Thursday, November 30, 2006


"Had we to do it over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success, being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day." —President Bush, telling Time magazine that he underestimated the Iraqi resistance, Aug. 2004

More success stories…

In Country

In all, 15 civilians and 13 insurgents were killed in violence around Iraq yesterday, police and U.S. officials said. The mangled bodies of nine civilians who had been kidnapped and tortured also were found.


A roadside bomb exploded at a square in central Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring three, an Information Ministry official said.

The military said that a U.S. soldier was killed during combat in Baghdad on Wednesday, raising to at least 2,884 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war.

Tuesday Iraqi police arrested 11 insurgents who set up a fake checkpoint in the Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad. One police officer was killed and three injured during the chase.

Note: The remaining Baghdad entries refer to incidents from today back to Monday. Older incidents were included when they appeared to either be previously unreported here or if they reported significantly different casualty figures than previous entries. -m

An IED aimed at a police patrol exploded at the Al Nahdha bus stop, killing two civilians and wounding two civilians and two policemen.

One Iraqi police commando was killed and three policemen and four civilians were wounded in a suicide car bomb attack near city hall.

A car bomb left by the roadside exploded in Al Nidhal street near Kamal Al Samaree private hospital killing two civilians and wounding seven others, including three policemen.

Seven persons including three policemen were wounded by a suicide car bomb aimed at a police patrol in Auqba Bin Nafa’a square near the national theater.

Five bodies were found in the Shekh Maarof area, all showed signs of torture.

A man called Ali Nazar Al Jubori was arrested in eastern Bahghdad and there are reports that this person is the sniper of Baghdad. There was no confirmation from the Ministry of Interior.

Mortar shells fell in the Shurta Al Rabiaa area of southern Baghdad , injuring seven civilians.

One mortar shell landed in the Al Shoala area, wounding three civilians.

An American patrol based in southeast Baghdad arrested 12 people who were wearing Iraqi commandos uniforms and manning a fake checkpoint.

Police colonel Ahmed Izdeen from the Ministry of Oil was assassinated by unknown gunmen.


A group of about 40-50 insurgents armed with RPG'S, mortars and light weapons attacked the Diyala police directorate in Baquba. Police sources said that five insurgents were killed in the attack.

A doctor from Diyala health directorate who cannot be named for security reasons asked the families of those who are missing and killed to come to the morgue in Baqouba hospital to identify the bodies and take them within two days. He said the morgue has received 19 bodies, some of them still unidentified. Doctors in Baqouba have warned that diseases might spread because many dead bodies cannot be claimed from the streets because insurgents are targeting the teams who are removing them.


In the southern city of Basra, gunmen killed Nasir Gatami, the deputy of the local Sunni Endowment chapter, and three of his bodyguards in an attack on their two-car convoy. The Endowment, which confirmed the attack, was created to care for Sunni mosques across Iraq. In the past four months, 23 of its employees have been kidnapped in Baghdad, with suspicion focused on Shiite militias.

Diyala Province

According to the coordination centre in Diyala province six civilians from one family, three of them women, were killed by an American air strike on their house in the Al Hashimat area near the main road between Baqouba and Baghdad.

Iraqi forces found a mass grave holding 28 bodies just north of the capital in Diyala province. "The bodies were later transported to an Iraqi police station in Baghdad," a US statement said. In Baghdad, the bodies will join 58 more found scattered around the bitterly divided city over the previous 24 hours, as kidnappers and death squads plied their trade amid the constant din of gunfire and mortar blasts.

Jurf Al Sakhar

A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed three policemen and wounded three others on Wednesday in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, about 85 km south of Baghdad.


Six bodies were found with gunshot wounds on Wednesday in Mosul.

Salahdin Province

Security reports from Salah Al Din province indicate that large groups of gunmen are gathering at the outskirts of Al Dejil and Balad, launching attacks on the towns and setting fake checkpoints on the main roads.


Unknown gunmen using 10 cars attacked a police checkpoint south of Samarra killing two policemen and wounding three others. The gunmen escaped and a curfew was imposed on Samarra.


Four civilians were wounded when clashes erupted between Mehdi Army militia and Iraqi security forces in the southern city of Samawa, 270 km south of Baghdad.


A suicide car bomber attacked the Al Thirthar police station in west Tikrit killing four policemen and wounding six others.

Destruction of civil society: As Baghdad's morgues overflow with civilian victims of Iraq's expanding war, the targeted assassinations of the country's intellectual elite is fueling a "brain drain" that will have longterm consequences for the country's ability to maintain a middle class, the linchpin to a successful and stable society, Iraqi leaders and private specialists say.

Professors, doctors, lawyers, and engineers are among the professionals who provide the human capital necessary to run the basic institutions of any healthy society and help forge a new generation of leaders. By removing those building blocks, the leaders and specialists say, the insurgents are aiming to eliminate all support for a democratic society, making it more likely that a Saddam Hussein-like strongman will return, or Iraq will become a theocracy like Iran.

"I think it is getting worse day by day," said Abdul Sattar Jawad , a visiting scholar and professor of literature at Duke University who left Iraq after threats on his life last year. "We need liberal people -- lawyers, engineers -- to build the country," Jawad said in an interview. "The intelligentsia has been beaten down, murdered, or fled."

The recent spate of assassinations -- including at least six medical professors killed in Baghdad during August and September -- does not appear to be the work of a single group, according to US and Iraqi officials and specialists. Rather, the assassinations are seen as a concerted effort by extremists on all sides of Iraq's ethnic divide to snuff out the educated classes and dash the chances for a moderate, pluralistic government.

Bugging out of Anbar?: ABC News has learned that Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move U.S. forces out of the dangerous Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province and join the fight to secure Baghdad.

There are now 30,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar, mainly Marines, braving some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. At least 1,055 Americans have been killed in this region, making al-Anbar the deadliest province for American troops.

The region is a Sunni stronghold and the main base of operations for al Qaeda in Iraq and has been a place of increasing frustration to U.S. commanders.

In a recent intelligence assessment, senior Marine Intelligence Officer in al-Anbar, Col. Peter Devlin, concluded that without a massive infusement of more troops, the battle in al-Anbar is unwinnable.

Or staying in Anbar and sending more troops in country?: Defense officials, meantime, said the Pentagon is developing plans to send four more battalions to Iraq early next year, including some to Baghdad.

The extra combat engineer battalions of Army reserves, would total about 3,500 troops and would come from around the United States, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deployments have not been announced.

At a Pentagon news conference Wednesday, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not say whether more troops are planned for Baghdad. He did say that was among the ideas that commanders are debating.

He also said there was no plan to shift all troops from the volatile Anbar Province into Baghdad.

Nice to hear the country's still functioning: The U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, told reporters Tuesday that he expects to see "elevated levels of violence" as a result of the car bombings that killed more than 200 people in Sadr City, a Shiite district in northeast Baghdad. The coordinated attacks set off a wave of retaliatory killings in Sunni neighborhoods.

While acknowledging the sectarian conflict, Caldwell stopped short of characterizing it as a civil war.

"We don't see somebody competing for control of the country here at all," he said at a press briefing. "What we see is a country that's still functioning and still has duly elected representatives in charge who are able to give instructions and orders to their security forces."

The Sham Summit

Is there nothing this guy can’t screw up? (Rhetorical question): President Bush's high-profile meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday was canceled in a stunning turn of events after disclosure of U.S. doubts about the Iraqi leader's capabilities and a political boycott in Baghdad protesting his attendance.

Instead of two days of talks, Bush and al-Maliki will have breakfast and a single meeting followed by a news conference on Thursday morning, the White House said.

The abrupt cancellation was an almost unheard-of development in the high-level diplomatic circles of a U.S. president, a king and a prime minister. There was confusion — and conflicting explanations — about what happened.

We will beef up the Iraqis with our secret force of ponies and unicorns: President Bush said Thursday the United States will speed a turnover of security responsibility to Iraqi forces but assured Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Washington is not looking for a "graceful exit" from a war well into its fourth violent year.

Under intensifying political pressure at home, the American and Iraqi leaders came together for a hastily arranged summit to explore how to stop escalating violence that is tearing Iraq apart and eroding support for Bush's war strategy.

With Bush hoping to strengthen his Iraqi counterpart's fragile government, the tensions that flared when their opening session was abruptly cancelled Wednesday evening were not apparent when they appeared before reporters after breakfast Thursday.

…There were no immediate answers for mending the Shiite-Sunni divide that is fueling sectarian bloodshed in Iraq or taming the stubborn insurgency against the U.S. presence. The leaders emerged from their breakfast and formal session with few specific ideas, particularly on Bush's repeated pledge to move more quickly to transfer authority for Iraq's security to al-Maliki's government.

"One of his frustrations with me is that he believes that we've been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people," Bush said. "He doesn't have the capacity to respond. So we want to accelerate that capacity."

There was no explanation from either side of how that would happen, beyond support for the long-standing goals of speeding the U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi security forces and to give more military authority over Iraq to al-Maliki.

Meanwhile Malaki will fix the infrastructure with pixie dust: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must improve security and provide more reliable electricity and other basic services before Shiite politicians end a boycott of the government launched to protest the premier's summit with President Bush, a top legislator said Thursday.

The boycott by ministers and lawmakers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is not affecting many vital ministries, and one striking official said work continues at his ministry even with him gone.

But the boycott has driven home the fragility of the Iraqi government, and one of its leaders said in a telephone interview that to end it there must be an increase in the number of well-trained Iraqi security forces.

Baha al-Aaraji also said the government must provide more electricity, gas and other basic services, especially in southern provinces that are less violent than central and northern Iraq. In Baghdad and other cities, residents often have no electricity or water supplies for much of the day.

Then the Easter bunny will sit everyone down for milk and cookies: The Bush administration has hoped to calm Iraq in part by getting Sunni insurgent sympathizers into talks with al-Maliki's Shiite-led government. It has pushed Sunni allies like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to take the lead.

But Al-Maliki's refusal to talk to Bush in front of Jordan's king showed a startling level of distrust toward at least one of his Sunni neighbors — distrust that can only hamper the U.S. effort.

It may signal even worse — the possible start of a region-wide Sunni-Shiite split, spilling over from Iraq, that America may be powerless to control.

Few things would be more harmful to Iraq than if Mideast countries began "taking sides" in its internal fight, sharpening the Shiite-Sunni split and the march toward all-out civil war.

No effort to avoid a full-blown civil war in Iraq can ever succeed without "a lasting political compromise between its key (Shiite and Sunni) factions," one expert, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said recently.

The meeting between Bush and al-Maliki showed little progress toward that, and perhaps even some signs that things could get worse.

