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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

News of the Day for Sunday, December 30, 2007

Iraqi soldiers check a car at a checkpoint in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein loyalists gathered at the ousted dictator's graveside for the first anniversary of his execution, with security tight in the regions of Iraq where he drew his most fervent support.
(AFP/Ali Yussef)

Reported Security Incidents


Two bodies found dumped.

Bomb attached to a firefighter's personal vehicle injures two bystanders in Al Shaab neighborhood.

Sulaiman Bek (Salah al-Din Province)

Gunmen set up a fake checkpoint, stop a convoy of trucks delivering food to Mosul, and kidnap 11 drivers. Aswat al-Iraq gives the total number kidnapped as 13, does not suggest that the victims were truck drivers.


Gunmen attack village of al-Ujaimi, injuring three civilians. VoI attributes the attack to the Islamic State of Iraq.

Near Baquba

U.S. forces, acting on a tip from civilians, find 3 bodies killed about a month ago. According to the tipster, the find is part of a mass grave containing about 20 bodies, but this has yet to be confirmed. The tipster blames al-Qaeda in Iraq. Reuters tells a slightly different story, says that 2 of the bodies had in fact been found days earlier.

Northern Babel Province

U.S. and Iraqi forces in an "air drop" operation (apparently meaning they were flown in by helicopter) arrest 30 individuals.


Gunmen attack a police patrol, kill three officers, torch their vehicle.

Other News of the Day

News of the Weird -- AP: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flew to London Saturday for what one of his advisers described as a regularly scheduled medical checkup. Yassin Majeed said al-Maliki had delayed a previous trip because the "security situation did not allow it." He added that although the visit was private, "he might meet British officials." l-Maliki told Iraqiyah TV at Baghdad airport that he had for some time wanted to have a checkup and "it became convenient now." (Okay, I realize there is a shortage of physicians in Iraq right now but you would think the Prime Minister could find a doctor if he wanted one. There is also a basically unlimited supply of U.S. military docs who would be happy to give him a checkup if he were to ask nicely. How would people interpret it if George W. Bush decided to fly to London for a physical? This is quite odd, to say the least. What is most odd is that it seems to have inspired no discernible reaction from anyone but me. -- C)

Iraqi forces on alert for one-year anniversary of the execution of Saddam Hussein. Excerpt from AP story:

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN and HAMID AHMED, Associated Press Writers

Iraqi security forces were on high alert Sunday around Baghdad and in the Sunni heartland north of the capital as the country marked the one-year anniversary of Saddam Hussein's execution. Iraq army Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said security forces were "ready and prepared for any emergencies that might happen."

In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, hundreds of people and school children visited his burial site to pay homage and lay flowers. Some gave fiery speeches while others just stood quietly by the tomb, located in a large mausoleum in the Tigris River village of Ouja - the small hamlet just outside Tikrit where Saddam was born.

Children chanted "with our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for you Saddam," Associated Press Television News footage showed. The tomb was covered in Iraqi flags and flowers and flanked by large pictures of a smiling Saddam.

Gen. Petraeus recycles the same news conference he's been giving for the past few weeks, news media treat it as breaking news. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD: The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said that violent attacks in the country had fallen by 60 percent since June but cautioned that security gains were "tenuous" and "fragile," requiring political and economic progress to cement them.

The commander, General David Petraeus, said the "principal threat" to security remained Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown insurgent group that U.S. intelligence officials say is foreign-led.

Speaking to reporters Saturday in an end-of-year briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Petraeus said that coalition-force casualties were down "substantially," and that civilian casualties had fallen "dramatically."

A somewhat different spin from Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, who plays bad cop. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Despite a drop in violence across Iraq, there is still no place in the country that is safe from attack by extremists, the US military warned on Sunday.

"We have made no projections of peace at hand. We realise that security is very fragile and that at any moment any attack could occur at any place in Iraq," military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told a news conference in Baghdad.

"There is no place in Iraq today that is safe from terrorism," Smith added.

"We still have car bombs, we still have suicide attacks. Taking the fight to Al-Qaeda in Iraq is still very serious. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is still very much determined to use car bombs and other means of destruction against innocents."

Houston Chronicle's Gregory Katz reports that many Iraqi refugees are returning from abroad, not so much because the situation there is better as because they can't make a decent life as refugees. Note that "many" is a relative term. We are talking about 25,000 people out of more than 2 million. Excerpt:

"A lot of people are going back now," said Emab Abas Naser, the Iraqi Airways manager in Cairo. "The security in Iraq has improved. The situation is much more stable now."

The enthusiasm at Iraqi Airways can be infectious, but many of the estimated 150,000 Iraqi refugees in Egypt are skeptical that it is safe to return. Leaders of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agree that it is too soon for a mass movement back to Iraq because of the volatile conditions there.

The refugees in Egypt represent a second phase of the exodus from Iraq amid the warfare between U.S. troops and insurgents, street battles between Sunni and Shiite Muslim militias and waves of murders, kidnappings and death threats against those who supported the American invasion.

More than 4.4 million Iraqis have abandoned their homes, according to United Nations figures, including some 2.2 million displaced inside Iraq and another 2.2 million who fled to other countries.

At first, many refugees found shelter in Jordan or Syria. Now, some have moved on to Egypt, where the cost of living is low, or Lebanon, where sectarian tensions simmer. Others have paid smugglers for passage to Western Europe and even Australia. United Nations refugee officials say the Iraqis in Egypt can get temporary permission to stay but do not have easy access to jobs, health care or schools. They live on the margins of society.

The increasingly irrelevant Osama bin Laden issues new threats and exhortations. Juan Cole posts a summary in English, along with a smack down. Excerpt:

Bin Laden sounds increasingly desperate, appearing to realize that the Iraqi Sunnis have turned against the Salafi Jihadis who often admire him. The Palestinians have worked hard to keep al-Qaeda out of Palestine, and Israeli security has forestalled effective al-Qaeda attacks in Israel. That is a hard target, not like the US in 2001, and he is likely to be shown up as an ineffective braggart if he starts taking on the hardy Israelis. In fact, he seems beside himself with frustration that the Arab League has offered full recognition to Israel for a return to 1967 borders. Bin Laden continues the stupid policy of attacking the Shiites, both Hizbullah in Lebanon and those of Iraq, thus dividing the Muslims. Muslim publics have increasing turned critical of tactics like suicide bombings. And Bin Laden's own popularity has been plummeting among most Muslims. Fawaz Gerges has written about how a lot of al-Qaeda members are furious at him and Ayman al-Zawahiri for bringing the full wrath of a superpower down on them, scattering them from Qandahar, forcing them to live as fugitives, and virtually destroying the organization.

Quote of the Day

The US has had real operational successes on the ground in Iraq this year, but there is little sign yet of Iraq being pacified. Local warlords in Sunni areas have switched from attacking US forces to working with them, but they might easily switch back tomorrow. As with the British in Basra, the Americans lack long-term allies that can stand on their own feet without US assistance.

This is one of the dangers of the continuing US presence. The longer it goes on, the more the government of Iraq becomes incapable of existing without US support. The government in the Green Zone is a hothouse plant that would wither and die without the American military presence. Although prime minister Nouri al-Maliki complains about the way in which the US controls the Iraqi army, he makes little practical effort to move out of the Green Zone or establish his practical independence. The US may say that it will leave when the Iraqi government can stand on its own two feet, but the continuing occupation makes sure that day does not come.

Patrick Cockburn