Tuesday, January 31, 2006

War News for Tuesday, January 31 2006 Bring ‘em on: A British soldier was killed by an explosion in southern Iraq on Tuesday, becoming the 100th British service member to die in the campaign since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Three other soldiers were hurt, one seriously, in the blast, which took place on Tuesday morning in the southern port of Umm Qasr in Basra province. Bring ‘em on: A roadside bomb targeted a joint Danish-Iraqi military patrol near the southern city of Basra on Monday, the first attack on Danish troops since protests against a Danish newspaper for publishing widely criticized caricatures of Islam's prophet. There were no casualties in the attack, which occurred as the troops crossed a bridge in a rural area about 60 miles north of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. Bring ‘em on: Gunmen attacked a house used by U.S. soldiers as a base in eastern Fallujah on Monday, witnesses said. "Armed men surrounded a house used by American soldiers as base and opened heavy fire for 15 minutes at about 9:00 a.m. (0600 GMT)in the Annaz area," the witnesses told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. The attackers destroyed the house with the U.S. soldiers inside and fled the scene, added the witnesses. According to them, U.S. helicopters hovered over the area firing two rockets at suspected insurgent positions, as other U.S.troops cordoned off the area. Bring ‘em on: Three Iraqi soldiers killed on Monday in northern Iraq's Kirkuk city by unknown gunmen. A police source said the soldiers were part of a force designated with securing oil facilities. Bring ‘em on: Bullet-riddled bodies of two bound and gagged men found in Baghdad. Bring ‘em on: Gunmen attacked a construction team in west Baghdad, killing one worker and wounding four. Bring ‘em on: A suicide car bomber plowed into a police commando headquarters. One police officer died and more than 30 others were wounded. Bring ‘em on: Insurgents hurled 10 mortar rounds late Sunday night at the US military base in Habaniyah. Bring ‘em on: Two policemen killed and 20 people wounded when a suicide bomber in a car attacked a barracks in the southern city of Nassiriya on Monday. Bring ‘em on: In southern Baghdad, Iraqi police announced the apprehension of 14 gunmen of different Arab nationalities, during a raid. A police source told reporters that the arrested group consisted of four Egyptians, eight Sudanese, a Tunisian and a Yemeni. IRAQ NEWS Poll: Nearly half of Iraqis support attacks on U.S. troops: A new poll found that nearly half of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, and most favor setting a timetable for American troops to leave. The poll also found that 80 percent of Iraqis think the United States plans to maintain permanent bases in the country even if the newly elected Iraqi government asks American forces to leave. Researchers found a link between support for attacks and the belief among Iraqis that the United States intends to keep a permanent military presence in the country. According to the poll's findings, 47 percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on American forces, but there were large differences among ethnic and religious groups. Among Sunni Muslims, 88 percent said they approved of the attacks. That approval was found among 41 percent of Shiite Muslims and 16 percent of Kurds. Ninety-three percent of Iraqis oppose violence against Iraqi security forces, and 99 percent oppose attacks on Iraqi civilians. Japan to leave Iraq in May: Japan will withdraw its ground troops from southern Iraq by the end of May along with pullouts by the British and Australian forces from the area, Japanese media outlets have reported citing sources in the Japanese Government. Diplomats and defence officials from Australia, Britain, Japan and the United States reached a basic agreement over the timing of the withdrawals at a secret meeting in London last Monday, the sources told Kyodo. Oil found in northern Iraq: Foreign firms have reached “very good results” in their exploration for oil deposits in the border town of Zakho, said Mohammed Zaibari, head of the northern oil distribution company. Zaibari, speaking in a local television interview, did not name the foreign firms but said they were exploring for oil in northern Iraq under an agreement with the central government. Zakho is a town in the Kurdish north bordering Turkey. ABC News anchor treated in Germany after Iraq blast: U.S. television news anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt arrived in Germany for further treatment on Monday at a U.S. military hospital after being injured in a roadside blast in Iraq. Speaking to Reuters Television after a news conference, chief surgeon Guillermo Tellez underlined the seriousness of their injuries. "Unfortunately as a result of what we call 'improvised explosive devices', or bombs, these two individuals sustained injuries to their upper chest, neck and face and brain," Tellez said. Iraqi group urges Danish attacks over cartoons: An Iraqi militant group called on Monday for attacks against Danish and Norwegian targets over satirical cartoons of Islam's Prophet Mohammad, saying a boycott of goods was not enough, according to an Internet statement. "Boycotting cheese and dairy products alone is a flimsy stance that fits a weak nation that cannot defend its prophet ... They started this and they have to shoulder the responsibilities," said the statement attributed to the Mujahideen Army. It called on its fighters to "hit whatever targets possible belonging to these two countries and other (countries) that follow their steps". Jill Carroll, on a new videotape aired by Al-Jazeera, appealed for the release of all Iraqi women prisoners: The U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, weeping and veiled, appeared on a new videotape aired Monday by Al-Jazeera, and the Arab television station said she appealed for the release of all Iraqi women prisoners. The video was dated Saturday, two days after the U.S. military released five Iraqi women from custody. US says will not give in to Carroll's kidnappers: The United States will not give in to the demands of the kidnappers of reporter Jill Carroll, a U.S. military spokesman said on Tuesday, after a new video was aired in which she called for Iraqi women prisoners to be freed. "We will not make concessions to terrorist demands," U.S. military spokesman in Iraq Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson told Reuters. The United States says it does not negotiate with kidnappers or terrorists. The U.S. military released five women prisoners last week, but both they and Iraqi officials insisted the move had been pre-planned and was not linked to the hostage-takers' demands. U.S. forces say they continue to hold at least four more women security detainees. The Iraqi government has been pressing for the release of the women; the detention of women offends Iraqis and the U.S. military seeks to avoid it in most cases. Iraqi Kurdish girl died of bird flu: An Iraqi Kurdish girl who died earlier this month of suspected bird flu did have the deadly H5N1 virus, the Iraqi health minister said Monday. Abdel Mutalib Mohammed Ali told reporters that Shanjin Abdel Qader, 14, had contracted H5N1, despite initial reports from a World Health Organization laboratory in Amman saying test results were negative. The minister headed to the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah and met with local health officials as well as doctors at the city hospital to discuss efforts to stop the spread of the virus, which has killed four people in neighboring Turkey. UK Ministry of Defence admittes it issued misleading figures for the number of British soldiers injured in Iraq: The Ministry of Defence has admitted that it issued misleading figures for the number of British soldiers injured in Iraq after a Scotsman investigation found that they were wildly inaccurate. John Reid, the Defence Secretary, last week claimed that about 230 UK personnel had been wounded in action in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. The new figure was substantially smaller than previous estimates and would mean British troops had a ratio of deaths to injuries of roughly 1:3, compared with the US ratio of 1:7. The MoD admitted yesterday that hundreds more may have been injured in combat and that it was unlikely that injuries sustained by soldiers during the war itself had been included in the total. It is now reviewing the information and has promised to issue more figures in the next couple of weeks. A spokesman said: "At the moment this is the only figure we have got. We simply can't tell you how many people have been injured in Iraq. We have been absolutely clear about this - it is never going to be precise. There will be many, many more injuries that would not require admission to a hospital." Analysis of the MoD's own statements, interviews with senior officers and published reports of casualties from Iraq shows there have been more than 230 injuries. A study of reports from Iraq filed over the past three years found reference to 263 wounded soldiers, but uncovered evidence to suggest that the MoD routinely under-reports casualties. Military analysts believe that the true figure is closer to 800. In a number of instances it was possible to show that the MoD issued incorrect information about specific incidents in which soldiers were injured. In August 2003 eyewitness reports from Basra suggested that a number of British soldiers had been injured in rioting. This was denied by the MoD, only for the