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 16, 2008

News & Views 01/16/08

Photo: A man sits beside a relative, wounded in a bomb attack, in a hospital in Baghdad's Sadr City January 16, 2008. A female suicide bomber killed eight people and wounded seven in an attack on a crowded market in a small, predominantly Shi'ite town near Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Tuesday: 15 Iraqis Killed, 38 Wounded

Iraq's healthcare in disarray

The full extent of the destruction of Iraq's healthcare system and the devastating impact it has had on its people is documented today in a new report which indicts the allied invasion force for failing in its duty to protect medical institutions and staff. The report, by an independent team of researchers and advisers from Iraq, the UK, the US and elsewhere, says the provision of healthcare "has become increasingly difficult" since the invasion. "Doctors and nurses have emigrated en masse, exacerbating existing staff shortages. "The health system is in disarray owing to the lack of an institutional framework, intermittent electricity, unsafe water, and frequent violations of medical neutrality. The ministry of health and local health authorities are mostly unable to meet these huge challenges, while the activities of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations are severely limited." The report, by the organisation Medact, tells how the charges for healthcare, abolished by the coalition forces in a flurry of idealism, have been quietly reinstated by health authorities unable to pay salaries and buy the drugs they need. Worse, patients now have to pay bribes to get into hospital. The report tells of one young woman, Aseel, in labour for three days with no pain relief, doctor or midwife. Her family decided they would have to find the money to get her into hospital. "After parting with my first bank note to secure petrol from my neighbour, we prayed for safety during our long trip to Diwaniyah maternity hospital," said Aseel's husband. "Thankfully we arrived safely, and were greeted by the open hand of the security guard. We parted with another note to get in. It took a long time to find a midwife. Eventually a sleepy midwife answered my pleas and we exchanged papers, notes and promises to bring more notes. Amin was born the next morning.

Only hospitals have power in Dahouk

The Kurdish Province of Dahouk in northern Iraq has been without electricity for nearly two weeks. “We can hardly supply hospitals with power. There is no electricity even for one continuous hour for the province’s nearly one million people,” said the head of the national power grid department in the province. Mohammed Suleiman attributed the almost total disruption in power supplies to the sudden halt of electricity imports from Turkey. It is extremely cold in Dahouk and across the country with temperatures falling below zero in many areas.

Iraqi archaeologists excavate new sites and find ‘rare’ artifacts

Iraqi archaeologists have resumed excavations in southern Iraq uncovering three important ancient sites and collecting magnificent items some of them more than 4000 years old. The Iraq Museum has received 700 artifacts from official diggings in these sites, one of them belonging to the Sumerian civilization which flourished in southern Iraq at about 2500 BBC. The museum’s information officer, Abdulzahara al-Talaqani, said there were 400 Sumerian pieces among the finds including cylinder seals and a variety of pottery items. Talaqani said 11 Iraqi excavation teams were busy digging sites in southern Iraq “and more finds are on their way to the museum.” The resumption of official digging signals relative calm in these areas. Talaqani said Iraqi diggers have come across “a very important” Parthian site which has so far yielded “200 rare pieces”.

Iraq's sea fishing industry suffers slump

Iraq's sea fishing industry, which was one of the most flourishing industries in the country for many years, has declined in recent years, prompting many fishermen to find another source of income. Nouri Hussein, a 50-year-old fisherman from Basra, summed up the situation as critical. "Many fishermen quit their jobs as a result of the high prices of fuel and fishing requirements, the lack of government support and the absence of a law that guarantees their rights…," Hussein told Aswat al-Iraq- Voices of Iraq- (VOI). Nearly 20,000 individuals who worked in sea fishing in Basra during the past few years have quitted the trade and sought other jobs. Those who continued working as fishermen are very few and are working without official permission, exposing them to high risks," Hussein indicated. Kareem Shamkhi, another fisherman from Basra, told VOI that Iraq's territorial waters were open to local fishermen before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraqi in 2003 and the collapse of the former Iraqi regime. "Now our movement has been restricted due to the presence of U.S. military vessels in the Persian Gulf," Shamkhi explained.

Curfew on Baghdad and 10 Iraq provinces for Ashura: report

A curfew will be slapped on Baghdad and 10 Iraqi provinces on Thursday for the three-day Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura, state television reported on Wednesday. All traffic will be banned from Thursday night in the southern provinces of Babylon, Basra, Diwaniya, Karbala, Missan, Muthanna, Najaf, Thi-Qar and Wassit, the channel quoted an interior ministry statement as saying. The curfew will also apply to Baghdad and Diyala province in the centre-north of the country where many Shiites live.

Iraq Paralympians take peace message to Beijing

Fakher al-Jamali has lost nine athletes, referees and coaches to suicide bombs and gunfire by radical Islamists and U.S. soldiers. Their deaths make the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing more than a sporting event for him. "We will convey a message of love and peace to the peoples of the world that Iraq loves life, loves peace and wants to live in peace," said Jamali, secretary-general of the Iraqi Paralympics Committee. "We are determined to move on despite the martyrdom of our dear brothers." The deaths, and the threat of bombings, have not stopped 31 athletes from negotiating their way three times a week from their homes to training grounds across Baghdad to prepare for the Paralympics, which will be held after the August Olympic Games. They have to cope not only with indiscriminate violence but also with living in a community that offers few, if any, special services for disabled people.

