The Associated Press reports: First came the fireball, then the screams of the victims. The suicide bombing just outside a Baghdad graveyard knocked Nasser Waleed Ali over and peppered his back with shrapnel.
Ali was one of the lucky ones. At least 51 died in the Oct. 5 attack, many of them Shiite pilgrims walking by on their way to a shrine. No one has claimed responsibility, but there is little doubt al-Qaida’s local franchise is to blame. Suicide bombers and car bombs are its calling cards, Shiite civilians among its favorite targets.
Al-Qaida has come roaring back in Iraq since U.S. troops left in late 2011 and now looks stronger than it has in years. The terror group has shown it is capable of carrying out mass-casualty attacks several times a month, driving the death toll in Iraq to the highest level in half a decade. It sees each attack as a way to cultivate an atmosphere of chaos that weakens the Shiite-led government’s authority.
Recent prison breaks have bolstered al-Qaida’s ranks, while feelings of Sunni marginalization and the chaos caused by the civil war in neighboring Syria are fueling its comeback. [Continue reading...]
Reza Aslan writes:
Iraq’s 2,000-year-old Christian community is on the brink of extinction, its members targeted by al Qaeda attacks and fleeing abroad. But Hillary Clinton, the one person who could force the Iraq government to act, is keeping her mouth shut.
A full-scale genocide is under way in Iraq: a well-planned, well-financed, deliberate plot to cleanse the country of its Christian citizens. And thus far, neither the Iraqi government nor the United States is doing anything to stop it.
On Wednesday, al Qaeda militants launch a synchronized bombing attack on 11 Christian communities throughout Iraq, killing six and wounding more than 30. That attack followed on the heels of the ghastly assault last month on Christian worshippers attending a service at Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad, in which 58 people were brutally murdered and another 60 wounded.
After that attack, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement condemning the violence: “Those with deviant thoughts from al Qaeda and their allies belonging to the followers of the ousted regime targeted our Christian brothers in a terrorist crime that aims at undermining security and stability, inciting strife and chaos and sending Iraqis away from their home.”
Yet beyond these empty words, the Iraqi government has done absolutely nothing to protect the besieged Christian community from further attack, despite a promise from al Qaeda in Iraq that “all Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for Mujahedeen wherever they can reach them.” Indeed, just a couple of days after Maliki’s speech, three more bombs aimed at Christians went off in western Baghdad.
One of the strange aspects relating to conspiracy theories concerning 9/11 is that they unwittingly obscure something even worse: that the US government foments terrorism not by design but by neglect; that its policies have had a direct and instrumental role in creating terrorists not simply by providing individuals and groups with an ideological pretext for engaging in terrorism but much more specifically by creating the conditions an individual’s political opposition to America’s actions would shift to unrestrained violent opposition.
The key which often unlocks the terrorist’s capacity for violence is his experience of being subject to violence through torture.
Chris Zambelis writes:
There is ample evidence that a number of prominent militants — including al-Qaeda deputy commander Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — endured systematic torture at the hands of the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities, respectively. Many observers believe that their turn toward extreme radicalism represented as much an attempt to exact revenge against their tormentors and, by extension, the United States, as it was about fulfilling an ideology. Those who knew Zawahiri and can relate to his experience believe that his behavior today is greatly influenced by his pursuit of personal redemption to compensate for divulging information about his associates after breaking down amid brutal torture sessions during his imprisonment in the early 1980s. For radical Islamists and their sympathizers, U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support for regimes that engage in this kind of activity against their own citizens vindicates al-Qaeda’s claims of the existence of a U.S.-led plot to attack Muslims and undermine Islam. In al-Qaeda’s view, these circumstances require that Muslims organize and take up arms in self-defense against the United States and its allies in the region.
The latest revelations provided by Wikileaks show how the war in Iraq — the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism — became not simply a terrorist training ground, but a cauldron in which terrorists could be forged.
