Saturday, October 29, 2005

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365 and a Wakeup - Life

Bitter are the tears of a child: Sweeten them.
Deep are the thoughts of a child: Quiet them.
Sharp is the grief of a child: Take it from him.
Soft is the heart of a child: Do not harden it.

- Pamela Glenconner

Last night a grain of hot metal tumbled through the air, a swift manmade meteor crashing through the heavens. The statistical chances of this solitary round impacting one the scattered buildings was negligible, and the chances of it actually injuring someone were almost infinitesimal. But in stark defiance to all known laws of probability, this small sliver of dead steel plummeted downward, downward, downward… until its path intersected a house. And then it continued on, tunneling its way into a little girl sitting down for the celebration of Ishtar. The round smashed into the girls head, its sheer velocity driving it on a merciless path through her neck and into her chest. Left alone she would have died in less than five minutes, her death throes painting the kitchen with bright spatters of arterial blood.

But she wasn’t left alone. Instead her father picked up his beloved daughter and carried her trembling form out into the dusty street. As he stumbled outside the door, blinded by the agony only a parent can know, his movements were tracked by two sets of practiced eyes....
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Where the IEDs Lie, the Buffalo Roams

"BAGHDAD -- The padded walls and bulletproof glass kept the sound of the world out as the crew of the Buffalo ambled down the highway at a grazing pace, examining litter.

Boxes. Rags. Bags. Dead dogs. The American soldiers riding in the military's newest weapon against roadside bombs scrutinized everything they saw beneath their windows.

'Hey, he says he sees a rag,' Staff Sgt. Matthew Dzuricky, 28, of Erie, Pa., called out to his men in the Buffalo, a lumbering South African armored personnel carrier designed to withstand land mines. Against all conventional Baghdad traffic wisdom, the Buffalo headed straight at the rag, a potential roadside bomb.

'I see the rag,' Spec. Abe McCann, 29, of Tombstone, Ariz., piped back. 'It's clear.'

'Rag clear,' Dzuricky said through the radio, and the Buffalo moved along.

One of the most dangerous assignments in Iraq is now one of its most critical, as the U.S. military tries to deal with the growing threat of lethal roadside bomb attacks. The number of U.S. troops who have died in the Iraq war hit 2,000 on Tuesday, and more than half of the soldiers killed in the last six months died from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs."...

Emenheiser, of Lebanon, Pa., said the Buffalo finds one IED an average of every 5 1/2 missions. According to statistics, finding an IED saves 2.2 lives, he said.

Insurgents know the Buffalo is out there, roaming the streets. Fliers have appeared in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood instructing militants to "kill the Buffalo." When it rolls down the street at 5 to 10 miles per hour, passersby gawk.

"It's essential to keep the roads safe," said Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Brigham, 41, of Fort Riley, Kan. "These roadside bombs kill Iraqi civilians, Iraqi forces and Americans. These insurgents don't care who they blow up. This is our defense."...
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Iraqi cleric mulls pullout plan

"NAJAF, Iraq -- Iraq's top Shiite cleric is considering demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops after a democratically elected government takes office next year, according to associates of the Iranian-born cleric.

If U.S. officials and their coalition partners do not comply, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani would use peaceful means such as mass street protests to step up pressure for a pullout schedule, according to two associates of the cleric.

The associates spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. They are in regular contact with the ayatollah and call routinely on the 76-year-old cleric at his home in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

The reclusive Ayatollah al-Sistani rarely leaves his home and limits his public comments to religious decrees, or fatwas. He has steadfastly refused to meet with any U.S. officials since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. But his influence among the majority Shiite community is vast, and a public call for such a timetable would put enormous pressure on Washington to comply.

On Dec. 15, Iraqi voters will select the country's first full-term parliament since Saddam's ouster. A new government will be formed afterward."...

At least 16 coalitions as well as an undetermined number of parties and independents met yesterday's deadline for filing for the Dec. 15 election, when voters select a 275-member parliament to serve for four years.

The election follows the Oct. 15 ratification of the new constitution, which many Sunni Arabs opposed. Despite the failure of Sunni Arabs to block the charter, the decision by a Sunni coalition to participate and the presence of prominent Sunnis on other tickets indicated that many members of the community, which forms the core of the insurgency, have not abandoned the political process.

Political battle lines, in fact, have been drawn as before along ethnic and religious lines, a development that complicates nation-building in this factious, war-ravaged country of 27 million people.

Ayatollah al-Sistani's influence on Iraq's Shiite community has already forced the United States to make major revisions in its political blueprint for the country. Last year, the Americans agreed to speed up their timetable for handing sovereignty back to the Iraqis and bringing forward the date for last January's election under pressure from al-Sistani.

Although the Bush administration has signaled that it would like to begin drawing down its forces next year, it has refused to commit to a timetable. The administration has said a drawdown would depend on the success of the political process, including the December elections, and on the ability of Iraqi forces to assume responsibility for battling Sunni Arab insurgents.

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, a Shiite, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, have both warned against a U.S. pullout before Iraqis are ready to guarantee their own security. But for the United States to resist an explicit call for a troop withdrawal by Ayatollah al-Sistani would risk alienating the Shiite community.

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Syria: U.S. troops killed Syrian soldier

"AL-HERI, Syria (AP) - A Syrian general told reporters touring the border with Iraq on Friday that U.S. forces fired across the frontier five months ago and killed a Syrian soldier during an American military operation.

