Saturday, November 26, 2005

Afghan troops foil bomb attack in capital

"Afghan troops foiled a bomb attack in the capital Kabul with the arrest of six suspected militants and their explosives-packed vehicle, the defense ministry said.

The men were driving two vehicles, one packed with explosives and gas cylinders which are usually used in car-bomb attacks, defense ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP Saturday.

'Six men -- three driving a Land Cruiser jeep and three others in a Corolla car -- were arrested in Kabul by National Army troops,' he said.

'The Land Cruiser jeep was packed with explosives and gas cylinders -- they (troops) prevented a very tragic attack which could have taken many lives,' the general said.

Azimi said weapons and communication devices were also found in the cars. He would not give further details but said an investigation was underway to determine the identities and affiliation of the arrested men."...


Rough riders Posted by Picasa

War's strain wearing on Army troops, tools

... "The war in Iraq is taking the biggest toll on military equipment since the Vietnam War, after which the Pentagon retooled its arsenal during the massive military buildup of the 1980s.

Fixing and replacing Army equipment alone could run from $60 billion to $100 billion, according to retired general Paul Kern, a senior consultant to the Cohen Group and the just-retired head of Army Materiel Command. The total cost for wear-and-tear on U.S. equipment is unclear because it is not known how long American troops will be needed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The part-time military has its own equipment problems caused by missions in Iraq and commitments at home. A recent Government Accountability Office report said more than 101,000 pieces of National Guard equipment, including items such as trucks, radios and night vision devices, have been sent overseas, mostly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's left the Guard short of equipment it needs to respond more quickly to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

The Guard's top general, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, told USA TODAY in September that a shortage of communications gear hampered the hurricane recovery effort.

"We were underequipped," Blum said. "We don't need tanks and attack helicopters and artillery, but we must have state-of-the-art radios."

Iraq and Afghanistan are putting an extra $8 billion per year of wear and tear on military equipment, according to a report in April from the Congressional Budget Office. Military trucks are being driven at 10 times their peacetime rates; armored vehicles are being used at five times their peacetime rates and helicopters are being flown at twice their usual rates.

Shortages have cropped up in Iraq, such as a lack of protective armor for troops' bodies and vehicles. Troops also faced shortages of spare parts such as truck tires, and weapons such as machine guns, according to a series of GAO reports.

Gary Motsek, who manages the Army's program to repair war-torn equipment, says the Army has to repair or rebuild virtually everything that goes to Iraq.

The people

Nowhere is the war's stress more evident than with the people who make up the military's "boots on the ground" services.

The ground forces — the Army and Marines — are racing to make Iraq stable before the troops wear out and leave, says Dan Christman, a retired Army lieutenant general who served during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said last week that the United States went into Iraq with too few troops and doesn't have sufficient forces to maintain current levels.

"We are grinding down our force structure to the point where we have no force structure," Hagel said.

The Army is keeping most of its soldiers from retiring or leaving for civilian jobs. It has had to increase its bonuses to keep some highly skilled soldiers — truck drivers, military police, bomb disposal troops — from leaving. The war has made special operations troops so attractive to private contractors that the Pentagon is offering unprecedented bonuses of up to $150,000 to keep some enlisted commandos in the ranks.

"We're holding our breath in hopes we can steer through this," says Col. Lance Betros, head of West Point's history department.

A crucial question is the commitment of units anti-cipating their third tours in Iraq. That, Betros says, is when the Vietnam-era Army began to fall apart.

The wars are taking a toll on military families, too: According to Army figures, divorce among officers jumped by 78% in 2004, though the numbers fell back in fiscal 2005. Divorces among enlisted soldiers increased by 28% in 2004 and have stayed at about the same level this year.

Army units are failing to meet Pentagon guidelines to spend two years at home for every year overseas. When the Army's 101st Airborne Division returned to Iraq this year, it was after an 18-month rest. The 3rd Infantry Division, which is also on its second tour, had a 15-month break.

Recruiting is at a crisis level for the Army. The active-duty Army and the part-time Army National Guard and Army Reserve all missed their 2005 recruiting goals by 8% to 20%. The three fell short by a combined 24,000 enlistees.

The Army met its recruiting goals in October, the first month of the 2006 fiscal year, but 12% of its recruits scored in the lowest category on military entrance tests on science, math and word knowledge, The Sun of Baltimore reported this month. That was triple the number — 4% — that the Army expects in 2006.

The 2006 recruiting numbers could suffer, despite recruiting incentives that include cash bonuses of $20,000 and enlistments as short as 15 months.

The Pentagon isn't keeping good enough records to make sure the bonuses are going to recruit the kinds of troops needed, according to a GAO report released last week. The study says the military was unable to fill 112,000 job positions in key specialties in the past year, while the services offered bonuses for specialties that are consistently overfilled.
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JI plot to kill Aussie ministers

"MINISTERS Alexander Downer and Chris Ellison were the intended targets of a plot by terror group Jemaah Islamiah to attack a memorial service last month for the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings.

A government source has confirmed that the plot, contained in detailed plans drawn up by terror mastermind Azahari bin Husin, was an attempt to assassinate the Australian foreign and justice ministers, who attended the service in Kuta along with 350 other people, including 50 Australian victims of the bombings. Mr Downer confirmed yesterday that there were fears the memorial could be targeted. "....


WWI german post card from Verdun. Posted by Picasa

Iraqi families flee death threats for more misery

"About 150 Shi'ite families who fled Iraq's sectarian conflict for the relative calm of the holy city of Najaf face a host of new problems -- unemployment, poor services and grim housing.

After receiving death threats or finding relatives slain by kidnappers in violent towns like Latifiya, Tal Afar and Abu Ghraib, they looked for safety in the southern city sacred to Shi'ites round the world.

Many soon found themselves at an old military base once used to train Saddam Hussein's soldiers, with no electricity and water.

Others have ended up living on garbage dumps around the former camp just outside Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad.

'They (the insurgents) left death threat letters for us and said we should leave,' said Ali Hakim, 13, from the town of Mahmudiya in an area south of Baghdad called the Triangle of Death for its frequent insurgent attacks.

Even the bleak new life in Najaf may not have a future. The families say authorities are threatening to evict them from the military base and garbage dumps. Parents wonder how they can keep their children in school if they are forced to move again.

'We left our home eight months ago when Shi'ites were being slaughtered in Latifiya. A group who call themselves Jihadis asked all Shi'ites there to leave the next morning, otherwise they would kill us all,' said Um Ahmed, a 45-year-old mother."

EVICTION THREATS

"The government is sending us to the city council which accuses us of committing violations on government properties and they say our houses should be removed. We have 10 kids -- where can I take them?"

Their homes are shacks made of loose bricks from garbage dumps on the edge of Najaf, which has been spared the bloodshed gripping central Iraq. The lucky ones have found building materials to put roofs over crumbling cement walls.

Some makeshift homes, however, have no roofs or only coverings of flimsy pieces of wood that do not protect against rain. Others have no blankets and sheets as winter approaches.

"I lived in Yusufiya. My brother, a taxi driver, was abducted and then we found his dead body after three days near a river," said construction worker Abdullah al-Fatlawi, 38.

"Fearing it could happen again to our women, we decided to leave. I live here with my family of nine people. There's no electricity or water around here. We complained and nobody responded. They say we have committed violations."

U.S.-led troops who toppled Saddam in 2003 promised to help rebuild a new Iraq with democracy and economic prosperity.

Najaf, which has received millions in reconstruction funds since it was the centre of fighting in August 2004, was supposed to be a shining light for the new Shi'ite-led government.

Instead the country finds itself sliding towards civil war. Sunni insurgents have killed thousands of Shi'ites while Sunni leaders accuse the Shi'ite-dominated government of sanctioning militia hit squads that torture and kill Sunnis.

Caught in the middle are thousands of Iraqi civilians.

"Masked men dropped papers at our farms telling us to leave in seven days or face death or abduction. Some of our neighbours were kidnapped and their fate is still unknown," said Ta'oub Abdullah, 75, a farmer displaced to Najaf.

[bth: mass displacement is a sure sign of ethnic cleansing and civil war.]

