Tuesday, March 15, 2005

War News for Tuesday, March 15, 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: Kurdish cameraman for satellite channel KurdSat killed by gunmen in northern Iraq. Four civilians wounded by suicide car bomb in Youssifiyah. Five bodyguards of the Health Ministry’s director general wounded by roadside bomb. Iraqi army captain assassinated by gunmen in Abu Ghraib district.

Bring ‘em on: One child killed and four people, including one policeman, wounded in suicide bomb attack in northeastern Baghdad that also killed the bomber.

Bring ‘em on: Three civilians, a woman and two children, inadvertently killed, and two others wounded, in crossfire when a US fired on suspected gunmen in Mosul. Five insurgents killed in the same incident. (Update on incident reported yesterday.)

Bring ‘em on: At least four people wounded in car bombing near Sunni mosque in Baghdad.

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

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed in suicide bombing in Telafar.

Bring ‘em on: Four civilians killed, at least seven wounded, including two police officers, in car bombing on Baghdad’s airport road. Unconfirmed reports indicate that some US troops were also wounded and that when additional US troops arrived to evacuate the wounded, a second car bomb exploded, wounding more US soldiers.

Vehicle accident: One US soldier killed in vehicle accident in Ramadi.

Potemkin government: Kurdish and Shiite leaders agreed Monday to convene Iraq's new parliament this week even if they fail to iron out some wrinkles in their deal to form a coalition government.

The Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance and a Kurdish coalition, which won the two biggest blocks of seats in Jan. 30 elections, agreed last week to form a coalition government with Islamic Dawa party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister. In return, Jalal Talabani will become Iraq's first Kurdish president.

Frustration: With Iraqis increasingly concerned about a security vacuum, the man who is expected to become the next prime minister on Saturday defended the winning blocs, which have not formed a government nearly six weeks after millions of people risked their lives to vote. In an interview, Ibrahim Jafari, the nominee of the slate that won the most votes in the Jan. 30 election, said it could take two more weeks to close a deal.

Shopkeeper Mohammed Saddoun stood in front of his storefront grocery last week with several friends, lamenting the delay. "I am not only frustrated, I am ready to burst with anger," Saddoun said. "We put our souls in the … palms of our hands and went to the ballot centers. You remember the threats there were that they would kill people who voted. "Well, if they cannot form a government, then I think they are not qualified to manage the country's affairs. This vacuum of power increases the number of terrorist acts, it opens the way for the terrorists."

Into the sewer: With hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars pledged to overhaul Baghdad's infrastructure, city officials promise a clean and shiny capital. But so far the battered and obsolete infrastructure works little better, and in some cases far worse, than it did under Hussein. Residents wonder whether the American money has gone into the sewer instead of the sewer system. "People are frustrated," said Abdul Munem Adhem of Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, which even on dry days has a fair bit of raw sewage splashing around. "They see the municipal authorities doing nothing. They know no one's going to solve the problems because the authorities just don't work."

Kirkuk disputes: Mr. Ahmed's plight encapsulates the growing struggle over Kirkuk, a drab city of 700,000 on the windswept northern plains. Efforts to restore Kurds to their jobs and property without disenfranchising Arabs are fraught with the possibility of igniting a civil war. The debate has so inflamed passions that Kurdish and Shiite Arab negotiators trying to form a coalition government in Baghdad may have to put off any real decision on Kirkuk's future.

In April 2004, the Americans created the Iraqi Property Claims Commission to rule on restitution. By the end of 2004, the commission had received 10,044 claims from Kirkuk's province, Tamin. The commission's statistics show that judges have decided only 25 cases.

The head of the commission said in an interview that only two judges, both Kurds, were working on cases in Kirkuk. The commission has been unable to assign more judges because Kurdish political parties insist that only Kurds review the claims, limiting the number of qualified people, said the commission head, who declined to be identified by name because one colleague had been assassinated and another kidnapped.

