Sunday, December 04, 2005

War News for Sunday, December 04, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Three members of Iraq's security forces, including a high-ranking officer in the police's criminal department, killed in Baghdad in separate attacks.

Bring ‘em on: Gunmen shot dead a Shiite Muslim candidate who was running in this month's general election. Sheik Abdul-Salam Abdul-Husseindied instantly in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Zayouna. Gunmen in two cars opened fire, killing police commander Lt. Col. Abdul-Razaak Abdul-Jabbar as he was heading to work in western Baghdad. (Probably the high-ranking officer referenced in entry above.) A bomb exploded in Tahrir square, killing three civilians.

Bring ‘em on: Update: The death toll in an insurgent attack in Baquba on an Iraqi army patrol reached 21, hospital sources said Sunday. Hospital sources said that 19 soldiers and two civilians died in the incident.

Bring ‘em on: Two U.S soldiers were killed and several others wounded when their convoy was attacked in a roadside bombing in a south eastern suburb of Baghdad. A military spokeswoman said that two Humvees were destroyed in the ambush. Two Iraqi policemen were killed when gunmen attacked their patrol in Ahmar village, about 40 km east of Baquba. Two civilians were killed and 26 wounded when a bomb placed under a car exploded in central Baghdad. (Possibly the same attack referenced in the first entry above) A woman and two children were wounded when U.S forces conducted an air strike, bombing two houses in Baiji. The air strike followed a mortar attack on a U.S base near Baiji. Two insurgents were killed and 55 suspects detained when the Iraqi army conducted a raid in Udaim, near Baquba. The raid followed an ambush on Saturday that killed 19 Iraqi soldiers. Two people were killed, including a policeman, when a bomb planted on the side of the road exploded in Zarkuush, a village 70 km east of Baquba. The target of the bomb was not clear. Five members of the Iraqi security forces were wounded when a roadside bomb went off near their patrol in Iskandariya. Reports conflicted about whether they were members of the army or police and one source said one wounded man later died.

New offensive: US and Iraqi forces undertook a new offensive on Sunday in a town where 19 Iraqi troops were killed a day earlier, as forces wrapped up their latest operations in the restive al-Anbar province.

US and Iraqi forces swept through the town of al-Adhaim, 100km north of Baghdad, in the aftermath of an ambush on Saturday that killed the Iraqi soldiers, according to security sources.

The operation, which lasted through to Sunday morning, resulted in the killing of two insurgents and the arrest of another 55, the military said.

Splitting the insurgency?: The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi and his network of hard-line jihadis have long been the driving force of the insurgency, transforming it from a nationalist struggle to one fueled by religious zealotry and infused with foreign recruits. But a Time investigation, based on dozens of interviews with military and intelligence officials as well as Iraqi leaders inside and outside the insurgency, reveals that Iraqis are reclaiming the upper hand, forcing al-Zarqawi to adjust. Differences between Baathist insurgent groups and al-Qaeda are driven by discomfort with al-Zarqawi's extreme tactics and willingness among some Iraqi commanders to join the political process. U.S. officials in Baghdad confirm to Time that they have stepped up their efforts to negotiate with nationalist insurgents and the Sunnis they represent. "We want to deal with their legitimate concerns," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tells Time. "We will intensify the engagement, interaction and discussion with them."

That doesn't mean the U.S. is any closer to getting out of Iraq.

Samarra: After keeping their distance for months, Iraqis in this Sunni Arab city suddenly began cooperating with U.S. troops, leading them to insurgents and hidden weapons caches. The reason: anger over the assassination by insurgents of a local tribal chief. "That's when they decided to make a stand," said Capt. Ryan Wylie of Lincoln, Neb., commander of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment. "They definitely had an idea of the terrorists and where they hang out." U.S. commanders cite other reasons for a lull in violence in this city 60 miles north of Baghdad. They include construction of an 11-mile berm around the city to block gun runners and a greater reliance by the military on covert monitoring positions. But almost everyone agrees that the biggest reason for the reduction in violence here was the public backlash against the insurgents after the Oct. 11 assassination of Sheik Hikmat Mumtaz al-Bazi, chief of one of the area's seven tribes.

