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

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

News & Views 01/08/08

Photo: An Iraqi child stands in a classroom at Canary school in the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008, three days after a raid by U.S. troops of the kindergarten. The U.S. military says they searched the school on Saturday, which was adjacent to a home hiding three men suspected of attacking coalition forces. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)


U.S. Forces Raid an Iraqi Kindergarten

A US force has stormed a kindergarten in a Shi'a-dominated district in Baghdad, smashed toys, doors and windows and arrested three of its guards, the Iraqi government said on Tuesday. US troops raided Kanari kindergarten in the Jamila area of Sadr City in Baghdad where they smashed children's toys, doors, windows and roofs, according to a statement by the media centre of the Iraqi cabinet. "No evidence was found during the raid on the kindergarten that proves the school's involvement in terrorist acts or that it is used for storing weapons," the statement said.

The Humanitarian Crisis for Iraq’s Children Continues

Iraq’s children need to be rescued, not feared. They are the best hope and most important resource of any country, yet they continue to suffer and die out of sight and out of mind of most of us. SAVE the Children’s report: State of the World’s Mothers 2007, Saving the Lives of Children Under 5 shows Iraq continues to have the highest Under 5 mortality (U5MR) of any country in the world. Since the first Gulf War, the U5MR has increased a staggering 150%. It is estimated that one out of every eight children in Iraq dies before their fifth birthday: 122,000 children died in 2005.

According to UNICEF, some two million children “…continued to face threats including poor nutrition, disease and interrupted education” in 2007. Only 20% of Iraqi children outside of Baghdad have access to safe drinking water or proper sewage treatment facilities. Seventeen percent of Iraqi children are permanently out of primary school and an estimated 220,000 more are missing school because they and their families have been displaced. These are in-country figures and don’t include the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children and youth whose education is interrupted or ended because their families have fled to other countries. Children are developing, each stage of their growth and development is a critical building block that enables them to reach the next stage. In order to achieve their potential–physically, emotionally, intellectually–their needs must be met at each stage. The lack of food, clean water, shelter, education and access to health care adds up to–at best– a compromised future.

Life after the "Islamic State"

I was in primary school then, and in the afternoons, children would spill out of school and the streets would fill with shoppers, bringing the neighborhood to life. We would often stay out until midnight, even during the difficult days of the United Nations sanctions. One of the things that I enjoyed about the neighborhood was its diversity. My closest friend, Thanaa, lived two blocks away. While she was pious and I am secular, such things were not an issue for us. She went to the mosque almost every day to pray and to hear the sermons of the imam. Although I wanted to accompany her, I never had enough faith to do so. After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, everything changed. I started to hear strange stories about people being killed and kidnapped, some of whom I knew. Residents began leaving for safer areas. Then it got even worse. By 2005, my neighborhood had gained the reputation of being one of the most dangerous places in the capital. A Sunni extremist group calling itself the "Islamic State of Iraq" took over, declaring my neighborhood their stronghold in Baghdad. The members would patrol the area by night, either on foot or in cars. They has weapons slung over their shoulders and would shoot people dead in the street for breaking one of their "rules". We learned of their "laws" from their flyers, which told residents not to dare challenge their authority or work with the Americans, and also praised al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It was common knowledge that they used a local mosques as a meeting place and to store weapons. They made it clear that one of their objectives was to rid our neighborhood of Shias. I hadn't thought much about sectarianism when I was growing up because it wasn't an issue in this neighborhood. However, it entered my life one hot afternoon when there was a knock on the door. It was Thanaa and her mother, who had received a note telling them, "Get out, you Shia people." "It is over," said Thanaa, speaking not only for herself but for most of the Shias in our neighborhood. "We can't stay here any longer. They threatened to kill all of us if we stay, and they have even banned me from praying in the mosque, saying it's for Sunnis only. I will miss you." We hugged and cried, and she was gone.

Alhamdu lillah assalama

After I made sure that my daughter was only shocked and dazed, but unhurt, I leaned back to take a breath. Her transport had to take his car to the fitter for some minor repairs and I was giving her a lift to school. One checkpoint after another all the way to a central main road where we could relax a little from the bumper-to-bumper lines of cars. As we sped along (50km/hr) feeling the freedom, suddenly an American convoy emerged from a side street at full speed. Terrified of getting too close, the first car braked so hard it swirved; the second slammed into it; I was the third ... and there were two more. There we stood, each driver with a look of frustration on his face - who to blame?? Who to shout at to relieve the tention?? Who to haggle with for repair money? We looked at each other, and at our smashed cars - and started laughing uncontrollably until the tears started to flow, "Alhamdu lillah assalama (thank God for your safety)" was all we could manage to say. By that time the convoy was long gone.

