Friday, January 12, 2007

Photo: Hiding Behind The Troops, As Usual: Bush at Fort Benning, Georgia, January 11, 2007. Bush's visit comes a day after a live television address announcing plans to kill more U.S. troops and Iraqis. REUTERS: Jason Reed (Caption from GI Special 5A11)
In Country:
(update) A Moldovan An-26 cargo plane that crashed in Iraq January 9, killing 34 people, was downed by a missile, an eyewitness said Friday. "The plane is said to have crashed due to fog, but I saw no fog," Ozcan Sahin, a brother of Hamdi Sahin, a Turkish worker killed in the crash, told Turkish NTV television. He said he was 300-400 meters from the crash site, near Balad, north of Baghdad. "The plane was downed by a missile that struck the right section of the fuselage. Employees of other companies also saw it. More than 20 F-16 fighters took off from an American base that day, and had there been fog they would have been grounded," he said.
Iraqi police said they found 37 unidentified bodies, some of them tortured, in several parts of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said. "Our patrols collected up to 37 bodies during the past 24 hours in different neighborhoods of Baghdad," the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Ten anonymous bodies found in Baghdad today, five in the western part of Baghdad (Karkh) (3 bodies in Al Talaie square, 1 body in Hurriyah neighborhood and one more body found in Al Amil neighborhhod). The other 5 were found in the eastern side of Baghdad (Rosafa) as the following (2 bodies in sadr city, 1 body each in shaab, Siliekh and Husainiya neighborhoods).
Iraq Militant Shiite forces are suspected in today's machine-gun attack on a Sunni mosque in Baghdad. Authorities say the assault came as weekly services were ending. It led to clashes, which left two guards wounded.
Some 11 oil ministry employees were kidnapped in Nahrawan district, southeast of Baghdad, as they were heading to work, while five of them were later released, a media source in the oil ministry said.
Unknown gunmen shot dead former mayor of Baaj district near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. "Gunmen shot and killed late last night former Baaj district mayor Ali Abdullah Fahd outside his house in Baaj, northwest of Mosul," an official source at Ninewa police department told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq.
Police patrols killed a gunman and arrested another after policemen chased and opened fire at the car the two gunmen were riding in. "The incident occurred at al-Faysaliyah neighborhood in east of Mosul," the source added.
Unknown gunmen kidnapped on Friday four Turkish truck drivers in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a security source said. "Unknown gunmen kidnapped today afternoon four Turkish truck drivers on the highway near al-Ghoulah village in northwest of Mosul," the source, who asked not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq. The source said "the entire load was robbed by the kidnapers as the four trucks were left tire flatted."
A child was killed while five people were wounded in two separate incidents in Mosul, a security source said.
An Iraqi police patrol engaged with unidentified gunmen in Talafar, west of Mosul city, and killed four of them, Talafar mayor said.
An Iraqi army base was attacked in Falluja, a police source said. "Gunmen attacked today afternoon an Iraqi army base in eastern Falluja," the source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq. The source added "the gunmen fired RPGs at the base and then engaged in a 15-minutes-long fight with the soldiers there." "There were casualties among the base personnel," the source added but declined to give a specific figure.
Simak U.S. Military base in Falluja and the Iraqi army base there were attacked with mortar shells, but it was not clear if the attack resulted in casualties or damage, a police source said.
A U.S. vehicle was destroyed when an explosive charge went off at a U.S. vehicle patrol in the restive Anbar's major city of Ramadi, an eyewitness said. "An explosive charge was detonated today afternoon at a U.S. vehicle patrol while they were passing a main road in al-Malaab neighborhood, south of Ramadi," an eyewitness told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq. The source said "the blast destroyed a U.S. vehicle." The U.S. forces immediately cordoned off the area, he added The U.S. army has yet to confirm the incident.
Three explosive-rigged cars went off in Ramadi town targeting armed groups of Anbar Salvation Council, claiming casualties that could not be counted immediately, eyewitnesses in Ramadi said.
