Saturday, March 25, 2006

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Aide to al-Qaeda arrested in Iraq

IOL: Aide to al-Qaeda arrested in Iraq: "Baghdad - Iraqi security forces captured an aide to al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a raid Thursday in eastern Iraq, a top security official said.

Minister of State for National Security Abdul Karim al-Inazi identified the captive as Fares Kadhim Lafi, a Iraqi who was snared Diyala province.

'He carried out 27 operations including an attack on a minibus that left nine civilians dead,' al-Inazi told The Associated Press.

He said security forces had received a tip on Lafi's whereabouts.

It is not uncommon for Iraqi authorities and US military to say they have captured aides to al-Zarqawi without giving further information. - Sapa-AP"

Taliban kill US informer in Paktika

Taliban kill US informer in Paktika - PakTribune: "KABUL: An Afghan national working as a US informer, was killed in the bazaar of Sharani Town of Paktika province, the other day.

Talking in a telephonic conversation with Radio Tehran, Dr. Hanif, a Taliban spokesman, said that the Taliban were responsible for the killing of Tahir, an alleged informer of the US forces.

He also claimed that the Taliban blew up a US tank on Wednesday with a remote controlled devise in district Janikhel of Paktika province killing an unknown number of American soldiers on board.

On the other hand, there has been no word from the Taliban as yet"

Battle for Baghdad

Independent Online Edition > Middle East: "The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest.

'The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged,' Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. 'Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area.' He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

Many Iraqi leaders now believe that civil war is inevitable but it will be confined, at least at first, to the capital and surrounding provinces where the population is mixed. 'The real battle will be the battle for Baghdad where the Shia have increasing control,' said one senior official who did not want his name published. 'The army will disintegrate in the first moments of the war because the soldiers are loyal to the Shia, Sunni or Kurdish communities and not to the government.' He expected the Americans to stay largely on the sidelines."

Throughout the capital, communities, both Sunni and Shia, are on the move, fleeing districts where they are in a minority and feel under threat. Sometimes they fight back. In the mixed but majority Shia al-Amel district, Sunni householders recently received envelopes containing a Kalashnikov bullet and a letter telling them to get out at once. In this case they contacted the insurgents who killed several Shia neighbours suspected of sending the letters.

"The Sunni will fight for Baghdad," said Mr Hussein. "The Baath party already controls al-Dohra and other Sunni groups dominate Ghazaliyah and Abu Ghraib [districts in south and west Baghdad]."

The Iraqi army is likely to fall apart once inter-communal fighting begins. According to Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and expert on Iraq, the Iraqi army last summer contained 60 Shia battalions, 45 Sunni battalions, nine Kurdish battalions and one mixed battalion.

The police are even more divided and in Baghdad are largely controlled by the Mehdi Army of the radical nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organisation that has largely been in control of the interior ministry since last May. Sunni Arabs in Baghdad regard the ministry's paramilitary police commanders as Shia death squads.

Mr Hussein gave another reason why the army is weak. "Where you have 3,000 soldiers there will in fact be only 2,000 men [because of ghost soldiers who do not exist and whose salaries are taken by senior officers]," he said. "When it comes to fighting only 500 of those men will turn up."

Iraqi officials and ministers are increasingly in despair at the failure to put together an effective administration in Baghdad. A senior Arab minister, who asked not to be named, said: "The government could end up being only a few buildings in the Green Zone."

The mood among Iraqi leaders, both Arabs and Kurds, is far gloomier in private than the public declarations of the US and British governments. The US President George W Bush called this week for a national unity government in Iraq but Iraqi observers do not expect this to be any more effective than the present government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. One said this week: "The real problem is that the Shia and Sunni hate each other and not that we haven't been able to form a government."

The Shia and Kurds will have the advantage in the coming conflict because they have leaders and organisations. The Sunni are divided and only about 30 per cent of the population of the capital. Nevertheless they should be able to hold on to their stronghold in west Baghdad and the Adhamiyah district east of the Tigris. The Shia do not have the strength and probably do not wish to take over the Sunni towns and villages north and west of Baghdad.

Though the Kurds have long sought autonomy close to quasi-independence, their leaders are worried that civil war will increase Iranian and Turkish involvement in Iraq. Mr Hussein said he feared that civil war in Baghdad could spread north to Mosul and Kirkuk where the division is between Kurd and Arab rather than Sunni and Shia.

Already Baghdad resembles Beirut at the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, when Christians and Muslims fought each other for control of the city.

[bth: lack of artillery or air power will prevent occupation of territory that does not have local support by miliitias. The battalion commanders are paid for a full complement of men so as a result we see a surge in the number of battalions but they never seem able to fight on their own. This is because the economicial solution for a corrupt Iraqi military is to create lots of battalions, paid as if they were fully staffed, skim off 1/3 to 1/2 for the soldiers that aren't really there and then always be under performing so that those units continue to get equipment. The net result is that we get ineffective forces that never seem to get better but always seem to be growing. Bush gets his headline, but generals continue to report that few if any battalions are able to take the lead. It also doesn't hurt that we failed to provide any logistical support chain for these units. In the end though, that may be one of the only reasons the militias don't ethnically cleanse neighboring towns - it isn't that they don't want too, its that they can't! Another telling sign is the decline and now near absence of US patrols in the Sadr City area. Also the Abu Ghraib prison is being 'closed' - well strike that , its actually being relocated out of a Sunni stronghold. See what's happening? Everybody is tiptoeing to the exits while telling the public not to panic. When in a few months we find out that the police and Iraqi soldiers stop getting paid, then the shit is going to hit the fan. Its going to be a long hot summer.]

Ex-KBR employee pleads guilty to kickbacks

Ex-KBR employee pleads guilty to kickbacks: "SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- An ex-employee of a Halliburton subsidiary pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from a Saudi subcontractor that was awarded a multimillion-dollar U.S. military contract. An official with the subcontractor, meanwhile, was charged with lying to authorities.

Stephen Lowell Seamans of Maryland, a former Kellogg, Brown & Root Services Inc. manager, pleaded guilty March 10 to wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money, the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield said Thursday.

He was accused of accepting more than $124,000 from Tamimi Global Co., which was awarded a $14.4 million subcontract in 2002 to provide dining facilities for soldiers in Kuwait."...

[bth: incredibly 4 years laters KBRs contracts are still cost plus and no bid. ]

Constitutional Questions Show in AIPAC Case - Yahoo! News

Constitutional Questions Show in AIPAC Case - Yahoo! News: "ALEXANDRIA, Va. - A federal judge on Friday questioned the constitutionality of a law under which two former lobbyists with a pro- Israel group have been charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information. "

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said the law, enacted by Congress during World War I, may be unconstitutionally broad and vague, especially given its potential impact on First Amendment rights.

Ellis questioned prosecutors about the law during a pretrial hearing for Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who each face felony trials next month...

Iraqis in Tal Afar question Bush's optimism

SignOnSanDiego.com > In Iraq -- Iraqis in Tal Afar question Bush's optimism: "TAL AFAR, Iraq -U.S. President George W. Bush held up the northern town of Tal Afar this week as an example of progress being made in Iraq but many residents find it hard to share his optimism.

Bush said this week that Tal Afar has become 'a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq' after U.S.-led forces freed it from al Qaeda militants in a 2005 offensive. "

Although townspeople say there has been less violence since the assault, they share many of the complaints of other Iraqis watching sectarian violence tearing their country apart.

These days it is Iraq's security forces, drawn heavily from the Shi'ite majority, not Sunni Arab al Qaeda militants from nearby Syria, that make many people in Tal Afar nervous.

'When we stop at a checkpoint they ask us whether we are Sunni or Shi'ite. That is worrying. We are one people and were never divided before,' said Fatma Mohammad Ali, 38, a teacher who is a member of Tal Afar's ethnic Turkmen Shi'ite minority.

U.S. and Iraqi forces said Tal Afar was used as a conduit for smuggling in equipment and foreign fighters from Syria on the way to cities across central Iraq. In doing so, they subjected many townspeople to violence and intimidation.

Al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab insurgent violence has eased in Tal Afar since September's offensive but sectarian violence elsewhere in Iraq after the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra last month raised fears among many people of civil war.

'I say that Bush is 100 percent a liar because the city of Tal Afar has become a ghost town rather than the example Bush spoke about,' said Ali Ibrahim, a Shi'ite Turkmen laborer. ...

[bth: the article goes on. I'd say at best the situation in Tal Afar is dicey though overall violence is down.]

