Wednesday, October 26, 2005

War News for Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Three people abducted by gunmen on the road outside Tikrit. Two policemen killed when gunmen attacked a police station in Ramadi. Three policemen killed and two wounded when a roadside bomb exploded beside their patrol in central Falluja. Four bodies found in northeastern Haditha, three of them wearing army uniforms and the other a contractor working with U.S companies. The corpses were bound, gagged and had gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Gunmen killed an official at Iraq's Ministry of Culture and seriously wounded his driver in southern Baghdad. Gunmen opened fire on a convoy of bodyguards for Iraq's minister of water resources in western Baghdad, wounding two people. Police said that the minister, Abdul Latif Rasheed, was not present.

Bring ‘em on: At least nine people killed when a car bomb exploded in Sulaimaniya. A member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan escaped assassination when two car bombs targeted his motorcade near his home in western Sulaimaniya, one of his guards was killed and two were injured in the attack. Three corpses of Iraqi army soldiers wearing civilian clothes found in Ramadi. The bodies had gunshot wounds to the head. Two policemen killed and another seven wounded when gunmen ambushed a vehicle transferring prisoners in the western Ghazaliya district of Baghdad,. It was not clear if there were casualties among the prisoners. A suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. military convoy in the Mansour district of western Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring five. One person killed and one wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near one of Baghdad's children's hospitals.

Technology marches on: After 31 months of fighting in Iraq, more than half of all American fatalities are now being caused by powerful roadside bombs that blast fiery, lethal shrapnel into the cabins of armored vehicles, confronting every patrol with an unseen, menacing adversary that is accelerating the U.S. death toll.

U.S. military officials, analysts and militants themselves say insurgents have learned to adapt to U.S. defensive measures by using bigger, more sophisticated and better-concealed bombs known officially as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. They are sometimes made with multiple artillery shells and Iranian TNT, sometimes disguised as bricks, boosted with rocket propellant, and detonated by a cell phone or a garage door opener.

The bombs range from massive explosives capable of destroying five-ton vehicles to precision "shaped charges" that bore softball-size holes through thick armor, the main defense of troops in the field, and they are becoming a key factor in the fast-rising U.S. death toll.

Iraqi Politics

Democracy in Iraq: After 10 days of audit, a draft Iraqi constitution was finally ratified with 78 percent of "yes" votes, surpassing the 21 percent "no" votes with a huge margin, as announced by the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission on Tuesday.

The long-awaited but much anticipated result of the Oct. 15 referendum, which was to pave the way for a parliament election in mid December, was embraced by majority of the 9.8 million voters despite a narrow fate of being defeated by opposing Sunnis, who managed strong "no" votes in two provinces, falling short of only one in order to veto it.

Some disagree: When election officials proclaimed yesterday that Iraqi voters had approved a constitution in this month's referendum, the U.S. and Iraqi governments cheered the news as a victory for democracy here. Perhaps, say Iraqi scholars and analysts. The referendum drew a 63 percent turnout, 3 points higher than the legislative elections in January, and about 79 percent of voters backed the constitution, according to results released yesterday by the Independent Election Commission.

But the vote result also deepens a dangerous divide that could inflame the insurgency by Sunni Arabs, who voted massively against the constitution. "This result ... is a big fraud operation by the government," declared Saleh Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician who served on the commission that drafted the constitution.

Societal fracture lines: In final results for the October 15 referendum released yesterday, some 78.6 per cent of voters cast Yes ballots and 21.4 per cent voted against - but voting appears to have split along ethnic and sectarian lines.

In the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab governorates of Anbar and the predominantly Sunni Arab Salaheddin, 97 and 82 per cent of voters rejected the document, while in the swing governorate of Ninawah, about 55 per cent of ballots rejected it.

But the result in Ninawah, which was only announced yesterday, means opponents of the draft narrowly failed to reach the two-thirds majority in three provinces that would have been needed to block the charter.

