Tuesday, April 19, 2005

War News for Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Five people killed when insurgents opened fire on Iraqi National Guardsmen in Khaldiya. Three ING soldiers killed, 21 people wounded by a suicide bomber in the Athamiya district of Baghdad. Twin blasts reported at an internal oil pipeline near Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi Lt. General and his son killed in their home by gunmen dressed in Iraqi military uniforms in al-Doura neighborhood of Baghdad. Public information officer for police assassinated in Mosul.

Bring ‘em on: Video footage posted of what is claimed to be the execution of three Iraqi employees of a Jordanian company working for the US military.

Bring ‘em on: Six people killed, 44 wounded in suicide car bombing of an Iraqi army recruitment station in Baghdad (Note: This may be the same incident covered in the first entry above reporting three dead and 21 wounded). University of Baghdad professor shot and killed as he left for work. One person killed in roadside bombing 30 miles south of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Three civilians wounded by roadside bombing aimed at a US convoy in Baquba.

Bring ‘em on: One Filipino driver of a US military vehicle killed in a rollover accident on a highway south of Baghdad in what may have been the result of an attack. One Filipino security guard shot dead in Baghdad’s Amiriyah district. Five other Filipinos survived a convoy ambush Saturday, two were lightly wounded.

In tatters: The upsurge in violence across Iraq in the past four days has left claims made by the Pentagon that the tide is turning in Iraq and there are hopeful signs of a return to normality in tatters.

Most violent incidents in Iraq go unreported. We saw one suicide bomb explosion, clouds of smoke and dust erupting into the air, and heard another in the space of an hour. Neither was mentioned in official reports. Last year US soldiers told the IoS that they do not tell their superiors about attacks on them unless they suffer casualties. This avoids bureaucratic hassle and "our generals want to hear about the number of attacks going down not up". This makes the official Pentagon claim that the number of insurgent attacks is down from 140 a day in January to 40 a day this month dubious.

US casualties have fallen to about one dead a day in March compared with four a day in January and five a day in November. But this is the result of a switch in American strategy rather than a sign of a collapse in the insurgency. US military spokesmen make plain that America's military priority has changed from offensive operations to training Iraqi troops and police.


100 Shiite hostages: Hundreds of Iraqi security forces launched an operation Monday to root out Sunni insurgents at the tip of Iraq's "Triangle of Death," finding weapons and car bombs but no hostages despite reports that up to 100 Shiites may have been seized.

Iraqi forces fanned through the dusty streets of Madain and took positions on rooftops in the town south of Baghdad, while Sunni leaders dismissed the reports of a hostage crisis as a hoax.

Madain is an agricultural town of about 1,000 families, evenly divided between Shiites and Sunnis, located at the northern edge of a region considered a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency. When an AP photographer joined hundreds of police entering the town Monday, they met no resistance and found no hostages.

Shiite leaders and government officials initially claimed Sunni militants captured up to 100 Shiites in and around Madain last week and were threatening to kill them unless all Shiites left the area. Over the weekend, Iraqi police and military circled the town and raided suspected hideouts.

Well, maybe not: Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police commandos, supported by U.S. military helicopters, maintained positions Sunday around the central Iraqi town of Madain, where residents disputed widespread reports that scores of Shiite Muslims were held hostage by Sunni extremists.

In a search of homes on the outskirts of the town, Iraqi police found only three hostages, one of them Kurdish, Police Capt. Ahmad Kamal told a Washington Post special correspondent on the scene. "And they were kidnapped because they were working for Americans, not for the reason they were talking about," he added.

Grossly exaggerated: Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. troops had the town of Madain surrounded Sunday after reports of Sunni militant kidnappings of as many as 100 Shiites residents, but there were growing indications the incident had been grossly exaggerated, perhaps an outgrowth of a tribal dispute or political maneuvering.

The confusion illustrated how quickly rumors spread in a country of deep ethnic and sectarian divides, where the threat of violence is all too real. Poor telephone communications, and the difficulty of traveling from one town to the next because of daily attacks on the roads make it difficult even for government officials to establish the facts.

