Sunday, July 03, 2005

War News for Sunday, July 03, 2005

Bring ‘em on: At least 16 people killed, including 11 police recruits, and 22 injured in suicide bombing outside a recruiting station for police special forces in western Baghdad. (Note: This may be the same attack that Yankee reported yesterday. The report he cited stated there were 20 fatalities.) Six policemen killed and 26 people injured in a pair of coordinated suicide bombings at a police checkpoint in Hillah. Three Iraqi soldiers killed in a roadside bombing northeast of Baghdad. Two people killed when a bomb hidden in a vegetable cart exploded moments after mourners passed by with the body of an aide to Ayatollah Sistani. One policeman and a female relative killed in a drive-by shooting in Kirkuk. Nine people wounded, including two policemen, in a roadside bombing near a police station in the New Baghdad section of the capital.

Bring ‘em on: Egypt’s top envoy to Iraq kidnapped in Baghdad by about eight gunmen who beat him and called him an American spy. Three policemen killed and one civilian injured in a car bombing targeting an Iraqi police patrol in Kirkuk. Iraqi Brigadier General wounded and his son killed in an attack by gunmen in Baghdad. Four bodyguards wounded in an attack on the Iraqi Industry Minister, who escaped injury. One crewman injured in a fire that destroyed a US CH-47 Chinook military helicopter in Ramadi, no details given on the cause of the fire.

Where’d we get more Marines?: An Iraqi army battalion backed by U.S. Marines will be stationed in Hit, making it the first deployment to regularly police a city in the volatile western Anbar province, military commanders said Saturday.

The new strategy is designed to restore order in the region and not pull back as in previous offensives in the area when U.S. Marines would conduct raids over several days and then leave.

"We're not going to let (residents) down by pulling out three weeks from now," said Marine Col. Stephen Davis, who commands the Second Regimental Combat Team. "We've got to pay attention."

Previously, there haven't been enough Marines to stay and police the vast Anbar province, which is about the size of South Carolina and extends from near Baghdad to the porous Syrian border — a main entry point for foreign fighters.

The decision for a military force to remain behind was met with a cool reception from city officials.

Maybe if we just cordoned off the whole country?: On Tuesday, the first anniversary of Iraq’s sovereignty, a town about 30 miles northwest of Baghdad was in the 10th day of a lock down.

Buhriz, a town of 57,000, was taken over by Iraqi soldiers, police and politicians. They enclosed the city, fired the city council and mayor and raided dozens of homes and farms. They seized the town to take it out of the grasp of insurgents who had bullied their way in and were using the farming community as a haven, Iraqi and U.S. military leaders said.

An elusive enemy: In his nationwide address on Tuesday, President Bush said there is no reason to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq, where American military deaths in the 27-month-long war have exceeded 1,700 men and women, and anywhere between 12,000 and 22,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

Bush's critics in Congress and some commanders on the ground argue that the United States lacks sufficient troops to mount a successful counterinsurgency. Troops patrolling Iraq's border with Syria say they need more soldiers to stop foreign fighters from getting into Iraq. Soldiers in the northern city of Samarra embark on eight-hour highway patrols in 120-degree heat because there are not enough troops to shorten the shifts.

But many soldiers in Iraq, along with defense analysts in the United States, say it is not a question of enough "boots on the ground." As the "cordon and talk" approach indicates, U.S. forces, even if they were double the current number of 138,000, can be effective, but only with a specific piece of real estate and only for a particular moment in time.

The biggest obstacle, analysts say, is the nature of an elusive enemy that incessantly replenishes its ranks.

Low tech smart bombs: Blast walls, concrete barricades and concertina-ringed bunkers have sprung up across Iraq to defend against dreaded vehicle bombs. Now Iraqis increasingly face another threat: the suicide bomber who appears no different from ordinary people.

Yesterday, three attackers with explosives hidden beneath their clothing blew themselves up in Baghdad and in a Shiite city south of the capital. At least 26 people died in the assaults, and nearly 50 were injured, Iraqi officials said.

One of the attackers targeted bystanders and police who had rushed to the scene of an earlier blast.

Although the human bombers cannot carry as many explosives as cars or trucks, they are more difficult to detect than a vehicle speeding toward an intended target. They also can zero in on Iraqi police and soldiers - a major target for insurgents.

