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

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

News & Views 02/13/08

Photo: A wife of a former Iraqi colonel mourns at her home after her husband was killed by the US forces in an overnight raid in Baqouba, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008, according to the family. One more relative, a former Iraqi army captain, was also killed in the raid. The US military said in a press release that their forces killed two alleged terrorists in Baqouba Wednesday. (AP Photo)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Wednesday: 13 Iraqis Killed, 11 Wounded

IRAQ: UN launches new emergency aid appeal

The Iraqi government has welcomed the US$265 million emergency aid appeal launched on 12 February by UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide urgent humanitarian relief to vulnerable Iraqis. The aid will target health, nutrition, water, education, housing, food and protection issues. The emergency appeal by 14 UN agencies and 10 NGOs aims to help fill critical gaps over the next 12 months while the government expands its capacity to respond to people’s needs, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said. “The aid community is committed to helping as humanitarian needs in Iraq have risen sharply over the last two years. We have to respond rapidly to those people who need support,” David Shearer, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said at the appeal launch in Baghdad.

Out of Mosul

I went out of mosul and tears flowing on my cheek. Inspite of the sad days and facing terrorists in streets killing people infront of me, I couldn't and will not forget all the marvellous and supporting friends. ….The situation in mosul is fluctuating between chaos and calm. Many troops were headed to mosul but "I think" that will not help the people, on the contrary, because the "plan to clean mosul out of terrorists" as was declared , was known by the whole world. In every ceremony and media conference there was that announcement and details about mosul. I have a little experience but they were ought to follow the sudden and silent plan. So "as I think" this army will find the innocent people only but from the other side order may shine again since the weapons as I hope will be carried by officials only. All I wish is to live in a peaceful environment, neither presence of militias and terrorists nor chaos.

UN Says Four Million Iraqis Hungry Despite Wealth

Four million Iraqis are struggling to feed themselves and 40 percent of the country's 27 million people have no safe water, despite oil wealth and a booming economy, the U.N. said on Tuesday. With annual economic growth of around 7 percent, according to U.N. estimates, and a national budget of $48 billion, buoyed by oil exports of 1.6 million barrels per day, Iraq has the ingredients to be prosperous. But insurgency and sectarian attacks have displaced more than two million people and left nearly twice as many hungry.

Red Cross Appealing for $19 Million for Iraq

The international Red Cross on Tuesday announced a campaign to raise $19 million to provide food, other supplies and health care to people in Iraq. The assistance will be distributed by the Iraqi Red Crescent to the 900,000 most needy in the country over the next year, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement. It noted U.N. estimates that up to 6 million people in the country need help, but said that it would concentrate on the most vulnerable — families with very small income, single-parent families and widows.

Kurds’ Frustration With Leaders Grows

Security forces in Kurdistan are reportedly obstructing attempts by activists, angered by poor services and official corruption, to pressure the authorities to dissolve parliament and hold early elections. The Hatakay Movement says it hopes to gather a one million-signature petition urging the Kurdish leadership to bring forward the next parliamentary poll, which is scheduled for late 2009. However, security forces have apparently attempted to prevent the collection of signatures in some areas, including Chamchamal, which lies 100 kilometres south of Sulaimaniyah, and Duhok in the north of Iraq. In Chamchamal, police are said to have taken the coordinators of the petition to security headquarters in the town, confiscated their literature and told them they couldn’t collect signatures until they obtained permission from officials.

Kurds no longer like President Bush

Kurds no longer like U.S. President George W. Bush as they once used to. Immediately after ousting the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, in April 2003, by a military coalition that was headed by the United States of America, there was a huge demand, in Kurdistan region of Iraq, to pruchase photos of President Bush and the flag of the United States of America. Like thousands of Kurds in Iraq, Hama Ibrahim used to have two large photos in his house’s guest room; one of President Bush, and the other of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Those two photos are not in their places anymore. "I removed them both after the latest Turkish military operation against Kurdistan," Ibrahim said to Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq - (VOI), adding "that was my way of condemning the American position regarding that Turkish aggression."

