Monday, May 23, 2005

War News for Monday, May 23, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Three US soldiers injured in three separate suicide bombing attacks in Samarra. One US soldier killed, two US soldiers and two Iraqi policemen wounded in suicide car bombing in Tikrit. Top aide to al-Jaafari’s cabinet and his driver killed in central Baghdad. One US soldier killed in a vehicle accident near Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Five people killed and 18 wounded in suicide truck bombing in Tuz Khurmatu.

Bring ‘em on: Three US soldiers killed in two insurgent attacks in Mosul.

Bring ‘em on: More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq in the past year. About one third have been killed. See article for a list of names and nationalities.

Bring ‘em on: At least three people killed and more than 70 injured in car bombing outside a Baghdad restaurant. One policeman killed by gunmen in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood. Iraqi general who directed the National Security Ministry’s operations room assassinated with his driver in Baghdad’s Mansour district. Two Iraqis were killed in the Samarra suicide bombings reported in the first entry above, and in addition, 23 people, including women and children, were injured. Almost 300 suspected militants have been detained in a joint US/Iraqi operation in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi Maj. Gen. escaped assassination when two roadside bombs exploded by his convoy between Kirkuk and Hawija. No other injuries reported. Five civilians wounded by mortar rounds apparently aimed at a police special forces base in Baghdad’s Alam neighborhood. Joint Polish and Iraqi forces detain 184 suspected militants in Suwayrah.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi soldiers killed and one wounded in a mortar attack at a joint army/police base in Samarra.

Bring ‘em on: Two people killed and two injured when a mortar round landed on a house in Kirkuk.

New offensive: Seven Iraqi battalions backed by U.S. forces launched an offensive in the capital on Sunday in an effort to stanch the violence that has killed more than 550 people in less than a month, targeting insurgents who have attacked the dangerous road to Baghdad's airport and Abu Ghraib prison.

The U.S. military said the offensive in the west of the capital had been set in motion to root out insurgents, especially those who have staged bloody assaults on the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison and the notoriously dangerous road from downtown to the airport.

Without providing numbers of troops, U.S. officials said four battalions of Iraqi soldiers and three battalions of police launched the offensive with the support of an unspecified number of American military personnel, although a total of about 2,500 personnel were believed involved.

Sophisticated and lethal: Iraq's insurgents are conducting increasingly sophisticated and lethal attacks on the private security companies that are crucial to the nation's reconstruction and the eventual departure of U.S. troops, contractors and U.S. officials say.

These contractors and officials point to the surprising level of planning and brutality involved in a May 8 attack on the British security company Hart Security Ltd., which provides protection to convoys, homes and individuals in Iraq.

Twelve out of 18 Iraqi and international guards were killed in the attack, in which insurgents ambushed a convoy escorting cargo for the U.S. forces from Baghdad to a base in al-Asat, about 90 miles west of the city.

Once resistance from the security team ended, the attackers moved in to finish off the wounded, then piled several of the bodies on top of a bomb so they could not be removed without setting off an explosion, sources said.

The terrorists taped the event, presumably to develop a training and recruiting tool and to study to refine their techniques. The six-minute video is available on the Internet with a claim of responsibility from the terrorist group Ansar al-Sunnah Army.

Retaliation: Signs of sectarian warfare are everywhere in Iraq these days: clerics assassinated outside mosques, dozens of execution victims in ditches and car bombers inflicting heavy casualties on the country's Shia Muslim majority. Nearly four months after Iraq's election, when millions of Iraqis defied insurgent threats by voting for a new parliament, sectarian violence now threatens to drag Iraq into civil war. Most victims so far have been Shias targeted by Sunni insurgents. But the recent discoveries throughout Iraq of more than 50 bodies -- men from both sects, apparently abducted and executed -- highlight a new problem: a wave of retaliatory killings between Sunnis and Shias.

For more than a year, insurgents have targeted Shia mosques, neighborhoods and religious ceremonies across Iraq. They also have relentlessly attacked the Shia-dominated police and army. While there is no exact death toll, several thousand Shias are believed to have been killed by insurgent bombings and other attacks. Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has urged his followers not to retaliate against Sunnis. But as attacks on Shia civilians mount, Shia militias and vigilantes appear to be fighting back with tit-for-tat killings. "We are at a moment of extreme danger," said Hazem Shammari, a political science professor at Baghdad University. "There is a level of sectarian tension that is unrivaled in Iraq's modern history."

