Monday, November 06, 2006


“If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.” - George W. Bush, Speech, Monday, October 7, 2002, Cincinnati, Ohio

Five presidential security guards were killed Friday night on the Baghdad-Kirkuk highway and two were wounded in an explosion. Officials said that explosives had been planted in one of the cars of the members of the Iraqi presidential security unit.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed when a helicopter crashed in Salahaddin province north of Baghdad on Monday, the military said. "No activity fire was observed in the area at that time," a U.S. statement said, adding that the crash was under investigation.

Police said the final toll when forces opened fire on pro-Saddam demonstrators in Baquba on Sunday was two dead and six wounded. Hundreds of people defied a curfew to protest after Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death.

Two U.S. Marines and one soldier died on Saturday and Sunday from wounds sustained in combat in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said. (Note: Cervantes cited two of these deaths in yesterday’s post. -m)

The privately owned Al Sharqiya television station reported the killing of one of its journalists, Ahmed Rasheed, who was gunned down Friday while driving through north Baghdad. He was at least the 88th journalist killed in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count based on statistics kept by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Four children were killed in an attack that took place in northwest Baghdad. Two relatives were injured.

Curfew: A round-the-clock curfew imposed ahead of the verdict against Saddam Hussein kept a relative peace in Iraq's most dangerous regions on Sunday, but the U.S. military announced two more American deaths and police said 72 people were killed or found dead nationwide by daybreak.

Iraq's government clamped the open-ended curfew on Baghdad and the restive provinces of Diyala and Salahuddin, closed the city's international airport, added checkpoints and stepped up police patrols with the U.S. military. All leave for Iraqi soldiers was canceled.

No widespread bloodshed was reported in Baghdad, despite raucous celebrations by Shiites who defied the curfew in the capital to rejoice over the death sentence given to Saddam and angry counter-protests in Sunni regions.

The security crackdown was one of the heaviest since the February bombing of an important Shiite shrine that unleashed rampant violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

Freedom of the press: Iraqi security forces closed two Sunni Muslim television stations for violating curfew and a law that bans airing material that could undermine the country's stability, the Interior Ministry said. Brig Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said on Sunday that the Al-Zawraa and Salahuddin stations were closed on the approval of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Khalaf said that the stations violated a curfew imposed in three provinces by speaking to people in the streets and airing their comments that were deemed to "incite violence." The owner of Al-Zawraa, legislator Mishan al-Jabouri, said later that Iraqi police raided the headquarters of the station and cordoned them off because of the channel's criticism of the verdict.

Winning Those Hearts And Minds

Stupidity in a class by itself: Even for a people used to waking up to the sound of explosions, Iraqis were jolted by a Friday morning bombshell: the news, first reported on time.com, that Sgt. Santos Cardona, viewed here as one of the villains of Abu Ghraib, had been ordered back to their country. Although Iraqi and Arab media have been slow to pick up on the story (the news cycle here tends to be a day or two behind the U.S.) many in Baghdad read about it online, and word quickly spread. The reaction was predictable: total outrage.

"This is America spitting in our face," said Imad al-Hashimi, a Baghdad paediatrician. "The sheer arrogance of it is unbelievable."

Another pitiful joke: The National Tips Hot Line, as it is known, was founded in 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority, guaranteeing callers anonymity and collecting information about insurgent activity, bomb threats, kidnappings, killings and other major crimes. The hot line, which later became a joint coalition-Iraqi venture, was a foreign concept in a country that associated intelligence gathering by the state with brutal coercion.

The American military started a multimedia promotional campaign for the hot line, budgeting $9.9 million through March 2007 for billboard, print, radio and television advertisements, as well as market research. And month after month, officials hailed it as a growing success. A senior American spokesman said at a news conference in March that the rising number of tips represented a “groundswell of support” from citizens for the American-led fight against the insurgency.

Yet too often, Iraqis were calling the number, 130, and not getting through. Some who did later complained that no response by security forces was evident.

The author of a Baghdad Web log, who calls himself Zappy Corleone, described in an entry last month how he saw gunmen in more than 10 cars seal off a street in the Rusafa neighborhood, kidnap a man from his house and stuff him in a car’s trunk. The writer said he called the tips line six times but was unable to connect. In an e-mail response to questions, he said, “The cruel impact of it is that it raises real hopes that somebody would save you, but actually it’s a slap on the face, like everything else in Baghdad.”

