Wednesday, August 31, 2005

War News for Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bring ‘em on: As many as 1,000 people dead and hundreds injured in a stampede when Shia religious marchers panicked, thinking there were suicide bombers among them. At least seven people had been killed when mortar rounds were fired into the crowd earlier, and 36 others were injured in a mortar attack on the shrine to which the pilgrims were marching. There were also reports that some of the worshipers had been poisoned.

(Note to readers: Some may question whether this incident belongs in our catalog of mayhem inflicted by combatants in Bush’s war. It does. While it is true that the deaths were not directly the result of an attack, they would not have occurred had the conditions – fear of attacks against Shiite celebrations, the earlier deadly attack on the same gathering, the ubiquity of suicide bombings, and Baghdad’s decayed infrastructure – not existed. Those conditions were and are a direct consequence of George W. Bush’s illegal and immoral war. These are war deaths as surely as were those of the two young Americans who died last week in a fuel truck rollover. And the blood of all is on Bush’s hands.)

Bring ‘em on: An update to the above story states that US helicopters fired on individuals suspected of launching the mortar attacks on the shrine and deployed ground troops in the area. In addition, six people were wounded when gunmen opened fire on Shiite marchers in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood and 25 people were killed by poisoning. Three Iraqis, including a policeman, were killed in an attack on a police patrol in Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed in a roadside bombing in Iskandariyah. (Hidden deep in the story.)

Pointing fingers: Iraqi Health Minister Abdul Mutalib Mohammed Ali demanded Wednesday the resignation of the ministers of interior and defence, holding them responsible for the stampede which killed almost 820 Shiite pilgrims.

"I hold my colleagues in the ministries of interior and defence responsible for what happened today," Ali told reporters.

"I call upon my colleagues in the interior and defence to either bear full responsibility or resign."

The Interior Minister Bayan Baker Solagh said a "terrorist" triggered the stampede that caused hundreds of deaths near a Shiite shrine in Baghdad where a million pilgrims had gathered.

"There was a huge crowd on the bridge and what happened was that one terrorist spread a rumour that led to the stampede," Solagh told state-owned Iraqia television.

"The terrorist pointed a finger at another person saying that he was carrying explosives... and that led to the panic," Solagh said.

Shortages: Iraqis are still suffering from power shortages countrywide – receiving less than four hours of electricity daily – despite the government's recent announcement that more money would be spent on this sector.

"The government has forgotten about essential services like water and power," said Farah Mustany, a mother of four in Baghdad. "We are thirsty for power because we are suffering and our children were suffering as we don't have basic facilities."

This summer has been the worse since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003. Shortages in power supplies have resulted in millions of residents being forced to sleep outside because there is not enough power to run air conditioners.

On 26 August, protests took place on the streets of Baghdad, after outspoken Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on followers to demonstrate against the lack of power and water supplies and against the new draft of the constitution, in which they say federalism should not be specified.

Doctors in the Iraqi capital have complained of the increase in cases of dehydration and diarrhoea among children and the elderly, caused by the constant heat inside homes without cooling systems.

"We have at least 10 cases of dehydration caused by the summer season every day in our hospital. During the last regime it was rare, but now it has become a daily occurrence here," Dr Mustafa Rawi, at Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital, said.

Constitutional follies: Political leaders warned Tuesday that dozens of thorny issues deferred in an effort to placate ethnic and religious groups during the debate leading to Iraq's draft constitution could come back to haunt lawmakers early next year. Iraq's 39-page draft constitution, which was submitted to the transitional National Assembly on Sunday, skirted many of Iraq's most controversial issues, such as the balance of power between Baghdad and the outlying regions, the rights of women and the sharing of oil revenue.

The latest version of the text includes more than 50 items that were left to next year's National Assembly, which will be charged with filling in the blanks of the constitution with dozens of new laws. "All these problems are still there," said Hassan Bazzaz, a University of Baghdad political science professor. "And as they say, the devil is in the details.

More follies: Iraq took a historic gamble when the ruling Shiite and Kurdish coalition bulldozed over the objections of Sunni Arabs to forge a new constitution.

Frantic efforts to reach consensus collapsed on Sunday when a blueprint for a new democratic state lacking the support of Sunni leaders was submitted to parliament, triggering what promised to be a bitter referendum battle.

Months of talks and weeks of deadlock ended when government officials gave up trying to placate Sunni negotiators, despite warnings of greater violence.

The President, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, declared the document complete. "The constitution is left to our people to approve or reject. I hope our people will accept it despite some flaws."

He said rejection in the October 15 referendum would not derail the political process. "This is part of democracy. If the people do not approve it we will draft another constitution."

Detentions: A Reuters cameraman was freed on Wednesday after being held for three days by U.S. troops following an incident in which his soundman was shot dead, apparently by American soldiers.

Haider Kadhem, 24, was questioned about "inconsistencies" in his statements after he was taken from the car in which soundman Waleed Khaled was killed on Sunday by multiple shots to the head and chest while on a news assignment.

