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 20, 2008

News & Views 02/20/08

Photo: An Iraqi boy cries outside a hospital morgue in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008 as he waits to collect his relative's body. As many as 15 Iraqi policemen responding to an attack against U.S. bases in Baghdad were killed and 27 wounded when rockets set to be launched exploded before they could be defused, officials said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Tuesday: 3 US Soldiers, 40 Iraqis Killed; 67 Iraqis Wounded

5 Iraqis Killed as Rockets Hit U.S. Base in Baghdad

No Evidence of Down Syndrome in 2 Suicide Bombers, Files Show

Psychiatric case files of the bombers who killed nearly 100 people on Feb. 1 showed they suffered from depression and schizophrenia, but not Down Syndrome, as officials had suggested. [I guess four years of war, violence and occupation, combined with horrible living conditions can make a person depressed. And then, they may respond to the violence around them with more violence. – dancewater]

Baghdad hospital staff feels wronged by suicide bombing charges

Inside the low-slung, brown stucco building that is the al Rashad psychiatric teaching hospital in a Baghdad neighborhood of the same name, employees wonder what will happen next. Already they've seen an administrator resign after his son was kidnapped. In December, the hospital's director was gunned down. Then, 10 days ago, U.S. troops arrested the acting director on the suspicion that he supplied female mental patients to insurgents to become suicide bombers. A siege mentality has set in among the eight doctors and nearly 20 staff members at the hospital, which treats about 1,200 mental patients and is one of only two institutions of its kind in Iraq. They no longer allow their patients to leave the hospital grounds for fear of how they'll be treated outside. They won't give their names to a reporter for fear that they'll be targeted next.

Iraqi police detain street people

Iraqi security forces have been ordered to detain beggars and mentally ill people found on Baghdad's streets who could be exploited by militants. The Iraqi interior ministry confirmed the order went into effect on Tuesday and that a handful of such people had been picked up from the streets so far. Those detained will be sent to mental institutions or back to their families.

Whered they go?

Yesterday the Ministry of Interior said they'd clear the streets of beggars, the mentally disabled and the mentally disturbed. The plan was to make sure the bombing that took 99 lives on Feb. 1 would not repeat. The two female suicide bombers were apparently duped by Al Qaida into blowing themselves up. Officials were first said to have Down Syndrome based on their damaged heads, blown from their bodies, then said to have suffered from schizophrenia and depression. Later this month, a woman who "looked like a beggar" according to officials, approached a shop front shrouded in her dusty Abaya, a long flowing black cloak, and blew herself up in central Baghdad. So what was the solution? To round them all up and put them in shelters, hospitals or jail. Today at the intersections of central Baghdad where forlorn women and their young children typically pawn candy, gum, tissues or balloons were empty. The spokesman at the Ministry of Interior took no one off the streets. They all stayed home today.

Iraqi professionals forced to take small jobs

They are teachers, artists and military officers but in a country where the economy is in chaos, thousands of Iraqi professionals are living hand to mouth and relying on small jobs to survive. The government's promises of economic revival have failed to materialise, despite a state budget this year of 48 billion dollars (33 billion euros) -- more than double what it was before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Geography teacher Asad Mohammed, 36, was among tens of thousands who lost their jobs when US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003 sparking an economic meltdown and an extensive purge of the public sector, the country's main employer. He now sells toys in a central Baghdad market and these days is more concerned with the latest crazes among children than climatology and geomorphology.

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.

Cabinet reshuffle, displaced Iraqis dominate Baghdad press

Baghdad press on Wednesday devoted most of their pages to the heated dispute over the expected cabinet reshuffle, with two newspapers highlighting the suffering of Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries. Al-Siyada, a daily newspaper published by the Iraqi Republican Assembly led by Saad Aasem al-Janabi, published an editorial entitled 'The upcoming cabinet reshuffle' in which it highlighted the importance of forming a national unity government away from any sectarian or political biases. Stressing the national reconciliation project as a main priority, the author urged the government to accept objective criticism from political blocs, "especially that it has not yet succeeded in providing basic services for citizens or fulfilling its promises of establishing a real national reconciliation."

Major show of force in Iraq city ahead of festival

Tanks, aircraft and 40,000 police and soldiers are being deployed in Iraq's holy city of Kerbala ahead of a religious festival that has in the past seen some of the country's worst violence, police said on Wednesday. Millions of Shi'ite pilgrims are expected for next week's festival in Kerbala, 110 km (68 miles) south Baghdad and one of the holiest cities in Shi'ite Islam, local officials said. In previous years, militants have killed scores of pilgrims in suicide and other attacks, and this year security is tighter than ever, Kerbala police chief Major-General Raad Shakir said. Tanks are being used in the city for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. [How are tanks going to stop suicide bombers? – dancewater]

Iranian pilgrims flock to Iraqi shrines

The religious cities of Karbala and Najaf are prospering once again – thanks to the latest relative improvement in security and the visits by Iranian pilgrims. Both cities are relatively calmer than before and the highway to Iran safer. This has encouraged the countries to reinvigorate an old deal under which 3,000 Iranians could enter Iraq as part of package tours. “Iranian pilgrims can only stay for 10 days and specifically in the religious cities of Najaf and Karbala,” said Abed Zahra, the spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology. Zahra said hotels, restaurants and shop keepers were doing “roaring business” in the two cities as they have to cater for tens of thousands of visitors every day.

