Sunday, September 14, 2008

And the war drags on . . .

Eight Kurdish pesh merga soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in a disputed part of eastern Diyala Province on Saturday, adding to tensions with the Iraqi government and local Arabs over the Kurds' presence in the area.
[. . .]
The Kurdish presence in Khanaquin, and in other nearby areas, has been a growing source of tension. Kurdish forces have been moving the borders of their semiautonomous region in northern Iraq, in what they say is an effort to improve security.
But the move has been viewed by many Iraqi and American officials as a threat to stability in areas that are already prone to violence.

The above is from Sam Dagher's "Bomb Kills 8 Kurdish Soldier, Inflaming an Iraqi Regional Dispute" in today's New York Times. That's two days in a row that the paper's filed from Iraq and both pieces by Dagher. (Nothing was filed from Iraq in Friday's paper.) Dagher also covers other violence including aimed at journalists. Nicholas Spangler and Hussein Kadhim set the scene in "Terrorists murder a television crew" (McClatchy Newspapers):

The Iraqi TV crew brought the gifts that had come to be the trademark of their reality show: some basic household appliances and a delicious supper to break the Ramadan fast for a family of little means.
They'd done it many times before. But this episode didn't get made. Gunmen seized four of them from their vehicles, hauled them down the street and executed them.
The show is called Your Iftar on Us, after the Arabic word for the evening feast, and it airs on the privately-owned Sharqiya network. It didn't have much in the way of production values but it had a wide following. People watched it because it made them feel good.

And what happened next? From Reporters Without Border:

Reporters Without Borders is appalled and saddened by the murder of four employees of privately-owned TV station Al-Sharqiya (photo,AFP) yesterday in the northern city of Mosul. Al-Sharqiya's news director noted that the murders followed a smear campaign against the station by state TV broadcaster Al Iraqiya.
"We condemn the abduction and murder of the three Al-Sharqiya journalists and their driver and we call for a thorough investigation into the circumstances," Reporters Without Borders said. "The comments by Al-Sharqiya’s news director make such an investigation all the more urgent."
The Al-Sharqiya TV crew - consisting of Mosul bureau chief Musab al-Azawi (the son of a parliamentarian), cameramen Ahmed Salem and Ihab Maad and driver Qaidar Suleiman - were kidnapped by gunmen at midday while filming in the central Mosul neighbourhood of Al-Zenjili for a programme about Ramadan, which began two weeks ago. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found in a nearby district later yesterday.
The sequence they were filming would have shown Al-Sharqiya bringing food and gifts for a poor family for the Iftar, the meal with which the daily fast is broken every evening during Ramadan. The station broadcasts to Iraq by satellite from Dubai.

With other reported deaths over the weekend, that makes for at least 37 Iraqis dead. In addition the US military announced the deaths of more US service members.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war hit the 4,155 was the number. And tonight? 4157. Today the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division - Center Soldier died this morning of non-combat related causes." And they also announced: "A second Multi-National Division - Center Soldier died this morning of non-combat related causes. The soldier died of wounds Sept. 14 at a Coalition forces Combat Army Support Hospital." Just Foreign Policy's counter estimates the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war to be 1,255,026 same as last Sunday.

Turning to some of the reported violence . . .

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports (today) a Baghdad mortar attack on the Green Zone, a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed the life "of the commander of the Sahwa in Furat neighborhood" and left four other people wounded, a Baghdad car bombing that claimed 2 lives and left six wounded, another Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded three people, a Diyala Province roadside bombing that claimed the lives of 5 police officers (five more left wounded), a Falluja roadside bombing that claimed 1 life (and left two police officers wounded) and, dropping back to Saturday night, a Baghdad car bombing that wounded six people. On Saturday McClatchy's Hussein Kadhim reported a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded four police officers, a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed 3 lives and left five wounded, a Baghdad car bombing that wounded four people, a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded three and a Baghdad car bombing that wounded six people.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul home invasion that left three people wounded. Saturday McClatchy's Hussein Kadhim reported a Friday night Basra attack that claimed the life of 1 person and left three more injured. Reuters notes a Sunday attack "on a publishing house" that resulted in four people being wounded and 2 police officers shot dead in Mosul on Saturday while 1 guard was shot dead in Iskandariya on Saturday. Saturday Reuters noted 1 real estate broker shot dead in Kirkuk, a Mosul home invasion in which a husband and wife were shot dead.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses discovered in Baghdad. Saturday Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reported 2 corpses discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes 2 corpses (brothers) discovered in Mosul.

