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

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

News & Views 03/18/08

Photo: An Iraqi girl walks out of the ruins of the former Iraqi air force headquarters, where she lives with her family, in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, March 18, 2008. The buildings were destroyed in the 'Shock and Awe' bombing campaign at early stages of the US led invasion on Iraq in March 2003. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed ) [And, five years later, still not repaired. – dancewater]

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Bomb Tolls Rises to 52 in Iraqi Shrine City of Karbala

2 Iraqi fishermen drown, another wounded by Iranian patrol fire

Video: Baghdad's killing fields

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad on the edge of Sadr City, scene of thousands of sectarian murders.

'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.

….On April 9, 2003, the same day the United States Army arrived in Baghdad and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, residents of mainly Sunni Aadhamiya quietly began burying their dead inside the walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque. But there was only room for 250 bodies. By July of 2006, as the country descended into all-out sectarian war between the minority Sunnis and the majority Shiites, the neighbourhood's residents moved the now-unused swing set and seesaw aside and converted the playground into a cemetery. Almost every day since, 30-year-old Ahmed Akram has buried fresh corpses under the soil. At first, the white tombstones were laid in orderly rows. But the rows have since disappeared almost completely as groundskeepers bury bodies wherever they can, sometimes up to two dozen dead each day. Since the U.S. occupation began, more than 4,330 people — more than 1 per cent of Aadhamiya's pre-war population of 300,000 — are buried here. Now there's no more room, and the bodies keep coming, so the cemetery is expanding to the adjacent soccer field.

One in five Iraqis displaced or refugees - agency

Nearly one in five of Iraq's population before the U.S.-led invasion five years ago are living as internally displaced people or refugees in other countries, a global relief agency said on Tuesday. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the 2.7 million displaced were putting huge pressure on Iraq's shaky infrastructure and outside funding was lacking. The situation of the 2.4 million refugees, who are mainly in Syria and Jordan, was also deteriorating, said the IOM, an independent body that cooperates with the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies. "There is very little light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq's humanitarian crisis," IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya told a news briefing. "Conditions for the displaced, and refugees, have been getting steadily worse."

Great expectation

Fife years ago, just like this day, one day before starting a freedom war, yes that what I thought. I had big dreams, large hopes of salvation from what we were live with Saddam regime. There was image stick in my mind from childish movies when the hero defeat the wizard, and every thing get better, the dry trees turn to green, rivers run again and hearing the voice of birds singing round with happiness. Really I can say I was flying with my great expectation of what will happen tomorrow. I wasn’t wait war. I was waiting for new life that fills with justice, fair, happy, hopes and love. I was waiting for the war of change. Even I vowed to God sacrifice sheep if we get rid of Saddam occupation of Iraq that what we believe at that time we were living under Saddam's occupation. I was happy, exciting, and optimist. Yes I was optimist at that time. I believed all the pretexts of war because I was look like the drowned who is cling to a straw thinking that it will save him. Unfortunately now I feel that I’m drowning more and more. I discovered that I was deceived and now I believe the old saying “the devil that you know is better than the devil that you don’t know

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Sunnis boycott Iraq reconciliation event

Major Sunni and Shiite political blocs Tuesday boycotted a national conference aimed at reconciling Iraq's rival communities — underscoring the deep divisions tearing at the country despite a decline in violence. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, opened the two-day conference, pledging that no religious or ethnic group would suffer as Iraq tries to heal its internal rifts. But the two major Sunni blocs — the Iraqi Accordance Front and the Front for National Dialogue — refused to attend, saying the Shiite-dominated government had failed to meet Sunni demands. Members of the Shiite bloc loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr walked out following the opening ceremonies, which took place in the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

There WILL be a public inquiry into Iraq, says Brown

Iraq war has transformed tech-savvy U.S. military

When U.S. forces crossed the Kuwaiti border into Iraq in the pre-dawn hours of March 20, 2003, the military set out to shock and awe the Middle East with the swiftest transformation the region had ever seen. Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, it's the U.S. military that's been transformed. The efficient, tech-savvy Army, built, armed and trained to fight conventional wars against aggressor states, is now making deals with tribal sheiks and building its power on friendly conversations with civilians. Instead of planning for quick, decisive battles against other nations, as it was five years ago, today's American military is planning for protracted, nuanced conflicts with terrorist groups, insurgents, guerrillas, militias and other shadowy forces that seldom stand and fight.

