Thursday, November 16, 2006


Bring ‘em on: Four more U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Thursday, bringing to at least 10 the number killed over the past two days in gun battles and roadside bomb blasts around the country. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and two wounded in the eastern province of Diyala north of Baghdad when a bomb hit their vehicle during combat operations on Wednesday. A third soldier was shot dead in an operation in the same province. It was not clear whether the incidents were linked. Another U.S. soldier was shot dead in Baghdad on Tuesday, bringing to seven the number killed that day. At least 44 U.S. soldiers have been killed this month, half of them in the western Anbar province, heartland of the three-year-old Sunni Muslim insurgency


Police found 40 bullet-riddled bodies in Baghdad of men killed execution style, further evidence of the bitter sectarian strife gripping Iraq.

A roadside bomb exploded at 7 a.m. in the Zayouna section of Baghdad, killing one Iraqi policemen and wounding three.

In Amil, a section of western Baghdad, a motorcycle rigged with explosives killed two civilians and wounded one.

Two mortar shells hit a police checkpoint near the Interior Ministry in eastern Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding one.

Police also said the bullet-riddled, blindfolded bodies of four Iraqis were found in two locations of eastern Baghdad at 11 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 a.m. Thursday. Each victim had been tied up and tortured.

Gunmen opened fire on a bakery in eastern Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding two.

A car bomb near a court killed two people and wounded five in northeastern Palestine street in Baghdad.

A roadside bomb targeted police commandos, killing one and wounding another near the national stadium of al-Shaab in eastern Baghdad.

A roadside bomb killed one person and wounded three others in al-Shorja area in central Baghdad.

A car bomb killed one person and wounded four in the northern al-Qahira district of Baghdad.


Police found the bodies of two people shot and mutilated on Wednesday in Baiji.


Three insurgents were killed and one wounded on Monday when a roadside bomb they were trying to plant exploded prematurely in Mosul.

Gunmen attacked the convoy of the Governor of Mosul, Duraid Kashmula, and killed one of his guards and wounded four others in Mosul. The governor was not in the convoy.


The bodies of four people were found with gunshot wounds in Yusufiya.

U.S. forces killed nine insurgents and detained nine others during a raid just south of Yusufiya, the U.S. military said.

No effective government: Kidnappers tortured many of the dozens of hostages seized in a daylight raid on a government building and killed some of them, a minister said as he warned that he felt Iraq no longer had an effective government.

Higher Education Minister Abed Dhiab al-Ujaili, a Sunni Arab member of the Shiite-led unity government, said some 75 hostages remained in captivity after the raid by militiamen wearing police-style uniforms, 40 of them his ministry's staff.

Ujaili said he was stepping down from the government until the government secures the release of all hostages and takes action against militias suspected of carrying out kidnappings.

"Those who were set free told us that a few of the hostages have been killed, while most of them were tortured," he told AFP.

"I'm very much concerned about their welfare," he said of the remaining hostages.

Ujaili said effective action was needed against the militias before he could resume his ministerial duties.

"I'm stepping down until something has been taken actively, there's not just talking," the minister told the BBC. "The police force should be investigated and should put the right people in the right place."

When asked if he felt there was currently no effective government in Iraq, the minister replied: "That's right, I feel, yeah, there is no effective government."

Another crisis: A dispute erupted Wednesday between Iraqi officials over the fate of dozens of hostages abducted from a government building, undermining an effort by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to project an image of authority during the crisis.

A spokesman for Abed Dhiab al-Ajeeli, the minister of higher education, said that 98 of about 150 hostages were still being held a day after the kidnapping, at the ministry’s compound. But the government’s chief spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, contended that only 39 people had been kidnapped and that all but two of the victims had been released. Both men angrily dismissed the other’s comments as false.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Dhiab, one of the few Sunni Arabs in Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated cabinet, announced he was stepping down from his post until all the hostages had been rescued. In a statement, apparently directed at the Maliki administration, he said that any effort to make the kidnapping “a political issue” would be “unacceptable behavior.”

