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, April 2, 2008

News & Views 04/02/08

Photo: A resident carries a box containing foodstuff distributed by the Red Crescent to residents in Baghdad's Shula district during vehicles curfew April 2, 2008. A curfew that has seen Baghdad locked down during three days of fighting was lifted from 6:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Monday, but cars are still not be permitted to move in three districts Shula, Kadhimiya and Sadr City, the Iraqi government said on Sunday. REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Wednesday: 25 Iraqis Killed, 29 Wounded

Baghdad's Sadr City mourns its dead and injured

Nearby, 16-year-old Karrar Ali Hussein's chest also heaved, because a bullet pierced his side and remained inside him. He was playing soccer, his father said, when a U.S. sniper shot him. Downstairs, Ammar Ensayer looked at his father in worry. He was shot in a marketplace; he, too, says it was an American military sniper. "We are an oppressed people, but what shall we do?" he said. "We can do nothing." Nearby, Jabar Abdul Ridha was stoic in his small, shabby home in a narrow alley of Sadr City. His wife, Kareema Hafout, and daughter Nisrene Jabar were killed in a U.S. airstrike last week. He came home last Wednesday and found them dead. It was 5:30 p.m. The glass in the two top rooms of the home was shattered, and the glass frame around the portrait of the revered grandson of the prophet Hussein was cracked. His wife had been hanging laundry as his daughter and niece, Zahra, washed for prayer. The airstrike killed his daughter instantly; her head was separated from her body. His wife struggled to get inside but bled to death before he came home. Zahra was healing in a hospital.

Ballet Amid the Bullets in Iraq

In an airy studio lined with mirrors, little girls in pink leotards and boys in black shorts and white T-shirts pull themselves up as straight as they can and push their toes out into first position. Their teacher, Ghada Taiyi, walks between them, straightening a pair of knobby knees and adjusting the curve of an arm. She switches on a cassette player, and the strains of a grand piano fill the room. "You wouldn't think we are in Iraq," she says with a smile. In a city full of bloodshed, the Baghdad School of Music and Ballet is an oasis, instilling in its young charges a love of music and dance in the midst of war. "I feel happy when I come here," 11-year-old Lisam says as she catches her breath between leaps and twirls in another of the school's studios. Through the worst of the violence, Iraq's only performing arts school never stopped putting on shows and sending its teachers and students on cultural exchanges abroad.

Residents in Iraq's Basra fear worse violence

Cleaning up their shops and venturing out onto the streets after a week of bloody clashes, Iraqis in the southern city of Basra said on Wednesday they feared worse violence was to come. Basra, Iraq's oil hub, has been relatively calm for the past three days since Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered fighters from his Mehdi Army militia off the streets after they fought pitched battles with Iraqi security forces. But Sadr has rebuffed an order by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for the Mehdi Army to hand over its weapons and many fear more violence, especially in the lead-up to provincial elections due by October. "I think these battles will continue and in an even fiercer way as things are not finished yet," said Nadhum Jameel, a 51-year-old government employee. "The militias are still powerful. Maliki achieved nothing and didn't succeed in disarming them."

IRAQ: Basra on edge

Tensions remained high in the southern port of Basra and its outlying areas Wednesday despite Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's call for his fighters to lay down their arms late Sunday. A bomb went off near a vehicle carrying the commander of the Basra security plan, Gen. Mohan Freiji, on Wednesday morning in Qublah, which is about five miles west of the city, but he emerged unscathed, a police official said . Defense ministry spokesman Mohammed Askari also survived the attack. A reporter from the US-funded Al Hurra television channel, traveling with them, was wounded by a sniper's bullet.

Video: Steps Backward: Women’s Rights in Iraq - 03.31.2008

This week Hayder Kamal interviews an activist for women’s rights who discusses her work improving women’s knowledge of their rights. During 2004 and 2005 she worked to encourage women to vote and understand the constitution and the importance of voting and being involved in political life. She, like many members of civil society, reports being targeted repeatedly and nearly killed for her work. Today she is working secretly and her organization continues, but less publicly than before. This has become a necessity with the continuing presence of dire threats to women. The spread of democracy in Iraq has so far assisted the rise of Islamist groups, and has greatly hindered the progression of women’s rights.