FRAGO 242: PROVIDED THE INITIAL REPORT CONFIRMS U.S. FORCES WERE NOT INVOLVED IN THE DETAINEE ABUSE, NO FURTHER INVESTIGATION WILL BE CONDUCTED UNLESS DIRECTED BY HHQ. JUNE 26, 2004
The Guardian reports:
A grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.
Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.
The new logs detail how:
• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.
The Pentagon might hide behind claims that it neither authorized nor condoned violence used by Iraqi authorities on Iraqi detainees, but the difference between being an innocent bystander and being complicit consists in whether one has the power to intervene. The US military’s hands were not tied. As the occupying power it had both the means, the legal authority and the legal responsibility to stop torture in Iraq. It’s failure to do so was a matter of choice.
Will the latest revelations from Wikileaks be of any political consequence? I seriously doubt it, given that we now have a president dedicated not only to refusing to look back but also to perpetuating most of the policies instituted by his predecessor.
For more information on the documents released by Wikileaks, see The Guardian‘s Iraq war logs page.
Al-Qaida is attempting to make a comeback in Iraq by enticing scores of former Sunni allies to rejoin the terrorist group by paying them more than the monthly salary they currently receive from the government, two key US-backed militia leaders have told the Guardian.
They said al-Qaida leaders were exploiting the imminent departure of US fighting troops to ramp up a membership drive, in an attempt to show that they are still a powerful force in the country after seven years of war.
Al-Qaida is also thought to be moving to take advantage of a power vacuum created by continuing political instability in Iraq, which remains without a functional government more than five months after a general election.
Sheikh Sabah al-Janabi, a leader of the Awakening Council – also known as the Sons of Iraq – based in Hila, 60 miles south of Baghdad, told the Guardian that 100 out of 1,800 rank-and-file members had not collected their salaries for the last two months: a clear sign, he believes, that they are now taking money from their former enemies.
“Al-Qaida has made a big comeback here,” he said. “This is my neighbourhood and I know every single person living here. And I know where their allegiances lie now.”
No one doubts that the road to Baghdad – or Tal Afar or Fallujah or Mosul – lies through Syria, and that the movement of suicide bombers from the Mediterranean coasts to the deserts of Iraq is a planned if not particularly sophisticated affair. What is astonishing – what is not mentioned by the Americans or the Iraqi “government” or the British authorities or indeed by many journalists – is the sheer scale of the suicide campaign, the vast numbers of young men (only occasionally women), who wilfully destroy themselves amid the American convoys, outside the Iraqi police stations, in markets and around mosques and in shopping streets and on lonely roads beside remote checkpoints across the huge cities and vast deserts of Iraq. Never have the true figures for this astonishing and unprecedented campaign of self-liquidation been calculated.
But a month-long investigation by The Independent, culling four Arabic-language newspapers, official Iraqi statistics, two Beirut news agencies and Western reports, shows that an incredible 1,121 Muslim suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Iraq. This is a very conservative figure and – given the propensity of the authorities (and of journalists) to report only those suicide bombings that kill dozens of people – the true estimate may be double this number. On several days, six – even nine – suicide bombers have exploded themselves in Iraq in a display of almost Wal-Mart availability. If life in Iraq is cheap, death is cheaper.
This is perhaps the most frightening and ghoulish legacy of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq five years ago. Suicide bombers in Iraq have killed at least 13,000 men, women and children – our most conservative estimate gives a total figure of 13,132 – and wounded a minimum of 16,112 people. If we include the dead and wounded in the mass stampede at the Baghdad Tigris river bridge in the summer of 2005 – caused by fear of suicide bombers – the figures rise to 14,132 and 16,612 respectively. Again, it must be emphasised that these statistics are minimums. For 529 of the suicide bombings in Iraq, no figures for wounded are available. Where wounded have been listed in news reports as “several”, we have made no addition to the figures. And the number of critically injured who later died remains unknown. Set against a possible death toll of half a million Iraqis since the March 2003 invasion, the suicide bombers’ victims may appear insignificant; but the killers’ ability to terrorise civilians, militiamen and Western troops and mercenaries is incalculable. [complete article]
There is a paradox in the current situation in Iraq. We are told that the surge has worked brilliantly and violence is way down. And yet the plan to reduce troop levels—which was at the heart of the original surge strategy—must be postponed or all hell will once again break loose. Making sense of this paradox is critical. Because in certain crucial ways things are not improving in Iraq, and unless they start improving soon, the United States faces the awful prospect of an unending peacekeeping operation—with continuing if limited casualties—for years to come.
