Sunday, May 22, 2005

War News for Sunday, May 22, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqis shot dead on the southern outskirts of Baghdad after they acted suspiciously. Bodies of three civilians shot dead found in Latifiyah.

Bring ‘em on: Eight members of an elite Interior Ministry force known as the Wolf Brigade killed in ambush of their 20 vehicle convoy in downtown Beiji. Two US Apache helicopters responded and opened fire on targets near the ambush site. Seventeen people wounded in a gunfight between al-Sadr supporters and guards protecting a local provincial governor's office in Nasiriyah.

Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi civilian killed and another wounded in bombing near Oyoun, west of Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Twelve Interior Ministry commandoes killed in a series of clashes in and around Samarra. Police station bombed in Tikrit. Six civilians injured in mortar attack in western Baghdad. One civilian killed in roadside bombing in Azab. Two policemen wounded by suicide car bomb in Tikrit.

Bring ‘em on: Director general of the Iraq Trade Ministry and his driver shot to death in western Baghdad.

A bit of good news for a change: The Three Romanian reporters and their translator, held in Iraq since March 28, were safely released on Sunday and are currently under the control of Romanian authorities, said a Romanian presidency statement.

"They are well and safe and they'll be brought home as soon as possible," the statement said.

Shiites and Sunnis

Mosques closed: Sunni mosques in Baghdad have been closed to worshippers as part of a three-day protest against a recent series of killings of Sunni Muslims.

Traditional calls to prayer came with an additional request that the faithful say their prayers wherever they were.

The action comes at a time of growing tension between the Sunni community and Iraq's Shia majority.

Sunni clerics have accused a Shia militia known as the Badr brigades of involvement in the killings.

New Sunni alliance: A thousand Sunnis assembled in the Iraqi capital Saturday and formed an alliance of religious, political and tribal groups to push for a stronger role in the country's Shiite-dominated power structure.

With sectarian tension and violence on the rise, the new organization immediately called for the resignation of the interior minister, a Shiite whose office, it said, had a role in killing several Sunni clerics.

Bayan Jabr, the minister, denied allegations government involvement in the killings and said he would not step down.

Legitimate right: More than 1,000 Sunni Arab clerics, political leaders and tribal heads ended their two-year boycott of politics in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq on Saturday, uniting in a Sunni bloc that they said would help draft the country's new constitution and compete in elections.

Formation of the group comes during escalating violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that has raised the threat of sectarian war. The bloc represents moderate and hard-line members of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and other main groups of the disgruntled Sunni minority toppled from dominance when U.S.-led troops routed Hussein in April 2003.

In a statement adopted at the meeting, the Sunni leaders called for "liberating'' Iraq from U.S.-led forces "by all legal means.'' The statement condemned "all terrorist acts that target civilians, no matter the reason,'' but said, "resisting the occupier is a legitimate right.''

Speakers accused the Shiite-dominated security forces of raiding mosques, killings and committing other violence against the Sunni minority.

"I swear to God, if the government or someone does not take care of this and solve our problem, then we will all fight them. No one will stop us, and no one will blame us,'' Lateef Migual Dulaymi, a tribal leader from the southeast, told delegates as he detailed allegations of harassment, drawing cries of approval.

They’ll have to kill us all: At a humble, green-domed mosque in the heart of Baghdad, a grizzled preacher named Sheik Ahmed Yassin was standing his ground. Gunmen had killed five of his followers and kidnapped two of his sons. Threats had thinned his congregation, and the worshipers who still came rushed to their cars after prayers to avoid becoming the latest victims.

To Yassin, every drop of blood is worth the fight to keep his sanctuary in the hands of Sunni Muslims, who built it 25 years ago, and away from the rival Shiite sect.

"They'll have to kill us all before they take this mosque," Yassin vowed last week.

The battle over the Hassan bin Ali Mosque is perhaps the bloodiest in a two-year power struggle that has turned Iraq's holiest places into sectarian battlegrounds. Shiites have seized up to 40 Sunni mosques since Saddam Hussein's regime fell, according to Shiite and Sunni clerics. While Sunnis view the campaign as a land grab, Shiites say they're reclaiming plots that Saddam stole from Shiite landowners.

Hopeful step: It's a step toward easing tensions between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq.

Aides of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met today with a key Sunni group, amid a wave of sectarian violence.

At least 550 people have been killed since the new Shiite-dominated government was announced late last month.

Al-Sadr said in a television interview aired today that the talks are aimed at settling the feud between the association and the Badr Brigades. More talks are expected in the future.