Fallujah, once hotbed of Sunni rebellion, rejects new Iraqi flag

The new Iraqi flag - purged of references to former president Saddam Hussein - has been rejected by the local council of the western Iraqi town of Fallujah, once the centre of insurgency in the so-called Sunni triangle, a city councillor said Wednesday. Fallujah was the centre of command for Sunni Arab insurgents and loyalists of Saddam's defunct Baath Party until a massive offensive by over 10,000 US and Iraqi troops flushed out rebellion in the city and the then restive Anbar province. The new flag will not be hoisted on government offices in Fallujah, the city councillor, Naji al-Ilwani, told the Voices of Iraq VOI news agency.

Sandstorms blanket Iraqi capital, shut Baghdad airport

The storms, expected to abate Thursday, sent dozens of Baghdad residents to hospitals with breathing difficulties.

FEATURE-Baghdad-Basra train helps stitch up Iraq's wounds

Women jiggled children on their knees and men chatted as the gleaming carriages pulled away from a spotless Baghdad platform, a picture of cleanliness and order in a country racked by chaos.

Jordan receives 200 tons of Iraqi oil

The Jordanian Kingdom received 200 tons of Iraqi oil as part of an agreement with the Iraqi government to import oil, a Jordanian official source said on Wednesday. "On Wednesday, the kingdom added 200 tons of Iraqi oil to its oil reserves under an agreement between the Iraqi and Jordanian governments," Engineer Hikmat Saleem, the director of a trade exchange department, told Aswat al-Iraq, Voices of Iraq, (VOI).

Inflation rate up by 3.4% in Jan.

Iraq's inflation rate rose by 3.4% in January 2008, compared to December 2008, while the annual inflation rate jumped by 1.3% in the period January 2007-January 2008, the country's Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation said on Wednesday. "The ministry's Agency for Statistics and Information Technology has finished its inflation report for January 2008, which is based on field data about the retail prices of goods and services in local markets," read a ministerial statement received by Aswat al-Iraq, Voices of Iraq, (VOI).

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Cleric threatens to end Iraq ceasefire

Moqtada al-Sadr threatens to end six-month ceasefire credited with halving violence level in Iraq. Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, a spokesman for Sadr in the Shia holy city of Najaf, warned the "freeze" would end if the cleric failed to extend the arrangement by Saturday. Sadr's Mahdi army is among the most powerful militias in Iraq and the young cleric enjoys one of the largest followings of any leader in the country. His decision to order his militia to stand down last August allowed stretched US forces to re-establish some control in the country and helped reduce violence by 60%. Today, however, in a move that will cause deep concern in Washington, Obeidi claimed Sadr's followers would be free to resume their activities if no message was sent by the cleric by February 23.

IRAQ: Government moves to curb suicide bombings

The Iraqi police are to start rounding up beggars, mentally disabled persons and others living on the streets to prevent them from being used by militant groups in suicide attacks, the Interior Ministry said on 19 February.

Trial of 2 Ex-Officials in Iraq Is Delayed as Witnesses Fail to Show

The trial of two former government officials widely seen as a test of the impartiality of Iraq's judicial system got off to an inauspicious start on Tuesday when it was delayed because crucial witnesses failed to appear. The absence of the witnesses was the latest in a series of events that appear aimed at derailing the case, in which the officials are charged with using the resources of the Health Ministry to carry out a campaign of sectarian kidnappings and killings. Witnesses have been intimidated; their families have been threatened; and information emerged this week suggesting that the trial's outcome was fixed. One of the judges scheduled to hear the case had reportedly already agreed to find the men not guilty, according to officials close to the court.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Soldier Guilty of Assault in Iraqi Death

A soldier who had been charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed Iraqi was convicted by a military jury Wednesday of aggravated assault.

Australia says job is done for soldiers in Iraq

US Military Camps Harm Iraqi Historical Sites

Iraqi Minister of Antiquities and Tourism Mohammed Abbas said, "Foreign military troops have been taken out of a position in Babylon but their presence in it and other sites in Samarra and Nasiriyah have caused big damages." The minister added that setting up camps on those sites involves building barriers, digging bunkers, eroding the ground and allowing heavy military vehicles in, let alone the illegal presence of military troops there.

Quote of the day: " Two score and 17 months ago, I brought forth in the Persian Gulf a new conflict misconceived in secret and dedicated to the proposition that all oil belongs to Halliburton." Thus begins retired Col. Dan Smith's rewrite of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address a la the current administration. See the rest of the speech.

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