Wednesday, April 20, 2005
War News for Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Bring ‘em on: Seven civilians wounded by car bomb targeting a US military patrol in west Baghdad. Iraqi Brigadier General and his driver shot dead by gunmen in Amara. Another Iraqi Brigadier General assassinated in Mosul. Philippines government calls for its nationals to leave Iraq.
Bring ‘em on: Two US soldiers killed, four wounded in car bombing in the Al-Amil area of Baghdad.
Bring ‘em on: Iraqi President reports that 50 bodies have been taken from the Tigris river south of Baghdad, that the bodies are those of hostages who were held in a nearby town earlier this week, and that the names of the dead and their killers are known.
Bring ‘em on: Nineteen Iraqis soldiers shot to death in a soccer stadium in Haditha. One child and one adult killed, at least five wounded in car bomb attack aimed at a US patrol in the Amiriyah district of Baghdad. Eight wounded in car bombing near the Bilat police station in Baghdad’s Dora district. Three civilians wounded in a third car bombing in Baghdad. A driver working for the health ministry killed, another individual wounded in attack by gunmen in east Baghdad. One Turkish truck driver killed when his truck struck a mine near Shorjat. Two Iraqi soldiers killed, three insurgents captured in clashes near Dujail. One Iraqi soldier killed, another wounded by mortar fire near Duluiyah. Basra tribal leader assassinated in Zubair. A 50-strong group of guerillas unsuccessfully attempted to overrun one or more local police stations in Mosul on Monday.
Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi civilian killed in Tikrit in explosion targeting an Iraqi army vehicle. One Iraqi soldier killed by gunfire in al-Dalou’eya area. One Iraqi civilian killed in an explosion in Baquba.
A strange story gets stranger: The bodies of 50 people, believed to be those of hostages held in a town near Baghdad earlier this week, have been found in the Tigris river south of Baghdad, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Wednesday.
"More than 50 bodies have been brought out from the Tigris and we have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes," Talabani told reporters.
Shi'ite officials said last Saturday that around 50 people had been taken hostage by Sunni militants in the town of Madaen, south of Baghdad, and were threatened with death.
Iraqi security forces raided the town earlier this week, but said they had found next to no evidence that anyone had been taken hostage or that there were any gunmen in the town.
Later, Shi'ite officials said that dozens of bodies had been found in the Tigris south of Madaen, but residents and police in the area who spoke to Reuters said they hadn't seen any bodies.
Basra: A series of recent daytime assassinations of Shiite and Sunni Muslim officials here has led to fears that Sunni insurgents, Shiite radicals and Iranian agents may be seeking to destabilize this southern city, which had remained relatively calm since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq two years ago.
No one has been arrested or claimed responsibility for the shootings, which have taken the lives of a Sunni criminal judge and an educational inspector, and two Shiite city council candidates and a major in the Iraqi national guard.
Some residents are concerned that the killings could spark widespread sectarian violence in a city that is dominated by Shiites but also has a significant Sunni population.
Wait, we’re not winning?: For a while after Iraq's election in January, it looked as if the country's nearly two-year-old insurgency was showing signs of flagging.
Attacks against U.S. forces fell more than 20 percent in the weeks immediately after the poll, and March's U.S. death toll was the lowest in more than a year, the U.S. military said.
While Iraqi security forces were still dying every day, with more than 400 police and soldiers killed over the past two months, positive signs were appearing. Iraqi troops even captured several senior militant leaders, the government said.
But over the past two weeks, much of that optimism has been wiped away as insurgents have hit back with a series of deadly attacks targeting both U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies.
"I don't think the insurgency has gone away at all," said a U.S. military official in Baghdad, who asked not to be named. "Perhaps we just had a spike in success against it."
Line of defense: As they kill time smoking cigarettes, the border guards at Fort 15 do not watch Jordan. Instead they look east, toward Baghdad, as if searching for help.
Only 10 guards remain of the 50 assigned to the fort. The rest have trickled out in disputes over pay. There are no uniforms, no furniture. The fort is armed with a single machine gun, with one banana clip of ammunition.
If Iraq's insurgency is being stoked by guns, money and fighters crossing from Jordan and Syria, as U.S. and Iraqi officials say, the men at Fort 15 can do little to stop it.
Traveling 200 miles of Iraq's borders with Jordan and Syria, as Marine Lt. Col. Ken DeSimone did recently, one finds snapshots of a line of defense so devastated that "porous" would be an improvement.
"It's like the Wild West out here," said DeSimone, a reservist from North Carolina who was a tank commander before being assigned to inspect the border. "This is worse than anybody thought."
