Wednesday, November 30, 2005

War News for Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Nine people killed and two wounded when a group of 10 masked men opened fire on a minibus near the town of Baquba, the latest in a series of brazen gun attacks on travelers in the area.

Bring ‘em on: Two security guards were wounded when snipers fired at the office of Salama al-Khafaji, a member of the National Assembly, in western Baghdad. She was not in the office at the time of the attack. An Iraqi army officer and two soldiers were seriously wounded when a makeshift bomb went off near their patrol in Manzilah village southwest of Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Gunmen in the Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, shot and killed Sheikh Hamza Abbas Issawi, the imam of a local mosque. Police said he was sprayed with bullets by gunmen in a speeding car as he stepped out of the mosque after evening prayer Tuesday.

Bring ‘em on: Four Iraqis, two of them schoolboys, were killed when a mortar shell fell near the gate of a primary school in the city centre in Mussayab. In Kerbala a car bomb detonated by remote control exploded as a US military convoy was passing there. Police said a number of vehicles were damaged, but declined to say whether there were US casualties.

The occasional spot of good news: Two Iranian women, kidnapped north of Baghdad along with four Iranian men, were released Tuesday in the same region, a joint US-Iraqi military coordination centre said, according to AFP. The three (sic) women were released in the middle of the day on a road near the town of Balad. They were reported to be in good health.

Operation Iron Hammer: In western Iraq, about 2,000 U.S. troops and 500 Iraqi soldiers launched an operation Wednesday to flush out suspected insurgents and stabilize the region before the December 15 elections, the U.S. military said.

Operation Iron Hammer is targeting the area near the Euphrates River town of Hit, about 106 miles (170 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.

Check out the juxtapositions in these first four paragraphs of this story. Think the reporter is getting a bit sick of Bush’s bullshit?: U.S. troops will be able to withdraw from Iraq as local forces gain competence, U.S. President George W. Bush said on Wednesday, but near Baghdad the killing of nine people underscored a dire security situation two weeks before Iraq's milestone election.

In a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in which he outlined his Iraq strategy, Bush said the U.S. goal is for Iraqis to take the lead in the fight against insurgents and to take responsibility without major foreign assistance.

"As Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down, and when our mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation," Bush said.

On the ground in Iraq, a group of 10 masked men opened fire on a minibus near Baquba, north of Baghdad, killing nine Iraqis and wounding two, police said. It was the latest in a series of brazen gun attacks on travellers in the area.

Kidnappings: After a monthslong hiatus in the kidnapping of foreigners, television footage on Tuesday once again showed westerners held captive: A German archaeologist - bound and blindfolded - knelt among masked gunmen in one video and four frightened peace activists, including two Canadians, were shown in another blurry tape.

The latest attacks are part of a new wave of kidnappings police fear is aimed at disrupting next month's national elections.

The brief, blurry tape was shown the same day a television station displayed a photo of the German hostage. The kidnappers threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver unless Germany halts all contacts with the Iraqi government.

Osthoff and her Iraqi driver were kidnapped Friday, and German's ARD public television said it obtained a video in which the kidnappers made their threats.

Iraqi Politics

Debating withdrawal: Outside Ramadi's city auditorium, the mortar rounds fell, two, then three, each rattling the concrete walls slightly. Inside, locked in an intense debate about what it would take for American troops in Iraq to withdraw, none of the camouflaged Marines or robed Sunni Arab tribal leaders even flinched.

"We all want the withdrawal," Nasir Abdul Karim, leader of Anbar province's Albu Rahad tribe, told scores of the armed Marines and Sunni sheiks, clerical leaders and other elders at the gathering Monday in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We all believe it is an illegitimate occupation, and it is a legitimate resistance."

The comments by the tribal leaders, and similar remarks to reporters Tuesday in Fallujah, 30 miles away, offered fresh evidence of how the debate in the United States about pulling out troops is also echoing through Iraq.

Talking past each other: A meeting between U.S. military officials and some 200 Sunni Muslims in the Iraqi city of Ramadi was hobbled by bad interpreters, The Washington Post reports.

The clerics in the audience said they came for one reason, and that was to hear the plans for a U.S. military pullout.

"We want them to withdraw from the province," Muhammed Dulaimy, an Arabic professor at Ramadi's Anbar University, said. "We didn't come to talk about the election. If it's about the election, we'll leave."

