Tuesday, March 22, 2005

War News for Tuesday, March 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: Twenty-six Iraqi militants killed, seven wounded and seven US troops wounded in clash southeast of Baghdad. (Update to story posted yesterday)

Bring ‘em on: Two militants killed, two wounded in two separate incidents in Salaheddin province. One Iraqi soldier killed, four wounded when their vehicle was struck by an RPG in western Baghdad. One Iraqi soldier killed and one wounded in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad. One Iraqi soldier killed in mortar attack on army base in Sherqat. About a dozen civilians wounded in Samarra car bombing. Iraqi driver seriously wounded while the head of Baghdad’s Kazimiyah neighborhood police force escaped injury in an assassination attempt by gunmen.

Bring ‘em on: Four civilians killed in roadside bombing that targeted a nearby US patrol in Mosul. US casualties figures not available. Seventeen militants killed and fourteen captured after they ambushed a convoy of Iraqi security forces in Mosul that included the city’s top security official. A police spokesman stated that no Iraqi troops were injured in the attack by militants carrying mortars, RPGs, and AK-47s. One person injured when five mortar shells landed in a Kurdish enclave in Mosul. One child killed in Iskandariyah in rocket attack according to a police official who declined to be named out of fear of retribution by militants. Bodies of six Iraqi army soldiers received at the mortuary in Kut with their hands tied behind their backs and multiple gunshot wounds to their chests and heads. Two militants killed and one wounded in the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora after three carloads of militants opened fire on shoppers and local merchants who returned fire. One policeman killed by gunmen in the same quarter of the city.

Two years in: At least 45 people died in violence in Iraq, including a US soldier, as Washington defended its decision to lead an invasion exactly two years ago amid protests around the world.

With talks on a new governing coalition still dragging on seven weeks since landmark January elections, Iraq was plunged into a diplomatic crisis with neighbouring Jordan as the two countries recalled their respective envoys following accusations of a Jordanian’s involvement in a deadly suicide bombing.

Insurgents struck around Iraq hitting the fledgling security forces hard at a time when the US government is channelling all its resources into training and equipping them to pave the way for the exit of US-led troops.

Priorities: US intelligence and military police officers in Iraq are routinely freeing dangerous criminals in return for a promise to spy on insurgents, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

In one case where the IoS has seen documents, police rescued a doctor after a gun battle with his kidnappers and arrested two of the kidnap gang, who made full confessions. But US military police took over custody of the two men and let them go. The doctor had to flee to Egypt after being threatened by the gang.

The police station where the men were held recorded that they had been handed over to an American military police lieutenant for transfer to the US-run Camp Cuervo detention centre. But an American military spokesman told the IoS that there was no record of the two prisoners in their database.

"The Americans are allowing the breakdown of Iraqi society because they are only interested in fighting the insurgency," said a senior Iraqi police officer. "We are dealing with an epidemic of kidnapping, extortion and violent crime, but even though we know the Americans monitor calls on mobiles and satellite phones, which are often used in ransom negotiations, they will not pass on any criminal intelligence to us. They only want to use the information against insurgents."

Iraqi and Area Politics

Islam: When Iraq's recently elected parliament starts debating a new national constitution, one of its thorniest tasks will be to agree on the role of Islam.

Kurds, who have 75 assembly seats, and other secular-minded members say Islam should remain a source of legislation but not the sole one -- the formula adopted for an interim constitution drawn up a year ago under the U.S.-led occupation authority.

Islamists in the parliament's Shi'ite majority may seek a greater role for Muslim sharia law.

Given Iraq's sectarian mix and secular traditions, there is no obvious model for the parliamentarians to follow.

It’s going great, they just can’t agree: “The talks are being carried out smoothly and in some positive climate”, said Kurdish negotiator Kamal Fuad, noting that the Kurds and the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) were also meeting outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

But no politician wanted to predict when Iraq’s mosaic of Shiites, Kurds, Sunnites, Christians and Turkmens would unveil their government and the parliament would reconvene.

The Shiite candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, told reporters it could take as long as two weeks.

A Shiite negotiator and senior member of Jaafari’s Dawa Party was optimistic that a deal could be struck by the end of the month.

“The assembly will not be meeting again until there is an agreement”, Jawad Maliki told reporters. “We’re putting the final touches on our agreement”. He spoke about the possibility of a senior role for Allawi.