Meanwhile, after rising slowly yet steadily since the hot line’s inception, the number of tips suddenly started to dry up last summer. From a rate of about 62 usable tips a day in June, the number dropped to about 29 tips a day in mid-September, according to statistics provided by the American military. On Sept. 19, the operators recorded only one usable tip.

Who says the Iraqi government hasn't found something it can excel at?: TI said that corruption was shockingly rampant worldwide with almost three-quarters of the countries in the report scoring below five, including all low-income countries and all but two African states.

The worst levels of corruption were seen in Haiti, which scored just 1.8, followed by Myanmar, Iraq and Guinea, which tied at 1.9.

…Labelle said that because the index is based on subjective perceptions, the fact Iraq had plummeted in the ratings may be rooted in the bigger international profile of the country since the US-led invasion in 2003 and the huge influx of reconstruction funds.

But TI chief executive David Nussbaum said the violence and mayhem wracking the oil-rich country were clearly hobbling anti-graft and rebuilding efforts.

"Corruption in Iraq is very bad," he said.

"Because there has been conflict across the country and in this case chronic conflict, that tends to mean that the things that uphold integrity in a country are not functioning."

See A Trend Here?

Early retirement: The federal government’s top privacy and information officer announced his retirement Thursday evening during a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Justice Department office he heads.

Daniel J. Metcalfe said little about his departure other than he wanted to teach law after working at the department since the Nixon administration.

His retirement, just shy of his 55th birthday, is raising questions among some about whether it was prompted by concerns over the Bush administration’s commitment to open government.

Pink slip: Investigations led by a Republican lawyer named Stuart W. Bowen Jr. in Iraq have sent American occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges, exposed disastrously poor construction work by well-connected companies like Halliburton and Parsons, and discovered that the military did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons it shipped to Iraqi security forces.

And tucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Mr. Bowen’s supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip.

The order comes in the form of an obscure provision that terminates his federal oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, on Oct. 1, 2007. The clause was inserted by the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee over the objections of Democratic counterparts during a closed-door conference, and it has generated surprise and some outrage among lawmakers who say they had no idea it was in the final legislation.

Mass firing: Last month’s mass firing of House Appropriations Committee investigators followed years of declining appetite for tough oversight and partisan squabbles that the investigators say often stalled their work.

Several members of the team, some of whom spoke on the condition that they not be identified by name, defend their record against committee spokesman John Scofield’s charge that recent work was not good. They suggest instead that majority Republicans had no appetite for oversight of the Bush administration.

The investigators said they identified billions of dollars in potential savings every year, particularly in the Defense budget, and that they heard no complaints until Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., dismissed 60 contractors on Oct. 16.

Joseph Stehr, a retired FBI agent who had been a member of the team off and on since 1985, said he remains stunned by Lewis’ action. “It reeks, it really does,” he said. “It just amazes me that after 60 some years, that just with the swipe of a pencil the thing could all go away.”

If It Took Them This Long Just To Get Skeptical How Long Will It Take To Figure Out They’re Being Played For Chumps?

Pratville, Alabama: There is no antiwar movement in this small Southern city -- in fact, locals boast, just the opposite.

Army enlistment per capita runs roughly three times the national average, making it one of the top places in the country for recruiting. School authorities in this conservative middle-class suburb say between 25 and 50 seniors from Prattville High -- out of a class of roughly 450 -- sign up each year for the military. They are gung-ho.

"Doesn't that make a mayor proud?" asked Mayor Jim Byard. "Folks here are just very patriotic."

Yet even in Prattville, skepticism toward the war in Iraq is deepening.

Skepticism? Gee, and after only six years of this? -m

Radical extremism and bald faced lies: At times on the campaign trail, Bush acts as if he recognizes no boundaries for what constitutes responsible debate. In an Oct. 30 speech in Statesboro, Georgia, Bush said, “However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.”

Bush’s supporters may argue that it’s common to distort your opponent’s position in a campaign. But Bush’s extreme rhetoric goes far beyond what is traditionally considered acceptable. He casts aside almost all standards for honesty, logic and fairness.

