Tuesday, September 20, 2005

War News for Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bring ‘em on: At least 10 Iraqis, including seven policemen and a soldier, killed and at least 12 people wounded in two suicide bombing attacks at two checkpoints half-way between Baghdad and Karbala. One civilian killed and three others wounded when a mortar round struck a house in Baquba.

Bring ‘em on: One US diplomatic security agent and three private security contractors killed in a car bomb attack on a US diplomatic convoy in Mosul.

Bring ‘em on: Four US Marines killed in two separate incidents while “conducting combat operations” in Ramadi. One US soldier killed in IED explosion 75 miles north of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Fourteen Iraqi soldiers killed in suicide bombing attack on a joint US-Iraqi patrol near Taji. Five Iraqi policemen and two civilians killed, 13 officers and bystanders wounded in suicide bombing attack on an Iraqi police patrol south of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi journalist abducted and murdered in Basra.

Bring ‘em on: Tribal leader killed by gunmen wearing police uniforms in Iskandariya. Dean of Political Science at Basra University and his son both injured by gunmen while escaping an assassination attempt in eastern Mosul.

Bring ‘em on: In Basra, at least one Iraqi policeman killed and one wounded, apparently at the hands of British undercover soldiers, who were then arrested by Iraqi police and taken to a jail in Basra which was soon surrounded by British armored vehicles, leading to hours of rioting during which Iraqi police cars circulated downtown, calling through loudspeakers for the public to help stop British forces from releasing the two. Heavy gunfire broke out and fighting raged for hours, as crowds swarmed British forces. Witnesses said they saw Basra police exchanging fire with British forces. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia joined in the fighting late in the day. At least one British Warrior armored personnel carrier was set ablaze and one British soldier set on fire and stoned, suffering ‘minor injuries’ along with two other soldiers. The jail was partially demolished by British army vehicles in the subsequent ‘negotiated release’ of the soldiers during which up to 150 other prisoners escaped, but the British claim the Iraqi police had already handed the pair over to ‘militia elements’, requiring a raid on a nearby house, freeing the soldiers. Full story(s) below. Many thanks to all the alert readers who posted links to different stories in yesterday’s Comments – you know who you are.

Fiasco In Basra

Early report: Iraqi police detained two British soldiers in civilian clothes in the southern city Basra for firing on a police station on Monday, police said.

"Two persons wearing Arab uniforms opened fire at a police station in Basra. A police patrol followed the attackers and captured them to discover they were two British soldiers," an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua.

The two soldiers were using a civilian car packed with explosives, the source said.

He added that the two were being interrogated in the police headquarters of Basra.

After the capture: Two undercover soldiers freed in Basra in a British raid appeared nervous in television footage of their detention which showed wigs, Arab headdresses and weapons apparently used in their mission.

The tired, unshaven pair were shown seated beside the disguises, an anti-tank missile, other weapons and communications equipment in Iraqi state television footage.

One of the soldiers, who appeared to be in his thirties, had spots of blood on his white T-shirt. At one point his comrade, wearing a blue T-shirt, put on one of the thick black wigs and a headdress lying on a table, apparently at the instruction of a policeman who joked that he was a Shi'ite descendent of Islam's Prophet Mohammad.

Images of the soldiers could hurt British efforts to maintain a low-profile approach to security in Basra, unlike their American allies, who Iraqis complain have fueled resentment in other parts of the country with heavy-handed tactics.

The pair sat forward in their chairs as police discussed the events that led to their detention. One recalled how a crowd formed around the British soldiers' car when they were detained.

Another pointed out that the pair had electronic positioning devices.

As their medical kit was searched, a policemen cautioned his colleagues that the black bag filled with medicine may have a bomb inside.

It may have been another joke. But some Iraqis may take it seriously after two and a half years of suicide bombings, shootings and kidnappings that have plagued the country since U.S. and British troops toppled Saddam Hussein.

Clashes erupt: Violence erupted in Basra this afternoon following the arrest of two British soldiers for allegedly killing one policeman and wounding another.

British troops fired on crowds throwing petrol bombs, burning furniture and tyres which set at least one tank on fire. Reuters witnesses said a British soldier was engulfed by flames as he scrambled out of the burning tank, being pelted with stones by the crowd. Two Iraqis were killed in the violence, an Interior Ministry official said. The fighting broke out after two British soldiers, allegedly dressed as Arabs, opened fire on a police patrol killing one officer and wounding another.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that two military personnel were detained by Iraqi authorities today, but would not comment on rumours that the soldiers were working undercover.

