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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

WAR NEWS FOR WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2006

“Absolutely, we’re winning.” George W. Bush, Press Conference, October 25, 2006

“We’re not winning, we’re not losing.” George W. Bush, interview with the Washington Post, published December 20, 2006

What a difference an election makes! -m

Amara

A policeman was killed by gunmen in the southern Shia city of Amara.

Baghdad

On Tuesday, 53 bullet-riddled bodies were found in Baghdad. Among the dead in Baghdad was Mutashar al-Sudani, a well-known television actor who was kidnapped on Monday.

Police commandos in southern Baghdad arrested 10 to 15 employees of the central electricity authority for suspected links to "terrorists and insurgent groups," an Interior Ministry official told CNN.

The commander of a Green Zone police station and 13 police officers were arrested in connection with the escape of Iraq's former electricity minister from a Baghdad prison Sunday. Ayham al-Sammarae's daughter speculated that he had made his way to Irbil in Kurdistan, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.

Gunmen dressed in plain clothes abducted in broad daylight the chief resident doctor at the Al-Alwiyah maternal hospital in central Baghdad.

Coalition forces killed an insurgent in eastern Baghdad Tuesday, the military said.

A car bomb wounded two people in Bayaa district in southern Baghdad.

A car bomb wounded two people in Camp Sara district in eastern Baghdad.

A suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a police checkpoint near Baghdad University in the southwestern Jadriya district, killing 11 people and wounding 31, including some students.

A car bomb in the parking lot of an Interior Minstry office charged with issuing identity cards killed four people and wounded eight in Adhamiya district in northern Baghdad.

Gunmen killed university professor Muntathar Mohammed Mehdi in his car, along with his brother and cousin, relatives and hospital sources said. Relatives said Mehdi was a member of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political movement.

The deputy dean of the Al Mushtanriya University law faculty and three other Iraqis were killed by gunmen in the Sunni district of Adhamiyah.

Gunmen killed another person and wounded seven more at a bus station popular with students elsewhere in north Baghdad.

A teacher, whose famous actor brother was discovered dead Tuesday, was also shot dead in a Shia neighbourhood in eastern Baghdad.

At least half a dozen other explosions were heard, some in the area of the Green Zone, where Iraq's parliament and the U.S. and British embassies are based. The U.S. military said it had no information on the blasts.

A suicide car bombing killed one civilian and injured four in northeastern Baghdad. The explosion set fire to six parked cars.

Gunmen kidnapped six Sunni men at a fake checkpoint 15 miles south of Baghdad at dawn. The men had driving to the capital to sell fruits and vegetables.

Police said a Palestinian teacher was killed in a drive-by shooting Wednesday morning in eastern Baghdad.

Baiji

A roadside bomb killed two motorists and wounded three north of Baghdad.

Fallujah

Coalition forces killed two insurgents in Falluja, the military said.

Kirkuk

An Iraqi soldier was killed and three others wounded when a suicide bomber blew up a car near a checkpoint in Kirkuk.

Mahmudiya

The bodies of two people were found, shot dead and tortured, in the town of Mahmudiya, about 30 km south of Baghdad.

Mosul

Gunmen shot dead five people across the northern city of Mosul.

Carnage in Diyala: One night last month in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, Sunni militants surrounded a remote farmstead housing Shiite families, dragged out the 27 men and shot them dead in a nearby field.

Meanwhile, in the market towns of the restive region, the overwhelmingly Shiite police force routinely tortures Sunni suspects, according to a civilian US lawyer who recently visited local prisons and courts.

"I was told about a guy nicknamed 'Cable Ali' because he tortured and hit guys with a cable," the lawyer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"So I asked the police, 'Does this guy exist?' and they said 'Yes he does, but he only tortures the guilty ones,'" he said.

Earlier this month a high-level US panel of foreign policy experts, the Iraq Study Group, warned of the "grave and deteriorating" situation in Iraq, a country wracked by sectarian violence by rival Sunni and Shiite death squads.

Outside Baghdad, the epicentre of the violence, the starkest evidence of the murderous rage engulfing the country is in Diyala province.

Electrical siege: Over the past six months, Baghdad has been all but isolated electrically, Iraqi officials say, as insurgents have effectively won their battle to bring down critical high-voltage lines and cut off the capital from the major power plants to the north, south and west.

The battle has been waged in the remotest parts of the open desert, where the great towers that support thousands of miles of exposed lines are frequently felled with explosive charges in increasingly determined and sophisticated attacks, generally at night. Crews that arrive to repair the damage are often attacked and sometimes killed, ensuring that the government falls further and further behind as it attempts to repair the lines.

And in a measure of the deep disunity and dysfunction of this nation, when the repair crews and security forces are slow to respond, skilled looters often arrive with heavy trucks that pull down more of the towers to steal as much of the valuable aluminum conducting material in the lines as possible. The aluminum is melted into ingots and sold.

What amounts to an electrical siege of Baghdad is reflected in constant power failures and disastrously poor service in the capital, with severe consequences for security, governance, health care and the mood of an already weary and angry populace.

Oil siege: A report issued by the Iraqi Oil Ministry yesterday said that losses from sabotage acts to Iraq's oil export pipeline through northern outlets and exploding wells, reached more than $11 billion in two years and a half, Iraq Directory reported. Since the beginning of 2004 and until the first half of the current year, the export pipelines have been constantly exposed to sabotage operations, paralyzing the export via the North, according to the report. It indicated that the total number of days of export halts via the North, because of sabotage from 2004 until the first half of 2006, are (651 days); that is, a years and eight months.

Fixing a nonexistent state: As President Bush weighs his options for forging a new Iraq policy, he faces this big conundrum: Many proposals call for greater reliance on and deeper development of the Iraqi state, but the reality is that the Iraqi state, in many respects, does not exist.

The state created by the iron fist of Saddam Hussein has been wiped away, replaced by a resurgent tribal society ruled by mutually distrustful political parties that find unity all the more elusive as sectarian violence rages. The result: More than three years after the invasion, the US is still looking for a reliable and effective partner to work with, experts say. US disappointment in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is evident, and speculation is building over radical alternatives for forging a strong state.

"The problem is that institutions that did exist have been destroyed ... and that leaves a large political vacuum that can't be fixed short-term," says Phebe Marr, an Iraq expert who consulted with the Iraq Study Group.

International Crisis Group report: Radical action is needed to save a "hollowed-out and fatally weakened" Iraqi state and ease violence that a new Pentagon report says is at an all-time high, a prominent think-tank warned on Tuesday.

The report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said an international effort was needed to prevent Iraq collapsing into a "failed and fragmented state" whose Shi'ite- Sunni Arab conflict could draw in its neighbors in a proxy war.

"Hollowed-out and fatally weakened, the Iraqi state today is prey to armed militias, sectarian forces and a political class that, by putting short-term personal benefit ahead of long term national interests, is complicit in Iraq's tragic destruction."