Cheney on attack after Dems call Bush 'dangerously incompetent'

AP Wire 03/24/2006 Cheney on attack after Dems call Bush 'dangerously incompetent': "ORLANDO, Fla. - Vice President Dick Cheney blasted Democrats for opposing provisions of the Patriot Act and criticizing President Bush's approval of secret wiretaps for domestic surveillance at a fundraising lunch Friday.

Two days after Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid called Bush 'dangerously incompetent,' Cheney said if Democrats were capable of handling the war on terror, 'Then I ought to be singing on American Idol.

''The president and I welcome the debate, because every voter in America needs to know how the leaders of the Democratic party view the war on terror,' he said at the event for U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando.Reid had said the United States was failing military and economically in Iraq, and questioned why Bush was campaigning for Republicans instead of meeting with leaders in the Middle East.

Cheney defended the wiretaps, which he said the president has reauthorized more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as 'essential to the security of the United States.'"....

Army's top general attacks Kember for failing to thank SAS rescue team - World - Times Online

Army's top general attacks Kember for failing to thank SAS rescue team - World - Times Online: "NORMAN KEMBER, the freed peace activist, will arrive back in Britain today amid growing controversy over his failure publicly to thank the military forces who rescued him.

Neither Professor Kember nor the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) organisation for whom he worked have acknowledged the work of the soldiers who rescued him and two Canadian hostages on Thursday, or of the teams of military and intelligence officials who spent months trying to track them down.

General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the British Army, expressed the unhappiness of the military last night when he told Channel 4 News that he was "saddened that there doesn't seem to have been a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives".

Before flying out of Baghdad on an RAF aircraft yesterday, Professor Kember and his two fellow hostages released a brief statement that said nothing about the rescue force. It read simply: "We are deeply grateful for all those who prayed for our release. We don't have words to describe our feelings, our joy and gratitude. Our heads are swirling; when we are ready, we will speak to the media."

It was the third set of comments Professor Kember had relayed to the media that failed to mention his rescuers. A lengthy statement released by CPT after the hostages'rescue on Thursday not only failed to thank their rescuers, but called on coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq. "...

[bth: ungrateful arrogance.]

Islamic militia shells rivals in Somalia

Islamic militia shells rivals in Somalia: "MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Three days of fighting between Islamic militia fighters and forces opposed to the clerics' growing power have left at least 73 people dead in the Somali capital, including 13 people killed Friday when the militias shelled their opponents.
Fundamentalist Islamic clerics have increasingly sought to set themselves up as an alternative to the clan-based fiefdoms and the transitional federal government that is struggling to assert its authority.

But businessmen and warlords who formed an armed alliance last month describe the fundamentalist clerics as terrorists and have accused them of killing moderate intellectuals, Muslim scholars and former military officials in a string of unexplained murders."...

Friday, March 24, 2006

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Report: Military errors held up armor in Iraq

Philadelphia Inquirer 03/24/2006 Report: Military errors held up armor in Iraq: "Miscalculations and production problems delayed protection for Army trucks, a GAO study said.By Joseph TanfaniInquirer Staff WriterMiscalculations and problems in the military supply pipeline created delays in armoring the Army's truck fleet in Iraq, leaving soldiers at greater risk from lethal explosions, according to a new government study.

When insurgents started targeting U.S. troop convoys with hidden bombs, commanders asked for more armor for humvees and larger trucks, including the Medium Tactical Vehicles used to transport and supply soldiers.

Instead of setting out to armor the entire truck fleet at once, the Army ordered armored cabs and kits in a series of small contracts, and did not always supply the required funds quickly, the Governmental Accountability Office said in a report released yesterday.

Armor production lines sometimes shut down for two months or more - then had to start up again, the study said. There were also shortages of materials, caused in part by this incremental approach.

For example, the Army decided it needed 3,780 armor kits for five types of trucks in November 2003 but did not finish installing them until May 2005 - 18 months later.

By that time, the armor requirements had leaped to more than 10,000, and the Army was still behind.

'As a result,' the GAO found, 'troops were placed at greater risk as they conducted wartime operations in vehicles not equipped with the preferred level of protection.'

The armoring effort still is not done. Although most trucks had at least some armor by January, the Army says it will not be finished with vulnerable fuel tankers until early 2007.

In a response, the Army did not dispute the findings but said it had already put in place streamlined procurement procedures.

Armoring vehicles is crucial because bombs and other improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are the greatest threat faced by U.S. troops in Iraq. They accounted for 1,000 deaths in Iraq as of Saturday, more than half of all deaths by hostile fire, military statistics show. They also have injured 10,451 troops, more than 60 percent of all the wounded.

The GAO findings echo those in an Inquirer report last year that found the military's armoring effort suffered from piecemeal production and from not heeding warnings from previous wars.

In its report, the GAO study said Army officials identified this threat to vehicles after conflicts in Haiti, Rwanda and Somalia, and even created a requirement for add-on armor kits for trucks in 1996. But the Army had other spending priorities, and never built them.

"The Army went into Iraq with less protective capability than it might otherwise have done," the study said.

Even when the Army wanted to order more armor for trucks, the money was not released right away. The GAO says it could not figure out why, because the Army could not produce the records.

Armor alone is not the answer to the IED threat, the Army says. Once more armored vehicles began showing up in Iraq, insurgents responded by planting ever-more-powerful bombs.

In a recent radio address, President Bush called the roadside bombs "the principal threat to our troops and to the future of a free Iraq."

The military has spent more than $6 billion to find ways to defuse the IED threat, including high-tech devices that jam radio signals, preventing the bombs from exploding, and robots that scour suspicious roadways in advance of troops.

The military now says it defuses about 45 percent of IEDs before they explode.

[bth: With respect to Joe Tanfani who has done excellent investigative reporting on this topic for over a year, I've posted his entire article, probably violating copyright provisions, because I feel its important that articles like this stay alive on the internet as people try to sort out what is happening - why it takes our government 15-18 months to field the most basic retrofit armor needs of our soldiers and marines. Our response time is so slow, we are losing this war to a third rate insurgency. The insurgents adapt far faster than we can deploy solutions. If it takes us 18 months to armor trucks (Got help the fuel truck drivers by the way), but an insurgent can alter techniques every six months and it takes our procurement folks 18 months to field modifications, we will simply lose - "too little, too late." I'm going to dig into the GAO report. Roger Charles over at Soldiers for the Truth says it made him puke. I'll also post a direct link to the study.]

Iraqi security forces get ready to go it alone

World News Article Reuters.co.uk: "HILLA, Iraq (Reuters) - The U.S-trained police in this dusty Iraqi town strut the streets with new uniforms -- but when it comes to bullets they sometimes have to beg reporters.

Building Iraq's fledgling security forces to fight a Sunni-led insurgency is a key part of Washington's plans to allow an eventual withdrawal of American troops.

In Hilla, 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad, U.S. forces have withdrawn to the background, leaving poorly equipped Iraqi troops and police to take on insurgents who funnel weapons and cash through the strategically important area.

Though proud of their job, top Iraqi police and military commanders accept the reality and say they don't want U.S. forces to leave quite yet.

'I'm not a big supporter of coalition forces taking off,' said Colonel Hussein Ali Hassan, an army commander in charge of Hilla, close to the site of Babylon, and of the province named for the ancient city.

'Our forces are still young. They need more training and we still don't have aircraft, artillery or armoured vehicles.'"

U.S. President George W. Bush said on Tuesday it was possible U.S. troops could remain in Iraq after he leaves the White House in January 2009.

The Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies concluded recently that it might well be the case.

Progress of Iraq's front line army troops, estimated at up to 40,000, has been impressive, CSIS said, adding they are not battle ready.

The 65,000 other soldiers have very little combat capability, it said.

CSIS also concluded that the police force has 88,900 men but poor equipment, particularly vehicles and communications.

CHRONIC SHORTAGES

Forced to rebuild from scratch, police and army commanders acknowledge the chronic shortage of essential materials.

Of the 80 flat bed trucks and passenger vehicles available to Hassan for the 820 troops under his command, 40 sit idle for lack of spare parts. Armoured Humvee vehicles have been promised by the U.S. military by June.

In recent months, Hassan has had abundant fuel but there are also times when, like most Iraqis, he has been forced to pay cash for petrol on the black market -- despite Iraq sitting on some of the world's largest oil reserves.

While ammunition for the ubiquitous AK-47s is readily available, 9mm rounds for police pistols and sometimes the pistols themselves are short. One police officer at a traffic checkpoint ended up asking a reporter for ammunition.

