Sunday, September 03, 2006


"Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" – Donald H. Rumsfeld, August 29, 2006

Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain upon the British Prime Minister's arrival in Munich. (September 29, 1938)

Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld in Baghdad in 1983

Hat tip to Frank Rich - see his opinion piece below


Several mortars fell on a residential area of al-Maamel in the capital's eastern outskirts Saturday night. Six people, including two children, were killed, and 15 were wounded.

On Sunday morning, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in eastern Baghdad killed two policemen and a civilian and wounded three policemen.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed in eastern Baghdad Sunday morning when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb.


The Shiite holy shrine of Imam Ibrahim Sameen, located near the Iranian border near Khanaqin, 200 kilometres north-east of Baghdad, was blown up Friday night. The attackers used 50 kilogrammes of TNT to completely demolish the shrine.

Sistani gives up: The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war.

Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.

"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."

It is a devastating blow to the remaining hopes for a peaceful solution in Iraq and spells trouble for British forces, who are based in and around the Shia stronghold of Basra.

The cleric is regarded as the most important Shia religious leader in Iraq and has been a moderating influence since the invasion of 2003. He ended the fighting in Najaf between Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army and American forces in 2004 and was instrumental in persuading the Shia factions to fight the 2005 elections under the single banner of the United Alliance.

However, the extent to which he has become marginalised was demonstrated last week when fighting broke out in Diwaniya between Iraqi soldiers and al-Sadr's Mehdi army. With dozens dead, al-Sistani's appeals for calm were ignored. Instead, the provincial governor had to travel to Najaf to see al-Sadr, who ended the fighting with one telephone call.

This is seriously bad news. Why is it I can only find the story in a British paper?-m

This does not bode well either: A coalition of 300 Iraqi tribal leaders on Saturday demanded the release of Saddam Hussein so he could reclaim the presidency and also called for armed resistance against U.S.-led coalition forces.

The clan chieftains, who were mostly Sunni Arabs and included the head of the 1.5 million-member al-Obeidi tribe, said they planned to hold rallies in Sunni cities throughout the country to insist that Hussein be freed and that the charges against him and his co-defendants be dropped.

Hussein is currently being tried on charges of genocide and other alleged crimes arising from the Iraqi government's killing and forced relocation of ethnic Kurds in 1988, and he is awaiting a verdict in a trial that concluded in late July stemming from mass killings of Shiites in 1982. During Hussein's dictatorship, positions of power in the military and the ruling Baath Party were held overwhelmingly by Sunni Arabs.

"If the demand is not carried out, we will lead a general, sweeping and popular uprising," said Sheik Wassfy al-Assy, brother of the chief of the Obeidi tribe, which served as host for the meeting of the clan leaders on Monday in Ramal. "As for whether (Hussein) will be reinstated in his post as president after his release, that will be up to him." The leaders announced their demands on Saturday.

Couldn’t find this one in a US paper either…-m

Muqtada al-Sadr: This past week's intense clashes between the Iraqi army and a Shiite militia are part of a strategy to whittle away the power of a radical cleric. But the high-risk gambit could trigger more fighting across the Shiite south -- at a time when the cleric's stronghold in the capital is virtually off-limits.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised to disband militias, including the Mahdi Army of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as a way to curb the sectarian violence propelling Iraq to the brink of civil war. The United States has made clear it views that effort as crucial.

But a full-scale assault by either American or Iraqi forces on Mr. Sadr's stronghold of Sadr City is highly risky. Mr. Maliki, a fellow Shiite with political ties to the cleric, has publicly criticized a U.S.-Iraqi raid on the teeming district in Baghdad, where Mr. Sadr's followers maintain control and mete out Islamic justice in religious courts.

With Sadr City thus out of play for the time being, the U.S. military and its partners have been going after Mr. Sadr's forces outside the capital, arresting a Mahdi commander in Basra and raiding militia offices in other cities to cut into his power base. […]

Such confrontations test the loyalty of Iraq's mostly Shiite army and police, whose ranks have been infiltrated by Mr. Sadr's supporters.

But military moves are all the more risky because of the intense rivalry within various Shiite parties and militias -- all competing for power. Diwaniyah, for example, is controlled by a rival Shiite party, leading Sadr aides to blame local officials from the other party of essentially using the national army to deal with their rivals.

The fighting in Diwaniyah thus points to one of the most serious problems facing Iraq -- the possibility that trouble will spread widely throughout the quieter, calmer south.