The Syrians organized the rare tour along the 370-mile border in an apparent attempt to mute U.S. and Iraqi criticism that Damascus had done too little to stop foreign fighters from slipping into Iraq to join the insurgency - a charge Damascus has denied."...
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GI Killed Bomber Who Attacked Hotel

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. soldier shot and killed one of three suicide bombers who attacked the Palestine Hotel complex before he could reach his intended target and that probably saved lives in the building, the military said Saturday. "

In a statement on Monday's attack, the military confirmed for the first time that insurgents on the ground apparently lent support to the suicide bombers with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades in the well-coordinated strike on the hotel complex, where many foreign journalists live and work.

The three powerful explosions killed 17 Iraqis who were in the area at the time and wounded several people in the complex, the government said.

The attack involved three suicide car bombs. The first blew a hole in a cement wall protecting the complex. The second car exploded nearby as a possible diversion. Then a large cement mixer drove into the complex through the hole in the wall and exploded on a small road between the Palestine Hotel and the Sheraton Hotel, two 17-story buildings.

Video from a surveillance camera at the Palestine Hotel showed the cement truck was fired on by a U.S. soldier from inside the compound. Around the same time, the vehicle also was seen rocking back and forth before it exploded, possibly because it was stuck on barbed wire or had collided with a small concrete barrier in the road....

[bth: note earlier accounts of this incident attributed the shots that stopped the driver to Iraqi security guards at the building.]

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | 'We don't need al-Qaida'

"Abu Theeb is the leader of a band of Sunni insurgents that preys on US targets north of Baghdad. Last week he openly defied al-Qaida in Iraq by actively supporting the referendum. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad spent five days with him - and uncovered evidence of a growing split in the insurgency "...

I went back to the school with Abu Theeb on polling day. There was a festival atmosphere. Two of his guards were already at their positions, but the rest were more relaxed - their weapons lay against the wall and on tables.

"No one will attack," said Abu Theeb. Inside the classroom that had become the polling station, an old sheik sat on a wooden bench. "The judge and the monitors didn't come from Baghdad - they said this is a hot area - so the sheik of the village is going be the monitor," said Abu Theeb. People began to trickle in. The officials present soon decided that it was not realistic to expect the women to come in, so each man who came in with an ID card was given a whole stack of ballot papers. "Nine papers to Haji Abu Hussein," shouted a registration official. Another official sitting on another table handed Haji Abu Hussein the nine ballots. The man took his ballots, but instead of voting in private in the ballot box, he publicly ticked the "no" boxes, folded the papers, and then chucked them in the box.

By midday people had stopped coming and the officials started ticking the boxes on ballot papers themselves. The next day, America and the authorities were crowing about how well the referendum had gone; yesterday - after a "yes" vote had been returned - leading Sunni politicians accused the Shia in the south of stuffing ballot boxes. Well, some of the Sunnis in the north are certainly guilty of it.

Two days after the balloting, Abu Theeb and two other clerics sat on the floor of a mosque debating the political future of their group and the Sunnis in general. "We should keep all the options open," Abu Theeb told them. Even a coalition with the enemy.

[bth: this is an excellent article well worth a full read. The reporter spent five days with insurgents north of Baghdad. There is a growing split between local insurgents and foreign fighters. It is somewhat surprising that we have not done a better job of splitting these competing factions. Also the article shows how the ballot boxes were stuffed, in this case, voting against the constitution. In reviewing the articles on the election, one notes that commentators repeatedly say that the votes put 'into' the ballot boxes were counted properly, but no one is saying that the ballots weren't rigged when they went into the boxes. In this article the local imam is put in charge and he is handing out 9 ballots to each person voting against the constitution. Thus one wonders whether the election participation figures so touted in by the US government are not figments of our imagination.]
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ABC News: Denmark Arrests 4 in Alleged Terror Plot

"COPENHAGEN, Denmark Oct 27, 2005 - Police arrested four Danish Muslims Thursday on suspicion of belonging to a network planning a suicide terror attack in Europe, officials said.

The suspects, all males between 16 and 20 years old, were ordered held in jail while police investigate the allegations, police spokesman Joern Bro said.

He said at a news conference that the network had planned to carry out the suicide attack in Europe, but he declined to provide further details."

The suspects, who were not further identified, faced a judge in a closed-door hearing late Thursday in Glostrup, a suburb of Copenhagen.

Danish media quoted Bro as saying that the arrests in Copenhagen were linked to an investigation in the Balkans in which arrests were made this month and large quantities of explosives were found.

He did not specify where the Balkan investigation took place but Bosnian police said last week they arrested three people in Sarajevo on suspicion of undertaking terrorist activities.

Police said they found explosives, firearms and other military equipment in connection with those arrests on Oct. 18 and 19.

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Arab States Silent on Iran's Remarks

"CAIRO, Egypt - Arab governments remained silent Thursday as international condemnation grew over a call by Iran's new president for Israel to be destroyed."

Despite the silence, analysts in the region said Tehran's Arab rivals may quietly be pleased to see the radical regime further isolated by its extremism.

However, some Palestinians — who would have the task of destroying Israel according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — rejected the remarks.

"We have recognized the state of Israel and we are pursuing a peace process with Israel, and ... we do not accept the statements of the president of Iran," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "This is unacceptable."

European governments condemned Ahmadinejad's comments, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying they increased concerns the clerical regime is a threat to global security and may even trigger pleas for pre-emptive action against Iran.