The disagreements emerged as Mr. Maliki sought to convey a sense of governmental cohesion and resolve in response to the abductions.

Refugees from liberation: The UNHCR recently estimated that nearly 3 million Iraqis have been displaced since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Although Egypt is not even the primary destination for most of those fleeing Iraq, they now constitute the largest number of new registrants at the UNHCR’s Cairo office. Many of those in the waiting room are women: I have listened to their accounts of how violence and insecurity—so extreme that many feared leaving their homes or sending their children to school—left them with little choice but to flee.

As an Iranian-American refugee lawyer based in Egypt, I could not help but notice the irony of a war of “liberation” creating refugees. Just like past colonial powers justified their actions by claiming to save women from backwards traditions, U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan has also been justified in part on the grounds of promoting democratization and advancing human rights and women’s rights in particular. But five years after the U.S. launched its so-called “war on terror,” and as the administration contemplates military intervention in yet another country—Iran—we must ask ourselves whether women have reaped any real benefits from these actions.

In Afghanistan, women are not faring much better than they were five years ago before the fall of the Taliban, according to a report recently issued by Womankind, a British nonprofit organization. The report states that despite the initial, iconic images of women throwing off their burqas after the overthrow of the Taliban, women have not seen any material gains in their rights in terms of education, personal status laws or economic opportunities. And, like all Afghans, they suffer from the lack of infrastructure and the insecurity that plague daily life.

In Iraq, the new constitution has guaranteed that women hold 25 percent of the seats in parliament. But at the same time, facts on the ground have set back women’s drive for greater rights and status. Islamic fundamentalist militias in some areas have imposed strict interpretations of sharia law, forcing veiling of women and gender segregation—even barring girls from going to school in some cases. And the total lack of security across the country has made day-to-day life for many women nearly impossible, hence the exodus to countries around the region.

Turkish casualties: Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul revealed that 125 Turks have been killed in Iraq.

Deputies were given information on Turkish losses in Iraq as part of a notice entitled “Our Foreign Policy Entering 2007,” handed out during the budget deliberations.

Out of 91 Turks abducted, eight are still being held captive. Thirty one Turkish citizens have gone missing since their entry into Iraq and have not been heard from since.

Confusion Reigns

It seems clear the present policy isn't working: Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who was elected Senate majority leader yesterday, said last night that President Bush still has not grasped the urgent need to change course in Iraq. Reid vowed to press quickly for phased troop withdrawals, a more international approach to Iraq's problems and a rebuilding of the depleted U.S. military.

…Voter anger over the war swept his party to power with the unlikely defeat of six Republican senators, he said. Democrats must respond to that anger, he added, with hearings to keep the heat on the Bush administration, and with calls for a regional Middle Eastern conference and a revitalized Iraqi reconstruction effort.

To that end, he said, one of the first acts of the new Democratic Congress will be a $75 billion boost to the military budget to try to get the Army's diminished units back into combat shape.

Democrats will not try, Reid pledged, to play the strongest hand they have -- using Congress's power of the purse to starve the war effort of money and force the president to move. Such an effort would only elicit a veto from Bush. But he said Democrats will marshal their newly acquired power -- in hearing rooms and on the Senate floor -- to stoke public opinion and drive the debate.

"Three Americans killed yesterday, four British; 150 Iraqis taken out of that building and kidnapped; 1,800-plus went through that one Baghdad morgue but that doesn't count all the dead," Reid recounted. "My displeasure with the president, he doesn't understand the urgency of this. It's all victory for him, but I don't know what that means anymore in Iraq. I do know what we are doing now doesn't work."