Reuters' cameraman in the city of Ramadi, Ali al-Mashhadani, was arrested by U.S. forces three weeks ago and is being held without charge in Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

A military spokesman said on Wednesday that a joint Iraqi- U.S. tribunal, meeting in secret on Monday, had ordered him to be held indefinitely pending a review within six months.

No accusation has been made public and Mashhadani will be allowed no visits, including from an attorney, for two months.

He must be guilty of something: Lawyers plan a lawsuit seeking the release of an Iraqi-born U.S. resident who has been detained in Baghdad since April after a mortar attack on U.S. forces.

The Washington Post reports that Numan Adnan Al Kaby's lawyers say he remains in detention even after a military tribunal found that he had nothing to do with the attack.

Birth Of A New Rationale

Protect them oil fields: President George W. Bush, facing waning support for his Iraq policy, appealed on Tuesday to Americans not to waver because of the rising death toll and again rejected protesters' calls for a troop withdrawal.

With Americans already worried about sharply sharply rising oil prices, Bush said a pull-out would allow al Qaeda to take hold of Iraq's oil fields to fund new attacks, as well as damage America's credibility.

Of course, the only reason there are terrorists in Iraq is because of Bush: President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.

The president, standing against a backdrop of the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest aircraft carrier in the Navy's fleet, said terrorists would be denied their goal of making Iraq a base from which to recruit followers, train them, and finance attacks.

Hurricane Katrina

Morale problem: Ever since Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, National Guard troops from Gulf coast states serving in Iraq have followed the disaster unfolding on television sets, worried about families and friends back home.

"It's a significant emotional event. Their families are on the forefront of the disaster," said Lt. Col. Jordan Jones of the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard.

"They're all watching TV and some have seen their neighborhoods completely submerged in water."

War or infrastructure?: New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA. Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside. Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness. On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Dateline August 1, 2005: When members of the Louisiana National Guard left for Iraq in October, they took a lot equipment with them. Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad, and in the event of a major natural disaster that, could be a problem. "The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," said Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider with the LA National Guard.

A Summary

by Foreign Policy In Focus

According to current estimates, the cost of the Iraq War could exceed $700 billion. In current dollars, the Vietnam War cost U.S. taxpayers $600 billion.

Operations costs in Iraq are estimated at $5.6 billion per month in 2005. By comparison, the average cost of U.S. operations in Vietnam over the eight-year war was $5.1 billion per month, adjusting for inflation.

Staying in Iraq and Afghanistan at current levels would nearly double the projected federal budget deficit over the next decade.

Since 2001, the U.S. has deployed more than 1 million troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Broken down per person in the United States, the cost so far is $727, making the Iraq War the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years.

The number of journalists killed reporting the Iraq War (66) has exceeded the number of journalists killed reporting on the Vietnam War (63).

More than 210,000 of the National Guard’s 330,000 soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guard mobilizations average 460 days.

Nearly a third of active-duty troops, 341,000 men and women, have served two or more overseas tours.

The U.S. controls 106 military bases across Iraq. Congress has budgeted $236 million for permanent base construction in FY2005.

At least 23,589 to 26,705 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

On average 155 members of the Iraqi security forces have died every month since the January 2005 elections, up from an average of 65 before they were held.

Suicide attack rates rose to 50 per month in the first five months of 2005, up from 20 per month in 2003 and 48 in 2004.

Iraq’s resistance forces remain at 16,000-40,000 even with the U.S. coalition killing or capturing 1,600 resistance members per month.

The State Department reported that the number of “significant” terrorist attacks reached a record 655 in 2004, up from 175 in 2003.

The Iraq War has weakened the UN’s authority and credibility.


Opinion: Cindy Sheehan continues to ask George W. Bush what the "Noble Cause" was for which her son died in Iraq, and why Bush's daughters haven't enlisted in this Cause.

While Bush talked to us about WMDs, an imminent "mushroom cloud," and tried to link Saddam and Iraq to 9/11 (when it was 14 Saudis who hit the World Trade Center), those all fell apart and were exposed (by no less than Paul Wolfowitz) as intentional lies. When Bush shifted his Noble Cause to invading Iraq to bring democracy to the Iraqi people, the Downing Street Memo told another story. And now, also, so does Bush's first biographer.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the way Bush lied us into invading Iraq, particularly the timing of it all (ginning it up just before the 2002 midterm elections), was done largely so Republicans could win take back the Senate in 2002 after losing it because of Jim Jeffords' defection, and so Bush could win the White House in the election of 2004.

It's apparently just that simple, just that banal, and ultimately just that traitorous to the traditional ideals of America.

This is why the greatest political threat that Cindy Sheehan represents to George W. Bush and his Republican Party is in her ability to point this out.

Comment: As his poll numbers sink, Bush is getting desperate. From his address today in San Diego:

“They looked at our response after the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. They concluded that free societies lacked the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy… After September the 11th, 2001, we’ve taught the terrorists a very different lesson: America will not run in defeat and we will not forget our responsibilities.”

(Conveniently, Bush doesn’t mention any terrorist attack that occurred during his father’s administration.)

Once upon a time, the President didn’t believe in playing the blame game:

“Well, the President is not one that focuses on blame or finger pointing. The President focuses on what we need to do to address challenges.”

