Wednesday, August 02, 2006


“We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.”

An Iraqi journalist working for the Iranian government-run Al-Alam television was slain in western Baghdad. Adil al-Mansuri, an Iraqi in his 20s, was stopped by gunmen Monday and shot.

Tuesday a cameraman for an Iranian television channel was killed at about noon in the Amariya neighborhood of Baghdad. The victim’s identity, and the circumstances of his death, remained unclear. (This may be the same incident as in the entry above.)

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, at least 74 journalists, 53 of them Iraqis, have died in Iraq since the American-led invasion in March 2003.

Three Iraqi soldiers were killed Tuesday evening when a suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint in the northern city of Tal Afar.

Early Wednesday three roadside bombs exploded in central Baghdad near a group of laborers seeking work, killing three people and wounding nine.

A U.S. soldier died Tuesday during fighting in Anbar province.

In Baquba, north of Baghdad, gunmen killed the chief of the traffic police, Ahmed Abdel Hussein, and one of his bodyguards.

On Wednesday, two traffic police colonels were killed and two guards wounded in a drive-by shooting in Khalis.

A police patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul, killing one policeman and injuring four.

A man was killed when a bomb he was planting on a highway in northern Baghdad exploded.

Two unidentified bodies, showing signs of torture and gunshot wounds to the head, were found in northwestern Baghdad.

Tuesday a gunman was killed and another wounded in fighting between commandos and unidentified armed men in Jihad, the Baghdad neighborhood where marauding gunmen executed dozens of people in mob violence last month.

“Plan to kill everyone you meet”: Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's western Anbar province, has sunk into virtual anarchy under the stranglehold of a skilled, well-financed and ruthless insurgency. Now, for the first time, U.S. and Iraqi forces are engaged in a block-by-block campaign to retake the area.

The U.S. strategy here aims to avoid a full-scale military onslaught like the one that demolished much of the nearby city of Fallujah in November 2004, flattening hundreds of homes, emptying it of people and leaving it struggling to rebuild. The senior U.S. commander in Ramadi, Army Col. Sean MacFarland, does not rule out major combat operations. But he makes it clear he sees no value in sending U.S. troops "crashing through like a bull in a china shop."

Instead, U.S. and Iraqi forces are advancing one step at a time into key locations in Ramadi's walled neighborhoods, setting up small outposts of about 100 troops each. The goal is to slowly choke off the insurgents' ability to move freely, making them easier to capture or kill. Meanwhile, Iraqi soldiers, backed by U.S. troops, are to take the lead in patrolling around the outposts, creating small zones of safety for residents that will gradually spread.

Ramadi has lost as much as a quarter of its population of 400,000 since the insurgency began. The city has no effective government and few police officers. Insurgents assassinate officials with impunity, and recently issued a death threat against anyone entering the heavily shelled Government Center downtown. Last month, after the provincial highways director defied the threat, he was captured and beheaded, his body dumped in the street, according to a U.S. military officer.

Joblessness in Ramadi is at least 40 percent and there is no local industry, with utilities and other vital infrastructure regularly blown up by insurgents, U.S. officers say. Residents survive on irregular food rations and wait hours for fuel that often doesn't arrive. The chaos and stagnation create steady recruits for the insurgency -- estimated to have 1,500 hard-core members and hundreds more part-time fighters -- even as U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed at least 200 insurgents since June alone.

Warfare rocks the city daily. Over a one-month period this summer, insurgents launched nearly 600 attacks, laying about 250 roadside bombs, firing more than 100 rockets and mortars, waging 150 assaults with rifles and machine guns, and setting off four suicide car bombs. "The problem set is mind-numbing," said Maj. David Womack, operations officer for the 101st Airborne Division's battalion in charge of eastern Ramadi. A warning in bold type posted at the battalion's dusty headquarters advises all soldiers to "be polite, be professional, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

Popular committees: Thousands of Shi'ite civilians charged with guarding neighbourhoods in Iraq marched through Baghdad on Wednesday in a show of force likely to stir passions in a country ravaged by sectarian violence.

Young men in civilian uniforms and headbands, all members of what is known as the popular committees, chanted as a speaker called on them to crush "terrorists" and loyalists of ousted President Saddam Hussein leading a Sunni Arab insurgency against the Shi'ite-led government.

"Step on terrorism," he said.

The crowd included members of the Badr Organisation, one of the armed Shi'ite groups Sunni Arabs accuse of running militia death squads, a charge they deny.

Shutting down: Sectarian violence and rising crime are transforming Baghdad's once bustling commercial hubs into deserted streets -- leaving the country's economy in tatters. Popular markets in neighborhoods such as the Sunni Azamiyah and Shiite Kazimiyah have all but disappeared.

