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

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

News & Views 03/05/08

Photo: A newly released prisoner (L) cries as he is greeted by a relative at the police headquarters in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad March 5, 2008. About 67 prisoners were released from the police headquarters in Baquba on Wednesday, police said. REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ)


Tuesday: 1 US Soldier, 51 Iraqis Killed; 7 Iraqis Wounded

Report: Turkish helicopters bomb areas in Iraq

IRAQ: Livelihoods at risk as level of Lake Razaza falls

Lake Razaza (also spelled Razzaza), the second largest freshwater lake in Iraq and once an important source of fish as well as a cherished public amenity, is now depleted with high salinity levels, officials said on 3 March. "Due to the lack of water in Lake Razaza, salt levels have risen and that has led to the demise of different types of fish… on which hundreds of fishermen depended," said Sabri al-Amiri, head of the Fishermen's Association in Karbala Province. Karbala is 120km south of Baghdad and Razaza is 15km west of Karbala.

The Mother Teresa of Baghdad

The tens of thousands of homeless in Baghdad find shelter wherever they can in the most dangerous city in the world. Just outside the Karada district, there is an abandoned Iraqi military base from the Saddam Hussein era that looters had reduced to little more than piles of rubble strewn around the cement slabs in the ground. Displaced from other parts of Iraq, these people have taken up shelter in makeshift houses on the otherwise deserted grounds. Among them is Hadi Shaker Hamadi and his clan, cobbling together a shelter of cinderblocks, scrap wood and cardboard. They and the 70 or so other families here take charity whenever it comes. And only one person seems to deliver it regularly. Says Hamadi, "It's just Madhiha who comes and visits us."

Madhiha Hassan is a diminutive, 37-year old seamstress whom some people have begun calling the Mother Teresa of Baghdad. She's devoted her energies to helping Iraq's internally displaced people, particularly in the Karada district where she lives. She organizes periodic supply convoys to various camps for the displaced. The Iraqi army in the area helps her distribute basics such as rice, tea, sugar, cooking oil and blankets. The supplies come from different nongovernmental organizations, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent and an Iraqi aid group called Hands of Mercy. But aside from logistical support from security forces, Hassan gets no help from the Iraqi government.

Why So Many Female Suicide Bombers?

Over the past year, the publicly available data on Iraqi suicide bombers have shown the involvement of women to be responsible for the persistently high level of such attacks. RAND research suggests that several psychological motivators are particularly relevant in Iraq: -- Maternal love and loss. A cathartic desire for revenge appears to have motivated several mothers, who had lost children to sectarian violence, to become suicide bombers. The especially high value assigned to sons in Iraqi culture is a particularly strong driver. Losing a beloved son appears to have been a common denominator among many of the attackers who were mothers. One former professor at Baghdad University, who has surveyed bombings by women, said that mothers who had lost sons often saw "no reason to live" beyond a desire for revenge. -- Xenophobia and nationalism. During the rule of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, many women were given light arms training to protect their families against the threat of an Iranian invasion-particularly during the nearly decade-long Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). Today, many of these women have assumed responsibility for protecting their families (for example, after a husband dies or is otherwise absent) against sectarian attacks and the perceived threat posed by the presence of foreign troops. Some of these women are also die-hard Iraqi nationalists. For example, the first suicide attack by two women, in March 2003, involved bombers who asserted that it was their duty to save their country from the U.S.-led occupation. Particularly in the early days of the conflict, many other Iraqi women expressed a primal fear of being ruled by an external force and were thus willing to condone otherwise unthinkable acts of violence. -- 'Cleansing' exercise. Suicide terrorism as an act of culturally motivated desperation also applies to Iraq's women. Like many Muslim women, Iraqi females guard their chastity. When this chastity is perceived to have been blotched by sinful acts, women can be manipulated to perceive violence as a way to "free" themselves from such transgressions. Suicide, then, becomes an act of restitution.

Emergency plan implemented in Basra

An emergency plan started on Wednesday to track down gunmen and to quell violence and armed attacks, the chief of the Basra police said. "Basra police launched an emergency plan to hunt down all gunmen after a series of killing and kidnapping operations," General Abdul Jaleel Khalaf told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI) by phone. Last Monday, unidentified gunmen killed the inspector general of al-Nassiriya province and three policemen escorting him in central Basra. "The plan is being implemented with the support of army forces," the general said.

Their lives or their jobs

Hamzia Jassim never imagined that someday she would be forced to make a difficult choice; either to continue with the job that she enjoys and has practiced for the last 30 years, or to find another job, aiming only to preserve her life. As a woman in nowadays Iraq, it was not easy for Jassim to work as a journalistic photographer; she even lost her camera that was confiscated when Jassim was shooting a security incident site in Baghdad – capital city of Iraq. Jassim is not the only one who abandoned the career of photography due to security reasons; other Iraqi women that practiced the same profession have also done so to protect their lives.

