War News for Monday, October 3, 2005
Moving the Election Goalposts
Sunni Arab leaders, meanwhile, cried foul when the Shiite-dominated parliament passed new rulings on the upcoming referendum that will make it more difficult for Sunnis to defeat the constitution at the polls.
The parliament’s move could undermine US efforts to garner Sunni Arab support for the constitution. It could further alienate moderate Sunnis who say they want to participate in the political process, but reject the draft constitution, which they contend will fragment Iraq among majority Shiites, the Kurds and Sunni Arabs.
The rules stated that the constitution is defeated if two-thirds of voters in three provinces reject it, a threshold that the Sunnis are capable of meeting.
The parliament’s decision, however, raised the bar – saying two-thirds of registered voters must reject it, rather than two-thirds of those who actually cast ballots.
“The fraud has begun right from now,” said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician.
Bring 'em on: Two people killed and sixteen injured in grenade attack on wedding in Najaf
Bring 'em on: Senior Iraqi government official gunned down in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Hundreds of refugees flee to Syria as US attack Sadah
Bring 'em on: US forces in Iraq are denying the kidnap of two marines in Western Iraq
Bring 'em on: Three US soldiers injured in IED attack on their convoy in Dhuluiyah
Bring 'em on: Policeman gunned down in Ramadi
Bring 'em on: Two bodyguards of Iraq's oil minister killed in assassination attempt in Baghdad
: Interviews and documents from whistle-blowers show problems with at least three projects deemed critical to Iraq's oil production:
-- Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. This massive pumping complex is needed to inject water into Iraq's southern oil fields to aid in oil extraction. Under a no-bid contract, KBR was to repair the complex at a cost of up to $225 million, but not the leaky pipelines carrying water to the fields. As a result, the water cannot be reliably delivered, raising concerns that some of Iraq's oil may not ever be recovered.
-- Al Fathah pipelines. As part of the same no-bid contract, the United States gave KBR a job worth up to $70 million to rebuild a pipeline network under the Tigris River in northern Iraq despite concerns that the project was unsound. In the end, less than half the pipelines were completed, and the project was given to another contractor. The delay has aggravated oil transport problems, forcing Iraq to inject millions of barrels of oil back into the ground, a harmful practice for the oil fields and the environment. A government audit based on a complaint by a whistle-blower is ongoing.
-- Southern oil well repairs. A $37 million project to boost production at dozens of Iraqi oil wells was cancelled after KBR refused to proceed without a U.S. guarantee to protect it from possible lawsuits.
Thanks for the link Whisker
No Quran and no $25
: A 60-year-old male security detainee died this morning at Forward Operating Base Abu Ghraib.
: An emergency committee has been set up to cater for possible displacement of tens of thousands of people due to continuing U.S. and Iraqi military operations, according to a cabinet minister. U.S. marines are involved in continuous assaults on Iraqi cities, towns and villages particularly in the so-called Sunni-Triangle. Their last month’s assault on Tal Affar has displaced more than 90% of the town’s 200,000 inhabitants.
Oil Rich Kirkuk
: Iraq's Kurdish president called on the country's Shiite prime minister to step down, the president's spokesman said Sunday, escalating a political split between the two factions that make up the government. President Jalal Talabani has accused the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which holds the majority in parliament, of monopolizing power in the government and refusing to move ahead on a key issue for Kurds, the resettlement of Kurds in the northern city of Kirkuk. Word of advice Talibani; telephone Tehran or Ankara.
Beduin on a Camel
: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has apologised behind closed doors during an Arab meeting in Jedda for a scathing attack on Saudi Arabia by Iraq's interior minister, participants say. They were referring to remarks by Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Baqer Sulagh during a news conference in Amman earlier on Sunday in which he referred to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal as "a beduin on a camel".
Puppet in Waiting
: Iraq's next election season has begun and Mr. Allawi, a former exile and American protégé, is barnstorming the region and seeking support for a broad new secular alliance that could sweep him back to power when votes are cast Dec. 15. His goal is to create a political center that would displace the sectarian agendas of the competing religious parties. "We are getting all the liberal democratic forces together as a secular movement because we feel that these forces are the only ones who will be able to unite the country," Mr. Allawi said during a recent interview in his London offices.
