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 17, 2008

News & Views 03/17/08

Photo: Iraqis clean blood covering the ground at the site of a suicide attack in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, central Iraq. A bomb blast near a Shiite shrine in the central Iraq city of Karbala killed at least 43 people on Monday, the city's police chief said. (AFP/Mohammed Sawaf)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Monday: 2 US Soldiers, 62 Iraqis Killed, 7 Iranians; 110 Iraqis Wounded

Sunday: 21 Iraqis Killed, 29 Wounded

Bomb Kills 32 in Iraqi City of Karbala

Karbala bombing casualties up to 111

290 killed, 666 wounded in 1266 security incidents in March – report

Video: Baghdad: City of walls

In the first of Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's extraordinary series of films to mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, he investigates the claims that the US military surge is bringing stability to Iraq. By travelling through the heart of Baghdad he exposes how, by enclosing the Sunni and Shia populations behind 12ft walls, the surge has left the city more divided and desperate than ever.

Baghdad, a City Crushed by Grief: A Personal Accounting of Iraqi Dead

I asked a close Iraqi colleague, Nadeem Majeed, to write down a list of the people he knows who have died in the five years since the Iraq war began. It took a long time. And as Nadeem tapped away on the computer, unknown to us, another name was being added to the list. A friend, Nassir Jassem Akkam, 38, was among the 68 people killed in the recent suicide bombing of a busy shopping street nearby, one of the bloodiest attacks in Baghdad in a while. Akkam had slipped back to Baghdad for a quick visit after fleeing to Syria with his wife and 1-year-old son. When he died, he had in his pocket a ticket to travel the following day. Akkam became No. 44 on Nadeem's list.

…..You don't bounce back from losing people like this.

5 years after Iraq's 'liberation,' there are worms in the water

Iraq's most prominent clerics have ruled that using a water pump on one's own pipes is akin to stealing resources from a neighbor, so what does a person do when it takes half an hour to fill a cooking pot with water from the tap? Iraqis pray for forgiveness, then pump away. To them, the real crime is that five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, they still swelter in the summer and freeze in the winter because of a lack of electricity. Government rations are inevitably late, incomplete or expired. Garbage piles up for days, sometimes weeks, emanating toxic fumes. The list goes on: black-market fuel, phone bills for land lines that haven't worked in years, education and health-care systems degraded by the flight of thousands of Iraq's best teachers and doctors.

Counting Iraqi dead: An epidemic of violent death

Q: What did you expect when you went to Iraq in 2004? What did you find?

A: In every war where I had worked until then -- I think that was seven -- except in Bosnia, far more people had died from the indirect consequences of war than from violence. In war, water systems stop working, hospitals may close, more women die in childbirth because they can't get to a hospital when things go wrong. All sorts of bad health effects occur. Some are from social dysfunction or stress.

In Iraq, that indirect mortality was what we expected to find. But most of the increase in the death rate was from violence. At that point we estimated that roughly 60 percent of the 100,000 excess deaths [deaths not expected to have occurred were there not a war] were from violence.

Q: Your studies, including the two in Iraq, are household cluster mortality surveys. What is that methodology?

A: Instead of picking a sample of individual houses across a country, you pick a sample of villages or neighborhoods and then many houses within each area, to make the logistics of sampling much easier. At each home you ask, "Who lives here?" Our question in Iraq was, "Who has slept under your roof for most of the last 60 nights?" then, "Who in the household has been born and who has died in recent months?" From that you calculate a death rate.

Q: Why did you go there, knowing how dangerous it would be?

A: The human cost of the war is important for us as a nation to know. And I find this question a little bizarre because it implies that it's reasonable that a couple of hundred thousand soldiers would risk their lives to go, but inexplicable that someone would take that risk purely for the goal of promoting peace and health.

