Thursday, December 14, 2006



Police found the bodies of two people, shot and tortured, in al-Lij village, 35 km south of Baghdad.


A car bomb exploded near an Iraqi army convoy and killed two people, including a policeman, and wounded seven, including three soldiers, in Nafaq al-Shurta in western Baghdad.

A car bomb killed an Iraqi explosives expert along with his assistant when they were trying to dismantle it on Wednesday night in Sadr City in eastern Baghdad.

The tortured, bullet-ridden bodies of 21 kidnap victims were found on the streets of the capital on Wednesday.

At least 17 people were killed Wednesday in car bombings against Shiite and Sunni targets in Baghdad.

A car bomb struck the largely Sunni area of Yarmouk on Wednesday, killing two people and wounding three.

Gunmen in military uniforms kidnapped dozens of people Thursday from a major commercial area in central Baghdad, the second mass abduction in the capital in a month. The attackers drove up to the busy al-Sanak area in about 10 sport utility vehicles and began rounding up shop owners and bystanders. Two police officers said 50 to 70 people were abducted.

Officers were on high alert Thursday after receiving tips that militants were moving bombs into the Shiite Sadr City slum.

Four civilians were wounded in a blast at 11:30 p.m. on al-Fallah St. in the sprawling district in eastern Baghdad, police Capt. Mohammed Ismail said. He said explosives experts successfully defused a second car bomb in the same area.

Elsewhere in the capital Thursday, gunmen stormed a boys' school in the southwestern Alam neighborhood, killing a Shiite guard.

Two mortar shells landed on a rural area on the edge of the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad, wounding three people and causing a huge fire.

Gunmen attacked the convoy of Iraq's Shi'ite vice president, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in Baghdad on Thursday, but there were no injuries, Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul Karim Khalaf said. An aide to Mahdi denied any attack had occurred, saying the vice president was in his office. Khalaf and two Interior Ministry officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters Mahdi was in the convoy but was not hurt. They said the attack took place in Jamiaa district, a mostly Sunni area in western Baghdad.

In the mixed New Baghdad district in the southwest part of the capital, two car bombs exploded simultaneously on Wednesday, killing 12 people, including two police officers, and wounding 13, among them three policemen.

The U.S. military said two explosions occurred on a street near the Sunni al-Samouri Mosque in New Baghdad on Wednesday, but that there was no damage. The military did not say whether there were any casualties.

A roadside bomb exploded at the Amil-Bayya intersection in west Baghdad on Wednesday, killing three people, including one policeman, and wounding five others.

A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in the Illam neighborhood in southwest Baghdad killed two police officers and wounded three others on Wednesday.

Armed men killed three members of one family when they blew up a house in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dora in south Baghdad on Wednesday.

Gunmen fired on a car in the mostly Sunni Adel neighborhood in west Baghdad, killing five passengers on Wednesday.


Eight people were killed in rebel attacks across the country, including five in Diyala's capital of Baquba.

Men with explosives destroyed a small, empty Shiite shrine in Baqouba on Wednesday.


A roadside bomb targeting a British military patrol wounded a soldier in the southern city of Basra, British military spokesman Captain Tane Dunlop said.

Diyala Province

A policemen was killed by a bomb attack elsewhere in the province (Diyala? –m).


Mortars hit a house in the town of Hawija, killing a mother and two of her children.


Police reported Wednesday that insurgents blew up a revered Shiite shrine Tuesday night near the Kurdish town of Khanaqin in Diyala province on the Iranian border.


A policeman was killed and three others wounded when they tried to defuse a car bomb on Wednesday in Kirkuk.

Two people were killed by roadside bombs in Kirkuk on Wednesday.


A car bomb killed two people and wounded six in Mahaweel, a town 75 km south of Baghdad.


A hospital received the bodies of five people on Wednesday in the northern city of Mosul. They all had gunshot wounds.

Seven tortured bodies were found in Mosul on Wednesday.


Three roadside bombings missed a police patrol, killing one civilian and wounding one in Musayyib on Wednesday.

More dead journalists: Two Iraqi journalists were among dozens of victims of violence in Iraq over the past 10 days.

On 4 December, Nabil Ibrahim al-Dulaimi, 36, a news editor for the privately owned Radio Dijla was gunned down by unidentified gunmen shortly after he left his home in Baghdad's western neighbourhood of Washash, police First Lieutenant Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said.