The U.S. military meanwhile, said they were there to encourage tribal members to join the military, so that Iraq's national forces can build to a strength that would allow U.S. forces to withdraw, and to discourage attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.

What a surprise: Iraqi government officials failed Wednesday to deliver the promised results of an investigation into alleged torture at an Interior Ministry jail in Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi forces discovered 173 malnourished Iraqi detainees when they went into the facility on Nov. 13. Some inmates showed signs of torture, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. A U.S. general was so concerned with what he found that he took immediate control of the jail but the military has released few details about it since.

Bush’s War – Reaping The Whirlwind

Lebanon: On a quiet autumn night, a mosque loudspeaker shatters the silence in this poor Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.

"With all pride and grace, we announce to you the martyrdom of our mujahideen brothers Mohamed Ahmed al-Kurdi and Nidal Hussein Mustafa in the battlefields of jihad in Iraq," the speaker blares across the narrow streets of Ain el-Hilweh.

The deaths brought to three the number of residents from the camp killed in Iraq in November alone, making a total of five in the past four months.

One man in Ain el-Hilweh -- a crowded maze of narrow alleyways where gunmen from rival Palestinian factions roam freely and clash sporadically -- is eager to follow Zarqawi.

The 36-year-old, who used the alias Abu Dujana, said he was counting the days to return to Iraq to join the "martyrs in the name of Islam." He made no effort to hide his loyalty to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Belgium: A Belgian woman who converted to Islam after marrying a radical Muslim carried out a suicide attack in Baghdad earlier this month, say Belgian prosecutors.

Other European extremists are known to have travelled to Iraq to fight the US-led forces, but she is believed to be the first female European bomber.

On Wednesday, police detained 14 people in raids on the homes of people thought to have links with the unnamed woman.

Authorities said they wanted to break a network sending volunteers to Iraq. Nine of the suspects are Belgian, three are Moroccan and two are Tunisian.

Earlier this year, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said at least seven people from France have been killed in Iraq and elsewhere fighting for al-Qaeda.

Cynicism Or Delusion? Who Can Tell?

Cynicism: President Bush, facing growing doubts about his war strategy, said Wednesday that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in battle but that "this will take time and patience." He refused to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Bush said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is set to change, by making fewer patrols and convoys, moving out of Iraqi cities and focusing more on specialized operations aimed at high-value terrorist targets.

"As Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop level in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists," Bush told a supportive audience at the U.S. Naval Academy. "These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington."

Bush's emphasis on the readiness of Iraqi security forces came at a time when continued violence in Iraq and the death of more than 2,000 U.S. troops have contributed to a sharp drop in the president's popularity.

Fred Kaplan: Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces—which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own—have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason—a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.

And so it appears (assuming the forecasts about the speech are true) that the White House is as cynical about this war as its cynical critics have charged it with being. For several months now, many of these critics have predicted that, once the Iraqis passed their constitution and elected a new government, President Bush would declare his mission complete and begin to pull out—this, despite his public pledge to "stay the course" until the insurgents were defeated.

This theory explains Bush's insistence that the Iraqis draft and ratify the constitution on schedule—even though the rush resulted in a seriously flawed document that's more likely to fracture the country than to unite it. For if the pullout can get under way in the opening weeks of 2006, then the war might be nullified as an issue by the time of our own elections.

Delusion: Bush said many Iraqi forces have made real gains over the past year.

"As the Iraqi forces grow more capable, they are increasingly taking the lead in the fight against the terrorists," Bush said. "Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they can carry the fight against the terrorists."

He said that more than 120 army and police combat battalions are already in the fight against insurgents, and that 80 of those battalions are fighting side by side with coalition forces and 40 are taking the lead in the fight.

"They're helping to turn the tide in the struggle in freedom's favor," the president said.

PM Carpenter: The progress being made in training Iraqi troops to defend their own nation is about to achieve warp-drive. It’ll be nothing short of miraculous how suddenly these troops are declared by the Bush administration ready for counterinsurgency combat, even though there has been virtually no progress made along these lines in the last two and a half years.

What will account for this remarkable turnaround?

The seedy, dishonest politics of George W. Bush, who’s about to slither out of Iraq the same way he slithered in: without a dram of honesty.

