Saturday, November 05, 2005

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Dutch police foil attack on El Al plane

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World: "A Dutch terrorism suspect arrested in October allegedly hoped to shoot down an El-Al airliner at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, a Netherlands television program reported Friday, citing police and secret service documents.

Samir Azzouz, 19, was one of seven suspects arrested in four Dutch cities on Oct. 14 on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack.
Azzouz, the son of Moroccan immigrants, was acquitted in April of accusations he had planned to attack a Dutch nuclear reactor. "...

Reconstructed face of Copernicus Posted by Picasa
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'Body of Copernicus' identified

"Scientists say they have probably solved the mystery of where the father of modern astronomy was buried.

Nicolaus Copernicus' 16th century theory that the Earth orbits the Sun was a key scientific development.

A skull and partial remains were discovered two months ago in Frombork Cathedral in north-eastern Poland.

A computer-generated reconstruction of the man's face bears a strong enough resemblance to portraits of Copernicus to convince the scientists. "...

FBI: Financial Gain Drove Uranium Forgery

"The FBI has determined that financial gain, not an effort to influence U.S. policy, was behind the forged documents that the Bush administration used to bolster its prewar claim that Iraq sought uranium ore in Niger.

The FBI's investigation began after questions were raised about a brief portion of President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech when he said that Iraq was pursuing the uranium ore, part of his argument to justify the coming invasion of Iraq.

Some U.S. and foreign officials disputed the authenticity of documents, supporting Bush's contention, that showed Saddam Hussein was seeking the uranium ore for a nuclear weapons program."

[bth: It appears probable now that Bush used fraudulent documents to make the case for war and that he or Cheney knew that the documents were forgeries when he used them. Sad.]

Kissinger Discourages Exiting Iraq Early

"Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned against an early withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces from Iraq, saying such a move would bolster insurgents and terrorists worldwide, causing instability across the Middle East.

He also warned that European Union nations and Washington needed to find another way to get Iran to stop the development of its nuclear program, which the EU and US fear is being used to make nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Kissinger, in a speech Friday to top NATO officers and officials, said Iran's nuclear program and terrorism continued to pose a tough challenge for trans-Atlantic ties, and warned also that Iran could use nuclear weapons as a way to protect itself while continuing to promote terrorist groups.

'They (weapons) can become a shield by which to step up terrorist actions,' said Kissinger, who was secretary of state and national security adviser under U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He retains substantial influence in foreign affairs, and continues to have close links to the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Saying an early pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq would have disastrous consequences for regional stability, Kissinger made clear Friday that he supported Bush's Iraq policy.

'To argue that a collapse of the United States in Iraq would not have consequences ... is simply living in a dream world,' the former top U.S. diplomat said. 'Shockwaves would ripple throughout the Islamic world.'

Terrorists and opponents of governments across the Arab world — such as in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which support Washington — would be encouraged by an early withdrawal of the American military from Iraq, he said. A U.S. military withdrawal would "embolden their attacks on existing governments."

He said he hoped that, when a new government is elected in Iraq next month, "a combination of legitimacy and training of troops of the Iraqi army will improve (the) security situation."

Nevertheless, the 82-year-old Kissinger said upcoming U.S. congressional elections would have an effect on the debate of how long U.S. troops would remain in Iraq.

U.S. politicians opposed to Bush's Iraq troop commitments have called on him to clarify a timeline for reducing troop levels, saying the losses U.S. troops are suffering there are untenable due to the continued violent attacks against them.

"The challenge we now have is to generate enough patience," he said.

Kissinger did not touch on the sensitive issue of whether Washington's European allies should contribute more troops to rebuilding Iraq, nor did he suggest NATO take a larger role in Iraq. NATO members, notably France and Germany, were opposed to the alliance playing a key role in providing peacekeepers to Iraq, and also opposed the U.S.-led war there....

U.S. Should Repay Millions to Iraq, a U.N. Audit Finds

"An auditing board sponsored by the United Nations recommended yesterday that the United States repay as much as $208 million to the Iraqi government for contracting work in 2003 and 2004 assigned to Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary."

The work was paid for with Iraqi oil proceeds, but the board said it was either carried out at inflated prices or done poorly. The board did not, however, give examples of poor work....

Deadly bomb technology enters Iraq from Iran-general

"WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Sophisticated technology and explosives to make improvised bombs killing U.S. and other troops in Iraq are apparently entering the country virtually unhindered from Iran, a senior British general said on Friday."...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Home of the brave....

If we are to remain a beacon of liberty, then we must not allow our government to maintain secret gulags in Eastern Europe, torture prisoners as national policy or be viewed in the world as occupiers instead of liberators. Posted by Picasa

JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY: A battle with Rumsfeld

"It was a slide down the toad hole that ended with a bump as I landed in Wonderland: The E Ring office of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld where the great man waited to do battle with me.

The occasion was an invitation to a private lunch with the secretary, and I knew I was not there to receive the Defense Distinguished Service Medal or a pat on the back. My recent columns on the state of the Army and the conduct of the war in Iraq have not been well received at the uppermost levels in the Pentagon.

The surprise was that four others were joining us: the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace; the vice chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Richard Cody; the director of the Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp; and the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Larry DiRita."

Good! Five to one. I had them surrounded.

Rumsfeld was working at his stand-up desk when I entered. He was cordial and smiling and remained so throughout. He did a fast count and informed me that I was outranked by a grand total of 11 stars on the three generals he had brought in.

Then the battle was joined: "I'm not hearing anything like the things you are writing about," Rumsfeld said.

I responded that it had been my experience that information coming up the chain to someone with Rumsfeld's reputation was often not the whole truth. Him: "Oh, I know that, but I talk to lots of soldiers all the time. Why, I have given over 600 Town Hall meetings and anyone can ask me anything." Uh-huh.

He suggested that perhaps my sources were all retired general officers who had been too long away from what was happening today. I told him that in fact about half my sources were active duty officers and NCOs.

