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 12, 2008

News & Views 02/12/08

Photo: Relatives mourn the death of 9-year-old Suroor Salman Hussein at a hospital morgue in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, February 12, 2008. According to local authorities the girl was killed by a roadside bomb while walking. REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Tuesday: 46 Iraqis Killed, 18 Wounded

U.N. says 4 million Iraqis hungry despite wealth

Four million Iraqis are struggling to feed themselves, and 40 per cent of the country's 27 million people have no safe water, the UN said today. Iraq has annual economic growth of around 7 per cent, according to UN estimates, and a national budget of €33 billion, buoyed by oil exports of 1.6 million barrels per day. But insurgency and sectarian attacks have displaced more than two million people and left nearly twice as many hungry. "Four million Iraqis cannot guarantee they're going to have food on their table tomorrow," the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq, David Shearer, said as he unveiled a €182 million appeal to donor governments for 2008.

Is violence on the rise again in Iraq?

Violence is increasing in Iraq, raising questions about whether the security improvements credited to the increase in U.S. troops may be short-lived. Car bombs in Baghdad on Monday killed at least 11 people and injured a prominent leader of one of the country's most influential American-allied tribal militias. The Ministry of Electricity announced that power to much of the nation, already anemic, is likely to lag in coming days because insurgents had blown up transmission facilities and natural gas pipelines that fuel generators. …..After months of declining violence, February is certain to be the third straight month to see increases in the numbers of Baghdad residents killed in car bombings and suicide attacks. According to statistics kept by McClatchy, the low point in such killings came in November, when 76 people died. Thanks to a pair of pet market bombings that killed 99 people Feb. 1, February's tally already is 131.

In Baghdad, a Different Kind of Nightmare Commute

I was only trying to do what millions of Angelenos do every day: commute home from work. But even when things are good here, they can quickly turn bad. First, I made the mistake of talking on my cellphone as my bus passed through an Iraqi army checkpoint. A soldier stopped the bus and ordered me to get off. He threatened to detain me. I smiled and apologized, pleading forgiveness and explaining that I had received an urgent call. He let me get back on the bus, and my journey continued. By the time we reached the terminal in central Baghdad where I catch my next bus, it was dark. A bonfire burned in the middle of the terminal, offering light and warmth. Vendors from the nearby outdoor fruit and vegetable market were tossing empty boxes into the flames to keep it burning.

ATMs in Iraq, unlike elsewhere

Automated Teller Machines (ATM) are newly introduced in Iraq. Iraqi private banks are currently providing their customers with some banking services through those machines but they are unlike international credit cards, they work on domestic level only. Using ATMs requires that a customer has a debit or credit card. Customers of those banks prefer to use ATMs in Iraq due to security situation there these days; however, that usage is still very limited in Iraq nationwide.

Central Bank of Iraq under lenses of experts

On 20/12/2007, Central Bank of Iraq decided to minimize the profit tariffs by one point, as an outcome, according to the bank, of the reduction in percentage of inflation on December 2007, from 65% to 12%. Iraqi economists criticized that decision. Some of them perceive that this reduction is trivial, while others believe that there was no such improvement in the economy of Iraq in 2007 that absorbed a percentage of inflation of 53%. Central Bank of Iraq, as some experts rendered this reduction in profit tariffs, has been symbolically subdued to repeated antecedent demands to reduce profit margins; however, those experts still believe that the mistaken policies of the Central bank of Iraq are pushing the economy of that country to the brink of an abyss.

UNICEF appeals for $37 million to save vulnerable Iraqi children

This is one of a special series of reports in which UNICEF examines what is being done to ensure at least a semblance of normalcy for children caught in the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

….Living with so much anxiety and loss has taken a heavy toll on children’s psychological and social well-being. Many are anxious and war-weary, unable to sleep or concentrate at school. More and more have turned to the streets and to work, where they are exposed to the worst forms of abuse and exploitation. From the remote marshlands of southern Iraq to the unstable cities around Baghdad and the mountains of the Kurdish north, children’s stories reveal the damage inflicted by conflict. They also show children’s incredible resilience in the face of significant challenges.

