Saturday, August 05, 2006

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US Watches Dreams of Transformation Dissolve

US Watches Dreams of Transformation Dissolve - by Jim Lobe: "Entering the fourth week of war between Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and Israel, the George W. Bush administration's ambitions to transform the Arab Middle East into a pro-Western, more democratic region are fading fast. "

Not only is Washington's thus-far staunch support for Israel losing Arab "hearts and minds" at an astonishing pace, but the "moderate" governments and non-governmental forces the administration had hoped would act as catalysts for reform are increasingly isolated across the region, according to Middle East specialists.

"I have never seen the United States being so demonized or savaged by Arab commentators, by Arab politicians," Hisham Melham, veteran Washington correspondent for Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper, told a conference this week at the Brookings Institution, an influential think tank.

"People are clinging to Hezbollah, clinging to Hamas, because they see them as the remaining voices or forces in the Arab world that are resisting what they see as an ongoing hegemonic American-Israeli plan to control the region," he said.

"Right now, the United States is the kiss of death," Shibley Telhami, an expert on Arab public opinion at the University of Maryland, observed at the same meeting.

"If you really are trying to empower the ruling elites and nudge them to reform and be more representative, you have to deliver policies that are going to empower," he said. "What we see in Lebanon is a policy that is not empowering them. It is widening the gap [between the moderate elites and the people], and people are moving toward the militants."

That point was echoed by none other than Jordan's King Abdullah who, in the early days of the current round of fighting, had joined the Egyptian and Saudi governments in denouncing Hezbollah for "adventurism" in attacking across the Lebanese border, thus provoking Israel's devastating military campaign.

"A fact America and Israel must understand is that as long as there is aggression and occupation, there will be resistance and popular support for the resistance," Abdullah, arguably Washington's closest Arab ally, said Thursday. "People cannot sleep and wake up to pictures of the dead and images of destruction in Lebanon and Gaza and … say 'we want moderation.' Moderation needs deeds."

"Unfortunately, Israeli policy … has contributed to the rise in the wave of extremism in the Arab world, and this war has come to weaken the voices of moderation," he went on, warning that even if Israel destroyed Hezbollah in Lebanon – an increasingly unlikely prospect – "a new Hezbollah would emerge, maybe in Jordan, Syria, or Egypt" unless a comprehensive peace settlement was reached.

Even before the outbreak of this latest war between Israel and Hezbollah, Washington's hopes of regional transformation appeared to be dimming fast.

Besides Lebanon, whose "Cedar Revolution" last year was repeatedly cited by the Bush administration as vindication of its domino theory of democratic change, the two other Arab polities in which it has invested most of its hopes for transformation – Iraq and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – were already in deep trouble.

In the PA, not only had Hamas, the Islamist party on the State Department's terrorism list, won last January's democratic parliamentary elections, but a subsequent U.S.-led aid and diplomatic embargo against its government only strengthened its popularity at home, partly at the expense of Washington's preferred interlocutor, the Fatah Party's Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA.

Moreover, Israel's U.S.-backed military campaign against Hamas, now in its sixth week, does not appear to have reduced its hold on public opinion.

In Iraq, where Washington is currently spending nearly $7 billion a month, a series of U.S.-organized elections appears only to have hastened the country's descent into a brutal sectarian civil war, a scenario conceded by two of Washington's top generals Thursday as having become increasingly possible.

"Sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular," Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate hearing here. "If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."

His remarks were echoed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, who was reacting to a leaked memo from Britain's outgoing ambassador to Iraq who warned Prime Minister Tony Blair that "the prospect of a low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy."

Now, Israel's onslaught against Hezbollah, which has included the destruction of key infrastructure throughout the country, as well as Shia strongholds in southern Lebanon and south Beirut, has quite possibly dealt a lethal blow to the government of the moderate, pro-Western Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, even as it has boosted the popularity of Hezbollah – contrary to the initial expectations in both Washington and Tel Aviv.

Even Hezbollah's fiercest Lebanese foe, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who during the "Cedar Revolution" praised Bush's transformation strategy as "the start of a new Arab world" comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall, told the Financial Times this week that he was forced to support the Shia militia against "brutal Israeli aggression" that would result in the weakening of the central government and the strengthening of Hezbollah and, through it, Syria and Iran.

"All American policy in the Middle East is at stake because their failure in Palestine, then failure in Iraq, and now this failure in Lebanon will lead to a new Arab world where the so-called radical Arabs will profit," he said, adding that "this is … not the new Middle East of Ms. [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice."

Moreover, the situation in Lebanon – particularly the devastation wrought by Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah and Washington's support for it – increasingly threatens the U.S. position in Iraq by further alienating its majority Shia population and its leadership, many of whom have close ties to their Lebanese co-religionists.

While faction leader Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, which battled U.S. forces in 2004, has been holding big anti-U.S. demonstrations in Baghdad since the Israeli offensive began in mid-July, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the single strongest and most influential voice for moderation in Iraq's Shia community, warned last Sunday after a particularly deadly Israeli air strike in which dozens of civilians were killed in Qana that "dire consequences will befall the region … if an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed."

According to Juan Cole, a Middle East expert at the University of Michigan and president of the U.S. Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Sistani's warning was aimed directly at the United States. "Sistani could call massive anti-U.S. and anti-Israel demonstrations," noted Cole.

"Given Iraq's profound political instability, this development could be extremely dangerous," he wrote on his blog. "The U.S. is already not winning against a Sunni Arab insurgency.

… If 16 million Shiites turned on the U.S. because of its wholehearted support for Israel's actions in Lebanon, the U.S. military mission in Iraq could quickly become completely and urgently untenable."

Meanwhile, Washington's most loyal Sunni-led allies, as noted by Jordan's King Abdullah, also feel under growing threat by popular support for Hezbollah and the radicalization among their subjects provoked by the current Israeli campaign.

"Arab leaders are seen by the public as American puppets who have no standing of their own," according to Hassan Barari, a senior researcher at Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies, writing for the Bitter Lemons Web site.
"The Americans and Israelis are once again giving victory to extremists, thus critically emasculating moderate forces and their allies," he wrote, noting that Hezbollah "has managed to expose the weakness and docility of Arab leaders."

At the same time, however, the very weakness of these regimes, combined with the fact that the gap between the rulers and the ruled has now widened to such a dangerous extent, means that the Bush administration's pressure on Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other authoritarian states to implement political reform has come to abrupt halt.
(Inter Press Service)
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News: The Taliban Terminator

The Sun Online - News: The Taliban Terminator: "A BRITISH sniper waging war on the Taliban is so deadly he has earned a chilling nickname -The Man Who Never Misses. "
The unerring Army sharpshooter has killed 39 rebel fighters single-handedly.

His marksmanship is so lethal that rumours have spread like wildfire through insurgents’ camps, causing panic and confusion.

The sniper — who The Sun is not naming to prevent him becoming a target himself — is a member of elite 3 Para.

Described by sources as “the best shot in the Army” he is responsible for over five per cent of the 700 insurgents killed by Paras since British forces returned to Afghanistan.

He is based in the wild Helmand province, where our troops launched a massive assault on the Taliban this week.

A source said yesterday: “This sniper is truly something else — a silent assassin.

“In the deadly terrain of southern Afghanistan, where guerilla warfare rules, he has been invaluable. The rumours are sweeping enemy camps that he is the man who never misses.”

The sniper’s actual toll is probably higher than 39 but the Taliban’s tendency to reclaim bodies makes deaths difficult to confirm.

His lethal L96A1 rifle has a range of 1,000 yards and is fitted with electronic sights and laser range-finders.

He works with a partner called a spotter, who locates the target and helps judge wind speed and distance so the bullet travels accurately.

Each day the pair risk their lives away from fellow Paras, taking up covert positions and often lying hidden for as long as ten hours at a time. Once the shot has been fired they need nerves of steel to stay concealed while Taliban rebels wielding rocket-propelled grenades and machine-guns desperately try to hunt them down.

The Ministry of Defence would not discuss the crackshot for security reasons.

But he is regarded as one of the most successful British snipers since World War Two.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the Army is creating an elite force of almost 700 snipers, with all 38 infantry battalions required to have an 18-man platoon of sharpshooters by 2008. It will be the first time formal sniper platoons will have existed since the end of the First World War in 1918.