Still too early: Washington is far behind in plans to pump $21 billion into Iraq's reconstruction, bogged down by an insurgency that has killed hundreds of contractors and diverted funds to security, a U.S. official said on Saturday.

"There is a long way to go. We recognize a lot of work needs to be done," said William Taylor, the U.S. official overseeing American rebuilding work in Iraq.

He told reporters it was still too early to predict when Iraqis will enjoy adequate electricity and other essential services -- more than two years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Almost 300: In another measure of the difficulties besetting the American effort here, United States officials who met with reporters on Saturday for an update on the $21 billion American-financed reconstruction said that 295 contractors working on American projects had been killed in attacks since the rebuilding began two years ago. Most of the deaths came in the past year, and 19 were in the last month.

I’ll bet it’s more than 16%: Too much money earmarked for rebuilding Iraq is being diverted to tackle security demands, the US official in charge of post-war reconstruction says.

William Taylor, who heads the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, said rebuilding the country was a costly and dangerous business.

"Because of the increase in insurgent activity, contractors have had to include better site protection, hardened vehicles for personnel transportation and trained security teams," he said, adding this accounted for up to 16% of all project costs.

"Even oil companies, which usually go to dangerous places, are waiting," he said.

A glass of sewage: When Mahmud Abdullah turns on his tap, the same stench that envelops his small and nameless Baghdad street fills the air even more strongly.

"This is what my family drinks every day: sewage water," he said.

"The pipes are old so drinking water and sewage are mixing. Sometimes the water smells so much ... Nobody deserves to drink this," said Mahmud, 53, who has white stubble on his face and wears a grimy dishdasha robe.

In his neighbourhood, a sprawling Shiite slum of two million called Sadr City, some unpaved streets are completely cut by pools of dark green sewage baking in the 40-degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) heat.

According to a report released a few days ago by the United Nations Development Programme, lack of a decent water supply and sanitation are among the main hardships endured by Iraq's 27-million-strong population.

Close to 40 percent of Iraqis have an unreliable supply of drinking water and almost the same percentage live in areas where sewage can be seen in the streets, the survey said.

But no fear, we can still get stuff built when we have to: U.S. military commanders have prepared plans to consolidate U.S. troops in Iraq into four large air bases as they look ahead to giving up more than 100 other bases now occupied by international forces, officers said.

Several officers involved in drafting the consolidation plan said it entailed the construction of longer-lasting buildings at the sites, including barracks and office structures made of concrete block instead of the metal trailers and tin-sheathed buildings that have become the norm at bigger U.S. bases in Iraq. The new, sturdier buildings will give the bases a more permanent character, the officers acknowledged.

The consolidation plan appears to reflect a judgment by U.S. military commanders that American forces are likely to be in Iraq for some years, even after their numbers begin to decline, and that they probably will continue to face danger. The new buildings are being designed to withstand direct mortar strikes, according to a senior military engineer.

Iraqi Security Forces

Series of successes: Iraq's new interior minister expressed confidence Saturday that his security forces will defeat a foreign-backed insurgency, citing a series of successes amid the recent relentless wave of violence.

Bayan Jabr said in the three weeks since he took over the post, over 250 insurgents have been captured and more than 200 killed. Insurgent violence since the government was approved on April 28 has killed more than 520 people.

"We are fighting international terrorism supported by all the forces of darkness, therefore our battle is a war of justice against injustice and, God willing, justice will end victorious," said Jabr, a Shiite Muslim.

Wolf Brigade: Abul Waleed rifled through a pile of papers, considering the latest accusations against the elite brigade of Iraqi police commandos he leads from a dusty fortress.

The complaints against the Wolf Brigade were the usual: excessive force, renegade patrols, kidnapping, murder.

The charges came from Iraq's most powerful Sunni Muslim leaders, and Abul Waleed clearly relished reading them. It's precisely this take-no-prisoners reputation that's made his Wolf Brigade the most feared and revered of all of Iraq's nascent security forces.

"The Muslim Scholars Association? They're infidels," Abul Waleed said, tossing his detractors' complaints into the wastebasket. "The Islamic Party? Humph. More like the Fascist Party."

Interpreters: It's one of the most dangerous civilian jobs in one of the world's most dangerous countries: translating Arabic for the U.S. military in Iraq.

One by one, seldom noticed in the daily mayhem, dozens of interpreters have been killed -- mostly Iraqis but 12 Americans, too. They account for 40 percent of the 300-plus death claims filed by private contractors with the U.S. Labor Department.

