Wednesday, October 25, 2006


"We will stay the course until the job is done…and the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We're just going to stay the course." – George W. Bush, Press Conference, December, 2003


A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two policemen in the Christian neighbourhood of Camp Sara of Baghdad.

Iraqi special forces backed by U.S. air strikes killed five people and wounded at least six in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad in a raid the U.S. military said was targeted at a death squad commander. The overnight raid was launched in the sprawling Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia loyal to firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The Iraqi Interior Ministry said around 20 were wounded in the raids which also damaged five houses. They said U.S. forces were still searching houses and had set a security cordon.

The U.S. military carried out house-to-house searches in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood for an Army translator missing after reportedly being kidnapped, but said Tuesday they had found no sign of him.

Fourteen bodies were found dumped or pulled from the Tigris River.

Police in the al-Yarmouk district found four unidentified bodies of people who had been handcuffed, tortured and shot in the head.

Balad Ruz

Six people were killed when a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle in Balad Ruz, about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. Other mortar and bomb attacks in the area wounded several people.


A pickup truck driven by a suicide bomber was detonated Wednesday near a hospital north of Baquba Wednesday killing two policemen and injuring three civilians.

Sources at Baquba general hospital said two more Iraqis, including a policeman, were killed Wednesday morning in separate attacks in the district of Garf al-Malh in eastern Baquba.


A grenade thrown at a house wounded four people in the southern city of Diwaniya, 180 km south of Baghdad.

Gunmen wounded a policeman in Diwaniya.


Two people were killed and two injured when a vehicle exploded on Tuesday in a marketplace in Husayba, a town on Iraq's border with Syria.


The bodies of four people, bound and gagged, were found in the town of Mahmudiya, in an area dubbed the Triangle of Death south of Baghdad.


U.S. forces killed 12 people they said were insurgents preparing to plant a roadside bomb in the western city of Ramadi, the U.S. military said on Wednesday. "Coalition forces observed insurgents emplacing an improvised explosive device (IED) and used precision munitions to destroy their attempts," it said in a statement, adding the strike took place on Tuesday.

Tal Afar

A bomb killed three Iraqi soldiers and wounded three others as they entered a house in the northern town of Tal Afar, 420 km northwest of Baghdad.


A mortar round killed a man and wounded three others in Yusufiya, 15 km south of Baghdad.

You and what army, Nouri?: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday his government was determined to crack down on private militias blamed for the country's spiraling sectarian violence, warning he would "strike hard" against any group that challenges state authority.

Confrontation coming: U.S. officials said on Tuesday the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which has launched two uprisings against U.S. forces in Iraq, must be brought under control.

Sunni leaders and U.S. officials blame the Mehdi Army for sectarian killings that have pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. Washington has demanded several times it be disarmed.

…Speaking in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf, Sadr urged his followers not to fight fellow Muslims and Iraqis, and said his "sole enemy" was the U.S. occupying force.

Refugees times two: Palestinians living in Iraq have increasingly come under threat since the US-led occupation of the country began in 2003, according to a recent report by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

The report said that Palestinians, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims, have become targets of Shi'ite death squads because of resentment towards them for their perceived support of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's government, which was also Sunni and which sympathised with their cause. This targeting has forced thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes, UNHCR says.

In the popular Palestinian neighbourhood of al-Baladiya in the capital, Baghdad, the Palestinian population has dropped from 8,000 before 2003 to fewer than 4,000 now.

Brits ready to bug out: The British military hoped to withdraw troops from Iraq within about a year and London wanted to focus on the war in Afghanistan, a U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.

British officials had told U.S. counterparts the British military was "near the breaking point" due to long deployments in Iraq and weak retention of personnel, said the official, asking not to be identified.

The official's comments offered the first hint Britain's military may have a timetable for withdrawal in mind.

"It's about a year, give or take a few months," the official said.

