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 15, 2007

News & Views 10/15/07

Photo: Men claim the body of a member of Salahaldin's awakening group, an armed group of local residents formed to protect their area, from the hospital morgue in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad October 15, 2007. Gunmen killed three Sunni Arab men and wounded two in a drive-by shooting in Riyadh, 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Kirkuk on Sunday, police said. REUTERS/Slahaldeen Rasheed (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Audio: Made in Iraq

This week on War News Radio, we take a look at a new plan to put Iraqi-made goods and clothing on American store shelves. Listen now to Elizabeth Threlkeld’s report. Then, we hear about a brand new university opening its doors this week in the Kurdish north of Iraq. There are American Universities in Cairo and Beirut, and now there’s one in Iraq too. Listen now to Wren Elhai’s report. And, in War News Radio 101, we learn about how Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan celebrate the end of Ramadan. Listen now to Clare Kobasa’s report. Finally, in our A Day in the Life series, we hear the story of an Iraqi musician whose music captures the culture of his homeland. Listen now to Candice Nguyen’s report.

Three journalists killed in Kirkuk

Three journalists were killed in an armed attack in southwestern Kirkuk, a police source said on Monday. "Unknown gunmen on Sunday night opened fire against two vehicles with a number of journalists onboard on the Kirkuk-Riyadh road near Houd 18 village in southwestern Kirkuk," the source, who preferred not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "Three journalists, working for al-Watan newspaper, were killed and two of their companions were injured in the attack," he added.

Second Iraqi Journalist Killed in 2 Days

A second Iraqi journalist in as many days was killed Monday in an ambush north of Baghdad that left his two security guards wounded, according to police and relatives. Dhi Abdul-Razak al-Dibo, a 32-year-old freelance reporter, was driving his BMW with his guards near Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, Kirkuk police spokesman Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said. Al-Dibo's family said he lived in Kirkuk and contributed stories to at least two weekly newspapers in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. The relatives, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals, said al-Dibo is survived by his wife. The attack occurred a day after The Washington Post said one of its Iraqi correspondents was shot to death while on assignment in Baghdad. Salih Saif Aldin, 32, an Iraqi who sometimes wrote under the name Salih Dehema for security reasons, was killed Sunday while reporting on the violence in the neighborhood of Sadiyah, according to a statement from the newspaper.

Iraqi Arabs seek refuge in Kurdish north

According to figures compiled by local officials in Iraqi Kurdistan, at least 12,500 Iraqi Arab families (about 75,000 individuals) have fled to the region. There they find themselves in what feels like a foreign country: Kurdistan has been autonomous since 1991 with Kurds running their own affairs. While Arabic is still an official language, it is all but eclipsed by Kurdish.

Some families returning to Diyalah Province but lack supplies

Some families have started returning to Diyalah Province in eastern-central Iraq after US troops ended operations against al-Qaeda fighters there on 8 October. However, most residents lack basic essentials, including food. "Dozens of families were seen returning to Diyalah after fleeing the city (Baqubah), scared of the US air strikes," said Mahmoud Shahir, a senior official in the Diyala Provincial Council. "The main problem is that they are returning without money or supplies."

Persecuted Sect in Iraq Avoids Its Shrine

As the rest of Iraq celebrated the holiday of Id al-Fitr, which ends the holy month of Ramadan, the shrine where Iraq's persecuted Yazidi minority celebrates a similar holiday, the Jema feast, was nearly empty. This year was a deadly one in Iraq for Yazidis, who suffered a devastating suicide bomb in August. Iraqi officials estimated that the blast killed close to 500. But even before that, there had been reports of assassinations and kidnappings. The sect is under pressure by both Arab and Kurdish Muslims who want them to convert to Islam. However, the Islamic State of Iraq, a radical Sunni Arab group, has taken the most violent stand. Its leaders issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, that Yazidis should be killed wherever found. For more than a year, Yazidis have fled from their villages and neighborhoods in Mosul, in Tal Afar, along the Syrian border and in Kurdistan. At least 70,000 Yazidis have fled the country, said Khairi Shankaly, the director of Yazidi affairs for the Kurdistan Regional Government. That is almost 15 percent of the Yazidi population of 500,000.

