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, December 28, 2007

News & Views 12/28/07

Photo: Iraqi Shiite followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gather for Eid al-Ghadeer at the Imam Ali shrine, Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq on Friday, Dec. 28, 2007. Eid al-Ghadeer is the anniversary commemorating Muhammad's last sermon at Ghadir Khumm, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Friday: 31 Iraqis Killed, 69 Wounded

11 Killed in Baghdad Market Bombing, 70 Wounded

A car bomb exploded in a busy market in central Baghdad on Friday, killing at least eleven people and wounding 70 others, security officials and medics said. The attack occurred in the Iraqi capital's Bab al-Sharji market which is popular for trading food and clothes. A medic said that the wounded were admitted to four city hospitals. The security forces sealed off the area, which is also close to the interior ministry and houses one of Baghdad's main bus stations. The Bab al-Sharji market has been a regular target of insurgents, and on Friday it was packed with shoppers on their way home after weekly prayers. Insurgents have attacked markets across Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, in a bid to inflict maximum casualties. [Insurgents? or terrorists? or black ops? Who knows? – dancewater]

Shopowners Flee Mixed Baghdad Areas

Shiite taxi driver Aly Kaabi used to fear for his life each time his Mercedes needed a spare part. The place to seek replacements was a Sunni-dominated Baghdad neighborhood ruled at the time by militants from al-Qaida in Iraq. Now, Kaabi gets his car fixed in a new industrial zone in an east Baghdad Shiite stronghold, itself a mirror image of another that has emerged in a Sunni-dominated western neighborhood. The sectarian strife that first separated Baghdad's residents is now splitting its businesses - suggesting the divisions are becoming permanent. The simple interactions that make up normal life in cities around the world - buying gas, going to a grocery store, fixing your car - are now conducted along strictly sectarian lines.

With calm in Baghdad, Iraqis hope for services, jobs

With security improved throughout much of Iraq, the constant fear of death is gone, many Iraqis say. The struggle now is how to live. Buying food is hard. Lighting, cooling or heating a house isn't easy. Fixing the car is a risk. Finding a doctor or a good teacher can be nearly impossible. "We don't hear any clashes or car bombs. Nobody wakes up to find dead bodies on their stretch of pavement anymore," said Widad Hameed, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Yarmouk, a Sunni Muslim-majority neighborhood in western Baghdad. But, Hameed said, she and her family have only one or two hours of electricity each day. Kerosene is rarely available in her neighborhood, even on the black market. Last week, she wore three sweaters, a house robe, two pairs of socks and a scarf to warm herself in the winter temperatures.

….. Two years after Iraqis swarmed to the polls to ratify a constitution and elect a new government, they're more perplexed then ever about what they can count on from the central government. Led by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, that government largely was absent from the improved security situation. As parliamentarians bickered — often along sectarian lines — U.S. troops mobilized local leaders, usually tribal sheiks. Some were former insurgents, now paid with American or sometimes provincial money. Residents no longer waited for the central government and its military and police to protect them. They turned to their new local leaders, most of them Sunnis, and took up arms themselves in exchange for salaries from the American military. But those unelected local leaders can't provide basic services.

Wedding Party

Thursday afternoon I was invited to attend a wedding party of one of my cousins’ which is something ordinary, but the wedding party which is in Jihad neighborhood is the extraordinary one. This neighborhood is so dangerous to go to or to pass through a month ago for more than one year as a result of the sectarian violence, but things change in Baghdad including Jihad neighborhood. I really went there before the wedding party last Tuesday to cover a story of the security situation in 2007, but it took me only 30 minutes of being there having the good impression and encouragement to attend the coming party.

…..Away from all these bad things, we reached our homes with happiness on our faces on the situation we have. I just want to ask what happened during the last few months to make the situation be better than the past .If the American and the Iraqi forces have a role in this, the question will be "Why did it take more than four years to have a situation like this?" I just want to add "Do the Iraqi people deserve to live in happiness or no? And for how long?" I can’t describe my happiness in that wedding party which was so great.

100 Civilians Arrested in as-Sayyidiyah

The American occupation forces, Iraqi guard forces and internal ministry forces have arrested nearly 100 civilians in Sayyidiyah district during the raid campaign which took place on Wednesday and Thursday. Eyewitnesses confirmed that the occupation forces, the government Guards (Muthanna Brigade) and the Interior commandos launched a campaign of arrests including Sayyidiyah neighborhood areas. These forces indiscriminately arrested the people just questioning. It is noteworthy that Sayyidiyah neighborhood suffer from the government guard forces and so-called Muthanna Brigade forces which is based in Abu Ghraib. These are also operating in Sayyidiyah district because of their irresponsibility and biased attitudes towards the citizens. The people of the region demanded humanitarian and international organizations to intervene to the unjust arrest campaign to release the detainees.

