War News for Monday, December 20, 2004
Bring ‘em on: Sixty two Iraqis
killed, 129 wounded in bombing attacks in Karbala and Najaf
Bring ‘em on: Four Kurds
shot dead in Hawija
Bring ‘em on: Four men, three believed to be foreigners
, killed in ambush north of Baghdad. Iraqi truck driver shot dead near Yethrub. Iraqi translator for the US military shot dead near Salman Pak. Iraqi woman killed and three civilians wounded by roadside bomb between Samarra and Baghdad.
: Virtually all of Fallujah's estimated 200,000 people displaced by the fighting are also still living in temporary conditions in places such as Saklawiya, Habbaniya and Germa near Fallujah. Most of those areas are considered too dangerous for foreigners to go without being embedded with the US Marines in the area.
"The situation is still unstable. Security is still fluctuating all the time," Jamal al-Karbuli, secretary general of the IRCS, told IRIN. "It can be calm one minute but 15 minutes later you have to run and hide because of gunfire and worse."
If heads of households go home, they'll just be arrested anyway, the sheikh told IRIN, declining to be named. "This is dreaming, if they think we can go back," the sheikh said. "They detained all of the men from 15 to 50 - how can people like me go back?"
: By targeting election workers in Baghdad and Shia Muslims in southern Iraq, insurgents yesterday struck at the two pillars of next month's national elections: the logistical planners and the religious group most likely to vote in large numbers.
The bold ambush in central Baghdad of a car carrying employees of the Iraqi agency that is organizing the Jan. 30 vote highlighted the vulnerability of election workers. The attack, which was carried out by about 30 gunmen using grenades and machine guns, will make it difficult for the elections agency to hire thousands of additional workers it needs to man polling stations.
One result of yesterday's attacks is that it could become virtually impossible to carry off the balloting in 40 days. Although public attention has been focused on how to secure many parts of Iraq ahead of the election, problems in logistical planning could undermine the vote just as seriously as the lack of security. Preparations are stalled on many levels, ranging from delays in hiring and training thousands of election workers to deciding what kind of ballots and ink to use.
"People will be afraid to work in the election," said Asos Hardi, editor of Hawlati, an independent Kurdish newspaper. "It could be more dangerous than working as an Iraqi policeman. At least the police have weapons to defend themselves."
Governed by fear
: The Iraqi election on 30 January, for which campaigning began last week, will be one of the most secretive in history. Iraqi television shows only the feet of election officials rather than their faces, because they are terrified of their identity being revealed. It will be a poll governed by fear.
It is doubtful if the election, at least at first, will mark a real change in the balance of power between the three main communities in Iraq: the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds. Nor is it likely to see a shift in authority from the US to Iraqis. The outcome could simply be a photocopy of the present government.
The problems for the US and the interim government will be largely unchanged after the election. The Sunni will not stop their uprising while the occupation continues. The government will still depend on American guns to defend it. The differences between the three main Iraqi communities are increasing, and the war will go on.
: The continuing debate among Republicans over whether Donald H. Rumsfeld should remain as defense secretary grew more fractious on Sunday, as two prominent senators argued that removing Mr. Rumsfeld would disrupt the coming Iraqi elections, while a third, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said he had "no confidence in Rumsfeld's leadership."
"Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job and the president has great confidence in him," the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., said on the ABC News program "This Week."
Spectacular job, part 1
: Since May 1, 2003, 909 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 9,302 wounded in combat. About half the casualties came from insurgent attacks on Humvees with improvised bombs or rocket- propelled grenades, says Representative Ellen Tauscher, 53, a California Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Almost two years into the war in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is facing questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers about why soldiers continue to be killed in unarmored vehicles.
About 20 percent of the 19,138 wide-bodied, four-wheel-drive Humvees used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan still had no armor as of Dec. 14, according to Brigadier General Jeffrey Sorenson, a Washington-based logistics officer.
