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 15, 2008

News & Views 03/15/08

Photo: Residents of Buhriz, a former Saddam Hussein stronghold about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, stand around the body of a suspected al-Qaida fighter killed in clashes with civilians and police in this Aug. 15, 2007 file photo. The suicide bombers who have killed 10,000 people in Iraq, including hundreds of American troops, usually are alienated young men from large families who are desperate to stand out from the crowd and make their mark, according to a U.S. military study. (AP Photo/File) [Oh, and they would not be in Iraq if the US troops were not there. One little detail they overlooked. – dancewater]

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Saturday: 1 US Soldier, 15 Iraqis Killed, 44 Iraqis Wounded

Friday: 20 Iraqis Killed, 42 Wounded

Iraq: 'Signs of Torture' You Can't Imagine

The pain here is choking -- it's a dark, suffocating sorrow. "They took my husband away in front of me. I found his body in the morgue a few days later. He had multiple bullet wounds and his eyes had been gouged out," one woman tells me, forcefully twisting a tissue in her hands as if it somehow could ease her agony and erase the chilling memory. She didn't want her story told, too afraid that she would meet the same fate as the man she loved. Her husband's body bore the "signs of torture." How many times has that phrase been used? It's such a common phrase it's as if what really happened gets glossed over: skin scraped off their bodies, fingernails ripped out, horrifying screams of pain before death. How many times have we reported death tolls from one horrific bombing or another and not been able to get across that these are lives that literally were blown apart? No matter how hard we in the media try, Iraq remains a nation filled with untold tragedies, the scope of which so often is overwhelming. ……. Also etched into her memory is the image of his charred body, melted together with nine others, a twisted pile of black, scorched flesh.

Iraqi teen: I see me 'running, dying'

"When a bomb blows or something explodes, you know, I just keep on sitting here. I don't move." Those are the words of Wurud, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl. She points out a window to the large coils of barbed wire snaking along the outer wall of the protected Green Zone where she lives with her family. "It's a big jail," she says. Of her life in a war zone she says, "I don't think it's weird because I get it every day so, you know, I don't think that it's weird anymore." Wurud seems not unlike most other teens around the world. She pays close attention to Hollywood stars and pop music and communicates with friends via the Internet. But this is Baghdad, so some things are different. Every time she sleeps, she says, she awakens from nightmares in the early hours. "I always see myself running, dying."

When Basheer Leaves For Work, He Knows It Might Be The Last Time ...

But Iraq is not a normal country, and Basheer, who is a taxi driver and an aspiring actor, has to struggle every day to shield his children from the violent society they live in. "There is death out on the streets," al Majid said. "The worst thing in life is to have death as a daily part of your life." Mohamed Ali and Haider both already know how to differentiate between the sound of a mortar and the sound of a roadside bomb. When Basheer takes his children out to the park, he plans ahead in case something happens. "I try not to go out …with my whole family -- wife and three children together -- to the same place, in case we all die in one incident," he said. Instead he will take one of his sons with him, and his wife takes the other two. A couple of years ago there were some security problems near his oldest son's school, so he sent his son across the city to live with his sister, where the local school was safer.

Iraq: A Nation in Pieces

So difficult is it to meet Iraqis in normal circumstances that I have arranged to meet Faleh Kheiber, one of Iraq's best photojournalists, in a guesthouse inside the Green Zone. It can be a death sentence for an Iraqi to be seen with a Westerner. In fact, it is so dangerous even to be associated with anything to do with the West that when I telephoned an Iraqi colleague from the television station al-Jazeera the previous week, he spoke to me in Arabic, even though I had greeted him in English. He kept talking incomprehensibly about how he was just finishing his shopping and would be home soon. He explained later that he had been on the street when I called and to speak English would have been far too dangerous.

Faleh was wounded when US forces shelled the Palestine Hotel, the base for most journalists reporting the bombing of Baghdad (the US army claimed snipers had been firing on troops from the hotel roof, but none of the journalists heard gunshots). It was just two days before the city fell and, like many, he thought he had already survived the worst of the conflict. Faleh was working for the Reuters news agency, and had just walked into the room from where Taras Protsyuk, a cameraman, was filming an American tank on the bridge across the Tigris when the tank fired, killing Taras immediately. A few minutes later I saw Faleh being carried on a makeshift stretcher, covered in blood and shrapnel, his clothes shredded. The picture of his bloodstained camera lying on the floor is a stark illustration of the cost of the war to Iraqi journalists. Of the 126 journalists killed in Iraq, 104 were Iraqis.

