War News for Monday, October 31, 2005
Bring 'em on: US airstrikes kill forty in Karabila
Bring 'em on: Two bank employees gunned down in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: US Marine killed in clashes in Nasser wa Salaam
Bring 'em on: Brother of Iraq's vice-president gunned down in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Deputy trade minister wounded and two bodyguards killed in attack in Baghdad
: The Bush administration has missed dozens of deadlines set by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks for developing ways to protect airplanes, ships and railways from terrorists.
· A plan to defend ships and ports from attack is six months overdue.
· Rules to protect air cargo from infiltration by terrorists are two months late.
· A study on the cost of giving anti-terrorism training to federal law enforcement officers who fly commercially was supposed to be done more than three years ago.
· A report on how a grant program for shippers and ports would work is more than a year late.
· A report on cargo container security is eight months overdue.
· A national security plan for marine transportation is well past its April 1 due date.
Pigs at the Trough
: The report said Iraq's Bureau of Supreme Audit charged that up to $1.27 billion from some 90 contracts was lost from June 2004 to February 2005
because deals were given to "favored suppliers" and cash was given to third-party firms to work out contracts.
: Italy's government on Sunday rallied to the defense of spy chief Nicolo Pollari, whose agency is accused of passing off bad intelligence to the United States, helping bolster claims about Iraq's pre-war nuclear ambitions.
: Possibly seeking to distance himself from Bush, who is widely unpopular in Italy, Berlusconi also claimed that he pleaded with Bush not to invade Iraq. "I tried repeatedly to convince the American president not to go to war," he told the La7 television channel. "I maintained that military action should be avoided."
: Angry Sunni Arabs protesting the removal of a top police official have threatened to topple the provincial government of Nineveh as sectarian tensions flare in the volatile northern Iraqi province. Several hundred armed protesters, chanting slogans against what they say is Kurdish domination of Nineveh's regional administration, besieged government offices in the provincial capital of Mosul late on Saturday and were kept from overrunning the building by U.S. troops, local officials said on Sunday. Arabs accuse Kurdish leaders, whose autonomous region of Kurdistan lies just outside the city, of packing Mosul with Kurds. The Kurds deny this.
: "Osama bin Laden hasn't been seen in a video for a hellishly long time. That could be because he's become shy -- but wasn't before."
Complete timeline of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Key Events related to issues raised in Downing Street Memo. Please visit this link.
Opinion and Commentary
"There are almost no more qualified people in Basra," said Tamimi, who returned to Iraq's second-biggest city recently without his family for a short business trip. "Any successful engineer, doctor or businessman is now abroad. All this will have a negative impact on Iraq."
Successful Iraqis want to invest their money "where there is peace and stability," he said.
Government officials say they have no figures on the number of Iraqis who have fled since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But the former minister of migration, Pascale Warda, said she heard of people leaving almost daily.
As many as 800,000 Iraqis are believed to be living in Jordan, many of them since the conflict began. Thousands more have left for Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries. For the superrich, London and the United States are options.
"This just destroys the country. It has a very negative effect on the situation in Iraq and on the country's ability to improve," said Warda, who served in the interim government of Ayad Allawi, which left office in late April.
Salah Ahmed Hamoudi, a businessman who moved to Syria with his family three months ago, said patriotic Iraqis would prefer to stay home.
"Even if Syria is heaven on earth, I still love my country," he said by phone during a business trip to Mosul in northern Iraq. "But what are we supposed to do if there is no strong government? How can I come back and work if no one is capable of defending me?"
Many Iraqi scientists and university professors who stay have become targets, either because they belonged to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party — once essential for career advancement — or as part of a campaign by the predominantly Sunni Arab insurgency to weaken Iraq's intellectual power.
A Sunni Arab engineer, who insisted on not being quoted by name for security reasons, said he sent his wife and children abroad after insurgents threatened him because he works for a foreign company.
He quoted from a letter that the militants left for him with his son: "The only good thing about you is that you're a Sunni. If you weren't, we would have chopped your head off without even a warning."
Long Time Coming
Liberals called it "Fitzmas". And it was a long time coming. But even though it took almost two years for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to make it down the chimney, it was worth the wait. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff of vice-president Dick Cheney, faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $1.25m if found guilty of lying over his role in leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent. Meanwhile, the continuing investigation of George Bush's consiglieri, Karl Rove, holds out the possibility of further charges against a more senior White House staff member.
In a week that saw Bush withdraw his supreme court nominee, Harriet Miers, and that followed a week in which Tom DeLay, the Republican house leader, was arrested for money laundering and conspiracy, liberals were gorging themselves on a festival of alleged corruption, criminality and incompetence prepared and served by conservatives.
