Tuesday, December 06, 2005

War News for Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Aljazeera aired video footage on Tuesday showing a man identified as Ronald Schulz, a security adviser for the Iraqi Housing Ministry. The group said in the tape it captured the adviser and was giving the US military in Iraq 48 hours to release all Iraqi prisoners, otherwise it would kill him.

Bring ‘em on: Hostage-takers are back in business in a big way in Iraq. Over the past five days, at least a dozen foreigners have been reported kidnapped. In the latest incident Monday, masked gunmen took a French engineer, Bernard Planche, off the streets of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: A U.S. soldier was killed on Sunday when his patrol was hit by an improvised bomb in the east of Baghdad. The bodies of 11 civilians on Monday were found dumped by a highway linking Iraq and Jordan in the western Iraqi town of Rutba.The bodies of nine Iraqi civilians were found on a road in the village of Abid Wayyij near Falluja on Monday. The identities of the bodies remains unclear. Iraqi and U.S. forces killed at least four insurgents who were preparing to fire rockets near the northern town of Dhuluiya on Monday. U.S. forces and insurgents clashed in the western Iraqi town of Ramadi on Tuesday. Reuters television footage showed a burning vehicle and military helicopters firing on houses possibly used by insurgents. Gunmen shot dead a guard who worked for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's office as he left his home in Khweylis, north of Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Two suicide bombers struck Baghdad's police academy Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and wounding 73 others.

Ramadi fighting: Hundreds of families have fled Ramadi, capital of the western Anbar Province, amidst fierce fighting between US military forces and Iraqi insurgents, according to aid agencies. On 2 December, US troops launched an offensive in Ramadi, located some 110 km from the capital, Baghdad, after insurgents were shown on television in apparent control of the city. “It was surprising to see hundreds of insurgents walking freely among our houses and asking locals to help finish off US troops,” said Sheikh Saleh Ibrahim, a local religious leader. According to aid agencies, more than 400 families have fled the city since, fearing that the US-led military operation could go on for days or weeks.

New tactics: For months, the military has been conducting raids in Anbar Province, the western desert region that has become a wellspring for the insurgency. But the taking of the youth center was one of the first steps in a new approach to taming the area: first sweep a town, then immediately garrison it and begin reconstruction - or what President Bush has called "clear, hold and build." Just as important, Iraqi forces are an integral component of the strategy.

The challenges are daunting: the quality of the Iraqi troops is still low, cooperation from local residents is scarce, and the insurgency, though damaged by the sweeps, remains strong. But by providing a continual security presence and improvements in the quality of life, the American command hopes to win support for the elected leadership and deny the insurgents the popular support they seek.

American military officials in Anbar say this has always been their plan - it has already been applied elsewhere in the country - but they never had enough troops to carry it out. Since spring, the number of Iraqi troops operating in Anbar Province has surged to the current level of about 16,000 from about 2,500 in March, said Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, commander of Multinational Force West and Second Marine Expeditionary Force, which oversees security in Anbar. The Iraqis join about 32,000 coalition troops.

Expect black days: Election posters promising a stable Iraq cut no ice with men like Abu Mohammed, who runs a women's clothing boutique in Baghdad's Adhamiya district by day but is an insurgent fighter by night.

As an insurgent, Abu Mohammed attacks U.S. military convoys with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles, fights Iraqi troops and hunts down "informers".

"Expect black days. Elections won't change anything. This is a long-term struggle. We will fight for the next 20 years," said Abu Mohammed, who used that name as an insurgent.

Iraqi forces: The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big "setback" in the last six months, with the army and other forces being increasingly used to settle scores and make other political gains, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said Monday. Al-Yawer disputed contentions by U.S. officials, including President Bush, that the training of security forces was gathering speed, resulting in more professional troops.

More al-Yawar: Iraqi Vice-President Ghazi al-Yawar said on Tuesday that sectarianism and foreign intervention were hampering Iraq's efforts to form a national unity government.

Shi'ites and Kurds, once marginalised under former President Saddam Hussein, swept to power in January elections. Sunni political leaders, and many of Iraq's Arab neighbours, fear the government is now too closely allied to Shi'ite, non-Arab Iran.

"The problem is in the leaders and foreign intervention, whether it is international or regional," Yawar said, urging political parties to abandon sectarian or ethnic interests.

Japanese deployment: Japan plans to extend its humanitarian military mission to Iraq into 2006 but could pull its ground forces in the middle of the year if the British and Australian troops guarding them leave, the Kyodo News Agency reported Tuesday.

On Thursday, the Japanese Cabinet is expected to formally approve a yearlong extension of the mission, which expires Dec. 14, Kyodo said.

But the government is preparing to pull its troops out of the southern Iraqi city of Samawah by mid-2006 because the forces providing security for them are widely expected to withdraw in May, according to Kyodo, which says it obtained a copy of the extension plan.

