Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Photo: A woman cries outside a hospital morgue in Baghdad's Sadr City January 10, 2007 as she waits to claim the bodies of her relatives who were killed by what residents said was a U.S. air strike on Tuesday. A house in the volatile Shi'ite district was blown up and local residents said it was caused by a U.S. air strike. Doctors showed journalists the bodies of two men, a woman and two children they said died in the house. The U.S. military had no immediate comment. (Kareem Raheem/Reuters) (See below "Four members of a family died…")
Bring 'em on: A Task Force Lightning Soldier assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, died Tuesday as a result of injuries sustained from a gunshot wound while conducting combat operations in Diyala Province.
Bring 'em on: One Soldier assigned to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group and One Soldier assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division died Tuesday from wounds sustained due to enemy action while operating in Al Anbar Province.
Iraqi and U.S. troops chased militants in and out of alleys and conducted house-to-house searches Wednesday in a central Baghdad neighborhood [Haifa Street region], a day after fierce fighting that killed 50 insurgents.
An Iraqi army officer said 15 suspects had been arrested in Baghdad's troubled Haifa Street section.
U.S. tanks lined the streets in the neighborhood, a militant Sunni Arab stronghold located just north of the heavily fortified Green Zone - home to the U.S. Embassy and other facilities.
(See below under "Reports")
Four members of a family died when their house in Baghdad's Sadr City section was destroyed. Police initially said the attack was from two mortar shells, but later a police official and witnesses said the home was fired on by US aircraft.
Police said a bomb went off in Baghdad's central Karradah neighbourhood, wounding a traffic policeman.
A computer engineer working for the Iraqi government funded al-Sabah newspaper was kidnapped in Baghdad, an official source at al-Sabah said on Wednesday. "An armed group kidnapped on Tuesday afternoon the computer engineer Aqeel Adnan outside the newspaper head-office in al-Waziriyah neighborhood, northeast of Baghdad," the source, who asked not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). The source added "the kidnapped engineer has no political or sectarian ties." Al-Sabah newspaper is a daily funded by the Iraqi government.
Today 60 bodies were found in Baghdad, 2 Sadr City, 2 New Baghdad, 1 Shaab, 1 Hussainiyah, 1 Selekh, 1 Zauwona, 1 Kamaliyah, 1 Palestine Street, 15 in different places in Amil area, 6 Mahmudiyah, 6 Ghazaliyah, 6 Shula, 2 Kadhemiyah, 5 Dora, 3 Hurriyah, 2 Bayaa, 3 Shurta Khamsa, 1 Mansour and 1 Yarmouk.
An IED exploded on Al Kanat street in eastern Baghdad at the main drinking water pipe opposite of Sadr City, the pipe was destroyed which led to the cut of the water supply to Sadr City.
Two bombs exploded almost simultaneously near a petrol station in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing two civilians and setting several cars on fire.
A civilian was killed and three wounded when a car rigged with explosives blew up at a petrol station in Mahmudiyah.
A body was found shot dead and bound in Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad.
The bodies of four people were found shot dead and bound in the town of Mahaweel, 75 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad.
Gunmen shot dead two workers fixing a water pipe damaged by saboteurs a month earlier, a police colonel said. The workers were killed yesterday in Madain, about 14 miles south-east of Baghdad, and their bodies were removed from the scene today.
Iraqi police reported Wednesday three people were killed and 10 others were injured today when a booby-trapped car driven by a suicide bomber exploded in Babel province, south of Baghdad. The police report also indicated material damage and said the incident took place in Al-Yousifiyah town.
Four Iraqi soldiers were injured last night when a roadside bomb exploded next to their patrol In Mosul, 225 miles north-west of Baghdad.
A woman was killed and a male nurse gunned down in separate shootings in Mosul. The woman died when gunmen opened fire randomly inside a central bus terminal, said Mohammed Ahmed, a Mosul police major.
Two unidentified bodies were found dumped in Mosul.
