Wednesday, May 18, 2005

War News for Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi Interior Ministry Brig. Gen. shot to death and his wife and driver injured in Baghdad attack. Two Iraqis killed and eight wounded, including seven children, in mortar attacks in Mosul. Baquba car bombing aimed at a police convoy injured 14, including 12 police officers. Seven Iraqis injured in a Baghdad bombing aimed at an American convoy. Iraqi Transport Ministry driver shot dead in Sadr City.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi intelligence official and his wife killed and their three children injured in an ambush south of Baghdad. Bodies of three Iraqi civilians believed to have been working as contractors for the US military found in Dujail. Footage released of the execution of two more Iraqi contractors kidnapped from Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Bodies of seven men, blindfolded and shot in the head, found in Amiriyah.

Bring ‘em on: Twenty people killed in clashes between militants and US forces backed by attack helicopters in a neighborhood in Mosul. Former Baath Party member and his three sons abducted and killed in Tunis, a village south of Baghdad.

Progress Report

Quality of life: In the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country still struggles with high unemployment, inconsistent utility services and widespread poverty, a joint survey from the Iraqi government and United Nations indicates.

Released Thursday, the report from Iraq's Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation and the U.N. Development Program in Iraq surveyed nearly 22,000 households in the country's 18 provinces during 2004.

The survey estimated that the minimum number of war-related deaths ranges from 18,000 to 29,000 and is probably higher.

The report said the survey didn't attempt to count entire families who died and therefore underestimates the total number of people killed.

Children under 18 accounted for 12 percent of the deaths, the report said, while the information on infant mortality and malnutrition shows that "the suffering of children due to war and conflict in Iraq is not limited to those directly wounded or killed by military activities."

Children also are affected by widespread malnutrition. About 43 percent of boys and girls between the ages of 6 months and 5 years suffer from some form of the condition -- chronic, general or acute malnutrition.

Iraq's unemployment rate was 10.5 percent of a population of 27 million people, the report found. When the figure of workers who had given up looking for a job -- discouraged workers -- was included, the unemployment number increased to 18.4 percent.

According to the survey, 98 percent of Iraqi households are connected to the national electricity grid, but only 15 percent find the supply stable.

As for water availability, the figures were 78 percent (had water) and 66 percent (had problems).

More than a fourth of Iraqis surveyed described themselves as being poor and 96 percent said they receive monthly food rations under the public food system set up through the oil-for-food program.

The median income in Iraq was equivalent to about $255 (366,000 dinars) in 2003 and decreased in the first half of 2004 to about $144 (207,000 dinars).

Medical care: Doctors in Iraq are to be equipped with not only stethoscopes and thermometers but also an automatic rifle under a government directive aimed at halting violent attacks from criminals masquerading as patients.

Instructions from the health ministry encourage GPs and hospital doctors to carry a weapon for their protection alongside more traditional medical tools in what is the latest illustration of the breakdown of law and order in the country. The ministry has also authorised the setting up of its own militia to protect 40 hospitals and medical centres in Baghdad.

In future patients seeking treatment at these sites will first be required to persuade a unit of armed guards - sporting AK-47s and distinct uniforms - that they are genuinely unwell.

As often in Iraq the official authorisation, which follows the murder of at least 25 doctors and the kidnapping of a further 300 in the last two years, has belatedly followed the real situation on the ground where many medics had already taken measures to ensure their safety. Private surgeries in Baghdad already resemble mini-fortresses with iron railings on the windows and reinforced steel doors. A Kalashnikov is an increasingly common sight in a doctor’s treatment room.

Religious freedom: In a gesture calculated to ease tensions with Iraq's dispossessed Sunni Arab minority, the new Shiite majority government announced Monday that it had ordered the army to stop raiding mosques, arresting clerics and "terrifying worshipers."

The American military command had no immediate comment on the order, which seemed likely to have a significant effect on operations in Sunni Arab areas that had been insurgent strongholds. American policy has been to attack mosques and religious schools only when they are used as firing positions, as occurred frequently, according to American commanders, during the offensive that recaptured Falluja in November.

