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

Friday, February 29, 2008

News & Views 02/29/08

Photo: Iraqi Christians attend mass at a church in Mosul, 370 kms north of Baghdad in 2007. A Chaldean Catholic archbishop was kidnapped by gunmen in Iraq's restive northern city of Mosul on Friday after a shootout that killed his three companions, a local Iraqi army commander said. (AFP/File/Mujahed Mohammed)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Friday: 7 Iraqis Killed, 4 Wounded; Christian Archbishop Abducted

Thursday: 13 Iraqis, 5 Arabs Killed; 12 Iraqis Wounded

Iraq: a displacement crisis

Together with tens of thousands more displaced by ongoing military operations, and more than one million by the abuses of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, this leads to a total of nearly 1.9 million people currently estimated to be displaced within Iraq. In addition, some 2 million Iraqis fled to neighbouring countries as of March 2007. Four years after the toppling of the former regime, a new wave of violence and human rights abuses has left large numbers of people dead and caused mass population displacement at an unprecedented scale. Sectarian and generalised violence has been acute in mixed areas, particularly in Baghdad and neighbouring Diyala but other provinces have also been affected. Military operations are causing repeated displacement in Anbar province in the west.

IRAQ: Occupation Strangles Farmers

New plant diseases, attacks by occupation forces and escalating fuel prices are strangling farmers in Diyala province. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003, farmers in Baquba, the capital city of Diyala province 40 km northeast of Baghdad, struggled with plant diseases they believed were caused by bombs dropped during the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991. Trees were infested with white fruit fly, aphids and plant louse, and there was a shortage of water for irrigation. The directorate-general of agriculture used helicopters to spread insecticide. After the invasion, the situation has worsened. Helicopter spraying seems unthinkable. "With helicopters large distances can be sprayed in one stroke," Aboud Ibrahim, a 55-year-old local farmer told IPS. "In the case of white fruit fly, when a farmer sprays the insecticide, the disease can move back to his farm again from the neighbouring farm within six hours. This is why simultaneous treatment of all farms is so efficient." Helicopters now mean something else. "Helicopters and fighters of the coalition forces attack farmers who work at night on their farms," said a local farmer who did not want to be named. "Due to the water quotas, farmers are forced to water their farms even at night. Some farmers have been shot in firing by coalition forces. Farmers would rather neglect their farms than risk death."

Nine Million Visitors Flock to Karbala

"The number of people who visited Karbala has touched nine million," Major General Raed Shakir Jawdat said. Akhil al-Khazali, the governor of Karbala, said it was a "record" turnout. Around 50,000 Iraqi policemen and soldiers have been deployed in and around Karbala to thwart any possible insurgent attacks as throngs of visitors converge. "The security plan put in place has worked the way we expected," said Jawdat.

Gunmen kidnap Iraqi Chaldean Catholic archbishop

Gunmen kidnapped the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul on Friday in the northern Iraqi city and killed his driver and two guards, police said. In Rome, Pope Benedict deplored the kidnapping of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho as a "despicable" crime and urged the gunmen to free the prelate. Provincial police spokesman Brigadier-General Khaled Abdul Sattar said Rahho was kidnapped in the al-Nour district in eastern Mosul when he left a church.

From Missing Links blog:

Haroun Muhammad, in his regular op-ed in Al-Quds al-Arabi, says the Ahmedinejad visit to Baghdad really puts the cap on a strategy of collaboration between America and Iran with respect to controlling Iraq. He cites the fact that the Americans continue, in their day-to-day activities, to regard the Iran-oriented Shiite parties as their natural allies; he reviews statements of Wayne White and others to the effect the Americans deliberately opened the Iran-Iraq border following the 2003 invasion; and he talks about covert Iranian activities since then targeting in particular those who fought in the Iran-Iraq war; and so on.

Iraqis react
Reflections on the decision to execute 'Chemical Ali'

- He deserves to be punished, but I think people are more concerned with getting better basic services, than who is going to be the next dead body.

- He did a bad thing but he was a human being as well. So let's hope it's handled better than the way they executed Saddam Hussein, that was very bad.

- I am against the death penalty. This man is a criminal - even before Anfal - and he should pay for what he did. But whether he's executed or not, I don't think it will make much difference. The sort of hatred that led him to do what he did still exists. There are still people who believe in exterminating others for ethnic or religious reasons.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Local police units stop work in key Iraqi province

Thousands of members of neighborhood police units have stopped work in one of Iraq's most dangerous provinces, Iraqi and U.S. military officials said on Friday. The mainly Sunni Arab units, widely known as concerned local citizens, or "CLCs," said they had disbanded altogether which would represent a major blow to U.S. and Iraqi efforts to pacify Diyala province. Violence across Iraq is down 60 percent since June, due mainly to an extra 30,000 U.S. troops and the growth of the CLC units, which sprang up in western Anbar province in late 2006. The U.S. military said the units in ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala had stopped work over pay and a disagreement with the provincial police chief.