Iraqis don't credit US for safer lives

[Probably because they are not safer. – dancewater]

Suffer the Little Children

Which brings us to the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. Y’know, the country we invaded because Saddam Hussein had WMDs and was about to use them. [Some links to graphic photos of Iraqis included at this link. They are of dead and injured children. – dancewater]

Villagers in Iraq fend off new menace

The enemy, after all, was packs of hungry gray wolves who had overcome their fears of humans and had begun feasting on livestock, right in front of farmers. "The locals formed armed groups, exchanging shifts throughout the day in order to protect people, cattle, sheep, and also children and women heading to schools, from those ferocious wolves," said Mohammed abu Reesha. "They appear during the day and don't fear bullets and challenge even men holding rifles." The Arabian wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, is among the most impressive predators in the Middle East. It grows up to 6 1/2 feet long and stands as tall as 3 1/2 feet, weighing up to 120 pounds, said veterinarian Fahad abu Kaheela. It has powerful jaws and can sprint at speeds of 40 mph.

Ordinary life in a broken country

It is hard to conceive the extent to which Iraqi society has been shattered by the conflict. After the US authorities disbanded the Iraqi army and police in late 2003 criminality became endemic. At the same time, electricity and water supplies rapidly became spasmodic. Hospitals ran out of drugs. When the sectarian fighting began in earnest after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in 2005, the foundations of ordered society broke down to such an extent that individual streets began to turn to their own devices for protection. Neighbourhood watch groups sprang up as neighbours banded together to man barriers dragged at night across the entrances to their road. One member described to me what happened when the sectarian death squads had tried to break in. "We surrounded them. They were in a trap and gunfire on them was from everywhere," he said. Before the war he had been a shopkeeper. Now, like millions of his countrymen, he had been required to become a killer.

….."We are becoming a war culture and our children's playground has become a battlefield," Ahmed told me. "Our children's minds are being changed and we will have to change them back to stop Iraq's future from being a bloody one. "Our children's minds are being changed and we will have to change them back to stop Iraq's future from being a bloody one. I wonder if I will be able to do this and if God will help me to get it done." He could not bear the thought that his daughter could be brutalised by what had happened to his homeland. For him, that would have been the war's greatest tragedy. We often think we know what war looks like but it is not until we get to war that we realise it looks like us.

Carnage and despair - Iraq five years on

Much of the money available to those running Iraq has been spent on security, including private security firms. Little has gone to the millions of Iraqi children, women and men who are living in poverty. In fact, in December 2007 the Iraqi government cut the number of items covered by the food rationing system introduced in 1996 under the Oil-for-Food programme. Today, more than two in three Iraqis do not have access to safe drinking water, more than four in 10 live on less than a dollar a day, half the population of working age is unemployed, and eight million people need emergency aid to survive.

Nor has much money been spent on services vital to Iraqis. As a result, the health and education systems have virtually collapsed, so people are dying unnecessarily for lack of medical care and illiteracy rates among children are soaring. Despite claims that the security situation has improved in recent months, the human rights situation is disastrous. Armed groups, including those opposed to the Iraqi government and to the presence of the MNF, as well as Shi'a militia groups belonging to Shi'a political parties, continue to kidnap, torture and kill civilians.

Bleak picture of Iraq conditions

The Swiss-based agency says Iraq's humanitarian situation is "among the most critical in the world". It warned that despite better security in some areas, millions had been left essentially to fend for themselves. It warned that despite better security in some areas, millions had been left essentially to fend for themselves. Some families spend a third of their average monthly wage of $150 (£75) just buying clean water, the report found. An even worse humanitarian crisis in Iraq will only be averted if much more attention is paid to the everyday needs of Iraqi citizens, the report by the International Committee of the Red Cross said. Healthcare in Iraq was "now in worse shape than ever" and the services that are available are too expensive for many people, the report said. Iraqi hospitals lack qualified staff and basic drugs, facilities are not properly maintained and public hospitals provide only 30,000 beds, less than half of the 80,000 needed, the Red Cross reports.

Video: Bleak life in Iraq

IRAQ: Baghdad residents’ health at risk for lack of water, sewage systems

Lack of security, corruption, neglect and insurgent attacks have left Iraq's public services in tatters. Limited electricity, a shortage of safe drinking water and rundown sanitation and sewage systems are causing diseases and frustration. "We didn't realise our drinking water was mixed with sewage until my mother's death," said Wafaa's oldest son, Issam Ahmed Qassim, 24. "We had stomach aches from time to time over the past four years but we never realised it was related to the water we were drinking," said Qassim, a resident of Baghdad's rundown Kamaliyah area. Sixty-five percent of Iraqis have no access to piped drinking water and nearly 75 percent have no access to a good sewage system.

