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 27, 2008

News & Views 02/27/08

Photo: Shiite pilgrims gather in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008 during Arbaeen religious holiday to mark the 40th day following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, one Shiism's major figures, who is buried here. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Millions gather for Shi'ite ritual in Iraq

Snipers and bomb squads were among 40,000 Iraqi police and soldiers deployed around southern Iraq's holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala on Wednesday to watch over millions of pilgrims gathered to observe Arbain. Shi'ites have been travelling by foot to observe the annual rite which is a major test for Iraqi security forces after suspected Sunni Arab insurgents killed 149 pilgrims last year. Kerbala police chief Major-General Raad Shakir said as many as 7 million pilgrims were expected to be in Kerbala by late on Wednesday, a day before Arbain reaches its climax. Aerial pictures of the sprawling city showed a sea of black-clad pilgrims filling the wide avenues and narrow backstreets of the city, 110 km (70 miles) south of Baghdad.

IRAQ: Baquba Losing Life – And Hope

"And they spent their savings to make their children safe." Ahead of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, people in this city had dreamed of a better future for them and their children. Now, that's a broken dream. "Life is destroyed by the occupation and its corrupt government, and people have reached a point where nothing means anything to them any more," local dentist Mudhafer al-Janaby told IPS. "People are concerned about electricity because they see that the children need light because of the examinations. They search for fuel for kerosene heaters in the cold winter, and for their cars," local farmer Iman Mansour told IPS. "They are concerned how they will find medicines for the sick. They need to find work and then get to it, but there is a curfew, and the militants are everywhere. How can an individual plan for a future while surrounded by all these troubles?" Rather than save for the future, people are selling what they can to survive right now.

Baghdad newspapers cease publication because of Shiite pilgrimage

Iraqi newspapers ceased publication on Wednesday because of the Shiite Arbaeen pilgrimage scheduled for this Thursday. The Arbaeen is a religious occasion marking the 40th day after the death of Imam al-Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson and the third holiest figure for Shiite Muslims, in the battle of Taf in Karbala in the Hijri year 61 (680 in the Gregorian calendar).

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraqi council rejects elections law

Iraq's presidential council rejected a measure Wednesday setting up provincial elections, sending it back to parliament in the latest setback to U.S.-backed national reconciliation efforts. The three-member panel, however, approved the 2008 budget and another law that provides limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. Those laws will take effect once they are published in the Justice Ministry gazette. The three laws were approved as a package by the Iraqi parliament on Feb. 13. The step drew praise from the Bush administration, which had sought passage of a provincial powers law as one of 18 benchmarks to promote reconciliation among Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab communities and the large Kurdish minority.

Iraq to ‘swim in lake of blood’ if Sadr killed

A leading figure in the movement led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said the group would not pardon anyone if their leader is harmed. “In the event Sadr is harmed, Iraqi will them swim in a lake of blood,” warned Sheikh Sadeq al-Hasnawi. Hasnawi is one of the top officials leading the movement in Sadr’s absence. He said the cleric was currently in Iran “studying and mediating” in the religious city of Qom which is the Iranian equivalent of Iraq’s holy city of Najaf where Shiite clerics are educated and trained. Hasnawi made the remarks in response to unconfirmed reports that Sadr was poisoned and was being hospitalized in Tehran.

Freezing Mahdi Army, issue of power and power of issue

The decision made by the Shiite leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr, to extend the freeze on his Mahdi Army's militia's activities, for a period of six months that initially began on February 26, 2008, was welcomed by the Iraqi government and the different players on the political arena in Iraq. Within the Sadr Trend itself however, and particularly its armed wing, the Mahdi Army, there are different stances in this respect, ranging from the necessity to abide orders, and fears of becoming easily-captured targets.

PKK wounded "not treated" in Iraq's Kurdish region (Extra)

The government of Iraq's Kurdish Autonomous Region denied Thursday that wounded rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were receiving treatment in the region's hospitals. 'News reported on the website of the Turkish General Staff that wounded PKK rebels are receiving treatment in hospitals in the Kurdish region are untrue,' said a statement by a government spokesman. Local hospitals have not received any wounded rebels as the government of the Kurdish region is still committed to its position and steps previously taken against the PKK, the statement said.

