Thursday, June 30, 2005

War News for Thursday, June 30, 2005 Bring 'em on: Mortar attack reported near Japanese troops in Samawah. Bring 'em on: Two Iraqi police commandos killed, six wounded as insurgents rampage in Samarra. Bring 'em on: Two Polish soldiers wounded in grenade attack near Diwaniya. Bring 'em on: Four Iraqi civilians killed by mortar attack in Tal Afar. Bring 'em on: Two Iraqis wounded by mortar fire in central Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Five Iraqis killed by car bomb in Baquba. Bring 'em on: One US soldier killed by car bomb near Balad. Bring 'em on: Iraqi assemblyman assassinated near Baghdad. Bring 'em on: US Marines launch counterinsurgency offensive near Hit. Bring 'em on: Oil pipeline ablaze near Kirkuk. Two more Marines reported dead from ambush in Fallujah. I wonder what this is all about. "In Saddam Hussein's home base of Tikrit, witnesses reported a Wednesday-morning demonstration against the arrest of regional police commander Maj. Gen. Mizher Taha Ghanam, who was lured to the capital and detained. Protesters said the arrest would only exacerbate tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Ghanam, a Sunni and former intelligence officer, stands accused of killing Shiites in the southern city of Amarah during Saddam's rule." Police training.
Three weeks ago 200 Iraqi cadets rioted, smashing windows and overturning cars in protest at conditions and rumours that cadets who drop out are sent back to Iraq by road, risking death from insurgents waiting to ambush them. The disturbances were quelled but grievances persist. More seriously, instructors admit that until three months ago the centre’s classroom-based training was wholly unsuited to the violence of Iraq. Although instructors say that it has improved since April, they still complain of a lack of direction from Baghdad. Ali Mackenzie, a Lothian and Borders policeman, said: “In my opinion there should be a lot more input from Iraq, especially the military. You get a lot of good quality policemen coming here and it is limited by funding. We have to pretend that rubbish bins are cars. It doesn’t take much to mock up a couple of homes or streets to do realistic searches.” Charles Riordan, a retired inspector from Northern Ireland, questioned the need for community police training for police working in cities, “where simply to show themselves on the street leaves them open to ambush”, and was incredulous that despite huge losses of police to roadside bombs there is still no training ground to rehearse life-saving drills.
Commentary Editorial:
Much of what Bush said Tuesday night has been similar to statements he's made in the past. In addition to stressing the importance of training and eventually substituting Iraqi troops with international forces, Bush also said the Iraqi people need confidence in the democratic process in order for victory to be possible. "Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed," Bush said. "Every picture is horrifying - and the suffering is real." We agree, but rather than just listening to Tuesday night's speech, we ask you to see it yourself. We find these images unbearably graphic, but these are the images that these people are faced with day to day. They don't have the choice to turn the page or change the channel. To them these photos are real. We ask you to take a minute to look over these images, which are often violent and often distressing. But this is the reality of the war President Bush has told us we will "fight until the fight is won." Is it worth it?
Thanks to alert reader Russ. Opinion:
Finally, Bush descended to Vietnam-speak. This is the language used by the Johnson and Nixon administrations to obscure the truth by emitting a fog of numbers. Thus Bush cited the "8 million Iraqi men and women" who voted, the "30 nations" with troops in Iraq (a total joke, and the president knows it), the "40 countries" and "three international organizations" that have pledged "$34 billion" in reconstruction assistance (another joke), the "80 countries" that recently met in Brussels to aid Iraq, and the "160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions" -- one of them being, clearly, to stay out of harm's way. The war Bush declared to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is not the war being waged. The two have only one thing in common: rhetorical sleight of hand. Yet the consequences of pulling out of Iraq would be awful. The day Saigon fell I was ashamed for my country -- an ugly, disgraceful retreat. I don't want that to happen again. But unless Bush rethinks his strategy, fires some people who long ago earned dismissal, examines his own assumptions (what's the point of continuing to isolate Iran and Syria when we need them both to seal Iraq's borders?) and talks turkey to the American people, he will lose everything good he set out to do, including the example Iraq could set for the rest of the Middle East. I know Iraq is not Vietnam. But Tuesday night it sure sounded like it.
The president who displayed his contempt for Iraqi militants two years ago with the taunt "bring 'em on" had to go on television Tuesday night to urge Americans not to abandon support for the war that he foolishly started but can't figure out how to win. The Bush crowd bristles at the use of the "Q-word" - quagmire - to describe American involvement in Iraq. But with our soldiers fighting and dying with no end in sight, who can deny that Mr. Bush has gotten us into "a situation from which extrication is very difficult," which is a standard definition of quagmire? More than 1,730 American troops have already died in Iraq. Some were little more than children when they signed up for the armed forces, like Ramona Valdez, who grew up in the Bronx and was just 17 when she joined the Marines. She was one of six service members, including four women, who were killed when a suicide bomber struck their convoy in Falluja last week. Corporal Valdez wasn't even old enough to legally drink in New York. She died four days shy of her 21st birthday. On July 2, 2003, with evidence mounting that U.S. troop strength in Iraq was inadequate, Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House, "There are some who feel that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, Bring 'em on." It was an immature display of street-corner machismo that appalled people familiar with the agonizing ordeals of combat. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying: "I am shaking my head in disbelief. When I served in the Army in Europe during World War II, I never heard any military commander - let alone the commander in chief - invite enemies to attack U.S. troops."
My class, that of 1969, set a record with more than 50 percent resigning within a few years of completing the service commitment. (My father's class, 1945, the one that "missed" World War II, was considered to be the previous record-holder, with about 25 percent resigning before they reached the 20 years of service entitling them to full retirement benefits.) And now, from what I've heard from friends still in the military and during the two years I spent reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems we may be on the verge of a similar exodus of officers. The annual resignation rate of Army lieutenants and captains rose to 9 percent last year, the highest since before the Sept. 11 attacks. And in May, The Los Angeles Times reported on "an undercurrent of discontent within the Army's young officer corps that the Pentagon's statistics do not yet capture." I'm not surprised. In 1975, I received a foundation grant to write reports on why such a large percentage of my class had resigned. This money would have been better spent studying the emerging appeal of Scientology, because a single word answered the question: Vietnam. Yet my classmates were disillusioned with more than being sent to fight an unpopular war. When we became cadets, we were taught that the academy's honor code was what separated West Point from a mere college. This was a little hard to believe at first, because the code seemed so simple; you pledged that you would not lie, cheat or steal, and that you would not tolerate those who did. We were taught that in combat, lies could kill. But the honor code was not just a way to fight a better war. In the Army, soldiers are given few rights, grave responsibilities, and lots and lots of power. The honor code serves as the Bill of Rights of the Army, protecting soldiers from betraying one another and the rest of us from their terrifying power to destroy. It is all that stands between an army and tyranny. However, the honor code broke down before our eyes as staff and faculty jobs at West Point began filling with officers returning from Vietnam. Some had covered their uniforms with bogus medals and made their careers with lies - inflating body counts, ignoring drug abuse, turning a blind eye to racial discrimination, and worst of all, telling everyone above them in the chain of command that we were winning a war they knew we were losing. The lies became embedded in the curriculum of the academy, and finally in its moral DNA. By the time we were seniors, honor court verdicts could be fixed, and there was organized cheating in some units. A few years later, nearly an entire West Point class was implicated in cheating on an engineering exam; the breakdown was complete. The mistake the Army made then is the same mistake it is making now: how can you educate a group of handpicked students at one of the best universities in the world and then treat them as if they are too stupid to know when they have been told a lie?
The officer corps is sounding off and we should listen. Casualty Report Local story: Washington State sailor killed in Iraq. Note to Readers Today is the second anniversary of Today in Iraq. I intended to post a rant appropriate for the day, but today's Casualty Report contains the name of a former co-worker. So I'll celebrate instead. I'll probably go get drunk and sleep in a dumpster. Happy fucking birthday, Today in Iraq. I once wanted to be a historian, but this history sucks. YD


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

War News for Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed by a car bomb near Tikrit. New US offensive, involving about 1,000 Marines and other US troops supplemented by Iraqi forces launched in the Euphrates river valley between Hit and Haditha.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi television executive shot and killed by US troops when he drove near their convoy in Baghdad. Iraqi news editor with a local Baghdad television channel shot and killed by US troops Sunday after they came under attack. Iraqi reporter shot and killed by US troops last Friday after he apparently did not respond to a shouted signal from a military convoy.

