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

Sunday, March 2, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, March 2, 2008

Family members of Rami Hikmet who was killed when gunmen kidnapped Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, mourn during his funeral in Mosul, Iraq, March 1, 2008. Gunmen kidnapped the archbishop Friday killing three people who were with him. Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for the cleric's swift release. (AP Photo)


















Reported Security Incidents

Baghdad

Two injured by sequential roadside bomb explosions in eastern Baghdad.

Reuters also reports:

  • Two bodies found dumped on Saturday
  • An Iraqi soldier was killed and two wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol on Saturday in the eastern Zayouna district of Baghdad, police said.


Near Tal Afar

Clashes leave 2 police officers, 13 alleged gunmen dead. This is said to have occurred in a village "near Tal Afar," exact location not given.

Kirkuk

Member of an unidentified Iraqi security unit kills a man said to be a leader of a kidnapping ring. One thing I find interesting about this dispatch is that it reminds us of the welter of different security forces in Iraq. We aren't even told if the hero of this story was a local police officer, a soldier, or a member of one of the various ministry commandos, etc. We also are not told whether the targeted gang was a political faction or merely criminal. -- C

Near Baquba

Five killed, four injured in bomb attack on a minibus in the village of Al-Kheraiz.

AFP also reports a police officer killed in a bomb attack while on patrol in Buhruz, south of Baquba.

Mosul

U.S. claims to have killed a Saudi leader of al Qaeda in Iraq with a missile strike. They identify him as Jar Allah, aka Abu Yasir al-Saudi, and also say they killed a companion known only as Hamdan. They blame him for an attack Jan. 28 that killed 5 U.S. soldiers.

Other News of the Day

The big news of the day is, of course, the historic visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraq. I will first link to a plain vanilla wire service story -- specifically from the Canadian Broadcasting and then try to present various details and point of view on this occasion.

Iranian leader begins landmark visit to Iraq. Excerpt:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he held "brotherly" talks with Iraq's president on Sunday, marking the start of new relations between their countries. Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president to go to neighbouring Iraq since Saddam Hussein launched a ruinous eight-year war on Iran in 1980, in which an estimated one million people died. He is also the first leader from the region to visit since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"We had very good talks that were friendly and brotherly," Ahmadinejad said at a joint news conference in Baghdad with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "We have mutual understandings and views in all fields, and both sides plan to improve relations as much as possible," the Iranian president said.

Talabani said the two discussed economic, political, security and oil issues and planned to sign several agreements later. He said the issue of borders, including the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway between the two countries, was not discussed.


AFP provides more extensive quotations from the joint press conference of Ahmadinejad and Talabani:

"The talks we had were very positive," Ahmadinejad said at a joint news conference with his counterpart Jalal Talabani after the two leaders met at Talabani's residence in Baghdad. Iraq's president called Ahmadinejad's visit "historic." "This is a new page in the history of the relations between the two countries," Ahmadinejad told reporters.

"We have had good talks in a friendly and constructive environment. We have the same understanding of things and the two parties are determined to strengthen their political, economic and cultural co-operation." He said the people of Iraq were going through "tough" times. "But as we know, the Iraqi people will overcome the situation and the Iraq of tomorrow will be a powerful, developed and unique Iraq," a smiling Ahmadinejad said. "A united, powerful and developed Iraq is in the interests of all countries of the region," he said.

Talabani, who grinned broadly and eagerly shook Ahmadinejad's hand, called the visit "historic." Earlier on Sunday, Talabani welcomed Ahmadinejad with a guard of honour, as a military band played the national anthems of both nations. Wearing his trademark suit with white shirt and no tie, Ahmadinejad shook hands with Iraqi officials lined up to greet him, including Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh.

The Iranian president arrived in Baghdad at 9:05 am (0605 GMT) leading a large delegation that includes Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie met a smiling Ahmadinejad at the airport, which was the focus of a security lockdown hours before his plane landed.

