Wednesday, August 31, 2005

War News for Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bring ‘em on: As many as 1,000 people dead and hundreds injured in a stampede when Shia religious marchers panicked, thinking there were suicide bombers among them. At least seven people had been killed when mortar rounds were fired into the crowd earlier, and 36 others were injured in a mortar attack on the shrine to which the pilgrims were marching. There were also reports that some of the worshipers had been poisoned.

(Note to readers: Some may question whether this incident belongs in our catalog of mayhem inflicted by combatants in Bush’s war. It does. While it is true that the deaths were not directly the result of an attack, they would not have occurred had the conditions – fear of attacks against Shiite celebrations, the earlier deadly attack on the same gathering, the ubiquity of suicide bombings, and Baghdad’s decayed infrastructure – not existed. Those conditions were and are a direct consequence of George W. Bush’s illegal and immoral war. These are war deaths as surely as were those of the two young Americans who died last week in a fuel truck rollover. And the blood of all is on Bush’s hands.)

Bring ‘em on: An update to the above story states that US helicopters fired on individuals suspected of launching the mortar attacks on the shrine and deployed ground troops in the area. In addition, six people were wounded when gunmen opened fire on Shiite marchers in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood and 25 people were killed by poisoning. Three Iraqis, including a policeman, were killed in an attack on a police patrol in Kirkuk.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed in a roadside bombing in Iskandariyah. (Hidden deep in the story.)

Pointing fingers: Iraqi Health Minister Abdul Mutalib Mohammed Ali demanded Wednesday the resignation of the ministers of interior and defence, holding them responsible for the stampede which killed almost 820 Shiite pilgrims.

"I hold my colleagues in the ministries of interior and defence responsible for what happened today," Ali told reporters.

"I call upon my colleagues in the interior and defence to either bear full responsibility or resign."

The Interior Minister Bayan Baker Solagh said a "terrorist" triggered the stampede that caused hundreds of deaths near a Shiite shrine in Baghdad where a million pilgrims had gathered.

"There was a huge crowd on the bridge and what happened was that one terrorist spread a rumour that led to the stampede," Solagh told state-owned Iraqia television.

"The terrorist pointed a finger at another person saying that he was carrying explosives... and that led to the panic," Solagh said.

Shortages: Iraqis are still suffering from power shortages countrywide – receiving less than four hours of electricity daily – despite the government's recent announcement that more money would be spent on this sector.

"The government has forgotten about essential services like water and power," said Farah Mustany, a mother of four in Baghdad. "We are thirsty for power because we are suffering and our children were suffering as we don't have basic facilities."

This summer has been the worse since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003. Shortages in power supplies have resulted in millions of residents being forced to sleep outside because there is not enough power to run air conditioners.

On 26 August, protests took place on the streets of Baghdad, after outspoken Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on followers to demonstrate against the lack of power and water supplies and against the new draft of the constitution, in which they say federalism should not be specified.

Doctors in the Iraqi capital have complained of the increase in cases of dehydration and diarrhoea among children and the elderly, caused by the constant heat inside homes without cooling systems.

"We have at least 10 cases of dehydration caused by the summer season every day in our hospital. During the last regime it was rare, but now it has become a daily occurrence here," Dr Mustafa Rawi, at Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital, said.

Constitutional follies: Political leaders warned Tuesday that dozens of thorny issues deferred in an effort to placate ethnic and religious groups during the debate leading to Iraq's draft constitution could come back to haunt lawmakers early next year. Iraq's 39-page draft constitution, which was submitted to the transitional National Assembly on Sunday, skirted many of Iraq's most controversial issues, such as the balance of power between Baghdad and the outlying regions, the rights of women and the sharing of oil revenue.

The latest version of the text includes more than 50 items that were left to next year's National Assembly, which will be charged with filling in the blanks of the constitution with dozens of new laws. "All these problems are still there," said Hassan Bazzaz, a University of Baghdad political science professor. "And as they say, the devil is in the details.

More follies: Iraq took a historic gamble when the ruling Shiite and Kurdish coalition bulldozed over the objections of Sunni Arabs to forge a new constitution.

Frantic efforts to reach consensus collapsed on Sunday when a blueprint for a new democratic state lacking the support of Sunni leaders was submitted to parliament, triggering what promised to be a bitter referendum battle.

Months of talks and weeks of deadlock ended when government officials gave up trying to placate Sunni negotiators, despite warnings of greater violence.

The President, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, declared the document complete. "The constitution is left to our people to approve or reject. I hope our people will accept it despite some flaws."

He said rejection in the October 15 referendum would not derail the political process. "This is part of democracy. If the people do not approve it we will draft another constitution."

Detentions: A Reuters cameraman was freed on Wednesday after being held for three days by U.S. troops following an incident in which his soundman was shot dead, apparently by American soldiers.

Haider Kadhem, 24, was questioned about "inconsistencies" in his statements after he was taken from the car in which soundman Waleed Khaled was killed on Sunday by multiple shots to the head and chest while on a news assignment.

Reuters' cameraman in the city of Ramadi, Ali al-Mashhadani, was arrested by U.S. forces three weeks ago and is being held without charge in Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

A military spokesman said on Wednesday that a joint Iraqi- U.S. tribunal, meeting in secret on Monday, had ordered him to be held indefinitely pending a review within six months.

No accusation has been made public and Mashhadani will be allowed no visits, including from an attorney, for two months.

He must be guilty of something: Lawyers plan a lawsuit seeking the release of an Iraqi-born U.S. resident who has been detained in Baghdad since April after a mortar attack on U.S. forces.

The Washington Post reports that Numan Adnan Al Kaby's lawyers say he remains in detention even after a military tribunal found that he had nothing to do with the attack.

Birth Of A New Rationale

Protect them oil fields: President George W. Bush, facing waning support for his Iraq policy, appealed on Tuesday to Americans not to waver because of the rising death toll and again rejected protesters' calls for a troop withdrawal.

With Americans already worried about sharply sharply rising oil prices, Bush said a pull-out would allow al Qaeda to take hold of Iraq's oil fields to fund new attacks, as well as damage America's credibility.

Of course, the only reason there are terrorists in Iraq is because of Bush: President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.

The president, standing against a backdrop of the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest aircraft carrier in the Navy's fleet, said terrorists would be denied their goal of making Iraq a base from which to recruit followers, train them, and finance attacks.

Hurricane Katrina

Morale problem: Ever since Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, National Guard troops from Gulf coast states serving in Iraq have followed the disaster unfolding on television sets, worried about families and friends back home.

"It's a significant emotional event. Their families are on the forefront of the disaster," said Lt. Col. Jordan Jones of the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard.

"They're all watching TV and some have seen their neighborhoods completely submerged in water."

War or infrastructure?: New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA. Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside. Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness. On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Dateline August 1, 2005: When members of the Louisiana National Guard left for Iraq in October, they took a lot equipment with them. Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad, and in the event of a major natural disaster that, could be a problem. "The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," said Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider with the LA National Guard.

A Summary

by Foreign Policy In Focus

According to current estimates, the cost of the Iraq War could exceed $700 billion. In current dollars, the Vietnam War cost U.S. taxpayers $600 billion.

Operations costs in Iraq are estimated at $5.6 billion per month in 2005. By comparison, the average cost of U.S. operations in Vietnam over the eight-year war was $5.1 billion per month, adjusting for inflation.

Staying in Iraq and Afghanistan at current levels would nearly double the projected federal budget deficit over the next decade.

Since 2001, the U.S. has deployed more than 1 million troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Broken down per person in the United States, the cost so far is $727, making the Iraq War the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years.

The number of journalists killed reporting the Iraq War (66) has exceeded the number of journalists killed reporting on the Vietnam War (63).

More than 210,000 of the National Guard’s 330,000 soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guard mobilizations average 460 days.

Nearly a third of active-duty troops, 341,000 men and women, have served two or more overseas tours.