Meanwhile on the legal front, Iraqi MPs are not allowed to travel freely. Nicholas Spangler and Mohammed al Dulaimy's "Iraqi lawmaker could face charges for traveling to Israel" (McClatchy Newspapers) reports:

Parliament on Sunday suspended legal immunity for secular Sunni lawmaker Mithal Alusi, opening him up to possible felony charges for traveling to Israel last week to participate in an international counterterrorism conference.
"Are you holding me accountable for not hiding secrets? For being honest? For not walking behind the curtains?" he demanded of his colleagues Sunday. "It is better than visiting in secret."
Alusi is the only Iraqi politician in recent years to publicly visit Israel, a country declared an enemy of state by Iraqi law, and he used the occasion last week to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism and interfering in Iraqi affairs. At the end of his appearance he called for relations with Israel and other nations to fight terrorism.

New content at Third:

Truest statement of the week
Truest statement of the Week II
Truest statement of the week III
A note to our readers
Editorial: Raw emotions (Ava and C.I.)
TV: The Fringes
The new age of privacy?
The UN's embarrassment in Iraq
Meet Charley Johnson 'Journalist'
Sarah Sewell & Her Cult

Last word goes to Pru who notes "Iraq: image and reality" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

The media is full of reports about US successes in stabilising Iraq. But behind the headlines lies a country on the verge of chaos, writes Simon Assaf
Has Iraq finally turned the corner? George Bush certainly wants us to think so. And at first sight, his arguments look convincing. Large sections of the country -- including the capital city Baghdad and the restive Anbar province in the west -- are being handed over to the Iraqi army.
The Shia insurgency led by Moqtada al-Sadr has been contained and demobilised, while Sunni resistance fighters have been rebranded as "awakening councils" and now cooperate with US occupation forces.
The US can point to a tenfold decline in attacks on its troops from a peak of 2,000 a month in summer 2006. There has also been a marked fall in the numbers of civilian casualties from its peak of 3,500 a month in early 2007.
The US is now confidently predicting that it will finally be able to start drawing down its troops. The "surge", Bush’s gamble to stabilise the occupation, is being paraded as a success.
But in fact Iraq is poised to enter a new era of instability -- and the US is finding itself trapped by a series of dirty deals that are coming back to haunt it.
Foremost among these is the deal the US hoped it could forge with the Shia‑dominated Iraqi government.
This deal, known as the "status of forces agreement", would have granted the US the right to stage military operations inside Iraq without Iraqi government approval, and the right to launch wars on other countries from permanent bases on Iraqi soil.
But progress towards the agreement has been grindingly slow. Talks on Iraq's oil resources, electoral reform and amnesties for members of Saddam Hussein’s regime have all stalled.
Meanwhile the Kurds are blocking constitutional reforms that will claw back the autonomy granted to them in the earlier phase of the occupation.
Trapped by allies
The main problem for the US is that it has found itself trapped in an alliance with an Iraqi government that wants to shake free from its control. Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has also declared that he is not bound by US promises to Sunnis and Kurds.
Maliki’s legitimacy rests on the authority of Shia religious institutions represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and on cooperation with the Iranian government to reign in Sadr’s Shia resistance forces.
In return both Sistani and Iran want Maliki to block key US demands in the status agreement, force the US to set a firm date for the withdrawal of combat troops, and prevent the US from using Iraq as a base for an attack on Iran.
For now it looks as if Maliki's gamble is paying off. In April this year the Iraqi government launched an offensive on Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra and the Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad.
After several days of fierce fighting, the Iraqi army fell apart, swapped sides or went home. But on the verge of a major military victory -- and much to the dismay of his supporters -- Sadr called a halt to the uprising under instructions from the Iranians.
Today Sadr is a virtual prisoner in Iran. He travelled there ostensibly on a pilgrimage to the religious city of Qom in order to study for key religious exams. It is now widely accepted that he is being kept under house arrest by the Iranian authorities. Under pressure from Iran, Sadr has ordered his armed supporters to disband.
Sadr has occupied a contradictory position inside Iraq. When his movement was part of a nationwide insurrection, his popularity and power grew across all sections of society.
But he lost control over many of his supporters when Shia areas came under fierce sectarian attacks from elements of the Sunni insurgency.
Some joined the sectarian conflict, driving Sunnis out of mixed neighbourhoods. Others defected to Maliki's coalition, while a third section attempted to hold together the unity forged during the national uprising that exploded in April 2004.
Sadr was eventually able to demobilise the sectarian gangs within his organisation -- but the damage had already been done. He was declared an enemy and an agent of Iran by the majority of Sunni resistance organisations. Isolated from the wider insurgency, Sadr's fighters found themselves standing alone against the full might of US firepower.
