Wednesday, December 06, 2006

WAR NEWS FOR WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 06, 2006 "Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free." – George W. Bush, addressing the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003 Today’s freedom news… Baghdad Four bodies were pulled from the Tigris River south of the capital. Gunmen have kidnapped the Sunni head of one of Iraq's leading soccer clubs. Hadib Majhoul, the chairman of the popular Talaba club and a member of the Iraqi Soccer Federation, was seized late Thursday by gunmen in two cars who intercepted him while he was going to work. Police confirmed that Majhoul was kidnapped in northern Baghdad but did not elaborate, citing concerns for his safety. A roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in east Baghdad but caused no casualties. Up to five mortar rounds landed in the central district of Midan, killing 10 people and wounding 54 others. In the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, a suicide bomber with an explosives belt detonated inside a minibus, killing three passengers and wounding 16. Gunmen attacked a car carrying the security chief for Iraq's Higher Education Ministry, critically wounding him and killing his driver, in western Baghdad Wednesday morning. Brig. Gen. Muhsin al-Yassri was on his way to work when his car came under fire. An Iraqi police source reported that armed men claiming to be Interior Ministry intelligence agents kidnapped at least six people from the ministry's headquarters. The people were awaiting meetings with relatives who were being held at the Interior Ministry's jail, a notorious detention facility known as Site Four, which was investigated earlier this year for prisoner abuses. Hawija Gunmen killed a police officer on his way to work in Hawija, 70 km southwest of Kirkuk. Iskandariya A bomb inside a shop killed its owner and three others and wounded 12 in the town of Iskandariya, 40 km south of Baghdad. Khalis Gunmen attacked a minibus carrying farm workers, killing one and wounding eight on Monday in a village north of Khalis, 80 km north of Baghdad. Khanaqin A U.S. aircraft killed one terrorist and detained another near the town of Khanaqin east of Baghdad, on Wednesday, the U.S. military said in a statement. (The killing sounds fairly conventional, but the capture – damn, that’s one advanced aircraft! –m) Kirkuk Police found a body with gunshot wounds in the northern city of Kirkuk. Mosul Gunmen seriously wounded a university professor in Mosul. Police found the headless body of an army officer on Monday in Mosul. Suwayra Mortar rounds landed in an area north of the town of Suwayra, 45 km south of Baghdad on Tuesday evening, killing one person and wounding two. In Country U.S. ground and air forces conducted a raid targeting foreign insurgents near the Iranian border, killing a militant who opened fire on an aircraft, the U.S. command said. A close aide of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has been killed by Iraqi security forces, national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie said. “I would like to announce that our forces killed a few days ago Abu Taha, Abu Ayyub al-Masri's right-hand man,” Mr Rubaie said, without giving any details on the incident. Let freedom ring: Baghdad is turning into a wild city and is now almost completely under the mercy of savage militias and gunmen who have taken the law into their own hands. Kidnappings and assassinations take place at a scale never seen before and both U.S. and Iraqi troops are practically powerless in restoring any semblance of order anywhere in the city. International media representatives, confined to heavily protected hotels or quarters, can hardly cope with the reporting of major car bomb attacks or the killing of U.S. Marines. In fact most of the carnage taking place in the city goes unreported and the world only sees a fraction of the daily atrocities. The kidnapping of even senior officials no longer grabs the headlines as has been the case of Lameh Omar, an adviser to the Ministry of Denfense. Omar was kidnapped and his body found riddle with bullets shortly after his abduction. Marauding gunmen attacked the Doura district, stormed several houses, and snatched the young males. Their mutilated bodies were found in an open space in the same district. Every one of the nearly six million people of Baghdad has a horrendous story to tell. Shiites kill Sunnis, rebels kill Americans and Iraqi troops, U.S. and Iraqi troops kill rebels and civilians and so forth. Baghdad has become a killing ground to the extent that no one in the city can guarantee a safe return after leaving home even for a short shopping tour. Optimism: The U.S. military expects all of Iraq to be under the control of Iraqi forces by mid-2007, the top American military spokesman in the country said Tuesday. "We would expect to see the entire country having reached provincial Iraqi control by early fall of next year," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a news conference. "We should see the complete transfer of command and control of all Iraqi army divisions by late spring, early summer." He said this is part of an accelerated timetable discussed by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during their summit in Jordan last week. Generation-long effects: For decades, Iraq's six million-strong capital was a city where people mixed freely and did not care whether their neighbour was a Sunni or a Shi’ite Muslim. But now, the years-old peaceful coexistence between members of different religions and