Iraq finds car bomb cache

"Kut - More than 300 mortar shells and other explosives destined to be used in car bombs were discovered on Friday by Iraqi police at an abandoned military base near the border with Iran.

Saleh al-Shumari, police chief in Aziziya, 80km southeast of Baghdad, said the mortar shells were left over from the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), while the explosives were more recent.

Both were being used by insurgents to build car bombs, he said, adding that the long disused base in the al-Daynah region had been taken over by insurgents. "...

Iraq Safer Than Vietnam for Officers

"November 25, 2005: The war in Iraq has been, for U.S. Army officers, safer than Vietnam. Only 10.4 percent of the dead in Iraq have been officers, compared to 14 percent in Vietnam. Currently, about 14 percent of the people in the army are officers. The better survival of officers in Iraq has a lot to do with better body armor, and poor marksmanship by the enemy. In Vietnam, there were a lot more mortar shells and bullets flying around, and the aim of enemy troops was better. Officers are usually not right up in front, but are often where there is some bad stuff flying through the air. Today's protective vests and helmets provide better protection, producing a wounded officer for a hit that, during Vietnam, would have killed the guy. Another important factor is better base security. In Vietnam, the enemy didn't have suicide bombers, but did have thousands of even more effective commandoes called 'sappers' These well trained troops could penetrate the best security, and get in to where the officers worked and lived, and do a lot of damage.

In Iraq, most of the officers killed are captains (who command companies) and lieutenants (who command platoons). These account for over two thirds of the officer losses, as was the case in Vietnam. In Iraq, a larger proportion of enlisted troops are out on missions (especially convoy duty), where a lot of roadside bombs are encountered, with fewer officers present. Many of these operations involve non-combat troops. For combat operations, the officers are present, and, for the captains and lieutenants, usually in the middle of the action."

Republicans Are Deeply Split Over How to Apportion New Tax Cuts

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 - Republicans of all stripes want to cut taxes, but rarely have they been in so much disarray about whose to cut.

If House Republicans and President Bush have their way, more than half of tax reductions over the next five years will go to the top 1 percent of households, those with average incomes of $1.1 million."...

[bth: why on earth are we even discussing tax cuts with the war and Katrina? The political situation in this country is out of control.]

Iraq seizes booby-trapped toys

"Baghdad - The Iraqi army said on Thursday it had seized a number of booby-trapped children's dolls, accusing insurgents of using the explosive-filled toys to target children.

The dolls were found in a car, each one containing a grenade or other explosive, said an army statement.

The government said that two men driving the car had been arrested in the western Baghdad district of Abu Ghraib.

'This is the same type of doll as that handed out on several occasions by US soldiers to children,' said government spokesperson Leith Kubba.

It was not immediately clear when the find was made or the suspects arrested. "

Thursday, November 24, 2005



Streets named after Lt. David Bernstein and PFC John D. Hart on Kirkuk Air Base in Iraq. Posted by Picasa

US says 700 insurgents killed in Iraq since Sept

"BAGHDAD - U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed more than 700 suspected insurgents in less than two months during operations in western Iraq, the U.S. military said on Wednesday, calling the result 'very successful'.

Major General Rick Lynch, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said that as well as those killed, 1,500 suspects had been detained, including an undisclosed number of foreign fighters, and more than 200 weapons caches discovered.

'It's been very successful,' Lynch told a briefing in Baghdad, referring to a series of security offensives conducted by U.S. and Iraq forces in Anbar province since Sept. 28.

Over the same period, the U.S. military has lost more than 170 troops in Iraq, including 80 in Anbar.

Many of the operations in western Iraq, including the largest, dubbed 'Steel Curtain', have been supported by aerial bombardments by U.S. warplanes.

Iraqi doctors and residents say civilians, including women and children, have been among those killed.

The U.S. military says it uses precision-guided weapons and only targets militants hiding out in safe houses.

The American military has led half a dozen operations in Anbar since May, but most have proved unsuccessful, with insurgents quickly returning to towns such as Qaim and Haditha to resume operations. Lynch said things would be different now.

Anbar, which includes the cities of Ramadi and Falluja and a stretch of violent towns along the Euphrates river, has been the focus of the insurgency in Iraq for much of the past two years.

The U.S. military believes Jordanian militant Abu Musab al- Zarqawi has built a base for his operations there, smuggling foreign fighters and weapons into the country from Syria.

THOUSANDS DISPLACED

Lynch said the security clampdown had led to the displacement of more than 6,000 Iraqi families, but he said most of them had already been returned to their homes.

He said Anbar was now safer, with attacks down against U.S. and Iraqi forces, although he also conceded: "You're never going to have a perfect security environment there."

While Lynch said U.S. troop casualties had fallen more than 30 percent this month from last, figures from the Pentagon show 96 soldiers and Marines died in October, a little over three a day, and 68 died in the first 22 days of November.

The Anbar operations, and others in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, have been focused on foreign fighters and militants linked to Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq group, Lynch said.

Last week in Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi troops thought they came close to killing Zarqawi when they attacked a house, prompting eight militants inside to blow themselves up.

"We come close to Zarqawi continuously," Lynch said. "At one point in time in the not too distant future, we will capture or kill him," he added.

Zarqawi's group issued a statement on the Internet on Wednesday saying the militant leader, who claimed responsibility for the hotel bombings that killed 60 people in Amman earlier this month, was still alive.

Reuters

[bth: There have been only 5 months when military fatalities in Iraq exceeded 3 per day. October and November 2005 are two of them. This includes the very beginning of the war. Lynch's statement that casualties have falled more than 30% this month are patently false.

Of further concern note that insurgents lost 700 dead against our 170 or a 4:1 ratio. Also note that during November 2004 during the intense Fallujah offensive, we were losing 4.7 per day vs. 3.12 this month. Bottom line is that when we go on an intense offensive the casualty rates don't skyrocket though it may be argued that our impact on the enemy in terms of their losses goes up. As we bide time in Iraq we are picked off randomly by roadside bombs with little to gain. From a military standpoint we do much better during periods of intense offensive activity if that is measured by our impact on the enemy versus our losses through a war of attrition where we have no focused military objectives left.


Of further note 1500 suspects detained over two months is probably down from last year which seemed to be averaging twice that rate at around 1500 per month. How many of these are actually insurgents is very hard to tell or prove. The increase in Iraqi Army activity might be improving that ratio since they at least understand the language and local politics. The verdict is out on this statistic.

Finally, near the end of another month without meaningful progress in Iraq, we are serveed with another feel good public affairs statement from the Pentagon on progress about how we almost got Zarqawi ...again ... and instead got valued lieutenants of Zarqawi ... again. He must have a lot of lieutenants . More likely we are being fed press releases to encourage a sense of progress where little exists.


Its no mistake that a blantant statement about 30% decrease in casualties was made on Thanksgiving to the American media even if the statement was blatantly false (see www.icasualty.org linked to my site for details if you doubt - at this point I'd recommend doubting everyone. ... of curious note isn't it amazing how few journalists request FOIA releases from the Pentagon (see article below) and now none of them came from Judith Miller?]
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The Raw Story | Freedom of Information logs shed light on media's military curiosity

"A listing of all requests made of the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act since 2000, acquired by RAW STORY, provides new insight into the aggressiveness of American news agencies.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the public can request records of government agencies. Records seen as jeopardizing national security or individual rights are typically exempted. All requests are public.

The request for a list of all who made inquiries of the Pentagon was filed by Michael Petrelis (http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/, a San Francisco-based activist and blogger. He provided a copy to RAW STORY, which will be released in full next week.

The Pentagon's records reveal that the law is broadly used-more than 10,000 requests have been made since 2000. But they also illuminate a seeming dearth of curiosity by news organizations about the internal files of the U.S. military establishment.

This lack of curiosity appears particularly evident among the nation's three largest newspapers.

In total, the three papers with daily circulations greater than one million--USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times -- made just 36 requests of the Pentagon between 2000 and February 2005. USA Today made nine; the Journal, six; and the Times, 21.

The Associated Press, the nation's most widely used wire service, made 73 requests. Two other AP reporters made a handful of requests not identified by their employer."..

