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

Thursday, January 3, 2008

News & Views 01/03/08

Photo: A US soldier aims his machine gun during a patrol in Baghdad, 2007. Three Iraqi civilians were killed by US military fire in two incidents in the province of Diyala, one of the most dangerous regions in the country. (AFP/File/Ali Yussef)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Thursday: 3 Soldiers, 36 Iraqis Killed; 26 Iraqis Wounded

Three Iraqis killed by US fire

Iraqi children share their experience in film about friends

Even amidst the security challenges facing children in Iraq every day, a group of young people there have found a way to create a poignant short film about life in Baghdad. UNICEF and Spacetoon – the regional Middle Eastern children’s television network – gathered a group of Sunni and Shia’a children from the Iraqi capital to create the film in conjunction with the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting. The children discussed various ideas for stories and voted on the one they wished to produce. The selected story line, based on one participant’s real experience, focuses on a boy in Iraq who loses his friend when the friend’s family is driven away by conflict.

Iraq orders indefinite traffic ban in restive province

The Iraqi army ordered an indefinite ban on vehicle traffic from Friday morning across Diyala province, north of the capital, one of the most dangerous areas of the country. "Owing to the bad security situation in Diyala province, the Diyala operations command will impose an indefinite vehicle curfew on Friday all over the province from the morning," provincial military operations chief Brigadier General Raghib al-Omeiri announced in a statement late Thursday. The provincial capital Baquba has been hit by a spate of shootings, suicide attacks and roadside bombings in recent days.

Iraq: The Hidden Human Costs [Hidden to Americans only – dancewater]

In House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia—a gung-ho supporter of the Iraq war—casually recounts how in 2004, while his platoon was on just its second patrol in Iraq,

a civilian candy truck tried to merge with a column of our armored vehicles, only to get run over and squashed. The occupants were smashed beyond recognition. Our first sight of death was a man and his wife both ripped open and dismembered, their intestines strewn across shattered boxes of candy bars. The entire platoon hadn't eaten for twenty-four hours. We stopped, and as we stood guard around the wreckage, we grew increasingly hungry. Finally, I stole a few nibbles from one of the cleaner candy bars. Others wiped away the gore and fuel from the wrappers and joined me.

This incident is notable mainly for the fact that the platoon stopped; from the many accounts I have read of the Iraq war, when a US convoy runs over a car, it usually just keeps going. In Chasing Ghosts, Paul Rieckhoff, a graduate of Amherst who led a platoon of Army National Guardsmen in Iraq, describes going out on routine house raids in the summer of 2003 during which his men broke down doors, zipcuffed all the men in sight, and turned rooms upside down in the search for weapons, few of which they ever found. These raids, Rieckhoff writes, "were nasty business. Anybody who enjoyed them was sick. Sometimes I felt like I was a member of the Brown shirts in Nazi Germany." As Rieckhoff later discovered, some of his men were stealing cash found on these raids—a practice that, as other accounts suggest, is not at all uncommon.

UN food programme to provide millions worth of aid to Iraqis

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) launched on Thursday a 126-million-dollar emergency operation to provide food assistance to more than one million displaced Iraqis, a UN press release said. The aid operation will run until December 2008 and is expected to assist those Iraqis who are unable to meet their basic food needs. The aid will reach 750,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis displaced within the war-ravaged country, by providing complementary food packages to those who are unable to get their food ration cards. According to an estimate by the UN organization, around 2.2 million Iraqis are displaced within their home country because of continuing violence. Many of those are currently living in poor conditions with host families, in abandoned buildings or camps.

Iraqis Oppose Reopening Baghdad Bridge

For decades, the Imams bridge spanning the Tigris river linked two ancient Baghdad neighborhoods - one Sunni, the other Shiite - and illustrated the city's tradition of sectarian tolerance, as residents from both sides harmoniously intermingled. But the Imams was sealed and barricaded after nearly 1,000 Shiites fleeing what they thought was a Sunni suicide bomber died in a stampede on the bridge in 2005. It has remained closed through the past two years of rampant sectarian violence across the capital. Iraqi authorities now want to reopen the four-lane, 900-foot bridge. For most residents, however, the wounds are too fresh and the fears too real to risk opening a passageway between the two communities. They are fighting the plan.

questions.

