Tuesday, January 17, 2006

War News for Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bring ‘em on: Masked gunmen killed one official and wounded another in an attack on the offices of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq in Kirkuk. A short while later one person was killed and two wounded when gunmen fired on the headquarters of the Kurdistan Workers Party. Police suspect the same group of gunmen was involved in both attacks. In addition, two policemen were wounded in a roadside bombing in Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: Two US soldiers killed in crash of AH-64 Apache helicopter near Mishada, two insurgent groups claim responsibility for shooting the aircraft down. Witnesses claim to have seen the smoke trail from a missle. (Note: The crash was reported in yesterday’s post but the casualties were not.)

Bring ‘em on: Col Hussein Shiaa, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Army's 4th Brigade, and his brother were abducted on Sunday when leaving their base in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. They were found dead in western Baghdad's dangerous al-Baiyaa district riddled with bullet wounds. A police lieutenant was gunned down in his car while driving through al-Baiyaa. Also, drive-by gunmen shot dead three more men - including a vehicle mechanic and his son - in the same area.

Iranian clash: An Iraqi coast guardsman was killed and eight others were detained by Iranian authorities during a pursuit by the Iraqi vessel of suspected oil smugglers in disputed territorial waters in the Persian Gulf. The incident, which took place Monday and was announced by Iraqi authorities today, is a reminder of delicate relations between the two countries which fought a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s.

Iraqi Politics

Two to three months away from forming a government?: Iraq's electoral commission ruled Monday that more than 99 percent of the ballots from the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections are valid, opening the way for a new government to start coming together. Final election results have been delayed by fraud complaints mainly lodged by the Sunni Arab minority, and groups looking for a political edge in dealing with the Shiite Muslim majority could still make further protests and hold up the naming of new leaders for two or three months.

The triumph of democracy: Call it a case of why you should be careful what you wish for.

President Bush's efforts to spread democracy to the Middle East have strengthened Islamists across the region, posing fresh challenges for the United States, according to U.S. officials, foreign diplomats and democracy experts.

Islamist parties trounced secular opponents in recent elections in Iraq and Egypt.

Hamas, the armed Islamic Palestinian group, appears set to fare well in Palestinian parliamentary elections Jan. 25, posing a quandary for how the United States and Israel pursue peace efforts. Hamas has carried out suicide bombings against Israel and calls for the country's destruction.

In Lebanon, the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah is part of the government for the first time.

Washington considers Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which have Iranian support, to be terrorist groups.

"In the short run, the big windfall winners ... have been the Islamists," said Michael McFaul, a Stanford University expert on democracy and development.

Creating chaos and fomenting civil war: The US Agency for International Development paints a dire picture of security in Iraq in its request for contractors to bid on its 28-month, $US1.32 billion ($1.75 billion) project to help stabilise 10 main Iraqi cities.

The two-year USAID program aims to reduce violence by creating jobs, revitalising community infrastructure and mitigating ethnic and religious conflicts in cities such as Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Najaf, home to more than half of Iraq's population.

USAID has only $30 million of the proposed funds to date. Its contractor applications include an annex that describes Iraq as being in the midst of an insurgency whose tactics "include creating chaos in Iraq society as a whole and fomenting civil war".

Many of the attacks "significantly damage the country's infrastructure and cause a tide of adverse economic and social effects that ripple across Iraq".

Saddam judge replacement: The chief judge who resigned from Saddam Hussein's trial amid claims of government interference is expected to be replaced by his deputy, the top Iraqi investigator in the case said Tuesday.

Judge Raid Juhi, who investigated Saddam before his trial started but is not one of those trying the deposed Iraqi leader, said the court was set up under a law stipulating the chief judge's deputy would take over for him if needed. Saad al-Hamash is the second-ranking member of the five-judge tribunal headed by Rizgar Mohammed Amin.

The tribunal said Amin wanted to quit for "personal reasons" and not because of government pressure. His resignation was not expected to prevent the trial from resuming Jan. 24 as scheduled.

Jalal’s two cents: Iraq's president stepped into the debate over the future of the troubled court trying Saddam Hussein on Tuesday, suggesting it be moved from Baghdad to his own Kurdish home region to improve security.

Jalal Talabani's proposal came as a split emerged inside the court over how to choose a successor to Kurdish judge Rizgar Amin; he resigned in protest at political pressure, buffeting a trial already rocked by the killings of two defense lawyers.

"If there are judges here who will feel in danger in future, we are ready to take them to Kurdistan and they would be safe there and guarded very well," Talabani told Reuters in Baghdad.

But wait – wouldn’t this mean we’d have to count them or something?: U.S.-based humanitarian groups are urging the administration of President George W. Bush to compensate the families of innocent Iraqi citizens killed as a result of aerial bombings by the U.S. military.

Last year the New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report deploring the U.S. military for resorting to indiscriminate aerial strikes. It accused the U.S. of "imprecise targeting" of strikes against Saddam loyalists.

Out of 50 so-called "decapitation strikes" against members of Saddam Hussein's regime, none were hit, the group said, but 40 civilians were killed because planners relied on rough Global Positioning System locations derived from satellite phones.

