Friday, May 12, 2006

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US military, intelligence officials raise concern about possible preparations for Iran strike

The Raw Story US military, intelligence officials raise concern about possible preparations for Iran strike: "...Other military and intelligence sources are expressing concern both privately and publicly that air strikes on Iran could come earlier than believed.

Retired Air Force Colonel and former faculty member at the National War College Sam Gardiner has heard some military suggestions of a possible air campaign in the near future, and although he has no intimate knowledge of such plans, he says recent aircraft carrier activity and current operations on the ground in Iran have raised red flags.

Gardiner says his concerns have kept him busy attempting to create the most likely scenario should such an attack occur.
'I would expect two or three aircraft carriers would be moved into the area,' Gardner said, describing what he thinks is the best way air strikes could be carried out without disengaging assets from US fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Two air-craft carriers are already en route to the region, RAW STORY has found. The USS Abraham Lincoln, which recently made a port call in Singapore, and the USS Enterprise which left Norfolk, Virginia earlier this month, are headed for the Western Pacific and Middle East. The USS Ronald Reagan is already operating in the Gulf.

In addition to aircraft carrier activity, Gardiner says, B-2 bombers would be critical.

'I would expect the B-2's, the main firepower asset, to be flown on missions directly from the United States,' Gardiner explained. 'I would expect B-52's to be flown in strikes from the UK and Diego Garcia.'

'Finally,' he added, 'a large number of cruise missiles would be fired from the carrier support ships.'"...

Like Gardiner, Aftergood has heard similar claims with regard to a June strike, but has not been able to confirm them independently.

Intelligence sources confirm hearing the allegations of a June attack, but have been unable to fully confirm that such an attack is in the works. Both the New Yorker and the Washington Post have previously reported that the Pentagon is studying military options on Iran.

All sources, however, agree that given the administration’s interest in regime change, an attack on Iran is likely, regardless of international support or UN backing.

Furthermore, all sources agree that Gardiner’s scenario is the most probable, including an estimated duration and "pause" assessment.

Gardiner believes that the entire initial operation could run quickly, roughly 24-72 hours. "Most of the strikes would be at night," he said. "The Iranian nuclear facilities will be targeted; more important however, a major effort would focus on Iran's capability to retaliate. The US will target missile facilities, air bases and naval assets."

"After the initial effort, there will be a pause during which time the Iranians will be told that if they retaliate, the air strikes would continue," he added...
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Murtha Predicts U.S. Pullout From Iraq - Yahoo! News

Murtha Predicts U.S. Pullout From Iraq - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON - Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), a Vietnam veteran first elected in the anti-war fever of 1974, says American troops will be brought home from Iraq by 2007. "

Either President Bush' will bow to public opinion or Democrats will have won control of the House of Representatives and increased pressure on the White House, Murtha, D-Pa., said in an Associated Press interview Thursday.

Most likely, there will be a "tidal wave" that propels Democrats into the majority, said Murtha. He predicts Democrats will gain 40-50 seats — well more than the 15 needed for the party to gain control....

[bth: I don't see the district by district polling supporting this sweep of congress.]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Cincinnati Post - Battlefield medicine at UC

eThe Cincinnati Post - Battlefield medicine at UC: "' ...Iraq was more of an urban-type (operation), a lot of guerilla warfare, IEDs (improvised explosive devices). In Afghanistan, (there were) not very many American soldiers injured. We were treating mostly Afghani sick and injured, sort of a humanitarian type mission. Lots of land mine injuries.'

All the members of the team carry weapons. In Iraq, the unit was never secure - even in the American-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad - because of rocket fire. At the beginning of the war, the surgeons saw their share of throat injuries because body armor didn't cover the throat. Thanks to a new guard that helps protect the throat, most of the injuries now are to the extremities, Bentley said."...

[bth: since John died form a wound to the neck, I watch this matter closely. Also of note is that he says they didn't treat a lot of American wounded in Afghanistan and attributes that to less urban warfare than Iraq, but it should be noted that the wounded to killed ratio is much lower than in Iraq. I think in Afghanistan the soldiers are bleeding out before they get medical help from physicians due to the distance and mountainous nature of the terrain.]

Defense Authorization Bill Provisions Defense Authorization Bill Provisions: "� Highlights of the House's $512.9 billion measure setting Defense Department policies and spending levels for the 2007 budget year that begins Oct. 1:

_Creates a $50 billion fund to cover the first part of next year's costs for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

_Authorizes an increase of 30,000 personnel to boost Army numbers to 512,400 and 5,000 personnel to increase the Marine Corps to 180,000.

_Permits a military pay raise of 2.7 percent.

_Requires the Pentagon to maintain 12 aircraft carriers.

_Requires the Air Force to maintain a fleet of 44 combat-ready B-52 bombers until 2018 or until a comparable long-range strike aircraft is developed.

_Plans $109.7 million for devices that detect roadside bombs and $100 million for at least 10 manned surveillance aircraft to patrol above roads where the bombs are prevalent.

_Calls for millions of dollars more to put armor on Humvees and provide body armor for troops, including ceramic plates to protect the sides of torsos.

_Extends to survivors of slain civilian Defense Department employees a $100,000 death benefit that's currently available to families of service members killed in combat zones since Oct. 7, 2001.

_Requires jamming devices on all military vehicles used in Iraq and Afghanistan outside of a military compound by Sept. 30, 2007.

[bth: this will put electronic jammers in all vehicles almost 3 years after radio controlled IEDs started tearing into our troops and over two years since RF controlled IEDs became the number one killer of soldiers. We will lose this war with such slow reaction time. The insurgents have been changing tactics for at least the last six months going to infrared activated, dual activated (cell phone before vehicles approach jamming range and then IR or pressure, and contact switches such as rubber hoses or electrical contact switches. This effectively makes the IED jammers useless. .,.. Too little too late.]

Fraud probe of LI armor company

Fraud probe of LI armor company -- "Federal officials have opened a criminal investigation into possible fraud and insider trading at DHB Industries, the often-controversial Westbury-based manufacturer of body armor for the U.S. military, according to several sources.

FBI agents and criminal investigators from the Defense Department have been issuing grand jury subpoenas this week for the company's records and that of many of its present and former top executives, the sources said."

The joint investigation by the Justice Department and the Pentagon is the first involving DHB executives that could possibly lead to jail sentences if wrongdoing is found.

But it is not the first legal action that the company has faced recently.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress are already probing DHB, and several stockholder suits alleging wrongdoing have been filed in civil courts.

David Brooks, 51, of Old Westbury, the chairman and chief executive of DHB, is among those whose records have been subpoenaed, according to the sources.

George Canellos of Manhattan, Brooks' attorney, declined to comment. Larry Ellis, a retired four-star Army general who is president of DHB, did not return calls for comment, nor did a number of attorneys for other executives and the company.

The company has denied any wrongdoing.Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf, whose office is heading the criminal investigation, declined comment, along with FBI spokesman James Margolin.

The newly launched criminal investigation is not the only up-to-the-minute potentially bad news for the company. The Army announced yesterday it would hold an open design competition for the next generation of body armor, intended to replace DHB's Interceptor armor.

The Interceptor is used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and by a number of police departments, including New York City's.Congressional investigators have said they plan to undertake in the next few months a comprehensive probe of the adequacy of DHB's and other firms' armor protection, amid complaints that DHB equipment is not sufficient.

The company has denied that there is anything wrong with its armor products.Civil suits filed by stockholders allege that Brooks and other top executives made fortunes by selling off blocks of stock after knowingly making false claims about the financial health of the company.

Brooks alone was said to have made $185 million in 2004 by these sales, according to the suits.