...According to the logs, Miller made no FOIA requests of the Pentagon....

Bomb kills 34 outside Iraq hospital

"MAHMOUDIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber attacked a hospital south of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 34 people and wounding dozens more as militants stepped up their campaign of violence ahead of elections next month.

The explosives-packed car detonated as Iraqi security forces were gathered outside Mahmoudiya General Hospital and as U.S. civil affairs soldiers were visiting the facility to look at ways to improve it, the U.S. army and witnesses said."...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

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Exit Strategy in Search of a Party

"George W. Bush has precious little to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and nothing whatever when it comes to his adversaries. Beset at every turn, the president and his men have been pining for some patsies, some loudmouth liberals, some effete elitists whom they can demonize in the best traditions of the party of Richard Nixon.

Instead, look who's come after them in the past half-year: Cindy Sheehan, whose down-the-line dovishness is more than offset by her standing as the mother of a soldier killed in Bush's war; Patrick Fitzgerald, the straight-arrow boy prosecutor out of New York's Irish working class; and now John Murtha, the toughest and most decorated Marine in the House, who represents a Pennsylvania district straight out of 'The Deer Hunter.'"

Not a Michael Moore in the bunch. Nothing there for the Roves and the Reeds and the Swift Boat slanderers to work with.

Not for lack of trying. For the past two weeks, with his control of Congress in jeopardy, the president has been saying that those who question his manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the war are threatening our guys on the ground in Iraq. It's a time-honored tactic that goes back to Nixon: conflate criticism of the war with contempt for our troops and our nation.

Truth be told, Nixon had a lot to work with. The war in Vietnam was so bloody and unending, and the New Left so increasingly unhinged, that demonstrations turned violent and patriotism among many of the protesters seemed in short supply. The Yippies and the Panthers were all over the news. For an accomplished demagogue such as Nixon, who'd won his first elections by labeling his anticommunist liberal opponents as "commie symps," the rest was child's play...

Where are the Yippies of yesteryear? Even as the American people turn decisively against the war in Iraq, war protests are few and well-behaved. Most congressional Democrats, and all their leaders, apparently have taken a vow of silence rather than offer an alternative plan for Iraq. And when one of them finally does pipe up, it's the unassailable Jack Murtha.

Oh, the Republicans gave it a shot. Initially, the White House compared Murtha to Moore, and some pipsqueak freshman congresswoman from Ohio called Murtha a coward, but these attacks embarrassed and angered so many Republicans that they quickly ground to a halt. For their part, the Democrats sang Murtha's praises but gave his proposal a wide berth.

But if the Democrats' silence is driving Rove batty, it's making their own supporters a little crazed as well. ...

Still, the Democrats stay largely mute. Some believe that the nonexistence of an alternative policy that will actually make Iraq a more sustainable nation means we have to stay there. More believe that while the administration has made a hash of its war in Iraq, it will wage a relentless and quite possibly more effective war on the Democrats domestically should they call for bringing the troops home. Judging by its performance in the Murtha matter, the Bush White House is aching for the opportunity.

But it's not 1969. There is no silent majority to be rallied in support of the war, just a frustrated minority. The streets are quiet. Demonstrators are decorous. The audience for Dick Cheney's hatchet jobs has dwindled. The president's credibility is reaching Nixonian depths. The Democrats have been pushed to the brink of opposing the war, but there -- on the brink -- they totter.

And so, on the most urgent question confronting America today, we have reached an absurd and exquisite equipoise. The Republicans cannot credibly defend the war; the Democrats cannot quite bring themselves to call for its end. And the war goes on.

[bth: the reason the college students are a no show in Iraq is that they are quite happy to let their high school classmates fight this war hoping that nobody notices there isn't a draft. It's the Gold Star Families that have nothing to lose that are speaking out - while they disagree there is no question that they love their country and are inoculated from the allegations of heresy from Mr. Cheney that they might be able and willing to question the infallibility of the President. So while the Republicans look for a scapegoat in the form of a crazed liberal to take the blame for their total lack of planning or strategy for victory in Iraq and the Democrats use the slow bleed of time and assert that if Bush drove the car into a ditch in Iraq then they shouldn't help him out. Meanwhile soldiers die. We owe the troops in the field an obligation to put their sacrifices to meaningful purpose. We should be fighting for the liberty of Iraqis but we should not let ourselves fight their civil war! The reason I am such a fan of Murtha is that as he felt the obligation to the troops to take on the issue now, not delay in discussing a disengagement strategy as soon as practicable once he concluded that there were no more military objectives we could achieve. His motives speak well of him and should shame the Democratic and Republican parties to action -- a responsible debate and resolution of this critical issue, not a childish blame game discussion that gets America's finest killed 3+ per day as we drift without plan or policy in the turbulent waters of the Middle East.]

American Prospect Online - He's Done

"Bush once brandished September 11 like a weapon against his critics. But in one dramatic recent week, it all caught up with him. The 9-11 era is now over."

Things change fast, when they finally do. For more than two years, the daily reports of American casualties and car bombs in Iraq, questions about how the White House had led the country into the Iraq War, and the torture memos and “extraordinary renditions” -- with their subterranean narrative of an almost wholly undebated U.S. policy to commit torture -- had bounced off the Teflon presidency of George W. Bush. The media had decided after September 11 that Bush was America’s Churchill. That was the story line -- and for endless and maddening months, there was no dislodging it.

But then, ushered in by a hurricane, all of these events -- individually almost weightless -- accrued into something with political heft, critical mass. And they did so suddenly: When future historians chronicle the fall of the Bush presidency, they’ll point to a single week in late October and early November when the Bush White House’s reputation for competence in national-security matters was punctured, its chokehold on Congress was brought to a crashing low, and a torrent of questions about the means by which the White House took the country into war in Iraq gained new urgency.

It began on Tuesday, October 25, the day a terrible threshold was passed as the 2,000th U.S. soldier was killed in Iraq. Three days later, after weeks of anticipation, the grand jury convened by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald handed down an indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s powerful chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements related to Libby’s alleged efforts to cover up his role in outing a CIA officer to the media in retaliation for her husband’s criticisms of the intelligence rationale by which the Bush administration took the country to war. And then, four days after the Libby indictment, on November 1 -- one day shy of the first anniversary of the election that delivered Bush and Cheney a second term and increased the Republican majority in Congress -- the Democrats shut down the Senate, taking the chamber into closed session to demand the release of a long-stalled Senate Intelligence Committee probe into policy-makers’ use of pre–Iraq War intelligence.

By mid-November, Bush was below 40-percent approval in every poll. In one survey, 58 percent of respondents questioned his integrity -- not his job performance, his personal integrity. Almost overnight, Churchill morphed into Nixon. And while the Bush presidency still has three more years, the “9-11 presidency” -- the way in which the administration has used the threat of terrorism to advance its aims and bully its opponents -- is definitely over. Bush will never be Churchill again. .....

Bush will be the president for three more years. He will still have the powers that come with the office. In all likelihood, he’ll have an opportunity to remake the Supreme Court. He has time to reignite some sort of domestic agenda. And even in the realm of foreign policy, he still has time to achieve some victories (although it’s interesting to note that victories now are more likely to be built around negotiation than warmongering, as is the case with Condoleezza Rice’s recent talks with the Israelis and the Palestinians). The Bush era -- unfortunately -- isn’t over.

But the 9-11 era is. When Bush told a carefully selected military audience in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, on Veterans Day that Democratic attacks on him “send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will,” the media did not reflexively adopt his perspective, as it had in the past, and the Democrats did not duck and run, as they have in the past. Four days after Bush’s speech, it was instead Senate Republicans who ducked and ran, putting forward a proposal calling on the administration to lay out its plan for ending the war (legislators don’t want Iraq hanging around their necks in 2006).

Having already lost the American public on Iraq, Bush is now beginning to lose even his own party. His presidency as we have known it thus far is over.