Same as the old boss: Days after Iraq's new Shiite-led government was announced on April 28, the bodies of Sunni Muslim men began turning up at the capital's central morgue after the men had been detained by people wearing Iraqi police uniforms.

Faik Baqr, the director and chief forensic investigator at the central Baghdad morgue, said the corpses first caught his attention because the men appeared to have been killed in methodical fashion. Their hands had been tied or handcuffed behind their backs, their eyes were blindfolded and they appeared to have been tortured.

Raad Sultan, an official in Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights who monitors the treatment of Iraqis in prisons and detention centers, said some Interior Ministry employees have tortured Iraqis whom they suspected of supporting the insurgency.

Officials in the Interior Ministry's intelligence division deny having detainees, saying they only question those in Iraqi prisons. But one investigation by the Human Rights Ministry found 32 detainees, and another found 67 in Interior Ministry intelligence facilities. The majority of the detainees had been tortured, Sultan said.

Most of those who were tortured had their hands cuffed behind their backs, were blindfolded and had been beaten by cords or subjected to electrical shock, Sultan said. Baqr, at the morgue, said the bodies that have been brought to him handcuffed and blindfolded had been similarly abused.

Asked who he thought was behind the upsurge in such executions, Baqr said, "It is a very delicate subject for society when you are blaming the police officers. ... It is not an easy issue.

"We hear that they are captured by the police and then the bodies are found killed ... it's obviously increasing."

Baqr said he's been unable to catalog the deaths because so many bodies have been brought through his morgue and because he doesn't have enough doctors. Before March 2003, he said, the morgue handled 200 to 250 suspicious deaths a month, about 16 of which included firearm injuries. He said he now sees 700 to 800 suspicious deaths a month, with about 500 having firearm wounds.

Many Iraqis say the giveaway that the abductors are at least connected to the police is the preponderance of reports involving Land Cruisers, Glocks and other expensive equipment.

Double dilemma: For weeks, Sheik Adnan Fahd had been avoiding meeting U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ross A. Brown. Going to see the officer at his base would be extremely dangerous, given the intelligence network of Iraqi insurgents. To invite him to his home would be courting death.

Finally, Brown came north, traveling six miles in a heavily armed convoy of four Humvees for a June 21 meeting in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad – a strained get-together that summed up the conundrum facing the U.S. military and Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

For the American officer, the objective was to win Fahd’s cooperation in the fight against insurgents in Mahmoudiya in an area south of the capital known as “The Triangle of Death.”

But for Fahd, a Sunni tribal leader heading a clan of 30,000, the meeting highlighted his double dilemma: He must keep at bay both the insurgents who watch his every move and the U.S. military that wants his help in persuading militants to lay down their arms.

Water: Lubna Ali was resigned to the daily electricity shortages that cut off the lights, shut down the air conditioning and left her family sweltering in the summer heat.

She coped with her terror of the bombs, drive-by shootings and kidnappings by deciding, at the start of this year, to venture no further than her garden gate.

But the final straw for the 42-year-old housewife from the middle-class New Baghdad district in the Iraqi capital came when a rebel attack on a water plant cut off supplies to two million people.

With the temperature above 50C, this brought Mrs Ali "the true knowledge of despair".

"I didn't think it could get worse - and then it did," she said, her kitchen filled with dirty plates and the lavatories unflushed. "The children are crying. All we want is to pour some water on our bodies.

"I now wish we could go back to Saddam's time. We suffered then, but not like the suffering nowadays. There is no water or electricity. I can't sleep because of the heat. How are we to live these lives of misery?"

The Return Of The Andover Cheerleader

More of the same: President Bush on Tuesday appealed for the nation's patience for "difficult and dangerous" work ahead in Iraq, hoping a backdrop of U.S. troops and a reminder of Iraq's revived sovereignty would help him reclaim control of an issue that has eroded his popularity.

In an evening address at an Army base that has 9,300 troops in Iraq, Bush was acknowledging the toll of the 27-month-old war. At the same time, he aimed to persuade skeptical Americans that his strategy for victory needed only time — not any changes — to be successful.

"Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying and the suffering is real," Bush said, according to excerpts released ahead of time by the White House. "It is worth it."

Just keep saying it and it's the same as if it’s true: Twelve days ago, The Washington Post reported that the Bush White House had concluded that George W. Bush--who was facing sinking polling numbers regarding the war in Iraq--needed to "shift strategies." He would (of course) not be implementing any policy changes, the paper noted; his new approach" would be "mostly rhetorical." Yet in his prime-time speech on Iraq--delivered before a quiet audience of troops at Fort Bragg on Tuesday evening--Bush proved the Post report wrong. There was no shift of strategy--rhetorical or otherwise. Bush delivered a flat recital of his previous justifications of the war, while offering vague assurances that (a) he realizes (really, really) that the war in Iraq is "hard" work and that (b) his administration is indeed winning the war. On that latter point, Bush mentioned no metrics (as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would call them)--that is, concrete indicators--to demonstrate that he holds a more accurate view of the war than, say, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who days ago exclaimed, "The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." Bush's plan this night was rather transparent: assert success...and then assert it some more.

It would be funny if so many people's lives weren't at stake: Iraqis were divided Wednesday over U.S. President George W. Bush's rejection of a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, which came a day after insurgents bent on starting a civil war marked the country's first year of sovereignty by killing more than a dozen people. Bush's speech at a U.S. Army base in North Carolina was broadcast live on several Arab television networks, but most Iraqis were asleep because it began at about 4:00 a.m. local time Wednesday. TV newscasts replayed portions of the speech later in the morning, drawing a wide range of reactions from Iraqis. "Iraq cannot be stable if the American and coalition forces left it because Iraqi forces don't have the required level of training to protect the country," said Baghdad University engineering professor Moayad Yasin al-Samaraie, 55. But other Iraqis still believe the presence of about 138,000 U.S. troops is an occupation force preventing local officials from fully controlling internal affairs.

How much effort is really being made?: In tonight's speech, President Bush will no doubt once again cite 'training of security forces' as one of the success stories of the Iraqi adventure. Completing that mission will probably be one of the criteria for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Did you ever wonder how much actual effort was being put into the training effort? So did we. According to this recent Congressional Research Service report Post-War Iraq: Foreign Contributions to Training, Peacekeeping, and Reconstruction (PDF), here is a summary of what is being done to retrain the security forces in Iraq under the auspices of the NATO Training Mission-I (NTM-I) program:

NATO Member

Contribution (Trainers, Funding, Force Protection)


Offered five to 10 military driving instructors for a German-led training mission for Iraqis in the United Arab Emirates. Will contribute $261,000 to a trust fund to help cover costs of the NATO mission.


Pledged to send five instructors to Iraq, $40,000 in funding.


Offered up to 30 instructors to train outside Iraq, probably in Jordan, $810,000.

Czech Republic

Pledged to send five instructors and train up to 100 Iraqi military police in the Czech Republic during 2005. Announced donation of approximately $180,000 in April 2005.


Offered 10 trainers and seven soldiers for force protection. Sent pistols, radios, binoculars and other equipment for Iraqi forces.


One officer serving on NTM-I and has pledged $65,000 in support funds.


Will send one officer to help mission coordination at NATO headquarters in Belgium. Has offered to train 1,500 Iraqi military police in Qatar outside of the NATO NTM-I mission.


Offered to train Iraqi military personnel in United Arab Emirates and to contribute $652,000 to support program funding and airlift for Iraqi personnel. Iraqi security officers have received training under the auspices of NTM-I at a NATO military training facility in Oberammergau, Germany.