Shiite leader calls for autonomous Shiite region in Iraq

The leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq Ammar al-Hakim on Wednesday called for the creation of an autonomous Shiite region to help quell the ethnic conflict in Iraq. 'We strongly believe in the efficiency and significance of founding the autonomous region,' al-Hakim said ahead of the Shiite religious gathering to commemorate Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, in Karbala, some 100 kilometres south of Baghdad. He added: 'It (an autonomous region) will surely help in solving many security, political and social problems in Iraq, in addition to balancing the administration in the country.' Al-Hakim urged Shiites to seriously consider the idea, describing it as 'vital and sensitive while planning the future of Iraq.' Iraq's Shiite leaders have since the US-led invasion in 2003 been calling for the implementation of an article in the constitution that allows for the establishment of independent regions within the country.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Turk envoy tells Iraq no timetable for troop pullout

Turkey will not set any timetable for withdrawing its forces from northern Iraq until the threat of Kurdish PKK rebels has been dealt with, a senior Turkish envoy told a news conference in Baghdad on Wednesday. "Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable until ... those terrorist bases are eliminated," Ahmet Davutoglu said after crisis talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Turkey says 77 more PKK rebels killed in N.Iraq

Turkey's military General Staff said on Wednesday 77 more Kurdish PKK rebels and five more Turkish soldiers had been killed in heavy fighting in northern Iraq since Tuesday evening. The latest figures bring the total death toll among the rebels to 230 and among soldiers to 24, according to Ankara's estimates. Turkey launched its ground offensive against the PKK in remote, mountainous northern Iraq last Thursday. [I believe the number of dead Turkish troops from this operation is higher than the number of dead from the PKK attacks inside Turkey. – dancewater]

From Roads to Iraq blog: Israeli soldier killed in Iraq

According to Israeli newspaper Maariv [via Assafir and Al-mokhtasar], an Israeli soldier Ami Hai Biton killed a week in Iraq in an IED explosion, the newspaper said that Ami Hai was the first Israeli soldier erects the Israeli flag in Iraq.

Rulers of Iraq

My translator looked at me as we walked through the double wooden doors to interview the Iranian Ambassador. "This is the second ruler of Iraq," she said. I looked at her. "After Crocker," she said, referring to the U.S. Ambassador. She never mentioned the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al Maliki. She expressed what most Iraqis feel, Iraq is a tug of war for power between Iran and the United States.

IRAQI REFUGEES

US Congressional Panel Considers Iraqi Refugee Problem

Four to five million Iraqis are estimated to have fled their country, many to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, although Johnstone says exact figures are difficult. The U.N. official says there is now a somewhat improved asylum situation in neighboring countries, with diminished threats, at least for the time being, of forced return. At the same time, Johnstone says Iraqis who have fled their country, many of them well-educated, face difficult and desperate circumstances as urban refugees. "If you can't have a job, if you have no money you will starve to death as a well-educated person just as fast as somebody that has no education, and I think sometimes that gets lost on us because when we talk to these people they are extraordinarily articulate, very capable, they would provide an asset to any society in which they found themselves and yet they are in absolutely dire circumstances. It really is an amazing situation," he said. Forty seven percent of Iraqi refugees are women facing particularly difficult circumstances. Johnstone says women make up 20 percent of all heads of families, taking care of children because so many men have been killed in some way in conflict in Iraq.

EGYPT: High rates of trauma, sickness among Iraqi refugees

Many of the estimated 70,000-150,000 Iraqi refugees in Egypt have developed serious psychological and stress-related illnesses, including cardiac problems, according to Ahlam Tobia, a medical doctor who works with refugees in Cairo. Abeer Etefa, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson, said many of the refugees registered with the agency had chronic diseases such as heart ailments and diabetes. "Stress caused by bad news from back home, by lack of funds, employment or education opportunities, has caused an increase in cases of heart disease and diabetes," Ahlam said. Iraqi refugees, she said, had a higher rate of medical problems compared to other refugee populations, such as the Sudanese and Somalis. Iraqi children also had health problems unique to their population, which Ahlam believed were attributable to radioactive waste left over from Iraq's war with Iran and the first Gulf War in 1991. Human horror stories exist among Iraqi refugees - from women who have lost their power of speech due to shock, to children with stunted growth, to young boys who are losing their hearing or sight. One person has a congenital disease and is losing mobility due to deteriorating brain membranes, Ahlam said.

