Wednesday, April 27, 2005

War News For Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Two bodyguards killed and an Iraqi police Brig. Gen. wounded in attack by gunmen in Baghdad. One Iraqi soldier killed and three injured in bomb attack on joint US/Iraqi patrol in Samarra. Shiite cleric shot to death in Najaf. Coalition base attacked in Tikrit, four suspects detained by US troops.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi guerillas claim to have killed two Iraqi Interior ministry officials and three of their bodyguards in a Baghdad ambush.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi parliament member shot dead outside her Baghdad home, believed to be the first National Assembly member killed.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi guerillas release video of kidnapped Romanian journalists, threatening to kill them if Romanian forces are not withdrawn from Iraq.

Bring ‘em on: Three Iraqi barbers shot dead when attackers sprayed their storefronts with gunfire in the al-Shaeb district of Baghdad. Police say this brings the total of assassinated barbers to nine.

Those pesky elusive WMDs: The U.S.-led group that scoured Iraq for weapons of mass destruction has found no evidence Iraq hid such weapons in Syria before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, according to a final report on the investigation.

The 1,700-member Iraq Survey Team, responsible for the weapons hunt, also said in a report released late on Monday it found no Iraqi officials with direct knowledge of a transfer of weapons of mass destruction developed by former President Saddam Hussein.

President Bush and other U.S. officials cited a grave threat posed by Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and Baghdad's efforts to acquire a nuclear arms capability as a justification for war. No such weapons were found but U.S. officials said it was possible Saddam sent them to Syria for safekeeping.

The report said the WMD investigation had gone as far as feasible and there was no reason to continue holding many of the Iraqis who had been detained in the process.

Speaking of which: Half of all Americans, exactly 50%, now say the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the Gallup Organization reported this morning. "This is the highest percentage that Gallup has found on this measure since the question was first asked in late May 2003," the pollsters observed. "At that time, 31% said the administration deliberately misled Americans. This sentiment has gradually increased over time, to 39% in July 2003, 43% in January/February 2004, and 47% in October 2004." Also, according to the latest poll, more than half of Americans, 54%, disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while 43% approve.

Those pesky elusive terrorists: U.S. forces in Iraq believe they just missed capturing most-wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a February raid that netted two of his associates, a senior U.S. military official said Tuesday.

The official, who discussed the operation on the condition of anonymity, could provide no details on how Zarqawi escaped. U.S. forces recovered a computer belonging to Zarqawi, the official said, although he did not say how it was obtained.

Troops with a covert military unit were reportedly in place to arrest him as he was on his way to Ramadi, but he caught wind of them, ABC News reported late Monday, citing an unidentified senior military official.

The official said that just before the meeting was scheduled, a car was pulled over as it approached a checkpoint. A pickup truck trailing the car then turned and headed in the opposite direction.

Officials believe Zarqawi was in the fleeing truck, but when U.S. teams pulled the vehicle over several miles later, he was not inside, ABC reported. The official told the network that Zarqawi apparently jumped out of the vehicle when it passed beneath an overpass and hid there before escaping.

Inside the truck, the official told ABC, U.S. troops found Zarqawi's computer and about $104,000.

Journalists: Five journalists have been arrested in the past two weeks in Iraq, which press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders believes underlines a policy of "hasty and arbitrary" arrests and "disgraceful" treatment of journalists.

"We are very worried about the increase in arrests of local journalists, often without any evidence or for unknown reasons," said Reporters Sans Frontieres in a statement.

"We appeal to the Iraqi authorities to be more discerning and restrained, and not carry out hasty and arbitrary arrests."

The group said the employers and family members of arrested Iraqi journalists are often given no explanation for the arrests.

It is also concerned about Iraqi police brutality, and that the bailing of arrested reporters is being used as a form of extortion.

"The police have sometimes behaved in a completely unacceptable fashion, both in the beatings given to [Reuters cameraman Nabil Hussein] and two of his assistants, and in exorbitant bail requests that are tantamount to extortion."

The organisation has called on the Iraqi authorities to put an end to such "disgraceful practices" and to quickly produce evidence against the journalists or release them.

Police have not told Reuters what Hussein has been charged with since his April 24 arrest. His father was also arrested when he tried to visit his son.

Commandos: The 12,000-strong commandos, made up of former special forces from Saddam Hussein's military, have been battling in hot spots like Ramadi, Samarra and Mosul for months.

