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 30, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Iraqi Shiite fighter runs past a burning Iraqi Army armoured vehicle after Shiite fighters attacked it in the city of Basra. Iraq's radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his fighters off the streets, paving the way for an end to clashes with security forces that have killed hundreds of people. (AFP/Essam Al-Sudani)






Reported Security Incidents

Baghdad

Two MND-Baghdad soldiers killed by roadside bomb on Saturday. This was announced yesterday, but too late to make it into Whisker's post so I'm linking it here.

Note: It appears that the city-wide curfew has affected reporting. Available information is unusually sketchy. I doubt that this is close to a full accounting of security incidents in Baghdad today.

Three volleys of mortar attacks on the Green Zone during the day, no information on damage or casualties.

An Iraqi government official says at least 23 people have been killed in U.S. air strikes targeting Shiite areas of Baghdad. Unfortunately, at this time, I can find only this very limited statement, no further details.

Two bodies found dumped on Saturday.

Mosul

Colonel Ziad Qassem Sultan, commander of police 1st regiment and another officer killed in an attempt to arrest members of the Islamic State in Iraq. This is a group the U.S. conventionally labels as "al Qaeda." Yes, this other conflict is still going on.

Kirkuk

Botched bomb attack on a police commander kills three civilians.

Muqdadiya

Iraqi forces say they killed an "al Qaeda" gunman and wounded four.

Diyala Province, near Baquba

Council chief Ibrahim Hassan al-Bajlan survives a bomb attack on his motorcade, two bodyguards killed. Reuters puts this "near Saadiya," which is actually about 50 miles from Baquba.

Dhuluiya

Gunmen attack a police patrol, kill five police officers, injure two civilians.

Hilla

Police say they arrested 101 "militants" in various raids.

Hawija

Three awakening council members injured in a bomb attack on their patrol.

Najaf

Roadside bomb kills one Iraqi army officer, injures two soldiers, on Saturday.

Siniya (near Beiji)

Suicide car bomber kills 5 "Awakening Council" members, 8 others injured.



Other News of the Day

Baghdad residents face food shortages as curfew continues. Excerpt:

By Adam Brookes, BBC News, Baghdad

Since the curfew in Baghdad was extended indefinitely, the city has been dotted with military checkpoints. The curfew means no vehicles at all can move - except for those of the police and military.

That, of course, makes it much harder for militiamen to move around. They cannot transport supplies or ammunition. They cannot carry the 107mm rockets that are plaguing this city to launching sites. If they try, they risk being spotted by American overhead surveillance - perhaps by unmanned drones or helicopters.

The American military released graphic footage on Saturday, filmed from the gun camera of an Apache attack helicopter, which showed militiamen on the move. And the missile which killed them.

For Baghdad's civilians, life grows more miserable by the hour. The authorities appear to be allowing a little foot traffic but for the most part Baghdad's streets are empty. Most of its businesses are closed, as are schools. Some neighbourhood markets are open, and in calmer parts of the city people are leaving their houses to shop.

But the curfew means no fresh food is coming into the city. The vegetables on the stalls are now several days old, prompting expression of disgust from shoppers. Nonetheless, they are selling out fast as people stock up for the coming days. "Just onions and garlic left," said one after visiting a market in east Baghdad.

And prices are starting to rise. A kilo of tomatoes usually costs 1,250 Iraqi dinars (about $1). This morning, at the east Baghdad market, they were selling for 3,000 dinars. A man out shopping said he had fought his way through a crush of people surrounding a stall that still displayed a pile of ageing tomatoes. The boy working the stall refused to serve him, saying he needed to sell to local women who were trying to feed their families.

The man found his frustration tempered by the boy's insistence on serving those who needed the food most. Bakers in the same district say that in another two days they will no longer be able to bake bread.