soldiers' commanding officer, Lt Col Jorge Mendonca, to reveal a few days later in an interview that they had suffered 21 casualties, some with stab wounds. Military experts expressed astonishment at the casualty figure given out by Dr Reid. Charles Heyman, a former British army staff officer and now editor of Armed Forces of the UK, said the MoD was clearly not telling the truth."They are being totally disingenuous," he said. "I suspect that they are making a serious mistake here." Mr Heyman expressed astonishment at the MoD's claim that it did not have details of casualty figures. "You monitor the sick rates as much as you monitor the ammunition," he said. Mr Heyman said he would expect to see a British casualty rate of approximately 800 wounded in the Iraq campaign. "The figure that we use for a modern, conventional military operation is that for every guy killed between eight and ten are injured," he said. Italy allegedly paid to free hostages in Iraq: The Italian government paid million-dollar ransoms to secure the release of its citizens held hostage in Iraq, according to a police report cited Monday by daily La Repubblica. La Repubblica said the report by the special-operations section (ROS) of the Italian paramilitary organization Carabinieri had been handed over to Rome prosecutors investigating the abductions. The report said the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed to pay for the release of journalist Giuliana Sgrena, kidnapped in Baghdad in February 2005, and Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, two relief workers kidnapped in September 2004. The money was allegedly paid via Italian intelligence agents and red cross officials operating in Iraq to Abdel Salam Al Kubaisi, a Sunni cleric who has acted as a mediator in numerous abductions. The ROS report said the Italian government had paid 'a considerable amount of money' for the release of Sgrena, possibly in the region of 5 million dollars, La Repubblica said. Commenting on the report Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini denied that his government had paid for the release of Sgrena or 'any other hostage.' REPORTS, COMMENTARY & ANALYSIS Iraq IEDs as deadly as ever: There is no technological 'quick fix' available to neutralize the IED threat. Given the effectiveness of modern explosive devices, especially the capabilities inherent in shaped-charge technology, this should come as no surprise. There is in fact only one proven counter-tactic that could neutralize IEDs, and it is the oldest and simplest in the history of combat: it is to flood areas where such attacks are made with disproportionately large numbers of security forces on regular patrols on a 24/7 basis. Such forces, as the British Army effectively showed in the long conflict in Northern Ireland, if concentrated in sufficient density, can continually intercept guerrilla groups transporting or placing IEDs and can rapidly inflict unacceptable rates of attrition on them. But the U.S. Army in Iraq has never had anything like the troop numbers to maintain such a strategy even in the most limited areas. The aim of U.S. strategy over the past year and a half has been to rapidly train and deploy new Iraqi security forces in massive numbers that would indeed have the manpower to carry out such operations on a sustained basis. And in terms of the numbers of them being deployed, that goal is, theoretically, being met. This month, the Iraqi Armed Forces and National Guard fielded a combined strength of 106,800 men the total police strength was listed as 142,190 giving a combined total of 226,900 men, closed to the eventual stated goal of 272,566. But major questions remain about the reliability and combat efficiency of these forces. Most of all, as UPI`s Iraq Benchmarks column has documented week in and week out, the insurgents continue to inflict unacceptable rates of attrition on the new Iraqi forces with dozens of them, sometimes more than a hundred, being killed per week. The insurgents therefore continue to have the tactical and morale whip-hand over the new security forces, and there is widespread concern among many U.S. military analysts that they have been able to leverage that power into massive infiltration of the new forces with access to its intelligence. The Bully Complex: Canadian war reporter Scott Taylor was recently interviewed by the Canadian-Macedonian News newspaper. He kindly mentions myself, but that is not the primary reason I suggest the article. More interesting is the following insight into why the Americans tend to support who they do. When asked why the Americans fell for the fawning accolades and desperate pleas of the Albanians (as well as the Kurds), Scott notes: "...The American mentality is they want to be loved. They’re like a great big schoolyard bully who really just wants a friend and they don’t understand that the Albanians don’t really like them. They’re just using them and the Kurds in northern Iraq are just using the Americans. It’s the inherent weakness of this great big giant, blind, stupid bully. He wants to be liked so if somebody says we like you they believe him because they want to be liked. The Macedonians aren’t going to play that game. The Serbs are definitely not going to play that game." Of course, at work are also all the numerous geostrategic and economic interests, some of which Scott mentions, but this insight into America's collective psychology has a devastating ring of truth to it, for me anyway. Today we live in an imperial moment like any other. And when it becomes necessary to grovel at the feet of empire to curry favor, those who have neither self-respect nor an interest in self-reliance always win. Sometimes it's better to lose. Why demonizing Islam is NOT a good idea: Being a Muslim is freakin' hard work! Those namby-pamby born-again so-called Christians -- who are always bragging about how holier-than-thou they are -- would wilt like prom flowers after only about a week of being a Muslim. First of all, to be a Muslim you gotta get up at 5:30 in the morning every day. Then you gotta perform a ceremonial cleansing called "wudo" that consists of washing your face, ears, nose, mouth, fingers, arms up to the elbows, toes and feet up to the ankles. Then you gotta trudge across town before freaking SUNRISE in order to pray in the mosque. And, if you are a woman, you have to cover every! part of your body while doing all the rest of this stuff. And that's just the beginning. You gotta do this whole routine four more times every day. That means that if you are a merchant, you gotta close your shop five times a day. If you are a mom and want to pray at the mosque too, you gotta load up the stroller and trudge across town with the kiddies five times a day. And, in many Middle Eastern Islamic countries, you gotta do it dressed in black with only your eyes showing. Chasing toddlers dressed like Zorro in drag? That's work! And if you are a Muslim in Baghdad, you gotta do all this while American occupying forces and resistance fighters are shooting at you! Plus, if your are a Muslim, you gotta do a whole bunch of other stuff too. There are so many proscriptions and rules that even the most tight-assed "Christian" fundamentalist control freak in Dixie would get confused. I'm exhausted just thinking about it. Plus if you make any major mistakes and don't ask for forgiveness, you get to go straight to Hell. Lots of Hell Fire. Not a pretty sight. Plus, Islam stresses justice and equality and good manners. You cannot attack anyone unless you are attacked first. And you gotta be NICE to people. 24/7. Muslims are some of the nicest, most generous people in the world. How do they do it? Yesterday I got thrown off a computer at an internet! cafe run by Muslims. "Why?" I protested. "My time isn't up." "We're closing," said the geek behind the desk and apologized profusely as he threw me out the door. And three blocks later (I'm a slow thinker) I realized why. It was time for the evening prayer. Yesterday a friend of mine took me on a tour of the local mosques. We toured five mosques and prayed at every one. Combine that with the required five prayers a day and that's 10 (ten) prayer cycles in one day. There's only so much ritual prayer I can take and I was just about prayed out. I myself prefer the spontaneous, on-the-fly, wing-and-a-prayer approach to talking with God but this was like going to Mass ten times a day. That's a hecka lot of work. After all that, when would I even have TIME to sit down and chit-chat with the Almighty? Being a Muslim is freaking hard work! Yet when I went off to the formal Friday prayers at a local mosque the other day, there were hundreds of people there. All of them were devoted. All of them were enthusiastic. All of them were really glad to be there -- not just for an occasional drop-in visit with God but five times a day for the rest of their lives. Year after year after year with no break. Voluntarily. They actually CHOSE not to sit the occasional day out or to stay home to watch Sunday afternoon football or nothing like that. Any Methodist minister would give his eye teeth to have a congregation like that. And any "Christian" dictator plotting a theocracy would drool at all this enthusiasm. None of these Muslims want to overthrow Islam and win the right to not have to close down the freaking shop five times a day or sleep in on Sunday morning. That's amazing. Being a Muslim is hard work. And yet Muslims do it anyway. Over a billion Muslims do it daily. It seems to me that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, arms manufacturers were looking around for another formidable enemy -- as an excuse to steal taxpayers' money by scaring us into parting with our hard-earned cash and claiming that there was a desperate need to keep us all safe from some post-USSR calamity or other. Osama bin Forgotten was not a big enough threat to justify spending trillions of weapons dollars just to go after one man -- so the idiots in the Bush bureaucracy looked around for another possible post-Communist villain and decided to make Islam the enemy. Big mistake. Muslims are basically nice people. They are just Average Joes like you and me. And also, like you and I would do if we were in their same position and George Bush kept insisting on trying to blow us all up, Muslims will fight back. Why? Because Muslims LIKE being Muslims. Even despite the hard work. War In Iraq Just for Democrats: So the war by 2006 is a total failure that kills our troops, costs billions up billions every month, humiliates Bush and the administration on a daily basis and presents very serious risks to the interests of the Unites States on multiple fronts, yet the war goes on. Why? Because at this stage of the game the war is all for us, Democratic brothers and sisters. Everything else has gone to hell, but the weapons the war gives Bush over Democrats are just too potent to put down. The exceptional blogger Mark Schmitt confirmed this January 5th when he noted that Bush wanted the NSA scandal dragged well into next year, for it gave Bush the perfect club to beat the Democrats with in 2006. Paul Krugman confirmed it another way last week when he noted success in Iraq can never arrive without electricity, yet that effort has totally failed, the administration knows it, but they deliberately will do nothing about it. Bush is cementing our loss, in other words, yet the war drags on. I am certain that Duncan Black is correct to some degree: Bush is manifestly too infantile and stubborn to ever be tagged with retreat, he won’t blink any eye if 100,000 of our troops are killed in the next three years just so he won’t get tagged with bugging out on his watch. That’s certainly part of it, yes. But at this stage of the total debacle the only other rational reason to stay in Iraq is to smash Democrats with perfect wedge potential. As we are on the eve of another humiliating capitulation to Bush this is what I want our Senators to know most of all: after three years of horrifying war crime failure that has made us a pariah on the globe and even sacrifices our troops, Bush will keep happily on just to defeat you. Oh yes, Bush will sacrifice tradition, honor, ethics, the treasury, the interests of the country, even the lives of our people just…for…you. How is that not obvious? Americans need desperately to understand: According to news reports, the Bush administration is stunned by the election victory of the radical Islamist Hamas Party, which swept the US-financed Fatah Party from office. Why is the Bush administration astonished? The Bush administration is astonished because it stupidly believes that hundreds of millions of Muslims should be grateful that the US has interfered in their internal affairs for 60 years, setting up colonies and puppet rulers to suppress their aspirations and to achieve, instead, purposes of the US government. Americans need desperately to understand that 95 percent of all Muslim terrorists in the world were created in the past three years by Bush's invasion of Iraq. Americans need desperately to comprehend that if Bush attacks Iran and Syria, as he intends, terrorism will explode, and American civil liberties will disappear into a thirty year war that will bankrupt the United States. The total lack of rationality and competence in the White House and the inability of half of the US population to acquire and understand information are far larger threats to Americans than terrorism. America has become a rogue nation, flying blind, guided only by ignorance and hubris. A terrible catastrophe awaits. The last straw for ‘Marlboro Man’: The photograph hit the world on Nov. 10, 2004: a close-cropped shot of a U.S. Marine in Iraq, his face smeared with blood and dirt, a cigarette dangling from his lips, smoke curling across weary eyes. It was an instant icon, with Dan Rather calling it "the best war photograph in recent years." About 100 newspapers ran the photo, dubbing the anonymous warrior the "Marlboro Man." The man in the photograph is James Blake Miller, now 21, and he is an icon, although in ways Rather probably never imagined. He's quieter now -- easier to anger. He turns to fight at the sound of a backfire, can't look at fireworks without thinking of fire raining down on a city. He has trouble sleeping, and when he does, his fingers twitch on invisible triggers. The diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder. Miller dismissed the early signs When he and his buddies reacted to a truck backfire by dropping into a combat stance and raising imaginary rifles, well, that was to be expected. And when his wife, Jessica -- the childhood sweetheart whom Miller had married in June -- told him he was tightening his arm around her neck in the night, that was strange, but he figured it would pass. So would the nightmares he began to have about Iraq, things that had happened, things that hadn't. Then one day, while visiting his wife at her college dorm in Pikeville, Miller looked out the window and clearly saw the body of an Iraqi sprawled out on the sidewalk. He turned away. "I said, 'Look, honey, I just got to get out of here.' And one day, as Miller headed for the smoke deck with a Marlboro, a passing sailor made a whistling sound just like a rocket-propelled grenade. "I don't remember grabbing him. I don't remember putting him against the bulkhead. I don't remember getting him down on the floor. I don't remember getting on top of him. I don't remember doing any of that s -- ," Miller said. "That was like the last straw." Warriors and wusses: I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on. I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas. And I've got no problem with other people — the ones who were for the Iraq war — supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of. But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward. Fool me twice…: Despite the clear and unambiguous facts, the Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll reports that 60% of Republicans, 41% of Independents, and 36% of Democrats support using air strikes and ground troops against Iran in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. This poll indicates an appalling extent of ignorance and misinformation among the American public. The Bush administration will take advantage of this ignorance to initiate another war in the Middle East. A majority of Americans have now been deceived twice on the same issue. Just as there was no evidence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons, there is no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. There is nothing but unproven assertions, assertions, moreover, that are contradicted by the evidence that does exist. Americans, it would appear, are so eager for wars that they welcome being fooled into them. Are Bin Laden’s tapes authentic?: There is no reason whatsoever to believe that these audiotapes are authentic. While they are always followed by reports of scientific voice analyses, these studies have been invariably done by CIA experts. In fact, only one occasion was an independent analysis done. And while American officials were certain of the tape’s authenticity, Swedish scientists were convinced that it was fake. Consider yesterday’s audiotape, in which BIN LADEN warned that AL-QAEDA is planning new attacks against the United States, but offered a conditional “long-term truce”, which the White House rejected. Hours after the tape's release, CIA officials said it is a “genuine message” from BIN LADEN. “Following a technical analysis, the voice on the tape is believed to be that of OSAMA BIN LADEN,” said a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official. On the other hand, several experts doubted the tape's authenticity. “It was like a voice from the grave“, said Bruce Lawrence, a Duke professor, who analyzed more than 20 complete speeches and interviews of the AL-QAEDA chief for his recent book “Messages to the World: The Statements of OSAMA BIN LADEN.” In several occassions, no evidence was provided to support claims of the authenticity of such tapes. The media and politicians seem little concerned about such issues. Moreover, the fact that AL-QAEDA adopted new tactics since this unverified medium emerged was never discussed. For example, the network have never claimed responsibility for any attack before the taped messages. But since their introduction, AL-QAEDA has taken responsibility for several attacks, including those against German tourists in Tunisia, Israeli tourists in Kenya, and the Madrid bombings. The group even released a taped admission of involvement in the 9/11 attacks despite all their previous pre-audiotape protestations to the contrary. Moreover, nobody ever tried to explain why BIN LADEN focuses on the U.S.