Friday, December 09, 2005

WAR NEWS FOR FRIDAY DECEMBER 9, 2005 Bring ‘em on: UPDATE: Suicide bomber kills 32 on bus in Baghdad. At least 1,819 Iraqis have been killed in suicide attacks since the new government took office on April 28, according to a count by The Associated Press. During that period, at least 4,676 Iraqis were killed in war-related violence, including suicide attacks. Bring ‘em on: US Marine killed by IED in Ramadi on December 7, 2005. Bring ‘em on: Three Iraqi Police Killed in Kirkuk. Reports from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk say three police officers have been killed today, 7 December, in a raid at a hospital by gunmen seeking to free a man accused of plotting to kill a judge serving in the trial of Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein. Bring ‘em on: Iraq Captors Say US Hostage Killed. The Islamic Army in Iraq on Thursday said it had killed "the American security consultant for the Housing Ministry," after the United States failed to respond to its demand of the release of Iraqi prisoners. The group also demanded the US army compensate the people of Anbar governorate for the losses they had suffered from the frequent US attacks on their cities. Both Falluja and Ramadi are in Anbar province and have come under heavy US fire. Bring ‘em on: Deadline Extended, fears continue for safety of hostages. Kidnappers holding four members of a Christian aid group in Iraq,including two Canadians, have extended their deadline. The militantsnow say Britain and the United States have until Saturday to meet theirdemands or the four will die. Bring ‘em on: Roadside bomb went off in southwestern Baghdad near a US patrol on Friday, causing casualties among US soldiers and killing two Iraqi civilians. Bring ‘em on: Two civilians killed in clashes with unknown gunman in western Baghdad. Roadside bomb killed Iraqi ministry commando in southern Baghdad. Another bomb killed a policeman and civilian in Saydiya (southern Baghdad). Father and son killed in al Imam (south of Baghdad) by gunmen wearing Iraqi Army uniforms. Two Iraqis shot and killed by unknown assailants, also south of Baghdad. Bring ‘em on: Body of Iraqi intelligence officer found on Friday (shot) in Balad. US forces arrested a senior Iraqi police officer and five civilians in connection with an attack on a US patrol. US army truck caught fire from a bomb, no serious injuries. Bring ‘em on: Iraqi soldiers found two dead bodies in a western Baghdad neighborhood, where insurgents were seen roaming the streets on Friday morning. REPORTS HISTORY: CBC News Indepth: Iraq By the 1970s, Iraq had been under military rule for 20 years. By then, no matter who was the official leader, the man behind the throne was Saddam Hussein. In 1979, he put an end to the charade and took sole power himself, purging his few remaining rivals. That was the year of Iran's revolution. With the Shah replaced by a radically anti-American government, the U.S. suddenly focused its attention on Iraq. For the next decade, billions of dollars in aid poured in. As well as weapons, Iraq was also given the technology to establish a respectable communications network and industrial base. A major American motivation for aid to Iraq during this period was the Iran-Iraq War started by Saddam in 1980. Though the border between the countries remained unchanged, the fighting cost some one million lives and shattered the economies of both nations. By 1988, the U.S. could take comfort in the knowledge that its erstwhile client, Iran, had lost its impressive military capacity, and a strong and pliable regime had emerged in Baghdad. More: Due to American military control of information, people outside Iraq saw only pinpoint, surgical strikes from "smart" bombs and missiles. However, the reality was quite different; the vast majority of air strikes were carried out using old-fashioned unguided bombs. In total, the equivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs hit Iraq, killing some 100,000 people, mostly members of the military. In addition, tens of thousands of deaths were attributed to less direct results of the bombing, including many from disease and malnutrition. When the ground war began Iraqi forces crumpled in the face of American hammer-blows. By the time the fighting stopped on February 28, 1991, not only had Iraqi forces been thrown from Kuwait, they had been nearly annihilated. And Iraq itself was starving and in ruins. More: It also emerged that Iraq had not worked on these weapons in a vacuum. Many Western companies had provided technology not only for these programs, but for ballistic missile development as well. NEWS: Australian Troops Likely to Stay in Iraq NEWS: Armenian Parliament Extends Mandate of Iraq Force. President Robert Kocharian is facing mounting criticism over Armenia's participation in the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq. The 46-strong Armenian contingent serves under Polish command in southern Iraq. NEWS: Pentagon Plans to Have Fewer Soldiers in Iraq After Elections The Pentagon plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq to 137,000 after the Iraqi election Dec. 15 and may cancel the deployment of two Army brigades if security conditions permit in the coming weeks, defense officials said Thursday. U.S. troop strength in Iraq is currently at 155,000. A reduction to 137,000 would take force levels down to where they were about a month ago, before the Pentagon increased them for greater security in the period around the election. NEWS: Japan Ruling Party Decides to Keep Troops in Iraq. The government's plan, however, specifies that Japan will pay close attention to the international forces in Iraq, a hint at a likely withdrawal before the year is up, media reports have said. With their activities strictly limited by Japan's pacifist constitution, the 550 or so ground troops based in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa rely on British and Australian forces to maintain security in the area. NEWS: Bulgaria to Withdraw Troops from Iraq by End-Year. Bulgaria will withdraw its 334-strong light infantry battalion from Iraq by the end of the year and after Iraqi parliamentary elections on Dec. 15, Defence Minister Veselin Bliznakov said on Friday. With the decision, the poor Balkan state is speeding up a pullout originally expected to take several months. NEWS: Iraq Closes Border With Syria, Declares Emergency Law. The Iraqi government imposed emergency legislation in two predominantly Sunni Muslim provinces for the 30 days and closed the borders with Syria until further notice. NEWS: US Seeks to Hand Reconstruction Over to Iraqis. First the White House outlined a strategy of building up Iraq's security forces as the ticket home for US troops. Now the US is promoting a parallel vision that calls for progressively turning over control of US-funded development projects, worth about $21 billion, to Iraqis. "As Iraqis develop their security capabilities, we will reduce our military presence," said Daniel Speckhard, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office at a media briefing here Thursday. "We will see that same transition in our reconstruction program ... from one heavily dominated by the United States to one increasingly under Iraqi control." Examples abound: The US Army Corps of Engineers is turning increasingly to Iraqi engineers and contractors to design and complete sewer and water projects. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is halfway through training 100,000 Iraqi teachers in new methods, while also spearheading development of private social organizations. But not all elements of Iraq's reconstruction program fit into that picture. Billions of dollars have been lost to corruption or wasted, according to US government reports. Many Iraqi contractors and workers face death threats and other difficulties for associating with US projects. The number of Iraqi contractors killed now totals several hundred. At the same time, at least one-fifth of US reconstruction funds have been spent on security for projects and workers. A recent report by the US Inspector General's Office finds that many Iraq reconstruction projects have either been left undone, completed but not made part of an integrated plan, or with no clear plan for future maintenance and operation. The report also cites a spurt in killings of workers and contractors. At the briefing, General McCoy cited lack of electricity as Iraqis' "most common complaint" - then noted that a sharp drop in hours per day of electricity in Baghdad from 12 in October to four today "is directly related to terrorist attacks" on electrical lines and other infrastructure. THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: A Tale of 2 Scarred Cities: Najaf and Mosul Najaf is a largely peaceful Shiite city 100 miles south of Baghdad that has not suffered from the sectarian attacks ravaging other parts of the country. But rivalries between Shiite factions have occasionally become violent, and many complain that militant political parties and militias dominate city government and security forces. But the militiamen who were from Najaf never left the city. They just stopped carrying weapons around the shrine area. In the summer, a fistfight in Najaf between followers and opponents of Sadr triggered battles throughout southern Iraq between the cleric's supporters and followers of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a major party in the ruling Shiite coalition. In Mosul, major attacks have waned since several major U.S. military operations over the summer. The number of Iraqis killed has also declined, according to an AP count. However, residents and officials take precautions in Iraq's third-largest city. People still avoid going out after dark. Reconstruction projects are dormant. The provincial governor has said authorities had to move large amounts of cash into the nearby Kurdish region. More significantly, ethnic tensions still simmer between the majority Sunni Arab and Kurdish populations in the city that is some 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. U.S. commanders have said they plan to hand control of Mosul to Iraqi police sometime next year, and many worry that attacks on civilians could spread as a result. THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: Abuse “widespread” in Iraqi Prisons. A US military doctor says US troops intervene when they can, but Iraqis run the jails. After a US raid on a secret Iraqi government jail last month revealed some detainees were tortured and abused there, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr insisted abuse claims were exaggerated and that torture will not be tolerated in the new Iraq. US soldiers and some Iraqi officials disagree. They say not only is prisoner abuse widespread, but that much of it is carried out by Mr. Jabr's subordinates. Efforts to bring the problem under control during the past year have largely been frustrated by indifference from senior Iraqi officials, they say. Privately, half a dozen US officers have acknowledged to the Monitor that prisoner abuse by Iraqi police is common. Now, one officer is speaking out. Major R. John Stukey, a US Army doctor who served in Baghdad from January to June, frequently visited Interior Ministry facilities on the east side of Baghdad to assess the health of prisoners. He says he personally treated about a dozen men who had been tortured and observed an environment of overcrowding and neglect. Many more of his patients alleged torture, but in most cases this couldn't be verified, since he often saw them for the first time months after their initial arrests and interrogations. In one east Baghdad facility run by Iraq's Interior Ministry, a few miles from the secret jail that was raided by US forces on Nov. 13, Major Stukey says about 