Wednesday, October 12, 2005

War News for Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Eight Iraqi soldiers and one civilian killed in a suicide car bombing in a western district of Baghdad. US military patrol attacked by a suicide car bomber in Mosul, no reports of casualties, in what is reported as the first known instance of a female suicide car bomber.

Bring ‘em on: Thirty people killed and more than 40 wounded in a suicide bomb attack on an Iraqi army and police recruitment center near Tal Afar. Seven Iraqi soldiers and one civilian wounded when a suicide car bomb detonated outside Baquba. Six people injured when a parked car bomb was remotely detonated in Baghdad, apparently targeting the convoy of the Sunni Minister of State for Governorates Affairs, but he was not in the convoy at the time. U.S. military patrol attacked by a parked car bomb in Baghdad's al-Ghazaliya but left neither casualties nor damage according to a U.S. military spokesman. A fourth explosion in the same area targeted Iraqi Security Forces, no further details were provided.

Bring ‘em on: Two soldiers died of wounds suffered Oct. 10 when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in Ramadi. One kidnap victim rescued and one abductor killed by US soldiers after a chase and gunfight in western Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Major pipeline for transferring crude oil from Kirkuk wells to the oil refinery at Baiji set afire when a bomb planted under the pipeline exploded in Fatha. Sheikh of the Albu Baz tribe, in Samarra, assassinated by gunmen. Lecturer at Tikrit University shot dead by US forces in Duuz, about 100 km north of Tikrit.

Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi soldier killed and six wounded in suicide car bomb attack on a Baghdad checkpoint, and three policemen wounded when a roadside bomb detonated as they rushed to the scene. One civilian driver wounded in a roadside bombing in the Al-Amiriyah neighbourhood of western Baghdad.

Vehicle accident: Two 1st Corps Support Command soldiers were killed and another was injured today when their vehicle rolled over while conducting a combat logistics patrol near Balad, Iraq, military officials reported.

Death squad: The murder of 22 men in one Baghdad neighborhood is being blamed on a corrupt police force with ties to Iran and the heart of the national Iraqi leadership.

The Sunday Times of London cites witnesses who said on Aug. 8, 40 police and Interior Ministry vehicles lined a street in the Iskan neighborhood and escorted masked members of a controversial militia as they rounded up 22 men.

The 22 were found later in the desert more than 70 miles from home, blindfolded, bound and dead from one or two gunshots.

Iraqi Politics

Breakthrough…?: Four days before Iraqis are to vote on their country's proposed constitution, Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish power brokers reached a breakthrough late Tuesday that revived hopes of winning Sunni support for the charter and defusing the Sunni-led insurgency by political means, Iraqi political leaders said.

The tentative accord, which would allow the constitution to be changed early next year, was reached through closed-door deals made largely by political party chiefs rather than members of the committee that wrote the charter. A parliamentary leader questioned whether enough time was left for the National Assembly to give it legal approval before the referendum.

The deal was achieved largely because of what U.S. officials have called "tweaking" encouraged by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The diplomat has pushed for unceasing negotiations to win Sunni approval since late August, when Shiite and Kurdish leaders of Iraq's transitional government approved a draft over Sunni objections.

The major concession from Tuesday's talks was agreement by the Shiites and Kurds that a committee be created early next year to consider amendments to the constitution, if voters approve it Saturday, said Ali Debagh, a top Shiite official involved in the talks. Any changes recommended by the committee would have to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of parliament and a national referendum, Debagh said.

The compromise appealed to the Sunni Arabs, observers said, because the changes would be put before a new parliament, to be elected Dec. 15. Sunnis have had comparatively little say in the existing parliament because they largely stayed away from the polls when the body was elected in January. Because the Sunni Arabs heeded insurgents' threats of violence against anyone who voted and their own leaders' calls for a boycott, Shiites captured a majority of seats and allied themselves with ethnic Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims, to form a strong governing coalition.

Despite continued warnings by insurgents, Sunni Arabs have vowed to vote Saturday and in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, and they expect to have greater representation in the next parliament. During the registration period for Saturday's vote, hundreds of thousands of people signed up in the heavily Sunni west.