As he crisscrosses the country in the days before the Nov. 7 election, Bush is showing that his determination to protect one-party control of Washington is so strong that he will let nothing stand in his way. He will say whatever he feels he must to keep the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

What is perhaps even more unsettling is how willing and even eager so many Americans are to be misled, finding some pleasure or a sense of unity in Bush’s lies and deceptions. It is hard to imagine a democratic Republic surviving with such a debased public discourse.

Kaleidoscopically shifting rationales: During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush and his aides sternly dismissed suggestions that the war was all about oil. "Nonsense," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declared. "This is not about that," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Now, more than 3 1/2 years later, someone else is asserting that the war is about oil -- President Bush.

As he barnstorms across the country campaigning for Republican candidates in Tuesday's elections, Bush has been citing oil as a reason to stay in Iraq. If the United States pulled its troops out prematurely and surrendered the country to insurgents, he warns audiences, it would effectively hand over Iraq's considerable petroleum reserves to terrorists who would use it as a weapon against other countries.

Absolute contempt for what any regular citizen, including the good people of Pratville, think: The White House is dismissing fresh calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's ouster, calling an editorial in leading newspapers for the military "a shabby piece of work." White House spokesman Tony Snow said Saturday the president has shrugged off an editorial by the Military Times Media Group, which publishes the Army Times, Marine Times, Air Force Times and Navy Times, calling for Bush to fire Rumsfeld. Bushs feels it is merely "grandstanding," he added. The editorial says Rumsfeld has "lost credibility" with top officers. Snow called the editorial "a caricature" and a "shabby piece of work" filled with inaccuracies. He said it implied the administration's made nothing but "rosy" predictions about Iraq. Snow said that isn't true, leading the president to "shrug it off."

Total fiscal irresponsibility: The total costs of the war, including the budgetary, social and macroeconomic costs, are likely to exceed $2 trillion. As large as these costs are, an equally large set of costs have been omitted. We have not included the costs borne by other countries, either directly (as a result of military expenditures) or indirectly (as a result of the increase in the price of oil.) Then there are the intangible costs – the cost of our reduced capability to respond to national security threats elsewhere in the world, and the cost of rising anti-American sentiment in Europe and the Middle East. Americans have long taken pride in fighting for human rights. But our credentials have been badly tarnished by the Iraq war, leading to a sharp decline in America’s “soft power.” On issues from trade negotiations to global warming to the international criminal justice system, this decline will have a continuing impact on the United States’ ability to have its point of view prevail.

In responding to cost-based criticisms of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bush Administration argues that one does not go to war on the basis of calculations by bean counters. After all, Franklin Roosevelt did not wait to respond to Pearl Harbor until his budget analysts could assay the costs and benefits. But, with Iraq, America had a choice of whether and when to attack. If there ever was a “project” that should have been subject to careful scrutiny from all perspectives – including the economics – this was it.

Just as going to war was a matter of choice, staying in Iraq is also a matter of choice. There may be costs associated with leaving. But there will be costs associated with staying. Every day we stay in Iraq we accrue costs that will be reflected in budget outlays, lost productivity and individual pain and suffering for decades to come. We need to ask: are they outweighed by the benefits?

Secrecy and hypocrisy that would make Stalin proud: The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the "alternative interrogation methods" that their captors used to get them to talk.

The government says in new court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets and that their release -- even to the detainees' own attorneys -- "could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage." Terrorists could use the information to train in counter-interrogation techniques and foil government efforts to elicit information about their methods and plots, according to government documents submitted to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Oct. 26.

…The government, in trying to block lawyers' access to the 14 detainees, effectively asserts that the detainees' experiences are a secret that should never be shared with the public.