Speaking Of Timetables

Ok, here’s the situation: The US Congressional elections are two weeks away and it’s finally starting to sink in to Dear Leader’s addled brain that Iraq is a major issue with the electorate. Since everything – everything – this Administration does is conditioned by domestic politics it’s been decided they must show Progress in Iraq to keep the Republican majority. The following stories collectively show the process at work – how the sausage is made, if you will. I swear, you can’t make this stuff up. -m

First, they lean on al-Maliki: President George W. Bush's national security adviser said on Tuesday Iraq's government needs to move faster to bring stability to Iraq and predicted violence at some level will persist beyond Bush's presidency.

With Iraq a key factor in November 7 elections in which Bush's Republicans are at risk of losing control of the U.S. Congress, his administration is urging Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make progress on security and the economy.

They reverse policy from ‘stay the course’ to a timetable for withdrawal: Iraq's government was under pressure from Washington on Wednesday to take forceful action to meet a timetable of measures over the next year to curb violence and allow U.S. troops to go home.

But in a sign of the challenges the Iraqi government faces in achieving Washington's "benchmarks", Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki was the object of fresh anger after airstrikes and raids by U.S. and Iraqi troops killed five people in the Shi'ite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad overnight, witnesses said.

They claim the Iraqi puppets are on board: Iraqi leaders have assured the United States they will stick to a timetable of measures over the next year to curb violence and allow U.S. troops to go home, Washington's top officials in Iraq said on Tuesday.

Two weeks ahead of U.S. congressional elections that have put President George W. Bush's Republicans on the defensive over their Iraq strategy, the U.S. ambassador and military commander in Baghdad told voters directly via a rare televised joint news conference success was still possible, and on a "realistic timetable."

Insisting sectarian bloodshed had not caused Washington to water down its goal of a stable, democratic Iraq, envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said he expected Iraqi leaders to make "significant progress in the coming 12 months" in meeting "benchmarks."

Then they release a list of stuff that makes good sound bites: Khalilzad variously described the steps as benchmarks and milestones rather than conditions and spoke of timelines rather than deadlines.

Following are the steps he outlined:

* Khalilzad said it was of "critical importance" to enact a new oil law to share the profits of Iraq's oil "in a way that unites the country".

* Implementing a plan to deal with militias and death squads.

* Amending the constitution "to make all Iraqis understand that their children will be guaranteed democratic rights and equality"

* Reforming the De-Baathification Commission "to transform it into an accountability and reconciliation program".

* Setting a date for provincial elections.

* Increasing the credibility and capability of Iraqi forces. The U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, repeated a forecast that Iraqi forces would be able to handle security within 12 to 18 months, with some U.S. help.

But as usual there’s no real plan for implementation: The plan was made public a day after White House press secretary Tony Snow said the U.S. was adjusting its Iraq strategy but would not issue any ultimatums.

U.S. officials revealed neither specific incentives for the Iraqis to implement the plan nor penalties for their failure to do so. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Iraqi leaders had agreed to the timeline, benchmarks heavily laden with enticements to Sunni insurgents.

The lack of any real political consensus even among Shiites, however, has made it extremely difficult for Iraqi leaders to keep deadlines; for example, they missed targeted dates on naming a government and in moving forward on constitutional amendments. Moreover, Tuesday's declarations lacked specifics on how to accomplish the goals.

The experts see it for the sham it is but the average American changes the channel: Disarm sectarian militias, quell insurgents and equitably distribute Iraq's oil: These are some items from the latest U.S. list of problems the Iraqi government needs to confront within 12 months to assure the United States that it is capable of running the country without American help.

…But Iraq experts question whether the government in Baghdad, whose power rarely extends outside its meeting area in the heavily fortified Green Zone, is capable of solving any of these problems within the timeline Khalilzad outlined.

Of course, the Bushies deny their policy reversal is a reversal: In the firmest indication yet of a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, America's most senior general there and its top civilian official have drawn the outlines of a political and military plan that could see a substantial pullout of US troops within 12 to 18 months.

