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

Monday, March 10, 2008

News & Views 03/10/08

Photo: The members of an Iraqi family look at US soldiers from the 2nd Battallion 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4-2 SBCT, searching for weapons in the village of Mullah Eid, February 2008 during operation Fox Hunt. Al-Qaeda may be shifting tactics back to the big, headline grabbing attacks in Iraq that helped plunge the country into chaos, a senior US commander said. (AFP/File/Patrick Baz)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

5 US Soldiers, 26 Iraqis Killed

Barrage of Iraqi attacks kills 19, including 8 U.S. troops

Sunday: 28 Iraqis Killed, 10 Wounded

Bomber kills Iraqi tribal leader

An Iraqi tribal leader has been killed in a suicide bombing at his house south-east of Baquba, police say. Thaer Ghadban al-Karkhi was the head of one of the majority-Sunni Arab Awakening Councils, allied with the US military against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Health Care Woes

Being diagnosed with an illness is a nightmare in Iraq, as we dread hearing that the medicine and services we need aren’t available. Five years have passed since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and the health sector continues to deteriorate daily - eating away at the dignity of people. The country is in the midst of a healthcare catastrophe, one that requires the attention of the authorities and citizens. Hospitals lack medicines, supplies and beds. Patients who want to have their blood pressure checked have to bring their own equipment. A woman who wants to have her child vaccinated has to find a "wasta" - which translates roughly as a connection - through friends or relatives who work in the health sector, as even this service is limited. Iraq’s health-care system "is in disarray", the British medical advocacy group Medact wrote in a recent report. The problems aren’t only due to poor security, the organisation maintained, but are exacerbated by massive staff shortages, intermittent electricity, an unsafe water supply and "frequent violations of medical neutrality".

IRAQ: Childhood Is Dying

Iraq's children have been more gravely affected by the U.S. occupation than any other segment of the population. The United Nations estimated that half a million Iraqi children died during more than 12 years of economic sanctions that preceded the U.S. invasion of March 2003, primarily as a result of malnutrition and disease. But childhood malnutrition in Iraq has increased 9 percent since then, according to an Oxfam International report released last July.

A report from the non-governmental relief organisation Save the Children shows Iraq continues to have the highest mortality for children under five. Since the first Gulf War, this has increased 150 percent. It is estimated that one in eight children in Iraq dies before the fifth birthday: 122,000 children died in 2005 alone. Iraq has a population of about 25 million. According to a UN Children's Fund report released this month, "at least two million Iraqi children lack adequate nutrition, according to the World Food Programme assessment of food insecurity in 2006, and face a range of other threats including interrupted education, lack of immunisation services and diarrhoea diseases." IPS interviewed three children from different districts of Baquba, the capital city of Iraq's volatile Diyala province, 40 km northeast of Baghdad.

Energy gap
Five years on, Iraqis are still lacking an essential - electricity

Over the past year, supply has never even got near meeting the demand. Seventy per cent was the very best, but that was exceptional and coincided with the autumn, when the weather is warm and pleasant here and people use their air conditioners and fans less than they do in the searing heat of the summer. And, they have not yet switched on their heaters for the cold desert nights of winter. On the graph, the supply line mostly hovers around 55% and dips below 50 several times. That is for the whole country and supply to Baghdad is pitiful. Hours and hours go by without mains electricity, then it suddenly will be available for a short time and go dead again. If they can afford to, Iraqis buy generators and the fuel for them. There are massive machines in back gardens roaring almost incessantly. …… Iraqi officials and aid workers have recently expressed concern over the alarming rate at which children are disappearing countrywide in Iraq's unstable environment.

Toddler returns to Iraq after surgery saved her life

She is an amazingly lucky girl in a country where bad luck is everywhere. But 2-year-old Amenah al-Bayati is not aware of her good fortune. She is still ignorant of how ruthlessly death stalks her country. She was not yet born when, in 2005, U.S. Marines killed 24 civilians, including five children, after their convoy hit a roadside bomb in this farming town on the Euphrates. She was too young to understand the politics that briefly landed her father in jail, suspected of ties to the insurgency. So she does not know how exceptional her luck was last autumn, when a Marine company decided to do everything it could to save her life, sending her to the United States in January for surgery to repair a congenital heart defect that was cutting off her oxygen supply.

