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 25, 2008

News & Views 01/25/08

Photo: US troops say they have been able to 'liberate' some of the villagersin Diyala province from al-Qaeda. [GALLO/GETTY]

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Friday: 49 Iraqis Killed, 3 Wounded

A lesson in how to create Iraqi orphans. And then how to make life worse for them

It’s not difficult to create orphans in Iraq. If you’re an insurgent, you can blow yourself up in a crowded market. If you’re an American air force pilot, you can bomb the wrong house in the wrong village. Or if you’re a Western mercenary, you can fire 40 bullets into the widowed mother of 14-year-old Alice Awanis and her sisters Karoon and Nora, the first just 20, the second a year older. But when the three girls landed at Amman airport from Baghdad last week they believed that they were free of the horrors of Baghdad and might travel to Northern Ireland to escape the terrible memory of their mother’s violent death. Alas, the milk of human kindness does not necessarily extend to orphans from Iraq – the country we invaded for supposedly humanitarian reasons, not to mention weapons of mass destruction. For as their British uncle waited for them at Queen Alia airport, Jordanian security men – refusing him even a five-minute conversation with the girls – hustled the sisters back on to the plane for Iraq.

Iraq Diary: The law of survival

On a cold, but sunny day we arrived at FOB (forward operating base) Normandy by military helicopter, which had flown very low as it departed Baghdad, before heading out to the desert to the north. The American soldiers here say they have managed to "liberate" a few of the villages from al-Qaeda's influence. The colonel tells us al-Qaeda fighters are still lurking around but they are keeping a low profile at the moment. Others fled further northwards, towards Mosul. It has been the same pattern for the past five years - the US military clears one area and al-Qaeda pops up somewhere else. Soldiers do admit that their enemy is sophisticated. Along the route, stuck in the back of a Stryker tank, one of them tells me that they arrested a man who had graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning to Diyala to fight. He had managed to crack into the US military's local communication system. We arrive in Himbis. Once, when the sounds of bullets and mortars did not ring in the air, this area was famous for its oranges and pomegranates. But now it is a desolate town. Omar, one of the residents here, says they stopped going to their farms because they were scared. Carrying his three-year-old son on his shoulders, he says the fighters who dominated this town covered their faces, carried weapons openly on the streets and maintained strict control of the residents. The fighters imposed a daily 5pm to 7am curfew. American soldiers told us al-Qaeda ran their own virtual state here. Omar said life here has been fraught with killings and car bombs. He and many others spent the last three years indoors, fearful of being asked to join the group.

Troops move into Madain to impose ’law and order’

A joint force of Iraqi and U.S. soldiers has regained the restive town of Madain, spreading their control over adjacent areas. The town, built on the ruins of the famous Persian winter capital of Ctesiphon, has been scene of violence for years and a springboard for bombing attacks in the capital Baghdad. The town is a short drive from Baghdad. It used to be a major tourist attraction in the past with its parks surrounding the magnificent remains of the arch of Ctesiphon built nearly fourteen centuries ago by Persian monarch Khosrau 1. Lt. Gen. Qassem al-Atta said the government was considering rebuilding the town and its infrastructure with the departure of ‘terrorists and saboteurs’ and reinstate ‘law and order.’

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq ready for "final" battle with al Qaeda - PM

Iraqi security forces have begun a "decisive" final offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq to push the Sunni Islamist militants out of their last major stronghold in the north, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Friday. He said Iraqi soldiers and police were being sent to Mosul, where a massive blast blamed on al Qaeda killed 40 people and wounded 220 on Wednesday, and an operations room had been set up in the city, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad. U.S. military commanders say al Qaeda, blamed for most big bombings in Iraq, has regrouped in the northern provinces after being squeezed out of western Anbar province and from around Baghdad during security crackdowns last year. They describe Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, as al Qaeda's last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Rift Grows Between Iraqi Army and U.S.-Backed Militias

Former resistance fighters are now being paid 300 dollars a month to stop attacking occupation forces. 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. "The military forces comprise the coalition forces, Iraqi police and army, and the popular forces (commonly called Kataib)," political analyst Akram Sabri told IPS in Baquba, capital of Diyala province. "It was found that the local forces are more truculent fighters who can always be relied on. This has made the coalition forces increasingly reliant upon these fighters to the extent that they will one day likely be joined to Iraqi police and army."