Yesterday's announcement looked like a strategy change carrying implications for British troops in Iraq, although President Bush's aides deny any "dramatic shifts" in policy. It came after Mr Bush's spokesman acknowledged on Monday that the President had cut and run from his signature promise that America would "stay the course" in Iraq.

And sadly, someone always seems to be out of the loop: As the U.S. death toll in Iraq reached 86, the highest monthly total this year, a senior White House adviser Monday rejected suggestions that U.S. troops were exacerbating problems in Iraq and that a timetable should be set to withdraw forces from the war-torn nation.

"Just because we have taken some serious sacrifices this month and that the fighting has been remarkably violent, that doesn't make it any less necessary for us to be there and make sure we prevail," Bush adviser Dan Bartlett told CNN.

Then the main puppet gets off the story line: U.S. and Iraqi forces on Wednesday raided Sadr City, the stronghold of the feared Shiite militia led by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed the operation, saying he had not been consulted and insisting "that it will not be repeated."

The defiant al-Maliki also slammed the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq for saying Iraq needed to set a timetable to curb violence ravaging the country.

"I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it," al-Maliki said at a news conference.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday that al-Maliki had agreed to the plan...

Fortunately there are some scapegoats in the wings: America's civilian and military leaders in Iraq linked Iran and Syria with al Qaeda on Tuesday as forces trying to tear the country apart and prevent the United States from establishing a stable democracy.

The comments from ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey were among the strongest U.S. officials have leveled against Iraq's two neighbors over alleged support for armed groups behind much of the bloodshed.


That pesky reality stuff sure has a way of intruding: This morning, coverage of U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey’s Baghdad press conference was briefly interrupted.

The TurkishPress notes that “the hall was plunged into darkness by one of Baghdad’s regular power cuts, despite the fact the venue was in the capital’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, also home to the US embassy.”

Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. –George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946

Don’t change the policy, change the definitions: Words have never been a strong point for President Bush, who has even joked about his habit of mangling the English language.

But two weeks before elections likely to hinge on growing public frustration over Iraq, Bush and his top aides are scrambling to redefine the terms of the wartime debate, hoping it will help stave off a Democratic takeover of Congress.

…Banished from Bush's vernacular is "stay the course," which was his mantra for conveying America's resolve in Iraq until Democrats seized on the phrase as a sign that he and his fellow Republicans were unresponsive to mounting U.S. casualties.

Bush and his team are also insisting on a distinction between "tactics," which he is willing to change, and "strategy," which he isn't.

And the White House is willing to talk only of "milestones" and "benchmarks" for getting Iraqis to shoulder more of the security burden -- never "deadlines" or "ultimatums," which imply penalties if they fail to do so.

Even the definition of victory has undergone a makeover, with Bush no longer focusing on the goal of transforming Iraq into a flourishing democracy in the Middle East.

Instead, with sectarian violence raging, he now speaks -- as he did at a Florida fund-raiser on Tuesday -- of keeping U.S. troops there until Iraq can "defend itself, sustain itself and govern itself and be an ally in the war on terror."

Image over substance: The American public wants a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. In response, the Bush administration has started throwing around terms like “timeline” and “timetable.”

Unfortunately, this rhetoric is not accompanied by any change in strategy. The Iraqis have agreed to a 12-18 month “timeline” to control violence in Iraq. But if they don’t meet the benchmarks they’ve agreed to, there are no consequences. The “timeline” is disconnected from a drawdown of U.S. troops.

We’ve always been at war with Oceania: Much was made on Monday, in and out of the blogosphere, concerning top White House aide Dan Bartlett stating on TV this morning that President Bush really did not believe in "stay the course" in Iraq, but actually was quite flexible in his views. Bush himself had said on ABC on Sunday, "we've never been stay the course." This surprised many observers, since the president had often used this phrase to describe our Iraq policy, in press or public meetings, as recently as Aug. 30.

I guess this means Dubuque is about to become an Islamic Republic: In an about-face, the Bush administration announced this week it is tossing out its rallying cry for the Iraq war.