Faction leaders said they would present the deal to parliament Wednesday afternoon. Hussein Shahristani, a Shiite who is deputy speaker of parliament, said he doubted lawmakers could muster the quorum needed to approve a final version of the draft constitution incorporating Tuesday's compromises.

With a four-day national curfew starting Thursday and a holiday called for on the day of the vote, lawmakers already have begun leaving Baghdad, Shahristani said. "I cannot see how it is possible for the members to come back to Baghdad," he said.

In addition, copies of the draft constitution went to press weeks ago and are already being distributed. Negotiators said Tuesday that they would rely on TV, radio and newspapers to give Iraqis the gist of changes in the charter.

Ok, got all that? Because we are going to be hearing a whole bunch of neocon crowing about this great political breakthrough over the next few days. Stuff like this:

Big day: "This is the day of national conciliation," said interim President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, announcing the compromises at a news conference attended by most of Iraq's top Shiite and Kurdish figures and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

"There is no excuse or justification for the Sunni brothers to boycott after we accepted all their demands and suggestions without changing a letter in them," Talabani said. "Their task now is to participate with us and vote 'yes' for the constitution, and cooperate with us to fight terrorism and the people who want to destroy the country."

Yeah Jalal. Tell ‘em.

So: A backroom deal was reached by the US ambassador and the local equivalents of ward bosses that changed the draft constitution in a process completely outside the agreed framework for how the document would be created. What is the great breakthrough change? Apparently it is a mechanism for amending the constitution.

Leaving aside the obvious question – what, the original document had no provision for amendment? – you have to wonder just how this is going to appease the Sunnis who support the resistance. Sure, they can change the constitution but they have to gain the support of two thirds of the new assembly and then get the changes passed in a national referendum. Since Sunnis only comprise about 20% of the Iraqi population, even with an assembly elected with their participation any amendment will have to have widespread support among both Shiites and Kurds to become law. If the amendment targets an issue of supreme importance to the Sunnis, like maybe getting a share of the oil that lies mostly in Shiite and Kurd territory, what are the chances it’s going to pass? Yeah – about equal to the chances of hearing Dick Cheney tell the truth. So I don’t buy that the average Sunni, being able to count, is going to see this as quite such a great accomplishment.

The problem is, the average Sunni isn’t going to know about it. The vote is in only four days, for heaven’s sake. There is every possibility that the changes can’t even legally be added to the draft constitution in time for the referendum and even if they could, copies of the constitution without these changes are already being distributed. What’s going to happen is that all Iraqis with a radio or television are going to be bombarded with the news that a great compromise has been reached. If the constitution vote then passes, the Sunnis will soon realize they’ve been suckered, while the Shiites and Kurds will adopt the attitude – “Hey, we made a great big concession to you, if you don’t like it, here’s the process to amend it.”

That should go over well.

It’s already clear that the great breakthrough isn’t everything it’s being made out to be:

Wait a sec: A top Sunni negotiator, Ayad al-Samarraie of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the measure would allow it to "stop the campaign rejecting the constitution and we will call on Sunni Arabs to vote yes." It was unclear if parliament would formally vote on the new deal with some lawmakers saying that measure may be read to the National Assembly on Wednesday.

But other major Sunni parties were not present at the negotiations, and at least one senior Sunni leader, Saleh al-Mutlaq, said he was not yet convinced by the measure.

"The Islamic party was participating alone in these negotiations and making its own decisions," al-Mutlaq said. "This is strange because the Iraqi Islamic party does not represent all the Sunni Arabs but only a small percentage of them."

So what’s the advantage? It seems likely this gambit is only going to widen the fractures developing in the Iraqi polity. But we know the operative principle here - anytime something is puzzling in our Iraqi policies, take a look at politics at home:

Somber: Even among the strongest advocates in Washington of the war in Iraq there is a sense of alarm these days, with harsh criticism directed particularly at the draft constitution, which they see as a betrayal of principles and a recipe for disintegration of the Iraqi state.

Expressions of concern among conservatives and former Iraqi exiles, seen also in the rising disillusionment of the American public, reflect a widening gap with the Bush administration and its claims of “incredible political progress” in Iraq.

Over the past week, two of Washington's most influential conservative think-tanks, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation, held conferences on Iraq where the mood among speakers, including Iraqi officials, was decidedly sombre.