A security official in Diyala province said that the American forces killed a woman and a child and injured another woman with another child (all from the same family). The source said that the American soldiers responded to fire targeting their armored vehicle in Ragat Shifta village south of Baqouba city.
Police sources said that one of its patrols found a head of a man in a plastic bag in Al Tahreer neighborhood in Baqouba city.
An armed group kidnapped 20 Iraqi civilians in Moqdadiya town northeast of Baaquba, eyewitnesses said.
Six unidentified bodies were delivered to the forensic medicine department in Baaquba general hospital, a medical source said.
According to a security source from Muqdadiyah, 45km east of Baqouba, an IED exploded near one of the houses injuring one child.
An Iraqi soldier was killed and three others injured in an IED explosion in Muqdadiyah city northeast of Baqouba.
Diyala Prv:
According to a security source from Diyala police, a group of terrorists assassinated 4 sheiite citizens [fruit traders] near Arab Shoka area near Hibhib area in Khalis town 15km north of Baqouba. their driver was killed too and he is a Kurd from Kirkuk.
According to a medical source from Diyala health centre, police patrols have found 2 anonymous bodies, in Al Muaalmeen area near Baqouba.
One primary school teacher and one student were injured when a mortar fell at their school in Shifta area.
A joint Iraqi-U.S. force detained a number of people during a raid in al-Sharqiya district in Kut, Wassit province, eyewitnesses said.
Three civilians were wounded when a car bomb exploded near Kirkuk governorate building, a police source said.
Gunmen launched mortar shells on the Iraqi police station in Hit, Anbar town, while two people were killed and six others wounded in clashes between gunmen and U.S. troops in the town, eyewitnesses said.
Two people were killed while six others were wounded when U.S. forces opened fire randomly in Hit, Anbar province, eyewitnesses said.
Missan police forces freed kidnapped seven employees of a local company after clashes with their captors, a police media source said.
A spokesman for Moqtada al-Sadr has warned that Bush's new Iraq strategy risks sending thousands of American troops to their deaths. "The American people have to prevent their sons from coming to Iraq or they may return in coffins," said Sheikh Abdel Razzaq al-Nadawi, a senior official in Sadr's movement in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. (…)
"The problem of Iraq is the US presence and the increasing this presence will double the problem," Nadawi told AFP on Friday.
"This is not the first plan announced by Bush. All plans have failed and this plan will not be any better. We do not welcome this strategy and moreover we do not welcome the US soldiers," he said.
Nadawi accused Bush of taking decisions about Iraq's security without consulting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, who owes his job to the votes of 32 Sadrist deputies.
Another Sadr movement mouthpiece ["spokesman" is the word a non-presstitute journalist would use -- zig], Hamdalla al-Rikabi of the group's office in western Baghdad, accused the United States of wanting to spread chaos in Iraq rather than to contain it.
"Now we know that the occupation forces the supporters of terrorism. They don't want stability of this country, they want to divide it," he said.
"Increasing the number of foreign troops is a stab in the heart for the sovereignty of the elected government," he told AFP. "We support all efforts to stop violence but these efforts should be Iraqi. We reject the interference of any state in Iraq's affairs."
Sadr is one of the strongest opponents of the US presence in Iraq and his Mahdi Army has been branded by the Pentagon as the most dangerous faction in Iraq's bloody sectarian war.
The Iraqi government has given a grudging welcome to Bush's new strategy, but insists that it must take the lead role in future security operations.
US forces are likely to deliberately target both Shiite and Sunni extremist leaders under a new no holds barred policy for Baghdad agreed to by the Iraqi government, a senior US military official said.
The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the Iraqis had agreed to lift restrictions that in the past have prevented US forces from deliberately targeting certain extremist leaders.
"One way to erode their military capability is get to at their leadership," said the official, referring to sectarian militias and death squads. "So, yes, I expect extremist leaders on both sides of the equation to be targeted."
