Wednesday, September 28, 2005

War News for Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bring ‘em on: One policeman killed by gunmen in northeastern Baghdad. Six people, later found shot dead in the Baghdad morgue, detained by men wearing commando uniforms in Baghdad’s Huriya district. Two policemen wounded in roadside bombing on the Doura highway in southern Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: One police major with a counterterrorism unit killed, one other police officer wounded in an attack by armed men in Kirkuk. One Iraqi soldier killed and one wounded in an attack by gunmen on the Kirkuk-Tikrit road. Five Iraqi civilians wounded in a car bomb attack near a US convoy in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: At least 10 Iraqis killed and 28 injured in a suicide bomb outside a police recruiting centre in Baquba. Bodies of three Iraqis, bound and blindfolded, found dead with gunshot wounds near Latifiya. One Iraqi civilian killed and two policemen injured in a roadside bombing directed at a police patrol in Kirkuk. Five civilians wounded near a restaurant in central Baghdad's Nidhal street in a car bombing directed at a convoy of foreign security contractors.

Bring ‘em on: Local official killed by gunmen in the Hashimiya district of western Baquba. A pipeline junction on Iraq's crude oil export line to Turkey was bombed and nine employees of an oil complex were briefly detained by insurgents in the city of Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Four police officers and two detainees killed and eight detainees wounded when gunmen fired on a minibus bound for Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Police officer killed in Kirkuk by a roadside bomb. One US Marine assigned to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force killed by a homemade bomb during combat operations west of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Seven people killed and 37 wounded in suicide bomb attack on an army recruitment center in Tal Afar. One person killed and 14 wounded in suicide car bomb attack on a police patrol in Baquba. One US Marine dead from a “non-hostile” gunshot wound suffered Monday near Fallujah.

Bring ‘em on: Seven bodies, shot to death, handcuffed and blindfolded, found in Taji.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqis killed when a vehicle carrying a Jordanian diplomat came under fire in Baghdad. No Jordanian nationals were injured.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed and one wounded by a roadside bomb in Safwan.

A first: Iraq's first female suicide bomber blew herself up outside a U.S. military office in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar on Wednesday, killing herself and at least five others and wounding 53, police said.

It marked the first time since an insurgency by Sunni Arabs began that a female suicide bomber had launched an attack in Iraq, in a new tactic common among Chechen suicide bombers operating in Russia but rare in the Middle East.

The U.S. military said in a statement the bomb targeted Iraqi citizens filing for compensation at a Civil Military Operations Centre. Iraqis visit such centres to claim compensation if they lose relatives, or suffer damage to property, because of U.S. military action.

Another first- at least, that they've admitted...: A car bomber penetrated the heavily fortified Green Zone in the center of the capital on Tuesday but was stopped by U.S. Marines at a checkpoint before he was able to detonate the vehicle, the military said.

U.S. troops destroyed the explosives-rigged car and detained the bomber, a military spokesman said.

The U.S. military's Baghdad press office offered no details on the incident, and it was not immediately clear how the bomber was able to enter the most secured compound in Iraq, which houses the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government. Thousands of Iraqis and foreigners live and work inside the Green Zone.

CBS gets a clue: Behind the blood and chaos of the insurgents' bombs, there is an undeclared civil war already underway in Iraq, between the Sunni minority who ruled this country under Saddam and the Shiite majority. CBS News correspondent Lara Logan reports there is a secret, ruthless cleansing of the country's towns and cities. Bodies — blindfolded, bound and executed — just appear, like the rotting corpses of 36 Sunni men that turned up in a dry riverbed south of Baghdad. CBS News traced 16 of those men to a single street in a Baghdad suburb, where family members showed CBS News how the killers forced their way into their homes in the middle of the night and dragged away their sons and fathers. "My uncles were tortured, they even poured acid on them," a young boy told CBS News. Clutching photographs of the murdered men, the women and children left behind came together to grieve. One woman said as her husband was marched away she sent her son after him with his slippers, but his abductor sent the child back with a chilling message: No need for slippers — he will come back dead.

Workaday life: “I get used to mutilation: it’s like lunch and supper for us — something you get twice a day,” says Ismail Fadhil, blank-faced, stubbing out another cigarette butt. “It is usual to load up body parts, half bodies. Once, in Al-Amel, most of the victims were kids and they were in bits.”