New residential city in Baghdad

Iraqi Minister of Housing and Rebuilding Baian Dazaee discussed on Wednesday the preliminary sketches, submitted by Baghdad Mayoralty, to construct a residential city, at the location of Al-Rasheed military camp of the former Iraqi Army in Baghdad. "During a meeting of the processes management committee of the national housing project, the minister discussed the sketches of the complete new residential city," said a release issued by the Ministry of Housing and Rebuilding.

Iraqi Christians cling to last, waning refuges

The bullets lay on the desk amid Bibles and rosaries. They're for two pistols owned by Father Ayman Danna. "The only solution left for our people is to bear arms. We either live or die. We must be strong," says the Syriac Catholic priest at the Church of Saint George in Bartella, a northern Iraqi town in a swath of fertile land called the Nineveh Plain that now has the largest concentration of a dwindling Christian community. The Christians who fled sectarian persecution that followed the US invasion in 2003 are now battling to hold onto one of their final refuges. They are increasingly besieged by Sunni Arab militants on one side and by Kurdish ultranationalists on the other – both of whom have different agendas for the area.

…..On a recent Sunday, families gathered in the courtyard of the Saint Elias Church in Ainkawa, a Christian town inside the semiautonomous Kurdish region. Nearly every one had a heart-wrenching story to tell about kidnapping, extortion, and displacement at the hands of Islamic extremists intent on driving Christians from the region.

………"We have no government, it's all thanks to master Sarkis," says Father Danna of the Bartella church, which on a recent visit was ringed with a contingent of these guards. "All I get from the American officials, who visit me, is empty talk and souvenirs."

Moving to Baghdad

Amid all these fears, I got a job at the Baghdad office of The New York Times. Most people dream of having such a chance, but not in Baghdad. Everyone in Kurdistan advised me not to go, saying: “Are you crazy, man? Your life is much more important.” Now, more than two months have passed. I am in Baghdad spending my time between two rooms: I mean the newsroom in the Times office and my bedroom in my own flat, which depresses me deeply. No refreshment, no entertainment.

Three days ago, I decided to take a walk along Karrada Inner Street, which is considered relatively secure compared with other areas in Baghdad. I found it quite interesting; people were walking, chatting, buying, laughing, and acting normally, as if there were no risks to people’s lives. Gradually, I started to get used to the situation and pay attention to things around me, to behave normally and forget about my fear. This encouraged me to stand by a fast-food stall on the road and ask for a sandwich. I said to myself: “What if a suicide bomber blows up just right behind or next to me? My body’s biggest chunk will be just like the meat inside the sandwich.” But I decided to push these thoughts from my head and sit comfortably to eat and enjoy my time.

Kidnappers of Archbishop in Iraq Raise the Ransom

The kidnappers have increased the ransom and added political demands. They used the Archbishop's mobile phone to communicate. The men who have the fate of Msgr. Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul in their hands since February 29th last, have raised the ransom and dictated “political conditions” for his release, according to AsiaNews sources in Iraq, close to mediators who are negotiating his safe return.

Late yesterday afternoon another phone call was made. The group which holds the bishop hostage, used Msgr. Rahoo’s mobile phone to communicate, but has still given no proof of his wellbeing. “It almost seems as if his release- anonymous sources in Mosul tell – is of secondary importance in their demands and the conditions which they have imposed greatly complicate matters, leading us to think that they are not just simple criminals interested in money”.


Former Health Ministry officials freed

The U.S. military freed two former Health Ministry officials Wednesday after an Iraqi court dropped charges of kidnapping, murder, and corruption stemming from Shiite militia activity. Former Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili and Brig. Gen. Hameed al-Shimmari, who was in charge of the ministry's security force, returned to their homes in Baghdad and began greeting visitors. The court dropped the charges on Monday.

Sunni anger at Iraq trial failure

One of the main Sunni Arab parties in Iraq has criticised the collapse of a trial of two former senior officials accused of aiding Shia death squads. The Iraqi Islamic Party said the government had failed in its duty to protect potential witnesses. The party said witnesses had been threatened by armed groups in the days leading up to the trial. Charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Both defendants, top health ministry officials, denied the charges. Several prosecution witnesses failed to appear at the high-profile trial in Baghdad, after reportedly receiving death threats.

Iraq takes part in Arab foreign ministers meeting

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari participated in the meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo. Zibari arrived in Cairo on Tuesday and took part in the consultative meeting, attended by Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who posted the ministers with the results of his recent visit to Lebanon. Eighteen Arab foreign ministers met on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo to discuss the Lebanese political crisis, the latest attacks on the Gaza strip and the situation in Iraq, while preparing for the Arab summit, scheduled to be held in Syria on March 29.

