Saturday, March 18, 2006

DAILY WAR NEWS FOR SATURDAY, MARCH 18, 2006 PHOTO: A missile strike in Baghdad in the early days of the war. (CTK) Bring ‘em on: US Soldier shot in Samarra on 3/16/06. Bring ‘em on: Landmine near a police checkpoint in the town of Miqdadiya kills four US soldiers and wounds four more, per Iraqi police report. Not confirmed. US forces sealed off the area and arrested a dozen policemen manning the checkpoint. Bring ‘em on: Dozens of suspected extremists arrested, many of them youths, during military offensive in northern Iraq. 50 were arrested, and 20 released so far. There is speculation that the terrorists had learnt of US plans in advance and had evacuated ahead of the offensive. No foreign fighters have been arrested. Bring ‘em on: Roadside bomb targets US military in Ramadi, destroyed a Humvee, no casualties reported. US military base hit with mortars near the city of Fallujah. No casualties reported. Bring ‘em on: US forces exchanged fire with attackers in Ramadi. No information on possible casualties. Iraqi troops killed one attacker in Falluja. Bring ‘em on: Two US soldiers killed and another wounded in attack in Tikrit. This was due to “indirect fire attack” on Contingency Operating Base Speicher. Bring ‘em on: Nine suspected terrorists captured in western Kirkuk by multi-national forces and local security troops. (I suspect that means US and Iraqi forces. – Susan) Bring ‘em on: Suicide car bomb near US base in Tal Afar. Only casualty was the driver. Bring ‘em on: Iraqi counter-insurgency troops staged a predawn raid in Baqouba in which two gunmen were killed, one was wounded, and 18 arrested, including a Jordanian. Along with ammunition and arms, the soldiers seized computer discs of fatwas – edicts – issued by Islamic clerics to kill Iraqi police and soldiers, Talabani said. SECURITY INCIDENTS: Two civilians killed and four wounded when mortars fell on houses near a US military base in Mahmudiya. On civilian killed and four wounded in a roadside bomb in Kut. Eleven civilians arrested after a US military convoy came under missile attack in Fallujah. Roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded three more in Iskandaria. SECURITY INCIDENT: The road to Karbala a highway of bullets and bombs on Friday. A total of 19 were killed or wounded. SECURITY INCIDENTS: Iraqi civilian killed in roadside bomb attack in eastern Baghdad. Another wounded. In a separate attack, two civilians were wounded by car bomb in central Baghdad. SECURITY INCIDENTS: Shi’ites on pilgrimage targeted in Iraq. Gunmen in passing automobiles killed three pilgrims and wounded five in western Baghdad. Bombs in a minibus killed two people and wounded nine more in the south of Baghdad. SECURITY INCIDENTS: Gunman in a car killed Khudr Abdaly, the former head of the municipality, in Ramadi. Suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside a minibus, killing the driver and wounding four passersby in eastern Baghdad. SECURITY INCIDENTS: KIRKUK - The U.S. military said in a statement that the head of the Iraqi armed forces was in a convoy struck by a roadside bomb near Kirkuk on Thursday, but escaped injury. In the initial report on Thursday, Iraqi police said General Babakir Zebari, Iraq's chief of staff, was not in the motorcade, although it was comprised of vehicles he normally used. Three Iraqi soldiers were wounded in the attack, the U.S. military said on Saturday. BAGHDAD - The bodies of 16 victims of shootings were found in different areas of the capital, police said. BAQUBA - Two gunmen were killed and 18 suspects arrested when the Iraqi army launched a search operation near Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, the Iraqi military said. DUJAIL - Two civilians were found dead inside their car near Dujail, 50 km north of Baghdad on Saturday. The bodies of two brothers were also found in the same area on Friday, police said. BAIJI - A police officer and his brother were killed by gunmen in Baiji, 180 km north of Baghdad, police said. BAGHDAD - Five Iraqi soldiers were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in Baghdad, police said. BAGHDAD - Three policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their patrol in northern Baghdad, police said. BAGHDAD - Two pilgrims walking to the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala were killed and eight wounded by a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad, police said. SECURITY INCIDENTS: Twenty Iraqis were killed or injured in a car bomb blast on Saturday in a Baghdad suburb. Two civilians were severely injured when a car exploded in the al Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. Two electricity protection patrol men were killed and two injured by explosive device in northern Baghdad. Six pedestrians injured by IED in al Yarmouk district of Baghdad. One civilian killed and another injured when IED went off by a soccer field. Two Iraqis injured by IED on Muhammad al Qassim highway. Two civilians injured when an American humvee caught fire from IED in al Ameen area. No information on possible American casualties. (Note: it is hard to tell when reading reports on incidents in Iraq if they are talking about the same or different incidents. In this article, it is hard to tell even within the article… are there a total of 20 Iraqis killed or injured – or is that claim a totally separate incident? I do not repeat information that I know is duplicated, but it is really hard to tell sometimes. – Susan) SECURITY INCIDENT: Three policemen injured on Saturday in a bomb blast in Kirkuk. SECURITY INCIDENT: One policeman killed and civilian injured in Kirkuk by gunman in a car. In another part of Kirkuk, gunmen attack an Iraqi military checkpoint and a captain in the Iraqi army was wounded. In a third incident in Kirkuk, gunmen opened fire at the Kurdish Communist Party center and injured one guard. SECURITY INCIDENT: Iraqi civilian killed and another wounded by roadside bomb near the Technology University. The target of the attack was not clear. REPORTS – THREE YEARS ON Predictions of a Better Middle East Have Evaporated Three Years After Invasion Three years after the United States invaded Iraq in pursuit of a freer, more stable Middle East, and the country's deepening ethnic conflict is spreading tension across Iraq's borders, fueling terrorism and nurturing gloom about the future. President Bush cited Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and ties to international terrorism - neither of which turned out to exist - when he ordered a pre-emptive war that began March 19, 2003. He predicted payoffs for the wider Middle East: spreading democracy, deterred enemies, more secure oil flows, a less hostile environment for Israel. None of that has happened, at least not yet. Instead, said officials and analysts in the United States, Arab countries, Israel and Europe, the invasion has produced a vortex of unintended consequences. Militancy is on the rise. Terrorists are using Iraq as a training base and potential launch pad for attacks elsewhere, according to U.S. officials and documents. Democratic reform remains largely stymied. (Actually, I don’t think this last statement is true. The democratically elected governments in the region happen to be hand line Islamists, but that does not change the fact that they were democratically elected. – Susan) Few of Iraq's neighbors see a model in its bloodshed and chaos. "Who could possibly look at anything in Iraq and think, `I want some of that'?" said Yusuf Kanli, the editor of the Turkish Daily News. "If they were serious about democracy, they wouldn't detain people in Guantanamo for life without trial," said Haitham Maleh, a Damascus lawyer who's one of the most outspoken opponents of the Syrian regime. "The U.S. is aggressive, hostile and has nothing to do with human rights." Death Squads Terrorize Baghdad When the men in black drive down his street, Ali Hasan al-Mahawish calls out to his playing children to come into the house immediately. He bolts the door, scared. This time it might be his family's turn. The men drive past at walking speed, clutching their guns. It's obvious they know exactly which houses the Sunnis live in. Mahawish is an engineer and a Sunni -- a potential victim of the death squads. Death squads are becoming part of everyday life in Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods. Sunnis living in the Khadamiya neighborhood are terrorized daily. Sometimes the men in black shoot randomly into their houses and backyards. Sometimes they give the residents five minutes to leave, then set fire to the house. Those Sunni's who aren't simply executed by their neighbors are being systematically driven out of the city's Shiite neighborhoods. According to a recent United Nations report, this type of "ethnic cleansing" has spread dramatically in Baghdad, a city of 6 million. And no one can stop the death squads, least of all the police. Six neighborhoods have already fallen prey to organized terror. Weeks have passed since the police was last seen in these neighborhoods, and Sunnis are now more afraid of the men in black than of the daily air raids. You can