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, January 4, 2008

News & Views 01/04/08

Photo: A man mourns his father who was killed Tuesday in a bombing attack on a Baghdad funeral procession. – Photo from CNN website

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Iraqis resort to selling children

"The war disgraced my family. I lost relatives including my wife among thousands of victims of sectarian violence and was forced to sell my daughter to give my other children something to eat," he told Al Jazeera. In 2006, Abu Muhammad and his family were forced to leave their home in Adhamiya, a district of Baghdad, after militia fighting claimed the streets in his once tranquil neighbourhood. They began living in a makeshift refugee camp on the outskirts of Baghdad, but he soon lost his job and the children, unable to make the daily trek, quit school. "There wasn't enough money to spend on books, clothes and transport," he said. His daughter, Fatima, the youngest of four children, began to show signs of malnourishment and a local medic said she had become anaemic. By mid-2007, conditions for his family had become desperate and his children, once healthy and bubbling with life, had become gaunt and lethargic. It was then that a translator and a Swedish couple claiming to be part of an international NGO arrived in the makeshift refugee camp. "They heard about my situation and the woman, who said she could not have babies, offered some money to give her my youngest daughter of two years old," he said. "I refused in the beginning but the Iraqi translator was constantly coming at the camp and insisting with the same question. One day I found that my children would die without food and a clean environment and the next time he came to my tent, I told him that I agreed." ………. Omar Khalif, vice-president of the Iraqi Families Association, (IFA), a NGO established in 2004 to register cases of those missing and trafficked, said that at least two children are sold by their parents every week. Another four are reported missing every week.

Demo in Baghdad for release of detainees

Scores of al-Wehda neighborhood residents in southern Baghdad took to the street on Friday to call for releasing detainees detained by U.S. troops. "Dozens of al-Wehda suburb residents took part in the demonstration, which started from al-Horriya village to the municipal council," Abu Ahmad, one of the protesters, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "They called for the release of persons, who have been detained by U.S. forces in the village," he added. "The angry men also condemned the killing of a civilian by U.S. forces," he also said.

Football healing

Boston travel agent Roxana von Kraus decided to print 100 posters of the winning team to send to her son, a US marine on his third tour of duty in Iraq. Her son, Capt Brian von Kraus handed out the posters to Iraqi children he met while on patrol in Anbar province. "They loved it, I got rid of them all in about two days," he told the BBC News website from the US military's Habbaniyah Camp, west of Falluja. "Then, the sheikhs from the Abu Issa tribe invited us marines over for dinner." ……… "We see kids playing soccer in the fields all the time, but there's no league or anything like that for them. We want to create six teams per age group in the area, 24 teams in all. "I'm doing it with a friend here, Capt Carlos Gomez who was a soccer coach in civilian life. He's talking to the local sheikhs." He contacted his mother in Boston, and together they started "Operation Ultimate Goal" to raise money to provide kit for the new league. They have raised nearly $20,000 in the US in just three months.

Religion in the news

Isaac Samow's Assyrian Christian ancestors have occupied Mesopotamia for millennia, surviving innumerable conquests and massacres. Now war is again threatening Assyrian culture and language in its native land. Thousands of Assyrians have fled Iraq since the U.S. invasion. Samow's relatives are scattered through Canada, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Greece, Holland, England, Sweden and Germany. Other Assyrians are refugees in Syria, Jordan, and inside Iraq, not knowing whether they can return to cities and towns carved into Sunni or Shiite enclaves. "My children speak my language, but what about my grandchildren?" said Samow from his home in Modesto. "If there are no Assyrians left in Mesopotamia, how will our culture live?" Successive waves of Assyrians have landed here in California's Central Valley, beginning with those who fled a massacre by Turks near the end of World War I.

