War News for Friday, December 30, 2005
Bring 'em on: Five Iraqis killed in mortar attack in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: A policeman was killed and two others wounded when their patrol was struck by a roadside bomb in the town of Iskandariya
Bring 'em on: U.S. soldiers killed two people in a car on Thursday night near the Himreen mountains, 75 miles south of Kirkuk
Bring 'em on: Police said four mortar rounds landed on a police commandos' headquarters on Thursday night in the town of Samarra
Mr .89% coup
: Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi has assumed direct control of the powerful oil ministry as crude exports ground to a halt due to sabotage attacks and logistics problems, officials said on Friday. Chalabi, who has been improving his relations with Washington after falling out with the U.S. administration, was appointed acting oil minister after the incumbent Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum was given leave, the officials said.I predicted he would be PM, remember?
War on Terror widens
: Al Qaeda in Iraq said it had launched missiles at Israel from Lebanon as part of a "new attack" on the Jewish state, a statement posted on the Web said on Thursday. It appeared to be the first claim of responsibility from al Qaeda for an attack on Israel from Lebanon. A senior Israeli security source questioned the claim.
Big Brother is watching all of us
Stalin would be Proud
: The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved. GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.
Goebbels would be Proud
: But one observer sees the Iraq "payola" issue and the new Murrow programme as "an example of the difference between democracy in theory and practice". Prof. Beau Grosscup of the University of California at Chico told IPS, "The same people who set up a programme to promote 'independent journalism' are the same folks who defend funding public relations firms, conservative think tank connected jingoist individuals and embedded journalists as 'independent' media." "It's all about public relations and media control. Joseph Goebbels (Adolph Hitler's propaganda minister) would be proud."
Who cares about Gitmo?
: The number of detainees involved in a hunger strike at the US internment camp in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay has more than doubled in the past week. The US authorities say 84 prisoners are now refusing food, with 46 more joining the protest on Christmas Day. The US military is believed to be force-feeding some of the inmates, who are protesting against the conditions in which they are being held and their continued detention without trial.
: Iraq's largest oil refinery has been shut down following death threats to tanker drivers, jeopardising supplies of electricity across northern Iraq. The threats followed a steep rise in the price of petrol earlier this month, ordered by the government.
Were they Unfair?
: team of international monitors has said it is ready to visit Iraq to review complaints that parliamentary elections held this month were unfair. The monitors' offer has been welcomed by leading Sunni Arab and secular Shia parties, who have alleged that the vote was marred by fraud and intimidation.
Meanwhile those in Power
: Far from the violence of this country's turbulent capital, the emerging Shiite and Kurdish leaders of Iraq's new democracy hunkered down in a northern mountain retreat to plan, they say, a pluralistic government that would embrace disenfranchised Sunni Arabs. The stakes of such meetings are enormous. While certainly the beginning of political horse-trading that will stretch over the coming weeks, the challenge will be to unite groups with widely different views into one ruling coalition. A consensus-based process could create a government stabilized through the buy-in of all Iraqis.
White Man's Burden
: "The bottom line will be that the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police will gain in competence, that they will be able to take on more and more of the territory, whether or not there are still insurgents in that area," he said in an interview with a small group of reporters, including The Associated Press, aboard a military plane en route to the United Arab Emirates. Amid congressional pressure and growing public opposition to the war, the Bush administration last week announced plans to reduce U.S. combat troops in Iraq to below the 138,000 level that prevailed most of this year.
More White Man's Burden
: American commanders are planning to increase significantly the number of soldiers advising Iraqi police commando units, in part to curtail abuse that the units are suspected of inflicting on Sunni Arabs, a senior commander in Iraq said Thursday. Under the plan, which the officer said he expected would be formally approved in a few weeks, the number of advisers working with the Iraqi units would be greatly expanded. The advisers themselves would be under the command of American officers.
: American forces in Iraq have launched a £30 million programme to expand military prisons after the number of suspected insurgents in custody doubled to 15,000. The programme forms part of a two-pronged scheme which aims to ensure there is space to keep captured gunmen locked up and to hand over the task to the Iraqis.
: South Korea's parliament approved a government plan Friday to bring home one-third of the country's troops in Iraq but extended the overall deployment for another year. The National Assembly vote was 110-31 with 17 abstentions.
: The settlements' purpose is as blunt as their design: They are the heart of an aggressive campaign by the Kurds to lay claim to Kirkuk, which sits on one of the richest oil fields in the world. The Kurdish settlers have been moving into the area at a furious pace, with thousands coming in the past few months, sometimes with direct financing from the two main Kurdish political parties. The campaign has emerged as one of the most volatile issues dogging the talks to form a new Iraqi government. In this region, it has ignited fury among Arabs and Turkmens, adding to already caustic tension in the ethnically mixed city, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.
