Tuesday, December 13, 2005

War News for Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Milestones: This week, another milestone was passed in the war in Iraq.

Monday marked the 1,000th day of the war, a war whose human and financial toll grows day by day.

Nearly 2,200 American military men and women have died. Nearly 16,000 have been wounded. Estimates of Iraqi civilians killed range from 30,000 to more than 100,000.

There are about 158,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. One-third of the soldiers there have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than once.

One in five are returning from Iraq with either major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Of the U.S. soldiers that have died, 51 percent come from towns with fewer than 2,500 residents. Vermont still holds the unwanted title of most deaths per capita of all 50 states, one per 44,000 residents. One in four of those who have died have been minorities. One in four of those who have died have been reservists or National Guard members.

More Americans have died so far in Iraq than in all the U.S. major military operations since the Vietnam war combined. This excludes the nearly 300 U.S. soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since October 2001.

Then there are the other deaths. Sixty journalists have killed in Iraq. The numbers are hazy about the number of private contractors and civilian employees killed, but it's estimated that more than 400 have died and nearly 4,000 have been wounded.

The war in Iraq is estimated to cost about $195 million a day, or a total of about $251 billion as of the end of October 2005. By comparison, the total cost of the Vietnam War was $600 billion in current dollars. This is the butcher's bill, the terrible cost of war that is borne by us all.

One always struggles to find meaning in the sacrifice of blood and treasure on the battlefield. The struggle is particularly hard in this war, because all of the reasons why the United States invaded Iraq have been proved to be dubious at best and outright lies at worst.

Major kudos to Mike at Born at the Crest of the Empire, both for alerting us to the existence of his excellent blog and for the picture above – a fallen American soldier coming home as freight. Please drop by Mike’s site and tell him thanks.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier wounded in a suicide attack targeting US military patrol in Fallujah.

Bring ‘em on: One U.S soldier was killed when a patrol was struck by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad. Two civilians were killed and 15 others wounded, including five policemen, when a car bomb exploded near a police station in eastern Baghdad. Three policemen and a civilian were killed and nine people wounded in clashes between Iraqi police and gunmen in the western Ghazaliya district of Baghdad (This may be an update to an item posted yesterday reporting two dead and seven wounded. Or it may be something new. Who can tell?). Seven Iraqi policemen were wounded in clashes with gunmen in Baghdad's western Amiriya district. A U.S. soldier assigned to the Marines was killed on Sunday in a suicide car bomb attack. Police said they found the bodies of four people in southern Baghdad on Monday. The families of the four told police they had been taken on Sunday by men posing as members of the Iraqi Major Crime Unit. Three civilians were wounded when a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police check point in Nahrawan, a suburb in southeastern Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Gunmen in Ramadi killed Sunni Arab political candidate Mezher al-Dulaimi while he was filling up his car at a gas station. A roadside bomb targeted the convoy of Sheik Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a Shiite member of the National Assembly who was elected with the governing United Iraqi Alliance. The Iraqi army said the explosion in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, damaged one of the vehicles.

Bring ‘em on: Four U.S. Army soldiers were killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. The soldiers were assigned to Task Force Baghdad, which handles security in the capital and the surrounding area. No further details were released.

Kidnappings: Iraqi and British officials said Sunday they had no word on the fate of four Christian peace activists, more than a day after the expiration of a deadline set by kidnappers to kill them if all prisoners weren't released. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr and British Defense Secretary John Reid said separately that their governments had no information about the hostages - who include an American, a Briton and two Canadians.

The New Iraq ™

1,000 prisons in a nation the size of California. And those are just the ones we know about: Torture was routine in Iraqi prisons under former president Saddam Hussein. U.S. forces in Iraq drew international criticism for abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in which military guards photographed themselves humiliating naked Iraqi detainees. There was no suggestion of U.S. involvement in the latest abuses at the Interior Ministry prisons. The Iraqi government, led by Shiite parties with strong ties to Iran, has strongly rejected allegations of Iranian intelligence involvement in Interior Ministry prisons.

Sunni political leaders charge that similar incidents of torture are occurring at other Interior Ministry detention facilities and have identified some of the sites by name.

U.S. officials have said the FBI and the U.S. military are aiding the prison investigation. Authorities have identified more than 1,000 detention centers across Iraq.

Severe torture?: Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari yesterday said he would not tolerate torture by the Shi'ite-dominated government police forces, renewing his condemnation of the practice after US and Iraqi forces found abused, starved detainees at an Interior Ministry detention center.

