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, September 14, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, September 14, 2008

The wife of slain television cameraman Ahmed Salim cries as she holds her baby during his funeral in Arbil, 310 km (190 miles) north of Baghdad September 14, 2008. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a committee be established to investigate the killing of three journalists and a driver from Iraq's independent Sharqiya TV station in Mosul on Saturday. Police say they have arrested five suspects.
REUTERS/Azad Lashkari (IRAQ) al-Sharqiya has accused state-run television of moral responsibility for this crime. See below. - C

Note: The Aswat al-Iraq web site is down this morning, also no security update from McClatchy so far, so I have had to rely more than I usually like to on Reuters. This may be a less complete accounting than usual. -- C

Update II: Let me be absolutely clear, so that anybody can understand this. There were two separate attacks on security forces reported in Diyala today. One was originally reported by AP to have occurred in Khanaqin, which as I clearly and accurately stated in my comment is a Kurdish city. Therefore the logical conclusion, had the AP report been correct, would be that the incident was connected with the Arab-Kurdish territorial dispute, i.e. that it was perpetrated by Arab militants against the Kurdish police in that city. However, the AP report turned out to be wrong, the attack occurred in Baqubah. Therefore a different explanation is called for. That is not my fault, it is the fault of the Associated Press.

The second, entirely distinct attack occurred in Jalawla, where, according to the article I linked from Kurdish Media, the Iraqi army displaced Kurdish security and political organizations and closed Kurdish institutions and schools, replacing them with Shiite Arab institutions. Whether this is accurately called ethnic cleansing is a semantic question, since they did not displace population. However, the message that Kurdish culture and institutions are no longer welcome here is clear. As the Kurdish Media article states, it is not clear whether the Kurdish regional government objects to these actions, i.e. this may be part of an accommodation between the Kurdish parties and the Shiite-led Iraqi government over disputed territories. In any case, it is a reasonable speculation, though no more than that, that the attack could have been carried out by Kurdish militants who are resentful of these actions. Furthermore, the broader point I wished to make, that the Diyala offensive runs up not only against al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups, but also against the Arab-Kurdish territorial problem, is obviously valid.

People are welcome to have their own analysis of these issues, but at least try to have a basic understanding of what I wrote.

Update: Aswat al-Iraq web site has come up again, with the following new information:

Kirkuk: Two civilians wounded by IED attack on MNF [read U.S.] convoy.

Death toll in al-Saadiya bombing is now 13 police. It turns out the attack was indeed in the al-Saadiya district of Baquba, rather than nearby Khanaqin as reported by AP; this complicates the question of responsibility and motive. The target was presumably Arab, rather than Kurdish police. -- C

Reported Security Incidents

Unstated location

The U.S. military says a soldier has died in Iraq of non-combat causes. No other information at this time.


Two bodies with gunshot wounds were found on Saturday.

Awakening Council leader Fouad Ali killed, four of his bodyguards injured by a bomb planted in front of his house in al-Furat neighborhood. FYI, that's along the once-notorious airport road, an area I would presume is still secured by U.S. forces.

Diyala Province

Five police killed, 5 injured, in roadside bomb attack. I presume this is the same incident that AP locates in Jalawla, although they give the total injured as 8. Jalawla is a formerly Kurdish area, from which the Iraq army expelled the Kurds late August, and closed Kurdish schools. Bet you didn't read about that in your local paper -- yes, the ongoing joint U.S.- Iraqi operation in Diyala includes ethnic cleansing. Presumably this was a revenge attack.


Gunmen kill a Sahwa council guard at a checkpoint.


Roadside bomb kills 7 members of a Kurdish security patrol, injures 2. Note: This is a Kurdish city located in Diyala province, and the City Council voted in 2006 to be joined to Kurdistan. This is part of the region for which a referendum on joining the Kurdistan governate was scheduled but never held. This incident is also part of the ongoing Arab-Kurdish border war that for some reason we never hear about in the U.S. -- C

Other News of the Day

Cholera epidemic continues in Baghdad and southern Iraq. As I presume most readers know, cholera is an often serious disease caused by a bacterium, Vibrio cholerae, which causes severe diarrhea. Untreated cases can be fatal. The disease is transmitted when drinking water is contaminated by sewage, which is the situation today in much of Iraq despite the tens of billions supposedly spent on "reconstruction." Here's the latest from the UN:

BAGHDAD, 14 September 2008 (IRIN) - The Iraqi Ministry of Health continues to fight a recent outbreak of cholera as it spreads through Iraq's southern provinces, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 68, a health ministry spokesman said on 13 September.

"So far we have diagnosed 68 cholera cases in Baghdad and other southern provinces: Babil 40 cases; Baghdad 22 cases; Karbala four cases; Najaf one case; and another in Maysan," Ihssan Jaafar, director-general of the public health directorate and spokesman for the ministry's cholera control unit, told a press conference in Baghdad.

"The Ministry of Health's teams and institutions are working 24 hours a day and seven days a week to check all areas and to treat any cholera case immediately to avoid fatalities. The ministry recently imported 540 million water tablets and we have already distributed tens of million of them," Jaafar said.