And as for the common folk…: Regimes come and go, but decades of political revolutions in Iraq have hardly changed a thing for the destitute tribesmen who cultivate wheat and dates here on the east bank of the Euphrates.

This is the fiefdom of Sheik Humaid Sagban, age 77: a patch of chicken-scratched farmland that's a half-hour by car from Najaf but feels like an Iraqi village from a century ago.

''Life always has been hard, and we always have been poor," Sagban said as he received visitors in his dirt-floored living room, which doubles as a tribal headquarters.

Iraq's historic elections probably will not change much for his rural tribesman either, said Sagban, whose grip on politics is so hazy that he is not even sure for whom he voted Jan. 30, when he cast his ballot at a school across the river.

So Sagban stays focused on the problems he can solve -- marriages, quarrels, property disputes. The greater and more painful issues that have persisted throughout his lifetime, he leaves to God.

''Most of us are poor," he said. ''Suppose we are not happy. What can we do?"

Iraq the model: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul-Gheit has disputed US President George W. Bush’s contention that democracy is catching on in the Middle East, in an interview published by The Washington Post.

“What model are we talking about in Iraq? Bombs are exploding everywhere, and Iraqis are killed every day in the streets”, Aboul-Gheit said. “Palestinian elections? There were elections seven years ago”.

The Egyptian official was reacting to Bush’s speech at the US National Defense University in which he spoke of a “thaw” melting authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and cited the recent Iraqi and Palestinian elections and demonstrations in Lebanon as examples that democracy was on the march in the region.

A similar view was taken by Egypt’s official press, which is increasingly challenging the American claim that its democratic model for the Middle East is prevailing and is urging Washington to pull out of Iraq to prove its good intentions.

But the insurgency is Turkey’s fault: Rumsfeld told "Fox News Sunday" that if the United States had able to get its 4th Infantry Division into northern Iraq through Turkey, more of Saddam's Baathist regime would have been captured or killed, diminishing the insurgency.

U.S. forces had to enter Iraq from the south, so by the time Baghdad was taken, much of Saddam's military and intelligence services had dissipated into the northern cities, Rumsfeld said. "They're still, in a number of instances, still active," he said.

As Iraqi security forces develop, Rumsfeld said, they will take increasing responsibility and the insurgency will diminish over time. He estimated current Iraqi security forces at over 145,000.

U.S. forces in Iraq are being reduced from 153,000 to 137,000 or 140,000, Rumsfeld said, although it's possible more security will have to be put into place when new elections take place next year.

Our Creeping Stalinism, Part One: The Use Of Euphemism

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

“Aggressive questioning”: U.S. law enforcement agents at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison for terrorism suspects concluded that the military's aggressive questioning yielded information that was "suspect at best," according to newly released portions of an FBI document.

Another FBI e-mail, also dated May 10, 2004, said that in weekly Justice Department meetings, officials had often discussed the military's interrogation techniques and "how they were not effective or producing intel that was reliable." (The term "intel" is short for intelligence.)

“Professional interrogation technique”: Porter Goss, the director of central intelligence, claimed in Senate testimony that the C.I.A. is not now using torture, and that "waterboarding" is a "professional interrogation" technique. He can't have it both ways.

Waterboarding, known in Latin America as the submarino, entails forcibly pushing a person's head under water until he believes he will drown. In practice, he often does. Waterboarding can be nothing less than torture in violation of United States and international law.

Mr. Goss, by justifying the practice as a form of professional interrogation, renders dubious his broader claim that the C.I.A. is not practicing torture today.

“Exceptional techniques”: Never let it be said that the U.S. State Department lacks chutzpah.

The department recently issued its annual report on human rights practices of nations around the world, pointedly criticizing perennial violators as well as allies, including the U.S.-sponsored interim Iraqi government.

But the report doesn't discuss accusations of human rights abuses at the U.S. prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Gharib, Iraq, where prisoners of war and terrorism suspects are held. Some nations were accused of torturing prisoners and inflicting them with sleep deprivation and blindfolding.

If that sounds familiar, it's probably because similar criticism has been levied against U.S. interrogators, who were accused of punitive methods to create anxiety and fear. The torture took many forms, including "water boarding," which simulates drowning.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved a plan to allow "exceptional techniques" during 20-hour interrogations, including face slapping and stripping captives to create a feeling of helplessness and dependence, and using dogs to create anxiety.

