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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

News & Views 10/23/07

Photo: Iraqis gather at the site of a U.S. airstrike in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. At least 13 people were killed and more were wounded, according to Iraqi police. Photo Credit: By Wathiq Khuzaie -- Getty Images

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

IRAQ: Government says cholera is under control despite 21 deaths

UN agencies and the Iraqi government say the cholera outbreak is under control, despite the fact that since August there have been about 4,200 laboratory-confirmed cases and 21 deaths from the disease. “Iraqis have adhered to the rules to guarantee their safety against cholera and numbers have dropped dramatically; in addition, more than 70 percent of reported cases are being treated with success,” said Taha Abdallah, a senior official at the Ministry of Health. “There are some areas where sanitation is poor and there is a deficit of potable water, leaving residents in a more dangerous situation, but we are working hard to contain the problem. And with the end of the summer season, the possible spread of the disease is lower,” Abdallah added. “An intense campaign was developed among displaced families to prevent the spread of the disease among the most vulnerable.” …..Kirkuk, Suleimaniyah, Erbil, Dohuk, Tikrit, Mosul, Diyala, Basra, Wasit, Baghdad and Anbar provinces are affected by the cholera outbreak. “Local health units have been struggling to stop the disease from spreading and have obtained excellent results,” Abdallah said.

IRAQ: Humanitarian concerns growing near Turkish border

Dozens of families have been leaving villages near the Iraq-Turkey border since 21 October, joining the hundreds who have already fled the area as tension rises between Turkish-Kurdish rebels and the Turkish army, local officials say. A cross-border ambush on 21 October by Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq killed at least 17 Turkish soldiers, ratcheting up pressure on the Turkish government to launch a military offensive into Iraq. “It will be a disaster. Families living near the border are usually [poor] and are being forced to flee their homes, carrying a single bag and leaving behind a history and the comfort of a family to an unknown destiny,” Kalif Dirar, a senior official in the Kurdistan regional government, said. “Families got scared with the killing of Turkish soldiers, and to worsen the situation, eight others have been kidnapped by the Kurdish rebels, causing panic among locals who fear a strong Turkish military response,” Dirar added. “We have recorded more than 3,000 individuals travelling from villages near the border to areas near Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk.” According to Dirar, the number of displaced people coming from the border area has reached nearly 5,000.

In the barber shop

One of the most difficult things I do in my life and I like to call a very hard mission is cutting my hair. I really plan for this event in my life for about three days before accomplishing the mission. About a week ago, I looked in the mirror and I decided that it was time to have a hair cut. After long term planning, I went to the barber shop in my neighborhood. I found two men waiting for their turn. Having a quick look, I found out that my friend the barber had bought a new satellite receiver and everybody was watching a songs channel. I didn’t care much about it because I don’t like the songs of these days which basically depend on half naked girls. Anyway, things were fine until a young man came and he decided to change the channel. He chose the official Iraqi channel and it was showing a parliament session. One of the men who looked about 7-10 years older than me said quickly “please change the channel, I don’t want to see those people”. I asked him why do say so and he said because they do nothing but talking and they did nothing until now. I couldn’t talk to the man any more because he is right.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Basra – Mahdi Army members are in fierce battles with local police in Basra. Sadr calls upon the Mahdi Army to stop killing other Iraqis in the name of self-defense. This fighting has been on-going since early Tuesday. Various reports on the number of dead and wounded.

Iraq, Turkey pledge to suppress Kurdish rebel group

Foreign ministers of Iraq and Turkey agreed Tuesday to seek a diplomatic solution to curb a Kurdish rebel group whose assaults into Turkey have led to threats of armed intervention. Turkey is reported to have sent tens of thousands of troops and armor to its border with northern Iraq after a weekend attack by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, left 12 Turkish soldiers dead and eight in rebel hands. After meeting for two hours in Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said it was in both countries' interests to find a diplomatic solution to the mutual "menace."

Agency publishes pictures of Turk captives

A news agency which has close links to Kurdish rebels fighting Turkish troops published what it said on Tuesday were pictures of eight Turkish soldiers taken hostage by the guerrillas. "The pictures show their health condition is pretty good," said the Firat news agency, which is based in western Europe. The PKK rebels said on Monday they had taken eight soldiers prisoner. Turkey's military denied any of its men had been taken hostage, though it has confirmed that eight are still missing following Sunday's clashes in which 12 soldiers were killed.