220 men were held in filthy conditions in a space so crowded that many couldn't lie down to sleep. INSIDE IRAQ: Security (costs) eats up to 22% of US Iraq Rebuilding Budget. "But I want to highlight that this is not a waste of resources," he added, calling the segment an "important element" of the reconstruction program given the security nightmare plaguing Iraq. A US congressional report in late October predicted that many US-financed reconstruction projects in Iraq were unlikely to get off the drawing board because of soaring security costs related to the insurgency. THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: Pregnant Iraqi Women Fearful of Baghdad’s Dangerous Roads. Police Capt. Sabah Ahmed has risked his life for pregnant women who go into labor in the dark. “Most of the women who call me have limited income," he said, and can't afford operations. Sometimes he's refused the calls, fearing an insurgent trap. "We are targeted," he said. But he feels guilty, and he always wonders if he left a woman stranded. Once, as he approached a woman's home in Doura, an insurgent-infested neighborhood in Baghdad, he was stopped at an Iraqi National Guard checkpoint. Beyond the soldiers, the sounds of a gunfight filled the air. He turned around and called the woman's home to tell her he wouldn't come. But an 8-year-old girl answered the phone in tears. "My mother's in pain," she told him. He changed out of his uniform, got into a civilian car with his partner and took a different route. As the pregnant woman screamed in pain and fear, he maneuvered through the roads, steering away from the sound of bullets being fired. By 2 a.m. she was at the hospital. "I risked my life and the life of my colleagues," he said, explaining why he was disciplined afterward. "But the little girl answered" when he'd called. Sometimes women scramble to find midwives nearby. He's seen many babies stillborn, he said. More: She had pains in her back and belly, and she would cry. What if the baby comes now? What if we get shot on the dark roads to the hospital after curfew? Even when his wife slept peacefully, Manaseer sat awake in the dark. If she went into labor, what would he do? He didn't know how to deliver a baby. Five days before Yahya's birth a neighboring family was shot and killed as they drove on the dark roads at 7 p.m. American soldiers shot the mother, father and two children, thinking they might be terrorists, Manaseer said. Zubaidi's own father had been shot and killed by U.S. soldiers while he was driving, the first reported civilian killed by American forces after Baghdad fell, she said. "Other mothers can just enjoy this," she said waving her hand toward her son. "I'm suffering. I have to worry about my child, about the security, about everything. I think about my baby and my other babies that will come in the future." At night they still worry. When Yahya gets sick they wait for the morning to call a doctor. Even the night he had a rash and blood in his urine, they waited for the light of day. THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: NGOs Lament Dangerous Working Conditions, Urge Release of Colleagues. A statement issued by the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) appealed for the general recognition of aid workers as non-combatants and decried the overall lack of state protection despite the high-risk environment. "There's no place for aid workers to address their complaints," explained NCCI Executive Coordinator Kasra Mofarah. "The situation is so chaotic that no court in Iraq will take account of cases involving aid workers, mainly because terrorist groups carrying out the violations haven't been identified by the authorities." Among other daily abuses, humanitarian workers can face arbitrary detention and attacks on aid convoys. According to the statement, this is due mainly to the general lack of distinction made between military and civilian personnel. According to NCCI figures, at least 50 aid workers have been killed in Iraq in the last two and a half years, including 13 staff members from international NGOs. "This is the highest ratio of humanitarian aid workers killed in one country worldwide for the past ten years," Mofarah pointed out. THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: US Helps Some Iran-Backed Terror. After the U.S. forces and the bombings, Iraqis are coming to fear those bands of men in masks who seem to operate with the Iraqi police. Omar Ahmed's family learnt what it can mean to run into the police, their supposed protectors. Omar was driving with two friends in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad at night Sep. 1 when they were stopped at a police checkpoint. "The three of them were arrested by the police even though there was nothing in the car," an eyewitness told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity. They did not return home for days, and the family began to search the morgues, common practice now when someone is arrested by the Iraqi police and does not return. "Five days after they were arrested we found Omar's body in the freezer in a morgue, with holes in the side of his head and shoulders," a friend of the family told IPS. "We don't know if the other two men are dead or alive," he said. "But we know these men were guilty of nothing other than driving their car at night. We have no security and the problem is that police are killing and disappearing the Iraqi people every day now." The 'death squads' as they have come to be called are getting more active with just a week to go before the Dec. 15 election. On Tuesday this week Iraqi police said they found 20 bodies dumped at two different locations in western Iraq, according to the al-Sharqiyah television network. THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: Documents show top brass knew of abuse. Senior U.S. military commanders in Iraq have known since early this year of