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

Saturday, January 12, 2008

News & Views 01/12/08

Photo: A worker stands inside a damaged bakery after a Friday suicide bomb attack in Baghdad January 12, 2008. A suicide car bomb blew up outside a bakery in New Baghdad district in eastern Baghdad, killing two people and wounding eight others, police said. REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Saturday: 1 US Marine, 30 Iraqis Killed, 9 Iraqis Wounded

IRAQ: Less Violent But Not Less Hellish

U.S. and Iraqi officials claim that security is improving across al-Anbar province and much of Iraq. Security during the last half of 2007 was indeed better than in the period between February 2006 and mid-2007. But this has brought little solace to many Iraqis, because violence is still worse than in 2005 and early 2006. Top Iraqi and U.S. officials and politicians have been saying that Iraq is back on its feet and that security has been established in the most volatile provinces like al-Anbar, to the west of Baghdad. Security responsibilities here will be handed over to Iraqis in March, the U.S. military says. Violence levels are down, but attacks have not ceased. "Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in 24 hours, U.S. B-1 and F-16 bombers dropped over 40,000 pounds of special munitions on the Arab Juboor villages just south of Baghdad, and Awakening (militia paid for by the U.S.) leaders and senior police officers are being assassinated all over Iraq, yet U.S. army leaders and top officials say Iraq is safe and sound," lawyer and human rights activist Mahmood al-Dulaimy told IPS. Dulaimy said U.S. President George W. Bush has succeeded in convincing many people in the United States that everything in Iraq is all right. "It is you media people who fool the world by transmitting false news about the situation in Iraq," Dulaimy said. "Look around you and tell me what is good here." Looking around, one finds a ruined country. And neither occupation forces nor Iraqi government personnel seem to care about saving the little normal life that remains.

IRAQ: Civilian Deaths Massive by Any Measure

How many Iraqi civilians have lost their lives as a result of gunshots and bombings since the U.S. military invaded that oil-rich Arab nation nearly five years ago? Credible estimates for the period March 2003 until June 2006 have ranged from a high of 600,000 to about 47,000. The first figure was reported by researchers from Johns Hopkins in The Lancet, a venerable British medical journal, back in October 2006. The second one was projected by the independent organisation Iraq Body Count (IBC). This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Iraqi Health Ministry released a joint survey suggesting that no less than 151,000 Iraqis died violently during that time frame. The U.S. government does not tally violence-related Iraqi deaths, not does it intend to. [And that is how we know, beyond any doubt, that they just don’t care. – dancewater]

Blogging Iraq: Baghdad snow day

While enjoying the relative calm, the Iraqis I have talked to so far are still not very optimistic. They admit that security has improved somehow, but it's snowing, it's cold, and they have no electricity or hot water. Nor do they have jobs. So life is still extremely difficult, even more so because most people have already sold all their belongings and finished off their savings. We all have our meals together. It's usually a very interesting moment, because my Iraqi colleagues tell me about life on the streets, the life I am not allowed to witness. A foreigner on the streets (even if Arab) is a prime target for armed groups, militias and also for the thousands of criminal gangs that roam freely in search of a good ransom. I actually got a bit excited by the drop in violence and asked if there was anywhere I could go. The answer was no, and none of the Iraqis want to be seen on the streets with a foreigner who is reporting in English. They will do it if the job requires it, but they would rather not. So they are the ones who go out, whether it is to get the story or the food. I usually understand, from their facial expression upon return, how bad or good the situation "out there" is. They are the barometer. There is a look of relief at the moment.

Iraqi Oil Output Increases in December

Iraq's average oil output rose again in December, marking a roughly 30 percent increase since the start of 2007, the country's oil ministry said Saturday.

