Saturday, August 26, 2006

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Air Force monitors Chinese Spy Plane at Pakistani Air Base | India Defence

Air Force monitors Chinese Spy Plane at Pakistani Air Base India Defence: "The Indian Air Force is monitoring the presence of a Chinese surveillance plane at the Chaklala air base in northern Pakistan, newspaper reports said on Friday. The aircraft reportedly flew in with a group of Chinese aeronautical scientists in July end 2006.

The classification of the spy plane is said to be the Y-8 Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft which is China's effort to built an indigenous AWACS system. The Chinese AWACS, a typically secretive project that Beijing began after its efforts to acquire Phalcon AWACS jets from Israel was blocked by the US in 2000

Y-8 Project is said to provide a light, cheap airborne early warning and detection aircraft that can be produced and deployed in large numbers. Islamabad is expected to sign up to join the project and place orders after the operational demonstrations at Chaklala are over.

AWACS platforms, basically advanced radars mounted on aircraft, provide greater detection and coverage range than ground radars simply by virtue of their altitude, and provide a capability that both India and Pakistan are already in line to acquire.

In June, Pakistan signed up to acquire six Swedish Saab-2000 Erieye AWACS, more than two years after India ordered three Israeli Phalcon jets. But these are both expensive, limiting the numbers that can be acquired by either country.

A point of concern to the IAF is that the Chinese AWACS is near test readiness, which means Islamabad, when it chooses to buy them, will be in a position to deploy it in large numbers far before the Indian homegrown airborne early warning project, under development by DRDO's Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in Bangalore, actually takes off.

A senior IAF officer said, 'Historically, decisions between China and "Pakistan happen much faster. That means, they could have a greater density of airborne radar coverage before we do."

Long-range airborne radar coverage will be principal factors in ensuring that no air violations take place on either side.

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Taliban overrunning NATO, Afghan forces | India Defence

Taliban overrunning NATO, Afghan forces India Defence: "NATO has warned Pakistan about an anti-Taliban offensive which may reach up to its border with Afghanistan and go beyond unless it takes its own initiative to contain the Taliban leadership.

With the backing of Pakistan's ISI and the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban has been regularly overrunning Afghan troops in southeastern Afghanistan, who cannot match in long-range artillery, high-tech weapons or logistics.

Diplomats said that the Taliban's successful tactics against professional forces has surprised NATO, while the Afghan army says Pakistan is sheltering the Taliban and permitting the use of its territory as a staging ground.

NATO is also in possession of intelligence implicating Pakistan. NATO has recently announced its intention to double the troop presence in Afghanistan"
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Iran tests upgraded surface-to-sea missile | India Defence

Iran tests upgraded surface-to-sea missile India Defence: "Iran is said to have successfully tested an upgraded, indegenious, guided surface-to-sea missile, media reports confirmed on Saturday

The missile was tested at the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman during the 'Blow of Zolfaqar' military exercises which began last Saturday.

Wargames spokesman Habib Sayari told reporters that the missile accurately hit its pre-determined targets. Sayari said that the missile has a suitable range, high shooting power and precision.

He added that the successful testing of the missile showed the strength, innovativeness, scientific and technical expertise of the country's defense forces and equipment as well as the potential and specialized skill of its experts.

Analysts however suspect this missile is based on the Russian SS-N-22 Sunburn missile that Iran is said to have acquired via China in 2004. The Sunburn missile is a Russian missile of the Soviet era and can carry a warhead of upto 300kg and is said to have a range of 100km-120kms."
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Ex-officer admits kickbacks in Iraq - Ex-officer admits kickbacks in Iraq: "WASHINGTON--A former U.S. Army Reserve officer from Spotsylvania County admitted yesterday that he steered millions of dollars in Iraq-reconstruction contracts in trade for jewelry, computers, cigars and sexual favors.

Bruce D. Hopfengardner, 46, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud.

Hopfengardner served as a special adviser to the U.S.-led occupation, recommending funding for projects on law-enforcement facilities in Iraq.

He admitted conspiring with Philip H. Bloom, a U.S. citizen with businesses in Romania, Robert J. Stein Jr., a former Defense Department contract official, and others to create a corrupt bidding process that included the theft of $2 million in reconstruction money.

Hopfengardner is the first military officer to plead guilty in the conspiracy. Bloom and Stein already have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the scheme.

Hopfengardner's role was to recommend that the Coalition Provisional Authority fund projects to demolish the Ba'ath Party headquarters, rebuild a police academy and construct various other facilities.

Bloom, who controlled companies in Iraq and Romania, bid on projects using dummy corporations. Stein ensured that one of the firms was awarded the contract, according to court documents.

The businessman allegedly showered Hopfengardner and Stein with cash, cars, premium airline seats, jewelry, alcohol and even sexual favors from women at his Baghdad villa.

'A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army today admits to a disturbing abuse of his position, in scheming with others to defraud the government for their own personal and financial gain,' Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said in a statement.

Court papers said Hopfengardner demanded that Bloom pay for a white 2004 GMC Yukon Denali with a sandstone interior. At Hopfengardner's request, Bloom also allegedly paid the air fare for Hopfengardner and his wife to travel from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while he was on leave in January 2004.

E-mails that prosecutors made public in April show that Bloom told his employees to spare no expense in satisfying the officials who controlled contracts in the CPA's regional office in Hillah, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

As part of the plea agreement, Hopfengardner surrendered a car, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, camera equipment, a Breitling watch valued at $5,700 and a computer. He also agreed to forfeit $144,500, prosecutors said.
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"Fight 'em there or fight 'em here"

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: "Fight 'em there or fight 'em here": "Is there a causal connection between civil war and insurgency in Iraq and an absence of Jihadi attacks in the United States?

Let's see - What would it be?

- People now fighting us in Iraq would otherwise be fighting us in the streets of Peoria? How? There were no Iraqis among the 9/11 attackers. The bogus claims of people like Stephen Hayes that evidence exists of Saddamist/Al-Qa'ida collaboration are a fraud. The only people who say or think that anymore are the simple minded dupes of the Bush Administration, committed neocons like the AEI crowd and the merely ambitious and venal hoping to have a few 'bones' thrown their way.

- War in Iraq keeps the Jihadis fully occupied so that they don't have the planning energy left to work against the West in Europe or the United States. Hello!! Madrid, London twice, Indonesia, etc.

The fact is that the War does one thing. It gives the Jihadis a convenient place to fight us and it may in the future give the Iranians a place to fight us on their own terms.

The RNC crowd are still saying this egregious crapola as a response to anything they don't like. Ridiculous."...
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Looters Descend on Iraqi Camp After British Soldiers Pull Out - Los Angeles Times

Looters Descend on Iraqi Camp After British Soldiers Pull Out - Los Angeles Times: "BAGHDAD � Looters ravaged a former British base near the southern Iraqi city of Amarah on Friday, a day after the remaining troops abruptly pulled out in what followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr hailed a victory over the 'occupiers.'