"I have never come across a situation (with) the president of a country saying they want to wipe out" another nation, Blair told reporters Thursday....

But hundreds of thousands of Iranians are expected to denounce Israel and back Ahmadinejad's comments across the country Friday during the annual al-Quds — or Jerusalem — Day protests.

"The world will see the anger of the Islamic world against this regime" in Israel, state-run television quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying.

Mustafa Alani, an analyst from the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said Arab states will see Ahmadinejad's speech as showing up the Iranian regime to be "illogical, irrational."

"The Arab countries have benefited," Alani said. "They will never issue a statement, but they are happy that he proved the Iranians, on the regional level, are not rational."

Hidayat Nur Wahid, speaker of Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly, said Ahmadinejad's comments are a reflection of the pressure Iran is under from the United States and others over its nuclear program.

"America has launched an anti-Iranian nuclear campaign, but on the other hand it allows Israel to have its own nuclear (program). America never criticized Israel and even always protect it by vetoing U.N. resolutions criticizing Israel," said Wahid.

Ahmadinejad also directed his wrath at countries like Egypt and Jordan which have formal relations with Israel, and other Islamic countries moving toward accommodation.

"Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury," he said at a "World Without Zionism" conference.

A breakthrough meeting last month between the foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan, a hardline Islamic country, boosted Jerusalem's hopes to break the ice with other Muslim countries.

Toilet Spy Gets Slap On Wrist - October 25, 2005

No time in can for Maine man caught under women's loo

"OCTOBER 25--The Maine man found hiding in a filthy chamber beneath an outhouse toilet copped a plea yesterday and got off with a slap on the wrist from a judge who suggested he might consider treatment. Gary Moody, 45, who pleaded no contest to criminal trespass, was fined $1000 and ordered to pay $700 restitution in connection with the bizarre June 26 restroom incident at a New Hampshire park. District Court Judge Pamela Albee ruled that disorderly conduct charges against Moody would be dropped if he stays out of trouble for two years. According to a riveting (and repulsive) Carroll County Sheriff's Office report--a copy of which you'll find below--Moody told investigators that he dropped his wedding ring into the women's room toilet and simply climbed in to retrieve it. He was nabbed after a 'female entered the restroom and saw a man down in the 'vault' looking up at her.' Moody claimed that he was 'changing his clothes' in the park's loo when the ring headed south. So he 'climbed down through the hole and when he was searching for the ring' someone else came into the room (embarrassed, Moody tried to hide in the filthy space). Asked why he was in the women's bathroom in the first place, Moody explained that, 'the men's room was busy.' He did not have a handy explanation, however, for why he did not just tell a park ranger about the supposedly missing ring. Citing extensive media coverage of Moody's case and the resulting embarrassment for the defendant, Judge Albee said he was deserving of sentencing 'compassion.' "

Thursday, October 27, 2005

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Operation Truth TV Ad: Better Way

"Operation Truth launched a nationwide television advertising campaign today, calling for a change in course in Iraq, and an exit strategy that honors the sacrifice of the more than 2000 American Troops killed in the war. See it here."

[bth: I would ask you to go to the link above watch the video commercial and if you feel as I do, please send the link to a friend. OpTruth is doing some excellent work and deserves our support.]

Arianna Huffington: The Democrats Blow It On Iraq- Again!

"With Plamegate dominating the day, the table is set for the Democratic Party to seize the moment. The scandal has reignited a national debate about the White House lies and deceptions that led us to war in Iraq, public support for the president's handling of the war has hit an all-time low, and the 2,000th soldier killed in action has put the human cost of the war back on page one."

So how have the Democrats reacted?

You be the grand jury (Warning: have some Xanax or other suitable anti-depressant handy):...

[bth: indeed the rest of the article just gets down right depressing.]

Iran Film Ban Attempts to Curtail Freedoms

"TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - There won't be any liquor-swilling God-denyers on the Iranian silver screen any time soon. Drug takers, secularists, liberals, anarchists and feminists are out, too.

That's what a committee of Islamic clerics, led by new hard-line President Ahmadinejad, ruled earlier this week when it banned foreign films. The clerics singled out in the ban elements of Western culture that were judged as affronts to the government's vision of Iran's Muslim culture.

With the decision, Iranians felt one of the first cultural reversals of the opening to the outside world they enjoyed under their former reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

And the ban, designed to wipe out what clerics call 'corrupt Western culture,' is not going down well with many in Iran."...

Over 2,000 Companies Paid Oil-for-Food Bribes

"About 2,200 companies in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, including corporations in France, Germany and Russia, paid a total of $1.8 billion in kickbacks and illicit surcharges to Saddam Hussein's government, a U.N.-backed investigation said in a report released Thursday.

The report from the committee probing claims of wrongdoing in the $64 billion program said prominent politicians also made money from extensive manipulation of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program in Iraq.

The investigators reported that companies and individuals from 66 countries paid illegal kickbacks using a variety of ways, and those paying illegal oil surcharges came from, or were registered in, 40 countries"...

Al Sadr Militia in Deadly Clash With Sunnis

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) clashed Thursday with Sunni militants in fighting that killed at least 15 people, and three American soldiers died in separate attacks the day before, officials said.

Six Iraqis died and 12 were wounded in other attacks Thursday.
The Shiite-Sunni fighting occurred after al-Sadr's Madhi Army (search) militia raided a house in Nahrawan, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, to free a fellow militiaman kidnapped by Sunni militants, said Amer al-Husseini, an aide to al-Sadr.

