Wednesday, September 13, 2006

WAR NEWS FOR WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2006 Baghdad Iraqi police say they have found in the space of one day 60 bodies of people bound, tortured and shot in the capital, Baghdad. They were found all over the city, from Sunni areas in the west to Shia districts in the east - but most were found in largely Sunni west Baghdad. In the capital, a car bomb killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 62 after it detonated in a large square used mostly as a parking lot near the main headquarters of Baghdad's traffic police department, police said. At least two of the dead were traffic police officers. A car bomb targeting police guards at an electricity substation in the Zayouna district of eastern Baghdad killed eight people and wounded 19. A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb which blasted his vehicle late on Tuesday south of Baghdad. Four people were wounded, including a traffic policeman, when two mortar rounds landed in central Baghdad near the Muthana military base. Two mortar shells landed on al-Rashad police station in southeastern Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding two others. Two policemen were killed when two mortar rounds landed near their station in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Mashtal. Three others were injured. Anbar Province The US military announced the death of an American soldier wounded by "enemy action" in Anbar province Fallujah In the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, two pedestrians were killed and two others injured, apparently in the crossfire between U.S. troops and unidentified gunmen in the city's main market. Khan Bani Saad Gunmen attacked overnight a Shi'ite mosque in Khan Bani Saad, a town south of Baquba, killing seven and wounding others. It said six mortar rounds landed on the mosque and destroyed it. A resident reported hearing clashes overnight. Samawa Four people were wounded when two mortar rounds landed in two different districts in the southern city of Samawa on Tuesday night. Suwayra Police retrieved the bodies of four people, including a woman, from the Tigris river in the town of Suwayra. Stryker Brigade welcomed: Residents of the city’s most virulent Shiite stronghold gave soldiers a heated and hostile reception Sunday as the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team rolled into the eastern Baghdad slum of Sadr City for the first time. Overall, Sunday’s mission, which was part of a larger operation to clear Baghdad of sectarian violence, was free of major incidents. One company was shot at during an afternoon patrol, though the bullet widely missed its mark. Many soldiers, though, were barraged with angry rhetoric and crude gestures while rocks pinged off their heavily armored vehicles. Local policemen joined the Alaska-based soldiers for patrols throughout the day. On some patrols, soldiers said, the policemen were hesitant to get out of their trucks. On some of the others, the policemen carefully distanced themselves from the American soldiers, melting effortlessly into the crowd. Returnees: According to Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration, 170,000 people were displaced in the months following the Samarra incident. However, like the Wissam family, the ministry said on Sunday that some 40,000 Iraqis have returned in the past month because security is improving. Nearly three months have passed since Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office and outlined his reconciliation plan to end sectarian violence in the country. The plan's main objective is to decrease violence in the country by offering political participation to sectarian militant groups. "The advantage that the reconciliation plan is offering locals is to make them feel more secure to return to their homes and in the mean time show that security is improving countrywide, and that soon sectarian violence will be a thing of the past," said Mehdi al-Haydari, spokesperson for the Ministry of Migration and Displacement. However, analysts believe that the security situation has not really improved. Violent deaths have diminished marginally over the past couple of months. On Friday, the Iraqi Health Ministry announced that 1,536 people had been killed violently in August in Baghdad alone, compared to around 2,000 in July. "People are returning to their homes but with the fear that at any time they can be forced to flee again and this shows clearly that this returning is just a fantasy because democracy is still not present and violence continues affecting all of them psychologically," said Khalid Abdel Aziz, professor at the Political Science College of Baghdad University. A blossoming affair: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has offered Iraq full support in stabilising the security situation in the country. He made the remarks in Tehran after talks with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Speaking to reporters after their meeting, Mr Ahmadinejad said "Iraq's security is Iran's security". Mr Maliki is making his first official visit to Iran since he took office in May. "Iran