Monday, August 28, 2006


"We're not in a civil war. Iraq will never be in a civil war. The violence is in decrease and our security ability is increasing. What you see is an atmosphere of reconciliation." – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, interviewed on CNN’s “Late Edition”, probably August 26 or 27, 2006


One U.S. soldier was killed by small-arms fire in eastern Baghdad Sunday afternoon.

In downtown Baghdad a car bomb outside the offices of a government-run newspaper left three dead and at least 29 wounded (update to report posted yesterday -m).

On Monday a suicide car bomber slammed into a checkpoint outside the Interior Ministry in downtown Baghdad, killing 14 people and wounding dozens. The attack occurred at midmorning, when traffic is usually heavy, and the blast was heard a mile away. Eight policemen were among the dead and 17 were among the injured.

Four American soldiers died when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in northern Baghdad. Another roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in western Baghdad, while gunfire in the eastern part of the capital killed another. The military had earlier reported the death an American soldier Saturday in a roadside bomb southeast of Baghdad (reported in yesterday’s post –m), making it one of the deadliest weekends for the U.S. military.

Police said 20 bodies had been found in different areas of Baghdad on Saturday. Some bore signs of torture; most had been killed by gunshots to the head.

Seven Iraqi civilians were killed Sunday night in a street battle between American forces and insurgents in Baghdad. A resident at the scene gave a different account, saying all seven, including a family of five, were killed when U.S. forces opened fire on cars around their vehicle after a bombing of a Stryker armored vehicle. (See report under Diwaniya heading below. –m)


Gunmen killed five people in three separate attacks in Baquba.


In Basra, where Maliki has imposed a state of emergency to deal with increasing violence fuelled by tensions between rival Shiite Muslim factions, seven people were killed by a motorcycle bomb in a market. (Another report says 4 dead, 15 wounded. – m)


On Monday, eight civilians were killed in clashes between militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a populist Shia figure, and Iraqi and US forces in the town of Diwaniya, south of Baghdad. Seven Iraqi soldiers were wounded. Eight civilians were killed and 70 wounded in the fighting which broke out on Sunday, the general director of the Diwaniya health directorate, Hamid Jaafi, said. (Either this is the same battle reported above as taking place in Baghdad or the Mahdi army and the US military are now fighting in multiple areas. Your guess is as good as mine. Either way it’s the civilians getting killed. –m)


Three people — believed to be the bodyguards of a member of parliament — were killed in a drive-by shooting in Dujail.


Gunmen stormed the house of a local judge in Khalis, Hamdi al-Ubaidi, shot one of his brothers, and moved to abduct another. When men from a nearby cafe ran to the aid of the family, gunmen opened fire, killing 12 of the would-be rescuers and injuring 25. The kidnappers escaped with the judge's brother as their captive.


Two back-to-back suicide car bombings in the northern city of Kirkuk killed nine people and wounded 22.

Attacks in Kirkuk on Sunday targeted offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a member of Iraq's northern-based Kurdish minority. A car bomb at one of the offices killed a guard, while security personnel at another office repelled an assault by gunmen, killing one. (The first of these attacks may be the same bombing reported by Cervantes in yesterday’s post. But maybe not. –m)


In Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, police found the bodies of eight people in various parts of the city. All had been handcuffed and blindfolded.


Drive-by shootings killed two people in Mosul Saturday.


One person was killed in a drive-by shooting in Numaniyah, a town near Kut, 100 miles southeast of the capital.


A U.S. official said a U.S. armored vehicle was attacked on Sunday outside Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad, "resulting in casualties." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the U.S. military command had not yet issued a statement on the incident, could not give details on the number of casualties or their condition.

Scorecard: U.S. military losses in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected in coming weeks to surpass the death toll of 2,973 victims killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The two conflicts, which have lasted longer than most U.S. wars, have now claimed the lives of at least 2,941 troops, a toll that changes daily.

