Tuesday, January 11, 2005

War News for Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"There are some who, uh, feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is: bring 'em on. We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation." - George W. Bush, July 2, 2003.

Bring ‘em on: Seven policemen killed, eight wounded in car bombing in Tikrit.

Bring ‘em on: Seven Iraqis killed in roadside bombing in Yussifiyah. Suicide bomber killed and one US soldier wounded in Samarra.

Bring ‘em on: Gas pipeline between Kirkuk and Beiji destroyed in bombing. Additional pipelines attacked southwest of Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi National Guardsmen killed in roadside bombing in Samarra.

Hearts and minds: Relations between US authorities and Iraqis have grown increasingly troubled. On the one hand, American officials insist they are winning Iraqi "hearts and minds" by building infrastructure and venturing off their bases to hand out footballs, teddy bears and toothpaste. But as attacks on US forces have escalated, American commanders have loosened the rules of engagement binding their troops, encouraging them to stand and fight.

Many Iraqis, in turn, are terrified by the sight of a US patrol in their neighbourhood: their fear is that soldiers will be hit by a roadside bomb or bullets and respond by opening fire at anything nearby. After one particularly harrowing day of explosions, soldiers killed a mentally disabled man who failed to heed their commands, said Ali Salman Ali, 37, a shop owner. "The soldiers knew this guy and joked with him all the time. But on this day, they ordered him to stop, and he didn't. So they shot him dead."

The New Iraqi Army: Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Tuesday the country would spend $2 billion to boost and train its fledgling army and security forces this year to try to end a relentless insurgency.

In a presentation to Iraqi army and police officers and reporters, Allawi said the New Iraqi Army -- which has been merged with the National Guard -- would be increased to a force of 150,000 from 100,000 and more training and equipment would be provided for the police.

Iraqi forces are supposed to take over security when U.S. forces leave the country but they are struggling even to protect themselves.

Fallujah: Fresh evidence has emerged of the extent of destruction and appalling conditions in Fallujah, still deserted two months after a major United States offensive against the insurgent stronghold. Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi journalist working with The Guardian's film unit and one of the few reporters to travel independently to Fallujah, describes in a Channel 4 News film on Tuesday a "city of ghosts" where dogs feed on uncollected corpses. "It is completely devastated," Fadhil writes in The Guardian. "Fallujah used to be a modern city; now there is nothing. We spend that first day going through the rubble that had been the centre of the city; I don't see a single building that is functioning."

In context: Retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey says casualty rates in Iraq are comparable to those of Vietnam.

McCaffrey said Monday that Americans will lose faith in the Mideast military effort if U.S. leaders fail to develop a clear plan to stabilize Iraq.

More than 12,000 U.S. troops, including about 11,600 in Iraq, have been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism, he said.

"From a national perspective, you could say that isn't too bad of a price to pay," he told about 300 people at Brooke Army Medical Center. "But let me put it in context. All of the casualty rates in Iraq right now are essentially at the level of Vietnam."

Monster truck: American military commanders in insurgent hotbeds like Ramadi and Mosul have said in interviews that they have seen attackers use increasingly powerful and sophisticated explosive devices against humvees and armored vehicles. The devices have used elaborate timing sequences and, in some cases, specially shaped explosive charges designed to more easily pierce armor plating. In Mosul, for example, American commanders were stunned early last month when a patrol of Stryker armored vehicles found itself in a mile-long ambush where insurgents had spaced at least 10 artillery shells about 150 to 200 yards apart, detonating them in a measured pattern as troops passed. The armored Strykers suffered little damage, but commanders on the scene said humvees or lesser-armored vehicles would have been far more vulnerable. In an even bolder attack at the end of the month, insurgents attacked soldiers from the same unit, the First Battalion, 24th Infantry, with a complicated truck bomb designed to defeat barriers the troops had placed in front of an outpost in western Mosul. The truck had extra-large tires and a raised chassis, and was packed with 1,500 pounds of explosives, but the soldiers had recently installed larger barriers. The detonation created a hole 15 feet long, 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep. But no gays: Many of the soldiers sharing a sendoff lunch with their families Saturday are following the Army tradition of their fathers, uncles and grandfathers. But most of them are their families' first women in uniform. More than 20 of the 32 National Guard soldiers being deployed from the Taylor-based 228th Forward Support Company B are women. The soldiers were honored as they prepared to leave today for training before a tour of duty in Iraq. A group of 14 soldiers from Western Pennsylvania joined them. Elections

