Monday, January 30, 2006

War News for Monday, January 30, 2006

Bring ‘em on: Three people killed and nine wounded in five car bombings aimed at Christian churches, two in Kirkuk and two in Baghdad, and at the office of the Vatican envoy in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Bombings and ambushes Sunday killed eight policemen and a medic in attacks across Baghdad and in the northern cities of Baqouba and Beiji.

Bring ‘em on: A massive car bomb killed four Iraqi soldiers and wounded six more in Saddam Hussein's birthplace of Uja, about 75 miles north of Baghdad. It was unclear whether the attacks was linked to Saddam's trial, which resumed Sunday.

Bring ‘em on: A former high-ranking general in Saddam's disbanded army, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Idham, was assassinated near Tikrit. The motive for the attack was unclear.

Bring ‘em on: ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and a cameraman were seriously injured Sunday in an explosion while reporting from Iraq. Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were hit by an improvised explosive device near Taji, Iraq, and were in serious condition at a U.S. military hospital.

Bring ‘em on: Two policemen were killed and 20 people were wounded when a suicide bomber in a car attacked a barracks in Nassiriya on Monday. The wounded included soldiers and civilians.

Bring ‘em on: Thirty people were arrested, including two top suspects, by U.S and Iraqi forces in Sebtiya, a northern suburb of Baquba.

Bring ‘em on: Three decapitated bodies were found on Saturday by U.S forces in a soccer field west of Baghdad.

Getting further apart: It's already a bitter fight and getting more acrimonious by the day — the question of who should control Iraq's police and army.

At stake is whether Iraq slides toward civil war — and how long American troops might have to stay to keep the peace.

In a clear sign of the issue's importance, American officials have been pointed in their demands that the two sides reach a deal, and that no one group should monopolize key ministries. But so far, the sides are getting further apart, not compromising.

Sunni Arabs insist that Shiites aligned with sectarian groups with private militias cannot control the key interior and defense ministries that run the police and the army.

"We will work hard to not allow the security ministries to be in the hands of groups that have militias. And we will also work hard not to let those sectarian people head these ministries," said Thafir al-Ani, a spokesman of the main Sunni Arab bloc. "We will absolutely not allow this."

But Shiites say they must control those key ministries to ensure that members of their majority community are protected.

"We have red lines that cannot be crossed in regard to electoral weight and the interest of national security," Hadi al-Amri, head of the Shiite Badr militia. "We will never surrender these. We are subjected to a daily slaughter. We will not relinquish security portfolios."

This worked out about as well as the rest of it: Not long after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 2003, a top aide to L. Paul Bremer III, then the head of the American occupation authority there, excitedly explained that Iraq had just become the front line in Washington's effort to neutralize Iran as a regional force.

If America could promote a moderate, democratic, American-friendly alternate center of Shiite Islam in Iraq, the official said, it could defang one of its most implacable foes in the Middle East.

Iran, in other words, had for decades been both the theological center of Shiite Islam and a regional sponsor of militant anti-American Islamic groups like Hezbollah. But if westward-looking Shiites — secular or religious — came to power in southern Iraq, they could give the lie to arguments that Shiites had to see America as an enemy.

So far, though, Iran's mullahs aren't feeling much pain from the Americans next door. In fact, officials at all levels of government here say they see the American presence as a source of strength for themselves as they face the Bush administration.

In almost every conversation about Iran's nuclear showdown with the United States and Europe, they cite the Iraq war as a factor Iran can play to its own advantage.

"America is extremely vulnerable right now," said Akbar Alami, a member of the Iran's Parliament often critical of the government but on this point hewing to the government line. "If the U.S. takes any unwise action" to punish Iran for pursuing its nuclear program, he said, "certainly the U.S. and other countries will share the harm."

Negotiating with terrorists: American officials in Iraq are in face-to-face talks with high-level Iraqi Sunni insurgents, NEWSWEEK has learned. Americans are sitting down with "senior members of the leadership" of the Iraqi insurgency, according to Americans and Iraqis with knowledge of the talks (who did not want to be identified when discussing a sensitive and ongoing matter). The talks are taking place at U.S. military bases in Anbar province, as well as in Jordan and Syria. "Now we have won over the Sunni political leadership," says U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "The next step is to win over the insurgents." The groups include Baathist cells and religious Islamic factions, as well as former Special Republican Guards and intelligence agents, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the talks. Iraq's insurgent groups are reaching back. "We want things from the U.S. side, stopping misconduct by U.S. forces, preventing Iranian intervention," said one prominent insurgent leader from a group called the Army of the Mujahedin, who refused to be named because of the delicacy of the discussions. "We can't achieve that without actual meetings."

