Thursday, July 21, 2005

War News for Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi soldier killed and six injured in suicide car bombing at a checkpoint in the Baghdad suburb of Bueitha. Six Iraqi soldiers killed and 13 wounded in suicide car bombing in Mahmoudiyah.

Bring ‘em on: Three members of the Qhadisiyah provincial council assassinated in Baghdad. One employee of the Ministry of Trade killed in a drive-by shooting in Sadr City. One Iraqi guard killed and two injured when attackers threw explosives into the compound of a British security firm the Yarmouk neighborhood of Baghdad. Three members of an Iraqi patrol killed and three injured by a roadside bomb in Latifiyah.

Bring ‘em on: Two Algerian diplomats kidnapped in Baghdad. Two Iraqi commandoes killed and ten injured in suicide bombing in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood. Shiite holy shrine blown up by militants in Baquba. Iraq army claims to have arrested 200 suspected insurgents in a sweep near the city.

Bring ‘em on: One US sailor died Thursday of wounds sustained July 15 during combat operations in Hit.

Twenty-six: Many of the boys in the dusty al-Khalij neighborhood of east Baghdad awoke to the news, rousing late on a hot, sleepy summer morning with no school. Their families recalled the excitement -- the American soldiers were here. And they were handing out candy.

Hamza Firas Khuzai, 11 years old, and his friends, many of them boys ages 9 to 12, rushed out without breakfast and mounted their clunky, hip-high bicycles, said Hadi Firas Khuzai, Hamza's father.

To boys Hamza's age, the words "American soldiers" meant mingling among armored troops who looked to them like action figures come to life. It meant laughs while clowning with the Americans, and candy, cookies or toys waiting to be dropped into their waving hands. Hamza's friends pedaled away, rushing toward the soldiers' Humvees at the far end of one block. Younger brothers and sisters trailed them, without wheels.

About 10 a.m. last Wednesday, a suicide bomber drove his brown Suzuki sedan and its load of explosives into the crowd of American soldiers and Iraqi children clustered around the Humvees, residents said. Twenty-six of al-Khalij's children died.

Conservative side: There has been no bigger grey area in the Iraq conflict than the number of ordinary Iraqis killed and injured.

More than 1,700 US and dozens of other coalition troops are known to have died. But the figures for civilian dead had never been more than rough estimates, ranging wildly from 10,000 to 100,000.

A report by the UK-based group Iraq Body Count (IBC), in combination with the Oxford Research Group, says it aims to remove some of the uncertainty by producing the most detailed picture yet of civilian casualties in the two years since the 2003 invasion.

But some critics have questioned the groups' methods of compiling statistics, and indeed the ability to produce reliable data. The Iraqi government has already responded by describing the report's results as "mistaken".

Middle East analyst Toby Dodge told the BBC that reports like this were bound to be sketchy.

"It's on the conservative side, if anything it underestimates the casualty figures," he said.

The report attempts to show that Western governments are at least partly wrong in their assertion that counting bodies is futile.

"Nearly two-and-a-half years on, neither the US or UK have begun to systematically measure the impact of their actions in terms of human lives destroyed," Professor John Sloboda, one of the authors of the report, said.

"Our report has shown that what is lacking is not the capacity to do this work but the will."

Ordinary people: Iraqis stepped from their cars, emerged from shops and stood under the blazing sun Wednesday in a moment of silence to honor victims of suicide attacks, the first such memorial in this war-ravaged nation.

Traffic came to a halt in Baghdad and other cities at noon as police and citizens alike saluted the Iraqi flag and bowed their heads for three minutes. In the capital's Tahrir Square, a car dropped off a group of flag-waving children and people lined up along the roadside to pay respects to the dead.

Some Iraqis said it was a futile gesture that could do nothing to stop the violence. Just three hours before the memorial, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an army recruiting center in central Baghdad, killing at least 10 people, police said.

But for many, the silence was a small but symbolic step aimed at telling the world they oppose terrorism.

Simmering again: Some insurgents whose bases were flattened by U.S. air strikes are laying mines again. Residents want Iraqi forces out. Jobs are scarce.

Falluja is simmering again eight months after a U.S. Marine offensive that crushed the nerve centre of Iraq's insurgency. There are signs guerrillas are trying to make a comeback.

