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

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

News & Views 04/01/08



Photo: An Iraqi family reacts as U.S. Army soldiers from K Troop,, Third Squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment detain their relative after a rocket propelled grenade attack on U.S. troops in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq on Monday, March 31, 2008. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Photo: A resident stands inside a damaged house after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad's Sadr City March 31, 2008. U.S. military spokesman Major Mark Cheadle said there were clashes in several Baghdad neighbourhoods early on Monday. U..S. forces called in at least three helicopter strikes in Baghdad late on Sunday after Sadr's ceasefire, including one in which they said they killed 25 militants who attacked a convoy struck by a roadside bomb. Residents said five persons were killed and tens others wound in the attack. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem (IRAQ)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Tuesday: 1 US Soldier, 40 Iraqis Killed; 25 Iraqis Wounded

Monday: 2 US Soldiers, 50 Iraqis Killed; 45 Iraqis Wounded

Life in Basra: 'The masked men have vanished, but we're still trapped'

The people of Basra ventured outside for the first time in a week yesterday as the ceasefire declared by the Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr began to take hold. We heard about the truce on the radio, and there was much less fighting yesterday. At last I began to hope that I can return to my home in Nassariyah from my brother's house in Basra, where I have been trapped since last Tuesday. One of my nephews, Safa, had begun vomiting a lot, but there was no point in trying to take him to the hospital, all the doctors were very busy. Yesterday Jalil, my brother, took 11-year-old Safa to a doctor who lives about two miles away. I went to see the family of Khalid Hussein, an electrician friend who I grew up with in Basra. He is in hospital and one of his legs has bad shrapnel wounds, he is terrified of losing it. We heard that Um Hassina, our neighbour's sister, was injured when a rocket hit her home.

On a Baghdad Street, Palpable Despair

There was blood on Abu Ghadeer's shirt. He had pulled out of the wreckage a boy who had come for a haircut but instead received a body full of shrapnel. Twenty minutes later, after an ambulance had taken the boy away, Abu Ghadeer struggled to understand. "A week ago, life was good," he said. "Now, nobody knows what will happen." For Iraqis, widespread clashes this past week have exposed their nation's brittleness. After months of relative calm and declining violence, many people were locking themselves inside their homes and shops again as Shiite gunmen battled U.S. and Iraqi forces. Curfews restricted their movement, yet they were still unable to escape the mortar and rocket fire.

Anger follows the fight with Sadr's militia

Just one street down, on Alwat Jamila, deeper into Sadr City, the scene changed completely. No police or Army were seen anywhere. A police station looked abandoned and a section of the Jamila food market was completely destroyed in the violence. Stall owners used shovels to scoop up oranges and smashed bottles of soda. A man who gave his name as Abu Mustafa described how he ferried the dead and wounded civilians and militiamen on his blue tricycle that he has christened the "The Sadrist Tricycle." "We voted for a government to help us, not to do this to us," says an angry woman, who gave her name as Umm Jasem. She sold fresh eggs at the market. Her stall was reduced to a heap of charred metal. "Enough! Tell America enough."

Iraqi casualties at highest level since August

Fighting between security forces and Shi'ite militiamen last month has driven civilian deaths in Iraq to their highest level in more than six months, government figures showed on Tuesday.

Nassiriya tribes demonstrate in support of the government

Hundreds of Thi-Qar's tribes-men joined a demonstration on Tuesday that supported the government's attempts to impose law and stabilize security in Iraq's provinces. hey issued a statement to disavow outlaws, demanding to limit the ownership of weapons to the state exclusively, and to show tribes' readiness to assist security forces in confronting armed groups. Thi-Qar governor, Aziz Kadhom Alwan, addressed a speech to the demonstrators that gathered before the governorate's building. Alwan thanked all tribes-men and Thi-Qar people for their heroic stance during the latest confrontations, and excluding gunmen from their areas. "We want a safe city, with no gunmen, where people can live in peace and security, with law imposed," the governor said.