Despite the shortages, troops and police seem to take pride in their job. Police officers dress in clean, pressed uniforms and wear polished shoes. Army personnel wear full kit, though soldiers are often seen wearing balaclavas.

The U.S. military has promised to deliver more equipment as they ready to pull back. A small team from the 82nd Airborne Division currently in Hilla will remain in place.

"This environment can always put somebody at risk," said Major Earnest Boyd, commander of the U.S. advisory team.

"My job is to get the right stuff to them in that environment to get them out alive." ((IRAQ-TROOPS, Baghdad newsroom)

[bth: we have not and did not build any logistics system for Iraqi forces. I don't know if this was negligence or deliberate. I think it was negligence, but in the end it may be one of the few ways we can make sure police and military forces tow the line. If you want bullets or paychecks then you need to work with the Americans is probably the outcome. I suspect that the incoming government will find its treasury looted and without cash, but I could be wrong. There are some signs that armor - at least retrofit armor on pick-ups is showing up. As to a lack of aircraft, helicopters or artillery, I believe this is decidedly not an oversight and one of the smarter moves we've made. This prevents any militia or sectarian group from leveling cities or holding territory without local support. This is probably a good thing. It was aircraft, helicopters and artillery that allowed the Sunnis to crush the Shia and to gas the Kurds.]
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Swearing to Uphold the Constitution

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Politics (Jamie Raskin): "On Wednesday, March 1, 2006, at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at AU, was requested to testify.

At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: 'Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?'

Raskin replied: 'Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.'

The room erupted into applause. "
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Bush Bombs in Cleveland

Truthdig - Reports - Bush Bombs in Cleveland: "On the third anniversary of the beginning of his Iraq catastrophe, President Bush yet again dealt in denial, but this time the carefully screened audience at the Cleveland City Club wasn't buying it.

Perhaps most on target was an elderly gentleman who cited what he said were the three main reasons for going to war in Iraq -WMD, Iraq's ties to the Sept. 11 terrorists and the alleged purchase of nuclear material from Niger -and then noted dryly that all three of these rationales turned out to be false.

"How do we restore confidence that Americans may have in their leaders and to be sure that the information they are getting now is correct?" he asked the president.

How indeed? "That's a great question," began Bush by way of dissembling. "First, just if I may correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said -at least I know I didn't say -that there was a direct connection between Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein."

Really? "....

Panic in the Newspaper Biz

Truthdig - Reports - Panic in the Newspaper Biz: "AUSTIN, Texas I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying- it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.

Let's use this as a handy exercise in journalism. What is the unexamined assumption here? That the newspaper business is dying. Is it? In 2005, publicly traded U.S. newspaper publishers reported operating profit margins of 19.2%, down from 21% in 2004, according to The Wall Street Journal. That ain't chopped liver- it's more than double the average operating profit margin of the Fortune 500. "...

20 militants killed in clashes - World Breaking News - Breaking News 24/7 - NEWS.com.au

20 militants killed in clashes - World Breaking News - Breaking News 24/7 - NEWS.com.au: "PAKISTANI forces using helicopter gunships killed up to 20 pro-Taliban militants near the Afghan border today, after an attack on a security post left one soldier dead, officials said.

The fighting in the restive district of North Waziristan came a day after President Pervez Musharraf ordered foreign al-Qaeda militants to quit Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan or be killed.

'Up to 20 militants were killed when security forces responded to the attack on the checkpost. The militants while running away left behind few weapons also,' top military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said.

The insurgents fired rockets before attacking the security forces post with small arms in Datakhel village, near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, officials said.

'Around 20 militants, including some foreigners, were killed when security forces struck their hideout with gunship helicopters and artillery after the attack on a security post which killed one soldier and injured two others,' another military official said on condition of anonymity."

Pakistan, a key ally in the US-led "war on terror", has deployed 80,000 troops along the border since 2003 to flush out al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who sneaked across from Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Tribal militants with links to the Taliban briefly took control of Miranshah in early March, during a visit to Pakistan by US President George W. Bush.

Fierce clashes erupted when Pakistani forces tried to retake the town, leaving around 170 militants and five soldiers dead and forcing thousands of civilians to flee the area.

Days before the battles Pakistani forces crushed a suspected al-Qaeda-linked training camp in North Waziristan, killing some 40 insurgents.

Mr Musharraf's comments on foreign militants overnight came amid tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan over allegations that Islamabad is failing to crack down on Islamic militants launching cross-border raids from its territory.

"We will never tolerate foreign terrorists and extremists" hiding in the tribal region, Mr Musharraf told a rally in the eastern city of Lahore.

"These foreign militants are indulging in acts of terrorism not only in Pakistan but elsewhere in the world also," he said.
"I warn them to leave Pakistan, failing which we will eliminate them," he said.

Pakistani authorities last week also ordered thousands of Afghans living in these tribal areas to go back to their native country.

Meanwhile Pakistan overnight lodged a "strong protest" with Afghanistan over the killing by Afghan troops this week of 16 people who it says were civilians heading to a festival.

Kabul says it is investigating the incident, which happened across the border from Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan, but an Afghan army officer has said the dead men were Taliban insurgents.

[bth: If one looks at the recent articles, it would appear that reports in arab newspapers and websites were correct - al-Qaeda is shifting its fight back to Afghanistan and away from Iraq. Iraq is alight and burning on its own. Steady increases in US and coalition casualties in Afghanistan in 2005 plus evident retraining and regrouping of heroin funded Taliban forces within Pakistan are becoming formidable once again. Curious really. Indonesia has been quiet and so have the Philippines. Chechnya seems calm. Africa seems to be intensifying and Lebanon is unclear. Could we be slowly winning the war on terrorism through persistent attrition?]
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Why did Yale slam the door on Afghan women?

OpinionJournal - Taste: "A statement from Yale University, defending its decision to admit former Taliban spokesman Ramatullah Hashemi, explained that he had 'escaped the wreckage of Afghanistan.' To anyone who is aware of the Taliban's barbaric treatment of the Afghan people, such words are offensive--as if Mr. Hashemi were not himself part of the wrecking crew. It is even more disturbing to learn that, while Mr. Hashemi sailed through Yale's admissions process, the school turned down the opportunity to enroll women who really did escape the wreckage of Afghanistan."...

[bth: Damned good question.]

Islam Online- News Section

Islam Online- News Section: "BAGHDAD, March 23, 2006 (IslamOnline.net) -Faced with simmering sectarian tensions and the looming prospect of a civil war, thousands of Sunni and Shiite families are fleeing their homes and moving to areas where their respective sects are in majority.

Some 2425 Sunni families have migrated from Shiite-dominated provinces such as Karbala, An-Najaf, Al-Qadisiyah and Babil, according to statement by the Ministry of Migration and Emigrants, a copy of which was obtained by IslamOnline.net.

They have moved to cities such as Fallujah, Samarra, Al-Latyfiah and Al-Mahmoudyah, where Sunnis are in majority, added the statement.

Similarly, around 1,280 Shiite families have relocated to the Shiite-majority provinces of Al-Samawah, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Wasit."...

[bth: this dislocation is a clear indication that the local population has lost confidence in a peaceful solution.]
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Middle East Newsline - AL QAIDA PRESENCE DROPS IN IRAQ

Middle East Newsline -: "BAGHDAD [MENL] -- Iraq has determined that the Al Qaida presence has decreased.

Officials said Iraqi intelligence has assessed that the number of Al Qaida operatives in the country decreased significantly over the last year. They said many of the operatives were either killed, captured or returned to their native countries.

'We have information that many members of Al Qaida have returned to their countries,' Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said.

Officials said no more than several hundred Al Qaida operatives were believed to be in Iraq. They said more than 2,000 Al Qaida fighters had been operating in the country until 2005. "
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MichaelYon-Online.com - The Iraqi Civil War

MichaelYon-Online.com: "The Iraqi Civil War
Nobody knows what the future will bring for Iraq. In my opinion, it's already in a civil war, though many people seem afraid to say it. Actually, the reluctance is more likely ordinal in nature-no one wants to be the first to say what many know to be true. Many now-stable democracies have suffered civil wars.


Democracy, despite its inherent nobility, is seldom easy or pretty. At its best, democracy is a reflection of the "people"and we all know what "they" are like.

- (Mission Impossible, Mission Accomplished 23 February 2005)

I wrote those words more than one year ago. Hatred that has been pressurized is a potent and malevolent fuel. Although I'd been in Iraq for just two months, I'd seen enough to know it was too late to talk about hiding the matches-a fire had broken out. The tangled briars of tribal enmities had overgrown, dense from decades of Saddam Hussein's genocidal death squads. Wrenching that dictatorship changed the political landscape and in the process pumped fresh air into a smoldering fire.