The U.S. controls 106 military bases across Iraq. Congress has budgeted $236 million for permanent base construction in FY2005.

At least 23,589 to 26,705 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

On average 155 members of the Iraqi security forces have died every month since the January 2005 elections, up from an average of 65 before they were held.

Suicide attack rates rose to 50 per month in the first five months of 2005, up from 20 per month in 2003 and 48 in 2004.

Iraq’s resistance forces remain at 16,000-40,000 even with the U.S. coalition killing or capturing 1,600 resistance members per month.

The State Department reported that the number of “significant” terrorist attacks reached a record 655 in 2004, up from 175 in 2003.

The Iraq War has weakened the UN’s authority and credibility.


Opinion: Cindy Sheehan continues to ask George W. Bush what the "Noble Cause" was for which her son died in Iraq, and why Bush's daughters haven't enlisted in this Cause.

While Bush talked to us about WMDs, an imminent "mushroom cloud," and tried to link Saddam and Iraq to 9/11 (when it was 14 Saudis who hit the World Trade Center), those all fell apart and were exposed (by no less than Paul Wolfowitz) as intentional lies. When Bush shifted his Noble Cause to invading Iraq to bring democracy to the Iraqi people, the Downing Street Memo told another story. And now, also, so does Bush's first biographer.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the way Bush lied us into invading Iraq, particularly the timing of it all (ginning it up just before the 2002 midterm elections), was done largely so Republicans could win take back the Senate in 2002 after losing it because of Jim Jeffords' defection, and so Bush could win the White House in the election of 2004.

It's apparently just that simple, just that banal, and ultimately just that traitorous to the traditional ideals of America.

This is why the greatest political threat that Cindy Sheehan represents to George W. Bush and his Republican Party is in her ability to point this out.

Comment: As his poll numbers sink, Bush is getting desperate. From his address today in San Diego:

“They looked at our response after the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. They concluded that free societies lacked the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy… After September the 11th, 2001, we’ve taught the terrorists a very different lesson: America will not run in defeat and we will not forget our responsibilities.”

(Conveniently, Bush doesn’t mention any terrorist attack that occurred during his father’s administration.)

Once upon a time, the President didn’t believe in playing the blame game:

“Well, the President is not one that focuses on blame or finger pointing. The President focuses on what we need to do to address challenges.”

It appears that statement is inoperative.

Opinion: A few days ago, I was one on of those TV pundit shows, and the host of this gabfest—Derek McGinty—asked all the panelists whether George W. Bush's recent rah-rah speeches about the war in Iraq had done anything to rally popular support for Bush's mess in Mesopotamia. I did not surprise anyone by saying no and arguing that Bush had dished out warmed-over rhetoric that had previously failed to boost public sentiment toward the war. USA Today's Susan Page said much the same. But then the two conservative chatters—columnist Linda Chavez and the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes—also gave Bush an F. They maintained that he had not made a strong case that the war in Iraq is central to the effort against terrorism. (They did not pause to consider this failure might be due to the fact that the connection between Bush's folly in Iraq and the effort against jihadist terrorism is tenuous.) When right, middle and left agree that the White House is flailing, Bush might have a problem. And now—a week later—Bush's pro-war speeches resonate not at all. Bush could have achieved the same results by staying home and clearing brush on his ranch.

Bush is stuck. There is little he can say to affect public opinion. It's been two years since "shock and awe" led to morass and misadventure. The problem these days is not the rhetoric, but the policy. And no matter what Bush says before a hand-picked audience, he cannot escape the original sin.

Hoffmania: So far, the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina is $25 billion.

25 billion dollars to rebuild after this horror. You can see the fear that's gripping the people there. They'll be depending on the government and the insurance companies for that rebuilding money. It's your guess how difficult their ability to get that will be.

25 billion dollars. Think of that. Now think about how Bush's Iraq Nightmare has cost (so far) $300 billion.

That's right. They could have rebuilt the Katrina-affected areas TWELVE TIMES for what we've spent on Iraq.

Oh - and according to what Aaron Brown is asking on CNN, seems the National Guard's presence in New Orleans and Mississippi is negligible. You know why. The troops, the Humvees, the resources - Iraq.

So to our visitors from the right, we ask: NOW do you understand us when we say that we needed to keep AMERICA secure instead of blowing our load on Iraq? Our president doesn't.

And we know you're not as stupid as he is.

Opinion: When President Bush praised the new Iraqi constitution as protecting the rights of minorities and women and forming the basis of a "free society," he was glossing over the document's rejection by Sunnis—divisive language that may well lead to its defeat in a coming referendum—and the worries of women and minority groups in Iraq that, in fact, the document sets up an oppressive Islamic theocracy. Shiite religious parties who helped draft the constitution saw to it that, despite assurances of religious and individual freedom, Islam will be the official religion of Iraq and "a main source of legislation," according to the New York Times. "Clerics would more than likely sit on the Supreme Court, and judges would have broad latitude to strike down legislation that conflicted with the religion." In addition, "Clerics would be given a broad, new role in adjudication of family disputes like marriage, divorce, and inheritance." So much for women's rights.

The failure of American efforts to transform Iraq into a free society comes at a time when we are experiencing a crisis in our own country over the basic concepts of freedom, democracy, and the separation of church and state.

Interview: Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna: Colonel Pheneger, thank you for meeting with me on such short notice. Let me jump right in and ask you about the government's case in attempting to conceal detainee abuse evidence.

The government's argument hinges on two points, as I see it: a). that the release of documents could inflame passions and increase attacks on US troops and b). That the release of documents could be used as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. The testimony you submitted addresses these two points. Can you elaborate on your argument?

Retired U. S. Army Colonel Michael Pheneger: The release will certainly undermine our moral authority and the legitimacy of our cause, but the problem is the underlying conduct - not the photos. The government's specific argument was that the release would result in loss of life (US military and civilians, allies and Iraqis).

However, Iraqi and al-Qaeda insurgents already conduct over 70 attacks a day and will continue to do so as long as they have the will and the capability. In my declaration, I note that General Myers himself, in a press interview, denied that the Newsweek article resulted in the riots and casualties. According to General Myers, the events resulted from the playing out of events leading to the September election. Opinion polls have always indicated that most Iraqis (80 – 85 percent) want the U.S. out, though under varying conditions.

The groups of insurgents are hard-core opponents; they do not need further provocation beyond our presence. I doubt that they could be more inflamed or that the photos would spur individuals on the margin to join them.

Opinion: The unbridgeable divide between the left and right’s approach to Iraq and the WoT is, among other things, a disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter. The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left's protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader.

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the so-called “blame America first" crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can't kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they've done irreparable harm to America.

The antiwar critique of Iraq is that it is an immoral war and every resulting death is a wrongful one. Opponents of the war view the invasion and occupation as a dangerous and shameful violation of international law. Iraq saps our moral strength and the sooner we leave the better. Opposing the invasion on the grounds that the administration lied its way into it, they see every subsequent death, American or foreign, as an ethical travesty and a stain on America's good name.

Casualty Reports

Local story: Louisburg, MO, soldier killed in Iraq.

Local story: Ada Township, MI, soldier killed by roadside bomb in Iraq.

Local story: Forest Lake, MN, soldier killed in tanker rollover in Iraq.

Local story: Marine born in Honduras receives posthumous US citizenship.

Local story: Proctor, VT, soldier who was killed by a sniper in Ramadi will be laid to rest on Friday.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

War News for Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bring ‘em on: US airstrikes near Qaim kill seven people identified by the US military as terrorists. Police in Baghdad report that 56 civilians were killed in the attacks.

Bring ‘em on: At least 35 people killed and ‘dozens’ wounded in fighting between pro and anti-government tribes in the Qaim area.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed and one wounded when their helicopter was shot down in the area of Tal Afar. Fifteen Iraqis killed by unknown gunmen between Samarra and Ramadi. Iraqi Lt. General in the Interior Ministry killed in Baghdad attack. Brother of Baghdad’s governor killed in Baghdad. Two Iraqi police injured while trying to defuse a bomb. Seventeen persons detained by the US military in Mosul.