It appears that statement is inoperative.

Opinion: A few days ago, I was one on of those TV pundit shows, and the host of this gabfest—Derek McGinty—asked all the panelists whether George W. Bush's recent rah-rah speeches about the war in Iraq had done anything to rally popular support for Bush's mess in Mesopotamia. I did not surprise anyone by saying no and arguing that Bush had dished out warmed-over rhetoric that had previously failed to boost public sentiment toward the war. USA Today's Susan Page said much the same. But then the two conservative chatters—columnist Linda Chavez and the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes—also gave Bush an F. They maintained that he had not made a strong case that the war in Iraq is central to the effort against terrorism. (They did not pause to consider this failure might be due to the fact that the connection between Bush's folly in Iraq and the effort against jihadist terrorism is tenuous.) When right, middle and left agree that the White House is flailing, Bush might have a problem. And now—a week later—Bush's pro-war speeches resonate not at all. Bush could have achieved the same results by staying home and clearing brush on his ranch.

Bush is stuck. There is little he can say to affect public opinion. It's been two years since "shock and awe" led to morass and misadventure. The problem these days is not the rhetoric, but the policy. And no matter what Bush says before a hand-picked audience, he cannot escape the original sin.

Hoffmania: So far, the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina is $25 billion.

25 billion dollars to rebuild after this horror. You can see the fear that's gripping the people there. They'll be depending on the government and the insurance companies for that rebuilding money. It's your guess how difficult their ability to get that will be.

25 billion dollars. Think of that. Now think about how Bush's Iraq Nightmare has cost (so far) $300 billion.

That's right. They could have rebuilt the Katrina-affected areas TWELVE TIMES for what we've spent on Iraq.

Oh - and according to what Aaron Brown is asking on CNN, seems the National Guard's presence in New Orleans and Mississippi is negligible. You know why. The troops, the Humvees, the resources - Iraq.

So to our visitors from the right, we ask: NOW do you understand us when we say that we needed to keep AMERICA secure instead of blowing our load on Iraq? Our president doesn't.

And we know you're not as stupid as he is.

Opinion: When President Bush praised the new Iraqi constitution as protecting the rights of minorities and women and forming the basis of a "free society," he was glossing over the document's rejection by Sunnis—divisive language that may well lead to its defeat in a coming referendum—and the worries of women and minority groups in Iraq that, in fact, the document sets up an oppressive Islamic theocracy. Shiite religious parties who helped draft the constitution saw to it that, despite assurances of religious and individual freedom, Islam will be the official religion of Iraq and "a main source of legislation," according to the New York Times. "Clerics would more than likely sit on the Supreme Court, and judges would have broad latitude to strike down legislation that conflicted with the religion." In addition, "Clerics would be given a broad, new role in adjudication of family disputes like marriage, divorce, and inheritance." So much for women's rights.

The failure of American efforts to transform Iraq into a free society comes at a time when we are experiencing a crisis in our own country over the basic concepts of freedom, democracy, and the separation of church and state.

Interview: Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna: Colonel Pheneger, thank you for meeting with me on such short notice. Let me jump right in and ask you about the government's case in attempting to conceal detainee abuse evidence.

The government's argument hinges on two points, as I see it: a). that the release of documents could inflame passions and increase attacks on US troops and b). That the release of documents could be used as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. The testimony you submitted addresses these two points. Can you elaborate on your argument?

Retired U. S. Army Colonel Michael Pheneger: The release will certainly undermine our moral authority and the legitimacy of our cause, but the problem is the underlying conduct - not the photos. The government's specific argument was that the release would result in loss of life (US military and civilians, allies and Iraqis).

However, Iraqi and al-Qaeda insurgents already conduct over 70 attacks a day and will continue to do so as long as they have the will and the capability. In my declaration, I note that General Myers himself, in a press interview, denied that the Newsweek article resulted in the riots and casualties. According to General Myers, the events resulted from the playing out of events leading to the September election. Opinion polls have always indicated that most Iraqis (80 – 85 percent) want the U.S. out, though under varying conditions.

The groups of insurgents are hard-core opponents; they do not need further provocation beyond our presence. I doubt that they could be more inflamed or that the photos would spur individuals on the margin to join them.

Opinion: The unbridgeable divide between the left and right’s approach to Iraq and the WoT is, among other things, a disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter. The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left's protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader.

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the so-called “blame America first" crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can't kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they've done irreparable harm to America.

The antiwar critique of Iraq is that it is an immoral war and every resulting death is a wrongful one. Opponents of the war view the invasion and occupation as a dangerous and shameful violation of international law. Iraq saps our moral strength and the sooner we leave the better. Opposing the invasion on the grounds that the administration lied its way into it, they see every subsequent death, American or foreign, as an ethical travesty and a stain on America's good name.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Louisburg, MO, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Ada Township, MI, soldier killed by roadside bomb in Iraq.

Local story: Forest Lake, MN, soldier killed in tanker rollover in Iraq.

Local story: Marine born in Honduras receives posthumous US citizenship.

Local story: Proctor, VT, soldier who was killed by a sniper in Ramadi will be laid to rest on Friday.


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