The decision follows the success of British and US sniper teams who have killed dozens of terrorists on recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2003 Royal Marines sniper Corporal Matt Hughes killed an Iraqi gunman from 900 yards with a “wonder shot” in which he aimed 56ft to the left and 35ft high to allow for wind.

The bullet’s trajectory was calculated by his spotter after he studied the movement of dust in the breeze. And Irish Guards Sergeant Eddie Waring lay on a roof for hours to take out three Iraqis who were laying mines in Basra.

FOUR Canadian NATO soldiers were killed and ten wounded in separate attacks in Afghanistan yesterday.

Three died when rocket-propelled grenades were fired on troops working with local forces to improve security near the city of Kandahar. The other was killed by a roadside bomb. At least 34 civilians were killed or wounded in the day of violence.

Canadian convoy struck a day after deadly attacks killed 4, injured 10

Canadian convoy struck a day after deadly attacks killed 4, injured 10: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - As fresh Canadian troops head to Afghanistan, soldiers on the ground here Friday were absorbing a harsh reality - while four of their comrades were killed and 10 wounded this week, Taliban forces had planned for a much higher death toll.

Canadian soldiers were once again targeted on Friday by two roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan, a day after Canada suffered its highest-ever casualty count since it first began deploying troops to the war-torn country in early 2002.

The attacks came amid word from NATO that a Canadian patrol was the intended target of a devastating marketplace suicide bombing a day earlier in a nearby village that killed 21 Afghans, some of them children. "...
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Eye on Iraq: Facing Iraqi realities

Eye on Iraq: Facing Iraqi realities: "WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- There is no joy in being Cassandra, the legendary Ancient Greek prophetess of the time of the Trojan War.

Cassandra was fated to be always right but never listened to as her dire predictions always came true. Analyzing the evolution of the Iraq war often feels like that."

In these columns and related ones, we have repeatedly noted that Iraq has been in a state of full-blown sectarian civil war at least since Feb. 22 this year, when Sunni insurgents bombed the al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque, in Samara and successfully provoked a furious nation-wide wave of bloody and indiscriminate reprisal killings by Shiite militias.

Finally, five and a half months after those events, top U.S. military commanders were permitted by their civilian masters to admit to the U.S. Senate Thursday that Iraq was 'near' to a state of civil war between its Sunni and Shiite communities. At long last, this admission made it into the mainstream of the U.S. media. It made the front page in the Washington Post Friday, and was, quite correctly, the main lead in USA Today and the joint lead story in the New York Times on that day.

But even these belated public admissions were dangerously behind the fast-breaking trend of events in Iraq. And neither U.S. national political leaders nor the mainstream American media have yet begun to discuss the new strategic dilemmas into which the reality of sectarian civil war has already thrust the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Fulfilling the prescient warning of then-U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki in 2003, before the start of U.S. military operations to topple Saddam Hussein, U.S. troop levels in Iraq have never been remotely high enough to either ensure security around the California-sized nation of 28 million people, nor have they come close to locking down the Sunni Muslim insurgency there. And the rapid recruitment and training of 275,000 men in the new Iraq army, police and security forces have not dented the insurgency either.

Yet since the Feb. 22 al-Askariya bombing, the security situation has been infinitely worse than a simple insurgency waged from within Iraq`s five-million strong Sunni Muslim community which comprises less than 20 percent of the total population.

The U.S. government and its own forces have no control over the widespread network of Shiite militias that are increasingly the real political power among the most of the 60 percent Shiite majority in Iraq. They have been unable since Feb.22 from preventing many of these militias from carrying out continuing waves of reprisal killings against Sunni civilians.

Also, the Shiite militias already have vastly more power than the Sunni insurgents ever did. They have strong ties to all the new Iraqi security forces, which in reality are controlled by and run by Shiite senior officers. They have enjoyed strong ties to successive Iraqi governments including the current one of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Some five of Maliki`s Cabinet ministers and a bloc of 30 members of the new Iraqi parliament among his supporters are loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the charismatic, firebrand and most anti-American Shiite militia leader who runs the Mahdi Army. Sadr and his Mahdi Army are powerful in the two million Shiite stronghold of Sadr City within Baghdad, and are at the heart of an increasingly tightly coordinated network of Shiite militias across the southern half of the country.

But there is no sign that the U.S. army commanders in Iraq, their civilian masters in the Pentagon, or policymakers in the National Security Council have yet paid any serious attention to the possibility that the Shiite militias in Iraq may eventually attempt a general uprising against U.S. forces. Yet the prospect is by no means an unprecedented or inconceivable one.

Sadr`s supporters rose up against U.S. forces briefly in April 2004 when they were vastly weaker than they are now, and before they had a Shiite dominated national government sympathetic to them in the background. Yet even then, U.S. forces in the country were stretched dangerously thin and needed to commit heavy armored forces rapidly to contain the threat.

As we have noted before in these columns, since Feb, 22, what we have described as 'Beirut rules' or 'Belfast rules' have applied in Iraq: These are the rules whereby national armies, occupying forces or international peacekeepers try and maintain order and security and try to prevent the massacres of thousands more people in situations where central government has totally broken down. Beirut and Belfast rules apply when sectarian-based militias hold power in nations that have already splintered or fragmented into conditions of civil war.

Iraq is already in that condition. But unfortunately U.S. policymakers, for all their widely reported public admissions Thursday, have still to recognize this reality. They still have to come up with new strategies appropriate to the problems they now face.
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Iraqi civil war has already begun, U.S. troops say

McClatchy Washington Bureau 08/04/2006 Iraqi civil war has already begun, U.S. troops say: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - While American politicians and generals in Washington debate the possibility of civil war in Iraq, many U.S. officers and enlisted men who patrol Baghdad say it has already begun. "

Army troops in and around the capital interviewed in the last week cite a long list of evidence that the center of the nation is coming undone: Villages have been abandoned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims; Sunni insurgents have killed thousands of Shiites in car bombings and assassinations; Shiite militia death squads have tortured and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis; and when night falls, neighborhoods become open battlegrounds.

"There's one street that's the dividing line. They shoot mortars across the line and abduct people back and forth," said 1st Lt. Brian Johnson, a 4th Infantry Division platoon leader from Houston. Johnson, 24, was describing the nightly violence that pits Sunni gunmen from Baghdad's Ghazaliyah neighborhood against Shiite gunmen from the nearby Shula district.

As he spoke, the sights and sounds of battle grew: first, the rat-a-tat-tat of fire from AK-47 assault rifles, then the heavier bursts of PKC machine guns, and finally the booms of mortar rounds crisscrossing the night sky and crashing down onto houses and roads.

The bodies of captured Sunni and Shiite fighters will turn up in the morning, dropped in canals and left on the side of the road.

"We've seen some that have been executed on site, with bullet holes in the ground; the rest were tortured and executed somewhere else and dumped," Johnson said.

The recent assertion by U.S. soldiers here that Iraq is in a civil war is a stunning indication that American efforts to bring peace and democracy to Iraq are failing, more than three years after the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.

Some Iraqi troops, too, share that assessment.

"This is a civil war," said a senior adviser to the commander of the Iraqi Army's 6th Division, which oversees much of Baghdad.

"The problem between Sunnis and Shiites is a religious one, and it gets worse every time they attack each other's mosques," said the adviser, who gave only his rank and first name, Col. Ahmed, because of security concerns. "Iraq is now caught in hell."

U.S. hopes for victory in Iraq hinge principally on two factors: Iraqi security forces becoming more competent and Iraqi political leaders persuading armed groups to lay down their weapons.

But neither seems to be happening. The violence has increased as Iraqi troops have been added, and feuding among the political leadership is intense. American soldiers, particularly the rank and file who go out on daily patrols, say they see no end to the bloodshed. Higher ranking officers concede that the developments are threatening to move beyond their grasp.

"There's no plan - we are constantly reacting," said a senior American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I have absolutely no idea what we're going to do."

The issue of whether Iraq has descended into civil war has been a hot-button topic even before U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003, when some opponents of the war raised the likelihood that Iraq would fragment along sectarian lines if Saddam's oppressive regime was removed. Bush administration officials consistently rejected such speculation as unlikely to come to fruition.

