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 25, 2008

News & Views 03/25/08

Photo: Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr hold signs during a protest in Baghdad's Amil district March 25, 2008. Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia appeared in a show of force in some Baghdad districts on Monday and ordered shops to close in what they said was the start of a "civil disobedience campaign". The signs read: " No, No to governmental militias," "No, No America," and "Yes,Yes, Iraq". REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudnai (IRAQ)


Tuesday: 1 US Soldier, 54 Iraqis Killed; 129 Iraqis Wounded

Monday: 2 US Contractors, 17 Iraqis Killed; 26 Iraqis Wounded

Karbala...6th province under curfew

Authorities in Karbala on Tuesday imposed a curfew on vehicles and pedestrians, the chief of local police said. "Curfew was imposed throughout Karbala as of 9 pm until 6 am starting from today until further notice," Major General Raed Shaker Jawdat told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI). "The curfew came as part of security measures that envisage closing all inlets and preventing visitors from entering the province," he explained. Security authorities had imposed curfew on five provinces; Wassit, Babel, Diwaniya, Nassiriya as well as Basra, which has been placed under curfew since Monday.

A Different Kind of Power Struggle in Iraq

Khitam Radi remembers how excited she was the day her husband took her out to buy their first washing machine. It was soon after Saddam Hussein's fall. Foreign soldiers, journalists and officials were snapping up her artist husband's paintings as souvenirs. The newlyweds had everything to hope for. Now, there are days when she hates that machine. With no electricity most of the time to pump water to their apartment, Radi has to wait in line to fill her jerrycans at a communal faucet, haul the water up four flights of stairs and wash her family's clothes by hand. "I feel like someone is torturing me," she said. "The Americans promised to make our lives better. . . . But after five years, nothing has changed." Violence may have dropped in Iraq, but the absence of reliable electricity remains one of the bitterest disappointments of the last five years.

Audio: Living in a War-Torn Land, an Iraqi's Perspective

Five years after "shock and awe" in Baghdad, Thair Younis, an Iraqi driver for NPR, reflects on the pain and suffering and harsh reality he has witnessed and lived through since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Saddam-era torture tools in mobile museum of horror

The display, currently on show in Baghdad, is due to travel across the country in "tribute to the thousands of martyrs" murdered when Saddam was in power, former political prisoner Amed Naji al-Badawi said. Badawi is on a committee of Iraqi former political prisoners who set up the exhibition in a makeshift museum of horrors on the banks of the Tigris River, in the Shiite neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah. Nooses hang from the ceiling, and a wooden coffin-like box containing a mediaeval-looking torture rack on which prisoners were pinned and stretched takes centre stage. Pictures of hangings and bodies are plastered all over the walls.

Iraqi oil exports via Turkey surge to 400,000 bpd

Iraq says it has boosted its oil exports via Turkey to 400,000 barrels per day, the highest volume through the twin-pipeline since the 2003 U.S. invasion. But an Oil Ministry source said pumping at this ‘high rate’ was only made possible due to a substantial drop in attacks of sabotage in past weeks. Before the invasion, Iraq used to pump more than 800,000 barrels a day to Turkish terminals on the Mediterranean. The source said pumping 400,000 barrels a day has been going on for more than a week and that the storage tanks at the Ceyhan terminal in Turkey were now holding more than 7 million barrels of crude.

Exporting oil from Basra not affected by armed clashes

The official spokesman for the Oil Ministry said on Tuesday that the production and exportation of oil from the southern fields have not been affected by armed clashes that flared up there.


Who are Iraq's Mehdi Army?

The Mehdi Army militia poses, in the eyes of the Pentagon, the greatest threat to Iraq's security, replacing al-Qaeda in Iraq as the country's "most dangerous accelerant of potentially self-sustaining sectarian violence". To supporters, the militia is the military muscle of Iraq's urban Shia Muslims, fighting to protect Najaf and other Shia parts of the country. Its membership rose from just a few thousand after the US-led invasion to some 60,000, according to a December 2006 report by the Iraqi Survey Group. It was created in the summer of 2003, prompted by radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr, who preached in his sermons the need for a new force. Young men were recruited at offices near mosques to defend the Shia Muslim faith and their country in defiance of the US-led coalition's arms controls.

Across Iraq, battles erupt with Mahdi Army

Rockets fired from the capital's Shiite district of Sadr City slammed into the Green Zone Tuesday, the second time in three days, and firefights erupted around Baghdad pitting government and US forces against the militia allied to the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. At the same time, the oil-export city of Basra became a battleground Tuesday as Iraqi forces, backed by US air power, launched a major crackdown on the Mahdi Army elements. British and US forces were guarding the border with Iran to intercept incoming weapons or fighters, according to a senior security official in Basra. The US blames the latest attacks on rogue Mahdi Army elements tied to Iran, but analysts say the spike in fighting with Shiite militants potentially opens a second front in the war when the American military is still doing battle with the Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda in Iraq. "The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store.