Including medium and heavy trucks, the total percentage of unarmored vehicles is 39 percent of 35,115 vehicles. The Army won't have the Humvees and heavy-truck fleet fully armored until March, Sorenson says.
Spectacular job, part 2
: Iraq’s fledgling security force is poorly led, plagued by desertions and “falling behind in its capability and commitment” to protect the country’s new democratic government, U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., warned Sunday.
“They don’t have the leadership, the top military officers. They don’t have the non commissioned officers. And so many of them desert and go back home after they receive the training” provided by American soldiers and Marines, said Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Spectacular job, part 3
: Twenty-one months after Washington launched its war with the promise of a brighter future, Iraq produces 4,100 megawatts of electricity, a little below prewar levels and about half the country's surging demand.
Sabotage attacks on power plants, transmission lines, oil pipelines and fuel trucks are keeping the electricity out for more than 12 hours a day in Iraq, leaving many people to face a freezing winter by candlelight.
Iraqi officials, wary of growing instability before the elections, say outages have reached crisis proportions, especially in the capital, with no end in sight.
Spectacular job, part 4
: Two dozen sergeants are sitting around a table — hard men who led troops into downtown Baghdad last year and helped end Saddam Hussein's regime. They shake their heads and chuckle softly: What kind of question is that — did they ever expect to be returning to Iraq?
"Nobody expected this, a year later," says Staff Sgt. Ken Austin, a veteran of Desert Storm in 1991 as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom. "The first Gulf War was in and out. I thought this would be pretty much the same."
But continuing insurgent attacks have forced the United States to boost its force in Iraq toward 150,000, its highest level yet. So the 3rd ID — as the division is commonly referred to throughout the Army — is loading up again, to try to finish up the mission.
Spectacular job, part 5
: Here in Kansas, the base and the small towns that sit beside it have begun to resemble an enormous machine in an endless cycle: bringing soldiers home with late-night celebrations in gymnasiums and screaming roadside banners, and then sending them off again, with fresh uniforms, new DVD players and photographs, and formal farewells.
In January, 3,500 Fort Riley soldiers will return to Iraq for a second time. And just last week 3,500 others, many of whom had just returned to their quiet Midwestern post this fall, learned that they will go back to Iraq as early as the middle of next year.
The frenzied pace is swiftly becoming the norm, not a rarity. More than 31 percent of the 950,000 service members sent to Iraq or Afghanistan since those conflicts began already have been sent a second time.
And, of the 1,300 troops who have died in Iraq since the war began, more than 140 were serving on second tours.
Some Results of the Spectacular Job
Difficult to restrain
: Western diplomats who have watched sectarian struggles elsewhere in the Arab world say they fear that the fight ultimately will be between a predominantly Sunni insurgency and Iraqi security forces made up mostly of Shiites and ethnic Kurds. The Shiites, after more than 30 years of repression by Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, probably will find it difficult to restrain themselves.
"The Sunnis will be under the boot of a Kurd and Shiite security force with a leavening of Sunnis," said a Western diplomat who has spent many years in the region. "In the end, the 20% of the population which is Sunni cannot fight off the other 80%, and the Shias will find it difficult to forget the history — how the Sunnis treated them when the Sunnis were in power."
: Each week in Baghdad, sermons to the faithful offer a tale of two Fridays. Both sermons — one Sunni, the other Shiite — dwell on the issues that color Baghdad's weary life: the insurgency, elections planned for next month and the U.S. military presence. But the messages are so diametrically opposed as to speak to two realities and two futures for the country.
In Um al-Qura, built by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as the Mother of All Battles Mosque, the insurgency is celebrated as an act of resistance against a faithless and deceitful American occupier. In no less strident rhetoric, at the venerated Baratha mosque, that same insurgency is condemned as wicked and senseless violence waged by loyalists of Hussein and foreigners. Elections are subjugation at the Sunni sermon, liberation at the Shiite one. And at each, the community's patience, the preachers insist, is wearing dangerously thin after yet another provocation or slight.