This should really help eradicate terrorism: After more than 2 1/2 years of sputtering reconstruction work, the United States' "Marshall Plan" to rebuild this war-torn country is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet and no plans to extend its funding. The $18.6 billion approved by Congress in 2003 will be spent by the end of this year, officials here say. Foreign governments have given only a fraction of the billions they pledged two years ago.

With the country still a shambles, U.S. officials are promoting a tough-love vision of reconstruction that puts the burden on the Iraqi people.

"No pain, no gain," Andy Wylegala, whose job at the embassy is to help Americans do business in Iraq, said at the same briefing.

The Demise of the US Military

“Just common sense”: Military recruiters in Maine and nationwide are having a tough time reaching their goals despite increased signing bonuses and relaxed age limits and education requirements.

And with U.S. casualties mounting in Iraq, the job isn't getting any easier, said Staff Sgt. James Gilbert, who spends hours calling potential recruits and is used to rejection.

Gilbert, who works in the Army's South Portland recruiting station, is feeling a growing frustration over the decline in enlistments.

"If there was no war, guaranteed, the Army would be overflowed," Gilbert said. "But now the marks have hit 1,000, 1,500, 2,000, 2,100 dead. It's just common sense that no one wants to join the military these days."

Stressful times: Across the country, these are stressful times for parents who find their children of high school age being courted by military recruiters. Even in the best of times, some parents might find it unsettling to answer the phone and find a recruiter on the line.

But even parents who might have accepted attention from recruiters in times of peace are more likely to worry when recruiters call in time of war - particularly if their children already are interested in joining up. Parents are left wondering whether to encourage their children, or to oppose an enlistment decision that potentially could be a matter of life or death.

Just pathetic: A Naval Academy tradition that lasted 155 years has come to an end.

The gates and crypts of Revolutionary War Capt. John Paul Jones at Annapolis have been guarded by Marine sentries since before the Civil War. The military has now withdrawn Marines from that post and redeployed them to Iraq. The four dozen Marines will be replaced by Navy enlisted personnel.

Even more pathetic: With record numbers of soldiers surviving injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars, veterans' organizations are questioning whether the federal government is able--or is willing--to cope with the demand for health-care benefits, rehabilitation services and ongoing treatment. And if Washington can't do it, then who should?

Enter the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Since last July, the nonprofit group has raised more than $25 million in private funds for the construction of a training and rehabilitation center for soldiers returning from battle with catastrophic injuries and amputations. To be built on site at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the 60,000-foot marble and granite Intrepid Center needs $10 million more before it can be completed. Once it's finished--tentatively in January, 2007--the Veterans Administration and the military will take over. The facility will be able to work with as many as 100 returning soldiers and veterans at any given time.

But should such an institution really be funded by private sources? Inevitably, organizations like Intrepid have raised questions about whether the Bush administration--committed to two wars--is too stretched to properly take care of returning veterans. "It’s surprising to us that there needs to be a facility that’s privately funded, and we hope that the Congress and the Bush administration will recognize that we need to meet these goals of the severely injured," says Peter Gayton, director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation at the American Legion. “The fact that the Intrepid Center needs to exist shows that the VA is not receiving enough funding."

Dishonor: A group of Valley veterans are angry, saying the military did not do enough to honor a soldier killed in Iraq.

The veterans are upset because there was no military honor guard at McAllen Miller International Airport Saturday night to receive the remains of Sgt. Johnny Perales, Jr. of Falfurrias. Instead, members of a local high school’s JROTC carried Sgt. Perales’ casket off the plane.

The veterans call it a dishonor.

“Our government should have gone to great pains to ensure that this man was received honorably,” said Felix Rodriguez, a member of America’s Last Patrol.

“Not helpful”: Of the approximately 1,500 Army deaths so far in the Iraq war, 11 have been officially attributed to friendly fire. Even Army officials acknowledge that the number is too low, citing the difficulty of ascertaining the cause of death during intense firefights.

But military experts agree there's another reason friendly-fire cases are often left unexamined: morale. Retired Lt. Col. Charles R. Shrader said these incidents can be so devastating to other troops that it is "not helpful" to investigate most of them. "The only reason for pursuing one of these things is to work out the rules and principles to avoid it in the future," he said.

Friendly fire was responsible for 10 to 14 percent of casualties in the Vietnam War and 12 to 14 percent in World War II, according to Army statistics.


Murder charge: The prosecutor's office here has ended its investigation into the death of an Italian intelligence officer in Iraq and is now expected to seek the indictment of a United States marine for murder . Nicola Calipari was killed on March 4, 2004 when US troops manning a temporary roadblock opened fire on a car carrying him, another agent and a released hostage to Baghdad airport . The ex-hostage, reporter Giuliana Sgrena, and the driver, intelligence agent Andrea Carpani, were injured in the incident. Prosecutors will ask that the marine, the only soldier to fire on the car, also be charged with attempted murder, well informed sources said Prosecutors identified the marine as Mario Lozano, 35 .

