Wednesday, July 13, 2005

War News for Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Four Iraqi human rights activists killed and one wounded when their Baghdad office was stormed by gunmen.

Bring ‘em on: Twenty-four Iraqi children and one US soldier killed, 20 children and three US soldiers wounded in suicide car bombing that targeted American soldiers handing out sweets in Baghdad. Bodies of eleven Sunni Arabs, shot in the head and bearing signs of torture, found in Baghdad two days after having been arrested by police commandos. Two police killed and six people, including three police, wounded in various other incidents around Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: One seven-year-old child killed and a woman seriously injured in a roadside bombing near a US patrol in eastern Baghdad. One Iraqi soldier killed by gunmen in western Baghdad. Two Iraqi soldiers, one a lieutenant, killed in a gun battle in west Baghdad. Another top lieutenant of al-Zarqawi captured in Baghdad. Iraqi security forces stormed several houses in Baghdad and arrested 13 people and then tortured and killed most of them.

Bring ‘em on: Four policemen injured in attempted assassination of the mayor of northern Baghdad’s Rashidiya district, who survived the attempt. Two people killed and 16 wounded in suicide bombing at the gate of Jalawlaa’s largest mosque.

An optimist: U.S. and other foreign troops may be able to withdraw soon from some Iraqi cities, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Tuesday.

But Iraq isn't yet able to handle all its security needs and there's no timetable for reducing the number of troops from the United States and other nations, Jaafari said.

"There is a plan and a threshold that the security forces, whether interior or defense, have to meet in terms of the growth in their capabilities," Jaafari said. "We believe some provinces are safe ... we can withdraw foreign troops from these cities ... which can then encourage an overall timetable."

Jaafari's comments came as U.S. officials announced the death of a soldier from wounds suffered Monday when the vehicle he was in struck a landmine. He was the 1,758th soldier to die in Iraq since March 2003, according to Iraq Casualty Count.

Iraqi security forces: The rank smell of sweat, stale cigarettes and garbage engulfs the cavernous aircraft hangar where hundreds of Iraqi men in khaki fatigues lounge on black metal bunk beds with bare mattresses. A door in the corner leads to the bathroom — a dozen or so metal cubicles reeking of human filth. For many of the more than 2,000 men who make up the Iraqi army's fledgling 5th Brigade, this dank metal shed with sporadic electricity and no running water has been their home for the last six months as they prepare to take their place on the front lines against the country's insurgency.

U.S. politicians and military commanders hail the rapid development of Iraq's security forces as the key to ending the insurgency and speeding the homecoming of the nearly 150,000 American troops in Iraq. But a day spent with the 5th Brigade reveals the interlocking obstacles of logistics, bureaucracy and human nature that stand in the way of that goal. Uncomfortable, unsanitary living conditions on this abandoned Baghdad airfield have eroded brigade morale, Iraqi officers say. Many soldiers have quit, and more say they plan to. "We come home from training or patrols soaking in sweat and can't even wash," says one soldier who didn't want to be identified for fear of being punished. "Is this the way we should live?"

Foreign Affairs

Angry Egyptians: The Egyptian government has vowed to avenge the apparent slaying of its top envoy in Iraq as it tries to fend off sharp criticism at home and accusations it didn't do enough to save the diplomat who was killed by al-Qaeda-linked militants.

On Egyptian television, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit vowed to "take vengeance on the killers of the head of the Egyptian mission in Iraq."

Though he did not specify how Egypt could take action, it was an unusually aggressive statement for a government that has refrained from vocal criticism of the insurgency in Iraq.

Happy Iranians: Iran's Charge d'Affaires in Baghdad said on Wednesday that the upcoming visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to Iran would open a new chapter in relations between the two countries, the official IRNA news agency reported.

A new chapter is expected to open in bilateral relations between Iran and Iraq with Jaafari's visit, Hassan Kazemi Qomi was quoted as saying.

Jaafari, leading a ranking Iraqi delegation, is to arrive in Tehran on Saturday to kick off a landmark official visit, which will mark a culmination of the recent intensive diplomatic activities between the two neighbors.

Qomi said that the expansion of ties is based on deep religious commonalties, extensive social and cultural exchanges, historical background, geographical conditions and the long common borderline between the two states.

Bush Administration Scofflaws

Long past due: The Bush administration yesterday came under more pressure to outline the number of American forces that may need to stay in Iraq over the next two years after the Pentagon failed to meet a 60-day deadline set by Congress to provide a detailed plan for training Iraqis and for likely US troop levels.

The report to Congress, due yesterday, was required under the $80 billion war spending legislation approved in May. It is intended to help answer one of the most pressing questions hanging over the American-led occupation: when the United States might be able to begin drawing down the estimated 140,000 forces in Iraq.

The White House and Pentagon are facing rising calls from Democrats and Republicans for a more detailed strategy in Iraq -- calls that grew louder yesterday.