Has contributed approximately $376,000 in support funding.


Sixteen officers currently in Iraq in support of NTM-I mission. Plans to supply 150 force protection troops for training facilities once the training facility at Ar Rustamiya is complete. Original nominal deployment period for the Hungarian troops was set for June 1, 2005 to September 30, 2006. Donating 77 refurbished Russian-made T72 tanks to Iraq in September 2005.


Public information officer will serve with NATO mission in Baghdad. Offered $196,000 to fund training outside the country and help transport equipment to Iraq.


Eight officers currently serving in support of NTM-I mission in Baghdad. Considering sending up to 16 more.


Plans to host Iraqi soldiers for bomb disposal training. Contributing $65,000 to NTM-I trust fund. Sending equipment to Iraqi forces.


Two trainers serving in Iraq, two more expected. Also considering training Iraqi personnel in Lithuania.


Offered $196,000 in support funds.


10 military police and 15 trainers currently serving on NTM-I mission. Considering sending more.


Sending 10 trainers to Iraq. Hosted training of 19 Iraqi officers at NATO Joint Warfare Center. $196,000 in funding.


Plans to send up to 10 trainers and a transport platoon of about 30. Considering sending force protection unit. Decision pending expiration of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 and elections scheduled for September 2005.


Sending up to 10 soldiers to Iraq to support NTM-I mission.


Two instructors in Iraq, five more planned. Will take 25 Iraqi officers on training course in Romania in July, 25 additional expected later in 2005.


Sending two instructors to Iraq, $53,000 in support funding.


Offered to support training outside Iraq, probably in Jordan. Offered $132,000 in support funding.


Plans to train groups of 25 Iraqis in mine clearance at a center outside Madrid. Pledged $530,000 in support funding.


Two officers serving in Baghdad; offered to train Iraqis in Turkey. Pledged $125,000 in April 2005.

United Kingdom

Eleven soldiers now serving with NTM-I mission. Pledged $330,000 in support funding.

United States

Commands the operation under Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. 60 instructors and a force protection company with NTM-I mission in Baghdad. Providing logistics and airlift support. Pledged $500,000.

It doesn't inspire confidence that so many of the offered contributions from the NATO allies involve training sessions outside Iraq. The biggest contribution seems to be the "77 refurbished Russian-made T72 tanks" that Hungary is donating (presumably to make room for the U.S.-made tanks they will be getting after joining NATO). To put the Iraqi training priority in perspective, the U.S. contribution to this effort is $500,000. That's out of a reported $408 billion defense budget and another $45 billion for Iraq alone. When did you say the U.S. troops were coming home, Mr. President? No, seriously.

(I lifted this post entry intact from Needlenose. Damn, those boys are good.)

Nasty little poser: The United States is already suffering higher casualties than we were at the same stage of the Vietnam War. So, okay, Iraq is NOT Vietnam. It could, in fact, get worse. Rumsfeld is now telling us that the war could last for 12 more years.

And just two years ago George Bush pulled his little airplane stunt on the USS Abraham Lincoln, and had a big MISSION ACCOMPLISHED sign as his backdrop.

Tonight he will use a captive audience of soldiers, who he commands, and who will be ordered to smile and cheer and shout hooahs at the appropriate points in this latest Karl Rove production, and I find that offensive. More than offensive, it is obscene.

I find it offensive that the very people he would send to death, disfigurement and despair in the service of this administration’s lengthening list of lies, are now required, – when they could be home tonight with the loved ones they have missed so much in the last two years – to serve as stage props so George W. Bush can add one more bit of cheerleading hype, one more publicity stunt, to his resume. And in Iraq, every time the poll numbers spook the White House, they add one more so-called counter-offensive, each promising that there is light at the end of this tunnel, and each dispatching more military sedans to the homes of those who wait to hear the terrible news that someone they loved is no longer in the world.

George W. Bush is using troops as props, but he doesn’t show up for the funerals of the troops who have been killed in his war. This is about as clear as things get.

Support the props...er, troops!: I finally had a chance to watch a few clips of Bush speaking. And there was something almost uniquely contemptible about the way the Rovians used the troops as political props -- worse, even, than the flight deck follies on the Abraham Lincoln.

Back then, Bush was basking in what he thought was a famous victory, and sharing a little of his reflected glory with the swabbies. He was happy to be there and they were, too. It may have grated on those of us who understood how many unwritten constitutional rules Bush was breaking by dressing up in a military costume. But the sailors genuinely seemed to enjoy it.

Last night, by contrast, seemed about as enjoyable as a root canal for all parties concerned. When the only way you can get a hand from a handpicked military audience is by having a ringer in the audience start clapping, you know you're bombing (so to speak.)

The problem, I guess, is that while Bush was using the troops as a visual backdrop, politically speaking he was trying to hide behind them. And it showed.

Phony through and through: ABC's Terry Moran just reported that the only time Bush got applause was in the middle of his speech when a White House advance team member started clapping all on their own in order to cajole the soldiers into clapping, which they dutifully did. So even the applause was fake.

Billmon nails it: If you go back and look at the old party lines (versions 1.0 and 2.0) you can quickly see that something new has been added. Heretofore, the "anti-Iraqi forces" have consisted of:

1.) Foreign Terrorists (aka "assassins") 2.) Regime Remnants (aka "dead enders") 3.) Criminal Elements (aka "thugs")

But now we have a fourth category, one with a nice neutral name that doesn't allude to hacking people's heads off or gassing your own people or hating our freedoms:

4.) Iraqi Insurgents (aka "negotiating partners.")

From there on out, the speech carefully and repeatedly distinguished between the terrorists and the insurgents, who are now -- in the fantasy world of the White House propaganda shop at least -- two unique and different populations, where before they were one and indivisible:

Iraqi forces have fought bravely – helping to capture terrorists and insurgents in Najaf, Samarra, Fallujah, and Mosul. (emphasis added)

To complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents (emphasis added).

Today Iraqi Security Forces are at different levels of readiness. Some are capable of taking on the terrorists and insurgents by themselves. (emphasis added.)

We are building up Iraqi Security Forces as quickly as possible, so they can assume the lead in defeating the terrorists and insurgents. (emphasis added)

And so on. It would seem the error in the historical record has been rectified (although the gang still hasn't gotten that memory hole thing completely down yet.) But the policy -- "no nation can negotiate with terrorists" -- hasn't changed one bit. It remains as a monument to our leader's moral clarity and unflagging resolution.

It really is amazing what you can do with -- and to -- the English language.

The public seems unimpressed: The televisions at VFW Post 2500 in Hollywood were tuned to President Bush on Tuesday, but his words weren't getting rapt attention. About 30 people were around the bar drinking, chatting, smoking as the president talked. "Does it have to be so loud?" asked Barbara Flint as she sat next to Jerry Giblock, a visiting Vietnam veteran. "He's running scared," said Giblock, 63, a former Post 2500 member who lives in Anchorage, Ala. "His poll numbers are so low, he's got to say something, but the support is gone. It's gone. I don't think there's anybody in here who's behind him."

Just Say Whatever You Think They Want To Hear

A man of steadfast moral clarity: George W. Bush, 4/9/99: “Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is.”

George W. Bush, 6/5/99: “I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.”

George W. Bush, 6/24/05: “It doesn’t make any sense to have a timetable. You know, if you give a timetable, you’re — you’re conceding too much to the enemy.”

Veterans and Servicepeople's Affairs

How they really feel about the props: This just in from the Hill. On the same day President Bush will use the soldiers at Fort Bragg as a backdrop for his address on Iraq, conservatives in the House have voted to underfund veterans’ health care by at least $1 billion.

The backstory: Last week, the Washington Post revealed that the budget for veterans’ health care was suffering a billion dollar shortfall this year, a fact unearthed “only during lengthy questioning” of a Veterans Affairs undersecretary.

The Bush administration had claimed on multiple occassions that the current budget was enough to provide full care. Back in February, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson testified that he was “satisfied that we can get the job done with this budget.” Later, when Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) tried to add funds into the VA budget, Nicholson wrote her a letter assuring that the VA did not “need emergency supplemental funds in FY2005 to continue to provide timely, quality service that is always our goal.”