Iraq oil refinery expands by 10K barrels

A Najaf oil refinery expanded its production capacity Saturday by about 10,000 barrels per day, or roughly half of what it had producing. The refinery, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, was built in October 2006 to help meet central Iraq's increasing demand for petroleum products, including kerosene. It had been producing about 20,000 barrels per day. Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's oil minister, pledged further expansions across the country, including new refineries in Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, and Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

Iraq to hold national unity conference

Iraq will hold a two-day conference of all political groups starting on Tuesday to promote national unity and help defuse sectarian tensions, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Saturday. The conference, which begins just two days before the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion, will be organised by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to achieve "security, reconstruction and complete sovereignty," Dabbagh said. "Different political leaders will be present and the conference will aim to activate the role of different groups in the political process for positive contribution and national reconciliation," he said in a statement. The gathering will be Maliki's second attempt to bring together members of Iraq's warring factions to resolve their differences.

Economic, psychological pressures behind violence against women

Cleric Jabbar al- Sa'idi Jabbar (62 years old) from Shiite Muslim city of Sadr, eastern Baghdad, says "some of the women are humiliated daily, despite working more than men, despite the fact that most women in this region - intended Sadr City – are uneducated, but they show good awareness in house-keeping and do more work than their husbands." Al-Sai'di blames the violence against women on the vast unemployment. "The presence of men at home without work most of the time may cause family disputes ending in violence and the use of force against women," the Shiite cleric adds. Umm Jaafar (housewife from Sadr City, 45 years), for example, told VOI her "semi-unemployed husband work is simple and spends most of his time at home (...) However he wants everything ready, and if not possible, there is no way to save the problems. " She is grieving "this case has almost spoiled our house, but I endured insults and beatings for the future of our children."

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Police arrest dozens after clashes in Iraqi city

Iraqi police arrested dozens of members of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia on Saturday, hours after two policemen were killed in gunbattles in the southern city of Kut, police said. Clashes this week between Iraqi security forces and the militia in Kut, 170 km (105 miles) southeast of Baghdad, have raised fears a ceasefire called by Sadr may unravel, although the violence has so far been confined to Kut. It is the first major violation of the seven-month-old truce, which has been credited by the U.S. military with helping to reduce violence between majority Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis. Sadr clarified the conditions of the truce last week, telling followers they could defend themselves if attacked, an apparent response to complaints among his fighters that U.S. and Iraqi forces were exploiting the ceasefire to target them.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

U.N. says Iraqi politicians wasting security gains

Iraq's leaders have not done enough to match security gains with political progress and better provision of basic services, the United Nations' envoy to Baghdad said on Saturday. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said even though there had been an increase in violence in recent months, security was much better than when Iraq teetered on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war after the 2006 bombing of a Shi'ite shrine. "In spite of this spike of horrific spectacular acts there is still a lot of improvement compared to the past, which should be interpreted by all of us and by the Iraqi political leaders as an opportunity," de Mistura told a news conference to release the latest U.N. Human Rights Report on Iraq. "The opportunity doesn't last long," he added. …..The report highlighted U.N. concern about civilians killed in air strikes and raids by U.S.-led forces in Iraq, and killings by private security contractors.

US Draws Portrait of Iraq Bombers

As long suspected, most come from outside Iraq. Saudi Arabia, home of most of the 9/11 hijackers, is the single largest source. And the pipeline is continually replenished by al-Qaida in Iraq's recruiters. The study, obtained by The Associated Press, profiles the suicide bombers and their support system based in part on interrogations of 48 foreign fighters who were captured or surrendered. The U.S. command is trying to understand the system, including al-Qaida in Iraq's recruiting, training and transportation network, so it can be disrupted before the bombers strike. According to the summary, interrogators concluded that most foreign fighters are Sunni Muslim men from 18 to 30, with the mean age of 22. They are almost always single males with no children, and tend to be students or hold blue-collar jobs ranging from taxi drivers to construction and retail sales. The summary went on to describe the majority of the fighters as having six to 12 years of schooling, with very few having gone to college. Most come from families in the poor or middle-classes and have six to eight siblings.

…According to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, 949 suicide bombers killed 10,119 people and wounded 22,995 from the beginning of 2004 until now. Data compiled by the AP through its own reporting found that between April 28, 2005 and March 13, 2008 there were 708 incidents involving suicide bombings, with a total of 14,633 Iraqis wounded and 7,098 killed. According to data tracked by author Mohammed Hafez in his own separate study, "Suicide Bombers in Iraq," there have been 1,800 suicide attacks worldwide since the phenomenon began in the early 1980s. Of those, more than half have taken place in Iraq.

