Wednesday, July 20, 2005

War News for Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Two policemen killed and four wounded in a roadside bombing between Mahmudiyah and Latifiyah. Member of the Buhriz municipal council killed by gunmen in the village of Abu Khamees. One police guard killed in bombing in Tikrit.

Bring ‘em on: At least 10 people killed and 21 wounded in suicide bombing attack outside an army recruiting center in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Two insurgents killed, one man detained, and an explosives-rigged gasoline tanker confiscated in raid by Iraqi police in Babil where rebels fought police for thirty minutes with machine guns and RPGs. Many rebels were said to have escaped. Imam of al-Taqwa mosque shot to death in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood.

Bring ‘em on: The vice president of Basra municipality shot dead by gunmen. Oil pipeline between Beiji and Baghdad attacked by insurgents.

Thirty-four a day: Almost 25,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed during the two years of war and insurgency that began with the US-led invasion in March 2003. More than a third have died as a result of action by allied forces.

The first detailed and authoritative study of non-combatant casualties claims that an average of 34 Iraqi civilians have died each day since the conflict began, a total of 24,865 deaths.

The authors of the report, published yesterday by a group called Iraq Body Count, said the figures showed the country was descending into "anarchy" under the US occupation and called upon Britain and America to establish urgently a method of officially recording civilian casualties - something they have so far refused to do.

Professor John Sloboda, one of the report's authors, said: "The failure of Western governments to recognise the lack of respect in not counting the civilian casualties must be a contributing factor to Muslim disaffection and anger.''

The report shows the anti- occupation or insurgency forces were solely responsible for the deaths of only 9 per cent, or 2,353 of the civilian total, despite the almost daily suicide bombings, that have accounted for more than 200 deaths this month alone.

American forces were responsible for 98.5 per cent of the 9,270 civilians assessed to have been killed by allied forces, or 37 per cent of the total who have died. Out of the remaining 1.5 per cent of the total killed by allied forces, British soldiers were responsible for the highest total, with 86 people.

“Genocidal war”: The slaughter of hundreds of civilians by suicide bombers shows that a "genocidal war" is threatening Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most influential Shia cleric, warned yesterday.

So far he has persuaded most of his followers not to respond in kind against the Sunni, from whom the bombers are drawn, despite repeated massacres of Shia. But sectarian divisions between Shia and Sunni are deepening across Iraq after the killing of 18 children in the district of New Baghdad last week and the death of 98 people caught by the explosion of a gas tanker in the market town of Musayyib. Many who died were visiting a Shia mosque.

There are also calls for the formation of militias to protect Baghdad neighbourhoods. Khudayr al-Khuzai, a Shia member of parliament, said the time had come to "bring back popular militias". He added: "The plans of the interior and the defence ministries to impose security in Iraq have failed to stop the terrorists."

“It’s very sad”: It is early afternoon in the emergency room of Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital.

Medics are on stand by for a big influx of casualties from a bomb south of Baghdad.

But right now they have a more pressing job.

Several doctors, blood spattered on their white coats, are calmly trying to save the life of a young man who has just been rushed in with a bullet-wound that has punctured his lung.

He appears to have been shot, by mistake, by US troops on the road to Baghdad airport.

On an average day, between 20 and 50 people, injured in unrelenting violence, are treated in the emergency room at Yarmouk alone.

Most have been hurt in insurgent bombs, doctors say. But there is also a steady flow of people coming into Iraqi hospitals who have been injured by US soldiers.

"It's very sad," says Dr Mohaned Rahe, "but things aren't improving."

Reach out and touch someone: A cellular phone's main job is to connect people for various reasons. But in occupied Iraq, where everything is out of context, mobiles are certainly no exception.

Iraqi resistance groups use mobiles in innovative ways that started to cause real concerns for US forces, so much that the hi-tech device is now topping the agenda of items to be confiscated during search operations.

Iraqi armed groups fighting foreign troops use the device to compile information on US military targets and "collaborators" with the occupation forces, making the tiny device a "source of horror" for the occupation forces.