protect yourself from bombs by not leaving the house, but the black-clad men come into your home. They claim to be avenging their murdered Shiite brothers. And there is no escape for their victims. Sunni politicians and clerics are their main targets. In the western suburb Abu Ghraib, a Sunni cleric was found shot in front of a mosque. Eye witnesses have identified the killers as members of one of the death squads. Ali Hasan al-Mahawish lives right next to Al Aimma bridge, which connects his neighborhood with that of Adhamiya, on the other side of the Tigris River. The bridge acquired notoriety when more than 500 pilgrims died on it during a mass panic last year. "My house is sitting right on the border between Sunnis and Shiites. Every day I'm reminded of the dangerous frontier that's been drawn right in the middle of Baghdad. It's already become a genuine front line." The death squads are well organized, and it's believed that some of the men may be renegade troops of the Interior Ministry. Kamal Hussein, an official at the Interior Ministry, has stated that the black-clad men are not acting on the orders of the government. But Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has long ceased to control his subordinates. The failure to create a new cabinet after the Dec. 15, 2005 elections has resulted in genuine power vacuum. General Rasheed Flayih, the commander of the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry forces, claims they are independent of the Iraqi army. He doesn't deny the existence of death squads. Instead, he euphemistically refers to them as "Field Intelligence Units." What is certain is that large parts of the death squads were recruited out of the Mahdi Militia of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. For several months in 2004, al-Sadr's militia conducted a guerrilla war against the Americans in the holy city of Najaf, from where they were eventually forced to retreat. During a vehicle check in the neighborhood of New Baghdad, Americans recently found a hit list with the names of several hundred Iraqi ministry officials. The hit list was being carried by a policeman who is also a member of al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia. Things don't look much different on the Sunni side. There, too, citizens are taking up arms. After several of their mosques were destroyed last week, the Sunni militias have attracted many new members, including a number of former soldiers. Help and support have been promised from the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Large numbers of weapons and fighters are said already to have arrived. Arrests in Iraq Reporter Killings Six men have been arrested in Iraq on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a female journalist and her crew from the al-Arabiya television network. Iraqi Defence Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi said the arrests were made in the course of Operation Swarmer, a US-led offensive north of Samarra. Atwar Bahjat, her cameraman and soundman were seized by gunmen and shot dead near Samarra in February. They were reporting on the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in the city. The bombing led to an upsurge in sectarian violence throughout the country. In a statement, Mr Dulaimi said the men "will be put on public display today or tomorrow". Saturday is the third day of Operation Swarmer, which the US military says is the largest air assault operation since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Iraqi Defense Minister Denies Arresting Killers of Female Journalist "This report is not correct and is not issued by minister Saadoun al-Dulami," the Defense Ministry office said in a statement obtained by Xinhua. "The Iraqi forces have arrested six terrorists who committed the murder of two journalists of the state-run Iraqiya television," the statement said. "The six detainees, arrested six days ago, will be put for public view on television soon," it added. Earlier, the al-Arabiya TV channel reported that the six detainees were suspects for the killing of its female journalist Atwar Bahjat in the northern Iraqi town of Samarra on Feb. 22. The report also said that the suspects were arrested during the ongoing U.S.-Iraqi joint offensive, dubbed "Operation Swarmer", in Samarra. Another article on this arrest that did or did not happen: Earlier this week, an Iraqi militant group affiliated to al Qaeda said it was behind Hameed's killing. "Your brothers in the military wing of the Mujahideen Council assassinated on Saturday Amjad Hameed, the editor of Iraqiya ... which always broadcasts lies about jihad (holy war) to satisfy crusader masters," said a statement posted on the Internet and attributed to the group. It said the station was "the mouthpiece of the apostate government". Iraqiya's editorial stance is close to the Shi'ite-led government. Offensive Yields Results Iraqi military officials said Friday that a continuing offensive targeting insurgents in the hardpan desert northeast of here has resulted in the capture of additional weapons and a man who may have been among those responsible for the recent bombing of a venerated Shiite shrine in Samarra. Iraqi military and political leaders, speaking at a forward base of operations along the Tigris River 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, said they were checking pictures and other documents to determine if they had captured one of those they believe planned the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and the killing of an Arabic TV journalist. "One ringleader is in custody," said Iraqi General Abdul Jabbar. "He is a main person in all the attacks that took place." (Take all this with a large grain of salt please. – Susan) On Thursday, in what U.S. military officials called the largest airborne operation since shortly after the start of the U.S.-led war in 2003, some 1,500 U.S. and Iraqi troops swooped into the desert area in 50 helicopters, and by late Friday, officials said they had detained more than 50 people and uncovered up to eight weapons caches, most buried in fields, including a soccer field near Balad. There, searchers said they turned up a Soviet anti-aircraft gun, four rocket propelled grenade launchers, 100 pounds of explosives and hand grenades. (This is a drop in an ocean of the number of weapons in Iraq. – Susan) American officials on Friday denied that the sweep of the operation was disproportionate to the relatively modest number of weapons that have been uncovered. They also said that the timing was not tied to the looming three-year anniversary of the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein from power. Swarmer Continues, Brings Backlash The three-day-old sweep through villages 60 miles north of Baghdad – named Operation Swarmer – was prompting growing unease among leading Sunnis. One called it a needless “escalation” at a time of difficult negotiations over Iraq's future government. U.S. officials have said Swarmer is a sign of how much progress has been made in Iraq because of the participation of the Iraqi army. The security net thrown down by Swarmer, described as the largest Iraq operation by helicopter-borne troops in three years, has angered residents of the area, once a political stronghold for the Sunni-dominated government of Saddam Hussein ousted by the 2003 invasion. The Iraqi Red Crescent said it sent tents and food to al-Jelam, 15 miles northeast of Samarra, to help people driven from the village by the military operation. One leading Sunni, Iraqi presidential security adviser Wafiq al-Samaraei, urged that the U.S.-Iraqi operation ease restrictions on traffic across Samarra's vital Tigris River bridge, and cease “disarming the people of Samarra of their own authorized weapons.” Many Sunni spokesmen differentiate between what they see as an Iraqi nationalist resistance against the U.S. occupation, and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in Iraq, many foreign, led by people like the Jordanian al Qaeda follower Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. “Many young people were detained, some of them innocent, and I call for their quick release,” al-Samaraie told a TV interviewer. But he also called on Samarra's youths “to lay down their arms and join the political process.” A Sunni leader in Parliament, Tarek al-Hashimi, told reporters the operation came at too delicate a moment in Iraq. “There was no need to escalate military acts as the country is passing through a dangerous political dilemma,” he said Friday. But Iraq's Shiite interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, described the 3-day-old military action as a necessary “pre-emptive operation.” Trouble in Kurdistan Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of northern Iraq, is less than an hour’s flight from Baghdad but almost a world away. While the insurgent-plagued airport road in Baghdad is known as the “Highway of Death,” the road from the newly opened Erbil International Airport, plagued by nothing more dangerous than cyclists in spandex, wends through construction for a real estate development called “Dream City,” a planned community of