In a brilliant and much-circulated essay written in August 2007, “Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt,” David Kilcullen, a veteran Australian officer who advised Gen. David Petraeus during the early days of the surge, wrote, “Our dilemma in Iraq is, and always has been, finding a way to create a sustainable security architecture that does not require ‘Coalition-in-the-loop,’ thereby allowing Iraq to stabilize and the Coalition to disengage in favorable circumstances.” We have achieved some security in Iraq, though even this should not be overstated. (Violence is still at 2005 levels, which were pretty gruesome.) But we have not built a sustainable security architecture. [complete article]
The Baiji refinery, with its distillation towers rising against the Hamrin Mountains, may be the most important industrial site in the Sunni Arab-dominated regions of Iraq. On a good day, 500 tanker trucks will leave the refinery filled with fuel with a street value of $10 million.
The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation, then make it prosper. But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq’s largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to American military officials. Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated — and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.
“It’s the money pit of the insurgency,” said Capt. Joe Da Silva, who commands several platoons stationed at the refinery.
Five years after the war in Iraq began, the insurgency remains a lethal force. The steady flow of cash is one reason, even as the American troop buildup and the recruitment of former insurgents to American-backed militias have helped push the number of attacks down to 2005 levels. [complete article]
For those who know something about the history of air power, which, since World War II, has been lodged at the heart of the American Way of War, that 100,000 figure [-- the quantity of explosives dropped on Arab Jabour south of Baghdad last week --] might have rung a small bell.
On April 27, 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War (a prelude to World War II), the planes of the German Condor Legion attacked the ancient Basque town of Guernica. They came in waves, first carpet bombing, then dropping thermite incendiaries. It was a market day and there may have been as many as 7,000-10,000 people, including refugees, in the town which was largely destroyed in the ensuing fire storm. More than 1,600 people may have died there (though some estimates are lower). The Germans reputedly dropped about 50 tons or 100,000 pounds of explosives on the town. In the seven decades between those two 100,000 figures lies a sad history of our age. [complete article]
The George W Bush-sponsored Iraqi “surge” is now one year old. The US$11 billion-a-month (and counting) Iraqi/Afghan joint quagmire keeps adding to the US government’s staggering over $9 trillion debt (it was “only” $5.6 trillion when Bush took power in early 2001).
On the ground in Iraq, the state of the union – Bush’s legacy – translates into a completely shattered nation with up to 70% unemployment, a 70% inflation rate, less than six hours of electricity a day and virtually no reconstruction, although White House-connected multinationals have bagged more than $50 billion in competition-free contracts so far. The gleaming reconstruction success stories of course are the Vatican-sized US Embassy in Baghdad – the largest in the world – and the scores of US military bases.
Facts on the ground also attest the “surge” achieved no “political reconciliation” whatsoever in Iraq – regardless of a relentless US corporate media propaganda drive, fed by the Pentagon, to proclaim it a success. The new law to reverse de-Ba’athification – approved by a half-empty Parliament and immediately condemned by Sunni and secular parties as well as former Ba’athists themselves – will only exacerbate sectarian hatred. [complete article]
It shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point that the president uses al Qaeda as code. Last night, in his State of the Union address, he mentioned al Qaeda 10 times, terrorism 23, extremism eight, Osama bin Laden once. Sure we are fighting a war against terrorism, and al Qaeda is always a ready reminder of Sept. 11. But the president uses this code as much to describe our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, in that, he purveys a brand of confusion and surrender.
