War News for Sunday, August 14, 2005
Bring 'em on: Three US soldiers killed and one injured in roadside bomb attack in Tuz
Bring em on: One US soldier killed and another injured in bomb attack in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: US soldier killed in bomb attack in west Baghdad
Bring 'em on: US soldier found shot dead in Baghad
Bring 'em on: Senior central bank official kidnapped in Baghdad
: For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect U.S. troops from the most lethal attacks by insurgents. The ceramic plates in vests worn by most personnel cannot withstand certain munitions the insurgents use. But more than a year after military officials initiated an effort to replace the armor with thicker, more resistant plates, tens of thousands of soldiers are still without the stronger protection because of a string of delays in the Pentagon's procurement system.
: Italy has begun winding down its military presence in southern Iraq with the withdrawal of a battalion of more than 120 troops, a military spokesman announced on Saturday. "Between 120 and 130 men from San Marco battalion have returned to Italy and will not be replaced," Lieutenant-Colonel Fabio Mattiassi, spokesman for the Italian contingent in Nassiriyah, told news channel Sky 24.
: Downing Street is refusing to release e-mails from a senior official relating to the attorney-general’s legal advice in the run-up to the Iraq war, raising suspicions that No 10 intervened at a crucial time. It has admitted that an aide reporting to Tony Blair sent confidential e-mails relating to the advice just days before Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, issued a summary version of his legal advice which stated unequivocally that the war was legal. His original advice, issued 10 days earlier on March 7, 2003 warned that a decision to go to war could be challenged in the international courts.
Iraq's leaders were locked in frantic haggling over a new constitution last night as the deadline for presenting a draft to parliament expired.
American diplomats offered their own proposed draft in a dramatic attempt to clinch a deal and avert a political crisis that would embarrass President George Bush.
Agreement should have been reached yesterday, but disputes over federalism and the role of Islam pitted the country's ethnic and religious groups in an eleventh-hour showdown. Parliament was supposed to have two days to scrutinise the text before tomorrow's deadline for approval but deputies waited in vain for negotiators to agree.
President Jalal Talabani said one would emerge today, giving parliament just enough time to keep a self-imposed deadline and pave the way for a referendum on the constitution in October and elections in December.
'We have gone forward,' said the former Kurdish warlord. 'God willing, we will finish the job tomorrow.'
However Sunni Arab representatives said that without 'divine intervention' the talks would fail, derailing Washington's timetable to stabilise the country and start withdrawing US troops next year.
In his weekly radio address, Bush kept up pressure on Iraq's politicians to make a deal: 'The establishment of a democratic constitution is a critical step on the path to Iraqi self-reliance.'
If parliament does not approve a draft constitution by tomorrow it must change the existing constitution to buy negotiators more time or dissolve and call fresh elections.
Mini rant: It will be interesting to see what the fuck will happen by this time tomorrow regarding the constitution; but I can't but help laugh at the irony in the above article from Roy Carroll in Baghdad. He says that American diplomats offered their own proposed draft in a dramatic attempt to clinch a deal and avert a political crisis that would embarrass President George Bush, WTF!!! What is this all about?
Constitution Stumbling Blocks
The main points of dispute in talks over Iraq's constitution:
Federalism: Sunni Arabs, who see themselves as the historical glue for Iraqi unity, have resisted federalism as a ruse for eventual Kurdish independence. Shia religious leaders have blown hot and cold on decentralisation. Some now suggest that the Shia regions of the south should also form a " federated region". Iraq's transitional administrative law (TAL), signed in March 2004, allows any three of the 18 provinces the right to form an autonomous region. There is argument over whether that provision should be changed to make forming regions harder.
Islam: Shia clerics originally argued for Iraq to be named an "Islamic republic", like Shia Iran, with Islamic law in force. Secularists fear that if Islam is the sole source of law, parliament or local government could enact laws that would restrict women's rights.
Resources: Sunnis are keen for central government in Baghdad to have control over all or the majority of the country's oil revenues. Iraq's huge oil reserves are located around Basra in the south and Kirkuk in the north - another spur for Kurds and Shias to favour federalism.
Do you think all these issues will be ironed out in the next 24 hours? But as Juan Cole points out:
A perceptive reader writes to say that the short deadline for the parliamentary acceptance of the constitution means that most members of parliament probably won't have time to read or study it carefully before the vote, and there will certainly be no proper debate on it. Is it right to expect parliament to approve a constitution it has barely read, which is highly controversial, without time for study and debate? Isn't that making parliament a mere rubber stamp? The deadline is a US political issue, not an imperative of Iraqi politics.
The Bush administration is lowering its expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, the Washington Post reported.
In a report posted on its Web site Saturday night, the newspaper -- citing unnamed U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad -- said administration officials recognize the United States will "have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months."
The report said the United States no longer expects a model new democracy or a self-supporting oil industry. U.S. officials told the paper the administration no longer expects most Iraqis to be free from serious security or economic challenges.
"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we`re in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
At the same time, administration officials maintain much has been accomplished in Iraq despite postwar chaos and an intensifying insurgency.
