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 24, 2007

News & Views 10/24/07

Photo: Shoppers and vendors are seen at the eastern New Baghdad market in Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2007. One of the largest markets in the city and among the worst hit by bombers, it has a mile-long wall that separates it from the main road.(AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Baghdad by Bus: Fears, Flashes of Hope

Everyone falls silent. There's really no need to say anything. All know where their minds are racing and why their eyes are darting for any clues: Is this the moment disaster hits? Is the new passenger boarding their minibus about to trigger an explosive vest filled with flesh-slicing shards? Is the car stuck alongside in a traffic jam driven by a suicide attacker? Is the checkpoint up ahead manned by militiamen? In most of the world, getting from one place to another is just another mundane journey. In Baghdad, it's a deadly gamble. Nothing brings together this wartime blend of necessity and terror more than Baghdad's huge fleet of creaky minibuses - a vital transportation link, but also a tempting target for insurgents. On Wednesday, twin blasts hit a minibus depot in a Shiite area during the morning commute to offices and schools. At least nine people were killed.

U.S. military steps up war-zone airstrikes

The U.S. military has increased airstrikes in Iraq four-fold this year, reflecting a steep escalation in combat operations aimed at al-Qaeda and other militants. Coalition forces launched 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year, according to military statistics. Airstrikes are up in Afghanistan, too. Coalition planes have made 2,764 bombing runs this year, up from 1,770 last year. The figures don't include strikes by helicopter gunships. The increasing use of air power also stems from improved accuracy and smaller munitions that allow commanders to launch airstrikes against insurgents who travel in small groups and sometimes hide among civilians. In Iraq, the temporary increase of 30,000 U.S. troops ordered by President Bush in January has led to the increase in bombing missions. The U.S. command has moved forces off large bases and into neighborhoods and has launched several large offensives aimed at al-Qaeda.

Helicopter Fire Kills Iraqis, Days After Sadr City Battle

Gunfire from an American helicopter killed 11 people, including women and children, after it came under fire north of Baghdad on Tuesday, according to a statement by the military. The episode was the second this week in which multiple Iraqi deaths resulted from a United States combat action. The Iraqi police and witnesses put the toll higher, at 16 dead, and recounted a confusing scene in which local people were trying to help a wounded man who was apparently an insurgent as an American helicopter buzzed overhead. The shooting took place two days after American soldiers killed 49 people in a gun battle on Sunday in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad.

Female Journalists Honored for Courage

Six women who risked their lives reporting in Iraq, a Mexican reporter who faced death threats for her reporting on pedophiles, and an Ethiopian journalist who was charged with treason received awards for courage Tuesday from the International Women's Media Foundation. ABC News' Bob Woodruff presented the award to the Iraqi women for their work in the McClatchy news organization's Baghdad bureau. The recipients were Sahar Issa, Huda Ahmed, Shatha al Awsy, Alaa Majeed, Zaineb Obeid and Ban Adil Sarhan. Eighty percent of reporters killed in Iraq are Iraqis, Woodruff said, adding that the women slept with bulletproof vests and helmets by their beds. Issa accepted the courage award on behalf of the women, saying Iraqi journalists must lead double lives, not telling friends or relatives what they do because of the dangers, and knowing that "every interview we conduct may be our last."

"So why continue?" she asked. "It's because I'm tired of being branded a terrorist, tired that a human life lost in my country is no loss at all. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless."

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Kurdish parliament debates Turkish threats

The Iraqi Kurdistan parliament discussed during its session on Wednesday the Turkish parliament's decision sanctioning Turkish forces to push deep into the Iraqi autonomous region's territories to hunt down gunmen of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PPK), Kurdish legislator Suzan Shihab said.

Kurdish lawmaker slams government's stance on PKK

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman described on Wednesday the Iraqi government's stance on the Kurdistan Workers Party's (PKK) crisis as weak and "irresponsible" and denied Turkish accusations of financing the party's activities in northern Iraq.