On 12 December, insurgents shot dead Asswan Ahmed Lutfallah, 35, a cameraman with Associated Press Television News (APTN) as he covered clashes between Iraqi police and insurgents in Mosul, some 400km north of the capital, Baghdad, the station reported.

With these latest deaths, at least 90 journalists and 37 media support staffers have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, making Iraq the deadliest conflict for the press in recent history, according to the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders, an international organisation concerned about press freedom worldwide, has hailed a decision by Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, to allow journalists to cover its sessions again after a two-week ban.

But it described the new restrictions which place media under government surveillance as "worrying" and that journalists' rights were "unfortunately violated more and more in Iraq".

The New Way Forward ™

First – spin, stall, buy time. Create the illusion of careful study of all available options but set conditions that will ensure you can only ‘choose’ the options you already want.

And above all, project that Image of Strength: After three days of meetings with military leaders, President Bush is weighing options for Iraq ranging from a short-term surge in troops to an infusion of dollars for trainers.

No changes will involve removing troops before the job is done, the president vows.

Bush gathered advice from former and current commanders, including those in Iraq, as well as chiefs of the military services and other top Pentagon leaders.

He even heard from outside advisers who suggested he remove Marine Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to an official familiar with the meeting who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.

But Bush made it clear he will not map out a new war strategy until his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, has taken over and offered his counsel. And that new plan, he said, will not include giving up.

Claim victory but emphasize we are still under threat: Speaking in Washington after talks with senior Pentagon officials, Mr Bush told reporters he would not give up on the goal of trying to make Iraq a stable democracy.

He admitted that the level of violence in the country, invaded by a US-led coalition in 2003, had been "horrific".

Flanked by Vice-President Dick Cheney and outgoing Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mr Bush said US and Iraqi forces had killed or captured about 5,900 insurgents over the past three months.

But he added that "our enemy is far from being defeated".

Next step: Do something that looks decisive. For example…

Double down: As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government. The Joint Chiefs of Staff will present their assessment and recommendations to Bush at the Pentagon today. Military officials, including some advising the chiefs, have argued that an intensified effort may be the only way to get the counterinsurgency strategy right and provide a chance for victory. The approach overlaps somewhat a course promoted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). But the Pentagon proposals add several features, including the confrontation with Sadr, a possible renewed offensive in the Sunni stronghold of Al Anbar province, a large Iraqi jobs program and a proposal for a long-term increase in the size of the military. Such an option would appear to satisfy Bush's demand for a strategy focused on victory rather than disengagement. It would disregard key recommendations and warnings of the Iraq Study Group, however, and provide little comfort for those fearful of a long, open-ended U.S. commitment in the country.

A major combat offensive against Sadr? In Baghdad? In Sadr City? A major combat offensive against 40 or 50 thousand militia men who look just like civilians in an urban slum with 2.5 million residents? Well…it would certainly be decisive, wouldn’t it. Insane, yes, but decisive. And our Leader is, after all, the Decider.

Speaking of Sadr City, here’s an odd story. Assuming it’s true, it creates more questions than it answers. Who is smuggling these bombs and why? Sunni terrorists looking to kill Shi’ites? Or, as it seems to imply, has the Mahdi army decided to start using car bombs and they’re stocking up? Could this be part of a psyops effort to set Sadr up for an attack? After all, Zarqawi’s dead, we need a new villain , and Muqtada sure looks the part. Hmmm….

Wheels within wheels: Another police officer said authorities had stepped up security in Sadr City after receiving tips that 10 car bombs had entered the area and militants were trying to smuggle more in.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the number of police patrols and checkpoints had been increased and police were intensifying searches of cars entering the district.

The Interior Ministry confirmed that it had received tips about car bombs aimed at Sadr City from people calling into a terror hot line.

Sadr City, which houses some 2.5 million people, is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a militia that is loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has been blamed in some of the country's worst sectarian violence.

A couple Republican shills hype up the threat: McCain and Lieberman also called on both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US forces to do more to break the influence of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his 60,000-strong Mahdi Army militia.

"We should have arrested Moqtada al-Sadr three years ago," said McCain. "He continues to be a major obstacle to peace, his influence in domestic politics needs to be eliminated dramatically."