Opinion and Commentary
Two things are very expensive in international politics, the game-theorist Thomas Schelling once observed: threats when they fail and promises when they succeed. President Bush appears to be headed on a path that could teach him this lesson. Last week he responded to Iran's decision to resume work on its nuclear program by asserting that "all options are on the table" to stop Iran's nuclear development. He also implied that were Israel to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, the United States would support it. Unfortunately, these are hollow threats, unlikely to have much effect other than to cheapen America's credibility around the world. (Within hours of Bush's statement, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder made clear that he would not support any such action against Iran.)
Airstrikes against Iran would be extremely unwise. They would have minimal military effect: the facilities are scattered, are reasonably well hidden and could be repaired within months. With oil at $66 a barrel, the mullahs are swimming in money. (The high price of oil and Iran's boldness are directly related.) More important, a foreign military attack would strengthen local support for the nuclear program and bolster an unpopular regime. Iran is a country with a strong tradition of nationalism—it is one of the oldest nations in the world.
With 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tehran has many ways to retaliate against an American strike. Last week Donald Rumsfeld was listing conditions that would allow U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq. High on his list was the question of whether Iranian officials would be more helpful in creating stability there. My guess is that dropping bombs on them is unlikely to produce a helpful attitude.
Economic sanctions are the other weapon of choice. The United States already has them in place against Tehran—with little effect—and the chances of widening them are low. To get comprehensive sanctions against Iran, Russia and China would have to agree. But Moscow is helping build one of Iran's reactors, and China is busy signing deals to buy oil and natural gas from it. Both countries will condemn Iran's actions, but they will not shut down their economic ties with it.
Many Iranians believe that they should and will be a nuclear power. I was speaking to an Iranian exile who lives in London who has spent time, money and effort plotting against the regime. For the first time ever, I found he was siding with the mullahs. "I would do exactly what they are doing," he said. "For strategic reasons, Iran needs a nuclear option. Look at where it lies, with neighbors like China, Russia, Israel and Pakistan, all powerful nuclear-weapons states." Last year, Iran's former foreign minister under the shah, Ardeshir Zahedi, argued that Iran should have nuclear weapons, and that under a different regime, Iranian nukes would be no more threatening than those of Britain. In fact, Iran's nuclear program was started by the shah in the early 1970s with American support.
Staying the Course
A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend's Newsweek poll - a match for the 32 percent that approved L.B.J.'s handling of Vietnam in early March 1968. (The two presidents' overall approval ratings have also converged: 41 percent for Johnson then, 42 percent for Bush now.) On March 31, 1968, as L.B.J.'s ratings plummeted further, he announced he wouldn't seek re-election, commencing our long extrication from that quagmire.
But our current Texas president has even outdone his predecessor; Mr. Bush has lost not only the country but also his army. Neither bonuses nor fudged standards nor the faking of high school diplomas has solved the recruitment shortfall. Now Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that the armed forces are so eager for bodies they will flout "don't ask, don't tell" and hang on to gay soldiers who tell, even if they tell the press.
The president's cable cadre is in disarray as well. At Fox News Bill O'Reilly is trashing Donald Rumsfeld for his incompetence, and Ann Coulter is chiding Mr. O'Reilly for being a defeatist. In an emblematic gesture akin to waving a white flag, Robert Novak walked off a CNN set and possibly out of a job rather than answer questions about his role in smearing the man who helped expose the administration's prewar inflation of Saddam W.M.D.'s. (On this sinking ship, it's hard to know which rat to root for.)
As if the right-wing pundit crackup isn't unsettling enough, Mr. Bush's top war strategists, starting with Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, have of late tried to rebrand the war in Iraq as what the defense secretary calls "a global struggle against violent extremism." A struggle is what you have with your landlord. When the war's über-managers start using euphemisms for a conflict this lethal, it's a clear sign that the battle to keep the Iraq war afloat with the American public is lost.
That battle crashed past the tipping point this month in Ohio. There's historical symmetry in that. It was in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, that Mr. Bush gave the fateful address that sped Congressional ratification of the war just days later. The speech was a miasma of self-delusion, half-truths and hype. The president said that "we know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade," an exaggeration based on evidence that the Senate Intelligence Committee would later find far from conclusive. He said that Saddam "could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year" were he able to secure "an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball." Our own National Intelligence Estimate of Oct. 1 quoted State Department findings that claims of Iraqi pursuit of uranium in Africa were "highly dubious."
What lies ahead now in Iraq instead is not victory, which Mr. Bush has never clearly defined anyway, but an exit (or triage) strategy that may echo Johnson's March 1968 plan for retreat from Vietnam: some kind of negotiations (in this case, with Sunni elements of the insurgency), followed by more inflated claims about the readiness of the local troops-in-training, whom we'll then throw to the wolves. Such an outcome may lead to even greater disaster, but this administration long ago squandered the credibility needed to make the difficult case that more human and financial resources might prevent Iraq from continuing its descent into civil war and its devolution into jihad central.
Thus the president's claim on Thursday that "no decision has been made yet" about withdrawing troops from Iraq can be taken exactly as seriously as the vice president's preceding fantasy that the insurgency is in its "last throes." The country has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We're outta there. Now comes the hard task of identifying the leaders who can pick up the pieces of the fiasco that has made us more vulnerable, not less, to the terrorists who struck us four years ago next month.