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

Monday, December 31, 2007

News & Views 12/31/07

Photo: Taken from Nur al-Cubicle blog. Saddam is dead, the people rejoice! I'm sure this is what Fox News is reporting. However, the reality is that Saddam's tomb in Aouja has become a Sunni place of veneration as this photo from L'Orient-Le Jour shows... children and tribal leaders recite verses from the Koran. In the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah in Baghdad, portraits of Saddam were plastered on every residence and shop. However, there was a celebration, as one might expect, in Shi'a-controlled Najaf.

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Monday: 35 Iraqis Killed, 21 Wounded

Iraq's Kurd villagers see no hope after air strikes

Air strikes on mountain villages around the town of Sankasar in northern Iraq on December 16 destroyed much of Rasheed's modest home as the family slept, injuring her 16-year-old daughter so severely that she had to have her leg amputated above the knee. "We lost everything, even my daughter's leg. Isn't this terrorism from Turkey?" she said angrily. "I have no hope of going back to my demolished home, all my livestock are dead and the future of my children is uncertain. How are they going to study here when I'm living in a small room like this?" The family will have to survive the rest of the bitter winter in a small mud-brick room belonging to relatives in Sankasar, about 160 km (100 miles) north of the city of Sulaimaniya.

Iraq PM offers money to families fleeing Turkish bombings

"The prime minister has ordered the formation of a committee that will visit these families and pay each of them a million dinars," a statement said, adding that the aid will be given in coordination with the Iraqi Red Crescent. It did not say how many families have been displaced by the Turkish bombings in northern Iraq's Kurdish region. In the past few weeks, Turkish warplanes have regularly bombed areas inside Iraq along the border with Turkey in an attempt to flush out rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who have their bases in the region.

Abuse awaits many foreign workers flocking to Kurdish north of Iraq

Thousands of foreign workers have come to the Kurdish area in the last three years, taking menial jobs that there are too few Kurds to fill. The recruiting and importing process leaves them vulnerable to a range of crimes, from financial exploitation to sexual abuse and slavery.

A report on Sadr City, and the changes it has seen (PDF)

Supporters pay homage to Hussein

Hundreds of people, including many children, chanted slogans praising former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Sunday as they tossed flowers onto his tomb one year after he was executed.

At least 134 journalists were killed in 2007, most in Iraq

The group says most were killed in Iraq, which has become the most dangerous place for journalists since the start of the US-led war there. The report from the International Federation of Journalists says the Middle East is by far the deadliest region with 68 killings. That's followed by Somalia with eight killings, Pakistan with seven, Mexico and Sri Lanka with six each, and the Philippines with five. The Brussels-based organization says that in addition to the 134 killings in 2007, 37 media workers died accidentally on the job, bringing the total number of deaths for the year to 171. The numbers represent a slight decrease from 2006, when at least 177 deaths were reported worldwide.

The worst, and saddest, job in Baghdad

It must be a candidate for the worst job in Iraq. It falls to Baghdad's street sweepers, who use their bare hands, to pick up the fingertips and scraps of flesh spattered around every bomb site in the Iraqi capital. They do it without gloves, in all but the coldest weeks of winter. The past year was one that delivered several $8 bonuses to Baghdad's municipal cleaners, albeit not as many as in previous years. It is a welcome sum when your salary is only $6 a day. Less so when you earn it by picking up parts of your fellow Iraqis who were unfortunate enough to be blown apart on your street-sweeping route. Anything within your six-hour shift counts as part of the job. For two of Baghdad's municipal street-cleaners, Imad al-Hashemi and Laith Mahdi Latif, the bonuses are something they can live without in 2008.

Iraqis Hope to Cure War Wounds With Movies

As the second movie festival ended here Saturday without interruption of violence, Iraqi cinematographic artists hoped that they could help cure the wounds of war with their works. The movie festival which came in a violent time "represents a great defiance of the entire negative circumstances in the country, particularly in Baghdad," Aziz Kareem, a well-known Iraqi artist, told Xinhua. The 2007 movie festival screened 63 movies from around the world. The movie "Abu Ghraib and Kilo-160" by Iraqi director Jamal al-Nfas was awarded the silver prize on the day. The documentary recorded a tragic story that 14 members of the Iraqi taekwondo team was kidnapped in May last year in western Iraq. The bodies of 13 of them were found one year later.