The extent to which these most recent developments have exposed the Bush administration's real agenda and modus operandi should be welcomed. But legal defeats for the right should not be mistaken as political victories for the liberal-left, which has yet to convince anyone that it represents a meaningful alternative.
There is a thin line between what we know to be true and what we can show to be undeniable. Whether it's Rodney King or Abu Ghraib, only with incontrovertible evidence does an assertion shift from a debating point to a reference point. All that separates the misfortunes of Kate Moss from the fortunes of David Cameron is the money shot. We can tolerate the notion that a potential Conservative party leader has taken cocaine so long as we haven't seen it; we cannot tolerate the fact that a waifish model has taken cocaine because we have.
Fitzgerald's investigation crossed that line, laying out in clear detail the proof for some of the central criticisms the liberal-left has asserted about the Bush administration over the past five years.
First, that the case for the invasion of Iraq was built on a lie. This goes to the heart of the matter. Valerie Plame was a covert CIA agent whose husband, the former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent on a CIA-sponsored trip to investigate whether Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons. Wilson concluded that this was unlikely but the claim ended up in Bush's state of the union address anyhow. When it came to Saddam's supposed weapon's cache, the White House was not the victim of flawed intelligence. It was the wilful perpetrator of known falsehood.
Second, that lie could only be sustained by discrediting those who dared to expose it. On July 6 2003, Wilson accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the case for war in an article in the New York Times. Libby sought to trash Wilson's credibility by telling reporters that Plame helped arrange her husband's trip, thus revealing her identity and sparking the investigation. It is a crime knowingly to divulge the identity of an undercover CIA operative.
For the team that stood a candidate whose wealthy connections ensured he never saw combat while rubbishing the actual war record of his opponent, John Kerry, this was business as usual. Two days after Wilson's piece appeared a Pew poll showed that over the previous four months the number of Americans who believed the military effort in Iraq was going very well had slumped form 61% to 23%; the number of those who thought it was not going well had rocketed from 4% to 21%.
Three months after Bush landed on the USS Lincoln emblazoned with its Mission Accomplished banner, both the message and the mission was tanking; it was time to shoot the messengers along with the Iraqis.
Third, the case has revealed the supine character of America's mainstream media in the run-up to the war. Primarily, it showcased the sharp practices of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In Miller's own account of her grand jury testimony, she wrote: "When the subject turned to Mr Wilson, Mr Libby requested that he be identified only as a 'former Hill staffer' [rather than "senior administration official"]. I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill." I once played centre forward for Cygnet Rovers of Stevenage. But to cite me as "a former footballer" would, in most instances, be as true as it is misleading. Miller's uncritical approach amounted to dictation that bolstered the administration's flimsy case for going to war.
"WMD - I got it totally wrong," she told Times reporters recently. "If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could."
Neither the Times in particular nor US journalism in general should be judged by the standards of one reporter. But while Miller's reporting style in the run-up to the war was appaling, its content was not aberrant. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the administration circled the wagons around the flag and the media found itself on the wrong side. Politically embedded at home before they were military embedded abroad, their fear of appearing unpatriotic trumped their fear of misinforming the public.
So the investigation has given us one of the clearest indications to date of how we got to this point. Given the malevolent partisanship of the Republican party it is not surprising that many liberals gloat at the prospect of a full-scale Republican implosion. But such schadenfreude is premature. The wounds of recent weeks have all been self-inflicted - the result of a mixture of hubris, malice, greed and ineptitude. There is no doubt that they have damaged Bush politically. A Washington Post-ABC poll this weekend shows his approval rating at an all-time low, with the public believing Bill Clinton ran a more ethical administration after the Monica Lewinsky scandal than Bush does now. Meanwhile, An AP-Ipsos poll released on Saturday shows support for the war at an all-time low of 37%.
But the Democrats are not faring much better, with only marginally more support than Republicans, according to a poll taken before the indictments and Miers withdrawal, but after hurricane Katrina and DeLay's arrest.
Having supported the war and without coherent proposals for disengaging, they are ill-placed to take advantage of the Republican's current troubles.
Either unable or unwilling to present a clear agenda of how they would do things differently, they have been effectively mute for several months. With no opposition, popular disenchantment with the Bush Administration's ethical failings is descending into cynicism.
Indeed, the only group that has really flexed its muscles in recent weeks has been the Christian right, which derailed Mier's nomination to the supreme court. Bush is likely to nominate another candidate later this week who will be more to their liking, thereby tipping the balance of the court against abortion and affirmative action. Unless the Democrats develop the wherewithal to challenge them, conservatives will then shape both the law and the politics of the country for a generation. And Fitzmas will be little more than a lingering reminder of what the law can do when politics has failed.