Some stockholders have been said to be especially infuriated over a multimillion-dollar bat mitzvah that Brooks held for his daughter last year.
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6 Dead in Bombing of Pakistan Police Academy - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - 6 Dead in Bombing of Pakistan Police Academy - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "QUETTA, Pakistan � Five bombs ripped through a police training school in southwestern Pakistan early Thursday, killing six policemen and wounding nine, a police official and doctor said. Two people were arrested.

The bombs had been planted at a firing range on the grounds of the police school in Quetta, capital of the southwestern Baluchistan province, senior Quetta police official Wazir Nasar said.

Two ethnic Baluch tribesmen were detained near the scene and were being questioned on suspicion of involvement in the blasts, Nasar said."...

The explosions may have been caused by land mines, Salman Shah, another Quetta police official, said on Pakistan's Geo television.
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NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls - NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls: "The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans - most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews."

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.

The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program. Hayden declined to comment about the program....

[bth: Compare and contrast what is happening with this humble paragraph called the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Ultimately we must protect our rights or lose them. Decide where you stand.]
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Air Force Times - Adviser: Iraq "civil war" places U.S. in reactive role

Air Force Times - Adviser: Iraq �civil war� places U.S. in reactive role: "NEW YORK -Iraq is embroiled in a "low-level civil war" that is forcing the United States to react to events on the ground rather than shape them, according to a former U.S. military adviser who spent two years there studying the insurgency.

"Once you start reacting to events, you cannot impose a solution," said Ahmed Hashim, a professor at the Naval War College who worked with U.S. troops in Iraq from November 2003 to September 2005 in an effort to understand the emotions and loyalties driving Iraq's insurgents. "You go along with the flow."

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, Hashim said the most powerful force behind Iraq’s chaotic downward spiral in recent months is “the identity issue” dividing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

What’s happened over the past several months is that Iraqi communities have created a narrative of one another that is exclusionary,” he said, pointing to the rise of sectarian militias such as the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

When militias take the place of the state in protecting individual communities, he said, ethnic antagonism is the natural byproduct.

Stressing that he was speaking as an individual, not a representative of the U.S. Military, Hashim expressed pessimism over the U.S.’s ability to control the current situation in Iraq.

We have a civil war right now, a low-level civil war,” he said. “Our understanding of Iraq has advanced at a very glacial pace, and the only policy we really have in our hand right to leave.”

The counterinsurgency strategies the U.S. has been implementing so far may not be effective tools for dealing with a civil war or organized crime, he added.

“To stay in Iraq and to affect the situation in Iraq will require a kind of understanding at a level far deeper than we have,” he said.

Hashim said he was struck by the shift in the attitudes of ordinary Iraqi civilians over the course of his time there. In 2003, most Iraqis he spoke to did not consider civil war a possibility, he said; two years later, all that had changed.

In 2005 I came back with a fully pessimistic and bleak view of Iraq,” he said, adding that the cycle of sectarian violence seems only to have accelerated since then. “The narratives they’ve created about each other are propelling them.”

Hashim’s statements came on a day when at least 41 people were killed across Iraq, according to an Associated Press tally, including at least 17 in a suicide bombing late Tuesday at a market in Tal Afar.

[bth: a couple of obserations. A civil war has been obvious for at least a year to anyone willing to discuss it.

Since this article is from the Air Force Times, it is interesting that they are discussing a civil war now but if you look at the title they are putting "Civil War" in quotation marks. Mighty white of them I think.

He is at least making some sense though I don't think its some "narrative" that is causing the problem. It's a couple of hundred thousand armed militiamen and insurgents tear assing through each others neighborhoods, cutting off heads, drilling out eyes and shit that is the problem. Narratives are for childrens stories.]
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Iraq Set to Unify Security Forces to Battle Chaos - New York Times

Iraq Set to Unify Security Forces to Battle Chaos - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 10 � Senior Iraqi leaders are preparing a major restructuring of the capital's security brigades that would place all police officers and paramilitary soldiers under a single commander and in one uniform, in hopes of curtailing the sectarian chaos that is ravaging the city."

The reorganization calls for a substantially reduced presence of American soldiers on the capital's streets, although not necessarily in their numbers nationwide.

The plan, disclosed Wednesday in interviews with senior Iraqi leaders, would substantially alter Baghdad's landscape, now permeated by tens of thousands of police officers, soldiers and paramilitary troops whose identities and allegiances are not always clear.

Private militias and death squads have flourished in such an environment, with Iraqi officials acknowledging that they do not control all of the armed groups operating in Baghdad. Such militias, some of them acting with official cover, have been blamed for much of the mayhem and killing that have become routine in the capital.

The centerpiece of the plan calls for consolidating the multitude of security agencies under a single command, with one easily identifiable uniform. Iraqi officials say that would give them greater flexibility to combat the insurgency and identify rogue elements within their ranks.

"No one knows who is who right now — we have tens of thousands of forces," Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi said.

"We need a unified force to secure Baghdad: same uniform, same patrol car, one commander."

One example offered by Mr. Mahdi: as many as 150,000 paramilitary soldiers are assigned to protect various parts of Iraq's infrastructure, like its oil pipelines and electrical plants.

The soldiers are under the command of the ministries to which they are assigned, each with its own political allegiance and agenda, rendering them difficult to track and control.

"This is the real militia in Iraq," Mr. Mahdi said of the force.

It is unclear, however, what effect such a restructuring, if carried out, would have in rooting out the militias and death squads. The largest militias — the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army — are controlled by Shiite political parties that are part of the governing coalition. They have so far resisted a number of plans, Iraqi and American, to disarm. Both groups are believed to have carried out executions of political opponents and people suspected of being insurgents. And both are believed to have hundreds, possibly thousands, of gunmen employed by the Ministry of Interior, where they are suspected of operating independently....

Some Western officials reacted with skepticism to the reorganization plan; they said Iraqi leaders already had had plenty of opportunities to crack down on rogues within the security services, but had not done so.

"They think a single uniform and one chain of command will increase accountability, but I am skeptical," a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I think they have enough evidence now, but it's a question of will."

"I don't think there is a big-bang solution to the security problems here," the Western diplomat added.

Moreover, some questioned whether the Iraqi security forces would be able to pacify Baghdad without the assistance of the American military, as is envisioned under the proposal. Since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, armed attacks against Americans and Iraqis have risen sharply. And the American military has increased the number of American soldiers working with the Iraqi police in Baghdad....
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Sympathy Flows at Soldier's Funeral in Queens - New York Times

Sympathy Flows at Soldier's Funeral in Queens - New York Times: "At Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Corona, Queens, Mary, the mother of God, weeps at the feet of her son in the mural over the altar. Yesterday, Maria, the mother of Sgt. Jose Gomez of the United States Army, wept from her seat in the first pew. "

"You, more than anyone, understand the pain of the mother of Christ," the Rev. Thomas Healy said in Spanish to Maria Gomez, whose slender shoulders slumped into the Army officer seated to her right as her husband, Felix Jimenez, wrapped an arm around her. "We are all with you in your pain."

But she was really alone and she seemed to know it, weeping and staring blankly at her son's coffin in the center aisle. She had brought him to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was 3. Twenty years later, on April 20, he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, during a second tour of duty there.

His death came 31 months after his fiancée, Analaura Esparza-Gutierrez, 21, an Army private from Houston, was also killed by a roadside bombing in Tikrit, Iraq. Three springs ago, Sergeant Gomez had proposed to her. Now both were gone.

Yesterday, church and state rose up, each in its ritualistic glory, to honor the brief life and sudden death of Sergeant Gomez. Father Healy tenderly anointed his coffin with incense, and gave the young man his final blessings. The ladies of Corona — some in veils — filled the pews. Army officers flanked the right side of the church, and a two-star general presented Mrs. Gomez with the purple star and bronze star that President Bush had authorized her son to receive.