“Active deterrence”: Two years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon has formally included in key strategic plans provisions for launching preemptive strikes against nations thought to pose a threat to the United States.

The doctrine also now stipulates that the U.S. will use "active deterrence" in concert with its allies "if we can" but could act unilaterally otherwise, Defense officials said.

The changes codify the more assertive defense policy adopted by the Bush administration since the Sept. 11 attacks and are included in a "National Military Strategy" and "National Defense Strategy," reports that are part of a comprehensive review of military strategy conducted every four years.

In some cases, respected global organizations seem to be viewed with suspicion. In describing the vulnerabilities of the United States, the document uses strong language to list international bodies — such as the International Court of Justice, created under a treaty that the United States has declined to sign — alongside terrorists.

Our Creeping Stalinism, Part Two: Gulags, Corruption, and Secrecy

What’s the real number?: At least 108 people have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of them violently, according to government data provided to The Associated Press. Roughly a quarter of those deaths have been investigated as possible abuse by U.S. personnel. The figure, far higher than any previously disclosed, includes cases investigated by the Army, Navy, CIA and Justice Department. Some 65,000 prisoners have been taken during the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although most have been freed. The Pentagon has never provided comprehensive information on how many prisoners taken during the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have died, and the 108 figure is based on information supplied by Army, Navy and other government officials. It includes deaths attributed to natural causes. To human rights groups, the deaths form a clear pattern. "Despite the military's own reports of deaths and abuses of detainees in U.S. custody, it is astonishing that our government can still pretend that what is happening is the work of a few rogue soldiers," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "No one at the highest levels of our government has yet been held accountable for the torture and abuse, and that is unacceptable."

Institutionalized and international: What has been glimpsed in Afghanistan is a radical plan to replace Guantánamo Bay. When that detention centre was set up in January 2002, it was essentially an offshore gulag - beyond the reach of the US constitution and even the Geneva conventions. That all changed in July 2004. The US supreme court ruled that the federal court in Washington had jurisdiction to hear a case that would decide if the Cuban detentions were in violation of the US constitution, its laws or treaties. The military commissions, which had been intended to dispense justice to the prisoners, were in disarray, too. No prosecution cases had been prepared and no defence cases would be readily offered as the US National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers had described the commissions as unethical, a decision backed by a federal judge who ruled in January that they were "illegal". Guantánamo was suddenly bogged down in domestic lawsuits. It had lost its practicality. So a global prison network built up over the previous three years, beyond the reach of American and European judicial process, immediately began to pick up the slack. The process became explicit last week when the Pentagon announced that half of the 540 or so inmates at Guantánamo are to be transferred to prisons in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

Since September 11 2001, one of the US's chief strategies in its "war on terror" has been to imprison anyone considered a suspect on whatever grounds. To that end it commandeered foreign jails, built cellblocks at US military bases and established covert CIA facilities that can be located almost anywhere, from an apartment block to a shipping container. The network has no visible infrastructure - no prison rolls, visitor rosters, staff lists or complaints procedures. Terror suspects are being processed in Afghanistan and in dozens of facilities in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the British island of Diego Garcia in the southern Indian Ocean. Those detained are held incommunicado, without charge or trial, and frequently shuttled between jails in covert air transports, giving rise to the recently coined US military expression "ghost detainees".

This is a very important article and well worth reading in its entirety.

Secrecy, corruption, and "national security": As it prepared to attack Iraq in early 2003, the Pentagon gave a multibillion-dollar contract, without competitive bidding, to the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root to repair oil fields and import consumer fuels. Almost from the first, the Bush administration and the company were hounded by allegations of favoritism and reckless spending under that contract, for which KBR eventually billed $2.5 billion

The board of monitors repeatedly asked for data on the no-bid fuels contract and was repeatedly rebuffed by the Pentagon. Last October, the board was handed copies of the Pentagon's own audits of the nine components of that KBR contract, with numbers and many conclusions blacked out.

Last week, when Representative Henry Waxman, minority leader of the House Committee on Government Reform, released a largely unexpurgated version of one of those October audits, covering $875 million worth of fuel imports, news reports focused on the numbers. The Pentagon's own monitors, it turned out, found excess billing of more than $100 million and criticized KBR for poor record-keeping.