It’s official – it’s all Turkey’s fault: Rumsfeld acknowledged that the war has not gone according to plan, but said many things that were feared — including destruction of oil fields — have not happened. He said the insurgency was larger than some had expected, and early efforts to counter it were hampered when infantry units were not allowed to go into northern Iraq through Turkey. From Bush's declaration of an end of major combat in May 2003 to Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion in May 2005 that the insurgency was "in the last throes," the administration has taken a positive stance. But the deadly groups — including Sunni extremists and foreign terrorists coming across the borders — have continued to kill U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Wuss watch: Around the country, many grass-roots Democrats are clamoring for a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. On Capitol Hill, Democratic politicians have grown newly aggressive in denouncing the Bush administration's war strategy and outlining other options. But among the Democratic foreign-policy elite, dominated by people who previously served in the top ranks of government, there are stark differences -- and significant vagueness -- about a viable alternative.

Torture and Renditions

Screwing the Italians: In March 2003, the Italian national anti-terrorism police received an urgent message from the CIA about a radical Islamic cleric who had mysteriously vanished from Milan a few weeks before. The CIA reported that it had reliable information that the cleric, the target of an Italian criminal investigation, had fled to an unknown location in the Balkans.

In fact, according to Italian court documents and interviews with investigators, the CIA's tip was a deliberate lie, part of a ruse designed to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian refugee known as Abu Omar.

The strategy worked for more than a year until Italian investigators learned that Nasr had not gone to the Balkans after all. Instead, prosecutors here have charged, he was abducted off a street in Milan by a team of CIA operatives who took him to two U.S. military bases in succession and then flew him to Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured by Egyptian security agents before being released to house arrest.

The American gulag: Two CIA secret prisons were operating in Eastern Europe until last month when they were shut down following Human Rights Watch reports of their existence in Poland and Romania.

Current and former CIA officers speaking to ABC News on the condition of confidentiality say the United States scrambled to get all the suspects off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there today. The officers say 11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert.


Peter Preston: Suppose, for the sake of hope and argument, that one fine day the insurgency does begin to fade, that Iraq's economy revives and the first fruits of transition begin to appear. Who'll bring that news and that understanding to the people but the journalists of Iraq, professionals enduring constant peril day by day? But no one, surely, will pay them heed when they begin to bring good news. They will be dismissed, with a shrug, as paid lackeys from an occupying power, hacks who would say that, wouldn't they?

And exactly the same problem infects the al-Jazeera debacle, this time for Blair as well as Bush. The BBC World Service is closing down in much of eastern Europe in order to spend £19m of Foreign Office cash a year on an Arab TV news channel to rival al-Jazeera and bring the western message to the streets of the Middle East. But what are those streets now asked to think? If you can't beat them, bomb them? If you can't woo them, sue them? This isn't just wrong, whether war or not. It is imbecility.

Bob Herbert: Every morning, when Mr. Shroeder awakens, he feels normal for the first 5 or 10 seconds. And then it dawns on him that his son, Augie - Lance Cpl. Edward August Shroeder II - is no longer around. Then an awful sadness descends, like a black curtain, over the rest of the day.

Corporal Shroeder, 23, was one of 14 marines killed last August in a roadside explosion in Haditha, in western Iraq. Just two days earlier, six marines from the same reserve unit - the Ohio-based Third Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment - had been killed in an ambush.

"When you have one or two guys get killed, it's back by the truss ads," said Mr. Shroeder. "It's not on the front page. But when you have 20 killed from the same unit in the space of 48 hours, that's big news."

The deaths of the 10 marines last week generated big headlines. But there was considerably less coverage the day before, when the Defense Department announced that four other servicemen had been killed in separate incidents in Iraq. The coverage fluctuates, but the suffering and dying of young American troops in this hellish meat grinder of a war goes on day by day, without end.

Peter Phillips, Project Censored: Anthony Romero, Executive Director of ACLU stated, "There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths." ACLU attorney Amrit Sing adds, "These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations."

A press release on these deaths by torture was issued by the ACLU on October 25, 2005 and was immediately picked up by Associated Press and United Press International wire services, making the story available to US corporate media nationwide. A thorough check of Nexus-Lexus and Proquest electronic data bases, using the keywords ACLU and autopsy, showed that at least 95percent of the daily papers in the US didn't bother to pick up the story. The Los Angeles Times covered the story on page A-4 with a 635-word report headlined "Autopsies Support Abuse Allegations." Fewer than a dozen other daily newspapers including: Bangor Daily News, Maine, page 8; Telegraph-Herald, Dubuque Iowa, page 6; Charleston Gazette, page 5; Advocate, Baton Rouge, page 11; and a half dozen others actually covered the story. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Seattle Times buried the story inside general Iraq news articles. USA Today posted the story on their website. MSNBC posted the story to their website, but apparently did not consider it newsworthy enough to air on television.