The scene at Camp Abu Naji was one of devastation, witnesses said, as the pillagers, some hoisting photos of Sadr, roamed the base that once hosted the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and, more recently, the Queen's Royal Hussars. The base had been home to about 1,200 British troops who patrolled southeastern Iraq."

"Everything that could be carried was taken," said an Iraqi army major in Amarah, who asked not to be named because of the security situation in the city of 300,000 nearly 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. Items taken included furniture, generators, wooden doors, corrugated metal roofs and just about anything else that could be resold, the major said.

The British plan had been to turn the camp over to Iraqi authorities, but several Iraqi officials told reporters that the sudden withdrawal Thursday took them by surprise. Iraqi forces didn't have enough time to secure the facility before the looters swooped in, Iraqi officials said.

Confronted by Iraqi troops, the Iraqi major said, some looters continued to ransack the base, taunting the security men by saying, "Shoot me!" They then burned what remained of the facility, which had been an Iraqi army camp before the British moved in after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

There was no immediate word on casualties.

Cmdr. Jane Allen, a British military spokeswoman in Baghdad, attributed the pillaging to poor residents seeking items for resale, and not to political motivations. "The prospect of gaining access to equipment … is likely to have been too much to resist," Allen's statement said.

In a statement this month, the camp commander, Lt. Col. David Labouchere, said the move would be completed "by mid-September."

It was unclear Friday why the British apparently had advanced their departure date, but supporters of Sadr, whose militia forces have frequently clashed with the British, said the troops had been chased out.

The camp had suffered numerous mortar strikes in recent days, attacks widely believed linked to Sadr's Al Mahdi militia.

His allies are a powerful political force in Amarah, long a strategic gateway to neighboring Iran, and other parts of southern Iraq, where most residents are Shiites.Wild celebrations broke out among Sadr supporters as word of the British pullout spread."

The Sadr movement rejects the occupation and its presence," said Sheik Aba Dar, a Sadr advocate in Amarah.

British authorities have described the pullout as having two aims: turning over regional security to British-trained Iraqi forces and repositioning troops to counter the weapons-smuggling threat from Iran. British border patrols once based at the camp will spread out to the deserts and marshes of Maysan province, of which Amarah is the capital, authorities said.

"I have been asked to assist … in clamping down on smugglers," Labouchere said in the statement announcing the camp shutdown. "The very best way I can help is to concentrate my efforts on the border."

U.S. officials have expressed increasing concern that anti-U.S. Shiite militias have been receiving arms and bomb-making material from Iran, a Shiite-dominated nation that has close links to the major Shiite political parties holding political power in Iraq. Shiite militias are prime suspects in the epidemic of death-squad killings that have ravaged Iraq.

For a short period after the British forces arrived, southern Iraq was considered a haven, even as the Sunni Arab-led insurgency raged in the central, western and northern stretches of the county. In the south, British troops patrolled in shorts, set aside their flak jackets and sipped tea with the residents.

But the sense of stability soon crumbled as British forces ran into increasing resentment from Shiite tribes, militias and assorted other power brokers. In one of the most stunning incidents, six British soldiers were killed during an attack in June 2003 in the town of Majar Kabir, near Amarah.

Today, the once-calm southern port of Basra, Iraq's second most populous city, has become a hot bed of violence and intrigue featuring rival political factions, oil-smuggling gangs and religious militias. British forces have struggled to help restore order in Basra and elsewhere in the south.

Raheem Salman of The Times' Baghdad Bureau and a special correspondent in Basra contributed to this report.

[bth: stunning collapse. I love the British statements. One wonders if Iraqis ar worth the effort.]
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Looters Ransack Base After British Depart

Looters Ransack Base After British Depart: "BAGHDAD, Aug. 25 -- Armed looters ransacked an abandoned British base in southern Iraq on Friday as Iraqi soldiers guarding the camp stood by and watched, heightening concerns that Iraqi troops are still ill-equipped to take control of security from U.S.-led coalition forces.

A crowd of as many as 5,000 people, including hundreds armed with AK-47 assault rifles, attacked Camp Abu Naji and hauled away window and door frames, corrugated roofing and metal pipes, despite the presence of a 450-member Iraqi army brigade meant to guard the base."

The looters stole everything -- even the bricks," said Ahmed Mohammed Abdul Latief, 20, a student at Maysan University. "They almost leveled the whole base to the ground."

The last of 12,000 British troops left the camp in Amarah, the capital of southern Maysan province, on Thursday after continued mortar attacks by a local Shiite Muslim militia that residents said was controlled by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Adopting guerrilla tactics used in North Africa during World War II, 600 of the soldiers will soon slip into the marshlands and deserts near the Iranian border to prevent weapons smuggling.

Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a British military spokesman, said the Iraqi army maintained full control of the camp, even during the looting, and had managed to eject the thieves by early evening. "Our confidence in the Iraqi security forces to maintain day-to-day order in Amarah remains unaffected," he said.

But the inability of the Iraqi soldiers to prevent widespread looting in one of the country's calmest provinces, as well as the reported mutiny of a local army brigade, left doubts about whether U.S.-led forces will be able to hand over security to the Iraqi government anytime soon.

"Obviously this raises questions about the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces," Christopher A. Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, said in a telephone interview from Washington. "What progress has been made in the past three years in terms of standing up an Iraqi security force for taking over the country when the United States leaves?"

The looting, which lasted from about 10 a.m. to early evening, turned violent at about noon when individuals in the mob shot at the base, Burbridge said. The Iraqi troops asked the province's governor for permission to return fire, a decision the British military highlighted as evidence of the security force's training.

"It demonstrated that they understand the importance of civilian primacy, that the government -- and not the military -- is in charge," Burbridge said in a phone interview from Basra.

Injuries were reported on both sides, but no one was killed, Burbridge said. Given the extreme poverty in Amarah, a town of 300, Burbridge said that it was understandable that residents would loot the base. He also said many were motivated by curiosity to see the inside of a long-forbidden camp, which had been controlled by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein for years before the British took control of it.

"The issue here is not really malice. It's economics," Burbridge said. "The people of Amarah -- many of whom are extremely poor -- saw what they believed to be a bit of an Aladdin's cave inside."

Residents said, however, that antipathy toward the British was strong. After Sadr declared Amarah the first city in Iraq to drive out U.S.-led coalition forces, jubilant residents congratulated one another and planned to take to the streets in celebration.