Market life returns to Iraqi city after US, insurgent battles

Stallholders and shoppers in Ramadi's Ma'Laab market all agree that business is getting better. What they can't agree on is whether the US troops who walk past them should stay or go. The short street of shops sells fruit, kebabs, spices, colourful women's clothing and mobile phone accessories. In stark contrast to a year ago, locally-based US marines patrol on foot through the market most days. They remain heavily-armed and alert, but they also chat with residents to learn the latest news -- who's returned to the city, which families are celebrating the birth of a child -- and they join in good-humoured complaints about the recent cold weather.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Fadhila Party denies joining new political alliance

A leading member of the Iraqi Shiite Fadhila Party denied on Wednesday that his party had joined a new political alliance, describing these news as groundless. "All reports about joining a new political alliance are bare of truth," Jaber Khaliefa, a MP from the Fadhila (Virtue) Party, told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI). Last Sunday, MP Usama al-Najaifi of the Iraqi National List (INL) said that parliamentary blocs and political figures announced a new alliance called the national project to confront the sectarian quota system and support the national reconciliation.

Parliament holds regular session

The Iraqi parliament held on Wednesday its regular session under First Deputy Speaker Khaled al-Attiya to discuss a number of issues listed in its agenda, a lawmaker said. "The parliament will complete voting the 50-paper penal code bill as well as a number of issues listed in its agenda," MP Wesam al-Bayati from the National Dialogue Front (NDF) told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI).

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Iraq reconstruction figures were wrong, GAO says

Highly promising figures that the Bush administration cited to demonstrate economic progress in Iraq last autumn, when Congress was considering whether to continue financing the war, cannot be substantiated by official Iraqi budget records, the Government Accountability Office reported. The Iraqi government had been severely criticized for failing to spend billions of dollars of its oil revenues in 2006 to finance its own reconstruction, but last September the Bush administration said Iraq had greatly accelerated such spending. By July 2007, the administration said, Iraq had spent some 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction that year. As General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador there, prepared in September to report to Congress on the state of the war, the economic figures were a rare sign of progress in Iraq's often dysfunctional government. But in its report on Tuesday, the GAO said official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraq Displaced Facing Humanitarian Crisis

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the majority of Iraq's internally displaced fled their homes following the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samara in February 2006. In a new report, the IOM says the number of people leaving their homes in search of a safe haven slowed significantly in 2007 because of a drop in violence. In fact, according to the IOM report, an increasing number of internally displaced people and refugees have been returning to their places of origin. But, IOM spokesman, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, tells VOA the number of people returning home remains very small. For example, he notes only eight percent of those who fled Baghdad have gone back. "There are some challenges associated with those returns. For instance, the report finds out that more than 30 percent of the displaced claimed that their property is currently occupied by private citizens," he noted. "That means that there will be numerous settlements regarding legal disputes over property. There are property issues that need to be addressed if the return movement continues or increases in 2008." According to the IOM report, 65 percent of the displaced people surveyed come from Baghdad, followed by Diyala, Anbar, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din. Most say they fled direct threats to their lives.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project

COMMENTARY

Will Anyone Pay for the Iraq War?

If the latest polls are to be believed, the Republican frontrunner is John McCain, who favors continuing the Iraq War for decades if not centuries, and the leading Democrat is Hillary Clinton, who voted to give George W. Bush the power to start the misadventure in 2002 and remained a staunch war supporter until the eve of Campaign 2008. In Congress, the Democrats appear so spooked about being accused of “partisanship” that they have replaced their periodic little white flags of surrender to President Bush on Iraq with a permanent large one. For his part, Bush is on his own personal victory lap of the Middle East, hailing the success of his “surge.” In the U.S. news media, the Washington Post’s editorial page, which beat the drums early and often for invading Iraq, is not only still run by the same neoconservative writer, Fred Hiatt, but is still baiting those who “refuse to acknowledge progress in Iraq,” much as the Post ridiculed and marginalized early war opponents.

The News From Iraq: Reasons For Fear, Hope

I talked with Shiite Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who has been pushing for years for a status of forces agreement with the United States that would regulate the number and role of U.S. forces. Such an agreement will now be negotiated this year. And Mahdi put forward another proposal that I think is key to stability in Iraq. Until now, Iraqi leaders were leery of any regional security arrangement that included Sunni Arab states, Iran and the United States, because they thought the Sunni Arabs might gang up against Shiite-led Iraq. But the Iraqi outlook has changed as relations with Sunni Arab states have improved. "Now we think we need a regional pact to stabilize things - an agreement in which all can participate and be real partners, including Iran and Turkey. "The United States should play a helpful role," he added. "We understand we can't [do a regional pact] without a dialogue between the United States and Iran." That kind of dialogue has not been on the agenda of the Bush White House. This brings me back to the U.S. election campaign. Those candidates who want to help Iraq need to pay attention to what Iraqi leaders are saying.

Quote of the day: The rhetoric and propaganda about the occupation from hacks like Petraeus and Bush administration officials would make Orwell proud. – Dahr Jamail

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