But Iraqi troops operating under American command have raided scores of mosques in the past 18 months, arresting dozens of clerics and often carrying away large hauls of weapons and ammunition, including bomb-making equipment and antitank rockets. During two uprisings last year led by Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric with a mass following, raids were conducted against Shiite mosques, too, but the main targets have been Sunni.

Security: When foreign fighters poured into villages with jihad on their minds and weapons in their hands, some Iraqi tribesmen in western desert towns fought back.

They set up checkpoints to filter out the foreigners. They burned down suspected insurgent safe houses. They called their fellow tribesmen in Baghdad and other urban areas for backup.

And when they still couldn't uproot the terrorists streaming in from Syria, tribal leaders said, they took a most unusual step: They asked the Americans for help.

The U.S. military hails last week's Operation Matador as a success that killed more than 125 insurgents. But local tribesmen said it was a disaster for their communities and has made them leery of ever again assisting American or Iraqi forces.

"The Americans were bombing whole villages and saying they were only after the foreigners," said Fasal al Goud, a former governor of Anbar province who said he asked U.S. forces for help on behalf of the tribes. "An AK-47 can't distinguish between a terrorist and a tribesman, so how could a missile or tank?"

Women’s rights: “If I would have not killed her, everyone would insult me and ask why I am not defending my family's honour. Killing men is shameful, killing women is respected.”

The testimony was given by a man who recently murdered his daughter in law. In colaboration with others, he had forced his victim, Gulstan, who was just behind her teen ages, into a field close to their village and shot her with a rifle from close distance into her face. The testimony was neither given in custody nor during interogation. Professionals from one of the women centers in Iraqi-Kurdistan visited the village after having learned of the “honour killing” case and interviewed the familiy members. Even though he openly confessed to have murdered his daughter in law, no efforts were made to put the man on trial. The reason is simple: Gulstan “dishonoured” her family by trying to escape from a forced marriage. Additional rumours accused her of having a sexual relation to another man. Thus, her assassination is regarded as legitimate by the villagers.

Cases like Gulstan's are not unusual in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. Even though, so called “honour-crimes” are regarded as statutory offence, authorities let perpetrators oftenly pass without questioning. About 200 of cases of murdering women and girls due to reasons of “honour” have been documented by the Rewan Women's Center in Suleymaniyah in three years only. Women and girls have been shot, strangled or drowned mainly because they were said to have sexual relations or “dishonoured” the family in another way. The real number of casualties is expected to be much higher. Especially in rural areas, where tribal and primordial belonging still is the most important essential tie, “honour killings” are widely regarded as “necessary” to secure a family's social status.

War and Politics News

Secret headquarters: The reconstituted Iraqi army took another step Sunday toward leading stabilization efforts in its own country, opening its first national headquarters since the U.S.-led invasion.

The Iraqi Ground Forces Headquarters was inaugurated by a “small group of Iraqi and Coalition dignitaries” at an undisclosed location in Baghdad, according to Multi-National Force-Iraq officials Monday.

A rebuilt Iraqi military — capable of confronting the months-long insurgency on its own — has become the cornerstone requirement for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, U.S. military commanders have repeatedly said.

In the $82 billion supplemental budget request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon said 90 Iraqi battalions have been created so far. But, the report concedes, “All but one of these 90 battalions … are lightly equipped and armed and have very limited mobility and sustainment capabilities.”

This should do it: The Iraqi government said Tuesday that it would push for new laws to punish people who provide logistical support for networks of insurgents, aiming to toughen its stance after a surge of violence that has claimed 450 Iraqi lives in two weeks.

The new laws would also make it a crime not to share information about the insurgents' networks with the government.

``People who keep information from the authorities, who give material support or cooperate with terrorists, they will be held accountable,'' said Laith Kubba, speaking for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, adding that punishments would include detention, longer-term imprisonment and the seizure of private assets. ``If people know there will be legal consequences, they will stop.''