In the meantime, the Iraqi politicians who would be most likely to work for the kind of secular democracy we ostensibly stand for are neglected:

Disenchanted: Today, al-Mashehdni and other secular politicians in Iraq are disenchanted. The religious parties that have come to dominate Iraqi politics under the U.S. occupation are worse than Saddam, they say, creating a situation in which religious factions fuel violence and ordinary Iraqis suffer.

A group of non-religious politicians - Sunni nationalists, technocrats, communists, former members of Saddam's Baath Party and others - is forming a coalition to challenge the Islamic parties in parliamentary elections Dec. 15.

In January, candidate slates put together by Shiite clerics captured 140 of 275 seats in Iraq's Transitional National Assembly. Kurdish nationalist parties won the second-largest bloc - 75 seats. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari belongs to the Dawa Party, a Shiite religious group.

Secular parties, splintered and poorly organized, were trounced in elections in January. The bloc controlled by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was the largest of the non-religious groups but won only 40 seats. Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer's ticket won four. Other secular parties were shut out.

And While We’re On The Subject Of Stories That Will Make The Wingers Feel Smug…

Wow! Just like George W. Bush said!: In a letter to his top deputy in Iraq, al-Qaida's No. 2 leader said the United States "ran and left their agents" in Vietnam and the jihadists must have a plan ready to fill the void if the Americans suddenly leave Iraq.

"Things may develop faster than we imagine," Ayman al-Zawahri wrote in a letter to his top deputy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam — and how they ran and left their agents — is noteworthy. ... We must be ready starting now."

In a letter taking up 13 typed pages in its English translation, al-Zawahri also recommended a four-stage expansion of the war that would take the fighting to neighboring Muslim countries.

"It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established ... in the heart of the Islamic world," al-Zawahri wrote.

The letter laid out his long-term plan: expel the Americans from Iraq, establish an Islamic authority and take the war to Iraq's secular neighbors, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

The final stage, al-Zawahri wrote, would be a clash with Israel, which he said was established to challenge "any new Islamic entity."

The letter is dated July 9, and was acquired during U.S. operations in Iraq. It was written in Arabic and translated by the U.S. government. The Pentagon briefed reporters last week on portions of the document, but the full text was not available until Tuesday.

In a statement, the National Intelligence Director's office said the letter "has not been edited in any way" and its contents were released only after it was clear no military or intelligence operations would be compromised.

That’s some letter: The 6,000-word letter from Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, Ayman Zawahiri, to Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi amounts to a detailed portrait of al Qaeda's long-term goals in Iraq and the Middle East, and includes a striking critique of how Zarqawi has gone about waging his war against not only U.S. troops but also Iraqi civilians. The letter was posted yesterday on the Web site of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte after senior intelligence officials released excerpts of it last week.

Although the letter does not contain a direct reference to Zarqawi until a cryptic greeting to him at the end, a senior intelligence official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity said "it's absolutely certain" it was meant for Zarqawi, declining to elaborate on how U.S. officials made that conclusion. The letter was dated July 9, but the official would not say whether it had been sent.

Isn’t that impressive? I mean, George W. Bush sure can pick the right people to run things. John Negroponte was only just recently confirmed as the big boss of all the intelligence people and look what kind of great intelligence they’re finding already! I mean, a letter confirming everything that Bush just said in a speech about how Al Qaeda plans to take over the world! Scary stuff. But not as scary as some of these old stories that I just happened to stumble across…not that there’s any relationship or anything…

June 12, 2005: The Pentagon awarded three contracts last week, potentially worth up to $300 million over five years, to companies it hopes will inject more creativity into its psychological operations efforts to improve foreign public opinion about the United States, particularly the military.

"We would like to be able to use cutting-edge types of media," said Col. James Treadwell, director of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element, a part of Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command. "If you want to influence someone, you have to touch their emotions."

A Government Accountability Office report in April noted that the Pentagon had been pressing initiatives on "strategic communications" to fill "the planning void left by the lack of strategic direction from the White House." A September 2004 Defense Science Board report concluded that the "U.S. strategic communication must be transformed."

"The department is always looking for ways to improve our communication efforts, and we are working closely with the State Department to support their public diplomacy initiatives where appropriate," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in response to questions about how the new psyops program fits into an administration plan.