Video: Iraq: US facing teen insurgents

It's the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion but the latest struggle is against young insurgents - dubbed the last stand against al-Qaeda. The Americans are keen to talk up the security improvements in Iraq but they are now facing a teenage enemy - young men with little connection to Saddam Hussein's regime, who have risen up against the occupation. [More video links at this site for Channel 4 News in Britain. And, as for the teen insurgents – there are plenty more where they came from. – dancewater]

HISTORY

The painful lesson of betrayal

Rafiq Laiq learned two difficult lessons as he and his family fled the chemical-gas attack Saddam Hussein's army launched on this town 20 years ago. The first was that tabun gas smells like apples, and can kill almost instantly. The second was that big, powerful friends like the United States have a tendency to help you only when it suits their interests. A memorial service held here yesterday in this traumatized town focused on the horrors witnessed over a three-day period between March 15 and 17, 1988, when the Iraqi army used tabun and other chemical gases to kill more than 5,000 people, punishing the town's Kurdish population for siding with the enemy in the final stages of Iraq's eight-year war with Iran. Thousands of villagers and visiting dignitaries, many of them dressed in black, filled the town's muddy streets yesterday for the unveiling of a monument depicting a father trying to shield his infant daughter from the effects of the gas with his own body.

…..What happened at Halabja, and the international community's muted response to it, has become a rallying cry for those seeking an independent Kurdish state based in northern Iraq - an argument for a Kurdish state just as the Jewish Holocaust was part of the rationale for creating the state of Israel. "The Halabja massacre is what made our cause known worldwide ... but in 1988, the issue was closed and no one talked about it," said Barzan Hawrani, who represents Halabja in the Iraqi Kurdistan's regional parliament. "If this tragedy had happened to another people besides the Kurds, they would benefit from it by being allowed to establish their own country, like the Jews."

IRAQI REFUGEES

Situation of Palestinians on Iraq-Syria border continues to deteriorate

The situation of more than 2,700 Palestinians who have been stranded and are living in inhumane conditions in two border camps at the Iraq-Syrian border continues to deteriorate. Over the past 22 months, UNHCR has been calling for urgent humanitarian solutions for this group and – even if only temporary – relocation elsewhere, preferably in the Arab region. In 2006, Canada accepted 64 Palestinians from Iraq, while Brazil last year received 107. In a more recent development, Chile – itself once a refugee-producing country – offered to receive for resettlement an initial group of 117 Iraq Palestinians. They are expected to depart in April. Sudan has also offered to accept 2,000 Iraq Palestinians, and UNHCR together with Palestinian representatives is finalizing an operations plan that will enable this to take place.

Number of Iraqis claiming asylum in Europe doubles

The number of Iraqis fleeing to Europe to claim asylum almost doubled in 2007, contradicting claims that the country is stabilising after five years of turmoil. Iraqis now account for the biggest national group of refugees, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports today, and the numbers fleeing the war-torn country have almost reached the peak seen in 2002 when record numbers escaped Saddam Hussein's regime. The total of Iraqis applying for asylum in the European Union rose from 19,375 in 2006 to 38,286 last year, an increase of 98 per cent. The largest number (18,600) headed for Sweden, which has taken the most sympathetic approach to Iraqis, with 90 per cent of those claiming refuge allowed to stay, compared with about one in eight in Britain. Iraqis now represent the largest foreign-born population in the Scandinavian country.

Iraqi Refugees: Improve UN Outreach in Syria

UNHCR programs in Syria are currently addressing basic food, primary healthcare, and education needs of some registered refugees. However, operating in a non-camp, urban environment has proven to be a great challenge to UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies. Since Iraqis speak the same language and share similar physical features with the host population, identifying refugees can be extremely hard. This is compounded by the unique operating challenges presented in Syria. Given these circumstances, UNHCR should be commended for its achievements in expanding from a very small operation in Damascus to one of the largest UNHCR teams worldwide, intervening on multiple fronts and leading the overall relief effort countrywide and regionally.

Out of Iraq
Hopes and fears of four Iraqis who fled their homeland

The UN refugee agency believes more than two million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries to escape violence in Iraq. Four Iraqis who left their country speak about their lives and aspirations.