Again and after passing through the main street leading to the office, we saw some daily workers who were doing their job. They were not cleaning the street, they were not maintaining the sewage network, they were not fixing the electricity towers. No, they were doing something completely different. They were PAITING THE CONCRETE SIDES OF THE BRIDGES WITH A PALE GREEN COLOR. One of the workers was painting one of the decoration in the concrete side (8 angles star with a dark green color. When I saw this useless work, I started making fun as my friends know. I told my colleague “see this hard work. Don’t ever blame or even say a bad word about our brave patriotic government and don’t ever say that there are no strategic projects. Did any country ever think about painting the sides of the bridges? Im sure no country did”. I felt bitterness killing me. Why does the government give money for such useless work? What is the benefit of painting the concrete sides of the bridges? How does the painting participate in rebuilding Iraq. I couldn’t find any answer for my questions accept for one common answer.

Baghdad vet risks life for sake of sick animals

Nameer Abdul Fatah has shrapnel holes in his vehicle and wounds in his leg suffered during hazardous trips across conflict-ridden Baghdad to treat injured and sick patients. But Fatah is not an ambulance driver. His patients are animals that receive expert care thanks to one Iraqi veterinarian who is determined to keep on working. Treating all creatures great and small, from pure-bred poodles to fierce guard-dogs, parrots and even tigers, Fatah has been on duty in Baghdad for 26 years. Since the US-led invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, he has continued to tend to needy animals in the violent and chaotic times that have engulfed the city. "People in Baghdad still want to look after animals despite everything," he said during a short break in his daily round of house calls.

Iraqi widows, divorcees in need of support

Iraqi women parliamentarians and activists are pressing for a new law to help the increasing number of widows and divorced women in their war-torn country. "We are in the process of presenting a new draft law which portrays the tragedy of the women who have no one to support them, like widows and the divorced," said member of parliament (MP) Nadira Habib, deputy head of Iraq's parliamentary committee for women's and children's affairs. Nadira explained that there were no fewer than one million Iraqi widows who had lost their husbands in wars or as a result of internal violence over the past three decades. She said only 800 billion Iraqi dinars (about US$664 million) is allocated in the 2008 budget to the country's social protection programme.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Rival Shiites in Iraq Try to Make Peace

Representatives of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met Thursday with officials from his chief rival's party in an effort to cement a tenuous peace agreement the two signed in October after violent clashes between their followers. It was at least the second formal overture al-Sadr has made to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and his Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest Shiite political party, in less than a week. Peace between the two — who each control powerful militias — is seen as key to preventing the outbreak of widespread fighting in oil-rich southern Iraq, where the British military recently handed over responsibility for security to Iraq's government in Basra, the last province it controlled.

Sunni militias to merge into Iraqi security forces

Sunni tribal militias opposed to al-Qaeda will be integrated into the country’s security forces, according to Sheikh Hameed al-Hayes. Hayes is the tribal chieftain of the Province of Anbar west of Baghdad. The province was once described as “an impregnable garrison” of al-Qaeda in the country. But Hayes said his militias, comprising loyal tribesmen paid and armed by U.S. occupation troops, have managed to bring a semblance of stability to the province. Tens of thousands of Sunni tribesmen have joined the emerging Sunni militia forces which are present in predominantly Arab Sunni areas and cities in the country.

Sunnis divided in Anbar province

From a podium decked in flowers and the Iraqi flag, a Sunni Muslim sheik in a pinstriped suit politely welcomed the Shiite guests who had driven up from Baghdad, before launching into a tirade about the lack of jobs and essential services in this former insurgent bastion. The focus of his anger, however, was not the Shiite-led national government, but fellow Sunni Arabs on the Anbar provincial council. Anbar is the success story of the U.S. strategy to combat the insurgency from the ground up by striking alliances with local leaders. But though the tribal sheiks' rebellion against the militants they once backed has calmed the region and opened the door to political dialogue with Iraq's majority Shiites, it has deepened divisions among Sunnis. As violence has faded, an argument has been raging over who really speaks for Iraq's Sunni Arab minority: the province's largely secular and fiercely independent tribal leaders, who resisted the U.S. invasion, or the main Sunni political party, an Islamist group led by former exiles who cooperated with the Americans from the start.