‘s global interests rather than his own troubles in AFGHANISTAN. Since 9/11, it seemed that BIN LADEN preferred to target U.S. forces in IRAQ than in AFGHANISTAN. Strange also is why AL-QAEDA would use an audiotape message to threaten France, Russia and Germany, even though all three countries opposed the Bush administration’s “WAR ON TERROR“ to BIN LADEN’s alleged new pet project, IRAQ . Never addressed as well is the timing of the release of such audiotapes. One of the previous audiotapes was released just two days before the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Its message actually preceded BUSH's first UN appeals on IRAQ by a few days, as well as similar lobbying before the U.S. Congress. Another tape emerged a year later while BUSH tried to win financial aid from Asian countries for IRAQ’s reconstruction. This one also came before a donors’ conference in Madrid just the following week. Some analysts were quick to point to the perfect timing of the latest tape. They suggest that if the speaker really is BIN LADEN, then the tape will certainly boost support for BUSH. In addition to cooling down the anger provoked by the CIA’s strike in Pakistan, opposition to IRAQ WAR is growing, midterm elections are coming up and international pressures are mounting on Iran over its NUCLEAR PROGRAM. The content of such tapes is equally alarming as their timing. The push for IRAQ WAR, for example, won support when a BIN LADEN audiotape helped to cement U.S. claims of links between AL-QAEDA and SADDAM HUSSEIN. This tape was released in February 2003, while the U.S. lobbied heavily for a second UN resolution on IRAQ, and just a month before the war began. Global game of thermonuclear chicken: Iran is a vast, strategically central expanse of land, more than double the land area of France and Germany combined, with well over 70 million people and one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. It is well prepared for a new Holy War. Its mountainous terrain makes any thought of a US ground occupation inconceivable at a time the Pentagon is having problems retaining its present force to maintain the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations. World War III begins in a series of miscalculations and disruptions. The Pentagon's awesome war machine, "total spectrum dominance" is powerless against the growing "asymmetrical war" assaults around the globe. Clear from a reading of their public statements and their press, the Iranian government knows well what cards its holds and what not in this global game of thermonuclear chicken. Were the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to risk launching a nuclear strike on Iran, given the geopolitical context, it would mark a point of no return in international relations. Even with sagging popularity, the White House knows this. The danger of the initial strategy of preemptive wars is that, as now, when someone like Iran calls the US bluff with a formidable response potential, the US is left with little option but to launch the unthinkable - nuclear strike. There are saner voices within the US political establishment, such as former National Security Council heads, Brent Scowcroft or even Zbigniew Brzezinski, who clearly understand the deadly logic of Bush's and the Pentagon hawks' preemptive posture. The question is whether their faction within the US power establishment today is powerful enough to do to Bush and Cheney what was done to Richard Nixon when his exercise of presidential power got out of hand. It is useful to keep in mind that even were Iran to possess nuclear missiles, the strike range would not reach the territory of the US. Israel would be the closest potential target. A US preemptive nuclear strike to defend Israel would raise the issue of what the military agreements between Tel Aviv and Washington actually encompass, a subject neither the Bush administration nor its predecessors have seen fit to inform the American public about. “If there were no oil in the Islamic lands, there would be no clash of civilizations”: The questions about Islam, which have been formulated after the spreading of the images produced by the Strauss ideology of the “Clash of Civilizations” and which add up to older ones cropped up from the colonial folklore or past wars officially waged in the name of faith, are a recurrent subject in the “Western” press since 9/11, 2001. First of all, the Atlantist press presents Islam as another self. Describing this alter ego is also, and firstly, calling one’s own self. The word “Islam” designates a religion to which each and everyone is free to adhere. But it also designates a culture, necessarily exotic, which, in case of converting to this religion, is equal to betraying one’s own culture or neglecting civilization. The alter ego of Islam defines, by opposition, the universe of the author: the “West”. The word is in itself enough to revive the ghosts of the Cold War. There was a time when the West opposed the East in the form of the Soviet world. Today, it opposes the East as the Muslim world. This West, which is not Muslim, declares itself “Judeo-Christian”. On the other hand, the Atlantist press visualizes Islam through the knowledge it has of the Maghreb. By making a big effort, it puts all Arab and Persian populations together, but ignores that most Muslims in the modern world are neither Arabs nor Persians. The only way the Atlantist press accepts Turkey within NATO is for the conviction that the country is still controlled by the Kemalist military allied to Israel, thus turning a blind eye to the existence of the Balkans or Bosnia-Herzegovina. Islam is therefore a religion of “immigrants” whose vocation is “becoming integrated”, that is, getting mixed up with another mass till disappearing. Basically, for the Atlantist press, the normalization of Islam requires an internal division and the victory of the moderates over the extremists. This approach allows blaming others for violence: Terror is not the result of the colonial aggression by a Coalition that bombs civilians, but of the Muslim extremists who put up resistance. However, reality is quite the opposite, as filmmaker and reporter Tariq Ali would write in our columns: “If there were no oil in the Islamic lands, there would be no clash of civilizations”. Iraq is not an enemy: Here is the embarrassing question: Is America actually at war? We have a war president, war hawks, war planes, war correspondents, war cries, even war crimes -- but do we have war? We have war dead, but the question remains. With young US soldiers being blown up almost daily, it can seem an absurd question, an offensive one. With thousands of Iraqis killed by American firepower, it can seem a heartless question, as if the dead care whether strict definitions of ''war" are fulfilled. There can be no question that Iraq is in a state of war, and that, whatever its elements of post-Saddam sectarian conflict, the warfare is being driven from the Pentagon. But, regarding the Iraq conflict as it involves the United States, something essential is lacking that would make it a war -- and that is an enemy. The so-called ''insurgents," who wreak such havoc, are not America's enemy. They are not our rivals for territory. They are not our ideological antagonists. Abstracting from the present confrontation, they have no reason to wish us ill. Americans who bother to imagine the situation from the Iraqi point of view -- a massive foreign invasion, launched on false pretenses; a brutal occupation, with control of local oil reserves surely part of the motivation; the heartbreaking deaths of brothers, cousins, children, parents -- naturally understand that an ''insurgency" is the appropriate response. Its goal is simply to force the invaders and occupiers to leave. Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds have intrinsic reasons to regard each other as enemies, from competition over land and oil, to ethnic hatreds, to unsettled scores. No equivalent sources of inbuilt contempt exist among these people toward America. Taken as a whole, or in its parts, Iraq is not an enemy. Smoothing over the edges of a US torture policy: An army court martial convicted Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer of negligent homicide on January 22 for killing Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a former major general in the Iraqi military. Mowhoush died after Welshofer stuffed him in a sleeping bag, wrapped a cord around his body, straddled his broken ribs, and covered his mouth. Welshofer’s sentence included no prison time. Evidence has emerged in media reports that Mowhoush was tortured to death over the course of 16 days, and that his interrogation involved several intelligence agencies, including the CIA. It is obvious that Welshofer’s trial was an attempt to smooth over the edges of a US torture policy that pervades throughout all branches of the US military and intelligence agencies. The court martial assigned all blame for Mowhoush’s death onto Welshofer, but even so, the soldier received no prison time. Welshofer was originally on trial for murder, but was subsequently charged only with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, penalties that carry up to three years and three months jail time, respectively. At his final sentencing on January 23, he was given a fine and restricted to barracks, work and his place of worship for 90 days. This negligible sentence is a clear sign from the military that it will not seriously prosecute those who have engaged in torture. The fact that Welshofer’s superiors—those who authorized and encouraged the torture methods used on Mowhoush—have not even been charged is an even more serious transgression of justice. The way the government has handled the killing of Mowhoush is of the same mold as its handling of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. However, in the case of Abu Ghraib, several low-ranking soldiers were charged and received prison time, two of them for 10 years. Because of the enormous international public outrage generated by the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib, the US government felt obliged to punish a few scapegoats, while still allowing higher-level officers and political officials to go unpunished. On the other hand, the Iraqi general’s murder had a much smaller media impact, in large part due to the fact that there was no photographic documentation of the conditions surrounding his death. It could thus be portrayed as a fluke—one ailing man who died when an interrogator “crossed the line.” In all probability, the incident would not have even been reported, investigated or prosecuted had the victim not been so highly placed in the Iraqi military and widely known throughout the area. Unlike the cases of the anonymous detainees that fill prisons in Iraq, the US military could not simply sweep a general’s murder under the rug. So it did the next best thing, setting up a stage-managed military trial to further obscure the truth regarding the circumstances of Mowhoush’s death. Operation Plant WMDs: According to a recent report by Larissa Alexandrovna, the Office of Special Plans didn’t just present cherry-picked pre-war "intelligence" to the White House and the media. It also dispatched personnel to IRAQ after the 2003 INVASION, when it was known that there were no WMD in the war-torn country, to examine the possibility of planting such weapons in order to avoid the U.S.