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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

News & Views 03/29/08

Photo: Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest in Diwaniya, 180 km (112 miles) south of Baghdad March 29, 2008. About 200 demonstrators held a rally to support the military operations in Basra and Maliki's government, in Diwaniya on Saturday. (Imad al-khozai/Reuters)

Photo: Masked members of the Iraqi security forces hold copies of the Koran as they sit in the office of Moqtada al- Sadr in Baghdad's Sadr City March 29, 2008. In Baghdad's Sadr City, Sadr's main stronghold, a group of Iraqi police and soldiers surrendered themselves and their weapons to the local Sadr office, a Reuters photographer said. The spokesman for Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, Major-General Qassim Moussawi, sought to play down the desertions, saying he had received reports of only 15 men surrendering. He said those who did so would be court-martialled. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem (IRAQ)

In photos: 'Iraq Basra Conflict'

In photos: 'Iraq Diwaniya Unrest'

In photos: 'Basra Fighting'

Photos: Iraqis fight Mahdi army


Saturday: 143 Iraqis, 2 US Soldiers Killed, 230 Iraqis Wounded

Friday: 163 Iraqis, 1 US Soldier Killed, 214 Iraqis Wounded

US Airstrike Kills 8 Civlians in Iraq's Basra

More Airstrikes on Basra

U.S. jets widened the bombing of Basra on Saturday, dropping two precision-guided bombs on a suspected militia stronghold north of the city, British officials said. Maj. Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman, said U.S. jets dropped the two bombs on a militia position in Qarmat Ali shortly before 12:30 p.m.

Iraq – Humanitarian situation in Basra and Baghdad

Latest report on humanitarian situation in Iraq. The ICRC is concerned about the humanitarian impact of continued fighting in Basra and Baghdad. Its staff in the two cities say that many people are running out of food and water. Most shops are reported to be closed. The supply of electricity in Basra and in parts of Baghdad is intermittent or has been cut. Hospitals in Basra and in parts of Baghdad have told the ICRC that they are running out of medical stocks, food and fuel. Patients' families are reportedly bringing their own small generators to some hospitals in the capital to ensure sufficient power supplies during treatment.

Iraq: a dangerous walk to work

A white cloth fluttered from the antenna of a car to signal the two men inside were noncombatants. Heavy machine-gun fire resounded in the distance. It reminded me of the early days of the U.S.-led war, now in its sixth year. I had hoped such days were over. Iraqi authorities clamped a curfew on the capital late Thursday as clashes spread between security forces and militia fighters angry over a crackdown in the southern oil port of Basra. That didn't leave people much time to prepare and I was eager to get to the office and give my colleagues a hand. It was a beautiful spring day but most people remained holed up in their homes amid the tensions, venturing out only to buy bread and other necessities in the few stores that were open.

Tense Hours in Iraq's Sadr City

The gunfire struck like thunderclaps, building to a steady rhythm. American soldiers in a Stryker armored vehicle fired away from one end of the block. At the other end, two groups of Shiite militiamen pounded back with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. American helicopters circled above in the blue afternoon sky. As a heavy barrage erupted outside his parents' house, Abu Mustafa al-Thahabi, a political and military adviser to the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, rushed through the purple gate and took shelter behind the thick walls. He had just spoken with a fighter by cellphone. "I told him not to use that weapon. It's not effective," he said, referring to a rocket-propelled grenade. "I told him to use the IED, the Iranian one," he added, using the shorthand for an improvised explosive device. "This is more effective." After nearly a year of relative calm [HUH?? A YEAR??? – dancewater], U.S. troops and Shiite militiamen engaged in pitched battles this week, underscoring how quickly order can give way to chaos in Iraq. On this block in Sadr City, the cleric's sprawling stronghold, men and boys came out from nearly every house to fight, using powerful IEDs and rockets.