"We have already stopped our relations with British forces," said Abduljabbar Waheed, head of the provincial council of Maysan. "We always deal with them as occupiers. They have committed many crimes against our people during the last months, they don't care for the people, and they have their own agenda goes against our people's interests."

Iraqi army Lt. Ali Kareem of the 4th Brigade, 10th Division, said some members of his unit began to mutiny Thursday after learning that they were being deployed to Baghdad the next day to support a security plan in the capital. He said troops in the brigade's 2nd Battalion -- mainly members of Shiite militias such as Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade -- started to fire guns and mortars in protest because they thought the American military was "trying to get rid of them." The situation was resolved only after the brigade commander said the protesters did not have to deploy to Baghdad.

In other developments, the head of a major Iraqi sect of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam that had previously rejected violence against U.S.-led coalition forces, declared holy war on American troops. The leader, Sheik Mohammed al-Qadiri, said his sect would form a new group, the Battalions of Shikh Abdul Qadir al-Gaillani, and join the insurgency.

"We will not wait for the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade to enter our houses and kill us," said Ahmed al-Soffi, a Sufi leader in the western city of Fallujah, referring to the country's major Shiite militias. "We will fight the Americans and the Shiites who are against us."

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, K.I. Ibrahim and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.

[bth: so the british were driven off base, the base was looted and the Iraqi army did nothing to stop it....What a picture of things to come.]
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EPA scientist says agency hid dangers at ground zero from first responders, others

The Raw Story EPA scientist says agency hid dangers at ground zero from first responders, others: "A scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency has written a letter to Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and other members of the New York congressional delegation blasting the EPA for hiding dangerous toxins from Ground Zero workers in the aftermath of 9/11, RAW STORY has learned.

The letter, written by Dr. Cate Jenkins and obtained by RAW STORY, claims that EPA-funded research on the toxicity of breathable alkaline dust at the site "falsified pH results"to make the substance appear benign, when it was, in reality, corrosive enough to cause first responders and other workers in lower Manhattan to later lose pulmonary functions and, in some cases, to die.

Jenkins writes:

'These falsifications directly contributed not only to emergency personnel and citizens not taking adequate precautions to prevent exposures, but also prevented the subsequent correct diagnosis of the causative agents responsible for the pulmonary symptoms. Thus, appropriate treatment was prevented or misdirected, and loss of life and permanent disability undoubtedly resulted.'

Jenkins has loudly criticized the office in the past for"among other malfeasances" improperly handling evidence that the World Trade Center disaster site was a major health hazard.
The letter, as acquired by RAW STORY, follows:"....[bth: the actual letters are posted if you follow the link above.]
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Gen. Batiste: Rumsfeld ‘Served Up Our Great Military A Huge Bowl of Chicken Feces’

: "Donald Rumsfeld is still at the helm of the Department of Defense, which is absolutely outrageous. He served up our great military a huge bowl of chicken feces, and ever since then, our military and our country have been trying to turn this bowl into chicken salad. And it's not working. "
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Saviour of Iraq's antiquities flees to Syria

Guardian Unlimited The Guardian Saviour of Iraq's antiquities flees to Syria:

Violence and Sadrists drive away archaeologist

Looting fear as funds run out to pay protection force

Michael Howard in Irbil
Saturday August 26, 2006
The Guardian

Iraq's most prominent archaeologist has resigned and fled the country, saying the dire security situation, an acute shortage of funds, and the interference of supporters of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had made his position intolerable.

Donny George, who was president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, achieved international recognition for his efforts to track down and recover the priceless antiquities looted from Iraq's National Museum in the mayhem that followed the fall of Baghdad in 2003."

But this week he revealed that he had resigned and was in hiding with his family in the Syrian capital Damascus. In an interview with the Art Newspaper, Dr George said Baghdad was now so dangerous that the National Museum, which houses a trove of Sumerian and Babylonian artefacts, had been sealed off by concrete walls to protect it from insurgent attacks and further looting.

The museum, established by the British in the 1920s, is situated near to Baghdad's notorious Haifa Street, an area that sees regular outbreaks of violence. It lost some 15,000 pieces during the looting in 2003, but about half of them have been recovered. Museum officials say the collections have been walled off four times since the invasion, most recently after a mass kidnapping near the museum building.

"It was the only way to guarantee the museum's safety," said Dr George, who said he had taken the decision despite opposition from the culture ministry. An indefinite delay in the reopening of the museum had been ordered by the ministry.

Dr George painted a bleak picture for the future of Iraq's ancient treasures. He said that excavation and conservation projects in Iraq had stalled and that all the foreign archaeologists had left the country.

He said the 1,400 members of the special antiquities protection force would be going without pay, meaning there would be little to stop further looting at the country's 11,000 archaeological sites. "From September there is no more money for their salaries," said Dr George. "The coalition has to do something about this."

After the looting in 2003 US officials were criticised by archaeologists for not securing the museum. The US military has since been accused of damaging a number of ancient sites.

Dr George said the work of the antiquities department had also been affected by the sectarian divide in Iraq, with key posts in the culture ministry being filled with loyalists of the militant Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, including Liwa Sumaysim, the minister of state for antiquities.

"The board has come under the increasing influence of al-Sadr," claimed Dr George. "I can no longer work with these people who have come in with the new ministry. They have no knowledge of archaeology, no knowledge of antiquities."

Dr George, a Christian, said he had battled to prevent an Islamist and anti-western agenda from taking over at the antiquities department. "A lot of people have been sent to our institutions. They are only interested in Islamic sites and not Iraq's earlier heritage. The Sadrists did not like me having any contact with anyone from outside," he said.

Since the war Dr George has travelled the world, highlighting the plight of his country's ancient heritage. He had forged close ties with foreign institutions, including the British Museum. Hannah Bolton, a spokeswoman for the museum, said the museum promised to continue cooperating with the Iraqi authorities, and also hoped to continue its close relationship with Dr George.

The culture ministry could not be reached for comment yesterday but a senior Sadrist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Dr George had served throughout the former regime and "had done nothing to stop Saddam carving his name into the walls of every brick" during the reconstruction of the ancient palace at Babylon.

Lost and found

Warka vase

The 5,000-year-old limestone vase from the Sumerian city of Uruk is carved with scenes of priests and animals. It is the oldest known carved ritual vase. It was returned, in pieces, in June 2003.

Statue of Entemena

The headless statue of the Mesopotamian king is made of black diorite and dates from 2430 BC. It was smuggled out to Syria and recovered in May, when Hicham Aboutaam, a Lebanese antiquities dealer, was offered it for sale in New York.

Sumerian free-standing

The stone statue of a male Sumerian priest bears an inscription about the goddess Nin-shu-pur and dates from 2500 BC, one of the earliest known examples.