Civil war in Baghdad: Four years ago, this was a city where people mixed freely — where, in most parts of town, no one cared if a neighborhood was Sunni or Shiite. Loyalty to Saddam Hussein was more important than religious identity.

But now a battle for Baghdad is well under way between the two major Muslim sects. Death squads are slaughtering people daily, and an estimated 160,000 Iraqis have fled their homes — mostly here in the capital.

Out of that violence, a new but not better city is emerging. Many Iraqis fear that the result will be a Sunni west and a Shiite east, with the broad Tigris River snaking through the middle as the sectarian boundary.

Internal refugees: With sectarian violence boiling over in much of Iraq, tens of thousands of Arab families are on the move, searching for a safe place to live. Surprisingly, given the decades of brutal Sunni Arab rule over the Kurdish minority and the continuing ethnic tensions, many like Mr. Abdul Rahman are settling in the secure provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan, run virtually as a separate country by the regional government.

The influx of Arabs has made many Kurds nervous, and regional leaders are debating whether to corral the Arabs into separate housing estates or camps.

“For the Kurdish people, it’s a sensitive issue,” said Asos Hardi, the editor of Awene, a newspaper that has run editorials in favor of segregating the Arab migrants. “Of course, everybody supports those people who have left their lands and their homes because of violence, but we don’t want it at the expense of giving up our land or changing the demographics of our land.”

Across Iraq, growing numbers of Arabs have been fleeing their hometowns in search of basic security. Outside Kurdistan, nearly 39,000 families have been uprooted by the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence, a figure far higher than an estimate of 27,000 released by Iraqi officials in July, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement. Families usually move from mixed areas to cities or neighborhoods where their sects dominate.

But some are choosing Iraqi Kurdistan even over sectarian enclaves in Baghdad and homogeneous cities like Falluja, for Sunnis, and Najaf, for Shiites. Besides having greater security, Kurdistan might appeal to more secular Arabs because the Kurds, who make up a fifth of Iraq, are often not religious conservatives.

Arabs moving to Kurdistan are required to register with security agencies, which track how many arrive and where they live. The chief security officer for Sulaimaniya, the largest city in eastern Kurdistan, said about 1,000 Arab families had moved into this area, and that thousands more families had settled in other parts of the Kurdish north. Most are Sunni Arabs, said the officer, Sarkawt Hassan Jalal.

Kurdish autonomy: The president of Iraq's Kurdistan has ordered the Iraqi national flag be replaced with the Kurdish one in government buildings, the latest move by the autonomous region toward more independence from Baghdad.

The order was issued on Thursday by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, head of the autonomous government of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, officials said on Saturday.

"According to this resolution, all government sites that used to raise the Baathist flag must lower it and hoist the flag of Kurdistan in its place," read decree No. 60.

Rebuke: Iraq's prime minister issued a stern rebuke to ethnic Kurds on Sunday after the autonomous Kurdistan region ordered the national Iraqi flag be replaced by the Kurdish tricolour on government buildings in northern Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office issued a statement that not only defended the national flag but implied that the Kurds' own banner was illegitimate. "The Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq," read the brief message, which did not refer directly to the controversy.

They finally got a number two: Iraqi authorities say they have arrested Al Qaeda in Iraq's second-most senior figure in a joint raid with US forces.

National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie says the man was arrested a few days ago in the raid north of Baquba.

The man has been named as Hamed Juma Faris al-Saedi, also known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana.

Mr Rubaie says no civilians were harmed in the raid.

"After his arrest, he gave critical and important information and we ended up killing 11 militants of the second tier and nine of the lower tier," he said.

As they stand up, we’ll…no, wait a minute…: The United States and Iraq were at odds on Saturday over the transfer of operational control of Iraq's military to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, forcing a delay of a handover ceremony.

Saturday's ceremony to transfer control of Iraq's army from U.S. commander General George Casey to the Iraqi Defense Ministry had been hailed by U.S. officials as a big step toward Iraq taking responsibility for security.

``There is a disagreement on the wording of the document that outlines the new relationship between Coalition Forces and Iraqis,'' U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson told Reuters late on Saturday evening.

``It is embarrassing, but it was decided it was better not to sign the document,'' he said, adding that objections to the wording had been raised by Maliki's government.

