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

Friday, March 21, 2008

News & Views 03/21/08

Photo: Iraqi Army soldiers look at the body of a man they killed when he was purportedly placing a roadside bomb in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq on Friday, March 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo) [Looks like the Iraqis are following the “guilty until proven innocent” example by the Americans. – dancewater]

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Friday: 22 Iraqis Killed, 10 Wounded

Thursday: 25 Iraqis Killed, 28 Wounded

Iraq Begins Sixth Year of Chaos, Bloodshed

Kirkuk Dispute Close to Boiling Point

The Kurds say they have a historical claim to Kirkuk city, and that they lost a great deal of property and land there under Saddam. The KRG is calling for a referendum to decide the future of the city and its surrounding oil fields, which lie outside Kurdistan’s three provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk. Article 140 of the 2005 Iraqi constitution contains a provision for just such a referendum to decide the fate of the city and its environs. Under this article, the authorities must first achieve "normalisation" – taken to mean the reversal or mitigation of “Arabisation” policy – and hold a census in Kirkuk. The government must complete a series of steps set out in the Transitional Administrative Law – an interim constitution dating from 2004. These include restitution for people who were forced out; resettling or otherwise accommodating people who were moved into the area by Saddam; and remedying unjust boundary changes carried out by his regime.

While no up-to-date statistics exist on the ethnic and religious make-up of the province of Kirkuk (also known as Tamim), Kurds are thought to be the largest ethnic group, and they hold the most seats on the provincial council. But the idea that the city could be incorporated into an expanded Kurdish region is bitterly opposed by Iraqi Arabs, who do not want to cede control of the city and its oil to an autonomous Kurdish entity. The area is thought to hold some 12 per cent of Iraq's confirmed oil reserves.

Life After Saddam - Five Years On

I returned to Baghdad late last year and initially felt hopeful. I had lost neighbours and friends, but the violence was lessening as security had improved. As I have further explored Baghdad, however, my first impressions of hope have been dashed. The city centre is surrounded by cement walls now, resembling a jail. The paintings on the walls don’t make up for the beauty that is lost. These cement barriers are giant creatures swallowing up the city’s historical landmarks and its beauty and greatness. The change is not just structural. Fear has taken over the people, who are suspicious of even those they usually trust. The fear has cut away at the city’s once-famous social fabric. No one dares to utter a controversial word in front of his friend or neighbour, for fear that the individual may report him to a political party or militia.

In a Photographer's Memory, Images of the Dead

In the hallway of a hospital in Kirkuk I am photographing Mahmood al-Obaidei, who has a hive of hospital workers battling to keep him breathing after his body was devastated by a roadside bomb detonated near his shop. Though I am making photographs it is not the images I remember from this moment. I remember hearing Mahmood trying to breathe. The hospital workers throw the paddles of a defibrillator on him. Two shocks to the chest and his pulse again give a weak beep on the monitor. There is a brief sign of life. The paddles are readied again. Then darkness. The power in the hospital has gone out. The staff members groan as they stand in place waiting for the power to return. In a moment the generator kicks on and the machine has to be recharged. A jolt blasts Mahmood’s chest. Nothing. The moment to save his life has passed. And I remember hearing only my own breathing.

In Firefighters' Glee at U.S. Deaths, Insurgency Blooms

I asked the firemen what had happened down the street. They had seen the whole thing, they said. Oh yes, absolutely. All of them had walked down the street to watch with everyone else. “I was happy, everyone was happy,” Waadallah Muhammad, one of the firefighters, told me. “The Americans, yes, they do good things, but only to enhance their reputation. They are occupiers. We want them to leave.” The rest of the firefighters chimed in. There were six of them. Not the least bit hostile to me. Yes, yes, they said, we were cheering when we saw the dead Americans. Who did it, I asked them? The men shrugged. “The Americans are not popular in Mosul,” one of the firemen said.