Bring ‘em on: One Oil Ministry employee wounded in rocket attack on Oil Ministry building. Italian armored vehicle hit by US fire on Baghdad’s airport road.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi police colonels killed in separate attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk. Two police officers killed in a suicide car bombing in Samarra.

Taking it to the streets: After battling over Iraq's draft constitution for months in the halls of government, Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds prepared yesterday to take their fight over the charter to the streets, mosques and airwaves ahead of a nationwide referendum on the document.

As many as 6 million copies of the draft are being printed for distribution to Iraqi citizens before the Oct. 15 vote. Kurdish and Shiite politicians, who finalized the text over the weekend despite the objections of Sunni Arabs, vowed to make a strong push for passage.

"We will use everything," said Jawad Maliki, a Shiite politician who helped draft the charter. "We will use mosque preachers. We will even use Christian churches. We will use everything we need to make a great campaign for this constitution."

But Sunni Arabs, bitterly opposed to a document they view as a recipe for dismembering Iraq into semi-autonomous regions, vowed to oppose the constitution in the courts, through international forums, and in the voting booth, even though some doubt they can beat the powerful Shiites and Kurds at the polls.

But what about the final, final, final draft?: The U.S. ambassador suggested Tuesday there may be further changes to the draft constitution in order to win Sunni Arab approval, saying he believed a "final, final draft" had not yet been presented.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke two days after Shiite and Kurdish negotiators bypassed Sunni Arab negotiators and finished the draft, despite Sunni objections to federalism, references to former president Saddam Hussein's Baath party and the country's identification as an Islamic but not Arab state.

However, influential Shiite legislator Khaled al-Attiyah, a member of the constitution drafting committee, insisted that "no changes are allowed to be made to the constitution" except for "minor edits for the language."

Demonstration: Thousands of Sunni demonstrators rallied in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Monday to denounce Iraq's new constitution a day after negotiators finished the new charter without the endorsement of Sunni Arabs. Sunni leaders have urged their community to defeat the charter in a nationwide referendum on Oct. 15, saying it had been rammed through the drafting committee by the dominant Shiite Arab and Kurdish alliance.

The absence of Sunni endorsement, after more than two months of intensive negotiations, raised fears of more violence and set the stage for a bitter political fight ahead of the referendum. A political battle threatened to sharpen communal divisions at a time when relations among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds appear to be worsening.

Warning: Thousands of Arab Sunnis took to the streets of Iraq yesterday to demonstrate against the country's draft constitution - but a moderate Sunni group hinted it might back the constitution in a referendum due in October.

On Sunday, Shia and Kurdish negotiators gave up trying to win over the Sunnis and endorsed a constitutional text that will be presented to voters on October 15.

The Sunni delegates said it was a recipe for breaking up Iraq into autonomous regions, diminishing its Arab heritage, alienating Sunnis and facilitating Iranian meddling.

Yesterday, however, the Iraqi Islamic party, a moderate group, said that although the draft did not represent its hopes and aspirations, there was still room for negotiation.

"We might say yes to the constitution if the disputed points are resolved," it said.

Some observers interpreted this as a veiled plea for a yes vote. With 5m copies to be printed this week, changes to the draft are unlikely.

A senior western diplomat said some moderates saw the constitution as balanced - albeit flawed - thanks to eleventh-hour changes that deferred contentious details to the next parliament. But they did not dare speak out openly. One politician has received a warning note that included the line: "Regards to your two daughters."

Recipe: Parts of the Iraqi draft constitution are a "recipe for chaos", Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has said.

He told the BBC the Arab League shared Sunni Muslim concerns over federalism and the fact the charter does not identify Iraq as an Arab country.

The US and UK have played down Sunni leaders' rejection of the text, which will go to a referendum by 15 October.

Meanwhile, In America

The costs spiral up: Despite the relatively small number of American armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (140,000), the war effort is rapidly shaping up to be the third-most expensive war in United States history.

This conflict has already cost each American at least $850 in military and reconstruction costs since October 2001.

If the war lasts another five years, it will cost nearly $1.4 trillion, calculates Linda Bilmes, who teaches budgeting at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. That's nearly $4,745 per capita. Her estimate is thorough. She includes not only the military cost but also such things as veterans' benefits and additional interest on the federal debt.

But even in stripped-down terms, looking only at military costs and using current dollars, the war's cost for the US already exceeds that of World War I.

Desperate measures: Twelve 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operators here are preparing to leave in early September to support convoy operations in Southwest Asia.

These predominantly first-term airmen will undergo rigorous training at Camp Bullis, Texas, before immediately deploying for six to eight months with an Army truck company in Southwest Asia, said Capt. Whitney Sherrill, 20th LRS vehicle management flight commander.

Since 2003 when the Army chief of staff requested base operating support augmentation, airmen have been supporting convoy operations in the war on terrorism.

The Air Force pulling convoy detail...we're in worse shape than I thought.

Heartbreak high school: On the first day of school, students returned to Forest Park Senior High School yesterday and confronted war. Within two weeks, two members of the Class of 2000, both members of the well-regarded Junior ROTC program, died in combat - Army Spc. Toccara Renee Green in Iraq on Aug. 14 and Army Staff Sgt. Damion G. Campbell in Afghanistan on Friday. "All of this has made me think that I might not want to do it," said Ericka Wilson, 17, a senior and ROTC member. "I'm not so sure anymore." It was a day of reflection and sadness. Campbell, 23, died the same day that Green was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. "We just buried a beautiful young lady," said English teacher Joan Maurice. "These poor children go into the military to get some money for college and they are coming home in coffins."

But the mood is changing...: For Bush, the start of a two-day departure from his Texas vacation allowed him to refocus, however briefly, on domestic issues after peace demonstrations outside his ranch this month drew sustained attention to the Iraq war. But even on this day, he was not able to escape the topic.

Hundreds of protesters lined his motorcade routes in Arizona and California, holding up signs such as "Bush the Lying Turd" and "Chicken George," a reference to his refusal to meet again with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who set up camp near his Texas ranch demanding an audience.

Constitution Commentary

More Bush lies and spin: The Bush administration has consistently portrayed Iraq's draft constitution as an all-important document that will help unite the fragmented nation, draw its disaffected Sunni Muslims into the political process, curb the violent insurgency and allow for the phased withdrawal of American troops beginning as early as next year.

President Bush praised the proposed charter, delivered to the country's National Assembly on Sunday, as "a document of which the Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud."

But many analysts say the document, which is scheduled to go before a national referendum in less than two months, is anything but a step toward a safer, more stable Iraq.

A distinctly Islamic cast: It was a smart bit of spin by Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, to say that apart from the holy Qur'an, there was no book that could not be amended. Thus, he implied, there was hope that the draft constitution agreed under US pressure, but crucially without the approval of the country's Sunni minority, could yet be improved. Anyone who wants to see a happy end to the tragedy of Iraq must certainly hope for a document that can command the widest possible support. But it is not cynical - more a recognition of bloody reality - to dismiss rhetoric from Washington about the constitution being a "beacon of freedom and democracy". It is terrific that 5m copies of the new text are to be distributed - but that is against a background of vicious and unrelenting violence as well as chronic shortages of water, electricity and jobs.

The draft does contain language guaranteeing freedom of religion, association, speech and conscience, and an independent judiciary. It refers to crimes against the Iraqi people during decades of Ba'athist tyranny. It establishes principles, of accountability and the separation of powers, which are taken for granted in the west but are still rare in the Arab world. But it also turns the Iraqi state moulded by Saddam Hussein from one with secular republican institutions controlled by a powerful central government to one with a weak central government and a distinctly Islamist cast that worries the secular-minded and women.