One of the men sat with a bandage on his head after they were detained, a Reuters photographer said. His trousers were stained with blood spots.

A witness said after the clash with troops people drove through the streets of Basra with loudhailers demanding that the undercover Britons remain in detention and be sent to jail.

Prison break: British troops used tanks last night to break down the walls of a prison in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and free two undercover British soldiers who were seized earlier in the day by local police.

An official from the Iraqi interior ministry said half a dozen tanks had broken down the walls of the jail and troops had then stormed it to free the two British soldiers. The governor of Basra last night condemned the "barbaric aggression" of British forces in storming the jail.

Aquil Jabbar, an Iraqi television cameraman who lives across the street from the jail, said dozens of Iraqi prisoners also fled in the confusion.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have not had confirmation of the full details of this. We've heard nothing to suggest we stormed the prison. We understand there were negotiations."

In a day of dramatic incidents in the heart of the British-controlled area of Iraq, the two undercover soldiers - almost certainly special forces - were held by Iraqi security forces after clashes that reportedly left two people dead and threatened to escalate into a diplomatic incident between London and Baghdad.

The soldiers, who were said to have been wearing Arab headdress, were accused of firing at Iraqi police when stopped at a road block.

In another incident an angry crowd attacked a Warrior armoured personnel carrier with petrol bombs. A British soldier was forced to flee from his burning vehicle.

Undermining assumptions: The storming of the Basra prison by British armoured vehicles and troops shatters the assumption, promoted by government ministers, that the security situation in British-controlled southern Iraq is getting better. Far from the picture painted by British ministers that British troops and the Iraqi security forces - trained by British troops - are working well together in mutual trust, last night's events suggest the contrary.

Ironically, British military commanders in Basra and the area of southern Iraq they control have recently been criticised for turning a blind eye to infiltration by radical militias of the Iraqi police. This may have caused the two undercover soldiers - almost certainly special forces troops - to suspect the apparently genuine Iraqi police who stopped and fired at them.

It is significant, too, that British commanders and senior diplomats in Basra have little faith in the Iraqi justice system, one they themselves have recently established.

They certainly did not want a repeat of the incident shortly after the end of the "war fighting" stage in 2003 when six military policemen were murdered at an Iraqi police station where they had gone to train local Iraqi recruits.

Yesterday's dramatic incidents suggest that British commanders on the spot still cannot trust the Iraqis they trained - not just the police, but the judges as well.

This has huge implications for the government's hope that it can soon reduce significantly the number of troops it is deploying in southern Iraq, currently about 8,500, before it takes over command of Nato's international force in Afghanistan next spring.

The use of force, rather than waiting for the men to go before an Iraqi court, could also undermine the US and British attempts to build up the authority of and respect for the Iraqi courts and police.

Britain issues denial: Britain denied reports on Monday that its troops stormed a prison in southern Iraq to free two British soldiers, saying the pair were released after negotiations.

"We've heard nothing to suggest we stormed the prison," a defense ministry spokesman in London said. "We understand there were negotiations."

An Iraqi interior ministry official earlier said British tanks smashed into a prison in Basra to free two undercover British soldiers seized on Monday by Iraqi forces.

British Defense Secretary John Reid said in a statement that the two men, who have not been named, were back with British forces.

"I can confirm that the two British service personnel detained earlier today by the IPS (Iraq Police Service), have now been released and are back with British forces," he said.

"The situation in Basra is currently calmer after a day of disturbances. At this stage it is not possible to be certain why these disturbances began."

Differing versions: British armored vehicles broke down the walls of the central jail in this southern city Monday and freed two British soldiers, allegedly undercover commandos arrested for shooting two Iraqi policemen, witnesses said. But London said the two men were released as a result of negotiations.

The different versions of events came on a chaotic day that raised questions about how much sovereignty Iraqi authorities really were granted when the U.S.-led Coalition Provision Authority handed over power to an interim Iraqi government in the summer of 2004.

The arrests of the two British soldiers Monday appeared to have been the first real and public test of how far that sovereignty extends. There have been no known incidents of Iraqi authorities arresting U.S. soldiers operating in the Iraqi heartland.

Mohammed al-Waili, the governor of Basra province, condemned the British for raiding the prison, an act he called "barbaric, savage and irresponsible"

Late Monday, the Ministry of Defense in London said the two British soldiers were freed after negotiations. A spokesman said he had no information suggesting they were freed as a result of overt military action, but stopped short of denying reports that British armor crashed through the walls of the jail.