But a comparison of the original with the blacked-out, or "redacted," version that was sent to the international board last fall also raised new questions about the basis on which the Pentagon, at Halliburton's suggestion, had chosen the items it had edited out of the document.

Nearly every number and comment critical of KBR in the report was blacked out in the redacted copy.

The bureaucratic reflex: The government does a remarkable job of counting the number of national security secrets it generates each year. Since President George W. Bush entered office, the pace of classification activity has increased by 75 percent, said William Leonard in March 2 congressional testimony. His Information Security Oversight Office oversees the classification system and recorded a rise from 9 million classification actions in fiscal year 2001 to 16 million in fiscal year 2004.

Yet an even more aggressive form of government information control has gone unenumerated and often unrecognized in the Bush era, as government agencies have restricted access to unclassified information in libraries, archives, Web sites, and official databases. Once freely available, a growing number of these sources are now barred to the public as "sensitive but unclassified" or "for official use only." Less of a goal-directed policy than a bureaucratic reflex, the widespread clampdown on formerly public information reflects a largely inarticulate concern about "security." It also accords neatly with the Bush administration's preference for unchecked executive authority.

US Military News

Hey, Jonah!: The U.S. Army, stung by recruiting shortfalls caused by the Iraq war, has raised the maximum age for new recruits for the part-time Army Reserve and National Guard by five years to 39, officials said on Monday.

The Army said the move, a three-year experiment, will add about 22 million people to the pool of those eligible to serve, from about 60 million now. Physical standards will not be relaxed for older recruits, who the Army said were valued for their maturity and patriotism.

(Thanks to alert reader whisker for catching the story)

220 less medical workers in Queens: Miguel Pachebat tucked two things into his camouflage shirt Sunday as he prepared to ship out to Iraq: a palm frond and a snapshot of his newborn son. The items would remain there, pressed against his heart, until the end of his yearlong tour, the U.S. Army specialist said at a deployment ceremony at Fort Totten. Pachebat, 26, an emergency room technician, is one of 220 other reservists in the Queens-based Army medical team who are leaving Monday. Before going to Iraq, the group will train at a Wisconsin base, with the expectation that they'll arrive in the war zone within two months.

There Is Good News

A fighter: The father of a British soldier killed in Iraq has announced that he plans to challenge Prime Minister Tony Blair for his seat in parliament.

Reg Keys, 52, said he would run as an independent in Blair's home district of Sedgefield, in northeastern England, in national elections expected in May.

"I'm coming for you, Mr. Blair, but I'm going to do it in a civilized way," Keys said in a news conference at the London studio of music producer Brian Eno. "I want to get the troops brought safely home. Get them out and replace them with U.N. peacekeeping forces."

First: In a Sunday editorial marking the second anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, The Orange County (Ca.) Register called for a U.S. pullout from that country, becoming perhaps the first newspaper in a Top 25 market to do so. The Register's daily circulation is around 300,000. "We opposed this war from the beginning and we believe the United States should withdraw its troops sooner rather than later, under a sensible exit strategy," the editorial declared. "While some argue that chaos would follow an American withdrawal, it is also true that U.S. troops have become a lightning rod, attracting the very attacks they are working to prevent. "Saddam Hussein is out of power, which is good. Now it is time to leave Iraq, for better and for worse, to the Iraqis."

500 cities in the USA: Saturday was being called a global day of protest, as it marked the two-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.

Rallies and marches took place in more than 500 cities across the country, including in Seattle.

The anniversary drew about 1,000 demonstrators to the Seattle Center. They carried signs and banners urging the United States government to get its troops out of Iraq.

Tens of thousands: Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in cities and towns across America over the weekend to mark the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and to demand that U.S. troops stationed there be brought home.

The protests on the anniversary Saturday as well as on Sunday reflected the U.S. anti-war movement's growing diversity. But they also highlighted the challenges of sustaining growth in new areas like suburban America and maintaining unity of purpose as the movement grapples with issues that elude consensus.

3,000 in Fayetteville: Raphael Zappala winces as he describes the April day nearly a year ago when he came home to find his dad in the doorway and his mom inside sobbing. A man in a military uniform heavily decorated with medals had knocked on the door at 7:02 p.m. His brother, Sherwood Baker, a 30-year-old Pennsylvania National Guard sergeant who had moved in with the family as a 13-month-old foster child, had been killed in Baghdad on April 26, the 720th fallen soldier in a war that started two years ago.