Anti-Jordanian demonstration: The Jordanian Embassy was broken into and its flag torn down yesterday as thousands of Shiites protested after hearing reports that relatives of an alleged Jordanian suicide bomber who killed 125 people celebrated him as a martyr.

Hundreds protested in Baghdad, and thousands took to the streets of Najaf, spiritual home of the Shiites.

Anti-Jordanian sentiment has spread since Iraqis read newspaper reports that Raid al-Banna blew himself up beside people lining up for jobs in the Shiite town of Hillah on Feb. 28 in the single bloodiest attack in postwar Iraq.

New viceroy: President Bush has named Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador to Afghanistan and a long-time national security adviser, as the new US ambassador to Baghdad, administration officials announced Thursday.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American citizen, will replace John Negroponte, who is said to have found the job so “aggravating” he left after less than a year there. Last month, Bush named Negroponte as America’s first director of National Intelligence.

Shrinking coalition: The first group of the Ukrainian peacekeepers stationed in Iraq is expected to return to Ukraine on Tuesday under the program to cut down the Ukrainian contingent in that country.

Interfax earlier reported, citing the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, that about 140 Ukrainian servicemen are expected to arrive in Mykolayiv on two defense ministry planes later on Tuesday.

Iraqi Security Forces

Petraeus blows smoke: In Baghdad, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, in overall command of training Iraqi security forces, told reporters that 145,000 Iraqis are now trained and equipped, although he noted that these are not all equally capable in combat.

Asked how many are elite fighters, Petraeus replied, "It certainly has got to be on the order of 50,000 or so at this point." He described those as being "in the fight directly" against the insurgents. Later, Petraeus said he preferred not to provide an estimate, saying his 50,000 figure was a "totally off-the-cuff number."

In Washington, defense officials told a House panel that Iraqi security forces who are trained and equipped now number 142,472.

There are this many (except for the ones that aren’t there): Iraqi security forces who are trained and equipped now number 142,472, defense officials told a House panel Monday. Congressional investigators criticized the number as unreliable.

"Without reliable reporting data, a more capable Iraqi force and stronger Iraqi leadership, the Department of Defense faces difficulties in implementing its strategy to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq," the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in written testimony.

As of March 7, defense officials said, there were 81,889 trained and equipped police, highway patrol and other forces in the Ministry of Interior Forces and 60,583 troops in the Ministry of Defense Forces.

But the GAO said Monday the number of police forces is unreliable because it includes police who may be absent from duty without authorization. "The Ministry of the Interior does not receive consistent and accurate reporting from the police forces around the country," the GAO written testimony said.

Damn that cultural relativism: Iraqi security forces, whose buildup is seen as the linchpin of the US exit strategy, remain crippled by poor discipline, questionable loyalties and a rate of absenteeism possibly reaching into tens of thousands, US congressional investigators said.

But a senior military official downplayed the importance of the findings by the Government Accountability Office, saying that high numbers of Iraqi police officers absent without leave was "a cultural thing."

Our Creeping Stalinism

16 million secrets in 2004: In Fall River, Mass., last year, the mayor wanted to find out more about a plan to store liquid natural gas in his city. The substance, if released, can cause a catastrophic explosion, and he wanted to be sure that safeguards were adequate to protect the public.

A 1966 federal law is supposed guarantee access to that information. But so far, he and other residents have received nothing but documents blacked out to the point of uselessness. The citizens of Fall River, it seems, will just have to take their chances.

Welcome to the world of post-9/11 secrecy, where bureaucrats are turning the notion of open government on its head. Federal, state and local officials are clamping down on information that would have been accessible just four years ago.

In 2004, the government created 16 million new secrets, 75% more than in the year ending in September 2001. Sixteen million! And each new "classification decision" can involve many documents.

That level of secrecy itself poses a security threat. Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, which works to open records, said the system is so busy classifying that it can no longer "tell the real threat from the decoys."

