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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

News & Views 01/31/08

Photo: Students attend a photo exhibition of their late colleagues who were killed in a bomb attack, during a ceremony at Munstansariya University in Baghdad January 31, 2008. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Thursday: 1 US Soldier, 20 Iraqis Killed; 20 Iraqis Wounded

Horrors rampant in city 'full of sorrow'

Shaima, a 29-year-old artist, proudly displays her latest work in progress. White streaks stand out against a bright, burnt orange background -- an abstract painting that she says signifies the reality of life in Baghdad for the last five years. "I am trying to show scattered body parts flying around," she says. Dressed in a sleek gray shirt and spiked heels, Shaima looks like she belongs at an art gallery in Paris, not a run-down studio with no power in Baghdad. Her art used to be as lively as her persona, but since the U.S.-led war began, she only expresses tragedy. It's the reality inside her, the death and destruction she has witnessed firsthand.

IRAQ: Violence Draws Veil Over Women

As in all conflict areas, women, along with children and the elderly, have suffered most. A large number of women have been killed or kidnapped during close to five years of occupation. Before the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, women in Iraq had jobs and enjoyed civil rights they can hardly dream of any more. "My neighbour was killed because she was accused of working in the directorate-general of police of Diyala," resident Um Haider told IPS. "This woman worked as a receptionist in the governor's office, and not in the police. She was in charge of checking women who work in the governor's office." Killings like this have led countless women to quit jobs, or to change them. "I was head of the personnel division in an office," a local woman speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS. "On the insistence of my family and relatives, I gave up my position and chose to be an employee." Women's lives have changed, and they are beginning to look different. They are now too afraid to wear anything but conservative dresses -- modern clothes could be a death warrant. The veil is particularly dominant in areas under the control of militias.

Iraq to scrap subsidized food rations by June

The government has decided to end the rationing food program which has staved millions of Iraqis from starvation. The decision, the government said, was in line with the obligations it has made to the World Bank. [The World Bank should be shut down. Shame on them for making people go hungry – except, of course, they have no shame. – dancewater]

Iraqi policewomen once again armed

Police officials said today they had rescinded an order requiring all policewomen to turn in their weapons that had angered women's activists and U.S. officials trying to bring females into the security forces. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees police, said the order was revoked after objections were raised both within the ministry and from outside. A memo dated Jan. 17 said the ministry had "reconsidered" and "decided to return all the pistols" to the policewomen.

Iraq's Turkmen appeal for protection

"Violence continues to harvest the lives of innocent Turkmen; their mosques, their cafes and the playgrounds of their children are all targets ... Abductions are continuing on the roads." The statement claimed that the plight of the Turkmen is being ignored by the local and central authorities. It demanded the "formation of a Turkmen military force within existing Iraqi military units to protect Turkmen territories." If the demand is not met, Turkmen might create their own militia to protect their communities, the statement implied, by quoting a verse of the Koran.

Iraq's civilian toll falls again in January

Violent civilian deaths in Iraq fell again in January, figures showed on Thursday, and were significantly lower than a year ago after nationwide security crackdowns. According to figures compiled by the interior, defence and health ministries, 466 civilians died violently during January, down 15 from the previous month. The January 2008 figure was more than 76 percent lower than the 1,971 civilians killed in January 2007 when Iraq was on the brink of sectarian civil war.

Iraqi city jolted by two quakes

Two earthquakes jolted the southeastern Iraqi city of Kut, causing no injuries or damage but panicking residents, the meteorological department and residents said on Thursday. The first tremor, measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale, struck around 2 pm (1100 GMT) on Wednesday and the second, measuring 4.3, followed at about 10 pm, the meteorological department said.

Rights eroded in Iraq in 2007 with civilians targeted: HRW

Human rights in Iraq deteriorated for much of 2007 while sectarian violence targeting civilians swelled the number of displaced to around 4.4 million, half of them abroad, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. "Attacks on civilians by various insurgent and militia groups continued," HRW said in a bleak assessment of Iraq in its annual report. This included the single deadliest attack since the war began in 2003, which in August targeted the Yazidi minority "resulting in the deaths of almost 500 civilians." It said the "sectarian cleansing" of Baghdad by both Sunni and Shiite groups proceeded despite a US troop "surge" aimed at halting the killings. "US military operations continued against Shiite and Sunni insurgents throughout the country, leading to an unknown number of civilian casualties."