Yet it all seemed to do little to lessen the grief of Mrs. Gomez, who appeared to grow smaller as those by her side supported her.

The loss of Sergeant Gomez hit her especially hard because he had always strived to take care of his mother. He was saving to buy her a house. He had called home on April 19, the day before he died, to have flowers sent to her for Mother's Day.

And he had invented a tale that he was working and studying in Texas to hide the fact that he had been ordered to serve a second tour in Iraq, where the danger had been driven home by Private Esparza-Gutierrez's death.

Father Healy told Sergeant Gomez's family to persevere. His new fiancée, Marie Canario, dabbed her eyes with a sodden tissue.

"Remember Jesus' words," Father Healy said in Spanish and English. "There is no greater love than to give your life for your friends."

Maj. Gen. Bill Grisoli spoke. He called Sergeant Gomez a hero.

He read a letter from an officer who wrote how, on April 20, after another Army vehicle was damaged by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, Sergeant Gomez and Staff Sgt. Bryant A. Herlem, 37, had moved their vehicle forward.

"It was in the act of protecting their friends that the second blast occurred," General Grisoli said.

Mrs. Gomez bore it all quietly. All Jose had wanted, she said in an interview last week, was to study mathematics and become an accountant. Raised in Corona, amid a warren of brick and clapboard delis, barbershops and bodegas, Jose quickly learned one uncompromising sum: his family's bank accounts could never support his schooling.

"We're poor," Mrs. Gomez had said. She works packaging air fresheners in a factory, and her husband, Mr. Jimenez, is a truck driver. "And if you go in the Army to get your degree, well that used to work out."

For most of the funeral, Mrs. Gomez kept her head bowed.

The funeral ended, and Sergeant Gomez's final trip through Queens began. His hearse slipped past the El Nuevo Amanecer restaurant, the Valdez Deli, the mural of the unfurled American flag painted on the side of a building.

Then it was into East Elmhurst, where children played at recess on a rooftop along Astoria Boulevard, and a small jet wobbled its descent to La Guardia Airport. At St. Michael's Cemetery along the Grand Central Parkway, a leader led mourners down the wrong path. They scurried around the cemetery until they found Sergeant Gomez's coffin.

It lay on a small hill covered with green burlap. Mrs. Gomez and Ms. Canario sat weeping as a man in an orange shirt led a prayer. Mr. Jimenez wiped his face. The twin wails of mother and fiancée rose above the din of traffic in an inconsolable dirge.

Mrs. Gomez was supported to the side of the coffin.

"Mi Jose! Mi Jose! Mi hijo!" she wailed. "O Dios!"

She sobbed, and added, moaning in Spanish, "Why did it have to be my son?"

At the church, Father Healy said he was concerned about Mrs. Gomez. He stood near the altar, below a statue of the Virgin of Sorrow.

"Twenty-five hundred of these around the country," he said. "Can you imagine?"

[bth: like other Gold Star Families, we pray that some good, some meaning, will come of this yet we fear it will all be for naught, worse for a lie. ... to the Gomez family. Thank you and God bless.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

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Part of me died when I saw this cruel killing - Sunday Times - Times Online

Part of me died when I saw this cruel killing - Sunday Times - Times Online: "EVEN by the stupefying standards of Iraq's unspeakable violence, the murder of Atwar Bahjat, one of the country's top television journalists, was an act of exceptional cruelty.

Nobody but her killers knew just how much she had suffered until a film showing her death on February 22 at the hands of two musclebound men in military uniforms emerged last week. Her family's worst fears of what might have happened have been far exceeded by the reality.

Bahjat was abducted after making three live broadcasts from the edge of her native city of Samarra on the day its golden-domed Shiite mosque was blown up, allegedly by Sunni terrorists"

Roadblocks prevented her from entering the city and her anxiety was obvious to everyone who saw her final report. Night was falling and tensions were high.

Two men drove up in a pick-up truck, asking for her. She appealed to a small crowd that had gathered around her crew but nobody was willing to help her. It was reported at the time that she had been shot dead with her cameraman and sound man.

We now know that it was not that swift for Bahjat. First she was stripped to the waist, a humiliation for any woman but particularly so for a pious Muslim who concealed her hair, arms and legs from men other than her father and brother.

Then her arms were bound behind her back. A golden locket in the shape of Iraq that became her glittering trademark in front of the television cameras must have been removed at some point — it is nowhere to be seen in the grainy film, which was made by someone who pointed a mobile phone at her as she lay on a patch of earth in mortal terror.

By the time filming begins, the condemned woman has been blindfolded with a white bandage.

It is stained with blood that trickles from a wound on the left side of her head. She is moaning, although whether from the pain of what has already been done to her or from the fear of what is about to be inflicted is unclear.

Just as Bahjat bore witness to countless atrocities that she covered for her television station, Al-Arabiya, during Iraq’s descent into sectarian conflict, so the recording of her execution embodies the depths of the country’s depravity after three years of war.

A large man dressed in military fatigues, boots and cap approaches from behind and covers her mouth with his left hand. In his right hand, he clutches a large knife with a black handle and an 8in blade. He proceeds to cut her throat from the middle, slicing from side to side.

Her cries — “Ah, ah, ah” — can be heard above the “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) intoned by the holder of the mobile phone.

Even then, there is no quick release for Bahjat. Her executioner suddenly stands up, his job only half done. A second man in a dark T-shirt and camouflage trousers places his right khaki boot on her abdomen and pushes down hard eight times, forcing a rush of blood from her wounds as she moves her head from right to left.

Only now does the executioner return to finish the task. He hacks off her head and drops it to the ground, then picks it up again and perches it on her bare chest so that it faces the film-maker in a grotesque parody of one of her pieces to camera.
The voice of one of the Arab world’s most highly regarded and outspoken journalists has been silenced. She was 30.

As a friend of Bahjat who had worked with her on a variety of tough assignments, I found it hard enough to bear the news of her murder. When I saw it replayed, it was as if part of me had died with her. How much more gruelling it must have been for a close family friend who watched the film this weekend and cried when he heard her voice.

The friend, who cannot be identified, knew nothing of her beheading but had been guarding other horrifying details of Bahjat’s ordeal. She had nine drill holes in her right arm and 10 in her left, he said. The drill had also been applied to her legs, her navel and her right eye. One can only hope that these mutilations were made after her death.

There is a wider significance to the appalling footage and the accompanying details. The film appears to show for the first time an Iraqi death squad in action.

The death squads have proliferated in recent months, spreading terror on both sides of the sectarian divide. The clothes worn by Bahjat’s killers are bound to be scrutinised for clues to their identity.

Bahjat, with her professionalism and impartiality as a half-Shi’ite, half-Sunni, would have been the first to warn against any hasty conclusions, however. The uniforms seem to be those of the Iraqi National Guard but that does not mean she was murdered by guardsmen. The fatigues could have been stolen for disguise.

A source linked to the Sunni insurgency who supplied the film to The Sunday Times in London claimed it had come from a mobile phone found on the body of a Shi’ite Badr Brigade member killed during fighting in Baghdad.

But there is no evidence the Iranian-backed Badr militia was responsible. Indeed, there are conflicting indications. The drill is said to be a popular tool of torture with the Badr Brigade. But beheading is a hallmark of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by the Sunni Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

According to a report that was circulating after Bahjat’s murder, she had enraged the Shi’ite militias during her coverage of the bombing of the Samarra shrine by filming the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, ordering police to release two Iranians they had arrested.