sects in Baghdad is threatened with a battle underway between the two major Muslim sects to have their own territory in this war-torn city. "A new Baghdad is now emerging, a Sunni west and a Shi’ite east with the broad Tigris River in the middle as a sectarian boundary," said Dr Jamal al-Uraibi, a Baghdad-based analyst who lectures in political science at the University of Baghdad. "This will have adverse effects on Iraqi society for the coming generations as each sect has legitimate claims to territory on both sides of the river which they won't emotionally abandon," al-Uraibi added. What a terrible thing we've done to the people of Iraq: A new opinion poll suggests that more than half of Iraqis know of the existence of illegal drugs and how to get them. Eighty-one per cent said it was not that difficult to buy the drugs while only 18 per cent said they had no idea of their existence. Most worrying for the researcher has been the high use of illegal drugs among the 15-20 age groups. He said 46 per cent of the youngsters in this group said they were using drugs regularly while the use declines drastically among older groups. The results of the poll, despite its small number of respondents, is evidence of the surge in the use of drugs in a country which before the 2003 U.S. invasion had the lowest number of drug users in the Middle East. Iraqi Politics Leadership meeting: Iraqi leaders are to meet later this month to seek agreement to end sectarian killings, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has announced. "We will agree on a charter of honour to end the bloodshed of Iraqis and sectarian conflict," Mr Maliki said. He also said Iraq planned to organise a conference with Iraq's neighbours aimed at stemming the spiralling unrest. Rising dissent: Sunni dissent is rising inside Iraq's Shiite-led ruling coalition, boding ill for a government already heavily criticized for its failure to curb sectarian violence, end a relentless Sunni-led insurgency and stem crime and unemployment. The top two Sunni Arab members of Iraq's Shiite-led government painted a dire picture Tuesday of conditions in Iraq, with one saying the government was to blame for the country's "chaos" and the other saying Iraq was worse off than Lebanon during its civil war. The grim assessments by parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani and Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi came on a day when the unity of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ruling coalition was dealt a fresh blow by followers of a radical Shiite cleric making good on their threat to boycott parliament. The criticism came as Washington looked to al-Maliki's government to show strength in dealing with militias blamed for the sectarian violence and oversee preparations for Iraqi forces to take the lead on the battlefield from the U.S. military, allowing Washington to wind down its unpopular, 44-month-old military involvement in Iraq. Regional conference: Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki yesterday said his government will send envoys to neighbouring countries to pave the way for a regional conference on ending the rampant violence in his country. The Shiite leader appeared to back down from previous opposition to handing neighbouring nations a say in Iraqi affairs but stressed that he wants the conference to be held in Iraq and while his government would welcome help, it would not tolerate interference. Al Maliki said the government will send envoys to neighbouring countries to exchange views and discuss their possible contributions to building security and stability in Iraq. Arab League: Head of the Arab League's ministerial committee on Iraq, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al Khalifa said it has been agreed to devise a timetable to build Iraq's army and police before withdrawing foreign troops. Sheikh Khaled made the statements on Tuesday during a press conference with the league's Secretary-General Amre Moussa following a one-day extraordinary meeting on Iraq. The minister explained that this decision was made to ensure the readiness of Iraqi forces to uphold security after the withdrawal of foreign troops, noting that Iraq's stability would serve the region. New SecDef Puff piece: Robert M. Gates will give the U.S. a new defense secretary who's openly skeptical about the way the Bush administration has handled Iraq and is eager to consider new courses of action. During his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, Gates drew several implicit contrasts between himself and outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- and made it clear that, unlike Rumsfeld, he will probably be no ally of Vice President Dick Cheney in the administration's inner councils. Gates, 63, said he didn't think the U.S. was winning in Iraq and disagreed with some of the crucial early decisions made by his predecessor. He repeatedly said that ``all options are on the table,'' although he opposed setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. Gates even refused to say whether President George W. Bush's 2003 decision to invade Iraq was right. Claims to be open to change: President George W. Bush's choice for defense secretary on Tuesday embraced a new approach to ending the carnage in Iraq and said the whole region risked erupting in violence in the next two years. Robert Gates, a former CIA chief chosen to replace the main architect of the U.S. Iraq policy Donald Rumsfeld, said America was not winning the fight, contradicting remarks by the president in October. "All options are