Sunday, February 18, 2007
An Iraqi man holds the body of a boy after a car bomb explosion at a market in the neighbourhood known as New Baghdad, southeast of Baghdad, February 18, 2007. Two car bombs tore through a busy shopping area of a mainly Shi'ite district of Baghdad on Sunday, killing 55 people and wounding scores as militants defied a military offensive by U.S. and Iraqi troops. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (IRAQ)
A Multi-National Division - Baghdad Soldier died in a grenade explosion in a northern neighborhood of the Iraqi capital Feb 17. The unit was conducting a combat patrol when a grenade was thrown at their vehicle by an insurgent, killing the Soldier. This unit was engaged in cordon and search operations.
Two car bombs on main road in New Baghdad kill 5, wound 10, in apparent attack on a U.S. patrol. No word on U.S. casualties. (It isn't 100% clear whether these are separate incidents. Early reports of the market bombing gave a comparably low death toll. But this was apparently reported by an embedded Reuters photographer and seems to be a separate event. -- C Aswat al-Iraq story also appears to describe a separate incident, with a similar casualty toll, although they give the target as an Iraqi police checkpoint.
Car bomb attacks police checkpoint in Sadr City, not clear if this is the same incident as above.
Police say bodies of 5 victims of sectarian violence found around the capital, down considerably from recent highs.
North of Baghdad (Diyala?)
U.S. soldier dies when patrol comes under fire. No further details available.
British forces engage fighters in a "Shiite militia stronghold" in Basra. Iraqi police say 3 killed, four injured, no British casualties reported. The Hayaniya district is said to be controlled by the Mahdi Army.
Man's bullet-riddled body is retrieved from "a river." That would be the Tigris -- C)
Police Colonel Ali Mutashar escapes bomb attack on his convoy, four bodyguards injured.
OTHER NEWS OF THE DAY
Robert Reid, for AP, describes the security crackdown in Baghdad. He says Sunni politicians have complained that it has focused on Sunni areas.
Louise Roug of the LA Times describes Iraqi officials as claiming success for the crackdown as Condoleezza Rice visits. As the other news of the day suggests, their confidence may be premature. -- C. She also notes apparent increase in violence in Kirkuk region. Excerpt:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday and urged Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians to use a lull in violence resulting from a new security plan to reach long-delayed agreement on key political issues. Her visit came as the much-vaunted plan, dubbed "Enforcing the Law," gets under way in Iraq's capital. An Iraqi military spokesman said attacks already had dropped significantly and that many fewer bodies were being brought to the morgue.
"How the Iraqis use the breathing space that (the plan) might provide is what's really important," Rice said during her half-day visit to Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone. Iraqi security forces were "off to a good start," she said, but that it was still early. "There are going to be bad days for the Baghdad security plan, when violence is up - not down," she said. "The real test will be steering a steady course."
High-ranking Iraqi military officials have noted recently a significant increase in attacks in and around Kirkuk. Iraqi and American officials fear al-Qaida-linked groups could spark civil war in Kirkuk much as they have done in Baghdad. Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen all want control of the city and the surrounding region. At stake are land, water and some of Iraq's richest oil reserves.
In Baghdad, a crackdown that eventually will involve as many as 27,000 additional American and Iraqi troops began Wednesday. Brig. Gen. Qasim Mousawi, an Iraqi military spokesman, said violence and crime had decreased more than 80 percent and that at least 144 people had been detained in sweeps over the past three days.
A statement from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office said the plan also has resulted in the return of 107 families to their homes. As many as 50,000 Iraqis are forced from their homes every month, joining 3.8 million others who have sought refuge either elsewhere in the country or in neighboring states, according to the United Nations.
Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington is sentenced to 8 years in prison for murder of Iraqi Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania in 2006. He is the fifth to have confessed in the case.
U.S. forces release Deputy Chief Dari Khayun al-Fahd of the Diyala Provincial Council, who they had arrested on Saturday. However, two of his sons remain in U.S. custody.
Low demand for dollars in Badghdad Central Bank's daily currency auction suggests security crackdown has severely crimped the economy This seems obvious since people cannot travel to work and commerce has been nearly stopped by roadblocks. -- C
Senate falls 4 votes short of 60 needed to end filibuster on resolution opposing escalation of troop levels in Iraq, but 7 Republicans cross over to join Democrats to vote for closure, showing erosion in GOP support for White House strategy. Joe Lieberman, of course, votes with his fellow Republicans.
Hillary Clinton sharpens her opposition to continued occupation, calls for Congress to set a deadline for troop withdrawals to begin within 90 days, or revocation of the authorization to use force. (This is strong talk, but it certainly won't happen. -- C)
Career diplomat, leader of a "Provincial Reconstruction Team" in Diyala, resigns, says PRT effort is misonceived and failing. Excerpt:
By Sue Pleming Sat Feb 17 WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Kiki Munshi was showcased by the media in September as a seasoned U.S. diplomat who came out of retirement to lead a rebuilding group in Iraq. Now she is back home, angry, and convinced that President George W. Bush's new strategy of doubling the number of such groups to 20 along with a troop surge of 21,500 will not help stabilize Iraq.
A diplomat for 22 years, she quit her job last month as leader of a Provincial Reconstruction Team -- groups made up of about 50 civilian and military experts that try to help Iraqi communities build their own government while strengthening moderates. "In spite of the magnificent and often heroic work being done out there by a lot of truly wonderful people, the PRTs themselves aren't succeeding. The obstacles are too great," Munshi said this week in Washington, where she was pressing her view at the State Department and to Congress. "Once again we are proceeding to lay people's lives on a line drawn with faulty information. Once again the fantasies of the 'policy-makers' drive decisions without much link to the realities on the ground," said Munshi, who retired from the foreign service in 2002.