US and Iraqi officials on Sunday said they had discovered at least 12 cases of what an Iraq official called ''severe torture" at a prison run by the Interior Ministry's special police commandos.

Prisoners had their bones broken and their fingernails pulled out, were subjected to electric shocks and had burning cigarettes crushed into their necks and backs, said the Iraqi official, who US officials said had first-hand knowledge of the torture.

No, just a few slaps: The Iraqi Interior Ministry insisted Monday that none of the 625 prisoners discovered last week in an Iraqi detention center had been tortured or abused, despite assertions by American officials to the contrary.

"Only a few guys were slapped on their faces," Mr. Anbagi said. "The prisoners who were taken to the hospital didn't have any serious injuries. They suffered from headaches only."

True story or Washington Times agitprop? You decide: An Iraqi general formerly in charge of special Interior Ministry forces said yesterday that a senior Iranian intelligence officer was in charge of a network of detention centers where suspected insurgents were routinely tortured and sometimes killed. Gen. Muntazar Jasim al-Samarrai spoke to The Washington Times just as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he had widened an urgent investigation into complaints of abuse and torture in the country's detention facilities. Gen. al-Samarrai said the Iranian intelligence officer, Tahseer Nasr Lawandi, works directly under the Kurdish deputy minister, Gen. Hussein Kamel, and is known throughout the ministry as "The Engineer." "The Engineer was behind the torturing and killing in the ministry and was also in charge of Jadriya prison," said Gen. al-Samarrai, who left the ministry after a dispute with superiors and is now living in Jordan.

More Iranian influence: An Iranian-backed militia, the Badr Organization, has taken over many of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's intelligence activities and infiltrated its elite commando units, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

That has enabled the Shiite Muslim militia to use Interior Ministry vehicles and equipment - much of it bought with American money - to carry out revenge attacks against the minority Sunni Muslims, who persecuted the Shiites under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, current and former Ministry of Interior employees say.

The officials, some of whom agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of violent reprisals, said the Interior Ministry was running Iranian-backed death squads and operating a network of secret prisons.

The militia's secret activities represent a dangerous obstacle to U.S.-backed efforts to persuade Sunnis to abandon the violent insurgency and join Shiites and Kurds in Iraq's fledgling political process. And by supporting Badr and other Shiite groups, Iran - part of President Bush's "axis of evil" - has used the American-led invasion to gain influence in Iraq.

Iraqi Politics

Analysis: In its National Strategy for Victory in Iraq the Bush administration recognizes that the key to defusing the insurgency is drawing the Sunni Arab community into the political process. And it correctly sees that this requires "inclusive institutions that offer power-sharing mechanisms and minority protections." As the strategy notes: such institutions would "demonstrate to disaffected Sunnis that they have influence and the ability to protect their interests in a democratic Iraq." Unfortunately, the administration finds it difficult to apply this precept where it would matter most: in the election process.

The procedures for the December 2005 election of Iraq’s Council of Representatives, which will govern for four years, puts Sunni Arab areas at a distinct disadvantage. It virtually guarantees that Sunni Arabs will be under-represented in government. This is no way to “win hearts and minds” or to erode support for the insurgency.

Kurdish influence to shrink?: With less than a week to go, there are fears young Kurds will snub the polls in protest at corruption, poor services and lack of jobs and housing in their northern self-rule region. In the January polls, the alliance won 77 seats, making Kurds the second-largest bloc in parliament. But this time round the number of Kurdish seats is expected to shrink as Sunni Arabs vote en masse for the first time.

Against this backdrop, every last Kurdish vote will be crucial to maintaining influence and representation in Baghdad. Party leaders say they will be happy with anything above 50 MPs.

Not if they can help it: With just four days to go until parliamentary elections, the Iraqi electoral commission said today that it had found irregularities in voter registration in the volatile northern oil city of Kirkuk.

The discovery was the first instance of an election irregularity announced by the commission as the country prepared for the vote on Thursday.

The commission said experts conducting an audit of voter lists found that there had been an unexpected surge in voter registration in the area. When the experts scrutinized the voter registration forms, the commission said in a written statement, they found that many had been filled out incorrectly. Some had missing signatures and others had more than one signature. In some cases, the same name appeared on several forms.

Bare knuckle politics: The political battle is being fought in the mosques, on the streets and in the news media, sometimes with appeals to sect loyalty and other times with rough tactics. Iraqis on Thursday will choose members of parliament for four-year terms, ending another period in their transition since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

There have been more than 100 allegations of violations of campaign rules submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. Most concern the illegal use of religious symbols and the destruction of campaign posters, which are pasted on every piece of wall space in the capital, including high concrete blast walls.

