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, February 7, 2008

News & Views 02/07/08


Photo: A door riddled with bullet holes from a joint raid conducted by the Iraqi and U.S. Forces is seen as a boy walks out from a house in Baghdad's Sadr City February 7, 2008. Amid signs of growing restlessness, Iraqi police said Mehdi Army fighters had clashed with Iraqi and U.S. soldiers early on Thursday in Sadr City, the sprawling Shi'ite slum in northeast Baghdad which is one of Sadr's power bases. Police said three people, including a woman and a child, were hurt in the clashes and 16 detained. A U.S. military spokesman said one person was killed and another was injured when U.S. and Iraqi soldiers conducted raids "targeting criminal elements". REUTERS/Kareem Raheem (IRAQ)

Photo: A resident holds the bloodstained clothes of his mother inside a house after a joint raid conducted by Iraqi and U.S. forces in Baghdad's Sadr City February 7, 2008. Amid signs of growing restlessness, Iraqi police said Mehdi Army fighters had clashed with Iraqi and U.S. soldiers early on Thursday in Sadr City, the sprawling Shi'ite slum in northeast Baghdad which is one of Sadr's power bases. Police said three people, including a woman and a child, were hurt in the clashes and 16 detained. A U.S. military spokesman said one person was killed and another was injured when U.S. and Iraqi soldiers conducted raids "targeting criminal elements". REUTERS/Kareem Raheem (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Thursday: 1 US Soldier, 18 Iraqis Killed; 29 Iraqis Wounded

Civilian killed in mix-up between US,Iraqi forces

A civilian was killed in a U.S. air strike on Baghdad on Thursday after Iraqi neighbourhood police mistakenly opened fire on a U.S. boat patrol, the U.S. military said. The incident, the latest in which innocent Iraqis have been killed, occurred after neighbourhood police, called "concerned local citizens" (CLC) by the U.S. military, shot at a U.S. forces on patrol on the Tigris River south of the capital. The U.S. soldiers returned fire in self-defence and called up support from the air. A building next to the CLC checkpoint was hit, killing the civilian.

Jolie: internally displaced Iraqis need more help

Hollywood star and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie appealed on Thursday for more international help for the millions of Iraqis displaced internally and abroad, U.N. officials said. Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), met officials from the United Nations, the U.S. embassy and the U.S. military in central Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. "She's here in her official capacity to talk to government officials, the military and the United Nations about Iraq's refugees and displaced persons," Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy to Baghdad, told Reuters. Jolie also visited Iraq last August, when she went to a makeshift camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) and met Iraqi refugees in Damascus, capital of neighbouring Syria.

Shia call on Mehdi Army to take up arms again in Iraq

In the alleys of the ancient district of al-Salaikh in Baghdad, a Shia family fought a fierce gun battle with Sunni militiamen who tried to stop them reoccupying their house from which they had been forced months earlier. The Shia family got the worst of the fighting and, after suffering seven dead, sent a desperate message asking for help to the Mehdi Army, the powerful Shia militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that once would have rushed to defend them. On this occasion, however, the local Mehdi Army commander turned them down, saying: "We can do nothing because we are under orders not to break the ceasefire." It is this six-month ceasefire, declared on 29 August last year by Mr Sadr, which American commanders say is responsible for cutting much of the violence in Iraq. But the ceasefire will expire in the next few weeks and political and military leaders loyal to Mr Sadr are advising him not to renew it.

The Surrender is Working: U.S. Cedes Town to 'Al Qaeda in Iraq'

Members of al-Qaeda group have retaken a strategic town, some 70 kilometers south of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, members of parliament said. The MPs said Tuz Khormato, a predominantly Shiite town, was now in the hands of 'al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia', the group's official appellation. The MPs gave no reason for the unexpected withdrawal of U.S. Marines from the town. But they said the departure of U.S. troops has led to "a dangerous upsurge in insecurity" with bandits and fighters attacking travelers and vehicles on the highway to Kirkuk. Tuz Khormato has a slight Turkmen majority. Iraqi Turkmen are predominantly Shiites. Turkmen MPs have sent a statement to Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki's government urging him to send troops to guard the city and the highway.

Police uncovers huge weapon cache in Kirkuk

Police forces discovered a huge weapon cache containing 2000 mortars rounds in Kirkuk on Thursday, Suburb police chief said. ”A force of Kirkuk police on Thursday conducted a security operation in Laylan district, 25 north-east of Kirkuk, discovering an explosives cache containing over 2000 mortar rounds and different types of weapons”, Sarhad Qadir, chief of District and suburb police, told aswat al-Iraq-Voices of Iraq(VOI).

