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

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

News & Views 01/09/08

Photo: An Iraqi grieves over the corpse of a loved one killed in a bomb attack in Baquba. The World Health Organisation reports that an average of 120 Iraqi adults died a violent death every day in the three years following the US-led invasion of March 2003. (AFP/File)


Power in Iraq's north cut by fuel, Turkey

Gas feeding northern Iraq power generators and supply from Turkey has been cut, hampering an electricity sector also facing regular attacks. An Iraq Electricity Ministry spokesman said a "technical failure" in an oil field where the gas comes from has shut generators in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baiji, the Voices of Iraq news agency reports. Aziz al-Shimari added maintenance on a power line from Turkey has reduced electricity supply by 40 percent. "A technical failure hit the oil field three days ago," Shimari said, "suspending the gas, which feeds the northern generators." He said it will take an "unspecified amount of time" to fix the Ugail oil field, located in Kirkuk. Power was affected in Kirkuk, Baiji and Mosul.

Disruption of LPG unit at Baiji refinery worsens power supply

The blaze at Iraq’s largest refinery of Baiji north of Baghdad has taken out the country’s largest Liquefied Petroleum Gas processing unit, according to Oil Ministry sources. Iraq relies on LPG to power major electricity plants. LPG is also the main cooking fuel for Iraqi households. But the blaze is reported to have damaged the unit exacerbating the already acute shortages of gas in the country. An Electricity Ministry source told the newspaper that northern Iraq, comprising the three Kurdish provinces of Dahouk, Arbil and Sulaimaniay as well as Mosul and Kirkuk, has plunged into darkness as the gas-driven power plants had no more fuel to operate. After a short halt, Iraqi technicians repaired damage to refining units and Baiji, according to the Oil Ministry, has resumed churning nearly 200,000 barrels a day. Baiji’s capacity is 350,000 barrels a day. An engineer died and several workers suffered burns due to Tuesday’s fire which officials say was caused by a gas explosion. Though holding massive oil reserves, Iraq has turned into a net fuel importer. Fuel shortages started with the 2003 U.S. invasion and have aggravated since.

IRAQ: Fuel Crisis Freezes Life

It's turning out to be about the hardest winter Abu Muslih has known. Too often it's a choice between buying food and medicines, and buying kerosene to keep his children warm. "I see them feeling cold, so I go out to buy kerosene at any price," Muslih, a 49-year-old city employee told IPS. "My salary cannot pay for kerosene. So I use my savings, or try to avoid other necessities." This is a problem in home after home in this city of about 300,000 located 40 km north of Baghdad, in the violence and unemployment ridden Diyala province. "When we can, we burn wood to keep our houses warm," says city resident Abu Nasem. It is hardly the best choice. "Since there are no fireplaces in our houses, wood fire can be harmful and dangerous." And there is fuel needed to cook with. "Iraqis mainly use gas cookers, and the price of a container may reach 35 dollars," resident Jafar Nadem told IPS. "This kind of price is very high in relation to the income of any family. Large families may use three or four containers a month." Prices are high, and supply low. Kerosene shortages last all winter now; shortage of other fuel, all year. The occupation and the conditions it has created have much to do with the shortages.

Power Supply !

Shortage of Electricity in Iraq is the main problem that Iraqi people suffer from .This problem is really founded in the beginning of eighties of the last century during the Iraqi –Iran war (1980-1988) and it became bigger after the invasion of Kuwait having the second gulf war in (1990-1991). But things became worst in the third war in 2003. In the past we have the shortage for hours or days then the problem would be solved to have the full power again. In the nineties we had a schedule by the former regime as a kind of punishment to the south making the uprising against his government in 1991 having power supply at night only and that thing lasted for several years and the generators at that time were so expensive to be used in ordinary houses, shops, restaurants, factories and hotels, but the exception were those who are so rich or who had involved with the former regime. After March of 2003, we hoped that the situation would be better, but soon we realized that the situation became the worst in all times.