Internal displacement update for Iraq

According to a report issued last week by the working group on internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq, it is estimated that over 2.77 million people are currently displaced inside the country. Of these, 1.2 million were displaced before 2006 and more than 1.5 million were displaced in 2006 and 2007. Most of the post-2006 IDPs come from Baghdad and Diyala. Less than 1 percent have been displaced in 2008. The large difference between the current and last IDP count on 31 December 2007 – an increase of around 300,000 individuals – is largely due to the improved entry of IDP data in the central Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) database. The working group uses surveillance data gathered by the MoDM, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

…………New secondary displacement has been reported in Baghdad, however. Many of the Iraqis who decided to return to Iraq the end of last year – often after having run out of resources – found themselves displaced again in Baghdad as property had been destroyed, looted or occupied. A total of 40 percent of surveyed IDPs in Baghdad fled due to direct threats and forced eviction from their property, while between 10-17 percent fled due to generalized violence and fear. The report says that at present, large-scale return movements have not been noted and that the actual number of internally displaced and refugee returnees remain uncertain. According to the latest figures released by the MoDM, nearly 6,000 IDP families have returned so far (2 percent of post-2006 IDPs), while approximately 45,000 Iraqi refugees (individuals) returned from Syria in 2007. Among the reasons of return are deteriorating conditions in places of displacement; lack of proper resources or having run out of savings; tribal reconciliation and reports of improved security in areas of origin.

Mercy Corps Brings Emergency Aid to Southern Iraq

The global relief and development agency Mercy Corps is providing water, medical supplies and other forms of emergency assistance to the war-weary southern Iraqi provinces of Basra, Maysan and Wassit. While a ceasefire was declared on Sunday between the Iraqi Shia cleric Maqtada al-Sadr and Iraqi and U.S. forces, the situation remains tense and humanitarian needs persist. The agency has secured and distributed 780,000 liters of water in the city of Basra and three month's stock of disposable first aid and medical supplies like blood bags to two hospitals in the city of Kut. Mercy Corps is also preparing to distribute water, food and hygiene kits in Maysan in the coming days. In addition, the agency will continue to assess needs in the rapidly evolving humanitarian situation. "People are just starting to leave their homes and walk about freely, and they haven't been able to access basics like food, water and fuel for days," explained Paul Butler, Mercy Corps' Iraq country director. "We're focusing on providing these resources, and trying to anticipate what the next wave of needs will be if conflicts flare up again."

IRAQ: Hospitals in Baghdad, Basra lack supplies - ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on 31 March it was concerned about the lack of medical supplies in hospitals in Baghdad and Basra after fighting between government forces and a Shia militia flared up on 25 March. “Hospitals have used up stocks of vital medical items and require further supplies to cope with the influx of wounded patients. Access to water remains a matter of concern in certain areas,” the ICRC said in a statement. Eight tonnes of medical items were on their way to four hospitals in Baghdad, the ICRC said. Another six tonnes of medical supplies was due to be handed over to local health authorities in three southern provinces - Kut, Hilla and Najaf. The director of Imam Ali Hospital in eastern Baghdad, Qassim al-Midalal, told IRIN his hospital was in dire need of first aid materials such as bandages, cotton dressings, sutures and other surgical consumables.

Government to deny the rich food rations

The government is determined to introduce drastic changes in the distribution of the almost free-for-all food rations in the country. Sources at the Ministry of Planning said they were not yet certain whether the rationing system would continue in the second half of this year. The ministry which administers the system together with the Trade Ministry said it had enough funds to see the program implemented in the first half of 2008. “There are no instructions on whether food rationing will go ahead as normal after that,” the source refusing to be named said. But Dr. Batia Khalifa, a member of the government board on food rationing, said the system would continue but it will lose “its universal character.”

Iraq violence surges in March

THE number of Iraqis killed in March rose to 1082, up 50 per cent on the February figure amid a spike in bombings and clashes between Shi'ite militiamen and security forces, officials said today. Combined figures obtained by AFP from the interior, defence and health ministries showed that the total number of Iraqis killed in March was 1082, including 925 civilians, compared with 721 dead in February. ….The figure confirms a reversal of the trend of gradually decreasing violence since June and follows tolls of 541 in January, 568 in December, 606 in November, 887 in October, 917 in September and 1856 in August. [There are many deaths that never get counted. – dancewater]

Baghdad's Beggars Hit the Streets Again

Beggars are reappearing in the Green Zone and elsewhere in the capital, an indication that police seem to be losing interest in carrying out orders last month to round them up. The Interior Ministry's directive followed a series of suicide attacks by homeless or disabled people who had been lured by insurgents. "This segment of the population is an easy target for terrorist groups trying to deceive them and make them walking bombs," said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman. Um Mohammed, a beggar who would not give her real name, said she preferred the Green Zone. "I'm getting older and weaker, and I don't have the ability to walk and beg on the streets," she said.