According to the BBC, Defense officials insisted they had been talking to the Iraqi authorities to secure the release of the men, but acknowledged a wall was demolished as British forces tried to "collect" the two prisoners.

Witnesses indicate things were a bit more disorderly: British armored vehicles backed by helicopter gunships burst through the walls of an Iraqi jail Monday in the southern city of Basra to free two British commandos detained earlier in the day by Iraqi police, witnesses and Iraqi officials said. The incident climaxed a confrontation between the two nominal allies that had sparked hours of gun battles and rioting in Basra's streets.

Monday's violence underscored the increasing volatility of Basra, a Shiite Muslim-majority city that had previously escaped much of the violence of the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency. Tension has been growing between British forces in the city and Shiite police and militias that operate there.

Iraqi security officials on Monday variously accused the two Britons they detained of shooting at Iraqi forces or trying to plant explosives. Photographs of the two men in custody showed them in civilian clothes.

When British officials apparently sought to secure their release, riots erupted. Iraqi police cars circulated downtown, calling through loudspeakers for the public to help stop British forces from releasing the two. Heavy gunfire broke out and fighting raged for hours, as crowds swarmed British forces and set at least one armored vehicle on fire.

Witnesses said they saw Basra police exchanging fire with British forces. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia joined in the fighting late in the day, witnesses said. A British military spokesman, Darren Moss, denied that British troops were fighting Basra police.

Britain admits the jailbreak: The British government has admitted its troops smashed into an Iraqi police jail in an effort to rescue two detained undercover agents, although neither captive was in the prison at the time of the raid.

Declining to comment on why two armed British nationals disguised as Iraqis would be in Basra, the Ministry of Defence told Aljazeera.net it didn't matter if both men were out of uniform with no identification.

"Iraqi law requires any coalition force members to be handed back - once it was established they were foreign soldiers, they should have been handed over.”

And a second defence official said that although the raid - which appears to have devastated the police station - had been unsuccessful, it allowed troops to obtain accurate intelligence as to where the two men would be found.

"Unfortunately they weren't released and we became concerned for their safety. As a result a Warrior infantry fighting vehicle broke down the perimeter wall in one place.

"Our guys went in there and searched it from top to bottom in order to go and recover our two soldiers who had been detained," he said. The two undercover agents were later rescued from a house in Basra. The operation followed a shooting incident and riots in which two British armoured vehicles were torched as their crews fled for safety in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Their justification: John Reid, the Defence Secretary, has said he is alarmed that Iraqi police, supposedly British allies, handed over two undercover soldiers they had captured to local militias.

The British Army said today it was forced to send in troops to free the two in Basra in southern Iraq after discovering what Iraqi police had done.

Jack Straw nails it: The UK is part of the security problem in Iraq and things are "not good" in the country right now, Jack Straw said.

Britain's foreign secretary said he was looking to an agreement on the new Iraqi constitution because it will be a step to a reduction in UK troops there.

"Unlike in Afghanistan, although we are part of the security solution there, we are also part of the problem," he said.

But Tory defence spokesman Gerald Howarth said Mr Straw's remarks were a "grave insult" to British troops.

"To suggest that our Armed Forces who have secured the rebuilding of countless schools, hospitals and other facilities of benefit to ordinary Iraqis are helping fuel the terrorist insurgency in the country is monstrous," the MP for Aldershot, Hampshire, said.

The schools! The countless schools! Jack Straw didn’t mention the schools!


More of the usual shit: Using enemy body counts as a benchmark, the U.S. military claimed gains against Abu Musab Zarqawi's foreign-led fighters last week even as they mounted their deadliest attacks on Iraq's capital.

But by many standards, including increasingly high death tolls in insurgent strikes, Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda in Iraq, could claim to be the side that's gaining after 2 1/2 years of war. August was the third-deadliest month of the war for U.S. troops.

Zarqawi's guerrillas this spring and summer showed themselves to be capable of mounting waves of suicide bombings and car bombings that could kill scores at a time and paralyze the Iraqi capital. Insurgents have also launched dozens of attacks every day in other parts of Iraq and laid open claim this summer to cities and towns in the critical far west, despite hit-and-run offensives by U.S. forces.

Last week, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, declared "great successes" against insurgents. But Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, where Lynch briefed reporters, was under stepped-up security screening and U.S. guard for fear of suicide bombings. Insurgents for three days running last week managed to lob mortar rounds into the Green Zone, the heart of the U.S. and Iraqi administration.