Logistical problems: With less than three weeks before Iraq's national election, there are still major logistical problems that could seriously undermine the vote, according to a United Nations memo obtained by Newsday. Ballots still need to be printed and flown into the country; some of the warehouses where ballots will be stored are vulnerable to attack; and the names of thousands of candidates are still being entered into computer databases. Moreover, insurgents target anyone associated with the vote, and the Iraqi election commission has found it so difficult to hire enough poll workers that it is asking to use teachers and school administrators. Embeds: As Iraq moves closer to its first democratic elections later this month, the number of news organizations requesting embedded slots with military units there is on the rise, according to officials. But those new embeds better watch their step. E&P has learned that five journalists have been kicked out of embed slots in the past three months for reporting secure information. Embedded journalists in Iraq topped 800 at the height of combat in 2003, but their number has since dwindled to the double digits in the past year or so. The tally increased briefly in October when the first Marine Expeditionary Force prepared for its Fallujah assault, drawing 70 journalists to its ranks alone. Death Squads Creating a monster: Experience from countries such as Colombia, Sudan and Russia (in Chechnya) shows that "death squads" and paramilitary groups created to combat insurgencies take on a life of their own and are often difficult to rein in. Once established, it is difficult to prevent them from killing whomever they want for whatever reasons they want, opening up the possibility that civilians will be targeted because of personal or political vendettas in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

"If this plan is real, the Pentagon will rue the day it dreamed it up," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "They are creating a monster that could someday kill the very Iraqi democracy they say they want to build." First glimpse of the monster: An unknown militant group Saraya Iraqna has declared war on extremists acting on the territory of Iraq, reported RIA Novosti citing an article published in the Iraqi newspaper Al Ittihad. The first official message of the group says it aims at “a relentless fight against all kinds of terrorists and Wahabits in the country”. “Our activity will not be selective. It is directed toward all terrorist organizations on the territory of Iraq, no matter what their religion or ethnic origin is”, says the message. The group promises rewards of USD 3,000 to USD 50,000 to people cooperating in the fight against terrorism. Many thanks to alert reader whisker for the link. Torture Win Without War: For more than a century, the U.S. has opposed the torture of prisoners through the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Torture isn't just immoral and illegal -- it's a strategic mistake that makes us all less safe. Responding to Gonzales' torture memo, Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote that ignoring the Geneva Conventions will "undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops." And by inciting anti-American hatred, torture bolsters the position of extremists and boosts terrorist recruitment, making the world less secure. Torture doesn't even work to find out about attacks before they happen, since people usually give falsified information to escape the pain. This site is well worth a look. Win Without War is a coalition of progressive organizations dedicated to ending the Iraq war and bringing its perpertrators to justice. Please support them as best you are able. Paper trail: Usually, incriminating documents on the crimes and misdemeanors of any government or administration await ultimate defeat (and sometimes conquest) to see the light of day, or at least, as in the case of the Nixon administration documentation that came out during the Watergate affair, political defeat. Only three years into the war on terror, however, with the Bush administration still riding relatively high in the saddle, the paper trail already made public on torture, abuse, and other crimes against humanity is unprecedented -- and it leads right up to the top. Karen J. Greenberg, Director of the Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law, and attorney Joshua L. Dratel, President-elect of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and civil lawyer for Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, have now put together a massive book of these documents (just being published this week), The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. It's the most comprehensive record yet of memos and reports in which the Bush Administration developed its policies on the treatment of prisoners and on torture. It also includes testimony from interrogators and detainees on abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and reports on prisoner abuses done by the International Red Cross and other organizations. It will be a must-have reference work for any journalist or historian writing on the subject or, for that matter, for any of us. Without hesitation immediately: Most of the prisoners - some 550 or so - are kept in "maximum security" conditions. If they cooperate, they can be led in cuffs and leg irons to a covered yard for 20 minutes of exercises with one other detainee, followed by a five- minute shower. The standard cell is a prefabricated metal box a little larger than a king-size bed. Guards are required to pass each cell every 30 seconds. There is no air conditioning, and the lights stay on all night.