Outreach to Baathists: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new olive branch to reinstate former army officers and soldiers was “too little, too late” and more steps should be taken to ensure peace for this war-ravaged country, an analyst said.

“This is too little, too late as there are a lot of problems which need tough measures to bring back peace, like the disbanding of militias and fighting corruption,” said Dr Sabah al-Mashhadani, a Baghdad-based analyst at the University of Mosul.

The Iraqi government held a two-day national reconciliation conference starting on 16 December in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone which was attended by representatives of insurgent groups and former outlawed Ba’ath party members.

In a bid to reach out to Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who are seen as the core of the insurgency in Iraq, al-Maliki, who is a Shi’ite, urged officers of the regime of former President Saddam Hussein to join the new army and said there would be a review of the government ban against members of the outlawed Ba’ath party.

Sistani approves political coalition: Iraq’s most venerated Shiite cleric has tentatively approved an American-backed coalition of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that aims to isolate extremists, particularly the powerful Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, Iraqi and Western officials say.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein the cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been the spiritual custodian of Shiite political dominance in Iraq, corralling the fractious Shiite parties into an alliance to rule the country.

But Ayatollah Sistani has grown increasingly distressed as the Shiite-led government has proved incapable of taming the violence and improving public services, Shiite officials say. He now appears to be backing away from his demand that the Shiite bloc play the dominant political role and that it hold together at all costs, Iraqi and Western officials say.

As the effective arbiter of a Shiite role in the planned coalition, the ayatollah is considered critical to the Iraqi and American effort.

Syria reconciliation: Syria and Iraq signed an agreement on boosting security cooperation, less than a month after a renewal of diplomatic relations, the state news agency SANA reported.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by visiting Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani and his Syrian counterpart General Bassam Abdul Majid.

It calls for closer cooperation between their two ministries in a bid to strengthen security on the border between Syria and Iraq, to step up measures against terrorism and ease the extradition of suspects, SANA said.

Bolani traveled to Syria from Amman, where he signed a similar cooperation agreement with Jordan.

On November 21, Iraq and Syria announced the restoration of diplomatic ties, 26 years after then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein severed relations in protest at Syria's support for Iran in its war against Iraq.

Media war: The men with laptops sat around an unadorned conference table, chatting amicably about their plans and operations. The scene on the newly launched Al Zawraa satellite television channel could have been footage from the boardroom of any company, if it weren't for the ski masks the men wore and the subject of the meeting: future mortar attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq.

The renegade, pro-insurgent Al Zawraa channel, with a 24-hour diet of propaganda against U.S. forces and the Iraqi government, has become something of a sensation throughout the country. It has drawn condemnation from U.S. officials, Iraqi politicians and Friday prayer leaders. Most hours of the day it plays footage of U.S. soldiers in Iraq being shot and blown up in insurgent attacks, often with religious chants or Saddam Hussein-era nationalist anthems in the background. There are segments warning Iraq's Sunni Arabs to be wary of Shiite Muslims, and occasional English-language commentary and subtitles clearly meant to demoralize U.S. troops.

Journalist casualties: Iraq was by far the deadliest country for journalists in 2006, with most of the 32 killed there targeted by insurgents, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.

An analysis by the media watchdog found that 55 journalists were killed as a direct result of their work during 2006, up from 47 in 2005. The group is still investigating whether another 27 deaths were work-related.

Militias: Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army has replaced al Qaeda in Iraq as "the most dangerous accelerant" of the sectarian violence plaguing Iraq for nearly a year, according to a Pentagon report.

Attacks by Iraqi insurgents and sectarian militias jumped 22 percent from mid-August to mid-November, and Iraqi civilians suffered the bulk of casualties, according to the quarterly report released on Monday.

The average number of attacks reported each week jumped during that period from nearly 800 to almost 1,000, the report said.

The two most prominent militias -- the Mehdi Army and the Badr Organization -- are armed wings of Shiite political parties whose support is crucial to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The Mehdi Army in particular "exerts significant influence in Baghdad and the southern provinces of Iraq and on the government of Iraq," and fights periodic battles with Badr supporters, according to the report. The Badr Organization is affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The number of attacks recorded in September and October were the highest on record, the report found, but it provided no specific figures.

Nearly 70 percent of attacks targeted U.S. and allied troops, "but the overwhelming majority of casualties were suffered by Iraqis," the report concluded.

Najaf handover: Iraqi forces assumed security responsibilities in relatively peaceful Najaf province Wednesday, marking the first such handover by U.S. troops as Washington struggles to get Iraq's fragile government to stand on its own.

…Although U.S. forces turned over control of Najaf province, they will remain on standby in case the security situation deteriorates.

Najaf was the third of Iraq's 18 provinces to come under local control. British troops handed over southern Muthana province in July, and the Italian military transferred Dhi Qar province in September.

Turkish concerns: Iraq is in the midst of a civil war and carving it up would only increase the level of violence, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of neighboring Turkey said on Monday, adding that Iran and Syria also opposed a divided Iraq on their border.

Iran and Syria "fully agree that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be protected. So any possible division of Iraq is not something that Turkey, Iran or Syria would view positively," he told reporters in New York after recent visits to Tehran and Damascus.

Erdogan held a news conference at U.N. headquarters as President George W. Bush's administration weighed a change in course in Iraq nearly four years after invading it in March 2003.

Some U.S. lawmakers and Kurds in the region have urged partitioning Iraq, by dividing it into Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions, as one way to end the fighting.

Kurdish separatism: Every year, young men coming of age in this dusty, impoverished town in southeastern Turkey slip away into the hillsides to join the Kurdistan Workers Party and fight for independence for Turkey's 12 million to 15 million Kurds.

"A free Kurdish nation doesn't solve the poverty of our region," conceded Yusug Turgay, the mayor of this town of 5,000, where donkeys still haul wood to heat the homes, much as they did when Girmeli was founded 1,760 years ago. "That's solved only through jobs, which don't come to troubled corners of the world. We know this, but still our young men go into the mountains, to join the fight."

The PKK, as the Kurdistan Workers Party is known in its Kurdish initials, has been fighting this battle for 22 years, and by all accounts losing. At least 50,000 Kurdish men and boys have joined its cause over the years, but the PKK controls no territory. More than 30,000 Turkish soldiers and PKK guerrillas have been killed in fighting.

Yet the PKK, which the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization, is a growing concern for Turkish officials, largely because of disintegrating conditions in Iraq.

Turkish officials fear that should Iraq's central government collapse, the three Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq, with their own military and their own government, would become an autonomous nation - and a source of inspiration for Kurdish separatists. Officials in Syria and Iran, which also are home to large Kurdish populations, share that concern.

