NEWS, ANALYSIS & OPINION: America’s hidden war toll; Muslims Scholars Assn. shut down; strategic drift

America suffers an epidemic of suicides among traumatised army veterans

More American military veterans have been committing suicide than US soldiers have been dying in Iraq, it was claimed yesterday.

At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide.

Such statistics compare to the total of 3,863 American military deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 – an average of 2.4 a day, according to the website

The rate of suicides among veterans prompted claims that the US was suffering from a “mental health epidemic” – often linked to post-traumatic stress. [complete article]

Hard-line Iraqi clerics group shut down

A government-sponsored Sunni religious foundation Wednesday closed the main office of the influential Muslim Scholars Assn., a group of Sunni clerics suspected of ties to insurgents.

The clerics’ group, most of whose senior leaders left the country in the last year, protested the move in what amounted to the latest example of the split among Sunni Arabs between those aligned with and opposed to U.S. forces. [complete article]

Shiite politics in Iraq: The role of the Supreme Council

Often misidentified in Western media as “the largest Shiite party” in Iraq, SCIRI – the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Al-Majlis al-‘Aala li al-Thawra al-Islamiya fi-l-Iraq) – is certainly one of the most powerful. Its defining characteristics are a strong organisation, whose leadership hails from one of Najaf’s leading families, the Hakims; a surprising political pragmatism in light of profound sectarian inclinations; and a somewhat incongruous dual alliance with the U.S. and Iran. Since its founding a quarter century ago, it has followed a trajectory from Iranian proxy militia to Iraqi governing party, whose leader, Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, has been courted and feted by the Bush White House. Today, it is engaged in a fierce competition with its main Shiite rival, the movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr, which may well determine Iraq’s future. To help shape the party into a more responsible actor, the U.S. should stop using it as a privileged instrument in its fight against the Sadrists but press it to cut ties with its more sectarian elements and practices. [complete article]

Strategic drift

With apparent disregard for the opinion of the American people, the debate over whether the large U.S. military presence in Iraq threatens our national security has been put on hold. Both political parties seem resigned to allowing the Bush administration to run out the clock on its Iraq strategy and bequeath this quagmire to the next president. The result is best described as strategic drift, and stopping it won’t be easy.

President Bush claims that his strategy is having some success, but toward what end? He argued that the surge would provide the political breathing space needed to achieve a unified, peaceful Iraq. But its successes, which Bush says come from a reduction of casualties in certain areas, have been accompanied by massive sectarian cleansing. The surge has not moved us closer to national reconciliation. [complete article]

U.S. links drop in Iraq attacks to Iran

Iran appears to be honoring an informal pledge to try to halt the smuggling of explosives and other weapons into Iraq, contributing to a decline in bombings by more than half since March, a senior U.S. general told reporters Thursday.

“We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq,” Maj. Gen. James Simmons said. [complete article]

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