Next month, the duration of combat operations in Iraq will exceed the length of time that U.S. forces fought in Europe during World War II. Operations in Afghanistan have lasted longer than the Civil War and World War II -- with only the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War lasting longer.

(Note: For those keeping track of such things, the death toll among Iraqi civilian noncombatants probably surpassed that of the 9/11 victims on the first day of the war; certainly within the first week. They no more deserved to die than the people in the WTC. The term ‘collateral damage’ makes me want to puke. –m)

Speaking of collateral damage…: Most U.S. service members charged in the unlawful deaths of Iraqi civilians have been acquitted, found guilty of relatively minor offenses or given administrative punishments without trials, according to a Washington Post review of concluded military cases. Charges against some troops were dropped.

Though experts estimate that thousands of Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of U.S. forces, only 39 service members were formally accused in connection with the deaths of 20 Iraqis from 2003 to early this year. Twenty-six of the 39 troops were initially charged with murder, negligent homicide or manslaughter; 12 of them ultimately served prison time for any offense.

“What you see is an atmosphere of reconciliation.", Part One: The Iraqi insurgency remains a potent threat to U.S. forces, but in the months since the death of its flamboyant symbol, Abu Musab Zarqawi, the insurgency's aura has been eclipsed by the widening sectarian fighting between Shiites and Sunnis, American and Iraqi officials say. The insurgency has increased its use of roadside bombs against U.S. and Iraqi forces since Zarqawi's death in June, and in some ways is stronger than when he was alive. But it lacks the mix of media savvy and spectacular explosions that the late leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq used to inflate the image of the insurgency beyond its military capabilities.

These days U.S. forces and ordinary Iraqis are increasingly transfixed by the danger of a full-blown civil war. Sectarian killings in July accounted for most of the nation's nearly 3,500 deaths, the highest monthly toll since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. An ongoing joint military offensive against death squads and sectarian militias in Baghdad is viewed as key to bringing stability to Iraq. "The sectarian violence is at such a decibel level that people aren't hearing the Al Qaeda in Iraq violence," said a U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It hasn't gone away, but you can't hear it over the din."

“What you see is an atmosphere of reconciliation.", Part Two: In a grungy restaurant with plastic tables in central Baghdad, the young Mahdi army commander was staring earnestly. His beard was closely cropped around his jaw, his face otherwise cleanshaven. He spoke matter-of-factly: Sunni Arab fighters suspected of attacking Shiite Muslims had no claim to mercy, no need of a trial.

"These cases do not need to go back to the religious courts," said the commander, who sat elbow to elbow with a fellow fighter in a short-sleeved, striped shirt. Neither displayed weapons. "Our constitution, the Quran, dictates killing for those who kill."

His comments offered a rare acknowledgment of the role of the Mahdi army in the sectarian bloodletting that has killed more than 10,400 Iraqis in recent months. The Mahdi army is the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, now one of the most powerful figures in the country.

The death squads that carry out the extrajudicial killings are widely feared but mysterious. Often, the only evidence is the bodies discovered in the streets. Several commanders in the Mahdi army said in interviews that they act independently of the Shiite religious courts that have taken root here, meting out street justice on their own with what they believe to be the authorization of al-Sadr's organization and under the mantle of Islam.

Ingrates: Mark Tessler and Mansoor Moaddel recently released some of the data from their latest survey of Iraqi public opinion. As reported in US News, this survey revealed that:

“The growing sense of insecurity affected all three of Iraq's major ethnic and religious groups. The number of Iraqis who "strongly agreed" that life is "unpredictable and dangerous" jumped from 41% to 48% of Shiites, from 67% to 79% of Sunnis, and from 16% to 50% of Kurds. The most recent survey, done in April this year, also asked for "the three main reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq." Less than 2% chose "to bring democracy to Iraq" as their first choice. The list was topped by "to control Iraqi oil" (76%), followed by "to build military bases" (41%) and "to help Israel" (32%).”

The survey also asked a direct question about the presence of American troops in Iraq (which for some reason was not included either in Kaplan's story or in the University of Michigan press release). Tessler kindly provided me with a short write-up of the data, forthcoming in the TAARI Newsletter. Here is Table 3, responses to the question "Do you support or oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq?"