"How about 70-30 or maybe 80-20?" Rumsfeld countered. No, not really, I said. In fact many of them are not only active duty but also work in the Pentagon -- perhaps some even on his staff.

The debate took us to questions of whether the Army was broken, or not. Rumsfeld said, in his opinion, the Army was "light years better than it was four years ago."

I asked whether our strategy and tactics in Iraq made any sense at all when we cannot figure out some better way of fighting than sending the finest troops in the world down the same roads to be blown up by ever improving terrorist bombs. That by so doing we were playing to the enemy's strong suit in this asymmetric war.

Rumsfeld emphatically agreed, saying he had ordered the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, to begin shifting away from that focus on patrolling to a big push to stand up an effective Iraqi defense force last January, and this was now being done

Rumsfeld said he had told Iraqi leaders that the American forces needed to begin stepping back because the growing casualties were having an impact on American public support for the war "and they understand that and agree with it."

When I asked why would the Army send bill collectors out to pursue soldiers who lost limbs to a bomb or mine because they didn't check in their armor and the equipment on leaving Iraq or Afghanistan, or were dunned or their paychecks docked for overpayment of combat pay and benefits, Cody and Rumsfeld spoke of a Pentagon computer system that had been running on automatic.

They said weeks or even months passed before a wounded soldier who is shipped back to the United States for treatment was marked down as having left Iraq and thus was no longer eligible for combat pay and benefits. Then it automatically began billing that soldier or deducting money owed from his pay.

Now, Rumsfeld said, there is someone at the Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany and at Walter Reed Army hospital in Washington and the Bethesda Naval Hospital who checks every patient into the computer upon arrival so records are accurate.

Pace said he agreed totally with one recent column that decried the apparent return to the use of enemy body counts in Iraq.

Rumsfeld said flatly: "We are NOT going to do body counts."

Me: But you ARE doing body counts and releasing them; been doing it for a year and the frequency is growing. If you don't want to do body counts then stop doing them.

Throughout the discussion the defense secretary took notes when he thought he heard a valid point or criticism. Others at the table winced.

They had visions of a fresh shower of the secretary's famous "snowflakes," memos demanding answers or action or both.

An hour and a bit later as I headed for the door, Rumsfeld detoured me by a small room in his suite of offices. He wanted to show me a letter he found in his late father's belongings, now framed. It was written by Defense Secretary James Forrestal to the elder Rumsfeld, thanking him for his service in the Navy in the Pacific War.

Rumsfeld told me: "My dad was over-age but volunteered for the Navy. A year later he was the deck officer on an aircraft carrier fighting the war in the Pacific."

On the way out the defense secretary said, in parting:

"I want you to know that I love soldiers and I care about soldiers. All of us here do."

I replied that concern for the troops and their welfare and safety were my only purpose "and I intend to keep kicking your butt regularly to make sure you stay focused on that goal."

He grinned and said: "That's all right. I can take it

JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. Write to him at Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005-3994.

[bth: I want to thank Mr. Galloway for taking these issues up with Sec. Rumsfeld. I note he didn't mention the torture issues which he raised so eloquently in October. Perhaps he did and didn't include it in his article. Were it not for a few brave and honest souls like Galloway who wrote his famous book about his experiences in Vietnam, I'd be in total dispair. Where there is faith, there is hope.]
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Youths in Rural U.S. Are Drawn To Military

"As sustained combat in Iraq makes it harder than ever to fill the ranks of the all-volunteer force, newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed, rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war.

More than 44 percent of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas, Pentagon figures show. In contrast, 14 percent come from major cities. Youths living in the most sparsely populated Zip codes are 22 percent more likely to join the Army, with an opposite trend in cities. Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and West (24 percent)."

Many of today's recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income. Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.

Such patterns are pronounced in such counties as Martinsville, Va., that supply the greatest number of enlistees in proportion to their youth populations. All of the Army's top 20 counties for recruiting had lower-than-national median incomes, 12 had higher poverty rates, and 16 were non-metropolitan, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group that analyzed 2004 recruiting data by Zip code.

"A lot of the high recruitment rates are in areas where there is not as much economic opportunity for young people," said Anita Dancs, research director for the NPP, based in Northampton, Mass.

Senior Pentagon officials say the war has had a clear impact on recruiting, with a shrinking pool of candidates forcing the military to accept less qualified enlistees -- and presumably many for whom military service is a choice of last resort. In fiscal 2005, the Army took in its least qualified group of recruits in a decade, as measured by educational level and test results. The war is also attracting youths driven by patriotism, including a growing fringe of the upper class and wealthy, but military sociologists believe that greater numbers of young people who would have joined for economic reasons are being discouraged by the prolonged combat.

The Pentagon Zip code data, applied for the first time to 2004 recruiting results, underscores patterns already suggested by anecdotal evidence, such as analysis of the home towns of troops killed in Iraq. Although still an approximation, the data offer a more detailed portrait of the socioeconomic status of the Americans most likely to serve today....
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Fox News Pays $13,998 For DeLay Air Time

"Rep. Tom DeLay filed a report with the Clerk of the House of Representatives indicating he received free travel valued at $13,998.55 from Fox News Sunday for 'officially connected travel' on October 1-2, 2005, from Sugarland, TX to Washington, D.C. and back to Sugarland, TX. Rep. DeLay appeared on Fox News Sunday on October 2, 2005, the weekend after his indictment on September 28, 2005. "

Thursday, November 03, 2005

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Abu Ghraib ex-commander defends herself at Town Hall

"Janis Karpinski, the former commander of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, blames sexism and the political aspirations of her superiors for the downfall of her nearly 25-year military career.

Karpinski, 52 and now retired, denies knowing what soldiers and military interrogators were doing to prisoners - activities later widely publicized in photographs of apparent torture and sexual humiliation. She addressed about 150 people at Town Hall in Seattle last night to promote her new memoir and to criticize the Bush administration and the U.S. military.
'I'm not angry, I'm not avoiding blame ... it's about the truth,' Karpinski said, adding that several of her male commanders felt threatened having a woman in her position and made her a scapegoat.