several hundred California-style detached single-family homes, a supermarket and an American school. Fueled by oil wealth from rich fields in the region, Kurdistan has all the appearance of a budding market economy, with many of the appurtenances of Western capitalism. But the safety and progress in northern Iraq has come at a cost — and the Kurdish government may be paying for it now. While the Kurdistan Regional Government has a parliament and a president, the administration of Kurdistan is carved up between two rival political parties the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Erbil and the adjoining Dohuk governorates, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Suleymania Governorate. The two parties monopolize power in their respective territories and their despotic tendencies threaten civil liberties and the fledgling democratic process, creating an environment that is rife with corruption and repression. To many critics, the prosperious face of Kurdistan does not disguise conditions that they describe as “Saddam ite.” Indeed, frustration at this dual monopoly appear to have been behind a violent outburst yesterday at Halabja, the town on which Saddam Hussein inflicted a barbaraic chemical attack in 1988, killing 5,000. It was the anniversary of the atrocity; and the mob destroyed the government-sanctioned shrine to the victims of the attack. Kurdistan is a veritable police state, where the Asayeesh — the military security — has a house in each neighborhood of the major cities, and where the Parastin “secret police” monitors phone conversations and keeps tabs on who attends Friday prayers. While these security measures are an important part of why Kurdistan has largely kept jihadi and resistance cells from forming within its borders, security measures are often used by the ruling parties as an excuse to crack down on opponents and independent civil organizations, according to these groups. “Our members are regularly thrown in jail for seven or eight months at a time without cause,” said Hadi Ali, the Minister of Justice, the token KIU minister in the KDP-dominated Erbil administration. “When they get out I tell them that they are lucky to be alive and to keep quiet.” Kurds Destroy Monument in Rage at Leadership For nearly two decades, Kurds have gathered peacefully in this mountainous corner of northern Iraq to commemorate one of the blackest days in their history. It was here that Saddam Hussein’s government launched a poison gas attack that killed more than 5,000 people on March 16, 1988. So it came as a shock when hundreds of stone-throwing protesters took to the streets here Thursday on the anniversary, beating back government guards to storm and destroy a museum dedicated to the memory of the Halabja attack. The violence, pitting furious local residents against a much smaller force of armed security men, was the most serious popular challenge to the political parties that have ruled Iraqi Kurdistan for the past 15 years. Occurring on the day the new Iraqi Parliament met for the first time, the episode was a reminder that the issues facing Iraq go well beyond fighting Sunni Arab insurgents and agreeing on cabinet ministers in Baghdad. Although Kurdistan remains a relative oasis of stability in a country increasingly threatened by sectarian violence, the protests here — which left the renowned Halabja Monument a charred, smoking ruin — starkly illustrated those challenges even in Iraq's most peaceful region. Many Kurds have grown angry at what they view as the corruption and tyranny of the two dominant political parties here. They accuse their regional government of stealing donations gathered to help survivors of the poison gas attack. The town's residents chose Thursday to close off the town's main road and rally against government corruption. When government guards fired weapons over the protesters' heads, the crowd went wild and attacked the monument. The sudden and deliberate destruction of such a well-known symbol of Kurdish suffering clearly stunned officials with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which governs the eastern part of the Kurdish region. But many local people, including survivors of the 1988 attack — said the Patriotic Union was to blame, having transformed the monument into an emblem of its own tyranny and greed. By all appearances, the attack on the Halabja Monument was an authentic expression of popular rage. The crowd contained young and old, men and women. Most seemed to view the museum — which was inaugurated in September 2003 at a ceremony attended by Colin Powell, then the secretary of state — as the prop of an unjust government. "That monument over there has become the main problem for Halabja," said Bakhtiar Ahmad, nodding at the museum, with its distinctive yellow crown-shaped roof. "All the foreign guests are taken there, not to the city." Nearby, Tara Rahim, a quiet 19-year-old dressed in a neat black cloak and head scarf, said she had come to honor her sister Zara, killed in the 1988 attack, and to stop the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan from taking advantage of the anniversary. Three Years Later: Insecurity, Instability and Hope in Iraq Editor's note: One of CNN's Iraqi producers writes about the atmosphere in Iraq three years after March 20, 2003, the start of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The name of the writer has been withheld due to security concerns. (And that tells you a lot right there. – Susan) As I rode on the bus, most people started out quiet, but within minutes the silence was broken. "Look! I cannot believe this could happen to us," an old man said pointing his finger at a line of cars that stretched for more than a kilometer outside a gas station -- amazed that an oil-rich country is dealing with an oil crisis for its own people. "Habibi (my dear), our oil is being stolen by the Americans and the new Iraqi government. What oil are you talking about?" another man replied. It's not a view shared by most in Iraq, but it is a view that some hold. Across the aisle, an old woman who sat quietly listening to the exchange in a simple manner brought the debate to an end. "We do not want anything but to live in Iraq safely." Iraqis often speak of fuel shortages, a lack of electricity, the void in stability, all the things that deeply affect their daily life. Some also speak of the past. "Life was much better under Saddam," one man said from the back of the bus. But he couldn't finish the sentence. An angry man at the other end of the bus, turned around and yelled, "What was better under Saddam? Give me one example. Are you talking about the wars Saddam put us through? Or the mass graves that he created during his era? Or the torture centers? Tell me one thing that was better under Saddam and I will applaud you." As we approach the third anniversary since the fall of that towering statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad, there are many who have no desire to look back. “Let's not talk about life under Saddam because it has gone away with the past. Now we have a new life, a new political process and a new government," chimed in a young man sitting in the front next to the driver. After 30 minutes, I finally reached my destination. Before the bus stopped, I turned and asked everyone if they have any hope for the future. Four of the 11 said, "Inshallah," Arabic for, "If God wills it." The others kept silent. I understand their silence. It's hard for Iraqis to predict what will happen in the coming years. The situation here is complicated. Most of my friends voice hope, they share my view that at least we are past the Saddam era. Under Saddam, I felt like I just went through the motions. I felt dead inside, with no hope that I would ever see him gone and no future while he was in power. But now before my eyes, I am seeing my people killed. We never expected to live through an era of such fear and anxiety. I cannot accept what is happening now, but still I do not want to turn back. I remember one day when my mother was watching news on local TV as they showed the aftermath of an explosion that missed a joint U.S. and Iraqi military convoy, but killed two nearby children. Tears ran down her face, as she cried in silence. I approached her, hugged her shoulder and asked her in this moment as she sat there crying, "Hey Mom, if you could return to the days before the war, would you?" She looked at me for a while -- and still crying, shook her head slowly and said, "No”. Three Years On, Iraq’s Future is Shrouded in Fear On the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion, forecasts of how Iraq will look three years hence range from gloomy to apocalyptic. A full parliament has met for the first time in what should have been the crowning achievement of the U.S.