Riding in bomb-blasted Humvees, tagging along on foot patrols in Fallujah or dashing into buildings behind Marines, translators are dying on the job, but also facing danger at home: hunted by insurgents who call them pro-American collaborators.

"If the insurgents catch us, they will cut off our heads because the imams say we are spies," said Mustafa Fahmi, 24, an Iraqi interpreter with Titan Corp., the biggest employer of linguists in Iraq.

"I've been threatened like 15 times, but I won't quit. A neighbor saw me driving and said, 'I am going to kill you.'"

That fate befell Luqman Mohammed Kurdi Hussein, a Titan linguist and Iraqi Kurd captured by insurgents in October. A video of the 41-year-old's beheading was posted on the Internet.

Foreign Affairs

Syria: The United States said Syria must stop supporting the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and meddling in Iraq, as Washington kept up diplomatic pressure on Damascus.

"Our prime role, having a united front (with Europe), is to insist that the Syrians apply (UN Security Council Resolution) 1559," US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told reporters.

"If Syria wants good ties with the United States, it can't be supporting Hezbollah and undermining the situation in Iraq," Zoellick said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting here.

Britain: The British government declined a request from the families of soldiers killed in Iraq for an investigation into the legality of the war, according to a letter made public Friday.

Lawyers for the Treasury wrote to the 10 families' lawyers that their contention that the European Convention on Human Rights obliged the government to set up an independent inquiry was ''fundamentally misconceived.''

The families made the Treasury's May 18 letter public and said they would seek a judicial review of the government's denial.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had already rejected publicly their request for an inquiry, saying it was not necessary to go ''back over this ground again and again.''

Ancient History

Amateurish and unrealistic: Planning for the Iraq war was hobbled by tensions between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and military planners over the staying power of Saddam Hussein's regime, by leaks of highly classified war plans and by little attention to the war's aftermath, according to a new insider account.

A top intelligence analyst at the U.S. military's Central Command writes that demands from Rumsfeld and his aides for new versions of the war plan using fewer American troops wasted time and diverted attention from fleshing out a blueprint for the March 2003 invasion.

Civilians in Washington, convinced that Hussein's regime would topple easily, "injected numerous ideas into the dialogue, many of which were amateurish and unrealistic," wrote the analyst, Gregory Hooker.

Many of those ideas were discarded, but the conflicting approaches never were resolved before the invasion, he says.

Hooker adds some new details.

For example, he says some officers at Florida-based CENTCOM were so stunned by leaks of the classified war plans that they assumed they must have been part of a U.S. propaganda campaign to unsettle Hussein.

"To some planners, this theory seemed the only logical way to explain the seemingly outrageous and reckless revelations of classified material by senior officials," he wrote.

Early doubts: On Jan. 24, 2003, four days before President Bush delivered his State of the Union address presenting the case for war against Iraq, the National Security Council staff put out a call for new intelligence to bolster claims that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons or programs.

The person receiving the request, Robert Walpole, then the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, would later tell investigators that "the NSC believed the nuclear case was weak," according to a 500-page report released last year by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

It has been clear since the September report of the Iraq Survey Group -- a CIA-sponsored weapons search in Iraq -- that the United States would not find the weapons of mass destruction cited by Bush as the rationale for going to war against Iraq. But as the Walpole episode suggests, it appears that even before the war many senior intelligence officials in the government had doubts about the case being trumpeted in public by the president and his senior advisers.

Kidnapping And Torture

We do get around: Pressure is growing on the United States to respond to allegations that its agents were involved in spiriting terrorist suspects out of three European countries and sending them to nations where they may have been tortured.

In Italy, a judge said this week that foreign intelligence officials "kidnapped" an Egyptian suspect in Milan two years ago and took him to a U.S. base from where he was flown home.

In Germany, a Munich prosecutor is preparing a batch of questions to U.S. authorities on the case of a Lebanese-born German who says he was arrested in Macedonia on New Year's Eve 2003 and flown by U.S. agents to a jail in Afghanistan.

And in Sweden, a parliamentary ombudsman has criticized the security services over the expulsion of two Egyptian terrorism suspects who were handed over to U.S. agents and flown home aboard a U.S. government-leased plane in 2001.

American values successfully exported: Survivors of torture and the Australian Greens are calling for a Victorian academic to be sacked from the Commonwealth's Refugee Review Tribunal because of his support for legalised torture.