No front lines: When Holly Charette enlisted in the Marine Corps after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, her family was uneasy about her decision - and told her so.

"We just said that it’s dangerous, and things are getting crazier and crazier in the world," Edward Roberts said after his stepdaughter’s death.

But the former cheerleader wanted to join, motivated partly by a sense of patriotic duty and partly by a desire to make a difference.

The 21-year-old Marine from Rhode Island was killed June 23 when her convoy was hit by a suicide car bombing in Fallujah, Iraq. It was the largest attack on U.S. female troops in Iraq, killing three women and three men.

Though Pentagon policy bars women from serving in direct combat roles, the war in Iraq, with no real front lines, has seen female soldiers take part in close-quarters combat more than in any previous conflict.

Charette’s death and the deaths of more than three dozen other servicewomen in Iraq have made it clear that women are very much a part of the war on the ground - even if they didn’t expect to be.

Wow, can you think of anything better for troop morale?: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a heavily guarded surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday, praising Iraqi's commitment to democracy in the face of sustained deadly attacks by insurgents. Gonzales, on his first trip to Iraq, said he chose the Independence Day weekend to show support for U.S. troops and Iraq's nascent government. "We are doing a lot to promote democracy and the rule of law," Gonzales said aboard an Air Force plane en route to the Middle East.

Iraqi Christians: Insurgent propaganda in Iraq has always portrayed U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq as "Christian Crusaders" who have made Iraq the first stop in their quest to conquer the Arab world and destroy Islam. The comparison has left Christians in Iraq more vulnerable to insurgent attacks. However, it appears until now to have had little impact on Iraqis' views of indigenous Christians. There is a growing fear among Christians in Iraq, however, that proselytizing evangelical Christians who entered the country after the war may inflict the most harm on the Christian communities. Christian leaders are worried about their congregations dwindling after the mass exodus of Christians before and after the war. Moreover, proselytizing has never been accepted among Muslims in Iraq and religious communities have long practiced a policy of not trying to convert other religions to their fold. Indigenous leaders fear the practice may strain Muslim-Christian relations. "The way the preachers arrived here...with soldiers...was not a good thing," the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, Jean Sleiman told washingtonpost.com on 23 June. "I think they had the intention that they could convert Muslims, though Christians didn't do it here for 2,000 years," he continued, adding: "In the end, they are seducing Christians from other churches." Sleiman posited that new churches were creating a "new division" among Iraq's Christians because they impacted the cultural tradition of Christians there.

But they will sell you a bridge: U.S. Embassy officials refuse to negotiate with insurgents or mediate between militants and the Iraqi government, despite overtures by Sunni Arabs claiming to represent armed groups, a U.S. official said Friday.

``We do not talk to people who have killed or who provided material assistance,'' said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because of U.S. government rules.

The official said the embassy is often approached by Sunni Arabs who claim to have been sent by insurgents to present demands.

``We have never negotiated through these people with insurgents. We deliver a very simple message: 'Stop the violence. If you don't stop the violence, eventually our forces will take you out,''' the official said.

Fiduciary responsibility: On 12 April 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority in Erbil in northern Iraq handed over $1.5 billion in cash to a local courier. The money, fresh $100 bills shrink-wrapped on pallets, which filled three Blackhawk helicopters, came from oil sales under the UN’s Oil for Food Programme, and had been entrusted by the UN Security Council to the Americans to be spent on behalf of the Iraqi people. The CPA didn’t properly check out the courier before handing over the cash, and, as a result, according to an audit report by the CPA’s inspector general, ‘there was an increased risk of the loss or theft of the cash.’ Paul Bremer, the American pro-consul in Baghdad until June last year, kept a slush fund of nearly $600 million cash for which there is no paperwork: $200 million of this was kept in a room in one of Saddam’s former palaces, and the US soldier in charge used to keep the key to the room in his backpack, which he left on his desk when he popped out for lunch. Again, this is Iraqi money, not US funds.

The ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq is the largest American-led occupation programme since the Marshall Plan. But there is a difference: the US government funded the Marshall Plan whereas Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer have made sure that the reconstruction of Iraq is paid for by the ‘liberated’ country, by the Iraqis themselves. There was $6 billion left over from the UN Oil for Food Programme, as well as sequestered and frozen assets, and revenue from resumed oil exports (at least $10 billion in the year following the invasion). Under Security Council Resolution 1483, passed on 22 May 2003, all of these funds were transferred into a new account held at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, called the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), so that they might be spent by the CPA ‘in a transparent manner . . . for the benefit of the Iraqi people’. Congress, it’s true, voted to spend $18.4 billion of US taxpayers’ money on the redevelopment of Iraq. But by 28 June last year, when Bremer left Baghdad two days early to avoid possible attack on the way to the airport, his CPA had spent up to $20 billion of Iraqi money, compared to $300 million of US funds.

The ‘financial irregularities’ described in audit reports carried out by agencies of the American government and auditors working for the international community collectively give a detailed insight into the mentality of the American occupation authorities and the way they operated, handing out truckloads of dollars for which neither they nor the recipients felt any need to be accountable. The auditors have so far referred more than a hundred contracts, involving billions of dollars paid to American personnel and corporations, for investigation and possible criminal prosecution. They have also discovered that $8.8 billion that passed through the new Iraqi government ministries in Baghdad while Bremer was in charge is unaccounted for, with little prospect of finding out where it went. A further $3.4 billion earmarked by Congress for Iraqi development has since been siphoned off to finance ‘security’.

Thanks to alert reader cui bono for the link.

Over 100 degrees, no power, no clean water and you’re gonna have a baby: In this poor village, where sheep, goats, and wild turkeys strut through the muddy streets, everybody knows Khanim's house. Her dark stone hut is where they run when their wives and mothers are ready to give birth.

In medical parlance, Khanim is a "traditional birth assistant" - trained to help women give birth, but not qualified to be a midwife. In Kurdish, she is a "mamman" and she often holds the well-being of these village women in her hard, stubby hands.

"There are doctors, there are midwives, but we don't visit anybody but Khanim," says Kafi Karim, a weatherbeaten mother of four. "We only trust God - and her."

Like her newly democratic homeland, Khanim has dealt with major birth pains the last few years. After the 2003 war that toppled Saddam Hussein, the number of women who gave birth at home shot up to about two-thirds. Of those, 80 percent had nobody with any formal training present at the birth. Far from lifesaving emergency care, many mothers died from preventable complications.

Today, nobody knows exactly how many mothers are dying in Iraq. Violence has prevented medical experts from measuring the maternal mortality rate since late 2003, when the number of Iraqi women who died from childbirth climbed to 370 per 100,000 - triple its 1990 rates and 31 times the US rate of 12. The UN Population Fund concluded that the war and its aftermath had made an old problem "suddenly become very much worse."

Medical experts worry that even more mothers are dying, their deaths uncounted and unreported due to the violence that grips this country. So people like Khanim have become a vital force in helping usher in Iraq's next generation.

First hand: It was clear from the start that “my” province had serious problems. Gunfire crackled sporadically throughout the hours of darkness in Kut, regularly mixed with explosions. We plainly had no abiding control over the city. What was needed was an aggressive programme of foot patrols in the streets and alleys, but this was beyond the capabilities and experience of the Ukrainians.

The police clustered on the steps of their stations and nearby fences like crows. There appeared to be thousands of them, in almost comical disarray, and few police cars. Most policemen had no weapons and none appeared to be doing any work. Worse, there was plenty of evidence that they were directly implicated in criminal activity. We were witnessing an unprecedented test of the limits of social cohesion. The looting of public property had become a national sport.

In our travels round the province over the coming months, we met quietly spoken Sadr clerics who asked questions about this chaos. Why did we tolerate a police force that was so clearly incompetent? Why was there no electricity? Why were there fuel shortages? Whether or not we had ourselves created the unemployment, shortages, corruption and decay that made the lives of so many Iraqis a misery, we were now seen as responsible for them. And Sadr’s followers signalled their intention to impose order where we had failed.

Thanks to alert reader floda for the link.

The PR War

Oh goody! Suggestions on how to support the troops!: U.S. President George W. Bush sought on Saturday to shore up support for the Iraq war, saying the best way to honor the nation's dead was to "stay in the fight."

Bush's approval ratings have fallen to the lowest levels of his presidency in part because of growing fears about Iraq, where more than 1,700 Americans have died and thousands more have been wounded.

In his weekly radio address marking the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday, Bush sought to tap into patriotic feelings, saying the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan were following in the footsteps of those who fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War Two.