Some say pull out: Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), who has long been an advocate of withdrawing our troops from Iraq, while focusing on al Qaeda and real terror threats to America, continued his leadership role yesterday when he introduced legislation requiring a withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq by the middle of 2007. “Redeploying our troops will pressure the Iraqi government to get its political house in order while allowing us to re-focus on global terrorist organizations and trouble spots that threaten our national security,” Feingold said. “It simply doesn't make sense to continue devoting so much of our resources to one country while ignoring the growing threats we face around the world.” Part of the "growing threat" that Feingold has continually cited, is the presence of al Qaeda operatives in more countries now than when the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001 -- so much for the success of George W. Bush's bogus "war on terror" huh? Feingold's legislation, which builds on an amendment he authored earlier this year, allows for a small number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for targeted counter-terrorism activities, training of Iraqi security forces, and the protection of U.S. infrastructure and personnel. The bill has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Abazid says no increase or withdrawal – stay the course with what we have: Abizaid, who expressed hope last January that U.S. forces could be reduced to 100,000 from 140,000 by the end of 2006, told lawmakers his optimism was misplaced.

The sectarian bloodletting and insurgent attacks remain "unacceptably high," he said, particularly in Baghdad and Sunni-dominated areas such as Al Anbar province.

"I would not say we've turned the corner," said Abizaid, who heads U.S. Central Command.

Asked by Democratic Senator Jack Reed to estimate how much time the U.S. has to curb the violence in Iraq before it becomes uncontrollable, Abizaid said: "Four to six months."

But the key to stabilizing Iraq is not to experiment with increased or decreased numbers of American troops, Abizaid insisted.

Instead, the U.S. must continue to focus on accelerating the training of Iraqi military forces and giving them the lead role within 12 months, he said.

"I believe more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, taking more responsibility for their future," he said.

At the same time, Abizaid said he "would not recommend troop withdrawals" because that would embolden warring sects and al-Qaida operatives and signal a lack of U.S. resolve.

Abizaid's recommendation is at odds both with Democrats and Republicans.

St. John wants more troops, Abazid shoots him down: MCCAIN: Did you note that General Zinni who opposed of the invasion now thinks that we should have more troops? Did you notice that General Batise, who was opposed to the conduct of this conflict also says that we may need tens and thousands of additional troops. I don’t understand General. When you have a part of Iraq that is not under our control and yet we still — as Al Anbar province is — I don’t know how many American lives have been sacrificed in Al Anbar province — but we still have enough and we will rely on the ability to train the Iraqi military when the Iraqi army hasn’t send the requested number of battalions into Baghdad.

ABIZAID: Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the core commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American Troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more. It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon to us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.

Meanwhile, Bush’s main priority is to avoid looking like he needs Daddy to bail him out: President Bush formally launched a sweeping internal review of Iraq policy yesterday, pulling together studies underway by various government agencies, according to U.S. officials.

The initiative, begun after Bush met at the White House with his foreign policy team, parallels the effort by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to salvage U.S. policy in Iraq, develop an exit strategy and protect long-term U.S. interests in the region. The two reviews are not competitive, administration officials said, although the White House wants to complete the process before mid-December, about the time the Iraq Study Group's final report is expected.

The White House's decision changes the dynamics of what happens next to U.S. policy deliberations. The administration will have its own working document as well as recommendations from an independent bipartisan commission to consider as it struggles to prevent further deterioration in Iraq.

"The president has asked all his national security agencies to assess the situation in Iraq, review the options and recommend the best way forward. The ISG report will be duly considered, and we look forward to their recommendations, as the president has always said," a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the new initiative has not been announced. "The president indicated Monday that he is interested in hearing interesting ideas both within his administration and from the Baker-Hamilton commission."

The White House review could give the administration alternatives so that it feels less pressure to fully implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report, foreign policy experts said.

Bush seems to think more troops will do the trick: President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

Mr Bush's refusal to give ground, coming in the teeth of growing calls in the US and Britain for a radical rethink or a swift exit, is having a decisive impact on the policy review being conducted by the Iraq Study Group chaired by Bush family loyalist James Baker, the sources said.

In an odd pairing, Zinni calls for more troops too: One of the most resonant arguments in the debate over Iraq holds that the United States can move forward by pulling its troops back, as part of a phased withdrawal. If American troops begin to leave and the remaining forces assume a more limited role, the argument holds, it will galvanize the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for securing and rebuilding Iraq.