[bth: this article by Laura Rozen is well worth a full read. Much to ponder in her analysis.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

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East Asia allies doubt U.S. could win war with China

"The overwhelming assessment by Asian officials, diplomats and analysts is that the U.S. military simply cannot defeat China. It has been an assessment relayed to U.S. government officials over the past few months by countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. This comes as President Bush wraps up a visit to Asia, in which he sought to strengthen U.S. ties with key allies in the region."...
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Faces of the Fallen

I would encourage you to visit the Faces of the Fallen portrait gallery which included most of those through Nov. 11, 2004 killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The exhibit is at Arlington National Cemetery into December of this year but then it will be disbanded and removed. No further portraits were done of the thousand off that followed that date as it was a privately funded event and ran out of cash. Here is the link to the portrait gallery. Press the "continue" button to start the exhibit when you go to this link.
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Lawmaker Returns Home, a Hawk Turned War Foe

"JOHNSTOWN, Pa., Nov. 21 - Representative John P. Murtha, the hawkish Democrat who spent his political career as a staunch Pentagon supporter, came home Monday as something entirely different: an antiwar symbol.

His call last week for an American troop withdrawal from Iraq within the next six months took aback many of his own constituents and made the plainspoken former Marine colonel's homecoming on Monday a moment for re-evaluation - of the congressman, as well as of the Bush administration's strategy for Iraq.

'It's really surprising that you would see Mr. Murtha speaking out and saying that it's time to get out, and if he's saying it then it's probably so,' said Becky Wicks, a Johnstown resident who said she and her family had supported President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

As recently as last year, Mr. Murtha was warning that 'premature withdrawal' of American troops could lead to a civil war in Iraq and leave American foreign policy in 'disarray,' the exact critique Republicans lodge against him now.

The evolution of his views, he said, has been driven both by the pain of frequent visits to see injured soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington and by his steady disillusionment with the Bush administration's handling of the war. But in some ways he is unsuited temperamentally to the role he has assumed.

'I just came to the conclusion finally that I had to speak out,' he told reporters on Monday. 'I had to focus this administration on an exit strategy.'
'I'm hopeful I don't go too far,' he said, adding that he 'felt bad' last week after bringing up Vice President Dick Cheney's 'five deferments' in the Vietnam era.
Mr. Cheney, in a speech on Monday in Washington"...

The first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, in 1974, Mr. Murtha rose to become the top Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, a post he has used to look after average soldiers' needs. He keeps a running count of the number of his constituents killed in Iraq: now 13.

Since shortly after the American invasion of Iraq, he has frequently visited wounded troops at Walter Reed, an experience that he said had gradually convinced him that the American troop presence was exacerbating the violence by giving insurgents more targets to attack....

But in several trips to Iraq in the last year, he said that he became convinced that the military was not making progress at defeating the insurgency. Yet, he said, the Bush administration ignored his efforts to open private discussions on devising a bipartisan course change.

A letter on Iraq that Mr. Murtha said he sent to Mr. Bush last year did not get a reply until five months later, and then from a underling at the Pentagon, he complained.

"I deserve more respect than that," he said.


Mr. Murtha said he began discussing his growing unease with the military presence in Iraq with longtime advisers, including two retired generals and a former secretary of the Army, whom he would not identify. They urged him not to call publicly for a withdrawal, he said, but as his doubts about the war grew, "they finally came around."...


Colonel Denies Disparaging Murtha

By The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 - A colonel in the Marine reserves has taken issue with how his views were represented in a Republican attack last week on Representative Murtha.

Speaking on the House floor on Friday, Representative Jean Schmidt, Republican of Ohio, asserted that the colonel had "asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, marines never do."

But a spokeswoman for the colonel, Danny R. Bubp, said Ms. Schmidt had misconstrued their conversation.

While Mr. Bubp, a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives, opposes a quick withdrawal for forces, "he did not mention Congressman Murtha by name nor did he mean to disparage Congressman Murtha," said Karen Tabor, his spokeswoman. "He feels as though the words that Congresswoman Schmidt chose did not represent their conversation."

Asked to respond on Monday, the congresswoman's office said only, "Mrs. Schmidt's statement was never meant to disparage Congressman Murtha."







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Dread Takes a Toll on GIs in Iraq

"FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq - A handful of Delta Company soldiers leaned against a barracks wall the other night, smoking. The subject of conversation: what limb they would rather part with, if they had a choice. On the door of a portable toilet a few feet away, someone was keeping the company death toll amid a scribble of obscenities: five KIA.

'When I first got here, I felt like I could actually do some good for the Iraqi people,' Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Barker said. But the last six months had hardened him, he said. 'We're not going to change the Iraqis. I don't care how many halal meals we give out,' he added, referring to food prepared according to Islamic dietary laws."...

"Morale is a roller coaster," said Lt. Rusten Currie, who has spent 10 months in Iraq. "We were all idealistic to begin with, wanting to find Osama bin Laden and [Abu Musab] Zarqawi, and bring them to justice — whatever that means. Now we just want to go home."

The bracelet on his slim wrist read: "Let them hate, as long as they fear."...

We were the walking dead," he said, speaking of the days after the attack. "It was no longer a matter of making it home alive and in one piece. Just alive would be fine."...

"If I die — if my truck gets blown up — there's one less bomb for the 4-year-old to walk on."

Bozajian has been hit three times, the last time in August. Two and a half months later, he still hadn't recovered. Despite the crutches, walking was painful....

Although he looked forward to going home, he felt proud looking back.

"We've accomplished something," he said, after October's referendum.

"That feels good."

During this bloody fall, Maj. Robert Blessing, the chaplain at Falcon, talked to soldiers who were dealing with flashbacks and nightmares about mangled bodies. The official, and anodyne, title of these sessions: "critical event debriefings."

Blessing went to the bedsides of victims, visiting the dying first, then the wounded, he said. For a man of faith, the kind of relativism Iraq brought was hard. Telling a soldier, "Hey, you've only lost a hand — hallelujah — you're going to make it," is bizarre, he said.

"So many deaths, so many wounds," said the 47-year-old Blessing, his voice thickening with repressed tears. "Supposedly it's peacekeeping, but it's a war."

Although the battalion was getting ready to leave Iraq, the chaplain feared he would be talking to troubled soldiers for years to come.

"They're going back with all these memories," Blessing said. "The wound they carry back with them is the loss of innocence."



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Telegraph | News | Americans to pay millions to recapture battle flags

"Four rare battle flags captured during the American War of Independence by a British officer have been returned after more than two centuries to be auctioned.

The regimental colours seized in 1779 and 1780 by Lt Col Banastre Tarleton, who remains one of the conflict's most controversial figures, have already aroused huge interest among American military historians. They are expected to fetch between 2.3 million and 5.8 million pounds at Sotheby's in New York next year."

Until recently the flags had hung in the Hampshire home of Capt Christopher Tarleton Fagan, the great-great-great-great nephew of the lieutenant colonel.

Capt Tarleton Fagan, a former Grenadier Guards officer, said: "I am very sad to sell them. They are an important part of our family history and we have had them for 225 years. However, there comes a time when their value is such that one can no longer afford to insure them."

Only about 30 American revolutionary battle flags have survived, all of which, apart from the ones to be sold at Sotheby's, are in museums and in most cases only fragments remain. The ones captured by Tarleton are in excellent condition and their history is well documented. One is the flag of the 2nd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, raised in Connecticut by Col Elisha Sheldon, who were defeated by Tarleton in Westchester County, New York in July 1779. The other three flags were seized the following year in a still controversial battle in the southern United States. ...

[bth: Tarleton is the rat bastard British officer the movie the "Patriot" focused on.]

Iraqi Leaders Call for Military Exit Schedule

"CAIRO, Egypt - Leaders of Iraq's sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis called Monday for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country and said Iraq's opposition had a 'legitimate right' of resistance.

The final communique, hammered out at the end of three days of negotiations at a preparatory reconciliation conference under the auspices of the Arab League, condemned terrorism, but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.

The participants in Cairo agreed on 'calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces ... control the borders and the security situation' and end terror attacks.

The conference was attended by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers, as well as leading Sunni politicians.

Sunni leaders have been pressing the Shiite-majority government to agree to a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The statement recognized that goal, but did not lay down a specific time - reflecting instead the government's stance that Iraqi security forces must be built up first."

