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

Saturday, March 8, 2008

News & Views 03/08/08

Photo: A demonstrator holds pictures of a slain woman as he chants slogans in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad, March 8, 2008. About 3,000 protesters took to the streets on Saturday asking Basra's police chief to stop what they say is continuous killing of civilians in the city. REUTERS/Atef Hassan (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Saturday: 1 GI, 7 Iraqis Killed; 14 Iraqis Wounded; 100 Bodies Found

Friday: 27 Iraqis Killed, 33 Wounded

Mass grave discovered in Iraq

A mass grave containing about 100 bodies was discovered Saturday in a region north of Baghdad that has seen years of intense fighting between Shiites and Sunni extremist members of al-Qaida in Iraq. The grave, near Khalis in the Diyala province about 50 miles north of Baghdad, is still being investigated, but the U.S. military said the skeletal remains appear to have been there for a long time. It was not immediately clear how the people had died, the military said. [BBC reported that they were likely post-2003 invasion deaths. – dancewater]

'My mother prays for me to stay alive'

I felt ecstatic all of yesterday still to be alive. But returning to Karrada, the shopping district where the twin blasts killed scores of other young people, I also understood how close I came to death. The jumble of shops that line the area were still intact but glass fronts were shattered. I was shocked to see that the market stalls that usually clutter the street had disappeared and the area was empty of shoppers. Iraqi soldiers were everywhere, manning checkpoints and inspecting each car that passed with a device to detect explosives. This made me sad because Karrada had become one of the only places in Baghdad where people felt safe. Walking up to the front of the mobile phone shop where I had been standing when the first bomb knocked me out, Wissam, the owner, was repainting the walls. “I blame the army and traffic police for the attacks. They patrol the district 24-hours-a-day and they still failed to stop the terrorists,” he said. “They keep on talking about how Karrada is secure and safe but in reality every two months we have a similar incident so what safety are they referring to?” he added.

The Iraq Quagmire: Numbers to Date

Cost of 22 days in Iraq could safeguard our nation's ports from attack for ten years.
Cost of 18 hours in Iraq could secure U.S. chemical plants for five years.

Iraqi Unemployment level: 25-40%
*U.S. unemployment during the Great Depression: 25%
70% of the Iraqi population is without access to clean water.
80% is without sanitation.
90% of Iraq's 180 hospitals lack basic medical and surgical supplies.

79% of Iraqis oppose the presence of Coalition Forces.
78% of Iraqis believe things are going badly in Iraq overall.
64% of Americans oppose the war in Iraq.

What the "Declaration of Principles" has set according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates:
"A mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence."

IRAQ: Mother of all walls

The drab concrete barriers that protect against gunfire and explosions have become a defining feature of the Iraqi capital in the nearly five years since U.S.-led forces invaded. They snake between warring neighborhoods, loop around marketplaces and shelter police stations and government offices from attack. Iraqis grumble sometimes about living in a prison. But the U.S. military says the walls have made it difficult for insurgents to stage the massive bombings that used to claim dozens of lives every day, and it has exported the strategy to other strife-torn areas. Work is now nearing completion on the mother of all walls, a 50-mile barrier that will protect the network of pipes delivering crude from the Kirkuk oil field to the refinery in the city of Baiji, at a cost of nearly $30 million.

The oil industry is the government's main revenue source and a frequent target of insurgents. There have been more than 460 attacks against oil infrastructure and personnel since the war started, according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. Work on the new barrier, which already stretches as far as the eye can see, began in July and is scheduled to be completed in May. Iraqi companies have been contracted to put in the ditch, berm, chain-link fence and razor wire that make up the barrier on either side of the pipeline.

Thousands protest over security in southern Iraqi city of Basra

Thousands of people took to the streets Saturday in southern Basra, protesting deteriorating security in a city where Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for safety last December. It was day of violence as well as political unrest in Iraq: Police in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad reported two separate bombings in which six people were killed. In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and the urban center of an oil-rich region, Shiite groups have been wrestling for control of the area. Residents are becoming increasingly alarmed about security, saying that killings, kidnappings and other crimes have increased significantly since British forces turned over responsibility for the city at the end of last year.