Iraqi Politics

Constitution writing derailed?: Four Sunni Arabs on the team charged with writing Iraq's constitution suspended their membership on Wednesday after the killing of three colleagues, a move that could delay the drafting of the landmark charter.

Tuesday's assassinations struck a blow to the constitution-writing body, seen as providing a chance for a political end to the insurgency, and Wednesday's move is likely to further hinder its work.

A draft constitution is due by mid-August.

"The environment in Iraq isn't right for anyone to get work done," said Salih al-Mutlaq, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Dialogue, a Sunni Arab organisation, in explaining why the group's representatives had suspended their membership.

Another official on the constitutional body said all Sunni Arabs -- 15 in all -- had suspended their membership, but there was no confirmation of that. The committee was due to hold a news conference later on Wednesday.

Head of the team says no: Iraq's constitution will be ready before a mid-August deadline, the head of the drafting team said on Wednesday, trying to calm fears that insurgent pressure on Sunni Arab participants might derail the process.

His reassurances followed the killing on Tuesday of three Sunni Arabs associated with the drafting committee and a walkout on Wednesday by four other Sunni members in protest at the murders and what they said was a general lack of security.

"A draft will be presented to the national assembly in the first week of August," Sheikh Humam al-Hammoudi told a news conference in Baghdad.

Oh, by the way, here’s what almost 1800 Americans died for: A working draft of Iraq's new constitution would cede a strong role to Islamic law and could sharply curb women's rights, particularly in personal matters like divorce and family inheritance.

The document's writers are also debating whether to drop or phase out a measure enshrined in the interim constitution, co-written last year by the Americans, requiring that women make up at least a quarter of the parliament.

The draft of a chapter of the new constitution obtained by The New York Times on Tuesday guarantees equal rights for women as long as those rights do not "violate Shariah," or Koranic law.

Foreign Affairs

British government vs. the f***ing obvious: Two-thirds of Britons believe there is a link between Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq and the London bombings despite government claims to the contrary, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today.

The poll makes it clear that voters believe further attacks in Britain by suicide bombers are also inevitable, with 75% of those responding saying there will be more attacks.

The research suggests the government is losing the battle to persuade people that terrorist attacks on the UK have not been made more likely by the invasion of Iraq.

Tony, here's another thing that might up the terrorist threat level: Three British servicemen have been charged with war crimes relating to the inhuman treatment of detainees in southern Iraq, the Attorney General confirmed last night.

The soldiers, among 11 charged over two cases in which detainees died, have been charged with "inhuman treatment of persons" under the International Criminal Court Act 2001. Lord Goldsmith announced the charges in a House of Lords statement last night. It is thought to be the first time the Act has been used, although inhuman treatment has been a crime under English law since the 1950s.

In total, seven men were charged over incidents in September 2003 when a detainee, Baha Mousa, was killed, including the unit's commanding officer, Col Jorge Mendonca, 41, who was charged with negligently performing a duty.

In another case, four men have been charged with the manslaughter in May 2003 of Ahmed Kareem, who drowned after he was allegedly punched and kicked and forced into a canal.

The men were formally told of the charges yesterday and will stand trial at a British court martial. Officials said that none of the men charged under the International Criminal Court Act would stand trial in The Hague.

Turkey responds to provocation by terrorists: Turkish officials have been increasingly vocal in recent days over their desire to launch cross-border operations to rein in Kurdish fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK or Kongra-Gel) based in the mountainous areas straddling Iraq and Turkey. After months of what they deemed as stalling on the part of the U.S. and Iraqi governments to deal with the PKK, Turkish officials proposed two new plans. Officials first contended that Turkey would carry out cross-border operations with or without the consent of the Iraqi government. They then suggested at a 19 July meeting of the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries that Iran, Syria, and Iraq join forces to help eliminate the Kurdish group, which is considered by its supporters a rebel group, and by the governments involved, including the United States, a terrorist organization.

Fighting has escalated between the PKK and the Turkish government since May, leaving at least 24 PKK fighters and 30 soldiers dead, and by some accounts, dozens more. The recent spate of terrorist attacks, claimed by the PKK and groups affiliated with it, have targeted civilians and soldiers.