Yet today, even after the administration’s misleading claims had been exposed, and despite brand new data showing that demand for veterans health programs had grown twice as fast as the VA predicted earlier this year, House conservatives still voted to block any additional funding for veterans’ care.

Moments ago, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), the ranking minority member on the House Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs, proposed making up the shortfall for vets’ care in a foreign aid bill that is still being considered. According to the AP, conservatives shot down the measure on a 217-189 vote.

"Budget shortfalls": Nicholson and other VA officials on Tuesday will testify before Congress "to explain why the department has just now revealed budget shortfalls of at least $1 billion" in health care funding in the current and next fiscal years,... CQ Today reports (Allen/Starks, CQ Today, 6/27). The shortfall came to light during an administration mid-year budget review and was noted during lengthy questioning of Jonathan Perlin, VA undersecretary for health, by House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) at a hearing Thursday. Perlin said VA has used more than $300 million on health care from a fund that had been expected to be carried over into the fiscal year 2006 budget. Further, he said as much as $600 million originally intended for capital spending will go toward the shortfall.

In light of the shortfalls, the Senate Appropriations Committee has delayed its scheduled markup of its version of the FY 2006 VA spending bill to late July. The House already has passed its version of the VA spending bill. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee has scheduled an emergency hearing on the budget shortfall, and the House VA Committee is expected to hold its own hearing later this week (CQ Today, 6/27). In other congressional action on the funding shortfall, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has reintroduced a bill that would provide emergency health funding (Bernton, Seattle Times, 6/27). In its earlier form, the bill was an amendment to appropriations legislation for the Iraq war and would have added nearly $2 billion for veteran's health care. Lawmakers previously voted against the bill. In addition, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) is considering adding to the fiscal year 2006 Foreign Operations spending bill (HR 3057) an amendment that would provide $1 billion for veterans health care. The House Rules Committee on Monday declined a request to protect the amendment from a budget point of order, and it is likely the amendment will "be killed without a vote" if Edwards introduces it, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 6/27).

How can any military person still take the Republicans seriously?: By now, it should be obvious that the "pro-defense" party doesn't give a damn about our troops, least of all veterans.

House Republicans ousted fellow conservative Chris Smith as chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs for his tireless advocacy of veterans rights. Current Chairman Steve Buyer was promoted, in the words of one Republican aide, "to tell the veterans groups, 'Enough is enough.'"

Senate Republicans have repeatedly voted down funding increases for vets to keep pace with inflation and meet rising needs.

The Bush Administration tried to add an enrollment fee and double the prescription co-payment for VA health care.

And now the VA admits it is $1 billion short on health care funding for this year alone.

After months of dodging Congressional questioning, VA undersecretary for health Jonathan Perlin finally gave the House VA Committee an unexpectedly honest answer last week. It turns out the $1.6 billion spending increase promised last year has been a matter of accounting trickery, achieved by shifting money from one account to another, and cutting almost $1 billion for medical administration, facilities and prosthetic research.

Maybe they’re seeing the light: June is the month in which West Point celebrates the commissioning of its graduating class and prepares to accept a new group of candidates eager to embrace the arduous strictures of the world's most prestigious military academy. But it can also be a cruel month, because West Pointers five years removed from graduation have fulfilled their obligations and can resign.

My class, that of 1969, set a record with more than 50 percent resigning within a few years of completing the service commitment. (My father's class, 1945, the one that "missed" World War II, was considered to be the previous record-holder, with about 25 percent resigning before they reached the 20 years of service entitling them to full retirement benefits.)

And now, from what I've heard from friends still in the military and during the two years I spent reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems we may be on the verge of a similar exodus of officers. The annual resignation rate of Army lieutenants and captains rose to 9 percent last year, the highest since before the Sept. 11 attacks. And in May, The Los Angeles Times reported on "an undercurrent of discontent within the Army's young officer corps that the Pentagon's statistics do not yet capture."

The mistake the Army made then is the same mistake it is making now: how can you educate a group of handpicked students at one of the best universities in the world and then treat them as if they are too stupid to know when they have been told a lie?

Ways To Take Action

Write a letter for MoveOn: The president addressed the nation about Iraq but offered nothing new. No plan. No exit strategy. Nothing. Despite the car bombs and rising attacks the president claims we're making good progress. We need to bring things back down to reality. Bush’s speech tonight is a good hook and good timing to get letters to the editor printed in your local paper. Newspapers are almost certain to print letters to the editor about Iraq this week and politicians will use these letters as one measure of the public’s response to the speech.

Sign a petition for WesPac: For generations, the United States has been a powerful voice of moral authority in the world. After World War II, we led the world in creating the Geneva Conventions and prosecuting war criminals at Nuremberg, and later became one of the first nations to ratify the Convention Against Torture. Even today, Slobodan Milosevic is being tried for war crimes thanks to a U.S.-led NATO air strike against his brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has squandered our legacy of moral leadership.

I need your help to protect the honor of our men and women in uniform and to set us on the right course to win the war on terror. Although the President has said the United States is "committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example," the Administration's actions don't match his words. In his infamous memo, Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush to ignore the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war – a treaty that protects our soldiers captured abroad – to give the president more "flexibility." This so-called "flexibility" along with other Administration policies and statements may have ultimately contributed to the environment in which the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan have occurred.

Set up a Town Hall Meeting for Conyers: The Brad Blog has learned that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and a number of other Congressional Members will announce their intention to hold open Town Hall Meetings across the country on July 23rd to discuss the "Downing Street Documents" with constituents. The meetings, to be held on the same day around the country in the members' various Congressional Districts, will mark the third year anniversary of the creation of the original Downing Street Minutes document. That document, released nearly two months ago, revealed that the Bush Administration had determined at least eight months prior to the War on Iraq that they intended to topple Saddam Hussein through military means, and planned to "fix" the intelligence and facts around the policy. Earlier this month, a letter was delivered to the White House signed by 122 Congressional Members and more than 560,000 American Citizens asking George W. Bush to answer a number of questions concerning the information contained in the minutes written by the head of British Intelligence, Richard Dearlove. The White House has still refused the courtesy of a reply to that letter.

Our Creeping Stalinism

Abuse of power: The federal government held 70 men as potential grand jury witnesses in terrorism investigations after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but nearly half were never called to testify, according to a new study by two advocacy groups.

The report, released yesterday by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, concluded that the government's use of "material witness" warrants in the months after the attacks was excessive and frequently unlawful because many of the detainees were never questioned by a grand jury or were denied access to attorneys for extended periods of time. Most were never charged with a crime.

The report also said the witnesses "were typically arrested at gunpoint, held round the clock in solitary confinement and subjected to the harsh and degrading . . . conditions" usually reserved for more dangerous criminal suspects. It also said the Justice Department used the special warrants primarily "to buy time to conduct fishing expeditions."

The Justice Department declined to say whether the study's tally of 70 material witnesses in terrorism investigations was accurate. A Washington Post survey in November 2002 identified at least 44 such cases.

The 101-page study is the latest in a series of reports by advocacy groups and media organizations raising questions about many of the hundreds of people detained by the Justice Department or other law enforcement agencies after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Many detainees were held in secret, and only a few dozen ever faced terrorism-related charges.

Spitting on international law: Italian prosecutors want to extradite 13 CIA officials accused of kidnapping a radical Muslim cleric and transporting him to Egypt where he reportedly was tortured, and they've asked Interpol to help track down the Americans, a court official said Tuesday.

A man identified as the former CIA station chief in Milan is among the 13, according to a report by the judge who issued the arrest warrants. The American was traced by cell phone records to Egypt in the days after the abduction when the cleric was "likely undergoing the first" rounds of torture, according to the report obtained by The Associated Press.

The Egyptian preacher was snatched in 2003, purportedly as part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible ill treatment.