Reconstruction efforts in Iraq up for 2007

Anbar province and Baghdad, once largely controlled by militants, witnessed higher school attendance and small-business activity as well as general economic reconstruction in part due to the efforts by civilian/military PRTs, a year-end review by the Embassy of the United States in Iraq said. PRTs focus on establishing civil governance with local officials at the sub-provincial level with the cooperation of U.S. authorities to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure from the bottom up. Fallujah, once the hotbed for insurgency, recently opened its Business Development Center, and several sheiks from the Taji area north of Baghdad met to discuss joint security issues with Iraqi and coalition security forces. A British-led PRT program in Basra used U.S. funding to train 120 Iraqi women as midwives with the general goal of increasing health awareness and certification.

Food rationing to continue but with fewer items

The Ministry of Trade is to hand out new food rationing cards covering the whole of 2008 this month but Iraqi families are warned that they will receive much less subsidized food than before. Last year food rationing system was almost in shambles with many Iraqi families going without rations for months. There was also a marked reduction in the amount of food the government handed out and certain items had all but disappeared from the system. The rationing system, which former leader Saddam Hussein had introduced in 1990, used to cover 11 basic food items which saved millions of Iraqis from starvation. It was kept running smoothly until the demise of Saddam’s authority in 2003. Since then the system has been wrought with problems. Currently, the rationing system includes only five main items and these do not reach Iraqis on time and if they do the beneficiaries get less than what the government says it hands out.

Red Crescent says 46,000 Iraqis return end 2007

Some 46,000 refugees returned home to Iraq from Syria between September and December 2007, the Iraqi Red Crescent said in a new report obtained on Friday, a much lower figure than that given by the Iraqi government. Just how many of the 2.2 million Iraqis forced into exile by sectarian violence have returned is a matter of debate among aid groups, the U.S. military, and the Iraqi government, which is anxious to play up the returns as a sign of improved security.

400 Protest in Baquba

In another development, some 400 people staged protests in Baquba to demand the release of two leaders of the tribal Awakening Council forces. US forces had earlier arrested Ali Hamad, a council leader in Mukdadya, and Thamir Akash, a council leader in Buhrus. No further details of the arrests were immediately available. The so-called Awakening Councils were set up in restive Sunni areas by local clans to fight insurgent groups that are often linked with al-Qaeda.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Solidarity in Iraq from Missing Links blog

Let's say you had a dream last night and there were hundreds of Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders meeting together in a big tent in the southern part of Baghdad, praying the same prayer in the same way, and affirming their unity, along with Awakening Council leaders and local police and army people too. The representative of the Sadrist trend, which convened the meeting, denounced those who had introduced into Iraq the terms "rejectionist" to apply to Shiites, and who purported also to excommunicate Sunnis on the same narrow sectarian grounds. One of the Sunni tribal leaders stood up and said we are intermarried and we are interconnected, and the only people with problems about sect are the politicians with their sinecures. Another said we are together on a ship bound for safe land, and those who are not with us will be left behind. And so it went. There were no Americans there, no Hakim, no Maliki, none of them, no representatives of "the political process". And you woke up and looked in the papers for a report about this, and you didn't find any. But it happened. You weren't dreaming.

…..It's hard to find anything else to say about this, except that the meeting was held in that area in South Baghdad where three months ago several hundred Sunni families fleeing the atrocities of the ISI, were given refuge by Shiite families and by the Sadrist organization in the neighboring district.

Sadrists asked to respect cease-fire

The Sadrist calls for peace came during Friday prayers in the Shiite holy city of Kufa and the cleric's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City. They appeared to be part of ongoing attempt by al-Sadr to patch things up with two of Iraq's more influential Shiite movements: Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest Shiite political party, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party. "We Sadrists are moving in the way of Muqtada's peaceful initiatives in the provinces, and especially the ones that witnessed violence," Abdul Hadi al-Mohammadawi, a senior aide to al-Sadr, said in his sermon. In August, followers of al-Sadr and those loyal to al-Hakim fought in the holy city of Karbala during a religious festival, killing 52 people. In October, the two leaders signed a truce, which has largely held. "We think that the best way to solve existing problems and provide all with the chance to reach the shores of peace is a comprehensive dialogue, instead of acts of violence," al-Mohammadawi told worshippers. On Thursday, al-Sadr's representatives met with officials from al-Hakim's party in Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad.