The bottom line: 91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are "strongly opposed". Among Sunnis, opposition to the US presence went from 94.5% to 97.9% (97.2% "strongly opposed"). Among Shia, opposition to the US presence went from 81.2% to 94.6%, with "strongly opposed" going from 63.5% to 89.7%. Even among the Kurds, opposition went from 19.6% to 63.3%. In other words, it isn't just that Iraqis oppose the American presence - it's that their feelings are intense: only 7.2% "somewhat oppose" and 4.7% "somewhat support."

Maybe there are reasons for keeping American troops in Iraq, but "it's what the Iraqi people want" really doesn't seem to be one of them.

Titanic deck chairs: Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said Maliki planned to reshuffle his coalition cabinet just 100 days after it was formed because he wanted to root out disloyal or poorly performing ministers and rally factions behind his national reconciliation plan.

The reshuffle would partly involve the political movement of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia has clashed repeatedly in recent weeks with U.S. and Iraqi forces, several political sources said.

A key player in the government, Sadr denies his militia runs some sectarian death squads.

Salih also told Reuters Iraq hoped its plans to attract investment and create jobs could stem a descent into civil war and that foreign leaders should back a U.N. economic package next month or face disaster for the entire Middle East.

News From America

You just can’t blame the media enough for the mess we’re in: In the Washington Post's front page story this Sunday about the Democratic Party's position on the Iraq War, the newspaper makes a highly misleading statement about the Republican Party's position. After a comment by Montana Democratic Senate nominee Jon Tester demanding a "plan to move the troops out of Iraq," the Post claims flatly that "no Republican is advocating that the United States maintain high troop levels indefinitely."

One could stretch to make the argument that such a statement is technically true - no Republican has gone on record saying word-for-word "I want to keep large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq forever." However, top Republican leaders have repeatedly gone on record making statements or taking concrete steps that support actually KEEPING large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

For example, less than three months ago, Reuters reported that "congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the United States on record against the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country." In other words, despite the Post's claim, Republicans just a few months ago actually went on record as supporting the concept of a permanent, indefinite military presence in Iraq (you can see the video of the congressional debate here). Congressional Democrats' efforts to prevent U.S. troops from being in Iraq indefinitely came after the BBC reported that the administration made massive emergency spending request for base construction that the House Appropriations Committee noted was "of a magnitude normally associated with permanent bases." A week after that request, "top US General John Abizaid refused to rule out a long-term presence" in Iraq. In fact, this hasn't just been going on this year. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2004 that Bush administration military planners were moving forward with plans for "constructing 14 enduring bases, long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops."

Then there is President Bush, who stated just last week that we will not be reducing troops "while I'm the president." That was just the latest statement from the administration and the Pentagon about indefinite troop deployments. For example, in May of 2004, international news service AFP reported that the administration quietly announced that it will "keep high force levels in Iraq indefinitely."

I’ll bet he’s not the Easter Bunny either: In a lively but polite give-and-take, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fielded questions Saturday from wives and other family members of Alaska-based soldiers whose combat tours in Iraq were abruptly extended just as they prepared to return home this month.

“It is something we don’t want to do,” Rumsfeld told several hundred family members who gathered in a gymnasium at nearby Ft. Wainwright, home of the 172nd Stryker Brigade. The unit’s deployment to Iraq was extended by up to four months to bolster U.S. firepower in the Baghdad area.

“But in this case we had to,” he added, referring to the decision made in late July to extend the 172nd.

The brigade’s tour was extended by up to 120 days, bringing them close to a Christmas return date. Rumsfeld said he would make no promises that the full brigade would be back home by the holidays.

“I’d love to be Santa Claus. I’m not,” he said in an interview with reporters during a flight to Fairbanks.

