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

Monday, February 11, 2008

News & Views 02/11/08

Photo: A woman cries at her home after an overnight US troops raid in northeastern Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Feb. 11, 2008. US troops raided a mosque and nearby houses and arrested 26 people, police said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Southern Baghdad casualties up to 62

Monday: 1 US Soldier, 25 Iraqis Killed; 53 Iraqis Wounded

Bomb factory found in Baghdad

An Iraqi army force found a factory for manufacturing bombs inside a house in eastern Baghdad, an official military source said on Monday. "Iraqi army forces raided a house in Ziyouna neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, where they found a large number of bombs as well as detonation equipment," the source, who asked to remain anonymous, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI).

IRAQ: Leishmaniasis affecting children in south

Over 180 children have been affected with Baghdad boil disease, or leishmaniasis, in Iraq’s southern province of Qadissiyah, about 130km south of Baghdad, local officials said. Leishmaniasis is known by different local names, including oriental sore, Aleppo button, Jericho boil and Delhi boil. In its most unpleasant form - visceral leishmaniasis - organ failure and death can result. The disease’s incubation period is up to six months, so thousands could have the disease without knowing it. “It is a dangerous disease which hits mostly children and could lead to death or leave skin deformities if no appropriate treatment is available,” said Fatih Abdul-Salam, a dermatologist at Qadissiyah General Hospital. He said leishmaniasis is transmitted by the bite of the midge-like female phlebotomine sandflies - tiny sand-coloured blood-sucking flies. “The disease has spread because of the lack of medical measures in the province and the lack of medicines, as most of those available have expired,” Abdul-Salam said.

IRAQ - Children Starved of Childhood

The violence around the continuing U.S. military operations in this city has robbed children of their childhood. Only two provincial schools and one private kindergarten school are functioning in this city of 280,000, located 50 km north of Baghdad. Most children know neither school nor play. Or even the food they want. “We parents can hardly meet the basic requirements of food,” Mahdi Hassan, a father of four, told IPS. “Nobody even mentions chocolate or pastries or anything else because Iraqis know they are not important,” Baquba resident Wissam Jafar told IPS. “Children eat what the other members of the family eat. Toys and games are offered only at festivals and on special occasions.” Baquba city, capital of Diyala province, has been at the centre of major U.S. military operations to fight al-Qaeda like forces. People have suffered from the violence from both sides.

…One in eight children in Iraq died during that period of malnutrition, disease, and lack of medicine. The US-led invasion of Iraq during March 2003 brought hope that things might change, but that change has only been for the worse.

A Day in a Life of an Iraqi Boy

Saad Raad, a 13-year-old Iraqi works at a motor repair centre close to his house in one of Baghdad’s districts after school. He earns roughly 10,000 Iraqi Dinars per day [US $7] in addition to tips. He saves most of his money to pay for school requirements for himself and his five brothers and contributes the rest of his pay towards household expenses. Saad described a typical day in his life to Asharq Al-Awsat: “I wake up at 7am to go to school. After school I return home, change my clothes, have lunch with my brothers and then I go to work at the motor repair garage until 6pm when it closes. During school term, I spend approximately six hours per day at work but on Fridays and during school holidays I work 11 hours per day. This is also the case during the summer holiday that lasts for over three months.” Saad continued: “I have been working in the same job for four years and I have only taken time off when I have been ill or in emergency situations. Sometimes I hurt my head or my hands when I have to get underneath the car to fix it but I see to these wounds straight away myself and get back to work because this is the nature of the job and I cannot allow these wounds to hinder my work.”

….Al Biyati highlighted that there are no government programs in place that aim to help end the suffering of Iraq’s children and that what is put forward in this regard by the concerned ministries and institutions does not meet the requirements.

Audio: Baghdad a Maze of Sectarian Mistrust

IRAQ: The Road to Learning Can Be Dangerous

University professors now enjoy increased pay, but in the face of threats and isolation, there is little they are able to do in the world of academics. All that has got better is the pay packages. Under the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein -- and primarily because of the U.S.-backed and UN-enforced economic sanctions -- Iraq academics in Iraq were given severely low wages, sometimes less than ten dollars a month. The income is now a good deal better. "We have started to buy back what we sold during the last 10 years of the previous regime," Prof. Abdullah Mahdi from Diyala University in Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad, told IPS. "We had sold our furniture and all we had just to eat." … And yet, not many say life is better.

Basra theatrical movement dying

Basra stages are dying. Flourishing years for the stages of theaters in Basra were ended with the British invasion to that southern Iraqi city in March 2003, and the subsequent rising of radical Islamists there. Basra (550 km south of Baghdad – capital of Iraq) was a leading Iraqi city in arts. It was distinguished with its stages for decades, but currently, there is a significant absence of stages in that Shiite dominated Iraqi province.