More on the Pentagon report: Iraqi casualties soared by more than 50 percent in recent months, the product of spiraling sectarian clashes and a Sunni-based insurgency that remains “potent and viable,” the Pentagon said in its latest comprehensive assessment of security in Iraq.

During the period from the establishment of the new Iraqi government on May 20 until Aug. 11, the average number of weekly attacks jumped to almost 800. That was a substantial increase from earlier this year and almost double the number of the first part of 2004.

As a consequence, Iraqi casualties increased 51 percent over the last reporting period. The document notes that, based on initial reports, Iraqi casualties among civilians and security forces reached nearly 120 a day, up from about 80 a day in the pervious reporting period from mid-February to mid-May. About two years ago they were running about 30 a day.

“Although the overall number of attacks increased in all categories, the proportion of those attacks directed against civilians increased substantially,” the Pentagon noted. “Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife, with Sunni and Shia extremists each portraying themselves as the defenders of their respective sectarian groups.”

The Pentagon report, titled “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq,” is mandated by Congress and issued quarterly. It covers a broad range of subjects, including the economy, public attitudes, and security.

I know dancewater and I both posted on this report already but it’s a significant document and I wanted to make sure there was a link to the full document, so here it is. (Warning, .pdf) -m

Remembrances: Necklaces with pendants in the shape of Iraq have become popular among Iraqi women who wear them as a symbol of defiance and of yearning for national unity.

Roba al-Asaly, fingering the sliver of gold on her necklace, explains that it reminds her of a place "that's not there anymore".

They are seen on the streets and on television. Anchorwomen wear them while reading the news on Al-Iraqiya and Al-Sharqiya, Iraqi TV stations that are secular and more tolerant of women's jewellery.

"I hold on to it with my hand as if I'm holding on to the country I once knew," said al-Asaly, a 26-year-old Shia Muslim accountant.

"A place where people were not identified by their sect, a place where bombs didn't go off every other minute."

US Politics

Zombie domino theory: President Bush’s newest effort to rebuild eroding support for the war in Iraq features a distinct shift in approach: Rather than stressing the benefits of eventual victory, he and his top aides are beginning to lay out the grim consequences of failure.

It is a striking change of tone for a president who prides himself on optimism and has usually maintained that demeanor, at least in public, while his aides cast critics as defeatists.

But in his speech on Thursday in Salt Lake City — the first in a series to commemorate the Sept. 11 anniversary — he picked up on an approach that Gen. John P. Abizaid, Vice President Dick Cheney and others have refined in the past few months: a warning that defeat in Iraq will only move the battle elsewhere, threatening allies in the Middle East and eventually, Mr. Bush insisted, Americans “in the streets of our own cities.”

“We can allow the Middle East to continue on its course — on the course it was headed before September the 11th,” Mr. Bush said, “and a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening, by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate and give the people of the Middle East a future of hope.”

It is reminiscent of — updated for a different war, and a different time — President Lyndon B. Johnson’s adoption of the “domino theory,” in which South Vietnam’s fall could lead to Communism’s spread through Southeast Asia and beyond. In the case of Iraq, Mr. Bush’s argument boils down to a statement he quoted from General Abizaid, his top commander in the Middle East: “If we leave, they will follow us.”

Setting the stage for October Surprise, 2006 Model: Top U.S. officials have made strong charges in recent weeks that Iran is directly stirring up trouble in Iraq. But inside Iraq, it's hard to see any change and some American officials in Baghdad say privately the evidence is not that clear.

Most experts on Iran say there is no question that Iran is funneling support to certain Shiite political parties in Iraq, groups it long supported when they were fighting Saddam Hussein.

Ironically, most of that aid appears to go to the same Shiite parties in Iraq that the American government supports and that are part of the government. The more militant Shiite groups are equally critical of U.S. and Iranian influence in the country.

Nevertheless, the anti-Iran rhetoric from Washington has escalated sharply.

It might be too late even for that: A series of polls taken over the last few weeks of August show that support for the war in Iraq among Americans is at an all-time low. Almost two-thirds of Americans in each of three major polls say that they oppose the war, the highest totals since pollsters starting asking Americans the question three years ago. Many of the polls were conducted in advance of the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.

A new Associated Press/Ipsos poll that surveyed the country, and more specifically residents of Washington and New York, shows that many feel the cost in blood and money in Iraq may already be too high and that Osama bin Laden will never be found. The poll also showed that 60 percent of Americans believe that the war in Iraq has increased the chances of a terrorist attack in the US.