First, confusion: Al Qaeda in Iraq, whatever it is, is just one of many organized groups fighting the United States and its military coalition, fighting the Iraqi government, and seeking to create enough chaos and insecurity to defeat both. Since the very beginning of the Iraq war, when Donald Rumsfeld dismissed those attacking U.S. troops as “dead enders” and Baathists, the American description of the enemy in Iraq has contained an element of self-deception: if the enemy were just Saddam recalcitrants, then we could convince ourselves that everyone else welcomed us and was on our side.
Since Iraq started going downhill, we have described those fighting against U.S. forces as Shia and Sunni extremists, Iranian-backed militias, foreign fighters, even criminals and opportunists. By the time Abu Musab al-Zarqawi emerged as an identifiable leader, al Qaeda had stuck as the most useful label. It didn’t always apply, and it unfortunately connoted command and control of the Iraqi insurgency against U.S. occupation from some mountain headquarters in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but U.S. spokesmen have become extremely careful never to say Iraqis attacked U.S. forces. [complete article]
In 2007 the United States military put its most dangerous enemy on the run. In 2008 it may face an even more entrenched foe. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the primary target of the American troop surge and counter-insurgency strategy, appears to be on its last legs after a year of being attacked from all sides. But Shi’ite militias, which have deep roots in Iraq’s Shi’a communities and the Shi’ite-dominated government, may now pose a more serious long-term threat.
In some ways AQI was a victim of its own success. It is practically the only organization in Iraq that all the other players in the country saw as an unacceptable threat. Both the U.S. military and the Shi’ite-dominated government had fought the Sunni jihadist group for years. By the beginning of 2007, Sunni tribal leaders and nationalist insurgents had also begun battling with their former allies in AQI in order to retake control of Sunni communities. [complete article]
From a podium decked in flowers and the Iraqi flag, a Sunni Muslim sheik in a pinstriped suit politely welcomed the Shiite guests who had driven up from Baghdad, before launching into a tirade about the lack of jobs and essential services in this former insurgent bastion.
The focus of his anger, however, was not the Shiite-led national government, but fellow Sunni Arabs on the Anbar provincial council.
Anbar is the success story of the U.S. strategy to combat the insurgency from the ground up by striking alliances with local leaders. But though the tribal sheiks’ rebellion against the militants they once backed has calmed the region and opened the door to political dialogue with Iraq’s majority Shiites, it has deepened divisions among Sunnis.
As violence has faded, an argument has been raging over who really speaks for Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority: the province’s largely secular and fiercely independent tribal leaders, who resisted the U.S. invasion, or the main Sunni political party, an Islamist group led by former exiles who cooperated with the Americans from the start. [complete article]
Coalition forces found 26 bodies buried in mass graves and a bloodstained “torture complex,” with chains hanging from walls and ceilings and a bed connected to an electrical system, the military said Wednesday.
The complex was in an area thought to be an al Qaeda in Iraq haven and operating base, the military said. Iraqis had told the military about the site during an earlier operation.
“Evidence of murder, torture and intimidation against local villagers was found throughout the area,” the military statement said. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — The unfortunate but predictable effect of a report such as this is that it will empower those who want to argue that “their torture is worse than ours.” But the more important question is this: Have their torturers been empowered by ours? To imagine that Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, renditions and secret CIA prisons have had little impact on the outlook of America’s enemies (and friends) is both ignorant and naive.
Iraq’s main Sunni-led resistance groups have scaled back their attacks on US forces in Baghdad and parts of Anbar province in a deliberate strategy aimed at regrouping, retraining, and waiting out George Bush’s “surge”, a key insurgent leader has told the Guardian.
US officials recently reported a 55% drop in attacks across Iraq. One explanation they give is the presence of 30,000 extra US troops deployed this summer. The other is the decision by dozens of Sunni tribal leaders to accept money and weapons from the Americans in return for confronting al-Qaida militants who attack civilians. They call their movement al-Sahwa (the Awakening).