Hopefully this will go somewhere: One day after a large group of anti-American Sunni leaders pledged to enter the political process, a rebel Shiite cleric who led uprisings against the American military suggested Sunday that he would forgo military efforts and work to ease rising sectarian tensions throughout Iraq.

The cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, led bloody revolts against American forces last year and was accused of murdering a rival Shiite cleric the year before. Many American officials view him as untrustworthy and continue to fear that he has been lying low so he can bring his militia back in force.

In an interview Sunday night with the Arabiya satellite news channel, Mr. Sadr declared that he now wanted to solve problems "politically, socially and peacefully."

Daily Life in Occupied Iraq

Entrepreneur: Ali Hameed quit his job as a taxi driver because he no longer felt safe on Baghdad's streets. Increasingly desperate for money to help him get married, he hit on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity - selling one of his kidneys.

Last week, in a shabby ward in the city's Al Karama hospital, he lay bandaged on a bed, one kidney lighter and $1,400 (about £765) richer after a three-hour operation.

In a nearby room, his body similarly bandaged, lay the man who had paid for it - the other player in a grim new black market trade in organs that is one of Iraq's few growth industries.

Mr Hameed received a good price for his kidney. Would-be buyers with an eye for a bargain can now pick up a new kidney for as little as $700, given the desperation of fit and healthy Iraqis for money.

School days: For Khalid and her classmates at Baghdad University, focusing on the books isn't easy. With only days to go before the all-important national exam, the Class of '05 feels spent, its spirits threadbare. "We're really tired," said student Noor Sabaah, 23. The power routinely falters, turning classrooms into caldrons — without fans, warm heads grow drowsy, the hours long. The drive to campus can be dangerous and slow. Students miss lectures, held back by roadblocks and gridlock. Even in front of the university gates, cars idle as guards check for weapons and bombs. At times, professors don't show up either. Some have taken early retirement or left the country. Amid the unrest that followed the shooting of Masar Sarhan, the Shiite student, a number of Sunni professors fled, fearing retribution. At least 100 university lecturers have been assassinated during the last two years, said Isam Alrawi, who heads the Assn. of University Lecturers. The majority of the killings had political or sectarian motives, he said. "They were all highly qualified Iraqis including Muslims as well as Christians, Shiite as well as Sunni and Turkmen." Sometimes death is random. This month, a mortar round hit another Baghdad campus, killing four at the College of Engineering.

How To Win Muslim Hearts And Minds

New Testament Tank

Chicanery, Fraud And Profiteering

The Justice Department takes an unexpected position: To its accusers, the security company Custer Battles exemplifies corporate profiteering in postinvasion Iraq, when officials were pumping out hastily written contracts for everything from air conditioners to armed guards.

In a lawsuit now in federal court, two former associates of the company say it bilked the American-led coalition out of millions, turning in hugely inflated invoices from phantom supplier companies among other misdeeds. If successful, the suit, brought under the False Claims Act, could recover triple damages for the government and handsome rewards for the whistle-blowers.

Custer Battles has denied wrongdoing and the accusation remains to be proved. But before a trial can proceed at all - before any company can be sued for fraud in the chaos of occupied Iraq - a federal judge in Virginia must issue another, more basic ruling that is now anxiously awaited by the company, its accusers and the Justice Department.

Lawyers for Custer Battles argue that the False Claims Act - the prime legal tool against contractor fraud - does not apply because the company signed contracts with the Coalition Provisional Authority, not the American government, and was mainly paid with Iraqi money seized or managed by the United States, rather than with money appropriated by Congress.

Lawyers for the whistle-blowers and the Justice Department argue that the law does apply. All sides agree that the case will set a precedent and that the stakes are high, and not only for Custer Battles.

"This is an important case because there are a lot of companies over there with poorly constructed contracts and little oversight," said Steven L. Schooner, an expert on procurement at the George Washington University Law School. "The potential for chicanery is great and the potential universe of whistle-blowers is mind-boggling."

Renditions, Doublespeak And Murder

Renditions: The CIA Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of here just before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001. A half-dozen agents wearing hoods that covered their faces stepped down from the aircraft and hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two prisoners, suspected Islamic radicals from Egypt.

Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA operatives pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners' clothes, including their underwear, according to newly released Swedish government documents and eyewitness statements. They probed inside the men's mouths and ears and examined their hair before dressing the pair in sweat suits and draping hoods over their heads. The suspects were then marched in chains to the plane, where they were strapped to mattresses on the floor in the back of the cabin.