The safest city in Iraq: In last November's U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah, dozens of U.S. troops, hundreds of insurgents and an unknown number of civilians were killed. Now, curfews, checkpoints and other stringent security measures are being used to prevent the city from falling back into insurgent hands. But enhancing security is hampering efforts to rebuild. Checkpoints choke the influx of supplies and business, ultimately slowing the creation of jobs needed to give young people an alternative to joining the insurgency for money.
"If you don't have enough people flowing in to sustain commerce, you will stunt growth," said Capt. Rudy Quiles, a Marine civil affairs officer here. Letting more people and goods into Fallujah "is a risk we're going to have to take at some point for the good of the city." He estimated that 85 percent of people in Fallujah were unemployed or underemployed.
Nearly all of the city's estimated 250,000 residents fled before the fighting started, and about 90,000 have returned to find wide swaths of the town in ruin. More than half of Fallujah's 39,000 homes were damaged, and about 10,000 of those were destroyed or left structurally unsound to live in, U.S. officials say. Limited food and fuel supplies mean higher prices and lines that can reach 100 cars at government gas stations.
Wearing a white tunic called a dishdasha, sunglasses and headdress, Hamid Taha, a district leader, brushed his hands together when asked about local electricity. "There is no power in our area," he said. Running water is available about three or four hours a day. About half of the 5,000 houses in his district are damaged. But Taha said he worried most about the lack of work.
"What did we do to have to live like this?" said Ali Hussein, a neighbor whose home was also destroyed.
Learned behavior: The Bush Administration and senior military commanders have suggested in recent days that the training of Iraqi security forces -- one of the linchpins of America's exit strategy -- is going so well that significant troop reductions may be possible by early next year. On Apr. 12, during a surprise visit to Baghdad, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talked up the progress the security forces are making. His position echoed early remarks by General George Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, about substantial drawdowns in U.S. forces by spring of next year. Later that day, President George W. Bush told soldiers at Fort Hood, Tex., that "Iraqi forces are becoming more self-reliant."
Nonetheless, while the Iraqi army seems to be getting up to speed, the training of the 142,000-member police force -- about half the total security forces supposedly needed -- is moving more slowly and fraught with bigger problems than reports by U.S. officials might suggest.
Infiltration of the police by insurgents poses a critical problem, says a U.S. Army captain who returned from Iraq in February after a yearlong tour as a military intelligence officer. Sometimes the police even act in cahoots with the insurgents. In one instance, insurgents let it be known that they were going to attack a police station, and the cops left ahead of time. The next day, weapons and patrol cars had disappeared.
Most disturbing, in the last half of 2004 Iraqi police have killed political opponents, falsely arrested people to extort money, and systematically raped and tortured female prisoners, according to a February, 2005, State Dept. report on Iraq's human rights record. In one of the worst examples, police in Basra reported last December that officers in the Internal Affairs Unit were involved in the slaughter of 10 Baath Party members. Iraq's Human Rights Minister, Bakhtiar Amin, says it will be hard to teach democratic policing because torture and other human rights abuses were "learned behavior."
Teachers: Army intelligence officials in Iraq developed and circulated "wish lists" of harsh interrogation techniques they hoped to use on detainees in August 2003, including tactics such as low-voltage electrocution, blows with phone books and using dogs and snakes -- suggestions that some soldiers believed spawned abuse and illegal interrogations.
The discussions, which took place in e-mail messages between interrogators and Army officials in Baghdad, were used in part to develop the interrogation rules of engagement approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then commander of U.S. troops in Iraq. Two specific cases of abuse in Iraq occurred soon after.
Army investigative documents released yesterday, as well as court records and files, suggest that the tactics were used on two detainees: One died during an interrogation in November 2003 while stuffed into a sleeping bag, and another was badly beaten by inexperienced interrogators using a police baton in September 2003. The documents indicate confusion over what tactics were legal in Iraq, a belief that most detainees were not covered by Geneva Conventions protections and alleged abuse by interrogators who had tacit approval to "turn it up a notch."
That government’s gonna be ready any day now! Honest!: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Wednesday he hoped Iraq's new government would be announced on Thursday, nearly 12 weeks after elections.
Iraqi leaders have been negotiating over the formation of the government since the Jan. 30 elections that brought a Shi'ite Muslim majority to power.
But disagreements over which parties should get which ministries, and on how the Sunni minority should be brought into political process, have held up the formation of the government.