Al-Sadr has ordered a cease fire to the Maliki government, but reports are conflicting as to whether he has made that conditional on government forces standing down and an amnesty for prisoners. It's a bit unclear how far this goes. The way I read it, he is telling his followers not to initiate attacks against government offices, but he says nothing about defending territory. Here is the BBC version as of approximately 8:00 am Eastern Time:

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities in an effort to end clashes with security forces. He said in a statement that his movement wanted the Iraqi people to stop the bloodshed and maintain its independence and stability.

Previously Mr Sadr had defied a government deadline to hand over weapons in return for cash. The fighting has claimed more than 240 lives across the country since Tuesday.

In Baghdad, the city's military command has extended a round-the-clock curfew for an indefinite period. The curfew had been due to end on Sunday morning. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has given militias until 8 April to surrender their weapons in return for cash.

Mr Sadr's statement said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces. Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us."

The cleric also demanded that the government apply the general amnesty law, release detainees, and stop what he called illegal raids.


However, the AP version is different:

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is offering to pull his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities if the government halts raids against his followers and releases prisoners held without charge. The offer is contained in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf.

Al-Sadr is demanding that the government issue a general amnesty and release all detainees. The statement said he also "disavows" anyone who carries weapons and targets government institutions, charities and political party offices.

There was no immediate comment from the government.


This from Aswat al-Iraq, which bases its report on the government TV station, and may therefore represent official spin.

Arbil, Mar 30, (VOI) – Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr gave instructions to his supporters on Sunday to cease fire, according to the semi-official al-Iraqiya TV station. "Sadr has sent a message to his loyalists urging them to end all armed activities," the TV channel said.

Sadr, according to the channel close to the Iraqi government, "disowned anyone attacking the state institutions or parties' offices and headquarters.""Based on responsibility towards Iraq and to stem Iraqi bloodshed and to preserve the country's unity and integrity as a prelude to its independence, I call on the people to be up to their responsibility and awareness in order to maintain Iraq's stability," Sadr said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

The Shiite leader appealed to the government to stop illegal raids and random detention campaigns and release all non-convicted detainees, particularly the members of the Sadrist bloc.




Whatever al Sadr's orders, the most recent dispatch indicates that he has no intention of disarming:

NAJAF, Iraq, March 30 (Reuters) - Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr will not hand over their weapons as part of a move to end fighting in Iraq, a top Sadr aide said.

The aide, Hazem al-Araji, also said that Sadr's followers had received a guarantee from the government that it would end "random arrests" of Sadr followers. He spoke to journalists at Sadr's office in the holy city of Najaf after distributing a statement from Sadr calling on followers to stop fighting.


It seems to me that the simplest way to put this is that al-Sadr is simply calling for a cease-fire in place, which would mean, in essence, that the government offensive has failed and the situation returns to the status quo ante, except that al-Sadr has demonstrated that the Iraqi forces are impotent against the Mahdi Army. -- C

Amnesty given to 569 prisoners in Muthanna province, under the amnesty law passed Feb. 27. Muthanna is a sparsely populated, essentially 100% Shiite province in the far south, about as far away from the sectarian and political problems afflicting most of Iraq as you can get. Just so you know.

Authorities fire a 60 member police unit for desertion during recent clashes.

Commentary and Analysis

AP's Charles Hanley looks at how well the Iraqi army is "standing up." Excerpt:

Iraq’s new army is “developing steadily,” with “strong Iraqi leaders out front,” the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army’s weapons, according to investigators. The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to “stand up” an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed U.S. forces to “stand down” from Iraq.


The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces — in their toughest test yet — were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias. Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon’s new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year’s reports had forecast a transition in 2008.

Earlier, in January last year, President Bush said Iraqi forces would take charge in all 18 Iraqi provinces by November 2007. Four months past that deadline, they control only half the 18.


Robert Parry pulls no punches. Excerpt:

During the post-World War II trials at Nuremberg, the United States led the world in decrying aggressive war as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Yet, Frontline and other mainstream US news outlets shy away from this central fact of the Iraq War: by invading Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council and under false pretenses, the Bush administration released upon the Iraqi people “the accumulated evil of the whole” – and committed the “supreme” war crime.

An obvious reason why the mainstream US press can’t handle this truth is that to do so would mean that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, a host of other US officials and even some prominent journalists could be regarded as war criminals.