Baquba Residents Tense Amid Rise in Armed Factions

The increase in the number of armed people in Sunni and Shiite factions in Baquba has given rise to fears of sectarian fighting in the city. In some areas of Baquba, the central city of Diyala province, where the former leader of Al Qaida Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was killed last year, Sunni armed elements of 20th Revolution Brigades, the Islamic Army, and some Baathists who have returned recently from Syria, are standing against Shiite armed elements of the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army and Hezbollah. The distance between them is only 250-300 metres where Iraqi and American forces are setting up their checkpoints. Abu Karar, a Baquba citizen, told Gulf News: "I used to live in Hibhib and I had to come to Baghdad three weeks ago because the situation in Baquba is extremely critical.

IRAQ: Expired reagents blamed for erroneous Rift Valley Fever results

The reagents used for testing for Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in Nassiriyah, a town about 300km south of Baghdad, had expired, local authorities said on 14 October. “Our specialists sent to double check for RVF among livestock in Nassiriyah found that the reagents used [in the initial tests] had expired and the retests done on samples sent to Baghdad showed negative results [for RVF],” Fayad Sulaiman, a senior official in the Ministry of Agriculture, said. “But we are still keeping a watch [on the situation].” According to Sulaiman, the animals examined were found to have symptoms similar to those of RVF, but veterinary scientists said what they had was skin infections; the only case of a miscarriage among sheep was probably due to malnutrition or contaminated water. “We are going to examine the prematurely born animal but we are sure it wasn’t caused by RVF,” Sulaiman said. “Vets have treated the animals for skin diseases and warned farmers to inform the local Agriculture Centre should any uncommon symptoms appear among their livestock.”

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Leading Shiite politician calls for total US withdrawal from Iraq

A key Shiite member of Iraq's ruling coalition called Saturday for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from his country and rejected the possibility of permanent bases. Ammar Hakim, a leading figure of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), told a gathering celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr: "We will work not to have fixed bases for foreign troops on Iraqi lands." He also called on American forces to be more careful in their use of force after recent bombings killed civilians in a Shiite village north of Baghdad and in a Sunni area northwest of the Iraqi capital. "We are working to enter into a security agreement with the international community to ensure that Iraq retrieves its full sovereignty," he said. Hakim is the son of SIIC leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim and has played an increasingly prominent role in recent months as his father recovers from cancer. The SIIC is one of the largest parties in the Iraqi parliament and a key supporter of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.

Iraq Demands Expulsion Of Contractor Blackwater

The Iraqi government has demanded that Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm that guards top U.S. diplomats in Iraq, be expelled from the country within six months and pay $8 million in compensation to the family of every civilian its employees are accused of killing last month, Iraqi officials said. The demands were contained in a report prepared by Iraqi investigators probing the shooting in downtown Baghdad, in which they said 17 Iraqis were killed after Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation. The findings were described by Iraqi officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public. Anne E. Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater, said she had not seen the report and hoped no decisions would be made until an investigation by the FBI has been completed. The company has said its guards opened fire after they came under attack.

Iraq warns Turkey against raids

Iraq has urged Turkey's government to be "wise and patient" after it said it would seek MPs' permission for military action against Kurdish rebels in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said he was prepared to conduct "urgent talks" to defuse the crisis and said a diplomatic solution had to be found. Iraq signed a counter-terrorism pact with Turkey last month, but opposes any military incursion into its territory. The US has also warned Ankara against ordering any incursions into Iraq. "We all have an interest in a stable Iraq and a desire to see the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) brought to justice," White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

America's own unlawful combatants?