This is the case now being argued by many Democrats, most notably Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who asserts that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months.

But this argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.

Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command and one of the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argued that any substantial reduction of American forces over the next several months would be more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than stop it.

“The logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this,” General Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. “Well, you can’t put pressure on a wounded guy. There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence.”

Instead of taking troops out, General Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to “regain momentum” as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.

Blair jumps in: British Prime Minister Tony Blair made an open plea on Monday to United States President George Bush to recognise that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the core of any hopes for wider peace in the Middle East, including Iraq. In his annual foreign policy speech, seen as a chance to recalibrate Britain's Iraq strategy, Blair said a solution to the conflict was central to a strategy that "pins back the forces trying to create mayhem inside Iraq". He also urged Syria, and to a lesser extent Iran, to choose whether they wished to join the dialogue and become partners in a wider Middle East peace. Blair, famously cautious about pressing the Republican administration in public, is trying to seize the rare indecision in Washington in response to the Democrat victories to persuade the White House to acknowledge the central importance of the Palestinian peace process.

The Baker group seems to concur – talk to Syria and Iran: The White House is under growing pressure to talk to Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq, but mounting violence in Iraq and the Bush administration's political woes give the negotiating edge to Tehran and Damascus and complicate any U.S. outreach, experts say.

The idea of talks is widely expected to be on the list of proposals that will come out of the Iraq Study Group report next month, because co-chairman and former secretary of state James A. Baker III and other members back engaging enemies as well as allies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week endorsed talking with Tehran and Damascus, with caveats. The CIA director and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said yesterday that talks could help. And an array of experts has encouraged the administration to reach out to the countries that have meddled most in Iraq.

But the Bush administration is already questioning the idea, and even supporters admit that full cooperation by both Iran and Syria may have little impact on the many-sided insurgency. Neither country has much sway over Iraq's Sunnis or the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq, as both are ruled by Shiites or Shiite offshoots.

No one can tell C+ Augustus what to do: The US state department's top official on Iraq policy said yesterday that America had ruled out negotiations with Syria on curbing the violence in Iraq, but was considering talks with Iran.

David Satterfield was giving testimony to the Senate armed services committee, which was reviewing Iraq policy for the first time since the Democrats' election victory and the resignation of the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

"With respect to Syria, we do not believe that the issue involving Syria's negative behaviours toward Iraq, Hizbullah, Lebanon, Iran or Palestinian radical groups is a question of lack of dialogue or lack of engagement," Mr Satterfield said. "With respect to Iran, we are prepared, in principle, to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq. The timing of such a direct dialogue is one we still have under review."

His remarks appeared to conflict with the position taken by President George Bush - that the Iranians would have to bring a verifiable halt to the enrichment of uranium before talks could occur.

Out front the administration furiously spins away differences. Somewhere in a back room Tony Blair gets the hell beat out of him with a rolled up newspaper: The White House has rushed to deny claims of a diplomatic rift with its closest European ally Britain, after Prime Minister Tony Blair mooted a "partnership" with US foes Iran and Syria.

As the impact of a major foreign policy address by the British leader started to sink in, the White House bristled Tuesday at suggestions Blair had struck out from Washington, issuing a fact sheet to debunk the claim.

Blair on Monday laid out a "whole Middle East strategy" involving a push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, a plan for Iraq and a "strategic" choice of cooperation or isolation to be offered to Iran.

On Tuesday, the British premier testified by video link-up to the US Iraq Study Group, probing possible new strategies on the war and called for a "strategic choice" for Iran and Syria, his office said.

His remarks were seen by some observers in both countries as an attempt to influence US policy in the Middle East, at a time when changes in Iraq strategy are being contemplated following the Republican defeat in mid-term elections.

President George W. Bush's spokesman Tony Snow however told AFP on Tuesday that suggestions in the British and US media that Blair's remarks signalled cracks between Downing Street and the White House were mischaracterizations.

