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

Friday, October 19, 2007

News & Views 10/19/07

Photo: An Iraqi badly injured man receives medical treatment in a hospital in Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007. The injured man is one of three casualties, after American troops opened fire on a civilian car north of Baghdad on the way from Kirkuk to Sulaimaniyah, wounding 3 civilians two of them in critical condition, police said. (AP Photo)


Iraq ranked 157th on international press freedom list

An international NGO ranked Iraq 157th on a list of press freedom worldwide for this year, retreating three positions to come only one point ahead of Palestine, the last on the list among Arab countries. "In Iraq, what journalists fear most are the armed groups that target them without the authorities ever finding a way to put an end to the litany of violence. More than 200 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003," according to a report by Reporters without Borders. Meanwhile, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura condemned the continued killing of journalists in Iraq, noting five Iraqi journalists were killed only this month.

Head of Reconstruction Teams in Iraq Reports Little Progress Throughout Country

Attempts by American-led reconstruction teams to forge political reconciliation, foster economic growth and build an effective police force and court system in Iraq have failed to show significant progress in nearly every one of the nation’s provincial regions and in the capital, a federal oversight agency reported on Thursday. There are bright spots in the effort to put together a functioning nation, Mr. Bowen found: economic growth in the Kurdish north; tribal reconciliation in the western desert province of Anbar; and patchy progress in the development of local governments. Beyond that, some of the provinces are showing increasing ability to create plans, write contracts and carry out construction projects to rebuild Iraq’s physical infrastructure, the report says. A central finding of the report, Mr. Bowen said in his testimony, was that even with 32 of the teams, called provincial reconstruction teams, or P.R.T.’s, now deployed around the country at a cost of $1.9 billion as of August, the program still has not developed concrete methods to measure the effects of the teams on progress in the country.

Pupil dies in attack on school in Iraq

At least one pupil has been killed and seven others badly wounded in a devastating attack targeting a school in Basra city suburbs. An explosive charge went off at a private elementary school in Hakimiya neighbourhood in Basra, 550 kilometres south of Baghdad. This comes at a time of great upheaval and unrest in the area, a week after British troop's pulled out leaving the Iraqis to take full control of security in the southern province of Basra in the short space of two months. [Later reports said that two died. – dancewater]

Despite Iraq's complex sectarian tensions, recent developments provide opportunity

Despite the complex sectarian tensions that were still creating havoc in Iraq, recent developments in the country provided an opportunity for progress that must not be missed, B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning as he briefed it on developments there. Positive trends, he said, included the lowest monthly casualties for the year in the month of September. The ceasefire declared by the Mahdi Army, the Sunni insurgent alliance against Al-Qaida, the pact reached by the Sadrists and the efforts by the Multinational Force and the Iraqi security forces all appeared to be contributing to that effect. Those events, he said, represented a political opportunity to transform military-political developments into a basis for achieving broad national reconciliation. Now, Iraqi leaders must move beyond rhetoric towards progress on the constitutional review and major legislation, such as that on oil and de-Baathification reform, as part of a wider political reconciliation process.

Iraqi Kurds march for peace as raids by Turkey loom

Thousands of protesters, including many school students, took to the streets of Iraqi Kurdistan yesterday to denounce Turkey's decision to allow its generals to cross into northern Iraq to hunt down fighters of the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), which it accuses of carrying out attacks in Turkey from bases in Iraq. The rallies in the cities of Dohuk and the regional capital Irbil came as Kurdish leaders urged direct talks with Ankara over the PKK issue, to try to stave off a military operation in their region which, they warned, "would be detrimental to all Iraq, to Turkey and the Middle East". In the bustling northern city of Dohuk, 50 miles from the Turkish border, about 2,000 protesters marched through the provincial capital, calling for peace and appealing to the US and the UN for protection. Students in the city's high schools were given the morning off to take part. Marchers sang patriotic songs and carried Kurdish flags and banners proclaiming "We want peace, not bombs".

Kurdish voices
People in north Iraq speak of their fears of a Turkish attack

MATEEN, KURDISH, 50, RETIRED, IN DOHUK ~ I am 40-50km (25-30 miles) from the Turkish border. I could hear the shelling from Turkey earlier this week and it was heavier than ever. It's been going on for a few months. There is great concern here locally about what Turkey is doing. This is the only secure region in Iraq. Tens of thousands of refugees have come here from other parts of the country, from Mosul, from Baghdad.