A previous attempt to defeat Sadr militarily in 2004 was a stalemate at best, and he has since reinforced his anti-American political base with 32 lawmakers and six ministers in Maliki's coalition goverment.

While the movement enjoys the support of a large sector of the urban poor, it also stands accused of carrying out sectarian murders and kidnappings and often clashes with US and Iraqi security forces.

Now, however, moves are afoot to sideline Sadr's supporters in government.

In the past weeks Bush has met two senior Iraqi leaders in Washington -- Shiite strongman Abdel Aziz Hakim and the country's Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi -- in a bid to build a new ruling coalition.

On Wednesday, Bush spoke by telephone with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish regional President Massud Barzani as part of these efforts to cement a "moderate bloc" behind the government, the White House said.

A ‘moderate bloc’. Gotta love it. But you have to admit, it’s a nifty little strategery. For home consumption, casting Sadr as the Primary Obstacle to Victory creates the chance to win back some lost political ground by showing Decisive Action against a swarthy and evil looking fellow – always a winner with the Reptilian base. In Iraq, successful action against Sadr would remove a major nationalist player – someone who actually has the potential to unite both Shiites and Sunnis against the occupation; undermine Maliki and thereby strengthen our apparent choice for Saddam redux, Hakim; and, most importantly, mollify the Saudis who are freaking out over the so-called 80% solution of backing the Shiites against the Sunnis. Slick.

Here’s why it won’t work:

Reality Is A Pesky Thing

The US military leadership is not happy with this strategy at all: An increase in U.S. forces is not universally popular in the military. Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, has long argued that increasing the size of the force would be counterproductive, angering the very people the U.S. was trying to help. Outside the Pentagon, in other corners of government, officials are skeptical that an increase in military power will end sectarian violence. James Dobbins, a former U.S. diplomat and advisor to the Iraq Study Group, said many Iraqis believed that U.S. forces put them in danger, rather than improving security. "The American troop presence is wildly unpopular in Iraq," Dobbins said. "Any effort to double our bet will lead to ever more catastrophic results." Some officers argue that the U.S. needs to show substantial progress in decreasing the violence and instability in Iraq before the 2008 presidential election. But other officers and analysts note that a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan will take years, not months, to work.

My god, we’re going to make the whole reserves and NG permanent active duty! What stronger indication that the US military is disintegrating could there be?: The Army and Marine Corps are planning to ask incoming Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Congress to approve permanent increases in personnel, as senior officials in both services assert that the nation's global military strategy has outstripped their resources.

In addition, the Army will press hard for "full access" to the 346,000-strong Army National Guard and the 196,000-strong Army Reserves by asking Gates to take the politically sensitive step of easing the Pentagon restrictions on the frequency and duration of involuntary call-ups for reservists, according to two senior Army officials.

Maliki isn’t going to sit still for his planned marginalization: Iraqi leaders discussed the latest in a long line of new security plans for Baghdad as bombs and shootings killed 37 people across the country in the run-up to national unity talks.

Multiple car bombs in Shiite districts and a truck bomb in the north targeting Iraqi soldiers guarding oil pipelines claimed 20 lives alone during another violence-torn day.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a visiting delegation of US congressmen led by Arizona Senator John McCain that his government had a new security plan to protect the capital and the rest of the country.

The government requires "more arms for the Iraqi army, more powers and training in order to be capable of handling security missions all over the country," he told the delegation, his office said.

Maliki's National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie told journalists the new plan involved a swifter transition from US troops to Iraqi forces.

US forces would move to the outskirts of the cities to combat Al-Qaeda insurgents, while the Iraqis would handle the raging sectarian conflict tearing Baghdad apart.

"The coalition forces should not get involved in sectarian violence -- this is a job for the Iraqi security forces to do," he told CNN.

US forces can’t take on Sadr alone, but Iraqi security forces are pathetic: Iraq currently has about 188,000 US-trained police officers, responsible for maintaining law and order. But only two of the 27 national police battalions are taking the lead in law enforcement operations, down from six last month, according to military officials. One entire battalion was sidelined in October after being linked to sectarian killings.

More from the same article: The day's mission was straightforward: Show the local Iraqi police how to escort a convoy of new recruits from Baqubah to the police academy in Sulymaniyah , about 125 miles to the north.

But like just about everything else involving the US training of Iraqi police, a relatively simple task quickly became complicated.