The resistance groups are another factor in the complex equation in Iraq’s Sunni areas. “We oppose al-Qaida as well as al-Sahwa,” the director of the political department of the 1920 Revolution Brigades told the Guardian in Damascus in a rare interview with a western reporter. [complete article]
The U.S. second-in-command in Iraq said Sunday there has been a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in foreign fighters entering Iraq, and he credited Syria with taking steps to limit the flow.
The Americans and Iraqi officials have demanded that Syria do more to stop foreign fighters from crossing its borders to fight in Iraq, where they threaten U.S. forces as well as Iraqi civilians.
Damascus says it has taken all necessary measures but that it is impossible to fully control the sprawling desert along the porous 570-kilometer (354-mile) border. Syrian authorities say they have increased the number of outposts to one every 400 meters (yards) in some zones along the frontier. [complete article]
The title of the agreement, signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in a “video conference” last week, and carefully labeled as a “non-binding” set of principles for further negotiations, was a mouthful: a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” Whew!
Words matter, of course. They seldom turn up by accident in official documents or statements. Last week, in the first reports on this “declaration,” one of those words that matter caught my attention. Actually, it wasn’t in the declaration itself, where the key phrase was “long-term relationship” (something in the lives of private individuals that falls just short of a marriage), but in a “fact-sheet” issued by the White House. Here’s the relevant line: “Iraq’s leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq.” Of course, “enduring” there bears the same relationship to permanency as “long-term relationship” does to marriage.
In a number of the early news reports, that word “enduring,” part of the “enduring relationship” that the Iraqi leadership supposedly “asked for,” was put into (or near) the mouths of “Iraqi leaders” or of the Iraqi prime minister himself. It also achieved a certain prominence in the post-declaration “press gaggle” conducted by the man coordinating this process out of the Oval Office, the President’s so-called War Tsar, Gen. Douglas Lute. He said of the document: “It signals a commitment of both their government and the United States to an enduring relationship based on mutual interests.” [complete article]
See also, Big Media blackout on Iraq (Jeffrey Feldman).
Editor’s Comment — The fact that the U.S. military is now offering some qualified credit to both Syria and Iran for the reduction of violence in Iraq is a tacit acknowledgment that even while it claims “success” in the surge, the current respite is as much a gift — it can easily be taken away. This is the time to get out — not dig in.
In all the speculation about the fate of the US “surge” policy in Iraq, many analysts have overlooked a date on the 2008 calendar which is bound to become fateful: 11 April. On that day, the current moratorium on creating new federal entities – a last-minute addition to the Iraqi federalism legislation in October 2006 – comes to an end. From April 2008 onwards, the administrative map of Iraq could change dramatically. [complete article]
While the vast majority of analysts agree that sectarian violence in Iraq has declined sharply from pre-”surge” levels one year ago, a major debate has broken out as to whether the achievement of the surge’s strategic objective – national reconciliation – is closer or more distant than ever.
On one side, advocates of the surge – the deployment beginning last February of some 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to help pacify Baghdad and al-Anbar province – claim that the counter-insurgency strategy overseen by Gen. David Petraeus has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
On the other side, surge skeptics argue that the strategy’s “ground-up” approach to pacification – buying off local insurgent and tribal groups with money and other support – may have set the stage for a much bigger and more violent civil war or partition, particularly as U.S. forces begin drawing down from their current high of about 175,000 beginning as early as next month.
One prominent analyst, George Washington University Prof. Marc Lynch, believes that Petraeus’ strategy of reducing violence by making deals with dominant local powers is leading to the creation in Iraq of a “warlord state” with “power devolved to local militias, gangs, tribes, and power-brokers, with a purely nominal central state.” [complete article]
Even Osama bin Laden understands that al-Qaeda has stumbled badly in Iraq. In an Oct. 22 audiotape that attracted too little notice at the time, bin Laden scolded his followers for tactics that alienated Iraqis. “Mistakes have been made during holy wars,” he said. “Some of you have been lax in one duty, which is to unite your ranks.”