Any Democrat that falls for this needs to be dumped post haste: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reached out to Democrats late Friday, opening up the door for them to retract their stinging indictment of him as Pentagon chief.

In a letter to Congress's top Democrats, Rumsfeld said recent remarks he made during a speech in Salt Lake City were misrepresented by the media, including by the Associated Press. Rumsfeld said he was "concerned" by the reaction of Democrats, many of whom called for his resignation and said he was treading on dangerous territory.

"I know you agree that with America under attack and U.S. troops in the field, our national debate on this should be constructive," Rumsfeld wrote Friday.

During his speech before thousands of veterans Tuesday, Rumsfeld said the world faces "a new type of fascism" and warned against repeating the pre-World War II mistake of appeasement. He alluded to critics of the Bush administration's war policies in terms associated with the failure to stop Nazism in the 1930s, "a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among the Western democracies."

Without explicitly citing Bush critics at home or abroad, he said "it is apparent that many have still not learned history's lessons." Aides to Rumsfeld said later he was not accusing the administration's critics of trying to appease the terrorists but was cautioning against a repeat of errors made in earlier eras.


Book review: In his State of the Union address earlier this year, U.S. President George W. Bush had an answer for those critical of his performance in managing the war in Iraq.

"Hindsight is not wisdom and second-guessing is not strategy," he said, before insisting for the umpteenth time that America would stay the course no matter what.

Drawing attention away from past blunders may be the only coherent strategy the president has when it comes to the war in Iraq, according to author Peter W. Galbraith.

"Insurgency, civil war, Iranian strategic triumph, the breakup of Iraq, an independent Kurdistan, military quagmire. These are consequences of the American invasion of Iraq that the Bush administration failed to anticipate," he writes.

"It isn't that (Bush) failed to consider SOME possible adverse consequences of the war, but rather that he missed ALL of them ... The Bush administration's grand ambitions for Iraq were undone by arrogance, ignorance and political cowardice."

A. Alexander: "I know some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway. As President Bush has said, the hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse." - Dick Cheney August 28, 2006 Cheney overlooks a fundamental fact: There are more terrorists today, because the United States invaded Iraq, than there were on September 10, 2001. Cheney overlooks a fundamental fact: Because of the United States' war in Iraq, Iran has become the most influential and powerful country in the Middle East. Cheney overlooks a fundamental fact: The Brits directly linked the July, 2005 attack on the tube system to the radicalizing effect Iraq had on moderate Western Muslims. Cheney overlooks a fundamental fact: A respected British think-tank recently concluded that the only winner in the Bush administration's war on terror is Iran. Cheney overlooks a fundamental fact: Since Bush pulled forces and intelligence out of Afghanistan in order to fight a war of choice in Iraq, the Taliban have risen from the ashes and threatens to topple the Afghan government...again. Cheney overlooks a fundamental fact: The wholly unnecessary war in Iraq has prevented the United States from securing its trains, water supply, food supply, subways, public buses, and nuclear facilities. This is, however, the way of today's Republican. They pretend failure is success and then spin that failure to their political advantage. Whether what they do or don't do benefits the people or whether it is good for the country doesn't matter. All that matters is that they can score political points.

Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay: Five years ago, the United States fired its first shots in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror here in Afghanistan, evicting al-Qaida and toppling the Taliban regime that hosted Osama bin Laden's network. Today, the United States and its allies are struggling to halt advances by a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in large swaths of this still desperately poor and unstable country. "Things are going very badly," admitted an official with the allied military forces, who asked not to be identified because the issue is so sensitive. "We've arrived at a situation where things are significantly worse than we anticipated." The trends in Afghanistan appear to mirror the global war on terror a half-decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Bush administration and allied governments have won battle after battle, but appear to be in danger of losing the war. Indeed, a growing number of analysts, many of them former top government counterterrorism officials, argue that the very notion of a "war" on terrorism is the wrong strategy. In relying overwhelmingly on bombs and bullets, they say, the United States has alienated much of the Muslim world. The West has largely failed to offer a positive vision or deal with the root causes of Islamic extremism.

Howard Zinn: Beyond the futility of armed force, and ultimately more important, is the fact that war in our time inevitably results in the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people. To put it more bluntly, war is terrorism. That is why a ``war on terrorism" is a contradiction in terms. Wars waged by nations, whether by the United States or Israel, are a hundred times more deadly for innocent people than the attacks by terrorists, vicious as they are.