On Thursday, however, two top American generals told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq could slip into civil war, though both stopped well short of saying that one had begun.

Political sensitivity has made some officers here hesitant to use the words "civil war," but they aren't shy about describing the situation that they and their men have found on their patrols.

"I hate to use the word `purify,' because it sounds very bad, but they are trying to force Shiites into Shiite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas," said Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, who commands a 4th Infantry Division battalion on the western edge of Baghdad, a hotspot of sectarian violence.

Osborne, 39, of Decatur, Ill., compared Iraq to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an orgy of inter-tribal violence in 1994. "That was without doubt a civil war - the same thing is happening here.

"But it's not called a civil war - there's such a negative connotation to that word and it suggests failure," he said.

On the other side of Baghdad, Shiites from the eastern slum of Sadr City and Sunnis from the nearby neighborhood of Adhamiyah regularly launch incursions into each other's areas, setting off car bombs and dragging victims into torture chambers.

"The sectarian violence flip-flops back and forth," said Lt. Col. Paul Finken, who commands a 101st Airborne Division task force that works with Iraqi soldiers in the area. "We find bodies all the time - bound, tortured, shot."

The idea that U.S. forces have been unable to prevent the nation from sliding into sectarian chaos troubles many American military officials in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Chris Pease, 48, the deputy commander for the 101st Airborne's brigade in eastern Baghdad, was asked whether he thought that Iraq's civil war had begun.

"Civil war," he said, and then paused for several moments.
"You've got to understand," said Pease, of Milton-Freewater, Ore., "you know, the United States Army and most of the people in the United States Army, the Marine Corps and the Air Force and the Navy have never really lost at anything

Pease paused again.

"Whether it is there or not, I don't know," he said.

Pressed for what term he would use to describe the security situation in Iraq, Pease said: "Right now I would say that it's more of a Kosovo, ethnic-cleansing type thing - not ethnic cleansing, it is a sectarian fight - they are bombing; they are threatening to get them off the land."

A human rights report released last month by the United Nations mission in Baghdad said 2,669 civilians were killed across Iraq during May, and 3,149 were killed in June. In total, 14,338 civilians were killed from January to June of this year, and 150,000 civilians were forced out of their homes, the report said.

Pointing to a map, 1st Lt. Robert Murray, last week highlighted a small Shiite village of 25 homes that was abandoned after a flurry of death threats came to town on small pieces of paper.

"The letters tell them if they don't leave in 48 hours, they'll kill their entire families," said Murray, 29, of Franklin, Mass.

"It's happening a lot right now. There have been a lot of murders recently; between that and the kidnappings, they're making good on their threats. ... They need to learn to live together. I'd like to see it happen, but I don't know if it's possible."

Riding in a Humvee later that day, Capt. Jared Rudacille, Murray's commander in the 4th Infantry Division, noted the market of a town he was passing through. The stalls were all vacant. The nearby homes were empty. There wasn't a single civilian car on the road.

"Between 1,500 and 2,000 people have moved out," said Rudacille, 29, of York, Pa. "I now see only 15 or 20 people out during the day."

The following evening, 1st Lt. Corbett Baxter was showing a reporter the area, to the west of where Rudacille was, that he patrols.

"Half of my entire northern sector cleared out in a week, about 2,000 people," said Baxter, 25, of Fort Hood, Texas.

Staff Sgt. Wesley Ramon had a similar assessment while on patrol between the Sunni town of Abu Ghraib and Shula, a Shiite stronghold. The main bridge leading out of Shula was badly damaged recently by four bombs placed underneath it.

Military officials think the bombers were Sunnis trying to stanch the flow of Shiite militia gunmen coming out of Shula to kill Sunnis.

"It's to the point of being irreconcilable; you know, we've found a lot of bodies, entire villages have been cleared out, we get reports of entire markets being gunned down - and if that's not a marker of a civil war, I don't know what is," said Ramon, 33, of San Antonio, Texas.

Driving back to his base, Johnson watched a long line of trucks and cars go by, packed with families fleeing their homes with everything they could carry: mattresses, clothes, furniture, and, in the back of some trucks, bricks to build another home.
"Every morning that we head back to the patrol base, this is all we see," Johnson said. "These are probably people who got threatened last night."

In Taji, an area north of Baghdad, where the roads between Sunni and Shiite villages have become killing fields, many soldiers said they saw little chance that things would get better.

"I don't think there's any winning here. Victory for us is withdrawing," said Sgt. James Ellis, 25, of Chicago. "In this part of the world they have been fighting for 3,000 years, and we're not going to fix it in three."
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Hagel: Begin Iraq withdrawal within 6 months "The United States needs to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within the next six months, Sen. Chuck Hagel said Thursday, rather than ratcheting up its military commitment now.

With Iraq exploding in sectarian violence and �moving closer and closer to a straight-out civil war,� Hagel said, the Bush administration�s decision to transfer nearly 5,000 additional U.S. troops into Baghdad is �only going to make it worse for us.�"

In the end, he said, “feed(ing) more American troop fodder into the fight” could result in “even a worse defeat.”

Iraqis are “going to have to step up” and assume responsibility for defense of their country, Hagel told a telephone news conference from Washington.Hagel said he believes increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq by extending military tours while cycling in new troops is a mistake.

“Eventually, we need to start pulling people out of there,” said the Nebraska Republican, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.With violence “out of control” and militias in charge, Hagel said, U.S. troops increasingly are “seen as occupiers.”

If Iraqis themselves do not assume control of their country’s fate, he said, the nation may dissolve into a civil war that splits it into three countries. It’s also possible Iraq may evolve into some kind of Islamic republic, he said.

Asked what the United States could do, Hagel said: “Ask the president. Ask Secretary (of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld. They’re the ones who got us into this.”Meanwhile, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Nebraska’s Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson questioned Rumsfeld about U.S. conditions for remaining in Iraq.

Nelson suggested a system of measurable goals to determine when Iraq’s government is capable of securing and stabilizing the country.Rumsfeld told Nelson a committee has been established by U.S. officials with the Iraqi government to “address the very issues that you’re raising.”I

n remarks addressed to Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Nelson said he’d like to see an approach different from either setting a date for withdrawal or offering an open-ended U.S. commitment.

“Is there a tipping point in terms of their ability or inability to get to a certain level so that they can deal with sectarian violence on their own, or the Sunni insurgency, to govern themselves, but also to secure themselves?” Nelson asked.A determinant would be the number of combat-capable Iraqi troops and trained Iraqi police, he said.

“I guess I would feel more comfortable if we could establish some sort of metrics to know what it takes in terms of percentage, numbers and what it would take in terms of time,” Nelson said.Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or at

Ambassador claims shortly before invasion, Bush didn't know there were two sects of Islam

The Raw Story Ambassador claims shortly before invasion, Bush didn't know there were two sects of Islam: "Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.

In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. "

A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.
Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”

Research by RAW STORY has confirmed a surprising lack of public statements from the president regarding the branches of Islam, but did uncover at least one mention of their existence. A fact sheet released by the White House in December of 2001 does indeed use the term Sunni to describe a Lashkar-E-Tayyib, "the armed wing of the Pakistan-based religious organization, Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad." Other mentions, not originating from the White House, were common in government documents and proceedings, as well as in media coverage of the middle east.

Other reports also place Bush announcing newfound knowledge of the differences between Muslim groups shortly before entering the Iraq war.

In an interview with RAW STORY, Ambassador Galbraith recounted this anecdote from his book to exemplify “a culture of arrogance that pervaded the whole administration.”

“From the president and the vice president down through the neoconservatives at the Pentagon, there was a belief that Iraq was a blank slate on which the United States could impose its vision of a pluralistic democratic society,” said Galbraith. “The arrogance came in the form of a belief that this could be accomplished with minimal effort and planning by the United States and that it was not important to know something about Iraq.”

The Bush Administration’s aims when it invaded Iraq in March 2003 were to bring it democracy and transform the Middle East. Instead, Iraq has reverted to its three constituent components: a pro-western Kurdistan, an Iran-dominated Shiite theocracy in the south, and a chaotic Sunni Arab region in the center.