Hostages found after 15 days in underground prison

Coalition Force Soldiers, working with intelligence from Iraqi Police in Northern Iraq, liberated two men locked inside a large storage container being used as a subterranean prison in the Al Jazeera desert near Samarra on February 4, the US army announced on Thursday. Local Iraqi Police were given the information from Sons of Iraq (formerly known as Concerned Local Citizens). The Soldiers of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, quickly responded from Patrol Base Olsen in Samarra. Coalition Forces arrived at the prison site and found two men inside the buried container. The hostages, both from Yethrib Village near Balad, were taken from a gas station along with a fuel truck by men in black masks.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq’s Civil War, the Sadrists and the Surge

If the downturn in violence in Iraq is to continue, Muqtada al-Sadr's unilateral ceasefire must urgently be converted into a comprehensive multilateral one that creates conditions for his movement to evolve into a legitimate political actor. Iraq’s Civil War, the Sadrists and the Surge,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the continued involvement until 2007 of the Sadrists and their Mahdi Army, the country’s biggest militia, in the brutal sectarian civil war and assesses the reasons behind their decision to freeze military activities. It argues that the ceasefire in place since August 2007 offers an opportunity for the movement’s full integration into the political sphere which ought not to be missed.

Powerful Shiite Cleric Quiets in Iraq

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has sharply reduced his workload in recent months, raising new questions about the health of the aged leader and the prospect of a dangerous power vacuum without a clear and dominant successor. Any change in al-Sistani's role or reach could have far-reaching consequences for both Iraq and the United States, which consider the Iranian-born cleric as perhaps the most powerful figure in Iraq and a vital stabilizing force in the oil-rich Shiite heartlands of southern Iraq.

Sadr tells militia to maintain Iraq ceasefire

Anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his feared Mehdi Army on Thursday to maintain its six-month ceasefire as members of the militia clashed with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad. Shi'ite Sadr's spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said the ceasefire, which expires later this month and has been vital to cutting violence in Iraq, should continue to be observed until militia members are told it is over or has been renewed. Some members of Sadr's bloc are pressuring him not to extend the Aug. 29 freeze on the Mehdi Army's activities.

VP supports forming new government

Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel al-Mahdi on Thursday expressed his support to forming entirely new government. Speaking at a press conference held in Najaf, Abdel Mahdi said “I supported making complete changes to the government, bringing in new efficient ministers unaffected by the quota system”. Yet, he also called for considering “the power of he parliamentary blocs for the new government since the prime minister can not go to parliament without holding the confidence for approving his government”, he pointed out.

PM holds meeting on security situation in Mosul

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki held a meeting on Thursday with the crisis management cell on the security situation in Mosul to discuss preparations to wage a crucial military operation in the city. The premier previously announced his intention to launch a military operation in Mosul to hunt down armed groups.

Govt continuing its harrassment of Mahdists.

Al-Hayat had some news yesterday on the Mahdist movement. The spiritual leader of the Fadhila Party (breakaway/sibling of the Sadrist movement), Mohamed Jacoubi blamed politicians for the recent Mahdist activities (referring apparently to this year's happenings with the Adherents of the Mahdi and also last year's with the Army of Heaven). He said politicians have been covering their failures by invoking the name of the Najaf Shiite religious hierarchy, and this backfired by giving the groups a broad opportunity to stir their membership up against the Najaf authorities. …..A police/army campaign of arrests has started in the town of Khalas in Diyala province, east of Baghdad, against members of yet another Mahdist group, this one calling itself Adherents of the Imam Rabbani.

Mahdism: Heaven on earth for cops

Following up on the story of the revival of law-enforcement interest in Mahdist groups referred to in the prior post, it appears Sunni political and security people are also getting in on the act, spinning the Mahdist revival as a new form of threat from Iran (in contrast to the story reported on the Supreme Council's Burathanews.net to the effect this is a Baathist/Gulf-States phenomenon). Which means the Mahdists are now being spun as sinister agents of Iran by Sunni security-and-political people, and as sinister agents of Sunni powers by the Shiite government.

Iraqi lawmakers freeze election debate

Dozens of Iraqi legislators walked out of parliament Thursday to protest parts of a draft law that would lay out rules for provincial elections later this year, marking another potential setback for U.S.-backed proposals to ease Iraq's sectarian rifts. ….In parliament, the walkout postponed a planned vote on the measure on redistributing power in Iraq. The last time Iraqis voted for local officials was January 2005, when nationwide elections ushered in representational government across Iraq for the first time in modern history. But many Sunni Arabs boycotted the polls, giving Iraq's majority Shiites and minority Kurds a much bigger share of power. The U.S. hopes the new elections will empower the Sunni minority and blunt support for the insurgency.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

The terrorists’ paper trail in Iraq

More than 600 captured personnel files of foreigners who joined the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq tell the individual stories of Muslim extremists who made the difficult journey to Iraq—and most likely died or were captured there. According to the paperwork, Abdallah Awlad al-Tumi met his recruiter at a large mosque in Dublin. Al-Tumi, who was 36, took a flight from Turkey to Syria before entering Iraq, carrying his marriage certificate, a knife, and $5,000 in cash. His occupation back home: “massage specialist.” But the records, which were analyzed and released by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also point out a trait that has been unique to al Qaeda and many of its offshoots: They are surprisingly bureaucratic. “Al Qaeda is different from any other terror group in history because it was so large and had such a sophisticated logistical structure,” says Bruce Hoffman, an expert on terrorist groups who teaches at Georgetown University. “It’s a bureaucratic pathology.”