The predominantly Shia south and Kurdish north meanwhile supported the document by margins of more than 95 per cent, while more divided results in the mixed governorates such as Baghdad, in which 78 per cent of voters approved it, Kirkuk, in which 63 per cent did, and Diala, in which only 51 per cent voted Yes, also appeared to reflect the demographic balances in those governorates.

May they find consensus: Three Sunni Arab parties on Wednesday set up a coalition to contest December's parliamentary elections after a big turnout of Sunni voters failed to block Iraq's new U.S.-backed constitution.

The move comes after the U.S. military death toll in Iraq passed 2,000, a symbolic figure which is expected to pile up pressure on U.S. President George W. Bush to pull out troops from the country. Another soldier was reported killed on Wednesday in a vehicle accident, raising the total to 2,001.

In forming their new coalition, the Iraqi People's Gathering, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Dialogue hope to give Sunni Muslims, who had boycotted previous elections, a bigger voice in a permanent political structure expected to emerge from the December poll.

It also may provide Sunnis more leverage in discussions over constitutional amendments under a deal brokered by U.S. diplomats just before the referendum, guaranteeing four months of additional negotiations in an effort to achieve consensus.

The Number Of The Beast

Round number: The American military death toll in the Iraq war reached 2,000 Tuesday with the announcements of three more deaths, including an Army sergeant who died of wounds at a military hospital in Texas and a Marine and a sailor killed last week in fighting west of Baghdad.

The 2,000 mark was reached amid growing doubts among the American public about the Iraq conflict, launched in March 2003 to destroy Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. None was ever found.

Rough numbers: Iraq Body Count, a peace group which counts casualties based on media reports, says on average 38 Iraqis a day die violently. It says at least 26,600 have died since the invasion but the true figure may be higher because many deaths go unreported.

A report by Iraq Body Count in July said nearly 37 percent of the Iraqi deaths it had recorded were caused by U.S.-led forces, with the rest caused by insurgents and criminal gangs.

According to icasualties.org, a web site run by a non-governmental group that tallies U.S. and Iraqi casualties, more than 3,400 Iraqi police and soldiers have been killed in postwar Iraq, including more than 2,100 this year alone.

Numbers game: The US military has revived the discredited "bodycount" method of measuring success in Iraq to counter bad publicity over mounting American casualties, now approaching 2000 dead. The technique of announcing the number of enemy insurgents killed was abandoned in the 1970s when US units in Vietnam were found to be falsifying the figures. Some commanders ordered the bodies of guerrillas killed in action to be buried and then had them dug up and counted a second time to inflate their combat performance and lessen pressure for results from senior officers. There was also always the question of whether the bodies were genuine combatants or civilians caught in the crossfire.

Unlucky number: Adel Abed Hammed was a skinny 31-year-old so withdrawn he sometimes went days without talking to anybody and would let only his mother touch him.

Mentally ill since childhood, he used to wander the streets of Baghdad alone. One day he chanced on some American soldiers who shot him dead after he took fright at a bullet fired over his head.

"I wouldn't feel such misery if he wasn't so sick but that makes it double for me," said his mother. "He was like a child."

Comparing numbers: "The nearly 2,000 Americans killed in combat (1,998 on October 24, 2005) in Iraq since 2003 are more than were lost in Vietnam combat in the first four years of U.S. combat (1961-1965, when just over 1800 died). This total is more than were lost in the last two years of combat (1971-1972, when just over 1600 died)," recounts Maurice Isserman, co-author of "America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s."

Statistics: The real human cost, of course, is far greater than 2,000. It includes the 198 members of the "coalition of the willing" who have died, almost 300 private contractors, 73 journalists, the 15,220 Americans who have been wounded, and the invisible dead from what the Guardian's Julian Borger called the "extraordinarily high number of accidents, suicides and other non-combat deaths in the ranks that have gone largely unreported in the media."

