Wednesday, October 11, 2006


"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." –Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on looting in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, adding "stuff happens," April 11, 2003

Today's Untidiness


In the mainly Sunni Seleikh neighborhood of northern Baghdad, a suicide car bomber slammed into an Iraqi army checkpoint, killing two Iraqi soldiers and wounding seven.

Two roadside bombs targeting a police patrol exploded in quick succession in Ghadeer district, eastern Baghdad, wounding eight people, including three policemen.

A mortar round fired by militiamen caused a fire at an ammunition dump inside a U.S. military base in southern Baghdad, which caused a series of explosions that rocked the capital on Tuesday night. No casualties were reported.

Two car bombs detonated almost simultaneously near the Ministry of Labour in the northeast of Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding 12 more.

A booby-trapped vehicle exploded in the southeast of the city, killing two bystanders and wounding 22 people, including eight policemen.

A car bombing in the primarily Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah in north Baghdad killed four persons and wounded nine.

Gunmen shot and killed a policeman in the capital.


The body of a shooting victim was found in Baqouba.


Gunmen killed a policeman in front of his house in the western city of Falluja.


Brigadier Qais al-Mamouri, chief of Babil police, escaped an assassination attempt when his convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in Iskandariya. His driver and two of his bodyguards were wounded in the attack.


The bodies of two shooting victims were found in Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad.


A policeman was shot and killed in the northern city of Kirkuk, while a civilian died in a roadside bombing on a highway in the north.


The bodies of five men bound and blindfolded with multiple gunshot wounds, bearing signs of torture, were separately found in central Kut. Three of the bodies had been retrieved from the Tigris river.

The corpses of seven people were turned in to the morgue in the southern city of Kut, including at least three apparent victims of sectarian death squads that were fished out of the Tigris in Suwayrah, where bodies dumped in the capital often surface. They were shot, and had their hands bound. (The three taken from the Tigris may be the same victims mentioned in the entry above. Or maybe not. And the other dead people in this entry may or may not include the two shooting victims left over in the entry above. So these two entries could mark the deaths of seven, nine, or twelve people, depending on who got the reports and when. The only thing I’m sure of is that for every death reported in this blog there’s at least one more that never made the wire services. At least. -m)

A roadside booby-trap exploded in the southern city of Kut targeting a US patrol, but wounding three bystanders.

Near Kut

A peasant woman died when a bomb exploded while she was inside a farm just 10 km southeast of Kut.


In Rashid, a town about 25 kilometers south of the capital, a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol, killing two officers and wounding three others.

One insurgent and two policemen were killed and four people were wounded following clashes that erupted after gunmen attacked a police station in the small town of Rasheed.


Gunmen assassinated Sheikh Raad Mutar Saleh, a leader of the tiny sect of Sabeans, sometimes known as Mandeans, a small pre-Muslim Gnostic group which is thought to have links to Judaism and early Christianity. Muta Saleh was shot dead in Suweira, 65km southeast of Baghdad in the Tigris river valley.

This story is from a place where the moles are getting whacked. All the entries above it are from places where they aren’t: The Amariya neighborhood has won a reputation as the most fearsome quarter of the capital, with car bombs, snipers and frequent clashes between U.S. forces and hardened Sunni Arab fighters. But over the last few weeks, U.S. officials and Iraqi residents say, life has improved markedly in the notorious district, thanks to an American-led effort to improve security and services.

On a tour of the largely Sunni Arab district with U.S. soldiers Tuesday, a day on which at least 60 mutilated bodies were found elsewhere in Baghdad and violence left an additional 23 dead across Iraq, schoolchildren walked home gingerly along streets recently cleared of rotting garbage mounds. Young men emerged from newly reopened shops on main thoroughfares. Women shopped for vegetables at outdoor produce stands. "Electricity is a problem, jobs are a problem, there's no gas, but thank God," said one woman as she gestured toward a group of U.S. soldiers, "security has gotten better." The improvement in Amariya has come at a price, however. Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, the 4th Infantry Division squadron commander in charge, acknowledged in an interview that he had to move troops from nearby neighborhoods under his command to bolster security in Amariya, risking rising peril in those district.

