Tuesday, October 04, 2005

War News for Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Operation Iron Fist continues in Anbar province, with fighting spreading from Sadah to Karabilah and Rumana along the Euphrates. US military claims 21 insurgents have been killed in the last two days of fighting. One US soldier died of wounds suffered Saturday in Ramadi. Iraqi army patrol attacked in Ramadi, at least two vehicles set ablaze, US military claims seven insurgents killed in the subsequent fight and states there were no casualties among Iraqi army forces. Provincial council member and her son assassinated in Nineveh. Restaurant owner killed in a bombing in his establishment in Hillah. Two policemen killed in ambush in Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Twelve civilians killed in airstrike on Qaim, according to a doctor in a hospital there. Iraqi army officer assassinated in Karbala.

Bring ‘em on: Chief of the Fayli Kurds abducted Sunday in Tuz Khurmatu. His guards were briefly kidnapped with him.

Bring ‘em on: Three U.S. soldiers killed in western Iraq, unclear whether they were all killed by the same roadside bomb. One U.S. Marine killed Monday by a roadside bomb in Karabila.

More mysteries: A British civilian and nine Iraqis have been arrested by Iraq's border security force, a British military spokesman in the southern city of Basra told CNN Tuesday.

The spokesman could not confirm the time, location or circumstances of the arrest, but an Iraqi police official in Najaf told CNN that "10 suspected terrorists" were arrested near the Saudi border on Monday, noting that among them was a British national.

US Offensives

Iron Fist: U.S. helicopters fired rockets at targets in Rumana, where a roadside bomb blew up near an American armored vehicle, sending up a plume of black smoke, witnesses said, but no U.S. casualties were reported.

In Karabilah, troops searched house-to-house for militants, apparently meeting stiffer resistance than in Sadah, which most fighters fled before the U.S. troops moved in.

Marine snipers fired from rooftops and U.S. helicopters flew overhead as the advance was slowed for about an hour by insurgent fire, a CNN journalist embedded with the Marines said.

At one point, about 20 Iraqis fled their homes, including one family — a mother, father and their child — who were wounded and bleeding after being hit by flying pieces of concrete, CNN footage showed.

The military said it confirmed at least 21 militants killed, two in fighting Monday and 19 from an airstrike the day before, bringing the three-day total to 57.

No U.S. troops have been killed or seriously injured in the offensive, the military said.

Curses! Foiled again!: For a second day, U.S. and Iraqi troops combed the city of Sadah near the Syrian border for insurgents loyal to al Qaeda, witnesses and the U.S. and Iraqi militaries said Sunday.

An Iraqi army captain said security forces had conducted house-to-house searches in about 80 percent of Sadah by Sunday evening before taking control of most of the city. He said the searches yielded weapons but few foreign fighters from al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent network led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian.

"We think Zarqawi's group escaped before the assault, because the U.S. forces were not engaged in heavy clashes," said the captain, who declined to give his name, citing threats against Iraqi forces.

River Gate: US marines in western Iraq have launched a new offensive against what they say are al-Qaeda fighters.

The offensive, in towns along the Euphrates valley, Haditha, Haqlaniya and Barwana, has been named Operation River Gate.

About 2,500 US troops, as well as Iraqi forces, are taking part, backed up by helicopters and war planes.

But as the operation got under way, the US military announced four of its soldiers had been killed in the area.

The US military says the operation aims to "free local citizens of the terrorists' campaign of murder and intimidation".

Whacking mosquitoes with a sledgehammer: Witnesses said air strikes by U.S. warplanes set off explosions that lit the city skies in Haqlaniya, and nearby Parwana. Large sections of Haqlaniya’s power were knocked out before dawn, accodring to The Associated Press news agency.

There were no casualties reported.

Iraqi Politics...Sigh...

Shiites and Kurds shaft Sunnis: Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish leaders over the weekend quietly adopted new rules that will make it virtually impossible for the constitution to fail in the national referendum Oct. 15.

The move prompted Sunni Arabs and a range of independent political figures to complain that the vote was being fixed.

Some Sunni leaders who have been organizing a campaign to vote down the proposed constitution said they might now boycott the referendum. Other political leaders also reacted angrily, saying the change would seriously damage the vote's credibility.

