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, January 17, 2010

News of the Day for Sunday, January 17, 2010

A handout picture released by the Iranian official news agency IRNA shows Kurdish adults and children killed by an Iraqi chemical attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northeastern Iraq, March 1988. Saddam Hussein's notorious henchman "Chemical Ali" was sentenced to death on Sunday for ordering the gassing of Kurds in Halabja, a brutal attack that killed an estimated 5,000 people. (AFP/IRNA/HO/File) Lest we forget -- at the time, the U.S. downplayed the incident and tried to blame Iran. See below. - C

Reported Security Incidents


Bomb hidden in a garbage bag kills 1, injures 4 in southeastern Baghdad.

al-Ahrar, west of Kut

Six civilians injured, 2 critically, in IED attack on a vehicle.


Bomb attack on the motorcade of Deputy Chief of the Salah al-Din Provincial Council injures a security guard, but the target, Khaled al-Daraji, survives.

Tal Afar

City in a security alert after security forces claim intelligence about plots to assassinate public officials.

Other News of the Day

Iraqi court hands down a fourth death sentence for Ali Hassan al-Majid, a member of Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Command Council. This sentence is for his most notorious crime, ordering the chemical weapon attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988. (Al-Majid is known to the U.S. corporate media as "Chemical Ali". They seem incapable of calling him by his name, so I thought I'd defy convention here. -- C

Iraqi authorities announce that they captured Ali Hussein Alwan Hamid al-Azzawi on June 26, but kept it a secret as they pursued associates. Azzawi was a leader of the group called Islamic State of Iraq. He is accused of the Aug. 19, 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq that killed 22 people, including mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The British inquiry into the origins of the Iraq war continues. (The inquiry the U.S. will never have, apparently -- nor do we seem to be paying any attention to this one. -- C. Then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wrote to Tony Blair on March 25 2002 that invading Iraq would be dangerous and illegal. Despite claims to the contrary by both Blair and the Bush administration, the decision to invade Iraq had apparently already been taken. Excerpt:

Mr Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, warned Mr Blair that there were serious political risks in his relationship with the US president over Iraq. “The rewards from your visit to Crawford will be few. The risks are high, both for you and for the Government,” he said. He added: “I judge that there is at present no majority inside the [Parliamentary Labour Party] for any military action against Iraq.”

Mr Straw, himself a lawyer, cautioned Mr Blair about “potential elephant traps” over the legality of any military action. Toppling Saddam would not, in itself, justify any invasion, he said. He also suggested that only a clear new UN Security Council Resolution could justify the war in international law. “The weight of legal advice here is that a fresh mandate may well be required,” he wrote.

In the event, no such accord was agreed, and Mr Blair argued that the authority for the invasion came from existing UN resolutions. He did so after Lord Goldsmith, then the Attorney General, changed his legal advice.

In the letter, Mr Straw also questioned why Iraq should be treated differently from other rogue states. He said: “In the documents so far presented it has been hard to glean whether the threat from Iraq is so significantly differently from that of Iran and North Korea as to justify military action

Mr Straw also raised serious doubts about the fundamental wisdom of removing Saddam by force, and suggested that toppling him would not necessarily lead to a better regime in Baghdad. “We have also to answer the big question — what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than on anything,” he said.

Nearly 1/4 of Britons want Tony Blair to be tried as a war criminal. A majority believe he deliberately misled the country in order to justify the war.

News Analysis by Middle East Online foresees loss of government legitimacy, renewal of sectarian tensions, from decision to exclude Sunni Arab politicians from upcoming elections. Excerpt:

The decision to ban Iraqi election candidates accused of links with the Baath party of executed president Saddam Hussein could exclude Sunnis from the political arena and usher in new sectarian tensions. The move also threatens to damage the March 7 ballot by creating a campaign battleground focused on past quarrels rather than a much needed search for solutions to myriad problems facing the war-torn country, analysts said.

Leading Sunni politicians also voiced anger at an official blacklist that bars 500 candidates including defence minister Abdel Qader Jassem al-Obeidi from the vote, purportedly under a law that bans Baathists from all elections. However, members of the committee of integrity and accountability whose job is to vet applicants and purge unsuitable contenders are themselves facing charges of illegitimacy as they have not been approved by parliament.

Those banned from the election, the second since the US-led invasion, include prominent Sunni lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlak, a persistent critic of the government. "The decision to exclude Mutlak and others means Iraq is getting dangerously close to a repeat of the heated, sectarian political atmosphere seen in the December 2005 elections," said Reidar Visser, a noted Iraq analyst.

Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah is concerned about a possible resurgence in sectarian violence in Iraq. "I'm worried about the collapse of the security system in Iraq, which could drive many Iraqis to seek refuge in Kuwait," Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah told al-Qabas daily. "I am worried about ... a sectarian conflict that would spread to Kuwait ... I'm worried that conflicts, terrorism and al Qaeda groups could spread to Kuwait," he said.

In January, 2003, Joost Hillerman recalled the U.S. response to the Halbja chemical weapons incident. Excerpt:

The public record shows that Saddam's regime repeatedly spread poisonous gases on Kurdish villages in 1987 and 1988 in an attempt to put down a persistent rebellion.

The biggest such attack was against Halabja in March 1988. According to local organizations providing relief to the survivors, some 6,800 Kurds were killed, the vast majority of them civilians.

It is a good thing that Bush has highlighted these atrocities by a regime that is more brutal than most. Yet it is cynical to use them as a justification for American plans to terminate the regime. By any measure, the American record on Halabja is shameful.

Analysis of thousands of captured Iraqi secret police documents and declassified U.S. government documents, as well as interviews with scores of Kurdish survivors, senior Iraqi defectors and retired U.S. intelligence officers, show (1) that Iraq carried out the attack on Halabja, and (2) that the United States, fully aware it was Iraq, accused Iran, Iraq's enemy in a fierce war, of being partly responsible for the attack. The State Department instructed its diplomats to say that Iran was partly to blame.

The result of this stunning act of sophistry was that the international community failed to muster the will to condemn Iraq strongly for an act as heinous as the terrorist strike on the World Trade Center. . . .

It took seven weeks for the UN Security Council to censure the Halabja attack. Even then, its choice of neutral language (condemning the "continued use of chemical weapons in the conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq," and calling on "both sides to refrain from the future use of chemical weapons") diffused the effect of its belated move. Iraq proceeded to step up its use of gas until the end of the war and even afterward, during the final stage of the Anfal campaign, to devastating effect.

Afghanistan Update

Ambush in Herat kills a district governor and 5 police.

Parliament to recess until Feb. 20, leaving 11 of 25 cabinet positions unfilled after it rejected President Karzai's nominees.

U.S. drone said to kill 15 militants in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border. The report is attributed to "a local security official."

"International forces" kill an Afghan civilian in Helmand province, apparently because he was exceeding the speed limit. No other explanation is given.