In Texas, President George W. Bush on Saturday accused Ahmadinejad of "exporting terror" and called on Iran to "quit sending in sophisticated equipment that's killing our citizens." The US military in Iraq says that Iran supplies weapons and training for anti-US insurgents, charges denied by Tehran.

Ahmadinejad's visit to Shiite-majority Iraq is set to underline Western concerns about Iranian influence in the region that Washington alleges extends to aiding militants in Iraq and also destabilising Lebanon. The trip is a strong show of support by Tehran for the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.


However, not all Iraqis are pleased by the government's embrace of Iran, with protest demonstrations occurring in various places. Hundreds protest in Fallujah:

Falluja, Mar 2, (VOI)- On Sunday hundreds staged a demonstration in Falluja, a Sunni city, to protest the visit paid by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the Iraqi capital.

"The demonstration denounces Ahmadinejad's visit and calls for boycotting Iranian goods," Sheikh Abdellah Mohammed al-Isawi, a demonstrator, told Aswat al-Iraq- Voices of Iraq- (VOI). Al-Isawi said "the demonstration which passed through various streets in Falluja was staged by NGOs, political parties and unions in the city."

The protestors who held the old Iraqi flag, the flag with the three green stars in the middle, and walked into many parts of Falluja, ended their demonstration with set ablaze an Iraqi flag. "The demonstration is a message from the Iraqi people to Iran condemning the Iranian role in backing up the (Shiite) militia that killed hundreds of the Iraqi people," Sabah al-Alwani, a politician taking part in the demonstration, told VOI.


Reuters also reports that demonstrations against the visit were held in various other places with Sunni Arab populations, and notes that Sunni Arab Vice President Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was absent from the welcoming party.

IRIB (the Iranian government news services) emphasizes that Talabani has declared the Mujahideen Khalq Organization illegal. The MKO is an armed Iranian faction opposed to the Islamic regime in Iran, which currently enjoys safe haven in Iraq under U.S. protection. Talabani says arrangements have been made to deal with them but he was not specific. BTW, there are allegations that the "laptop documents" the U.S. has relied on to assert that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons were provided by the MKO (also called the MeK). See below, under Commentary and Analysis- C

The Iranian Foreing Ministry also describes other specific issues to be discussed at the summit and subsequently. Excerpt:

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sayyed Mohammad-Ali Hosseini on Sunday announced that IRI and Iraq are to review issues related to the two countries joint oil wells. He told reporters during his weekly press briefing that a joint committee, to be formed in the next two months, will discuss the issue.

On the activities of the Iranian terrorist grouplet MKO members in Iraq, he said the MKO members should leave Iraq according to the decisions made by the Iraqi government. The Iraqi officials are trying to materialize the decision they made two times earlier, he added.

As to allocation of a dlrs one-billion loan to Iraq, he said the amount will be spent on projects being carried out by Iranian companies.


However, despite all the positive spin, the talks have not included the problem of implementing the 1975 Algiers accord concerning the Shatt Al-Arab. It's not clear why this is being put off -- it's clearly in the interest of both countries to resolve it. The problem concerns both the location of the international border, and maintenance of the waterway, which is deteriorating due to lack of dredging, and the presence of a lot of wreckage from past conflicts and accidents. -- C

In the context of the summit, the Iraqi and Iranian Chambers of Commerce sign an agreement to facilitate trade between the countries.

And otherwise, life and politics go on:

The (Sunni Arab) Iraqi Accordance Front continues its boycott of the government, denies that it has set new conditions as previously reported.

Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Farah Rahho remains in captivity after being kidnapped on Friday. The Pope has now appealed for his release.

Commentary and Analysis

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes discuss their new book on the cost to the U.S. of the Iraq invasion and occupation. Excerpt:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Iraq war has contributed to the U.S. economic slowdown and is impeding an economic recovery, Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is severely underestimating the cost of the war, Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes write in their book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War" (W.W. Norton), due to be published on Monday.