‘s embarrassment. Quoting "three U.S. intelligence sources and a source close to the United Nations Security Council," Alexandrovna says that the OSP planned "off book" missions that were sent by Stephen Cambone, Defense Department intelligence chief, on March 2003. (Cambone now occupies the third post in the Defense Department). Teams sent to IRAQ included "CIA, FBI, Green Berets, Delta Force operators, and commandos from the Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group." Their primary mission was to probe an allegation made by Ahmad Chalabi that a USN pilot shot down in 1991 and proclaimed KIA soon afterwards was being held as a prisoner of war in Iraq. (This wasn’t true). The second was to handle the WMD issue, and the third was to capture SADDAM HUSSEIN. According to the UN official, one team interviewed several Iraqi intelligence officers in 2004, reportedly telling them: "Our President is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?" The Iraqi officials knew they were being asked to co-operate with a deceptive plot. But the UN source said that the “guys were thinking this is absurd because anything put down would not pass the smell test and could be shown to be not of Iraqi origin and not using Iraqi methodology." The Killing Fields: Ghosts of the Walking Dead: All around Iraq and its cities a clandestine yet deadly killer lurks, invisible and unseen, devastating in its capacity to destroy human DNA, a silent death sentence that has and will befall hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of unsuspecting human beings, both Iraqi and American. This killer festers in the air, water, food supply, vegetation and ground, infiltrating the porous bodies of human beings, cementing itself for life. It lingers on streets and rivers and buildings and homes, carried by wind and rain and through the daily weather patterns of Mesopotamia. Slowly a land once fertile, an oasis between ancient rivers, the cradle of civilization is being contaminated by the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, poisoned, since 1991, by radiation equivalent to between 250,000 and 400,000 Nagasaki bombs. Thanks to the thousands of tons of ordinance, munitions, missiles and bombs dropped during the Gulf War, and the tens of thousands of tons of ordinance, missiles and bombs dropped by America during the Iraq/Bush War, all saturated with depleted uranium (DU), the nation of Iraq is being destroyed from within by an invisible demon sent from the home of the brave and the land of the free. Many of its citizens are dead Iraqis walking, becoming ghosts of walking dead, unaware of the poison inside their bodies and the death that most certainly awaits them. Depleted uranium is a silent mass murderer, a clandestine nuclear bomb whose mushroom cloud is never seen exploding, yet the radiation and heavy metals excreted from the weapons it envelopes when they strike their target, the heat evaporating uranium particulates into the air, become airborne contagions that latch onto our carbon and organic bodies. It attacks our organs and our bones, our nerves and blood, mutating our DNA genetic sequence, destroying our immune systems, penetrating our reproductive systems and causing various terminal cancers. It is the ultimate weapon of genocidal intentions, a perfect weapon if one wishes to slowly make putrid the human body, embedding itself into our DNA, guaranteeing that it passes onto the next generation of human being, usually resulting in macabre and grisly consequences. Today in Iraq, thanks to the Gulf War, cancers have skyrocketed beyond the pale of comparison, leaving doctors dumbfounded how so many clusters of Iraqis with various cancers can exist when so few existed before. Today the natural rate of deterioration of the body once DU enters it is over, resulting in an exponential and ominous increase in fatalities, most by cancer, disease and immune system chaos. Depleted uranium used fifteen years ago is now being felt where American ordinance was dropped from the sky above, as lands, food supply, water and air once contaminated, inhaled and ingested release the WMD lingering in their midst. Child deformities, stillbirths, mutated fetuses, miscarriages and birth defects have been springing up for quite some time now, as the DU embedded in the sperm and eggs of parents transfers over to the embryo. The mutations taking place, along with the deformities now apparent yet hardly ever seen in human society, are gross distortions of human normalcy, creating beings the likes of which have never been seen before. The photos of what DU can do to newborn babies and fetuses are available on the Internet. Entire regions, towns and neighborhoods are experiencing clusters of these mutations in their newly born babies, with doctors unable to explain the sudden rise in defects and deformities that did not exist previously. What we are seeing is the beginning of decades of death in Iraq from the aftereffects of DU, an epidemic of radiation poisoning caused by American WMD. An entire population has been exposed to nuclear radiation by America and its government – which has been aware of the effects of DU for some time – and soon the world will be witness to the death of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Iraqi citizens. The world has entered a black hole into a genocide that will possibly last for centuries. We will see the Iraqi nation’s cancer rate skyrocket to levels we though impossible, affecting large segments of the populace, as well as the subsequent deaths of terminally ill patients, most of them children whose bodies have embedded inside them the deadly remnants of their parents’ depleted uranium. We will witness, as we already can through the grisly photos of DU mutations in babies, the horrific rise in child birth defects and deformities and miscarriages and stillbirths that are already causing thousands of potential Iraqi parents to strongly consider ever giving birth for fear of producing in their child a gross distortion of a human baby. The devastating increase in malignancies and cancers, now a great worry, will in the next few decades grow exponentially, laying waste to a large segment of the Iraqi population. In essence, they have been given a death sentence by George W. Bush, who, when future historians see the complete damage DU has caused, will be compared to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao in terms of numbers of murders committed, easily surpassing the 1.5 million dead Iraqis as a result of America’s economic genocide of the 1990’s. Millions of Iraqis, forced through the consequence of their lives to live inside the smoldering radiation that is Iraq, unable to leave a land now poisoned and made toxic through America’s weapons of death and destruction, will have to face a future of uncertainty and trepidation, slowly becoming aware, if they are not already, that inside them lives a WMD that can not only kill them, but their sexual partner as well along with severely deforming any child they might decide to bring into this world. Inside a bubble of death they will live, forever to breathe the particulates of a pestilence first imported in 1991, unable to escape its damaging grip on organic human bodies. Iraq has been transformed into a vast killing field, a wasteland overrun by the remnants of America’s silent WMD, a cheap and money saving weapon devastating to the human body, capable of killing perhaps millions of innocent human beings, capable of altering entire genetic sequences resulting in the severe birth defects, stillbirths, miscarriages and deformities now appearing almost daily in Iraq. The Cradle of Civilization has transmuted into the Iraqi Killing Fields, a place where only death and disease now prosper, where millions of walking dead stir up the dust of the same killer elements that will invariably leave them without life. It is not necessary to construct gas chambers, incinerators, gulags or concentration camps to exterminate millions of human beings. We are seeing this reality today in Iraq, in multiple forms, in degenerate warfare, in countless acts of war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by American forces. In the end, millions have and will die at the hands of America and George W. Bush, some quicker than others, some in silent