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 24, 2008

News & Views 01/24/08

Photo: A huge crater is seen at the site of Wednesday's bomb attack in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) northwest of Baghdad, January 24, 2008. The attack killed 20 people, wounded 150 and destroyed or badly damaged 35 houses, security officials said. That blast, blamed on al Qaeda, was in an unoccupied building used to store weapons and tonnes of explosives, the U.S. military said. REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Toll from Wednesday blast in Iraq's Mosul 36-police

The death toll from a blast in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Wednesday had risen to 36 from 20, with another 169 people wounded, police said on Thursday. The blast, blamed by the U.S. military on al Qaeda, was in an unoccupied building used to store weapons and tonnes of explosives.

Drop in Iraq violence threatened by assassinations

Some weeks ago, we issued a small warning against prematurely celebrating victory in the U.S. surge in Iraq because the level of violence has dropped, a phenomenon that we argued had far more to do with the Iraqis than it did with the Americans. In recent weeks, however, a wave of assassinations by al Qaida in Iraq and by Shiite Muslim militiamen is threatening the American-paid tribal leaders and fighters of the Sunni Awakening Councils, which are at the heart of the reduced violence in some of the most dangerous places in Iraq. The Awakening Councils and their Sunni sheiks have stopped the insurgent attacks on American troops in Anbar province and turned on the Sunni jihadists they'd sheltered for years. This seismic shift virtually ended the violence in bloody Anbar and helped dampen the killings in Diyala province north of Baghdad and in some of the worst neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital. This and a six-month cease-fire by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia are far more responsible for the improved security in Iraq than the temporary increase in American troops is. Assassinations of council leaders and sheiks, however, have spiked since Osama bin Laden called the 80,000 tribal volunteers “traitors and infidels” in a recent videotaped lecture. Suicide bombers and ambushes have killed more than 100 Awakening Council leaders and several tribal sheiks, and that has American commanders worried. U.S. officials say they believe that Sunni militants have mounted most of the attacks, but that some have been carried out by Sadr’s militia or by the Iranian-backed Badr Corps, which has close ties to Iraq's Shiite-led government. The Sunni council members see it differently. They say the Shiite militias and their friends in the U.S.-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki are the biggest threat to them, with al Qaida in second place.

FEATURE-Forlorn searches for thousands of missing Iraqis

Karim Faraj trudges to Baghdad's morgue, just as he has done every day for the past year, hoping to find some clue about the fate of his kidnapped brother Ali. So far there has been no signs and Faraj fears the worst. "Whether he is dead or alive, it makes no difference to me. I just want to find something to lead me to him," Faraj said. "I swear I will not be sad if I find him dead or find a grave for him. At least this will put an end to our suffering, at least there will be a grave and a sign saying he is laying peacefully which we can visit." Ali Faraj is just one among tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed or gone missing in sectarian violence following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Many of the missing are never found, while thousands of others end up in numbered mass graves for "unknowns", their identities reduced to a file number at the morgue and the cemetery for families hoping to track them down. Karim Faraj's daily trek is replicated many times across Iraq. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that 10,000 unidentified bodies were taken to Baghdad's main morgue in the year to August 2007 alone.

Iraqi Oil Exports Rise by 9.2 Percent

Iraqi brokers keep eye on bombs not foreign markets

Brokers on the chaotic floor of the Iraq Stock Exchange in Baghdad were on Thursday more concerned with latest news on violence and bombings than with the economic factors shaking global markets. "The situation at the ISE is different from anywhere else in the world," broker Imad Shakir told AFP, perspiring slightly as he took a quick breather from the harried morning trading. "Only local factors affect us, not international events," said Shakir, of al-Baraka brokerage company. "We keep a close watch on the security situation in Iraq. Violence and bombings always have an effect on trading." Any sign of major violence sends foreign investors -- mainly from across the Arab world -- running for cover, he added, even as a police chief was killed Thursday by a suicide bomber in northern Mosul city and authorities raised the death toll from a powerful bomb that obliterated a building there to 32. "If there is a bombing in Baghdad, it affects the number of traders turning up over there," Shakir said, pointing to a space behind a railing where on Thursday about 100 men were standing shoulder to shoulder barking instructions to brokers, like unruly punters at a betting hall. "They can't reach here if roads are sealed off and there are checkpoints everywhere," he said.

