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

Monday, March 3, 2008

News & Views 03/03/08

Photo: Three year old Fahad Faris is held by his father Faris inside their home, following a rocket attack earlier Monday, which killed his mother, in al-Hussein area in Basra, Iraq, Monday, March 3, 2008. It is unclear who fired the rocket. British forces in the area said in a statement that their base outside Basra came under a rocket attack but denied that they had responded to it. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Monday: 79 Iraqis Killed, 105 Wounded

Sunday: 33 Iraqis Killed, 41 Wounded

Baghdad bombings kill 23

British missiles kill 2, wound 4 in Basra

Baghdad sees unprecedented quiet during Ahmadinejad’s visit

Sunday was perhaps Iraqi capital’s quietest day since the country plunged into violence shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003. No car bomb explosions, shelling or kidnapping were reported and analysts attributed the calm to the landmark visit by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Daily bombings, explosions and kidnapping have become part of life in Baghdad. But the calm that descended on the restive capital on Sunday and Monday night was unprecedented, analysts said. Many attributed the quiet to government’s decision to cordon off large parts of Baghdad and ban traffic in many districts and over several bridges.

IRAQ: Civilian deaths rise in February but still lower than in 2007

Two major suicide attacks in February led to a sharp increase in violence-related civilian deaths that month - up by more than a third from the previous month, government figures showed on 2 March. The figures, released by the interior, defence and health ministries, showed at least 633 civilians were killed or found dead nationwide compared to 466 in January. At least 701 civilians were wounded in February. But the figures are still lower than the over 1,801 civilians killed, and 2,700 wounded, in February 2007.

Young Iraqis are losing their faith in religion

After almost five years of war, many young Iraqis, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach. In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives. "I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us," said Sara Sami, a high school student in Basra. "Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don't deserve to be rulers." [If this is true, why did 7 to 10 million people go to the latest religious event in Najaf? – dancewater]

Iranian power station in Najaf

Iranian Minister of Energy Barweze Fatah on Monday set the cornerstone for establishing a power station north of Najaf city. The design capacity of this gas-oil fuel power station, that will be executed within two years with a total capacity of 125 million Euros, is 320 Megawatt shared between the two holy provinces of Najaf and Karbalaa.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iran, Iraq sign seven pacts

Tehran and Baghdad signed seven cooperation agreements and memorandums of understanding on Monday in Baghdad during Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq. ….Iran and Iraq signed pacts on a number of issues, including cooperation in education, customs affairs, insurance, and transportation; the establishment of industrial towns; supervision of imports; and the implementation of joint industrial projects. “We have discussed 20 programs over the course of the visit, and these meetings have been held in a positive atmosphere. We have signed seven agreements today,” AFP quoted Ahmadinejad as saying at a press conference on Monday.

Terrorism charges against Iraqi ex-officials dropped

Prosecutors dropped charges on Monday against a former Iraqi deputy health minister accused of abusing his position to llow sectarian killings, a prosecution source and defence lawyers said. Hakim al-Zamili, a member of powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political movement, was the first senior Iraqi official to face terrorism charges since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003. Zamili was being tried with Brigadier-General Hameed al-Shimari, the Health Ministry's former chief of security. Several people had filed charges accusing the pair of corruption and masterminding the kidnappings and killings of their family members. Both men denied the charges. The trial, which began on Sunday, was seen as a test case of the Shi'ite-led government's willingness to prosecute senior officials accused of fomenting sectarian bloodshed.

POLITICS: Sunni Insurgents Exploit U.S.-Sponsored Militias

For months, U.S. President George W. Bush and Gen. David Petraeus have been touting the programme of recruiting tens of thousands of Sunnis into U.S.-financed "Awakening Councils" as a master stroke of Iraq strategy which has weakened al Qaeda in Iraq and helps reduce sectarian conflict through "bottom up reconciliation". But the mainstream Sunni insurgents who have been fighting al Qaeda appear to have outmaneuvered U.S. strategists by using Awakening Councils to pursue their interests in weakening their most immediate enemy, reducing pressures from the U.S. military and establishing new political bases, while continuing to mount attacks on U.S. and Iraqi government forces.