US Poll

Top problems: When people were asked in an open-ended question to name the nation's top problem, 25 percent named war, close to the level in October, but up from 19 percent in July. The number of people who named political leaders as the most important problem has almost tripled, from 5 percent in July to 14 percent as the new year starts.

"The war is a problem that fouls up what we need to do in the world," said Peter Palys, a lawyer from Wheaton, Ill. "My feelings about Iraq have solidified over the last six months. ... We can't stay; we can't leave, and we can't win. Our success or failure is not in our hands."


E.J. Dionne: I underestimated the viciousness of the right wing.

In November, Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and a decorated Marine combat veteran in Vietnam, came out for a rapid American withdrawal from Iraq. At the time, I wrote: "It will be difficult for Bush's acolytes to cast Murtha, who has regularly stood up for the military policies of Republican presidents during his 31 years in Congress, as some kind of extreme partisan or hippie protester."

No, the conservative hit squad didn't accuse Murtha of being a hippie. But a crowd that regularly defends President Bush for serving in the Texas Air National Guard instead of going to Vietnam has continued its war on actual Vietnam veterans. An outfit called the Cybercast News Service last week questioned the circumstances surrounding the awarding of two Purple Hearts to Murtha because of wounds he suffered in the Vietnam War.

Sen. John Kerry, as well as Sen. John McCain -- who faced scurrilous attacks on his war record when he was running against Bush in the 2000 South Carolina primary -- could have warned Murtha, if you're a Vietnam veteran, don't you dare get in the way of George W. Bush.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: It would be amusing to watch Sen. Rick Santorum lash around to the left and right as he tries to redefine himself for the voters as the November elections approach, except that sometimes he comes up with something truly ridiculous.

In a speech Thursday to students at Valley Forge Military Academy and College outside Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Republican really went off the deep end, attacking the media -- we assume modestly that he included us -- for drawing the public's attention to the deaths of American servicemen and -women in Iraq. To focus attention on the "tragic consequences" of the war, he said, was "helping Islamic fascism win the battle."

For Sen. Santorum to suggest that we and other American media should not report about the tragic loss of American lives -- a death toll that now stands above 2,200 -- is to sell our readers short and to suggest that they do not need to know, nor do they want to know, how many brave Americans are dying there.

It is to say that they are either immature -- fragile souls who need to be protected from such information -- or that they don't care, which everyone knows is not the case. For Sen. Santorum to cite national security and the claim that knowledge of U.S. losses might encourage America's enemies, as reasons for not telling the public the truth, is insulting to the American people.

Telling Americans that they shouldn't be told how many are dying in Iraq is way too much, even for Mr. Santorum.

Helen Thomas: As opposition to the war grows, Bush seems to be more frantic in flailing against war critics.

In Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday, the president warned that the critics are hurting the troops who put their lives on the line. He also threatened political repercussions for such opposition.

"I can understand people being abhorrent about war," he said. "War is terrible, but one way people can help as we're coming down the pike in the 2006 elections, is remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in harm's way, and the effect that rhetoric can have in emboldening or weakening the enemy."

The Democratic response -- mainly from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- is that Bush was using "our troops as a shield against legitimate criticism of his war policy."

In a speech to the friendly Veterans of Foreign Wars Monday, Bush derided the war's detractors, saying Americans know the difference between "honest critics" and "those who claim we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people."

That was an interesting commentary by Bush. Some of us waited breathlessly to hear him say what really impelled him to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003 -- but he didn't oblige. His previous rationales -- that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq had ties to the al Qaeda network -- have turned out to be bogus.

Paul Craig Roberts: Bush Justice Department official and Berkeley law professor John Yoo argues that no law can restrict the president in his role as commander-in-chief. Thus, once the president is at war--even a vague open-ended "war on terror"--Bush's Justice Department says the president is free to undertake any action in pursuit of war, including the torture of children and indefinite detention of American citizens.

The commander-in-chief role is probably sufficiently elastic to expand to any crisis, whether real or fabricated. Thus has the US arrived at the verge of dictatorship.

This development has little to do with Bush, who is unlikely to be aware that the Constitution is experiencing its final rending on his watch. America's descent into dictatorship is the result of historical developments and of old political battles dating back to President Nixon being driven from office by a Democratic Congress.

There is today no constitutional party. Both political parties, most constitutional lawyers, and the bar associations are willing to set aside the Constitution whenever it interferes with their agendas. Americans have forgotten the prerequisites for freedom, and those pursuing power have forgotten what it means when it falls into other hands. Americans are very close to losing their constitutional system and civil liberties. It is paradoxical that American democracy is the likely casualty of a "war on terror" that is being justified in the name of the expansion of democracy.

Casualty Reports


Pfc. Kasper Allen Camacho Dudkiewicz

Charles S. "Gadget" Allen

Spc. Ryan Doran Walker

Sergeant First Class Stephen Jerome White

Chief Warrant Officer Mitchell Carver Jr.

Pfc. Robbie Mariano

Major Stuart Anderson


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