This article uncritically perpetuates the “Zarqawi as Superterrorist” myth and utterly fails to draw any distinctions among the various fighting groups making up the so-called ‘insurgency’, but it does nicely illustrate the complete loss of contact with reality afflicting the US command. Body counts. Jesus. We really haven’t learned a god damn thing, have we. It's worth reading the whole article, though, as it contains many interesting tidbits of information.

After a bombing: The rooms of the dead are mostly empty now. Their meager belongings are all that remain: A small pile of pickles wrapped in plastic. A bag of salt. Pairs of old shoes. Work shirts and towels draped on a coat rack in the corner.

The items, left in a hostel in Baghdad's Kadhimiya neighborhood, belonged to poor Shiite day laborers who were killed Wednesday in a suicide bombing. The attacker lured them to his van with promises of work, then blew himself up, killing 114 people. It was this city's deadliest bombing since the American invasion and, it seemed to many, one of the cruelest.

That attack, and a string of others that have followed, all aimed at Shiites, have brought new vulnerability and dysfunction to the streets of Baghdad, the capital. For days, three of the four main roads leading in and out of Kadhimiya have been closed. Neighborhoods have been unusually quiet, as Shiites stay home, afraid to venture out. The violence has also reinforced a new reality of the war here: That Shiites are now paying the highest price in blood of any group in Iraq.

Pilgrimage: Hundreds of thousands of Shias have descended on Karbala, paying tribute to one of Iraq's most revered religious figures, an outpouring of religiosity that Iraqi officials say stands in defiance of earlier threats by fighters.

Authorities said they had already uncovered a cache of explosives and arrested four people for allegedly planning attacks on the pilgrims attending festivities on Monday marking the birthday of the 12th Shia imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi.

Similar gatherings in Karbala and other Shia holy cities have ended in tragedy. In December, more than 50 pilgrims were killed in a series of bombings in Karbala, 80km south of Baghdad, and in March, 181 people died in coordinated bombings of Shia pilgrims in Karbala and Baghdad.

Health care disaster: Iraqi officials appealed Monday for more money and better coordination to improve health care and environmental protection, warning that their country faces dire problems.

"There should be a national program to tackle this crisis," Iraqi Deputy Health Minister Amar al-Safer told 230 experts at a U.S.-organized conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Iraqis lack safe drinking water and must cope with diseases such as cholera and pollution from asphalt factories, dust storms and oil pipeline explosions.

The U.N. World Health Organization has spent $12.2 million to improve water quality and food safety and another $37.4 million on Iraq's health system.

WHO says Iraq's health standards and infrastructure are among the Middle East's worst.

Iraq's health system was damaged over the past 20 years by war, lack of investment and poor management, the report said. It said widespread looting after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 "further weakened the capacity of the health care system."

Mothers Against The War

Law enforcement: Cindy Sheehan may be the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement. But that didn't stop members of the New York Police Department from marching into the crowd of about 150 people gathered in Union Square Monday to hear her speak and yanking away the microphone.

The NYPD pulled the plug just as Sheehan was calling on the audience not to lose heart in the fight to end the war in Iraq.

"We get up every morning, and every morning we see this enormous mountain in front of us," said Sheehan, speaking on behalf of the other parents and family members of fallen soldiers who have taken up the crusade to bring the troops home.

"We can't go through it, we can't go under it, so we have to go over it," she continued, just as the cops rushed the makeshift podium.

Gutless Hillary: Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, last night brought her campaign to end the war to New York, where she accused Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of not doing enough to challenge the Bush administration's Iraq policies.

Speaking in front of more than 500 supporters in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Ms. Sheehan, speaking of Senator Clinton, said, "She knows that the war is a lie but she is waiting for the right time to say it."

Then, as the crowd cheered, she issued a challenge to Senator Clinton, saying, "You say it or you are losing your job."

A spokesman for Senator Clinton, while not commenting about Ms. Sheehan's remarks, said that the senator, while voting to give President Bush the authority to go to war, has been very critical of the way he has chosen to use that authority.

Another brave soul: A Scottish mother whose son was killed in Iraq is flying to Washington to join the parents of other troops who have died in the conflict.

Fusilier Gordon Gentle, from Pollok in Glasgow, was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Basra in June 2004.

His mother Rose will take part in a march and rally in the American capital on Saturday.

She will join Cindy Sheehan, the American mother who sparked anti-war vigils across the US last month.

The Continuing War Against International Law

No regrets: The new U.S. ambassador to Canada is making no apologies for Maher Arar's deportation to Syria, arguing that it's better to be safe than sorry in the fight against international terrorism.

