Smoking ban in Iraq

Iraq's cabinet has announced that it plans to ban smoking in all public places, the first such law in the Middle East:
The stance is particularly aggressive — and perhaps unenforceable — especially in a nation where cigarettes sell for as little as 40 cents a pack and smoking in public areas and workplaces is widespread. But it coincides with the government’s attempts to improve living conditions here, like Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s order on Wednesday to remove blast walls from most of Baghdad within 40 days.
Given what else is on their plate, I would hope that Iraqi police won't be devoting a whole of their time to enforcing this. 


Daily Brief: Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud likely killed

The following is a sneak preview of a new joint venture between Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation called The AfPak Channel. Each morning, Katherine Tiedemann, a policy analyst at New America, will run down the best and latest reporting on Afghanistan and Pakistan, from security, to economics, to politics, to the lighter side of this most volatile of regions. Sign up here to receive the AfPak Daily Brief in your in box.

Baitullah Mehsud: Dead or Alive?

Leader of the Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud may have been killed in Wednesday's Predator drone strike, which left his wife dead (AFP). One of his top aides confirmed to the AP that he was among the dead (AP). US officials said there are visual and other confirmations, and they are 95% certain he was killed in the missile strike, which targeted the home of his father in law in his home base of South Waziristan (ABC).

And Pakistan's foreign minister told reporters in Islamabad that Pakistani intelligence sources had confirmed his death and were traveling to the site to re-confirm on the ground (Dawn). Pakistan's interior minister said he "suspect[s]" Mehsud was killed in the strike, but Pakistani officials are still seeking material evidence of his death (Dawn).

A Pakistani official told CNN that after the attack, "the Mehsud network has gone quiet as if in shock" (CNN). Two Taliban fighters have also said he is dead, killed while receiving treatment for his diabetes (New York Times). Another Pakistani security official believes his funeral was already held in Nargosai, a village in the Zanghara area.

Mehsud, the author of Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto's December 2007 assassination and responsible for nearly 80% of suicide attacks in Afghanistan according to the United Nations, has been targeted by many of this year's CIA-operated drones (AFP).

The CIA made killing the militant leader "one of its top priorities" earlier this year, and believed he had been killed on several other occasions (New York Times). Commander of up to 20,000 Taliban militants and allied with al Qaeda, Mehsud has a $5 million reward on his head (Washington Post and AP). Analysts caution, however, that the militant network has proven resilient after past leaders were killed, so though this would be a symbolic victory if proven true, enthusiasm should be tempered.

There has been little speculation thus far about who may succeed Baitullah Mehsud as the face of the Pakistani Taliban if he is actually dead, though the New York Times reports that a meeting of his top deputies has been convened to figure it out (New York Times). One possible candidate is his deputy and fellow tribesman Hakimullah Mehsud (Daily Times). Other potential new leaders include Maulana Azmatullah, a Taliban commander and member of the Pakistani shura or council of leaders, and Wali-ur-Rehman, another shura member and former spokesman for Baitullah (Reuters).

Wanted: metric to measure Afghan war metrics

The Obama administration is struggling to come up with concrete ways to measure progress in the Afghan theater to present to Congress and the military (New York Times). The specter of failed benchmarks in Iraq hangs heavily over officials' heads as they plan out specific goals and ways to measure progress, but President Obama has emphasized the need for accountability in the war efforts.

Self help

Some 5,000 men have joined a tribal militia to fight the Taliban in the Swat Valley, site of this spring's pitched battles between the militants and Pakistani security forces (AFP). Supporting and arming local tribesmen is one way Pakistan has approached counterinsurgency, since the Pakistani Army is a conventional force designed to fight India, not Taliban militants.

There's no App for that

The Taliban have been sending night letters to Afghans in the volatile southeastern province of Ghazni warning them that owning "shiny new phones" is against Islam (Daily Mail). The militant group has yet to weigh in on Twitter.

Tips? Suggestions? Recommended links? E-mail Katherine Tiedemann.