Baghdad neighborhoods

Last week my brother in law made a visit to my neighborhood in Amil (west Baghdad) having him with his parents in our house to see my mom who had an operation to her eyes which she made it abroad .It was so nice to have them with us again. This visit was the first during the last two years. It wasn’t his fault, nor his parents, nor a quarrel between the two families which prevented him and his parents to visit us .The reason is so obvious to Iraqi people and those who care for us or even for those who don’t. It was the sectarian violence which increased in 2006 till the mid of 2007 .He lives in Amiriyah neighborhood while we live in Amil .Those two areas reached the peak of violence and the unidentified dead bodies which were found everywhere. Also the road that connects Amiriya neighborhood with Amil was blocked and anyone who dared from this neighborhood to cross or go to that side, or verse versa, he or she would be dead.

IRAQ: Under Curfew, This Is No Life

Continuing curfew has brought normal life to a standstill in Baquba, capital of the restive Diyala province north of Baghdad. Through nearly three decades of rule under Saddam Hussein, Iraqis witnessed only two curfews; for the census in the 1970s and 1980s. Under the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, curfews are commonplace, enforced whenever the Iraqi government and U.S. military fail to control the situation on the ground. A curfew means all public utilities and services cease. Life becomes frozen, and nobody is able to get to work. Factories and other utilities close, the wheel of the economy and development stops. "When the government imposes a curfew it does not think of those who have no salary," 39-year-old labourer Adnan al-Khazraji told IPS. "A very large number of people like me rely on daily income for their living. On the contrary, government employees feel safe whether there is a curfew or not because at the end of a month they receive the salary regardless of stoppage of work." Members of the government and parliament receive big salaries, "and therefore they forget poor people at such times," Khazraji added. Not just economically, curfews have taken their toll psychologically as well. In Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad, there has been a curfew every Friday since 2005. "I feel imprisoned when I have to keep to my home," Salma Jabr, a resident of the city told IPS. "It is the only holiday that we have to do things like visits, shopping, travelling." The Friday curfew has also hit peoples' access to medical care. "When there is an emergency, we cannot go to a hospital, a physician, or even to a pharmacy because moving in streets is not allowed," resident Abdul-Rahim Ghaidan told IPS.

Graduates have to wait four months to get transcripts certified in Baghdad!

Getting certified transcripts in time represents a problem for college graduates in Iraq, especially those who intend to pursue their post-graduate studies abroad. Azhar Al-Shemmary, an employee at Baghdad University Registrar office, said "graduates can get their transcripts certified after lodging a written form in that respect and pay $8 for each original certified transcript and $6 for each additional certified copy of these transcripts." "After that, the student should wait for 2 – 4 months until he/she gets their transcripts certified," Al-Shemmary told Aswat al-Iraq- Voices of Iraq- VOI. Al-Shemmary's account of the procedure is perfect but "it is not always applicable". "Any mistake in this process, which might be committed by the graduate or any of the civil servants involved, means that the graduate should re-start this time consuming process again," al-Shemmary explained. Al-Shemmary attributed this complicated procedure to different reasons. "We don't have an advanced computerized system that enables us to accelerate the bureaucracy in this process; Also, shortage in electricity seriously affects our performance;" she said and added "We also want to be accurate; we don't want it to be easy for some people to produce forged documents." Sometimes, the 2-4 months delay for getting transcripts certified seem a dream if someone has waited more than 7 months and received nothing.

….. Until now, physicians, dentists, and pharmacists in Iraq are not allowed to get their transcripts, due to a governmental decree in that concern, as the health infrastructure in Iraq is "in a massive need for them to stay and work in that country".
"I had to give up two years of my post-graduate study in Iraq, because the authorities did not give me my transcripts after I have got a scholarship from the Australian government to pursue my research at an Australian university," I. Fahad, a physician, told VOI.

They were not experts!!

In the last several cold days, we had to live without electricity at all. In such circumstances my children were studying and going to school. it was hard cold dark nights for them but they don’t have any choice, but to survive and go on. at one of those dark cold nights we were informed by one of the neighbors that at 9 o’clock their will be an explosion ,he said the American soldiers were trying to destroy the residue of the near bridge which was previously destroyed by terrorists through exploding two cars in addition to decoying the bridge it self, at that time our house was badly damaged and we were lucky to live to tell the tale. we opened our windows and took cover in the freezing corridor, we waited from 8:20 pm till 10 pm and nothing happened, my little boy yosif slept after long time of sitting on the torch light alone in such coldness then felt to sleep. I decided to take a risk and put my boy in his bed (it’s besides mine), “we can’t bear the cold for ever“ I said,. at 11pm a very loud explosion opened the bedroom’s windows ,we also heard the windows breaking down ,the very cold bluster carried dusts into inside.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq's New Law On Ex-Baathists Could Bring Another Purge

Maj. Gen. Hussein al-Awadi, a former official in Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, became the commander of the Iraqi National Police despite a 2003 law barring the party from government. But now, under new legislation promoted as way to return former Baathists to public life, the 56-year-old and thousands like him could be forced out of jobs they have been allowed to hold, according to Iraqi lawmakers and the government agency that oversees ex-Baathists. "This new law is very confusing," Awadi said. "I don't really know what it means for me." He is not alone. More than a dozen Iraqi lawmakers, U.S. officials and former Baathists here and in exile expressed concern in interviews that the law could set off a new purge of ex-Baathists, the opposite of U.S. hopes for the legislation.

