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

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

News & Views 03/26/08

Photo: Tires are set on fire and road is blocked in Sadr City, Baghdad Iraq as Mahdi Army militia members clash with the Iraqi government forces backed by the US military, Wednesday March 26, 2008. Clashes were also reported between Iraqi forces and Mahdi Army in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Photo: Iraqi children flash the victory sign next to debris from a US armoured personnel carrier hit overnight by a roadside bomb in Sadr City. From BBC News website.


Wednesday: 47 Iraqis Killed; 308 Iraqis, 3 US Civilians Wounded

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

Many killed by U.S. strike in Iraq's Hilla -sources

Many people were killed or wounded by a U.S. air strike called to support Iraqi forces in the town of Hilla south of Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi security sources said. U.S. forces confirmed the air strike and said they were not certain how many people had been killed but denied that there were large numbers of casualties. One police source said at least 11 people were killed and 18 wounded in the strike, launched after Iraqi security forces called for support following street battles with Shi'ite militia members in the city's Thawra neighbourhood. Another police source said 29 people were killed and 39 were wounded. He said six houses were destroyed in the strikes which lasted for an hour late on Wednesday evening. Two other security sources said the combined total of dead and wounded was in the dozens, although they were unable to give precise casualty figures. All of the sources spoke under condition they not be named, as is usual practice in Iraq.

Basrans under fire
Two residents describe what has been going on in their city

There is not much fighting where we live in al-Janina district, but we can hear the fighting in al-Jumhouriya - a poor neighbourhood a couple of miles away. The government started this operation without warning, so we were caught off guard. We are stuck in our house, unable to go out and buy food. No shops are open anyway. People have already started to ration their food. The water supply has been cut. I don't know why - maybe it's because the water engineers are staying at home like everyone else. …..Over the last few months the militias have become really unruly, they have been getting away with whatever they want. The Mehdi Army is the worst - especially the breakaway elements. The militia which belongs to the Mayor's Fadhila party is also very bad. The current head of police is a good person who wants to confront them, he is just unable to do so. The troops fighting now came from Baghdad. I think the national forces don't trust the local men to crack down on the militia.

IRAQ: "Pressing need" for drinking water in Basra as curfew bites

Life in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has been paralysed by a large-scale government military operation against militiamen of the Mahdi Army led by radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, Mahdi al-Tamimi, head of the city's Human Rights Office said on 25 March. The Iraqi government imposed an indefinite curfew at dawn on 25 March. No one is allowed between neighbourhoods and there are checkpoints in place to ensure this. “The most pressing need is drinking water, as Basra residents depend on bottled mineral water because they do not drink tap water - first because of contamination and second because of its high salinity,” al-Tamimi told IRIN.

"Fever Named After Blackwater"

Iraqi doctors in al-Anbar province warn of a new disease they call "Blackwater" that threatens the lives of thousands. The disease is named after Blackwater Worldwide, the U.S. mercenary company operating in Iraq. "This disease is a severe form of malarial infection caused by the parasite plasmodium falciparum, which is considered the worst type of malarial infection," Dr. Ali Hakki from Fallujah told IPS. "It is one of the complications of that infection, and not the ordinary picture of the disease. Because of its frequent and severe complications, such as Blackwater fever, and its resistance to treatment, P. falciparum can cause death within 24 hours." What Iraqis now call Blackwater fever is really a well-known medical condition, and while it has nothing to do with Blackwater Worldwide, Iraqis in al-Anbar province have decided to make the connection between the disease and the lethal U.S.-based company which has been responsible for the death of countless Iraqis. The disease is most prevalent in Africa and Asia. The patient suffers severe intravascular haemolysis -- the destruction of red blood cells leading to kidney and liver failure. It also leads to black or red urination, and hence perhaps the new name 'Blackwater'. The deadly disease, never before seen in Iraq on at least this scale, seems to be spreading across the country. And Iraq lacks medicines, hospitals, and doctors to lead a campaign to fight the disease.

War and Sightseeing

The government announced a plan to control Basra. The city is largely controlled by the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, and to a lesser extent a few other Shiite militias. In Baghdad the Mahdi Army was forcing people to stay home from school and work in protest of the Iraqi government. Battles broke out in the south that Monday night and lasted into Tuesday night and today. A ceasefire that Sadr called for in August and renewed in February seem to be unraveling. And a Shiite power struggle was coming to a head. Today half of our staff couldn't make it to work because of the forced protest. Ali, who works in the hotel, snuck around the Mahdi Army checkpoints to come to work. He cannot afford to miss a day. He worried about the road home.