Sadr urges 'civil revolt' as battles erupt in Basra

Officials in Basra said 22 people were killed in the clashes, with a further 58 wounded. Following the clashes, Sadr appeared to threaten to end the ceasefire, which was declared last August. "We call upon all Iraqis to stage sit-ins all over Iraq as a first step," he said in a statement. "And if the people's demands are not respected by the Iraqi government, the second step will be to declare civil revolt in Baghdad and all other provinces." The cleric then went on to threaten an unspecified "third step" suggesting he could abandon the ceasefire. [Video at this link. – dancewater]

IRAQ: Verbal wars of Shiite clergy

Last Friday, in the Shiite holy city of Kufa, Sadrist cleric Sheik Abd Al Hadi Al Mohammedawi compared Iraq’s government to late dictator Saddam Hussein. According to the Sadrist newspaper Ishraqat al Sadr, Mohammedawi told worshippers: “Today, the political parties are using the same old Saddamist methods. They have changed from the olive uniforms to the turbans.” Mohammedawi warned that the government was making a colossal mistake in carrying out raids against Sadr supporters. “They do not realize that the Sadr movement is a volcano throughout Iraq. If it explodes it will crush all of the rotten heads until there are no tyrants on the face of the earth… but this is not our desire,” the paper quoted Mohammedawi as saying. In turn, Sheik Jaladdin Sagheer, from the rival Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), took a swipe at the Mahdi Army last Friday in his own sermon, according to the Al Sharqiya satellite channel. Sagheer asked in his Baghdad sermon why the Sadrist movement had so many outlaws and was leveling accusations against others -- a reference to both SIIC and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Dawa party, the two main Shiite bodies in the government. Four days later, government security forces were battling the Mahdi Army in Basra, while Sadrists shut down neighborhoods in Baghdad with civil disobedience.

12446 detainees released according to the Amnesty Law

12446 detainees were released since the implementation of the General Amnesty Law in February 2008 until Tuesday, the official spokesperson for the Supreme Judicial Council said. "This number is distributed throughout various places of Iraq," Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Berqdar told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). In February 2008, the Iraqi Parliament enacted the General Amnesty bill that allows the release of Iraqi detainees, according to certain terms and conditions, exclusively from Iraqi detention centers.

Battles wrack Basra, threatening success of U.S. surge [What a stupid joke. – dancewater]

Bloody clashes between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi government forces paralyzed the southern port of Basra Tuesday as the Iraqi government swore that it would cleanse the city of militia influences. Residents of Basra cowered in their homes as Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraqi security forces battled across the second largest city in Iraq. Some 15,000 Iraqi Army and National Police were brought in to the city to take control. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, as well as the country's defense and interior ministers, were in the city to oversee the effort. In Baghdad, Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhoods were virtually shut down in an act of protest against the government. Militiamen attacked the headquarters of their Shiite Muslim rivals, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and its military wing, the Badr Organization.


Is 'success' of U.S. surge in Iraq about to unravel?

A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government. Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr's Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr's followers that they'll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra. The freeze on offensive activity by Sadr's Mahdi Army has been a major factor behind the recent drop in violence in Iraq, and there were fears that the confrontation that's erupted in Baghdad and Basra could end the lull in attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and bombings.

U.S. forces surround Sadr city

U.S. forces surrounded Sadr city, eastern Baghdad, while the Baghdad Operations Command imposed a curfew on it as of this afternoon until Wednesday morning, the official spokesman for the Baghdad's operations said on Tuesday. "The curfew on vehicle and pedestrian traffic started at 6 pm on Tuesday until 6 am on Wednesday," Major General Qassem Atta, told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI). Atta did not mention any further details. Eyewitnesses said that U.S. forces surrounded Sadr city on Tuesday's afternoon, closed all city's inlets, and replaced Iraqi forces inside the city.

US troop presence in Iraq to remain steady: report

Bush did not announce any decision on future troop levels after a closed-door meeting via video link Monday with General David Petraeus, who oversees US forces in Iraq, and the US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker. They urged Bush to put off a decision on any further troop reductions "for a month or two" after the withdrawal of five brigades by July, to assess the situation, the New York Times said Tuesday, citing senior officials. Military officials then want conditions in Iraq to be reviewed once a month, instead of every six months as previously done, to determine how many more brigades, if any, can be pulled out before Bush leaves office, the Times said.