The Mahdi Army freed the hostage and captured two militants during the raid, but was ambushed on its way out of Nahrawan (search), al-Husseini said."....

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

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For Devout Pakistani Muslims, Aid Muddles Loyalties

"BASSIAN, Pakistan, Oct. 24 - Asmat Ali Janbaz's explanation for the American military helicopters flying over this isolated mountain valley last Thursday afternoon was familiar. "

Mr. Janbaz, who lives in the area and who describes himself as an Islamic hard-liner, contended that the Americans were not ferrying injured earthquake victims to safety; instead, they were secretly establishing an American military base in northern Pakistan to encircle China.

"This is the mission!" he declared triumphantly. "Not to help the people of Pakistan."

Yet after Mr. Janbaz departed, something extraordinary happened. Here in a mountainous corner of northern Pakistan long thought to be a center for militant training camps and religious conservatism, three men dismissed his theory and heartily praised the United States for aiding victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake, which killed more than 53,000 Pakistanis.

"People don't believe such things; people only believe in what they are seeing," said Manzur Hussain, a 36-year-old hospital worker whose brother, sister and two sons died in the earthquake. "People who give them aid, they respect them."

While it is too early to reach firm conclusions, anecdotal interviews with earthquake survivors in this picturesque mountain district, known as Mansehra, suggest that American assistance may be improving Pakistanis' perceptions of the United States - an image that has been overwhelmingly negative here since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

[bth: interesting article worth a full read on the impact of good works in changing public opinion. Perhaps Karen Hughes should take some notes.]

Military's Advice to Reporters: 2,000 Dead in Iraq 'Not a Milestone'

"NEW YORK CNN reported this morning that the U.S. death toll in Iraq had reached 2,000, and a little later The Associated Press confirmed this. AP said the 2,000th military fatality was an Army sergeant who was wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and died in Texas last weekend. He is Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas.

But the chief spokesman for the American-led multinational force has called on the media not to consider the 2,000 number as some kind of milestone.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the force's combined press center, wrote in an e-mail to reporters, 'I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq. The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives.'"...
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Oil Doesn't Want Focus on Big Profit

..."Now, even as high gasoline prices continue to anger motorists and aggravate financial problems at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., the oil companies have begun to report record quarterly profit. Yesterday, British energy giant BP PLC reported a $6.53 billion third-quarter profit, up from $4.87 billion in the same period last year. And tomorrow, analysts expect Exxon Mobil Corp. to show that it earned nearly $9 billion over the past three months -- the largest corporate quarterly profit ever.

Grumbling already has begun on Capitol Hill: Last month, one senator proposed a windfall-profit tax on oil conglomerates, and yesterday, House Republicans warned energy companies against price gouging.

To deflect the damage, the energy industry is relying on an ad campaign that was escalating even before hurricanes Katrina and Rita blitzed Gulf Coast petroleum refineries. The print and television ads are designed to educate consumers and lawmakers with a 'we're all in this together' tone."...

Bigger, Stronger Homemade Bombs Now to Blame for Half of U.S. Deaths

"BAGHDAD, Oct. 25 -- After 31 months of fighting in Iraq, more than half of all American fatalities are now being caused by powerful roadside bombs that blast fiery, lethal shrapnel into the cabins of armored vehicles, confronting every patrol with an unseen, menacing adversary that is accelerating the U.S. death toll.

U.S. military officials, analysts and militants themselves say insurgents have learned to adapt to U.S. defensive measures by using bigger, more sophisticated and better-concealed bombs known officially as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. They are sometimes made with multiple artillery shells and Iranian TNT, sometimes disguised as bricks, boosted with rocket propellant, and detonated by a cell phone or a garage door opener.

The bombs range from massive explosives capable of destroying five-ton vehicles to precision 'shaped charges' that bore softball-size holes through thick armor, the main defense of troops in the field, and they are becoming a key factor in the fast-rising U.S. death toll.

It took about 18 months from the start of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to reach 1,000 U.S. deaths; it took less than 13 months to reach 1,000 more. A major reason for the surge, statistics show, is the insurgency's embrace of IEDs, together with the military's inability to detect them.

"It's the dreaded IED that's killing our soldiers," said Michael White, the creator of , a Web site that tracks U.S. military casualties. "I read in the paper that we have some new device to detect them, or we're taking extra care to make sure we don't get hit, and death after death keeps coming in, and it's IEDs."

In the first six months of battle in Iraq, only 11 soldiers -- about 4 percent of the 289 who died -- were killed by homemade roadside bombs. In the last six months, at least 214 service members have been killed by IEDs, or 63 percent of the 339 combat-related deaths and 53 percent of the 400 U.S. fatalities, according to data complied by the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index.

"The IEDs are the biggest threat we have
," said Lt. Col. John Walsh, commander of Task Force 1-163, a Montana Army National Guard battalion that is completing a year-long combat tour in Hawija, a Sunni Arab city about 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk. Walsh's soldiers have encountered more than 600 roadside bombs, 60 percent of which exploded before they were detected. The unit has lost four soldiers, two from roadside bombs, and had 68 wounded, a casualty rate of 8.5 percent.

"Right now they're probably four times more powerful than when we first got here," 1st Sgt. Stanley Clinton said, referring to the bombs. Clinton, 53, has been deployed for the past year in Kirkuk for Alpha Company of the 2nd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team.