Turkey responds to provocation by an idiot: Turkey's foreign minister Tuesday condemned comments made last week by a U.S. congressman that the United States could ``take out'' Islamic holy sites if there was a nuclear attack on America by Muslim fundamentalists.

``This was nothing but a fanatic speaking completely personally, irresponsibly and without thought of how far his statements would reach or what kind of problems they would create,'' Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said, according to the Anatolia news agency. The Foreign Ministry confirmed Gul's remarks.

On Friday, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., was asked by a talk show host how the United States should respond if terrorists struck several of its cities with nuclear weapons.

``Well, what if you said something like - if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites,'' Tancredo answered.

``You're talking about bombing Mecca,'' said talk show host Pat Campbell of WFLA-AM in Orlando, Fla.

``Yeah,'' Tancredo responded.

Giving victory to the terrorists: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is personally the closest ally of George W. Bush in the war on terrorism. On July 1, he publicly demanded, as The New York Times reported, that this country and implicitly its president "show 'full respect' for Italian sovereignty, after summoning the American ambassador and asking him to explain the reported abduction of a Muslim cleric by people associated with the CIA."

Already, Judge Chiara Nobili issued arrest warrants for the 13 CIA kidnappers whose identities had been solidly documented by Italian intelligence operatives. Those warrants, as reported too deep in the Times story, "will also be passed to Interpol, effectively requiring countries around the world to assist the Italian investigation."

The judge, moreover, has appointed public defenders to represent each of the CIA agents who planned and carried out the snatch.

Armando Spataro, Milan's deputy chief prosecutor, made a statement that someone in the White House should show the president, who purportedly does not read newspapers:

"I feel the international community must struggle against . . . international terrorist groups in accordance with international laws and the rights of the defendant. . . . Otherwise we are giving victory to the terrorists."

Tweedledum and Tweedledumber: Australian Prime Minister John Howard agreed Tuesday with President Bush that it would be unwise to set a deadline for bringing troops home from Iraq.

Both leaders resisted pressure to say how much longer their countries' soldiers will remain overseas.

The two leaders stood firm as well on the need to keep an outside military presence in Afghanistan. Howard announced last week that another 150 elite Australian troops would go to Afghanistan by September to help quell insurgent violence there.

US Politics

A distinct pattern: Long before the Karl Rove scandal grew into today’s political maelstrom, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to President Bush on January 28, 2004 asking that he call upon the White House Counsel to investigate Vice President Cheney's confirmation of leaked classified information in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News on January 9, 2004. As of today, no such investigation has taken place.

Federal law prohibits leaking classified information. In addition, every government employee must also sign a nondisclosure form which prohibits confirming information that has already been leaked. A briefing booklet explaining the form warns that “further dissemination of the [classified] information or confirmation of its accuracy is also an unauthorized disclosure.”

"Mr. Cheney's reference to classified information and Mr. Rove’s confirmation of Ms. Plame’s identity, accompanied by the ensuing silence from the White House, shows a distinct pattern: leaking classified information that the administration deems beneficial, without any consequences for those who disclose, is standard operating procedure," Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of CREW said today. “White House officials are simply not abiding by federal law.”

Don’t forget Downing Street!: The Downing Street memo serves, among other things, as a not very subtle reminder that much of the press was duped by the government in a rather premeditated and quite successful way. No one likes to be reminded of this, certainly not reporters and the institutions they work for; claiming the memo is "not reportable," in Smith's words, not only avoids revisiting a painful passage in American journalism but does so by asserting that the story "had already been covered" -- that is, that it had never been missed in the first place. When it comes to the war, much of American journalism has little more institutional interest in reexamining the past than the Bush administration itself.

We must be grateful that the American polity is broader and more complex than the American press. Kinsley claims that the Downing Street memo "will not persuade anyone who is not already persuaded. That doesn't make it wrong. But it does make the memo fairly worthless." But it is Kinsley who is quite demonstrably wrong on this question. Whether or not the memo will "persuade anyone who is not already persuaded" is of course an empirical question and I know myself a number of people who have been so persuaded. And the fact that more than half of all Americans now believe the President and his administration intentionally "misled the American public before the war" seems a rather strong suggestion that, as a matter of persuasion and of politics, the Downing Street memo is very far from worthless.