On Monday, Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr suggested U.S.-led forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, saying the one-year extension of the mandate for the multinational force in Iraq by the U.N. Security Council this month could be the last.

"By the middle of next year we will be 75 percent done in building our forces and by the end of next year it will be fully ready," he told the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.

Debate in Washington over when to bring troops home turned bitter last week after decorated Vietnam War vet Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and estimated a pull-out could be complete within six months. Republicans rejected Murtha's position.

In Egypt, the final communique's attempt to define terrorism omitted any reference to attacks against U.S. or Iraqi forces. Delegates from across the political and religious spectrum said the omission was intentional. They spoke anonymously, saying they feared retribution.

"Though resistance is a legitimate right for all people, terrorism does not represent resistance. Therefore, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping targeting Iraqi citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worships," the document said.

The final communique also stressed participants' commitment to Iraq's unity and called for the release of all "innocent detainees" who have not been convicted by courts. It asked that allegations of torture against prisoners be investigated and those responsible be held accountable.

The statement also demanded "an immediate end to arbitrary raids and arrests without a documented judicial order."

The communique included no means for implementing its provisions, leaving it unclear what it will mean in reality other than to stand as a symbol of a first step toward bringing the feuding parties together in an agreement in principle....

[bth: First there was a report last month that Sistani was going to require the US to agree to a timetable for withdrawal right after the Dec. 15 elections so this announcement that a timetable is to be set is not entirely unexpected. It also might provide the political cover Bush needs to exit Iraq in a way that saves face. Second, I speculate that before the December election there will be a call for a general amnesty for insurgents not convicted in court. This would essentially be a get out of jail free card for all but 2000 or so that have been charged and of which only 500 or so have actually been convicted. Basically to win favor from the Sunnis we are going to participate in a "catch and release" program with insurgents. Note the other comment calling for an end to 'arbitrary raids and arrests without a documented judicial order.' This will essentially stop raids by the US on sunni insurgents and Chalabi and Badr facilities. The suggestion of amnesty will likely happen before the election with the release sometime afterwards with the prisoners held as collateral by the Shia as it were. Third, it should be particularly noted that the parties agreed that it was OK to kill Americans. Now that's gratitude for you. The Iraqis are quite happy to have the infidel fight their civil war for them. Fourth, watch to see us retreat from the cities to four to seven permanent bases we are building around Iraq as an interim step. The Kurds will undoubtedly allow us to use the air base near Kirkuk and it seem likely that a naval base (perhaps British) will open on the coast. I doubt we will fully leave the region in the next two years.]
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Abramoff Partner Pleads Guilty

"A onetime congressional staffer who became a top partner to lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to bribe a congressman and other public officials and agreed to pay back more than $19 million he fraudulently charged Indian tribal clients.

The plea agreement between prosecutors and Michael Scanlon, a former press secretary to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), provided fresh detail about the alleged bribes. The document also indicated the nature of testimony Scanlon is prepared to offer against a congressman it calls 'Representative #1' -- who has been identified by attorneys in the case as Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio)."...

Scanlon had been in discussions with prosecutors for six months before Friday's announcement that he was being charged with one count of conspiracy as part of a plea agreement. He entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle yesterday and agreed to pay restitution of $19.7 million, Scanlon's share of fees from four tribes named in the charging documents.

He admitted that he or Abramoff offered bribes on behalf of clients over a period of four years, and at one point during the proceedings he corrected court filings that mistakenly noted that the illegal acts began in 2001. "My client informs me that some of the overt acts are actually in 2000," said Scanlon attorney Stephen L. Braga.....

[bth: this is going to be big.]

Monday, November 21, 2005



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Intel: Iran Won't Need an Exit Strategy - Newsweek World News

"Confrontations don't seem to bother Mowaffaq al-Rubaie. After Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a rathole in late 2003, Rubaie was the only senior Iraqi official to call the ex-dictator a coward to his face. And last week, after a dangerous overland journey to Tehran, Rubaie went head-to-head with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's fiery Islamist president. One of Rubaie's key messages to his fellow Shiite: stop stirring up trouble. Rubaie, Iraq's national-security adviser, and other Iraqi officials chastised Iran for supporting Shiite militias and aggravating the insurgency. More gently, they asked for Tehran's help.
Mainly the Iraqis demonstrated that, at a strategic level, they are thinking about what their country could look like after the Americans leave."

Rubaie returned home on Friday with what he regards as an important prize: a memorandum of understanding with Tehran that commits the two governments to cooperate on sensitive intelligence-sharing matters, counterterrorism and cross-border infiltration of Qaeda figures. Yet Rubaie's bold diplomacy took even the powerful U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, by surprise. Khalilzad told NEWSWEEK in a telephone interview that he found out about the agreement only afterward. The diplomatic confusion shows that Iraq remains in a shaky state of limbo, somewhere between independence and occupation....
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RollingStone.com: The Man Who Sold the War : Politics [bth: A must read article]

Meet John Rendon, Bush's general in the propaganda war

"The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man's chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man's brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.

Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.

It was damning stuff -- just the kind of evidence the Bush administration was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That's why the Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.

The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon.

Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda. One of the most powerful people in Washington, Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help "create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power." Working under this extraordinary transfer of secret authority, Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. It was as if President John F. Kennedy had outsourced the Bay of Pigs operation to the advertising and public-relations firm of J. Walter Thompson....

Although Rendon denies any direct involvement with al-Haideri, the defector was the latest salvo in a secret media war set in motion by Rendon. In an operation directed by Ahmad Chalabi -- the man Rendon helped install as leader of the INC -- the defector had been brought to Thailand, where he huddled in a hotel room for days with the group's spokesman, Zaab Sethna. The INC routinely coached defectors on their stories, prepping them for polygraph exams, and Sethna was certainly up to the task -- he got his training in the art of propaganda on the payroll of the Rendon Group. According to Francis Brooke, the INC's man in Washington and himself a former Rendon employee, the goal of the al-Haideri operation was simple: pressure the United States to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein.

As the CIA official flew back to Washington with failed lie-detector charts in his briefcase, Chalabi and Sethna didn't hesitate. They picked up the phone, called two journalists who had a long history of helping the INC promote its cause and offered them an exclusive on Saddam's terrifying cache of WMDs.

For the worldwide broadcast rights, Sethna contacted Paul Moran, an Australian freelancer who frequently worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "I think I've got something that you would be interested in," he told Moran, who was living in Bahrain. Sethna knew he could count on the trim, thirty-eight-year-old journalist: A former INC employee in the Middle East, Moran had also been on Rendon's payroll for years in "information operations," working with Sethna at the company's London office on Catherine Place, near Buckingham Palace.

"We were trying to help the Kurds and the Iraqis opposed to Saddam set up a television station," Sethna recalled in a rare interview broadcast on Australian television. "The Rendon Group came to us and said, 'We have a contract to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi opposition.' What we didn't know -- what the Rendon Group didn't tell us -- was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work."

The INC's choice for the worldwide print exclusive was equally easy: Chalabi contacted Judith Miller of The New York Times. Miller, who was close to I. Lewis Libby and other neoconservatives in the Bush administration, had been a trusted outlet for the INC's anti-Saddam propaganda for years. Not long after the CIA polygraph expert slipped the straps and electrodes off al-Haideri and declared him a liar, Miller flew to Bangkok to interview him under the watchful supervision of his INC handlers. Miller later made perfunctory calls to the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, but despite her vaunted intelligence sources, she claimed not to know about the results of al-Haideri's lie-detector test. Instead, she reported that unnamed "government experts" called his information "reliable and significant" -- thus adding a veneer of truth to the lies.

Her front-page story, which hit the stands on December 20th, 2001, was exactly the kind of exposure Rendon had been hired to provide. AN IRAQI DEFECTOR TELLS OF WORK ON AT LEAST 20 HIDDEN WEAPONS SITES, declared the headline. "An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer," Miller wrote, "said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago." If verified, she noted, "his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so."