Under the new rules, the constitution will fail only if two-thirds of all registered voters -- rather than two-thirds of all those actually casting ballots -- reject it in at least three of the 18 provinces.

The change, adopted during an unannounced vote in parliament Sunday afternoon, effectively raises the bar for those who oppose the constitution. Given that fewer than 60 percent of registered Iraqis voted in the January elections, the chances that two-thirds will both show up at the polls and vote against the document in three provinces would appear to be close to nil.

"This is a mockery of democracy, a mockery of law," said Adnan al-Janabi, a secular Sunni representative and a member of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party. "Many Sunnis have been telling me they didn't believe in this democratic process, and now I believe they are vindicated."

Sunnis go apeshit: Sunni Arabs have reacted angrily to a decision by Iraq's Shia-dominated parliament making it harder to reject the new constitution in 12 days' time.

The two-thirds majority needed in three provinces to defeat the constitution will now be counted from all registered - as opposed to actual - voters.

Many registered voters may not show up because of violence, it is argued.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, of the Sunni group Iraqi National Dialogue, called the change a "clear forgery".

"They want this constitution to pass despite the will of the people," he added.

The democratically elected and fully independent Iraqi government gets its instructions: In the latest sign that Iraq's draft constitution is creating more strife than healing, Sunni Muslim leaders unleashed a storm of criticism Monday at a law that would make it nearly impossible for them to muster enough votes to defeat the charter in an Oct. 15 referendum. But after a day of tense meetings, one of the two main political parties running the government said it had bowed to pressure from U.S. and U.N. officials here and agreed to seek a change in the legislation as early as today.

Unless the law is changed, Sunni leaders said, they will call for a boycott of the referendum and refuse to accept the results. That warning set off alarm bells in the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy here. U.S. officials had hoped that the process of writing a constitution would pacify Iraq's warring factions; instead it drove them further apart. Despite that, the Bush administration is touting the large number of Sunnis who have registered to vote, saying their participation in politics will eventually undermine Iraq's Sunni-led armed insurgency. If the constitution passes, voters on Dec. 15 will elect a new National Assembly, which will form Iraq's next government. Sunnis make up roughly 20% of the 15.8 million registered voters, election officials say. Lawmakers of all three political factions were called into urgent meetings throughout the day Monday with U.S. and U.N. officials, who offered no comment as they struggled to broker a solution. Iraqis said the talks were making headway. "The law doesn't pass anyone's test, not the U.N.'s, not the U.S.'," said a person familiar with the talks. "I'm sure it will be fixed."

Don't you love it? The law was legally passed by the democratically elected sovereign government of Iraq! What a farce.

Kurds and Shiites fall out: Sharp divisions emerged Saturday between Iraq's ruling Kurdish and Shiite Muslim factions after Iraq's Kurdish president accused the Shiite prime minister of breaking coalition promises and overly dominating the government.

Kurdish officials warned they would consider pulling out of the government if their demands aren't met. That would cause the collapse of the government and add a new layer of political instability and fragmentation between Iraq's main communities.

Sometimes you’re just screwed: Across the country many Iraqis have begun to fear the worst: that their society is breaking apart from within. "The vast majority of the population is resisting calls to take up arms against other ethnic and religious groups," said a senior Bush administration official whose portfolio includes Iraq but who is not authorized to speak on the record. Yet he also said there "is a settling of accounts and a splitting apart of communities that [once] did business together." Sunni insurgents, trying to prevent political dominance by the Shiite majority, are killing them in great numbers. Shiite militia and death squads are resisting. Now many ordinary citizens who are caught in the middle aren't waiting to become victims. They're moving to safer areas, creating trickles of internal refugees. "There is an undeclared civil war," Hussein Ali Kamal, head of intelligence at the Ministry of Interior, told NEWSWEEK.