Repeatedly since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, President Bush has said the U.S. will "stay the course" in the war-torn nation.

As recently as August, during a speech in Utah, Bush said, "If we leave the streets of Baghdad before the job is done, we will have to face the terrorists in our own cities. We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century."

But no more of that from the president, said White House press secretary Tony Snow.

More On The Timeline

This is novel - a timeline for withdrawal that requires more troops to implement: Two weeks before U.S. midterm elections, American officials unveiled a timeline Tuesday for Iraq's Shiite-led government to take specific steps to calm the world's most dangerous capital and said more U.S. troops might be needed to quell the bloodshed.

U.S. officials previously said they were satisfied with troop levels and had expected to make significant reductions by year's end. But a surge in sectarian killings, which welled up this past summer, forced them to reconsider.

How many projected withdrawals have we heard about now?: U.S. officials said Tuesday that Iraq's security forces won't be able to stand on their own for another 12 to 18 months, meaning substantial numbers of U.S. forces will likely remain in Iraq through next year.

U.S. officials had previously expected to begin significant U.S. troop withdrawals by the end of this year. The reassessment follows an upsurge in sectarian violence in Baghdad and fighting in Anbar province in western Iraq. There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

If they’re waiting for proficient Iraqi units they’ll be waiting a while: While military commanders may not be discouraged, Republicans fighting to keep control of Congress are frustrated with the lack of progress in Baghdad so close to the Nov. 7 elections.

In a letter released Tuesday, 33 House Republicans urged Bush to send into Baghdad any proficient Iraqi units available. Five of the Republicans — Reps. Thelma Drake of Virginia, Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, Geoff Davis of Kentucky, Rob Simmons of Connecticut and John Doolittle of California — are in tight political races.

While Republicans want more troops for political reasons, the people with their butts on the line say no thanks: Sixty five active duty service members are officially asking Congress to end the war in Iraq -- the first time active troops have done so since U.S. invasion began in 2003. Three of the service members will hold a press conference Wednesday explaining their decision to send "Appeals for Redress" under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act to their members of Congress. Under the act, National Guard and Reservists can send communications about any subject to their member of Congress without punishment.

No real changes planned before the elections: The U.S. military and political chiefs in Baghdad were the latest top government officials to hint that the United States may shift course in the unpopular Iraq war, but if any real changes are afoot in Bush administration policy in Iraq, they are hard to discern.

Significant policy or tactical shifts such as an influx of U.S. forces to try to stanch the bloodletting, or even the sacking of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would only come after the Nov. 7 congressional elections, analysts said. That is because any dramatic moves would be seen as an admission that the previous policy was a failure.

So two weeks before a congressional election that is shaping up as a referendum on the war, the administration is repackaging rhetoric and ideas it has offered before. For example, Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, predicted on Tuesday that Iraqi forces should be able to take control of security in the country in 12 to 18 months with "some level" of American support. He used the same time frame in August, and even that was not the first time U.S. troop reductions had been seen as on the horizon.

When Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Iraq in April, Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffak Rubaie said: "We have a definite plan now" for an agreement between Iraq and the U.S. to move toward Iraqi control.

"Certainly at the end of this year, there should be a sizable gross reduction in the troops" and within the next couple of years "most of the coalition forces would go back home safely."

It’s all about the politics. And Jim Baker is a whore: Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution who is part of the Baker-Hamilton study group, deemed it unlikely that Baker would lend his support to a phased withdrawal such as some Democrats have advocated. "Baker's not a political novice," O'Hanlon said. Still, he said, the Iraq government could be told that "you've got to make some big changes" and that U.S. military backing was not forever. Might Bush announce a change in strategy before the election? "Who knows? I wouldn't rule it out," said O'Hanlon. Bush could portray it to the world "as being not about the election but about the failed Baghdad security plan, and give his party a little boost before the midterms," O'Hanlon said.