Widening cracks: Iraq’s main Sunni religious authority called on Wednesday for the resignation of the interior and defence ministers, blaming them for the murder of several clerics.

“The Committee of Muslim Scholars demands the resignation of the interior and defence ministers, who are responsible for the inhumane and reckless behaviour of their services,” it said in a statement.

“These actions, if not stopped, could lead to the civil war that some people inside and outside Iraq want,” said the committee, which has authority over some 3,000 Sunni mosques across the country.

Educational tool: Web sites maintained by Iraqi insurgents and their supporters contain chilling instructions that tell recruits how to become snipers and how to inflict the maximum damage, reports ABC News.

A Defense Department document is being disseminated to US commanders in Iraq to inform them about the insurgency's newest tactic, said ABC.

According to ABC, the document contains information from pro-insurgency websites, translated by Pentagon analysts, which instructs would-be snipers to target US and coalition military commanders, officers and pilots because replacing them "may take two to four years and cost more than $500,000 to put someone through the famous West Point."

The report said the website also asks snipers to target US special forces because, "they are very stupid because they have a Rambo complex, thinking that they are the best in the world. Don't be arrogant like them."

Hope it works better than US airport security systems: The Defense Department is fine-tuning a $75 million biometric identification system designed to improve force protection at U.S. military bases in Iraq, according to officials involved with the project. At a recent system demonstration, DoD officials said the state-of-the-art system will use biographical data, facial photographs, fingerprints and iris scans collected from Iraqis and other non-U.S. citizens who want to work on U.S. bases in Iraq to develop ID cards that can't be counterfeited. The need for a better way to screen people coming onto U.S. bases in Iraq was illustrated by the Dec. 21, 2004, bombing of a military dining facility in Mosul. That blast killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. soldiers, and wounded at least 50. It was first thought the dining hall had been hit by a rocket attack. Further investigation of the Mosul bombing pointed to the likelihood that a suicide bomber had infiltrated the base -- one non-U.S. person killed couldn't be identified -- and set off the explosion.

Oil For Food

US facilitation: A report released last night by Democratic staff on a Senate investigations committee presents documentary evidence that the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime but did nothing to stop them.

The scale of the shipments involved dwarfs those previously alleged by the Senate committee against UN staff and European politicians like the British MP, George Galloway, and the former French minister, Charles Pasqua.

In fact, the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together.

"The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions," the report said. "On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.”

US incompetence: The U.S. Treasury Department failed to adequately monitor U.S. companies that violated U.N. sanctions against Iraq, permitting a Houston-based oil company to avoid scrutiny as it paid Saddam Hussein's government more than $37 million in illegal kickbacks, according to a report released yesterday by Democrats investigating abuses in the U.N. oil-for-food program.

The report's release follows allegations in recent days by the subcommittee's chairman, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), that the former Iraqi government used its oil wealth to curry favor with senior government officials, politicians and businessmen in Russia, France and Britain.

Yesterday's report contains documents that bolster previous allegations that the State Department and the U.S.-led naval force may have assisted efforts by a key ally, Jordan, to smuggle $53 million worth of oil from Iraq in seven supertankers in the weeks before the invasion of Iraq.

"The United States not only failed to exert an effort to stop the oil tanker shipments, it appears to have facilitated them, despite widespread recognition that the shipments were a blatant violation of U.N. sanctions," the report states.

Galloway’s stinging rebuttal: I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

I don’t know who came off looking the worst in this – the Republicans, who received a well deserved and long-overdue slapdown (go read it, or better, watch it – it’s wonderful) or the Democrats, once again revealed as the rankest cowards for not having already done it repeatedly. Why are they all so gutless?

The Newsweek Koran Flushing Flap

First, the reality: To understand what Newsweek magazine has retracted, it is necessary to understand what it had initially reported. The allegations that interrogators at the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have mentally tortured prisoners there by offending deeply held religious sensitivities are not new. Nor is the specific allegation that guards flushed copies of the Quran, Islam's holy book, down a toilet. Those reports have been circulating for more than two years. What was new in the initial Newsweek report - a 330-word item in the magazine's generally breezy Periscope section - was the statement that our military's own investigators were prepared to confirm those allegations. That angle of the story - that the government was about to fess up to such abominable behavior - is what was unique about Newsweek's reporting. And it was that angle - now traced to a single not-so-informed source - that has now been retracted. Would that our government was as quick to admit and recant its own errors.