"The Iraqi police slept in, missing their movement," Army Captain Phillip Carter wrote of the April incident. Carter and his unit ultimately decided that it would be more trouble to roust them than it was worth.

"My sergeant decided not to wake them or take them," Carter wrote. "He thought it wasn't worth the effort."

The Iraqi police eventually caught up with the convoy about 30 minutes outside town, but "they did not bring any extra fuel, nor did they bring any money for fuel," Carter recalled. "Instead, they found a street vendor selling fuel cans on the side of the road and strong-armed him."

The episode was among dozens detailed in a diary kept by Carter, a military police officer, during his yearlong tour training Iraqi police. Carter provided his computer diary entries to the Globe under the condition they would not be published until after his return in September.

Now, as last week's Iraq Study Group report urges President Bush to step up the training of the Iraqi Army and the police, Carter's diary entries from his tour with the 101st Airborne Division provide a first-person view of the challenges that remain before the nation's fledgling security forces can become viable.

No one can tell who is who, not even the Iraqis: A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, which oversees the army, said the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, is in charge of the area, but stressed the difficulties in controlling the distribution of uniforms.

"Anyone can buy military or police uniforms from the market although we have issued orders to confiscate these uniforms and punish the owners," spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said. "This issue (uniforms) can't be controlled as each soldier has more than one uniform."

And any action, or no action, only widens the fracture lines: Saudi Arabia‘s royal family and government leaders are deeply divided over how to handle the growing crisis in Iraq and other looming Mideast problems like Iran , with some favoring strong aid to fellow Sunnis and others more cautious.

More broadly, the internal dispute shows how Arab countries like Saudi Arabia — long key partners in U.S. efforts to stabilize the Middle East — are struggling to decide how to proceed as Iraq boils over and Iran gains influence.

The resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal, after just 15 months as ambassador to Washington, for example, came after Saudi officials concluded he was not succeeding at building strong ties with the United States, a Saudi official said Wednesday.

The Saudis had no official comment, and the White House merely wished Turki well. Turki himself could not be reached for comment, but Iraq was clearly central to the dispute.

Saudi Arabia denied that Obaid was speaking on its behalf. But The Associated Press reported last week that Saudi private citizens are sending millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq, much of it used to buy weapons, because they worry about Iranian influence in Shiite-led Iraq.

The Saudis and the United States also denied a Wednesday report in The New York Times that the Saudi king told Vice President Dick Cheney the kingdom might provide financial aid to Iraqi Sunnis if the U.S. pulls troops out of Iraq.

The United States has been pushing Saudi Arabia to persuade Sunnis in Iraq to leave the insurgency and join with Shiites in political efforts — an effort the Saudi government has said it is undertaking.

The bottom line has been power struggles and indecision about the best course, both said.

On Monday, 30 prominent Saudi clerics called on Sunni Muslims around the Middle East to support Sunnis in Iraq against Shiites and praised the insurgency. The clerics warned that Shiite Muslims were taking control of Iraq in a conspiracy with "crusaders" — a reference to Westerners — to marginalize Sunnis.

Many of the clerics are known to have close connections with top royal family members and receive generous donations from them.

Meanwhile, Bush’s ability to lead is fading away: In a direct affront to the Bush administration, a Democratic senator spent an hour Wednesday with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, emerging from the meeting to say Assad was willing to help control the Iraq-Syrian border.

Sen. Bill Nelson (news, bio, voting record) of Florida, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, met with Assad after the State Department said that it disapproved of his trip. The United States has limited diplomatic ties with Syria because of its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, which the U.S. deems terrorist organizations, and President Bush has expressed reluctance to seek help from Damascus on Iraq until the Syrians curb that support and reduce their influence in Lebanon.

"Assad clearly indicated the willingness to cooperate with the Americans and or the Iraqi army to be part of a solution" in Iraq, Nelson told reporters in a conference call following the meeting. The U.S. says foreign fighters often enter Iraq across that boundary.

Syrian officials have indicated a willingness before to engage the U.S. in discussions about Iraq, which the Bush administration has treated with skepticism. Nelson said he viewed Assad's remarks as "a crack in the door for discussions to continue. I approach this with realism not optimism."

And the poor suckers on the front lines just try to stay alive: Almost none has heard of the Iraq Study Group, and though a few know that Donald Rumsfeld is out as defense secretary, the name Robert Gates draws blank stares.

