Saturday, April 15, 2006

DAILY WAR NEWS FOR SATURDAY, APRIL 15, 2006 Photo: An Iraqi mourner weeps at the funeral of Mahmoud al-Hashimi, whose brother Tariq heads Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political party, Friday April 14, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. Hashimi was slain along with a companion Thursday as they drove through a mostly Shiite area, the Iraqi Islamic Party said. Tariq al-Hashimi is among the key players in negotiations over a new national unity government, which have stalled over the issue of who will be the next prime minister. (AP Photo/Mohammed Hato) Bring ‘em on: Two US Marines were killed and 22 wounded in fighting in western Iraq. Two of the wounded are in critical condition. Bring ‘em on: Rockets, Mortar Rounds Hit US Base Near Iraq’s Fallujah. Insurgents on Thursday fired rockets and mortar rounds at a U.S. military base near the restive city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Baghdad, witnesses said. "Insurgents fired two rockets at 6:00 a.m. (0200 GMT) and three mortar rounds 90 minutes later, at Habaniyah military base, which houses U.S. and Iraqi forces," witnesses told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. They said they heard loud explosions and sirens in the base and saw U.S. helicopters hovering over the area around the base. The U.S. military had no comments about the attacks. Bring ‘em on: Roadside bomb hit a US patrol in a town near Fallujah on Saturday, destroying a humvee. Casualties reported. US troops shot back towards the town and wounded three civilians. Security Incident: UPDATE to yesterday: Two of seven people, including five policemen, wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded at a police station in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad later died in hospital, police said. It is not clear if the dead were police or civilians. UPDATE to yesterday: In the city of Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, two bombs exploded two minutes apart at Sunni mosques, tearing through crowds leaving after Friday prayers. The first bomb detonated at the Saad Ibn Maath mosque in the New Baqubah neighborhood, killing four people. The second went off at the Aqsa mosque in the western part of the city, killing two brothers and wounding their father, witnesses said. The attacks continued a wave of violence in Baqubah. Shiite Muslim shrines in and near the city were bombed on Wednesday and Thursday, killing at least 20 people. The bombings were part of a surge in attacks on both Sunni and Shiite holy places since the destruction of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, on Feb. 22 pushed the country to the brink of a sectarian war. The head of the Saad Ibn Maath mosque, Yusuf al-Dulaimi, said the attacks on Sunni and Shiite mosques in Baqubah were carried out by the same people and intended to "stoke sectarian war." UPDATE to yesterday: 37 policemen missing after ambush in Iraq. A senior police official in Najaf said only 35 of the 88 policemen had returned to the city. Security Incidents: Two brothers gunned down in front of their elderly mother (who was wounded) in Baghdad. Seven people wounded by a suicide car bomb in Mosul. Police saw the vehicle coming and fired at the driver, preventing him for entering the compound. Security Incident: Police in Fallujah found five bodies in desert area south of the city. They were bound and shot in the head and chest. Security Incident: Three Iraqi army soldiers killed Saturday when their convoy hit a roadside bomb in al Dura neighborhood of Baghdad. Eight soldiers wounded. Police lieutenant colonel in Basra shot dead. Roadside bomb in Kirkuk killed one civilian. A member of the PUK (Talabani’s party) was kidnapped from the city on Saturday. Security Incident: Four civilians killed and 28 wounded on Baghdad’s Palestine Street by a car bomb attack against a passing police patrol. (Another report says five were killed.) Two civilians killed in the crossfire when a group of gunman opened fire on a police checkpoint in northern Baghdad’s al-Shuala neighborhood. (Another report adds that four more were wounded.) Security Incident: Four civilians were killed and 18 people were wounded, including three police officers, when a car bomb parked next to a restaurant frequented by policemen went off in eastern Baghdad, police said. Gunmen ambushed and killed a traffic police officer in Basra. REPORTS Baghdad Morgue Overflowing Daily The morgue is receiving a minimum of 60 bodies a day and sometimes more than 100, a morgue employee told IPS on condition of anonymity. "The average is probably over 85," said the employee on the morning of April 12, as scores of family members waited outside the building to see if their loved ones were among the dead. The family of a man named Ashraf