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 19, 2008

News & Views 01/19/08

Photo: People carry the coffins of two Iraqi army officers killed in clashes in Basra, during a funeral procession in Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008. Authorities raised the death toll from clashes in two predominantly Shiite cities of Basra and Nasiriyah to at least 72, including security forces, civilians and gunmen, with dozens more wounded and 100 suspected gunmen arrested, but said the situation had been brought under control. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)


Casualties from Basra clashes reach 314

Some 97 civilians, security forces and gunmen were killed and 217 others wounded in clashes that erupted in central Basra between gunmen the extremist Shiite organization Soldiers of Heaven and security forces in the province, a high-level security official in the Basra intelligence department said on Saturday. "The clashes, which broke out on Friday, left 17 civilians and security forces killed and 117 others wounded while 80 members of the self-styled Soldiers of Heaven were killed and more than 100 others arrested in several areas in Basra," the source, who preferred not to be named, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). "This count of casualties was all that was obtained by the department until Saturday noon," the source said, adding "three vehicles, including to Hummers, belonging to the Iraqi army were destroyed in clashes." Friday witnessed the outbreak of confrontations between Iraqi forces and Soldiers of Heaven gunmen, the most violent in the city since the Iraqi forces received security responsibilities in Basra four months ago. The clashes coincided with Shiite Muslims' celebrations of the Ashuraa, or the 10th of Muharram on the Hegira calendar.

This is how kidnapping look like

The following is the translation of the Arabic words that you will see and hear in this advertisement… CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO

Answer me…
Are you Sunni or Shiite?
Are you Sunni or Shiite?
Are you Sunni or Shiite?
Are you Sunni or Shiite?
The wife says: Tareq.. Tareq
Sunni or Shiite?
A verse from Holly Quran (Sedition is worse than killing)
Terrorism Has no Religion

At the end you can see the web site that made this ad and where you can download the advertisements that are broadcasted on most of the Iraqi and other Arab channels. The one you saw was the best of all in many levels.

I saw two children playing:
"Are you Sunni or Shiite?"
The child answered "Iraqi".
This video is how kidnapping look like in Iraq.

Iraq’s Scholars Reluctant to Return

The continuing shortage of academics is damaging higher education throughout the country. Zahra, a doctoral candidate studying immune-system diseases, shook her head in disappointment when she saw the list of professors who were supposed to review her thesis. Three had fled the country. While one promised to attend her defence of her thesis, another was unable to make it because of the security situation. Zahra, 40, who received her PhD two months ago, did most of the work on her own. She doesn’t blame her professors – one left Iraq after receiving a bloodstained bullet in an envelope together with a note which read, “You’re wanted because you are a scientist.”

Baghdad Liquor Stores Reopen

Shopkeepers selling alcohol say they remain nervous about potential attacks by militants. Mazin George is busily bagging up bottles of whisky and beer for his customers at his shop in central Baghdad. Just a few months ago, George and other shop owners in the capital refused to sell alcohol for fear of attacks by Islamic militants. Now, the owners of shops selling alcohol – most of whom are Christians – said they are trading openly as confidence in the capital’s security builds. "I sensed that the security situation was better," said George, in his shop in the Karradah neighbourhood. "The amount of checkpoints in our area makes it difficult for armed groups to target us." Alcohol was widely available for most of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s rule, particularly in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra.

ANALYSIS: Discontent Surges in Iraq

In the depths of a strangely cold winter in the Middle East, Iraqis complain that the lights are not on, the kerosene heaters are without fuel and the water doesn't flow - and they blame the government. And with the war nearing its fifth anniversary, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is feeling the discontent as well from the most powerful political centers in the majority Shiite community. It's a pincer movement of domestic anger that yet again could threaten al-Maliki's hold on his Green Zone office. "Where's the kerosene and the water?" asked Amjad Kazim, a 56-year-old Shiite who lives in eastern Baghdad. "We hear a lot of promises but we see nothing." Little kerosene is available on the state-run market at the subsidized price of $0.52 a gallon. But the fuel can be found on the black market, where it goes for more than $3.79 a gallon.