War News Radio: Police in Training

This week on War News Radio, we find out about the slow progress that has been made towards assembling Iraq’s security forces. We hear from Iraqi journalist Ayub Nuri about what he found on his recent trip home. In Iraq 101, we find out more about the history of de-Baathification. These stories, plus the week’s news, from War News Radio.

US forces do home searches

The raids have angered local residents, who accuse U.S. troops of being indiscriminately heavy handed. Reuters pictures at the scene of the raids showed furniture strewn from houses, blood on the ground and women and children crying. "I appeal to the government and especially the Americans to stop the search operations. Everyday they are invading our houses and taking our innocent young people," Hussein Zaidan, who lives in the area, said.

Up-to-the-minute lab equipment to examine ration card items

The General Company for Foodstuffs Trading said on Monday it had imported modern and high quality laboratory equipment to examine ration card items before distributing them to residents. Scientific staff and technicians are currently receiving training abroad to use the appliances, the company's general director, Qays Muhammad Naseeb, said in a statement released by the Ministry of Trade and received by Aswat al-Iraq, Voices of Iraq, (VOI).

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Kurdish legislators unsatisfied with the new Iraqi flag

The new flag of the Republic of Iraq is flapping in Kurdistan region, but some Kurd figures are unsatisfied with that flag. Despite the objections of Kurd regional parliamentarians that the modified design of the Iraqi flag doesn't refer to the Kurdish nation, Kurdish authorities in Arbil,, capital city of Kurdistan, raised the amended Iraqi flag on their territories, side by side with the local Kurdish flag of that region, on Sunday morning 10/2/2008. In September 2006, Massoud Barzani, President of Kurdistan Region of Iraq, ordered to bring the old Iraqi flag down from all governmental institutions of that region, and to replace it with the local flag of Kurdistan, because "the genocides of Al-Anfal military operations were committed against Kurds under the old Iraqi flag in late 1980s, when Iraq was ruled by the regime of Saddam Hussein".

Military force heads for Samarra to prevent infiltrators

A military force headed for Samarra, Salah el-Din, to prevent armed infiltrators from Mosul, which will witness a wide-scale security operation, the official spokesman for the Peshmerga fighters said. "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered to send the first battalion of the 3rd brigade of the 4th division, which is stationed in Touz Khormato, to Samarra," Jabar Yawer told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI). "The army forces will head to the city to prevent armed infiltrators, who may escape to it from Mosul, which will witness a wide-scale security operation against al-Qaeda gunmen," he explained. "They will also contribute in protecting the Turkish company working on the reconstruction of the two Askarian shrines," Yawer added.

Popular committees in Diala stage demonstration against police chief

Hundreds of members of the popular committees of tribal fighters in Diala staged a demonstration in central Baaquba on Monday demanding the sacking of the province's police chief for allegedly violating human rights.

U.S.led Sunni militias turn guns on Iraqi police

U.S. backed Sunni militiamen have killed three police officers and injured three others, an Iraqi security source refusing to be named said. It is the first time U.S.-financed Sunni militias turn their guns against government police forces. The incident comes as the so-called Majlis Sahwa in Diyala or the Awakening Council, the euphemism used to describe the militias, has called for civil disobedience in the restive city. Security sources said many government offices were closed on Sunday and Monday and that certain neighborhoods in the city saw anti-government demonstrations. The Sunni militias are run by tribal chieftains who have demanded that the government remove the city’s police chief on allegations of corruption and human rights abuses.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

U.S., Iraqi forces begin al Qaeda action in Mosul

More than 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces have begun operations against al Qaeda in Iraq's northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said on Monday, paving the way for what Iraqi officials say will be a decisive strike. Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced plans to drive Sunni Islamist militants out of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, which U.S. commanders call al Qaeda's last major urban stronghold. ….Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are taking part in several offensives in Iraq's northern provinces, where al Qaeda and other insurgents regrouped after being ousted from western Anbar province and around Baghdad last year.

US raids Iraq psychiatric hospital over attacks

"We detained an individual that we believe was linked to al Qaeda in Iraq and suicide bombers." He confirmed the man was suspected of being involved in the recent deadly attacks but declined to give any further details.

Army sniper gets 10 years for killing Iraqi

[I believe the criminals that sent him to Iraq should get 1,000,000 years. – dancewater]

Gates backs pause in future U.S. troop pullout

[Now, anyone who has a command of the English language and was NOT functioning as a propaganda tool would have written: “Gates Wants to Maintain Troop Levels.” I believe they write like this so that they can wave “US troop pullout” in front of Americans every other day or so, thinking that maybe we will believe it. Sadly, some Americans DO believe it. – dancewater]

Russia forgives 12-billion-dollar Iraq debt: reports

Russia on Monday forgave nearly all the 12.9 billion-dollar debt owed it by Iraq and voiced hopes of increased Russian investment in the war-torn country, news agencies quoted Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin as saying.