Then some government lies: The Pentagon is outraged that Newsweek would suggest that the military is desecrating Korans of Muslim detainees without definitive proof. Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita, however, apparently has no problem floating allegations that detainees are desecrating their own Korans based on an uncorroborated, anonymous source. From today’s Pentagon press briefing:

DIRITA: We’ve found nothing that would substantiate anything that you just said about the treatment of a Koran. We have, other than what we’ve seen – that it’s possible detainees themselves have done with pages of the Koran. And I don’t want to overstate that, either, because it’s based on log entries that have to be corroborated.

Sounds like DiRita is well on his way to repairing relations with the Arab world.

Media whores used and abused: Arguably the gullible U.S. reporting about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in 2002-03 contributed to more death and destruction than the Koran story did, including more than 1,600 dead American soldiers. But no one news organization has faced the condemnation that Newsweek has for its mistake.

Already some right-wing media critics are citing the Newsweek case as proof of dishonest “liberal” journalism, even though top Newsweek editors often have sided with conservative or neoconservative foreign policy agendas. They certainly did during my three years at the magazine when Editor Maynard Parker regularly lined up with Reagan-Bush policymakers.

Indeed, over the past three decades, Newsweek seems to have served as a vehicle of choice for planting stories favored by the national security establishment, including disinformation to sabotage political enemies or to frustrate troublesome investigations.

A slightly better-than-usual Democratic response: Mr. Speaker, the pot is calling the kettle black. The Administration is chastising Newsweek magazine for a story containing a fact that turned out to be false. This is the same Administration that lied to the Congress, the United Nations and the American people by fabricating reasons to send us to war. The same Administration responsible for the death of over 1,500 American servicemen and women and countless Iraqi civilians; the same Administration which shields its highest officials from responsibility for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Under those circumstances, how can the Bush Administration, with a straight face, denounce a journalist for not checking all the facts before going public with a story?

The hypocrisy of this Administration is astonishing and this most recent episode is, unfortunately, merely one example of many. Just yesterday Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said in reference to the Newsweek article, “People lost their lives. People are dead. People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be very careful about what they do." I couldn’t agree more. People should be very careful about what they say and do; President Bush and his Cabinet, most of all.

And our whore media wallows deeper into the muck: It is a darn shame that Wolf Blitzer and other leading American journalists did not journalistically probe and bravely demand the truth about White House and Pentagon creativity on that "good story" about why we had to go into Iraq.

Instead, Wolf is blitzed and ditsy about Newsweek. He, like the White House, feels that Newsweek’s "apology" is not enough.

Wolf, I feel your pain.

Retracting a false story that led to the deaths and debilitating injuries of hundreds of thousands of people is something reporters in American ought to do.

Retracting a false story that led to the destruction of a nation is probably consistent with journalistic ethics, wouldn’t you think, Wolf?

Retracting a false story that incited a civil war and placed 150,000 U.S. troops right in the middle of it – each young American man and woman the easy target of every faction – yes, that would be journalistically noble.

Oh, I’m sorry, Wolf. I was confusing you with a real journalist, and not a government apologist, collaborator, propagandist and in the ways that count, a culpable war criminal.

They didn’t hang Joseph Goebbels, of course. That old master of the government spin and the big lie stayed with his government leader until the end. When the end became undeniable, first he murdered his children, and then his wife. Finally, he committed suicide.

Just like U.S. journalism in the 21st century. To end on a happy note, let me say it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

US Military News

They should have flushed a Koran – it’s much safer: Two Army officers staged mock executions of Iraqi prisoners in 2003 and were given career-ending punishments, according to military officials and newly released documents.