All-volunteer conscripts: Q: Bush administration officials talk about the all-volunteer force. Are the troops in Iraq all volunteers? A: They all voluntarily joined the military. But as in the case of the Marines in the individual ready reserve, many had little or no choice about going to Iraq. Q: How many others were given no choice?

A: It's difficult to say for sure. The Army tapped its individual ready reserve in 2004, mobilizing about 5,000 inactive soldiers. About 2,200 Army ready reservists continue to serve, about 1,850 of them involuntarily.

In addition, many military units have been held in Iraq beyond their scheduled tours. While the Pentagon could not provide exact current numbers of troops affected by such extensions, there were more than 13,000 in Iraq at the end of last year. Viewed another way, however, when the Pentagon mobilizes and deploys an entire military unit, its members do not necessarily have a choice to go or stay, either. The difference is that some are sent to Iraq, or kept there, through variations on normal deployments. Q: Is this like a military draft? A: Some call it a "backdoor draft." But the United States abolished compulsory military service in 1973, moving to an all-volunteer military based on recruiting. Still, by adapting the rules to send people to Iraq who didn't expect to go, or to keep people there longer than they expected, commanders are stirring up some hard feelings among service members and their families. Q: We have 138,000 troops in Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says there are 2 million available. So why does the military seem to be under strain? A: The 2 million includes all the active-duty services, reserves and National Guard. But the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has fallen heavily on the Army, which has about 500,000 members worldwide, and the Marines, with 179,000. Nearly eight out of every 10 members of the Army and Marines have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them more than once. Army rules tend to limit combat deployments to a year; Marines send their members to fight for seven months. With the war in its fourth year, nearly a third have been deployed more than once.

Profiles in spinelessness: Most Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races are opposed to setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, rejecting pressure from liberal activists to demand a quick end to the three-year-old military conflict.

Of the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year, according to a Washington Post survey of the campaigns.

The large number of Democrats opposed to a strict timeline for ending the military operations runs contrary to the assertion by President Bush and top Republicans that Democrats want to "cut and run" amid mounting casualties and signs of civil war. At the same time, the decision by many Democrats to refrain from advocating a specific plan for withdrawal complicates their leaders' efforts to convince voters that they offer a clear new direction for the increasingly unpopular war.

Profiles in cynical unprincipled expediency: "Republicans are trying to insulate themselves from Washington and the president's low approval ratings," said Amy Walter, congressional analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "They are distancing themselves from the war and from the president." "The war has colored the whole election cycle," said Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Report, a nonpartisan newsletter. "Voters are unhappy with the performance of their political leaders, and they want change." For Republicans in swing states, the war poses a dicey political problem. With the GOP leadership eager to cast Democrats as the "cut and run" party, individual candidates are trying to find talking points that make them sound independent from the White House but supportive of anti-terrorism measures, which remain a voter priority.

Priorities, Priorities

Your tax dollars not at work: The National Priorities Project has a real eye-opening website that calculates the cost of the War in Iraq and them compares it to what we could do with that money.

As a resident of California, here’s what they say we could be doing:

Taxpayers in California will pay $40.3 billion for the cost of war in Iraq. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

16,733,296 People with Health Care or 627,551 Elementary School Teachers or 4,767,634 Head Start Places for Children or 25,168,314 Children with Health Care or 235,246 Affordable Housing Units or 4,390 New Elementary Schools or 7,685,109 Scholarships for University Students or 616,017 Music and Arts Teachers or 741,482 Public Safety Officers or 117,140,845 Homes with Renewable Electricity or 601,790 Port Container Inspectors

Go check out what the trade-offs are for your state.

We could have spent money on this stuff: A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country's basic operating systems are deteriorating.

"When I see events like these, I become concerned that we've lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation's infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation," said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (www.christianbeckner.com).

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

But instead we’re spending it on this: The most current estimates of the war's cost generally start with figures from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which as of January 2006 counted $323 billion in expenditures for the war on terrorism, including military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just this week the House approved another $68 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would bring the total allocated to date to about $400 billion. The Pentagon is spending about $6 billion a month on the war in Iraq, or about $200 million a day, according to the CBO. That is about the same as the gross domestic product of Nigeria.