Even the good news is bad: Deadly fighting has erupted within Iraq's insurgency as home-grown guerrilla groups, increasingly resentful of foreign-led extremists, try to assert control over the fragmented anti-American campaign, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. Yet there is no evidence that the split here in the Sunni Arab heartland has weakened the uprising, diminished Iraqis' sense of insecurity, or brought any relief to U.S. forces, the officials say.

Mowaffak Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security advisor, said a growing body of intelligence indicated that Iraqi-led groups were turning against Zarqawi's faction, Al Qaeda in Iraq, over a divergence of basic aims. He believes the shift reflects Iraqis' growing resentment of a foreign-led force whose fundamentalist religious goals and calls for sectarian war against Iraq's Shiite majority run counter to Iraqi nationalist traditions. But U.S. military officials concede that the guerrillas' ability to strike anywhere at any time is largely undiminished. They say the insurgency remains a stubborn, elusive and deadly collection of fighting groups that share the aim of ousting American forces. Their attacks across Iraq averaged 75 per day in December, up from 52 a year earlier, driving the country's sectarian violence and contributing to a decline in its oil production. U.S. troops died at the same rate last year as in 2004, and most estimates of Iraqi civilian casualties rose.

Basra protest: More than 1,500 Iraqis protested outside the British consulate in Basra over the recent arrests of several Iraqi policemen linked to a spate of local militia-related killings and kidnappings.

The protesters demanded the release of five men who were among 14 arrested by British and Iraqi forces last Tuesday to try to weed out security forces linked to Shiite militia groups operating in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

"No, no for the occupation; no, no for taking Iraqis' rights," chanted the protesters outside the consulate. Many carried banners emblazoned with slogans demanding the release of the detainees.

Among the demonstrators, some who burned and tore British flags, were Basra city council members, Islamic clerics, tribal chiefs and police officers.

Oil follies: Iraq's demoralised oil minister is set to leave his job for a second time, industry sources said on Sunday, and he will not attend Tuesday's OPEC meeting.

The sources said Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, from a prominent Shi'ite family, was quitting because of Shi'ite wrangling over the oil job since Iraq's December 15 election.

The upheaval coincides with a collapse in Iraq's oil exports to their lowest level since the U.S.-led invasion.

Wrecking the US Military

The incredible shrinking Army: Since September 2001, the number of junior enlisted soldiers -- the bulk of the Army, and on whose shoulders rest most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has declined by nearly 20,000 total, according to Defense Department statistics.

And despite Army efforts to add soldiers to its payroll and historically high retention rates, the active duty force actually shrunk by 6,800 from 2004 to 2005.

These declines come as the Army is trying to increase its force to 512,400 soldiers, up from a baseline of about 480,000 in 2001.

That’s ok, we’ll just keep everyone in forever: The U.S. Army has forced about 50,000 soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints ended under a policy called "stop-loss," but while some dispute its fairness, court challenges have fallen flat.

The policy applies to soldiers in units due to deploy for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Army said stop-loss is vital to maintain units that are cohesive and ready to fight. But some experts said it shows how badly the Army is stretched and could further complicate efforts to attract new recruits.

"As the war in Iraq drags on, the Army is accumulating a collection of problems that cumulatively could call into question the viability of an all-volunteer force," said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think tank.

"When a service has to repeatedly resort to compelling the retention of people who want to leave, you're edging away from the whole notion of volunteerism."

More Ancient History

It would be nice if this really blew up: Tony Blair knew that George Bush was only "going through the motions" of offering support for a second UN resolution in the run-up to the Iraq war, it was claimed last night.

According to reports in The Mail on Sunday, the Prime Minister and the US President decided to go to war regardless of whether they obtained UN backing. The allegations will undermine claims that the final decision to go to war was not made until MPs voted in the Commons a day before military action. It will also bolster claims that the President and Mr Blair decided to go to war months before military action began.

An updated edition of a book by Philippe Sands QC, a leading human rights barrister and Professor of Law at London University, to be published in Britain this week, is expected to strengthen claims that President Bush decided to go to war with or without UN backing, and that he had Mr Blair's support.


An odd little tale: For more than a decade, Osama bin Laden had few soldiers more devoted than Abdallah Tabarak. A former Moroccan transit worker, Tabarak served as a bodyguard for the al Qaeda leader, worked on his farm in Sudan and helped run a gemstone smuggling racket in Afghanistan, court records here show.

During the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when al Qaeda leaders were pinned down by U.S. forces, Tabarak sacrificed himself to engineer their escape. He headed toward the Pakistani border while making calls on Osama bin Laden's satellite phone as bin Laden and the others fled in the other direction.

Tabarak was captured and taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was classified as such a high-value prisoner that the Pentagon repeatedly denied requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to see him. Then, after spending almost three years at the base, he was suddenly released.