And then there's the sad fact that those deceased Americans and allies are a fraction of the number of Iraqi dead.

Another estimate: Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution who has closely followed the war's casualties, said an average of 1,500 to 2,000 Iraqis have been killed per month, about half of them insurgents.

While American troops are killed at the rate of about 60 to 70 per month, the new Iraqi military suffers that many deaths in a week, mainly from insurgent attacks that rose to about 90 per day in September, O'Hanlon said.

Exacerbating the carnage is the Iraqi crime rate, now the highest in the Middle East, with about 10,000 homicides a year that would not have happened without the invasion, he said.

The total of Iraqi deaths - including insurgents - from all manner of war-related violence could run as high as 70,000, said O'Hanlon, who teaches a course at Columbia University on estimating war casualties.

One in four: Since the March 2003 invasion, at least 487 National Guard or Reserve troops have died in Iraq, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. casualties. These are not professional soldiers. These are the people who sell us insurance, drive our trucks, fix our cars.

"The Guard is different in the respect that these folks are seen around town every day, driving a deputy sheriff's patrol car or working at the 7-11 or teaching high school," said U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. "These are everyday folks who have been commanded to go to war."

Folks like James Kinlow, who survived just six weeks in that hostile land.

“An artificial mark”: AP said the 2,000th military fatality was an Army sergeant who was wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and died in Texas last weekend. He is Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas. But the chief spokesman for the American-led multinational force has called on the media not to consider the 2,000 number as some kind of milestone. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the force's combined press center, wrote in an e-mail to reporters, "I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq. The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."

Specific agendas and ulterior motives. What, the Bush administration set the artificial mark? Shove it, Steve.

Invisible numbers: The human toll for the U.S. military in the Iraq war is not limited to the nearly 2,000 troops deaths since the March 2003 invasion. More than 15,220 also have been wounded in combat, including more than 7,100 injured too badly to return to duty, the Pentagon said. Thousands more have been hurt in incidents unrelated to combat.

Military doctors say U.S. troops are surviving wounds in Iraq that would have been fatal in previous wars due to advances in medical care and body armor.

Military statistics showed that while 23 percent of U.S. troops wounded in combat in World War Two died and 17 percent in the Vietnam War, 9 percent of those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan died. Without the advances since Vietnam, the U.S. death toll in Iraq would be nearly double the current total.

But military doctors said some troops who may have died in previous wars are surviving, but with grievous injuries such as multiple limb amputations. More than 300 troops have undergone at least one limb amputation. By far the single biggest cause of combat wounds are blasts from IEDs.

Not numbers at all: Air Force Master Sgt. Steven Auchman was the 1,294th service member killed in Iraq, according to one count.

On Tuesday, nearly a year after his death, the nation mourned the 2,000th U.S. casualty since the invasion began in March 2003.

"To me, it's not so much the number, it's the person, because I couldn't tell you what the number was for my husband," said his widow, Jenny, sitting in her home off College Street. A gold star banner hangs in her living room and his picture smiles down on her from the fireplace mantle.

"I really don't care what his number is. He's a person, not a number."

“Negligible”: Imagine a major mainstream media figure stating that the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq are not really a big deal. You would expect that pundits across the political spectrum would attack such a statement as an affront to the troops and a belittling of their sacrifices. But you don't have to imagine; this scenario has already happened, with hardly a peep from other commentators. The journalist in question is Fox News Channel anchor Brit Hume. On the October 13 broadcast of Special Report, the show he regularly hosts, Hume said of U.S deaths in Iraq, "by historic standards, these casualties are negligible." What history is Hume referring to? It's true that U.S. deaths were substantially higher in World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam--major wars fought either against major world powers or against well-armed states backed by superpowers. Deaths were also much higher in the U.S. Civil War. But when compared to other conflicts in its category--wars and counterinsurgency operations against comparatively weak, isolated nations and guerrilla movements--the death toll in Iraq is strikingly high. Of all the other U.S. military interventions over the past 30 years--which include Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the 1991 Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan--none have come close to 1,000 U.S. deaths, let alone 2,000. By those "historical standards," the Iraq War has been remarkably deadly.