The official said the Iraqis also have agreed to lift restrictions on US military operations in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr.
The US military later said it had freed one of the six people detained in the controversial raid on the Iranian government building in Arbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the office had not yet become a full-fledged consulate, indicating that the raid had not violated any diplomatic protocols as had initially been claimed in Tehran.
"It is a liaison office. There was a request to change it into consulate," Zebari told AFP, adding that the office had been operational for 10 years.
"We had already agreed with the Iranians to open consulates in Arbil and Sulaimaniyah in return for opening (Iraqi) consulates in (Iranian cities) Mashhad and Ahwaz. These procedures have not been finalised," he said. Asked about the remaining five detainees Zebari said: "They are not with us. They are with the Americans.
"We contacted the US embassy and submitted all the information available to us on the nature of their work and the place of their work. They have been working under the approval of the government," he said.
The US military confirmed that the five employees were in its custody. In Washington the State Department also said those held had no diplomatic status.
"The individuals who were detained were not carrying diplomatic passports, they had regular passports," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
"This was not an officially accredited diplomatic facility. It was a building that the Iranians were using, occupying, it was Iraqi territory," he said.
Describing the operation, Kurdish witnesses said US soldiers surrounded the building, just 100 metres (yards) from the Kurdistan administration in downtown Arbil, dropped off by helicopters and two Humvee military vehicles.
The commandos threw stun grenades in a show of force.
There were no clashes with security guards but US grenades shattered windows of the two-storey building as troops ordered all those inside to surrender before lowering the Iranian flag and abandoning the premises.
Fuad Hussein, a senior official in the Kurdish presidency, said the regional government, one of the staunchest US allies in the Middle East, had not been given advance warning about the arrest operation.
He also said that as US troops were taking the detainees away they were briefly stopped by Kurdish forces in an armed stand-off at Arbil airport.
"But later the Kurdish forces retreated to avoid any clash that could lead to the deterioration in the situation," he told AFP.
A US defence official said on condition of anonymity said that those arrested were Iranians, while the Pentagon said they were "suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces."
Iran has strongly condemned the action by US forces, saying it was "against all international regulations".
The Kurdish administration also condemned the raid and demanded the immediate release of all prisoners taken.
The latest criticism, however, came from Moscow.
The raid was "absolutely unacceptable" and "the crudest possible violation of the Vienna convention on consular relations," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement Friday.
The statement referred to the raid as being directed against "the Iranian consulate general" and described five Iranians arrested as "diplomats."
Bush's plan to dispatch more troops to Iraq is a sign of his ignorance and a move that he will come to regret, senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Janati has warned.
"The nonsense and silly remarks by Mr. Bush regarding sending more than 20,000 troops to Iraq shows his ignorance," Janati -- who heads Iran's powerful legislative watchdog, the Guardians Council -- said Friday.
"While such move is condemned in America, in Iraq and other places, he wants to increase his troops," he said during Friday prayers at Tehran University, carried live on state radio.
"When a person has no brain, he is doomed to regret it," he added to a chorus of "death to America" from the assembled worshippers.
Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot has lashed out at US President George W. Bush's new strategy for Iraq saying extra troops would lead nowhere.
"Just sending an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq is what we've been doing for years. It never got any results," Bot told the ANP news agency after a cabinet meeting on Friday. (...)
Bot said he missed any proposals from the US president to involve Iraq's neighbours in a plan to stabilize the region. The foreign minister stressed that the Netherlands would keep in contact with countries like Syria and Lebanon.
- Mashaan al-Jabouri, [owner of Al-Zawraa Satellite channel and member of the Iraqi parliament] said that he own a third video of Saddam's execution showing people torturing Saddam's dead body.
Al-Zawraa waits for "Raghad" [Saddam's daughter] agreement to broadcast the video. - Muqtada Al-Sadr spokesman says the prayer used in Saddam's execution which repeats his name [Muqtada] three times was banned by Muqtada himself since 9-4-2006.