Throughout 2005, I said in writing, on the radio and television that Iraq is in a state of Civil War. It had been in that state for decades. I'd point to all the kindling heaped around the country and point to the smoke on the horizon, but most people politely dismissed the warnings. Now the fire is bigger.

Listen. Listen! Iraq is in a state of Civil War. Much bigger than it was a year ago, and next year it will be bigger still, if we do not recognize that there is a FIRE!

There is no reason why Iraq and its proud people cannot make it. There is nothing written in any holy scripture – so far as I know – that says Iraq cannot make it. Iraq can, but will it? Not if we don’t stop quibbling over definitions and just come to grips that the fire is growing. This is not a fire we can afford to leave to natural forces. Not in that tinderbox we call the Middle East.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Iraq's Oil Crisis

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Iraq's Oil Crisis: "WASHINGTON -- While officials privately debate whether communitarian violence in Iraq constitutes a low-grade civil war, there is no disagreement about the oil crisis there, which has little to do with the insurgency. Gasoline and home heating fuel are scarce and expensive, thanks to runaway corruption. This problem's difficulty and importance will test the new Iraqi government once it is organized.

Industry sources privately cite corruption as the reason for recent decisions by Turkey and Saudi Arabia to halt gasoline exports to Iraq for non-payment of bills. That exacerbates a worsening situation where Iraq, one of the world's great petroleum producers, has to truck in gasoline from Kuwait.

While the formal line in Washington and Baghdad blames insurgents for the oil crisis, U.S. officials who are close to the situation gave me a totally different explanation. They blame corruption at every level, from the oil ministry on down, that is common to Iraq. It cannot be controlled by the Americans but is the responsibility of the long-delayed Iraqi government.

Thus, oil is a microcosm of the overall conundrum in Iraq, where there are no good options for the Bush administration in dealing with a culture where honesty and efficiency historically have been rare."

The exhilaration in the Bush administration that the Anglo-American attack in 2003 had preserved the oil producing capacity is as illusory as claims of victory three years ago. The fuel shortages in oil-rich Iraq are profound and growing worse, with endless lines at gasoline stations. That drives up prices to the equivalent of $15 for a cylinder of home fuel -- too expensive for the average Iraqi.

The best explanation for this was given me by a non-political U.S. civil servant, an "Arabist" with vast experience in the region. He has been ordered definitively to say nothing and write nothing about oil in Iraq or anything else to do with the country. He spoke to me only if I would not identify him, by name or organization.

My source blamed corruption on an unimaginable level. "There is no system for turning on the oil in Iraq," he told me.

"Everyone there is taking their cut. Everybody takes a little." It is corruption from top to bottom. At a time of an acute shortage in Iraq, oil is being surreptitiously sent across the border for gain.

Such corruption is familiar there. The situation is endemic in the brief, tragic history of Iraq. Since the discovery of the country's liquid wealth, government officials have been dipping into the proceeds. This was true during the monarchy and the successor governments, including Saddam Hussein's. The addiction to corruption also contributed to the United Nations oil-for-food scandal.

The immediate crying need of Iraq's oil industry three years after the invasion is for substantial investment in improvements for infrastructure and technology. It was assumed that once the dictatorial regime was displaced, money from all over the world would pour into Iraq. But there is no inclination by risk capital to put any money in enterprises that are bleeding money to corrupt officials throughout the government.

Everybody with any familiarity with this situation believes the only answer is that the new Iraqi government, still unformed three months after the election, must gain control over corruption. One former U.S. official with experience in Iraq says: "We really have no levers left to pull, except hope that the government we're backing becomes powerful enough to take on the crooks."

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a frequent visitor to Iraq, is well aware of this dilemma. "The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis," he told me. Hagel is not yet ready to call for a unilateral military withdrawal from Iraq, realizing that the dreary conditions there -- including the oil crisis -- would get worse if the U.S. disconnected today. The pocketing of oil revenues by corrupt bureaucrats will hardly be improved by a quick American exit.

[bth: 2/3rds of the Iraqi economy is government spending. 90% of the government revenue is from oil exports. There is no national taxation system. Consequently messing with the oil revenue messes with the entire economy and will derail any government legitimate or otherwise.]

Three Christian Activists Rescued in Iraq - Yahoo! News

Three Christian Activists Rescued in Iraq - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. and British troops Thursday freed three Christian peace activists in rural Iraq without firing a shot, ending a four-month hostage drama in which an American among the group was shot to death and dumped on a Baghdad street. "...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Iraqi soldiers graduate Humvee course, receive two dozen of the vehicles

Marine Corps News> Iraqi soldiers graduate Humvee course, receive two dozen of the vehicles: "CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq(March 21, 2006) -- Iraqi soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division received 24 High Mobility, Multi-wheeled Vehicles (Humvees) March 20, 2006, after graduating from a three-week Humvee licensing and preventive maintenance course. "...

[bth: this is a good sign as I am tired of seeing Iraqi soldiers getting blown up in pick-ups. Also of note, recent photos of Iraqi army trucks are showing retrofit armor being added. This is also a good sign and I would note a lot of it is painted and seems to have been put in with some planning. This is far better than most US retrofit armor until about 18 months ago. I'd post photos more regularly but someone has been messing with our Comcast connection and its limited our ability to post in a timely manner. Hopefully things will improve.]

Iraq war veteran wins Congress primary race

Politics News Article Reuters.com: "CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Iraq war veteran who lost both legs in the conflict narrowly won her bid to run for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in a district held by Republicans for 32 years, returns showed on Wednesday."...

[bth: excellent. I think she will be a great Congresswoman.]
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Fit for warfare but not mail duty

Buffalo News - Fit for warfare but not mail duty: "While Sgt. Jason R. Lyon was serving with the Army in Iraq, he suffered a sprained ankle when he jumped off a Humvee. He also nearly had his head blown off by a roadside bomb that killed three of his friends.

After extensive medical treatment and physical therapy, military doctors have certified the Hamburg serviceman physically fit to return to combat duty in Iraq. ...

[bth: what BS we are putting these returning veterans through.]

But the U.S. Postal Service says he is physically unfit to deliver mail.

'To me, it really seems unfair,' said the National Guardsman, who was recently turned down for a postal carrier job because of the ankle injury he suffered in Baghdad in July 2004.

'The military says I can go to combat. I can march, run, fight in a war and do anything else a soldier can do. But the Postal Service says I'm not fit to deliver letters.'

A frustrated Lyon, 28, spoke about his dilemma in his home Monday, showing a Buffalo News reporter his Purple Heart for wounds suffered later and a thick stack of medical reports from the Army, declaring him fully fit for military duty.

'Currently no limitations of military or civilian activity,' a National Guard medical officer wrote in a report on Lyon last month.
A doctor for the Postal Service saw it differently, ruling that Lyon's ankle injury makes him unfit to be hired as a mail carrier. A physician for the Postal Service called the injury a 'physical impairment' that would make it difficult for Lyon to walk or stand for long periods of time. "...

Death raises concern at police tactics

BBC NEWS World Americas Death raises concern at police tactics: "The recent killing of an unarmed Virginia doctor has raised concerns about what some say is an explosion in the use of military-style police Swat teams in the United States.

Armed with assault rifles, stun grenades - even armoured personnel carriers - units once used only in highly volatile situations are increasingly being deployed on more routine police missions. "...

Professor Peter Kraska, an expert on police militarisation from Eastern Kentucky University, says that in the 1980s there were about 3,000 Swat team deployments annually across the US, but says now there are at least 40,000 per year. ...

John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told the BBC: "What we find is that when Swat teams go out, shootings go down.

"We don't see it as escalating anything. We see it as reducing violence."

The NTOA rejects Dr Kraska's figures and says the actual number of deployments is far lower, but says there is a need for national training standards.

An NTOA study of 759 Swat team deployments across the US, found half were for warrant service and a third for incidents where suspects had barricaded themselves in a building - 50 were for hostage situations.

When criminology professor David Klinger looked at 12 years of data on Swat teams in 1998, he also found the most common reason for calling out teams was serving warrants, but that the units used deadly force during warrant service only 0.4% of the time. ...

"The problem is that when you talk about the war on this and the war on that, and police officers see themselves as soldiers, then the civilian becomes the enemy."