The number of Americans who hold this view is likely to continue to grow. These are simply people who have begun to notice the widening gap between what they are told and what they see -- a gap that, when it comes to the Iraq war, is becoming harder and harder to ignore. I would not call these people, in Kinsley's phrase, "Downing Street memo enthusiasts." Better to adopt a denigrating phrase from a Bush administration adviser and dub them members of the "reality-based community." Their ranks are growing, and it may be that in the coming days some in the press will leave off the increasingly hard work of avoiding recent history and come and join them.

Reality-based in CA: Members of Congress — including Oakland's representative — will mark the third anniversary of a British government meeting detailed in the "Downing Street memo" by taking criticism of the Iraq war to the masses.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will host a town hall meeting from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Grand Lake Theatre, 3200 Grand Lake Ave. in Oakland. Eight other lawmakers from New York to Michigan to New Mexico to California will hold district meetings this weekend as well.

Lee will be joined by Berkeley's Daniel Ellsberg, a former government worker famed for leaking the "Pentagon Papers" on U.S. decision-making in Vietnam in 1971; Steve Cobble, an activist and co-founder of afterdowningstreet.org; Bill Mitchell of Atascadero, a Gold Star Families for Peace co-founder whose son, U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Mitchell, 25, was killed in Baghdad; and Iraq Veterans Against the War members.

Lee intends to introduce a resolution of inquiry this week calling on the Bush administration to release all materials related to its meetings with British officials before the congressional vote authorizing use of force in Iraq.

Resources For Readers

I just discovered today that FindLaw has an amazing Iraq-war-related archive of source documents here. It’s a wonderful trove for serious researchers.

Also, via Hoffmania, here is a nifty little website called BugMeNot that allows you to bypass all the annoying registration forms that so many news sites insist you fill out to read a story. Naturally I didn’t learn about it until after this post was already researched so I haven’t tried it yet but Mr. Hoffmania has shown himself to be a very reliable fellow so I’m betting it works just fine.

Finally, after far too long an absence I stopped by Just World News, the website run by Helena Cobban, who often graces our Comments with her perceptive observations. If you haven't gone by recently, pay her a visit - interesting articles and links galore.


Editorial: Most Americans have not been asked to sacrifice a single thing for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other Americans have sacrificed time with their families, their jobs or, in many cases, life and limb.

Charlie Company's homecoming can help the people of Western Virginia remember and honor that sacrifice, but some congressional leaders appear to need a more forceful reminder.

During recent congressional hearings about a $1.2 billion shortfall in the Veterans Administration's health care budget, Republican representatives chastised VA Secretary Jim Nicholson for failing to warn Congress soon enough.

If Nicholson had come to them earlier, they said, Congress could have added more money to the recent supplemental appropriation for Iraq.

Yes, or congressional leaders might have followed past form and simply taken it out on the messenger.

That's what House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay did when fellow Republicans warned them last year of impending budget problems as the VA faced caring for thousands of wounded returning vets.

Instead of listening to their own colleagues, Hastert and DeLay punished them, removing U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., as chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, and reassigning others who signed a letter about the problem.

While tens of thousands of American soldiers give their best, congressional Republicans play shameful politics.

It is unforgivable.

Opinion: My travels to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq in recent weeks to look at the prospects for democratic change in the Middle East led me to one clear conclusion: The chance for more representative Arab governments rests on what happens in Iraq. President George W. Bush contends that Iraq will inspire democratic change in the region. But, far from being an inspiration, Iraq has turned into a bogeyman. It is the nightmare example cited by authoritarian Arab regimes as proof of the looming chaos if they open their systems too fast.

Even Arab democrats no longer talk of the January moment when millions of Iraqis voted. In Syria, political dissidents told me they don't want swift "regime change" in their country lest it lead to Iraq-style chaos. In Lebanon, leading members of the newly empowered political opposition worry Iraq will unsettle the region. In Egypt, government officials warn that rapid political change will enable Islamists to take power. As proof, they point to the victory of Shia religious parties in Iraqi elections. And, throughout the region, Arab democrats nervously watch the flow of radical Islamists into Iraq. The CIA has warned that Iraq may become another Afghanistan where Arabs train for jihad and then export their new skills elsewhere.