To accept that reality would, in turn, create a moral imperative to take action. And that would require a great disruption in the existing US power structure, which hasn’t changed much since Bush won authorization from Congress in October 2002 to use force and then invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Not only are Bush and Cheney still in office – and two of the three remaining presidential candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, voted for the war – but the roster of top Washington journalists remains remarkably intact from five years ago.

Iraq War hawk Fred Hiatt still runs the Washington Post’s editorial pages where you can still read the likes of Charles Krauthammer, David Ignatius, Richard Cohen and a bunch of other columnists who pushed for the war.

The same is true for the New York Times’s op-ed page, where writers like Thomas Friedman have prospered despite their erroneous war judgments and where one of the few changes has been to recruit prominent neoconservative William Kristol, who has used his column to chide Americans who won’t hail Bush’s courageous war leadership.

In evaluating this corrupt political/media elite, a historian might want to go back even further and wonder how someone as eminently unqualified and unfit as George W. Bush became president of the most powerful nation on earth.

How did a technologically sophisticated country like the United States with a relatively free press get led down this dangerous path? Why did so many American voters in 2000 believe made-up stories about Al Gore’s supposed delusions, like the apocryphal quote, “I invented the Internet”?
Awww, go ahead, read the whole thing.

Ned Parker of the LA Times deconstructs U.S. policy in Iraq. Excerpt:

The U.S. military now risks forfeiting gains with the Sadr group, arguably the most popular Shiite political movement across Iraq. Already, U.S. officers have reported an increase in the number of attacks against them in Baghdad, where soldiers had benefited from the Mahdi Army's tacit cooperation.

"It would be disastrous if the United States ended up as supporters on a crackdown on the Sadrists for reasons mainly to do with internal Shiite politics," said Reidar Visser, editor of the southern Iraq-related website historiae.org.

"The fight in Basra shows the folly of trying to control all the Shiites of Iraq through a small minority, which appears to be the current U.S. policy."

Many Iraqis have viewed the members of the post-Saddam Hussein administrations as isolated returning exiles, backed by Iran or the U.S. The officials' credibility has been diminished by government failings since the U.S.-led invasion -- notably endemic corruption, the lack of security and abysmal public services.

In contrast, the Sadr movement's foundations are built upon the legacy of Sadr's father, who challenged Hussein's rule in sermons and was killed in 1999. Its voice, fiercely anti-U.S. and staunchly nationalist, has emerged as one of the few alternatives for Iraqis. The movement has even survived a two-year stint in the government and, like other Shiite militias, its involvement in sectarian killings.

Sadr loyalists allege that as the elections approach, their group has been deliberately targeted by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council through the army and police's top commanders, where the party wields influence. The Sadr camp mostly boycotted the last local elections in January 2005, and predicts that it will rout its opponents this time.


Quote of the Day

Iraq, which had experienced little or no sectarian-based violence prior to the U.S. invasion, has been plagued with sectarian militias fighting for the streets of Iraq's formerly heterogeneous neighborhoods, and "sectarian violence" has become Americans' primary explanation for the instability that has plagued the country.

But the sectarian-based street-fighting is a symptom of a larger political conflict, one that has been poorly analyzed in the mainstream press. The real source of conflict in Iraq -- and the reason political reconciliation has been so difficult -- is a fundamental disagreement over what the future of Iraq will look like. Loosely defined, it is a clash of Iraqi nationalists -- with Muqtada al-Sadr as their most influential voice -- who desire a unified Iraqi state and public-sector management of the country's vast oil reserves and who forcefully reject foreign influence on Iraq's political process, be it from the United States, Iran or other outside forces.

The nationalists now represent a majority in Iraq's parliament but are opposed by what might be called Iraqi separatists, who envision a "soft partition" of Iraq into at least four semiautonomous and sectarian-based regional entities, welcome the privatization of the Iraqi energy sector (and the rest of the Iraqi economy) and rely on foreign support to maintain their power.


Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar

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