Opinion and Commentary
The truth is that there is nothing to stop Mr. Bush from wielding his veto -- witness the fact that the administration threatened Friday to veto a defense bill if, among other potential offenses, it contained language outlawing cruel and inhuman treatment of foreign detainees. But while Mr. Bush cares fervently, and scandalously, about the imperative of keeping inhumane practices legal, he does not care as much about waste of taxpayers' money. This is why he has not made vigorous use of his veto to restrain the growth of pork. This is why an anti-spending backlash that focuses only on Mr. DeLay is missing its main target.
A standard riff at the modern version of the 5 o'clock follies -- military press briefings in Baghdad or at the Pentagon -- is that the insurgency in Iraq is limited to "only" four provinces. I say "only" because one of them (Anbar) is the size of North Carolina, while two of the others contain Baghdad and Mosul, the country's largest and third-largest cities.
The rest of Iraq, we are told, is a peaceful oasis of tranquility and harmony -- save for the stay riot, suicide bombing, death squad mass execution and/or British jail break operation. Ergo, the war is being won.
But Tom Lasseter, the Knight-Ridder reporter who's made something of a gig for himself pointing out the gap between fantasy at the top and reality on the ground -- basically by letting the guys actually fighting the war tell their own stories -- has done it again. He recently filed this report from the province of Diyala, which lies to the east of Baghdad, well outside the Sunni Triange:
Right to Know
Commanders for the 3rd Infantry Division in Diyala said the number of attacks there had dropped from about a dozen a day last year to seven. Roadside bombs, they said, have decreased by a third. The latter trend, though, hasn't held up this month. In September 2004 there were 72 roadside bombs detonated or found, but 106 this month.
"They say attacks are down. Well, no [shit]," [Staff Sgt. Donnie] Hendricks said. "We're not patrolling where the bad guys are."
U.S. patrols on a parallel road, Route Marie, ended in late May.
Pointing to Route Marie on a map on the wall of his barracks, Hendricks traced a 2-mile stretch of the road with his index finger.
"They kicked our [ass] off this road," Hendricks said. "They hit us with so many IEDs we had to stop using it."
Needless to say, a province in which stretches of main highway have been turned into no go zones for U.S. military convoys can hardly be called pacified. And the routes that are open aren't much better:
On the main supply route to the base on the edge of Muqdadiyah, Route Vanessa Roadside, explosives hit the military's bomb-detecting truck every day for 11 straight days in August. Commanders routinely call in F-16s to provide close support for the vehicle.
The picture that emerges is of an occupation force that has its hands full trying to keep the roads open to its forward operating bases, while leaving the rest of the province to Iraqi police or military units, or to the insurgents -- who, of course, are often the same people:
Hendricks taught a sniper's training course to a select group of Iraqi soldiers, but stuck to marksmanship.
"I haven't taught them tactics because they're infiltrated," Hendricks said. "It's like going to a party where you don't know anybody, but somebody in the room -- you don't know who -- wants to kill you."
And just might succeed.
But the infiltrators are also probably the cream of the new Iraqi defense forces. At least they're not stoned out of their gourds:
Sgt. Hunter Sabin has spent a fair amount of time near the Iraqi troops, and said that while they were getting better, they were still far from ready.
"I was up in a guard tower outside the FOB (base) and a group of IP (Iraqi police) came up and offered us hash and whiskey," said Sabin, a 26-year-old sniper from Richmond, Va., who was in a Ranger special operations unit during the 2003 invasion. "That's who's protecting the people.
This, then, is what life is like in one of the "secure" areas of Iraq. And, since the population of Diyala is almost evenly divided among Sunni Arabs, Shi'a Arabs and Kurds, life is likely to get even more interesting if and when the Americans leave:
"As soon as we leave this place they're all going to kill each other," [Sgt. Antonio] Molina said at a meeting in his barracks recently . . . Hendricks agreed: "It's going to be a [fucking] civil war."
But at least it will be a "secure" civil war.
Iraqis have the right to know whether they have any options left. But wherever they turn, they are told “the worst” is in store. Only a few days ago, U.S. President George W. Bush warned that there will be an upsurge in attacks ahead of this month’s referendum on a new constitution.
