Tuesday, February 22, 2005

War News for Tuesday, February 22, 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: Two Iraqi special forces soldiers killed, 30 wounded in car bomb attack on their convoy outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: One guerilla killed in attack on Shiite mosque in western Baghdad. Suicide bombing attempt foiled in Adnan Khair Allah hospital in north Baghdad. US military convoy hit by roadside bomb attack in Doura neighborhood of south Baghdad, no casualties reported. US troops exchange fire with guerillas in Samarra. One Iraqi killed by mortar fire in Samarra.

Bring ‘em on: One US Marine killed in Al Anbar province.

Bring ‘em on: Three US soldiers killed, eight wounded in Baghdad when a roadside bomb detonated near a helicopter carrying a medical team responding to a vehicle accident in which one US soldier was injured.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi civilian killed near Al-Saqwaliya when two roadside bombs blew up after a US military patrol passed by.

The Wolfowitz Metric Apparently the new Iraq isn't a coalition member: The number of coalition military forces killed by hostile actions has declined significantly since Iraq's Jan. 30 election, according to military officials.

As of Monday, the 28 coalition forces killed from hostile fire or roadside bombs in February represented the lowest fatality rate since last March, according to iCasualties.org. The daily average of 1.33 soldiers killed in hostile actions after the election compares to 2.42 during the previous 10 months, based on Philadelphia Inquirer calculations.

Officials say Iraqi insurgents seem to be targeting Iraqi armed forces and civilians with greater frequency.

While the number of troops killed in hostile actions has declined recently, the coalition forces reported an increase in accidental deaths because of the large number of troops deploying into and out of the country at the same time. Not counting the 31 Marines and Navy personnel who were killed in a single helicopter crash on Jan. 26, the Army alone had 18 noncombat deaths in January, the second-highest monthly total since the war began. It's ok, US casualties are down: Eight suicide bombers struck in quick succession Saturday in a wave of attacks that killed 55 people as Iraqi Shiites marched and lash themselves with chains in ritual mourning of the death of the founder of their Muslim sect 14 centuries ago. Ninety-one people have been killed in violence in the past two days.

For the second year running, insurgent attacks shattered the commemoration of Ashoura, the holiest day of the Shiite religious calendar, but the violence produced a significantly smaller death toll than the 181 killed in twin bombings in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala a year ago.

The Saturday carnage was the deadliest of any day since last month's elections for a new national assembly in which the Shiite ticket, the United Iraqi Alliance, won 48 percent of the vote in Iraq's first democratic balloting.

But they aren't American barbers, are they: Iraq's insurgency has long targeted other Iraqis - police, government leaders and national guardsmen - as a means of destabilizing the nascent democracy, but now guerrillas have taken aim at a far more unlikely line of work.

In what some describe as a Taliban-like effort to impose a militant Islamic aesthetic, extremists have been warning Iraqi barbers not to violate strict Islamic teachings by trimming or removing men's beards. Giving Western-style haircuts or removing hair in an "effeminate" manner, they say, are crimes punishable by death.

Since the threats began a little more than a month ago, at least eight barbers have been killed, and a dozen shops have been bombed, colleagues and police say.

And US hospitals are managing. No story here!: Overwhelmed by a daily influx of trauma cases from insurgent bombings and ambushes, Baghdad's antiquated and ill-equipped hospitals are nearing breaking point.

Just Friday, more than 50 Iraqis were brought to Yarmuk hospital following a string of suicide and other attacks on Shiite targets in and around Baghdad.

Yarmuk has no more than four to six ambulances available at any one time and just 13 surgical beds in its emergency department.

"Medicine is in short supply, the beds and equipment are old, and recently running water was cut for two days," said Doctor Hazem Ismail, struggling to make himself heard amid the screams of a man who suffered gunshot wounds during a robbery.

"When there is an attack, we move the other patients onto beds in the service corridor in order to free up an extra room. Sometimes, we even have to treat people on the floor," said another doctor.

Why aren't they attacking the export pipelines?: Insurgent attacks to disrupt Baghdad's supplies of crude oil, gasoline, heating oil, water and electricity have reached a degree of coordination and sophistication not seen before, Iraqi and American officials say.

The new pattern, they say, shows that the insurgents have a deep understanding of the complex network of pipelines, power cables and reservoirs feeding Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

The shadowy insurgency is a fractured movement made up of distinct groups of Sunnis, Shiites and foreign fighters, some of them aligned and some not. But the shift in the attack patterns strongly suggests that some branch of the insurgency is carrying out a systematic plan to cripple Baghdad's ability to provide basic services for its six million citizens and to prevent the fledgling government from operating.