In at least two separate incidents over the past two weeks, men hanging United Iraqi Alliance posters were shot at, and one was killed.

Centrifugal forces: Iraqis are preparing to cast ballots on Thursday, for the third time this year. Despite continuing violence and vast challenges in the rebuilding of their battered country, many Iraqis are convinced that, if nothing else, an end to the political turmoil is in sight -- at least for the four-year term of the new Iraqi parliament. But almost everyone acknowledges that a single Iraqi state with a unified central government cannot contain the competing aspirations of religious Shi'ites, tribal Sunnis, and Kurds looking for independence from Iraq's Arab majority.

Poll results: Most Iraqis disapprove of the presence of U.S. forces in their country, yet they are optimistic about Iraq's future and their own personal lives, according to a new poll.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed oppose the presence of troops from the United States and its coalition partners and less than half, 44 percent, say their country is better off now than it was before the war, according to an ABC News poll conducted with Time magazine and other media partners.

But Iraqis are surprisingly upbeat on many fronts, the poll suggests.

Three-quarters say they are confident about the parliamentary elections scheduled for this week. More than two-thirds expect things in their country to get better in the coming months.

Attitudes about Iraq's future were sharply different in the Sunni provinces and other parts of Iraq, however. Only a third in the Sunni regions were optimistic about their country's future. Shiites, who with the Kurds dominate the current parliament, had a much more positive view than the Sunnis of their own personal safety and whether their own lives are going well.

A majority of both the Sunni and Shiite population say they favor a unified country, however.

Ballots cast: Iraqi soldiers cast some of the first ballots in national elections yesterday, cheering and waving pictures of firebrand Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as they trooped to the polls.

The soldiers, most of them Shi'ites from Baghdad or southern Iraq, will be on guard duty when most Iraqis vote Thursday and will be charged with securing the polls for the overwhelmingly Sunni population in this insurgent stronghold in western Anbar province.

Satan’s own election: Soldiers, patients and prisoners began voting Monday in national elections, three days ahead of the general population, while insurgents denounced the balloting as a "satanic project" but did not threaten to attack polling stations. The early voting went ahead despite the sound of detonations rumbling across the capital and at least 15 deaths in ongoing violence.

Qualified candidates: Four days before Iraqis vote for a new parliament, election officials Sunday turned down a government request to disqualify nearly 100 candidates suspected of having held mid-level leadership posts in Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. The decision, swiftly denounced by members of the ruling coalition, said the disputed candidates' names would remain on Thursday's ballot because a government panel set up to purge ex-Baathists from public office had failed to offer proof of rank in the now-outlawed party. In a separate statement Sunday, the officials said they were investigating a five-fold increase in the number of new voters in Kirkuk, an oil-rich, ethnically mixed northern city that Iraq's Kurds would like to incorporate into their self-ruled region.

Observers: Two Iraqi organizations on Sunday announced that they assigned 2500 observers to monitor elections in all Iraqi provinces, including the Kurdistan Region. Muhannad Al-Kanani, head of Shabakat Al-Ayn for Monitoring Elections, told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that the organization assigned 1500 observers, who completed their training two days ago, to monitor the elections in Iraq. Al-Kanini added that the organization would monitor the elections in prisons, hospitals, military posts, and the voting process in polling stations. Meanwhile, another organization called "Iraq Without Violence" announced that it trained over 975 individuals to record acts of violence against the elections. The organization said in a press release that it recorded 220 incidents of violence against the elections in central Iraq, most of which included tearing up posters and fliers and were committed by individuals, not groups, in Baghdad, Diyala, and Anbar.

Analysis: According to Global Policy Forum, Giant U.S. and U.K. oil companies have been shut out of the Iraqi oil market since 1972. According to provisions of the U.S. scripted constitution, however, Production Sharing Agreements can be offered to these companies after the election allowing foreign companies to gain control of dozens of Iraqi oil fields, some that are quite large. It also should be noted that Chalabi -- who, up until a few months ago, had been serving as Iraq's interim Oil Minister (although there was nothing in his background that lent him expertise in that area) -- has recently renewed ties with the Bush Administration. In his trip to Washington a few weeks ago, Chalabi met with the likes of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. Details of the discussions were not disclosed, but a defense official was quoted as saying that talks included protection of Iraq's oil and electricity infrastructure.

