Sunday, February 04, 2007


An Iraqi soldier secures the site where a suicide bomber blew up his truck in Baghdad's Al-Sadriya district. Relations between Baghdad and Damascus that were restored just three months ago are already under strain amid allegations Syria is sheltering Iraqi fugitives but being "hostile" to genuine refugees.(AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)


Note: The only security updates I can find today are from Reuters and Aswat al-Iraq. Aswat has some significant incidents today that have not been reported by Western media. I suspect reporters may be busy covering the aftermath of yesterday's market bombing. I'm on my own today as Whisker is traveling, so if anyone has additional info please add a comment. -- C

The U.S. army said on Sunday two servicemen were killed and another was wounded when an explosive charge went off at their vehicle patrol in southern Baghdad, in a statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Police and Iraqiya state television said U.S. forces wounded Suhad Shakir, an anchor working for Iraqiya, when they fired on her car near the Foreign Ministry in central Baghdad. The U.S. military said it was checking the report. Reuters also reports:

An armed group tried on Sunday morning to storm the Karkh passports department near the green zone in Baghdad and take hostage the employees and citizens inside, sources from within the department said. "Violent clashes are now going on between the gunmen and the building guards," the sources told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

AP's Sameer Yacoub describes the aftermath of yesterday's market bombing. Known toll is now given as 132 dead, 305 wounded, but bodies are still buried under rubble and many critically injured people are in overcrowded hospitals. Propane vendor Adnan Lafta makes the same observation I did: "There was no police or American presence in this market yesterday." Juan Cole is similarly nonplussed: "This market has been hit several times before. So I cannot understand why they don't cordon it off and make it a walking-only market. It wouldn't stop terrorists using belt bombs, but you couldn't get a truckful of explosives there any more. And while getting supplies into the shops and delis might be harder, it could still be done with dollies. I'd put the incoming goods through an inspection regime. Unemployment is high in Iraq. It would be worth spending some money on local Shiites as guards and inspectors." -- C)


Police found the body of Aqil al-Jenabi, an army Colonel in the Iraqi army 8th division, in an area near the city of Hilla, 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

Near Baqubah

At least a civilian was killed and five others were wounded as an explosives-rigged motorcycle went off near Baaquba, capital city of Diala province, a security source said. "An explosives-rigged motorcycle was detonated near a main road in Kinaan town killing one civilian and wounded five," the source, who asked not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).


Unknown gunmen shot and killed on Sunday afternoon a senior Sadr movement leader in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, an eyewitness said.


Seven people were killed and 10 others injured in a car bomb blast on Sunday afternoon in the main market of al-Khalis, a town 55 km north of the capital Baghdad, an Iraqi police source said. Other News of the Day

Talabani offers effusive praise for Iranian cooperation and its constructive role in Iraq. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD, Feb 4 (KUNA) -- Iraqi President Jalal Al-Talabani on Sunday said that Iranians expressed readiness to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities and the local American military command to implement a new security plan in the country. Al-Talabani, in a statement to the satellite television station "Al-Hurriah, " said, "I believe the Iranians are now ready to cooperate with us and the Americans for securing success of the new security plan.

"I've sensed on their part understanding of the conditions in Iraq and I believe that they have exerted tremendous and successful efforts with the armed militias accused of involvement in terrorist acts," the president said. "The Iranians have stood on our side since the first days of the liberation as they have backed the liberation and the ruling council and the elections and the Iraqi constitution," he said.

WaPo's Karen DeYoung gets top admin officials to talk anonymously about the prospects for the "surge" plan. They are not so optimistic. (So what happens when it doesn't work? Just askin'.) Excerpt:

The success of the Bush administration's new Iraq strategy depends on a series of rapid and dramatic political and economic reforms that even the plan's authors have little confidence will work. In the current go-for-broke atmosphere, administration officials say they are aware that failure to achieve the reforms would result in a repeat of last year's unsuccessful Baghdad offensive, when efforts to consolidate military gains with lasting stability on the ground did not work. This time, they acknowledge, there will be no second chance.


Several senior officials involved in formulating the political and economic aspects of the administration's strategy, along with a number of informed outsiders, agreed to discuss its assumptions and risks on the condition that they not be identified by name. Other sources refused to be even anonymously quoted, describing the administration as standing on the brink of an intricate combination of maneuvers whose outcome is far from assured.