For months, hawks inside and outside the administration had been pressing for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Now, thanks to Miller's story, they could point to "proof" of Saddam's "nuclear threat." The story, reinforced by Moran's on-camera interview with al-Haideri on the giant Australian Broadcasting Corp., was soon being trumpeted by the White House and repeated by newspapers and television networks around the world. It was the first in a long line of hyped and fraudulent stories that would eventually propel the U.S. into a war with Iraq -- the first war based almost entirely on a covert propaganda campaign targeting the media.

By law, the Bush administration is expressly prohibited from disseminating government propaganda at home. But in an age of global communications, there is nothing to stop it from planting a phony pro-war story overseas -- knowing with certainty that it will reach American citizens almost instantly. ...

According to Pentagon documents obtained by Rolling Stone, the Rendon Group is authorized "to research and analyze information classified up to Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS" -- an extraordinarily high level of clearance granted to only a handful of defense contractors. "SCI" stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information, data classified higher than Top Secret. "SI" is Special Intelligence, very secret communications intercepted by the National Security Agency. "TK" refers to Talent/Keyhole, code names for imagery from reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites. "G" stands for Gamma (communications intercepts from extremely sensitive sources) and "HCS" means Humint Control System (information from a very sensitive human source). Taken together, the acronyms indicate that Rendon enjoys access to the most secret information from all three forms of intelligence collection: eavesdropping, imaging satellites and human spies....

According to one senior administration official involved in intelligence-budget decisions, half of the CIA's work is now performed by private contractors -- people completely unaccountable to Congress. Another senior budget official acknowledges privately that lawmakers have no idea how many rent-a-spies the CIA currently employs -- or how much unchecked power they enjoy.....

Rendon was guarded about the details of his clandestine work -- but he boasted openly of the sweep and importance of his firm's efforts as a for-profit spy. "We've worked in ninety-one countries," he said. "Going all the way back to Panama, we've been involved in every war, with the exception of Somalia."...

"Panama," he says, "brought us into the national-security environment."

In 1989, shortly after his election, President George H.W. Bush signed a highly secret "finding" authorizing the CIA to funnel $10 million to opposition forces in Panama to overthrow Gen. Manuel Noriega. Reluctant to involve agency personnel directly, the CIA turned to the Rendon Group. Rendon's job was to work behind the scenes, using a variety of campaign and psychological techniques to put the CIA's choice, Guillermo Endara, into the presidential palace. Cash from the agency, laundered through various bank accounts and front organizations, would end up in Endara's hands, who would then pay Rendon....

When it comes to staging a war, few things are left to chance. After Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, it was Rendon's responsibility to make the victory march look like the flag-waving liberation of France after World War II. "Did you ever stop to wonder," he later remarked, "how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American -- and, for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?" After a pause, he added, "Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then."

Although his work is highly secret, Rendon insists he deals only in "timely, truthful and accurate information." His job, he says, is to counter false perceptions that the news media perpetuate because they consider it "more important to be first than to be right." In modern warfare, he believes, the outcome depends largely on the public's perception of the war -- whether it is winnable, whether it is worth the cost. "We are being haunted and stalked by the difference between perception and reality," he says. "Because the lines are divergent, this difference between perception and reality is one of the greatest strategic communications challenges of war."

By the time the Gulf War came to a close in 1991, the Rendon Group was firmly established as Washington's leading salesman for regime change. But Rendon's new assignment went beyond simply manipulating the media. After the war ended, the Top Secret order signed by President Bush to oust Hussein included a rare "lethal finding" -- meaning deadly action could be taken if necessary. Under contract to the CIA, Rendon was charged with helping to create a dissident force with the avowed purpose of violently overthrowing the entire Iraqi government. It is an undertaking that Rendon still considers too classified to discuss. "That's where we're wandering into places I'm not going to talk about," he says. "If you take an oath, it should mean something."

Thomas Twetten, the CIA's former deputy of operations, credits Rendon with virtually creating the INC. "The INC was clueless," he once observed. "They needed a lot of help and didn't know where to start. That is why Rendon was brought in." Acting as the group's senior adviser and aided by truckloads of CIA dollars, Rendon pulled together a wide spectrum of Iraqi dissidents and sponsored a conference in Vienna to organize them into an umbrella organization, which he dubbed the Iraqi National Congress. Then, as in Panama, his assignment was to help oust a brutal dictator and replace him with someone chosen by the CIA. "The reason they got the contract was because of what they had done in Panama -- so they were known," recalls Whitley Bruner, former chief of the CIA's station in Baghdad. This time the target was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the agency's successor of choice was Ahmad Chalabi, a crafty, avuncular Iraqi exile beloved by Washington's neoconservatives.

Chalabi was a curious choice to lead a rebellion. In 1992, he was convicted in Jordan of making false statements and embezzling $230 million from his own bank, for which he was sentenced in absentia to twenty-two years of hard labor. But the only credential that mattered was his politics. "From day one," Rendon says, "Chalabi was very clear that his biggest interest was to rid Iraq of Saddam." Bruner, who dealt with Chalabi and Rendon in London in 1991, puts it even more bluntly. "Chalabi's primary focus," he said later, "was to drag us into a war."

The key element of Rendon's INC operation was a worldwide media blitz designed to turn Hussein, a once dangerous but now contained regional leader, into the greatest threat to world peace. Each month, $326,000 was passed from the CIA to the Rendon Group and the INC via various front organizations. Rendon profited handsomely, receiving a "management fee" of ten percent above what it spent on the project. According to some reports, the company made nearly $100 million on the contract during the five years following the Gulf War.

Rendon made considerable headway with the INC, but following the group's failed coup attempt against Saddam in 1996, the CIA lost confidence in Chalabi and cut off his monthly paycheck. But Chalabi and Rendon simply switched sides, moving over to the Pentagon, and the money continued to flow. "The Rendon Group is not in great odor in Langley these days," notes Bruner. "Their contracts are much more with the Defense Department."

Rendon's influence rose considerably in Washington after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. In a single stroke, Osama bin Laden altered the world's perception of reality -- and in an age of nonstop information, whoever controls perception wins. What Bush needed to fight the War on Terror was a skilled information warrior -- and Rendon was widely acknowledged as the best. "The events of 11 September 2001 changed everything, not least of which was the administration's outlook concerning strategic influence," notes one Army report. "Faced with direct evidence that many people around the world actively hated the United States, Bush began taking action to more effectively explain U.S. policy overseas. Initially the White House and DoD turned to the Rendon Group."

Three weeks after the September 11th attacks, according to documents obtained from defense sources, the Pentagon awarded a large contract to the Rendon Group. Around the same time, Pentagon officials also set up a highly secret organization called the Office of Strategic Influence. Part of the OSI's mission was to conduct covert disinformation and deception operations -- planting false news items in the media and hiding their origins. "It's sometimes valuable from a military standpoint to be able to engage in deception with respect to future anticipated plans," Vice President Dick Cheney said in explaining the operation. Even the military's top brass found the clandestine unit unnerving. "When I get their briefings, it's scary," a senior official said at the time.

In February 2002, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had hired Rendon "to help the new office," a charge Rendon denies. "We had nothing to do with that," he says. "We were not in their reporting chain. We were reporting directly to the J-3" -- the head of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Following the leak, Rumsfeld was forced to shut down the organization. But much of the office's operations were apparently shifted to another unit, deeper in the Pentagon's bureaucracy, called the Information Operations Task Force, and Rendon was closely connected to this group. "Greg Newbold was the J-3 at the time, and we reported to him through the IOTF," Rendon says.

According to the Pentagon documents, the Rendon Group played a major role in the IOTF. The company was charged with creating an "Information War Room" to monitor worldwide news reports at lightning speed and respond almost instantly with counterpropaganda. ...

The secret targeting of foreign journalists may have had a sinister purpose. Among the missions proposed for the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was one to "coerce" foreign journalists and plant false information overseas. Secret briefing papers also said the office should find ways to "punish" those who convey the "wrong message." One senior officer told CNN that the plan would "formalize government deception, dishonesty and misinformation."

According to the Pentagon documents, Rendon would use his media analysis to conduct a worldwide propaganda campaign, deploying teams of information warriors to allied nations to assist them "in developing and delivering specific messages to the local population, combatants, front-line states, the media and the international community." Among the places Rendon's info-war teams would be sent were Jakarta, Indonesia; Islamabad, Pakistan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Cairo; Ankara, Turkey; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The teams would produce and script television news segments "built around themes and story lines supportive of U.S. policy objectives."

