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

Thursday, March 6, 2008

News & Views 03/06/08

Photo: Two women walk past a US soldier in Baghdad in January 2008. The state of Iraqi women has become a "national crisis" since the March 2003 US-led invasion, a report released by Women For Women International has said. (AFP/File/Jewel Samad)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Thursday: 81 Iraqis Killed, 157 Wounded

Wednesday: 24 Iraqis Killed, 47 Wounded

Bombs kill 55 in Baghdad shopping district

Iraqi Christians are defenseless, says top clergyman

Iraqi Christians are target of oppression from religious militias and despite their suffering there is no one to defend them, said Patriarch Amaneul Dali, the head of the Chaldean Catholic community in Iraq. He said neither U.S. troops nor the Iraqi government were concerned about Iraqi Christians, their churches or monasteries. The top clergyman, who is also the head of the Iraqi church with its different denominations, made the remarks when asked about the fate of a Chaldean Catholic bishop unidentified gunmen abducted four days ago as he left a church in the northern city of Mosul.

WOMEN'S DAY-IRAQ: Surviving Somehow Behind a Concrete Purdah

Iraq, where women once had more rights and freedom than most others in the Arab world, has turned deadly for women who dream of education and a professional career.
Former dictator Saddam Hussein maintained a relatively secular society, where it was common for women to take up jobs as professors, doctors and government officials. In today's Iraq, women are being killed by militia groups for not conforming to strict Islamist ways. Basra police chief Gen. Jalil Hannoon told reporters and Arab TV channels in December that at least 40 women had been killed during the previous five months in that city alone. "We are sure there are many more victims whose families did not report their killing for fear of scandal," Gen. Hannoon said.

The militias dominated by the Shia Badr Organisation and the Mehdi Army are leading imposition of strict Islamist rules. The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is seen as providing tacit and sometimes direct support to them. The Badr Organisation answers to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the Shia bloc in the Iraqi government. The Mehdi army is the militia of anti-occupation Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Women who do not wear the hijab are becoming prime targets of militias, residents both in Basra and Baghdad have told IPS in recent months. Many women say they are threatened with death if they do not obey.

An Iraqi pilgrim finds kindness in the 'Triangle of Death'

With thousands of other Shiite Muslims, I walked through the infamous "Triangle of Death" where suicide bombers, presumably Sunni extremists, had attacked fellow pilgrims two days before. Our trek covered 50 miles from Baghdad to the holy city of Karbala, and we passed through 14 cities, places best known as scenes of death, division and destruction. On this, my second pilgrimage since the Americans overthrew Saddam Hussein, my fears turned to amazement as complete strangers, Sunnis and Shiites alike, opened their doors to me. The poor passed out food and sweet tea they could hardly afford.

Iraqi journalists to carry guns

Iraq's Interior Ministry is working with country's union of journalists to allow the media workers to carry weapons for self-protection. General Abdel-Karim Khalaf who heads the central command centre at Interior Ministry said a committee is now preparing journalist casualty figures and the type of attacks on them. At least 270 Iraqi and foreign journalists have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003. The latest such attacks targeted in February the chief of the union of journalists, Shihab al-Tamimi, who succumbed to his wounds three days after the attack. [Wonder why he wasn’t airlifted to another country like Maliki? – dancewater]

'National crisis' for Iraqi women

The situation for women in Iraq has become a "national crisis" since the US-led invasion in 2003, a report by an international women's group has warned. Women for Women International said they had had relative autonomy and security, but now faced violence, controversial leadership and poor infrastructure. Almost two-thirds of the 1,500 women questioned for the national survey said violence against them had increased. The report was issued ahead of International Women's Day on Saturday. ………. A similar survey undertaken by the organisation in 2004 found that despite the fact that none of the women felt their families' most basic needs were entirely met, 90.6% were optimistic about the future. But in late 2007, the nationwide poll of 1,513 Iraqi women found only 26.9% continued to be optimistic about the situation in their country. According to the report, 63.9% or those questioned said violence against women was increasing.