They have been lionised in a nightly television show called "Terrorists in the Grip of Justice" that shows confessions extracted from detainees.

But their strong-arm tactics have triggered a backlash from the election-winning Shiite alliance which is considering purging the division when it finally assumes the leadership of a new governing coalition.

The commandos have been dogged by torture allegations and at least one of their detainees in Samarra turned up dead last month.

The Pentagon Follies

We are definitely winning: The insurgency in Iraq is "about where it was a year ago," in terms of attacks, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said but he said American and Iraqi troops are gaining ground in the two-year-old conflict.

Gen. Richard Myers told reporters Tuesday that the number of insurgent attacks has run between 50 and 60 a day in the past week, up from a recent average of about 40 a day.

However, he said half of those attacks are ineffective, and the level remains "nowhere near" the volume of attacks ahead of Iraq's January elections. In addition, he said, Iraqis are more willing to come forward with intelligence about the insurgents, and Iraq's security forces are taking on more responsibility.

"Almost any indicator you look at, the trends are up. So we're definitely winning," he said. "However, there will be a lot of challenges ahead. Like any insurgency, we become impatient. And in the end, the Iraqis must do this for themselves."

There’s no change in the attack levels, but we are definitely winning: After a postelection respite, the pace of insurgent attacks in Iraq has increased in recent weeks to approach last year's levels, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

"Where they are right now is where they were almost a year ago, and it's nowhere near the peak," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Pentagon press conference.

That's about 400 attacks a week of all kinds: bombings, shootings, rocket and mortar attacks, Pentagon officials said. About half cause significant damage or injure or kill someone.

Though they vary daily, those figures are close to the rate of attacks that took place through much of last year, except for spasms of violence in Najaf, Fallujah and elsewhere. In pre-election violence in January, the number spiked to twice the usual rate.

Ok, lemme see here, um…50 to 60 attacks a day, half of ‘em are “effective”, that is, “cause significant damage or injure or kill someone”…call it 25 a day, so slightly more than one an hour 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the last 365 days…so that comes out to 9,125 significant attacks in the last year, except these numbers are “nowhere near the peak” so let’s just be conservative and say that in the last year there were around 10,000 militarily significant attacks in Iraq and we note that the rate of attacks is not decreasing and this is in a country under full military occupation by the most powerful army in the world…

This indicates two things:

One, we here at Today in Iraq aren’t doing more than scratching the surface with our ‘Bring ‘em on’ entries.

And two, with all due respect, Gen. Myers, your head is so far up your ass that the light at the end of the tunnel you’re seeing is the reflection from your dentures.

More Highlights From Tuesday’s Press Conference

"In terms of the number of incidents, it's right about where it was a year ago," he said. "And weeks will differ, and months will differ a little bit. But if you look at the scope of this, over time since May of 2003, that's the conclusion you draw."

"Almost any indicator you look at, the trends are up. So we're definitely winning

"I think we're definitely winning. I think we've been winning for some time."

- General Richard Myers

"We're focusing a reasonable portion of our efforts at the present time not on counterinsurgency at all. We're focusing it on training Iraqi security forces in increasing amounts. So you can make a case that, gee, if the level's about the same, then the insurgency must be down because we're paying less attention to it and encouraging Iraqi security forces to pay greater attention."

"The United States and the coalition forces, in my personal view, will not be the thing that will defeat the insurgency. So therefore, winning or losing is not the issue for 'we', in my view, in the traditional, conventional context of using the word winning and losing in a war."

- SecDef Donald Rumsfeld

Iraqi Politics

All the cabinet positions are assigned except for the ones that aren’t and the ones where the people we chose won’t serve but it’s ok because we aren’t going tell you who’s in it anyway: Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim Jaafari handed President Jalal Talabani his proposed cabinet list Tuesday, state television reported, after nearly three months of protracted consultations which tested Washington’s patience. Jaafari also unveiled the list before a restricted meeting of his winning United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), said Iraqiya TV. But it was not immediately known when the Parliament would be asked to approve it. A senior member of the Shia-dominated alliance, Jawad Maliki, said “the government will be announced tonight, but no names will immediately be made public”. “There are still problems in deciding who will hold the oil and interior ministries,” he cautioned.

Three Sunni members of the UIA said Tuesday they were withdrawing from the list, which holds 146 seats in the 275-member parliament, for being too ‘sectarian’, Mudher Shawket, one of the three, said.

