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, January 20, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, January 20, 2008

Iraqi troops guard blindfolded supspects arrested following a gunfight in Basra at a military detention base in the southern Iraqi city. Millions of Shiites across Iraq on Saturday joined ceremonies marking the climax of annual Ashura rituals, marred by attacks that killed 21 people and a bloody uprising by doomsday cultists. (AFP/Essam al-Sudan)

Reported Security Incidents


One civilian killed, two injured by roadside bomb in Zayounah neighborhood, eastern Baghdad.

Mortar attack near the Saidiyah amusement park injures two.


Mortar round hits Ashoura observances, killing three, injuring 18, according to a source. The hospital reports the toll as 3 killed, including 2 children, and 20 wounded. Reuters gives the death toll as 5.


Commander of the police commandos, Lieutenant colonel Abdel Amir Jabbar, dies of injuries sustained in Friday's fighting with the Ansar Ahmad al-Yamani sect. VoI reports that several senior security officials were killed in the fighting. (This is apparently the same group which is elsewhere identified as Soldiers of Heaven, although there is dispute over whether they are connected to the Soldiers of Heaven who fought a major battle with U.S. and Iraqi forces a year ago. I would definitely like to see clarification of this, but the nature of the group remains murky. -- C)

Near Fallujah

Suicide bomb attack on the estate of Sheik Aeifan al-Issawi, a leader of the Anbar Awakening Council, kills six, including four of his security guards. Issawi is unharmed.

Reuters has an entirely different description of what might be the same incident: A suicide bomber killed six people in a town south of Falluja where people were celebrating the release of a man from U.S. military custody, local officials said. The bomber walked into the man's house and blew himself up. This is so different that it seems conceivable there were two suicide bombings in Falluja. Certainly the leader of the Anbar Awakening Council would not have been in U.S. custody.


Fighting continues between security forces and members of the Soldiers of Heaven group, but on a lower level than previously. Iraqi police source says 20 people were arrested, no police casualties.

Rocket attack on Coalition base at the city's airport injures two Czech soldiers. Injuries are not serious.


Two injured in attempted car bomb attack on a police checkpoint. Police say they shot the driver, implication is this caused the bomb to detonate prematurely.

Buhrez (South of Baquba)

Joint U.S.-Iraqi force kills an al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, according to an anonymous security source. (It is odd that so many of the sources in the security forces speak anonymously. Maybe they don't feel very secure. -- C)


Drive-by shooting kills a Baathist leader.

Separately, gunmen attack Awakening Council militia members, resulting in the deaths of three attackers, according to a source. Note that the Awakening Councils seldom report suffering any casualties of their own in these battles. -- C

Update on battles with Soldiers of Heaven

The Iraqi Defense Ministry gives a report on total casualties and arrests in the battles in Basra and al-Nassiriya over the past two days. "'The Iraqi forces killed 51 gunmen, arrested 192 others and wounded 29 under guard at present,' Maj. General Muhammad al-Askari, the Iraqi defense ministry's media advisor, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). 'Iraqi army and police forces seized a large amount of arms and ammunition including mortar shells, rifles, machine-guns and four cars rigged with explosives in the gunmen's possession,' Askari said. He noted that the losses of the Iraqi army were five – one officer and four soldiers – and the wounded 11, while the police forces' losses were three deaths and 23 injuries. However, I note that the above report from Nassiriya seems to imply a larger number of fatalities among the Iraqi security forces. It's probably never a good idea to trust these official pronouncements. -- C

Other News of the Day

AP's Hamza Hendawi reports that living conditions in Iraq continue to be dire, threatening Maliki's hold on power. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD - In the depths of a strangely cold winter in the Middle East, Iraqis complain that the lights are not on, the kerosene heaters are without fuel and the water doesn't flow -- and they blame the government. And with the war nearing its fifth anniversary, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is feeling the discontent as well from the most powerful political centers in the majority Shiite community. It's a pincer movement of domestic anger that yet again could threaten al-Maliki's hold on his Green Zone office.

"Where's the kerosene and the water?" asked Amjad Kazim, a 56-year-old Shiite who lives in eastern Baghdad. "We hear a lot of promises but we see nothing." Little kerosene is available on the state-run market at the subsidized price of $0.52 a gallon. But the fuel can be found on the black market, where it goes for more than $3.79 a gallon. Overnight temperatures since the first of the year have routinely fallen below freezing when normally they only dip into the upper 30s Fahrenheit. An average household needs at least 1.32 gallons a day to stay warm, which translates into a monthly expense of $150, or half what an average Iraqi earns.

"I have had no electricity for a week, and I cannot afford to buy it from neighborhood generators," said Hamdiyah Subeih, a 42-year-old homemaker from Baghdad's Shiite Baladiyat district. "I would rather live in Saddam Hussein's hell than the paradise of these new leaders."


That's the view from below, despite a considerable reduction in violence across the country. The view among those who hold power here is growing equally bilious.

Stinging criticism late last week from Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of parliament's largest Shiite bloc, was a stark break with the past. And a threat by Muqtada al-Sadr, the maverick Shiite cleric who once supported al-Maliki, not to renew an expiring six-month cease-fire he imposed on his feared militia could upend recent security progress.

A U.S. military spokesman says attacks by EFP devices, which U.S. blames on Iran, have now fallen after increasing earlier in the month. Whatever.

AP's Erin McClam tells the story of homeless Iraq veterans. (You know, those people who Bill O'Reilly says do not exist.) Excerpt:

LEEDS, Mass. - Peter Mohan traces the path from the Iraqi battlefield to this lifeless conference room, where he sits in a kilt and a Camp Kill Yourself T-shirt and calmly describes how he became a sad cliche: a homeless veteran. There was a happy homecoming, but then an accident — car crash, broken collarbone. And then a move east, close to his wife's new job but away from his best friends.

And then self-destruction: He would gun his motorcycle to 100 mph and try to stand on the seat. He would wait for his wife to leave in the morning, draw the blinds and open up whatever bottle of booze was closest. He would pull out his gun, a .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol. He would lovingly clean it, or just look at it and put it away. Sometimes place it in his mouth. "I don't know what to do anymore," his wife, Anna, told him one day. "You can't be here anymore."

Peter Mohan never did find a steady job after he left Iraq. He lost his wife — a judge granted their divorce this fall — and he lost his friends and he lost his home, and now he is here, in a shelter. He is 28 years old. "People come back from war different," he offers by way of a summary.

This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless. But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape. And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?

What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?

Quote of the Day

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967