The outcome of these conflicts—and Iraq's future as a unified state—may well be riding on a critical nationwide vote planned for next week. Iraqis will decide, in a U.S.-orchestrated referendum on Oct. 15, whether to accept a permanent constitution drafted by the transitional National Assembly. Yet many worry that even if the constitution passes as Washington hopes, it will only worsen the disintegration underway. Key provisions allow for separate regions to control water and new oil wells, dictate tax policy and oversee "internal security forces"—to become autonomous, in effect. A confidential United Nations report, dated Sept. 15 and obtained by NEWSWEEK, cautions that the new constitution is a "model for the territorial division of the State." And in congressional testimony last week, Gen. George Casey, commander of Coalition forces in Iraq, said the U.S. occupation may have to continue longer because the draft constitution "didn't come out as the national compact that we thought it was going to be."

Iraqi Life

Eroding middle class: Two and a half years after the American invasion, the violence shows no sign of relenting, and life for middle-class Iraqis seems only to be getting worse.

Educated, invested in businesses and properties and eager for change, the middle class here had everything to gain from the American effort.

But frustration is hardening into hopelessness, as families feel increasingly trapped by the many forces that are threatening to tear the country apart.

Insurgents fight gun battles on their streets. Sectarian divisions are seeping into their children's classrooms and even their own dinner table discussions. Their secular voices are barely audible above the din of religious politicians and the poorer Iraqis they appeal to.

The daily life the middle class describe is an obstacle course of gasoline lines, blocked roads and late-night generator repairs.

In these families' homes, the talk is mostly about leaving. "For Sale" signs dot the gates of the houses on their block. But gathering children and extended families is proving difficult, and many families, potentially the most skilled builders of democracy here, are bracing themselves for a future that appears to them increasingly under siege.

Collapsing infrastructure: Wars, sanctions and looting have left Iraq's infrastructure in ruins. After Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003, total reconstruction costs were put at $55bn and grants and loans were pledged.

But more than two years on, insecurity is a major obstacle. Reconstruction is still largely stalled in many places.

Problems with electricity and water supply are a daily event for some people. A recent survey found just over half of households had a stable supply of safe drinking water. Iraqi officials complain of under-funding.

So far less than a fifth of total pledged funds have been disbursed. And some of the money intended for rebuilding is being diverted to security - estimates range from 10% to 50% of the US funds.

Health care crisis: Rescue worker Rasoul Halool had four bleeding victims in the back of his ambulance and was rushing to save others when a second roadside bomb tore the truck apart.

All the patients were killed. The blast sprayed shrapnel into Halool's eyes, neck and chest. He stumbled out of the burning ambulance to find guns pointed at him by US and Iraqi soldiers, who were uncertain at that bloody moment whether Halool was victim or bomber.

''Nobody would help me," the ambulance driver recalled. Halool, 31, eventually waved down a passing car, which took him to a hospital.

Largely forgotten in the daily violence on the streets of Baghdad are the efforts of Iraq's ambulance drivers and rescue workers, who risk their lives in an increasingly hostile environment.

Insurgents often target ambulances with secondary bombs timed to strike those helping the injured. Rescue workers are searched and sometimes harassed by Iraqi police and US troops worried about stolen ambulances being used to ferry militants, weapons, and bombs.

Even by Iraq's standards, ambulance workers' $60-a-month salary is paltry -- well below that of police, nurses, and teachers.

Holiday shopping: Grocery stores in Baghdad bustled with shoppers on Monday, eager to purchase as much food as they can before the start of Ramadan.

Set to begin early this week, Ramadan is the Islamic period of spiritual cleansing and Muslims observe it by praying and fasting during the day. But at sundown, they break their fast with an elaborate meal called iftar, which is traditionally shared with family and friends throughout the evening.

At one grocery store, VOA found Seena Mohammed Ali busily filling a large plastic bag with lentil beans, which she says she will use to prepare soup and other dishes for iftar.

But the deeply religious 30 year-old Shi'ite school teacher says Ramadan is no longer a month she looks forward to.

Ms. Ali notes that for the past two years, insurgent attacks spiked just before and during Ramadan. Last year, a suicide bombing in Baghdad killed dozens of people on the eve of Ramadan. During Ramadan the year before, suicide car bombers struck the headquarters of the International Red Cross and several police stations in the capital, leaving more than 50 people dead.

Some Americans Pay

Eleven from twelve: Cpl. David Kreuter had a new baby boy he'd seen only in photos. Lance Cpl. Michael Cifuentes was counting the days to his wedding. Lance Cpl. Nicholas Bloem had just celebrated his 20th birthday.