This comes from the site BAGnewsNotes, courtesy of Michael Shaw, Ph.D., the site’s proprietor. His blog is dedicated to the analysis of news images and if you are not familiar with it, check it out. He is doing a series of analyses of Iraqi political posters, well worth a look.


Yes?: The United States and Britain could start withdrawing troops from Iraq as early as March 2006, a British newspaper reported on Tuesday.

British and American officials regard this week's election for Iraq's first full-term parliament since Saddam Hussein's fall as the green light to begin a pull-out, the Times said.

No?: Four days before parliamentary elections in Iraq that the Bush administration has portrayed as a "significant milestone," the American ambassador there and a Republican lawmaker cautioned today against assuming that the vote would produce quick and dramatic improvement or lead to a rapid withdrawal of United States forces.

Maybe: Arab diplomats said Sunday that Vice President Dick Cheney will visit the region this month to persuade leaders to dispatch Arab and Muslim forces in Iraq.

Arab diplomatic sources told United Press International that Cheney will hold talks with Arab leaders to urge them to deploy forces in Iraq after the formation of a new government in Baghdad following the Dec. 15 legislative elections.

Bad habits: In a video conference from Baghdad last week, Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, in charge of the $10.6 billion Iraqi training program, said Iraqi security forces currently number about 212,000. The goal is to have about 350,000.

Training and equipping the Iraqi forces was at various stages, Dempsey said, but "corruption is another matter. I guess I would describe it as some bad habits that have to be overcome here."

"Spectacularly corrupt," said Zacchea, who was senior adviser for a battalion of the 5th Iraqi Division based in Taji east Baghdad for a year ending last March.

At any given time, 25 percent of the troops were on leave, Zacchea said. "They're ghost soldiers. They'll enlist in two different units to draw more pay," he said.

Zacchea's mixed review was echoed in the differing viewpoints of Little and Capt. Ryan Wylie of the 3rd Infantry Division on the situation in Samarra, about 70 miles from Baghdad, where 49 U.S. troops have been killed since the invasion.

For the third time, U.S. troops are preparing to hand over control of the city of 200,000 to the Iraqis after two failed attempts.

Wylie said in an e-mail that Samarra was "moving decisively forward in its pursuit of effective governance," with local police and Interior Ministry commandos ready to take over "in the near future."

But Little, who returned home to Staten Island last month, called Samarra a "failed city" with a "long way to go" in achieving civil order.

The Spread Of Democracy

Looks like Egypt imported the American system: More than 200 opposition supporters protested in Cairo on Monday against what they said were rigged parliamentary elections in which President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party won some three quarters of the seats.

The demonstrators from the Kefaya Movement also condemned the deaths of 12 people in violence during the elections, which took part in three stages over a month and ended last week.

"This is the first protest after the elections, against what happened in the elections -- the forgery and the beatings that occurred," Kefaya coordinator George Ishak told Reuters.

Monitoring groups said the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) resorted to bribery and coercion to secure votes.

London-based Amnesty International said it was calling on the government to launch an independent inquiry into police shootings on the last day of voting, December 7, in which Amnesty and other rights groups say at least eight people died.

US Politics

Bubble boy speaks: In a rare, unscripted moment, President Bush on Monday estimated 30,000 Iraqis have died in the war, the first time he has publicly acknowledged the high price Iraqis have paid in the push for democracy.

In the midst of a campaign to win support for the unpopular war, Bush unexpectedly invited questions from the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia after a speech asserting that Iraq was making progress despite violence, flawed elections and other setbacks.

He immediately was challenged about the number of Iraqis who have lost their lives since the beginning of the war.

"I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis," Bush said. "We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."

Another questioner challenged the administration's linkage of the Iraq war to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Bush said Saddam Hussein was a threat and was widely believed to have weapons of mass destruction — a belief that later proved false.

"I made a tough decision. And knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again," Bush said. "Removing Saddam Hussein makes this world a better place and America a safer country."

Flabbergasting. Knowing that Iraq had no WMDs, posed no threat to the US homeland, and couldn’t even effectively menace its neighbors, Bush would still invade. He deserves impeachment for that statement alone.

No shit, Sherlock: US President George W. Bush warned that Iraq's elections this week "won't be perfect" and will not end the war-torn country's deadly insurgency.

"No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks and false starts," including the United States, the president said.

(Yeah, remember all the wagon bombs that went off in downtown Boston in 1777?)

"This week's elections won't be perfect, and a successful vote is not the end of the process," he cautioned, warning that those targeting US and Iraqi forces "aren't going to give up because of a successful election."

