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Feb 1st, 2009

Afghans Threaten Troops Over Civilian Deaths

Villagers predict violence if raids continue

Afghanistan Civilian Deaths
An Afghan villager elder holds his walking stick as he talks with U.S. soldiers who have come to pay money for repairing homes destroyed during the recent U.S. raids in Inzeri village in the Tagab Valley of Kapisa province north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. (Photo credit: Jason Straziuso / AP)

Jan. 31, 2009

MEHTERLAM, Afghanistan — An angry Afghan man with a thick black beard ranted wildly at U.S. officials, shouting about how their overnight raid had killed 16 civilians in his village. An Afghan elder cried out in grief that his son and four grandsons were among the dead.

One after another, a long line of government officials, villagers and community leaders told American military officials at the Laghman governor’s compound that Afghan soldiers must be allowed to take part in such raids. Several predicted increased violence against U.S. forces if more nighttime operations take place.

Three recent U.S. Special Forces operations killed 50 people — the vast majority civilians, Afghan officials say — raising the ire of villagers and President Hamid Karzai, who set a one-month deadline for his demand that Afghan soldiers play a bigger role in military operations.

“If these operations are again conducted in our area, all of our people are ready to carry out jihad. We cannot tolerate seeing the dead bodies of our children and women anymore,” Malik Malekazratullah, the Afghan who ranted at the Americans, told The Associated Press. “I’ve already told President Karzai we are out of patience.” …

Raids in the night

The overnight raids target what U.S. officials say are known insurgent leaders. The specially trained Special Forces are dropped off outside a village by helicopter, then move in to capture or kill their targets.

The problem, Afghan officials say, comes when ordinary civilians hear the commotion. Fearing robbers or an attack from a hostile tribe, the close-knit villagers grab their guns and run outside or fire from their homes. U.S. forces then fire back and end up killing civilians doing nothing more than answering the call to defend their neighbors.

Afghan officials say an overnight raid Jan. 7 in the village of Masmoot in Laghman killed 19 civilians. A raid in Kapisa on Jan. 19 killed 15 people, mostly civilians. And a second Laghman raid Jan. 23, in Guloch village, killed 16, they say.

Even if the Special Forces hit their intended target, when raids go wrong they end up killing Afghan civilians as well, turning whole villages against the Afghan government and the presence of U.S. forces.

“Maybe there were only two or three insurgents in Guloch, but I can tell you that there are thousands now,” Abdul Qadir Kochai, a member of parliament on a delegation sent by Karzai, told the U.S. officials. …

Taliban broadens reach

Laghman’s governor, Latifullah Mashal, called for more U.S.-Afghan coordination in the overnight operations. He said the Taliban are purposely mingling among villagers in the hope that civilians die.

“One young boy said his whole family was killed, and now he wants to become a suicide bomber. This is a very negative message,” Mashal said. “The Taliban are succeeding at having a whole village turn against the government.” …

Afghan officials say Afghans soldiers could prevent the kinds of deaths that Abdul Mateen, a village elder from Masmoot, described at the meeting. Mateen said a woman tried to leave the village to escape the battle.

“Then someone shouted at her. Maybe they told her to stop, but she couldn’t understand, so they shot her,” Mateen told the group. “So even people trying to get away couldn’t escape.”

Mashal, the governor, pleaded with his U.S. guests: “You don’t allow us to lead, but at least put us on board.” …


Iraq Election Hailed as ‘Great Success’

Image: Voters in Iraq
Iraqi electoral workers empty ballot boxes at the end of a day of voting in provincial elections in the southern city of Basra on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009. Voting in Iraq’s provincial elections began amid tight security in the nation’s first ballot since 2005. (Photo credit: Essam Al-Sudani / AFP — Getty Images)

The Associated Press and Reuters via
Jan. 31, 2009

BAGHDAD — Iraqis held their most peaceful election since the fall of Saddam Hussein on Saturday, and voting for provincial councils ended without a single major attack reported anywhere in the country.

“No security breaches took place during the election. Things went as we planned and as we hoped,” Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askary said.

“I consider it a great success, like a wedding.”

President Barack Obama congratulated Iraqis on the election and urged the winners to work for their people. …

The elections were conducted without major violence. In the only reported incidents countrywide, mortar rounds landed in former dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit but no one was hurt, and Iraqi troops shot one person dead and wounded another after a quarrel in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum.

Missing names

But election observers and others were examining a growing list of complaints, including claims that hundreds of people — perhaps more — were wrongly omitted from voting lists in areas across Iraq.

“There was huge amount of confusion,” said Afram Yakoub, a Belgium-based election monitor who visited polling sites in the Mosul area in northern Iraq. “Names were on the center voter registry but did not appear on the (polling) station registry.”

The leader of the second largest Sunni bloc in parliament, Saleh al-Mutlaq, accused the Shiite-led government of a deliberate campaign to keep the minority Sunnis “on the sidelines.”

It was unclear whether the alleged problems were isolated or could cast doubts on the entire election.

Any political bitterness could further complicate another difficult task ahead for Iraq’s leaders: getting hundreds of factions to accept the results as credible and then start hammering out alliances from among 14,000 candidates for the influential regional posts.

The overall picture, however, was close to the goals set by Iraqi officials desperate to portray a sense of order and confidence nearly six years after the U.S.-led invasion. …

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is looking to use the election to build his own power base in the provinces before national polls later this year. Sunni Arab groups who boycotted the last provincial polls are hoping to win a share of local power. …

The last election took place amid an al-Qaida-inspired Sunni insurgency and was followed by a surge in sectarian slaughter between once dominant Sunni Arabs and majority Shiite Muslims. …

Five candidates were assassinated in the run-up to the election – three of them just two days before the vote. But overall levels of violence remained low. …

Just under 15 million of Iraq’s 28 million people are registered to vote for provincial councils that select powerful regional governors. Three Kurdish provinces will vote separately and the election was indefinitely postponed in Kirkuk to avoid a showdown between Kurds and Arabs vying for control there. …


Iraq January Death Toll Lowest Since 2003

Jan. 31, 2009

BAGHDAD — The number of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed in attacks in January fell to the lowest level since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, data showed on Saturday.

Iraqi government figures showed 138 civilians were killed in January, lower than the 238 people killed in each of the months of December and October, previously the lowest monthly tolls.

In January last year 466 Iraqi civilians were killed.

Four U.S. soldiers died in combat during January this year, also the lowest figure since the invasion in March 2003, according to, which collates official data.

The previous lowest figure was seven U.S. soldiers killed in December last year.

The sectarian violence and insurgency unleashed by the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein has fallen dramatically in the past year, even as al Qaeda and other insurgent groups continue to carry out devastating suicide and car bomb attacks. …

Since the invasion a total of 4,236 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, or in surrounding areas where troops are stationed, including those killed by non-hostile causes such as accidents or illness.

At least 90,554 civilians had been killed up to Jan. 21, according to

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