Cutting a Deal with Mahdi Militants

Last week, after two Sunni men were gunned down by Shi'ite militants in the sectarian hotspot of Haswah, near the city of Iskandariyah, Sunni members of a citizens' paramilitary group led Iraqi and U.S. military officials to the main Haswah mosque, where they told officials that the gunmen were celebrating their recent kill. With permission from the highest echelon of the U.S. command and Iraqi government in Baghdad, a specially-trained Iraqi Army unit raided the mosque while U.S. forces stood by with additional firepower. The Iraqi soldiers returned with a booty no one had expected: several local commanders of the Jaish al Mahdi, including the top commander in the region who came in at number two on Army's most wanted list.

Army officials say they believe the detainee known as Abu Karam gave the orders to assassinate Iskandariyah's mayor and was in charge of special Iranian-trained cells that plant the powerful roadside bombs known as EFPs, explosively formed penetrators, to kill American GIs in this volatile area south of Baghdad. The capture threw the local Jaish al Mahdi into a crisis, leading two top-tier leaders to knock on the gates of the nearby American base two days later asking for an audience with the American commander there. It was the first time the leadership of the JAM, as it's commonly known, had made such a bold overture.

TIME was present at the six-hour meeting as the militants tried to cut a deal. Let them see the top three prisoners and they would shut off all attacks against U.S. forces in Haswsah, they said. The American negotiators were skeptical but nevertheless got approval for the JAM delegation to see the detainees from a distance of about 10 meters in the prison yard. It was a vast departure from the old "we don't deal with terrorists" line of the Bush Administration and early commanders of the U.S. occupation, but quite in keeping with the spirit of a new counterinsurgency strategy taking shape across Iraq that has not only reached out to insurgents but enlisted them in a fight against Shi'ite and Sunni radicals alike.

In Iraq, Conflict Simmers on a 2nd Kurdish Front

Deadly raids into Turkey by Kurdish militants holed up in northern Iraq are the focus of urgent diplomacy, with Turkey threatening invasion of Iraq and the United States begging for restraint while expressing solidarity with Turkish anger. Yet out of the public eye, a chillingly similar battle has been under way on the Iraqi border with Iran. Kurdish guerrillas ambush and kill Iranian forces and retreat to their hide-outs in Iraq. The Americans offer Iran little sympathy. Tehran even says Washington aids the Iranian guerrillas, a charge the United States denies. True or not, that conflict, like the Turkish one, has explosive potential. Salih Shevger, an Iranian Kurdish guerrilla, was interviewed recently as he lay flat on a slab of rock atop a 10,000-foot mountain on the Iran-Iraq border, with binoculars pressed to his face as he kept watch on Iranian military outposts perched on peaks about four miles away. He and his comrades recounted how they ambushed an Iranian patrol between the bases a few days before, killing three soldiers and capturing another. “They were sitting and talking on top of a hill, and we approached, hiding ourselves, and fired on them from two sides,” said Bayram Gabar, who commanded the raid, and who like all the fighters here uses a nom de guerre.

Like the P.K.K., the Iranian Kurds control much of the craggy, boulder-strewn frontier and routinely ambush patrols on the other side. But while the Americans call the P.K.K. terrorists, guerrilla commanders say P.J.A.K. has had “direct or indirect discussions” with American officials. They would not divulge any details of the discussions or the level of the officials involved, but they noted that the group’s leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, visited Washington last summer.

Iraq to shut Kurd rebel offices

Iraq says it will close the offices of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebel group and will "not allow it to operate on Iraqi soil". Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said he would also "work on limiting its terrorist activities which are threatening Iraq and Turkey". The PKK has been blamed for a number of recent deadly raids inside Turkey. Turkey has come under intense public pressure to use force after its parliament approved cross-border raids. Meanwhile in London, visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara was considering sanctions on Iraq over incursions by the PKK. Mr Maliki said in Baghdad after meeting visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan: "The PKK is a bad terrorist organisation and we have taken a decision to close its offices and not allow them to work on Iraqi soil."

