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

Sunday, May 11, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, May 11, 2008

Iraqi boy cleans up his home in southern Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 11, 2008. US troops fired at the house with a shoulder rocket launcher during an apparent search mission in the area. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) This is yet another of those incidents that is only reported in a photo caption. One wonders how often U.S. forces do this sort of thing, that we never hear about.





Reported Security Incidents

Baghdad

U.S. aircraft bomb Sadr City overnight on the eve of a cease fire. No reports yet as to damage and casualties. "US aircraft has bombed Sadr City Saturday night and in the early hours on Sunday," witnesses told Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Aswat al Iraq reports that the bombardment began at 3:30 pm Saturday and continued into the early morning hours, but the reporter was unable to contact medical sources for information about casualties. See below for information from this story about the truce.

IED attack on convoy of Undersecretary of Finance Fadel Mahmoud misses its target, but injures 6 civilians.

Two civilians injured by roadside bomb near oil marketing department in East Baghad.

Ramadi

U.S. "service member" killed in vehicle roll-over. (Given the location this is probably a Marine. As I indicated on Friday, the MRAPs are less vulnerable to IEDs but have proven to be prone rolling over. Not certain this was an MRAP but that would be consistent with recent experience. -- C)

Mosul

U.S. forces open fire on a car at a checkpoint, kill 4, including 1 woman and 1 child. The occupation statement also asserts that there were two armed men in the car. I should point out, however, that many people in Mosul go about armed for self-protection, or even because they are "Awakening Council" members. If the men were armed, that is no indication that they were dangerous to the American soldiers. -- C

Kirkuk

Police find two unidentified bodies on the road to Arbil.

Gunmen kill an Iraqi soldier in west Kirkuk.

Basra

An AP photographer accuses Iraqi soldiers of choking and severely beating him as he attempted to cover an IED attack on Saturday. No information given on the results of the explosion.

Turkish border region, Avasin-Basyan area

Turkey claims to have destroyed "key" PKK positions with air and artillery attacks, including a "media and propaganda center." The PKK denies any losses.

Other News of the Day

Sadr City truce between the government and Sadrist movement appears to be holding. Aswat al-Iraq provides details. Note that in spite of the spin by the government, the agreement does not include any indication that the Mahdi Army will disarm, or turn over individuals to the government, which were the key government demands that started the confrontation. -- C:

Earlier on Saturday, the Sadr bloc's official spokesperson said that the bloc brokered a deal with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stop fighting in the troubled eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City, and end the crisis between the two sides.

"A 14-point agreement was reached with a delegation from the ruling Unified Iraqi Coalition (UIC) to end the crisis in Sadr City," Sheikh Salah al-Ubaydi told VOI.
Ubaydi said the agreement, effective as of Sunday, provided that all the items included would be implemented in four days' time, noting it calls for a "ceasefire, ending all armed activities and opening of all outlets leading to Sadr City."
An official spokesman for the government confirmed the agreement reached with the Sadrists on Friday evening with the objective of "sustaining the stability and security in Sadr City."

"There are talks between a UIC delegation and the brothers from the Sadrist bloc, and a 14-point agreement was reached," Ali al-Dabbagh told VOI on Saturday. "The agreement included the clearing of Sadr City of all explosive charges and mines, the closure of all illegal courthouses, ending all armed activities and acknowledging that the Iraqi government is the sole party that runs security issues and decides sending any forces to any area to impose order and security," Dabbagh noted. Zaynab al-Kanani, a member of parliament from the Sadrist bloc, had said on Friday that several Sadrist delegations under Sheikh Ubaydi have met with members from the UIC and other parliamentary blocs during the past couple of days to reach a solution to the crisis between the government and the Sadrists.

She said the outcome of the meetings was good but there are still some pivotal issues pending consultations and might take some time to reach an agreement over. "One of these issues is the handover of more than 40 gunmen against whom arrest warrants were issued," Kanani said. Ubaydi, however, said the agreement provides for "the right of the Iraqi security forces to conduct raids in search of wanted people in accordance with controls and citizenship rights." "The (government) delegation pledged the commitment of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to this agreement," Ubaydi said. The Sadrists' spokesman did not refer to the future of the Mahdi Army, the military wing of the Sadrist bloc.


IRIN quotes an Iraqi analyst on the truce conditions:

The 10-point truce agreement, which comes into effect on 11 May, stipulates that the Mahdi Army militia stop fighting US and Iraqi forces in Sadr City, an area where nearly 2.5 million people live, and stop displaying their weapons in public. In return, the government will stop conducting random raids on al-Sadr's followers and open all the roads leading to Sadr City that had previously been closed.

But the agreement is unlikely to end the stand off, a Baghdad-based analyst said. "It's a sketchy agreement and it's a fragile ceasefire," said Mohammed Jawad Nassir, a professor at Baghdad's University of Al-Rafidain.