Working 24-hour, day-on day-off shifts, Ismail, 39, drives an ambulance for Yarmouk Hospital, and is usually scrambled to emergencies alone, without even a radio. His decrepit Saddam-era ambulance, pocked with bullet holes, has not so much as a bandage: the hospital’s equipment, looted in 2003, has yet to be replaced.

“I’ve got no first-aid measures at all,” says Ismail. “It’s like driving a cab. The best I can do if I find a guy with his guts hanging out is stuff them back in and shove him into the vehicle.”

When his work is done he slops the blood out with a bucket of water. “We haven’t even got disinfectant. It is like cleaning out a garage.”

For every sick person, Ismail collects ten victims of violence. He has been shot at by insurgents, US soldiers, Iraqi police and national guards. At the scene of one suicide bomb attack last year he saw ambulance crews hit by a second bomber.

Peace, Fallujah-style: Iraqi and U.S. troops recently ended a joint military operation in Tal Afar, which they say has long been a stronghold of insurgents. The U.S. military said during the operation it killed or captured over 500 people whom it called "terrorists or foreign fighters".

They hailed the full-scale assault on the town as a success and said they had brought Tal Afar, which U.S. forces say has been used as a conduit for foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria, back under their control.

But previous military operations against insurgency strongholds have not led to peace, and sectarian violence continued on Wednesday.

Signs: U.S. Marines took down a sign warning Iraqi citizens not to cooperate with the Americans. The blue sign with yellow writing bears the signature of al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It stood along Iraq's desert highway leading into Qaim, near the Syrian border.

Such signs have been reported in other cities around the region, which includes Husayba, New Ubeydi, Karabila and Sa'dat, Col. Stephen Davis, whose forces operate in the western Al Anbar province, told CNN.

The Marines have also received reports of fliers telling residents of Sa'dat, west of Qaim, to leave the city or die, said Davis, the commander of the Marines Regimental Combat Team 2. And Marines have seen civilians leave, he added.

With the Iraqi army: Juwad's battalion has responsibility for northwest Fallujah, a sector called the Jolan. With its centuries-old souk, or marketplace, a twisting labyrinth of alleys and cluttered shops, the Jolan was infamous during 2004 as the lair of arch-terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Down the street from Juwad's makeshift fort stood the abandoned warehouse where in May 2004 Zarqawi had beheaded the easygoing Californian entrepreneur/adventurer Nicholas Berg. Zarqawi timed and videotaped the murder so that Al Jazeera television received the tape in time for its evening news.

The jundis are under no illusions about the attitudes of the Sunni residents of the Jolan. A year ago, about 5,000 Kurds, some of whom had lived in the Jolan for generations, were forced to flee for their lives when the Sunni fundamentalists temporarily ruled the city, Taliban-style. Practically all the jundis in Juwad's company are Shiites who feel unwelcome in the city.

Of the 140 jundis in Juwad's company, 10 are Kurds and the rest are Shiites from southern Iraq. The pay—$430 a month—is excellent by Iraqi standards. Juwad estimates he has 80 soldiers ready for duty on any given day. No one in the company lives anywhere near Fallujah. Taking leave and being away from the company on other duties is an elastic concept. Jundis come and go at times and in ways often mysterious to their advisers. When they want to go home for a week or so, they wear civilian clothes and hire taxis or hitch rides to Baghdad, where they disappear in the crowds and make their way from there. A recurrent request is for small pistols they can conceal in their waistbands, in case insurgents stop their bus or taxi.

Old news worth repeating: About 30,000 fighters are believed to be involved in the insurgency in Iraq, approximately 90 per cent of whom are Sunni Arab Iraqis motivated by fear of Shiite domination or anger over lost power, according to a report released this month by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Of the estimated 3,000 foreign fighters, the largest number -- about 20 per cent -- are from Algeria, followed by Syria and Yemen, with about 18 and 17 per cent, respectively, said the report, which was issued on Monday.

About 350 Saudis entered Iraq by August of 2005, about 130 of whom are believed to have been killed or captured, it says.

Admitting the obvious: The nation’s top military officer said Tuesday that the killing last weekend of a senior leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq organization will hurt the terrorists but perhaps only in the short term.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked at a Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the killing of Abdullah Abu Azzam on Sunday.

