Saturday, August 12, 2006


"We will succeed in Iraq, just like we did in Afghanistan. We will stand up a new government under an Iraqi-drafted constitution. We will defeat that insurgency, and, in fact, it will be an enormous success story." – Richard B. Cheney, June 24, 2005


In Amara, a town in the mainly Shiite southern region, gunmen killed two former members of the Baath party.


Two U.S soldiers were killed Saturday when their foot patrol was hit by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad.

Five Iraqi police officers were wounded when a roadside bomb detonated in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad.

In central Baghdad, police said two civilians were killed and three wounded in a roadside bomb attack aimed at a police patrol on one of the city's main highways.

One body was discovered in Baghdad on Saturday.

A roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi army patrol west of Baghdad, killing two Iraqi soldiers.


An Iraqi police captain was shot dead as he was going to work in Baquba.

Seven police officers were wounded in a bomb attack while conducting a patrol in Baquba.

Two civilians died by drive-by shootings in Baquba.


A bomb was left in a shop selling videos and cassette tapes in Basra, killing two civilians.

A bomb exploded near a market in Basra on Saturday, killing at least three people and wounding two. Iraqiya state television said the bomb exploded inside an electronics shop. (This may be the same attack reported above.-m)


A clan chieftain was murdered by unidentified gunmen in Hilla


A grocer was shot dead in Iskandiriyah.


Two dead bodies were found in Kifil on Saturday in Hillah province south of the capital.


The US military said Saturday 26 insurgents were killed in Iraq's restive Al-Anbar province following a series of attacks on US bases in the area a day earlier. On Friday, marines and soldiers in Ramadi "were attacked at multiple locations with rocket-propelled grenades, medium machine-gun fire and small arms fire from buildings targeting outposts in the northwest portion of the city," it said.


Bound and blindfolded bodies of 12 men _ most of them shot in the head _ were found Saturday in the Tigris River on Saturday. Police made the gruesome discovery of the 12 corpses in Suwayrah at one of the metal grills fixed in the river to block weeds and plants from floating downstream.

In country

12 people were killed in drive-by shootings across the country including four members of the former Baath Party of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, a police captain and an army lieutenant. (I only count seven shootings in the above entries, so there were at least five more that didn’t rate their own sentence in a story…-m)

Arrests: American forces on Saturday announced the arrest of 60 suspected members of a car bomb cell after swooping on a funeral ceremony. They were "detained without incident" on Friday after intelligence data led troops to a funeral in Arab Jabur, on the southern edge of Baghdad.

At the same time, however, violent attacks continued around the country.

Making a difference: As the summer wears on in Iraq, the attacks on Ramadi's government center are subsiding. But rising in their place are the heat, the boredom and the complaints — about the sandbags Marines must carry, about the Ramadi mission, about the war. Marines often brag that their mission is to kill people and break their toys. But for the Marines of Kilo Company, stuck on the roof of Ramadi's government center and Iraqi police headquarters, simply killing insurgents doesn't feel like progress. And so the frustration rises with the mercury for these troops, most on their second deployment to Iraq and their second summer in Al Anbar province's scorching desert. Elsewhere in Ramadi, U.S. troops talk with residents in an attempt to win their trust and improve their sense of security. But around the government center, there has been no talking and lots of shooting for many months. Insurgents have regularly attacked the government center, trying to prevent the provincial government from functioning. Kilo Company has fortified the posts on the roof, manned around-the-clock by Marines charged with returning gunfire and killing assailants who fire rockets and plant roadside bombs. Kilo's commander, Andrew Del Gaudio, a 30-year-old from the Bronx, says the Marines are making a difference. "We are killing people," he says, referring to insurgents.

Calls for peace: A day after a suicide bomber killed 35 people near a revered Shiite Muslim shrine, clerics across Iraq on Friday called for an end to the sectarian killing that one imam described as "waking every day to the view of blood." The bombing near the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf on Thursday ignited fresh sectarian passions that lingered over sermons in Shiite and Sunni mosques. Some Muslim clerics wondered whether Iraq had slipped too far, becoming a nation where the sounds of weeping mothers and praying imams were lost in the din of kidnappings, explosions and slaughter.

