Sunday, September 04, 2005

War News for Sunday, September 4, 2005 Bring 'em on: Five Iraqi soldiers killed in an ambush in Siniyah. Bring 'em on: One insurgent killed in clashed with US forces in Mosul. Bring 'em on: Gunmen abduct three Iraqi contractors after they left the U.S.air base in Taji. Bring 'em on: Seven police officers and two soldiers killed in an insurgency attack on a joint army and police checkpoint near Buhriz. Bring 'em on: Six policemen died when armed men attacked a checkpoint in Baquba. Bring 'em on: Three Iraqi soldiers were killed on Saturday when their convoy was attacked near Adhaim. Bring 'em on: One fighter killed and six others were arrested in clashes in Tal Afar. Bring 'em on: Four civilians killed and 11 injured in mortar attack in Samarra. Bring 'em on: Major Iraqi crude oil pipeline hit by explosion in Kirkuk. Fallujah - The Sequel: U.S. and Iraqi officials urged civilians to leave affected areas of the city, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, a sign that the Americans were preparing a major assault. U.S. forces crushed insurgents in Tal Afar last fall, leaving only about 500 American soldiers behind and handing over control to the Iraqis. But Iraqi authorities lost control of the city, and insurgent ranks swelled. That forced the U.S. command to shift the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from the Baghdad area to Tal Afar to restore order. On Saturday, U.S. and Iraqi forces were firing at insurgents on the western side of the city, Iraqi officials said. Elsewhere, American and Iraqi forces were moving house-to-house, searching for weapons and arresting men capable of firing them, Iraqi authorities said. Tal Afar - The New Fallujah:
Meanwhile, US and Iraqi forces have closed off the gates to the city of Tal Afar, for the second consecutive day, medical sources at Tal Afar hospital said. The city is northwest of Baghdad. No further details on the closure are available. On Saturday, fighting raged in the city. US and Iraqi officials urged civilians to leave affected areas, a sign that the Americans were preparing a major assault.
Pirate Constitutions: Iraqi officials are still haggling over the wording of the draft constitution, which was supposed to have been finalized on Aug. 28 despite the objections of minority Sunni Arabs. The late fine-tuning has delayed printing the 5 million copies that the government plans to distribute to all Iraqi families before the Oct. 15 referendum. But Iraqi street vendors, who peddle magazines and newspapers for motorists stuck in traffic, have added copies of the constitution to their offerings. Each copy goes for 100 Iraqi dinars, about 70 cents. One vendor, waving copies of the document on a Baghdad street, refused to identify his supplier. Sold Out - Iraqi Women:
According to al-Suhail, the United States sold out Iraqi women in a quest to have a constitution approved by Iraq's National Assembly according to their timetable. "We have received news that we were not backed by our friends, including the Americans," she said. "They left the Islamists to come to an agreement with the Kurds." The draft constitution allows religious sects to run Iraq's family courts, which will probably leave decisions about divorce, inheritance and other issues important to women in the hands of Islamic clerics. "This will lead to creating religious courts," al-Suhail said. "But we should be giving priority to the law." Now, why isn't that news?
Opinion and Commentary Guinness Book of Records:
In the two and a half years since the U.S. invasion, Iraq has broken several records and all of them in areas that have added to the misery of the Iraqi people.
In Iraq, a country floating on oceans of oil, you will find the longest queues of cars in the world forming at filling stations in Baghdad and other major cities. In Iraq, there have been more suicide and car bomb attacks in July than any other place in the world. In Iraq car bombs have killed more people than any other country in the world. In Iraq, there are now more unruly armed militias than any other country in the world, including Somalia. In Iraq, there are now more foreign troops than any other country in the world. Iraq is the only place in the world where foreign troops do what ever they want to do – such as killing innocent people, invading cities, bombing cities, crashing armor into cars with families, etc – with impunity. Iraq is the only country where foreign troops detain nationals and put them behind bars without trial. Iraq is the only ‘independent’ country in the world where foreign occupation troops are above the law. Iraq is the only country where all senior officials, ministries and administrators live behind concrete cement walls.