Interview - Andrew Tyrie, MP: Well, let's deal with each of those points in turn. First of all, I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me fairly clear that since Britain, for example, has incorporated the U.N. Convention Against Torture directly into its domestic law, if we are knowingly allowing flights to pass through the U.K., land there, have refueling, and then go on, knowing that it's likely that people are going to be tortured, it strikes me that those actions must make us complicit in the torture and that, therefore, we have broken the Convention. Likewise, I suspect that we may have broken the Human Rights Act if we have done this. There would also be possibly breaches to the criminal law, the ordinary criminal law, which, of course, prohibits torture, and that's a question which another pressure group in Britain called Liberty is actually pursuing with the police authorities at the moment.

As far as your second question is concerned, the problem is, none of us know the facts. None of us know whether there is any holding center in the U.K. I think that's unlikely, because I think we would have got to hear about it. I suspect that's perhaps why the Americans have been -- administration has been setting up these in countries in Eastern Europe. So, I don't know whether that's the case. But I think it's unlikely. What I do know -- I hope I have not gone on too long -- what I do know is that we need a healthy debate about this in a democracy, and we need to make up our minds whether this is the right way to go. I don't; I think torturing people is likely to make the war against terrorism more difficult, not less difficult. Of course, Condoleezza Rice has now said we must have this healthy debate, but only yesterday her spokesman, Mr. Hanley, was saying these are things that shouldn’t be talked about in public. And there does seem to be a pretty flat contradiction between those two points.

Stephen Pizzo: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is mad. No, I mean seriously ill. Mentally ill. Demonstrably so.

I can't say whether or not he was mad from the start, but I can tell you with some degree of certainty that he is now. And he's getting worse. Each successive news conference he sounds more and more like the character, Dr. Charles Montague, who was head of "The Place for the Very, Very Nervous" in the 1977 Mel Brooks flick, High Anxiety.

Don got so nutty during his weekly news conference last week that Joint Chiefs head, General Pace, had to reel him in; not once, but twice.

Juan Cole: The hawks in the Bush administration had initially hoped that a conquered Iraq would form the launching pad for a further American war on Iran. The Shiites of Iraq foiled that plan. Sistani forced the Americans into direct, one-person, one-vote elections. Those elections in turn ensured that the religious Shiites would come to power, since they had the greatest street credibility, given their long struggle against Saddam and their nationalist credentials in the face of American occupation. An Iraq dominated by religious Shiites who had often lived in exile in Iran for decades is inevitably an Iraq with warm relations with Tehran. The U.S., bogged down in a military quagmire in the Sunni Arab regions, cannot afford to provoke massive demonstrations and uprisings in the Shiite areas of Iraq by attacking Iran. Bush has inadvertently strengthened Iran, giving it a new, religious Shiite ally in the Gulf region. The traditional Sunni powers in the region, such as the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are alarmed and annoyed that Bush has created a new “Shiite crescent.” Far from weakening or overthrowing the ayatollahs, Bush has ensconced and strengthened them. Indeed, by chasing after imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he may have lost any real opportunity to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.

The real winners of the Iraq war are the Shiites.

William Fisher: What outrages many of us is not that corruption is rampant in most of the so-called "developing nations." Corruption is a way of life in poor countries, and is certainly not limited to the press (try getting through Customs sometime).

No, there are three other good reasons why this latest episode ought to make us angry. First, as far as we know, the journalists didn’t ask for money—the Pentagon offered it. And it did so as part of an organized and well-funded program, complete with its own contractor.

Second, it did so in secret. Absent the Los Angeles Times , which broke the story, chances are that none of us would ever have known that bribing journalists for ‘good news’ coverage of the Iraq war was yet another example of our tax dollars at work. Such transparency has been poison to the Bush administration.

Worst of all, the Defense Department’s payola scheme was being carried out at the same time the State Department’s exchange program was working to teach foreign journalists about the role and responsibility of a free press.

Why is this the worst aspect of this situation? Because it adds to the widespread perception of U.S. hypocrisy— at a time when we are spending millions trying to "win hearts and minds" around the world.

Casualty Report

Local story: The South Dakota National Guard will have someone in Yankton this week to help the families of two soldiers killed and three others injured in Iraq. A roadside bomb killed 40-year-old Sergeant First Class Richard Schild of Tabor and 27-year-old Staff Sergeant Daniel Cuka of Yankton on Sunday. They were among the 151 members of Battery C of the 147th Field Artillery unit. Specialist Corey Briest of Yankton, Specialist Allen Kokesh of Yankton and Private Warren Bender of Redfield were injured in the accident. Their conditions were not released. The unit went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, in July for training then left for Kuwait in October before going into Iraq. The soldiers were helping train Iraq police.


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