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

Friday, March 7, 2008

News & Views 03/07/08

Photo: Iraqi municipality workers clean the site of a bomb attack in Baghdad's Karada neighbourhood. A twin attack in central Baghdad's commercial district which the US embassy on Friday blamed on Al-Qaeda, killed at least 68 people, making it the second deadliest assault in Iraq this year. (AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Baghdad blast toll rises to 68

Thursday: 97 Iraqis Killed, 148 Wounded

The Iraq Quagmire: Numbers to Date

Internally displaced refugees in Iraq: 3.4 million
Iraqi refugees living abroad: 2.2-2.4 million
Iraqi refugees admitted to the U.S.: 3,222

Number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq: 155,000
Number of "Coalition of the Willing" soldiers in Iraq:
February 2008: 9,895
September 2006: 18,000
November 2004: 25,595

Army soldiers in Iraq who have served two or more tours: 74%
Number of Private Military Contractors in Iraq: 180,000
Number of Private Military Contractors criminally prosecuted by the U.S. government for violence or abuse in Iraq: 1
Number of contract workers killed: 917

Iraqis of Mosul speak of suffering

Five years of war have taken their toll on the Iraqi city of Mosul, where people live in fear, many without jobs, electricity or a reliable supply of water.
Engineer Ashwak al-Jaaf lost her husband and the eldest of her six children when unknown assailants killed them following the invasion, writing over their bodies that the pair had been members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime. ………In certain parts of Mosul, whole roads are lined with mounds of rubble, the remains of a building destroyed by an American hellfire missile or a car bomb. Sewage runs in the street and the graffiti on walls advertises house after house up for sale. Mrs Jaaf said that she too would leave again if she had the resources. “Before the war, life was perfect. My husband was a manager at the Ministry of Oil and we felt very well protected. I am unable to believe that the situation can ever be restored,” she said, blaming the US military for instigating the chaos.

….As part of the plan to restore security to Mosul, the US military is erecting a wall of mud and earth around the city in a bid to stop extremist groups from entering in cars laden with bombs and other weapons. They are also building scores of checkpoints and joint Iraqi-US outposts, surrounded by concrete blast walls and sand bags. The move is designed to give the security forces a permanent presence in hotspot neighbourhoods.
Residents feel trapped but hope that the new measures will end the violence. “The mud and concrete barriers cause more suffering to the civilians. We feel as though we are living in Gaza,” said Mazin Sajet, a 33-year-old car dealer.

IRAQ: Where Happiness Has Gone

Children are forgetting the joy of what were the big days for them. "Before the invasion, streets were full on festival days with children playing and families walking about," Abdul-Kareem Faraj, a 44-year-old who once owned a sweets shop told IPS. "This occupation has killed the happiness of children. "We need to be happy for the sake of our children. Families used to buy large amounts of sweets for the festivals, and we used to prepare the shop to receive a large number of customers, but now I have closed my shop because people quit buying sweets." For a start, festivals are days people visit one another, and feast. Over the last three years, it has become close to impossible to just move. Feasting has always been a strong Iraqi tradition. Even during the economic sanctions of the 1990s, when food was scarce, Iraqis kept up this tradition, particularly on Fridays.

"Now, such traditions have been reduced to a minimum because of the bad security situation, high living expenses, and curfews," Diya Imad, a 43-year-old resident of the city told IPS. "We used to listen to each other, laugh, plan our days together, spend good moments, and forget our grief by giving comfort to each other. But now we have lost all this. This has deepened a feeling of depression in all of us.” “Not only people, but the streets and buildings are depressed," an engineer in the local municipality told IPS. Like many others, he did not wish to give his name, in view of the difficult security environment. "Streets are full of mud and dirt, and desolate; trees have been cut and burnt, buildings are pulled down, gardens are barren. Everything is grief-stricken and low-spirited."

Iraq: Shiite Stronghold Is Not Safe

The death toll from twin bombings Thursday night rose to 68 killed, 120 wounded on Friday and showed just how tough it will be to rejuvenate Iraq's capital when bombers still hit one of its safer and more vibrant neighborhoods regularly. …. It also struck in an area of high symbolic importance — the Karradah neighborhood — which has bounced back as one of Baghdad's most vibrant commercial districts and also a stronghold for the country's most powerful Shiite political party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The attack came on a beautiful evening and the streets were packed with shoppers and young people mingling at the start of the Iraqi weekend. A bomb hidden under a vendor stall exploded first, and then in the chaos that followed a suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt detonated, Mohammed al-Rubaie, the head of the Karradah municipality, told the state-run Al-Iraqiya TV. Severed limbs rained down on bystanders.

