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

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

News & Views 03/04/08

Photo: The youth prison wing of the Iraqi National Police compound in Khadamiyah, Baghdad. The prison population was mainly Sunni, a reflection of the National Police mainly being made up by Shiites. - Johan Spanner for The New York Times


Tuesday: 1 US Soldier, 47 Iraqis Killed; 26 Iraqis Wounded

Monday: 102 Iraqis Killed, 120 Wounded

14 Bodies Found in Samarra Mass Grave

Mass grave found in Muqdadiya

Anfal Widows Get Little Relief

Sabri Fatah has struggled to keep her head above water since 1988, when her husband disappeared after being arrested by Iraqi troops during Saddam’s Anfal campaign. Fatah, 40, lives with her two daughters in Shorsh camp, which lies 80 kilometres west of Sulaimaniyah, in a small two-room house given to her by relatives. “We can’t afford to rent a house,” said 40-year-old Fatah, adding that their main source of income is a monthly pension from the Kurdish Regional Government, KRG, of 120 US dollars, which barely covers their basic needs. During the summer, the widow and her two daughters aged 22 and 23, work in the fields, picking tomatoes and harvesting chickpeas to make some extra money. In winter, there is no work to be found in the town and they have no way of supplementing their government pension. Fatah’s husband is thought to have been among an estimated 182,000 Kurds killed during the notorious Anfal operation of the late Eighties. Today, the survivors find it hard to makes ends meet.

‘Culture of Fear’ Afflicts Iraqi Education System

Militia members have sent death threats to teachers and students. Schools have been hit by American missiles or caught in the crossfire between sectarian groups or U.S. soldiers and insurgents. Children have often missed school because roads were blocked for security reasons, or parents have pulled them out because they feared they would be kidnapped. That’s how the war in Iraq has affected the quality of schooling, according to teachers, children, and parents who have left Iraq and are living in Jordan. But no one seems to have reliable information about how widespread such incidents are, making it difficult to know the overall status... [This article is under a paid subscription. I did not pay for the rest of the article, even though it sounds like a good article. – dancewater]

A newcomer's impressions of Baghdad

Take a short drive with me through Baghdad. Feel the capital's rutted roads, see the blast walls blocking the side streets off main thoroughfares. The homes we're passing, even in nicer neighborhoods, look worn. Something else sticks out — dirt, dust and garbage. It hadn't registered at first, but now it makes sense: Nobody sends a street cleaner out twice a week in a war zone. If anything, the Green Zone is worse when it comes to civic beauty. It's a completely disorienting place to a rookie, with roads running through a maze of gray blast walls. It's as if somebody moved all the state prisons into the same neighborhood. Outside those walls, electricity is iffy. The statistics — an estimated 7.3 hours of service a day in Baghdad — give the picture. But the meaning is given depth and personality when an Iraqi greets you one morning and comments about a pleasant surprise: In his neighborhood, power was on all night. ………..Baghdad is much safer than it was in the bad old days of 2007. But safer is not safe.

The Struggle for Kirkuk

You might have missed it as in most of the world it was not front page news but a NATO member attacked a sovereign state last week. Troops were amassed, as many as a 10,000 of them in some reports, and then poured across the border supported by combat helicopters and fighter jets. Turkey’s action against PKK bases in northern Iraq may have been portrayed as a step by Ankara in the fight against “terrorism” but it still involved one country sending its forces into another without United Nations approval. Such an act would normally expect to generate outrage and potentially calls for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Yet in this case, remarkably, there was barely a flicker of protest. The government in Baghdad voiced its “condemnation” of a “violation” of its borders but as Turkish soldiers fought their way across northern Iraq’s snow-bound mountains international reaction was notably muted.

Iraqis Reject Regional Media Curbs

Journalists slam Arab League’s adoption of wide-ranging regulations for Middle East media. Iraqi journalists are warning that a new charter agreed by Arab ministers of information will roll back media freedom in the region. The non-binding charter was drafted by Egypt and Saudi Arabia and adopted on February 12, following a meeting of the Arab League member states’ ministers of information in Cairo. Reports suggested that Lebanon and Qatar were the only Arab League members to raise concerns, but the Iraqi government, which did not attend the meeting, said it too opposed the charter. Iraqi media representatives, meanwhile, have slammed the proposed restrictions. “This charter could have been imposed during the era of Saddam’s regime,” agreed Hashim Hassan, a professor at the College of Media at Baghdad University.