Bin Laden’s self-criticism was “possibly the most important message” in al-Qaeda’s history, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, an Arab journalist who has interviewed bin Laden and written an insightful biography. “It is the first time that bin Laden recognizes the error committed by the members of his organization and in particular the excesses committed in Iraq.”
Second, the recent security gains reflect the fact that Iran is standing down, for the moment. The Iranian-backed Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr has sharply curtailed its operations. The shelling of the Green Zone by Iranian-backed militias in Sadr City has stopped. The flow of deadly roadside bombs from Iran appears to have slowed or stopped. And to make it official, the Iranians announced Tuesday that they will resume security discussions in Baghdad with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
I suspect the Iranians’ new policy of accommodation is a tactical shift. They still want to exert leverage over a future Iraq, but they have concluded that the best way to do so is to work with U.S. forces — and speed our eventual exit — rather than continue a policy of confrontation. A genuine U.S.-Iranian understanding about stabilizing Iraq would be a very important development. But we should see it for what it is: The Iranians will contain their proxy forces in Iraq because it’s in their interest to do so. [complete article]
The Iraqi Accordance Front, the Sunni heavyweight in Iraqi politics, has decided to rejoin the cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which it abandoned on August 1.
It is unclear whether the same five ministers, along with deputy prime minister Salam Zoubai, who all stepped down, will return to work with the premier or whether the Front will nominate new ministers for the vacant posts. They resigned because Maliki had not responded to any of the 11 demands they had made. These included a greater decision-making role for Sunnis and an amnesty for Sunni prisoners – mainly former Ba’athists who had joined – or been accused of taking part in – the Sunni insurgency.
This comes amid increased speculation that Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will also soon reconcile with Maliki, having also walked out on him in recent months due to Maliki’s “friendship” with US President George W Bush. [complete article]
Who is the enemy? Who, exactly, are we fighting in Iraq? Why are we there? And what’s our objective?
Nearly five years into the war, the answers to basic questions like these ought to be obvious. In the Alice in Wonderland-like wilderness of mirrors that is Iraq, though, they’re anything but.
We aren’t fighting the Sunnis. Not any more, anyway. Virtually the entire Sunni establishment, from the moderate Muslim Brotherhood-linked Iraqi Islamic Party (which has been part of every Iraqi government since 2003) to the Anbar tribal alliance (which has been begging for U.S. support since 2004 and only recently got it) is either actively cooperating with the American military or sullenly tolerating what it hopes will be a receding occupation. Across Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq, the United States is helping to build army and police units as well as neighborhood patrols — the Pentagon calls them “concerned citizens” — out of former resistance fighters, with the blessing of tribal leaders in Anbar, Diyala, and Salahuddin provinces, parts of Baghdad, and areas to the south of the capital. We have met the enemy, and — surprise! — they are friends or, if not that, at least not active enemies. Attacks on U.S. forces in Sunni-dominated areas, including the once-violent hot-bed city of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, have fallen dramatically. [complete article]
Joint Security Station Thrasher, in the western Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya, is housed in a Saddam-era mansion with twenty-foot columns and a fountain, now dry, that looks like a layer cake of concrete and limestone. The mansion and two adjacent houses have been surrounded by blast walls. J.S.S. Thrasher was set up last March, and is part of the surge in troops engineered by General David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq. Moving units out of large bases and into Joint Security Stations—small outposts in Baghdad’s most dangerous districts—has been crucial to Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy, and Thrasher is now home to a hundred American soldiers and a few hundred Iraqis. This fall, on the roof of the mansion, amid sandbags, communications gear, and exercise equipment protected by a sniper awning, Captain Jon Brooks, Thrasher’s commander, pointed out some of the local landmarks. “This site was selected because it was the main body drop in Ghazaliya,” he said, indicating a grassy area nearby. “There were up to eleven bodies a week. Most were brutally mutilated.” [complete article]
In all the speculation about the fate of the US “surge” policy in Iraq, many analysts have overlooked a date on the 2008 calendar which is bound to become fateful: 11 April. On that day, the current moratorium on creating new federal entities – a last-minute addition to the Iraqi federalism legislation in October 2006 – comes to an end. From April 2008 onwards, the administrative map of Iraq could change dramatically.
