Tuesday, July 26, 2005

War News for Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Twelve Iraqis killed and 16 wounded in car bombing at the checkpoint for the Sadeer hotel in Baghdad. Two police officers killed and 11 wounded in suicide car bombing of a police checkpoint on Kindi Street in west central Baghdad. One US soldier killed in IED explosion near Samarra.

Bring ‘em on: Forty people killed, unknown number wounded in suicide truck bombing aimed at an Iraqi police station in east Baghdad. (Note: This is probably an update on the truck bombing attack Friendly Fire covered in yesterday’s post.) One US soldier killed and two wounded by indirect fire near Balad.

Bring ‘em on: Head of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Baquba office shot dead while stepping out of his car. One Iraqi paramedic and one Iraqi woman killed, six others injured during clashes between the Iraqi army and insurgents in Mosul. Three Ministry of Health employees killed by gunmen in the New Baghdad district of the capital. One Pakistani truck driver shot to death in Tikrit. One police officer and a child killed, three others injured when gunmen attacked the policeman’s car in Basra. One policeman injured and two suspects detained when gunmen attacked the Major Crimes Unit in Khark.

Bring ‘em on: Up to 17 people killed when gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying employees home from a factory in Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad. Police reports said 12 were killed and nine wounded.

Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi police officer killed by gunmen in Sadr City. One Health Ministry employee shot multiple times in Maamil. US troops and insurgents exchanged gunfire in Ramadi, no reports of casualties.

Your piece of good news for today: Weeks before an important deadline for the new constitution, Sunni Arab leaders said today that they had ended their boycott of the drafting process.

The Sunni leaders said the original constitutional committee, made up almost entirely of Shiites and Kurds, had agreed to the conditions the Sunni Arabs had set for their return, including having the government provide bodyguards. The Sunnis said they expected an agreement in writing to formalize the accord. The Sunni Arab boycott began last week after two colleagues were assassinated in downtown Baghdad.

Back to our usual programming: Six months after Iraq's historic election, the country is on the verge of another political breakthrough, the successful writing of a new constitution. Yet there are growing worries the political momentum is doing nothing to calm a bloody insurgency.

Indeed, the insurgents appear closer than ever to tipping the country into civil war, leaving many Iraqis profoundly gloomy in this summer of relentless car bombs, scorching heat and sporadic electricity.

Spinning out of control: From the outside, it seems like chaotic violence. But it's worse than that. In Iraq, Sunni Muslim suicide commandos are launching bloodbaths among the Shiites, gradually edging the country toward civil war. Instead of becoming a democratic beacon for the entire region, Iraq is on the verge of disintegrating.

The daily pattern of murder in Iraq is spinning out of control; the death toll is becoming unbearable. Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ruled that the indiscriminate slaughtering of politicians and religious dignitaries, children and the elderly has assumed the dimensions of "mass extermination," and that Iraq is headed in the direction of what he called "genocide."

No need to hide: Gunmen shoot a father in the head in front of his children. Grocers are gunned down in broad daylight. The killers don't bother hiding their faces in the chaos of Amiriya. Hit squads roam freely in the mixed Sunni and Shi'ite western district of Baghdad, killing ordinary Iraqis in a campaign government officials fear will spark civil war. "Most of the murdered ones are simple people with no obvious political activities that can justify the killing," said Abu Sami, 43, an employee in the Ministry of Finance. "We as a family think that we might be targeted so I really think of leaving for another place. But I can't afford it so I have to live in the middle of chaos."

Last throes: They just keep getting stronger.

Despite months of assurances that their forces were on the wane, the guerrillas and terrorists battling the American-backed enterprise here appear to be growing more violent, more resilient and more sophisticated than ever.

A string of recent attacks, including the execution of moderate Sunni leaders and the kidnapping of foreign diplomats, has brought home for many Iraqis that the democratic process that has been unfolding since the Americans restored Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004 has failed to isolate the insurgents and, indeed, has become the target itself.

After concentrating their efforts for two and a half years on driving out the 138,000-plus American troops, the insurgents appear to be shifting their focus to the political and sectarian polarization of the country - apparently hoping to ignite a civil war - and to the isolation of the Iraqi government abroad.

And the insurgents are choosing their targets with greater precision, and executing and dramatizing their attacks with more sophistication than they have in the past.