The man on the street's opinion: Iraqis today accused their new leaders of fabricating a hostage crisis for political ends and urged them instead to focus on tackling relentless violence and unemployment after two years of turmoil.

People on a central Baghdad street frustrated by suicide bombings and economic hardship drew their own conclusions. “It is all lies. Instead of fighting terrorism the government is just making things up. What we need are jobs,” said Abu Zahra, a 35-year-old labourer standing with other workers hoping to get menial jobs for about $5 a day.

The murky drama has raised fears that a major conflict between majority Shias and rival Sunnis could erupt.


Routine violence: Uprooting the criminal gangs that control this violent border town and defeating a small but well-trained insurgent force here may be left to new Iraqi security forces when they begin moving into the western desert this year, Marine Maj. John Reed says.

“We're facing a well-developed, mature insurgency with the support of the local population" of about 100,000 townspeople, Reed says. "There is no Iraqi security force here. They are not effective. There are no police. They are dead or doing something else."

The Mahalowis and Salmanis historically controlled the town's cross-border trade. Reed says those tribes dominate the local criminal gangs, police and politicians. They feud with each other but unite to oppose the U.S. presence. "There was always violence here, and now it's much higher. It's off the chart. They're killing each other every day, and we're killing them," Reed says.

Violence became routine here last fall after U.S. financial aid to the area dried up in anticipation of Iraq's provisional government taking over the local administration. That still hasn't happened.

Iraqi Politics

More protests you won't see on Fox: In another protest in Baghdad, hundreds of Shiites demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and condemned all terrorist attacks against Iraqis. Raising Iraqi flags, the protesters chanted, "No to terrorism. No to occupation."

Shiites to Rumsfeld – F**k off: The Shiite Muslim bloc leading the new Iraqi government will demand the removal of all top officials left over from the era of former president Saddam Hussein, a top official said. The move would be part of a purge that U.S. officials fear could oust thousands of the most capable Iraqis from military and intelligence forces the United States has spent more than $5 billion rebuilding.

The Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance also will insist on trials for every former official, soldier or worker suspected of wrongdoing during that time, Hussain Shahristani, who helped form the Shiite alliance, said in an interview that outlined plans for handling members of Hussein's Baath Party in the armed forces and intelligence services.

Shahristani said the alliance would also seek prosecution of what he said were the few thousand leaders of the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency.

Wamidh Nadhmi, the leader of the Arab Nationalist Trend and a spokesman for a coalition of Sunni and Shiite groups that had boycotted the elections, said an aggressive purge of Iraq's security forces would end up riddling them with partisan loyalties, a frequent theme in Iraq's history, as parties vied for power.

"These people are threatening us with a warlord system that will destroy the country," Nadhmi said.

No discussion: The largest political bloc in Iraq's new government called for the execution of Saddam Hussein if the ousted president is convicted of war crimes and said Monday that President Jalal Talabani should resign if he's not prepared to sign the death warrant.

"This is something that cannot be discussed at all," said Ali al-Dabagh, a spokesman for the clergy-led United Iraqi Alliance, which holds 140 seats in Iraq's 275-member National Assembly.

"I personally signed a call for ending execution throughout the world, and I'm respecting my signature," Talabani said. He conceded, however, that he was probably alone in the government in holding that view.

"No one is listening to me, to be frank with you," Talabani told the BBC. "My two partners in the presidency, the government, the House, all of them are for sentencing Saddam Hussein to death before the court will decide."

Their own ideas: For the last two years, U.S. authorities have had firm control of the mission in Iraq. They have set rules for military operations and worked with Iraqi leaders blessed by Washington. But the arrival of an elected government this month will take the partnership in new directions that the Americans may find difficult to control.

The ambitious new Iraqi leaders have their own ideas and, with elections ahead, are sensitive to grass-roots pressure. And with the Americans increasingly reluctant to be seen running the country, the Iraqis have taken the initiative in the relationship.

