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, October 19, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, October 19, 2008

Demonstrators wave Iraqi national flags during a protest march in Baghdad's Sadr City October 18, 2008. Thousands of followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets on Saturday in a demonstration against a pact that would allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq for three more years.
(Kareem Raheem/Reuters)

Reported Security Incidents


Two killed, 10 injured in explosion at a gas station in southeastern Baghdad.

Three police, 4 civilians injured in IED attack on police patrol in al-Zafaraniya area.

Near Balad

Sahwa leader Aamer Jassem Khudeir and 4 others killed, 3 injured, in armed assault on Khudeir's house in al-Hudeira al-Sharqiyya village.

Other News of the Day

A Christian displaced from Mosul tells Aswat al-Iraq that security forces are doing nothing to protect the Christian population. Excerpt:

Toma Lewis, a 38-year-old Christian inhabitant of Mosul, had to flee his city and reside in a small house with a relative in Qara Qosh district in al-Hamdaniya, for fears over the lives of his family members. “Some Christians were murdered in broad daylight. This just showed us that the local government and security agencies, topped by the operations command, do nothing but parroting on promises and pledges,” Lewis told Aswat al-Iraq.

He said his area was void of any security presence and even if they are present they do nothing to stop the assaults. “I have left Mosul on Monday morning after I heard of the killing of several Christians. I have received several phone calls from relatives that some gunmen are targeting Christians and that some of their neighbors were shot down by gunmen without any apparent reasons,” he said.

All Christians, he added, have left Mosul to other districts like the predominantly-Christian al-Hamdaniya (Qara Qosh), 40 km east of Mosul, in addition to the districts of Talkeef, Buesheiqa and al-Qosh. He pointed out that some Christians who have no places to go in those areas had to spend some time in other people’s homes.

“All the rooms of the Mar Matta Monastery are already occupied by displaced Christians from Mosul, while those who remained in the city are closing their doors and never venture out for fears for their lives,” said Lewis.

Many Christian refugees from Iraq are arriving in Lebanon. Excerpt:

Lebanon has a growing Iraqi refugee population, currently numbering between 20,000 and 40,000, according to the UN. An estimated 2 million Iraqis who have fled the violence in their country. Many of the Christian refugees arrived from Syria on mountain paths used by smugglers, bringing with them little more than a suitcase or two, and harrowing stories of rape, kidnapping and murder.

The Bishop of the headquarters of the Chaldean church in Lebanon, Michael Kisargi, said his church receives daily more than six families and they tell 'horrific stories about their ordeals,' he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. 'Everyone can tell me a story about persecution by Muslims.' One of the worst, he said, was from a family whose daughter had been raped 15 times by militia members. 'The Christians in Iraq are in danger and all the world should step in to stop this massacre,' the bishop said.

As the Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the U.S. remains in limbo, Maliki turns to negotiations with the UK. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD, Oct 19 (KUNA) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has announced on Sunday he would assign a negotiating team to discuss with the United Kingdom the future of the 4,000-strong British force in south Iraq. He made the announcement after meeting Britain's new Defense Secretary John Hutton who made his first visit to Iraq.

The planned talks will take place ahead of the expiry of the United Nations mandate for the Multi-National Force in Iraq on December 13, 2008, according to a statement issued by the Iraqi cabinet here. "The two sides have to reach an agreement on the future of the British forces ahead of that date," the statement quoted Al-Maliki as saying.

AP's Hamza Hendawi discusses the political status of the SOFA, indicates that Maliki has not offered whole-hearted public support. Note that the SOFA appears to include elements that the Bush administration has previously said were unacceptable, including a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces and Iraqi jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. forces. However, I note that the latter applies only to off-duty personnel, off of U.S. bases -- a situation which essentially never arises. If the agreement does pass the Iraqi parliament, it will be with the nearly exclusive support of SIIC and Kurdish parties, and the fierce opposition of Sadrists and Sunni Arab parties, which bodes ill for political reconciliation. -- C

And right on cue, Reuters now reports that SIIC no longer supports the draft of the SOFA and wants additional changes. It is unclear whether the U.S. is willing to make any further concessions at this point; the pact was previously described as final. -- C

WaPo correspondent and Baghdad resident K.I. Ibrahim says the divisions resulting from the sectarian cleansing campaign are irreversible for the foreseeable future. Excerpt:

Last Sunday, I was thrilled to see [my former neighbor] Abu Zahraa at his home, believing he and his wife had come back to stay. Almost in tears, he hugged me. He said he had brought two trucks and four porters. The porters were loading the furniture into the trucks while he packed small items into his old Lada.

With the tenants gone, he said, he could easily sell the house and buy another one, even if it is smaller or older, in a safe area, preferably a mostly Shiite one. He looked at me and said: "That feeling of peace and security is gone. We, as Shiites, can never feel safe in a mostly Sunni neighborhood again. I can't live here anymore. The risk to my life and to my wife's is too high."

He hugged me again and said, choking up, "But we shall always remain friends."

Afghanistan Update

Taliban attack on buses in Kandahar kills 25 civilians, according to local police. A Taliban spokesman claims they killed Afghan soldiers. No independent confirmation of any of these claims. Reported death tolls vary somewhat, but all come from official sources and there appear to be no eyewitness accounts. The Taliban claim they checked ID and freed civilian passengers; Afghan officials say security personnel do not use civilian transportation.

One civilian killed, two foreign soldiers and two civilians injured, in clashes in Kapisa province, according to police. (This story also describes the rape and murder of a young woman in Khost, which appears to be a non-political crime, though it's impossible to be sure.)

Canadian investigators say it will take two years to conclude inquiry into allegations of rape by Afghan soldiers. Excerpt:

The Canadian military's National Investigation Service is telling some witnesses it could take up to two years to investigate claims by Canadian soldiers that they've seen Afghan soldiers and interpreters raping young boys near Canadian bases outside Kandahar.

That would leave the problem unresolved until about 2011 – the year Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to pull Canada's soldiers from the country – when the issue could well become moot.

"It's unconscionable," said Michel Drapeau, a retired Canadian colonel who practises military law in Ottawa. "It's completely unacceptable that they would take two years. How many more boys will be forced to go through this before we finally get around to looking at this seriously?"

Iranian foreign minister warns Western nations against negotiations with the Taliban. What the U.S. government and the corporate media fail to tell us is that Iran is an enemy of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and was cooperating with the U.S. in Afghanistan prior to the Bush administration's ratcheting up of hostilities with Tehran. -- C

Pakistani officials say they have killed 27 militants in air strikes near the Afghan border, killed 3 more in ground fighting.

Quote of the Day

We have a lot wishes and dreams about the future, but we get little in return. There’s no electricity, no housing and infectious diseases and corruption are rife. The displaced are having a difficult time and security is fragile. I’m ashamed of this government that cares only about its personal interests. No one cares about us.

-- Baghdad shopkeeper Abbas Abdullah