Plight of Iraqi women a 'national crisis'

"Present day Iraq is plagued by insecurity, a lack of infrastructure and controversial leadership, transforming the situation for women from one of relative autonomy and security before the war into a national crisis," said the report by the US-based Women For Women International. According to the report, issued ahead of International Women's Day on March 8, 64 percent of the women surveyed said violence against them had increased. "When asked why, respondents most commonly said that there is less respect for women's rights than before, that women are thought of as possessions, and that the economy has gotten worse," it said.

The evening I should have died

The explosion knocked me to the ground. I remember seeing a black storm of smoke and then nothing. When I regained consciousness two policemen were standing over me trying to work out whether I was alive or dead. Many others were not so lucky. At least 54 people were killed and 130 injured when two bombs ripped through a usually safe shopping district in central Baghdad yesterday evening. I had been in Karrada shopping with a friend. It was a Thursday evening before the weekly holiday on Friday and Saturday so the streets were packed with young people, some looking at clothes, others buying food.

The first bomb, planted in the road, exploded about 50 feet away from where I had been standing outside a mobile phone shop, waiting for my friend who had just stepped inside. I don’t remember hearing the second blast, thought to have come from a suicide bomber, so I must have been unconscious. The first thing I recollect is asking whether my friend was all right. Fortunately he had been inside the store so was fine. The police who found me saw that I was injured — a piece of shrapnel had embedded itself in my left arm between my shoulder and elbow. They put me into their car and took me to a nearby hospital.

Protests in Kirkuk to break off relations with Denmark

Scores of protesters on Thursday in al-Huwaiyja, Kirkuk, called to sever relations with Denmark, protesting the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark. A total of 150 angry men raised banners criticizing the Danish newspapers for republication of insulting cartoons of Islam's revered Prophet Mohammed in leading Danish newspapers. The demonstrators gathered in front of the Technical institute in al-Huwaiyja before heading to the city hall, where they burned the Danish flag.

Protest held against Pepsi privatization

Hundreds of Pepsi employees staged a demonstration on Thursday in central Baghdad to protest against the privatization of the company, threatening to strike in case their demands not met. “Around 1200 workers took part in the protest, demanding Pepsi's board cancel the idea to privatize the company,” Kazem al-Taei, member of the executive bureau of the general national federation of trade unions, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI).

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq: Clashes Between U.S.-Backed Forces Increase

The 'Awakening Councils', known locally as the Sahwa, have left their centers in cities and districts around the capital of Diyala province, located 40 km northeast of Baghdad. After seeing better security and stability brought about by the Sahwa, most of whom are former resistance fighters, residents are concerned about what their absence will now mean. The Sahwa are protesting against kidnappings, rape, and killing of Sunnis by the Shia-controlled police in Baquba. On the other hand, Shia politicians of Diyala, like those in Baghdad, have always shown their resentment against the fighters of the Sahwa. They often accuse the fighters of being "terrorists". Many residents see this as more of the sectarian view of the predominantly Shia government of Baghdad, which does not want to share power with Sunni groups. According to the U.S. military, 82 percent of the 80,000-strong Sahwa are Sunni.

Supreme Court free former official from Anfal case

The Supreme Criminal Court found Lieutenant General Wafiq al-Samurai was not involved in participating in Anfal operations and Chief Judge Adnan al-Bederi decided to end investigating him. “Chief Judge in the Supreme Criminal Court issued a decision to close investigations into al-Sumaraei after had not been found guilty in the participation of Anfal case,” the president’s website said in a statement. The decision also stipulates that the freeze imposed on his finances and properties has to be lifted.

From Juan Cole’s Blog:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Muqtada al-Sadr has washed his hands of Ahmad al-Sharifi and Adnan Shahmani. He accused these Sadrist commanders of corruption. Al-Hayat says that the Sadr Movement has witnessed a number of schisms in the 3 weeks since Muqtada al-Sadr renewed the freeze on the activities of Mahdi Army militants. These commanders who peeled off accused Muqtada of being subservient to the Americans.