Here’s the real course change. Oh, and sorry about all the dead soldiers: American forces are negotiating an amnesty with Sunni insurgents in Iraq to try to defuse the nascent civil war and pave the way for disarmament of Shia militias, The Times has learnt.

The tactic marks a dramatic reversal of policy by the US military, which blocked attempts to pardon insurgents with American blood on their hands after handing over sovereignty to a secular Iraqi Government in June 2004.

The U-turn comes amid the bloodiest fighting for two years and growing domestic opposition to the war as Americans prepare to vote in crucial midterm elections.

And the split state alternative is still hanging in there too: Q: How would a split work, both in ethnic terms and geographically?

A: US military planners believe that to help quell sectarian violence, Iraq could be divided into three broad ethnic regions: Kurds in the north, Sunnis to the west of Baghdad and Shias in the south.

However, the country is not as neatly divided along ethnic grounds as some strategists would like to believe. For example, the capital is already seeing forced relocation of ethnic groups such as Sunnis - who once lived peacefully next to their Shia neighbours east of the Tigris - who are now moving west.

And more than half of Iraq's 26 million citizens live in just four cities; three of those have an ethnic mix.

Q: Why are these plans being considered now?

A: They are not new. As early as 2002, before the invasion, the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, and deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, were drawing up plans for the break-up of Iraq. Their vision involved joining the Sunni west with pro-US Jordan into one large Hashemite kingdom.

US military bases could secure the oil-rich areas of the Shia south and Kurdish north. But the continued presence of western forces could exacerbate tensions in a divided Iraq.

Then again, maybe the problem will just go away by itself: The number of Iraqis applying for asylum in the 25 European Union countries rose by nearly 50 per cent to 7,300 in the first six months of the year, bucking a downward trend in the total number of asylum-seekers, new United Nations' statistics show.

One-third applied to Sweden, whose nine million population includes more than 70,000 Iraqi immigrants. Sweden has resisted the clampdowns on immigration seen elsewhere in the EU.

Video: Iraq, The Real Story

Your Tax Dollars At Work, Part 12,453,893,345

Are CEO paychecks administrative costs?: Administrative costs for a handful of reconstruction projects in Iraq ate up 11 percent to 55 percent of the total costs and were not monitored well by officials there, according to a government audit.

The audit, done by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, looked at a number of contracts and detailed five totaling $1.3 billion. It found that more than $460 million was spent on overhead costs, including transportation, mobilization, administration, personnel support and security.

The report suggested that some of the costs may be underestimated because the government did not consistently track the administrative amounts or require companies to report them in the same way. Congress has approved $18.4 billion in reconstruction money for Iraq.

America, Beacon To The World

Press freedom: Some poor countries, such as Mauritania and Haiti, improved their record in a global press freedom index this year, while France, the United States and Japan slipped further down the scale of 168 countries rated, the group Reporters Without Borders said yesterday.

…Although it ranked 17th on the first list, published in 2002, the United States now stands at 53, having fallen nine places since last year.

"Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of 'national security' to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his 'war on terrorism,' " the group said.

Who says we’re not still an example?: Several governments around the world have tried to rebut criticism of how they handle detainees by claiming they are only following the U.S. example in the war on terror, the U.N. anti-torture chief said Monday.

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special investigator on torture, said that when he criticizes governments for their questionable treatment of detainees, they respond by telling him that if the United States does something, it must be all right. He would not name any countries except for Jordan.

"The United States has been the pioneer, if you wish, of human rights and is a country that has a high reputation in the world," Nowak told a news conference. "Today, many other governments are kind of saying, 'But why are you criticizing us, we are not doing something different than what the United States is doing?'"

Nowak said that because of its prominence, the United States has a greater responsibility to uphold international standards for its prisoners so other nations do not use it as an excuse to justify their own behavior.

God, that’s so pre-9/11! -m

This Is Not Exactly News

But it’s still worth repeating: The Iraq War is getting "a lot more difficult" and also is serving as a motivating force for Muslim terrorists all over the world, a top official of the Central Intelligence Agency said in Buffalo on Tuesday.