Mercenaries: Private security contractors have been involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, but none has been prosecuted for wrongdoing despite findings in at least one fatal case that the men had not followed proper procedures, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Instead, security contractors suspected of reckless behavior are shipped back home, sometimes with U.S. knowledge, stirring fierce resentment among Iraqis and raising questions about accountability.

Iraqi Politics

Sistani: The revered Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani weighed into Iraq's election campaign Saturday with an instruction to his followers on how to vote that amounted to an endorsement of the ruling pro-Iranian Shiite coalition. In what his aides described as an oral statement issued through his Office of Fatwa, or religious instruction, in the holy city of Najaf, Sistani said Shiites are obligated to vote in the Dec. 15 election. He also specified that they should favor lists of candidates who are religiously inclined and that they should not vote for "weak" ones. The only group that fits that description is the United Iraqi Alliance, the heavyweight Shiite coalition of major religious parties that won the most votes in the last election and now dominates the government.

Iranian influence: More than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein and less than two weeks before millions of Iraqis go to the polls to elect their first permanent democratic government, the shadow of Iranian influence appears to be lengthening over parts of Iraq, particularly in the nation's Shiite-dominated south. While the U.S. military and the American public have concentrated on the Sunni-led insurgency in the central part of the country, supposedly more peaceful southern cities such as Basra have fallen under the sway of equally brutal Shiite militias. Many of them, Western and Iraqi security analysts say, are on the payroll of Tehran. Iran's clout in Basra received widespread attention in August, when U.S. journalist Steven Vincent was kidnapped and assassinated here, apparently in retaliation for exposing the infiltration of Iraqi police forces by Iranian-backed militias such as Thar Allah and the Badr Organization. A recent visit to the dusty city of 2 million, a vital Iraqi oil port, revealed that little has changed.

al-Hakim: Iraq’s most powerful politician, a secretive cleric who once led a militia based in Iran, launched the campaign Saturday of a Shiite alliance set to win the biggest number of seats in this month’s parliamentary vote.

Two years after appearing on Iraq’s murky political scene, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim remains difficult to read — a soft-spoken man with a reputation for ruthlessness and a preference for pulling strings behind the scenes.

Although a member of parliament, al-Hakim rarely attends sessions. Still, there is little question that al-Hakim is the most influential figure within the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which also includes Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Allawi: A crowd hurling shoes, rocks and tomatoes forced former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to cut short a visit on Sunday to Iraq's holiest Shi'ite shrine during a campaign trip to the city of Najaf, police officers said. A spokeswoman for Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, said she had no information on the incident but confirmed that Allawi, who is challenging the ruling Shi'ite Islamist Alliance bloc at next week's parliamentary election, had been in Najaf during the day. A police captain, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a large crowd of worshippers at the Imam Ali mosque hurled sandals and shoes at Allawi -- a grave insult in Iraqi culture.

Saddam: Attacks on lawyers and flaws in the Iraqi justice system mean the trial of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity will never satisfy international standards, a UN rights official said on Sunday.

John Pace, human rights chief at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, also condemned what he called illegal detentions by Iraqi and U.S. military authorities, including thousands of suspects held at Abu Ghraib prison.

An odd story: A Sunni Arab insurgent group was plotting to attack the trial of Saddam Hussein when it resumed Monday, Iraq's national security adviser said Sunday.

The statement by national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie's office said the 1920 Revolution Brigades planned to fire rockets at the court building during Monday's session. Iraqi intelligence uncovered the plot, but the statement did not say whether anyone had been arrested.

Victory Conditions

A mess: President Bush has laid out his markers for victory in Iraq, which raises an obvious question: How's it going over there?

The short answer: It's a mess. But that doesn't mean the effort is doomed to failure.