The American Taliban gets its knickers knotted: In an Aug. 18 statement, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote on that group's Web site: "I have sent a letter to President Bush encouraging the Administration to redouble its efforts to ensure that the Iraq Constitution provides genuine religious freedom for all Iraqi citizens. An Iraqi Constitution that does not protect religious liberty will seriously undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq and the larger Middle East. The sons and daughters of Americans are not risking their lives to establish a theocratic government that denies its citizens the fundamental right of religious freedom."

Reached by phone on Thursday, Perkins said he wanted to make sure that the end result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq would not be the establishment of an Islamic state. And he questioned whether America's sacrifice would be worth it if it is.

"Let me speak as a veteran of the Marine Corps who has been supportive of the military action taken in Iraq. The idea has been to deliver the people from a [repressive] regime ... I think there are some who would question if we leave in place a structure that is less than sufficient in guaranteeing the freedom of the Iraqi people," Perkins said. "There are those who view that as less than successful."

I don’t know what amuses me more – the sight of the Bush wingnut coalition imploding or the pathetic attempt of whackjob Perkins to portray himself as a supporter of religious freedom.

Logic versus George Bush: The Iraqis are having a hard time pulling together a constitution quickly enough to meet President Bush's public-relations timeline. As I am not an Iraqi, I have no interest in meddling in the affairs of that troubled land. Of course, I would prefer that the Iraqis establish a system of self-governance that, like ours in the United States, seeks to erect a wall of separation between church and state, preserve the rights of small states and political minorities, protect against military and police abuses, and guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of the press and all the other basics of a functioning democracy. If I was really writing a wish list, I might also recommend that the Iraqis do a better job than we do of limiting the power of corporate monopolies, keep special-interest money out of their politics, treating healthcare and education as basic rights and establishing reliable electoral systems. But as an American, I should not be worrying about perfecting the Iraqi constitution before I go about the work of getting things right here at home. This seems like basic logic to me. But that logic escapes our president.


Torture: Last month, Americans were given a new and persuasive reason for objecting to the use of torture as a tool in administration policy; namely, its potentially harmful impact on any viable counterterrorism strategy that values information as essential in combating Islamic fundamentalist terror. This strategic concern was raised in a set of memos released by the government in its latest "dump" of documents into the public arena.

Since the spring of 2004, the government has been making public previously classified documents nearly weekly, often in response to Freedom of Information Act law suits (though the numbers of newly classified documents are increasing at a rate that more than nullifies any sense of transparency such releases might suggest). Many of these memos have been about torture—whether to use it; how to use it; and, most of all, how to protect government agents and agencies against prosecution for using it. Among these documents have been memos from the Judge Advocate General's Corps (or JAG), written by military lawyers from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines, and these constitute a welcome oasis of sanity in a desert of compliance with the government's decision to use torture as a weapon in its "war on terror."

First brought to public attention in Senate debate on July 25, 2005, these JAG memos have seen the light thanks to a request from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. They were written in February 2003 as recommendations to a Pentagon working group on "interrogation policy." Collectively, they express a clear opposition to the use of the sorts of harsh interrogation techniques that White House lawyers had not only recommended but declared legally viable. Indeed, by August of 2002, lawyers for the administration had infamously suggested, as a basis for reducing legal culpability for the mistreatment of detainees, that the definition of torture itself be narrowed to include only ""[p]hysical pain …equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

The JAG memos, on the other hand, warned that abusive interrogation techniques—contrary to the advice administration lawyers were generating—might well be found illegal in courts of law: As one put it, "Our domestic courts may well disagree with [the administration's lawyers'] interpretation of the law." The courts, the JAG memos warned, might find that the use of torture, however redefined by the administration, violated not just international law, but domestic criminal law and the laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well.

These memos have earned praise from critics of the Bush administration and its war on terror, who have been pleased to discover strong organizational resistance to administration policy within the military. But the terms of the disagreement have been little explored. It's not just the fact of the dissent that is noteworthy, but its nature; for these documents provide us with something other than the usual notes of protest against torture that critics of the administration are wont to express. The JAG criticism is not so much moral as strategic. What the JAG lawyers suggest—and it is a position no less significant today than when it was shaped in 2003—is that a policy of torture is sure to constitute a fatal flaw in any war against jihadi terror.

Comment: In 1942, at the beginning of World War II, the Sullivan family of Waterloo, Iowa, lost all five of its sons when the ship on which they were serving in the Pacific was torpedoed. While the Sullivan boys became national heroes _ receiving numerous awards posthumously, including the naming of a destroyer after them _ Congress wisely passed a law preventing siblings from serving together on the same ship.

That generally became the practice on the ground as well as at sea, with commanders striving to protect mothers and fathers from the devastating loss of multiple sons or daughters in combat.

One can only wonder why current military leaders would allow the possibility of the same tragedy occurring. Yet not only are four sons of Tammy Pruett of Pocatello, Idaho, serving in Iraq, another son and her husband have just returned. President Bush singled out Mrs. Pruett the other day while stumping in defense of his Iraq policy in the face of falling ratings over his handling of the situation. Certainly, Mrs. Pruett is a courageous woman who deserves the recognition. But why would the president of the United States use this mother's incredible contribution shamelessly to promote his own interests?

Gee, and it’s so out of character for him, too…


Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to request that you investigate the Secretary of the Army's decision to remove Bunnatine Greenhouse, a career civil servant in the Senior Executive Service, from her position as principal assistant for contracting for the Army Corps of Engineers. The decision to remove Ms. Greenhouse from her position and demote her appears to be retaliation for her June 27, 2005 testimony before Congress.

In her June 27 testimony, Ms. Greenhouse detailed her objections to improper and potentially illegal conduct in the award of contracts for Iraq reconstruction projects. Specifically, Ms. Greenhouse objected to the contract awarded to a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, to restore Iraqi oil infrastructure. Ms. Greenhouse testified that the contract award process was compromised by improper influence by political appointees, participation by Halliburton officials in meetings where bidding requirements were discussed, and a lack of competition.

On July 14 - less than three weeks after her testimony - the Secretary of the Army approved Ms. Greenhouse's removal. The dismissal is to take effect on August 27, 2005.

Opinion: In September 2003, the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs constructed the Jordan International Police Training Center outside of Amman to train Iraq law enforcement personnel. Sixteen nations provide a total of 352 police trainers for the center. The camp has a capacity to train 3,000 Iraqi police recruits in an eight-week basic police skills course and graduate 1,500 new police every month. New Iraqi police come away with a coveted paycheck ($150) and sufficiently trained and equipped to counter foreign intelligence operations, pandemic lawlessness in an anarchic society, and insurgents who target US troops or collaborators.

In April 2005 I had the chance to visit the center, the world's largest international police training camp. I am a military officer and have been deployed throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, but this was one of the nicest training posts I have ever seen. However, the comprehensive training I witnessed was disheartening. The Iraq coalition constituency deserves to know why this mission is likely to fail.

There are three main reasons why these forces will never be ready to defend their country: The wary, uncommitted recruits are immature and lackadaisical about the mission; the parsimonious training is inadequate; and accountability once recruits return to Iraq is inconsistent at best and lacks the return on investment that one would expect.

Helen Thomas: It's time for the Democratic Party to take a courageous stand and call for the withdrawal of troops from the senseless war in Iraq. Its human cost and the billion-dollar-a-week tab in Iraq should give all Americans pause. Would the Republicans have hesitated to challenge the Democrats if the shoe was on the other foot? Did the opposition party give former President Bill Clinton any slack while he was in office? What is the logic of Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Joseph Biden, D-Del. and other so-called moderate Democrats still backing the unprovoked war in Iraq when they know they were sold a bill of goods? Furthermore, they are urging that more troops be sent to Iraq. And they are doing so at a time when the generals in Iraq are giving mixed signals. Some are talking about a draw down of troops in a year, others in four years. Are the Democratic leaders afraid to admit they were wrong? Does the credibility of the administration -- and therefore the country -- mean anything to them?