A strike or a disaster

The word democracy is normally used to express the people’s ruling or role, but in Iraq this word is losing its meaning. For the last five years, many mistakes and bad actions had been done by Iraqi officials and Americans’ by the name of Democracy. One of those things what happened on Monday afternoon, Sadrists called for a strike in our neighborhood as a kind of protest against what they call the non-stop arrests of Sadrists by the security forces. ….. I just wanted to ask the people who did the strike of the bad and good points of such a strike, but I didn’t. The matter is obvious as hospitals, schools, offices, food stuff and transportations are not available. At that time, my mind brought back to Saddam’s regime when Baathists were doing the same thing ordering people to close shops and ask for money from people without their willing with different excuses.

Baghdad's highway of death takes on new life

Patrolling continues day and night, starting each morning with a foot patrol. This is followed by continuous sweeps through the area by police armed with AK-47s and Austrian Glock pistols, riding aboard Chevrolet Lux 4WD pickups mounted with Russian DKC machine guns. Iraqi and US troops have also felled the date palms that once lined the road, cleared away refuse, moved guardrails and cut back vegetation to make it difficult to conceal roadside bombs. Now, according to Colonel Hamid, the aim is to clear the dense neighbourhoods through which the airport highway passes of Al-Qaeda fighters. [I thought they already did that. – dancewater]

5 years, 5 Iraqis
Stories of real life in Iraq - from morgue worker to musician

In a series of special reports to mark five years since the US-led invasion of Iraq, the BBC's Hugh Sykes and Jim Muir have been talking to five Iraqis to see how they have been affected by the crisis. Fourteen-year-old Farand Nashat is a student at the Baghdad School of Music and Dance. He describes what life is like for him now.


Iraqi leader orders militias to surrender weapons amid heavy fighting

Amid heavy clashes between government forces and Shiite Muslim militants in Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki issued an ultimatum Wednesday demanding that the militias surrender their weapons within 72 hours. Radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia is a prime target of the government offensive, responded by demanding that Maliki leave Basra. U.S. forces joined Iraqi troops in Baghdad to fight Mahdi Army militants, and police said that at least 20 people had been killed in the Sadr City neighborhood, a stronghold for Sadr's backers. The city's fortified Green Zone sustained a third round of intense mortar fire beginning at 5:30 a.m. that seriously injured three U.S. government employees, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy. A mortar round struck near Maliki's office.

PM orders not to prosecute gunmen laying down arms in Basra

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Wednesday, ordered not to prosecute gunmen who lay arms and surrender voluntarily to the security authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, while the security operation Saulat al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) continued in its third day there.

Sadr Orders Iraqi PM Out of Basra

The Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has demanded that the country's prime minister leave Basra where he is overseeing a military operation to purge the southern city of its radical Shi'ite militiamen. Relations between Sadr and Nouri al-Maliki have deteriorated sharply as the two men clashed over fighting between Iraqi forces and gunmen in Sadrist communities in Iraq.

Sadrists Expand Civil Disobedience to All Provinces

Sadrists expanded the civil disobedience they started to include all provinces, the spokesman for the Sadrist bloc said on Tuesday. "The Sadrist bloc announced the expansion of the civil disobedience to include all provinces in Iraq," Nassar al-Rubaei said at a press conference held in Baghdad. He called on citizens to support this disobedience, demanding that the government implement the Sadrists' demands. Sadrist officials called on Monday for an open-ended civil disobedience, which has already begun in the western Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Shurta, al-Bayya, al-Amil, and al-Risala. …."Sunni Muslims took part in the protest in solidarity with the Sadrists, whose neighborhoods are targets for detentions and raids," a local resident of al-Aamil neighborhood said.

Karbala security forces deployed in Basra

Media spokesperson for the Karbala police command said that a large Karbala security force arrived in Basra on Wednesday, headed by Karbala Operations Commander, along with the Karbala police commander and the commander of Karbala Emergency Brigade, to support security operations in Basra. "The force will participate in corroborating and stabilizing security in Basra province, according to an order issued by the general command of the Iraqi Armed Forces," Rahman Mashawi told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

Badr Organization has noting to do with Basra clashes - MP

Hadi al-Amiri, Chief of Badr Organization and member of the parliament, on Wednesday denied the participation of his organization’s elements in the clashes erupted between al-Mahdi army gunmen and security forces in Basra. In an interview to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper over the phone, al-Amiri said that “we are a political organization and have noting to do with the armed confrontations, underlining that Badr does not have an armed wing. He held oil smugglers responsible for flaring up the situation in the southern province. Hadi al-Amiri stressed his organization’s position supporting the Iraqi government’s plan to save Basra civilians from killing and kidnapping.