placidness and some in terrible agony, some by bullets and bombs, some by water-borne disease and malnourishment, some by radiation-filled cancers, mutated deformities and destroyed immune systems. The seeds of the Iraq Holocaust have been firmly planted in the now barren lands of the Fertile Crescent. The Killing Fields will in the next few decades take the life of tens of thousands, certainly, millions, perhaps. Yet it will not only be Iraqis made to suffer the consequences of America’s invisible yet devastating nuclear war upon Iraq. Already, 11,000 American soldiers, veterans of the first Gulf War, have died thanks to Gulf War Syndrome, cancer and disease. Over 350,000 veterans, out of 700,000 who served, have asked for serious disability, most of these veterans being in their late twenties and early thirties, in the prime of their lives, cleared as healthy before the war in military conducted medical physicals. Depleted Uranium is the most likely culprit, as many more get diagnosed with terminal diseases and illnesses every year. Many veterans of Gulf War One and now the Iraq/Bush War have themselves been giving birth to deformed and defective children, much like their Iraqi counterparts. It is estimated that 40,000 to 80,000 more veterans will die in the next twenty to thirty years as the effects of DU run their course. How many more will produce offspring with genetic birth defects, gross mutations of fetuses, miscarriages and stillborns? So much for Bush’s hypocritical culture of life. How many of our soldiers and veterans are dead men and women walking, waiting out a cruel game of DU lottery, hoping their bodies were spared the poison now rampant in Iraq? How many will have their lives altered, never to regain normalcy, never able to bear children, always to wonder if they will be next to fall. Depleted Uranium is but the next stage in America’s indifference to the Arab world, an indifference that has lasted decades, with the US concerned only for the Middle East’s vast yet dwindling oil wealth, not its human capital nor its interest in freedom, democracy or human rights. In a twisted form of karma, DU has returned the favor to thousands of American soldiers, returning its deadly poison back to the same nation that created it, penetrating the porous skin and bodies of soldiers once occupying Iraq, now a land devastated with the invisible radiation of American DU ordinance. It has attached itself to our soldiers, in time to haunt their health and their families, possibly becoming manifest in the deformities of American babies. The great sadness is that the Iraq Killing Fields, with its ghosts of walking dead, will remain unknown to the vast percentage of humanity, for this scandal will never be allowed to see the light of day, neither by America’s government or the corporate world that owns both it and the media. Greater in scope than Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the potential number of deaths greater than some evildoers of times past, Iraq’s Killing Fields will continue killing and deforming, mutating DNA and inflicting untold levels of misery, simply because of its clandestine approach to death, its silent and whispered calls to disease. Its secrecy and cover-up will only be surpassed by its criminality and by the complete callousness of government officials to the plight they helped birth. There will be no blood and no violence, no bombs or bullets, though abundant suffering. The calamity will not bleed, so it will not lead. It will be boring to the average American, becoming an unspoken genocide free of the violence we are so addicted to and enamored with. The front lines of this battle will be inside hospitals and in the homes of the afflicted, left to confront a destiny not of their own choosing, unable to understand how an invisible weapon of mass destruction could be allowed to be used on civilians and on cities, on humans and on soldiers on both sides. Many will die in disbelief, their lives wasted, slowly rotting from the inside out, seeing their babies deformed, born stillborn or mutated, their last remaining years spent living as ghosts of walking dead, becoming prisoners only of time and of anger. Mired by decades of war with Iran and later the United States, 1.5 million of its citizens, including 500,000 children dead due to economic genocide, 100,000 to 200,000 dead due to American invasion and occupation, and now afflicted by an enemy they can neither see nor touch, the Ghosts of Walking Dead await our response to their hushed and clandestine call for help. In their whispered plea can we see a perpetual future of cancer, death, disease, mutation, deformity and entire generations now endangered and at serious risk of devastation. In their whispered plea can we also see what might happen to tens of thousands of our own men and women, themselves hosts carrying the demons of the Iraqi Killing Fields back home. The Killing Fields can be felt, their warm winds echoing the cries for help, their plains saturated with the clouds of poison, and of outrage, seeking our full attention in understanding a silent and clandestine genocide taking place where fertility once permeated and where the cradle of civilization once nurtured us before sending us all on our way to all corners of the planet and to most uncertain destinies. Top 25 Censored News Stories of 2005: Project Censored specializes in covering the top news stories which were either ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media each year. Project Censored is a research team composed of nearly 200 university faculty, students, and community experts who review about 1,000 news story submissions for coverage, content, reliability of sources, and national significance. The top 25 stories selected are submitted to a panel of judges who then rank them in order of importance. 1. White House Erodes Open Government 2. Media Coverage on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Death Toll 3. Distorted Election Coverage 4. Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In 5. U.S. Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia 6. The Real Oil for Food Scam 7. Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood 8. Iraqi Farmers Threatened By US Mandates 9. Iran’s New Oil Trade System Challenges U.S. Currency 10. Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem and Economy 11. Universal Mental Screening Program Usurps Parental Rights 12. Military in Iraq Contracts Human Rights Violators 13. Rich Countries Fail to Live up to Global Pledges 14. Corporations Win Big on Tort Reform, Justice Suffers 15. Plan to Override Academic Freedom in the Classroom 16. U.S. Plans for Hemispheric Integration Include Canada 17. U.S. Uses South American Military Bases to Expand Control of the Region 18. Little Known Stock Fraud Could Weaken U.S. Economy 19. Child Wards of the State Used in AIDS Experiments 20. American Indians Sue for Resources; Compensation Provided to Others 21. New Immigration Plan Favors Business Over People 22. Nanotechnology Offers Exciting Possibilities, Health Effects Need Scrutiny 23. Plight of Palestinian Child Detainees Highlights Global Problem 24. Ethiopian Indigenous Victims of Corporate, Government Resource Aspirations 25. Homeland Security Was Designed to Fail WORLDWIDE Sweden leads the world in science and innovation: The UNESCO Science Report 2005 ranked Sweden in first place for innovation in science and technology research, ahead of Japan and the United States. Finland, Switzerland, the UK and Denmark were also among the top seven nations. The report, written by an international team of independent experts, said a small number of emerging Asian economies, led by China, were challenging the leadership of North America, Europe and Japan in this field. It noted that while countries like Germany, the Netherlands and France are losing momentum, Sweden is not only the world leader in the field but is moving ahead in innovation faster than any other nation. The report used a range of benchmarks to gauge countries' performance in R&D and science, including citations in scientific journals, patents, and higher education structures. It observed that Sweden spends more than four percent of its gross domestic product on research and development. Three-quarters of this funding comes from private business. Pork soup movement: Small groups linked to the extreme right are ladling pork soup to France's homeless. Critics and some officials denounce the charity as discriminatory: because it contains pork, the soup is off-limits for Muslims. The associations offering the soup are satellites of Bloc Identitaire, a small, extreme-right movement that defends the European identity and, as its leader Fabrice Robert said, "the rights of the little whites." Pork soup is an age-old staple of the rural heartland from which all the French, at least in the national imagination, are said to spring. The groups dishing up the soup say their victuals are no more than traditional French cuisine and deny they are serving up a message of racial hatred — a crime in France — or that they would refuse soup to a hungry Muslim or Jew. This is the third winter "identity soup" is being offered in Paris. But its spread to Nice, Strasbourg and Nantes as well as Belgium is raising eyebrows. A leading anti-racism group has urged Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to ban pork soup giveaways throughout France. For Bernadette Hatier, vice president of the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, the real motive of the soup servers is to drum up far-right votes ahead of 2007 presidential elections.