Travis Williams remembers them all - all 11 men in his Marine squad - all now dead. Two months ago they shared a cramped room stacked with bunk beds at this base in northwest Iraq, where the Euphrates River rushes by. Now the room has been stripped of several beds, brutal testament that Lance Cpl. Williams' closest friends are gone.

For the 12 young Marines who landed in Iraq early this year, the war was a series of hectic, constant raids into more than a dozen lawless towns in Iraq's most hostile province, Anbar. The pace and the danger bound them together into what they called a second family, even as some began to question whether their raids were making any progress.

Now, all of the Marines assigned to the 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, based in Columbus, Ohio, are gone except Williams. They died in a roadside-bomb set by insurgents on Aug. 3 that killed a total of 14 Marines. Most of the squad were in their early 20s; the youngest was 19.

The half-second change: Twice in the past month and six times since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, a select few Vermont National Guard members have donned their dress uniforms and set off to find the family of a fallen soldier. The news they carry from the Department of the Army is grim and their task unenviable -- they will meet a fellow Guard member's family and tell them that their soldier has been killed. "Obviously this is a duty and a responsibility that we don't relish," Vermont Army National Guard Col. Jonathan Farnham said. "It's not something that we want to become particularly good at." It is also a moment, Farnham and other Guard members understand, that combines the most formal of occasions with extreme emotions. "I know within a half a second somebody's entire world is going to change," said Chaplain Cal Kemp, a lieutenant colonel in the Vermont Air National Guard, who has been with families as they learned of a death, "and the leading up to that moment, you can't train for." "Every time I've been out, the entire notification team is crying with the family.”

Public Relations Offensive

The irony is painful: President George W. Bush will this week attempt to rally Americans wavering on Iraq, as senior aides warn a quick exit for US troops could sow a deadly harvest of future terror attacks on US soil.

Officials say Bush will give a "significant" speech on Thursday, the latest shot in a volley of addresses on Iraq by top administration figures ahead of a referendum on Iraq's draft constitution on October 15.

Faced with raging violence in Iraq, a US death toll fast approaching 2,000 troops and rising domestic angst over the course of the war, the Bush national security team is telling Americans that now is not the time to quit.

They compare post-Saddam Hussein Iraq to failed-state Afghanistan, an anarchic swamp where terrorism found a home, and Al-Qaeda plotted the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

And who, exactly, is responsible for turning post-Saddam Iraq into an anarchic swamp?

They’ll use them nukes, right Dick?: Vice President Dick Cheney warned on Monday that Iraq could become a staging area for large-scale terrorist attacks on the United States if troops are withdrawn too early, as he tried to shore up waning public support for the war.

With no let-up in the Iraqi insurgency, opinion polls showing U.S. public unease and some lawmakers questioning how long troops will remain, the Bush administration has stressed in recent weeks that it does not view pulling out as an option. As he visited Marines who just returned from a seven-month deployment in Iraq, Cheney said there had been "superb" progress. U.S. generals last week had offered a cautious assessment of the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over the country's security. Al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Iraq were testing U.S. resolve, Cheney said. "If the terrorists were to succeed, they would return Iraq to the rule of tyrants, make it a source of instability in the Middle East and use it as a staging area for ever greater attacks against America and other civilized nations," he told an audience that included 4,500 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

America and other civilized nations...what a dick.

Whee! It’s all so pretty in the bubble!: President Bush said Saturday he is encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces, touting progress on a key measure for when U.S. troops can come home.

The upbeat remarks in Bush's weekly radio address came two days after the top commander in Iraq said only one Iraqi battalion is ready to fight without U.S. support.

"All Americans can have confidence in the military commanders who are leading the effort in Iraq, and in the troops under their command," Bush said. "They have made important gains in recent weeks and months; they are adapting our strategy to meet the needs on the ground; and they're helping us to bring victory in the war on terror."

The sunny presentation of the situation in Iraq is part of a renewed push by the administration to win support for the war effort from an increasingly reluctant American public.

It conflicts with the news from Iraq and some assessments from top commanders.