Iraqis search for signs of change in U.S. election

Iraqis are avidly watching the 2008 U.S. election race, searching for signs of policy change under a new president and prospects for U.S. troop withdrawals from their country. "I do not care if the president is a man or a woman, what really matters is the change of American policy towards Iraq," said Muhenad Sahib, a university professor from the southern oil hub of Basra, Iraq's second largest city. …..Athil al-Nujaifi, a member of a secular, multi-ethnic political bloc in the volatile northern city of Mosul, said a Democrat victory would offer the United States "a new future". "The current situation in Iraq is tied to President Bush and his inability to admit his mistake in occupying Iraq and his inability to avoid the mistakes the neo-conservatives committed," Nujaifi said. [Good luck with that idea that the Democrats are going to fix it. – dancewater]

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraqi central government fractures

The political crisis within Iraq's central government seems to be ongoing despite recent claims of political reconciliation, AlSumaria said Monday. Iraqi Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi said the conflict with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continued but a statement from the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the disputes weren't of a personal nature. Hashemi, the leader of the Sunni Accordance Front Party, said in a statement that his party was unlikely to return to the government while conflicts continued with the Shiite-led majority. Maliki, head of the Shiite Islamic Dawa Party, said in earlier statements that he hoped the six members of the Accordance Front, as well as Kurdish officials, would return to the central government, but Hashemi is saying the differences stem from the direction Iraq is headed and not power-sharing arrangements.

Cooking-gas cylinders rigged with explosives in Wassit

Troops of the Iraqi Army 3rd Brigade found on Monday in Wassit province cooking-gas cylinders rigged with explosives, and left at the houses of displaced families. "The cylinders were found at houses of displaced families in the two neighborhoods of Al-Mathalthat and Al-Diwaniya Al-Gharbiya, north of Sawayra city (100 km north of Wassit)," the Iraqi Army source told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI) on condition of anonymity.

Iraq Sahwa Movement to open 5 HQ in Falluja

The local council of Falluja gave the thumbs up to the opening of five headquarters for the Iraqi Sahwa (Awakening) Movement in the city, the council chief said on Monday. "The Falluja local council approved the step after Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the Iraq Sahwa Movement chief, applied to have headquarters for his movement in the city," Sheikh Hamid Ahmed Hashim al-Ulwani told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). The movement was set up in mid-2006 under the name Anbar Sahwa Clans.

Basra puts in place emergency measures to restore stability

The provincial authorities in the southern city of Basra are applying new emergency measures in the wake of an upsurge in violence and lawlessness. More than 5,000 police officers are taking part in the campaign “to pursue outlaws, armed men, smugglers, some tribal groups and illegal militias,” according to the city’s police chief, Lt. Gen. Abduljaleel Khalaf. The restive city has recently seen a surge in murder incidence and kidnapping.

Iraq wants former agents to spy on Iran

The Iraqi central government is recruiting former Saddam-era intelligence officials to spy on Iranians, USA Today said Monday. ….The recruitment of former Saddam-era intelligence officials, however, seems to run counter to a new set of Iraqi laws meant to block Baath Party members and Saddam-era officials from government work because of their past human rights abuses. The U.S. government, who accuses Iran of trying to sabotage their efforts in Iraq, approves of the measure and the Iraqi government has been fluid in its enforcement of reconciliation measures like the "Accountability and Justice" law passed last year, the newspaper said.

IRAQ: Minister leads call to end violence against women

Iraqi women on 8 March, International Woman's Day, called for an end to violence against women nationwide and for equal status with men, especially in top jobs, including ministries and embassies. "Iraqi women are now crying out: stop killing, stop violence," said Nariman Othman, minister of women's rights, who led a delegation to the head of Iraq's parliament. She bore a list of women’s rights issues which they wanted to discuss. "We demand protection from killing and intimidating women in the cities of Basra, Diyala, Mosul and other Iraqi cities, and consider the anti-women violence a crime against humanity," Nariman said.