But in some ways the Conflicts are alike:
Losing control
The American troops - just like their predecessors in Vietnam - do appear to have low morale. So far, almost 1,900 have been killed and the number rises every day. The soldiers can sense that life isn't improving here. One captain I spoke to said he feels as though his men are moving around Baghdad with their backs against the walls. He told me they can feel what control they had slipping from their grasp. He said in his unit, part of an infantry division, many of his soldiers are beginning to lose faith in their mission. Falling morale goes hand-in-hand with a lack of discipline. There was a vivid example of that here earlier this week when an Iraqi working as a TV sound recordist for the Reuters news agency was shot dead by an American soldier. His only mistake was to have approached an area where there had been a shooting incident.
Innocent civilian
Waleed Khaled appears to have been fired on without any warning. He leaves behind a wife who is four months pregnant and a seven-year-old daughter. The Reuters cameraman with him was injured and, although the main witness to what had happened, he was promptly arrested by the Americans. Before he was taken away, the cameraman was able to tell colleagues what had occurred. A senior British official admitted there was now a problem with American troops When an American journalist working for Reuters, managed to get to the scene with a British security adviser, he found the Americans laughing and joking around Waleed's body. They were also refusing to give the injured cameraman any water. The security adviser - a former British soldier - said it was apparent to him that the American troops wanted to clear away any evidence before there could be an outside inquiry. He said what was most worrying was that the unit did not seem to care that they had shot dead an innocent civilian. The American military authorities say their investigations are continuing.
Disastrous consequences
When I raised the matter with a senior British official in Baghdad, he admitted there was now a problem with American troops. He told me they did not understand how to win over Iraqi hearts and minds. Every civilian death means that another family turns against the Americans, he said. In Vietnam too, America lost the "hearts and minds" campaign with disastrous consequences. During the final years in Vietnam, the Americans started handing over more and more military responsibility to local troops - the policy of "Vietnamisation" - but they proved ineffective, unable to stop the communist onslaught. In Iraq today, there is a policy of "Iraqisation".
Frightened army
Driving around Baghdad, I have seen more and more checkpoints manned by Iraqi troops, but they too appear badly led and trained. If you ask a question, they immediately look towards the American forces standing in the background for guidance. At one roadblock this week, I saw Iraqi troops with black woollen balaclavas over their heads, a bizarre sight in the stifling heat of the Baghdad summer. They did not want to be recognised, worried that they and their families would be targeted. It shows what little belief they have in their abilities. Even members of the country's new army are frightened of the insurgents. Mention Vietnam and Iraq in the same breath here and American officers raise their eyes despairingly to the skies. It is premature to make a real comparison but some of the similarities are becoming too close for comfort. The last thing the Americans want is another humiliating pullout.
Fallujah and the Superdome:
This administration would like us to forget a lot, starting with the simple fact that next Sunday is the fourth anniversary of the day we were attacked by Al Qaeda, not Iraq. Even before Katrina took command of the news, Sept. 11, 2005, was destined to be a half-forgotten occasion, distorted and sullied by a grotesquely inappropriate Pentagon-sponsored country music jamboree on the Mall. But hard as it is to reflect upon so much sorrow at once, we cannot allow ourselves to forget the real history surrounding 9/11; it is the Rosetta stone for what is happening now. If we are to pull ourselves out of the disasters of Katrina and Iraq alike, we must live in the real world, not the fantasyland of the administration's faith-based propaganda. Everything connects. Though history is supposed to occur first as tragedy, then as farce, even at this early stage we can see that tragedy is being repeated once more as tragedy. From the president's administration's inattention to threats before 9/11 to his disappearing act on the day itself to the reckless blundering in the ill-planned war of choice that was 9/11's bastard offspring, Katrina is déjà vu with a vengeance. The president's declaration that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" has instantly achieved the notoriety of Condoleezza Rice's "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center." The administration's complete obliviousness to the possibilities for energy failures, food and water deprivation, and civil disorder in a major city under siege needs only the Donald Rumsfeld punch line of "Stuff happens" for a coup de grâce. How about shared sacrifice, so that this time we might get the job done right? After Mr. Bush's visit on "Good Morning America" on Thursday, Diane Sawyer reported on a postinterview conversation in which he said, "There won't have to be tax increases."