Karpinski, who retired as a brigadier general with the Army Reserve, blames the actions of Army guards at Abu Ghraib on Army interrogators who took over a portion of the prison in 2003. She says the mistreatment was encouraged by the interrogators.
Many of those in attendance, including former Fort Lewis chaplain James Yee, a Muslim, complimented her courage to take a stance against the military. Yee, who lives in Olympia, was accused of spying for al-Qaida and the Taliban and charged with adultery after serving as chaplain for detainees at the U.S. base at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba. In the end, all criminal charges were dropped and his record wiped clean.

But an Iranian who lives in Kenmore asked Karpinski whether she was 'a coward.'
'I place the blame on the administration but I find it shocking and appalling that you didn't do anything,' Farshid Soleimani said. 'Why did you not suspect this was happening? Are you cruel and vicious?'"....

[bth: She was demoted to Colonel. Note how the article and her book dance around this by calling her a former Brigadier-General. Also note her consistent ability to self-promote. When does she take personal responsibility for the actions of those under her command?]
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Wartime "sluts" caused diplomatic waves

LONDON (Reuters) - London's "young sluts" wreaked such havoc among U.S. troops during World War Two that the British government feared Anglo-American relations would suffer, files released Tuesday showed.

Thousands of prostitutes and "good-time girls" were drawn to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square in search of young American men in uniform.

They took advantage of blackouts, which plunged London into darkness during Nazi night air attacks, to evade the police.

The government was so concerned by the problem that it asked the Metropolitan Police to write a report on it in 1942.

The report described how prostitutes working in upmarket Mayfair tended to be French and caused few problems while those around Piccadilly Circus were "a lower type of prostitute, quite indiscriminate in their choice of client."...
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Pentagon Sets Its Sights on Roadside Bombs

"WASHINGTON - With Iraqi insurgents building ever-more powerful homemade bombs, the Pentagon is finalizing plans to put a high-level general in charge of a new task force that will try to harness the expertise of the CIA, FBI, businesses and academics to combat the guerrillas' most lethal weapon.

The Pentagon has devoted two years to finding ways to combat the makeshift bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Yet in the view of some senior generals, the IED problem remains a low priority in Washington. 'The field commanders are saying: 'This country can put a man on the moon. Why can't it solve this problem?' ' said one senior Defense official, who requested anonymity.

The officials said some military leaders - such as Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East - have been pushing for a more focused, government-wide effort to address the largest threat facing U.S. troops in Iraq.

In the last six months, more than 60% of U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq have been the result of IEDs. The Pentagon has announced that 96 U.S. service members died in Iraq in October, the fourth-deadliest month for troops since the war began in March 2003. And experts are warning that the improvised explosives are likely to be a large problem for U.S. forces for years to come, not only in Iraq but also Afghanistan.

Under the plans, the new task force would be led by an active-duty three-star general or admiral, or a retired four-star officer. The budget has not been determined. Pentagon officials said the plans were in their final stages and awaiting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's approval.

small task force launched in July 2004 and led by a one-star officer, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, has been credited with developing various technologies to combat the IED threat, such as equipping soldiers with electronic devices to detonate the makeshift bombs before they can damage U.S. military convoys. The task force has an annual budget of about $1.2 billion.

Yet the insurgents have been able to build bigger, more powerful bombs capable of shredding the armor of military vehicles and decimating 5-ton trucks.

Some military officials complain that the Pentagon has made little progress in getting the White House to pressure agencies such as the CIA, FBI and Department of Energy to devote more resources and full-time personnel to the anti-IED effort. One difficulty they cite is that a one-star general tends to wield little influence in the government hierarchy.

"It's just amazing how long it takes for the bureaucracy to seriously tackle an issue, when some things should happen lickety-split," said a second senior Defense official....
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Poll: Approval Ratings Compared

"Bush's low job approval is far below that of some of his two-term predecessors at this point in their second terms. In November 1985, President Reagan had a 65 percent approval rating, and Bill Clinton's job approval in November 1997 was 57 percent. Bush's rating is higher than Richard Nixon's was at the same point in his administration. "...

Policies on Terrorism Suspects Come Under Fire

"The Bush administration's policies for holding and detaining suspected terrorists came under sharp scrutiny and criticism yesterday after disclosure that the CIA had set up covert prisons in several Eastern European democracies and other countries.

The U.N. special rapporteur on torture said he would seek more information about the covert prisons, referred to in classified documents as 'black sites.' Congressional Democrats and human rights groups warned that the secret system would damage the U.S. image overseas.

House Democrats said they plan to introduce a motion as early as today to endorse language in the defense spending package written by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which would bar cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, including those in CIA hands. The motion would instruct House conferees to accept McCain's precise measure.

Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), ranking Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, urged the United States to adopt a doctrine of 'no torture, no excuses,' and said Congress needs to speak on the issue. 'The United States of America and the values we reflect abhor human rights violators and uphold human rights,' Murtha said in a statement.

McCain's amendment was endorsed last month by the Senate, 90 to 9, over the objections of the White House, which said it would restrict the president's ability to protect the country. The House Democrats said they already have 15 GOP supporters for their motion, and Republicans have told the White House they expect it to pass, an Appropriations Committee spokesman said....

Pakistan arrests may include a key terror figure

"ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Pakistani security agencies have arrested two al-Qaida suspects and are investigating whether one is a Syrian believed to be a key figure in Osama bin Laden's terror network in Europe, two intelligence officials and a senior government official said today."..

U.S. Copter Carrying Quake Aid Draws Fire

"ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Assailants fired at a U.S. military helicopter Tuesday as it ferried supplies to earthquake victims in Pakistan's portion of divided Kashmir, the U.S. military said, but it vowed to continue aid flights"...

Challenges to Bush's Iraq Policy Gain Dramatic Momentum

... "mounting U.S. body count and a renewed focus on the faulty intelligence used to justify the war, Democratic lawmakers and candidates have sharpened their critique of the administration's policy and, in some cases, urged a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

'The mood has really shifted,' said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who in August became the chamber's first member to call for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. 'We are in a whole different period.'