But the head of the Deakin Law School, Mirko Bagaric, has defended his position on the tribunal.

A torture survivors' group has expressed concern about Professor Bagaric, who has written a paper advocating torture as a legal method of interrogation.

Professor Bagaric is the co-author of a paper suggesting torture is a justifiable way of obtaining information about an emergency situation like a terrorist threat.

The paper, entitled "Not enough (official) torture in the world?: The Circumstances in which Torture is Morally Justifiable", will be published in the University of San Francsico's Law Review Journal in July.

Professor Bagaric says a society that protects the interests of wrongdoers over the innocent is morally warped.

He believes absolute bans on torture are unrealistic but says the practice should be reserved for life-and-death situations.

Security risk: The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is demanding an explanation from U.S. and Iraqi military forces regarding the whereabouts of least eight Iraqi journalists who have been detained since March 2005.

CPJ called on U.S. and Iraqi officials to publicly explain the basis for the journalists' continued detention.

According to CPJ, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said that the journalists pose a "security risk to the Iraqi people and coalition forces."

No further details were given.

Systematic abuse: A leaked report on a military investigation into two killings of detainees at a US prison in Afghanistan has produced new evidence of connivance of senior officers in systematic prisoner abuse.

The investigation shows the military intelligence officers in charge of the detention centre at Bagram airport were redeployed to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003, while still under investigation for the deaths of two detainees months earlier. Despite military prosecutors' recommendations, the officers involved have yet to be charged.

The Bagram case also suggests that some of the prison guards were given little if any training in handling detainees, and were influenced by a White House directive that "terrorist" suspects did not deserve the rights given to prisoners of war under the Geneva convention.

"Apparent missteps": Despite autopsy findings of homicide and statements by soldiers that two prisoners died after being struck by guards at an American military detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, Army investigators initially recommended closing the case without bringing any criminal charges, documents and interviews show.

Within days after the two deaths in December 2002, military coroners determined that both had been caused by "blunt force trauma" to the legs. Soon after, soldiers and others at Bagram told the investigators that military guards had repeatedly struck both men in the thighs while they were shackled and that one had also been mistreated by military interrogators.

Nonetheless, agents of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command reported to their superiors that they could not clearly determine who was responsible for the detainees' injuries, military officials said. Military lawyers at Bagram took the same position, according to confidential documents from the investigation obtained by The New York Times.

The investigators' move to close the case was among a series of apparent missteps in an Army inquiry that ultimately took almost two years to complete and has so far resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers. Early on, the documents show, crucial witnesses were not interviewed, documents disappeared, and at least a few pieces of evidence were mishandled.

Utterly unacceptable: The United Nations Sunday condemned as "utterly unacceptable" the alleged abuse of detainees at the main U.S. base in Afghanistan and called on the American military to allow an investigation by Afghan human rights officials.

The world body was responding to a New York Times article Friday reporting that poorly trained U.S. soldiers had repeatedly abused detainees. Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday called for tough punishment for the abusers, and for the United States to hand over all Afghans still in its custody.

The report cited a 2,000-page confidential file on the Army's criminal investigation into the deaths of two Afghans at the Bagram base north of the capital, Kabul, in December 2002.

"Such abuses are utterly unacceptable and an affront to everything the international community stands for," said Richard Provencher, spokesman for the United Nations in Afghanistan. "The gravity of these abuses calls for the punishment of all those involved in such inexcusable crimes."

Seymour Hersh: It's been over a year since I published a series of articles in the New Yorker outlining the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There have been at least 10 official military investigations since then - none of which has challenged the official Bush administration line that there was no high-level policy condoning or overlooking such abuse. The buck always stops with the handful of enlisted army reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company whose images fill the iconic Abu Ghraib photos with their inappropriate smiles and sadistic posing of the prisoners.

It's a dreary pattern. The reports and the subsequent Senate proceedings are sometimes criticised on editorial pages. There are calls for a truly independent investigation by the Senate or House. Then, as months pass with no official action, the issue withers away, until the next set of revelations revives it.

Playing The Press For A Patsy

It’s not a fib, it’s a frickin' lie: The Bush administration really knows how to exploit a tragedy and deflect attention in order to duck responsibility. After Newsweek retracted its ten-sentence Koran-in-a-john item, Lawrence Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, claimed that the Pentagon had never received any "credible allegations" about "the willful desecration of the Koran as a component of interrogations" at Guantanamo. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Di Rita said that after the Pentagon had checked logs and found "several instances...that suggested that detainees have, for whatever reason, torn pages from the Koran." But these log reports, he added, were not corroborated.

