Friday, June 01, 2007

Iraq, Israel, and Darfur

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Iwo Jima on the Euphrates

The search, for the three American soldiers taken by terrorists after an ambush on May 12th, has involved 6,000 troops (two thirds of them American) in the Baghdad suburbs. The action has been much more aggressive than usual, because of the urgency factor. Since there have been no terrorist videos of the soldiers on the Internet, it is assumed that they are either dead, or held by terrorists who are on the run and being pressed by the search operation. Over a thousand Iraqis have been arrested so far, and two of them admitted they were part of the ambush team (but not the group that took away the three U.S. soldiers.) While many of the tips indicate the troops are still alive, it's more likely they are dead. Yesterday, the body of one of the missing soldiers was found in the Euphrates River, south of Baghdad. The searching troops are taking more casualties, but they are tearing up terrorist and criminal operations in the area. Actually, most of the bad guys caught so far have been common criminals, who are often eager to tell what they know in return for a "get out of jail" card. American military commanders and diplomats continue to remind Iraqi politicians that the biggest problem in the country is corruption. That's hard for many Iraqis to accept, since stealing whatever-you-can-get-your-hands-on has been a tradition for so long. Many Iraqis assume it's the natural order of things, and consider the Americans insane, or disrespectful, with all their talk of honest government. The message, however, is getting through, as it becomes obvious that Iraqs new democracy won't work with the traditional Iraqi attitudes towards dishonesty in politics. This new attitude is being reflected in many ways. There are more corruption investigations, arrests and prosecutions. The corruption is still there, but it's becoming politically incorrect. Meanwhile, everyone is getting more patriotic. It's no longer cool to take orders from Iran. So Muqtada Al Sadr, and his Mahdi army, are becoming less a tool of Iran, and more a mainstream Iraqi political movement. Sadr is even sitting down and cutting deals with Sunni Arab politicians. At the same time, the Mahdi Army is being purged of factions that don't go along with the new peace and reconciliation approach. Those radical factions are still killing Sunni Arabs, while Sunni Arabs and al Qaeda continue to slaughter Shia Arabs. This is not popular with Iraqis in general, and the terrorists are increasingly seen as a public menace that all Iraqis must unite to destroy.

Iraqis are really getting fed up with all the violence. To that end, the police are getting more cooperation from civilians, who are reporting more terrorist activity. But civilians are more concerned with criminal activity, especially armed robbery and kidnapping. The gangs that grew to power (as enforcers and business partners) under Saddam, are still thriving. This is especially true in Sunni Arab areas. But the gangs are major victims when American and Iraqi troops come in, to clean out Sunni Arab neighborhoods and towns. The new tactic, of coming, and keeping American troops in the neighborhood until the Iraqi police thinks it's
safe, has brought unaccustomed peace and quiet to Sunni Arab areas in the Baghdad suburbs, and Anbar province to the west. Anbar has become so quiet that journalists embedded with American troops there, are leaving for more newsworthy areas. That may be increasingly difficult. The Sunni Arab tribes closer to Baghdad are now signing deals with the government, to join in the fight against the al Qaeda and Sunni Arab terrorist groups. Meanwhile, the terrorists are spending more of their time trying to keep their Sunni Arab base in line. The "red on red" battles between Sunni Arabs, that U.S. Marines first noted two years ago, has increased month by month. But as long as Sunni Arabs can continue to set off bombs in Baghdad for the foreign media, the decline of the Sunni Arab terror campaign will go largely unreported. What does get reported is the high American casualty rate, which has averaged 3-4 dead per day over the last two months. This is because American troops are increasingly going into terrorist dominated neighborhoods, and finding that these guys generally fight to the death. It's like World War II in the Pacific all over again. Except that the American casualties are much lower. In the final battles against the fanatical Japanese, one American died for every three Japanese troops killed. But in Iraq, the ratio is closer to ten dead terrorists for every dead American. The Iraqis are not as well trained and disciplined as the Japanese were back then, and todays U.S. troops are better equipped and trained. But it would be better, in many ways, if the Iraqi security forces would take care of these Iraqi and foreign fanatics. While the Iraqis can do it, they don't mind letting the Americans have at it. For all the Iraqi complaints about Americans killing Iraqis, that doesn't apply to Iraqis who are shooting back.