Fadel: Baghdad Sunni citadel against 'Iranian invaders'

Life is slowly returning to normal in the miserable grimy streets of Baghdad's Fadel district, heartland of Iraq's Sunni "resistance." But behind a facade of normality, the will of the mujahedeen (holy warriors) to stand against any "invasion of the Iranian agents" -- Shiite militia -- remains evident, auguring ill for the reconciliation sought by so many Iraqis. For four years, as insurgents and supporters of Al-Qaeda, the mujahedeen defended this enclave in the heart of historic Baghdad, encircled by Shiite districts. Fadel today remains under their control, although they have reached a deal with their American enemy of yesterday to turn their guns against Al-Qaeda, and setting up an "Awakening" militia force like those in other Sunni zones.

Iraqis Come Back to Bombed-Out Village, Seeking Care, Shelter

An old woman wailed crazily as a man whose feet were blown off months ago was wheeled past the concertina wire. Hundreds of people, virtual refugees in their hometown, lined up amid mud and rubble for a medical clinic held by American troops in this rural village northwest of Iskandariyah. The rubble that surrounded the crumbling schoolhouse at the center of Monday’s clinic included the remains of an Iraqi health clinic. Like much of the town, it was destroyed late last year in fighting between al-Qaida in Iraq and troops from the Army’s 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. “The people here got run out when al-Qaida took over their houses,” said Sgt. Jeremy Ireland, a 24-year-old civil affairs specialist from Erie, Pa. “Then the U.S. came in and blew up their houses.” [In this article, the US forces claim that the Iraqis are within traveling distance of seven hospitals but “Nobody wants to walk half a day to get to a clinic.” I guess they think “traveling distance” is a half day’s walk, which the vast majority of sick people could not do! Sometimes, I think our military is full of idiots, but maybe it is the US press. – dancewater]

Bomb takes death toll of journalists in Iraq to 126

Iraq confirmed its reputation as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists this week when a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi television cameraman, Alaa Abdul-Karim al-Fartoosi, the first journalist to be killed in Iraq this year and the 126th since the start of the war.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Judge allows Iraq 'abuse' reports

A legal order which had stopped the media from reporting allegations of torture by British troops in Iraq has been lifted by the High Court. The abuse is said to have taken place after British soldiers were ambushed between Basra and Amara in May 2004. After the exchange of fire that followed, 31 Iraqis were reportedly taken into British custody at Abu Naji. Their families allege that 22 of them died and nine were tortured. The MoD denied any wrongdoing by UK troops. Iraqi death certificates are said to state that the dead Iraqis showed signs of torture and mutilation. The testimonies of five witnesses "combine to give a harrowing account of what took place", according to their lawyers.

COMMENTARY

Another slap in the face for Iraq

There have been many terrible decisions by the British government when it comes to Iraq. Covering up the sale of a super gun to Saddam Hussein? Pretty bad. Going to war without having a clue about what to do when Saddam was toppled? Simply tragic. But they haven't learnt their lesson when it comes to poor policy in the region. Today it's the little stories that emerge from Iraq that give us a snapshot of their ineptitude, from refusing work permits to translators who risked life and limb to work for the coalition, to the refugees living in squalor in Amman because the UK and US refuse to take their share of the problem. This week the government made yet another poor decision when they denied Nashat Akram, Iraq's brilliant midfielder, a work permit to play for Manchester City.

LTE: Iraq failure equals success for neocons

It was fascinating reading Jonathan Steele's articles about the lack of planning for the occupation of Iraq (G2, January 21, 22 & 23). However, he assumes that this equates with failure and that the current mayhem is a catastrophe. For all decent people, of course, it is; but as Naomi Klein indicates in her book, The Shock Doctrine, the lack of planning was actually planned. For the neocons who run the US the disaster has been a success. The Americans have an excuse to have permanent bases as long as the insurgency lasts; a largely state-run economy has been opened to foreign capital; America has control of large oil reserves; the Middle East has a wedge of US military to control and threaten any uppity Islamic state that dares threaten its interests or those of Israel; Halliburton and other American firms have made a packet. What's to regret?

Quote of the day: Women have nowhere to go to spend leisure time," Um Ali, a married woman, told IPS. "Our time is spent only at home now. I have not travelled outside Baquba for more than four years. The only place I can go to is my parents' home. Housekeeping and children have been all my life; I have no goals to attain, no education to complete. Sometimes, I can't leave home for weeks."

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