Editorial: The news media are failing to acknowledge their own responsibility for the invasion of Iraq, even as they report with glee Cindy Sheehan's antiwar protest outside George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford.

Americans are told all about Sheehan's son, Casey, a soldier killed in Iraq, and her call for the president to explain his reasons for invading Iraq and to outline his plan to leave.

But the news media ought to explain why they broke their moral covenant with the American people to provide complete, balanced, fair and accurate information about the charge to war.

Some editorial pages — such as those of The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times — did not take a pro-war stance. They called on the administration to do what Cindy Sheehan wants the administration to do now: tell why an invasion was necessary.

The sound journalism, however, was simply overwhelmed by the bad journalism.

Americans have a right to ask journalists how they intend to ensure that sound journalism prevails in the future for all kinds of news.

They have a right to ask what journalists will do the next time they get caught up in an administration's strategy to market a war or other action that can harm the American people.

Casualty Reports

Local story: East Tennessee soldier killed in Iraq laid to rest.

Local story: Centreville, MN, soldier killed in rollover accident between Mosul and Baghdad to be interred Friday.

Local story: Liberty, PA, soldier killed in Iraq, honored in ceremony at his former college.

Local story: Body of a Filipino worker, killed in a roadside bombing along with two Iraqis, recovered and will be returned to the Philippines.


Monday, August 29, 2005

War News for Monday, August 29, 2005 Bring em on: Three terrorists eradicated by US forces in Mosul. Bring 'em on: Brigadier General in Iraqi police force gunned down in Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Bodies of two murdered Iraqis discovered in Mosul. Bring 'em on: Iraqi working for Reuters killed and his cameraman injured by US troops in Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Two policemen killed and one injured checkpoint attack in Baquba. Bring 'em on: Two policemen killed and one injured after an attack on their patrol in Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Three policemen found shot dead in Fallujah. Bring 'em on: Three Iraqis killed and four wounded in suicide bomb attack in Mosul. Bring 'em on: Insurgent killed in an attack by US forces in Kirkuk. Risky Business: More journalists have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003 than during the 20 years of conflict in Vietnam, media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Sunday. Intriguing: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Sunday he would not sign a death sentence for Saddam Hussein if the former leader was convicted and said he would resign if the sentence was passed. Bush pisses off a select group of ummmmm 850,000,000 people:
Shiites account for less than 15 percent of the 1 billion Muslims around the world. But they make up an estimated 60 percent of Iraq's estimated 27 million people, although Sunnis dominated the country under Saddam and earlier regimes. While Sunnis account for only 20 percent of Iraq's population, they are in a strong position to derail the constitution if they wish. If two-thirds of voters in any three provinces reject the charter in the October referendum, the constitution will be defeated. Sunnis have the majority in at least four provinces.
Bush says "We're making progress and building a new Iraqi army." It's a pity they have no real weapons. Sunni look to UN and Arab League:
Sunni Arab negotiators in a joint statement today rejected the Iraqi draft constitution and asked the United Nations and Arab League to intervene. The declaration was the first joint statement by the 15-member Sunni panel following the announcement by the Shiite-led government that the charter was complete and ready to go to the voters in a referendum October 15. Several individual members of the Sunni panel had said earlier that they rejected the document over issues including federalism, Iraq’s identity and references to Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Baath party.
Yeah, I can just see John Bolton thumping the desk screaming: "Nyet, Nyet!"
Not just the Sunni who oppose the Constitution:
Sunnis and supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have said they will rally supporters to reject the constitution in October's national referendum. Together the groups might convince two-thirds of voters in three provinces to vote down the document, prompting new elections for a national assembly that will draft another charter. A new vote would give both parties a chance to regain influence they lost when they boycotted last January's elections, leaving former exiled Shiite political parties and Kurds with a stronger hand. While both groups have widely different visions for Iraq, both oppose federalism, which allows semiautonomous regions to spring up across the country.
Just a point, I wish the CSM wouldn't label Sadr as a firebrand; I think the Crawford Coward deserves that title.
Opinion and Commentary
I am so pissed off with the MSM bar some small number of exceptions (see yesterday's post), that I decided to concentrate this section of my post on the blogosphere; it's refreshing; and after reading so depressing.
Helena on Weeniness of the Democrats:
I well recalled the extreme weeniness of the Dems in the lead-up to the 2002 midterm elections, when they were easily stampeded by the Bushies into signing off on a carte-blanche resolution that empowered the Prez to invade Iraq whenever he wanted to. But why should these same Democratic leaders seem so afraid, now, to step forward quite frankly and say "I was misled back in October 2002"? Surely, the fact that they were all, actively and intentionally misled at the time into believeing various things about Iraq that turned out not to be true-- and that were known at the time by many in the administration to be a lot less true than they were being portrayed as being-- should be part of the indictment against this extremely deceptive and hypocritical administration? It need not reflect (too) badly on a person who's only a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives if she or he did not know all the truth at the time about, oh, Saddam Hussein's relationship with Osama Bin Laden, or the state of Iraq'sWMD programs... Especially given that all those people in Congress-- like all the rest of us-- were being actively lied to about those issues by the administration, and had relatively little access to any "independent" sources of information. So someone, please tell me. What's wrong with Senators Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton; Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of them that they can't stand up and say: "We were misled; and you people in the Bush administration were leading the network of people who misled us!" Why can't they say that? ... Anyone?
Billmon on the Philadelphia Experiment:
I don't doubt there were many smoke-filled back rooms in the taverns of Philadelphia that fateful summer, but in Baghdad this summer there was hardly anything else. And if anyone had tried imitating James Madison's copious notetaking at those sessions -- so that at least history would know how Iraq was dismembered -- he probably would have wound up at the bottom of the Tigris. And what would America's founders have made of political negotiations so rigidly divided along sectarian lines? Would there have been a Great Compromise in Philadelphia if every question had split the Episcopalians from the Methodists, or the Anglo-Saxons from the Celts? Their ancestors had already been through that kind of constitutional process -- the English Civil War. It's also hard to picture the delegates in Philadelphia waiting around while the more devout among them ran proposed deals by their church elders to see if they passed religious muster, or fighting a knock-down, drag-out battle over whether the Bible should be cited as "a" primary legal source or "the" primary legal source -- not unless a time machine carried the leaders of the last Justice Sunday rally back 218 years and dropped them off at the corner of Third and Chesnut. Obviously, I could go on and on about the absurdity of Shrub's claim -- even more absurd, in its own way, than when Ronald Reagan called the Nicaraguan contras the "moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers." The contras, at least, weren't fighting to establish an Islamic theocracy. But even taking the analogy at face value, the objectives sought by the dominant parties in Iraq are the opposite -- in almost every way -- of those pursued by the majority of the delegates in Philadelphia. Our framers sought a solution to the seemingly intractable problems of a weak, decentralized confederacy of semi-independent states: precisely the kind of government the ruling coalition of Kurds and Shi'a Islamists now want to create in Iraq, with the apparent blessing of the Cheney administration. What the American founders feared most -- the decomposition of the union into three or four mutually hostile regional confederacies -- is now the official goal of U.S. policy. This is being obscured by the usual Orwellian abuse of the English language. In Iraq, we're told, the draft constitution stands for "federalism" -- the devolution of certain sovereign powers to local jurisdictions. But the essence of American federalism was the creation of a central government with both the legal rights and the revenues to enforce its will in matters deemed of vital national interest: war and peace, commerce and trade, and, most relevant in the present context, the disposition of western lands -- the 18th century American equivalent of Iraq's oil resources. (Even the original Articles of Confederation gave the national government exclusive control over those lands.)
Robert Fisk:
But hold on a moment, I say to myself again. The 7 July bombings would be a comparatively quiet day in Baghdad. Was I not at the site of the an-Nahda bus station bombings after 43 civilians - as innocent, their lives just as precious as those of Londoners - were torn to pieces last week. At the al-Kindi hospital, relatives had a problem identifying the dead. Heads were placed next to the wrong torsos, feet next to the wrong legs. A problem there. But there came not a groan from England. We were still locked into our 7 July trauma. No detectives are snooping around the an-Nahda bomb site looking for clues. They're already four suicide bombs later. An-Nahda is history. And it dawns on me, sitting on my balcony over the Mediterranean at the end of this week, that we take far too much for granted. We like to have little disconnects in our lives. Maybe this is the fault of daily journalism - where we encapsulate the world every 24 hours, then sleep on it and start a new history the next day in which we fail totally to realise that the narrative did not begin before last night's deadline but weeks, months, years ago. For it is a fact, is it not, that if "we" had not invaded Iraq in 2003, those 43 Iraqis would not have been pulverised by those three bombs last week. And it is surely a fact that, had we not invaded Iraq, the 7 July bombs would not have gone off (and I am ignoring Lord Blair's piffle about "evil ideologies"). In which case the Pope would not last week have been lecturing German Muslims on the evils of "terrorism".
Caesarian Section:
So they had the ceremony, and the drafting committee (minus Sunni Arab members) presented the final draft of the permanent Iraqi constitution to parliament on Sunday. But parliament did not vote on it. The Sunni Arabs did not attend. Parliament has abdicated its responsibilities toward the constitution and put it in the lap of the October 15 national referendum. Al-Hayat aptly said that the Iraqi constitution has been delivered by caesarian section. It was plucked from the womb of the drafting committee before the latter could give birth to it naturally. Sunni negotiator Salih Mutlak called it "a minefield." Al-Hayat: Another member of the drafting committee, Sunni politician Abd al-Nasir al-Janabi, called for international intervention to prevent its being passed into law. He particularly asked for the Arab League and the United Nations to intervene. The Sunni Arab delegates noted that they were promised that the constitution drafting process would be based on consensus, and that this pledge had been the precondition for their involvement in it last June. On Sunday the Shiites and the Kurds reneged dramatically on that promise. Husain al-Falluji said that this constitution contains the seeds of Iraq's bloody partition, something, he said, that would "serve American interests."


