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 14, 2008

News & Views 02/14/08

Photo: Medics help a man wounded in a car bombing in a Sadr City hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008. A parked car bomb exploded in a bustling market in Baghdad's main Shiite district on Thursday, killing at least four people and wounding 28, police said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim) [YET AGAIN, these medics have NO GLOVES. After five years of occupation, the US military is STILL INCAPABLE OF GETTING GLOVES TO THE HOSPITALS AND CLINICS. Such a simple thing – and they either cannot or will not do it. I wonder if this man’s “anesthetic” is being held down instead of pain medicine, as is often the case in the new bush Iraq. – dancewater]


Thursday: 39 Iraqis Killed, 53 Wounded

Two Former Iraqi Army Officers 'Mistakenly' Gunned Down in Diyala by US Forces

READ IT AND WEEP: State of Iraq's Children 2007

At least 2 million Iraqi children lacked adequate nutrition (according to the WFP assessment of food insecurity in 2006) and faced a range of other threats including interrupted education, lack of immunization services and diarrhoea diseases. Only 28% of Iraq's 17 year olds sat their final exams in summer, and only 40% of those sitting exams achieved a passing grade in South and Central Iraq. Early estimates from the Ministry of Education show that net primary enrolment rates may have fallen from 86% in 2004 to 46% in 2006 (although the estimated 2 million refugees and the lack of a current census may have contributed to this decline). However, millions were able to return to school in November, despite the many challenges. Many of the 220,000 school-aged internally displaced children had their education interrupted, adding to the estimated 760,000 children out of primary school in 2006. One third of children in remote and hard-to-reach areas (28 out of 117 districts) were cut off from health outreach services, including immunization, as a result of insecurity. Only 40% of children nationwide had reliable access to safe drinking water, and only 20% outside Baghdad had a working sewerage service. An estimated 600,000 children had been displaced since 2006, the vast majority unable to return home. By the end of the year, approximately 75,000 children and their families were living in temporary shelters.


Skin Disease Strikes Iraqi Children

At least 275 children in southern Iraq have been infected with a disfiguring skin disease, an outbreak some health officials are blaming on the war's devastating effect on the public health system.

Iraq's deaf football team braves violence to play

He also trains a 12-strong deaf children's side. "It's tough, but I feel spiritually bound to my players. It's my duty to make sure they succeed," Shafi told Reuters, as young men behind him bounced balls off their feet, gesturing to each other with hand signals when they passed the ball.

Iraq Press Roundup

The Iraqi Hezbollah's Al Bayyna newspaper on Wednesday carried an editorial with a letter to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki titled "If you don't know, I am displaced." "Your Highness: It's likely you have little time to hear my words, but I am hoping your advisers will inform you of it. "I was ashamed of myself of filing to the police my displacement case while examining the person standing next to me at the police station holding a picture of his two sons who were killed. "While standing next to a man like me who had lost his sons ... I thanked God that I and my family had left our home with some dignity. "It didn't take a long time for the security situation to deteriorate in the area where I live, or rather lived in for 17 years. … It started when three of our neighbors were killed; an incident turned the neighborhood into a mono-sectarian area. "I am grateful not to see the brutalities that some animal-like humans committed ... they bombed the houses of families they displaced. ... "After I was threatened into leaving my home and neighborhood, I rented a place but learned that my new neighbors were all displaced as well. "The flag of what are called the Awakening Councils hovered. The same way these groups followed the first Arab Afghanis with a few green dollars, shortly, they followed the occupiers. "I am writing this to your highness because I know the government is capable of cleansing our neighborhood of the criminals who displaced the innocent ... but I know because of political reasons you will not do it.