"To The Iraqi Government"

A nifty Iraqi hacker found a way to protest the government here with the government's own tool. The Iraqi Presidency Council's website has been hijacked by someone who calls himself SoSo H H Lion. Instead of the latest news from the Presidency Council a statement exclaims "Defaced!" in English and in Iraqi slang lashes out at the government. The statement titled "To the Iraqi government" is graced with the old Iraqi flag and the Iraqi national anthem plays to the complaints. ….The hacker asks, "A question; what are you doing for the country besides theft, looting and killing the people?"

Second life for Haifa Street after Baghdad security plan

Rowdy kids play around the feet of placid mothers swathed in full black veils. Sweet-toothed shoppers grab bags of pastries from a stall overlooking a street packed with honking traffic. Haifa Street at peace is still a noisy place but these are certainly happier days than those before the year-old Baghdad security plan, when the mile-long thoroughfare was a frontline in Iraq's ugly guerrilla war. In the dark months of 2006, the street, which runs parallel to the west bank of the Tigris through a formerly vibrant commercial district, was deserted as snipers dueled across the rooftops of its 1970s high-rise blocks.

….In divided Baghdad, the upper end of Haifa Street is known as the Sunni end, and it's much less busy. It lies near one of Saddam's former palaces now held by US troops and has a reputation for being more dangerous. Here, the buildings are scarred by bullets and shrapnel from mortar rounds. Metal sheets and barbed wire have been rigged up to protect stairwells that exit amid messy courtyards and clusters of little brick houses with sculpted wooden balconies, a rare pocket of the forgotten old Baghdad. Many of the flats have been abandoned, their windows sealed with rotting planks and wire grills. The rare families that remain are marked out by an occasional line of colorful washing or a newer satellite dish. The security forces are suspicious. "Syrian?" demanded a soldier on the arrival of an AFP reporter. Many foreign Arab fighters fought along Haifa Street, which was where in 2005 Al-Qaeda's banner was seen for the first time in Iraq's capital, flying over a burning American armored car.

U.S. business lags even in Kurdistan

The Iraqi government is hoping to rebuild an economy, and public infrastructure, battered by years of sanctions and war, which plunged many Iraqis into poverty and joblessness. But the employment outlook is far brighter in Kurdistan, and median incomes are up to 25 percent higher than in the rest of Iraq, the regional government says. Even so, Qubad Jalal Talabany, the Kurdistan Regional Government's representative to the United States and son of the Iraqi president, said U.S. business accounts only for 1 percent of total investment in Kurdistan. "The United States lags behind most other countries," he said.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Now we have come full circle:

Diyala police ask U.S. troops’ help in battle with U.S.backed militias

Fierce clashes between U.S.backed Sunni militias and Iraqi police have prompted U.S. occupation troops in the country to interfere. But the troops have opted to side with the police against the Sunni tribal militias they created, trained, financed and armed to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. Tensions are high in the restive Diyala Province of which Baaquba is the capital with the Sunni militias threatening to turn their guns against U.S. troops and the Shiite-dominated government if their demands are not met. One crucial demand Sunni militia tribal leaders are not willing to compromise is the removal of the police chief Ghanim al-Quraishi who they say is involved in sectarian violence.

Iraq parliament row over key laws deepens

Scores of Iraqi lawmakers stormed out of parliament on Tuesday after blocking a vote on the 2008 budget and other key bills, prompting calls for the legislature to be disbanded. Parliament speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, told reporters he might ask the presidency council to dissolve the legislature unless the crisis was resolved. The council comprises Iraq's president and two vice presidents. According to Iraq's constitution, parliament can dissolve itself with the consent of the absolute majority of its members, or upon the request of the prime minister and with the approval of the president. Mashhadani did not elaborate.

Adjourning parliament's session after withdrawal of Sadrists, Fadhila, NDF

The Iraqi parliament's chairmanship on Tuesday announced the adjournment of the evening session, which had to witness the voting on three important draft laws until tomorrow after the withdrawal of members of the Sadrist bloc, Fadhila party, and the National Dialogue Front (NDF). "The parliament's chairmanship decided to adjourn voting on the three bills; the 2008 budget, the areas not classified within provinces, and the general amnesty, until Wednesday because of the lack of quorum after the withdrawal of the members of the Sadrist bloc, Fadhila party and the National Dialogue Front (NDF) as a result of the disagreement over the priorities of reading the draft laws," MP from the Unified Iraqi Coaltion (UIC) Diyaa al-din Fayad told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI).

