Sunday, March 18, 2007
Iraqi kids leave their makeshift home in the ruins of a former Iraqi Army air defense headquarters, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 18, 2007, ahead of Tuesday's fourth anniversary of the U.S. led invasion on Iraq. This army complex was destroyed in the initial bombing campaign in 2003. (AP Photo/Samir Mizban)
Dateline Tikrit, incident location unspecified: A Task Force Lightning Soldier died Saturday in a non-combat related incident, which is currently under investigation. Note: There are two releases with similar content. It is not clear whether this was a mistake, or whether there were in fact two deaths in the Tikrit area. Total U.S. dead since last TiI post is either 8 or 9. However, news reports are giving the toll variously as 5, 6, or 7. I have noticed that they tend consistently to understate the totals, but you can count for yourselves.
Unspecified location in Anbar: A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died March 17 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province.
During a patrol in western Baghdad, an improvised explosive device detonated and killed four U.S. Soldiers and wounding [sic] another. Small arms fire followed the blast wounding one additional Soldier.
While conducting a dismounted area reconnaissance patrol south of Baghdad, an improvised explosive device detonated killing one Soldier and wounding three others. (In addition to developing a case of bad grammar, as I noted in the comments a couple of days ago, the MNF publicists have taken to sandwiching the death notices between layers of "good news" about the recent accomplishments of the units, and taking the deaths and injuries out of the headlines. So, in the interest of being fair and balanced, here's the good news from this release, although unfortunately the grammar doesn't get any better. -- C) In the last few weeks, this particular unit has found numerous IEDs, in which explosive ordnance disposal teams were called to disable and destroy each explosive device.
An Iraqi policeman and one civilian were killed and five policemen wounded when a roadside bomb struck a police patrol near the renowned Al-Mustansiriyah University in eastern Baghdad on Sunday, security officials said.
Reuters also reports: A roadside bomb killed a man on Saturday in al-Khadhraa district of western Baghdad, police said.
Iraqi police found the decapitated bodies of nine policemen with their hands bound and bearing signs of torture in a town near the city of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad, where al Qaeda militants have a strong presence, police said.
An Iraqi army base was fully destroyed on Sunday morning when a truck crammed with explosives detonated in eastern Falluja, leaving an unidentified number of casualties, a police source said. "A truck crammed with explosives detonated this morning near the Iraqi army base at al-Salam hotel, eastern Falluja, leading to wide scale destruction of the base and leaving an unidentified number of casualties among the base personnel," the source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). He added, "the explosive-laden truck was detonated by a remote control device at 9:00 am." Iraqi security forces cordoned off the scene while reinforcements were sent to the location, the source added. The security forces fired over head to secure the operation to rush the wounded to nearby bases for treatment, he said.
OTHER NEWS OF THE DAY
Military is shipping a new type of armored vehicle, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, to begin replacing the vulnerable armored Humvees. (It'll take a while, though, so far only 200 have been built. At 23 and 14 tons apiece, I don't imagine these babies get great gas mileage. The projected cost for the production run is $6 billion and rising. -- C) Excerpt:
Washington — In an effort to defend against roadside bombs in Iraq, the U.S. military is dispatching new vehicles designed to deflect the explosive forces of “improvised explosive devices,” as the military refers to the bombs, which are the top killer of American forces. The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, says the new vehicles have proven to be about 400 percent safer than armored humvees.
It is “a moral imperative, in spite of the expense” to get more of the vehicles to Iraq “as soon as we can ... at warp speed,” Conway said last week. The Marines, Army and Navy are now using more than 200 of the vehicles in Iraq and plan to dramatically increase the number there by early 2008 to about 4,100 vehicles. All told, the Marines, Army and Navy combined are scheduled to buy 6,738 of the vehicles — 3,700 for the Marines, 2,500 for the Army and 538 for the Navy. The project could cost more than $6 billion.
Members of Congress are pushing for even more. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that his panel would seek an increase. “We're going to provide whatever's needed,” Levin said. “This is an area we've taken an awful lot of losses in.” Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said it would be a “tragic” mistake if the Army didn't purchase more.
Approximately 70 percent of the U.S. fatalities in Iraq are from roadside bombs. Thus far, 3,196 American service members have perished in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. [Current total is actually 3,218. -- C] The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle has qualities of a tank, the ubiquitous humvee and an armored personnel carrier. Like the highly mobile humvee, it has wheels, not metal tracks like a tank. But like a personnel carrier, it can transport up to 12 GIs or cargo, depending on the configuration. And like a tank, it is well-armored.