"It talks of the ceasefire only in Sadr City and it doesn't refer to other areas in Iraq and it also doesn't mention anything about the special groups that splintered off the Mahdi Army and which receive support from Iran," Nassir added. "This elastic language will give more space to Moqtada al-Sadr to manoeuvre and send his most wanted militiamen to other places or to fight in other places," he added.

While Iraqi authorities had not reported any violence by the afternoon of 11 May and Shia militants had seemingly disappeared from the streets, many of Sadr City residents are concerned and sceptical.

"We are happy with this good news but how long will this last? That is the question," said Sadr City resident Qassim Nasser al-Lami, a 54-year-old father-of-six. "I just ventured out this morning to get some essential food but I hesitate to send my children to school or to open my shop," added al-Lami who runs a mechanical workshop in Sadr City.


Indeed, Alexandra Zavis of the LA Times notes that the two sides seem to have differing understandings of what the accord means:

Under the terms announced by the cleric's lead negotiator, Sheik Salah Obeidi, al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia is to set aside its weapons and allow the government to pursue individuals wanted for attacks, provided that there is an arrest warrant. In return, the government is to stop what Obeidi called "random" raids and to open blocked roads into Sadr City, the Baghdad slum. Obeidi said the document doesn't mention the government's demand that the militia disband and surrender its medium- and heavy-grade weapons -- points that the cleric's representatives are not prepared to discuss.

But Ali Dabbagh, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said all sides had agreed that only the government is authorized to maintain an army and impose law. "The government has the right to raid and search any place that is suspected to contain heavy and medium weapons," Dabbagh said in a statement.

Obeidi also said the agreement allows only Iraqi forces -- not the U.S. military -- to conduct raids in Sadr City. But Dabbagh said that the deal did not address the role of foreign troops, a point underscored by Hadi Amri, a member of the ruling alliance's negotiating team. Amri said: "The U.S. forces are and will continue bombing ... the places that are launching mortar rounds or rockets at their bases and/or the Green Zone."


Iraqi government continues to talk about the impending operation against insurgents in Mosul, dubbed "Lion's Roar. Lieut. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq says the operation has started with several arrests and the capture of weapons. However, I have not been able to find any independent confirmation of these claims and there do not seem to be any reports from journalists coming out of Mosul at this time. We'll have to wait to see what comes of this. -- C

Video shows Iraqi army in Boston parading the bodies of Sadrist fighters like big game trophies. (Note: The video is presented at the link.)

A humvee military vehicle idles on a broad avenue as an Iraqi army soldier walks nonchalantly past without so much as a glance at the body slung across the bonnet. The dead man’s trousers have been pulled down to his ankles, exposing white underwear below a torn T-shirt drenched in blood from wounds to his chest and side.

Behind is a second Humvee with another body sprawled over the front, arms and legs outstretched. On his white shirt, a large bloodstain indicates the wound that may have killed him. A soldier sitting on the roof dangles his legs over the windscreen and seems to prod the corpse’s stomach with his boot. As the vehicles roll slowly forward, the tooting of car horns rises to a crescendo in apparent celebration of victory in battle and the sound of whooping and gunshots can be heard.

A police officer in a blue uniform drives alongside, smiling as the Humvees are waved forward by a pedestrian in civilian clothes and head towards two large arches that span the road. The bodies are being paraded like prize stags after a hunt.

The film, which appears to have been made with a mobile phone, was passed to The Sunday Times by a senior official close to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi’ite cleric who leads the Mahdi Army militia. The official said it had come from Basra and showed the bodies of two Mahdi fighters who died after the Iraqi army launched an offensive in the southern port city in March with the aim of liberating it from the grip of warring militias.

There was no way to corroborate the official’s information or to identify the dead men as Mahdi fighters, but the vehicles bear Iraqi army markings and the arches glimpsed in the film resemble a Basra landmark.


Quote of the Day

At some point the government will have to begin paying for these wars - if it can. What looks increasingly like a serious recession, complicated by an expensive federal bailout of financial institutions, may combine to convince even John McCain that the time has come to declare a victory and head for home. It's possible. But the United States did not acquire a $9 trillion national debt by caution with money. A decision to back out of the war is going to require something else - resolve backed by a combination of arguments that withdrawal won't be a victory for al-Qaeda or Iran, that it isn't prompted by fear, that it doesn't represent defeat, that it's going to make us stronger, that it's going to win the applause of the world, that the people left behind have been helped, and that whatever mess remains is somebody else's fault and responsibility.

Missing from this list is victory - the one thing that could make withdrawal automatic and easy. Its absence makes the decision an easy one for McCain - no victory, no withdrawal. But everybody else needs to think this matter through the hard way, trying to understand the real consequences of easing away from a bloody, inconclusive war. After six and a half years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Democratic candidates for president and the public weighing a choice between them have a moment of relative quiet, right now, with the primaries nearly over and the nominating conventions still ahead, to consider where we are before deciding, to the extent that presidents or publics ever do decide, what to do.


Thomas Powers

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