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

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

News & Views 02/05/08

Photo: A patrol member walks past a concrete wall in Baghdad's Adhamiya district in this February 3, 2008 picture. Nothing symbolises a year-long security offensive in Baghdad more vividly than the thousands of tonnes of concrete walls that have been erected around dozens of markets, public places and even entire neighbourhoods. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Tuesday: 83 Iraqis Killed, 7 Wounded; Mass Grave Found

Iraqi family killed in U.S. raid north of Baghdad

A cousin of the victims, Kareem Talea Hamad, 20, said he watched the killings from his house across the street, and gave a different account of events than the American military's version. Hamad said U.S. soldiers opened the door to the small brick house and immediately opened fire, killing its unarmed residents: father Ali Hamad Shihab, 55, his wife Naeimah Ali Sulaiman, 40, and their son Diaa Ali, who was a member of a U.S.-backed neighborhood watch group. Such groups, composed mainly of Sunni fighters partnering with the U.S. to oust al-Qaida from their hometowns, have been targeted by other militants because of their alliance with U.S. and Iraqi forces. The head of Adwar's Awakening Council, Col. Mutasim Ahmed, confirmed that Diaa Ali was killed. He also offered an explanation for the discrepancy between the U.S. military's account of what happened, and that of Iraqi police and witnesses. "It seems that some gunmen were positioned near the house and they opened fire on the Americans who returned fire," Ahmed said.

Two daughters were wounded and transported to hospitals, and one died Tuesday morning, the cousin Hamad said. An Iraqi police officer, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, confirmed Hamad's account. A surviving daughter, Nawal Ali, 16, said she was inside the house at the time of the raid, and that an Iraqi interpreter working for U.S. forces tried to stop the American soldiers from killing her parents. The unidentified interpreter rushed into the house after he heard gunshots, Ali said. "He shouted at the Americans, saying 'What the heck are you are doing?'" she said. "Then he pushed them away after they killed my family," Ali said. She credited the interpreter for saving the lives of two of her younger siblings, 5-year-old Hamzah and 6-year-old Asmaa. Witnesses who went to the family's house early Tuesday saw three dead bodies, laid out in their blood-soaked beds. Bullet casings littered the ground. [Four more Iraqis given the freedom of the grave by the US military. – dancewater]

Work begins on restoring bombed Iraq mosque

Around 60 workers began digging through the rubble under the golden dome of the thousand-old Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, 125 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad that was destroyed by Al-Qaeda bombers. The attack on the Shiite pilgrimage site in the largely Sunni city is widely regarded as the tipping point at which rivalry between Iraqi rival Muslim sects turned into a brutal sectarian conflict which left tens of thousands dead. The two distinctive minarets of the shrine to Imam Al-Askari were destroyed in a second bombing in June last year, further igniting passions in a conflict that is only now beginning to ebb.

Iraq breaks with past as new flag is raised

Iraq's temporary new national flag was raised over the country's parliament for the first time on Tuesday, trumpeted by the government as a break with the past and a step towards reconciliation. In another symbolic move, the government said it had started to rebuild a revered Shi'ite shrine which was bombed two years ago, sparking sectarian violence which killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and took the country to the brink of civil war.

FEATURE-A year after battle for Baghdad, boys play ball

Naser Abdul-Ameer watched his four sons kick a soccer ball around the popular al-Zahra park in Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Arab western Karkh area. It's a trip they make weekly. A year ago it was unimaginable. "It would have been like committing suicide," said the 45-year-old Finance Ministry employee from across the Tigris in the sprawling Shi'ite slum district of Sadr City in Baghdad's northeast. Though far from stable, Baghdad's streets are inching back to normal a year after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki launched Operation Imposing Law, as Baghdad's death toll from sectarian violence and insurgency was spiralling out of control.