120 deaths per day in first three years of Iraq occupation: WHO

An average of 120 Iraqi adults died a violent death every day in the three years following the US-led invasion of March 2003, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Wednesday. A household survey carried out by the WHO and the Iraqi government between March 2003 and June 2006 estimated that between 104,000 and 223,000 people died from violence during that period. "Violence became a leading cause of death for Iraqi adults ... and the main cause for men aged 15-59 years," according to the study which appeared on the website of the New England Journal of Medicine. [Lancet study came up with much higher numbers of excessive deaths (which includes deaths from other factors) in October 2006. – dancewater]

Iraqi town welcomes new health clinic

Iraqi troops and the Concerned Local Citizens group worked alongside U.S. forces to open the first healthcare facility in Maderiyah in three years. The medical clinic opened Thursday, bringing healthcare access to the community for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the American Forces Press Service said. A local member of the volunteer group Concerned Local Citizens said the community was once an insurgent stronghold and the joint activities of the CLC, Iraqi soldiers and U.S. forces contributed to the renewed security. "This is great. I can't explain what this means to me. I'm so happy," said Saadin San Ali with the CLC. "We are all proud to have this clinic and we are proud to be from this community." The clinic runs two days per week utilizing a local certified medical assistant as its primary caregiver. The medical assistant is on call for emergencies, and local residents hope for more staff members and longer hours in the future.


Video: Iraqi Troops on the Iran - Iraq Border - 01.07.2008

The Shatt Al-Arab is the place where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, it also marks the border between Iraq and Iran. The banks of the Shatt Al-Arab have been witness to many things throughout the history of Iraq. It was a big battlefield during the Iraq-Iran War the first and second Gulf Wars, now the wars are over and the waterway has become a center of criminal gangs and smuggling. Several gangs work in smuggling cars, weapons, and drugs. The Iranian Government itself has also been accused of smuggling weapons into Iraq. Alarmingly, smugglers have even begun engaging in child-trafficking, although the border with Iran has not been cited as a specifically high area for this. Since being reconstituted after the occupation of Iraq, the Iraqi Police and National Guard have been in a constant battle to stop smugglers from bringing illicit goods into Iraq. These goods are being smuggled from Iran, Pakistan, India, and other remote countries. Smugglers are also known to be involved in financing insurgents cells in Iraq.

Video: Saddam: One Year Later - 12.31.2007

It was heard from many people in Iraq that they were tortured by the ex-Iraqi intelligence, or Mukhabarat, and what is really interesting is that some of the survivors are talking about their torture in those days. What the Iraqi Intelligence used to do is to take people under that name of interrogation so they would keep them in prison cells in unknown areas, and some of the those cells are still being found until today. They are distributed all over Iraq, along with the mass graves that are still being found until this day. Many people are still wondering what happened to the nameless corpses that were found in those mass graves. Some people were kept for over 20 years in prison cells underground. One of the most famous prisons was found after the Occupation. It was built beneath Tahrir Square. The prisoners in there were kept for more then a decade and a half, when the Iraqi people freed these prisoners they thought at first that the Iraq-Iran war was finally over and the Iranians won the war and occupied Iraq!

[The two videos above came from Alive in Baghdad. They are having a fund-raiser right now, in order to keep their news service going. I hope you can help them out! – dancewater]

Main Sunni Group Vows No Deal with US

The Islamic Army, the main Sunni insurgent group in Iraq, is adamant it will not make common cause with the Sunni militias tackling al-Qaeda with U.S. support, and will instead fight the Americans "to the end." "The Islamic Army has nothing to do with the Awakening councils," Ibrahim al-Shimmari, official spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq, told AFP in an email interview. "No one can be a member of the Islamic Army and the Awakening at the same time. Our war is for self-defence and we are targeting those who attacked us." The Islamic Army is branded a terrorist group by the U.S. military and has been implicated in a number of high-profile kidnappings and gruesume beheadings since the fall of Saddam Hussein. French academic Jean-Pierre Filiu, an expert on the insurgency, says there are signs of cross-membership between the Awakening and the Islamic Army. "On the evidence, the Islamic Army has a foot in these militia," Filiu told AFP. "And in any case, they do not fight them."