Difficult mission

One week ago, we started work of the end year story that we share the work together. Sunni journalist took the Sunni neighborhoods and Shiite journalist took the Shiite neighborhoods. I was excite to do this story. I had to visit one family in each of mine neighborhood, I mean the Shiite majority neighborhood. But when I started my trip to do my job I faced so many difficulties not because the fears of the militias or terrorist.The difficulty was that most people feel afraid from the journalist and they deal with them as spies who work to serve the interest of their enemies. Some times, people refuse to cooperate and wonder about the benefit they will gain if they talk to a journalist. “If we talk,will that change our miserable reality?” that what Iraqis always ask about.

Basra's pottery industry threatened with extinction

Pottery, one of the traditional and oldest industries in the world, is currently at a low ebb in Iraq, a country well-known for its handicrafts and handmade product manufacturers. Umm Salem, a 70-year-old woman, said that she searched heaven and earth for a pottery shop in Basra's neighborhoods to buy a water pot. "All pottery shops in the area have changed their trade," said the old woman. "I had no option but to ask one of my acquaintances in Baghdad to buy me Habb al-Maa, (a large clay pot used to keep water cool for thirsty passers-by)," the woman noted. "Time has changed and goods and household appliances have developed, but Bistouka, Habb al-Maa and al-Kous will remain part of our tradition and our reminder of the near past when they were our only means of drinking cold water," Umm Salem told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Spinsterhood spread threatens society ideals

"Don't blame me if I got mad at my wife for she gave birth to a daughter," said Sajid , a street cleaner who previously lived in the countryside adding, "in our village a female is looked upon scornfully and often regarded as a creature that might bring shame to the family!" The once disappeared idea of "shame" to have a female child among the family seemed nowadays back to the Iraqi society due, among other things, to the high rate of sprinters among women in Iraq. Mrs. Lamees Omar, a retired teacher, struck a comparison between the Iraqi society's view to women in 1960s and at present. "When I was at college some 45 years ago, the society used to advocate the emancipation of women and to back the idea of women sharing men work, but now I see the opposite," the old teacher said.

Civilian casualties drop dramatically in Iraq

Violent civilian deaths in Iraq in December were down 75 percent from a year ago, new figures released on Monday showed as Iraqis partied in the streets of some parts of the capital Baghdad to bring in the New Year. A year ago, the scenes of unrestrained revelry would have been unthinkable in a country racked by savage sectarian violence that by the most conservative estimates has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced some 4 million. According to figures compiled by the interior, health and defense ministries, 481 civilians died violently in Iraq in December, a 75 percent drop from the 1,930 who were killed in December 2006, when the country was on the brink of civil war.

In a safer Baghdad, Iraqis party for 2008

On New Year's Eve Ridaa al-Azzawi squeezed into his pointy snakeskin boots, his tight black sweater and his snazzy corduroy flared jeans, hustled down to a Baghdad hotel ballroom and partied for peace. 2008 arrived in a less-violent Baghdad, and residents said it was the first real party they had seen in years. At the stroke of midnight, exuberant locals fired into the air with automatic rifles, sending red tracer fire streaking over the city, as fireworks lit up the sky. While the city is still far from peaceful and many of the festive gatherings had a tentative feel, many said it was a happier occasion than they could have dared to hope just a few months ago. "The security has changed and it took us by surprise. We're very happy. Especially us young people," said al-Azzawi, a 22-year-old student taking a break from dancing to a traditional Iraqi band in the ballroom of the Palestine Hotel.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Salah al-Din Awakening Council calls on Bin Laden to stop “targeting Iraqis”

The Sunni Salah al-Din Awakening council on Sunday called al-Qaeda leader Osma Bin Laden to order his followers to stop targeting and killing Iraqis instead of warning against joining the tribal organizations. “Osama Bin Laden should order al-Qaeda members to stop targeting and killing Iraqi and apologize to the Iraqis for all the horrific crimes committed by the organization members," Salah al-Din awakening council said in a statement issued on Sunday and received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). [Earlier this month, the head of the Salah el-Din awakening council was arrested by Iraqi forces for blackmail and other crimes. Hat tip to Road from Iraq blog for pointing that out. – dancewater]

