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 13, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday,January 13, 2008

A pilgrim walks past a policeman standing guard at a checkpoint between Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in Kerbala, 110 km (70 miles) south of Baghdad January 13, 2008. Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims pour into Iraq's holy city of Kerbala to mark the religious ceremony of Ashura in which Imam Hussein, one of Prophet Mohammad's grandsons, was killed in 680 AD.
REUTERS/Mushtaq Muhammad (IRAQ)


Reported Security Incidents

Note: Unfortunately, the English language site of Aswat al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq) is offline as I compile today's post. We're probably missing some items.

Baghdad

Two injured in a mortar attack on a fuel station in Doura. According to VoI, via DPA, one shell hit cars waiting in line, while another fell harmlessly.

Two bodies found dumped on Saturday

Gunmen assault an office in downtown Baghdad, kill one civilian and kidnap another. Security forces respond leading to a gun battle in which a police officer is killed and a soldier injured. The kidnap victim is freed, one of the kidnappers is critically injured. McClatchy does not try to clean up the English in the breaking news provided by its Iraqi reporters. I have taken it upon myself to rewrite this. The nature of the office that was attacked is not specified. -- C

Three civilians injured by IED in Kobra Ghizlan district of Sadr City.

Militants bomb a liquor store, injuring the proprietor.

Diyala Province (location not further specified

Fourteen people made ill by drinking water. Police believe this was an act of sabotage, are investigating.

Mosul

Gunmen assault a house, kill a woman. No further information is provided.

Reuters also reports that a body is found dumped in the city.

Kirkuk

Gas pipeline linking Kirkuk fields with Biji refinery is bombed. Gas is reported to be noticeable over a wide area including Tikrit. Natural gas is odorless, the odor we recognize is caused by chemicals which are added intentionally to make it detectable for safety reasons. I'm assuming these chemicals are added at the well and that people are noticing the smell, but the story does not explain. -- C

Babel

Car bomb injures two people; a separate explosion injures a third person.

Other News of the Day

After months of pressure from the U.S., Iraq's parliament passes a law easing restrictions on former Baath Party members. This AP story gives the basic history and describes the legislation. The policy of banning Baath party members from government employment was implemented by U.S. proconsul L. Paul Bremer, and until now was enforced willingly by the Shiite-dominated government. However, the Bush administration eventually came to recognize that it was a mistake. This legislation is the first of the so-called "benchmarks" the U.S. has demanded from the Iraqi government to actually be achieved. However, AFP reports that former Baathists are highly skeptical and fear that it may backfire. It turns out that the bill has a double effect, which has not generally been reported in the U.S. Indeed, it turns out that some, both Shiite and Sunni, see it as achieving quite the opposite of what we are being told. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD (AFP) - A new law passed by Iraq's parliament allowing ex-officials of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to public life was greeted warily on Sunday by those it is supposed to benefit. The Justice and Accountability Law was passed unanimously by the 143 members of parliament present in the 275-member house on Saturday after months of obstruction by hardline Shiites.

It was greeted by US President George W. Bush an "important step toward reconciliation". But senior Baathists were sceptical that it would bring reconciliation and feared instead they would be newly targeted by the Shiite-led regime.

"Anyone can now take revenge against a Baathist by filing a false lawsuit," said Abu Ali, 58, a high-ranking official of the former Baath party. "The current government said it would bring democracy but it brought chaos instead. The divisions are still deep," he told AFP.

Abu Ali acknowledged that the new law was better than the de-Baathification decree issued by Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion, which purged the civil service and army of all but the most junior Baathists.

"It is well known that all wrongdoing Baathists escaped the country in the first few months after the US invasion," he said. "Most of the remaining Baathists now have no criminal record. "The new law is better than Bremer's which ignored that some Baathists are educated, honest and humane," he said.

Tens of thousands of Baath officials were dismissed from state institutions after Saddam was ousted in 2003, leaving schools and government offices struggling for expertise and providing fertile ground for the anti-US insurgency. The new law will allow thousands of middle-ranking Baath party members to apply for reinstatement to their jobs in the civil service and military, provided they were not convicted of crimes. A smaller group of more senior members will not be allowed back into public life but, if they have no criminal records, will be retired on pension.

Other ex-Baath party members too, said they were fearful. "Baathists will not welcome this law because any citizen that has any kind of hatred will file a case against a Baathist and make a fake case that will send him to prison," said Mohammed Sabih, a former teacher who lost his job. "This is like pouring fuel on the fire," Sabih told AFP.

Abu Wahid, who lost his job as a civil servant because he was a Baath party member, said Baathists should be fully re-integrated into political life. "I am not convinced by this regime. Will they allow Baathists to engage in political activities and participate in elections? The answer is no," he said.

Fallah Hassan Shanshal, MP for Sadr City and head of parliament's de-Baathification committee, said while allowing Baathists not guilty of crimes back into public life, the law also ensured that those suspected of crimes would be hunted down and punished. "This law first and foremost will ensure that the Baath criminals will pay for their crimes and be held responsible for their actions," he told AFP.