A majority of Americans draw a logical conclusion: Despite a series of recent speeches spelling out the administration's policies on Iraq, the majority of Americans in a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said they do not believe President Bush has a plan that will achieve victory in Iraq.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled said Bush doesn't have a clear plan on Iraq, compared to 38 percent who said they believe Bush does have a plan for victory.

Murtha talks sense: With public support for the Iraq war at low ebb, the White House is more eager than ever to conflate Iraq's insurgency with terrorism. But last week, just after President Bush gave yet another speech repeatedly depicting the U.S. war effort in Iraq as a battle against terrorists, Rep. John Murtha debunked the claim. His refutation deserved much more news coverage than it got.

"You heard the president talk today about terrorism," Murtha told reporters at a Dec. 7 news conference. "Every other word was 'terrorism.'" Speaking as a lawmaker in close touch with the Pentagon's top military leaders, he went on to confront the core of the administration's current argument for keeping American soldiers in Iraq.

"Let's talk about terrorism versus insurgency in Iraq itself," Murtha said. "We think that foreign fighters are about 7 percent – might be a little bit more, a little bit less. Very small proportion of the people that are involved in the insurgency are terrorists or how I would interpret them as terrorists."

Murtha threw cold water on the storyline that presents U.S. troops as defenders of Iraqis. He cited a recent poll, commissioned by Britain's Ministry of Defense, indicating that four-fifths of Iraqis now want the American and British forces out of their country. "When I said we can't win a military victory, it's because the Iraqis have turned against us," Murtha said.

Sign the Global Petition for a Cease-Fire and Peace Talks in Iraq

It might not help but it sure won’t hurt, so go do it.

Support The Troops!

Homeless vets: According to many contemporaneous media sources, there are almost 300,000 homeless veterans in the United States who are living on the streets or in shelters. The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that “more than 299,000 veterans are homeless on any given night; more than 500,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year.” In 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were 24.9 million veterans in America. If accurate, this seems to imply that five of every 249 veterans will experience homelessness in the next year. The Bureau also estimated that there were 8.2 million Vietnam and Vietnam Era veterans, making them the largest group of veterans from any period of service.

Recently, media sources have reported that veterans from the Persian Gulf War, the Bosnian Crisis, and now the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, are joining the ranks of the homeless. According to a December 7, 2004, UPI story, “U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.”

120,000 casualties?: This morning, Salon.com published details of an October ‘05 Veterans Affairs report showing that 119,247 off-duty Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are receiving health care from the V.A.

“[T]he statistics seem to show that a lot of those health problems are war-related. For example, nearly 37,000 have mental disorders, including nearly 16,000 who have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Over 46,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan receiving benefits from the V.A. have musculoskeletal problems. These are all veterans who within the last four years were considered by the military to be mentally and physically fit enough to fight.”

These men and women have suffered injuries that will impact them for the rest of their lives. The Bush calculation: better to have higher Iraq approval numbers than recognize their sacrifices.

Torture Etc

Our pathetic excuse for a media enables torture: Like the Center for Victims of Torture's calls for an end to torture by American forces, the bar associations' vigorous attempt to shed sunlight on our shame—for the president's acts, however covert, are done in our name—has been almost entirely ignored by this nation's media watchdogs of our liberties.

The press itself has also been shamed more fundamentally. As the American Bar Association report emphasizes, "The American public still has not been adequately informed of the extent to which prisoners have been abused, tortured, or rendered to foreign governments which are known to abuse and torture prisoners. [We] urge the U.S. government to stop the torture and abuse of detainees, investigate violations of the law and prosecute those who committed, authorized or condoned these violations. (Emphasis added.)

But until U.S. torture is stopped and there are unadulterated prosecutions, not only will tortures continue but the other torturing nations and terrorists will snicker when they hear our president "denounce" torture while this country allows it.

Only an aroused American people—or enough of them—can force this Republican-dominated Congress to stop this shame of these United States. And for that to happen, the opposition party must use its organizing and communication resources to raise the consciousness, beyond party lines, of the citizenry.

British questions: The government may be breaking the law by refusing to question the US about "torture flights", senior MPs said yesterday, as it admitted for the first time that CIA aircraft had landed at British airports.

Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said yesterday "careful research by officials" had failed to identify any request from the Bush administration for the passage through Britain of aircraft taking terrorist suspects to secret interrogation centres - described in the US as "extraordinary rendition".