reports that Iraqi security forces had physically abused detainees, according to Pentagon documents. The first widely reported abuse case came to light when U.S. and Iraqi forces discovered 173 malnourished Iraqi detainees at an Interior Ministry bunker in Baghdad on Nov. 13. Some inmates reportedly showed signs of torture, and a U.S. general was so concerned that he took immediate control of the facility. More than five months earlier, Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, wrote a policy memorandum on the importance of Iraqi security forces being trained to respect the rule of law and basic human rights. “Over the past several months I have received reports of serious physical abuse of detainees by ISF,” he wrote on June 22, using the acronym for the Iraqi security forces. THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: Iraqi blogger tells of local incident: “A convoy of 3 strykers was approaching an intersection at crowded hour of the day, I was in my car when we noticed the convoy coming, all the car stopped in caution afraid from the un predictable behavior of the US soldiers. I heard a single shot fired from one of the US strykers, after they pass the intersection, the policemen run to the intersection where a traffic policeman lying dead in a lake of blood. No body know why they shoot him, they never stop to help him.” THE TRAGEDY OF IRAQ: Iraq Minus “another town” In the aftermath of a joint U.S. and Iraqi attack, Hasiba is now a ghost town. It is the latest in a series of Iraqi villages, towns and cities bearing the brunt of the destructive machine of the mighty U.S. military power. Hasiba, like many other Iraqi towns, has been a victim of the ongoing, ruinous war pitching U.S. troops against rebels determined to beat America. In the middle are the inhabitants of these towns whose dislike of the U.S. is only matched by their hatred of these rebels. Hasiba was until recently in rebel hands many of whom of foreign origin. These rebels had spread full control on Hasiba, turning the inhabitants into something like hostages. But most of them fled the town before the U.S. military advance. “Nonetheless, we were subjected to heavy bombardment. There is large-scale destruction. The military operations have turned Hasiba into a ghost city,” said Abdula al-Dulaimi, a Hasiba inhabitant. INSIDE IRAQ: Iraq Set to Pump Less Oil Than Last Year. Despite Bush’s President Bush's optimism on Iraq’s reconstruction, the country appears set to pump less crude in 2005 than last year's disappointing showing and far less than under Saddam Hussein. The only bright spot for Iraq's oil sector, hampered by unrelenting insurgent attacks on its infrastructure, is that near-record oil prices have softened the blow by boosting export earnings. "The general integrity of Iraqi oil infrastructure appears to us to be heading backwards rather than forwards," London-based Barclay's Capital said in a report issued Thursday. Attacks and power outages have caused delays for tanker ships arriving at Iraq's Gulf terminals to take on oil, leaving the oil ministry paying as much as $30 million in "demurrage" charges to shipping companies, Dow Jones reported. On Thursday, nine tankers were anchored off Basra Oil Terminal waiting to take on crude, five of which had been waiting since late November, said Mohammed Hadi, head of Iraq operations for Norton Lilly International. INSIDE IRAQ: Resistance Will Continue so long US troops remain in Iraq, senior Muslim scholar says. Iraqi rebels will not lay down arms or engage in serious talks with the government unless the U.S. officially lays down a schedule for the withdrawal of its troops from the country, the spokesman for the powerful Association of Muslim scholars said. Muthana Harith al-Dhari said the U.S. “must publicly declare its intention to withdraw from Iraq in accordance with a specified timetable.” Only then the association, which groups senior Sunni clerics in Iraq, “will call on all Iraqis including the resistance to join in the political process.” However, Dhari said the commission was against “a surprise withdrawal. Its demand is a schedule for such a withdrawal.” THE WAR AT HOME: Bush’s speeches going nowhere. The White House has launched a public relations campaign to answer heavy criticism of and declining public support for America's presence in Iraq. Bush gave the second of four planned speeches on Wednesday and scheduled the third for Monday in Philadelphia. On Thursday the White House launched a series of briefings by the president and military leaders for members of Congress. THE WAR AT HOME: U.S. BANS USE OF TORTURE The United States has made a clear, direct, unequivocal statement about the use of torture. Its official policy now is to honour the United Nations ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, not just athome, but around the world as well. (I don’t believe it. – Susan) THE WAR AT HOME: Iraq casualties sign will stay up near Duluth recruiting office. It is a sign showing the total US troops killed in Iraq, and it is in a campaign office, which is next door to a military recruiting office. THE WAR AT HOME: Congress Torn Over Iraq Endgame. Rep. John Murtha's call for the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq is roiling both parties on the war - and intensifying a debate that is rapidly moving beyond the capacity of party leaders to control. The fracture lines are most acute for the Democrats. Their two House leaders are divided by Mr. Murtha's proposal. And their party's chairman, Howard Dean, spurred controversy this week by suggesting that victory in Iraq is not possible. But most Republicans, meanwhile, weren't rushing to President Bush's defense, as he rolled out two big speeches in as many weeks defending the administration's record on a war that polls suggest has lost the support of most voters. THE WAR AT HOME: Qaeda-Iraq Link US Cited is Coercion Claim