Associate Deputy Director Michael J. Morell, the agency's No. 3 official, quickly added that he sees the war as just one of many motivating factors for terrorists.

"If you're a young extremist in London or Toronto or wherever, you're motivated by the Iraq War," Morell said during an unusual CIA briefing at The Buffalo News. "They're [also] motivated by our support for the state of Israel. They are motivated by our consumption of what they believe to be their oil. They are motivated by our freedom of religion, our freedoms in general . . . They're motivated by a lot of things."


EarlG: Last week, during an interview with the editorial board of the Bucks County Courier Times, Santorum said this:

“As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else. It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.”

So let's see if I can parse this. The "Eye of Mordor" (Sauron, representing Osama bin Laden) is focused "somewhere else" (Gondor, representing Iraq) instead of being drawn to the U.S (er, hobbits going up Mount Doom). I think I get it. The only problem is that for Santorum's analogy to work, the rest of The Lord Of The Rings would have to go something like this.... After Sauron attacks the Shire by crashing a Winged Nazgûl into a hobbit hole, Frodo, head of the hobbits, insists that Sauron will be brought to justice. But instead of going after Sauron, Frodo claims that Denethor is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and invades Gondor with 140,000 hobbit troops. Following an easy victory, Frodo immediately declares "mission accomplished" despite the fact that Denethor's WMDs are nowhere to be found. Frodo, feeling rather full of himself, tells Sauron to "bring it on." Meanwhile, due to the fact that Frodo didn't have a post-invasion plan, Gondor descends into a nightmarish civil war. Back in the Shire, most hobbits want Frodo to pull the troops out and let the newly-elected government of Minas Tirith sort it out for themselves, but Frodo decries them as "cut and runners" and says that when the history of the Third Age is written, Gondor will be "just a comma." Finally, drunk on power, Frodo goes to Mordor and throws the hobbit Constitution into the Crack of Doom, declaring that anyone who messes with him will be thrown in jail without trial.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial: A public conversation last week between author and journalist Ron Suskind and former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill provided Pittsburghers useful insights into the inner workings of the Bush administration.

…What the Pittsburgh audience heard from Mr. Suskind and Mr. O'Neill about the high degree of politicization of decision-making in the administration was shocking to some extent. The two speakers are extremely well-informed about what happens at the top in Washington and have excellent contacts there. People who don't live and work in that environment could not know what factors rule when people like President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld determine whether the United States will go to war or not, putting on the line the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers.

They said that when plans were being made within the administration to go to war with Iraq, no facts entered into the decision. With respect to the public, the previously sacred principle of "informed consent" was not honored by Mr. Bush and his subordinates. Instead, it was a question of carefully selecting what information would be put before the public to sell the point of view that the administration wanted to put forward -- that war with Iraq was necessary and never mind whether it had a basis in fact or not. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, an eventual humiliation to him, was a perfect case in point.

Mr. Suskind and Mr. O'Neill made the point that in policy-making, good process creates good outcomes. If a thesis is put forward, then examined critically by a number of informed people from different points of view, it is more likely that a sound decision will be reached. This process has become debased under the Bush administration and the damage to U.S. credibility abroad and governance at home is severe.

William Greider: The facts are so stark, even American military commanders are now speaking openly about an approaching climax for our bloody misadventure in Iraq. "To Stand or Fall in Baghdad," the New York Times headline declared this morning. A show-down is here, the generals acknowledge. There are no more back-up strategies.

Learned policy experts from all sides are now debating the various alternatives for an exit plan. Preferably with honor, they hope, but getting out is becoming unavoidable, regardless. They would like to dream up a some sort of fig leaf that gives cover to our failed warrior president. Not that he deserves one, but they want a plan will encourage Bush--finally--to accept reality.