Three mortar rounds landed near a girls high- school, wounding three pupils as well as two women and three children in nearby houses in central Mosul.
A parked car bomb also exploded at the centre of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, but there was no immediate word on casualties.
A car bomb was detonated today morning near the governorate headquarters in central Kirkuk.
Three mortar shells landed on a crowd of police recruits outside police headquarters in Fallujah, killing one recruit and wounding three others.
Gunmen opened fire on two buses of haj pilgrims who were travelling back to the Shi'ite city of Kerbala on Wednesday, killing four and wounding 11, police said. The attack took place near the desert town of Nukhaib, in the Sunni province of Anbar.
Eyewitnesses reported on Wednesday that the U.S. forces took over a residential complex in Rawa town, Anbar province, as a new base. The forces moved on Wednesday morning to Hasa residential complex, 15 km west of Rawa, one of the witnesses told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). U.S. convoys began arriving this morning to the base and started building sand and concrete barricades around the new military base, he said.
Tel Afar:
A suicide bomber killed four civilians in a crowd outside a police station today in the northern Iraqi city Tal Afar, police said. At least 12 people were also injured by the blast when the bomber walked into a crowd of people gathering outside the building 93 miles east of the Syrian border, an officer said.
A suicide bomber targeted the convoy of Tal Afar's mayor. A child was killed and four other people were wounded in that attack, including the mayor's driver, said Mosul police Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf. The mayor survived, he said.
Four tortured bodies were found on the outskirts of Qaim, 160km (100 miles) from the Syrian border.
Iraqi police patrols on Wednesday found five unidentified bodies in different places north of Hilla town, Babel province.
In Country:
Sgt. Aron C. Blum, 22, of Tucson, Ariz., died Dec. 28 at Naval Medical Center, San Diego, Calif., of a non-hostile cause after being evacuated from Al Anbar province, Iraq, on Dec. 8. Blum was assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
The US Joint Chiefs of Staff will reluctantly support Bush's plan to send 20,000 more US troops to Iraq, it was reported, citing Pentagon insiders.
The Joint Chiefs -- generals and admirals that advise the US president on military issues -- have long opposed adding to the 132,000 US troops already in Iraq, according to the Washington Post.
They are "only grudgingly" going along with the plan, which Bush will unveil late Wednesday, because they were promised that renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq would be coupled with the so-called "surge" of troops, the Post reported.
Iraq's national security adviser has said that the country's most senior Shia cleric supports a government attempt to disarm the country's sectarian militias.
Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said he had secured Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's support during a meeting in the city of Najaf on Wednesday.
The Shia clergyman gave his assent as Iraq's government pushed ahead with a plan that will attempt to stablise Baghdad, the country's capital, by disarming Shia and Sunni militias.
US commanders and Iraq's Sunnis say that the crackdown must also include militias loyal to Shia clerics.
"His eminence al-Sistani recommended an emphasis on the implementation of the law without any discrimination based on identity or background," Rubaie, a Shia, told reporters on Wednesday.
"He also asserted the need for weapons to be in the hands only of the state, and to disarm those holding weapons illegally."
Al-Sistani hardly ever makes public statements but - as the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shias - is believed to wield considerable influence behind the scenes. (...)
Asked if al-Sistani had given a green light to the Baghdad security plan, Rubaie said: "His eminence is not interfering in the details but we can say that he stressed that weapons should be only in the hands of the state."
The president of Iraq, has said that he would like the executions of Saddam Hussein's two co-defendants to be delayed.
Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half brother, and Awad Hamed al-Bander, a former judge, were due to be executed within a month of losing their appeal on December 26.
With F-15 fighter jets and Apache helicopter gunships providing cover, U.S. and Iraqi troops on Tuesday battled hundreds of Sunni Arab insurgents firing from apartment buildings and houses in downtown Baghdad in one of the fiercest clashes in the capital in recent memory.
"It was the most intense combat I have ever seen," said Maj. Jesse Pearson, operations officer for the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Stryker Brigade, on his third tour in Iraq. "We were in a fight for 11 straight hours."