Al-Qaeda leader responsible for killing Yazidi family arrested-Iraqi army

Iraqi army forces on Wednesday captured an al-Qaeda leader believed to be responsible for killing a Yazidi family in Sinjar, northern Iraq, an army media source said. “A force of Iraqi army 2nd division stationed in Kasak, west of Mosul, managed to arrest Raad Awad Issa, al-Qaeda leader in Sinjar district, on Wednesday”, Mohamed Chiyad, media chief of army 2nd division told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). He added “the forces arrested al-Qaeda operative in Barazan village of Zamar district near the Iraqi-Syrian border while trying to flee abroad”. The army official noted “army forces also seized documents of his network”. He did not provide further information about the arrest circumstances, yet he said “the network leader was responsible for killing of Yazidi family in Sinjar district on Dec 18th”. Earlier, on Dec 18th, Sinjar district mayor, said seven members of a Yazidi family were killed and two others were wounded in attack conducted by unknown gunmen in villages located between Sinjar and Baaj districts, west of Mosul”.

Senior al-Qaeda leader arrested in Anbar

Police forces arrested a suspected key leader of al-Qaeda network in Khalidiya town of Anbar province, western Iraq, a police source said on Wednesday. “Khalidya police forces managed to detain a senior al-Qaeda network in a raid operation conducted in a rural area, north of Khalidiya town”, a police officer in Khalidiya, who requested anonymity, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). He added “the raid-and-search operation conducted peacefully without any clashes with al-Qaeda senior leader thanks to information tips offered by local residents”.

From Missing Links blog: The Cairo Process: Yemen and the Baath are not playing the game

The lead story in al Quds al- Arabi this morning is that Yemen has refused (according to Yemeni sources) a GreenZone request to "turn over" to the Iraqi government members of the Iraqi Baath party living in Yemen, and likewise refused a request to make persons in Yemen connected with the former Baath party "stop their activities". Instead, Yemen is described as having demanded the speedy turnover to Yemen of Yemenis held in Iraqi prisons on terror and other charges. (The newspaper also quotes a Yemeni website to the effect that president Ali Abdullah al-Salah told an Iraqi Interior Minister person earlier this week that in fact Yemen does not host any of the leaders on the lists of the Iraqi security authorities, but rather only members of a clan that participated in the administration of the prior regime, so in effect he has no one to turn over). Al-Quds al-Arabi cites remarks by an Iraqi parliamentarian to the Iraqi government newspaper Al-Sabah, confirming there has been such an Iraqi delegation to Yemen, aimed a an exchange of wanted persons and an improvement in diplomatic relations.

Diala armed groups were not surprised by U.S. offensive- paper

The U.S. forces' recent offensive to drive armed groups from the Sunni Diala province was no surprise to many insurgents who managed to flee their strongholds despite the great amount of secrecy accompanying the operation, the New York Times said in a report on Wednesday. "With extraordinary secrecy, and even an information blackout aimed at most of their Iraqi Army comrades, American troops began a major offensive on Tuesday to drive Sunni insurgents from strongholds in Diala Province. But many insurgents still managed to flee the first villages the Americans went into, showing just how difficult it is to trap the elusive militants," read the report. "Because at least half the insurgents escaped before an offensive last June, American planners deliberately kept most Iraqi units in the dark before this one, 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 this year," the report explained.
"The militants may have been tipped by leaks or by the visible movements of troops and machinery that precede any operation."

Signing long term agreement with U.S. next July - FM

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari said that Iraqi will ink a long term security, political and economic agreement with the U.S. in mid July 2008, highlighting that Syria and Iran have played a role in improving the security condition in the country. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat international newspaper in Cairo, the top Iraqi diplomat said "The Iraqi government prioritize "the important and crucial" negotiations with the U.S. administration, to be concluded next July, on the future of relations between the two countries."

Iraq insurgents warn Norway against expelling leader

The main Sunni insurgent coalition in Iraq on Wednesday said it would seek reprisals against Norway if it expels Mullah Krekar, the founder of the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Islam. The Reform and Jihad Front, in a statement emailed to AFP, said it would call for a boycott of Norwegian goods and the international isolation of the government if Oslo went ahead with attempts to expel Krekar. It also called on "all the good people who still fight human rights attackers to take an action and stop that bad thing". "We (ask) all the forces of the Muslims, governments, organisations and notable persons and ask them to take an action which gets our prestige back," the statement said.