Who is being left out of this momentous discussion? The Iraqi people, whom we were allegedly teaching how to become small-d democrats. Bush relentlessly touted "democracy" as his true goal. He cited the three Iraqi elections as proof that he was succeeding.

So let's have one more election in Iraq--a referendum where the Iraqi people get to decide whether America's armed forces withdraw and when.

Tom Engelhardt: On Friday, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon Inspector General's audit of a secret Pentagon Iraqi propaganda program contracted to the Lincoln Group (which calls itself "a strategic communications & pubic relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments") had cleared the Pentagon of violating laws or its own regulations So challenging and hostile was the Iraqi environment, it seems, that the Lincoln Group spent its time using U.S. military personnel to create good "news" stories, having them translated into Arabic, and then secretly paying bribes to members of the newly "free" Iraqi media to publish them as Iraqi-generated news reports.

According to a brief summary of the investigation released by the Inspector General's office, "Psychological operations are planned to convey selected, truthful information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of Psychological Operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to U.S. objectives."

Get that mouthful? Now, all you have to do is translate it into Arabic and bribe an Iraqi news editor to publish it. Think of your goal as messing up a few more Iraqi minds when it comes to "objective reasoning."

The New York Times, which saw some of the other unclassified documents in the investigation, summarized the clearing of the Pentagon of illegal activity this way: "The report said that the secret program, run by the military in conjunction with the Lincoln Group, a Washington contractor, was lawful and that it did not constitute a ‘covert action' designed to influence the internal political conditions of another country."

Now, to a normal human being, a secret Pentagon operation to produce propaganda pieces--call it "selected, truthful information," if you wish--and slip them into the Iraqi press for a price might sound remarkably like a "'covert action' designed to influence the internal political conditions of another country."

Nicholas Kristoff: “The total costs of the war, including the budgetary, social and macroeconomic costs, are likely to exceed $2 trillion,” Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist at Columbia, writes in an updated new study with Linda Bilmes, a public finance specialist at Harvard. Their report has just appeared in the Milken Institute Review, as an update on a paper presented earlier this year. Just to put that $2 trillion in perspective, it is four times the additional cost needed to provide health insurance for all uninsured Americans for the next decade. It is 1,600 times Mr. Bush’s financing for his vaunted hydrogen energy project. …Of course, many of the costs are hidden and haven’t even been spent yet. For example, more than 3,000 American veterans have suffered severe head injuries in Iraq, and the U.S. government will have to pay for round-the-clock care for many of them for decades. The cost ranges from $600,000 to $5 million per person. Then there are disability payments that will continue for a half-century. Among veterans of the first gulf war — in which ground combat lasted only 100 hours — 40 percent ended up receiving disability payments, still costing us $2 billion each year. We don’t know how many of today’s veterans will claim such benefits, but in the first quarter of this year more people sought care through the Department of Veterans Affairs than the Bush administration had budgeted for the entire year. The war has also forced the military to offer re-enlistment bonuses that in exceptional circumstances reach $150,000. Likewise, tanks, helicopters and other battlefield equipment will have to be replaced early, since the Pentagon says they are being worn out at up to six times the peacetime rate. The administration didn’t raise taxes to pay for the war, so we’re financing it by borrowing from China and other countries. Those borrowing costs are estimated to range from $264 billion to $308 billion in interest. Then there are economic costs to the nation as a whole. For example, the price of oil was in the $20- to $30-a-barrel range early in this decade but has now shot up to more than $50, partly because of the drop in Iraq’s oil exports and partly because of war-related instability in the Middle East. Professors Stiglitz and Bilmes note that if just $10 of the increase is attributable to the war, that amounts to a $450 billion drag on the economy over six years. The bottom line is that not only have we squandered 2,800 American lives and considerable American prestige in Iraq, but we’re also paying $18,000 per household to do so.

Cynthia Tucker: Bush had a major advantage in persuading Americans to support his Iraqi misadventure: Voters wanted to believe that ousting Saddam would take care of terrorists. The president offered the certainty that the nation craved. It's easier to believe in a highly unlikely proposition if you desperately want it to be true.