Iraqi forces raid Sunni MPs house, claim they seized a cache of illicit weapons and a suspected sniper. This raid took place March 8, supposedly, and was just announced today. Of course, given that the security forces represent the Shiite government, it is impossible to assess the import of these claims. Excerpt:
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraqi security forces seized a cache of weapons, including a sniper rifle, and arrested seven suspects in a raid on the house of a leading Sunni parliamentarian, officials said Sunday. Brigadier General Qassim Mussawi, spokesman for Iraqi forces in Baghdad, also said that four cars taken from Dhafer al-Ani's house had been tested by "non-Iraqi experts" and found to contain traces of explosives.
Ani is a former spokesman for Iraq's biggest Sunni movement, the Islamic Party, which is part of the government of national unity. It was not clear whether Ani was in his west Baghdad home on March 8, when the raid took place, and he was not reported among those detained.
Mussawi said the forces found "65 Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons and seized four vehicles. "We have dealt transparently with the detainees and released six of them, because we do not have enough evidence against them," he added. "We're still holding one of them who had a sniper rifle inscribed with a verse from the Koran -- 'If you shoot, and find your target, it is not you who shoots, but God'," he said, referring to a slogan popular with insurgents.
The Islamic Party's website confirmed there had been a raid, in a statement that said the weapons were properly licensed and accused Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ordering the raid.
NYT's Michael Gordon transcribes the Pentagon's analysis of the conflict. There is no critical thinking or journalistic enterprise of any sort apparent here, but it's probably worth knowing what the official line is. This guy should get a job as a court reporter, apparently he thinks that's the job description for what he does now -- the guy says it, and you write it down. -- C Excerpt:
WASHINGTON, March 17 — In January, when President Bush announced his plans to reinforce American troops in Baghdad, Shiite militias were seen as the main worry. Some analysts predicted that bloody clashes with Shiite militants in the Sadr City district in northeastern Baghdad were all but inevitable. Instead, during the early weeks of the operation, deadly bombings by Sunni Arab militants have emerged as a greater danger. In particular, the threat posed by the Sunni group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was underscored when American troops seized a laptop computer from a senior operative in the group who was killed in late December.
Information from captured materials indicates that the group’s leadership sees “the sectarian war for Baghdad as the necessary main focus of its operations,” according to an intelligence report that was described by American officials. Reflecting concern over the bomb attacks, especially car bombings, American military officials have begun to emphasize that bringing security to the Iraqi capital will involve not only the protection of Baghdad neighborhoods, but also raids to shut down bomb factories and uncover arms caches in the largely Sunni areas on the outskirts of the city.
“The Baghdad belts are increasingly seen as the key to security in Baghdad,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the American officer in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq, said in an e-mail message. “I believe this is where you can stop the accelerants to Baghdad violence. We have already found a large number of significant caches in these areas related to car bombs and I.E.D.’s,” or improvised explosive devices, commonly known as roadside bombs. “The Shia have gone to ground for the most part, but there are still rogue elements of Shia extremists that are still a threat and conducting operations against the coalition, but more importantly against the government of Iraq,” he added.
The threat has shifted on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, in which American forces toppled Saddam Hussein only to face a growing insurgency and find themselves involved in an arduous effort to head off growing sectarian strife.
In its efforts to stabilize Iraq, American commanders have had to contend with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, other Sunni Arab insurgent groups, a variety of Shiite militias, criminals and, they say, Iranian operatives. The greater Baghdad area seems to include all of them, making the mission there one of constant adjustment to adversaries who are revising their own tactics.
WaPo describes yesterday's march on the Pentagon, but I'm more interested in their description of the pro-war counterdemonstrators. Note that they felt called to defend the Vietnam Memorial against vandalism by the demonstrators. What is going on in these people's minds, that they actually believe such idiotic nonsense? Excerpt:
Much of the passion yesterday was supplied by thousands of counter-demonstrators, many of them veterans who mobilized from across the country to gather around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Some said they came in response to appeals on the Internet to protect the Wall against what they feared would be acts of vandalism; no such acts were reported.
Others said they were tired of war protesters claiming to speak for the country. "I'm here because I think we need to commit to our troops in the field," said Guy Rocca, 63, a veteran who drove nine hours from Detroit. Some counter-protesters yelled obscenities and mocked the marchers as traitors. War protesters responded with angry words of their own, and police intervened at times to prevent shouting matches from escalating.
The counter-demonstrators ringed the Lincoln Memorial and continued along portions of Arlington Memorial Bridge. "You've got no pride and no honor," yelled Kenneth Murphy, a Vietnam veteran from North Carolina. When marchers reached the Virginia side of the bridge, they were greeted by more protesters at the traffic circle in front of Arlington National Cemetery, along with a banner that read in part: "You dishonor our dead on Hallowed ground." The war protesters might have found the warmest reception of the day at the Pentagon, where police had the building blocked off, but no counter-demonstrators were waiting.
