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

Monday, January 21, 2008

News & Views 01/21/08

Photo: Black smoke rises from bombs dropped by US warplanes on suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts in Arab Jabour. US and Iraqi ground forces edged cautiously towards an Al-Qaeda stronghold just south of Baghdad on Monday after the area was heavily bombed overnight, an AFP photographer said. (AFP/Jewel Samad)

Note: I did a blog post on how the US military filmed celebrating in Arab Jabor, then less than two weeks later, did a film on bombing them. All in all, there are three videos from the US military on this area from the last three months. Link is here. – dancewater

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

The U.S. military said the final death toll in multiple truck bombings targeting Iraq's minority Yazidi sect in northern Iraq last August was 796.

Iraq toll mounts as forces fight cult

Some 276 people were killed, wounded or captured by government forces fighting a millenarian Shia cult in southern Iraq over the past three days, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence said in Baghdad yesterday.

Security worsens in three southern provinces

Fierce clashes have been raging in the cities of Basra, Nasiriya and Diwaniya for the third consecutive day with the government giving conflicting versions for the causes leading to the upsurge in insecurity.

you still have the chance

Sometimes, I feel it is so hard to write a blog because we almost talked about every single detail in our life but I found out that there is always something new in Iraq. The incident of the last two days revealed a very important truth. For those who didn't follow the news from Iraq, I just want to give a quick hint about the incidents during the last two days.

Simply an insurgents group attacked some police check points in two southern provinces. Those gunmen followed the instructions of a man who claimed that he is a deputy of a famous and main Islamic character especially for the Shiite Muslims, it's the character of Imam Mahdi which the Shiite believes that he will appear to save humanity. Many of the insurgents were killed and of course some of the policemen were killed also but this is not the point I want to talk about. My main point is a question which is (Who were killed? Weren't they Iraqi people?) This question leads to others questions. One of the most is (why did those men followed this guy?) Excuse me if I ask the question and answer it but I think most of the readers would agree with me. I believe that those people joined this guy because they are unemployed, they need money to live and since they have no jobs and since the authorities (mainly the Iraqi government and the USA) failed in winning the simple people to their sides.

Before the elections of 2005, we heard and read thousands of promises about huge and great projects especially in the south of Iraq but after the election, all these promises evaporated. No one paid any attention to the safe cities and this thing gave the chance to the insurgents group to gain more people especially the poor simple people. One or two hundreds dollars a month is fortune for those simple people and here we are, we have now more violence and more blood shedding. Our government didn't say anything but describing those people as misguided people but it didn't say who's false is it? Who is the one who led these guys to this tragic end? Is it only the man who deceived them or someone else?

Friendly Forces

We got an early start so we had half an hour to kill, or so I thought. As we neared the ministry we came to a halt, the cars ahead of us were not moving. The road was blocked. A series of Private Security Details passed in front of us, guns pointed from their vehicles directly at our window. Finally they were gone and we crept forward before seeing a U.S. military convoy in front of us. Immediately we pulled off the road, a learned behavior to get out of the way or risk getting shot. As they passed I turned to look at the back of the humvees. Gone were the signs "Warning stay back/Deadly Force Authorized." Instead it was a simple phrase "Please be safe," in English and Arabic. While tens of thousands of bombs are being dropped south of Baghdad where Al Qaida, a Sunni extremist group, is still rampant, in Baghdad the U.S. military seems to be trying on a new persona.

IRAQ: Police and Army Getting Sidelined

New military operations in Diyala province north of Baghdad have exacerbated a growing conflict between U.S.-backed Sunni fighters on the one hand and Iraqi army and police forces on the other. The U.S. military commenced a large military operation Jan. 8 in the volatile Diyala province. Seven U.S. battalions led an offensive to push out fighters affiliated with 'Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia' from the area. In the current operation, U.S., Iraqi, and local fighters have faced no serious resistance. U.S. military commanders admitted shortly after operations began that anti-occupation fighters were likely tipped off, and fled the area. But the operation has thrown up conflicts within the ranks.

Probe: Iraqi Teen Bomber Sent by Family

His father was a senior member of al-Qaida in Iraq. His mother promised him they would meet again in paradise. Details emerging in the investigation into a teenage suicide bombing near Fallujah on Sunday suggest the boy was dispatched by his family on the mission and took advantage of tribal ties to pass through tight security - raising concerns about infiltration within Sunni groups now allied with U.S. forces against extremists. It also points to concerns that al-Qaida and its backers are still committed to campaigns of revenge and intimidation against fellow Sunnis even as insurgents try to regroup after being driven from strongholds across central Iraq. The 15-year-old attacker was carrying a box of candy at a gathering of tribal members to celebrate the recent release of a relative, Hadi Hussein, who had been let go after more than a week in U.S. custody, officials said. Hussein, his brother and four guards were killed in the blast.