Busier and busier
: If the number of war-wounded Marines leaving Iraq next year stays at its current rate, Camp Lejeune's Naval Hospital will get a lot busier.
Lejeune's II Marine Expeditionary Force, which boasts about 14,000 local troops, will begin deploying in January. In Iraq, it will eventually assume command of operations from the West Coast's I MEF, which is based at Camp Pendleton. Presently, there are 21,000 I MEF Marines in Iraq.
The Law of Unintended Consequences
Note to Readers: Wars change things, often in ways the leaders who start them completely fail to anticipate. The following three articles are about some unanticipated changes brought about or hurried by the war in Iraq. We will all live with the consequences of this war of choice long after it's over.
The big trend
: Suspected militants with military experience gained in Iraq have been detected in several Middle Eastern countries, and some have been found as far afield as western Europe, according to intelligence officials.
"The big trend for the coming 20 years will be the Iraqi jihad veterans. They are being seen as the extreme threat for the coming period. One key challenge is to establish who they are and where they are going, in order to make sure that the same mistake is not made as was made with the Arab Afghan veterans who fought against the Soviet Union," the senior European intelligence official said.
"The Saudis are very worried indeed," said a senior western diplomat in Riyadh. "The numbers of active Saudis in touch with the jihad in Iraq and Syria are probably in the low hundreds, but it would not take very many to lead to an upsurge in violence in Saudi itself."
: The most striking result of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's four-day visit to China this week was the agreement announced Monday to hold "substantial military exercises on Chinese territory in 2005" (quote from Russia's Interfax news agency). This was Ivanov's second trip to Beijing this year, and Chinese President Hu Jintao used the occasion to assert, "Sino-Russian strategic coordination has attained an unprecedentedly high level."
The agreement to hold joint exercises is, in fact, unprecedented, and Hu went on to express satisfaction at the growth in relations between the two armies. Not that you would know any of this from our lethargic press.
Nevertheless, it is a highly significant development, pointing out how major regional powers are reacting to the policy and actions of what they perceive to be the world's big bully.
The lid is now off Pandora's preventive box. Just before leaving for Beijing, Defense Minister Ivanov made it clear that Russia "reserves the right to carry out preventive strikes with conventional weaponry on terror bases anywhere they are found in the world." Indeed, it may be a short step to applying the "terrorist" label to those wearing orange in Kiev.
The war before the war
: The U.S. military is working on a more sophisticated way to win.
Instead of scoring an initial crushing military victory only to get mired in the aftermath, the U.S. European Command is pioneering a system to intervene in failing nations before war becomes an option.
It’s a new way of fighting the war before the war.
Last month, as a way of testing “effects-based warfare,” the center conducted a simulated rescue of an African nation that was about to implode. The weeklong exercise targeted a real country using real intelligence. Tallent declined to name the country, citing political sensitivities.
He also declined to give details about the impending chaos, for fear of revealing the nation. But he said the top priority for the unnamed country was to save its assets.
Feeling safer yet?
The Human Cost
: Sad to the depths of his 4-year-old soul, Jack Shanaberger knew what he didn't want to be when he grows up: a father.
"I don't want to be a daddy because daddies die," the child solemnly told his mother after his father, Staff Sgt. Wentz "Baron" Shanaberger, a military policeman from Fort Pierce, Fla., was killed March 23 in an ambush in Iraq.
Scripps Howard News Service has identified nearly 900 U.S. children who have lost a parent in the war, from the start of the conflict in March 2003 through November, when a total of 1,256 troops had died.
Although comparably specific historical data are not available for other U.S. wars, military experts said the proportionally higher number of American children left bereaved by the Iraq war is unprecedented.
Local story: Salem, Arkansas
, Marine killed in Fallujah
Local story: Pasadena, CA
, Marine honored for wounds received
Local story: Midstate, TN
, Marine killed in Al Anbar province
Local story: Families of three slain CA servicemen
cope with their losses
Local story: Winterville, NC
, war widow copes with her loss
Local story: Edgewater, FL
, soldier killed in Ramadi