War News for Thursday, November 17, 2005
Bring 'em on: If today happened to be the end of a 31 day month, that month would have been the third bloodiest month since the invasion with 115 occupation force casualties
Myth of Foreign Fighters
: U.S. military strategists are re-examining claims many of the insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq are from other countries, as supporting evidence is slim. Two months ago, a major offensive on the insurgent-held city of Tal Afar, close to the Syrian border resulted in 200 insurgent deaths, and the capture of nearly 1,000 suspects. But none of them were from foreign countries, The Washington Post reported.
Cheney Off Democrats!
: The vice-president called the Democrats "opportunists" who were peddling "cynical and pernicious falsehoods" to gain political advantage while US soldiers died in Iraq. "The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone - but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history," he said. A claim that the administration had misled Americans before the war - was one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in Washington, the vice-president continued.
Pigs at the trough
: In what is expected to be the first of a series of criminal charges against officials and contractors overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, an American has been charged with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to American occupation authorities and their spouses to obtain construction contracts, according to a complaint unsealed late yesterday.
Favouring the Sunni?
:The American general responsible for securing Baghdad said Wednesday that Sunni Arab leaders were supportive of the operation, which ended Wednesday afternoon. The commander, Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr. of the Third Infantry Division, said that American officers would help scrutinize the evidence seized from the prison, and that his troops were prepared to investigate other complaints of secret detentions by Iraqi security forces.
US owns the Internets
: Disagreements over control of the internet had threatened to overshadow the summit, with countries such as China and Iran pushing for an international body under UN auspices to oversee the net. The US had stood firm against this, arguing that it would stifle technological advance and increase censorship of the internet by undemocratic regimes.
Opinion and Commentary
Politics and Torture
For its part, the Badr Brigade has denied any wrongdoing.
"This bunker is run by the interior ministry, the Americans are there every day," Badr head Hadi al-Amery told Reuters.
"Badr has nothing to do with this, why would Badr be involved in the first place? If there was torture we ask for an investigation."
The Americans must clearly have been aware of the overall situation at the interior ministry as well as of the specific accusations being made.
Was their dramatic move on Sunday night, surrounding a ministry building, driving its guards out and taking it over, conducted simply in pursuit of a missing teenager, as they asserted?
Or was there a political angle to the development and its timing?
Discrediting Iranian-backed religious Shia factions in advance of the December elections is clearly not something that would cause officials in Washington to lose sleep.
Shake 'n Bake Debate
Is Jim Muir breaking BBC rules by offering an opinion?
The other argument is about the use of WP as a weapon.
The initial denials from the Pentagon suggest a certain hesitation, embarrassment even, about such a tactic. Some decisions must have been taken in the past to limit its use in certain battlefield scenarios (urban warfare for example). It is not used against civilians.
However the United States has not signed up to a convention covering incendiary weapons which seeks to restrict their use.
This convention has the cumbersome title "Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons." Agreed in 1980, its Protocol III covers "Prohibitions or Restrictions on use of Incendiary Weapons."
This prohibits WP or other incendiaries (like flamethrowers) against civilians or civilian objects and its use by air strikes against military targets located in a concentration of civilians. It also limits WP use by other means (such as mortars or direct fire from tanks) against military targets in a civilian area. Such targets have to be separated from civilian concentrations and "all feasible precautions" taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Notwithstanding the US position on the Convention, the use of WP against insurgents within Falluja does at least bring the issue into discussion, though one should note that the soldiers who wrote the Field Artillery article do say that their unit "encountered few civilians in its attack south".
Update:Via Outraged on a Moon of Alabama thread:No Confidence
(4) Burster Type White phosphorus (WP M110A2) rounds burn with intense heat and emit dense white smoke. They may be used as the initial rounds in the smokescreen to rapidly create smoke or against material targets, such as Class V sites or logistic sites. It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.
No matter how the White House chooses to spin it, the United States Senate cast a vote of no confidence this week on the war in Iraq. And about time.
The actual content of the resolution, passed on a vote of 79 to 19, was meaningless. The Senate asked the administration to provide regular reports on progress in Iraq, and took the position that next year should be "a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty." It was a desperate - but toothless - cry of election-bound lawmakers to be let off the hook for a disastrous military quagmire.
Republican leaders, who supported the proposal, argued that the vote was a repudiation of a Democratic motion to set possible withdrawal deadlines for American troops. But the proposal would never have gone to the floor if members of President Bush's party had not felt the need to go on the record, somehow, as expressing their own impatience with the situation.