There is no confirmation of this and the Badr Brigade, with which she maintained good relations, protected her family after her funeral came under attack in Baghdad from a bomber and then from a gunman. Three people died that day.
Bahjat’s reporting of terrorist attacks and denunciations of violence to a wide audience across the Middle East made her plenty of enemies among both Shi’ite and Sunni gunmen.

Death threats from Sunnis drove her away to Qatar for a spell but she believed her place was in Iraq and she returned to frontline reporting despite the risks.

We may never know who killed Bahjat or why. But the manner of her death testifies to the breakdown of law, order and justice that she so bravely highlighted and illustrates the importance of a cause she espoused with passion.

Bahjat advocated the unity of Iraq and saw her golden locket as a symbol of her belief. She put it with her customary on-air eloquence on the last day of her life: “Whether you are a Sunni, a Shi’ite or a Kurd, there is no difference between Iraqis united in fear for this nation.”

[bth: that this is occurring 30-40 times a day in Iraq is absolutely horrifying and revolting. Sunni or Shiite, it is hard to believe someone would praise Allah while filming this horrible atrocity.]
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Israel Navy seizes load of high-grade explosives off Gaza - Print Version - International Herald Tribune

Israel Navy seizes load of high-grade explosives off Gaza - Print Version - International Herald Tribune: "The Israeli navy intercepted and seized more than half a ton of high-grade explosives that a Palestinian fishing boat was attempting to bring in to Gaza from nearby Egypt, the Israeli military said Tuesday.

The incident, which marks Israel's largest seizure of weaponry headed to the Palestinian territories since 2002, occurred last Wednesday, said Captain Yoram Laks of the Israeli Navy said.

But the boat and its crew escaped, he said, so that Israel does not yet know who sold or purchased the explosives. The material is 'weapons-grade TNT,' he added, some of it salvaged from manufactured military arms like mines, shells and grenades."...
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To win this year, Republicans need to run like Democrats

To win this year, Republicans need to run like Democrats: "...For the first time since the Gingrich revolution, the Republican Party is facing massive defeat. Will its congressmen and senators go down in the upcoming 2006 elections like the Democratic lemmings did in 1994, faithfully parroting their president's dogma while they sank below the horizon? Or will they have the dexterity and flexibility to move to the center and the left to meet the coming onslaught?
The only way for a Republican to survive in 2006 is to run like a Democrat. The GOP line on oil companies totally misses the fact that voters see a vast conspiracy by big oil companies to manipulate the price to feather their own nests. All talk of supply increase or demand decrease is quite beside the point for the average voter. The issue is whether or not you are part of the conspiracy to fix and raise prices.

The Republican position on climate change -that it isn't happening or, if it is, it's inevitable -also completely misses the views of the average voter who sees hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes and such as the consequence of years of air pollution.

The GOP wisdom on Iraq also fails to address the underlying isolationism that is catalyzing opposition to the war. Instead of searching for a decent way out, most voters are just disgusted with the party that landed us in this no-win situation.

Taken together, the only way for a Republican to survive 2006 is to shed himself of his party ideology and run like a Democrat, using the entire playing field -left, center and right -to address voter concerns."...
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Wired News: Ex-NSA Chief Assails Bush Taps

Wired News: Ex-NSA Chief Assails Bush Taps: "NEW YORK -- Former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman lashed out at the Bush administration Monday night over its continued use of warrantless domestic wiretaps, making him one of the highest-ranking former intelligence officials to criticize the program in public, analysts say.

'This activity is not authorized,' Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration 'need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it.'".....
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Iraq War Is Drawing Less Support Than Vietnam Did at Same Stage

: "May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Three years into major combat in Vietnam, 28,500 U.S. service members had perished, millions of families were anxious about the military draft and antiwar protests had spread to dozens of college campuses.

Today, at the same juncture in the Iraq war, about 2,400 American soldiers have died, the U.S. military consists entirely of volunteers and public dissent is sporadic.

There's one other difference: The war in Iraq is more unpopular than was the Vietnam conflict at this stage, polls show.

More Americans -- 57 percent -- say sending troops to Iraq was a mistake than the 48 percent who called Vietnam an error in April 1968, polls by the Princeton, New Jersey-based Gallup Organization show. That's because more people believed that Vietnam was crucial to U.S. security, scholars say.

``People simply value the stakes much lower in Iraq than they did in Vietnam,'' said John Mueller, a presidential historian at Ohio State University in Columbus. Vietnam ``seemed vital in terms of the Cold War and stopping the communists. People don't see this as an important adventure.''

The poll numbers suggest that President George W. Bush may come under overwhelming pressure from voters to resolve the war, as did President Lyndon B. Johnson 38 years ago, even though both men vowed to stay the course.

``I doubt that he's going to be able to buy very much time at all,'' William Leuchtenburg, a retired historian who taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a past president of the American Historical Association, said of Bush.
With no signs of an Iraq policy change, he said, ``Bush and the Republicans will pay a price, particularly in some of the Senate races.'' "...

[bth: people are going to want to forget this war and all who died in it. Unfortunately the real war with al-Qaeda has barely started. Iraq is wasting the public trust and treasury.]
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Alarmed by Raids, Neighbors Stand Guard in Iraq - New York Times

Alarmed by Raids, Neighbors Stand Guard in Iraq - New York Times: "...As evidence mounts that Shiite police commandos are carrying out secret killings, Sunni Arab neighborhoods across Baghdad have begun forming citizen groups to keep the paramilitary forces out of their areas entirely. In large swaths of western Baghdad, and in at least six majority Sunni areas in its center, young men take turns standing in streets after the 11 p.m. curfew, to send out signals by flashlights and cellphones if strangers approach.

In some cases, the Sunnis have set up barricades and have taken up arms against Shiite-led commando raids into their neighborhoods. In other cases, residents have tipped off Sunni insurgents. Watch groups have been assembled in other mixed areas, including Baquba to the north and Mahmudiya to the south, residents and officials said.

Three years after the American invasion, the war has settled here, in the quiet of neighborhoods, streets and Iraqis' backyards. Dozens of bodies surface daily. People are taken from their homes and executed. Assassinations are routine. But instead of looking to the government for protection, ordinary Sunni Arabs are taking up arms against it, perhaps the most vivid illustration of the depth of Sunni mistrust of the American backed, Shiite-led security forces. 'There is no bridge of confidence between the government and the Iraqi people,' said Tarik al-Hashimy, a vice president of Iraq who is a Sunni Arab."...

"Samarra is the turning point in the security file," Mr. Hashimy said.

In March, the Baghdad morgue received 1,294 bodies, more than double the 596 received in March 2005. In April, the figure was up by 88 percent from the previous April. Nearly 90 percent died violently, most by gunfire, according to the morgue....

On her block, seven men, Sunnis and Shiites, stand on rooftops and street corners from midnight to 6 a.m., stopping suspicious cars. Palm tree trunks and pieces of trash are used to block roads. Still, she is so afraid of nighttime raids by both the special police and marauding criminals dressed like police officers that she sleeps in her clothes.

As a counterweight to sectarian extremism, neighborhood watch groups often cross sectarian lines, with Sunni and Shiite neighbors standing guard together. Sunnis have even helped to protect Shiite neighbors from Sunni militias.

Many Sunnis say that despite their terror of the Iraqi special police, they tolerate the Iraqi Army, which they consider more professional and less partisan. They say soldiers sometimes turn a blind eye to their weapons, which are illegal outside the house. Some neighborhood watchers interviewed said they had cellphone numbers of army commanders in their speed-dial lists. ...
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Barely Staying Afloat - New York Times

Barely Staying Afloat - New York Times: "President Bush's advisers say that the administration should receive more credit for the state of the economy, which, over all, is growing at a strong clip. But voters don't base their opinions on aggregate statistics. They react to their own paychecks and benefits, weighed against their fixed costs, like housing, health care and gasoline. For all but the wealthiest Americans, the latter are rapidly outpacing the former.