Galbraith argues that because the new Iraq was never a voluntary creation of its people--but rather held together by force--America’s ongoing attempt to preserve a unified nation is guaranteed to fail, especially since it’s divided into three different entities.

“You can’t have a national unity government when there is no nation, no unity, and no government,” said Galbraith. “Rather than trying to preserve or hold together a unified Iraq, the U.S. must accept the reality of Iraq’s breakup and work with the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs to strengthen the already semi-independent regions.”

Galbraith further argues that the invasion of Iraq destabilized the Middle East while inadvertently strengthening Iran. One of the administration's intentions in invading Iraq was to undermine Iran, but instead, the Iraqi occupation has given Tehran one of its greatest strategic triumphs in the last four centuries.

Once considered to be Iraq’s worst enemy, Iran has now created, financed and armed the Shiite Islamic movements within southern Iraq. Since the Iraqi Parliamentary elections of 2005, the Shiites have made considerable political gains and now have substantial influence over the country’s U.S.-created military, its police, and the central government in Baghdad. In addition, Iraq is developing economic ties with Iran that Galbraith believes could soon link the two countries’ strategic oil supplies.

Galbraith says that, “thanks to George W. Bush, Iran today has no closer ally in the world than the Iraq of the Ayatollahs.” As a result, he argues, sending U.S. forces into Iraq, has in effect, made them hostage to Iran and its Iraqi Shiite allies and left the U.S. without a viable military option to halt Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

A seasoned diplomat, Galbraith served as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia, where he negotiated the 1995 Erdut Agreement that ended the Croatian war.

Galbraith fears the United States may have lost the war on the very day it took Baghdad. “The American servicemen and women who took Baghdad were professionals--disciplined, courteous, and task-oriented,” said Galbraith. “Unfortunately, their political masters were so focused on making the case for war, so keen to vanquish their political foes at home, felt certain that Iraqis would embrace American-style democracy, yet they were so blinded by their own ideology that they failed to plan for the most obvious tasks following military victory.”

Galbraith believes that the Bush Administration’s effort will only leave the U.S. with an open-ended commitment in circumstances of uncontrollable turmoil. In the end, he believes, America’s most important objective is to avoid a worsening civil war.

“There is no easy exit from Iraq,” said Galbraith. “The alternative, however is to continue the present strategy of trying to build national institutions-displaced in the 2003 invasion-but how can you do that where this now is no longer an existing nation?”
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Iran: We supplied Zelzal-2 to Hizbullah | Jerusalem Post

Iran: We supplied Zelzal-2 to Hizbullah Jerusalem Post: "Iran admitted for the first time on Friday that it did indeed supply long-range Zelzal-2 missiles to Hizbullah.

Secretary-general of the 'Intifada conference' Mohtashami Pur told an Iranian newspaper that Iran transferred the missiles so that they could be used to defend Lebanon, Channel 1 reported.

The extent of Iran's intimate involvement in Hizbullah attacks is starting to emerge. "

According to the defense establishment, the reason Hizbullah has not fired long-range Iranian-made Fajr missiles at Israel is due to Teheran's opposition. Israel now understands that without direct orders from the ayatollahs, Hizbullah is not allowed to use Iranian missiles in attacks against Israel.

The IDF also believes that it seriously damaged the long-range rocket array in the first night of air strikes almost three weeks ago and impaired Hizbullah's ability to fire the rockets.

The longer-range Zelzal missiles, manufactured by Iran and capable of reaching Tel Aviv, have also not been fired at Israel, and the IDF believes this is because it destroyed almost two-thirds of these in the Hizbullah arsenal.

[bth: why is Iran making this statement?]
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Friday, August 04, 2006

Petty officer held in secret for 4 months

ARTICLE: Petty officer held in secret for 4 months (The Virginian-Pilot - "NORFOLK � A petty officer has been in the Norfolk Naval Station brig for more than four months facing espionage, desertion and other charges, but the Navy has refused to release details of the case.

The case against Fire Control Technician 3rd Class Ariel J. Weinmann is indicative of the secrecy surrounding the Navy military court here, where public affairs and trial court officials have denied access to basic information including the court docket -a listing of cases to be heard. "

After months of requests, the Navy this week provided The Virginian-Pilot with Weinmann’s name, rank and the charges he faces.

In an e-mail, Theodore Brown, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command, said, “It is sometimes a challenge to balance the desires of the media, the public’s right to know, and the rights of an individual accused of a crime.”

“In this case,” he concluded, the command “is attempting to provide as much unclassified information as is reasonable, while maintaining an appropriate concern for the privacy of the individual involved. ”

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment Thursday.
The Navy’s position was challenged by military legal affairs experts and First Amendment advocates who say the nation’s courts, whether civilian or military, historically have been open to the press and public.

A docket listing Weinmann’s preliminary hearing, called an Article 32, was never produced. The Navy would not disclose when the hearing was held.

That’s hogwash,” said Eugene R. Fidell, president of The National Institute of Military Justice and a Washington lawyer .

I know of no authority to keep the proceeding closed,” he said. “I’ve never seen an Article 32 classified.”

The command’s e-mail to The Pilot this week said that Weinmann was arrested at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on March 26 after he had been listed as a deserter.

Fleet Forces officials refused to release the so-called charge sheet, which would detail the accusations against the sailor.

Weinmann had been serving aboard the submarine Albuquerque until he deserted in July 2005, according to Brown. Weinmann enlisted in July 2003, he said.

The enlisted man could face a court-martial. An investigative officer who presided over the Article 32 is expected to release a report to Weinmann’s command in the coming weeks.

Besides espionage and desertion, Weinmann is charged with failure to obey an order and acts prejudicial to good order and discipline, according to Brown.

Espionage is defined, in part, by the Uniform Code of Military Justice as the communication to a foreign government of any information relating to U.S. national defense. It carries a maximum punishment of death.

Military defense lawyers say secret military hearings and the refusal to release basic charge information have become more common since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Court precedents and federal laws have established the right of public access to court-martial proceedings, including Article 32 hearings, the lawyers and First Amendment advocates say.

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals said in a 1997 case involving an attempt to close a criminal proceeding, “We believe that public confidence in matters of military justice would quickly erode if courts-martial were arbitrarily closed to the public.”

The court said the public and the media have a right to attend military court proceedings, “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that the closure of a court proceeding or the sealing of any criminal case must be decided by a judge on a case-by-case basis.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, said that, even in military courts, an order must be issued closing or sealing a case.

Brown acknowledged Thursday that “there is no order,” but said that the charge sheet in the Weinmann case would not be released.

Dalglish and others said protecting someone’s privacy has never been a legally acceptable reason to exclude the public from a court proceeding or to withhold the identity of someone who’s been in custody for four months.

We don’t lock up people in this country secretly,” Dalglish said. “Personal embarrassment has never been found to be a justification for closing a proceeding.”

Other than the Weinmann case, Norfolk Naval Station has refused to provide The Pilot with copies of the military court docket since at least November. The docket lists cases heard in military court each day. In March, The Pilot filed a Freedom of Information request for the past year’s dockets but has received no written response.

Beth Baker, a spokeswoman for the Navy Mid-Atlantic Region, has said that computer problems have made it difficult for the Trial Services Office at Norfolk Naval Station to generate a docket.

In two e-mails sent to The Pilot in January and February, Baker said the dockets should be available “soon.”

“The docket for the Trial Service Office has been transferred to a new system that is not user friendly to us at all,” Baker told The Pilot in a March e-mail.

More recent requests for the docket went unanswered.
Some military courts, including Marine Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, Calif., post their court dockets on a Web site.

The National Institute of Military Justice has begun a project to collect military court dockets and post them on its own Web site. Fidell, of the institute, said law students hope to begin pos ting them by the end of the summer.

“Why this continues to be an issue in 2006 is beyond me,” Fidell said.

Reach Tim McGlone at (757) 446-2343 or

[bth: since when did the US Navy care about the personal privacy of a deserter accused of espionage? Israel?]
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Insurgents Set Sights On Fallujah

Insurgents Set Sights On Fallujah: "BAGHDAD, Aug. 3 -- Posting proclamations in mosques and schools, the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq vowed Thursday to take back the volatile western city of Fallujah, declaring that it had united local armed factions into a cohesive force to fight the U.S. and Iraqi troops who now control its streets.