More attention to be given

Those two cases revealed the disaster and the chaos that the hospitals and the health system in Iraq pass through. In Iraq , we have buildings which are called hospitals, but what about the doctors, nurses, medicine and the other medical equipments which are needed to call these buildings hospitals. Most of the Iraqi doctors are out of Iraq due the security situation, the other medical staff lack the experience due to the lack of doctors and the shortage of training, the medicine we have in hospitals are so bad from bad origin and the last disaster is the lack of the needed equipments in hospitals and sometimes they are available but the hospitals don't have the efficient staff to operate them.

Baghdad Block Left in Mourning

Abdul Qader, his chest and leg wrapped in white bandages, began to cry -- not out of pain, but loss. He remembered seeing the American Humvees, then a hail of bullets. He remembered seeing his close friend and neighbor, Abbas Ramadan, shot as he clutched his 2-year-old granddaughter, blood oozing from her head. Abdul Qader ran and ran until he collapsed from the bullets that pierced his own body. "He's gone. He was so kind," said Abdul Qader, crumbling. "I am not crying because of my wounds. I am crying because of my friend. He was like a brother."

Abdul Qader's suffering is part of the human toll of the worst violence in months in Iraq. At least 400 people, from the southern city of Basra to the capital, Baghdad, were killed over six days, including many civilians, according to Iraqi police and other officials. Countless more were injured, joining thousands of Iraqis whose lives have been shattered by five years of conflict. On Saturdxay evening, Ramadan and his granddaughter Tabarik were mortally wounded as they sat outside their front door in Baghdad's Zafraniya neighborhood. Witnesses said U.S. troops fired in their direction toward a group of young men who the soldiers may have thought were militiamen. Abbas Fadhil, 25, a neighbor, was also killed as he bought a pack of cigarettes. …..When asked if anyone had confronted the U.S. military and demanded an investigation, there was silence. Abdul Salaam spoke up: "No one dares to go and ask them why they did that."

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Iraqi PM orders forces to stop random arrests

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday ordered his security forces to stop random raids and arrests following a week of military assaults against militants loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "The prime minister has ordered a halt to all kinds of raids and arrests without warrants," said a statement issued by Maliki's office. He has, however, ordered his security forces to "deal strongly with any groups carrying arms in public".

Iraq to hire 100,000 new security personnel for Basra

Iraq's prime minister today announced plans to recruit 10,000 security personnel for Basra even as he claimed that his widely criticised military assault on Shia militants in the southern city last week had been a “success”. Nouri al-Maliki’s announcement that the police and army presence in Basra would be bolstered was tied to a pledge that no one would be arrested without a warrant from the judiciary, a concession to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. ……The recruitment of extra security forces, many of whom will inevitably be Sadr supporters, was presented as part of a seven-point plan to improve conditions in Basra, which included measures to improve public services in the dilapidated and war-ravaged second city. [Notice that there are different figures in the title and the text. Guess there will be some new jobs for the Sadr guys. – dancewater]

Sadr thanks followers, urges efforts to fight "bigger enemy"

Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr thanked his followers on Tuesday for their "patience, obedience and defense of the lands and the people," urging more efforts to fight the "bigger enemy". "Thanks are coming from Allah, not me, for the hardships you faced, and for your patience, obedience, cooperation and defense of your lands, people and honor," Sadr said in his hand-written statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI). "Blessed be the mujahideen (holy warriors) who made the occupiers as their enemies and the people as their friends," Sadr said, calling for mustering efforts to fight the "bigger enemy," in reference to the U.S. forces in Iraq.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

CNN Video: Iran helped broker cease-fire

Iraq’s Green Zone Comes Under Renewed Attacks

Iraq’s fortified Green Zone came under renewed attack yesterday, less than 24 hours after anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr called for his fighters to stand down following a week of clashes with government security forces. The rocket or mortar attacks on the nerve center of the US mission and the Iraqi government continued more than a week of near-daily fire mostly from Shiite-dominated areas of eastern Baghdad. The number of rounds going into the zone has dropped in recent days, but the continuing attacks indicate that Sadr may not be able to rein in all Shiite militia factions.

