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

Monday, March 31, 2008

News & Views 03/31/08

Photo: Iraqi youths gather around the wreckage of an Iraqi army armoured vehicle following days of clashes with Iraqi Shiite fighters in the southern city of Basra. Gun-toting fighters of hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr melted away from Iraqi streets on Monday after week-long clashes with security forces that killed at least 461 people. (AFP/Sssam al-Sudani)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Monday: 2 US Soldiers, 50 Iraqis Killed; 41 Iraqis Wounded

Sunday: 144 Iraqis, 2 Americans Killed, 59 Iraqis Wounded

At least 461 killed in Iraq clashes: AFP tally

210 gunmen killed, 600 wounded in military campaign in Basra

Some 210 gunmen were killed, 600 others wounded and 155 captured since the beginning of Operation Saulat al-Forsan (Knights' Assault) in the province of Basra last week, the Iraqi interior ministry said on Monday.

23 civilians killed, injured in U.S. bombardment on Sadr City

285 gunmen killed,wounded in Thi-Qar - governor

109 people killed, 634 others wounded in Sadr city

US strikes kill 41 in Baghdad

US raids have claimed the lives of at least 41 Iraqi fighters, most of them Mahdi Army members, in eastern and northeastern Baghdad.

Karbala residents pray for end to clashes

"Will there ever be an end to armed clashes that gripped the city for months now?" Ahmed al-Yasseri, a local resident of Karbala, keeps wondering but eventually gets no answer. Yasseri believes that incidents in the holy Shiite city, 130 km south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, are nothing but a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." "The armed clashes that have been shaking Karbala since Wednesday evening seem to have no end at all. It looks as if there is somebody toiling to make sure these incidents would continue," a perplexed Yasseri told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

Kidnappers free Iraqi spokesman

The famous civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security operation has been released after being kidnapped last Thursday, Iraqi TV reports. According to Iraqi government television, Tahseen al-Shiekhly was freed in eastern Baghdad Monday evening four days after he was seized by gunmen from his home. Al-Shiekhly serves as the civilian spokesman for the Baghdad military command and regularly appears before reporters to tout improvements in security.

Basra clashes leave Iraqis hungry

Residents in southern Iraq are hopeful that the Mahdi Army will heed leader Mustaqa al-Sadr's call to withdraw from the streets. For nearly a week, clashes between al-Sadr's forces and the government have forced hundreds of families in Basra, Kut and Kerbala to seek safety inside their homes. At least 300 people have reportedly died since an Iraqi military crackdown in Basra last week sparked fighting across the country. The operation was aimed at disarming the city's warring Shia militias, including the al-Mahdi Army, as well as crushing a number of criminal gangs. But many Iraqi civilians say the fighting is spilling over to their lives. "We need food and water," Abu Kareem, a Basra resident, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview. "Electricity has been cut off [for] three days and all food we had in our refrigerators has been lost."

…. Ali Dureid, another Basra resident, told Al Jazeera that after his brother has been killed outside his home, the family had to wait for hours before carrying the body inside. They also had to delay his burial for two days while they waited for fighting to subside in their neighbourhood. "A foul smell started to come from his body," 34-year-old Duraid said. Dureid added that he understood why the al-Mahdi Army militia have taken up arms, but said the killing of innocent civilians does not ultimately serve their interests. "They are fighting to be recognised, but how can Iraqis [recognise] them if what they are doing is letting innocent civilians die under their ideals?"

IRAQ: Hard times in Sadr-land

As cleric Muqtada Sadr called Sunday for his supporters to end their fighting with the government across Iraq, horrible accounts have emerged of civilian suffering in neighborhoods in Basra and Baghdad. One man from Shaab in eastern Baghdad said he watched Wednesday night as Mahdi Army fighters closed off streets and burned tires in his neighborhood. U.S. jets and choppers roared overhead. In the evening, an Iraqi soccer game was on TV; people went inside to watch Iraq play Qatar. It was then that fighters set up their mortar tubes a hundred meters from one home. Before they could fire off a round, a U.S. helicopter shot off a rocket and an explosion ripped the area.

There were seven or eight burned, bleeding bodies lying on the street. Fighters came after two or three hours and lifted the dead militiamen, some of whom were probably teenagers. The blast had shattered windows and sent shrapnel flying, injuring a 6-year-old girl. The girl's father stood on the street and cursed the Mahdi Army. He shouted that he had never wanted to get involved in the violence. Some friends told him to be quiet, that he shouldn't let anyone hear him talking that way. Eventually they led him inside his damaged house.