He accused "Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution" [Al-Hakim] of conspiring with the Americans to bring Muqtada's name in the execution to attack Al-Sadr" movement later.
read in full...
This week, in Baghdad's Shia slum Sadr City, stronghold of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, his widely-feared Mahdi Army ordered every man aged 15-45 to register for combat. However Mahdi fighters said they had orders not to seek out confrontation with the Americans. "We won't start a fight, but if they do then our people are ready to fight back," one told The Times.
Pentagon planners this week warned President George W. Bush that his "troop surge" plan could double U.S. casualties in Iraq in the coming year and result in 10,000 or more American deaths by the end of 2008.
In a classified assessment memo, military experts predicted violence against U.S. troops will increase "at a sustained pace" and concluded that increasing the use of soldiers for house to house searches in Baghdad will "dramatically alter" the "ratio of casualties to actions" in that civil-war torn city, says a military source familiar with the memo.
The Pentagon report admitted battle weary soldiers are more prone to mistakes that lead to casualties and noted that military personnel sent to Iraq for third and possibly fourth tours increase the odds that those soldiers will become casualties of war.
The memo concluded that American military deaths could top 6,000 by the end of 2007 and exceed 10,000 or more in 2008 with more than 100,000 wounded and/or maimed for life.
In an appearance before the Senate Armed Services committee Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refused to provide an estimate of U.S. casualties, saying such estimates are not possible but the Pentagon assessment had been delivered to the White House on Tuesday, two days before her testimony.
Layla Anwar: NEWS FLASH!
Three very reliable eyewitnesses confirmed to me the following :
- Al Adhamiya District , a predominantly Sunni neighborhood, has been shelled heavily.
The home of one of the persons has been partly blown away. She and her husband saw several corpses , at least three according to her, lying in different streets in Adhamiya.
She and her husband were not "quite sure" if it was the Iraqi Army, the US occupation forces or the Mahdi Death Squads. Her husband added:" It is probably the three of them."
- Karrada District, a mixed neighborhood. Sunni/Shi'a and Christians.
The third person stated that they have been without electricity for the 5th day in a row.
The shelling and mortar bombs have been continuous. Since most Iraqi homes use gas or kerosene for heating , they have been "freezing". It is impossible to go out and purchase any.
Supplies are short and it is too dangerous to leave the house.
read in full…
U.S. troops are deploying massive air and ground fire power against heavily populated residential areas in Baghdad as a prelude to the start of the campaign to retake the city they invaded nearly four years ago.
"The sky is burning," one witness refusing to be named said of the aerial bombing of mainly Sunni-dominated districts of Haifa, Sheikh Omar and Alawi.
The latest military drive to retake Baghdad, home to nearly six million people, comes following the failure of many others the U.S. military has undertaken since landing here.
In those offensives - and certainly in this one - the victims have been innocent Iraqis and the city's rickety infrastructure. Witnesses say U.S. bombing has already knocked out several power lines and water mains in these areas.
The residents are without electricity and running water and there is no verifiable count of casualties.
U.S. and Iraqi troops say they have killed or captured scores of armed men or insurgents but residents refute those claims, saying many of the dead belong to militiamen whom they accuse of wearing military uniforms.
Baghdad is perhaps the world's largest city in area. Baghdadis are fond of living in one or two-story houses and are known to dislike living in apartments. (...)
The declared aim of the U.S. military campaign against Baghdad is to rid the city of armed groups.
That means fighting both Sunni and Shiite armed men - in other words the whole city. To regain control of Shiite-dominated quarters, the troops will have to take on Shiite militia groups and to subdue Sunni quarters the troops will have take on the Sunni insurgents.
Right now it is not clear how the government will order its own troops to mount attacks on Shiite militia groups which either belong to or are affiliated with top officials in the government including the prime minister.