Sunday, August 28, 2005

War News for Sunday, August 28, 2005 Bring 'em on: Pipeline blown up in Dora. Bring 'em on: Three US soldiers killed by IED in Husaybah. Bring 'em on: Lt. Col. in the Iraqi army gunned down in Kirkuk. Bring 'em on: Two Iraqi policemen killed in Baquba. Bring 'em on: One Iraqi policeman killed, two wounded by roadside bomb in Baghdad. Blair warned in May 2004: Despite repeated denials by Number 10 that the war made Britain a target for terrorists, a letter from Michael Jay, the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary, to the cabinet secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull - obtained by this newspaper - makes the connection clear. The letter, dated 18 May 2004, says British foreign policy was a 'recurring theme' in the Muslim community, 'especially in the context of the Middle East peace process and Iraq'. 'Colleagues have flagged up some of the potential underlying causes of extremism that can affect the Muslim community, such as discrimination, disadvantage and exclusion,' the letter says. 'But another recurring theme is the issue of British foreign policy, especially in the context of the Middle East peace process and Iraq. Constitution Committee signs Draft Charter: Members of Iraq's constitution drafting committee signed the draft charter Sunday after making some minor amendments, a Shiite on the committee said, and a ceremony was scheduled to mark the completion of the draft. The draft now goes to the Iraqi people in an Oct. 15 referendum. Five million copies will be circulated nationwide in food allotments each Iraqi family receives monthly from the government. Fuck the Sunni: Iraq's parliament will vote on a constitution Sunday regardless of the minority Sunni position on the draft, parliament speaker Hajim al-Hasani said. Iraqi's Sunni Arab former elite presented fresh demands on the wording of the constitution Saturday amid warnings from Shiite and Kurdish negotiators that they would make no further concessions. The text presented by the Kurds and Shiites Friday, after weeks of tortuous negotiation, was "final and parliament will vote on it tomorrow (Sunday)... even if the Sunnis do not accept it," Hasani told AFP. No Captains: As the American military begins its third year in Iraq and President Bush vows to stay the course, an increasing number of captains and other junior officers are leaving the service, leading some current and former officers to fear an exodus of talent not seen since the Vietnam War. Captains are effectively the junior executives of the Army, commanding companies of about 120 soldiers. Most have at least three years of active-duty experience -- some many more. This generation of captains probably has more battlefield seasoning and regional knowledge than any since World War II, Army officers say, and their loss would leave a hole that would be impossible to fill. Opinion and Commentary Where are the Democrats?
History will deal with George W. Bush and the neoconservatives who misled a mighty nation into a flawed war that is draining the finest military in the world, diverting Guard and reserve forces that should be on the front line of homeland defense, shredding international alliances that prevailed in two world wars and the Cold War, accumulating staggering deficits, misdirecting revenue from education to rebuilding Iraqi buildings we've blown up, and weakening America's national security. But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while all this goes on? My generation of Democrats jumped on the hot stove of Vietnam and now, with its members in positions of responsibility, it is afraid of jumping on any political stove. In their leaders, the American people look for strength, determination and self-confidence, but they also look for courage, wisdom, judgment and, in times of moral crisis, the willingness to say: "I was wrong." To stay silent during such a crisis, and particularly to harbor the thought that the administration's misfortune is the Democrats' fortune, is cowardly. In 2008 I want a leader who is willing now to say: "I made a mistake, and for my mistake I am going to Iraq and accompanying the next planeload of flag-draped coffins back to Dover Air Force Base. And I am going to ask forgiveness for my mistake from every parent who will talk to me."
Sanitizing War:
But the media is also responsible for sanitizing the Iraq war, at times rendering it almost invisible. Most American publications have been reluctant to run graphic war images. Almost no photographs of the 1,868 U.S. troops who have been killed to date in Iraq have appeared in U.S. publications. In May 2005, the Los Angeles Times surveyed six major newspapers and the nation's two leading newsmagazines, and found that over a six-month period, no images of dead American troops appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Time or Newsweek. A single image of a covered body of a slain American ran in the Seattle Times. There were also comparatively few images of wounded Americans. The publications surveyed tended to run more images of dead or wounded Iraqis, but they have hardly been depicted in large numbers either. There are a number of reasons why the media has shied away from running graphic images from Iraq. Some are simple logistics: There are very few photographers in Iraq. Freelance reporter and photographer Mitchell Prothero, a Salon contributor, estimates there are "maybe a dozen or two Western photographers" in Iraq, in addition to Iraqi and Arab stringers, who do most of the work for newswires. Ten or 20 photographers trying to cover a country the size of Sweden, under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, are unlikely to be on the scene when violence erupts. Moreover, most photographers are embedded with U.S. troops, a situation that imposes its own limits. Military regulations prevent photographers from publishing photographs of dead or wounded soldiers until their families have been notified, which can diminish the news value of the photographs. And although embed rules allow photographers to take pictures of dead or wounded troops, the reality on the ground can be different. Soldiers do not want photographers -- especially ones they aren't comfortable with -- taking pictures of their dead or wounded buddies. This is understandable, but it can result in de facto censorship. One photographer, who requested anonymity because he didn't want to jeopardize his ongoing relationship with the U.S. military, told Salon, "I've had unit commanders tell me flat out that if anybody gets wounded on patrol, you can't take any pictures of them. Nearly every time I've landed at [a medevac] scene, guys have yelled at me, 'Get the fuck away from me. Don't take my friend's picture. Get back on the helicopter.' Part of me understands that. I am a stranger to them. And they are very emotional. Their friend has been badly hurt or wounded, and they've probably all just been shot at 15 minutes before. I totally understand that, although it is a violation of embed rules."
Billmon on Iraq Reporting:
If you read nothing else about the war in Iraq this weekend -- or this month -- read Lasseter's stories. True, they're just anecdotal pieces of evidence -- although in this kind of war anecdotal evidence is probably more valuable than the reams of statistics and self-serving progress reports spat out by the Pentagon. Lasseter also doesn't paint the troops as the kind of heroic, larger-than-life action figures that make the fighting keyboarders drool with barely suppressed homoerotic envy. But you can't read his stuff and not come away with a profound sense of respect for the men and women who are fighting this war, and a boiling anger over the way they are being sacrificed to a hopelessly lost cause. If that's "liberal bias," then American journalism -- and the American people -- could use a whole lot more of it.
Juan Cole on Iraq Reporting:
Reuters Correspondent Luke Baker draws the curtain back on the horrific circumstances in Iraq. Reporters are clearly demoralized, and Western reporters are depending more and more on local staff, who are losing family members and friends to the bombings and shootings. One reporter recently in Baghdad told me that the local journalists are beginning to talk of fleeing, even ones originally very committed to building a new Iraq. I remember the gleeful email I received in May from Yasser Salihee of Knight Ridder--thanking me for linking to one of his excellent articles--and then he went out to buy gas and a US bullet accidentally killed him. From all accounts he had a great deal of promise (he had begun as an academic). His death stands as symbol for the current debacle. The irony is that the worse things get in Iraq, the less we know about how truly bad they are. With the journalists so devastated and little able to move around, we are reduced to listening to Bush administration propaganda.
Civil War:
It was the elder Hakim whom Bush telephoned last week in the middle of the negotiations: it was a startling example of just how seriously the White House takes the crisis in Iraq. In a conversation on Wednesday night, Bush spoke at length to Hakim from Nampa, Idaho, where he had just delivered a fierce defence of the Iraq war. The call was prompted by news that Shia leaders were poised to end negotiations and put the document to a referendum, in the face of Sunni opposition. Bush held that such a move would be a disaster, isolating even further the Sunni communities who are at the heart of the anti-American insurgency. In the final analysis, however, it appears it was not the Shias, as Bush feared, but the Sunnis who have torpedoed consensus on the constitution, first forcing a number of concessions from the Shias, then deciding to walk out on the whole process. 'The Sunnis made the tactical decision to negotiate for as much as they could get out of the document and then walk out to protect their own positions within their community,' said one diplomat. 'It is a dangerous tactic. It will take a lot of patching up.' His comments reflect the sense of crisis that has been growing in both Washington and London of late. It has not been only Bush who has been forced to pay attention.