16,207 detainees released under pardon law

A total 16,207 detainees were released since the adoption of the general pardon law in mid-February, an official judicial source said on Monday. "The number of prisoners released since the general pardon law became in effect in mid-February 2008 reached 16,207 until Sunday," Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Bayraqdar, the official spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

The Iraq Legacy: Millions of Women's Lives Destroyed

In fact, Iraq's women have become the biggest losers in the post-invasion disaster. While men have borne the brunt in terms of direct armed violence, women have been particularly hard-hit by poverty, malnutrition, lack of health services and a crumbling infrastructure, not least chronic power cuts which in some areas of Iraq see electricity only available for two hours a day. More than 70 percent of the four million people forced out of their homes in the past five years in Iraq have been women and children. Many have found temporary shelter with relatives who share their limited space, food and supplies. But this, according to the UN refugee agency, has created "rising tension between families over scarce resources." Many displaced women and children find themselves in unsanitary and overcrowded public buildings under constant threat of eviction.

Iraq: Al-Qaeda Killing Field Found Near Farming Village

The first victim, whose head had been placed at his feet, was found on March 26 by a local village head and a U.S. Army officer who had been given the orchard's location by a man who said he had been kidnapped by Al-Qaeda last August and taken to a "jail" there but managed to escape before execution. "Smell that?" Captain Vince Morris, of Iron Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, asked when he approached the orchard on that exploratory visit. No one answered. No one needed to. The gagging stench of rotting flesh was unmistakable. And it was much too strong for the contents of just one grave. At least 51 additional clumps of remains were uncovered in two, two-hour digs by volunteers from surrounding villages later in the week. The oldest remains were in separate, shallow graves. The freshest remains -- the skeletons still had muscle and flesh holding the bones together -- were in several mass graves, the bodies heaped upon each other. Most were unearthed with their wrists tied behind their backs and with a bullet hole in the skull. Some were covered with a piece of cloth when dumped into the hole; others were not. And then there were the bodies that were wrapped in plastic. "The ones in plastic are really bad," an American soldier said. "They're just bags of mush." ….. The elderly woman said her son, Muhammad Jaber, 42, was taken away by Al-Qaeda last July when he repeatedly refused to join the group. [These are not saddam mass graves – they are bush mass graves. – dancewater]

IRAQ: Expect the unexpected

Last week, everything changed. Suddenly, there were clashes between Shiite militiamen and government forces in the streets. Mortars started falling across Baghdad. A 24-hour curfew was imposed, and on Saturxday, it was extended indefinitely. I am back to living in the bureau because of this. My wife and kids are at her mother's house in the Sunni area. My parents remain at the new house in the mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhood. We keep in touch by phone. When I spoke to my parents recently, I could hear gunfire in the background. I was worried about my wife and children, so I was surprised when I called her cell phone and she was out shopping at a neighborhood market.

Anger follows the fight with Sadr's militia

"The Charge of the Sadrs" is spray painted in black all over the numerous Iraqi Army and police checkpoints now abandoned in eastern Baghdad's Shiite neighborhoods. The graffiti mocks Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's security operation – "The Charge of the Knights" – launched in Basra, the southern Iraqi oil city, last week that put Iraqi and US forces in direct confrontation with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in the capital and across the south. On Monday, one day after the Shiite cleric's call for a truce following the battle that killed hundreds of people and wounded scores of others, several conclusions are clear. Mr. Sadr has demonstrated his power, despite the blows dealt to his movement over the past few years. The government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, thanked him profusely on Monday for his decision, but vowed that the fight would continue in Basra, where militiamen have now largely melted away from the streets, but remain very much in control of their strongholds.

….. "They killed him here, look," recounts Salem Dhiab, pointing to the bullet-riddled gate where he says his neighbor, Ahmed Bayrouzi, was shot by a US sniper after venturing out Sunday in violation of the curfew to check on his sister who lives close by.

….. "We voted for a government to help us, not to do this to us," says an angry woman, who gave her name as Umm Jasem. She sold fresh eggs at the market. Her stall was reduced to a heap of charred metal. "Enough! Tell America enough."

IRAQ: Basra residents hit by surging food, fuel prices

Residents of Iraq’s second-largest city of Basra are breathing a sigh of relief after Shia radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his militia to end the clashes with government forces which erupted on 25 March. “We witnessed wars in the past: the 1980s Iraq-Iran war, 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion, but we did not go through such an experience as we did with this tragedy,” said Salim Abdul-Hussein, a 40-year-old resident of Basra’s central Jubaila area where clashes broke out. On the afternoon of 30 March Abdul-Hussein finally emerged from his home after the five-day curfew was eased in a bid to get food, water and medicines for his children and sick, elderly mother. “Food prices have at least doubled while those of other things have increased more than three times, with no bakeries and no fuel stations opened,” Abdul-Hussein told IRIN in a telephone interview.