"In this time of testing," Bush said, "I ask every American to find a way to thank men and women defending our freedom -- by flying the flag, sending letters to our troops in the field, and helping the military family down the street."

Thank heavens we don’t have to actually, you know, spend any money on them: We decided to spend the day in Jackson to do a few more interviews and work on a story about the government's failure to support the troops and provide them with adequate medical care. Back in February, I wrote an article about the lack of government funded programs in place to deal with problems facing the troops, including healthcare, posttraumatic stress syndrome, housing and employment. At the time, Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, told me: "The message our government is basically sending our troops is, 'Once you take off that uniform you're on your own.' To say the Department of Defense isn't doing an adequate job of preparing the military for civilian life would be an understatement." That was almost five months ago. Unfortunately, nothing has changed. Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs admitted it is short $1 billion for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. The Washington Post ran an extensive article on the issue last Friday, but placed a key sentence near the end of the article: "Leaders of the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans and the Disabled American Veterans all noted a striking partisan division in Congress on veterans’ issues, with Democrats giving them much more support than Republicans."

We all knew this but it’s nice to see it validated: Once in a blue moon, we actually get a peek under the White House's public-relations mask, and this morning it comes courtesy of Peter Baker and Dan Balz , whose front-pager in The Washington Post suggests that Bush's unflagging public confidence about his Iraq policy reflects the work of public opinion researchers.

Yes, the very same White House that outwardly exudes contempt for polls has in fact recently hired a prominent academic pollster onto the National Security Council staff and has concluded that the key to public support for the war is not the number of casualties in Iraq, nor whether the war was right or wrong -- but whether people feel like we're going to win.

Baker and Balz write: "When President Bush confidently predicts victory in Iraq and admits no mistakes, admirers see steely resolve and critics see exasperating stubbornness. But the president's full-speed-ahead message articulated in this week's prime-time address also reflects a purposeful strategy based on extensive study of public opinion about how to maintain support for a costly and problem-plagued military mission.

In Our Name: The Negroponte Option

Chapters of pain: What happened to him in his 24 hours in captivity was written across his body in chapters of pain, recorded by the camera. There are police-issue handcuffs still attached to one wrist, from which he was hanged long enough to cause his hands and wrists to swell. There are burn marks on his chest, as if someone has placed something very hot near his right nipple and moved it around.

A little lower are a series of horizontal welts, wrapping around his body and breaking the skin as they turn around his chest, as if he had been beaten with something flexible, perhaps a cable. There are other injuries: a broken nose and smaller wounds that look like cigarette burns.

An arm appears to have been broken and one of the higher vertebrae is pushed inwards. There is a cluster of small, neat circular wounds on both sides of his left knee. At some stage an-Ni'ami seems to have been efficiently knee-capped. It was not done with a gun - the exit wounds are identical in size to the entry wounds, which would not happen with a bullet. Instead it appears to have been done with something like a drill.

What actually killed him however were the bullets fired into his chest at close range, probably by someone standing over him as he lay on the ground. The last two hit him in the head.

The gruesome detail is important. Hanging by the arms in cuffs, scorching of the body with something like an iron and knee-capping are claimed to be increasingly prevalent in the new Iraq. Now evidence is emerging that appears to substantiate those claims. Not only Iraqis make the allegations. International officials describe the methods in disgusted but hushed tones, laying them at the door of the increasingly unaccountable forces attached to Iraq's Ministry of the Interior.

The only question that remains is the level of the co-ordination of the abuse: whether Iraq is stumbling towards a policy of institutionalised torture or whether these are incidents carried out by rogue elements.

Actually, anyone familiar with the recent history of the Honduras should be forgiven for suspecting that 'rogue elements' have nothing to do with this and that a better phrase for 'stumbling' would be 'being firmly propelled'...

Your tax dollars at work: British and American aid intended for Iraq's hard-pressed police service is being diverted to paramilitary commando units accused of widespread human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial killings, The Observer can reveal.

Iraqi Police Service officers said that ammunition, weapons and vehicles earmarked for the IPS are being taken by shock troops at the forefront of Iraq's new dirty counter-insurgency war.

The allegations follow a wide-ranging investigation by this paper into serious human rights abuses being conducted by anti-insurgency forces in Iraq. The Observer has seen photographic evidence of post-mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle which demonstrate serious abuse of suspects including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and - in one case - the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee-capping.