Killer of 2 U.S. soldiers belongs to armed group – army

The Iraqi soldier who killed two U.S. soldiers in Mosul 10 days ago was a member of an armed group who infiltrated into a joint Iraqi-U.S. force, the commander of the Iraqi army's 2nd Division said. "The soldier was part of a joint Iraqi-U.S. patrol undertaking security duty in al-Haramat area, western Mosul, on December 26. When the patrol came under firing attack, the soldier opened fire at U.S. soldiers and killed two of them," Brig. Mutaa Habib al-Khazraji told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). "The patrol soldiers managed to arrest him and he is now under the Iraqi side's investigative custody," Khazraji added. The U.S. side denied that this Iraqi soldier opened fire at U.S. servicemen because they sexually harassed an Iraqi girl, affirming that the scene where the incident took place was void of any civilians.

Iraqi army graduates new brigade

The Iraqi minister of defense attended a graduation ceremony for the Iraqi army's 2nd Brigade, 11th Division in the Iraqi town of Besmaya. Celebratory marches, music and speeches marked the event Wednesday as the brigade is now fully equipped and trained for combat operations, a news release from the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq said. A process called Unit Set Fielding equips and trains full army brigades for combat.

Iraqi army clears northern district of al-Qaeda insurgents

Baghdad - The Iraqi army cleared an area in the north- eastern city of Baquba of insurgents linked with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, a military commander said on Friday. 'The Hashmyat district of Baquba city has been completely cleared of armed groups in a military operation, which was successfully carried out by the Iraqi army,' the commander of operations in Baquba, General Abdel-Karim al-Rubayi said. The army killed four gunmen, arrested four, and destroyed several car bombs and explosives in the area, 60 kilometres north-east of Baghdad, the commander said.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

U.S. reviews security efforts in Iraq

A year-end review by the U.S. Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs highlights its role in assisting the government of Iraq. NL aids the Iraqi government in coordination with the U.S. Central Command's Civilian Police Assistance Training Team to develop an effective civilian law enforcement service capable of maintaining order in a humane and legal fashion. INL also aids in the development of the Iraqi criminal justice system by training judges and investigators to create a legislative system adhering to the judicial and criminal codes of Iraqi law. The Iraqi Corrections Service is assisted by INL by training and other implementations in coordination with the newly established Iraqi Corrections Service under the Ministry of Justice. INL works toward controlling corruption in Iraq by training advisers with Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity and funding Iraqi efforts to improve auditing capabilities.

U.S. forces leave base in western Falluja

"This morning, Marines personnel, deployed in Anbar, withdrew from the base in al-Resala neighborhood in western Falluja, removed the concrete barricades and reopened side streets to traffic," the source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) under condition of anonymity. "The operation envisaged pulling out of a commercial building and three houses, which have been used by the forces as a military base for two years," he noted. The troops had pulled out of a military base in al-Dubbat neighborhood in central Falluja last month.

HISTORY

Architects of The Iraq War: Where Are They Now?

Coalition of the Defeated

Video: Iraqi Girl tells of US Attack in Haditha

Ten-year-old Iman Walid witnessed the killing of seven members of her family in an attack by American marines last November. The interview with Iman was filmed exclusively for ITV News by Ali Hamdani, our Iraqi video diarist.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Baghdad Palestinians hope for passage through India

Some 200 Palestinian refugees from Iraq started arriving in India in March 2006. Under the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, they had received protection and assistance and enjoyed a relatively high standard of treatment that some segments of the Iraqi population considered unfair. Soon after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Palestinians were targeted with forced eviction, death threats and killings in Baghdad. Many sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan and Syria but became stranded in desolate border camps. A handful eventually went back to Iraq, only to flee again amid heightened sectarian and ethnic tensions after an attack on a Shia mosque in the city of Samarra in early 2006. ….Others say they were tricked and abandoned in India. Nonetheless, they found the country to be safe from forced return, and asked their families to join them when the situation in Baghdad deteriorated. …..In September, Brazil accepted some 100 Palestinians stranded for over four years in Jordan's Ruweished camp. Another 2,000 are still languishing in two desert camps near Iraq's border with Syria. Some 13,000 Palestinian refugees remain in Baghdad, where they face intimidation, forced evictions and attacks.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

COMMENTARY

Is Bush Finished Fighting Terrorists He Created in Iraq?