The real death toll?: A controversial new study contends nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war, suggesting a far higher death toll than other estimates.

The timing of the survey's release, just a few weeks before the U.S. congressional elections, led one expert to call it "politics."

In the new study, researchers attempt to calculate how many more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. Their conclusion, based on interviews of households and not a body count, is that about 600,000 died from violence, mostly gunfire. They also found a small increase in deaths from other causes like heart disease and cancer.

"Deaths are occurring in Iraq now at a rate more than three times that from before the invasion of March 2003," Dr. Gilbert Burnham, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The study by Burnham, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and others is to be published Thursday on the Web site of The Lancet, a medical journal.

An accurate count of Iraqi deaths has been difficult to obtain, but one respected group puts its rough estimate at closer to 50,000. And at least one expert was skeptical of the new findings.

"They're almost certainly way too high," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. He criticized the way the estimate was derived and noted that the results were released shortly before the Nov. 7 election.

Juan Cole’s analysis of the above report: I follow the violence in Iraq carefully and daily, and I find the results plausible. First of all, Iraqi Muslims don't believe in embalming or open casket funerals days later. They believe that the body should be buried by sunset the day of death, in a plain wooden box. So there is no reason to expect them to take the body to the morgue. Although there are benefits to registering with the government for a death certificate, there are also disadvantages. Many families who have had someone killed believe that the government or the Americans were involved, and will have wanted to avoid drawing further attention to themselves by filling out state forms and giving their address. Personally, I believe very large numbers of Iraqi families quietly bury their dead without telling the government of all people anything about it. Another large number of those killed is dumped in the Tigris river by their killers. A fisherman on the Tigris looking for lunch recently caught the corpse of a woman. The only remarkable thing about it is that he let it be known to the newspapers. I'm sure the Tigris fishermen throw back unwanted corpses every day. Not to mention that for substantial periods of time since 2003 it has been dangerous in about half the country just to move around, much less to move around with dead bodies. There is heavy fighting almost every day at Ramadi in al-Anbar province, among guerrillas, townspeople, tribes, Marines and Iraqi police and army. We almost never get a report of these skirmishes and we almost never are told about Iraqi casualties in Ramadi. Does 1 person a day die there of political violence? Is it more like 4? 10? What about Samarra? Tikrit? No one is saying. Since they aren't, on what basis do we say that the Lancet study is impossible? There are about 90 major towns and cities in Iraq. If we subtract Baghdad, where about 100 a day die, that still leaves 89. If an average of 4 or so are killed in each of those 89, then the study's results are correct. Of course, 4 is an average. Cities in areas dominated by the guerrilla movement will have more than 4 killed daily, sleepy Kurdish towns will have no one killed. If 470 were dying every day, what would that look like? That is .0017 percent of the population each day. West Baghdad is roughly 10% of the Iraqi population. It is certainly generating 47 dead a day. Same for Sadr City, same proportions. So to argue against the study you have to assume that Baquba, Hilla, Kirkuk, Kut, Amara, Samarra, etc., are not producing deaths at the same rate as the two halves of Baghad. But it is perfectly plausible that rough places like Kut and Amara, with their displaced Marsh Arab populations, are keeping up their end. Four dead a day in Kut or Amara at the hands of militiamen or politicized tribesmen? Is that really hard to believe? Have you been reading this column the last three years?

(This website routinely reports more Iraqi deaths per day than Professor Cole, not to in any way disparage his research skills – that’s not the main thrust of his work but it is of ours. The point is that anyone relying on Western wire services for this sort of reporting is going to seriously underestimate the true death toll. Even the best journalists are still severely circumscribed in their ability to get out and see what’s going on. I’ve long felt this site only gets about a half to a quarter of the true casualty count, though admittedly that’s just a guess. –m)

Fear in Baquba: Government offices and schools were nearly entirely empty in Baqouba, 60 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, with people staying away after leaflets signed by a previously unknown insurgent group warned of retaliatory attacks on government offices if a local army commander was not relieved of duty.