Monday, January 30, 2006

War News for Monday, January 30, 2006

Bring ‘em on: Three people killed and nine wounded in five car bombings aimed at Christian churches, two in Kirkuk and two in Baghdad, and at the office of the Vatican envoy in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Bombings and ambushes Sunday killed eight policemen and a medic in attacks across Baghdad and in the northern cities of Baqouba and Beiji.

Bring ‘em on: A massive car bomb killed four Iraqi soldiers and wounded six more in Saddam Hussein's birthplace of Uja, about 75 miles north of Baghdad. It was unclear whether the attacks was linked to Saddam's trial, which resumed Sunday.

Bring ‘em on: A former high-ranking general in Saddam's disbanded army, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Idham, was assassinated near Tikrit. The motive for the attack was unclear.

Bring ‘em on: ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and a cameraman were seriously injured Sunday in an explosion while reporting from Iraq. Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were hit by an improvised explosive device near Taji, Iraq, and were in serious condition at a U.S. military hospital.

Bring ‘em on: Two policemen were killed and 20 people were wounded when a suicide bomber in a car attacked a barracks in Nassiriya on Monday. The wounded included soldiers and civilians.

Bring ‘em on: Thirty people were arrested, including two top suspects, by U.S and Iraqi forces in Sebtiya, a northern suburb of Baquba.

Bring ‘em on: Three decapitated bodies were found on Saturday by U.S forces in a soccer field west of Baghdad.

Getting further apart: It's already a bitter fight and getting more acrimonious by the day — the question of who should control Iraq's police and army.

At stake is whether Iraq slides toward civil war — and how long American troops might have to stay to keep the peace.

In a clear sign of the issue's importance, American officials have been pointed in their demands that the two sides reach a deal, and that no one group should monopolize key ministries. But so far, the sides are getting further apart, not compromising.

Sunni Arabs insist that Shiites aligned with sectarian groups with private militias cannot control the key interior and defense ministries that run the police and the army.

"We will work hard to not allow the security ministries to be in the hands of groups that have militias. And we will also work hard not to let those sectarian people head these ministries," said Thafir al-Ani, a spokesman of the main Sunni Arab bloc. "We will absolutely not allow this."

But Shiites say they must control those key ministries to ensure that members of their majority community are protected.

"We have red lines that cannot be crossed in regard to electoral weight and the interest of national security," Hadi al-Amri, head of the Shiite Badr militia. "We will never surrender these. We are subjected to a daily slaughter. We will not relinquish security portfolios."

This worked out about as well as the rest of it: Not long after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 2003, a top aide to L. Paul Bremer III, then the head of the American occupation authority there, excitedly explained that Iraq had just become the front line in Washington's effort to neutralize Iran as a regional force.

If America could promote a moderate, democratic, American-friendly alternate center of Shiite Islam in Iraq, the official said, it could defang one of its most implacable foes in the Middle East.

Iran, in other words, had for decades been both the theological center of Shiite Islam and a regional sponsor of militant anti-American Islamic groups like Hezbollah. But if westward-looking Shiites — secular or religious — came to power in southern Iraq, they could give the lie to arguments that Shiites had to see America as an enemy.

So far, though, Iran's mullahs aren't feeling much pain from the Americans next door. In fact, officials at all levels of government here say they see the American presence as a source of strength for themselves as they face the Bush administration.

In almost every conversation about Iran's nuclear showdown with the United States and Europe, they cite the Iraq war as a factor Iran can play to its own advantage.

"America is extremely vulnerable right now," said Akbar Alami, a member of the Iran's Parliament often critical of the government but on this point hewing to the government line. "If the U.S. takes any unwise action" to punish Iran for pursuing its nuclear program, he said, "certainly the U.S. and other countries will share the harm."

Negotiating with terrorists: American officials in Iraq are in face-to-face talks with high-level Iraqi Sunni insurgents, NEWSWEEK has learned. Americans are sitting down with "senior members of the leadership" of the Iraqi insurgency, according to Americans and Iraqis with knowledge of the talks (who did not want to be identified when discussing a sensitive and ongoing matter). The talks are taking place at U.S. military bases in Anbar province, as well as in Jordan and Syria. "Now we have won over the Sunni political leadership," says U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "The next step is to win over the insurgents." The groups include Baathist cells and religious Islamic factions, as well as former Special Republican Guards and intelligence agents, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the talks. Iraq's insurgent groups are reaching back. "We want things from the U.S. side, stopping misconduct by U.S. forces, preventing Iranian intervention," said one prominent insurgent leader from a group called the Army of the Mujahedin, who refused to be named because of the delicacy of the discussions. "We can't achieve that without actual meetings."

Even the good news is bad: Deadly fighting has erupted within Iraq's insurgency as home-grown guerrilla groups, increasingly resentful of foreign-led extremists, try to assert control over the fragmented anti-American campaign, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. Yet there is no evidence that the split here in the Sunni Arab heartland has weakened the uprising, diminished Iraqis' sense of insecurity, or brought any relief to U.S. forces, the officials say.

Mowaffak Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security advisor, said a growing body of intelligence indicated that Iraqi-led groups were turning against Zarqawi's faction, Al Qaeda in Iraq, over a divergence of basic aims. He believes the shift reflects Iraqis' growing resentment of a foreign-led force whose fundamentalist religious goals and calls for sectarian war against Iraq's Shiite majority run counter to Iraqi nationalist traditions. But U.S. military officials concede that the guerrillas' ability to strike anywhere at any time is largely undiminished. They say the insurgency remains a stubborn, elusive and deadly collection of fighting groups that share the aim of ousting American forces. Their attacks across Iraq averaged 75 per day in December, up from 52 a year earlier, driving the country's sectarian violence and contributing to a decline in its oil production. U.S. troops died at the same rate last year as in 2004, and most estimates of Iraqi civilian casualties rose.

Basra protest: More than 1,500 Iraqis protested outside the British consulate in Basra over the recent arrests of several Iraqi policemen linked to a spate of local militia-related killings and kidnappings.

The protesters demanded the release of five men who were among 14 arrested by British and Iraqi forces last Tuesday to try to weed out security forces linked to Shiite militia groups operating in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

"No, no for the occupation; no, no for taking Iraqis' rights," chanted the protesters outside the consulate. Many carried banners emblazoned with slogans demanding the release of the detainees.

Among the demonstrators, some who burned and tore British flags, were Basra city council members, Islamic clerics, tribal chiefs and police officers.

Oil follies: Iraq's demoralised oil minister is set to leave his job for a second time, industry sources said on Sunday, and he will not attend Tuesday's OPEC meeting.