Bush is off base in making a comparison between the Iraqi conflict and World War II. For one thing, the United States instigated the current war with an unprovoked attack on Iraq. If the World War II analogy doesn't convince you, the president came up with yet another defense for the U.S. invasion. He warned that terrorists such as Osama bin Laden would take over its oil fields if the United States loses in Iraq. A key difference between Bush and FDR is that Roosevelt knew the value of having allies and friends in wartime. Roosevelt believed strongly in collective security and helped pave the way for creation of the United Nations. Bush has already shown his disdain for that organization with his go-it-alone foreign policy. Bush had a world of goodwill when al Qaeda delivered its catastrophic attack on Sept. 11. But he squandered this reservoir with the unilateral invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with Sept. 11. To this day, Bush artfully -- and shamefully -- continues to link Iraq with Sept. 11. Bush has not won supporters for the war nor has he produced any justification for the sacrifice of Americans and Iraqis. Roosevelt envisioned a future world of peace after the war. Bush looks at Iraq as "the first war of the 21st century."
US - The new Saddam:
The most important news from Iraq last week was not the much ballyhooed constitutional pact by Shias and Kurds, nor the tragic stampede deaths of nearly 1,000 pilgrims in Baghdad. The U.S. Air Force's senior officer, Gen. John Jumper, stated U.S. warplanes would remain in Iraq to fight resistance forces and protect the American-installed regime "more or less indefinitely." Jumper's bombshell went largely unnoticed due to Hurricane Katrina. Gen. Jumper let the cat out of the bag. While President George Bush hints at eventual troop withdrawals, the Pentagon is busy building four major, permanent air bases in Iraq that will require heavy infantry protection. Jumper's revelation confirms what this column has long said: The Pentagon plans to copy Imperial Britain's method of ruling oil-rich Iraq. In the 1920s, the British cobbled together Iraq from three disparate Ottoman provinces to control newly-found oil fields in Kurdistan and along the Iranian border. London installed a puppet king and built an army of sepoy (native) troops to keep order and put down minor uprisings. Government minister Winston Churchill authorized use of poisonous mustard gas against Kurdish tribesmen in Iraq and Pushtuns in Afghanistan (today's Taliban). The RAF crushed all revolts. It seems this is what Jumper has in mind. Mobile U.S. ground intervention forces will remain at the four major "Fort Apache" bases guarding Iraq's major oil fields. These bases will be "ceded" to the U.S. by a compliant Iraqi regime. The U.S. Air Force will police the Pax Americana with its precision-guided munitions and armed drones.
Katrina and Iraq:
On another front, various engineers and Southeastern residents have noted that politicians for years have failed to adequately fund hurricane and flood preparedness despite warnings of such dire consequences - and that the Bush administration and Congress continued this pattern of under-funding while approving tax cuts for the wealthy and pet transportation projects for powerful members of Congress. Because the storm hit oil refineries, gas prices have spiked past $3 a gallon. Impacts on individual sectors of the economy - the automobile industry, agriculture, housing - are only beginning to emerge. The storm may leave hundreds of thousands homeless and jobless for months, and create refugee problems in other states. The president himself has said the Gulf Coast region will need years to recover. While Bush has spoken confidently of New Orleans rising again, it is unclear how that would happen, how long it would take and who would pay for it. Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California and a former congressional domestic policy analyst, said Bush's legacy in terms of managing the hurricane will come in two waves - the short-term rescue and the long-term management and rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Even if the president manages to turn around the public's perception of the government's response to the hurricane, Pitney doesn't expect Bush could regain the sort of public approval that in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks approached 90 percent. Because of the Iraq war, Pitney said, "there's just too much entrenched opposition." An effective response to Katrina could stop the erosion in Bush's political standing, Pitney said. "But he has to do it the old fashioned way. He has to earn it."


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