who had been taken away by the Iraqi police Feb. 16 anxiously searched through digital photographs inside the morgue. He then found what he was looking for. "His two sons were killed when Ashraf was taken," said his uncle, 50-year-old Aziz. "Ashraf was a bricklayer who was simply trying to do his job, and now we see what has become of him in our new democracy." Aziz found that the body of Ashraf was brought to the morgue Feb. 18 by the Iraqi police two days after he was abducted. The photographs of the body showed gunshot wounds in the head and bludgeon marks across the face. Both arms were apparently broken, and so many holes had been drilled into his chest that it appeared shredded. A report Oct. 29, 2004 in the British medical journal The Lancet had said that "by conservative assumptions, we think about 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq." In an update, Les Roberts, lead author of the report said Feb. 8 this year that there may have been 300,000 Iraqi civilian deaths since the invasion. Such findings seem in line with information IPS obtained at the Baghdad morgue. Morgue official said bodies unclaimed after 15 days are transferred to the cemetery administration to be catalogued, and then taken for burial at a cemetery in Najaf. As he spoke, three Iraqi police pick-up trucks loaded with about 10 bodies each arrived at the morgue. At the cemetery administration, an official told IPS: "From February 1 to March 31, we've logged and buried 2,576 bodies from Baghdad." The Baghdad central morgue alone accounts for roughly 30,000 bodies annually. That is besides the large number of bodies taken to morgues in cities such as Basra, Mosul, Ramadi, Kirkuk, Irbil, Najaf and Karbala. Iraq Death Toll Mounts as Sectarian Attacks Intensify At least 42 Iraqis have been killed in attacks over the past 24 hours, security officials said, as politicians pressed four-month-old coalition talks amid the mounting sectarian unrest. Four Iraqis were killed when two roadside bombs went off next to two Sunni mosques in the restive city of Baquba, 60 kilometeres (36 miles) northeast of Baghdad. Police said three people were killed and two wounded in the first bombing next to Al-Aqsa mosque, while another civilian died and three others were wounded in the second bombing near the Saad bin Mahaz mosque. Both explosions occurred after Friday prayers near the sanctuaries located in the centre of Baquba. In the past few weeks dozens of people have died in a series of bombings and shootings in and around Baquba, the deadliest being a car bomb attack on a Shiite mosque that left 26 people dead on Wednesday. In the latest tit-for-tat attack, mortars fell near a Shiite mosque after prayers in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Zafaraniya, but there were no casualties. Three Iraqis, including a police major from the northern oil centre of Kirkuk and two civilians near Mosul, were killed in drive-by shootings Friday. In the main southern city of Basra, two Iraqis were killed and four British soldiers wounded when a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle as a their convoy passed, British officials said. Police said 11 employees of a construction company were also kidnapped in the city and murdered Thursday. Seven policemen were also killed and more than 20 went missing when a large group of policemen transporting police vehicles was ambushed by gunmen north of Baghdad on Thursday, a security official said. Late Thursday, a car bomb attack killed 15 people in a Baghdad Shiite neighbourhood -- the fourth such bombing against either shrines or residential areas of the majority community in the past eight days. The anti-Shiite attacks, believed to be the work of Sunni hardliners loyal to the Al-Qaeda network, come at a time when Iraq is floundering in a power vacuum. Shiite leaders were to meet President Jalal Talabani later Friday to decide the fate of embattled Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who has refused to step aside despite determined opposition from Kurds and Sunni Arabs. Shiite leaders, who said this week they were aiming to find a solution through internal talks, have repeatedly failed to resolve the impasse, which has blocked the formation of a national unity government four months after elections and aggravated the political crisis. "This afternoon at 4:00 pm (1200 GMT), the seven heads of Shiite parties within the alliance will meet the president to discuss the issue of prime minister," Bassem Sharif, spokesman of the Fadhila party, one of the factions in the Shiite alliance, told AFP. Sharif said the meeting would also address the selection of Iraq's president and two vice presidents and the speakership of parliament. "The meeting has been arranged to expedite political negotiations before parliament opens Monday," Sharif