Lucky thing we’ve done so many in, eh?: U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed or arrested more than 50,000 Iraqi insurgents in the past seven months, a former top general who has headed repeated Pentagon assessment missions to Iraq said yesterday. Gen. Jack Keane, a former deputy chief of staff for the Army, also said the United States has a good picture of the leadership of the vicious insurgency but less of an idea about its mid- and lower-level ranks.

Pentagon officials previously had been quoted as saying 15,000 to 16,000 Iraqis were in custody in Iraq, but spokesman Lawrence DiRita was unable to comment last night on the 50,000 figure offered by the general. "I would highly doubt that anyone has a good handle on the numbers," he said. "I'm not aware of what General Keane has been told, but I know of no number that has been provided to the secretary, briefed by the commanders, or is being tracked by anyone."

A Defense Department consultant, retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, said Gen. Keane's figure likely includes some Iraqis who were swept up in military operations and subsequently released. "Does that mean all of them are terrorists or still being held? Probably not. It means we are making inroads, but not that we captured 50,000 terrorists," he said.

Look! Got another! And winged two more! Put ‘em on the tote sheet, General!: Three men in an unmarked sedan pulled up near the headquarters of the national police major crimes unit. The two passengers, wearing traditional Arab dishdasha gowns, stepped from the car. At the same moment, a U.S. military convoy emerged from an underpass. Apparently believing the men were staging an ambush, the Americans fired, killing one passenger and wounding the other. The sedan's driver was hit in the head by two bullet fragments.

The soldiers drove on without stopping. This kind of shooting is far from rare in Baghdad, but the driver of the car was no ordinary casualty. He was Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Majeed Farraji, chief of the major crimes unit. His passengers were unarmed hitchhikers whom he was dropping off on his way to work. "The reason they shot us is just because the Americans are reckless," the general said from his hospital bed hours after the July 6 shooting, his head wrapped in a white bandage. "Nobody punishes them or blames them."

Now, General, if an guerilla masked as a policeman kills a citizen and calls him an insurgent do we get to put another notch on the tote board?: A US government report has concluded that likely insurgents have infiltrated Iraq's police service, while other recruits have criminal records or are barely literate.

In a more controversial opinion, according to Time magazine, the report by the Department of Defense and State Department inspector generals also says that the Pentagon has been using Iraqi police as "cannon fodder" in Iraq.

The so-called progress report, which is expected to be released in Washington this week, also states that the training of Iraqi police recruits is badly behind schedule.

It notes that "too many recruits are marginally literate; some show up for training with criminal records or physical handicaps," Time said, citing the conclusions of the inspectors general.

Here is a PDF file of the actual report.

Ah crap, now we're gonna have insurgents recruited into the US officer corps: The Pentagon announced Friday that Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who has been in charge of efforts to train Iraqi security forces, has completed his yearlong tour of duty and will become commander of the Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Named to replace him was Maj. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who also was nominated for promotion to lieutenant general, the Pentagon statement said.

A newly declassified Pentagon assessment released to Congress said only "a small number" of Iraqi security forces can fight insurgents without American assistance, although about a third of the Iraqi Army is capable of "planning, executing and sustaining counterinsurgency operations" with support.

In his new job, General Petraeus will be in charge of the Command and General Staff College, where the Army gives advanced training to its most promising officers.

Gosh, if only we could figure out why there are so many insurgents, maybe we could do something…: Talib Abu Younes put his lips to a glass of tap water recently and watched worms swimming in the bottom.

Electricity flickers on and off for two hours in Muthana Naim's south Baghdad home then shuts off for four in boiling July heat that shoots above 120 degrees.

Fadhel Hussein boils buckets of sewage-contaminated water from the Tigris River to wash the family's clothes.

The capital is crumbling around angry Baghdadis. Narrow concrete sewage pipes decay underground and water pipes leak out more than half the drinking water before it ever reaches a home, according to the U.S. military.

Over 18 months, American officials spent almost $2 billion to revive the capital ravaged by war and neglect, according to Army Gen. William G. Webster, who heads the 30,000 U.S. and foreign troops and 15,000 Iraqi soldiers known collectively as Task Force Baghdad. But the money goes for long-term projects that yield few visible results and for security to protect the construction sites from sabotage.

As a result, Iraqis have seen scant evidence of improvement in their homes, streets or neighborhoods. They blame American and Iraqi government corruption.