So who exactly are these people who are being held under such severe conditions? Rose says none of the highest-profile al Qaeda captures have wound up at Gitmo, as it is called. The CIA concluded in a report that "many of the accused terrorists appeared to be low-level recruits who went to Afghanistan to support the Taliban or even innocent men swept up in the chaos of the war." One senior Pentagon official told Rose that "at least two-thirds" of the detainees held as of May 2004 could be released "without hesitation immediately."


Opinion: With the insurgency becoming both stronger and bolder, and the chances of conducting a legitimate election growing grimmer by the day, a genuine sense of alarm can actually be detected in the reality-resistant hierarchy of the Bush administration.

The unthinkable is getting a tentative purchase in the minds of the staunchest supporters of the war: that under the current circumstances, and given existing troop strengths, the U.S. and its Iraqi allies may not be able to prevail. Military officials are routinely talking about a major U.S. presence in Iraq that will last, at a minimum, into the next decade. That is not what most Americans believed when the Bush crowd so enthusiastically sold this war as a noble adventure that would be short and sweet, and would end with Iraqis tossing garlands of flowers at American troops.

Analysis: While the world's attention has been on the disaster in Asia, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated so much that the insurgency has developed into near-open warfare.

The head of Iraq's intelligence service Gen Muhammad Shahwani now puts the number of insurgents at 200,000, of which 40,000 are said to be the hard core and the rest active supporters.

These figures do not represent an insurgency. They represent a war.

Editorial: The vice president argued that in 1980s El Salvador "a guerilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead. And we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. ... And as the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied their right to vote. And today El Salvador is ... a lot better because we held free elections."

There is a serious problem with this story. The 75,000 people Cheney mentioned were indeed killed by terrorists, but not by the rebel FMLN forces that he intended to condemn. Rather, they were under assault from the very Salvadoran government that the Reagan administration was supporting and from its paramilitary death squads. With a list of opposition politicians having already been executed or exiled, the 1984 elections were little more than a farce designed to give democratic respectability to a regime that was perpetuating some of the worst human rights abuses in the hemisphere.

The facts of Salvadoran history were definitively established by a UN-sponsored truth commission in 1993. It concluded that 90 percent of the atrocities in the conflict were committed by the army and its surrogates, with the rebels responsible for 5 percent and the remaining 5 percent undetermined.

Opinion: Despite evasive answers to questions about his role in creating a pervasive policy environment that made the U.S. government’s torture of prisoners just good, clean fun, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales seems poised to win Senate approval as Attorney General. That shocking outcome would reaffirm that the politically minded Congress often takes a distorted view of what this country is supposed to stand for.

Although I dislike the term “un-American”—since throughout U.S. history it has often been applied to people who disagreed with whatever war was then the rage—I think the term can safely be applied to torture. Congress should deny high office to anyone who helps create a bureaucratic climate that implicitly endorses such reprehensible behavior. Gonzales has done exactly that. Casualty Reports

Local story: Astana, Kazakhestan, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Pineville, LA, and Kinder, LA, soldiers killed in Iraq.

Local story: Walker Valley, NY, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Beech Grove, IN, soldier killed in Tal Afar.

Local story: Cass Lake, MN, soldier killed near Baghdad. .


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