In-depth Reporting, Commentary and Analysis
Blogger Sahar tells the story of death in Baghdad. Not for the faint of heart.
Every time I tell myself that my next blog will be a pleasant story of days of old, I am confronted with a different story that needs to be told.
A friend of mine called me to tell me the bad news. Her brother had been kidnapped, and the ransom set at $100,000. For any Iraqi, such an amount spells disaster.
Selling all they could sell, the whole extended family pitched in to save the poor man. They told the abductors that they couldn’t manage more than 20,000. (It is common knowledge that none can sell his house or his car; the odor of ready cash would attract others). Surprisingly, the criminals said “OK, have a woman bring the money to …..”. After leading her on a merry dance, a boy of sixteen or seventeen approached her, took the money and said, “We will contact you”. And that was the last they saw of them.
Two weeks later, their women combing the hospitals and then the morgues, had found no trace of Hani. They were told to speak to the contractor. “What contractor??”, “The one who is in charge of burying all the unidentified bodies we get.” “What??” So they asked around, and were directed to an ordinary looking man, who was not at all surprised to hear of their dilemma.
“Yes, I’m in charge of burying the bodies that are not claimed. There is no room for all these bodies in the morgues. You must identify him first, and I will direct you to his grave.”
“ How can we identify our brother??”
“Don’t worry; I’m well set up!” He walks towards a really posh car, opens the door, takes out the latest laptop, and sets it on the bonnet. “I have here photos of all the bodies I bury. Each one is given a number that is engraved on the headstone of his grave in Nejef. Browse.” True enough, Iyman said, her sister started looking through hundreds of photographs, of the head and shoulders of people killed in the streets, without their folks knowing about them; but didn’t find her brother’s photo.
“Try Abu Haider, or any of the others.” The contractor advised. “They are just as conscientious as I am.”
“We found his picture! We have his number!” crying “His face was all bruised and there was a hole drilled in his forehead! Oh, Sahar! He died in pain! His hands were tied above his head!”
They went to the wilderness that was being used as burial ground, on the outskirts of the city of Nejef. But there was no trace of Hani’s grave. They inspected each and every grave, each and every headstone for his number. But it was not there. They looked in all the graveyards, not just this one, but the number was not to be found.
It's hard to describe the noise when a whole cabinet of crockery is emptied on to the floor. Even harder not to shout in indignation when the American soldier who intentionally tipped it forward, until the plates and dishes slid smashing to the floor, says without regret, "Whoops!" and crunches over the shards past the distraught owner. "Cordon and search" they call looking for Sunni insurgents and their arms and explosives. But at what cost to the battle for "hearts and minds"?
The sweep was a co-operative action between Delta Company of the 2nd Battalion 12th Cavalry and the Iraqi Army's 246th Battalion. The plan was for the Iraqis to lead and the Americans to provide security and back-up. With engines throbbing, the force waited for 45 minutes at the start line for the Iraqis to arrive.
"And you think they haven't been calling their buddies in there to tell them to shift their sorry asses?" growled Sgt Penning in disgust. By the time we rolled into the middle section of the Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya, there wasn't a single shot being fired in our direction. Any insurgents were long gone. But the hapless residents were not. They watched, almost impassively, the random violence of the searching troops, too frightened to object. Some of the houses, whose Christian or Shia owners had fled, were empty. Occupied or not, if no one quickly answered the demands to open up, gates, doors and windows were smashed down or blown open with shotguns.
Inside, damage was done to anything breakable. Living-rooms became a jumble of furniture. Beds were overturned, cabinets thrown down, shelves emptied on to floors and beds: an orgy of destruction and arbitrary searching.
And yet the soldiers sometimes missed the obvious. In one house, no attention was paid to two computers. Just the day before, the platoon had received intelligence that someone in the area was using the internet to co-ordinate insurgent activities.
In one home, while I filmed upstairs with a couple of soldiers and the son of the house, on the ground floor an Iraqi soldier helped himself to $400 and the mother's identity papers. As the search progressed, several blocks later, the parents and their son pitched up and tried to retrieve the ID papers. The Iraqi commander shouted at them, incensed that they called his soldiers thieves, yelling that they were lying because they were insurgent sympathisers. Only when I showed him the footage of his soldiers turning over the house, did the colonel admit his men may have been responsible.
It was an extraordinary example of how such operations can exacerbate the problem in a Sunni neighbourhood not infested with insurgents, but definitely used as a transit area and a place to stash explosives and weapons. The population, borderline in support for the government, becomes further alienated and more likely to engage with the jihadi fighters.
