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 23, 2008

News & Views 01/23/08

Photo: A masked Iraqi soldier stands guard on a road after a gunmen attack in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad, January 22, 2008. Three policemen were wounded when gunmen attacked a checkpoint in Basra on Tuesday, police said. REUTERS/Atef Hassan (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Wednesday: 54 Iraqis Killed, 170 Wounded

Explosion kills 17 in northern Iraq

A thunderous blast tore through a vacant apartment building in northern Iraq on Wednesday, killing at least 17 civilians and wounding more than 130 in adjacent houses just minutes after the Iraqi army arrived to investigate tips about a weapons cache. Rescue crews searched under toppled walls, collapsed ceilings and piles of debris tossed by the explosion that blew apart the empty building, which Iraqi authorities said was used by insurgents to stash weapons and bombs.

Bombs strike at schools in Iraq

A suicide bomber pushing an electric heater atop a cart packed with hidden explosives attacked a high school north of Baghdad on Tuesday, leaving students and teachers bloodied and bewildered as insurgents appeared to be expanding their list of targets. The bombing -- one of two attacks near Iraqi schools on the same day -- follows recent blasts blamed on Al Qaeda in Iraq at funerals and social gatherings. ….Panicked parents rushed to find out whether their children were alive or dead. A 25-year-old bystander was killed, and 12 students, eight teachers and a police officer were wounded, according to a doctor at Baqubah General Hospital.

How fear turns to resolve in one Iraqi village

Masked militants of Al Qaeda in Iraq have been defeated – for the moment – in their battle to control this frontline farming village. For two years, this remote outpost 20 miles northeast of Baghdad, endured an Al Qaeda presence that imposed its will with killings and intimidation, forcing one sheikh out of town a few months ago. Last week, that same sheikh returned with a US Army Cavalry unit backed by an Iraqi Army battalion. He had persuaded the Americans that his people were "desperate" to create a US-funded militia to take on Al Qaeda in Iraq. But Sheikh Thamir Hassan Ali miscalculated, underestimating Al Qaeda's fearful grip. The imam at the Dulim mosque refused to cooperate, adamant that setting up a Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) group would be a "declaration of war" against Al Qaeda. Only days before, militants had come, warning villagers that "collaborators" would die. The story of how this village weighed the risks and eventually chose to side with the Americans – after days of rancorous debate and prodding by US officers, the safety of their families and survival of the village in the balance – shows in microcosm how Al Qaeda is losing ground across Iraq. But it also illustrates the challenges faced by US and Iraqi forces as they sweep across parts of Iraq long under militant sway, making promises of support and armed backup that villagers have heard many times in the past, with little positive result. [Good luck if they believe them this time. – dancewater]

[About payments to “concerned citizens”]…. "Granted, it's working short term, but it's a short-term fix to a long-term problem," says a US intelligence officer who asked not to be named. "Once we pull out of here, it's just aiding ethnic violence. It looks good on paper ... violence is down 10-fold. But ...they are still attacking us."

Can Cash Create Goodwill in Iraq?

At the edge of a dirt crater 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep, Lieutenant Shawn Spainhour and Sheikh Dawood Rashid al-Shuhaib stare down in silence at the wreckage. In August 2007, the U.S. military bombed the sheikh's house, obliterating it with a 500-lb. JDAM "bunker buster." The rest of the village was flattened by artillery. Spainhour, in full battle gear - flak jacket, helmet, knife, guns, boots, camouflage and radio - turns to the grief-stricken, 60-year-old sheikh, who is wearing resplendent traditional Arab dress, and asks his translator to tell him that "I sincerely apologize for everything that has happened here." Spainhour pauses as they survey the damage. "It's the cost of war." Literally. Coming along with the apology will be U.S. dollars. That's why the sheikh and Spainhour stroll through this former war zone together: to survey the extent of the damage. Spainhour and his commanding officer are trying to help the sheikh rebuild his village as part of the larger strategy to bring peace and reconciliation to their corner of Baghdad. It illustrates the paradigm shift that has been taking place for the U.S. military across Iraq - trying to win over both former enemies and stave off potential new ones with the use of large sums of cash. The trouble is that there is only so much cash available.

Do Baghdadis like the new Iraqi flag?

Many Baghdadis support the new Iraqi flag, and they consider it better than the former one, while others believe that it was better to keep the old flag of Iraq as it was. "I would prefer to keep the Iraqi flag as it was, because it represents all the components of Iraq, its history, and culture, but there should be no problem in changing the font face of Allahu Akbar (God is Great)," Sattar Al-Mohammedawi, 44 and a resident of Sadr City (Shiite dominated neighborhood in the eastern part of Baghdad), said to Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). He added "The Iraqi Parliament was supposed to accelerate the process of approving important legislations, rather than changing the flag, or parts of it."