How then does Di Rita explain the International Committee of the Red Cross' claim--which became news yesterday and today--that in 2002 and 2003 it told the Pentagon multiple times that prisoners in Guantanamo had said that US officials there showed disrespect for the Koran.

This report does undermine Di Rita's assertions that there were no hints of any problems with the Koran in Gitmo except for a few log entries that raised the possibility the prisoners themselves had defaced their holy book. Will there be pressure on Di Rita to retract his remarks? To apologize? Has he undermined US credibility abroad? Has he been caught in a fib?

Dodging the question: OK, so the retraction should have come quicker. But now the administration should stop trying to shift blame for the deadly protests to a magazine. It has yet to explain why the Defense Department passed up the chance to correct the source's assertion when the magazine took the unusual step of submitting the report for review prior to publication. The reporter took silence as confirmation. Wrong in retrospect? Sure. Silence is always ambiguous. But the Pentagon has managed to dodge the inconvenient question of why it didn't raise a red flag when given the opportunity, or at least warn Newsweek of the potentially grave consequences of publishing. The administration is also ignoring the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, who told of a senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan saying that the protests were "not at all tied to the article." That didn't stop the White House from insisting the opposite. "The report had real consequences," spokesman Scott McClellan said. "People have lost their lives." Tuesday, when Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita was asked if, in light of Myers' statement, he still believed that people died because of the erroneous report, he said, "I do, I absolutely do." It's understandable that the administration might want to flush Newsweek down the toilet and pawn off the blame for its own mistakes. How cathartic it must be to have something other than those famous photos from Abu Ghraib to blame for rampant anti-Americanism. How comforting, after Ahmad Chalabi, to have someone other than the CIA or White House publicly burned by a bad source. No one excuses Newsweek. But in its long adventure in the Arab world, the administration has hatched few strategies as hollow as holding a magazine responsible for its own failings.

No diagrams needed: You don't have to draw a diagram for the Arab world to know what country invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003 -- against the wishes of every nation in the region -- and tried to justify the attack with a rationale that shifted each time the previous version was shown to be false.

There's a sense of hypocrisy that pervades the huffing and puffing by Bush administration officials as they rush to criticize Newsweek. Where was their outrage when they saw the photographs of the shameful mistreatment of the prisoners of war at the Abu Ghraib facility, with forced nudity, humiliation, sexual harassment, brutal interrogation and dogs?

After those shocking photos were published around the world, Rumsfeld banned cameras from military prisons.

Daoud Kuttab, a news media critic and professor in Bethlehem, referring to claims by former prisoners of Koran desecration, told The New York Times:

"Newsweek can recant as long as they want, but as long as people are coming out of prison and telling the same story, it will not matter."

Mistakes and deceit: Newsweek's bad mistake is very good news for the Bush administration. The commander-in-chief is playing editor-in-chief. Instead of answering questions about what is really happening in Iraq, the White House is asking what happened at Newsweek.

Newsweek published a mistake; get angry about that, if you like. But the Bush administration went to war over a mistake -- the alleged existence of WMD -- and a deception -- the never-proven link between Iraq and Sept. 11. So far, 1,623 American soldiers are dead and another 15,000 are wounded. Insurgents continue to slaughter Iraqis; nearly 500 have been killed since the April 28 announcement of a Shi'ite-dominated government.

There is still no obvious end game in Iraq, just the hope that somehow, over time, some version of democracy will win out over suicide bombers and religious fanatics. The course chosen by the Bush administration spawned anti-American sentiment around the world. And the Bush administration continues to deceive, as demonstrated by Rice's recent remarks.

In Baghdad, Rice said, ''Our children and our children's children will look back, and they will say, we are so grateful that there were Americans willing to sacrifice, so that the Middle East could be whole, and free and democratic and at peace. And that never again would we have to fight terrorists on our soil, in America."

Her expectation is pinned upon an administration's mistakes and deceit. The Bush legacy truly rests on whether the end, if it ever comes, justifies the means.

The central claim still stands: How did a short item in Newsweek reporting that U.S. interrogators had desecrated a Koran at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, spark massive riots in several Muslim countries last week, leading to the deaths of least 16 people? And who, exactly, should bear the blame for these tragic events?

Certainly not Newsweek. The magazine eventually retracted and apologized for its story because it could not properly defend the particular point it had made - that the United States was investigating claims of desecration of the Koran at Guantánamo. But the central claim about desecration - which is what set off the riots - remains very much alive.

