War News for Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Bring 'em on: A roadside bomb attack on the convoy of army Brigadier Shuja'a al-Saadi killed five of his bodyguards and wounded two others in the town of Ishaaqi
Bring 'em on: A U.S. marine was killed by small arms fire on Tuesday in the town of Karma
Bring 'em on: At least two people, including a policeman, were wounded when a motorcycle bomb aimed against an Iraqi police patrol exploded in central Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Police found a body, blindfolded and handcuffed, in Iskandariya
Bring 'em on: Iraqi police found a body dumped in the Euphrates River near the town of Musayyib
Bring 'em on: Iraqi police shoot dead a Sunni cleric in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Gunmen shoot dead a police sergeant in Sadr City
Bring 'em on: Iraqi TV cameraman killed in a US airstrike in Ramadi
Executions at Gitmo
: New US military rules mean that executions of condemned "war on terror" detainees could be carried out at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the US Army said. The new rules authorize the army to set the location for executions "imposed by military courts-martial or military tribunals and authorized by the president of the United States."
: Five Iraqi women prisoners whose release has become linked to the case of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll will be freed from U.S. custody on Thursday, a Justice Ministry official said on Wednesday.
: Hundreds of British and Danish troops staged early morning raids on the homes of Iraqi policemen in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday in an operation to root out rogue elements of the police force.
Stealing from Iraqi and US citizens
: The 42-page report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found problems with 907 contracts and over 1,200 micro-purchase contracts totaling $88.1 million. Many of the contracts lacked documentation, were not properly authorized or competitively awarded, and across the board, officials failed to keep track of where the materials they paid for actually went, it said. Cash was stolen during insurgent raids, but not reported as such; one U.S. military assistant gambled away $40,000 while accompanying the Iraqi Olympic team to the Philippines
; and tens of millions of dollars went into and out of the region's cash vault with no record-keeping whatsoever, it found.
Warriors and Wusses
: Joel Stein said he has been "bombarded" by hate mail over the incendiary article -- which was headlined "Warriors and Wusses" and held that U.S. soldiers in Iraq were "ignoring their morality" -- but does not regret writing it and stands by the premise. "I don't support what they are doing, and I don't the see point of putting a big yellow magnet on your car if you don't," Stein told Reuters in an interview. "I don't think (soldiers) are necessarily bad people. I do plenty of things that are wrong too. But I don't agree with what they are doing so I don't see the logic of supporting it."
: Arab countries are willing to discuss sending troops to help stabilise Iraq once U.S.-led forces eventually leave
, but only if asked by an Iraqi national unity government, Arab League chief Amr Moussa said. "The start is that there must be a sovereign government in Iraq that requests such a serious step," Moussa told Reuters Television late on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Then we'll see under what conditions, and when, and how, and how many (troops), and who will pay for it. It's a very big issue and it cannot be answered just simply." He said an Arab force would not serve under U.S. command
-- a sticking point in previous discussions some 18 months ago -- and the terms for sending it would have to be agreed separately from any arrangements between Washington and Baghdad for a pullout of U.S. and coalition troops.
: The trial of Saddam Hussein has been delayed again, with judges apparently divided after a series of setbacks. A court spokesman said the postponement to Sunday was due to witnesses failing to appear, but Saddam's lawyer contested that and blamed it on disarray after the resignation of Rizgar Amin, the chief judge. Amin had complained of government meddling, and allegations that the judge's deputy had ties to the ousted Baath party.
: Iraqi insurgents are being trained in the use of shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles by Syrians, according to US intelligence sources. A group operating just south of Baghdad is said to have close ties with Syrian intelligence and to have received training from them in the use of Russian-made SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, Defensenews reports, citing unnamed military intelligence officials.
Bombs in Iran
: Iran on Wednesday accused Britain of cooperating with bombers who killed eight people in the southern Iranian city of Ahvaz on Tuesday. "Their (British) co-operation, either in London or Basra, is clear and we will seriously express this to British officials," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference.
Opinion and Commentary
The Air War
After most American ground troops leave Iraq, a sizable number, perhaps a few thousand, will stay behind to be embedded as advisers with the Iraqi forces. Seymour Hersh, in a recent New Yorker piece, reported that some military sources are expressing concern that Iraqi commanders will eventually be given the power to select targets for the American planes. The worry is that in ethnically fragmented Iraq, targets might be chosen to settle old scores, thus increasing civilian casualties and endangering the embedded U.S. advisers.
Publicly, the Pentagon insists that target selection will be in American hands. My own experience in Indochina tells me it's rarely that neat and tidy.
