Wednesday, March 09, 2005

War News for Wednesday, March 09, 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: At least three people killed in addition to the bomber and 30 wounded in suicide bomb attack on Baghdad hotel near Agriculture ministry.

Bring ‘em on: Twenty-six bullet riddled corpses found near Rumana, close to Quaim. Fifteen headless bodies, including three women and two children, found in Latifiya. One US soldier killed, another wounded in roadside bombing in Baghdad. One Iraqi policeman killed and three wounded in roadside bombing in Basra. Car bomb attacks reported against an American checkpoint outside Habaniyah and near US troops close to Abu Ghraib, no injuries reported.

Bring ‘em on: Four Iraqi police officers killed when a booby trapped corpse exploded south of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Two guards killed and one wounded in unsuccessful assassination attempt directed at Iraq’s interim planning minister.

Bring ‘em on: Four US soldiers killed in bomb attack near Ramadi.

Death by fundamentalists: When the kidnappers came for Zeena al Qushtaini, she was dressed, as one friend put it, "in the latest fashion." She wore a $5,000 watch, her hands were manicured and her hair was highlighted to accent her blue eyes. Many of her friends were women's rights activists, but few were as conspicuously modern as Qushtaini. She was a divorced, single mother in her late 30s who supported two children with a full-time office job. She also ran a pharmacy with her business partner, Dr. Ziad Baho.

It was evening at the pharmacy, and Qushtaini and Baho were behind the counter when six men in business suits burst in brandishing automatic weapons. The men wrapped duct tape across the mouths of Qushtaini and Baho, then took them away in a pair of SUVs. Relatives of the two captives waited for a ransom demand that never came. When the bodies were found 10 days later, beside a highway just south of Baghdad, Baho had been beheaded. Qushtaini was dressed in the long black gown favored by Islamic fundamentalists. A scarf covered her hair—something she never wore in life. It was bloodied from the single bullet to the side of her head.

Iraqi police: The bombing in Hilla last week that killed more people than any other insurgent attack in Iraq so far underscores what the police and army are up against. The bomber somehow managed to slip the security guards and get inside government-owned compound where new police and army recruits were waiting to take physicals, which led the police to suspect their own. "The real problem is those officers who let the bomber get inside," said Col. Adnan Al-Jabouri, a ministry of interior spokesman.

Jabouri's office is full of Photoshopped posters promoting the police as a force for good in the "new Iraq." My personal favorite is the burly officer carrying two children, one under each arm, away from a carbombing, the flames rising in the background. But I've come to Jabouri's office to ask about something the police would prefer to sweep under the rug: that the same torture methods they employed before the fall of Saddam Hussein continue unchecked.

"We can't let you write about that," Jabouri replies.

The Sgrena Affair

Skeptical: An Italian intelligence officer slain by U.S. troops in Iraq after he helped free a kidnapped journalist was buried Monday with full ceremonial honors as angry questions over the shooting threatened to do political harm to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a fervent ally of the Bush administration.

Berlusconi sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq despite widespread popular opposition to the war. Tragic incidents such as the shooting of Calipari complicate the leader's ability to defend the decision.

Berlusconi summoned Sembler, the U.S. ambassador, to his office Friday night, and the two held an extended meeting again Monday after the funeral. The Italian news agency ANSA reported that Sembler had given Berlusconi a preliminary reconstruction of the events leading up to the shooting that portrayed a breakdown in communications between U.S. and Italian officials.

Many Italians are skeptical, however, that the Americans will tell the full truth, or that Berlusconi can force them to.

Account rejected: Italy's foreign minister rejected on Tuesday a U.S. account of how its forces killed an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq and urged Washington to punish any soldiers found guilty of wrongdoing in the shooting.

Fini dismissed speculation that U.S. forces deliberately fired on the Italians, but he said an initial U.S. military statement on the shooting, released hours after the attack, did "not coincide" with what Italy believed had happened.