US Iraq-Related News

Meet the new boss: Robert Gates assumed the helm at the Pentagon on Monday, warning in his first public remarks as defense secretary that failure in Iraq would be a "calamity" that would haunt the United States for years. (Uhh…might be a little late for that particular bit of sage advice, Bob. -m)

The former CIA chief pledged to give President Bush his honest advice on the costly and unpopular war, and said he would go to Iraq soon to see what U.S. commanders believe should be done to quell the growing violence.

"All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again," Gates, 63, said after taking the oath of office as defense secretary from Vice President Dick Cheney at a Pentagon ceremony. "But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come."

First on the agenda – PR: New Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an unannounced trip to the battlefront, said Wednesday he discussed with U.S. commanders the possibility of boosting U.S. troop strength in Iraq but has made no decisions.

On just his third day in his post, Gates journeyed to Iraq armed with a mandate from President Bush to help forge a new Iraq war strategy. His goal is get advice from his top military commanders on a new strategy for the increasingly unpopular, costly and chaotic war — a conflict that Bush conceded Tuesday the U.S. is not winning.

"We discussed the obvious things," Gates told reporters after meeting with top U.S. generals. "We discussed the possibility of a surge and the potential for what it might accomplish."

His trip so soon after taking office underscored the Bush administration's effort to be seen as energetically seeking a new path in the conflict.

Abizaid to retire: Gen. John Abizaid -- head of the U.S. Central Command -- has officially put in his retirement papers, and is expected to leave his post in mid-March.

Abizaid, who was supposed to retire in the spring of 2006, agreed to extend his tour at the request of President Bush and then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Central Command is in charge of activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This comes as Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq is scheduled to leave his post early next year and as Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is scheduled for a rotation later in 2007.

These developments give new Defense Secretary Robert Gates the opportunity to be involved in selecting key members of his team.

Powell says we’re losing: Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the United States is losing a "civil war" in Iraq and he is not persuaded that an increase in troops would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the Baghdad Government sooner rather than later, with US troop reductions to begin by the middle of next year.

Mr Powell's comments broke his long public silence on the issue and placed him at odds with the Administration.

Pentagon says anti-US forces are succeeding: The Pentagon said yesterday that violence in Iraq soared this fall to its highest level on record and acknowledged that anti-U.S. fighters have achieved a "strategic success" by unleashing a spiral of sectarian killings by Sunni and Shiite death squads that threatens Iraq's political institutions.

In its most pessimistic report yet on progress in Iraq, the Pentagon described a nation listing toward civil war, with violence at record highs of 959 attacks per week, declining public confidence in government and "little progress" toward political reconciliation.

"The violence has escalated at an unbelievably rapid pace," said Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who briefed journalists on the report. "We have to get ahead of that violent cycle, break that continuous chain of sectarian violence. . . . That is the premier challenge facing us now."

Is some reality finally penetrating the bubble?: President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning."

In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the breaking point. "We need to reset our military," said Bush, whose administration had opposed increasing force levels as recently as this summer.

But in a wide-ranging session in the Oval Office, the president said he interpreted the Democratic election victories six weeks ago not as a mandate to bring the U.S. involvement in Iraq to an end but as a call to find new ways to make the mission there succeed.

Flailing for a strategy: A White House laboring to find a new approach in Iraq said Tuesday it is considering sending more U.S. troops, an option that worries top generals because of its questionable payoff and potential backlash. President Bush said he is ready to boost the overall size of an American military overstretched by its efforts against worldwide terrorism.

The military's caution on shipping thousands of additional troops temporarily to Iraq is based on a fear that the move could be ineffective without bold new political and economic steps.

Commanders also worry that the already stretched Army and Marine Corps would be even thinner once the short-term surge ended. Bush's newly expressed interest in making the military larger would have little impact on that worry because it will take much longer to add substantially to the size of the military.

Generals also question whether sending more troops to Iraq would feed a perception that the strife in Iraq is mainly a military problem; in their view it is largely political, fed by economic distress.

A stupid idea but it makes it look like they’re doing something: The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said.

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul: The US military may have reached a critical point in generating Army and Marine ground forces to fight its global war on terror.

When it comes to force levels, finding 15,000 to 30,000 additional troops for Iraq is not the real problem, say officers and experts outside the government. The White House is considering such a surge as a way to counter rising sectarian violence.

More difficult is deciding how long to keep those extra units there. After years of war, US active duty ground forces are stretched to the limit. Many National Guard and reserve personnel can't be deployed to Iraq. Recruiting more soldiers would be an expensive and time-consuming process.

"The other issue is equipment," says Kevin Ryan, a retired Army brigadier general and fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "Even if you could magically have 30,000 more troops, you don't have the equipment to give them."

This is a disappointing article from the Christian Science Monitor, usually a fairly objective source. It mostly covers the ‘surge’ issue from the perspective of an American Enterprise Institute study that, surprise surprise, states that such a surge "is necessary, possible, and will be sufficient." It does not provide the essential context of pointing out AEI’s previous warmongering and how often and profoundly that collection of neocon dimwits were wrong about everything relating to the Iraq war. Why the AEI and the Heritage Institute and the New Standard and all those fools are still given any credence by the media is impossible to understand. How wrong do they have to be before they lose their credibility? How could they be any more wrong than they have been? Yeah, yeah, rhetorical questions, I know...

Still, the neocons are always good for a little comedy. Here’s my favorite line from the article: “The president must call for young Americans to volunteer to defend the nation in a time of crisis," notes an outline of the AEI report. Ha ha! Now, where could Mr. Bush find some prime-military-age young Americans to volunteer for duty in Iraq? Hmm. Tough job. Makes you think of his fruitless search for WMDs in the Oval Office, doesn’t it? “Nope, none over here!” -m

We already have a defense budget equal to all the rest of the world so clearly we need a bigger army: President Bush said Tuesday he plans to increase the overall size of the U.S. military, which has been stretched by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it can fight a long-term battle against terrorism.

Bush said he has asked his new defense chief, Robert Gates, to report back to him with a plan to increase ground forces. The president did not say how many troops might be added, but he said he agreed with officials in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill that the military is stretched too thin to deal with demands of fighting terrorism.

"I'm inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops — the Army, the Marines," Bush told The Washington Post in an Oval Office interview. "And I talked about this to Secretary Gates and he is going to spend some time talking to the folks in the building, come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea."

Put it on your kid’s credit card: A force structure expansion would accelerate the already-rising costs of war. The administration is drafting a supplemental request for more than $100 billion in additional funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the $70 billion already approved for this fiscal year, according to U.S. officials. That would be over 50 percent more than originally projected for fiscal 2007, making it by far the most costly year since the 2003 invasion.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved more than $500 billion for terrorism-related operations, including those in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. An additional $100 billion would bring overall expenditures to $600 billion, exceeding those for the Vietnam War, which, adjusted for inflation, cost $549 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

It’s not like we need to account for all that money anyway: The Pentagon is still struggling to get a handle on the unprecedented number of contractors now helping run the nation's wars, losing millions of dollars because it is unable to monitor industry workers stationed in far-flung locations, according to a congressional report.