While much of America broods over the future of a bloody, expensive and increasingly unpopular war, the Marines and soldiers fighting it in the volatile cities and vast deserts of western Iraq say the big picture doesn't concern them _ they're just worried about accomplishing small tasks and getting home in one piece.

"You think about Iraq on a national level but so much of what happens is out of our hands _ its downfalls or successes," said Lance Cpl. Steven McAndrew, 21, of Columbus, Ohio.

McAndrew is a member of the Marines' 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, assigned to Rawah, a desert city of about 18,000 carved into a peninsula that juts out over the Euphrates River in the remote, northern expanses of dangerous Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

Hey, What A Great Idea

Someone should do something like that: For the past four years there has been no shortage of news and views on Iraq and the long-running war there. What’s been missing: a one-stop-shopping clearinghouse for nonpartisan information, including material coming out of Iraq itself from natives of that country, not from foreign correspondents. Now that need is finally being addressed in the form of IraqSlogger, in Beta at www.iraqslogger.com, but due to be officially launched next week. Its director is the former CNN news division chief, Eason Jordan, who quit that post suddenly in 2005 after 23 years with the company. The name of his new venture, he says, was inspired by a Donald Rumsfeld reference to this war being a “long, hard slog.” The concept, Jordan tells E&P, “grew out of the feeling that I think many people shared that there was no one place to go. Individual news organizations do terrific work but you can spend the better part of a day going from one site to another and one TV outlet to another,” searching for a full picture. “Iraq is the story of our time,” he declares. His goal for the site is for it to become nothing less than “the world's premier Iraq-focused information source” -- and with no “political slant.”

Wow, what a groundbreaking idea! Actually, though, best of luck to Mr. Jordan in his new venture. Anything that helps educate the public on the real situation in Iraq is welcome. And if he can hold it to a non-partisan tone, well, more power to him. Personally I think that when you have a clearly illegal war of aggression against a country that was no threat at all, resulting in the death and maiming of countless innocent people, that bankrupts your country, breaks your military, and provides the excuse to savagely assault the legal underpinnings of your free society and all this takes place under the aegis of a single political party, being ‘non-partisan’ is not, to my mind, a virtue. Or moral, even. But then, we're just a bunch of citizens, not movers and shakers and formers of opinion so what do we know. -m

Opinion, Analysis, Commentary

Harold Meyerson: Where do the Republicans' likely 2008 presidential candidates come down on Iraq?

You might think that a decent regard for the opinions of their fellow citizens, as registered in last month's elections, would rouse them from their Bushian dreams of victory in what has become a savage intra-Islamic war where the very notion of an American triumph makes no sense whatever.

You might think that, with the president's approval rating now sunk to near-Nixonian depths, Republican leaders, for their own good as well as their country's, might want to withdraw our men and women from Iraq before the next election.

But that would require the Republicans -- leaders and rank-and-file both -- to become a reality-based party. If their leading candidates are any indication, however, they're not yet willing to make that leap.

Michael Schwartz: The report of James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group has already become a benchmark for Iraq policy, dominating the print and electronic media for several days after its release, and generating excited commentary by all manner of leadership types from Washington to London to Baghdad. Even if most of the commentary continues to be negative, we can nevertheless look forward to highly publicized policy changes in the near future that rely for their justification on this report, or on one of the several others recently released, or on those currently being prepared by the Pentagon, the White House, and the National Security Council.

This is not, however, good news for those of us who want the U.S. to end its war of conquest in Iraq. Quite the contrary: The ISG report is not an "exit strategy;" it is a new plan for achieving the Bush administration's imperial goals in the Middle East.

The ISG report stands out among the present flurry of re-evaluations as the sole evaluation of the war by a group not beholden to the President; as the only report containing an unadorned negative evaluation of the current situation (vividly captured in the oft-quoted phrase "dire and deteriorating"); and as the only public document with unremitting criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war.

It is this very negativity that brings into focus the severely constrained nature of the debate now underway in Washington -- most importantly, the fact that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (immediate or otherwise) is simply not going to be part of the discussion. Besides explicitly stating that withdrawal is a terrible idea -- "our leaving would make [the situation] worse" -- the Baker report is built around the idea that the United States will remain in Iraq for a very long time.