Rendon was also charged with engaging in "military deception" online -- an activity once assigned to the OSI. The company was contracted to monitor Internet chat rooms in both English and Arabic -- and "participate in these chat rooms when/if tasked." Rendon would also create a Web site "with regular news summaries and feature articles. Targeted at the global public, in English and at least four (4) additional languages, this activity also will include an extensive e-mail push operation." These techniques are commonly used to plant a variety of propaganda, including false information.

Still another newly formed propaganda operation in which Rendon played a major part was the Office of Global Communications, which operated out of the White House and was charged with spreading the administration's message on the War in Iraq. Every morning at 9:30, Rendon took part in the White House OGC conference call, where officials would discuss the theme of the day and who would deliver it. The office also worked closely with the White House Iraq Group, whose high-level members, including recently indicted Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby, were responsible for selling the war to the American public.

Never before in history had such an extensive secret network been established to shape the entire world's perception of a war. "It was not just bad intelligence -- it was an orchestrated effort," says Sam Gardner, a retired Air Force colonel who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College. "It began before the war, was a major effort during the war and continues as post-conflict distortions."...

We maintained situational awareness, in military terms, on all things related to terrorism. We were doing 195 newspapers and 43 countries in fourteen or fifteen languages. If you do this correctly, I can tell you what's on the evening news tonight in a country before it happens. I can give you, as a policymaker, a six-hour break on how you can affect what's going to be on the news. They'll take that in a heartbeat."

The Bush administration took everything Rendon had to offer. Between 2000 and 2004, Pentagon documents show, the Rendon Group received at least thirty-five contracts with the Defense Department, worth a total of $50 million to $100 million...

Miller also continued to promote al-Haideri's tale of Saddam's villainy. In January 2003, more than a year after her first article appeared, Miller again reported that Pentagon "intelligence officials" were telling her that "some of the most valuable information has come from Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri.
" His interviews with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Miller added, "ultimately resulted in dozens of highly credible reports on Iraqi weapons-related activity and purchases, officials said."

Finally, in early 2004, more than two years after he made the dramatic allegations to Miller and Moran about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, al-Haideri was taken back to Iraq by the CIA's Iraq Survey Group. On a wide-ranging trip through Baghdad and other key locations, al-Haideri was given the opportunity to point out exactly where Saddam's stockpiles were hidden, confirming the charges that had helped to start a war.

In the end, he could not identify a single site where illegal weapons were buried.

As the war in Iraq has spiraled out of control, the Bush administration's covert propaganda campaign has intensified. According to a secret Pentagon report personally approved by Rumsfeld in October 2003 and obtained by Rolling Stone, the Strategic Command is authorized to engage in "military deception" -- defined as "presenting false information, images or statements." The seventy-four-page document, titled "Information Operations Roadmap," also calls for psychological operations to be launched over radio, television, cell phones and "emerging technologies" such as the Internet. In addition to being classified secret, the road map is also stamped noforn, meaning it cannot be shared even with our allies....


[bth: this is a fascinating and horrifying article. If you wondered why the news seems to be produced by a propaganda machine, well look no further because it was, just read this article in full. The connection between the U.S. government/propaganda/the INC/false intel/Miller/Libby/CIA/Pentagon all become much clearer.]


TIME.com: Getting the Lowdown on Iraq -- Nov. 28, 2005

"If the Republican Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee wants to get a second opinion on how the war in Iraq is going, where does he turn? To the Pentagon, but not to the top brass this time. In an unusual closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, Virginia's John Warner, joined by Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, sat across the table from 10 military officers chosen for their experience on the battlefield rather than in the political arena. Warner rounded up the battalion commanders to get at what the military calls 'ground truth'--the unvarnished story of what's going on in Iraq."

"We wanted the view from men who had been on the tip of the spear, and we got it," said John Ullyot, a Warner spokesman who declined to comment on what was said at the meeting but confirmed that some Capitol Hill staff members were also present. According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, the Army and Marine officers were blunt. In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told TIME that as recently as August 2005, a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat.

There are about 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, a number U.S. commanders in the region plan to maintain at least through the Iraqi national assembly elections on Dec. 15. But the battalion commanders, according to sources close to last week's meeting, said that because there are not enough troops, they have to "leapfrog" around Iraq to keep insurgents from returning to towns that have been cleared out. The officers also stressed that the lack of manpower--rather than of protective armor or signal jammers--posed one of the biggest obstacles in dealing with roadside bombs, which have caused the majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq. The commanders, according to the meeting sources, said there are simply "never enough" explosives experts on the ground. So far, no officer has been willing to go on record to complain about the need for more troops. But there is one positive sign: the Army recently decided to double the number of explosives experts to 2,500 over the next few years.

[bth: two points. First note the repeated requests for more troops which seem to vanish when one gets to the level of generals. Also note that Warner and Levin are now doing openly what has been going on in private for about six months -- bypassing the generals to get the straight story. It is a sad fact of this war that the generals no longer have credibility with the congress. It is quite a loss in my opinion. What is it about the generals at this point in time that they are either afraid or unwilling to give honest assessments? Is it the remains of the Vietnam era officers corp?]
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Ex-Cellmate Says al-Zarqawi Was Tortured

"AMMAN, Jordan - A man once imprisoned with Iraq's most feared terror leader said Sunday that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was tortured regularly by Jordanian prison officials in the late 1990s and was held six months in solitary confinement."...

"He divided the world between Muslim and infidels," Rababaa said, adding that al-Zarqawi was quiet at the time and did not show a violent nature.

"I didn't see that side of him, although he had very strong opinions. I am very surprised at where he is today," said Rababaa, suggesting that maybe someone helps al-Zarqawi plan his terror operations.

"He had very little education, only medium intelligence. But he was very brave," Rababaa said....
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How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball' - Los Angeles Times

"BERLIN = The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so."

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

Curveball's German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm.

"This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

The German authorities, speaking about the case for the first time, also said that their informant suffered from emotional and mental problems. "He is not a stable, psychologically stable guy," said a BND official who supervised the case. "He is not a completely normal person," agreed a BND analyst.

Curveball was the chief source of inaccurate prewar U.S. accusations that Baghdad had biological weapons, a commission appointed by Bush reported this year. The commission did not interview Curveball, who still insists his story was true, or the German officials who handled his case. ...
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Soldiers in Iraq carry extra load

"More than half of U.S. soldiers who have been medically evacuated from Iraq and treated at two of the military's large pain treatment centers suffer not from battle wounds but from bad backs, researchers report."

Most injured soldiers aren't hurt on the battlefield. In contemporary warfare, injuries are more likely to be the result of a motor-vehicle accident, falls or disease — the same problems a doctor would see in civilians in the same age range, says Maj. Scott Griffith, an author of the study. He is the director of the chronic pain clinic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Though soldiers are in better shape than the average citizen, they also face high-stress conditions. That, combined with sleeping on cots with little back support, standing on their feet for hours at a time, riding in convoys in crunched positions and wearing heavy body armor, contributes to back troubles, says Capt. Brian Kargus, who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Iraq.

Still, the high percentage of soldiers who leave Iraq because of back pain is disturbing, says lead author Steven Cohen, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and pain specialist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The study, which is published in the October issue of the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, examined 162 injured soldiers who were medically evacuated from Iraq and treated at the two pain clinics. Fifty-three percent, or 86 soldiers, had lower back pain. They were treated at large interventional pain centers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at Landstuhl Regional Army Medical Center in Germany. Battle injuries accounted for 17% of evacuations.

More than 65 million Americans develop lower back pain every year, according to the American College of Neurological Surgeons. It's the most common cause of job-related disability, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.

And, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the most common ailments — experienced by 30% of veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan — are musculoskeletal problems, primarily joint and back pain.

Not that back pain in the Army is anything new. Doctors used to see something called "rucksack palsy," which is caused by nerve injuries from carrying heavy backpacks for miles, says Lt. Col. Frank Christopher, a medical doctor and chief of deployment health at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

"Inherent in being a soldier is carrying large weights. Historically, the ideal 'carry weight' is a third of your body weight," Christopher says.