Merchants are shuttering their shops not only because they fear attacks but also because they are unable to keep their shops well-stocked.

Bombings, hijackings and checkpoints delay deliveries. Customers shy away from shopping in parts of town where their sect is in the minority.

"We used to get our supplies from the wholesale in Sadr City," said Ahmed Ismail, a 55-year-old Sunni vegetable vendor. "But many of my fellow (Sunni) vendors were killed there. Who dares to go there?"

In Kazimiyah, jewelry stores have folded after driving restrictions and checkpoints discouraged customers from reaching their shops. In Mansour, once among the capital's most prosperous neighborhoods, gunmen last month threatened some store owners with death if they didn't close.

Fliers containing the warnings were slipped under the doors of boutiques, bookstores and bakeries owned by Shiites, Sunnis and even Christians. Some merchants who defied the orders lost their lives to drive-by shooters.

Terminating terrorism: President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday that Iraqi forces will take over security of all provinces in the country by the end of the year. U.S. forces currently are responsible for security in 17 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

The optimistic statement by Talabani comes at a time when the country is reeling under intense sectarian violence, mainly involving Shiite and Sunni militias. On Tuesday, more than 70 people were killed in one of the worst days of bloodshed.

Talabani, a Kurd from northern Iraq, said the government is confident of vanquishing terrorism.

"We are highly optimistic that we will terminate terrorism in this year... the multinational forces' role is a supportive one and the Iraqi forces will take over security in all Iraqi provinces by the end of this year gradually and God's will, we will take the lead," he said.

Sounds good to me! All US forces home by January! Tell 'em, Jamal! -m

Iraqi Reconstruction

Pathetic: A flailing Iraq reconstruction effort that has been dominated for more than three years by U.S. dollars and companies is being transferred to Iraqis, leaving them the challenge of completing a long list of projects left unfinished by the Americans.

While the handover is occurring gradually, it comes as U.S. money dwindles and American officials face a Sept. 30 deadline for choosing which projects to fund with the remaining $2 billion of the $21 billion rebuilding program. More than 500 planned projects have not been started, and the United States lacks a coherent plan for transferring authority to Iraqi control, a report released Tuesday concludes.

In some cases, Iraqis are having to take over projects from American construction firms that were removed from jobs because of poor performance. For example, in Nasiriyah, about 300 miles southeast of Baghdad, the Iraqi firm Al-Basheer Co. was recently given a prison-construction contract that a huge American conglomerate, Parsons Global Services Inc., lost. Parsons was six months overdue with the project and had completed only a third of the job.

The war that would pay for itself: A project to build a critical oil pipeline in northern Iraq has fallen more than two years behind schedule, costing the Iraqi government $14.8 billion in revenue and jeopardizing the safety of local water supplies, according to a report by U.S. government auditors released yesterday.

The 31-mile pipeline, designed to connect Iraq's northern oil fields with a major refinery, is intended to replace an old, decrepit line that has been leaking oil for years. But because contractors were unable to finish construction of the new pipeline by March 2004 as scheduled, oil is pooling in the open air rather than being sped to market, auditors with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction say.

Even when the project is complete, the auditors conclude, there is no way of knowing whether it will actually be an improvement because reconstruction officials have not been monitoring its progress.

Down The Rathole

Another $57 billion: Years of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq have been tough on U.S. military equipment, with trucks, tanks and other items in need of overhauls or replacement.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, U.S. Army chief of staff, has requested $17 billion as an emergency appropriation and another $40 billion over three years, The Washington Times reported.

Emergency funding: As lawmakers decried the strain on the U.S. military from the Iraq war, the Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved $13.1 billion for emergency repairs and replacement of Army and Marine Corp equipment.

The Senate approved the measure on a voice vote with no debate after Democrats accused the White House of letting the war weaken the military's ability to take on missions.

Domestic Politics

About three years late: After months of struggling to forge a unified stance on the Iraq war, top congressional Democrats joined voices yesterday to call on President Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. troops by the end of the year and to "transition to a more limited mission" in the war-torn nation.

With the midterm elections three months away, and Democrats seeing public discontent over Iraq as their best chance for retaking the House or Senate, a dozen key lawmakers told Bush in a letter: "In the interests of American national security, our troops and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained. . . . We need to take a new direction."

Law and Order

Murder: A military court opened a preliminary hearing on Tuesday to determine whether four U.S. soldiers charged over the deaths of three male prisoners in Iraq will face court martials.

They have been charged with premeditated murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat, and obstructing justice in the killings in or around May 9 north of Baghdad.

Premeditated murder charges can bring the death penalty under U.S. military law.

The Article 32 hearing is being held at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of the capital.

It comes at a sensitive time when the military is investigating other cases of alleged abuses -- including the killings of up to 24 unarmed civilians in the town of Haditha last year by U.S. Marines -- which have infuriated Iraqis.