How many service age children or grandchildren do you have, Brit? How many are actually serving?

Some other numbers: On top of these human costs, the financial costs are soaring as well. Before the war started, administration officials argued that the total cost would be $50 billion. But the latest spending will lift the tab to $250 billion, bringing the average yearly spending to $86 billion. This amounts to every man, woman and child in the U.S. sending the government a check for $840 to pay for the bill so far.

Congress and the Pentagon have fallen down on the job of keeping tabs on the money being spent. In late September the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding, "neither [the Department of Defense] nor Congress ... can reliably know how much the war is costing and details on how appropriated funds are being spent."

Here are some of those spending details: When the Pentagon went shopping for seven armored cars for senior Iraqi policemen, U.S. officials turned to an Iraqi supplier to provide them with some hardened Mercedes-Benzes.

After spending nearly $1 million, here's what they got: Six vehicles with bad armor and run-down mechanics. They also were a little more than slightly used: The newest model was a 1996; the oldest a 1994.

According to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, the seventh auto is missing.

In a report released Monday, the inspector general said the Pentagon couldn't get its money back because it did such a bad job negotiating the no-bid deal.

Only a down payment: In the weeks ahead, Congress will formally sign over to the Pentagon about $50 billion to run the war in Iraq and Afghanistan through March. That's only a down payment for anticipated costs. "More funds will be needed by DoD (Department of Defense)," Amy Belasco, senior defense budget analyst for the Congressional Research Service, observed dryly in an Oct. 3 report. How much more, she said, no one knows. Iraq war costs are averaging about $6 billion a month, with Afghanistan costing another $1 billion. Together, that's more than the annual budget of the entire U.S. Coast Guard and 15 times more than the Homeland Security Department is budgeted to spend this fiscal year on emergency preparedness for floods and other natural disasters. In truth, however, not even the Pentagon knows precisely where its money will be spent. Its financial books are in such a shambles that government accountants say they are unable to audit them.

Same old stuff from numero uno: President Bush tried Tuesday to begin reviving U.S. support for the war in Iraq and reinvigorating his troubled presidency as the U.S. military death toll topped 2,000.

"I know this is a trying time for our military spouses," Bush said at a Joint Armed Forces Officer Wives' luncheon at Bolling Air Force Base. "We've lost some of our nation's finest men and women in the war on terror."

"And the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom," he said.

Number 2001: An American soldier was killed Tuesday in a vehicle accident near Camp Bucca, the U.S. detention center in southern Iraq, the U.S. military said Wednesday, a day after the somber milestone of 2,000 military deaths in the Iraq war was reached.

Two thousand and one Americans. Tens of thousands of Iraqis. Five or ten times that many wounded, twenty times that many lives irreparably shattered. Billions of wasted dollars.

Complete the mission. Stay the course.

What are we buying with all this blood, all this wasted treasure?

Torture: The Bush administration has proposed exempting employees of the Central Intelligence Agency from a legislative measure endorsed earlier this month by 90 members of the Senate that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoners in U.S. custody.

"This is the first time they've said explicitly that the intelligence community should be allowed to treat prisoners inhumanely," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "In the past, they've only said that the law does not forbid inhumane treatment." Now, he said, the administration is saying more concretely that it cannot be forbidden.

Murder: At least 21 detainees who died while in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan were the victims of homicide and usually died during or after interrogations, according to an analysis of Defence Department data.

The analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, released today, looked at 44 deaths described in records obtained by the ACLU. Of those, the group characterised 21 as homicides, and said at least eight resulted from abusive techniques by military or intelligence officers, such as strangulation or "blunt force injuries", as noted in the autopsy reports.