The nearly 5-year-old war, once billed as virtually paying for itself through increased Iraqi oil exports, has cost the U.S. Treasury $845 billion directly. "It used to be thought that wars are good for the economy. No economist really believes that anymore," Stiglitz said in an interview.

Stiglitz and Bilmes argue the true costs are at least $3 trillion under what they call an ultraconservative estimate, and could surpass the cost of World War Two, which they put at $5 trillion after adjusting for inflation. The direct costs exclude interest on the debt raised to fund the war, health care costs for veterans coming home, and replacing the destroyed hardware and degraded operational capacity caused by the war. In addition, there are costs not accounted for in the budget such as rising oil prices and social and macroeconomic costs, which the book details.

To illustrate how the money could be spent elsewhere, Bilmes cited the annual U.S. budget for autism research -- $108 million -- which is spent every four hours in Iraq. A trillion dollars could have hired 15 million additional public school teachers for a year or provided 43 million students with four-year scholarships to public universities, the book says.

Stiglitz and Bilmes say they were excessively conservative in calculating the $3 trillion figure, overcompensating for their bias in having opposed the war.


I'm not competent to judge the reliability of these claims, but for what it's worth: Iran Nuke Laptop Data Came from Terror Group: Excerpt:

WASHINGTON, Feb 29 (IPS) - The George W. Bush administration has long pushed the "laptop documents" -- 1,000 pages of technical documents supposedly from a stolen Iranian laptop -- as hard evidence of Iranian intentions to build a nuclear weapon. Now charges based on those documents pose the only remaining obstacles to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declaring that Iran has resolved all unanswered questions about its nuclear programme.

But those documents have long been regarded with great suspicion by U.S. and foreign analysts. German officials have identified the source of the laptop documents in November 2004 as the Mujahideen e Khalq (MEK), which along with its political arm, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organisation.

There are some indications, moreover, that the MEK obtained the documents not from an Iranian source but from Israel's Mossad.

In its latest report on Iran, circulated Feb. 22, the IAEA, under strong pressure from the Bush administration, included descriptions of plans for a facility to produce "green salt", technical specifications for high explosives testing and the schematic layout of a missile reentry vehicle that appears capable of holding a nuclear weapon. Iran has been asked to provide full explanations for these alleged activities.

Tehran has denounced the documents on which the charges are based as fabrications provided by the MEK, and has demanded copies of the documents to analyse, but the United States had refused to do so.

The Iranian assertion is supported by statements by German officials. A few days after then Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the laptop documents, Karsten Voight, the coordinator for German-American relations in the German Foreign Ministry, was reported by the Wall Street Journal Nov. 22, 2004 as saying that the information had been provided by "an Iranian dissident group".

A German official familiar with the issue confirmed to this writer that the NCRI had been the source of the laptop documents. "I can assure you that the documents came from the Iranian resistance organisation," the source said.

The Germans have been deeply involved in intelligence collection and analysis regarding the Iranian nuclear programme. According to a story by Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer soon after the laptop documents were first mentioned publicly by Powell in late 2004, U.S. officials said they had been stolen from an Iranian whom German intelligence had been trying to recruit, and had been given to intelligence officials of an unnamed country in Turkey.


Quote of the Day

McCain also may have learned some tricks from watching his former rival, George W. Bush, whose tendency to lie grew increasingly brazen after 9/11. As Commander in Chief for a nation at war, Bush brushed aside questions about his statements not squaring with the facts: From his insistence that waterboarding is not torture to Saddam Hussein not letting the UN inspectors in.

Since McCain as Commander in Chief would ensure that the United States remains at war for the foreseeable future, he might expect a Bush-like pass when his words diverge almost 180 degrees from the facts. Endless war will justify endless lies. Or maybe he just believes his own press clippings – that he is such a straight-talker that whatever comes out of his mouth must be the truth.


Robert Parry

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