"Read his speech, and you'll see there is no difference between the governments," Snow said.

And while all these idiots posture and argue the entire region is about to burst into flames. Heck of a job, George!: While American commanders have suggested that civil war is possible in Iraq, many leaders, experts and ordinary people in Baghdad and around the Middle East say it is already underway, and that the real worry ahead is that the conflict will destroy the flimsy Iraqi state and draw in surrounding countries.

Whether the U.S. military departs Iraq sooner or later, the United States will be hard-pressed to leave behind a country that does not threaten U.S. interests and regional peace, according to U.S. and Arab analysts and political observers.

"We're not talking about just a full-scale civil war. This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups," growing into regional conflict, Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group, said by telephone from Amman, Jordan.

"The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body," Hiltermann said.

Fighting The Totalitarian Drift

Wiretapping: Warrantless wiretaps that the government says are necessary to fight terrorism pose a threat to American democracy, the American Civil Liberties Union said in court papers filed Tuesday.

The ACLU is asking the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a lower court decision that said the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional.

President Bush has said the program is needed to detect terrorists. Opponents argue it oversteps constitutional boundaries on free speech, privacy and executive powers.

''The government's sweeping theory of executive power would allow the president to violate any law passed by Congress,'' the ACLU said. ''This theory presents a profound threat to our democratic system.

Wriggling Dick: Vice President Dick Cheney asked a federal judge Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit brought against him by a former CIA operative who says the White House leaked her identity to the press.

Cheney's attorneys criticized the lawsuit in court papers, saying it invented constitutional rights, intruded on national security discussions and came two years after the statute of limitations had expired.

Former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson claims that she was outed as retribution for her husband's criticism of the administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent years investigating who revealed her identity to syndicated columnist Robert Novak in 2003 but nobody was charged with the leak. Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who faces trial in January on perjury and obstruction, is the only person charged in the case.

Wilson's civil lawsuit is continuing alongside Libby's criminal case. In seeking to dismiss the case, Cheney said Wilson doesn't have any grounds to bring the suit and, even if she did, the vice president is shielded from civil suits.

War Crimes, Entry-Level

Haditha: An American soldier yesterday pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of three members of her family in a village near Baghdad in March in one of the most brutal examples of attacks on civilians in Iraq.

The soldier, Specialist James Barker, also agreed to testify against three other accused soldiers. He agreed to the plea in return for a guarantee that he would not face the death penalty, his lawyers said.

The murders took place on March 12 in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad. Prosecutors allege that five soldiers stationed at a checkpoint there raped the girl, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, then burned her body to hide the evidence, and killed her father, mother and six-year-old sister.

Murder: A US marine involved in the death of an Iraqi civilian has been jailed for 18 months after admitting being involved in the killing.

John Jodka, a private, apologised to the family of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, after pleading guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice during a hearing at the marines' Camp Pendleton base.

Prosecutors said Jodka was one of eight US servicemen, seven marines and a navy medic, who forced Awad from his home in Hamdania outside Baghdad on April 26, shot him and staged a cover-up.

The case is one of a string of incidents that have tarnished the reputation of US forces in Iraq.

A True American Hero

Support Lt. Watada!: Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada appeared on national television yesterday and deflected criticism that he took the coward's way out by refusing to fight in Iraq because he was afraid to die there.

"I am sure everyone is afraid of getting killed," the 28-year-old artillery officer said on CNN.

"I am sure everyone doesn't want to go to prison, either," said Watada, who faces a maximum jail term of six years if convicted by a military court-martial.

"Everyone doesn't want to do a lot of things, but we have to go back to what we took an oath to -- and that was to protect and defend our country against all enemies. That includes those within our country who seek to undermine, who seek to violate the laws and basically hold themselves unaccountable and do whatever they want."

"That is not America. That is not democracy."


NY Times: When President Bush announced in September that he was transferring 14 men suspected of heinous acts of terrorism to Guantánamo Bay, his aim was baldly political — to stampede Congress into passing a profoundly flawed law that set up military tribunals to try “illegal enemy combatants” and absolved U.S. officials of liability for illegally detaining and torturing prisoners.