“It will have some effect, but over time they will replace people,” Myers said.

“There are others, foreign fighters, marching to the guns on a regular basis,” who can be promoted to leadership roles, he added, although in many cases they are less experienced and qualified in planning and executing attacks.

Whack a mole: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's network of al Qaeda-linked insurgents is emerging as a self-sustaining force, despite repeated blows by U.S. forces and the reported death of his second-in-command, U.S. intelligence officials and other experts say.

The Zarqawi network, responsible for some of the Iraqi insurgency's bloodiest attacks, has grown into a loose confederation of mainly native Iraqis trained by former Baath Party regime officers in explosives, small arms, rockets and surface-to-air missiles.

"The suggestion is that this has shifted from being a terrorist network to a guerrilla army," said Vali Nasr, a national security affairs expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

U.S. military officials on Tuesday said they had killed Zarqawi's No. 2 in Iraq, an operative identified as Abu Azzam. Al Qaeda did not verify the U.S. claim.

But intelligence officials said the death of Zarqawi himself would not mean al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq, partly because he has ceded authority over day-to-day operations to regional commanders and tribal leaders who operate according to his strategic guidelines.

"If he died in the cause, that's huge. That's what everybody wants. Then he's a giant figurehead and everybody can do something in his name," one intelligence official said.

"He has enough force in place to sustain operations," the official added. "Al Qaeda in Iraq ... regenerates very quickly. You knock off a guy who's in charge in a certain area, another person steps into the gap."

Gee, I Feel Better Already

Because this kind of thing is so worrisome: When it comes to ominous warnings about the future of Iraq, none have been more dire than those coming from Prince Saud al-Faisal. He is Saudi Arabia's foreign minister and the first Arab leader to have spoken out in public about Iraq in such pessimistic terms in recent months. Prince Saud said last week that he has been warning the Bush administration that Iraq was heading rapidly toward disintegration. He can foresee a fracturing of that unstable country into three hostile factions of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds - a prelude to an uncontrollable civil war that could destabilize the Persian Gulf and other parts of the Middle East, with incalculable consequences.

If what he envisions were to come true, U.S. troops would not be able to maintain control and would be pulled out; the Shia government, facing defeat by Sunni insurgents, would ask the Shia clerics ruling Iran for help and Iranian troops would cross the border to fight Sunnis; Kurds would pull away into an independent state and Turkey, fearing its own Kurdish guerrillas would find a safe haven, would invade Kurdistan.

Good thing we have a big strong man to protect us!: President Bush on Wednesday warned there will be an upsurge in violence in Iraq before next month's voting, but said the terrorists will fail. "Our troops are ready for them," he said.

Bring ‘em on!

And his ultracompetent administration is our first line of defense: The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (Fincen) has shut down its QuikNews e-mail messaging system after unidentified hackers used it to broadcast disturbing images of civilian casualties in Iraq.

The breach of security is a huge embarrassment for the US Treasury Department agency, which is responsible for enforcing regulations against money laundering and terrorist financing.

The mass e-mail to Fincen subscribers included photos of pools of blood and an Iraqi child in a hospital bed and contained the message: "take back your monsters (army)/you killed my father and mother/what you want???/ i know (oil) [sic]."

In a statement, Fincen sought to reassure subscribers that "Bank Secrecy Act data and all other sensitive information maintained on internal systems by Fincen are secure and were in no way, shape or form compromised by this incident."

Feeling reassured?

Rule Of Law

The Germans get it: Just a few weeks ago, a highly significant judicial decision was handed down by the German Federal Administrative Court but barely mentioned in the German media. With careful reasoning, the judges ruled that the assault launched by the United States and its allies against Iraq was a clear war of aggression that violated international law.

Further, they meticulously demonstrated that the German government, in contrast to its public protestations, had assisted in the aggression against Iraq without having any legal right to do so. Although the decision was made three months ago, the judgement and its legal arguments have only just been made available in written form, comprising more than 130 pages.

The decision was made in relation to legal proceedings initiated by a German army officer who had refused to obey an order following the invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition of forces because he feared that he would in effect be supporting the war. As a result, he was demoted from major to captain and the army filed a criminal complaint against him for insubordination. In its latest judgement, the Federal Administrative Court reversed the demotion and said the charges against the officer contravened Article 4, Paragraph 1 of the German Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of conscience.