One reason for the success of the insurgents is their ability to melt down among the population. And the militias will simply hide or wear the Iraqi police or military uniforms.
read in full...
The military's new strategy for Iraq envisions creating "gated communities" in Baghdad - sealing off discrete areas and forcibly removing insurgents, then stationing American units in the neighborhood to keep the peace and working to create jobs for residents.
The U.S. so far has found it impossible to secure the sprawling city. But by focusing an increased number of troops in selected neighborhoods, the military hopes it can create islands of security segregated from the chaos beyond.
The gated communities plan has been tried - with mixed success - in other wars. In Vietnam, the enclaves were called "strategic hamlets" and were a spectacular failure. But counterinsurgency experts say such zones can work if, after the barriers are established, the military follows up with neighborhood sweeps designed to flush out insurgents and militia fighters.
The strategy, described in broad terms by current and former Defense Department officials, is an attempt to re-create the success military units have had in smaller Iraqi cities, most notably Tall Afar.
For the last two years, the military has been focused primarily on training Iraqi security forces. But under the new plan, the primary mission of American combat forces in Baghdad will be to protect Iraqis living in the city.
"In counterinsurgency, by now we have all figured out, the population is the prize," said a Defense official who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the program are not final.
Critics of the troop increase President Bush announced Wednesday have said the sheer size of Baghdad, with nearly 6 million people, makes it impossible to replicate the Tall Afar strategy. But counterinsurgency experts say the gated communities concept - a name taken from the walled-off suburban developments in America - is a way to concentrate troops on smaller sections of the capital.
"You do it neighborhood by neighborhood," said the Defense official. "Think of L.A. Let's say we take West Hollywood and gate it off. Or Anaheim. Or central Los Angeles. You control that area first and work out from there."
A Baghdad neighborhood could be sealed off by using a highway or a river as a barrier, or by creating roadblocks and checkpoints between neighborhoods, counterinsurgency experts said.
White House officials outlined a plan Wednesday to divide Baghdad into nine districts and station U.S. battalions and Iraqi forces in each. Moving the units out of the super-bases that now surround the city and into urban neighborhoods is crucial to making a gated communities plan work, Defense officials said. The districts themselves would not necessarily be gated but could house one or more gated neighborhoods. (…)
The gated communities model is an updated version of the strategic hamlets model used in Vietnam. There, people were moved to villages the military thought it could defend, or were moved to entirely new villages.
read in full…
[Thursday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] Democrat Barack Obama told Rice of testimony in June by then-US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who said that Maliki had six months to control sectarian violence or Iraq would face calamity.
"Six months have passed. The sectarian violence has worsened," Obama said. "What leverage do we have that would provide us some assurance that six months from now, you will not be sitting before us again saying, 'Well, it didn't work?'"
Rice said the Maliki government would have to meet certain benchmarks in the next months.
"Or else what?" Obama asked.
"Or this plan... is not going to work," Rice answered.
read in full...
"It's bad policy to speculate on what you'll do if a plan fails when you're trying to make a plan work."
* Condoleezza Rice, quoted in The Washington Post speaking at today's hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (special thanks to TPM Reader SW for the tip)
The real issue in Bush's speech Wednesday night is not the additional troops he intends to send to Iraq. The real issue is his nearly open proclamation of dictatorial powers.
Apparently, once a president lies a nation into war, he is entitled to absolute power for as long as he chooses. Regardless of how many Americans die or how many hundreds of thousands of foreigners are killed, the president's prerogatives are sacred, at least as long as he recites the proper phrases regarding the spread of freedom and democracy. American voters made their will on Iraq clear at the polling booth last November. But they, like the Constitution and the federal statute book, don't matter.
We have already heard from Bush or his lackeys about how the president is entitled to violate laws regarding wiretaps, renditions, torture, mail privacy, etc. The latest "surge" is just another example of how Bush rules by decree.