Meanwhile, some Republicans who were strong backers of Bush's policy increasingly are distancing themselves from his optimism that the U.S. mission will be successful � even after the recent approval of a new Iraqi constitution.

'I hope that is a turning point,' Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said of the constitution's passage. 'But there is increasing skepticism. We've had a lot of events that appeared to be turning points, but the violence continues.'"...

When other hot issues fade, "the first thing that pops back up is concern about Iraq," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster. "Iraq is fundamental to the political debate in 2006. People are going to focus on and want to know, 'Where are we going and what's the plan?' "

The debate over the war next fall could look very different from the arguments today. In both parties, many believe the administration next year could reshape the political landscape by beginning to withdraw troops. And many Republicans believe that, as Democrats present a more concrete alternative to Bush's policies, they will drive more Americans to rally behind the president.

Democrats remain deeply divided on what alternative to offer — and even whether they should offer one. Yet persistent public discontent with the war has clearly strengthened those Democrats urging more confrontation.

Most Americans now say in polls that they consider the decision to invade a mistake. In a mid-October Pew Research Center survey, a narrow majority said the United States should set a timetable for withdrawing its forces.

Among rank and file Democrats, disillusionment with the war has become overwhelming....

Iraq's defense minister invites former army officers to return to service

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Many disaffected officers of Saddam's Hussein's army joined the Sunni-led insurgency after the Americans abolished the armed forces in 2003. Now Iraq's defense minister has invited them back.

There's a catch - the officers' rank must be no higher than major and they must pass a background check to make sure their loyalties belong to the new Iraq. "...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

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Carter: White House Manipulated Iraq Intel

"The Bush Administration's prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction were 'manipulated, at least' to mislead the American people, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday.

The decision to go to war was the culmination of a long-term plan to attack Iraq that resulted from the first President Bush not taking out Saddam, Carter said on NBC's 'Today' show.

Carter also said he supports the move by Senate Democrats to force an update on the investigation into prewar intelligence on Iraq, and says Republicans have been dragging their feet on the investigation.

Democrats Tuesday used a rarely invoked Senate rule to force a secret session as a way to dramatize their assertions that the Bush administration misused intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

A bipartisan committee has been appointed to review the investigation"

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The Baghdad Bomb Squad

"Mark Palmer isn't supposed to start work for another five hours. But someone has just reported a suspicious package in front of the Abu Ghraib prison, and the bomb disposal unit that the staff sergeant's team is scheduled to relieve has a stalled Humvee - common in Baghdad's scorching July heat. Palmer's commander, head of the US Army's 717th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, asks him to go check it out. 'Sure thing,' Palmer says, reaching for his body armor. 'Too easy.' "

He steps out of the 717th's workshop, a corrugated plastic shelter in Camp Victory, part of the sprawling American military headquarters next to the Baghdad airport. Behind him, the other members of his squad - sergeant Chris Sager and specialist Jon Ferraro - fall in, and they all pile into a gray-green Humvee. Stickers on the front bumper read Team Mayhem, the nickname this three-man team of bomb chasers gave themselves. Across the top of the windshield, above the sun visor, Ferraro has scrawled in black ink: Yes, they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hell - Samuel Jackson. It's a line from the film A Time to Kill.

Team Mayhem is joined by three more Humvees carrying a dozen security troops from the Louisiana National Guard. They convoy for half an hour, passing slow-moving donkey carts and palm trees wrapped in razor wire. Finally they reach a rubble-strewn intersection of two highways that some US troops call the Death X. For months it has been the site of a stream of attacks with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Insurgents bury them under mounds of trash, tuck them inside the rims of discarded tires, stuff them into concrete medians. But this latest one, Palmer sees, looks like it was left without any guile - a square white bundle dropped right in the middle of the highway.

They stop about 150 yards from the package, and the guardsmen fan out to keep the locals away. Sager and Ferraro pull the fourth member of their team from the trunk of the Humvee: a 3-foot-tall, occasionally reliable robot with antennas, a spindly arm, and tanklike treads. They call it Rainman.

[bth: here is an excellent article on robotic bomb disposal and the IED threat in Iraq.]

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

U.S. Issues Report on Iraqi Roadside Bombs

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - A day after releasing new casualty figures showing that October was the fourth deadliest month for U.S. forces in the Iraq war, the military issued a report Tuesday showing how hard it can be to prevent the deadliest form of attack: roadside bombs. "...

Training a New Army From the Top Down

"FORWARD OPERATING BASE HONOR, Iraq -- U.S. Army Capt. Brian Dugan was already smoking mad. When he first arrived at this Iraqi army post in central Baghdad on a crisp October morning, he discovered that the gunner at the main entrance was missing from his truck-mounted weapon. Another 50 feet in, an Iraqi army guard, his helmet off, was sacked out on a pile of sandbags. A second guard was chatting with three buddies who were just hanging out at the checkpoint.

And now this"

"That latrine is locked," Dugan said, glancing over at a bank of portable toilets. "I know exactly what this is. This is for the officers."

Dugan was angry that the Iraqi commanders had staked out a private latrine for themselves instead of making their soldiers keep all the portable toilets clean. It was just another privilege they demanded, without accepting responsibility for their troops, he said.

"Take the lock off, or I'll cut it off," Dugan told an Iraqi officer walking by.

For the past three months, Dugan, a slight, clean-cut officer with Task Force 4-64 of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, has been responsible for helping train one of the 86 battalions in the new Iraqi army. The work of Dugan and American officers like him is a key element of the U.S. military strategy that entails Iraqi forces progressively taking over security duties here and enabling American troops to go home....

US - had no policy -in place to rebuild Iraq

The US government had “no comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines” in place for staffing the management of postwar Iraq, according to the top government watchdog overseeing the country’s reconstruction.

The lack of planning had plagued reconstruction since the US-led invasion, and been exacerbated by a “general lack of co-ordination” between US government agencies charged with the rebuilding of Iraq, said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, in a report released on Sunday.