The investigation by the Government Accountability Office, which released the report Tuesday, found that the Defense Department's inability to manage contractors effectively has hurt military operations and unit morale and cost the Pentagon money.

Justice, Military And Otherwise

Haditha charge: A Marine captain has been told he will be criminally charged in connection with the killing of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha, his attorney said Monday.

Capt. Lucas McConnell, 31, was told by his commanding officer that he will be charged with dereliction of duty, said Kevin McDermott, his attorney.

"We're just absolutely clueless as to what kind of dereliction of duty he could have committed," he said, adding that his client was not present during the killings.

Separately, two military officials said a group of Marines would be charged Thursday for their alleged roles in the killings.

These guys are really earning their paychecks: A Justice Department team responsible for investigating accusations that civilian government employees had abused detainees has decided against prosecution in most of the nearly 20 cases referred in the last two years by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, said lawyers who have been officially briefed on the effort.

The prosecution team, which was established in June 2004 at the United States attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., has not brought a single indictment and has been plagued by problems.

The team has been unable to collect forensic evidence or find witnesses needed to bring indictments out of war-ravaged areas of Iraq and Afghanistan. In some cases, the unit has been stymied by the absence of facts in the referrals, the lawyers said. A few investigations remain open, although the lawyers declined to be specific about how many cases fell in that category.

The team was set up in the aftermath of the uproar over abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; it was to investigate accusations that detainees had been mistreated by civilian personnel. Civilians have worked in large numbers in Afghanistan and Iraq, among them C.I.A. officers, Americans hired by companies under contract with the military as interrogators and translators, and local residents temporarily employed as support workers.

The military justice system, meanwhile, has won convictions against a number of soldiers in cases from Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan. In some cases, the Justice Department has declined to prosecute in cases involving the same events in which military lawyers have brought charges against members of the armed services.

Breaking The US Military

A real forehead slapper: U.S. soldiers who serve repeated tours of duty in Iraq are more likely to suffer from acute stress in Iraq, according to a mental health survey released Tuesday by the Army.

Overall, 13.6 percent of soldiers reported suffering from acute stress in late 2005, when the survey was taken. Among soldiers serving their first tours, 12.5 percent reported suffering such stress. But among soldiers on their second tour of duty, the number reporting acute stress jumped to 18.4 percent.

``There is a sense that the yearlong deployments are challenging even if morale is good,'' said Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army surgeon general. ``The normal things -- births, first steps, birthdays -- those are missed. When soldiers are on second or third tours, my sense is they feel that a bit more.''

The adverse effects of multiple, long deployments is a critical factor for military leaders as they consider increasing the number of soldiers in Iraq. If the White House orders a surge in troop numbers in a bid to control violence, the military probably would have to extend the tours of thousands of combat soldiers, keeping them in Iraq longer than a year.

In addition, the number of soldiers on their third tour is likely to increase next year, with the return of the Army's Third Infantry Division to Iraq, marking its third combat deployment.

No surprise suicides are up: Suicides among soldiers sent to Iraq swung back up last year after a decline, and Army officials said Tuesday it was difficult to interpret the development.

Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army surgeon general, said suicides climbed to a rate of 19.9 per 100,000 in 2005, just above the 18.8 rate of 2003. It had fallen to 10.5 in 2004.

The actual number of suicides in Iraq were 25 soldiers in 2003, 12 in 2004 and 22 in 2005.

…The main reasons for the suicides were relationship problems, legal problems and problems with other soldiers, according to the survey.

The rate of suicide was higher for troops in Iraq than for soldiers not deployed to the war — 19.9 per 100,000 compared to 13 per 100,000 for the overall Army. Kiley noted that those in Iraq are carrying weapons, whereas troops at home with problems may resort to alcohol or something less lethal.

What A Waste

To die for Oliver North and FOX News: Marine Maj. Megan McClung, a public affairs officer who became the highest-ranking woman killed in Iraq when she died two weeks ago, had been escorting Oliver North and a FOX News crew through Ramadi just moments before a roadside bomb took her life, a military spokesman told E&P on Monday. When the explosion occurred on Dec. 6, McClung was in the midst of escorting a Newsweek staffer, according to Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, a public affairs officer stationed at Camp Fallujah. "My understanding is that Newsweek was with her at the time of the explosion, in a different vehicle," Salas said. "She had just dropped off the Fox News crew." A Fox News spokesperson said she could not confirm North's involvement, while Newsweek confirmed that its correspondent, Sarah Childress, was involved. McClung, 34, had just left North, a Fox contributor, and his crew at the Ramadi Government Center following a 10-minute escorted drive from Camp Ramadi, a U.S. Army base there, Salas said. "It was her first and only escort with him," Salas told E&P. "He was covering the Marines in Ramadi." Many journalists go out without any military escort, even in dangerous areas.

Opinion, Analysis and Commentary

Barry Lando on the ‘surge’ and why it’s a stupid idea: The idea that “surging” twenty thousand more American troops to Iraq can make any real difference to what is already a full scale civil war is risible. Colin Powell pointed this out over the weekend but Colin Powell—as usual—is a latecomer to the party.

Folks talking about increasing U.S. troop levels should first consider some painful military statistics: first of all, according to the Pentagon’s own figures, every front line soldier requires at least three other military types to back him up: engineers, electricians, medics, bookkeepers, etc. Which means that 20,000 more troops to Iraq works out to only about 5,000 additional American trainers or soldiers actually pulling the triggers.

There’s another jolting irony: while the conflicts in Iraq (and Afghanistan) have been a recruiting dream come true for radical jihadists, they’ve created an enlistment nightmare for the American military. Though the U.S.army claimed they had met manpower targets for 2006, they managed to do so only by offering 700 million dollars in retention bonuses; and spending $300 million more for their recruiting drive.

On top of that is the soaring cost to prepare each American soldier: $120,000 for training plus $25,000 for basic equipment. For that amount, the government could instead send each new troop to Harvard for three years.

Robert Parry on why Gates is unlikely to make any significant strategic changes: In early December, when Senate Democrats politely questioned Robert M. Gates and then voted unanimously to confirm him as Defense Secretary, they bought into the conventional wisdom that Gates was a closet dove who would help guide the United States out of George W. Bush's mess in Iraq.

The thinking was that Gates, a former member of the Iraq Study Group, would represent the views of James Baker and other "realists" from George H.W. Bush's administration. Hillary Clinton and other Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee praised Gates for his "candor" when he acknowledged the obvious, that the war in Iraq wasn't being won.

Since the Gates confirmation vote on Dec. 6, however, Bush and Gates have signaled that they have no intention of extricating the U.S. military from the Iraq quagmire. They still insist on nothing short of "victory" or "success," no matter how unlikely those ends and no matter how much blood must be spilled over the next two years to avert defeat.