"It was certainly an accident," Fini said.

"But this doesn't mean, in fact it makes it necessary, to demand that events are clarified ... to identify those responsible, and if people are to blame then to request and ensure that the guilty parties are punished," he added.

Accident?: The Italian reporter wounded when American troops opened fire on the car carrying her and Italian secret service officers to the Baghdad airport just hours after her release from kidnappers rejected today the United States' version of the incident and refused to rule out that she was intentionally targeted.

"The fact that the Americans don't want negotiations to free the hostages is known," Ms. Sgrena said in a telephone interview with Sky TG24 television. "The fact that they do everything to prevent the adoption of this practice to save the lives of people held hostages, everybody knows that. So I don't see why I should rule out that I could have been the target."

The White House called the shooting a "horrific accident" and promised a full investigation.

Operation was authorized: The Italian agent killed by American forces in Iraq had U.S. military authorization for his operation to win the release of a hostage, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday.

In his first major address since Friday's shooting strained relations between Washington and one of its biggest allies, Berlusconi told Italy's Senate that the car carrying agent Nicola Calipari and hostage Giuliana Sgrena stopped immediately when a light was flashed. The U.S. military has said the Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots to try to get the car to stop.

US responsibility: The United States must assume responsibility for the "friendly fire" killing of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq in order to put the incident behind the two allies, the Italian prime minister said Wednesday.

"Only a frank and reciprocal recognition of eventual responsibility is the condition for closure of the incident which was so irrational to us and that caused us so much sorrow," Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told the Senate.

This should be good – Inerrant Boy take responsibility for something?

Oh, yes, we’re shooting Bulgarians too: The lack of direct communication between Bulgarian and U.S. troops was the probable cause of last week's killing of a Bulgarian soldier in Iraq in a suspected ``friendly fire'' incident, a top military official said Wednesday.

Army chief of staff Gen. Nikola Kolev said the two forces had not yet agreed on how to communicate with each other when Pvt. Gardi Gardev was fatally shot near the city of Diwaniya on Friday.

The Bulgarian investigation found that Gardev was killed by U.S. troops guarding a military communications site, who opened fire on his patrol after it fired warning shots to stop an Iraqi civilian car.

Veterans’ Affairs

Shortchanged: The finished project, called "Discharged and Dishonored: Shortchanging America's Veterans," ran last weekend in Knight Ridder newspapers, and is now part of an extensive online package, but it was months in the making. For the KR investigative team -- comprising reporters Chris Adams, Alison Young, and editor James Asher -- reporting on the bureaucracy, and getting all the necessary information, proved challenging.

"We filed a bunch of FOIA requests with the Veterans Administration early on -- I think it was February of 2004 -- and got stonewalled by them," Asher told E&P. "Ultimately, in November, we sued them. It was very intriguing that once the suit was filed, they started coughing up every record we asked for."

The story describes inefficiencies and irregularities within various state offices which have no standardized method of assessing veterans' injury claims. Similarly, the amount of remuneration offered for the same conditions varies wildly from state to state and office to office. Asher noted that while it would be heartening if the government used the Knight Ridder stories to make reforms, he wasn't sure they would be so quick to act.

PTSD: A guardsman walks into a local Wal-Mart, freaks, does a 180, and walks back out again. Even after seven months, he can't stand the crowds. Another jerks awake in the middle of the night, holding an imagined gun at his wife's temple.

"Uh ... honey?" she asks.

The soldiers tear down highways, swerve to avoid trash in the road. The bag that held a Big Mac could now hide a bomb. One still jumps if you touch his neck. Others refuse to sleep in beds. Those who do may awake in a sweat.

They're members of the Ephrata-based 1161st Transportation Company, the close-knit National Guard unit that returned from Iraq seven months ago to a happy little town dolled up in yellow ribbons and townsfolk who breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Foreign Affairs

Here’s some hearts and minds we won: Hundreds of thousands jammed a central Beirut square Tuesday, chanting support for Syria and anti-U.S. slogans in a thundering show of strength by the militant group Hezbollah — a rally that greatly outnumbered recent demonstrations against Syria's presence in Lebanon.