The Iraqi government was hoping the U.S. assault in November would pacify Iraq's most rebellious town after an estimated 2,000 militants and insurgents were killed or captured.

Muslim militants no longer behead people in the basements of Falluja houses and Saddam Hussein's former agents don't operate freely in the town 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad.

Residents said there have only been about 10 car bombs since the offensive ended, a small number compared to the daily blasts that shook the town.

But police and residents said guerrillas are active again, laying landmines on the town's edge. U.S.-trained Iraqi forces are resented in a town known for its defiance, even in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Iraqi Politics

Sunni warnings: Sunni Arabs boycotting the committee drafting Iraq's new constitution warned other members on Thursday not to push the document through without their support.

Sunni Arabs suspended participation in the constitution-drafting committee on Wednesday after a Sunni Arab committee member and two fellow-members of the Sunni Arab umbrella group Iraqi National Dialogue were shot dead.

The committee is the main vehicle the government and its U.S. backers had hoped would lure the restive Sunni minority into the political process and help defuse Iraq's insurgency.

The committee's Shi'ite chairman Humam Hamoudi said on Wednesday he believed the Sunnis' demands were for improved security, which could be swiftly met, and predicted they would sign on to a new constitution that would be ready in weeks.

But Iraqi National Dialogue spokesman Salih Mutlaq said Hamoudi's comments implied he was rushing through a draft constitution without waiting for Sunnis to return to the table.

"He should withdraw his remarks," Mutlaq said. "We will not resume work with the committee until our demands are met."

Kurdish demands: Kurdish leaders have presented a redrawn map with a larger Kurdistan to the Iraqi National Assembly for consideration in the new constitution, a Kurdish party official said Thursday.

The map reflected long-standing Kurdish claims that stretches their territory south toward the capital of Baghdad — well beyond the boundaries of the current Kurdish autonomous area.

"The Kurdistan parliament and Kurdish parties have ratified and agreed on this map. We want this map to be part of the constitution," said Mullah Bakhtiyar, a senior official with the Kurdish Democratic Party, one of the two main Kurdish political parties.

The Kurdish demand was unlikely to be well-received by Sunnis and Shiites on the constitutional commission and could further complicate efforts to complete the draft charter by the Aug. 15 deadline.

Chalabi’s “de-Baathification”: Nine staff members of the Iraqi Special Tribunal preparing to try Saddam Hussein have been dismissed because of links to the ousted dictator's Baath Party, an official said Wednesday.

The cases of 19 others, including the chief investigative judge, are under review.

The executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, Ali al-Lami, said the nine dismissed staffers held administrative jobs such as the witness security protection program and tribunal security.

Al-Lami said that the committee is preparing another list of 19 people, mostly judges, for possible dismissal. They include chief judge Raid Juhi, he said.

The head of the government committee in charge of purging former Baath officials is Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a former Pentagon favorite.

Hiring or firing: At Iraq's only outlet to the sea, Bob Hearn is one of two Americans trying to give this country an economic shot in the arm. Sometimes he sleeps in his car when major shipments arrive, trying to reassure ship captains the port is functioning again. But success remains far away, as it does for many U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Iraq.

Although ships are trickling back two years after the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, the port is more than a year from international accreditation, which could increase ship traffic fivefold. For now, Hearn can't even get the U.S. military to route supplies through Umm Qasr.

Thousands of U.S. and Western reconstruction workers across Iraq are in the same situation — struggling to rebuild the country in a volatile environment. Frustrated Iraqis dismiss U.S. explanations for delays.

"That's our big challenge — hiring people so they're not shooting at us. They just want some money," said Hearn, who oversees a multimillion dollar project that has cleared away several sunken ships and repaired some loading docks.

It’s all looking good to Donny, though: There has been encouraging progress toward stabilizing Iraq, even while insurgents and foreign fighters "remain effective, adaptable and intent on carrying out attacks," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday.

Rumsfeld previewed a comprehensive Iraq report to Congress that was due July 11, the first in a series of required periodic assessments. Lawmakers have been pressing the Pentagon to provide more specific data to measure progress.

Rumsfeld said information about the readiness and performance of U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces — one of the most telling measures of progress — would be included in a classified annex to the report but not made public.