Comment: On Sunday, George W. Bush's war against terror was turned upside down -- and this time the president might even notice. That's because when "our guys" in Iraq start firmly allying with an "axis of evil" nation, it’s got to ring some warning bells, no?

I am referring to the joint declaration issued in Tehran by the leaders of Iraq and Iran: "Today, we need a double and common effort to confront terrorism that may spread in the region and the world," said Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, visiting Iran along with 10 of his ministers, following a similar visit from his defense minister. The statement he and his Iranian counterparts produced heralds mutual cooperation between the two neighbors, which will include a cross-border oil pipeline, joint security proposals and shared intelligence information.

Suddenly everyone's against terror!

I wish it were so. But it's not. Consider that while in Tehran, Jafari also paid tribute to the father of the Iranian theocracy, visiting the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. That the fanaticism of Khomeini is very much alive in today's Iran was clear from the election last month of one of his original Revolutionary Guards to be the country's new president.

In making a pilgrimage to Shiite Iran, the Shiite Iraqi government was also paying homage to the longtime refuge and supporter of Iraqi Shiite revolutionaries, including Jafari himself, who spent 10 years in exile there. Jafari also reiterated an earlier statement in which his government apologized for Iraq's role in the long war with Iran. (How awkward for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. envoy who carried a message of support to Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when that war was considered by President Reagan's government as a convenient, if terribly bloody, way to distract and weaken Iran.)

Now, thanks to the U.S. invasion, a new alliance is being formed between Iran and Iraq that threatens to further destabilize the politics of the Mideast. It wasn't supposed to work out this way.

Opinion: We suffer the worst attack on this country since Pearl Harbor, and the Bush administration sends the FBI after the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU exists to protect every citizen's rights as defined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States. The ACLU works solely through the legal system: It does not advocate violence, terrorism or any other damn thing except the Bill of Rights. Since when is that extremist? Why in the name of heaven are we wasting the FBI's time on this idiocy? I don't pretend to be an expert on counter-terrorism, but if it were up to me, I wouldn't start looking for the violence-prone in pacifist groups either. Your pacifists, you see -- oh, just look it up.

I know that sludge-for-brains like Bill O'Reilly attack the ACLU for being "un-American," but when Bill O'Reilly's constitutional rights are violated, the ACLU will stand up for him just like they did for Oliver North, Communists, the KKK, atheists, movement conservatives and everyone else they've defended over the years. The premise is easily understood: If the government can take away one person's rights, it can take away everyone's.

We are living in a time when our government is investigating an organization that stands for the highest and best American ideals. And claiming the mantle of patriotism while they are about it. This is cuckoo -- and such an idiotic waste of the FBI's time and the taxpayers' money that whoever thought up this idiocy should be fired yesterday.

But even that is superseded by what lies at the heart of Plamegate, and that is lying in order to get this country into war. If the Washington press corps had a memory bank longer than 10 minutes, they could have exposed this years ago: the lies so often directly contradict one another. Before the war, the CIA was such a wussy organization it kept trying to downplay weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: After the war, it was all the CIA's fault, they had exaggerated the weapons of mass destruction. And so on and so on.

The trouble with piling lies on top of lies is that we can't even agree on facts anymore. I read the right-wing commentators, and it's not that we're not on the same page -- we're not even in the same library. They read the Downing Street memos and convince themselves they don't mean what they say. I really don't understand: Is it that hard to admit you're wrong when you're wrong? Is it that hard to admit that the invasion of Iraq has been a disaster? Isn't it self-evident?

Casualty Reports

Local story: Florissant, MO, soldier died near Balad from non-combat related injuries.

Local story: Pontotoc, MS, Marine killed in bombing near Trebil.

Local story: Flomaton, AL, Marine killed in bombing near Trebil.

Press release: Port Chester, NY, Marine killed in a non-hostile incident in Ramadi.

Local story: Pago Pago, American Samoa, soldier killed in IED explosion in Balad.


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