How To End The War In One Easy Lesson

This comment appeared in the Army Times readers forum thread on the Rumsfeld resignation editorial. I don’t normally post the writings of the batshit insane but this little opus is worth pondering. The ignorance, fear, and poisonous hate that form this guy’s thinking! And how many share his views, I wonder? -m

From anonymous: Very few enemy women, children, non-combatants have been killed thus far. The exceptions, usually predator-type attempts against leaders or 'friendly-fire'-class mistakes, are well publicized. Who decided that the enemy's dearly held assets are officially untouchable, Rumsfeld? In truth, yes, both he and the President are responsible. If our military was unleashed to deliver all the mayhem of which it is well capable, the 'war', as it has been called, would have long been over and a thousand of our brave men would still be alive to enjoy the benefits of the liberty they had fought to bring to the Middle East and the security they had hoped would have flowed back to America. Yes, thousands, or more, of enemy so-called 'non-combatants' would have died in their place but THAT IS THE PRICE OF DEFEAT or, should be. But, this 'price' is not being paid by the enemy. Only his suicide fighters are 'fair game'. Fortified by religious zealotry, there are nearly unlimited numbers of them. If those people were to lose their fathers, mothers, siblings, friends to the 'war' as well as their homes and land - they would quickly surrender or find their countries forfeit to U.S. takeover.

Welcome To The Future

Lovely: Blackwater officials told Pelton they want to field a brigade-sized private army for use in peacekeeping and intervention on behalf of organizations such as the United Nations. They told him the ongoing genocide in Sudan's Darfur region was the kind of situation where they could be helpful.

Given the tragedy of Darfur, any help might be welcome. But, Pelton cautions, red flags should be raised when a company like Blackwater -- which heretofore has accepted only jobs with the U.S. State Department's seal of approval -- starts talking about private armies with helicopter gunships and attack aircraft.

Indeed, one of the British-South African companies Pelton writes about was able to seize much of a small country with just 125 well-trained men, after all.

Pelton, as have other industry experts, believes that companies like Blackwater may start looking at new kinds of work -- perhaps not all strictly defensive -- when the big money in the Middle East stops flowing. They're used to big revenue streams and it will be hard to go cold turkey.

Analysis And Commentary

Kevin Drum: Majid Khan, currently being held as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay, is not being allowed to speak to his lawyer. Why? Because previously he was detained in one the CIA's secret overseas prisons and "he may have come into possession of information, including...alternative interrogation techniques."

"May have come into possession." Indeed he may have. That's a very nice use of the passive voice, isn't it?

Now, Khan may be a cold-blooded killer whose main goal in life is to commit the mass murder of innocent Americans. Then again, he may be guilty of nothing more than yelling "Death to America" on crowded street corners in Karachi. We'll never know for sure, though, because once you've been the subject of government-sanctioned torture alternative interrogation techniques, you're automatically forbidden to defend yourself because you might tell people about the very alternative interrogation techniques that were employed against you.

This highlights the fundamental corruption of the human soul that torture causes. We know it's wrong, so not only do we torture prisoners, but we then do what we must to conceal what we've done. And then we try to conceal even that. Torture and secrecy, secrecy and torture, world without end.

That's not America. At least, it shouldn't be.

Interview with Al Gore:

HP: Is a constitution a way of putting certain rights beyond the reach of ambitious men?

AG: If I felt that was the principal effect of having a written constitution, I would say yes. If I were a citizen in your country, I would be in favour of it. But being a citizen of the US and seeing the shocking ease with which these principles have been violated in the US, I'm worried that the causes of this invasion of rights may be deeper.

HP: The public here and in America have been prepared to put these rights on hold to a degree.

AG: Well, they have, but [in America] these rights have been weakened since the Bush-Cheney administration chose to use the war against terror as a basis for both political argument in a partisan context and for an assault on the individual rights, including the right to be free of government eavesdropping. The conversation of democracy has been degraded, emotions and appeals to fear have been given a priority over reasoned debate.

HP: Has there been a pumping up of this climate of fear?

AG: Yes, sure.

HP: What was the purpose? To extend executive powers or to get people to back the war in Iraq?

AG: A combination of motives. The Bush-Cheney administration was declining in popularity rapidly prior to the 9/11 attacks. In the initial aftermath, Bush responded quite well in rallying public opinion and going after the perpetrators. But then, for whatever reason, he began to make a lot of mistakes in my view; by not pursuing Osama bin Laden until he was captured; by invading a country that hadn't attacked us; by launching this assault on the protections written into the constitution against invasions of liberties. They conflated the threat from al-Qaeda and the purported threat from Saddam which, of course, didn't exist.

HP: In the days after 9/11, did you imagine that we would see this kind of attack on civil liberties?

AG: No, and it should be seen as shocking, in America at least, that so many individual rights have been lost so quickly. I believe that there has been a diminishing of the role played by reasoned debate. And when logic and reason are withdrawn from the public sphere, it creates a vacuum into which ideology and religious extremism rush in.