The repeated excuse, given by both Pentagon spokespersons and Israeli officials, for dropping bombs where ordinary people live is that terrorists hide among civilians. Therefore the killing of innocent people (in Iraq, in Lebanon) is called accidental, whereas the deaths caused by terrorists (on 9/11, by Hezbollah rockets) are deliberate.

This is a false distinction, quickly refuted with a bit of thought. If a bomb is deliberately dropped on a house or a vehicle on the grounds that a ``suspected terrorist" is inside (note the frequent use of the word suspected as evidence of the uncertainty surrounding targets), the resulting deaths of women and children may not be intentional. But neither are they accidental. The proper description is ``inevitable."

So if an action will inevitably kill innocent people, it is as immoral as a deliberate attack on civilians. And when you consider that the number of innocent people dying inevitably in ``accidental" events has been far, far greater than all the deaths deliberately caused by terrorists, one must reject war as a solution for terrorism.

William Arkin: If I were the conspiratorial type, I'd say Rumsfeld was a particular menace to America because in his view of a monolithic and totalitarian terrorist enemy, and in his analysis of the weakness of American society, he can only come to the messianic conclusion that he indeed needs to takeover the country in order to save it.

And this might even be worth speculating about were it the case that Rumsfeld reflected the views of those in the military leadership, or were it the case that Rumsfeld could actually engineer such a coup.

But alas, the secretary would get the intelligence wrong, employ too few troops and send tank columns on thunder runs through Manhattan and Hollywood, prematurely declaring victory and then being befuddled about the American desire to recover and preserve its way of life, which is not the Rumsfeld way.

"Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America -- not the enemy -- is the real source of the world’s troubles?," Rumsfeld asked yesterday.

This has got an easy answer: World troubles? Rumsfeld is the source of troubles much closer to home.

Frank Rich: What made Mr. Rumsfeld’s speech noteworthy wasn’t its toxic effort to impugn the patriotism of administration critics by conflating dissent on Iraq with cut-and-run surrender and incipient treason. That’s old news. No, what made Mr. Rumsfeld’s performance special was the preview it offered of the ambitious propaganda campaign planned between now and Election Day. An on-the-ropes White House plans to stop at nothing when rewriting its record of defeat (not to be confused with defeatism) in a war that has now lasted longer than America’s fight against the actual Nazis in World War II.

Here’s how brazen Mr. Rumsfeld was when he invoked Hitler’s appeasers to score his cheap points: Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain’s hand at Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Mr. Rumsfeld himself in Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist regalia. Is the defense secretary so self-deluded that he thought no one would remember a picture so easily Googled on the Web? Or worse, is he just too shameless to care?

Mr. Rumsfeld didn’t go to Baghdad in 1983 to tour the museum. Then a private citizen, he had been dispatched as an emissary by the Reagan administration, which sought to align itself with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam was already a notorious thug. Well before Mr. Rumsfeld’s trip, Amnesty International had reported the dictator’s use of torture — “beating, burning, sexual abuse and the infliction of electric shocks” — on hundreds of political prisoners. Dozens more had been summarily executed or had “disappeared.” American intelligence agencies knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons to gas both Iraqi Kurds and Iranians.

According to declassified State Department memos detailing Mr. Rumsfeld’s Baghdad meetings, the American visitor never raised the subject of these crimes with his host. (Mr. Rumsfeld has since claimed otherwise, but that is not supported by the documents, which can be viewed online at George Washington University’s National Security Archive.) Within a year of his visit, the American mission was accomplished: Iraq and the United States resumed diplomatic relations for the first time since Iraq had severed them in 1967 in protest of American backing of Israel in the Six-Day War.

In his speech last week, Mr. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill: Appeasing tyrants is “a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.” He can quote Churchill all he wants, but if he wants to self-righteously use that argument to smear others, the record shows that Mr. Rumsfeld cozied up to the crocodile of Baghdad as smarmily as anyone. To borrow the defense secretary’s own formulation, he suffers from moral confusion about Saddam.

Rami G. Khouri: The president's speech Thursday night was most compelling for its capacity to say nothing new—nothing that he has not said repeatedly in the past three years—while adding new layers of misinterpretation and diversionary confusion that he sells to the American public on the basis of emotionalism, patriotism and nostalgia. His main thesis sums up his shameful misanalysis: "The war we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.''