Some Small Voices Of Sanity

These guys need support: With sectarian violence reaching new extremes, some Sunni Muslim clerics are breaking with the most militant factions in their sect and reaching out to Shiite clergy in an effort to pull Iraq back from the abyss. Some members of the Muslim Scholars Assn., which has acted as a broker between Western officials and members of the country's Sunni-driven insurgency, worry that their group has done little more than clasp hands before television cameras with their Shiite counterparts and issue joint appeals for calm. "The Muslim Scholars Assn. so far has not participated in any real, effective negotiations," said Sheik Mahmoud Sumaidaie, a senior member who preaches at the organization's Baghdad headquarters, the Umm Qura Mosque. Sumaidaie said more than 70 clerics across Iraq want to form a new religious council that can unite all Sunni factions and open a channel of communication with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most revered Shiite cleric. Without it, he said, "we will never be able to stop the bloodshed in Iraq."

This is also a good idea: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today proposed an international conference among Iraqi political parties and said again the country's neighbours, Syria and Iran, needed to be involved.

Mr Annan had a telephone conference with the 10-member, US bipartisan Iraq Study Group yesterday, searching for a new policy in Iraq, and told reporters afterwards that Iraq was close to a civil war unless the situation could be reversed.

"The security in Iraq today is a major constraint," Mr Annan said in answer to reporters' questions.

"If one were to work out an arrangement where one can get the Iraqi political parties together, somewhere outside Iraq as we did in Afghanistan, the United Nations can play the role it normally plays."

You know it's a screwed up world when this idiot makes more sense than the president of the USA: US troops must leave Iraq if security is to be restored, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said during talks with the Iraqi president.

He said the US was powerless to stop the unrest in Iraq, which was also bad for other countries in the region.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in turn called on Iran to stop backing Shia militias and support Iraq's government instead, Iraq's foreign minister said.

US President George W Bush has again ruled out removing US troops from Iraq.

Wish you’d been this honest in February, 2003, Colin: Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday Iraq had descended into civil war and urged world leaders to accept that "reality".

Powell's remarks came ahead of a meeting between Bush and Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki in the Jordanian capital to discuss the security developments in Iraq.

"I would call it a civil war," Powell told a business forum in the United Arab Emirates. "I have been using it (civil war) because I like to face the reality," added Powell.

Blaming The Victims

What a disgusting trend: From troops on the ground to members of Congress, Americans increasingly blame the continuing violence and destruction in Iraq on the people most affected by it: the Iraqis.

Even Democrats who have criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the occupation say the people and government of Iraq are not doing enough to rebuild their society. The White House is putting pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have debated how much to blame Iraqis for not performing civic duties.

This marks a shift in tone from earlier debate about the responsibility of the United States to restore order after the 2003 invasion, and it seemed to gain currency in October, when sectarian violence surged. Some see the talk of blame as the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement.

"It is the first manifestation of a 'Who lost Iraq?' argument that will likely rage for years to come," said Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University expert on terrorism who has worked as a U.S. government consultant in Iraq.

The Baker Commission Scam

Whoopee: A bipartisan commission, under pressure to offer a U.S. exit strategy for the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, has reached a consensus and will announce its recommendations next week, the group's co-chairman said Wednesday.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., declined to disclose any specifics about the Iraq Study Group's decisions. The report, much anticipated by the Bush administration and members of Congress, is coming out next Wednesday amid the spiraling violence in Iraq that has raised questions about the viability of the Iraqi government.

"This afternoon, we reached a consensus ... and we will announce that on Dec. 6," Hamilton told a forum on national security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group.

Opinion by Michael Hirsh: The forthcoming report by James Baker's Iraq Study Group has enjoyed the biggest public buildup since the Segway. And it is likely to be just as big of a bust.

Here's why the Baker-Hamilton report is destined to land with a thud, after weeks of messianic hype. According to sources who have seen the draft report introduced this week, the group will recommend deeper engagement with Iran and Syria in hopes these countries can help us quell the violence in Iraq. But George W. Bush, who remains a true neocon believer--"It's the regime, stupid"--is very unlikely to cut deals with such evil states, except in the most foot-dragging way. In any case, with each passing week Iraq's sectarian fratricide makes these neighboring countries less and less relevant. One doesn't have to be trained by Hizbullah or the Iranian secret service to grab a few Sunnis off the street every night and shoot them in the head. But until those killings stop, the yes-it-is-a-civil war-no-it's-not-a-civil-war in Iraq will continue to rage out of control.

The James Baker-Lee Hamilton group will also recommend tackling the problem of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But this central issue of Islamist discontent no longer has much to do with the violence in Iraq, just as the violence has less and less to do with Al Qaeda. The neocon fantasists, in their headiest days, used to say that "the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad." This meant that somehow, in ways they could never spell out, the Israeli-Palestinian issue would be resolved after democracy was achieved in Iraq. Now Baker's thought seems to be that the road to Baghdad goes through Jerusalem. This is just as silly as the earlier idea. Take this down: the road to Baghdad goes through Iraq.

Above all, sources indicate the Baker-Hamilton group will fudge the issue of what the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq should be, and what a specific timetable for withdrawal should look like. This means that, almost as soon as the report comes out in early December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will be able to ignore it, and he likely will. Prominent Democrats like Sens. Carl Levin, Jack Reed and Joseph Biden will begin to dismiss it and reintroduce their own plans. Biden, for example, plans to hold six weeks of hearings in January, after he takes over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that will quickly turn Baker-Hamilton into a relic of that long-ago autumn of 2006.

What's happening in Washington right now is the worst sort of cover-your-backside politics.

Fiscal Matters

Time for some discipline? We’ll see: After riding high for five years, government contractors are bracing themselves for increased oversight, tighter budgets and stepped-up regulations as Democrats take over on Capitol Hill and vow to keep a closer eye on how companies spend taxpayer dollars.

Every company that does business with the government could feel the impact, but contractors that benefited most from work in Iraq and Afghanistan, from homeland security initiatives or from Hurricane Katrina are especially likely to be under the microscope. Big-ticket weapons programs are also expected to garner special attention, and it may become more difficult to get a no-bid contract, according to industry observers.

Oh, ow! It hurts to see a wrist patted so hard!: One of the government's largest military contractors will pay $8 million to settle six-year old claims it overcharged the Army for construction and other support services in the Balkans, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton Co., was accused of double-billing the government and ordering unusable products while helping build Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, prosecutors said.

The contractor also allegedly inflated prices for some unspecified goods that were not put out for competitive bid, the department said.

More emergency spending: The Pentagon is preparing an emergency spending proposal that could be larger and broader than any since the Sept. 11 attacks, covering not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but extending to other military operations connected to the Bush administration's war on terrorism. The spending plans may push the Defense Department into conflict with Democrats as they take control of Capitol Hill in January. Democrats had been planning to limit the emergency "supplemental" spending measures that have funded the wars in favor of the regular federal budget process, which affords greater oversight and congressional control. Congressional and military officials have said the Pentagon is considering a request of $127 billion to $150 billion in new emergency war spending, the largest such request since the special spending measures were begun in 2001. So far, Congress has allocated $495 billion for Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism-related efforts. Even within the Pentagon, the spending request is generating controversy. The Pentagon was due to forward its request to the White House by about Nov. 15. But a senior Defense Department official said that the decision has been delayed and that Pentagon officials have asked Army and Air Force officials to provide more justification for their spending demands.

Where We’ve Gone And The Men Who Took Us There

Kidnapping and secret prisons: The CIA flew 1,245 secret flights into European airspace, according to a European Parliament draft report obtained by ABC News.

The report is the result of a year-long investigation into secret CIA "extraordinary rendition" flights and prisons in Europe.

No European country has officially acknowledged being part of the program.

But citing records from an informal meeting of European and NATO foreign ministers last December that included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Parliament's draft report concludes "member states had knowledge of the programme of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons."

Using terrorism to justify any new repression: A new law that comes into force this week gives federal authorities expanded powers to prosecute animal rights militants -- as the State Department is warning that their activities eclipse terrorism as a day-to-day security problem for U.S. companies in Western Europe.

Bush signed S 3880, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, without fanfare at the White House Monday morning, before flying to the Baltic for a NATO summit.

The bill is designed to make it easier for the FBI and Justice Department to wire-tap and prosecute animal rights extremists who mount campaigns of low-level criminal harassment against animal researchers both in the commercial and educational sectors.

David Corn takes us on a little stroll down memory lane: It's the 20th anniversary of the Iran-contra scandal. Two decades ago, the public learned about the bizarre, Byzantine and (arguably) unconstitutional actions of high officials in the post-Watergate years. But many Americans did not absorb the key lesson: the Iran/contra vets were not to be trusted. Consequently, most of those officials went on to prosperous careers, with some even becoming part of the squad that has landed the United States in the current hellish mess in Iraq.

…But history never ends. Twenty years later, Abrams is deputy national security adviser for global democracy in the George W. Bush administration. A fellow who admitted that he had not told Congress the truth and who had abetted a secret war mounted by a rebel force with an atrocious human rights record now is supposed to promote democracy abroad. Other Iran/contra figures are leading players today. Here's a partial list from the National Security Archive:

* Richard Cheney - now the vice president, he played a prominent part as a member of the joint congressional Iran-Contra inquiry of 1986, taking the position that Congress deserved major blame for asserting itself unjustifiably onto presidential turf. He later pointed to the committees' Minority Report as an important statement on the proper roles of the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

* David Addington - now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, and by numerous press accounts a stanch advocate of expanded presidential power, Addington was a congressional staffer during the joint select committee hearings in 1986 who worked closely with Cheney.

* John Bolton - the controversial U.N. ambassador whose recess appointment by President Bush is now in jeopardy was a senior Justice Department official who participated in meetings with Attorney General Edwin Meese on how to handle the burgeoning Iran-Contra political and legal scandal in late November 1986. There is little indication of his precise role at the time.

* Robert M. Gates - President Bush's nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, Gates nearly saw his career go up in flames over charges that he knew more about Iran-Contra while it was underway than he admitted once the scandal broke. He was forced to give up his bid to head the CIA in early 1987 because of suspicions about his role but managed to attain the position when he was re-nominated in 1991.

* Manuchehr Ghorbanifar - the quintessential middleman, who helped broker the arms deals involving the United States, Israel and Iran ostensibly to bring about the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon, Ghorbanifar was almost universally discredited for misrepresenting all sides' goals and interests. Even before the Iran deals got underway, the CIA had ruled Ghorbanifar off-limits for purveying bad information to U.S. intelligence. Yet, in 2006 his name has resurfaced as an important source for the Pentagon on current Iranian affairs, again over CIA objections.

* Michael Ledeen - a neo-conservative who is vocal on the subject of regime change in Iran, Ledeen helped bring together the main players in what developed into the Iran arms-for-hostages deals in 1985 before being relegated to a bit part. He reportedly reprised his role shortly after 9/11, introducing Ghorbanifar to Pentagon officials interested in exploring contacts inside Iran.

