Odierno acknowledges mistakes
Washington failed to consider important political and cultural aspects of Iraq prior to launching the 2003 invasion, the top U.S. commander there said.
In an interview with the Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Ray Odierno, reflected on the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the future of the country as American forces prepare for their departure.
He acknowledged military and political strategists in Washington neglected to consider the complex socioeconomic variables at play in Iraq, saying that inhibited some initial effectiveness.
"I think we came in with an extreme lack of understanding of the environment inside Iraq, and if we had to do it again, I think we would spend much more time on understanding the socioeconomic status, the culture of the country, etc.," he said.
He also pointed to decisions by the transitional Coalition Provisional Authority to disband the Iraqi army and to disallow Baath Party officials from government positions as two of the least helpful moves in the early stages of the conflict.
Meanwhile, with a noted anti-Iranian sentiment contributing to a rise in violence in recent weeks, Odierno said that while Tehran exerted a measure of influence over Iraqi internal affairs, international pressure and the mood of the Iraqi people has prompted Iran to move its focus toward political engagement.
Ninawa government in turmoil
Political leaders in the northern Iraqi province of Ninawa said they would boycott the local government amid growing sectarian tensions between Kurds and Arabs.
The al-Hadbaa list of Sunni leaders beat out their Kurdish rivals in the January provincial elections, taking 19 of the 37 seats in Ninawa.
The Kurdish Brotherhood list, which took 12 seats in January, announced its intent to launch an indefinite boycott of the provincial government following a decision to exclude the party from administrative positions, the political Web site Niqash.org reports.
Three administrative districts in Ninawa -- Makhmour, Shikhan and Sinjar -- fall under provincial authority but are included in the so-called disputed territories of Iraq. That matter requires intense moderation to settle administrative disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, further complicating the political dynamics.
Brotherhood leader Khosro Khirwan called on members of the Hadbaa list to reconsider their administration decisions as a means to avoid stoking sectarian tensions among the various ethnic groups in the north.
Meanwhile, Sinjar Gov. Dakheel Qasem announced he would no longer recognize the authority of the provincial government, saying his allegiance belonged with KRG President Massoud Barzani.
Ninawa provincial Gov. Atheel al-Najifi with the Hadbaa list, for his part, declared the boycott illegal, adding the move was part of Kurdish efforts to politicize its disputes with Baghdad.
U.S. military officials and others have raised repeated concerns over the crisis, saying they feared the disputes could turn violent if the matter was left unresolved when American troops withdraw from major cities in June.
U.N. condemns Iraqi violence
The U.N. Security Council issued a condemnation of the spate of terrorist bombings in Iraq, stressing the need to combat threats to world peace by all means.
A series of suicide bombings struck predominantly Iranian targets in Iraq last week, killing more than 140 people in one of the deadliest weeks since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The Security Council issued a press statement condemning the attacks "in the strongest terms." The statement went on to say that those who carried out the attacks should be brought to justice and added that all members were obliged to cooperate with Iraq on the matter.
The statement also said the United Nations stood fast in its commitment to combat threats to international peace at the hands of terrorist groups.
"The members of the Security Council reiterated that no terrorist act can reverse a path toward peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq, which is supported by the people and the government of Iraq and the international community," the statement concluded.
There were no claims of responsibility for the attacks last week. Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed reports that a leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, was captured by Iraqi security forces last week.
U.S. military officials in Iraq, however, have not confirmed the capture.
Brown arrives in Afghanistan
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss counter-terrorism issues during a visit with British troops.
Brown arrived at Camp Bastion in the volatile southern Helmand province to visit with British troops there. The premier plans to stop over in Pakistan as part of his regional tour.
Karzai welcomed Brown in Kabul later, as the prime minister announced new plans for controlling the insurgency along the border region with Pakistan, the BBC reports.
Brown, in a move that's seen as being in coordination with the Washington strategy, said he would like the Afghan army to grow from 75,000 to 135,000 members over the next two years.
U.S. President Barack Obama called for a surge in the number of military forces to 60,000 U.S. and NATO troops to supplement the 140,000-strong Afghan army and to train domestic forces.
Afghanistan has around 80,000 police currently working in the country.
Brown also issued stark warnings over the volatility on the Afghan-Pakistani border, calling for a unified strategy to address the growing militancy in Pakistan and the looming terrorist and insurgent threat in Afghanistan.
"These border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan are the breeding ground, the crucible of terrorism," he said. "Our strategy for working with both the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan in tackling this terrorist threat will be complementary.
Meanwhile, Brown said he looked forward to the August presidential elections in Afghanistan as a step in the democratic process but warned continued instability was a detriment to national progress.
U.S. risks past mistakes in Afghanistan
The Afghan war leaves Washington stuck between Americanizing the goals there or moving away from U.S. regional and military supremacy, a Pakistani analyst said.
Several analysts have noted the Afghan strategy unveiled by U.S. President Barack Obama -- an explicit focus on al-Qaida, training and non-military aid -- is a watered-down version of the sweeping democratic reform envisioned by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Former Pakistani leaders warned in the wake of the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 that American forces would leave an indelible stain on the regional identity amid varying tribal alliances.
Three decades on, Obama faces the same lingering challenges of U.S. dominance in the region versus the role of entrenched militant groups holed up in Afghanistan and Pakistan, journalist and former Pakistani air force officer Shahid Siddiqi wrote in the Foreign Policy Journal.
"Despite universal opposition to continued military involvement, President Obama risks paying dearly if he chooses to fold his tent and return home," he warned.
If the Obama strategy does bring a level of success to Afghanistan, it will do so not so much under the auspices of U.S. dominance but from the assistance of global allies.
The war in Afghanistan "has assumed international character, and it will be important to ensure that it is accordingly brought to a close," Siddiqi concluded.
Legitimate farming in Afghanistan
Cooperative farming and dairy efforts in Afghanistan have led to a five-fold increase in farm-based income while providing an alternative to poppy cultivation.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, with the help of the German government, spearheaded a campaign along with 1,600 families in Kabul and the surrounding area to implement a cooperative program to help the farming community.
The project has brought a five-fold increase in the income for participating families, and most of the work is carried out by women, the FAO reports.
"Starting from scratch, we helped them increase their milk production to (more than 2,600 gallons) a day," said Tony Bennett, FAO dairy officer.
The FAO program taught farmers how to organize into cooperatives for dairy goods and collective veterinary services. Cooperatives also operate retail services, leaving the participants with a guaranteed customer base.
FAO officials heralded the cooperative arrangements as a means to not only revitalize the general economic and agricultural sector but also to provide an alternative to the illicit opium trade.
"Increasing farmers' incomes from cereal crops, horticulture and dairy produce can, in the long term, offer a viable alternative to poppy cultivation," FAO official Tekeste Tekie said.