Jaafar said that five people had died from the disease but all in the early days of the outbreak, in late August, as the victims had not gone to any hospital quickly enough.

"Now, awareness [of cholera] among the people has risen and they have started to go immediately to the nearest health institutions and that has helped prevent more fatalities. We call upon all the people to make sure that they are using safe water for drinking," he added.

However, some experts have criticised some of the health authorities’ hygiene recommendations. Ismaiel Mohammed, a sociology professor at the University of Babil, said the government's recommendations to residents will add to their economic burden as they will have to pay more money for fuel to boil water or for buying bottled water. “It [cholera] is an endemic disease and there must be real solutions that go to the roots of it and not only immediate measures whenever the disease emerges,” Mohammed told IRIN. “By this we are only cutting off the octopus' arms and not killing it.”

Mohammed urged the government to begin rehabilitating the country’s dilapidated water networks or at least its small purification and sanitation plants in urban areas where people are most vulnerable to the disease.

He also said that there must be cooperation between all the government's concerned departments to supervise and upgrade existing water and sanitation plants rather than “only adopting the traditional and temporary measures of sending tankers of drinking water or distributing water tablets in the affected areas”.

As five are arrested for the murder in Mosul of a reporting team from Al-Sharqiya television, the news director for the channel accuses state-run Al-Iraqiya television of moral responsibility. Excerpt:

Gunmen kidnapped and killed the crew consisting of Mosul bureau chief Musab al-Azzawi (the son of Sunni parliamentarian Mohammed al-Azzawi), cameramen Ahmed Salim and Ihab Ma'ad and driver Kidar Suleman on Saturday. They were snatched in the Al-Zangili area of the city while on assignment for the popular program Futurqum Alena (Dinner On Us). Their four bullet riddled bodies were later found near Al-Zangili, security officials added.

Al-Sharqiya news chief Ali Wajih accused state-owned rival Al-Iraqiya television of being morally responsible for the killings. "The government's channel and those who stand behind it bear ethical and moral responsibility for the crime," Wajih told AFP in Dubai.

He said Al-Iraqiya had waged "a campaign of slander against the journalists working in Al-Sharqiya" after it aired a report on "torture in Iraqi prisons". Al-Iraqiya accused Al-Sharqiya of "harming Iraqis" after the report was aired, Wajih said, adding that it "is regrettable that public channels are being used to attack independent channels".

Oh yeah, remember how the war was supposed to install a government in Iraq that would be friendly to Israel? Iraqi parliament votes to lift the immunity of MP Mithal Alusi for the crime of visiting Israel to attend an international conference on terrorism. "The parliament decided to ban Alusi from travelling outside Iraq or attending sessions of the assembly, and has also decided to take legal action against him for visiting the Jewish state." The vote was by acclamation.

It seems Sarah Palin's claimed visit to troops in Iraq consisted of a stop at a Kuwait border crossing. "Lt. Col. Dave Osborn, commander of the 3d Battalion, 207th Infantry of the Alaska National Guard, who was in charge of the 570 local troops serving in Kuwait and Iraq, said Palin did not cross into Iraq. “You have to have permission to go into a lot of areas, and [the crossing] is where her permissions were,” Osborn told the newspaper Friday."

South Bend Tribune reports that Indiana soldiers assigned to guard a water treatment plant in Southeast Iraq in 2003 were exposed to hexavalent chromium. And what else is new? KBR was warned of the danger, but covered it up. Excerpt:

Edward Blacke, who was assigned to work at Qarmat Ali as a health, safety and environmental coordinator for KBR, testified in a June 20 hearing before a Senate Committee that he tried to warn his supervisors about the contamination — and claims he was rebuffed.

"When I arrived at the plant, as is required of our profession, I made a risk assessment of the facility and the surroundings where I noticed during that assessment a reddish, orange material spread on the ground, spilling from damaged bags in the injection building, a storage building, and then in the drainage ditches," Blacke testified. "I asked for information on this material from my manager ... in Kuwait, and was sternly advised that it was a non-issue."

Blacke testified that when he further researched the material and discovered what it was, he was concerned, as winds at the facility often blew the powdery dust into the air where it could be easily inhaled.

He attempted to bring the matter to the attention of supervisors, only to be rebuffed. And when workers — and soldiers — at the facility began showing signs of exposure, they were told that the powder was, at worst, a mild irritant.

"I was kind of shocked that fellow safety and medical professionals were telling outrageous and blatant lies to the workers," Blacke said at the hearing.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheet on sodium dichromate, the material is a potent carcinogen, can cause damage to the respiratory and endocrine systems and can even eat a hole through the septum of people who inadvertently breathe it.

Quote of the Day

The US troop surge did what it aimed: Calm Iraq down. But now, an increasing number of US officials are worried that the hard-won drop in violence may be only temporary. The fear: That Iraq may squander this period of relative calm, failing to reach the difficult political deals the surge was designed to allow — and thus setting the stage for another round of violence some day. The worry is behind US military leaders’ constant warning that Iraq’s current calm may not endure. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was the latest, saying this week that US military commanders do not yet believe “our gains are necessarily enduring.” Their fears are sound.

AP's Robert Reid. Whatever you may think of AP's performance in other areas, Reid's work on Iraq has been sound. -- C