The biggest question surrounding the strategy from the beginning was whether it the Awakening Councils -- called "Sahwa" in Arabic -- would be a haven for Sunni insurgents. High-ranking U.S. officers issued public assurances last year that former insurgents would not be allowed to enter the programme, but last month, Iraqi government officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, began raising the spectre of "infiltration" of the Awakening groups by al Qaeda or "Baathists". Those are terms which have often been used by Shiite leaders to refer to the mainstream Sunni insurgents.

The U.S. command responded by denying that they have been infiltrated systematically by either al Qaeda or other "extremists". At a Feb. 17 press briefing, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith admitted that individual extremists may have infiltrated some units, but rejected the idea that any "complete unit" of the Awakening had gone "bad".

Iraq says working to expel Iranian rebel group

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Sunday that Iraq was trying to expel an Iranian rebel group, a key demand of Tehran, although the U.S. military said most of the group's fighters had already signed a ceasefire. The Mujahadeen e-Khalq (MEK) group is described by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations as the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran. "The presence of those terrorists is forbidden by the constitution and we are working to get rid of them," Talabani said of the MEK at a news conference in Baghdad with visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Ahmadinejad's Iraq visit bolsters Iran's influence

"The Iranian intent and vision in Iraq is at cross-purposes with that of the US as long as American troops are in Iraq. The two projects are battling each other in Iraq," says Saad al-Hadithi, an academic at Baghdad University. But Iraqi leaders of all stripes, even those who previously lamented Iran's sway in Iraq, welcomed the state visit, the first from an Iranian president since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iraq's Kurds and Shiites – both of whom have historic ties with Tehran – may be looking to bolster relations with Iran as the future of US involvement here seems increasingly tied to the upcoming presidential election. "If the US is not there to protect [the Kurds and Shiites], they have no choice but to turn to Iran. Iraq's Shiites know that without a foreign backer, they will be massacred by Sunni Arabs. And the Kurds fear the Turks," says Amir Taheri, a London-based analyst and journalist of Iranian descent.

No date for clearing al Qaeda from Mosul - US

The U.S. military said on Sunday it did not know when it would clear al Qaeda fighters from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the Sunni Islamist group's last urban stronghold in Iraq. Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces are carrying out offensives against al Qaeda in central and northern Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised in January there would be a "decisive push" against its fighters in Mosul. "Mosul is the centre of al Qaeda terrorist activities today," U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith told a news conference. "I suspect we will make all sufficient efforts towards achieving our goals as rapidly as possible and the security of Mosul is certainly one of those goals. But the precise time in the future that will occur will be difficult to predict." [My sympathies to the people of Mosul – they are about to have their city destroyed. – dancewater]

Iran leader's Iraq visit eclipses US, Arab ties

His warm reception, in which he was hugged and kissed by Iraqi officials and presented with flowers by children, was Iraq's first full state welcome for any leader since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003. His visit not only marks the cementing in ties between the neighbours, both run by Shi'ite majorities, but is seen as a show of support for the Iraqi government and an act of defiance against Iran's longtime enemy, the United States, which has over 150,000 troops Iraq. A line of senior Iraqi political leaders welcomed Ahmadinejad when he arrived at Talabani's palatial home. [Compare this to a bush visit. – dancewater]

Yet ANOTHER top leader of al Qaeda is killed: US Military Kills al-Qaida Leader
A US military helicopter fired a guided missile to kill a wanted al-Qaida in Iraq leader from Saudi Arabia who was responsible for the bombing deaths of five American soldiers, a spokesman said Sunday.

US Regrets Killing Innocent Teen Near Samarra

An Iraqi teenager was killed during an attack by coalition forces south of Samarra on Friday, officials said. Apache pilots attacked six people digging on a road known to have a past history of bomb attacks on Iraq and coalition forces, according to a news release issued Saturday by Multi-National Corps—Iraq. Iraqi and coalition soldiers were ordered to take a look at the area. Forty people in a nearby house said six boys were digging roots for firewood. No one was detained and no evidence was found of bomb materials, officials said. [Their “regrets” will not stop them from doing it again and again….. and the vast majority of the air strikes in Iraq were not against “insurgents” or “terrorists” but against ordinary Iraqis trying to survive. US military has made videos of bombing Iraqis who were just as innocent (as far as the video shows) as this teenager. The real terrorists are the ones dropping the bombs. – dancewater]