Red Cross slams 'critical' situation in post-invasion Iraq

The humanitarian situation in post-war Iraq five years after the US-led invasion is one of the most critical in the world, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a report late Sunday. Millions in the country had no access to drinking water, sanitation or healthcare. Decades of previous unrest and economic sanctions had exacerbated the situation, it stressed. "The fact that some people in Iraq are now relatively safer must not make us forget the plight of millions," said Beatrice Megevand Roggo, the Red Cross head of operations in the Middle East and North Africa. Although the situation had improved in some areas, Iraqis were either killed or wounded in daily attacks or violence with civilians often being targeted, said the report. Healthcare was far too expensive for the average citizen, it added.

democratic changes

In the few coming days, we will say good bye to the fifth year since freedom and liberation visited Iraq . For this great anniversary, I want to count some great democratic changes that happened during the five years of freedom and democracy.

1- The most important change is killing and displacing more than three million Iraqis. I think the record of Saddam had been broken long time ago. Now we have Iraqis all over the world even in some places that I never heard about till this moment.

2- Another great and important change is painting the pavements, the bridges and the blast walls in Baghdad for many times. I hear a funny comment from a young man about painting on the blast walls. The man said “I’m sure it would be cheaper if the Iraqi government just bought the original works of Salvador Dali or Da Vinci

3- Reducing the CO2 and the other gases in Iraq . We have big fuel crisis and people couldn’t uses the kerosene heaters in winter and they cant use the propane gas all the time because of the big shortage and the high prices.

4- Reducing the casualties of the electrical shocks. The ministry of electricity supply most of the Iraqi governorates for less than three hours a day which forces the families to pay attention to every single ampere and to use it in turning on the washing machine or the water heater and not to allow their kids to waste electricity in playing or watching TV.

5- Most Iraqis became fit again and they started practicing compulsory the walking sport because either of the curfews or the sudden blocking of the streets.

IRAQ: Compounds for IDPs should not be a permanent solution, officials warn

As Iraq’s displacement problem continues to grow, representatives of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on 15 March warned that government plans to build residential compounds for internally displaced persons (IDPs) should neither be sectarian nor permanent. Basil al-Azawi, head of the Iraqi Commission for Civil Society Enterprises (ICCSE), a coalition of over 1,000 Iraqi NGOs, said that plans by Iraq’s Displacement and Migration Ministry to build compounds for IDPs were “a step in the right direction”, but warned that they should not become permanent solutions. “There are now more than two million internally displaced persons in the country, with the majority still living in camps. There must be suitable places for them to live with good sanitation, electricity and other services… until they can get back to their normal lives,” al-Azawi told IRIN, adding that tents did not meet the minimum standards required for IDPs.

A city redrawn by death squads and beheadings

The Iraqi grew accustomed to seeing at least one dead body in the street every morning when he left his Baghdad flat for work. His neighbourhood, known as Saddam District before the invasion and, ironically, Peace District afterwards, had become the site of gunfights, kidnappings and public executions as an avalanche of sectarian violence hit the city. “There was heavy gunfire at night. The shops were shut. Rubbish and sewage was everywhere. The compound was a war zone,” said Omer Nouri, a Sunni Arab who fled to northern Iraq in February last year with his wife and two-year-old son. He returned nine months later after hearing that the killing had subsided, only to find that the new security came at a price. His neighbourhood, like many others in Baghdad, was no longer a mix of Sunni and Shia families living side by side. An ugly wall divided the two sects and Iraqi soldiers kept the peace.

Christians in Mosul, either to migrate or pay attribute

Revan Abdul Ahad was shocked in October 2006 to see the corpse of Father Paul Iskandar, priest of the church of Mar Afram, beheaded and dumped in one of the neighborhoods in eastern Mosul, northern Iraq, and ever since he realized, like many Christians in the city, that this "tragic event" is a message to him and the rest Christians in the city that they are unwanted by the hard-liners, who took control of the city. Since this incident, "the fear crept into the hearts of Christians in the city," says Abdel-Ahad, and they had to leave their homes to other safer parts of the province, or to the Kurdish villages, and some left the country, while others simply had to pay tribute. Abdul al-Ahad, 46 years and works as a teacher, says that the wave of immigration by the Christian families began immediately after this incident, and "I was among them."