IRAQ: Parliament allocates more money for IDPs

The parliamentary displacement committee was planning to use the money to buy food, blankets, hygiene kits and clothes, especially for children. On 27 December 2007 the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) said over 82 percent of Iraqi IDPs were women, and children under 12. Children under 12 made up 58.7 percent of the IDPs. The IRCS also said most of the IDPS suffer from disease, poverty and malnutrition. Displaced children do not attend schools and are being sheltered in tents, abandoned government buildings with no water or electricity, mosques, churches, or with relatives. In its latest December update, IRCS statistics showed that by the end of November 2007 the number of Iraqi IDPs was 2,179,614 - a decrease of 0.5 percent on the October figure. These figures are slightly less than those of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which says there are 2.2 million IDPs in Iraq.

Concerned Iraqi citizens shoot straight

In Diyala province north of Baghdad, "concerned local citizens" - mostly Sunnis - are proving resilient backup for US operations against al-Qaeda. Comprising former resistance fighters, the popular forces now enjoy a respect that the Iraqi army and police never had. …..Residents of Baquba, 40km northeast of Baghdad, say the Kataib have brought a decrease in violence, and now enjoy a respect that the Iraqi army and police never had. "The new prestige that Kataib enjoy has enraged the Iraqi police and army," an officer in the directorate-general of police, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "In one operation in a village near Khalis city 15 kilometers west of Baquba, the directorate-general of police contributed just 20 men, while the Kataib fighters numbered 450. This shows how the Americans now rely more on the Kataib than on us."

Shiite Radical Rebuffs US Dialogue

The head of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia refuses to hold direct talks with U.S. envoys despite apparent willingness for dialogue by Washington, a spokesman for radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday. Sheik Salah al-Obeidi said al-Sadr has no intention of opening one-on-one contacts with the United States, which al-Sadr has denounced.

Fadila party says structural change condition for participation in government

The Shiite Fadila Islamic Party is ready to participate in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government if a change in structure and performance is made, a party leading member said on Thursday. "The party is ready to join the government if it is re-established on new foundations," MP Basim Shareef told Aswat al-Iraq, Voices of Iraq, (VOI). On Tuesday, Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani revealed plans to re-form al-Maliki's national unity government, hinting at the possible return of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) and the Fadila Islamic Party to the cabinet. Shareef said that his party "has no problem with Maliki as a prime minister," adding "a cabinet reshuffle is a necessary because there are many criticisms about the government’s performance."

Kurdish parliament debates Iraqi flag next week

Upon request from Iraq's Kurdistan President Massoud al-Barazani, the Kurdish parliament will hold a special session next week to discuss the issue of raising the new Iraqi flag over the regional government buildings, a parliamentary media source said on Thursday.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

US unlikely to cut Iraq forces below pre-surge levels: analysts

Going bankrupt: The US's greatest threat

A "guns over butter" mentality entrenched in the US political system since the start of the Cold War is starting to cause havoc in the nation which has the largest defense budget in the world, as well as having the largest trade deficit. The US's short tenure as the world's "lone superpower" is over and most of the damage can never be repaired, although trimming the US$1.1 trillion expected to be invested in the Pentagon this year would be a start.

Company Was Paid Twice for War Support Work

A defense contractor hired to repair combat equipment routinely failed to do the job right and then charged the government millions of dollars for the extra work needed to get the gear ready for battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a newly released audit.

Democrats Attack Iraq Security Proposal

The leading Democratic presidential candidates and their allies on Capitol Hill have launched fierce attacks in recent days on a White House plan to forge a new, long-term security agreement with the Iraqi government, complaining that the administration is trying to lock in a lasting U.S. military presence in Iraq before the next president takes office. Among the top critics is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). She has used the past two Democratic presidential debates to blast President Bush for his effort, as she put it Monday in South Carolina, "to try to bind the United States government and his successor to his failed policy."