Conventional armies are a sledgehammer to crack a nut when it comes to fighting guerrillas. With the US military's emphasis on "force protection", what is important is the recovery of weapons or the capture of insurgents who can kill US soldiers. Breaking up people's homes is an unfortunate by-product, the "collateral damage" of war.
Frank Rich discusses history as alternate reality. I'll just give you the excerpt down to the first event he cites, you should click the link and read the rest.
Tomorrow night is the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s prime-time address declaring the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the broad sweep of history, four years is a nanosecond, but in America, where memories are congenitally short, it’s an eternity. That’s why a revisionist history of the White House’s rush to war, much of it written by its initial cheerleaders, has already taken hold. In this exonerating fictionalization of the story, nearly every politician and pundit in Washington was duped by the same “bad intelligence” before the war, and few imagined that the administration would so botch the invasion’s aftermath or that the occupation would go on so long. “If only I had known then what I know now ...” has been the persistent refrain of the war supporters who subsequently disowned the fiasco. But the embarrassing reality is that much of the damning truth about the administration’s case for war and its hubristic expectations for a cakewalk were publicly available before the war, hiding in plain sight, to be seen by anyone who wanted to look.
By the time the ides of March arrived in March 2003, these warning signs were visible on a nearly daily basis. So were the signs that Americans were completely ill prepared for the costs ahead. Iraq was largely anticipated as a distant, mildly disruptive geopolitical video game that would be over in a flash.
Now many of the same leaders who sold the war argue that escalation should be given a chance. This time they’re peddling the new doomsday scenario that any withdrawal timetable will lead to the next 9/11. The question we must ask is: Has history taught us anything in four years?
Here is a chronology of some of the high and low points in the days leading up to the national train wreck whose anniversary we mourn this week [with occasional “where are they now” updates].
March 5, 2003
“I took the Grey Poupon out of my cupboard.”
— Representative Duke Cunningham, Republican of California, on the floor of the House denouncing French opposition to the Iraq war.
[In November 2005, he resigned from Congress and pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from defense contractors. In January 2007, the United States attorney who prosecuted him — Carol Lam, a Bush appointee — was forced to step down for “performance-related” issues by Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department.]
Well Duhhh Department. Intelligence experts: al Qaeda in Iraq 'poses little danger' to US. Unfortunately, the WaPo's editorial writers don't read their own newspaper. -- C Excerpt:
By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writers Sunday, March 18, 2007; Page A20
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is the United States' most formidable enemy in that country. But unlike Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization in Pakistan, U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts believe, the Iraqi branch poses little danger to the security of the U.S. homeland.
As the Democratic Congress continues to push for a military withdrawal, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have repeatedly warned that bin Laden plans to turn Iraq into the capital of an Islamic caliphate and a staging ground for attacks on the United States. "If we fail there," Bush said in a February news conference, "the enemy will follow us here."
Attacking the United States clearly remains on bin Laden's agenda. But the likelihood that such an attack would be launched from Iraq, many experts contend, has sharply diminished over the past year as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has undergone dramatic changes. Once believed to include thousands of "foreign fighters," it is now an overwhelmingly Iraqi organization whose aims are likely to remain focused on the struggle against the Shiite majority in Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials said.
AQI's new membership and the allied insurgents care far more about what happens within Iraq than they do about bin Laden's plans for an Islamic empire, government and outside experts said. That is likely to remain the case whether U.S. forces stay or leave, they added.
The Sunni extremist movement in Iraq owes its existence to the U.S. invasion, said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor. "There were no domestic jihadis in Iraq before we came there. Now there are. . . . But the threat they pose beyond Iraq is not so certain. There will be plenty of fighting to keep them there for years."
In congressional testimony late last month, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell indicated that, despite bin Laden's rhetoric, it isn't necessarily true that al-Qaeda sees its future in Iraq. "I wouldn't go so far as to say al-Qaeda would necessarily believe that," McConnell said. "They want to reestablish their base, and their objective could be in Afghanistan."
Quote of the Day
[T}he war in Iraq is a historic, strategic and moral calamity undertaken under false assumptions. . . . If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted, bloody involvement in Iraq . . .the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran, and with much of the world of Islam at large. . . . Indeed, a mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about weapons of mass destruction, the war is now being redefined as the decisive ideological struggle of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. ... This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the most industrially advanced European state, and that Stalinism was able to mobilize the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union . . . In contrast . . . Al Qaeda is an isolated Islamist aberration, and most Iraqis are engaged in strife because of the American occupation, which destroyed the Iraqi state . . . . To argue that America is already at war in a region with a wider Islamic threat of which Iran is the epicenter is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Carter Admnistration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 1. I have not found a complete version of these remarks on the web, but you can read a summary here.