Will Bush, like other aspiring dictators, be able to cow opposition long enough to consolidate the powers he has seized?
And if the term dictator is offensive - then what is a better term for a politician who claims to be bound by no law or Constitution?
Born at the Crest of the Empire: MALIKI'S "PLAN B"
On CNN last night, fantastic NYTimes war reporter John "I don't cut my hair in theater" Burns, made the point that Maliki will not seriously disarm or degrade the Shia militias because they are his "plan B."
If the US were to withdraw, Maliki wants the Shia militias in place and intact to act as his fighting force in the civil war.
So, as you hear about Maliki allowing attacks on the militias, read the articles deeply, because I would guess that it's going to be more like a drug baron giving up a few of his problematic underlings to keep the rest of the operation intact.
Also: On CNN last night, this report outlining the multitude of violent Iraqi groups. It's good.
Speaking of the Decider, this morning he [Bush] got all choked up and weepy while giving the mother of a dead marine his posthumous Medal of Honor. photo
Poor sad monkey. Within three hours he was recovered and whooping it up with future dead troops at Fort Benning, playing hide and seek, photo [at the top of today's post]
eating delicious mashed potatoes or possibly potato salad, photo
and enjoying the Fort Benning Amateur Theatrical Society's reenactment of the hanging of Saddam Hussein. photo
He told the soldiers, "Everywhere that warriors from this base serve, you leave your mark". Well, mark their territory, if you know what I mean.
He told them, "the sectarian violence needs to be challenged and stopped in order for this young society to advance." That young society he's talking about is, oh what's it called again, Mesopotamia? Babylonia? oh yes, I remember, Iraq.
George's memory was also troubling him, as he failed to come up with the name Samarra: "They [Al Qaida] bombed holy -- important holy site, they killed innocent people".
And you know what's worse? They're not even really religious: "I, frankly -- well, speaking about religion, these are murderers. They use murder as a tool to achieve their objective. Religious people don't murder. They may claim they're religious, but when you kill an innocent woman, or a child to create a political end, that's not my view of religion."
Shrub is always willing to generously acknowledge the deep, deep wisdom of others: "One of the wisest comments I've heard about this battle in Iraq was made by General John Abizaid -- smart guy, a great soldier. He told me -- he said, Mr. President, if we were to fail in Iraq, the enemy would follow us here to America."
GeeDubya inspired the troops with his visionary, um, vision of the transformation to come in Iraq: "you'll begin to see a society that is somewhat more peaceful."
In a fascinating insight into the workings of his, for the lack of a better word, brain, Bush explained how he crafted the surge policy: "I understand the consequences of failure; they're not acceptable. And so I thought long and hard how best to succeed. That's what I'm interested in, is success. The American people are interested in success. And I laid out a plan that is our best chance for success."
You can really tell how committed Chimpy is to democracy in Iraq by the way he keeps quoting tribal sheiks in Anbar province that have supposedly come over to our side. "They're tired of foreigners and killers in their midst," Bush said, without a hint of irony, "That's what the commanders have told me. And they [I'm not sure if he means the sheiks or the commanders] believe we have a good opportunity to really crush this group of folks."
A good opportunity to really crush this group of folks. Here's the link to the transcript again, just in case you want to check that I'm not making that up.
read in full...
American commentary yesterday on the new Bush strategy was based on the idea that this was an attempt to pacify the Iraq security situation, and that of the region, but one that was likely to fail, and the commentary could be classified according to the reasons for the expected failure.
Arab commentary, by and large, starts from the opposite viewpoint, namely that what Bush is attempting is not the restoration of calm, but the opposite.
The new Bush strategy [writes Abdulbari Atwan in Al-Quds al-Arabi] is not a strategy of pacification, but rather a strategy of escalation in Iraq, and this is going to lead to the sacrifice of many thousands of Iraqi lives, regardless of sectarian affiliations. He has made a dangerous wager which he knows beforehand is not only not assured of success, but whose chances of failure far outweigh the chances of success, and this was clear from the muddled and unconvincing character of his presentation.