Heroines - the daily life of Iraq's war widows

Eighty-two percent of the 2.4 million people displaced inside Iraq are women and young children under the age of 12. Many mothers have lost their husbands in the sectarian violence that has torn the nation apart. But in the face of adversity, they are proving to be true heroines. These stories, collected by women's organisations in Iraq ahead of International Women's Day on March 8, give a rare insight into how Iraqi widows are helping their families survive while retaining their dignity in times of extreme suffering.

Suhair's story For the war widows who have moved to the outskirts of Baghdad from all over the country to try to eke out a living, each day is a struggle for survival. "A lot of these women are young - they are not the 'old ladies' we'd imagine as widows, as we did in the past," says one such woman, Suhair. "Without food and electricity, it's getting harder and harder to provide for our families. When we wake up in the morning the first thing that we think about is if there is any electricity or fuel. We think about how we are going to put food on the table." Women like Suhair take great risks by selling what they can - usually chewing gum or tissues - in violence hotspots. "This phenomenon was hardly visible prior to 2003," says Suhair. "We women face a lot of danger in doing this. The fear of having your children's lives, your life taken away is constant... Your mind stops functioning when on your way to work you see a car near you and you fear it could explode."

Women bear brunt of Iraq bloodshed

Eman Ahmad, 40, owned a garment shop in the once upscale western neighbourhood of Mansour, but was forced to shutter her business after receiving death threats. "Before the war in 2003, I used to work in complete freedom. I had my shop and my own car," she said. "I was threatened a year back and since then I have stopped working and stopped driving." The rights of women were well recognised by Saddam's secular Baath party. Women would work openly, even as their traditional roles as mothers and wives remained deeply rooted in the society. But since the US-led invasion the erosion of women's rights in Iraq has become a "national crisis," says a report published March 6 by Women For Women International, a US-based women's group. "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," the organisation's report said.

Q&A: Answers About Baghdad’s Red Zone

Q. What is the current state of Baghdad’s hospitals and clinics? Are there sufficient doctors, health specialists and medicines to go around?

A. Baghdad’s hospitals are poorly equipped, lack medicine and equipment, are frequently overcrowded and have too few nurses and doctors to care for the patients. Many of them are also dirty, and I have had doctors tell me that they always advise patients to go home if they possibly can to avoid becoming sicker. While Iraqi doctors are often quite good, and some younger doctors have gone to sessions held by groups like Doctors Without Borders, most have had little access to training in the last five years and are working with antiquated equipment.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraq cleric Sadr explains absence

The Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has explained why he has not been seen in public for more than nine months - and acknowledged splits in his movement. He said he missed his followers "too much" but that every "commander needed to be away for a while to worship". He has reportedly resumed his religious studies to gain the title of ayatollah. The statement comes two weeks after the cleric renewed a unilateral ceasefire his powerful Mehdi Army militia has been observing for the past six months. The ceasefire has been widely credited with reducing sectarian tensions and contributing to the overall drop in violence in recent months.

In a rare statement issued by his office in the holy city of Najaf, Moqtada Sadr acknowledged that his absence "could be a reason for depressing" his followers. "I swear that I live with you and among you. I am a part of you. I will not change his unless death separates us," he said. He said the main reason for him going away - US military commanders believe he is in neighbouring Iran - was the advice of his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated in 1999 reportedly by Iraqi agents.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Turkish army refuses to close bases in northern Iraq

The Turkish military leadership has rejected a request by Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region to shut down several military bases in northern Iraq, the Turkish daily Vatan reported yesterday, citing a statement by the Turkish General Staff. Last week, while Turkey's recent eight-day ground operation inside Iraq to destroy the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) targets there was still going on, the regional Iraqi Kurdish Parliament had an extraordinary session in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil concerning the operation. Following the session, Deputy Speaker Kemal Kerkuki reiterated an earlier allegation, saying that about 350 Turkish soldiers rolled out of their barracks inside Iraq at Bamerne, west of Amadiyah, in 13 tanks to join their fellow soldiers coming from across the border and that they were prevented from doing so by local residents of the area. "Turkey has had two units on this soil since 1996. We want the government to send these two units away. Let them return to Turkey as soon as possible," Kerkuki said then. About 1,200 Turkish soldiers are stationed at a base in Bamerne, which is a remnant from the last major Turkish incursion into northern Iraq in the mid-1990s. The Turkish army also has bases in Batufa, Qanimasi and Dilmentepe.

