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, March 7, 2010

News of the Day for Sunday, March 7, 2010

Residents gather at the scene of a blast which leveled a building in northeastern Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 7, 2010. Insurgents bombed a polling station and lobbed grenades at voters Sunday, killing 26 people in attacks aimed at intimidating Iraqis participating in an election that will determine whether the country can overcome jagged sectarian divisions that have plagued it since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
(AP Photo/Karim Kadim)




As Iraqis go to the polls today for what is probably their most important election in memory, I'm going to maintain the usual format of listing security incidents first, but we all know the context for this information is different from most days. -- C

Reported Security Incidents

Baghdad

Mortar fire in northeast Baghdad kills 3, injures 5, according to news services. However, according to NYT's live blog "In the Ur neighborhood of northeast Baghdad, a Katyusha struck a two-story apartment building this morning shortly after the polls opened. The force of the impact destroyed the building, Ian Fisher reports from the scene. Its owner, Ahmed Sagheer, said he saw nine people killed, three women and six children. He helped drag one woman, Zainab Abed, from the rubble. She was unconscious and later died. A man stood on the building’s rubble, crying. He had just learned a 10th victim had died in the hospital, his brother." Sorry, the blog is not set up with links to individual posts; you'll have to scroll down to 12:56 pm. Nevertheless, witnesses say voters were not deterred. This Reuters story says 12 people were killed in what is apparently the same incident.

Three mortars also strike the Green Zone, no information on casualties or damage.

Without being specific, this Reuters report mentions two other rocket attacks in Baghdad, each of which is said to have killed 4 people. The situation is evidently confusing and reports are difficult to sort out. This AP report merely says "At least 14 people died in northeastern Baghdad after explosions leveled two buildings about a mile apart, and mortar attacks in western Baghdad killed seven people in two different neighborhoods, police and hospital officials said."

IED attack in al-Jihad kills two, injures 5.

Three killed by a hand grenade while heading to a polling station in Hurriyah. (This AP update contains this bit of information not reported elsewhere.)

Mosul

Seven people injured in grenade attack on a polling station.

Two Iraqi soldiers injured in IED attack near a polling station.

Given the large number of attacks including mortar barrages in various locations, it is difficult to provide the usual level of specificity about incidents of violence. Many reports just make aggregated statements about numbers of people killed and injured around the country, and nothing ever adds up. Reuters has attempted to itemize incidents. I have not been using the Alertnet factbox much lately because it has tended to be woefully incomplete, but today they do list incidents I haven't seen reported elsewhere, including additional incidents in Mosul, the most notable of which seems to be "A joint patrol of Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iraqi soldiers, supervised by U.S. troops, opened fire on the convoy of a provincial council member in a town near Mosul, wounding him and two of his bodyguards. Police said the incident was caused by a misunderstanding." This would seem to be the "golden lion" military organization I noted last week.

KUNA reports that governing council member Qusai Al-Shabki later died of his injuries, and reports on additional violent incidents in Mosul, leading to the closure of 3 polling stations. Perhaps most disturbing, KUNA reports that Shabki "was injured in the chest while casting his vote in the elections." This is rather different from the Reuters report and seems to make the excuse of a "misunderstanding" seem unlikely.

Jalawlaa

Two injured by IED. Additional devices explode without causing casualties.

Yathrib, Salah al-Din province

IED injures 3 people. (Another explosion, in Tikrit, caused no casualties.)

al-Saadiya, Diala province

One killed, 5 injured by sticky bombs.

Falluja

Five explosions, three apparently caused by mortars, injure a total of 4 people.

Mahmoudiya

Bomb inside a polling station kills a policeman.


Other News of the Day

IRIN puts the election and the political situation in context. While typical reports are full of platitudes about Iraqis defying the violence to cast their ballots, the UN offers a more thoughtful analysis. Excerpt:

Facilitating the return of IDPs and the nearly 2 million refugees outside the country is one of the biggest challenges the new government faces. While some 300,000 have returned over the past two years, "large-scale returns have not taken place", according to UNHCR.

Other challenges are insecurity, corruption, unemployment and poor public services, according to analysts.

"The outgoing government has been handcuffed from the beginning due to political wrangling, which took its attention away from improving basic services, health and education institutions, fighting corruption and creating job opportunities," Mohammed Abdul-Aziz Jassim, a political sciences lecturer at the University of Anbar, told IRIN.

"Although it achieved some improvement in the security situation, which allowed some of the displaced people to return to their homes, it couldn't offer services and other things as all the political parties were preoccupied with how to boost their power," he said.

He hoped that the new government would "take office as soon as possible to handle daily needs" and not get bogged down in protracted negotiations between political groups to form the government, creating a power vacuum that would take the country backwards.


In Kurdistan, the two parties who have long divided rule of the region face an upstart challenger. Excerpt:

Since 2003, Kurds have been kingmakers in Iraq's central government, extracting the maximum political and economic concessions from Baghdad in a way that sustains the rule of the two main parties. Gorran's ["Change"] ascendancy could upend that balance; some analysts believe it could win as many seats as Mr Talabani's party. Gorran's appeal has gone beyond Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaimaniya, the three provinces that constitute the Kurdish region. It has spilled into disputed territories in Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salahuddin, provinces claimed by both Kurds and the central government.

The movement has taken particular aim at Mr Talabani and his party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, at a time when its relations are warming with the other ruling party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, Mr Talabani's old nemesis turned ''strategic partner'' after 2003.


Paul McGeough expects an unclear election result and post-election jockeying for power. "In fairness to the authors of the Iraqi constitution, they knew the local landscape well - the constitution allows about eight months of wrangling before the word ''crisis'' is invoked. But the worry in Washington as much as in Baghdad is that political paralysis usually begets a security vacuum."

Afghanistan Update

Fighting between Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami in Baghlan is reported to have resulted in heavy casualties, including up to 19 civilian deaths.

Karzai visits Marjah.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Kabul, meet with Karzai.

Quote of the Day

The sewage overflows and the streets are covered with water when it rains. You can see on the street nobody can walk and go to the market because of the rainwater. All the streets are flooded with sewage and rainwater. You can see the garbage everywhere in the street. Which election are you talking about? We should elect a government to send an official to visit the area to inspect what the city needs.


An unidentified resident of Sadr City.