Mock executions - in which a prisoner is made to believe his death is imminent - are expressly prohibited as a form of torture, according to the Army field manual.

The details of the investigations into the two officers were described in documents sought by the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The Army provided the documents to reporters on Tuesday.

Ominous numbers: Last month, Army recruiters fell 42 percent short of their goal, according to the Army Recruiting Command. They had hoped to sign up 6,600 volunteers; but despite bonuses of up to $20,000 for those willing to report by May 30, they fell 2,779 recruits short.

Those numbers are ominous. If they continue in the months to come, as seems likely, they threaten not merely our ability to stick it out in Iraq, but also the Army's long-term ability to perform its duties worldwide. And the reason for that decline is obvious.

In April of 2004, around the first anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, 73 percent of Americans believed the war was worthwhile; only 23 percent did not, according to a CNN/Gallup poll. So recruiters had little trouble filling their quotas.

Today, though, only 41 percent of Americans believe the war was worthwhile, while 57 percent do not.

Oh, yes, and don't forget to screw the vets: Plans by the Department of Veterans Affairs to overhaul the hospital computing system suffered a blow on May 12 when the House Appropriations subcommittee recommended that the project's funding be significantly cut for next year. The VA had requested $311 million for fiscal year 2006, which was expected to be the first installment on a 10-year plan totaling $3.5 billion. The committee recommended that the computer overhaul, called HealtheVet-VistA, receive only $11 million of the $311 million request.

Today In Turkey

Regional destabilization, part 1: The juxtaposition--lentils and land mines--sums up the day-to-day existence of life in this troubled region where people are trapped in the middle of a newly resurrected struggle between the Turkish military and Kurdish separatists. The 15-year conflict in this part of Turkey claimed 37,000 lives and ended officially in 1999 when Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was captured and called for a unilateral cease-fire.

But sporadic violence returned to the region after the PKK called off the truce last year and Turkey said that rebels were slipping across the border from training camps in northern Iraq. The violence has spiked in the past month, with more than 20 reported dead in the last week alone. Kurdish rebels now are threatening to bring the battle from the sparsely populated southeast to Turkey's cities and tourist destinations.

Turkey has complained repeatedly over the last year that U.S. has ignored the presence of PKK camps in northern Iraq. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to take up the issue with President Bush when he visits Washington early next month.

Regional destabilization, part 2: Turkish Police in Siirt province, near Iraq border, said two suicide bombers were killed late on Monday after officers foiled their attack on the governor's house. One bomber had killed himself, while another died trying to escape police. A police officer was wounded. Four Kurdist terrorists and four Turkish soldiers were killed in separate incidents in Turkey's southeast. The PKK threatens to expand the attacks in the region. The PKK has military bases in Northern Iraq and uses the region as a centre for its attacks. Another two PKK terrorists, including a Syrian national, died in a gun battle with security forces in remote Hakkari province, which borders Iraq and Iran.

Talk Is Cheap

But it’s a start: This past weekend, at the California State Democratic Party Convention in Los Angeles, the largest gathering of state-party Democrats in the nation, activists with Progressive Democrats of America successfully lobbied 2,000 delegates to pass a resolution calling for the termination of the occupation of Iraq. The resolution included specific language demanding the withdrawal of American troops from that country. "The California Democratic party," reads the resolution in part, "calls for the termination of the occupation...of American troops in Iraq."

This victory is a powerful statement not only to the national Democratic party but to the Republican administration and the majority in Congress.

The resolution passed in California this weekend is more than mere words on a piece of paper. The document itself, along with the activism that created it, is a starting point, a blueprint for future action that must be taken in every state in the nation. PDA, with your help, intends to take the work from this weekend and duplicate it in legislature after legislature, until our combined voices carry our soldiers out of Iraq and home to their families.



MARGARET WARNER: Ellen Knickmeyer, welcome. Thanks for joining us. Give us a sense, first of all, how big this Marine offensive was in the west, and why did they launch it now?