"It is very important to remember that our surge is dwarfed by the Iraqi surge that is taking place," Petraeus said during a PR tour for a pool of reporters. ""The official Iraqi security forces has increased by something like 110,000 or so in the past year -- during which (time) our surge was 30,000," along with "70,000 plus concerned local citizens." he claimed. There is no acknowledgment from the administration of the role of the leader of one of the main militant groups of combatants in Iraq, al-Sadr, earlier in the year, in successfully urging his followers to refrain from attacks and violence. The sectarian divisions which erupted in Iraq following the removal of the controlling rule of Saddam remain the most pernicious intigator of violence in the country, outside of outright resistance to the U.S. occupiers and their enabled Iraqi regime. Anyway, despite Petraeus' optimism, the numbers of Iraqis who have been trained, equipped, and are regularly reporting for duty has long been in dispute. The WaPo reported Monday, that the U.S. will now allow the Iraqi government to 'set the size' of its army and police forces -- and do the counting and accounting of those Iraq forces, as well. ……….. Now, with reports from the Iraqi government this month that over 70% of the 'Iraqi al-Qaeda' have been eliminated, it stretches belief to accept any assertion by the U.S. military or the White House that the al-Qaeda in Iraq -- which Bush repeatedly encouraged to "fight our soldiers there" -- poses any threat at all to the U.S. beyond Iraq's borders. Iraq is nothing but a diversion from the administration's failure to capture and prosecute the 9-11 suspects Bush claimed he wanted "dead or alive."

The myth of sectarianism

IF THE U.S. leaves Iraq, the violent sectarianism between the Sunni and Shia will worsen. This is what Republicans and Democrats alike will have us believe. This key piece of rhetoric is used to justify the continuance of the occupation of Iraq. This propaganda, like others of its ilk, gains ground, substance, and reality due largely to the ignorance of those ingesting it. The snow job by the corporate media on the issue of sectarianism in Iraq has ensured that the public buys into the line that the Sunni and Shia will dice one another up into little pieces if the occupation ends. It may be worthwhile to consider that prior to the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq there had never been open warfare between the two groups and certainly not a civil war. In terms of organization and convention, Iraqis are a tribal society and some of the largest tribes in the country comprise Sunni and Shia. Intermarriages between the two sects are not uncommon either. Soon after arriving in Iraq in November 2003, I learned that it was considered rude and socially graceless to enquire after an individual’s sect. If in ignorance or under compulsion I did pose the question the most common answer I would receive was, “I am Muslim, and I am Iraqi.” On occasion there were more telling responses like the one I received from an older woman, “My mother is a Shia and my father a Sunni, so can you tell which half of me is which?” The accompanying smile said it all.

…….Mild surface scratching reveals a darker, largely unreported aspect of the divisive U.S. plan. A UN report released in September 2005 held Iraqi interior ministry forces responsible for an organized campaign of detention, torture, and killing of fellow Iraqis. These special police commando units were recruited from the Shia Badr Organization and Mehdi Army militias. In Baghdad during November and December 2004, I heard widespread accounts of death squads assassinating Sunni resistance leaders and their key sympathizers. It was after the failure of Operation Phantom Fury, as the U.S. siege of Fallujah that November was named, that the Iraqi resistance spread across Iraq like wildfire. Death squads were set up to quell this fire by eliminating the leadership of this growing resistance.

The firefighting team had at its helm the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, ably assisted by retired Colonel James Steele, adviser to Iraqi security forces. In 1984–86 Steele had been commander of the U.S. military advisory group in El Salvador. Between 1981 and 1985 Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to neighboring Honduras. In 1994 the Honduras Commission on Human Rights charged him with extensive human rights violations, reporting the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political workers. A CIA working group set up in 1996 to look into the U.S. role in Honduras has placed on record documents admitting that the operations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” of CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured, and killed thousands of people suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas. Negroponte was ambassador to Iraq for close to a year from June 2004.

