Wednesday, October 05, 2005

War News for Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier shot to death in Taqaddum. Iraqi security forces backed by US helicopters fought about 40 insurgents in house-to-house battles in south Baghdad. US military claims that over three dozen insurgents were killed, wounded or detained and three Iraqi soldiers were injured. Two policemen killed in a suicide car bombing of the main entrance to the Green Zone.

Bring ‘em on: Ten guards arrested and one wounded when Iraqi soldiers raided an office of Arab Sunni political leader for the Iraqi National Dialogue said. One U.S. soldier died of a gunshot wound near Balad, north of Baghdad, on Monday, the military said in a statement using wording similar to that used in first reports of accidental or self-inflicted wounds or "friendly fire" incidents.

Bring ‘em on: Two civilians killed and three wounded during a battle between Iraqi forces and insurgents in Yusufiya and Rashid. A car bomb attack critically wounded six security guards for the North Oil Company, south of Kirkuk. Five members of the same family wounded, including a woman and child, when a bomb exploded near their house in Najaf.

Bring ‘em on: Forty-two insurgents and five US soldiers dead so far in the fifth day of Operations Iron Fist and River Gate.

River Gate: U.S. troops pushed through streets sown with bombs Tuesday in their biggest operation this year in western Iraq, seeking to retake three Euphrates River towns from al-Qaida insurgents. At least five U.S. service members have been killed in the fighting.

Operation River Gate — launched at the start of the holy month of Ramadan — was the second U.S. offensive in a week in Anbar province, near the Syrian border. Al-Qaida in Iraq called for intensified attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces during the Muslim period of fasting, which started Tuesday for the nation's Sunnis.

Blasts from U.S. warplanes and helicopters lit up the sky during the fighting, aimed at putting down Sunni-led insurgents intensifying their campaign of violence ahead of an Oct. 15 vote on Iraq's new constitution.

As with the earlier U.S. offensive — code named Iraq Fist — it appeared many fighters may have slipped away beforehand.

Tuesday In Baghdad

Knight Ridder reporter: So, this was my Tuesday:

Woke up, 7 a.m., gunfire outside. Decided to read in the windowless bathroom, then take shower and brush teeth, using bottled water, of course.

11 a.m. - We leave the 10-foot-high blast walls that surround the hotel complex in a two-car convoy. The rear car's job is to run interference in case "bad guys" try to intercept "the package" (that would be me).

Noon - Dropped off several blocks from the Green Zone and walk to Checkpoint 3 (the main entrance). Walking because on Monday Iraqi army soldiers pushed me back inside the car, while pointing a machine gun at my head and shouting. They fired at reporters - warning shots, the reporters think - from National Public Radio and The Wall Street Journal. The three incidents prompted a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman to start a briefing with journalists by saying, "OK, raise your hand if you were shot at today."

As I'm walking, phone rings. I answer. My Iraqi colleague Mohammed, who reports full time for Knight Ridder, takes the phone from my hand, whispering fiercely, "No English here. Be very, very afraid here."

12:10 p.m. - Get inside National Assembly building. Someone steals my watch at the final security check.

1 p.m. - On phone with the major, who's apologizing for being late when a car bomb explodes at Checkpoint 3 entrance. Gunfire ensues.

1-3 p.m. - Locked down in National Assembly building with legislators while bomb debris and bodies are cleared from the street.

3:15 p.m. - The major calls back. Come on out, he says. I join him walking to Checkpoint 3.

3:25 p.m. - We step around football-sized chunks of bomber hanging like gruesome Christmas ornaments from the razor wire. I point out the journalists' security fears, being forced to walk through a dangerous area to get to Iraqi government and U.S. Embassy briefings. He is concerned. "Wow, that's dangerous," he says, pushing aside a smoking piece of car interior with a booted toe. "I think the problem is, the guys here are nervous whenever cars come near, especially if they stop, like yours do, to drop you off."

"No kidding," I say, just avoiding treading on an eyeball.

4:30 p.m. - Walk a razor-wired path under gunpoint for several blocks to find waiting driver. He was 100 yards away and watching the entrance during the explosion, then hiding as bullets started raining down. He's happy to leave.

5:30 p.m. - Arrive back inside hotel blast walls, go to room and write story about Iraqi politics.

9 p.m. - The booms are now pretty constant in southern part of town. Kev says it's no big deal. Last night he said the same thing, "It's a gun battle across the street. No big deal."

Tonight he notes, "The heavy stuff is a ways away." I look at a map. Three miles.

10 p.m. - And so to bed.

The same suicide atack – Washington Post reporter: Pressing his foot to the gas pedal as he closed on the white Mercedes-Benz in front of him, the bomber sped toward his target: a senior Iraqi official.