ELLEN KNICKMEYER: It was the largest operation they've had since Fallujah. At one point they had -- when I was watching, they had helicopters up in the air, they had bomber planes above and Marines on the ground and U.S. Army people on the River Euphrates. So it was a pretty big and coordinated attack.

MARGARET WARNER: And then you wrote a gripping account of the combat in Ubaydi, including the fact that the insurgents seem incredibly well-equipped in the form of armaments; in some degree better than the Marines?

ELLEN KNICKMEYER: Right. Right. The Marines had everything, all the kinds of weapons that the insurgents did, and more, but Marines on a firefight don't carry all those weapons around with them, so they initially they were out-shot by the insurgents. There was the one house where the insurgents had what they thought were foreign fighters had armor-piercing bullets, so that they were lying on the crawl space of the house and firing to the floor, to the inner walls and to the outer walls at Marines as soon as they came in, as soon as they stood at the door and machine gun bullets. And they could go so hard and so fast that they were going not just through that house, but other houses next door.

MARGARET WARNER: The New York Times reported that the Marines have gone on a crash program to equip and armor themselves because they're so upset about having the lack of sufficient armor. Were the Marines that you were embedded with, did they ever complain to you about their equipment?

ELLEN KNICKMEYER: You know, about the armor, they didn't complain, but they did say they had just welded on a bunch of metals and so the vehicles that we were riding around in, they had just attached steel plates to them, or put steel plates on the bottom of the floor, to guard against mines and stuff. It's something they had to do themselves.

Editorial: The installation of a new government in Iraq has done nothing to end the fighting between adherents of the rival branches of Islam, Sunnis and Shiites. Sunni insurgents have killed more than 400 people since the new regime was announced last month. Now Shiites appear to be taking revenge on Sunnis, a nightmare threatening to fracture the nation. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Iraq Sunday was an important reminder of the large U.S. stake in having the country ruled by a government that reflects Sunni and Shiite Arabs and the Kurds, who are Sunni but not Arab. Nearly 140,000 U.S. troops remain in the nation more than two years after the invasion, and it still isn't clear whether the legacy of American occupation will be a functioning constitutional democracy or outright civil war.

Although Shiites have largely forsaken revenge since Hussein was ousted, that appears to be changing. On the day of Rice's visit, nearly three dozen bodies thought to be Sunnis slain by Shiites were found in several locations in or near Baghdad. Other large-scale killings in recent weeks also have been blamed on retaliating Shiites. If revenge attacks gain more momentum, the government's fledgling security forces may not have the ability to stop the violence.

Comment: So far this month, more than 450 Iraqis and dozens of U.S. troops have been killed by an Iraqi insurgency that, even after two years, shows signs of intensifying. Yet the Bush administration, which originally expected U.S. troops to be greeted as liberators and then promised that elections would fatally undermine the rebel cause, remains clueless as to the composition of this virulent enemy. "The Mystery of the Insurgency" was the headline on a Sunday New York Times article reporting on the consensus of U.S. guerrilla warfare experts that the insurgents' motives and actions are simply baffling. However, "it clearly makes sense to the people who are doing it," said defense analyst Loren B. Thompson. "And that more than anything else tells us how little we understand the region."

What we do know about the region is that elements from two formerly implacably opposed forces — secular pan-Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism — have come to be unified, at least temporarily, in their hatred of the U.S. occupation of the historical center of the Arab world. That foreboding alliance is a direct consequence of a White House policy based on willful ignorance of history.

Opinion: In the old days, war profiteering was a grueling round-the-clock job. You actually had to make something, like planes or guns, and then overcharge the government obscenely. Now, thanks to the Republicans, countless Americans are becoming "war profiteers" in their spare time - and you can, too. Riches once thought to be the exclusive preserve of a few unsavory arms merchants have been made available to thousands of successful Americans, many of whom pull in the cash literally as they sleep!

What's their secret? With "The Republican Guide to Wartime Tax Cuts," you can find out what's in the playbook of Republican professionals. You'll get the war you want without laying out a dime, even as you benefit from huge tax cuts to boot (note: certain income thresholds apply).