Thousands of police officers who refused to fight Sadr are given the sack

Interior Minister Jawad Boulani has ordered the dismissal of thousands of police members and officers who allegedly refused orders to take part in the fight against the militiamen of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. [Gee, I wonder what they will end up doing….. – dancewater]

Iraq

While some areas in Baghdad and Basra remain tense, people began to move freely again this morning. Fearing another deterioration in the situation, they stocked up on food, water and other essential goods. Hospitals have used up stocks of vital medical items and require further supplies to cope with the influx of wounded patients. Access to water remains a matter of concern in certain areas. Life-saving medical services affected by the fighting Life-saving medical services have been affected by the fighting in Basra, Baghdad and elsewhere in the country. “Several ambulances were hit in Basra and some were not allowed to reach injured persons in urgent need of medical care,” said Juan-Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC delegation for Iraq.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

From Missing Links blog:

But Roads to Iraq points out that there has now been a published claim of responsibility by the Sunni resistance faction Jaish al-Muslimin, part of the Jihad and Change Front, for all of the attacks on the Green Zone since Saturday March 29 and including those of this morning (Monday March 31).

Iranian general played key role in Iraq cease-fire

Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said. Sadr ordered the halt on Sunday, and his Mahdi Army militia heeded the order in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government announced it would lift a 24-hour curfew starting early Mondaxy in most parts of the capital. But fighting continued in the oil hub of Basra, where a six-day-old government offensive against Shiite militias has had only limited gains.

So far, 488 people have been killed and more than 900 wounded in the offensive, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said. The backdrop to Sadr's dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran's holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country. There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said. Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.

……….. The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki - who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative.

Iranian peacemaker in Iraq is on U.S. terrorist watch list

The Iranian general who helped broker an end to a week of fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shiite Muslim militiamen in southern Iraq is an unlikely peacemaker. Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who helped U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders negotiate a deal with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to end the fighting in Iraq's largely Shiite south, is named on watch lists of the U.S. Treasury Department and U.N. Security Council for alleged involvement in terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. His role, which McClatchy first reported Sunxday, underscores Iran's entrenched political power and alliances in Iraq, according to analysts. [He is likely on the watch list because of his influence on peace in Iraq, rather than anything else. – dancewater]

IRAQ: Divided Arabs Deliver Little

The Arab summit held in Damascus over this weekend has convinced many Iraqis that Arab leaders do not speak for them. More than anything done or not, the very absence of many Arab leaders at the summit has left displaced Iraqis here angry. "It was a disappointment to us that some Arab leaders decided not to attend the summit in Damascus," Dr. Zeki al-Khazraji, an Iraqi refugee in Syria told IPS. "We were looking forward to the summit thinking it might discuss our agonies that have lasted too long without any sign of improvement. If not the Arab leaders, who will think of us?" Many Iraqi refugees say Arab leaders are cut off from their own people. "The Iraqi fire is spreading to the Arab world and our leaders must think of their own positions," Salim Mahmood, an Iraqi freelance journalist in Damascus told IPS. "We cannot understand why Iraqis are left alone to face daily death while Arabs just watch in silence.

Truce Calms Iraq, Weakens Prime Minister

The peace deal between al-Sadr and Iraqi government forces - said to have been brokered in Iran - calmed the violence but left the cleric's Mahdi Army intact and Iraq's US-backed prime minister politically battered and humbled within his own Shiite power base. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised to crush the militias that have effectively ruled Basra for nearly three years. The U.S. military launched air strikes in the city to back the Iraqi effort. But the ferocious response by the Mahdi Army, including rocket fire on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone and attacks throughout the Shiite south, caught the government by surprise and sent officials scrambling for a way out of the crisis. [Other reports say the rocket fire is from Sunni resistance fighters. – dancewater]

Al-Sadr trumps in latest showdown

The Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rarely ventures into the public eye. But he's never far from the minds of Iraq's leaders as one of the nation's most influential and wily political survivors. It appears he has managed again to turn a potential blow to his advantage. Al-Sadr, who directs the powerful Madhi Army militia, was facing a possible stranglehold after Iraqi forces moved last week against Shiite gangs in the southern city of Basra. Instead, al-Sadr emerged as a self-styled peacemaker and patriot after offering Sunday to rein in the Mahdi militiamen who rose up to protest the crackdown. "Al-Sadr achieved what he wanted," said Vali Nasr, an expert on Shiite politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. "He stood his ground, made his point and showed he has the real power in the south, not his rivals."

The alleys of the Iraqi resistance

Alleys: they are dangerous only when used by those who grew up in them. That is the basic reason Sadr and his fighters simply will not go away in this war. What makes the case so difficult is that it is not just a question of a battle with U.S. troops, here from half a world away carrying out operations that Sadr and his fighters consider an abhorrent occupation. Some 3,500 troops in the Basra fight are Iraqis from outside the province, and witnesses say it is clear that few if any of the Iraqi security forces in the assault know the neighborhoods the way the Mahdi army does. Its fighters literally pop in and out of alleys, battling a federal force of nearly 30,000 to what is, so far, a stalemate.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

CLUELESS: McCain Expresses Surprise at Iraq Developments

McCain said the situation underscores the involvement of Iran, especially in southern Iraq. And he said he was disturbed by some of the demands of Moqtada al-Sadr, who called for a cease fire yesterday.