Along Haifa Street, a desolate, mostly Sunni Arab enclave of residential buildings and shops, more than 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops descended early Tuesday to retake the insurgent stronghold. The larger goal was to reassert the authority of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, weakened by sectarian and political divides and a failure to stem Iraq's violent slide.
Instead, the troops encountered strong resistance as the well-organized insurgents appeared determined to protect their turf or fight their way out, surprising U.S. soldiers who fought in the battle. By evening, as many as 50 insurgents had been killed, Iraqi officials said, while 21 others, including several foreign fighters, were captured, but only after the use of massive U.S. firepower and technology. No American or Iraqi troops were killed, although some suffered light injuries, U.S. military officials said.
About 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops battled insurgents Tuesday in the heart of Baghdad in some of the fiercest fighting the Iraqi capital has seen in months.
Pinned down on a Baghdad rooftop by insurgent fire, U.S. troops crouched to avoid bullets ricocheting off walls, their every breath a thin mist in the cold.
Helicopters droned overhead, sending off Hellfire missiles at insurgent positions.
Fighter jets patrolled the skies. (Watch CNN exclusive video of the gun battle )
Thunderous explosions rattled buildings, the salient signatures of both U.S. missiles and insurgent mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
It was some of the most intense fighting of the nearly four-year-old war, a 10-hour-long firefight involving almost 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops along Haifa Street in central Baghdad, a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency. (Map)
Heavy incoming fire kept the soldiers trapped on the crenulated rooftop for at least two hours.
Shouting directions to one another as bullets zinged past their ears, the soldiers fired back at the insurgents.
"You keep seeing more movement west, all right?" one soldier directed another.
"Just remember from up here the elevation's going to be different, all right? So aim just a little bit above, so when the round drops you'll hit your target. Elevate yourself so you can get a better shot."
And moments later -- "Right there, right there! See him, see him?"
Elsewhere, soldiers darted among pillars, firing from behind them.
Sniper and machine-gun fire punctuated their movement.
At least 50 insurgents were killed in Tuesday's battle, which began before dawn and ended at about 4 p.m. (8 a.m. ET), an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Another 21 insurgents were detained, including three Syrians and two Sudanese, the spokesman said.
About 500 Iraqi soldiers and 400 U.S. troops took part in the battle along a two-mile stretch of Haifa Street, said CNN's Arwa Damon. She is embedded with the U.S. Army's 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The U.S. military sent in fixed-wing aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to support the ground forces against what it described as a "sophisticated enemy." (Watch U.S. helicopters swoop over central Baghdad )
"This isn't a rag-tag bunch of insurgents running around trying to make trouble," CNN's Michael Holmes said, citing U.S. military sources. "This is a very coordinated operation."
The sources said the insurgents -- a combination of Hussein loyalists and al Qaeda in Iraq fighters -- include snipers positioned on rooftops, gunmen patrolling the streets in pairs who were "falling back and regrouping" during the firefight, Holmes reported.
At one point, insurgents fired machine guns and RPGs from a mosque, prompting U.S. forces to return fire, Damon said. The insurgents pulled back from the mosque only to return later and continue their battle with U.S. and Iraqi troops.
An Iraqi military official said the clampdown on Haifa Street is not part of the new Baghdad security plan, announced Saturday by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
That plan has not yet been implemented, he said.
The violence along Haifa Street began Saturday after Iraqi police -- trying to recover bodies dumped near the Sheikh Maarouf cemetery -- came under intense gunfire and withdrew, an Interior Ministry official. (Watch what makes Baghdad such a hotbed of violence )
The Iraqi army, which controls the area, became involved in an intense gun battle and requested help from the U.S. military, the official said.
At least 11 insurgents were killed and several others detained in Saturday's clashes. The fighting continued Sunday. Eight Iraqi soldiers were killed and six others wounded when they ran out of ammunition in the midst of a firefight with insurgents.