supports the Iraqi government that has been created by the Iraqi people's votes, and strengthening a united and independent Iraq is in the interest of all the region", Mr Ahmadinejad said. No much love elsewhere: In a country where intermarriage was long considered the glue that held a fragile multi-ethnic society together, the romantic segregation of Sunnis and Shiites is more than just a reflection of the ever more hate-filled chasm between the two groups. It is also a grim foreboding of the future. "Everyone is just taking sides to prepare for a big civil war," said Adnan Abdul Kareem Enad, manager of Sot al-Jamayaa, a radio station that has aired tales of star-crossed Sunni and Shiite lovers. "You can see the polarization of Iraq in the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in marriage and dating." The new taboo on Sunni-Shiite romances is only one of many impediments to love in this war-ravaged country. Religious authorities have forbidden casual dating. Women fearful of the bloodshed have become prisoners in their own homes. Couples have shunned posh restaurants once filled with lovebirds because they fear suicide bombers or kidnappers. "This is the age of cellphone love," said Omar al-Azzawi, 33, an Internet cafe owner who has a Sunni father and a Shiite mother. "If I marry someone, we'll have to get married on the phone. We'll probably have to make love on the phone, too." The Federalism Debate September 11: The main Sunni Arab political bloc boycotted parliament Sunday to protest legislation supported by Shiite Muslims and Kurds that would carve Iraq into a federation of three autonomous states. The bill would create a predominantly Shiite region in the south of Iraq much like the largely independent zone currently controlled by the Kurds in the north. Sunnis vigorously oppose the plan, which would leave them with the center of the country, a vast desert devoid of the oil reserves of the other regions. The new Iraqi constitution, approved by voters last fall, includes a provision allowing for the creation of autonomous regions. Sunnis reluctantly supported the charter with the understanding that the issue of federalism would be reexamined by parliament. Sunni members of parliament say they now feel betrayed that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite political party, is pushing legislation that would create the first steps toward federalism. September 12: Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, remains adamantly opposed to a controversial plan to partition Iraq into a federation of three largely independent regions, a top Sadr aide said Monday. "Iraq must not be divided," said Riyadh Nouri, the aide to Sadr, who has opposed the U.S. presence in Iraq. Sadr's objection to the plan remains steadfast despite a meeting Sunday night in Najaf between Sadr and his intermittent rival Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the prominent Shiite political party that is leading the push for federalism. The dispute between two of the most influential Shiite politicians in Iraq highlights the bitter divisions between various parties in the country's fragile ruling coalition. The rift also underscores the divisive nature of the federalism issue, which has pitted Sunni Arabs against some Shiites and Kurds. September 13: The speaker of the Iraqi parliament said Tuesday that a controversial plan to partition the country into three autonomous regions is politically dead. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said in an interview that legislation to implement a concept known as federalism, which threatened to collapse the country's fragile multi-sect government, would likely be postponed indefinitely after a meeting of political leaders on Wednesday. The federalism plan would create a Shiite region in southern Iraq much like the autonomous zone in the north controlled by the Kurds. Sunnis have generally opposed the plan, on grounds that it would leave them only with vast swaths of desert in the country's middle, devoid of the oil reserves in the other regions. The constitution that Iraq adopted last fall allows for a form of federalism. Sunni parties supported the charter only reluctantly and joined the current government on condition of a resumption of federalism discussions, in which they hoped to kill the concept. "If federalism is to be applied now, it will lead to the secession of the south and the establishment of an Islamist extremist state in the center of the country," said Mashhadani, an outspoken Sunni Arab who is the third-ranking official in the government. "It is not possible to venture or to start the application of federalism now." "Look, Iraqi blood is more important than federalism," he said. When asked to predict the likely outcome of Wednesday's meeting of political leaders, he said: "We could agree on the principle and then postpone the topic for four years." Commentary Iraq for Sale: Robert Greenwald's latest film, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (coming soon to a theater -- and a living room -- near you) is a devastating expose of how the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress have allowed private