To put it bluntly, the ISG is not calling on the Bush administration to abandon its goal of creating a client regime that was supposed to be the key to establishing the U.S. as the dominant power in the Middle East. Quite the contrary. As its report states: "We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq." If you ignore the text sprinkled with sugar-coated words like "representative government," the report essentially demands that the Iraqi government pursue policies shaped to serve "America's interest and values in the years ahead."

Robert Dreyfuss: President George W. Bush, who is being shadowed these days, and rather ominously, by a suddenly revived Vice President Cheney, confronts two hostile majorities opposed to his Iraq policy. The first is American, growing in power, that demands a U.S. withdrawal from the Iraqi quagmire. The second, also growing, is even more potent: It is the Iraqi majority that wants a quick end to the U.S. occupation of their country.

If, indeed, President Bush is determined to flout both of those majorities in pursuit of a phantasmagorical notion of “victory” in Iraq, then the future is grim beyond all measure. The latest news from Iraq—namely, that Bush and Ambassador Khalilzad are trying to micromanage the creation of yet another pro-American coalition government to replace the current regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki—is a sign that the president is truly lost in a fantasy land. The president is making policy for an Iraq that exists only in his imagination, even as conditions in the real Iraq, the one here on this planet, deteriorate ever faster.

The first majority that Bush confronts, the American one, spoke loudly on November 7, when voters repudiated the war in Iraq by a large margin, electing Democrats and candidates opposed to the war. Since then, if anything, this majority has gained strength. According to the latest polls, only 21 percent of Americans support President Bush’s Iraq policy. Tsunami-like, that wave of public opinion is beginning to crest in Washington, emboldening Democrats and generating fear among Republicans who don’t want to be saddled with Bush’s war in 2008.

But it is the second majority, the one in Iraq, that will unravel Bush’s plans for that country much faster than Congress will.

Ignoring all sense, the president is trying to cobble together, brick by brick, an Iraqi government that is able and willing to do what Maliki’s regime can’t or won’t do: break the back of the Muqtada al-Sadr Mahdi Army and redouble the offensive against the Sunni-led Iraqi resistance. The whole thing is out in public view, and in the worst possible manner: first Bush met with Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the fanatical cleric who heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a militia-based religious party; then he met yesterday with Tariq al-Hashemi, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Sunni religious party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The two religious leaders, Hakim and Hashemi, are engaged in open plotting to create a new coalition to replace Maliki.

It’s a desperate gamble by Bush, as the clock runs out, to salvage the occupation of Iraq. Both Hakim and Hashemi are tired, worn-out figures, the preferred puppets who’ve been mainstays of every single Iraqi government—transitional, interim and otherwise—that has been installed by the United States since the March 2003 invasion. But a “new” Iraqi government, one made up of reshuffled, washed-and-dried puppets, won’t work this time either.

That’s because vast majorities of both Sunnis and Shiites want the United States to leave Iraq, period. So, any Iraqi government installed by the United States and created under U.S. pressure, and which endorses the continued presence of American troops in Iraq will have zero credibility. The fact that Bush is meeting with the conspirators so openly, amid widespread reports that Bush and Khalilzad are working overtime to assemble the new coalition, dooms it from the start. It’s precisely the mistake that Khalilzad made earlier this year, when he pressured Iraqis to dump former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and install the hapless Maliki in his place. That made Maliki look exactly like what he was: a hand-picked hand puppet. Now it will be worse, in spades.

Will Bunch: Are the American people really going to stand for this?

The will of the people is clear. In poll after poll, a plurality of voters have said that their No. 1 issue is Iraq, and back in November, they elected a Democratic Congress with a clear message that it was time for a new direction in the conflict.

In fact, the latest and most detailed poll on the heels of the critical report by the Iraq Study Group shows that Americans are more united over Iraq than ever imagined possible on such a hot-button issue. The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll published this morning shows that 70 percent of the nation wants a new direction in Iraq -- not surprising considering the daily barrage of unspeakably grim car bombings and mayhem, and word that American troop deaths and injuries have surpassed the 25,000 mark. Already, Saudi Arabia is beginning to look toward a larger regional conflict in the world's oil basket that could have disastrous consequences around the globe.

Public opinion is clear on the next moves: 52 percent want a withdrawal on a fixed timeline, while only 12 percent want to deal with the growing civil war in Iraq by sending more U.S. troops. By and large, the L.A. Times poll of 1,429 Americans found that most favor approaches that were proposed by the ISG and immediately rejected by President Bush, such as talks with Syria and Iran, backed by 64 percent.