Embarrassed US Starts to Disown Basra Operation

As it became clear last week that the Operation Knights Assault in Basra was in serious trouble, the George W. Bush administration began to claim in off-the-record statements to journalists that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had launched the operation without consulting Washington. The effort to disclaim U.S. responsibility for the operation is an indication that it was viewed as a major embarrassment just as top commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are about to testify before Congress. ….These suggestions that it was Maliki who miscalculated in Basra are clearly false. No significant Iraqi military action can be planned without a range of military support functions being undertaken by the U.S. command.

Shell says ready to help Iraq boost oil output

Royal Dutch Shell is ready to help Iraq boost oil production once that country's government finalizes a petroleum law covering big energy projects, the head of the oil giant said on Tuesday. "We are very much prepared to go back to Iraq," Shell chief executive officer Jeroen van der Veer said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. [Yeap, Shell is ready to help Iraq out, just out of the kindness of their hearts. (HA!) Once again, they state that they are waiting for the oil law to pass, and security is of a lesser concern – after all, the investors and big wigs aren’t going to be getting their hands dirty in Iraq, and if they lose a few of their peon workers, well, that’s just business. – dancewater]

Technology Widens Cockpit View of Iraq

A new generation of technology is allowing U.S. pilots - like those who conducted air strikes on Shiite militiamen in Basra in recent days - to connect with soldiers on the battlefield with far greater speed and precision. The combination of advanced infrared cameras inside U.S. warplanes and the ability to stream that video to ground forces is seen as a major improvement in helping coordinate attacks - from identifying insurgents to trying to avoid civilian casualties that have brought U.S. forces at odds with Iraqi allies. [How many people does a smart bomb kill? How come we never count the dead? How come so many Americans never even notice? – dancewater]

"You almost feel like Big Brother in the sky, kind of looking down on these people as they go about their day-to-day lives," said Hall, speaking aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf after returning from a recent mission to Iraq. "You almost feel like you want to tell them, 'Don't do anything weird because it's going to get my attention,'" he said. [How come this guy does not realize that what he is doing is evil? – dancewater]

But Basra also showed how U.S. and Iraqi officials often disagree about who is killed in airstrikes. The U.S. military said 16 Shiite fighters were killed in the strikes but Iraqi police claimed eight civilians died. The differences often reflect both imperfect information and the loyalties of the Iraqi officials involved. [Hey, he forgot to mention the “loyalties” of the American officials involved! And he further forgot to mention that the “imperfect information” is largely due to the fact that the Americans don’t care how many Iraqis they kill! They don’t do body counts! – dancewater]

Plans to cut UK troops in Iraq put on hold

The defence secretary, Des Browne, today announced to parliament that planned cuts in British troop numbers in Iraq would be delayed. In a Commons statement, Browne said the decision to put off the proposed withdrawal of 1,600 troops this spring was based on military advice in the wake of the recent surge in fighting in Basra.

HISTORY

The First Day

It was a horrible day for everyone. Nobody has seen such firepower before. He told me about this Iraqi soldier who jumped in front of the American tank trying to aim his R.P.G. at it, but he was killed when the tank fired a cannon shell at him. My brother was telling me how he started collecting the flesh of that soldier, and cried: “It was total madness — Ahmad, in a matter of minutes, everything was burned and everyone was dead. I still cannot believe what happened.” When I first saw that crusxhed pickup truck, in a way I was happy. I was happy that the Americans are finally here and they are going to save us from Saddam, but after a few hours, and after all the death I saw, I started wondering whether saving us from Saddam was a good idea, because we weren’t expecting such a thing, and I know that using violence in Iraq does not generate anything else but more violence. It has been five years since that day and the violence is still on. And I don’t know if it ever will stop. [Violence begets violence everywhere. – dancewater]

IRAQI REFUGEES

VIDEO: Survival Sex

As a result of the Iraqi invasion many Iraqi girls have fled the violence to Syria. In order to survive and support their families many girls resort to prostitution.

The Drama of Iraqi Refugee Women and Children in Syria

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 fact that some of the refugees were rich doesn't cover the truth of severe economical crisis between some refugee families. Bar Karmo states that there are a lot of Iraqi children and widow women on the streets of Damascus whose husbands were kidnapped or killed because of the conflict of Iraq. After living five years in Syria most of them became already teenagers and even some of them were born in Syria. The life has been very tough for widows and children. Not all of them were lucky to get jobs.