Much of the squabbling over ministries has focused on the Oil, Interior and Defense ministries. The Interior Ministry is expected to go to a member of SCIRI, the main party in the Shi'ite alliance.
Hey, just like Republicans!: Saddam Hussein's rules for young and ambitious Iraqis were clear: If you want a future, you must join the Baath Party.
Now, as the leaders of the new National Assembly parcel out Cabinet posts according to ethnic group and religious or political affiliation, students and recent college graduates worry that the government will become a collection of fiefdoms in which loyalties matter more than merit.
"I guess now with so many political parties, and the way the different ministries are divided according to sects, one doesn't know which party he should be a member in," said Haider Ali, 24.
Students and job seekers swap tales of friends who were told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to produce letters of recommendation from the Kurdish Democratic Party or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Kurdish leader Hoshyar Zebari runs the foreign ministry, which resonates with the sounds of Kurdish rather than Arabic. He's likely to retain the post.
"We know that ministry is for the Kurdish party," said Kareem al-Saadi, 22, a graduating senior at Mustansiriyah University. "When you want to have a job in this ministry, you must get a notification from the Kurdish party." Al-Saadi said it happened in all the ministries.
Sunni fractures: Last Friday, two of the main mosques in Ramadi delivered conflicting sermons.
One called for a halt to the violence that has wracked this western Iraqi town for nearly two years.
The other demanded ceaseless resistance against the “atheist American occupiers”.
The split between the mosques mirrors a debate throughout Ramadi, and among Sunni Arabs in general, over whether or not to support continued armed resistance against the US armed forces.
Uppity buggers: Iraqi deputies demanded Tuesday an official apology from Washington over the manhandling by US soldiers of an MP at a Baghdad checkpoint, with some calling for the fortified Green Zone to be "liberated from the occupation".
Deputies suspended their session for an hour in protest at the incident involving Fatah al-Sheikh, a partisan of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and member of the dominant United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) bloc.
They then voted unanimously on a motion demanding an official apology from the US embassy and Washington, and the punishment of the US soldier involved.
Spreading that liberty around: Two new reports on economics ("Arab World Competitiveness Report 2005") and politics ("Towards Freedom in the Arab World," launched in Amman, Jordan on April 5, 2005) in the Arab states dramatized what all astute observers already knew: the Arab region is a mess and US policies have exacerbated the situation.
Such judgments by leading independent Arab scholars who drafted the latest report reflect deep pessimism. Absence of freedom pervades the region, particularly in the oil-rich Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, they noted.
The 2004 AHDR also focuses on Washington's hypocrisy in including its allies like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, as "democratic." These governments would not pass rudimentary democratic tests, argued the authors.
Bush backers, however, deny reality on several fronts. First, the tyrannical regimes that they call allies will not redistribute power or wealth. Second, and more damaging to Bush's freedom indicator, elections, is that the Arabs interviewed by the AHDR team want "liberation from foreign occupation and the freedoms of opinion, expression and movement". Such facts don't bother "democracy pushers."
"We are at the dawn of a glorious, delicate, revolutionary moment in the Middle East," wrote columnist Charles Krauthammer. "It was triggered by the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and televised images of 8 million Iraqis voting in a free election".
Awada Dakil, an Iraqi Shia, offers a stark contrast to Krauthammer's frothy enthusiasm. "Nothing has changed," he said. "The only difference is that we were once ruled by a dictator and now we are ruled by clowns".
(Hey, look at the bright side, Awada – at least in Iraq you’re ruled by dictators or clowns.)
Commander Codpiece in sympathy mode: The story of Telecinco cameraman José Couso is familiar to most journalists. How, on the morning of April 8, 2003, he stood on a balcony of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, watching with other journalists and cameramen as a Third Infantry tank division exchanged fire with Iraqi forces. How, after a 35-minute lull in the battle, a tank commanded by Sgt. Shawn Gibson swung its cannon toward the hotel and, 10 minutes later, fired an incendiary shell. And how that one shell seriously injured three journalists and killed two, including Couso and Taras Protsyuk, from Reuters.
Two years later, there still has been no official independent investigation of the incident, nor any credible explanation of why an American tank crew was given permission to target a clearly identifiable landmark housing several hundred journalists. The Pentagon’s claim that the tank was returning fire has been disputed by every reporter at the hotel who has spoken out on the event.
Indeed, Couso and Protsyuk were only two of 14 media workers slain in Iraq by U.S. forces without credible explanation, prompting the International Federation of Journalists to renew its demand that the U.S. properly investigate the various incidents. The demand was given additional impetus by the recent U.S. shooting of an Italian journalist who had been taken hostage by Iraqi insurgents.