corporations free rein in Iraq, leading to billions of dollars in profits at the expense of American troops, American taxpayers, and the people of Iraq. Along with being a resounding condemnation of these war profiteers and their political enablers, the hits-you-in-the-gut documentary also highlights their shocking incompetence -- and makes a mockery of the GOP's "we can keep you safer" 2006 framing. How exactly, the Democrats should ask, does privatizing not just the rebuilding of Iraq but many vital operations such as training Iraqi police, providing security for U.S. officials, and interrogating prisoners protect us -- and our troops? The Republicans have turned Iraq into a corporate welfare gravy train, funneling billions to corporations that think nothing of cutting corners by sending their own employees onto the mean streets of Iraq without properly armored vehicles or supplying contaminated water to U.S. soldiers or charging $45 for a six-pack of soda -- all while leaving the people of Iraq dealing with wide-scale food, gasoline, and electrical shortages. Robert Dreyfuss: For President Bush, the way to stop terrorism is to wage a war. But isolated terrorists who conspire in the suburbs of London and coordinate their attacks on jihadist Web sites can't be defeated by armies -- they can only be stopped by a combination of patient, old-fashioned police work and good intelligence. Indeed, the success of the British police and Scotland Yard in halting the recent threat in London represents a textbook example of how terrorists can be thwarted. But the president shows no sign that he learned the lesson of the London bust. "Some people say, 'Well, this may be a law-enforcement matter,' " Bush said after the London plot was revealed. "No -- these are people that are politically driven. . . . They have a backward view of the world." To combat that worldview, Bush has relied almost exclusively on the military. Since 2001, the administration has spent $430 billion on what he calls the "global war on terrorism" -- and nearly ninety cents of every dollar have gone to the Defense Department. John Brennan, the former counterterrorism director, says that the military is singularly unsuitable to combat the new organizational model that is emerging to replace Al Qaeda. "It's not a Terrorist International that we're fighting," he says. "But the Department of Defense and others insist very strongly on calling it a war, because that allows the Pentagon to prosecute the military dimension of the conflict. It fits their global strategy." Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Marine colonel who served as Colin Powell's deputy at the State Department, also ridicules the president's notion that the enemy is a global force made up of "Islamic fascists" who can be defeated as the Nazis were by military force. "I don't think there's a soul in the administration, except for Vice President Dick Cheney, who believes that crap about 'Islamofascism,' " he says. Digby: This rhetoric of epic struggle that rivals WWII and The Cold War serves the simple political purpose of rallying the conservative base so that the Republicans can maintain power. It is guided by the deep psychological need for conservative baby boomers to find some meaning in their pathetic lives and a cynical attempt to co-opt some sunny, simple vision of the Greatest Generation --- who would be the last people to claim the depression and the wars of their lifetimes were either sunny or simple. The younger conservative generation sees it as a cynical political game, which it is. The entire campaign is built on a Disneyfied version of WWII and boomer childhood nightmare cartoons of The Cold War. They trying to squeeze all the boogeymen of the 20th century into Osama bin Laden's turban in the hope that they can cop a little bit of that Hollywood heroism themselves. (After all, their hero Ronald Reagan didn't actually fight in any real war either --- he just remembered the movies he was in and thought he had.) It is deeply, deeply unserious. Tom Englehardt: While Americans are planning to remember 9/11 with four vast towers and a huge, extremely costly memorial sunk into Manhattan's Ground Zero, Baghdadis have been thinking a bit more practically. They are putting scarce funds into constructing two new branch morgues (with refrigeration units) in the capital for what's now most plentiful in their country: dead bodies. They plan to raise the city's morgue capacity to 250 bodies a day. If fully used, that would be about 7,500 bodies a month. Think of it as a hedge against ever more probable futures. While the various New York memorial constructions can't get off (or into) the ground, due to disputes and cost estimate overruns, what could be thought of as the real American memorial to Ground Zero is going up in the very heart of Baghdad; and unlike the prospective structures in Manhattan or seemingly just about any other construction project in Iraq, it's on schedule. According to Paul McGeough, the $787 million "embassy," a 21-building, heavily fortified complex (not reliant on the capital's hopeless electricity or water systems) will pack significant bang for