said. Parliament's acting speaker Adnan Pachachi announced earlier this week that the assembly would convene on Monday, while Sunnis demanded that the next president be an Arab. Talabani is a Kurd. As the political stalemate continued, a brother of a top Sunni Arab politician became the latest victim of Iraq's sectarian violence. Tareq al-Hashemi's brother and a companion were killed Thursday in a drive-by shooting in central Baghdad, police and sources from Hashemi's Islamic Party told AFP. Hashemi's party is the leading member of the National Concord Front, the main Sunni bloc, which has 44 seats in parliament. With the spike in sectarian violence, an estimated 10,000 families have fled their homes fearing for their lives, with the Iraqi capital alone witnessing the displacement of about 4,000 families. Iraq’s Interior Minister Rejects Sunni Charges of Unlawful Killings Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh has rejected charges by Sunni politicians that his ministry was responsible for unlawful killings, saying he was not in charge of security for all of Baghdad. We are facing a problem. There are uncontrolled forces which are not under our orders or under control of the defense ministry and which could be committing such acts," he told AFP Saturday. "How can I be able to solve the security problems when the (interior) ministry controls only one-third of Baghdad?" he asked. "The ministry for defense controls another one-third of Baghdad and the remaining is in the hands of the multinational forces." Earlier this week the Sunni religious body, the Muslim Scholars Association, backed by top Sunni politician Saleh Mutlak, had accused Shiite-led interior ministry forces of killing 68 Iraqis from Baghdad's Al-Dura neighborhood. They said most of those killed were Sunni Arabs. In response, Solagh had pointed toward members of Facility Protection Service (FPS), a specialized force for protecting ministries, power stations or oil pipelines as those who could be committing such crimes. He added on Saturday that many of the bad elements in the security forces were part of those who were hired by the interim government which came to power immediately after the fall of the Hussein regime. Many of these were hired without checking their credentials, he said, "and today we are facing problems as some of them are responsible for the current violations." Iraqi Cub Reporter Was Among Victims of Contentious Raid An unarmed Iraqi journalist was among those killed during a controversial military raid late last month in northern Baghdad, according to interviews with his editors, a reporter who was with him when he died and other witnesses. Kamal Manahi Anbar, 28, was enrolled in a training program of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which runs courses for local news media in several countries. An editor who worked with Anbar at the institute wrote about the killing on its Web site this month. On March 26, Anbar went to the al-Moustafa Husseiniya, a political and religious complex in the capital's Shaab neighborhood, to conduct interviews for a story about Shiite Muslims displaced from their homes by violence, said Aos Tammimi, a friend and reporter for U.S.-sponsored Radio Sawa who accompanied him. Armored Humvees arrived, and a firefight broke out. Anbar hid for a while in an adjacent house, according to Sadoun Husseini, 56, who owns the house and watched the scene unfold. When Anbar later tried to flee, he was shot through the right cheekbone. Tammimi found his body. "All that he was carrying was a notebook, which I still have, with his name and writing on it," said Tammimi, a friend of Anbar's for more than 10 years. At least 16 people were reported killed in the raid by U.S. and Iraqi special forces. The U.S. military announced that 16 insurgents were killed. One hostage was rescued, and 18 detainees taken. Anbar is the first unarmed civilian to be identified among the victims. "This is the first I have heard that a journalist was there," said Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, a U.S. military spokeswoman in Baghdad. Memo Shows Officer’s Shift on Use of Dogs The top military intelligence officer at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq recommended in early 2004 that Army dog handlers not be disciplined for allegedly abusing detainees, urging commanders to immediately suspend the approved use of dogs in interrogations. Col. Thomas M. Pappas's Feb. 15, 2004, memo to officials in Iraq is the first solid evidence that top officials believed that low-ranking soldiers should not be held responsible for using military dogs to intimidate high-value detainees. The two-page memo shows that Pappas initially believed the use of dogs -- first approved for the interrogation of an important detainee