Iraqi Psychiatrist Ali: Iraq’s Future is Wounded

According to Ali, the whole of Iraqi society, but especially the children, bear psychological scars from witnessing violence and death every day: “Iraq needs psychological help, too.” Iraqi psychiatrist Numan Serhan Ali has been studying societal trauma in Iraq for years. In November 2006, he had to leave the country, and now works with Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan. His family is still in Baghdad. “We talk over the Internet and the phone.” Ali had come to Istanbul as a speaker at the fifth International Meeting for a World without War at the weekend. Ali believes that Iraqis need not only food aid, but also psychological support because the occupation has left deep traumas and invisible wounds: “They need to be listened to, they need to talk, and they need to learn rules. 40 percent of Iraq’s population are experiencing five different traumas. More than three traumas usually means the risk of death and heart attack.” Ali emphasises the frequency of stress, fear, depression and anxiety, and points to an increase in suicide, drug use, armed robbery, kidnappings and murders.

Road Blocks

To have Ahmadinejad safely cruise around Baghdad, the capital shut down. I walked into the office on Sunday and our newsroom was empty, nearly our entire staff didn’t make it to work. Hussein, one of our Iraqi reporters, tried to take a taxi. Halfway through the trip he was stopped by security forces. No vehicle traffic was allowed on the roads to secure Ahmadinejad's path to President Jalal Talabani's compound. So, poor Hussein walked nearly a mile. But when he reached a central Baghdad bridge close to Talabani's compound he was turned away. No one was allowed to walk on the roads ahead to ensure the safety of the Iranian President.

Whom to be trusted

Three months ago, my mother made a trip to Iran to be treated in her eyes as no specialist oculist available in Baghdad or the whole Iraq .She suffered a lot to get a passport and more than that for her daughter to accompany her .My younger brother who had a passport in advance took them to Tehran as we heard that the Iranian capital has many good doctors and hospitals to deal with a case just like hers. She went there ten days before the new year of 2008 and one day before Eid Al-Dha .So ,the family missed three members during all that time ,but the price supposed to be so small to have my mothers’ eyesight back again .She didn’t want to go Iran as we suffered a lot of them especially during the first war and thousands years ago .Also there is something inside telling her that they are not to be trusted ;however, she agreed to go when my brother insisted on taking her to Iran as there is no other option.

Civilian deaths down 60 percent in Iraq

U.S. and Iraqi figures put the total nationwide death toll among Iraqi civilians down more than 60 percent from their February 2007 totals. Despite recent attacks targeting civilians in Iraq, notably an attack on Shiite pilgrims traveling to Karbala for holy day celebrations in late February, the total number of civilian deaths from the violence in Iraq is down significantly, the U.N. humanitarian news agency, IRIN, said Monday. The official figure of civilian deaths was at least 633 nationwide, down from more than 1,801 at this time last year.

Returning to Basra

Basra was once the economic engine of Iraq, graced with a gargantuan oil industry, a thriving port, and even resort-style restaurants and lodgings. It doesn’t look much like a resort anymore, and hasn’t for a long time. In September, after sustaining months of mortar rocket and roadside bomb attacks, the British Army filed out of the city and garrisoned itself at the Basra Air Base on the outskirts. British forces heralded the redeployment as a handover of authority. Shiite militias, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army run by the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, claimed a military victory. Whoever the victor, the British acknowledge they are hard pressed to keep up with the subtle and shifting developments in Basra, while the Shiite militias have the run of the place.


Iraq's Sadrists demand US release former minister

Anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political bloc demanded on Tuesday that the U.S. military release a former deputy health minister after terrorism charges against him were dropped. Hakim al-Zamili, a leading member of Sadr's bloc, and Brigadier-General Hameed al-Shimari, the Health Ministry's former security chief, were tried on charges of abusing their position to allow sectarian killings. Their trial was seen as a test of the willingness of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government to prosecute senior officials accused of corruption and of fomenting sectarian bloodshed.

Iraqi President Talabani visits Ankara following Turkish offensive

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is to hold official talks in Ankara on Friday, Turkish media reported Tuesday. The visit by Talabani, who is a Kurd, comes after a Turkish military offensive on camps belonging to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq ended last Friday. The Turkish military denied that it had been pressured into ending the offensive by the United States, which had called for a swift end. Turkey's top general on Monday defended the surprise ending of the incursion, saying the main target of the operation was a Kurdish separatist camp in Zap valley, and that once that had been destroyed the troops were ordered home.