The order for the arrests in the transfer of the cleric — made public last Friday — was a rare public objection to the practice by a close American ally in its war on terrorism.

Disappearing ‘suspects’: The United Nations says it has learned of serious allegations that the US is secretly detaining terrorism suspects, notably on American military ships.

The special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak said the accusations were rumours at this stage, but urged the US to co-operate in an investigation.

He said the UN wants lists of the places of detention and those held.

The comments come five days after the UN accused the US of stalling on their requests to visit Guantanamo Bay.

Investigators have been asking to visit the jail in Cuba to carry out checks into allegations of human rights abuse.

The UN said for over a year there had been no response to its requests, and it would begin an inquiry into alleged abuses with or without US co-operation.

We Are Spreading Democracy Throughout The Benighted Middle East

Within limits, of course: She may be America’s most powerful woman but Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, made clear during her tour of the Middle East last week that she is not about to become its most outspoken supporter of women’s rights.

During her week-long sweep through Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Rice steered clear of confrontation over one of the region’s most volatile issues — the role of women in Islamic societies.

Her admission that there were “boundaries” to the US drive for democratic reform in the region — notably in Saudi Arabia, where she declined to take up the cause of women, who are barred from driving cars — spurred accusations of American hypocrisy.

Gold Star Mothers

I'm really glad they did this: The history of American Gold Star Mothers dates to the World War I era. It parallels the nation's military triumphs and tragedies, and its growing pains, too. The latter point was made abundantly clear at the organization's Dallas convention, where members reversed course this week and voted to permit noncitizens to become members. The action was a frank acknowledgment — one that frequently eludes local and federal policy makers — of the role that immigrants play in the rich fabric of the nation.

"I fought a good fight, and I won," Florida Gold Star chapter head Georgianne Carter-Krell, whose branch put the rule change on the convention agenda. Earlier, national Gold Star President Ann Herd maintained that admitting noncitizens was "not feasible" and would cause "devastatingly many" ill repercussions. After the about-face, Carter-Krell said: "I am very pleased for Gold Star Mothers. We have finally done what is right."

According to government data, more than 28,000 noncitizens wore U.S. uniforms as of March. More than four dozen have been killed in Iraq alone. All told, there is no telling how many noncitizen parents have been left behind or who have sons and daughters in service. We do know that Lagman and Palmer deserve recognition for their losses. Lagman's son was Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, who died at 26. Palmer's son was Marine Cpl. Bernard Gooden, who died at 22.

Warning: Barf Bag Required

College Republicans: In interviews, more than a dozen conventiongoers explained why it is important that they stay on campus while other, less fortunate people their age wage a bloody war in Iraq. They strongly support the war, they told me, but they also want to enjoy college life and pursue interesting careers. Being a College Republican allows them to do both. It is warfare by other, much safer means.

Collin Kelley, senior at Washington State: "This isn't an invasion of Iraq, it's a liberation--as David Horowitz said." When I asked him why he was staying on campus rather than fighting the good fight, he rubbed his shoulder and described a nagging football injury from high school. Plus, his parents didn't want him to go. "They're old hippies," Kelley said.

Edward Hauser, senior at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas: "I support our country. I support our troops." So why isn't he there? "I know that I'm going to be better staying here and working to convince people why we're there [in Iraq]," Hauser explained, pausing in thought. "I'm a fighter, but with words."

Justin Palmer, vice chairman of the Georgia Association of College Republicans, America's largest chapter of College Republicans.: "The country is like a body," Palmer explained, "and each part of the body has a different function. Certain people do certain things better than others." He said his "function" was planning a "Support Our Troops" day on campus this year in which students honored military recruiters from all four branches of the service.

University of Georgia Republican member Kiera Ranke: She and her sorority sisters sent care packages to troops in Iraq along with letters and pictures of themselves. "They wrote back and told us we boosted their morale," she said.

Cory Bray, senior from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business: "The people opposed to the war aren't putting their asses on the line," Bray boomed from beside the bar. Then why isn't he putting his ass on the line? "I'm not putting my ass on the line because I had the opportunity to go to the number-one business school in the country," he declared, his voice rising in defensive anger, "and I wasn't going to pass that up."

And besides, being a College Republican is so much more fun than counterinsurgency warfare. Bray recounted the pride he and his buddies had felt walking through the center of campus last fall waving a giant American flag, wearing cowboy boots and hats with the letters B-U-S-H painted on their bare chests. "We're the big guys," he said. "We're the ones who stand up for what we believe in. The College Democrats just sit around talking about how much they hate Bush. We actually do shit."

No, Mr. Bray, you have it wrong. You don’t do shit. You are shit. Chickenshit.

Rove Republicans prepare for war - A twelve-step program

1. Deploy 101st Fighting Keyboarders 2. Cut taxes for the $300,000-and-up income bracket 3. Tell citizens to continue shopping 4. Cut taxes on capital gains 5. Begin “fixing” intelligence and facts 6. Undermine Secretary of State with humiliating U.N. presentation 7. Repeal estate tax 8. Alienate remaining international allies 9. Distribute magnetic “support the troops” ribbons 10. Prepare U.S.S. Lincoln for critical photo op 11. Dispatch preparatory rose-petal-cleanup detail for Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Najaf, Fallujah, etc.

and finally, most important:

12. Blame failure on liberals.


Arundhati Roy: To ask us why we are doing this, you know, why is there a World Tribunal on Iraq, is like asking, you know, someone who stops at the site of an accident where people are dying on the road, why did you stop? Why didn't you keep walking like everybody else?

While I listened to the testimonies yesterday, especially, I must say that I didn't know -- I mean, not that one has to choose, but still, you know, I didn't know what was more chilling, you know, the testimonies of those who came from Iraq with the stories of the blood and the destruction and the brutality and the darkness of what was happening there, or the stories of that cold, calculated world where the business contracts are being made, where the laws are rewritten, where a country occupies another with no idea of how it's going to provide protection to people, but with such a sophisticated idea of how it's going to loot it of its resources. You know, the brutality or the contrast of those two things was so chilling.

But at the end of it, today we do seem to live in a world where the United States of America has defined an enemy combatant, someone whom they can kidnap from any country, from anyplace in the world and take for trial to America. An enemy combatant seems to be anybody who harbors thoughts of resistance. Well, if this is the definition, then I, for one, am an enemy combatant. Thank you.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Tracy, CA, soldier recovering from serious injuries sustained in roadside bombing in Kirkuk.

Local story: Ellijay, GA, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Schleswig, IA, soldier killed in Iraq. Two days before his service was to occur, his brother, waiting to deploy to Iraq himself, died in a traffic accident that was possibly a suicide.

Local story: Former Oregon police officer, employed in Iraq by DynCorp, killed in IED attack in Baghdad area.

Local story: Danielson, CT, soldier killed by small arms fire in Armada.

Local story: Strongsville, OH, Marine killed in Iraq.

Local story: Crown Point, IN, soldier killed in combat in Ramadi.

Local story: Fyffe, AL, soldier killed in roadside bombing in western Iraq.

Local story: Former East Moline, IL, Marine killed in explosion near Ramadi.

Local story: Bronx, NY, native and recent resident of Reading, PA, Marine killed in suicide bombing in Fallujah.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

War News for Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bring ‘em on: At least two people killed and two wounded when police opened fire on a crowd of unemployed workers demonstrating for jobs in Samawa.

Bring ‘em on: Bosnian national working for a US company killed June 15 in bomb attack some 60 kilometers from Baghdad. He was the first Bosnian to die in Bush’s war.

Bring ‘em on: Suicide car bomb attack near the entrance to a US base in Baquba, no word on casualties. One civilian killed and seven wounded in two coordinated car bombings in Baquba. One civilian killed during a gunbattle involving police, U.S. troops and insurgents in the Yarmuk district of western Baghdad. Two policemen killed by gunmen in western Baghdad. One Iraqi council member from the Mansur district of Baghdad shot dead. Three people killed and 13 wounded when a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up in a police security station inside a hospital in Musayyib. Two bodyguards killed and six people wounded in car bomb attack aimed at the head of the traffic police in Kirkuk, who survived the attack.

