Sunday, October 22, 2006

Political news of the week take 28

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Security Operation Yields No Reduction in Baghdad Violence:
The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq acknowledged Thursday that a much-touted security crackdown by American and Iraqi forces had failed to reduce violence in the Iraqi capital and called the results "disheartening."

With attacks in Baghdad having increased by 22 percent during the past three weeks, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said military planners might have to go back to the drawing board.

"We're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in the city," Caldwell said. "We're taking a lot of time to go back and look at the whole Baghdad security plan. We're asking ourselves if the conditions under which it was first devised and planned still exist today, or have the conditions changed and therefore a modification to that plan needs to be made."

Despite the joint operation, launched in June, sectarian violence between Sunni Arabs and Shiites continues unabated, Caldwell said, and insurgents are targeting American troops.

Caldwell said at least 73 U.S. troops have been killed so far this month, putting October on track to be the bloodiest month for American forces since the battle of Fallujah in 2004.


While Baghdad is the center of violence, rebels continue to attack across the nation.

In Mosul on Thursday, six car bombers blew themselves up near U.S. convoys and Iraqi police stations in a barrage of coordinated attacks that killed at least 10 Iraqis and wounded 20 others, officials said. In response to the flare-up of violence, local authorities closed all entrances to the city and imposed a curfew.

In the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, a suicide car bomber detonated a load of explosives outside a bank, killing 10 people and wounding 60 others, according to local authorities. Another bomb exploded close to a convoy carrying a local police commander, who survived the attack. A third bomb in the city hit a police patrol, injuring three officers, authorities said.

Three people were killed in various assassinations in Basra, and rockets were fired at British bases in the southern city as well as its airport, according to police. Black-clad Shiite militiamen swarmed the oil-rich city of Amara, all but taking over the town amid clashes spurred by the killing of the provincial head of intelligence a day earlier and the retaliatory kidnapping of a militia's leader's brother.

Many Iraqis Look to Gunmen as Protectors:
Behind the maze of men with guns in Iraq is a very simple truth: their barrels offer protection, something Iraqis say the government has never given them.

On Friday, the web wound tightly around the southern city of Amara, where the two largest and best-armed militias, both made up of religious Shiites, were fighting for control of the city.

But when the prime minister speaks of disarming militias — those mushrooming armies of men with guns that carry out most of the killing here — Iraqi brows begin to furrow.

“He’s just talking,” snapped Fadhil Sabri, a 37-year-old generator repairman in a grease-stained shop in Sadr City, a Baghdad stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia.

“Not now. Not even in 10 years. You need arms to defend yourself,” he said.

Iraq is awash in killings, and many are blamed on the Mahdi Army, the militia commanded by a glowering Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. An indignant Mr. Sadr called his men to fight against the American military twice in 2004. It was bloodied, but survived. Since then the Mahdi Army, and a growing criminal breakaway element, have grown into one of the government’s biggest problems and are a major obstacle to the success of the American enterprise here.

Despite its new rogue fringe, Iraqi Shiites see the Mahdi militia as their most effective protector against the hostile Sunni groups that have slaughtered Shiites and driven them from their homes. Shiites say that as long as the government cannot keep them safe, they cannot support the disarming of militias.

That paradox confronts the American military as it presses the Iraqi government to contain militias like Mr. Sadr’s: how is it possible to control a militia when trust among Iraqis has vanished and the government is incapable of containing the spiraling violence?

Court Told It Lacks Power in Detainee Cases:
Moving quickly to implement the bill signed by President Bush this week that authorizes military trials of enemy combatants, the administration has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

In a notice dated Wednesday, the Justice Department listed 196 pending habeas cases, some of which cover groups of detainees. The new Military Commissions Act (MCA), it said, provides that "no court, justice, or judge" can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future.

Beyond those already imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, the law applies to all non-U.S. citizens, including permanent U.S. residents.

The new law already has been challenged as unconstitutional by lawyers representing the petitioners. The issue of detainee rights is likely to reach the Supreme Court for a third time.

Habeas corpus, a Latin term meaning "you have the body," is one of the oldest principles of English and American law. It requires the government to show a legal basis for holding a prisoner. A series of unresolved federal court cases brought against the administration over the last several years by lawyers representing the detainees had left the question in limbo.

Two years ago, in Rasul v. Bush, which gave Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their detention before a U.S. court, and in this year's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld , the Supreme Court appeared to settle the issue in favor of the detainees. But the new legislation approved by Congress last month, which gives Bush the authority to try detainees before military commissions, included a provision removing judicial review for all habeas claims.

In the Land of the Taliban - excellent reporting from the New York Times about life in Afghanistan. A long report, but worth reading.
I went to Afghanistan and Pakistan this summer to understand how and why the Taliban were making a comeback five years after American and Afghan forces drove them from power. What kind of experience would lead Afghans to reject what seemed to be an emerging democratic government? Had we missed something that made Taliban rule appealing? Were they the only opposition the aggrieved could turn to? Or, as many Afghans were saying, was this Pakistan up to its old tricks — cooperating with the Americans and Karzai while conspiring to bring back the Taliban, who had been valued “assets” before 9/11?

And why has the Bush administration’s message remained that Afghanistan is a success, Iraq a challenge? “In Afghanistan, the trajectory is a hopeful and promising one,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote on the op-ed page of The Washington Post earlier this month. Afghanistan’s rise from the ashes of the anti-Taliban war would mean that the Bush administration was prevailing in replacing terror with democracy and human rights.

Meanwhile, a counternarrative was emerging, and it belonged to the Taliban, or the A.C.M., as NATO officers call them — the Anti-Coalition Militia. In Kabul, Kandahar and Pakistan, I found their video discs and tapes in the markets. They invoke a nostalgia for the jihad against the Russians and inspire their viewers to rise up again. One begins with clattering Chinooks disgorging American soldiers into the desert. Then we see the new Afghan government onstage, focusing in on the Northern Alliance warlords — Abdul Rashid Dostum, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Karim Khalili, Muhammad Fahim, Ismail Khan, Abdul Sayyaf. It cuts to American soldiers doing push-ups and pinpointing targets on maps; next it shows bombs the size of bathtubs dropping from planes and missiles emblazoned with “Royal Navy” rocketing through the sky; then it moves to hospital beds and wounded children. Message: America and Britain brought back the warlords and bombed your children. In the next clip, there are metal cages under floodlights and men in orange jumpsuits, bowed and crouching. It cuts back to the wild eyes of John Walker Lindh and shows trucks hauling containers crammed with young Afghan and Pakistani prisoners — Taliban, hundreds of whom would suffocate to death in those containers, supposedly at the command of the warlord and current army chief of staff, General Dostum. Then back to American guards wheeling hunger-striking Guantánamo prisoners on gurneys. Interspliced are older images, a bit fuzzy, of young Afghan men, hands tied behind their backs, heads bowed, hauled off by Communist guards. The message: Foreigners have invaded our lands again; Americans, Russians — no difference.

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