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

Friday, April 4, 2008

News & Views 04/04/08

Photo: Noor Muntasir Qassem, 3, lies dead on a stretcher as her uncle weeps beside her after she was killed in an alleged US airstrike in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on April 4, 2008. At least three people, including two children, were killed in a US air strike in Iraq's southern city of Basra today, an AFP photographer said. British military spokesman Major Tom Holloway confirmed that a US Apache helicopter carried out an air strike in Haiyaniyah but had no word on any casualties. There was no immediate confirmation from the US military. AFP PHOTO/ESSAM AL SUDANI (Photo credit should read ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images) [Another photo shows her dead father and brother. - dancewater]

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Friday: 34 Iraqis Killed, 34 Wounded

38 killed, 31 wounded in acts of violence until Friday afternoon

Suicide bomber kills 20 at Iraq funeral: police

Three killed in US air strike in Iraq's Basra

US Army Kills 4 Iraqi Cops, Guard in Babel

From Missing Links Blog:

Here is a variety of reports on the same incident, which took place in Hilla around 3:00 am the

Hospitals overwhelmed by number of casualties following intense fighting between the Mehdi army militia and the Iraqi army

Five days of intense fighting between the Mehdi army militia and the Iraqi military has left hospitals in Iraq overwhelmed with the number of casualties. Doctors for Iraq's network of doctors across the country report that hospitals are lacking many medical supplies such as IV fluid, antibiotics and specialist doctors to treat the injured. Doctors in Basra estimate that 800 people have been injured and 200 killed during the fighting. Basra is Iraq's third biggest city and has an estimated population of 1.7 million people. Much of the fierce fighting in the city took place in densely populated civilian areas. Many of those who were injured are reported to be women and children. Doctors in Baghdad say they received 350 casualties and 120 bodies. Doctors at the Zahraa hospital in Kut, South East Iraq, report the number of injured at 120 and 30 bodies were brought to the hospital morgue. Coalition airplanes bombed areas densely populated with civilians in Basra and Baghdad's Sadar City. Doctors for Iraq has received reports of high numbers of civilian casualties especially among women and children.

21,033 prisoners released under pardon law

A total 21,033 detainees were released since the adoption of the general pardon law in mid-February, an official judicial source said on Friday. "The number of prisoners released since the general pardon law became in effect in mid-February 2008 reached 21,033 until Thursday," Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Bayraqdar, the official spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

IRAQ-JORDAN: Top UN official highlights "gravity" of humanitarian situation

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes has told a press conference in Amman: "I want to highlight the gravity of the humanitarian situation in Iraq." The gradual degradation in health services that began during the international sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s as well as more recent insecurity and instability had helped aggravate the suffering of civilians, he said. At least four million people do not have enough food while around 40 percent of the 27.5 million population do not have access to clean drinking water, and 30 percent do not have access to reasonable health services. Most of the increasing number of internally displaced people have little or no access to proper health care, food assistance, sanitation and other services, he said.

Saddam fades from school books but fear stalks students

But five years since his iron-fisted rule was crushed, students and teachers are still living in fear and despite attempts by the new Shiite-led government to remove Saddam from the public psyche, the dictator's legacy lives on. Instead of Saddam's feared Baathist apparatchiks roaming campuses enforcing their will in the halls of learning, it is now hardline Shiite militiamen doing the same at some institutions. "Militias are controlling the universities. They are warning girls against wearing trousers and applying cosmetics," said Ala'a Tawfiq, an 18-year-old computer student in Baghdad's renowned Al-Mustansiriyah University. At the same time, various insurgent groups have university professors -- along with journalists, musicians and artists -- in their sights and colleges find it difficult to retain staff. Many have fled, some have been eliminated.

Report: Security in Iraq is improving

A new classified intelligence assessment on Iraq says there has been significant progress in security since the last assessment was delivered in August, a senior military official said. [And we all know that this will never change! – dancewater]

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraqi PM freezes raids targeting militia

Iraq’s prime minister on Friday ordered a nationwide freeze on raids against suspected Shiite militants after the leader of the biggest militia complained that arrests were continuing even after he ordered fighters off the streets. The announcement was a major shift from comments Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made a day earlier. It came after Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia fought government troops last week, hinted at retaliation if arrests of his followers did not stop.

Al-Sadr orders 1 million march in Baghdad instead of Najaf-MP

A Sadrist lawmaker on Friday said the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered to stage one million-strong March in Baghdad instead of Najaf. "People attending Friday prayers were informed the march would be in Baghdad, not the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf as announced on Thursday." A Sadrist MP Salih al-Ugaili told Aswat al-Iraq-Voices of Iraq(VOI) .