A new analysis by some of those officials shows that the choice of targets and the timing of sabotage attacks has evolved over the past several months, shifting from economic targets to become what amounts to a siege of the capital.

More War News

Fallujah the second: U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops set up checkpoints and imposed an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on the rebellious city of Ramadi on Sunday, part of a nationwide effort to restore order after last month's election.

It was not clear if the troops of the 1st Marine expeditionary force and Iraqi soldiers, launching Operation River Blitz, would carry out a larger offensive on Ramadi, 110 km west of Baghdad, which has essentially been in guerrilla hands for most of the past year.

U.S. forces were expected to attack Ramadi at the end of last year to try to restore security before the election, but instead focused their offensive on the rebel enclave of Falluja, just 60 km to the east.

Then, U.S. Marines battled for weeks to defeat insurgents, losing more than 100 men and killing an estimated several hundred militants, the U.S. military.

U.S. figures show that since the March 2003 war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Ramadi has been one of the deadliest places for U.S. soldiers to serve, with 71 troops killed in the city alone. In the whole of Anbar, nearly 400 U.S. troops have been killed.

Our hope for the future: Iraq's special forces are billed as elite rapid intervention units which can take on the most ruthless insurgents. But as one U.S. Marine discovered just getting some of them out of bed can be a challenge.

"Its time for your morning duty. Wake up " he told an Iraqi soldier laying motionless under a blanket. "You can help us pick up the garbage and go back to sleep in an hour."

Since thousands of men deserted the army and security forces last year, U.S. and Iraqi officials have constantly praised the special forces as the cream of the units leading the battle against guerrillas.

But three days with special forces last month in the former rebel town of Falluja showed that while one unit had a disciplined Iraqi commander, it was a struggle to motivate his soldiers.

Prison riot: A bloody inmate riot three weeks ago at the biggest U.S.-run detention facility in Iraq has exposed an increasingly hard-core prison population that is confronting U.S. forces with a growing risk of prison violence, according to military officers.

U.S. troops who dealt with the clash tell of a chaotic and threatening situation. They say the extent of violence surprised them. They also say the nonlethal weapons available to them at the time for crowd control proved largely ineffectual.

Four inmates died and six were injured in the uprising the morning of Jan. 31, the most deaths in a prison disturbance since U.S. forces invaded Iraq two years ago.

Howard breaks his word: Australia announced a 50 percent increase in its troop strength in Iraq Tuesday, saying the 450 new soldiers will guard Japanese engineers and train the Iraqi army after the withdrawal of Dutch soldiers from southern Iraq.

Prime Minister John Howard said the decision to deploy extra troops, to be based in Iraq's Muthanna province, followed a request from Japan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Iraqi Politics

Perle’s crying now: Interim Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari was chosen Tuesday to be his Shiite ticket's candidate for prime minister after Ahmad Chalabi dropped his bid, senior alliance officials said.

Pressure from within the ranks of the winning United Iraqi Alliance forced the withdrawal of Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite, said Hussein al-Moussai from the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group for 38 Shiite parties.

“Unauthorized” “back channel” negotiations: While U.S. officials would not confirm the details of any specific meetings, sources in Washington told TIME that for the first time the U.S. is in direct contact with members of the Sunni insurgency, including former members of Saddam's Baathist regime.

Pentagon officials say the secret contacts with insurgent leaders are being conducted mainly by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. A Western observer close to the discussions says that "there is no authorized dialogue with the insurgents" but that the U.S. has joined "back-channel" communications with rebels. Says the observer: "There's a lot bubbling under the surface today."

Mullahs and Baathists: Militant Islamist groups that originated in Iraqi Kurdistan are responsible for most of the attacks now taking place in the northern insurgent stronghold of Mosul, while activity by nationalist insurgents linked to the former government has slowed there, senior Kurdish officials say.

The activities of Ansar al-Sunna and Ansar al-Islam, two jihadist groups with close ties, have recently overshadowed those of the nationalist insurgent cells in Mosul led by members of the former ruling Baath Party, the officials say. The nationalist fighters have quieted down since December, when the Americans increased the number of troops in Mosul in advance of the Jan. 30 elections, the Kurdish officials say.

Defacto independence: Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds have made known their determination to retain a degree of autonomy in the territory they have dominated for more than a decade. Now, after their strong performance in the elections last month, Kurdish leaders are for the first time spelling out specific demands.