Meanwhile, lest we get too happy: President Bush and his top aides are weighing new steps against Syria, according to U.S. officials involved in Middle East policy.

Bush's national security team met Saturday to review the policy toward Syria, the officials said. Options range from tougher economic sanctions to limited military action. One official involved in the deliberations said military action is unlikely for now.

However, one option under consideration was bombing several villages 30 to 40 miles inside Syria that some officials believe have been harboring Iraqi insurgents. The officials said the U.S. government has complained to the Syrian government about the matter but has not received a satisfactory response.

Rumsfeld To Troops: Suck It Up

Bought your own personal armor? Suck it up: It was bad enough that anxious parents of poorly equipped Army National Guard and reserve soldiers had to rush out and buy body armor, radios and goggles before their sons and daughters were shipped out to fight in the Iraq war.

But it's even worse now that the Pentagon is reluctant to obey a congressional directive that it reimburse soldiers and their families for the cost of the military equipment they supplied.

Last October, Congress wrote language into a defense appropriations bill ordering the Defense Department to reimburse soldiers and their families for up to $1,100 per item. The Pentagon, obviously embarrassed by the situation, opposed the reimbursement plan, claiming it would be "an unmanageable precedent that will saddle the DOD with an open-ended financial burden."

Now almost a year after Congress ordered the reimbursements, the Pentagon still has not made a single payment.

No armored vehicles? Suck it up: Two years into a war against insurgent fighters who use roadside bombs as a favored tactic, U.S. Army soldiers still are being ordered to roll off forward operating bases with inferior truck armor.

The Utah-based 146th Transportation Company has logged more than 200,000 miles on M915 tractors armored with what soldiers unkindly refer to as "hillbilly armor" - a half-inch of scrap steel hastily cut in the shape of the door and welded or riveted on.

The 146th was driving missions on Iraq's highways for more than six weeks before it could even say that most of its fleet had been adequately armored with "Level 2" protections - the hefty, inch-thick Kevlar shell and bullet-resistant windows designed to withstand roadside bomb explosions and gunfire.

Company Commander Eryth Zecher said she has been told that the final installation of Level 2 armoring for her unit's vehicles will occur by the end of October.

But she wonders why it has taken so long.

No health care after you lose a leg for the team? Suck it up: The Senator's aide chuckled rather loudly and said, "What VA? By the time this administration is done there won't be a VA." Our conversation had begun with a discussion of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA's) healthcare budget, and quickly came down to a single, simple point. VA is being dismantled.

Three reasons why the administration would want to dismantle VA immediately come to mind:

VA is a large-scale, publicly funded healthcare system that works: VA works so well it has been used as a model to push the case for nationalized healthcare; something that strikes fear in the heart of every Republican.

VA is ripe for privatization: And that spells profits for private corporations.

VA is part of BIG government: And that's something this administration abhors.

While VA represents a lifeline to veterans it is an ideological anchor to an administration that has gone out of its way to portray veterans' benefits as something akin to welfare . This assault on VA and veterans' benefits will not stop. The major service organizations know it, yet all they do is go before a committee and testify that veterans are good guys and deserve benefits, while their dues-paying members are waiting months for treatment at a VA facility or getting no treatment at all.

No new soldiers? Suck it up and re-up, suckers: U.S. Army leaders on Monday said there was no crisis in recruitment despite figures showing a big shortfall in new soldiers in the latest fiscal year, partly caused by concerns over the war in Iraq.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey told reporters he was concerned about recruitment levels in the last 12 months, which saw the biggest numerical shortfall of the goal since 1979. But he added: "Is this a crisis? No, it's not a crisis."

Expressing optimism for the future, he laid out a series of measures the army was planning to tackle the problem, including big financial incentives and a larger force of recruiters.

In the fiscal year that ended on Friday, Harvey said the Army ended just under 7,000 recruits short of its annual goal of 80,000 recruits. It was one of the Army's poorest recruiting performances since the birth of the all-volunteer military in 1973 during the upheaval of the Vietnam War era.

The Army missed an annual recruiting goal for the first time since 1999. The part-time Army Reserve and Army National Guard also missed their 2005 recruiting goals.