Mask of Warka

Dating from 3100 BC, it is the oldest known sculpture of a natural human face and is nicknamed the Sumerian Mona Lisa. It was found buried at a farmhouse in al-Rabbia in 2003.
Bassetki statue

The copper sculpture, depicting the legs and lower torso of a seated male figure, bears an Akkadian inscription and is 4,300 years old. It was found in a cesspool in 2003.
Katy Heslop
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Russia Denies Supplying Hizballah With Missiles

Russia Denies Supplying Hizballah With Missiles - RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY: "August 25, 2006 -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has dismissed as 'complete nonsense' Israeli claims that Hizballah has Russian-made antitank missiles.

Israel says Russian-made Kornet missiles were a particularly effective weapon used by Hizballah during the recent fighting in Lebanon.

Ivanov said Israel had presented no evidence to back its claims and that much of the weaponry once sold by the Soviet Union is now called Russian.

Ivanov also said that Russia is still considering the possibility of sending troops to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, adding that sending Russian experts to help rebuild Lebanon's infrastructure would be fully in Russia's interests.

Meanwhile, Moscow-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said Chechen soldiers would be ready to join the international force in Lebanon, if Russia decided to send troops."
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2 More Jailed in German Train Bomb Plot

2 More Jailed in German Train Bomb Plot: "BERLIN -- Police arrested a third suspect Friday in connection with a failed attempt to blow up two trains, while Lebanese authorities picked up a fourth man believed to have been involved, officials said.

The man arrested in Germany, whose identity was not released, was detained in the southern city of Konstanz on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organization, attempting to set off an explosion and multiple counts of attempted murder."

was involved in preparing the attacks is the subject of the investigation," said Frauke Scheuten, spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor's office.

Prosecutors said the man was an associate of Youssef Mohamad el Hajdib, one of two Lebanese men accused of planting the bombs July 31.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza said police in his country detained a 24-year-old man, whom he identified only as H.K.D., on suspicion he was involved in the failed bombing plot.

Mirza said information received from the second suspect, Jihad Hamad, led to the arrest.

After a nearly three-week lull following the attempted bombings, the case has moved quickly in recent days. El Hajdib, 21, was arrested Aug. 19, and Hamad, 20, was arrested Thursday in Lebanon.

The two are accused of planting the bombs at the Cologne train station. The detonators for the devices went off, but the bombs failed to explode and were discovered on regional trains in Koblenz and Dortmund....
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Morocco cell 'equipped for huge attack'

Morocco cell 'equipped for huge attack' "A MILITANT cell broken up by Moroccan security forces was equipped to carry out a far bigger attack than the bombings which killed 45 people in Casablanca in May 2003, the country's interior minister said.

The government said on August 7 it had broken up a 'terrorist network' that was planning to declare a holy war in the northeast of the country and had recruited five members of the armed forces able to handle explosives."

The authorities arrested over 40 members of the previously unknown Jammaat Ansar El Mehdi (El Mehdi Support Group) and seized explosives, propaganda material and laboratory equipment.

Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa said the group had created a paramilitary branch which chose mountainous areas in northern Morocco to train its followers for a holy war and obtain arms with the help of local drug barons.

"The group aimed to attack tourist installations, sensitive sites and foreign services ... and planned to assassinate people symbolising the state or for moral reasons," Mr Benmoussa told members of parliament overnight.

He said the group had managed to get hold of large amounts of materials for making explosives, far more than the quantity used in the Casablanca bombings in May 2003.

The fact the the latest cell to be broken up contained military personnel set alarm bells ringing in the kingdom, whose late king twice came close to assassination in the 1970s in attempted coups by military officers.

Mr Benmoussa played down the idea that Islamist extremists had infiltrated the military, saying the members of the armed forces involved with Jemmaa Ansar El Mehdi were marginal individuals - soldiers belonging to military bands and sports centres or vehicle maintenance personnel.

Earlier this year, the government said it had broken up more than 50 terrorist cells with more than 2000 members since the Casablanca attacks.

Mr Benmoussa said one of those groups, discovered in November last year, had links with al Qaeda and wanted to set up a terrorist network across the Maghreb.

Members of another group broken up at the start of 2006 had trained in camps in Mali and were linked to the Algeria-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), he said.
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Report: Marines Scramble to Replace Worn Gear

Report: Marines Scramble to Replace Worn Gear: "WASHINGTON -- Following news that the U.S. Marines will be involuntarily calling up members of its inactive reserve, a Washington think tank reports that to maintain acceptable readiness levels, the Marines have been taking equipment from non-deployed units and drawing down Maritime Pre-positioned stocks - limiting their ability to respond to contingencies outside of Iraq.

The report, 'Marine Corps Equipment After Iraq' by Lawrence J. Korb and Max A. Bergmann of the Center for American Progress, and Loren B. Thompson of the Lexington Institute, notes that over the past three years, the Marine Corps has maintained 40 percent of its ground equipment, 50 percent of its communications equipment, and 20 percent of its aviation assets in Iraq.

Furthermore, this equipment is used at as much as nine times its planned rate, abused by a harsh environment, and depleted due to losses in combat. "

The report's authors conclude that the cost of restoring the Marines' ground and aviation equipment to its pre-Iraq level, as of the summer of 2006, will require $12 billion - plus an additional $5 billion for each year the Marines remain in Iraq.

The Department of Defense has maintained a force of 130,000 to 150,000 troops in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003. The Marine Corps contributes approximately 25,000 of this total in a Marine Air Ground Task Force, most of them in the active Al-Anbar province.

The Marine Corps initially rotated home the 30,000 Marines who were part of the 50,000 ground forces that invaded Iraq in the summer of 2003 - to prepare themselves for the next expedition - but manpower necessities sent the Leathernecks back to Iraq in the fall of 2003.

Since the invasion of Iraq, more than 2,600 American servicemen and women have lost their lives, including more than 700 Marines. Nearly 20,000 have been wounded, almost all of them soldiers and Marines.

"The United States has understandably focused on the tremendous human cost of the war in Iraq, write the authors, yet other costs must also be addressed," advised the authors.

According to a 2005 report by the Marine Corps Inspector General, the Marines in Iraq "don't have enough weapons, communication gear, or properly outfitted vehicles."

Only about 15 percent of the total Marine Corps personnel are deployed to Iraq at any one time, but the equipment they depend on sees almost continuous use as it is often left behind.
The reason for this, the authors note, is that the Marines can rarely remove equipment from combat for out of theater depot maintenance, which is much more effective at restoring equipment to its original condition.

"Delaying depot repairs while continuing to operate at high rates increases equipment damage and results in increasing amounts of equipment becoming ‘washed out' or used beyond repair," the report notes.

The Marines therefore defer necessary depot maintenance and wear out equipment to the point that it must be replaced with brand new equipment. This ultimately leads to higher reset and procurement costs to repair or replace equipment than previously estimated.