Ridding the community of SALW, a 'cruel enemy'

MAG destroyed a cache of more than 200 small arms and light weapons (SALW) weighing around 1.7 tons (1,542kg) near Sulaimaniyah on Saturday. The weapons were found about five kilometres away in Tangero, at a scrapyard through which children have to walk on their way to a school situated less than 100 metres away. The site, containing military and civilian scrap, is also located next to a government petrol store. Overseeing the demolition - one of the largest MAG has conducted in the Sulaimaniyah area since opening an office there in November - were Deputy Team Leader of the Regional Reconstruction Team in Erbil, Jess Baily, and Director General of Mine Affairs in Sulaimaniyah, Haji Masifi. Said Baily, the highest ranking US diplomat in the Kurdistan Region: "Destroying these weapons and munitions today means that they are unavailable to terrorist and criminal groups, and increases the safety of the people of Sulaimaniyah." Unsecured weapons caches and mines are a source of explosives for insurgents and other malevolent groups; by eliminating these explosives, MAG supports peace-building initiatives and makes the Sulaimaniyah area and Iraq safer.

Two al-Sistani's representatives kidnapped in Basra

Unknown gunmen on Monday afternoon kidnapped two top Shiite cleric's Ali al-Sistani’s representatives from central Basra, demanding a USD 100,000 ransom to release them, the chief of the Basra operations said.

Sunni vs Shia: the real bloody battle for Baghdad

A teenage boy was arrested recently for the attempted rape of a girl his own age in a school in west Baghdad. He admitted he had chosen the particular girl as his victim "because I knew she was a Sunni and nobody would protect her". The boy was mistaken in his belief that he was beyond the law, mainly because the girl's uncle was a senior officer in the army. But his words explain why Iraq's Sunni minority feel so vulnerable since they lost power to the Shia majority when Saddam Hussein was overthrown five years ago. Reconciliation between Sunni and Shia, seen by the US as essential for political progress in Iraq, is not happening. The difficulty in introducing measures to conciliate members of the old regime is illustrated by the way in which a new law, originally designed to ease the path of former Baath party members into government jobs will, in practice, intensify the purge against them.

Mafias in Baghdad, clever in changing masks

It was just a conventional winter night in Baghdad, precisely on 15/1/2008. The retired engineer, Ahmed Jawad Hashim Al-Hashemi, received one of the relatives of his wife on dinner. They finished their meals, and went to the guests' room, where Al-Hashemi and his guest sat near to a kerosene heater watching TV. Al-Hashemi's teenage daughter (16 years) was at her room doing school homework, while Al-Hashemi's wife was at the kitchen preparing some tea for her husband and the family's guest. Regular knocking on the door of the house ripped the silence of that cold night, the style of the generated sound was normal; they thought that it might be a neighbor that wants to borrow something. The guest told the old retired father to stay near to the heater, and that he would open the door. He went to the door, and as soon as he opened it, he received a heavy punch on his head that made him loses his conscious for a while. A group of men in the uniform of the Iraqi police went inside the house. The old engineer offered them all the money and golden pieces that he had at his house for only one thing in return, not to harm him or his family.

Iraq Braced for More Cholera Outbreaks

Cholera is a potentially lethal diarrheal disease that is primarily spread through contaminated water or food. The disease often festers in overcrowded areas with poor infrastructure. An outbreak last year began in the northern province of Kirkuk in August and spread to 11 other provinces, including Baghdad, where Iraq's last case was recorded in early December, according to the World Health Organization. The United Nations agency reported that 30,000 people fell ill with acute watery diarrhea. The last cholera outbreak prior to that was in the spring of 2003, when 187 cases were recorded, according to WHO. No one died at that time.

Iraq signs up to Awakening movement

Last year, the Iraqi government warned of the dangers of giving too much power to the mainly Sunni Awakening Councils, armed neighbourhood groups that have successfully driven al-Qaeda out of many districts of Baghdad and elsewhere. Now, with their numbers having risen to around 80,000 nationwide, the Shia-led administration in Baghdad says it is in the process of recruiting Awakening Council members into the police and army. "We should not miss this golden opportunity afforded by the Sunni Arab community having turned against al-Qaeda and coming back into the fold," Iraq's Security Advisor, Dr Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, told the BBC. "We are at the beginning of the [recruitment] process, but we need to be very careful not to allow them to join without proper vetting."