Iraq’s never-ending war

All explanations are possible for the current fighting in Basra, the largest city in southern Iraq situated in an area which floats on massive oil riches. But the reality of the situation which tells volumes about what is happening is the fact that war, in the fullest sense of the word, has been raging without interruption in Iraq for the past five years. Over those years, bombing by war planes and shelling by heavy artillery have been raging across the country, telling everyone inside and outside Iraq that conditions for normal life are no longer possible. Amid such circumstances in which villages, towns and cities turn into battle scenes, there are still some whose total state of denial spurs them to speak of successes and achievements.

Every now and then in the past five years, the government or the foreign occupiers would launch massive and bloody operations on Iraqis in major cities such as Karbala, Najaf, Baaqouba, Kut, and Basra and so on and so forth. Fierce fighting takes place inside these cities with the main fodder being innocent Iraqi civilians among them women and children. In the past five years, Iraqis have been paying dearly for the blunders first of the foreigners who came to occupy their country and second of the Iraqis these foreigners have nurtured and supported to run the country.

'I told her she was mother to a martyr'

As fighting between the Shia Mahdi army and the Iraqi national army continued yesterday, witnesses described scenes in the city to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. "Yesterday we were in the street and saw a black car coming. They stopped and two men opened the boot. They dragged out an Iraqi soldier and threw him in the street and they drove away." "He was a young soldier dressed in a military uniform, he had a bullet hole in his head and there was blood on his face - even his boots were covered with blood. "We found his ID card, his name was Ahmad Raad al-Helfy. We went through his mobile phone and found a number marked "mum", we dialled and an old women answered. I told her that her son had died and that she was the mother of a martyr; she started screaming and wailing."

Iraq : Five years after the start of the conflict and the fall of Saddam Hussein, the situation in most part of the country remains grim.

The areas of violence are scattered and although the Southern governorates are considered safer, violence against women is increasing in Basrah. In the North, preparations are under way for the launching of a massive military intervention in Mosul to rout out the militias still masterminding numerous suicide attacks across the country. The civilian population caught in the middle is prevented from leaving and will suffer the consequences. The number of Iraqis killed by suicide attacks and fighting has decreased notably and was at the beginning of the year the lowest in almost two years, nevertheless 541 individuals lost their lives in January (Source : Health and Internal Affairs Ministries), considered a quiet month. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdadis now live in walled-in, ethnically cleansed, heavily guarded enclaves that they are terrified to leave. Sunnis do not venture into Shia areas, and vice-versa. Sectarian hatreds have been contained, but not resolved.

2 millions of internally displaced and 2 millions of refugees (Sources : United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Iraqi Ministry of Displaced People) are still struggling to survive in dire conditions. They cannot return to their place of origin, as their safety cannot be guaranteed. Together with the hosting communities in the governorates, they cannot rely on public services, for clean water, for the provision of electricity, for accessible and appropriate health care, for decent education, and for their share of food supplies.


Maliki and the US fear the emergence of another round of national-resistance

Remarks reported this morning by Maliki, a US State Dept official, and the Iraqi Defense Minister indicate they wish they could put this genie back in the bottle, and the reason appears to be a general anxiety to the effect this could into a national resistance movement. AlHayat reports this morning (Saturday March 29) the following: “Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki--who extended his deadline for the militias to surrender their arms in exchange for monetary rewards to April 8--was intent on stressing that he did not invite the coalition forces in Iraq to participate in the Basra operations, and persons close to Maliki justified this by explaining the government's desire not to turn this fighting into a confrontation between the resistance and the occupation forces. In addition to confirming the Iraqi forces' ability in the field.”

Iraqi prime minister softens ultimatum as militias stand ground

Four days into a major government offensive in Basra, Iraqi government forces have been unable to dislodge Shiite Muslim militias from their strongholds in the southern port city, prompting Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to back off his ultimatum to disarm by Friday. As Maliki softened his demand, offering cash to anyone who turns in medium to heavy weapons in the next 10 days, U.S. military involvement intensified with U.S. aircraft striking two targets in Basra, according to a British military spokesman.

Shiite leader al-Sadr defies Iraq gov't

Anti-American Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers Saturday to defy government orders to surrender their weapons, as U.S. jets struck Shiite extremists near Basra to bolster a faltering Iraqi offensive against gunmen in the city. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power. Government television said the round-the-clock curfew imposed two days ago on the capital and due to expire Sunday would be extended indefinitely.