Really? The decisive ideological struggle of the 21st Century is launched by a small band of criminal deviants like Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri from caves in Afghanistan, who play on the lost minds and restless psyches of young, mainly Arab and Pakistani men already angered by conditions in their societies? The terror problem is one that some good quality American high school guidance counselors could probably diagnose accurately, if given a chance to do so without the distorting dictates of domestic politics.

I can think of a lot more credible candidates for this century's decisive ideological struggle, including fighting poverty, expanding equitable global trading patterns, promoting good governance and the rule of law around the world, giving ordinary people everywhere a sense of being treated with dignity and justice, safeguarding the global environment and a few others.

Bush is wrong about the real threat from terror and has been wrong since he first had to deal with the impact of 9/11: It is neither a global ideological movement, nor does it plan to take the battle to the streets of Peoria and Memphis. His idea that different sorts of Islamic extremism and militancy form "a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology'' is also a gross exaggeration and simplification, but one that fits comfortably into the neo-conservative-driven Republican White House view of the world (and their electoral imperative in the United States).

New York Times: In the first of a series of speeches on Iraq last week President Bush described what he said would be the "absolutely disastrous" consequences if the United States withdrew its troops before "Iraq can defend itself": "We would be handing Iraq over to our own worst enemies," he said, "Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran and al-Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban."

The president is right that a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq, or one that ignored conditions on the ground, could lead to a far worse situation than now prevails there. But what's striking is Mr. Bush's failure to acknowledge that the scenario he describes already substantially exists. In large parts of Iraq, Sunni extremists and Iranian-backed militias hold more sway than the government, and al-Qaeda cells continue to operate. The government itself has been penetrated by some of those forces, which employ its ministries and police units to wage sectarian war.

In short, the situation in Iraq is a lot more complicated and ambiguous than what Americans are hearing described by the Bush administration in this electoral season. While that is predictable given this administration's record of distorting and politicizing its accounts of the war, it's particularly unfortunate now. Defending U.S. interests in Iraq in the coming months and avoiding the catastrophe Mr. Bush warns of are going to require navigating a political and military minefield in which there are no clear lines between friends and enemies or between democracy and totalitarianism.

Joshua Holland: "Seriousness" has become the word of the day for the Islamophobic set.

According to some of our more serious hawks, anyone who doesn't buy that the liberal democracies of the West are engaged in a death-match with hordes of dusky Muslim fanatics is "unserious" about America's security and can't be trusted.

It's the latest in a series of attempts to forestall any meaningful discussion of the causes of violent Islamist ideologies, much less how the United States should respond to them. It locks us into the global "war on terror."

Unfortunately, all too many otherwise sane people seem to accept the terms.

But it's hard to imagine anything more profoundly unserious than taking a dozen complex conflicts that originated in a dozen countries, stripping them of all historical and political context and lumping them together in an amorphous blob called the "Clash of Civilizations." But that's exactly what we're talking about.

Helen Thomas: The war and the U.S. occupation of Iraq certainly are going to be the crowning issues in the Nov. 7 mid-term elections.

That's why it's time for the Democratic candidates to call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

We don't need more phony timetables to prolong the agony. We need a quick exit from a bad show.

It's distressing that The Washington Post has found that most Democrats in competitive congressional races are resisting pressure to call for a speedy pullout. Those spineless Democrats are apparently frightened by the prospect that the Bush administration would use the "cut-and-run" fear card against them.

Where is the opposition in the opposition party?

Elliott Denniston: So why is it that even a minority of voters still approve of President Bush? (Many fewer "approve of" Congress.) Are they single-issue voters so obsessed with abortion or gun control, for example, that they dismiss all the rest of the government's vast work as irrelevant?

Are they so focused on the war that their whole political outlook is, "It would be unpatriotic to say that our troops cannot bring stability to Iraq; therefore, they must stay there indefinitely?"

Or are they Republicans because they have always been Republicans, so they simply cannot say, "My vote was a mistake?" Or, perhaps most dangerously, does their information come solely from biased and often erroneous sources such as FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh?

They resemble an audience that keeps watching a mediocre magician's act, mesmerized long after the mechanics of the sleight-of-hand have been revealed. They need to realize that it's not magic; it's fraud.