'Rules of Engagement' OK Tear Gas in Iraq

Wikileaks has a document up, stamped secret, that claims to be a two-year old set of US rules of engagement in Iraq. The big papers are all over it, because it appears to authorize raids into Syria and Iran. I'm intrigued by section 3.C.(3) Riot Control Measures, which includes the use of riot control agents -- tear gas, and the like. It says that riot control agents can be used: (i) To protect US and/or designated personnel and facilities from civil disturbance; (ii) During personnel recovery (PR) operations; (iii) To control rioting prisoners or detainees; (iv) During maritime operations involving civilians.

US official chides Arab allies

The State Department's Iraq coordinator reprimanded friendly Arab countries on Thursday for lagging in their diplomatic support for Iraq as it seeks to evolve into a secure, democratic state. It is a "significant absence," said David Satterfield, senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He named Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt as not yet delivering on promises to send ambassadors to Baghdad as a sign of support.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraqi Refugees: Mission to Assess Latest Situation for Displaced

Refugees International advocates will be traveling to Syria and Jordan from February 2nd to February 16th, 2008 to conduct a follow-up assessment mission on the humanitarian response to the Iraqi displacement crisis in the region and inside Iraq. The Refugees International (RI) team, which visited Syria, Jordan, and Egypt in late 2007, will evaluate the overall effectiveness of the response to the needs of refugees and of efforts to provide assistance and protection to groups that are particularly vulnerable. The security situation inside Iraq continues to deteriorate and Iraqis are still forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

JORDAN: Iraqi government calls for refugee visa fine waiver

Iraqi government officials are trying to persuade their Jordanian counterparts not to impose fines on Iraqi asylum-seekers who have overstayed their visitors’ visas - in a bid to ease their financial plight and encourage them to return home, officials from both sides said. "Certainly the high fines imposed on the poor class of Iraqis in the kingdom represent a major obstacle to their return," the Iraqi ambassador to Jordan, Saad Hayani, told IRIN. He said the Iraqi government was discussing with Jordan's Ministry of Interior the cancellation of the fines, but the Jordanian position was not yet clear on the issue.

Return home by Iraq's internal refugees slows-IRC

The number of Iraqis returning to their homes from refuge elsewhere in the country has slowed markedly as fears over security remain, the latest report by the Iraqi Red Crescent (IRC) says. Its findings echo those of a new UN study which said most Iraqis returning home after fleeing to Syria were doing so not because they felt Iraq was safer but because they could no longer afford to live abroad.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

Military Spending Soars During Bush Administration

**2009 budget is proposed, not actual. The 2009 number does not include supplemental funding requests for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FEATURE-Iraq's returnees crave a future free of bloodshed

When Abu Mutaz returned to Baghdad after fleeing Iraq's sectarian violence for Syria, he found it unrecognisable from the battlefield he had left behind. "I saw a different city where street cleaners were working like bees and shops were mostly open," said Abu Mutaz, who fled the Sunni Arab Amiriya district of western Baghdad after almost daily bombings made it "worse than hell". Abu Mutaz is one of the thousands of refugees who have made tearful returns to Iraq in the past several months, encouraged by better security and fed up with the hardships of exile. Their happiness at being back has tempered, at least for now, the uncertain future many of them face in a city where jobs are hard to find and the threat of violence remains.

RESISTANCE

Send a Message to DC with Christian Peace Witness

Dr. King reminded us that we are all "caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." All of us are wounded by the war in Iraq , and we must work together to end it. Whether or not you can come to Washington in March you can be part of the web of resistance by offering a strand of hope. Here's how: send or bring to Washington a six-foot length of light rope (multi-colored easy-tie clothesline is ideal). Attach to the rope ribbons or bands of cloth with your own hopes for a peaceful Iraq , your own prayers for peace, your own definitions of peace. Leave a foot at each end of your length of rope (so they can be tied together) and fill the remaining four feet. Please keep the ribbons or bands of cloth or prayer flags to two feet or shorter (so they can be carried without dragging the ground), and make them whatever width you like (keeping in mind that onlookers will want to be able read your hopes and prayers). Let our common longing for peace bind us together in hope. Imagine 10,000 feet of hope.

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

We shall seek peace and pursue it.

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: Section 1222 of HR 4986 was altered by a SIGNING statement by Mr. Bush. He has claimed that Section 1222 could inhibit his ability to defend the US Constitution, so he claims the right to ignore it. This is what Section 1222 of HR 4986 says: “No funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act may be obligated or expended for a purpose as follows:

(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.

(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.”

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