Human Rights Abuses

Priorities, priorities: Fears of a witch-hunt against American soldiers who reported human rights abuses in Iraq have bogged down an investigation into new allegations that detainees were routinely mistreated at a base run by an elite airborne unit, writes Tony Allen-Mills.

A US army captain at Camp Mercury, a forward operating base run by the 82nd airborne division near Falluja, refused last week to identify two sergeants who helped him to produce a damning report about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners there.

Captain Ian Fishback claimed army investigators appeared more interested in finding out the names of the whistleblowers than in identifying those responsible for the abuse. Fishback and two of his former sergeants ignited a political storm when their allegations were published this month by Human Rights Watch, a private monitoring group.

Amusing times: The 82nd Airborne soldiers at FOB Mercury earned the nickname “The Murderous Maniacs” from local Iraqis and took the moniker as a badge of honour.

The soldiers referred to their Iraqi captives as PUCs – persons under control – and used the expressions “f***ing a PUC” and “smoking a PUC” to refer respectively to torture and forced physical exertion.

One sergeant provided graphic descriptions to Human Rights Watch investigators about acts of abuse carried out both by himself and others. He now says he regrets his actions. His regiment arrived at FOB Mercury in August 2003. He said: “ The first interrogation that I observed was the first time I saw a PUC pushed to the brink of a stroke or a heart attack. At first I was surprised, like, ‘This is what we are allowed to do?’”

The troops would put sand-bags on prisoners’ heads and cuff them with plastic zip-ties. The sergeant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said if he was told that prisoners had been found with homemade bombs, “we would f*** them up, put them in stress positions and put them in a tent and withhold water … It was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy go before he passes out or just collapses on you?”

He explained: “To ‘f*** a PUC’ means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To ‘smoke’ someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day.

“Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. We did that for amusement.”

“Worse things”: A US soldier convicted of humiliating and abusing Iraqi prisoners has said she knew of "worse things" happening at Abu Ghraib and insisted military commanders were fully aware of what was going on in Iraq’s infamous jail.

The comments, made by private first class Lynndie England in her first post-court marshal interview, contradicted assertions by top Pentagon officials that a small group of out-of-control soldiers were responsible for abuse at Abu Ghraib, and that however repulsive that mistreatment was, it did not amount to torture.

Oh, yeah – Guantanamo, almost forgot...: Two weeks ago we wrote about our concern that little media attention was being paid to a massive hunger strike that had been taken up by over a quarter of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, demanding, among other improvements in their condition, proper legal recourse. At the time, 16 days ago, 128 prisoners were striking, 18 of whom were being force-fed.

Well, time has passed and the situation seems to be worsening, but the Defense Department's obfuscations, along with a seriously distracted press caught up in both natural and political hurricanes, makes it hard to know just how much.

The only people really describing what is going on are the lawyers defending the detainees, who are the only ones who have been able to meet with the prisoners. Their accounts of the deteriorating condition of the prisoner's health were worrisome enough that Amnesty International was prompted to issue a report last week entitled, "Guantanamo hunger strikers critically ill."

According to Amnesty, 210 people, nearly half the detainee population, had become involved with the protest. But, amazingly, the DOD had that same day put the number at 36 (a drop from the official 136 just a week before).

An Odd Little Story

But will it lead them to Osama?: The FBI's counterterrorism unit has launched a broad investigation of US-based theft rings after discovering that some of the vehicles used in deadly car bombings in Iraq, including attacks that killed US troops and Iraqi civilians, were probably stolen in the United States, according to senior government officials.

Inspector John E. Lewis, deputy assistant director of the FBI for counterterrorism, told the Globe that the investigation hasn't yielded any evidence that the vehicles were stolen specifically for car bombings. But there is evidence, he said, that the cars were smuggled from the United States as part of a widespread criminal network that includes terrorists and insurgents.

Cracking the car theft rings and tracing the cars could help identify the leaders of insurgent forces in Iraq and shut down at least one of the means they use to attack the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government, the officials said.

Some British Opinions

Morale damage: Britain’s top soldier says the army’s morale and its ability to attract new recruits have been suffering because people see the armed forces as “guilty by association” with Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

General Sir Michael Walker, chief of the defence staff, also conceded that Britain and the United States would have to settle for a less-than-perfect result from the invasion of Iraq.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Walker rejected as “absolute nonsense” suggestions that the British Army stood back and allowed militias to take control of the police in southern Iraq.