Arms Dealer's Planes Flew U.S. Missions in Iraq

When U.S. officials announce the arrest of a notorious arms dealer and drug-runner this afternoon, the fact that his planes flew U.S. supply missions in Iraq will likely go unmentioned. In a January 2005 letter to Congress, then-Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted the Defense Department "did conduct business with companies that, in turn, subcontracted work to second-tier providers who leased aircraft owned by companies associated with Mr. Bout." At the time, Bout was already a wanted international fugitive. Intelligence officials had considered Bout one of the greatest threats to U.S. interests, in the same league as al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden. Interpol had issued a warrant for his arrest; the United Nations Security Council had restricted his travel. But that didn't stop U.S. government contractors from paying Bout-controlled firms roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq in support of the U.S. war effort, according to a book released last year by two reporters who investigated Bout. And it didn't prevent the U.S. military from giving Bout's pilots millions of dollars in free airplane fuel while they were flying U.S. supply flights.

U.S. oilman sentenced to prison in oil-for-food case

Texas oilman David Chalmers was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday after admitting to paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to Iraq in connection with the U.N. oil-for-food program. Chalmers, 54, and his two corporations, Bayoil Supply and Trading Ltd. and Bayoil USA Inc., were sentenced in federal court in Manhattan. Chalmers and his companies were ordered to forfeit $9 million dollars.

Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore

Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation's top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven. More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq - including about 10,500 Americans - are listed as employees of two companies that exist in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone number in the Cayman Islands.

….. The largest of the Cayman Islands shell companies - called Service Employers International Inc., which is now listed as having more than 20,000 workers in Iraq, according to KBR - was created two years before Cheney became Halliburton's chief executive. But a second Cayman Islands company called Overseas Administrative Services, which now is listed as the employer of 1,020 mostly managerial workers in Iraq, was established two months after Cheney's appointment. Cheney's office at the White House referred questions to his personal lawyer, who did not return phone calls.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraqis who fled war are still stalked by mental distress

Iraqi refugees in Lebanon are suffering from high levels of emotional and psychological distress, said a study released this week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) aimed at assessing the mental health and psychosocial needs of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. More than half of those interviewed disclosed distress factors including panic attacks, anger, tiredness, sleep problems and fears, said the assessment, which was carried out between November 2007 and January 2008 among 800 people in the two countries. For the 34 percent of respondents in Lebanon who had experienced direct violent attacks - including witnessing assassinations of relatives and friends, torture, rape or kidnappings - psychological distress was overwhelming. The list of factors aggravating the situation - particularly acute among Iraqis who have been displaced for two years or longer - includes the insecurity of their refugee life, a lack of employment and the de-professionalization of Iraqis whose qualifications are unrecognized, poor living conditions and access to health and social services, including education.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

RESISTANCE

Vets Break Silence on Iraq War Crimes

U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are planning to descend on Washington from Mar. 13-16 to testify about war crimes they committed or personally witnessed in those countries. "The war in Iraq is not covered to its potential because of how dangerous it is for reporters to cover it," said Liam Madden, a former Marine and member of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. "That's left a lot of misconceptions in the minds of the American public about what the true nature of military occupation looks like." Iraq Veterans Against the War argues that well-publicized incidents of U.S. brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family of Iraqis in the town of Haditha are not the isolated incidents perpetrated by "a few bad apples," as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. They are part of a pattern, the group says, of "an increasingly bloody occupation."

We Support the Troops Who Oppose the War

On the weekend of 13-15 March, 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will assemble history's largest gathering of US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqi and Afghan survivors. They will provide first hand accounts of their experiences and reveal the truth of occupation. We support Iraq Veterans Against the War and their Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Join us in supporting the effort to reveal truth in the way that only those who lived it can.

Please go to this website to sign the petition to support IVAW.

Quote of the day: Both of these candidates in yet another imminent but distant MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN HISTORY support but dislike NAFTA, oppose but wish for universal health coverage, dislike but won't end the occupation of Iraq, reject impeachment, deny the existence of election fraud, and promote more militarism. ~ David Swanson [He left out their incompetence at economics and near total disregard for the environment. – dancewater]

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