Fake news: A former U.S. Marine who participated in capturing ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said the public version of his capture was fabricated.

Ex-Sgt. Nadim Abou Rabeh, of Lebanese descent, was quoted in the Saudi daily al-Medina Wednesday as saying Saddam was actually captured Friday, Dec. 12, 2003, and not the day after, as announced by the U.S. Army.

"We captured him after fierce resistance during which a Marine of Sudanese origin was killed," he said.

Rule of men, not law: What's especially interesting here, however, is the way in which some of those plea bargains seem to have been achieved. According to defense attorneys, the defendants were threatened with the prospect of being classified as "unlawful combatants," the new Bush-administration-defined status which entails imprisonment without end as well as the loss of the right to a lawyer and to communicate with anyone in the outside world. Nor did these appear to be idle threats. There were frightful precedents. The administration had seen no reason for restraint, for example, when, in 2002, it labeled Jose Padilla and Yasser Esam Hamdi, both American citizens, as "enemy combatants" and placed them in military detention and (so far) beyond the reach of the law.

The use of such "leverage" -- itself completely outside the normal justice system -- would at any other moment have qualified as an obvious kind of extra-legal coercion. While plea bargains are certainly useful tools with which prosecutors can obtain information, the question needs to be asked: If there is coercion, can whatever information is obtained be trusted? Or are we here facing a very pale version of the more directly coercive and illegal methods used against alleged terrorists at our detention centers in Guantanamo and other places not on American soil.

The Balance Sheet

Profit: Pentagon auditors have questioned more than $108 million in costs claimed by Halliburton on its $875 million contract to provide fuel in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, including a payment of $27.5 million to transport $82,000 worth of propane, according to records released yesterday.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency also faulted Halliburton subsidiary KBR for failing to provide the records necessary to evaluate spending on the contract. The data KBR gave the auditors didn't match the company's internal accounting records, the agency said.

Loss: Michael Warren, a native of Port Jefferson, L.I., is suing International Business Machines Corp. for firing him because since 9/11 he's been called up too often by the Army Reserves.

Today, Warren serves his country in a time of war as he wages a second David vs. Goliath war against one of the giants of corporate America.

Profit: A U.S. military contractor in Iraq is at the center of a controversy over how American-forces disbursed and accounted for hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq.

The firm, Custer Battles is being charged in a lawsuit of defrauding the Coalition Provisional Authority of tens of millions of dollars during work in Iraq, which included securing Baghdad International Airport.

Two former employees sued the company last year under the False Claims Act, seeking to recover damages on behalf of the US government. They allege that Custer Battles repeatedly billed the occupation authorities for nonexistent services or at grossly inflated prices. A few months after they filed the suit, the Justice Department declined to intervene on the whistle-blowers' behalf.

Loss: President Bush stated that we would treat Iraqi oil money as a solemn trust to be disbursed solely for the benefit of the Iraqi people. Now nine billion dollars of Iraqi funds are missing. Over forty cents ($.40) of every Iraqi dollar supervised by the United States is unaccounted for. Bremer says "Western" accounting methods were impossible in Iraq because it was a war zone. When Bremer arrived in May 2003 Baghdad was quiet. President Bush had just proclaimed "Mission Accomplished," the roads were safe and violence was at a minimum. The fact that the United States has lost forty cents of every Iraqi dollar Bremer administered is a disgrace. Why did President Bush award Bremer a "Medal of Freedom" for this mass incompetence and corruption? Where is the missing money? The magnitude of the defalcated funds staggers. Nine billion dollars? Millions of dollars paid out in cash to suspect characters?

Profit: Excess billing for postwar fuel imports to Iraq by the Halliburton Co. totaled more than $108 million, according to a report by Pentagon auditors that was completed last fall but has never been officially released to the public or to Congress.

In one case, according to the report, the company claimed that it had paid more than $27 million to transport liquefied petroleum gas that it had purchased in Kuwait for just $82,000 -- a fee the auditors tartly dismissed as "illogical."

