Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Afghanistan/Iraq Update

Some measure of peace has returned to Baghdad in the wake of the improving security situation. Christopher Hitchens tells me I ought to be thinking of this as I slice the Thanksgiving turkey this week (though he can't write one column without smearing those who supposedly want us to lose in Iraq.) Of course, though some of this peace has been bought as a result of the willingness of Sunni militants to stop attacking American forces (for now) some of that peace is also being enforced by Marines and concertina wire:

"You, people of the media, say things in Fallujah are good," Mohammad Sammy, an aid worker for the Iraqi Red Crescent in Fallujah told IPS, "Then why don’t you come and live in this paradise with us? It is so easy to say things for you, isn’t it?"

His anger is due to the fact that the embattled city is still completely closed and surrounded by military checkpoints to make it look like an isolated island. Those who are not genuine residents of the city are not granted the biometric identification badge from the U.S. Marines, and are thus not allowed to enter the city.

Since the November 2004 U.S.-led attack on the city, named Operation Phantom Fury, which left approximately 70 percent of the city destroyed, the U.S. military has required residents to undergo retina scans, and finger-printings in order to gain a bar-code for identification.

"This isolation has destroyed the economy of the city that was once one the best in Iraq," Professor Mohammad Al-Dulaymi of Al-Anbar University told IPS. "All of the other cities in the province used to do their wholesale shopping in Fallujah, but now they have to find alternatives, leaving the cities businesses to starve," he explained.

All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media for recent reports that the situation in the city is good. Many refused to be quoted for different reasons.

The Iraqi government is also going to great lengths to crack down on foreign security contractors running amok across Baghdad, going so far as to arrest those involved in a shooting incident on Monday. Troubles continue for the Blackwater contractors involved in the shooting in Nisour Square in September, as sixteen of the contractors were subpoened by a federal grand jury investigating the incident (though it remains unclear what statutory authority the contractors might be prosecuted under.)

Although things are looking up in Iraq, they are definitely trending down in Afghanistan. Last week six American and three Afghan soldiers were killed in an ambush by Taliban militants, an unprecedented number of soldiers killed in ground combat action, suggesting that the Taliban are refining their tactics against Coalition forces. An ABC News/Nightline report details the struggles American soldiers are facing, and the ever increasing danger of attack from Taliban forces. A suicide bombing in Baglan province has underscored the spread of attacks and fighting from the southern to the northern provinces.

So in short, things are better than they were in Baghdad and Iraq in general, thanks to changes in local political conditions. But lasting reconciliation remains out of reach as we get closer to the time when American troops must start coming home. And in Afghanistan, things are gradually getting worse, and there appears to be little talk of how to address this problem as that conflict has been lost in the glare of Iraq.

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