His 110-page quarterly report, delivered to Congress at the weekend, has underscored how a “reconstruction gap” is emerging that threatens to leave many projects planned by the US on the drawing board.

“Nearly two years ago, the US developed a reconstruction plan that specified a target number of projects that would be executed using the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund.

“That number was revised downward [last year]. Now it appears that the actual number of projects completed will be even lower,” Mr Bowen says in his report.

Increasing security costs were “the most salient” reason behind the shortfall, he concluded....

[bth: this is the first official confirmation that I have seen establishing conclusively that there was no reconstruction plan.]

Monday, October 31, 2005

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Wired News: Infrared Detects Sniper Gunfire

"WASHINGTON -- A sniper fires on American troops in Iraq. In the milliseconds before the bullet hits -- in fact, before the shot is even heard -- a computer screen reveals the gun's model and exact location. That's the kind of intelligence that can save soldiers' lives. The Army is currently testing the technology in combat.

The devices are made by Radiance Technologies, a small Alabama company, and differ in their approach to gunfire detection from systems already deployed in Iraq that rely on acoustics. Radiance's invention, WeaponWatch, is powered by infrared sensors that detect missiles or gunfire at the speed of light. "....
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War Powers in the Age of Terror

"WHEN senators this month asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about possible military action against Syria or Iran, she recited the administration's standard response: all options remain 'on the table.' Pressed on whether any such action might require congressional authorization, Ms. Rice demurred. 'I don't want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers,' she said, adding that 'the president retains those powers in the war on terrorism and in the war in Iraq.'

Although Ms. Rice's evasion exhausted the committee's attention span, the war powers issue cries out for attention. In a post-9/11 world, what limits - if any - exist on the president's authority to use force?

The Constitution addresses the matter with apparent clarity. Article I, Section 8 assigns to Congress the authority 'to declare war.' After 1945, however, the perceived imperatives of waging the cold war all but nullified this provision. When it came to using force, presidents exercised wide discretion, ordering American troops into action and notifying Congress after the fact. The legislative branch no longer 'declared' war; at most, it issued blank checks that the White House cashed at its convenience. Occasional efforts to constrain presidential freedom of action, like the Vietnam-inspired War Powers Resolution of 1973, accomplished little.

After 9/11, the Bush administration wasted little time in expanding executive prerogatives even further. Acting in his capacity as commander in chief, President Bush committed the nation to open-ended war on a global scale. Concluding that eradicating terrorism meant going permanently on the offensive, he promulgated a doctrine of preventive war. Finding that Saddam Hussein posed a clear and present danger, he moved to put this Bush Doctrine into effect in Iraq....
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Small US units lure Taliban into losing battles

"QALAT, AFGHANISTAN - It's mid- morning on June 21, and Lt. Timothy Jon O'Neal's platoon has just been dropped onto a dusty field north of a mud-walled village of Chalbar. Their mission: to check out reports that a local Afghan Army commander has defected to the Taliban and burned the district headquarters, and is prepared to fight.

Within minutes, it becomes clear that the reports are true, and the platoon is in trouble. The radio crackles with Taliban fighters barking orders to surround the Americans. Gunfire comes from the hilltops. Lieutenant O'Neal's men are easy targets. The Taliban have the high ground.

This has been the most violent year here since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The US Army is moving in smaller numbers to lure the Taliban out of hiding for fights they cannot win. The result: More than 1,200 enemy deaths this year, including high-level commanders. But it is also a strategy with profound risks, and one that may be difficult to sustain in Zabul Province - a region so unstable that commanders call it the "Fallujah of Afghanistan" - as current troops return home, their replacements as yet undecided.

Through interviews with soldiers of Chosen Company, of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Monitor has reconstructed two recent battles that illustrate how this strategy works, and how it may have weakened the Taliban movement's effectiveness as a military force - for now....

Funds Fade, Deaths Rise and Iraq Rebuilding Is Spotty

"As the money runs out on the $30 billion American-financed reconstruction of Iraq, the officials in charge cannot say how many planned projects they will complete, and there is no clear source for hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to operate the projects that have been finished, according to a report to Congress released yesterday."

The report, by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, describes some progress but also an array of projects that have gone awry, sometimes astonishingly, like electrical substations that were built at great cost but never connected to the country's electrical grid.

With more than 93 percent of the American money now committed to specific projects, it could become increasingly difficult to solve those problems.

Issues like those "should have been considered before," said Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for the inspector general's office. "It's very critical right now, with so little of the U.S. money left to be committed, that they're going to have to make these determinations very quickly."

New statistics compiled in the report also reveal a jump in deaths and injuries of contract workers in Iraq, many of whom worked on reconstruction projects. At least 412 contractors and other civilian workers have died since the American-led invasion, 147 of them Americans. In June those numbers, based on insurance claims, were 330 and 113, respectively.

Over all, the report says, since the war began there have been 4,208 death and injury claims filed through the insurance coverage that United States law requires for contractors of any nationality who work on American bases abroad. That number includes claims from bases around the world, and while the government does not report where the incidents occurred, a majority are believed to originate from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those death and injury tolls, which in the chaos of Iraq are probably underreported to begin with, especially among Iraqi contractors, have come about even though more than a quarter of the reconstruction money has actually "been spent on security costs related to the insurgency," the report says.

The security costs have "proportionately reduced funds for other reconstruction projects," the report continues, leading to countless initiatives being scaled down or canceled. Rick Barton, a senior adviser and co-director of the post-conflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the fear among workers has had as much impact on the rebuilding program as the money woes have.

"What you have to keep in mind is the chilling effect of that many deaths and that many injuries," Mr. Barton said. "I think the numbers are huge."...