Iraq seeks Kuwait "compromise" over debt, compensation

Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said on Wednesday that Baghdad has sought "compromise solutions" with neighbouring Kuwait over tens of billions of dollars of debt and war reparations. Iraq, whose forces under former leader Saddam Hussein occupied the oil-rich emirate for seven months in 1990, also called on Kuwait to help in reducing deductions in favour of a UN compensation fund for war damages. "Any compromise solutions on these outstanding issues will be a very good result," Hashemi told reporters at the end of a three-day visit to Kuwait. He said he has not asked for a total write-off. "I appealed to the emir to review these issues. The respose was good but there are constitutional channels in this connection," said Hashemi in reference to Kuwaiti parliament. Hashemi said that he also requested Kuwaiti leaders to help in reducing the amount deducted from Iraqi oil revenues, which currently stands at five percent, in favour of the UN Compensation Commission for Iraqi war reparations. "The five percent is a very large amount considering the high oil price. Iraq is undertaking huge infrastructure and services projects and its budget is not enough to finance them," he said.


U.S. arming newly loyal Sunnis in Iraq

Sunni Muslims in Iraq who once supported Saddam Hussein and later al-Qaida are becoming loyal to U.S. forces and getting arms in return, a report said Tuesday. U.S. strategists welcome the turnaround and are proposing further assistance for the Sunnis, a minority to Shiites in the country, Washington Post correspondents reported from Baghdad. At a town south of Baghdad, Saad Mahami leads a band of 71 militants now battling al-Qaida instead of U.S. forces. U.S. Army Capt. David Underwood told the newspaper Mahami approached him recently asking for more weapons, and they were provided. "As we confiscate weapons, we hand them to Saad Mahami," Underwood said. Safah Hassan, one of Mahami's fighters, said there was a growing sense of empowerment based on the cooperation.

U.S. deploys latest weapon in Iraq: anthropologists

An anthropology professor from the East Bay campus of California State University near San Francisco, he's a self-described peacenik who opposed the war in Iraq, did his academic research in Guatemala and never carries a gun. "I'm a Californian. I'm a liberal. I'm a Democrat," he says. "My impetus is to come here and help end this thing." Matsuda is part of the U.S. military "Human Terrain Team" (HTT) program, which embeds anthropologists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan in the hope of helping tactical commanders in the field understand local cultures. The program is controversial: the American Anthropological Association denounced it in October, saying it could lead to ethics being compromised, the profession's reputation damaged, and worst of all, research subjects becoming military targets.

U.S. plans new sanctions on Iranian, Iraqis

The United States plans, most likely this week, to impose sanctions on an Iranian Qods force member for stoking violence in Iraq as well as on several Iraqi exiles in Syria and Iran, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Soldier Says They Randomly Fired Shots At Iraqis

The Army is investigating possible war crimes after a Fort Carson soldier facing first-degree murder charges in the slayings of two Iraq war veterans told investigators he and another soldier randomly fired at Iraqi civilians. Pfc. Bruce Bastien Jr. and two former soldiers face charges in the December shooting death of Spc. Kevin Shields, while Bastien and one of those former soldiers face charges in the Aug. 4 shooting death of Pfc. Robert James. Fort Carson spokeswoman Dee McNutt confirmed the Army investigation detailed in a motion filed by prosecutors Tuesday seeking to combine the two slayings into one case. Bastien said he and another soldier used stolen AK-47 military rifles to shoot at civilians while their unit patrolled Baghdad neighborhoods while they were in Iraq. "The sound of an AK-47 is very distinctive," the motion quotes Bastien as telling Fort Carson Special Agent Kelly Jameson on Dec. 10. "So if there were any questions when the shooting was heard, Bastien said they could claim they were taking on hostile fire."

Number of detainees over SE Turkey blast rises to 8

Turkish police have detained an eighth person suspected of involvement in a blast in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey last week which claimed six lives, the state-run Anatolian news agency said on Wednesday. Turkey's Interior Minister Besir Atalay said on Tuesday seven people had been detained over the incident, which authorities have blamed on PKK Kurdish militants. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has signalled that group members working independently may have been behind the bombing, which security sources said targeted military personnel though most of those killed were school students. The agency had said that the first suspect detained in the blast told police he had received training in PKK camps in northern Iraq. Police detained several people last week but they were later released. The Turkish military, the second largest in NATO, has been waging an aerial bombing campaign against PKK targets in northern Iraq after the United States began sharing intelligence on the rebels' movements.