Love in war flurry

Despite the increase of radical Islamists in other regions of Iraq, rather than Kurdistan, they will not be able to prevent moderate Iraqis there from using cell phones to send "I love you," in text messages to their love-mates on Valentine's Day. There is always a time and place for everything, even for Valentine's Day in a war-zone. Sounds of hearts ticking are higher than the sound of bullets and mortars. Contrary to other Iraqi cities, secular and security stable Arbil – capital city of Kurdistan region, is preparing to celebrate Valentine's Day. Residents of Arbil city are buying flowers, colored music cards, in addition to presents that they plan to give to their love-mates on the occasion of Valentine's Day. It's a good season there now for markets of flowers, presents, and fashions.

Iraqi kidnappers free CBS interpreter-Shi'ite group

Kidnappers freed a CBS interpreter on Wednesday who was seized in the Iraqi city of Basra this week along with a journalist from the network, a Shi'ite group that had been negotiating their release said. Hareth al-Athari, head of the Basra office of the movement of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, told Reuters the interpreter had been taken to a hotel in the southern city. The journalist had not yet been freed, he said.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraqis set provincial elections, agree on detainee amnesty

Iraq's parliament, spurred by a threat from its speaker that it would be dissolved, on Wednesday passed a budget and approved two major bills that are considered crucial for national reconciliation. Lawmakers hailed the actions as the first time that rival political blocs had made significant concessions to pass legislation. They came on the last day before a five-week break. "After very hard discussions, we bridged the gaps between the blocs," said Hassan al Sneid, a Shiite Muslim lawmaker. "These are strategically important laws. It will affect Iraq's economic, security and political situations."

Iraqi Lawmakers Pass 3 Key New Laws

Iraq's parliament on Wednesday passed three key pieces of legislation that set a date for provincial elections, allot $48 billion for 2008 spending, and provide limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. The three measures were bundled together for one vote to satisfy the demands of minority Kurds who feared they might be double-crossed on their stand that the budget allot 17 percent to their semiautonomous regional government in the north. The vote came a day after the Sunni speaker of the fragmented parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, threatened to disband the legislature, saying it was so riddled with distrust it appeared unable to adopt legislation. Following the session, which capped weeks of wrangling over the budget and other issues, the parliament began a five-week holiday.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Americans: 43 Percent of Your Tax Dollars Go to War

U.S. holding Baghdad hospital official in bombings

A Baghdad mental hospital administrator has been arrested on suspicion of supplying mental patients to insurgents for use in suicide bombings, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday. The interim administrator at al Rashad psychiatric hospital was arrested Sunday and is being questioned in U.S. custody, said the spokesman, Rear Adm. Greg Smith. The arrest was part of the probe into double suicide bombings Feb. 1 in Baghdad, which claimed at least 99 lives and were the worst such attack in the capital in nine months.

HISTORY

Dedicated to the Memory of Amiriyah Shelter Massacre

The bombs fell hard and fast at around 4 a.m. The first smart bomb went through the ventilation, through the first floor of the shelter- leaving a gaping hole- and to the bottom 'basement' of the shelter where there were water tanks and propane tanks for heating water and food. The second missile came immediately after and finished off what the first missile missed. The doors of the advanced shelter immediately shut automatically- locking over 400 women and children inside. It turned from a shelter into an inferno; explosions and fire rose from the lower level up to the level that held the women and children and the water rose with it, boiling and simmering. Those who did not burn to death immediately or die of the impact of the explosions, boiled to death or were steamed in the 900+ ยบ F heat.

We woke in the morning to see the horrors on the news. We watched as the Iraqi rescue workers walked inside of the shelter and came out crying and screaming- dragging out bodies so charred, they didn't look human. We saw the people in the area- men, women and children- clinging to the fence surrounding the shelter and screaming with terror; calling out name after name… searching for a familiar face in the middle of the horror. The bodies were laid out one beside the other- all the same size- shrunk with heat and charred beyond recognition. Some were in the fetal position, curled up, as if trying to escape within themselves. Others were stretched out and rigid, like the victims were trying to reach out a hand to save a loved one or reach for safety. Most remained unrecognizable to their families- only the size and fragments of clothing or jewelry indicating the gender and the general age.

