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 11, 2008

News & Views 01/11/08

Photo: An Iraqi couple enjoys a snow battle in a garden in Sulaimaniyah in 2007. Light snow fell in Baghdad in what weather officials said was the first time in about a 100 years. (AFP/File/Shwan Mohammed)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Thursday: 25 Iraqis Killed, 24 Wounded

A First! Snow Falls in Baghdad

After weathering nearly five years of war, Baghdad residents thought they'd pretty much seen it all. But Friday morning, as muezzins were calling the faithful to prayer, the people here awoke to something certifiably new. For the first time in memory, snow fell across Baghdad. Although the white flakes quickly dissolved into gray puddles, they brought an emotion rarely expressed in this desert capital snarled by army checkpoints, divided by concrete walls and ravaged by sectarian killings — delight. "For the first time in my life I saw a snow-rain like this falling in Baghdad," said Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, a 63-year-old retiree from the New Baghdad area. "When I was young, I heard from my father that such rain had fallen in the early '40s on the outskirts of northern Baghdad," Abdul-Hussein said, referring to snow as a type of rain. "But snow falling in Baghdad in such a magnificent scene was beyond my imagination."

VIDEO: Snow falls in Baghdad for first time in memory

Minister says drought threatening crops this year

Agriculture Minister Ali al-Bahadli says this year’s abnormally dry winter is expected to lead to a slump in agricultural yields in the country particularly in raid-fed areas. Bahadli said at leas 450,000 hectares of arable land in the Mosul plateau are under serious threat. The plateau, known as Iraq’s bread basket, is normally cultivated in September for the seeds to grow when rain starts pouring in October, November or December. “There has been no rainfall in October and November. The drought has extended to December with the seeds either going rotten or being eaten by birds,” Bahadli said. The minister spoke of “a serious problem” the farmers and the ministry were confronting right now. With the seeds no longer usable, rainfall in January and even February will be useless, he said.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Oil ministry excludes corporations dealing with Kurdistan from investment in Iraq

Iraq's oil ministry invited foreign corporations to invest in the oil field in all Iraqi provinces including those of Iraqi Kurdistan region and Kirkuk but excluded the companies that have signed contracts with the region without prior approval by the ministry, a spokesman said on Friday. "The oil ministry would not allow international corporations that already signed oil contracts with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan to invest in Iraq," Aasem Jihad told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) by telephone. The Iraqi oil ministry objects the autonomous Kurdistan region's signing of contracts with foreign companies to prospect for, produce and export oil without referring to the central government in Baghdad. The region had signed 15 contracts with 20 foreign oil corporations in defiance of the central government's objection and ahead of the Iraqi parliament's final endorsement of a new draft law on oil.

Kurdistan rejects Awakening Councils - official

The Kurdish political leadership will not allow forming Awakening Councils to fight al-Qaeda network in Kurdistan cities and the disputed areas, a member from the Kurdistan Democratic Party's political bureau said on Friday. "The Kurdish leadership will not allow forming Awakening Councils to fight armed groups and al-Qaeda network in Kurdistan cities and the ethnically disputed areas," Mohamed Mullah Qader told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Article 140 in Iraqi constitution tackles all the ethnically disputed areas, and the most prominent city is Kirkuk , which Kurds call to be annexed to Kurdistan region. "Kurdistan lives within a stable security condition and has a strong security apparatuses."

Shiite leaders urges outreach to Sunnis

One of Iraq's most powerful Shiite political and religious figures on Friday issued a stunning call for the government to set aside differences with Sunni Muslim politicians and entice them back to help lead the country. The appeal by Ammar al-Hakim, the son and heir-apparent to the head of Iraq's main Shiite political bloc, sharply increased pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to bring Sunni factions back into the fold as part of Washington-backed efforts at sectarian reconciliation. It also could push al-Maliki's government to accelerate steps to integrate armed Sunni groups that have joined the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremists.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Turkish military shells N.Iraq - Kurdish officials

Turkish artillery shelled northern Iraq on Friday morning, but there were no immediate reports of any casualties or material damage, a Kurdish government official said. Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Peshmerga security forces of northern Iraq, said Turkish forces had shelled two areas in Dahuk province for two hours. Earlier, Iraqi Kurdish television said the Turkish military had bombed northern Iraq. A senior Iraqi border guards officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were no casualties in the shelling, which took place between 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and 9 a.m. (0600 GMT).