held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, more than a year earlier -- was a tactic his soldiers could employ. It also highlights a lack of guidance then for how dogs should have been used. The memo was written about a month after graphic photographs of detainee abuse were turned in to Army investigators but months before the public was aware of them. It shows that Pappas allowed the use of dogs without proper safeguards but later had serious concerns about their use in interrogations. The use of dogs was suggested by a team of intelligence officials, including Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the commander of Guantanamo Bay, who traveled to the Iraqi prison from Cuba with suggestions about how to improve intelligence-gathering for the war. The same tactic was used in interrogating Mohamed al-Qahtani, who military officials allege was a would-be Sept. 11 hijacker, during severe questioning in Cuba in late 2002 and early 2003. An Army inspector general's investigation has found that Miller was highly involved in monitoring Qahtani's interrogations and that he was regularly briefing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on their progress, according to a report posted yesterday on Salon.com based on materials obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. In his 2004 memo, Pappas made it clear that military dog handlers who were participating in the questionable acts at Abu Ghraib should not bear responsibility for them, writing that he believed "pursuing disciplinary action against soldiers would not be useful," according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Washington Post. He also wrote that he wanted to "immediately suspend the use of MWD [military working dogs] for interrogations" and wanted intelligence commanders to "eliminate this [as] an approved alternative for interrogation tactics, techniques and procedures." Spending Lags for Training of Iraqi Police The U.S. military has spent just 40 percent of the $7 billion appropriated in 2005 for the training of Iraqi and Afghanistan security forces, a top Pentagon priority that is lynchpin for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The slow pace of spending was outlined in a congressional report that also raised questions about whether the Pentagon needs the full $5.9 billion it has requested for training this year in an emergency spending bill that is pending in Congress. The report comes as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the Bush administration have complained about cuts in the funding for Iraqi forces that is included in the House-passed version of the bill. In a report obtained by The Associated Press, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said the Pentagon is spending at a slower rate than Defense Department officials initially expected. As of Jan. 1, the report said, the Pentagon had allocated $2.1 billion, or just 37 percent, of the $5.7 billion in Iraqi training funds for the 2005 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. US Building Massive Embassy in Baghdad The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River here will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq’s turbulent future. The new U.S. Embassy also seems as cloaked in secrecy as the mini state in Rome. "We can't talk about it. Security reasons," Roberta Rossi, a spokeswoman at the current embassy, said when asked for information about the project. A British tabloid even told readers the location was being kept secret — news that would surprise Baghdadis who for months have watched the forest of construction cranes at work across the winding Tigris, at the very center of their city and within easy mortar range of anti-U.S. forces in the capital, though fewer explode there these days. The embassy complex — 21 buildings on 104 acres, according to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report – is taking shape on riverside parkland in the fortified “Green Zone, “ just east of al-Samound, a former palace of Saddam Hussein’s and across the road from the building where the ex-dictator is now on trial. The True Cost of War A year ago tomorrow, in Baghdad, a young woman from California was killed by a suicide bomb. Marla Ruzicka was working to get aid to Iraqi civilians harmed by U.S. military operations when her car and that of her colleague Faiz Ali Salim was destroyed on the now-infamous airport road. Marla's legacy lives on in the countless people continuing her work and in the families she tried so hard to assist. Her help to victims of war should also be enshrined in our policies if we as a country are to be, as Marla put it, "just a little bit better." There are concrete ways the United States can live up to that statement and show the world what kind of people we are. First, we should fully fund the community action