Wednesday, April 06, 2005

War News for Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Oil pipeline bombed near Beiji, oil exports to Turkey at a standstill.

Bring ‘em on: Freelance cameraman working for CBS shot and wounded by US troops in Mosul. One suspected insurgent killed in same incident.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier assigned to Task Force Baghdad killed in Iraq.

Drones: In the skies over Iraq, the number of remotely piloted aircraft - increasingly crucial tools in tracking insurgents, foiling roadside bombings, protecting convoys and launching missile attacks - has shot up to more than 700 now from just a handful four years ago, military officials say.

The aircraft are being put into service so quickly that the various military and intelligence branches are struggling to keep pace with the increased number of operators required and with the lack of common policy and strategy on how to use them.

There are nearly a dozen varieties in service now, from the 4.5-pound Ravens that patrol 100 feet off the ground to the giant Global Hawks that can soar at 60,000 feet and take on sophisticated reconnaissance missions. And while much of the appeal of the aircraft is that they keep aircrews out of the line of fire, there are now so many of them buzzing around combat zones that, in fact, the airspace can get dangerously crowded.

Humvees: For the fifth time in the past year, U.S. commanders running the war in Iraq have told the Army to send more armored Humvee utility vehicles to protect U.S. troops.

Just as the Army was reaching its target of 8,279 factory-built armored Humvees for delivery to Iraq, U.S. Central Command last month raised the bar again, to 10,079, Army officials disclosed Tuesday.

The Army has been accused by many in Congress of lagging behind in providing armor protection for troops, hundreds of whom have been killed or wounded in ambushes and roadside bombs in Iraq. The Army says it has pressed the vehicle manufacturer for as many as possible, and it has been chasing a moving target set initially at 1,407 by commanders in Iraq in August 2003.

Politics: Parliament elected veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq's president on Wednesday, breaking a political impasse and paving the way for a new government more than nine weeks after elections.

Talabani is the first Kurd to be Iraq's president – and the first non-Arab president of an Arab state -- a sign of the new clout of the Kurdish minority that backed the U.S.-led invasion.

Two vice presidents were elected: Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi'ite who was finance minister in the outgoing government, and Sunni Arab tribal leader Ghazi Yawar, the former president.

"This is the new Iraq -- an Iraq that elects a Kurd to be president and an Arab former president as his deputy," parliament speaker Hajem al-Hassani said after the vote. "What more could the world want from us?"

Disagreement remains on some cabinet posts, particularly the Oil Ministry which is coveted by both Shi'ites and Kurds.

Ancient History

Culture of life: The former US envoy to the Vatican, Jim Nicholson, recalled Pope John Paul II's vocal opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq on the grounds that war represented a "defeat for humanity."

"There was a clear disagreement," Nicholson said of the rift between the Vatican and the White House over the use of military force to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.

In a failed attempt to sway President George W. Bush from a military strike, the pope had sent an emissary to Washington in the run-up to the war.

Another congenital liar: An alcoholic cousin of an aide to Ahmed Chalabi has emerged as the key source in the US rationale for going to war in Iraq.

According to a US presidential commission looking into pre-war intelligence failures, the basis for pivotal intelligence on Iraq's alleged biological weapons programmes and fleet of mobile labs was a spy described as 'crazy' by his intelligence handlers and a 'congenital liar' by his friends.

The defector, given the code-name Curveball by the CIA, has emerged as the central figure in the corruption of US intelligence estimates on Iraq. Despite considerable doubts over Curveball's credibility, his claims were included in the administration's case for war without caveat.

It now appears there were problems with Curveball from the start, but the intelligence community was willing to believe him 'because the tales he told were consistent with what they already believed.'


Too sensitive for the likes of you: The White House is maintaining extraordinary restrictions on information about the detention of high-level terror suspects, permitting only a small number of members of Congress to be briefed on how and where the prisoners are being held and interrogated, senior government officials say.

By law, the White House is required to notify the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of all intelligence-gathering activities. But the White House has taken the stance that the secret detention program is too sensitive to be described to any members other than the top Republican and Democrat on each panel.

Maybe this is why: CIA interrogations may have played a role in the deaths of several detainees in Iraq, as Bush administration lawyers were advocating an aggressive interrogation policy that critics say led to torture, military documents and officials say.

U.S. officials have formally disclosed the death of only one person interrogated by the CIA in Iraq -- Manadel al-Jamadi, an unregistered "ghost" prisoner at Abu Ghraib who died Nov. 4, 2003, while handcuffed in a prison shower room.