IRAQ: Tensions Rise Between Sahwa and Govt Forces

U.S. backed Sahwa forces threaten to destabilise U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces in Iraq's volatile Diyala province. The 'Awakening Councils', known locally as the Sahwa, have left their centres in cities and districts around the capital of Diyala province, located 40 km northeast of Baghdad. After seeing better security and stability brought about by the Sahwa, most of whom are former resistance fighters, residents are concerned what their absence will now mean. The Sahwa are protesting against kidnappings, rape, and killing of Sunnis by the Shia-controlled police in Baquba. On the other hand, Shia politicians of Diyala, like those in Baghdad, have always shown their resentment against the fighters of the Sahwa. They often accuse the fighters of being "terrorists". Many residents see this as more of the sectarian view of the predominantly Shia government of Baghdad that does not want to share power with Sunni groups. According to the U.S. military, 82 percent of the 80,000-strong Sahwa are Sunni.

'Chemical Ali' Execution OK'd in Iraq

Iraq's presidential council has endorsed the execution within a month of Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali," for his role in the 1980s scorched-earth campaign against Kurds, officials said Friday. But it spared the life of two other officials amid Sunni protests that they were only following orders. The approval by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and two vice presidents was the final step clearing the way for Ali Hassan al-Majid's execution by hanging. It could now be carried out at any time, a government adviser and a prosecutor said. Al-Majid was one of three former Saddam officials sentenced to death in June after being convicted by an Iraqi court of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for their part in the Operation Anfal crackdown that killed nearly 200,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas.

Iraqi president welcomes Turkish withdrawal from northern Iraq

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Friday welcomed Turkey's decision to withdraw from northern Iraq, noting that the decision asserts the Turkish government's credibility. "The pullout underlines the correctness of the self-control policy in dealing with the recent crisis," Talabani said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI). "President Talabani looks forward to accept the invitation of Turkish Abdullah Gul to visit Turkey to discuss means of boosting bilateral relations in political, economic, cultural and security fields for the good of the two people," read the statement.

Where Are You?

The country, still largely controlled and secured by the United States. is largely ignored by their Arab counterparts. Ahmadinejad will be the first regional head of state to visit Iraq. Abdul Kareem al Samarai, a Sunni cleric, had this to say during his Friday sermon. "I have a message to the Arab leaders, where are you? Where are your ambassadors?" he asked.

Iraq urges Iranian firms to help ‘modernize’ Baghdad

Baghdad Mayor Saber al-Aisawi has asked Iranian firms’ help to upgrade level of municipal services in the capital. The mayor has signed a joint agreement with Tehran under which Iranian firms are to start developing the city, home to more than six million people. Iranian firms are to enter into joint cooperation deals with Iraqi counterparts “to construct roads, bridges, tunnels and help with garbage collection,” said Aisawi. The deal is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars. Tehran Mayor Mohammed Baqer was in Baghdad last week and has promised to send in teams of engineers and technicians to reconstruct the war-torn capital.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Turkish Military Officials Say Some Troops Leaving Northern Iraq

The Turkish military says all its troops have withdrawn from northern Iraq after a weeklong assault on Kurdish rebels. In a statement, the military claimed its Iraq operation targeted some 300 rebels and killed 240 of them. As Dorian Jones reports for the VOA from Istanbul, in the last few days international pressure, especially from the United States, has been increasing on Turkey to end the operation. …. The withdrawal comes after international pressure increased on Turkey to end the incursion. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with Turkey's political leadership and called for an early end to the operation.

US: PKK Must Still be Dealt With

The White House on Friday called Turkey's just-completed ground incursion in Iraq "targeted and relatively short" but warned of possible future strikes against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. "There is one thing that remains clear, and that is the United States, Turkey, and Iraq all will continue to view the PKK as a terrorist organization that needs to be dealt with," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe. His comments came after Turkey pulled troops out of Iraq after a campaign, launched late on February 21, against the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said: "We welcome this move. We have always maintained that there are other ways to end PKK terrorism."

US wary of Iran's growing activity in Iraq

U.S. military officials are voicing increasing concern that Iranian-backed Shiite militants are stepping up their activities in Iraq, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prepares to make a historic visit to Baghdad that is expected to reinforce Iran's expanding influence. The U.S. military refers to the shadowy, cell-like structures operated by Shiite extremists as Special Groups and says their precise relationship with Iran's government isn't clear. The U.S. military is certain, however, that they receive arms, training and funding from the Quds Force, the elite and secretive foreign-operations wing of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps. "We don't assess necessarily that the central government of Iran is behind this but we are certain there are elements, including the Quds Force, who continue to train, finance and equip these people," said senior military spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith. [Americans have said so much over the last six years that has been proven false time and time again. – dancewater]

UK hostage families plead with Iraqi kidnappers

The families of five British men held hostage in Iraq since last May pleaded with their kidnappers on Friday to release them. The Britons -- a computer instructor and his four bodyguards -- were seized by a Shi'ite militant group from inside an Iraqi Finance Ministry building in a raid in Baghdad. In a televised appeal to the kidnappers, the stepmother of hostage Peter Moore said: "Please, show the world your true humanity and let our loved ones go."

