War News for Friday, August 26, 2005
Bring 'em on: Thirty-six executed Iraqis discovered near Badrah
Bring 'em on: Oil pipeline ablaze near Kirkuk
Bring 'em on: Forty Iraqis, one American killed in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Two Talabani bodyguards killed in ambush near Tikrit
Bring 'em on: Two Danish soldiers wounded by roadside bomb near Basra
Bring 'em on: Two Iraqi truck drivers killed by roadside bomb near al-Rashad
. "Talks over the Iraqi constitution reached a breaking point Thursday, with a parliamentary session to present the document being canceled and President Bush personally calling one of the country's most powerful Shiite leaders, Abdul-Aziz Hakim, to broker a last-minute deal. Bush intervened when some senior Shiite leaders said they had decided to bypass their Sunni counterparts, as well as Iraqi lawmakers, and send the document directly to Iraqi voters for their approval. The calls by Shiite leaders to ignore the Sunnis' request for changes to the draft constitution provoked threats from the Sunnis that they would urge their people to reject the document when it goes before voters in a national referendum in October."
Insurgents in Anbar province, the center of guerrilla resistance in Iraq, have fought the U.S. military to a stalemate.
After repeated major combat offensives in Fallujah and Ramadi, and after losing hundreds of soldiers and Marines in Anbar during the past two years - including 75 since June 1 - many American officers and enlisted men assigned to Anbar have stopped talking about winning a military victory in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland. Instead, they're trying to hold on to a handful of population centers and hit smaller towns in a series of quick-strike operations designed to disrupt insurgent activities temporarily.
"I don't think of this in terms of winning," said Col. Stephen Davis, who commands a task force of about 5,000 Marines in an area of some 24,000 square miles in the western portion of Anbar. Instead, he said, his Marines are fighting a war of attrition. "The frustrating part for the (American) audience, if you will, is they want finality. They want a fight for the town and in the end the guy with the white hat wins."
That's unlikely in Anbar, Davis said. He expects the insurgency to last for years, hitting American and Iraqi forces with quick ambushes, bombs and mines. Roadside bombs have hit vehicles Davis was riding in three times this year already.
Wingnuts (heart) Gold Star Mothers
Young, 65, who lost her Marine son Jeff in 1983 when a truck bomb blew up a military barracks in Beirut, said she's had some "bad times" in the last few months.
"I had someone call me at our Washington headquarters, call me a bitch, and hang up. We were slimeballs, low-lifes," she said. "Another caller threatened to kick me in the butt, and someone else was going to slap me in the face. I said, 'I'll take the slap for all the Gold Star mothers.' "
Young said the pressure has taken its toll on her health, causing her to lose her appetite and her legs to shake at times. But yesterday, she was visiting Gold Star mothers living at the Gold Star Manor, a retirement home in Long Beach, Calif. "I could be living in the number one town in the country - Moorestown," she said with a laugh, referring to Money magazine's recent designation of the township. "But I'm needed by the Gold Star Mothers.
"I guess I'm in the middle - like a mother to the new members who have jobs and children and can't devote the time to the group, and like a daughter to the older members who are in their 80s and can't do as much."
Young, formerly president of the group's New Jersey chapter, said the intensity of the national position caught her off guard. She also said she has felt honored to help lead the Gold Star Mothers - a group no one wants to join. Members attend regular chapter meetings in 27 states, comfort one another, and visit veterans hospitals. They wear a gold star, the symbol of a lost child, over their hearts.
Why can't this reporter come out and say the obvious: the people tormenting this woman are rabid conservative nut-jobs who have confused the American Gold Star Mothers organization with Cindy Sheehan's Gold Star Mothers For Peace? And why can't he say they're being whipped into a frenzy by the professional GOP hate-mongers in the US media? That's the real story in this piece.
The most bizarre thing
I've seen in a long time.
In southern Illinois, the tale began in 2003, when student reporter Michael Brenner said he was handed a letter from a little girl saying she saw an anti-war protest on the Southern Illinois University campus and that it bothered her because her dad was a soldier. Brenner e-mailed the little girl and, as he learned more about her situation, decided to tell her story.
The story appeared in the Daily Egyptian on May 6, 2003, detailing an 8-year-old's struggles saying goodbye to her father, who was shipping off to Iraq with the 101st Airborne. According to the story, Kodee had lost her mother years earlier, so Kennings was her only blood relative.
"I don't have a mom," Kodee was quoted saying in the newspaper story. "If he died, I don't have anywhere to go."