Some other factors noted by the report:

High utilization rates of about four to nine times their planned usage and harsh operating conditions have greatly accelerated the aging of equipment;

Significant amounts of equipment are being destroyed through combat losses and the wear associated with constant use. About 3,500 principal end items of Marine Corps ground equipment have been destroyed;

Equipment readiness in deployed units has shown a gradual erosion as the service struggles to keep up with maintenance and replacement needs;

Readiness in non-deployed units has plummeted as equipment is transferred to deploying units and left behind in Iraq after Marine Corps units depart.

The factors enumerated above have dramatic impact say the authors:

For example, when a non-deployed unit must give up a helicopter, the first units affected are the reserves.

According to the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Report for FY 2007, more than 800 major Marine Corps equipment items, valued at $94.3 million, have been destroyed, and an additional 2,300 require major so-called "depot maintenance."

Furthermore, the Marine Corps has been drawing from the stocks of equipment placed in its Maritime Pre-positioning Force.

According to the authors, the equipment readiness of the pre-positioned squadrons - which consist of six ships in three squadrons located in Guam, Diego Garcia, and the Mediterranean - have been significantly degraded.

"Two of the three squadrons have seen a 70 percent reduction in their capacity, and Congress must fully fund the Marines' reset every fiscal year in order to restore the squadrons' capacity by 2009," concluded the experts.

Another example is the Light Armored Vehicle (LAV), which has been used extensively by the Marines in Iraq. Yet, because the LAV has averaged 98 hours of use and 238 miles per month, a 2005 Marine Corps Inspector General report predicts that its readiness rate could plummet to 0 percent.

In a related report just issued by another Washington think tank, the Independent Institute, Winslow T. Wheeler, who worked on national security issues for 31 years for members of the U.S. Senate and for the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), decried how - in his opinion - Congressional "pork" adds to the overall dilemma.

"In the 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, now law, Congress added $9.3 billion in spending for items like a Memorial Day celebration, Hawaiian Islands health care, Alaskan fisheries, breast cancer research, and much more.

The Congressional Research Service found 2,847 of these ‘earmarks' - or ‘pork' by less euphemistic language.

"Eagerly advertised to the voters back home as good news, the many sponsoring congressional Democrats and Republicans neglect to explain that they raided other parts of the defense budget to pay for the pork."

Their favorite "bill payer," according to Winslow: the Pentagon's Operation and Maintenance budget, which includes spending for weapons maintenance, training, fuel, and all the other essentials for fighting a war.

Meanwhile in a disturbing long range picture - according to the Lexington and Center for American Progress authors - the Marine Corps does not know how much equipment it will have to leave behind for the Iraqi army.

When the Iraqi security forces are capable of "standing up," it will require significant additional equipment - much of which will have to come from the Marines.
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U.S. Sailor to Face Court-Martial on Espionage Charges - U.S. Sailor to Face Court-Martial on Espionage Charges - Crime Murder Illegal Drugs Missing Kids Illegal Aliens: "RICHMOND, Va. � A sailor accused of taking a Navy laptop loaded with classified information and peddling its contents to a foreign government will face a court-martial, the Navy said Friday.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Ariel J. Weinmann, of Salem, Ore., will face six charges -including three counts of espionage -that were approved by Adm. John B. Nathman, commander of the U.S. Navy's Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk.

The espionage charges carry a maximum punishment of death, but the Navy will not seek a capital sentence, Navy spokesman Capt. James Taylor said. Weinmann, a fire control technician previously assigned to the USS Albuquerque based at New London, Conn., faces up to life in prison if convicted.

A trial date has not been set.

The Navy has said Weinmann, who is being held at the brig at Norfolk Naval Air Station, gave classified information related to national defense to an undisclosed foreign government before he destroyed the computer.

During a preliminary hearing in July, the Navy disclosed that Weinmann was picked up at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on March 26 after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents found the 21-year-old with $4,000 cash, three CD-ROMs, an external computer storage device and memory cards for storing digital images.

According to testimony, Weinmann was found carrying a piece of paper with the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of two individuals, as well as a notebook with handwritten contents that aroused suspicion.

The Navy said Weinmann made a visit to Bahrain in March 2005 in an "attempt to communicate, deliver or transmit" the classified information to "a representative, officer, agent or employee of a foreign government."

Weinmann later deserted his submarine for more than eight months to travel to Austria and Mexico to "communicate, deliver or transmit" the information to a foreign government, the Navy said.

The Navy has not disclosed which government or governments Weinmann is charged with spying for, what he was asking for in exchange for the information, or how he obtained the computer.

The Navy also charged Weinmann with failing to properly safeguard and store classified information, making an electronic copy of classified information, communicating classified information to a person not entitled to receive it, and stealing and destroying a government computer.

Lt. Cmdr. Karen Somers, one of Weinmann's attorneys, acknowledged the charges in a statement and said she and her co-counsel were preparing for trial.
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Weary Iraqis Face New Foe: Rising Prices

Weary Iraqis Face New Foe: Rising Prices - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 25 � For Mehdi Dawood, Iraq's failures have leached into the cucumbers, a staple of every meal that now devours a fifth of his monthly pension. "

And it is not just the vegetables. Fuel and electricity prices are up more than 270 percent from last year’s, according to Iraqi government figures. Tea in some markets has quadrupled, egg prices have doubled, and all over the country the daily routine now includes a new question: What can be done without?

“Meat, I just don’t buy it anymore,” said Mr. Dawood, 66, holding half-filled bags at a market in Baghdad. “It’s too expensive.”

“We are all suffering,” he said. “It’s the government’s fault. There is no security. There is no stability.”

As if Iraqis did not have enough to worry about. Going to the market already requires courage — after repeated bombings there — and now life’s most basic needs are becoming drastically more expensive.

Three months into the administration of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the inflation rate has reached 70 percent a year, up from 32 percent last year. Wages are flat, banks are barely functioning and the consensus among many American and Iraqi officials is that inflation is most likely to accelerate.
Violence, corruption and the fallout from decades of government control are kicking up the price of nearly everything, especially fuel, which in turn multiplies the production cost for goods.

“It’s a very serious problem,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “You don’t have stable trucking; you don’t have stable distribution. You have a constant protection racket, with security forces who are involved in sectarian fighting often taking bribes to have things operate. All of that builds up pressure on prices.”

Mr. Maliki’s office has responded with proposals to spur foreign investment and calls for public patience, even forgiveness. But billions in American aid has already been spent on Iraq with limited impact.

Compared with security problems, which can be addressed to some extent by deploying more troops to the streets, the economy is harder to control, especially since most Iraqi commerce occurs beyond the reach of government policy.