Scott Wallsten, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, put the direct cost to the United States at $212 billion as of last September and estimates a "global cost" of $500 billion to date with another $500 billion possible, with most of the total borne by the United States.

That figure is in line with an estimate published last month by University of Chicago economist Steven Davis and colleagues, who put the likely U.S. cost at $410 billion to $630 billion in 2003 dollars.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and self-described opponent of the war, puts the final figure at a staggering $1 trillion to $2 trillion, including $500 billion for the war and occupation and up to $300 billion in future health care costs for wounded troops. Additional costs include a negative impact from the rising cost of oil and added interest on the national debt.

(Yeah, I know the article’s from March 2006 but it’s worth another look…-m)

Your tax dollars paid for this, too: A U.S. Army Reserve officer pleaded guilty on Friday to improperly steering millions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction contracts as part of a conspiracy involving kickbacks, smuggling and sexual favors.

Lt. Col. Bruce Hopfengardner, 46, of Frederick, Virginia, was the first military office to admit taking part in the scheme to defraud the U.S.-led occupation authority.

He pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and money laundering in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Hopfengardner, who had been a police chief in California, served as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

His duties included recommending spending for law enforcement projects related to rebuilding Iraq, including a police academy in the south-central city of Al-Hillal, the government said in court papers.

Prosecutors said he and others plotted to steer millions of dollars to Philip Bloom, a U.S. citizen with businesses in Romania and postwar Iraq. In exchange, they received money, plane tickets, jewelry, alcohol, cigars and sexual favors from women provided by Bloom at his villa in Baghdad and at least one other place, the government said.

Robert Stein, a former U.S. Defense Department contract employee, pleaded guilty on February 5 to related charges. He controlled the spending of about $82 million in CPA funds reserved for reconstruction projects in south-central Iraq.

Bloom pleaded guilty on April 18 to conspiracy, bribery and money laundering.

Traditional American Values

Fair trials: Despite assuring Congress that career military lawyers are helping design new trials for accused terrorists, the Bush administration has limited their input on their key request, that any tribunals must give detainees the right to see the evidence against them, officials said.

After the Supreme Court struck down the White House's military tribunals system in June, government lawyers began drafting legislation that would set new rules for trials of terrorist suspects. A central issue is whether prosecutors will be allowed to introduce secret evidence, which detainees would not be able to defend against.

Most military lawyers strongly oppose allowing secret evidence, arguing that such a plan would probably violate the Geneva Conventions and create a precedent for enemies of the United States to use show-trials for captured Americans. But administration lawyers maintain that classified evidence may be crucial to a case, and revealing it would compromise national security.

Members of Congress have pressured the White House to listen to the military lawyers as it drafts the legislation, and on Aug. 2, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told lawmakers that ``our deliberations have included detailed discussion" with military attorneys whose ``multiple rounds of comments . . . will be reflected in the legislative package."

But the issue of secret evidence, officials said, has been off the table for all of those discussions with the exception of one meeting between Gonzales and the top military lawyers in late July. The session ended in an impasse, and the issue has not been raised again, they said.

Due process: The federal government has barred two relatives of a Lodi man convicted of supporting terrorists from returning to the country after a lengthy stay in Pakistan, placing the U.S. citizens in an extraordinary legal limbo.

Muhammad Ismail, a 45-year-old naturalized citizen born in Pakistan, and his 18-year-old son, Jaber Ismail, who was born in the United States, have not been charged with a crime. However, they are the uncle and cousin of Hamid Hayat, a 23-year-old Lodi cherry packer who was convicted in April of supporting terrorists by attending a Pakistani training camp.

Federal authorities said Friday that the men, both Lodi residents, would not be allowed back into the country unless they agreed to FBI interrogations in Pakistan. An attorney representing the family said agents have asked whether the younger Ismail trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan.

"We haven't heard about this happening -- U.S. citizens being refused the right to return from abroad without any charges or any basis," said Mass, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.

McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney for California's eastern district, confirmed Friday that the men were on the no-fly list and were being kept out of the country until they agreed to talk to federal authorities.

"They want to come home and have an absolute right to come home," said Mass, who has filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security and a petition with the Transportation Security Administration.

"They can't be compelled to waive their constitutional rights under threat of banishment," Mass said. "The government is conditioning the return to their home on cooperation with law enforcement."

Open government: Last week, The Washington Post ran a fascinating story based on a report from the National Security Archive, a research library at George Washington University. According to the report, the Bush administration has been blacking out previously public documents on the nation's strategic military capabilities. They are doing this, they say, in the name of national security. Got a question on the Minuteman missile? Tough. Curious about the Titan II? Too bad.

Now maybe you wonder what the problem is. This is sensitive information we're talking about, right? Can't have that falling into just anybody's hands, right?

The thing is, it's already in "anybody's" hands: it dates back half a century to the Cold War. We're talking about memos, charts and papers that have over the years been cited in open congressional hearings, reported in newspapers, used in history books. We're talking about information our government long ago deemed innocuous enough to provide even to its former enemy, the Soviet Union.

And now - "now!" - we're supposed to believe it's suddenly so sensitive it has to be classified Top Secret? Please.

This is a classic case of locking the barn after the horse has escaped - and died of old age. More to the point, it is a classic and absurd example of the present regime's mania for secrecy, its obsessive need to control what, when, how and why you and I learn about its activities.

Anyone who doesn't see a pattern here has not been paying attention. From its 18-hour blackout of news that the vice president had shot a man, to its paying a newspaper columnist to write favorable pieces, to its habit of putting out video press releases disguised as TV news, to its penchant for stamping top secret on anything that doesn't move fast enough, this administration has repeatedly shown contempt for the right of the people to know what's going on. At a time when information is more readily available than ever, this government is working like 1952 to enforce ignorance.

Accountability: In an ironic twist, legislation that would open up the murky world of government contracting to public scrutiny has been derailed by a secret parliamentary maneuver.

An unidentified senator placed a "secret hold" on legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would create a searchable database of government contracts, grants, insurance, loans and financial assistance, worth $2.5 trillion last year. The database would bring transparency to federal spending and be as simple to use as conducting a Google search.

The measure had been unanimously passed in a voice vote last month by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It was on the fast track for floor action before Congress recessed Aug. 4 when someone put a hold on the measure.

Now the bill is in political limbo. Under Senate rules, unless the senator who placed the hold decides to lift it, the bill will not be brought up for a vote.

This Is The Kind Of Courage It Takes To Save Our Country

Support Lt. Watada!: Bob Watada is proud of his newly famous, and infamous, son. And he's making 26 public appearances this week to tell Bay Area audiences why.

The son is said to be the Army's first commissioned officer to refuse to go to Iraq, on the grounds that he's bound to disobey orders to fight in an illegal war.

Both lauded and vilified in columns and letters to editors around the country, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, faces a possible seven years in prison. Following a hearing last week, the Army's investigating officer in the case recommended Tuesday that he be court-martialed.

His refusal has prompted support rallies in San Francisco's Japantown, Berkeley, his hometown of Honolulu and outside Fort Lewis in Washington state where he's based, while many veterans have denounced his stance.

Two Perspectives

Speaking out: About 700 demonstrators marched past the seaside church where President Bush's second cousin was to be married Saturday and then up to the checkpoint guarding the family summer compound to protest the war in Iraq.

The protesters left a few hours before the service so as not to disrupt the event itself, but they took advantage of the president's visit to make their point and showcase their opposition to a war that polls show has lost most of the public's support. Just as Bush found himself trailed to Texas by war opponents last year, now he has been dogged to his parents' getaway on the rocky shores of the Maine coast.