Kurdish Women Hit Glass Ceiling

Political parties pay only lip-service to women’s demands for greater political clout. Despite a reputation for courage on the battlefield, Kurdish women are unable to penetrate the upper echelons of power in the region’s top parties and government, according to politicians and women’s activists. Iraqi Kurdistan is widely considered the most liberal part of the country for women. Kurdish women have served with the Peshmerga guerrillas for decades, and one of the six Kurdish ministers in the Iraqi national government is female. However, only one of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s 44 ministers is a woman, and neither of the two powerful parties has a female in its ruling politburo. Although women are trying to break the glass ceiling, they say they are blocked by Iraqi Kurdistan’s male-dominated political world.

Int'l organization urges release of Iraqi journalist

An international organization advocating journalists urged the Iraqi defense ministry to release Jassem Salman, a journalist who was detained along with his son in central Baghdad last month. "We call for the immediate release of Jassem Salman, who was arrested in January 2008 in al-Batawin area, central Baghdad," the Media Peace Organization, an offshoot of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq Oil Deals Near Completion

Iraq's Oil Ministry, in talks with oil majors to boost production in crucial fields, may give long-term deals to firms that offer technical support. This comes as Baghdad is preparing a first round, though somewhat cloudy in details, of bidding and negotiated contracts to improve its struggling oil sector. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told Argus Media on the sidelines of the OPEC meeting in Vienna that all deals would be fully transparent. Work would be carried out by Iraqi workers, he said. There are no legal controls, though, and without it and the re-establishment of the Iraqi National Oil Co. the country's oil sector is moving away from being nationally controlled.

Pressure mounts on Kurds for signing oil deals

Iraqi experts and politicians have slammed the Kurdish authorities for signing oil development deals with foreign firms without central government’s consent. Former oil minister Isam al-Jalabi said those contracts were ‘illegal’ and had no constitutional base. The deals, he said, violate the constitution which says: “Oil and gas are the property of the Iraqi people in regions and provinces.” Jalabi is currently an international oil expert leading a consultancy in London and Amman. The Kurds’ persistence to go ahead with the deals has turned numerous Iraqi factions from the whole range of the disparate political spectrum against them.

Iraq would seek extended U.N. mandate if necessary

Iraq would seek an extension of the U.N. mandate authorizing U.S.-led forces on its soil if it cannot reach a bilateral deal with the United States by the end of the year, an Iraqi official said on Tuesday. However, Iraqi ambassador to the United States Samir Sumaida'ie said he hopes Washington and Baghdad can wrap up talks on their long-term strategic relationship by July, obviating the need to extend the U.N. mandate. The United States now has 158,000 troops in Iraq, formally operating under the authority of a U.N. Security Council resolution enacted after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The U.N. Security Council voted on Dec. 18 to extend the mandate for one year. At the time, the Iraqi government said this would be the last extension after which it would address the presence of foreign forces through bilateral agreements.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

UN Transfers Millions From Oil-For-Food

United Nations has transferred $161 million from the defunct oil-for-food program to a development program for Iraq, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday. In a letter to the Security Council, Ban said the U.N. will continue to transfer "unencumbered funds" to the Development Fund for Iraq as it continues the process of terminating the oil-for-food program, found to be riddled with corruption.

Bush's budget would boost military spending, cut Medicare, Medicaid

HISTORY

Thanks for the memories, asshole

Five years ago today, Colin Powell decided to spend all of his credibility to sell George Bush's War. The war John McLovin' wants to last 100 years. A war that costs us more than $100 billion every year (and probably about $2 trillion so far) -- and will cost thousands more dead this year.

The CIA operation that should have prevented the Iraq war

When Saad Tawfiq watched then-US Secretary of state Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations on February 5, 2003, he shed bitter tears as he realized he had risked his life and those of his loved ones for nothing. As one of Saddam Hussein's most gifted engineers, Tawfiq knew that the Iraqi dictator had shut down his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes in 1995 -- and he had told his handlers in US intelligence just that. And yet here was the then US secretary of state -- Tawfiq's television was able to received international news through a link pirated from Saddam's spies next door -- waving a vial of white powder and telling the UN Security Council a story about Iraqi germ labs. "When I saw Colin Powell I started crying. Immediately. I knew I had tried and lost," Tawfiq told AFP five years later in the Jordanian capital Amman.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Jordan Opens Schools to Iraqis, But Not All Come

Omar Al-Hmoud gets frustrated when Iraqi parents tell him they haven’t enrolled their children in Jordanian schools because they soon expect to be resettled in another country. The deputy country director for Mercy Corps, an international nonprofit organization that provides aid to displaced Iraqis in Jordan, Mr. Al-Hmoud knows that resettlement can be an elusive dream. He’s concerned that a generation of Iraqi young people are missing out on getting an education while their families wait to move elsewhere. Mr. Al-Hmoud believes many Iraqi children are not attending school, even though Jordan opened its public schools this academic year for the first time to Iraqis without legal residency. Before the official decree, children were enrolled on a case by case basis, depending on the school, he said. As many as 19,000 Iraqi children attended Jordan’s public or private schools.