* Edwin Meese - currently a member of the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, he was Ronald Reagan's controversial attorney general who spearheaded an internal administration probe into the Iran-Contra connection in November 1986 that was widely criticized as a political exercise in protecting the president rather than a genuine inquiry by the nation's top law enforcement officer.

* John Negroponte - the career diplomat who worked quietly to boost the U.S. military and intelligence presence in Central America as ambassador to Honduras, he also participated in efforts to get the Honduran government to support the Contras after Congress banned direct U.S. aid to the rebels. Negroponte's profile has risen spectacularly with his appointments as ambassador to Iraq in 2004 and director of national intelligence in 2005.

As for the current relevance of Iran/contra, one could argue that the affair taught Reaganites and neocons a lesson, the wrong lesson: you can get away with it.

What Kind Of Person Could Possibly See Bush As A Decent Human Being?

Characteristic behavior: President Bush has pledged to work with the new Democratic majorities in Congress, but he has already gotten off on the wrong foot with Jim Webb, whose surprise victory over Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) tipped the Senate to the Democrats.

Webb, a decorated former Marine officer, hammered Allen and Bush over the unpopular war in Iraq while wearing his son’s old combat boots on the campaign trail. It seems the president may have some lingering resentment.

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t. It’s safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon.

The answer to the question in the heading: [Christopher Lohse], a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

…Lohse's study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person's psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

The study began in part as an advocacy project "designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them" to vote, while assessing "knowledge of current issues, government and politics." The Bush trend emerged in the course of the study, according to Lohse, who describes himself as a "Reagan revolution fanatic" who nonetheless finds Bush "beyond the pale." During the course of the study, it emerged that "Bush supporters has significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry," and that greater levels of psychosis predicted Bush support.


Crosses: Hundreds of white wooden crosses planted on a quiet suburban hillside have prompted a spirited debate over whether they honor or exploit the memory of troops killed in Iraq.

Jeff Heaton, who along with local peace group members started putting up the crosses in early November, sees the effort as a simple tribute.

''It seemed like it would be a touching way to make people aware of the true costs of the war,'' he said.

But to others, the display, on private property opposite a commuter train station and visible from the heavily traveled highway to San Francisco, is an affront that hijacks personal grief for political ends.

''I do not consider this a memorial,'' Lisa Disbrow, a resident of nearby Moraga who has a son preparing to serve in Iraq, said at a public hearing Monday night. Although many spoke in favor of the exhibit, others called it ''painful'' and a ''travesty.''

The hearing, which drew a crowd of more than 200 was technically not about the memorial itself, but about an accompanying sign: ''In Memory of 2,867 U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq.''

Malachi Ritscher: In the four weeks since his death, strangers have come to their own conclusions about Malachi Ritscher. He has been pegged as a courageous war protester. Or a man of convictions. Or a depressed, suicidal loner. Or a conflicted soul, plagued by a little of each.

On a crisp morning earlier this month, he focused a video camera in a wide shot of the "Flame of the Millennium" statue, officials familiar with the case said. He walked into the frame wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a skull mask, then climbed onto the base of the 25-foot abstract sculpture. In front of him, Kennedy Expressway commuters rushed past the banner he had planted near the Ohio Street exit. "Thou Shalt Not Kill. As Ye Sow So Shall Ye Reap" it read in black ink, and below that, the words "Your Taxes Buy Bombs and Bullets" penned in red. Ritscher, 52, pulled a United States flag from a container and draped it over his head and shoulders. He struck a flame and in that moment, became one of only a few dozen people to die by self-immolation in the United States. He also started a debate about what motivated him to take his life.

Commentary, Opinion and Analysis

PM Carpenter: New York Times' top story, top paragraph, top secret!:

"A classified memorandum by President Bush’s national security adviser expressed serious doubts about whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had the capacity to control the sectarian violence in Iraq and recommended that the United States take new steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader’s position."

This was classified? This is how Stephen Hadley and his "senior aides" at NSC spend their days? Shhhh. Don't tell anyone, Mr. President, mum's the word, but we're starting to think that maybe Maliki doesn't have things under control.

Remember now, this is supersecret brainwork, for your eyes only -- a product of national security thinking that only qualified professionals could unravel. So don't let on, lest the media start snooping around over there and discover ... problems.

Our professional recommendation? Maybe we should help the prime minister. He just might need it.

... Are the paychecks in yet?

Brent Budowsky: In the course of a few hours, this is George W. Bush's contribution to bipartisanship on national security.

He invites Jim Webb to the White House, and when Bush mentions Webb's son, Webb replies that he would like would like his son to come home. Bush's rude answer to Webb was: "I didn't ask you about that."

Why not?

Considering that Jim Webb is one of the most credible national voices on security, that he is a former Secretary of the Navy, a decorated Marine Corps war hero, one of the very few people in government who actually has a son serving in combat in Iraq, and was one of the handful of "experts" in Washington who was right about Iraq from the beginning, why didn't Bush ask Webb's opinion?

Then in rapidfire form, Bush says: he will not negotiate with Syria or Iran, dissing the Jim Baker bipartisan group, before they have even reported. He says he will not withdraw any troops until the mission has been completed. He pulls out of the bag, his old excuse that Al Qaeda is responsible for everything going wrong in Iraq.

Then Bush sends forth his spinmeisters to tell the national newspapers that the mess In Iraq is not his responsibility, they blame the average Iraqi people.

Nicholas Kristof: For several years, the White House and its Dobermans helpfully pointed out the real enemy in Iraq: those lazy, wimpish foreign correspondents who were so foolish and unpatriotic that they reported that we faced grave difficulties in Iraq. To Paul Wolfowitz, the essential problem was that journalists were cowards. “Part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors,” Mr. Wolfowitz said in 2004. He later added, “The story isn’t being described accurately.” Don Rumsfeld agreed but suggested that the problem was treason: “Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn’t as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.” As for Dick Cheney, he saw the flaw in journalists as indolence. “The press is, with all due respect — there are exceptions — oftentimes lazy, often simply reports what someone else in the press says without doing their homework.” Mr. Cheney and the others might have better spent their time reading the coverage of Iraq rather than insulting it, because in retrospect those brave reporters based in Baghdad got the downward spiral right.

Maureen Dowd: Michael Gordon reveals in today’s Times that in a classified assessment, Mr. Hadley wrote that the Iraqi leader, who is getting pushed around by Moktada al-Sadr, was having trouble figuring out how to be strong. “The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps,” he writes, “it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing ‘monetary support to moderate groups,’ and by sending thousands of additional American troops into Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is current shortage of Iraqi forces.” Just what the election said Americans want: More kids at risk in Baghdad. (W.’s kids, of course, are running their own risks, partying their way through Argentina.) Mr. Hadley bluntly mused about Mr. Malaki: “His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shi’a hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.” It’s bad enough to say that about the Iraqi puppet. But what about when the same is true of the American president?

Bob Herbert: The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City in Baghdad — where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs — and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls that had opened for business at midnight.

A Wal-Mart in Union, N.J., was besieged by customers even before it opened its doors at 5 a.m. Friday. "All I can tell you," said a Wal-Mart employee, "is that they were fired up and ready to spend money."

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the United States, but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman's proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war.

A. Alexander: There is always a new excuse and a new rationalization either as to why we invaded Iraq, or why we cannot possibly leave. Now that the Democrats have been elected and the Bush administration might actually have to answer for their past and present Iraq decisions, we are forced to endure two new propaganda pitches. The first being that Iraq isn't in the midst of a civil war and the second is that something called "al-Qaeda in Iraq" has suddenly overrun the country. Both claims are nothing more than violent lies. Every post-war intelligence estimate has shown that foreign fighters make up only about 5 percent of Iraq's insurgency. Yet, the lie that Iraq is being overrun by al-Qaeda-like operatives is the latest Bush administration rationalization for why we cannot leave Iraq. In the run up to the elections "cut and run" failed to do the trick. Iraq's military and police have become infested with sectarian militia members, so they'll never be able to "stand-up" and allow the U.S. military to "stand-down." How then to ensure Democrats won't muster the political courage to pull the plug on Bush's Iraq disaster? Convince the American people that leaving Iraq, no matter how bloody it becomes, would result in a million-billion al-Qaeda operatives taking over Iraq's oil and then coming to invade America. How to know this latest administration push is nothing more than spin and lies? Easy! When the hand-picked, "yes-men" Generals in Iraq are repeating, verbatim, what Bush and his people like Stephen Hadley are saying - you know it is typical coordinated Bush administration spin and lies. It is what Republicans like to call "staying on message." At the same time Bush was insisting that all the trouble in Iraq was being caused by al-Qaeda, and while Hadley was busy telling reporters that Iraq couldn't possibly be in the midst of civil war because there aren't two opposing groups fighting it out for power and territory (apparently the administration is pretending that the Shia and Sunni don't exist and aren't engaged in a bloody sectarian power struggle) - on that same day and practically at that same time, Bush's "yes-man" General in Iraq, Caldwell, repeated those exact same talking points. Caldwell like Bush and Hadley, insisted that the Iraqi insurgents weren't seeking power and therefore, the country couldn't be in the middle of a civil war. Caldwell also claimed that "al-Qaeda in Iraq" and not domestic Shia and Sunni militias were responsible for the latest violence. When that kind of coordination is taking place, Bush and his spinmeisters are telling lies. All of this is, of course, an outrage against the American people and an insult to their intelligence. This is just another -- in a long, long, long line of such events -- Bush administration attempt at conning the American people into keeping the United States military mired in the center of Iraq's civil war.

Worth Reading In Full

This is an excerpt from the Sol Feinstone Lecture on The Meaning of Freedom delivered by Bill Moyers at the United States Military Academy on November 15, 2006.

The chickenhawks in Washington, who at this very moment are busily defending you against supposed “insults” or betrayals by the opponents of the war in Iraq, are likewise those who have cut budgets for medical and psychiatric care; who have been so skimpy and late with pay and with provision of necessities that military families in the United States have had to apply for food stamps; who sent the men and women whom you may soon be commanding into Iraq understrength, underequipped, and unprepared for dealing with a kind of war fought in streets and homes full of civilians against enemies undistinguishable from non-combatants; who have time and again broken promises to the civilian National Guardsmen bearing much of the burden by canceling their redeployment orders and extending their tours.

You may or may not agree on the justice and necessity of the war itself, but I hope that you will agree that flattery and adulation are no substitute for genuine support. Much of the money that could be directed to that support has gone into high-tech weapons systems that were supposed to produce a new, mobile, compact “professional” army that could easily defeat the armies of any other two nations combined, but is useless in a war against nationalist or religious guerrilla uprisings that, like it or not, have some support, coerced or otherwise, among the local population. We learned this lesson in Vietnam, only to see it forgotten or ignored by the time this administration invaded Iraq, creating the conditions for a savage sectarian and civil war with our soldiers trapped in the middle, unable to discern civilian from combatant, where it is impossible to kill your enemy faster than rage makes new ones.