Sadr's office in Basra condemns British journalist kidnapping

An official in charge of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's office in Basra condemned all forms of assaults on journalists, demanding the release of a British journalist kidnapped recently by unidentified gunmen in Basra. "Al-Sadr's office in Basra is denouncing all forms of assaults on journalists all over Iraq in general and Basra in particular," Harith al-Azhari told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI) by telephone. "We demand those who kidnapped the foreign journalist in Basra to listen attentively to the voice of al-Sadr's office and release the foreign journalist," he said, adding "national powers in Iraq are against the occupation forces not against the foreign civilians, particularly journalists."

Iraq tribal units help security, but strains show

Now, people can walk the streets. Markets have flourished and U.S. soldiers patrol in relatively safety. The key reason has been the creation of a Sunni Arab neighborhood security unit similar to scores that have been set up across Iraq. But while Tarmiya shows how effective the U.S.-backed units can be, it highlights both the strains on a program the Shi'ite-led government appears wary of embracing and the growing frustration among some guards over their long-term future.

U.S. and 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. ….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.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Or so they say:

Gates: Al-Qaeda 'Routed' in Iraq

Petraeus: Foreign Militants Entering Iraq Down 50 Percent

US Captures Alleged Shi'ite Militia Chief

HISTORY

Iraq’s tidal wave of misery

The orgy of failure and corruption in 2007 was an unmitigated disaster for Iraqi society, as well as an embarrassment for the American occupation. From the point of view of long-term American goals in Iraq, however, this storm cloud, like so many others, had a silver lining. The Iraqi government's incapacity to perform at almost any level became but further justification for the claims first made by L. Paul Bremer at the very beginning of the occupation: that the country's reconstruction would be best handled by private enterprise. Moreover, the mass flight of Iraqi professionals, managers, and technicians has meant that expertise for reconstruction has simply been unavailable inside the country. This has, in turn, validated a second set of claims made by Bremer: that reconstruction could only be managed by large outside contractors.

This neoliberal reality was brought into focus in late 2007, as the last of the money allocated by the U.S. Congress for Iraqi reconstruction was being spent. A "petroleum exodus" (first identified by the Wall Street Journal) had long ago meant that most of the engineers needed for maintaining the decrepit oil business were already foreigners, mostly "imported from Texas and Oklahoma." The foreign presence had, in fact, become so pervasive that the main headquarters for the maintenance and development of the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq (the source of more than two-thirds of the country's oil at present) runs on both Iraqi and Houston time. The American firms in charge of the field's maintenance and development, KBR and PIJV, have been utilizing a large number of subcontractors, most of them American or British, very few of them Iraqi.

………Most horror stories come to an end, but the most horrible part of this horror story is its never-ending quality. Those refugees who have left Iraq now face a miserable limbo life, as Syria and other receiving countries exhaust their meager resources and seek to expel many of them. Those seeking shelter within Iraq face the depletion of already minimal support systems in degrading host communities whose residents may themselves be threatened with displacement. From the vast out-migration and internal migrations of its desperate citizens comes damage to society as a whole that is almost impossible to estimate. The displacement of people carries with it the destruction of human capital. The destruction of human capital deprives Iraq of its most precious resource for repairing the damage of war and occupation, condemning it to further infrastructural decline. This tide of infrastructural decline is the surest guarantee of another wave of displacement, of future floods of refugees.

As long as the United States keeps trying to pacify Iraq, it will create wave after wave of misery.

Abu Ghraib film tells story behind grim photos

A new film aims to show that the grim abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was not merely the work of a few bad apples, but the product of an American military machine gone horribly wrong. Four years on, the documentary by U.S. director Errol Morris tells the story of the low-level soldiers who ignited global outrage when their own photographs of their humiliation and intimidation of Iraqi detainees became public. "Was Abu Ghraib just a set of a couple hundred pictures showing some bizarre events or was Abu Ghraib a nightmare created by America that in some real sense shows the true character of the war?" he said. "Standard Operating Procedure", given its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Tuesday, features interviews with several of the soldiers involved.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraq refugees cost Jordan 2.2 billion dollars: minister

Jordan said on Tuesday that it estimated the costs of sheltering hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees over the past three years at more than two billion dollars, and appealed for international help.