One signal that Iraqis might seek a new approach on some issues came last week, when new Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he wanted to offer insurgents a broad amnesty and left open the possibility that this could include Iraqis who had attacked coalition troops.

Leadership: A Case Study

This is what the Arab world reads: Iraqi female detainees say that they have been illegally detained, raped and sexually humiliated by U.S. occupation forces.

One female detainee, who identified herself as “Noor”, said that U.S. soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib raped women and, in many occasions, forced them to strip naked in public. She also said that many female detainees got pregnant.

The classified investigation launched by the U.S. army, led by Major General Antonio Taguba, confirmed Noor’s account and said that U.S. guards sexually abused female detainees at Abu Ghraib.

According to Taguba’s report, the 1,800 abuse photographs shot by U.S. guards inside Abu Ghraib included images of naked male and female prisoners, a male Military Police guard “having sex” with a female detainee, and naked male and female detainees forcibly arranged in various sexually explicit positions for photographing.

The Bush administration, which insists that these were the acts of a few soldiers, blocked the release of photographs of Iraqi women detainees at Abu Ghraib, including those of women forced to bare their breasts, although these have been shown to Congress.

This is what the Busheviks do about it: The Bush administration's outreach to the Islamic world is in no hurry. And it includes no Muslims.

Karen Hughes, who was appointed a month ago to craft a bold new approach for U.S. public diplomacy, is not expected to take the job until as late as the fall, according to administration and congressional sources. The delay is already undermining U.S. credibility, with a well-placed U.S. official warning about "the gap between rhetoric and reality."

Dina Powell, the new No. 2 official in charge of public diplomacy, is also not expected to take the job for at least two more months, administration sources say.

The delay comes as a Government Accountability Office report released this month criticized the administration for failing to develop a strategy to improve the image of the United States as "recent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world."

Hughes and Powell also face Senate confirmation, which may require two months or more, as neither has been confirmed before. The administration has not sent the initial paperwork for either nominee to the Senate, and there is no indication it will be sent soon, congressional sources say.


Failure to plan the costs: The U.S. Senate urged the Bush administration on Monday to plan better for the costs of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of relying on a series of stop-gap spending bills.

By a lopsided vote of 61-31, senators approved a non-binding resolution calling on President Bush to submit projected war costs in the U.S. budget plan he submits to Congress each February.

Twenty-one Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the resolution as an amendment to a bill that would provide $81 billion in "emergency" funds to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House has said war costs are too hard to predict within the advance-planning requirements of the budget process.