Freedom of the press: The conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq, including increasing detention and accidental shootings of journalists, is preventing full coverage of the war reaching the American public, Reuters said on Wednesday. In a letter to Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Reuters said U.S. forces were limiting the ability of independent journalists to operate. The letter from Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger called on Warner to raise widespread media concerns about the conduct of U.S. troops with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is due to testify to the committee on Thursday. Schlesinger referred to "a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by U.S. forces in Iraq." He urged Warner to demand that Rumsfeld resolve these issues "in a way that best balances the legitimate security interests of the U.S. forces in Iraq and the equally legitimate rights of journalists in conflict zones under international law". At least 66 journalists and media workers, most of them Iraqis, have been killed in the Iraq conflict since March 2003.

Kidnapping: A branch of the U.S. Navy secretly contracted a 33-plane fleet that included two Gulfstream jets reportedly used to fly terror suspects to countries known to practice torture, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

At least 10 U.S. aviation companies were issued classified contracts in 2001 and 2002 by the obscure Navy Engineering Logistics Office for the "occasional airlift of USN (Navy) cargo worldwide," according to Defense Department documents the AP obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Two of the companies — Richmor Aviation Inc. and Premier Executive Transport Services Inc. — chartered luxury Gulfstreams that flew terror suspects captured in Europe to Egypt, according to U.S. and European media reports. Once there, the men told family members, they were tortured. Authorities in Italy and Sweden have expressed outrage over flights they say were illegal and orchestrated by the U.S. government.

While the Gulfstreams came under scrutiny in 2001, what hasn't been disclosed is the Navy's role in contracting planes involved in operations the CIA terms "rendition" and what Italian prosecutors call kidnapping.

War Porn

Disgusting trade: An Islamic civil-rights group has asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to investigate an Internet site on which U.S. service members have posted graphic pictures of mutilated and dismembered Iraqis and Afghans in return for free access to Internet pornography.

“This disgusting trade in human misery is an insult to all those who have served in our nation’s military,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in a letter to Rumsfeld.

The Washington-based group brough the Web site to national attention in a statement to the media Sept. 27. Army and Pentagon officials said they are investigating.

“Obviously, it is an unacceptable practice,” said Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Rumsfeld.

Whoa, Bryan, that’s an awfully harsh condemnation! Sure you don’t want to tone it down a bit?

The lightning investigation: The Army is investigating complaints that soldiers posted photographs of Iraqi corpses on an Internet site in exchange for access to pornographic images on the site, officials said Tuesday.

An Army spokesman, Col. Joseph Curtin, said the Criminal Investigation Division recently began investigating the matter on behalf of Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of the Multinational Corps in Iraq.

Another Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said later that the preliminary criminal inquiry determined, based on available evidence, that felony charges could not be pursued. But the matter, including the possibility of disciplinary action, was being handled in coordination with other military services, he said.

It’s because they’re decisive: US Army has ALREADY concluded that they won't press charges against soldiers based on the death-photos-for-porn scandal. Gee that was fast.

Fast, and rather disgusting. And rather poorly timed, the same day Lynndie England is convicted for her Abu Ghraib big adventure. Think about how crass the Pentagon is. DOD is contacted about this scandal earlier today, tell the press they're investigating, because of course they only JUST heard of this horrible scandal recently (that's why they didn't act sooner, of course), and then a few hours later says sorry, we can't prosecute but we'll be sure to consider disciplinary action. Huh?

Our Helena gets around: The story of NTFU and its unusual exchange of free porn for gory war photos was first picked up by an Italian blogger named Staib, and then the Italian news agency ANSA. Blogger/journalist Helena Cobban, who pens a column for the Christian Science Monitor, asked her blog readers for an English translation of the ANSA article and quickly received many versions that clarified what the site was about.

Cobban was horrified by the gory photos, but tried to make sense of the motivation of people who posted them -- and tried hard to grasp the idea of a serious discussion of war on a porn site. She told me that taking and posting "trophy" photos of dead Iraqis was a gross show of disrespect and a violation of the Geneva Conventions. But she put the blame on the direction of military leadership.