IRAQI REFUGEES

CRS Aids Release of Iraqi Refugees

Thirteen Iraqi refugees who had been detained in holding cells in Lebanon were released today and many more will be released in coming months, thanks to the efforts of Catholic Relief Services' (CRS) partner in Lebanon. With funding from CRS and other groups, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center has negotiated with Lebanese authorities to release up to 300 Iraqi refugees currently detained because of their illegal immigration status. "The Iraqi refugees were jumping up and down, hugging each other," says Melinda Burrell, Country Representative for CRS Lebanon, who witnessed the release at Beirut's Retention Center for Foreign Persons in Adlieh at noon today. All the detainees released today were Iraqi men; most had been detained in cells for at least six months, and one as long as ten months. "Just let me feel the sun on my skin," said the first man released from the retention center.

IRAQ: 'Not Our Country To Return To'

More Iraqis continue to flee their country than the numbers returning, despite official claims to the contrary. Thousands fleeing say security is as bad as ever, and that to return would be to accept death. "Return to Iraq?" asks 35-year-old Ahmed Alwan, an Iraqi engineer now working at a restaurant in Damascus. "There is no Iraq to return to, my friend. Iraq only exists in our dreams and memories." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported September last year that there are between 1.2 and 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria alone. Most, like Alwan, do not intend to return. "I shall never return to Iraq until the last American soldier and Iranian mullah leaves," Alwan says. "It is their country now, not ours. The only thing that might take me back is when I decide to fight for Iraq's real liberty."

…….."They (U.S. military) say Fallujah is safe now while over 800 men are detained there under the worst conditions," 25-year-old Omar, whose name is on a list of wanted persons by the local police, told IPS. "I am wanted by Fallujah police just because I helped some foreign journalists who visited the city to cover the American crime in 2004, and I showed them eyewitnesses who testified that there were Iraqis who helped the Americans destroy our city. At least 750 out of the 800 detainees are not resistance fighters, but people who refused to collaborate with occupation forces and their tails."

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

No Terrorist Here, Just 3 Women and 3 Children

What do you do now? Go to Iraq and fight those who have taken everything from you….obviously. You have nothing left to live for except revenge and you’ll happily give your life just attempting to even the score even though you can’t no matter what you do. And thats how you recruit a terrorist.

Leave Iraq, Ahmadinejad tells US

Stepping up his verbal assault on the US, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said during his visit to Iraq that the US-led forces should withdraw from the strife-torn nation. “We believe the forces that came from overseas and travelled thousands of kilometres to reach here must leave the region, and must hand over responsibility to the people of the region,” said Mr. Ahmadinejad at a press conference. Without directly naming the U.S., he added: “Without the presence of the foreign troops the region will live in peace and brotherhood.” Mr. Ahmadinejad arrived in Baghdad on Sunday on a two-day visit — the first by an Iranian President since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Iranian President observed that foreign presence in Iraq was an “insult to the regional nations and a humiliation.”

Iraqi Girl Prepares To Return Home

The two-year-old Iraqi girl who traveled to Nashville six weeks ago for a lifesaving heart procedure at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital will soon be leaving her host family in Williamson County and return home to Iraq. Marines stationed in Iraq found Amenah, who had a life-threatening heart condition. They raised money for her and her mother to fly to Nashville for heart surgery. The hospital agreed to do the surgery at no cost the family.

Abu Ghraib’s reality: Progress isn’t enough

A modest but steady rise in attacks on U.S. forces over the past month here has left commanders convinced that, though al-Qaida in Iraq has been driven from the area, a significant Sunni resistance remains. U.S. commanders warn that this resistance could gain appeal in an area where the average household earns just $45 a month and a deep-seated distrust of the Iraqi government has taken hold of the overwhelmingly Sunni population. Moreover, a pair of recent bomb attacks — one of which killed four U.S. soldiers — occurred within a few hundred yards of checkpoints manned by Sons of Iraq, the U.S.-funded security groups, prompting concerns that insurgents either “got around the checkpoints or there was potential complicity,” said Lt. Col. Mario Diaz, commander of the infantry battalion based here.

Quote of the day: “God bless Syria and Jordan for having us, and God damn America and all its allies for doing all this to us." ~ Hanan Jabbar, Iraqi living in Syria

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