China Will Not Save Darfur
It looks like China is fighting back against threats to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics. First off, China issued a statement saying that any sanctions against Sudan would not produce peace in Darfur. Then Japan (which takes from 35 to 38 percent of Sudan's daily oil production) announced that it would not boycott China's Olympics over Darfur. This makes sense for Japan, which is trying to get China to help it stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program. There is also a "surge" in internally displaced persons (IDPs) is occurring in South Darfur state. Several hundred new IDPs have arrived the Al Salam refugee camp. The refugees are probably fleeing the new wave of janjaweed militia attacks being reported in South Darfur.

The government of south Sudan said that it will upgrade the airport at Juba to "international standards." South Sudan and the main Sudanese government in Khartoum also announced they will build two new airports in south Sudan, in the towns of Malakal and Rubeck. South Sudanese have complained for decades that they lack transportation infrastructure. This is a small indication that some of the developmental aid promises made when the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed are finally being fulfilled.

A large battle took place between a local defense force and militiamen in South Darfur state, in the town of Abu Surug. Some 120 militiamen took part in the attack. Elsewhere in Darfur, the National Redemption Front (NRF) gunmen were hit by an air force strike, that killed one person, in the town of Malam Hush (West Darfur state). The NRF was also attacked by a janjaweed militia unit attack the Jebel Moon area (West Darfur), an action that killed four civilians.

The UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees called for a complete and independent investigation of a series of attacks in South Darfur state that occurred between January and March 2007. The request followed the publication of a UN report that said that "heavily armed" fighters (some in uniforms) attacked eight different villages in the period. Over 100 people died in the attacks. The villages were inhabited by members of the Tarjum tribe. Members of the Sudan military (including members of the Border Intelligence Guards) were involved in the attacks, but so were members of the Rizeigat Abbala tribes - rivals of the Tarjum. The Rizeigat Abbala tribespeople are mostly herders (pastoralists) and the Tarjum farm as well as herd. What is really interesting are the reasons the report gave for the attacks: control of land. The report said the attackers wished to gain control of farmland and "grazing land" in the area.

Here is an extract from the UN report:

".witnesses described hundreds of heavily armed attackers, mostly
dressed in green or beige khaki uniforms, accompanied by machine
gun-equipped Land Cruisers owned by Border Intelligence Guards In many instances,
victims in the affected villages, particularly men, knew their
attackers by name and independently identified specific Border Intelligence
commanders as being present. Witnesses reported that during all the
incidents, attackers fired from the outskirts of the settlements with heavy
vehicle-mounted machine guns and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs),
before entering the settlements and targeting any men found inside. They
then systematically looted items of value, particularly livestock, before
(in most cases) burning large sections of the settlements. Although it
could not be confirmed, UNMIS Human Rights received several reports
from witnesses about the use of heavy weapons, including mortars, which
they were unfamiliar with."

The UN believes that the African Union's (AU) Darfur peacekeeping force is near "collapse." The UN wants an immediate reinforcement. The AU peacekeepers are short of supplies. Their internal communications situation is also bad-the force needs new radios and more radios. The UN also accused Sudan of launching new air attacks in Darfur. The UN is also angry over an attack in in late April, that left five AU peacekeepers dead. A Darfur rebel group was believed responsible, and the incident still under investigation.

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Arabs Take a New Look At Israel
Despite being a beacon of economic, educational and military might in the Middle East, Israel has been shunned by its Arab neighbors for over half a century. But no more. Since the 1990s, Islamic radicalism has become a greater threat to Arabs than Israel ever was. And in the meantime, many Arab nations have found it economically, militarily and diplomatically worthwhile to develop working relationships with Israel.

Now, as Islamic radicalism becomes the popular cause of Arab youth, Arab leaders have realized that, while there is no compromise with radical Islam, you can do business with the Israelis. Doing the math, Arab rulers have concluded that given the choice between working with the Islamic radicals, or Israel, the latter is a safer, saner and more profitable choice.

The only problem with all this, is finding a suitable (that is, least stressful) way to break the news to the Arab people. That may not be all that necessary. Opinion polls have shown the Palestinians and Islamic radicals ratings falling over the past few years. While the Palestinians are the largest, per capita, recipients of foreign aid on the planet, and have failed, at every turn, to cut a deal with the Israelis. The latest "intifada," began with a new wave of terror attacks against Israel in late 2000. The Arab world was appalled at this, but dutifully got behind the Palestinians. Not only did the Palestinians lose that war, but they made it worse by embracing radical Islam, rather than peace negotiations, as a way out.