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Police arrest military chief of cult network in Karbala-police

Police forces on Wednesday arrested a suspect believed to be the leader of the military wing for Basra’s cult al-Yamani network in Karbala, the city police chief said. Karbala’s security forces detained the chief of the military wing for Ahmed Bin Al-Hassan al-Yamani network, while residing in one of Karbala’s hotels after receiving intelligence tips reporting his escape to the city from Basra,” Brig. Gen. Raid Shakir, Karbala police chief, told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI). He added “The detainee confessed in early investigations that aim of the network’s military operations was to topple the authority in Basra and take control over the city waiting for the (messianic like figure) al-Mahdi.” The police chief pointed out “The suspect admitted leading the military operations in Basra and supplying the network with explosives in addition to receiving funds from an Arab country without stating it explicitly”.

AMS describes changing flag as 'illegitimate'

Iraq's Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) on Wednesday described the parliament's decision to change the Iraqi flag as "illegitimate".

Tea and Tribal Conflict in Iraq

The meeting between the Marines and the power brokers of this border region began with pleasantries, an exchange of gifts, and the drinking of small cups of tea, very hot and very sweet. But within a few minutes the subject turned to one of crucial importance to both sides: the possible rise of militias among Sunni tribes who feel disrespected and shut out of the mild economic upturn the region is enjoying. The power brokers -- the mayor, the sheiks, and the local Iraqi army general -- are from the Albu Mahal tribe, the most powerful in the region. The Mahals were the first of the tribes to join with the U.S. in fighting the insurgency while lesser tribes stayed neutral or assisted the insurgents. Now that the insurgency has been largely suppressed, Mahal leaders feel it is their right to share in the benefits of peace, such as the flourishing downtown market in Husaybah and the recently opened port of entry that allows a free flow of goods to and from Syria. Other tribes played "an invisible" role when the Americans and the Mahals were fighting the insurgents, Farhan Fetekhan Farhan archly reminded the Marines.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Ahmadinejad to make landmark visit to Iraq-ministry

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation to visit Baghdad, Iraq's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, a landmark trip that would make him the first leader of Iran to visit its former foe. Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s in which hundreds of thousands were killed, but relations have improved since Saddam Hussein was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and a Shi'ite Islamist-led government came to power. "President Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation from President (Jalal) Talabani to come to Iraq," Iraqi deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abawi told Reuters. An aide to Ahmadinejad, who asked not to be identified, said: "We have heard about it but no date has been scheduled."

The U.S. Financial Crisis - in Iraq

The U.S. military in Iraq has been extolling the achievements of its cooperation with civilians in the fight against extremists and insurgents. The mechanism of that cooperation, however, is greased by cash - and the budgetary spigot for it has been tightening in recent months. That does not sit well for officers like Captain Joel Brown, in charge of Eagle company for the 2-2 Styker Cavalry Regiment. For him, money spent bankrolling the Sunni al-Sahwa ("Awakening") movement is money well spent. Al-Sahwa patrols neighborhoods in his area and effectively works as a local muscle, beating back insurgents and keeping the peace where local law enforcement has long since abandoned. When Brown's company arrived in southern Baghdad in August they found 50 roadside bombs in one day; they would sometime engage in two or three firefights daily. Now he pays nine Sunni contractors to manage 10 checkpoints with about 300 guards, in the process protecting schools, clinics and key intersections 24 hours a day. Soon there will be a total of 1,000 guards.

When these so-called "Concerned Citizens' League" (CLC) programs began, attacks against his men started decreasing. For Brown, the calculus is clear: "Every time we looe one of our guys it costs us $400,000 [in life insurance paid to family members]. Each Hellfire missile is $60,000 and we've used a ton of those. What's the price of peace? It's probably not as costly as the price of unrest. Money is my non-lethal ammunition. I'd rather give somebody a job than have to fight them."

U.S. war costs in Iraq up-budget report

The Iraq war may not dominate U.S. news reports as the carnage drops, but a new report underscores the financial burden of persistent combat that is helping run up the government's credit card. "Funding for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities in the war on terrorism expanded significantly in 2007," the Congressional Budget Office said in a report released on Wednesday. War funding, which averaged about $93 billion a year from 2003 through 2005, rose to $120 billion in 2006 and $171 billion in 2007 and President George W. Bush has asked for $193 billion in 2008, the nonpartisan office wrote. "It keeps going up, up and away," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said of the money spent in Iraq since U.S. troops invaded in 2003.