David Rossie: Recently, the Marine Corps announced that it is going to begin recalling 2,500 inactive reservists for duty in Iraq. A colleague, who has already completed tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and is not thrilled about having to make yet another try at bringing democracy to the Middle East, said he went on the Corps Web site and discovered the call-up could be more extensive than it was described in the mainstream media. Web site information indicated that the 2,500 would be an initial call-up and there could be more.

That's great. Men and women who have already put their lives on the line two or more times are going to be asked to do it again, because crazy Don Rumsfeld ignored real military men such as Marine General Anthony Zinni and Army General Eric Shinseki when they warned him he was going into Iraq with too few soldiers and too little equipment.

Four years later and the troops continue to pay the price of that blunder, with no end in sight and little or nothing they can do about it. Unless they revive Nancy Reagan's solution to the drug problem: Just say no!

Albor Ruiz: It is unfortunate that 38 young New Yorkers have already been killed in the Iraq war.

And now that, in full electoral mode, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are again trying to put the blindfold back over the eyes of Americans, only God knows how many more will be lost.

That is why a three-part series by Eva Sanchis, a reporter for the Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa, published last month, is so important.

Sanchis shines a powerful light on the disproportionate contribution in blood and guts of immigrant and minority communities to this senseless war. According to her second article, dated Aug. 29, of the 38 New Yorkers killed, 21 were Hispanic, eight black, four Asian and five white.

"The impact of the war on minority communities has been brutal," Sanchis said. The figures "confirm that minorities are making a greater sacrifice."

A large number of the dead are immigrants, although the rabid anti-immigration crowd conveniently ignores this fact. Directly related to this tragic toll are Sanchis' findings about how intense recruitment efforts are in minority communities.

"An analysis of the location of the Armed Forces' 26 recruitment centers in the city, listed in their Web page, show that most are located in the poorest neighborhoods."

Gregory Djerejian: Regardless, and analyses of political leader's rhetorical tactics aside, what is quite clear is that as election season kicks into gear, Bush has instructed his two old attack dogs (Rumsfeld and Cheney) to go out, dish some dirt, and play hardball. But this is not devilishly effective Lee Atwater style fare, delivered with calculated punch and resulting in tangible electoral advantage. Rather, it smells like damaged goods, smacks of desperation, and is nakedly divisive fare despite disingenuously masquerading as a call for unity.

Indeed, as the failure of the Bush Administration's war strategy becomes more and more evident to all but the most hardened denialists, as their desperation and incompetence becomes more evident to the American public, as their Middle East policy increasingly lies in tatters, and as they continue to erroneously attempt to conjoin things like the London terror plot with Iraq, without admitting the need for urgent re-appraisal of our overall strategy in the war on terror (they are incapable and/or too exhausted to make significant course corrections)--the rhetoric is beginning to border on dangerously reckless, and I trust the American people to reject this growing demagogy, and vote the Democrats in in November (at least in the House). I take no particular joy in this, as I think the Democrats have distinguished themselves by what I've called their ferocious lameness too often, but I cannot support a party that continues to allow a man this discredited a platform to propagate such gross dissembling, not to mention continues to allow him to prosecute a war where he has failed so dismally to achieve our nation's most basic strategic objectives.

To be sure, Bush will doubtless give a more centrist, 'statesmanlike' speech in the next days. But let us not be fooled. Bush has proven an incompetent, and he has two reckless, even dangerous men advising him in Rumsfeld and Cheney who, rather than disappearing into the early retirement both so richly deserve, are instead being given free rein to engage in the quite disgusting revisionism, cheap historical hyperbole, and demagoguery we've witnessed with the American Legion speech. Bush supports them in this, and so is totally complicit. Enough is enough. The only message these arrogant, discredited men will understand is a blistering one of rejection sent through the ballot-box. Let's try to give it to them, big time, as they say.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Farmington, MO - The family of a Farmington soldier was counting down the days, waiting for their loved one to come home from Iraq. But just a week before he was scheduled to return, Army Staff Sgt. Michael Deason was killed in Iraq.

The 28-year-old was serving in Iraq when both his children were born. September 7th was supposed to be the day he could hug and kiss them once again. His father, David Deason II, said, "I was overjoyed with happiness thinking I get to see my son back home well and alive." Michael was finishing his second tour in Iraq and training his replacements. But this past Wednesday, he was killed when an armor piercing grenade hit his convoy.

DoD Casualty Release

David J. Almazan, 27, of Van Nuys; sergeant, Army. Almazan was killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Hit, Iraq, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany.