''I am deeply disappointed that the administration failed to comply with this initial . . . deadline," Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat and senior member of the Armed Services Committee, told Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in a letter. ''It is long past due for the administration to provide Congress with meaningful information to evaluate our progress in Iraq."

The Pentagon yesterday maintained that it is still compiling the report, but did not say when it would be complete.

U.S. National Guard

Lt Gen Blum should go walk foot patrols in Mosul for a year: The dangers faced by American troops in Iraq have been exaggerated, adding to the difficulty of recruiting soldiers at home, the Army general in charge of National Guard forces said Tuesday.

The casualty rate for Guardsmen is low compared with any previous armed conflict, said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum.

He said he recognizes that every death is a tragedy for that person's family. "But I lose, unfortunately, more people through private automobile accidents and motorcycle accidents over the same period of time," he added.

"It is dangerous, but it is — I shouldn't say it to this group but I'm going to — it is misrepresented, how dangerous it really is," Blum said during a breakfast with defense reporters.

Surveys of recruit-age Americans and their parents have shown that fear of being killed or wounded in Iraq is one of the major reasons that young people are choosing other careers after high school. The National Guard also has been squeezed by a slowdown in the number of active-duty soldiers switching to the Guard.

Blum said more than 250,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been mobilized for active duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 262 of them have been killed in the global war on terrorism. Pentagon casualty statistics show more than 90 percent of those deaths were in Iraq.

In all, more than 1,750 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003 — the vast majority since President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1, 2003. More than 170 have died in and around Afghanistan as part of the ongoing offensive against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Military discipline: An Arizona Army National Guardsman whose Web log comments have criticized the Iraq war and who has filed papers to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Jon Kyl, is the subject of a military investigation in Iraq, the Army said Tuesday.

What exactly Leonard A. Clark is being investigated for is unclear. Clark, 40, of Glendale, is a kindergarten teacher, activist and perennial candidate for public office, and holds the rank of specialist in Arizona’s 860th Military Police Company.

“Specialist Clark is under investigation, but not under arrest,” confirmed Army Capt. Patricia Brewer, a spokeswoman with the military’s combined press information office in Baghdad. She said no other details were available regarding Clark from the 42nd Military Police Brigade’s Judge Advocate General’s office.

Liars And Thieves

“If it’s someone else’s money, too bad”: A whistle-blower's lawsuit against alleged contract fraud in Iraq can continue, but the U.S. government lacks the authority to police the spending of billions of dollars of Iraqi oil money, a federal judge in Alexandria has ruled.

The decision in the case involving Fairfax security firm Custer Battles LLC was issued yesterday by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. The ruling was the first to decide how far the federal False Claims Act can be stretched to cover alleged theft in contracts on the battlefield.

Two former employees had sued Custer Battles over the company's work on two contracts in Iraq. One contract was to provide security to Baghdad International Airport and another was for helping move new currency around the country. The workers claimed the company used shell companies in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere to submit phony bills to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq for the first year after the war.

If the authority were an American agency, there would be little question that the whistle-blowers could pursue their suit under the Fair Claims Act, Ellis said. But because "the essential nature" of the CPA is "shrouded with ambiguity," he ruled, the case depends on the origins of the money at the heart of the allegations.

The judge noted that aid used in rebuilding Iraq came from four sources: U.S. funds appropriated by Congress, "vested" Iraqi funds seized by the United States, "seized" Iraqi funds -- mostly cash -- uncovered by coalition forces occupying the country, and funds from the Development Fund for Iraq.

It was the last pot of money that Ellis said could not be reached by the federal fraud law. DFI funds included those from the sale of Iraqi oil after the war, transfers from the United Nations oil-for-food program and international donations. But Ellis said the whistle-blowers can continue their suit because they contend that not all of the money in question came from the DFI.

Steven L. Schooner, a contract law expert at George Washington University law school, said the message is that the courts will oversee fraud claims if U.S. tax funds are involved, but "if it's someone else's money, too bad."

He added: "On one level it is an incredibly ugly result, but probably legally proper. If I were a donor country I wouldn't be amused by this."

I’ve Said It Before And I’ll Bet I Get To Say It Again

Fuck you, Bantz Craddock: A military investigation into FBI reports of prisoner abuse at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, recommended that the base's former commander be reprimanded, but a top general rejected the recommendation, according to a congressional aide familiar with the inquiry's findings.

In the latest examination of a facility that has become a battleground over the U.S. treatment of detainees from the war against terrorism, the aide said investigators recommended that Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller be reprimanded for failing to oversee the interrogation of a high-value detainee, which was found to have been abusive.

But Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, instead referred the matter to the Army's inspector general, said the aide said, who described the still unreleased report on the condition of anonymity because the Pentagon has not released it.

Craddock concluded that Miller did not violate any U.S. laws or policies, the report said, according to the aide.

The investigation also found that interrogators violated the Geneva Convention and Army regulations three times at the base, the aide said. It was unclear from the aide's description whether the report specified those three instances.