Jane Arraf: For Will -- Sgt. Willsun Mock -- his buddies talked about his professionalism, how he lived by the motto he had tattooed on his arms: strength and honor. They talked about how his salsa dancing landed him the young woman who became his fiancé. They didn't mention that she broke off the engagement when he was deployed for the second time.

And the photos of Will as a cute baby and an awkward teenager and then a proud soldier didn't quite capture that completely earnest, slightly shy smile that made Will come to mind when I heard the phrase "America's sons and daughters."

For the first two years of this war, we routinely covered memorials in Iraq -- showing Americans the way soldiers honor their fallen comrades and then walk out the door and get on with what they do every day.

The stories gave faces to the figures of the fallen. Now, even if the soldier's comrades and family don’t mind, the memorials are deemed by the military too "sensitive" for the mainstream media to cover. I was there because I knew him.

So for almost all Americans, Will would have been a number -- somewhere between 85 and 90 on a list of casualties in October that would grow by more than a dozen more. After his death, a two-paragraph press release read: "A Multi-National Division-Baghdad soldier died at approximately 1 p.m. today after his patrol struck a roadside bomb."

Juan Cole on the partition of Iraq: The purely American context of these deliberations about the fate of a whole Middle Eastern nation seems somewhat detached from reality. In Iraq itself, the major proponent of new regional confederacies is Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the largest bloc in parliament. He and his allies wish to see eight or nine largely Shiite provinces join together in a super-province or regional confederacy.

Hakim is widely seen as close to Iran, and it is believed that Iran supports the idea of a Shiite regional government. Hakim recently rammed through parliament a law specifying the legal mechanisms for establishing such a confederacy. The Sunni Arab bloc boycotted the vote. Should not Americans be suspicious of a plan so warmly supported by Tehran?

No one seems to care that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the elected leader of Iraq, firmly rejects partition and even opposes ethnic confederacies. In his interview with O'Reilly on Fox Cable News, Bush said of his discussions with Maliki: ``On the point you brought up about dividing the country into three, he rejected that strongly. He thought that was a bad idea. And I agree with him.''

Also opposed are the Sunni Arab parties, the traditional elite of the country. Young Shiite nationalist leader, the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, insists on a strong central government. Even President Jalal Talabani, a strong advocate for the Kurdistan regional government, rejects partition in the rest of Iraq. ``It's very dangerous for Iraq, especially the Arab part of Iraq. Baghdad, Baquba, the mixed areas, it is not so easy to implement this policy of ethnic cleansing. Nor Kirkuk or Mosul. There is no possibility of accepting such kind of policy.''

Talabani was pointing out that a province such as Baghdad, with 6 million inhabitants, is ethnically mixed and could not be partitioned without massive ``ethnic cleansing.'' He also mentioned Kirkuk, which is a tinderbox of sectarian and ethnic conflict. This northern oil city is a contested territory among Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds. Were Kurds, for instance, to attempt to expel the Turkmen and take complete possession of Kirkuk, they would risk provoking military intervention by Turkey, which views the Turkmens as its proteges.

Likewise, the Sunni Arabs have a claim on Kirkuk. If Iraq was partitioned, the Sunni Arabs would be left with the arid west and center-north without any significant oil fields of their own. Since they ruled Iraq for all of the twentieth century, they clearly would refuse to accept such a demotion to poverty and would mount an armed struggle for possession of Kirkuk, which has a significant Arab population. On a very good day, Kirkuk can pump 800,000 barrels a day of petroleum, about a third of Iraq's current production, though ethnic warfare has impeded its exports and could do so for years.

The neighbors of Iraq fear that the aftermath of an Iraq partition will be a regional conflagration. Partition is strongly rejected by U.S. allies in the region, such as Turkey (a NATO member) and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh's ambassador in Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, warned last week that dividing Iraq into three parts ``is to envision sectarian killing on a massive scale and the uprooting of families.'' He added emphatically that Iraqis were too intermingled to be neatly divided up, and that ``Those who call for a partition of Iraq are calling for a three-fold increase in the problems.''

