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 18, 2008

News & Views 01/18/08

Photo: Residents look at a body lying on the ground after clashes between Iraqi security forces and gunmen in Basra January 18, 2008. Iraqi soldiers and police fought running battles with gunmen from a Shi'ite cult in two southern cities on Friday in which dozens of people were killed and nearly 100 wounded, officials said. REUTERS/Atef Hassan(IRAQ)


Friday: 1 US Soldier, 94 Iraqis Killed, 103 Wounded

50 Killed, 70 Wounded Early Count of Nasiriya Clashes

Security source in Thi Qar province said, "Continuing clashes between Yamani's followers and security agencies, in Nasiriya, have resulted, so far, in the killing of Nasiriya's Intelligence Deputy Commander, Colonel Zamil Al-Romayyid. The source said on Friday, Jan. 18, "Police cars roaming the city streets demanding residents, through loudspeakers, to stay inside so they would not get caught in the cross fire." Meanwhile, informed source in Nasiriya General Hospital said, "Early count of casualties resulted from the clashes show fifty killed, including ten top security officials, while the number of wounded exceed seventy, including women and children." He pointed out that American planes are flying overhead in the city.

Dozens die in Iraq cult clashes

Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between members of a Shia cult and police in the southern Iraqi cities of Nasiriya and Basra, police say. Street warfare erupted as members of the Soldiers of Heaven launched apparently co-ordinated assaults on police positions and fellow Shia. ….Friday's gun battles were blamed by the prime minister's office on "heretics" who attacked Shia marking the Ashura festival and tried to seize a "government institution" in Basra. About eight hours after the clashes began, the government said Iraqi security forces had restored relative calm to both cities. The fighting in Nasiriya - 375km (235 miles) south-east of Baghdad - began at around midday local time when mortars were fired at a police position in the city, police said. The bombardment was followed up shortly afterwards with an assault by members of the Soldiers of Heaven, according to officials. They were armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades and carrying the cult's yellow flags.

Armed clashes leave 110 casualties in Nassiriya

At least 50 persons were killed and 60 more, including security officers, were injured during armed clashes that flared up on Friday afternoon n the city of Nassiriya with gunmen, believed to be members of the self-styled Ansar Ahmad al-Yamani group, a police source said. "Clashes broke out this afternoon between security forces and gunmen believed to be members of Ansar Ahmad al-Yamani armed group, killing 50 persons and wounding 60," the source told Asawt al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). "A number of senior security officers, including Colonel Nagi Rustom, chief of the emergency police force in the city, and Colonel Zamel Khazaal Badr, deputy chief of the criminal intelligence, were killed in the clashes," he added. A police source had said earlier that Police forces managed to kill the leader of the self-styled Soldiers of Heaven organization and detained dozens of his group during clashes broke out in central Basra.

Production halted at two major Iraqi refineries

Production has halted at two major Iraqi refineries leading to unprecedented fuel and power shortages in the country. The refinery complex at Baiji has come to a grinding halt due to power shortages. A fire whose reason has yet to be determined has also halted production at Shuaiba refinery in Basra. The ministries of electricity and oil are trading accusations for the shortages which have caused large-scale disruption in the provision of municipal and public services. Northern Iraq is without electricity and fuel leading to steep hikes in transportation fees and shortages in pure water supplies. Power plants working on fuel produced in Baiji have come to a halt denying northern Iraq – the three Kurdish provinces as well as the provinces of Nineveh and Kirkuk – of nearly 500 megawatts of electricity. Baiji is the main source of fuel to northern Iraq. Fuel shortages have affected families severely amid freezing temperatures.

Journalists Union Denounces American Occupation Forces Arrest of Journalist

Journalists Union in Basra denounced raiding the house of Journalist Rasheed al-Sara'i by American occupation forces at dawn Thursday and arresting him. A statement issued on Thursday, Jan. 17, by the Journalists Union in Basra said, "Such actions against journalists carried out by American occupation forces are rejected, they are aimed to silence free voices and other opinion, that does not represent democracy and freedom of though and expression."

Ashuraa…rituals unifying Iraqis...