"The important thing is for the U.S. military and political leadership at the highest levels to recommit the nation to the norms of war including the Geneva Conventions, and to be held accountable for the many violations that have taken place so far," Cobban said via e-mail. "What I don't think would be helpful would be further punitive actions that are still limited to the grunts and the foot soldiers, who already have the worst of it."

The Geneva Conventions include Protocol 1, added in 1977 but not ratified by the U.S., Iraq or Afghanistan. It mentions that all parties in a conflict must respect victims' remains, though doesn't mention the photographing of dead bodies. This could well be a judgment call, and the celebratory and derogatory comments added on NTFU make the case more clear.

When I contacted military public affairs people in the U.S. and Iraq, they didn't seem aware of the site and initially couldn't access the site from their own government computers. Eventually, they told me that if soldiers were indeed posting photos of dead Iraqis on the site, then it's not an action that's condoned in any way by the military.

"The glorification of casualties goes against our training and is strongly discouraged," said Todd Vician, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman. "It is our policy that images taken with government equipment or due to access because of a military position must be cleared before released. While I haven't seen these images, I doubt they would be cleared for release. Improper treatment of captured and those killed does not help our mission, is discouraged, investigated when known, and punished appropriately."

Capt. Chris Karns, a Centcom spokesman, told me that there are Department of Defense regulations and Geneva Conventions against mutilating and degrading dead bodies, but that he wasn't sure about regulations concerning photos of dead bodies. He noted that the Bush administration did release graphic photos of the dead bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein to the media.

Good point: The American administration has failed to issue a satisfactory response to the fact that its army violates the laws of war. It has suggested successfully, according to American public opinion, ­that the units of military police that were photographed humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib were not obeying any order of the army or the intelligence services. With soldier Lynndie England, who appeared in the photographs, standing before a military tribunal at Fort Hood for the past week, will America accept the official version according to which this entire matter was one of unguided "lost soldiers?"

The American pacifist movement has not seized on these questions. Its principal and laudable concern ­ epitomized by the image of Cindy Sheehan, traumatized by her son’s death in Iraq - is to preserve the life of American soldiers. As is often in war, it is difficult to listen to the other, the foreigner, the "enemy.”

While authorizing its army to perpetrate what international law describes as "serious violations of the laws of the war," such as "torture" or "inhumane treatment" of prisoners ­ and "war crimes" in the case of executions - the United States placed itself in a position of illegality in the service of the cause that they allege to defend: freedom, justice and democracy faced with the "the madness of Allah." But every time an Afghan or Iraqi is killed wrongly or tortured, and precisely because the United States is a democratic country, it is a defeat for America and all who defend the values and morals for which it claims to embody.

More pragmatically, the use of torture is one less chance for Washington to win its wars, because for each martyred prisoner, for each image of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, ten fighters rise against the United States.


Opinion: More than a third of the U.S. soldiers based in Iraq belong to the Reserves or National Guard. Weekend warriors intended to supplement full-time active duty troops now fight for 14 months on average. But most are still treated like part-timers, and prepped and outfitted for combat accordingly. New equipment goes to the Army while Guardsmen and Reservists get hand-me-downs. This bodes badly for part-time soldiers who have become a major fighting force in Iraq.

August was the deadliest month for citizen soldiers. Five Pennsylvania Guardsmen died when the second-class humvee they were in was blown up. They had requested permission to use some of the 12 brand new, fully up-armored vehicles issued to a nearby active duty unit. The request was denied. The trucks stood idle when the Guardsmen died.

A total of 46 National Guard and Reserve soldiers were killed in August, more than half the 83 troop deaths. The disproportionately high -- and rising -- casualty rates of citizen soldiers are part of a trend. Pentagon statistics released at the end of 2004 showed losses sustained by Army National Guard soldiers in Iraq were 35 percent higher than that of regular enlisted. The elevated mortality rate of citizen soldiers is unparalleled. Of the 58,209 U.S. deaths in Vietnam, 94 were Guardsmen, and none were killed in the Persian Gulf War, USA Today has reported.