My wife said I had to stop the jihad. I divorced her. Fighting was my duty

Khalil began to hate the Americans long before they invaded Iraq in March 2003. On February 13 1991, when the US-led air assault on Baghdad was in full swing, his family took cover like hundreds of other Iraqis in a shelter in the Amiriyah neighbourhood of Baghdad. The Americans bombed the shelter that night. More than 400 civilians were killed, among them all of Khalil's family. "I woke up one morning and I was an orphan," he tells me as we stand beneath a tree in the wasteland that is west Baghdad. "My whole family died. I will never forget the morning we were looking in the rubble for my mother and sister and brothers. I will never forgive them." Afterwards, he moved in with his uncle's family, who brought him up. Khalil is now a heavily built man whose dark hair droops down almost to his eyebrows. He was a police officer under Saddam, and began fighting the Americans when they first entered Baghdad almost five years ago.

Shabby, tired and scared - the pupils who know all about the word 'enemy'

Ali stands in the middle of the ninth-grade class, holding an English textbook in one hand and resting the other on a battered wooden desk. To his left is a blackboard on which he has conjugated the verb "to play", and on the other side is a broken cupboard on which someone has scribbled: "Long live Sayed Moqtada. Long live Moqtada ... Moqtada ... Moqtada." In heavily accented English, rounded by Hollywood-flavoured vowels, Ali reads from the textbook: "The great Arab warrior Khaled bin Waleed went to fight the enemies of Islam." He pauses, looking at the bewildered faces of his young students. "Do you know the meaning of the word 'enemy'," he asks. Two students raise their hands. "It is adou," says one, giving the Arab translation of the word. "That's right," says Ali. He lowers his eyes to continue reading. "Just like Amreeka!" another student shouts from the back, referring to the United States.

Schoolgirl in Iraq
Noor, 16, describes life in Baghdad during five years of violence

Baghdad has changed so much and so has my life. Up until two years ago we had a big house and had plenty of money and my father looked after us. Now we live in a small rented two-bedroom house with my mother, my brother and his wife and my seven sisters. But my dad is no longer with us. In August 2006 a group of militia men got out of a car and forcibly entered our home. I cannot describe these people, they are not human beings. They broke the front door of our home and stormed into the house and kidnapped my dad. They pulled him while aiming their guns at him. When he tried to defend himself they knocked him unconscious and put him in the boot of the car. I was very frightened and I lost faith in everything and everyone. I wish they had taken everything, our car, our home, but left my father alive.

…. After the fall of Baghdad Iraqi children learnt very quickly the meaning of destruction and war. I remember at dawn time, instead of hearing the call to prayer we woke up hearing the noise of blasts. Baghdad became like a ghost city. There was no law and order and an increase in crime so people were afraid to go out. We learnt to cope with fear and after time we started going back to school. We got used to living in a city were violence was everywhere and random bombings could happen anytime and in every place. We experienced the brutal nature of this new Iraq when my father was murdered.

TV reports on Iraq

Video: Sunni militia strike could derail US surge

Fighters accuse US military of using them to clear al-Qaida militants and then abandoning them.

Scoop Video: Iraq – In Search Of Hope

Children of Iraq: enduring 5 years of violence

Childhood in Iraq is more precarious than ever. Tens of thousands of children have lost parents and other family members due to violence. Some 600,000 children are among the 1.2 million Iraqis to have been displaced over the past two years with most families being unable to return home. Conditions for displaced children and the communities hosting them are worsening. The increasing numbers of displaced families are creating an overwhelming demand for basic services. Most displaced families are living in communities that are already poor and often also badly affected by violence and insecurity. Children’s education is also being compromised. Many schools suffer from overcrowding and are now forced to hold multiple shifts. Displaced children are less likely to stay or complete the school year.

Audio: Guardian Daily: why Iraqis want US troops to go

Five years ago today, Iraq was invaded by US-led coalition troops. The Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad contrasts modern-day Iraq with life under Saddam Hussein, and responds to claims by George Bush and Gordon Brown that the continued US and UK military presence in his country is necessary and desirable. Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which is part of the Stop the War Coalition, explains why anti-war protesters are still demanding withdrawal from Iraq.