The declaration came as U.S. military commanders in Washington testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq's relentless sectarian violence, if unstopped, could push the country into civil war. Meanwhile, Baghdad was rocked by more violence Thursday, as a motorcycle bomb killed a dozen people in a central shopping district of the capital. The U.S. military also reported that two Marines were killed in separate incidents in the western province of Anbar, where Fallujah is located."

In Fallujah, police said they were taking the al-Qaeda warning seriously. It followed the recent killings of several religious and tribal leaders whom insurgents had accused of collaborating with U.S. forces and the Iraqi government.

Located about 35 miles west of Baghdad, Fallujah was a stronghold of both Iraqi and foreign insurgents until November 2004, when a major U.S. military offensive drove the bulk of the guerrillas from the city. Since then, the insurgent presence in the city has been vastly reduced, while in nearby Ramadi there have been daily scenes of fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents.

The printed statement posted around Fallujah vowed that "your brothers in the al-Qaeda organization" would restore the city to the "glory and dignity" it enjoyed before the U.S. offensive.

Al-Qaeda would "strike with an iron fist at the hands of the Crusaders and the apostates among the police and army, and cut the hands of the traitors from the sons of the city who worked with the occupation," the statement read.

Capt. Rasheed Hamid of the Fallujah police told a Washington Post special correspondent that, while armed groups have made similar threats in the past, this one "carries great and dangerous significance" because of the recent slayings. Al-Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility for killing two local religious leaders, Abdul Alim and Abdul Sattar al-Jumaili, who Hamid said had promoted reconciliation in the shattered city after the November 2004 assault.

In addition, Hamid said, a prominent tribal leader, Ahmed Faihan, was killed by al-Qaeda in Iraq on Wednesday "because of his cooperation with the American forces." Hamid added, "Actually, he was one of those who were calling for peace and for turning one of the black pages in the history of the city."

Residents interviewed in Fallujah on Thursday said the U.S. and Iraqi troop presence had increased noticeably in several neighborhoods. But Iraqi army Maj. Khuder Muhammed said that stepped-up patrols had nothing to do with al-Qaeda in Iraq's proclamations.

"We are used to it," Muhammed said of the statements posted around the city. "It's mainly a media propaganda storm aimed at drawing attention after they've been marginalized."

When he saw the proclamation, Maisam Monthir, 32, an electrical worker, said: "But I don't care, because there are now more than 5,000 American and Iraqi soldiers" in the city. "I consider it nonsense. Fallujah cannot be a captive again in their hands as it used to be."

Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.
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France floats new cease-fire resolution at Security Council

The Daily Star - Politics - France floats new cease-fire resolution at Security Council: "France circulated a revised UN resolution Thursday calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Lebanon and spelling of the conditions for a permanent cease-fire and lasting solution to the current crisis.

The move came as Jordan's King Abdullah II rebuked Israel for its offensive, saying it had turned Hizbullah into heroes, amid renewed regional calls for the US to support an unconditional and immediate cease-fire.

France's UN envoy, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters he was not as optimistic as he was on Wednesday about the adoption of a resolution in the coming days, though he said: 'I think we are making progress, I would say real progress.'

However, 'yesterday [Wednesday] morning I was confident that we could have a resolution adopted in the coming days, but by the end of the day I was less confident,' he said as he prepared for a day of direct talks with US Ambassador John Bolton. 'I hope that today [Thursday] it will be a positive day, that I will be again more confident.'

British Premier Tony Blair Thursday predicted a resolution 'within the next few days.'

'The purpose of that will be to bring about an immediate cease-fire and then put in place the conditions for the international force to come in support of the Lebanese government,' he told a news conference.

Calling it a 'very critical time,' Blair said differences over the resolution were very slight.

In a message sent to the US leader on Wednesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "reviewed the dangerous situation in Lebanon and its consequences on the situation in the Middle
East and asked the United States to take rapid action for an immediate, total and unconditional cease-fire," the official Middle East News Agency said.

Jordan's Abdullah, another staunch US ally, said the rise of guerrilla groups such as Hizbullah stemmed from Israel's reluctance to give up Arab territory occupied in 1967 in return for lasting peace. "They [Israelis] want to destroy Hizbullah by tanks and air force. Peace comes by returning occupied territory and setting up a Palestinian state," he said, adding Israel's onslaught had given a boost to radicals fighting to end occupation of Arab land.

"The war will not solve anything and Arab peoples see now in Hizbullah a hero facing aggression and defending their land," he told Al-Ghad and Al-Rai dailies in an interview released by the state news agency Petra.

He also said the US should move quickly to end the Arab-Israeli conflict to regain its credibility among ordinary Arabs.
The new French text is only slightly changed from the earlier version it distributed to the Security Council on Sunday.

It still calls for an "immediate cessation of hostilities" but also demands "full respect" of the Blue Line by both sides.

It calls for the disarming of Hizbullah, for Israel to give the UN the maps of land mines it has left in Southern Lebanon and for the implementation of a 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Lebanon.

The Blue Line dates from the 1949 armistice agreement, one of many signed by Israel at the time to end the Arab-Israeli war.

The text also allows for an international force to be sent into Southern Lebanon.

The French view is that Israel, Lebanon and Hizbullah must accept an outline for a political accord before an international force can be sent to Lebanon, said de La Sabliere.

"We need a commitment of the parties on these main parameters, and then the international force will deploy," he said.

Negotiators have been looking at the option of beefing up the UN peacekeeping mission already in Southern Lebanon to enforce an end to the fighting until a more robust international force can be formed.

But Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert said in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper Israel would reserve the right to respond to any aggression, even after an international force had been deployed. - Agencies

[bth: in olden days, tribes would exchange hostages. Today those hostages are unarmed international observers or troops.]
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Between two friends

Between two friends - Haaretz - Israel News: "It is difficult to decide which of the two war starlets is more annoying - Miri Regev or Condoleezza Rice. The Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman parades in front of the cameras stammering officers, some of whom do tell the truth at least. Among other things, she produced a press conference with one of the air force commanders, who sounded like a character in an Agatha Christie novel: He does not know what happened during the hours that passed between the bombing of the home in Qana and the deaths of dozens of children who had crowded together in its cellar, he claimed with a tone of mystery in his voice. Who knows? Perhaps someone else killed those children. Perhaps they killed themselves.

A few hours later, during the early morning, the U.S. secretary of state emerged from her Jerusalem hotel room with an announcement that was no less fantastic: By week's end - by tomorrow, in other words - everything will be fine, she declared. She took her sheet of paper and flew away.

Rice is more troubling than Regev: It isn't easy to be the spokesperson for a confused and meaningless war; the faltering stance of the Americans requires, on the other hand, a re-evaluation of what the appropriate attitude toward the United States should be - the United States of George W. Bush at least. The following lines should not be counted among those foolish anti-American outbursts heard in Europe. But, as we approach the fifth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers, it is possible to say that the country many Israelis adopted as their beacon of values, almost a second motherland, has lost a great deal of its moral authority in the past few years. This is a good opportunity to rethink our relationship with Europe. "

During the past 39 years since the Six-Day War, the United States did not force Israel to pull out of the West Bank, but more than once acted to block Israeli military actions. Over time, we have grown accustomed to the Americans saving us, not only from the Arabs, but from ourselves too. Not in this war. It is still unclear whether this war was coordinated with the United States; only the release of government records of the past three weeks will shed light on this. Whatever the case may be, the impression is that the Americans are linking the events in Lebanon to their failing adventure in Iraq.

Israel's elites, in all fields, are made up of people who spent a number of years in the United States and returned with not only professional skills but also an appreciation for the value of the individual and basic freedoms. For the most part, this was a useful process, even though it did contribute to a fading of social compassion. This process of Americanization has led Israel in recent years to covet a role in what Bush has described as a war on the "axis of evil."

As such, Israel has adopted the moral values of Hezbollah: Whatever they are doing to the residents of northern Israel, we can also do to the citizens of Lebanon, and even more. Many Israelis tended to look at the Qana incident primarily as a media disaster and not as something that imposed on them any ethical responsibility. After all, the restrictions of humanitarian warfare are not applicable to the "axis of evil." Just like in Iraq, the lessons of Vietnam have been forgotten. It is hard to avoid the impression that the routine brutality of oppression in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is also reflected in the unbearable ease with which Israel has forced out of their homes hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and bombed civilians. No less than three weeks have passed, and only now is Rice beginning to make noises suggesting that enough is enough.