Kidnap victim: They called him "the big fish" and blindfolded him with his own tie. Raad Ommar, a 59-year-old businessman from La Crescenta, was in his upscale Baghdad office writing e-mails when his guard came running in. Downstairs, said the agitated guard, men in military uniforms were hauling away Ommar's clients and employees.

Moments later, Ommar, too, was crammed into the backseat of an unmarked sport utility vehicle, his hands cuffed and his tie tight across his eyes.

Iraqi Politics

Partition: Leaders of Iraq's powerful Shiite Muslim political bloc have begun aggressively promoting a radical plan to partition the country as a way of separating the warring sects. Some Iraqis are even talking about dividing the capital, with the Tigris River as a kind of Berlin Wall.

Shiites have long advocated some sort of autonomy in the south, similar to the Kurds' 15-year-old enclave in the north, with its own defense forces and control over oil exploration. And the new constitution does allow provinces to team up into federal regions. But the latest effort, promulgated by Cabinet ministers, clerics and columnists, marks the first time they have advocated regional partition as a way of stemming violence. "Federalism will cut off all parts of the country that are incubating terrorism from those that are upgrading and improving," said Khudair Khuzai, the Shiite education minister. "We will do it just like Kurdistan. We will put soldiers along the frontiers." The growing clamor for partition illustrates how dire the country's security, economic and political problems have come to seem to many Iraqis: Until recently, the idea of redrawing the 8 1/2 -decade-old map of Iraq was considered seditious. Some of the advocates of partitioning the country are circumspect, arguing that federalism is only one of the tools under consideration for reducing violence. But others push a plan by Abdelaziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a political party. Hakim advocates the creation of a nine-province district in the largely peaceful south, home to 60% of the country's proven oil reserves. Sunni leaders see nothing but greed in the new push — the Shiites, they say, are taking advantage of the escalating violence to make an oil grab.


Emphasis mine: Iran is pressing Shiite militias to step up attacks against the U.S.-led forces in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Friday.

Iran may foment even more violence as it faces off with the United States and United Nations over its nuclear program in the coming weeks, he added.

The Shiite guerrillas behind recent attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq are members of splinter groups of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia created by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Khalilzad said. The splinter groups have ties to Iran, which is governed by Shiite Persians, and to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed, Shiite militia in Lebanon that set off the violence last month, the ambassador added.

There is evidence that Iran is pushing for more attacks, he said, without offering any specifics. But he acknowledged that there was no proof that Iran was directing any particular operations by militias here.

(Why does it take four paragraphs to get to the part that demonstrates Khalilzad is talking out his ass? –m)

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Mercenary army: While the Bush Administration calls for the immediate disbanding of what it has labeled "private" and "illegal" militias in Lebanon and Iraq, it is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into its own global private mercenary army tasked with protecting US officials and institutions overseas. The secretive program, which spans at least twenty-seven countries, has been an incredible jackpot for one heavily Republican-connected firm in particular: Blackwater USA. Government records recently obtained by The Nation reveal that the Bush Administration has paid Blackwater more than $320 million since June 2004 to provide "diplomatic security" services globally. The massive contract is the largest known to have been awarded to Blackwater to date and reveals how the Administration has elevated a once-fledgling security firm into a major profiteer in the "war on terror."

Blackwater's highly lucrative "diplomatic security" contract was officially awarded under the State Department's little-known Worldwide Personal Protective Service (WPPS) program, described in State Department documents as a government initiative to protect US officials as well as "certain foreign government high level officials whenever the need arises."

A heavily redacted 2005 government audit of Blackwater's WPPS contract proposal, obtained by The Nation, reveals that Blackwater included profit in its overhead and its total costs, which would result "not only in a duplication of profit but a pyramiding of profit since in effect Blackwater is applying profit to profit." The audit also found that the company tried to inflate its profits by representing different Blackwater divisions as wholly separate companies.