"People wanted to speak truth to power," said Jamilla el-Shafei, 53, a business owner in Kennebunk who helped organize the march. "What we wanted to do was let President Bush know we are the face and voice of a majority of Americans who are standing up to say, 'Enough is enough; we want out of Iraq.' "

Utah: When Rocky Anderson and Cindy Sheehan speak out against President Bush and his policies Wednesday, they probably will be cheered by thousands who agree.

But more Utahns will see them as aiding the enemies of the United States, according to a poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Forty-five percent of poll respondents said war protesters such as Sheehan and Anderson aid U.S. enemies. Just 27 percent embrace the alternative view - that they "play an important role in the national debate over U.S. policy in Iraq."


Billmon: Hypocrisy, thy name is Uncle Sam:

The US is investigating whether Israel's use of American-made cluster bombs in Lebanon violated an agreement that the weapons not be used in populated areas, officials said yesterday . . . "We've heard the allegations that these munitions were used in Lebanon and we're looking into it," a State Department spokesman said yesterday.

Another official confirmed that the sale of cluster bombs was conditional on Israel using them only against military targets in the open, away from civilian areas.

The Guardian US investigates whether Israel violated deal on cluster bombs August 26, 2006

On March 31, 2003, a United States cluster munition attack on al-Hilla in central Iraq killed at least thirty-three civilians and injured 109. While an egregious incident, this was not an anomaly in the conflict in Iraq, or in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, or in Yugoslavia in 1999. In all of these recent conflicts, and others as well, cluster munition strikes caused significant civilian casualties — casualties that could have been avoided had greater care been taken. Worse still, the vast number of explosive “duds” these weapons left behind have continued to kill and maim civilians long after the attacks, and the conflicts, have ended.

Human Rights Watch Cluster Munitions: Toward a Global Solution January 2004

The little canisters dropped onto the city, white ribbons trailing behind. They clattered into streets, landed in lemon trees, rattled around on roofs, settled onto lawns . . . The deadly objects were cluster bomblets, small explosives packed by the dozens or hundreds into bombs, rockets or artillery shells known as cluster weapons. When these weapons were fired on Baghdad on April 7, many of the bomblets failed to explode on impact. They were picked up or stumbled on by their victims.

USA Today Cluster bombs kill in Iraq, even after shooting ends December 16, 2003

Having the U.S. government investigate Israel's use of cluster bombs is like having the Unabomber investigate the London subway bombings.

Michael Kaidy: Is it all right for a participant in one war to oppose another war? Not many members of my organization, the Genesee Valley Chapter, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, think so. But I do. I hate the idea of my country initiating a war based on false premises, a war that involves civilians and whose objective is oil as well as one leader's ambition for empire.

No one can seriously contend that World War II was a war of choice, since Japan attacked the U.S. Navy on Dec. 7, 1941. What is almost unknown is that the United States only declared war on Germany and Italy the day after Hitler, who had overrun most of Europe, and his partner Mussolini, declared war on the United States. This was on Dec. 11, 1941.

So in World War II, we had no choice: The issues and combatants were real, unavoidable. But the Iraq war is one of choice, based on deception or, at best, misinformation. It is a war that's profoundly destabilizing the Middle East, if not the world.

Toledo Blade: Faced with continuing shortages of U.S. military forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, President Bush has now given open-ended authorization for involuntary recall of Marine Corps reservists, starting with an initial group of 2,500.

These are people who thought they had completed their duties to the nation as soldiers. Many had launched new, more stable lives in the civilian economy, taking on jobs, relationships, and other commitments appropriate to a nonmilitary life. Now they will be required to return to active duty, including combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, for indefinite periods.

The involuntary recall is a result of Mr. Bush's approach to the Iraq War: that the United States will continue to pursue what is a failed effort, no matter what.

The evidence is clear to everyone except, possibly, Mr. Bush and the engineers of the Republican Party's fall campaign, that, apart from the overthrow of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, the other stated U.S. objectives of the Iraq war have not been achieved and the situation is deteriorating sharply.