-backed political process that began with toppling Saddam Hussein. But deadlock on forming a coalition has hampered efforts to stave off civil war. "We first need to see if the country can hold together for the next four years before worrying about whether the government will last that long," one Sunni leader said. Bloody sectarian reprisals since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shi'ite shrine have blighted the political atmosphere. The goal is a coalition that can survive a four-year term to build consensus and security forces that can cope without much U.S. help. Ranged against it are America's enemies keen to keep it embroiled in Iraq, and ethnic and sectarian groups competing for Iraq's oil wealth, possibly backed by rival regional powers. This week's tentative moves towards U.S.-Iranian talks on Iraq can be read as a sign of hope or a desperate bid to avert a regional crisis that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has said would make Afghanistan look like "child's play". Optimists allow that a unity government might work. Many analysts believe life will get little better. Some see disaster. "The reconstruction is destined to fail," said Pierre-Jean Luizard, an Iraq expert at France's CNRS state research council. "Iraq is condemned to an endless civil war." For others, all that is certain is uncertainty. "Never mind in three years, no one can predict what Iraq will look like in three months," said analyst Walid al-Zubaidi, noting the timing of a U.S. withdrawal was a major unknown. Iraqis can agree that occupation is repugnant, but many also say U.S.-led forces are constraining worse violence. Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst at the U.S. National Defense College, saw no great change soon: "I see the current situation -- the insurgency and violence -- persisting for the next forseeable period. I don't know what the period is." Henner Fuertig at the German Institute for Middle East Studies envisages four scenarios, more or less equally likely. They range from a best case where the U.S. plan actually works to a worst, in which civil war combines with a proxy "war of civilisations" between Muslims and Americans fought in Iraq. "Reconstruction may succeed. There is still a possibility," he said. "Many, many experts did not think there would be a process of elections, a constitution ... But there was." Nonetheless, Fuertig said: "The second option is civil war. This option has become more probable in the past few weeks." Another could be a new, probably Shi'ite, "dictatorship". That possibility was also raised by Charles Tripp, a British historian of Iraq, who questioned how much party "oligarchs" in Baghdad can control supporters and leaders in the provinces. "Much will hinge on the relationship between the two," he said. Political parties are weak, he added. Bargaining in the capital would depend on whether local followers respect their leaders' promises on security, oil supplies or other issues. If not, anarchy and local warlordism could prevail. With the Shi'ite religious establishment warning that its restraining influence is waning, many Iraqis are preparing for the worst, arming themselves, fleeing neighbourhoods where they feel in a minority and, if they can, leaving the country. Despite heavy U.S. investment, Iraq's new security forces are untested and some predict they would splinter along ethnic and sectarian lines in the face of a generalised conflict. The International Crisis Group think-tank said last month: "A civil war ... could trigger the country's dissolution, as Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites step up the swapping of populations ... It would come at terrifying human cost." It called for change, already tacitly supported by U.S. diplomats, in the constitition passed last year. Sunnis dislike provisions for regional autonomy that they say could see Kurds in the north and southern Shi'ites hiving off Iraq's oil. Some strategists suggest pre-empting a violent break-up by engineering a peaceful divorce. But many see any division that goes beyond the federalism of the new constitution as unstable. "If in three years there are three Iraqs then in five years there will be five Iraqs or 10," a European diplomat in Baghdad said, noting how Kurds fought each other bitterly in the 1990s. "The parts are undefendable," Yaphe said. "It is a recipe for civil war. I don't see either side as willing to concede." Kurdish analyst Khalid Salih said the Kurds, landlocked and surrounded by hostility from Turkey, Iran and Syria, would not readily try to grab Kirkuk's oil and break away: "(Kurdish leaders) will contribute as long as it is humanly possible to find a solution" to preserve Iraq, he said. As Iraqis and their U.S. mentors wrestle with blueprints to hold Iraq together, some say Iraqis have already retreated too far into mutually fearful communities to forge a common destiny. "The more time that passes ... the harder it is to resolve because blood has been spilt," said Luizard, who spent time in Iraq this year. "This really is a hopeless situation." One personal story, among many, is illuminating. A Shi'ite relative of an Iraqi journalist was shot at home in the Sunni city of Falluja by sectarian gunmen this week. It took days to bury him because of obstructive local officials and medical staff who made no secret of their anti-Shi'ite views. "When a couple of thugs start killing people for their religion, it's bad," the journalist said. "But when a whole community joins in with them, I'm not sure there's any hope." IRAQ: Three Years Later Here are some third anniversary benchmarks: · More than 2,300 American troops have died in the campaign, with more than 17,000 wounded. · The bloodshed has worsened each year, pushing the Iraqi death toll into the tens of thousands. No one knows the exact toll. President Bush has said he thinks violence claimed at least 30,000 Iraqi dead, while some researchers have cited numbers of 50,000, 75,000 or beyond. · The Iraqis have successfully conducted two national elections and now have a democratically elected government. Nevertheless, Iraq teeters on the brink of civil war as the United States tries to fashion a ruling coalition that will bring rebellious Sunnis into the fold. · President Bush's approval rating has plummeted, largely because of popular unhappiness with the war. Continued GOP control of the White House and Congress could hinge on “Mr. Bush's ability to bring peace and stability to Iraq.” (Look, they made a funny! Only it is t funny, Bush never intended to bring peace and stability to Iraq. - Susan)A recent CBS News poll found that the American public is increasingly convinced that the war in Iraq is going badly, and may not get any better. An overwhelming number say Iraq is currently in a civil war, and nearly half think the U.S. effort there will not succeed. Iraq Three Years On: A Bleak Tale Insurgency continues across Iraq The third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq prompts some melancholy thoughts about how it was supposed to be - and how it has turned out. By now, according to the plan, Iraq should have emerged into a peaceful, stable representative democracy, an example to dictatorships and authoritarian regimes across the Middle East. The invasion would have been a memory. Parts of the plan have worked. There is a constitution, there has been a general election. In the north, the Kurds are generally left alone. In the south, the Shias are happy to have thrown off the Saddam shackles. But overall, especially in the centre of the country, it has not. There is no proper and effective government (even though the original aim had been to have one by the end of 2005). There is a strong insurgency, which has moved into the realm of conflict between the communities. Foreign troops have stayed on. Blood oozing out of the earth is a good metaphor for Iraq nowadays - Juan Cole, University of Michigan Thousands of people have died. The true number of Iraqi deaths is not known and even the Iraqi Body Count figure -- compiled largely from news reports -- of somewhere in the mid 30,000s is criticised as a possible underestimate and admitted by IBC to be a baseline. The British medical journal The Lancet suggested a figure of about 100,000 back in October 2004. Daily life has not developed into the normality (24-hour a day electricity, for example) that had been promised. The optimists argue that all will be well. An article along those lines is currently doing the rounds. It was written by a former US army officer, Ralph Peters, in the blog Real Clear Politics. This is part of what he said: "During a recent visit to Baghdad, I saw an enormous failure. On the part of our media. The reality in the streets, day after day, bore little resemblance to the sensational claims of civil war and disaster in the headlines. "No-one with first-hand experience of Iraq would claim the country's in rosy condition, but the situation on the ground is considerably more promising than the American public has been led to believe. Lurid exaggerations and instant myths obscure real, if difficult, progress." Peters speaks of a US patrol being welcomed as it went by, of ground lost by the al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and concludes: "The real story of the civil-war-that-wasn't is one of the dog that didn't bark. "Iraqis resisted the summons to retributive violence. Mundane life prevailed. After a day and a half of squabbling, the political factions