Discord persists: Bickering over different ministerial candidates threatened to delay the announcement of the new Iraqi government for another day, Shiite officials said Wednesday, in spite of intense U.S. pressure to end a crippling political stalemate.

Iraq's prime minister-designate has proposed appointing a broad-based 36-member Cabinet — including a deputy premier from each of Iraq's main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions — but discord among the groups persisted.

Among the main points of contention was the winning Shiite alliance's opposition to some Sunni Arab candidates who they believe were former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, which brutally repressed the majority Shiites and the Kurds.

Infighting within the majority-winning United Iraqi Alliance over who would be oil minister was also stalling progress, said Sami al-Askari, a Shiite lawmaker.

God help us if US leaders get any more active: Rising casualties, well-coordinated rebel attacks and the failure of Iraqi politicians to form a new government are pushing U.S. leaders toward a more active role in Iraqi politics. The recent surge in violence suggests a hands-off approach may not be enough and democracy in Iraq is still an open question.

The inability of rival factions to name a new transitional government has extended a leadership vacuum, played into the hands of an emboldened Iraqi insurgency and slowed momentum created by the Jan. 30 elections.

It has also clearly frustrated President Bush's national security team, despite the president's own repeated assertions that democracy didn't come overnight to the United States and can't be expected to flower quickly in Iraq.

Despite the increased U.S. pressure, Iraqi politicians failed again Monday to end the nearly three-month deadlock.

What the future holds for Iraq "is a remarkably open question" right now, said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's particularly open when you remember that the administration went to war thinking that this whole period of stability operations and nation-building would last about three months."

The Global War On Terror

We need General Myers to tell us we're winning some more: The U.S. count of major world terrorist attacks more than tripled in 2004, a rise that may revive debate on whether the Bush administration is winning the war on terrorism, congressional aides said on Tuesday.

The number of "significant" international terrorist attacks rose to about 650 last year from about 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides briefed on the numbers by State Department and intelligence officials on Monday.

The State Department last year initially released erroneous figures that understated the attacks and casualties in 2003 and used the figures to argue that the Bush administration was prevailing in the war on terrorism.

It later said the number of people killed and injured in 2003 was more than double its original count and said "significant" terrorist attacks -- those that kill or seriously injure someone, cause more than $10,000 in damage or attempt to do either of those things -- rose to a 20-year high of 175.

The State Department last week unleashed a new debate about the numbers by saying it would no longer release them in its annual terrorism report but that the newly created National Counterterrorism Center that compiles the data would do so.

Italy Gets Bushwhacked

No wrongdoing: A U.S. military investigation has cleared American troops of any wrongdoing in the shooting death last month of an Italian security agent in Baghdad, according to a senior Pentagon official.

The agent's death strained relations between the United States and Italy, two stalwart allies in the Iraq war.

The U.S. soldiers involved will face no disciplinary actions, the Pentagon official said Monday.

Imbroglio: Tensions between the United States and Italy surged today, as Italian politicians and citizens reacted furiously to leaked reports in the Italian news media that a joint investigation into the shooting death of an Italian agent in Baghdad would absolve American soldiers of guilt in the incident.

The United States ambassador to Rome, Mel Sembler, met twice with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his top aide at the government headquarters to try to avert a crisis that could cost the United States one of its staunchest European allies in the Iraq conflict.

Mr. Berlusconi has kept 3,000 Italian troops in Iraq, even though Italy's involvement is wildly unpopular here. The news that the inquiry might absolve the American soldiers of all guilt comes at an extremely vulnerable moment for the beleaguered Mr. Berlusconi, who was forced to resign temporarily last week; he has since formed a new and tenuous coalition government.

The findings of the investigating team, which includes an Italian general and an Italian ambassador, have yet to be released. But, on Sunday and Monday, unidentified Army officials in the United States described some of its conclusions to reporters, setting off the current imbroglio.

An insult: Italian opposition parties branded a report that cleared U.S. soldiers of blame for the killing of an Italian agent in Iraq an insult Tuesday and urged the government to press for a fuller investigation.

A U.S. Army official, briefing reporters in Washington on the preliminary results of the investigation, said Monday that the soldiers had followed their rules of engagement and should therefore face no charges of dereliction of duty.

The probe was conducted jointly with the Italians but the Army official said Italy, a close ally in Iraq, had balked at endorsing the report. Rome disagreed with its findings on the car's speed and whether the Italians kept U.S. troops informed.

The Italian Foreign Ministry declined comment, saying the report was still not official.