Talabani discusses with SIIC leader latest developments in Iraq

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani discussed with Shiite Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim the latest political and security developments in Iraq. "President Talabani discussed with al-Hakim in Baghdad on Tuesday night the latest developments in the country as well as means to find solutions regarding disagreements between political blocs," Talabani's office said in a statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) on Wednesday. "The president also posted the leader of the SIIC with the outcome of his recent visits to the U.S. and France," the statement added.

Iraq drafting law to end foreign guards' immmunity

The Iraqi government plans to submit a draft law to parliament soon to bring foreign private security contractors under Iraqi jurisdiction and end their immunity from prosecution, an Iraqi official said on Wednesday. The legislation follows a number of deadly shootings involving foreign security guards, most controversially a Sept. 16 incident in which guards employed by U.S. firm Blackwater killed 17 people. That incident enraged Baghdad and sparked calls for tighter controls on private contractors. Blackwater, which protects U.S. diplomats and other State Department officials in Iraq, has said its guards acted lawfully. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters a draft law to hold foreign security guards accountable for their actions was being discussed in the cabinet. "Soon they will ask parliament to enact a law which will put foreign companies under Iraqi authority," he said. The law would replace a decree issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004, in the days before it handed over control to an interim Iraqi government, which gave foreign contractors in Iraq immunity from prosecution.

Iraq determined to expel Blackwater USA

The Iraqi government remains determined to expel the Blackwater USA security company and is searching for legal remedies to overturn an American-imposed decree that exempts all foreign bodyguards from prosecution under local laws, officials said Wednesday. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government accepted the findings of an Iraqi investigative committee that determined Blackwater guards, without provocation, killed 17 Iraqis last month in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad. Iraqi investigators declared that Blackwater should be expelled and $8 million should be paid as compensation for each victim. The officials said the Cabinet decided Tuesday to establish a committee to find ways to repeal a 2004 directive issued by L. Paul Bremer, chief of the former U.S. occupation government in Iraq. The order placed private security companies outside Iraqi law.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

War Pimping Alert: U.S.: Top Iranians direct Iraq missions

Iraq, Afghan wars could cost US 2.4 trillion: report

$38M System Down for a Month in Iraq

The U.S. spent at least $38 million to give Iraq's government a computerized accounting system - and no one noticed when it was not working for a month, a report said Wednesday. It was the latest in a series of reports from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., that detailed slow progress on some projects and waste and chaos in the management of another. In the new report, Bowen recommended that no more money be spent on the system until someone figures out exactly what Iraq's ministries can use and sets out plans for developing such a program.

Russia to open two consulates in Arbil, Basra

The Russian ambassador in Iraq said on Wednesday that his country intends to open two consulates: the First in Arbil and the second in Basra. "Russia will open a consulate in Arbil and then in Basra as a strong sign of its desire to boost its relations with Iraq in various domains," a presidential statement quoted the ambassador after his meeting with President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday night. "We wait for the arrival of an Iraqi experts delegation to activate the joint committee in the economic field and we are ready to exchange political and economic experiences," the ambassador also said.


IRAQI REFUGEES

House speaker arrives in Damascus to talk over Iraqi refugees

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani arrived in the Syrian capital Damascus on Tuesday night on a five-day visit to the country to talk about the issue of Iraqi refugees and the new Syrian visa restrictions. "Al-Mashhadani arrived in Damascus on Tuesday night to discuss with the Syrian officials the issue of Iraqi refugees and the visa system imposed by Syria last month on Iraqis wishing to enter its territories," Abdullah al-Zanka, a media source from the parliament, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) on Wednesday. "More than a million and a half Iraqis are waiting for true and successful efforts to solve their cause," al-Zanka also said.