David Wilkins is also warning that other Canadians with dual citizenship could face a similar fate if they fall under suspicion.

"The United States is committed in its war against terror," Wilkins said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"We're committed to making sure that our borders are secure and our country is safe. Will there be other deportations in the future? I'd be surprised if there's not."

Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian birth, was arrested in New York in September 2002, accused by U.S. authorities of having ties to al-Qaida and deported to Syria.

He denies any terrorist activity and says he was tortured into false confessions in Damascus - only to be released without charge after a year in jail and returned to Canada.

Wilkins, who took up his post in Ottawa about two months ago, seemed puzzled when asked whether he or his government had any regrets about the affair.

"You talking about regrets by the United States?" he said.

Well, Some Americans Are Having Regrets

Like more than half of them: Two and a half years into the war in Iraq, Americans are worried about the toll it is taking on the United States, both in the mounting casualties and the drain of resources needed at home. And although they anticipate a long, protracted American involvement, they say Iraq will never become a stable democracy, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The poll also suggested that there was widespread reluctance to make sacrifices to continue to pay for the mission in Iraq.

Ninety percent of those surveyed, including a majority of Republicans, disapprove of Washington cutting spending on domestic programs to pay for the war, almost 80 percent would not be willing to pay more in taxes and 55 percent disapprove of eliminating recent tax cuts to raise revenue.

Support for the war is at an all-time low. Forty-four percent now say the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, the lowest reading since the question was first asked more than two years ago.

A majority, nearly 60 percent, now disapprove of the way President George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while 36 percent approve. Almost half of those surveyed said that they were not proud of what the United States is doing in Iraq.

I’ll bet a few people in NO have regrets too: The deployment of nearly 50,000 National Guard troops from 50 states as part of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort has exposed debilitating equipment shortages in a force already stretched thin by three years of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the National Guard, said in an interview that the needs of Guard units overseas have left troops at home without modern communications and night vision equipment, as well as the vehicles necessary for Guard troops to traverse neighborhoods flooded in the wake of Katrina. "Communications was the biggest challenge," Blum said of the Guard's post-hurricane performance. "You can't respond if you don't know what the situation is out there." Most of the Guard's satellite phones--essential during the power and cell phone service outages caused by Katrina--are with troops in Iraq. Indeed, Blum said, the Guard's best equipment is overseas, causing shortages for disaster relief efforts in this country. The heavy reliance on National Guard and Reserve units by active-duty military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has become a concern in Congress, where lawmakers have questioned whether Guard forces are receiving the proper training and equipment for combat operations.


Killer speech by John Kerry, sort of tangentially Iraq-related. Too bad the sorry son of a bitch didn’t make some like it when he was running for President.

Opinion: When I led my men of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment across the border into Iraq we believed we were going to do some good. Goodwill and optimism abounded; it was to be a liberation, I had told my men, not a conquest.

In Iraq I sought to surround myself with advisers - Iraqis - who could help me understand what needed to be done. One of the first things they taught me was that the Baath party had been a fact of life for 35 years. Like the Nazi party, they said, it needed to be decapitated, harnessed and dismantled, each function replaced with the new regime. Many of these advisers were Baathists, yet were eager to co-operate, fired with the enthusiasm of the liberation. How must it look to them now?

What I had not realised was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organise the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

Opinion: Choking off our own grave doubts, the sort that the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, evidently put to Blair at the eleventh hour, did Washington no favours. Is it really the role of a good friend to suppress real anxieties rather than express them candidly? Supporting the Bush invasion of Iraq is probably the worst service we have paid America.

So what influence did we buy for ourselves by going along with this ill-judged adventure? From the Crawford meeting in the spring of 2002, Blair had given Bush and his senior advisers to understand that, whatever happened, if there was fighting we would be shoulder to shoulder with them. What influence did we ever exercise over substance as opposed to process - over the prosecution of the war or the government of Iraq when the war was formally over, with the "mission accomplished" but the fatalities about to mount?

It is revealing that whatever the disastrous mistakes made by the occupying power in Iraq - the purging of Ba'athists, the employment of the sort of military overkill tactics used by the Israeli Defence Forces, the Grozny-isation of Falluja and other towns - no one has pointed the finger of blame at the British. No one holds Britain to account because no one thinks for a nanosecond that Britain is implicated in the decisions. Britain is there as part of the feudal host, not as a serious decision-sharing partner.