The group, Mujahdeen of Diyala, claimed the commander was responsible for attacks on Sunni Arabs in the province. The leaflets, dated Oct. 6, gave Wednesday as the deadline for his removal.

Institutionalized standoff: A bombing at a Baghdad bakery killed at least 11 people Tuesday as the Iraqi government put forward a new idea to help stop sectarian violence: ensuring security checkpoints in the capital have an equal number of Shiite and Sunni troops.

The new effort reflects the deep mistrust between Shiites and Sunnis even within the security forces - effectively putting them together to keep watch on each other. Each side accuses the other of backing militias, and Sunnis in particular say the Shiite-dominated police force often allows Shiite militias to carry out kidnappings and murders.

Al-Maliki's overall plan calls for the creation of local Shiite-Sunni committees that will oversee policing in each district of Baghdad, reporting back to a Central Committee for Peace and Security to coordinate with the security forces and the prime minister.

The six-month wave of Sunni-Shiite killings has fueled the flight of Iraqis from their homes.

Iraq's Immigration Minister Abdul-Samad Sultan said more than 300,000 Iraqis have been displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Federalism law: Iraq's parliament on Wednesday approved a law that sets out the mechanics of forming federal regions, an issue Sunni minority leaders fear might tear the country apart in sectarian civil war.

The law, backed by some Shi'ite majority leaders who have been keen to set up a big, autonomous region in their oil-rich south, was passed in a session boycotted by the Accordance Front, the largest political bloc of the Sunni minority.

Hostility between rival communities over federalism -- one of post-war Iraq's most sensitive issues -- is threatening the ability of the four-month-old national unity government to rein in mounting sectarian and ethnic violence.

Legislators loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the smaller Shi'ite Fadhila Party stayed away from Wednesday's vote, showing Shi'ite support for federalism is not unanimous.

How Is It This Administration Has Any Credibility On Anything Anymore?

Way to fight the Global Clash Of Civilizations Millennium War ™: Five years after Arab terrorists attacked the United States, only 33 FBI agents have even a limited proficiency in Arabic, and none of them work in the sections of the bureau that coordinate investigations of international terrorism, according to new FBI statistics.

Counting agents who know only a handful of Arabic words -- including those who scored zero on a standard proficiency test -- just 1 percent of the FBI's 12,000 agents have any familiarity with the language, the statistics show.

In a recent deposition filed in an employee lawsuit, a senior FBI official testified that the bureau's two International Terrorism Operations Sections (ITOS) do not require any agents to know Arabic, even though the sections coordinate all foreign terrorism investigations. Only four agents in ITOS have any familiarity with Arabic, and none of them are ranked above elementary proficiency, documents show.

US Military News

New slogan: The Army isn't one anymore; it's strong.

Strength is the theme of the new U.S. Army campaign breaking Nov. 9 to replace the "Army of One" push. "There's strong, and then there's Army strong," says a video from McCann Worldgroup explaining the new theme. "The strength to do good today. The strength to do well tomorrow. There is nothing on this green earth that is stronger than the U.S. Army." Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey announced the campaign as part of a speech today at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting. The new campaign "speaks to an essential truth of being a soldier" and highlights the transformative powers of the Army, he said in a statement.

Strong, yes, but stupider too: The U.S. Army recruited more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year, helping the service beat its goal of 80,000 recruits in the throes of an unpopular war and mounting casualties.

The recruiting mark comes a year after the Army missed its recruitment target by the widest margin since 1979, which had triggered a boost in the number of recruiters, increased bonuses, and changes in standards.

The Army recruited 80,635 soldiers, roughly 7,000 more than last year. Of those, about 70,000 were first-time recruits who had never served before.

According to statistics obtained by The Associated Press, 3.8 percent of the first-time recruits scored below certain aptitude levels. In previous years, the Army had allowed only 2 percent of its recruits to have low aptitude scores. That limit was increased last year to 4 percent, the maximum allowed by the Defense Department.