Iraq, 5 Years On, A Nation of Refugees

As the fifth anniversary of the US invasion approaches this Wednesday, she and her three children live in a shabby rental in a Baghdad slum. Ms. Abood often goes hungry to feed her kids and survives on handouts. Her husband, unhappy and unemployed, took off two months ago. She hasn't seen him since. America's decision to topple Saddam Hussein has left Iraqis a people uprooted. Iraq's Ministry of Health estimates that 180,000 Iraqis have been killed; other estimates put the numbers much higher.

But far more common still is Ms. Abood's journey from middle-class prosperity to transient poverty, reflecting the life-shattering disappointment that many Iraqis now see as the legacy of the war. An estimated four million Iraqis -- over 14% of the country's population -- have been displaced inside Iraq or to neighboring countries, largely due to the chaotic aftermath of the American-led invasion that began on March 19, 2003.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Opposition to Kurdish move to annex Kirkuk grows

More than 2,000 delegates comprising Sunni and Shiite Arabs inhabiting the disputed Province of Taameem held a conference on Sunday to express their opposition to a Kurdish move to annex the province to their semi-independent entity in northern Iraq.

SIIC leader, Cheney mull long-term agreement

Shiite Leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim received U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney at his office in Baghdad on Monday. Speaking at a joint press conference, al-Hakim said that a number of important issues were discussed during the meeting, including the strategic agreement between Iraq and the United States, noting that they shared identical viewpoints regarding the principles the agreement should include, mainly maintaining Iraq’s sovereignty and removing Iraq from under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. “The meeting also tackled the latest development in the country and approving a number of legislatures,” Hakim, who is also the leader of the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), said. “We asserted the need to foster Iraqi forces and give them responsibilities,” the Shiite leader added.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Cheney praises "phenomenal" progress as bomber kills 39

HISTORY

Fateful Choice on Iraq Army Bypassed Debate

[The Decider decided….. and damn the consequences. Even today, he thinks he made the right decisions and feels no remorse for having ruined the lives of tens of millions of people. – dancewater]

Toll of Saddam's gas attacks continues to rise

Mr Khosorojerdi is not alone in his plight. Two dozen other victims of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapon attacks fill the hospital's specially designated wards — most are middle-aged men but there are women too. All are slowly dying. Across Iran thousands more cases are emerging each year because the effects of mustard gas poisoning can take a decade or two to surface. Although the war ended 18 years ago, at least 55,000 Iranians are now being treated. Another 40,000, mostly civilians, need help but lack documents proving that they are war victims. A million Iranian soldiers and civilians may have been exposed to chemical agents during the 1980-88 conflict. [And this war will have the exact same results – pain and early death for decades into the future. – dancewater]

COMMENTARY

Partick Cockburn: A gross failure that ended with a humiliating retreat

The war in Iraq has been one of the most disastrous wars ever fought by Britain. It has been small but we achieved nothing. It will stand with Crimea and the Boer War as conflicts which could have been avoided and were demonstrations of incompetence from start to finish. The British failure in the Iraq war has been even more gross because it has not ended with a costly military victory but a humiliating scuttle. The victors in Basra and southern Iraq have been the local Shia militias masquerading as government security forces. Britain should immediately hold a full inquiry into the mistakes made before and during the war in Iraq out of pure self-interest. Gordon Brown's suggestion that holding such an inquiry now would somehow threaten the stability of Iraq is either a piece of obvious prevarication or, if taken at face value, a sign of absurd vanity. Iraqis show not the slightest interest in British policy and assume it will simply be an echo of decisions made in Washington. I have watched this war being fought over the last five years and I never for a moment felt that the Government in London had the slightest idea of the type of conflict in which it was engaged.

Rule, Not Reconciliation

As we mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, rhetoric around the "success" of the so-called surge continues. Presidential hopefuls, along with members of the Bush administration, continue to tout "progress," citing fewer U.S. casualties and moves amongst Iraqi groups towards "reconciliation." While indeed, there has been a reduction in violence, it is lost in the headlines that thousands of Iraqis still are losing their lives each month in the conflict. But even worse, the "success" of the surge has the potential to bring violence to all time highs.