And who has been the real beneficiary of creating this high-tech army called to fight a war conceived and commissioned and cheered on by politicians and pundits not one of whom ever entered a combat zone? One of your boys answered that: Dwight Eisenhower, class of 1915, who told us that the real winners of the anything at any price philosophy would be “the military-industrial complex.”

I want to contend that the American military systems that evolved in the early days of this republic rested on a bargain between the civilian authorities and the armed services, and that the army has, for the most part, kept its part of the bargain and that, at this moment, the civilian authorities whom you loyally obey, are shirking theirs. And before you assume that I am calling for an insurrection against the civilian deciders of your destinies, hear me out, for that is the last thing on my mind.

You have kept your end of the bargain by fighting well when called upon, by refusing to become a praetorian guard for a reigning administration at any time, and for respecting civil control at all times. For the most part, our military leaders have made no serious efforts to meddle in politics. The two most notable cases were General George McClellan, who endorsed a pro-Southern and pro-slavery policy in the first year of the war and was openly contemptuous of Lincoln. But Lincoln fired him in 1862, and when McClellan ran for President two years later, the voting public handed him his hat. Douglas MacArthur’s attempt to dictate his own China policy in 1951 ran head-on into the resolve of Harry Truman, who, surviving a firestorm of hostility, happily watched a MacArthur boomlet for the Republican nomination for the Presidency fizzle out in 1952.

On the other side of the ledger, however, I believe that the bargain has not been kept. The last time Congress declared war was in 1941. Since then presidents of the United States, including the one I served, have gotten Congress, occasionally under demonstrably false pretenses, to suspend Constitutional provisions that required them to get the consent of the people’s representatives in order to conduct a war. They have been handed a blank check to send the armed forces into action at their personal discretion and on dubious Constitutional grounds.

Furthermore, the current President has made extra-Constitutional claims of authority by repeatedly acting as if he were Commander-in-Chief of the entire nation and not merely of the armed forces. Most dangerously to our moral honor and to your own welfare in the event of capture, he has likewise ordered the armed forces to violate clear mandates of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions by claiming a right to interpret them at his pleasure, so as to allow indefinite and secret detentions and torture. These claims contravene a basic principle usually made clear to recruits from their first day in service—that they may not obey an unlawful order. The President is attempting to have them violate that longstanding rule by personal definitions of what the law says and means.

There is yet another way the chickenhawks are failing you. In the October issue of the magazine of the California Nurses Association, you can read a long report on “The Battle at Home.” In veterans’ hospitals across the country—and in a growing number of ill-prepared, under-funded psych and primary care clinics as well—the report says that nurses “have witnessed the guilt, rage, emotional numbness, and tormented flashbacks of GIs just back from Iraq.” Yet “a returning vet must wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits,” and an appeal can take up to three years. Just in the first quarter of this year, the VA treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder, and faces a backlog of 400,000 cases. This is reprehensible.

I repeat: These are not palatable topics for soldiers about to go to war; I would like to speak of sweeter things. But freedom means we must face reality: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Free enough, surely, to think for yourselves about these breaches of contract that crudely undercut the traditions of an army of free men and women who have bound themselves voluntarily to serve the nation even unto death.

Casualty Reports

Michigan Governor Granholm has ordered that U-S flags around the state be lowered to half-staff Friday to honor an Army National Guard member who was killed in Iraq. Specialist Brad Shilling, a 22-year-old Stanwood native, was killed November-18th when a homemade bomb detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad.

U.S. military officials said Wednesday that they are trying to determine if human remains found at the crash site of an Air Force F-16 fighter jet 20 miles northwest of Baghdad are those of the plane's pilot. The officials identified the pilot as Maj. Troy Gilbert, who had been deployed to Balad Air Base from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., but provided no other details. Gilbert's plane crashed in volatile Anbar province Monday afternoon as he flew low in support of ground troops fighting insurgents.

Flags waved, a bagpipe wailed "Amazing Grace" and eulogies flowed in a Midtown church yesterday for Army Sgt. 1st Class Schuyler Haynes, an Iraq war casualty who was the descendant of a famous Revolutionary War general. Haynes, 40, a college graduate from the Upper West Side, was a career noncommissioned officer with 17 years' service. Haynes was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed Nov. 15 by a roadside bomb.

Baker High School graduate Chris Mason wasn't afraid of dying in Iraq because of his faith in Jesus Christ and his belief in the importance of helping others, his family said Wednesday. That's why when his family learned that the soldier had been killed Tuesday by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, "it was sad, but it's not a tragedy," said Garland Mason, Chris Mason's brother.

If you were ever around Jon-Erik Loney, his smile and sense of humor infected you, friends say. "He was a good kid, well-liked, and we never had any problems out of him," Danville High Assistant Principal Gary Couey said. A roadside bomb killed Loney, a 2003 Danville High graduate, Tuesday in Iraq, family members said. He was 21.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006


"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere!" —President George W. Bush, joking about his administration's failure to find WMDs in Iraq as he narrated a comic slideshow during the Radio & TV Correspondents' Association dinner, March 25, 2004

More funny jokes from the Iraq war…

In Country

Bring ‘em on: Insurgents have killed two US soldiers in Iraq in separate incidents, the US military said. One soldier, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7, died on Wednesday of wounds taken in combat in the western Euphrates valley. The other soldier, part of the 82nd Airborne, died on Tuesday when a roadside bomb tore into his vehicle during military operations in Iraq's central province of Salaheddin.

Bring ‘em on: Three Fort Hood soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Defense said Tuesday. Another Fort Hood soldier, an Army sergeant from Tennessee who hoped to become a minister, was killed by a roadside bomb in a separate incident.

The bodies of 50 torture victims were discovered, most of them in Baghdad and the city of Baqouba to the north. Several of the corpses had been dumped at a bus station or outside a government building.

The Army said one man from Pakistan and another from Fiji, both contractors working for the U.S. military in Iraq, died in a pair of shootings.

In all, 13 insurgents, six policemen, and six civilians had been killed in fighting across Iraq by mid-afternoon, police and U.S. officials said. The mangled bodies of six civilians who had been kidnapped and tortured also were found, police said.

Unconfirmed report: Three helicopters of the US Air Force crashed in Iraq on Monday, RIA Novosti reports. According to the information the aircrafts crashed in the same region where an F-16 fighter jet crashed earlier. No further information has been announced so far. (No mention of this anywhere but the one source. Skepticism seems advisable. –m)

Anbar Province

Bring 'em on: A U.S. Marine died from wounds sustained in combat while operating in western Anbar province, the U.S. military said. (Probably the same fatality reported in yesterday’s post, but who can tell anymore…-m)


A bomb planted beneath an oil pipeline in the al-Rashid district started a fire at around 11 a.m., an official with Iraqi civil defense said, adding that the civil defense put out the fire in about 2 hours. The pipeline carries crude oil from storage tanks near Latifiya, south of Baghdad, to the Dora refinery in the capital.

Gunmen kidnapped three Iraqi facility protection services guards (FPS) outside the Baghdad Municipality building in central Baghdad around noon. A guard was wounded in the ensuing clash with the gunmen.

In the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of al-Talbiya, gunmen abducted four brothers and killed a fifth brother after he resisted. The kidnapping happened around 4 p.m.

Three Iraqis were killed and 15 others wounded in a mortar attack on a residential area in the southeastern Baghdad district of Jisser Diyala around 2 p.m..

Two Iraqi police officers were killed Monday during a police raid on houses in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Dshir. Police detained 11 suspected terrorists and a number of weapons.

An Iraqi police patrol was attacked by gunmen in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Yarmouk. One police officer was killed and four other police were wounded in the attack, which happened around 5 p.m

Gunfire crackled for most of the morning around Baghdad's Green Zone, the site of U.S. and Iraqi government offices.

A roadside bomb exploded Wednesday morning near a police patrol in a commercial center of Baghdad, killing three civilians and wounding 11 Iraqis, including two policeman and three children.

Two mortar rounds exploded near the Health Ministry, wounding two civilians. Guards at the building opened fire randomly after the attack.

A suicide car bomber targeting a police patrol killed a policeman and wounded seven people, including three policemen, in southwestern Baghdad.

A suicide car bomber exploded near a police patrol, killing a policeman and wounding five civilians in al-Nidhal street in central Baghdad.

A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded three people in Ouqba Bin Nafie square in central Baghdad.

Iraqi soldiers killed three insurgents and arrested 28 during the past 24 hours in different parts of Iraq, the Defence Ministry said.

A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed two policemen and wounded seven people, including two policemen, in Baghdad's al-Nahdha area.

Gunmen fired on the Shi'ite-run Health Ministry building in central Baghdad after two mortar rounds landed nearby, Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamily said. No casualties were reported and the gunmen later withdrew.


A mortar attack on an oil distribution center triggered a massive fire that halted the flow of crude oil to Iraq's largest refinery. The attack happened around 6:30 p.m. in Baiji, which is about 15 miles northwest of Kirkuk. Iraqi army and civil defense personnel were still on the scene hours later trying to put out the fire. Smoke from the blaze could been seen from miles away.


On Tuesday, Diyala police said they found 11 bullet-riddled bodies around Baquba.

The U.S. military said its forces killed eight insurgents and two women in an early morning ground assault supported by an air strike on a village near Baquba. Iraqi police said a U.S.-Iraqi force killed eight civilians. Police said the dead were a man and his three sons and a neighbouring couple, their son and daughter.

Fierce fighting Wednesday between coalition forces and insurgents shut down the city of Baquba, which has been roiled by violence in recent days, killing scores of militants and civilians. Suspected insurgents attacked the police headquarters in downtown Baquba, sparking a clash with police that left five of the attackers dead, police said on condition of anonymity, as they regularly do to protect themselves.


Police said they found the body of a teacher with gunshot wounds in Diwaniya. Gunmen had kidnapped him on Tuesday.


A suicide car bomber targeting a police station killed one civilian and wounded 23 in the northern city of Mosul.


U.S. soldiers fought with suspected insurgents using a building as a safe house in Ramadi on Tuesday, killing one Iraqi man and five females, ranging in age from an infant to teenagers, the U.S. military said.

Salaheddin Province

In a town in Salaheddin province, suspected insurgents attacked a police checkpoint, killing two policemen and wounding two others.


In other fighting Wednesday, insurgents killed four policemen and wounded four others in a carefully coordinated attack on a police station in Samarra northwest of Baghdad, using a suicide car bomb and militants armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Same attack?: Six policemen were killed and four wounded when a car bomb exploded near a police station in a town near Samarra. Militants briefly occupied the building. A daylight curfew was imposed.

So Much Incompetence In Three Short Paragraphs

Wow: …in a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead "pick a winner" in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. "That's the price you're going to have to pay," he said.