Iraq lawmakers seek help from Iran

Despite the huge media campaign led by US officials and a complicit corporate-controlled media to convince the world of US 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. Fighting had raged for more than four days since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last Tuesday ordered the security forces to raid strongholds of Shi'a militiamen loyal to the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the southern port city of Basra. On Sunday, Sadr ordered his militiamen to stop fighting Iraqi security forces, but as of that day, 488 people had been killed and more than 900 wounded, according to reports from the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

1,000 in Iraq's Forces Quit Basra Fight

More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra last week, a senior Iraqi government official said Thursday. Iraqi military officials said the group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle. The desertions in the heat of a major battle cast fresh doubt on the effectiveness of the American-trained Iraqi security forces. The White House has conditioned further withdrawals of American troops on the readiness of the Iraqi military and police.

Talabani Supporters Rally Over Media Controversy

Close allies of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani have defended a controversial order barring members of his party from publicly criticising Kurdish parties. Journalists and reformers in Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, have attacked the directive, arguing it is undemocratic and will undermine press freedom in the region. Abid Aref, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Hawlati, said the order “will impact democratic development and the media’s work in Kurdistan. We’re going to lose sources because they will be afraid to talk”. “This directive will close the door to the modern political practice of transparency,” said Twana Osman an independent journalist. “The party is ….hiding its ugly sides and secrets.” But allies of the president have rallied around the president. Emad Ahmed, a member of the PUK politburo, said the leader was entitled to issue the order. "This is a party decision, Talabani is the secretary general of the party and he has every right to give instruction to the members in a way that it is in the interest of the people and the party," he said.

Maliki-Sadr Power Struggle Continues

Analysts are split over whether firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr or the Iraqi government has the upper hand in their battle for control in Basra and parts of Baghdad.
In a press conference on April 3, Maliki claimed victory following a one-week military operation against Sadr’s Mahdi army militia in the southern city of Basra. He vowed to provide jobs and aid to Basra while further cracking down on militias in Baghdad’s Sadr City and Shuala neighbourhoods, where the Mahdi army holds substantial power. But some analysts questioned whether the government won the battles or if the operations served to strengthen Sadr’s popularity. The fighting in Basra subsided earlier this week when Sadr ordered his fighters off the streets. Maliki has now ordered a nationwide freeze on raids against suspected Shia militants after Sadr complained that arrests had continued even after he ordered his fighters to stop, said an Associated Press report on April 4. The report said the prime minister made the announcement after Sadr had apparently hinted he would retaliate if arrests of his supporters continued. Amer Fayadh, a political science professor at Baghdad University, maintained that the military was not well-prepared for the operation. “The fact that members of the security forces were surrendering to the Sadr movement is evidence that Sadr enjoys popular support,” he said.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

British army: units deployed in Basra

During the last few days, British forces deployed a number of military units within the Iraqi army to support combat operations in Basra province, the media spokesperson for the Multi National Forces (MNF) in Iraq said on Friday. "This measure is part of our continuous support to the Iraqi army 14th Brigade, after the mutual training we had with them inside the Iraqi cities and currently we are applying this supervision and advice on the ground," Captain Chris Ford told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

U.S. extends Blackwater's Baghdad work for one year

U.S. private security firm Blackwater's deal to protect American diplomats in Baghdad will be extended for a year while the FBI investigates a 2007 incident in which the company's guards are accused of killing 17 Iraqis, the State Department said on Friday. [They killed way more than 17 people. – dancewater]

US soldiers move into Sadr City

U.S. forces are pushing Shiite militias farther from the Green Zone in an attempt to put the area out of range for rockets and mortars that have recently pounded the diplomatic and government enclave. [Other reports said that Sunni groups had taken credit for these attacks. – dancewater]

From Juan Cole’s blog:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Iran and Kuwait have closed their borders with Iraq and halted the import-export trade because of the deterioration of security.

COMMENTARY

Iraq: Dark shadows of things to come

The Nuri al Maliki government’s failure to defeat Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra is yet another indication that beneath the widely acclaimed “success” of the surge is a country largely bereft of the legitimate governance required for genuine stability. Iran’s intermediary role between Maliki and Sadr suggests that what passes for an Iraqi central government is, in fact, little more than another actor on an Iraqi political scene still badly fragmented along factional lines. At the conclusion of Prime Minister Maliki’s determined effort to wrest control of much of Basra from Sadr’s fighters, Sadr’s people reportedly controlled even more of the city than before. The government has lost face, Sadr’s standing has been considerably enhanced, and his defiance of the government, which he labeled a “Satan” in an interview with al-Jazeera, is unshaken. Past US and Iraqi government efforts to wear down Sadr’s forces with scattered attacks and arrests clearly have had little impact. Indeed, a Mahdi Army commander in Baghdad bragged last week: “We can take on anyone now.”

Quote of the day: "If you think you can go into our lands and do what you are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and keep on supporting those who are fighting against Muslims and think it will not come back on your own doorstep may you have another think (sic) coming," Umar Islam, one of the eight defendants said. From article Aircraft bombings in "revenge for Iraq": court

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