A burst of white light followed, and a boom, muffled by the concrete blast walls that ring Baghdad's Green Zone. Shreds of bloody cloth and flecks of flesh rained upon stunned survivors. Among them, witnesses said, was the targeted Interior Ministry official, standing in the gore and flame, unscathed.

The unknown attacker ended his life on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, when some radical Muslims believe the gates of Heaven open and those who die in the name of the faith have their entrance to Paradise guaranteed. Two fist-size gobbets of soot-streaked flesh dangled from coiled concertina wire.

It was the opening of a month in which ever-more-weary and ever-less-hopeful Iraqis fear that violence here -- already risen to a level of carnage few imagined when U.S. troops entered 2 1/2 years ago -- will only get worse.

Iraqi Politics

Basic misunderstanding: Iraqi and international election monitors have flatly rejected a surprise ruling by Iraq's parliament that aimed to tilt the odds even further against the No side in next week's referendum on the constitution.

Trying to fine-tune vote counting procedures, the National Assembly decided this week to adopt two different definitions for "voter", creating a built-in bias in favour of passing the draft constitution.

But the ruling showed a basic "misunderstanding" of election rules, which should define voters only as "those who go to the ballot box and put their paper in", according to Iraq's chief election commissioner, Farid Ayar.

Government officials and parliamentary leaders were in talks with UN officials on Tuesday over the controversial ruling, which threatened to destroy the credibility of the referendum amid deep sectarian divisions over the draft.

For the referendum to pass, only half of those who vote must tick the Yes box, the assembly confirmed.

However, Shia and Kurdish legislators, aiming to make a No victory even harder, opted for a wider definition of "voter", based on registered, rather than actual, voters.

With low turnout expected in the provinces where Sunni Arabs predominate, because of poor security conditions, this would have given the No side no serious chance of blocking the draft.

Compromise the exercise: The United Nations has condemned a late change to the rules governing Iraq's referendum on its proposed constitution.

The alteration was made by the country's National Assembly, which is dominated by Kurds and Shias. Sunnis, who are campaign-ing against the federal constitution, accused the assembly of manipulating the rules to ensure a "yes" vote. They are now threatening to boycott the vote, due to take place on 15 October.

Under the old rules the constitution could be rejected if two-thirds of those polled voted "no" in three provinces. Sunni leaders had maintained they would be able to achieve this. The change means a "no" vote would require two-thirds of all registered voters to reject the constitution.

A UN legal adviser, Jose Aranaz, said: If this goes ahead it would seriously compromise the exercise."

Reversal: Iraq's parliament voted Wednesday to reverse last-minute changes to rules for next week's referendum on a new constitution after the United Nations said they were unfair. Sunni Arabs responded by dropping their threat to boycott the vote and promised to reject the charter at the polls.

U.N. officials welcomed the reversal, saying it helped restore integrity to the crucial Oct. 15 referendum and urged all Iraqis to participate.

The United Nations, which was supervising the referendum, and U.S. officials had pressed Iraqi leaders to drop the rule change, which would have made it nearly impossible for disaffected Sunnis to defeat the charter.

''We're very happy about the National Assembly's action. We will now have a referendum law that follows international standards. It provides the ground for a fair referendum, and we call on all Iraqis to come forward to use a democratic right to give their opinion,'' said Michael Schulenburg, deputy head of the U.N. mission in Iraq.

Constitution distribution: The United Nations has begun distributing millions of copies of Iraq's draft constitution ahead of an Oct. 15 referendum to approve or reject the document, which was reportedly criticized in a leaked U.N. memo.

U.N. officials on Monday sought to downplay the leaked internal analysis written on Sept. 15 that looked at the document's weaknesses. Newsweek reported that the memo warned that the constitution is a "model for the territorial division of the State."

But the officials said it did not mean the U.N. was backing away from the constitution, which was the result of weeks of intense negotiations.

"As far as the U.N. is concerned, the constitution itself will have to be judged by the Iraqis on the 15th of October during the referendum," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "It should come as no surprise that within the U.N. staff who deal with Iraq there would be papers analyzing latest developments in that country, but it's an internal analysis."

Many officials both inside and outside Iraq have warned that the constitutional process, meant to unite Iraq, instead underscored divisions among Iraq's three main communities. Sunni Arab leaders fear the constitution will fragment Iraq, allowing Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north to form mini-states.

Attacks denounced: Iraqi National Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani denounced the US military operations, saying they discourage Iraqis from participating in the referendum on the new constitution.

''Frankly, I am against these operations," he told Aljazeera.

"In this respect, I have called before these attacks for halting these operations so that people will not believe the attacks are aimed at preventing them from participating in the referendum," al-Hasani said.