Iraq's Mahdi Army may become cultural

Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has suggested a possible transformation of his al-Mahdi Army into a cultural and humanitarian organization. "There is no conflict between the military nature of al-Mahdi Army and its being humanitarian and cultural. Different circumstances need different duties and requirements," The Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency quoted al-Sadr as saying. He reiterated that the move to suspend the activities of al-Mahdi Army was an opportunity to rehabilitate and reform the group. The remarks were made after a group of his followers put forward a proposal for a referendum on transforming the militia into a political or cultural group, VOI said.

Death Threat Attack on “Freedom of Expression”

The brother-in-law of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani has apologised after threatening to kill a journalist who he said insulted his late father in an article. Halo Ibrahim Ahmed, the son of the late Ibrahim Ahmed, a famous 20th century Kurdish politician, wrote a letter to journalist Nabaz Goran on February 28 saying, “[I will] kill you, [Goran] even if I have one day left of my life.” The outburst, which has received substantial coverage in the Kurdish press, was the latest in a wave of recent threats and attacks against journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan. It was prompted when Goran wrote an article published in the independent Hawlati newspaper criticising the lack of electricity in the north. In the piece, he noted that Ibrahim Ahmed’s grave - which is a shrine on the outskirts of the northern city of Sulaimaniyah - is lit up around the clock. Talabani is married to Ibrahim Ahmed's daughter. Ahmed confirmed to IWPR that he wrote the letter, which was sent via email, and said he regretted it.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Iran fomenting violence in Iraq, U.S. says

A high-ranking U.S. military officer Sunday described new details of allegations that Iran is meddling in Iraq, accusing the Islamic Republic of training Iraqi operatives to direct militants in their homeland. The latest accusations, made during a news conference here, were part of a renewed drumbeat of U.S. charges over Tehran's role in Iraq after a period of faint improvement in relations. [Seems like Iraq and Iran are getting along, but not Iran and the US. If it is true that Iran is fomenting violence in Iraq, then I guess it is a case of “money see, monkey do”. – dancewater]

Fixing Iraq, and a refinery

The ragged oil refinery in a barren corner of Anbar province looks more like something out of a post-apocalyptic Mel Gibson movie than the centerpiece of an ambitious energy project. The plant, known as K-3, was built by the British in the 1930s, allowed to slip into disrepair for three decades under Saddam Hussein, then bombed by the Americans in 1991 and 2003. ….."It's an easy task to trash a country," said British Lt. Gen. William Rollo, second in command to U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. "It's bloody difficult to rebuild it." [No sh*t, Sherlock. – dancewater]

Waxman seeks 3 federal Blackwater probes

A U.S. House panel chairman Monday called on three federal agencies to investigate Iraq contractor Blackwater Worldwide. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration and the IRS to examine Blackwater's dealings based on his committee's findings indicating Blackwater may have acted improperly, The Hill reported. In a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Waxman said his committee has evidence indicating Blackwater may have improperly tried to avoid compliance with labor standards by designating its security guards as independent contractors. In a letter to SBA Administrator Steven Preston, Waxman said the company used the same designation to improperly claim it was eligible for small business preferences. In his a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Linda Stiff, Waxman said Blackwater withheld taxes by not designating guards as employees.

Iranian leaders claim U.S. stood them up

A spokesman for the Iranian foreign minister blamed the U.S. delegation for the failed fourth round of negotiations regarding Iraq's security. Iranian officials said they scheduled a fourth round of talks with U.S. officials last Thursday in Baghdad but claim U.S. officials weren't ready, the AlAlam news agency reported Monday. The spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said that "hours before the meeting, the Iraqi officials quoted the Americans as saying they were not ready. They told us this without any explanation."

Govt to dip into conflict prevention fund to fly jets in Iraq: report

Britain is planning to use money earmarked for weapons disposal and landmine removal in former conflict zones to service Tornado jets flying in Iraq, The Guardian reported on Monday. In quotes published in the newspaper, a defence ministry spokeswoman confirmed the decision, describing it as a "short-term measure only, due to Tornados' increased use on operations." Citing a copy of a memo sent to junior defence minister Baroness Ann Taylor that it had seen, the paper said the Ministry of Defence planned to raid the Conflict Prevention Fund to pay British defence manufacturer BAE Systems to service six Tornado jets.