North Korea Touts First-Strike Capability - Yahoo! News

North Korea Touts First-Strike Capability - Yahoo! News: "SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea suggested Tuesday it had the ability to launch a pre-emptive attack on the United States, according to the North's official news agency. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the North had built atomic weapons to counter the U.S. nuclear threat"

"As we declared, our strong revolutionary might put in place all measures to counter possible U.S. pre-emptive strike," the spokesman said, according to the Korean Central News Agency. "Pre-emptive strike is not the monopoly of the United States."...

ABC News: Bush Defends Decisions on Iraq War

ABC News: Bush Defends Decisions on Iraq War: "WASHINGTON Mar 21, 2006 (AP)� President Bush said Tuesday the decision about when to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq will fall to future presidents and Iraqi leaders, suggesting that U.S. involvement will continue at least through 2008. "...

[bth: I find it just damned amazing that this war is worth fighting with other family's kids but not worth raising a rich man's taxes. So he plans to just stay the course to 2008. Interesting. So let's see, the federal government will be financially bankrupt even though we cut taxes. We'll have around another 1500-2000 KIAs and perhaps seven times that more wounded and probably a civil war or the more politically correct term - 'sectarian violence' raging indefinitely across Iraq with US troops trying to sort out who the bad guys are. That's one hell of a plan.]

Grants Flow To Bush Allies On Social Issues

Grants Flow To Bush Allies On Social Issues: "...In the Bush administration, conservatives are discovering that turnabout is fair play: Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues"

Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews....

"These are just slush funds for conservative interest groups," countered Bill Smith, vice president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, one of the most outspoken critics of abstinence-only sex-education programs. "These organizations would not be in existence if not for the federal dollars coming through."

H. James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said politics plays no role in grant-making decisions. "We don't have that kind of calculation," he said.

Most, but not all, of the money going to conservative groups has come from two programs that did not exist before Bush took office in 2001. The Compassion Capital Fund, which distributed $148.3 million from 2002 to 2005, was created "to expand the role that faith-based and community groups play in providing social services to those in need," according to the White House....

Recovered Stinger Missiles near Paki-Afghan border Posted by Picasa

Two bombs defused near shrine in Kabul

Two bombs defused near shrine in Kabul: "Police in the Afghan capital defused two bombs Tuesday near a Shiite shrine where tens of thousands of people had gathered for a religious festival, the country's anti-terrorism chief said."...

Ex-F.B.I. Official Says He Didn't Know of Moussaoui Report - New York Times

Ex-F.B.I. Official Says He Didn't Know of Moussaoui Report - New York Times: "ALEXANDRIA, Va., March 21 � The F.B.I.'s top counterterrorism official at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks told a jury today that he did not know a bureau agent had filed a report three weeks earlier detailing his suspicions that Zacarias Moussaoui was involved in some imminent airline hijacking plot.

Michael Rollince, who was the Federal Bureau of Investigation's chief of international terrorism section until his retirement, testified that he had little knowledge of Mr. Moussaoui before the attacks. Mr. Rollince said he was unaware that Harry Samit, an agent in Minneapolis, had filed a lengthy report asking for a complete investigation of Mr. Moussaoui, whom he described as a radical Islamic fundamentalist who hated the United States and was learning to fly jetliners.

When Edward B. MacMahon Jr., Mr. Moussaoui's chief court-appointed lawyer, asked Mr. Rollince if he knew that when Mr. Moussaoui was arrested he was under suspicion of planning an airliner hijacking, Mr. Rollince replied, 'No.' Then, after a moment he asked sharply, 'Can I ask what document that's coming from?'

Mr. MacMahon offered a quick reply: 'That's Mr. Samit's communication to your office,' he said. 'Aug. 18, 2001.'
Mr. Rollince said Mr. Samit's 'suppositions, hunches and suspicions were one thing and what we knew' was a different matter."...

[bth: you've got to wonder just how bad the FBI really is.]

Heroin ship to sink with its secrets

Scotsman.com News - International - Heroin ship to sink with its secrets: "A NORTH Korean cargo ship used to smuggle a huge haul of heroin into Australia will be blown up by the country's armed forces this week.

It follows a trial in which prosecutors tried to prove the complicity of Kim Jong Il's government in the drugs trade. "

Three years after being seized in a dramatic operation, the rusting 3,500 tonne Pong Su freighter, used to smuggle 150kg of heroin into Australia was towed out of Sydney Harbour yesterday on its final voyage before being used as target practice by the Australian navy.

But even resting on the ocean floor, the vessel will remain at the centre of a probe into the secretive North Korean government's drug activities.

Both the Australian and US governments have cited the case as evidence that Kim Jong Il's impoverished regime peddles drugs to bring in hard currency.

The ship's captain and three senior officers walked free from an Australian court earlier this month after a jury cleared them of heroin smuggling. But Australian officials remain adamant the vessel, and Pyongyang, were involved.

"A ship like that, of that size and capacity, delivering 150kg of heroin just doesn't happen by accident," Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said. "There was a political officer on board travelling on a political passport, who was a member of the Korean workers' party. There has to be some question marks about the knowledge or otherwise of the North Korean government."

The freighter sailed from North Korea in March 2003, supposedly hired by a Malaysian company to pick up a shipment of BMWs in Melbourne. Its cavernous hold was empty except for half a dozen bundles of heroin worth £70 million.

On a stormy night less than a month later, it anchored unusually close to Australia's south coast near Melbourne. Two men lowered a rubber dinghy over the side with the heroin on board and cast off to meet accomplices on the beach.
One of them drowned in the surf and his unidentified body still lies in a Melbourne morgue. The other made it ashore in time to rendezvous with three men known to police as the shore party.

They were caught red handed. After a four day chase, the Pong Su was apprehended, and the captain, officers and 27 crew members taken into custody.

The shore party and the survivor from the dinghy all admitted helping to smuggle heroin. But charges were dropped against the 27 crew members due to insufficient evidence. And in a seven-month trial in Melbourne, the captain, political officer, first mate and chief engineer said they knew nothing of the cargo.

After ten days of deliberations, the jury decided there was reasonable doubt and all four men were cleared.

"I guess these are the vagaries of the jury system," said Professor James Cotton, a political analyst in Canberra.
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U.S., Iraqi Forces Trap Dozens of Gunmen

New York Post Online Edition: Breaking News: "BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces trapped dozens of insurgents Wednesday during a two-hour gunbattle at a police station south of Baghdad, a day after 100 masked gunmen stormed a jail near the Iranian border and freed more than 30 prisoners, most of them fellow insurgents.

Sixty gunmen, firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, attacked the Madain police station before dawn, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammadawi said. U.S. troops and a special Iraqi police unit responded, capturing 50 of the insurgents, including a Syrian, al-Mohammadawi said."....

No Breach Seen in Work in Iraq on Propaganda - New York Times

No Breach Seen in Work in Iraq on Propaganda - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, March 21 -An inquiry has found that an American public relations firm did not violate military policy by paying Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles, military officials said Tuesday. The finding leaves to the Defense Department the decision on whether new rules are needed to govern such activities. "

The inquiry, which has not yet been made public, was ordered by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, after it was disclosed in November that the military had used the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, to plant articles written by American troops in Iraqi newspapers while hiding the source of the articles. ...

[bth: the bigger issue the English language articles that were written as if they came from Iraqi's that found their way directly into the US news. Lincoln became a propaganda tool used against Americans. This report seems to avoid making a statement on this issue. There were websites which I thought were from Iraq that disappeared the same week the Lincoln Group articles went public last November. Then oddly the sites entirely disappeared, even the Google arhive references over about a six week period. The problem with the Lincoln Group really isn't the crappy propaganda attempts they made in Iraq, but the misinformation likely targeting the US news industry.]

Soldier Feels Abandoned In His Courtroom Battle

Soldier Feels Abandoned In His Courtroom Battle: "Cpl. Kendall D. McKibben was prepared to sacrifice his life for the Army. He says he almost did repeatedly over a year of patrols dodging bullets in Baghdad and dealing with a grape-size brain tumor.
So the 33-year-old says he can't understand why the military is refusing a routine subpoena that he believes could help him avoid a 13-year prison sentence."

"I feel completely abandoned," said McKibben, who lives in Silver Spring. "Here I am raising my hand saying I need a little help, and I get the door slammed on my nose."

Army officials said regulations prohibit military personnel from "providing expert testimony in private litigation . . . except under the most extraordinary circumstances." The military decided McKibben's case did not qualify.

The military did provide him last night with an affidavit from a neurologist, but his attorney said it will be of limited use because he can't introduce the document at trial.

McKibben feels doubly wronged because he believes the tumor itself was caused by exposure to depleted uranium in Iraq. Depleted uranium is a heavy metal that is slightly radioactive and is used in some armor-piercing munitions....

