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

Sunday, April 13, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, April 13, 2008

A woman reacts next to destroyed shops after clashes and an air strike in Baghdad's Sadr City April 12, 2008. U.S. and Iraqi forces killed at least 13 gunmen in heavy battles overnight around Baghdad's Sadr City, the U.S. military said on Saturday, but authorities went ahead and eased a two-week-old blockade of the slum. (Kareem Raheem/Reuters) Yup, that's what bombs do -- they blow stuff up.

See Update under Other News, below

Reported Security Incidents

Baghdad

U.S. Apache helicopter misses target with a Hellfire missile, strikes a U.S. Humvee, injuring 2 U.S. soldiers and 3 Iraqi bystanders. U.S. says a previous missile, apparently from the same helicopter, killed two "militants." This incident occurred in the Mashtal district, which is in southeast Baghdad and not close to where the bulk of recent fighting has occurred.

Three bodies found dumped in various places on Saturday.

Two policemen injured by IED in Karrada.

Near Tikrit

U.S. military says 5 "al Qaeda" members killed, 2 injured in joint U.S.-Iraqi assault on a desert camp. Iraqi police say 13 killed.

Hawija (south of Kirkuk)

Roadside bomb kills a Sahwa member.

Kirkuk

Bomb on a minibus, apparently targeting a checkpoint, seriously injures two passengers.

DPA also reports two bomb attacks on Sahwa patrols in the Kirkuk area, one injuring three, the other killing one. The stated locations do not correspond to the Hawija location reported by Aswat al-Iraq (above), so I'm assuming these are all separate. McClatchy indeed reports three separate attacks, although it's difficult to tell which ones correspond to which since all the news services give different place names for the incidents. Let's just say there were at least three.

Mosul

Police find the beheaded corpse of a man. Police also seize some mortar shells, not clear if the incidents are related.

Bomb on an oil truck kills 2, wounds 10 near an Iraqi army checkpoint.

Numaniya (north of Kut)

Police seize a truck containing weapons, detain the driver. (This is in the southern Shiite Wassit province.)

Basra

Iraqi security forces detain five Sadrist officials.

Reuters reports Iraqi army arrests an al Qaeda leader near Basra. That's an odd place for him to be, however -- C.

Other News of the Day

Update: Roads to Iraq blog cites reports that Ayatollah Sistani is incapacitated and may be dying. This may explain his silence during the recent crises. His successor may well not be Iraqi. This could introduce new complications into the Iraqi political situation.

Iraqi army and police dismiss 1,300 members in Basra and Kut for refusing to fight in the recent attack on the Mahdi Army. Those fired include officers up to the rank of Brigadier General.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki comments on the regional security conference scheduled for April 22 in Kuwait. As usual, KUNA's English is a little rough. Excerpt:

In press statements following talks with visiting foreign minister of the Philippines, Alberto Romulo, Mottaki said the meeting in Kuwait was "important", noting it would group foreign ministers of countries neighboring Iraq, in addition to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) five permanent members and the G-8 countries.

The Iranian official reiterated the urge of multinational forces to withdraw from Iraq according to a set timetable and refer security issues for the Iraqi government to handle, saying "the continuation of having these troops in the country (Iraq), meant that one of the reasons of the lack of security still persists," Mottaki will represent his country in the meeting.

Mottaki reaffirmed what he described the "US failure in Iraq", saying that instead of admitting to this failure; the US administration was blaming others for its own mistakes. He also slammed the United States for renewing the contract of Black Water Security Company in Iraq for another year, accusing the Company of having a hand in killing a number of Iraqis.

As for what foreign media have reported on the possibility of holding a meeting with US counterpart Condoleezza Rice, Mottaki commented that such thing was not enlisted in the agenda.


Meanwhile, yet another regional security meeting kicks off in Damascus, apparently to discuss whatever they're going to discuss next week in Kuwait.

Remember those ongoing talks about government reform so that the main Sunni party, the Iraqi Accord Front, and the Sadrists, might end their boycotts, etc.? Neither did I, but apparently they're still yacking. It's been almost a year now -- apparently the Iraqis have their own version of the Friedman Unit. Excerpt:

Baghdad - The head of a Sunni-led political party said Sunday that talks on reshaping the Iraqi government were progressing, but no agreements had been reached. Saleh al-Motlaq, head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that the talks were continuing, but most political parties and parliamentary blocks felt that the government was only pursuing its own interests.

