an assumption that writing off such debt can count as aid given. And the quality of U.S. aid is poor because it "ties a lot of its aid," Roodman said.

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". A U.S. commander in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Patrick Frank, told Parker last month that Sadrist representatives initiated indirect talks in late July, which were followed by Sadr's announcement at the end of August of a six-month hiatus in fighting.

Pentagon Is Pressed On Killings Of Iraqis

The firestorm over the Sept. 16 shooting of more than a dozen unarmed Iraqis by members of Blackwater USA, a private security firm, has sparked renewed calls for the US military to release its own records related to the killing of Iraqi civilians at checkpoints or near convoys. Many hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed or injured by US forces for getting too close to checkpoints or convoys over the past four years, according to US military documents and officials. Private security contractors such as Blackwater and US soldiers are authorized to fire at vehicles that get too close to convoys or checkpoints, after giving a series of warnings known as "escalation of force." US military officials say they have launched a successful effort to reduce the number of such shootings by training soldiers to give more visible warnings, but the Pentagon so far has declined to release data to back up the assertion. That refusal has sparked a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking copies of military reports on such escalation-of-force shootings. Key members of Congress have also called for the release of the documents.

Debate on troop withdrawals on hold

Congressional Democrats have put on the back burner legislation ordering troops home from Iraq and turned their attention to war-related proposals that Republicans are finding hard to reject. The legislative agenda marks a dramatic shift for party leaders who vowed repeated votes to end combat and predicted Republicans would eventually join them. But with Democrats still lacking enough votes to bring troops home, the party runs the risk of concluding its first year in control of Congress with little to show for its tough anti-war rhetoric. [I would say that they have nothing to show for it’s rhetoric. It’s all just talk. – dancewater]

Turkish firms leave as tensions rise over Kurdish rebels

In a surprise move, Turkish firms working in northern Iraq have begun to terminate their activities in anticipation of a major Turkish military incursion. Turkish troops are amassing on the border in preparation of a possible military operation against Turkish Kurdish rebels in the area. The rebels are said to be using the Iraqi Kurdish region as a springboard for attacks inside Turkey. The Kurdish regional government says it has mobilized its militias, locally known as peshmerga, to confront any military incursion by Turkey. Many companies are said to have evacuated their employees and ended their contracts, according to Ahmad Ajar, head of the Turkish Businessmen Society in Arbil. “Major companies are ending their work in northern Iraq and on way to return home,” he said.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraq's displaced people nightmare

The scale of the overall displacement is unprecedented in the modern history of the Middle East. There are now an estimated four million Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes, and the numbers continue to rise, according to the UN refugee agency. Neighbouring Jordan and Syria, which have borne the brunt of the problem after receiving some two million refugees over the past few years, have now restricted access because they can no longer cope with the influx. The plight of those who have fled their homes but have not been able to leave the country is dire, says the UN refugee agency.

Doors closing on Iraqi displaced

An increasing number of Iraqi provinces are refusing entry to refugees fleeing violence in other parts of the country, the UN refugee agency has warned. The head of the UNHCR Iraq Support Unit told the BBC up to 11 governors were restricting access because they lacked resources to look after the refugees. Andrew Harper warned that, with no imminent end to the displacement, Iraq was becoming a “pressure cooker”

Iraq's Deepening Refugee Crisis Homeless in Their Own Land

Iraqi refugess are unwanted in their own land as provinces bar them from entering, the UN refugee agency warns. Provincial authorities, unable to cope with the influx, are refusing entry to refugees fleeing violence, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said. ''In many parts of the country refugees are being stopped at roadblocks and told they cannot go any further,'' Andrew Harper, the UNHCR Iraq Support Unit chief, said. Authorities in 16 of the 18 Iraqi provinces have sealed off access to refugees and if they do manage to get into the province then food and other vital services are denied, Harper said. ''Local authorities are also restricting access to food, health care and education. So not only are they being stopped but aid to them is also being halted. Iraqi authorities are simply overwhelmed.'' Two governorates (Ninewa and Baghdad) do not limit refugee access or registration, Harper said. There could be up to 100,000 Iraqis leaving their homes every month, Harper believes. This translates into a daily average of more than 3,000 refugees on the move. It is difficult to gauge the exact number of internal refugees but the UNHCR believes the figure is in the region of 2.2 million. Another 2.2 million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan which in turn are finding that their own social services are stretched to the limit. The UNHCR estimates that at least 12 per cent of Iraqis have fled their homes due to the violence that has spread through the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

COMMENTARY

Bush’s slogan: war on olive branch

Those interested in world literature must have read or heard about War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Millions of copies of this great novel have been sold and demand for it is still high. But I am sure if Leo Tolstoy was alive he would have provided us with a more tragic picture of war in another novel with no less impact and literary excellence. Yes, there are massacres in Darfur; there are massacres in other areas in Africa. Yes, there were massacres in Bosnia. But our massacre is of the type history has never seen for the following reasons:

1. It has taken so long time, perhaps more than the duration of any other massacre in history.

2. In our country one party slaughters the other with devastating killings from almost everywhere.

3. In Iraq this massacre started with the 2003-U.S. invasion, it is going on at full speed now and only God knows when it will come to an end. The aggressive occupation army is the killer number one. It has dragged along to the killing arena it has created scores of the so-called security contractors and militia groups as well as al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and many others all pointing their guns at a peaceful and unarmed people, i.e. we the Iraqis.

4. While massacres in other parts of the world have been confined to a certain area, ours has no confines as it occurs across the country from Zakho in the north down Fao in the south.

Here are some of the horrific traits of the massacre currently taking place in our country. Car bombs, raids by helicopter gun ships, organized crimes by militias such as the Madhi Army of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, bodies bored with special machines, bodies hit in the back, bodies shot in the head, bodies thrown into the river, etc. The question is when those in charge of our fate will raise the olive branch. The decision to hoist the olive branch is in the hands of the American occupier. History shows when America invades a country it decorates its path with destruction and corpses which it continues mutilating even after death. Our massacre is bound to continue so long as the strategies and political inclinations as well as the Zionist mentality has sanctioned the new Christian fundamentalists in the White House and so long as Bush thinks he receives his orders from God and is the prophet assigned to reinstate peace on earth excluding its Muslim part.

Quote of the day: Our massacre has gone on longer that a human organism can tolerate. Hundreds of thousands of us have been killed or injured. Millions displaced and the fear is what is in store might even be worse. – from article above.

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