Unsweet Valentine in Baghdad

Baghdad florist Yussef Mohammed, who once sold flowers to Saddam Hussein, is not having a happy Valentine's Day. "There are not many customers buying roses," he says, blaming the lack of security in the Iraqi capital for the fact that this year, as for the past three years, the focus has been more on making war than love. In his shop in Baghdad's central Karrada district, the scent of flowers freshens the air which is otherwise heavy with fumes, dust and despair. Small glass boxes inscribed with the words "I Love You" in English sit on shelves alongside red cushions in the shape of hearts. But the customers are staying away.

Thousands of New Prisoners Overwhelm Iraqi System

The increase in American troops in Iraq over the past year has been accompanied by waves of new Iraqi detainees, inundating the country's already overburdened prisons and courts, American officials said Wednesday. American advisers say Iraq's nascent justice system does not have enough prison beds, investigative judges or lawyers to absorb the thousands of suspects that have been detained since last summer by the augmented American and Iraqi security forces. More than half of the 26,000 prisoners are still awaiting trial, and some have languished for years, American officials said. The Iraqi legislature approved an amnesty on Wednesday that could free thousands of prisoners. But American officials warned that the Justice Ministry would still require tens of thousands of new prison beds to consolidate detainees being held throughout the country by various agencies, including the police and the army.

Iraq: Bombing Creates New Enemies

"The use of B1 bombers shows the terrible failure of the US campaign in Iraq," Iraqi Major General Muhammad al-Azzawy, a military researcher in Baghdad, told IPS. "U.S. military and political tactics failed in this area, and that is why this massacre. This kind of bombing is usually used for much bigger targets than small villages full of civilians. This was savagery." The attack on Juboor and neighbouring villages just south of Baghdad had begun a week earlier with heavy artillery and tank bombardment. The attack followed strong resistance from members of the mainly Sunni Muslim al-Juboor tribe against groups that residents described as sectarian death squads. "On Jan. 10, huge aircraft started bombing the villages," Ahmad Alwan from a village near Juboor told IPS. "We took our families and fled. We have never seen such bombardment since the 2003 American invasion. They were bombing everything and everybody."


Iraq Firefight Kills 6 Fighters Allied With US

Six members of an Awakening Council, groups composed mostly of Sunni Muslims who have turned against the insurgency, were killed early Thursday after they mistakenly fired on American soldiers in the north, the Iraqi police said. The American forces fired back, killing them and two women in nearby houses, the police said. A police commander said the group had thought the Americans were insurgents. Local American commanders said they could not confirm the incident. But it appeared to underscore the growing danger to Awakening Council members, wedged between United States forces and the insurgent groups many of them once supported, amid a recently begun operation to go after insurgents more aggressively in certain areas.

Sunni Anger In Iraqi Province

The 26-year-old Sunni Arab man sat in the restaurant of a fashionable Baghdad hotel, his business suit covering marks where he said a power drill had penetrated his thigh and acid dissolved his calf. The former Iraqi SWAT commander had traveled to Baghdad for meetings with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and other high-ranking officials in which he plans to provide an account of torture he says he endured on the orders of Maj. Gen. Ghanim Quraishi, the Shiite Muslim police chief of Diyala province.

Diyala police chief sued following mass grave discovery

The controversial boss of the police force in the restive Province of Diyala is being questioned by investigators following the discovery of a mass grave, a senior police officer said.

From Missing Links blog:

Azzaman, in its domestic Iraqi edition, headlines: "Ceserean birth of three laws from the womb of disagreements and no-confidence", which just about sums it up.

IRAQ: A New Force Called Sahwa Shows Its Muscle

The Awakening Councils in Diyala province are stepping up their protests against the government in Baghdad. The Awakening Councils, or the Sahwa as they are called, are a mostly Sunni Muslim force set up by the U.S. to draw in resistance fighters into their ranks, and then to help U.S. forces fight other anti-U.S. groups. The Sahwa have been engaged in growing conflict with the largely Shia Muslim forces of the Iraqi government. The new conflict was sparked off by the rape and murder of two Sunni women, allegedly by members of Shia militia that are backed by the government. The Sahwa in Diyala province, just north of Baghdad, have been demanding dismissal of police chief Major General Ghanim al-Qureyshi.