Violence increases and tensions rise among Iraqi Shiites

A police raid Saturday on an extremist Shiite Muslim mosque thought to be the headquarters of an extremist cult capped a weekend of violence in southern Iraq, while elsewhere tensions between Iraq's Shiite-led government and renegade Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr continued to escalate. Iraq's national security advisor said he was briefly taken hostage Saturday in a Baghdad mosque and implied that his captors were Sadr supporters. Mowaffak al Rubaie was released only after Iraq's interior minister, who oversees the police, intervened. In an e-mail to McClatchy, Rubaie said that Sadr's followers "used the same tactics that they used before on Abdul Majid al Khoei." Sadrists were accused of fatally stabbing Khoei, a moderate young Shiite cleric who was considered a rival to Sadr, in 2003. A warrant for Sadr was issued in 2004, but it's never been executed, and he's denied any involvement.

VIDEO: Goldsmiths Still at Work in Baghdad - 01.14.2008

Khadimiya is one of the oldest cities in the world to be involved with the gold trade. The craft of goldsmithing started to become famous in Iraq in the 1930s when Iraqi goldsmiths began to use the electric cell for painting the gold after finishing the preparation. Other Arab countries started to import gold from Iraq for several reasons, such as the purity of the gold and the nice shapes they could mold it to. Since then Iraqis began to name their gold in different according to the shape and the weight-for example the pound, and it indicated that it has a weight of a pound and the tear because it was in the shape of a tear, and so on. The primary markets in Baghdad for gold are Share’a Al-Nahr and Al-Khadimyia and those two markets consider by some to be the oldest in the world because since the Abbasid Dynasty these markets existed for the sale of gold and jewelry. Shara’a Al-Nahr witnessed some of the worst gang wars in all of Iraq and the gold robberies there were the worst in all of Iraq history. It even it contested with the worst and largest burglaries and lootings until 2004 when the Iraqi Government implemented strict rules to protect the goldsmiths and their gold.

More Than 100 Women Join Iraq Freedom Congress in Alexandria

Iraq Freedom Congress has held a public gathering in Alexandria city (60 Km south west of Baghdad) to administrate and ensure the distribution of humanitarian aid to the displaced families, widows and orphans who were forced to flee their homes because of the sectarian violence. The ceremony was opened by Mr. Naim Mosa (member of IFC Central Council), who gave a speech, in which he explained the role of IFC, its continuing presence among the people and its rejection of the sectarian identity. He also emphasized on the importance of IFC's slogan that is spread all over the country "No Shiite… No Sunni... Ours is the humane identity and the occupation the enemy of humanity". Then Mrs. Zainab Ali Abdullah (in charge of IFC Women's Affairs in Alexandria) delivered a speech in which she valued the efforts of IFC in this difficult time. She also mentioned that IFC has opened it's headquarter in the city to provide support and assistance to those who find no where to resort to but IFC. The event was attended by large number of women and more than 100 of them have joined IFC at the spot.

Iraqi Shiite festival escapes bloodshed

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims clambered aboard buses or began trekking homeward on foot Saturday at the end of Ashoura, a 10-day ritual to cleanse the spirit and scourge the body in honor of their founding saint. The high holy days in Karbala passed absent the slaughter of pilgrims witnessed in the years since the U.S.-led invasion nearly half a decade ago, but militants did assault gatherings of Ashoura worshippers elsewhere. Fearing a spectacular attack on the masses of self-flagellating faithful who marched on the shrines in Karbala, Iraqi authorities flooded the city with 30,000 police and soldiers. Soviet-made tanks guarded approach roads. A relatively uneventful passage of Ashoura had been seen by U.S. and Iraqi officials as a rigorous test of the decline in violence in the country since Washington sent in 30,000 additional troops last year and many Sunni insurgents suddenly joined American forces in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.

'Awakening' pacts prove complicated

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. [Or, in other words, they are paying them off. Of course, there will never, ever be any problems with that plan……. – dancewater]

Video: U.S. airstrikes intensify in Iraq

[The US taxpayers are paying a lot of money to kill off Iraqis who are planting IEDs with high tech weapons. Of course, if the US troops left Iraq, then the Iraqis would no longer be planting IEDs in their roads to get occupation troops out of their country. This is both evil and very stupid. – dancewater]


Seven Questions: The De-Bremerification of Iraq

Foreign Policy: Iraq’s Parliament just passed the Accountability and Justice Act, the official aim of which is to let former officials from the Baath Party back into the government. Do you think it’s a serious step toward political reconciliation?

Amb. Feisal al-Istrabadi: What happened was that Iraqis realized that the de-Baathification order that was promulgated by Amb. Paul Bremer during his term as the civil administrator of Iraq was overly broad as drafted, and much more overly broad as applied. It captured a large number of people who were innocent of any wrongdoing by any objective measure and were deprived of the ability to earn a living and support their families. The current law attempts to, at least on its face, reverse this trend. In theory, yes, it should be a positive step toward reconciliation. But of course how the law is applied becomes extremely important.