Iraqi newspapers praise security successes in southern Iraq

Two Iraqi newspapers on Monday praised Iraqi security forces' success in containing the tense situation in the south, while another focused on Article 140 pertaining to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk. Under a headline that read 'Basra, Nasiriya incidents,' the government-funded al-Sabah newspaper published an article by its Editor-in-Chief Falah al-Mashaal in which he hailed Iraqi security forces' ability to contain the armed clashes that broke out in Basra province as a big success after taking over security responsibilities in the south. Describing the situation as "reassuring," the author said, "It is a clear indication of the increasing abilities of our security forces, especially after they have managed to suppress these groups in record time." Citing figures released by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, the author said that 272 gunmen were killed, wounded or arrested by security forces during clashes that took place over the past two days in the provinces of Basra and Thi-Qar.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

The Southern Mahdists Speak for Themselves

In an interesting statement, the Adherents of the Mahdi, the group targeted in recent security operations in the southern Iraqi cities of Nasiriyya and Basra, have explained the conflict from their own point of view. Just as they did during the Muharram confrontation in Najaf in early 2007, the Adherents of the Mahdi disclaim any connection with the Soldiers of Heaven and violent plots against the ulama. They describe their own group as a “reformist” movement of the kind that can be found in many world religions (the parallel to Jehovah’s Witnesses is highlighted), and, interestingly, in this statement do not focus so much on their apocalyptic ideas but rather stress an anti-ulama theme that shares certain features with neo-Akhbarism in its focus on the Koran and the life of the Prophet. They encourage the Iraqi people to go back to the original sources of Islam, rather than asking the ulama for help. In their view, it is not a religious duty to perform taqlid (emulation) of a high-ranking cleric (as per the orthodox Usuli Shiite view), nor is religious tax (khums) payable to anyone but the Twelfth Imam. The Adherents of the Mahdi then go on to decry the recent violent operations against the group, specifically mentioning their premises in the three southern governorates, Basra, Dhi Qar and Maysan, as well as their office in Najaf. Interestingly, they also acknowledge Hasan bin Muhammad Ali al-Hammami, the son of a Najaf cleric, as one of their leaders (presumably alongside Ahmad al-Hasan al-Yamani). The group twice accuses Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) of being behind the arrests, and claims that inquiries to the local authorities have yielded no results because everything was part of a special operation conducted directly from Baghdad.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

POLITICS-US: Contractor Abuses Rarely Punished, Groups Say

Out of the dozens upon dozens of reports of abuses by private contractors as part of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only one prosecution of a contractor has taken place.
This, says a new report from Human Rights First, epitomises the woefully insufficient response by the U.S. government to hold private contactors accountable for abuses against local nationals. "Holding contractors responsible for criminal abuses has not been a high priority of the U.S. government," said the report, "Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity", which is based on interviews, court records, government reports, declassified documents and other documentary sources. "At times the government has appeared to view this issue with shocking indifference." "There was little in the way of standards for hiring and training security contractors. There was no oversight of their activities. And most glaring of all, there was absolutely no legal accountability for misconduct," said Congressman David Price of North Carolina at a press conference to launch the report last week. The report said that while the legal framework to deal with abuses by private security contractors is already in place, the U.S. Justice Department and in some cases the Defence Department have done little to respond to such charges, often forgoing investigations, let alone prosecutions.

US opens personnel files on al-Qaeda recruits

The photograph shows a young man sporting a red-and-white chequered head-dress, a wispy beard and a zealot's eyes. Majed Hamoud Mubarak al-Harithy, a 23-year-old student from the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, was smuggled into Iraq from Syria sometime before August 2007. He was carrying a passport, 252 Saudi riyals (£35) and US$101, and was eager to become a “martyr”. Al-Harithy has almost certainly achieved his goal by now. Al-Qaeda, the group he reported to, carried out more than 4,500 attacks against Iraqi civilians last year, killing 3,870 people and wounding nearly 18,000, according to figures just released by the US military in Baghdad. It also claimed that 90 per cent of al-Qaeda's suicide-bombers were foreigners like al-Harithy. Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a spokesman, said that the US military had gained a much better understanding of the terrorists it was fighting thanks to a treasure trove of biographical records that US troops discovered during a pre-dawn raid on some tents pitched near the town of Sinjar, on the Syrian border, last October. Those records gave details of more than 600 foreign fighters who were smuggled into Iraq to join al-Qaeda in the 12 months leading up to August 2007. They included photographs of many of the men — gnarled and fresh-faced, scowling and smiling, bearded and clean-shaven — as well as ages, nationalities, home towns, relatives' telephone numbers, aliases and other details. [No mention in this article that there were any fighters coming from Iran. Also no mention of the fact that these al Qaeda recruits only come to Iraq because the US military is there. – dancewater]

COMMENTARY

Surge to Nowhere

As the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom nears, the fabulists are again trying to weave their own version of the war. The latest myth is that the "surge" is working. In President Bush's pithy formulation, the United States is now "kicking ass" in Iraq. The gallant Gen. David Petraeus, having been given the right tools, has performed miracles, redeeming a situation that once appeared hopeless. Sen. John McCain has gone so far as to declare that "we are winning in Iraq." While few others express themselves quite so categorically, McCain's remark captures the essence of the emerging story line: Events have (yet again) reached a turning point. There, at the far end of the tunnel, light flickers. Despite the hand-wringing of the defeatists and naysayers, victory beckons.