program in Iraq. This humanitarian work on the ground is the success story we need. Second, the Pentagon should adopt procedures to record civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces. War is not an exact science, and the Pentagon says it does not keep a record for that reason. But we should keep the best count we can. We will never be seen as credibly minimizing harm to noncombatants if we do not keep data to back up the claim that we are doing so. With increasing airstrikes, U.S. military planners must also do more to assess the risk to civilians before launching attacks, and should include in post-attack reports any available information on civilian casualties. The current lack of data makes the improvement of those procedures difficult. Third, we should create clear guidelines for the Pentagon's condolence payments. It would help to increase training for the military officers deployed to war zones on how these funds should be used to compensate innocent victims. Only by doing these things will we know the true cost of war. And only by knowing the cost will we be able to mitigate it. That is the cause for which Marla Ruzicka dedicated her life -- making sure the United States is there to help and not hurt, to build and not destroy, and to show respect for the worth of every person. Iraqis Bust Huge Oil Smuggling Ring Police and anti-corruption officials have broken up a vast smuggling ring, stopping more than 1,200 trucks full of crude oil illegally bound for Syria over the past three weeks, the Iraqi government said Friday. The bust, the largest ever by Iraqi authorities, evolved over more than a month of investigation, surveillance and periodic arrests. It culminated this week with the apprehension of the alleged ringleader, Ahmed Omar al-Khatab, in the northwestern border town of Rabiyah, where the trucks are now parked in a giant depot under police guard. Iraqi officials said they seized roughly 50,000 metric tons of oil -- roughly equivalent to 400,000 barrels, about a fifth of Iraq's average daily production -- valued at nearly $28 million, according to Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, an adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari. U.S. forces were not involved in the sting, Ali said. Oil income of about $2 billion a month accounts for more than 90 percent of the revenue collected by Iraq's government. At roughly 1.9 million barrels per day, the country's oil industry is producing below pre-invasion levels and has been plagued by problems, including dilapidated infrastructure, sabotage of pipelines and refineries by insurgents, and rampant smuggling and corruption. Earlier this year, Mishan Jubouri, a member of the Iraqi National Assembly, was charged with stealing funds allocated to the protection of pipelines. He left the country when an arrest warrant was issued. Because Iraq's refining capacity is so limited, the country spends nearly $500 million a month importing refined fuels such as gasoline, which it sells at heavily subsidized prices. Hussein Uzri, head of the Trade Bank of Iraq, estimated in a recent interview that as much as 30 percent of imported fuels are unlawfully spirited out of the country and resold. Iraqi Children Find Hope in Theatre Amid Violence A dozen pre-teen Iraqi girls in ballerina outfits twirl onto the stage as the audience applauds fiercely for the fragile performers, who are learning, all too well, the age-old axiom that the show must go on. Two weeks ago, two of the actors in their theatre group, Fuad Radi, 20, and Haidar Jawad, 25, were ruthlessly gunned down by unknown assailants in the ongoing plague of shootings and bombings in Baghdad. Despite the tragedy, the young dancers, aged nine to 12 from the Happy Family children's theatre group, were determined to press ahead with their play. The performances of "The Clown and Me" began during daylight hours due to the 8:00 pm curfew imposed on Baghdad in a bid to stem the relentless bloodshed. The 11-day variety show which ended Tuesday adopted the slogan "The Child Is As Sacred As The Country" in tribute to the spirit of its young actors and dancers who dared to perform despite Iraq’s daily bloodshed. Thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites Demonstrate Against Mubarak Several thousand Shi’ites demonstrated in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf to denounce remarks by Egyptian President Mubarak questioning whether their loyalty lay with Iran. On Saturday, Mubarak tempered his April 8 remarks to Al-Arabiya television that Shiites were more loyal to Iran than their own countries, by explaining that he meant it in religious terms, rather than political ones. "My remarks about Shiites dealt with their religious loyalties and sympathies, without putting into question the patriotism of Shiites in