Smiles: U.S. soldiers charged with murdering three detainees in Iraq smiled before carrying out the shootings and threatened to kill another soldier if he informed on them, a military court heard on Wednesday.

Prosecution witness Private First Class Bradley Mason said one of those charged, Staff Sergeant Raymond Girouard, told him if he were arrested he would try to get out of it on medical grounds because he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"They just smiled," said Mason.

"I told him (Girouard) that I am not down with it. It's murder."

Lawsuit: A Marine Corps staff sergeant who led the squad accused of killing two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq, will file a lawsuit today in federal court in Washington claiming that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) defamed him when the congressman made public comments about the incident earlier this year.

Attorneys for Frank D. Wuterich, 26, argue in court papers that Murtha tarnished the Marine's reputation by telling news organizations in May that the Marine unit cracked after a roadside bomb killed one of its members and that the troops "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Murtha also said repeatedly that the incident was covered up.

Rape: The media and public will be barred from witnessing the testimony of Iraqis in a hearing for U.S. Army soldiers accused of raping and murdering an Iraqi teenager, an Army commander has ruled.

The restriction was issued Monday after an appeal by the trial counsel to protect the witnesses, who fear they could be perceived as aiding U.S. forces and be targeted by insurgents.

Crime and punishment: Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who commanded detention operations at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and helped organize the interrogation process at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, retired from the military on Monday, Pentagon officials said.

Because of his experience as a commander of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, General Miller was sent to Iraq in the summer of 2003 to review the detention system and interrogation techniques there. His mission was to recommend methods that would increase the success of intelligence-gathering as coalition forces battled a tenacious and growing insurgency.

Subsequently, dogs were used as a tool of intimidation of detainees at Abu Ghraib, and debate has swirled over responsibility for abusive interrogation procedures.

At his retirement ceremony Monday, General Miller received the Distinguished Service Medal, which is awarded for exceptionally commendable service in a position of great responsibility, Army officials said.

John Sifton, a lawyer who is a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said giving the medal to General Miller “is not just a disappointment, it’s an outrage.”


Joel Connelly: As Iraq was crowded off TV screens last week by the fighting in Lebanon, a question came to mind: Are Americans getting the information they need to intelligently judge progress -- or lack of it -- in the war on terror?

No, or at least not as the Middle East exploded last week.

Americans saw injured Lebanese kids, sobbing widows in Beirut and -- to a decidedly lesser extent -- Israelis taking cover from Hezbollah rockets.

At the same time, on Thursday, car bombs and rockets ripped through an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. Businesses were burned. Buildings collapsed. At least 25 civilians died, and dozens more were injured.

We saw almost none of this on the tube, dominated this night by high-profile news personalities relocated to Lebanon.

The body count from sectarian strife in Iraq -- the phrase "civil war" is officially avoided -- has topped 100 a day.

We can read about the Baghdad bombing in The Washington Post. And, last week, National Public Radio carried a remarkable report on a team of volunteers that fishes dead bodies out of the Tigris River.

Why no pictures?

Are not civilians being hurt, and killed, in greater numbers than in Lebanon?

Are the TV networks fearful of displeasing those in high places, or being labeled advocates of "cut and run" by Fox News commentators, if they run sharply critical reports?

Paul Krugman: The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn’t the suspicion many of us had, which turned out to be correct, that the administration’s case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war — their belief that if the United States used its military might to “hit someone” in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism — was, all too obviously, a childish fantasy. And the results of going to war on the basis of that fantasy were predictably disastrous: the fiasco in Iraq has ended up demonstrating the limits of U.S. power, strengthening radical Islam — especially radical Shiites allied with Iran, a group that includes Hezbollah — and losing America the moral high ground. What I never expected was that Israel — a nation that has unfortunately had plenty of experience with both war and insurgency — would be susceptible to similar fantasies. Yet that’s what seems to have happened.

Glenn Greenwald: How do you have a meaningful debate over what the U.S. ought to do in Iraq with people who believe that things are going really well over there and who insist that Saddam really did have WMDs? How do you have a meaningful debate with people over the Israel-Lebanon war who insist that reports of civilian deaths in Lebanon are the by-product of a massive conspiracy/cover-up between the international media and Hezbollah rather than Israeli air attacks? And how do you have a meaningful debate with people who continue to insinuate that Saddam helped plan the 9/11 attacks? Meaningful political debates require agreement at least as to the basic facts comprising reality. For a substantial portion of the American population, that agreement is lacking, due to a desire to believe only those facts which comport with one's beliefs and the powerful, self-contained ideology-based media bubble which enables that desire. Those who live in the world where Iraq helped Al Qaeda plan terrorist attacks, Saddam had WMDs, things are going well in Iraq, and Hezbollah rather than Israel collapsed the apartment building in Qana, don't merely have different political views but really live in a different reality.