For more than two years before the magazine ran its story, newspapers in the United States, Britain and throughout the Muslim world published interviews in which detainees held by the United States at Guantánamo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq claimed that their guards and interrogators had denigrated Islamic religious symbols and, in particular, desecrated copies of the Koran by kicking them across the floor, tearing out pages and tossing them into toilets. Several former detainees held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan told Human Rights Watch how prisoners at the U.S. air base in Kandahar protested after a guard allegedly kicked a copy of the Koran while searching a cell.

It's the Bush administration, not Newsweek, that bears responsibility for policies that have sullied the reputation of United States in the Muslim world and beyond. It is difficult to imagine that the anti-U.S. riots that took place last week would have been so virulent if the Newsweek article hadn't appeared against a backdrop of abuses in U.S.-run detention sites. Outrage about American abuses was and remains a tinderbox.

A bridge too far?: In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Fareed Zakaria wrote a 6,791-word cover story for Newsweek titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" Think how much effort he could have saved if he'd waited a few years. As we learned last week, the question of why they hate us can now be answered in just one word: Newsweek.

"Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care," said the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, as he eagerly made the magazine the scapegoat for lethal anti-American riots in Afghanistan. Indeed, Mr. McClellan was so fixated on destroying Newsweek - and on mouthing his own phony P.C. pieties about the Koran - that by omission he whitewashed the rioters themselves, Islamic extremists who routinely misuse that holy book as a pretext for murder.

That's how absurdly over-the-top the assault on Newsweek has been. The administration has been so successful at bullying the news media in order to cover up its own fictions and failings in Iraq that it now believes it can get away with pinning some 17 deaths on an errant single sentence in a 10-sentence Periscope item that few noticed until days after its publication. Coming just as the latest CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll finds that only 41 percent of Americans think the war in Iraq is "worth fighting" and only 42 percent think it's going well, this smells like desperation. In its war on the press, this hubristic administration may finally have crossed a bridge too far.

No Television War – Not Even A Newsprint War

No consequences shown: A remarkable survey by the Los Angeles Times of six leading newspapers and two newsmagazines during a recent six-month period found almost no pictures from Iraq of Americans killed in action. They only ran 44 photos of the wounded.

The Times survey covered the period from Sept. 1, 2004 until Feb. 28, 2005. During that time, 559 Americans and Western allies died, but readers of the L.A. Times, The New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution did not see a single photo of a dead U.S. serviceman. Nor did readers of Time and Newsweek. The Seattle Times carried a photo three days before Christmas of a dead U.S. soldier, killed in the mess hall bombing, but his body was covered. The L.A. Times and New York Times each carried 10 photos of the wounded, with the other six publications combined for a total of 24. That means that for six months, in eight top publications, only 44 such pictures appeared—when thousands were injured.

"There can be horrible images, but war is horrible and we need to understand that," Chris Hondros, a veteran war photographer, told Rainey. "I think if we are going to start a war, we ought to be willing to show the consequences of that war."

Incomplete portrait: Many photographers and editors believe they are delivering Americans an incomplete portrait of the violence that has killed 1,797 U.S. service members and their Western allies and wounded 12,516 Americans. Journalists attribute the relatively bloodless portrayal of the war to a variety of causes — some in their control, others in the hands of the U.S. military, and the most important related to the far-flung nature of the conflict and the way American news outlets perceive their role. "We in the news business are not doing a very good job of showing our readers what has really happened over there," said Pim Van Hemmen, assistant managing editor for photography at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. "Writing in a headline that 1,500 Americans have died doesn't give you nearly the impact of showing one serviceman who is dead," Van Hemmen said. "It's the power of visuals."

Recruitment Ills

Values stand-down day: Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?

This flower-bedecked poster slogan from the '60s will surely be haunting the Army's "values stand-down" day today, when the service branch's 7,500 recruiters and their COs take the day off for a little ethics force-feeding.

The Army's - the whole military's - desperation is showing. None of the four branches is meeting recruitment goals as a brutal, unpopular war drags on, and the recruiters, who are all under heavy pressure to snare two warm bodies a month for this lost cause, are getting outed in the media for appallingly unethical and illegal practices.

These include advising potential (bottom of the barrel) enlistees about how to circumvent drug-screening tests and create fake high-school diplomas, how to pass the physical (one overweight young man was given laxatives and the advice, "Don't tell your parents"), along with blatant threats and even, apparently, abduction.

