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, August 24, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, August 24, 2008

Artist Talib Jomaa, supported by the local council, paints murals on the concrete blast walls that divide the north and south parts of the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008. Iraqi and U.S. forces won control of Sadr City in May after weeks of battles with anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, now claimed by Sadr to be largely disbanded.
(AP Photo/Karim Kadim) This is not really accurate. Sadr says the Mahdi Army is observing a cease fire, and that undisciplined elements have been removed, not that the militia as a whole is disbanded. -- C


Reported Security Incidents

Baghdad

Two roadside bombs in Beirut Square on Falasteen St. kill 4, including 2 police, and injure 15. According to multiple accounts, the first bomb targeted a police patrol and the second targeted police responding to the first.

Iraqi police free a kidnap victim. Not clear if this was a political or economic crime, but most likely the latter. -- C

Three civilians were killed and five others were wounded by a roadside bomb that targeted a civilian car in al Dyna area northeast Baghdad around 12:00 p.m.

Two civilians were injured by a roadside bomb in Doura neighborhood around 1:30 p.m. Note: For some reason McClatchy has a number of incidents not reported anywhere else today, including these last two. It's the same link, to their round-up post

Baquba

Two police killed, six injured (including one woman) in a gun battle. VoI says 3 police killed, 4 civilians wounded, identifies the location as a checkpoint near a parking lot in al-Anasera area. Assailants are unidentified.

Two more incidents reported only by McClatchy:

Three civilians were killed and five others were wounded by a roadside bomb in Dayniyah village east of Baquba city around 2:00 p.m.

Four Iraqi soldiers were killed and eight others were injured by an IED that targeted a patrol of the Iraqi army in Dayniyah village east of Baquba city around 2:30 p.m.

Mosul

Three police, 1 civilian injured in suicide car bomb attack that may have targeted a U.S. patrol.

Basra

Attack on U.S. patrol near the airport produces no casualties. Note: U.S. forces have remained in the Basra area since coming to support the government offensive earlier this year.

Shiite cleric Haider al-Saymari killed Saturday in an ambush. He was a follower of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and known as a critic of militias.


Hilla

Two people injured in a drive-by shooting. No further explanation given.


Other News of the Day

U.S. forces release AP cameraman Ahmed Fouad after nearly three months in detention without charges, according to Ibrahim al-Siraji, an Iraqi advocate for journalists' rights. The U.S. had no comment.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani meets briefly with reporters to dispel rumors that he is in failing health. He also takes the opportunity to express concern about attacks on journalists.

Kurdish official condemns a raid by the Iraqi army on the headquarters of the Peshmerga (Kurdish army) in Qurat Tabba. For background, yesterday's report from VoI on the incident. Essentially, in the context of the security offensive in Diyala province, the Iraqi army is attempting to seize control of areas which are currently controlled by the Kurdish government and armed forces. "On Saturday morning, Iraqi army personnel raided the headquarters of the PUK, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan Communist Party, lowering the flag of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). . . . The central government has ordered Kurdish bodies to hand over the security responsibility of Diala's border areas to the Iraqi army and withdraw their Peshmerga forces from those areas. It is rather astonishing that this conflict is being completely ignored by the U.S. media. Note that U.S. forces are working with the Iraqi army in Diyala, even as a low grade civil war is simmering between Arabs and Kurds. -- C

Juan Cole provides English translation of an article from Al-Arab Online. Excerpt:

Baghdad Residents Gathering has condemned the collective punishment that has been imposed by the Iraqi forces on a number of neighborhoods in Baghdad that witness security turmoil. The punishments include limiting the movements of the citizens, imposing curfews for long hours, in addition to building walls and fences around neighborhoods and isolating them from each other.

The gathering stated in a statement it released that "in a new development of the methods of the wanton occupation and its agent government, the forces called the (Iraqi) army and the police backed by the occupying troops impose collective punishments on the residents of the Baghdadi neighborhoods and on the rest of the Iraqi areas. These punishments include isolating those neighborhoods, limiting the movement of citizens after those neighborhoods turned into detention centers. This happened through constructing sectarian segregation walls that caused a lot of hardship especially, for children, elderly people, and women who stand in queues under the stifling sun heat, noting the presence of many sick people among them.
The application of this method comes after the targeting of their beasts (troops) by the national resistance and that is exactly what happened recently in Al-Amiriyah and Al-Saydiyah neighborhoods in Baghdad, in a way that is similar to what happened before in Al-Fallujah and Samaraa."


Reuters Missy Ryan and Sattar Rahim report on the continuing critical shortage of potable water in Iraq. Excerpt:

Water and sewage are perennial challenges in this arid country, where the overhaul of decrepit public works has been hindered by years of war and neglect.

Nearly a billion litres of raw sewage is dumped into Baghdad waterways each day -- enough to fill 370 Olympic-sized pools.

