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 9, 2009

News of the Day for Sunday, August 9, 2009

An excavator works at the site of a bomb attack in Mosul in this handout photo provided by the police, August 8, 2009. A suicide car bomber killed 38 people as they left a Shi'ite Muslim mosque just outside the volatile northern Iraqi city of Mosul, officials said on Friday, while a series of bombs in Baghdad killed six Shi'ite pilgrims. Picture taken August 8, 2009. REUTERS/Iraqi Police/Handout (IRAQ CONFLICT) Updates on this horrific incident below.

Reported Security Incidents

Baquba

Five police injured by IED attack on their patrol in al-Tahreer, central Baquba. Aswat al-Iraq goes on to describe the area as a stronghold of "the so-called Popular Committees, which comprises the Hamas and the 1920 Revolution factions." Iraqi Hamas is a breakaway faction of the 1920s Revolution Brigade, not connected with Palestinian Hamas. These are Sunni insurgency groups, including remnants of the old Iraqi army, which turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq because it targeted Iraqi civilians. Although it has been claimed that both factions joined forces with the U.S. as core constituents of Sahwa councils, statements from purported leaders of the 1920s Revolution Brigades deny this and say that only the Hamas faction has joined the Sahwa movement. The Aswat al-Iraq story does not make it clear whether they are implying that members of one of these groups are now attacking Iraqi police. See below for an update on the Sahwa councils. -- C

Baladruz

A woman and two men are injured by an explosion near their car.

Buhruz (northeast of Baghdad)\

One civilian killed, another injured by unidentified gunmen in a rural area

Mosul

Policeman killed in attack on a checkpoint in al-Tanak neighborhood, western Mosul, on Saturday. Note: This is different from a similar incident posted yesterday by Whisker, the location is different.

Roadside bomb attack injures two policemen.

Police find the body of a merchant who was kidnapped a few days ago.

Other News of the Day

Via Juan Cole, this video from Aljazeera English. Cole synposizes: "The Sunni fighters of the Awakening Councils haven't been paid for months now that the Shiite government of Nuri al-Maliki has taken over responsibility for them. The government never intended to integrate more that 17 percent of them into the state security forces, and now it seems the percentage may be even less. One problem with demobilizing the Awakening Councils is that the fighters have many enemies, and if they disarm they are at extra risk for reprisals." Of course, rather than disarm, the Awakening Councils could simply return to insurgent activity. See the story above on the incident in Baquba. -- C

Cole also reports on jockeying among the Shiite parties ahead of next year's parliamentary elections. Inside baseball, way too soon to see what's coming. - C

Iran's ambassador to Iraq confirms that Iran holds 3 American tourists who strayed into Iran from Kurdistan, according to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Forty people injured in Friday's bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in Mosul will be flown to Turkey for medical care. This story simply reports the fact and adds no background. However, I must point out there is a clear implication that the Iraqi hospital system is unable to handle the caseload. Yes, nearly 300 wounded would tax any city's hospitals but one would expect the overflow could be sent elsewhere within Iraq. BTW I'm not sure we have updated the casualty toll since Friday. It now stands at 38 dead and 267 wounded. -- C

Afghanistan Update

British soldier killed by IED in Helmand on Saturday.

Three Afghan soldiers killed by explosion in Zabul.

Taliban spokesman says fate of captured U.S. Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl will be decided after the U.S. responds to demands the Taliban has made. It is not clear what those demands are but a Taliban spokesman has said earlier that Bergdahl will be killed unless the U.S. stops airstrikes in certain areas. The U.S. has no comment on the matter.

This AP story summarizes the importance of opium to the Afghan economy. Excerpt:

Opium was so entrenched in Badakshan province, where Shahran is located, that it is said Marco Polo sampled it when he passed through in the 13th century. Until recently, the sloping mountain faces were awash with pink, purple and magenta poppies, nodding in the wind. But in the past year, poppy production has gone down 95 percent.

The villagers here held a meeting and decided two years ago not to plant opium, after government radio messages warned that poppy fields would be destroyed and opium growers jailed. Posters distributed throughout the area showed a man with his hands bound by the stem of the opium poppy.

The villagers say they did as the government told them, and planted their fields with wheat, barley, mustard and melons. But these crops need more care than the tough opium poppy, which will bloom with little water or fertilizer. Most of the wheat fields yielded little because the farmers couldn't afford to fertilize the land. Even where yields were decent, farmers say they could have earned between two and 10 times more by planting the same land with opium.

"See this mustard? It can take care of my family for one month," says 25-year-old farmer Abdul Saboor, pulling up a shoot of the green plant and snapping it open with his teeth. "When we planted opium in this same plot, it took care of all our expenses for an entire year."

The hole in the economy is swallowing up the community, from the farmer to the turbaned shopkeepers whose scales used for weighing opium now sit idle. Every month, shopkeeper Abdul Ahmed used to bring $20,000 worth of goods to sell in the bazaar. It's been four months since his last truckload, and he has only sold $1,000. Ahmed is one of 40 traders left; there used to be 400.

"We open in the morning and go back at night. No money comes in. No one buys anything," says Ahmed. "There is no money left in this village. Opium is the only income we had."


Meanwhile, where opium is still grown in Afghanistan, addiction is a crushing problem. Rukmini Callimachi tells the tale. Excerpt:

In dozens of mountain hamlets in this remote corner of Afghanistan, opium addiction has become so entrenched that whole families - from toddlers to old men - are addicts. Cut off from the rest of the world by glacial streams, the addiction moves from house to house, infecting entire communities. From just one family years ago, at least half the people of Sarab, population 1,850, are now addicts.

Afghanistan supplies nearly all the world’s opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, and while most of the deadly crop is exported, enough is left behind to create a vicious cycle of addiction. There are at least 200,000 opium and heroin addicts in Afghanistan - 50,000 more than in the much bigger, wealthier United States, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services and a 2005 survey by the United Nations. A new survey is expected to show even higher rates of addiction, a window into the human toll of Afghanistan’s back-to-back wars and desperate poverty.


Quote of the Day

Zeyad has returned to blogging. Apparently he is still disgruntled. This Quote of the Day is not safe for work. He refers to the July 28 bank robbery in Jadiriya by members of VP Adil Abdul Mahdi's security detail. -- C

PM Maliki has stepped in to cover up for his partners in crime once more, and all public debate of the incident has been stifled. Iraqis seem to have been shocked by the brutal crime and its implications but nothing more than that. The outrage of a few brave journalists ended just two days after the incident, and now everyone is warning against rushing to conclusions or using the incident as an excuse to defame our politicians and "Islamic symbols" (whatever that means).

I don't think the symbolism of the crime was missed by Iraqis: I rule over you and plunder your wealth while you live like animals, and I will tie you up, blindfold you and shoot you in the head at will, because I can get away with it. Rule of law mal teezi, as we say in Iraq.

However, we, the Iraqis, will bend over, once more, and take it up the behind from our rulers, as we have always done throughout our history.


Zeyad

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