"We are demonstrating here against foreign intervention in our internal affairs, and we're supporting Hezbollah," said Maha Choukair, a 21-year-old Lebanese University student. "Here we are saying thank you to Syria, not asking them to leave."

The Growing Parallels With the Stalinist State

Detention without trial: No other European country has introduced internment without trial in the wake of 9/11. Indeed, the only comparable example in any Western country is the US facility at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay.

Critics say that by introducing control orders the UK is aligning itself with an approach to security policing previously employed only by some of the world’s most notorious regimes. Britain is currently ranked 10th in the global democracy league table compiled each year by civil rights watchdog WorldAudit.

The article goes on to list the top ten regimes that imprison without trial. They include North Korea, Uganda, Indonesia, Algeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Angola, Libya, and Zimbabwe. How despicable that the US and Britain, once relative exemplars of human rights, are now in such company.

Outsourcing torture: Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday defended the practice of "extraordinary rendition," the process under which the United States sometimes transfers detainees in the war on terrorism to other nations where they may undergo harsh interrogation, trial or imprisonment.

U.S. officials have privately described the threat of rendition as a powerful tool in prying loose information from suspects who fear torture by foreign countries. But Gonzales, speaking to reporters at the Justice Department yesterday, said that U.S. policy is not to send detainees "to countries where we believe or we know that they're going to be tortured."

Then why are we doing it at all, Al? Exactly what does Uzbekistan contribute to prisoner interrogations that we can’t do ourselves? The most hilarious response I’ve found to this question so far is that we are doing renditions to save money. This from the trillion dollar deficit administration. Too effing much.

Disappearing the news: The National Security Council (NSC) had an entire chapter on Iraq’s economy deleted from the “Economic Report of the President” simply because it would interfere with the positive tone of the rest of the report. The report is produced annually by the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), a supposedly independent advisory entity. The unprecedented move is yet another example of the Bush administration’s willingness to manipulate expert and scientific information for political reasons.

Economists from both political parties considered the decision to delete an entire completed chapter as extraordinary and a sign of the CEA’s loss of influence. Outgoing CEA Chairman N. Gregory Mankiw has declined to comment.

The missing chapter addresses the development of the Iraqi banking system, financial markets and other economic institutions. Apparently, the chapter portrayed Iraq’s economic emergence positively and it was believed that this would clash with current military difficulties in Iraq, and therefore would undermine the administration’s credibility.


Rigged contracts: The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal inquiry into possible bid-rigging on foreign contracts by Halliburton, the company revealed Tuesday.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company said "information has been uncovered" that former employees of KBR "may have engaged in coordinated bidding with one or more competitors on certain foreign construction projects and that such coordination possibly began as early as the mid-1980s...."

The SEC filing also revealed that the Justice Department is investigating "whether former employees may have received payments in connection with bidding practices on some foreign projects." In other words, authorities are investigating whether KBR paid bribes to foreign governments for the purpose of rigging the contracting process and whether KBR employees received kickbacks.

What generous fellows: Halliburton issued a press release today congratulating itself for donating 12 laptop computers to the 256th Brigade of the Army National Guard in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The computers will be used in Iraq by Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 156th Infantry (Mechanized). Halliburton's delinquent and possibly criminal track record in handling the taxpayers' money, including $2 billion in unverifiable expenses, didn't stop military officials from fawning all over the 12-computer donation. Halliburton's KBR subsidiary lost millions of dollars in U.S. government property in Iraq and Kuwait. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the legality of the procurement process that awarded Iraq contracts to the company. And numerous government investigations continue today. "We are very happy to donate these laptop computers to help the troops who are putting their lives on the line to support freedom for the Iraqi people," Tony Angelle, vice president of Halliburton's Gulf Coast Region, said.