"There must be alternative solutions instead of later talking about low turnout for the referendum, just like what occurred in the elections,'' he said.

War College: On September 27th, the Iraqi Joint Staff College was reopened. Established in 1928 as the Iraqi War College, it trained staff officers and senior commanders since then, until it was closed after the 2003 invasion. The school is now running two courses. One, for junior (staff) officers, is 7.5 months long and has fifty students. The other, for senior officers (mostly commanders) is 9.5 months long and has 40 students. NATO played a major role in training the new faculty of the college, with instructors from Italy, Denmark, Poland, Estonia and Britain contributing officers to train the nine Iraqi colonels, and fifteen lieutenant colonels who will serve as instructors. When the college was first founded, the training was based on the British model. But during Saddam’s rule, Russian advisors, and doctrine, were introduced. Now, NATO doctrine will be introduced, which will make it easier for American and Iraqi troops to operate together.

Jihad Controversy

Killing civilians: From Baghdad to Bali, suicide attacks on civilians are dividing ideologues of global jihad, some of whom worry that the carnage is alienating even Muslims once sympathetic to the militant cause.

Militants such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq , with his declaration of all-out war on Shi‘ite Muslims and willingness to slaughter Iraqi civilians in Allah‘s name, have dismayed even their own original religious mentors.

Most jihadists support suicide attacks on U.S.-led forces "occupying" Iraq, but for some, those targeting their Iraqi collaborators fall into a gray area. Others have deep qualms about attacks on civilians in Iraq and elsewhere.

"Martyrdom operations related to civilians, whatever their nationality, can cause big divisions," said Egyptian lawyer Muntasser Zayat, who has represented Islamist defendants. "They do not have majority approval in Islamic and jihadi groups."

Here’s A Bright Idea

If your only tool is a hammer every problem looks like a nail: President Bush, stirring debate on the worrisome possibility of a bird flu pandemic, suggested dispatching American troops to enforce quarantines in any areas with outbreaks of the killer virus.

Bush asserted aggressive action could be needed to prevent a potentially crippling U.S. outbreak of a bird flu strain that is sweeping through Asian poultry and causing experts to fear it could become the next deadly pandemic. Citing concern that state and local authorities might be unable to contain and deal with such an outbreak, Bush asked Congress to give him the authority to call in the military.

The president has already indicated he wants to give the armed forces the lead responsibility for conducting search-and-rescue operations and sending in supplies after massive natural disasters and terrorist attacks — a notion that could require a change in law and that even some in the Pentagon have reacted to skeptically. The idea raised the startling-to-some image of soldiers cordoning off communities hit by disease.

"The president ought to have all ... assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant," Bush said during a 55 minute question-and-answer session with reporters in the sun-splashed Rose Garden.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, associate dean of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and director of its National Center for Disaster Preparedness, called the president's suggestion an "extraordinarily draconian measure" that would be unnecessary if the nation had built the capability for rapid vaccine production, ensured a large supply of anti-virals like Tamiflu, and not allowed the degradation of the public health system.

"The translation of this is martial law in the United States," Redlener said.

US Recruiting Woes

Lowering the standards: Facing recruiting shortages brought on by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has decided to accept a greater number of recruits who score near the bottom of military aptitude tests, the secretary of the Army said Monday. Coming off a recruiting year in which the Army fell short of its goal of 80,000 active-duty soldiers, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey announced that the Army would allow up to 4% of its recruiting class to be Category IV recruits — those who scored between the 16th and 30th percentile in the battery of aptitude tests that the Defense Department gives to all potential military personnel.

The Army until now allowed no more than 2% of its recruiting class to be from the Category IV level, fearing that letting too many low-achieving recruits into the Army might dilute the quality of the nation's largest military branch.


Comment: Such pervasive contempt for international law and human rights -- from U.S. efforts to sabotage the International Criminal Court to its indefinite detention of prisoners of war without hearings in sub-human conditions in Guantanamo Bay -- has inevitable consequences.

If the U.S. did not, according to the respected U.S. group Human Rights First, maintain around a dozen secret detention centres worldwide in which nameless inmates are hidden from the ICRC, would Abu Ghraib guards have brutally harassed their prisoners?

If the U.S. government maintained as accurate records of Iraqi casualties as it does of U.S. fatalities, would a U.S. Marine have shot dead three injured and unarmed supposed ex-combatants in a Falluja mosque (one incident was captured on film) and be cleared by a military inquiry for conduct “consistent with … the law of armed conflict”?

No wonder America’s reputation is so low that an unsubstantiated Newsweek report of desecration of the Koran by Americans at Guantanamo provokes rioting that kills a dozen or more and injures scores of people.

