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

Saturday, April 5, 2008

News & Views 04/05/08

Photo: Neighbors in the Hayaniyah area are examining the rubble of a house they said was destroyed in an air strike Friday evening in the militia stronghold of Basra, Iraq, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Saturday. April 5. 2008. Police said five people were killed and nine injured in the strike, acknowledging they included an unspecified number of militants who had fired a mortar at Iraqi security forces. British military spokesman Maj. Tom Holloway said an attack helicopter hit a position from which militants were firing at Iraqi forces in Hayaniyah, but he gave no information about casualties and did not specify whether the aircraft was U.S. or British. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Friday: 51 Iraqis Killed, 37 Wounded

UN Says 700 Killed in Iraq Shi'ite Clashes

10 killed, 18 wounded in Iraq violence - Saturday

A visit to the shrine

The roads were "normal", only a few cars here and there, no congestion - just like the old days! But check points and blast walls were erected all along the way. The view inspired my friend with a brilliant idea: why doesn't the government make private blast walls to surround each individual? For protection in either case: if there is an explosion nearby, he/she will be protected – and if he/ she wants to be a suicide bomber, he/she will kill himself only! But they must mount it on wheels! It's too heavy to carry. And we laughed and laughed.‌ We arrived at the shrine at 7 am. Thank God the city was opened only two hours before our arrival. We parked the car about 1.5 km away from the shrine. To reach the shrine there were cars inside the blocked area. The shrine wasn't crowded because most people didn't know that the blockade would be lifted. We finished our prayers easily and comfortably; frankly I felt as if a heavy burden was lifted from my soul when I prayed inside the shrine.

From Missing Links blog:

As of the end of the day Saturday: (1) Quds Press said eyewitnesses reported fighting between the American forces and Mahdi Army fighters in "various parts" of Sadr City, within numbered sections 7, 8 and 9, the only additional detail being that some of the Americans had taken up sniper positions at Allawa Jamila (a big market, according to Ladybird at RoadstoIraq, who flagged this article), and at the nearby tax office.

(2) As for Voices of Iraq, their only Sadr City item on Saturday was a report that said Maliki issued an order permitting ambulances and other essential vehicles into and out of Sadr City and another Shiite area, both still subject to last week's overall ban on vehicular traffic.

Missan police commander: Crimes decreased by 75%

Missan police commander said on Saturday that crimes in the province were reduced by more than 75% during the last four months, referring that province's tribes contributed to this achievement by cooperating with police forces. "Due to the cooperation between police forces and tribal chiefs during the last four months, crimes were reduced by more than 75%," Major General Ali Waham al-Maliki told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Draft law to set up new national oil company at parliament-MP

Iraqi Parliament’s Oil and Gas internal committee is examining a draft law to set up a new national oil company along with the already exist two state-owned companies, an MP said on Saturday.

Iraqi Authorities Unhappy With Blackwater Contract Renewal

The US State Department's renewal of Blackwater's contract to protect American diplomats and other reconstruction workers in Iraq is considered an unfortunate step by the Iraqi government. [Guess it really isn’t their country after all. – dancewater]

Iraqi PM offers amnesty to militias

In a dramatic reversal, Iraq's prime minister ordered a nationwide freeze yesterday on Iraqi raids against Shiite militants, bowing to demands by anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr only one day after promising to expand the crackdown to Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued the order after al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia fought government troops last week in Basra and elsewhere, hinted at retaliation if Iraqi security forces continue to arrest his followers. A statement by al-Maliki's office, broadcast on government television, did not mention the Mahdi Army by name or give a timeframe for the freeze. It said the move was designed to give a "chance to those who repented and want to lay down their arms."

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

British soldiers back in Basra as hundreds of Iraqi troops desert

British troops have returned to Basra, in a major change of policy, six months after withdrawing from the city because their presence was said to be provoking violence from the militias. Around 150 UK military personnel with Mastiff and Warrior armoured vehicles have been deployed in the past few days alongside Iraqi government forces in the aftermath of fierce fighting against the Mehdi Army. ….In addition to those who refused to follow orders, about 100 members of the Iraqi security forces simply changed sides, to the Mehdi Army.

Totally insane: 'Iraq war delivered US from terror'

Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith says the US invasion of Iraq has saved Americans from 'the next terrorist attack'.

Iran keeps mum on Sadr

Iran on Saturday declined to confirm reports that Iraqi Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr had taken refuge in the Islamic republic. "No, I do not confirm these reports. These things are said to divert attention from the occupying forces who are the source of insecurity in Iraq," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters. The US military in Iraq has frequently said that Sadr pays regular visits to Iran, although Iranian officials have always denied his presence on their soil. News reports have also placed the radical cleric in Iran. On Friday, Sadr called a mass rally in Baghdad for April 9 to demand the withdrawal of US troops on the fifth anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Palestinian refugees fleeing Iraq fly to Chile

More than three dozen Palestinian refugees who fled violence in Iraq and have been stranded on the border with Syria for nearly two years flew Saturday to Chile, where the government has agreed to host them. The flight left the Syrian capital of Damascus carrying 38 Palestinians, including 23 children, the first batch of a total of 117 refugees from 29 families that the South American nation has agreed to host.

Sweden plans to host UN conference on Iraq in May

Sweden plans to host a United Nations conference at the end of May on the international community's support for Iraq's development, the Swedish government announced on Thursday. "Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt met today with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and agreed that Sweden will host the first follow-up meeting of the International Compact with Iraq (ICI)," a government statement said. Ban and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had asked Sweden to host the conference. The conference is "aimed at clarifying the international community's support for Iraq's development", it added.

