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, April 28, 2008

News Update for Monday, April 28, 2008

Bodies of civilians killed during clashes in Sadr City lie in coffins at Imam Ali shrine for a funeral in Najaf, 99 miles south of Baghdad April 28, 2008. (Ali Abu Shish/Reuters) Note the size of the bodies. -- C

Security Incidents Update

Three Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers were killed as the result of an indirect-fire attack in eastern Baghdad at approximately 1:05 p.m. April 28. Another soldier was killed by indirect fire in western Baghdad, the military said separately.

Shelling of the Green Zone continues, at least three more rocket or mortar strikes. No reported casualties at this time.

The U.S. has also reported killing additional Iraqis in the ongoing clashes in Sadr City since Whisker's post this morning. The total of Iraqi dead in the past 24 hours is now given as 45. The ongoing violence occurs in the context of a sandstorm which has grounded U.S. attack helicopters.

Note: there have been additional incidents reported in various places around the country since Whisker's post this morning. I'll let him compile them tomorrow.

Other News

The Pentagon says it has "suspended" a program to falsely present retired military personnel on U.S. television as "independent" analysts, which was reported in the New York Times last week. However, they apparently intend to bring it back once the dust has settled.

It is revealed that a Tufts University Institute and a Finnish non-governmental organization have been sponsoring meetings among Iraqi factional leaders outside of the country, beginning in September 2007. The participants now plan to continue to meet in Baghdad. However, the Sadrists are not participating and it is not clear what support there may be within the rival communities for this process.

AP reports that the U.S. is having difficulty handing over reconstruction projects to Iraqi authorities. Excerpt:

The U.S. is struggling to hand Iraq control of many of its reconstruction projects after spending tens of billions of dollars on them since the 2003 invasion, a report said Monday.

"The U.S. program continues to have serious weaknesses that ultimately could place much of the U.S. reconstruction investment at risk," warned the report by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

Since 2003, Congress has approved $46 billion to rebuild Iraq's war-torn infrastructure, including oil production plants and pipelines. The expectation after the U.S. invasion had been that it would take up to 18 months for Iraq to assume responsibility for reconstruction efforts, using its oil revenues.

In recent months, lawmakers have suggested that Baghdad pay more of the tab for the war in light of Iraq's burgeoning oil revenues, which are expected to hit $70 billion this year — twice what was initially expected because of soaring fuel prices. Democrats and even some Republicans say Iraq will be more likely to accept responsibility for the projects if they are financially invested.

Administration officials, reluctant to restrict U.S. aid and slow progress, have countered that Baghdad is already taking control. Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker declared in congressional testimony that "the era of U.S. major infrastructure projects is over." Indeed, in recent months, the U.S. has refocused its spending on smaller local projects and building the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, rather than the major bricks-and-mortar efforts that dominated the early part of the war.

But according to the inspector general, the U.S. and Iraq have yet to agree on the terms of handing over many of these assets. And with no one senior-level Iraqi official in charge of overseeing the transfers, U.S. officials are resorting to negotiations at the local level and, in some cases, handing over projects without explicit consent.

Richard Butler doesn't know who kidnapped him or why. However, he says he'd prefer to be kidnapped by unknown militants in Iraq than held prisoner by the Americans. "I was pleased I wasn't being mortarboarded in Guantanamo or being held for six and a half years like an Al-Jazeera cameraman, for instance," he said. And I guess I'll call that the Quote of the Day.