From control of oil reserves to the retention of the Kurdish militia, the pesh merga, to full authority over taxation, the requested powers add up to an autonomy that is hard to distinguish from independence.

"The fact remains that we are two different nationalities in Iraq - we are Kurds and Arabs," Mr. Barzani said as he sat in a reception hall at his headquarters in Salahuddin. "If the Kurdish people agree to stay in the framework of Iraq in one form or another as a federation, then other people should be grateful to them."

Sunni perceptions: Battling the perception of many Sunnis that they will be mistreated is one of the toughest challenges for the new government, after a coalition of leading Shiite religious parties captured a slim majority of 140 seats in the new 275-member Iraqi assembly elected on January 30. A key moderating factor will be the Kurdish parties, which, with 75 seats, will be the deal-makers in the new government. They, along with Allawi's allies who won only 40 seats, will push a more secular vision.

For the first time, Iraq will have a powerful Shiite prime minister. For the traditionally dominant Sunnis, one benchmark will be how the new government handles de-Baathification. The victorious Shiite slate has pledged a renewed effort to weed out officials once loyal to Saddam's regime. Still, leading Shiite politicians are trying to allay Sunni fears by promising to pursue national reconciliation.

But when de-Baathification was first introduced by the U.S. occupation government in 2003, it involved near-blanket firings for high-level Baathists. Many cheered the ousting of former tormentors. But some Iraqis, especially Sunnis, were very critical, pointing out that many officials had joined the party simply to get a better job or earn a promotion.

Diplomat George

Get over it, guys: President Bush appealed to Europe on Monday to move beyond animosities over Iraq and join forces in encouraging democratic reforms across the Middle East. He also prodded Russia to reverse a crackdown on political dissent, demanded that Iran end its nuclear ambitions and told Syria to get out of Lebanon.

Bush did not rule out using military force in Iran, saying all options remain on the table. But, addressing widespread concerns in Europe that Iran is the next U.S. target after Iraq, Bush said: "Iran is … different from Iraq. We're in the early stages of diplomacy."

Talk is cheap: Since the U.S. helped defeat fascism in World War II, then joined with Western Europeans in holding the line against communism, the greater goals of the alliance have overwhelmed differences.

But that Cold War bargain came tumbling down with the Iraq war. The U.S. invaded without giving diplomacy the chance Europeans wanted. Since then, apart from Britain, they haven't felt obliged to help much as Iraq has deteriorated.

As Bush arrives, the conciliatory mood music is loud. At a press conference last week, Bush went out of his way to say he cares about European concerns such as world hunger, disease and the environment. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice preceded him with a charm offensive of her own. But good intentions only go so far. The real test will be actions to bridge widening gaps.

Two Unrelated Stories

Negroponte: Congress might still have to confirm the full extent of his powers, but there is little doubt that John Negroponte’s new position in Washington as George Bush’s first Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will be omnipotent.

Not only will he be in overall control of all 15 agencies involved in the war against terrorism but he will have unprecedented power in deciding and executing policy, allocating budgets and giving the authority for covert operations.

In appointing Negroponte, a career diplomat, Bush has brought a new and, to many, unwelcome twist to the US war on terror. Coming on top of his statement that he would support Israel if it mounted an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and following recent talk of enforcing regime change in Iran and Syria, it sends the signal that the US is entering a new phase in its operations against those countries suspected of sponsoring al-Qaeda and its allies.

Torture: Americans, and the world, have become accustomed to accounts like Mustafa’s in connection with Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. But his story hints at another scandal—one that has received little sustained media attention and sparked no public outrage. Over the past three years, numerous reports—from Afghan and American human rights groups, and from the Pentagon itself—have documented allegations of abuse inside U.S. compounds in Afghanistan. Hundreds of prisoners have come forward, often reluctantly, offering accounts of harsh interrogation techniques including sexual brutality, beatings, and other methods designed to humiliate and inflict physical pain. At least eight detainees are known to have died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, and in at least two cases military officials ruled that the deaths were homicides. Many of the incidents were known to U.S. officials long before the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted; yet instead of disciplining those involved, the Pentagon transferred key personnel from Afghanistan to the Iraqi prison. “Had the investigation and prosecution of abusive interrogators in Afghanistan proceeded in a timely manner,” Human Rights Watch executive director Brad Adams noted in an open letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last fall, “it is possible that…many of the abuses seen in Iraq could have been avoided.”

