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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

News and Commentary

The Bush Administration Tries To Finalize the Takeover of Iraq

U.S. seeking 58 bases in Iraq, Shiite lawmakers say

Leila Fadel | McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD -Iraqi lawmakers say the United States is demanding 58 bases as part of a proposed "status of forces" agreement that will allow U.S. troops to remain in the country indefinitely.

Leading members of the two ruling Shiite parties said in a series of interviews the Iraqi government rejected this proposal along with another U.S. demand that would have effectively handed over to the United States the power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq. Lawmakers said they fear this power would drag Iraq into a war between the United States and Iran.

"The points that were put forth by the Americans were more abominable than the occupation," said Jalal al Din al Saghir, a leading lawmaker from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq...."now we are being asked to sign for our own occupation. That is why we have absolutely refused all that we have seen so far."

Other conditions sought by the United States include control over Iraqi air space up to 30,000 feet and immunity from prosecution for U.S. troops and private military contractors. The agreement would run indefinitely but be subject to cancellation with two years notice from either side, lawmakers said.


Using Extortion:

US issues threat to Iraq's $50bn foreign reserves in military deal

By Patrick Cockburn


The US is holding hostage some $50bn (£25bn) of Iraq's money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to pressure the Iraqi government into signing an agreement seen by many Iraqis as prolonging the US occupation indefinitely, according to information leaked to The Independent.

...

Iraqi critics of the agreement say that it means Iraq will be a client state in which the US will keep more than 50 military bases. American forces will be able to carry out arrests of Iraqi citizens and conduct military campaigns without consultation with the Iraqi government. American soldiers and contractors will enjoy legal immunity.

The US had previously denied it wanted permanent bases in Iraq, but American negotiators argue that so long as there is an Iraqi perimeter fence, even if it is manned by only one Iraqi soldier, around a US installation, then Iraq and not the US is in charge.


Iraqis Push Back:

Iraqi Parliament's Push for Sovereignty

by: Maya Schenwar

Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, a member of the Iraqi Parliament, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. According to Al-Ulayyan and others in Parliament, the vast majority of Iraqis favor a complete US withdrawal from Iraq.

Last week, for the first time, two Iraqi members of Parliament (MPs) testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They spoke bluntly.

"The anarchy and chaos in Iraq is linked to the presence of the occupation, not withdrawal from Iraq," Nadeem Al-Jaberi, an MP and co-founder of the Al-Fadhila party, testified.
Under questioning by Republican Congress members, Al-Jaberi repeatedly renounced the "success of the surge," and added, "What we strive for is establishing a balanced relationship between the two countries. But nothing of this could be made possible until the troops withdraw from Iraq."

Al-Jaberi told Truthout, not only do most Iraqis strongly oppose the kind of agreement that President Bush hopes to negotiate with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, which would keep US troops in Iraq on a long-term basis; they see a complete troop withdrawal as a precursor to any diplomatic negotiation.

What does "the occupation" mean? According to Al-Jaberi and Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, an MP and founder of the National Dialogue Council party, it goes beyond the presence of combat troops. Other elements of the US presence - some of which might be considered charitable in a different context - also cement its force as an occupying power, including its plan to leave behind American troops and contractors to train Iraqi soldiers.

"Iraqis have enough experience in military training, and we don't need the US to train us," Al-Ulayyan told Truthout. "The problem with the current Iraqi armed forces is not the lack of training, but the lack of loyalty to Iraq."
...

According to a letter to Congress signed by Iraqi Parliament members representing the majority parties, "The Iraqi Council of Representatives is looking to ratify agreements that end every form of American intervention in Iraq's internal affairs and restore Iraq's independence and sovereignty over its land."

The letter requests not only the removal of all soldiers and military bases, but also of "hired fighters," pointing to another aspect of withdrawal that the Iraqi Parliament has its eye on, although previous drafts of US withdrawal legislation - and much of the presidential debate - have overlooked it: the use of private military contractors in Iraq.

"US mercenaries are viewed by Iraqis as criminal gangs protected by the occupation," Al-Ulayyan told Truthout.


Iraqi MPs in Washington: No to Bush's SOFA, yes to Arab League mediation

Posted by Helena Cobban

Speaking to a civil-society audience of 60 people here in Washington DC today, Iraqi MPs Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan (National Dialogue Council) and Dr. Nadim al-Jaberi (al-Fadhila) both roundly rejected the idea of negotiating any binding longterm Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States as long as US forces remain in their country. Both also, intriguingly, said that the Arab League might be the outside party best placed to convene the negotiation required to achieve intra-Iraqi reconciliation.

...

While with the Subcommittee [on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight], they handed chair Rep. William Delahunt a letter spelling out the view of a majority of Iraq's MPs that any SOFA completed between the two countries should stipulate a total withdrawal of US troops from the whole of Iraq before a date certain.

..