'We need a strong government that works on providing security and stability in the country,' Al-Motlaq said. He added: 'I support all perspectives that request the re- establishment of a new government in Iraq, instead of filling ministerial gaps in the current cabinet.' Al-Motlaq said that there has been fatal errors and corruption in governmental bodies.

Earlier, Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani had met with heads of the parliamentary blocks and the vice-president to discuss the possibility of including ministers from the Iraqi Accord Front, the country's largest Sunni bloc, in the new cabinet. On March 9, al-Talabani said that negotiations on restructuring the Iraqi government were moving ahead and expressed hope that there would be a new cabinet within a week.

He said in a press conference: 'I hope that ministers of the Iraqi Accord Front would return quickly to the cabinet because the three focal points of a united government are the Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and the Kurds.'

Iraq's premier had also promised to reshape the cabinet when the Iraqi Accord Front and the Shiite Sadr bloc withdrew in July.


Commentary and Analysis

Frank Rich ties himself in knots to be fair and balanced in the presidential contest, and he croaks out the usual CW BS about Iraqi history ("Iraq's sects have remained at each other's throats since their country was carved out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I") but he does manage to express how delusional the debate really is. Excerpt:

Maliki's impulsive and ill-planned attempt to vanquish the militias in southern Iraq loyal to his Shiite rival, the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was a failure that left Sadr more secure than before. Though some Iraqi armed forces were briefly in the lead, others mutinied. Eventually U. S. and British forces and air power had to ride to the rescue in both Basra and Baghdad. Even then, the result was at best a standoff, with huge casualties. The battle ended only when al-Maliki's own political minions sought a ceasefire.

McCain was just as wrong about Basra as he was in 2003, when he said the war would be "brief"and be paid for by Iraqi oil revenues. Or as he was in the 1990 s, when he championed extravagant State Department funding for the war instigator Ahmad Chalabi, who'd already been branded untrustworthy by the CIA. (The relationship between Chalabi and the former lobbyist Charles Black, a chief McCain campaign strategist, is explored in a new book," The Man Who Pushed America to War," by Aram Roston. )

As for Basra, McCain told Joe Klein of Time in January that it was "not a problem. "He told John King of CNN while in Baghdad last month that al-Sadr's "influence has been on the wane for a long time. "When the battle ended last week, McCain said: "Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the ceasefire, declared a cease-fire. It wasn't Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a cease-fire. "At least the last of those sentences was accurate. It was indeed the losing side - al-Maliki's - that pleaded for the cease-fire.

Perhaps all these mistaken judgments can be attributed to the fog of war. But McCain's bigger strategic picture, immutable no matter what happens on the ground, is foggier still. Like Bush, he keeps selling Iraq as the central front in the war on al-Qaida. But al-Qaida was not even a participant in the Basra battle, which was an eruption of a Shiite-vs.-Shiite civil war. (Al-Qaida is busy enough in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the actual central front in the war on terror. )


Juan Cole explains the three main conflicts in Iraq, in a sort of "Iraq for Dummies." Even this is a bit of an oversimplification but that's the point, he's trying to cut through the Bush-McCain fog and get people to at least have a basic understanding of what's going on. Excerpt:

AT LAST WEEK'S Iraq hearings on Capitol Hill, amid the talk of progress, withdrawal timetables, and casualty numbers, one crucial question was largely ignored: How much of Iraq can American troops really expect to fix?
more stories like this

American leaders and media tend to focus on the insurgency in Baghdad and its environs, but that's only a small part of the total picture. When the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, it engendered a series of power struggles around the country.

Today Iraq is embroiled in three separate civil wars, only one of which has involved US troops in a significant way. These three conflicts have generated most of the country's violence, and are intensively reported on in the Iraqi press, which I follow closely.

The next president will inherit these ongoing Iraqi and regional conflicts - and the vexing question of how, and whether, America can address them. Amid the high-level generalizations about the Iraq war, these are the conflicts the candidates - and the country - really need to be considering.


Quote of the Day

It's safe over here which means boring, so that's a good thing. If we are lucky then we might go home sooner [than February]. Not holding my breath, though.”


Army Pfc. George Delgado, 21, KIA March 24, 2008, in a letter received by his father the day he died.

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