60 displaced families return to their homes in Baghdad, Diala

A total of 60 families who were forced to relocate in Karbala returned to their original homes in Baghdad, Diala and other regions during the past three months thanks to improved security conditions, an official source in Karbala said on Tuesday. "60 forced relocated families in Karbala returned to their homes in Baghdad, Diala as well as districts of Mahmudiya, Latifiya and Iskandiriya, north of Hilla, during the past three months thanks to the improved security conditions," Haider Ziyara al-Rubai, media official in Karbala’s immigration and displaced office told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq(VOI). "Only families returning to Baghdad will get one million Iraqi dinars after completing the office’s legal procedures in coordination with ministry of immigration and displaced," he noted. Al-Rubai added "the forced relocated family willing to return to their cities must fill out a testifying form issued from the local councils of their regions in Karbala."

Baghdad press promotes unity, decries sectarianism

Iraqi press on Tuesday called for promoting unity and curbing sectarianism, with a newspaper highlighting the "conflict" between U.S. politicians over power and its implications for the situation in Iraq. Under a headline entitled, 'Let's stress what brings us together,' the independent daily al-Bilad al-Yawm newspaper said that the Iraqi political landscape has become subject to a succession of actions and reactions, which disturbed the relationship between society members. "Here lies the human tragedy of the Iraqi people…The culture of blood and the inability to understand the significance of coexistence prompt all of us to review what is happening and to avoid being carried away by emotions," the newspaper wrote. "The culture of tolerance is our only social formula to move forward in Iraq. We have to seriously consider our children's future and their right to live as brothers, not enemies…," the newspaper added. Meanwhile, Badr newspaper, the daily mouthpiece of the Badr organization, an offshoot of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakeem, published an article entitled, 'Iraq first' in which it stressed the country's interests as a priority at all times.

U.S. forces detain civilian in Falluja

U.S. forces detained a local resident in the city of Falluja, Anbar province, on Tuesday morning without any apparent reason, a police source in the city said. "U.S. Marines arrested Muhammad al-Rawi at Falluja's western outlet on Tuesday morning while attempting to enter the city and took him to a military base there," the source, who did not want his name mentioned, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The source did not indicate why Rawi was arrested. He said the detained civilian was working as a taxi driver and had his sister with him when he was arrested by U.S. soldiers. VOI failed to contact the U.S. side, which has yet to issue any comments on the incident. Falluja is surrounded by exit and entrance outlets for nearly three years now. The crossings are supervised by U.S. troops along with Iraqi forces. Citizens are subject to airtight security measures, such as being provided with identification cards issued by the U.S. forces exclusively for the residents of Falluja.

Baghdad Park Bridges Sectarian Divide

Old friendships between Sunni and Shia friends are revived on neutral ground - a central park in the Iraqi capital. Mohammed Omar Ali sits on a bench under a tree in al-Zawra Park, looking around impatiently for any sign of his friend. Ali, 31, has not seen Ayad Murtadha for almost a year since he and his family, who are Shia Muslims, were forced to leave the Baghdad neighbourhood where the two friends grew up together. Murtadha, 32, is a Sunni, but sectarianism has not affected his friendship with Ali. When the men finally reunite with tears, hugs and non-stop conversation, it is clear that the capital’s sectarian battles have failed to break the bond. According to the United Nations refugee agency UNCHR, more than 700,000 Iraqis have been displaced by sectarian violence since 2006. Many of the capital’s once mixed areas have become either purely Sunni or Shia after militias forced families out for belonging to the other religious branch of Islam. Improved security in Baghdad has enabled Sunni and Shia friends to once again spend time together in safety. However, many are still reluctant to visit particular neighbourhoods where one sect dominates and are instead choosing to meet in al-Zawra Park. “These get-togethers are the only thing that makes us optimistic about the future,” said Murtadha. Al-Zawra is a famous 10-square-kilometre park located near Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. The park’s centralised location and the tight security in the area have made this a popular gathering point for Baghdad residents of all sects and ethnicities.