Several sources expressed concern that the administration, by publicly rejecting a "containment" option -- withdrawing U.S. troops to Iraqi borders to avoid sectarian fighting while preventing outside arms and personnel from entering the country -- has not left itself a fall-back plan in the event of failure.

Wartime president makes nice with Congressional Democrats; they appear to return the love. (This is really discouraging -- C). Excerpt:

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - Relying on self-deprecating jokes, unusual candor and outright flattery, President George W. Bush yesterday wooed lawmakers he not only needs but will have to answer to in the final two years of his presidency.


Bush’s address was followed by a private session. With reporters ushered out of the room, lawmakers were allowed to ask the president a half-dozen questions that covered Iraq, immigration, education and other topics. Even though this was expected to be the toughest part of Bush’s foray onto Democratic turf, both he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., emerged with good things to say.

"We were honored by your presence," Pelosi told Bush. "We’re also encouraged by your remarks." Speaking to reporters after the president had departed for Washington, she added: "Let’s make no mistake. The choice is bipartisanship or stalemate. We have to work together."

Major Gen. Caldwell says the four recent helicopter crashes were the result of hostile fire, or what he calls "some kind of anti-Iraqi ground fire." (Gee, that's funny. I didn't realize those were actually Iraqi helicopters -- C)

Syria responds to complaint by Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh that it is insufficiently accomodating to Iraqi refugees. (Rather an embarrassing matter for the Iraqi government to be complaining about in the first place, wouldn't you say?) Al-Dabbagh had also made the accusation that half of the bomb attacks in Iraq are perpetrated by people coming from Syria, but the Syrian official did not respond directly to that allegation. (Which seems ridiculous -- C) . Excerpt:

DAMASCUS, Syria: Syria on Sunday dismissed Iraqi accusations that it was taking measures against Iraqi refugees while welcoming Sunni figures wanted by the Baghdad government. A Syrian government official rejected Iraq's allegations that Damascus was making problems for Iraqi refugees by restricting visa regulations, saying the accusations were deliberately trying to sour Syria-Iraq relations.

"Some Iraqi parties, which are linked to Washington, are unhappy with the positive developments that have occurred in Syrian-Iraqi relations," the official told The Associated Press. The official was referring to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Syria and Iraq late last year, more than two decades after they were cut over ideological disputes, Syria's support of Iran in its 1980-88 war with Iraq and charges that Baghdad supported Syrian militants.


However, the official said Damascus was overburdened by the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to Syria and said measures introduced by the Damascus government on Iraqi newcomers were taken for security and economic reasons. He added that granting residency permits to the Iraqis' was under discussion.

Syria, with a population of 18 million, is the refuge of choice for those fleeing violence in Iraq primarily because of its relaxed entry regulations for Arabs, the relatively low cost of living and availability of schools and health care. The Damascus office of the United Nations refugee agency says about 40,000 Iraqis arrive monthly.

But the ongoing influx of Iraqis entering Syria has affected the country. Housing prices in the Damascus area have soared by up to 300 percent. Syrians also complain about higher food prices and overcrowding at some schools, which have reportedly admitted up to 28,000 Iraqi children. In areas where Iraqis have settled, residents say some classes have swollen from 30 pupils to 50.

It does appear that Syrian officials directly denied the allegation about "half" of the violence in Iraq coming from Syria to the AFP reporter. Otherwise the stories are quite similar.

Commentary, Analysis and In-Depth Reporting

Troops tell McClatchy's Tom Lasseter that "surge" is a lost cause. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Army 1st Lt. Antonio Hardy took a slow look around the east Baghdad neighborhood that he and his men were patrolling. He grimaced at the sound of gunshots in the distance. A machine gunner on top of a Humvee scanned the rooftops for snipers. Some of Hardy's men wondered aloud if they'd get hit by a roadside bomb on the way back to their base.

"To be honest, it's going to be like this for a long time to come, no matter what we do," said Hardy, 25, of Atlanta. "I think some people in America don't want to know about all this violence, about all the killings. The people back home are shielded from it; they get it sugar-coated."

While senior military officials and the Bush administration say the president's decision to send more American troops to pacify Baghdad will succeed, many of the soldiers who're already there say it's a lost cause.