Bush: U.S. could 'easily' be in Iraq for 10 years [Or, until the oil is gone. –dancewater]

US officer cleared in Iraq prison abuse case

The US army has thrown out the conviction of the only officer court-martialed in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, ending the four-year investigation and drawing complaints from human rights groups of a Pentagon whitewash. …"It could not be more clear that prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from policies and practices authorised by high-level officials," said Hira Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Arab League, UNHCR, Iraqi musician launch campaign to back refugees

The Arab League launched a fund-raising campaign in tandem with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Iraqi musician Nusseir Shamma to raise the Arab and world public opinions' awareness about Iraqi refugees displaced by acts of violence. The Arab League "hopes the 'Arabs Hand in Hand with Iraqis' campaign would succeed to raise millions of dollars from viewers via commercials, stories, documentaries and witnesses' testimonies," read the UN official web site. The campaign would be launched in most Arab satellite stations including Aljazeera, al-Arabiya and the Egyptian Space Channel (ESC) among others with Shamma and other celebrities taking part.

Jordan's govt. extends acceptance of Iraqi "S" passports

The Jordanian government extended acceptance of Iraqi passports' category S until the end of June this year, canceling a previous decision to refuse it as of December 31, 2007, the Iraqi foreign ministry said on Friday. The Iraqi embassy in Amman "has asked the Jordanian government to continue to accept Iraqi S passports, instead of the new C passport, so as to make it easier for the departure and arrival of Iraqis," Iraq's ambassador to the neighboring Hashemite kingdom, Saad al-Hayyani, was quoted by an Iraqi foreign ministry statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
The Jordanian authorities' approval of this request came just one day after talks held in Amman between Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari and his Jordanian counterpart Salah al-Bashir. The Iraqi ambassador said the request was made due to the "long time taken to issue passports from Baghdad," noting "it could take more than a month for a citizen to have a passport." "In addition to this there was a delay in providing the Iraqi embassy in Amman with modern equipment for the purpose of issuing new passports," said Hayyani.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

COMMENTARY

Young: Violence & Instability in Iraq

For anyone with the slightest moral concern for the Iraqi people, the only acceptable justifications for the continued military occupation of Iraq are that the US presence is reducing the violence and that Iraqis themselves want the occupation to continue (5). But unfortunately the primary studies tracking violence levels and Iraqi public opinion reveal a very different picture on both counts. Upon a review of these studies, it becomes quite clear why they have generally been ignored or dismissed by politicians and corporate media outlets in this country: they link the US presence to increased violence levels and mortality rates while revealing humanitarian crises of staggering proportions and consistent hostility toward the occupation among the Iraqi people. This essay addresses trends in violence and insecurity under the occupation, while a follow-up one will assess Iraqi public opinion.

Saddam Redux: U.S. Allies Itself with Sunni Strongmen

The Sunni "awakening" groups formed by American forces to fight Al Qaida have successfully decreased attacks on Iraqi security forces and US troops, but have not eased the fears of citizens, according to residents. "Abu Riyad, the awakening leader in our district, is stronger than the Americans, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. He orders, arrests and releases [people], pardons and punishes and this situation is no different from when the Al Adhimiya district was under Al Qaida's control," Najeel Ahmad, a resident of Al Adhimiya, told Gulf News. "The residents of the district have many fears and concerns. The decision to arrest and kill residents is done by Riyadh, so the situation is still bad," he added. Abu Riyadh, Abu Abed, Abu Nour and Abu Mashriq are all leaders of Sunni "awakening" groups. It has become very normal, in many Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad, to see hundreds of gunmen inspecting visitors, strangers and even residents, locals say. Haja Um Zuhair told Gulf News: "I am from Al Ameria and every time I go shopping, my basket is subject to inspection. On every street are members affiliated to awakening leader Abu Abed. "The reality has not changed for the better, raids and shootings are still happening. I can say that the situation has improved in terms of not targeting American or Iraqi forces, but people are still living in fear," she added.