"I think about him every day," said Zappala, 26, a food stamp advocate in Philadelphia.

The fallen soldiers and those still on active duty in Iraq were on the minds of nearly 3,000 peace advocates Saturday as they gathered in this Army-base city to commemorate the second anniversary of the war and protest continued occupation of the oil-rich country.

150 in Englewood: Eunice Dartey, whose 22-year-old son left for Iraq the day after Christmas, broke into tears as she watched about 150 protesters wave banners and chant anti-war slogans Saturday.

"It was just the two of us. I don't have any other family here," said the Guyana native.

Some with children serving overseas might have resented such an anti-war demonstration, one of hundreds held across the nation this weekend to mark the second anniversary of the United States' invasion of Iraq.

But Dartey wiped away her tears and said she felt comforted by it. "There are at least some people sensible enough to know this war is wrong. I very much salute these people to come out and do this. It means a lot," said the Englewood resident.

I wish her peace and love: Some honked and gave a thumbs-up. Others honked and gave just one finger. Sometimes the protesters were encouraged to keep on. Others told them to go home.

On the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the nation — on down to the local level — remains divided about the war in the Mideast. However, to teacher and protester Joanie Heydt-nelson, the people who were passing by the demonstration on the corner of Frontenac Drive and Mankato Avenue all sounded the same to her. "I presume they're supporting me," Heydt-nelson said. "I think they are saying, ‘You go girl.' The hand gestures? Well, all I see is the victory sign. I am old and can't see so good, so I am assuming they're wishing me peace and love."


Comment: Two years after being shocked and awed into "freedom", freedom on the ground is a meaningless concept for large swathes of the Iraqi population. Sunnis and Shi'ites alike tell Asia Times Online of a brutalization of every-day life. Highways in and out of Baghdad are suicidal: the Americans can't control any of them. Anyone is a potential kidnapping target, either for the Sunni guerrilla or criminal gangs. Officials at the Oil and Electricity Ministries tell of at least one attack a day. Oil pipelines are attacked and distribution interrupted virtually every week. There's a prison camp syndrome: almost 10,000 Iraqis incarcerated at any one time, in three large jails, including the infamous Abu Ghraib. There's also an Abu Ghraib syndrome: all-round denunciation of torture, electroshocks and beatings. The Americans and the Iraqi police proceed with the same "round up the usual suspects" tactic: but even if the "suspects" are not part of the resistance, their families are always well taken care of, so they inevitably join the resistance actively when they leave jail. The Sunni guerrillas register an average of scores of attacks a day, all over the country. Roadside and car bombs are still exploding in leveled Fallujah. The Baghdad regional police commander was assassinated on Saturday. The resistance has infiltrated virtually all government and police networks. American counterinsurgency methods are going nowhere, because as the Sunni guerrillas keep killing masses of Iraqi security forces, these forces are retaliating in kind - abuses detailed, among others, by Human Rights Watch. The majority of the Sunni population, complaining about official brutality, has withdrawn support for the American-trained Iraqi security forces. So the culture of brutalization has merged with the emergence of sectarianism.

(Thanks to Friendly Fire for the link)

Comment: The Bush White House has masterfully used the public's general indifference to all things overseas to its advantage in war and peace - but mostly war. It has successfully reinforced the notion that finessing foreign sensibilities is a fickle experiment at best and citizens need not trouble themselves unduly over multilateral tangos.

Moreover, to display its faux affinity for the common man, the administration has boiled down the whole foreign relations thing to one easy understanding. You're either fer or agin' us, said the man from Midland, Texas. Simple, straightforward, and as shallow as they come. Yet it was all the gunslingers in Washington had to say to the world before shooting their way into Baghdad to spread democracy, topple an evil empire, and destroy weapons of mass destruction.

Three years and more than 1,500 American deaths later, with the U.S. nowhere close to escaping the warfare it started there, Americans still nod like lemmings when the President insists "democracy is on the march" amid the rubble of Iraq and resurging Taliban influence in Afghanistan.

