Sunday, March 13, 2005

War News for Sunday, March 13, 2005 Bring 'em on: Two US contractors from Blackwater Security Consulting killed by roadside bomb in Hilla. Bring 'em on: Three Iraqi policemen killed during funeral procession in Mosul. Bring 'em on: Oil pipeline blown up by insurgents north of Baghad. Ukraine begins withdrawal: Ukraine has begun pulling troops out of Iraq as part of a phased withdrawal of its complete 1,650-man contingent, the sixth largest in the U.S.-led coalition. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said 150 of its troops from a company based near As Suwayrah left Iraq on Saturday, according to The Associated Press, starting a phased pullout ordered earlier this month by President Viktor Yushchenko. The pullout is to be completed by October, the Defense Ministry said. Still no deal: Talks between Kurdish leaders and a Shi'ite bloc to form the next Iraqi government have collapsed three days before Iraq's first fully elected parliament meets, senior members of the two sides said on Sunday. The two groups have between them the two-thirds majority needed to form the government and their failure to reach a deal could leave Iraq in political limbo and further delay efforts to improve security and rebuild the country. Iran Stronger Action: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said Friday that if Iran doesn't live up to its "international obligations to forego a nuclear program, then obviously we'll have to take stronger action." Cheney made the comment in an interview with Fox News on the same day the U.S.-backed economic incentives that three European nations want to offer Iran in exchange for giving up any nuclear weapons ambitions. Cheney told Fox News that Iran doesn't need an "enrichment process." He said the U.S. is concerned the Iranians want an "enrichment process so that they can enrich fuel far beyond what's required for a civilian reactor to levels that would give them the capability to build a weapon." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had urged Tehran to take advantage of the opportunity. Part of the agreement with the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany is that Iran could face U.N. Security Council sanctions if it doesn't meet its international commitments. Attack Plan Authorized: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet reportedly gave "initial authorization" last month to a plan for an air and ground attack on Iran if diplomatic efforts do not halt the Islamic republic's nuclear program, according to a report in London's Sunday Times. The newspaper reported that the Israel Defense Forces have built a model of Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant in order to practice assaults on the facility. Israel would reportedly make use of F-15 fighter planes and teams from the Israel Air Force's elite Shaldag unit in the attack. According to the Sunday Times, the Israeli plans have been discussed with the United States who reportedly said they would not block an Israeli attack on Iran if international diplomatic efforts fail to halt the nuclear projects. Iran snubs offers: But Asefi said "the remedying of some of the faults and the addressing some of the restrictions that were imposed on the Islamic republic of Iran without any cause will not prevent Iran from getting its legitimate right. "The restrictions regarding (aircraft) spare parts that were of no military use should have not been imposed from the beginning, and lifting them is not an incentive," he said. "Getting into the WTO is the right of all countries of the world," he added, complaining that "whereas (US Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice talks about the lifting of some of the restrictions, Bush extends economic sanctions against Iran." Special Reports The mirage of reconstruction: Reinoud Leenders, Middle East analyst with the Brussels-based think-tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), and an author of the ICG's September report on reconstruction in Iraq, says, "It's a number game. Basically the only thing that matters is what has been spent and at the end of the day they have spent very little." He says the most accurate figure representing the amount spent by Washington in Iraq is $1.5 billion, a figure that was given by the US State Department. While $1.5 billion is far less than the figures quoted by the US spokesman, what makes this figure seem more paltry is the estimate of Leenders and others that 40% or more of the $1.5 billion figure was spent by foreign companies contracted to do the work on insurance and security. The US response to criticism over the slow progress of reconstruction in Iraq is that lack of security has hindered projects. But observers say this argument does not hold water either. "Security is not an excuse. There are many parts of the country that are relatively secure," Isam al-Khafaji, the director of Iraq Revenue Watch, a department of the Open Society Institute, said. Critics of the reconstruction plan say the exclusion that many Iraqis felt from the process exacerbated security problems. Iraqi firms were awarded few contracts, and foreign companies preferred to employ foreign workers rather than locals. The Open Society Institute report issued in September said Iraqi firms received just 2% of the $1.5 billion contracts that were paid with using Iraqi oil revenues that were managed by the occupation authorities. "As far as I can see, the Iraqis just got peanuts," ICG's Leenders said in reference to the amount of reconstruction