By keeping war-cost estimates out of his annual budget proposals, Bush also has excluded some of those costs from official deficit estimates. Failure to secure military assets: Equipment plundered from dozens of sites in Saddam Hussein's vast complex for manufacturing weapons is beginning to surface in open markets in Iraq's major cities and at border crossings. Looters stormed the sites two years ago when Mr. Hussein's government fell, and the fate of much of the equipment has remained a mystery. But on a recent day near the Iranian border, resting in great chunks on a weedy lot in front of an Iraqi Border Patrol warehouse, were pieces of machine tools, some weighing as much as a car, that investigators say formed the heart of a factory that made artillery shells near Baghdad. Military equipment, including parts for obscure armaments used by Mr. Hussein's army, is also turning up in Baghdad and Mosul in the north, they say. Failure to manage reconstruction: For the third time in nine months, the Bush administration has redrafted its project to rebuild Iraq, forcing planners to cancel more of the water, sewage and power plants that were part of the grand American design to transform the shattered country. Many of the halted projects are now described by American officials as "noncritical" and "long term" because they are scheduled to start two years from now. The administration describes the changes as a natural midstream adjustment. James Dobbins, who has headed reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere, said State Department officials deserved credit for bowing to reality. "They describe this as a response to changing circumstances," said Mr. Dobbins, now with the RAND Corporation in Washington. "But the shifts are in part a response to a faulty initial strategy." Consequences Increased world danger: Iraq is by far the most dangerous country to do business - but global terrorism is also making the rest of the world riskier, a new survey says. Danger has risen in 31 nations, many of them in western Europe, insurance broker Aon says in a new risk map. Since last year, Iraq has shot from fifth to first place in the rankings, with 2,922 terror incidents recorded in the 12 months to February 2005. "Increased extremist activity" by Islamist groups and anti-Western sentiment against countries that supported the US-led coalition in Iraq are the main reason for the higher risk levels, Aon says. Environmental degradation: Farmers and fishermen are devastating Iraq's marshes, considered by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden, with uncontrolled use of chemicals and fishing using electric shocks, researchers warned on Monday. The illegal methods are wiping out wildlife, polluting water, endangering human health and undermining the recovery of one of the world's great wetlands, they say. Since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein two years ago there has been a boom in the use of electroshocking -- nets attached to car batteries -- to catch fish, says Iraq Nature, an environmental group. Human carnage: More than 15 years of military conflict in Iraq has left a tsunami-like impact on the people of Iraq, a doctor with a humanitarian organization said Monday. Dr. Jeffrey Ritterman, chief of cardiology at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Richmond, Calif., traveled to Amman, Jordan, near the Iraqi border in December as a member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, joining other humanitarian groups in delivering $650,000 worth of medical supplies to Iraqi physicians. Ritterman told more than a dozen people at the Friends Meeting House that, in the past 15 years, Iraq has seen as many as 500,000 child deaths because of poor living conditions and a below-standard medical system. He said that the war has only further degraded living conditions already depressed by the 12 years of sanctions after the Persian Gulf War. He cited reports from the New England Journal of Medicine, the international journal The Lancet and the medical journal of Great Britain to back up his argument. You’re right, Mr. Ghreeb: For years Nuradeen Ghreeb has dreamed of bringing clean drinking water to his hometown. That town happens to be Halabja, where 17 years ago he and his parents cowered in a basement as Saddam Hussein's airplanes attacked with chemical weapons, killing at least 5,000 people. But on Sunday, Mr. Nuradeen learned that his dream was over, because the United States had canceled the water project it had planned here as part of a vast effort to rebuild Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Ordinarily a quiet and reserved civil engineer, he sat on one of his beloved water pipes on hearing the news and wept, his tears glistening in the afternoon sun. "If the Americans think that training the Iraqi Army comes before clean drinking water for the people of Halabja," he said quietly, "then we can't expect anything from them." How Come in the USA... This kind of crap: This briefing examines the continuing use of incendiary weapons by the US military in Iraq. US officials have been forced to admit using the MK-77 incendiary, a modern form of napalm, at least during the initial fighting stage of the war. In direct contradiction, the UK government continues to deny that such weapons have been used in Iraq at any time. The UK is party to an international convention banning incendiaries where they may cause harm to civilians. In Iraq, UK forces are part of a coalition which does not adhere to internationally agreed standards of warfare. Incendiary weapons have been issued to US forces in Iraq, apparently mainly to Marine Corps aviation wings. Incendiaries were used against Iraqi troops during the 2003 invasion, and there is growing evidence that use continues, including in Fallujah. Two embedded reporters (from the Sydney Morning Herald and CNN) witnessed a fire bomb attack on an Iraqi observation post near Kuwaiti