INTERVIEW-Iraqi FM pledges 'fight to end' with Sadrists

The Iraqi government is resolved to win a "fight to the end" against the Shi'ite Mehdi Army militia in the south of the country, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Friday. He told Reuters the authorities had no choice but to continue a four-day crackdown on the militias loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in and around Basra, Iraq's second city. Government forces have so far failed to drive Sadrist fighters off the streets.

"It was bound to happen. It was a long overdue confrontation in my view and the government has taken a decision to defeat them and it is irreversible," Zebari said. "Definitely this is a fight to the end. Otherwise there will be no government authority there," he added in an interview in Damascus ahead of a weekend Arab summit.

Police refuse to support Iraqi PM's attacks on Mehdi Army

US and British forces are increasingly playing a supporting role in the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's stalled offensive against the Mehdi Army militia. American aircraft launched air strikes in Basra yesterday and fought militiamen on the streets in Baghdad while British advisers have also been assisting Iraqi troops in Basra. Mr Maliki retreated from his demand that militiamen hand over their weapons by yesterday and extended the deadline to 8 April. This is a tacit admission that the Iraqi army and police have failed to oust the Mehdi Army from any of its strongholds in the capital and in southern Iraq. The Iraqi army has either met stubborn resistance from Mehdi Army fighters or soldiers and police have refused to fight or changed sides.

Al-Sadr Wants Arabs to Back 'Resistance'

Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on Arab leaders meeting in Syria to voice their support for Iraq's "resistance" to what he calls foreign occupation. [The rest of the world calls it that too, probably because THAT IS WHAT IT IS. – dancewater] Al-Jazeera television has shown a brief clip of an interview with the Mahdi Army militia leader. It says the full interview will be shown later Saturday. The broadcast is the first word from the reclusive cleric since the Iraqi government launched a crackdown against militia violence in the southern oil port of Basra earlier this week.

IRAQ: Not quite the surrender Maliki had in mind

It appears that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's ultimatum to Shiite Muslim militiamen to surrender to the Iraqi government might not be working precisely as he had intended. When nobody had turned up by Friday, Maliki gave members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia 10 more days to turn in their weapons and renounce violence. Instead, about 40 members of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and National Police offered to surrender their AK-47s and other weapons this morning to Sadr's representatives in the cleric's east Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City. One of the police officers told journalists assembled at Sadr's office that he was heeding a call by an Iraqi cleric based in Iran, Ayatollah Fadhil Maliki, to stop fighting fellow Muslims. "We came here to tell our brothers, the followers of Sadr, that we will not be against you," said the officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes and had his face covered with a scarf and dark sunglasses.


BBC: British forces have joined in Iraq fighting

The British army has joined in the fighting in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, firing artillery Saturday afternoon to support Iraqi forces, military officials said. The Defense Ministry said a few artillery rounds had been fired at militants using mortars to attack Iraqi forces in Basra. A military spokesman said while such operations were fairly routine, it was the first time ground forces had been used in connection with the recent fighting in the city, which pits Iraqi and coalition forces against militant followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iran urges end to Iraq fighting, says helps US

Iran called on Saturday for an end to fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shi'ite Muslim militants to remove any "pretext" for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, himself a Shi'ite, launched a crackdown against the Mehdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Basra this week. Fighting has spread and exposed a deep rift within Iraq's majority Shi'ites. "The Islamic Republic of Iran does not regard the recent clashes in Iraq as being in the interest of the people of that country and calls for a speedy end to the clashes," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hossein said. Speaking to the official IRNA news agency, he called for the "continuation of dialogue to find ways of establishing peace, stability and security". He added that by avoiding clashes "the people of Iraq take away any pretext for the continued illegal presence of the occupiers."

Turkish army says kills 15 PKK in N Iraq

Turkey's armed forces killed 15 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq on Thursday using long-range land weapons, and then followed up with air strikes, they said on Saturday. It was the first time Turkish forces had killed a group of Kurdish rebels inside northern Iraq since the end of a large-scale ground incursion into the neighbouring country last month, according to information given by the armed forces.