Independent: HOW THE SPOOKS TOOK OVER NEWS

On the morning of 9 February 2004, The New York Times carried an exclusive and alarming story. The paper's Baghdad correspondent, Dexter Filkins, reported that US officials had obtained a 17-page letter, believed to have been written by the notorious terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi to the "inner circle" of al-Qa'ida's leadership, urging them to accept that the best way to beat US forces in Iraq was effectively to start a civil war. The letter argued that al-Qa'ida, which is a Sunni network, should attack the Shia population of Iraq: "It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis."

Later that day, at a regular US press briefing in Baghdad, US General Mark Kimmitt dealt with a string of questions about The New York Times report: "We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society." The story went on to news agency wires and, within 24 hours, it was running around the world. There is very good reason to believe that that letter was a fake - and a significant one because there is equally good reason to believe that it was one product among many from a new machinery of propaganda which has been created by the United States and its allies since the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it. The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the production of our news. I've spent the last two years researching a book about falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media. The "Zarqawi letter" which made it on to the front page of The New York Times in February 2004 was one of a sequence of highly suspect documents which were said to have been written either by or to Zarqawi and which were fed into news media.

This material is being generated, in part, by intelligence agencies who continue to work without effective oversight; and also by a new and essentially benign structure of "strategic communications" which was originally designed by doves in the Pentagon and Nato who wanted to use subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism but whose efforts are poorly regulated and badly supervised with the result that some of its practitioners are breaking loose and engaging in the black arts of propaganda. [More here on how they manipulated Zarqawi before the Iraq invasion even started. And add that to the “villainize Zarqawi, leverage xenophobic response” as the official Pentagon policy towards the Iraqi population, and what have you got? A big clue that USuk engineered the “civil war” in Iraq. – dancewater]

IRAQI REFUGEES

Exiled Iraqis too scared to return home despite propaganda push

To show that Iraq was safe enough for the two million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan to return, the Iraqi government organised a bus convoy last November from Damascus to Baghdad carrying 800 Iraqis home for free. As a propaganda exercise designed to show that the Iraqi government was restoring peace, it never quite worked. The majority of the returnees said they were returning to Baghdad, not because it was safer, but because they had run out of money in Syria or their visas had expired. 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.

Illegal Iraqis in Jordan, no fines, you can return home

Iraqi refugees in Jordan are happy. On February 2, 2008, Jordanian King – Abdullah II issued a generous royal decree that cancels all fines imposed on illegal Iraqi immigrants in Jordan that plan to return to Iraq. The office of Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi issued a press release on February 2 stating "In order to facilitate the process of their return to Iraq, the king of Jordan agreed to Al-Hashemi's demand to cancel the fines imposed on Iraqis wishing to return home," the statement, received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI) said.

JORDAN: Schools creaking under burden of 24,000 Iraqi students

Government-funded schools are accommodating 24,000 Iraqi students, causing massive pressure on the education system, according to Minister of Education Taysir Nueimi. Nueimi said the high number of Iraqi students had created financial and logistical difficulties for the education sector, and urged the international community to provide more assistance to Jordan. "The education sector is burdened with extra financial obligations due to the enrolment of at least 24,000 Iraqi students," said Nueimi, noting that students are currently accepted in government schools regardless of whether they hold a residency visa or are in the country illegally.

Defending Iraqi Refugees in Egypt

The two Iraqi refugees--both highly fluent in English, both former workers for the U.S. cause in Iraq—have begun the long process of trying to resettle in the U.S. They are running out of money; one already had to send his wife and child back to Baghdad. They are struggling to work their way through the complexities and obstacles of the U.S. refugee resettlement program. In Washington, the resettlement program, which is lagging far behind its goals, looks like a bureaucratic failure and another empty promise to the Iraqi people. This past January, only 375 Iraqi refugees were resettled. To Iraqi refugees hoping to come to the U.S., the program looks like a matter of life and death, and they are getting too few assurances of protection.