The report, by the Defense Contract Audit Agency, was one of nine audits involving a subsidiary of Halliburton: Kellogg, Brown & Root. The audits were completed in October 2004, the month before the presidential election. But the administration has kept all of them confidential despite repeated requests from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Loss: On Oct. 14, as Eric Cagle drove up to an Iraqi national guard compound in Huwijah, northern Iraq, a roadside bomb detonated, shredding one side of his Humvee.

Shrapnel knifed through his cheek under his left eye and embedded in his brain. For the Arizona man, a 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry "Wolfhound" out of Schofield Barracks, it was just the start of many bad things to come.

In surgery, his carotid artery burst, leading to a massive stroke. An infection caused swelling, and doctors were forced to remove the right side of his brain.

His right eye is sutured shut to allow an ulceration of the cornea to heal, and his left eye has only a sliver of sight.

Of the more than 270 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and U.S. Army, Hawai'i, wounded in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, Cagle has the unenviable distinction of being the most seriously injured.

Profit: The world's major oil companies are dusting off their Baghdad Rolodexes as Iraq's political factions move closer to forming a new government.

Through 15 years of conflict and sanctions, major oil companies never lost sight of Iraq's massive reserves -- the world's second-largest after Saudi Arabia. Efforts to form the nation's first elected government in more than half a century are making the prospect of major contracts more tantalizingly real, even if that government could still be more than a year away.

Loss: You have to stand a ways back, but from a certain angle these look like the lucky ones. In any other war, they would be dead, having bled to death on the battlefield or died in a hospital from wounds so grievous that their armor could not protect them and the doctors could not save them. In World War II, 1 in 3 wounded soldiers died; in Vietnam, 1 in 4. In the Iraq war, the rate is 1 in 8. As of last week, just over 1,500 U.S. military personnel had died in Iraq and 11,285 had been wounded. The Pentagon does not keep counts of dead or wounded Iraqis. Human-rights groups and academics have tried to estimate the number of Iraqi deaths, speculating it could range from 15,000 to 100,000. No one has even tried to guess the number of Iraqis who have been wounded.

Every war mutilates in its own way, leaves its distinctive marks. In this war, unlike battles past, only 16% of injuries were caused by gunshots, according to a study; 69% were from explosions--the roadside booby traps, the car bombs, the rocket-propelled grenades. The vast majority of injuries are to arms and legs left vulnerable even as body armor is protecting vital organs. The amputation rate of 6% of wounded soldiers is twice that of earlier wars. But in addition, doctors are seeing new injuries, some of them inconspicuous compared with the shredded flesh of bombing victims. Traumatic brain injury occurs when the shock from an explosion damages neurological fibers. Soldiers may survive a blast with scarcely a cut, only to find over time that they suffer coordination and memory loss, dizziness, insomnia. Some have to learn to walk again--or to recognize their wives and children.

Profit: Soon after interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi took office last summer, he announced plans to create a tank division for the new Iraqi army. The $283-million project was supposed to display the power of Iraq's new government. But under the guidance of a task force overseen by one of America's top generals, it has become another chapter in a rebuilding process marked by accusations of corruption.

The case raises concerns about the U.S. commitment to accountability in projects involving Iraqi money. The inspector general for Iraq's reconstruction recently criticized the failure of the former U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to properly account for $8.8 billion in contracts issued using Iraqi funds.

Loss: In wartime, the silence of the American dead is a vacuum that the powerful in Washington try to fill. While loved ones are left with haunting memories and excruciating sadness, the most amplified political voices use predictable rhetoric to talk about ultimate sacrifices. But the wounded do not disappear. They can speak for themselves. And many more will be seen and heard in this decade. Thanks to improvements in protective gear and swift medical treatment, more of America's wounded are surviving - and returning home with serious permanent injuries.