[bth: this guy is getting royally screwed. Hopefully this publicity will help the Army do the right thing for this man.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Death could await Christian convert - Mar 21, 2006

CNN.com - Death could await Christian convert - Mar 21, 2006: "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the days of the Taliban, those promoting Christianity in Afghanistan could be arrested and those converting from Islam could be tortured and publicly executed.

That was supposed to change after U.S.-led forces ousted the oppressive, fundamentalist regime, but the case of 41-year-old Abdul Rahman has many Western nations wondering if Afghanistan is regressing.

Rahman, a father of two, was arrested last week and is now awaiting trial for rejecting Islam. He told local police, whom he approached on an unrelated matter, that he had converted to Christianity. Reports say he was carrying a Bible at the time.
'They want to sentence me to death, and I accept it,' Rahman told reporters last week, 'but I am not a deserter and not an infidel.'

The Afghan constitution, which is based on Sharia, or Islamic law, says that apostates can receive the death penalty. (Watch how Rahman's case could cast doubts on Afghanistan's commitment to democracy -- 1:17)"...

The U.S. has 23,000 troops in the country; Germany has 2,700. Canada has 2,300 stationed there, and Italy has 1,775, according to Reuters.

All four nations have expressed displeasure over the situation, some even saying that it is intolerable that soldiers of all faiths die to protect a country threatening to kill its own for converting to Christianity.

Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga wrote a letter to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, urging him to withdraw Italian troops from Afghanistan unless Kabul guarantees Rahman's safety, Reuters reported.

"It is not acceptable that our soldiers should put themselves at risk or even sacrifice their lives for a fundamentalist, illiberal regime," Cossiga wrote.

Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, wrote a letter to Karzai asking him to intervene and uphold "core democratic principles and fundamental human rights."

"In a country where soldiers from all faiths, including Christianity, are dying in defense of your government, I find it outrageous that Mr. Rahman is being prosecuted and facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity," Lantos wrote....

[bth: this seems to be a bare minimum requirement for our continued support.]

Military Upgrades Quadruple Plant's Workforce

ChannelCincinnati.com - Health - Military Upgrades Quadruple Plant's Workforce: "WEST CHESTER, Ohio -- A local plant has more than quadrupled its number of employees by performing work for the U.S. military's operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Armor Holdings installs armor in the military's high-powered Humvee vehicles.

The plant employees 829 employees, versus 200 in 2002, and installs armor in 650 vehicles a month, up from 35 in 2002.

Since 2003, workers have placed armor in 13,500 military Humvees. The plant goes through about 55 tons of metal armor each day."

The plant often plays host to elected officials, diplomats and military brass.

But what chokes employees up are the couple visits each month by troops who stop by to say thanks.

The plant in West Chester is a unit of the Florida-based Armor Holdings.

Chertoff: Chemical plants cannot 'freeload' on security� - Mar 21, 2006

CNN.com - Chertoff: Chemical plants cannot 'freeload' on security� - Mar 21, 2006: "WASHINGTON (AP) -- The free ride is almost over for U.S. chemical plants that have failed to strengthen protection against terrorists or accidental leaks, says the nation's homeland security chief says.

Plants that resist costly security measures can no longer expect to be 'free riders' among the 15,000 privately operated chemical facilities, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warns.

'They're counting on the fact that the industry in general has a good level of investment, and they figure they'll hide among the leaves and essentially freeload on this security work done by others,' says Chertoff, who is outlining new steps for safeguards in a speech Tuesday.

Counterterror experts put the chemical industry at the top of the list of likely terror targets. Congressional investigators have revealed spotty results in how well the chemical industry is prepared to respond in the event of an attack.

The chemical industry generally has resisted federal regulation, and large manufacturers have voluntarily taken steps to improve security that they deem adequate. But small chemical firms and plants have largely ignored adding safeguards to avoid having to pay for them.

'That's not acceptable,' Chertoff said Monday. 'Progress on this has stalled for too long.'

Homeland Security 'wants and deserves authority to set federal standards for chemical security, and then enforce those standards,' said Chris VandenHeuvel, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents large chemical manufacturers. 'Four and a half years after 9/11, they still don't have that.'"...

Soldiers for the Truth-SFTT has just received this report from a Soldier with firsthand knowledge of the situation

Soldiers for the Truth: " Operation Swarmer was compromised by the Iraqis. As soon as Iraqi units left their barracks, their soldiers and local police watching movements were on cell phones. Orders are not even issued to Iraqi units until 1 hr prior to loading onto trucks and slicks. The insurgents were tipped of, people we interviewed in the area stated the insurgent cells and cell leaders abruptly left 3 hrs before we even arrived. This operation was an exercise in PR on how well the Iraqi forces are taking the fight to the enemy, but had little operational success.'

[NOTE: After the Viet Nam war we discovered that every tactical operation of battalion size or larger, that took place after August of 1965, was compromised. There was no, repeat no, effective OPSEC, due to the penetration of South Vietnamese military by the North Vietnamese intelligence services.]"

Deaths fall for U.S., rise for Iraqis

USATODAY.com: "BAGHDAD � U.S. military deaths during the past month have dropped to an average of about one a day, approaching the lowest level since the insurgency began two years ago, according to a USA TODAY analysis of U.S. military data.

The decline in U.S. deaths comes as Iraqi casualties are the highest since the U.S. military began tracking them in 2004.
In the past month, nearly five times as many Iraqi forces and civilians were killed as troops in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, U.S. military data show. ...


[bth: the detection rate on IEDs has been about the same for the last two years. Recent press statements seem to focus on only month over month comparisons and those vary month to month. A longer trend is key and it seem about 40-50% detection rate is the norm. That rate by the way reached that level with better human intelligence from Iraqi civilians telling Iraqi police and to a lesser extend US troops where the IEDs were. The tips rose dramatically after the last election. The reduced casualt rate this month might also be due to less patrolling by US forces.]

The shift from spring 2004, when U.S. and Iraqi casualty rates were comparable, reflects an insurgency that increasingly targets Iraqis and the growing presence of Iraqi forces on the front lines.

"The Iraqi army is far bigger in number, far higher in training capability and far more willing to go where the fight is and take casualties"British Defense Secretary John Reid said in an interview.

On the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, however, a wave of violence against Iraqis is prompting talk of civil war. In an interview Sunday with the British Broadcasting Corp., former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi said, "We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."...

Roommate Told FBI of Moussaoui Interests - Yahoo! News

Roommate Told FBI of Moussaoui Interests - Yahoo! News: "...Samit testified that his belief that Moussaoui was a radical Islamic extremist bent on terrorism was based in part on al-Attas' statements.

Al-Attas told Samit that Moussaoui often talked about jihad, or holy war, and that Moussaoui once pointed out to him a television report about Osama bin Laden, with Moussaoui noting that bin Laden was an important person.

Samit testified that he worked obsessively after Moussaoui's Aug. 16, 2001, arrest to convince FBI headquarters that Moussaoui warranted a full-scale investigation and that a search warrant should be obtained for his belongings.

The agent obtained a search warrant only after the Sept. 11 attacks, and attributed the FBI's failure to launch a timely investigation to 'criminal negligence' and careerism by certain agents in FBI headquarters. The bureau's failures thwarted an opportunity to prevent the attacks, he said.

Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

He has already pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida to hijack aircraft and commit other crimes. But he denies a specific role in 9/11. His sentencing trial will determine his punishment: death or life in prison."...

[bth: so we have Moussaoui's roommate pleading with the FBI in August 01 to obtain a search warrant claiming Moussaoui was a terrorist and the FBI took no action until after Sept. 11. Amazing.]
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Europeans should beware of wishing for US failure in Iraq

Guardian Unlimited Guardian daily comment Europeans should beware of wishing for US failure in Iraq: "Many opponents of the Iraq war both in the US and Europe have felt a not-so-secret sense of schadenfreude at the developing chaos in Iraq. While many might intellectually support the emergence of a stable, democratic, pro-western government in Baghdad, 'success' in this matter would be seen as a vindication of all of the baggage that the Bush administration loaded on to this project, including its unilateralism, use of force and incompetent execution of the war's aftermath. Many would therefore be happy seeing Washington suffer a setback, to deter such interventions in the future. "

But people should be careful what they wish for. A domestic nationalist backlash against the policies that led to the war is brewing, with implications for how the US will deal with Europe and the rest of the world down the road. Like it or not, American power and involvement are necessary to the proper functioning of world order, and the kind of role that a post-Iraq United States may play is very much up for grabs.
Two recent events constitute straws in the wind. After the protests and embassy-burnings over the Danish cartoons, no major US newspaper was willing to publish the cartoons, and most editorialists took a holier-thanthou attitude to those European papers that did. While one might question the prudence of publishing the cartoons, the violent reaction was a clear case of intimidation, in many cases officially sanctioned, and few Americans criticised the protests or stood up for the right of free speech. Many seemed to feel a certain satisfaction that this time Europeans rather than Americans were feeling Muslim wrath.