returned to the negotiating table. "Iraqis increasingly take responsibility for their own security, easing the burden on US forces. And the people of Iraq want peace, not a reign of terror. But the foreign media have become a destructive factor, extrapolating daily crises from minor incidents." The pessimists, on the other hand, argue that all will not be well. Here, one of the leading lights is Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan, whose daily internet column Informed Comment has consistently taken a dim view of events in Iraq since the invasion. Here he comments on one of the massacres that seem to take place daily: "Some 80 bodies have been found in Baghdad and environs since Monday. On Tuesday alone, police discovered 46 bodies around the capital. They appear mostly to have been Sunni Arabs targeted by enraged Shias attacked by the guerrillas during the past three weeks. The casualties mount as sectarian violence goes on POLITICS Saddam Was Trying to Capture Zarqawi The Bush administration repeatedly made the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab Zarqawi a pretext for invading the country and overthrowing Saddam Hussein. They implied that he was a client of Saddam and that Saddam had arranged for hospital care for him. ' However, one of the documents, a letter from an Iraqi intelligence official, dated August 17, 2002, asked agents in the country to be on the lookout for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and another unnamed man whose picture was attached. ' The September 29, 2002 Denver Post paraphrased Cheney, "He said the evidence presented against Iraq will be long and persuasive, including more details of a relationship between Hussein's forces and the al-Qaeda terrorist network." US Envoy: World Should Help Rebuild Iraq In an interview with The Associated Press, the Afghan-born Khalilzad also said the international community, particularly Arab states in the Persian Gulf, should help fund the rebuilding of the war-shattered country because they have "a lot at stake." Khalilzad, who has played a major role in forcing Iraqi politicians to begin serious negotiations on forming a new government, suggested that Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was not the unifying figure Iraq needed as the next head of government. The comments came a day after Tehran offered to enter into talks with the U.S. aimed at stabilizing Iraq, following a request to do so made Wednesday by Shiite political heavyweight Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who spent years in self-exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s regime. With much of the $20 billion the Congress approved for Iraqi reconstruction already spent or earmarked and with only $1.6 billion in the next supplemental appropriation, Khalilzad said the United States was looking to the international community for help, especially from Iraq's fellow Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. (They won’t do that until the US forces leave, and stability returns. – Susan) "The Gulf states have a lot at stake here. They're doing very well financially thanks to the high price of oil. We're looking to them to help the national unity government," he said. Formation of such a government is far from a reality even though Iraq's new parliament met in its first session Thursday, which adjourned with lawmakers stalemated over a speaker and Cabinet. Khalilzad has pushed political leaders into a series of meetings in the past several days to hammer out a compromise on the deadlock over the nomination of al-Jaafari to serve a second term. "There is a lot of disagreement about the prime minister. There are forces inside the United Iraqi Alliance (which nominated al-Jaafari by one vote) that want him to be the next prime minister, and there are forces both inside and outside the alliance that do not," Khalilzad said. "The important thing from our point of view is the prime minister should be one who can unify Iraq, the various ethnic and sectarian groups." Sunni Leaders Say US-Iran Talks Amount to Meddling Sunni Arab political leaders on Friday denounced an agreement between the United States and Iran to hold face-to-face talks about solutions to the unrest in Iraq, saying the conversations would amount to meddling by foreign nations in Iraq's domestic affairs. The Iraqi Consensus Front, the country's main Sunni political bloc, issued a statement calling the agreement "an obvious unjustified interference" and asserted that it was not obligated to comply with any results of the negotiations. The Sunni leadership has long criticized Tehran's influence over Iraq's powerful Shiite religious parties, and its opposition to the talks could add another obstacle to the grinding efforts by Iraq's political leaders to forge a coalition government. The Iraqis in the current government should have these talks with the Iranians and discuss the level of intervention of Iran," Naseer al-Ani, a member of the Sunni Arab bloc, said in a telephone interview. "It's not up to the American ambassador to talk to Iran about Iraq." The agreement between the United States and Iran was announced Thursday. Ali Larijani, general secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran's participation came at the request of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite party with ties to Iran. History Will Give Verdict on Iraq, Rice Tells Critics Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, twice shouted down by war protesters who called her a killer, told critics Thursday that the verdict on the U.S.-led war in Iraq should be left to history. "I'm quite aware that there are those who disagree about the decision that we would overthrow Saddam Hussein," Rice said in response to a college student who cited opinion polls showing that more than 60 percent of Australians have a negative view of the United States and its foreign policy. "I'm quite aware that there are those who believe that he should have been given more time, who believe that we could have contained him." (What’s funny about this is the fact that that is EXACTLY what Rice claimed about Saddam in early 2001 – that he was contained. What’s unfunny about this is the civilians that are getting killed and who lives are being ruined by the evil warmongering criminals. Yes, history will judge them alright, but before then, a lot of people will die. – Susan) Rice was twice shouted down by protesters as she spoke to students from several Australian universities gathered at Sydney University's music school. "Condoleezza Rice, you're a war criminal," a young man shouted minutes after she began her address. "Iraqi blood is on your hands and you can't wash that blood away," he repeated until guards led him away. Rice drew applause with her response: "I'm glad to see that democracy is well and alive at the university," she said, adding that democracy is now also alive at universities in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Baghdad. (She is referring to the “democracy of death” here. – Susan) Senate Intelligence Chief Urges End to Iraq Probe (US Senate) The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday urged lawmakers to begin wrapping up the second phase of its investigation into U.S. intelligence on prewar Iraq, despite fresh demands from Democrats for further scrutiny. Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican, laid out a schedule for completing four of the investigation's five segments by the end of April and pledged to release much of the findings to the public. The largest segment of the Phase 2 investigation, which has increasingly become a lightning rod for partisan squabbling, promises to examine whether Bush administration officials exaggerated intelligence on Iraq as they made their public case for war in 2002 and 2003. "Over the next several weeks, the committee's members will work with staff to write the final products," Roberts said in a statement. "This schedule provides a reasonable time frame for member input as we complete the inquiry." (I predict a whitewash, with NO ONE to blame for this intelligence failure, or else they will blame low-level officials. Now, I could figure out in 2002 that the claims made by the Bush administration were totally bogus, and I knew they would not find any nuclear WMDs in Iraq or ties to al Qaeda. I did it with a six year old notebook computer and an AOL phone connection. So, we have to conclude: anyone who believed this stuff, or claimed to believe it were either LIARS or FOOLS. – Susan) The Rockefeller letter also called on the committee to press ahead with its probe of former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith, whom Democrats accuse of manipulating intelligence to suggest links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the Democratic aide said. Roberts has put the committee's Feith investigation on hold until the Defense Department inspector general completes its own probe of the former defense official. "Our goal should be to unite around a thorough, accurate and credible report that answers lingering questions about whether and how intelligence may have been misused," Rockefeller said in a statement. The first phase of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence probe looked at the quality of intelligence on Iraq and concluded in a scathing 2004 report that grave errors led to prewar U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. (And I figured out these claims were wrong, so what was going on with the US Senate, US House of Representatives, and the Bush administration? Are they really that gullible and stupid? I don’t think so. – Susan) The Pentagon wants AMERICAblog’s Help Spreading Propaganda About Iraq. Honestly, you guys are doing a good enough job lying about things without my help. (Click on link to see the actual request from US Central Command.