John F. Burns: The cycle of discord and strained reconciliation that has broken into the open between Iraq’s Shiite-led government and the Bush administration has revealed how wide the gulf has become between what the United States expects from the Baghdad government and what it is able or willing to deliver.

Just in the past 10 days, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has rejected the notion of an American “timeline” for action on urgent Iraqi political issues; ordered American commanders to lift checkpoints they had set up around the Shiite district of Sadr City to hunt for a kidnapped American soldier and a fugitive Shiite death squad leader; blamed the Americans for the deteriorating security situation in Iraq; and demanded speeded-up Iraqi control of its own military.

The estrangement has developed despite the two governments’ mutual dependency. The Maliki government needs the United States for the protection its 150,000 troops afford, and without which, most Iraqi politicians agree, the country would slide into full-blown civil war. For the Americans, success for the government that won a four-year term in January’s elections seems central to any hope for an orderly American disengagement from Iraq.

Without doubt, there has been an element of political grandstanding by Mr. Maliki that reflects his need to rally support among fractious Shiite political partners and the restive masses they represent. With American pressures focusing on the need for political concessions to the minority Sunnis by the majority Shiites — the principal victims of Saddam Hussein’s repression, and, since his overthrow, the main targets for Sunni insurgent bombings — the prime minister cannot afford to be seen to be at America’s beck and call.

Still, the differences between the new Shiite rulers and the Americans are real and growing. And the paradox of their animosity is that the primary beneficiary of the rift is likely to be their common enemy, the Sunni insurgents. Their aim has been to recapture the power the Sunnis lost with Mr. Hussein’s overthrow — and to repeat the experience of the 1920s, when Shiites squandered their last opportunity to wrest power and handed the Sunnis an opening to another 80 years of domination.

Robert Fisk: So America's one-time ally has been sentenced to death for war crimes he committed when he was Washington's best friend in the Arab world. America knew all about his atrocities and even supplied the gas - along with the British, of course - yet there we were yesterday declaring it to be, in the White House's words, another "great day for Iraq". That's what Tony Blair announced when Saddam Hussein was pulled from his hole in the ground on 13 December 2003. And now we're going to string him up, and it's another great day.

Of course, it couldn't happen to a better man. Nor a worse. It couldn't be a more just verdict - nor a more hypocritical one. It's difficult to think of a more suitable monster for the gallows, preferably dispatched by his executioner, the equally monstrous hangman of Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Widad, who would strike his victims on the head with an axe if they dared to condemn the leader of the Iraqi Socialist Baath Party before he hanged them. But Abu Widad was himself hanged at Abu Ghraib in 1985 after accepting a bribe to put a reprieved prisoner to death instead of the condemned man. But we can't mention Abu Ghraib these days because we have followed Saddam's trail of shame into the very same institution. And so by hanging this awful man, we hope - don't we? - to look better than him, to remind Iraqis that life is better now than it was under Saddam.

Only so ghastly is the hell-disaster that we have inflicted upon Iraq that we cannot even say that. Life is now worse. Or rather, death is now visited upon even more Iraqis than Saddam was able to inflict on his Shias and Kurds and - yes, in Fallujah of all places - his Sunnis, too. So we cannot even claim moral superiority. For if Saddam's immorality and wickedness are to be the yardstick against which all our iniquities are judged, what does that say about us? We only sexually abused prisoners and killed a few of them and murdered some suspects and carried out a few rapes and illegally invaded a country which cost Iraq a mere 600,000 lives ("more or less", as George Bush Jnr said when he claimed the figure to be only 30,000). Saddam was much worse. We can't be put on trial. We can't be hanged.