Fuel remains the country’s most visible example of economic dysfunction. A gallon of gasoline cost as little as 4 cents in November. Now, after the International Monetary Fund pushed the Oil Ministry to cut its subsidies, the official price is about 67 cents.

The spike has come as a shock to Iraqis, who make only about $150 a month on average — if they have jobs. Estimates of unemployment range from 40 to 60 percent. And with black-market sellers commanding $3.19 a gallon because of shortages, up from about $1.25 a few months ago, the actual price most Iraqis pay is far higher than what is officially sanctioned.

Filling up now requires several days’ pay, monastic patience or both.

Three years after fuel shortages led to riots in Basra, tension is often palpable at the pumps. Lines stretch as far as the eye can see, and at least two shootings have been reported in Baghdad this month alone. Near a station downtown this week, bribes and line cutting appeared to be the norm. At one point a Mercedes and several police vehicles cut ahead of at least 50 cars while a policeman watched.

“Why are you letting people come from outside?” shouted a man who was just a few cars from the station after seven hours of waiting.

The station’s manager said the drivers given special treatment must have had a note showing that they were doctors, or attending a funeral. A few hundred yards back, by a beat-up station wagon, Abdul Rehman Qasim had a different theory: the drivers avoiding the wait possessed either money or power. He had neither.

“I’m a poor guy,” he said. “So I leave some of my children here. They spend the night in the car.”

“Under the government of Maliki, things are getting worse and worse,” he added. “Only God can save us.”

In Iraq’s once-bustling markets, frustration is equally acute.

Car bombers have regularly attacked commercial districts, and prices seem to be up at every stall. At markets in a middle-class Shiite area near downtown, chickpeas have doubled in price. Lamb now runs as high as $2.75 a pound, up from $1.50.

Cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant have all jumped too, while the price of the propane gas cylinders most families use for cooking has quintupled to more than $15.

“We live hand to mouth,” said Mr. Dawood, a retired clerk for Pepsi.

Veiled women shopping nearby agreed. “We’re tired, and the situation is horrible,” said Zakiya Abid Salman, 55, a widow carrying eggplants. “There are no jobs, and the prices are always rising.”

Merchants said they had no choice but to increase prices because of the increased costs of doing business. And still, they said, their incomes have declined.

Ali Fouad, 27, pushing live fish around a shallow tub of water, said the price of transporting his product from farms south of Baghdad has nearly tripled since last year. A few months ago he sold about 110 pounds of fish a day, earning roughly $50 after expenses. Since he had to raise prices about 60 percent, he said, he sells less and earns only $20 a day.

“What’s our life today?” he asked. “We are working only for gas, ice and electricity. There is no savings.”

Stanching inflation will not be easy. Experts here say they struggle just to collect the data necessary to diagnose the problem, while Iraq largely lacks the usual mechanisms for controlling prices.

The Central Bank of Iraq is only three years old. Though the International Monetary Fund reports that officials have raised interest rates — and accelerated efforts to create a functioning market economy — its most recent study in July also concluded that “the banking system is largely inert.” As a result, the report said, the effectiveness of such measures would be “very limited.”

“Increasing the interest rate for business loans and mortgages — if people aren’t taking out those loans, how much of an effect can you have?” said Edward W. Kloth, an economic adviser at the American Embassy here. “The tools that are available are very limited in this kind of a situation.”

Ali al-Dabagh, a spokesman for Prime Minister Maliki, said in an interview that “the government is working hard to find solutions.” He blamed terrorists for undermining Iraq’s elected leaders, but he acknowledged that the country “needs an administrative revolution.”

For the families trying to survive, time sometimes seems to be running out. Fathi Khalid, 43, a vegetable seller with a mostly empty stall, said obstacles seemed to multiply by the day. Sometimes roads are blocked so harvests never arrive.

Sometimes he cannot afford to pay the right bribes. And week after week, his customers purchase less and less.

“Most people buy half what they used to,” he said. “The vegetables sit here and rot.”

Qais Mizher, Wisam A. Habeeb and Omar al-Neami contributed reportingfor this article.

[bth: jobs programs would seem hugely important right now.]
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No Place for Cluster Bombs - New York Times

No Place for Cluster Bombs - New York Times: "All weapons kill and maim, but some are especially insidious � like cluster munitions, miniature explosives packed into a bomb, rocket or artillery shell and designed to scatter over a wide area.

This week the State Department said it was investigating whether Israel inappropriately used American-made cluster munitions in populated areas during its monthlong campaign in Lebanon. Whatever the specific findings of this investigation, the rules governing cluster bomb exports and their use by American troops need to be tightened and more strictly enforced. "

Cluster munitions are useful against tanks, massed conventional forces and other purely military targets. But they should never be used in populated areas. By nature they kill indiscriminately.

Because some of the bomblets fail to explode on impact, the casualties continue to mount long after the fighting stops. These harmless-looking objects, often no larger than flashlight batteries, explode when inadvertently jostled or picked up.

Children mistake them for toys, with tragic results.
Washington has strict rules about how American-made cluster munitions are supposed to be used by foreign buyers.

But in the heat of combat, those rules are not always followed.

Nor are United States forces as careful as they should be. America has used cluster munitions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Israel used them in past campaigns in Lebanon. Russia used them in Chechnya.

Israel makes its own cluster munitions as well as buying more advanced models from the United States. It used cluster weapons extensively in its latest campaign in Lebanon, and the majority of the unexploded bomblets that United Nations teams have found there so far have been American-made.

Details of current understandings between the United States and Israel on when American-made cluster munitions can be used are secret. But in the past, Washington limited their use to military emergencies, like the kind of attack on Israeli territory by multiple Arab armies that last occurred in 1973. In the unlikely event of that happening again, Washington should provide whatever cluster munitions Israel needs to augment its own supplies.

But today’s dangers are different, and require different responses. Attacking guerrilla or terrorist sanctuaries in populated areas is not a mission that calls for cluster weapons, and the United States should not be supplying them.
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White House can't see need for Iraq war plan change

American News 08/25/2006 White House can't see need for Iraq war plan change: "The president's news conference this week was as close to a declaration of policy bankruptcy as anything seen so far in his stewardship of the 3 -year war in Iraq.

With his poll numbers still down around his ankles and even some key Republicans questioning the wisdom of staying the course in Iraq, President Bush flatly declared there will be no withdrawal of American troops before noon Jan. 20, 2009.

I believe it was Will Rogers who said when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is quit digging. The president knows he's in a hole and he's still digging furiously and promising he won't quit digging. Ever.

What kind of sense does this make?"

We have a corps of fine senior military officers who learned how to adapt to changing circumstances on the battlefield in a realistic computer-generated war game known as Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) for division commanders (two star generals) and corps commanders (three star generals) and their staffs.