The New Yorker on the Kilcullen counterinsurgency doctrine: In 1993, a young captain in the Australian Army named David Kilcullen was living among villagers in West Java, as part of an immersion program in the Indonesian language. One day, he visited a local military museum that contained a display about Indonesia’s war, during the nineteen-fifties and sixties, against a separatist Muslim insurgency movement called Darul Islam. “I had never heard of this conflict,” Kilcullen told me recently. “It’s hardly known in the West. The Indonesian government won, hands down. And I was fascinated by how it managed to pull off such a successful counterinsurgency campaign.”

Kilcullen, the son of two left-leaning academics, had studied counterinsurgency as a cadet at Duntroon, the Australian West Point, and he decided to pursue a doctorate in political anthropology at the University of New South Wales. He chose as his dissertation subject the Darul Islam conflict, conducting research over tea with former guerrillas while continuing to serve in the Australian Army. The rebel movement, he said, was bigger than the Malayan Emergency—the twelve-year Communist revolt against British rule, which was finally put down in 1960, and which has become a major point of reference in the military doctrine of counterinsurgency. During the years that Kilcullen worked on his dissertation, two events in Indonesia deeply affected his thinking. The first was the rise—in the same region that had given birth to Darul Islam, and among some of the same families—of a more extreme Islamist movement called Jemaah Islamiya, which became a Southeast Asian affiliate of Al Qaeda. The second was East Timor’s successful struggle for independence from Indonesia. Kilcullen witnessed the former as he was carrying out his field work; he participated in the latter as an infantry-company commander in a United Nations intervention force. The experiences shaped the conclusions about counter-insurgency in his dissertation, which he finished in 2001, just as a new war was about to begin.

“I saw extremely similar behavior and extremely similar problems in an Islamic insurgency in West Java and a Christian-separatist insurgency in East Timor,” he said. “After 9/11, when a lot of people were saying, ‘The problem is Islam,’ I was thinking, It’s something deeper than that. It’s about human social networks and the way that they operate.” In West Java, elements of the failed Darul Islam insurgency—a local separatist movement with mystical leanings—had resumed fighting as Jemaah Islamiya, whose outlook was Salafist and global. Kilcullen said, “What that told me about Jemaah Islamiya is that it’s not about theology.” He went on, “There are elements in human psychological and social makeup that drive what’s happening. The Islamic bit is secondary. This is human behavior in an Islamic setting. This is not ‘Islamic behavior.’ ” Paraphrasing the American political scientist Roger D. Petersen, he said, “People don’t get pushed into rebellion by their ideology. They get pulled in by their social networks.” He noted that all fifteen Saudi hijackers in the September 11th plot had trouble with their fathers. Although radical ideas prepare the way for disaffected young men to become violent jihadists, the reasons they convert, Kilcullen said, are more mundane and familiar: family, friends, associates.

Indonesia’s failure to replicate in East Timor its victory in West Java later influenced Kilcullen’s views about what the Bush Administration calls the “global war on terror.” In both instances, the Indonesian military used the same harsh techniques, including forced population movements, coercion of locals into security forces, stringent curfews, and even lethal pressure on civilians to take the government side. The reason that the effort in East Timor failed, Kilcullen concluded, was globalization. In the late nineties, a Timorese international propaganda campaign and ubiquitous media coverage prompted international intervention, thus ending the use of tactics that, in the obscure jungles of West Java in the fifties, outsiders had known nothing about. “The globalized information environment makes counterinsurgency even more difficult now,” Kilcullen said.

Sean Penn on the need for accountability at the top: Now, there's been a lot of talk lately on Capitol Hill about how impeachment should be "off the table." We're told that it's time to look ahead - not back...

Can you imagine how far that argument would go for the defense at an arraignment on charges of grand larceny, or large-scale distribution of methamphetamines? How about the arranging of a contract killing on a pregnant mother? "Indictment should be off the table." Or "Let's look forward, not backward." Or "We can't afford another failed defendant."

Our country has a legal system, not of men and women, but of laws. Why then are we so willing to put inconvenient provisions of the U.S. constitution and federal law "off the table?" Our greatest concern right now should be what to put ON the table. Unless we're going to have one set of laws for the powerful and another set for those who can't afford fancy lawyers, then truth matters to everyone. And accountability is a matter of human and legal principle. If we're going to continue wagging our fingers at the disadvantaged transgressors, then I suggest we be consistent. If truth and accountability can be stretched into sham concepts, we may as well open the gates of all our jails and prisons, where, by the way, there are more people behind bars than any other country in the world. One in every 32 American adults is behind bars, on probation, or on parole as we stand here tonight.

Which is to say that, globally, the United States is number one at demanding accountability and backing up that demand with imprisonment. But, when it comes to our president, vice president, secretary of state, former secretary of defense...this insistence on accountability vanishes. All of a sudden, what's past is prologue. And we're just "forward-looking."

John Graham on the Iraq-Vietnam comparison: Sometime in 1969, the White House, faced with unrelenting facts on the ground and under siege from the public, had quietly made the decision that America couldn't win its war in Vietnam.

Nixon and Kissinger didn't put it that way, of course. America was a superpower, and it was inconceivable that it could lose a war to a third rate nation whose soldiers lived on rice and hid in holes in the ground. So the White House conceived an elaborate strategy that would mask the fact of an American defeat. The US would slowly withdraw its combat troops over a period of several years, while the mission of those who remained would change from fighting the North Vietnamese and Vietcong to training the South Vietnamese to carry on the fight on their own. At the same time, we would give the South Vietnamese a series of performance ultimatums which, if unmet, would trigger a total withdrawal and let us blame the South Vietnamese for the debacle that would follow. This strategy was called "Vietnamization." Implementing it cost at least 10,000 additional American and countless more Vietnamese lives, plus billions of dollars.

It was a rigged game from the start. All but the wildest zealots in Washington knew that the South Vietnamese would not and could not meet our ultimatums: an end to corrupt, revolving-door governments, an officer corps based on merit not cronyism, and the creation of a national state that enjoyed popular allegiance strong and broad enough to control the political and cultural rivalries that had ripped the country's fabric for a thousand years.

During the eighteen months I was in Vietnam, I met almost no Americans in the field who regarded Vietnamization as a serious military strategy with any chance of success. More years of American training could not possibly make a difference in the outcome of the war because what was lacking in the South Vietnamese Army was not just combat skills but belief in a cause worth fighting for.

But none of that was the point. Vietnamization was not a military strategy. It was a public relations campaign.

The White House hoped that Vietnamization would keep the house of cards upright for at least a couple of years, providing what CIA veteran Frank Snepp famously called a "decent interval" that could mask the American defeat by declaring that the fate of South Vietnam now was the responsibility of the South Vietnamese. If they didn't want freedom badly enough to win, well, we had done our best.