Rumsfeld indicated Tuesday that the report, which he said would be provided to Congress on Thursday or Friday, would not include an estimate of how many U.S. troops are likely to be required in Iraq next year. That is among the things Congress had specifically requested be included in the unclassified report.

Maybe his view would be clearer if he’d pull his head out of his ass: About half of Iraq's new police battalions are still being established and cannot conduct operations, while the other half of the police units and two-thirds of the new army battalions are only "partially capable" of carrying out counterinsurgency missions, and only with American help, according to a newly declassified Pentagon assessment.

Only "a small number" of Iraqi security forces are capable of fighting the insurgency without American assistance, while about one-third of the army is capable of "planning, executing and sustaining counterinsurgency operations" with allied support, the analysis said.

The assessment, which has not been publicly released, is the most precise analysis of the Iraqis' readiness levels that the military has provided. Bush administration officials have repeatedly said the 160,000 American-led allied troops cannot begin to withdraw until Iraqi troops are ready to take over security.

Our Brave New World

Just in case this blog isn’t making you depressed enough already:

Worst Weapons in Worst Hands: U.S. Inaction on the Nuclear Terror Threat Since 9/11, and a Path of Action - The National Security Advisory Group

Now we can use the Iraqis as weapon test subjects too: Scientists are questioning the safety of a "Star Wars"-style ray gun due to be deployed in Iraq for riot control next year.

The Active Denial System weapon, classified as “less lethal” by the Pentagon, fires a 95-gigahertz microwave beam at rioters to cause heating and intolerable pain in less than five seconds.

The idea is that people caught in the beam will rapidly try to move out of it and therefore break up the crowd.

“What happens if someone in a crowd is unable for whatever reason to move away from the beam,” asked Neil Davison, coordinator of the non-lethal weapons research project at Britain’s Bradford University. “How do you ensure that the dose doesn’t cross the threshold for permanent damage? Does the weapon cut out to prevent overexposure?”

The magazine said a vehicle-mounted version of the weapon named Sheriff was scheduled for service in Iraq in 2006, and that U.S. Marines and police were both working on portable versions.

Six more warrants: An Egyptian man who was whisked off the streets of Milan by CIA operatives in 2003 and flown to Egypt is being held in a prison here more than two years later but has not been charged with an offense, according to an Egyptian lawyer who has tracked the case.

Montasser Zayat said the abducted man, Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, was briefly freed from an Egyptian prison in April 2004, then taken back into custody after he telephoned his wife, Nabila Ghali, in Milan and complained that he had been tortured and left deaf in one ear.

Two former U.S. intelligence officials have said Nasr was released to house arrest and then taken back to prison because he had violated the terms of the house arrest by calling his wife.

In June, Nasr's case became a major source of friction between the United States and its ally Italy over the Bush administration practice of "extraordinary rendition," the forcible and secret transfer of terrorism suspects without court proceedings. Italian prosecutors issued warrants for 13 Americans they said were involved in kidnapping Nasr.

On Wednesday, an Italian prosecutor asked a court to issue arrest warrants for six more people said to be CIA operatives who helped in the abduction.

US Military News

A landmark: Landstuhl Regional Medical Center recently surpassed a hallmark number in its treatment of patients injured in operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

A combination of more than 25,000 troops, civilians and coalition members from 37 countries involved in the global war on terrorism has received treatment at Landstuhl.

The medical center, which treated its first patient from OEF in fall 2001, reached the 25,000 patient mark this July Fourth.

Opened in 1953, Landstuhl is the largest American hospital outside the United States. On average, the 145-bed medical center receives about 30 patients a day. Troops normally stay at Landstuhl between four and seven days. Then, they either return to their units downrange or are flown to the United States for additional treatment.

Prior to the war on terrorism, a day when Landstuhl would receive 30 to 40 patients was considered a mass casualty event. Now, such pace is the norm, and the hospital takes in stride what was once a logistical nightmare.

Thirteen out of a hundred mentally ill, what an improvement: A majority of U.S. soldiers in Iraq say morale is low, according to an Army report that finds psychological stress is weighing particularly heavily on National Guard and Reserve troops.