In a time of plenty, more American workers are in danger of slipping into outright poverty. As Erik Eckholm reported this week in The Times, about 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2004: $19,157 a year for a family of four. An additional 54 million lived between the poverty line and double the poverty line: $38,314 for a family of that size.

They are the 'near poor,' and they generally receive little attention. But they are often one injury or layoff away from slipping into poverty themselves.

If the 'near poor' feel insecure, they have good reason to. A group of academics found that during the 1980's, 13 percent of Americans in their 40's spent a year or more below the poverty line. In the 1990's, that percentage nearly tripled, reaching 36 percent. While workers once believed that pensions would provide for them in their old age, now they fret over underfunded 401(k) accounts. Houses are supposed to provide stability, but those with adjustable-rate mortgages are watching their payments rise, and some fear losing their homes.

The issue here is not handouts; it's about buffering against the shocks inherent in a fast-paced global economy. Perhaps one of the reasons President Bush is generally regarded as such a poor economic steward is that his administration has done little to make the most vulnerable members of the working class believe that any of the good news is directed at them.

[bth: namely its the realization that if you aren't in an upper income group and a paying contributor, the Republican congress and administration don't give a damn about you.]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

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Invention: Bomb jammer

New Scientist Tech - Breaking News - Invention: Bomb jammer: "Jimmy Hendrix turned feedback into an art form -sticking his guitar close to a speaker so that it picked up its own sound and generated deafening shrieks.

Now a US inventor is patenting a way to defeat remote-controlled explosives using the same trick. A series of transmitters would create a self-sustaining bubble of radio frequency noise to prevent terrorists from sending a trigger signal to a hidden bomb.

In his patent filing, James Cornwell of Virginia, US, claims that existing radio jamming devices are flawed because they leave gaps that let trigger signals sneak through. His system would use up to four radio transmitters and receivers placed around a risk area. When a wide frequency of noise is fed to one of the transmitters, all the receivers pick it up and feed the signal to their respective transmitters. Soon the feedback loop completely blankets the risk area with powerful radio energy.

The method could produce a bomb-blocking bubble up to 1 kilometre square, Cornwell reckons. This would leave bomb disposal experts safe in the knowledge that no one could trigger an explosive device while they are working to defuse it.
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Missile may have come from Iran

Telegraph News Missile may have come from Iran: "The Army now believes that the Lynx helicopter shot down over central Basra at the weekend was most probably hit by a surface-to-air missile, obtained possibly from neighbouring Iran, after missile casings were discovered on the third floor of a nearby building, security sources in the city said yesterday."

The discovery, if confirmed, will be a worrying development for British operations in Iraq, which are increasingly reliant on helicopter "air bridges" to move men and equipment to reduce the risk of convoys being ambushed by roadside bombs.

The discarded missile parts were located when a search was conducted of the building as British troops swept the surrounding area.

A military observation post had also reported seeing an unusual level of activity in the building during the previous two days.

The missile is understood to have been identified as a Russian-made weapon that can be packed into a golf bag and quickly assembled and fired by one person with minimal training.

The Daily Telegraph has identified the type of missile but has been asked by the MoD not to reveal it on security grounds.

Hundreds of the missiles are known to have been sold to Iran and some to Syria, leading to speculation that some might have been passed to Iraq's insurgents.

If it is clear that the weapon is the sophisticated new missile then it will pose a threat to British and US aircrew in Iraq.

The MoD yesterday announced that a team of experts had been dispatched from Britain to Iraq to determine the exact cause of the crash. Their findings are not expected to be made public until autumn.
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Taliban seek more deadly weapons - Taliban seek more deadly weapons: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Frustrated by their inability to punch through the reinforced plating on Canadian fighting vehicles, the Taliban are scouring the black market for bigger and better weapons to take on Canadian armour, coalition and Afghan security sources say.

Being able to destroy even one light armoured vehicle -a Bison armoured troop carrier or Coyote reconnaissance vehicle -would be a significant moral victory in the eyes of insurgents, a senior coalition source told The Canadian Press.

'They want to take out one really bad,' said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 'To them it would be a huge victory because they haven't be able to do that to this point.'

A handful of LAV-IIIs have been attacked with rocket propelled grenades and roadside bombs, suffering relatively minor damage such as blown tires. But none has been seriously disabled with a major loss of life.

Four Canadian soldiers did died recently in an insurgent attack, but they were travelling in a relatively lightly armed Mercedes G-Wagon"...

The anti-armour weapon of choice among the Taliban and Al Qaeda is the RPG-7, which can be fired by an individual fighter.

Insurgents are apparently looking for shoulder-launched weapons similar to the German Armbrust and possibly armed with some kind of supercalibre warhead, said an Afghan security source.

Ideally, the Taliban would like to lay their hands on a jeep-mounted AT-1 Snapper, a Soviet-built system that was part of the Taliban's arsenal prior to the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that drove them from power. It's unclear how many of those systems, exported to the Middle East during the Cold War, are still available.

In addition, the hunt is on for additional anti-tank mines, which have the dual benefit for the insurgents of being easily rewired into lethal improvised explosive devices....

Prior to deploying Canadians to southern Afghanistan, Ottawa spent $34 million adding reinforced plating to almost all of its thin-skinned vehicles operating in Kandahar.

"The Taliban are frustrated right now," said Fraser. "They're frustrated because they can't kill. Having said that, I can't reduce the risk to zero. We've had casualties and we are prepared for casualties."

In the craggy mountain passes and mud-walled compounds north of here, mujahedeen veterans attempt to school a new generation of jihadists on how to destroy armoured vehicles.

They rely on their experience fighting slow-moving Soviet tanks, such as the T-72, a generation ago.

"The tactics we see date back to the mujahedeen, but we studied the same books," Fraser said.

"We've adapted."

Unlike Soviet tanks, the LAVs and Bisons move swiftly and are more manoeuvrable, especially off-road, making them a much tougher target to hit with either a shoulder-mounted weapon — or even anti-tanks mines, which are traditionally sown along roadways.

Just as worrisome are the persistent rumours the Taliban have managed to reactivate a handful of U.S-made Stinger missiles using recently purchased battery packs. The CIA-sponsored weapons date to the Soviet occupation.

To date, it's not been conclusively proven that the militants have such capability, but it is also a subject coalition commanders are loath to discuss.

Two interview requests directed to the U.S. military by The Canadian Press were turned down.

Afghan sources said a turncoat Taliban commander has offered to turn in two of the weapons for the $100,000 US per missile reward offered by the Afghan government.

However the unnamed commander has yet to produce verifiable evidence he has access to them, said a coalition intelligence source.

Last year, Pakistani forces along the Afghan border seized as many as six dilapidated Stingers....
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U.S., Iraq Troops Search for Insurgents

U.S., Iraq Troops Search for Insurgents: "...U.S. and Iraqi officers say many residents are hesitant to talk because insurgents visit the same people they do _ threatening, intimidating and sometimes killing them.

'They don't think the coalition can protect them from insurgents, and right now they're right. We don't have enough forces on the ground,' said Iraqi Maj. Jabar Marouf al-Tamini.
American commanders say there are plans to pour more Iraqi soldiers into Ramadi this year, and authorities have begun to rebuild the lawless city's virtually nonexistent police force.
But residents may be reluctant to talk _ period _ to foreigners. Tribal loyalties run deep in this tightly knit Sunni Arab city, where extended families are often born and raised in the same neighborhood and rarely leave. Some see the insurgency as legitimate resistance and view U.S. troops as occupiers ultimately responsible for the ongoing violence.

