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 19, 2008

News & Views 02/19/08

Photo: Daughters of the former Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili look at his portrait at their family home in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Feb. 18, 2008. al-Zamili went on trial in Baghdad Tuesday, Feb. 19 2008 together with Brig. Gen. Hameed al-Shimmari accused of letting Shiite militiamen use ambulances and hospitals to kidnap and kill rivals. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Tuesday: 40 Iraqis Killed, 62 Wounded

Monday: 27 Iraqis Killed, 36 Wounded

Fifteen Iraqi police killed defusing rockets

Anti-Qaeda family gunned down at home in Iraq

Promises to Iraqi widows go unmet

The rumor had swept through this border town early in the morning, and soon several dozen women were clamoring outside a small government office. The rumor would prove false, as it has on many other days. There would be no distribution of pension payments for the Iraqi widows. Often, months pass between payments, with no provisions made for back payments and no explanations given for the gaps in time. "I have nothing," one widow cried to a government employee peeping out from a half-opened door. "My children need help," cried another. Of its unmet social needs, the central government's failure to follow through on promises made to these widows is one of the most visible. Scenes like the one outside the Social Guardship Net office in Qaim are common. "These protests are taking place in all the [18] provinces," said Samira Musawi, a member of parliament and head of its committee on women and children. She has submitted legislation to provide housing, education and job training for widows and other low-income women, although it has yet to be acted on.

Iraq Orders Police to Round Up Beggars

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has ordered police to round up beggars, vagabonds and mentally disabled people from the streets of Baghdad to prevent them from being used by insurgents as suicide bombers, a spokesman said Tuesday. The decision came after a series of suicide attacks, including two female bombers who struck pet markets in Baghdad on Feb. 1, killing nearly 100 people. Iraqi and U.S. officials have said the women were mentally disabled and apparently unwitting bombers. The people detained in the Baghdad sweep will be handed over to governmental institutions that can provide shelter and care for them, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.

Government to build two new cemeteries in Najaf

The government has assigned two plots of land in the religious city of Najaf where victims of former leader Saddam Hussein and violence after his removal will be buried. The head of the human rights department in the city, Fadhil al-Azzawi, said the cemeteries will occupy tens of thousands of square meters. Najaf is believed to have one of the world’s largest and oldest cemeteries. Muslim Shiites from across Iraq prefer to bury their dead there. It is also a favorite burial ground for Shiites in other countries. One of the new cemeteries will be dedicated to Iraqi victims killed during Saddam Hussein’s reign and buried in mass graves. The second will hold bodies of Iraqis killed as a result of the upsurge in violence which has gripped the country since U.S. invaders came to Iraq nearly four years ago. [It was nearly FIVE years ago. – dancewater]

Babylonian temple discovered in Missan

A temple dating back to the Babylonian age was discovered on Tuesday east of Amara, the director of the Missan museum said. "A joint committee of the Missan museum department and the general authority for antiquities and heritage in Baghdad discovered a Babylon age temple dated back to around 300 B.C. in al-Tayyib region, 80 km east of Amara," Seham Jawad told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI). "The temple is oval shaped and surrounded by an oval wall with four gates and contains a number of rooms used by the ministers," she explained.

Baghdad Park Bridges Sectarian Divide

The next Friday, I went to the park to work on the story. I sat close enough to watch a young man sitting alone. He looked afraid when he glanced at me, and nervously wrung his hands. A few minutes later, his friend walked up and they embraced tightly, their eyes filling with tears. I decided to talk to them, and it turned out that their situation was similar to that of my friend and me: They were two young men from different sects who had lived together in a mixed Baghdad neighbourhood, al-Hurriyah, that has been controlled by Shia militias since late 2006. I wanted to talk to more people in the park, and one of the security guards told me about some youth who played football there. They were a mixture of Sunni and Shia from different Baghdad neighbourhoods. When I started talking to a couple of the guys, the rest gathered around us. One, a Shia, told me that his brother and some of his friends were killed by al-Qaeda. The second, a Sunni, said that several of his friends and relatives were killed by Shia militias. Both seemed hostile to the other sect. After chatting for a while, I asked if either was prepared to kill a member of another sect to exact revenge for the loss of their loved ones. The two kept silent for a moment, saying they were not murderers. But they said they felt obsessed with feelings of grief and sorrow.

Honour Killing Outcry

Activists call for legislative reforms to tackle honour killing and other forms of violence against women. Six years ago, Hataw fled to a women’s shelter to escape her brother’s rage when she refused to marry the man he chose for her. Just a few weeks later, her brother ambushed her and her mother near the shelter, opening fire with an automatic weapon. Hataw, not her real name, was shot seven times; her mother twice. Miraculously, they survived, but their physical and psychological wounds may never heal. Hataw, now 26, whose brother escaped prosecution, lost one of her kidneys and her mother has scars on one of her arms.