Senate Republicans, dreading President Bush's prime-time address tonight calling for more U.S. troops in Iraq, emerged from their weekly party luncheon yesterday displaying more dance steps than the Joffrey Ballet.
"We should listen to what the president has to say," proposed Sen. John Warner (R-Va).
"I want to hear the president's plan," Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) concurred.
"I want to see what he's proposing before I make dramatic statements," an unusually skittish Trent Lott (Miss.), the No. 2 Republican, told a thick knot of reporters.
And you didn't want to get too close to Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio). "We need more information, okay?" he insisted.
But the Republicans' principal dancer yesterday was Sen. John Sununu (N.H.), perhaps the most endangered of all GOP senators in 2008. "We haven't discussed 'the plan,' " he maintained. "That would suggest that we were told exactly what is going to be announced tomorrow, and that is certainly not the case."
Reporters had barely digested that one when Sununu offered a second disavowal: "I don't really know what they're thinking about proposing, so given that, it wouldn't be wise for me to suggest that I do or don't know whether their conditions are appropriate."
Is the escalating White House headed for a conflict with the antiwar Congress? "I don't know. I don't know," Sununu repeated. "Because we don't know what the president has proposed."
Sununu kept punting, for a painful 15 minutes before reporters released him. "There's clearly no one else in the hall to talk to," he quipped.
read in full...
When he returned from Baghdad to Hinesville, Ga., last February, Army Pvt. Eric Mapes had an immediate goal: to get back to Iraq as fast as he could.
The lanky Chicagoan found in Iraq the ultimate adventure - part gritty war, part dusty romance of counterterrorism patrols that hunted insurgents across Baghdad. By contrast, he sees Hinesville, the military town outside the gates of Fort Stewart, as offering little but a Wal-Mart, seedy apartment buildings, and the detritus of a broken courtship.
"For a lot of these guys, they can't have steady girlfriends, they can't settle down, so there's nothing left for them in the US," says Private Mapes. "A lot of them - including me for a time - would rather be in Iraq."
(…) overzealousness to return to the front can be a warning sign. It reminds Mr. Palaima, the classics professor, of an account written by Xenophon, a writer-soldier of ancient Greece, who described one comrade as looking happy "[only] when there was the prospect of fighting, basically exhibiting all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress," says Palaima.
Xenophon might also have been describing Mapes. After two combat tours, he begged the Army to return him to Iraq - an insistence his superiors found disquieting.
After counterterrorism patrols that netted him 10 medals, dozens of firefights, and at least three close calls with mortars and snipers, Mapes says he has received counseling for post-traumatic stress and has decided to leave the Army at the end of his contract. He will not be going for a third time to Iraq, and plans to return to Chicago to work for his dad.
He says he feels disillusioned with the war, betrayed by Bush and the military leadership, and resentful of the physical and emotional effect the fighting has had on him, including sleepless nights and a "jumpy" demeanor.
"I consider myself a realist, and I did learn something from the experience," Mapes says. "But I've come to realize I need a new chapter in my life."
read in full...
"The supply line from Kuwait is absolutely crucial. You cannot supply the level that is required by air," says Paul Rodgers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, England, who has written monthly security briefings on Iraq since 2003.
And with the possibility of increasing US forces by some 20,000 combat troops seeming more likely, the supply route from Kuwait will be ever more vital. "A very big proportion of the food and water [used by the US military] comes from Kuwait," says Robert Soussa, the managing director of Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Co., a group heavily involved in this logistics business.
"There are hundreds of fuel tankers a day ... shared between many companies. They don't have many [petrol] refineries in Iraq, the Kuwait government supplies them with petrol," he says.
Regarding protection for their convoys, Mr. Soussa says that the security companies they hire depend on local Iraqis for safe passage. "They have connections on the ground, they recruit from local tribes, you must create jobs for these people."
Soussa adds that the upsurge in violence has impacted the logistics business. "Because of the incidents in Iraq, they have reduced the number of trucks [per convoy]," he says.