But sworn statements provided to Army investigators by military intelligence and police at Abu Ghraib contain at least four references to CIA detainees dying during interrogations that do not correspond with the al-Jamadi case.


Wolfowitz: If the World Bank's board had applied the same kind of "due diligence" to Paul Wolfowitz that they purport to apply to major development projects, they might have uncovered a significant conflict of interest that could have led them to rethink their embrace of the architect of the Iraq war.

Just consider his role in the U.S. occupational authority's (CPA) looting of the Iraqi people's oil revenues to pay off well-connected crony contractors like Halliburton. As president of the World Bank, he will be in a position to quash an important related investigation.

Military News

Parental approval: Faced with wilting recruitment and ongoing violence in Iraq, Army and Marine Corps recruiters are turning their attention to those most likely to oppose them: parents.

The two branches are shifting from a strategy that focused first on wooing potential recruits to one aimed at gaining the trust and attention of their parents by using grassroots initiatives and multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns.

No kids: Female soldiers should avoid having children until they are ready to leave the Army or have established careers, members of a panel of female first sergeants advised troops here Thursday.

First Sgt. Mary Maczko joined the Army 21 years ago as a 30-year-old mother of two. The Queens, N.Y., native said it’s natural for younger soldiers to want to have children.

“Between 21 and 30 is when they have children. But we are an Army at war. The best thing to do is not have any children,” she advised the soldiers.

“You want to make sure you are able to do what you have to do. A child is an obstacle. There are things you cannot do. It restricts your time,” she said.

Maupin: The military will consider reclassifying as dead the only United States soldier listed as captured in the Iraq War and review its designation of a pilot shot down in the 1991 Gulf War as captured, officials said.

A three-officer board of inquiry will convene today to review evidence in the case of Army Reserve Sergeant Keith Matthew Maupin, missing in Iraq since April 9, 2004, when his military fuel convoy was ambushed near Baghdad, the army said yesterday.

The army has classified Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, as ‘captured’. Ms Shari Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the Army human resources command, said among the range of options available to the board was to recommend Sgt Maupin be reclassified as ‘deceased/body not recovered’.


Comment: When the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, they expected there would be a quick handover to carefully selected allies in a secular government that would be the opposite of Iran's theocracy, and perhaps even a counterfoil to Iran's regional aspirations. It is one of the greatest ironies of the US intervention that the Iraqi people instead used their first voting opportunity to elect a government with a strong religious base, and indeed with close links to the Islamic republic on their border. The US, having destroyed the sole major secular government in the region, is now at risk of replacing it with a theocratic regime.

The scene is now set for a prolonged power struggle between the US and the Shia majority. Having been deprived for more than 500 years of the opportunity to govern Iraq, the Shias, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, are clearly now determined to exert their influence.

To forestall a clerical-driven religious regime, Washington has a plan in reserve, according to Asia Times (15 February), to arm small militias backed by US troops. The report states that "in a highly clandestine operation, the US has procured Pakistan-manufactured weapons, and consignments have been loaded in bulk on to US military cargo aircraft at Chaklala airbase in the past few weeks". The same report says that these US supported militias would comprise former members of the Baath party, which has already split into three factions, and would receive assistance from the interim prime minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord.

Comment: Last October, just weeks before the presidential election, I wrote a column stating that the acting director of the CIA was suppressing a report to Congress that was potentially embarrassing to President Bush's campaign. The report had been completed by the CIA's own independent inspector general four months before the election, yet the agency rebuffed Congress' request that it be made public.

The case of Curveball was relevant to the election because it went to the heart of the administration's competency in managing national security. At best, what emerges from the presidential commission's report is a picture of an American leadership in total disarray on national security; at worst, it shows widespread complicity at the top in a concerted effort to deceive the electorate on matters of war.

The Curveball case was definitively closed when the CIA gained access to the Iraqi defector in March 2004 and categorically repudiated his story. That was half a year before the U.S. presidential election, however, and clearly the White House didn't want the CIA inspector general to blow the whistle and embarrass the president as he fought for his political survival.

To squelch the exposure of such widespread incompetence and deadly manipulation of national security intelligence is a betrayal of democracy.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Oak Ridge, TN, soldier killed south of Balad Ruz.

Local story: Buffalo, NY, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Salcha, Alaska, Marine killed in Al Anbar province.

Local story: Filipino Marine, who joined the service hoping to become a US citizen, killed in Ramadi.


Local story: West Pennesboro Township, PA, Marine awarded posthumous Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal.


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