Doubts Cast on Vietnam Incident, but Secret Study Stays Classified

"WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 - The National Security Agency has kept secret since 2001 a finding by an agency historian that during the Tonkin Gulf episode, which helped precipitate the Vietnam War, N.S.A. officers deliberately distorted critical intelligence to cover up their mistakes, two people familiar with the historian's work say."
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Sunday, October 30, 2005

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Lack of Armor Proves Deadly for Iraqi Army - New York Times

"After a string of deadly attacks against Iraqi forces in the spring, American soldiers in the Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad established an operation at their Army base to add armor to the unprotected open-bed trucks used by the Iraqis. But it is a meager enterprise: four Iraqi ironworkers armed with two welding torches and thin sheets of metal."

Even as American forces are relying more on Iraqis to fight the insurgency, the Iraqi Army is facing some of the same procurement problems that American troops have experienced in getting adequate armor and other equipment, according to interviews in Iraq with American and Iraqi military officials. But if the Americans have faced an uphill battle in getting vital gear - their shortfalls continue to this day - then their Iraqi counterparts are confronting a herculean task.

The biggest shortage is in fortified vehicles. Unlike the Americans, the vast majority of Iraqis have neither armored nor unarmored Humvees, and are still having to navigate the booby-trapped roads of Iraq in pickup and flatbed trucks. The makeshift armoring operation started in the spring has managed to reinforce only about three dozen vehicles, leaving several hundred more still needing shields, according to American soldiers involved in the operation.

Meanwhile, Iraqi deaths continue to mount, particularly in Diyala Province where American troops have been working since February to engage more Iraqi troops in the war. At least 209 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have been killed this year in the provincial capital, Baquba, and a swath of the surrounding province, compared with the deaths of eight American soldiers in the same area, according to records released to The New York Times by American military officers who are working with the Iraqi troops.

The American officers attribute the higher Iraqi casualties partly to the lack of vehicle armor and say that insurgents are devising their assaults in response. In late August, for example, attackers sprayed a checkpoint with bullets, then lured Iraqi guards down a road, killing them with hidden bombs as the guards pursued in their truck. In another incident called the boat bombing, five Iraqi soldiers were killed when insurgents detonated an inflatable raft packed with explosives and parked alongside the road.

"Our higher level of armor obviously protects us quite a bit more, as does the way we operate," Maj. Steven Warren, a spokesman for the Third Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division, said at the team's headquarters at Forward Operating Base Warhorse near Baquba and in comments sent by e-mail.

"The Iraqis put quite a few more people in their trucks, and those trucks aren't armored," Major Warren said. "No armor plus more people in the truck equals a substantially higher casualty rate."

The Army unit in charge of equipping and training the Iraqis, the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, said it was trying to replace much of the Iraqi fleet with new armored trucks.

But it has largely restricted its shopping to American companies that are still swamped by orders for American troops. The unit's biggest initiative, to give the Iraqis 1,500 armored Humvees, will not begin until December, and most will not be built until next summer, military and company officials said.

The Pentagon still has only one contractor in Ohio armoring the Humvees, and a backlog of orders for American troops that dates to the early months of the war has forced the Iraqi troops to the end of the line.

"We're competing with the Army on that," said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who led the transition unit until last month.

General Petraeus and other unit officials said they had been grappling with an enormous task that was handed to them more than a year after the invasion of Iraq. They emphasized that they had moved quickly to obtain critical gear like guns, ammunition and body armor but that equipping the new army was a vast logistical challenge.

"There has been enormous progress, but there is a great deal left to be done," General Petraeus said.

The transition unit said it was still trying to conclude a deal to buy more than 400 larger armored personnel carriers that would have several advantages over Humvees, including gun ports that allow soldiers to shoot without opening the doors. But there have been delays in choosing a manufacturer, and for now only 86 vehicles of a South African model will be ready by December.

The Iraqis lack many other items as well, from more powerful weapons that can subdue insurgent attacks to goggles to protect their eyes from shrapnel. A list prepared in August by the transition unit of gear still needed by Iraqi soldiers contained 126 high-priority items, including grenade launchers, sniper rifles and machine guns.

Body armor is also incomplete. After initial delays, a vast majority of Iraqi soldiers have bulletproof vests similar to those worn by American soldiers, officials say. But Pentagon officials declined to say whether they would provide the Iraqis with new, stronger armor plates they are buying for American troops. And some Iraqis are still wearing ragged and much older models, or none at all.

At a checkpoint near Baquba where seven soldiers had been killed in late August, Bassan Mohamad, 26, stood guard without wearing a bulletproof vest.

He said he shared his vest with the soldier across the road. "My friend has it, there," he said, pointing. "There is not enough gear."

An Essential Effort

The battle-readiness of Iraqi soldiers has come under increasing attention as pressure builds in Washington for American troops to leave the war. The Pentagon said in a report to Congress this month that 192,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers were conducting combat operations. With more Iraqis being trained, some military officers and Pentagon advisers say that solving the equipment shortages is all the more critical.

"Even the best training won't stop an AK-47 bullet or deflect a blast from a grenade or mine," said Kalev Sepp, a retired Army Special Forces colonel and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, who has worked on counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. "Given the insurgents' and criminals' military-level firepower, body and vehicle armor are essential for Iraqi police and soldiers to do their jobs."

In a series of interviews at their Baghdad headquarters and in written responses, officials with the Army unit working with the Iraqis acknowledged that most of their vehicles remained without armor. They said they had dedicated more than $100 million to fortify the trucks with steel plates and other shielding, but had left the effort to local military units and could not say how much had been accomplished.

In all, they said they had spent or committed nearly $7 billion of their authorized $10.6 billion, including $2.3 billion on vehicles and equipment, and that vast sums of guns, ammunition and body armor had been provided to the Iraqis. Several of the 114 Iraqi battalions are already outfitted with a variety of armored vehicles.

The officials said they were hampered by the need to find equipment that the Iraqis could maintain themselves, and that reckless acquisition would prove self-defeating if it created piles of junked gear for which they lacked money or skills to repair.

The finish line also keeps moving. Months were lost at the start of the war when the Pentagon largely trained and equipped an Iraqi police force.

Now, with the Defense Department still struggling to meet the needs of a much larger Iraqi Army, the Pentagon said in its report that the current force of 200,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers would have to be expanded to 325,000 by 2007 to defeat the insurgency.