The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials. The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons. THE WAR AT HOME: US Military Probing Video of Road Violence. A silver Mercedes swings into the passing lane when a machine gun opens fire, sending the car smashing into a taxi, whose terrified occupants scatter. Moments later on the video, posted on the Internet and apparently recorded in Iraq, a white sedan is riddled with bullets as it accelerates on an open highway. Framed as if on a movie screen by the outline of a sport-utility vehicle's rear window, those scenes and others show what appear to be private security contractors firing on Iraqi civilians. The video footage has prompted an investigation by the U.S. military, a spokesman said Thursday, and by the company linked to the incidents. It even has a soundtrack: Elvis Presley's upbeat "Mystery Train." THE WAR AT HOME: Congress to Bush: Stop Under Counting Casualties. (They are only talking about American casualties, no sign that they noticed or care about Iraqi casualties.) Today, seven members of Congress wrote President Bush asking him to stop under-counting U.S. casualties in Iraq. The Bush Administration has done its best to hide the realities of war from the American public. Photographs of the dead returning to the United States are hidden. Litigation is needed to get photographs released. The wounded are brought to military hospitals late at night so reporters and the public can't see them. In Iraq, reporters are prevented from taking video and photographs of the dead. And, the Administration minimizes the number of soldiers who have been seriously injured in the war. LIAR AND MURDERER: Ex-Neocon Hawk Paul Wolfowitz Now Touts Peace. On another day when the Iraq war was tearing Washington apart, a leading architect of that war, Paul Wolfowitz, was donning sheep's clothing over at the National Press Club. The former deputy defense secretary, now president of the World Bank, gave a 30-minute speech Wednesday about the virtues of peace, the ills of poverty and the benefits of multilateralism -- without a mention of Iraq. "One of the things that's fun about this job is (that) development is a unifying mission and you can get a lot of people together across a table to put their political differences aside," said the man President Bush calls "Wolfie." Only when questioners pressed him about Iraq would Wolfowitz address the subject. "How do you account for the intelligence failures regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?" he was asked. "Well," he said after a long pause, "I don't have to." ELECTIONS IN IRAQ NEWS: Iraq Ready for Decisive Election in a Week. Iraq's preparations are complete for its parliamentary election, the Electoral Commission said on Thursday, a week before a vote that may set the balance of power for years to come in a nation at risk of all-out civil war. "Our preparations have ended and everything is now ready," Commission chairman Hussein Hindawi told Reuters. Yet the campaign, in its rhetoric at least, leaves little room to suppose a peaceful compromise will be easy among Kurds set on virtual independence, Shi'ites keen to assert majority rule, Islamic law and a big share of oil revenues and Sunnis anxious to regain a prominent role in a centralised Iraqi state. The polarisation of the electorate in different regions has meant in effect a series of parallel campaigns are being waged that has exposed splits, however, within all the communities. Mob violence against a minority Islamist party in Kurdistan this week showed up the ugly side of a drive by the region's two main parties, both secular though long at war with each other, to monopolise Kurdish votes and maximise their say in Baghdad. Similarly, Shi'ite leaders campaigning against the ruling Alliance coalition, formed mainly by the Islamists of SCIRI and Dawa, have complained of violence and intimidation in the south. NEWS: Iraqi Community to Cast Votes at Fairgrounds in Pleasanton (Calf.) The fairgrounds have been chosen as an official Iraqi polling location for the upcoming election for a new Council of Representatives in that country. It will be one of only three such polling locations in the state; the others are Los Angeles and El Cajon, near San Diego. Voting will take place Tuesday through Thursday of next week, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. each day. NEWS: Shi’ite Coalition Strained as Iraq Elections Near. The possible fracturing of the conservative coalition, they say, may create the conditions for a realignment of Iraq’s political spectrum, crating an opening for a more moderate and secular candidate like the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, or even Ahmad Chalabi to assemble enough allies to claim the top spot in the new government. (If Allawi, former CIA agent and bomber in Baghdad in the 1990’s, or Chalabi, Iranian double agent get elected it will be because “someone” messed with those ballots. – Susan) NEWS: Behind Iraq Politicians, an Ayatollah Holds Sway. The recent traffic to the doorstep of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in this southern shrine city should remove any doubt about who is really the most powerful man in Iraq. Shi'ites make up Iraq's majority, and an alliance of Islamist Shi'ites -- many with ties to Iran -- dominates the current government in no small part because Sistani told Shi'ites to vote for the alliance in January. Since then, Shi'ite politicians in the salons of power, and the faithful on the streets alike, have been turning to Najaf to seek Sistani's orders on nearly everything, from the drafting of the constitution this summer to campaign strategy for the Dec. 15 national parliamentary elections and even how people should vote. Iraq's Shi'ite clerics repeatedly emphasize that they reject the approach of Iran's ayatollahs, who dominate almost every aspect of politics and