And yet, in the face of a real mandate -- unlike the 51 percent "mandate" that returned him to office in 2004 -- Bush's new plan is apparently to go the route backed by fewer than one out of eight Americans, and send more troops, perhaps as many as 20,000, making some war-weary troops stay longer in Iraq and sending over new ones on an accelerated schedule.

Glenn Greenwald: Lowry notes that the "only" group opposed to more troops is the military, specifically Generals Abazaid and Pace, which leads to a glaring question that never seems to be answered by the increase-troop proponents: namely, what are these additional 20,000 troops supposed to accomplish exactly? If Generals Abazid and Pace have no answer to that question, isn't it a pretty good bet that there is no good answer? What the dead-ender war advocates really seem to crave is not so much an increase in troops but an increase in our willingness to use military force -- i.e., indiscriminate killing. When they urge greater "resolve" to achieve "victory," they don't really talk about strategies that increased troops could enable as much as they excitedly beat their chest and spit out extremely vague and manly phrases such as: "do we have the will to do what needs to be done"? The only specific plan one ever hears from them is that we can go and kill Moqtada al-Sadr, but that is certainly something we can accomplish without more troops. Independently, is killing one of the most popular and powerful Shiite leaders really going to help stabilize Iraq and help us achieve our goals? While that would be very emotionally and psychologically fulfilling to some, doesn't that choice seem far more likely to have the opposite effect -- which is almost certainly the reason we haven't done it since 2003? The problem with fighting insurgencies, of course, is that they are blended into the population itself. They aren't sitting in a field somewhere waiting to be engaged by more brigades. The problem we've had isn't a lack of desire and attempt to kill insurgents. That's what our soldiers have been doing in Iraq for almost four years now. The problem is that you can't actually end insurgencies using military force without using extremely indiscriminate force that slaughters enormous numbers of civilians, and flattening whole neighborhoods wholesale is one of the few things we haven't done during the Bush presidency. Isn't all this talk about "more resolve" and "doing what needs to be done" -- while it is masquerading around as a strategic call for "more troops" -- really about demanding that we step up the indiscriminate bombing, violence and killing, including -- especially -- of civilians, based on the theory, as immoral as it is misguided, that that is the real way we will "win the war" and drive "our enemies into submission"? As bad as this war is being managed now, the only thing that's certain is that whatever "new way forward" the President is about to embrace is only going to make things much, much worse. Everything he does has that effect.

Glenn Greenwald is one of the most perceptive and incisive commentators in the blogosphere and normally his facts are dead on but in this entry he makes one major error when he says “…flattening whole neighborhoods wholesale is one of the few things we haven't done during the Bush presidency.” I think most Fallujans would take strong exception to that statement. -m

Mark Morford: The good news is, we're all back in harmony. All back on the same page. No more divisiveness and no more silly bickering and no more nasty and indignant red state/blue state rock throwing because we're finally all back in cozy let's-hug-it-out agreement: The "war" in Iraq is over. And what's more, we lost. Very, very badly.

Sure, you already knew. Sure, you sort of sensed from the beginning that we couldn't possibly win a bogus war launched by a nasty slew of corrupt pseudo-cowboys against both a bitterly contorted Islamic nation and a vague and ill-defined concept that has no center and no boundaries and that feeds on the very thing that tries to destroy it. It was sort of obvious, even if half the nation was just terrifically blinded by Bush administration lies and false shrieks of impending terror.

But now it's official. Or rather, more official. Now it's pretty much agreed upon on both sides of the aisle and in every Iraq Study Group and by every top-ranking general and newly minted defense secretary and in every facet of American culture save some of the gun-totin' flag-lickin' South. We lost. And what's more, we have no real clue what to do about it.

After all, it's not easy to accept. It's the thing we do not, cannot easily hear, the thing most Americans, no matter what their political stripe, just can't quite fathom because we're so damned strong and righteous and handy with a gun and we are the superpower and the God among men and the bringer of light to the world and therefore we never lose. Except, you know, when we do.

It's not like we were overpowered. We weren't outmanned or outgunned or outstrategized and hence we weren't defeated in any "traditional" kick-ass take-names sign-the-peace-accord way.