"We thank God that the air we breathe is not in the hands of the government. Otherwise they would have cut it off for a few hours each day," said Nadeem Haki, 39, an electric-goods shop owner in the upscale Karrada district in the east of the capital.

Cannon Fodder

Three times more and rising: I am not privy to the details of American military deployments, but the shift in casualty figures towards Iraqi soldiers and policemen and away from coalition personnel strongly suggest that CENTCOM is keeping Americans out of harm's way. Sunni terrorists, both homegrown and imported, display fearful abandon in suicide attacks, and no doubt wish to kill as many Americans as they can. The fact that they are killing Iraqis instead indicates that American soldiers are holed up in their compounds out of reach. At the beginning of 2005, the monthly rate of Iraqi casualties was the same as coalition casualties. Since then coalition casualties have fallen by half while Iraqi casualties have tripled. There is no reason for these trends to change.

Tuning it out: Two years into the occupation of Iraq the menace of drug abuse appears to be afflicting American troops.

Aware of the debilitating effect drugs had on the morale and effectiveness of GIs in the Vietnam War, the authorities are attempting to stifle a repeat in Iraq.

Aside from random urine tests and barrack room searches, commanders have asked their troops to inform on colleagues.

Which One Is Not Like The Others?

Is it John Major?: The war in Iraq has heightened the threat of terrorist attacks in Britain, former Prime Minister Sir John Major has claimed. His intervention is a setback to Tony Blair's attempt to play down any link between the London bombings and the Iraq conflict.

Or could it be JTAC?: High-ranking security and intelligence officials warned in the weeks before the London bombings that the war in Iraq had increased the risk of terrorism in Britain, it was reported today.

A report by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre - which includes officials from MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the police - explicitly linked US-led involvement in Iraq with terrorist activity in the UK although it concluded that no group currently had the "intent and the capability" to mount an attack, the New York Times said.

"Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK," the report - a copy of which was leaked to the paper by a foreign intelligence agency - said.

How about the Home and Foreign Offices?: A joint Home Office and Foreign Office dossier — Young Muslims and Extremism — prepared for the prime minister last year, said Britain might now be harbouring thousands of Al-Qaeda sympathisers.

The Iraq war is identified by the dossier as a key cause of young Britons turning to terrorism. The analysis says: “It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US.

Or wait – maybe it’s Jack!: Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday stepped back from his earlier denials that the war on Iraq had nothing to do with the terror attacks in London.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was believed to be incensed at Mr Straw's refusal to admit that the two events could be linked last week, as he believed this clashed with wider public opinion.

Or Robin?: Former foreign secretary Robin Cook has said the invasion of Iraq had "undoubtedly" boosted terrorism around the world.

Mr Cook, who quit the Cabinet over his opposition to the war, said that unless the Government addressed the issue it would struggle to win over young Muslims in Britain.

He stressed that he was not arguing that the attacks on London would not have occurred if Britain had not joined the invasion.

However he said intelligence agencies had warned Tony Blair on the eve of conflict that military action would increase the terrorist threat to Britain.

"The problem is that we have handed al Qaida an immense propaganda gift, one that they exploit ruthlessly," he told the BBC News 24 Sunday programme.

"There have been more suicide bombings in the two years since we invaded Iraq than in the 20 years before it. Yes, it has happened around the world. I don't think you can make a simple link between any one event and Iraq, but undoubtedly it has boosted terrorism.

Or even maybe a bunch of intelligence guys from two years ago?: Tony Blair faced fresh controversy over his case for war against Iraq last night after a parliamentary committee disclosed that intelligence chiefs had warned him that toppling Saddam Hussein would increase the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain.

Nope. It’s just the usual dickhead: US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said tying the recent terrorist attacks in Britain and Egypt to the US-led war in Iraq was "ridiculous". "There was no war in Iraq on 9/11," Rumsfeld said Monday, referring to the Sep 11, 2001 attacks on the US. "Terrorist attacks have been happening well before the war in Iraq," he said, adding that a connection to Iraq war is "just utter nonsense".

Catapulting The Propaganda

Misfire: The U.S. military on Sunday said it was looking into how virtually identical quotations ended up in two of its news releases about different insurgent attacks.