The rituals to revive the Day of Ashuraa, or the 10th of Muharram on the Muslim Hegira calendar, has to do with traditions passed on from one generation to another in Iraq, where certain meals linked to the occasion are served. The Ashuraa rituals, which started on Muharram 1st and varied to reach their zenith on Muharram 10th, have always been an occasion to spiritually bring Iraqi groups together away from any nationalist, sectarian or religious senses. "The first one to start the procession of al-Zahraa in Kut city was my grandfather and then revived by my father. Unfortunately, the ritual stopped after the former regime banned the Ashuraa festivities during the 1970s," Ali Hemeid al-Bederi, one of the sponsors of the al-Zahraa procession, the name of a group of Shiite Muslim marchers heading for the holy city of Karbala, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). He said the process has been one that brought together all groups of Iraqis in the city: Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Turcomans. "Also, the Sabian Mandaeans and Christians inhabiting the city have been keen on taking part in the procession and offered whatever they can to revive the Day of Ashuraa," Bederi said.

From Juan Cole’s Blog:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that women activists on Thursday organized a conference in Baghdad to protest the increasing problem of women being targeted for killing, especially by religious militias. They said that more than 100 women have been killed in Basra, 250 in Kirkuk province, and 50 in Diyala.


From Roads to Iraq blog:

First images and video reported from today’s clashes in Basra with Ansar Al Mahdi group, the video shows Iraqi soldiers kicking and beating a prisoner, at least one scene shows an Iraqi soldier kicking injured person from the group, after one soldier tried to kill him but other soldiers prevented him from doing that. Reported on Al arabiya that the leader of the group is among the dead, but Al Arabiya says that the group is “Slodiers of Heaven” which Iraqi government announce his death about a year ago (see this link “Leader of – Soldiers of Heaven- reported dead a year ago now is alive“). The video is available on Radio Sawa, scroll down below the text.

From Missing Links: A Baathist Explains What’s at Stake in the Cairo Process

Mukhtar says those inclined to want to attend Cairo argue either that it will be useful to understand the American position, or useful to explain to them our position. Mukhtar says that makes no sense. After close to five years of military occupation, what is it about the American position you need to have explained to you? And what is it about our position that you need to explain to them? Our position is withdrawal first, and the Americans have ignored that demand. Any negotiating should be in the service of the armed struggle, not vice versa. So the positive reasons for attending don't make sense. And if you attend, your presence will be used by Bush is part of the anti-withdrawal process explained above.

MP accuses Soldiers of Heaven of triggering violence in Basra

A lawmaker from the Fadhila party on Friday accused Soldiers of Heaven armed group of involvement in the violent acts that broke out in Basra. “Soldiers of Heaven group flared up the clashes in Basra on Friday and it had triggered the violent acts in Zarga, north Najaf, while commemorating Ashuraa last year”, MP and representative of Basra province Jabir Khalifa Jabir, told Aswat al-Iraq-Voices of Iraq (VOI). Soldiers of Heaven, or Jund al-Samaa in Arabic, is a Shiite armed group led by a man who claimed to be the al-Mahdi al-Muntazhar (Awaited Mahdi), the Messiah-like 12th holiest figure for Shiites, was accused of planning to kill all religious clerics in Najaf during the celebrations of Ashuraa, or 10th of Muharram in the hegira calendar, commemorating the slaughter of Imam al-Hussein Ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, in the battle of Taf in Karbala in the hegira year 61 (680 in the Gregorian calendar). The group's plans, which coincided with the celebrations of Ashuraa, envisaged having Najaf as a springboard to control other Iraqi cities. Iraqi authorities had said that the leader of the Soldiers of Heaven claimed that he was the Awaited Mahdi, believed by the Shiites to be the duodecimal imam. In late January 2007, Iraqi and U.S. forces launched a wide-scale security operation against the group members in their stronghold in al-Zarga area, 13 km northeast of Najaf, 110 km southwest of Baghdad , killing more than 300 militants, including the group leader, and capturing hundreds others.

Sunni Sheik Offers Guns and Gets Rewards

They know him as the sheik. But what that really means in this Sunni town is a bit of everything: community leader, public works supervisor, agricultural planner, militia captain. It also helps explain why Maher al-Moaeini and his 500 men threw their lot with the U.S.-led fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. The American military could deliver the goods - from steady paychecks for the militiamen to seeds for farmers. Mutual bargains such as these - U.S. aid and respect to Sunnis in exchange for their fighting power - drive the so-called Awakening Council movement that has marked one of the most significant shifts in the power balance in Iraq since the insurgency took root in 2004. But it also exposes possible longterm weaknesses of the pacts.