…..Among the Iraqi students in the informal program is Reyam Saddam, 13. She has been in Jordan for three years and missed two years of school after her family fled the war in Iraq. Now in 5th grade in a regular school, Reyam says she should be in the 7th grade. She said her family left Baghdad after her brother was kidnapped. He was returned to the family. Fifteen-year-old Aseel Thafir is also in the informal program. Its two hours of classes are his only schooling. He started the 6th grade in Iraq—before moving to Jordan four and a half years ago—but hadn’t been to school since, until enrolling in the informal program this school year. “I’m working to improve myself so I can register in public school,” said Aseel, who dreams of being an engineer like his father. His family left Iraq after both the young man and his brother were kidnapped in two different traumatic incidents. Both were returned to their family.

Children who can dream again

As an Iraqi refugee without a residency permit, Flora, along with around 50,000 other school-age Iraqis, was barred from attending state school in Jordan. Jordan and Syria share the burden of accommodating the bulk of the refugees from the conflict, but while Syria gave Iraqi children the right to go to school, Jordan held back. Then, under international pressure and with pledges of financial support, the Jordanian government changed its mind. On July 26 last year, just three weeks before the start of term, it announced that state schools would be open to Iraqi refugees. ……Finding a school place is not easy, as overcrowding is rife. Flora's school runs classes in two shifts to accommodate more than 2,000 pupils. The school's principal says there are up to 45 pupils per class. The numbers put a strain on resources, such as books and stationery. Tension has risen in the Jordanian population - people are not keen on giving up precious places to the Iraqis. Restrictions on entry also apply. Children must have their school records from Iraq to be able to register in Jordan. Many do not have them because they left in a rush to escape the war.

Release: Iraqi Refugee Resettlement Continues to Lag Behind Targets

The number of Iraqi refugees resettled in the United States remained low last month with only 375 Iraqis resettled in January 2008. In response to the latest numbers released today, Refugees International expressed disappointment at the U.S. administration's continual failure to meet its resettlement targets. In September of 2007, the State Department announced its goal of resettling 12,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of the fiscal year. Thus far, the U.S. has only resettled 1,432 Iraqi refugees in FY 2008. In 2007, the U.S. government only resettled 1,608 Iraqi refugees, despite the fact that the UN Refugee Agency referred 15,477 Iraqis to the U.S.

US may not meet Iraq refugee goal [US has no intention of meeting those goals. – dancewater]

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

Throw another log on the fire

It is a familiar story, but maybe it's worth noting that the gist of the recent commentary on the De-Debaathification law is wrong, being nothing more than an updating of the Iraq=sectarian-meltdown story. Cole's original claim (Jan 13) that the new law was "spearheaded by Sadrists" to make life worse for the ex-Baathists is something he made up out of whole cloth, but it has taken hold. The sequel is that Hashemi tried to veto the law, but he failed and it is being implemented anyway, and this is seen as a humiliation for him, and for the Sunnis, and another step in the sect-based meltdown. The subtext, as usual, is that all of the Iraqi parties are narrow sectarians. Among the inconvenient truths are that the Sadrist news-site Nahrainnet.net reflected rank-and-file Sadrist opposition to the new law, not approval or "spearheading" of it; and that today's Al-Quds al-Arabi prints on its front page a news-item favorable to the law headed "Thousands of Iraqis recover their jobs with the new law on inclusion of the Baath". If you take all of actual reports together, the unavoidable conclusion is that this was an attempted compromise, with hard-liners and accomodationists on both sides, so that as you would expect there was a variety of opinions about it among Sadrists, and a variety of opinions about it among ex-Baathists, and no doubt in other groups as well.