Technical failure causes blackout in Baghdad

Technical failure in two power stations in Baghdad and Basra on Friday knocked out electricity across the Iraqi capital, the official spokesman for the electricity ministry said. "A technical failure suspended production units in al-Quds station for electricity production northeast of Baghdad, causing complete suspension of the production in the station, capable of producing between 350 and 450 MW of energy," Aziz Sultan told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Iraqi judiciary Council releases 11 thousands detainees

Supreme judiciary council said its investigating committees set free scores of detainees held in Iraqi prisons. “The released detainees amounted to 11,621 detainees since imposing Baghdad’s security plan, dubbed as Fardh al-Qanoon, that started in mid February 2007,” a judiciary media source, who requested anonymity, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) on Thursday. He added “4,908 detainees were brought to special courts after pleading guilty in various cases”. He pointed out “a deal with the multi-national forces was struck to form judicial committees to visit prisons run by MNF-Iraq and get direct acquaintance with detainees’ files”. He added “27 special committees were formed under the command of a judge which set free 1,162 since imposing Baghdad’s security plan from MNF-run detention centers, while 4,908 were brought to special courts after pleading guilty in various cases”.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Contacts to form new alliance - MPs

MP from the Iraqi National List (INL) unveiled on Friday contacts made with some political blocs to form a new alliance "the Iraqi national project". "There are contacts made by the Iraqi National List with some political blocs to form a new alliance "the Iraqi national project" that gathers some political forces," Usama al-Negefi told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Iraqi Islamic Party signed last Monday a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the city of Sulaimaniya. The three parties said that the MoU was signed to boost ties among them and to foster Iraq's unity. "The contacts include the national dialogue front, Islamic Fadila (virtue) party, the Sadrists, the Independent Arab List as well as some independists from the Unified Iraqi Coalition (UIC)," al-Negefi explained. The INL, which is of secularist orientation, is the fifth largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament, holding 22 out of the total 275 seats. He asserted that the aim of the new alliance is "to reform the political process."

Armed group "defense minister" detained near Baghdad

Iraqi security forces detained on Friday a gunman called the defense minister of the self-named Islamic State of Iraq during a military operation south of Baghdad, the spokesman for the Baghdad security plan Fardh al-Qanoon said.

Cairo to host Iraqi conference next month - paper

A reconciliation conference tackling controversial issues and attended by Baathists and representatives of the opposition parties will be held in Cairo next month, parliamentary sources said on Friday. "Cairo conference will be an extension to conferences held in Beirut and the Dead Sea this year with the participation of figures considered affiliated with armed and Baathist factions", London-based al-Hayat quoted lawmaker Wail Abdel Latif as saying. "The conference will tackle three key issues; federalism, joining the political process and the presence of the foreign troops in Iraq," the MP said.

Iraq threatens to stop crude exports to South Korea

Iraq's Oil Ministry has threatened to cut off crude oil exports to South Korea if that country doesn't back out of an oil deal signed last month with the Kurdistan regional government.

Iraq's anti-al-Qaida Sunni militias see uncertain future

Sa'ad al-Rawi, 27, accused al-Qaida terrorists of luring young Iraqis, even children, into planting bombs and killing them later when they refused to obey any longer. "We saw al-Qaida doing terrible things. They were killing and displacing Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. We could not leave our houses and were afraid of snipers. Therefore we decided to fight them," said Rawi. The middle-class East Ghazaliyah area houses about 5,000 residents. One of the two highways surrounding it leads to the Baghdad Airport and used to be the most dangerous road in the world for the U.S. troops. Once a ghost town with bodies dumped in the streets, the neighborhood now is seeing a recovering as shops are open and people begin venturing out, with CLCs manning the checkpoints and searching vehicles seriously. The Iraqi security forces, who are predominately Shiites, guard only at the outer checkpoints.

Militias stronger than police in Basra, police chief says

The police forces charged with security in Basra are no match to the heavily armed militia groups in the southern city, Basra’s police chief said. Lt. Gen. Jaleel al-Shuwaili said the militias administered the main ports and terminals in the province of which Basra is the capital and that his forces were incapable of reinstating law and order. Running Basra’s ports, which include terminals from which most of the country’s oil is loaded for exports, has turned into the life-line for the disparate militia groups in the city. The militias are reported to have even infiltrated the city’s security forces and police, facilitating their growing smuggling activities. Shuwaili’s forces cannot take on the militias some of which are linked to powerful political factions which are partners in the ruling government.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Iraq arrests seen as break in case of 2 missing US soldiers

Seven months later, two of the soldiers have yet to be found, but yesterday the military announced a break in the case that could reveal the fate of the missing men, including one from Massachusetts. A US military statement said two people had been arrested in Ramadi, about 60 miles from the scene of the May 12 attack. Neither of the suspects was identified, but one is alleged to have used his home to hide the captured soldiers, the statement said. A weapon belonging to one of the captured men was found in the home of one of the suspects, the statement added. ……A Sunni Muslim insurgent group linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack and put out a video showing some of the soldiers' dog tags. In July, the IDs of Fouty and Jimenez were found in a house north of Baghdad. In October, weapons belonging to some of the troops were found in a house a few miles north of the attack site.