David Corn: Why is it taking the Senate intelligence committee forty times longer to examine how the Bush administration used--or misused--the prewar intelligence on Iraq and WMDs than it took for the United States military to topple Saddam Hussein? American troops reached Baghdad in three weeks (there were a few complications after that). But the intelligence committee, led by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, has dilly-dallied for two-and-a-half years when it has come to reviewing how George W. Bush and his top aides represented--or misrepresented--the WMD intelligence as they led (or misled) the nation to war. Last fall, the Senate Democrats shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the committee's lack of progress in producing the so-called Phase II report that was supposed to focus on this matter. Roberts and the Republicans promised to conclude the inquiry soon. Yet another nine months have gone by, and as The Washington Post reported on Sunday, the committee is still not yet done.

Georgie Anne Geyer: Despite all proof to the contrary, Israel persists, like the U.S., in thinking it can terrorize its enemies into submission, instead of terrorizing them into ever more lethal and potent irregulars -- thus the Armageddonesque destruction of both Lebanon and Iraq by massive bombing.

But this attitude, as any even reasonably sensitive person should know, is, at the bottom, one of despising one's enemies (always a dangerous business), of believing that he would never react the way you do and thus creating more guerrillas, insurgents and suicide bombers through the humiliation thus inflicted.

Hezbollah, after all, did not exist before Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and stayed for 22 years. Hamas was originally formed with Israeli encouragement to stand up against the PLO. With Iraq, the United States ever so helpfully dismantled the one great enemy of Iran, which kept that imperious and ambitious nation in check. With the same naive destructiveness inside Iraq at the very same time, the American presence was creating new and dangerous insurgent groups -- the Shiite Mahdi Army, the al-Qaida spinoffs, and too many more to mention.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Meanwhile, these self-indulgent policies, which refuse to take into consideration the cultural realities of other peoples and groups, are changing the Middle East still further. Old movements are already morphing into new and more dangerous ones.

The New York Times recently wrote about the new war between nations, like the United States and Israel, and "networks," like Hazbollah and al-Qaida, which are simply an advanced form of the classic guerrilla movements of history. At the same time, radical Islamist groups from Lebanon to Somalia to Iraq, and potentially even the moderate Arab regimes, are now gaining power through electoral legitimacy.

And on every level, the American presence in the region is serving to create a new "retribalization" that is destroying what is left of the secular Arab states.

This is not at all to say that these groups are innocent, desirable or unsusceptible to violent confrontation -- far from it. It IS to say that there are intelligent ways to confront them, and to defeat them, other than indiscriminately bombing them to smithereens.

The intelligent policy would be the old middle ground: to address their real grievances, to negotiate and mediate confidently even with difficult governments like Syria's and Iran's and, while using military power prudently, to work on diffuse levels to gradually change the structures of power.

But it's so much easier to drop bombs, even if they only create exactly what you set out to destroy.

Casualty Reports

A nephew of Sen. Max Baucus serving in the Marines was killed in Iraq during the weekend, the senator's office said Tuesday.

Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus, 28, died Saturday during combat operations in Anbar province, the Department of Defense said. It did not immediately release further information.

Lance Cpl. James W. Higgins Jr. was fascinated by the past. His favorite musician was Frank Sinatra; his favorite comedians, Abbott and Costello; his favorite books, histories -- particularly anything about World War II.

And when the Frederick County native saw his chance to serve his country and become part of history in the making, as part of a new global war, he jumped at it.

He grabbed his piece of history, but it cost him. The Pentagon announced Monday that Higgins was killed Thursday in Anbar province, a desert region in western Iraq that is the heartland of the Sunni-led insurgent movement.

Lance Cpl. Anthony E. Butterfield, 19, of Clovis, California, died Saturday ``while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.''

Army Specialist Dennis K. Samson Junior was killed July 24th by enemy gunfire in Taqaddum. The 24-year-old was assigned to the Fourth Brigade Troop Battalion, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, (Kentucky).

Sgt. Christian B. Williams, a decorated U.S. Marine, was killed in Iraq on Saturday. Family members of the 27-year-old Winter Haven native got the news Monday and said Tuesday that they were too grief-stricken to talk to reporters, but a relative said Williams loved his military service.

Williams was killed during combat operations in Al Anbar province, where he was assigned as a light-armored-vehicle section leader

The Ministry of Defence has named the soldier killed in Iraq on Tuesday as Corporal Matthew Cornish.

The 29-year-old, who served with 1st Battalion The Light Infantry, died as a result of wounds sustained in a mortar attack on a UK military base in Basra in the early hours of Tuesday morning.


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