Iraqi Shiite Praises Sunni Groups

A top Shiite politician on Thursday acknowledged the contribution of U.S.-backed Sunni Arab groups to the decline in violence across Iraq and called for their use in the continuing fight against al-Qaida. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's praise for the role of the groups, many of which had fought U.S. and Iraq's Shiite-dominated security forces before switching sides last year, runs contrary to the hard-line position recently taken by Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki's government. The government said last month it will disband the groups, known as Awakening Councils in some regions and Concerned Local Citizens in others, after restive areas are calmed. It said it did not want them to be a separate military force and would not allow them to have any infrastructure, such as offices. The Sunni militias, more than 70,000-strong, have been credited by U.S. commanders as being instrumental in what they say is a nearly 60 percent reduction in violence in the last six months. It also was affected by the dispatch of additional U.S. troops and a six-month cease-fire declared in August by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia. But al-Maliki's government has been deeply uneasy about the potential for the Sunni fighters — now better organized and armed — to switch sides again, posing a threat to stability and the Shiite domination that followed the ouster of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime.

Iraq thanks Bush for vetoing defense bill

"The Iraqi government has expressed its gratitude and appreciation for the efforts of President George Bush in using his veto against the congressional bill which would have cancelled the immunity of Iraq," the Iraqi government said in a statement. It said that exposure to the lawsuits would have made it difficult for Iraq to finance its budget, pay for food imports or rebuild its security forces with its own funds. Iraqi officials had complained to the White House about the provision, and eventually persuaded Bush to veto the entire bill, which, among other things, authorized a pay rise for U.S. soldiers.

Iraq deputy PM blames corruption on UN

Iraq's culture of corruption stems from the actions of the international community and the controversial UN oil-for-food scheme, the deputy prime minister Barham Saleh said on Thursday. Speaking at a new anti-corruption forum in Baghdad, Saleh said that the programme, run between 1996 and 2003 while Iraq was under UN sanctions, and what he charged was the body's wasteful use of money were to blame for the rampant corruption that bedevils Iraq. "A large responsibility for the outbreak of corruption in Iraq lies on the international community," said Saleh. "The scandals of food-for-oil and the wasting of public riches by the UN... is evidence of the serious damage that has deepened the problem in the country."

Parliamentary dispute over Kirkuk

Iraqi lawmakers squared off on Thursday’s parliament session over article 14 of the Iraqi constitution tackling Kirkuk issue and disputed areas, a Fadhila party member said. “Heated debates between MPs from the Kurdish Coalition (KC) and the rest of lawmakers about the legal grounds considering the article 140, normalising Kirkuk’s issue and disputed areas, valid” Basim Sharif.of Fadhila party, holding 15 seats out of 275. He added “some members saw the article no longer legally working after laying behind its deadline stipulated in constitution (in 2007)”. He pointed out “Arab and Turkoman MP’s considered the article 140 invalid as it passed its set deadline, while Kurdish lawmakers were still looking the article 140 constitutionally valid”. “The lawmakers decided to discuss the issue in Jan 7th session after heated debates”, Sharif said.

Al-Maliki meets Brown in London

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday welcomed his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki in Ten Downing Street, discussing bolstering bilateral ties and national reconciliation in Iraq. “The two leaders discussed a range of topics including the need for reconciliation in Iraq , UK support to Basra economic development” the British government website reported on Thursday. The two official talked about “the ongoing situation of five British hostages seized in May (2007)”. The meeting between British and Iraqi officials came few weeks after the handover of security by the British troops to Iraqi forces in southern Basra.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

German businessman charged with illegal arms exports to Iraq

A German businessmen appeared in court on Thursday charged with illegal arms exports to Iraq. The Iraq-born 47-year-old is accused of exporting 78 power units to the Middle East country in November 2004 in violation of an EU weapons embargo. The diesel-powered units were used by the German armed forces for the HAWK surface-to-air missile batteries before being discarded at the end of the 1960s. The businessman told the court he bought the second-hand equipment from the army with the intention of selling it for civilian use in the country of his birth. After obtaining an export licence, he sent the goods on their way, only to be told by the Federal Office for Export Control that the consignment was illegal. By then it was too late to stop it, he said. [Surface-to-air missiles for civilian use? – dancewater]