Clinton said that when the 116th combat team, an Idaho Army National Guard unit, arrived last December, the insurgents employed "backwoodsy stuff" -- often tiny bombs fashioned from items as basic as Coca-Cola cans. Now, he said, they often consist of one or more 120- or 155-mm artillery rounds, 15 or 20 pounds of rocket propellant or shaped charges that concentrate the blast and punch through armor plating.

"Clearly we are not winning the competition over tactics and counter-tactics," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst who heads Brookings' Iraq Index. "The insurgency's ability to hide IEDs better, detonate them more remotely and build them more powerfully has been at least as effective as our improvements in better armor and better tactics."

In some instances, insurgents have constructed IEDs powerful enough to kill soldiers inside 22-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which are more heavily armored than Humvees.

Even though U.S. commanders have placed huge emphasis on countering IEDs, O'Hanlon said, "We are still suffering as many casualties as ever, which makes me wonder if we've found the limitations of our reconnaissance measures." Militants may have discovered, for instance, how to avoid being spotted by surveillance flights, he said.

The development of shaped charges appears to be a direct response by insurgents to the Americans' use of more heavily armored vehicles, according to soldiers and U.S. military explosives experts. Those vehicles -- principally five-ton, armor-plated Humvees -- are used by all U.S troops traveling outside military bases. The Pentagon drew criticism last year for failing to provide adequate protection for soldiers patrolling Iraq's increasingly dangerous streets.

To fashion a shaped charge, one end of a cylindrical object such as a pipe is welded shut, and is then packed with explosive material and a conical piece of metal that becomes a molten projectile when the device is detonated. The charge is designed to focus the blast on a small area. In the case of a Humvee, the charge blasts a hole in the armor plating, propelling the scorching metal into the vehicle's cabin.

In July, a Humvee belonging to Alpha Company was out on patrol in Kirkuk when it was hit by a bomb equipped with a shaped charge, said Capt. Paul White, 39, the company commander. The explosion drilled a hole the size of a softball in the driver's door, he said. The red-hot shrapnel severed the driver's legs while the Humvee was still moving.

"He probably would have bled out except the shaped charge made [the metal] so hot it actually cauterized his legs as it cut his legs off," White said.

When a soldier yelled to stop the vehicle, White said the driver replied: "I can't stop. I don't have any legs

"He literally said that," White recalled, adding that the Humvee came to a halt only after it rammed into a store.

According to a former Iraqi army officer who lives in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi and is now a member of al Qaeda in Iraq, the group headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, insurgents have advanced beyond the crude bombs they once used, such as dynamite or gunpowder mixed with nails and buried beside a road. Now, he said in an interview, militants have access to TNT from Iran that he said was about seven times stronger than the TNT available in Iraq. He said they were also using old Austrian missiles from the former Iraqi army and detonating them with electric wires, cell phones and other remote-control devices.

An Oct. 15 IED attack on a U.S. convoy in the village of Albu Faraj, just east of Ramadi, illustrated some of the new methods.

Haj Ali Eedan, 52, a farmer who watched the operation, said armed men planted a cylinder that looked like a hospital oxygen tank near a road, then moved it twice before finally hiding it in a pile of discarded nylon baskets. His son, Hussein, 30, said he thought the final site was selected for a reason other than that the cylinder would be well-hidden there.

"They were trying to find a solid place -- like metal, iron, or concrete -- to put the IED on," he said. "This makes the explosion three times more powerful than burying it."

The deadliest such attack came in August, when 14 Marines and an Iraqi civilian died in a single blast near Haditha, 125 miles northwest of Baghdad. The military later said insurgents had detonated a stack of three antitank rounds under an amphibious assault vehicle, the moderately armored personnel carrier used by Marines.

"We got better armor, they started getting better ordnance," Col. Bob Chase, the operations chief for the 2nd Marine Division, based in Ramadi, said at the time.

The insurgents have hidden the bombs in gunny sacks to disguise them as part of the garbage that litters the streets of Kirkuk, soldiers said. They have embedded them in concrete blocks similar to those used as building materials in new Kurdish settlements. As the Americans adapt their tactics, so, too, do the insurgents.

On the night of their Baghdad patrol this week, a platoon from the Army's 4-64 Armor Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division studied every pile of trash on the side of darkened streets for telltale wires and other signs of explosives.

Earlier in the war, "We had an enemy who we could see," said Sgt. Brian Zamiska, 27, of Bentleyville, Pa., tapping the hood of a black Opel sedan as the patrol passed it. "We didn't have to worry about looking at every cardboard box in the road or every car like this and wondering if it was going to blow up."

His platoon mate, Lt. Lennie Fort, 30, of Clarksville, Tenn., said this style of warfare was frustrating.

"There's no one to shoot back [at], no one to kill," he said. "Honestly, it just gets us amped up to go out and get someone, but there's never anyone to get."

"Now they get a hose and they lay it across the road, and when you drive across it, it ignites the IED," said Clinton, the Alpha Company sergeant in Kirkuk. "You know years ago, when you had service stations where you'd drive across the rubber hose and it would go, 'ding, ding, ding'? Here you drive across a little hose and it sends water back into a little bottle with wires sitting there. When water goes back into the bottle, it connects wires, and off goes the IED. It's just so simple and so stupid."