US troops will be gone within 10 years, says Iraqi minister

US military forces will not stay in Iraq for anything like as long as some American politicians are demanding, says the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari. He said crucial issues about "Who is in charge in Iraq – we or you?" would be settled in negotiations between Iraq and the United States, starting this month.


More on the Mosul bombing this week:

AMS holds Iraqi, U.S. troops responsible for Zanjili attack

"U.S. troops, in coordination with Iraqi security forces, detonated a building in al-Zanjili neighborhood using barrels of explosives," the AMS said in a statement. "The forces warned locals and evacuated nearby houses," it noted, underlining that they detonated the building, destroying around 100 nearby houses. The accusation leveled by the AMS coincides with the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's order to form a committee to investigate the incident.

Yazidis condemn Zanjii bombings, call for help

"The Yazidi Movement for Reform and Progress is denouncing the terrorist operation that occurred in al-Zanjili neighborhood, Ninewa province, which killed and wounded hundreds of unarmed civilians," the Movement said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). "It (the bombing) was a great catastrophe and we demand the government to speed up aid for the area and consider it a disastrous region," the statement read.

From a comment on Juan Cole’s blog (about the Mosul bombing):

"..Guerrillas were stockpiling munitions....."

It is blatant lie and they are relying on the naivety of Americans to believe it. Jihadist in Kurdish Mosul has no intelligence gathering means and most likely will run away not blow up the stock pile randomly. The one that blown up this stash of explosive in storage is the one that has the electronic spy gears and intelligence capabilities in Mosul that indicated tips came in and have evidence that wants to hide, such as the type and source of explosive stored and do not want to get this evidence exposed lets will lead to the culprits, look for Mossad agents, their Kurdish helpers that Mossad run or those embedded Israeli murder squad embedded with the U.S. forces. Evidence pointing out from research that over 200 of the bombings accrued in Baghdad, supposedly randomly at innocent civilians in the streets and public places, were in fact targeted killing against a single Iraqi scientist, murdered in an explosion that made to look, and supposed to be random and mass, just for operational cover.

Mosul attack points to insurgent shift

And as facts dribbled in about the violence, the mysteries grew deeper.

….The Pepsi building - given the local nickname because it was near a soft drink bottling plant - blew apart shortly before dusk Wednesday after an Iraqi army squadron arrived to check a tip that it was an insurgent hideout and bomb factory. Inexplicably, no soldiers were among the 36 killed or 224 wounded in the explosion. Speculation has touched on whether insurgents could have detonated the cache in the basement early or by accident - knowing that it was certain to kill many residents and possibly bring a public backlash in the neighborhood, where most men work as porters or walk the narrow alleys hawking cooking gas cylinders by banging them with metal pipes to draw attention. But it didn't seem to cool the anger toward Brig. Gen. Salah Mohammed al-Jubouri, the police chief for surrounding Ninevah province. Al-Jubouri was killed by a suicide bomber as he left the blast site after being confronted by an angry crowd shouting "Allahu Akbar" or "God is Great." The U.S. military has so far not pointed the finger directly at al-Qaida in Iraq for the blast, but Iraqi authorities say the terrorist organization was behind the carnage.

Mosul explosion was controlled demolition…. went wrong

- Eye witness from Mosul told Iraqirabita what exactly happened in the city, totally different story from what reported by western media “Iraq explosion leaves at least 15 dead”: Kurdish Peshmerga militia found barrels filled with ammo, weapons and TNT explosives in building, they detonated the findings as they always do if they find abandoned arms. They didn’t expect that the explosion will be so huge that it destroyed the houses near the building cause injuries and deaths among the civilians. The residents in the neighborhood started to through stones on the army after the prevented the people from rescuing the injured.

According Haq Agency, quoting Al Mustafa Army resistance faction, Kurdish militia put the barrels in the building at the same day in the morning.

This story was confirmed by AMSI but the accused the Americans detonated the building: The American forces committed a crime against our people in the Zndjeli district in Mosul, when these forces, assisted by government forces blew up a building in the district, after they warned the civilians to evacuate their houses but many elderly, women and children couldn’t leave their residents, an hour later a big explosion was heard echoed all around the city destroyed 100 houses completely affected a distance about 2km diameter.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

'Changes needed' to Army training

The Army report was commissioned after allegations of abuse, including the case of Baha Mousa, 26, who died in custody with 93 injuries in 2003. Mr Mousa's father said his son was the victim of state-sanctioned violence. Daoud Mousa said: "These terrible actions could not have taken place without support from senior officers within the British army... I do not accept this report for a second." Meanwhile lawyers acting for Iraqi civilians said the report was a "whitewash". The death of Mr Mousa, a hotel receptionist, who died from asphyxiation while in British army custody in Basra, was one of several cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners that triggered the investigation.