- Susan) YES, AMERICANS ARE STUPID!! AND DETERMINED TO STAY THAT WAY! Cost of Iraq War Could Surpass $1 Trillion (They are talking about the costs to Americans, not to Iraqis. There is no indication of awareness in this article that the Iraqis, and the costs they pay, even exist. – Susan) One thing is certain about the Iraq war: It has cost a lot more than advertised. In fact, the tab grows by at least $200 million each and every day. In the months leading up to the launch of the war three years ago, few Bush administration officials were willing to comment publicly on the potential costs to the United States. After all, no cost would have been too high if the United States faced an imminent threat from an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction, the war's stated justification. ……in January 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the budget office had come up with "a number that's something under $50 billion." He and other officials expressed optimism that Iraq itself would help shoulder the cost once the world market was reopened to its rich supply of oil. Three Years On: Survey Shows Misinformation on Iraq Endures Despite one official finding after another, debunking the involvement of Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, nearly one in four Americans continue to embrace that notion. And nearly 6 in 10 are fairly certain, contrary to most evidence, that Iraq did have WMDs before the war started. A Gallup poll released today, conducted March 10-12 on a wide range of war-related issues, found that 39% still believe Saddam was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before the war began, 51% held that view, but that was before the many official, and media, reports to the contrary. Yet a high number still cling to the view. Previous surveys have revealed that about the same number or more falsely believe that some of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis. In a similar vein, Gallup reports today, "Though no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the invasion, today 57% of Americans express some degree of certainty that such weapons or programs to develop them were in Iraq just before the fighting began -- 29% feel definite about it, and another 28% think the weapons were there, though they have some doubt." Another 22% say Iraq "might have had" WMDs. Nevertheless, three years on, the same poll finds that 54% want U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq within a year -- either immediate withdrawal (19%), or withdrawal by March 2007 (35%). Six in 10 Americans now say going to war was "not worth it." Exactly 50% say the war is not "morally justified," with 47% saying that it is HOPE UN Creates New Rights Body THE United Nations General Assembly created a new UN human rights body by an overwhelming majority today, ignoring objections from the United States. Ambassadors broke out in sustained applause when the vote was announced: 170-4 with 3 abstentions. Joining the United States in a "no" vote were Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau - but not American allies in Europe or Australia and Canada. Belarus, Iran and Venezuela abstained. As the pre-eminent international rights watchdog, the 47-seat UN Human Rights Council is to expose human rights abusers and help nations draw up rights legislation. It would replace the 53-country Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission, which in recent years has included some of the world's most notorious rights violators. Doctor in UK Refuses to Return to Iraq An RAF doctor is today arguing at a military court martial that he has a right to refuse to return to Iraq. Flight Lieutenant Dr. Malcolm Kendall-Smith claims the war is illegal. The commissioned officer has previously served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. But he now faces charges of failing to comply with a lawful order. COMMENTARY CORRECTION: (From yesterday's post) FAIR’s media advisory, "'The Final Word is Hooray!' : Remembering the Iraq War's Pollyanna Pundits ," mistakenly included an out-of-context quote from William Raspberry’s April 14, 2003 Washington Post column. FAIR's advisory inaccurately presented Raspberry’s column as an example of overly optimistic pundit commentary about the invasion of Iraq. Contrary to FAIR’s presentation, Raspberry’s column called attention to and rejected the same sort of premature triumphalism and marginalization of critics that was the subject of FAIR's media advisory. FAIR should have presented the Raspberry column as an exceptional example of a media figure challenging the conventional wisdom early in the Iraq War. OPINION: What can we do to help? In the car I asked Entisar what she felt about being asked over and over again what the American people should/can do to help. She told me she felt two things: one, the American people should raise their voices to be heard by Congress and the people making the decisions so that the occupation can end, and two, that she sees now that the American people are very sympathetic to her and to the Iraqi people and want to help. I told her that to me it is very frustrating that people ask this question. Entisar is saying repeatedly in response to the question about what will happen with the troops leave that the Iraqi people can best govern themselves, rebuild their society, and decide what they need. And then people ask this question about how to help. Well, I think it is our responsibility as Americans to know best how to change our own country’s behavior. I think this is a question that comes with a feeling of powerlessness. But we are not powerless and we must make our voices heard and demand an end to the occupation of Iraq as the majority of the citizens. When people ask about how they can help, I think about a big strong man strangling a helpless man and asking him at the same time how he can help him. Until we stop being part of the problem (occupying Iraq, continuing our lives status quo, using oil and other resources at unreasonable rates, etc.), we cannot begin to be a part of the solution. We continue to slice wounds and then when we see the blood, we rush to find enough bandages... I also see how this question is important because it implies a certain humility and honesty—rather than deciding what’s best to do, people are reaching out to Entisar, an Iraqi woman, and asking her what she wants us to do to be in solidarity with her and assist her work and vision of peace. (And, I would like to point out, this approach shows a paradigm of “power sharing” versus a paradigm of “power over” which the Bush program follows. And the Bush administration either does not know what it is doing, or cares nothing about the suffering of the people they want “power over”. – Susan) A Glimpse of Utopian Post-War Iraq Since "accomplishing" our mission in Iraq almost three years ago, what plans do we have for the nation-building phase? Well, the government has all sorts of social experiments lined up to foist upon the newly "liberated" Iraqi people. A document entitled (The Future of Iraq Project) sums up our intentions. Thanks to MemoryHole.org, portions of this have been made available for our perusal for the very first time. The project overview shows that the State Department began planning for the transition in Iraq no later than October of 2001 (Overview, p. 6). One can assume this project came about because a "military government idea did not go down well" (Overview, p. 11). Because the "Iraqi regime's crimes against humanity are some of the worst in world history" (Transitional Justice, p. 6), a new justice system must be set up to deal with those crimes. Part of that process includes setting up "Truth Committees" which will "do everything necessary to reveal the truth with regard to abuses that do not amount to international or major crimes" (Transitional Justice, p. 7). One section of interest is the Report on the Proposed Amnesty Law: Forgiving and pardoning the crimes that were committed is a difficult and hard burden that is borne by both the victim and the victimizer. The Victimizer will have deep pangs of conscience and guilt for what he has done. He realizes that he was instigated by false and misleading slogans … The victimizer becomes deeply involved in and fully convinced of what he does. Sometimes, the victimizer even resorts to the mediation of others to win such a position that brings him status and power