border on 21 March 2003. Despite this and other eyewitness accounts, US officials initially denied claims that napalm weapons were being deployed. However, as military personnel and journalists in Iraq persistently presented evidence of their use, by August 2003 Pentagon spokesmen were forced to admit that MK-77 firebombs had been dropped. This has since been confirmed by the State Department, in direct contradiction to UK government statements. Past denials were justified on the grounds that questioners had used the term ‘napalm’ instead of ‘firebombs’ or ‘MK-77s’. Never leads to anything like this?: Iraq is featuring as a major issue in the UK election battle with several candidates from a new anti-war party standing against prominent MPs in Prime Minister Tony Blair's ruling Labour party. On Monday former Labour MP George Galloway launched the left-wing Respect party's manifesto, which calls for the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq, renationalization of public services and higher taxes on big business and the wealthy. Commentary Comment: I've mentioned it before in this space, but these "Support Our Troops" car magnets make me crazy. Especially on gas guzzlers. Who are these messages meant for? Other motorists? The driver? And how exactly is he supporting our troops? By buying the magnet? Driving an SUV? Support our troops? Who's doing that? What sacrifices are we making as a country? What are we going without? Nothing that I can see. For those of us lucky enough not to have a loved one in Iraq, this war has exactly zero impact on our lives. Zero. We haven't been asked to sacrifice anything. Europeans wonder how Americans can so easily support the war in Iraq, and people here can't understand why Europeans are so vocal in their opposition. We see them as soft. But it's all about sacrifice. France had 6 million casualties in World War I. That was 15 percent of its population. Germany had 5.7 million casualties in WWI and another 7 million in World War II. Pretty much, every male in Germany born between 1895 and 1930 was either wounded or died as the result of war. No, Europe's been there, done that. The more you suffer, the more you sacrifice, the more life means. Would Americans still support the war in Iraq if there was a draft? If we had to stop buying cars and milk, like in WWII? If our taxes went up? I'm not optimistic. To do without has become un-American. Letter to the editor: As a 1997 graduate of Ohio University and a veteran of 15 years, two months and 28 days of active duty service in the United States Marines Corps (before attending Ohio University), including service in the first Gulf War, I would like to respond to Marc Fencil's letter ("Soldiers face real "die-in" daily in Iraq," April 8). I'm sorry that Fencil is not completing his senior year at OU, but that is his choice; last time I checked, military service in the United States was voluntary, and the military was considered a profession. So stop whining about your decision and the fact that people aren't falling over themselves to thank you for doing what you are paid to do. I suggest that in the future you read the contract before signing it. Fencil has it all wrong about those protesters at the "die-in." They are paying the greatest respect possible to the victims of Sept. 11 and those killed and maimed while serving at the profession of arms. They are exercising their rights under the Constitution of the United States of America -you know, that little document that G.W. and his cronies have done everything possible to diminish and castrate so that people will be afraid to speak out. Casualty Reports Local story: Tucson, AZ, soldier killed in roadside bombing in Baghdad. She was 18. Local story: Three Iowa National Guardsmen wounded in mortar attack at Camp Blue Diamond. Local story: Virginia Military Institute graduate dies in Iraq. No Medal Of Freedom For The Likes Of Her Marla Ruzicka: Ruzicka was far from a simpering sandalista. There was a determined agenda behind her ditsy persona, an earnest sense of purpose that enabled her to charm her way through military checkpoints and wring pledges of aid for war victims from congressional offices. While no one was paying much attention, she began systematically compiling data on casualties and damages that resulted from the U.S.-led attack on Kabul. In the spring of 2002, she led a group of Afghan families to the gates of the heavily guarded American embassy to demand compensation for the victims. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Ruzicka shifted her efforts to Iraq. By then she had founded a Washington-based organization called the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. She shifted from handwritten notes to a barrage of e-mails to friends, journalists and congressional offices. Her mission was the same: to document the damage done to Iraqi civilians and their homes by the war. While in Iraq, the diminutive Ruzicka ventured out to places few other foreigners dared go, visiting families who had lost relatives or homes in military or terrorist attacks. She took limited precautions, traveling with a single Iraqi assistant and driver, Faiz Ali Salim, who was also killed Saturday by the suicide bombing on a road near the Baghdad airport. Her only protection was the thin disguise of a traditional black abaya, from which wisps of telltale blond hair constantly strayed. Peter Baker, a Post reporter, first met her in Afghanistan in 2001. "She looked like a high school girl. I remember thinking she was going to get herself killed," he said. But over time, she became such a familiar presence in war-torn settings, and exuded such an ethereal quality, that she seemed somehow impervious to the evils of war. "There are so few truly good souls anywhere, but especially in that part of the world," Baker said. "It never occurred to me to think she would be in danger.”


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