Jane Arraf: I am very, very lucky. I am alive in a war zone. Most of the time I have running water and when I turn on the lights, a series of generators ensures that they come on. I don't have to worry about saying goodbye to my family here in the morning and not knowing whether I'll see them in the evening. I know I'm lucky because almost everyone I know in Baghdad has to worry constantly about those things.

Some readers and viewers think we journalists are exaggerating about the situation in Iraq. I can almost understand that because who would want to believe that things are this bad? Particularly when so many people here started out with such good intentions.

I'm more puzzled by comments that the violence isn't any worse than any American city. Really? In which American city do 60 bullet-riddled bodies turn up on a given day? In which city do the headless bodies of ordinary citizens turn up every single day? In which city would it not be news if neighborhood school children were blown up? In which neighborhood would you look the other way if gunmen came into restaurants and shot dead the customers?

Day-to-day life here for Iraqis is so far removed from the comfortable existence we live in the United States that it is almost literally unimaginable.

It's almost impossible to describe what it feels like being stalled in traffic, your heart pounding, wondering if the vehicle in front of you is one of the three or four car bombs that will go off that day. Or seeing your husband show up at the door covered in blood after he was kidnapped and beaten.

I don't know a single family here that hasn't had a relative, neighbor or friend die violently. In places where there's been all-out fighting going on, I've interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue.

Imagine the worst day you've ever had in your life, add a regular dose of terror and you'll begin to get an idea of what it's like every day for a lot of people here.

P.M. Carpenter: It would be impossible to assess the Bush administration's current state of foreign policy more accurately – meaning starkly – than the WP's Glenn Kessler and Peter Baker have done in their lead paragraph on North Korea's "device" test:

"Nearly five years after President Bush introduced the concept of an 'axis of evil' comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the administration has reached a crisis point with each nation: North Korea has claimed it conducted its first nuclear test, Iran refuses to halt its uranium-enrichment program, and Iraq appears to be tipping into a civil war 3 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion."

What a mess, or, rather, what a heap of messes – an escalating mound of stubborn, nerve-wracking, neuroses-inducing and largely self-imposed messes. Welcome to the resulting realities of the swaggering, surrealpolitik neocon Weltanschauung.

Joshua Holland: As the bodies pile up in Iraq, new polls show that most Iraqis want us out of their country, and they want us out soon. At the same time, Al Jazeera acquired a letter believed to be from a high-ranking al Qaeda operative that shows that our worst enemies think a protracted occupation of Iraq is "the most important thing" for the future of their cause.

Yet the Bush administration and its mouthpieces insist that we must "stay the course" in Iraq -- either to bring stability to the war-torn country or out of some misguided belief that we can salvage America's dignity from an embarrassing Vietnam-style defeat.

Underlying the "stay the course" argument is a fundamentally flawed assumption that U.S. troops are at least keeping havoc in check. But every year of the occupation has brought about worsening violence, peaking during a summer that saw thousands of Iraqi civilians killed each month. The Washington Post reported that last month "the number of U.S. troops wounded in Iraq has surged to its highest monthly level in nearly two years," and Reuters added that "bomb attacks in Baghdad have hit an all-time high ..." Studies by the Saudi government and a respected (and hawkish) Israeli think tank found that most of the insurgents in Iraq had never engaged in political violence but were radicalized by the occupation itself. The recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate predicts that with American troops on the ground, the insurgency in Iraq will grow and fester over the next two years.

But more importantly, the U.S. presence creates a Catch-22. One of the biggest problems in Iraq is that its fledgling government has little legitimacy, and a large part of that problem comes from a widespread perception that it remains subservient to U.S. commanders. According to a recent poll by the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), Iraqis, by a 5 to 2 margin, thought that a U.S. commitment to withdraw would "strengthen the Iraqi government." Three out of four believe an American withdrawal would make the various factions in Iraq's parliament more willing to cooperate with one another.

Eight out of ten Iraqis believe the U.S. military presence is "provoking more conflict than it is preventing," and they're in the position to know best. Just 14 percent said the U.S. forces were having "a positive influence on the situation in Iraq."