But that cynical White House move may also have unintentionally provided the loose thread to unravel the secrecy and lawlessness that have cloaked the administration’s handling of terrorism suspects.

For more than two years, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department have vigorously battled efforts to force the administration to account for the network of secret C.I.A. camps at which specially designated prisoners are hidden away. It has resisted a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that seeks the release of documents relating to prisoner policies, including the C.I.A. prisons. Government lawyers have argued that even admitting that some documents existed would endanger national security.

But when Mr. Bush announced that he was sending the 14 prisoners to Guantánamo for trial, he effectively confirmed the existence of the secret C.I.A. prisons. Later, in the debate over the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Mr. Bush said that Congress had to absolve C.I.A. agents of any legal responsibility for their actions so he could order them to go on interrogating prisoners.

That was a major blow to the C.I.A.’s legal strategy. After all, if the president could talk about the prisons and interrogations to suit his political interests, why couldn’t they be discussed in court?

William Rivers Pitt: Gates's nomination to the post of secretary of defense was field-generaled behind the scenes by James Baker III, who has suddenly taken on a muscular role within the Bush White House since the spectacular Republican wipeout during the midterm elections last Tuesday. Baker's return, along with the new prominence of Bush Sr., has been hailed in the mainstream press as a healthy step toward stability and sanity.

One is forced to wonder, however, which masters Mr. Baker is actually serving. Baker's Carlyle Group has profited wildly from the conflict in Iraq, which begs the question: will the bottom line, augmented by Carlyle's defense contracts, trump any attempts to establish a just and lasting peace? It must also be noted that Baker's law firm, Baker Botts, is currently serving as defense counsel for Saudi Arabia against a suit brought by the families of 9/11 victims. The connections between the Bush family and the Saudi royals have been discussed ad nauseam, and Mr. Baker is so closely entwined with the Bush clan that he might as well be a blood relative.

The weakening of George W. Bush, in short, has opened the door for an alumnus of the Iran/Contra scandal, Robert Gates, to gain control of the Pentagon - his nomination, as yet, has met with little Congressional resistance. This process was managed by James Baker, whose Carlyle Group made billions off the Iraq occupation and whose fealty to the American people has all too often taken a back seat to the needs and desires of the royal family of Saudi Arabia. These two, along with Hamilton, have been instrumental in crafting, by way of the Iraq Study Group, what by all accounts will soon be America's foreign policy lynchpin in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole.

Behind it all is George H.W. Bush, former employee of Carlyle, who has somehow managed to refashion his reputation into that of a grandfatherly, level-headed, steady hand, a foreign policy "realist" whose mere presence will soothe and calm the troubled waters we sail in. Unfortunately, his "realism" is a significant reason the United States finds itself in its current mess - until the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was a boon confederate of both the Reagan and Bush administrations in their fight against Iran - and the team of experts he has brought with him have done more to undermine the national security of the country than any other three people one could name.

The winner in all this, of course, is the Carlyle Group. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Robert Parry: One risk of putting career intelligence officer Robert Gates in charge of the Defense Department is that he has a secret – and controversial – history that might open him to pressure from foreign operatives, including some living in countries of U.S. military interest, such as Iran and Iraq.

Put more crudely, the 63-year-old Gates could become the target of pressure or even blackmail unless some of the troubling questions about his past are answered conclusively, not just cosmetically.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Gates benefited from half-hearted probes by the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch into these mysteries. The investigators – some of whom were Gates’s friends – acted as if their goal was more to sweep incriminating evidence under the rug than to expose the facts to public scrutiny.

While giving Gates another pass might work for Official Washington, which always has had a soft spot for the polite mild-mannered Gates, it won’t solve the potential for a problem if other countries have incriminating evidence about him. So, before the U.S. Senate waves Gates’s through – as happened in 1991 when he was confirmed as CIA director – it would make sense to resolve two issues in particular:

--Did Gates participate in secret and possibly illegal contacts with Iranian leaders from the 1980 election campaign through the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986?