The war that would pay for itself: On July 11, David Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, testified before Congress and estimated that 40 percent of all the refined product in Iraq – ten percent of the domestically produced refined product and 30 percent of the imported refined product – was being smuggled out of the country or sold on the black market. That black market is enabled, in part, by the price spread between the state-subsidized fuel price in Iraq and that same fuel’s price in neighboring countries. Iraqis currently pay about $0.44 per gallon for regular gasoline. That same fuel sells for about $0.90 in neighboring countries.

That 40 percent black-market estimate by the GAO may be too low by half. Waller of Lloyd-Owen regularly delivered motor fuel to a dozen storage depots in Iraq, including Najaf, Nasariyah, Karbala, and Al Kut. None of those depots had any metering equipment. And without metering equipment, whoever controls the depot has a free hand to sell that fuel however they like. When I asked for his estimate on how much of Iraq’s motor fuel is being sold on the black market, Waller responded without hesitation, “95 percent.”

Perhaps even more stunning than the lack of controls at the fuel depots is the lack of metering equipment in Iraq’s crude oil production – a problem that has been known for more than two years. In early 2004, the accounting firm KPMG began reviewing Iraq’s oil revenue accounting system. For the first six months of 2004, the review found that the Coalition Provisional Authority was “unable to reliably estimate the amounts of petroleum and petroleum products that were illegally exported.” Further, it said that “internal control systems over the Iraqi oil industry were insufficient to ensure that all petroleum and petroleum products were accounted for in the absence of a metering system.”

Little has changed since that report was published. By the summer of 2006– two years after the KPMG review, three years after the start of the war that has cost U.S. taxpayers a couple of hundred billion dollars – the Iraqi oil ministry still didn’t have adequate metering on its crude export terminals. And it may not have that hardware in place until the end of this year. In late 2005, the U.S. Project Coordinating Office awarded a $30 million contract to a subsidiary of the Parsons Corporation to install metering equipment and other upgrades on the Basra (Mina al-Bakr) oil loading terminal. But the hardware won’t necessarily stop the cheating unless there is a software system connected to it that can provide an audit trail. The bottom line: in 2005, according to estimates done by Platts, Iraq may have lost 60 million barrels of crude due to corruption. At an average price of $50 per barrel, that’s a loss of $3 billion in revenue to the Iraqi central government.

New Diaspora

Too terrified to stay: The Iraqi exiles entering America are part of one of the largest exoduses in modern Middle Eastern history. The Iraqi government has over the past 12 months issued more than 1.8 million new passports, a figure that corresponds with nearly 10% of the country's population. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are more than 800,000 Iraqi exiles in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Some U.S. border officials express general concern that Iraqi insurgents might try to enter the U.S., though they say there is no evidence any have. State Department officials say visa requirements for Iraqis are the same as those for all applicants. Many Iraqis say the process is more time-consuming and costly for them because the American embassy in Baghdad doesn't issue visas, citing security concerns. That means Iraqis must go to the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan. Applying for a visa is a multistage process, so Iraqis generally have to make two or three trips.

The State Department says Iraqis received 4,886 visas last year, up from 2,374 in 2003. Those numbers don't include refugees who entered the U.S. illegally and then applied for political asylum. In 2005, 287 Iraqis were granted asylum; officials at the Department of Homeland Security say figures for the number of applicants aren't available. In the U.S., there are an estimated 300,000 Iraqi expatriates, many of whom arrived during Mr. Hussein's brutal reign.

"There's a real desperation for many Iraqis, which leads to a willingness to do almost anything to get some place safe," says Robert DeKelaita, an Iraqi exile who is an immigration lawyer here. Mr. DeKelaita says he has handled more than 330 Iraqi asylum applications since the war began in March 2003, including several from Iraqi government officials who filed for asylum while in the U.S. on official business. "They are terrified of staying put."