The military is responding. Physical therapists are being deployed with some battalions, and chiropractic services also are available.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

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Map showing sectarian migration from terrorism and civil war Posted by Picasa

Sectarian Hatred Pulls Apart Iraq's Mixed Towns - New York Times

..."So when Abu Noor, a Shiite from Tarmiya, a heavily Sunni Arab town north of here, ran into an old friend, a Sunni who faced his own problems in a Shiite district in Baghdad, the two decided to switch houses. They even shared a moving van.

Two and a half years after the American invasion, deep divides that have long split Iraqi society have violently burst into full view. As the hatred between Sunni Arabs and Shiites hardens and the relentless toll of bombings and assassinations grows, families are leaving their mixed towns and cities for safer areas where they will not automatically be targets. In doing so, they are creating increasingly polarized enclaves and redrawing the sectarian map of Iraq, especially in Baghdad and the belt of cities around it.

The evidence is so far mostly anecdotal - the government is not tracking the moves. In a rough count, about 20 cities and towns around Baghdad are segregating, according to accounts by local sheiks, Iraqi nongovernmental organizations and military officials, and the families themselves.

Those areas are among the most mixed and the most violent in Iraq - according to the American military, 85 percent of attacks in the country are in four provinces including Baghdad, and two others to its north and west. "...

Some Iraqis, despite years of mass killings of Kurds and Shiites during Mr. Hussein's rule, still argue that sectarian divides did not exist in Iraq before the American invasion. But scratching just beneath the surface turns up hurt in most Shiite homes. Abu Noor recalls asking a high school teacher in Tarmiya the meaning of the word shroogi, a derogatory term for Shiite. Shiites tried to hide their last names. The military had a glass ceiling.

These days, sectarian profiling on the part of the government, which is Shiite, runs in reverse, with some people buying fake national identity cards to hide last names that are obviously Sunni Arab.

For the people who have stayed in their mixed neighborhoods, life has become circumscribed....

[bth: the large-scale migration of ethnic groups between neighborhoods is a clear indicator of growing fear and ethnic-based civil war. There isn't a question of whether there will be a civil war in Iraq. There is one already, it just hasn't been acknowledged by the Americans. There is sort of a mythology going on between the Administration and the Iraqi government. On the one hand the Iraqi insurgency is played up as a massive international terrorist conspiracy with al-Qaeda branding. This suits the American and the Iraqi government that wants us to fight this war and the terrorists themselves who need the 'great Satan' as much as 'the great Satan' now needs them. On the other hand, the huge internal insurgency, the war that actually didn't end and the civil war that has been going on for at least the last year is where the great struggle is within the borders of Iraq. This is the first mainstream media report I've seen documenting the migration of families between Shiite and Satan communities. This is a clear sign that people are moving from areas where they see no future and permanent danger to ones of safety based on ethnic division. Do we want to fight their civil war?]
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Pentagon Probes Office Headed by Feith

"WASHINGTON - The Pentagon's inspector general said Friday it has begun an investigation into allegations that an office run by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's former policy chief, Douglas J. Feith, engaged in illegal or inappropriate intelligence activities before the Iraq war. "

The probe, which two senators requested two months ago, comes at a contentious point in the political debate over President Bush's decision to invade Iraq and the intelligence upon which Bush based his decision.

It extends a controversy that has prominently featured Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., a vocal critic of Bush's Iraq policy, who has accused Feith of engaging in inappropriate intelligence activities at the Pentagon and of deceiving Congress about intelligence on Iraq's prewar links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Levin told reporters Friday that Feith provided the White House and its National Security Council with "really erroneous and distorted intelligence" about Iraq and its purported links to terrorist groups.....
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Democrats' War Opposition Not a United Front - Los Angeles Times

"WASHINGTON -Last week's emotional congressional debates over Iraq demonstrated the rise of antiwar sentiment among Democrats -and the challenge the party faces in converting that impulse into a unified alternative to President Bush.

Twin confrontations over Iraq, in the House and the Senate -highlighted by a ferocious House debate that followed a call by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) to immediately begin removing American troops -showed that the center of gravity among Democrats is rapidly moving toward proposals to accelerate the withdrawal of American troops from the war. "

"The last week has changed everything," said Tom Matzzie, Washington director of MoveOn.org, a liberal group opposing the war. "The whole debate just jumped ahead six months."

But while the week's events demonstrated rising Democratic hostility to the war, they also underscored the party's continuing divisions over what alternative to offer — and whether to present a specific alternative at all.

Though some insiders believe a majority of House Democrats might ultimately endorse Murtha's proposal to begin an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, only 13 so far have co-sponsored the resolution embodying it. When House Republicans forced a vote Friday on a resolution urging immediate withdrawal, only three Democrats voted yes after the bitter floor debate.

According to one Democratic source, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has dropped plans to seek a vote in early December on adopting a Democratic Conference position in support of Murtha's plan. Murtha has said his proposal could lead to a complete withdrawal of American troops in about six months and the establishment of a "quick-reaction force in the region."

Fearful that the proposal would generate too much opposition among moderate Democrats, Pelosi now plans for the conference only to discuss and debate it, the source said.

The plan Senate Democrats offered last week during that chamber's debate over the war did not seek to change policy nearly as sharply as Murtha does. Their proposal, rejected on a near party-line vote, asked Bush to set estimated timetables for withdrawing American troops as benchmarks of progress in Iraq are reached.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that based on the conversations that produced Senate Democrats' proposal, Reid believed hardly any Senate Democrats would sign on to Murtha's approach today.

Yet supporters and opponents of the war agree that the cry of opposition from Murtha — a leading military hawk during his three decades in Congress — is likely to mark a milestone in the war debate.

"Clearly it was a bombshell and it does shift the debate quite dramatically," said Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution who was a National Security Council aide under President Clinton.

Many Democratic political strategists and foreign policy analysts have long believed the party can benefit more from criticizing Bush's handling of the war than from specifying an alternative.

Although Democrats may be split on Murtha's specific proposal, his call for a clear break from Bush's policy is likely to strengthen those who want the party to offer concrete alternatives, many observers believe.

Many Republicans also see last week as a turning point. Bush allies believe that Murtha's declaration — following Senate Democrats' call for estimated timetables — will identify Democrats with a policy of "cut and run."

"I don't think the country has any doubt there are two positions: One is to stay and fight and the other is to leave," said one Republican strategist familiar with White House thinking.

As public opinion has soured on the war, support for withdrawing troops has grown, according to recent surveys. Nineteen percent of respondents to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released last week supported an immediate withdrawal, and 33% said that all American troops should be pulled out within a year — meaning that a majority wants all troops home by the end of 2006.

Among independents, 56% want all troops home within a year, among Democrats 67%, the poll found.

Yet a range of GOP strategists remain confident that their party will benefit as more Democrats push to end America's involvement in the war. "As long as the Bush administration was in the position of having to debate events in Iraq, it hurt us," said the GOP strategist familiar with White House thinking. "When we are in the position of having to debate the Democratic Party on this, it helps us. That's what happened in the 2004 election
."

Clifford D. May, president of the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said: "Democrats can certainly reinforce their brand identification as the party that cannot be trusted in the midst of a national security crisis. That is a real danger for them."

Largely accepting that logic, almost all centrist Democrats and much of the party's foreign policy establishment believe that a specific timeline or deadline for removing American troops would undermine stability in Iraq and hurt the party politically. During last week's debate, Democratic foreign policy leaders like Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) repeatedly insisted that the party's proposal did not establish a timeline for removing American troops.

Even those Democrats urging more rapid withdrawal are split on a wide range of specific ideas....

[bth: if you listen to Murtha's speech you see that he made his public statement as an obligation to the troops. All this other maneuvering by the parties belies the basic fact that soldiers are being killed while this silliness goes on in Washington. Murtha had the wisdom and the guts to actually stand up for the PFCs and Lance Corporals being sent over there and then to Walter Reed. Murtha fundamentally is a patriot to which I can personally attest regardless.]