Displacement of Iraqis takes heavy toll

The killers were on the way, and Ahmed Hassan had only a few hours to save his family. On this day, Aug. 6, 2006, at least 22 Iraqis would die in rising sectarian violence. Hassan, his wife and their children would survive, but at a cost: They would lose their home, and flee their neighborhood. Nineteen months later, they remain exiled in their own country. "I do not want to return to my house for the time being because I already lost my house and I do not want to lose my life," Hassan says, his infant twins in his arms. More than 4 million Iraqi lives are in similar straits — upended by five years of war that has turned neighborhoods into killing fields and sent countless refugee convoys scurrying for the border.

Jordan to host conference on Iraqi refugees

Jordan said Sunday it has invited officials from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt to a conference this week to develop closer cooperation in coping with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.
United Nations officials and representatives from Turkey and Iran are also taking part in the one-day meeting on Tuesday as ”observers,” Nawaf al-Tal of the foreign ministry told AFP. “Representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council as well the Group of Eight might attend the technical meeting to discuss the situation of Iraqi refugees and the needs of these countries,” he added. Last month, the UN refugee agency appealed for more aid for Syria and Jordan to help them cope with the cost of sheltering almost two million Iraqis who fled the violence in their country after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Food rations to Iraqi refugees in Syria

The nearly three million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries would have been entitled to free food rations had they stayed home. But the refugees, fleeing for their lives, did not only leave food rations behind. They left property, memories, friends and a lot more. It is not clear what happened to their food rations and whether the government had removed their names from official lists of Iraqis entitled to them. However, the government claims that the most impoverished among Iraqi refugees in Syria were getting their rations, an officials statement said. The statement did not say how the authorities transported and distributed the rations to these individuals but added that 360,000 people were covered.

Fleeing doctors threaten Iraq's health

That was the moment, in 2005, when they realized it was time to leave Iraq. They abandoned the country, leaving everything, for Jordan, where they applied to the United Nations as refugees, and to Canada as immigrants. Three weeks ago they arrived in Toronto, and are living in a small apartment in North York. They now have two children, and heavy hearts. "I feel sad because many people are dying every day," al-Nassar says. "My job is to be there to help the Iraqi people but I can't because I have a family and I don't want them to die." Faced with a kind of Sophie's choice, Al-Nasser became one of thousands of doctors and specialists to leave Iraq since the invasion, which began five years ago this week. The extremism, violence, and sectarianism that has sprung up since is well established. But one of the most tragic legacies has to be the emptying of the kinds of people Iraq needs the most.

Iraqi asylum seeker numbers jump

An increase in Iraqi asylum seekers in 2007 has contributed to the reversal of a five-year downward trend in asylum applications to developed countries. Iraqis were the largest group among asylum seekers to the world's industrialised countries for the second year running, according to a UN report. More than 45,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in 2007, up from 22,900 in 2006, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. But they make up only 1% of some 4.5 million Iraqis uprooted by war. Among these, more than 2.5 million people are displaced within Iraq, while two million others have moved to neighbouring countries not included in the new report, such as Syria and Jordan.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

COMMENTARY

How Many Child Prostitutes Is Bush Responsible for?

An estimated 50,000 prostitutes, some as young as 13, are among the 1.2 million Iraqis who fled to Syria after Bush invaded. George Bush has been tied to a prostitution ring involving as many as 50,000 women and girls. The prostitutes, some as young as 13, are among the 1.2 million desperate Iraqis who fled to Syria after Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the U.K. Independent. Bush's invasion destroyed the Iraqi government and unleashed a wave of political and sectarian violence that has killed over 1 million Iraqis and forced 4 million to become refugees, according to the UN. Facing starvation, as many as 50,000 women and girls have been forced into prostitution in Syria alone, according to Hana Ibrahim of the Women's Will Association. "70 percent to 80 percent of the girls working this business in Damascus today are Iraqis," 23-year-old Abeer told the New York Times. "The rents here in Syria are too expensive for their families. If they go back to Iraq they'll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available."

Iraq: 'Surge' Setting up More Violence

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.

Column: US attack on the people of Iraq must come to an end

Within the doctrinal system of the West, our military objectives are taken for granted as noble. The debate centers around what's working and what's not, i.e. "Is the surge working?," "Do we have enough troops to complete the mission?," "How long will we have to stay to make sure Iraq is stable and democratic?" In essence, the main question in the debate is, "can we win?" It's important to note that this debate is not the one of the American population, but of the upper echelons of power. The population has consistently stated that it wishes for withdrawal from Iraq, either immediately or very soon in the form of timetables. Iraqis agree, thinking they should be able to run their own affairs.