The Turning Tide

A brave and honorable man: Ricky Clousing, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, and a veteran of the Iraq War who has been AWOL for a year announced today at the Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle that he will turn himself in later today at the gates of Fort Lewis and face whatever punishment the military chooses to impose.

Clousing said he did not apply for conscientious objector status because he is not certain he would oppose every possible war, such as one fought in self-defense. He said he has spent the past year trying to figure out how to turn himself in, that the military has refused to comment on his status and that he is now choosing to force them to deal with it.

Eye off the ball: This morning on CNN, former 9/11 commissioner Tim Roemer argued that the recent terror plot in Britain illustrated why we need to direct resources from Iraq to the global terrorist threat. Roemer said, “It’s very important that we don’t put all our intelligence and military resources in Iraq and take our eye off the ball in other places in the world.”

He also emphasized that “it’s very important that we capture Osama Bin Laden” because Bin Laden is producing “CNN quality tapes” and “communicating with hundreds of millions of potential jihadist and trying to get them to sign up.”

The United States of Asininity

Ignorance: A new Gallup poll finds that many Americans -- what it calls "substantial minorities" -- harbor "negative feelings or prejudices against people of the Muslim faith" in this country. Nearly one in four Americans, 22%, say they would not like to have a Muslim as a neighbor. While Americans tend to disagree with the notion that Muslims living in the United States are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, a significant 34% believe they do back al-Qaeda. And fewer than half -- 49% -- believe U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States. Almost four in ten, 39%, advocate that Muslims here should carry special I.D. That same number admit that they do hold some "prejudice" against Muslims. Forty-four percent say their religious views are too "extreme." In every case, Americans who actually know any Muslims are more sympathethic.

Unforgivable ignorance: I nearly fell off my chair while reading the local newspaper two days ago.

There it was. Newsflash headline: Half of U.S. Still Believes Iraq had WMD

The AP story by Charles Hanley tried hard to maintain an unruffled tone, but betrayed its surprise a number of times.

“Do you believe in Iraqi ‘WMD’? Did Saddam Hussein's government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?” the story began. “Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.”

This is beyond baffling. And, wait, it gets worse.

The 50 percent figure is actually a substantial increase from the 36 percent who believed in this myth last year, and the 38 percent who believed it in 2004.

At first glance, all this is very disheartening for those of us who have faith in the power of information to drive away falsehoods.

"I'm flabbergasted," AP quotes Michael Massing, a media critic who has spent considerable effort analyzing media coverage of the Iraq War.

“This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence.”

On the other hand, maybe this isn’t so surprising. After all, in a poll last December, a full sixty-one percent of Americans said that they believed in the devil, forty percent of Americans admitted that they think that ghosts surround us, while one-third even accepted the existence of UFOs. Maybe there’s some overlap between these people and those who still believe in those spectral WMDs.


Joe Conason: As Connecticut Democrats went to their polling places to choose a Senate nominee, waves of rhetorical hysteria burst forth from the mouths of excitable conservatives. At stake in the primary was not only the fate of a single politician but the “soul of the Democratic Party” and perhaps even the fate of the West.

Old terms like “appeasement” and “Stalinist” have been brandished to insinuate that anyone who dares to dissent from the failed policies adopted by Joe Lieberman and the Bush administration is at best a fool and at worst a traitor.

Such overwrought commentary, often phrased in terms of deep concern for the future of the party of FDR, JFK and Harry S. Truman, usually emanates from commentators whose political objective is continued Republican domination of all branches of government. Democrats should reject this propaganda barrage—which reveals an extraordinary capacity for self-deception on the right.

The propagandists charge that opposition to the war in Iraq is an obsession of the far-left fringe, and that the Democrats will be destroyed by any attempt to extricate our troops from the quicksand. Every reputable survey of public opinion refutes that assertion. Support for the Bush administration’s conduct of the war, and for the president himself, has been declining steadily since the end of 2004. And every anchorperson, pundit and squawking head seeking to suggest otherwise is either inexcusably ignorant or purposely lying.