the bucks -- its own built-in surface-to-air missile emplacements as well as Starbucks and Krispy Kreme outlets, a beauty parlor, a swimming pool, and a sports center. As essentially a "suburb of Washington," with a predicted modest staff of 3,500, it is a project that says, with all the hubris the Bush administration can muster: We're not leaving. Never. Along with civil war, the ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods, the still-strengthening insurgency, and the security situation from hell, Iraqis are also experiencing soaring inflation, possibly reaching 70% this year (which would more than double last year's 32% rise); stagnant salaries (where they even exist); an "inert" banking system; gas and electricity prices up in a year by 270%; massive corruption ("An audit sponsored by the United Nations last week found hundreds of millions of dollars of Iraq's oil revenue had been wrongly tallied last year or had gone missing altogether"); lack of adequate electricity or potable water supplies; tenaciously high unemployment, ranging -- depending upon the estimate -- from 15-50/60% (the recent Pentagon report to Congress offers Iraqi government figures of 18% unemployment and 34% underemployment); acute shortages of gasoline, kerosene, and cooking gas in the country with the planet's third largest oil reserves, forcing the Iraqi government to devote $800 million in scarce funds to importing refined oil products from neighboring countries and making endless gas lines and overnight waits the essence of normal life ("Filling up now requires several days' pay, monastic patience or both…"); an oil industry, already ragged at the time of the invasion, which has since gone steadily downhill (its three main oil refineries are now functioning at half-capacity and processing only half the number of barrels of oil as before the invasion, while the biggest refinery in Baiji sometimes operates at as little as 7.5% of capacity); government gas subsidies severely cut (at the urging of the International Monetary Fund); malnutrition on the rise and, according to that Pentagon report to Congress, 25.9% of Iraqi children are stunted in their growth. In other words, economically speaking, Iraq has essentially been deconstructed. H.D.S. Greenway: ``Today Iraq has the most progressive constitution and the strongest democratic mandate in the entire Arab world," I heard Vice President Dick Cheney say on National Public Radio. ``Iraq 's politicians are steady and courageous, and the citizens, police, and soldiers have stepped forward as active participants of the new democracy." But the battle for Baghdad rages with little or no security in too much of the country, and the progressive constitution's writ runs little further than the green zone. Iraq's politicians are looking after their own interests, or the interests of their tribe, ethnic group or religious sect. The police are riddled with death squads, and Iraqi soldiers are incapable of halting the downward slide. In the Kurdish north, the Iraqi flag does not fly. There is virtually no chance now of Iraq emerging as a bastion of Western-style democracy, a light unto others in the Arab world. The notion pushed by neo-conservatives never made any sense in the first place, given the history and make up of Iraq's population and the country's lack of the necessary institutions. The idea of forcing democracy on an Arab land by invading armies and occupation was conceived by those who either knew nothing about Iraq or didn't care to. The best that can be hoped for is some compromises that will halt Iraq's increasingly vicious civil war -- a civil war that the Bush administration has as much trouble admitting the existence of as it once had admitting that there was an insurgency. Geov Parrish: As the parliament of an Iraqi government confined to the Green Zone and irrelevant in the rest of the country reconvened, its Sunni speaker warned that the country of Iraq has only three or four months to avoid complete collapse. Meanwhile, the fundamentalist Shiite party with the largest number of parliamentary seats unveiled a bill that would codify the steps for breaking the country into three semi-independent states -– a step certain to exacerbate all-out civil war. As with Afghanistan, Bush and company have pissed off (and raped, tortured, and especially killed) the natives, committed too few soldiers to keep the peace, completely abandoned investment in reconstruction and civil society (thus empowering Iraqi civil society's only surviving institutions, the fundamentalist clerics), and more generally assumed that since they couldn't smell the stink of their own shit, there must not be any. Any and all of this could have been and was predicted by anyone who knew anything about Middle East societies, or about how history has tended to work, both in the recent past and for millennia. Bush and his entourage are the last people who should be invoking history. Instead, for generations to come, history will invoke them. It will not be Chamberlain who the politicians of 2070 use to deride their opponents. It will be George W. Bush.


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