UPDATE 2-Russia sees Iraq oil deal revived by debt write-off

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Russian firms would invest under a new inter-governmental memorandum that crowns years of attempts by Moscow to revive Saddam Hussein-era deals since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the dictator in 2003. "We have an agreement from the Iraqi side to pay special attention to the previously signed deals," Kudrin told reporters after meeting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari. He named LUKOIL among the top investors. LUKOIL's stock close 3.6 percent up, outperforming the broader market .MCX, on hopes it would be able to regain its $3.7 billion Saddam-era West Qurna deal to tap one of Iraqi biggest oil deposits.

Army Buried Study Faulting Iraq Planning

The Army is accustomed to protecting classified information. But when it comes to the planning for the Iraq war, even an unclassified assessment can acquire the status of a state secret. That is what happened to a detailed study of the planning for postwar Iraq prepared for the Army by the RAND Corporation, a federally financed center that conducts research for the military.

Mubarak says US troop presence in Iraq 'attracts terrorists'

HISTORY

Iraq’s Tidal Wave of Misery

The population of the United States is now just over 300,000,000. The population of Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion was perhaps in the 26-27 million range. Between March 2003 and today, a number of reputable sources place the total of Iraqis who have fled their homes -- those who have been displaced internally and those who have gone abroad -- at between 4.5 million and 5 million individuals. If you take that still staggering lower figure, approximately one in six Iraqis is either a refugee in another country or an internally displaced person.

Now, consider the equivalent in terms of the U.S. population. If Iraq had invaded the United States in March 2003 with similar results, in less than five years approximately 50 million Americans would have fled their homes, assumedly flooding across the Mexican and Canadian borders, desperately burdening weaker neighboring economies. It would be an unparalleled, even unimaginable, catastrophe. Consider, then, what we would think if, back in Baghdad, politicians and the media were hailing, or at least discussing positively, the "success" of the prime minister's recent "surge strategy" in the U.S., even though it had probably been instrumental in creating at least one out of every ten of those refugees, 5 million displaced Americans in all. Imagine what our reaction would be to such blithe barbarism.

Operation Iraqi Freedom Enslaved Iraqi Women

“Today, I'm proud that this oppression has ended,” Mrs. Bush continued to say. She is mistaken. The oppression is alive and well, has been since it began in 1991, when more than 142,000 tons of bombs and 350 tons of depleted uranium shells were used in the 43-day military war, thus killing, during and post-war period, over a hundred thousand people. Afterwards, it remained robust as millions of people – mainly young children – died as a direct result of the U.S.-led blockade. The lack of food and medicine, along with the deteroriating sanitry conditions caused one-fifth of the population to starve to death in Iraq (UN FAO report, 1995). Up to 95% of all pregnant women suffered from anemia, thus giving birth to weak, malnourished infants. Every month, according to the 1996 UNICEF report, more than 4,500 children under the age of five died from hunger. At the 2004 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, Mrs. Bush again compared Afghan women with those of Iraq. A whole year passed and she hadn’t learned the difference. “As they are making their voices heard, the women of Iraq are also experiencing the freedom that education brings.”

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraq: Propaganda Isn't Enough for Refugees to Return

There has been no mass return of the two million Iraqis who fled to Syria and Jordan or a further 2.4 million refugees who left their homes within Iraq. The latest figures from the UN High Commission for Refugees show that, on the contrary, the number of people entering Syria from Iraq was 1,200 a day in late January "while an average of 700 are going back to Iraq from Syria." The reasons people are not going back, despite new stringent visa regulations in Syria, are that they know Baghdad is very dangerous, the chances of making a living are small and there is a continuing lack of electricity and water.

Jordanian king agrees to cancel fines on returning Iraqis

New fuel prices in Jordan, Iraqis unable to afford them

WFP, UNHCR boost assistance to Iraqi refugees in Syria amid lack of funds

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) began a massive distribution of food and other items on Sunday to over three times more vulnerable Iraqi refugees than assisted in the past. While pressure to meet the needs of the Iraqi refugees mounts, WFP warned that unless new funds are quickly received, it will be unable to carry out the next round of distributions in April. Food and other items such as blankets, soap and mattresses are being distributed to an initial 145,000 targeted refugees, as identified by UNHCR's registration system. WFP and UNHCR aim to reach tens of thousands of additional refugee families by the end of 2008.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

Deadly Hubris: A million Iraqis dead -- for what?