Still, soldiers' mental health has improved from the early months of the insurgency, and suicides have declined sharply, the report said. Also, substantially fewer soldiers had to be evacuated from Iraq for mental health problems last year.

The Army sent a team of mental health specialists to Iraq and Kuwait late last summer to assess conditions and measure progress in implementing programs designed to fix mental health problems discovered during a similar survey of troops a year earlier. Its report, dated Jan. 30, 2005, was released Wednesday.

The overall assessment said 13 percent of soldiers in the most recent study screened positive for a mental health problem, compared with 18 percent a year earlier. Symptoms of acute or post-traumatic stress remained the top mental health problem, affecting at least 10 percent of all soldiers checked in the latest survey.

In the anonymous survey, 17 percent of soldiers said they had experienced moderate or severe stress or problems with alcohol, emotions or their families. That compares with 23 percent a year earlier.

An “urgent wartime support initiative”: The Defense Department quietly asked Congress on Monday to raise the maximum age for military recruits to 42 for all branches of the service.

Under current law, the maximum age to enlist in the active components is 35, while people up to age 39 may enlist in the reserves. By practice, the accepted age for recruits is 27 for the Air Force, 28 for the Marine Corps and 34 for the Navy and Army, although the Army Reserve and Navy Reserve sometimes take people up to age 39 in some specialties.

The Pentagon’s request to raise the maximum recruit age to 42 is part of what defense officials are calling a package of “urgent wartime support initiatives” sent to Congress Monday night prior to a Tuesday hearing of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee.

Red states pay the price: Which American communities pay the highest price for the war in Iraq? A look at the demographics of soldiers killed reveals that Iraq is not the war of any one race or region. Rather, it is rural America's war.

Altogether, a nearly equal percentage of Americans aged 18 to 54 live in counties with a million or more inhabitants as live in counties of 100,000 or fewer. And yet, of the soldiers who have died in Iraq, 342 came from densely populated counties while 536 came from smaller ones.

Why should this be? It's not that Iraqi insurgents are singling out rural soldiers, or that commanders are putting them at particular risk. Rather, the armed forces themselves must be disproportionately drawn from rural communities - a fact not immediately discernible from recruitment data, which report the race, age and education of recruits, but not their home counties.

This is above all an economics story. Military studies consistently find that a poor economy is a boon to recruiting. The higher rate of deaths from rural counties likely reflects sparse opportunities for young people in those places.

Don’t Forget Downing Street!

Three years: Saturday, July 23, is the three-year anniversary of the meeting at #10 Downing Street in London, England, that was recorded in the now infamous minutes known as the "Downing Street Memo." Suggesting that the Bush Administration was intent on going to war with Iraq with or without intelligence on Saddam's WMD, the memo has given new impetus (and vindication) to antiwar critics of the invasion.

To highlight these disclosures, there are more than 150 events, dramatic performances, house parties and study circles planned coast to coast next week. In New York City, The Nation and Democrats.Com are teaming up to present a public forum at the New York Society of Ethical Culture.


Editorial: Every now and then, someone will ask: Why is the press reporting just the bad news from Iraq? When will it focus on the progress being made, the good that American troops are doing? The question usually is framed with a suspicion that reporters and editors have a political agenda: They don't believe in the war in Iraq and refuse to acknowledge that it is going better than morning newspaper and evening newscasts suggest.

The simple, difficult truth is that not very much is going well in Iraq -- not in putting down the insurgency, not in rebuilding the electrical power system, not in pumping oil, not in getting children back to school. To report that is not to want it so, but it is a fact. There is progress, but it can be measured in dribs and drabs. Bloodshed and chaos dominate reporting from the country because that is the reality which journalists risk their lives daily to chronicle. The optimists tend to be soldiers and civilian officials corralled inside the heavily fortified "green zone" in the center of Baghdad.

One Knight-Ridder reporter recently described the problem. When she went to lunch with a friend in the military, he "picked me up in his air-conditioned Explorer, took me to Burger King for lunch and showed me photos of the family he misses so terribly." It's "not politics that blind him from seeing the real Iraq," she said. "The [Green Zone's] maze of tall blast walls and miles of concertina wire obscure the view, too."