Following a car bombing in Baghdad on Sunday, the U.S. military issued a statement with a quotation attributed to an unidentified Iraqi that was virtually identical to a quote reacting to an attack on July 13.

After questioning by news media, the military released the statement without the quotation.

Busted!: The U.S. military expressed regret Monday for issuing news releases about two separate attacks in Iraq that included almost identical quotes attributed to an unidentified Iraqi.

"Task Force Baghdad Public Affairs regrets the confusion regarding two press releases issued in support of our operations July 24," said a statement Monday.

Although not referring to the quote in Sunday's release, it said there was "a draft press release which, due to an administrative error, was mistakenly issued on behalf of the 3rd Infantry Division."

Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division, also spoke Sunday of an "administrative error."

Kent did not explain why the quote apparently was changed to apply to the latest attack.

Global Terrorism

We’ve eliminated a major backer of terror…er, wait…we’ll get him dead or alive…no, no, no…we’ll fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here…ah, screw it: The back-to-back nature of the deadly attacks in Egypt and London, as well as similarities in the methods used, suggests that the al Qaeda leadership may have given the orders for both operations and is a clear sign that Osama bin Laden and his deputies remain in control of the network, according to interviews with counterterrorism analysts and government officials in Europe and the Middle East.

Investigators on Saturday said that they believed the details of the bombing plots in Egypt and Britain -- the deadliest terrorist strikes in each country's history -- were organized locally by groups working independently of each other. In Sharm el-Sheikh, where the death toll rose to 88 people, attention centered on an al Qaeda affiliate blamed for a similar attack last October at Taba, another Red Sea resort. In London, where 52 bystanders were killed in the subway and on a bus, police have identified three of the four presumed suicide bombers as British natives with suspected connections to Pakistani radicals.

But intelligence officials and terrorist experts said they suspect that bin Laden or his lieutenants may have sponsored both operations from afar, as well as other explosions that have killed hundreds of people in Spain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Morocco since 2002. The hallmarks in each case: multiple bombings aimed at unguarded, civilian targets that are designed to scare Westerners and rattle the economy.

The officials and analysts also said the recent attacks indicate that the nerve center of the original al Qaeda network remains alive and well, despite the fact that many leaders have been killed or captured since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings in the United States. Bin Laden may be in hiding, the officials and analysts said, and much is still unknown about the network. But they added that his organization remains fully capable of orchestrating attacks worldwide by recruiting local groups to do its bidding.

US Military Recruitment

Making the obvious official: The Army's top personnel officer acknowledged this week that the service will probably miss its recruiting goal this year, the first public admission by a senior Army official and a stark reminder of the Iraq war's impact on enlistments.

The officer, Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, said in testimony to the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee on Tuesday that an improving economy, competition from private industry and an increasing number of parents who are less supportive of military service meant that the active-duty Army, as well as the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, would fall short of their annual quotas.

"We will likely miss recruiting missions for all three components," said General Hagenbeck, voicing publicly what many senior Army officials have said privately for weeks.

The Army has not missed its annual enlistment quota since 1999, when a strong economy played havoc with recruiters' efforts. Damn that traitor Clinton anyway...

Who let him in the room?: Deep into a four-hour congressional hearing last week on why the Army and its reserve components are missing recruiting goals, Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., turned a spotlight on the elephant in the room. The war in Iraq, Snyder said, is unpopular with many Americans - a fact that needs airing, given the all-volunteer nature of the U.S. military.

Until that moment in Tuesday's House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, blame for recruiting shortfalls focused on many things. Those included negative coverage of the war, an improving economy, the pace of military operations, and an unexplained drop in propensity of parents and other "influencers" of U.S. youths to recommend military service. Nothing was said of a nation that, polls have found, is souring on a war begun to destroy Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and shifted - after none was found - into an open-ended occupation and herculean effort to turn a fractionalized Islamic nation into a democracy.

Think it’s going to get better?: The Bush administration's rallying call that America is a nation at war is increasingly ringing hollow to men and women in uniform, who argue in frustration that America is not a nation at war, but a nation with only its military at war.

From bases in Iraq and across the United States to the Pentagon and the military's war colleges, officers and enlisted personnel quietly raise a question for political leaders: if America is truly on a war footing, why is so little sacrifice asked of the nation at large?