money that found its way to Iraqi pockets. The A4 War: Britain went to war on the basis of a single piece of paper setting out the legality of invading Iraq, the country's most senior civil servant has revealed. The Government's case for war appeared to be in tatters last night after the Cabinet Secretary admitted that a parliamentary answer from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, was the final legal opinion on the case for war. In an astonishing admission, Sir Andrew Turnbull disclosed that no "full" legal advice on an invasion of Iraq has ever existed. He confirmed that a short parliamentary answer by the Attorney General was the "definitive advice" on the war sent to the Prime Minister and that "there is no other version". The renewed doubts over the legality of the conflict are a severe setback to Tony Blair, who was hoping that Iraq would fade as a general election issue. MPs had assumed that the parliamentary answer was a précis of a longer, more detailed legal opinion and ministers had come under intense pressure from the media to publish the "full" advice under the Freedom of Information Act. The revelation astonished MPs. Sir Andrew was cross examined about the existence of full legal advice in a Commons committee after The Independent revealed Mr Blair may have breached the prime ministerial code by failing to provide the full legal advice to the Cabinet. Yesterday The Independent reported that questions were being raised by MPs about the existence of legal advice. Satisfactory Justice? Insurgents convicted of serious weapons and explosives offences in Iraq are escaping with jail terms of as little as six months under the country's new court system. To the dismay of both coalition forces and the new Iraqi government, people found to have hoarded or transported huge stashes of bombs, machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades are frequently being treated as leniently as drunk drivers and pickpockets.Concern is now growing among United States forces that the country's new central criminal court, made up of many judges from the Saddam Hussein era, is being lenient to demonstrate its independence from the coalition. Some Shia judges have even complained privately that their Sunni colleagues are giving out light sentences to Sunni defendants to show a degree of sympathy with the insurgents. While coalition commanders are anxious to be seen to respect the judges' independence, a senior US officer involved in liaising with the court told The Telegraph of his concern that it did not pose a deterrent. Lt Col Barry Johnson, a spokesman for US military detainee operations in Iraq, said: "There are times when the sentences are a source of frustration for the soldiers involved, but we have committed ourselves to re-specting the independence of the court and the decisions it makes. But this is a frustration shared by other parts of the Iraqi government." Checkpoints: The word here is that although Calipari had briefed the Americans about his mission, he withheld the details, partly because the Americans disapprove of paying off kidnappers, but more importantly because of the essential factor that foreign media coverage of Iraq usually ignores: the Iraqis. If the Italians paid a ransom, Calipari committed a serious crime in a sovereign state fighting desperately to establish the rule of law and defeat internal terrorism. Though we may never know exactly what happened, I find it hard to believe that the Army's 3rd Infantry Division just opened fire at a car being driven in a normal, unthreatening manner. The realities of checkpoints in Iraq make random shooting at responsible drivers very unlikely. I'm currently reporting a story on a unit of American soldiers. They're drilled with a stopwatch in the task of setting up a checkpoint -- a "serpentine" of concertina wire, at least three orange cones and, farthest out, a warning sign. These warning barriers are never forgotten, because soldiers are scared of car bombs. The farther out a car has to slow down, the better. You will never see disagreement within a platoon over this basic fact of self-preservation. Long before the Italian incident, orders had come down that deadly force was to be used only as a last resort -- after the failure of obstacles, then flares or smoke bombs or "star clusters," then warning shots, and finally efforts to take out the oncoming vehicle's engine block. These procedures are real. I have seen our soldiers' reluctance to use force and felt the fear it brings. Car bombs cause 30 percent of military casualties. The checkpoint procedures, which the military calls "fire discipline" and "escalation of force," are designed to prevent soldiers from killing innocent Iraqis who somehow lack the information or common sense to slow down when they approach. Over the period of Sgrena's incarceration, I stood with American troops at various checkpoints between Fallujah and Ramadi in the Sunni heartland of Iraq's Wild West, an area that receives more than 10 times the national average of attacks on American forces. As I finished writing the previous sentence I heard the announcement over the base radio that two members of the combat team I was with had been killed -- by a suicide bomber driving up to a checkpoint. I didn't see that explosion, but I heard it; I had spent much of the day at another U.S. checkpoint not far away. "Sitting ducks, that's all we are," a 20-year-old combat medic from Texas said to me as we watched Iraqi vehicles thread past the "Alert" sign and through the