IRAQ: Celebrating the Persian New Year in the Kurdish hills

Armed with picnic baskets and dressed in their brightest holiday finery, Iraqi Kurds headed into the hills Friday to celebrate a cherished holiday that coincides with the first day of spring. There was barely an inch to spare around Lake Dukan, north of the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniya, where families gathered by the thousands to grill meat, sing folk songs and dance a traditional line dance called the dabka. "This year is different," said Osman Ahmed, who was walking around the lake with his new wife. "Iraq in general has become more secure recently and this adds to our joy." The holiday known as Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is celebrated by Iraqi Kurds as well as Iranians, Tajiks and Afghans.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

SIIC, Dawa deny planning to liquidate Sadrists

Parliamentarians from the Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) on Friday denied planning to liquidate Sadrists, asserting that measures taken by the security apparatuses are not being directed against anyone. Sheikh Jalal el-Din al-Sagheer from the SIIC denied any plans to liquidate Sadrists, saying “I completely deny these reports.” “We have no interest in attacking anyone and these blocs have a great effect on the Iraqi society,” Sheikh al-Sagheer told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI) by phone. “There is a difference between accusations and measures taken by the government against outlaws,” he added. “There are two kinds of Sadrists; one of them wants to cooperate to achieve justice and we will work with this kind to boost security authorities,” the SIIC MP added.

Fresh violence frays militia truce in Iraq

Mehdi Army fighters attacked police patrols in southern Baghdad overnight, police said on Friday, further fraying a seven-month-old ceasefire called by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to rein in his militia. The clashes in Baghdad's Shurta district follow outbreaks of violence in the southern Iraqi city of Kut in which Mehdi Army fighters have battled U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Three people were killed in fresh fighting in Kut late on Thursday.

Three die in clashes between Iraq police and Mehdi army

Three people were killed in clashes between Iraqi police and Mehdi Army militia members in the southern city of Kut on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, hospital and police sources said. Gunbattles broke out last week between Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia in Kut, fuelling fears that a ceasefire by Sadr may unravel. The violence has so far been confined to the city 170 km (100 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

Al-Qaeda Suspected of Sulaimaniyah Bombing

A suicide bomber blew himself up in his car on March 10 in front of the Sulaimaniyah Palace, the top international hotel in this quiet Kurdish city. The attack - the first bombing here since October 2005 - killed a security guard and injured 30 people. Security sources refused to comment on the investigation, the bomber’s identity or possible motives for the attack, saying they would not release details to the press until they have solid information. The suicide bomber was believed to be a young man in his twenties, according to the security forces. No one has taken responsibility for the attack. “We didn’t know anything about the attack before it happened,” said Saifadeen Ali, head of security forces for areas controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK. Sulaimaniyah deputy interior minister Ahmed Mussa said that the authorities have beefed up security and checkpoints as Iraqi Kurdistan prepares to celebrate Norooz, the new year, on Friday.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Guess he has moved on from cartoon denouncement:

Bin Laden urges support for Iraq insurgency

Bin Laden condemns Gaza siege

Ain’t this a pile of do-do: If Iraq is better, it's because of John McCain

Sovereigns of all they're assigned, U.S. captains bear weight of Iraq strategy

During the war in Iraq, young army and Marine captains have become American viceroys, officers with large sectors to run and near-autonomy to do it. In military parlance, they are the "ground-owners." In practice, they are power brokers. "They give us a chunk of land and say, 'Fix it,' " said Captain Rich Thompson, 36, who controls an area east of Baghdad. The Iraqis have learned that these captains, many still in their 20s, can call down devastating American firepower one day and approve multimillion-dollar projects the next.