The Iraqi constitutional and judicial modalities for creating new federal entities are poorly understood in the West. Under the legal framework adopted in October 2006, there are two paths to a federal status for an existing governorate: based on grassroots initiatives (by one tenth of its voters or by one third of the governorate council members) any Iraqi governorate can call a referendum for the creation of a new federal entity – consisting either of itself, or of itself in union with other governorates where the same kind of initiatives are launched (except Baghdad). A successful bid for federal status requires a simple majority of Yes votes in all governorates concerned. This is a complicated procedure, but it is at least a method that is based on popular initiatives. As such, it is antithetical to the recent resolution by the US Senate on federalism in Iraq, where there are suggestions about foreign “assistance” and elite conferences to “help” the Iraqis design a new administrative map – in other words, a plan to impose federalism on the entire country, not only “from above”, but also from the outside. [complete article]
Iraqi military commanders signaled on Monday that they will soon remove some roadblocks, blast walls and other restrictions that had been imposed over the past nine months as part of the effort to reduce violence here in the capital.
However tens of thousands of American troops will remain on the streets of Baghdad, and the announcement appears to have been made to indicate to their constituents the Iraqi leaderships’ desire to change the emphasis from the military crackdown in the earlier stages of the operation to providing vital utilities and social services to the Baghdad population. [complete article]
As an unpopular, ill-planned war in Iraq grinds on inconclusively, it can be a bleak time to be a veteran.
There is little outright hostility toward returning military personnel these days; few Americans are reviling them as “baby killers” or blaming them for a botched war of choice launched by the White House. Indeed, both Congress and the White House have been hymning their praises in the run-up to Veterans Day. But all too often, soldiers who return from Iraq or Afghanistan — and those who served in Vietnam or Korea — have been left to fend for themselves with little help from the government.
Recent surveys have painted an appalling picture. Almost half a million of the nation’s 24 million veterans were homeless at some point during 2006, and while only a few hundred from Iraq or Afghanistan have turned up homeless so far, aid groups are bracing themselves for a tsunamilike upsurge in coming years. [complete article]
FEATURE: “After we finish with al-Qaida here, we will turn toward our main enemy, the Shia militias.”
Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored “Ameriya Knights”. He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens.
It is a strategy that has worked well for the Americans, on paper at least. This week, the US military claimed it had forced the extremist group al-Qaida in Mesopotamia out of Baghdad altogether, and cut the number of murders in the city by 80%. Major General Joseph Fil, commander of US forces in Baghdad, said: “The Iraqi people have decided that they’ve had it up to here with violence.”
Critics of the plan say they are simply creating powerful new strongmen who run their own prisons and armies, and who eventually will turn on each other.
A senior Sunni sheikh, whose tribe is joining the new alliance with the Americans against al-Qaida, told me in Beirut that it was a simple equation for him. “It’s just a way to get arms, and to be a legalised security force to be able to stand against Shia militias and to prevent the Iraqi army and police from entering their areas,” he said. [complete article]
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction offered a generally optimistic picture of security developments in Iraq in his quarterly report to Congress on Tuesday, but noted that while violence was down, one of every seven Iraqis — 14 percent of Iraq’s population — is now displaced by the war.
The report said that electricity production in Iraq reached its highest level since early 2003, in part because insurgent attacks on power-lines and repair crews have declined. Corruption, however, remains a major problem, the report said. [complete article]
Inside a stately guesthouse on the grounds of Saddam Hussein’s palace in Tikrit on the banks of the Tigris, sheikh Sabah al-Hassani jokes that the initials “SH” of the former dictator etched on the walls are his.