Tom Engelhardt: And of all the words that came to their minds post-9/11, the first and fastest was an old one -- "war." Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, it was already on the scene and being redefined by administration officials and supporters. We would not, for instance, actually declare war. After all, who was war to be declared on? We were simply "at war" and that was that. Since then, according to George Bush and his associates, we have either been fighting "the Global War on Terror" (aka GWOT), "the long war," "the millennium war," "World War III," or "World War IV." We not only entered an immediate state of war, but one meant to last generations, and with it we got a commander-in-chief presidency secretly redefined in such a way as to place it outside any legal boundaries.

We were, then, at war. But the first war we were "at" was a war of the words and at its heart from the beginning was the status of the people we were capturing on or near various battlefields, or even kidnapping off the streets of European cities, and exactly what we could do to them. If John F. Kennedy is remembered for saying, "Ich bin ein Berliner," perhaps when history shrinks George W. Bush to a soundbite, it will be, "We abide by the law of the United States; we do not torture." To say those words -- repeatedly -- he has had to mount not a soapbox, nor even the TV or radio version of a bully pulpit, but a pile of torn, trampled dictionaries.

If you don't believe me, go back and read, for instance, the infamous "torture memo" of 2002 in which the top legal minds of the Justice Department and the White House Counsel's office labored over how to define "severe" and "pain" in such a way that almost no inflicted pain in a prisoner's interrogation would ever prove too "severe." Whole sections of that document sound like they were cobbled together by a learned panel for a new edition of some devil's dictionary. ("The word 'profound' has a number of meanings, all of which convey a significant depth. Webster's New International Dictionary 1977 [2nd ed. 1935] defines profound as...").

In the end, these experts defined "torture" to suit administration needs in the following pretzled fashion: "Must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." And though, under pressure, the "torture memo" was finally disavowed, the President has been able to claim that "we do not torture" only by adhering to its ludicrous definitions. (Even then, this administration's interrogators have tortured prisoners.) This was in fact a typical Bush era document of shame, symbolic of the bureaucratic lawlessness let loose at the heart of our government by officials intent on creating a pseudo-legal basis for replacing the rule of law with the rule of a Commander-in-Chief.

Never has an administration rolled up its sleeves and redefined our terms more systematically or unnervingly with less attention to reality.

Diana Powe: To find oneself in the situation of Mr. Padilla with no contact and no assurance of any aspect whatsoever of your future is something that isn't even known by the most closely confined inmates in a super-max prison where their guilt has already been adjudicated. Even those inmates have access to the judicial system. To defend even the basic character of Mr. Padilla's confinement absolutely requires that the defender assume that Mr. Padilla is guilty even if they are unwilling to acknowledge that belief. To allow the executive branch, on its own initiative, to operate on this basis is something that I, who routinely deal with those accused of crimes, can scarcely imagine exists outside of the pages of pages of 1984. Regardless of Mr. Padilla's genuine guilt or innocence of any act, the bare facts of his confinement make an absolute mockery of the death of every soldier, sailor, airman or police officer who has ever been killed in the performance of their duties. To retort that this raw power is necessary to "protect Americans" is to assume that there is nothing in being a citizen of this nation for any of us beyond the mere fact of being alive. My own judgment is that this is not what the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind when they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the task of creating the United States of America and it horrifies me that those who have taken oaths to defend the Constitution view their fellow citizens as having no greater aspirations as Americans than craven physical safety. If they are right and I am wrong then being American is little more than being situated in a certain place on the globe with no claim to moral authority beyond what can be enforced through bullets and bombs. Then we are little more than a street gang with assertions of control over our turf. Then we are truly lost.

(My emphasis. So well said. –m)

Quote Of The Day

"I came to the conclusion that, given the technology of modern warfare, war is inevitably a war against children, against civilians. When you look at the ratio of civilian to military dead, it changes from 50-50 in World War II to 80-20 in Vietnam, maybe as high as 90-10 today… When you face that fact, war is now always a war against civilians, and so against children. No political goal can justify it, and so the great challenge before the human race in our time is to solve the problems of tyranny and aggression, and do it without war."Howard Zinn


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?