Iraq looking at oil surplus, big profits

Iraq is looking at a potential boon in oil revenue this year, as the U.S. spends some $153 million a month in the country on fuel alone. But U.S. officials say it will take some time before Baghdad builds the capacity to manage the revenue. The money isn't "just sitting in banks trying to get somebody rich on interest income," said Adm. William Fallon, who recently stepped down as the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East. "It's because they're in a holding position now until they can figure out how to effectively disburse these moneys."

US forces block relief convoy to Sadr

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society has complained the US forces prevented its relief convoy from getting into Baghdad's Sadr City. A Red Crescent official, Ammar Khalid Saied, said his convoy tried to deliver food, medical supplies and water to Sadr City but could not get permission from the US to enter the area. "The US army don't give me permission to take the food to Sadr city to give them assistance or medical (aid) and water and food," Saied told AP.

Youth leave, imported crops invade villages

“Like many villages in northern Iraq, Qasri began relying on imported crops after the new generation sought less difficult jobs in town,” Hussein, a villager, said, offering a pleasant-smelling herb. “We are left with this herb that naturally grows in our village.” Qasri is located at the foot of Mount Helkurd in Kurdistan region. It enjoys fertile land and abundant water but it lacks something important. “Agriculture is no longer a core activity for the population because the youth, as is the case with most villages in Kurdistan region, left to the city in search of clean jobs,” Hussein explained to Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI). The 40 year- old villager noted, “We are unable to meet our needs from cultivation and we started to rely on imported crops.”

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Politicians Resist Honour Crimes Reform

The country’s powerful Islamic parties and leaders are resisting reform of a law that sanctions lenient punishments for those found guilty of so-called honour killings. Article 111 of the Iraqi penal code - passed in 1969 - allows a lesser punishment for the killing of women if the male defendants are found to have had “honourable motives”. Under the law, a man can receive a maximum of three years in prison if he immediately kills or disables his wife or girlfriend after witnessing her engaging in a sexual act with another man. This sentencing also applies if the defendant immediately kills or disables the other man. In most cases, the sentence is commuted if the defendant has no criminal background. Acting minister of state for women’s affairs Narmin Othman is leading a campaign to change the Ba’ath-era law.

Iraqi forces enter Shia stronghold

Iraqi government forces entered a Shia militant stronghold in the southern city of Basra today, which has been rocked by fierce internecine clashes in recent weeks. The move against the Mahdi army, the militia supporting the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, comes a day after the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, returned to Baghdad after spending a week in Basra overseeing a crackdown against Shia militants.

Al-Sadr stronghold brims with confidence

Black banners announcing the deaths of Mahdi Army fighters plaster the streets. Scores of Shiite militiamen gather at the funeral of a fallen comrade as a U.S. helicopter gunship hovers above. The Baghdad district of Sadr City bears the scars of recent fighting, but those loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr are showing a renewed confidence after his Madhi Army militiamen rose up against an Iraqi government crackdown last week in the southern city of Basra. Both sides claimed successes: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says that Iraqi forces have broken control of Shiite gangs in Basra, and the supporters of the radical cleric al-Sadr boast that they humbled the government's plans to take full control of the city. But in Sadr City — the main Baghdad stronghold for the Mahdi Army — there was little regard for the government assertions. Such bravado could lead al-Sadr and his backers to take even bolder steps to leverage concessions from Iraq's U.S.-backed leadership.