Review: Dahr Jamail's "Beyond the Green Zone”

We were a minority, but still, there were many of us to whom it was as plain as the nose on our own face, in the fall of 2002 when the great "marketing campaign" for the Iraq war was rolled out, that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and no connection whatsoever to 9/11, that the war was an illegal act of aggression that could only hearten enemies of the United States. Some of us turned out for the great global "focus group" of February 15, 2003; some of us wrote to the editor, argued with family members and neighbors, were horrified by the mainstream media's pornographic endorsement of "Shock and Awe," but Dahr Jamail came down from his job as a Park Service rescue ranger on Mt. Denali in Alaska, and, armed with $2,000, a laptop, digital camera, and some indie media listserve advice about how to get there, set off for Baghdad. What he has described as "an act of desperation" provoked by his sense of complicity as an American is also, in a very real sense, an ultimate act of patriotism, an assertion that Americans are better than what we have done in Iraq, a faith he still champions that: "If the people of the United States had the real story about what their government has done in Iraq, the occupation would already have ended ... If people in my country could hear the stories of life under occupation and put themselves in Iraqis' stories, they would understand. I hold that hope because the stories of Iraq are our story now."

The decision to "embed" with the Iraqis, to tell the Iraqis' side of the story - or what he could learn of it - has won Dahr Jamail four Project Censored awards. He broke stories about American house raids, torture and use of white phosphorus in Fallujah. He has written for The Nation, The Independent, the BBC, Democracy Now, and continues to work principally with the InterPressService as editor and fact-checker for Ali al-Fadhily and Ahmed Ali, two Iraqi reporters working under pseudonyms in Baghdad and Baquba, respectively. And in his book, "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Reporter in Occupied Iraq," published by Haymarket Books this October, Jamail supplies the Iraqi perspective he garnered from the four visits he made to Iraq between November 2003 and February 2005, spending a total of eight months in the country.

RESISTANCE

Making peace a presidential priority: Questioning presidential candidates on their positions on peace and security issues in New Hampshire is the focus of a ‘peace bus’ tour of the state in preparation for next week’s primary. Read more >

Letter to President Bush: US Should Lead Response to Iraqi Refugee Crisis

As humanitarian organizations deeply concerned with the welfare of the people of the Middle East, we are greatly encouraged by your upcoming visit that aims to bolster efforts towards peace and prosperity in the region. As such we would like to call your attention to an issue of great strategic importance to the United States: the humanitarian conditions of Iraq's displaced civilians. Over 4.5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, with nearly 2.5 million Iraqi civilians fleeing to neighboring countries, and over 2 million displaced internally within Iraq. This displacement crisis has grave humanitarian implications as well as potential negative ramifications for regional security. At a time when you have expressed optimism about the prospect of regional dialogue as a way forward to an era of peace and prosperity, it is vital that your administration engage proactively to deal with the impacts of Iraqi displacement. Iraqi refugees are overwhelming the basic infrastructure of Iraq's neighbors, in particular Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, raising concerns about the potential for further destabilization of the region. Iraqis have no legal work options in most host countries and are increasingly desperate and in need of humanitarian assistance. Iraqis face challenges in obtaining food, and have trouble accessing host countries' health and education systems. Women and children are increasingly vulnerable, and a sense of frustration, despair, and abandonment permeates communities of displaced Iraqis throughout the region.

Demonstrators held after Iowa anti-war protests

At least 10 anti-war demonstrators were arrested yesterday during protests in Des Moines over the lack of debate on the war on Iraq in the election campaign. The protestors, ranging in age from 23 to 76, were taken into custody after briefly occupying the campaign offices of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Most were held by local police, though some were released with a citation to appear in court at a later date.

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.

Quotes of the day: “I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased and that everything is fine, but the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq.” ~ Baghdad resident, retired General Waleed al-Ubaidy.

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