Iraq's Sadr Declares 3 Days of Mourning for Moghniyeh

Iraq's Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr on Thursday condemned the assassination of Lebanese Hezbollah commander Imad Moghniyeh in Damascus and declared three days of mourning, his office said.


It is the lack of laws, not the insecurity holding back the multi-national oil companies: Exxon, Shell: Iraq Oil Law Needed for Deal

"There's an element of physical security that relates, that's so obvious it doesn't really bear discussion at great length," Nelson said. "More important is you have confidence you have a system of laws and a system of fiscal stability that's going to be together for not only the 6,7,8,9 years that it takes from the time you start up working in a venture to the time you have significant production and through that 30-year period you really need to get the returns back."

Likely bullshit: U.S.: Iraqi calm binds sectarian strife

The work of local Iraqi security forces is bridging the divide between the Sunni and Shiite groups in diverse communities south of Baghdad. Yassen Hussein, a Sunni living in Arab Jabour, said he is pleased to see his Shiite neighbors returning to the community, the American Forces Press service reported Wednesday. "(The insurgents) killed both sides to make a problem," he said. A member of the security unit, Sons of Iraq -- formerly Concerned Local Citizens -- said the insurgent uprising stoked the divisions between the two sects living in Iraq.

Nowhere near enough: U.S. has paid $38M to Iraqis it killed

In its efforts to win support from Iraqis, the U.S. military has made $38 million worth of payments to the families of civilians they have killed since 2004. Most of the money has been distributed in the areas of the country where Iraq's Sunnis live, and some Shiite dominated areas in the south have not received any funds. The cash handouts, known as condolence payments, are made at the discretion of mid-ranking U.S. officers in local areas and come from a special military fund called the Commanders' Emergency Response Program. A recent audit of the program carried out for Congress by the Special Inspector General for Iraq found that, of the $38 million paid out since 2004, more than half, $21.35 million, was distributed in Anbar province; $5.5 million was given out in Baghdad, but none was spent in Basra. Pentagon officials budgeted $10.8 million for the payments in 2007 -- an increase of nearly one-third over 2006.

Rift threatens U.S. antidote to Al Qaeda in Iraq

Al-Qaida in Iraq threatens Israel

Payback for taking in all those the refugees:

US extends sanctions against Syria, says it subverts Iraq efforts

In the executive order, President Bush accuses Syria of actions "including, but not limited to, undermining efforts with respect to the stabilization of Iraq." The order expands similar sanctions imposed in 2004. It blocks senior Syrian officials who have benefited from "public corruption" from having access to property the United States owns in Syria. No officials are named in the order.

Iran president to visit Baghdad on March 2 - Iraq

Bulgarian parliament approves extending troops mandate in Iraq

South Korea, Iraqi Kurdistan sign MOU on oil exploration

Likely will go nowhere: House Democrat readying 2008 war spending proposal

A leading House Democrat on military spending said on Wednesday that he will soon recommend more spending to address a $100 billion gap in funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee for defense, told a budget hearing that a spending proposal would be ready for House leaders to review by the end of February. Matthew Mazonkey, a spokesman for Murtha, said the congressman will again try to tie the additional war money to timetables for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq. "Murtha will recommend to the (House Democratic) leadership that the FY08 supplemental includes withdrawal goals, provisions against the use of torture, and fully trained and fully equipped requirements" for soldiers, he said. Democrats failed to win enactment of similar provisions last year.


Jordan Restricts Visas for Iraqis

Jordan imposed visa restrictions Thursday on Iraqis to stem an influx of refugees across the border even as a top U.N. official called for host countries to help settle the refugees who cannot return home. ….Iraqis trying to go to Jordan, however, must now apply in their own country for a Jordanian visa before traveling, Jordanian Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez said Thursday. He said the applications will then be sent to Amman for processing. Previously, visas could be obtained at the border, though in the last two years young men were turned back in droves.