Extraordinary rendition – we are becoming an international pariah: Officials in Germany, Spain, Sweden and Norway have opened criminal investigations into possible violations of national and international law on the issue. Italy has filed a formal extradition request naming 22 CIA agents allegedly involved in the kidnap of a radical Muslim cleric in 2003. Ireland and Denmark have lodged protests over the CIA flights. The Council of Europe, the EU's human rights watchdog, has launched an investigation, and MEPs could follow suit this week. Personal testimonies such as that of Khaled el Masri, 42, a Kuwaiti-born German citizen, who claims to have been arrested in Macedonia at the end of 2003, handed over to US agents, flown to Afghanistan and held in jail for months as a terrorist suspect. He is suing the CIA for wrongful imprisonment. Plane-spotters have noted aircraft supposedly linked to the CIA flying into and out of British airfields. Flight logs show around 400 flights have landed at Scottish and English airfields since 2001. Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained at Kennedy International Airport in September 2002 by US immigration officials. He was was taken to Jordan and then Syria, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured by Syrian intelligence officers. Mr Arar was released a year later after it was determined he had no ties to terrorist groups. The Canadian government lodged an official complaint with Washington. Syrian Loa'i al Saqa, a suspected al Qaeda militant, claims he was recently questioned by foreign agents inside an Istanbul prison; the airport where an alleged CIA plane landed is close by. Abdullah Gul, Turkey's foreign minister, said the aircraft did stop at the city's Sabiha Gokcen airport on its way to Baku in Azerbaijan at the end of October and on its way back last month. Mr Gul insisted it was a "civilian passenger plane...totally under our control".


Ivan Eland: The Shi’ite religious parties in Iraq, which will most likely be victorious, are heavily influenced and funded by the oppressive theocratic government in Iran. One of the most prominent of those parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, originally consisted of Iraqi defectors, exiles and refugees who spent two decades in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule and fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. The party’s militia, the ruthless Badr organization, has been accused of assassinations and other violence against Sunnis and secular Shi’a. According to foreign policy analyst Gareth Porter, the Dawa party, another Shi’ite group, is organized on the basis of Leninist methods. Shi’ite militias have infiltrated Iraq’s security forces and Interior Ministry, which has recently been implicated in the torture of Sunnis in two prisons.

In short, the now desperate Bush administration’s attempt to achieve “victory in Iraq” and pledge to take the Iraqi democratic experiment on the road to other autocratic Arab countries really amount to letting U.S. soldiers die to make the world safe for theocracy. In fact, such future theocracies in Iraq and elsewhere would likely be very unfriendly to the United States and might even sponsor terrorist attacks against U.S. targets.

Joshua Holland: The administration's reluctance to allow a truly Iraqi solution to develop is mostly about not losing control of Iraq's political economy. But it's also about stubborn American exceptionalism. The idea that we're dealing with "primitives" who can't resolve their own conflicts is nothing new. Jim McDermott pointed out that after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, "the Arab League asked for time to negotiate an atwa. George Bush refused, and the first Gulf War began."

What else, besides the deep-seated belief that we're culturally superior to the locals could lead so many to believe that our presence on the ground is by definition a net plus for the country's stability? After all, those backwards Iraqis have only their knowledge of the region's history, their familiarity with the country's competing cultures and an understanding of all the key players to guide them.

Only an ideology like American exceptionalism could lead so many to conclude that the only country that can bring Iraq to "modernity" is the one that spent the past 15 years bombing it "into the stone age."