Upon Kennings' departure, Kodee supposedly came under the care of a young woman named Colleen Hastings, the wife of Kennings' adoptive brother. Outgoing and affable, the woman forged a friendship with Brenner, and, he said, she seemed to think the attention was helping keep Kodee's mind off her dad.
Brenner, editor of the Daily Egyptian at the time, started publishing unedited notes that Kodee would write about her dad or about things happening in her life.
Last week, Hastings contacted the student newspaper and said Kennings had been killed in action in Iraq. A professor in the university's journalism school who was familiar with the Kennings story called the Tribune Aug. 17, and the Tribune had a reporter on the road to Carbondale that night.
But no details of Kennings' death could be confirmed. His name did not appear on a Department of Defense Web site that lists U.S. casualties.
By the next day, the story was falling apart. Military officials could find no one named Dan Kennings in the Army or any other branch of the military, and no deaths in Iraq fit the time frame Hastings had described.
Bush continues to float the bogus notion that Iraq and 9/11 are linked. In fact, there is no evidence that the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had any connection with Iraq. He mentioned 9/11 no fewer than five times to the war vets, and seven times when he spoke to the National Guard.
Americans are recoiling from this self-serving muddying of the waters.
They want to know why Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar are still on the loose, four years after 9/11.
They want to know when Bush expects the new regimes in Baghdad and Kabul will be strong enough to survive without help. How many Iraqi and Afghan soldiers must be in the field before U.S. forces can begin to withdraw? What's the plan for securing the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan against infiltration from outside? What are the next steps to neutralize Afghan warlords and to suppress Iraqi insurgents?
These are not unreasonable questions. They invite Bush to set out benchmarks by which the public can judge his performance, before the Congressional mid-term elections. Unfortunately, he wants none of it.
With each passing month the difficulties are compounded and the chances for a successful outcome are reduced. Urgent modification of the strategy is required before it is too late to do anything other than simply withdraw our forces.
Adding a diplomatic track to the strategy is a must. The United States should form a standing conference of Iraq's neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists. The United States should tone down its raw rhetoric and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. In addition, a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would be a helpful step in engaging both regional and Iraqi support as we implement our plans.
On the political side, the timeline for the agreements on the Constitution is less important than the substance of the document. It is up to American leadership to help engineer, implement and sustain a compromise that will avoid the "red lines" of the respective factions and leave in place a state that both we and Iraq's neighbors can support. So no Kurdish vote on independence, a restricted role for Islam and limited autonomy in the south. And no private militias.
In addition, the United States needs a legal mandate from the government to provide additional civil assistance and advice, along with additional U.S. civilian personnel, to help strengthen the institutions of government. Key ministries must be reinforced, provincial governments made functional, a system of justice established (and its personnel trained) and the rule of law promoted at the local level. There will be a continuing need for assistance in institutional development, leadership training and international monitoring for years to come, and all of this must be made palatable to Iraqis concerned with their nation's sovereignty. Monies promised for reconstruction simply must be committed and projects moved forward, especially in those areas along the border and where the insurgency has the greatest potential.
On the military side, the vast effort underway to train an army must be matched by efforts to train police and local justices. Canada, France and Germany should be engaged to assist. Neighboring states should also provide observers and technical assistance. In military terms, striking at insurgents and terrorists is necessary but insufficient. Military and security operations must return primarily to the tried-and-true methods of counterinsurgency: winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small-scale economic development and positive daily interactions. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters. A better effort must be made to control jihadist infiltration into the country by a combination of outposts, patrols and reaction forces reinforced by high technology. Over time U.S. forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and phased out.
It's a lot of sound and fury, but to find the significance, you have to go back to the question Sheehan wants to put to the president. And to recent polls indicating more and more of us are beginning to ask the same thing.
Not just why did her son die, but why have over 1,860 American sons and daughters died? Why have 14,000 more been injured? Why have an untold number of Iraqis also been killed and wounded? To find weapons of mass destruction? To liberate an oppressed people? To fight the war on terror? Some other of the shifting rationales that sound so tinny as the casualty count rises like floodwater?
Or, was it not all simply for the stubborn hubris of a man unable to admit when he has erred and the blinkered morality of a frightened nation unwilling to call him on it?
I care nothing about Cindy Sheehan's marriage or her previous meeting with George Bush; she's asking the right question. I suspect that's precisely why some people care about those things so much.
For a time it seemed not to matter to the American public that the stated reasons for going to war, the weapons of mass destruction and the links with Al Qaeda, turned out not to be true. After all, there was no draft, the casualties were not reaching Vietnam levels, and the families of soldiers could not bear to think that their sons and daughters were fighting and dying in a dubious cause, or so the administration calculated.