Poodle News

“Can hardly be surprised”: Tony Blair has won broad support for his handling of London bombings, but may soon face scrutiny over a question striking at the heart of his premiership; were the deadly attacks triggered by Britain's role in Iraq? In the immediate aftermath of bus and underground railway attacks that killed at least 52, only mavericks like firebrand George Galloway dared criticize the prime minister, airing arguments many would prefer not to hear.

Galloway, thrown out of Blair's Labour party only to enter parliament as an independent, said invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq had fed hatred throughout the world's Islamic communities.

Certainly, Britain's military role in Iraq cost Blair many votes in May's election, not least among young Muslims.

Now Charles Kennedy, head of Britain's Liberal Democrats who always opposed the Iraq war, has explored the same theme.

"I am not here implying some causal link between Britain's involvement in Iraq and the terrible terrorist attacks in London last week," he said by way of qualification in a speech.

But he went on: "Those like President Bush and Tony Blair, who have sought to link Iraq with the so-called 'war on terror' can hardly be surprised when members of the public draw the same link when acts of terrorism occur here in the United Kingdom."

Britain is part of the flypaper now: "We're fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the world so we do not have to face them here at home."

That's what President Bush said in his speech Monday at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. After the terrorist attacks on Britain, our very closest ally in the war on terror, it is an astonishing thing to say. "It's a very insensitive statement with regard to the British," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "Tony Blair must absolutely have blanched when he heard that."

What does Bush's statement mean? Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, said that the war in Iraq attracts terrorists "where we have a fighting military and a coalition that can take them on and not have the sort of civilian casualties that you saw in London."

Huh? If British troops fighting in Iraq did not stop the terrorists from striking London, what is the logic for believing that American troops fighting in Iraq will stop terrorists from striking our country again? Intelligence reports -- and Townsend's own words -- suggest that Iraq has become a terrorist breeding ground since the American invasion. How, exactly, has that made us safer?


Opinion: The speed of the Taliban's collapse gave the Bush administration the idea that with our military might, we could easily reshape the international landscape to our liking. Instead of keeping its eye on the ball in Afghanistan and other Al Qaeda hotbeds, it let itself be distracted by Saddam Hussein--a minor-league nuisance who posed no significant threat to our safety and well being. For more than a decade following the first Gulf war, the United States and its allies had managed to contain him. But suddenly, that wasn't good enough. President Bush decided to liberate Iraq from his rule--and in doing so, he blundered into a long and costly war that has stretched our military to the breaking point. What we are hearing already in response to the London bombings is that we must not be tempted into appeasement. But it is not appeasement to do now what we should have done before the London bombings--namely, make an early and orderly departure from Iraq. That would not, as conservatives claim, suggest weakness. It would instead demonstrate a new appreciation of the obvious: that we can't marshal all the energies we need for the war on terror while we are bogged down in a conflict that had nothing to do with the war on terror. We've poured more than $200 billion down the drain in Iraq. If even a small part of that money had been spent on homeland security, Americans would undoubtedly be safer today. U.S. soldiers might have been used to hunt down those enemies who want to carry out atrocities here or in Britain, instead of fighting insurgents who merely want us out of Iraq. The war on Iraq was never vital to our security. The war on terror is. So why do we keep fighting the former at the expense of the latter?

Editorial: The outrage triggered by last week's horrific terrorist attacks in London has been powerful and fitting.

But it must be remembered that similar or even bloodier attacks have been occurring regularly in Iraq for the past two years. Yet those terrorist attacks have generated only a fraction of the anger and media attention of the London bombings.

How many of us remember the horrific suicide-car bombing on Feb. 28 of this year that killed 135 people lining up to obtain medical-identification cards in Hilla? Or the March 2, 2004, killing of 121 making pilgrimages to Shiite shrines by another suicide bomber? Or the attack on a mosque in Najaf on Aug. 29, 2003, that killed 83?

In the few times that President Bush and other senior officials in Washington even mention these attacks, they are usually portrayed as unfortunate incidents on Iraq's inexorable march to democracy.

There's another danger -- the danger of relating to victims of terrorism in Iraq as mere casualty figures has helped to obscure the full extent of the bloodbath taking place in that country.

There are obvious reasons why Americans would empathize more with victims of terrorism in London -- a place far removed from the daily reality of war -- than in Iraq. But there is no distinction between them in human or moral terms. Many of the noncombatant fatalities in Baghdad, as in London, were people just going about their daily lives when they became random casualties of this campaign of fear. Each left this world with a wrenching story of how he or she landed in fate's way, and each left behind devastated loved ones and lost opportunities to make a contribution to society.

If there is anything positive that we can extract from the London horror, it should be to focus our attention and humanity on all victims of terrorist violence, wherever it occurs.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Greensburg, KY, National Guardsman killed in Baghdad.

Local story: Avella, PA, Marine killed by indirect fire during fighting in Hit.

Local story: Pittsburgh, PA, Marine, formerly a police officer in McKeesport, killed by indirect fire during fighting in Hit.


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