The investigation revealed:

- A 'ghost' network of secret detention centres across the country, inaccessible to human rights organisations, where torture is taking place.

- Compelling evidence of widespread use of violent interrogation methods including hanging by the arms, burnings, beatings, the use of electric shocks and sexual abuse.

- Claims that serious abuse has taken place within the walls of the Iraqi government's own Ministry of the Interior.

- Apparent co-operation between unofficial and official detention facilities, and evidence of extra-judicial executions by the police.

Just How Bad Can We Piss Off The Italians?

Wheels within wheels: A radical Egyptian cleric allegedly kidnapped from Italy by the CIA once provided the American spy agency with valuable information about Islamic militants in Albania, according to a published report. The Chicago Tribune, citing the former second-ranking official of the Albanian intelligence service, reported in its Sunday editions that Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was a valuable source of information in the mid-1990s to the CIA about the close-knit community of Islamic fundamentalists living in exile in Albania, a formerly communist country in the Balkans. Astrit Nasufi, the former Albanian intelligence officer, told the newspaper that the imam had been considered a credible source of information. Last month, an Italian judge ordered the arrests of 13 CIA officers on allegations they secretly transported the imam to Egypt from Italy as part of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts _ a rare public admonition by a close American ally. The warrant said the cleric was sent to Egypt and tortured.

Who planned this operation, the CPA? Or the Marx Brothers?: By ploughing through hundreds of thousands of mobile phone records, tracing hotel registrations and bugging phone conversations, the Italian police have built up a picture of the CIA's operation that offers several surprises.

According to the police version of events, the CIA's special removal unit (SRU) can whistle up private jets to fly its captives unseen across international frontiers.

A Learjet allegedly took Abu Omar from the joint US base at Aviano in Italy to another US base at Ramstein, Germany, then a chartered Gulfstream V whisked him to Cairo. Yet barely a dollar was spent on making the team's communications secure.

The secret agents used ordinary mobile phones. Italian investigators put names to the abductors by matching their calls to the phone contracts they had signed. And they could be sure of the team's movements because they could see when the calls had been made and from which mobile phone.

A second surprise is the numbers involved. The Italian investigators say they have identified 23 members of the operation, and have been able to put names to 20 of them. At least six were women and - a third surprise - there seem to have been intimate links between male and female colleagues.

SRU members made several, apparently recreational, trips within Italy as they waited to seize Abu Omar and, on at least two occasions, couples booked into double rooms.

Most of the names on their passports were false. But two are not, and one belongs to the man the Italian prosecutors claim was the coordinator of the operation.

Undercutting our own alliances: The international fallout from the apparent CIA abduction of an Islamic militant cleric off the streets of Milan highlights the potential for such tactics to heighten friction between the United States and its European allies. The issue is how to wage the fight against terrorism.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi summoned the US ambassador, Mel Sembler, on Friday. He demanded that the United States show ''full respect" for Italy's sovereignty.

Berlusconi, a key ally of President Bush on the Iraq war despite its unpopularity in Italy and in much of Europe, called on the United States to explain the kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric in Milan, just one month before the United States launched its invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

European intelligence officials, Western diplomats, and specialists on terrorism say the brazen operation -- whether it had approval from a level of Italian intelligence or not -- has focused a harsh European spotlight on a dark corner of the US antiterrorism campaign.

The CIA's increasing use of ''extraordinary renditions," in which US authorities abduct terrorism suspects and transfer them to third countries that are known to use torture, has inflamed passions across Europe among human rights activists and the intelligence community.

It has raised concern that such tactics not only flout international law, but that they may also ultimately undercut much-needed cooperation between the United States and its European allies.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Blowback: Teaming up in a thinly veiled attack on perceived U.S. efforts to dominate the world, Russia and China on Friday issued a declaration demanding respect for the right of all countries to develop free of outside interference. Signed by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the second day of a summit here, the statement denounces "the aspiration for monopoly and domination in international affairs" and calls for an end to "attempts to divide nations into leaders and those being led."

While not mentioning the United States directly, the Declaration on World Order in the 21st Century leaves no doubt that Washington is its main target.

The Kurdish time bomb, part one: Here on the fringes of Syria's agricultural heartland, the veneer of normalcy is all around.