on the table" in the search for a solution, Gates said. You’ve got to wonder what effects Gates and Baker are having on Shrub's daddy issues: At today's meeting with reporters at the White House, the major topics for Press Secretary Tony Snow, as expected, were the pending release of the Iraq Study Group's report -- and today's surprise, the admission by Robert Gates, at his confirmation hearings as new Pentagon chief, that the U.S., indeed, is not winning the war in Iraq. Snow said that, as far as he knows, the president has not backed away from his recent statement that the U.S. is actually "winning" in Iraq. He also suggested that Gates, elsewhere in his testimony, seemed to say that maybe we weren't losing and we weren't winning. And he charged that the press was being too negative about all this: "What I think is demoralizing is a constant effort to try to portray this as a losing mission," he said. US Politics Reyes wants the McCain solution: In a surprise twist in the debate over Iraq, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the soon-to-be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he wants to see an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops as part of a stepped up effort to “dismantle the militias.” The soft-spoken Texas Democrat was an early opponent of the Iraq war and voted against the October 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to invade that country. That dovish record got prominently cited last week when Speaker designate Nancy Pelosi chose Reyes as the new head of the intelligence panel. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK on Tuesday, Reyes pointedly distanced himself from many of his Democratic colleagues who have called for fixed timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Coming on the eve of tomorrow’s recommendations from the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission, Reyes’s comments were immediately cited by some Iraq war analysts as fresh evidence that the intense debate over U.S. policy may be more fluid than many have expected. The sham ICG report: The United States faces a "grave and deteriorating" situation after three years of war in Iraq, a high-level commission warned bluntly on Wednesday, recommending enhanced diplomacy to stabilize the country and hopefully permit the withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008. "There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved," the commission said after an eight-month review of a war that has resulted in the deaths of more than 2,900 U.S. troops and grown so unpopular at home that it helped trigger a Democratic takeover of Congress in last month's elections. The report painted a grim picture of Iraq more than three years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein. It warned that if the situation continues to deteriorate, there is a risk of a "slide toward chaos (that) could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Why won’t anyone listen to the people?: A majority of Americans say the situation for U.S. troops in Iraq has grown worse and confidence in U.S. policies in Iraq is at a new low, a Harris poll shows. Fifty-eight percent of U.S. adults say the situation for troops in Iraq is getting worse, according to the online survey from Nov. 13 to Nov. 20, 2006, compared with 45% in September and 36% in January. Nine percent said the situation for troops in Iraq is getting better, while 27% said there was "no real change." The percentage who are confident U.S. policies in Iraq will be successful fell to 17% from 26% in January, while those who aren't confident increased to 63% from 55% at the first of the year. In addition, more Americans have a negative view of President Bush's handling of Iraq over the last several months: 71% said he is doing only fair or poor, compared with 26% who think he is doing a pretty good or excellent job. In September, 64% had a negative view of Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq and 32% rated him positively. Small steps in the right direction: House Democrats sent a strong signal to President Bush on Tuesday that they will attach conditions he is likely to find unpalatable, perhaps even unacceptable, to his anticipated request early next year for another $100 billion or more to pay for the war in Iraq. At the least, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and other leaders of the incoming Democratic majority said they will seek to enforce greater transparency for the billions of dollars in contracts that the Pentagon pays private firms to perform numerous functions in Iraq. Amid reports of corruption and missing funds from government contracts, the Democrats also want to establish a special committee patterned after the World War II-era panel that Sen. Harry Truman chaired to root out waste and fraud in war contracting. But some of the most outspoken anti-war voices in the House said they want to go much further and use the supplemental spending bill -- the special bill passed by Congress to pay for the expense of the war -- to force Bush to bring home the 140,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. US Military Affairs Contractors: There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield. The survey finding, which includes Americans, Iraqis and third-party nationals hired by companies operating under U.S. government contracts, is significantly higher and wider in scope than the Pentagon's only previous estimate, which said there were 25,000 security contractors in the country. It is also 10 times the estimated number of contractors