The United States also needs to reexamine other basic assumptions, he said. To be effective, for example, the Iraqi security forces -- including army and police -- should be roughly doubled from the current goal of 325,000 to about 650,000, which would require about three years of recruiting and training, he said. The expanded military, he added, would probably become overwhelmingly Shiite and Kurdish -- an outcome that many Sunnis fear.

The United States also needs to deal quickly with a serious problem of overcrowded prisons that has led the government to free about 2,000 fighters each month to make room for new prisoners, he said. Those released are not scofflaws, he said: "These are the hard-core guys."

Wow. So we’re planning to back the Shiites in the civil war but the government’s forces still need three years of training and we’re letting 2,000 enemy fighters go free to resume the battle every month. Wow. What can I add? Even sarcasm seems pointless…-m

Propaganda And Reality

An ugly story in so many ways: The Associated Press first reported on Friday's incident that evening, based on the account of police Capt. Jamil Hussein and Imad al-Hashimi, a Sunni elder in Hurriyah, who told Al-Arabiya television he saw people who were soaked in kerosene, then set afire, burning before his eyes.

AP Television News also took video of the Mustafa mosque showing a large portion of the front wall around the door blown away. The interior of the mosque appeared to be badly damaged and there were signs of fire.

However, the U.S. military said in a letter to the AP late Monday, three days after the incident, that it had checked with the Iraqi Interior Ministry and was told that no one by the name of Jamil Hussein works for the ministry or as a Baghdad police officer. Lt. Michael B. Dean, a public affairs officer of the U.S. Navy Multi-National Corps-Iraq Joint Operations Center, signed the letter, a text of which was published subsequently on several Internet blogs. The letter also reiterated an earlier statement from the U.S. military that it had been unable to confirm the report of immolation.

The AP received no comment Friday when it first asked the U.S. military for information. It then carried portions of a U.S. military statement Saturday that said the U.S. had been unable to confirm media reports that six Sunni civilians were allegedly dragged out of Friday prayers and burned to death. The U.S. military said that neither police nor coalition forces had reports of such an incident.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry later said that al-Hashimi, the Sunni elder in Hurriyah, had recanted his account of the attack after being visited by a representative of the defense minister.

The dispute comes at a time when the military is taking a more active role in dealing with the media.

The AP reported on Sept. 26 that a Washington-based firm, the Lincoln Group, had won a two-year contract to monitor reporting on the Iraq conflict in English-language and Arabic media outlets.

That contract succeeded one held by another Washington firm, The Rendon Group. Controversy had arisen around the Lincoln Group in 2005 when it was disclosed that it was part of a U.S. military operation to pay Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about U.S. military activities.

Seeking further information about Friday's attack, an AP reporter contacted Hussein for a third time about the incident to confirm there was no error. The captain has been a regular source of police information for two years and had been visited by the AP reporter in his office at the police station on several occasions. The captain, who gave his full name as Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, said six people were indeed set on fire.

On Tuesday, two AP reporters also went back to the Hurriyah neighborhood around the Mustafa mosque and found three witnesses who independently gave accounts of the attack. Others in the neighborhood said they were afraid to talk about what happened.

Those who would talk said the assault began about 2:15 p.m., and they believed the attackers were from the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He and the Shiite militia are deeply rooted in and control the Sadr City enclave in northeastern Baghdad where suspected Sunni insurgents attacked with a series of car bombs and mortar shells, killing at least 215 people a day before.

The witnesses refused to allow the use of their names because they feared retribution either from the original attackers or the police, whose ranks are infiltrated by Mahdi Army members or its associated death squads.

Two of the witnesses — a 45-year-old bookshop owner and a 48-year-old neighborhood grocery owner — gave nearly identical accounts of what happened. A third, a physician, said he saw the attack on the mosque from his home, saw it burning and heard people in the streets screaming that people had been set on fire. All three men are Sunni Muslims.

The two other witnesses said the mosque assault began in earnest about 2:30 p.m. after the arrival of the four vehicles filled with arms. They said the attackers fired into the mosque, then entered and set it on fire.

Then, the witnesses said, the attackers brought out six men, blindfolded and handcuffed, and lined them up on the street at the gate of the mosque. The witnesses said the six were doused with kerosene from a 1.3-gallon canister and set on fire at intervals, one after the other, with a torch made of rags. The fifth and sixth men in the line were set afire at the same time.

The witnesses said the burning victims rolled on the ground in agony until apparently dead, then the gunmen fired a single bullet into each of their heads.

The witnesses said residents, in the meantime, had taken up arms and began a gunbattle with the suspected militiamen that raged in the neighborhood until 4 p.m. They said eight to 10 gunmen were killed and left in the streets.

Preparing To Blame The Victims: The Sham Jordan Summit

It’s Maliki’s fault for not telling the US military how to train Iraqi forces: President Bush is asking embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at their summit in Jordan how best to train Iraqi forces faster so they can shoulder more responsibility for securing the nation torn apart by escalating violence.

The president, under pressure on both sides of the Atlantic to find a new blueprint for the war, wants to hear al-Maliki's plan for mending his nation's bitter sectarian divide and how the two leaders can chart a stable future for the fragile government.

Bush was holding two days of urgent talks with al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan. The president was flying there Wednesday from this Baltic capital where the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has dominated talks at a NATO summit.

He better have some answers…or else!: With violence raging in Iraq and pressure mounting at home for a solution, President Bush said today that he expects to hear some answers from the Iraqi prime minister when the two leaders meet later this week to discuss how to stem the bloodshed.

…"My questions to him will be: What do we need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence?" Bush said, addressing reporters in the Estonian capital of Tillann on the first day an overseas swing that included afternoon meetings in Latvia's capital with fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "I will ask him: What is required and what is your strategy to be a country which can govern itself and sustain itself?"

…Bush's intention to ask questions — rather than provide some of his own solutions — underscores the uncertainty within his administration over how to bring peace to the country that was supposed to be a regional model for democracy and freedom.

But it seems our assessment is he’s just not up to the job: President George W. Bush will press Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to develop a plan for quelling sectarian violence, the same day a U.S. newspaper published a leaked administration memo questioning the Iraqi leader's capacity to gain control of his country.

Bush arrives in Amman, Jordan, tonight for private talks with Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah that take place against a backdrop of attacks and reprisals by sectarian factions in Iraq and domestic pressure on the president to begin lessening U.S. involvement in Iraq.

The New York Times today published a memo written by White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley after a trip to Baghdad that, while offering some praise for the Iraqi leader, raises doubts about whether Maliki is able take the steps necessary to secure his country.

``The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action,'' the classified memo says according to the Times.

The whole thing’s a setup to let Bush, once again, shift the blame: When President Bush meets in Jordan on Wednesday with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, it will be a moment of bitter paradox: at a time of heightened urgency in the Bush administration’s quest for solutions, American military and political leverage in Iraq has fallen sharply.

Dismal trends in the war — measured in a rising number of civilian deaths, insurgent attacks, sectarian onslaughts and American troop casualties — have merged with growing American opposition at home to lend a sense of crisis to the talks in Amman. But American fortunes here are ever more dependent on feuding Iraqis who seem, at times, almost heedless to American appeals, American and Iraqi officials in Baghdad say.

They say they see few policy options that can turn the situation around, other than for Iraqi leaders to come to a realization that time is running out. It is not clear that the United States can gain new traction in Iraq with some of the proposals outlined in a classified White House memorandum, which was compiled after the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, visited Baghdad last month.

Many of the proposals appear to be based on an assumption that the White House memo itself calls into question: that Prime Minister Maliki can be persuaded to break with 30 years of commitment to Shiite religious identity and set a new course, or abandon the ruling Shiite religious alliance to lead a radically different kind of government, a moderate coalition of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians.

The memo’s assessment of Mr. Maliki tracks closely with what his American and Iraqi critics in Baghdad say: that six months after taking office, he has still not shown that he is willing or capable of rising above Shiite sectarianism.

These critics say, in effect, that the 56-year-old Iraqi leader has failed, so far, to meet the test set by Mr. Bush when the two men met for the first time in Baghdad in June. At that meeting, the American leader told Mr. Maliki he had come to “look you in the eye” and determine if America had a reliable partner here.

Against these judgments, some key passages in the Hadley memo seem at odds with the reality on the ground, as if the steady worsening of America’s prospects here has driven the White House to reach for solutions that defy the gloomy conclusions of America’s diplomats and field commanders, not to mention some of Mr. Maliki’s closest political associates.

Sucks To Be Maliki

Muqtada turns up the pressure: Lawmakers and Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday they have carried out their threat to suspend participation in Parliament and the government to protest Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's summit with U.S. President George W. Bush.

The 30 lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers said their action was necessary because the meeting in Jordan constituted a "provocation to the feelings of the Iraqi people and a violation of their constitutional rights." Their statement did not explain that claim.

Mahdi army has the weight to throw around: In a reflection of the growing new dimension of civil strife, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday that the militia of radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr has grown eightfold over the past year and now fields 40,000 to 60,000 men. That makes it more effective than the Iraqi government's army, the official indicated.

The Iraqi army has about 134,000 men, but about half are doing only stationary guard duty, the official said. Of the half that conduct operations, only about 10 battalions are effective -- well under 10,000 men.

No support for Maliki from fellow Arab governments: From the perspective of Arab governments, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been too tolerant of Shiite militias and unable of control his war-ravaged country, Arab officials said.

"Most Sunni Muslim Arab countries believe that Maliki (a Shiite) and members of his government are tolerant of, and even connive with, Shiite militias, especially the Mehdi Army" of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one official who declined to be identified said in a telephone interview.

Arab intelligence reports implicate Maliki government members in the activities of the Mehdi Army and the Badr Brigade, the former armed wing of the powerful Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, another non-Jordanian official said.

"The Maliki government is ignoring the security violations of these militias," the official said, hours before Jordan’s King Abdullah II was due to host a crucial summit between Maliki and US President George W. Bush in Amman.

The US military is both essential and the major obstacle to his hold on power: …the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend for one year the mandate of the 160,000-strong multinational force in Iraq.

The council acted ahead of a key meeting in Jordan between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki aimed at halting escalating violence in the country and paving the way for a reduction of American troops.

The Security Council responded to a request from al-Maliki, who said a top government priority is to assume full responsibility for security and stability throughout Iraq but that it needs more time.

Iran won’t be shy about voicing it’s interests: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Monday sought to enlist Iran's help in quelling the escalating violence that threatens to tear his country apart.

"The issue of establishing security in Iraq is the most important part of our talks. We are in dire need of Iran's help in establishing security and stability in Iraq," state-run television quoted Talabani as saying after he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The meeting between Talabani and Ahmadinejad, which was delayed for two days amid a security clampdown in Iraq, comes as Tehran is trying to assert its role as the top regional power broker to counter Washington's influence on Baghdad.