As Bar Karmo adds; "I am not sure but I heard that prostitute business was common among Shiite refugees, especially among widows and families who have young daughters without any male in their families." Although it is very dramatic he continues; "the Syrian prostitutes complained about the big competition that intensified after the Iraqi refugee came to Syria. Hence, making love with a prostitute became affordable for many Syrians."

Number of Iraqi refugees to US spikes – to almost nothing

The State Department said Tuesday that 751 Iraqi refugees entered the country in March. That was up from 444 in February and 375 in January.

Sweden Closes Doors to Fleeing Iraqis

The fear of being sent back to Baghdad has taken its toll on Mustafa Aziz Alwi. He says he cannot sleep and has lost about 20 pounds since his claim for asylum in Sweden was rejected in January. "They told me it's because it's calmer in Iraq now, that I can go back and be happy. But they don't know that it's death there," said Aziz Alwi, 25, wiping away tears in an interview at his cousin's apartment in the Stockholm suburb of Sollentuna. Had his case been decided a year earlier, he would probably already hold a residence permit. Sweden has given shelter to about 100,000 Iraqis, 40,000 of them since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. That's far more than any other Western country including the U.S., which admitted just over 1,600 Iraqi refugees in the 2007 fiscal year, nearly 400 short of the annual goal of 2,000, and a big reduction from an initial target of 7,000.

“Exodus: Where Will Iraq Go Next?" Deborah Campbell on the Iraq Refugee Crisis

Refugees International estimates that up to 5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003. That’s one in five Iraqis who have had to flee their homes since the US led invasion of their country. Two and a half million Iraqis have been internally displaced and an equal number have managed to leave the country, to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf States, and most of all, Syria, which hosts 1.5 million Iraqis.

Join 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!). Help Iraqi Refugees: Register for the Iraq Action Days.

How to Help Iraqi Refugees

IRAQI REFUGEES NEED YOUR HELP

COMMENTARY

The Lessons of Basra

At the start of the military offensive launched last week into Basra by US-trained Iraqi army forces, President Bush called the action by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “a bold decision.” He added: “I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq.” That’s true–but not in the way the President meant it. As the smoke clears over new rubble in Iraq’s second city, at the heart of Iraq’s oil region, it’s apparent that the big winner of the Six-Day War in Basra are the forces of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army faced down the Iraqi armed forces not only in Basra, but in Baghdad, as well as in Kut, Amarah, Nasiriyah, and Diwaniya, capitals of four key southern provinces. That leaves Sadr, an anti-American rabble rouser and nationalist who demands an end to the US occupation of Iraq, and who has grown increasingly close to Iran of late, in a far stronger position that he was a week ago. In Basra, he’s the boss. An Iraqi reporter for the New York Times, who managed to get into Basra during the fighting, concluded that the thousands of Mahdi Army militiamen that control most of the city remained in charge. “There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will,” he wrote.

Americans Say Iraqis Unappreciative of Favors

Five years crammed with devastation, destruction and vagrancy. Trees burning, and breathing the Uranium-loaded air, flowing from north to south, spreading slow death all over, not distinguishing between race, gender or religion.

All types of cancer are stretching and reproducing as fast as their malignant cells; like the abominable racism,; like men coming home to take revenge on their people and their country; like children suddenly losing their innocence, turning into men ready to use their weapon; or maybe like an Iraqi woman, in her black barracan, in an everlasting mourning, looking in hospitals and graves for her beloved ones, with a face eaten by sadness. This face has forgotten the meaning of happiness. It was created by God with lips and eyes always prepared to cry; with eyes blazed with bitterness, taking her permanent rage everywhere she goes, forcing herself to keep living, reminding herself every second that raising what is left from her kids is more essential than cowardliness and death.

Five years have passed and the barbarians, and whoever gave them the keys to our cities, have been living on our land, killing and then justifying, throwing their sweet words at us, trying to fool us into believing their lies and excuses, to keep their hands clean from the blood that is covering the streets and the sidewalks; covering our eyes from seeing anything but death. They are all conquerors; Americans, British, Israelis, and Iraqi serving them, begging them to stay, afraid of their definite fate, death.

Quote of the day: "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity": Martin Luther King, Jr.

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