An Observation

Of course this has nothing to do with Iraq, but I noticed the online poll today at CNN (Contains No News) has to do with how people will respond to the severe price rise in gasoline anticipated for this summer. The responses broke down as follows: Drive less, 41%. Buy a more efficient car, 10%. Close your eyes and pump, 49%.

Wow. Half the country has no intention of changing any habits, not even cutting down on unnecessary trips, if gas goes up over two bucks a gallon. I wonder if there could be any correlation between people who responded that way and their political affiliation. Do ya think?


Sentence fragment: … just because virtually everyone in the administration lied with their bare faces hanging out about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, terrorism ties in Iraq, so break out the plastic sheeting and duct tape because we're all gonna die, just because they did this in no small part to win the 2002 midterms by any means necessary, just because 1,502 American soldiers have been killed looking for the 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons (which is 1,000,00 lbs.) of sarin and mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, arial drones to spray the aforementioned stuff, and let's not forget the uranium from Niger for use in Iraq's robust nukular program, all of which was described to the letter by Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address, all of which remains on the White House website on a page titled 'Disarm Saddam Hussein,' just because the medical journal Lancet estimates that as many as 198,000 Iraqi citizens have been killed as well in the war to get at this stuff, just because none of the stuff was there, and by the way none of the stuff was there, and did I mention that none of the stuff was there…

Editorial: No one can question the benefits oil has brought to global society. Here in America, millions of homes are heated with oil. Millions of cars make it easier for millions of people to get to work and take care of their business. Millions of trucks and ships have delivered billions of tons of produce to all points on the compass; one could argue that the defining truth of the luxury inherent in Western society is the ability to stand in a snowbank in Maine and enjoy a fresh pineapple from Hawaii. Millions of people can get from New York to Los Angeles in a day, thanks to airplanes. The incomes and livelihoods of millions - workers in industry and agriculture and transportation and food services to name a few - depend upon oil.

Yet even as oil gives generously with one hand, it takes grievously with the other. Even if the petroleum industry is correct and there remain trillions of barrels to be plumbed, that oil is located for the most part in some of the most dangerous and unstable places on the planet. That danger and instability has been created, in no small part, by the fact that oil can be found there.

Oil revenues fund global terrorism. Oil resources motivate wars, and more wars, and more wars. This is the sharp other edge of the sword; if the petroleum industry is correct and oil can be found and drilled for generations to come, that means generations to come will be required to share the death and destruction we endure today in the grubbing for oil. There is no escaping this.

Comment: Lately, I’ve been considering whether Bush’s justification for the Iraq War: we are fighting them there so they won’t come here isn’t completely without merit. After all, there have, incredibly, been no attacks in America since 9-11. And creating a theme park for jihadists in Iraq certainly has kept them occupied. It was brought home to me by a friend in Hawaii. “I believe that. Hey, I’m a lifelong Democrat. But there haven’t been any attacks here.” Again and again this is mentioned by US troops as the rationale for their struggle and suffering, and it seems logical.

But it breaks down on closer examination. First, there’s the madness of creating a vicious insurgent war in a place that didn’t have one. No matter how many times Bush and the neocons say so, there were no terrorists directed at America in Iraq before the invasion*, until we invaded and created them. Perhaps Iraq has functioned as a gigantic bug zapper for jihadi mosquitoes- where were the suicide bomber when Saddam reigned?- but most fanatics are home grown. Was it really worth the immense price in lives and treasure? The Arabs who flocked to fight the good fight in Iraq weren’t planning or able to mount attacks on America. Maybe in Iraq, they will get the training to do so: a prison university for criminals, except it’s Al Qaida training terrorists.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Peoria, IL, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Garden Hills, NY, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Fountain City, WI, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Watertown, NY, soldier killed in Ar Amadi.

Local story: Vista, CA, soldier killed in Iraq.


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