in a society that fears and that is awed by tyrannical power. The victimizer tries to profit from his post and enjoys many privileges. He abuses his powers, which have been put above the law. However, the victimizer eventually realizes what his sinful hands had committed in the dungeons and torture chambers and the true policies and practices of the regime are eventually bared before his eyes. (Transitional Justice, Appendix Q) Naturally, this doesn't apply to those who invade sovereign countries and kill tens of thousands of civilians in the name of democracy--even if such actions were carried out due to faulty intelligence. They have no guilt and are therefore in no need of forgiveness. OPINION: Reflections on third anniversary of Iraqi war As we hit the three-year anniversary of the Iraq war, President Bush is trying to distract the public once again with a positive-spin campaign about how much better off the Iraqi civilians are. Hopefully, Bush's record-low poll numbers will be a sign of better times ahead. DAVID CHASKES, Miami The Bush doctrine of preemptive war has been a disaster in Iraq, making America and the world less safe. Instead of a public-relations campaign, Bush needs to come up with an exit strategy with a timeline to bring our troops home. Unfortunately, U.S. troop presence helps fuel the insurgency. Iraq will best be able to achieve stability when U.S. troops leave. BRAULIO GARCIA, Miami Shores Regardless of political persuasions, it can be said that the Iraq war has been a costly disaster to this nation. The tally in lost lives, maimed people and depleting treasury continues to rise. So far: • We have lost more than 2,300 American lives. • More than 10,000 have been injured. • More than $240 billion has been spent. • Many thousands of Iraqi innocent people have been killed or injured. ENRIQUE SANTOS, Miami On March 13 Bush asked us to be patient regarding Iraq. I am an 84-year-old widow who lost her son 39 years ago in Vietnam. I am not looking for sympathy or publicity and will always be proud of my son's patriotism. With so much damage and sadness with the loss of lives and homes in Iraq, can't the president see that we must get our troops back home before more lose their lives and families? We did not belong in Vietnam, and we do not belong in Iraq. MARY SALERNO, Hollywood OPINION: Pre-emptive Blindness The original policy, issued a year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, affirmed the right to launch pre-emptive military strikes against nations that are viewed as posing an imminent threat to U.S. security. The policy was put into force in 2003, when the White House authorized the invasion of Iraq after telling the world that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. What has happened since should have given the White House some pause before rushing to reaffirm that policy. As is now well known, Iraq did not have the stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that former Secretary of State Colin Powell warned about in his address before the United Nations. Instead, the more cautious assessments by then-U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix were vindicated, as were the findings by Mohamed Elbaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that there was no evidence Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. At the time, the Bush administration dismissed those findings and broadly hinted that Mr. Blix and Mr. Elbaradei were at best naive or, at worst, dupes of Iraq. (And how many times have we heard the war mongerers say that “everyone” believed Saddam had WMDs? – Susan) OPINION: Why Evangelical Christians March on the Iraq Warpath Evangelical Christians enjoy using military lyrics when singing about their faith. In Sunday school as a youth, I belted out Gospel favorites with my classmates. "Onward Christian soldiers," we shouted in triumphal reverie, " marching as to war." Even the girls didn't mind the Lord's call to muster their faith with, "Rise Up, O Men of God." We prepared our hearts for worship singing reverentially "We're Marching to Zion." Ralph Reed, in cahoots with confessed briber Jack Abramoff, formerly served in the 1990's as the Christian Coalition's executive director. He advised his followers to dampen their enthusiasm for fierce military rhetoric when describing their faith. "Early in the 1990's, I occasionally used military metaphors for effect," confessed Reed in 1996. So did powerhouses like the Christian Service Brigade and Campus Crusade for Christ. Reed sensed the peril of going overboard with military metaphors. Christians sounded like U.S. Marine recruiters. Reed "sent out a memorandum to our grassroots leaders urging them to avoid military rhetoric and use sports metaphors instead." Whereupon evangelical men stormed the gates of huge sports stadiums as Promise Keepers taught them how to exercise muscular Christianity. It was Jesus for wanna-be jocks, as faith's journey was suffused in athleticism's lingo. But the war language still had a residual effect. Christian men urged each other to "blitz" the Devil for Jesus and "sack" extra-marital cheating. Time is running out. The battle against sin is "sudden death," with victory going to those who score for Christ. The battle against the Devil, evangelical Christians believe, is no skirmish. It is an all-out war. Growing up in western Michigan, I rabidly rooted for the Detroit Lion's quarterback Bobby Layne who fought a gridiron war against Bart Starr's Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day. Both teams in the late 1950's practiced "smash-mouth" football. They ran "up the gut." That's how my Sunday school stories often read, too. We must hit the Devil with every weapon of faith Christ's gives us, smashing his hordes backwards. The language we use is not harmless. Words carry power. Those wrapped in Old Glory, who grew up as I did girded with the Lord's armor, are attracted to President George W. Bush's rhetoric against evil. "Saddam" sounds something like Satan, doesn't it? Just before Christmas Bush delivered five speeches defending the war in Iraq. Who wouldn't agree that our world is safer with Saddam Hussein deposed? Polls report most Americans aren't convinced that Saddam's toppling has made the world less terror-filled. Evangelical Christians, however, form a pro-Bush voting bloc. They readily heed his call "to consider the stakes of this war, to realize how far we have come, and the good we are doing, and to have patience in this difficult, noble, and necessary war." Christianity Today magazine correctly reports that pro-war evangelical Christians show great patience with the President's military policy. They are increasingly out-of-sync with most Americans who believe the war is like a spreading gangrene upon our national soul. Bucking this trend, evangelical Christians budge little from standing in line with President Bush. Reports Christianity Today in its February 2006 issue, "In 2003, 77 percent of white evangelicals approved of Bush's decision to launch the war in Iraq. By last October, evangelical support for the Iraq war was down to only 68 percent." Evidently, military metaphors describing how Christians must respond to evil carry a massive punch against the enemy in Iraq. What has always been bothersome to me is that so much of the Bible is soaked in bloody war. Even a novice in biblical studies can find texts that legitimize using military language to justify the faith. In Sunday school we learned how evil Egyptians drowned in the Red (Reed) Sea because God collapsed raging waters upon them. We sang with Israel that God acted like a Divine Warrior. "The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle" (Psalm 24:8) we chanted as we memorized key biblical passages in Sunday school. "Divine Warrior" is one of the favorite biblical names when addressing God. With desert sand turned maroon with the blood of Israel's enemies, we read of the continual carnage in the book of Joshua. People really do believe the quip for an easy justification of ruthless biblical terror. "That was before God became a Christian." The Apostle Paul instructs Christians to put on the full armor of God in marching against the Devil and all his hosts. So, even at the point that "God converted to Christianity," He evidently didn't let go of a nasty militaristic streak. My former professor, eminent evangelical historian George Marsden, in the second edition of the classic Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford University Press 2005), describes what happens when war metaphors are mixed with nationalism. The nation's cause becomes sacred. Any who question Bush are not only unpatriotic but also show they lack Christian character. They are not on the Lord's side. Evangelical Christians describe the United States in the same hushed tones they reserve for God as their Divine Warrior. Marsden uncovers an opening in their armor. For evangelical Christians, "although the American nation is certainly distinguished from the church and is in principle seen as much less than Christian, in practice it is often treated with reverence as though it were Christian and as an