Bring ‘em on: A senior member of Iraq’s parliament, his son, and three bodyguards killed in a car bombing in northern Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier shot to death in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed and one wounded in a suicide car bomb attack in Balad.

Bring ‘em on: Four killed and ‘dozens’ wounded in car bombing outside a theater southeast of Baghdad. Three Iraqi employees of the North Oil Co. killed in roadside bombing between Kirkuk and Hawijah.

Helicopter crash: Two crew members killed in crash of US AH-64 Apache attack helicopter in Mishahda, no reason for the crash yet disclosed. Other reports indicate the aircraft was shot down by ground fire.

Another disaster: Iraq's health ministry is warning of a human refugee disaster as thousands of families flee the Iraqi city of al-Qaim, an Arab newspaper reported Tuesday.

The United Arab Emirates' al-Khaleej daily newspaper quoted Iraq's deputy health minister Jalil al-Shammari as warning of starvation among the refugees who fled and continue to flee al-Qaim and surrounding areas to avoid massive U.S. military operations against suspected insurgents.

Al-Shammari told the pro-government paper that more than 7,000 families have left several towns in al-Qaim province in Iraq's northwest.

While most families have taken refuge in several towns, hundreds of families are stranded in the desert, he said.

Voting change proposed: Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric appeared to offer a major concession to the Sunni Arab minority on Monday when he indicated that he would support changes in the voting system that would probably give Sunnis more seats in the future parliament.

In a meeting with a group of Sunni and Shiite leaders, the cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, outlined a proposal that would scrap the system used in the January election, according to a secular Shiite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Yasiri, who was at the meeting. The election had a huge turnout by Shiites and Kurds but was mostly boycotted by Sunni Arabs.

Such a change would need to be written into Iraq's new constitution, which parliamentarians are drafting for an Aug. 15 deadline. Although there has been little public talk about what form elections might take under the constitution, Ayatollah Sistani has been highly influential in Iraq's nascent political system.

Under the proposal, voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.

Sunni Arabs welcomed news of the suggestion. "This should have been done from the beginning," said Saleh Mutlak, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni Arab political group that has pressed for a more active role in politics. "That election was wrong."

Firemen: Firefighters are Iraqi heroes in most parts of the country - battling blazes, giving first aid and even getting water to places where pipelines have been sabotaged.

But in regions where insurgents are waging a guerrilla war against US and Iraqi forces, they can face a different kind of fire.

The rattle of insurgent machine guns often greets them when they respond to emergencies, especially following the almost daily suicide car bombs targeting US and Iraqi military convoys, said Colonel Abdul Karim Messin Zayer, a fire station commander on Baghdad's southern outskirts.

At other times, armed men show up at fire stations to warn firefighters not to respond to attacks against the US military, said an administrator at the civil defense corps headquarters.

Prisons: The U.S. military said Monday it plans to expand its prisons across Iraq to hold as many as 16,000 detainees, as the relentless insurgency shows no sign of letup one year after the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities. Say what? A year after the Iraqi government gained sovereignty the US military is fixing to imprison 16,000 Iraqis?

The prison population at three military complexes throughout the country — Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper — has nearly doubled from 5,435 in June 2004 to 10,002 now, said Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for detainee operations in Iraq. Some 400 non-Iraqis are among the inmates, according to the military.

"We are past the normal capacity for both Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca. We are at surge capacity," Rudisill said. "We are not at normal capacity for Camp Cropper."

The burgeoning prison population has forced the U.S. military to begin renovations on existing facilities, and work has also begun on restoring an old Iraqi military barracks near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The facility, to be called Fort Suse, is expected to be completed by Sept. 30 and will have room for 2,000 new detainees, Rudisill said.

British quandary: Britain is coming under sustained pressure from American military chiefs to keep thousands of troops in Iraq - while going ahead with plans to boost the front line against a return to "civil war" in Afghanistan.

Tony Blair was warned that war-torn Iraq remains on the brink of disaster - more than two years after the removal of Saddam Hussein - during his summit with President Bush in Washington earlier this month.

"The Prime Minister was given a pretty depressing run-down of the prognosis for Iraq while he was in Washington," one senior Ministry of Defence source said last night. "The Americans are pushing for at least a maintenance of the troop numbers we have there now. Our latest intention is to reduce by at least half the number of our troops in Iraq within a year.

"It's difficult to see how we can square that circle."

"Political solutions": Top U.S. military officials are increasingly emphasizing political solutions rather than military ones to Iraq's insurgency, a shift acknowledging the difficulty they and the Iraqi government face in stopping the violence.

Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander of the multinational coalition in Iraq, told reporters on Monday that the worst-case estimate of the size of the Iraqi insurgency is less than one-10th of 1 percent of the country's population - that is, a top end of 26,000 people supporting the insurgency.

The insurgents are responsible for 450 to 500 attacks a week around the country, Casey said during a Pentagon press conference. It's a pace on the level with much of last year, although officials reject any notion the fight has become a quagmire.

The violence has done away with much of the euphoria that arose after the Jan. 30 elections. While attacks ebbed for a time, they have since increased. That has military leaders now offering sober assessments of the insurgency, even as the Bush administration this week marks a year of Iraqi sovereignty by trying to highlight progress there.

Negotiating with terrorists: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top general in Iraq said yesterday that U.S. military attempts to initiate discussions with Iraqi leaders who claim to hold sway within the insurgency are in the early stages and have not yet yielded much progress.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said that his forces have been working to speak with Iraqis from several ethnic and political groups, largely aiming to reach those who say they are connected to the Iraqi insurgency. Casey said there have been no discussions with foreign fighters, including those linked to insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Oh boy! Only two years left to blog! And then we all get ponys!: Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said yesterday that two years would be "more than enough" to establish security in his country, a task that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said may take up to 12 years.

After talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, al-Jaafari said that such goals as building up Iraq's own security forces, controlling the country's porous borders and pushing ahead with the political process would all play a part in ending the violence.

"I think two years will be enough, and more than enough, to establish security in our country," he told reporters.

Well, maybe a little longer: Iraqi leaders put on a brave face on Monday after Washington said it would be up to them -- not American forces -- to defeat an insurgency that could last a decade or more.

Asked about comments by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the insurgency in Iraq would last years, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said it was impossible to predict how long it would take to defeat the guerrillas.

"Politics is not mathematics," he told a London conference.

Soon to be reporting from Gitmo: "You have a great country," remarked a radio reporter, one of the five Iraqi journalists traveling with Jafari, as he and his colleagues snapped photos of one another before the event.

Minutes later, the same Iraqi journalist exposed a yawning expectations gap between the Iraqis and the Americans. "When will you begin the reconstruction in Iraq?" he asked Bush -- a question that seemed to take the president, who has already sunk a couple of hundred billion dollars into the occupation, by surprise.

"We are spending reconstruction money," Bush said. "But, you know, you need to ask that to the government. They're in charge. It's your government, not ours."

That didn't satisfy Jafari, who stood beside the natty Bush in creased suit pants and well-worn tasseled loafers. "We hope that Mr. Bush will try to redo a Marshall Plan, calling it the Bush Plan, to help Iraq, to help the Iraqi people," he urged. "And this would be a very wonderful step." The president, by way of reply, said "Good job" and led the prime minister to lunch.

Too hard for Bunnypants: President Bush and his guest, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, reversed roles yesterday in the East Room. While the quiet Iraqi delivered a peppy sales pitch to the United States and spoke cheerfully of declining violence, the famously sunny president kept talking about how terribly rough things are.

It's "a difficult chore, and it's hard work" in Iraq, Bush asserted. "It's hard to stop suicide bombers, and it's hard to stop these people that, in many cases, are being smuggled into Iraq from outside Iraq. It's hard to stop them."

Bush alluded to high levels of difficulty no fewer than 19 times in his 33-minute appearance. The Iraqi government faces "monumental tasks," he said. "The way ahead is not going to be easy." In case somebody napped through that, he repeated: "It's difficult. . . . It's tough work, and it's hard."