Comment from Juan Cole’s Blog:

I wanted to provide a little more context to the decision to drop prosecution of Hakim al-Zamili. First, a minor correction. Al-Zamili is not a former minister, but a former deputy minister. The current Minister of Health is Dr. Salih Hasnawi, a technocrat from Karbala who is allied to Dawa' through his family, but who is really not especially political. He's certainly not a religious hard-liner; rather, he's a board certified psychiatrist with a professional interest in treating addictions, and would be considered on the political left were he here in the US. He was the former General Director of Health in Karbala. I've worked on health projects in Iraq for some time; when he was in charge in Karbala, he ran one of the two best managed and most transparent health directorates in all of Iraq, the other well-run directorate being Dohuk in the north. Iraqi colleagues (including Kurds and Sunnis) and I were delighted when he was appointed, because we expected another corrupt political hack, and we never dreamed that we would get an actual manager who is not filled with sectarian hate. We all remain concerned for him, because there are still many very violent Sadr loyalists in prominent positions within the MoH.

We knew that Dr. Hasnawi was appointed in part because the US was pressuing Maliki to investigate al-Zamili and in particular to determine who killed the General Director of Health for Diyala, who was disappeared out of the former Minister's waiting room. To be honest, I remain a little angry that Dr. Hasnawi was put in this position - everyone is crystal clear on the reality that the Sadrists used MoH facilities in Baghdad for sectarian warfare, and the stories of Sunnis being kidnapped from emergency rooms, ambulances racing around Baghdad stuffed with weapons, etc are not really disputed by anyone who knew the MoH at that time. But it is real political cowardice to appoint an essentially good man who wants to improve health care and then put the pressure on him to investigate the war crimes of his predecessors - especially when many of them are still in the Ministry and still perfectly capable of killing Dr. Hasnawi. People know what happened. al-Zamili could be arrested either by the Americans or by Maliki himself, if either had the political will to do it. I suspect Dr. Hasnawi eventually refused to collaborate in the investigations because his ultimate responsibility is to do whatever he can to ameliorate the horrendous mismanagement of the MoH and try to replicate on a national level some of the good work he accomplished in Karbala.

But ultimately, Iraqi administrative law currently provides many opportunities for Ministers to block the prosecution of ministry employees. I don't have any evidence that is what happened here - rather I think Dr. Hasnawi backed away from cooperating with the investigation rather than actively blocking it. Justice demands that the authors of the worst human rights abuses within the MoH need to be purged and eventually tried. This really should be a Ministry of Interior job, but nobody wants to spark more intra-Shia' conflict right now, and it is cowardly to place this all on the desk of one good doctor with frighteningly little protection.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Turks launch air, artillery strikes on Kurds in Iraq

Bulgaria extends Iraq military commitment

Iran team leaves without US talks on Iraq

An Iranian delegation left Baghdad for home on Thursday without holding talks with officials from archfoe the United States on the security situation in Iraq, an Iranian official said. "The delegation has left Baghdad because the Americans refused to conduct any negotiations," the official close to Tehran's negotiators told AFP. Delegation head Reza Amiri Moghaddam had been quoted by the Iranian media as saying a new round of talks would be held on Thursday in Baghdad, but both US and Iraqi officials denied any such dialogue had been scheduled.

No Need for Lawmakers' Approval of Iraq Pact, US Reasserts
The Bush administration yesterday advanced a new argument for why it does not require congressional approval to strike a long-term security agreement with Iraq, stating that Congress had already endorsed such an initiative through its 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. [I think we should just disband Congress and send them home – without benefits, paychecks or pensions. It will save us a bunch of money in this upcoming lawless police state. – dancewater]

Official: Iraq, China Nearing Oil Deal

Iraq and China are close to re-signing a $1.2 billion oil deal that was called off after the 2003 U.S. invasion, an Iraqi Oil Ministry official said Thursday. Iraq sits on more than 115 billion barrels of oil, the world's third-largest reserves, but violence and sabotage have crippled efforts to use the resource to fund the country's reconstruction. As security improves, Iraq is trying to bring in foreign companies to help increase crude output from the current 2.5 million barrels a day to 3 million barrels a day by the end of 2008, and 4.5 million barrels a day by the end of 2013.

