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

Sunday, February 24, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, February 24, 2008

Turkish commandos walk on a mountain near the Turkey-Iraq border in the mainly Kurdish southeastern province of Sirnak. Fighting has intensified between Turkish troops and Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, amid US calls for Turkey to wrap up its military incursion in the region as swiftly as possible
(AFP/Mustafa Ozer)

Medics wheel a wounded pilgrim to a hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday Feb. 24, 2008. Three Shiite pilgrims were killed Sunday morning in an attack that wounded as many as 36 others, including two officers who were protecting the travelers. The pilgrims were headed to Karbala for Arbaeen, which marks the 40th day following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein.
(AP Photo/Asaad Mouhsin)

Reported Security Incidents

Attacks on pilgrims heading toward Karbala for observations of Arbaeen (the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam Hussein) have killed dozens of people. Death tolls are still in flux. I have identified specific incidents under the locations. The fighting in northern Kurdistan between Turkish forces and the PKK also continues. I'm going to post information on the Turkey-PKK conflict first, unlike our usual practice of leading with events in Baghdad.

Updates on the Turkey-PKK conflict

PKK claims to have shot down a Turkish helicopter near Jamjo (or Sham Gihu), northeast of Amadiya.

According to DPA, the claim is that it was a Cobra, and that the fate of the crew is unknown. Turkey now confirms that a helicopter went down, but does not confirm that it was due to hostile fire. DPA reports the PKK claims to have killed 24 Turkish soldiers, while Turkey claims to have killed 79 PKK guerillas and to have lost 7 of its own soldiers. However, a recent Turkish statement that "8 more" soldiers have been killed seems to imply that they acknowledge a total of 15.

According to AP, the Turkish offensive continued to employ U.S.-built F-16s as well as helicopters and ground troops. Turkish news reports say the Turkish dead include a Major.

Washington Post reporters Joshua Partlow and Ellen Knickmeyer say that Peshmerga units are on alert and are prepared to confront any deeper Turkish advance. "Local officials in northern Iraq said thousands of farmers, shepherds and villagers had fled south during the months of bombing that preceded this past week's ground incursion. The Iraqi Kurdish soldiers, known as peshmerga, have spread out across the northern region and are on high alert, awaiting orders from their commanders, soldiers said.

"The Turkish Army doesn't have the right to come into our country. What they are doing is against the law," Major Hussein Jafar, a peshmerga officer, said at the edge of the destroyed Avamarke bridge, a roughly 40-metre span built in 2004 that was blasted by Turkish missiles on Thursday, residents and local officials said. It was one of five bridges in the border region destroyed in Turkish bombardments, Kurdish soldiers said." . . ."If Turkey comes farther than they are now, then 100 per cent we will stop them," said Major-General Hashim Sitae, a peshmerga commander in the northern city of Dahuk."


One U.S. soldier killed, three injured, in a roadside bombing in northern Baghdad. One civilian also injured. No further details at this time.

Roadside bomb targeting a U.S. patrol injures five civilians in Hurriya.

Roadside bomb and gun attack on Shiite pilgrims kills 3, injures 36. McClatchy gives the total injured as 45, and apparently referring to the same attack, VoI gives the toll of injured as 46 but the confirmed death toll as only 1.

Two civilians injured by IED in Zafaraniyah, southeast Baghdad.

Three bodies found dumped in various places.


A suicide bomber struck a group of pilgrims on the highway to Karbala. AP, and other news services, give the death toll as 25. However, AFP gives the death toll as 40, with 60 injured, and says this number comes from both a local police lieutenant and the provincial health office.

al-Hawija (south of Kirkuk)

Car bomb attacking "Awakening Council" (Sahwa) members kills one, injures 10. The injured include Hussein Khalaf al-Juburi, the chief of the district’s Awakening Council, and his aide Sami Bakir.


IED attack on a bus kills two employees of the electricity ministry and injures three.

A child is killed in the crossfire between U.S. forces and suspected "al Qaeda" gunmen, according to an Iraqi military spokesman.

One killed, one wounded in a drive-by shooting. No info on the identity of the victims.