Opinion: If the American republic was built on any core principle, that principle is the rights of people to be free from the abuses of unchecked power. The Constitution's framers gave those rights not to ''citizens" but to ''persons." In America, everyone enjoys basic rights. Or once did.

In America, certain practices are not permitted -- in any context. We have the right to confront accusers and know the charges. We cannot be arbitrarily detained indefinitely. Trials must be speedy and public. We may speak freely without political retribution.

Now there is a perfect authoritarian storm -- a genuine terrorist threat coupled with an administration that disdains the Constitution and will soon control all three branches of government. As a pretext for arbitrary rule, we have the premise of permanent warfare predicted by Orwell combined with the unchallengeable denial of rights described by Kafka.

Left and right are bitterly divided today. But if there is one issue that unites nearly all liberals with principled conservatives, it's that we must resist the assault on precious rights. In exploring the views of proposed Supreme Court nominees, the Senate should give the issue of rights priority above all others, since the courts are the last bastion of our freedoms.

There's one more recent news story worthy of special note. The American Civil Liberties Union, the one organization whose entire purpose is to defend rights, finds that the FBI has assembled more than 1,000 pages of files on it as a possible security risk. These files, of course, are classified, in the name of national security. Orwell, meet Kafka.

I'm donating the fee for this column to the ACLU, and everyone who cares about liberty should join it. Look at ACLU.org, or write ACLU, 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004.

Editorial: Most of the Bush administration's justifications for invading Iraq have turned out to be wrong. But the one surviving argument for overthrowing Saddam Hussein has been an important one: it was a chance to bring freedom and equality to the citizens suffering under a brutal dictatorship. For those of us holding onto that hope, this week brought disheartening news on multiple fronts.

Most chilling of all are the prospects for Iraqi women. As things now stand, their rights are about to be set back by nearly 50 years because of new family law provisions inserted into a draft of the constitution at the behest of the ruling Shiite religious parties. These would make Koranic law, called Shariah, the supreme authority on marriage, divorce and inheritance issues. Even secular women from Shiite families would be stripped of their right to choose their own husbands, inherit property on the same basis as men and seek court protection if their husbands tire of them and decide to declare them divorced.

Less severe laws would be imposed on Sunni women, but only because the draft constitution also embraces the divisive idea of having separate systems of family law in the same country. That is not only offensive, but also impractical in a country where Sunnis and Shiites have been marrying each other for generations.

Unless these draft provisions are radically revised, crucial personal freedoms that survived Saddam Hussein's tyranny are about to be lost under a democratic government sponsored and protected by the United States. Is this the kind of freedom President Bush claims is on the march in the Middle East? Is this the example America hopes Iraq will set for other states in the region? Is this the result that American soldiers, men and women, are sacrificing their lives for?

Women are not the only ones facing big losses in the new Iraq. The Sunni minority continues to be treated with contempt and suspicion because it enjoyed a privileged position under the old Baathist dictatorship. It took considerable American pressure to get a fair share of Sunnis, as members and consultants, added to the committee working on the new constitution. Two of those appointed Sunnis were assassinated by insurgents this week, and yesterday the others temporarily suspended their participation, citing security concerns.

In considering whether to put their lives on the line again, these Sunnis will not be encouraged by the latest destructive antics of Ahmad Chalabi, the former American favorite who is now a powerful deputy prime minister. Mr. Chalabi, who has long advocated barring even low-level former Baathists from official employment, has now succeeded in disrupting and discrediting the judicial tribunal preparing for the trial of Mr. Hussein. He is pressing for the dismissal of senior staff members, including a top judge, because of former Baathist associations.

The single most crucial requirement for Mr. Hussein's trial is preserving the appearance of impartial justice in the name of the whole Iraqi nation. Mr. Chalabi's actions, which his nominal boss, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, seems powerless to oppose, risk turning the proceedings into a tawdry spectacle of sectarian revenge, which would only fuel divisive and deadly hatreds.

Mr. Bush owes Americans a better explanation for what his policies are producing in Iraq than tired exhortations to stay the course and irrelevant invocations of Al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Most days, the news from Iraq is dominated by suicide bombers and frightening scenes of carnage. Occasionally, the smoke clears for a day or two to reveal the underlying picture. That looks even scarier.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?