If Europe had some say in the region, Israel may have started negotiations with Hezbollah on the release of the soldiers it abducted - and hopefully, it still will do so - instead of getting mixed up in war. For some years now, more Middle East-related wisdom emanates from Europe than from the United States. It wasn't Europe but the United States that invented the diplomatic fable called the road map; it wasn't Europe but the United States that encouraged unilateral disengagement and is allowing Israel to continue oppressing the population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The United States is not engaged with Syria; Europe is. Syria is relevant not only for settling the situation in Lebanon, but also in managing relations with the Palestinians. This is the real problem. Because, even if the United States conquers Tehran, we will still have to live with the Palestinians. In Europe, they already understand this
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ANALYSIS: Hezbollah still has thousands of rockets - Haaretz - Israel News

ANALYSIS: Hezbollah still has thousands of rockets - Haaretz - Israel News: "Hezbollah adopted a murderous tactic Thursday. On Wednesday, when a barrage of 230 rockets hit Israel, most people remained in shelters.

So on Thursday, Hezbollah sent a drizzle of rockets throughout the day. Then, at 4 P.M., as people emerged from the shelters for air, a heavy volley arrived, killing eight."

It was the worst strike since the rocket landed in a train depot in Haifa on July 16. By evening, Nasrallah was already threatening to fire Zelzal missiles at Tel Aviv should Israel resume its bombardment of Shi'ite neighborhoods in Beirut.

The strikes on the home front are becoming worse as the IDF sends more and more brigades into Lebanon.

Launchings from areas in which the army is operating have been reduced by half, but Hezbollah combatants simply relocate to the next range of hills and fire from there.

The Israel Air Force strikes on Tyre have stopped the fire on Haifa, which has had a rocket-free week, but they have not done Acre any good. IAF commanders admit that Hezbollah still has thousands of Katyushas and hundreds of launchers, and the air force alone cannot deal with it.

This is indeed a change of tone on the part of those who, just a few weeks ago, referred to Lebanon as an updated edition of the successful NATO aerial operation in Kosovo in 1999. They merely forgot to mention that during the months of pounding Kosovo, the citizens of NATO states did not sit in shelters.

Will the ground operation do the trick? Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced Thursday that he instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for "a swift takeover of the entire area south of the Litani [River]" and to operate in all the rocket-launching areas.

An examination of the ground forces' achievements to date shows that they have hit no more than 10 launchers. The immediate goal of the fighting is not stopping the rockets, but eliminating Hezbollah's southern unit, the Nasser, on the assumption that this will crack the organization's fortitude.

Hezbollah's losses are already estimated at some 380 combatants. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is convinced that Hezbollah's breaking point is near. The army is more skeptical.

Peretz's aides say the rockets can be destroyed after the territorial takeover, but it is important to reach the river before a cease-fire is announced, perhaps as soon as Monday.

As for the long-range missiles, Peretz admits that Hezbollah will still be able to fire them from north of the Litani, but says that the IAF has had more success in dealing with them.

The rush to reach the Litani is controversial. Some officers fear that inadequately trained reserve units will sustain heavy losses. The death of fathers and husbands could undermine the home front's support for the war.

In any case, Israel intends to hold the security zone as a bargaining chip until a multinational force arrives. The bargaining chip, however, could become a burden if the troops remain in Lebanon for any length of time.

Over time, troops on the ground develop a routine, and guerrillas know only too well how to take advantage of this

[bth: I don't see any interest amongst the international community to throw more troops into S. Lebannon. Would these troops be unarmed like the ones that have been there for twenty years and the same ones that were killed by Israel last week? Would the troops be armed and in essence protecting the northern border of Israel from Hezbollah?.... Israel should bring a Snickers bar with them to southern Lebannon because I don't see the international community stepping up to the plate here. Why should they? The Hezbollah/Iranians want to fight and so does Israel.]
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Gallup: 55% Now Back U.S. Pullout from Iraq Within a Year

Gallup: 55% Now Back U.S. Pullout from Iraq Within a Year: "NEW YORK A new Gallup poll released today revealed another upward bump in the number of Amercians who now want a complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq in the next 12 months.

That number now stands at 55%, with 19% supporting immediate withdrawal and another 36% wanting it done by August 2007.

'While the percentage of Americans who favor a withdrawal of all U.S. troops either now or within a year is not a supermajority, it is a majority, suggesting that the Democratic leadership is speaking to an issue that resonates with many Americans,' Frank Newport, director of the Gallup Poll, writes today.

Another majority, 54%, now say that the U.S. invasion in 2003 was a 'mistake.'

The partisan divided remains wide on the withdrawal question, with 77% of Democrats wanting U.S. troops out in a year and only 28% of Republicans. Independents back a 12-month pullout at 56%.

Gallup polled 1,002 adult Americans at the very end of July. "
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Pentagon Generals Warn of Iraq Civil War

: "WASHINGTON (AP) - Two top Pentagon commanders said Thursday that spiraling violence in Baghdad could propel Iraq into outright civil war, using a politically loaded term that the Bush administration has long avoided."

The generals said they believe a full-scale civil war is unlikely.

Even so, their comments to Congress cast the war in more somber hues than the administration usually uses, and further dampened lawmakers' hopes that troops would begin returning home in substantial numbers from the widely unpopular war in time for this fall's elections.

"I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war," Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the senators, "We do have the possibility of that devolving into civil war."

White House press secretary Tony Snow, flying with President Bush to Texas aboard Air Force One, said the generals had "reiterated something we've talked about on a number of occasions, which is the importance of securing Baghdad, which is why ... you're going to see more and more of a troop presence in Baghdad. ... Obviously, sectarian violence is a concern."

Asked specifically about the generals' comments about a civil war, Snow said, "OK, well, I don't think the president is going to quibble with his generals on their characterizations."

Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have steadfastly refused to call the situation in Iraq a civil war, although Rumsfeld acknowledged at a news conference Wednesday that the violence was increasing.

Asked whether the United States would continue to have a military mission in Iraq if civil war broke out, Rumsfeld declined to respond directly, saying he didn't want to give the impression he presumed there would be a civil war. He said the question must ultimately be handled by the Iraqis.

"Our role is to support the government. The government is holding together. The armed forces are holding together," Rumsfeld said at the Senate hearing Thursday.

There are currently about 133,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. The Pentagon has recently decided to extend the deployment of some 3,500 troops and send them into Baghdad, along with Iraqi forces, to bolster security.

Last year, Army Gen. George Casey, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, expressed hopes of significant troop cuts this year, comments Abizaid seemed to temper on Thursday.

"It's possible to imagine some reductions in forces, but I think the most important thing to imagine is Baghdad coming under the control of the Iraqi government," Abizaid said.

Abizaid raised the specter of a rise in U.S. casualties, saying, "I think it's possible that in the period ahead of us in Baghdad that we'll take increased casualties - that's possible."

Many voters have tired of the 3-year-old war, which has cost more than 2,500 U.S. lives and more than $250 billion dollars.

Abizaid and Pace said they did not foresee a year ago that sectarian violence would be as high as it is now.

Abizaid said he believed Iraq would "move toward equilibrium in the next five years" with the right mix of political and military pressure. Bush has said he does not expect the last U.S. troops to leave during his presidency, which ends in January 2009.

"Shiite and Sunni are going to have to love their children more than they hate each other," Pace said. "The weight of that must be on the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government."

The Bush administration's handling of the war drew sharp rebukes from Democrats and some Republicans Thursday.

Sen. John McCain likened the positioning of forces in Iraq to a game of "whack-a-mole," where generals try to curb violence in one area only to see it pop up somewhere else.

"It's very disturbing," said McCain, R-Ariz. "And if it's all up to the Iraqi military, General Abizaid, and if it's all up to them, then I wonder why we have to move troops into Baghdad to intervene in what is clearly sectarian violence."