As the New York Times reported Monday: “In public, President Bush has firmly dismissed the mounting calls to set a deadline to begin a withdrawal from Iraq…. ‘When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.’

“But in private conversations, American officials are beginning to acknowledge that a judgment about when withdrawals can begin is driven by two political calendars – one in Iraq and one here…. Mr. Bush is under new pressure to begin showing that troop reductions are under way before the midterm Congressional elections next year.”

In brief, Americans will soon be waving bye-bye to ill-trained, ill-equipped Iraqi troops, but only after the former have lost tens of thousands of their own to death and mutilation in the most dishonest and destined-to-fail foreign venture this nation has ever engaged. It all will have been for naught, although “Mission Accomplished II” – otherwise known as “Cut and run” – will be sold as smarmily as “Stay the course.”

Cynicism: "Some critics continue to assert that we have no plan in Iraq except to `stay the course,'" Bush said. "If by `stay the course' they mean we will not allow the terrorists to break our will, they're right. If by `stay the course' they mean we will not permit al Qaida to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a safe haven for terrorists and a launching pad for attacks on America, they're right as well. If by `stay the course' they mean that we're not learning from our experience or adjusting our tactics to meet the challenges on the ground, then they're flat wrong."

He did not say that the terrorists now in Iraq had anything to do with the 2001 terror attacks in the United States, but he powerfully linked the two, saying they "share the same ideology."

Delusion: President Bush will hear no evil on the Iraq war - even when the bad news comes from military brass and top government officials, a new report says.

Bush "remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq," according to The New Yorker magazine.

The article, echoing a Daily News story yesterday, says Bush and his inner circle are so determined to follow their own plan that generals fear saying what's wrong in Iraq - and senior advisers are snubbed if they have bad news.

"I tried to tell" the President about problems in Iraq, one former senior official told the magazine. "And he couldn't hear it."

Random News

The death of multilateralism, part six jillion: The Bush administration, responding to European alarm over allegations of secret detention camps and the transport of terror suspects on European soil, insisted Tuesday that American actions complied with international law but promised to respond to formal inquiries from European nations.

The administration's comments came after the new German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, raised concerns on Tuesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about reported American practices in the handling and interrogation of captives, according to American and German officials.

In addition, European officials said the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, sent a letter to Ms. Rice on Tuesday on behalf of the European Union asking for clarifications. Britain currently holds the union's presidency.

Another “gross error”: The Air Force, under pressure from the Pentagon, committed a "gross error" last year when it rushed to sign a no-bid contract for advisers to help plan and implement Iraq's national elections and draft its constitution, the Government Accountability Office has ruled.

New York-based REEP Inc., a private translation company also known as Operational Support Services, was awarded two contracts worth more than $45 million. The firm was tasked with finding bilingual speakers "committed to a democratic Iraq" as part of a program a Pentagon official hoped would create "a nudge toward democracy," the report said.

The dispute offers insight into the Pentagon's continued use of Iraqi exiles and its strategy for bringing democracy to Iraq.

"Our Defense Department has continued to pay, through pliant contractors, for a flock of Iraqi political exiles as our paid political agents in Iraq," said Charles Tiefer, a government contracting professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Freudian slip: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, flubbed Monday and referred to Iraq as Vietnam while commenting on Fox News against an immediate troop withdrawal. "The Democratic Party seems to be taken over by the Michael Moore contingent in their attitude toward Vietnam, and they continually call for a withdrawal of troops at a time when we haven't finished the job," Hatch said on the network's morning show. Hatch's spokesman acknowledged the error, which was first reported on the American Prospect Web log.

The Bush Regime And The Fourth Estate

Armstrong Williams goes to Iraq: As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq. The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Can’t coopt ‘em? Blow 'em up!: The Falluja offensive was one of the bloodiest assaults of the US occupation of Iraq. On April 5, 2004, US forces laid siege to the city after the killing of four Blackwater mercenaries days earlier. When the US forces, led by the First Marine Expeditionary Force, attempted to take Falluja on April 7, they faced fierce guerrilla resistance. A US helicopter attacked a mosque, hitting the minaret and killing at least a dozen people. Within a week, some 600 Iraqis were dead, many of them women and children. By April 9, some thirty Marines had been killed and Falluja had become a symbol of resistance against the occupation.