DWAN JAMALELDIN GARIB, KURDISH, 27, SALES ANALYST, IRBIL ~ I don't anticipate a full-scale invasion by Turkey. I suspect what they are planning is a limited incursion to target the PKK. But if Turkey launches a full assault, I think people would take up arms and resist, even though they have had enough of wars. There is a great deal of sympathy here for the plight of the Turkish Kurds and the discrimination they endure in Turkey. We hope that the world stands up to this Turkish arrogance and protect us.

Iraqi oil output likely to drop, expert says

Iraq’s oil production is not stable and all indications are that it is going to fall in the absence of new investments and overhaul of present producing fields, according to Mohammed al-Zaini. Zaini is one of Iraq’s most known oil experts and his predictions have proved correct in the past. His criticisms of the draft Oil and Gas Law are now taken up by Iraqi groups opposing the legislation. Zaini said it was extremely difficult for the country to maintain its current oil output of nearly 2 million barrels a day. “There is an urgent need for maintenance. Lack of security is another reason. Corruption and, chaotic policies and lack of enthusiasm are other factors,” he said in an interview. He said despite the infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars into the oil sector, the country has all but failed to meet the pre-war level of 2.8 million barrels a day. Under the former regime, which U.S.-led invasion troops toppled in 2003, the country’s exports average 2.3 million barrels a day and Iraq was almost self sufficient in fuel and by products despite punitive U.N. trade sanctions. Currently, Iraqi exports barely 1.5 million barrels a day while the country imports most of its fuel needs from abroad.

Iraq Sunnis urge release of 'patriot' death row general

Iraq's main Sunni bloc called on Friday for the release of a high-ranking general who served as defence minister under Saddam Hussein and is on death row for his role in a 1988 Kurdish massacre. The National Concord Front (NCF) said the execution of general Sultan Hashim al-Tai would be "revenge on patriots on behalf of the enemy," in allusion to Shiite Iran. Sultan Hashim was sentenced to death in June, along with Ali Hassan al-Majid better known as "Chemical Ali", and Hussein Rashid al-Tikrit, the former armed forces deputy chief of operations. The supreme court upheld the ruling on September 4 and said that all three should hang within 30 days for the slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds in the so-called Anfal (Spoils) campaign of 1988.

Children 'armed' to teeth in Baghdad

Whether invented by parents to scare their children or whether it really happened, children all know the reason it would, perhaps, not be a good idea to point a plastic weapon anywhere near a US soldier. "One boy was killed by an American soldier who mistook his toy for a real gun," said one of Sandy's friends, who gave his name as Zain and his age as 12, parroting the correct answer. According to shopkeeper Uday Mohammed, the incident really did happen "about a year ago in Diyala province," which is why he warns children buying guns from his store to be ultra careful about displaying them in public. Mohammed said toy guns are his biggest sellers by far, and that there had been a run on imitation weapons during the just-ended Eid al-Fitr Muslim festival, when children are given new clothes and toys. "I normally sell 10 to 12 guns a day," he said, pointing to a range of weapons in boxes ranging from plastic pistols and crude weapons that shoot rubber darts, to an ultra-sophisticated automatic rifle that boasts laser, an "infrared callimater" and "illuminate blueness". "But over Eid we sold many, many more," he said. "If the children were not coming in to buy guns, they were coming in to buy pellets." Prices range from 5,000 to 40,000 dinars (four to 32 dollars), but the favourite, according to 24-year-old Mohammed, is the MP7AI rifle, reasonably priced at 10,000 dinars. "It is cheaper and it is the type of rifle children see in American movies; that's why it is so popular," said the computer engineer who is selling toys because he cannot find work in his own specialised sphere. He said he was concerned at the increasing demand for toy guns, even though it was helping keep the tills jingling. "I don't think it is good; children become aggressive when they play with guns," he said. "Children are seeing too many people with guns -- from the police to the army to the militias."


IRAQ: Assassination of Sheikh Shakes US Claims

Abu Risha was killed Sep. 13 when a bomb exploded outside his house in the restive al-Anbar province to the west of Baghdad. His tribe is a branch of the powerful al-Dulaim tribe in al-Anbar. The Bush administration used Abu Risha to send messages to many parties and groups in Iraq. The week before Abu Risha was killed, U.S. President George W. Bush met with him in Iraq, and claimed that al-Anbar province now suggested "what the future of Iraq can look like." "Bush kept his mouth shut when his little collaborator was killed despite all the protection he had," a young man from Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar province, told IPS. "This was and will be the end of all those who take the path of collaborating with the occupation." Abu Risha, who had been arrested by Saddam Hussein, became the centrepiece of Bush administration efforts to show that its troops surge in Iraq had been a success. Many Iraqis, even one of Abu Risha's distant cousins, think differently. "Sattar was a common thief, and we all knew him to be chief of a highway robbers gang," Salim Abu Risha told IPS in Baghdad. "He and his gang brought shame to our tribe and the whole province, but the Americans tried to make a hero of him."