Iraqi women demand equality, end to violence

Scores of women rallied outside a Baghdad hotel on Saturday demanding an end to violence and equal social status with men as part of the observations of International Women's Day. "Stop neglecting women. Stop killing women. Stop creating widows," read a large banner that the women, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, held at the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad's central Karada neighbourhood. After the rally, the protesters joined a much larger group that included men and children at a hotel conference room to hear from various speakers. One of the speakers was Nariman Mahmoud Othman, minister for women's rights, who led a delegation of women to the office of the head of Iraq's parliament, Mahmoud Mashhadani, with a list of issues concerning women's rights they wanted to discuss. The list also called for more women to be appointed to positions of power, including ministries and embassies.

Gang with 100 archeological pieces arrested south of Baghdad

Iraqi security forces arrested a gang in possession of 100 archeological pieces prepared for smuggling on the highway linking Kut to Nassiriya, south of Baghdad, an interior ministry source said on Saturday. "The archeological pieces found with the gang date back to 5,000 B.C.," General Ahmed Abo Raghif told Aswat al-Iraq- Voices of Iraq- (VOI). Hundreds of archeological pieces were looted from the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad after April 2003 as U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. [And did not bother to attempt to protect this archeological treasures. – dancewater]

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Minister authorized to sign oil deals with foreign majors

The government has authorized Oil Minister Husain al-Shahristani to go ahead and sign deals with foreign firms as the parliament haggles over the draft oil law. Assem Jihad, the ministry’s spokesman, said the cabinet in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki asked Shahristani not to wait any more for the legislature to approve the law before signing such deals. The ministry says it is negotiating five contracts to develop five producing fields. Without foreign held and investment it will be hard for the ministry to increase current output levels which are still below pre-war rates, ministry officials say. Previously, the government had said no contracts would be signed with foreign majors unless the parliament passes the oil law. With oil prices soaring and Iraq’s oil production capacity in certain fields shrinking, the hard cash-strapped government could no longer wait.

Iraq vows to block oil contracts signed by Kurds

Baghdad will block any contracts signed by foreign oil companies with Iraqi Kurdish regional authorities, Iraq's Oil Minister Hussein Chahristani said on Saturday. "All contracts will be handled by the central government," he told a joint press conference in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Hilmi Guler. "No contracts signed by any regions in Iraq will be recognised by the government of Iraq. Companies will not be allowed to work on Iraqi territory unless their contract is approved by the central government in Baghdad." The government in Baghdad and authorities in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq have been at loggerheads over the issue for months.

Iraq, Turkey discuss border security

Iraq's president insisted Friday that Kurdish rebels would not be tolerated inside its borders as he sought to allay tensions following neighboring Turkey's eight-day military mission inside Iraq. Speaking during a visit to Turkey, Jalal Talabani said Iraq was continuing to put pressure on Kurdish rebels to lay down their arms and said the two countries would discuss wide-ranging security measures to combat their threat. The visit by Talabani, himself a Kurd, reflected diplomatic efforts to ease tensions after an operation that some had feared could spill into a wider conflict between two U.S. allies.

Anbar Salvation Council calls for dissolving elections commission

Head of the Anbar Salvation Council on Friday said that the council calls for dissolving the elections commission and forming an engineering body to supervise reconstructing the province. "The salvation council calls for dissolving the elections commission in Anbar province," Hamid al-Hayes told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI), noting that the Islamic council dominates the commission and controls its members the matter that affects its neutrality. He asserted also that the reconstruction operations in Anbar are being implemented in a dishonest way, accusing the Anbar provincial council of seizing all reconstruction operations and distributing them among members of the Islamic party.