This reduction was also confirmed by a US contractor, who has driven trucks inside Iraq. US Department of Labor statistics show at least 650 American contractors have been killed inside Iraq.
Professor Rodgers says that a more substantial US combat presence in Iraq could cause insurgents to avoid direct confrontation and intensify attacks on supply lines.
"In the longer term, they [insurgents] may respond [to a troop surge] by attacking the supplies, rather than the troops themselves," he says.
read in full...
The Washington Post sneaks this passage into its report this morning on Dubya overruling his military advisors to throw more American lives into the meat grinder of Iraq:
There is little question that more troops for Iraq seemed far from the conventional wisdom in Washington after the beating Bush and the Republican Party took in the midterm elections Nov. 7. Indeed,when Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 30, Maliki did not ask for more American troops as part of a new Baghdad security plan he presented to Bush, U.S. officials said.
. . . Another problem for the administration was the Iraq Study Group, the prestigious bipartisan panel headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). Soon after Bush returned from Jordan, the group delivered its recommendations, including proposing a high-level dialogue with Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq and setting a goal of early 2008 for the removal of almost all U.S. combat troops.
Although the president was publicly polite, few of the key Baker-Hamilton recommendations appealed to the administration, which intensified its own deliberations over a new "way forward" in Iraq. How to look distinctive from the study group became a recurring theme.
As described by participants in the administration review, some staff members on the National Security Council became enamored of the idea of sending more troops to Iraq in part because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton.
Gee, so I guess all that Oedipal speculation about the Shrub's daddy sending his fixer to bail out his son, and whether said Shrub might resent it, wasn't so unwarranted after all.
The over-Machiavellian PNAC fantasy of American military strength dominating the Middle East may have been the primary motivation for our current catastrophe in Iraq, but never forget that it's the PNAC fantasy as translated through Dubya's twisted psyche...
WASHINGTON // The thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use, military officers said.
Negroponte has said U.S. intelligence does not believe Iran could produce a nuclear weapon until next decade.
Negroponte's assessment in April 2006 infuriated neoconservative hardliners who wanted a worst-case scenario on Iran's nuclear capabilities, much as they pressed for an alarmist view on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Unlike former CIA Director George Tenet, who bent to Bush's political needs on Iraq, Negroponte stood behind the position of intelligence analysts who cited Iran's limited progress in refining uranium.
"Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next decade," Negroponte said in an interview with NBC News. Expressing a similarly tempered view in a speech at the National Press Club, Negroponte said, "I think it's important that this issue be kept in perspective."
Some neocons complained that Negroponte was betraying the President.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr., a leading figure in the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, called for Negroponte's firing because of the Iran assessment and his "abysmal personnel decisions" in hiring senior intelligence analysts who were skeptics about Bush's Iraqi WMD claims. (...)
Negroponte's departure should give Bush a freer hand if he decides to support attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. (...)
Bush has floated the idea of a troop "surge" and replaced commanders who disagreed with him. Bush also removed U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, a Sunni Muslim generally considered a voice for moderation in U.S. policy who privately objected to Bush's decision to press ahead with the hanging of Saddam Hussein.
There are even indications of tension between Bush and Cheney, who like his old friend Rumsfeld, appears to have grown disillusioned with the war.
In a little-noticed comment on Jan. 4, Sen. Joseph Biden, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Cheney and Rumsfeld "are really smart guys who made a very, very, very, very bad bet, and it blew up in their faces. Now, what do they do with it? I think they have concluded they can't fix it, so how do you keep it stitched together without it completely unraveling?" [Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2007]
But Bush does not appear to share that goal of limiting the damage. Instead, he is looking for ways to "double-down" his gamble in Iraq by joining with Olmert - and possibly outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair - in expanding the conflict.
read in full...
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The figurative purgatory that was Iraq when Saddam ruled with an iron fist has become, under the thumb of George W. Bush, a literal hell on earth." -- from "Lasciate Ogne Speranza, Voi Ch'Intrate" - The Hell That is Iraq by James T. Phillips


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