Iraqi Refugees Turn to Prostitution

The Iraqi women jump onto the stage at the al-Rawabi club, their long black hair swinging, their young faces caked with makeup. Iraqi pop music booms out as they sway and dance under strobe lights. Nearby, a woman nicknamed At'outa meets her paying dates - men who hand over $90 a night for companionship and sex. This club in northwest Damascus represents one of the most troubling aspects of the Iraqi refugee crisis - Iraqi women and girls who are turning to prostitution to survive in countries that have taken them in but won't let them or their families work at most other jobs. No reliable figures of Iraqi prostitutes exist, but an increase in the number of Iraqi women seen in recent months in clubs and on the streets of Damascus, Amman and other cities suggests the problem is growing as more Iraqis flee their country's violence.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


COMMENTARY

America's war without end

Planned US spending on the "global war on terror" is set to rise sharply in the coming year, despite claims from the president, George Bush, that al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq. A funding request sent to Congress this week seeks $196.4bn (£96bn) for counter-terrorism in 2007-8, $25bn up on this year. The Pentagon's separate budget request amounts to an additional $481.4bn. Justifying these whopping increases, Mr Bush repeats a favourite mantra, that "America is safer but not yet safe", implying that absolute safety is attainable at some point in the future. In a speech this week, his vice-president, Dick Cheney, was franker: he said the US was engaged in an ideological struggle amounting to war without end. Details of the spending request reveal how the war, by lumping together numerous disparate challenges, is steadily expanding in terms of aims and geography. Iraq and Afghanistan apart, counter-terror funds are earmarked for US allies in Pakistan and Palestine, for de-nuclearising North Korea, and for fighting drug cartels in Mexico and Central America.

U.N. challenges U.S. on illegal air strikes in Iraq

Just as U.S. air operations over Iraq have reached their highest level since the destruction of Fallujah in November 2004, with as many as 70 close air support missions flown on many days since October 1, a new Human Rights Report published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq has challenged the United States to stop killing civilians in illegal air strikes. The Human Rights Report for the second quarter of 2007 was long overdue, and was finally published on October 11. The report explains that it was modified following discussions with U.S. and Iraqi occupation authorities, and this appears to account for the long delay in its publication. The report makes it clear that U.S. air strikes in densely populated civilian areas are violations of international human rights law. A footnote to the section on "MNF military operations and the killing of civilians" explains, "Customary international humanitarian law demands that, as much as possible, military objectives must not be located within areas densely populated by civilians. The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian character of an area."

………. The UNAMI report provides the following details of 88 Iraqi civilians killed by air strikes, 15 civilians killed "in the context of raid and search operations" by U.S. ground forces and several incidents of torture and extra-judicial execution by members of Iraqi auxiliary forces under overall U.S. command. UNAMI investigated these incidents because a relative, a journalist or a local official brought each one to its attention. Without doubt, the U.S. Department of Defense is aware of many more killings of civilians by air strikes and ground operations, hence UNAMI's urgent demand for full public disclosure and investigation of all such killings.

From Moon of Alabama blog comments:

Well, who knew? It turns out 'Kurdish' isn't only an ethnicity, it is a religious sect as well. At least, that is what the poll featured on CSIS' latest report would have us believe. Though they kindly note that, "Other Iraq surveys are difficult to compare because they ask religious doctrine different ways..." They do that, don't they? It is here, Iraq, the Surge, Partition, and the War: Public Opinion by City and Region, if you don't mind spending your time on a 70 page study that can straight-facedly report that, as of August 2007, 37 % of Iraqis thought the US was right to invade their country. And if you do glance, don't miss page 12 where Mr. Cordesman mentions "...development in Anbar and the “tribal awakening” that led large numbers of Sunnis to turn on the Taliban and begin cooperating with the US." Too many occupied countries, too many plot lines to follow. What's a Think Panther to do? Posted by: Alamet


RESISTANCE

Protester waves blood-colored hands in Rice's face

An anti-war protester waved blood-colored hands in U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's face at a congressional hearing on Wednesday and shouted "war criminal!", but was pushed away and detained by police.

Quote of the day: Mr. Cheney says the threat is ubiquitous and pressing. "The extremists in the Middle East ... are trying to seize power by force, keep power by intimidation, and build an empire of fear." Critics say fear is also being used to keep US citizens and taxpayers in line. – Simon Tisdall from America's war without end

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