Recruiting for the wrong guys: The U.S. Army has missed its recruiting goals for the last three months. On Friday, May 20 they stopped recruiting to retrain recruiters who were misleading and threatening potential recruits. At the same time the resistance in Iraq is growing. Is the U.S. military more successful in recruiting for the resistance than it is for the U.S. Army?

The level of insurgent activity in Iraq today is four or five times higher than it was in early summer 2003 when there were 10-13 attacks per day. Currently, there are approximately 50 per day. A report released by the Project for Defense Alternatives explains why the resistance to U.S. occupation is expanding – the root cause is the U.S. occupation itself. In a March-April 2004 poll sponsored by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 58 percent of Iraqis said US forces have behaved very or fairly badly. Indeed, nearly one in four Iraqis – 22 percent – have been "directly affected by violence in terms of death, handicap, or significant monetary loss" during the occupation according to a survey by the International Republican Institute.

Where they’ll end up: Fernando Suarez del Solar feels a sense of urgency about the war in Iraq -- and not just because he lost his only son there two years ago.

It is his duty, he says, to warn young Latinos about the perils of joining the U.S. military and becoming, like his son, a "green card Marine," lured by promises of a college education, post-service career and fast-track citizenship.

Three years ago, President Bush offered accelerated citizenship to any green card holder who has served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001.

Instead, the bereaved father tells would-be recruits, they could wind up like Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez, killed at age 20 after he stepped on an unexploded cluster bomb in March 2003, during the first week of the war.

"Immigrants are generally the first on the front lines," Suarez said. "They should know where they'll end up."


Interview: James Carroll: The positive story of the Crusades is that they were chivalrous attempts to win back for Christian Europe the Holy Land -- the sites of the life of the story of Jesus, and take them back from the infidel. Of course, what’s really at work in the Crusades is Europe’s desperate response – quite threatened response – to the growth of Islam. The Crusades are a religiously justified violent campaign against a whole other civilization that defines itself differently. The Crusades are most notable, in my view, for Christian history, for being the first time the Church formally defined a work of violence as a source of salvation. You could go to heaven if you got killed in the Crusade. BuzzFlash: And, today, you can go to heaven if you die in a jihad, so ... James Carroll: Exactly. It’s the same mentality, the holy war mentality, which is that the killing of the other is sanctioned by God, and you're blessed if you die in the act of it – as we see expressly articulated among extremist Muslims today.

But it’s actually just an inch below the surface of the culture of patriotic valor, the way in which we valorize our own war dead. There is a kind of salvation and redemption offered by the act of dying in a nation’s wars. It’s one of the corruptions of a nationalist ideology, if you ask me. And there’s a way in which it does really take firm root in the European imagination with the Crusades – dying for the cause. In those days, it was religiously defined as an act of salvation. Also just at that time, Christian theology began to define the death of Jesus in a new way. In 1096, the absolute beginning of the Crusades, the most important theologian of the day, Saint Anselm, wrote a treatise called "Why God Became a Man," which was a definition of the death of Jesus as a sacred act of violence willed by God the father. And that’s the Christian theology that holds sway today.

Comment: More than two years and 1,600 dead U.S. soldiers later, George W. Bush’s defenders concede Iraq may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but the defenders still get their backs up when someone accuses Bush of lying. A mistake maybe, but a lie never!

That defense is anchored in their assessment of Bush’s fundamental decency as a born-again Christian who would never knowingly mislead the American people, especially on something as important as sending U.S. soldiers off to war.

Which is why it’s important to look at Bush’s assertions about his supposed desire to avert the war through good-faith diplomacy in late 2002 and early 2003. Since the entire world watched those events unfold, the known facts can be matched against the more recent words of Bush and his senior advisers.

If Bush has lied about that pre-war history as a way to justify his actions – especially after the WMD rationale collapsed – it follows that he shouldn’t be trusted on much of anything about the war. That’s especially true when contemporaneous records contradict his version of the facts.

Comment: From Fallujah to Ramadi and now to the desert villages around Qaim, our commanders ultimately fall back on the big kaboom. Leveling towns, bombing every suspicious target in sight—this is not how hearts and minds are won or how persistent insurgencies are defeated.

Second and more disheartening still, U.S. officials have realized for some time now that a crucial strategic task in this war must be to separate Iraq's Sunni nationalists from the jihadist fighters in their midst. Most nationalists despise the U.S. occupation, but many also resent the jihadists, whose presence they tolerate either out of fear or as (in their bitter, dispossessed eyes) the lesser evil. The trick for American policymakers is, 1) to distinguish the nationalists from the jihadists (the passive abetters from the active enemy); 2) to drive a wedge between them; and 3) to kill and defeat the latter without alienating the former.