Iraq's Insurgents Are Ordinary People

"There are two impressions we seem to have here," Bingham said. "The first one is the majority of violence is against civilians, and they are on the brink of a huge civil war, and the Sunnis and Shias hate each other, and the Americans are standing between these two groups that are just going to kill each other. The next one is that the people fighting against us are some radical fringe group who can be isolated and killed." After 10 months of interviewing insurgents, Bingham, an American photojournalist, and Steve Connors, a British photojournalist and former soldier, found that these impressions aren't true. The insurgency is mostly ordinary Iraqis. Doing the interviews for their documentary Meeting Resistance, Bingham says they tried to approach the subject with no preconceptions.

"We've both been conflict journalists for our careers," she said. "We didn't go in with any sense of what we were going to find. If we'd found this is Al Qaeda and teenage thugs, that's what film would be about. We weren't trying to prove anything -- that's who they are." What Connors and Bingham discovered has been corroborated by Department of Defense reports, which found that over 70 percent of the attacks in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 targeted U.S.-led coalition forces, and by BBC/ABC polls, which said all the Iraqis polled disapprove of attacks on civilians, but the majority approve of attacks on the U.S. troops.

American Accomplishments

Washington has begun to implement a new strategy in Iraq, after having realized its mistake in handing over authority to the Shiite leadership that had been residing in Iran for thirty years, and after having watched over the confessional civil war in which one million Iraqis were victims.

The Tribulations of Iraq's Oil Industry Due to the Ambiguity of the Constitution (Walid Khadduri )

Among the many humanitarian and political crises that Iraq is currently experiencing, there is a vital economic problem that will have a negative impact on the country's economic course over the foreseeable future. This problem is having an affect today, and it is represented by the vagueness surrounding the constitutional articles that deal with the management of Iraq's oil and gas resources.

A well-known American writer famous for his articles in which he advocates the partition of Iraq is actually the person who edited these articles before dictating them word by word to the committee to draft the flawed Constitution at the time, and the contradictory texts were unable to be modified. It was clear to Iraqi experts that these provisions would lead to chronic problems in Iraq's oil industry. This is not only because of the division of tasks and activities among governorates and regions, on the one hand, and the Oil Ministry and National Oil Company, on the other, but also because of the deliberate vagueness in the distribution of tasks and responsibilities among these parties. Proof of the poor quality of these oil industry-related provisions can be attested to by the memorandum recently issued by 80 Iraqi oil experts to the Speaker of Parliament, in protest at the Regional Kurdistan Government's signing of contracts for production participation with foreign firms prior to the Iraqi Parliament's endorsement of the Oil Law.

RESISTANCE

Today marks six years that Guantanamo Bay has been open: TEAR IT DOWN!

US court overturns Iraq war protester's conviction

A U.S. appeals court on Friday overturned Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan's conviction for demonstrating without a permit on the White House sidewalk in 2005 and ordered a new trial. The unanimous three-judge panel ruled that Sheehan's conviction had been based on errors of law by the magistrate judge that eliminated the prosecutor's burden to show her criminal intent. Sheehan had been assessed a $50 fine and $25 administrative fee following the trial and conviction. On Sept. 26, 2005, Sheehan and four other members of an anti-war group approached the northwest gate of the White House and requested a meeting with President George W. Bush to discuss the Iraq war. After they were turned down, they walked a short distance and sat down on the White House sidewalk. By this time, more than 200 other people had assembled to protest the Iraq war. U.S. Park Police officers then instructed them to leave or face arrest. Sheehan was among those remaining on the sidewalk who were arrested and later convicted.

Wexler wants hearings – sign the petition here.

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.

Quote of the day: Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will. ~ Frederick Douglass

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