Iraqi Police Tied to Attack on U.S. Base

The men gathered in the evening at the schoolyard to execute their attack. By the time they finished, at least seven rockets had crashed down nearly four miles away inside the American military headquarters compound in Baghdad, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding at least 38 other people, according to U.S. soldiers. From the courtyard of his concrete-barricaded garrison in southwestern Baghdad that evening, Lt. Col. Patrick Frank heard the distinctive sound of rocket fire. He hurried inside his command office to flat-screen panels displaying aerial imagery to pinpoint the launch site. Within minutes, his cellphone began ringing. Several Iraqi informants told him the attack had originated near the decrepit school in al-Amil, recalled Frank, the battalion commander in the neighborhood. His sources agreed on another thing, too, he said: "There were several Iraqi police vehicles spotted leaving the scene." In the days since the Oct. 10 rocket barrage, U.S. soldiers have arrested eight police officers suspected of collaborating with Shiite militiamen to target the U.S. base. Assaults by mortars and rockets on military installations across the country are relatively common -- though the missiles frequently land in unpopulated areas. But if the police are found guilty, the Camp Victory assault would represent one of the more glaring examples of Iraqi security forces turning on their American partners to devastating effect.

Iraqis weigh limits on U.S. military

Leaders in the Iraqi parliament said Monday that they were taking steps to examine the U.S. military presence in Iraq with an eye toward possibly restricting the force's activities, in a continuing backlash over an American raid that Iraqi officials say killed 13 civilians. Before the end of the year, the United Nations is expected to take up its annual reauthorization of a Security Council resolution that allows the presence of U.S. troops here. Iraqi leaders have complained that the U.S. military has used too much force in responding to attacks, leading to the deaths of civilians, and that the Americans have not coordinated enough with Iraqi forces. The U.S. military maintained that it killed 49 "criminals" in the raid Sunday on Sadr City, a mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood in the Iraqi capital, and was unaware of any civilian casualties. But journalists for Western news organizations, including The Times, saw the bodies of two children at the Imam Ali hospital who were killed in the attack and interviewed other children who were wounded. [The only way they are going to limit the US military is to remove them from the country. Anyone notice how the US killing of Shi’as seems to get more attention and outrage from the Iraqi government? – dancewater]

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

U.S. Planners See Shiite Militias as Rising Threat

Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker have concluded that Shiite extremists pose a rising threat to the U.S. effort in Iraq, as the relative influence of Sunni insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq has diminished drastically because of ongoing U.S. operations. This judgment forms part of the changes that Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, approved last week to their classified campaign strategy for the country, which covers the period through summer 2009. The updated plan anticipates shifting the U.S. military effort to focus more on countering Shiite militias -- some backed by Iran -- that have generated new violence as they battle for power in the south and elsewhere in Iraq, said senior military and diplomatic officials familiar with the plan. "As the Sunni insurgents quit fighting us, the problems we have with criminality and other militia, many of them Shia, become relatively more important," said a U.S. Embassy official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan is not finalized.

U.S. cannot account for billion-dollar Iraq contract

The State Department does not know specifically what it received for a billion-dollar contract with security firm DynCorp International to provide training services for Iraqi police, a U.S. watchdog agency said on Tuesday. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said it was forced to suspend its audit of the DynCorp contract after administration officials told investigators they had no confidence in their own accounting records. The inspector general said the agency had not validated the accuracy of invoices received before October 2006 and described bills and supporting documents as being in disarray. Among the problems identified before the audit was suspended were duplicate payments, the purchase of a never-used $1.8 million X-ray scanner and payments of $387,000 to house DynCorp officials in hotels rather than other available accommodation.

CBS VIDEO: Robots Help U.S. Fight In Iraq

[I think this is pure evil. – dancewater]

PM Erdoğan to press Olmert to give up supporting Iraqi Kurds

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will bring the issue of Israeli experts' training of military forces in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq to the agenda in his talks with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, scheduled to take place today in the British capital. A spokesperson for Olmert, who arrived in Paris on Sunday, announced on Monday that he will meet with Erdoğan today in London. Erdoğan departed yesterday from Ankara for London for an official visit during which he will also have talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Although Olmert's spokesperson said in Paris that talks between the Israeli and Turkish leaders would focus on Iran's nuclear ambitions and Israeli-Palestinian peace moves, a senior Turkish governmental official, speaking with Today's Zaman on Monday on condition of anonymity, said Erdoğan was carrying Turkish intelligence reports concerning Israeli activity in northern Iraq -- where Israeli experts have been training Iraqi Kurdish military forces -- to London. He will urge Olmert to put an end to these activities, at a time when Turkey intends to launch a military operation into northern Iraq to tackle the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) there.