Nor was it because our beloved, undefeatable, can't-lose military doesn't have the latest and greatest killing tools of all time, the biggest budget, the most heroic of baffled and misled young soldiers sort of but not really willing to go off and fight and die for a cause no one could adequately explain or justify to them.

We still have the coolest, fastest planes. We still have the meanest billion-dollar technology. We still have the most imposing tanks and the most incredible weaponry and the badass night-vision goggles with the laser sights and the thermal heat-seeking readouts and the ability to track targets from two miles away in a dust storm. It doesn't matter.

What we don't have is, well, any idea what the hell we're doing, not anymore, not on the global stage. We lost this "war" and we lost it before we even began because we went in for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong planning and with all the wrong leadership who had all the wrong motives based on all the wrong greedy self-serving insular faux-cowboy BS that your kids and your grandkids will be paying for until about the year 2056.

Maybe you don't agree. Maybe you say wait wait wait, it's not over at all, and we haven't lost yet. Isn't the fighting still raging? Can't we still "win" even though we're still losing soldiers by the truckload and thousands of innocent Iraqis are being brutally slaughtered every month and isn't Dubya still standing there, brow scrunched and confounded as a monkey clinging onto a shiny razor blade, refusing to let go and free us from the deadly trap, ignoring the Iraq Study Group and trying to figure out a way to stay the course and never give in and "mission accomplished" even as every single human around him, from the top generals to crusty old James Baker to the new and shockingly honest secretary of defense, says we are royally screwed and Iraq is now a vicious and chaotic civil war and it's officially one of the worst disasters in American history? Oh wait, you just answered your own question.

Local Stories

Two fallen soldiers from Fort Polk were honored at the Beauregard Parish Airport Tuesday morning as the DeRidder Drop Zone was renamed to the Brown-Swank Drop Zone. The renaming is to honor Sgt. Andrew W. Brown and Sgt. Brett Daniel Swank from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry both of whom died while serving in Iraq.

A police escort home for a fallen Minden soldier late today will be a prelude to visitation Friday and his funeral services Saturday. Jerry Madden confirmed the family will head to Dallas around noon to pick up the remains of his youngest son, Sgt. Josh Madden, 21, who was killed Dec. 6 in Hawijah, Iraq. A roadside bomb exploded, killing him and four other members of his unit. The family will leave Dallas some time after 6 p.m. and should return to Louisiana between 10 p.m. and midnight.

Killed with Madden were Sgt. Jesse J.J. Castro, 22, of Chalan Pago, Guam; Cpl. Jason I. Huffman, 23, of Conover, N.C.; Spc. Yari Mokri, 26, of Pflugerville, Texas; and Army Pfc. Travis C. Krege, 24, of Cheektowaga, N.Y.

A Virginia Beach Marine killed in Iraq earlier this month has been laid to rest. Twenty-four-old Corporal Joshua Sticklen was buried yesterday after a memorial service at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. Sticklen died December 3rd after a helicopter crash that killed four Marines.

A 21-year-old Marine from Marana has been killed while serving in Iraq, U.S. military officials announced Wednesday. Lance Cpl. Budd M. Cote died Monday. He reportedly was one of three Marines killed by an explosive device in Al Anbar Province while conducting combat operations.

A Perry County family is remembering the life of a soldier killed in iraq. 29-year-old Sergeant Brent Dunkleberger of New Bloomfield died Tuesday after a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle. He was part of a convoy security mission in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Dunkleberger had four children: 11 year old Belinda, 10-year-old Alex, five year old Kelli, and three year old Zoe.

Governor Granholm has ordered that U.S. flags around the state be lowered to half-staff tomorrow to honor a Marine from Grosse Pointe Park who was killed in Iraq. Thirty-nine-year-old Major Joseph McCloud died December third when the helicopter he was in crashed in Anbar province.

The Department of Defense said Wednesday a Marine from Mississippi was fatally injured when a helicopter went down this week in Al Anbar province in Iraq. DOD officials said 39-year-old Master Sgt. Brian P. McAnulty died Monday when the Marine CH53 helicopter he was in crashed just after takeoff. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Army Capt. Shawn English, 35, of New Albany, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq, on Dec. 3. His funeral took place at the Central College Presbyterian Church yesterday. English’s wife flew with their three sons, Nathan, 7, Noah, 5, and Austin, 3, from their home in Panama City Beach, Fla., to say goodbye to their hero for the last time.


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