And he was adamant that the fallout from the arrest and rescue of two SAS soldiers in Basra would have no effect on the eventual transfer of power from British to Iraqi security forces.

However, he acknowledged that morale and recruitment have been damaged by the fact that the armed forces are fighting a war that is deeply unpopular at home.

A right rollicking cock-up: Lack of political leadership from Tony Blair is putting British troops at risk in Iraq, according to a former commander of the British invasion force. Britain could lose the war against Iraqi insurgents and risks being driven into neighbouring Iran.

Colonel Tim Collins - famed for the speech he delivered to his men in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment hours before they went into action in March 2003 - described the situation in Iraq now as "a right rollicking cock-up".

He accused the US and Britain of having "blundered" into Iraq without an adequate plan for postwar reconstruction, and claimed that personal rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is now preventing the Government from forming a strategy for getting British troops out.

Comic Relief

God, this is pathetic: Not only is it a small world, after all - most of it sounds like a bunch of Democrats.

That's what Karen Hughes may have discovered last week on her "listening tour" of the Middle East. (Apparently, no self-respecting female politician can go on a "lecture tour" anymore. Post-Hillary they're always "listening.")

Dispatched by President Bush to spread the good news about his policies, Hughes, the newly minted undersecretary of state for public diplomacy (i.e., flack) met with groups in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. All of these audiences listened politely to her message which was, basically, that the President knows what he's doing, had to do what he has done and is, in fact, making the world a better, safer place.

To which most of the attendees interviewed afterward replied (in their respective languages): Puh-lease!

Now, when Bush gets that kind of reaction here in America, his minions are quick to dismiss it as the product of raging liberals, left-wing media manipulators or some kind of MoveOn/Michael Moore cabal. But when this criticism arises unprompted, halfway around the world, it should give the administration pause.


Opinion: The news that yet another Army private, Lynndie England, 22, of Fort Ashby, West Virginia, has been convicted and sentenced for posing for the infamous photos of torture at Abu Graib, while her superiors duck responsibility, is a sad commentary on the extent to which the Bush administration has corrupted the U.S. Army.

The reminder of the photos of those inexcusable activities was sickening enough and England deserves to be punished. But I am of the old-Army school where officers took responsibility for the actions of those under their command. For anyone who cares to look, there is abundant documentary evidence that the Army brass and its civilian leadership are responsible for the torture. They continue to dance away from taking responsibility.

They choose, instead, to stone the woman, like the hypocrites of Bible fame, contending that the photos inflamed the insurgency in Iraq. It is the torture, not the photos, that inflames the insurgency. And responsibility for the torture reaches directly up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief himself. Perhaps when even more repulsive photos and videos of torture at Abu Graib are released, as a federal judge has now ordered, the American people finally will be jarred awake.

So far, the silent acquiescence with which Americans—including our institutional churches—have greeted President George W. Bush’s open assertion of a right to torture some prisoners evokes memories of the unconscionable behavior of “obedient Germans” of the 1930s and early 1940s. Thankfully, despite the hate whipped up by administration propagandists against people branded “terrorists,” polling conducted last year showed that most Americans reject torturing prisoners. Almost two-thirds held that torture is never acceptable.

Yet few speak out—perhaps because President Bush says he too, is against torture, and our domesticated media have successfully hidden from most of us the fact that the president has added a highly significant qualification. On February 7, 2002, the president issued an order instructing our armed forces “to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva” (emphasis added). In the preceding paragraph the president determined that Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees “do not qualify as prisoners of war.” Never mind that there is no provision in the Geneva Conventions for such a unilateral determination.

Comment: Last Thursday a judge finally ruled that the remaining photos and tapes from Abu Ghraib will be released, and Bush administration memos specifically related to torture will be made public. There will be appeals, but we will soon be reminded of what really went on: rape and murder.

One wonders when the American public will demand accountability for the abandonment of civilised warfare in their own military and by their own president, who is after all commander-in-chief and ultimately responsible.