The second, and more egregious, case was the successful blocking by the US Congress of the purchase by Dubai Ports World of a British company that operates six US ports. Coming at a time of heightened economic nationalism on the part of countries such as France, Spain and Poland, which have recently sought to prevent such takeovers, this shameless pandering to public fears of terrorism undermined every principle of openness and globalisation that the US has been preaching in recent years. ....

ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Discusses Nation's Future

ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Discusses Nation's Future: "...VARGAS: The former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said over the weekend that he thought Iraq was already mired in the civil war. He said, 'If this is not a civil war then God knows what a civil war is.' What's your reaction?

KHALILZAD: Well, there is the sectarian tensions and there is sectarian killing. Civil war, in my judgment, is not here yet. A civil war will take place if the state institutions that exist disintegrate or they decide to choose sides and fight each other. And that has not happened. But people are getting killed. Some are getting killed because of their sectarian beliefs. But I think to call it a civil war at the present time I think would be inaccurate. But the potential for increased sectarian violence is there, and terrorists are seeking to provoke it.

VARGAS: Since the bombing of the mosque in Samara many of the Shiites say they cannot trust you because they consider you to be Sunni and consider you to be biased toward the Sunnis. Do you think you still have enough clout to pull these two sides together into some sort of coalition?

KHALILZAD: Well, they, they have to do it not only because of me or the United States, but they have to do it because that's what the situation requires. The country is bleeding. Iraqis want their leaders to rise to the occasion, to form a government of national unity. I am pushing that on behalf of the United States and for the sake of a successful Iraq because Iraq's success is important for the future of the Middle East. And the future of the Middle East is important for the future of the world. "

[bth: I'm very impressed with Khalilzad. He is one of the few bright spots in US government and seems to me to be offering candid and realistic statements about the situation and what is possible. Its too bad we don't have him times ten. When one compares his comments with those of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld or Rice not to mention Wolfowitz or even Powell, one realizes just how far from reality and truth they really are - and it doesn't have to be that way, that's the tragedy of it.]

2 Years After Soldier's Death, Family's Battle Is With Army - New York Times

2 Years After Soldier's Death, Family's Battle Is With Army - New York Times: "SAN JOSE, Calif. � Patrick K. Tillman stood outside his law office here, staring intently at a yellow house across the street, just over 70 yards away. That, he recalled, is how far away his eldest son, Pat, who gave up a successful N.F.L. career to become an Army Ranger, was standing from his fellow Rangers when they shot him dead in Afghanistan almost two years ago.
'I could hit that house with a rock,' Mr. Tillman said. 'You can see every last detail on that place, everything, and you're telling me they couldn't see Pat?'
Mr. Tillman, 51, is a grieving father who has refused to give up on his son. While fiercely shunning the public spotlight that has followed Cpl. Pat Tillman's death, Mr. Tillman has spent untold hours considering the Army's measurements, like the 70 yards.
He has drafted long, sometimes raw, letters to military leaders, demanding answers about the shooting. And he has studied � and challenged � Army PowerPoint presentations meant to explain how his son, who had called out his own name and waved his arms, wound up dead anyway, shot three times in the head by his own unit, which said it had mistaken him for the enemy."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Old Forecasts Come Back to Haunt Bush

Old Forecasts Come Back to Haunt Bush: "...Newport, whose survey found a 26-point drop in the number of people who find Bush trustworthy since the 2003 invasion, said Bush can restore his standing on Iraq, on his credibility and on other issues by improving his overall popularity -- a feat past slumping second-term presidents have found difficult to pull off. The erosion in the public's support for Bush at a personal level is a striking reversal for a president who for most of his first term was described by the public as a strong and trustworthy leader, especially on national security measures."...

[bth: the core problem is that Bush has lost the public trust and doesn't realize it and hence isn't even trying to get it back.]
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Child Bride

Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone From Yahoo! News: "Married at the age of four, an Afghan girl was subjected to years of beatings and torture, finally escaping to discover that within all the world's cruelty, there is also some kindness.

KABUL, Afghanistan - Eleven-year old Gulsoma lay in a heap on the ground in front of her father-in-law. He told her that if she didn't find a missing watch by the next morning he would kill her. He almost had already.

Enraged about the missing watch, Gulsoma's father-in-law had beaten her repeatedly with a stick. She was bleeding from wounds all over her body and her right arm and right foot had been broken. "

She knew at that moment that if she didn't get away, he would make good on his promise to kill her. ...
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Pakistani Taliban take control of unruly tribal belt

Guardian Unlimited Special reports Pakistani Taliban take control of unruly tribal belt: " powerful new militia dubbed 'the Pakistani Taliban' has effectively seized control of swaths of the country's northern tribal areas in recent months, triggering alarm in Islamabad and marking a big setback in America's 'war on terror'.

The militants are strongest in North and South Waziristan, two of seven tribal agencies on the border with Afghanistan. Strict social edicts have been handed down: shopkeepers may not sell music or films; barbers are instructed not to shave beards. Yesterday a bomb blew up a radio transmitter in Wana, taking the state radio off the air.

Militants collect taxes from passing vehicles at new checkpoints, and last week an Islamic court was established in Wana to replace the traditional jirga, or council of elders.

Rough justice has already been dispensed elsewhere. A gang of seven alleged bandits were executed in Miran Shah in December and their bodies were hung from a post in the town centre.

The violent puritanism is spreading. On Sunday a remote-controlled bomb ripped through a police vehicle in Dera Ismail Khan, near South Waziristan, killing seven people. More than 100 pro-government elders and politicians have been killed in the past nine months, said a diplomat.

The Pakistani military deployed 70,000 troops to Waziristan two years ago to rein in the militants. But the campaign is faltering. An army assault against an alleged al-Qaida training camp outside Miran Shah on March 1 left more than 100 dead."...

FBI, you've got mail -- NOT!

CNN.com - FBI, you've got mail -- NOT! - Mar 20, 2006: "NEW YORK (AP) -- Budget constraints are forcing some FBI agents to operate without e-mail accounts, according to the agency's top official in New York.

'As ridiculous as this might sound, we have real money issues right now, and the government is reluctant to give all agents and analysts dot-gov accounts,' Mark Mershon said when asked about the gap at a New York Daily News editorial board meeting.

'We just don't have the money, and that is an endless stream of complaints that come from the field,' he said.

FBI officials in Washington denied that cost-cutting was putting agents at a disadvantage.

Spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan said e-mail addresses are still being assigned, adding that the city bureau's 2,000 employees would all have accounts by the end of the year."...

[bth: this is dumb]

Congress probes 'IoS' revelations on IRA link to Iraq

Independent Online Edition > Americas: "...Six months ago, when The Independent on Sunday first broke the story, the Secretary of State for Defence, John Reid, was forced into a humiliating retraction.

For weeks his officials had claimed that bombs which killed eight British soldiers in separate attacks in Basra had been supplied to foreign fighters by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Our story showed that the technology, far from being new, had in fact first been used in Newry, Co Down, in 1992 to murder a policewoman and maim her male colleague.

Kevin Fulton, a former soldier who infiltrated the IRA on behalf of the security services, made an astonishing claim: that he had flown to New York, met FBI and MI5 agents and was given money to buy an infra-red device to be used to set off IRA bombs.

The security services - already successful in preventing radio-signal bombs - believed that by supplying the equipment they could then introduce counter-measures.

'They knew the IRA was looking at the technology. By supplying the equipment, they thought they could stay one step ahead of the IRA,' Mr Fulton told the IoS yesterday.

Following our article in October, an investigative journalist from the American magazine Atlantic delved deeper. And in an article to be published next week, Matthew Teague claims FBI sources have confirmed Mr Fulton's trip to the United States."....