orange cones and concertina wire of a checkpoint last week. Later, when I asked the sergeant in charge of the platoon if he was enjoying himself, he responded, "Just hanging around waiting to get blown up." This unit has suffered very high casualties, most from car bombs. If any soldiers in Iraq could be expected to be jumpy and trigger-happy, it is the grunts of central Anbar province. But as I watched them run their checkpoint, both before and after the Sgrena incident, they were thoroughly professional. Driving around this country with Iraqis, including people with quite a lot to hide, I've encountered scores of American checkpoints. Just about everyone knows what to do: You do a slow U-turn and go the other way, you find a route around, or you drive through slowly and wave at the polite 20-year-old from Nashville. In a very small number of cases, one side makes a mistake and something truly tragic happens. As a foreigner here, I feel threatened by the possibility that the Italian government may have rewarded the kidnappers. But Iraq is not about us foreigners. It is about Iraqis. And it is Iraqis who suffer most from kidnappings and from the transportation of the artillery shells and anti-tank mines that become roadside devices and car bombs. Kidnapping Iraqis has become an almost routine business transaction here. Local businessmen fetch sums of up to $250,000, while the child of an ordinary family might go for $5,000 or even $1,000. It happens all the time, all over the country. Iraqi Christians, being more prosperous than most, are especially victimized by this growing crime. But since the Sgrena shooting, I've already sensed even greater reluctance to set up these dangerous checkpoints. "The soldiers don't like doing this, the NCOs don't like it, even the colonel doesn't like it," a young officer told me the other day. "These checkpoints don't happen as much as they used to." Opinion Demcracy in the Middle East: After narrowly surviving a hard fought battle for re-election in November, George W. Bush found himself besieged over Iraq, with little to show but chaos and mounting costs — thousands of military casualties and billions of dollars — for the US foray. Commentators of all stripes, left to right and including neoconservatives, were highlighting the alleged shortcomings of the ambitious White House plan to reshape the Middle East. Indeed, the Arab democratic domino theory, embraced by the president and envisioned by neocon stalwarts such as Paul Wolfowitz, was deemed grossly naïve, if not catastrophic. Bush was supposed to be at his political apogee, but Iraq-related complications threatened to make him a lame duck at the infancy of his second term. Flash forward a few months, and Bush has more than rebounded, at least on the surface and in the eyes of the American press. First, Bush delivered a lofty, idealistic inaugural address, followed by a pointed State of the Union address. Both nationally televised speeches highlighted the president’s ambitious domestic and international agenda. Critics and plaudits alike pondered the feasibility of overhauling Social Security and the tax code, as others, including the influential New York Times and Washington Post, concluded his vision of democracy and reform in the Arab world was heavy on rhetoric, but light on substance. Regardless, Bush basked in the limelight, and was able to convince most that his agenda focused on serious issues that — proscribed remedy aside — needed addressing. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq did shake up the region, as did the Sept.11 terrorist attacks. But it remains to be seen what will ultimately emerge in the Middle East, or whether what does will be palatable to the United States. For now, Bush should enjoy the sunshine; but he must be guarded. His decision to embrace such a broad agenda at home and abroad — an agenda over which he has only limited control — could quickly turn day into night once again. Bitter Irony: Many Iraqis found bitter irony in President Bush's insistence last week that Syria must withdraw from Lebanon before it holds elections, for Iraqis have lived with foreign tanks in their streets for two years and voted barely a month ago under the watchful eye of the U.S. Army. "He must have forgotten that his army is occupying Iraq," said Sa'ad Abdul Aziz, 21, an engineering student at Baghdad University. "What about the Republican Palace that they are using as a U.S. Embassy?" While many here were glad to see Saddam Hussein driven from power by the U.S.-led invasion, almost two years later they bristle at the sight of American soldiers patrolling their streets and are deeply embarrassed that the U.S. embassy occupies Iraq's version of the White House. As Bush harped all week on the theme that democracy could not be free in Lebanon under the occupation of Syria's troops, jokes made the rounds at Iraqi universities, and some who have demanded the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops found themselves quoting Bush, a man they never thought they'd agree with. "America should get out of Iraq immediately and without conditions, just like it is asking neighboring Syria to withdraw from the Lebanese Republic," said Sheikh Nasir Al-Saidi, imam of a mosque in the restive Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, in a front-page article Saturday in the newspaper Azzaman. Blogwatch Steve Clemons reports on the progress (or lack thereoff) of Bolton's nomination as US Ambassador to the UN.


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