To make this deceitful drama work, however, the pullout had to be gradual. The plan (Vietnamization) had to be easily explained to the American people. And the US training force left behind had to be large enough and exposed enough to provide visual signs of our commitment on the 6:00 news. Pictures of unarmed American advisors like me shaking hands with happy peasants would support the lie that Vietnamization was succeeding.

Living in the bulls-eye, we understood the reality very well, especially when, as public pressures for total withdrawal increased in 1971-72, most of the "force protection" troops went home too. That left scattered handfuls of American trainers left to protect themselves. As the very visible US advisor to the city of Hué, I was an easy target for assassination or abduction, anytime the Viet Cong chose to take me out. I kept a case of grenades under my bed, I slept with an M-16 propped against the bedstead, and I had my own dubious army of four Vietnamese house guards whom I hoped would at least fire a warning shot before they ran away.

In April 1972. North Vietnamese forces swept south across the DMZ, scattering the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) defenders and driving to within six miles of Hué. I and a handful of other American trainers and advisors could only watch as a quarter-million panicked people gridlocked the road south to Danang, in a terrifying night reverberating with screams and explosions. We knew that any choppers sent to save us would be mobbed by Vietnamese eager to escape. I'm alive because American carrier jets caught the advancing North Vietnamese just short of the city walls and all but obliterated them.

Now we have the Iraq Study Group Report, advising that the mission of US forces shift from fighting a war to training Iraqi troops and police. The Report calls for the US to lay down a series of performance conditions for the Iraqis, including that the Iraqis end their civil war and create a viable national state.

I've lived through this one before.

Deteriorating conditions on the ground soon will force President Bush to accept this shift in mission strategy. It is Vietnamization in all but name. Its core purpose is not to win an unwinnable war, but to provide political cover for a retreat, and to lay the grounds for blaming the loss on the Iraqis.

Cynthia Tucker on the need to divert resources from Iraq to Afghanistan: Not only is there no path to victory in Iraq, as the Iraq Study Group (ISG) has made clear, but there is also very little chance of preventing disaster. As the U.S. military withdraws -- and it must -- the civil war between Sunni and Shiite will become more savage still, neighboring states will find themselves flooded with refugees, and Iraq will probably become the failed state that our policy was intended to prevent.

That's a brutal, ugly truth, but it is a truth widely acknowledged by many experts. No amount of hand-wringing or finger-pointing will change it.

But the United States need not leave two failed states. We can still save Afghanistan; that's where we should concentrate our diplomacy and manpower. If we don't, that nation will continue to deteriorate until it is once again a cauldron of violence and corruption, a haven for jihadists and narco-terrorists.

A. Alexander on the delusions of our leaders: Robert Gates, Bush's nominee for Defense Secretary, was sworn in on Monday. Gates immediately exhibited the single most important characteristic that the President seeks in those joining his administration: The ability to remain delusional in the face of overwhelming reality. Gates gave the obligatory post-swearing speech and without even cracking a smile, like Bush et al, pretended Iraq wasn't all ready a lost cause. "Failure in Iraq at this juncture," Gates said, ignoring the fact that Bush's policy passed failure months and months ago, "would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come." Well, of course, being a member of Team Bush, he had to throw in the scare words like "haunt" and fear mongering phrases such as, "endanger Americans for decades to come." It's all childish hyperbole, but it ensures Dobson and Falwell's followers remain convinced of a coming Islamic horde. Since they are the base and the only people still fooled by Bush's delusions, the administration likes to maintain the fear-factor. Gates did a fine Bush-like job in that area. Robert Gates can't hardly do a worse job of running the Defense Department and overseeing the Iraq War than had Rumsfeld, but his seeming susceptibility to the administration's plague of delusions doesn't exactly instill confidence that he will perform any better. It is quite unnerving that there are supposedly serious people who haven't yet accepted the fact that Iraq is a lost cause. Apparently, like Rumsfeld, we can count Gates among those in denial.

Smintheus on yet another Friday night document dump: The Bush administration, always bursting with embarrassing information, is famously addicted to the document-dump. I discovered long ago that the ritual dumps on Friday evenings had become so widely anticipated that the White House began experimenting with Thursday document-dumps. But any convenient day for burying the bad news will be welcome among this gang.

Given that Robert Gates was sworn in as the new Defense Secretary yesterday, I naturally went looking to see what information the Pentagon would be flushing out the back. The website did not make it particularly easy to discover where the trash was buried. No mention on the "Today in DOD" or the "News releases" pages.

But eventually I smelled it out. I knew there would be something, somewhere. It's the week before Christmas.

Yesterday, it turns out, the Pentagon released to the public its quarterly report on the situation in Iraq, as mandated by Congress. The study is dated November 30. So its public release had to wait a mere 19 days.

…Here is a collection of highly remarkable and inconvenient facts about Iraq that I've assembled from cross-examining the report (none stated explicitly anywhere in the document, however):

p. 27: Since January, sectarian executions have increased more than five-fold.

p. 25: Average weekly attacks are up more than 100% since summer 2005. Civilian casualties are nearly 3 times higher than they were a year ago. And as high as that rate was in the previous quarter, it continues to mount.

p. 45: The number of Iraqi battalions in combat dropped slightly during this quarter.

p. 42: Although the number of Iraqi security forces is said to have increased this quarter, the majority are Ministry of Interior forces, which have a phenomenally high (but unspecified) rate of absenteeism. Therefore the increased numbers are illusory.

p. 17-18: Since the start of the quarter, both oil production and electricity generation are down. Electricity is being generated at a slightly lower rate than in 2004, though unmet demand has greatly increased. Oil revenues are down since 2004.

p. 27: In every region of Iraq surveyed in October, the proportion of respondents who said they were somewhat or very concerned about the outbreak of civil war was never less than 25% (and perhaps a good deal higher, given the vagueness of the chart). That's substantially worse than the attitudes in a survey from November 2005.

p. 29: Between August and October, the confidence that Iraqis expressed in the ability of their government to protect them from violence dropped between 30 and 80% in many provinces. In most of the other provinces that did not witness steep drops, Iraqis already had virtually no confidence in the government.

Another feature of this report, on nearly every page, is the determination to find some way, any way, to put a more positive spin on the grim news.

Juan Cole on the correlation between Operation Forward together and increased insurgent attacks: Iraq violence is at an all-time high since the US "turned over sovereignty" to an Iraqi government June 28, 2004. USA Today writes, "The Pentagon says injuries and deaths among U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq rose 32% during the period from mid-August to mid-October over the previous three months. Both the average number of attacks each week and the average number of people killed or wounded in those attacks were at their highest levels since the United States handed over power to the Iraqi government in June 2004." What the report does not say is that this period coincides with a major US military operation, "Together Forward" intended to restore security in the capital, involving sweeps of Sunni Arab and some Shiite neighborhoods. That is to say, the operation not only did not make things better, things got worse during it. The military beefed up the US troop contingent in Baghdad significantly for the operation, including moving 3,700 troops down from Mosul. It is this sort of thing that convinces me that an extra 20,000 troops for Iraq is not going to make a difference. The American public doesn't need any convincing. Only 11 percent believe it is a good idea to send more troops to Iraq.