In some ways, the Iraqi troops in Baquba and the rest of Diyala Province had an easier start than their peers elsewhere in Iraq. The area is culturally diverse, with equal parts Shiite and Sunni Arabs and a Kurdish minority, and the insurgents were attacking mainly Americans when the Pentagon sent one of its toughest units to bring more Iraqis into the battle there.

But members of the Second Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment from Fort Riley, Kan., a group called the Dreadnaughts, said they were shocked by the condition of the Iraqi forces when they arrived on Feb. 12. Equipment shortages were not the only problem.

The Iraqis had peculiar habits like firing their weapons while patrolling palm groves to keep track of one another's whereabouts. The Americans organized the Iraqis into manageable units and dismissed incompetent leaders. But the Iraqis were being thrust into the war faster than their American trainers could catch up, said officers with the Coalition Military Transition Team, a group working with Iraqi troops in the field.

In Baquba, a company of 150 Iraqis struggled to man a ring of checkpoints that required a force of 1,000, Capt. Nick Jeffers, an Army intelligence officer, said at Forward Operating Base Gabe, the unit's headquarters in Diyala Province.

"We've been screaming since we got here to get some relief," Captain Jeffers said.

In interviews at their bases of operation and at meetings with American advisers, Iraqi officers said they had pleaded as well for more gear.

At the Iraqi Army compound in the town of Kanan near Baquba, Maj. Jaafair Khilel Kather told a group of visiting American officers that his men needed more sophisticated radios like American troops used. He said his men were afraid to use their older-model radios because insurgents were able to break into their frequencies to yell, "We will kill you!"

Contrasts and Casualties

Iraqi Army and police casualties have risen in the Baquba area since the Americans began transferring military responsibility in February, climbing to 26 in September from 17 in February and averaging 24 deaths each month, with Americans losing an average of one soldier each month, according to United States Army figures.

American officers in Baquba said that the disparity stemmed in part from the stark contrast in convoys, and that the Iraqis were also still vulnerable at the checkpoints they manned, which the Americans had sought to fortify. Large casualties also resulted from suicide bombings, said Major Warren, the Third Brigade spokesman.

The Pentagon said that over all, about 2,790 Iraqi troops had been killed since May 2003, but acknowledged that the figure might be incomplete. Major Warren said the American unit that preceded his team had not been required to track Iraqi casualties, "so what they did include in reports was purely incidental."

The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks Iraqi deaths through news reports, says at least 2,186 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have been killed this year alone, not including those who died later from their wounds.

Some American officers in Baquba said that more armor alone would not stem the casualties.

"Better gear can always help reduce casualties, but not nearly as much as better training and discipline and leadership," said Maj. Richard Creed, who is an operations officer with the Dreadnaughts from Fort Riley.

Administrative Troubles

The delays in equipping Iraqi troops stem partly from troubles at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, which is still trying to find its footing after being created last summer in the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq. An independent audit by Iraqi officials found waste and possible fraud in connection with some of the $1 billion the ministry authorized for equipment. Helicopters acquired from Poland were too unsafe to fly, while poorly refurbished ambulances sit unused at a military depot in Taji, north of Baghdad.

The American Army has had its own administrative troubles. In a Sept. 30 report released under the Freedom of Information Act, the Army Audit Agency found that the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq had not adequately managed two funds totaling $188 million, and that $13 million was unnecessarily tied up in 97 projects. The Army unit said it was working to recover these funds and put other changes into effect.

The Army Audit Agency also faulted the unit for using $59,100 intended for Iraqi troops last year to buy armor blankets for one of its own trucks. The unit said that there was a bookkeeping error, and that it was now seeking to buy similar Kevlar armor for Iraqi pickup trucks.

At Forward Operating Base Warhorse, the American base nearest Baquba, Sgt. Gordon Truett, a senior welder in charge of the local effort to add armor to Iraqi trucks, said the soldiers had to design their own armor, and that the chassis on the Iraqi Army trucks are so frail that they cannot hold the double sheeting being welded onto military trucks that carry American troops.

Still, he said word of his program might be spreading. A group of American soldiers working with Iraqis farther north asked for a copy of his armor design. And after fortifying just 12 trucks over the summer, he said he was working to increase the output to finish 50 trucks by the end of the year.

"They told me, as many as you can do they will keep bringing more," Sergeant Truett said.

[bth: So I took the liberty of copying Michael Moss' entire NYT article here probably in violation of copyright laws. Anyway, I think its important. Some observations:

  • Readers of this blog have seen postings on the poor vehicular armor of the Iraqi forces for over a year. I guess it isn't news until the New York Times reports it, so I'm glad it finally happened. Now perhaps it will be addressed.
  • Iraqi steel workers are very experienced and have been active in armoring US vehicles for nearly two years. The issue isn't experienced workers or even materials like steel or kevlar - it is a combination of priorities, incompetence and corruption which sets the agenda.
  • The Kurds gained access to the armor depots we created from captured Iraqi armored vehicles about eighteen months ago, best I can tell. They were busy repairing captured Soviet era armored personnel carriers and tanks. From what I can figure out, they then shipped them north into Kurdish areas where the vehicles disappeared. My guess is that the Kurds are holding armor in hiding to see what happens - civil war or whatever.
  • The vehicles shipped to the Iraqis are largely SUVs and pickups unable to hold much weight so light armor and kevlar blankets are about all that they can handle. If they bought heavy civilian trucks and converted the open beds much like the US Marines are doing then perhaps an expedient could be found but then that would take a little thought.
  • Since roughly 2/3rds of the Iraqi Defense budget was stolen under our watch and under the Allawi government, most of the money that could have solved this problem has been taken. Will this problem resolve itself? Probably not. Corruption is systemic and won't correct itself in Iraq.
  • The most practical solution which I've been advocating since January is this: Give the Iraqi forces our older Level II armored humvees. We have several thousand of them. We could also give them hundreds if not thousands of M113 armored personnel carriers held in our National Guard reserves and in Kuwait. This would give them immediate protection and frankly is the only readily available source of armor for several years. Then the US could simultaneously crank up its plants to full capacity and simply replace its entire land fleet of vehicles which are wearing out in the desert and will have to be replaced anyway. So the Iraqis could use our old equipment and learn to maintain it. This happened in the Philippines and in Korea so why not Iraq? Its the money. This would require the US military and administration to admit that the war is costing us (US taxpayers) a lot more than is reported since we would actually have to pay for the replaced and wornout equipment instead of hiding it from the public as unfunded maintenance in the budget.
  • Last it should be noted that the US deliberately did not give the Iraqi army logistical support capabilities or heavier armor. Why? Well it keeps them dependent on us and keeps them from being able to attack us or each other. As it stands, the Shiites and Sunnis can terrorize each other, but they really can't seize and hold territory. This is great for maintaining the status quo but pretty poor planning for an exit strategy.
  • Prediction: When you see the US Army giving its equipment to the Iraqis, you will know that the exit strategy is real - until then its a smoke screen. Besides, the Army just horded 800 M1114 armored humvees for the 4th ID and screwed the 3rd ID and the US marines out of equipment for five months].