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks Posted by Picasa

Rosa Parks Changed America Posted by Picasa

Left-Out Moderates Actually Could Rule, New Study Shows by Mort Kondracke

"Embedded in a much-discussed and brilliant new analysis of U.S. political polarization is this sad fact: The moderate near-majority of Americans is left out of our political process.

As Democratic scholars William Galston and Elaine Kamarck point out, self-identified moderates have outnumbered conservatives and liberals consistently for the past 30 years.

And yet liberals, just 20 percent of the electorate, dominate the Democratic Party while conservatives, at 33 percent, own the Republican Party. The remaining, moderate 47 percent is forced to choose between ever-widening extremes.

'Our politics is more polarized than the people themselves,' Galston and Kamarck write in their paper, 'The Politics of Polarization,' and 'the system of polarized parties does not provide a natural home for the plurality of Americans who define themselves as moderates.'"...

The problem is, such a political leader has to get nominated. The only way for that to happen is for moderates not to sit on the sidelines during the primary process and instead to fight for middle-of-the-road candidates....

Maybe. But experience suggests that the primary process will force Democrats to toe lines dictated by teachers unions, extreme feminists, doves and civil rights groups, and that Republicans will have to hew to the views of hard-line evangelicals, anti-taxers and anti-immigration nativists....

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View from Palestine Hotel of blast wall being breached. Posted by Picasa

Iraq's Constitution is Adopted

"Iraq's landmark constitutional was adopted by a majority of voters during the country's Oct. 15 referendum, election officials said Tuesday.

Results released by the Independent Electoral Commission (search) of Iraq showed that Sunni Arabs, who had sharply opposed the draft document, failed to produce the two-thirds 'no' vote they would have needed in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces to defeat it.

The commission, which had been auditing the referendum results for 10 days, said at a news conference in Baghdad (search) that Ninevah province, had produced a 'no' vote of only 55 percent. The constitution, which many Kurds and majority Shiites strongly support, is considered another major step in the country's democratic transformation, clearing the way for the election of a new Iraqi parliament on Dec. 15. Such steps are considered important in any decision about the future withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Iraq."...

Monday, October 24, 2005

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Militants sharing bomb expertise

"BAQOUBA, Iraq - Roadside bombs are growing more powerful and sophisticated because insurgents throughout Iraq have grown adept at sharing information and using expert trainers.

'What we're seeing is an increase in the evolutionary pace of IED (improvised explosive device) design,' said Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter, a Washington counterterrorism firm contracted by the U.S. military to study insurgent tactics. 'It's increasing at a pace we previously haven't seen.'

Insurgent groups are passing around videos and other training aids to teach the most effective bombmaking techniques. 'There is definitely a program to share information,' said Maj. Dean Wollan, intelligence officer for the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, operating in this area north of Baghdad.

Sometimes explosives experts from one cell are sent to other areas to learn new techniques, then return to train others, Venzke said. One captured video shows in three-dimensional animation every component of a roadside bomb, how to build and use it, and where to place it for the biggest impact, he said.

Roadside bombs are the main weapon used against U.S. forces in Iraq. They are usually made from explosives or artillery shells and can be detonated remotely or triggered when a vehicle passes over.

The number of improvised explosive devices detonated or discovered has steadily increased to more than 1,000 last month from fewer than 600 in September 2004, according to the multinational forces command in Iraq. "...

"The concern is that one group gains an effective technology, and it becomes almost Darwinism," said Lt. Col. Shawn Weed, division intelligence officer for the 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for Baghdad and surrounding areas. "They'll share that with other groups."

Another motivator is money. Cells pay for the best technology, sometimes several thousand dollars for a well-built, well-planted unit, Weed said.

Enemy Body Counts Revived

"Eager to demonstrate success in Iraq, the U.S. military has abandoned its previous refusal to publicize enemy body counts and now cites such numbers periodically to show the impact of some counterinsurgency operations.

The revival of body counts, a practice discredited during the Vietnam War, has apparently come without formal guidance from the Pentagon's leadership. Military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad said they knew of no written directive detailing the circumstances under which such figures should be released or the steps that should be taken to ensure accuracy."...

That policy appeared to shift with the assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in November, an operation considered crucial at the time to denying safe havens to enemy fighters. U.S. military officials reported 1,200 to 1,600 enemy fighters killed, although reporters on the scene noted far fewer corpses were found by Marines after the fighting....

A surge in enemy activity this year has generated a corresponding increase in offensives by U.S. and Iraqi forces -- and a rise in the number of U.S. military statements containing numbers of enemy killed.

High-ranking commanders also have contributed to the trend. In January, Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. officer in Iraq, said U.S. and Iraqi forces had killed or captured 15,000 people last year. In May, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, mentioned the killing of 250 of insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi's "closest lieutenants" as evidence of progress in Iraq....
 Posted by Picasa News - International - Afghan journalist jailed over anti-Islamic articles

"AN AFGHAN women's magazine editor has been sentenced to two years in jail after being convicted of publishing anti-Islamic articles, including one challenging a belief that Muslims who convert to other religions should be stoned to death, a judge said yesterday.

The case underlines the fragility of press freedom in the nascent democracy and highlights a struggle between religious moderates and extremists over what form Islam will take in Afghanistan as foundations are laid for its future."

The editor, Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, was arrested on 1 October after his magazine, Haqooq-i-Zan - "Women's Rights" - argued that giving up Islam was not a crime that should be punished by death, as sanctioned by some interpretations of Islamic Shariah law.
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Pressure-triggered bombs worry U.S. forces

..."But the technique used to trigger many of the bombs has U.S. officers here concerned. Until recently, most roadside explosives in this area were triggered remotely by an insurgent using a cellphone, doorbell or other wireless device.