Kurds’ Frustration With Leaders Grows

Attempts by pressure group to gather support for early elections said to have been thwarted. 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.

Video: Challenges Face Youth Football in Sadr City - 02.18.2008

While the air on the street is calm, Baghdad’s youth will determine the future of the city and the country at large. This week Nabeel Kamal visited a football game for Baghdad’s youth in Sadr City’s sector 74. Sector 74, like much of Sadr City, is a poor area of Baghdad, with great needs from the city government in all issues. Not only are they hoping for improvement of sewage pipes and electricity, they also dream of football fields with grass and goal nets.

Audio: War News Radio Raising the Flag

Earlier this month, Iraq’s government announced a new temporary national flag. This week on War News Radio, we hear the reaction of Iraqis in the Kurdish North. And as US-backed Awakening militias become more powerful in Iraq’s Sunni provinces, we find out about a standoff between the Awakening and Iraqi police in Diyala province. In Iraq 101, we learn about the status of Iraq legislation in the US Congress.

Police impose partial curfew on Falluja

Police forces on Monday imposed a partial curfew over Falluja during hunt down operations for gunmen, a police source said. "Falluja police imposed a curfew on al-Muhandiseen, al-Mualimeen, and al-Wehda neighborhoods in central Falluja," the source told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI) on condition of anonymity. "The ban includes vehicles and pedestrians," he explained.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Trial of Iraqi Officials Delayed

The trial of Iraq's former deputy health minister and a security official accused of letting Shiite death squads use ambulances and government hospitals to carry out killings was delayed Tuesday just as it was about to begin. Defense lawyer Amir Taha said that the trial of former Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili and Brig. Gen. Hameed al-Shimmari had been delayed until early March. The pair are accused of having ties to the Mahdi Army - a militia loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - and the case is seen as a test of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists as well as Sunni insurgents. Al-Maliki is a fellow Shiite, who won office partly because of the support of al-Sadr's followers.

Iraq-Iran border demarcation talks start in Tehran

The first session of negotiations between the Iraqi and Iranian delegations on the demarcation of borders between the two countries started on Tuesday in the Iranian capital Tehran, the Iraqi undersecretary for foreign affairs said. "The negotiations will touch the demarcation of borders as well as the Shatt al-Arab river channel within a positive atmosphere. There will be another session today and more sessions tomorrow," Muhammad al-Hadj told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). The Shatt al-Arab is a river channel, about 193 km (120 mi) long, of southeast Iraq formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and flowing southeast to the Persian Gulf. It forms part of the Iraq-Iran border, and navigation rights to the channel have long been disputed by the two countries.

Reconciliation Back on Agenda?

Series of factors combine to bolster bridge-building efforts that last year ground to a virtual standstill. Crucial legislative reforms, the recent improvement in the security situation and renewed political cooperation are helping to revive the long-awaited reconciliation process. Key to the new sense of optimism was the recent passing of the accountability and justice law, under which many former members of the Ba’ath party sacked from government jobs after the fall of Saddam will be either reinstated or receive state pensions. “This law is very important to push forward the national reconciliation process,” said Shaza al-Abousi, a member of the Iraqi Accord Front, the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament. The new legislation is a reform of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s controversial deba’athification law, whose introduction in 2003 led to the collapse of public services and the armed forces - and was seen by many as fuelling the Sunni-led insurgency.

….Since its formation, al-Maliki’s government has faced one challenge after another. Shia nationalist party al-Fadhila left in March, followed by the Iraqi Accord Front in July and the political movement loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr a couple of months later. The Iraqi Accord Front claimed the government was guilty of sectarianism while the two Shia parties said it didn’t consult sufficiently. Some have suggested that the political turbulence has not been helped by parties repeatedly changing their views on issues. Abdul-Khaliq Zangana, member of parliament for the Kurdish list, explained that since democracy is new to Iraq, political positions frequently change, particularly on the contentious subject of reconciliation. Others blame the government’s piecemeal approach to reconciliation for the political discord. “[The government] was not serious about disarming militias and implementing an amnesty,” said Saleem al-Jaburi of the Iraqi Accord Front.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Dozens of firms register to compete to help develop Iraq's oil

More than 70 international firms have registered to compete for tenders to help develop Iraq's oil reserves, which are seen as vital to providing the funds to rebuild the shattered country, Iraq's oil ministry said on Monday. Iraq produces a fraction of its reserves, among the largest in the world and among the cheapest to exploit. International oil companies have been positioning themselves for years to gain access. Big oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Repsol, ConocoPhillips, BP, and StatoilHydro of Norway are among those that have said they have registered or intended to do so. "We are going to carefully study and check the documentation," said Asim Jihad, an Oil Ministry spokesman. "Next month we will declare the companies which are permitted to work in the Iraqi oil fields."