Robert Fisk: The cult of the suicide bomber

[Already linked in a blog post, but interesting comparison to article above. – dancewater]

HISTORY

IRAQI REFUGEES

Iraq: A Nation in Pieces

Outwardly the people here look nothing like how you imagine a refugee to look. The war in Iraq has produced a uniquely middle-class refugee crisis: they are neatly dressed, educated, many of the women do not wear headscarves and you cannot tell who is a Sunni or a Shia - and nor does it matter. The refugees come to apply for the papers that give them refugee status, thus protecting them from being thrown out of Syria. But the centre performs another remarkable and unique role. As part of the process of registration, families are interviewed and debriefed to assess them for trauma. When their numbers are called they are taken to a long corridor with cubicles on either side. Behind closed curtains, a young Arabic UNHCR staff records the testimonies of what happened to each of them. It is the largest collection of eyewitness testimonies from ordinary Iraqis in the world.

The survey was supported by the US Centre for Disease Control based in Atlanta, as well as teams from Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities, and its overall findings are horrific: one in five refugees registered with the UNHCR since January 2007 is a victim of torture or violence; 77 per cent of those interviewed reported being affected by air bombardments and shelling or rocket attacks; 80 per cent reported witnessing a shooting; 72 per cent were eye witnesses to a car bombing; 75 per cent know someone who has been killed; 68 per cent said they had experienced interrogation or harassment by militias or other groups, including receiving death threats, while 16 per cent have been tortured. It is the statistic of the number of Iraqis who are tortured, overwhelmingly by the vast number of sectarian militia, that most often goes unreported.

Although sectarian violence has driven most of these middle-class refugees out of Iraq, their faith or sect has not divided them in exile. Remarkably, what one finds in the working-class districts of Damascus where many Iraqi refugees live are the mixed communities that one found in Iraq before the invasion. The working-class district of Sayedah Zeinab in the south-west of Damascus is home to one of the holiest Shia shrines in the region. Yet Iraqi Christian and Sunni families live here as well and co-exist quite happily.

For one Iraqi, a country lost

Late at night, when he can't sleep, the Iraqi general paces past the dimly lighted model homes and construction sites of his Cairo neighborhood. He avoids the main streets, crammed with shopping malls and restaurants. He doesn't want to run into other Iraqis. He has enemies. He slips back in after 1 a.m., careful not to disturb his wife, children and grandchildren. But still he can't drift off. It will be close to dawn when finally he shuts his eyes, after exhausting himself thinking about how he will protect his family, how long his money will last. How he fell so far and ended up banished by the Iraqi government and forgotten by the Americans.

The Iraqi Displacement Crisis

One in five Iraqis have been displaced.
According to the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration in 2007, almost 5 million Iraqis had been displaced by violence in their country, the vast majority of which had fled since 2003. Over 2.4 million vacated their homes for safer areas within Iraq, up to 1.5 million were living in Syria, and over 1 million refugees were inhabiting Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Gulf States. Most Iraqis are determined to be resettled to Europe or North America, and few consider return to Iraq an option. Iraqis have no legal work options in most host countries and are increasingly desperate and in need of humanitarian assistance. They face challenges in finding housing, obtaining food, and have trouble accessing host countries’ health and education systems. Their resources depleted, small numbers of Iraqis have returned to Iraq in the past few months – between 28,000-60,000 people – but Iraq’s struggling government recently warned that it can’t accommodate large numbers of returns. Most of those who returned were subsequently displaced again.

Ticking bomb of Iraq’s forgotten refugee children

THE children in Qawala camp are grubby, bundled up in as many clothes as their parents can find to ward off wintry temperatures in the tents on a rubbish dump in northern Iraq that they now call home. They wrap their feet in plastic bags to walk through the mud to school. Their plight is the untold story of Iraq — of families who were forced to flee for their lives when sectarian fighting between Sunnis and Shi’ites erupted in 2006 after Al-Qaeda bombed the Golden Mosque, a revered Shi’ite sanctuary in Samarra. Qawala camp, two miles outside the city of Sulaymaniyah in the north of the country, is home to 3,000 men, women and children, a tiny percentage of up to 2.5m Iraqis believed to be homeless in their own country. These people rarely feature in news from Iraq that focuses on calibrating the gains or losses of the American military “surge”, or the record of the deadlocked parliament under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister. Yet it is crucial to the country’s future that they should be able to return home and rebuild their lives, or they will be a ticking bomb that threatens any possibility of a peaceful future for Iraq.