Iraq or any other country," he told the government weekly Akhbar al-Yom. The comments were denounced by the governments of both Baghdad and Tehran, while the Shiite imams described the 77-year-old Egyptian president as "ignorant" and "nostalgic" for the previous regime. (This is a small protest by Iraqi standards. –dancewater) Personal Story: This Is My Stop Settling on a seat just next to the slide door of the Kia minibus at the Nahdha bus garage in Baghdad, I lit a cigarette and started fiddling with the cell phone to bide time until the bus filled up with passengers. My healthcare clinic is located in a suburb of Baghdad. I take the less conspicuous bus instead of my own car because if feels safer (though that can be argued), and because Kia drivers know plenty of tricks to circumvent roadblocks and other unpleasant surprises on the road. They are very alert and always on the lookout. They do, however, have a reputation for being reckless drivers. Other motorists try hard to avoid them on the streets as much as possible. Our restless driver, still yelling his destination outside, didn't bother to search any of us, and it looked like we were going to move at last. It's unsettling to stay in a crowded bus garage for long. It's always a potential target. Now, it was just one more passenger to go. Then he boarded. He was hauling an enormous sack full of something on his back. It looked like one of those hanging punching bags that boxers use for practice. He tried to push it behind the only empty seat, which happened to be right across me. It didn't fit so he stuck it between my legs and got seated. That was when I went: "Uh oh." I sat frozen and stared at the sack for about a minute. The bus had already started moving by now. Then I looked up at his face, searching for, I don't know, signs and gestures, anything that would reassure me that he was not what I thought he was. He looked about 20, dressed in a fading striped shirt and plain, almost ragged trousers, puffing smoke from beneath a thick black moustache. I couldn't help but gaze into his shifty, pale brown eyes that seemed to quickly scan everything, but not settle anywhere. He didn't even return my interest, which I took as a deeply troubling sign. Every few seconds, he would glance at the sack a bit surreptitiously and away again. It was still firmly planted between my legs. COMMENTARY OPINION: Down a Dangerous Road IS IT REALLY CIVIL WAR in Iraq? Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of Defense, says not. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, concedes that "the potential is there." But former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is categoric: "If 60 dead a day isn't civil war, God knows what is." Civil wars are rarely "declared"; they steal up. Not surprisingly, this was the same question that foreign correspondents — myself included — kept asking when, in 1975, intercommunal clashes began erupting in Lebanon. From sporadic, isolated beginnings, they steadily grew in scale and intensity, ever closer to the heart of the capital, Beirut. Yet, for many months, most of us held back from concluding the worst, convinced that in the cosmopolitan, pluralistic, Levantine city we knew, this must all be an aberration and that somehow, before long, the growing madness would go into reverse. We now know how naively optimistic we were. And perhaps, in light of it, someone like myself now inclines to an excess of pessimism when I contemplate what is happening in Iraq today: the steady rise of what in Lebanon used to be called "identity card killings"; the "flying roadblocks" improvised by militiamen across the city where, typically, these sectarian atrocities most randomly occurred; the prevalence of inter-communal slaughter in the poorer, newly developed, religiously mixed suburbs encircling the capital; the complicity of soldiers from the national, multi-sectarian army in the activities of sectarian militias. In Iraq, not only are these things now taking place on at least the same scale, proportionally, as they did in Lebanon, and with even greater barbarity, but there are already other things — like the bombing of holy places — that rarely happened even in Lebanon's darkest days. Ever since the U.S. invasion, Arab commentators, alarmed at where Iraq is headed, have searched for parallels — in Vietnam, Somalia, Algeria, Cyprus, the Balkans — but their favorite by far is Lebanon. And when they forecast the "Lebanonization" of Iraq, they also, as an almost automatic corollary, consider its implications for the entire Arab world. For it is all but axiomatic: Fire in one Arab country is liable to spread elsewhere. In the end, the Lebanese fire didn't spread; it was contained, instead, and ultimately extinguished by the Arab League with help from the rest of the world. But will we be