What was more devastating than the direct resistance US forces encountered in Falluja was the effect the story of the local defense of the city and the US killing of civilians was having on the broader Iraqi population. A handful of unembedded journalists, most prominently from Al Jazeera, were providing the world with independent, eyewitness accounts. Al Jazeera's camera crew was also uploading video of the devastation for all the world, including Iraqis, to see. Inspired by the defense of Falluja and outraged by the US onslaught, smaller uprisings broke out across Iraq, as members of the Iraqi police and army abandoned their posts, some joining the resistance.

Faced with a public relations disaster, US officials did what they do best--they attacked the messenger. On April 11, with the unembedded reporters exposing the reality of the siege of Falluja, senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, "The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies." A few days later, on April 15, Rumsfeld echoed those remarks calling Al Jazeera "vicious."

It was the very next day, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan. "He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere," a source told the Mirror. "Blair replied that would cause a big problem. There's no doubt what Bush wanted to do--and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it."


NY Times: Let us pause and count the ways the conduct of the war in Iraq has damaged America's image and needlessly endangered the lives of those in the military. First, multilateralism was tossed aside. Then the post-invasion fiasco muddied the reputation of military planners and caused unnecessary casualties. The W.M.D. myth undermined the credibility of United States intelligence and President Bush himself, and the abuse of prisoners stole America's moral high ground.

Now the use of a ghastly weapon called white phosphorus has raised questions about how careful the military has been in avoiding civilian casualties. It has also further tarnished America's credibility on international treaties and the rules of warfare.

White phosphorus, which dates to World War II, should have been banned generations ago. Packed into an artillery shell, it explodes over a battlefield in a white glare that can illuminate an enemy's positions. It also rains balls of flaming chemicals, which cling to anything they touch and burn until their oxygen supply is cut off. They can burn for hours inside a human body.

The United States restricted the use of incendiaries like white phosphorus after Vietnam, and in 1983, an international convention banned its use against civilians. In fact, one of the many crimes ascribed to Saddam Hussein was dropping white phosphorus on Kurdish rebels and civilians in 1991.

But white phosphorus has made an ugly comeback. Italian television reported that American forces used it in Falluja last year against insurgents. At first, the Pentagon said the chemical had been used only to illuminate the battlefield, but had to backpedal when it turned out that one of the Army's own publications talked about using white phosphorus against insurgent positions, a practice well known enough to have one of those unsettling military nicknames: "shake and bake."

Eric Mink: The dream is over, whether or not the Bush White House realizes or admits it. U.S. troops are going to leave, and Iraq will continue to be a mess. The only questions are how bad a mess it will be, how many more will be killed and injured and whether the president is capable of putting the welfare of the troops and the country before the unhealthy messianic fixation cited, most recently, in this week's New Yorker by several former and current U.S. military and intelligence officials. In 1984's "The March of Folly," the celebrated historian Barbara W. Tuchman reviewed centuries of calamitous statecraft, looking for examples that met three specific criteria: "To qualify as folly," she wrote, "it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight. . . . A feasible alternative course of action must have been available. . . . (and) the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime. . . ." Tuchman focused on the refusal of Renaissance popes to correct rampant abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, thus producing the Protestant Reformation; Great Britain's war with its American colonies, resulting in an independent United States of America and contributing to the end of the British Empire; and the Vietnam War, in which Democratic and Republican administrations betrayed American principles with enormous long-term costs. The continuing war in Iraq is poised to join Tuchman's tragic roster of dishonor.

The Nation: Everything that needs to be known is now known: The reasons the Bush Administration gave for the American war in Iraq were all falsehoods or deceptions, and every day the US occupation continues deepens the very problems it was supposed to solve. Therefore there can no longer be any doubt: The war--an unprovoked, unnecessary and unlawful invasion that has turned into a colonial-style occupation--is a moral and political catastrophe. As such it is a growing stain on the honor of every American who acquiesces, actively or passively, in its conduct and continuation.

The war has also become the single greatest threat to our national security. Its human and economic costs are spiraling out of control, with no end in sight. It has driven America's reputation in the world to a historic low point. In the meantime, real threats suffer terrible neglect. These include more terrorist attacks, jeopardized oil supplies, rising tension with China, the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and even natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. All are pushed aside as this Administration pours the country's blood, treasure and political energy into a futile war. In short, ending the Iraq War is the most pressing issue facing America today. Until it is ended, a constructive national security policy cannot be forged.