COMMENTARY

A salvo at the White House

"Don't let the quiet fool you," a senior defense official says. "There's still a huge chasm between how the White House views Iraq and how we [in the Pentagon] view Iraq. The White House would like to have you believe the 'surge' has worked, that we somehow defeated the insurgency. That's just ludicrous. There's increasing quiet in Iraq, but that's happened because of our shift in strategy - the 'surge' had nothing to do with it." In part, the roots of the disagreement between the Pentagon and White House over what is really happening in Iraq is historical. Senior military officers contend that the seeming fall-off in in-country violence not only has nothing to do with the increase in US force levels, but that the dampening of the insurgency that took hold last summer could have and would have taken place much earlier, within months of America's April 2003 occupation of Baghdad. Moreover, these officers contend, the insurgency might not have put down roots in the country after the fall of Baghdad if it had not been for the White House and State Department - which undermined military efforts to strike deals with a number of Iraq's most disaffected tribal leaders. These officers point out that the first contact between high-level Pentagon officials and the nascent insurgency took place in Amman, Jordan, in August of 2003 - but senior Bush administration officials killed the talks.

Troops felled by a 'trust gap'

According to Keane, the violence in Iraq only began to go down "after all the troops were in place" - the implication being that a flood of US soldiers intimidated and scattered insurgent forces, an argument he emphasized by saying that, until he and Petraeus arrived on the scene, and given the Pentagon a dose of backbone, the war was lost. "We had never taken on defeating the insurgency," he said, "we had always left that up to the Iraqis" - a statement that will, no doubt, come as a shock to those marines of the First Marine Expeditionary Force who fought house-to-house in Fallujah in April of 2004, as well as to the families of those soldiers who lost their lives serving under Petraeus' predecessors. It is such statements that make Keane one of the most reviled figures in the military community, and that does no favors for his protege, Petraeus, who must remain in uniform - and deal with the senior commanders whom Keane regularly insults. The differences between Keane and McCaffrey are stark: where Keane is proud and ready to declare victory, McCaffrey is analytical, careful and intent to tell anyone who will listen of the obstacles that remain. While "AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] has been defeated," McCaffrey says, "there are still 3,000 attacks per month against US, coalition and Iraq forces. There is still a civil war going on."

Additionally, McCaffrey's reading of why Anbar is now quiet diverges significantly from that given by Keane: "The bottom line is the Sunnis got scared and started to engage, the spin-off of that is these concerned local citizens who are primarily Sunnis, but it's now being extended into the Shi'ite areas, and the areas south of Baghdad" - a reading confirmed by interviews with US commanders in Anbar and Babib provinces, and reflected in information about the inception of the "Awakening of the Tribes" that first began with John Coleman's dispatch of help to a tribal Sheikh in Fallujah. That is to say, as McCaffrey put it: "The Iraqi people have turned on AQI because it overreached, trying to impose an alien and harsh practice of Islam inconsistent with the more moderate practices of the Sunni minority. The foreign jihadi elements in AQI (with their enormous hatred of what they view as the apostate Shi'ite) have alienated the nationalism of the broader Iraqi population." Or, as a Pentagon official now puts it: "The so-called success of the 'surge' had nothing to do with military victory, this was politics."

….."We're reconstituting the Iraqi military, that's all this is" a Pentagon official notes. "A lot of these guys in Babil that we're paying lost their salaries when Bremer disbanded the Republican Guard and broke up the Ba'ath Party. It was a stupid move. So this is a make-good." Another Pentagon official remembers the opening to Gaood in 2004: "This should have been done then," he says, "and I don't understand why it wasn't. Think of the blood, the enormous loss of life, the lost prestige, the failures." Pentagon officers are also quick to point out that, while Petraeus has taken credit for the shift in strategy in Iraq, the "Awakening of the Tribes Movement" actually began long before he recommended an increase in American troops levels in the country.

Keep the flag, Change the flag.

It’s not going to be over? Is it? Keep the flag, change the flag. As if there are no other important issues in the country other than the flag now. Didn’t the Iraqi people say their opinion when the interim government tried to change the flag in 2004? What is really irritating about it is how the American news outlets changed the facts about the former flag. They attributed the flag to Saddam Hussein by the time the flag was basically chosen before Saddam came to power as a president. The other thing is that all American newspapers and websites insisted that the three stars symbolized the three Baath Party goals: Unity, Freedom, and Sociality, by the time they did not. In 1985, Syria and Egypt announced their United Arab Republic whose flag was like the Iraqi flag but with two stars representing the two countries. In hope of joining the UAR, Iraq added the third star to the UAR flag and considered the Iraqi flag, and that’s how the third star represented Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the US media did not have the guts to mention that fact. Instead, they insisted on misinforming their audience by saying these three flags represented Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party goals. So the Iraqi people woke up today to find out their flag has been changed! But what a horrible change! The new flag is dull. Just red, white, black and dark green. They should have either changed the whole thing, or kept the original.

Quote of the day: In media speak and political discourse, the human toll of corporate domination and the warfare state is routinely abstract. But the results -- in true human terms -- add rage and more grief on top of grief. ~ Norman Solomon

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