HISTORY

How Sanctions Destroyed Iraq

While inspections continued, a far more compelling and significant drama was playing out — the progressive deterioration and destruction of an entire society.

The mainstream U.S. discourse about sanctions on Iraq has generally oscillated between the two poles marked out by the above statements of Madeleine Albright — a hard-nosed assessment that U.S. policy objectives are more important than the deaths of children (rarely so honestly stated), and sanctimony about the great U.S. government concern for the Iraqi people combined with crocodile tears about Saddam Hussein’s cruelty (which few people contest). Just as the big question with regard to inspections was “Why doesn’t he just cooperate and get sanctions lifted?” the big questions regarding sanctions include “Why did he wait so long before agreeing to the Oil for Food program?” and “Why did he spend the money on palaces and weapons instead of feeding his people?”

Senate panel critiques prewar claims by White House

After an acrimonious investigation that spanned four years, the Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to release a detailed critique of the Bush administration's claims in the buildup to war with Iraq, congressional officials said. The long-delayed document catalogs dozens of prewar assertions by President Bush and other administration officials that proved to be wildly inaccurate about Iraq's alleged stockpiles of banned weapons and pursuit of nuclear arms. But officials say the report reaches a mixed verdict on the key question of whether the White House misused intelligence to make the case for war. The document criticizes White House officials for making assertions that failed to reflect disagreements or uncertainties in the underlying intelligence on Iraq, officials said. But the report acknowledges that many claims were consistent with intelligence assessments in circulation at the time. [Which shows our intelligence agencies are also liars or vastly more stupid then me. – dancewater]

COMMENTARY

Debating Devolution in Iraq

In early August 2007, Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a Shi‘i preacher affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, made headlines with striking comments to a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. The cleric revealed in an interview with Sam Dagher that “a massive operation” was underway to secure the establishment of a Shi‘i super-province in Iraq, to be named the “South of Baghdad Region,” and projected to encompass all nine majority-Shi‘i governorates south of the Iraqi capital. Saghir claimed that his party had already drafted detailed plans for how such a super-province would be governed -- plans of such importance to Iraq and the region that there was “no room for misadventures.” While Saghir did not mention a timeline for this remarkable undertaking, other Supreme Council supporters of the idea were less reticent: “The Shiite federal region will be announced in April 2008,” wrote one enthusiastic proponent.

Death and More Death. Why?

Karada is a bustling mosaic where people from different ethnicities and sects and places in Baghdad come to shop. Security here started to improve over the past few months, and people started to breathe again. Shop owners, after a long time of sitting jobless, are trying to do the same job they were doing before in 2003. Every day, more people have come to Karada to shop. One of them was my good friend Qusay, 29, who was married two years ago. He comes from a wealthy family. He was kindhearted, helping beggars whenever he encountered them. For many years, Qusay liked Karada and got to know a lot of clothing store owners. He was a good customer. On Thursday evening, he was walking with his wife and young niece through Karada, but he never realized it would be his last time shopping.

US: Just Waterboarding Under the Bridge

U.S. President George W. Bush appeared headed toward another train wreck with Congress as he carried out his threat to veto an intelligence bill that would have banned the Central Intelligence Agency from using waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" in questioning terrorism suspects. The bill, passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, would have limited the CIA to using 19 less-aggressive interrogation tactics outlined in a U.S. Army Field Manual. The measure would have ended the use of simulated drowning, temperature extremes and other harsh tactics that the CIA used on al-Qaeda prisoners after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. Congress does not appear to have the votes to override the Bush veto, which he announced in his weekly radio address on Saturday. His support comes principally from Senate Republicans, including the Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. McCain was one of the principal authors and champions of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2006, which banned harsh interrogation techniques by the U.S. military, but did not cover the CIA. President Bush signed the bill into law, but issued a "signing statement" claiming executive authority to ignore the law if it was necessary for national security purposes. "Staging a mock execution by inducing the misperception of drowning is a clear violation" of laws and treaties, McCain said at the time.

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: Just four days after that Saddam Hussein statue was pulled down, a man in a crowd complained to me that freedom without security was useless. Nearly five years on, in a central Baghdad cafe this week, another man said exactly the same. ~ from the article Energy gap Five years on, Iraqis are still lacking an essential - electricity

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