And the Iraqi state is falling apart: The present state of Iraq's collapsing oil sector, its economic lifeline, is bleak and its future looks far worse, despairing officials say.

Another damaging oil attack this week, the prospect of British troops handing over the oil city of Basra and virtual civil war have all but crushed hope for Iraqi officials battling to keep exports flowing to world markets.

"One thing is sure. The worst is yet to come," an Iraqi oil industry source said by telephone from Baghdad.

His task is made harder still by gross mismanagement at the oil ministry and chronic underinvestment in the vital sector -- already neglected for decades due to sanctions and wars.

"There is no line of authority at the oil ministry," said an oil official in the capital. "We are crippled. We have the resources and the finances and we are still failing."

With Baghdad in chaos, technocrats fear the oil producing regions in the Shi'ite south and in the north near Kurdistan may seize control of exports and effectively dismember the country that holds the world's third biggest oil reserves.

Stating The Obvious, Three Years Late

But at least someone’s finally saying it:Two senior members of the House Armed Services Committee and several former Defense Department officials yesterday criticized poor U.S. training and deployment of the Iraqi army and police as a major reason the Baghdad government cannot provide security to its people.

…Yesterday's criticisms were expanded upon in the latest study by Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A Pentagon official in the Reagan administration and a specialist in Middle East intelligence and military matters, Cordesman just returned from Iraq, where he received briefings from military and civilian officials.

One of Cordesman's central issues is that public statements by the Defense Department "severely distorted the true nature of Iraqi force development in ways that grossly exaggerate Iraqi readiness and capability to assume security tasks and replace U.S. forces." He also writes that "U.S. official reporting is so misleading that there is no way to determine just how serious the problem is and what resources will be required."

The Final Word On The Civil War Question

Not that we won’t hear a lot more about it…: Events over the past week, including the deadliest attacks since the war began in March 2003, have created a new sense of diplomatic urgency about finding a viable strategy to contain Iraq's violence and limit spillover damage across the region. The White House again resisted assertions that Iraq is now in a civil war, but that stance is increasingly hard to defend, according to analysts, diplomats and even some U.S. officials in private.

"While the situation on the ground is very serious, neither Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki nor we believe that Iraq is in a civil war. The Iraqi government is making slow but sure progress on important issues that will help stop the violence and bring the country together," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said yesterday.

At least one Iraqi leader says otherwise. "It's worse than a civil war. In a civil war, you at least know which factions are fighting each other," lamented a senior member of Iraq's government in an interview a few hours after Johndroe's comments. "We don't even know that anymore. It's so bloody confused."

Ha Ha

Too funny: Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats. The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally.

Well, the chain of command in the Bush administration just got a little clearer. Apparently there is someone higher than Cheney. -m

Speaking Of Dick…

You don’t think he had anything to do with this little story, do you?: A senior American intelligence official said Monday that the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr.

The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said.

Iran has facilitated the link between Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, the official said. Syrian officials have also cooperated, though there is debate about whether it has the blessing of the senior leaders in Syria.

…The claim about Hezbollah’s role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran.

Evidence? We don’t need no stinking evidence!: The intelligence official (apparently Stephen Hadley and not necessarily the same senior intelligence official cited in the story above. –m) said that he "never saw any evidence" that Sadr's organization sent personnel to Lebanon this summer to fight against Israel, but said he had heard talk that some were sent there to be trained by Lebanese members of Hezbollah, an organization funded by Iran's Shiite government.

He said there was evidence that the Iranian government this year had escalated its efforts inside Iraq.

"The whole year, yes, it has stepped up," he said. "More training in and out of Iraq. More coordination with Hezbollah. More advisers."

The Happy Feet Coalition

Bye Britain! Bye Italy! Oh, and don’t forget Poland!: Britain said Monday it expects to withdraw thousands of its 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of next year, while Poland and Italy announced the impending withdrawal of their remaining troops.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said his country, a U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, would pull its remaining 900 soldiers out of Iraq by the end of 2007. And Italian Premier Romano Prodi said the last of Italy's soldiers in Iraq — some 60-70 troops — will return home this week, ending the Italian contingent's presence in the south of the country after more than three years.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne was the second senior official in recent days to talk of reducing the number of British troops in Iraq.

The Sham Saddam Trial

What a circus: The genocide trial of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was once again thrown into chaos when the chief judge ejected a key defence lawyer only to recall him later the same day.

Soon after the hearing opened on Wednesday, Judge Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifah ordered the arrest of Badie Aref, always a vocal presence in the trial, for "violating professional conduct".

Aref is defending Farhan al-Juburi, former head of military intelligence in northern Iraq and one of seven accused of killing tens of thousands of Kurds in 1988 during the Anfal military campaign.

Khalifah clashed with Aref over the manner in which he was addressing the court.

What a joke: UN human rights experts called on Iraq's government yesterday not to carry out the death sentence passed on former leader Saddam Hussein, saying his trial had been seriously flawed.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention said the Iraqi tribunal had lacked independence and impartiality, had not given Saddam enough time to prepare his defence, and had restricted his access to his lawyers and right to call his own witnesses.

"The working group also urges the Iraqi government to refrain from carrying out the sentence of death by hanging imposed in a proceeding, which does not meet applicable basic standards of a fair trial," it said in a statement.

The Iraq Study Group Scam

Just a diversion: The blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton will meet today in Washington to discuss the first draft of its review of Iraq policy. According to The New York Times, the current draft does not include a proposal for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. It is the latest sign that U.S. policy in Iraq is unlikely to undergo a significant shift despite the midterm election results, which were viewed as a decisive national rebuke of the Iraq war. NBC News correspondent Norah O'Donnell noted yesterday that the Pentagon is “already developing an alternative” review of Iraq policy “to give the President an out if he doesn’t like the recommendations” of the ISG. And with the White House insisting that Iraq was not in a civil war, it appears that Vice President Dick Cheney wasn’t kidding when he said prior to the elections that the White House would go “full speed ahead” with its current Iraq policy regardless of the election results.

Analysis by Andrew J. Bacevich: Even as Washington waits with bated breath for the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to release its findings, the rest of us should see this gambit for what it is: an attempt to deflect attention from the larger questions raised by America's failure in Iraq and to shore up the authority of the foreign policy establishment that steered the United States into this quagmire. This ostentatiously bipartisan panel of Wise Men (and one woman) can't really be searching for truth. It is engaged in damage control.

Their purpose is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded. The ISG is antidemocratic. Its implicit message to Americans is this: We'll handle things - now go back to holiday shopping.

The group's composition gives the game away. Chaired by James Baker, the famed political operative and former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, former congressman and fixture on various blue-ribbon commissions, it contains no one who could be even remotely described as entertaining unorthodox opinions or maverick tendencies.

Instead, it consists of Beltway luminaries such as retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and lobbyist Vernon Jordan. No member is now an elected official. Neither do its ranks include any Iraq war veterans, family members of soldiers killed in Iraq, or anyone identified with the antiwar movement. None possesses specialized knowledge of Islam or the Middle East.

Charging this crowd with assessing the Iraq war is like convening a committee of Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the church's clergy sex-abuse scandal.

They Say We Fight For Freedom But I Don’t Think They Know What That Word Means

Habeas corpus: Since the Middle Ages, habeas corpus—“You should have the body”—has been the principal means in Anglo-American jurisprudence by which prisoners can challenge their incarceration. In habeas-corpus proceedings, the government is required to bring a prisoner—the body—before a judge and provide a legal rationale for his continued imprisonment. The concept was so well established at the time of the founding of the American Republic that the framers of the Constitution allowed suspensions of the right only under narrow circumstances. Article I, Section 9, states, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Such suspensions have been rare in American history. The most recent occasion was in 1871, when President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to South Carolina to stop attacks by the Ku Klux Klan against newly emancipated black citizens. This fall, however, Congress passed, and President Bush signed, a new law banning the four hundred and thirty detainees held at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, and other enemy combatants, from filing writs of habeas corpus.

The law, known as the Military Commissions Act of 2006, was a logical culmination of an era of one-party rule in Washington. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the executive branch, with the eager acquiescence of its Republican allies in Congress, has essentially dared the courts to defend the rights of the suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, who have been held at Guantánamo, some for as long as four years. The Supreme Court has twice taken up that challenge and forced the Administration to change tactics; the new law represented a final attempt to remove the detainees from the purview of the Court. Now, of course, Republicans no longer control Congress, but the change in the law of habeas corpus may be permanent.

Due process: Buried within a recent government brief in the case of Guantanamo Bay inmate Majid Khan is one of the more disturbing arguments the Bush administration has advanced in the legal struggles surrounding the war on terrorism. Mr. Khan was one of the al-Qaeda suspects who was detained in a secret prison of the CIA and subjected to "alternative" interrogation tactics -- the administration's chilling phrase for methods most people regard as torture. Now the government is arguing that by subjecting detainees to such treatment, the CIA gives them "top secret" classified information -- and the government can then take extraordinary measures to keep them quiet about it. If this argument carries the day, it will make virtually impossible any accountability for the administration's treatment of top al-Qaeda detainees. And it will also ensure that key parts of any military trials get litigated in secrecy.

Freedom of speech: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994.

Note to Newt: Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety, you Cowardly Little Fascist Creep. – Attributed to Benjamin Franklin (May not be an exact quote)

The Real Battle For Freedom Is Not In Iraq

This probably won’t lead to much but it’s a start: The Justice Department has begun an internal investigation into its handling of information gathered in the government's domestic spying program. However, Democrats criticized the review as too narrow to determine whether the program violated federal law.

The inquiry by Glenn A. Fine, the department's inspector general, will focus on the role of Justice prosecutors and agents in carrying out the warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency.

Fine's investigation is not expected to address whether the controversial program is an unconstitutional expansion of presidential power, as its critics and a federal judge in Detroit have charged.

A blow for the Constitution: A federal judge struck down President Bush's authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-Sept. 11 executive order was unconstitutionally vague, according to a ruling released Tuesday.

The Humanitarian Law Project had challenged Bush's order, which blocked all the assets of groups or individuals he named as "specially designated global terrorists" after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists," said David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Constitutional Rights that represented the group. "It was reminiscent of the McCarthy era."

A step toward accountability: The United States looks set to face renewed pressure tomorrow when the European parliament releases a report on allegations that the CIA flew terrorism suspects to secret prisons around the world.

Italian MEP Claudio Fava was today presenting the report to the parliament's four-strong temporary committee on illegal CIA activities in Europe, and will hold a press conference in Brussels tomorrow afternoon to discuss his findings.

They are likely to be similar to those he produced in April in an interim report that said the US intelligence agency had operated more than 1,000 so-called "extraordinary rendition" flights over EU territory in the past five years.

It said the CIA had kidnapped terrorism suspects, and Mr Fava suggested some EU governments were fully aware of the flights.