so lucky again, in the case of so weighty and pivotal a country as Iraq? OPINION: Falling into the abyss Iraq is now passing through a serious crisis and those paying the price are the Iraqi people and particularly the most vulnerable among them. Organized killing operations normally target citizen in low-income and poor areas such as the Sadr City, Falluja, Kirkuk, Hilla, Nahrawan, Baghdad Jadida and other impoverished Iraqi districts. What is surprising is the fact that while violence targeting impoverished Iraqis is surging, there has been a slump in attacks against the occupying forces. For those closely monitoring the Iraqi situation the answer is clear. These bloody attacks targeting Iraqi civilians are meant to stoke sectarian strife and incite armed struggle among the different formations of the Iraqi society. We are at the threshold of the third stage in the post-U.S. invasion. According to well-informed Iraqi observers, this stage will see the pro-U.S. disparate factions turn their guns on each other this time for the control of land and resources in a bid to undermine the country’s integrity. Regional and international parties will have a bigger hand in this phase since no one in the region, including Iraqi militia-backed political parties, now fears the U.S. The U.S., bogged down in its own Iraqi quagmire, seems powerless. Therefore, there is nothing in store for Iraqis but more bloodshed as this horrific scenario unfolds. Signs of it being implemented are already there: · The ongoing attacks on Sunni families in Shiite areas and vice versa · The ongoing attacks against Christian families particularly in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra · The killing of more than 80 Iraqis every day · Storming houses at midnight and killing their occupants · The use of identity cards and names as indicative of ethnic or sectarian affiliation and then punishing or murdering those whose names point to an opposite sect or ethnic group · Dumping mutilated bodies on roadside and residential areas · Using human corpses as booby traps Are not all these actions sufficient to signal that the Iraqi apocalypse is looming. And worse is the impunity the perpetrators enjoy. That there is no justice to administer is evident. U.S. troops themselves are above law in Iraq. There is no authority in the country to hold them accountable for their actions, some of which are comparable to the above-mentioned signs of the Iraqi apocalypse. And the government, mirroring the country’s sectarian and ethnic divisions, is also to blame. Post-invasion Iraqi police, security and army do not owe their loyalty to the national flag but to their own factions. It is not surprising therefore to hear of ‘squads of death’ roaming Iraqi streets at a time the Interior Ministry does not move a finger to stop them. But the ministry has the means to mobilize enough forces to storm towns and cities it deems hostile. OPINION: The Cup is Half Full of It Back in 2002 when just about every patriot under the sun was itching for a war with Iraq, Charles Krauthammer wrote a piece called “Enough with the Negotiating at the U.N.” He began: “The American people, in Congress assembled, have given President Bush the authority to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein.” That highfalutin phrase has been stuck in my craw ever since. Is that how it was? The Iraq War was the brainchild of the American people? And they enlisted their humble servant Congress to enlist their even humbler servant George W. Bush to wage it? Oh please, Charles. After writing what surely rates as one of the most fatuously, fawningly snake-bellied strings of prose in the build-up to the war, Krauthammer eventually got to his point: Screw the U.N., Hans Blix in particular. (“Why should the United States forfeit to [Blix] – and his proven record of failure – its freedom of action to defend itself against a supreme threat to its national security?”) Why indeed! Blix happened to know more than Krauthammer about the “supreme threat to national security,” but alas, as a Scandinavian wimp in pursuit of diplomacy, he was clearly a failure. Blix dismissed, Krauthammer moved on to rubbish the French. The glorious invasion had taken place but the Mesopotamian worm was already hinting at an inglorious turn when Mark Steyn wrote a piece for The Spectator that joined the ball of sour (sauer?) Krauthammer in my craw. ‘Iraq Has Never had it so Good’ it was called. “The glass is at least 5/8 full, and by any objective measure Iraq is immeasurably improved,” Steyn wrote. The more-than-half-full-glass chestnut was immeasurably desiccated – we’d been instructed to eat it more than 73,000 times already by the Wolfowitz/Cheney/Rummy/Condi/Bush league. But Steyn was not content with a lone chestnut – he produced others. There was the Saddam Is