From Juan Cole’s blog:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI, formerly SCIRI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim); the Da'wa Party led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the Badr Corps paramilitary of ISCI have fled their HQs in Basra and Kut, because of the threat that they will be stormed by Mahdi Army militiamen [seeking revenge for the current offensive]. In fact, some such buildings already have been attacked.

From Missing Link’s blog:

Here is part of the Azzaman account of events yesterday in Sadr City, including eyewitness accounts of American planes firing on residential areas; and of American forces being used to try and protect the local office of the Badr organization (the military wing of Hakim's Supreme Council, main supporter of the Maliki government). The journalist also highlights the point that the Maliki government announced it will be using an anti-terror law to deal with the general strike campaign.

The Enigmatic Second Battle of Basra

On the surface, the story may look plausible enough. A provincial city rich in oil degenerates into mafia-style conditions affecting the security of citizens as well as the national oil revenue; the central government intervenes to clean up. This is how many in the media have been reporting the latest clashes between government forces and militiamen in Basra: the Maliki government has launched a security operation with the single aim of getting rid of unruly militias. Pundits with ties to the Bush administration have added that these are essential “preparations” for this autumn’s provincial elections, or moves to forestall Iranian influence in Basra, or both.

But on closer inspection, there are problems in these accounts. Perhaps most importantly, there is a discrepancy between the description of Basra as a city ruled by militias (in the plural) – which is doubtless correct – and the battlefield facts of the ongoing operations which seem to target only one of these militia groups, the Mahdi Army loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. Surely, if the aim was to make Basra a safer place, it would have been logical to do something to also stem the influence of the other militias loyal to the local competitors of the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), as well as the armed groups allied to the Fadila party (which have dominated the oil protection services for a long time). But so far, only Sadrists have complained about attacks by government forces.


Iranian-backed Shiite militias active in Basra, say police

Iraqi police say scores of Iranian-supported Shiite militias are active in Basra and they are blaming British troops for their growing role in the southern part of the country. According to Major General Abdul Jalil Khalaf, police commander of Basra who was placed under suspension on Monday, there are 43 Shiite armed militias backed by Iran in the city, which is called "Iraq's lung" because most of Iraq's oil is exported from Umm Qasr port on the Arabian Gulf. "Two sides bear responsibility for the militias' growing influence, and these are the British forces who have neglected the militias' activities; and Iran which has funded and supplied weapons to militias; Therefore, the British and Iranians are to blame for the deteriorating security situation in Basra," Sa'ad Taher, an officer in the Iraqi army, said to Gulf News.

US gives air support to Iraqi force

At least four Shia fighters have been killed in a US air raid in the central Iraqi city of Hilla, the military said. The raid on Wednesday is a continuation of US efforts to assist Iraqi forces in another day of clashes with fighters loyal to populist Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. A military spokesman said Iraqi police called for US air support after clashing with a number of "special group criminals" in Hilla, about 120km south of the capital, Baghdad. But according to Major-General Kevin Bergner, a military spokesman, US forces are not participating in the clashes beyond playing a "liaison" role. [More dead people finding the freedom of the grave, thanks to bush’s war of aggression. – dancewater]

Report: Iraqi Insurgents Benefit From US Drone Shortage

Insurgents have freely planted and detonated roadside bombs that cause most U.S. casualties in Iraq, exploiting the Pentagon's inability to meet the soaring demand for surveillance from unmanned aircraft, military records and interviews show. "The demand is huge because commanders no longer want pictures taken last week; they want streaming video with enough clarity and fidelity to anticipate the actions of the enemy," said retired major general Robert Scales, a military historian. "Thus, we are not even within 5% of what's really needed." There's a 300% annual increase in requests for full-motion video, said Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of unmanned warfare for the Pentagon. That demand, he says, outpaces the Pentagon's traditional acquisition process.

Bush administration takes credit for Iraqi offensive in Basra

The White House and Pentagon claimed partial credit for the Iraqi government's new military offensive in Baghdad and the port city of Basra, calling it a "byproduct of the success" of the U.S. troop surge that showed that Iraqi forces are capable of assaulting Shiite extremists. Stephen Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser, called the Iraqi-led operation in Basra "an indication of the increased maturation of this (central) government," and he praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki for taking charge of the operation. "What he (Maliki) has really done is take that matter into his hands," Hadley said.