'Iraq was awash in cash. We played football with bricks of $100 bills'

Guardian Unlimited Special reports 'Iraq was awash in cash. We played football with bricks of $100 bills': "At the beginning of the Iraq war, the UN entrusted $23bn of Iraqi money to the US-led coalition to redevelop the country. With the infrastructure of the country still in ruins, where has all that money gone? Callum Macrae and Ali Fadhil on one of the greatest financial scandals of all time

Monday March 20, 2006
The Guardian


In a dilapidated maternity and paediatric hospital in Diwaniyah, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Zahara and Abbas, premature twins just two days old, lie desperately ill. The hospital has neither the equipment nor the drugs that could save their lives. On the other side of the world, in a federal courthouse in Virginia, US, two men - one a former CIA agent and Republican candidate for Congress, the other a former army ranger - are found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $3m (�1.7m) intended for the reconstruction of Iraq. These two events have no direct link, but they are none the less products of the same thing: a financial scandal that in terms of sheer scale must rank as one of the greatest in history.

At the start of the Iraq war, around $23bn-worth of Iraqi money was placed in the trusteeship of the US-led coalition by the UN. The money, known as the Development Fund for Iraq and consisting of the proceeds of oil sales, frozen Iraqi bank accounts and seized Iraqi assets, was to be used in a 'transparent manner', specified the UN, for 'purposes benefiting the people of Iraq'.

For the past few months we have been working on a Guardian Films investigation into what happened to that money. What we discovered was that a great deal of it has been wasted, stolen or frittered away. For the coalition, it has been a catastrophe of its own making. For the Iraqi people, it has been a tragedy. But it is also a financial and political scandal that runs right to the heart of the nightmare that is engulfing Iraq today....

Because the Iraqi banking system was in tatters, the funds were placed in an account with the Federal Reserve in New York. From there, most of the money was flown in cash to Baghdad. Over the first 14 months of the occupation, 363 tonnes of new $100 bills were shipped in - $12bn, in cash. And that is where it all began to go wrong.

"Iraq was awash in cash - in dollar bills. Piles and piles of money," says Frank Willis, a former senior official with the governing Coalition Provisional Authority. "We played football with some of the bricks of $100 bills before delivery. It was a wild-west crazy atmosphere, the likes of which none of us had ever experienced."
The environment created by the coalition positively encouraged corruption. "American law was suspended, Iraqi law was suspended, and Iraq basically became a free fraud zone," says Alan Grayson, a Florida-based attorney who represents whistleblowers now trying to expose the corruption. "In a free fire zone you can shoot at anybody you want. In a free fraud zone you can steal anything you like. And that was what they did."...

Perhaps most puzzling of all is what happened as the day approached for the handover of power (and the remaining funds) to the incoming Iraqi interim government. Instead of carefully conserving the Iraqi money for the new government, the Coalition Provisional Authority went on an extraordinary spending spree. Some $5bn was committed or spent in the last month alone, very little of it adequately accounted for.

One CPA official was given nearly $7m and told to spend it in seven days. "He told our auditors that he felt that there was more emphasis on the speed of spending the money than on the accountability for that money," says Ginger Cruz, the deputy inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction. Not all coalition officials were so honest. Last month Robert Stein Jr, employed as a CPA comptroller in south central Iraq, despite a previous conviction for fraud, pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal more than $2m and taking kickbacks in the form of cars, jewellery, cash and sexual favours. It seems certain he is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a further 50 criminal investigations under way....

US captures 13 Somali 'pirates'

BBC NEWS Africa US captures 13 Somali 'pirates': "Thirteen suspected pirates involved in clashes with the US Navy off the Somali coast on Saturday have been captured, a spokesman for the men says.

Saleban Aadan Barqad told the BBC that his men were protecting fishing stocks from foreign vessels when they were attacked by the Americans.

The group has demanded that the United States release the men. "...

Pakistani, Saudi engineers helped destroy Buddhas

Daily Times - Site Edition: "WASHINGTON: The Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban with the help of Pakistani and Saudi engineers."...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

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Man faces death over Christianity [March 19, 2006]

The Australian: Man faces death over Christianity [March 19, 2006]: "A MAN detained by police for converting from Islam to Christianity could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again, an Afghani judge said today.

Islamic sharia law proposes the death sentence for Muslims who abandon the religion. Afghanistan's new constitution says 'no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam'.

Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada said the suspect, Abdur Rahman, was arrested after members of his family informed police of his conversion.

He would be charged with abandoning Islam, Mr Mawlavizada said.

'The prosecutor says he should be executed on the basis of the constitution,' Mr Mawlavizada said, who added that Mr Rahman could come back to Islam. "...

Iran's secret talks with Iraqi militants spark fears of proxy war

Telegraph News Iran's secret talks with Iraqi militants spark fears of proxy war: "Iran held secret talks with Shia militant leaders from Iraq and Lebanon only days before the country's nuclear negotiators threatened America with 'harm and pain', independent sources in Teheran have revealed."

The Iraqi firebrand cleric, Moqtadr al-Sadr and the chief of the armed Shia group Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, held separate consultations with leading officials in Teheran.

Al-Sadr commands thousands of fighters in Iraq, with the power to destabilise further the country and target British and American troops, while Hizbollah's missile-wielding fighters are stationed on Lebanon's southern border with Israel. The revelation of their visits to Teheran has stoked fears that Iran's Shia clerical rulers are drawing up plans to wage a co-ordinated proxy war, using foreign Shia militias, in the worsening dispute with the West over its nuclear ambitions.

In a statement 10 days ago to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran said that America could inflict harm and pain, before adding: "But the United States is also susceptible to harm and pain."...
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BREITBART.COM - Cheney: Iraq Not in Midst of Civil War

BREITBART.COM - Cheney: Iraq Not in Midst of Civil War: "Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that Iraq is not in the midst of a civil war, but instead described the violence as a desperate tactic by terrorists in the country to stop the move to democracy.

'What we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment a civil war,' Cheney said in an interview on 'Face the Nation' on CBS on the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 'But I don't think they've been successful.' "

Cheney said he disagrees with Iraq's former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who said in an interview Sunday that the increasing attacks across his country can only be described as a civil war.

"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more," Allawi told the British Broadcasting Corp. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Cheney said he did not think optimistic statements that he has made about the war have contributed to Americans' skepticism about the war. For instance, the vice president predicted that invading U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators and then said 10 months ago that the insurgency is in its last throes, even though violence still rages. Cheney said the optimistic statements "were basically accurate, reflect reality."

He said most Americans have a negative perception of Iraq because they keep seeing daily violence in the news instead of the progress being made toward democracy. ...

[bth: his words mean little.]

Celikkol: Iraq Has Never Been Such Close To Civil War

Celikkol: Iraq Has Never Been Such Close To Civil War: "ANKARA - ''Iraq has never been such close to civil war. Only political process in the country can prevent this,'' Turkey's special envoy to Iraq Oguz Celikkol said on Thursday.
Speaking to private NTV television on Thursday, Celikkol said, ''all leaders I met in Iraq are uneasy about a possible civil war. Iraq has never been such close to civil war after Saddam regime.''

''Turkey wants Iraq to form a national unity government which represents all parts of the society. Meetings continue with Iraqi groups within that scope,'' added Celikkol.

''A delegation from Iraqi Islamic Party arrived in Istanbul last week. Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr may also visit Turkey after a new government is formed in Iraq,'' said Celikkol.

He noted, ''PKK terrorist organization is a problem both for Turkey and Iraq. We expect concrete steps to be taken against PKK with contribution of the United States after a new government is established in Iraq.'' "

[bth: We asked little of Turkey and got less. Why should the United States or the Kurds agree to talk like this?]
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Before and After Abu Ghraib, a U.S. Unit Abused Detainees - New York Times

Before and After Abu Ghraib, a U.S. Unit Abused Detainees - New York Times: "...The heart of the camp was the Battlefield Interrogation Facility, alternately known as the Temporary Detention Facility and the Temporary Holding Facility. The interrogation and detention areas occupied a corner of the larger compound, separated by a fence topped with razor wire.

Unmarked helicopters flew detainees into the camp almost daily, former task force members said. Dressed in blue jumpsuits with taped goggles covering their eyes, the shackled prisoners were led into a screening room where they were registered and examined by medics.

Just beyond the screening rooms, where Saddam Hussein was given a medical exam after his capture, detainees were kept in as many as 85 cells spread over two buildings. Some detainees were kept in what was known as Motel 6, a group of crudely built plywood shacks that reeked of urine and excrement. The shacks were cramped, forcing many prisoners to squat or crouch. Other detainees were housed inside a separate building in 6-by-8-foot cubicles in a cellblock called Hotel California."...

[bth: the torture is controlled evidently. Also it appears to have been largely unsuccessful in producing useful intelligence as Osama, Omar or either of the Z's have not been captured.]