Iraqis Authorize Big Jump in Forces

Buried in the latest Defense Department quarterly report on Iraq is the disclosure that the Baghdad government is now responsible for setting the size of its security forces, and that it has authorized a level of 550,000 military and police forces -- an increase of more than 40 percent over the level that the U.S.-led coalition reported just three months ago. "While previous reports have listed numbers authorized by the Coalition and provided estimates of numbers on the payroll, the GoI [Government of Iraq] is now responsible for determining requirements and counting personnel," the Pentagon reported this month. "Therefore, reporting will now reflect GoI statistics." The new numbers show a jump of more than 150,000 from three months ago, when the coalition put the previously authorized number of military and police at 389,000. According to the Pentagon report, that jump under the Iraqi statistics mainly represents police who "have never been trained, as rapid hiring over the past two years outstripped academy training capacity." Eight Iraqi provinces have requested more than 45,000 new police slots; the Ministry of Interior has approved hiring 12,000, with orders pending for the rest. But, as the Pentagon report notes, "police force expansions continue on an un-programmed basis" and "increases in provincial police authorizations occur in an ad-hoc fashion."

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Iraq Attacks Fall 60 Percent, Petraeus Says

The top American military commander in Iraq said Saturday 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, Gen. Petraeus, said the “principal threat” to security remained al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown insurgent group that American intelligence officials say is foreign led. Speaking to reporters in an end-of-year briefing at the American Embassy in Baghdad, General Petraeus said that coalition-force casualties were down “substantially,” and that civilian casualties had fallen “dramatically.” “The level of attacks for about the last 11 weeks or so has been one not seen consistently since the late spring and summer of 2005,” he said. “The number of high-profile attacks, that is car bombs, suicide car bombs and suicide vest attacks, is also down, also roughly 60 percent” since their height in March.

US Prepares Another 'Large-Scale' Offensive in Iraq

The Multi-National Force and the Iraqi army and police are preparing to launch a large-scale offensive to crack down on al-Qaeda Organization north of Baghdad in two weeks' time, a high-ranking U.S. army official said on Sunday. "In 2008, joint U.S.-Iraqi forces would stage large-scale operation to crack down on al-Qaeda organization in Diala river basin, Mosul and along the area the network was operating," Admiral Gregory Smith, the U.S. army communications officer, said in a press conference held in Baghdad. The official declined to give further information about the size of troops launching the offensive for secrecy reasons. Smith pointed out that security operations "led to the capture of three al-Qaeda operatives in southern Baghdad districts and the uncovering of two large weapons caches containing bombs, hand grenades and material used to make explosive devices." He added that Iraqi courts convicted the so-called Mohamed Issa Al-Matyuti, who is accused of bombing areas inhabited by Iraq's ethnic religious Yazidi minority in Mosul, not detailing the verdicts handed down by the court. The Iraqi Red Crescent chief said the death toll of the bombing that took place in al-Qahtaniya and al-Jazira in northern Iraq's Sinjar district amounted to 520.

HISTORY

Third drug company says it faces Iraq 'kickbacks' probe

A third pharmaceutical giant said Sunday it is being investigated by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over alleged breaches of the United Nations oil-for-food programme in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Eli Lilly and Company Limited said it had been asked to hand over documents to the SFO, a day after British peer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca announced they had received similar requests. An Eli Lilly spokeswoman said the company would comply with the demand which was made in mid-December. "We are compiling these documents and they will be sent to the SFO in the new year," she said. Eli Lilly and Company Limited is the British affiliate of United States-based Eli Lilly and Company, headquartered in Indianapolis. The oil-for-food programme, which allowed Baghdad to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian items, ran from 1996 to 2003, the year in which US-led forces invaded Iraq. Paul Volcker, the former US Federal Reserve chairman, said in a 2005 report that Saddam's regime demanded kickbacks from foreign companies under the scheme, and accused more than 2,000 companies of involvement.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraqi refugees turn to sex trade in Syria

The band blasts out Iraqi songs into the early hours as the watching youths join the dancing or summon girls to sit with them -- there is little pretence about what gets transacted at this neon-lit nightspot half an hour's drive north of Damascus. The dancers, some in their early teens, do not want to talk, but one said she had no other way to support her family. "My father was killed in Baghdad and our money is finished," muttered the dark-haired girl in a black and silver dress. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR calls it "survival sex," a desperate way to cope for Iraqi refugees whose savings have run out since they escaped the violence at home.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