As the Bush administration deals with the fallout from the recent killings of civilians by private security firms in Iraq, some officials are asking whether the contractors could be considered unlawful combatants under international agreements. The question is an outgrowth of federal reviews of the shootings, in part because the U.S. officials want to determine whether the administration could be accused of treaty violations that could fuel an international outcry. But the issue also holds practical and political implications for the administration's war effort and the image of the U.S. abroad. If U.S. officials conclude that the use of guards is a potential violation, they may have to limit guards' tasks in war zones, which could leave more work for the already overstretched military. Unresolved questions are likely to touch off new criticism of Bush's conduct of the unpopular Iraq war, especially given the broad definition of unlawful combatants the president has used in justifying his detention policies at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The issues surrounding the private security contractors are being examined by lawyers at the departments of State, Defense and Justice. Disagreements about the contractors' status exist between agencies and within the Pentagon itself.

Prosecutor: Army Reservist Aided Enemy

A prosecutor said Monday a former U.S. military police commander aided the enemy by letting top detainees make unmonitored cell phone calls at sites including the camp that held Saddam Hussein. But his attorney described the officer as only trying "to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis." The sides faced off at the opening of the court-martial of Army reservist Lt. Col. William H. Steele, who oversaw lockups that included the area where Saddam spent his final days. The proceedings are being closely watched as the first known prosecution for aiding the enemy in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. It has also gained attention for pretrial testimony that included allegations Steele approved the purchase of Cuban cigars for the toppled Iraqi dictator. Steele, 52, of Prince George, Va., is accused of four charges that include allowing the prisoners to use a cell phone and giving special privileges to an Iraqi woman working as an interpreter. [So, those military that kill civilians have charges dropped, no prosecution for killing detainees, but giving a cell phone to an Iraqi prisoner – or treat them nicely - and you are in trouble. – dancewater]

Al-Qaeda in Iraq Said Crippled - by Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung

Yippe! We won again! Read the comments for this article - they are hysterical.


HISTORY

The bang-up journalistic rigor of Thomas Ricks (or: Look in the damn mirror!)

I spared you the tail end of Ricks' quote from the World Affairs Council (at the top) for as long as I could, but now I'm afraid you must suffer as I have. Here's what followed Ricks' reality-free swipe at Chomsky: “I stand by my coverage. Are there stories I wish I'd written differently? Yeah. Are there stories I wish I'd written more than once? Yeah. But if you go back and read the Washington Post, we did a pretty bang-up job during the run-up to the war. And my answer to the American people is, don't blame the media--look in the damn mirror. The information was available. Don't blame it on the media.” Yes, given the above demonstration of his journalistic rigor, I'm sure that Ricks did (and continues to do) a bang-up job of giving the public all the accurate and complete reporting they need to make informed decisions, and so we should all stop blaming Thomas Ricks. The American people thought there were WMDs Iraq? LOOK IN THE DAMN MIRROR. The American people thought Iraq was in cahoots with al Qaeda? LOOK IN THE DAMN MIRROR. The American people expected to be crushed under the anvil of Iraq's awesome power unless Bush attacked Iraq first? LOOK IN THE DAMN MIRROR! It's not Thomas Ricks' fault that the American people can't keep the facts straight! Thomas Ricks reported it all and then let the American people decide! The American people got it wrong? STOP BLAMING THOMAS RICKS! MIRROR! MIRROR! [Our corporate media failed, and still fails, to do its job, but to some extent this is correct – Americans need to look in the mirror also. Americans should know there is something called INTERNATIONAL LAW even without the corporate media pointing it out to them. – dancewater]

What Was Said 'Back Then'

One of the zillion infuriating aspects of the post-9/11 world has been deceptive claims by various people about what they said in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. It's hard to choose the worst of this very bad lot, but "liberal" hawk Michael O'Hanlon certainly ranks high on the list. Like many of others in that category, O'Hanlon criticizes the Cheney-Bush Administration's "mismanagement" of the Iraq war and occupation. But, thanks to the media's willingness to give a forum to people who were utterly wrong about the Iraq attack, he still has a perch from which to say the attack was the right thing to do, and that things are getting better. He, of course, isn't alone. It's not just the "liberal" hawks that make this argument, but the barons of the NeoCon cabal like Bill Kristol, as well. They're perfectly willing to blast the administration for screwing up a good thing. But not to concede that it wasn't a good thing. Which can only make you wonder what the real ideological difference is between them.

Quote of the day: "Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it." Arabic Proverb

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