The United Nations estimates that less than half of Iraqis get drinking water piped into their homes in rural areas. In the capital, people set their alarm clocks to wake them in the middle of the night so they can fill storage tanks when water pressure is under less strain.

New investments in water and sanitation are only slowly bearing fruit even as Iraq seeks to capitalise on a dramatic drop in violence over the past year.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have been working to refurbish existing water plants, distribution lines and sewage works, but they say major infrastructure improvements will take years.

Since 2003, the United States has spent about $2.4 billion on Iraq's water and sanitation sector, and the Iraqi government has now taken over funding major construction. But the World Bank estimates that at least $14 billion is needed.

In the apartment bloc where Suhad Mohammed lives in eastern Baghdad, water pressure is so weak that water doesn't reach the top floors. Each morning, her husband and son help her fill plastic jugs from a communal tap downstairs and lug them up several flights of stairs.

"It gets even more complicated in the summer," she said.

The shortages are also causing health problems.

Acute cases of diarrhoea are three times more common in eastern Baghdad, where water service is most problematic, than in the rest of the city, the United Nations says. That side of the city has also seen a higher incidence of cholera.


Afghanistan Update

In yet another atrocity, AP reports that foreign fighters bombed a village and killed at least 78 Afghans. Excerpt:

Scores of Afghan civilians who had gathered in a small village for the memorial ceremony of a militia commander were killed when U.S. and Afghan soldiers launched an attack in the middle of the night, officials and villagers said Saturday.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the early Friday operation in western Afghanistan and said most of the dead were civilians. The U.S. coalition, however, said it believed only five civilians were killed and said that it would investigate the Afghan claims.

An Afghan human rights group that visited the site said Saturday at least 78 people were killed. The Ministry of Interior has said 76 civilians died, including 50 children under the age of 15, though the Ministry of Defense said 25 militants and five civilians were killed.

snip

An Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission researcher visited Azizabad in Herat province and found 15 houses had been destroyed and others were damaged, said Ahmad Nader Nadery, the group's commissioner.

Nadery said the information was preliminary and the group would publish a final report. He did not provide a breakdown of how many were civilians or militants, and said 20 women were among the dead and children also were killed.

Nadery confirmed reports from villagers that a memorial ceremony was held for a deputy militia commander allied with the Afghan police named Timor Shah, who died in a personal dispute several months ago. Because of the memorial, relatives and friends from outside Azizabad were staying overnight in village homes, he said.


Al Jazeera, which now gives the death toll as 89, reports on the aftermath.



Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, has sacked a senior army general after at least 89 people were killed in an Afghan military operation, suported by US air raids.

The move came after a delegation appointed by Karzai travelled to the Shindand airstrip and Azizabad village in Herat to investigate the charges that scores of civilians had died.

General Jalandar Shah Behnam, head of the corps for western Afghanistan, and commando Major Abdul Jabar, were fired for "negligence and concealing facts," a presidential decree issued on Sunday said.

"In the tragic air strike and irresponsible and imprecise military operation in Azizabad village in Shindand district more than 89 of our innocent countrymen, including women and children, were martyred."

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Kabul, said that the two men had been summoned to the capital where they will be questioned by the defence ministry.

"Karzai has been under a lot of pressure, he has lost a lot of support among the local population as a result of these air strikes," she said.

The president has regularly appealed to the US and Nato-led forces to take more care to prevent civilian casualties amid warnings that such incidents are sapping the goodwill of the Afghan people.

Conflicting accounts

However, there were still conflicting accounts of the number of civilians deaths with the US military insisting the air raids had killed 25 Taliban fighters and five civilians after it was called in to support the Afghan national army.

While the chief of police in the western Herat province of Afghanistan told Al Jazeera on Sunday that 95 civilians had actually died.


A supply helicopter contracted to NATO crashed in Afghanistan eastern Kunar Province on Sunday, killing one and wounding three others, the alliance said in a statement. The Mi-8 supply helicopter, contracted to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), 'was forced to make an emergency landing' after it took off from a military base in the province, ISAF said in a statement. 'One person on board the aircraft died and three were wounded during the incident,' the statement said, but did not say if the victims were soldiers or civilians working for the contracted company. The statement did not say if the hostile fire was the reason for the helicopter's crash.

Quote of the Day

The call to put Kirkuk under Kurdish authority is dangerous. Splitting Kirkuk from Iraq in this manner could open the floodgates for sectarian, religious and ethnic violence that might destroy the province – particularly because Iraq does not yet have a powerful central government.

Particularly worrying is that Turkey, which has close ties with Kirkuk Turkomans, has warned the Kurds that the Turkish military may intervene if Iraqi Kurdistan tries to grab Kirkuk. With Ankara behind them, Kirkuk Turkomans are an assertive community, some of whom may hinder efforts to find a solution for Kirkuk.

But the Turkomans must not forget that they are Iraqis too, and nothing but the Iraqi army and the constitution can protect them in the end.


Iraqi journalist Samah Samad

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