This bomb was detonated by a pressure switch that activates when a vehicle drives over it. The incident means that U.S. forces here, who have improved their ability to spot remotely triggered bombs, now have a different type of weapon to worry about.

'The new weapon out there is the pressure-detonated IED,' Col. Steven Salazar, commander of the Army's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, warned company commanders during a recent battle briefing. 'It's a very dangerous tactic.'

The bomb that caused the Oct. 14 blast was the 14th pressure-switch device found or detonated in the area in the past four weeks.

For insurgents, the advantage to a pressure switch is that no one has to risk capture by remaining nearby to trigger the explosion. The downside for insurgents is that they can't control when such bombs go off: Any vehicle heavy enough can set off the blast, including civilian cars and trucks.

Pressure-switch bombs aren't entirely new. They have been used, on and off, by insurgents as far back as fall 2003, says Maj. Dean Wollan, intelligence officer of the 3rd Brigade. They still are commonly found in Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad.

In the Baqouba area north of Baghdad, insurgents had abandoned the use of pressure-triggered bombs this spring after U.S. and Iraqi forces discovered eight of the devices before they could be detonated. The bombs were poorly assembled, Wollan said.

The re-emergence of pressure-activated bombs has come as insurgents have acquired more expertise in building and placing them. "These guys either received additional training, or new personnel has moved in to show them how to do it correctly," Wollan said.

He said insurgent groups are swapping information on DVDs and on paper, or by assigning explosives experts to train with bombmakers in other cells and groups.

The main insurgent network in the Baqouba area is also the one with the most sophisticated bomb builders: the Islamic extremist group known as the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, made up of Iraqi Kurds, Sunnis and foreign jihadists. ...

As U.S. troops have learned to combat roadside bombs, insurgents' tactics have improved, too. One example is their increasing use of "shaped charges" to concentrate the force of a blast and better penetrate armored vehicles.

"There's a tendency to think of the insurgency as a bunch of guys running around the desert with Kalashnikovs," Wollan said. "These are a group of dedicated professionals trying to improve their craft."

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Secret MoD poll: Iraqis support attacks on British troops

"Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed.

The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, shows that up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks and fewer than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security in their country."

It demonstrates for the first time the true strength of anti-Western feeling in Iraq after more than two and a half years of bloody occupation.

The nationwide survey also suggests that the coalition has lost the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, which Tony Blair and George W Bush believed was fundamental to creating a safe and secure country....

The survey was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces....

Trial, tribalism . . . and momentum

"A Sunni grandmother watched the first day of Saddam Hussein's trial on television and scoffed that he should be charged at all. 'I felt sorry,' she told The Washington Post, 'I almost cried. Every country in the world has terrorism. All the presidents in this region torture their people. Why, of all the countries, do they come after us?'

That is the face of tribalism -- pride in one's own trumps every other consideration -- most definitely including morality, compassion and a love of justice. Saddam is a Sunni Arab who committed the most brutal crimes against the Shi'ite majority and the Kurdish minority in Iraq. It is estimated he murdered between 300,000 and more than 1 million, including those who died in his aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait.

But in the tribal world of the Middle East, being a mass murderer, torturer, liar and supporter of terrorists does not guarantee a bad reputation. It depends whom you ask. As his trial opened (and then abruptly adjourned for 40 days), Sunni Arabs expressed disquiet. ...

A tribal mindset precludes a genuine rule of law. The tribalist does not ask "what has this man done?" but "to whom did he do it?" Note the Iraqi barber's assumption majorities naturally oppress minorities. He apparently cannot conceive of a Kurdish judge putting aside personal feelings to administer justice fairly.

Even worse is the sense from these reactions that sympathy stops at the tribe's edge. In Mosul, a Sunni stronghold, Saddam's defenders do not deny charges of mass murder. They simply justify it. Regarding Saddam's gassing of 5,000 Kurdish men, women and children during the Iran-Iraq War, they cite fear of a Kurdish-Iranian alliance. ...

Informed Comment - A Clarifying Letter from Galbraith on Iraqi Army, Partition

"Former Ambassador Peter Galbraith wrote in response to a posting of last Thursday, and has kindly agreed to allow me [Professor Juan Cole] to reprint the letter here:

' Dear Professor Cole:

. . . You quoted today the Brattleboro Reformer's account of my remarks last night to the Windham World Affairs Council. You noted a transcription error in my description of the sorry state of Iraqi military and said you would seek clarification. I am happy to provide it.

I described the Iraqi Army as consisting of nine Kurdish battalions, sixty Shiite battalions, and 45 Sunni Arab battalions. There is exactly one mixed battalion. The Kurdish battalions have no Arab officers, while there are a few Kurdish and Sunni Arab officers with Shiite battalions. Being a Kurdish or Shiite officer of the Sunni Arab battalions is risky, so there are not many at all. This is hardly the picture of a national institution. I also noted that up to half the nominal troop strength consists of ghost soldiers. As there is no direct deposit in Iraq, the battalion command can pocket the salaries of soldiers that don't exist, so there is an incentive to maintain full strength on paper. More of this can be found in my October 6 article in the New York Review of Books, "Iraq's Last Chance", which also analyzes
the new Constitution.