COMMENTARY

Not one step forward

Declaring him "man of the year", many US media sources are already hailing General David Petraeus, the US Iraq "surge strategist", a hero for making victory in Iraq look possible again. But nearly five years into the US occupation of Iraq, the country is still wracked by killing, sectarian militias, a stagnated economy and deadlocked national reconciliation. As difficulties and setbacks continue, Iraq today is far from being the tranquil democracy the United States promised on launching its March 2003 invasion. Officials of both the Bush administration and the government in Iraq say violence has been cut in half in recent months.

…..While one can agree that there has been relative calm in the last few weeks in Baghdad, there seems no guarantee that the situation cannot be reversed at short notice. One cannot judge whether the surge strategy has succeeded by solely looking at violence levels in Baghdad, especially when entire neighbourhoods have been turned into isolated and walled-in sectarian islands by the US military. Rather than generating feelings of loyalty to the central government, the plan created pockets of shaky stability.

As Iraqis See It

When it comes to covering the war in Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers has always done things a bit differently. The third-largest newspaper company in the US, it owns thirty-one daily papers, including The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, The Kansas City Star, and The Charlotte Observer. (It became the owner of some of these papers after buying Knight Ridder newspapers in 2006.) McClatchy has a large bureau in Washington, but without a paper either in the capital or in New York, it operates outside the glare of the nation's political and media elite, and this has freed it to follow its own path. In the months leading up to the Iraq war, when most news organizations were dutifully relaying the Bush administration's claims about the threat posed by Iraq, Knight Ridder/McClatchy ran several stories questioning their accuracy. Since the invasion, the company has run a lean but resourceful operation in Baghdad. All three of its bureau chiefs have been young Arab-American women with some fluency in Arabic. At home in the cultures of both the West and the Middle East, they have been adept at interpreting each to the other.

2007 Was Worst Year of Iraq Occupation

Sectarian killings have decreased in recent months, but still continue. Bodies continue to be dumped on the streets of Baghdad daily. One reason for a decrease in the level of violence is that most of Baghdad has essentially been divided along sectarian lines. Entire neighbourhoods are now surrounded by concrete blast walls several metres high, with strict security checkpoints. Normal life has all but vanished. The Iraqi Red Crescent estimates that eight out of ten refugees are from Baghdad. By the end of 2007, attacks against occupation forces decreased substantially, but still number more than 2,000 monthly. Iraqi infrastructure, like supply of potable water and electricity are improving, but remain below pre-invasion levels. Similarly with jobs and oil exports. nemployment, according to the Iraqi government, ranges between 60-70 percent. An Oxfam International report released in July says 70 percent of Iraqis lack access to safe drinking water, and 43 percent live on less than a dollar a day. The report also states that eight million Iraqis are in need of emergency assistance. "Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, healthcare, education, and employment," the report says. "Of the four million Iraqis who are dependent on food assistance, only 60 percent currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 percent in 2004."

RESISTANCE

Candlelight service for Iraqi children in Minneapolis

A candlelight service will be held tonight in Minneapolis to commemorate the children of Iraq and other child victims of war. A coalition of church and social justice groups is holding the service. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at St. Joan of Arc Church in south Minneapolis. Minnesotans who have visited Iraq will report on the conditions of Iraqi children before the war. Tonight's service is the tenth annual such event.

We Support the Troops Who Oppose the War

On the weekend of 13-15 March, 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will assemble history's largest gathering of US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqi and Afghan survivors. They will provide first hand accounts of their experiences and reveal the truth of occupation. We support Iraq Veterans Against the War and their Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Join us in supporting the effort to reveal truth in the way that only those who lived it can.

Please go to this website to sign the petition.

Quote of the day: Its only few hours left until we say goodbye 2007 and hello 2008. I have big hopes and wishes but my biggest wish is that all the politicians all over the world realize that the we are all the same (the citizens and the politicians who rule the countries in the oppressed countries especially in my wounded Iraq) and we all having the same feelings and needs. Happy New Year Everyone. ~ Laith at Inside Iraq blog at McClatchy News

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