The 44 deaths represent a partial group of the total number of prisoners who have died in US custody overseas; more than 100 have died of natural and violent causes.

Starvation: UNICEF recently conducted a rapid assessment survey to determine the current rate of malnutrition among children under the age of five, with the results being released 10 days ago.

The results showed that acute malnutrition among children had almost doubled since before the war, jumping from 4 per cent to 7.7 per cent. Children who are acutely malnourished are literally wasting away, and for severe cases their condition can be fatal. Acute malnutrition sets in very fast and is a strong indicator of the overall health of children.

And an America that should shame every one of its citizens: Congressional negotiators are feeling heat from the White House and constituents as they consider whether to back a Senate-approved ban on torturing detainees in U.S. custody or weaken the prohibition, as the White House prefers.

Led by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bush administration is floating a proposal that would allow the president to exempt covert agents outside the Defense Department from the ban.

Complete The Mission. Stay The Course.

What mission?: In November 2003, McKee quietly ordered up a new plan for Iraq's oil. The drafting would be overseen by a "senior adviser," Amy Jaffe, who had worked for Morse when he held the formidable title of Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations-James Baker III Institute Joint Committee on Petroleum Security. Jaffe now works for Baker, the former Secretary of State, whose law firm serves as counsel to both ExxonMobil and the defense minister of Saudi Arabia. The plan, nominally written by State Department contractor BearingPoint, was guided, says Jaffe, by a handful of oil industry consultants and executives. For months, the State Department officially denied the existence of this 323-page plan for Iraq's oil, but when I identified the document's title from my sources and threatened legal action, I was able to obtain the complete report, dated December 2003 and entitled "Options for Developing a Long Term Sustainable Iraqi Oil Industry." The multi-volume document describes seven possible models of oil production for Iraq, each one merely a different flavor of a single option: the creation of a state-owned oil company. The seven options ranged from the Saudi Aramco model, in which the government owns the whole operation from reserves to pipelines, to the Azerbaijan model, in which the state-owned assets are operated almost entirely by "IOCs" (International Oil Companies). The drafters had little regard for the "self-financing" system, such as Saudi Arabia's, which bars IOCs from the fields; they prefer the production-sharing agreement (PSA) model, under which the state maintains official title to the reserves but operation and control are given to foreign oil companies. These companies then manage, fund, and equip crude extraction in exchange for a percentage of sales receipts. While promoting IOC control of the fields, the authors take care to warn the Iraqi government against attempting to squeeze IOC profits: "Countries that do not offer risk-adjusted rates of return equal to or above other nations will be unlikely to achieve significant levels of investment, regardless of the richness of their geology." Indeed, to outbid other nations for Big Oil's favor will require Iraq to turn over quite a large share of profits, especially when competing against countries such as Azerbaijan that have given away the store. The Azeri government, notes the report, has "been able to partially overcome their risk profile and attract billions of dollars of investment by offering a contractual balance of commercial interests within the risk contract." This refers to the fact that Azerbaijan, despite its poor oil quality and poor location, drew in the IOCs via scandalous splits of revenue allowed by the nation's corrupt government. Given how easily the interests of OPEC and those of the IOCs can be aligned, it is certainly understandable why smashing the oil cartel would not strike oilmen as a good idea. In 2004, with oil approaching the $50-a-barrel mark all year, the major U.S. oil companies posted record or near record profits. ConocoPhillips, Rob McKee's company, this February reported a doubling of its quarterly profits from the previous year, which itself had been a company record; Carroll's former employer, Shell, posted a record-breaking $4.48 billion in fourth-quarter earnings. ExxonMobil last year reported the largest one-year operating profit of any corporation in U.S. history.

Fighting The Only War They Know

The PR war: President George W. Bush's nominee to be the Pentagon's chief public affairs official told Congress on Tuesday he hoped to encourage more positive stories about the Iraq war by encouraging the practice of embedding reporters with U.S. troops in Iraq.