Some previous Defense Department efforts in the field have been controversial. In 2002, the Pentagon abandoned its Office of Strategic Influence after reports surfaced, which the Pentagon denied, that it would disseminate inaccurate information to foreign media.

Oh yeah – the Office of Strategic Influence. Remember that? Good thing we got rid of it! Otherwise we might have cause for suspicion! Uh…wait a sec…

November 27, 2002: The Federation of American Scientists has pointed to a startling revelation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that mainstream media have missed: In remarks during a recent press briefing, Rumsfeld suggested that though the controversial Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) no longer exists in name, its programs are still being carried out (FAS Secrecy News, 11/27/02, http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/2002/11/112702.html). The OSI came under scrutiny last February, when the New York Times reported (2/19/02) that the new Pentagon group was “developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations.” The news was met with outrage, and within a week the Pentagon had closed down the OSI, saying that negative attention had damaged the office’s reputation so much “that it could not operate effectively" (AP, 2/26/02). The plan was troubling for many reasons: It was profoundly undemocratic; it would have put journalists’ lives at risk by involving them in Pentagon disinformation; and it’s almost certain that any large-scale disinformation campaign directed at the foreign press would have led, sooner or later, to a falsified story being picked up by U.S. media. (See Extra! Update 4/02, "Behind the Pentagon's Propaganda Plan.") At the time, Rumsfeld claimed that he had “never even seen the charter for the office,” but Thomas Timmes, the OSI’s assistant for operations, said that Rumsfeld had been briefed on its goals “at least twice” and had “given his general support” (New York Times, 2/25/02). Now, in remarks made at a November 18 media briefing, Rumsfeld has suggested that though the exposure of OSI's plans forced the Pentagon to close the office, they certainly haven't given up on its work. According to a transcript on the Department of Defense website, Rumsfeld told reporters: "And then there was the Office of Strategic Influence. You may recall that. And 'oh my goodness gracious isn't that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.' I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have."

Look at the bright side. At least we can point to one statement Donald Rumsfeld has made that’s believable.

Random News

Gee, it’s still not paying for itself?: Iraq's oil production has fallen below prewar levels to its lowest point in a decade, depriving the country's fledgling government of badly needed income and preventing the United States from achieving one of its main reconstruction goals.

Iraq's oil wells, beset by equipment problems and saboteurs, are producing about 1.9 million barrels a day in net production, lower than the 2.6 million they were producing just before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies.

Good thing the US doesn’t pay reparations, we’d go even broker: Britain offered on Tuesday to pay compensation for personal injuries and damage to buildings caused when its troops raided a prison in southern Iraq last month to free two British special forces soldiers.

"We regret the incidents that took place in Basra on 19 September 2005. We also regret the casualties on both sides and the material damage to public facilities," local British and Iraqi authorities said in a joint statement.

"The British Government is prepared to pay valid claims for compensation for casualties and material damage in the well-established manner," it said.

Sad: Chief Warrant Officer William Howell was a 15-year Army Special Forces veteran who had seen combat duty all over the world. Sgt. 1st Class Andre McDaniel was a military accountant. Spc. Jeremy Wilson repaired electronics.

They had little in common, other than having served in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group based at Fort Carson, Colo. They did not know each other, and they had vastly different duties.

Each, however, committed suicide shortly after returning home, all within about a 17-month period.

The answer, John, would be yes: In an age where soldiers are increasingly using the Internet to relay instant information about their experiences to spouses, family members and the public, some are going too far, says Lt. Col. Steven Bloyan, an Army communications director in Baghdad who tries to track soldiers' commentary on blogs (Web logs) and newspaper editorials.

Soldiers sometimes are admonished for violating operational security, such as discussing troop movements, or when and how convoys are attacked. The enemy can intercept such information and use it against coalition forces, he said.

But Bloyan and an Army spokeswoman in Washington said they'd never encountered an active-duty soldier proposing troop withdrawals. It could violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits soldiers from engaging in political discourse while in uniform.

But high-profile disciplinary action of troops could be politically tenuous.

“There's a whole new generation of troops deeply concerned about the administration's policy in Iraq, and their voices must not be ignored,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. “Is the White House going to try and silence them?”