Operation Matador offered a golden opportunity to try out both categories of new thinking: a) smarter counterinsurgency tactics that b) distinguish and separate the nationalists from the jihadists. Here was an unusual, perhaps unique, case of real Sunni tribal leaders asking us to come in and help them fight the common enemy. And we bungled it by confusing victory with mere firepower and by brushing aside—not even consulting with—a serious group of aspiring allies.

Opinion: Sciri is just one of several parties in the current government coalition. But none of the others, including the Dawa Shiite religious party and the two secular Kurdish parties, have done much to resist Sciri's exclusionary views and vetoes of prospective Sunni nominees. As a result, qualified and representative Sunnis have been kept out of key positions in the new security forces, the cabinet and now the constitution-drafting process. Shockingly, only two Sunni Arabs were chosen to sit on the 55-member parliamentary panel named to draft Iraq's new constitution.

It is understandable that Iraq's Shiites and Kurds, who suffered so much under Saddam Hussein, are uncomfortable about letting people who served his predominantly Sunni regime back into positions of power. But unless lower- and middle-echelon Baathists are allowed to serve, much of the Sunni professional class will remain excluded from government and sympathetic to the insurgents.

Millions of Shiites and Kurds risked their lives to vote in January because they wanted to help build a better, more democratic Iraq. The intervening months have been hugely disillusioning, with polls now showing a stunning 40-percentage-point drop in public confidence since January, as politicians have squabbled, insurgent attacks have soared and public services have further deteriorated. The dream of a new Iraq will ebb away unless leaders of the ruling Shiite and Kurdish coalition reach out boldly and bravely to their Sunni neighbors.

Analysis: However, growing political ties between the Shiite political leadership in Iraq and the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran could transform what is currently at worst a holding situation in Iraq and make it dire. For they open the possibility that if the U.S. confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program escalates into pre-emptive U.S. or U.S.-approved Israeli air strikes against Iranian nuclear installations, or if, even worse, U.S.-backed insurgents try and topple the Islamic Republic, then the mainstream Shiites in Iraq could rapidly be radicalized against U.S. forces in their country. In that case, the security challenges facing U.S. and allied forces would vastly become exponentially worse than they are now. And even if a U.S. clash with Iran is averted, the continuing failure of U.S. forces in Iraq to either defeat the insurgency or produce effective Iraqi security forces could further propel the country's Shiite leaders, fearful of their vengeful Sunni minority, further into Tehran's arms. Those developments would make even the current dilemmas facing U.S. forces in Iraq look like child's play.

Editorial: New reports of American troops inflicting prolonged, gratuitous torture on Afghan detainees - and murdering two - make a mockery of Bush administration claims that prisoner abuse is the fault of a few rogue soldiers.

How stupid does this administration think the American people are?

It's been a year since President Bush first used the "few bad apples" excuse following abuse revelations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Since then, other reports have rolled in of torture of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the far-flung countries where the United States has outsourced prisoner abuse.

When anyone is held responsible, it is low-ranking service people. High-ranking officers have almost without exception been found blameless. And Mr. Bush feigns horror at every new revelation, even though he set the stage for torture when he determined in 2002 that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to terror suspects.

The only way for the United States to salvage its reputation in the world and among its own citizens is through the appointment of an independent federal investigator on detainee abuse.

Editorial: In commemoration of Memorial Day, and specifically in remembrance of those who gave their lives for their country, thousands of American flags will be placed at grave sites in national cemeteries and private burial grounds throughout the land next weekend.

The nation respectfully will pause to honor men and women whose duty to country and commitment to freedom must never be forgotten.

While we ought to show reverence for every loss of life in the service of this country, regardless of the circumstances, we should not become so engrossed in our ceremonials that we stop asking questions about the state of the current war in Iraq.

Sadly, in the last two years, more than 1,600 other names have been added to the list of those who have died in the line of duty.

Even more sadly, they all have died in a war that was unnecessary.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Hughes Springs, TX, soldier killed in Al Asad.

Local story: Two Louisiana National Guardsmen, one from Shreveport and one from Bossier City, killed by sniper fire in Baghdad.

Local story: Orwell, OH, soldier killed near Abu Ghraib.

Local story: Brookfield, CT, Marine killed in Iraq to be interred in Arlington National Cemetery.


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