The great Moqtada makeover

In the West Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriya, 25-year-old Saif Awad was known as “the Assassin.” He didn’t look like a killer. Handsome and well groomed, Awad made a show of attending prayers and Shiite religious celebrations. But, locals say, he also ran a brutal kidnapping ring linked to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and shook down newcomers to Hurriya—even other Shiites—for protection money. In recent months he’d taken to wearing flashier clothes and flaunting his two new cars. He was driving one of them to the shop last November when three men on motorcycles roared up and riddled the Toyota with bullets, killing Awad. An eyewitness, who asked to remain anonymous for his own safety, says the killers were fellow members of the Mahdi Army. “Death is the punishment for those who disobey the Mahdi Army,” says Bassim Abdul Zahra, a Hurriya resident close to the militia. “By killing these dissenters, the leadership sends a warning.”

Iraq: A Failure to Think

Five years after he launched it, George Bush's invasion of Iraq looks even more disastrous than it did at the end of the first year. Not only did it uncover no weapons of mass destruction. The invasion has led to a collapse in millions of ordinary Iraqis' personal security, producing a human rights nightmare and annual rates of killing that dwarf the atrocities of Saddam Hussein's three decades of power. The damage to the United States has been enormous. As well as the loss of around 4,000 soldiers' lives, America's image and reputation in the Middle East have been severely harmed. For Bush and the neocons, the invasion has brought political defeat. Their project for Iraq to become a secular, liberal, pro-western bastion of democracy lies in ruins. The country is run by a narrow-minded group of Shia Islamists with close control over a sectarian army and police force. Many of them are linked to Iran. As a result, Bush is now forced to run around the Arabian states along the Persian Gulf in an effort to build an anti-Iranian alliance and find a pretext for keeping a strategic presence in the region.

Right-Wingers Can't Cover Up Iraq's Death Toll Catastrophe

More than two years ago, I commissioned a household survey of Iraq to learn how many people had died in the war. This topic had been virtually ignored by the news media and the U.S. government. It was important to know for at least three reasons. The first was to try to understand the nature of the violence there, which was steadily growing and creating a humanitarian crisis, possibly a regional conflagration. Second, it might tell us something about how and when to exit. Third, we needed to know for the sake of our national soul. What had we wrought? So I contacted the people who had done a previous, largely ignored survey-top public health professionals at Johns Hopkins University. They had published a survey in October 2004 that showed 98,000 had died in the first 18 months of the war, which was greeted with disbelief and charges of politicizing science, and quickly dismissed. I said: 'do a bigger survey to improve the accuracy, and I will make sure it gets the proper attention in the news media.' They did do a bigger survey, and I managed a public education campaign that permitted the results to be considered more broadly, results that estimated total deaths at 600,000 by violence after 40 months of war. The survey was published in The Lancet, the British medical journal. And get attention it did, roundly disbelieved and scorned by war supporters, but spurring a brief but intense debate about the human cost of the war.

RESISTANCE

Sign on Statements in Opposition to Iraq Oil Law

Please sign this on-line petition written by Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, which includes the signatures of several prominent Iraqi and American activists. www.petitiononline.com/iraqoil/petition.html
Please also sign the statement below signed by six Nobel Peace Prize recipients on June 19, 2007. To sign, please send your name, country of residence, and organizational affiliation (if any) to Kelek Stevenson at kkelekk@gmail.com.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE RECIPIENTS AND CONCERNED PEOPLE OF THE WORLD SIGN ON STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION TO THE IRAQ OIL LAW

In support of the people of Iraq, we the undersigned Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, state our opposition to the Iraq Oil Law. We also oppose the decision of the United States government to require that the Iraq government pass the Oil Law as a condition of continued reconstruction aid in legislation passed on May 24, 2007. A law with the potential to so radically transform the basic economic security of the people of Iraq should not be forced on Iraq while it is under occupation and in such a weak negotiating position vis-à-vis both the U.S. government and foreign oil corporations. The Iraq Oil Law could benefit foreign oil companies at the expense of the Iraqi people, deny the Iraqi people economic security, create greater instability, and move the country further away from peace. The U.S. government should leave the matter of how Iraq will address the future of its oil system to the Iraqi people to be dealt with at a time when they are free from occupation and more able to engage in truly democratic decision-making. It is immoral and illegal to use war and invasion as mechanisms for robbing a people of their vital natural resources.

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: "Iraq floats over two seas; one is oil and the other is antiquities," said Abdul Zahra Talaqani, media director for Iraq's Ministry of State for Tourism and Archaeology. "The American forces, when they entered, they protected all the oil wells and the Ministry of Oil . . . but the American forces paid no attention to Iraq's heritage."

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