Other News of the Day

Senior Shiite cleric Qasim al-Taaie condemns the Turkish incursion into Iraq and says that confronting it is a "national duty.

An Iraqi government spokesman condemns the incursion, says that military force will not solve the problem, but makes no specific threats. However, Kurdish officials are more specific. Excerpt:

Iraq’s Kurdish President Massoud Barzani warned the regional government would not stand by if the Turks struck civilians.

"The regional government of Kurdistan will not be a part of the conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK fighters. But at the same time, we stress that if the Turkish military targets any Kurdish civilian citizens or any civilian structures, then we will order a large-scale resistance," he said.

Tariq Jawhar, a spokesman for the National Assembly of Kurdistan, a regional body, called on the U.S. and Iraqi leadership to intervene and stop the Turkish operations.

"We want the Iraqi federal government and the U.S. to ... work hard to stop this aggression and to seek peaceful negotiation to solve the problem," he said. "Such military operations are considered a clear violation of the federal Iraqi territory."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in Australia, defends the Turkish action but says he hopes it will be short.

Meanwhile, Nouri al-Maliki has gone to London for more "routine medical checkups. What the heck, there's nothing going on in Iraq right now that might require his attention. -- C

Chicago Tribune's David Jackson and Jason Grotto look in-depth at how KBR exploited the Iraq war to rip off the taxpayers and endanger U.S. troops, among other crimes. Excerpt:

KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton Co., says it has been paid $28 billion under LOGCAP III. The firm says it quickly reports all instances of suspected fraud and has repaid the Defense Department more than $1 million for questionable invoices.

In a statement, KBR said its roughly 20,000 employees and 40,000 subcontractors have performed laudably in a war zone where Army demands shift rapidly and local suppliers don't always maintain ledger books. Spokeswoman Heather Browne wrote: "Ethics and integrity are core values for KBR."

But a wiretapped transcript recently released in Rock Island underscores the brazen nature of the exceptions. In October 2005, with federal agents tailing them, three war contractors slipped through London's posh Cumberland hotel before meeting in a quiet lounge. For the rest of that afternoon, the men sipped cognac and whiskey and discussed the bribes that had greased contracts to supply U.S. troops in Iraq.

Former KBR procurement manager Stephen Seamans, who was wearing a wire strapped on by a Rock Island agent, wondered aloud whether to return $65,000 in kickbacks he got from his two companions, executives from the Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co.

One of the men, Tamimi operations director Shabbir Khan, urged him to hide the money by concocting phony business records. "Just do the paperwork," Khan said.

In October 2002, five months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Khan threw a birthday party for Seamans at a Tamimi "party house" near the Kuwait base known as Camp Arifjan. Khan "provided Seamans with a prostitute as a present," Rock Island prosecutors wrote in court papers. Driving Seamans back to his quarters, Khan offered kickbacks that would total $130,000.

Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail claim that the daily body counts for Baghdad are understated, among other misrepresentations of security gains. Excerpt:

Unidentified bodies of Iraqis killed by militias continue to appear in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. The Iraqi government has issued instructions to all security and health offices not to give out the body count to the media. Dozens of bodies are found every day across Baghdad, residents say. Morgue officials confirm this.

"We are not authorised to issue any numbers, but I can tell you that we are still receiving human bodies every day; the men have no identity on them," a doctor at the Baghdad morgue told IPS. "The bodies that have signs of torture are the Sunnis killed by Shia militias; those with a bullet in the head are usually policemen, translators or contractors who worked for the Americans."

Quote of the Day

THE US occupying army in Iraq (euphemistically called the Multi-National Force-Iraq) carries out extensive studies of popular attitudes. Its December 2007 report of a study of focus groups was uncharacteristically upbeat. The report concluded that the survey "provides very strong evidence" to refute the common view that "national reconciliation is neither anticipated nor possible". On the contrary, the survey found that a sense of "optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups ... and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis."

This discovery of "shared beliefs" among Iraqis throughout the country is "good news, according to a military analysis of the results", Karen deYoung reports in The Washington Post.

The "shared beliefs" were identified in the report. To quote deYoung, "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of 'occupying forces' as the key to national reconciliation."

Noam Chomsky