Armed group frees 4 kidnapped Syrian truckers

An armed group released on Tuesday four Syrian truck drivers who were kidnapped weeks ago on a highway linking Kirkuk to Baghdad, an Iraqi police source said. "The drivers, who were kidnapped by an armed group on the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway, near the Hamrin mountain ridge, (125 km) southwest of Kirkuk, earlier this month, were released," the source, who asked not to be named, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

Navy takes control of Iraq oil platforms

Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines from Plymouth have taken over the protection of Iraq's oil platforms in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The Royal Navy has officially taken command of the Coalition Maritime Forces in the area which provide security for two important platforms. These platforms generate 93 per cent of Iraq's gross domestic product, and their safety is seen as vital to the country's growth and prosperity.

97 Percent of US Death Toll Came After 'Mission Accomplished'

Cheney Backs Turkey's Fight Against Kurdish Rebels

US Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday extended support to Turkey's ongoing fight against Kurdish separatists based in northern Iraq, Turkish media reported. …..CNN-Turk quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the atmosphere during the talks was "very friendly" and that both sides agreed to continue co-operate against terrorism, in particular co-operation in Turkish military operations against the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). With help from US intelligence, Turkey last month launched an extensive cross-border operation into Iraq to hit PKK bases. More than 200 PKK guerrillas were killed in the operation, according to the Turkish military. [Hey, next year they may be arming and supporting the Kurds in their fight against the Turkish “terrorists”. – dancewater]

Jordan Charges 11 for Trying to Fight US in Iraq

Jordan charged 11 militants for trying to slip into Iraq via Syria to fight the U.S. military, judicial and security sources said on Monday. They said the state security court prosecutor charged the youths with "illegal actions that could have jeopardised the country's ties with a foreign country" and of helping others to infiltrate Iraq from Syria. The accused are mostly from the impoverished city of Zarqa, east of the capital.


Charlie Rose interview via Glenn Greenwald’s blog:

Still, if you watch nothing else this week, watch this 15-minute interview with Fadhil and Antoon. Nothing reveals how distorted, incomplete and propagandistic to this day is the American media's discussion of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and especially the Glorious Surge. The facts and perspectives presented here are excluded almost entirely from establishment press discussions of Iraq and U.S. foreign policy, because the only "war critics" who are heard from are people like Leslie Gelb, George Packer and even Michael O'Hanlon -- people who, at most, quibble with the execution of the war and our foreign policy but not their underlying premises. [Worth watching! Charlie Rose should have Iraqis on his show every night for the rest of the year. – dancewater]

Bonfire of puppy-tossers, and the beer test

Five years now the bright nights of shock and awe have turned into the never ending days of blinding sorrow and affliction, but there is one thing that even the fiercest critics of the war, of which I include myself, must now admit. The hoary shibboleth that states that Americans care little or nothing for the non-combatant casualties its armed forces are inflicting on the Iraqi civil population has been demonstrated decisively wrong. Recent events have proven that Americans care deeply, passionately, even to and beyond the point of breaking the laws about making direct criminal threats, about those Iraqis injured by American forces. As long as those injured have four legs and bark. ….. So the question still is this: if Americans sent their soldiers to Iraq to save the Iraqi people, why do they care so little when their soldiers go out and kill the Iraqi people? How can they care so passionately about the dogs of Iraq, and so little about its people?

Euphemism and American Violence

Euphemism has been the leading quality of American discussions of the war in Iraq. This was plain in the run-up to the war, with the talk of "regime change"—a phrase welcomed by reporters and politicians as if they had heard it all their lives. Regime change seemed to pass at a jump beyond the predictable either/or of "forced abdication" and "international war of aggression." Regime change also managed to imply, without saying, that governments do, as a matter of fact, often change by external demand without much trouble to anyone. The talk (before and just after the war) of "taking out" Saddam Hussein was equally new. It combined the reflex of the skilled gunman and the image of a surgical procedure so routine that it could be trusted not to jeopardize the life of the patient. It had its roots in gangland argot, where taking out means knocking off, but its reception was none the worse for that.

Dead for What

A few weeks ago, it looked as if Iraq might be entering another cycle of headline-grabbing violence. Now, the increase in mayhem is clear. On Sunday alone, more than 60 people were killed in several incidents, including a car bombing. Insurgents even sent rockets crashing into Baghdad's ostensibly secure Green Zone, a rare occurrence. While the violence hasn't risen to the levels that prevailed at this time a year ago, when the country seemed to be coming apart, it is clear that both civilian and military deaths are on the rise.

The Battle of Baghdad

Over the course of five years, Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, has been transformed from a metropolis into an urban desert of half-destroyed buildings and next to no public services, dotted by partially deserted, mutually hostile mini-ghettos that used to be neighborhoods, surrounded by cement barriers reminiscent of medieval fortifications. The most prominent of these ghettos is the heavily fortified city-inside-a-city dubbed the Green Zone, where Iraq’s most fearsome militia, the United States military, is headquartered. It is governed by the Americans and by the American-sponsored Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.


Quote of the day: Ironically, the only Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that Americans soldiers have found in Iraq are "Made in America". ~ Peter Tremblay and researchers