From Juan Cole’s blog:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday honored the militias of the parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, i.e. the Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. They were singled out for having fought alongside government security forces, and some 10,000 of them were inducted into the latter. Al-Zaman points to a double standard, insofar as the government has not similarly honored, or accepted into the state apparatus, most members of the Sunni Awakening Council militias that have been fighting the Qutbist Jihadis. The induction of Badr Corps fighters (the paramilitary of ISCI) and those of the Da'wa Party into security positions came in the wake of the firing of thousands of officers and troops who had refused to obey orders to fire on the Mahdi Army militiamen in Baghdad and the southern provinces. They were accused of mutiny. If al-Zaman's reporting is correct, the scale of the mutiny is breathtaking, and helps explain why government troops did so poorly against the Sadrists-- the hearts of the thousands of them were simply not with the fight.

From a Beirut Cell, an Iraqi Watches as the U.S. Finally Takes His Advice

More than a decade before the first American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Mudher al-Kharbit and his family began slipping out of Iraq to meet secretly with C.I.A. officials, pleading for help with their plan to unite Iraq’s tribes against Saddam Hussein. If that effort had succeeded, Mr. Kharbit or his older brother might have become the ruler of Iraq. Instead, he sits in a Beirut prison cell chain-smoking Marlboros and reliving the past. A gaunt, worn-looking 52-year-old with warm brown eyes and an apologetic manner, he is one of the many people whose fortunes have been utterly transformed by the American invasion.

Iraq to spend 590 million dollars on weapons, kit

Iraq is expected to buy more than 590 million dollars in military equipment in 2008, including weapons and ammunition, the US military said on Wednesday. Iraq's interior ministry is already in various stages of negotiations to purchase the equipment through nine deals via the US-run foreign military sales programme, a statement said. [That shows who is really running things. – dancewater]

Iraqi air force in the fight

Members of the Iraqi army sit on an Iraqi C-130 Hercules before a March 30 flight to Basra, Iraq, at New Al Muthana Air Base, Iraq. All processing, loading and transporting of the Iraqi troops is being conducted by the Iraqi air force. [They do not have bombs and they do not transport bombs. – dancewater]

Iraqi Army Finds Large Munitions Cache in Truck

[How large can it be if it is in a truck? – dancewater]

Who Is Iraq's "Firebrand Cleric"?

…..Mother Jones: In the beginning of your book, you write that Muqtada al-Sadr leads "the only mass movement in Iraqi politics." Can you elaborate on that, especially given that in the American media we still hear more about the official Iraqi government than some of these other factions?

Patrick Cockburn: It's always sort of amazing, sitting here in Baghdad, to watch visiting dignitaries-today we had Dick Cheney and John McCain-being received in the Green Zone by politicians who have usually very little support and seldom go outside the Green Zone. Muqtada leads the only real mass movement in Iraq. It's a mass movement of the Shia, who are 60 percent of the population, and of poor Shia-and most Shia are poor. Otherwise the place is full of sort of self-declared leaders, many of whom spend most of their time outside Iraq. You know, if you want to meet a lot of Iraqi leaders, the best places are the hotels in Amman or in London. In general the government here is amazingly unpopular.

…..MJ: Is the Western media epithet for Muqtada as the "firebrand cleric" accurate?

PC: The idea that he's a maverick is 100 percent contrary to his track record over the last five years. In fact he's very cautious, never pushing things too far, trying not to be pushed into a corner. [L. Paul] Jerry Bremer tried to arrest Muqtada and ignited a tremendous uprising over most of southern Iraq in 2004. You could see all these Americans in the Green Zone had completely failed to realize the kind of support he could get. They announced they were going to arrest him and suddenly the whole of southern Iraq erupted and Bremer [couldn't] control it anymore-but Muqtada did. Then there was a big siege of Najaf. But Muqtada always sort of looked for a way out. So the idea of him as a maverick cleric, a firebrand, is one of these absurd journalistic clich├ęs that takes on a life of its own, despite the fact that its contradicted by everything that happens.

MJ: Another thing you see is journalists frequently describing him as a "radical cleric." Is there anything radical about al-Sadr?

PC: Well, it's slightly more accurate. He's radical in the sense that he wants the U.S. occupation to end and has always said so from the beginning. Secondly, his support among the Shia really runs along class lines; it's mainly the poor who support him. His organization runs an enormous social network. Despite the fact that there's billions of dollars sitting in the Iraqi government reserves, somehow they are incapable of getting it out to the people. There are a very large number of people here who are on the edge of starvation. For those sort of people-a sizable chunk of people-that service makes them regard Muqtada as a sort of god.