A statue of former President Hafez al-Assad, which was brought down during riots last year, has been rebuilt in a traffic circle. Slogans scrawled on walls still call out for him. Few signs remain of the violence that struck the city just weeks ago.

But as Syria endures heavy international and domestic pressure to change, storm clouds are gathering here once again. In this predominantly Kurdish city on Syria's border with Turkey, a growing movement of Kurds is demanding recognition and representation in Syria's government.

Emboldened by their brethren in Iraq and inspired by Lebanon's opposition movement, which helped force Syria out of that country, some advocates are even calling for Kurdish administration of Kurdish areas.

The Kurdish time bomb, part two: A bomb attack on a train in the mainly Kurdish region of eastern Turkey killed five people, swiftly followed by a second attack on another train bringing help, officials and news reports said. Twelve people were injured by the first remote-controlled bomb, which went off mid-morning Saturday in Bingol province, the Anatolia news agency reported. All five of the dead were reported to be railway security staff. A train that was coming to give aid to the victims of the first bomb also came under attack, blocking it about one kilometer from its destination, the Turkish news agency said, without citing a source or giving details of any injuries. The attacks were blamed on the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), active in the region -- where a sharp spike in attacks has occurred in the last few months -- and which has often used radio controlled mines in attacks on military targets, said a local security official, who asked to remain anonymous.

The anti-terror administration: On October 6, 1976, a Cuban airplane took off carrying 73 persons. The plane was blown up shortly after departure, leaving no survivors.

The attack was the work of a terrorist bomb planted on board the civilian jet. Months later, the Venezuelan police arrested the suspected terrorists and put them behind bars to await trial for the massacre.

Islamic extremism had nothing to do with this attack. But the same kind of blind hatred and fanatic disregard for human life in service of a cause motivated the killers. Luis Posada Carriles, the virulently anti-Castro explosives expert considered the mastermind of the bombing, escaped from the Venezuelan prison in 1985. Not only was he unrepentant, but judging from his subsequent actions, he was determined to kill again.

Fifteen years later Posada was again accused of terrorism in a thwarted attempt to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro at a summit meeting in Panama. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison and later pardoned by outgoing president Mireya Moscoso.

Posada had previously admitted to involvement in a string of 1997 hotel bombings in Havana. The bombings resulted in the death of an Italian tourist. Several months ago Posada fled to Florida where his lawyer filed an asylum petition on his behalf. News of Posada's presence in the United States generated public outrage and U.S. immigration services finally arrested the Cuban on charges of violation of immigration law.

The Bush government now finds itself in a quandary. It has staked its legitimacy and its legacy on the global war on terrorism and Posada is an international terrorist by every known definition of the term. Yet he was trained in the United States and served as an agent of the CIA. And the cause he fought for is a major priority of the Bush administration--the ouster of Fidel Castro.

Don’t Forget Downing Street!

Further confirmation: The Prime Minister has confirmed the authenticity of a Downing Street memo in which Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, tells Mr Blair that the Bush administration was "fixing" the intelligence and facts about Saddam Hussein's regime to back up a decision that had been taken to invade Iraq as early as July 2002.

The Downing Street memo which was leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper in May 2005 has become a critical issue in the US. Senators Kennedy and Kerry have joined the escalating debate by writing to the President asking whether or not the memo was authentic and accurate. Downing Street has previously refused to comment on the memo's authenticity, but challenged for the first time on the floor of the House of Commons the Prime Minister has finally confirmed its authenticity.

Speaking after Prime Minister's Questions, Adam Price MP said:

"The confirmation that the memo is authentic will cause ripples throughout the United States where 122 Members of the US Congress have written to the President asking if Sir Richard Dearlove's statement in the memo, that 'the intelligence and the facts are being fixed around the policy' is correct.

"I challenged the Prime Minister on whether Sir Richard Dearlove was a reliable intelligence source, and if so, could he confirm whether his statement was an accurate assessment of the Bush administration's intentions and actions. In his answer, the Prime Minister refuses to distance himself from the assessment made by the former head of MI6 and simply goes on to say resolution 1441 changed the position. I fail to see how this is relevant to my question.

"Today is a significant step forward in establishing the truth about the US and UK's policy to invade Iraq. However difficult it proves to extract information about the war from the government, the Prime Minister must be held to account by Parliament, and the President must be held to account by Congress."