They start off with about 20 percent of the intelligence they need and a battle plan that won't survive first contact with the enemy. A couple of days into the exercise the game is halted, temporarily, and the commander stands up in front of everyone and criticizes his own plan and decisions. He enumerates his mistakes - and the BCTP staff is happy to make public note of them.

He redraws his war plan and the game resumes. He has adapted to the bloody reality of any battlefield and made the necessary changes.

But when your commander in chief and your civilian overlords in the Pentagon refuse to acknowledge any mistakes, they thwart all that training and shut off any possibility of positive change and adaptation.

This is precisely what has been going on for all the years of our war in Iraq, and the president and his men can't see their way clear to do what every two-star Army general knows how to do.

Sen. John McCain is a hawk on Iraq. He doesn't believe an American withdrawal will do anything but encourage our enemies around the world. But McCain, who hopes to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, is a realist.

McCain, a Navy fighter pilot who spent years in a North Vietnamese prison, recited a devastating litany of ridiculous quotes from Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the unfolding disaster in Iraq:

"Stuff happens, Mission Accomplished, Last throes, a few dead-enders."

Said the Arizona senator: "It grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."

Had not. Have not. And will not. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney: Hear no evil, see no evil, and evil - to paraphrase former Sen. Bob Dole's quip when shown a photograph of Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon standing side by side.

To be sure, the president did indicate that he and the Republicans are not entirely without an Iraq strategy: They will do their best this fall to cast the Democrats as cowards who would "cut and run" for suggesting that we begin drawing down our too-small force in Iraq by year's end. Now that's a refreshing change of view, with Karl Rove's DNA smeared all over it.

The president did admit a certain level of personal frustration with the "violence," a.k.a. civil war, that is raging in Iraq while the democratically elected government we installed stands by and watches a nation shake itself apart.

The answer is not to stay the course, Mr. President, it is to change the course. Adapt to the realities on the battleground.

You face a determined Sunni insurgency and, now, a civil war in which revenge killings fill the streets and ditches and river banks with the corpses of Iraqis.

What's needed, and has been desperately needed since the summer of 2003, is a strong counter-insurgency program.

And a viable counter-insurgency campaign is police work, not the work of regular Army and Marine troops.

Until we get that simple fact, and act on it, all we are doing when we kill or drag off another presumed insurgent to Abu Ghraib prison is create two more insurgents, or three, or four, or however many there are in that guy's family.

There are people inside and outside our military who know how to do this work well. But until they are free to act on that knowledge, the cause in Iraq is lost, lost, lost, and the president's words are no more than wasted air.

Joseph L. Galloway is a columnist for McClatchy Tribune Information Services. His column appears most Fridays.

Friday, Aug. 25, 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

Note the retrofit armored doors held,the front at least, the lack of ballistic glass and the total destruction of the crew cabin Posted by Picasa

Sadr's Militia and the Slaughter in the Streets

Sadr's Militia and the Slaughter in the Streets: "BAGHDAD -- In a grungy restaurant with plastic tables in central Baghdad, the young Mahdi Army commander was staring earnestly. His beard was closely cropped around his jaw, his face otherwise cleanshaven. The sleeves of his yellow shirt were rolled down to the wrists despite the intense late-afternoon heat. He spoke matter-of-factly: Sunni Arab fighters suspected of attacking Shiite Muslims had no claim to mercy, no need of a trial."

"These cases do not need to go back to the religious courts," said the commander, who sat elbow to elbow with a fellow fighter in a short-sleeved, striped shirt. Neither displayed weapons. "Our constitution, the Koran, dictates killing for those who kill."

His comments offered a rare acknowledgment of the role of the Mahdi Army in the sectarian bloodletting that has killed more than 10,400 Iraqis in recent months. The Mahdi Army is the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, now one of the most powerful figures in the country.

The death squads that carry out the extrajudicial killings are widely feared but mysterious. Often, the only evidence is the bodies discovered in the streets. Several commanders in the Mahdi Army said in interviews that they act independently of the Shiite religious courts that have taken root here, meting out street justice on their own with what they believe to be the authorization of Sadr's organization and under the mantle of Islam.

"You can find in any religion the right of self-defense," said another commander, senior enough to be referred to as the Sheik, who was interviewed separately by telephone. Like the others, he lives and works in Sadr City, a trash-strewn, eight-square-mile district of east Baghdad that is home to more than 2 million Shiites. They spoke on condition that their names not be revealed and that specific areas of Sadr City under their control not be identified.

"The takfiris , the ones who kill, they should be killed," said the Sheik, using a term commonly employed by Shiites for violent Sunni extremists. "Also the Saddamists. Whose hands are stained with blood, they are sentenced to death."

"This is part of defending yourself," the commander said.

"This is a ready-made verdict -- we don't need any verdict."

Before Feb. 22, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra unleashed a wave of sectarian killing and retribution, U.S. authorities and others believed the primary force behind Shiite death squads was the Badr Brigade, the militia of another large Shiite organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. But since the bombing, the Mahdi Army appears to have taken the lead in extrajudicial trials and executions, according to Joost Hiltermann, a project director in Jordan for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

For suspected enemies taken by the Mahdi Army, the outcome is swift, with guilt and punishment already determined, the commanders said.

"If we catch any of them, the takfiris, Saddamists, bombers, we don't hand them over to police. He could be freed the next day," the Sheik said.

The captured men get a rapid interrogation, he added. They are asked, "How do you come here? Who is working with you? Which organization is supporting you?"

"We get a full confession," he said. "Once we do, we know what to do with them."

A Widow's Story

In a darkened living room in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad, the widow of a retired army officer -- a Sunni allegedly taken by the Mahdi Army after the Samarra bombing -- recounted the last hours of her husband's life, stopping her account only to call aloud to God for revenge.

Gunmen from outside the neighborhood surrounded the mosque where her husband and other men were at late-afternoon prayer, she said. It was Feb. 23, the day after the shrine bombing. The armed strangers were wearing black clothes of the type then worn by the Mahdi Army. Sadr later ordered his fighters to discard the uniform, saying rivals were using it to commit killings in the guise of the Mahdi Army.
The gunmen took her husband and the other men to a police station in the Habibiya neighborhood of Sadr City, the black-clad widow said, surrounded by her daughters and granddaughters. Women of the neighborhood gathered in another room to pay their respects to the bereaved family.

Some of the men were released, surviving to tell what happened. They recalled that her husband and three other retired officers from Saddam Hussein's military were subjected to a one-hour hearing.

"The trial was held in public, at 6 a.m., on Friday," she said. "At 10 a.m., they called us to tell us to pick the body up from the morgue."