Dorrance Smith, a former television producer who spent nine months in Iraq as a senior adviser for former ambassador Paul Bremer, also defended his controversial article in the Wall Street Journal in April, in which he said extremists like Osama bin Laden had "a partner in Al-Jazeera, and by extension, most networks in the U.S."

In the article, Smith concluded that the United States was "losing badly" the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and said ethical questions were raised by the practice of U.S. networks airing videos of hostages obtained by Al-Jazeera, a popular Arab-language television channel.

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee one way to get out more positive stories about U.S. troops in Iraq would be to "reinvigorate" the Pentagon's practice of embedding reporters with military units, which was widely used during the invasion of Iraq 2-1/2 years ago but is done only sporadically now.

They better move fast though: A new Harris Interactive poll shows American sentiment about the situation in Iraq remains generally gloomy, with fewer than a quarter of Americans saying they are confident U.S. policies in Iraq will be successful.

For the first time, a majority of Americans (53%) feels that military action in Iraq was the wrong thing to do, according to the survey of 1,833 U.S. adults, compared with 34% who feel it was right.

At the same time, 66% of U.S. adults now say President Bush is doing a "poor" or "only fair" job of handling Iraq, while 32% say he is doing an "excellent" or "pretty good" job. That's little changed from a September Harris poll that found 65% rated Mr. Bush negatively and 34% rated him positively.

This one might already be lost: The Bush administration and the U.S. military are looking for victory against a stubborn insurgency 2½ years after the first bombs fell on Baghdad. Yet ever more members of Congress and the American public are looking for a way out.

With the death toll reaching 2,000, those two goals are colliding as escalating public impatience with the war is triggering demands for more progress in Iraq than the political and military forces have been able to muster.

Unless they open a second front: As the war in Iraq bogged down, and as a public outcry developed in the United States against the neoconservatives over the apparently bungled war, another sort of conventional wisdom began to take flight. According to this theory, the United States no longer had the stomach—or the capability—to spread the war beyond Iraq, as originally intended. Our troops are stretched too thin, our allies are reining us in and cooler heads are prevailing in Washington—or so the theory goes.

But the news from Syria shows that the conventional wisdom is wrong. The United States is indeed pursuing a hard-edged regime change strategy for Syria. It’s happening right before your eyes. With the ever-complacent U.S. media itself bogged down in Iraq, and with the supine U.S. Congress unwilling to challenge our foreign policy apparatus, Syria is under the gun. As in Iraq, the United States is aggressively pursuing a regime change there without the slightest notion of what might come next or who might replace President Bashar Assad. Might it be the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood, by far the most powerful single force in largely Sunni Syria? Might the country fragment into pieces, as Iraq is now doing? The Bush administration doesn’t know, just as they didn’t know what might happen to Iraq in 2003. But they are going ahead anyway.

That would be a good diversionary tactic: Of course it’s deeply disturbing that Syria’s leadership should be behind the bomb that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But it’s hardly surprising, since Syria has for decades meddled in Lebanese politics, occupied the country, probably had a hand in past assassinations in a country where such things are all too common. It was more or less a given that Syria was behind the assassination, with help from Lebanese insiders. The report simply confirmed those suspicions.

But Bush’s UN call is not without specific purpose. In fact, it’s likely part of a two-pronged argument that we’re about to hear: Syria is destabilizing the region at a crucial time, and providing safe haven to terrorists on their way into Iraq. Them’s fighting words, and before long, the media will be convulsed with a debate over yet another possible invasion. (And if you prefer threesomes, to Iraq and Syria, add Iran, about which we’re hearing more tough talk.)

It is highly doubtful that such an invasion will take place, especially given how stretched US military resources are, but it’s a sure bet that this represents the launching of a major political offensive.