One happy day she’ll testify in court: Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski has told Spain's El Pais newspaper she had seen a letter apparently signed by Rumsfeld which allowed civilian contractors to use torture techniques. This isn't the first time Karpinski, former commandant of Abu Ghraib prison, has brought up abuse allegations against higher-ups. When I spoke with her last year, Karpinski named names and backed up abuse allegations. It was beyond chilling. Among other things... * General Geoffrey Miller developed torture tactics in Guantanamo. * Rumsfeld knew of it. * Miller was told to bring those same tactics to Abu Ghraib. * He was told by Rumsfeld. * Miller brought in outside military contractors, ignored by the Justice Department, who answered to no one and were not held exempt for any crimes they might commit in Iraq ? including murder. * Outside military contractors oversaw and suggested much of the tactics the low level servicemen were charged and found guilty of. * Chief of Staff of the Army, General Cody, the man who actually stopped requests for armored vehicles and protective vests to be prioritized for our soldiers in Iraq. * Rumsfeld knew it. He wanted it just that way. * For that, General Cody picked up an additional star. * Every investigation into the military and Rumsfeld's Defense Department's responsibility for malfeasance was run by people who could have lost their job with Rumsfeld's say so. Making her story more difficult to ignore, this former General has received plenty of backup from others in the military who don't seem to have a reason for a grudge.

Commentary, Opinion and Analysis

Heather Wokusch: Rumsfeld will lose his legal immunity when he ceases to be Defense Secretary, a fact which must weigh heavily on Bush and others. Unsurprisingly, the administration has taken pre-emptive action against future war crimes charges, including pushing through the scandalous Military Commissions Act, which provides them retroactive domestic protection from prosecution regarding prisoner abuse cases.

On the world stage, the administration's primary battleground for immunity has been the International Criminal Court (ICC), set up in 2002 to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Roughly 100 countries have ratified the ICC Statute, and over 40 others have signed it, but the Bush administration renounced the treaty on grounds it could lead to "frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions."

The administration has done everything in its power to enervate the ICC, including setting up bilateral "Article 98" agreements which arm-twist other countries into not prosecuting US nationals or foreign nationals working for the US. Over 100 nations, mainly poor and dependent on foreign aid, have signed the agreements, but many others have stood firm and lost US aid as a result, including Brazil, Peru and South Africa.

Yet such bribery will only go so far. The administration's "no limits" approach to foreign policy has alienated global allies, and in many parts of the world, Bush is regarded as a greater danger to world peace than North Korea's Kim Jong-il or Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Continuing revelations of US war atrocities, such as the recent bombing of a Pakistani religious school in which 82 students died, only serve to fuel global outrage. It's hard to imagine administration members getting much sympathy in an international trial.

Bottom line, as calls for impeachment build at home, Bush might heed advice he once gave to Osama bin Laden: "You can run but you cannot hide."

Tom Englehardt: A while back Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard's Linda Bilmes tried to tote up the long-term costs of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, based on an American troop withdrawal somewhere between 2010 and 2015. Their most conservative estimate of total costs to the United States: $1 trillion. Their "moderate" estimate: $2.2 trillion.

So let's be conservative. At those levels of funding, assuming that Iraq's Sunni fighters continue to motor their movement at the financial upper levels of the secret interagency estimate -- $200 million -- their insurgency could run for another 5,000 years.

Or perhaps we should subtract some zeroes and enter the micro-world of the US military. If you gave the US Army that $200 million dollars raised by the insurgents by hook or crook and told them to spend it as they wished… actually, they've recently done just that. This October, the Army signed onto a $200 million (yep, that's $200,000,000) a year contract with the McCann Worldgroup ad agency to launch an "Army Strong" ad campaign aimed at bringing into the fold those ever more resistant recruits needed to fight the Iraqi insurgency.

Imagine how strong "Insurgent Strong" must be then, since Iraq's ragtag, minority insurgency continues to fight the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines (all of whom have their own ad contracts) to a standstill for a mere $200 million.

Talk about "standing up" some Iraqi fighters.

Mike Hudson: A few years ago, President George W. Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving Day trip to Baghdad to have his picture taken helping to serve the troops their turkey dinner. The sight of a chicken carrying a turkey into a roomful of heroes was memorable enough, but the irony became even more delicious a day or two later when it was reported that the turkey had been as fake as Bush's play Army suit.

The big bird was made of plastic, and once again our feckless leader provided ample evidence that he wouldn't know the difference between reality and fantasy if it came up and bit him, as it has in Iraq.

Still, those were happier times for Bush. Basking in the warm afterglow of Shock and Awe, with reruns of his "Mission Accomplished" aircraft-carrier strut still being shown on television by Chris Matthews, and the stench of war crimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as yet unsmelled, the president was still enjoying the kind of high that can only come to the leader of a superpower through the devastation of a small and impoverished nation.

Since then, of course, the war in Iraq has taken several dozen nasty turns for the worse. Even its staunchest supporters now call the war unwinnable. More Americans die every day, and as many as 1,000 Iraqi civilians are slaughtered each week. Billions and billions of your tax dollars are poured into the morass on an ongoing basis, only to be devoured greedily by the very same profiteering Halliburton subsidiaries Vice President Dick Cheney helped found.

Oh yeah, Vice President Dick Cheney. The coward who wheedled five deferments to keep him out of Vietnam and thinks guns are for shooting penned-up pheasants and the occasional trial lawyer made news this Thanksgiving with an alleged trip to Baghdad that allegedly never took place.

Robert Parry: While in charge of the CIA’s analytical division in the mid-1980s, Robert M. Gates made wildly erroneous predictions about the dangers posed by leftist-ruled Nicaragua and espoused policy prescriptions considered too extreme even by the Reagan administration, in one case advocating the U.S. bombing of Nicaragua.

Gates – now President George W. Bush’s nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary – expressed his alarmist views about Nicaragua and the need to bomb the country’s military targets in a secret Dec. 14, 1984, memorandum to then-CIA Director William Casey.

The memo has new relevance today because Gates’s private advice to Casey suggests that Gates was either more of an extremist ideologue than many in Washington believe or he was pandering to Casey’s personal zealotry.

Either possibility raises questions about Gates’s fitness to run the Pentagon at a time when many observers believe it needs strong doses of realism and independence to stand up to both a strong-willed President and influential neoconservative theorists who promoted the invasion of Iraq.

The Iraq War – now exceeding the length of U.S. participation in World War II – has been marked by politicized intelligence, over-reliance on force, fear of challenging the insider tough-guy talk, and lack of respect for international law – all tendencies that Gates has demonstrated in his career.

A. Alexander: On Monday afternoon Cirque Du Bush and his troupe of clowns claimed that Iraq had entered "a new phase." They didn't say what the "new phase" was, but insisted it wasn't what it really was - a "civil war." By Tuesday morning, however, it didn't matter what Bush's understanding of the "new phase" was or wasn't because by then he'd decided that whatever the "new phase" was, it wasn't a "new phase" at all. One thing that is certain is the fact that even though the Iraq War has lingered on longer than World War Two, the President remains in his usual and permanent state of confusion and delusion. Cirque Du Bush's fleeting admission that Iraq had entered a "new phase" was nothing more than a brief flirtation with semi-reality. That semi-reality had nearly led Bush and his troupe of clowns to being half-right and, of course, had they "stayed the course" of semi-reality and persisted in being half-right, that would have been twice as right as they'd ever been. And that would have almost been progress. Following the slaughter of more than 200 people in Baghdad's Shiite slum, Sadr City, and the tit-for-tat massacres that ensued; there can be no doubt that Iraq's bloodbath has entered a new and more violent phase. In that sense Cirque Du Bush had the "new phase" thing properly pegged. Apparently, having realized that the only possible phase beyond massive sectarian violence is civil war, Bush promptly removed his toe from the reality pool and retreated back into his delusions.

Bill Keller: The main shortcoming of "civil war" is that, like other labels, it fails to capture the complexity of what is happening on the ground. The war in Iraq is, in addition to being a civil war, an occupation, a Baathist insurgency, a sectarian conflict, a front in a war against terrorists, a scene of criminal gangsterism and a cycle of vengeance. We believe 'civil war' should not become reductionist shorthand for a war that is colossally complicated.

PM Carpenter: Yesterday the L.A. Times ran one of those deadly serious leads that only provokes uneasy laughter:

Angry Shiite Muslims pelted Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's motorcade with stones Sunday after the Iraqi leader pleaded for national reconciliation at a memorial held in Sadr City for victims of a large-scale bombing attack.

Being pelted for boosting reconciliation is not a good sign that the whole reconciliation thing is going to work out. It generally doesn't when contemporary reports on attempts at "national reconciliation" also include phrases like, "victims of a large-scale bombing attack."

Poor Mr. Maliki. He is not only in way over his head, events are way ahead of him. And in recognition of this reality, those events have now been officially redefined by NBC News as "civil war." So long, familiar sectarian violence.

The language change by a principal member of the mainstream media is a huge development, simply because words have meaning that can instantly change perceptions. And to the American public, which largely gets its news in 90-second television clips, NBC's usage of "civil war" as opposed to "sectarian violence" means American troops in Iraq are no longer battling "them" over there so "they" won't attack us here. It means, rather, that American troops are now hapless, helpless referees in someone else's vicious, internal fight.

No one knows this better than the Orwellian language masters at the White House, those happy warriors of "clean skies," "healthy forests" and "compassionate conservatism." Predictably, they reacted to NBC's phrasal change like vampires to the rising sun.

Helena Cobban: The text of the memo itself seems, for a number of reasons including the apparently embarrassed reaction to its publication from Tony Snow, to have been "authentic". (Unlike, perhaps, the report that Michael Gordon and Dexter Filkins published yesterday to the effect that one of their Iraqi reporters last summer interviewed a "mid-level Mahdi Army commander who told him that his militia had sent 300 fighters to Lebanon to fight alongside Hezbollah. Yesterday, I wrote that that piece of reporting had had some real credibility... But now, who knows? Maybe that was a constructed or exaggerated "quid" in return for the "quo" of the Hadley memo leaking? Obviously, I don't know.)

So anyway, do go and read the memo. It is written in the earnest style of someone still struggling to understand the realities of Iraqi society and politics as well as the "responsibilities" of a distant imperial power. It is mind-bogglingly formless and repetitive, and reveals a mind reduced to clutching wildly at any straw that's available.

Here are some of the aspects of it I find most revealing:

(1) Hadley evidently judged, as of Nov 8, that US Ambassador Zal Khalilzad was doing a lousy job: "We should be willing to... Encourage Zal [Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador] to move into the background and let Maliki take more credit for positive developments..." Guess what, today the WaPo's Al Kamen reported the rumor that Khalilzad will shortly be moved from Baghdad, and his place there will be taken by yet another US viceroy-- this time, Ryan Crocker, currently Ambassador to Pakistan...