Giuseppe Fioroni, a leader of the opposition center-left Margherita party, urged the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to demand full cooperation from the U.S. authorities to determine who was responsible for Calipari's killing.

"A one-sided conclusion absolving anyone of blame that the Italian side does not accept is an insult to the truth and to the memory of Nicola Calipari apart from being a serious act of arrogance toward Italy," Fioroni said in a statement.

A slap in the face: An Italian journalist who was held hostage in Iraq has criticised a US military report into the killing of the agent who helped secure her release.

Ms Sgrena described the conclusion of the leaked report as a "slap in the face".

"The greatest disappointment would be if our authorities were to accept this insult without reacting," Ms Sgrena wrote in a front page editorial in her newspaper, Il Manifesto.

"All the words said about Calipari would turn into hypocrisy... and Nicola would have been our government's hero, just for one day."

Inquiry continues: While US investigators have concluded that American soldiers who shot and killed an Italian intelligence officer at a Baghdad checkpoint followed instructions for dealing with potential threats, Italian government said the inquiry will continue.

According to Italian news reports, Italian officials disagreed with the US findings and were refusing to sign it. Ben Duffy, a US Embassy spokesman in Rome, said the United States was still hoping for a combined report.

In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a US ally facing strong opposition at home to his decision to send troops to Iraq after the US-led invasion, assured Parliament yesterday that the investigation into the killing was not over.

Berlusconi apologized for what he called ''an unfortunate leak" suggesting that the investigation was completed. He spoke shortly after the US ambassador to Italy met with the premier's top aide to see if crucial differences over the investigation could be worked out.

Forensics: Prosecutors in Rome will begin inspecting a car pierced by gunfire in Iraq when American soldiers mistakenly killed an Italian intelligence agent at a Baghdad checkpoint last month.

The Toyota Corolla was flown aboard an Italian air force cargo plane from Baghdad to the Practica di Mare air base near Rome where the prosecutors will inspect it, a base spokesman, Capt. Diego Simondini, said today.

Analysis of the gunfire damage to the vehicle is expected to provide crucial information about how close the soldiers were to the car and from what angle they fired. Photos of the car shown on Italian TV show its side windows shattered and bullet holes on the side of the vehicle.

Checkpoint hell: The Sgrena case - or hit, as many Italians put it - has convulsed a country overwhelmingly against the war on Iraq, not only because of the tragic death of Calipari but because it has revealed in graphic detail to Italians and Europeans the grim reality faced by ordinary Iraqis, Sunni or Shi'ite. Iraqi civilians are now kidnapped by the hundreds. Iraqi civilians are routinely shot at by young, nervous American soldiers at checkpoints - as any correspondent who has covered Iraq knows so well. Iraqi civilian deaths are not even acknowledged by the Pentagon (remember Myers: "We don't do body counts").

Anybody who has covered the Iraq war has known - or has seen - checkpoint hell, where nervous American soldiers fire on anything that moves. The Toyota Corolla with Calipari and Sgrena was hit by only between eight and 10 rounds. Both Calipari and Sgrena were sitting in the back seat. Calipari was hit by a direct shot in the temple.

Ann Cooper, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said, "We are deeply troubled by the reported disagreement between US and Italian officials." The CPJ calls for "a thorough and credible investigation to determine what happened, who is responsible, and what steps are being taken to prevent similar incidents from occurring again in the future". The CPJ has conclusively determined that at least nine journalists and two media workers have been killed by the US military in Iraq since March 2003. At least four journalists were killed at checkpoints.

But Hey, Italians, Don’t Take It Personal

We also kill Bulgarians: The investigation into the death of Jr. Sgt. Bulgarian Gurdi Gurdev, who was killed in a friendly fire accident between Bulgarian and American troops in Iraq, is still on but there is no one to be blamed, General Fountain from the US commandment in Iraq said.

The Bulgarian soldier Gurdi Gurdev was killed accidentally by American forces in March when combat patrols from each country shot at each other in the dark in response to what each side thought was a hostile attack, the American military investigation has concluded. No Americans were held responsible for the shooting death, which a statement issued by the military headquarters in Baghdad called "a tragic accident." The statement said "no further investigation or administrative action is required."

And we’re not above popping the occasional Canadian: Foreign Affairs is investigating whether U.S. troops killed a Canadian on the weekend in Iraq.

A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman confirmed to the CBC on Tuesday that a Canadian, whom she did not identify, died on Saturday.