Iraqi to Return Home, As a US Soldier

Safaa Wadi moved to this former mill city after his life was threatened in his native Iraq while serving as an interpreter for the US Army. He expects to soon head back to Iraq — not as a civilian interpreter, but as a U.S. soldier. Wadi arrived in the United States in September with a special immigrant visa for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters. But with his savings nearly depleted and unable to land a decent job, Wadi enlisted in the Army. He begins training in South Carolina on Monday. Wadi isn't worried about returning to Iraq, where many of his countrymen considered him a traitor because he worked with American forces. His allegiance is now to the United States, he says. "I want to serve this country because this country returned to me my life," Wadi said. "If I had stayed in Iraq, I'd be dead now." [Of course, if the US had not invaded Iraq, his life would never have been threatened. – dancewater]

UN urges Iraq, US to help with refugees

A top U.N. refugee official warned on Tuesday of the possibility that Iraqi refugees might be expelled from their sanctuaries unless the United States, Iraq and other countries act quickly to help them. L. Craig Johnstone, deputy to the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, said a "window of opportunity" now exists to provide for their care because of "a clear improvement in the security situation" following a recent buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Iraqi Refugees Find Respite - but Little Else - in Damascus

Ibrim and his compatriots are among some 1.5 million Iraqis refugees taken in by Syria since the US-led invasion of neighboring Iraq in March 2003, according to figures compiled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). More than 500,000 others have sought haven in Jordan, but the UNHCR says the cost of sheltering the refugees is straining the limited resources of Syria and Jordan, which are unable to offer them either jobs or financial assistance. "Because of their difficult financial situation," many Iraqis have packed up and returned home, said Ibrim, who refused to divulge his family name for fear of reprisals against relatives still living in Iraq. "The violence in Iraq has not decreased," added the 47-year-old.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

Land of the free no more: Pastor fights fine for pre-war Iraq trip

A wild Turkey chase?

This vividly reminds one of a similar blunder in the summer of 2006, when US officials backed Israel's cross-border incursions into southern Lebanon with the stated aim of "neutralizing" a terrorist organization (Hezbollah) and destroying its "organizational infrastructure". The vocabulary used in both occasions, and the reactions solicited from Washington, are so strikingly similar that, inevitably, they invite comparisons between Israel's ultimately futile misadventure in Lebanon and Turkey's operation that is already a week long. Despite the US's prodding to "keep it short", it may end up approximating Israel's 33-day campaign against Hezbollah. This is particularly so since the Turkish army has to endure harsh winter conditions in addition to a resilient foe of about 3,000 or so PKK fighters.

……Are respected US neo-cons ready to sell out the Baghdad government, about to play host to Iran's president, as well? And if so, what really will remain of the US's Iraq policy, one that, at least officially, has been anchored in the commitment to Iraq's integrity and sovereignty? The answer is that the US has now made a bad joke of its Iraq policy by not even paying lip service to Iraq's sovereignty in the wake of Turkey's aggressive violation of Iraq's territorial integrity, with so many Turkish pundits openly wishing for a Turkish "buffer" inside Iraq, ostensibly to prevent the PKK access to southeastern Turkish towns and villages. This error in judgment on Washington's part is a serious one that could come to haunt its policy-makers, who have opted to pawn the US's Iraq policy into Turkey's hands, just as they did with respect to Israel in Lebanon two years ago.

Iraq: Divided and Disintegrating

Iraq is disintegrating faster than ever. The Turkish army invaded the north of the country last week and is still there. Iraqi Kurdistan is becoming like Gaza where Israel can send in its tanks and helicopters at will. The US, so sensitive to any threat to Iraqi sovereignty from Iran or Syria, has blandly consented to the Turkish attack on the one part of Iraq which was at peace. The Turkish government piously claims that its army is in pursuit of PKK Turkish Kurd guerrillas, but it is unlikely to inflict serious damage on them as they hide in long-prepared bunkers and deep ravines of the Kurdish mountains. What the Turkish incursion is doing is weakening the Kurdistan Regional Government, the autonomous Kurdish zone, the creation of which is one of the few concrete achievements of the US and British invasion of Iraq five years ago. One of the most extraordinary developments in the Iraqi war has been the success with which the White House has been able to persuade so much of the political and media establishment in the US that, by means of “the Surge”, an extra 30,000 US troops, it is on the verge of political and military success in Iraq. All that is needed now, argue US generals, is political reconciliation between the Iraqi communities. Few demands could be more hypocritical.

Quote of the day: And in plain point of fact, the Bush-Cheney faction – and the elite interests they represent – has already won the war in Iraq...They've won even if Iraq collapses into perpetual anarchy, or becomes an extremist religious state; they've won even if the whole region goes up in flames, and terrorism flares to unprecedented heights – because this will just mean more war-profiteering, more fear-profiteering. And yes, they've won even if they lose their majority [in November 2006] or the presidency in 2008, because war and fear will still fill their coffers, buying them continuing influence and power as they bide their time through another interregnum of a Democratic "centrist" – who will, at best, only nibble at the edges of the militarist state – until they are back in the saddle again. The only way they can lose the Iraq War is if they are actually arrested and imprisoned for their war crimes. And you know and I know that's not going to happen. –Chris Floyd

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