Gone chestnut and the Prewar Potable Water Supply Is Up chestnut. There was the Improved Healthcare and Child Immunization chestnut and the mandatory “School Attendance in Iraq is 10 Percent Higher Than a Year Ago” chestnut. (Oh blithesome young scholars in Halliburton-crafted classrooms affectionately painted by altruistic troops!) After the chestnut-fest, “Iraq Has Never Had it so Good” went on to assert that if you weren’t partial to chestnut, it was doubtlessly because you were an “armchair insurgent.” Any criticism of the war was unfounded and cowardly and obtuse. “In Iraq itself,” Steyn declared, “only 15 percent of the population want the immediate removal of coalition troops.” This comment is particularly intriguing set beside today’s information that more than 50% of coalition troops want the immediate removal of coalition troops. OPINION: ‘War on Tax’ Waged Against Costs of War Like most Americans, Peter Smith and his wife, Ellyn Stecker, sit down each year to fill out a federal tax form. Then they write a check to the U.S. Treasury for half the sum in the "amount you owe" box. They are among thousands of Americans who refuse to pay part or all of their federal taxes as a protest against war and military spending. "It takes two things to fight a war: people and money," says Smith, 67, a retired math and computer science teacher. "I can't refuse anymore to go, but I certainly can refuse to send the money." The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee says about 10,000 people "resist" paying taxes. The group plans demonstrations in Washington and 24 states Monday against the Iraq war. Smith and Stecker pay 50% of what they owe because they calculate that's about the portion of the federal budget that goes to the military and interest on military-related debt. Smith, who counsels people interested in becoming tax resisters, says other war opponents pay no federal income taxes. Some subtract $10.40 from their payments as a low-risk anti-war statement. Others refuse to pay the 3% federal excise tax added to phone bills because that money goes into the federal budget and some of it funds the military. Smith and Stecker donate their withheld tax money to charities, such as Oxfam America, which fights global poverty and hunger, and a local shelter for battered women. Stecker, 60, a physician, wishes the government would spend tax dollars on those sorts of programs instead of war. "You look at what your money is being spent for, and you say, 'No, I will not give my money for that,' " she says. But the IRS eventually gets its share. The couple know the routine: By July, they get a letter from the IRS asking them to pay the rest of what they owe. They respond with a note explaining their reasons for not paying the full amount. Then there's a final notice. The IRS says in 30 days it will extract the money from paychecks, bank accounts or retirement funds. And the agency does just that. The couple figure that over the years, the IRS has collected about $75,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest from them. This year, thanks to withholding and charitable giving, they owe nothing to the federal government. They pay the full amount of their state taxes. OPINION: Coming Home – Disillusioned I volunteered to go back to Iraq for the fall and winter of 2004-2005. I went back out of frustration and guilt; frustration from watching Iraq unravel on the news and guilt that I wasn't there trying to stop it. Many fine Marines from my reserve battalion felt the same and volunteered to go back. I buried my mounting suspicions and mustered enough trust and faith in my civilian leadership to go back. I returned disillusioned by what I saw. I participated in the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004. We crushed the insurgents in the city, but we only ended up scattering them throughout the province. The dumb ones stayed and died. The smart ones left town before the battle, to garner more recruits and fight another day. We were simply the little Dutch boy with our finger in the dike. In retrospect, we never had enough troops to firmly control the region; we had just enough to maintain a tenuous equilibrium. I now know I wrongfully placed my faith and trust in a presidential administration hopelessly mired in incompetence, hubris and a lack of accountability. It planned a war based on false intelligence and unrealistic assumptions. It has strategically surrendered the condition of victory in Iraq to people who do not share our vision, values or interests. The Bush administration has proven successful at only one thing in Iraq — painting us into a corner with no feasible exit. I will never trust any of them again. QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong." --Thomas Sowell


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