Iraqi helicopter crashes, crew killed

An Iraqi military helicopter crashed in bad weather in northern Iraq on its way back from a transportation mission, killing the crew, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

Iraq army 'beat up' journalists

Iraq's Journalistic Freedom Observatory called on the defence minister on Tuesday to investigate an incident in which soldiers beat up reporters covering a Baghdad car bombing. An AFP photographer at the scene said that soldiers attacked reporters who responded to a suicide car bomb attack on Monday that killed four people on Ghadir Street in eastern Baghdad. The soldiers confiscated still and video cameras, and shot in the air to scare off the reporters, the witness said.

Sunnis make merry on US's dime

Iraq's Sunni-dominated Awakening Councils, bankrolled by the United States, have certainly blunted al-Qaeda, but they continue attacks on US and Iraqi forces. The Sunnis, using a "fight, bargain, subvert, fight" approach, are all the while working towards their ultimate goal of the complete withdrawal of US troops and reducing the power of the Shi'ite-dominated government.

The Takeover of the Occupation on Secondary School

AMSI published a press release condemning the American occupation forces for the seizure of Islamic Secondary School in Baghdad. AMSI called occupation forces to desist from such acts and abuses of the right of students during their educational life and safe return of the building to the school administration. American occupation forces seized the Islamic Secondary School (Umm al Salama al Islamiyah) in al Qadah area in Baghdad after expelling the students. Occupation forces have taken the administration of the school and forced the students and teachers to carry out their education in one of the adjacent mosque.

Iranian President's Visit Clear Support for Occupation

The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq ( AMSI) on Monday described the recent vist of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraq as a clear support for "the American occupation project." According to the statement released by the AMSI, "the visit of the Iranian president is a clear support for the US occupation project and its allies." "The visit was compulsory like that visit of the US President George Bush which took place despite the Iraqi people will," the statement noted.


Iranian leader lends Iraq $1 billion, tells US to leave

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lent $1 billion on Monday and told America to go home, as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Baghdad aimed at cementing Iran's blossoming relationship with its one-time enemy. "We believe that the forces that came from overseas and traveled thousands of kilometers to reach here must leave the region and must let the people of this country rule themselves," he said at a news briefing at a villa in Baghdad controlled by Kurdish peshmerga forces. "If they claim they want to spend their money developing the people of these countries, they'd be better off spending the money on their own countries," he said.

US Agrees to Leave 9 Inspectors in Iraq

Under congressional pressure, the State Department agreed Tuesday to retain nine inspectors in Iraq to oversee reconstruction, health and other assistance programs. The group of U.S. Agency for International Development inspectors based in Baghdad had faced elimination, reduction or transfer to Jordan, Egypt or Germany. The presence of AID inspectors in Iraq was to be restricted to two on a rotating and temporary basis. "We have been informed by the State Department that we can maintain our presence, which is contrary to our initial understandings," Dona Dinkler, chief of staff for the AID office of inspector general, told The Associated Press.

Marines examining dog-toss video clip

[Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, millions of lives destroyed - no real American outrage. But, throw a puppy into a gully, and NOW we see outrage! Hey, Americans – ever wonder what this guy did to Iraqis, you know, REAL HUMAN BEINGS? They happen to have functioning nervous systems, too, just like the puppy, even if you can’t buy them in a pet store. – dancewater]

More Videos of US Troops Abusing Animals

Top U.S. admiral meets former Iraqi army officers

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made a surprise visit to the Sunni city of Huwaija and met former army officers, senior Iraqi police officer said. Colonel Fattah Abdullah said the admiral spent two hours in the city and held further meetings with its chief administrator and tribal leaders who have raised militias to support U.S. effort against al-Qaeda. Huwaija once supplied the former Iraqi army with huge numbers of commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Many of them held influential posts in the Republican Guards, Saddam Hussein’s elite force. Abdullah gave no details on content of the discussions Mullen had with the officers but the U.S. military in Iraq is giving growing attention to Sunnis who led the insurgency in the country.

No, Sir, that would be you: Iran may be biggest threat to Iraq: U.S. general

U.S. working on two agreements on future Iraq ties

The Bush administration is working on two agreements on future ties with Iraq -- one relating to U.S. military forces there and another setting out the framework for diplomatic relations with Baghdad, a senior U.S. official told Congress on Tuesday. Until now, the administration had spoken of one agreement to be reached with Baghdad before President George W. Bush leaves the White House next January. The plan for any document on future ties has stirred considerable concern among lawmakers and presidential candidates over whether it would lock in a long-term U.S. military presence. Critics say the administration should seek congressional approval for security agreements with Iraq.