Keep in mind that no nation-state gives out complete military information. The Pentagon is no different; it's not overly trusting, especially not at a time when anyone can chat on the Internet and unthinkingly give away information that could cause harm.
Also, the Pentagon spins information like any other government power center. For example, in the early stages of the Iraq war, U.S. forces hit Iraqi troops with incendiary bombs that exploded into fireballs like napalm and stuck to human skin and kept burning—just like napalm. American officers on scene told reporters it was napalm. The reporters wrote stories. Higher officials denied it was napalm. The Pentagon insisted that napalm—in response to international protests about its use in Vietnam and U.N. strictures approved in 1980—had been removed from the American arsenal. The last batch of napalm in storage, it said, had been destroyed on April 4, 2001.
Some reporters, notably James Crawley of The San Diego Union-Tribune, kept digging. Five months later, in August 2003, the Pentagon finally admitted that while it wasn't exactly napalm, it was a very close relative. The napalm formula used in Vietnam was made from polystyrene (the jellying agent), benzene, and gasoline. After the protests and the U.N. ban, the military substituted jet fuel for the gasoline and benzene—and were now calling the weapon a Mark 77 firebomb. Its effects on a target were "remarkably similar" to the old napalm, the Pentagon said, but this version had "less of an impact on the environment."
The Pentagon's moral of the story: We did not seek to deceive. If only the reporters had referred to the device by its correct name, there would have been no confusion.Destroying Iraq's Heritage
In the preparations for the first Gulf war under Dick Cheney, then defence secretary, the Pentagon brought together detailed advice on the cultural heritage of Iraq and Kuwait from around 80 international experts and institutions. Several hundred specific sites, archaeological zones and monuments, and important historic buildings - including the National Museum in Baghdad and the Babylon and Ur archaeological zones - were identified for protection from direct acts of war such as air and ground attack, and from any postwar situation.
The protected sites were then identified on military maps used for both aerial targeting and the ground campaign. The system worked extremely well, with only one or two apparently genuine mishaps due to missiles going off target. A postwar evaluation of these measures was reported to Congress by the department of defence in January 1993, in response to a Congressional inquiry into the war's environmental and heritage impact. In the concluding section of the report, the Pentagon gave an assurance that "similar steps will be taken by the United States in future conflicts".
Two years later, the joint chiefs of staff unanimously recommended that the president and Congress ratify the key international treaty in this area - the 1954 Hague convention on the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict - which had been signed by the US in 1954 but had then been left in abeyance, apparently due to pressure from the nuclear-weapons lobby. (Though submitted to the Senate for approval in 1998, the Hague convention still has not been tabled for debate.)
It is simply inconceivable that, during the planning of military action in 2002-3, the Pentagon did not turn up the detailed heritage-protection rules and maps applied so relatively successfully in the first Gulf war. Almost the first move of military planners in preparing for a possible conflict is to dust down records and maps, perhaps many decades old, and build on these. In this case, many of those responsible for developing and implementing the Desert Storm policy were still in the Pentagon. Someone or some group must have taken a positive decision to scrap the US's established protection policies and ignore the January 1993 assurance to Congress given by the defence department, still under Dick Cheney at the time.
Who made that fatal decision? Who back in Washington refused to allow the Baghdad commander to move a tank 200 yards to protect the National Museum from looting - despite pleading by the museum and international experts - and who authorised the building of a gigantic military base in the middle of Babylon's archaeological zone and allocated an adjacent area of the site to the Kellogg, Brown, Root subsidiary of Halliburton, Vice-President Cheney's old firm?Hipocrisy
An unexpectedly light sentence for a US army interrogator who once faced life in prison for the death of an Iraqi general could tarnish the US government and hurt human-rights efforts around the globe, observers say. Prosecutors said during Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr's court-martial that his interrogation of Major-General Abed Hamed Mowhoush "could fairly be described as torture" and had stained the military's reputation. During the trial, testimony showed he stuffed Mowhoush in a sleeping bag and straddled his chest.
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said if the tables were turned and an American general had fallen into enemy hands and suffered the same fate from interrogators, there would have been an uproar in the US. "How is this going to look overseas?" he said. Mowhoush, the former commander of Saddam Hussein's air defences, surrendered to the Army on 10 November 2003, in hopes of seeing or securing the release of his four sons.
Sixteen days later, Mowhoush died after Welshofer covered him in a sleeping bag, straddled his chest and put his hand over the general's mouth, already covered by the bag.