SKorean MPs vote to extend Iraq troop deployment

Bush rejects Iraq victim compensation plan

President George W Bush on Friday rejected a law that would make it easier for victims of Saddam Hussein's former regime to sue Iraq for compensation, holding up a massive, overdue spending bill for the US military.

HISTORY

Fallujah, the Information War, and US Propaganda

Now receded into distant memory for many, the battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah, accompanied by the al Sadr uprising in the south, was a decisive turning point in the Iraq occupation. These battles demonstrated to much of the world that the occupation was deeply unpopular among many Iraqis, who were willing and able to fight the occupation to a stalemate. These battles both ended in standoffs, as the US forces felt constrained from unleashing their full military capabilities to crush the resistance. New insights into the thinking of the US military are available from a US army intelligence analysis – by the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center – of the first Fallujah battle entitled Complex Environments: Battle of Fallujah I, April 2004 that was leaked this week on the Wikileaks web site.

…. As befits a symbolic battle, the analysis makes clear that the information war was primary. The failure of the Marines' attack to retake Fallujah was caused, the authors claim, by resistance ("insurgents" in their lingo) forces' success in getting their message out to the world. "Insurgents demonstrated a keen understanding of the value of information operations. IO was one of the insurgents' most effective levers to raise political pressure for a cease-fire. They fed disinformation [sic] to television networks, posted propaganda on the Internet to recruit volunteers and solicit financial donations, and spread rumors through the street."

The report echo's the concern of American leaders about the influence of Al Jazeera and other Arab media at conveying the rebel's side of the story: "Arab satellite news channels were crucial to building political pressure to halt military operations. For example, CPA documented 34 stories on Al Jazeera that misreported or distorted battlefield events between 6 and 13 April. Between 14 and 20 April, Al Jazeera used the "excessive force" theme 11 times and allowed various anti-Coalition factions to claim that US forces were using cluster bombs against urban areas and kidnapping and torturing Iraqi children. Six negative reports by al-Arabiyah focused almost exclusively on the excessive force theme. Overall, the qualitative content of negative reports increasingly was shrill in tone, and both TV stations appeared willing to take even the most baseless claims as fact.

Papers Show Millions in UK Defense Sales to Saddam's Iraq

Foreign Office papers, just released by the National Archives in London, show that defence sales to Iraq in 1976 amounted to an estimated £70m. At this time, Saddam Hussein was the de facto leader of Iraq - taking on a more prominent role than the ageing president, Gen Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr - before formally taking power in 1979. The documents show that, in 1976 and 1977, a variety of equipment was sold to Iraq, including 20 Cymbeline mortar-locating radar - at a cost of £11m - combat support boats, and £7.4m of weapons effects simulators.

COMMENTARY

Crunch year ahead for Iraq

More so than any other since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, 2008 is set to be a make-or-break year for Iraq. [Just one more Friedman Unit! - dancewater]

Bloody year in Iraq ends with hopes of growing calm

Two statistics sum up the last year in Iraq: 2007 will end as the deadliest for American troops since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, with more than 900 dead. At the same time, December — with just 16 hostile-fire deaths as of Friday — very likely will be the month with the second fewest American deaths of the war so far. Those numbers bookend a year in which violence against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians began a dramatic, breathtaking decline after years of steady increases. The decline in violence was across the board. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in Baghdad from bombings and explosions in December was half the number that were killed last January; the number of bodies found in the capital's streets was down by nearly 75 percent compared with the beginning of 2007.

Baghdad's wall-building surge makes reconciliation less likely

From Baghdad to Tall Afar, our military has been busily constructing walls between and around Iraqi neighborhoods. In Baghdad, 12-foot-high walls now separate Sunni and Shiite communities. Broken by narrow checkpoints, the walls turn Baghdad into dozens of replica "green zones," dividing neighbor from neighbor and choking off normal commerce and communications. The military isn't building walls as a training exercise, of course. The walls are meant to make it harder for militias, insurgents and death squads to coordinate and reach their intended victims. With enough troops and enough concrete, the theory goes, you can keep the bad guys from operating effectively and gradually reduce the sectarian violence that has been tearing Iraq apart.

So far, it looks as if the wall-building strategy is paying dividends. Civilian deaths in Iraq are down significantly. And although 2007 has been the deadliest year of the war for U.S. troops, attacks on them have dropped sharply in recent months. After so many years of escalating violence, it's almost eerie. How do Iraqis feel about the walls springing up around their neighborhoods? Mixed, not surprisingly: relieved by the lull in violence but dismayed by the cost. "Iraq is a prison, and now I live in my own little prison," one Iraqi told the Christian Science Monitor.

Quote of the day: 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

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