So began an operation the CIA calls an "extraordinary rendition," the forcible and highly secret transfer of terrorism suspects to their home countries or other nations where they can be interrogated with fewer legal protections.

The practice has generated increasing criticism from civil liberties groups; in Sweden a parliamentary investigator who conducted a 10-month probe into the case recently concluded that the CIA operatives violated Swedish law by subjecting the prisoners to "degrading and inhuman treatment" and by exercising police powers on Swedish soil.

"Should Swedish officers have taken those measures, I would have prosecuted them without hesitation for the misuse of public power and probably would have asked for a prison sentence," the investigator, Mats Melin, said in an interview.

Doublespeak: For shock and awe, there's nothing to beat an American government spokesperson discussing humanitarian action and revealing both double standards and a failure to grasp the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Like precision bombing that does "collateral damage" to their own troops, the officials making these pronouncements often miss the point, whether it’s the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) urging NGOs to promote their American funding in high-risk war zones or the latest State Department verdict on Uzbekistan.

After the Uzbek regime of President Islam Karimov mowed down perhaps hundreds of its citizens following a politically-inspired jailbreak, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher carefully urged restraint by both sides.

He added: "We urge the government … to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian organisations full access to the region so we can get the facts, so that they can help take care of people that may need their help."

Leaving aside whether humanitarian agencies are there to "get the facts" for America, the U.S. stance on ICRC access to those in need in Uzbekistan is directly at odds with its blocking of ICRC and Iraqi Red Crescent Society access to the Falluja enclave in Iraq during a 2004 siege.

That siege that mocked almost every aspect of the Geneva Conventions that make up international humanitarian law.

Murder: The highly-decorated commanding officer of a regiment at the centre of allegations of brutality in Iraq is being investigated as part of a murder inquiry, Government sources confirmed yesterday.

Col Jorge Mendonca, who received the Distinguished Service Order for his command of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR) in Iraq in 2003, is one of a number of soldiers against whom charges are being considered.

Baha Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist in Basra, was arrested in a raid on his workplace in September 2003. Eight others arrested with him allege that he died of injuries received in the QLR's barracks and claim they were severely beaten on the same night.

The investigation will focus on allegations that at least one of the regiment's officers was aware of the nature of the prisoners' interrogation.

Regional News

Iranian Kurdistan: Some 200 Iranian Kurds marched in single file up an icy mountain path, carrying automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. They were training for the day when they hope to cross the nearby Iraqi border into Iran, recruit supporters and reopen a rebellion they reluctantly abandoned long ago.

After more than 20 years of calm, fighters based in northern Iraq are itching to resume the Iranian Kurds' campaign for greater autonomy, emboldened by the success of their brethren in post-Saddam Iraq.

''We want to break the peace we were forced to accept,'' Piryar Gabary told an Associated Press reporter visiting Qandil Mountain, the group's base in northeast Iraq.

Such talk, however, doesn't sit well with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, which is wary of provoking Iran and disturbing its new stature in Iraq's government and has vowed to prevent cross-border attacks.

The situation illustrates the Iraqi Kurds' delicate position in the reshuffled deck that has emerged in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Uzbekistan: Uzbek authorities have shrugged off calls from UN secretary general Kofi Annan for an international investigation into a government crackdown on protesters that witnesses say left hundreds of people dead.

The Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, told Mr Annan that he was opposed to any foreign involvement in the aftermath of his country's worst bloodshed since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"He said he had the situation under control and was taking every measure to bring those responsible to account, and didn't need an international team to establish the facts," Mr Annan said in New York last night. Mr Karimov has blamed Islamic militants for the unrest and denies that his troops fired on unarmed civilians, dismissing claims of human rights activists who put the death toll at over 700.

Massive cover-up: The number of people murdered on "Bloody Friday" 13 May in the Uzbek town of Andizhan is at least 500, not 169 as the authorities now claim, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday can reveal. It is also highly probable that, separately in other towns at different times, at least a further 200 people were killed.

But our inquiries have also established that the incident which sparked the massacre was initiated by the storming of a prison which led to the "insurgents" themselves also murdering 54 men and women in cold blood.

While some of these "insurgents" that the autocratic government of Islam Karimov was seeking to quell in Andizhan were armed, the majority of those killed were civilians. Most were men but women and children were also murdered and are now buried in unmarked mass graves as part of what witnesses say is "a massive cover-up". This extends to officials lying on death certificates, concealing bodies from public view and blasting the town's blood-stained streets with high-velocity water cannons.