Long, hazardous duty is one reason why Army National Guard and Army Reserve recruitment numbers are off by 23 percent and 20 percent, respectively. In the first half of 2005, the Seattle Army Reserve office missed its target of about 100 recruits by 75 percent. Oregon recruitment is down 40 percent. Several battalions have lost more than half their members. One Reserve unit saw 70 percent of its members leave within a few months of coming home.

Half the soldiers leaving active duty service have traditionally joined the Guard, but since that likely means a quick trip back to Iraq, the number has dropped to about 35 percent. With so many first responders in Iraq, we have fewer first responders -- fire, police and emergency medical technicians -- in our communities.

While the Guard and Reserve are particularly hard hit, our entire country is suffering from the Iraq war. Rep. Michael McNulty, D-N.Y., recently noted that more than 16,000 U.S. troops have been killed or wounded in Iraq, and that the government has spent more than $200 billion on the war so far, saying, "The war has been a tremendous failure by both measures." He was announcing his support for legislation to require that U.S. troops begin their withdrawal from Iraq by October 2006.

It's time we add Homeland Security to the growing list of casualties of the war in Iraq.

A related story: The 69 Iowa National Guard mechanics at Camp Liberty are the best of the best. This isn't just talk. The Army selected them based on high test scores, then put them together with soldiers from Maine and Washington in a kind of super unit to fix what breaks down. If it has an engine, these men and women of the 3655th Maintenance Company can make it run. Humvees, armored personnel carriers, tanks. Anything. So the Army sent them to Iraq. But most of these soldiers haven't gone near a wrench during their deployment. They've been here since April standing guard duty atop the wall that separates this military base from Baghdad. And they sit outside checking IDs at dining halls and the PX , the military all-purpose store.

Opinion: A marketing campaign, launched shortly after the war began and continuing to this day, has sought to link support for the men and women serving in this country's military forces with support for even the most foolhardy and dangerous of the president's policies. There are even bumper stickers that declare: "Support President Bush and the Troops."

But this is just political gamesmanship, nothing more.

How do we know?

Because House Majority Leader Tom DeLay tells us so.

Back in 1999, after President Bill Clinton had ordered U.S. forces to begin a massive bombing campaign and missile strikes against Yugoslavia, the House of Representatives considered a resolution supporting the mission.

The leading opponent of the resolution was DeLay, who dismissed the notion that opposing the war was in any way an affront to the troops. In a visceral floor statement delivered in March of that year, DeLay declared, "Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly. We must stop giving the appearance that our foreign policy is formulated by the Unabomber."

As the war progressed, DeLay condemned "(President Clinton's) war," and grumbled in April 1999, "There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the president started this thing, and there still is no plan today."

Opinion: If you need yet another reminder why the Democrats continue to teeter on the verge of becoming a permanent minority party, I suggest you pick up the Boston Herald and watch CBS News. At the same time the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, with CBS reporting on the "undeclared civil war" raging between Shiites and Sunnis and the Saudi Foreign Minister telling the world that Iraq is "going toward disintegration," there was John Kerry giving a speech arguing that "progress" was being made. As the Boston Herald put it, Senator John Kerry "back-pedalled on blistering criticism of the war."


Andrew Gumbel's latest HuffPost turns a flashing red spotlight on why we need to reform our voting systems. But even the most corruption-free voting system in the world isn't going to help Democrats if they keep offering up candidates who make the kind of absurd pronouncements on Iraq Kerry did this week.

Editorial: After a day of stunningly large antiwar demonstrations that surrounded a beleaguered White House while its occupant attended to a more natural disaster, the Lincoln words bit hard.

''We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves," observed Lincoln long ago in a written message to Congress after the gore of Antietam but just a month before the Emancipation Proclamation. ''No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We, even here, hold the power and bear the responsibility."

Indeed. The inspiring words of the past mock the poses of the present.

Earlier that day, there had been a demonstration downtown that dwarfed official expectations. In an interesting abandonment of post-9/11 paranoia, the parade permit allowed a virtual encirclement of the White House by a throng that easily exceeded 300,000 peaceful souls from around the country. I have either been in or covered every peace demonstration around here since 1967, and this one was more than reminiscent of the whoppers in the Nixon years.

The people are currently leagues beyond the politicians. The link between the ongoing war and the literal storms of the past month is in the opinion polls, with solid majorities not only of the opinion that the invasion of Iraq wasn't and isn't worth its cost but demanding that money being sent overseas be invested in reconstruction at home. The problem is that no one prominent in politics is really listening.