Iraq Rewards Trump Risks for Job Seekers

Must be willing to relocate to Iraq. For many around the world, that is the sound of opportunity knocking. The war in Iraq - nearing the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion - has focused attention on some modern twists to life in the field, from soldier-bloggers to base coffee shops serving up lattes. But few are as profound as the rise in military outsourcing.

Despite Antiwar Rhetoric, Clinton-Obama Plans Would Keep US Mercenaries, Troops in Iraq for Years to Come

Jeremy Scahill reports Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will not “rule out” using private military companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. Obama also has no plans to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in US war zones by January 2009. Despite their antiwar rhetoric, both Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton have adopted the congressional Democratic position that would leave open the option of keeping tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq for many years.

Egypt to strengthen relations with Iraq

The Egyptian foreign minister said his country will send a team to Baghdad to examine the possibility of resuming official diplomatic relations with Iraq. Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Egypt intends to re-establish diplomatic offices in Baghdad, the Egyptian Middle East News Agency said Thursday. Egypt pulled back its diplomatic presence in Iraq when its diplomat in Baghdad, Ihab el-Sherif, was killed in 2005. "Egypt will soon send a security delegation to Baghdad to explore the security, organizational and administrative requirements needed for the resumption of an official Egyptian diplomatic presence in Iraq," MENA reported the minister saying.

COMMENTARY

It is McCain Who Is Naive on Iraq

For all the talk of Sen. Barack Obama's delicate treatment by the news media and his airy rhetoric, it is Sen. John McCain who is getting the free pass on Iraq. It isn't just McCain's "I will not surrender" stump line or his relentless support for the surge and its success. It is McCain's promise of "victory" in Iraq -- military victory -- that goes without examination. I've said before that whether Obama will be able to withdraw troops as president depends on his "convincing" the national security establishment and the military leadership of the wisdom of his vision, and that the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks. The timetable will be governed by logistical reality and the degree of risk Obama is willing to assume. McCain, on the other hand, is promising something that many in the military doubt is possible. More important, he is asserting that the United States can deliver something in Iraq -- that is, surrender on the part of the terrorists -- that is completely outside of its power. Victory is dependent on what the Iraqi government and the Iraqis themselves do.

Eeenee Meenee Mynee Mo...

And so the point Im making is, if YOU don’t know about MY country’s politics, why SHOULD I, be interested in yours? I only said that to get on his nerves and make him regret talking to me in the first place. Well, no, no, you should care, he said. I shook my head, look, be it Obama, McCain, or Clinton, they are ALL the same for me. Be it a black man, a white woman, or a yellow transvestite, I don’t care. I honestly don’t cuz at the end of the day, none of them can fix whats broken. And Iraq IS broken. If they pull the troops, we are doomed, if they keep the troops we are doomed. Solution is not in their hands anymore. It used to be one day, but they missed that train. They either missed the train, or they skipped the train, Im still debating that with myself.

The solution is with none other than the Iraqis themselves. Surge or no surge, it stopped making a difference. Kinda like making chocolate mouse. Key ingredient is using COLD CREAM. If you use room temperature cream instead, no matter how much you beat it, it will never end up as fluffy as the cold cream, hence you end up with something other than mousse, more like a pudding. So no, Im not gonna lose any sleep over the elections. He sipped his green bean coffee, shook his head and walked away. Yaaaaaaaay, finally... And by the way that’s not just MY opinion, ask any “ordinary” Iraqi working with me about the US elections, they will simply tell you they don’t really care. All they want is for their Iraq to become whole again. Bush Senior, messed us up. Bill Clinton, messed us up. Bush Junior F’ed us up. I wander whose turn is it next. Eenee Meenee Mynee Mo…

Audio: The Three Trillion Dollar War

One week after President Bush rejected charges the war in Iraq has hurt the US economy, a new book puts a conservative estimate of the war’s cost at $3 trillion so far. In their first national broadcast interview upon their book’s publication, Nobel laureate and former chief World Bank economist, Joseph Stiglitz, and co-author Linda Bilmes of Harvard University say the Bush administration has repeatedly low-balled the cost of the war—and even kept a second set of records hidden from the American public.

Quote of the day: We may be a nation that goes shopping after the terrorists strike, we may have more to fear from obesity than Osama bin Laden, but suddenly it’s an election year and we, or at least the media, are preoccupied with threats to our security that have the complexity of comic-book bad guys. – Robert Koehler

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