US senator wants Iraq oil funds used for rebuilding

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday he may try to require Iraq to spend more of its oil revenue on reconstruction instead of investing the money in foreign banks. "What kind of an absurdity is it that we are paying for the reconstruction of Iraq with American taxpayers dollars if Iraqi oil sales, to a significant degree, are going into foreign banks and not being used for their own reconstruction," said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat. [I guess the fact that we destroyed the place does not register with US Senators. – dancewater]

Turkey's military rejects criticism of operations

Turkey's military rejected on Tuesday opposition politicians' criticism of its handling of a major ground offensive against Kurdish PKK rebels in northern Iraq. Earlier on Tuesday, in rare criticism of the armed forces, the leader of the nationalist MHP said the military had helped the image of the rebels by issuing statements that effectively depicted them as worthy opponents. "For the first time in our 24-year struggle against terrorism, the Turkish armed forces have become the target of such meaningless attacks," the General Staff said in a statement posted on its Web site. "These attacks hurt the determination of the Turkish armed forces to fight terror even more than the traitors do," it said, describing the criticism as "unfair and underhand".


5 Years Ago: Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld Scoffed at Dangers of Postwar Iraq

Today marked the fifth anniversary of the day deputy Pentagon chief Paul Wolfowitz assured Congress that the U.S. would need no more than 100,000 troops to secure postwar Iraq and get the hell out. Here's how The New York Times reported it at the time: "In a contentious exchange over the costs of war with Iraq, the Pentagon's second-ranking official today disparaged a top Army general's assessment of the number of troops needed to secure postwar Iraq. House Democrats then accused the Pentagon official, Paul D. Wolfowitz, of concealing internal administration estimates on the cost of fighting and rebuilding the country.

"Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, 'wildly off the mark.' Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops. Mr. Wolfowitz then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year. He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war's duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward.


Study says stress among Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Lebanon high

The International Organizaation for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday that a study it conducted in Jordan and Lebanon has found high levels of emotional and psychological distress. IOM spokesperson Jemini Pandya told reporters that the assessment, carried out between November 2007 and January 2008 among 200 families (800 people) in the two countries, revealed that more than half of those interviewed disclosed distress factors including panic attacks, anger, tiredness, sleep problems and fears. For those who had experienced direct violent attacks - 21 per cent of the refugee sample in Jordan and 34 per cent in Lebanon - including witnessing assassinations of relatives and friends, torture, rape or kidnappings, psychological distress was overwhelming.

Iraqi Refugees: Living in Limbo

His wife fled first with their children. They entered Syria on a tourist visa, living on the streets for four days. Eventually, the husband joined them and they headed for Lebanon. They've been living in a poor neighborhood in southern Beirut for a while now. It is winter and very cold in their sparse concrete apartment. He cannot find work; his wife is occasionally employed as a domestic worker in a Lebanese household. But the pay can be as low as $3.25 a day, and their rent is $150.00 a month. Their school-age children are not in school. There simply isn't enough bus fare money to get them there. The husband's eyes are vaults of sorrow. He has no destination, no future in sight. He cannot return to Iraq because of the danger, and he cannot start a new life in Lebanon.

Iraqi Women in Exile

A recent National Public Radio story, “Iraqi Militias Target Women,” shed some light on the situation for Iraqi refugee women in exile. The women featured were each located in different countries but their reasons for leaving Iraq were similar. Rima worked for an aid organization inside Iraq before traveling to Syria. Her reason for leaving Iraq was simple: “So many times I went to places that poor women were living. They [the militias] knew me, they knew my face.” Another woman, who served as a translator for an aid organization and is now living in Jordan, fled Iraq for fear of her own safety. When asked if it was more dangerous for her because she was a woman or a translator, her response was, “woman.”

High rates of trauma, sickness among Iraqi refugees

As her daughter was born with enlarged kidneys, she has to take her to Cairo for tests and treatment every four to five months - a far cry from the monthly treatment the girl used to receive in Iraq. “We had a lot of doctors in Iraq who could see to her problem. Every month I used to take her to do a test, but here I cannot. We cannot work, and I cannot afford her kidney medicine.”

The Lost Years
Amman, Jordan

Aliaa Hussein: 2 years
Kerrar Fathil: 2 years
Aseel Thafir: 4 years

That’s how many years those children—like thousands more of their generation—were deprived of schooling in the difficult aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq five years ago this month. In that time, more than 2 million Iraqis have fled their homeland, mainly to Jordan and Syria. But it’s only been this school year that Jordan officially opened its public schools to Iraqi students regardless of... [This article is under a paid subscription. I did not pay for the rest of the article, even though it sounds like a good article. – dancewater]

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

Quote of the day: It is nothing less than tragic that in the last fiscal year, Sweden has taken in almost ten times as many Iraqi refugees as the United States. – Juan Cole