Friday, August 26, 2005

War News for Friday, August 26, 2005 Bring 'em on: Thirty-six executed Iraqis discovered near Badrah. Bring 'em on: Oil pipeline ablaze near Kirkuk. Bring 'em on: Forty Iraqis, one American killed in Baghdad fighting. Bring 'em on: Two Talabani bodyguards killed in ambush near Tikrit. Bring 'em on: Two Danish soldiers wounded by roadside bomb near Basra. Bring 'em on: Two Iraqi truck drivers killed by roadside bomb near al-Rashad. Constitution crisis. "Talks over the Iraqi constitution reached a breaking point Thursday, with a parliamentary session to present the document being canceled and President Bush personally calling one of the country's most powerful Shiite leaders, Abdul-Aziz Hakim, to broker a last-minute deal. Bush intervened when some senior Shiite leaders said they had decided to bypass their Sunni counterparts, as well as Iraqi lawmakers, and send the document directly to Iraqi voters for their approval. The calls by Shiite leaders to ignore the Sunnis' request for changes to the draft constitution provoked threats from the Sunnis that they would urge their people to reject the document when it goes before voters in a national referendum in October." War report.
Insurgents in Anbar province, the center of guerrilla resistance in Iraq, have fought the U.S. military to a stalemate. After repeated major combat offensives in Fallujah and Ramadi, and after losing hundreds of soldiers and Marines in Anbar during the past two years - including 75 since June 1 - many American officers and enlisted men assigned to Anbar have stopped talking about winning a military victory in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland. Instead, they're trying to hold on to a handful of population centers and hit smaller towns in a series of quick-strike operations designed to disrupt insurgent activities temporarily. "I don't think of this in terms of winning," said Col. Stephen Davis, who commands a task force of about 5,000 Marines in an area of some 24,000 square miles in the western portion of Anbar. Instead, he said, his Marines are fighting a war of attrition. "The frustrating part for the (American) audience, if you will, is they want finality. They want a fight for the town and in the end the guy with the white hat wins." That's unlikely in Anbar, Davis said. He expects the insurgency to last for years, hitting American and Iraqi forces with quick ambushes, bombs and mines. Roadside bombs have hit vehicles Davis was riding in three times this year already.
Wingnuts (heart) Gold Star Mothers.
Young, 65, who lost her Marine son Jeff in 1983 when a truck bomb blew up a military barracks in Beirut, said she's had some "bad times" in the last few months. "I had someone call me at our Washington headquarters, call me a bitch, and hang up. We were slimeballs, low-lifes," she said. "Another caller threatened to kick me in the butt, and someone else was going to slap me in the face. I said, 'I'll take the slap for all the Gold Star mothers.' " Young said the pressure has taken its toll on her health, causing her to lose her appetite and her legs to shake at times. But yesterday, she was visiting Gold Star mothers living at the Gold Star Manor, a retirement home in Long Beach, Calif. "I could be living in the number one town in the country - Moorestown," she said with a laugh, referring to Money magazine's recent designation of the township. "But I'm needed by the Gold Star Mothers. "I guess I'm in the middle - like a mother to the new members who have jobs and children and can't devote the time to the group, and like a daughter to the older members who are in their 80s and can't do as much." Young, formerly president of the group's New Jersey chapter, said the intensity of the national position caught her off guard. She also said she has felt honored to help lead the Gold Star Mothers - a group no one wants to join. Members attend regular chapter meetings in 27 states, comfort one another, and visit veterans hospitals. They wear a gold star, the symbol of a lost child, over their hearts.
Why can't this reporter come out and say the obvious: the people tormenting this woman are rabid conservative nut-jobs who have confused the American Gold Star Mothers organization with Cindy Sheehan's Gold Star Mothers For Peace? And why can't he say they're being whipped into a frenzy by the professional GOP hate-mongers in the US media? That's the real story in this piece. The most bizarre thing I've seen in a long time.
In southern Illinois, the tale began in 2003, when student reporter Michael Brenner said he was handed a letter from a little girl saying she saw an anti-war protest on the Southern Illinois University campus and that it bothered her because her dad was a soldier. Brenner e-mailed the little girl and, as he learned more about her situation, decided to tell her story. The story appeared in the Daily Egyptian on May 6, 2003, detailing an 8-year-old's struggles saying goodbye to her father, who was shipping off to Iraq with the 101st Airborne. According to the story, Kodee had lost her mother years earlier, so Kennings was her only blood relative. "I don't have a mom," Kodee was quoted saying in the newspaper story. "If he died, I don't have anywhere to go." Upon Kennings' departure, Kodee supposedly came under the care of a young woman named Colleen Hastings, the wife of Kennings' adoptive brother. Outgoing and affable, the woman forged a friendship with Brenner, and, he said, she seemed to think the attention was helping keep Kodee's mind off her dad. Brenner, editor of the Daily Egyptian at the time, started publishing unedited notes that Kodee would write about her dad or about things happening in her life. Last week, Hastings contacted the student newspaper and said Kennings had been killed in action in Iraq. A professor in the university's journalism school who was familiar with the Kennings story called the Tribune Aug. 17, and the Tribune had a reporter on the road to Carbondale that night. But no details of Kennings' death could be confirmed. His name did not appear on a Department of Defense Web site that lists U.S. casualties. By the next day, the story was falling apart. Military officials could find no one named Dan Kennings in the Army or any other branch of the military, and no deaths in Iraq fit the time frame Hastings had described.
Commentary Editorial:
Bush continues to float the bogus notion that Iraq and 9/11 are linked. In fact, there is no evidence that the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had any connection with Iraq. He mentioned 9/11 no fewer than five times to the war vets, and seven times when he spoke to the National Guard. Americans are recoiling from this self-serving muddying of the waters. They want to know why Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar are still on the loose, four years after 9/11. They want to know when Bush expects the new regimes in Baghdad and Kabul will be strong enough to survive without help. How many Iraqi and Afghan soldiers must be in the field before U.S. forces can begin to withdraw? What's the plan for securing the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan against infiltration from outside? What are the next steps to neutralize Afghan warlords and to suppress Iraqi insurgents? These are not unreasonable questions. They invite Bush to set out benchmarks by which the public can judge his performance, before the Congressional mid-term elections. Unfortunately, he wants none of it.