That is, get everyone whipped up about the pros and cons of another invasion, including, especially, the costs, in dollars and lives. And, about the goals and appropriateness of the action. Almost by definition, news organizations must always place military issues and possible hostilities ahead of other matters. And the reality is that wars play better: it’s just too darned hard to explain to the public the intricacies of corruption cases – unless the corruption involves something we all get, like a blue dress that needs dry cleaning. Plus, resources, space and time are limited. So all of these creeping –gates, PlameGate, LobbyistGate, DonorGate, etc, can momentarily be shunted away to the inside pages where only the most hardy pay attention to them.

To be sure, an actual arrest and prosecution of someone of Rove’s ‘stature’ would lead the news. But don’t bet on it remaining the topic of conversation once a clarion call is sounded for America to again do its thing for global security.

Good thing the media won't let them get away with it! Umm...: It’s finally dawning on the New York Times how thoroughly it was spun on the fictions about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, but the “newspaper of record” is showing the same credulity about the emerging Syrian crisis.

“Some deeply troubling facts about the murder of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, have now been established by a tough and meticulous United Nations investigation,” the Times wrote in an Oct. 25 editorial demanding punishment for top Syrian and Lebanese officials supposedly implicated by the report.

But the problem with the Times editorial is that the report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis is anything but “meticulous,” reading more like a compilation of circumstantial evidence and conspiracy theories than a dispassionate pursuit of the evidence.

Fight Back!

Cut their funding!: As the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq reaches 2,000, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) this week will introduce legislation to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to deploy United States Armed Forces to Iraq. The bill will allow funds to be used for the safe and orderly withdrawal of our troops; for transitional security provided by other countries – including international organizations like NATO and the United Nations; and for continued support for Iraqi security forces and international forces in Iraq – as well as funding for reconstruction efforts.

Take back the media!: With the Bush administration on the defensive, with rationalizations for the war fading, with public opinion shifting, with talk of troop withdrawals all the buzz even as the Pentagon hardens "permanent" bases in the mess it has made of ‘Messopotamia,’ it's time for those who oppose the war to think about where our pressure and protest might hasten the war's end.

The Administration is locked into its own imperial logic with Condoleezza Rice even now refusing to rule out new wars in Iran and Syria. It is incapable and unwilling to listen to any voice other than its own, even as its forward thrust has been put on the defensive by scandals like the Valerie Plame affair and the Katrina catastrophe.

Protests to the ideologues and neocon warheads, in what a former Colin Powell aide now calls "The Cabal," are fruitless. That seems clear.

The Democrats as a party also seem too compromised and incapable of mounting the kind of opposition that is needed. We all know why. They drank the "Kool Aid" of war early on and uncritically backed the invasion. Some have now moved away from their earlier positions. Some politicians have admitted they were wrong, but as the war machine grinds on, most remain, uncomfortably perhaps, part of it.

We need to move beyond narrow partisanship. We need a new citizen-based campaign to make the war and its coverage an issue. We need to reach out to the existing anti-war movement, and beyond it.

Who should be targeted? Who can we turn to, and who can we turn on?

Why not the media!


Here’s something encouraging – one of the following pieces was written by well-known liberals and the other two were written by people with impeccable conservative credentials. Can you tell which is which?

Opinion: As of today, the principal winner of the Iraq war is Iran. While our invasion of Afghanistan smashed a Taliban regime hostile to Iran, our invasion of Iraq was even more beneficial. It brought down a Baathist regime that had inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties on Iran in their eight-year war in the 1980s. In power in Baghdad today, in place of Saddam, is a Shia regime that looks to Iran as patron and ally.

In 2001, Iranians demonstrated in support of the United States after 9/11, and in successive elections a moderate presidential candidate had carried 70 percent of the vote. The Tehran mullahs were on the ropes.

But with Bush declaring Iran an "axis-of-evil" nation, which was to be denied any nuclear program or weapon of mass destruction, Iranians responded as nationalists. A hard-liner won the presidency and Tehran's defiance is now a popular policy.