“I have a weakness for Cuban cigars, French cologne, and Spanish-made loafers,” he says with a wide grin.
Since June, Mr. Hassani, who claims to be one of the princes of the legendary Shammar tribe, which numbers nearly 7 million across the Arab world, says he has received at least $100,000 in cash and numerous perks from the US military and the Iraqi government.
With his help, at least $1 million has also been distributed to other tribal sheikhs who have joined his Salahaddin Province “support council,” according to US officers. Together, they have assembled an armed force of about 3,000 tribesmen dubbed the “sahwa [awakening] folks.”
All of these enticements serve one goal: To rally Sunni tribes and their multitude of followers to support coalition forces.
The payments are a drop in the bucket given the billions spent annually in Iraq by the United States. And paying tribes to keep the peace is nothing new. It was one of Mr. Hussein’s tools in his selective patronage system designed to weaken and control all institutions outside his Baath party. The British also tried it when they ruled Iraq last century. [complete article]
Soon, General Fil said, there will be fewer troops for the Iraqis to rely on. “Already we are at a point where we’ll see that as the surge forces depart the city, we’ll see a natural decline in numbers, and I’m very comfortable where that comes to,” he said.
With less than two months to go before his division heads home, General Fil offered a mixed vision of the military’s role for the coming year. He said that if 2007 was the year of security, 2008 would probably be “a year of reconstruction, a year of infrastructure repair, and a year of, if there’s going to be a surge, a year of the surge of the economy.” [complete article]
Last Feb. 7, a sniper employed by Blackwater USA, the private security company, opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry. The bullet tore through the head of a 23-year-old guard for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network, who was standing on a balcony across an open traffic circle. Another guard rushed to his colleague’s side and was fatally shot in the neck. A third guard was found dead more than an hour later on the same balcony.
Eight people who responded to the shootings — including media network and Justice Ministry guards and an Iraqi army commander — and five network officials in the compound said none of the slain guards had fired on the Justice Ministry, where a U.S. diplomat was in a meeting. An Iraqi police report described the shootings as “an act of terrorism” and said Blackwater “caused the incident.” The media network concluded that the guards were killed “without any provocation.” [complete article]
Eleven tribal leaders who had banded with U.S. troops to fight the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq were kidnapped Sunday morning, the latest in a string of such attacks, fellow tribesmen said.
The Shiite and Sunni sheiks, members of the al-Salam Support Council, a group fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq in volatile Diyala province, were taken from their cars by gunmen as they were returning home from a meeting in Baghdad with a government official, the tribesmen said.
Hadi al-Anbaki, a spokesman for the mostly Shiite council, said the attack was carried out by the Mahdi Army, a militia controlled by the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. “This was an ambush,” Anbaki said.
The kidnapping highlighted the complex and quickly shifting nature of the bloodshed convulsing Iraq, with Shiite and Sunni groups increasingly targeting members of their own sects who align themselves with U.S. forces. [complete article]
Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of the Joint Special Operations Command’s operations in Iraq, is the chief promoter of a victory declaration and believes that AQI has been all but eliminated, the military intelligence official said. But Adm. William J. Fallon, the chief of U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, is urging restraint, the official said. The military intelligence official, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity about Iraq assessments and strategy.
Senior U.S. commanders on the ground, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, have long complained that Central Command, along with the CIA, is too negative in its analyses. On this issue, however, Petraeus agrees with Fallon, the military intelligence official said.
For each assessment of progress against AQI, there is a cautionary note that comes from long and often painful experience. Despite the increased killings and captures of AQI members, Odierno said, “it only takes three people” to construct and detonate a suicide car bomb that can “kill thousands.” The goal, he said, is to make each attack less effective and lengthen the periods between them.
Right now, said another U.S. official, who declined even to be identified by the agency he works for, the data are “insufficient and difficult to measure.” [complete article]