Munshi said the PRT plan was ill-conceived, under-funded and poorly staffed. She said security was so bad that the council in the town in Diyala province where she was based had not had a quorum since last October and that death squads were rife. PRT members found it hard to meet with Iraqis because of intimidation, she said, giving the example of training sessions that had been canceled because of poor security.
The PRTs are embedded with the military, a tactic Munshi says has varying results depending on the ability of the unit. "All the PRTs embedded with the military are subject to the vicissitudes of military fortune, for good or ill," she said.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Randy Shaw of Global Research is a bit non-plussed by U.S. accusations that Iran is "meddling" in Iraq. Excerpt:
The United States has 140,000 troops occupying Iraq, a country thousands of miles from its borders. Iran borders Iraq. Which nation has the greater interest in Iraq’s future?
According to the U.S. media, the Bush Administration, and many Democrats, the answer is the country whose borders are thousands of miles away. And while America is free to invade, bomb, and kill thousands of Iraqis, many believe that Iran’s “meddling” in the affairs of its neighbor justifies the United States bombing Iran as well. International law does not grant America the unilateral right to intervene everywhere, but it does give other nations the right to protect their borders. The fact that so many Americans believe otherwise explains why we are now mired in Iraq, and why Iran is a potential target.
The American media’s focus on whether there is evidence of Iran “meddling” in Iraq---while describing America’s 140,000 troops there as necessary to prevent violence---is a tribute to the idea that America has the God-given right to operate by its own set of international rules. The notion that Iran, which shares a border and common religion with Iraq, has less of a right to be involved in that nation’s affairs than the United States could only be accepted by those steeped in “America is always right” propaganda from an early age.
Recall the controversial presidential election in Mexico in 2006. Let’s assume that Iran decided that the PAN Party’s admitted violation of Mexican election laws, and the resulting subversion of democracy, required military intervention to install Lopez-Obrador as President in place of the official winner, Felipe Calderon. After bombing and invading Mexico, assume Iran used its military might to not only install Lopez-Obrador as President, but to maintain an occupying force to protect the democratic process from insurgents. And assume that Iran not only kept this force in Mexico for nearly four years, but was now increasing its presence as part of its “surge” strategy to reduce violence.
Can anyone imagine America not “meddling” in Mexico in order to prevent Iran’s action? And if we “meddled” in our neighbor Mexico’s affairs, would Americans’ think that gave Iran the right to bomb us?
Water shortage in Baghdad and Anbar forces people to use river water for drinking. Result is chronic diarrhea. Excerpt:
BAGHDAD, 18 February (IRIN) - Umm Muhammad Jalal, 39, starts every day walking to a river 7km away from her temporary home in a displacement camp on the outskirts of Fallujah, 70km west of the capital, Baghdad. Because of severe water shortages, she and many others make the daily trip to the river to collect water for all their needs.
"For the past four months we have been forced to drink, wash and clean with the river water. There is a dire shortage of potable water in Fallujah and nearby cities," Umm Muhammad said. "My children are sick with diarrhoea but I have no option. They cannot live without water," she added. "Aid agencies that were helping us with their trucks of potable water are less and less frequent these days for security reasons. For the same reason, the military doesn't want the [aid] convoys to get too close to some areas."
Umm Muhammad knows how dangerous drinking water from the river can be with associated waterborne diseases. But she is desperate and needs water to survive. "Each day we receive less in assistance. The government is not helping us and we have to find our own ways of surviving. I never imagined that one day I would have to drink water from a dirty river," she said.
Millions of Iraqis lack potable water and live with bad sewage systems, which have increased the incidence of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea. "The water shortage is a real problem in some parts of Iraq as a large part of the country is desert. But the existing networks have also suffered from lack of maintenance or by being destroyed during the war," said Cedric Turlan, information officer for the NGOs Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI).
According to the Ministry of Water Resources, only 32 percent of the Iraqi population has access to clean drinking water, and only 19 percent has access to a good sewage system. Vulnerable groups, such as internally displaced people (IDPs), have had no choice but to drink from rivers. Anbar province, where Fallujah is located, and Baghdad are the most affected areas for water supply, according to recent reports released by local and international NGOs.
"Aid workers have been targeted in the past few months so our movements have had to be curtailed. The potable water systems in many suburbs of Baghdad and Anbar provinces are destroyed and either you have no good and safe water to drink or you don't have water at all," Fatah Ahmed, a spokesman for Iraq Aid Association (IAA), said. "NGOs are having serious difficulties supporting such families and even when we have a continuous supply of potable water, there are many areas which we cannot access for security reasons, leaving families without safe water," Ahmed added.
The NCCI and the IAA estimate that around 60 percent of the population in areas like Anbar governorate and suburbs of Baghdad use river water.
WaPo's Dana Priest and Anne Hull describe yet another national disgrace. (Support the troops -- Impeach Bush -- C) Excerpt:
Sunday, February 18, 2007; Page A01
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.
This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Five and a half years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre Walter Reed Army Medical Center into a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.
They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.
Quote of the Day
And Lieberman has been with [Bush] every step of the way. He is in no position to talk about constitutional crises ever. He supports the most aggressive executive power grab in American history even to the extent that he votes for torture, indefinite detention without due process, and anything else his "commander in chief" says he wants to do. He has no more credibility to warn this nation about a constitutional crisis than his BFF George W. Bush has to claim it's "preposterous" to suggest he would manufacture evidence that Iran is provoking a military confrontation. Please.