FP: The U.S. Government Accountability Office has found that the Iraqi government hasn’t spent much money on reconstruction projects, in part because it doesn’t have the technical capacity to do so. Is the hope that the new de-Baathification law will remedy this skills deficit?

FI: We have this deficit because Paul Bremer threw out administrators at multiple levels from hospitals, schools... forget about the ministries. The consequence of that has been that we lost a lot of technocrats. A lot of people who know how to make the trains run on time have been forced to live at home without any pensions over the last five years. You have to remember, the public sector in Iraq is much wider than it is in the United States, particularly after the sanctions. Everybody’s in the public sector. If you’re a teacher, you’re in the public sector; if you’re a professor, you’re in the public sector; if you’re a bank employee, you’re in the public sector. When Bremer says, “All we said is that they couldn’t work in the public sector”—there is no private sector! There are no private banks in Iraq; there are no private universities in Iraq; there are no private elementary schools in Iraq; there are no private hospitals in Iraq. They’re all public.

26 suspected 'Soldiers of Heaven' members captured in northern Babel

"On Saturday morning, a police force raided a house in al-Maseeb town, 40 km northwest of Hilla, following intelligence about the presence of some of the group's members inside," the source, who requested anonymity, told Aswat al-Iraq, Voices of Iraq, (VOI). "The force arrested 26 individuals, who are suspected to have ties to Jund al-Samaa (Soldiers of Heaven) group, and seized RPG shells and small arms, in addition to fliers and CDs," the source explained. 'Soldiers of Heaven' is a Shiite armed group whose leader is allegedly the Awaited Mahdi, the 12th Messiah-like holiest figure in the Shiite Muslim doctrine. The group was accused of planning to control Najaf city and kill its clerics during last year's celebrations of Ashuraa, commemorating the death of Imam al-Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson and the third holiest figure for Shiite Muslims. In late January 2007, security forces launched an attack on the group, killing more than 250 of its gunmen and arresting hundreds others, according to official sources.

Shiite leader may reconsider Mahdi Army freeze- spokesman

Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr may reconsider his decision on freezing the activities of his Mahdi Army militia if he does not receive cooperation from the government, the leader's official spokesman said on Saturday.


Romania Prepares to Pull Out Troops From Iraq

Economic Program Builds on Concerned Citizens

The concerned local citizens groups in Iraq have made a huge impact in areas that were once al-Qaida fiefdoms, and the program is expanding to include the economic aspects of the counterinsurgency fight, Army Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. said today during a phone interview from Iraq. Grigsby commands the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. He is responsible for an area east of Baghdad that is the size of Rhode Island. Grigsby's area of operations contains a mix of Shiia and Sunni neighborhoods, and the concerned local citizens program has brought security. With 1.2 million people, the murder rate is now about equal with that of Detroit, the colonel said. Coalition and Iraqi officials want to provide a means to continue progress made by the area's concerned citizens groups by establishing the Iraqi civilian conservation force, Grigsby said.

The concerned local citizens man checkpoints and have developed a good working relationship with the Iraqi national police, Iraqi army and coalition forces in the area, Grigsby said. There are roughly 4,600 members of the concerned local citizens groups in the area, all organized by local sheikhs. Coalition officials think about 25 percent of the concerned local citizens will transfer to the local police departments or the national police. "We have to create gainful employment for the rest," Grigsby said. "In this culture, providing for one's family is a grave matter of honor. We've known all along that the CLCs were a temporary expedient." [Shows they got more sense than Bremer, Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney and Bush put together. Too bad the top US military guys did not listen to the US State Department right from the start, because that was what they were saying – Iraqis need jobs. – dancewater]


From Missing Links Blog: The political dimension of the Ashura fighting

Troubles during Ashura between government security forces and various dissident Shiite movements, many of them with a messianic/political message, were not at all unexpected this year. According to a roundup by Al-Hayat a week ago (Saturday January 12)*, there are dozens of Shiite movements that have "appeared" since the invasion of 2003 (leaving open the question whether this means newly-created or just coming into the open), the most talked-about so far being the so-called Army of Heaven led by Ahmed bin Hasan (called "al-Yemeni" in keeping with traditional teachings to the effect a precursor of the coming of the 12th Imam will have that name), which was by some accounts the principal target of last year's slaughter by the government and US forces of some 200 individuals including women and children on the outskirts of Najaf.

Quote of the day: “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” – Nelson Mandella, 1953