Turkey and US bring up potential for joint action

NATO allies Turkey and the US have almost simultaneously signaled that a joint US-Turkish strike against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq could soon be placed on the agenda. While the White House announced that US President George W. Bush, in a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül, had offered support for Turkey's efforts to counter attacks by the PKK, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed there had been talks over a joint operation, in remarks published on Tuesday. Bush said the US has “reaffirmed our commitment to work with Turkey and Iraq to combat PKK terrorists operating out of northern Iraq,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said in Washington on Monday.

Spain charges 22 with recruiting fighters for Iraq

A Spanish court charged 22 people on Tuesday in relation to an Islamist cell recruiting people in Spain to fight for al Qaeda in Iraq. Judge Baltasar Garzon charged 18 of the accused, whose names were mainly of Arabic origin, with belonging to a terrorist group and four with collaborating with terrorists, according to a High Court news release. The investigation, which began in 2003, also linked the group to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which has operations in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey and Syria. The charges come a week before the verdict is due in the trial of 28 men accused of killing 191 people in train bomb attacks in Madrid on March 11, 2004. Since the Madrid train bombings, Spanish security forces have regularly arrested suspected Islamists believed to be plotting attacks in Spain or abroad.

Five held in France over Iraq fighter network

Five men suspected of being part of a network helping militants travel to Iraq were arrested in southern France on Tuesday, a police source said. The source said police were investigating their level of involvement in the network, which was also the target of a police operation in February when several arrests were made in Paris, Belgium and near the French town of Toulouse. One of the latest suspects was suspected of having given members of the network combat training, the police source said. French anti-terrorist police believe the network sent three people to Iraq. Two were arrested in Syria, the transit country, and the third has disappeared but may have been killed in Iraq. Several networks of this type have been dismantled in France since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

HISTORY

Camp Falcon: What Really Happened

Iraqis and Americans must read the information below. They must watch the two videos. And then they, and people over the world, must ask the U.S. government for a full and open explanation of what happened at Camp Falcon, Baghdad, on the 10th of October 2006.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Nearly 4.5 million Iraqis displaced

At least 1,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes each day because of violence and insecurity — a figure that could increase with threats of cross-border attacks into northern Iraq, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday. Nearly 4.5 million Iraqis have fled the country or have been displaced inside Iraq, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The estimates — 2.2 million refugees in neighboring countries, mostly Jordan and Syria, and about 2.3 million internally displaced — are slightly higher than figures released last month by the agency and suggest that a recent decline in major insurgent attacks across Iraq has not slowed the flow of people seeking safer havens.

Audio: French Port Towns Swamped with Iraqi Refugees

INTERVIEW-Iraqi music star plans fundraiser for refugees

Prominent Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma says he plans a fundraising campaign next month that he hopes will raise millions of dollars to help Iraqi refugees in countries such as Syria and Jordan. Shamma, who has lived in exile since 1993, told Reuters the campaign would feature Arab artists and public figures and would take place under the supervision of the Cairo-based Arab League. It will include an advertising campaign calling on people to donate through bank accounts, and programmes will be shown on Arab television stations to raise awareness of the refugees' plight. Shamma said he conceived the idea after watching a documentary on Iraqi refugees last month. "I have not been able to sleep more than four or five hours a day since that documentary," he said, sitting at his office in a 14th-century house in Cairo's Islamic quarter, where he founded a school to teach youngsters how to play the oud, the Arab cousin of the European lute. "Winter is approaching. I cannot imagine myself sleeping on a comfortable bed while others are cold, cannot afford medicine or dinner," he said in an interview on Monday.

Iraq: Pressure on safe havens inside and outside fuels fears of increased internal displacement

Iraqi refugees continue to arrive in Syria, albeit in much smaller numbers than before. UNHCR field officers who visited the Syria-Iraq border yesterday (Monday) estimated that around 300 people were able to enter. The majority of them had applied for their visas in Baghdad. These people met the criteria of the new visa regulations, and stated their reasons for entering were for business, university education, and family reunification with relatives who either have a visa for Syria, or who are themselves Syrian. Some Iraqis interviewed at the border yesterday said they received their visas from the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad. One told of the insecurity they faced reaching the embassy in Baghdad's Al Mansour district and said applicants had to wait a long time before being helped due to limited staff.