Figuring out better uses for the treasure the U.S. has squandered in Iraq is not a new game, but John Allen Paulos plays it with a new twist. Excerpt:

Feb. 4, 2007 — The price tag for the Iraq War is now estimated at $700 billion in direct costs and perhaps twice that much when indirect expenditures are included. Cost estimates vary: Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts the total cost at more than $2 trillion — but let's be conservative and say it's only $1 trillion (in today's dollars).


here are many comparisons that might be made, and devising new governmental monetary units is one way to make them. Consider, for example, that the value of one EPA, the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, is about $7.5 billion. The cost of the Iraq War is thus more than a century's worth of EPA spending (in today's dollars), almost 130 EPAs, only a small handful of which would probably have been sufficient to clean up Superfund sites around the country.

Or note that the annual budget for the Department of Education is about $55 billion, which puts the price tag for Iraq at about 18 EDs. Just a few of these EDs would certainly have put muscle into the slogan "No child left behind."

Read in Full

An anonymous AP writer reflects on the parallels between the U.S. in Iraq and France in Algeria. Although there are large differences in the context, there are similarities in the tactics of the insurgency, and the indistinct line between nationalist resistance and "terrorism.

WaPo's Sudarsan Raghavan discusses the regional crisis of Iraqi refugees. Not much new here, but we can always use the reminder. Excerpt:

As the fourth year of war nears its end, the Middle East's largest refugee crisis since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 is unfolding in a climate of fear, persecution and tragedy.

Nearly 2 million Iraqis -- about 8 percent of the prewar population -- have embarked on a desperate migration, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees include large numbers of doctors, academics and other professionals vital for Iraq's recovery. Another 1.7 million have been forced to move to safer towns and villages inside Iraq, and as many as 50,000 Iraqis a month flee their homes, the U.N. agency said in January.

The rich began trickling out of Iraq as conditions deteriorated under U.N. sanctions in the 1990s, their flight growing in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Now, as the violence worsens, increasing numbers of poor Iraqis are on the move, aid officials say. To flee, Iraqis sell their possessions, raid their savings and borrow money from relatives. They ride buses or walk across terrain riddled with criminals and Sunni insurgents, preferring to risk death over remaining in Iraq.

Beyond Iraq

Three retired high ranking U.S. officers warn against military conflict with Iran. Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, former CentCom Commander Gen. Joseph Hoar, and Vice Adm. Jack Shanahan speak out in a letter to the London Sunday Times. (It's not clear whether they also tried to get this published in the U.S. -- it seems an odd choice of venue. C) Excerpt:

"As former US military leaders, we strongly caution against the use of military force against Iran," the authors said. They said such action would further exacerbate regional and global tensions.

"A strategy of diplomatic engagement with Iran would serve the interests of the US and the UK and potentially could enhance regional and international security," the letter said.

It also said that "the British government has a vital role play in securing a renewed diplomatic push and making it clear that it will oppose any recourse to military force".

Defense Secretary Gates and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley admit U.S. has no proof of Iranian involvement in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. (So will Bush and Cheney get the memo? -- C) Excerpt:

By Maura Reynolds, LA Times Staff Writer

February 3, 2007 WASHINGTON —

Bush administration officials acknowledged Friday that they had yet to compile evidence strong enough to back up publicly their claims that Iran is fomenting violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.

Administration officials have long complained that Iran was supplying Shiite Muslim militants with lethal explosives and other materiel used to kill U.S. military personnel. But despite several pledges to make the evidence public, the administration has twice postponed the release — most recently, a briefing by military officials scheduled for last Tuesday in Baghdad.

"The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated, and we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts," national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley said Friday.

Quote of the Day

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of Colin Powell’s notorious W.M.D. pantomime before the United Nations Security Council, a fair amount of it a Cheney-Libby production. To mark this milestone, the White House is reviving the same script to rev up the war’s escalation, this time hyping Iran-Iraq connections instead of Al Qaeda-Iraq connections. In his Jan. 10 prime-time speech on Iraq, Mr. Bush said that Iran was supplying “advanced weaponry and training to our enemies,” even though the evidence suggests that Iran is actually in bed with our “friends” in Iraq, the Maliki government. . . .Call it a coincidence — though there are no coincidences — but it’s only fitting that the Libby trial began as news arrived of the death of E. Howard Hunt, the former C.I.A. agent whose bungling of the Watergate break-in sent him to jail and led to the unraveling of the Nixon presidency two years later. Still, we can’t push the parallels too far. No one died in Watergate. This time around our country can’t wait two more years for the White House to be stopped from playing its games with American blood.

Frank Rich


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