(2) It spoke frankly about the existence of "the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad".

(3) There are some passages that explicitly urge that the US should pay Maliki off with hard cash if he goes along with the Bushites' scheme... The US should, Hadley writes, "Consider monetary support to moderate groups that have been seeking to break with larger, more sectarian parties, as well as to support Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists; and Provide Maliki with more resources to help build a nonsectarian national movement... "

... Well, I guess these kinds of thing go on all the time in the conduct of internatinal affairs. But it is really depressing to see not only how bullying and imperialistic this top-level adviser is trying to be, but also how very clueless and intellectually bankrupt he is. This makes the situation even more dangerous.

Harold Myerson: In Vietnam, at least the United States could identify a government and some genuinely anti-communist constituencies with which it was plainly allied. But with whom do we stand, and who stands with us, in Iraq? Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki heads a Shiite-dominated government that grows closer to Iran and that is propped up by Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is the most powerful force in the country other than the U.S. Army, which Sadr has called on to leave Iraq forthwith.

As for the Sunni minority, it's among that group that the insurgency against both the U.S. occupation and the string of post-Hussein governments took root. At first the number of insurgents was relatively small, but as the Shiite-controlled police force joined the Shiite militias in anti-Sunni pogroms, the number of Sunnis taking up arms ballooned.

So -- which side are we on?

In the face of escalating civil war, of an increasingly Hobbesian conflict of each against all, the calls still coming from the U.S. military, the administration and Capitol Hill to step up our training of Iraqi forces seem light-years off the mark. The problem with Iraqi security isn't that Iraqi forces are poorly trained. It's that, like the rest of their countrymen, like the very government whose uniform they wear, they're not really invested in fighting for a unified, nonsectarian Iraq. Why do we expect them to defend an ideal that their countrymen either never believed in or were compelled to abandon under pressure of civil war?

Edward Luce and Demetri Sevastopulo: Many argue that the true costs of Iraq remain skilfully concealed from the US public but cannot be deferred indefinitely. Unlike in Vietnam, where the draft lottery meant that members of the elite, such as John Kerry, the failed 2004 presidential candidate, served in uniform, the Iraq war has disproportionately drawn in people with few options beyond the military to improve their chances of escaping poverty.

Much of the human cost of the war has been kept out of sight, including the return of the dead given the Bush administration’s ban on the televising of bodybags.

But the extended tours of duty imposed on volunteer part-timers in the National Guard and Reserves as well as regular units has ruptured military morale, according to Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, Mr Bush’s first secretary of state.

As a result the Pentagon has been forced to dilute recruitment standards – waiving academic requirements and lifting the age limit from 35 to 40. “This is a war that is being fought by poor people while the rest of the country drives round in its SUVs barely noticing it is happening,” said Mr Wilkerson, who served in Vietnam.

Mr Campbell, a former naval officer, describes Iraq as a war that is being “funded by debt on a national credit card that is being financed by China”. America’s public debt has risen by more than a third to over $8,000bn (€6,240bn, £4,215bn) since the start of the Bush administration. China’s foreign reserves, mostly held in US treasury bonds, are close to $1,000bn.

“If you think of the Iraq war as a pool then it is still on the [US] surface,” said Mr Campbell. “But beneath it there are many concealed rocks.

John Nichols: Something important in the overall scheme of the American experiment happened this week.

On Monday morning, MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer appeared on cable television screens across the United States and announced: "The news from Iraq is becoming grimmer every day. Over the long holiday weekend bombings killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. And six Sunni men were doused with kerosene and burned alive. Shiite muslims are the majority, but Sunnis like Saddam Hussein ruled that country until the war. Now, the battle between Shiites and Sunnis has created a civil war in Iraq. Beginning this morning, MSNBC will refer to the fighting in Iraq as a civil war -- a phrase the White House continues to resist. But after careful thought, MSNBC and NBC News decided over the weekend, the terminology is appropriate, as armed militarized factions fight for their own political agendas. We'll have a lots more on the situation in Iraq and the decision to use the phrase, civil war."

The statement followed a similar decision by the Los Angeles Times to drop the pretense of referring to the fighting in Iraq as something other than the civil war it has obviously been for some time. Time magazine and other publications have begun to loosen up on the use of the term "civil war," as well.

What is important about this development is that, for the first time since the debate about Iraq began, some--though certainly not all--major media outlets in the United States are making their own judgments based on developments in the Middle East. Up until now, major media has, with few exceptions, failed to embrace that most basic of journalistic responsibilities. Rather, it has served as a stenography service for the Bush-Cheney administration.

The Washington press corps has imbibed the assessments, the claims, the lies of the White House and then regurgitated them as "news." In so doing, they have warped not just the language but the very essence of the national debate. Meaningless phrases such as "stay the course" and "cut and run" have become mainstays of a discussion that has been stage-managed by White House political czar Karl Rove and his acolytes, as opposed to the news editors who are supposed to be calling the shots for broadcast and cable networks and newspapers.

Major media's on-bended-knee approach to the White House has forestalled an honest dialogue about the crisis into which Iraq degenerated after the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country.

By abandoning the role intended by the founders when they enshrined "freedom of the press" protections in the Constitution--that of checking and balancing executive excess, particularly during periods of one-faction or one-party political dominance--major media failed the Republic at precisely the point when its intervention on the side of realism was most needed.

Gary Younge: Last Saturday the newly elected House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, suggested that the Americans would pull out because the Iraqis were too disorganised and self-obsessed. "In the days ahead, the Iraqis must make the tough decisions and accept responsibility for their future," he said. "And the Iraqis must know: our commitment, while great, is not unending."

It is absurd to suggest that the Iraqis - who have been invaded, whose country is currently occupied, who have had their police and army disbanded and their entire civil service fired - could possibly be in a position to take responsibility for their future and are simply not doing so.

For a start, it implies that the occupation is a potential solution when it is in fact the problem. This seems to be one of the few things on which Sunni and Shia leaders agree. "The roots of our problems lie in the mistakes the Americans committed right from the beginning of their occupation," Sheik Ali Merza, a Shia cleric in Najaf and a leader of the Islamic Dawa party, told the Los Angeles Times last week.

"Since the beginning, the US occupation drove Iraq from bad to worse," said Harith al-Dhari, the nation's most prominent Sunni cleric, after he fled to Egypt this month facing charges of supporting terrorism.

Also, it leaves intact the bogus premise that the invasion was an attempt at liberation that has failed because some squabbling ingrates, incapable of working in their own interests, could not grasp the basic tenets of western democracy. In short, it makes the victims responsible for the crime.

Withdrawal, when it happens, will be welcome. But its nature and the rationale given for it are not simply issues of political point-scoring. They will lay the groundwork for what comes next for two main reasons.

First, because, while withdrawal is a prerequisite for any lasting improvement in Iraq, it will not by itself solve the nation's considerable problems.

Iraq has suffered decades of colonial rule, 30 years of dictatorship and three years of military occupation. Most recently, it has been trashed by a foreign invader. The troops must go. But the west has to leave enough resources behind to pay for what it broke. For that to happen, the anti-war movement in the west must shift the focus of our arguments to the terms of withdrawal while explaining why this invasion failed and our responsibilities to the Iraqi people that arise as a result of that failure.

If we don't, we risk seeing Bono striding across airport tarmac 10 years hence with political leaders who demand good governance and democratic norms in the Gulf, as though Iraq got here by its own reckless psychosis. Eviscerated of history, context and responsibility, it will stand somewhere between basket case and charity case: like Africa, it will be misunderstood as a sign not of our culpability but of our superiority.

Second, because unless we understand what happened in Iraq we are doomed to continue repeating these mistakes elsewhere. Ten days ago, during a visit to Hanoi, Bush was asked whether Vietnam offered any lessons. He said: "We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while ... We'll succeed unless we quit."

In other words, the problem with Vietnam was not that the US invaded a sovereign country, bombed it to shreds, committed innumerable atrocities, murdered more than 500,000 Vietnamese - more than half of whom were civilians - and lost about 58,000 American servicemen. The problem with Vietnam was that they lost. And the reason they lost was not because they could neither sustain domestic support nor muster sufficient local support for their invasion, nor that their military was ill equipped for guerrilla warfare. They lost because it takes a while to complete such a tricky job, and the American public got bored.

"You learn more from a game you lose than a game you win," argued the chess great Capablanca. True, but only if you heed the lessons and then act on them.

Casualty Reports

Friends and family packed the St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church on East Second Street today for the funeral of U.S. Army Capt. Ryan Dennison who was killed in Iraq on Nov. 15.

More than a dozen American flags fluttered in a slight breeze Tuesday afternoon at Green Springs Cemetery, as more than 100 mourners gathered to pay their respects to a local marine who died in Iraq. Jeremy Shock, 22, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines, was killed early last week in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq's Al Anbar province.

Even in the deadly context of the Iraq war, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Schwarz seemed blessed with rare luck. A few weeks ago, a sniper's bullet sliced through the desert air and grazed his helmet, friends said. The 20-year-old Carlstadt resident had already managed to survive nearly three harrowing months in Iraq despite close calls with both shrapnel and gunfire from insurgents. But that luck ran out Monday afternoon, when another sniper's bullet found and killed him in Anbar province, ending in a split second what had been a lifelong dream of serving in the Marine Corps.

The U.S. Defense Department said a north Louisiana soldier has been killed in Iraq. Pvt. Joshua C. Burrows, of Bossier City, was fatally injured Sunday in a roadside bomb explosion in Baghdad. A family member told The Shreveport Times newspaper that Burrows, who was 20 years old, had been in Iraq for just a few weeks at the time of his death. Burrows was married and had a son who was born in April.

When Heath Warner was 12, he visited Arlington National Cemetery with his family. Standing at attention, Heath saluted a member of the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The guard gave the boy a subtle hint, a slight wink, letting Heath know that he understood what the boy was feeling at the historic site. Soon, Marine Pvt. Heath D. Warner, 19, will return to Arlington National Cemetery, this time to be buried in the rolling landscape that meant so much to him. He was among three Marines killed Nov. 22 in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

A soldier from Houston was killed in Iraq a few weeks before he was scheduled to come home, KPRC Local 2 reported Tuesday. Officials said 1st Lt. David Fraser died when an improvised explosive device went off near his vehicle on Sunday. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood.

Hussein Abid Mohammed, from Pakistan, was killed November 18th during small arms fire. Mohammed worked as a transport driver for Armor Group, a contractor based in London. Misaele Matawalu Raiwale, from Fiji, was killed three days earlier. He worked as a security specialist for Armor Group.

At least three Hawai'i Marines have been killed by snipers in Haditha, Iraq, since early October, reflecting an increase in the insurgent tactic in that area of western Anbar province. Lance Cpl. Jeromy D. West, 20, became the third when he was struck Saturday while standing guard on a roof-top, his family said.


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