Report: Turkey bombs Kurdish bases in Iraq

Turkish warplanes reportedly bombed Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq on Thursday, before a spring festival traditionally used by Kurdish activists to stir anti-government sentiment and assert demands for political autonomy and cultural rights. The planes flew reconnaissance flights over the border area before bombing targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, private news channel NTV reported, citing Iraqi Kurdish officials. It said there were no reports of civilian casualties.

FACTBOX-US military fuel spending

U.S. military fuel consumption dwarfs energy demand in many countries around the world, adding up to nearly double the fuel use in Ireland and 20 times more than that of Iceland, according to the U.S Department of Energy. From the start of the Iraq war in 2003 up till 2007, U.S. military fuel consumption has slipped by about 10 percent, but costs more than doubled due surging oil prices.

Volvo Fined $19.6m in Oil-for-Food Case

HISTORY

Getting It Right on Iraq

My list would be long indeed, but it would certainly include: the Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters Warren Stroebel and Jonathan Landy in Washington, as well as Tom Lasseter, Hannah Allam, and others in Iraq who never had a flagship paper to show off their work, but generally did far better reporting than the flagship papers; Seymour Hersh, who simply picked up where he left off in the Vietnam era (though this time for the New Yorker); Riverbend, the young Baghdad blogger who gave us a more vivid view of the occupation than any you could ordinarily find in the mainstream media (and who has not been heard from since she arrived in Syria as a refugee in October 2007); Jim Lobe who covered the neocons like a blanket for Inter Press Service; independents Nir Rosen and Dahr Jamail, as well as Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent, who has been perhaps the most courageous (or foolhardy) Western reporter in Iraq, invariably bringing back news that others didn't have; the New York Review of Books, which stepped into some of the empty print space where the mainstream media should have been (with writers like Mark Danner and Michael Massing) and was the first to put into print in this country the Downing Street Memo, in itself a striking measure of mainstream failure; and Juan Cole, whose Informed Comment website was so on the mark on Iraq that reporters locked inside the Green Zone in Baghdad read it just to keep informed. Maybe I'd throw in as well all the millions of non-experts who marched globally before the war began because commonsense and a reasonable assessment of the Bush administration told them a disaster -- moral, political, economic, and military -- of the first order was in the offing.

[I would add Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Robert Fisk, Badger of Missing Links, Azzaman.com, Al Jazeera English (sometimes), IRIN, Voices of Iraq, Gulf News, Foreign Policy in Focus, AlterNet, Google and Yahoo News, Reuters UK, and many Iraqi bloggers. Even UNICEF is better than 95% of the US corporate media. – dancewater]

COMMENTARY

Death, Destruction and Reparations

Lurching down Valencia Street in San Francisco last week, I all but stumbled over a homeless young man squatting against the wall of the now moribund New College. Begging his pardon, I could not help but note that he was leafing through a dog-eared volume scavenged from a nearby free book box serendipitously entitled "What We Owe Iraq." Indeed, my inattentiveness to the young man's pedal extremities was the by-product of my contemplation of just that subject. What do we owe Iraq for over a million dead and ten times that number wounded or otherwise devastated in five years of Bush's unrelenting bloodletting?

For 5,000,000 people who have been uprooted and displaced from their homes, half of them forced to flee their homeland, 65% of them women and children, 80% of the children less than 12 years of age? What do we owe Iraq for having perverted governance into an aggregation of death squads? For corrupting public officials and leveling essential services, leaving the nation in the dark most days, contaminating the water supply, destroying the agricultural sector in the birthplace of agriculture, and aiding and abetting the looting of the cradle of civilization? What do we owe this country "where the first letter was written, the first law put, the first university built, the first money issued, and the first poetry written?" asks Eman Kammas, a fearless Iraqi journalist now forced into exile.