Analysis: Ever since the invasion was first launched, both the American and the British military have tended to underestimate the gut dislike by Arab Iraqis - Shia as well as Sunni - of foreign occupation forces in their homeland. This may be stronger among the Sunni but Shia are often equally nationalistic. The difference is the Shia want to gain power first through elections. The Kurds are the only community within Iraq's borders genuinely enamoured of the American presence.

The British presence is also easier because there has never been the social breakdown in and around Basra - where the British forces have been concentrated - as there has been in Baghdad.

Kidnappings and robberies, which have so demoralised or driven into exile people in the Iraqi capital, are far less common in Basra.

The fragile understanding between the British army and local powers may well continue. But at some point the relationship between the two could break down and the cities and towns be engulfed by the same violence as is seen further north.

Story: "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is." --Texas Governor George W. Bush, April 9, 1999, on the US intervention in Kosovo.

Thirty months into the Iraq War, and nearly 2,000 American deaths later, Republican leaders in Congress have yet to hold hearings on how or when to bring US troops home. So dissenting Democrats, led by California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, crammed into a small room in a House office building Thursday to hold an unofficial hearing on an exit strategy for Iraq.

TV cameras rolled in the back, Congressional staffers lined the walls, media vied for two dozen available seats and roughly thirty lawmakers shuffled in and out to listen or ask questions between votes. "I had hoped that today's discussion would take place under the auspices of the House Armed Services Committee or the House International Relations Committee," Woolsey said at the outset. "But there has been very little appetite among the Congressional leadership for open discussion about how we might end the war in Iraq." That goes for both the Republican and Democratic leadership, neither of which attended.

Opinion: Remember several weeks ago when Bush delivered a speech to rally popular support for the Iraq war? Even before Hurricane Katrina hit, that speech sank like a stone. And then came the most recent surge of violence in Iraq. Consider this: it's been two-and-a-half years since the invasion, and the United States has yet to secure the capital city. The goddamn road to the Baghdad airport--on which my friend Marla Ruzicka died in April--remains one of the most dangerous six-mile stretches in Iraq. Still, Bush was citing progress and pitching the same-old same-old. But do you notice that he's often light on facts? He asserts reality--his reality (as halfcocked it may be)--rather than provides compelling evidence. So again and again he maintains that we are fighting them in Iraq so we don't have to fight them over here. That is, we are protecting Cincinnati by battling the insurgents of Iraq. This might make a lick of sense if the them we are battling would be plotting against Peoria were we not inconveniencing them with the invasion of Iraq. But the them in Iraq appears to be mainly homegrown insurgents (Sunnis, Ba'athists and the like) who are fighting for power in Iraq and foreign fighters who were not scheming against Sacramento prior to the war and who instead were radicalized by the US invasion itself.

Letter to Laura Bush: I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.

Opinion: With the death of a soldier from the 56th Brigade Combat Team near Al Asad, Iraq on September 17, we have hit yet another cruel milestone in the Iraq war. We now have 1,900 brave, military men and women dead. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and friends who will never again breathe in their homeland or realize their dreams because of the hidden agendas, ideological policies and confirmed lies of the Bush administration. As a Veteran, I understand the mindset of someone serving our country. Orders are to be followed without question, because failure to do so means a system of dependability, built on mutual trust and assurance, can no longer be guaranteed. In a time of war – and certainly in active combat – you need to know that your buddy has your back and that personal misgivings over the required action will not result in their hesitation and your death. But the presumption underlying all of that has been the integrity, honesty and purity of purpose of the Executive and Legislative branches of our government – in other words, we trust that they know what's best and are doing what is required to keep us safe. It is that assumption that brings bumper-sticker phrases to life and applies them to the very-real sacrifice of those we have lost in the Iraq war. It has become almost rote for us to say that the men and women we have lost died “fighting for our freedom” or to “keep us free.” The truth we dare not speak is that those assertions are a lie.

They are a national balm, used to salve the ugly truth behind the deaths of these brave people who, in the ultimate act of good faith, lost their lives believing in rules that no longer seem to apply. They are empty phrases used by those wishing they were true or by political charlatans, hoping to mask one simple truth: That our countrymen who have perished in Iraq died for absolutely nothing. I hate saying that. When you've worn the uniform, as I have, there's a bond that's never lost with those who have served in the past and those who are in the line of fire every day in Iraq. I want desperately for their sacrifice to be as worthwhile in reality as it is in their honorable and courageous intent. But it's simply not true.

Casualty Report

Local story: Kirkland, WA, Marine killed in indirect fire explosion in Ramadi.


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