Jeremy Brecher & Brendan Smith with an optimistic article about accountability: The year 2006 will be remembered as one in which the American people and the world rose up to challenge the criminal actions and deceit of the Bush Administration.

Despite massive evidence that top Administration officials have been complicit in systematic violations of national and international law through aggressive war, illegal occupation, rendition and detention of terror suspects without trial, secret prisons and torture, so far they have not been held accountable. Now a diverse array of forces is contesting Bush Administration impunity for war crimes and trying to reassert the rule of law over the executive branch. Each is operating in different arenas and pursuing different kinds of accountability--from public shaming and political disempowerment to international isolation and even criminal prosecution. While all of these initiatives have been reported in the press, their convergence is one of the great underreported stories of 2006.

George Monbiot on the United States of Torture: That the US tortures, routinely and systematically, while prosecuting its "war on terror" can no longer be seriously disputed. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA), a coalition of academics and human rights groups, has documented the abuse or killing of 460 inmates of US military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. This, it says, is necessarily a conservative figure: many cases will remain unrecorded. The prisoners were beaten, raped, forced to abuse themselves, forced to maintain "stress positions," and subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation and mock executions.

The New York Times reports that prisoners held by the US military at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were made to stand for up to 13 days with their hands chained to the ceiling, naked, hooded and unable to sleep. The Washington Post alleges that prisoners at the same airbase were "commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep" while kept, like Jose Padilla and the arrivals at Guantanamo Bay, "in black hoods or spray-painted goggles."

Alfred McCoy, professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argues that the photographs released from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq reflect standard CIA torture techniques: "stress positions, sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation." The famous picture of the hooded man standing on a box, with wires attached to his fingers, shows two of these techniques being used at once. Unable to see, he has no idea how much time has passed or what might be coming next. He stands in a classic stress position -- maintained for several hours, it causes excruciating pain. He appears to have been told that if he drops his arms he will be electrocuted. What went wrong at Abu Ghraib is that someone took photos. Everything else was done by the book.

Neither the military nor the civilian authorities have broken much sweat in investigating these crimes. A few very small fish have been imprisoned; a few others have been fined or reduced in rank; in most cases the authorities have either failed to investigate or failed to prosecute. The DAA points out that no officer has yet been held to account for torture practised by his subordinates. US torturers appear to enjoy impunity, until they are stupid enough to take pictures of each other.

Norman Solomon on the pathetic Colin Powell: When Colin Powell endorsed the Iraq Study Group report during his Dec. 17 appearance on "Face the Nation," it was another curtain call for a tragic farce.

Four years ago, "moderates" like Powell were making the invasion of Iraq possible. Now, in the guise of speaking truth to power, Powell and ISG co-chairs James Baker and Lee Hamilton are refueling the U.S. war effort by depicting it as a problem of strategy and management.

But the U.S. war effort is a problem of lies and slaughter.

The Baker-Hamilton report stakes out a position for managerial changes that dodge the fundamental immorality of the war effort. And President Bush shows every sign of rejecting the report's call for scaling down that effort.

Fred Hiatt on our delusional Secretary of State: Most of all, Rice says, there is a struggle between extremism and moderation. The United States needs to "act smartly in that new strategic context rather than being drawn back to the old strategic context in search of, I think, a stability that no longer exists. . ." That false stability, again. Which is why, she says, she resists talks on Iraq with Syria's strongman and Iran's mullahs. If they perceive it in their national interest to help stabilize Iraq, they will do so in any event; if not, the price they demand will be exorbitant -- the United States standing aside as Syria regobbles Lebanon and Iran pursues its nuclear dreams.

But here's where things get a bit more complicated than Rice in her fluency makes them sound, because the forces of moderation -- the "mainstream actors," as she calls them -- are hardly all democratic, and the fruits of democracy are hardly all moderate. The good guys, in her view, include dictatorships (not her word) such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, while democratic victors include extremist actors such as Hamas in the Palestinian territory and Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.

It grows even more complicated when Rice attempts to fit the neat strategic frame of moderation vs. extremism over the mess her administration has helped create in Iraq. Rice says the United States must encourage Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders of the "more moderate center" to work together and to isolate and move against their respective militias. But what if those parties see each other as the enemy, and each value their own militia or terrorists as means of pressuring the other?

Rice is determined to see "real advantages for the United States" in the mess of today's Mideast -- a "new and much more favorable strategic context in the Middle East," she said at one point. But is she seeing something that Baker and Hamilton missed -- or something that isn't there?

The administration's credibility for such visions is near zero, and justifiably so, given its record of wishful thinking. Rice noted that administration insiders had debated before the war whether it would be "good enough to overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a strongman," and had decided emphatically no, and had understood even then that the democracy-building alternative would be difficult.

But then why did they not share that with the public? And why did they fail so abjectly and repeatedly to prepare for the difficulties? Why, even now, does the president seem to be re-creating the conditions for the infighting that plagued his first term, hiring a defense secretary who seems much closer to Baker than to Rice in his view of the world?

You can't help but be impressed as you listen to Rice discourse on how the region has changed and why the old approaches won't work. You feel less certain, when she's finished, that she or her boss have come up with any alternatives that will.

Jonathan Steele on the ‘blame the Iraqis’ strategy: A rare joke was circulating among Iraqis shortly before their prime minister met George Bush in Amman recently. What would the US president be demanding? Answer: a timetable for Iraqis to withdraw from Iraq.

It was a barbed reference to the huge number of Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homeland since the US invaded and presided over a catastrophic collapse in security. Up to 3,000 are leaving every day, according to the UN.

The joke also encapsulated the growing Iraqi feeling that the Americans are reaching the climax of a three-year exercise in shifting blame. Whatever has gone wrong in Iraq, it was always the Iraqis' fault. First they looted their own country in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's downfall. Then they let foreign jihadis and suicide bombers come in and attack the Americans. Now they are indulging in an orgy of sectarian violence and mindless revenge killings which are beyond the powers of the kind and well-meaning Americans to control. Could anyone have imagined that ingratitude for liberation would ever reach such depths? The only way to save Iraq is to remove every Iraqi. Messrs Perle, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz would then have an empty field on which to build their model Middle Eastern state.

The line that "it's all up to the Iraqis now" also runs through the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, albeit in a subtle form. The report calls for Iraq's neighbours to play a constructive part in stabilising the country. It calls on the US military to accelerate the training of Iraqi troops and give them better equipment. But the central thrust is that Iraqis have to solve their own problems. They cannot expect the US to have an open-ended commitment to help.