You also describe me as advocating the break up of Iraq. My position is slightly different. I argue that Iraq has already broken up, and that it will be much more costlym - in terms of lives and money - to put it back together than to accept the new reality. One reason I like the new Constitution is that I believe it is

You argue that partition could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths, but you ignore the fact that holding Iraq together has already cost well more than
100,000 lives in the various Kurdistan wars.

I also think you draw the wrong lessons from the break-up of Yugoslavia, about which I have a certain experience.* The US and Europeans focused on trying to hold Yugoslavia together when there was no way to do so. Instead, US and European diplomacy should have focused on the issues that caused the war. The war was
preventable; the break up was not.

I do not believe it is possible to keep people in a state they hate, and the Kurds clearly want out of Iraq. I do not think the break up of the rest of Iraq is inevitable, but it is possible.

Saddam murdered over 100,000 Kurds, used poison gas, and destroyed more than 4000 villages in Kurdistan as part of his effort to keep Iraq united. Mismanaged
divorce can be costly, but so is an unwanted marriage. The human cost of holding Iraq together may be much higher than that of a negotiated separation.

All the best.

Peter Galbraith '

When I mentioned to him that I didn't see sentiment for partition among the Arab Iraqis, he kindly replied:

' I agree that the situation of Kurdistan is different from that of the South, and that there are not many Arab Iraqis who want their own independent state. But, I have talked to several prominent Shiite politicians who do say that they might consider separation if Iraq continues to deteriorate and if there is no accomodation with the Sunni Arabs. The "three state soluton" (plus Baghdad as a federal capital) may be the outcome in the context of a federation, but it is not necessarily precursor to the three independent countries. I see two independent states--not three--as the much more likely end result. '

*Galbraith was ambassador to Croatia

[bth: I wish he had clarified what would make up a two-state scenario versus a three-state break-up.]

Sunday, October 23, 2005

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Colonel quits as troops are denied armoured land rovers in Iraq

"THE commanding officer of a battalion serving in Iraq has resigned after failing to obtain armoured Land Rovers for his patrols.

Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Henderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, is understood to have been furious last week after one of his senior sergeants died as a direct result of the failure to supply "armour protected" Land Rovers for his men, defence sources said.

Sergeant Christian Hickey was killed when his vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb on patrol in Basra late on Tuesday night.

The Ministry of Defence says frontline troops cannot have the armoured Land Rovers because they are not unsuitable for use off-road, but six weeks ago Britain supplied a number of the vehicles to Iraqi police in Basra.

British troops are equipped with the "snatch vehicle", a Land Rover protected by composite fibre glass designed to stop rifle fire. One senior source who has recently been in Iraq said: "They [the insurgents] have weapons that go right through the composite."

The source added that British troops were now using tanks or convoys of up to 12 Warrior armoured vehicles to mount patrols with some areas deemed too dangerous to be patrolled at all. "We're in survival mode right now, we can't do anything at all," he said.

The Ministry of Defence insisted that Henderson, 43, decided some time ago to leave but news of his resignation comes amid growing anger among senior officers.

Commanders recently asked for two extra battalions totalling around 1,200 men to help them regain control of Basra but claim the request was denied on political grounds. Instead they were sent one company of fewer than 200 men from the Royal Highland Fusiliers. "

[bth: I wish an American officer had the same balls, the ridiculous and needless death of many enlisted personnel could have been prevented with an officer that was willing to put his career on the line to protect his soldiers from bureaucratic ineptness. The DOD played a game of deception with the Senate and House Armed Services Committees which delayed inevitable productin of personal and vehicular armor. In the end the only beneficiary were the insurgents. The lies, the loss of confidence, the loss of integrity with the way the DOD reported to Congress and the American public ultimately caused the breach of trust between the armored forces and the public. Not since Vietnam...]
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U.S.: Zarqawi's Terror Network Growing

"WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence officials say Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has expanded his terrorism campaign in Iraq to extremists in two dozen terror groups scattered across almost 40 countries, creating a network that rivals Osama bin Laden's.

In interviews, U.S. government officials said the threat to U.S. interests from al-Zarqawi compared with that from bin Laden, whom al-Zarqawi pledged his loyalty to one year ago. "...
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Referendum has changed little in Iraq

"BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A week after a historic referendum on a new constitution, Iraq looks much as it did before the vote: Kurdish militias patrol the north; warring Shi'ite Muslim militias wrestle for control of the south, and in the center an insurgency, supported by an angry Sunni Arab minority, battles U.S. forces, the government and the Shi'ites.

No one expected an overnight transformation. But it remains uncertain whether the new constitution, and Wednesday's appearance of Saddam Hussein in a courtroom cage, can halt or even slow the violence and sectarian divisions that have gained momentum since the U.S.-led invasion 31 months ago."...

Khalilzad's optimism may prove right, but there are reasons for skepticism, including:
•Iraqi security forces have come a long way in the past two years, but U.S. officials say that only one battalion is ready to operate independently.
•Most Sunnis and many Shi'ites lack confidence in Iraq's government, which many see as a cast of outsiders, including former exiles, who are more interested in religious and political causes than national unity or public services.
•The insurgency, backed mainly by Sunnis, has killed thousands in car bombings, roadside explosions and shootings in central and western Iraq....

Some U.S. military officers say the violence could worsen if the political system fractures further.

"Maybe they just need to have their civil war," said a senior military official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his opinions are at odds with official views. "In this part of the world, it's almost a way of life."