Despite Arab public opinion turning against the Palestinians and Islamic radicals, there is still the Arab media, which dutifully repeats 60 year old slogans about hating Jews and supporting Palestine, and the long cherished idea of destroying Israel. Even some Western diplomats have been approached by their Arab counterparts, looking for ways to jettison the unsuccessful past, and introduce the Arab people to their new good neighbor. Naturally, some politicians and journalists are fighting this trend. Tradition, and all that, plus it takes a lot of effort to shift targets after all these years. But Arabs are finally coming to realize that they either change direction, or fall farther behind the rest of the world.

The Taliban Take a Tumble
Year two of the "Return of the Taliban" is turning into a disaster for the visitors from Pakistan. So far this year, three members of the Taliban ruling council have been killed by NATO and Afghan forces. The overall casualties this year are running behind those of last year, and the Taliban is taking more of the losses than last year. This year, the Taliban don't have the initiative, but are instead on the run most of the time. NATO and Afghan forces have launched several offensives of their own , which have caught the Taliban forces still trying to get organized. Taliban casualties have been heavy, NATO and Afghan losses have been much less. The biggest success the Taliban have had is in using suicide bombers, and Afghan civilians as human shields (at least when some of the civilians get killed by NATO bombs or artillery.)

The Taliban have been having problems back in Pakistan as well. A war has broken out between some of the Pakistani Pushtun tribes, and al Qaeda. This has resulted in several hundred al Qaeda dead, and tribes that are less friendly towards the Taliban. On the plus side, the Taliban have managed to recruit thousands of new fighters in Pakistan, despite the heavy (about 3,000 dead) last year. Then again, many of this years recruits are inexperienced religion school students. These guys don't last long in combat.

Meanwhile, the drug business is thriving, and the Taliban is benefiting from that. But many Taliban leaders are uneasy with this alliance, and some know how corrupting it has proved to be in other countries (like Colombia). The drug gangs want the Taliban to ease off on trying to take control of southern Afghanistan. Not because that would be a bad thing for the drug gangs, it would. No, the drug lords want the Taliban to give the NATO and Afghan forces fewer reasons to get out there and take down illegal operations. The Afghan government is willing to cut some deals with the drug lords, and the Taliban as well. But too many of the Taliban are fanatical, and the hardcore will settle for nothing less than control of the country. That's not going to happen, and all this Taliban violence is bad for business. The drug business.

And as if the Taliban didn't have enough trouble, the Pakistani government has lost patience with the two million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan. After three decades, Pakistan wants the Afghans to go home, and is beginning to use force. One reason for this is the belief that the Taliban, and Islamic conservatives in general, have been using the refugee camps as bases and sources of recruits. Iran is also expelling its two million Afghan refugees, but mainly because their refugee camps have become infested with drug smuggling gangs.

Opinion surveys indicate that over 80 percent of the Afghans in Pakistan don't want to go home. Three quarters of those refugees are under thirty, and many of those have never been to Afghanistan. Many have put down roots in Pakistan, but the Pakistanis don't want them.

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Toadying to Terrorists
Terrorists in Iraq have been getting more aggressive in trying to control the international media. For the last three years, it's been too dangerous for Western journalists to wander freely around central and southern Iraq. So Iraqis, and other Arabs, were hired to go and to do the interviews and get the video images TV news demands. The terrorists quickly made these agents of Western media know that survival depended on how cooperative the journalists were with terrorists goals. Journalists responded by trying to hide their identities, and working closely with the Iraqi army and national police for protection.

However, in many parts of Iraq, especially the Shia south, the police are heavily infiltrated by members of secular (Shia) militias. The police keep records of who is a journalist, and even in central Iraq, you can usually get the information out of the cops with a sufficient bribe. Once the identity of an Iraqi journalist is known, you can threaten him, and his family, to get the kind of reporting you want.

Many journalists resist the pressure, but some will simply back away, rather than outright lie, when the terrorists come after them. That works, because what the terrorist want to do is get stories out that makes the government and American forces look bad. It doesn't have to be true, it just has to be reported. And followed up with more reports and videos to back up the lie. Many media outlets want to believe, and report, the worst about American efforts in Iraq, and the terrorists are eager to help out. This takes heat off the terrorists and demoralizes both Iraqis and Americans.

Does the high price of gasoline curb your driving (and spending)?
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