Turkey's Kurds look to northern Iraq for jobs

Migrants seeking a better life in Iraq? It sounds bizarre but thousands of Turkish Kurds are finding jobs and trade opportunities across the border that are largely absent at home. While Turkish warplanes bomb Kurdish PKK rebel targets in northern Iraq, Turkish businessmen and workers are busy making money in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, and Iraqi Kurds are coming to Turkey both for business and relaxation. Firms based in Turkey's impoverished, mainly Kurdish southeast region also work as intermediaries between Western companies and the Iraqi Kurds. "Iraq contributes seriously to employment in Diyarbakir. Our youths get the chance to find jobs there, in construction, in restaurants and the clothing industry," said Seyhmus Akbas, chairman of southeast Turkish business forum DOGUNSIFED.

Two jailed for leaking Blair-Bush memo

A judge imposed two indefinite contempt of court orders on newspapers yesterday, preventing them from reporting aspects of an Official Secrets Act trial that dealt with the unauthorised disclosure of a secret document about Iraq. The permanent reporting restrictions were put in place after Mr Justice Aikens jailed a civil servant and a political researcher for disclosing a letter marked “secret, personal” that recorded a conversation between Tony Blair and President George Bush at a White House meeting on April 16, 2004. David Keogh, 50, who had been a civil servant for 25 years and was working at the Cabinet Office, was sentenced to six months. Leo O’Connor, 44, a political researcher employed by Anthony Clarke, the former Labour MP for Northampton South, was jailed for three months. Both had been convicted at the Old Bailey on Wednesday. Mr Justice Aikens said that Keogh, who had made a copy of the secret document faxed from 10 Downing Street to his office, where he worked as a communications and cipher officer, decided he did not like what he read.

“You decided on your own that it was in the best interest of the UK that this letter should be disclosed,” the judge said. “Your reckless and irresponsible action in disclosing this letter . . . could have cost the lives of British citizens. This disclosure was a gross breach of trust of your position as a Crown servant.” [This memo had to do with bush’s desires to bomb al Jazeera in Qater. Blair had to explain why this was a bad idea. So, a known terrorist, who wants to bomb journalists, sits in the White House and people who let the truth out go to jail. – dancewater]


U.S. settles few fleeing Iraq

More than 2 million Iraqis are believed to have escaped since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Many are waiting in Syria and Jordan, hoping to be admitted to the United States as refugees. But in the last five fiscal years, the U.S. government has resettled only 2,372 refugees from Iraq. Most are Christian. Other Iraqis have taken matters into their own hands, paying smugglers tens of thousands of dollars to travel to the United States, where they hope for asylum. "These people have lost everything," said Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, a nonprofit group that helps Eastern Rite Catholics outside of Iraq. "People are desperate. They will do anything to be resettled and to be safe."

U.N. to help 4 million Iraqi refugees

The United Nations is asking for $261 million to help 4 million people who've become refugees due to the Iraq war. The United Nation's refugee agency, funded mostly by voluntary government contributions, seeks to help 2.2 million refugees within Iraq and another 2 million who've fled to neighboring nations, including Jordan, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Gulf states, the United Nations said in a news release. Other involved refugees include 41,000 Iranians, Turks, Palestinians and others within Iraq.

UN: Visa limits stop fleeing Iraqis

The number of Iraqis fleeing their homeland has declined in recent months, primarily because neighboring countries refuse to let them enter, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday. The improvement in security in some areas of Iraq also may play a role, said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "It could be a whole combination of things," he said. An estimated 2 million Iraqis are living outside their country, most of them having left since the U.S.-led invasion nearly five years ago, according to UNHCR. "The number of people fleeing Iraq has declined considerably because of the visa restrictions that have been imposed by governments around Iraq, particularly Syria and Jordan," Redmond said. "There used to be 3,000 people a day, but that's not possible now because they require visas," he told The Associated Press. He said he was unable to say exactly how many people are leaving Iraq now, but he was sure it was much lower.

Asylum seekers threaten 'death leap' at UK Cyprus base

Seven Iraqi men and an Iranian on Wednesday threatened to throw themselves off a 14-metre fire tower in a British military base on Cyprus in protest at not being given asylum status or a British passport, officials told AFP. The eight single men, who have lived illegally in the sovereign base areas (SBAs) for seven years, climbed the tower at around 7 am at Episkopi garrison on the outskirts of the southern port town of Limassol. A special UK immigration team flew to Cyprus last year to review the men's case but they now face eviction from the bases for illegal entry via the Turkish-controlled north of the Mediterranean island.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


How Many Kids Will The US Kill In 2008?