The sources said Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, from a prominent Shi'ite family, was quitting because of Shi'ite wrangling over the oil job since Iraq's December 15 election.

The upheaval coincides with a collapse in Iraq's oil exports to their lowest level since the U.S.-led invasion.

Wrecking the US Military

The incredible shrinking Army: Since September 2001, the number of junior enlisted soldiers -- the bulk of the Army, and on whose shoulders rest most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has declined by nearly 20,000 total, according to Defense Department statistics.

And despite Army efforts to add soldiers to its payroll and historically high retention rates, the active duty force actually shrunk by 6,800 from 2004 to 2005.

These declines come as the Army is trying to increase its force to 512,400 soldiers, up from a baseline of about 480,000 in 2001.

That’s ok, we’ll just keep everyone in forever: The U.S. Army has forced about 50,000 soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints ended under a policy called "stop-loss," but while some dispute its fairness, court challenges have fallen flat.

The policy applies to soldiers in units due to deploy for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Army said stop-loss is vital to maintain units that are cohesive and ready to fight. But some experts said it shows how badly the Army is stretched and could further complicate efforts to attract new recruits.

"As the war in Iraq drags on, the Army is accumulating a collection of problems that cumulatively could call into question the viability of an all-volunteer force," said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think tank.

"When a service has to repeatedly resort to compelling the retention of people who want to leave, you're edging away from the whole notion of volunteerism."

More Ancient History

It would be nice if this really blew up: Tony Blair knew that George Bush was only "going through the motions" of offering support for a second UN resolution in the run-up to the Iraq war, it was claimed last night.

According to reports in The Mail on Sunday, the Prime Minister and the US President decided to go to war regardless of whether they obtained UN backing. The allegations will undermine claims that the final decision to go to war was not made until MPs voted in the Commons a day before military action. It will also bolster claims that the President and Mr Blair decided to go to war months before military action began.

An updated edition of a book by Philippe Sands QC, a leading human rights barrister and Professor of Law at London University, to be published in Britain this week, is expected to strengthen claims that President Bush decided to go to war with or without UN backing, and that he had Mr Blair's support.


An odd little tale: For more than a decade, Osama bin Laden had few soldiers more devoted than Abdallah Tabarak. A former Moroccan transit worker, Tabarak served as a bodyguard for the al Qaeda leader, worked on his farm in Sudan and helped run a gemstone smuggling racket in Afghanistan, court records here show.

During the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when al Qaeda leaders were pinned down by U.S. forces, Tabarak sacrificed himself to engineer their escape. He headed toward the Pakistani border while making calls on Osama bin Laden's satellite phone as bin Laden and the others fled in the other direction.

Tabarak was captured and taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was classified as such a high-value prisoner that the Pentagon repeatedly denied requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to see him. Then, after spending almost three years at the base, he was suddenly released.

Today, the al Qaeda loyalist known locally as the "emir" of Guantanamo walks the streets of his old neighborhood near Casablanca, more or less a free man. In a decision that neither the Pentagon nor Moroccan officials will explain publicly, Tabarak was transferred to Morocco in August 2004 and released from police custody four months later.

When The People Lead, The Leaders Will Follow

Feinstein: Cindy Sheehan, the peace activist who set up camp near President Bush's Texas ranch last summer, said Saturday she is considering running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein to protest what she called the California lawmaker's support for the war in Iraq.

"She voted for the war. She continues to vote for the funding. She won't call for an immediate withdrawal of the troops," Sheehan told The Associated Press in an interview while attending the World Social Forum in Venezuela along with thousands of other anti-war and anti-globalization activists.

"I think our senator needs to be held accountable for her support of George Bush and his war policies," said Sheehan, whose 24-year-old soldier son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Hillary, San Francisco: U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton -- recently described as a "formidable" potential presidential candidate by President Bush -- drew cheers and some vocal anti-war protests Saturday night during a stop in the Democratic bastion of San Francisco.

Clinton's appearance drew about two dozen protesters outside, including some from the group Code Pink, which charged that she has not been forceful or courageous enough to stand up against the war in Iraq.

"We want Hillary and other Democrats to show some teeth," said Nancy Mancias, San Francisco coordinator for the women's peace organization.

Hillary, Portland, OR: Before her speech, as many as 50 protesters demonstrated outside the Hilton as they carried such signs as, "Hillary, you're not listening. Bring the troops home."

"I think she has left the Democratic Party behind," said protester Linda Wiener of Code Pink, an anti-war group that helped organize the demonstration. She said Clinton has been trying to move to the political center to position herself for the presidential race.

Afterward, Wiener and as many as a dozen demonstrators managed to get into the ballroom and repeatedly interrupt her speech with shouts of "Hillary supports the war!" and "Stop the War!" At one point, they displayed an anti-Clinton banner that was ripped down by supporters as security guards repeatedly hustled out protesters who popped up in various parts of the ballroom.

Lieberman: Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who rose to national prominence as the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, appears likely to face a serious primary challenge this year that could measure the depth of his party's discontent over the Iraq war.

Ned Lamont, a businessman and war critic, earlier this month publicly began seeking support for a run against Lieberman in the state's August nominating contest.

Lamont is attracting interest largely because of Democratic grumbling — in Connecticut and nationally — about Lieberman's unflinching support of President Bush's policies in Iraq.

"The indications I have is that a primary would be good for the party and very doable," said Lamont, 52, who founded a cable television company.


Washington Post Editorial: The larger lesson is that domestic intelligence operations by security-conscious government agencies, even when necessary and well-intentioned, can easily get out of hand and violate the fundamental rights of Americans. After the abuses of the 1960s and '70s, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act precisely to ensure that there would be an independent monitor, in the form of a secret court, on the government's domestic surveillance. That is the law that President Bush bypassed in authorizing the NSA to monitor the communications of Americans. We believe that the president's decision violated the law and exceeded his powers as president. If it did not also lead to the wrongful targeting of some American citizens, then the NSA operation would be a historical anomaly.

My god! A clear unambiguous statement! Quick, Democratic leadership! Hide!

Philip Gailey: Karl Rove, the president's unindicted leaker in the CIA leak case, stooped to a new low in suggesting that Democrats still have a "pre-9/11 worldview" when it comes to fighting terrorists. "Let me be as clear as I can be - President Bush believes if al-Qaida is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," Rove told a Republican audience last week. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree."

What a loathsome insinuation. Some Republicans also have expressed doubt about the legality of Bush's surveillance program. Senate hearings are scheduled next month, but senators probably shouldn't expect much cooperation from an imperial White House that routinely defies congressional investigators.

Last week, the White House stiffed a Senate committee trying to determine why the administration was so unprepared for Hurricane Katrina. Bush to Senate: Drop dead. Citing executive privilege, the president's men have refused to provide the documents and witnesses the committee requested. If only the levees around New Orleans were as formidable as the walls this White House has erected to protect the dirty little secrets of the most secretive administration in modern times. Don't even think about asking the White House to release that photo of Bush and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the latest poster boy for Washington corruption.

Bad news has no place in Bush's world. Neither does reality. To hear the president tell it, everything in Iraq - the war and the reconstruction - is going just fine. The government is doing everything it can for the victims of Katrina. There is nothing wrong with the economy that more tax cuts can't cure. His Medicare drug plan is just what the doctor ordered, even if people are being turned away by their pharmacies because of computer glitches, poor planning by the insurance companies and bureaucratic bungling.

So much executive power, so little competence.


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