UNHCR takes part in mass aid distribution in Syria

The UN refugee agency and its sister organization, the World Food Programme (WFP), warned of a funding shortage on Tuesday after launching their biggest joint aid distribution to date in Syria. On Sunday, UNHCR and WFP staff began distributing food and non-food items, including blankets, soap and mattresses, to 145,000 vulnerable refugees, some three times more than helped in previous distributions. The operation, which was launched in an old fairground in the middle of Damascus, will take five weeks. The two agencies hope to reach tens of thousands of other refugees during further planned distributions this year, but said that they were far short of appeal targets and would find it difficult to conduct future distributions. In January, UNHCR and WFP called on donors to provide fresh funding for their operations helping hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis and those forced to flee their homes by sectarian violence and seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan. The UN refugee agency appealed for US$261 million, including US$131 million for Syria, and has to date received few pledges. The United States, however, was expected to announce a big donation later Tuesday. WFP has only received US$5 million of the US$43 million it sought – barely enough for two months.

UNHCR chief discusses refugee crisis with Jordan's King Abdullah

High Commissioner António Guterres thanks Jordan's King Abdullah II for his nation's hospitality toward hundreds of thousands of uprooted Iraqis. In an afternoon audience with the Jordanian monarch, Guterres expressed his "deep gratitude" for the generosity shown by Jordan in hosting more than half-a-million Iraqis who have fled violence in their homeland. The High Commissioner, on a weeklong mission to the region aimed at highlighting the plight of uprooted Iraqis, said the international community needed to recognize the huge burden borne by host countries, particularly Jordan and neighbouring Syria, and do more to ease that load.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

Iraq errors should not stop global push for democracy: British FM

[That should read: Iraq horrors will not stop the global push for corporate domination. – dancewater]

The US troop surge, a year later

[Full of wrong information about Sadr and al Hakim, along with other things. – dancewater]

Underestimating al-Sadr - Again

The six-month ceasefire that Moqtada al-Sadr called in August 2007 is set to expire at the end of February. Observers believe the freeze in operations of his Mahdi Army is a major reason for the recent security successes in Iraq; and most expected it to be extended. But recently the Sadr camp has said that it might end the ceasefire. On January 18, a spokesman for Sadr in the religious capital of Najaf issued a statement warning that "the rationale for the decision to extend the freeze of the Mahdi Army is beginning to wear thin." Is the U.S. alarmed? It is not - and that is alarming.

LOGIC

Well, I can’t see any logic in the American initiative of using the insurgents to fight Qaida. First because these areas are mixed and we all know about the sectarian tension and violence, the insurgents who join these awakening council may uses their authorities for personal purposes and second depending on the insurgents to fight the insurgents (Qiada or any other groups) doesn’t mean defeating the enemy because for sure some members of the enemy would sneak inside the American formed awakening councils.

…..These two examples are the best evidence of the failure of the American experience which (the failure) is very logical result for an illogical initiative. Those councils now demonstrate against the American supported Iraqi government. As I said, those people don’t have a case to fight for and this is a very strong weak point in the infrastructure of such awakening council. I wish the American army find a good solution for this crisis. I’m afraid the US army decides to form new awakening councils within the current awakening councils who support the Iraqi government. In fact, In fact, I’m afraid that the whole issue would end with forming an awakening government.

RESISTANCE

Anti-war, pro-Marine confrontation begins early in Berkeley

A pre-dawn confrontation broke out this morning in Berkeley between peace activists and pro military groups, more than 12 hours before the City Council considers to rescind its statement telling the U.S. Marines they're unwelcome in this left-leaning town.

Mothers call for Iraq war inquiry

The mothers of two British soldiers who died in the Iraq war took their battle over the legality of the invasion to the House of Lords on Monday. Lawyers for Rose Gentle of Pollock, Glasgow, and Beverley Clarke of Stafford launched their test case before a sitting of nine law lords, the country's highest court. The mothers say human rights law means the government should hold an investigation into Britain's decision to join the Iraq invasion, which cost the lives of their sons Fusilier Gordon Gentle and Trooper David Clarke, both 19.

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: The Oxfam report also said that child malnutrition rates in Iraq have risen from 19 percent before the invasion in 2003, to 28 percent. “More than 11 percent of newborn babies were born underweight in 2006, compared with 4 percent in 2003.” ~ Ahmed Ali

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