Best News In A Long Time

The tide does turn: By a margin of 50% to 44%, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he lied about the war in Iraq, according to a new poll commissioned by AfterDowningStreet.org, a grassroots coalition that supports a Congressional investigation of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

The poll was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, the highly-regarded non-partisan polling company. The poll interviewed 1,001 U.S. adults on October 6-9.

The poll found that 50% agreed with the statement:

"If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable by impeaching him."

44% disagreed, and 6% said they didn't know or declined to answer. The poll has a +/- 3.1% margin of error.

Among those who felt strongly either way, 39% strongly agreed, while 30% strongly disagreed.


Torture: So deeply does President Bush feel our country, despite all its treaty commitments, has a right to torture that he has threatened to veto the bill if it passes. This would the first time in five years he has ever vetoed anything. Think about it: Five years of stupefying pork, ideological nonsense, dumb administrative ideas, fiscal idiocy, misbegotten energy programs -- and the first thing the man vetoes is a bill to pay our soldiers because it carries an amendment saying, once again, that this country does not torture prisoners.

This is the United States of America. It is our country, not George W. Bush's personal property. The United States of America still stands for the rights of man, for freedom, dignity and justice. We do not torture helpless prisoners. Our soldiers are not the SS, not the North Vietnamese who tortured McCain and others for years on end, not bestial Argentinean fascists, not the Khmer Rouge.

Remember, we invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was such a horrible brute that he tortured people. This is beyond disgusting. The House Republicans, which have no shame, will try to weaken McCain's amendment. They need to hear from decent Republicans all over this country. Don't leave this hideous stain on your party's name. This is NOT what America stands for. We've had more loathsome and more dangerous enemies than Al-Qaida and managed to defeat them without resorting to torture.

Making terrorists: Although we know that Zarqawi exists, we know little else about the structure of his organization and its operational capabilities. But we clearly know that homegrown Iraqis represent the overwhelming number of fighters and have led the resistance. The unfolding Iraqi struggle is political because many Iraqis are deeply divided over the future direction of their country and the American military presence. In the end, the future of Zarqawi and his associates will ultimately depend on the Iraqis' willingness and ability to compromise and establish an inclusive, independent government that is capable of securing the peace, which at the moment does not seem promising.

Finally, it is misleading to say that only militants of the Al Qaeda variety have joined the fight against the American order in Baghdad. More alarming is that throughout Arab lands the U.S. invasion of Iraq has turned into a recruiting device against perceived American imperial policies; it has radicalized both mainstream and militant Arab and Muslim public opinion.

Many young Arabs whom I met in cities and villages across the region say they would welcome an opportunity to go to Iraq and resist the Americans. Far from being Al Qaeda-type fanatics, these young men had not been politicized before the American-led invasion and had not joined any Islamist, let alone paramilitary, organization. They viewed the American war and military presence in Iraq as an alien encroachment on the ummah, which, in the eyes of their religious leaders, is not justified.

Machiavelli: There was never any debate about the repressive, even genocidal, nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the genuine relief that many Iraqis felt at seeing an end to the climate of pervasive fear that defined it, but there were no terrorists in Iraq before the US invasion. Now it is crawling with them.

We are still too close to the fact to say with certainty whether US intentions were sinister or benign. If sinister — and one wouldn’t put it past the gang of neocons who had planned and executed the war to have harbored such sentiments — then the US, by blundering into Iraq, was asking for it. If benign — to introduce Iraqis to democracy and liberate them from tyranny — then those who sent American boys to a distant land they knew little about would’ve done well to have heeded Niccolo Machiavelli’s warnings about such ventures.

Machiavelli knew his stuff.

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle,” he wrote, “than to initiate a new order of things.”

Casualty Reports

Local story: Paxton, IN, soldier killed in an attack on his Humvee in Iraq.

Local story: Vacaville, CA, soldier killed in car bomb attack on an entrance to the Green Zone.

Local story: Westbrook, NM, soldier killed in a roadside bombing west of Baghdad.

Local story: West Springfield, VA, post office to be renamed in honor of a soldier who died in Iraq.

Local story: Fort Campbell, KY, soldier killed in an ambush near Baghdad.

Local story: Sackets Harbor, NY, soldier died of wounds suffered in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad on September 26.

Local story: Rushsylvania, OH, soldier killed in bombing in Iraq.


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