Millions of Iraqi refugees are casualties of war

The humanitarian crisis unleashed by the Iraq war comes into dramatic focus inside a detention center beneath a highway in Beirut. Packed cells hold scores of Iraqi refugees. Men and women who fled a shattered country now wait in silence underground as bureaucracies slowly churn and the world pays little heed. Nearly five years after the invasion of Iraq, this is what sanctuary means for some who survived bombings, beatings and hushed journeys across borders. Traveling throughout Lebanon and Syria recently with several religious sisters and staff members from Catholic Relief Services, I witnessed lives of desperation and quiet stories of hope. Our visits with Iraqi families, Christian and Muslim, humanize numbing statistics staggering in scope. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country; an additional 2 million are internally displaced inside Iraq. Most of the estimated 50,000 Iraqis in Lebanon are there illegally, unable to receive work permits or access to health services and schools.

Among them is Dovid, a gentle Christian man so traumatized by torture at the hands of a militia in Iraq that his body constantly shakes. He struggled to hold steady for a picture we took with his wife and 10 children who live crowded into one room in a poor Beirut neighborhood. There is Leila, a Shiite Muslim who had a successful career in nuclear medicine in Iraq until she and her father were threatened because they worked with a U.S. company on hospital construction. Her father sent her to safety in Lebanon; a few months later, he was executed as he walked home from his job. She is haunted by rumors her father's enemies are searching for her.

The Drama of Iraqi Refugee Women and Children in Syria

After 400,000 displaced Palestinian refugees, Syria with its small economy and its multi-ethnical and religious background became the only hope of survival to almost 1.5 million Iraqis. These people are Shiite, Sunni, Druze, Turkmen and Christians. The Kurds didn't leave. Sunnis settled to the high rent areas such as Mazeh, the Assyrians Christian preferred middle class Christian areas like Jarmana and Doelha, and The Shiites settled around Set Zaynab Damascus. Most of the refugees were women and children with different backgrounds and mixed socio-economic classes. Almost half of those people have a university or have postgraduate degree according to a survey done by IPSOS.

Ninos Bar Karmo, who lived three years in Jaramana Syria, explains their dramatic arrival at the settlement: "People where happy to escape from violence but they were also sad for leaving their homes without seeing a future." They migrated to Syria in huge numbers. The Syrians were very surprised by so many refugees. Trucks, buses and cars carried thousands and thousands of people to no future. A resident of Syria confirmed that some of the refugees were rich but not all of them. Later he added; "There were some families who couldn't afford any rent too." Some rich Sunnis started businesses especially; Assyrian Christians depended on their families or relatives in USA and Europe." Also, a priest from Damascus said; "The Kurdish government of north Iraq, tries to help Christians who are in financial trouble in the suburbs of Damascus."

The US must do more to help Iraqi refugees

Among the least-acknowledged results of the Iraq War is a refugee crisis of enormous proportions. According to the aid organization Refugees International, since 2003 -- and especially since the outbreak of sectarian bloodshed in 2005 and 2006 -- at least two million Iraqis have escaped their country. Two million more have been displaced within Iraq's fragile borders. Some fled because they helped the American military (or were rumored to have done so) and now face reprisals as collaborators. Many sought refuge from the brutal struggle between and among Sunnis and Shiites for power and influence, or from the sheer lawlessness that has crippled much of post-Saddam Iraq. For the most part, they cannot work in their adopted countries, nor enroll their children in schools. So they draw on family savings and scrape by, sinking into poverty far from home. With important exceptions, no one in the United States -- not our president, not our Congress, not our religious or cultural leaders -- has taken much notice of this crisis.

UNHCR-run festival in Syria highlights arts and culture of Iraq

As the Iraq crisis enters its sixth year, the UN refugee agency has been highlighting the culture and artistic talents of the Iraqi people during a weeklong festival in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Artists, musicians, actors, dancers and poets have come together at the French Cultural Centre to show that Iraq's artistic tradition is alive and well despite the turmoil and massive displacement that has been taking place in their country since the April 2003 overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. The "Five Years On" festival opened last Sunday and some of the art featured will be sent to the United States and Europe for exhibition after the event closes on Friday. Two concerts of Iraqi music are taking place during the week. The programme reflects Iraq's rich and diverse history of music with the oud, nai and qanun being played. Included is Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian music from every corner of Iraq.

Register for the Iraq Action Days

On April 14 - 16, Refugees International will be participating in the Iraq Action Days, where we'll be teaming up with concerned citizens to urge Congress to respond to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. The Action Days kick off with a forum of experts, including Refugees International's president Ken Bacon, government officials, Iraqi refugees and aid groups. Then, we'll take YOU to meet with Congress and tell them how they should help Iraqi refugees (don't worry we'll prepare you first!).

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

IRAQI REFUGEES NEED YOUR HELP

COMMENTARY

Death of children in Iraq raises tough question

Two days ago, Ali Ibn Laith died in Iraq. A strange name but he just as easily could have been named Roger or Jimmy. He was recovering from severe injuries suffered last year in an air strike by the US that killed both of his parents. He was severely burned by an air strike two days ago in Sadr City, Baghdad. Seventeen-year-old Mohammed Ibn Laith, his cousin, did his best trying to help Ali. He was shot by U.S. forces when he approached a roadblock trying to carry Ali to a hospital. One was 9, the other 17. What are we doing?

Quote of the day: 'When someone says my son died fighting for his country, I say,
'No, the suicide bomber who killed my son died fighting for his country.'
Father of American Soldier Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, USMC, KIA in Iraq [UPDATE: This quote is now in dispute. - dancewater]

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