society. But Sistani's inordinate influence over political life in Iraq indicates that Iraq's Shi'ite religious leaders intend to keep the government under their control, at least indirectly. In Najaf, Sistani dominates discussion just as surely as the gold dome of the shrine of Imam Ali dominates the storied downtown, the destination for millions of fervent Shi'ite pilgrims and site of a blistering battle last year between a Shi'ite militia and US forces. NEWS: Office of Allawi’s Movement Set Ablaze in Karbala. NEWS: Gunman Storm Allawi’s office. (There is just no way this guy can win a fair election in Iraq. – Susan) NEWS: In Iraq, Signs of Political Evolution. Tucked into a bunker-like former headquarters of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, a type of war room unfamiliar in this country buzzed with life Wednesday. Halfway through a 14-hour shift, campaign workers from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab group that boycotted the country's previous elections in January, munched rice and kebabs, their faces lit by computer screens. Across town, hundreds of black-clad followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr -- who decried balloting 10 months ago as something imposed under American occupation -- beat their backs with chains and stomped across a large poster of former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi. Sadr's political wing has joined forces with the alliance of Shiite religious parties that leads Iraq's current government and opposes Allawi's secular movement. "It is like night and day from 10 months ago in terms of level of participation and political awareness," said a Canadian election specialist with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a group affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party that is working to ease Iraq's transition to democracy. NEWS: Major Parties and Contenders for the December Parliamentary Elections. Just one of the many: United Iraqi Alliance Led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim The UIA includes supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- who ran as independents in the January election -- as well as representatives from 16 other parties: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party (both branches), the Islamic Virtue Party, the Badr Organization, the Justice (Al-Adalah) Party, the Islamic Hope Organization, the Hizballah Movement in Iraq, the Masters of the Martyrs Movement, the Central Grouping Party, the Iraqi Turkoman Loyalty Movement, the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkomans, the Justice and Equality Grouping, the Reform and Construction Gathering, the Iraqi Democrats Movement, and the Free Iraqis Party (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 4 November 2005). There are 38 candidates from the Al-Sadr Bloc on the UIA list, according to the 16 November edition of al-Sadr's weekly "Al-Hawzah" -- including parliamentarians Baha al-A'raji and Qusay Abd al-Wahhab al-Suhail -- and Al-Basrah's Deputy Governor Salam Awdah al-Maliki. The UIA platform calls for enforcing the Iraqi Constitution, promoting national unity, th depoliticization and reform of government institutions, the establishment of regional governments, the prosecution of Ba'athist criminals, providing basic services to citizens, improving economic conditions through investment and job growth, achieving social justice and improving living standards, guaranteeing freedom of speech, adopting a social security system, and providing free education at all levels. NEWS: Barzani Supporters Attack Kurdish Party Building On the eve of the December 15 elections in Iraq, tension in the north of the country is escalating. Kurdish groups clashed due to a dispute over a common list, and four people died in the skirmish on Wednesday. The Iraqi Kurdish Islamic Union became a target when they decided to depart from the partnership called the “Kurdish Joint List” led by Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and chose to participate in the polls independently. KDP supporters attacked PUK offices in various northern Iraqi towns such as Dohuk, Zaho, Amedi, Shaklaca, Kadash, Sedarash, and Akre. A candidate deputy, Mushir Ahmet of KDP, and three others died in the skirmish. According to eye witnesses, crowd gathered in front of PUK bureau in Dohuk called for the party to take down Kurdish flags since they do not want to be included in Kurdish Alliance; clashes followed. KDP supporters tried to set the building on fire, resulting in 21 people wounded. The Iraqi Kurdish Islamic Union was part of the Kurdish Alliance in January elections. REPORT: Kurds Wary of Shi’ite Islamists in Coming Election. Iraq's Kurds have a lot at stake in elections next week, and one message they are sending to rivals ahead of the vote is that they don't want to see another government led by Islamist Shi'ites emerge. "I am a Kurd to my bones, and in a fundamentalist Kurdish state I will not live a single day," said Hero Talabani, the wife of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who leads one of the two parties that dominate the northern Kurdish region. "If an Islamic party becomes the government in Iraq ... or if there is a civil war between the Sunnis and Shi'ites, then we will separate," said Kasrat Rasoul, a former prime minister of Kurdistan and a senior figure in Talabani's PUK party. While Rasoul's words may sound like a threat, the Kurds know they are a powerful bloc with leverage. And because Kurdistan has avoided much of the violence tearing the rest of Iraq apart, they know they have good reason at least to consider separation. REPORT: Iraq’s Election Organisers Predict Higher Turnout Organisers of next week's Iraqi election say they expect voter turnout to be higher than in January's historic poll or the referendum held in October. They say more sophisticated campaigning, better media