Rumsfeld also sparred with Democratic senators over his handling of the war.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York told Rumsfeld he was "presiding over a failed policy" in Iraq, and asked him why lawmakers should believe his assurances that conditions in Iraq would improve.

"My goodness," Rumsfeld responded to her list of complaints; then he restated administration positions.

Clinton later told the Associated Press the president should accept Rumsfeld's resignation.

The generals' comments posed anew the question of what would happen if the Iraqi government crumbled and U.S. troops were left between competing armed militias. Sen. John W. Warner, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said a civil war in Iraq would raise questions about the U.S. commitment there.

"I think we have to examine very carefully what Congress authorized the president to do in the context of a situation if we're faced with an all-out civil war and whether we have to come back to the Congress to get further indication of support," said Warner, R-Va.

In yet another sign of lawmakers' uncertainty of the situation in Iraq, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on Thursday called for a revised intelligence estimate of Iraq, a document prepared by the intelligence community to give officials an unvarnished snapshot of the security situation.

Pace told McCain that U.S. troops are trained and equipped to respond to violence caused by ethnic strife, but their role would be limited.

"There's a difference between the kind of violence they have to handle and what will prevent that violence," Pace said.

"And preventing that violence is very much the role of the political leaders in Iraq to solve, sir."

Later in the hearing, the generals expressed confidence that the Iraqi government was moving in the right direction.

"Am I optimistic whether or not Iraqi forces, with our support, with the backing of the Iraqi government, can prevent the slide to civil war? My answer is yes," Abizaid said.

[bth: a year from now they will admit the obvious - that there was in fact a civil war going on (no kidding) and Rumsfeld won't have to quibble about definitions then. Unfortunately we have put into power one of our worst enemies - Sadr - who runs Hezbollah's mini-me operation in Iraq. Will we challenge him directly? ..... the way Abizaid and Pace talk, they don't think a solution is at hand except the attrition and exhaustion of the extremist religious factions which appears only to be occurring through combat. ... Think about this. They are saying we aren't in a civil war, but we are in a sectarian conflict that shows no sign of resolving itself or being resolved and in fact is strengthening.]
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Iraq civil war warning for Blair

BBC NEWS UK Iraq civil war warning for Blair: "Civil war is a more likely outcome in Iraq than democracy, Britain's outgoing ambassador in Baghdad has warned Tony Blair in a confidential memo.

William Patey, who left the Iraqi capital last week, also predicted the break-up of Iraq along ethnic lines.

He did also say that 'the position is not hopeless' - but said it would be 'messy' for five to 10 years.

Mr Blair said the violence was designed to put extremists in charge rather than leaders committed to democracy. "

"What should our response be? However difficult it is, stay the course, stand up for those people who want democracy, stand up for those people who are fighting sectarianism, stand up for a different vision of the Middle East based on democracy, liberty, the rule of law," he told reporters.

The Foreign Office said it did not comment on leaked documents but added that Iraqi security forces were getting more capable every day.

You move from optimism and pessimism, it's a thin dividing line. What I don't have is a sense of hopelessness or despair William Patey Interviewed on BBC, 27 July The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy William Patey

Last official private memo

BBC correspondent Paul Wood said although the document does not contradict government denials that civil war is imminent, "it is a devastating official assessment of the prospects for a peaceful Iraq, and stands in stark contrast to the public rhetoric".

The bleak assessment of the country's future was contained in Mr Patey's final e-cable, or diplomatic telegram, from Baghdad.

The distribution list included the UK's prime minister, foreign secretary, defence secretary and House of Commons leader, as well as senior military commanders in both Iraq and the UK.

Mr Patey wrote: "The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy.

"Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq - a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror - must remain in doubt."

Talking about the Shia militias blamed for many killings, Mr Patey added: "If we are to avoid a descent into civil war and anarchy then preventing the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army) from developing into a state within a state, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority."

If people are determined to kill one another because of a Sunni/Shia divide there is not a lot that can be done Phil Dee, Wales

The cable says that "the next six months are crucial" - an assessment which is shared by the coalition's military commanders.

Senior military sources told the BBC it was "make or break" time in Iraq. The Americans are sending thousands of extra troops to Baghdad, starting next week.

The Conservative Party's head of policy, Oliver Letwin, called on ministers to be more honest about the situation.

"It's very difficult to offer the constructive support which we want to offer and for the public to understand what's going on if the government doesn't give a very clear and frank account of the assessment," he said.

'Radical rethink'

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Michael Moore said there needed to be a clear strategy for Iraq, including the engagement of neighbouring countries such as Iran, Syria and Turkey.

"Unless we seriously and radically rethink our approach, as the ambassador warns, we will run the serious risk of a descent into civil war," he said.

The BBC has also learned, from military sources, that British troops in Basra are planning to dramatically step up operations against Shia gunmen.

Mr Patey urges the government to ensure that Iraqi troops are brought into this effort as the British forces "can't confront the militias alone".

On Wednesday, President Jalal Talabani said Iraqi police and troops would be taking the security lead throughout the whole country by the end of the year.

Story from BBC NEWS: 2006/08/03 11:46:23 GMT

The Blotter- Report about Osama's Son Viewed as Not Credible by Analysts

The Blotter: "Terrorism analysts and counter-terrorism officials voiced extreme skepticism today in reaction to the report that Osama bin Laden's oldest son, Saad, has been released from custody in Iran and sent to Syria to recruit Lebanese refugees into Hezbollah.

The report, which first appeared in the German daily 'Die Welt,' is viewed as not credible because it is highly unlikely that Iran would elect to deploy such an important 'guest' as Saad bin Laden in such a dubious mission, said the analysts. "

The young Mr. bin Laden, a Sunni Saudi, who are notoriously anti-Shiite, would appear to be a poor choice to recruit fleeing Lebanese Shiites into an exclusively Shiite organization such as Hezbollah.

An estimated 12 to 15 senior-level al Qaeda operatives sought refuge in Iran after the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in 2001 eliminated al Qaeda's camps and sanctuaries. Iranian officials have, at various times, said the al Qaeda operatives were under house arrest or in jail awaiting trial.

Two years ago, Iran attempted through back channels to arrange a swap of the al Qaeda operatives for the leaders of the Iranian opposition group, Mujahadeen el Khalk, currently under U.S. protection in Iraq.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Iranian woman awaits stoning decision

Independent Online Edition > Middle East: "The chief of Iran's judiciary is to decide whether to have a woman stoned to death for adultery, in a case which has outraged human rights activists around the world. "

Ashraf Kalhori was sentenced to the punishment in 2002 after she was convicted of having an affair with her neighbour and of conspiring with him to kill her husband.

The judiciary head, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, declared a moratorium on stoning in December 2002, but it remains on the statute books and his decision could be reversed. Mrs Kalhori was taken from her prison cell last month and told by a special verdicts court that she would be executed within 15 days. After protests from her lawyer and international rights groups, Ayatollah Shahroudi is reviewing her case.

Shadi Sadr, the human rights lawyer representing Mrs Kalhori, says she is optimistic but that the case still demonstrates the psychological torture endured by women who face the death penalty.

At least eight other women in Iran were sentenced before the moratorium, and there are unconfirmed reports that a man and a woman were stoned to death by Revolutionary Guardsmen in a cemetery in the eastern city of Mashhad in May.

"We are campaigning to make Ayatollah Shahroudi's moratorium actually enacted in law," Mrs Sadr said. "While the law remains unchanged, cases of stoning can happen anywhere in the country despite Shahroudi's order because the head of the judiciary is not above the law."

The Long-Term Battle: Defining �Victory� Before the World - New York Times

The Long-Term Battle: Defining �Victory� Before the World - New York Times: "JERUSALEM, Aug. 2 � As Israeli troops press the ground offensive in southern Lebanon and commandos make an unexpected raid far to the north in Baalbek, Israel is fighting now to win the battle of perceptions."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to ensure that when a cease-fire is finally arranged, Israel is seen as having won a decisive victory over Hezbollah. It is important for him politically, especially after a slow and fumbling start to this war. In part, Israel wants to recover from an image of an unimpressive military venture against a tough, small, but well-trained group of fighters.

Israel also wants to send a message to the Palestinians, and to Hezbollah and its sponsors, Syria and Iran, that attacks on Israel will be met with overwhelming force, and that the cost is not worth the effort. How soon that message is perceived will play a central role in its decision to stop the war.