The above site, afterdowningstreet.org is invaluable, as is downingstreetmemo.com. Please support both these sites.

Oh, yeah, while we’re on the subject of invaluable resources, the Brookings Institute has published an updated version of its Iraq Index. It contains dozens of charts and tables showing everything from the number of daily attacks by the insurgency to metrics of quality of life in Iraq. The site is listed in the resources on the right of the page but for those of you too lazy to scroll, just click here.

Supporting Peace On July Fourth Is Downright UnAmerican

Ron LeClair, douchebag: Ron LeClair, chairman of the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration, said Saturday he will uphold his parade committee's decision to exclude a peace group's float from Monday's July 4 parade.

Members of Waterville Area Bridges for Peace & Justice had asked LeClair to reconsider the parade committee's decision.

"I'm sticking to my decision," LeClair said. "They are not going to be allowed in the parade. They're out."

You know, if any government funding is going into this parade, this is a First Amendment issue. Oh, but wait – this is George W. Bush’s America. We wouldn’t want honor the Constitution on the 4th either.

Take Action

Sojourners: Last week, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, led by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), introduced the "Withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq Resolution." It calls for the administration to announce a plan by the end of the year for troop withdrawal - and to initiate the plan as soon as possible.

It's time to take action. Ask your representatives to support H.J.RES.55, the bipartisan resolution calling for a plan to end the war.


Editorial: Here’s the question President Bush's Tuesday address to the nation raises.

Having framed the Iraq war in a dishonest way, can the president really expect the informed public to believe his presentation about how the stabilization effort is going?

Certainly Bush's speech started on a highly deceptive note, portraying the grinding conflict in Iraq as a necessary response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

More than a year ago, the 9/11 Commission reported that there was no ''collaborative relationship" between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Still, implications that Iraq was complicit in Sept. 11 and claims that Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda worked well for the Republicans in the 2004 campaign. They used the former tactic to deftly duplicitous effect at their national convention. In other venues, both Bush and Vice President Cheney insisted there was a relationship -- ''a whole series of contacts, high-level contacts," Cheney claimed -- between Al Qaeda and Saddam's regime.

Now the president is employing a similar approach even as he asks, in essence, that the nation trust his judgment and stay the course in Iraq.

But the time for trust has long expired. The nation would be far better served if Congress resolved to make this administration more accountable.

Opinion: To the extent that George Bush had retained the slightest shred of dignity through the whole ugly Iraq imbroglio, it was found in his refusal to fully embrace the biggest of the Big Lies told by his aides: the claim that Saddam Hussein had played a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The president was never honorable in this regard. He did not correct the confusion among the American people, a majority of whom believed around the time of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that Saddam's regime was somehow linked with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Nor did he step up to challenge the misinformation being spread by members of his administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, about a supposed connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.

But when he was directly confronted by reporters and asked whether he shared Cheney's view that a connection had been established, Bush detached himself from his vice president's mad ranting and made it clear that there was no evidence to support the charge. As recently as this spring, Bush refused to echo Cheney's Big Lie.

On Tuesday night, however, the president abandoned the narrow patch of high ground that he had staked out and dove into the raging flood of deceit that his administration had unleashed.

Comment: Having cried out against the outrages of the tyrant king, the ragtag band of rebels defied all wisdom when they challenged the power and muscle of the most disciplined military force in history.

From the roadsides and the hills the rebels attacked and ran, their army having been defeated in almost every major encounter. Still, these insurgents and their leader would not give in or give up. Insurgents fighting on their own soil don't lose wars or win wars; they merely outlast the occupying force.

The war that began with a declaration in '76 proved too costly and too tiresome for the all-powerful, all-mighty British navy, the British army, and their hired Hessians. The rebels, with help from the French, defeated the occupying army and soon set up their own government in their own country. That's the way it was.

And that's the way it's going in Iraq on this Independence Day weekend. The latest technology, laser-aimed missiles and supersonic jets, pound the insurgents daily, wipe out nests of them, kill scores in powerful sweeps of villages - and victory is nowhere in sight.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Exeter, RI, Marine killed in suicide bombing in Iraq laid to rest.

Local story: Killingly, CT, soldier killed in Iraq memorialized.


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