There were critics, of course, but the general public seemed to accept all the misleading and disingenuous statements such as ''mission accomplished" or that the Iraqi insurrection is in its ''last throes" or that old holdover from the Vietnam War: We are fighting them there so we won't have to fight them here at home. Now Bush's reason for more dead is to honor those who have already died.
But the tide is turning. Most Americans disapprove of how Bush is handling the war, and most now no longer trust his honesty, according to polls, which used to be his trump card. ''Today," according to pollster John Zogby, ''the linkage between Iraq and the war on terrorism that has worked for Bush in the past is taking its toll. Barely a majority give the president positive marks for handling the war on terrorism -- down from 66 percent when he was reelected in 2004."
Saddam's war against Iran lasted almost a dozen years. But then he didn't have to put up with mothers of dead soldiers effectively questioning a failing enterprise.
And so the president interrupts his vacation to make speeches in support of his war -- speeches in which he now makes references to the number of American dead, which The New York Times called ''rare." Thanks in part to Cindy Sheehan, it is getting harder to sweep the cost of this war under the national rug. In this, her mission has been partially accomplished.
My mother is a lifelong Republican. She got it from her father, a yellow-dog Republican if ever there was one. As unofficial GOP godfather of Fillmore, Calif., he collected absentee ballots every election for his large family and marked them himself. No sense in taking chances that someone might vote for a Democrat.
So when my mother called me the other day and told me she was considering registering as a Democrat, I was, well, stunned. Somewhere in a cemetery plot near Fillmore a body is spinning.
For the last year or more my mother has been gradually expressing ever greater exasperation with President Bush, the war, and the religious right. “Have you heard about this James Dobson guy?” she asked me on the phone, referring to the head of Focus on the Family. “If they overturn Roe vs. Wade, that’ll be it for me,” she said.
Then she mentioned Cindy Sheehan.
For all the efforts to discredit Ms. Sheehan, what she accomplished in drawing attention to the human cost of the war, if my mother’s opinion is any indication, crossed party lines. There’s a Mom Faction in American politics, and while it isn’t a monolithic Third Rail, it’s at least and second-and-a-half rail. When their children are dying on a battlefield of choice, you touch it at your peril.
My mother has her fingers on the pulse, and scalps, of many such women. She’s a hairdresser with a clientele that has been coming to her regularly for decades. Now grandmothers, these women were moms during Vietnam, in which over 50,000 American sons and daughters died. They worried then about their kids’ safety, now they’re worried about grandkids - theirs or someone else’s. Most are pretty mainstream, most Republican, and most, my mother tells me, pretty much fed up with George Bush.
Can a U.S. empire be created to enforce a new world order starting in the Middle East? No. The United States stands on a cusp of history where false moves can result in devolution. We have no divine assurance of success. We are seriously overstretched militarily. There are no more troops available to invade and topple Iran or North Korea. Bombing is possible but will not depose governments, only fuel enmity. Democracy is not created at the point of a gun.
We are in an economically fragile state. The burden of national debt is overwhelming. The U.S. dollar is under attack. Our energy resources are being poorly shepherded and we are not using what technological prowess that we do have to achieve short- or medium-term energy independence. Other economic giants emerge on the global stage and our trade policies seem increasingly disjointed. Under those conditions, are we in a position to impose our will in the Mideast? No.
We need to re-evaluate our position: to think of ourselves as a global partner and part of the U.N. family in the truest sense. We need to recognize that the ability to make nuclear weapons cannot be eliminated but that the willingness to use them can be reduced by a rational, fair and compassionate foreign policy. Terrorism cannot be eliminated; it has existed throughout history. But we can reduce it to minimum levels by the same attention to fairness and compassion as a supporter, not a detractor, of the United Nations.
Most important, we need to eliminate the underpinning for our greedy attachment to the Middle East, the need for oil. We need a bold new energy project to achieve essential energy independence within 20 years.
As for Iraq, we need a new well-defined "course": full withdrawal of our troops within six months with accelerated training of Iraqi troops. We must also accept the reality that civil war has, indeed, come to Iraq, largely caused by ourselves. We can hope that this civil war will be relatively contained through assistance from the Arab border states and the United Nations, and that three relatively autonomous entities will emerge, a southern Shiite state closely associated with Iran, a northern Kurdish entity with de facto independent status, and a Sunni central entity, closely linked to Jordan and perhaps Syria. We need to let the Middle East transform itself, not according to our naïve philosophy, but according to its own pace and logic.
Local story: Pennsylvania
soldier wounded in Iraq.