A source told Broadcast News that Ali Alwan may have died after U.S. forces "tracked" a target, using a helicopter gunship.

Oh, wait - by ESP we find the above cannot be true: The Foreign Affairs Department is investigating the death of a Canadian in Baghdad on Saturday, officials said yesterday.

Officials would not comment on a Canadian Press report that quoted an unidentified government source as saying Canada is investigating whether U.S. forces were involved in the death.

But a spokeswoman for the U.S. military in Baghdad said that she had checked with her headquarters and confirmed there was "no U.S. involvement in any attacks on Saturday involving a Canadian citizen."

And she knows this how? Do we check their passports before we shoot them? Or is it more like, “Hell, no, Sarge, none of these shredded body parts look Canadian to me.”

Filipinos beat feet: The United States said Wednesday it respects the Philippine government's bid to bring Filipino workers home from Iraq due to security concerns.

While Filipinos "play a crucial role in the allied effort to bring peace and democracy to a people who have been too long deprived of both," US officials also "recognize the government of the Philippines' concern for the welfare of its citizens," US embassy spokeswoman Karen Kelley said in a statement.

"This is understandable and we respect that position," she added.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo earlier this month asked Filipino workers in Iraq to leave that country immediately following the death of two Filipino drivers in suspected guerrilla attacks.

Our Pathetic Excuse For A Media

Kind of kept track: In their coverage of the death of Marla Ruzicka, an activist conducting a door-to-door survey of civilian casualties in Iraq who was killed by a suicide bomber on April 16, network news programs failed to note that her research apparently contradicts the Pentagon's repeated claims that it does not track civilian deaths.

News reports indicate that the Pentagon routinely claims it does not track civilian casualties for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "the United States adamantly refuses to estimate the number of people it kills in combat". The Washington Post reported that "Pentagon officials say they do not keep tallies of civilian casualties". Similarly, retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, declared in March 2002: "We don't do body counts."

Yet other news reports suggest that the Pentagon does in fact track civilian casualties, a discrepancy that ABC and other media outlets failed to note in their coverage of Ruzicka's death.

CIVIC's website clearly states that Ruzicka's objective was to document civilian casualties and advocate for compensation for the families of innocent "victims of conflict." But neither the NBC nor CBS evening news broadcasts reported this mission, despite the fact that CIVIC's research prompted Congress to appropriate $2.5 million and $20 million for civilian victims in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, according to the Times.

NBC's only reference to the substance of Ruzicka's work was a clip of a friend, who said that "She kind of kept track of what happened to civilians, innocent civilians in the war."

More Creeping Stalinism

Sacrificing freedoms for a dubious security: It would be natural to expect that as president of an employee association that represents more than 1,000 federal air marshals, Frank Terreri would be a reasonably outspoken guy.

But since Mr. Terreri became the association's president two years ago, he has been effectively prohibited by the rules of the Federal Air Marshal Service from speaking in public about airline safety matters. He has never been quoted in a newspaper article or written letters to the editor or to members of Congress outside his district.

These limitations - based on a ban, imposed on all federal air marshals, on speaking about their work without explicit permission - set off a feud last year between Mr. Terreri and the marshal service, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

…the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Mr. Terreri's behalf in United States District Court in Riverside, Calif., claiming that the department was violating his free speech rights and jeopardizing public safety by preventing agents from serving as whistleblowers.

The case may end up serving as a test of restrictions imposed on workers throughout the Department of Homeland Security, whose rights to speak out publicly are often compromised, employee leaders say, because of excessive concern about the possibility that their comments might compromise public safety.

"They are abusing the power they have under the guise of national security," said Shawn Moran, vice president of National Border Patrol Council local in San Diego.

Supporting The Troops

Depending on volunteer brain surgeons, no joke: Faced with a shortage of neurosurgeons, the U.S. military's largest overseas hospital is becoming increasingly dependent on civilian doctors volunteering their time to treat troops who suffered severe brain and spinal injuries in Iraq.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, an Army-run hospital in southwestern Germany, began recruiting civilian neurosurgeons from the United States late last year after a rotation of active-duty physicians became stretched so thin that the hospital was left without coverage at times.

About 200 troops who had served in Iraq were admitted to Landstuhl's intensive care unit last year with severe brain or spinal injuries requiring neurosurgery, hospital officials said. While the vast majority were seen by U.S. military doctors, a handful had to be transferred to neighboring German hospitals for treatment.