Interview: BuzzFlash: Let me ask about soldiers dying in Iraq. We’re all aware that the Bush Administration won’t allow photographs of soldiers returning in caskets to the United States. What is the justification for that with the media? With the Vietnam war, we felt we were there when we watched the news. We saw soldiers dying, we saw the blood and guts. Today the media completely comply with the Bush Administration request not to show injuries or deaths of soldiers. It's almost a war that doesn’t exist, except in sound-overs and accounts in the newspaper. Bonnie M. Anderson: It exists only within the framework in which this Administration wishes to show the war. It’s an outrage that networks are going along with this. The American people need to know the cost of war, and the cost of war is body bags coming home. The cost of war is the injured coming back. This is what the public needs to know. It's a perfect example of the lack of integrity or ethics in the news organizations that are going along with another propaganda move by an administration.

I want to say very clearly, I would say the same thing if it were a Democratic administration. My issues are not left or right. My issues are journalistic principles and ethics. We’re not informing the American public, we don’t want them to see these things. But we will, of course, allow them to spend hours watching the statue of Saddam Hussein come tumbling down, because that glorifies and justifies the invasion of Iraq.

Comment: We have entered a world where reality - like the photographs of torture or the absence of weapons of mass destruction - is just a minor blockage in a flood of official, upbeat declarations and statements. Each new dispatch from the departments of irony on both sides of the Atlantic suggests that truth can be created by assertion, principle can be established by deception and democracy can be imposed through aggression. These people would claim credit for the good weather and deny responsibility for their own signature if they thought they could get away with it.

Two years on, the death toll keeps rising, the size of the "coalition" keeps shrinking and global public support for this reckless occupation has maintained its downward spiral from a low base. Indeed, the only thing that changes is the rationale for starting the war, where the sophistry of the occupying powers keeps plumbing new depths and selective amnesia has attained new highs.

Opinion: One of the more disturbing byproducts of the U.S. involvement in Iraq is the recent outpouring of rationalization from across the American political and cultural spectrum for the incorporation of Islam into the new Iraqi constitution. There's nothing particularly surprising about such rationalizing on the right. Vice President Dick Cheney responded predictably to January's Iraqi election, which expanded the power of Shiite religious parties, with the declaration that "we have a great deal of confidence in where they're headed." What else is an architect of the war going to say? On the Christian right, such reactions are even more understandable; these are the very people who routinely denigrate America's own constitutional separation of church and state. Why should they worry if the new Iraqi government prevents a woman from divorcing without her husband's consent and gives her legal testimony only half the weight of a man's? As long as the Iraqis steer clear of a Saudi-style ban on all other forms of worship (read Christianity), a religion-based Iraqi constitution poses no logical obstacle for U.S. fundamentalists.

Editorial: The coalition of the willing is losing its will. Italy has announced it will withdraw its 3,000 troops from Iraq by fall. Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine also are in the process of pulling out or preparing to pull out an additional 4,750 troops.

President Bush downplayed Italy's imminent abandonment in a press conference last week. Bush said Berlusconi reassured him in a phone call "that there was no change in his policy; that, in fact, any withdrawals would be done in consultation with allies and would be done depending upon the ability of Iraqis to defend themselves. ... that's the position of the United States. Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself." This is political satire. Bush has no clue when Iraqis will be able to defend themselves.

First person view: When I was a Teenage Republican, all Republicans knew the 10th Amendment by heart and Republicans resisted the increasing power of the central government. Now Republicans leap over one another to make the federal government ever more powerful. It is Republicans at the federal level who now want to tell states whether they can allow medical marijuana or assisted suicide, or even who can have a driver's license. They want to tell the states who can get married. Imagine a Republican of my youth thinking the federal government should dictate policy to local school boards.

When I was a boy, Republicans cherished personal liberty. Creating secret no-fly lists and spy-on-your-neighbor programs, turning medical records over to police, holding people without trial in hidden military compounds, saying it's legal to torture them -- that's how we thought only Communists would behave.

Above all, the Republicans back in those days were the party of responsibility. They understood a balance sheet. "Yes," they would say, like a patient father with an immature child, "we'd all love that, but we can't afford it. Look right here at the numbers." Fiscal discipline was a value held almost as deeply as family and religion. Republicans knew that nothing works if you can't pay for it, that only ruin and shame can come from laying out more than you take in.

Where have all those Republicans gone? The ones running Washington, D.C., today inherited a $236 billion budget surplus, and like kids on crack with a credit card, turned it into a trillion-dollar deficit almost overnight.

Casualty Report

Local story: Hampton, VA, soldier killed in Baghdad.


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