Syrian President meets UN on plight of Iraqi refugees

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Wednesday to discuss the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria, official news agency SANA reported. They discussed "cooperation between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Syria with regard to improving the conditions (of refugees) and finding solutions to their problems," SANA added. Assad said all the "parties concerned need to assume their responsibilities" toward the refugees, while Guterres thanked Syria which has taken in 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. Since October 1, the number of Iraqis travelling to Syria has dropped after new visa conditions were imposed by Damascus.

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.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

We may have stopped the next war

Five years ago this week most readers of this newspaper were making plans to go on a demonstration. More surprisingly, just as many Daily Telegraph readers were getting ready for the same event. For most of those who marched against the Iraq war on February 15 2003 it was the first time they had ever demonstrated for or against anything in their lives. It was a protest such as Britain had never seen before, all-embracing in its diversity and imposing in its unity of purpose.

While there are always arguments over the size of demonstrations (the 2 million-or-so figure we claim is supported by considerable polling and photographic evidence), there is no dispute that this was not merely the country's biggest political protest, but the biggest by a substantial order of magnitude. Two things are obvious about the demonstration to "stop the war". First, the millions on the march were right. Not just right on balance, but right on every single aspect of the question. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq did turn into a bloodbath, the invasion did not help resolve the crisis in the Middle East, and it did damage the cohesion of our own society and imperil our civil liberties while not making us one whit safer from terrorism. So the people were smarter than the politicians. Second the demonstration did not stop the war. Our hope had been that mass protest could drive the British government out of its aggressive alliance with Bush and that the latter, isolated internationally as a result, would come under intensified domestic pressure. We came very close, as Donald Rumsfeld made clear. In the wake of February 15, Washington told Blair he could stand down our army if he wanted to. The prime minister ignored that offer and the people he represents alike. However, failing is not the same thing as making no difference.

The Man On Both Sides Of Air War Debate

Sitting in a secure vault deep inside the Pentagon, Marc Garlasco cheered when the laser-guided bombs he had helped target slammed to Earth, striking Iraqi soil. As a body flew like a rag doll across the video screen, framed in a bright flash and a cloud of dust, Garlasco and his fellow intelligence analysts thought they had taken out one of the U.S. military's top targets during the early days of the Iraq war. But even as he reveled in the April 2003 airstrike, Garlasco was thinking ahead to his next job, which would take him to the edges of the very crater he had just helped create. Just two weeks after the failed attack targeting Iraq's notorious Ali Hassan Majeed, known as Chemical Ali, Garlasco left the Defense Intelligence Agency and traveled worldwide as a human rights activist seeking to determine the civilian toll of his previous work.

"I found myself standing at that crater, talking to a man about how his family was destroyed, how children were killed, and there was this bunny-rabbit toy covered in dust nearby, and it tore me in two," Garlasco said. "I had been a part of it, so it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It really dawned on me that these aren't just nameless, faceless targets. This is a place where people are going to feel ramifications for a long time." Garlasco is uniquely suited to understand both sides of the air war debate: He knows what the bombs can do, and he knows the price of errant attacks. In the five years since he moved from targeter to human rights advocate, he has lobbied for greater deliberation in the military's use of air power. He has made it his mission to prevent the use of cluster munitions and has argued for smaller bombs that have less impact on surrounding areas - like the bombs that the Air Force now uses in Iraq.

As the U.S. military has significantly stepped up its use of airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, Garlasco has tracked every bomb, noting their effectiveness and their potential for killing the innocent. The United States increased its use of aerial bombs in Iraq by more than 500 percent from 2006 to 2007 and dropped more than 20 times as many bombs on Afghanistan last year as it did just a few years ago. ... In "Off Target," a 2003 report, Garlasco criticized the U.S. military for its last-minute targeting of officials in Iraq - noting that it went zero-for-50 at hitting Iraqi leaders, while killing hundreds of civilians - yet he has also praised U.S. forces for being careful. [This just makes me sick. – dancewater]

Quote of the day: "We do not torture," asserted (LIAR) President Bush on November 7, 2005. Last week CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged that administration has used a water torture first developed during the Spanish Inquisition: "Waterboarding has been used on only three detainees. We used it against these three high-value detainees because of the circumstances of the time." Help stop torture by asking all candidates for public office what they will do to prevent it.

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