Strict security in Karbala, Najaf, and travel routes for Ashura. Excerpt:

NAJAF , Iraq Syria Times 13-1-2008

Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and police have been deployed in the shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf for the 10-day Ashura ceremony marking Shiite Islam`s holiest days, police said on Saturday. Up to a million pilgrims are expected to descend on Karbala in time for the climax of the annual rituals on January 20, many travelling on foot and exposed to attack by some militants, who prey annually on the popular event. ‏

Najaf, site of the shrine of Imam Ali and headquarters of revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is one of the main stopping points on the way and police there are taking no chances. ‏

"Special security measures have been set up in the streets of Najaf and on the roads to Karbala," Najaf police chief Major General Abdullah Karim Mustafa told AFP. ‏ Some 20,000 troops and police will be in Najaf itself and 4,000 policemen are patrolling the 50-kilometre (30-mile) route to Karbala, he said. ‏

Checkpoints have been set up along all routes to Karbala, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad, and the security forces are using special equipment to detect explosives, Mustafa said. ‏

In Karbala itself, 12,000 Iraqi soldiers and police have been deployed along with a force of 3,000 members of a police زrapid response unitس, said city police chief Major General Raed Shakir.


Government is destroying thousands of acres of farmland and evicting peasant farmers in order to build housing for people described as victims of the former regime. This story from IRIN doesn't make the subtext clear, but this appears to be continuing payback, as these farmers had benefited from land grants given by the Baathist government. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD, 13 January 2008 (IRIN) - Local authorities in Kerbala, a southern province of Iraq about 120km south of the capital, Baghdad, have destroyed thousands of hectares of agricultural land, putting dozens of peasant families at risk of being displaced, according to residents.

"The farmers had been warned since last September to leave their farmland as plans have been drawn up by local authorities to turn the area into a residential one for the families of victims of the previous regime," Amal al-Hir, head of Kerbala Agricultural Directorate, said. According to al-Hir, the late former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 1991 granted 10-year contracts to peasant farmers in a desert area that he designated as a new green belt for Kerbala.

Facing international economic sanctions after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saddam re-allocated this land in a bid to expand the country’s agricultural areas, al-Hir said. Within a few years, peasant farmers transformed the barren land near Kerbala into fertile farms growing a range of produce, such as tomatoes, wheat, fruits and potatoes. "But when these contracts expired in 2001, these people continued farming the land and ignored all official warnings. In September 2007, local authorities warned them for the last time," al-Hir said.

Mohammed Hassan al-Hilali, 55, was among about 30 peasants who witnessed government bulldozers destroy their agricultural land. "We are not against helping the families of Saddam's victims but this should not be at the expense of the suffering of other families," al-Hilali said.

"Compensation should be paid to us, whether in the form of money or another piece of land to cultivate. Otherwise we are going to join the country's army of unemployed and displaced persons," he added. The unemployed father-of-six now lives with a relative in a Kerbala suburb.


Shiite and Sunni Arab members of parliament work to create a new alliance to counter Kurdish power. It seems a concept of Iraqi nationalism has yet to emerge that is strong enough to overcome factional identity. --C

IRIN reports that some refugees are returning to Iraq out of desperation. Excerpt:

CAIRO, 13 January 2008 (IRIN) - Saad al-Haidari and his wife Ban (not their real names) fled Iraq to Egypt with their two children in 2006 after repeated death threats from Islamic militants who condemned their Muslim-Christian union. Though they now live in peace in the north African nation, they find themselves isolated and economically destitute.

“We know people who have returned to Iraq [from Egypt],” al-Haidari said. “They said ‘we’d rather die there than die of starvation here – at least we know people to bury us.’”

Al-Haidari’s mixed religious marriage and his work with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Iraq were the stated reasons that militants bombed his Baghdad office in July 2006. While he survived that incident unhurt, he was later kidnapped, held for 15 days and tortured, he said. That was the last straw for him and soon after he managed to escape with this family to Egypt.

His story is one of thousands of tragic sequences of events told by Iraqis seeking refuge in Egypt.


Commander Guy says he may cancel planned troop withdrawals if security situation is not satisfactory, after meeting with Gen. Patraeus in Kuwait. He is full of optimism about the situation, but British Minister of State Lord George Mark Malloch Brown feels otherwise. "A senior British government official on Sunday has warned that there was no time for "triumphal" attitude regarding the situation in Iraq. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said in a press release that the war and its subsequent occupation of the country had been "a terrible episode for everybody". Lord Malloch-Brown's warning followed comments from US President George W. Bush, who claimed that hope was returning to the country following a US troop surge last year."



Investigation of massacre of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater mercenaries in September is hampered because the company repaired and repainted the vehicles involved immediately after the incident.

Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez of the NY Times report that many Iraq war veterans have committed violent acts after returning home, attributable to the aftereffects of military training and combat. Excerpt:

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

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