Opinion and Commentary
The Ultimate Quagmire
Iraq is a giant, messy albatross hanging from President George W Bush's neck. The faith-based American president believes "we are winning the war in Iraq". The reality-based global public opinion - not to mention 59% of Americans, and counting - know this is not true.
Bush felt that "God put me here" so he could conduct a "war on terror". Somebody up there must have a tremendous sense of humor - once again manifested in the way He allotted winners and losers in Iraq's December 15 parliamentary elections.
The Shi'ite religious parties in the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) were the big winners - from 70% to 95% of the vote in the impoverished southern provinces; 59% in Baghdad; and nationally, well over 40% of the total (they've won in nine of Iraq's 18 provinces plus the capital). It's a relatively unexpected success considering the dreadful record of Ibrahim Jaafari's Shi'ite-dominated government.
All those intimately allied with the US invasion and occupation were big losers. The Iraqi National List of US intelligence asset and former prime minister Iyad Allawi, also known as "Saddam without a moustache", the man who endorsed the Pentagon bombing of the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf and Sunni Arab Fallujah - got a pitiful 14%.
Convicted fraudster and former Pentagon ally Ahmad Chalabi received less than 1% in Baghdad. The neo-conservatives of the American Enterprise Institute were predicting 5% for Chalabi (their overwhelming favorite) and 20% for Allawi; that's proof enough they have no clue about what's going on in Iraq.
Bush's new Iraq is pro-Iran. It will not recognize Israel. And it wants the Americans out; one of the first measures of an emerging, powerful parliamentary alliance between roughly 38 Sadrists of Shi'ite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and roughly 50 Sunni Arabs will be to call for an immediate end of the occupation.
The details to be ironed out hinge on whether the UIA majority aligns itself with the Sunni Arabs, the Kurds, or with both in a government of "national unity" - as it is being called by the current vice president Abdel Mahdi (a free marketer) as well as current president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.
"National unity" is improbable; the Shi'ites simply won't forgo their majority. The Kurds for their part know it will be a foolish move to try to break their strategic alliance with the UIA. Sunni Arab votes were split between the neo-Ba'athist National Dialogue Council of Salih Mutlak and the Islamist, Sunni National Accord Front of Adnan Dulaimi. But what matters is that they are both part of the Sunni Arab resistance. Their common line is that their presence in parliament develops a new political front - what we have called the Sinn Fein component of the Sunni Arab resistance.
The big problem is that once again in Iraq Shi'ites voted for Shi'ites, Sunnis for Sunnis (they won in four provinces, Anbar, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Diyala, but got only 20% in Baghdad) and Kurds for Kurds (they also won in four provinces, including Kirkuk). Liberal democrats who were dreaming of a democratic, federal, anti-sectarian Iraq have been totally sidelined. Arguably no politician in Iraq is thinking about the future of the country as a whole. No national projects are being discussed.
The constitutional vote in October had already institutionalized the sectarian division - 80% of the Sunni Arabs in the four main Sunni provinces voted against what they saw as an American-designed charter. Washington believed the vote would undermine the resistance. The exact opposite happened. The December elections now paint a vivid picture of a country fractured on sectarian lines. But this is what the Americans wanted in the first place.
Elections or no elections, Iraq enters 2006 mired in the same, usual, gruesome rituals. The Pentagon believes it can subdue the Sunni Arab resistance by bombing them to death while the resistance keeps bombing, suicide bombing and assassinating en masse.
The Shia Majority
When the SCIRI leadership refused to back down on control over the Interior Ministry, the Bush administration relented rather than create a political crisis. This time, however, the stakes are higher. If sectarian violence continues to worsen, the White House risks a collapse of political support at home. And the administration has already warned publicly that it will not accept a continuation of the status quo.
For Shiite party leaders, U.S. pressure to share state power with secular or Sunni representatives -- especially on internal security -- touches a raw nerve. They regard control over the organs of state repression as the key to maintaining a Shiite regime in power.
If Abdul Aziz al-Hakin and other SCIRI leaders feel they have to choose between relying on U.S. military protection and the security of their regime, they are likely to choose the latter. They could counter U.S. pressures by warning they will demand a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops if the United States continues to interfere in such politically sensitive matters.
That would not be an entirely idle threat. Last October, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was reported by associates to be considering such a demand. The implication of calling for a relatively rapid U.S. withdrawal would be that the Shiite leaders would turn to Iran for overt financial and even military assistance, in line with their fundamental foreign policy orientation.
The Bush administration's strategy of pressure on Shiite leaders over the issue of control over state security organs thus has the potential to spin out of control and cause another policy disaster in Iraq and the entire Middle East.