…. In reality, most of the Sahwa are resistance fighters who are taking the money, arms, and ammunition, whilst biding their time to build their forces to move, once again, against the occupation forces which now support them, in addition to planning to move against the Shia dominated government. Furthermore, it is widely known in Iraq that many of the Sahwa are al-Qaeda members, the irony of which is not lost to Iraqis, who heard the U.S. propaganda as to the reasons the Sahwa were formed: to drive al-Qaeda from Iraq and to promote security so as to enable political reconciliation within the government in Baghdad by providing the space for this to occur. Illustrating the counter-productive nature of Bush's plan, Iraq's puppet government, led by U.S.-installed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is having nothing to do with the Sahwa. When the U.S. military began to organize the Sahwa by buying off prominent Tribal Sheikhs across Iraq's al-Anbar province, Maliki made it clear that none of the Sahwa would ever be granted positions within the government security apparatus. And why should he feel differently? With Shia mlitiamen and death squad members he supports comprising the brunt of the Iraqi military and police, why would Maliki choose to grant legitimacy to the very groups who wish to gain a counter-balance of power in the Baghdad government?

From Balloon Juice Blog

The NY Times has nine op-eds to mark the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Because I care about you all, I will simplify these op-eds into one sentence or less, each featuring the f-word. You will then be spared the pain of reading them.

Paul Bremer: “We fucked up, but it wasn’t my fault and I think Bush kinda fixed things last year.”

Richard Perle- “Things went great until those pussies at the State Department fucked up trying to fix what we bombed.”

Anne-Marie Slaugher: “This undertaking was fucked from the beginning.”

Kenneth M. Pollack- “If you think we are fucked right now, wait until you see what happens if we try to leave.”

Danielle Pletka- “The anti-war left was right about everything, but I still fucking hate them and will use this column to trash them.”

Nathaniel Flick- “Our fuck-ups can all be traced back to the fear we would be slimed.”

Major General Paul D. Eaton- “The sycophantic Republican Congress has fucked the military for a long time coming.”

Fred Kagan- “I love my fucking pompoms, and am currently applying for the job of Chief Assistant Fluffer for General Petraeus.”

Anthony Cordesman- “Bush/Cheney- Worst fucking administration EVAH.”

You break it, you pay for it

American officials, along with sundry pundits, are sincere in their belief that violence has dropped markedly in Iraq and that the country is well on its way to becoming an 'island of stability'. If you fake sincerity, well, the world is rosy. As the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, on March 20, we see that facts on the ground attest otherwise. But when officials in Washington, from President Bush on down, and pro-war commentators in the national media (yes quite a few of these lost souls are still floating around) gloat over an alleged drop in over-all violence in that tormented, fractured land, we are lulled into acquiescence, for it's easy to forget that the putative reduction in that violence is a reduction only when compared to the rampant mayhem in 2007.

As insurgents re-assert their presence, surge or no surge, blood-letting continues abreast. Last Monday, as a case in point, bombers struck four times in and around Baghdad, killing 19 people, including five American service members. None of the blasts, however, was as powerful as the two bombings that killed 68 people and injured 120 four days earlier in a Baghdad shopping district. Sunni clan leaders who cooperate with US forces are daily hunted down and killed by insurgents. And Iraqis continue to massacre their fellow Iraqis in genocidal acts of sectarian violence that often go unnoticed and unreported, as evidenced by the discovery earlier this week, in the Diyala River region, of a mass grave with the decomposed remains of close to 100 people, including women and children.

Quote of the day: Looking back I have to admit that while some were persuaded, my work and the avalanche of other films and books that followed lacked the power to stop those in power. We never could even get the anti-war movement and the liberal MoveOn oriented activists to realize that media responsibility is an issue. They paid lip service to the media role but apparently continue to believe that the politicians, not the corporate institutions behind them, are really in charge. The idea that the media is the front face and marketing arm of the Corporate World is for many just the way it is when they think about it all. ~ Danny Schechter, News Dissector

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