Charity Official Accused of Spying for Iraq

The former spokesman of a Detroit-area Islamic charity, who organized US congressional delegations to Iraq, has been indicted for alleged conspiracy to spy for Saddam Hussein's government.

From Glenn Greenwald’s blog:

After I posted this Charlie Rose segment yesterday, Wired's Ryan Singel emailed me about this amazing ABC News broadcast that he transcribed from the night in March, 2003 when we began dropping our loving, liberating Freedom Bombs on Baghdad. Jennings' entire broadcast that night -- as was true for virtually every establishment press outlet -- was dedicated to the storyline that we were marching into Iraq to depose the Evil Dictator, Saddam Hussein, to rid him of his wicked weapons and finally free the Iraqi People and give them Freedom and Democracy. Freedom was on the march -- and still is. But on ABC that night, something disrupted the script. In the frenzy of the evening, ABC producers were desperately trying to get Iraqis to go on the air and say how grateful they were for our Freedom Bombs, but a couple of them ending up saying the opposite -- quite angrily -- just as the two Iraqi interviewees disrupted Charlie Rose's script.


International Medical Corps Health Alert - Iraqis in Jordan Struggle with Cost of Medical Care - Only 4% Can Afford Assistance

The cost of health services is a major hurdle for Iraqi families living in Amman, Jordan, impeding access to proper medical care. A recent survey by International Medical Corps (IMC) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) among Iraqi patients in NGO-run health clinics in Amman found that only four percent of respondents say they can afford medical assistance. The survey was conducted at clinics where Jordan Red Crescent Society and Caritas provide free primary health care. However, half of all patients interviewed reported they spend 25% of their monthly income on health, and another 14% said that more than 50% of their monthly income went into specialized services that are not available at these NGO-run facilities.

Audio: Sweden Begins Sending Iraqi Refugees Home

Human rights groups in Sweden are outraged that the government has decided to send Iraqi refugees back to Iraq. Sweden has taken in more than 20,000 Iraqi refugees since the war began — more than any other Western country. The Swedish government is citing an improved security situation in Iraq as the reason for returning the refugees.

Teaching Iraqi children to look ahead

Jawad Al-Ghousous works with QuestScope, a non-profit that runs a program for dropouts in Jordan, which uses non-traditional teaching methods to help kids get a high school equivalency degree. These days, he's working hard to get Iraqis involved in the program, too. There are probably tens of thousands of Iraqi kids living in Jordan who should be in school, but aren't. Circumstances -- including some government policies -- mean that a lot of them have dropped out. For one thing, Iraqi refugees weren't even allowed to attend public schools in Jordan until this academic year. For another, Jordanian law forbids any student who misses three years of school from reentering the system. So a kid like Ismail, who hasn't been enrolled since his family left Iraq three years ago, couldn't go back to school, even if he wanted to. He's one of the boys playing math games this evening.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees



Why the Government Doesn't Care What You Think

People were shocked last Wednesday, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, to hear Vice President Cheney say "So?" in response to ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz's questions about public opposition to the war. During the interview at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Oman, the Vice President elaborated by saying "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."

Although many objected to Cheney's response, his candor should at least help shatter the myth of public opinion primacy. In the United States, the president and vice president are under no greater obligation to follow the will of the people than Cheney's host government in Oman. Vice President Cheney, appearing relaxed during his resort vacation, was simply being forthright about that reality. His statement was a bit terse, but who wants to be reminded of the Iraq war when you're staying at a spa oasis and spending the day on a yacht?

Frontline's Timid Iraq Retrospective

Frontline’s “Bush’s War” on PBS Monday and Tuesday evening was a nicely put-together rehash of the top players’ trickery that led to the attack on Iraq, together with the power-grabbing, back-stabbing and limitless incompetence of the occupation. Except for an inside-the-beltway tidbit here and there – for example, about how the pitiable Secretary of State Colin Powell had to suffer so many indignities at the hands of other type-A hard chargers – Frontline added little to the discussion.

Letter to the Editor

On March 19, 2003, my wife and I attended a Wednesday night church service. The senior pastor who was also a professor at a theological seminary preached his "Biblical Justification for War" sermon.