agency used by God in literal warfare against the forces of evil." This is how our president thinks. He articulates this conviction clearly. In the battle against evil in Iraq, our country's nationalism is considered pure and noble. Evangelical Christians, "seem more than willing to endorse raising the United States to sacred status," Marsden observes. Consequently, who among evangelical Christians dares question our nation's patriotic war in Iraq against evil? Perhaps God does. Iraqi Blog: Sistani His Eminence, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the supreme religious authority for Shi'ite Msulims in Iraq and worldwide, decrees that gays and lesbians should be killed in the worst manner possible, according to this news article from a London-based gay rights group.A quick search through Sistani's official website turns up this page, translated as: Q: What is the judgement on sodomy and lesbianism?A: "Forbidden. Those involved in the act should be punished. In fact, sodomites should be killed in the worst manner possible." Thus says the Iranian cleric who was nominated by Iraqis for the 2005 Nobel Peace prize. Father Who Took UP Iraq Machine Gun to Avenge Dead Son is Ready to Go Home. It's been six months since a grieving Georgia father headed to Iraq to avenge his soldier son's death. And Joe Johnson is ready to come home. Johnson went to Iraq after his 22-year-old son was killed in a roadside bombing. He says there were a lot of reasons for getting back in the military -- a sense of duty among them. Johnson admits he does not "really have love for Muslim people." And he says he'd be lying if didn't admit wanting some revenge for his son, Justin. Now, after spending time manning a Humvee's gun, Johnson says he "shouldn't even have come." Johnson says he doesn't want to kill innocent people and won't be upset if he returns to Georgia without any blood on his hands. OPINION: POLLS! Check this out. OPINION: Stop Bush’s War "By some estimates," according to a recent article in Foreign Affairs, "the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the [U.S.] invasion has reached six figures — vastly more than have been killed by all international terrorists in all of history. Sanctions on Iraq probably were a necessary cause of death for an even greater number of Iraqis, most of them children." Not everyone agrees that Iraqi deaths have reached six figures. President Bush gave an estimate of 30,000 not too long ago. That's probably low, but horrendous nevertheless. In any event, there is broad agreement that the number of Iraqis slaughtered has reached into the tens of thousands. An ocean of blood has been shed in Mr. Bush's mindless war, and there is no end to this tragic flow in sight. Jeffrey Gettleman of The Times gave us the following chilling paragraphs in Tuesday's paper: "In Sadr City, the Shiite section in Baghdad where the [four] terrorist suspects were executed, government forces have vanished. The streets are ruled by aggressive teenagers with shiny soccer jerseys and machine guns. "They set up roadblocks and poke their heads into cars and detain whomever they want. Mosques blare warnings on loudspeakers for American troops to stay out. Increasingly, the Americans have been doing just that." Everyone who thought this war was a good idea was wrong and ought to admit it. Those who still think it's a good idea should get therapy. From an email I received: A Statement from the Presiding BishopOn the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, I am deeply grieved at the ongoing tragedy and the continuing loss of life. My prayers are with the men and women of our Armed Forces - as well as the people of Iraq - all of whom continue to make the most profound of sacrifices in a conflict that seems to have no end. In the fall of 2002, I expressed deep unease about "unilateral military action that would inflame the passions of millions ... setting into motion cycles of violence and retaliation." I believed then, as I do now, that such an approach undermines our nation's commitment to creating a more stable and secure world. My prayers also are with President Bush and the other leaders of our nation and world who are faced with the challenge of securing peace after years of war, and waging reconciliation in the region. I continue to believe that the commitment to peace shared by the three great faith traditions who call the region holy is the only way to bring security and stability to the world God sent his son to save. The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church, USA Anti-War Protests Planned Across the World An anti-war rally in Australia kicked off what was expected to be a wave of global protests on Saturday, as campaigners marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with a demand that coalition troops pull out. Around 500 protesters marched through central Sydney, chanting "End the war now” and "Troops out of Iraq." Many campaigners waved placards branding Bush the “World’s No. 1 Terrorist” or expressing concerns that Iran could be the next country to face invasion. "Hands off Iran," read several placards carried by protesters. "Iraq is a quagmire and has been a humanitarian disaster for the Iraqis," said Jean Parker, a member of the Australian branch of the Stop the War Coalition, which organized the march. "There is no way forward without ending the occupation." Paddy Gibson of the pressure group Students Against War said the "deepening crisis" in Iraq would only get worse if coalition troops stayed. "The longer this occupation continues, the more destabilized that country becomes." About 2,000 people were expected to gather at Hibiya Park in central Tokyo later Saturday for a peace concert, said Teruyo Otsuka of the group World Peace Now. Japan has some 600 non-combat troops in the southern city of Samawah engaged in humanitarian work. "We have to end U.S. occupation of Iraq," said Otsuka. "And we also demand all foreign militaries to pull out of Iraq to restore peace in that country." Demonstrations were also expected across Europe. "We will continue until we see the last general running for a helicopter on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad," read a statement from Stop the War Alliance, which is organizing a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. In London, Scotland Yard police headquarters said streets around Piccadilly Circus in the heart of the shopping and theater district would be closed as up to 100,000 people planned to march through the capital. Peace Action: Go to a Rally this weekend, and find out what you can do to bring peace to this earth, and especially to Iraq. CASUALTY REPORTS, OR ‘WAR IS DEATH’ REPORTS Local Story: Southwest Florida soldier killed in Iraq. Local Story: Family, friends remember NY soldier killed in Iraq. Local Story: Atwar Bahjat, journalist found dead in Iraq. Local Story: Soldier killed in Iraq laid to rest in wife’s hometown. Local Story: Hawaii Marine killed in Iraq. Local Story: Athens, Georgia soldier killed in Iraq explosion. Local Story: Norway, Maine soldier dies in Iraq. “Dan left for his second tour in December on the same day his son was born. He never got to see the boy.” Local Story: Honolulu and Wisconsin Marines killed in Iraq. Local Story: Local Marine killed in Iraq. California Local Story: Pupils learn a terrible lesson as war invades classroom in Iraq. “One girl had her legs severed, a boy had lost a hand, and another boy was lying on the floor with his head blown off.” Local Story: Arkansas soldier killed in Iraq. Local Story: ‘Fragging’ hearing set for April 3 at Fort Bragg. Local Story: Four soldiers from 101st Airborne killed in Iraq. Local Story: Sectarian stranglings shock city familiar with violence. Baghdad. Local Story: Body count mounts in latest Baghdad violence. “With almost every hour in Baghdad yesterday came news of another gruesome discovery.” Local Story: Soldier from Alva, Florida killed in Iraq. Local Story: Remember Iraq’s dead. (They are talking about Americans killed in Iraq, not Iraq’s dead. – Susan) Local Story: Bombs, bullets greet Shias on pilgrimage. Local Story: Soldier suicide raises concerns. Wisconsin Local Story: Journalist is shot as 21 bodies found in Iraq. Local Story: Camp Lejeune Marine from California killed in Iraq. Local Story: When Iraq death squads come calling: a family’s story. Local Story: Friends, admirers remember American hostage killed in Iraq. Local Story: Four Japanese soldiers commit suicide after returning from Iraq. Local Story: School remembers Marine, his dream. A former student was killed in Iraq. Local Story: Family remembers selfless Marine killed in Iraq. Local Story: US soldier with roots in the Mideast killed in Iraq. QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It was a failure of citizenship of the American people that the Bush cabal was allowed to invade Iraq. Thus, any U.S. citizen who is not doing everything in their power to end this illegal and immoral occupation as quickly as possible is complicit with the war crimes being committed in Iraq on a daily basis." Dahr Jamail


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