War News for Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Happy Solstice Edition
Bring ‘em on: In addition
to several deaths already covered in yesterday’s post, this article notes that the bodies of three Iraqi National Guardsmen, kidnapped on Sunday, were discovered in Yethrib. A Turkish truck driver was killed by a bomb near Tikrit. Two members of the National Salvation party were shot dead in Samarra. The Ahmed Ismail mosque in northern Mosul was raided by joint US/Iraqi forces and its main cleric, Sheikh Bashar Awad, was detained, according to a mosque spokesman.
Bring ‘em on: Five US soldiers and an Iraqi civilian wounded by IED near Hiwaja
Bring ‘em on: Iraqi government official shot dead in Baquba
. Child kidnapped in Siniya, near Baiji, to pressure the mother to quit her job working for the US army.
Bring ‘em on: Six Iraqi civilians killed, nine wounded, in US airstrikes on Hiyt
, Al Anbar province.
Bring ‘em on: More attacks against oil pipeline complex near Baiji
Hope the consensus holds
: Iraqi Shia leaders appealed to their supporters to show restraint yesterday after two deadly blasts targeted their religious centres in an apparent attempt to trigger civil war.
"They are trying to ignite a sectarian civil war and prevent elections from going ahead on time," one prominent Shia cleric, Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum, told Reuters news agency.
"They have failed before and they will fail again. The Shia are committed not to respond with violence, which will only lead to violence."
Even the volatile Sadr Movement, led by the firebrand Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, cautioned against reprisals. "A civil war will be hell. The consensus is against revenge," said his political liaison officer, Ali al-Yassiri.
: Fallujans are to begin trickling back this week, but a month after the battle for the city, devastation is everywhere. Burned out cars block streets, even homes that still stand are missing roofs or walls, dead dogs litter narrow alleys.
Iraq's interim government said yesterday each family will be compensated for property damaged during the fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents.
On the outskirts, Marines man checkpoints with low concrete walls, covered with gravel and ringed by barbed wire, where Iraqis will be checked in, getting a badge they must wear at all times. Each family will be given a one-time payment of 150,000 Iraqi dinars, about $100, when they return.
"Given my druthers, I'd love to have two more months to rebuild the city to turn it into one of those things that you see about a model city, about trees with a little sign and 'Welcome back to Fallujah' -- but we never intended to do that," said Marine Col. John Ballard.
"I believe 100 percent when you liberate a city you've got to give it back to the people," the commander of the Marines' 4th Civil Affairs Group added.
Where the fuck do they find these guys?
: Mosul, a city on the Tigris river with a population of 1.2 million, is largely populated by Sunni Muslims but has a large Kurdish minority. It has increasingly fallen into the hands of Sunni insurgents over the past six weeks.
Insurgents launched an uprising on 10 November, two days after the US Marines started their attack on Mosul, and stormed 10 police stations. Out of a local police force of 8,000, all but 1,000 have deserted and only 400 of those remaining are considered reliable.
: In a sobering assessment of the Iraq war, President Bush acknowledged Monday that Americans' resolve has been shaken by grisly scenes of death and destruction and he pointedly criticized the performance of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops. "No question about it," he said. "The bombers are having an effect."
The president also offered a warm testimonial for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in the face of spreading expressions of no-confidence by GOP senators. Rumsfeld appears "rough and gruff," Bush said, but "he's a good, decent man. He's a caring fellow."
He said he understands why Americans have doubts about Iraq's ability. "They're looking on your TV screen and seeing indiscriminate bombings, where thousands of innocent — or hundreds of innocent Iraqis are getting killed ..." But Bush said those pictures do not reflect that 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces are relatively stable and that small businesses are starting up. "Life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein."
Relative Stability: A Brief Examination
Dahuk Province, Capital Dahuk: On December 5 the governor of Dohuk province escaped a second assassination attempt, in a bomb attack claimed by the Islamist Ansar al-Sunna group. The same group claimed another attempt on Nishervan Ahmed's life on September 14. Doesn’t sound too stable.
Erbil Province, Capital Erbil: A Kurdish province effectively outside of Iraqi governmental control for the last 15 years, it has been relatively stable throughout the war. We’ll give him this one. However, let’s not forget that over 100 people died in Erbil last February in suicide bombings directed at the offices of two main Kurdish factions. Stability is, after all, relative.
Ninevah Province, Capital Mosul: December 19 - One Iraqi eighth-grader was killed and six others wounded Saturday morning in Mosul when insurgents trying to detonate a roadside bomb in the path of a routine American patrol misfired and hit a school bus full of children, the military said. Also see the article on Mosul cited above. Definitely not stable.
Sulaimaniya Province, Capital Sulaimaniya: Another comparatively peaceful Kurdish province. Relatively stable.