Strange Fruit: America's Gulag and the Good War

And that's why the true nature of both the "good war" in Afghanistan and the "bad war" in Iraq has been equally misunderstood. Looked at from the outside, as an attempt at some kind of rational statecraft or coherent, competent military policy, the two wars look like a bloody shambles: lurching from here to there with no clear purpose, entirely counterproductive, spawning more and more of the very terrorism, chaos, extremism and repression they purport to be combatting. But if they are seen chiefly as displays ­ and physical manifestations ­ of dominance, then there is no need at all for the specific policies and tactics to make sense or be effective or aim toward a coherent goal. The display of dominance is the goal. You do whatever you need to do at any given point to keep it going: change tack, shift gears, contradict yourself, sell out one ally, buy off another, arm yesterday's enemy, kill him tomorrow ­ the details don't matter. The dominance is all.

The Tenacity of American Militarism

If you want to change anything - even our increasing propensity for militarism - you first have to make an effort to engage with it. And to engage with it, you have to know the wellsprings of its appeal, which transcend corporate profits or imperial power, says lieutenant colonel William Astore.

Iraq’s Tragic Future

They embrace the occupation and speak, without shame or apparent fear of retribution, of an ongoing presence in that war-torn nation. Their Democratic counterparts have been less than enthusiastic in their criticism of the escalation. And the media, for the most part, continue their macabre role as cheerleaders of death, hiding the reality of Iraq deep inside stories that build upon approving headlines derived from nothing more than political rhetoric. The war in Iraq, we’re told, is virtually over. We only need “stay the course” for 10 more years. …..Iraq is dying; soon Iraq will be dead. True, there will be a plot of land in the Middle East which people will refer to as Iraq. But any hope of a resurrected homogeneous Iraqi nation populated by a diverse people capable of coexisting in peace and harmony is soon to be swept away forever. Any hope of a way out for the people of Iraq and their neighbors is about to become a victim of the “successes” of the “surge” and the denial of reality.

Crimes Without Punishment

This weekend, …..I had the opportunity to attend a screening of No End in Sight, Charles Ferguson’s brilliant documentary about the Iraq war, the buildup, the fuck-up and the slide into chaos. See it now at whatever theatre has the guts to show it. Don’t wait until it comes to Netflix because this is one film that must be seen in a theatre with a full sized theatre screen, not on a television set, no matter how large the set. This isn’t about watching football, it’s about watching history, really bad, tragic history. Only in the theatre will you see the true dimensions of the horror and the chaos that Bush brought down on the Iraqi people, and the criminal ignorance of the Bush administration that brought us to where we are today. It’s Halloween – a horror film in the shape of a fine documentary, one that lets events do the talking, the very best way to review history.

RESISTANCE

Photos: Iraqi home invasion re-enactment

When Morality Demands Winter Soldiers

In March of this year, the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will convene the Winter Soldier hearings in Washington, DC. "Winter Soldiers," according to Thomas Paine, are those who step up in behalf of their nation when things seem most bleak. With this in mind, IVAW members and others will courageously provide eyewitness accounts of their experiences of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Civilized nations and individuals accept, at least theoretically, that human beings have inalienable human rights, among them the right to life and to live in a nation that enjoys political sovereignty and territorial integrity (sometimes referred to as national rights). Such rights provide a natural immunity from, among other things, being injured and killed unjustifiably and having one's nation invaded and occupied without warrant. To kill an innocent person is murder, and "the (unprovoked and unjustified) invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack" is aggression. We believe as well that aggressed individuals and nations have a right of self- and national defense, i.e., to use violence, even deadly force/war, all things being equal, to assert these rights. Morally, we justify such a response with an understanding that the aggressors, by virtue of their violation of the rights of their victims, have forfeited their own (their immunity) and have become liable to be resisted - warred against - in justified self- and national defense.

Wexler wants hearings over cheney impeachment – sign the petition here.

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.

Please go to this website to sign the petition to support IVAW.

Quote of the day: Still the question for Baghdadi average citizens is that how can they distinguish between real and fake security forces, especially that they both dress the same uniform, and use the same IDs, cars, and guns?..... from article Mafias in Baghdad, clever in changing masks

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