The ultimate Iraqi nightmare, which continually seems to be drawing closer, is a violent fracturing of the country in which the Kurdish north and Arab Shiite southeast break away, leaving the west, dominated by Arab Sunnis, an impoverished no man's land and a breeding ground for international terrorism. While this page was completely wrong in our presumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, we - and virtually everyone outside the Bush administration - warned about this danger from the beginning. Only loyalists who had bought the fantasy about dancing Iraqis throwing flowers before American tanks dismissed it as unlikely.
The consequences of such a breakup would be endless and awful: civil war, the persecution of minority populations in the new states, an alliance between the Shiites and Iran, and a complete breakdown of American moral and military influence in the Middle East.
No one wants that to happen, but Americans must ask themselves every day whether the troops who are risking their lives in Iraq are doing anything more than postponing the inevitable.Chalabi Mk2
Hussein's ethereal weapons of mass destruction. Chalabi then secured administration support by seducing it with visions of Iraqis showering American liberators with flowers and a quick handover of a well-ordered Iraq from US troops to his Free Iraqi Fighters.
Today, Maryam Rajavi, the so-called president-elect of the MEK's National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), conjures up the same desert visions for Iran.
Like the case of Chalabi, who offered information on the seemingly impenetrable Iraq, reliance on Rajavi and her supporters superficially makes sense. Given the US's lack of human intelligence inside the Islamic Republic's government, supporting the MEK would naturally appeal to the US administration as a means to quickly develop and install agents who can provide reliable information regarding the Islamic Republic's nuclear advancements.
The MEK even appears to fit the bill better than Chalabi in many respects. As an Iranian opposition group with members inside and outside the country, the MEK can utilize its nativist connection to seamlessly merge with countrymen without fear of being detected by foreign accents, mannerisms or characteristics.
Moreover, the MEK is the largest and the best-organized Iranian opposition group, with realistic estimates between 6,000 to 10,000 fighters, members and supporters combined. More importantly, the MEK demonstrated its ability to deliver reliable information when it revealed, on August 14, 2002, that the Islamic Republic possessed an advanced nuclear program that included facilities at Natanz and Arak.
The MEK now finds support within parts of the American government as a "third option". Such support is built on the fallacy that the MEK can not only provide information, but also enjoys enough popular support so that diplomacy and direct military action can be skirted. By lobbying to remove the MEK from the US's list of foreign terrorist organizations and considering the group as leverage to destabilize, overthrow, and/or replace Tehran's clerical government, supporters ignore the unsavory history of the MEK.
And that puts the United States, its citizens and its interests in grave danger.
Under the Bill Clinton administration, the State Department placed the MEK on its terrorist organization list in 1997 as a conciliatory gesture to the then newly elected Mohammed Khatami moderates. In justifying its decision, the State Department used several acts of violence committed against Americans to justify its actions. At War: Unofficially
But the United States is already unofficially at war with Syria. For the past six months, US Army Rangers and the Special Operations Delta Force have been crossing the border into Syria, supposedly to "interdict" terrorists coming into Iraq. Several Syrian soldiers have been killed.
The analogy the administration is using for this invasion?
Cambodia, which the Richard Nixon administration accused of harboring North Vietnamese troops during the war in Southeast Asia. On April 30, 1970, American and South Vietnamese army units stormed across the border, igniting one of the great disasters of all time. The invasion was not only a military debacle; it led to the rise of Pol Pot, who systematically butchered some 2 million Cambodians.
As in Vietnam, the American and British line in Iraq is that the war is fueled by foreign fanatics infiltrating from Syria and Iran. In an October talk to the National Endowment for Democracy, President George W Bush told the audience that "Iran and Syria" have allied themselves with Islamic terrorist groups; he warned that the "United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them."
According to the Financial Times newspaper, the Bush administration is already discussing who should replace Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the White House leaning toward sponsoring an internal military coup. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley - the fellow who brought us the Niger-Iraq uranium fairy tale - is in charge of the operation.
Flynt Leverett of the Brookings Institution says the cross-border raids are aimed at encouraging the Syrian military to "dump" Assad. A military coup was how the US helped put Saddam Hussein in power so he could liquidate the Iraqi left.
The White House, in fact, knows that foreign fighters have very little to do with the insurgency in Iraq. The conservative London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that the number of foreign fighters is "well below 10%, and may be closer to 4 or 6%". American intelligence estimates that 95% of the insurgents are Iraqi.
The Bush administration has long had its sights on Iran, which Bush calls "the world's primary state sponsor of terrorism". These are sentiments recently echoed in London, where Prime Minister Tony Blair accused Tehran of smuggling weapons and explosives into Iraq to attack British troops in Basra. In one of history's great irony-challenged moments, Blair said, "There is no justification for Iran or any country interfering in Iraq."