About the SOFA, Ulayyan said:

    We learned about the text being proposed by the US only through the media, and we've seen that it’s very unfair for the Iraqi people. Whoever sees it will see that Iraq would become not just under US occupation but as if it were part of the US! [But without voting rights, I might add. ~HC] It allows the US to use Iraqi territory and US military bases in Iraq for a very long time, and to use them to attack any country around the world from there. And it gives the US troops and civilians complete immunity from prosecution in the Iraqi court system. The US could do anything it wanted in Iraq without being accountable to anyone!
I had also asked the MPs whether they thought the US troop presence in Iraq was helpful or harmful to the state of internal relations within Iraq. Ulayyan replied on this point:
    We do believe the presence of US troops has been very harmful, for the following reasons: Firstly, the American forces have been creating problems inside Iraq to try to justify their own continued presence here. And secondly because many forces in Iraq today have been built up by the US, and they use the US troop presence to avoid dealing with the other parties.

    Therefore the withdrawal of the US troops according to a fixed timetable will aid national reconciliation.

...the position Jaberi expressed at many points during the discussion was that Iraq needs to thought of and constituted as "the state of the citizen" (dawlat al-muwatin), rather than being constituted on the basis of sectarian quotas of any kind. Indeed, he expressed strong criticism of the UDS for having introduced the whole idea of sectarian quotas into leading government positions, in the first place.


Bush backs off - maybe, sort of, but not really:

Bush forced to rethink plan to keep Iraq bases President offers concessions after furious reaction in Baghdad to American 'colonialism'

By Leonard Doyle in Washington
Thursday, 12 June 2008

Faced with Iraqi anger over a US plan to enable Washington to keep military forces in the country indefinitely, George Bush is offering concessions to the government of Nouri al-Maliki in an effort to salvage an agreement, it emerged yesterday.

The proposed terms of the impending deal, which were first revealed in The Independent, have had a predictably explosive political effect inside Iraq. Negotiations between Washington and Baghdad grew fraught, with Iraqi politicians denouncing US demands to maintain a permanent grip on the country through the establishment of permanent military bases.

...

With Washington's Iraqi allies rising up in revolt against the plans, Mr Bush ordered a negotiating shift this weekend after speaking to Mr Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister....

Senior Iraqi officials want a major reduction of the US military footprint in Iraq as soon as the UN Security Council mandate approving their presence expires at the end of the year. Iraqi officials also want US forces confined to barracks unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance....many officials want the US troops to leave altogether.

President Bush, who is on a farewell tour of Europe, wants a new agreement sealed by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory in Iraq and say his 2003 invasion has been vindicated before he leaves office.

...

Sami al-Askari, a senior Shia politician close to Mr Maliki told The Washington Post: "The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonisation of Iraq ... If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, US troops. We don't need you here any more.'"

...

US negotiatiors are also determined to maintain policies that allow them to arrest Iraqis without the approval of Iraqi courts, maintaining immunity for US troops and contractors from Iraqi prosecution and carrying out military operations without the Iraqi government's knowledge or approval.

Washington also wants to retain control over Iraqi airspace and the right to refuel planes in the air, which has raised concerns that President Bush wants to have the option of using Iraq as a base to attack Iran.


Calling a Spade a Spade:

U.S. Colonialism in Iraq

From: Mathaba

This so-called Iraq-U.S. 'security agreement' needs more correctly to be called 'The Legitimization of America's Occupation of Iraq'. According to some reliable Iraqi sources, the agreement does not assure Iraq's independence, national integrity and national sovereignty as an inalienable right.

by Ardeshir Ommani

Last week that part of the world humanity that respects its own freedom and dignity was a witness to an impending conclusion of a unilateral ‘security’ agreement between the U.S., the sole author of this forced concession, and the U.S.-installed government of Baghdad.

The one-sided accord is an example of colonial rule and a pseudo-legal foundation for the extension of the U.S. violent occupation of that country. By means of this so-called treaty, with no time and space limitations, George Bush’s Washington intends to disguise its ugly and brutal treatment of the people of Iraq with a veneer of legality, such that in the eyes of the least-informed American people, and some of the European members of the U.N. Security Council, the presence of the U.S. military machine in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region would not be construed as a continuation of the U.S. military occupation indefinitely. Furthermore, the agreement would be exploited to serve as a basis for using Iraq’s territory (land, water and air) as a launching pad for yet another war against the neighboring countries, but especially the people of Iran in their drive for progress and economic cooperation with the countries of the region.

...

Some years ago, when the early draft version of today’s pact was at its infancy, the nationalist forces and religious leaders of Iraq were led to believe that signing the agreement would sooner or later lead to U.S. troop withdrawal and Iraq’s independence. But today that presumption has turned on its head and it has become transparent to everyone that the U.S. objective is to pull the noose tight and attain the rank of a permanent hangman in modern history. Today the U.S. Iraqi corrupt puppets pretend that they are acting independently and try to convince the Iraqi and Arab popular masses that the agreement will result in invalidating paragraph seven of the U.N. resolution on Iraq that made the U.S. the guarantor of Iraq’s security until the end of this year.