Flynt Leverett: The conceptual discontinuities between the Bush approach and that of its predecessors make the record of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in the five years since 9-11 as close to an “experiment” as one is likely to get in the indeterminate realm of strategic analysis. The results of this experiment so far have been devastating: Over the last five years, U.S. policy in the Middle East has emboldened radicals and weakened moderates.

The Middle East is today more unstable than at any point in the post–Cold War period, and there is no evidence to suggest that this instability will give rise to a more secure and prosperous region in the future. Look at the trends: With regard to rogue regimes, Saddam may be gone, but Iraq has become a greater source of regional instability than it was during the last years of his rule. Iran’s influence in the region is growing and the Iranian leadership is increasingly inclined to use that influence to threaten U.S. interests. Despite the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon last year, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has actually strengthened its grip on power and bolstered its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. The administration’s biggest success in taming a regional rogue -- Libya’s abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction programs and ties to terrorists -- was achieved through traditional “carrots-and-sticks” engagement with the Quaddafi regime, an idiosyncratic exception to the broader pattern.

Regarding democratization, the administration’s three examples of U.S.-engineered democratic empowerment in the region -- Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon -- are all basket cases. Hamas’ electoral victory earlier this year has invalidated the administration’s “garbage collection” model for lowering Palestinian national aspirations and encouraging Palestinian acceptance of final-status terms less demanding of Israel than those outlined by President Bill Clinton at the end of his tenure. There is no evidence that democracy reduces the incidence of terrorism, and ample evidence from places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that holding more open elections in most Arab societies would produce governments that are more anti-American and less reformist than incumbent “authoritarians.”

Digby: I am not entirely sure how I feel about this notion of "Ethical Realism" but I'm completely confident that neoconservatism in any permutation is dangerous and doomed to fail. I will repeat my favorite little story to illustrate:

I remember as a child a strange little neighbor girl who was found in her backyard swinging her cat by the tail against the sidewalk screaming "you're gonna love me!"

That's neoconservatism. It's so insane, I believe almost anything is an improvement.

Frank Rich: Were it not so tragic, Mr. Bush's claim that he had never suggested a connection between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq would be as ludicrous as Bill Clinton's doomed effort to draw a distinction between sex and oral sex. The tragedy is that the country ever believed Mr. Bush, particularly those Americans who were moved to enlist because of 9/11 and instead ended up fighting a war that the president now concedes had "nothing" to do with the 9/11 attacks. A representative and poignant example, brought to light by The Los Angeles Times, is Patrick R. McCaffrey, a Silicon Valley auto-body-shop manager with two children who joined the California National Guard one month after 9/11. He was eager to do his bit for homeland security by helping protect the Shasta Dam or Golden Gate Bridge. Instead he was sent to Iraq, where he was killed in 2004. In a replay of the Pentagon subterfuge surrounding the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman, another post-9/11 enlistee betrayed by his country, Mr. McCaffrey's death was at first officially attributed to an ambush by insurgents. Only after two years of investigation did the Army finally concede that his killers were actually the Iraqi security forces he was helping to train. "He said we had no business in Iraq and should not be there," his mother, Nadia McCaffrey, told the paper. Last week's belated presidential admission that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on America that inspired Patrick McCaffrey's service was implicitly an admission that he and many like him died in Iraq for nothing as well. Mr. Bush's press-conference disavowal of his habitual efforts to connect 9/11 to Saddam will be rolled back by the White House soon enough. When the fifth anniversary of 9/11 arrives in two weeks, you can bet that the president will once again invoke the Qaeda attacks to justify the Iraq war, especially now that we are adding troops (through the involuntary call-up of reservists) rather than subtracting any. The new propaganda strategy will be right out of Lewis Carroll: If we leave the country that had nothing to do with 9/11, then 9/11 will happen again.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Milford, CT - Marine Cpl. Jordan C. Pierson, 21, KIA.

Local story: Hood River, OR – Marc Lee, 28, Navy SEAL, KIA.

Local story: New York City, New York – Marine Lance Cpl. Michael D. Glover, 28, KIA.

Local story: New York City, New York – Marine Capt. John J. McKenna IV, 30, KIA.


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