There is no serious talk of a draft to share the burden of fighting across the broad citizenry, and neither Republicans nor Democrats are pressing for a tax increase to force Americans to cover the $5 billion a month in costs from Iraq, Afghanistan and new counterterrorism missions.

There are not even concerted efforts like the savings-bond drives or gasoline rationing that helped to unite the country behind its fighting forces in wars past.

"Nobody in America is asked to sacrifice, except us," said one officer just back from a yearlong tour in Iraq, voicing a frustration now drawing the attention of academic specialists in military sociology.

Meanwhile, not everyone has recruitment problems: With the frequency of terror attacks apparently mounting, experts searching for common threads behind the attacks suggest that the war on terror is being waged against an ever-increasing well of recruits, bound together by motives and cause -- rather than a single al-Qaida mastermind.

Anger over the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also seems to be providing some inspiration, despite early arguments from Bush administration officials that fighting insurgents in Iraq would help prevent them from launching attacks on Western targets. The war has instead turned into a recruiting tool, experts said.

The constant images on Arab-language networks of dead and dying civilians -- coupled with U.S. soldiers conducting operations -- have only heightened sensitivities.

''Iraq has been an absolute gift to al-Qaida,'' said Paul Rogers, a professor of peace studies at England's Bradford University. ''[Al-Qaida] seems to have no difficulty in getting more and more recruits.''

Fighting To Make The World Safe For…Torture

Hey, maybe we’ll finally see a veto this term: Vice President Dick Cheney is leading a White House lobbying effort to block legislation offered by Republican senators that would regulate the detention, treatment and trials of detainees held by the American military.

The legislation, which is still being drafted, includes provisions to bar the military from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross; prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees; and use only interrogation techniques authorized in a new Army field manual.

On Thursday, just before Mr. Cheney's meeting, the White House warned in a blunt statement that Senate approval of a Republican or Democratic amendment was likely to prompt Mr. Bush's top advisers to recommend he veto the measure.

The values administration: The Bush administration in recent days has been lobbying to block legislation supported by Republican senators that would bar the U.S. military from engaging in "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees, from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, and from using interrogation methods not authorized by a new Army field manual.

Vice President Cheney met Thursday evening with three senior Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to press the administration's case that legislation on these matters would usurp the president's authority and -- in the words of a White House official -- interfere with his ability "to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack."

It was the second time that Cheney has met with Senate members to tamp down what the White House views as an incipient Republican rebellion. The lawmakers have publicly expressed frustration about what they consider to be the administration's failure to hold any senior military officials responsible for notorious detainee abuse in Iraq and the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman: Yesterday, news emerged that lawyers for the Pentagon had refused to cooperate with a federal judge's order to release dozens of unseen photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by Saturday. The photos were among thousands turned over by the key “whistleblower” in the scandal, Specialist Joseph M. Darby. Just a few that were released to the press sparked the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal last year, and the video images are said to be even more shocking. The Pentagon lawyers said in a letter sent to the federal court in Manhattan that they would file a sealed brief explaining their reasons for not turning over the material. They had been ordered to do so by a federal judge in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU accused the government Friday of putting another legal roadblock in the way of its bid to allow the public to see the images of the prisoner abuse scandal. To get a sense of what may be shown in these images, one has to go back to press reports from when the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal was still front page news.

"’The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience,’ Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters after Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. ’We're talking about rape and murder -- and some very serious charges.’ “Rumsfeld told Congress the unrevealed photos and videos contain acts 'that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman.’”


Eighteen months: An Indiana National Guard soldier charged with murder in the death of an Iraqi police officer unraveled the truth behind months of conflicting stories with a clear statement of guilt.

Cpl. Dustin Berg, 22, pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge of negligent homicide in a shooting he had previously claimed was self-defense. But during his court-martial, Berg said the November 2003 shooting was a rash judgment. He said it was a mistake to try to cover up the incident by shooting himself in the stomach.

Berg, of Ferdinand, Ind., will spend 18 months in prison under a plea agreement. He will also be discharged from the Army for bad conduct.

Wising Up ?

So why does he still have an approval over 40%?: Many adults in the United States believe their president has not developed a specific plan to conclude the coalition effort in Iraq, according to a poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. 64 per cent of respondents believe George W. Bush does not have a clear strategy for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.


Editorial: My mind of late has been entertaining a heresy: that the Bush White House doesn't take its own war on terrorism seriously.