Two Iraqi Lawmakers Arrested on Terrorism Charges

Two members of a provincial council south of Baghdad were arrested on charges of terrorism, Iraqi officials said today, while three civilians were wounded when gunmen identified by witnesses as private security contractors opened fire on a taxi in northern Iraq. The council members from Qadisiya province belonged to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr's movement. Police arrested them on Wednesday in connection with killings and alleged terrorist activities that have roiled the province's capital, Diwaniya, Iraqi officials said. Mohammed Abed Hassan was arrested inside the province's government building on Wednesday afternoon, while Haidar Hamza was arrested in his home, according to Qadisiya government spokesman Fadel Mahna. Qadisiya's previous governor, who belonged to the Badr Organization, a rival militia to Sadr's Mahdi Army, was killed in an August bomb blast. Dhia Shuber, the current governor, declined to say whether the jailed officials were connected with the slaying of his predecessor. He said the charges against them were a matter for the courts to decide. A spokesman for Sadr in Diwaniya called the charges against them false. Diwaniya has been roiled by Shiite-on-Shiite violence since the spring. But locals in the city believe that some people who claimed allegiance to the Mahdi Army have now formed their own groups as a cover for criminal activities.


Turkey rejects direct talks with Iraqi Kurds

A senior Turkish official rejected a call by Iraqi Kurds for direct talks to defuse the crisis over PKK based in occupied northern Iraq, in an interview published Friday in a Turkish newspaper. "Northern Iraq is part of Iraq and the Iraqi Kurds should tell whatever they want to tell us to their own government in Baghdad," Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said. "I'm sure the Baghdad government will then convey what they say to us." Cicek referred to a recent spat with Austria, which Ankara accuses of failing to arrest a senior PKK member wanted on an Interpol warrant, allowing him instead to board a plane for northern occupied Iraq. "We haven't seen the EU supporting us in the fight against terrorism; we even witnessed them protecting terrorists," Cicek added. Turkey has long accused European countries of tolerating PKK activities and failing to close down organizations affiliated to the group.

MoD to investigate Iraq abuse claims

The Ministry of Defence is launching a new investigation into claims British troops abused Iraqi soldiers. Lawyers for the Iraqi families of soldiers captured after an insurgent ambush in May 2004 have lodged documents at the High Court, including a video showing bodies being taken to an Iraqi hospital and statements by witnesses claiming some bodies showed signs of horrific mutilation and torture. The complaint demands an independent inquiry into an incident that began with a "heavy firefight" on the Amarrah to Basra road, at a checkpoint just north of the town of Majar al-Kabir. [There is a video report at this link. – dancewater]

Ex-US Commander in Iraq Gets 2-Year Term

A former U.S. commander at the Iraqi jail that held Saddam Hussein was acquitted Friday of aiding the enemy but received two years imprisonment for convictions on other charges after pleading for leniency from the judge. Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele, 52, of Prince George, Va., could have faced a life sentence if convicted of accusations he allowed prisoners to use his cell phone to make unmonitored calls. "I have no excuse that would even remotely justify my actions," Steele told the judge at his court-martial near Baghdad.

Report: U.S.-led coalition has little influence in southern Iraq

A new U.S. government report suggests that American officials may have little hope of influencing developments in Iraq's southern provinces amid growing concerns about Iranian involvement there. The report, released Thursday by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said that poor security prevents U.S. and coalition civilian officials from meeting with many of their Iraqi counterparts, yet Iranians can travel unmolested in the region. The report suggests that conditions are improving in some parts of the country, notably Anbar province, which until earlier this year was the center of the Sunni insurgency. But its description of the limits experienced by coalition reconstruction teams in southern Iraq suggests difficulties for the United States in a strategic region of the country.