The president hadn't had such a hard outing since last year's presidential debate, when he mentioned 22 times how very hard his job was, saying of one military widow: "It's hard work to try to love her as best as I can." "Saturday Night Live" spoofed Bush for that performance, showing him pondering Saturdays at the office and saying, "Frankly, I don't know why my opponent wants this job, because it's hard!"

And It’s 1,2,3,4 – What Are We Fighting For?

This, apparently: Physicians have been beaten for treating female patients. Liquor salesmen have been killed. Even barbers have faced threats for giving haircuts judged too short or too fashionable. Religion rules the streets of this once cosmopolitan city, where women no longer dare go out uncovered.

Unmarked cars cruise the streets, carrying armed, plain-clothed enforcers of Islamic law. Who they are or answer to is unclear, but residents believe they are part of a battle for Basra's soul. In the spring, Shiite and Sunni Muslim officials were killed in a series of assassinations here, and residents feared their city would fall prey to the kind of sectarian violence ailing the rest of the country. Instead, conservative Shiite Islamic parties have solidified their grip, fully institutionalizing their power in a city where the Shiite majority had long been persecuted by the Sunni-dominated rule of Saddam Hussein.

And this: Students in the Shi’ite Muslim religious Iraqi city of Najaf said the police recently arrested and beat several of them for wearing jeans and having long hair.

“They arrested us because of our hair and because we were wearing jeans,” said student Mr Mohammed Jasim, adding that the arrests took place two weeks ago in the city, the spiritual heart of Iraq’s newly dominant Shi’ite majority.

“They beat us in front of the people. Then they took us to their headquarters, beat us again, shaved our heads and tore our clothes.

“When we asked what we had done, they said that we had no honour,” he told Reuters this week.

The Big Pep Talk

Reinvigorate this, Bunnypants: As President Bush prepares to address the nation about Iraq tonight, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that most Americans do not believe the administration's claims that impressive gains are being made against the insurgency, but a clear majority is willing to keep U.S. forces there for an extended time to stabilize the country.

The survey found that only one in eight Americans currently favors an immediate pullout of U.S. forces, while a solid majority continues to agree with Bush that the United States must remain in Iraq until civil order is restored -- a goal that most of those surveyed acknowledge is, at best, several years away.

The findings crystallize the challenges facing Bush this evening in his nationally televised address from Fort Bragg, N.C., an event the administration sees as a critical opportunity for the president to restate the case for his Iraq policies. The goal is to reinvigorate public support for a war that has grown unpopular over time and convince Americans the administration has a policy that will lead to success over time.

Optomist or bubble boy?: President George W. Bush is a self- styled optimist. That may be causing him political problems over Iraq, as his administration's persistently upbeat assessments of the past two years continue to be undermined by new waves of bombings and deaths.

Bush is preparing to address the nation on Iraq tomorrow from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home to the Army's 82nd Airborne and the Joint Special Operations Command.

The address, which is designed to make his case for American policy, comes as critics such as Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware charge there's a ``credibility gap'' between ``the rhetoric the American people are hearing and the reality that is happening on the ground in Iraq.''

A review of statements by the president and his top advisers since 2003 shows why such criticism seems to resonate with the public.

As recently as June 23, Vice President Dick Cheney insisted the Iraqi insurgency was in its ``final throes.'' The next day, at least five U.S. Marines and a sailor were killed in a car bombing near Fallujah.

Bush's credibility problem may have begun on May 1, 2003, when the president stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, in view of a banner that read ``Mission Accomplished, '' and said: ``Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.''

Increasingly doubtful: President Bush delivers a prime-time address Tuesday to a public that is increasingly doubtful of his justifications for going to war in Iraq and wants a timetable set for U.S. troops to come home — a step Bush has ruled out.

Just one in three Americans now say the United States and its allies are winning the war, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday. That is a new low, down 9 percentage points since February. Half say neither side is winning.

Chaos: Using the anniversary of the handover of power for his speech tonight, President Bush is expected to point to progress the nation has made in the past year, from training thousands of soldiers and police to maintaining a stable Iraqi currency. But in the streets of Baghdad, sovereignty is still a nebulous idea, and the daily violence overshadows the progress that has been made. Many Iraqis interviewed said they believe U.S. officials have too much influence in the nation's important decisions and the government is far too dependent on the Americans for Iraqis to place much stock in their sovereignty. "This is not a democracy," said Sarah Abdul Kareem, 21, a Shiite. "This is chaos."

No banner this time?: President Bush is casting about for ways to turn the tide of public opinion on Iraq. He is running into a growing level of skepticism, new strains in Republican unity and more frequent comparisons to the Vietnam conflict of almost four decades ago.

A new stepped-up public relations effort has yet to show results. The next event is a prime-time speech Tuesday at Fort Bragg, N.C., with U.S. troops as his backdrop.

Bush administration officials see the speech as a chance for the president to clearly spell out his goals — and the stakes — of a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, one year after it regained its sovereignty from the United States.

It will take more than a finely honed speech to revive flagging public support or to reverse an alarming slide in military recruitment, analysts suggest.

"I don't think anybody will be able to watch that speech without wondering where is the banner saying 'Mission Accomplished,' " said Anthony H. Cordesman, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Quote Unquote

Congressman Donald Rumsfeld (R, IL), 1966:

“The administration should clarify its intent in Viet Nam. People lack confidence in the credibility of our government.”

“It’s a difficult thing today to be informed about our government even without all the secrecy. With the secrecy, it’s impossible. The American people will do what’s right when they have the information they need.”

“I do, however, believe it is important to the future of our Nation to recognize that there is a problem of credibility today.”

“…the people of the United States must know not only how their country became involved but where we are heading.”

“Accurate judgment is predicated on accurate information. Government has an obligation to present information to the public promptly and accurately so that the public’s evaluation of Government activities is not distorted.”


Only a billion?: Pentagon auditors have questioned more than $1 billion in costs by contracting giant Halliburton Co. for its work in Iraq, a number several times higher than previously disclosed, according to a report by congressional Democrats.

The report, based on Defense Contract Audit Agency documents and a briefing by DCAA officials, details $813 million in questioned costs on a Halliburton contract to provide logistical support to U.S. troops and $219 million on a no-bid contract to restore Iraqi's oil network.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency found an additional $442 million in Halliburton charges that were "unsupported," meaning the company had not provided enough documentation to justify the cost, the report said.

Among the costs that Pentagon auditors questioned were $152,000 in "movie library costs," a $1.5 million tailoring bill that auditors deemed higher than reasonable, more than $560,000 worth of heavy equipment that was considered unnecessary, and two multimillion-dollar transportation bills that appeared to overlap.

Free pass: Democratic legislators stepped up criticism of the Halliburton Company on Monday for what they said was "war profiteering," citing Pentagon audits that question more than $1 billion of the company's bills for work in Iraq.

The estimates of excessive spending and improper billing by Halliburton, a Texas-based company that provides logistical support and oil-field repairs in Iraq, are more than twice as high as those in previous official reports. The findings, including previously unpublicized internal Pentagon studies, were released at a Democrat-sponsored forum that was held, Democratic leaders maintained, because the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans have refused to hold the contractor accountable.

"The bottom line is, the Republican leadership in the Congress is giving Halliburton a free pass," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey.

Downing Street And Other Crimes

Rewards few and risks high: In the spring of 2002, two weeks before British Prime Minister Tony Blair journeyed to Crawford, Tex., to meet with President Bush at his ranch about the escalating confrontation with Iraq, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sounded a prescient warning.

"The rewards from your visit to Crawford will be few," Straw wrote in a March 25 memo to Blair stamped "Secret and Personal." "The risks are high, both for you and for the Government."

In public, British officials were declaring their solidarity with the Bush administration's calls for elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But Straw's memo and seven other secret documents disclosed in recent months by British journalist Michael Smith together reveal a much different picture. Behind the scenes, British officials believed the U.S. administration was already committed to a war that they feared was ill-conceived and illegal and could lead to disaster.