COMMENTARY

Cost of Iraq War Now Beyond Human Comprehension

How far off were they? Well, it depends on which figure you choose to start with. Here's the range: According to key officials in the Bush administration back in 2002-2003, the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq was either going to cost $60 billion, or $100-$200 billion. Actually, we can start by tossing that top figure out, since not long after Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey offered it in 2002, he was shown the door, in part assumedly for even suggesting something so ludicrous.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz championed the $60 billion figure, but added that much of the cost might well be covered by Iraqi oil revenues; the country was, after all, floating on a "sea of oil." ("To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he told a congressional hearing.) Still, let's take that $60 billion figure as the Bush baseline. If economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes are right in their recent calculations and this will turn out to be more than a $3 trillion war (or even a $5-7 trillion one), then the Bush administration was at least $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations. [The cost of the war in terms of human suffering is also beyond human comprehension, except for those living it. – dancewater]

Please Listen to the Women of Iraq

I knew going in that 27 percent of the women we interviewed this year said they were optimistic about the future compared to 90 percent who expressed optimism in a similar study we conducted in 2004. I didn't know what that meant on a personal level until I heard news about a place very important to me. Four years ago, I was in Baghdad celebrating my brother's wedding at our family's home. One of the first things I heard in my way from the airport to the city was how this home has been taken over by one of the militias.

My colleague who picked me up turned to me in the car and said: "Zainab, remember the basketball hoop your family put in the cul-de-sac in front your home? Al-Mahdi militia have been using the basketball pole to execute Sunnis." I couldn't believe what he was telling me. "Zainab," he continued, "every day I saw tens of bodies lying in front of your house after being executed. Every day there was a body hanging from the basketball pole. Your home has turned into an execution center." I was going to throw up. All my childhood memories were in this house. Memories of laughter, tears, sorrow, fear, love and joy have all been violated. All of a sudden I understood the results we had in our study about optimism. I knew why 89 percent of respondents believe that someone in their family will be killed in the next year.

Iraq's Three Civil Wars

So, what are the three wars? There's a war for Basra in the deep south. This is a port city on the Shatt al-Arab. It's the body of water where the Tigris and the Euphrates come together, and they flow together, then out to the Persian Gulf. In the old days, it was a major port, Al Basrah, because the ships could come up the Shatt al-Arab from the Persian Gulf. Now they'll stop instead at a smaller port named Umm Qasr near to Basra, and this is how you get things in and out of Iraq. Last I checked, Iraq was exporting 1.8 million barrels a day of petroleum. Where is it exporting from? Largely from Basra. (There is some, about 300,000 barrels a day going out through the north, but it's a relatively minor amount.) So, basically, import, export, lifeline, and petroleum, are all that is centered in Basra, and if Basra were to collapse, then Iraq collapses. I don't see how the government survives, how anything goes positive in Iraq if Basra collapses, and I cannot figure out what's causing it not to collapse. There is not a good situation down there, as I'll explain.

Then, there's a war for Baghdad. This is the one that Americans tend to know about because the U.S. troops are in Baghdad, and so it's being fought all around our guys, and we are drawn into it from time to time. The American public, when it thinks about this war, mainly thinks about attacks on U.S. troops, which are part of that war because the U.S. troops were seen by the Sunni Arabs as adjuncts to the Shiite paramilitaries, and they have really functioned that way. Most American observers of Iraq wouldn't say that the U.S. is an enabler of the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps paramilitaries of these Shiite fundamentalist parties, but you could make the case that, functionally speaking, that's how it's worked out.

As alliances shift, Iran wins. Again

It's no secret that a great deal of the alleged success of the George W Bush adminstration's "surge" - or at least the way it's being spun in the US - is related to a diminished flow of Iranian-made weapons towards militias in Iraq. The weapons anyway were being sold by Iranian and or Gulf black market dealers - and not by the central establishment in Tehran. At the same time, the publication of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in the US virtually debunked the idea that Iran was conducting a secret nuclear program for military use. These two overlapping developments have alarmed Israeli intelligence - which believes that Washington and Tehran have concluded a secret deal brokered by Saudi Arabia. That's what's being spun, for instance, by the Debka website - which is basically an Israeli military intelligence outlet.

Quote of the day: "There's also a lot of drama in the debates. They're quite entertaining." – Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president and director of programming at Carat. [I think they are bullsh*t. – dancewater]

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