AMSI: Iraqi Government Cannot Take Decisions on Behalf of Iraqis

The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) made a press statement sharing its views on the recent statements by the American and current government about the existence and remaining of American occupation forces in Iraq. HEYET Net - The current Iraqi government declared that Iraq needs American occupation forces to stay in Iraq for ten more years. Current Iraqi Foreign Minister stated once that Iraq is heading for vital negotiations concerning long term agreements with the Americans. The American president following the statement said that keeping his forces in Iraq for another ten years is possible. Again, current Iraqi Defense Minister following both statements said that Iraq needs American forces to stay for another ten years and current Iraqi forces can not keep its borders until 2018 nor defend itself against any external aggression before 2020. The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) condemns such statements that coincided with each other in a way that made it look 'precooked', and declares the following; To keep foreign forces on any country's land could not be a decision of sovereignty because it affects the national security of the country.


Washington unleashes massive bombing on Baghdad suburb

The United States unleashed one of the largest bombing campaigns of the war on a populous Baghdad suburb on Jan. 10. The stated targets were "defensive belts" of resistance south of the capital. Before the bombing, Iraqi resistance forces were said to have controlled Arab Jabour, a principally Sunni district, lined with citrus groves. A U.S. military spokesman, Major Alayne Conway, said that the operation "was one of the largest air strikes since the onset of the war." The blasts were seen and felt throughout Iraq’s sprawling capital city. Two B1-B bombers and four F-16 fighter jets dropped nearly 50,000 pounds of precision-guided explosives on 47 argets. Casualty figures remain unknown. Local Sunni tribal leaders told Al Jazeera that many civilians were feared dead and that several hundred families had fled in terror. Witnesses said that at least 40 civilian homes and the main road in and out of the village had been completely destroyed. People were believed to be trapped under the rubble of the ruined buildings, while others were said to be unable to reach medical care because of damage to the road.

About 60 rebel targets destroyed in Turkish air strike in Iraq

"All targets were hit successfully," the general staff said in a statement about Tuesday's bombing raid on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) positions in northern Iraq. The targets in three regions along the Turkish border included two anti-aircraft posts, four ammunition depots as well as training and logistical bases. "Work is underway to determine the losses of the terrorists," it said. Tuesday's raid was the fourth strike on PKK targets in northern Iraq that the Turkish army has confirmed since December 16, in addition to a ground cross-border operation to stop a group of rebels trying to infiltrate Turkey. At least 150 PKK militants have been killed in the air raids so far and more than 200 rebel positions destroyed, according to the army. Iraqi Kurds, who run northern Iraq, reported two other air strikes in December that Ankara did not confirm.

US-Iraqi Troops Sweep al-Qaeda Village Haven

The first sign of the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) looms out of the frozen darkness on the edge of this remote village. A white car is found hidden under a canopy of trees. It's not rigged to explode, but it was used by the insurgents. Inside, they've left behind a list of expenses on a yellow notepad. For the month of November, the ledger notes that AQI paid snipers 273,000 Iraqi dinars ($230). Roadside bombers got twice that amount. The largest single expense: $3,000 paid to "martyrs" and their families. The document is topped with an obscure name for the militant cell, and signed simply: "The Management." Inserted overnight by helicopter earlier this week, US Army soldiers (from Troop A, 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment) and an Iraqi Army platoon, crept into this village along the Diyala River, 20 miles northeast of Baghdad, hunting for insurgents – and for local villagers willing to take them on. This patrol is part of a broader US-Iraqi military effort in the Diyala Province, the heart of the insurgency in recent months. The detailed expenses – and the fear on the Iraqi residents' faces in this Al Qaeda stronghold – speak to the insurgents' continued influence here. Yet the hit-and-miss nature of gleaning information and detaining suspects, who often claim ignorance to avert suspicion, makes the mission difficult.

British Base in Basra Struck

The British base near Basra International Airport came under attack Friday at dawn with mortar rounds and Katyusha rockets, said a police source, adding that no casualties among British soldiers were inflicted.