IRAQI REFUGEES

MoU on organizing voluntary repatriation of Iraqi refugees signed

A ceremony for signing a memorandum of understanding between Iraq and Sweden that organizes voluntary repatriation of Iraqi refugees in Sweden to Iraq was held under the auspices of Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Mr. Nicholas Trovia, the Swedish ambassador in Baghdad, at the foreign ministry's headquarters. "Minister Hoshyar Zebari stressed that the signing of the memorandum was based on a common understanding between the governments of Iraq and Sweden to govern the safe and voluntary return of Iraqi refugees in Sweden," the ministry said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

IRAQ: No solution in sight for Palestinian refugees stranded at border

Palestinian refugees trapped in three makeshift camps along the Iraqi-Syrian border are living in very precarious conditions and their situation is deteriorating by the day, a senior Palestinian diplomat said on 18 February. “The Palestinian refugees… along the Syrian border are experiencing a very grave social, health and humanitarian situation,” Dalil al-Qasous, the Palestinian chargĂ© d’affaires in Baghdad, told IRIN. “As they enter their third year of living on the borders, they continue to face low desert temperatures during the winter and [now] the coming sandstorms… and no solution is in sight,” al-Qasous said.

Iraqis' residence in Jordan extended for 3 months

Iraqis residing in Jordan may rectify their status until a deadline April 17, 2008 to benefit from the government's decision to exempt them from 50% of fines for breaking their residence visas, Jordan's interior minister said on Tuesday. Jordanian authorities are imposing a fine of 1.5 Jordanian dinars (2 US dollars) per day on each Iraqi residing in Jordan without a legal permit. Iraqis that do not have a residence permit and staying for a year would have to pay 720 dollars. The authorities in neighboring Jordan did not allow thousands of Iraqis to leave the country before paying fines for illegal residence.

INTERVIEW-U.N. says Iraqi refugee return still long way ahead

More stability is needed in Iraq before the world community can encourage millions of exiled Iraqis who fled sectarian violence to return to their

UN Says Iraqi Refugees Need More Help

Iraq's government and international community must give more funding and support to resettle Iraqi refugees displaced by sectarian bloodletting, the United Nation's top official for refugees said Monday. Antonio Guterres spoke with reporters in the Jordanian capital at the end of a Mideast tour that included stops in Syria and Iraq. Some 2 million Iraqi refugees have been sheltered in neighboring countries since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Guterres said the current period presents a "moment of hope for Iraqi refugees," because Syria and Jordan remain committed to helping refugees despite huge economic and social burdens that influx of Iraqis has placed on their own populations. But the international community needs to be "more engaged in supporting Iraqis and these host countries, which have paid such a high price for their generosity," Guterres said. He did not give a specific figure for the financial aid needed. Jordan has said that hosting some 500,000 to 750,000 Iraqis has cost the kingdom $1.7 billion annually.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

An open letter to three Iraqi women

The steam has long since dissipated from my coffee cup as I strain to write this letter to the three of you. You don’t know me and one of you will never have an opportunity to read this letter but you have each left your mark upon my soul. Though I do not know your names you will recognize who you are and I speak to you woman to woman and mother to mother and mother to child.

Before I begin, if you don’t already know it, the US military can train a man to kill but can not train that man how to handle it when he does. For this reason amongst many others my Marine son, John, who touched your lives in Iraq, (and through him, so did I), is in treatment along with other veterans of this and earlier wars.

… To the mother in Fallujah who also lost her family. Not long ago I met a Lance Corporal who had determined during the siege on your city that he and his men must enter your home in search of combatants. He prepared and set a timed charge to blow a new doorway in the side of your building. He gathered intelligence assessed the situation and finally gave the order to blow the charge and his men darted through the newly opened breach and he followed closely behind.

You will remember him because when he entered to find your husband and children dead from the blast you were standing there crying out, “lemad’a, lemad’a” (why, why?) You will remember him because when he saw what he had done his knees buckled and the blood drained from his twenty two year old face. You will remember him because he fell back against the wall and clutched at his chest and gasped for breath.

You saw his reaction. You watched him try and shoulder the enormity of the order he had given and when his eyes finally met yours you placed your hand on his cheek and said, “masha, Allah” (God’s will). You should know that your compassion, your understanding and yes, your forgiveness that day destroyed him.

…..As one American woman to you three Iraqi women, I am sure you cannot welcome this connection but I feel it nonetheless. Taking your families from each of you has also lost my son to me for he will never be the same. In this way we are forever deeply connected. To each of you, Assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you. - A Marine mom

No More Victims aids suffering children in Iraq

The young student was walking home after taking a test at Al Najed primary school in Iraq when the US military launched its attack. During the assault on Jan. 25, 1999, a large piece of shrapnel tore Asraa's arm from her body and left her with multiple chest and abdominal wounds. A piece of shrapnel that cannot be removed, for fear of killing her, will most likely remain lodged in her skull for the rest of her life. …..No More Victims is currently acting in response to the dire situation in Iraq. The organization's main goal is to "create ways that people with a conscience in the United States can take direct, independent action to help victims of aggression," Miller said. [I am working with this organization to help a little girl how lost a leg to a US missile strike in November 2006. If you can make a donation, please go to No More Victims and designate “Asheville” for the project. Thank you very much. – dancewater]

New hope ..