Rather, the war is a sham, concocted to pursue political ends - to wit, a brushback of civil liberties, support for an invasion of Iraq, an increase in Republican representation in Congress and a second term for President Bush.

Opinion: There was a time when the first and greatest loyalty of any military officer was to the truth, and his obligation was to tell the truth as he knew it to his superiors, military or civilian.

They still teach it that way at West Point in the honor code that guides a cadet: I will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate anyone who does. Even quibbling -- any semblance of an evasion of the truth -- can lead to expulsion from the academy.

Before the invasion of Iraq, when the planning was under way, the civilian leadership made it clear that this war was going to be done their way and anyone who got in the way would regret it.

Ask Army Lt. Gen. John Riggs. In September 2004 while Rumsfeld and Army chief Gen. Peter Schoomaker were doing their best to keep Congress from adding more troops to the Army, Riggs was quoted in a newspaper article (Baltimore Sun, Sept. 13, 2004) that even 10,000 more soldiers would not be enough.

''You probably are looking at substantially more than 10,000,'' Riggs told the paper. ``I have been in the Army 39 years and I've never seen the Army as stretched in that 39 years as I have today.''

Riggs had already requested retirement. It usually takes 60 days for the paperwork to get done. Two days before that period ended Riggs was told that he was being demoted to two-star rank and would retire at that rank and pay. Riggs has appealed.

Meanwhile the Pentagon leadership continues to respond to all questions about the troop strength in Iraq by singing the old song: Anything the military commanders over there ask for they will get.

That is the answer even though those same commanders don't have enough troops to permanently base any of them along the wide-open Syrian border crossings where hundreds of foreign Jihad terrorists have crossed into Iraq on their way to become suicide bombers killing Americans and Iraqis alike.

That is the answer even though those same commanders have never had enough troops to secure the hundreds of old ammunition dumps scattered all over Iraq, which contain more than a million tons of bombs, artillery shells, bullets, rockets and launchers.

No doubt that will still be the answer when the Army and the Marine Corps have been utterly broken by unending combat deployments that grind up soldiers and equipment alike. When the Army cannot recruit enough replacements for those who are leaving something they love because they love their families more.

Comment: The Duke of Wellington, warning hawkish politicians in Britain against ill-considered military intervention abroad, once said: "Great nations do not have small wars." He meant that supposedly limited conflicts can inflict terrible damage on powerful states. Having seen what a small war in Spain had done to Napoleon, he knew what he was talking about.

The war in Iraq is now joining the Boer War in 1899 and the Suez crisis in 1956 as ill-considered ventures that have done Britain more harm than good. It has demonstrably strengthened al-Qa'ida by providing it with a large pool of activists and sympathisers across the Muslim world it did not possess before the invasion of 2003. The war, which started out as a demonstration of US strength as the world's only superpower, has turned into a demonstration of weakness. Its 135,000-strong army does not control much of Iraq.

For future historians Iraq will probably replace Vietnam as the stock example of the truth of Wellington's dictum about small wars escalating into big ones. Ironically, the US and Britain pretended in 2003 that Saddam ruled a powerful state capable of menacing his neighbours. Secretly they believed this was untrue and expected an easy victory.

Now in 2005 they find to their horror that there are people in Iraq more truly dangerous than Saddam, and they are mired in an un-winnable conflict.

Opinion: I remember the arrogance that accompanied the "shock and awe" bombing campaign that kicked off the war in Iraq more than two years ago. The war was supposed to be quick and easy, a cakewalk. The enemy, we were told, would fold like a dinner napkin. And then, in the neoconservative fantasies of some of the crazier folks in the Bush crowd, the military would gear up for an invasion of Iran.

In one of the great deceptions in the history of American government, President Bush insisted to a nation traumatized by the Sept. 11 attacks that the invasion of Iraq was crucial to the success of the so-called war on terror.

"Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror," said Mr. Bush in a speech in the fall of 2002 that was designed to drum up support for the invasion. "To the contrary, confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror."

There is still no indication that the Bush administration recognizes the utter folly of its war in Iraq, which has been like a constant spray of gasoline on the fire of global terrorism. What was required in the aftermath of Sept. 11 was an intense, laserlike focus by America and its allies on Al Qaeda-type terrorism.