US Military News

Suck it up, NG and Reserves: Older, further along in their careers and often with larger families than their active-duty peers, members of the National Guard and Reserve, experts say, have been especially affected by the demands of lengthy -- and in some cases repeated -- deployments to Iraq.

And while Pittman experienced an extreme scenario, thousands of soldiers are returning home and finding a range of difficulties -- from paperwork hassles to losing their homes and businesses -- as they try to fit back into civilian life. And officials are scrambling to solve that problem before tens of thousands more troops come home.

Suck it up some more: As America enters the third year of the Iraq conflict, the deployment is taking a financial toll on part-time soldiers who make up about half of the 150,000 troops there. Forty-one percent of National Guard and Reserve soldiers are losing thousands of dollars through a "pay gap" between their civilian salary and military pay, officials said.

While part-time soldiers assume some risk of being called to active duty when they sign up, today they are serving tours far longer and more frequently than their counterparts in past wars.

"We've gone way over the top in the frequency and duration of deployments," said Robert F. Norton, a retired Army colonel and deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America. "Some of these units are on their second or third rotation."

Gee, who woulda thought: The active-duty Army is in danger of failing to meet its recruiting goals, and is beginning to suffer from manpower strains like those that have dropped the National Guard and Reserves below full strength, according to Army figures and interviews with senior officers.

For the first time since 2001, the Army began the fiscal year in October with only 18.4 percent of the year's target of 80,000 active-duty recruits already in the pipeline. That amounts to less than half of last year's figure and falls well below the Army's goal of 25 percent.

Driving the manpower crunch is the Army's goal of boosting the number of combat brigades needed to rotate into Iraq and handle other global contingencies. Yet Army officials see worrisome signs that young American men and women -- and their parents -- are growing wary of military service, largely because of the Iraq conflict.

Your tax dollars at work: Faced with a persistent demand for personnel in Iraq and elsewhere, the Army and some of the military's elite commando units have dramatically increased the size and the number of cash bonuses they are paying to lure recruits and keep experienced troops in uniform.

Last month, the Pentagon said it would begin offering bonuses of up to $150,000 for long-serving Army, Air Force and Navy special operations troops who agree to stay in the military for up to six more years. The bonuses are the largest ever paid to enlisted troops. They reflect the difficulty in replacing highly valued troops such as Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, whose training takes years and costs about $300,000 per person.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is using cash bonuses on an unprecedented scale to try to boost re-enlistments, recruiting and morale among active-duty and reservist troops. The bonuses come as the demands of three years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have raised questions in Congress about whether the U.S. military has enough troops to fight two major wars simultaneously.

Better increase the defense budget: Swelling costs for military pay and benefits threaten the Pentagon's ability to acquire new weapons systems and may not always help in holding on to the most valuable soldiers, sailors and airmen, a new report concludes.

"If the U.S. military is to continue in coming decades to recruit and retain the quality personnel it needs, it may need to make some significant changes in the way it compensates and manages its personnel," according to the study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank.

And buy some dope while you're at it: American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.

The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists. Several victims of rape and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom existing treatments are ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began last year.

(Link via SILT3. Thanks!)

Yay Seymour

An American hero: Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker won his fifth George Polk Award for his accounts of prisoner abuse in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, making him the most-honored individual in the history of the awards. Reporters from The New York Times took three of the 2004 awards, and The Associated Press was a double winner.

Hersh won the magazine reporting prize for his Abu Ghraib stories 35 years after winning the Polk award for coverage of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.


Editorial: Much of the $82 billion Mr. Bush sent to Congress last week as an emergency request should have been included in his regular budgets. In May, two months before Congress passed the current Pentagon budget, President Bush asked for a $25 billion supplemental. With the war clearly going way over budget, the administration still low-balled the 2004-05 budget.

For example, the new emergency request includes $5.7 billion to train and equip Iraqi troops, an increase of 10 times the amount sought in the 2004-05 budget. So the Pentagon is just figuring out that Iraqi troops haven't been properly trained?

The Washington Post, quoting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., explains why the Bush administration prefers operating under the emergency label. "It removes from our oversight responsibilities," the senator said, "the scrutiny that these programs deserve." An example, noted in The New York Times, is $400 million for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to hand out, solely at her discretion, to countries that have helped in Iraq.

The supplemental request does provide one fascinating insight: The insurgency has inflicted about $12 billion in damage on U.S. military equipment that must be repaired or replaced.