Just a few bad apples: No "systematic" abuse by UK troops in Iraq - report

The British military has concluded that the killing and abuse of civilians by British troops in Iraq was not widespread but the fault of a few rogue soldiers.

Of course, being a good apple gets you punished: Broadcast Exclusive: Abu Ghraib Whistleblower Samuel Provance Speaks Out on Torture and Cover-Up at U.S. Military Jail

In a national TV broadcast exclusive, we spend the hour with Abu Ghraib whistleblower and former Army sergeant, Samuel Provance. From September 2003 to the spring of 2004, Provance ran the top-secret computer network used by Military Intelligence at Abu Ghraib. He was the first intelligence specialist to speak openly about abuse at the prison and is the only Military Intelligence soldier listed as a witness in the Taguba report. Among the abuses he lists is the torture of a sixteen-year-old Iraqi boy in order to make his father talk. After Provance spoke out, the Army stripped him of his security clearance, demoted him and threatened him with ten years in jail.

COMMENTARY

From Missing Links blog (on the articles posted under Commentary in yesterday’s post - A salvo at the White House and Troops felled by a 'trust gap'):

Perry tells of obstruction from the White House (Bremer, Rice, and others) to deals of any kind with the Sunni tribes in the period from 2003 to 2005 or -06. Then deals of that type started being okayed. This is presented as essentially a case of obstruction by ignorant ideologues, eventually overcome in a process that could be called a victory for practical common-sense, or some such expression. Perry's story includes no particular motivation for the change to the Awakening strategy. It was merely that the merits of the idea gradually came to be unarguable.

The prevailing Iraqi view of this is quite different. American strategy starting in 2003 was to use Shiite groups to harass the remnants of the Baath regime and their sympathizers (aka the Iraqi national resistance, but which was and is in fact much broader than that), and anyone shooting at US troops was either in that class or AlQaeda. Hence the logic of the "no deals" prohibition. Then at some time in 2005 or 2006, partly in the face of growing disaffection on the part of the Saudis and others, and partly from concern about Maliki's ties to Tehran, there had to be a tilt to the Sunnis, hence the decision to enlist Sunni groups, in order to, among other things, act as a counterweight to the sectarian Shiite power. In other words, so far this has been a two-act occupation, first helping Shiites harass Sunnis, then in a second stage helping Sunnis deter Shiites. There are many provisos and nuances, but essentially this is the Iraqi story: This was from the beginning a sectarian strategy, with a shift sometime in 2005 or -06 from anti-Sunni/pro-Shiite to anti-Shiite/pro-Sunni, in terms of the overall weight of American military influence. The weight of the American alliances shifted, but this had nothing to do with "learning about Iraq", and everything to do with keeping the divide-and-conquer ball rolling.

The fact that there was a learning-curve-type struggle to okay this particular form of a tilt to the Sunnis doesn't mean that the tilt to the Sunnis "just happened". There is an ongoing US policy, which is a sectarian policy, and in the carrying out of that policy, this Awakening Council strategy was obviously seen as the way forward. There are two stories here: The story of the officers' struggles to get common-sense policies okayed; and the story of the sectarian US policy. They are two different stories. Mark Perry has given us a lot of the first story from the point of view of the common-sense of the officers on the ground. But the second story, from the point of view of the common sense of Iraqis, hasn't sunk in at all as far as the anglosphere is concerned.

And the reason why the two stories don't easily fit together is this: In the American mind, there was never any concept of Iraq, or of fighting in Iraq, other than the sectarian one. "Iraq" was always "Sunna versus Shiia". So any strategy, or any concepts at all respecting the country, had to start from one side or the other. Why this has been the case is another story, but it is a fact. And consequently, the idea of allying with "Iraqis"--even if it meant in a common fight against the Wahhabi fundamentalists--wasn't on. It would have meant allying with "Sunnis", at a time when we were trying to help the underdog "Shia" get out from under their yoke. It was one against the other; there was no concept of an "Iraqi".

RESISTANCE

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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.

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Quote of the day: I hate it when they say, 'He gave his life for his country.' Nobody gives their life for anything. We steal the lives of these kids. We take it away from them. They don't die for the honor and glory of their country. We kill them." - Admiral Gene LaRocque

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