--Did Gates oversee a clandestine pipeline of weapons and other military equipment to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq starting in 1982?

Gates has denied allegations linking him to these operations, but evidence that has emerged since 1991 has buttressed claims about Gates’s involvement.

Tom Engelhardt: Like James A. Baker, co-head of the Iraq Study Group, Gates believes in negotiating with Iran. In the summer of 2004, with former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, he co-chaired a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations that argued for opening a dialogue with Iran. Its report, "Iran: Time for a New Approach," contended that the lack of American engagement with Iran had harmed American interests and advocated direct talks with the Iranians. ("Just as the United States has a constructive relationship with China [and earlier did so with the Soviet Union] while strongly opposing certain aspects of its internal and international policies, Washington should approach Iran with a readiness to explore areas of common interests while continuing to contest objectionable policy.")

In addition, Gates -- like Baker one of Daddy Bush's boys -- has clearly been brought in to help clean up Sonny's Iraq mess. Being sane and hard-headed, he knows perfectly well that stirring up a hornet's nest in neighboring Iran is hardly a way to tackle the almost insurmountable Iraqi crisis.

Gates offers another advantage for those who prefer not to go to war again. The American high command (despite the fantasies of some administration critics) would never refuse a direct order from the commander-in-chief to bomb the gates of Hell out of Iran. However, a civilian Secretary of Defense (whose reputation is at stake) might. So the replacement of Rumsfeld is also significant in this way.

Throw in a new Democratic Congress that, as Juan Cole has written, is less likely to grant the necessary funds for such a war (though Time's Tony Karon at his Rootless Cosmopolitan website disagrees), and you have the potential for a genuine ebbing of tensions in the one area where the rash acts for which the Bush administration is by now well known could literally wreck the global economy in a matter of days. For this, a small sigh of relief is in order.

PM Carpenter: In the end, after our "peace with honor" more than two decades in the making, South Vietnam's status was left to be resolved by other means and at a later date. In short, our eventual withdrawal left the same situation that existed years before, excepting the waste of a few million lives and billions of dollars -- while the fall of all southeast Asia, which had hovered as a certain fear, never materialized.

As we know, another underlying worldview dumped rather than sucked us into Iraq. Neoconservatism's equally unquestioning assumption that, given enough initial firepower, we'd witness a flawless transition to democratic liberation was as blind to reality as the vision of all those falling dominos.

Strike one.

Then there was the unexamined question not of Iraq's importance to the United States' position in the world, but of Saddam Hussein's importance to the United States' position in the world. As virtually everyone but the neocons understood, the strongman was one of our better allies in the Middle East, keeping, as he did, the lid on a sectarian powder keg that otherwise would blow up not only Iraq, but the entire region.

Strike two.

Finally there was the overlooked question of Iraq's viability as a self-sustaining, political entity. And that's the question on which we now all hang.

Immanuel Wallerstein: Some people talk about dividing Iraq into three parts. This is a non-starter. Neither Turkey nor Iran can tolerate an independent Kurdistan, and the Kurds will be far better off in their present de facto autonomy than in fighting a war with neighbors. The majority of the Shia do not want a separate state. For one thing, why have Shia-stan when they can more or less dominate a united Iraq? And in any case, what would happen to Baghdad? And of course, the Sunni are dead opposed. So of course are all Iraq's neighbors, without exception. And as we have seen in Yugoslavia, separate states do not end ethnic conflict; they actually enhance it.

Basically, there are only two ways the United States can withdraw from Iraq with minimal further loss of life and minimal political damage. They can ask Iran to be their intermediary to dampen internal conflict in Iraq, which might work. Or, alternatively, the al-Sadr faction of the Shia and the Sunni resistance can join forces on an anti-American platform and ask the United States politely to leave immediately (that is, kick the United States out), which also might work.