Top 10: Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov has put the lid on a rebellion, but it's just a matter of time before he gets burned so badly that he has to run for his life from a country that ranks in the world's top 10 in both natural wealth and torture.

While we're waiting for the 25 million angry and poor Uzbeks to come to a boil again, here's evidence that George W. Bush doesn't neglect human rights—at least when the human is one of his low friends in high places.

It's also proof that Bush has been nothing more than a puppet, a front man, for his entire public life.

US Military Affairs

Eye-opener: Army Capts. Dave Fulton and Geoff Heiple spent 12 months dodging roadside bombs and rounding up insurgents along Baghdad's "highway of death" — the six miles of pavement linking downtown Baghdad to the capital city's airport. Two weeks after returning stateside to Ft. Hood, they ventured to a spartan conference room at the local Howard Johnson to find out about changing careers. Lured by a headhunting firm that places young military officers in private-sector jobs, the pair, both 26, expected anonymity in the crowded room.

Instead, as Fulton and Heiple sipped Budweisers pulled from Styrofoam coolers next to the door, they spotted nearly a dozen familiar faces from their cavalry battalion, which had just ended a yearlong combat tour in Iraq. The shocks of recognition came as they exchanged quick, awkward glances with others from their unit, each man clearly surprised to see someone else considering a life outside the military. "This is a real eye-opener," said Fulton, a West Point graduate who saw a handful of cadets from his class. "It seems like everyone in the room is either from my squad or from my class." More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks spawned an era of unprecedented strain on the all-volunteer military, it is scenes like this that keep the Army's senior generals awake at night. With thousands of soldiers currently on their second combat deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan and some preparing for their third this fall, evidence is mounting that an exodus of young Army officers may be looming on the horizon.

Letter to the editor: The May 15 article “Women fight policies on road to combat roles” (Europe edition; “Women fighting policies on road to combat roles,” Mideast edition) was thought-provoking. Having served in the Army 13 years — as an enlisted soldier, a noncommissioned officer and an officer — and after serving 15 months as an artilleryman in Iraq, I believe I can rebut these proposals, which betray our female soldiers.

Current conflicts aren’t conventional and they aren’t linear. We are fighting on an asymmetrical battlefield where units must be co-located to accomplish the mission. Arguments attempting to use “geography of the battlefield” to keep females from a theoretical “front line” are not valid.

Those who attempt to prevent females from serving their nation in combat should recognize that we have a volunteer Army. Women raise their hands voluntarily to support and defend the Constitution, and they are willing to fight to protect others. Isn’t it ironic that we are willing to fight for the rights of women in other countries, while some in our nation’s capital suggest women don’t have the right to contribute to that fight?


Nothing new: Senior Bush administration officials reacted with outrage to a Newsweek report that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, and the magazine retracted the story last week. But allegations of disrespectful treatment of Islam's holy book are far from rare. An examination of hearing transcripts, court records and government documents, as well as interviews with former detainees, their lawyers, civil liberties groups and U.S. military personnel, reveals dozens of accusations involving the Koran, not only at Guantanamo, but also at American-run detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The allegations, both at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, contain detailed descriptions of what Muslim prisoners said was mishandling of the Koran — sometimes in a deliberately provocative manner. In one instance, an Iraqi detainee alleged that a soldier had a guard dog carry a copy of the Koran in its mouth. In another, guards at Guantanamo were said to have scrawled obscenities inside Korans. Other prisoners said Korans were kicked across floors, stomped on and thrown against walls. One said a soldier urinated on his copy, and others said guards ridiculed the religious text, declaring that Allah's words would not save detainees. Some of the alleged incidents appear to have been inadvertent or to have resulted from U.S. personnel's lack of understanding about how sensitive Muslim detainees might be to mishandling of the Koran. In several cases, for instance, copies were allegedly knocked about during scuffles with prisoners who refused to leave their cells. In other cases, the allegations seemed to describe instances of deliberate disrespect.

My thoughts exactly: Newsweek's editor-in-chief, Richard Smith, engages today in yet another public mea culpa over the Koran desecration story: "Trust is hard won and easily lost," he writes anxiously, "and to our readers, we pledge to earn their renewed confidence." And make no mistake: procedures will be changed to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

This is like watching Darkness at Noon in real life. Newsweek made a small error in a 300-word blurb a couple of weeks ago, and since then the right-wing media hate machine, like a jackal sensing a rare opportunity for blood, has somehow managed to convince them they bear responsibility for riots in Afghanistan that were staged by extremists who obviously used the Newsweek article as nothing more than pretext.