IRAQ: More government money for IDPs, refugees

The government has earmarked US$40 million to help ease the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Iraqi refugees in other countries, its spokesman said on 13 February. “This amount will be spent to help Iraqis who have ended up as displaced families inside Iraq or refugees in other countries,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement. “This is only an initial help as the government is committed to supporting its citizens to overcome harsh conditions,” al-Dabbagh said.

SYRIA: Not safe enough for Iraqi refugees to return - UNHCR chief

The UN high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, said on 14 February that he did not believe it was safe enough for Iraqi refugees to be returning to their violence-plagued country.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees


Is the US really bringing stability to Baghdad?

But any true assessment of the happiness or misery of Iraqis must use a less crude index than the number of dead and injured. It must ask if people have been driven from their houses, and if they can return. It must say whether they have a job and, if they do not, whether they stand a chance of getting one. It has to explain why so few of the 3.2 million people who are refugees in Syria and Jordan, or inside Iraq, are coming back.

……"People say things are better than they were," says Zanab Jafar, a well-educated Shia woman living in al-Hamraa, west Baghdad, "but what they mean is that they are better than [during] the bloodbath of 2006. The situation is still terrible."

….In his State of the Union address, President Bush spoke of the 80,000 Awakening Council members – also labelled "concerned local citizens", as if they were respectable householders who have taken up arms against "terrorists". The picture Bush evoked is similar to that often seen in Hollywood Westerns when outraged townsfolk and farmers, driven beyond endurance by the crimes of a corrupt sheriff or saloon owner and their bandit followers, rise in revolt. In reality, in Iraq the exact opposite has happened. The Awakening Council members of today are the "terrorists" of yesterday.

….In the coming weeks, we will see the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by American and British forces on 19 March, and the fall of Saddam Hussein on 9 April. There will be much rancorous debate in the Western media about the success or failure of the "surge" and the US war effort here. But for millions of Iraqis like Bassim, the war has robbed them of their homes, their jobs and often their lives. It has brought them nothing but misery and ended their hopes of happiness. It has destroyed Iraq.

US-IRAQ: Surge Exposing Political Tensions

Despite assertions by the George W. Bush Administration that the escalation strategy in Iraq -- known as the "surge" -- has been a rousing success, many of the problems of pre-surge Iraq still exist and, along with new issues, are exacerbating a tenuous political situation there. With the five-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion looming, two Washington think-tanks released reports today on the subject of increasing multi-lateral sectarian tensions in Iraq. "The conventional wisdom among most conservatives and Washington policy elites is that the surge has ‘worked’," starts the Centre for American Progress report, titled ‘Awakening to the New Danger in Iraq’. "This conventional wisdom ignores the fact that the fundamental objectives of the surge -- to create a more sustainable security framework for Iraq and advance Iraq’s political transition -- have not been met," according to the report.

Muqtada, the man who would be ayatollah

As a political and military force, Iraq’s Shi’ite Sadrist movement has undergone a number of radical transformations since 2003, when its leader Muqtada al-Sadr surprisingly emerged as a leading political figure. Muqtada’s recent decision to continue with his seminary studies and graduate as an ayatollah at the conservative seminary school of Najaf underpins a major change in the movement’s structure that could have serious repercussions for the future of Iraq. Against the backdrop of changing political alliances between Kurds and Sunnis, Muqtada is transforming his movement into a new political phenomenon with implications for the country’s political structure and security dynamics. The consequences are also immense for Shi’ite Iraq, posing serious challenges to the conservative clerical establishment in Najaf.

Quote of the day: “This mission is likely to be very tough for all the UN agencies, NGOs, as well as the Iraqi government, with widespread corruption in the country and danger lurking in every corner in Iraq,” Ezzi Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed of Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies said. He said that since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 “Iraq has become a charity state; instead of getting to the bottom of its problems it only seeks financial aid - like morphine to ease its problems.”