Even Iraqi army troops say they are often viewed as outsiders because most are Shiites who grew up elsewhere.

'They don't trust us, so it's almost impossible to get information out of them,' al-Tamini said.

Not all are reluctant. Despite the dangers, American commanders say many residents, fed up with the war, offered up tips to the whereabouts of weapons caches and insurgents."...

In eastern Ramadi, U.S. Army Capt. Joe Claburn visited a house beside an alley from where four guerrillas armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades had attacked a guard tower on a U.S. base a day earlier.

The man, barefoot with a carefully trimmed white beard, said he hadn't seen the attack or any gunmen. U.S. officers asked that The Associated Press not publish his name for fear of reprisals.

Claburn asked the man if he was willing to signal U.S. troops when insurgents turned up.

"I'm telling you sincerely, I cannot cooperate with you," the man replied, shaking his head. "We know you are trying to protect us, but the insurgents would cut off my head.... We are too frightened to do anything. They're everywhere. They're probably watching us right now."
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The time to pull out of Iraq draws near

Telegraph Opinion The time to pull out of Iraq draws near: "It is difficult to imagine a more unedifying sight than the scenes that greeted British soldiers as they sought to recover the bodies of five colleagues after their helicopter crashed in Basra."

Iraq's second city is supposed to be one of the few remaining areas where coalition troops still enjoy the support of local Iraqis, where Shia leaders make no secret of their gratitude for the key role the Army played in overthrowing Saddam's detested regime three years ago. But a different reality has become apparent after rescue teams from 1st Bn Light Infantry were last weekend obliged to fight their way through to the crash site to claim the remains of their doomed colleagues.

Rather than receiving help from local people as they set about their grim task, they were met by a baying mob who pelted the rescue teams' Warrior armoured personnel carriers with stones and petrol bombs. The hostile reaction was so intense that British soldiers were obliged to open fire, although it is unclear whether the five civilians who died in the ensuing shoot-out were killed by British shots or the insurgents' crossfire.

A natural conclusion to be drawn from this latest flare-up in the delicate balance of relations between the British military and the local population it is seeking to protect is that Britain's continued presence in Iraq is no longer tenable, and that its forces should be withdrawn forthwith.

Certainly that is how the voluble anti-war brigade is seeking to portray the predicament of the British garrison in Basra, which now finds itself virtually confined to barracks, fearful that its presence on the streets will provoke further violent assaults.

But while it would be naïve to deny that last weekend's events have raised serious questions about Britain's continued military presence in Iraq, it would be wrong to lay the blame for the current crisis on British participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Shia of southern Iraq suffered horrendously at the hands of Saddam's Ba'athist thugs, and were almost unanimous in greeting British troops as liberators when his regime was eventually overthrown. Consequently British troops, who assumed responsibility after the war for southern Iraq, were able to pacify the area by establishing a good working relationship with local tribal leaders....

The real blame for the chaos that is continuing to impede attempts to rebuild Iraq after Saddam's 35-year reign of terror must lie with Iraq's politicians who, despite all the progress that has been made towards establishing a functioning democracy in that benighted country, remain incapable of establishing an effective government.

It is now more than five months since Iraq held the first truly democratic general election in its history, but there is still no sign of a new government being formed by Nuri al-Maliki, the Shia candidate who is the current prime ministerial nominee.

...The resulting power vacuum in Baghdad has led to the growth of rival militias seeking to take the law into their own hands, so that even those areas of Iraq that were relatively peaceful - such as Basra - are now in danger of becoming ungovernable.

The most influential political figures in Basra are not the democratically elected officials, but the unelected and unrepresentative members of the Shia militias that are vying for control of southern Iraq.

Foremost among these is the Mehdi army led by the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr which, like many of the other Shia militias operating in the region, is suspected of collaborating with Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Certainly al-Sadr's boast that it was responsible for shooting down the Army Lynx helicopter appears to have gained credence with our report today that the missile used in the attack was part of a Russian arms shipment sold to Iran.

This revelation comes on the back of other recent intelligence reports that Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed militia based in southern Lebanon, has recently exported the deadly road-side bomb technology that it has used to lethal effect against the Israeli military to southern Iraq, where it is now being used in attacks against British patrols.

With Britain taking a prominent role in confronting Teheran over its controversial nuclear programme, Iran clearly has a vested interest in making life as uncomfortable as possible for the British military in Basra.

The problem for British commanders is that, to counter these various threats effectively, they need the support of the Iraqi authorities, and that is unlikely to be forthcoming so long as Baghdad remains in a state of political paralysis.

The sole aim, let us not forget, of the British military deployment in Iraq is to facilitate the establishment of a stable government in Iraq. But if, as now seems increasingly likely, that goal is unobtainable, then the sooner that they pack up and come home, the better.

Cheney as Pot, Putin as Kettle - New York Times

Cheney as Pot, Putin as Kettle - New York Times: "It's hard to disagree with Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of Russia on Thursday. Vladimir Putin has indeed reversed the democratizing course set, however clumsily and incompletely, by Boris Yeltsin, and he is using Russia's vast reserves of oil and gas as tools of intimidation and blackmail.

Still, however much we agree with the content of Mr. Cheney's remarks, the unavoidable reaction is to question their motives and usefulness. There was a time when a strong statement from Washington in support of human rights and democratic behavior carried real authority. But of late the human-rights record of this administration has eroded its moral authority, and Mr. Cheney is closely associated with some of its most offensive policies. "

Straight from Lithuania, Mr. Cheney traveled to oil-rich Kazakhstan to make nice to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a leader with an awful human-rights record whose recent re-election was fraudulent. President George Bush recently received a similar autocrat, President Ilham Aliyev of oil-rich Azerbaijan, in the White House. Given the global scramble for energy, there's an obvious self-interest for Washington in courting these secular leaders of Muslim nations. But spearing Russia while flirting with its even more undemocratic neighbors confuses the message, especially when done by a vice president identified with oil interests.

The Bush administration has been working hard for weeks to line up Mr. Putin's support for a United Nations resolution aimed at halting Iran's nuclear enrichment activities. Without Russian backing, that effort cannot succeed. In that light, the timing of Mr. Cheney's remarks, which were vetted by the White House, seems rather odd.

Balancing America's sense of mission in spreading democracy with its national interests has long created contradictions in its foreign policy and global behavior. But so long as there was a moral compass, there was at least a tacit distinction between principled actions and necessary evils. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire," his words bit deep, because America was then a powerful symbol of freedom. It would be good if Mr. Cheney's truths also had an impact — but how does it go about the mote in your own eye?

Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem - New York Times

Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem - New York Times: "SOME pundits and politicians have been floating the idea that America consider dividing Iraq into three ethno-religious entities, saying this would not only stem the insurgency but also allow our troops an earlier exit. They are wrong: fracturing the country would not serve either Iraqi or United States interests, and would make life for average Iraqis even worse.

The first problem is that Iraq does not have a neat set of ethnic dividing lines. There has never been a meaningful census of Iraq showing exactly how its Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, Kurds and other factions are divided or where they live. The two elections held since the toppling of Saddam Hussein have made it clear, however, that Iraq's cities and 18 governorates all have significant minorities. "

Thus any effort to divide the country along sectarian and ethnic lines would require widespread "relocations." This would probably be violent and impoverish those forced to move, leave a legacy of fear and hatred, and further delay Iraq's political and economic recovery.