New Leaders Of Sunnis Make Gains In Influence

Saad Mahami wanted more firepower. He didn't trust the Iraqi government to give him support, so inside Patrol Base Whiskey, at the edge of this village south of Baghdad, he told U.S. commanders that his 71 Sunni fighters needed additional weapons to fight the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. As he listened to Mahami's demand, Capt. David Underwood reminded his superiors that Mahami's men -- all members of a U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitary movement called Sahwa, or "Awakening" -- were already buying arms with U.S. reward money for finding enemy ammunition dumps. "And as we confiscate weapons, we hand them to Saad Mahami," Underwood told Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the top commander in the region, during their meeting with the Iraqi. The United States is empowering a new group of Sunni leaders, including onetime members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, intelligence services and army, who are challenging established Sunni politicians for their community's leadership. The phenomenon marks a sharp turnaround in U.S. policy and the fortunes of Iraq's Sunni minority. The new leaders are decidedly against Iraq's U.S.-backed, Shiite-led government, which is wary of the Awakening movement's growing influence, viewing it as a potential threat when U.S. troops withdraw. The mistrust suggests how easily last year's security improvements could come undone in a still-brittle Iraq.

IAF voices concern over return of violence in Baghdad

The Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) on Tuesday expressed its deeps concern over the return of violence in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and targeting elements of the Awakening Councils, urging the government to play a bigger role in supporting these councils and protecting their elements. "IAF is deeply concerned with the return of violent acts throughout Iraq, mainly in Baghdad," the parliamentary bloc said in a statement read by its MP Abdul Karim al-Sameraei in the parliament during its regular session. "Targeting Awakening Council's fighters, who played an important role in realizing peace and security in the country, is one these dangerous forms," he explained. He criticized armed attacks against two senior officials in the Awakening Councils in the capital in the past two days.

Operation Heroes' Harvest starts in Muqdadiya – governor

A joint Iraqi-U.S. force waged Operation Heroes' Harvest on Tuesday with the objective of tracking down operatives of al-Qaeda network in the district of al-Muqdadiya, the governor of Diala province said. "Muqdadiya, (45 km) northeast of Baaquba, has witnessed a several days' military operation to purge the district of al-Qaeda members under the codename Heroes' Harvest," Raad Rashid al-Mullah said in statements to the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Mullah did not say whether the security operation has so far resulted in the arrest of any al-Qaeda gunmen.

Sunni cleric says Sahwa Councils like al-Qaeda, warns of marginalizing Iraq

The Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) on Tuesday expressed its deeps concern over the return of violence in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and targeting elements of the Awakening Councils, urging the government to play a bigger role in supporting these councils and protecting their elements. "IAF is deeply concerned with the return of violent acts throughout Iraq, mainly in Baghdad," the parliamentary bloc said in a statement read by its MP Abdul Karim al-Sameraei in the parliament during its regular session. "Targeting Awakening Council's fighters, who played an important role in realizing peace and security in the country, is one these dangerous forms," he explained.


U.S. launches major Iraq offensive

With extraordinary secrecy and even a disinformation campaign aimed at their Iraqi Army comrades, American troops launched a major offensive Tuesday to drive extremist Sunni insurgents from their stronghold in Diyala Province. But many insurgents still managed to flee ahead of time, showing just how difficult it is for the Americans to trap militants who keep eluding them. Because at least half the insurgents escaped before a previous offensive last June, American planners deliberately kept most Iraqi units in the dark before this one was started, a tactic that suggests they cannot fully trust the allies who are supposed to pick up more of the fighting as American troops scale back their presence later this year. The militants who escaped this time may have been tipped by leaks or the visible movements of troops and machinery that precede any operation. How they managed to get out ahead of the Americans remained unclear Tuesday night.

US-Turkey Meeting Amid Better Relations

The Turkish president's visit to the White House is seen as a major sign of improved relations between NATO allies after five years of acrimony over the Iraq war and U.S. policy on Turkey's fight against Kurdish rebels. President Abdullah Gul's meeting with President Bush follows a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan two months ago that resulted in a commitment by Bush to share intelligence on Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, rebels and not to object to Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdish guerrillas' installations in northern Iraq. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Tuesday that Bush will discuss with the Turkish president the possibility of forging a "long-term political solution." She did not elaborate. Perino said talks must continue to include Iraqi leaders.