With each passing month the difficulties are compounded and the chances for a successful outcome are reduced. Urgent modification of the strategy is required before it is too late to do anything other than simply withdraw our forces. Adding a diplomatic track to the strategy is a must. The United States should form a standing conference of Iraq's neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists. The United States should tone down its raw rhetoric and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. In addition, a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would be a helpful step in engaging both regional and Iraqi support as we implement our plans. On the political side, the timeline for the agreements on the Constitution is less important than the substance of the document. It is up to American leadership to help engineer, implement and sustain a compromise that will avoid the "red lines" of the respective factions and leave in place a state that both we and Iraq's neighbors can support. So no Kurdish vote on independence, a restricted role for Islam and limited autonomy in the south. And no private militias. In addition, the United States needs a legal mandate from the government to provide additional civil assistance and advice, along with additional U.S. civilian personnel, to help strengthen the institutions of government. Key ministries must be reinforced, provincial governments made functional, a system of justice established (and its personnel trained) and the rule of law promoted at the local level. There will be a continuing need for assistance in institutional development, leadership training and international monitoring for years to come, and all of this must be made palatable to Iraqis concerned with their nation's sovereignty. Monies promised for reconstruction simply must be committed and projects moved forward, especially in those areas along the border and where the insurgency has the greatest potential. On the military side, the vast effort underway to train an army must be matched by efforts to train police and local justices. Canada, France and Germany should be engaged to assist. Neighboring states should also provide observers and technical assistance. In military terms, striking at insurgents and terrorists is necessary but insufficient. Military and security operations must return primarily to the tried-and-true methods of counterinsurgency: winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small-scale economic development and positive daily interactions. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters. A better effort must be made to control jihadist infiltration into the country by a combination of outposts, patrols and reaction forces reinforced by high technology. Over time U.S. forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and phased out.
It's a lot of sound and fury, but to find the significance, you have to go back to the question Sheehan wants to put to the president. And to recent polls indicating more and more of us are beginning to ask the same thing. Not just why did her son die, but why have over 1,860 American sons and daughters died? Why have 14,000 more been injured? Why have an untold number of Iraqis also been killed and wounded? To find weapons of mass destruction? To liberate an oppressed people? To fight the war on terror? Some other of the shifting rationales that sound so tinny as the casualty count rises like floodwater? Or, was it not all simply for the stubborn hubris of a man unable to admit when he has erred and the blinkered morality of a frightened nation unwilling to call him on it? I care nothing about Cindy Sheehan's marriage or her previous meeting with George Bush; she's asking the right question. I suspect that's precisely why some people care about those things so much.
For a time it seemed not to matter to the American public that the stated reasons for going to war, the weapons of mass destruction and the links with Al Qaeda, turned out not to be true. After all, there was no draft, the casualties were not reaching Vietnam levels, and the families of soldiers could not bear to think that their sons and daughters were fighting and dying in a dubious cause, or so the administration calculated. There were critics, of course, but the general public seemed to accept all the misleading and disingenuous statements such as ''mission accomplished" or that the Iraqi insurrection is in its ''last throes" or that old holdover from the Vietnam War: We are fighting them there so we won't have to fight them here at home. Now Bush's reason for more dead is to honor those who have already died. But the tide is turning. Most Americans disapprove of how Bush is handling the war, and most now no longer trust his honesty, according to polls, which used to be his trump card. ''Today," according to pollster John Zogby, ''the linkage between Iraq and the war on terrorism that has worked for Bush in the past is taking its toll. Barely a majority give the president positive marks for handling the war on terrorism -- down from 66 percent when he was reelected in 2004." Saddam's war against Iran lasted almost a dozen years. But then he didn't have to put up with mothers of dead soldiers effectively questioning a failing enterprise. And so the president interrupts his vacation to make speeches in support of his war -- speeches in which he now makes references to the number of American dead, which The New York Times called ''rare." Thanks in part to Cindy Sheehan, it is getting harder to sweep the cost of this war under the national rug. In this, her mission has been partially accomplished.
My mother is a lifelong Republican. She got it from her father, a yellow-dog Republican if ever there was one. As unofficial GOP godfather of Fillmore, Calif., he collected absentee ballots every election for his large family and marked them himself. No sense in taking chances that someone might vote for a Democrat. So when my mother called me the other day and told me she was considering registering as a Democrat, I was, well, stunned. Somewhere in a cemetery plot near Fillmore a body is spinning. For the last year or more my mother has been gradually expressing ever greater exasperation with President Bush, the war, and the religious right. “Have you heard about this James Dobson guy?” she asked me on the phone, referring to the head of Focus on the Family. “If they overturn Roe vs. Wade, that’ll be it for me,” she said. Then she mentioned Cindy Sheehan. For all the efforts to discredit Ms. Sheehan, what she accomplished in drawing attention to the human cost of the war, if my mother’s opinion is any indication, crossed party lines. There’s a Mom Faction in American politics, and while it isn’t a monolithic Third Rail, it’s at least and second-and-a-half rail. When their children are dying on a battlefield of choice, you touch it at your peril. My mother has her fingers on the pulse, and scalps, of many such women. She’s a hairdresser with a clientele that has been coming to her regularly for decades. Now grandmothers, these women were moms during Vietnam, in which over 50,000 American sons and daughters died. They worried then about their kids’ safety, now they’re worried about grandkids - theirs or someone else’s. Most are pretty mainstream, most Republican, and most, my mother tells me, pretty much fed up with George Bush.
Can a U.S. empire be created to enforce a new world order starting in the Middle East? No. The United States stands on a cusp of history where false moves can result in devolution. We have no divine assurance of success. We are seriously overstretched militarily. There are no more troops available to invade and topple Iran or North Korea. Bombing is possible but will not depose governments, only fuel enmity. Democracy is not created at the point of a gun. We are in an economically fragile state. The burden of national debt is overwhelming. The U.S. dollar is under attack. Our energy resources are being poorly shepherded and we are not using what technological prowess that we do have to achieve short- or medium-term energy independence. Other economic giants emerge on the global stage and our trade policies seem increasingly disjointed. Under those conditions, are we in a position to impose our will in the Mideast? No. We need to re-evaluate our position: to think of ourselves as a global partner and part of the U.N. family in the truest sense. We need to recognize that the ability to make nuclear weapons cannot be eliminated but that the willingness to use them can be reduced by a rational, fair and compassionate foreign policy. Terrorism cannot be eliminated; it has existed throughout history. But we can reduce it to minimum levels by the same attention to fairness and compassion as a supporter, not a detractor, of the United Nations. Most important, we need to eliminate the underpinning for our greedy attachment to the Middle East, the need for oil. We need a bold new energy project to achieve essential energy independence within 20 years. As for Iraq, we need a new well-defined "course": full withdrawal of our troops within six months with accelerated training of Iraqi troops. We must also accept the reality that civil war has, indeed, come to Iraq, largely caused by ourselves. We can hope that this civil war will be relatively contained through assistance from the Arab border states and the United Nations, and that three relatively autonomous entities will emerge, a southern Shiite state closely associated with Iran, a northern Kurdish entity with de facto independent status, and a Sunni central entity, closely linked to Jordan and perhaps Syria. We need to let the Middle East transform itself, not according to our naïve philosophy, but according to its own pace and logic.
Casualty Report Local story: Pennsylvania soldier wounded in Iraq.


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