Tamim Province, Capital Kirkuk: See ‘Bring ‘em on’ second entry. There are also numerous reports of recent attacks on oil pipelines in the vicinity of Kirkuk. Four Kurds were shot to death in Hiwiya on Sunday. Not very stable, nope.
Salahuddin Province, Capital Samarra: See the first ‘Bring ‘em on’ entry. On Saturday one Iraqi was killed and eight wounded in an attack on an election center. A woman official was kidnapped from here on December 2 and her bullet riddled body was discovered three days later. Oh, yes, the Turkish truck driver killed in Tikrit yesterday goes here too, right? Can’t call this one too stable.
Al Anbar Province, Capital Ramadi: Ramadi? Fallujah? Say no more. Definitely not stable, not even relatively.
Diyala Province, Capital Baquba: Well, an official was just shot dead in Baquba, see ‘Bring ‘em on’ entry three above. Got some dead ING soldiers and police in Baquba last Friday, some US soldiers killed there this month too…nah. Not stable.
Baghdad Province, Capital Baghdad: We don’t really need to discuss this one either, do we? Not stable.
Karbala Province, Capital Karbala: Even if you overlook the dozens of people who got blown up Sunday in Karbala, it would still be a stretch to call this one stable. And we aren’t going to overlook those people.
Babil Province, Capital Al Hillah: Two Marines died December 13 in explosions in Babil Province. Not a sign of stability.
Wasit Province, Capital Al Kut: On December 16, the British Foreign Office issued an advisory against any travel to Baghdad and its five adjacent provinces, including Wasit. They probably wouldn’t do that if they thought it was stable. We’ll defer to their judgment here and call it not stable.
Najaf Province, Capital Najaf: Hmm. Day before yesterday 49 people were killed and 90 wounded in a car bombing here. Let’s call this one unstable too.
Qadisiyah Province, Capital Diwaniyah: Bulgarian troops based in Diwaniyah reported being under mortar fire on December 14. They probably didn’t feel like things were too stable when that happened. But all in all, this province is less unstable than some of its neighbors. Maybe call this one a wash.
Dhi-Qar Province, Capital Nasiriyah: This one looks to be pretty quiet lately. So have Muthana and Maysan Provinces. The Shi’ite south is not as bad as other parts of Iraq, so we can call all three of these provinces relatively stable.
Basra Province, Capital Basra: Last April five suicide bombings near police stations and a police academy in Basra killed 74 people and wounded 160 others but it’s been quiet since then, I think. How long after a major attack until a province is considered relatively stable? Ah, let’s be generous and give it to George.
So, based on a Google search that took maybe two hours and which I know is nothing like comprehensive for any of these provinces, plus the maps I’m using suck and I’m not even sure what towns are in what provinces, not to mention all the different ways you can spell the names of places in Iraq, I can still conclude that out of eighteen provinces only six can be considered even relatively stable and at least a couple of those suffered major violence less than a year ago. Therefore it is Mr. Bush who is hallucinating, not me. But we already knew that. And as to whether the average Iraqi would agree that life is better now than it was under Hussein…let's leave that for another time.
The Grand Coalition
Another plastic turkey in Baghdad
: British Prime Minister Tony Blair held talks with Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi Tuesday during surprise visit to Iraq that comes ahead of national elections and amid a fierce insurgency.
Blair flew into the Iraqi capital at about 11 a.m. aboard a British military transport aircraft from Jordan. Wearing a dark suit, he walked briskly across the airport tarmac and boarded a Royal Air Force helicopter that flew him to Baghdad's center, escorted by U.S. Black Hawk helicopters.
His visit had not been disclosed beforehand for security reasons.
Sinking ship, meet rat
: The last of Hungary's troops in the US-led coalition left Iraq, completing the new EU member's withdrawal from the conflict-torn country, a defence official said.
"The last Hungarian soldier left Iraq this afternoon and all 300 troops will be back home before Christmas," defence ministry spokesman Istvan Bocskai told AFP.
American Moral Leadership
A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.
The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.
Or no executive order?:
Harsh interrogation methods of Iraqi prisoners went "beyond the bounds of standard FBI practice," the FBI's top official in Iraq said in a memo released yesterday.
While the memo doesn't directly say who authorized the practices, two government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the methods were approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The memo includes several references to an "executive order" signed by President Bush, but the two government officials said that was an error and that the reference was to Defense Department directives.
Now, how many officials was it that outed Valerie Plame? Hmmm....
Either way the mindset was there
: Just two weeks after the September 11 attacks, a secret memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’ office concluded that President Bush had the power to deploy military force “preemptively” against any terrorist groups or countries that supported them—regardless of whether they had any connection to the attacks on the World Trade Towers or the Pentagon.
The memo, written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, argues that there are effectively “no limits” on the president’s authority to wage war—a sweeping assertion of executive power that some constitutional scholars say goes considerably beyond any that had previously been articulated by the department.