Inside Iraq we are closely watching developments at the Iraq-Turkey border. Northern Iraq is the least insecure part of the country and home to over 800,000 internally displaced Iraqis. At the end of September, the shelling of Iraqi towns on the Iranian border displaced at least 340 families. UNHCR is worried about ongoing instability that could lead to further displacement. More than 2.3 million Iraqis are presently displaced inside the country. Of these, more than 1 million were displaced prior to 2003. Another 190,000 were displaced between 2003-05, and slightly more than a million displaced after the first Samarra bombing in February 2006. In addition, more than 2.4 million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries, mainly to Syria and Jordan. We fear that displacement inside central and southern Iraq will increase as safe havens outside Iraq and in the north become increasingly inaccessible. At least 11 of 18 governorates inside Iraq have some form of restrictions on internal movement.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


COMMENTARY

Comment from Matthew Yglesias Blog

News flash, Matt: After WWII, this is precisely what was mandated by the Geneva Conventions and international law. Civilians are to be protected at all times. Try these definitions from the Society of Professional Journalists on the Geneva Conventions:

Civilian: A civilian is any person who does not belong to any of the following categories: members of the armed forces, militias or volunteer corps, organized resistance movements, and residents of an occupied territory who spontaneously take up arms. If there is any doubt whether a person is civilian, then he or she is to be considered a civilian. (Protocol I, Art. 50, Sec. 1)

Civilian population: The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians. (Protocol I, Art. 50, Sec. 2) The civilian population is protected under the Geneva Conventions and these protections are not affected by the presence of combatants in the population. (Protocol I, Art. 50, Sec. 3) These protections include the right to be free from attacks, reprisals, acts meant to instill terror, and indiscriminate attacks. Civilian populations must not be used as civilian shields. (Protocol I, Art. 51)

Civilian property: Combatants must distinguish between civilian and military property and attack only military property. (Protocol I, Art. 48)

Collateral damage: Weapons, projectiles and methods of warfare that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering are prohibited. (Protocol I, Art. 35, Sec. 2)

Indiscriminate attacks: Indiscriminate attacks are those which are not directed at a specific military objective or those which use a method of attack that cannot be directed at or limited to a specific military objective. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 4) This includes area bombardment, where a number of clearly separated military objectives are treated as a single military objective, and where there is a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 5a) This also includes attacks where the expected incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects is excessive to the military advantage anticipated. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 5b) Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 4)

Combatants must distinguish between civilian and military objects and attack only military targets. (Protocol I, Art. 48)

If it becomes apparent that an objective in an attack is not a military one, or if that attack could cause incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects, then the attack must be called off. (Protocol I, Art. 57)

Statement from the US military about today’s attack near Samarra

Major Peggy Kageleiry, the U.S. military spokeswoman in northern Iraq, said an Apache attack helicopter had spotted five men planting a roadside bomb near the city of Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of the Iraqi capital. The helicopter had "engaged" the men and continued firing as they ran into a nearby house. "They chose to go into a house with civilians to hide. They endangered folks on the ground by doing that. We send condolences to the families of those victims and we regret any loss of life," she said. [It appears to me that bombing them after they went into a house “could cause incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects” and therefore, in order to be in compliance with the Geneva Convention and prevent a war crime “then the attack must be called off”. It is also in question if they were planting an IED or farmers irrigating their fields. So, this is a war crime, but then the whole damn thing is a war crime. It is totally hypocritical of her to say they regret the loss of life when they keep doing this routinely. I wonder if she has any morals at all. – dancewater]

RESISTANCE

Iraqi resistance demands U.S. withdrawal

We in the Supreme Command of the Jihad and Liberty in Iraq are resistance fighters against the U.S. occupation. We want to make it clear that there were no terrorists in Iraq before the start of the occupation. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. occupation. We condemn the attacks of al-Qaeda against civilians. Izat Ibrahim al-Duri, who was a general in the Iraqi army and a vice president in the last Iraqi government before the invasion, and who is secretary general of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party in Iraq, is chief of the Supreme Command of the 22 nationalist and Islamist groups and parties that have joined together in a front. Regarding the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party in Iraq, it was not and is not a dictatorial party. We believe in nationalism. The situation existing in Iraq in the last decades, the challenges the party faced, led to a centralized party under Saddam Hussein. Since the occupation the party has evolved from being a party in power to being a party in the resistance. We believe in pluralism and in a new democratic vision. Our party made errors in the past. There was good and bad done during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The party is not locked in old ways. We are no longer a centralized party or a dictatorship. After liberation we will continue to be pluralist. We will participate with other parties in elections.

Quote of the day: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” —The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5 (1948)

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