Anthony Wade: Be ready America, be vigilant. Since the capture of Saddam Hussein we have seen the deaths of at least another 2,400 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Another 18,000 American soldiers have been wounded since then. Even though we have 22,000 more troops on the ground since Saddam's capture, attacks have increased 400%. Nothing about this "verdict" should sway your mind about the failed leadership of this party. If anything, a guilty verdict will probably spur more violence and make a martyr out of Hussein. Don't forget that we do not live in a Machiavellian society. The ends do not justify the means. We did not go into this war because of Saddam, but because of the lies told to us by the Republican Party. They were the ones who swore about connections to al Qaeda and ranted about WMD and "mushroom clouds." 3,000 or more of our kids have come home in boxes and those that sent them there clearly have no plan, just rhetoric. They have no vision, just blind loyalty to party over country. They have nothing left to sell America; just a tin-pot dictator from a bygone era. Their hope is to parade him in front of you for two straight days before you vote and lie to your face about why we are in this God-forsaken war to begin with. They will pretend this preconceived political ploy is a justification for their continued slaughter of people in this world. They are hoping America is so subdued in their fear and cowed in their oppression that they will not be able to tell the difference between a staged political stunt and the truth. They are wrong. America will remember their dead. They will remember their sacrifice. They will remember the past five years and not continue to give power to people who continue to wrap themselves up in a blood-soaked flag while handing billions of dollars to their political cronies. America stands for more than rhetoric and talking points. It stands for more than blind support for leaders who politically rig trials to magically come to verdict two days before a national election. America stands for honesty, truth and integrity; at least it used to. After this Tuesday, it can and will again, no matter how many times they show us a picture of a tin-pot dictator from a bygone era and pretend that a rigged trial justifies five years of horror.

Mike Lupica: The ones who started this war do not want you to see the ceremonies that begin at Patton Circle or near McLellan Gate and make their way to section 60. They do not want you to hear the mournful sound of the bugle playing taps or the sound of the three-volley salute fired for Army men like Capt. Mark Paine. They would rather have Tuesday's elections be a referendum on anything except another young soldier ending up here.

There is nothing at section 60 for the people who started this war, who still try to tell the country that it is somehow essential to the safety of this country. The President rolls up his sleeves, like a tough, regular guy, and says, "If we don't stop them there, they will follow us here," as if somehow his war in Iraq is essential to the future safety of Cedar Rapids. And then he is never near a coffin at Arlington National if he can help it, and he acts if a solemn outdoor cathedral like this, with a couple more military burials every week, does not exist.

He tries to act as if his party is still running on this war and runs away from it instead. George Bush wants this midterm election to be about anything except Iraq, and 100 more dead soldiers in the month of October, and no end in sight, even as his vice president, Dick Cheney, who set a world's record for draft deferments during Vietnam, surrounds himself with soldiers at a campaign stop in Colorado. Suddenly Bush and Cheney want everything to be about John Kerry all over again, now that Kerry sticks a foot in his mouth at a campaign stop of his own.

Only this election is not about Kerry. It is not about a peep show like Rep. Mark Foley's, or an Evangelical minister with a hunky boyfriend, or the cheap lie, peddled door to door by this administration, that opposition to Bush's war makes you some kind of weak, lousy traitor. No. Tuesday will be about this war, about coffins we aren't supposed to see at Arlington, about the back rows of section 60, about Capt. Mark Paine of the U.S. Army, who was proud to serve his country, who was supposed to come home from Iraq for good so he could be home for Christmas.

Frank Rich: After all this time, you’d think the Iraq fictions wouldn’t work anymore. The overwhelming majority of Americans now know that we were conned into this mess in the first place by two fake story lines manufactured by the White House, a connection between 9/11 and Saddam and an imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon. Both were trotted out in our last midterm campaign to rush a feckless Congress into voting for a war authorization before Election Day. As the administration pulls the same ploy four years later, this time to keep the fiasco going, you have to wonder if it can get away with lying once more. Given the polls, I would have said no, but last week’s John Kerry farce gives me pause. Whatever lame joke or snide remark the senator was trying to impart, it was no more relevant to the reality unfolding in Iraq than the sex scenes in Jim Webb’s novels. But as the White House ingeniously inflated a molehill by a noncandidate into a mountain of fake news, real news from Iraq was often downplayed or ignored entirely. It was a chilling example of how even now a skit ginned up by the administration screenwriters can dwarf and obliterate reality in our media culture. On the same day Mr. Kerry blundered, the United States suffered a palpable and major defeat in Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, once again doing the bidding of the anti-American leader Moktada al-Sadr, somehow coerced American forces into dismantling their cordon of Sadr City, where they were searching for a kidnapped soldier. As the melodramatic debates over how much Mr. Kerry should apologize dragged on longer, still more real news got short shrift: the October death toll for Americans in Iraq was the highest in nearly two years. Some 90 percent of the dead were enlisted men and nearly a third were on extended tours of duty or their second or third tours. Their average age was 24.


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