Red Crescent warns of a new wave of Iraqi refugees

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society is warning of a massive exodus if U.S. and Iraqi troops go ahead with plans to attack Mosul, the country’s second largest city with nearly 3.8 million people. The northern city which is the capital of the Province of Nineveh has turned into a major stronghold for forces resisting U.S. occupation and elements of the al-Qadeda organization. Tensions are high and violence has gripped the city in the past few months with at least one hundred houses destroyed and hundreds of people killed or injured. Certain quarters are so violent that neither U.S. troops nor Iraqi forces are capable of entering. But the society said it feared a joint attack in which units of Kurdish militias are to take part will lead to one of the largest waves of internally displace people the country has seen since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

Peace to Baghdad

No one is going to Baghdad
No moon is lighting up its nights
No sun is brightening up its days
Its children are orphans
Its women are sad
Its flowers are withered
Baghdad is exhausted by the war
Five years after March 2003
Five years of destruction and sadness

The voices of the mosques cry out:
The bells of the churches ring:
The chimes of the temples sound:
Stop the War!
Stop the massacres!
Stop the rivers of blood!
Give the smile back to Iraqi children!
Give the land to its people!
Stop the War!
Stop the killing!
Bring back Peace! ~ Taher Alwan - Iraqi poet, writer and film producer.

'WE CAN'T LIVE LIKE THIS'

Five years ago, there was a children's playground on the flat lot between the brown walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque and the even browner waters of the Tigris River, a rare place for families to escape the incessant turmoil that even then defined life in Iraq. Residents still reminisce about how boys and girls from the surrounding north Baghdad neighbourhood of Aadhamiya would play on the ancient swing set and seesaw, while women would push strollers through a park shaded by palm trees. Older kids played soccer in a nearby field. But like so much of the old Iraq, the playground is now gone, replaced by long, ragged rows of white tombstones marking the burial places of more than 4,000 Aadhamiya residents who have died since the war for their country began on March 20, 2003.

Defeat: British Journalist Jonathan Steele on Why America and Britain Lost Iraq

As the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq approaches, we speak with Jonathan Steele, one of the journalists who has covered the Iraq war since 2003. Steele is the senior foreign correspondent and in-house columnist on international affairs for the London Guardian. His latest book is Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq.

RESISTANCE

LISTEN TO KPFA AND WINTER SOLDIER HERE.

US/IRAQ: "We Reacted Out of Fear, and With Total Destruction"

Adam Kokesh served in Fallujah beginning in February 2004 for roughly one year. Speaking on a panel about the Rules of Engagement (ROE), he held up the ROE card soldiers are issued in Iraq and said, "This card says, 'Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself'." Kokesh pointed out that "reasonable certainty" was the condition for using deadly force under the ROE, and this led to rampant civilian deaths. He discussed taking part in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. During that attack, doctors at Fallujah General Hospital told IPS there were 736 deaths, over 60 percent of which were civilians.

"We changed the ROE more often than we changed our underwear," Kokesh said. "At one point, we imposed a curfew on the city, and were told to fire at anything that moved in the dark. I don't think soldiers should be put in the position to choose between their morals and their instinct for survival." Kokesh also testified that during two cease-fires in the midst of the siege, the military decided to let out as many women and children from the embattled city as possible, but this did not include most men. "For males, they had to be under 14 years of age," he said. "So I had to go over there and turn men back, who had just been separated from their women and children. We thought we were being gracious."

Protesters across the world condemn Iraq war

Thousands protest over Iraq, Afghanistan in London, Glasgow

US/IRAQ: Rules of Engagement "Thrown Out the Window"

Garret Reppenhagen received integral training about the Geneva Conventions and the Rules of Engagement during his deployment in Kosovo. But in Iraq, "Much of this was thrown out the window," he says. "The men I served with are professionals," Reppenhagen told the audience at a panel of U.S. veterans speaking of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, "They went to Iraq to defend the U.S. But we found rapidly we were killing Iraqis in horrible ways. But we had to in order to remain safe ourselves. The war is the atrocity." The event, which has drawn international media attention, was organised by Iraq Veterans Against the War. It aims to show that their stories of wrongdoing in both countries were not isolated incidents limited to a few "bad apples", as the Pentagon claims, but were everyday occurrences.

Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans Speak Out [Photo Essay]

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

Quote of the day: I'm not American, but if you guys don't make this guy pay for his crimes you can forget about your country. ~ anonymous

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