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Author: TriSec    Date: 07/20/2010 10:12:55

Good Morning.

Today is our 2,680th day in Iraq and our 3,177th day in Afghanistan.

We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:

American Deaths
Since war began (3/19/03): 4412
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4273
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3951
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3553
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 184

Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,190
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 757
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,457
Journalists - Iraq: 338
Academics Killed - Iraq: 437

We find this morning's cost of war passing through:

$ 1, 019, 052, 575, 000 .00

Remember back during the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion? Among the many problems created was the looting of the Baghdad museum, and the pillaging of countless archeologic sites throughout the region. After the scandal came to light, there were some half-hearted efforts to protect or recover the artifacts, and the story slowly faded from view.

There was a recent story that the practice never really stopped. The loss to our collective human society could be incalcuble. We all know it, but it's worth repeating. Iraq encompasses that nebulous region of "Mesopotamia", where we all learned that human civilization began.

DHAHIR, Iraq — The looting of Iraq’s ancient ruins is thriving again. This time it is not a result of the “stuff happens” chaos that followed the American invasion in 2003, but rather the bureaucratic indifference of Iraq’s newly sovereign government.

Thousands of archaeological sites — containing some of the oldest treasures of civilization — have been left unprotected, allowing what officials of Iraq’s antiquities board say is a resumption of brazenly illegal excavations, especially here in southern Iraq.

A new antiquities police force, created in 2008 to replace withdrawing American troops, was supposed to have more than 5,000 officers by now. It has 106, enough to protect their headquarters in an Ottoman-era mansion on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad and not much else.

“I am sitting behind my desk and I am protecting the sites,” the force’s commander, Brig. Gen. Najim Abdullah al-Khazali, said with exasperation. “With what? Words?”

The failure to staff and use the force — and the consequent looting — reflects a broader weakness in Iraq’s institutions of state and law as the American military steadily withdraws, leaving behind an uncertain legacy.

Many of Iraq’s ministries remain feeble, hampered by corruption, the uncertain divisions of power and resources and the political paralysis that has consumed the government before and after this year’s election.

In the case of Iraq’s ancient ruins, the cost has been the uncountable loss of artifacts from the civilizations of Mesopotamia, a history that Iraq’s leaders often evoke as part of the country’s once and, anticipating archaeological research and tourism, future greatness.

“The people who make these decisions, they talk so much about history in their speeches and conferences,” said the director of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Qais Hussein Rashid, referring to the plight of the new police force, “but they do nothing.”

The looting today has not resumed on the scale it did in the years that immediately followed the American invasion in 2003, when looters — tomb raiders, essentially — swarmed over sites across the country, leaving behind moonlike craters where Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Persian cities once stood.

Even so, officials and archaeologists have reported dozens of new excavations over the past year, coinciding with the withdrawal of American troops, who until 2009 conducted joint operations with the Iraqi police in many areas now being struck by looters again. The antiquities police say they do not have the resources even to keep records of reported lootings.

Here in Dhahir, the looting is evident in the shattered bits of civilization — pieces of pottery, glass and carved stone — strewn across an expanse of desert that was once a Sumerian trading town known as Dubrum.

The bowls, vases and other pieces are destroyed and discarded by looters who seek gold, jewelry and cuneiform tablets or cylinders that are easy to smuggle and resell, according to Abdulamir al-Hamdani, a former antiquities inspector in Dhi Qar Province. The nearest city, Farj, is notorious for a black market in looted antiquities, he said.

“For me, for you, it is all priceless,” he said, “but for them it is useless if they can’t sell it in the market.”

Meanwhile....the problems continue in Afghanistan. Only there, it's not artifacts; it's human lives.

Afghanistan Rights Monitor says 1,074 civilians were killed between January and June - a slight increase compared with the same period in 2009.

However, the number of people killed in Nato air strikes in the same period has halved, the report says.

Changes to rules of engagement helped reduce that figure, the report says.

Former Nato commander Gen Stanley McChrystal issued instructions in 2009 severely limiting the circumstances in which troops could call in an air strike or fire into buildings.

The newly arrived coalition international forces commander, Gen David Petraeus, has vowed to carry on with the policy.

Violence in Afghanistan is now at its worst since the conflict began in 2001, the report says.