This is an important point, because it goes to the purpose of US policy in the region. Atwan wasn't the only widely-read writer to make this point. The whole purpose of US policy is not to stabilize the situation, but the opposite.
Here is Atwan's explanation of what Bush's aim is:
President Bush wants to draw the "moderate" Arab governments into a new war, without offering them in exchange any cover vis-a-vis their populations; the strategy talks about a pure security solution in Iraq, to the exclusion of any discussion of the political side, whether with respect to Iraq and Iraqis [referring to what has been called the national reconciliation program] or with respect to the people of the region, and here we are talking in particular about the Palestinian issue. The president did not say a single word about Palestine, or about democracy, or about fighting corruption and dictatorship....
There are a couple of overlapping ideas here. The first is that imposition of a purely military solution on a politically divided country like Iraq in this environment is bound to lead to war, and in fact that is the purpose of the Bush strategy. The second is that in drawing the Sunni regimes of the region into this war, Bush has neglected to give them political cover of their own, so this will act as a magnifier of the problem (popular opposition to government-by-force) to a regional scale. (…)
It is an interesting situation. American commentators have been considerably preoccupied with the question whether the Bush administration will be backing the Shiites or the Sunnis in the current troubles. But in doing so, these devoutly American opinion-makers are showing they have already swallowed two major assumptions. The first is that Bush is trying to achieve stability in Iraq. And the second is that domestically in Iraq there isn't any political/rapprochement dimension to the crisis, the whole question being essentially military.
What Samaha and Atwan are saying (in part, and these are the parts where the two are in complete agreement) is that these two assumptions themselves are wrong. What Bush is trying to do is (1) foment instability; by (2) relying exclusively on force where political solutions are needed. On those assumptions, obviously it makes sense to back now one side and now the other. Ask yourself which set of assumptions better reflects what is going on.
read in full...
Aswat al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq):
Witnesses in Sadr City said on Thursday that American planes bombed areas of Sadr City, while joint US-Iraqi forces raided houses in some districts starting at midnight. One of the witnesses said they were supported by helicopters that circled over Sadr City until around 3 am Thursday, adding that the helicopters bombed areas in sectors 7 and 8 of the Al-Awla district of Sadr City. The sources couldn't say if there were any arrests, but said the bombing was accompanied by heavy weapons fire. The Americans have issued no statement explaining the results of this operation of last night. These types of joint raids normally occur during these hours, [the journalist explains], and normally the explanation is that they are looking for armed persons who target the coalition forces.
Sadr City has a population of between 2 and 3 million persons. There was a bombing there Wednesday morning as well, that killed a family of four. Bush was clearly referring to Sadr City when he said in his speech on Wednesday that US forces now have a commitment from the Iraqi government that they will be able to "enter these neighborhoods...home to those fueling the sectarian violence." He didn't say anything specifically about bombing them, but I guess it is possible that bombing densely populated urban areas is part of the new "permissive rules of engagement."
This is referred to in the next-to-last page of the point-form "strategy review" document that was released in connection with Bush's speech. It says in the column headed "Previous": "Restrictive Rules of Engagement hindered execution of Baghdad security plan"; and in the column headed "Way Ahead": "Iraqi leaders committed to permissive Rules of Engagement and non-sectarian, non-political command and control arrangements."
The basic fact remains that Bush's escalation is designed to smash Muqtada's Mehdi Army. That can only mean, in practice, a mini-genocide of vast masses of unruly, extremely dispossessed Shi'ites: the coming battle of Sadr City, which the Pentagon has been itching to launch since the spring of 2004. The Pentagon is actually declaring war on no fewer than 2.2 million (poor) people. A sinister symmetry still applies: the Pentagon will attack dispossessed Shi'ite masses - just as the Israeli Defense Forces attacked dispossessed Shi'ite masses in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
There's more. Bush's escalation, according to his own speech, will ensure there will actually be two major battles on two different fronts: the battle of Sadr City, against Shi'ites, and the Great Battle of Baghdad, as the Sunni Arab muqawama (resistance) has been dubbing it. A tangential taste of this second front was provided this week by the day-long fight in Haifa Street between coalition and Iraqi forces against militants.