Pentagon: Insurgents Killed 26,000 Iraqis

"In a rare look at how the Defense Department tracks non-U.S. casualties in the war in Iraq, the Pentagon is estimating that 26,000 Iraqis have been killed or wounded by insurgents since Jan. 1, 2004.

The Pentagon, in response to questions from congressional staffers, provided daily casualty estimates - those killed and wounded - over six time periods, the most recent period ending Sept. 16 of this year. Applying those daily estimates to the number of days in each period results in nearly 26,000, a total not included in the Pentagon report to Congress.

In the most recent period, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 16, an estimated 64 Iraqis became casualties each day, the report indicated. The rate increased in four of the last five periods.

'It's a kind of a snapshot,' Pentagon spokesman Greg Hicks said Saturday. 'The Defense Department doesn't maintain a comprehensive or authoritative count of Iraqi casualties.'

The Pentagon provided the estimates in a bar graph in a 44-page security and stability report to Congress on Oct. 13, its second quarterly report, mandated by lawmakers.

Hicks said the estimates were gathered from initial incident reports by subordinate units of coalition forces and are not meant to be taken as comprehensive.

The graph indicated that the average daily casualty rates for Iraqis since January 2004 were approximately:

_26: Jan. 1-March 31, 2004.
_30: April 1-June 28, 2004.
_40: June 29-Nov. 26, 2004.
_51: Nov. 27, 2004-Feb. 11, 2005.
_49: Feb. 12-Aug. 28, 2005.
_64: Aug. 29-Sept. 16, 2005.

A recent Associated Press count found that at least 3,870 Iraqis have died in the last six months. A U.S. military spokesman told the AP last week that as many as 30,000 Iraqis may have died during the war, which began with the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

The AP count found that two-thirds of those killed were civilians and one-third were security personnel.

More than 2,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq have died since the war began.


On the Net:

The Pentagon report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq":

Two bedroom houses being constructed by Kurds for the relocation of displaced Kurds. Posted by Picasa
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Kurds Reclaiming Prized Territory In Northern Iraq

"KIRKUK, Iraq -- Providing money, building materials and even schematic drawings, Kurdish political parties have repatriated thousands of Kurds into this tense northern oil city and its surrounding villages, operating outside the framework of Iraq's newly ratified constitution and sparking sporadic violence between Kurdish settlers and the Arabs who are a minority here, according to U.S. military officials and Iraqi political leaders.

The rapidly expanding settlements, composed of two-bedroom concrete houses whose dimensions are prescribed by the Kurdish parties, are effectively re-engineering the demography of northern Iraq, enabling the Kurds to add what ultimately may be hundreds of thousands of voters ahead of a planned 2007 referendum on the status of Kirkuk. The Kurds hope to make the city and its vast oil reserves part of an autonomous Kurdistan."

Kurdish political leaders said the repatriations are designed to correct the policies of ousted President Saddam Hussein, who replaced thousands of Kurds in the region with Arabs from the south. The Kurdish parties have seized control of the process, they said, because the Iraqi government has failed to implement an agreement to return Kurdish residents to their homes.

But U.S. military officials, Western diplomats and Arab political leaders have warned the parties that the campaign could work to undermine the nascent constitutional process and raise tensions as displaced Kurds settle onto private lands now held by Arabs....

[bth: I believe the Kurds, displaced by the hundreds of thousands under Saddam, have given up on action from a central Iraqi government. They may also feel that the clock is ticking with US interest waning and a new national government in the making. The Kurds will seek Mosul, Kirkuk and adjacent oil fields.]
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UAE says Saddam accepted exile offer before invasion

"DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Saddam Hussein accepted an 11th-hour offer to flee into exile weeks ahead of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, but Arab League officials scuttled the proposal, officials in this Gulf state claimed. "...

Iraqi victim of bomb laden pick-up truck disguised as carrying dates to market. Posted by Picasa

Sectarian protest rocks key north Iraq province

"MOSUL, Iraq, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Angry Sunni Arabs protesting the removal of a top police official have threatened to topple the provincial government of Nineveh as sectarian tensions flare in the volatile northern Iraqi province.

Several hundred armed protesters, chanting slogans against what they say is Kurdish domination of Nineveh's regional administration, besieged government offices in the provincial capital of Mosul late on Saturday and were kept from overrunning the building by U.S. troops, local officials said on Sunday.

Sunni Arab groups in Nineveh, which has a mixed population of Arabs, Kurds and other ethnic groups, had demanded the reinstatement of Arab provincial police chief Ahmed Mohammed al-Jibouri, who was sacked following allegations of corruption.

Saturday's demonstration, which saw both civilian and police protesters firing into the air in downtown Mosul followed a joint statement by leaders of dozens of local Sunni Arab tribes."...

[bth: Watch Mosul as a bellweather.]
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