Survey: Diplomats oppose Iraq policy

Nearly half of U.S. diplomats unwilling to volunteer to work in Iraq say one reason for their refusal is they don't agree with Bush administration's policies in the country, according to a survey released Tuesday. Security concerns and separation from family ranked as the top reasons for not wanting to serve in Iraq. But 48 percent cited "disagreement" with administration policy as a factor in their opposition, said the survey conducted by the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents U.S. diplomats.


UNHCR seeks US$261 million for Iraqi refugee programmes in 2008

The UN refugee agency on Tuesday launched an appeal for US$261 million to fund its operations this year on behalf of hundreds of thousands of those uprooted by the conflict in Iraq. Chief UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva that the Iraq Situation Supplementary Appeal covered programmes for many of the 2.2 million Iraqis displaced within Iraq, as well as the 2 million who have fled to other countries in the region, including Syria, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and several of the Gulf States. The agency also cares for some 41,000 non-Iraqi refugees in Iraq, including Palestinians, Iranians, Turks and others. Redmond also noted that UNHCR, which is funded primarily through voluntary contributions from governments, now has nearly 350 staff directly engaged in operations for Iraq and the surrounding region. Most of the refugees outside Iraq are in Syria and Jordan and are living in urban areas such as Damascus and Amman. "Many of them are running out of money and finding it increasingly difficult to get by," the spokesman said.

IRAQ-SYRIA: WFP food aid for Iraqi IDPs, refugees in Syria

Iraqi officials and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have welcomed the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) emergency operation announced on 3 January to provide food aid to displaced Iraqi families. The programme, worth US$126 million, will run for a year and target 750,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Iraq, as well as over 360, 000 Iraqi refugees in Syria. Saad Haqi, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), told IRIN the operation would start in the next few days. He said the IRCS would form joint teams with WFP "to reach all displaced families in every corner of Iraq". WFP would look at data supplied by IRCS and other NGOs to determine which IDPs were most in need of food aid, he said.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


The Fog of War Crimes

Whose neck is on the line? “You stop war crimes by coming down on the ranking officer,” says Ian Cuth-bertson, a military historian and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. “All armies in all wars at all times have committed war crimes,” he continues. “The question is: Does command authority condone or stop them? You can’t just give an 18-year-old an automatic weapon and tell him, ‘Don’t shoot prisoners in the head.’ You need an officer to rein him in. The officer needs to feel as though his own neck is on the line.” In the case of Haditha, Marines have not put officers’ necks on the line. Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, who was in charge of Marines in Haditha in 2005, along with his chief of staff Col. Richard Sokoloski and Col. Stephen Davis, who headed the regimental combat team, all received letters of censure from the secretary of the U.S. Navy. The censure did not strip the men of their rank or salary, but they will be barred from future promotions, which could force them out of the Marines. According to Gary Solis, a military law expert and former Marine, censure is the Marine Corps’ most serious administrative sanction. But, as Cuthbertson points out, the generals are not being censured for letting Haditha happen. They are being punished for not investigating. This is a big difference.

The Myth of Sectarian Violence in Iraq

If the US 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.

So, how ARE things in Iraq?

A recent report prepared for the US military in Iraq, profiled in the Washington Post,
highlights two striking but seemingly widely-held beliefs among many Iraqis -- that the US policy is in fact the leading cause of division among different communities in Iraq, and that the majority of people surveyed (who come from a representative sample of Iraq's diverse communities) believe that "the departure of 'occupying forces'" is "key to national reconciliation". In the face of these findings, how does the new US strategy, which basically seems to consist of creating still more armed groups to fight the other armed groups that already existed, and that it helped create, stand up? The US has played a divisive role in the past, it is certainly continuing to do so now, with what seems to be the misguided belief that further fracturing Iraqis from one another will somehow lead to reconciliation in the end. And it is all based, once again, on the simplistic distinction that the parties in conflict are "Sunnis", "Shiites", and "Kurds", rather than a much more complex reality of diverse political ideologies and interests on which religious, tribal, and ethnic identities are overlayed.

Quote of the day: “Somehow, this ongoing crisis for Iraqi children continues to escape the mainstream media. Iraq is a never ending sporting event, with sides developing strategies, making gains and suffering set backs. The real losses suffered by Iraqi children, day after day and year after year are rarely added up and taken into account and almost never reported on.” ~ Claudia Lefko