coverage and an increase in the number of polling stations in some of Iraq's more lawless provinces will ensure that at least two thirds of Iraqis turn out to vote. "I think turnout will be even higher than in the referendum in October, when it was 64 percent," Hussein Hindawi, head of Iraq's electoral commission, told reporters this week. Noor Kamil, a 25-year-old worker at a tourism company in the capital, said she would not vote. "I didn't take part in the last election, nor in the referendum and I will not take part in the next one because I don't want to have regrets," she said. "I don't want to choose someone who might then disappoint me." Ghina, a 32-year-old government employee, said she would vote for former prime minister Iyad Allawi "even though my brother does not want me to go" to the polling station. Afiya al-Neimy, 32, said she did not plan to vote: "There is no need to spend time on something which ends in nothing." COMMENTARY OPINION: More Blood Spent for Phony Victory. The Bush-Rove "Strategy for Victory in-Iraq" plan is simply a replay of the Nixon-Kissinger "Victory-in-Vietnam" plan. It is designed to create the same "decent interval" between our withdrawal and whatever the eventual, and probably tragic, outcome will be. The plan's purpose is purely political, as was the Vietnam plan it copies. The "decent interval" permits the president to claim a rhetorical victory, as Nixon did about Vietnam, and the American people to come to the conclusion - again precisely as in the Vietnam case - that the eventual outcome is the fault of the natives themselves and not the result of our withdrawal. Will it work? Yes, if the "decent interval" can be created it will be a political success for Bush-Rove, as the Nixon-Kissinger plan was for them. No, if the time lines don't cross as hoped. Whatever the outcome, it is a craven, cold-blooded political strategy. To save his administration, the president has decided to offer up yet more Iraqi lives and to continue to cynically sacrifice the blood of yet more young Americans. - Peter A. Alaimo, Scottsdale OPINION: "If there's hope for Arab and American societies to view each other again through a more balanced and representative prism, I think it's critical to give those voices a chance to be heard..."— Kevin Sites OPINION: Sacred Terror. The much-belated, poll-prompted outcry of a few U.S. elected officials against the widespread use of torture by the Bush administration -- following years of silent acquiescence in the face of incontrovertible evidence of deliberate atrocity -- is a welcome development, of course. But it has left an even more sinister aspect of Bushist policy untouched, one that likewise has been hidden in plain sight for years. On Sept. 17, 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing the use of "lethal measures" against anyone in the world whom he or his minions designated an "enemy combatant." This order remains in force today. No judicial evidence, no hearing, no charges are required for these killings; no law, no border, no oversight restrains them. Bush has also given agents in the field carte blanche to designate "enemies" on their own initiative and kill them as they see fit.The existence of this universal death squad -- and the total obliteration of human liberty it represents -- has not provoked so much as a crumb of controversy in the American establishment, although it's no secret. The executive order was first bruited in The Washington Post in October 2001. We first wrote of it here in November 2001. The New York Times added further details in December 2002. That same month, Bush officials made clear that the edict also applied to U.S. citizens, as The Associated Press reported. The first officially confirmed use of this power was the killing of a U.S. citizen in Yemen by a CIA drone missile on Nov. 3, 2002. A similar strike occurred in Pakistan this month, when a CIA missile destroyed a house and purportedly killed Abu Hamza Rabia, a suspected al-Qaida figure. But the only bodies found at the site were those of two children, the houseowner's son and nephew, Reuters reports. The grieving father denied any connection to terrorism. An earlier CIA strike on another house missed Rabia but killed his wife and children, Pakistani officials reported. OPINION: Truth for the Troops. Similarly, Cheney once again implied a link between the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Saddam Hussein. His words were slippery, but his meaning was clear: "Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq . . . we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq . . . and the terrorists hit us anyway." Yes, and the crowing of the rooster makes the sun come up. Cause and effect is being mocked here. OPINION: Should We Stay or Should We Go? The wild card in this picture, though, is Bush. As Lee Feinstein, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, points out, Bush's goals in Iraq are "maximalist": The president doesn't just expect success in Iraq, he wants "complete victory," and to eradicate the insurgency and build a democratic state that's a beacon to its neighbors. Bush is, furthermore, immune to the political pressure that other leaders in Washington face -- he doesn't have to run again -- and it's not clear whether he and his defense establishment understand the difficulty of keeping the military stretched so thin for so long. Then there's the scary stuff. In the New Yorker last week, Seymour Hirsh pointed to another reason Bush may feel compelled to keep fighting in Iraq -- his religious sense that "God put me here" to fight. Taken together, Bush's views on Iraq may mean that even if Congress and the foreign policy establishment muddles toward some halfway sensible solution, the president will just keep going the way he wants. "This president has a mind-set that says that we would have won in Vietnam if only we'd stuck with it," says Rick