Our lawmakers are insanely stupid: Graham: Security has helped stabilize Iraq

Graham also identified the fight against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq and the battle against Iranian-backed Shiite militants as the other key struggles in Iraq. [My bet would be that Graham thinks the Mahdi army is “Iranian-backed”. This idiot told me to my face in September 2005 that “We know what we are doing” in regards to Iraq. – dancewater]

This one is exactly backwards: Sen. Graham: 'Iranians Are Killing Americans'

And you can bet it is bi-partisan: From a comment in Juan Cole’s blog:

Obviously a few of the nuances have started to filter through to Harry Reid. Obviously too, however, Reid has mostly left it to others to 'worry their pretty little heads' about what is really going on in Iraq by making no particular effort, as with the Congress as a whole, to find sources of information which would challenge the party line, or the status quo, or the distorted and deliberately misleading assertions of the Executive Branch.

Carl Levin (Armed Services) and Joe Biden (Foreign Relations) and their House counterparts are the ones best situated to unearth the facts about Iraq, if they so choose, with committee testimony from witnesses - such as Professor Cole - not beholden to the Pentagon or the administration. It's long, long overdue for their respective Congressional committees to get down to serious business about Iraq - if only to help their "leader" sound a little more 'with it' about the shatteringly-destructive effects of $12 billion a month in taxpayer funds being distributed and spent in Iraq without any meaningful oversight, for years on end. Harry Reid might want to start learning some of the 'hard truths' about which he has seemingly remained blissfully unaware, by reading this impressive and brutally clear-eyed new overview by Chris Floyd.

And it ain’t just our politicians: CIA Chief Defends Military Action in Basra

Or just the CIA: Gates says Iraqi army appears to have performed well

[Somebody want to tell him that the Mahdi militia won? Maybe he gets confused when we say ‘Mahdi army’. – dancewater]

POLITICS: Embarrassed U.S. Starts to Disown Basra Operation

As it became clear last week that the "Operation Knights Assault" in Basra was in serious trouble, the George W. Bush administration began to claim in off-the-record statements to journalists that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had launched the operation without consulting Washington. The effort to disclaim U.S. responsibility for the operation is an indication that it was viewed as a major embarrassment just as top commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are about to testify before Congress. [But will anyone tell the US corporate media? – dancewater]

Three Turk security personnel killed in PKK clash

Three members of Turkey's security forces were killed and a number of others injured on Monday in a clash with Kurdish PKK rebels in mountains near the Iraqi border, security officials said. The clash occurred in Sirnak province where security forces have been battling members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for about a week as part of an annual spring military crackdown on the guerrillas as the winter snows melt.

COMMENTARY

British Correspondent Patrick Cockburn on Iraq's Growing Sectarian Divide and the Myth of "Success" in the US "Surge"

As a new civil war threatens to explode in Iraq between US-backed Iraqi government forces and Shia militiamen, we go to London to speak with Patrick Cockburn, Iraq correspondent for the London Independent. Covering the invasion and occupation from the ground in Iraq for the past five years, Cockburn has been described as “the best Western journalist at work in Iraq today.” He is author of the new book Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq.

They do not need any encouragement: Puppet child on Hamas TV kills Bush

Neither do these guys: French Extremists Dream of Jihad in Iraq

Rubin: Iran Saves the Surge

Has anyone noticed that Iran is saving the Bush administration's surge in Iraq?

CNN: Iran was integral in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt attacks by his militia on Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi lawmaker said Monday. Haidar al-Abadi, who is with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said Iraqi Shiite lawmakers traveled Friday to Iran to meet with al-Sadr. They returned Sunday, the day al-Sadr told his Mehdi Army fighters to stand down. . . . The lawmakers who traveled to Iran to broker the cease-fire were from five Shiite parties, including the Sadrist movement. Al-Abadi would not say where in Iran the meeting was held.

When Iran Revolutionary Guards helped the U.S. destroy al-Qaida's bases in Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and form an interim government under UN supervision, the Bush administration responded by putting Iran (then led by President Muhammad Khatami) on the "axis of evil." Now battles between the pro-Iranian militia brought to power by the U.S. (al-Da'wa) and a more Iraqi nationalist Shi'a militia (the Sadr movement) threaten to reverse the precarious security gains of the surge by dividing the ruling coalition of Shi'a parties. Iran convenes them on its territory, and the battle is calmed. I wonder how Bush and Cheney will react this time.

Quote of the day: The next day I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will. ~ Qais Mizher

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