…..Because the invasion itself was a monumental war crime, it should be noted that the aggressor has no legal right to maintain an occupation. The only necessary thing an aggressor must do is pay reparations to the society that it has devastated. And Iraqi society has been severely devastated -- not only from the most recent war and occupation, but also from the decade-long sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that killed over half a million children and US support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.

A Long Road in Iraq

On the eve of the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, President Bush offered this rationale: "We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people." [That was clearly a lie. – dancewater]

A Million Dead, Nothing Learned

Of course, neither the NYT nor any of the "nine experts" refer to the invasion and ongoing occupation as a war crime. Not a single one of these eminent personages acknowledges that Iraq had never attacked us, that Iraq constituted no threat to the U.S. of any consequence whatsoever, and that these facts -- which are the only facts relevant to a determination of whether the U.S. had any justification at all to launch this criminal war -- could have been known in the winter and spring of 2002-2003, and that these facts were known to many "ordinary" persons in the United States and around the world. But none of the "ordinary" persons who understood the truth were "experts." None of them belonged to the ruling class.

…..Since Americans' narcissism is so all-encompassing, and because the superior value of American lives and goals as compared to those of all other peoples is regarded as an axiom never to be questioned, let's put these horrors in terms that Americans might understand. Let's make it about you. For ease of computation, we'll use approximate figures. Assume the U.S.'s war crimes have resulted in one million deaths. That is roughly 1/26 of the total Iraqi population. An equivalent number of American deaths would be 11.5 million people. 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9/11. In terms of casualties, 11.5 million deaths represent 3,800 9/11s -- or a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years. Let me repeat that: a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years. Perhaps you think these casualty figures are highly inflated. Fine. Cut them in half. That's a 9/11 every day for a little over five years. Every day. Do you begin to understand now?

RESISTANCE

POLITICS-US: Anti-War Grannies Arrested Trying to Enlist

Civilians Brutally Tortured in Iraq - Afghanistan

A former marine, Bryan Csler, said that his colleagues urinated on food they later gave to Iraqi children. A few hundreds of American soldiers decided to speak up about the torture and the killing of innocent civilians in the battle area in Iraq. A four-day event in Maryland gathered the war veterans from the whole country in order to tell their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. The event was transmitted by TV stations. Hundreds of soldiers and marines testified at the hearing “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Veterans recall horrors of war in live broadcast

Hundreds of soldiers and Marines from across the country are testifying this weekend in the "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan" hearings, a four-day event held at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md. The event is named after the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings in which Vietnam War veterans testified in a Detroit hotel about war crimes they had participated in or witnessed. The hearings, which began Thursday and end today, were organized by the Iraq Veterans Against War, a national antiwar organization, and broadcast live in locations across the country. The veterans who testified called for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Iraq Winter Soldier Hearings: Victory for Independent Media

Thirty seven years later, I again found myself sobbing at testimony from solemn young Americans returned from needless war, grappling with shattered lives over brutalities against civilians and prisoners they'd witnessed or participated in. But I was nowhere near D.C. This time, I watched the dramatic testimony -- often buttressed by photographic and video evidence -- live online at www.IVAW.org. This time, I caught hours of coverage on Free Speech TV, the national satellite network that broadcast the panels of testimony and featured interviews with vets and their families in between panels. This time, I received regular video news feeds in my email inbox from The Real News Network. (The hearings were also televised on 20 public access channels from Fayetteville to Palo Alto, and in public gatherings from Florida to Alaska.) On my car radio, I listened to the proceedings live on the Pacifica network, which broadcast the hearings to affiliates nationwide -- along with call-ins and email from listeners, including Iraq vets and soldiers not as critical of the war.

Quote of the day: The various U.S. military and political strategies in Iraq are the primary cause of the continuing sectarianism. The occupation forces and their methods are dividing Iraqi groups, and rather than promoting reconciliation, are encouraging increases in violence, power struggles, and strife. Thus, the military strategy is actually making the political process more difficult by failing to provide the actors the space needed for any progression towards reconciliation. The ultimate (and tragic) irony, is that this strategy also makes the possibility for a much larger civil war far more likely. – Dahr Jamail

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