Iraq OKs agreements with foreign oil firms

Iraq's cabinet has given the nod to the Oil Ministry to ink agreements with foreign oil firms to help boost the country's crude output, a ministry official said Wednesday. According to the AP, the two-year deals, known as technical support agreements, or TSAs, are meant to develop five producing fields to add 500,000 barrels per day to Iraq's 2.4 million barrels per day output. Late last year, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP PLC, ExxonMobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. submitted technical and financial proposals for the five fields and received counterproposals from the Iraqi side. In January, representatives from the firms and Iraq met again in Amman and they will hold a third round of discussions later this month, said the official.

Iraq recruits tribes who help oil smugglers to combat oil theft

Iraqi forces fighting oil theft have been working to recruit young men from tribes that long have been aiding the smugglers, the country's oil minister told CNN. "This is what we are going to do in any area where we are going to develop an oil or gas field or lay a new pipeline or carry out any new activity," Hussein al-Shahristani told CNN on Monday. "We are going to recruit people from the very community."


State: UN Mandate in Iraq Not Needed

The administration can keep troops in Iraq into next year even after the current UN mandate governing operations there expires and without Congress' permission, a senior State Department official told a Democratic lawmaker on Wednesday. In a letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., David Satterfield said military operations can continue "beyond the end of this year under the laws passed by Congress and the president's authority as commander in chief." Satterfield's statement reaffirms the administration's position that it does not need international or congressional approval to conduct military operations around the world, particularly when going after terrorists. Democrats counter that the president's assertion is in violation of the Constitution and hurts the U.S. image abroad. [It is also a violation of international law. – dancewater]


"I think we have six months to make a difference and this today is the start line," he said in an interview with Reuters and another agency at a conference where governors from seven northern provinces aired grievances with government ministers.

Coalition forces detain 22 terror suspects

[Who will also probably be released in a year or so without charges. – dancewater]


Thanks to Jordan for generously taking 750000 Iraq refugees

On the occasion of the bestowing in Berlin of the Abraham Geiger Prize to Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) takes the opportunity of thanking the kingdom for generously taking refugees from Iraq. "The readiness of your country to grant asylum to hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge has not only saved countless people their lives, but it shows the tolerance of your royal house towards other religious communities and ethnic groups", says the letter of thanks of the GfbV General Secretary, Tilman Z├╝lch. The kingdom has, in addition to its own approximately 5.3 million inhabitants, taken up nearly 750,000 refugees from Iraq, among them several thousand Assyro-Chaldaic Christians. The GfbV described however as a sour note the fact that many of the Iraq refugees have to suffer great misery because the international community provides too little support in the management of the flood of refugees. The people seeking refuge in Jordan are only accepted as "guests". They are not allowed to work and receive no financial aid for food. [More than one of every six people in Jordan are Iraqis at this time. – dancewater]

Refugees from Iraq war must not be forgotten

What future can be expected for these children, forced to spend their young years struggling in poverty and without an education? While just how to resolve the Iraq crisis is a cause of divisiveness in the U.S. and the international community, the issue of helping Iraqi refugees demands united action. No path to peace and freedom in Iraq or the Middle East can ignore the suffering of millions of people caught in tragic circumstances. These Iraqis are free from Saddam Hussein. But they do not have what President Franklin Roosevelt called the essential "freedom from want." More than 1 million of these refugees have landed in Syria. According to World Food Program director Josette Sheeran, "Iraqi women, children and men are unable to meet their basic food needs and social support systems in Syria are being overstretched." …..The charity World Vision released a report highlighting "an unseen generation of young refugees" unable to attend school because of overcrowding in host countries or because their families simply do not have the money to afford the education. What future can be expected for these children, forced to spend their young years struggling in poverty and without an education? This reality must not be lost on policymakers in developing a peace plan for Iraq and the Middle East.

ACT: Iraqi refugees who leave homes for the safety of Syria still face challenges

In the predominantly Shi'ite Set Zeinab section of Damascus lives an Iraqi tailor who spends his days making women's head coverings. Middle-aged Kazin explains to visitors that the light colored cotton fabric he uses is suitable for his poor eyesight, a result of the torture he suffered when he was a prisoner during the Saddam years. Once Kazin had been a prominent tailor with his own shop in Karbala, Iraq, but he was arrested because several of his clients were political dissidents. "I want to return to Karbala," says Kazin, "but I know that my shop was taken." ……………"Daily we worry because we have to use our savings to meet the cost of the apartment and food," says Gladys. When aid workers visit her classroom she takes one aside and asks if they can help with her application to immigrate to the west. She can neither envision returning to Iraq nor staying in Syria.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

Quote of the day: The U.S. is arming, funding and equipping its own assassins. – Chris Hedges [Not the first time, either. – dancewater]