That Allawi sure is a quick learner
: Human rights advocates and lawyers say Iraq's hush-hush legal proceedings against Saddam Hussein's ousted regime and the secrecy leading up to the investigative hearings that began late last week threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the trial process.
Under Iraqi law the investigative hearings are the first step toward a trial. But the timing of the court appearances just ahead of Jan. 30 general elections has prompted accusations the legal proceedings were being expedited to boost Allawi's political standing.
This should win some hearts and minds
: A North Carolina National Guard member thought to be the first U.S. soldier convicted of murdering an Iraqi said he "snapped" and shot the 17-year-old boy after they had consensual sex, according to court-martial records released this week.
Pvt. Federico Daniel Merida, 21, of Biscoe, a tiny town south of Asheboro, pleaded guilty during a court-martial in Iraq to shooting the Iraqi national guard private, whose name the Army withheld.
Merida was sentenced Sept. 25 to 25 years in prison and reduced in rank. He will be dishonorably discharged.
A real American hero
: ''Being against the war is the only way to be for the troops,'' said Hoffman. ''We're doing them no good by sending them over there.
''The 25-year-old Marine veteran is a co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, a 5-month-old organization that claims 150 members, including some on active duty in Iraq. It wants the immediate withdrawal of all occupation forces from Iraq, ''real'' reconstruction aid for that country and properly funded and administered veterans' benefits.
''I need to make sure this stops,'' he said. ''The honest truth needs to be told in order for this war to end. We've got to get these guys home now before another guy is killed on either side."
''This war would be over right now if people really understood the horror of it.''
Like Vietnam, said Hoffman, the only way to end the war will be for millions of Americans to get out on the streets every week and demand that it end.
A hopeful sign
: A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that, for the first, a majority of America have concluded that, given its costs, the conflict in Iraq is "not worth fighting."This total of 56% is eight points higher than last summer.
While a slight majority believe the invasion of Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties.
The Human Cost
My love and emotions
: "We arrived to the place where the dead is washed before they are buried," Razak wrote later in a report of the events. "I opened the coffin and was shocked, it was my mom with bullets all over her body. A bullet in her right eye and another bullet entered her cheek and exited from the upper neck, another one in the upper thigh and leg, right hand and arms, these are gun bullets.... Her right hand was lifted and open in passion of trying to protect her face."
"When I saw all that, I became crazy, screaming as loud as possible, I took hold of her body and started talking to her, I asked her why she came out (of the house), why did she leave me alone, who do I have after her, I shook her strongly, she did not answer, I was unable to take it any longer, I left the room of washing and went outside screaming loudly why? why? I lost everything, the protective mother, my helper, my love and emotions."
Lost last words
: Justin M. Ellsworth's family clung to every word that slipped from the 20-year-old Marine's fingertips into e-mails from the battlefront in Iraq.
The messages were brief and optimistic, eager for news from home and written to reassure loved ones that Justin was alive and well.
Ellsworth's father John read each one again and again. John Ellsworth last spoke on the telephone to his son Nov. 3, 10 days before Justin was killed by a roadside bomb during a foot patrol with other Marines in Al Anbar province.
Justin's body has been returned home to his family, but those e-mails -- once a lifeline between the Marine and the dozens of loved ones he left behind -- are being held hostage in an unusual cyberspace legal limbo that has pitted the Oakland County family against Internet giant Yahoo!
The case raises significant legal questions for which there appear to be no clear answers.
: All the official transcripts of White House signing ceremonies for every defense spending bill, all the presidential proclamations for Veterans Day and every prepared statement by the secretary of defense before a congressional committee include the same stock phrase. U.S. troops are invariably referred to as "the best trained, best equipped" ever. Best equipped? To call today's American troops in Iraq the "best equipped" is more than an exaggeration; it is bilge, baloney and cruel.
An America coming out of the Great Depression somehow found the leadership and the will to build and deploy around the globe 2.5 million trucks in the same period of time that the incumbent U.S. government has failed to get 30,000 fully armored vehicles to Iraq.
: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated recently that the nation goes to war with the Army it has, not the one it wants. But that begs the question: Why doesn't the United States have the Army it wants on the ground in Iraq?
Granted, wars are notoriously unpredictable. Generals throughout history have made the mistake of fighting the last war -- in other words, calculating troop and equipment needs and strategy based on past experience, only to find that calculations don't fit the current engagement.
Rumsfeld, however, was guilty not so much of fighting the last war as of not listening to his generals and of failing utterly to anticipate the aftermath of a successful invasion of Iraq.
Local story: Modesto, CA
, Marine killed in Fallujah
A Worthy Cause
is a link to a blog that is running a campaign to get phone cards to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Apparently the armed forces do not supply a way for these servicemen and women to call home. So here’s a way you can brighten someone’s life over the holidays or any time. Please contribute if you can. And a very happy solstice to you all.