Brad Kennedy: Effective prosecution of the War on Terror must include taking a hard line against the Saudis, the neo-con doctrine goes, but no U.S. executive branch has felt it could without jeopardizing the US’s lifeline to a stable national oil supply. The neo-cons believe that sponsoring a client state in oil-rich Iraq will guarantee the U.S. stable oil imports enabling it to deal from strength when confronting Saudi Arabia about terror and the need for continuity of Saudi oil flow to the US at a time of increasing world demand. This strategy has been stated and written about many times, including in the Weekly Standard and in Commentary. Thomas E. Ricks summarized this view in his August 6, 2002 Washington Post report on a July 10th briefing of the Defense Policy Board by Laurent Murawiec, a Rand Corporation analyst. Another Rand Corporation analyst -- a former one -- Daniel Ellsberg, summed up where he thought this would lead: “We are going to be in Iraq far longer than we were in Vietnam, because there was no oil in Vietnam.” Not that this is just about oil, it is about anti-terrorism, too. The essence of the Bush policy is a meld of plentiful oil and anti-terrorism. Right or wrong, the White House Iraq Group believes we cannot confront the bankers of Bin Laden, because they are also our local filling station. We will only be free to stand up to the Saudis when we are less dependent on their gas pumps. This must have put the Bush family’s personal relationship with the royal Saudi family to the test. There is a larger problem, though. The pipeline Iraq can offer the U.S. will be secure only as long as it is secured, and that means US military bases, perhaps “over-the horizon,” as Murtha suggests, but bases for the foreseeable future nonetheless. Ellsberg could be sure of the White House’s intent to stay because these bases are well under construction. Author Chalmers Johnson was once a CIA analyst; Director Richard Helms recruited him for his expertise in peasant nationalism and revolutionary war. Johnson lists five military bases being constructed apparently for the long haul: • a part of Baghdad International Airport • Tallil air base to the south • one on the western frontier with Syria • Bashur air field to the north • the Anaconda operating base currently in use These should be seen, Johnson says, in conjunction with the “1,600 square miles out of Kuwait's 6,900 square miles” the U.S. plans to keep “that we now use to resupply our Iraq legions and as a place for Green Zone bureaucrats to relax.”

Joseph L. Galloway: Iraq, to put it plainly, is a disaster of the Bush administration's own creation.

It was a disaster to invade Iraq when we did, on the spurious grounds that the administration originally gave as reason. Now they tell us that it would be an even greater disaster to leave Iraq short of a victory that they can't define.

They can surround themselves with uniforms and wrap themselves in the flag and spin the message day after day, but they can't ignore their Republican friends in the House and Senate who must face the voters in 2006.

They can talk tough all day long, but watch to see if there's a drawdown of troops in Iraq before election day next November.

This isn't about victory over the terrorists. This isn't about supporting our soldiers. This is about politics and power.

Joe Conason: Covert manipulation of the Iraqi news media certainly must have seemed like a brilliant idea to some civilian genius in the Pentagon. In a conflict that is costing us billions every week, even the projected cost of $300 million must have seemed cheap. What could possibly go wrong with a plan to pay journalists in Baghdad for favorable coverage of the coalition war effort?

The practical problem with such schemes — as any historian of the Cold War might have told the Bush administration’s eager beavers — is their inevitable exposure. That’s what happened decades ago, when C.I.A.-financed journalists and publications were exposed at home and abroad. Certainly that was the predictable conclusion of this misadventure, too, which relied rather heavily on the tradecraft of inexperienced and arrogant young Republican boobs at an outfit called the Lincoln Group.

Unlike their Cold War forebears, the Lincoln Group flacks couldn’t keep the secret for months, let alone years. But the end result is always the same: international embarrassment and severely diminished credibility.

Ray McGovern: Never in the sixty years since World War II has an American secretary of state been received with such hostility by our erstwhile friends in Europe. In one sense, it can be seen as poetic justice that Rice, who as national security adviser to the president never heard a Cheney suggestion she didn't like, is taking the heat, while the vice president hides behind her skirts. Poetic justice for Cheney himself, though, may be just around the corner.

It is no secret that Cheney bears primary responsibility for making our country a pariah among nations by punching a gaping hole in the (until now) absolute ban on torture under international and US law. Under international treaties, including treaties ratified by the US Senate and thus the supreme law of the land, civilized societies have long since prohibited practices widely recognized as torture. No matter. At the instigation of the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal, the inherent human right to physical integrity and personal dignity has become an early casualty of the US "war on terror."

We did not need Col. Wilkerson to tell us that. What he has revealed in tracing responsibility for the US rogue policy on torture to the office of the vice president and Rumsfeld merely confirmed much of what is already known, but reported meagerly - if at all - in US media.

Helen Thomas: How long will the American people tolerate the shaming of their nation by the inhumane treatment of prisoners of war and the spiriting of detainees to secret prisons outside the United States?

Is it any wonder that other countries believe that America has lost its moral purpose by surrendering our well-earned reputation for human rights?

While Rice insists that the United States does not tolerate torture, many studies by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and Human Rights First have come to the opposite conclusion.

Torture under the law is described as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Waterboarding or mock drownings, sleep deprivation, beatings, shackles and other horrors apparently do not fall into the administration's definition of torture.

This is the same administration that is threatening a presidential veto of pending legislation that would explicitly prohibit the use of torture. The White House led by Vice President Dick Cheney insists on an exception for the CIA.

The ban is being pushed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was tortured when he was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam era. Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, is now seeking a compromise.