Five Years Into War, Iraq Still Lives in Fear

The US-led war on Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein entered its sixth year yesterday with millions of Iraqis still battling daily chaos and rampant bloodshed. Five years ago on March 20, 2003, US planes dropped the first bombs on Baghdad, and within three weeks invading troops toppled Saddam’s regime but left US forces battling a resentful and rebellious people. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the invasion ended Saddam’s era of “torture and tyranny” but acknowledged that present-day Iraq was awash with “violence and terrorism” while “corruption has become a dangerous disease.” Five years on, Iraqis and US and allied forces face daily attacks from Iraqi insurgents, and fighting between armed factions from both sides of Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide continues. The war has killed tens [should be ‘hundreds’] of thousands of Iraqi civilians — between 104,000 and 223,000 died between March 2003 and June 2006 alone, according to the World Health Organization.

There must be a reckoning for this day of infamy

Now the same voices can be heard arguing against an end to the occupation on the grounds that withdrawal might trigger even worse violence. Of course no stabilisation of Iraq is going to be bloodless, but such arguments fail to recognise that the occupation itself has fostered sectarian conflict in classic colonial divide-and-rule style - the current US sponsorship of Sunni militias is a case in point. As the US military's own surveys show, Iraqis of all religious and ethnic groups believe the presence of foreign troops is the main cause of violence and 70% want them out now. Tellingly, violence in Basra dropped by 90% after British troops withdrew from the city to their airport base last summer. Naturally, the green zone government is against a US pullout, because it wouldn't survive on its own. But only when the occupation forces make an unequivocal commitment to leave will Iraq's main political and military players be compelled to come to an accommodation.

Blowback all over again

Far more than the extra 30,000 US troops sent to Iraq last year, or the 12-foot high concrete walls and checkpoints that now scar Baghdad and other cities, it has been the creation of the 80,000-strong awakening or "sahwa" militias, based on deals with tribal leaders and defectors from the Sunni-based resistance movement, that has played a crucial role in cutting the number of attacks on the occupation forces in the past few months. That reduction, which had brought down the US monthly death toll down by about two thirds, was the crucial factor in allowing the US administration to claim that the surge was working and the occupation of Iraq was finally starting to come good - just in time to boost the chances of the pro-war Republican candidate, John McCain, in the presidential election campaign. But as reported in a Guardian Films documentary for Channel 4 News, leaders of awakening councils across the Sunni areas of Iraq are threatening to go on strike or withdrawing support from the US military because they haven't been paid and aren't getting the jobs in the police and army they had been promised. In some areas, members are leaving the councils in large numbers: 500 have quit in Abu Ghraib and 800 in Tikrit.

A war of utter folly

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a tragedy - for Iraq, for the US, for the UN, for truth and human dignity. I can only see one gain: the end of Saddam Hussein, a murderous tyrant. Had the war not finished him he would, in all likelihood, have become another Gadafy or Castro; an oppressor of his own people but no longer a threat to the world. Iraq was on its knees after a decade of sanctions. The elimination of weapons of mass destruction was the declared main aim of the war. It is improbable that the governments of the alliance could have sold the war to their parliaments on any other grounds. That they believed in the weapons' existence in the autumn of 2002 is understandable. Why had the Iraqis stopped UN inspectors during the 90s if they had nothing to hide? Responsibility for the war must rest, though, on what those launching it knew by March 2003.

Corporate Media's Virtual Blackout on Iraq Atrocity Hearings

[Oh, why are we not surprised? – dancewater]

RESISTANCE

Military veterans to deliver citizen arrest warrants for Bush and Cheney

Backed by family members and supporters all across the nation, U.S. military veterans will serve citizen arrest warrants for George Bush and Dick Cheney tomorrow in Washington, D.C. The warrants are "for multiple violations of the Constitution and international war crimes," according to a statement issued by Veterans for Peace, a national organization of men and women who served in wars and military conflicts beginning with the Spanish Civil War in 1936 through the present war in Iraq.

Winter Soldier Marches Again

Quote of the day: God and a soldier all people adore in time of war, but not before; And when war is over and all things are righted, God is neglected and an old soldier slighted: Anonymous

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