Money Gone, Iraqis Reluctantly Head Home

Their money gone, Iman Faleh and her family packed their belongings to reluctantly return to Baghdad - a journey they said was like going to "death row." The religiously mixed family - Iman is a Sunni Muslim, the others are Shiite Muslims - fled their home in a mostly Shiite part of east Baghdad in July and took refuge in Syria, joining an estimated 1.5 million other Iraqis here. But in early fall, they became part of a growing wave of Iraqis leaving Syria for home, not because they are confident of Iraq's future, but because they ran out of money. Others are returning because the Syrians have made it more difficult to stay. Most Iraqis cannot work legally in Syria and survive on savings or handouts from relatives. "Going back to Baghdad means going to `death row,'" said Iman's 27-year-old son, Zaid, as he hauled luggage from the family's $1,200-a-month apartment in Damascus. "But we have no money left that could allow us to go on living here." From their old home in Baghdad, Zaid said Friday that the family was trying to cope. "When we first got here we could not sleep for the first couple of nights because of the blasts and all-night-long shooting, but now it had become a routine," he said.

A Bitter Life for Iraq's Displaced

The men gather somberly at midday on soiled straw mats under a makeshift canvas canopy in a valiant effort to simulate the traditional, formal Arab reception room, but here they have no fans to keep the flies from landing, no sweets or tea to offer strangers. They hoped that this city, holy to their Shiite sect, would welcome them and begin to heal their grief. Instead they have found themselves in a refugee camp outside the city, far from jobs and shops, squeezed five to a tent, sleeping on blankets that smell of sweat and drinking cloudy brown water hauled from a ditch. Most galling for these refuges is that they feel abandoned by the government, run by fellow Shiites under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. "When Maliki came to Najaf, he didn't even come to see the camp; he didn't even visit his own people," said Issa Mohammed, 47.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


White House Defends Bush's WWIII Comment as Only a "Rhetorical Point"

The White House explained last Thursday that U.S. President George W. Bush was merely trying to "make a point" with his comment of a possible World War III should Iran develop nuclear weapons. According to White House spokesperson Dana Perino, the president "was not making any war plans, and he wasn't making any declarations." She explained that the comment was only made as a "rhetorical point" of how "we do not believe...that Iran should be allowed to pursue nuclear weapons." The statement was for a comment the president made at a news conference last Wednesday, saying "if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing Iran from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." Pelosi further insisted that such would lead to "a potentially dangerous situation," housing the possibility of a World War III. The statement made by President Bush in relation to a possible World War III has extracted comments from the Iran government. "This sort of policy will jeopardize peace and security at the international level, and is a barrier of peace," says Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini. [Imagine what would happen if Iran’s president made such provocative statements. – dancewater]

Iraq partition will blow Mideast up

Syrian President warns that any failure to safeguard Iraq's territorial integrity will spark massive bloodshed in the Middle East region. "Iraq's disintegration will be a bomb that will blow up the Middle East," Bashar al-Assad told a group of journalists in Istanbul. He is currently on an official visit to Turkey. Iraqi Kurdish attempt to break away from the central government in Baghdad have met with fierce opposition from both Syria and Turkey. The two countries have voiced their concern over the moves, stating that they could trigger separatist ambitions among their own Kurds.


Director De Palma disturbed over Iraq film edit

Veteran Hollywood director Brian De Palma has lashed out at what he calls the censorship of his new film about Iraq and the chilling effect of corporate America on the war. De Palma's film, "Redacted," is based on the true story of a group of U.S. soldiers who raped and killed a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdered members of her family. It has stunned audiences for its shocking images and rattled American conservative commentators before its U.S. opening next month. But De Palma says he is upset that the documentary-style drama -- its name derived from his view that news coverage of the war has been incomplete -- has been censored. The film's distributor, Magnolia Pictures, ordered the faces of dead Iraqis shown in a montage of photographs at the end of the film be blacked out. "I find it remarkable. 'Redacted' got redacted. I mean, how ironic," De Palma, who made his name directing violent films like "Scarface" and "The Untouchables," said in an interview. "I fought every way I could in order to stop those photographs from being redacted and I still lost." De Palma has loudly argued the issue in public, including sparring with Eamonn Bowles, the president of Magnolia, during a recent forum at the New York Film Festival. Bowles countered that possible future lawsuits by the families of the dead Iraqis meant the photos had to be edited.

Quote of the day: "We have to go back, although we don't want to. We have no choice," said Faleh's daughter, Zainab, 25, whose husband was killed this year in a car bombing in Baghdad. Holding her 3-year-old daughter in her arms, Zainab sobbed and cast her eyes skyward as the family prepared to go back to Iraq. "May God protect us and all other battered Iraqis from any evil," she sobbed. From the article Money Gone, Iraqis Reluctantly Head Home