ANALYSIS-Maliki's Basra crackdown poses risk for U.S.

Iraq's crackdown on the Mehdi Army in Basra poses a dilemma for the United States, which wants Iraqi forces to take a lead on security but risks getting sucked into their violent Shi'ite feud. Security forces have battled the Mehdi Army militia loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq's southern oil city for days, targeting what Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called "outlaws". But there is little prospect of a swift victory. The fighting has spread through southern regions, drew the U.S. forces and led to protests in Baghdad by followers of Sadr, who say Maliki is using force to weaken his political rivals. [I am pretty sure it was bush and cheney who ordered this crackdown. – dancewater]

UK/US backed attack on Basra aims to break popular and trade union resistance

The attacking forces now besieging Basra stretched all the way to the city from Dhi Qar province. Two armoured divisions are deployed, in addition to thousands of policemen, backed by US and British planning and air cover. They have cut off electricity supplies, food and water on the city of 1.5 million people. Hundreds have been killed or injured in a savage, premeditated and unprovoked attack, now spreading to much of Iraq as the people protest and show solidarity with Basra’s beleaguered people. They describe the attack as far worse than the invasion of 2003 and begun in the same barbaric manner that the criminal Saddam employed against Basra to crush the March 1991 people’s uprising. They remind us that the present puppet Iraqi government sentenced Saddam’s Defence Minister to death few months ago for similar crimes of waging war on civilians.

The assault is backed by the US and British occupation forces, particularly in providing air cover. US planes are also bombarding areas in the Basra, several southern cities and Baghdad, where tens of thousands marched yesterday denouncing the “puppet regime”. It is now, along with many other cities, under a strict curfew enforced by regime and occupation forces. Trade union leaders have asked us to inform the public in Britain that the government’s attack on Basra serves the occupation. The city is “steadfast” and the onslaught will end in “utter failure.” The city streets were free of the occupying forces before the assault and the regime’s attacks will make it even more dependent on the occupation forces, they stressed.

'Standing Up' Iraq Army Looks Open-Ended

Iraq's new army is "developing steadily," with "strong Iraqi leaders out front," the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army's weapons, according to investigators. The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to "stand up" an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed U.S. forces to "stand down" from Iraq. The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces - in their toughest test yet - were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias.


Marking Five Years in IraqAsheville Reading of the Names

42 Democrats Vow a Drawdown in Iraq if They Win Seats

More than three dozen Democratic congressional candidates banded together yesterday to promise that, if elected, they will push for legislation calling for an immediate drawdown of troops in Iraq that would leave only a security force in place to guard the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Rejecting their party leaders' assertions that economic troubles have become the top issue on voters' minds, leaders of the coalition of 38 House and four Senate candidates pledged to make immediate withdrawal from Iraq the centerpiece of their campaigns.

Rights groups lash out at UN Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council 'needs to be more focused on saving lives and less focused on allowing governments to save face,' was the damning assessment of one human rights group as the Council ended its seventh regular session in Geneva on Friday.

Concert tonight aids injured Iraqi children

“It would be difficult to exaggerate the need,” said Cole Miller, the group’s founding director. Iraq’s hospital system has been destroyed, and many doctors have fled.” For the past year, No More Victims has paid for the often painful, ongoing treatment of Omar’s burns at Children’s Hospital. “He has an indomitable spirit that makes you proud to be with him,” Morris said.

Quote of the day: Has there ever in the history of man been a policy more incoherent than this one? We back a government that is essentially a proxy of our regional arch-enemy, Iran. Our Sunni "Awakening" allies, largely composed of the Baathists we removed from power in the first place, hate this government and would love to overthrow it. Our Kurdish allies are composed of two decidedly undemocratic rival mafias, at least one of which is quite friendly to our enemy Iran, and at least one of which is carrying on a low-level war with our ally Turkey. Meanwhile, the most popular political movement in the country shares our stated goal of a democratic, unified Iraq and therefore must be crushed. ~ Greg Gordon, on Informed Comment’s comment section