that deployed during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, reflecting the Pentagon's growing post-Cold War reliance on contractors for such jobs as providing security, interrogating prisoners, cooking meals, fixing equipment and constructing bases that were once reserved for soldiers. Equipment shortage: But as the war has continued, Army leaders have recognized that they cannot afford to wait for a drawdown of troops before they begin overhauling equipment -- some of it 20 years old -- that is being used at extraordinary rates. Helicopters are flying two or three times their planned usage rates. Tank crews are driving more than 4,000 miles a year -- five times the normal rate. Truck fleets that convoy supplies down Iraq's bomb-laden roads are running at six times the planned mileage, according to Army data. Equipment shipped back from Iraq is stacking up at all the Army depots: More than 530 M1 tanks, 220 M88 wreckers and 160 M113 armored personnel carriers are sitting at Anniston. The Red River Army Depot in Texas has 700 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 450 heavy and medium-weight trucks, while more than 1,000 Humvees are awaiting repair at the Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania. Despite the work piling up, the Army's depots have been operating at about half their capacity because of a lack of funding for repairs. In the spring, a funding gap caused Anniston and other depots to lose about a month's worth of work, said Brig. Gen. Robert Radin, deputy chief of staff for operations at the Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir. "Last year we spent as much time trying to find available money as managing our program," he said. "We don't want to go into the next rotation . . . with equipment that's at the far end of its expected life." The War In Iraq Is To Defend American Freedom Yeah, right: It’s amazing what you can find if you turn over a few rocks in the anti-terrorism legislation Congress approved during the election season. Take, for example, the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2006, named for the longtime Armed Services Committee chairman from Virginia. Signed by President Bush on Oct. 17, the law (PL 109-364) has a provocative provision called “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” The thrust of it seems to be about giving the federal government a far stronger hand in coordinating responses to Katrina-like disasters. But on closer inspection, its language also alters the two-centuries-old Insurrection Act, which Congress passed in 1807 to limit the president’s power to deploy troops within the United States. That law has long allowed the president to mobilize troops only “to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” But the amended law takes the cuffs off. Specifically, the new language adds “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident” to the list of conditions permitting the President to take over local authority — particularly “if domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order.” Since the administration broadened what constitutes “conspiracy” in its definition of enemy combatants — anyone who “has purposely and materially supported hostilities against the United States,” in the language of the Military Commissions Act (PL 109-366) — critics say it’s a formula for executive branch mischief. Yet despite such a radical turn, the new law garnered little dissent, or even attention, on the Hill. Commentary David Suter: Of the many tasks that faced the Iraq Study Group, which is to release its report tomorrow, perhaps the most vexing was pinpointing the exact moment when everything in Iraq started to go wrong. How did scenes of joyful Iraqis pulling down Saddam Hussein’s statue so quickly turn into images of car bombings, grieving mothers and burning helicopters? Some of those who appeared before the panel argued that it had been a mistake to disband the Iraqi Army after the military victory. Others said there had not been enough troops on the ground to secure and stabilize Iraq. The problem with such analyses is their tendency to treat the invasion and the post-invasion period as separate entities. That is, the invasion is generally portrayed as well planned and executed, while the post-invasion strategy is characterized as poorly thought out and undermanned. The idea is that hidden somewhere in the weeks and months following the arrival of American forces in Baghdad lies a magic moment when Iraq somehow began to descend into chaos. In fact, the short fight to get to Baghdad and the long one in which coalition forces have been engaged ever since have much in common. All the information about the nature of the trouble to come was apparent from the very first days of the war. If lessons learned then had been incorporated into military and political thinking, it would have injected a much needed dose of realism at an early stage. Those lessons were best synthesized in a little-known but bloody battle, fought in an obscure part of Iraq on Day 4 of the war. It was a battle that America nearly lost. Lou Dobbs: The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former 9/11 Commission Co-Chair, Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, has been at work for eight months to develop an assessment of the war in Iraq and new policy recommendations. But yesterday the president's nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, Robert Gates, gave a clear assessment of the war. When the soon-to-be-chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, asked