Americans are well on their way to a full appreciation of the dimensions of this debacle. In an October CBS news poll, 59 percent of citizens surveyed and 73 percent of Democrats now want an end to US military involvement in Iraq. But this growing majority has made its judgment with virtually no help from our nation's leaders. Most shameful has been the Democratic Party's failure to oppose the war. Indeed, support for it has been bipartisan: A Republican President and Congress made the policy, and almost all of the leading Democrats--most of the honorable exceptions are members of the House of Representatives--supported it from the outset and continue to do so.

LA Times: Padilla challenged the government's right to hold him, a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil, without ever proving charges in a court of law (as opposed to asserting them in a news conference). Facing an impending deadline to answer his petition before the Supreme Court — and no doubt mindful of an earlier decision requiring it to allow such enemy combatants captured on the battlefield to challenge their imprisonment — the Bush administration last week filed a criminal indictment against Padilla in federal district court. It is the first time the administration has charged Padilla with a crime. In a telling omission, that sensational "dirty bomb" plot is not mentioned. The Justice Department's 31-page indictment charges Padilla with conspiracy to murder, kidnap and harm people overseas and with supporting terrorists. Yet it is a far cry from the government's original accusations. The administration says that because it has now charged Padilla as a criminal and moved him from a military brig to a federal penitentiary, his pending case before the Supreme Court is now moot. Up against Monday's deadline to ask the court not to hear his case, it instead asked for an extension to file its petition, which the court granted. The Supreme Court should still hear the case, not only for Padilla's sake but for the sake of every American. The most recent lower-court decision on the case, from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, gives the administration the authority to detain enemy combatants such as Padilla indefinitely. That precedent cannot be allowed to stand. The question presented in the Padilla case, to paraphrase his brief before the court, is this: Can the president of the United States arrest any U.S. citizen in America and hold him indefinitely without charge in the name of the war against terrorism? As long as this war continues, it is a question that will remain relevant. And it is a question begging for a resounding "no" from the nation's highest court.

Casualty Reports

Ongoing: 2107 US soldiers, 201 Coalition soldiers, and approximately 27,115 to 30,559 Iraqi civilians have been killed in Iraq from the beginning of the war and occupation to November 26.

Local story: Funeral services are set for two mid-Michigan soldiers, Anthony "Andy" R.C. Yost of Millington and John W. Dearing of Oscoda, killed in Iraq this month.

Yost, a 1984 Millington High School graduate, was two months from retiring with 20 years in the military when a suicide bomber killed him Nov. 18. The bomber detonated a vehicle near Yost's position during combat operations.

Yost, an Army Special Forces master sergeant, was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C. He and his wife, Joann, had lived in North Carolina, where he was stationed. They have a 2-year-old son, Anthony James.

Yost, 39, also had a daughter, Cheyenne, 13, by his first wife, Penny. Cheyenne attends Meachum Junior High School in Millington.

Dearing, 21, graduated from Oscoda High School in 2003 and moved to Hazel Park a year ago. The Army National Guard assigned Dearing to the Guard's 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment in Saginaw.

He died Nov. 21 in Habbaniyah, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his military vehicle during combat operations.

He is survived by his wife, Amanda, 19, a 2004 Hazel Park High School graduate whom he married in June.

Local story: A Harrow man was among three British Muslims killed by gunmen while on a five-day pilgrimage to religious sites in Iraq.

They came under fire while on their way to Baghdad airport to fly home on Monday.

Another Harrow man and a woman from Wembley were injured.

Husain Mohammedali, 50, of Waverley Road, was married with three daughters and a son.

His eldest daughter, Zainab, 16, said: "We are completely gobsmacked and my Mum is finding it hard to cope.

"Our grandparents are trying to help us pull through this difficult time."

Local story: Nearly 300 friends and relatives paid their respects Tuesday at funeral and burial services for Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, who was killed Nov. 18 during his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Military officials told the family that Terrazas died after the Humvee he was driving was hit by an improvised explosive device and crashed. Terrazas, who would have turned 21 on Dec. 10, was baptized as an infant at the South El Paso church.


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