Those who KNOWINGLY deny, ignore, excuse, minimize, obfuscate, support, advocate or are otherwise complicit in the mass murder of CHILDREN have crossed the line separating decent humanity from proto-Nazi barbarism, from the unthinkable but real, barbaric actuality of Bush America. Small wonder therefore that outstanding Jewish American investor, philanthropist, author, activist, Holocaust hero and Holocaust survivor George Soros has demanded the "de-Nazification" of Bush America. What can decent people do to counter this horrendous Bush American barbarism in 2008? Peace is the only way but silence kills and silence is complicity. Decent folk must (a) inform others and (b) act ethically by applying Sanctions and Boycotts in relation to all their avoidable dealings with individuals, corporations and countries complicit in this continuing mass pedocide, this continuing, remorseless Bush-ite mass murder of innocent children.

The dark side of Iraq war cheerleader

Fouad Ajami's January 6 essay on Islam in the New York Times Book Review brings to mind again the question of accountability and partisanship in the "war on terror". A highly decorated scholar of the Middle East, the author of several books on the region, including The Dream Palace of the Arabs, and a professor at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, Ajami, who was born into a Shi'ite family in southern Lebanon in 1945, has devoted his life to chronicling the Arab world. He has been an adviser to both Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. During the trial of Cheney's former chief of staff, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Ajami pleaded with President George W Bush in the Wall Street Journal to pardon him, hailing Libby as a "fallen soldier" in the war against terrorism - as though Libby had been battling on the front lines. Ajami's praise for Libby should have come as no surprise. A contributor to magazines such as US News and World Report and the New Republic, Ajami was one of the earliest and most fervent proponents of war in Iraq. Writing in the New Republic on February 23, 1998, Ajami berated the Bill Clinton administration for failing to take harsher military action to unseat Saddam Hussein. The standoff with Saddam, he said, was unacceptable, even "dreary" - a telling word, as it epitomizes his impatience with sober policy, which George Orwell diagnosed in the 1940s as a characteristic affliction of intellectuals. The criterion for Ajami, as for many other champions of war, was that they were plain bored with containing Saddam. Bolder action was needed. America needed to prove its mettle in facing down the Arab tyrant.

Those who talk democracy should listen to Iraq's people

The surge has only bought time for the US in Iraq. There will be no reconciliation without complete withdrawal. Who would have believed it? When George Bush arrives in Jerusalem today to salvage something from the wreckage of his attempt to impose a new pax Americana on the Middle East, there will at least be one ray of sunshine in an otherwise grim presidential vista. Iran may be resurgent, Hizbullah unbroken, the prospect of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement more remote than ever. But, as far as the US administration is concerned, things are at last coming good in Iraq. Its people are "reclaiming a normal society", Bush has declared, a theme echoed enthusiastically across the US and wider western media. American casualties are down, economic growth is up, refugees are returning home, and people can once again walk the streets of Baghdad in safety, the story goes.

…..But already, the upsurge in bombings, assassinations and attacks on US forces in the last couple of weeks - including the first killing of American troops by an Iraqi soldier - should be a warning to those now talking up the success of the surge. Here are four reasons why the lull in violence is highly unlikely to hold. First, the occupation-funded awakening councils, which are now getting on for 80,000-strong, are an unstable mishmash of groups with different agendas, created in the teeth of opposition from the supposedly sovereign Iraqi government, which have already been drawn into sectarian clashes with Shia militias. To solve one problem, the US has created another.

…..The reality of the surge is this: the number of people displaced from their homes has quadrupled to over 2 million, and detention without trial has risen dramatically (the US alone holds 25,000 prisoners). Another 2 million have fled the country since the occupation began - and about 30,000 have returned, mostly because of lack of cash and visa restrictions. In oil-rich Iraq, electricity is now available in Baghdad for only eight hours a day, half the level before the invasion; unemployment is over 60%; food rations are being cut; corruption is rampant; and 43% of the population now lives on less than a dollar a day. The surge has bought time for the US but achieved nothing to prepare the way for an end to the occupation.

Quotes of the day: ….ignorance is a critical component of callousness, and that when people genuinely understand what it means to suffer it makes them more understanding, not less, and they're far less likely to wish it on others.” ~ John Caruso