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 25, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, May 25, 2008

A man grieves over the body of his son, a member of a neighbourhood patrol who was killed during clashes, in a hospital in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad May 25, 2008. Gunmen killed a policeman and a neighborhood patrol member during clashes in Baquba on Sunday, police said.
REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ) And, as so often happens, this photo caption is the only report I have been able to find of this incident. It seems odd that Reuters can post this photograph and not mention the incident in its Factbox or anywhere else, but it happens regularly, with AP photos as well. -- C

Reported Security Incidents


Car bomb near convoy of Babel Province Gov. Salim al-Muslimawi in western Baghdad injures 11, including 7 of Governor's security guards.

“Unknown gunmen shot dead Ali Hashem, the Investigation department head of the Inspection General office of Health Ministry, yesterday evening in Tunis neighborhood, eastern Baghdad,” the source, who spoke on anonymity condition, told Aswat al-Iraq- Voices of Iraq- (VOI).

Roadside bomb targeting a police patrol injure 5, including two police. One source says there was a fatality.


Roadside bomb injures 5 police, 2 civilians.

Garma (near Fallujah)

Awakening Council leader survives a bomb attack.


Police find the body of a man dead of gunshot wounds.


Security officials say they arrested a senior member of al Qaeda in Iraq, Ali Hussein al-Sanjari.

Other News and Analysis

LA Times Alexandra Zavis suggests that the physical presence of the Iraqi army in Sadr City does not signal political control. Excerpt:

For the first time since U.S.-led forces invaded the country in March 2003, Iraqi soldiers blanket Sadr City, the heavily populated Baghdad district that is the bastion of firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. Tanks painted with the Iraqi flag are positioned at major intersections, and soldiers scan vehicles for weapons and fighters at newly erected checkpoints. "You see, the Iraqi army is everywhere. Nobody is targeting them," Abdul-Wahab said with obvious pride. "The Iraqi army is in control of Sadr City."

But the posters plastered across bullet-sprayed walls tell a different story. Sadr's face and that of his revered father, the slain Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq Sadr -- for whom the district is named -- are everywhere. Menacing black graffiti proclaims: "The state of Sadr: It is forbidden to be entered by the Americans and the forces of [Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki."

The cleric's fighters did not challenge the Iraqi soldiers when they deployed throughout Sadr City last week, under an agreement by the major Shiite political parties to end weeks of deadly clashes.

Iraqi officers say many senior militia leaders slipped away while the deal was being hammered out. But thousands of foot soldiers remain. Some are cooperating with the Iraqi troops, pointing out bombs and the occasional weapons cache. Others are watching and waiting.

And indeed, government attacks on prayer gatherings and places of worship have Sadrists threatening to end the truce. Excerpt:

By Aws Qusay BAGHDAD, May 24 (Reuters) - Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr warned the Iraqi government on Saturday that it was jeopardising a fragile truce, accusing security forces of attacking worshippers loyal to him in Baghdad and Basra. Iraqi security forces fired shots to disperse worshippers in the southern oil port city of Basra during Muslim prayers on Friday and seized hundreds of Sadr supporters in southwestern Baghdad at about the same time.

Officials in Sadr's political movement, one of the biggest blocs in parliament, said on Saturday that police had targeted a mosque in Baghdad's Amil district, arresting 400 worshippers inside and outside the building during Friday prayers. The mosque is also Sadr's office in the area.

Sadrists in Basra said one person was killed and five wounded when Iraqi troops opened fire to prevent worshippers from gathering in a square. Police said the soldiers had fired shots into the air to break up an illegal gathering and that six had been wounded.

"We consider this a new page in the targeting of Sadrists by the Iraqi government and the U.S. forces," Salah al-Ubaidi, spokesman for Sadr, said in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf. "This aggression on our Friday prayers is a new escalation which could have grave consequences for the future."

Sadrists said the government was violating recently agreed peace deals to end weeks of fighting between Sadr's Mehdi Army militia and U.S. and Iraqi forces in which hundreds have died. The truces negotiated in Basra and Baghdad have largely held and are partly credited by U.S. forces for near record-low levels of violence countrywide in the past two weeks.

They allowed some 10,000 Iraqi troops backed by tanks to enter Sadr City, Sadr's main stronghold in Baghdad, unopposed this week, to stamp the government's authority over an area largely outside its control since coming to power in 2006.

Sadrists, former allies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who pulled out of his government last year, held a news conference on Saturday to protest against the security force action and also met Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim in Baghdad. A Defence Ministry spokesman and Sadr officials said the minister had promised to ensure troops respected Friday prayers.

"We have seen a serious breach we didn't witness even under the Baathist dictator," Sadrist lawmaker Hassan al-Rubaie told the news conference, referring to Saddam Hussein, whose Sunni Arab-dominated government suppressed Shi'ites for decades.

Sadrists vow to protest these actions in parliament. Excerpt:

Baghdad, May 25, (VOI) – The Sadrists, or Iraqis loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, said they will question Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over "his violation of the constitution and refusal to allow Sadrist bloc members to practice their religious rituals including the Friday prayers," said a Sadrist legislator.