Opinion: As far as Iraq goes, "stuck on stupid" could be the operating motif for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Already mired in a hopeless mess of his own making, the president pushes on, ignoring public opinion, the evidence on the ground and the apparent thinking of his own commanders and allies.

Last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal warned that Iraq is "gradually going toward disintegration," and the British newspaper The Guardian reported, "Diplomats in the Foreign Office are working frantically in private on what they refer to as the 'exit ticket' from Iraq."

What's more, the United States' eagerness to rush approval of an Iraqi constitution, according to a report from the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, has made that process "a new stake in the political battle rather than an instrument to resolve it...

"The United States has repeatedly stated that it has a strategic interest in Iraq's territorial integrity, but today the situation appears to be heading toward de facto partition and full-scale civil war."

Cervantes: This is the truth. There is no good news from Iraq. The "democratically elected" government is controlled by two Shiite religious parties, with the cooperation of Kurdish representatives whose only long-term goal is independence but who are playing along for now in order to win territory on the cheap. The Shiite parties also envision an independent Shiite theocracy closely associated with Iran's clerical rulers. These factions wrote the new constitution in order to achieve these ends. The only effective units of the Iraqi army are actually militias of these Shiite and Kurdish parties who wear Iraqi Army uniforms, and these are the "Iraqi" soldiers who now fight alongside U.S. forces against Sunni Arabs -- when they aren't commiting atrocities on their own. Why on earth the United States would be spending blood and treasure to advance these objectives is incomprehensible. Opposing this project through guerilla warfare are secularist Iraqi nationalists, principally Sunni Arabs who were associated with or had a stake in the former regime; and Sunni Islamic factions including Iraqis and a small number of foreigners. The Shiite movement of Muqtada al Sadr, who has a huge following, opposes the present government politically and is allied with the Sunni insurgency against the intended breakup of Iraq. Although his fighters have been observing a cease fire for more than a year now, that appears to be breaking down, and U.S. forces are again skirmishing with his Mahdi Army. Meanwhile, there is no basic security or civil order in Iraq. Gangs of vicious criminals operate freely, commiting kidnappings for ransom and robberies that have the Baghdad middle class huddling behind closed doors. Women and girls are afraid to leave the house, and the social equality and freedom they enjoyed under the secular Baath regime has been lost. Child malnutrition is widespread. Most people with the means to get out of the country are doing so, notably the physicians and other professionals who would be essential to the rebuilding of Iraqi society. The police and other security forces, as well as the government ministries, are completely corrupt, and loyal to their factions. The police are as dangerous as the criminals, or perhaps indistinguishable from them. Daily attacks on the oil infrastructure have reduced production to below pre-war levels. Electricity in Baghdad is available for only a few hours a day. Sewage still flows in the streets. The government hides behind 12 foot blast walls in a closed zone of central Baghdad controlled and secured by the American occupiers, to which American "reporters" (actually transcriptionists of Central Command briefings) are confined. And then there is the occupation. War is not glorious, or pure, or honorable. It is brutalizing, grotesque, beyond morality. The Americans drop bombs on houses from airplanes, killing people indiscriminately. They fire 50 caliber machine guns at cars that they think have approached them too closely, and at everyone in sight if they have been attacked. They break down doors in random searches of entire neighborhoods, destroy and loot people's property, beat and humiliate ordinary citizens. They routinely abuse and torture people they arrest, and they hold tens of thousands of prisoners, the vast majority on nothing but slight suspicions, under grim conditions. They besiege and demolish entire cities, driving their inhabitants into squalid refugee camps. They do this even though they do not understand who they are fighting and they have no evident goal or cause. Some of them have taken to posting photgraphs of themselves laughing at the gory remains of Iraqis on an Internet porn site. Ironically, that's about the only place Americans can see for themselves the reality of war, because the television and the newspapers won't show it to us. The whole world knows all this. But our political leaders, of both parties, and our corporate media, will not confront the truth. There is a cancer on our national soul.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Baltimore, KY, National Guardsman who died in a roadside bombing near al Khalis memorialized in Leitchfield.

Local story: Mesa, AZ, National Guardsman killed in roadside bombing in Baghdad.


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