"The Afghan people have only witnessed and suffered an intensifying armed conflict over the past six months and insurgency has become more resilient, multi-structured and deadly," it adds.

Violence has soared across Afghanistan in recent months, with 212 civilians killed during June alone, Afghanistan Rights Monitor says.

Most of the deaths documented by the report were caused by insurgents, the report notes, with the widespread use of roadside bombs particularly deadly, killing almost 300 civilians.

Suicide bombs were also a major cause of death, the organisation said.

It does acknowledge that Nato-led forces have been trying hard to reduce civilian casualties, partly in response to pressure from the Afghan government.

And the new counter-insurgency strategy introduced by Gen McChrystal does seem to have had some effect, the report says.

According to its data, 94 Afghans were killed in air strikes between January and June 2010 - compared to 207 for the previous year.

In all 210 civilians had died in the past six months as a result of Nato-led strikes, shootings and raids, the report said.

"Dozens of people, including women and children, were shot dead during violent and barbaric intrusions, raids into houses and other counter-insurgency operations by US-Nato forces," the report's authors say.

Whilst the deaths of foreign soldiers often make headlines, the widespread deaths of Afghan civilians receive much less attention.

The United Nations has also charted rising civilian deaths in Afghanistan - it says 2,400 people were killed in 2009, up from 2,118 in 2008.

It's interesting to ponder...Iraq was in this state a few years ago; despite everything we still see and read, the violence there has steadied, or even declined. Here's hoping that Afghanistan follows the same pattern.

Finally this morning....war news is cyclical like everything else. There are issues that have had everyone up in arms for a couple of days, then they fade away and nobody remembers them anymore. The McCrystal affair is one such story; as it slowly fades away, a year from now we'll probably not even remember what it was all about. But at the height of the entire affair, there was another story going on that was pushed off the front page forever.

While all eyes were trained on the McChrystal/Obama/Petraeus drama in Washington Tuesday, Army officials quietly exonerated three soldiers who'd been accused of incompetence for their role in the deadliest attack on US soldiers in the Afghanistan war.

The service approved a recommendation by a soon-to-retire investigator, Gen. Charles Campbell, that "withdrew, cancelled and annulled" (PDF) the official reprimands of those three unnamed officers. The now-forgotten punishments stemmed from their roles in a July 13, 2008, ambush by foreign fighters on a US outpost in Wanat province. That grisly firefight left nine paratroopers dead and 27 more injured; it also fueled a fiery cry by the families of many fallen Afghanistan soldiers, who say incompetent tactics and leadership have been killing soldiers without anyone being held accountable.

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Ironically, those families' concerns are what led to Campbell's flip-flop. The three officers had been found guilty of "neglect or culpable inefficiency" in their duties after a three-month investigation by US Central Command, endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus. According to Army Times, the CENTCOM investigation determined that "the troops at Wanat were left at the remote outpost with insufficient supplies to build defenses, and they were also short of water."

Yet the families wanted a wider investigation, one that also looked at the conduct of the soldiers' commanding generals. According to Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), a former Marine and secretary of the Navy who backed the families, there was further evidence "of negligence at senior levels in the chain of command." That's when Campbell was called in by Army Secretary John McHugh to review the review.

The families expected swift justice. They probably didn't expect that their loved ones' commanders would get their careers back. "After careful consideration of the additional information, Campbell concluded that the officers were neither negligent nor derelict in the performance of their duties and that their actions were reasonable under the circumstances," the Army reported today. "Therefore, he withdrew the adverse administrative actions."

The timing of today's decision raises questions about whether the Army hoped the Wanat findings would be overshadowed by bigger national news. That bigger story, of course, was the removal of Afghanistan commander Stanley McChrystal for this Rolling Stone profile, and his replacement by Petraeus, who'd signed off on the original soldiers' reprimands. (It's also unclear whether Petraeus' departure from Central Command made it easier for Army officials to overturn the initial investigation he'd endorsed.)

We've had a loss of our own around here; if you only read 'above the fold', please take a moment to read Bob's post from last night. Although it was quiet of late, we all got our start on the forum. RIP.

63 comments (Latest Comment: 07/21/2010 02:10:10 by Raine)
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