And here's the kicker: you can slip the bill for all of this - both the war and your tax cut - to unsuspecting children!

Excellent questions: Is there anyone left other than delusional neocons, Bush-admin propagandists and personality-disordered jingoists who could say we have planted a flowering democracy in Iraq rather than opened a can of virulent worms? Is there anyone left who could intelligently gainsay last week’s headline, “Iraq on edge of civil war … if nation isn't already in one”?

Is there anyone left who sees anything but lasting anarchy in just one day’s reporting? “A roadside bomb … killed two civilians and wounded four. [An] Iraqi Army unit was attacked by a roadside bomb … killing four soldiers. A mortar fell on the College of Engineering, killing two students and wounding 12 others. Armed men … opened fire on an Iraqi National Guard patrol, killing two civilians and wounding three people. An officer in the Ministry of Defense was attacked ‘by a large terrorist group.’ Escort guards opened fire, killing four of the attackers.”

Is there anyone left who could read the rest of this single-day report without a wrenching sickness in the pit of the stomach? “Armed men attacked a primary school as students were taking an examination. Two teachers were killed and many were wounded. [T]he same group opened fire on local shops, leaving at least one man dead. A police officer and his wife were killed by an unidentified armed group and their three children were badly wounded. The bodies of three beheaded men were found. This follows the discovery on Sunday of the bodies of 46 people who had been killed.”

Is there anyone left who doesn’t recall the millions of prewar voices who predicted all this?

Comment: Power, the argument runs, can shape truth: power, in the end, can determine reality, or at least the reality that most people accept—a critical point, for the administration has been singularly effective in its recognition that what is most politically important is not what readers of The New York Times believe but what most Americans are willing to believe. The last century's most innovative authority on power and truth, Joseph Goebbels, made the same point but rather more directly:

“There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyway always yield to the stronger, and this will always be "the man in the street." Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.”

I thought of this quotation when I first read the Downing Street memorandum; but I had first looked it up several months earlier, on December 14, 2004, after I had seen the images of the newly reelected President George W. Bush awarding the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the United States can bestow, to George Tenet, the former director of central intelligence; L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; and General (ret.) Tommy Franks, the commander who had led American forces during the first phase of the Iraq war. Tenet, of course, would be known to history as the intelligence director who had failed to detect and prevent the attacks of September 11 and the man who had assured President Bush that the case for Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Franks had allowed the looting of Baghdad and had generally done little to prepare for what would come after the taking of Baghdad. ("There was little discussion in Washington," as "C" told the Prime Minister on July 23, "of the aftermath after military action.") Bremer had dissolved the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and thereby created 400,000 or so available recruits for the insurgency. One might debate their ultimate responsibility for these grave errors, but it is difficult to argue that these officials merited the highest recognition the country could offer.

Of course truth, as the master propagandist said, is "unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology." He of course would have instantly grasped the psychological tactic embodied in that White House ceremony, which was one more effort to reassure Americans that the war the administration launched against Iraq has been a success and was worth fighting. That barely four Americans in ten are still willing to believe this suggests that as time goes on and the gap grows between what Americans see and what they are told, membership in the "reality-based community" may grow along with it. We will see. Still, for those interested in the question of how our leaders persuaded the country to become embroiled in a counterinsurgency war in Iraq, the Downing Street memorandum offers one more confirmation of the truth. For those, that is, who want to hear.

Casualty Reports

Local story: West Hartford, CT, Marine, killed near Qaim, buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Local story: Lake Oswego, OR, soldier killed in explosion south of Tikrit.

Local story: Farfield, OH, Marine killed in Iraq.

Local story: Manassas, VA, soldier seriously injured in roadside explosion in Ramadi.

Local story: Eggville, MS, Marine killed in Nasser Wa Salaam.

Local story: Bordentown City, NJ, security contractor on his third Iraq tour working for Blackwell killed by sniper fire in Ramadi.

Local story: Oneco, FL, American Legion post renamed to honor a local Marine killed in April, 2004, in Al Anbar province. He was 19 years old.


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