As with all wars, however, any victory must be consolidated in political and diplomatic arrangements, which remain uncertain, like the insertion of a multinational force along the border.

For Hezbollah, victory means simply avoiding defeat. It will be perceived by many Muslims to have won by keeping the capacity to fire even short-range rockets into Israel.

Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator and director of the Reut Institute, a research group, calls it the “90-10 paradox.”

Israel can eliminate 90 percent of Hezbollah’s fighting capacity, but Hezbollah can still declare victory and claim that it fought the mighty Israeli Army to a draw.

“At the end of the war, they’ll have a narrative, and so will we,” he said. “It’s all about perception.”

Hezbollah will argue that it withstood three to five weeks of fighting with the region’s most powerful army, supported and equipped by the world’s most powerful army, that of the United States. In that sense, a long war is better for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, will be hailed by many in the Arab and Muslim worlds as heroes and new Saladins, whose religious faith was transmuted into astounding bravery rarely shown by the huge Arab armies of the secular Arab states that fought Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars.

Shlomo Avineri, a former Foreign Ministry official and professor of political science at Hebrew University, said Israel could never prevail in an Arab narrative. “If Israel had won in the first week, Hezbollah would say that it was a victory of the United States, which provided Israel the time, weapons and money.”

Israel’s problem is much more complicated, Mr. Avineri said, because “everything is likely to end in grays.” What will help define the real results, he said, is the mandate of any multinational force and whether it calls for disarming Hezbollah.

An Israeli cabinet minister, who spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of the topic, said, “The narrative at the end is part of the problem.” He added: “That’s why we’re making up this balance sheet of accomplishments. Olmert said it very well in the cabinet: ‘Ask Nasrallah and his colleagues if they would like to return to the situation of three weeks ago, and they will say yes.”

But the end will be a far cry from Israel’s original intent, which Mr. Olmert stated as the destruction or dismantling of Hezbollah.

“Israel is trying to frame its narrative now around the most minimal achievement, which is a major setback to the fighting capacity of Hezbollah,” Mr. Grinstein said. “But the question and the challenge is to frame a narrative of victory around more ambitious objectives.”

To “win,” Israel must be able to alter Hezbollah’s decision-making and remove the aura of the invincible fighters who drove the Americans and French out of Beirut in 1983 and the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000. Israel must also create enough distance between Lebanese and Hezbollah interests to ensure that the Lebanese also press the militia group not to provoke Israel to another round of costly warfare.
“Hezbollah serves two masters: Lebanon, where it lives, and Iran and Syria and the camp of permanent resistance to Israel,” Mr. Grinstein said. “Most Lebanese don’t like the second master, but if the two overlap, as they did before July 12, Hezbollah is comfortable.”

Israel is trying to underline the contradictions. Mr. Nasrallah is widely considered to have miscalculated when he authorized the raid into Israel on July 12, when two soldiers were captured. He said he thought Israel would respond as in the past, with token tank fire.

“Israel’s most significant accomplishment from this war will be if it can severely compromise Hezbollah’s ability to fight Israel from inside Lebanon,” Mr. Grinstein said.

Giora Eiland, Israel’s national security adviser under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, predicts a solution in the next week or so “that is far from Israel’s original intent.”

He sees a political package negotiated at the United Nations that includes an exchange of Lebanese prisoners, with Israel regaining its two soldiers; a security zone in southern Lebanon under the control of a multinational force; an Israeli promise not to violate Lebanon’s sovereignty; and “a general understanding or commitment by the Lebanese government to be responsible for Hezbollah’s behavior.”

But “the most important thing will be missing from a deal,’’ he said, “the dismantling of the military capacity of Hezbollah.”
Israel also wants to get its message across to Hezbollah’s Sunni cousin in the camp of permanent resistance — Hamas, which leads the Palestinian Authority.

Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet counterterrorism organization, told the cabinet that Israel needed to deepen its gains against Hezbollah so that the Palestinians could feel them. “In the Middle East it is important to show the potential terrorist in Balata,” a Palestinian refugee camp, “not only the strategic victory, but the army’s achievements, in order to effect deterrence.”

When Israel pulled out of Gaza last summer, Hamas controlled the narrative, arguing that its fighters had expelled Israel the way Hezbollah expelled Israel from Lebanon in 2000. Israel’s withdrawal, in both cases, was perceived not as a gesture for peaceful coexistence, as Israel had hoped, but as a sign of weakness.

Jonathan Fighel, a former colonel who fought in Lebanon and was the military governor of Jenin, said that in Lebanon, “the army is breaking the idea that Hezbollah has superiority on the ground, as the resilience of Israelis in the north is breaking Nasrallah’s claim that we’re a bunch of nobodies that will crack.”

Much will depend on the diplomatic solution and what follows on the ground, Mr. Avineri said. “If Hezbollah continues to have freedom of movement and operation, the outcome is a failure for Israel. But if you have a regime that makes it very hard for them to operate militarily, it’s a different narrative.” | 08/02/2006 | Foes report signs of troop movement 08/02/2006 Foes report signs of troop movement: "Most Cubans reported normalcy on the island Tuesday after Fidel Castro shocked the world by temporarily surrendering power to his brother, but some reported unusual troop movements in Havana and the often roiled eastern end of Cuba.

Government opponents in the eastern city of Guantamo said armed forces units were seen rounding up reservists as state security agents paid unfriendly visits to dissidents.

''We know the military is mobilized: they have us corralled,'' Guant�namo dissident Mariela Castro Fern�ndez told The Miami Herald in a telephone interview. ``There is a terrible silence outside.''

Fidel Castro issued a statement saying his health was a state secret and his spirits were fine. Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarc�n told Prensa Latina news service that demonstrations in Miami were enough to make him throw up.

Ra�l Castro, to whom Fidel Castro delegated power, was nowhere to be seen.

In Havana, the government tried hard to portray an air of normalcy. The two-humped buses known as ''camels'' were packed as usual and 50-year-old Fords chugged along busy streets, residents reported. In Chinatown, people lined up to buy soft drinks to beat the heat.

But travelers who arrived from Havana at Miami International Airport on Tuesday reported seeing increased military presence around the capital.

''I think I saw a million militiamen on the drive to airport,'' said Manuel Rodr�guez, returning four days into what was supposed to be a 10-day visit to his mother in Cuba.

Other arriving passengers confirmed they too saw the military trucks and soldiers walking through the city's main thoroughfares. They said it seemed to them to be just for show."....

Iran frees bin Laden son:

Iran frees bin Laden son: newspaper - Yahoo! News: "BERLIN (Reuters) - Iran has freed a son of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from house arrest, a German newspaper reported on Wednesday. "

Die Welt said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard released Saad bin Laden on July 28 with the aim of sending him to the
Syria' Lebanon border. It linked the reported move to the outbreak of war between Israel' and Lebanese-based Hizbollah.

"From the Lebanese border, he has the task of building Islamist terror cells and preparing them to fight together with Hizbollah," Die Welt said, quoting intelligence information.

"Apparently Tehran is counting on recruiting Lebanese refugees in Syria for the fight against Israel, using bin Laden's help," it added in a preview of a report to appear in its Thursday edition.

Western intelligence sources have long suspected that Iran is holding a number of al Qaeda figures, possibly including Saad bin Laden and Saif al-Adel, the network's security chief.

Kamal Kharrazi, then Iran's foreign minister, said in January 2004 that Tehran had jailed about a dozen al Qaeda suspects and would put them on trial.

"Our general view is Iran certainly does have a few al Qaeda-related figures ... The general perception is Iran keeps these people as a bargaining chip," said a European counter-terrorism official when asked about the Die Welt report.

He said Shia Muslim Iran was not sympathetic to members of Sunni-dominated al Qaeda but "they protect them as long as they think they can make use of them."

Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri issued a video message last week in which, while not mentioning Hizbollah by name, he urged Muslims everywhere to "fight and become martyrs" in response to the conflict in Lebanon.

Israel accuses Iran of providing Hizbollah with missiles to use against civilian and military targets. Tehran, which armed and funded Hizbollah in the 1980s, insists it now provides only moral support to the group.