Nicole Stracke on Iraqi security forces: Among the 79 recommendations listed by the Iraq Study Group headed by former US Secretary of State James Baker and Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, those listed under 50 and 51 can be considered the most important. These state that “the entire Iraqi national police” and “the entire Iraqi Border Police should be transferred to the Ministry of Defense” and thus tries to promote the institutions of the Iraqi military significantly over that of the Iraqi police forces. Given that the current police forces are heavily infiltrated by militias and have lost much credibility and public support, promoting Iraqi Army institutions would appear to be the key to enhancing security in Iraq. The question, however, is to what degree can these recommendations actually be implemented?

The current Iraqi government has no interest in promoting the role of the army. Since the establishment of this government in May 2006, the army has only played a marginal role in securing the country. The Iraqi Constitution subjects the army to the political leadership. Accordingly, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki is commander-in-chief of the armed forces; he is in charge of the military institution of the country, including the appointment of the defense minister. Rather than re-building and promoting the army, the Maliki government decided to cushion its political power by politicizing the police forces and allying them with the diverse armed militias. The government’s intention to limit the army’s influence, restrain its capability and make it rely on the police was clearly demonstrated in the prime minister’s proposal to the Parliament in July 2006 wherein Maliki suggested recalling 80,000 troops from the disbanded Iraqi Army, but with 60,000 of them going to the police forces and only 20,000 actually re-employed by the army.

This proposal came at a time when it was already well known that many parts of the police forces were corrupt, politicized and infiltrated by Shiite militias, and hence considered unreliable to be given the responsibility of stabilizing the country. But the proposal reflected the government’s style of governance whereby its power and protection are derived from various militias and a politicized police. The leadership and different political factions, including the prime minister’s Hizb Al-Dawa party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Al-Hakim group), and the Al-Sadr group, rely on armed militias which have been responsible for the destabilization of the country by competing with each other for control and power, thereby contributing to the collapse of security and pushing the country gradually to a sectarian and civil war.

Muhammed Abdel Kader on life in Baghdad: "My name is Muhammad Abdel Kader. I am 36 years old and live in the Ejidida neighbourhood of Baghdad with my parents, wife and only son. I have lived in Baghdad all my life. I have been making coffins since I was 24 to help with the family income.

I work non-stop, 12 hours a day, six days a week. I have never made so many coffins a day in my life. I have to make as many coffins as I can to meet demand in al-Qarah Cemetery.

Before the war, we were making about two or maximum three coffins a day for people who had died from diseases or car accidents. But today we make at least 20 a day for victims of the violence.

For me, this is good business because the more people I bury the more income I get. I usually get US $10 per burial. But I can't be inhuman and say that I don't care because the suffering of the families sometimes makes me think about changing my profession so that I don't ever have to see such depressing scenes.

We coffin makers are in so much demand these days. My job is essential to the country because of the dozens of people who are killed daily and if I don't make coffins, there will be more chaos.

I remember a day, some four months ago, when I and my colleague had to make 50 coffins. Soon there will be no more places here in the cemetery to bury so many bodies.

Some of the dead have been killed by militias or insurgents or in bomb explosions. Others have been killed by gangsters for money or in senseless sectarian violence.

My worst experience was making the coffin of my own brother, Ahmed. He was a 33-year-old cabinet maker with two children. I had to help burying him. He was killed in a bomb explosion and fate had it that I was the one working in the cemetery on that day. Sometimes you don't even have time to cry for the loss of your relative.

After burying my brother, I had to help make coffins for 13 other people who had died on the same day.

My brother's death was a tragedy for my family. We were only two brothers helping our parents because my father lost his leg in the 1991 Gulf War and a month earlier my uncle had been killed by insurgents inside his home - but thank God I didn't have to bury him as it was my day off.

It is very sad to see Iraq like this today. I hope that my children one day will live in a better country without violence but in a country filled with happiness and dignity."

Medal Awarded

An Indiana National Guardsman who died in a suicide bomb attack just weeks before he was to return home from Iraq will be awarded the Silver Star.

Gov. Mitch Daniels and Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, will present the medal to the family of Sgt. Joseph E. Proctor today at the Statehouse.

Proctor, 38, who lived in Indianapolis and grew up in the Johnson County town of Whiteland, was assigned to the National Guard's 638th Aviation Battalion. He is the first Indiana National Guardsman to be awarded the Silver Star -- the Army's third-highest honor for bravery -- since October 1969, Guard officials said.

Proctor was killed May 3 during an attack on a U.S. coalition compound in Tammin, near Ramadi, when he left cover to provide first aid to wounded soldiers and then faced down a dump truck loaded with explosives, the Guard said.

Local Stories and Casualty Reports

A Hawaii-based Marine was killed in Iraq last week after being wounded by enemy action, the Defense Department said Tuesday. Lance Cpl. Matthew Clark, 22, of St. Louis, was a mortarman, providing indirect fire in support of rifle and light armored reconnaissance squads and other units. He died Thursday.

A 20-year-old Kingwood man who attended Texas A&M University his freshman year before leaving school to join the U.S. Marines was killed last week in Iraq. Marine Lance Cpl. Luke C. Yepsen died Thursday from injuries from enemy action in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Yepsen had been assigned to 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Three soldiers, including one from Glendale, Ariz., have died from injuries suffered in a roadside bomb attack in Taji, north of Baghdad. The Defense Department said Tuesday that Staff Sgt. David Staats, 30, died of injuries suffered in the attack Saturday. He is the 83rd person from Arizona killed in Iraq. Pfc. Seth Stanton, 19, of Colorado City, and Spc. Matthew Stanley, 22, of Wolfeboro Falls, N.H., also died of injuries suffered in the attack Saturday. All three were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas.

A Marine from Merced who shared his experiences in Iraq with third-graders after his first deployment was killed Tuesday during his second tour. Cpl. Joshua Pickard, a 20-year-old Merced County native, was killed by small-arms fire early Tuesday in Iraq. Pickard is the 19th soldier or Marine from the Northern San Joaquin Valley to die in Iraq or Afghanistan during the war.

Funeral services for a Marine from Iowa who was killed in Iraq will be held today. Lance Corporal Clinton Jon Miller, of Greenfield, died last week while conducting combat operations. Twenty-three-year Miller graduated from Nodaway Valley High School in Greenfield in 2001, and joined the Marines about 18 months ago.

A 27-year-old Marine helicopter pilot from West Bend was killed in Iraq, only weeks after beginning his second deployment there, his mother said Tuesday. Capt. Kevin M. Kryst died Monday from injuries sustained in fighting in al-Anbar province, the Department of Defense said in a statement. “He died from injuries due to being hit by a fragment of a mortar,” said his mother, Elizabeth Kryst. “We’re proud of him,” she said. “But we’re at a loss without him.”


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