As a prisoner of Iran, Sadr’s hands are tied. But his supporters are not defeated. His last instructions ordered the Mahdi Army to change its name, and for his supporters to bury their weapons and avoid military confrontations for now.
Maliki and the US are relying on the goodwill of Iran to hold back the Shia resistance. But this could all unravel if the US presses ahead with its threat of war against Iran.
A second problem for the US rests with a deal it forged with Sunni resistance organisations.
In the summer of 2007 a large section of the Iraqi resistance inside Sunni areas called off its military campaign. It agreed to cooperate with the occupation to drive out fighters loyal to Al Qaida -- who, despite their opposition to US imperialism, launched attacks on Shia Muslims that they ­considered to be "apostates".
The Al Qaida elements were always a minority inside the resistance in Iraq, but their campaign of suicide bombings directed against US forces made them a potent enemy.
But the areas liberated from US control by the Sunni resistance found themselves transformed into bases from which Al Qaida launched a murderous campaign against Shias. The results were disastrous – thousands of innocent people were killed in mass sectarian slaughters.
Areas that had been models of Shia-Sunni unity saw each turning against the other. Haifa Street in central Baghdad was transformed from a front line between the resistance and occupation into one pitting Shia forces against Sunni ones.
The tactics and aims of Al Qaida alienated vast numbers of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims, many of whom had close ties with Shias. Soon sections of the Sunni resistance began to turn on them.
The US, faced with a withering guerrilla campaign, resolved to make peace with Sunni insurgents. Secret talks were held in Jordan where the US pledged to halt its attacks on Sunni areas in return for resistance helping to expel fighters allied to Al Qaida.
As news of the talks leaked out Al Qaida declared an all-out war on other Sunni resistance organisations. At the peak of the insurgency they demanded that all Sunni organisations accept their leadership. Key resistance leaders were assassinated, among them the head of the influential 1920 Revolution Brigades.
Meanwhile the US recognised the formation of the "awakening councils" and turned the former insurgents into their new allies. Over 100,000 of these former resistance fighters were paid $300 a month to attack Al Qaida rather than US troops.
Within a few months Al Qaida forces found themselves isolated and in full flight. Thus the US was able to buy peace in key Sunni regions.
But problems for the US are stacking up rapidly. The former Sunni fighters were given promises that they would be incorporated into Iraqi security forces. Maliki has now declared those promises worthless.
And last week the US announced that it would halt the $300 payments from 1 October. Meanwhile the Iraqi government has declared the "awakening councils" to be an illegal militia and ordered their arrest.
Sunni leaders have been dismayed by these developments. They boycotted the recent ceremony marking the US’s official withdrawal from Anbar -- and they are refusing to cooperate with the Iraqi government. The US is taking a dangerous gamble by cutting its new allies loose in this manner.
Ethnic conflicts
Finally, Iraq faces the prospect of open‑ended ethnic confrontations between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds in the north of the country. At stake is Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city that is one of the biggest material prizes in Iraq -- beneath it lies a huge oil reserve.
Kurdish parties swept to power in northern Iraq on the back of the US invasion, backed by their Peshmerga guerrilla army, originally built to fight Saddam's regime. These parties hoped their alliance with the US would allow them to fulfil a long-cherished desire for independence.
The regional Kurdish authorities have signed separate oil deals, imposed distinct laws, and operate their own judiciary, police and army.
But the Kurdish region is hopelessly surrounded by hostile forces. To the north lies Turkey, a key US ally that fears Kurdish independence could trigger secessionist moves by its large Kurdish minority.
To its east lies Iran, which fears the Kurdish region will become a staging post for the US to foster a rebellion among its own Kurdish minority. And to the south lies the Iraqi government, which wants to re-establish control over the oil-rich regions of the north.
Now the Kurds are finding out that the US considers them expendable. As part of the concessions made by the US to both Shia and Sunni groups, the tentative moves towards Kurdish autonomy will be reversed.
The looming struggle over Kirkuk could trigger a protracted ethnic struggle in a region that has until now escaped the full horrors of the Iraq war. Dozens of Kurdish demonstrators were killed last month when they stormed the offices of a Turkmen party.
This protest followed a suicide bomb attack on Kurds. And the Iraqi government is refusing to organise a referendum on the status of Kirkuk that had been promised by the US.
So behind the veneer of success lie deep and dangerous problems for the US occupation of Iraq. It has created precarious alliances with Shia, Sunni and Kurdish forces, playing them off against each other to foment sectarian divisions and head off a unified national resistance movement
But now it finds itself hostage to events that it had lost control over long ago. Iraq remains a quagmire for the US – and its occupation remains in a permanent state of crisis.
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