Muhammad al-Askari, the military adviser to Maliki, justified the bombing of Haifa Street as crucial to the killing of "50 terrorists". Anyone familiar with the Sunni Arab resistance knows they would never be dumb enough to concentrate 50 top fighters in a single Baghdad street in full view of US firepower. The battle of Haifa Street actually fits into Maliki's preferred developing pattern: systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunni areas by the heavily militia-infiltrated, and US-trained, Iraqi army. (...)
Washington's successive divide-and-rule tactics - facilitating a possible genocide of Sunnis, contemplating a mass slaughter of Shi'ites, betting on a regional Sunni/Shi'ite war - never for a second lose sight of the riches of Iraqi. For Big Business, an Iraq eaten alive by Balkanization is the ideal environment for the triumph of Anglo-American petrocracy.
A new Iraqi oil law will most likely be voted on in Parliament in the next few weeks, before the arrival of Bush's 21,500 men, and it should be in effect in March. The law is Anglo-American Big Oil's holy grail: the draft has been carefully scrutinized by Washington, Big Oil and the International Monetary Fund, but not by Iraqi politicians. The profit-sharing agreements enshrined by the law are immensely profitable for Big Oil. And crucially, the law prevents any Iraqi government from nationalizing the oil industry - as the majority of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member states did. In essence, it's a game of "if you nationalize, we invade you - again". So the law fulfills the early-2003 neo-con boast of "we are the new OPEC".
Iraq's petrodollars will turn to mush - or rather, as with Saudi Arabia, be recycled back to US banks. Security company Blackwater will make a killing "protecting" Iraqi pipelines. Bechtel and Halliburton will get myriad fat contracts to rebuild everything the US has bombarded since 1991.
But what's the use of an oil law in a 100-cadavers-a-day hellhole? Enter the escalation as a way of providing "stability". Whichever way the coming surge goes - ethnic cleansing of Sunnis, the battle of Sadr City - what matters is not the piling up of Arab Muslim (or American) bodies, but how much less cumbersome is the path toward the holy oil grail. Big Business will make a deal with anyone that facilitates the passing of the oil law, be it Maliki's Da'wa Party, the SCIRI, or - in a wildest-dream version - the Sadrists or al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, Sunni and Shi'ite, want the US out, and as soon as possible. A rape of Iraq's oil wealth enshrined by a Parliament-approved oil law would certainly lead to national unrest. For the moment it's fair to assume the US is taking no chances in its backroom deals, as the SCIRI's support for the new law, via Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi, is practically assured. Da'wa must be in the process of being bribed to death.
But Muqtada is another story. He is close to some Sunni factions. They are getting closer. And crucially, they agree on being Iraqi nationalists who want the Americans out. There's a very strong possibility of the Sadrists joining the muqawama in the event the oil law is approved. Thus the preemptive, two-pronged Bush escalation on the war front - against both Muqtada and nationalist Sunnis.
Stenographers of the "clash of civilizations" may rejoice. But what really matters is what 1.5 billion people of the Muslim ummah are seeing. They see, on a given day, apart from made-in-USA bombs over Palestine, the US bombarding Arab Muslims in Iraq, Central Asian Muslims in Afghanistan, black Muslims in Somalia. Soon, perhaps, Persian Muslims will be included. Blowback is assured.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "In essence Bush's 21,500 extra men are doomed to total irrelevance - not to mention raising their odds of returning home in a body bag, courtesy of the upcoming resistance surge." -- Pepe Escobar in "The Ever-Expanding Killing Fields" (See above)


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