There are signs of progress amid the carnage, but for every step forward, there seems at least one step back, and the future is murky. Even some of the most pessimistic analysts admit that things still could work out. And most optimists acknowledge the risk of failure.

Here's a snapshot of conditions in the three broad areas that Bush outlined in Wednesday's speech at the U.S. Naval Academy and in his accompanying 35-page "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Indicators in all three areas - political reform, security and economic reconstruction - show a mixed picture, at best.

This should be good: President Bush is getting set for the second speech in his series on how he intends to achieve victory in Iraq.

The series kicked off last week with an address at the U-S Naval Academy focusing on the training of Iraq's security forces. Wednesday, the president will tell a Washington audience about efforts to rebuild Iraq's shattered economy.


Mark Engler: We hear a lot about the government largesse flowing toward Halliburton, Bechtel and a handful of other favored firms chosen to rebuild Iraq. Less often do we consider the possibility that the administration's bellicosity has been a major business blunder.

Breaking with the Clinton administration's advocacy for a cooperative, rules-based international economy -- a multilateral order known to critics as corporate globalization -- the Bush administration has fashioned a new model of imperial globalization, aggressive and unilateralist. This agenda, at best, benefits a narrow slice of the American business community and leaves the rest exposed to a world of popular resentment and economic uncertainty.

Washington Post: In hindsight, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the Pentagon has been secretly paying Iraqi journalists and news organizations to write and run positive stories about the war. After all, this is an administration that paid a U.S. columnist and peddled phony video news releases at home, too.

But saying it was predictable makes it no less loathsome and damaging to find that the Bush administration has treated the Iraqi press, the Iraqi people and the very idea of Iraqi democracy with even greater contempt.

Seattle Times: President George W. Bush needs some fresh material. Almost three years after the invasion he is trying to sell a "Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

If Mission Accomplished was grossly premature, a Strategy for Victory is way overdue. The president spoke at the U.S. Naval Academy, though a target audience was certainly the Iraqi people who go the polls in less than two weeks to elect a government.

Part of his message was a subliminal plea to make democracy work, so the U.S. has a reason for departure: Take your country back, please.

Bush is obviously open to leaving Iraq as quickly as possible. His lips say no, but his plan and prose are groping for an exit. His extended plan for victory is 35 pages of how bad things have been, but how bright he is determined they will be.

By the president's own qualified accounting, 2004 was an awful year and it serves as the benchmark for the administration's schematic for optimism. The credibility chasm — not gap — on Iraq might not be so vast if the White House had candidly acknowledged difficult work in progress. But no, candor and plain speaking were in conflict with the re-election campaign.

Richard Reeves: The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than Buchanan.

This is what those historians said -- and it should be noted that some of the criticism about deficit spending and misuse of the military came from self-identified conservatives -- about the Bush record:

He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;

He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;

He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;

He has repeatedly "misled," to use a kind word, the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;

He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);

He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;

He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;

He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Quite an indictment. It is, of course, too early to evaluate a president. That, historically, takes decades, and views change over times as results and impact become more obvious. Besides, many of the historians note that however bad Bush seems, they have indeed since worse men around the White House. Some say Buchanan. Many say Vice President Dick Cheney.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Sergeant William Meeuwsen died in Iraq the day before Thanksgiving. He died while trying to save fellow wounded soldiers.

Meeuwsen's funeral was held Saturday in Kingwood. Strangers lined sidewalks to pay tribute to an American hero.

"To see people that didn't even know Bill, but cared so much that he was a soldier, to see that, I broke down. Just to see people who did not even know Bill that cared so much that he was a soldier, to see that, I broke down," said Meeuwsen's friend, Garret Walvoord.

Local story: Sgt. Cari Anne Gasiewicz was killed on the road home from Iraq.

She was supposed to fly from Baghdad to Kuwait last December, a month before returning home for good from the Middle East.

She insisted on joining the road convoy of troops she worked with at Abu Ghraib prison. And when she was assigned as a passenger in that convoy, she again got her way, insisting on being a convoy driver.