This month the Defense Department released data showing that the official number of U.S. troops "wounded in action" in Iraq has gone over the 11,000 mark. Notably, 95 percent of those Americans were wounded after May 1, 2003. In a bizarre echo of President George W. Bush's top-gun aircraft-carrier speech on that day, the Pentagon still asserts that the U.S. casualties since then have occurred "after the end of major combat operations."

Profit: Median CEO pay at the 37 largest defense contractors rose 79 percent from 2001 to 2002, while overall CEO pay climbed only 6 percent, according to a new report from United for a Fair Economy, More Bucks for the Bang: CEO Pay at Top Defense Contractors, by Chris Hartman and David Martin.

Median pay was 45 percent higher in 2002 at defense contractors than at the 365 large companies surveyed by Business Week magazine. The typical U.S. CEO made $3.7 million in 2002, while the typical defense industry CEO got $5.4 million.

The jump in median defense contractor CEO pay far exceeded the increase in defense spending, which rose 14 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Compared with an army private’s pay of $19,585, the average CEO at a major defense contractor made 577 times as much in 2002, or $11,297,548. This is also more than 28 times as much as the Commander in Chief’s salary of $400,000.

Loss: They were prepared to die, even the truck drivers and supply clerks; any American who sets foot in Iraq must be. They made out wills, as the military requires, and left behind letters and videos for their families. The families in turn prepared for the day when they might open the door to find a chaplain on the other side. In military families the notion of duty is not confined to the battlefield. On the morning that 14-year-old Rohan Osbourne learned that his mother, Pamela, had been killed in a mortar attack on her Army base, his father dropped him off as usual at Robert M. Shoemaker High School, where three quarters of the students are the children of soldiers from nearby Fort Hood, Texas. "I might not get a lot of work done today, ma'am," Rohan politely explained to his teacher. "My mommy died yesterday in Iraq."

Veteran’s Affairs

VA health care: U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., chairman of House Veterans Affairs Committee, says the medical and rehabilitation needs of a new generation of war veterans leave him more certain than ever that Congress erred in 1996 when it opened VA health care to any veteran willing to pay modest fees.

"While some veterans organizations like to create a theme, that 'a veteran is a veteran and there is no difference,' I disagree," Buyer said.

Buyer's comments came days after his committee voted to impose an enrollment fee of $230 to $500 a year on 2.4 million veterans in priority categories 7 and 8, those who are not poor and have no service-connected disability.

In January, Republican leaders removed Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., as committee chairman for being too close to veterans groups, too supportive of expanding benefits and too dismissive of Bush administration plans to slow VA spending and impose fees on low-priority veterans.

The MTV War

A lot of pictures: Today, video cameras are lightweight and digital technology has cut out the need for processing. Having captured a firefight on video, a soldier can create a movie and distribute it via e-mail, uncensored by the military. With editing software such as Avid and access to Internet connections on military bases here, U.S. soldiers are creating fast-paced, MTV-style music videos using images from actual firefights and killings. Troops often carry personal cameras and video equipment in battle. On occasion, official military camera crews, known as "Combat Camera" units, follow the troops on raids and patrol. Although the military uses that footage for training and public affairs, it also finds its way to personal computers and commercial websites. The result: an abundance of photographs and video footage depicting mutilation, death and destruction that soldiers collect and trade like baseball cards. "I have a lot of pictures of dead Iraqis — everybody does," said Spc. Jack Benson, 22, also stationed near Baqubah. He has collected five videos by other soldiers and is working on his own. By adding music, soldiers create their own cinema verite of the conflict. Although many are humorous or patriotic, others are gory, like McCollough's favorite. "It gets the point across," he said. "This isn't some jolly freakin' peacekeeping mission."

Take Action Now

Stop the funding: The beginning of the end of the Vietnam War came only when Congress refused to continue funding it. This week, the House of Representatives will vote on the president's request for $82 billion to pay for the ongoing military occupation of Iraq. It's time for Congress to stand up to the president and his advisors and say that there will be no more money for Iraq without a clear strategy for withdrawal.