"Terrorists" infiltrated into Falluja – source

The Falluja police received information that "terrorists" infiltrated into the city, which prompted the closure of all outlets before traffic, a security source said on Saturday.
"U.S. forces sealed off Falluja's three outlets after receiving information that men wanted by Iraqi and U.S. security forces have infiltrated into the city," the source, who did not want to be named, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

19 countries to attend Arab parliamentarians meeting in Arbil

Nineteen out of 22 Arab countries will take part in the Arab parliamentarians conference to be hosted by the city of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region, scheduled for March 11, under the auspices of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an official said on Saturday. "Three countries announced they would not attend the conference: Somalia, Comoros and Libya," Nour al-Din Boushkog, the Secretary General of the Arab Parliamentary Union (APU), said in a press conference held in Arbil on Saturday. "Libya's position regarding the Iraqi Kurdistan is positive and a Libyan official would pay a visit to the (autonomous) region soon," said Boushkog, adding he was still having contacts with Libyan officials to persuade them to participate in the conference.

U.S. withdraws from Iraq talks with Iran

The United States said on Wednesday it was not prepared for the fourth round of talks with Iran over the security situation in Iraq after an Iranian delegation arrived in Baghdad for the meeting scheduled for Thursday. Iran has agreed to negotiate with the U.S. only for the sake of Iraqi people and upon repeated requests by the Iraqi officials. Iran, U.S. and Iraq held three rounds of talks in Baghdad last year on ways to help end violence in Iraq. A meeting planned for February was postponed by Iran for technical reasons. An Iraqi government official who requested anonymity said the U.S. declined late Wednesday to meet with the Iranian delegation and the Iranians would return to Tehran after visiting Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and in the holy city of Karbala, Reuters reported.

US Soldiers Allegedly Mishandled Workers at German Embassy in Iraq

Germany's top diplomat in Baghdad claims in a classified report that American soldiers mishandled three workers at the German embassy in the Iraqi capital. The incident has created new tensions in Berlin-Washington relations.

COMMENTARY

Ten worst countries for women

Here are [some of] 10 of the worst countries in the world to be a woman today:

Afghanistan: The average Afghan girl will live to only 45 – one year less than an Afghan male. After three decades of war and religion-based repression, an overwhelming number of women are illiterate. More than half of all brides are under 16, and one woman dies in childbirth every half hour. Domestic violence is so common that 87 per cent of women admit to experiencing it. But more than one million widows are on the streets, often forced into prostitution. Afghanistan is the only country in which the female suicide rate is higher than that of males.

• Democratic Republic of Congo: In the eastern DRC, a war that claimed more than 3 million lives has ignited again, with women on the front line. Rapes are so brutal and systematic that UN investigators have called them unprecedented. Many victims die; others are infected with HIV and left to look after children alone. Foraging for food and water exposes women to yet more violence. Without money, transport or connections, they have no way of escape.

Iraq: The U.S.-led invasion to "liberate" Iraq from Saddam Hussein has imprisoned women in an inferno of sectarian violence that targets women and girls. The literacy rate, once the highest in the Arab world, is now among the lowest as families fear risking kidnapping and rape by sending girls to school. Women who once went out to work stay home. Meanwhile, more than 1 million women have been displaced from their homes, and millions more are unable to earn enough to eat.

THE RECKONING The Iraq War Will Cost Us $3 Trillion, and Much More

In a world plagued with millions of illiterate children, we could have achieved literacy for all -- for less than the price of a month's combat in Iraq. We worry about China's growing influence in Africa, but the upfront cost of a month of fighting in Iraq would pay for more than doubling our annual current aid spending on Africa. Closer to home, we could have funded countless schools to give children locked in the underclass a shot at decent lives. Or we could have tackled the massive problem of Social Security, which Bush began his second term hoping to address; for far, far less than the cost of the war, we could have ensured the solvency of Social Security for the next half a century or more.

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."

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

Quote of the day: I am against the punitive, pre-emptive war in Iraq because I think it is folly. I think it won’t accomplish what it is designed to accomplish. I think it is the wrong way to deal with this monstrous dictator. …..This is opening a can of worms, a Pandora’s Box, that will destabilize the whole region. ……I don’t think this is the way to deal with Saddam Hussein; …..I think it is folly, it is mad. ……I pray to be proven wrong, but I don’t believe it. I think it is much more dangerous and much more reckless, but I think the motives to extend American hegemony are deplorable. - Susan Sontag [Audio from an interview in early 2003]

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