Barton, a post-conflict reconstruction expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I think he's going to try to stick with it here." At other points in his speech, Bush appeared dreamily ideological, a man on a mission, undeterred by reality. No serious observer of the war can argue that it's keeping Americans safer, yet Bush pushed that line repeatedly. "By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people," he said. "Against this adversary, there is only one effective response: We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory." OPINION: As I survey the landscape here in Iraq, dehumanization seems to be the operative means of relating to each other. U.S. forces in their quest to hunt down and kill "terrorists" are as a result of this dehumanizing word, not only killing "terrorist", but also killing innocent Iraqis: men, women and children in the various towns and villages. It seems as if the first step down the road to violence is taken when I dehumanize a person. That violence might stay within my thoughts or find its way into the outer world and become expressed verbally, psychologically, structurally or physically. As soon as I rob a fellow human being of his or her humanity by sticking a dehumanizing label on them, I begin the process that can have, as an end result, torture, injury and death. OPINION: Don’t Jump to Conclusions about the Iraqi “good news” Reports. I understand the arguments of Americans who didn't want the US to go to war in Iraq, and those who want to pull out now, even though I disagree with both positions. I understand, and agree with, Americans and others who think the postwar operation has been mishandled. (Got that so far? He agrees with going to war in Iraq, doesn’t think we should quit, and agrees that this war has been mishandled. – Susan) He goes on: But that was then, and this is now, and however things turn out, I do not understand why some people have difficulty understanding President Bush's vision for the future of the Islamic Arab world. It is to remove from Iraq the legacy of Saddam Hussein (who occupied Kuwait, warred with Iran, and massacred hundreds, and probably thousands, of his own people) and launch Iraq on the road to freedom - a selfless goal that might trigger movement toward democracy in other Islamic lands. It is the same kind of motivation that caused America to want to liberate Europe from Naziism and the Far East from Japanese militarism in World War II (That’s not why they did it. – Susan) But if America is to nurture and spread democracy, it must itself practice it and be seen to practice it. That is why it is distressing to see actions taken supposedly in support of this goal, but that besmirch it and are in contradiction to the principles we profess to stand by. (He goes on to decry the fake stories in Iraq news and the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib that he says was caused by “a rogue and poorly led reservist unit”. No mention AT ALL of the innocent Iraqi checkpoint shootings, or bombing runs, or flattening of Fallujah, or of the drones that have done extra judicial killings of foreigners in foreign countries – Bush bragged about this in his 2003 SOTU speech – without an arrest, trial, evidence or even confirmation of who exactly was killed. But he cannot understand why people have difficulty understanding Bush’s “vision”!!!! Another strong member of the reality-challenged, fantasy-based American community. Only in America. It is an embarassment that the US press prints such drivel. – Susan) OPINION: An Author’s Confession—He Got The War Wrong. George Packer supported Iraq Invasion, But Now Fears Spiraling Civil Conflict The single most doubtful line in the book, and one that I have quoted back to me all the time, is: "The Iraq war was always winnable. It still is." I wrote that in April of this year. We were coming off the success of the January elections. The violence had subsided quite a bit. It seemed to me that Iraq was becoming a country in which the majority of people wanted to live together under a representative government. In the six or seven months since then, it has really moved toward civil war. And the election may very well have had a role in it, because the Sunnis locked themselves out and that became a self-fulfilling act. By now, I'm quite grim, and I would not have written that line in the present tense. The armed militias are running the show. The young and the dispossessed and the angry and the religious have become the wave of the future. They've been released by the invasion to impose their own vision of Iraq on the country, usually at the point of a gun. It is no longer mostly about an anti-occupation insurgency. That is the short-term battle and in a way the cover and the pretext for the power struggle among Iraq's major groups. OPINION: US Invasion Has Turned Iraq Into Terrorist Training Ground: Turkish PM Turkey's prime minister has criticised military solutions to the so-called "war on terror", saying the US-led invasion of Iraq had transformed the country into a training ground for extremists. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's first Islamist government, said military action was not an effective way to combat militants. He said global defence budgets totalled one trillion US dollars annually, with only a fraction of that amount spent trying to eradicate extremism's root causes such as poverty, ignorance and religious intolerance. PEACE ACTION: Please sign this petition to cut funding for the war in Iraq. CASUALTY REPORTS Local Story: US Soldiers from Lovelock, Nevada dies in Iraq from non-combat injuries. Local Story: Marine killed in Iraq to be honored in Little Falls, Minn. QUOTE OF THE DAY: "When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murders, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it always." Mahatma Ghandi


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