Since the U.S. invaded Iraq with a preemptive attack on March 19, 2003, over 1500 service members have been killed and more than 11,000 have been wounded in action. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the continuing occupation is costing taxpayers an average of $9 billion per month at a time when the U.S. does not have enough money to provide for basic human needs at home.

Urge your member of Congress to insist on a clear exit strategy before approving the $82 billion supplemental funding bill for the Iraq quagmire.


An interview with Scott Ritter

Comment: The top U.S. general in Iraq, Army gen. George Casey, has stated that the US had no indication that Italian officials gave advance notice of the route of the vehicle in which Giuliana Sgrena and slain officer Nicola Calipari were riding. As a former Air Force intelligence officer, I would argue that this statement is absolutely ludicrous. Based upon intelligence collection capabilities of even 3 decades ago, it is reasonable to assume that the US intercepted all phone communication between Italian agents in Iraq and Rome, monitored such traffic in real time and knew precisely where Sgrena's vehicle was at all times, without advanced notice being provided by Italian officials.

Sgrena, herself, has provided photographic evidence of the use of cluster bombs and the wounding of children there. I have searched in vain to find these reports in any major corporate media. The American population, for the most part, is ignorant of what its military is doing in their name and must remain so in order for the US to wage its war against the Iraqi people.

Information, based upon intelligence or the reporting of brave journalists, may be the most important weapon in the war in Iraq. From this point of view, the vehicle in which Nicola and Giuliana were riding wasn't simply a vehicle carrying a hostage to freedom. It is quite reasonable to assume, given the immorality of war and of this war in particular, that it was considered a military target.

Comment: The General Accounting Office released a study on February 17, 2005 revealing the pitfalls and the convoluted process required by our wounded upon returning stateside, further illuminated by reservists before the House Government Reform Committee. According to the GAO, the problem originated with the obsolete Active Duty Medical Extension program, set up in 2000. It was not staffed to accommodate the vast number of presently mobilized reservists. Not only has there been an unprecedented influx of continually returning reservists given the ongoing War on Terror, but many, many wounded who require aftercare.

However, unlike active-duty soldiers or non-reservist personnel returning to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, MD, wounded reservists kept in “medical holdover” (which is the limbo status patients are kept in while awaiting determination of their medical case or if they will be cleared to resume their duty with their military unit) often lose salary as well as medical benefits.

Whether one agrees or not with our military participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, we owe more to our troops and their families. The status-quo from our legislators and from our governmental institutions should no longer remain as an acceptable option. And to reward our troops with bureaucratic ‘friendly fire’ upon their return is simply tantamount to a slap in the face for those who have served our nation so proudly and so well.

Opinion: Did I miss something? Where did all the “not since Rome” bombast, talk of America’s “benevolent global hegemony,” “Pax Americana,” and the New World Order disappear to? Whatever happened to the “jodhpurs and pith helmets” crowd?

Just a year ago, in the Irving Kristol Lecture at the annual AEI dinner, columnist Charles Krauthammer rhapsodized about America’s “global dominion” and our having “acquired the largest seeming empire in the history of the world.”

We have “overwhelming global power,” said Krauthammer. We are history’s “designated custodians of the international system.” When the Soviet Union fell, “something new was born, something utterly new—a unipolar world dominated by a single superpower unchecked by any rival and with decisive reach in every corner of the globe. This is a staggering new development in history, not seen since the fall of Rome. ... Even Rome is no model for what America is today.”

Well, reality does have a way of intruding upon one’s fantasies, and, looking at our world today, it would seem multipolarism is making quite a comeback.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Mechanicsville, IA, soldier killed in Talafar.

Local story: Glendale, AZ, soldier killed near Ramadi.

Local story: Newark, DE, soldier killed in roadside bombing in Ramadi.

Local story: Rochester, NY, Marine killed in Iraq is remembered through a scholarship program.


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