Reality and Myth
But today we seem to live on two levels: reality and myth.
Let's start with the reality of Iraq. It is, to quote Winston Churchill on Palestine in the late 1940s, a "hell-disaster," a nation of anarchy from Mosul and Irbil down to Basra, where armed insurgents control streets scarcely half a mile from the Baghdad "green zone" wherein American and British diplomats and their democratically elected Iraqi "government" dream up optimism for a country whose people are burning with ferocious resentment against Western occupation. No wonder I'm more sure each day that I want to be away from conflict.
But for Bush, America is not anxious to withdraw from Iraq. Far from it. The United States is fighting enemies who want to establish a "totalitarian empire," he says, a "mortal danger to all humanity" which America will confront. Washington is fighting "as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced." Come again? What about Hitler's Nazi Germany? Mussolini's fascist Italy? The cruel, expansionist Japanese empire which bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941?
It's one thing, surely, for Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara to play Roosevelt and Churchill or to claim that Saddam is Hitler but to exalt our grubby, torture-encrusted, illegal conflicts as being more important than the Second World War -- or our turbaned enemies as more malicious than the Auschwitz SS killers -- is surely a step on the road to the madhouse.
"By any standard of history," my favourite American President declared this week, "Iraq has made incredible progress." Excuse me? By any standard of history, the Iraqi insurgents have made incredible inroads into the US military occupation of Iraq. "We've lost some of our nation's finest men and women in the war on terror," Bush tells us. .".. The best way to honour the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission." In other words, we are going to prove the worth of the sacrifice by making more sacrifices. Truly, this is bin Laden-like in its naivety. We've suffered martyrs? Then let's have more martyrs!
Then we have President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Israel, he tells one of those infinitely dull and boring Tehran conferences on "Zionism" this week, must be "wiped off the map." I'm old enough to remember this claptrap from Yasser Arafat's weary old cronies in Beirut in the late 1970s. Ahmadinejad's speech -- before the obligatory 4,000 "students" who used to be a regular feature of Iran's revolution -- was replete with all the antique claims. "The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world. The skirmishes (sic) in the occupied land are part of the war of destiny."
Was this silly man, I ask myself, the scriptwriter for Ridley Scott's movie Kingdom of Heaven? Surely not, for the Hollywood epic is Homeric in its scope and literacy compared to Ahmadinejad's sterile prose. This, after all, is the sort of stuff I had to suffer during the original Iranian revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini set up his theocracy -- no, let us be frank and call it necrocracy -- in Iran. Government for and by the dead is becoming a vision for both Bush and Ahmadinejad.
But hold on. We have not counted on the Churchillian vision of Lord Blair. "I have never come across a situation of (sic) the president of a country stating they want to wipe out another country," he told us on Thursday.
Oh deary me. What can we do with this man? For Rome was rather keen, was it not, to wipe out Carthage (delenda est Carthago, Tony)? And then there is the little matter of Herr Hitler -- a regular bogeyman for Lord Blair when he stares across the desert wastes towards the Tigris -- who insisted that Poland should be wiped out, who turned Czechoslovakia into the Nazi protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, who allowed the Croatian Ustashe to try to destroy Serbia, who ended his days by admitting that his own German state should be wiped out because its people didn't deserve him.
But now let's listen to Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara again. "If they (the Iranians) carry on like this, the question that people are going to be asking is: when are you going to do something about this? Can you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having a nuclear weapon?" Well yes, of course we can. North Korea. Whoops! But they've already got nuclear weapons, haven't they?
So we'll ask a different question. Exactly who are those "people," Lord Blair, who might expect you to "do something"? Could they have anything in common with the million people who told you not to invade Iraq? And if not, could we have some addresses, identities, some idea of their number? A million perhaps? I doubt it.
Is there to be any end of this? Not yet, I fear. In Australia a couple of weeks ago, I found Muslims in Melbourne and Adelaide regaling me with stories of abuse and obscenities in the street. New laws are about to be introduced by Prime Minister John Howard to counter "terror" which will not only allow detention without trial, but also the extension of "sedition" laws which could be used against those (mainly Muslims, of course) who oppose Australia's preposterous military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Well, count me in, John. I think you live in a great country with great people, but I'm planning to turn up in Adelaide again in the spring to argue against any Western involvement in those two countries, including yours. I look forward to a sedition charge. And to Lord Blair "doing something" against North Korea. I hope Mr Bush never does discover enemies worse than the Wehrmacht and the SS. And I sincerely trust that the little satraps of the religious necrocracy that is Iran will grow up in the years to come. Alas. Like Peter Pan, our leaders wish to be forever young, forever childish, and forever ready to play in their bloodless sandpits -- at our expense.