the former CIA chief whether the United States was winning, Gates answered directly and straightforwardly, "No, sir." Gates' answer is far more important to future U.S. strategy than whether one considers the violence in Iraq to be sectarian or an outright civil war. And Gates made clear during his confirmation hearings that, unlike his predecessor, he would be open to ideas about American policy in Iraq. But there are fundamental realities that we all have to acknowledge about this administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. Those realities have been ignored by both this administration and most Democrats and Republicans in Congress. And just in case the Iraq Study Group ignores those realities, I'd like to offer a few for your consideration. While many of our elected officials and the national media have focused on whether or not Iraq is now in a civil war, the real questions are: What is our national interest in the Middle East and why are we expending thousands of precious lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to pursue obviously failed strategies? Local Stories And Casualty Reports A soldier from Ohio died Monday after being injured in a mortar round explosion in Iraq, his family said. Spc. Marco Miller, 36, was on guard duty when he was wounded by flying shrapnel and taken to a medical facility in Germany. Family members visited him there before life support was removed. His family said Miller had a 4-month-old daughter he never saw. The Minnesota National Guard has lost its third member in five days in Iraq. Nick Turcotte of Maple Grove was killed in a non-combat vehicle accident Monday morning. Turcotte was in an armored security vehicle that was escorting a convoy of soldiers near Nasiriyah when his vehicle overturned. The body of Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Schwarz returned home to Carlstadt on Tuesday, eight days after he was killed by a sniper in Iraq. Under a clear blue sky, a Wallington Emergency Squad ambulance brought Schwarz's body through the borough, led by a phalanx of police motorcycles. The Fire Department's Engine Company 2 accompanied the procession. Schwarz was a member of the that unit before joining the Marines. Two Hawai'i Marines, including a father of three young children, were among four U.S. service members who drowned in Sunday's emergency water landing of a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter in western Iraq. Previously identified by family was Maj. Trane McCloud of Elizabethton, Tenn. The second Hawai'i Marine killed in Sunday's incident has not been identified. The Pentagon yesterday released the names of two other service members killed in the accident: Air Force Capt. Kermit O. Evans, 31, of Hollandale, Miss.; and Army Spc. Dustin M. Adkins, 22, of Finger, Tenn. From the lips of two Army officers in Florida to the wife of an Army captain, word of his death made its way back to his hometown of New Albany. Capt. Shawn English, 35, was killed by a bomb explosion in Iraq early Sunday morning. He joins about 2,900 Americans who have fallen since the war began in March 2003. The officers notified English’s wife, Tricia, and three sons, Nathan, 7, Noah, 5, and Austin, 3, at their Panama City Beach, Fla., home on Sunday evening. An Air Force civil engineer was killed Sunday when the Marine Corps helicopter he was riding in crashed in Iraq’s Anbar province, the Defense Department reported Tuesday. Capt. Kermit O. Evans, 31, was assigned to the 27th Civil Engineer Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., where he was a member of the explosive ordinance flight. He was deployed to the 732nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group, part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. Defense officials released the names of four servicemembers killed in Iraq. Army Spcs. Bryan T. McDonough, 22, of Maplewood, Minn., and Corey J. Rystad, 20, of Red Lake Falls, Minn., were killed Saturday in Fallujah when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Humvee during security operations. They were assigned to the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, Crookston, Minn. Marine Lance Cpl. Jesse D. Tillery, 19, of Vesper, Wis., was killed Saturday while conducting combat operations in Anbar province. Tillery was assigned to 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Army Staff Sgt. John L. Hartman Jr., 39, of Tampa, Fla., was killed Thursday when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga. A St. Clair native has died while serving as a soldier in Iraq, family members said. Lance Cpl. Thomas Echols, 21, was attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment stationed in Fallujah, Iraq. His family was notified of his death about midnight Monday. The military has not released details. A Philippine-born U.S. Army staff sergeant who was killed in Iraq last month while trying to evacuate wounded comrades was buried in his native town yesterday, the U.S. Embassy said. Staff Sgt. Richwell A. Doria was killed Nov. 7 near Kirkuk by small-arms fire during an air assault and rescue mission, the embassy said in a statement. His death came one month shy of his 26th birthday. A 26-year-old Louisiana soldier has died while on a mission in Iraq. The family of Sergeant Jay Ryan Gauthreaux, a graduate of Saint James High School, was notified Monday of his death by military officials. The U-S Department of Defense has not yet released confirmation of Gauthreaux's death, nor supplied details about how he died.


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