Another thing is that he's always been able to call on a core of young men. Young Shia who have been brought up with nothing, who are pretty anarchic, pretty dangerous. My book begins with a run-in I had with them in 2004 when they came close to killing me, and of course they have killed very large numbers of other Iraqis. That's a major source of strength for Muqtada.

Nouri al-Maliki asks militant to return his cars

Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s increasingly isolated Prime Minister, claimed yesterday his campaign to stamp out illegal armed groups in Basra had been a “success” despite being forced to sue for peace with al-Mahdi Army militia who fought his men to a standstill. The Prime Minister, whose future is looking uncertain after he staked his reputation on the stalled military offensive, also asked gunmen to return the 50 government cars and armoured vehicles they captured from his forces during a week of fighting that left close to 500 people dead. Announcing a recruitment drive to provide an extra 10,000 security force members for the militia-dominated oil city, he said he would build on “the stability and success of the security plan which achieved the aim of imposing law in the city and restoring normalcy”. His statement indicated a resolve not to step down despite growing doubts about his judgment.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

Paltry results of Iraqi offensive silence U.S. withdrawal talk

The Bush administration was caught off-guard by the first Iraqi-led military offensive since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a weeklong thrust in southern Iraq whose paltry results have silenced talk at the Pentagon of further U.S. troop withdrawals any time soon. President Bush last week declared the offensive, which ended Sunday, "a defining moment" in Iraq's history. That may prove to be true, but in recent days senior U.S. officials have backed away from the operation, which ended with Shiite militias still in place in Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki possibly weakened and a de facto cease-fire brokered by an Iranian general.

US: Some Iraqi troops still not up to the task

[And never will be, however, the resistance guys might be “up to the task”. – dancewater]

Jason Leopold: Chaplain Who Called for Attack on Islam Fired

A top Navy chaplain who wrote a book several years ago attacking Islam, calling the religion “evil,” and urging the United States to launch a “jihad” against the faith, has been fired from a prestigious theological institute after officials became aware of the chaplain’s controversial book.

Iran torpedoes US plans for Iraqi oil

With the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps showing how much control it has over the killing fields of Iraq, by stopping the fighting in the southern city of Basra, Iran has made both the Iraqi and United States governments look very foolish. Far beyond that, Iran has frustrated the joint US-British objective of gaining control of Basra, without which their strategy for establishing control over the fabulous oil wealth of southern Iraq will not work.

U.S. military officials accuse Iran of training groups attacking servicemen

[Same old song and dance. – dancewater]

Memo: Laws didn’t apply to interrogators

The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes. [Welcome to the United States of Torturers. – dancewater]

HISTORY

Crossing the Highway

“For God’s sake, hurry up, hurry up, Mona, just wake up the kids and let us move quickly and seize this opportunity now that the shelling has stopped,” I told my wife. I wanted to prepare our three daughters as quickly as possible and try to flee the neighborhood. The night before I had been told by soldiers and members of a Baath Party paramilitary unit stationed in my neighborhood that the American forces had landed and occupied the adjacent Rashid military base and that they had a big fight with them. I thought that the Americans might target our residential area fiercely, and that is why I was up all night, and thinking about moving to my father-in-law’s house, about two miles away.

COMMENTARY

The other Iraqi civil war

The battle of Basra may be virtually over. But nobody's talking about the invisible Battle of Mosul. President George W Bush's self-described "defining moment" in Iraq amounted to this: General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) , brokered a deal in Qom, Iran, between Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's envoys and Hadi al-Amri, the head of the Badr Organization and number two to Adbul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and a key player of the government in Baghdad. That sealed the end of the battle of Basra.

The IRGC was designated last year by Washington as a terrorist organization. Thus Iranian "terrorists" brokered a peace deal between the two largest Shi'ite parties in Iraq - ending a Baghdad government offensive that was fully authorized and supported by air power by Washington, according to Bush's National Security Adviser Steven Hadley. Even under Bush logic, "the terrorists" won, and Iran won - once again.

Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, the Kurds are meticulously involved in de facto annexing strategically crucial, oil-rich Tameem province, whose capital is Kirkuk, with reserves of up to 15 billion barrels. Sunni Arabs and Shi'ite Turkmen fear the prospect - and are dead-set against the postponed Kirkuk referendum, which should have been held on December 2007. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad knew for sure they would lose this vote and thus see Kirkuk become a part of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. So giving the excuse of "administrative problems", they simply postponed the referendum.

IRAQ: 'Handed Over' to a Government Called Sadr

Despite the huge media campaign led by U.S. officials and a complicit corporate-controlled media to convince the world of U.S. success in Iraq, emerging facts on the ground show massive failure. The date March 25 of this year will be remembered as the day of truth through five years of occupation. "Mehdi army militias controlled all Shia and mixed parts of Baghdad in no time," a Baghdad police colonel, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "Iraqi army and police forces as well as Badr and Dawa militias suddenly disappeared from the streets, leaving their armoured vehicles for Mehdi militiamen to drive around in joyful convoys that toured many parts of Baghdad before taking them to their stronghold of Sadr City in the east of Baghdad." The police colonel was speaking of the recent clashes between members of the Shia Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, the largest militia in the country, and members of the Iraqi government forces, that are widely known to comprise members of a rival Shia militia, the Badr Organisation.

Ramzy Baroud: Where are the Iraqis in the Iraq War?

Five years after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, mainstream media is once more making the topic an object of intense scrutiny. The costs and implications of the war are endlessly covered from all possible angles, with one notable exception -- the cost to the Iraqi people themselves. Through all the special coverage and exclusive reports, very little is said about Iraqi casualties, who are either completely overlooked or hastily mentioned and whose numbers can only be guesstimated. Also conveniently ignored are the millions injured, internally and externally displaced, the victims of rape and kidnappings who will carry physical and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.

….Of course, there are those who prefer to imagine a world in which a well-intentioned superpower would fight with all of its might to enable another smaller, distant nation to enjoy the fruits of liberty, democracy and freedom But it is nothing short of ridiculous to pretend that Iraqis are capable of controlling the parameters of the ranging conflict, that a puppet government whose election and operation is entirely under the command of the US military is capable of taking charge and assuming responsibilities. Equally absurd is the insinuation that the civil war in Iraq is an exclusively Iraqi doing, and that the US military has not deliberately planted the seeds of divisions, hoping to reinterpret its role in Iraq from that of the occupier to that of the arbitrator, making sure the "good" guys prevail over the "bad". The idea of the US making an immediate exit from Iraq or taking full financial and legal responsibility for the devastation and genocide -- yes, genocide -- that occurred in the last five years is simply unthinkable from the viewpoint of the corporate US media, which still relates to the war only in terms of American (and never Iraqi) losses.

RESISTANCE

Police Arrest 80-Year-Old Antiwar Protester in Wheelchair at Long Island (NY) Mall

Progressive Dems Unveil Plan to End Iraq Occupation

Burner -- a former Microsoft manager from the Seattle suburbs who narrowly missed unseating a GOP incumbent in 2006 -- with nine other Democratic Congressional challengers released A Responsible Plan to End the War. Developed in collaboration with retired military officers and national security professionals, the plan attracted the support of fifteen additional Democratic Senate and House challengers in the first week after it was unveiled. Unlike the withdrawal plans offered by both Democratic presidential candidates, the Responsible Plan opposes any residual forces as well as permanent military bases. It flatly states, "We must stop counter-productive military operations by U.S. occupation forces, and end our military presence in Iraq."

Quote of the day: Americans have no reason to remember the day we declared war upon Iraq. If you ask Iraqis, they know 3/20 as history they experienced themselves; a time when all the fear, destruction and humiliation began.” — KamVideo Q&A: Answers From Iraqis, Part 2

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