Moreover, Iraq is heavily urbanized, with nearly 40 percent of the population in the multiethnic greater Baghdad and Mosul areas. We have seen in Northern Ireland and the Balkans how difficult it is to split cities, and with Iraq's centralized and failing services and impoverished economy, violence and economics cannot be separated. Deciding where Kirkuk, a key oil city, belonged would pit the Kurds against all the rest of Iraq's factions. Basra, the nation's port, is already under the sway of Shiite Islamist militias and could lose all of its secular character if the nation divided. In addition, the nation could not be partitioned without dividing the army, the security forces and the police. The regular military is largely Shiite with a significant number of Kurds. The Ministry of Interior forces are largely Shiite, and the police are hopelessly mixed with militias and local security forces that split according to local tribal, sectarian and ethnic ties. Dividing the country essentially means dividing the army and security forces and strengthening the militias — all of which would lead to more violence.

And of course, there is no way to divide Iraqi that will not set off fights over control of oil. More than 90 percent of Iraq's government revenues come from oil exports. The Sunni Arab west has no developed oil fields and thus would have no oil revenues. The Kurds want the northern oil fields, but have no legitimate claim to them and no real way to export the oil they produce (their neighbors Iran, Syria and Turkey have restive Kurdish populations of their own and thus no interest in helping Iraq's Kurds achieve self-sustaining freedom). Control of Basra would also be an issue, with various Shiite groups looking to separate and take control of the oil in the south.

Dividing Iraq would also harm regional stability and the war on terrorists. Sunni Islamist extremist groups with ties to Al Qaeda already dominate the Sunni insurgents, and division would only increase their hold over average Iraqis. And with Iraqi Sunnis cut out of oil money, Arab Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be forced to support them, if only to avoid having the Islamist extremists take over this part of Iraq.

Iran, of course, would compete for the Iraqi Shiites. The Kurds have no friends: Turkey, Iran and Syria would seek to destabilize the north and exploit the divisions between the two main Kurdish political unions. In the end, these divisions could spill over into the rest of the Middle East and the Arab world, creating a risk of local conflicts and the kind of religious tension that feeds Islamist extremism.

Washington has made serious mistakes in Iraq, and they may lead to civil war. Dividing Iraq, however, is virtually certain to make things worse. It would convey the message that America has been defeated and abandoned a nation and a people. Even if one could overlook the fact the United States effectively broke Iraq and has a responsibility to its 28 million people, it is impossible to deny that leaving behind a power vacuum in an already dangerous region is hardly a viable strategy.

Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the author of "The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics and Military Lessons."

[bth: The Sunnis in the west would have to develop, previously undeveloped oil and gas fields - namely gas. This would require investment and that would require some form of political stability. They also control territory needed for potential pipelines routes which would also mean revenues.

Shittes in the Basra area control oil fields and a port - the port. Radical Islamists know this and have parked militias there. The British aren't strong enough to deal with them, neither are we. The clerics will have to handle them or lose control. The author fails to mention that Sadr's forces know about cash flow and their need for it as they have a large impoverished population outside Baghdad which will not be part of those oil revenues in the event if a break-up so he is sending his militias to Basra and to the oil field areas of Kirkuk, probably under the pay of others. When cash grows tight these militias kidnap for profit. Someone will have to stand up to them and if we don't do it then it will have to be the other Shia. The Kurds will likely drive these interlopers out of their self-proclaimed territory. The author fails to mention that Sadr's group probably has one of the strongest economic interests in a unified country - to turn Iraq over to Sadr doesn't sit well with most folks like me.

The Kurds have no friends, but they do have oil and could figure out how to buy them. Perhaps the Kurds will have to learn to live with their neighbors, the Iranians, the Turks, the Shia in the south and the Sunnis in the west to export their products. Otherwise they eat oil for breakfast instead of investing its cash proceeds. It seems likely that the Kurds and the Sunnis in the west could quickly form a deal. To invest to turn those oil fields into cash requires a semi-secure infrastructure which means that someone will have to deal with the communist portions of the the Kurds which might not be such a bad thing as it likely improves border relations with Iran and Turkey.

Partition isn't the best option; its the practical option with civil war the likely alternative.]

The Pretenders - New York Times

The Pretenders - New York Times: "After five straight years of profligacy, Republicans are desperately trying to portray themselves as the defenders of budget discipline. The challenge is driving them to new heights of hypocrisy.

President Bush is threatening a veto -which would be his first -of an 'emergency' spending bill because senators have bulked it up by $14 billion more than he had requested. But at the same time, the White House has been hounding Congressional Republicans to do whatever it takes, including blatant budget gimmickry, to pass $70 billion worth of additional tax cuts, among them a wholly gratuitous extension of special low tax rates for investors. And Mr. Bush is going to the barricades over $14 billion? "

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain recently proclaimed victory in the war on pork when the Senate stripped from the emergency spending bill $15 million that would have gone to a seafood marketing campaign. That's fine, but it won't quite pay off the multibillion-dollar tax cuts for investors that Mr. McCain, in his new presidential candidate persona, has decided to embrace.

Senator Judd Gregg, the chairman of the Budget Committee, has warned that the nation "simply cannot continue on the path to higher deficits." But there's no indication that he's willing to block the path by refusing to bless the gimmicks that allow his party to pretend the pending tax cut package doesn't affect the bottom line.

And Senator Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Finance Committee, describes himself as a dyed-in-the-wool fiscal conservative. But right now Mr. Grassley is maneuvering to add a second tax cut package to the mix, enlarging the deficit by a further $20 billion, or more.

There was a time that the Republican Party stood for fiscal restraint, but that boat has long since left the dock. Now, as its leaders prepare to inflate the deficit even more, the least they could do is refrain from pretending they care.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Bush approval rating hits new low - Bush approval rating hits new low: "WASHINGTON � President Bush's approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections.

The survey of 1,013 adults, taken Friday through Sunday, shows Bush's standing down by 3 percentage points in a single week. His disapproval rating also reached a record: 65%. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points."...

Only four presidents have scored lower approval ratings since the Gallup Poll began regularly measuring it in the mid-1940s: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush. When Nixon, Carter and the elder Bush sank below 35%, they never again registered above 40%.
Truman twice sank into the low 30s and then rose into the 60s, but the third time his rating fell, it stayed below 40% as well.

"Historically it's been pretty devastating to presidents at this level," Franklin says. Even Republican members of Congress are "now so worried about their electoral fortunes in November that he has less leverage with them than he normally would with his own party controlling Congress." | Iraqi cleric tries to expand militia into a political bloc Iraqi cleric tries to expand militia into a political bloc: "BAGHDAD, IRAQ - Firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is working behind the scenes to maintain his armed militant wing and portray it as a social movement, a step that would make him one of Iraq's most powerful figures if it succeeds, U.S. officials and Iraqi politicians say.

American officials think that al-Sadr, who already controls the largest bloc of votes in the National Assembly, is modeling himself after Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim movement born during that country's civil war in the 1980s. Although it began largely as an armed group, it eventually became a powerful political force with a large social-service component."

Some U.S. and Iraq officials think that al-Sadr's shift is a symptom of a growing rift within the powerful Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which has dominated Iraq's two parliamentary elections. That split pits al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia against members of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to be the voice of all Iraqi Shiites....

An Irresponsible President

An Irresponsible President: "SHEER COINCIDENCE: Last Monday, the Social Security and Medicare trustees released their annual depressing report. On Tuesday, congressional negotiators handed President Bush a 'victory' -- his assessment -- in agreeing to extend his capital gains and dividend tax cuts. Mr. Bush and his fellow tax-cuts-above-all proponents would like you to believe that the two events are unrelated. But taken together they underscore the terrible fiscal predicament that Mr. Bush has chosen to bequeath to his successor."