"We will work on questioning the prime minister in Parliament for his violation of the constitution and refusal to let the Sadrist bloc members to practice their religious rituals. Security forces bulldozed a fence of a court dedicated for the Friday prayers in Basra during the early hours of Sunday," Uqeil Abdul-Hussein told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

Security forces on Friday banned the Muslim congregational prayers in al-Amil neighborhood, southern Baghdad, and the Iraqi port city of Basra, 590 km south of Baghdad, and shot rounds to disperse masses of worshippers. bdul-Hussein had threatened on Saturday that the bloc would adopt a "firm stand" if security forces banned Friday prayers in the mosques belonging to the bloc. We would use all legitimate legal and constitutional means available against whoever denies access to the next Friday prayers," he told VOI on the sidelines of a press conference in Baghdad on Saturday.

Ayatollah Ali Sistani reported to issue Fatwas approving of armed resistance to the U.S. occupation. Now this is interesting, to say the least. It seems reports of Sistani's imminent demise may have been incorrect. This is a couple of days old but hasn't been posted here previously. Note the last paragraph I quoted. The Iraqi view of the situation, even from the collaborationist government, is very different from what most Americans think it is. -- C Excerpt:

By HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA – BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. But — unlike al-Sadr's anti-American broadsides — the Iranian-born al-Sistani has displayed extreme caution with anything that could imperil the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The two met Thursday at the elderly cleric's base in the city of Najaf south of Baghdad.

So far, al-Sistani's fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf. All spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Al-Sistani — who is believed to be 79 or 80 — has not been seen in public since a brief appearance in August 2004, shortly after returning from London for medical treatment for an unspecified heart condition. But his mix of religious authority and political clout makes him more powerful than any of Iraq's elected leaders.

For American officials, he represents a key stabilizing force in Iraq for refusing to support a full-scale Shiite uprising against U.S.-led forces or Sunnis — especially at the height of sectarian bloodletting after an important Shiite shrine was bombed in 2006.

It is impossible to determine whether those who received the edicts acted on them. Most attacks — except some by al-Qaida in Iraq — are carried out without claims of responsibility.


A senior aide to the prime minister, al-Maliki, said he was not aware of the fatwas, but added that the "rejection of the occupation is a legal and religious principle" and that top Shiite clerics were free to make their own decisions. The aide also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Symposium in Karbala reveals a dramatic rise in drug abuse since the U.S. invasion. Excerpt:

Karbala, May 25, (VOI) – A symposium on drug addiction organized by Karbala's health department revealed that the number of drug users in the city has dramatically increased since 2004, with researchers and health experts urging prompt measures to curb the phenomenon.

"The health department organized a symposium entitled, 'For a drug-free environment,' to discuss means of putting an end to this phenomenon," the media director in Karbala's health department told Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI). Among the subjects tackled during the symposium were the implications of drug addiction for society, the reasons behind its spread, and the role of the government, civil society organizations, and religious clerics in raising youth awareness of its dangers, the director explained.

On the sidelines of the symposium, a psychologist from the department, Asmahan Ibrahim, said that the number of drug users is on the rise in Karbala city.
According to her, in 2004 (one year after the collapse of the former regime) there was an estimated 41 drug users in the city. They rose to 65 in 2005 and 95 in 2006. In 2007, the number reached 367. We expect the figure to reach 600 by the end of the current year if effective measures are not taken," Asmahan said, noting that the figures include only those who have been officially registered by the health department.

McClatchy's Halimah Abdullah tells the story of an Iraq vet whose PTSD eventually drives him to suicide. Excerpt:

Until the day he died, Sgt. Brian Rand believed he was being haunted by the ghost of the Iraqi man he killed.

The ghost choked Rand while he slept in his bunk, forcing him to wake up gasping for air and clawing at his throat.

He whispered that Rand was a vampire and looked on as the soldier stabbed another member of Fort Campbell's 96th Aviation Support Battalion in the neck with a fork in the mess hall.

Eventually, the ghost told Rand he needed to kill himself.

According to family members and police reports, on Feb. 20, 2007, just a few months after being discharged from his second tour of duty in Iraq, Rand smoked half of a cigarette as he wrote a suicide note, grabbed a gun and went to the Cumberland River Center Pavilion in Clarksville, Tenn. As the predawn dark pressed in, he breathed in the wintry air and stared out at the park where he and his wife, Dena, had married.

Then he placed the gun to his head and silenced his inner ghosts.

"My brother was afraid to ask for help," said April Somdahl. "And when he finally did ask for help the military let him down."

Since the start of the Iraq war, Fort Campbell, a sprawling installation on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, has seen a spike in the number of suicides and soldiers suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Leaked British government document says Iran paid insurgents to attack British troops in Basra. Note that this is a field report by a single British officer. It is not reported what his source of information may have been, or how credible the British government considers this report to be. -- C

Quote of the Day

Shh! Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before somebody stumbles on it?

-- Dr. Ira Katz, chief of mental health services for the Department of Veterans Affairs, who then went on to lie about it to Congress. Emanuel Margolis goes on to tell us:

The Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit has already demonstrated that the VA intentionally misled Congress and the public about the epidemic of veterans' suicides. Here are the facts squeezed out of the government to date:

• 120 veterans commit suicide every week.

• 1,000 veterans attempt suicide while in VA care every month.

• Nearly one in five service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (approximately 300,000) have post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or major depression.

• 19 percent of post-Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with possible traumatic brain injury, according to a Rand Corp. Study in April.

• A higher percentage of these veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than from any previous war because of "stop loss" or an involuntary extension of service in the military (58,300), multiple tours, greater prevalence of brain injuries, etc.

Remember this while the parade goes by.