Comment: President George W Bush arrived in Europe on Sunday in the belief that the European Nato allies could be persuaded to 'turn away from the disagreements of the past' and open 'a new chapter' in transatlantic relations. But he is likely to go home without the concessions he wants.

He wants more help from the Europeans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and probably in other places yet to be announced; European backing for American policy on Iran (and Syria and Israel/Palestine); and no European arms sales to China. Those are Washington's priorities. There is a further list of secondary issues, commercial as well as political.

His trip will fail because he and his administration do not understand what really divides most continental European governments from the US today. At the same time, Europeans are mostly unwilling to confront these issues, because of the trouble with Washington they imply. But, unacknowledged or not, they count.

Opinion: So tell me again. What was this war about? In terms of the fight against terror, the war in Iraq has been a big loss. We've energized the enemy. We've wasted the talents of the many men and women who have fought bravely and tenaciously in Iraq. Thousands upon thousands of American men and women have lost arms or legs, or been paralyzed or blinded or horribly burned or killed in this ill-advised war. A wiser administration would have avoided that carnage and marshaled instead a more robust effort against Al Qaeda, which remains a deadly threat to America.

What is also dismaying is the way in which the administration has taken every opportunity since Sept. 11, 2001, to utilize the lofty language of freedom, democracy and the rule of law while secretly pursuing policies that are both unjust and profoundly inhumane. It is the policy of the U.S. to deny due process of law to detainees at the scandalous interrogation camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where prisoners, many of whom have turned out to be innocent, are routinely treated in a cruel and degrading manner.

The U.S. is also engaged in the reprehensible practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which terror suspects are abducted and sent off to be interrogated by foreign regimes that are known to practice torture. And the C.I.A. is operating ultrasecret prisons or detention centers overseas for so-called high-value detainees. What goes on in those places is anybody's guess.

It may be that most Americans would prefer not to know about these practices, which are nothing less than malignant cells that are already spreading in the nation's soul. Denial is often the first response to the most painful realities. But most Americans also know what happens when a cancer is ignored.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Rochester Hills, MI, soldier killed in suicide bombing in Baghdad.

Local story: Eagle Lake, TX, soldier killed by small arms fire in Mosul.

Local story: Tinley Park, IL, Marine killed in Iraq.

Local story: Weslaco, TX, Marine killed in roadside bombing in Al Anbar province.

Local story: Orlando, FL, soldier killed in Huminayah on his third tour of duty.

Notification: When Army Lt. Col. Ken Leners pulls up in front of a house and steps out of his car -- every crease in his Class A uniform pressed sharp as steel -- he knows he is the last person people want to see coming up their sidewalk.

With a couple of brief sentences, the tall, soft-spoken Iowan will end the world they knew.

Leners, with the Army's 88th Regional Readiness Command based at Fort Snelling, is a "casualty notification officer" or, more simply, a "notifier." When a soldier dies, be it in combat, an accident, suicide or some other way, Leners is among the people assigned to break the news to the victim's relatives.

"It gets harder and harder and harder as it goes on," Leners said.

Gold Stars: They call themselves Gold Star Families for Peace. Organized less than two months ago, it is part support group and part activist organization, with members united by grief and the belief that their loved ones died in a war that did not have to happen. They represent a small percentage of the families that have lost someone in Iraq -- 50 families out of more than 1,450.

The fallen soldiers' obituaries indicate that many of their families continue to support the war. But the Gold Star Families say they support the soldiers because their mission is to speak out to help bring them home and minimize the human cost of the war.

They worry that as the war verges on entering its third year, the public seems to be losing interest in it. When Sheehan tells people she lost a son in the war, she said, she is sometimes asked, "Which war?"

Another casualty: He never was inclined to talk much about the damage, at least not to his wife and children. They knew -- it was obvious -- that a land mine in Vietnam took large portions of both of the Rev. Alan McLean's legs 38 years ago.

They knew that the single detonation in 1967 triggered ongoing waves of psychological temblors when McLean heard helicopters or when war footage appeared on the news. They knew that the decorated veteran was profoundly distressed by the Iraq war, an anxiety that ran as deep as the former Marine's patriotism.

But they didn't know about the .45-caliber pistol. Or the suicide note in his laptop, written but never printed out, seven days before he used that pistol. In it, McLean, the popular rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church here, apologized to his wife, Betsy, and his children for not being stronger. The war in Iraq, he said, unbearably amplified his nightmares.

He said he'd had enough.


Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005 RIP .


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