Neither alternative is the least bit palatable to Bush or to the U.S. Congress. But these two alternatives represent probably the best deal the United States can get at this stage. Any other road almost surely leads to an ending in which helicopters ferry people out of the Green Zone to Kuwait.

The one thing that is sure is that there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq as we approach the 2008 elections. The voters and the military made that clear in the 2006 election. Of course there will be a massive blame game - among Republicans as to who lost the 2006 elections, and between Democrats and Republicans as to who lost Iraq. But the word on everyone's mind is "lost."

We can also be sure that bombing either North Korea or Iran is off the real agenda (including for Israel). The U.S. armed forces and the U.S. electorate will not tolerate it (not to speak of the rest of the world). Where will this leave the United States as a world power? It will probably result in a big push towards drawing inward. Already, in the 2006 elections, many candidates won by opposing "free trade" and Iraq was a dirty word. The political temptation will be to go local in emphasis.

Michael Hirsh: The U.S. response to Iraq reminds me of those TV ads about the comically slow suitor who, after his girlfriend asks him if he loves her, waits long minutes until she has stalked out of the restaurant before answering "yes" to the empty chair across the table. Bush and Tony Blair are now arguing about whether to talk to Iran and Syria? Two or three years ago it might have made a difference, before the Sunni insurgency that was supplied and supported from outside the country spiraled into sectarian warfare. Back then, had you engaged Syria fully, you might have stopped the cross-border depots and training centers that kept a flow of jihadis and weapons to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, one of the chief authors of the sectarian hatred, and the other original insurgent leaders. Back then, had you dealt with Iran as it must be—as a major regional power—you might have been able to curb the Shiite militias and their death squads, which were just getting started. But now? The sectarian killing has its own dynamic. What's happening is an internal Iraqi affair, and Iran and Syria have become, for the most part, bystanders.

It is the story of this administration, of course: the inability to adjust prefixed ideas to reality, embodied in an incurious president who is unable to get on top of a problem because he doesn’t follow up on details. Four years ago U.S. officials disbanded the Iraqi army, then sat stunned in their Green Zone bubble while the looting raged and the incipient insurgents began to poke their heads out of the rubble. Slowly the Bush administration began to rebuild the army. Too late, it came to realize it needed Iraqi police as well. Indeed, as army training faltered, U.S. officials labeled 2006 "the year of the police." But again, it was a year or two too late. And now that the police have become tools of the empowered sectarian militias, the Bush team is talking about relying on the Iraqi army again.

John Nichols: Political and media insiders were willing to admit, albeit cautiously, that last week's election results in which Democrats took control of Congress, with explicitly anti-war candidates posting frequently unexpected wins in districts across the country represented a repudiation of the Bush administration's invasion and continued occupation of Iraq.

President Bush confirmed the assessment when he welcomed the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Unfortunately, while the analysts finally acknowledged the deep and broad opposition to the war, they continued to question whether Americans really want to bring the troops home now. They were not willing to speak the truth that Siobhan Kolar, who helped organize an anti-war referendum campaign in Illinois, did when she declared: "The anti-war majority has spoken!"

The prospect of rapid withdrawal still scares the vast majority of what can loosely be referred to as "the political class" not because those who understand the seriousness of the troubles in Iraq think that withdrawal is a particularly bad option, but because they fear the American electorate might object to the abandonment of a mission that they have been told for more than three years is essential.

As they have since before the war began, most pundits and pols are underestimating the awareness and the maturity of the American people with regard to exit strategies. If only they would travel this country and actually talk to voters, they would run into people like Regina Miller, the mother of an Army captain serving his second tour in Iraq, who spoke to a reporter while waiting in line to vote in Baltimore.

"I really don't think we're making a difference there, so we need a change. We need to pull out. That's their war," Miller said of the Iraqis. "That's a civil war."

That is not a naive or misinformed sentiment. That's realism a realism that accepts that Iraq is a mess and that it will probably remain a mess for quite some time. It asks only the most basic question: Why should American troops remain bogged down in the middle of the mess?


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