Shades of Cambodia: A U.S. general who commanded the U.S. allied air forces in Iraq has confirmed that the U.S. and Britain conducted a massive secret bombing campaign before the U.S. actually declared war on Iraq.

The quote, passed from RAW STORY to the London Sunday Times last week, raises troubling questions of whether President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair engaged in an illegal war before seeking a UN resolution or congressional approval.

While the Downing Street documents collectively raise disturbing questions about how the Bush administration led the United States into Iraq, including allegations that “intelligence was being fixed,” other questions have emerged about when the US and British led allies actually began the Iraq war.

World Tribunal on Iraq: Today in Istanbul the jury was taken aback by witness testimony from Iraqi war victims and a US Air Force veteran.

"Snipers hunt people in the streets. People attempting to go to health centers are shot at," testified Eman Kmammas, an Iraqi translator. "There are many crippled children. There are thousands of widows and orphans. There are no police for security and there are no courts. Even hospitals are occupied and bombed and burned."

Former US Air Force combat veteran Tim Goodrich stunned the jury by revealing his role in the "softening up" of Iraq months before the US declaration of war. "We were dropping bombs then, and I saw bombing intensify," Goodrich explained to a hushed room. "All the documents coming out now, the Downing Street memo and others, confirm what I had witnessed in Iraq. The war had already begun while our leaders were telling us that they were going to try all diplomatic options first."

This gripping but unsettling revelation came on the second day of proceedings at the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul, Turkey, which is collecting evidence of war crimes in Iraq.

With all that, what's a little domestic surveiliance?: Three decades after aggressive military spying on Americans created a national furor, California's National Guard has quietly set up a special intelligence unit that has been given ''broad authority'' to monitor, analyze and distribute information on potential terrorist threats, the Mercury News has learned.

Known as the Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion program, the project is part of an expanding nationwide effort to better integrate military intelligence into global anti-terrorism initiatives.

Although Guard officials said the new unit would not collect information on American citizens, top National Guard officials have already been involved in tracking at least one recent Mother's Day anti-war rally organized by families of slain American soldiers, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News.

A Totally Unrelated Story That Doesn’t Even Belong In An Iraq War Blog

It’s not like we’re talking about oil: After weak prices in the 1990s due to oversupply, natural gas production in North America will probably continue to decline unless there is another big discovery, Exxon Mobil Corp.'s chief executive said on Tuesday.

"Gas production has peaked in North America," Chief Executive Lee Raymond told reporters at the Reuters Energy Summit.

Asked whether production would continue to decline even if two huge arctic gas pipeline projects were built, Raymond said, "I think that's a fair statement, unless there's some huge find that nobody has any idea where it would be."

Veterans And Active Duty Soldiers, Report Here

Take it to Karl: This is a site set up for the purpose of receiving email from men and women serving currently in the United States military or veterans who are angry at Karl Rove's recent comments.

Let Karl Rove know that when it comes to defending the USA, there are no Democrats or Republicans, just Americans. Send an email to FightingLiberals at yahoo dot com.


Opinion: So the polls show most Americans don’t “think it was worth going to war in Iraq.” An even bigger majority, almost six in 10, are dissatisfied with the Global War on Terror or, as the inside-the-Beltway types call it, the GWOT. This may seem a little contrary, even ungrateful, given that the same Americans are increasingly confident they won’t have to face another terrorist attack like 9/11 anytime real soon. (Only 4 percent thought one might happen in the next few weeks.) Something seems to be keeping the terrorists at bay. President George W. Bush says it’s the war in Iraq. So is the public just churlish? Or stupid? I don’t think so. What we’re seeing with these recent polls, in fact, is a return to common sense.

The more that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claims he’s not worried about public opinion, the more obvious it is that he is. During hours of grilling by suddenly emboldened congressional skeptics yesterday, he claimed, lamely, that popular support would swing back behind the Iraq war because Americans have “a good center of gravity.” But he’s smart enough to know that is precisely why they’re growing immune to the administration’s spin.

A clear head and a calculator will tell you very quickly that the costs of this conflict in Iraq are on a scale far beyond whatever benefits it was supposed to bring. If Saddam had been behind 9/11, OK. But he wasn’t. If he’d really posed a clear and present danger to the United States with weapons of mass destruction, then the invasion would have been justifiable. But he didn’t, and it wasn’t. Bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people is a laudable goal, but not one for which the administration made any worthwhile preparations—which is why the occupation has been so ugly, bloody and costly. Tabloids may amuse their readers with snapshots of Saddam in his skivvies, but it’s the Bush administration’s threadbare rationales for postmodern imperialism that have been exposed.

Comment: The Army's recruiting shortfalls have put the future of the all-volunteer armed forces in jeopardy. Pressure is mounting in the Pentagon -- and perhaps on the Pentagon -- to put a happy face on its failure to achieve the needed enlistments for the Army and, to a lesser extent, the Marine Corps. The Army fell short of April recruiting objectives by 42 percent.

Three questions arise:

Can the all-volunteer force survive a sustained and unpopular war, regardless of who sits in the White House?

Will quantity in recruiting become a silent substitute for quality, leading to what is often referred to as a "hollow army?"

Were serious flaws built into the system more than three decades ago when the Gates Commission (named for its chairman, Thomas Gates) issued its report on creation of an all-volunteer armed forces?

The Gates Commission, in considering the transition from a draft to a volunteer force, optimistically assumed that young Americans would come to the colors if the nation went to war with any country that presented a conventional threat. Unconventional, non-state warfare didn't enter into the commission's calculus.

Editorial: Red flags flapping sharply in the wind signal our country is on the verge of a major political - and economic - setback.

We may now be only weeks away from a complete collapse of the Iraqi army and the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq in the face of overwhelming public pressure on Tony Blair.

That is a realistic projection based on the reports of two Washington Post reporters, whose dispatches from inside Iraqi Army units and U.S. units assigned to train and work with the Iraqi military have just been published.

Opinion: There should have been no doubt what would happen to anyone who questioned George W. Bush’s case for war. The dissenters would be baited, ridiculed, marginalized, and drowned out by accusations of disloyalty as well as epithets about “Saddam sympathizers.”

Which is, of course, what happened. War critics were treated like fringe nut cases, while nearly every major Washington pundit fell for the Bush administration’s deceptions about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Just look at the editorial pages on Feb. 6, 2003, the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations.

Now, amid the rising death toll in Iraq, a hopeful new line from some pundits is that the nation is on the cusp of a serious debate about the war’s future – as Bush finally levels with the American people, regains their trust and enlists them in the sacrifices ahead.

Does anyone believe that Bush will “address” how he “deliberately misled” the country to war? Or that if he did so, that would somehow earn him the credibility to explain how thousands of additional U.S. soldiers must die in Iraq because Bush and his advisers can’t think of a way out of the mess?

Rather, Bush has already signaled how he intends to deal with the growing doubts about both his pre-war rationalizations and his foundering war policy. The American people can expect another round of baiting, not debating.

Comment: “Before we commit troops, there has to be a clear strategy.” Contrary to recent developments, U.S. military forces should never be sent on “vague, aimless and endless deployments.”

Those are not criticisms of the Iraq quagmire expressed by some wimpish, touchy-feely liberal, as Karl Rove has now characterized virtually all administration detractors. No, those words were issued by George W. Bush during the campaign of 2000.

One wonders at what point Mr. Bush decided that unclear, vague, aimless and endless deployments are actually good military policy. Perhaps they’re good when they seem -- “seem” being the operative word -- politically expedient. Or perhaps he still believes such deployments aren’t very smart, but hasn’t the foggiest notion of how to end one, stuck as he is in Tom Jefferson’s famous metaphor of the 1820 Missouri crisis: “We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.”

Casualty Reports

Local story: Cranston, RI, Marine killed in suicide bombing in Fallujah.

Local story: Bronx, NY, Marine killed in suicide bombing in Fallujah.

Local story: Fairchild, WI, soldier killed by roadside bomb in Baghdad.


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