According to the new estimates, the Social Security trust fund will be depleted in 2040, one year closer than last year's projection, while Medicare's will run out in 2018 -- two years sooner than last year's projection and 12 years earlier than estimated when Mr. Bush took office. These dates may still sound remote, but the problem is more imminent than the customary focus on insolvency suggests. Far earlier than the insolvency date, the programs will be spending more than they take in, in payroll taxes in the case of Social Security, in payroll taxes and premiums in the case of some parts of Medicare. Because of higher-than-anticipated hospital costs, the price of Medicare hospital benefits will exceed tax collections and other dedicated revenue this year -- a situation that will persist and worsen rapidly after 2010. And every year of procrastination makes the eventual solution more painful....

The breathtaking irresponsibility of this won't become totally clear until Mr. Bush is back on the ranch. But history's verdict is predictable: bad enough to squander a chance to improve the nation's health while there was still time; unforgivable to make it so much worse.

[bth: Bush and the republican majority have created a systemic deficit that will bankrupt the federal government. One would think that they gave a damn but evidently not.]
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Funny Money on Iraq - New York Times

Funny Money on Iraq - New York Times: "President Bush is trying to score unearned points for fiscal rectitude by railing against the Senate's outsize $109 billion supplemental spending package, which includes money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as hurricane relief. But the real scandal is Mr. Bush's own preference for financing much of the cost of the Iraq war outside the normal budget process. That is convenient for the administration, which does not have to count the money when it is pretending to balance the budget. But Iraq is not some kind of unexpected emergency, like Hurricane Katrina. It is a highly predictable cost, now amounting to about $100 billion a year, or just under 20 percent of total military spending. "

Moving the war's financing off budget is no mere technical distinction. For one thing, it subjects the military's spending requests to less careful Congressional committee scrutiny than they would receive during the usual budget process.

More important, this fiscal sleight of hand makes it that much easier for the Pentagon to duck the hard choices it desperately needs to be making between optional and costly futuristic weapons and pressing real-world needs.

The Pentagon's latest $460 billion budget request reflects exactly the kinds of distortions that gimmicky cost-shifting produces. There is no serious pressure to economize to pay for those uncounted war costs. So the budget barrels ahead with unrealistic long-term spending projects that the services and the nation will ultimately be unable to afford, piling on stealth destroyers and air combat fighters designed for the cold war while soldiers go short of armor and adequate reinforcements in Iraq.

Making matters worse, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shunted aside all pleas to expand the size of America's weary and badly overstrained ground forces to preserve even more dollars for wasteful weapons spending.

Congress would gladly vote the Pentagon every cent it needs to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and rebuild its ground forces so that they are available for other military emergencies. But with so much of the war off budget, as it were, Congress is instead being asked to approve one of the biggest military budgets in American history for projects having little to do with current fighting.

The regular defense budget, at least, goes through protracted review by specialized authorization and appropriation committees that have some familiarity with military operations. That does not prevent a lot of pork being included.

But the process is far more considered and transparent than the circuses that govern supplemental spending.

The Bush administration has not done a very good job of talking straight to the American people about Iraq. If it wants to start winning back some of its squandered credibility, honest budgeting would be one good place to start.

[bth: good points, but not a chance in hell it will happen. To expect honest budgeting at this point is really wishful thinking]

Rove Is Using Threat of Loss to Stir G.O.P.

Rove Is Using Threat of Loss to Stir G.O.P. - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, May 5 � To anyone who doubts the stakes for the White House in this year's midterm Congressional elections, consider that Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the Democrat who would become chairman of the Judiciary Committee if his party recaptured the House, has called for an inquiry into the possible impeachment of President Bush over the war in Iraq. "

Or listen to Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who would run the Senate Judiciary Committee if the Democrats took the Senate. Mr. Leahy vowed in a recent interview to subpoena top administration officials, if he got the chance, to answer more questions about their secret eavesdropping program and what he considers faulty prewar intelligence.

The prospect of the administration spending its last two years being grilled by angry Democrats under the heat of partisan spotlights has added urgency to the efforts by Karl Rove and Mr. Bush's political team to hang on to the Republican majorities in Congress....

The prospect of Democrats capturing either, however, may be one of the best weapons Mr. Rove has as he turns to what he has traditionally done best: motivating his party's conservative base to turn out on Election Day....

Senate Republicans sent out a fund-raising letter this week seeking to use that possibility to fire up the base, warning that a Democratic majority would put fighting terrorism "on the back burner" and that "our worst fears" could be realized. ...

In regular West Wing breakfast sessions catered by the White House mess, Mr. Rove and the White House political director, Sara Taylor, have already been reaching out to nervous and vulnerable Republicans, three at a time, laying out an emerging three-prong attack on Democrats over national security, taxes and health care. ...

He has focused in particular on uniting them behind the administration's proposals to overhaul immigration, which include guest worker provisions that conservatives despise; the Iraq war, which has driven Mr. Bush's poll numbers sharply downward; and the Medicare prescription drug program, which the administration says will cost $872 billion from 2006 to 2014 and which Mr. Bush backed enthusiastically despite complaints from conservatives that it was a vast expansion of the social welfare state....

[bth: Rove has got to get the fear up so that he can get turnout of his core base. The problem as I see it is that the Democrats will make a dent in the house but not enough to win control if race by race polls are examined.]

Sunday, May 07, 2006

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CUsing plants to help locate landmines

CANOE -- CNEWS - Daily Feature: Using plants to help locate landmines: "OTTAWA (CP) - Researchers working for the Canadian and U.S. militaries are making progress in developing genetically modified plants that could help people around the world avoid death and injury from landmines.

The researchers at the University of Alberta, Duke University in North Carolina and other schools are trying to develop plants that will alert people to the presence of landmines by changing colour if their roots detect compounds, such as TNT, commonly used in mines"...

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The Washington connection: Did Bush stick the knife into Jack Straw?

Independent Online Edition > UK Politics: "Jack Straw's fate was sealed in a phone call from the White House to Tony Blair last month, according to the former foreign secretary's friends.

They say President George Bush was furious that Mr Straw said it was 'nuts' to use nuclear weapons against Iran, an option reported to be under active consideration in Washington.

Downing Street had already warned Mr Straw repeatedly to tone down his complete rejection of the military route as 'inconceivable', insisting it was important to keep all options on the table."...
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House Intel Panel Chief Opposes Hayden

My Way News - House Intel Panel Chief Opposes Hayden: "WASHINGTON (AP) - A leading Republican came out against the front-runner for CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, saying Sunday the spy agency should not have military leadership during a turbulent time among intelligence agencies.

Members of the Senate committee that would consider President Bush's nominee also expressed reservations, saying the CIA is a civilian agency and putting Hayden atop it would concentrate too much power in the military for intelligence matters."

Despite a distinguished career at the Defense Department, Hayden would be "the wrong person, the wrong place at the wrong time," said the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.

"There is ongoing tensions between this premier civilian intelligence agency and DOD as we speak," Hoekstra said.

"And I think putting a general in charge - regardless of how good Mike is - ... is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington but also to our agents in the field around the world," he told "Fox News Sunday."

If Hayden were to get the nomination, military officers would run the major spy agencies in the United States, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The Pentagon already controls more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget.

"You can't have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence," said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The CIA "is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency," she said on ABC's "This Week."

A second committee member, GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, added, "I think the fact that he is a part of the military today would be the major problem."

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., mentioned fears the CIA would "just be gobbled up by the Defense Department" if Hayden were to take over.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he would view a Hayden nomination as a way to get information from the Bush administration about its secretive domestic surveillance program, undertaken by the NSA when Hayden led that agency.

The warrantless monitoring covered electronic communications between people in the United States and other parties overseas with suspected terrorist links.

[bth: Hayden would not answer a question last week on whether he allowed the NSA under his control to wiretap without warrants, Bush's political appointments. .... Having the military control all forms of intelligence in the US would be a terrible idea in light of recent circumstances.]