This is really pissing me off. For the record, let's recap what we've learned over the past year or so:

Pictures from Abu Ghraib showed naked prisoners being stacked like cordwood and mocked by female guards — and there's worse stuff in Pentagon files that Congress has decided not to allow out of its locked vaults. There have been confirmed reports from Guantanamo of beatings, shacklings, and lighted cigarettes being stuck in prisoners' ears. 36 prisoners have died during interrogations. The Red Cross wrote detailed reports documenting abusive conduct in Iraq and was laughed off. The officers reponsible for overseeing abusive interrogations weren't punished, they were lauded for their work and transferred to other prisons. Hardened FBI agents wrote emails expressing their disgust at what they had seen. Innocent men have been tortured to death in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House counsel wrote memoranda justifying torture as an inherent right of the president. Rendition of suspects to other countries that have long histories of torturing prisoners is routine. Reports of Koran desecration have been circulating for a long time,

Needless to say, this isn't exhaustive. In the light of this, Newsweek's offense, which was pretty minor to begin with, is about the equivalent of jaywalking across a busy city street.

Newsweek and the rest of the media need to get up off their knees and start fighting back. They've done enough apologizing.

Even Kathleen Parker doesn’t buy it: Even the most liberal-bashing, war-mongering, beef-eating American surely struggled to keep a straight face as the Bush administration expressed moral indignation about a Newsweek story that went belly-up on account of ... bad intelligence. If anyone on God's green earth should understand that sometimes information is flawed, that one would be President George W. Bush, whose arguments in favor of invading Iraq proved to be similarly false.

I can't ignore the absurdity of the White House's new role as institutional victim. My eyes have rolled so many times, my sockets are sore.


Editorial: At present, there are only two Sunni Arabs among the 55 members of the committee the government has chosen to draw up a constitution. A principal challenge facing the drafters will be to create a structure unified enough to hold the disparate communities of Iraq together in a single national identity, yet loose enough to protect the Kurdish minority from the Arab majority -- and moderate or secular Muslims from partisans of Islamic law, or shariah. If Sunni Arabs sense they are being excluded from drafting such a rule book for the new Iraq, they are unlikely to support those Sunni tribal leaders and political figures who have signaled a readiness to participate in the legislative elections scheduled for December.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made this point during her trip to Iraq last Sunday, but she and the Bush administration should be careful how they preach their gospel of inclusiveness. Too many US officials have for too long treated their Iraqi interlocutors with misplaced condescension, earning a reputation for arrogance even among Iraqis happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein's despotic regime. Now that Iraqis have elected an interim government and are suffering most of the casualties from car bombings, ambushes, and kidnappings, American envoys with little knowledge of Iraqi complexities will meet heavy resistance if they dictate policy choices in the manner of imperial proconsuls.

Opinion: How does Donald Rumsfeld survive as defense secretary?

Much of what has happened to the military on his watch has been catastrophic. In Iraq, more than 1,600 American troops have died and many thousands have been maimed in a war that Mr. Rumsfeld mishandled from the beginning and still has no idea how to win. The generals are telling us now that the U.S. is likely to be bogged down in Iraq for years, and there are whispers circulating about the possibility of "defeat."

The military spent decades rebuilding its reputation and regaining the respect of the vast majority of the American people after the debacle in Vietnam. Under Mr. Rumsfeld, that hard-won achievement is being reversed. He invaded Iraq with too few troops, and too many of them were poorly trained and inadequately equipped. The stories about American troops dying on the battlefield because of a lack of protective armor have now been widely told.

The insurgency in Iraq appeared to take Mr. Rumsfeld completely by surprise. He expected to win the war in a walk. Or, perhaps, a strut.

Now the military is in a fix. Many of the troops have served multiple tours in Iraq and are weary. The insurgency remains strong, and the Iraq military has proved to be a disappointing ally.

A senior American officer, quoted last week in The Times, said that while he still believed the effort in Iraq would succeed, it could take "many years."

As if all this were not enough, there is also the grotesque and deeply shameful issue that will always be a part of Mr. Rumsfeld's legacy - the manner in which American troops have treated prisoners under their control in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There is no longer any doubt that large numbers of troops responsible for guarding and interrogating detainees somehow loosed their moorings to humanity, and began behaving as sadists, perverts and criminals.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Obetz, OH, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Tampa, FL, soldier killed in Ramadi


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