Gasiewicz was driving in that convoy, just a few miles from a safe area, when she was killed Dec. 4 by an "improvised explosive device," apparently detonated from a cell phone.

Local story: "He was my best friend. We were really close," Matt Nyberg said.

Fighting tears, Matt Nyberg couldn't say enough about his close friend, the late Lance Corporal Andrew Patten.

"He was just a joy to be around. He was one of those guys that you were around him you didn't have to plan anything. Fun just happened," Nyberg said.

Their friendship took off in high school, and continued after Patten was deployed to Iraq on the 4th of July. Nyberg says above all, his friend believed in his duties as a Marine, a duty, tragically, he gave his life for.

Local story: Wade and Christine Kaiser are mourning the loss of their son, Adam, a Marine who was killed in Thursday's roadside bomb attack near Fallujah, Iraq.

"He offered his life for his country when called on for him to give it," the Romeoville father said, his voice cracking. "I can't be any more proud of him."

Lance Cpl. Adam W. Kaiser was 19 years old when he died in Thursday's blast.

Local story: During his three years in the Iowa Army National Guard, Sgt. Greg Tull earned a reputation as a soldier who wanted to be in the thick of every mission.

That’s how Tull, 20, of Pocahontas, was remembered during his funeral Saturday at the Faith Lutheran Church, where the sign out front read: “Sgt. Greg Tull, The Go-To Guy.”

Tull was killed on Nov. 25 when an improvised explosive device blew up next to the Humvee he was traveling in near Hit, Iraq. He was a member of the Detachment 1, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery.

Local story: Staff Sgt. Edward Karolasz was an adventurer, a fun-loving kid for whom the Army was a ticket to see the ski slopes of France and Italy's ancient cities.

He also, apparently, left his heart in Kearny. During nights in Iraq, he talked only of home. In letters to his little sister, he mused about mom's cooking.

When he came back, the family couldn't help showing him off.

"When we went out, Dad always made sure he wore his dress duties and stood by his side because he was so proud," his younger sister, Donna, remembered.

The family - and hundreds of friends and strangers - offered Karolasz a tearful farewell on Saturday, two weeks after the 25-year-old was killed by a roadside bomb in northern Iraq.

Local story: A roadside bomb exploded on a dusty Iraqi street, killing the first soldier from this Ionia County town since the Vietnam War.

By all accounts, Marine Lance Cpl. David Huhn died Thursday doing what he loved, fighting for a cause he believed in. He signed up in 2004, determined to stamp out the terrorism that so infuriated him three years earlier on Sept. 11.

Huhn, 24, was among 10 Marines killed from the 1st Marine Division, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Local story: When Shirley Watson packed Christmas gifts last week for her son, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Craig Watson, she kept things simple.

"Just some socks and underwear and some puzzle books," Shirley Watson said. "They have to carry everything around."

She mailed the gifts to Iraq, where her 21-year-old son was serving a second tour of duty before a scheduled homecoming in January. Military officers informed her at 2 a.m. Friday that her son was one of 10 Marines killed Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, by a roadside bomb near Fallujah.

Local story: A sergeant from Wisconsin was one of 10 Marines killed Thursday by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, authorities said Saturday.

Sgt. Andy Stevens, 29, of Tomah, Wis., was killed while conducting combat operations in the Al Anbar province, the Department of Defense said in a statement Saturday.

Local story: Not all the wounds received in Iraq are visible. Not all the combat deaths occur on the battlefield. For Capt. Michael Pelkey, the war followed him home.

After a year in the Persian Gulf region, Capt. Pelkey returned to Fort Sill, Okla., in July 2003. He quickly immersed himself in a new job and began getting reacquainted with his wife and infant son.

Then came the terrifying nightmares of the death and destruction he had seen in Iraq – and the inexplicable anxiety he felt in the safety of home. He grew forgetful. He began sleeping with a loaded 9 mm handgun.

On Nov. 5, 2004, a week after an off-post therapist determined that he had post-traumatic stress syndrome, Capt. Pelkey shot himself in the chest and died.


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