Iran no longer aids Iraq militants - paper

Iran's leaders are no longer supplying weapons or training to Islamic militants in Iraq, the spokesman for the top U.S. commander in Iraq told The Washington Times. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, sees Iran as following through on assurances it made to Iraqi and U.S. officials last fall not to assist extremists in Iraq, spokesman Col. Steven Boylan said, adding that other U.S. officials have noted declines in Iranian weapons and funds to Iraqi gunmen. "We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment, and resourcing of the militia special groups," Col. Boylan said. "We have seen a downward trend in the signature-type attacks using weapons provided by Iran." In October, U.S. military officials began to notice a decrease in the supply of Iranian weapons and assistance, Col. Boylan added. [I have seen no evidence that Iran’s leaders ever supplied arms or training to Iraqis directly or indirectly. – dancewater]

Iraqis will fill US troop withdrawals: Petraeus

The impending drawdown of some 30,000 US troops from Iraq will not disrupt the "relentless" pursuit of Al-Qaeda as Iraqis are ready to take their place, says US commander General David Petraeus. Washington has projected the withdrawal of five units by July, which would bring the number of US troops in Iraq down from 160,000 currently to about 130,000 -- the level before a "surge" was launched last February.

COMMENTARY

To Whom It May Concern

On the occasion of starting the first stage of American Election (Iowa caucus), and in the name of Iraqi people I would like to adjure the American people to think of Iraqi people and remember all the mistakes that happened in Iraq before directing toward the election boxes. Please choose who has the ability to correct these mistakes. We hope you will think of our future as much as you will think of yours, that we became part of your future. Please, be careful remember all Iraqis’ tragedies that happens here because the stupid policy. Also I’d like to inform you that we are waiting your election as if it is our election and may be more because your choice will determine the main lines for our life …. Yes your choice will change our life for good or for bad. We hope you will choose who will work to stop the Iraqi-American bloodshed for the mothers’ sake, choose who will stop sadness and crying of Iraqi and American mothers. Please, make the right choice for Iraqi children’s sake that their future is in your hands.

The Five Iraqs

The five-dimensional problem embodied in post-Saddam Iraq cannot be bundled up into a neat package. America, and its leaders, must do the right thing in Iraq, not for Iraq, but for America, even when doing so requires making some tough decisions. Narrow the problem set from five dimensions to two, and the problem becomes more manageable. For my money, I choose working with the Sunnis and al-Sadr to create a viable coalition, and then cutting a deal with Iran that trades off better relations in exchange for encouraging the current failed Iraqi government to step aside in favor of new elections. And the Kurds? Autonomy or nothing.

CHALLENGES 2007-2008: New Year Begins Unhappily In What Was Home

The end of 2007 produced a telltale indication of what the New Year seems likely to bring to Iraq: "We the Iraqi members of parliament signing below demand a timetable for withdrawal of the occupation forces (MNF) from our beloved Iraq," 144 members of the 275-member parliament, a clear majority, wrote in a declaration April 2007. Despite this the Bush administration, and the Iraqi government led by U.S.-installed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, pushed a resolution through the UN Security Council to extend by another year the legal cover for foreign troops to operate in Iraq. The move Dec. 18 violated both the Iraqi constitution and the resolution passed earlier this year by the Iraqi parliament. Many Iraqi lawmakers say that any renewal of the UN mandate not ratified by parliament is illegal. The move almost guarantees an increase in violence, and a deepening of sectarian tensions. "Bypassing the Iraqi parliament and continuing to undermine the Iraqi political process will push more Iraqis to choose armed resistance instead of political non-violent resistance," Raed Jarrar, Iraq consultant at the Public Policy Office of the American Friends Service Committee in Washington, an independent peace group, told IPS.

Looking at America

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant. We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review. Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.

Quotes of the day: History will show that this period of relative “calm” we attribute to the surge is but the pause before the storm. ~ Scott Ritter

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