Today, the al Qaeda loyalist known locally as the "emir" of Guantanamo walks the streets of his old neighborhood near Casablanca, more or less a free man. In a decision that neither the Pentagon nor Moroccan officials will explain publicly, Tabarak was transferred to Morocco in August 2004 and released from police custody four months later.

When The People Lead, The Leaders Will Follow

Feinstein: Cindy Sheehan, the peace activist who set up camp near President Bush's Texas ranch last summer, said Saturday she is considering running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein to protest what she called the California lawmaker's support for the war in Iraq.

"She voted for the war. She continues to vote for the funding. She won't call for an immediate withdrawal of the troops," Sheehan told The Associated Press in an interview while attending the World Social Forum in Venezuela along with thousands of other anti-war and anti-globalization activists.

"I think our senator needs to be held accountable for her support of George Bush and his war policies," said Sheehan, whose 24-year-old soldier son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Hillary, San Francisco: U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton -- recently described as a "formidable" potential presidential candidate by President Bush -- drew cheers and some vocal anti-war protests Saturday night during a stop in the Democratic bastion of San Francisco.

Clinton's appearance drew about two dozen protesters outside, including some from the group Code Pink, which charged that she has not been forceful or courageous enough to stand up against the war in Iraq.

"We want Hillary and other Democrats to show some teeth," said Nancy Mancias, San Francisco coordinator for the women's peace organization.

Hillary, Portland, OR: Before her speech, as many as 50 protesters demonstrated outside the Hilton as they carried such signs as, "Hillary, you're not listening. Bring the troops home."

"I think she has left the Democratic Party behind," said protester Linda Wiener of Code Pink, an anti-war group that helped organize the demonstration. She said Clinton has been trying to move to the political center to position herself for the presidential race.

Afterward, Wiener and as many as a dozen demonstrators managed to get into the ballroom and repeatedly interrupt her speech with shouts of "Hillary supports the war!" and "Stop the War!" At one point, they displayed an anti-Clinton banner that was ripped down by supporters as security guards repeatedly hustled out protesters who popped up in various parts of the ballroom.

Lieberman: Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who rose to national prominence as the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, appears likely to face a serious primary challenge this year that could measure the depth of his party's discontent over the Iraq war.

Ned Lamont, a businessman and war critic, earlier this month publicly began seeking support for a run against Lieberman in the state's August nominating contest.

Lamont is attracting interest largely because of Democratic grumbling — in Connecticut and nationally — about Lieberman's unflinching support of President Bush's policies in Iraq.

"The indications I have is that a primary would be good for the party and very doable," said Lamont, 52, who founded a cable television company.


Washington Post Editorial: The larger lesson is that domestic intelligence operations by security-conscious government agencies, even when necessary and well-intentioned, can easily get out of hand and violate the fundamental rights of Americans. After the abuses of the 1960s and '70s, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act precisely to ensure that there would be an independent monitor, in the form of a secret court, on the government's domestic surveillance. That is the law that President Bush bypassed in authorizing the NSA to monitor the communications of Americans. We believe that the president's decision violated the law and exceeded his powers as president. If it did not also lead to the wrongful targeting of some American citizens, then the NSA operation would be a historical anomaly.

My god! A clear unambiguous statement! Quick, Democratic leadership! Hide!

Philip Gailey: Karl Rove, the president's unindicted leaker in the CIA leak case, stooped to a new low in suggesting that Democrats still have a "pre-9/11 worldview" when it comes to fighting terrorists. "Let me be as clear as I can be - President Bush believes if al-Qaida is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," Rove told a Republican audience last week. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree."

What a loathsome insinuation. Some Republicans also have expressed doubt about the legality of Bush's surveillance program. Senate hearings are scheduled next month, but senators probably shouldn't expect much cooperation from an imperial White House that routinely defies congressional investigators.

Last week, the White House stiffed a Senate committee trying to determine why the administration was so unprepared for Hurricane Katrina. Bush to Senate: Drop dead. Citing executive privilege, the president's men have refused to provide the documents and witnesses the committee requested. If only the levees around New Orleans were as formidable as the walls this White House has erected to protect the dirty little secrets of the most secretive administration in modern times. Don't even think about asking the White House to release that photo of Bush and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the latest poster boy for Washington corruption.

Bad news has no place in Bush's world. Neither does reality. To hear the president tell it, everything in Iraq - the war and the reconstruction - is going just fine. The government is doing everything it can for the victims of Katrina. There is nothing wrong with the economy that more tax cuts can't cure. His Medicare drug plan is just what the doctor ordered, even if people are being turned away by their pharmacies because of computer glitches, poor planning by the insurance companies and bureaucratic bungling.

So much executive power, so little competence.


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