Oh god how much I miss planning to picnics and preparing for parties, I feel I am so close to live in safety, and see my relatives , neighbors , & friends who had to leave Iraq again. Every bad thing we got through will be a memory only, we’ve been living in a war zone for four long years, full of sadness & fear. It was a bad experience and no one would love to go through that, but It’s out of my power, I can’t end the war, but we say “if you have lemon, make lemonade” there’s no bright side in the war, but in this four years I became stronger, and independent person, I believe in myself and I know nothing can stop me from moving forward, not even the war, nor terrorists when I have determination and faith .. I realized how much I love Iraq, I didn’t know how much Iraq means to me, until I saw It destroyed.

My heart ache whenever I look at the album, I used to wonder if we’ll ever feel the same joy we felt at that time, but in these days when I look at the albums I say to myself “hold on a little bit more, good days will come back”.. I have high spirit now, incase operation won’t succeed I don’t know what will happen to me .. but I have to prepare myself for the worse, so that I don’t get depressed if things didn’t work well, I don’t want to feel what I felt in the beginning of the war, I thought we’ll have the life we were told to have, a bright future, and live happily ever after, I didn’t know there’ll be fights and battles in front of my house.. I didn’t know I’ll see dead people in the streets nor hear all of the horrified stories that I hear each day, I didn’t know I’ll have to hide under the stairs for 10 hours continuously! I didn’t know the meaning of terrorism means nor terrorists in the past, but after the war I started to see the terrorists a lot, walking in our streets, killing and destroying.. I wasn’t told that I’ll see the people I love leaving Iraq or getting killed, and didn’t even imagine that going to school will be that hard, and it’ll be a challenge for me to try to concentrate.. I was happy and thought we’ll get rid of the ex regime, have a freedom & democratic country.. I didn’t know that It’ll cost so much, and until now we didn’t have a “free” country ..

McClatchy Baghdad chief wins Polk award for Iraq reporting

Leila Fadel, McClatchy's Baghdad bureau chief, won the George R. Polk Award for outstanding foreign reporting and The Charlotte Observer won the Polk Award for outstanding economic reporting, Long Island University announced Tuesday. Fadel, 26, was cited for her “vivid depictions” of the military and political struggle in Iraq. "Her work provided a comprehensive array of disturbing, first-hand accounts of violence and conflict by juxtaposing the agonizing plight of families in ethnically torn neighborhoods with the braggadocio of a vengeful insurgent proud of his murderous exploits, and the carnage and sorrow among victims of Iraq’s most deadly car bombing in a remote region of the country where few reporters ventured," the jurors said. [Congratulations on winning the Polk award, Ms. Fadel - you very much deserved it! – dancewater]

How the Spooks Took over the 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.

…..the US campaign on Zarqawi eventually succeeded in creating its own reality. By elevating him from his position as one fighter among a mass of conflicting groups, the US campaign to "villainise Zarqawi" [and “leverage xenophobic response” came straight from the Pentagon. – dancewater] glamorised him with its enemy audience, making it easier for him to raise funds, to attract "unsponsored" foreign fighters, to make alliances with Sunni Iraqis and to score huge impact with his own media maneuvers. Finally, in December 2004, Osama bin Laden gave in to this constructed reality, buried his differences with the Jordanian and declared him the leader of al-Q'aida's resistance to the American occupation.

Whos the Man?

But it was this answer that was most interesting: "Maliki. He turned Al Qaida into the Sahwa," the caller said. He refers to the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the now at least 88,000 strong U.S. contracted, mostly Sunni Muslims, who are fighting Al Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. military now calls them the Sons of Iraq, before that they were the Concerned Local Citizens. Most of them are former insurgents and many people say a lot of Al Qaida are now part of these groups, paid to stay out of trouble. [And what happens when they stop paying them? – dancewater]

RESISTANCE

Couple takes unexpected journey to protest Iraq war

It's just another sign, one that would be unremarkable at an anti-war protest. Handcrafted and crudely assembled, the two facing Masonite boards bolted on wooden posts bemoan the human cost of the Iraq war. Only, this sign sits at a luxe Atlanta address on West Paces Ferry Road, a few skips from the governor's residence.

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: "when an administration embarks on a war justified by little or no intelligence, speaking the truth can be regarded as treachery. The country could use more of that kind of "treachery." ~ Ray McGovern

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