But three and a half years after the invasion, with bloodshed escalating, the spell has worn off. American voters no longer support our involvement in a conflict that has all the signs of a civil war; a CNN poll earlier this month showed 64 percent of respondents opposed to the war. And while a handful of Republican congressional candidates still try to justify the decision to topple Saddam, most GOP candidates try to avoid the subject.

Meanwhile, we are less secure than we were five years ago. Terrorists are using our invasion of Iraq as a recruiting device. While Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, North Korea apparently now has nukes. Iran is on its way to nuclear capabilities. And we have few soldiers left to handle a conflict anywhere else. Even if Bush wanted to invade Iran, he has no brigades to send. They're bogged down in Iraq. Moreover, our international alliances are frayed -- where they're not ripped to shreds.

All in all, we've paid a high price for our refusal to see ourselves as we really are, not the way we want to be seen. We wanted to be "the shining city on the hill," set apart from the rest of the world, immune from its problems, better, safer, smarter than anybody else.

The United States is a strong and capable nation, but we are vulnerable to bird flu from Singapore, suitcase-sized nukes from the old Soviet empire and suicide bombers from Saudi Arabia. Our best strategy for protecting ourselves will always be a nuanced and multi-faceted approach using diplomacy, strategic alliances, intelligence-gathering, law enforcement techniques and -- as a last resort -- military force.

That nuanced approach doesn't appeal to the bully boys who want to send other people's children out to blow up a country. But we should have learned by now to stop listening to them.

The Guardian: There is something profoundly selfish - arrogant even - about America's Iraq debate, though it is about 2,700 dead and many thousands of wounded as well as the prestige of the world's only superpower. But this is not just about geopolitics. Whether or not this war is America's Vietnam for the 21st century, Iraq is first and foremost about Iraqis. The Americans will be gone, sooner or later - and we will hear more about that after November 7. It is the Iraqis who will be left to pick up the pieces.

Casualty Reports

A Marine from Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe was killed last week in Iraq, the Department of Defense announced on Tuesday. Pvt. Edwardo J. Lopez, 21, of Aurora, Ill., died on Oct. 19 in Anbar province, Iraq.

Relatives say patriotism and faith led Eric Herzberg to join the Marines and fight in Iraq, where he was killed in combat. The Pentagon says the 20-year-old lance corporal was killed Saturday while fighting in Al Anbar province.

Three more US soldiers are dead, killed while fighting the war in Iraq, including one from Riverside County. 21-year-old Sergeant Norman Taylor, III of Blythe died when an improvised explosive device blew up their vehicle. Also killed were 24-year-old Staff Sergeant Ryan Haupt of Phoenix and 23-year-old Private First Class Nathan Frigo of Indiana.

The Pentagon says that two Marine lance corporals from southeastern Michigan have been killed in fighting in Iraq. They were among four Marines based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, who died Saturday during combat in Anbar province, Iraq. The victims include 20-year-old Clifford Collinsworth of Chelsea and 22-year-old Nicholas Manoukian of Lathrup Village.

Another Army medic from Deltona was killed in combat in Iraq this week, the second such loss his hometown has suffered in three weeks. Pfc. Nicholas Rogers, 27 -- son of the city's deputy fire chief, Robert Rogers -- was walking on patrol with fellow soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday when he was shot and killed by enemy fire, said Peter Behnke, a longtime family friend who served as a spokesman Monday because the family was too distraught to talk to reporters.

A fallen soldier from Rowan County is being remembered for his strength and love for his country. Nathan Elrod, 20, got his start at the junior ROTC program at East Rowan High School. His instructor and classmates say he loved the Marines and had been planning for years to join the Corp.

The 10th Mountain Division is mourning the loss of another soldier killed in Iraq. According to the Orlando Sentinel Private First Class Nicholas Rogers was shot and killed by enemy fire on Sunday. Rogers had only been in Baghdad for two months.


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