How do you compromise torture?

driftglass: And, yes, to anyone who might be reading this twenty years hence, instead of saying “Fuck this. We’re Americans. Americans don’t torture. Period.” we really are having an internationally public hairsplitting Republican Tent Show about torturing people in custody. Not pulling a gun on a man in the field where the tick of a clock right there, on the spot, might make the difference between living and dead Americans, but prisoners who have been spirited away to American gulags and are helpless. Men who are tortured according to time tables. Who are shackled to the floor in windowless cells year after year. Who have Gantt charts on clipboards detailing exactly how they have been abused and humiliated hanging on nails outside of their star chambers. Fareed seems to understand that as we set the moral standard for the world, so shall we be held to that standard by the world. The Party that feverishly impeached one President for blowjobs and yawns as another lies and lies and lies and sends our children to their graves seems to think the rest of the world will sit still for their sickening hypocrisy. He seems to understand that wars come and go, but what the GOP is throwing away by picking nits over something as primally evil as torture will damage us irreparably and for generations.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Jeanice Galin was with family members attending the birth of her grandson in Georgia Saturday when she received the news every mother of a U.S. serviceman or woman fears the most.

Her youngest son Travis Nelson, 41, a member of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., had been killed while on duty in Iraq.

Nelson's death is the first involving a Cullman County resident in Iraq.

Local story: The tragedy of war touched down in Bossier City on Saturday, taking the youngest sibling and child from a family. Sgt. Julia Atkins, 22, died Saturday when a roadside bomb detonated near her military vehicle in Iraq, the Department of Defense confirmed Monday.

Atkins was a military police officer on her second tour of duty in the war. She was scheduled to leave Iraq in February and was planning to leave the Army and go to college.

Local story: The principal, several teachers and fellow 2004 classmates from Byron High School joined a mom in hospital scrubs and aging war veterans who didn’t know Andrew Patten to bid farewell to a fallen 19-year-old U.S. Marine. Mourners said God took one of his best as they arrived Monday at Maywood Free Evangelical Church, the place of worship on Samuelson Road where Patten made his closest friends. “He was funny. He was always the hit of the party,” said Pam Davis, whose children knew Patten through the church’s youth group. “He was always in fatigues. He’d been wearing fatigues since middle school.”

Local story: A soldier assigned to the 101st Airborne was killed Saturday in Taji, Iraq, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces, the Army said.

Sgt. Clarence L. Floyd Jr., 28, of Newark, N.J., was a member of the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Campbell.

Local story: A memorial service for two South Dakota National Guard members killed in Iraq will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday in Yankton High School's Summit Center Gymnasium. Sgt. 1st Class Richard Schild of Tabor and Staff Sgt. Daniel Cuka of Yankton were killed Dec. 4 when roadside bombs exploded near their Humvees. Schild, 40, and Cuka, 27, were members of Yankton's Battery C, 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery.

Local story: Every time 1st Lt. Kevin Joseph Smith left home, he left something behind.

Socks. Wallet. Once, he even left his Army uniform, and his father and stepmother had to send it to him by overnight mail.

When Smith, 28, died last week in Iraq, he left other things behind, his stepmother, Joann Smith, said at his funeral on Monday: a family who loved him and a fiancee he had planned to marry this winter.

Smith was killed by an insurgent's bomb as his unit of engineers traveled along the Tigris River, his father, Clifford, said last week.

Local story: James and Thelma Moudy say they never really worried about their son, though sometimes they could hear gunfire when he telephoned from Iraq.

Sgt. 1st Class James "Shawn" Moudy, 37, was on a mission for his country, his grieving parents said.

A Delaware native, Moudy died Sunday in western Baghdad when the Humvee he was driving struck a roadside bomb, the military told his family.

Local story: A soldier in his second tour of duty in Iraq was killed when his armored vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, his family said Monday. U.S. Army Spc. Jared William Kubasak died either late Sunday or early Monday, a family representative told The Roanoke Times for a story published Tuesday. Kubasak, 25, was serving with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based in Fort Carson, Colo. He was home as recently as last month to celebrate his 25th birthday, family friends said, and was scheduled to return home in March after his tour ended.

Local story: Sgt. Adrian Orosco, 26, was doing unspecified combat operations when the IED exploded, said Fort Irwin Public Affairs Officer Maj. John Clearwater.

Orosco was an infantryman with the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, stationed at Fort Irwin. He was from Corcoran.

Orosco leaves behind a wife, Elizabeth, and three children between the ages of 3 and 7, who still live at Fort Irwin, Maj. Clearwater said.


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