Opinion: Remember in September of 2001, when the U.S. President dissembled to the American public about why the Middle Eastern "terrorists" hate America?

"Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber -- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

How ironic that the man who utilized his brother's governorship, Katherine Harris's lust for power, and a corrupt decision rendered by the Supreme Court to steal the 2000 presidential election would pontificate to Americans about democratic elections in the U.S. and self-appointed leaders in the Middle East. It is obvious that temporary amnesia prevented him from recalling voter disenfranchisement, his regime’s plans to strip its citizens' freedoms with the Patriot Act, and his nearly absolute intolerance for dissent.

Why do the "terrorists" and other people of the Middle East hate us? The truth is much more complicated than George Bush's disingenuous, propagandistic explanation to the American public. However, Bush's assertion was accurate in one sense. When he said, "They hate what we see right here in this chamber," he captured the true focus of the ire of the Arab world: the U.S. government.

Opinion: While the nation focuses on monster hurricanes that seem to harbor some terrible grudge against the Gulf Coast, the questions about Iraq and Afghanistan that have plagued us for three years remain unanswered. Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave one of his most impassioned "We are winning" speeches regarding the two countries occupied by America. There are elections in both countries! The insurgencies are down! The two societies are coming together as nations! Finally, he demanded to know just WHY, then, so many elitists are still criticizing his war? Meanwhile, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, was in Washington warning the Bush administration that, to the contrary, Iraq is hurtling toward disintegration, a development that could engulf the entire region in civil wars. "There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he told reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." You could wave this off with the old "glass half-empty/glass half-full" explanation. Or you could say that, after all, things look different depending on whether you're standing in Dhahran on an oil well or in Crawford on a motor bike. But when one looks with painful realism upon the region - rather than from the ideological fix that the Rumsfelds and the Cheneys still have - the situation looks more and more ominous.

Opinion: The president and his generals are still offering gauzy assessments of our fight against an insurgency that grows ever more vicious, and dishing out loopy justifications for the war.

Before Mr. Bush was dragged out of Crawford this summer, he was making the case that we had to keep killing in Iraq to honor troops killed there. This week, Gen. Richard Myers offered more circular logic, warning that a U.S. defeat would invite another 9/11. The Bush administration used 9/11 as a pretext for invading Iraq and now says it can't leave for fear of spurring another 9/11.

Wolfie and fellow hawks turned Iraq into a harbor for Al Qaeda with an invasion they justified by falsely calling Iraq a harbor for Al Qaeda. General Myers said that America couldn't leave and allow Al Qaeda to dominate Iraq because "then in my view we would have lost, and the next 9/11 would be right around the corner, absolutely."

Here's the weirdest perversion: First Rummy, as President Reagan's Mideast envoy, was photographed with Saddam, supporting him in the war against Iran. Then Rummy and other hawks rushed the U.S. into war against Saddam and ended up turning Iraq over to Shiites intertwined with Iran. And now Richard Perle thinks we might have to bomb Iran.

The president spent years saying that Al Qaeda was on the run, and Rummy spent years saying we just had to finish off a few Saddam "dead enders." But four years after Mr. Bush promised to get "the people who knocked these buildings down," they are finally talking about Al Qaeda as a threat again.

Opinion: The president who slept through the early days of the agony in New Orleans is sleepwalking through the never-ending agony in Iraq. During an appearance at a naval base in California, Mr. Bush characterized the war that he started in Iraq as the moral equivalent of America's struggle against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II.

If that's true, the entire nation should be mobilized. But, of course, it's not true. This is a reckless, indefensible war that has been avoided like the plague by the children of the privileged classes.

Even the most diehard defenders of this debacle are coming to the realization that it is doomed. So the party line now is that the Iraqis at some point will have to bear the burden of Mr. Bush's war alone.

Talk about a cruel joke. On the same day that Senator McCain faced off with General Myers, more than 100 people were killed in a series of car bombs in a town north of Baghdad; five U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi; and the American general in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq, George Casey, admitted before the Armed Services Committee that only 1 of the Iraqi Army's 86 battalions was capable of fighting the insurgency without American help.

The American death toll in Iraq is fast approaching 2,000. If the public could see the carnage close up, the way it saw the horror of New Orleans, the outrage would be beyond belief.

You never want to say that brave troops died for the mindless fantasies spun by a gang of dissembling, inept politicians. But what else did they die for?

Casualty Reports

Local story: Deford, MI, soldier killed in IED explosion near Ar Rustimayah.

Local story: Brunswick, GA, Marine killed when his Humvee struck a mine in Iraq.

Local story: Missoula, MT, Marine killed when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Local story: Conroe, TX, Marine killed by roadside bomb in Karabilah.


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