Baghdad Museum Unveils Two Restored Display Halls

The Baghdad National Museum has completed the renovation of two exhibition halls closed after looting following the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraqi antiquities and heritage chief Eedan al-Thahabi said. The Islamic and Assyrian halls have been completely restored but will not be opened to the public until security measures can be put in place to prevent a repeat of the looting in which around 15,000 items were stolen. Only 4,000 artifacts have been recovered despite the introduction of a reward system offering up to 3,000 dollars to those handing in stolen items. "Eleven Iraqi search teams started to look for antiquities in some cities after a five year gap. What the museum is receiving now is part of what they have been able to recover," Thahabi said.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Saddam's scrawl to be dropped from Iraqi flag

Saddam Hussein's handwritten praise to God will be dropped from the Iraqi flag and the symbolism behind its three green stars will be changed, according to a bill presented to parliament on Saturday. The Iraqi flag still bears the ousted dictator's handwritten Allahu Akhbar" (God is Greater) while the three stars officially symbolise unity, freedom and socialism -- the slogan of Saddam's Baath party. Under the new flag law, given its first reading by parliament on Saturday, the praise to God will be printed -- in yellow -- in the Kufi form of Arabic script while the stars will now represent peace, tolerance and justice. "The Iraqi parliament read the Iraqi flag law for the first time in its session on Saturday," said Naseer al-Isawi, a Sadrist lawmaker. "The law will be applied following the second reading in four days' time," he added.

Iraq's parliament lets Baathists back into government

Iraq's parliament voted Saturday to allow former members of the Sunni-dominated Baath party back into government jobs and pensions, a move that could speed reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The measure is the first big U.S.-promoted benchmark for Iraq's progress to make it through the country's fractious and often timid 275-member parliament. Other key legislative benchmarks, such as divvying up Iraq's oil wealth, have long awaited their action. If approved as expected by the three-member presidential council, the new Justice and Accountability law will replace a 2003 de-Baathification decree that banned members of Saddam Hussein's party from serving in the new Iraqi government. Sunnis, who dominated Saddam's government, have long complained the old rule amounted to a form of sectarian punishment against them.

KC to call for changing oil minister – legislator

A Kurdish legislator in the Iraqi parliament said on Saturday that it would be hard to find solutions to oil-related problems between the Iraqi Kurdistan region and the central government as long as Hussein al-Shahrestani remains as oil minister. "The Kurdistan Coalition (KC) will have to call for changing Shahrestani if he insists on his position," Hussein Blu told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Blu, whose KC is the second largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament with 55 out of a total 275 seats, criticized Shahrestani's statements pertaining to oil contracts signed by the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region's government with foreign oil corporations. "Shahrestani's statements only expressed his personal viewpoint and as long as he remains in the oil ministry it would be impossible to reach an agreement on the oil law and its relevant issues," said Blu.

Shiite-Sunni alliance vs. Sunni-Kurdish agreement- paper

Head of the Iraqi National Dialogue Council said that a new Sunni-Shiite political alliance will be set up to back the government and push forward the political process in the country. "The new alliance will include the National Dialogue Council; the (Sunni) National Dialogue Front, led by Saleh al-Motlak; the Iraqi National List (INL), led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the (Shiite) Fadhila Islamic Party and the Islamic Daawa Party-Iraq Organization, to which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki belongs," Khalaf al-Alyan, the head of the council, one of the main components of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) said in exclusive statements published by the international al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on Saturday. "The alliance will also encompass the Sadrist bloc, led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, in addition to the Iraqi People's Congress, led by Adnan al-Duleimi," al-Alyan indicated. According to the newspaper, representatives from all the allied parties visited al-Maliki in his office and expressed their stance of solidarity.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Iraq lets Baathists go back to work, US pleased

Iraq's parliament voted on Saturday to let thousands of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party return to government jobs, winning praise from Washington for achieving a benchmark step toward reconciling warring sects. The law is the first of a series of measures that Washington has long been pressing the Shi'ite Islamist-led government to pass in an effort to draw the minority Sunni Arab community that held sway under Saddam closer into the political process. "This law preserves the rights of the Iraqi people after the crimes committed by the Baath Party while also benefiting the innocent members of the party. This law provides a balance," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. Washington had introduced "de-Baathification" when it administered Iraq in 2003-04, but later acknowledged that the measures went too far and asked Iraqi leaders to ease them.

Across America, Deadly Echoes of Battle

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.” Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak. The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Quote of the day: Shock and Awe are actions that create fears, dangers, and destruction
that are incomprehensible to the people at large, specific elements/sectors of the threat society, or the leadership. Nature in the form of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, uncontrolled fires, famine, and disease can engender Shock and Awe. – /Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance/, the military doctrine for the US war on Iraq

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