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Radical cleric Sadr reacts to Obama speech; Afghanistan strategy not broad enough?

By DANIEL GRAEBER, UPI Correspondent
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr reacted to the Cairo speech by U.S. President Barack Obama, saying it was a soft approach at American colonialism. (UPI Photo/Ali Jasim)
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr reacted to the Cairo speech by U.S. President Barack Obama, saying it was a soft approach at American colonialism. (UPI Photo/Ali Jasim) | License Photo

Sadr reacts to Obama

Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr spoke out against the calls for a new beginning with the Muslim world by U.S. President Barack Obama in a Cairo speech.

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Obama spoke Thursday at Cairo University in a major foreign policy speech, in which he laid out a broad stance on his hopes for Middle East relations.

Obama has based the early parts of his presidency on a policy of engagement, seeking to repair America's image following perceived policy failures under the tenure of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama also spoke of his stance on the U.S. policy toward Iraq. He acknowledged the 2003 invasion was a war of choice, but promised American intentions in Iraq were not imperial.

"Iraq's sovereignty is its own," he said. "That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012."

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Sadr in statements delivered to the Iraqi news agency Voices of Iraq lashed out at the rhetoric, saying it was an American trick meant to disguise a policy of colonialism.

"Softly spoken words only mean that the United States wants to take a different approach in bringing the world under its domination and globalization," the statement read.

His comments echo similar statements from officials in Iran and Syria, who complain that while the American president has offered conciliatory messages in the past, his decision to renew punitive measures undermines the soft approach.

Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr emerged from two years of religious studies in Iran to visit top leaders in Ankara on May 1, making his first public appearance in years.


SOI courted by al-Qaida

With U.S. forces set to pull out of major Iraqi cities by the end of June and conflict on the rise, the Sons of Iraq may rejoin the militancy, a study shows.

The Sons of Iraq emerged from the Sunni-led Anbar Awakening movement, a tribal movement in 2005 that wrestled control away from al-Qaida operatives.

American forces employed the paramilitary Sons of Iraq, which is comprised in part of former insurgents, as a police force, dispatching the domestic unit throughout the country.

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The U.S. and Iraqi governments promised vocational training and national security jobs for some members, though budget constraints in February prompted protests from the group due to lack of payments.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces in March arrested Adil al-Mashhadani, a Sunni tribal leader, on suspicion of ties to the insurgency. That arrest sparked protests from many of the Sunni fighters.

The March incident, and dozens of others, provide terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Jihad and Change Front an opportunity to recruit former militants back into the insurgency as frustrations with Baghdad mount, notes a report by The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Awakening leaders made modest political gains in the January provincial elections in Iraq, but with little support outside of Anbar province, the group lacks leverage with Baghdad.

Meanwhile, with conflict seemingly on the rise as U.S. forces prepare to pull out of Iraqi cities by the end of the month, sectarian conflict could rise as the Sons of Iraq return to the insurgency, the report says.


Iraqis worried over special forces unit

Iraqi lawmakers and civilians alike worry over the role an Iraqi special operations force will play once U.S. forces scale back their mission, a review shows.

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The U.S. Army's Green Berets created the Iraqi Special Operations Forces in 2003, training young Iraqis in Jordan as a covert military unit.

U.S. records reviewed by The Nation, a left-leaning U.S. news magazine, show there are more than 4,500 members of the ISOF operating in Iraq under the loose authority of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and a special counter-terrorism bureau.

Analysts say that as a result of American efforts to build up Iraqi defense forces as quickly as possible and with the emerging political structure in Baghdad, ISOF emerged as a U.S.-supported "dirty brigade" with little to no oversight, The Nation reports.

"They terrorize entire neighborhoods just to arrest one person they think is a terrorist," says Hassan al-Rubaie, a lawmaker in the Sadrist camp. "This needs to stop."

U.S. supporters of the effort point to the successful training of local forces in Latin America in the 1980s as a model for the Iraqi special forces, though The Nation notes many of those Latin American units merged later into death squads.

Meanwhile, with American forces preparing to wind down their mission in Iraq, some Iraqi lawmakers are worried about what sort of Iraqi force will emerge in their place.

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AFPAK not broad enough

Though Washington has recognized the solutions to Afghanistan require a regional approach, more effort is needed in post-Soviet Central Asia, analysts say.

The U.S. footprint in Central Asia is expanding in Afghanistan, and the White House has linked the broader reconstruction strategy to non-military aid to Pakistan. But preventing a spiraling insurgency from engulfing all of Central Asia requires looking north to Uzbekistan and elsewhere, writes Jeffrey Mankoff for Foreign Policy.

Mankoff, associate director of international security studies at Yale University, points to a May 26 attack on a border post in Uzbekistan claimed by insurgents linked to al-Qaida operating in the volatile Fergana Valley as an example of conflict spillover.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operates in the Fergana Valley, which includes portions of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Following an Uzbek government crackdown in the 1990s, its members and sympathizers scattered across the region, including parts of Afghanistan.

These insurgents inevitably formed relationships with Taliban and al-Qaida militants prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, surfacing today in the volatile Swat Valley in Pakistan.

Mankoff says it is correct to recognize the situation in Afghanistan requires more than military solutions, but the situation cannot be resolved without addressing spillover in the former Soviet clients.

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"Rather than just forging military alliances, Washington needs to engage more deeply to address the social problems that feed militancy, especially in the Fergana Valley," Mankoff concludes.


The timing of the Afghan surge

U.S. and Taliban commanders alike are watching carefully the surge of military forces entering the heart of the insurgency in southern Afghanistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced earlier this year he would send tens of thousands of American troops to Afghanistan in time for the August presidential elections there. The influx of U.S. troops also coincides with the peak of the fighting season in Afghanistan.

With the addition of some 4,000 U.S. troops serving as military trainers, American forces in Afghanistan will number around 60,000 by August. U.S. commanders said they recognize the summer fight may get bloody, but note military supremacy will alter the course of the war, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"We know this will be a challenging assignment," said Capt. Bill Pelletier, a spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps. "The Taliban are an adaptive enemy force."

Despite concerns over growing accounts of civilian casualties, U.S. air combat specialists say the increased troop presence and growing air power will be an effective deterrent against an insurgency that is fluid and moving.

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"We've got lots more eyes on them now, and they'll get to understand that very soon," said U.S. Army Col. Paul Bricker with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade.


World Bank urges transparency

Providing collective and equitable donor resources in a transparent fashion to the government of Afghanistan is necessary for success, the World Bank says.

Nicholas Krafft, the World Bank director for Afghanistan, said it was imperative that donor support worked in coordination with an effective government effort.

"We are working with the government to support their efforts, and let me emphasize that, their efforts," said Krafft. "This includes getting the roles right for everyone."

He stressed that most of the international aid to Afghanistan went to services operating outside of the government's budget, calling on donors to back the national leadership in a coordinated fashion.

Government corruption in Afghanistan remains problematic to donor effectiveness, however, and Krafft emphasized a concerted effort was needed to tackle the issue.

"Reforms, including on governance remain a challenge, and improvements are certainly needed to ensure accountability to citizens, but we are seeing progress," he said.

Krafft was speaking during the presentation of the Interim Strategy Note for Afghanistan, the bank's assistance strategy for Afghanistan. The World Bank notes the difficult situation and changing political climate in Afghanistan, but pointed to strong the economic growth rate and increases in per capita income as signs the country was developing.

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