To be sure, some progress has been made. Hundreds of supporters, including many journalists, protest outside the U.S. embassy in Madrid on the eighth of each month. Spain’s new president, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, granted compensation to Couso’s widow under a law to help victims of terrorism and asked Secretary of State Colin Powell for an explanation for the attack. Support is building in the European Parliament behind a demand for an independent investigation. And the family has filed a war crimes complaint under the Geneva Conventions against three U.S. officers.
But when asked about Couso’s slaying, President Bush reflected an official American nonchalance about the incident by responding, “I think war is a dangerous place.”
Everybody in the world knows: Seventeen Afghan men released from the U.S. detention center for terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay were turned over to local authorities in Kabul on Tuesday with a warning not to discuss mistreatment at the facility. One of the men nonetheless accused the U.S. military of abuse, but gave no details.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Michael Shavers said the 17 Afghans and the Turkish man had been cleared of accusations they were enemy combatants during the Combatant Status Review Tribunal process that recently ended. Five others cleared in late March already had been sent home and another 15 await transfers home.
One of the former Afghan detainees, Abdul Rahman, said abuse had occurred during his 3 1/2 years in detention, but he would not elaborate.
"There was a lot of bad treatment against us, but this is not the time to tell you," said Rahman. "Everybody in the world knows what kind of jail it is. I can't talk about it now."
Interview with Ahmed Chalabi: Leader of the Iraqi National Congress Party, Ahmed Chalabi, may be a controversial figure, but he is also a force to contend with in today's Iraq. He came to the spotlight as a staunch supporter of the US invasion and has since continued to influence the course of events.
A Resolution: WHEREAS: The Bush Administration, using false intelligence estimates, misled the country into an illegal, unnecessary and unwise invasion and occupation of Iraq, against a country that had neither attacked nor posed an immediate threat to the United States, thus jeopardizing our national security; and
WHEREAS: As a result of that action, more than 1,500 American troops have been killed and more than 10,000 other brave Americans have been maimed or injured, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, including many innocent civilians, have also lost their lives, been injured, and seen their property and country’s infrastructure destroyed; and
WHEREAS: The invasion and occupation have created a severe burden on our economy, stretched the capacity of our armed forces including Reserve and National Guard troops who are serving unexpectedly long and difficult tours in Iraq, and continues to cause deep concern at home and abroad about the policies and intentions of the United States to the point where the United States is widely regarded with suspicion, hostility and distrust, and elections in Iraq confirmed that Iraqis wish the United States to withdraw
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the California Democratic Party calls for termination of the occupation at the earliest possible time with the withdrawal of American troops, coupled with the creation of an international body that can assist the Iraqi people in freely and peacefully determining their own future, and that we participate in multi-lateral reconstruction.
Imagine: Imagine you're a child, maybe 8 years young, riding in the back of the family car, your parents up front, your siblings pressed around you. It is dusk and you are making for home.
Suddenly you hear the all-too-familiar pop of gunfire. Your father slows down but keeps driving, afraid to stop.
Perhaps you turn to a sibling and ask what is wrong. But before anyone can answer, the war invades the thin cocoon of the automobile.
Bullets pierce the windows and doors. Instinctively, you duck as splinters of glass and metal shower the interior.
And with it comes the blood, splattering everywhere - on your clothes, your hands, your face - everywhere.
For a brief, stunned moment, the carnage ceases and there is only silence. Then screaming fills your ears.
Light streams in as you and the other children, sobbing, tumble out of the vehicle, now resting against the curb. Inside, your parents lay dead, riddled with bullets, your father's face unrecognizable.
The soldiers gather, piecing together the tragedy they have unwittingly perpetrated. One holds and consoles you, perhaps thinking of his own children.
He talks, but even if he spoke your language, there would be nothing he could say that would make any sense.
Local story: Nashau, NH, soldier killed in Ramadi.
Local story: Pellston, MI, Marine killed in Al-Anbar province honored by his state.
Local story: West Burlington, IA, soldier killed in Ramadi.
Local story: Flint, MI, soldier killed outside of Baghdad.
Local story: Eastville, VA, soldier killed in Ramadi.
Note to Readers: I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you to alert reader and prolific commenter bob for his many contributions to this site. Between his comments and his many links - well, sometimes he links, sometimes he just posts the whole story - he's supplied perspectives and insights unlike those of any other regular posters. His passion and commitment to justice shine through everything he's posted here and it enriches the site immeasurably. Thanks, bob. Don't ever let the bastards bring you down.