Only last month, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it never occurred to him that violence in Iraq would be so ferocious. For Iraqis there is nothing new about these statements. Warnings of further violence and more attacks are perhaps the only diet both the White House and Downing Street have as part of their options for the new Iraq.
Even France, which has no troops in the country, is extremely worried about Iraq’s future and recently suggested an international conference on how to keep the country together. There is no doubt the U.S. and British blind occupation of the country is the main reason for the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq. This is now a matter of fact.
But what I want to question here is whether Washington holds any options for Iraq other than repeated forecasts of further violence. Since Washington has drastically failed to achieve any of its objectives through military force and incursions into Iraqi cities, towns and villages, why not try the diplomatic and political option.
If Washington keeps listening to Iraqi government officials whose authority does not go beyond the U.S.-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, the country will certainly keep sinking. These politicians, Washington should know, are far from reality and do not see beyond their noses.
The trouble is that as the referendum gets nearer, interest seems to diminish. We see the billboards and the commercials on various channels all about the ‘distoor’ and we hear the radio programs and the debates on channels like Arabiya and Jazeera, but there isn’t real public involvement.
In August, there was more enthusiasm about the referendum. It was taken for granted that the Kurds, and Shia affiliated with SCIRI or Da’awa, would vote in the referendum. It was surprising, however, when the Association of Muslim Scholars (influential Sunni group) started what could almost be called a campaign encouraging Sunnis (and Shia) to vote against the constitution. The reasons they gave were that federalism, at this time and under the circumstances, would contribute to the division of Iraq, and also that the constitution encouraged secular and ethnic friction.
For a few weeks, there was actual interest on the part of Sunnis, especially in rural areas, to take part in the referendum. There were arguments about whether the referendum should be boycotted like the elections or whether it was the duty of Iraqis in general to vote it down.
And then the military operations on Sunni areas like Tel Afar, Ramadi, Qaim and Samarra began once again. The feeling has been that Sunni areas are being intentionally targeted prior to the referendum to keep Sunnis from voting. When your city is under fire, and you’ve been displaced with your family to some Red Crescent tent in the middle of the desert, the last thing you worry about is a constitution.
Sunnis are being openly threatened by Badir’s Brigade people and the National Guard. Two days ago, in ‘Ras il Hawash’ in the area of A’adhamiya in Baghdad, National Guard raided homes as an act of revenge because prior to the raid, they were attacked in A’adhamiya. People from the area complain that every home they raided, windows were broken, doors kicked in, tables overturned, people abused and money and valuables looted.
In places like Tel Afar and Qaim, dozens of civilians have been killed or wounded and conveniently labeled ‘insurgents’ so that people in the US and UK can sleep better at night. Residents of Tel Afar who left the town returned to their homes to find many of them only rubble and to find family and friends dead or wounded. I read one report that said all civilians were evacuated before the military operation. That isn’t true. Many residents didn’t have cars or transport to leave the city and were forced to stay behind. Some weren’t allowed out of it.
Now, as the US troops attack a little village on the Syrian border, we hear reports that the civilians are heading towards Syria. Not Arab fighters, nor insurgents- ordinary men, women and children who feel that the Iraqi government cannot shelter them or give them refuge from the onslaught of occupation forces.
What is more disturbing is the fact that most of the people who do want to vote, will vote for or against the constitution based not on personal convictions, but on the fatwas and urgings of both Sunni and Shia clerics. The Association of Muslim Scholars is encouraging people to vote against it, and SCIRI and Da’awa are declaring a vote for the constitution every Muslim’s duty. It’s hardly shocking that Sistani is now approving it and encouraging his followers to vote for it. (If I were an Iranian cleric living in south Iraq, I’d vote for it too!)
It is utterly frustrating to talk to someone about the referendum- whether they are Sunni or Shia or Kurd- and know that even before they’ve read the constitution properly, they’ve decided what they are going to vote.
Women’s rights aren’t a primary concern for anyone, anymore. People actually laugh when someone brings up the topic. “Let’s keep Iraq united first…” is often the response when I comment about the prospect of Iranian-style Sharia.
Rights and freedoms have become minor concerns compared to the possibility of civil war, the reality of ethnic displacement and cleansing, and the daily certainty of bloodshed and death.