"There's no question that neurosurgery is a critically short specialty in all the services," Cornum said. "But I have a commitment from my surgeon general to send people here. As long as they are high-quality people, it doesn't make much difference to us where they come from."

But at times - January 2004, for instance - the hospital has had no neurosurgeon on duty, said Col. Kory Cornum, who oversees the civilian volunteer program (and is married to the hospital commander). The month passed without any serious neurosurgery cases arriving from Iraq, but "we were one event downrange from being overwhelmed," he said.

Isn’t one enough?: John Pernaselli of Brighton is going through an especially difficult time as his oldest son, a soldier, arrives in Iraq exactly one year after youngest son died there.

On April 24, 2004, Michael Pernaselli was serving in the Navy when he was killed by a suicide bomber. On April 24, 2005, his brother, John, who is in the Army, landed there on a 6-to-8 week mission.


Analysis: The Washington Post reports today that the Army's inspector general has cleared several of the most senior officers involved with the Abu Ghraib scandal of any wrongdoing — let alone any conduct which might lead to a court-martial. I'm finding it very hard right now to square this result with the Army's leadership manual, FM 22-100.

In the Army's leadership schools for officers and sergeants, the doctrinal manual preaches quite a different result from the outcome of this investigation. Bottom line: commanders (and NCOs) are responsible for everything their unit(s) do or fail to do, period. A commander, especially a general officer, is not just responsible for those things he/she ordered, but for those things that he/she knew about — or should have known about. This is the essence of the mantle of command, as reflected in several passages of FM 22-100, the Army's field manual for leadership.

Today's news represents both an abandonment of this principle and the abdication of responsibility by the Defense Department and the Army. The question is not whether these officers actually directed the abuses or participated in them; rather, the question is how they acted as generals and leaders to facilitate the abuses, fail to prevent them, or fail to stop them. That is the standard to which commanders are held, and that is the standard which is not being enforced here today. I dare say that this story sends a staggeringly bad message to the soldiers and junior leaders now on the front lines: we will hold you, your sergeants and your lieutenants responsible for their actions, but we will not hold your colonels and generals responsible for theirs. It is hard to see how that message can possibly support the "good order and discipline" which is so essential for maintaining an effective fighting force.

(This brief set of excerpts barely does justice to the whole article. It’s certainly worth reading in its entirety.)

Blog: “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.”

Read that again. Take a deep breath and try to remain calm.

Because of the mess we created, we have to divert funds away from projects that were clearing up the mess that Saddam created. Because we didn't plan adequately for the aftermath of the war, and we let Iraq subsequently become a basket case - a honey pot for every yahoo with an AK-47 and a boner for his virgins - we can't now look after the people we said we were invading the country to save. Blair said yesterday: "I can't say I am sorry about it. I am not sorry about it. I think I did the right thing." That's did the right thing. Not doing the right thing. The line's been drawn. It's all in the past. Tony's moved on. Who speaks for Halabja now?

Comment: One thing is certain: the attack on Falluja has done nothing to still the insurgency against the US-British occupation nor produced the death of al-Zarqawi - any more than the invasion of Afghanistan achieved the capture or death of Osama bin Laden. Thousands of bereaved and homeless Falluja families have a new reason to hate the US and its allies.

Every time the prime minister claims it is time to "move on" from the issue of the war's legality and rejoice at Iraq's transformation since Saddam Hussein was toppled, the answer must be: "Remember Falluja." When the foreign secretary next visits Iraq, he should put on a flak jacket and tour the city that Britain had a share in destroying.

The government keeps hoping Iraq will go away as an election issue. It stubbornly refuses to do so. Voters are not only angry that the war was illegal, illegitimate and unnecessary. The treatment inflicted on Iraqis since the invasion by the US and Britain is equally important.

In the 1930s the Spanish city of Guernica became a symbol of wanton murder and destruction. In the 1990s Grozny was cruelly flattened by the Russians; it still lies in ruins. This decade's unforgettable monument to brutality and overkill is Falluja, a text-book case of how not to handle an insurgency, and a reminder that unpopular occupations will always degenerate into desperation and atrocity.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Nashau, NH, soldier who was killed in Ramadi interred.

Local story: Three Ohioans, two soldiers and one contractor, killed in Iraq.

Local story: Sioux City, IA, soldier killed in RPG attack in Baghdad.

Local story: Mount Pleasant, MI, Marine who was killed in Al-Anbar province honored.

Local story: Blasdell, NY, soldier killed near Baghdad.


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