General Dynamics 4Q Profit Surges

General Dynamics Corp. said Wednesday that higher sales of combat vehicles to the Army and corporate jets pushed fourth-quarter earnings up 42 percent, but the defense contractor's 2008 outlook fell short of Wall Street forecasts. Net income jumped to $579 million, or $1.42 per share, in the three months ended Dec. 31, from $408 million, or $1 per share, in the year-ago period. ….. General Dynamics, which makes war supplies ranging from bullets to Abrams tanks, has been well positioned to benefit from the defense spending. The company has replaced battle-worn equipment and is part of a partnership to build thousands of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, known as MRAP, that the military wants to use to protect troops from bombs in Iraq.

US Congress Sends $696 Billion Military Budget to Bush

HISTORY

Study: False statements preceded war

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The study concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses." The study was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said he could not comment on the study because he had not seen it. The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both. [I would not call them “false statements” – I would call them LIES. – dancewater]

'We had no idea we were not wanted'

Angry residents crowded round as the interpreter and I approached the al-Qa'id primary school in Nazal, a relatively well-to-do suburb of Falluja. Two- and three-storey villas lined the road opposite the school, with the ornate columns and pompous balustraded balconies that Iraqi families love. Men stood in the street; wives were in the front yards. Fourteen people had died the previous evening, apparently shot by troops of the Second Brigade of the 82nd Airborne division, the US army's elite paratroopers, after several hundred protesters converged on the school. It was April 28 2003, just under three weeks since the fall of Baghdad, and around 100 soldiers had been billeted in the school for four days. "We came to tell them to leave," Abed Jumaili, an electrician, told me. One issue was the need to get children back into class as schools across Iraq started to reopen after the war. The other complaint was more sensitive. "The Americans are looking at the women inside our houses with their special goggles," Jumaili said. It was a suspicion we were to hear regularly in other parts of Iraq. People were convinced the Americans' infrared night-vision equipment allowed soldiers to see into bedrooms. Perhaps they could even see through clothes.

Government ordered to disclose draft Iraq dossier

A Whitehall spin doctor may have played a greater role in the drafting of the famous dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction than the government admitted at the time, the Information Tribunal said today. In a ruling on a freedom of information request relating to what is alleged to be the first draft of the dossier published in 2002, the tribunal said that the public should be allowed to read the document. The tribunal made its ruling following a three-year campaign by a researcher who believes that the dossier will undermine the government's claims that the document was entirely drawn up by John Scarlett, the then-head of the joint intelligence committee, and not government spin doctors. The dossier, which claimed Iraq could launch weapons on of mass destruction within 45 minutes, became the subject of huge controversy when the BBC reported that it had been "sexed up" by Downing Street. Today's decision relates to an early version of the dossier written by John Williams, a former Daily Mirror journalist who at the time was head of press at the Foreign Office. The so-called "Williams draft" was mentioned during the Hutton inquiry but it was never published and at the time the Foreign Office claimed that it had little influence on the version that was eventually published.

COMMENTARY

Anonymous comment from Juan Cole blog:

Michael Yon, 'citizen journalism'? You are kidding right. The guy is Ugly American to the core, and that's why he is being honored. This is an extract from his Jungle Law posting from Mosul, Iraq:

“Deuce Four is an overwhelmingly aggressive and effective unit, and they believe the best defense is a dead enemy. They are constantly thinking up innovative, unique, and effective ways to kill or capture the enemy; proactive not reactive. They planned an operation with snipers, making it appear that an ISF vehicle had been attacked, complete with explosives and flash-bang grenades to simulate the IED. The simulated casualty evacuation of sand dummies completed the ruse. The Deuce Four soldiers left quickly with the “casualties,” “abandoning” the burning truck in the traffic circle. The enemy took the bait. Terrorists came out and started with the AK-rifle-monkey-pump, shooting into the truck, their own video crews capturing the moment of glory. That’s when the American snipers opened fire and killed everybody with a weapon. Until now, only insiders knew about the AK-monkey-pumpers smack-down.”

[More likely, they just killed everybody, weapon or not. I emailed Michael Yon after the photo of a US soldier holding an injured Iraqi child was published. I wanted to know why the US soldier was kissing or cuddling the child, when she was obviously in need of urgent medical care (the child later died). Yon said that he did not know why the soldier was doing that, and then I responded that it made no sense to stop and kiss or cuddle a strange child in need of medical care right away, Yon told me that I don’t understand war. I believe the photo – which he won a prize for – was staged. And the comment cited above shows that Yon is pro-war and racist. – dancewater]

Quote of the day: We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living: General Omar Bradley

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