With Iraq smashed and perhaps splintering after we depart, Tehran is set to fill the power vacuum.

A second winner of the Iraq war is al-Qaida. While the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan dethroned the Taliban enablers of bin Laden, killed countless followers and destroyed his base camp, our invasion of Iraq compensated him for his losses. The Iraq war radicalized the Islamic world, recruited thousands of jihadists and converted Saddam's country -- inhospitable terrain for Islamists -- into the world's training ground for Islamic terrorists.

Among the other beneficiaries of America's Iraq war are the Shia fundamentalists who stand to inherit their first Arab country. Among the losers are the Turks, who must contend with Kurdish nationalism inflamed by Kurdish successes next door, and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait.

As George Bush's place in history is riding on the outcome of this war, he is right to be angry and alarmed. But this war is not the doing of any subordinate.

Opinion: We'll never know how many Iraqis have been killed at checkpoints, how many were caught in crossfires, how many were killed by roadside bombs. We'll never know how many Iraqi babies have died because of unclean drinking water from bombed out water systems, how many sick Iraqis died because hospitals were looted of critical equipment, how many Iraqis died because so many doctors have fled the country. Some say tens of thousands; others, like the survey in the medical journal, Lancet, say over 100,000. We don't know; we'll never know.

The Bush administration insists we must "stay the course" to help the Iraqi people. But a national survey conducted in August by an Iraqi university research team for the British Ministry of Defense found 82 percent of Iraqis "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops; less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security, and 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation.

But why should we expect the Bush administration to listen to the Iraqis, when they don't even listen to their own constituents? Since the summer of 2005, polls consistently show that a majority of Americans oppose this war, think it's unwinnable, think it makes us less safe at home and want a timetable for troop withdrawal. How many of our soldiers need to die before our elected officials start listening to us?

Opinion: From managing the environment to securing sufficient energy resources, from dealing with trafficking in human beings to performing peacekeeping missions abroad, governing is vastly more complicated than ever before in human history. Further, the crises the U.S. government confronts today are so multifaceted, so complex, so fast-breaking — and almost always with such incredible potential for regional and global ripple effects — that to depart from the systematic decision-making process laid out in the 1947 statute invites disaster. Discounting the professional experience available within the federal bureaucracy — and ignoring entirely the inevitable but often frustrating dissent that often arises therein — makes for quick and painless decisions. But when government agencies are confronted with decisions in which they did not participate and with which they frequently disagree, their implementation of those decisions is fractured, uncoordinated and inefficient. This is particularly the case if the bureaucracies called upon to execute the decisions are in strong competition with one another over scarce money, talented people, "turf" or power. It takes firm leadership to preside over the bureaucracy. But it also takes a willingness to listen to dissenting opinions. It requires leaders who can analyze, synthesize, ponder and decide. Today, we have a president whose approval rating is 38% and a vice president who speaks only to Rush Limbaugh and assembled military forces. We have a secretary of Defense presiding over the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of our overstretched armed forces (no surprise to ignored dissenters such as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki or former Army Secretary Thomas White). It's a disaster. Given the choice, I'd choose a frustrating bureaucracy over an efficient cabal every time.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Dimmitt, TX, soldier killed by indirect fire in Hit.

Local story: Anderson Township, OH, soldier killed by roadside bomb near Syrian border

Local story: Yucca Valley, CA, soldier killed while participating in a combat mission in Ramadi.

Local story: South Haven, MI, soldier killed in a roadside bombing in Ramadi.

Local story: Tucson, AZ, soldier killed in a roadside bombing in Ramadi.

Local story: Catawba, NC, Marine killed by a roadside bomb southwest of Baghdad.

Local story: Clanton, AL, soldier died Saturday afternoon in San Antonio of wounds suffered Oct. 17 in Iraq.


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