His points were: 1. Killing in war is not a violation of the commandment not to kill. Is it any wonder that so many innocent people have been killed when not only preachers but those who teach preachers were saying it would not be a sin to kill Iraqis? 2. When he threw the money changers out of the temple, Jesus proved he was not a wimp and would use violence if necessary. While the preacher's wife was teaching children to sing "Jesus love the little children, all the children of the world," the preacher argued that we should be bombing Iraq and that even if women and children were killed, Jesus would approve. 3. His last point was that God put George Bush in office and to question Bush's decisions would be the same as questioning God. That was dangerously close to saying Bush is God. That same night, the shock and awe of bombing Iraqi neighborhoods began.

Do you think Jesus would have gone to the mothers trying to shield their children from the bombs of the aggressors or would Jesus have gone to the cockpits to help push the buttons to drop those bombs? After serving in the infantry in Vietnam, I spent roughly 20 years trying to drive out the demons and stop the nightmares, praying thousands of prayers for relief and understanding. I concluded beyond a shadow of doubt for myself that God does not intend for us to solve problems by blowing each other's brains out and killing each other's children. The reason returning soldiers struggle to shake the effects of war is that regardless of politics and religious teaching (see above), in our souls we know it is not right to kill people. How many more have to die?

Op-Ed: Thanks To The Iraqi War Syria Has A Booming Sex Trade

Wealthy Middle Easterners looking for sex now travel to Syria for a cheap thrill. They have their choice of girls, some as young as 13 thanks to the Iraqi War. Syria has taken in 1.2 million refugees since George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. With no legal work available an estimated 50,000 female Iraqi refugees are now prostitutes in Syria. “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.” Because the United States invaded a country that posed no threat to the United States could George Bush and the country as a whole be blamed for these women’s new jobs? Many citizen tribunals have already convicted President Bush for war crimes. What’s one more crime on the list?


Get the army out of our schools

Teachers at the NUT union conference highlighted the issue of army involvement in education by voting on Tuesday to oppose army recruitment in schools. In addition to military visits to schools, the ministry of defence (MoD) wants to send “defence schools presentation teams” into classrooms to sell the benefits of “humanitarian intervention”. The government has commissioned a marketing company specialising in targeting children to draw up lesson plans that laud the war and occupation. [This happened in Britain. – dancewater]

Winter Soldier

While on tank patrol through the narrow streets of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, Pfc. Clifton Hicks was given an order. Abu Ghraib had become a "free-fire zone," Hicks was told, and no "friendlies" or civilians remained in the area. "Game on. All weapons free," his captain said. Upon that command, Hicks's unit opened a furious fusillade, firing wildly into cars, at people scurrying for cover, at anything that moved. Sent in to survey the damage, Hicks found the area littered with human and animal corpses, including women and children, but he saw no military gear or weapons of any kind near the bodies.

Vets visit to Minnesota school canceled

A planned visit by decorated veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars proved too controversial for one Minnesota high school, the principal said. Forest Lake Area High School Principal Steve Massey said school leaders decided to call off the appearance by a national touring group of veterans after the school fielded several calls from parents and others opposed to the school campus event, the Star Tribune reported Tuesday. The event was to have been attended by about 150 social studies students.

Antiwar Campaigners Have to Change Electoral Tactics

For the first time in 14 years, weapons manufacturers are donating more to Democrats than to Republicans. The Democrats have received 52% of the defence industry's political donations in this election cycle - up from a low of 32% in 1996. That money is about shaping foreign policy and, so far, it appears to be well spent. While Clinton and Obama denounce the war with great passion, they both have detailed plans to continue it. Both say they intend to maintain the massive green zone, including the monstrous US embassy, and to retain US control of Baghdad airport. They will have a "strike force" to engage in counter-terrorism, as well as trainers for the Iraqi military. Beyond these US forces, the army of green zone diplomats will require heavily armed security details, which are currently provided by Blackwater and other private security companies. At present there are as many private contractors supporting the occupation as there are soldiers, so these plans could mean tens of thousands of US personnel entrenched for the future.

Protests mark fifth anniversary of Iraq war

On March 19, the fifth anniversary of the war, and in the preceding days, protests took place in cities and towns large and small in the United States and all over the world. The ANSWER Coalition took a leading role organizing demonstrations in key U.S. cities, and numerous progressive organizations and individuals stepped up to the plate to mark the 5th anniversary with hundreds of protests around the country. Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation participated and helped organized a number of these events. Below are reports from some of the many actions that took place.

Quote of the day: FROM IRAQ TO PALESTINE, OCCUPATION IS A CRIME! ~ chant at anti-war rally