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, February 1, 2009

News of the Day for Sunday, February 1, 2009

US soldiers stand guard as Iraqi women enter a polling station in the eastern town of Khanaqin. Shiite candidates backed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared Sunday to have posted gains in the nation's landmark provincial election, while Sunni Arabs went to the polls in force.
(AFP/Filippo Monteforte)

Reported Security Incidents


Sticky bomb injures 2 civilians in al-Mada’en, southeastern Baghdad.

Near Mosul

Gunmen blow up the house of Faisal al-Habw, a candidate for a party affiliated with the Iraqi National List. (This is a secular party, which includes socialists.)

Near Hilla

A bomb near the home of an Iraqi National Congress candidate for office severely damages the building, in the village of al-Sayahai.


U.S. forces kill 2 Iraqi policemen under disputed circumstances on Saturday afternoon. Iraqi Army spokesman Col. Safaa Abdul-Razaq said the police were manning a checkpoint when they were killed by the Americans, but the U.S. claims they fired on U.S. forces from inside a building which was suspected of harboring al Qaeda fighters.


U.S. military says a soldier died of non-combat related injuries.

Other News of the Day

Government says voter turnout was 51% in local and provincial elections, under extremely tight security. This was lower than the 55.7% four years ago, even though Sunni Arabs largely boycotted the election on that occasion. Turnout in Baghdad was just 40%. The ruling Shiite bloc is claiming to have done well against allies of Muqtada al-Sadr in Shiite areas, but votes will not be counted for several days, and final results will not be certified for a month. Remember that voting in the disputed region of Kirkuk was postponed. -- C

Although violence connected with the polling was limited (although not essentially non-existent as most western news agencies are implying) there are some complaints about the election. Whether these will seriously undermine its credibility remains to be seen. AP's Brian Murphy reports. Excerpt:

Results are not expected before Tuesday. But possible challenges were already leaking out.

Sheik Dari al-Arsan, a senior Sunni leader in western Anbar province where former anti-insurgent militias were seeking political gains, alleged that voters couldn’t reach polling stations because of the traffic ban and that others in Fallujah found the door shut.

In Karmah, about 50 miles west of Baghdad, local election observer Sabah Hussein said he found ballots marked in advance for the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni bloc that is a partner in al-Maliki’s government.

But a U. N. election observer, Said Arikat, described the election in mostly positive terms: “By and large, the rules were followed.”

Iraqi police demolish sculpture of a shoe in Tikrit, erected in honor of Muntadhar al-Zeid, who threw his shoes at George W. Bush during a Green Zone press conference.

According to Iraqi government statistics, civilian deaths in January were 138, the lowest since the 2003 invasion. Fifty-one police and soldiers were also killed. (However, imagine if you will that level of politically motivated violence in say, Texas, which is about the size of Iraq. That we are expected to take this as a sign of normality is rather odd. --C)

15 U.S. military died in Iraq in January, one more than in December.

Afghanistan Update

Suicide bomb attack on a NATO-led convoy near Kabul injures 2 Afghans, 1 NATO soldier. Nationality of the injured soldier is not given, but eyewitnesses are quoted saying he is French. Quqnoos gives the total number wounded as 4.

U.S. troops kill a tribal elder at a checkpoint in Paktika Province.

A rising epidemic of opiate addiction in Kandahar overwhelms the only treatment facility.

Quote of the Day

Saturday's elections are a mere hop in a nation-building journey that had barely left the gate when perilous missteps in 2005 (an electoral boycott and a constitution-drafting process gone awry) almost derailed it. The elections -- set to fill posts at the provincial level -- will form elected local governments in a country that has yet to wean itself of the habits of a top-heavy centralized state. As the past six years have shown, the capacity for local leadership remains severely deficient. Training local administrators in preparing their own budgets, for example, has proven a formidable challenge. That's only the beginning.

Logistics aside, a series of factors has spawned a certain cynicism about what local governments will and can do effectively. Lawlessness, corruption, isolation from Baghdad, inexperience, and confusion about overlapping authorities has disillusioned the newly voting public. When you ask Iraqis what the local councils have done for them, the stock answer is: Nothing. An independent politician in Diwaniya explained, "Despite violence, terrorism, explosions and threats, people voted [in 2005]. But what did they gain? They gained the reality that doors were shut in their faces."

This perception will likely affect voting behavior. Low turnout may favor the same parties that brought us poor governance in the first place. . .

Joost Hillerman.