Rosa Brooks: Today, the antiwar fringe is starting to resemble California during the Gold Rush of 1849. When gold was discovered in 1848, California had a nonnative population of 14,000 and technically belonged to Mexico. By the end of 1849, the lure of gold had brought the nonnative population up to a boisterous 100,000 — and California had been formally absorbed into the United States. Similarly, when the war in Iraq began in 2003, only about a quarter of Americans disapproved of President Bush's Iraq policies. But by this month, the trend had reversed, with 60% of Americans telling CNN pollsters that they oppose the war and savvy politicians rushing to stake out an antiwar claim before it's too late. (To paraphrase Kerry, who knows a thing or two about this, who wants to be the last politician to go down for failing to admit the war in Iraq was a mistake?) Opposing the war in Iraq isn't fringe anymore — it's become part of what defines ordinary Americans. You wouldn't know it, though, from listening to the pundits. As far as many in the "mainstream" media are concerned, those who oppose the war in Iraq are still oddball extremists.

Jimmy Greenfield: Now, even if you're a great admirer of President Bush, do you really think Democrats or any adult in this country believes that "there is no threat to the United States of America" from terrorists? It's a patently absurd statement, but with just a short time allotted for his speech, President Bush chose to try to scare the public into believing that Democrats, if in charge, would fight terrorists with love beads instead of guns. The good news is Bush doesn't have the political leverage to scare Democrats into rolling over anymore. Just nine days after the 9/11 attacks, South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, then the Democratic leader in the Senate, said: "We want President Bush to know—we want the world to know—that he can depend on us. We will take up the president's initiatives with speed. We may encounter differences of opinion along the way, but there is no difference in our aim." On Thursday, current Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said: "The Iraq war has diverted our focus and more than $300 billion in resources from the war on terrorism and has created a rallying cry for international terrorists. This latest plot demonstrates the need for the Bush administration and the Congress to change course in Iraq and ensure that we are taking all the steps necessary to protect Americans at home and across the world.'' Hard to believe the contrast, isn't it? The Democrats, at least ones not named Joe Lieberman, know better than to trust President Bush ever again. I don't think the public will get fooled again by Bush's scare tactics. But like it or not, it's the Bush administration that is most responsible for keeping us safe from terrorists right now. It's also our job to keep an eye on the Bush administration. Don't ever forget that, no matter how scared you get.

Tom Hayden: Despite all its complexity, the Iraq debate now heating up in American politics should favor opponents of the war. The White House's insistence on "staying the course" sounds bankrupt given the daily news from Iraq. Antiwar candidates, alongside the peace movement, can offer a defensible alternative, as the interviews in Amman show, including:

1. A declaration by the United States of its intention to withdraw troops within a fixed timetable, including no permanent bases.

2. A parallel commitment to fix as many mistakes as possible in the same timetable.

3. An amnesty for Iraqi nationals who have fought against the occupation. If a US withdrawal timetable is agreed, the foreign jihadists will lose the margin of support they currently have.

4. An end to Paul Bremer's de-Baathification policy and restoring former military and other professionals to security and civic roles.

5. Termination of US support, training, financing or advising of sectarian militias.

6. A paradigm shift away from neoconservative extremism toward diplomatic and political solutions to the region's problems.

7. International efforts to rebuild Iraq after fifteen years of sanctions, bombardment, invasion, war and civil war.

The most contentious of these points concerns amnesty for Iraqis who have fought the occupation. But it should be remembered that the American Civil War ended with an amnesty for Jefferson Davis. Amnesties always are included in negotiated settlements, and this endgame looks to be no different. If we don't achieve this, we will face a future of faith-based militarism until, as they say, the end of days.

Posthumous Award

Navy SEAL Marc Lee, killed in combat Aug. 2 in Ramadi, Iraq, has been posthumously awarded a Silver Star for bravery, the Navy said Thursday. Lee, 28, a member of a SEAL team based here, was the first member of the elite Navy unit to be killed in Iraq.


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