Darry Benson, 46, of Winterville, N.C.; sergeant, Army National Guard. Benson died Aug. 27 of a noncombat-related cause at Camp Virginia, Kuwait. Serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was assigned to the 730th Quartermaster Battalion in Ahoskie, N.C. Donald E. Champlin, 28, of Natchitoches, La.; lance corporal, Marine Corps. Champlin died Monday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany of injuries suffered the day before when a roadside bomb exploded near him while he was on foot patrol in Iraq's Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Kenneth M. Cross, 21, of Superior, Wis.; specialist, Army. Cross was one of two soldiers killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Stryker vehicle and they were attacked with small-arms fire in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) at Ft. Lewis, Wash. Daniel G. Dolan, 19, of Roy, Utah; private first class, Army. Dolan was one of two soldiers killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Stryker vehicle and they were attacked with small-arms fire in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) at Ft. Lewis, Wash. Jeffrey J. Hansen, 31, of Cairo, Neb.; staff sergeant, Army National Guard. Hansen died Aug. 27 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany of injuries suffered Aug. 21 when the Humvee he was riding in with three other soldiers overturned and he was trapped inside the vehicle when it plunged into a canal in Balad, Iraq, north of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 167th Cavalry Regiment in Lincoln, Neb. Joshua R. Hanson, 27, of Dent, Minn.; sergeant, Army National Guard. Hanson was killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Khalidiya, Iraq, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry, Army National Guard in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Seth A. Hildreth, 26, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; specialist, Army. Hildreth was killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. Moises Jazmin, 25, of Providence, R.I.; sergeant, Army. Jazmin was among four soldiers killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Bradley fighting vehicle in Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. Joshua D. Jones, 24, of Pomeroy, Ohio; specialist, Army. Jones was killed Aug. 27 when his Humvee was attacked with small-arms fire in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. Qixing Lee, 20, of Minneapolis; specialist, Army. Lee was among four soldiers killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Bradley fighting vehicle in Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. Shaun A. Novak, 21, of Two Rivers, Wis.; specialist, Army. Novak was among four soldiers killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Bradley fighting vehicle in Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. Matthew E. Schneider, 23, of Gorham, N.H.; specialist, Army. Schneider died of an apparent heart attack Monday in his bunk in Ramadi, Iraq, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 141st Signal Battalion, 1st Armored Division in Wiesbaden, Germany. Tristan C. Smith, 23, of Bryn Athyn, Pa.; specialist, Army. Smith was among four soldiers killed Aug. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Bradley fighting vehicle in Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. Christopher T. Warndorf, 21, of Burlington, Ky.; corporal, Marine Corps. Warndorf was killed Tuesday when a suicide car bomber drove through the gates at his base in Iraq's Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad, and detonated a homemade bomb. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. David G. Weimortz, 28, of Irmo, S.C.; corporal, Marine Corps. Weimortz was killed Aug. 26 when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Iraq's Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Colin J. Wolfe, 18, of Manassas, Va.; private first class, Marine Corps. Wolfe was killed Wednesday while riding in the back of a truck when it struck a roadside bomb that detonated in Iraq's Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Edgardo Zayas, 29, of Dorchester, Mass.; specialist, Army. Zayas was killed Aug. 26 while on foot patrol in Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded near him. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Marine Cpl. Jordan C. Pierson, 21, of Milford, Conn., was killed Aug. 25 in Anbar combat.

On Friday, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Cliff Golla -- the only son of Polish immigrants -- died near Habbaniyah in central Iraq in a roadside bombing. He was serving a second tour in Iraq, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, Lima Company, 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune.

Sgt. Jeffrey S. Brown came home to Trinity Center, Calif., on leave over the Fourth of July, right as his six-year commitment to the Army expired. But after a couple of weeks, he headed off to finish his third tour of duty in Iraq. Military service for Brown, a crew chief on a UH-60 Black Hawk air ambulance helicopter, had been extended through the stop-loss program, an unpopular Pentagon practice of holding on to personnel involuntarily — a move that many service members and their families see as a "backdoor draft."

Brown's mother and father are no exception. Their son was one of two soldiers killed Aug. 8 when their helicopter, assigned to the 82nd Medical Company at Ft. Riley, Kan., crashed into a lake in Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The Army said mechanical failure probably was responsible for the crash, which occurred on a routine flight.


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