The UK’s Opinion Research Business has released another statistical study of Iraqi casualties since the launching of the American invasion, one that updates, revises, and essentially confirms their earlier estimate of a million-plus dead

Shadowy tactics of US troops in Iraq

But the conviction of a US army sniper in Baghdad for the killing of an unarmed man has provided a glimpse of the shadowy tactics employed by American forces in Iraq and the sleep-deprived conditions under which they are forced to operate. …..Details of the secret policy of taking weapons on operations to plant on victims emerged during evidence given by the group's leader, Sgt Mark Hensley, who admitted ordering Vela to fire the fatal shot, but who was acquitted of murder last year. The court also heard it was an accepted policy for US snipers' units to carry fake explosives and other weapons as bait, leave them out in the open, then to shoot any suspected insurgents who tried to take them. [I have seen reports of US troops faking an IED blowing up a US military vehicle, including acting like injured US troops were removed by helicopter, and then firing on the Iraqis who showed up to celebrate at the abandoned vehicle. Michael Yon reported this. – dancewater]

Securing their own street

In Baghdad, Sunnis have set up these local groups out of fear for the army and the overwhelmingly Shi'ite police force. In Baghdad's Shi'ite suburbs, and especially in Sadr City where people are loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, it is the police whom residents fear. They know police have been heavily infiltrated by Badr brigade cadres loyal to the Hakim family. The Americans dub the new vigilante and militia groups with the innocent label, Concerned Local Citizens. But most are anything but innocent. They are linked to local warlords, gang leaders, and criminal groups--the sort of people who always emerge in times of civic breakdown and urban violence.

Tribal system promises much for a new Iraq

When the Iraqi nation was bombed, pillaged and neglected, of the two social pillars able to maintain cohesion--religion and tribe--the tribal system proved to be the more effective. Rather than advocating harmony, tolerance and forgiveness, Iraq's religious apparatus became politicized, thereby fostering (but not fueling) sectarian tensions. Tribal leaders, on the other hand, were struggling even fighting to maintain a unified Iraq.

The Law on the Powers of Governorates Not Organised in a Region: Washington’s “Moderate” Allies Show Some Not-So-Moderate Tendencies

Whenever Iraqi politics becomes difficult to classify according to the ethno-sectarian mindset preferred by most Western commentators, interest in what is going on in Baghdad seems to dwindle. Little wonder, then, that for the past few weeks, somewhat esoteric news items (like a visit to Iraq by Angelina Jolie) have dominated press reports from Iraq. The two truly significant developments during the past month have received less coverage: the attempts to agree on a general budget, as well as efforts to pass a law on the powers of governorates nor organised in a [federal] region. The governorates law is of particular importance because it directly relates to the fundamental struggle between centralist and decentralist forces in Iraq – and, more generally, to the debate about the ideal structure of Iraq’s future democracy. But at the same time it has the potential to become a particularly thorny piece of legislation, due to its intimate links to one of the most fundamental contradictions in the 2005 constitution.

The answer to Iraq's problems?

The political process that the Coalition Provisional Authority administered and then the United Nations oversaw through elections created the conditions for Iraqis to identify with their sect/ethnicity rather than with the Iraqi nation through their respective provinces. The electoral process was based on closed national lists by means of which Iraqis naturally rallied to their sectarian/ethnic grouping. This system created a first generation of Iraqi politicians who played the sectarian/ethnic game to rally constituents. Politics became a destabilizing scramble for sectarian/ethnic power at the national level.

…..If these local reconciliation initiatives expand into national reconciliation and political reform projects and the local leaders turn into Iraq's second generation of national political leaders, then we may witness a major evolution in Iraqi politics in the form of some sort of a bottom-up political process. This may be the answer to Iraq's problems. It will encourage Iraqis to participate in politics through provincial identification, thus allowing them to cross ethnic and sectarian lines and facilitating national unity. Yet it may also bring new challenges, insofar as the speed and final outcome of this evolution are affected by the national election law, the provincial elections and the attitude of the existing political parties.

Developmental politics

Prior to the Awakening, the surge had done little more than provide a more concentrated target for insurgents. But the direct cost of the turnaround is strengthened tribal control over the province, with all the political threats and pressures on the "larger Iraqi picture" that go with it. Since many of the insurgents came from within the Awakening tribes, the task of quieting Anbar was somewhat of a shell game--the number of combatants has not decreased so much as it has changed, morphing into the Iraqi police or simply standing down.

Quote of the day: When insecurity becomes truly massive, peoples' horizons shrink yet further. To treat Iraq's collapse into local politics as a success story is laughable. Iraqis are in survival mode, and the safety of their own street, even if it has to be safeguarded by militias, is all they can hope for.” – Jonathan Steel

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