Instead, the Bush crowd saw its long dreamed of opportunity to impose its will on Iraq, which had nothing to do with the great tragedy of Sept. 11. Many thousands have paid a fearful price for that bit of ideological madness.

Comment: Basically, the military equation in Iraq comes down to demographics. Sunni Arabs are no more than 20 percent of Iraq's population. Even in Baghdad—once the seat of Sunni Arab power—Sunni Arabs are a minority. To succeed, the insurgency would have to win support from Iraq's other major communities—the Kurds at 20 percent and the Shiites at between 55 and 60 percent. This cannot happen.

While the Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims, they have a history of repression at the hands of Sunni Arabs. A few dozen Kurds have been involved in terrorist acts, but al-Qaeda and its allies have no support in the Kurdistan population, which is one reason Kurdistan has largely been spared the violence that has wracked Arab Iraq.

The Shiites are completely immune to any appeal by insurgents. Sunni fundamentalists consider Shiites as apostates, and possibly a more dangerous enemy than even the Americans. (The Americans, they know, will leave. The apostates want to rule.) For the last two years, Sunni Arab insurgents have targeted Shiite mosques, clerics, religious celebrations, and pilgrims—with a toll in the thousands. The insurgent goal is to provoke sectarian war, and they seem to be succeeding. In spite of calls for restraint by Shiite leaders, there are growing numbers of retaliatory killings of Sunni Arabs by Shiites.

But while the insurgents cannot win, neither can they be defeated.

For most of his thirty-five-year rule Saddam Hussein faced guerrilla warfare from Kurds or Shiites—and sometimes both. Even the most brutal of tactics could not pacify communities that did not accept Sunni Arab rule. Today Sunni Arabs reject rule by Iraq's Shiite majority. It is unrealistic to think the American military—operating with a fraction of the intelligence of the Saddam Hussein regime and with much less brutality (Abu Ghraib notwithstanding)—can quell a Sunni Arab resistance that is no longer solely anti-American but also anti-Shiite.

Comment: According to former FBI agent Mike German, who worked against right-wing terrorist gangs in America and later on an Islamist case, there are many more similarities than differences between the way Muslim suicide bombers and 'ordinary' terrorists operate and, hence, between effective ways of defeating them. Even their structures - loose networks whose command and control may not consist of anything more organised than access to a website and a grapevine for passing on those with technical, bomb-making expertise - are much the same, German says.

This lack of hierarchy can be a strength - there is no 'Mr Big' whose interrogation might unravel a whole terrorist army - but also a weakness. 'It means they are open to infiltration,' he says. 'In both cases, the successful agent may well find he gets the best evidence from not saying much about himself, and not asking questions about the others.'

German not only penetrated neo-Nazi groups, he also gathered evidence of sufficient quality to take them to court and send them to prison. Yet after 9/11, he and his colleagues with anti-terrorist experience found themselves derided as mere 'gumshoes', unsuitable for use in the new 'war on terror'. In his view, America made a grave error in rejecting the traditional law-enforcement model in favour of this more abstract concept and its associated methods, such as internment and torture at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, which has, just about everyone but Bush and Donald Rumsfeld now accept, produced very little hard, 'actionable' intelligence.

Opinion: As the Senate deliberates the qualifications of Judge John Roberts Jr. for elevation to the nation's high court, it should closely consider the implications of one case decided this month that will probably receive short shrift, because it isn't one he authored, but merely joined.

The case of Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld involves a man purported to be Osama bin Laden's personal bodyguard and driver, who was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 by militia forces and transferred to American custody. Salim Ahmed Hamdan has been a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002 and is now up on charges of murder and terrorism. He is being tried under a military tribunal system, established by President Bush for the express purpose of sending accused terrorists through a separate legal system.

Hamdan's guilt or innocence was not the question before Roberts and his two colleagues on the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Rather, the question was whether President Bush had the authority to contravene the Geneva Conventions and establish an unreviewable regime of military tribunals to try detainees.

Together, the three Republican-appointed judges issued a resounding "yes." According to the court, no matter how little due process would be afforded the defendant or how dismissive the process was of the rules spelled out in the Conventions, the proceedings could go forward.

Welcome to Roberts' Rules of Order: Geneva Conventions = Paper Airplane.

Casualty Report

Local story: Macon, MS, National Guardsman killed in IED explosion in Baghdad.


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