LEBANON: For Iraqis, Treatment for Trauma is Luxury

The young woman was walking with her husband along a Baghdad street when she was abducted, held captive and raped repeatedly by five militia men for several days. "Before, she was very proud of her body but now she is overweight -- she eats to protect herself and not to attract people," says therapist Sana Hamzeh about her 27-year-old Iraqi patient, who recently escaped to Lebanon as a refugee. "When she first came here she hated her body and was very isolated. She could not touch her husband. She sat rigidly, clenched; she could not relax or talk about her feelings." Hamzeh works at the recently opened Restart centre in Beirut, a charity funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) that provides free therapy and psychological therapy rehabilitation for up to 70 mostly Iraqi refugees who are victims of torture. The centre also gathers documentation to help argue their case for asylum. The centre is a brief respite for a few Iraqis fleeing torture, death sentences and the grinding violence of daily life back home. But they arrive in Lebanon only to find themselves dangerously illegal, and subject to discrimination and exploitation. Few can find counselling and support. "We have many challenges," project director Suzanne Jabbour tells IPS. "First, people are afraid to get psychological help because it's not normal in Lebanese, or Iraqi culture. Second, we need to learn about Iraqi culture, history and traditions to deal with people. The third challenge is that Iraqis are treated inhumanely here. Most have low self-esteem, and because they don't know how things work, they can't adapt quickly."

Iraqi returns to her Baghdad home - and meets the new owners

The decrease in violence in Iraq over the past few months has seen a number of Iraqis return home. But many of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the violence are unable or unwilling to go back. In the first of two first person accounts from Iraqi women now living in Damascus, Umm Ali, describes what she found when she visited the home in Baghdad she had fled a year earlier.

Iraqi woman describes the struggle for survival in Syria

We left Baghdad because we were threatened by the Mehdi army. We had to go immediately, leaving everything: clothes, furniture, all the things you accumulate when you live more than 20 years in the same house. Things had been getting worse for a while. One event especially, sticks in my mind. Neighbours of ours had been forcibly removed from their home three houses down from us. One morning a few days after they had disappeared, one of my daughters walked down the road and saw the heads of our neighbours lined up on the wall of the house. She was hysterical and couldn't leave the house for weeks. If someone went out we never knew if they would return. So, we left for general security reasons as well as the specific threat. It was a sad departure. Leaving our country and heading for the unknown, without any planning or financial resources. It's hard to describe how it felt. Here in Syria we live in a third-floor flat. It's very cold - but the price of fuel is high. We lack many basic things: blankets, fuel for cooking and heating.

Letter to UN Security Council: Improve Response to Iraqi Refugee Crisis

Dear Ambassadors, Refugees International remains deeply concerned about the ongoing humanitarian crisis inside Iraq and in the region. With over two million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and 2.4 million displaced within their own country, Iraq is one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises and threatens to undermine regional stability. Despite its scale, the international response, including that of the United Nations, has been woefully inadequate. As the Security Council meets to discuss UNAMI and its activities inside Iraq, Refugees International would like to underscore the importance of an independent and robust UN response to the humanitarian crisis. In addition, we hope that the Security Council will articulate its expectation that the Government of Iraq will begin to take more responsibility for meeting the needs of the full range of Iraqis in desperate circumstances, including internally displaced people, host communities and refugees in neighboring countries.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

ANOTHER Way to help: The Collateral Repair Project


The Arab Moderates Locked between Two Options: the US and Iran

The US president’s recent comments about Iran and Lebanon didn’t have much of an impact on most Arab leaders and segments of public opinion. This is due to the declining confidence in the US as a whole, and not just in George W. Bush. In fact, finding it difficult to believe US vows and Bush’s promises is nothing new. Rather, this is the customary reputation the US has built throughout various administrations and under various presidents.

Iraq Diary: A divided generation

Iraqis have always said there are no differences between them. They say it is politics that divides them, specifically the new constitution that effectively divided governance proportionally among the different religious and/or sectarian groups here. Another person who was listening in said that he was worried about the younger generation. He blamed schools for teaching children that there is a difference between Shias and Sunnis. He also said that his 12-year-old son has not spoken to a Sunni in five years and has grown to fear them. The father said he was so angry, he wanted to sell his home and move to another district where there is no religious influence. I heard this same complaint from Omar, a Sunni man. He is a member of the so-called Awakening Councils, groups of volunteers who fight al-Qaeda in their areas. It is the young who worry him the most. "They are young, they have energy and they think they are immortal," he said. Omar is 34 but considers himself an elder. He explains that many young Iraqis have not been going to school for several years now and many have not even stepped out of their districts. Staring at the floor, he said: "They do not even know the other side anymore. Before we were isolated from the rest of the world, now we are isolated in our own country".

Quote of the day: So long as American politicians, regardless of political affiliation, seek to solve the problem of Iraq from a domestic political perspective, then the problem that is Iraq will never be resolved, either “quickly” or “responsibly.” Iraq is an unpopular war. There are, therefore, no “popular” solutions, only realistic ones. ~ Scott Ritter