It is revealing to mention that the details of the ‘agreement’ have not been made public and grasped by the people of Iraq, who will have very little say in the matter and that is why the package is being furiously pushed through the puppet Parliament before its terms are thoroughly exposed. This so-called ‘security agreement’ needs more correctly to be called ‘The Legitimization of America’s Occupation of Iraq’. According to some reliable Iraqi sources, the agreement does not assure Iraq’s independence, national integrity and national sovereignty as an inalienable right.


Telling it Like it Is:

Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian on “Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians”

Audio and video, and complete transcript available here

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets of Baghdad to protest a proposed deal that would keep US troops in Iraq for years to come. More than five years after the US invasion, the Bush administration is seeking to complete a deal with the Iraqi government that would allow US forces to remain in Iraq past the UN mandate, which expires this July.

Well, a new book by journalists Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian brings us the voices of the fifty American combat vets of the Iraq War and their understanding of the US occupation and why Iraqis are so opposed to it. The book is called Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.

Last July, I interviewed some of the veterans whose stories appear in this book. Staff Sergeant Timothy John Westphal served in Iraq for one year. He recalled a house raid he led in 2004 on the outskirts of Tikrit.

    STAFF SGT. TIMOTHY JOHN WESTPHAL: The terror that I saw on the patriarch’s face, like I said, that really was the turning point for me. I imagined in my mind what he must have been thinking....He screamed a very guttural cry that I can still hear it every day. You know, it was just the most awful, horrible sound I’ve ever heard in my life. He was so terrified and so afraid for his family. And I thought of my family at that time, and I thought to myself, boy, if I was the patriarch of a family, if soldiers came from another country, came in and did this to my family, I would be an insurgent, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Bruhns also served in Baghdad and Abu Ghraib for one year beginning in April of 2003.

    SGT. JOHN BRUHNS: If you’re on a patrol in a market and somebody opens fire on you and the US military, I mean, if we respond—if we return fire in that direction with overwhelming firepower and, let’s say, a thirteen-year-old girl gets killed, you’re just going to have to assume right then and there that her father and her brother and her uncles—they’re not going to say, you know, Saddam was a bad guy and thank the United States for coming in here and liberating us. They’re going to say, “If the United States never came here, my daughter would still be alive.” And that’s going to cause them to join the resistance. And when they do join the resistance, President Bush says, “They’re al-Qaeda. They’re al-Qaeda.” But they’re not. They’re just regular Iraqi people who feel occupied, and they’re reacting to an occupation.

    ...

LAILA AL-ARIAN: ...the numbers are that less than one percent of the Iraqis actually support a US presence in Iraq, and this has been demonstrated time and time again in polls and also in the result when troops do withdraw from the region. For example, last December, British troops withdrew from Basra, and we saw a calm in the area and a rapid decrease in violence. Some estimates are that it was a 99 percent decrease in violence. So we do see that the results are very clear once troops do withdraw and that there is some stability in this certain region.

Christ Hedges: we wanted to give readers a kind of lens or view into the gritty details of how these mechanisms works, such as convoys. I mean, these are just freight trains of death. ...these heavily armored convoys will drive at breakneck speeds, fifty, sixty miles an hour down the middle of roads, smashing into Iraqi cars, shoving Iraqi vehicles to the side, running over Iraqi civilians, and then, of course, any time an IED goes off, unleashing withering what they call suppressing fire with belt-fed weapons...


Meanwhile, Back in Falluja...:

'Special weapons' have a fallout on babies--Iraq
By Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service
Jun 12, 2008

FALLUJAH, Jun 12 (IPS) - Babies born in Fallujah are showing illnesses and deformities on a scale never seen before, doctors and residents say.

The new cases, and the number of deaths among children, have risen after "special weaponry" was used in the two massive bombing campaigns in Fallujah in 2004.

After denying it at first, the Pentagon admitted in November 2005 that white phosphorous, a restricted incendiary weapon, was used a year earlier in Fallujah.

In addition, depleted uranium (DU) munitions, which contain low-level radioactive waste, were used heavily in Fallujah. The Pentagon admits to having used 1,200 tonnes of DU in Iraq thus far.

Many doctors believe DU to be the cause of a severe increase in the incidence of cancer in Iraq, as well as among U.S. veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War and through the current occupation.

"The most worrying is that many of our women have suffered loss of their babies, and some had babies born with deformations."

"I had two children who had brain damage from birth," 28-year-old Hayfa' Shukur told IPS. "My husband has been detained by the Americans since November 2004 and so I had to take the children around by myself to hospitals and private clinics. They died. I spent all our savings and borrowed a considerable amount of money."

"Many babies were born with major congenital malformations," a paediatric doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "These infants include many with heart defects, cleft lip or palate, Down's syndrome, and limb defects."

The doctor added, "I can say all kinds of problems related to toxic pollution took place in Fallujah after the November 2004 massacre."


Quotes of the day:

"We think that the American people and Congress are misinformed about what the Iraqis want. We hope we will have more chances to bring the voices of the majority of Iraqis to America." Iraqi parliamentarian Khalaf Al-Ulayyan

“…we are not a force for stability. We are not a force that in any way dampens or inhibits or minimizes violence. But we are another mix in the cauldron of horror and violence and terror…” Chris Hedges

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