Fishback is now sequestered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, being interrogated by military officials. From all we know of Fishback he will not crack under pressure. He wrote something to McCain that still rings in my ears: “If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is ‘America’.”

Alas, I fear a large part of that idea has already been abandoned — by a president who swore an oath to uphold it.

Opinion: For the Bush administration, Iraq is no longer a democratic test tube, or tabula rasa for geopolitical mapmakers, or even a Rovian opportunity to whip injured nationalism into a vengeful froth. It is way beyond that. Iraq has become, instead, nothing more than the administration’s tar baby of Hobson’s choices, Catch 22s, vicious cycles, and proverbial rocks and hard places amidst the desert.

The one bright spot is that Iraq as an immediate problem could very well be thrown out along with Bush’s other fetid bathwaters in 2008. The dark side, however, is that this criminal war has made an international rogue of the United States and the self-made image will linger in the world’s mind for years to come. Furthermore, the neocon Bushies who were intent on flexing America’s muscle to intimidate global girlie-men have instead shown (once again) that raw military power is a 98-pound, counterinsurgent weakling. Indeed, Bush’s excellent Iraq adventure has been an inspiration to the bin Ladens and Zarqawis everywhere waiting to kick sand in our face.

What’s more, Bush has demonstrated to the world that U.S. foreign policy is often more an instrument of political opportunism at home than that of grounded principles in play overseas. In brief, the U.S. can’t be trusted to do the right thing - only the momentarily popular thing, which can be easily fabricated and cynically marketed.

What’s worse is the Bush administration’s further destabilization of a region indispensable to the world’s economy, hence critical to the world’s political stability, nation by oil-dependent nation. Destabilization’s long-term downside is incalculable as well as unpredictable, the latter being the worst of all possible worlds for international planners.

Finally, the Bushies never understood there was no appropriate testing ground on which to reverse the lessons of Vietnam. Its lessons were transcendent. But in choosing Iraq - a tribal, ethnic and sectarian basket case in the midst of a regional basket case of global implications - to disprove those lessons, they gambled on the least amenable test case - and at a cost of thousands of innocent lives. Add to that the administration’s unprecedented but routine incompetence in the execution of a wholly wrongheaded policy and you have the makings of this nation’s worst foreign policy blunder ever.

Robert Fisk: Donald Rumsfeld was to assert that the American attack on Baghdad was " as targeted an air campaign as has ever existed". But he could not have told that to five-year-old Doha Suheil. She looks at me on the first morning of the war, drip-feed attached to her nose, a deep frown over her small face as she tries vainly to move the left side of her body. The cruise missile that exploded close to her home in the Radwaniyeh suburb of Baghdad blasted shrapnel into her legs ­ they were bound up with gauze ­ and, far more seriously, into her spine. Now she has lost all movement in her left leg. Her mother bends over the bed and straightens her right leg, which the little girl thrashes around outside the blanket. Somehow, Doha's mother thinks that if her child's two legs lie straight beside each other, her daughter will recover from her paralysis. She was the first of the patients brought to the Mustansariya College Hospital after America's blitz on the city began.

There is something sick, obscene, about these hospital visits. We bomb. They suffer. Then we reporters turn up and take pictures of their wounded children. The Iraqi Minister of Health decides to hold an insufferable press conference outside the wards to emphasise the "bestial" nature of the American attack. The Americans say that they don't intend to hurt children. And Doha Suheil looks at me and the doctors for reassurance, as if she will awake from this nightmare and move her left leg and feel no more pain.

So let's forget, for a moment, the cheap propaganda of the regime and the cocky moralising of Messrs Rumsfeld and Bush, and take a trip ­ this bright morning in March 2003 ­ around the Mustansariya College Hospital. For the reality of war is ultimately not about military victory and defeat, or the lies about "coalition forces" which our "embedded" journalists were already telling about an invasion involving only the Americans, the British and a handful of Australians. War, even when it has international legitimacy ­- which this war does not ­- is primarily about suffering and death.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Blackwater security contractor from Seattle, WA, killed in suicide bombing in Iraq.

Local story: Blue Ridge High School, New Milford, PA, honors two graduates recently killed in Iraq.

Local story: Farmington, NM, soldier killed in Iraq.


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