As directed, male relatives retrieved her husband's body from the Baghdad morgue. The corpse bore bullet holes in the face and chest, with both hands still cuffed behind the back.

Fearful despite her anger, she refused to say who she thought killed her husband. An 8-year-old granddaughter whispered the answer into her ear: "The Mahdi Army."

"Darling," the widow scolded, frowning at the child to be silent.

Asked about the Mahdi Army's role in the surge of killings immediately after the Samarra mosque bombing, the Mahdi Army commander in short sleeves at the restaurant frowned, and answered carefully. "Terrorists" were at work then, he said, using a term employed by Shiites for Sunni insurgents. "There was an immediate need to move and contain these groups," he said.

Grisly Discoveries

Thousands of bodies turned up on the streets and vacant lots of Baghdad in the months after the Samarra bombing, found by U.S. Army patrols, Iraqi forces, passersby and families of the dead. Unlike earlier in the conflict, when the biggest share of victims were killed by the bombs of Sunni insurgents, these corpses were found shot to death, often bearing signs of torture and with their hands still bound. Shiite militias were blamed for many of these deaths.

The Mahdi Army commanders who were interviewed balked at detailing how many people the militia may have killed, and how. American forces, by contrast, saw nothing but the end results.

One small unit alone, made up of roughly two dozen Americans helping train the Iraqi army in Sadr City, happened upon more than 200 bodies this year along roads on the edges of Sadr City, said 1st Lt. Zeroy Lawson, the unit's intelligence officer.

Witnesses and residents of Sadr City told the Americans that the victims had been brought from all over Baghdad, said Lawson and Capt. Troy Wayman, an officer in the same squad. Victims typically had their shoes removed and their hands bound, Lawson said, and were executed in public. The Americans said they suspect that the women they found dead, like the men found with their genitals mutilated, were judged guilty of extramarital sex.

Lawson and Wayman offered several examples. One was a female worker at a Sadr City clinic that Mahdi Army members believed was a brothel. The militiamen warned the women there to shut the place down, pistol-whipped them in public and then shot the worker dead on the street, the two Americans said.

In another case, Lawson spotted the unmoving form of a paunchy man in a checked shirt by the side of the road.

Residents told Lawson that the man, a Sunni, had been taken from his home in Mansour, an affluent neighborhood of Sunnis, Shiites and Christians in central Baghdad. Accused of conspiring to drive Shiites from their homes, the Sunni man had been brought to Sadr City and shot dead where he now lay, witnesses told the Americans.

In late spring, Wayman recalled, the Americans in Sadr City happened upon uniformed Iraqi security forces clustered around the body of an Iraqi man. Gunmen had shot the man dead seconds before, then sped off when the Iraqi and U.S. forces happened by, Wayman said.

Americans traced the killers' vehicle to a nearby police station, where they found two grateful captives inside. The men were Christians who told Wayman they worked at a store elsewhere in Baghdad that sold alcohol. Gunmen had visited the shop to tell the men that alcohol was forbidden by the Koran and that they must shut down. When the two refused, they told Wayman, the gunmen stuffed them into a car at gunpoint and brought them to a house in Sadr City.

A Shiite cleric visited the two Christians at the house, they told Wayman. The cleric demanded that the captives convert to Islam and, when they refused, informed them that alcohol was forbidden by Islam.

They would be punished, the cleric said, but he did not specify how. The captives said they believed they were second and third in line for execution, after the man who was found in the street.

Mahdi Army commanders interviewed uniformly denied that they kill people for selling alcohol. The Mahdi Army only warns liquor vendors, increasingly strongly, they said. If the vendors still refuse to stop selling, the Mahdi Army "beats them lightly, in accordance with the Koran," the commander known as the Sheik said.

Lawson, the intelligence officer, credits the Mahdi Army with an intelligence operation that has become skilled at feeding bad information to Americans about the militia's activities. But U.S. military officials say they know enough to condemn much of what the Mahdi Army does.

"I have no doubt . . . they hold trial courts and execute people," said Lt. Col. Mark Meadows, commander of a cavalry regiment with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division.

Meadows's men oversaw Shula, a northern Baghdad neighborhood under Sadr's control, at the time of the Samarra bombing. The Mahdi Army "is probably the largest, most aggressive militia in this country," Meadows said. "They are a terrorist organization. They terrorize people."

But Iraqi and U.S. security forces are often left as puzzled spectators in areas under the Mahdi Army's jurisdiction.

On patrol early one morning, Wayman and his convoy pulled over at the telltale sign of a group of Iraqi police gathered by the side of a road in northern Sadr City, eyes cast down.

The police officers made room for Wayman, who looked down at an Iraqi girl lying on her side. She appeared to be no more than 15. The morning light bathed her face, and her hands curled gently to her mouth. Wrapped in a blanket, she looked asleep, except for two bursts of pink flesh from bullet wounds in her back.

Neither American nor Iraqi forces had any inclination to investigate what had happened to the teenager.

"Who knows?" one of the Iraqi policeman said, preparing to bundle up the body. Wayman got back into his Humvee, and the Americans drove on

Note the total elimination of the cab Posted by Picasa

Note cab is intact on this M1114 but not on the retrofitted vehicle behind it Posted by Picasa

Disavowed by Mahdi Army, Shadowy 'Butcher' Still Targets Sadr's Foes

Disavowed by Mahdi Army, Shadowy 'Butcher' Still Targets Sadr's Foes: "BAGHDAD -- In a dirty war where shadowy death squads claim victims daily and leaders on all sides deny blame, there's one killer to whom Iraqis can attach a name, if not a face."

Abu Diri, or Father of the Shield, is the nom de guerre of a Shiite Muslim man. Sunni Arabs of Baghdad also know him as "the Butcher." Like countless other killers in Iraq's capital today, Abu Diri and his followers dump their victims in the streets bearing bullet wounds and sometimes the smaller holes made by electric drills.

But U.S. military officers, Sunnis and even many Shiites say they believe Abu Diri kidnaps and kills Sunnis and other rivals with a zeal that has made him notorious, even in Baghdad's daily carnage.

"He is a savage criminal; tens of murderers follow in his wake," said a posting on Truth, a Sunni Web site that is supportive of Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups. Many Iraqi Sunnis monitor its allegations regarding the country's growing sectarian strife.

At least until July, Abu Diri and the dozens of men believed to be under him operated out of Sadr City and Shula, two Baghdad neighborhoods that are home to more than 2 million Shiites. The districts are heavily loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has a significant presence there. Abu Diri's victims typically were found blindfolded, with hands bound, in the streets lining Sadr City, American officers said.

U.S. military officials, distrustful of Sadr after battling his Mahdi Army in the first two years of the war, believe Abu Diri is linked to the militia.

"He's the enforcer," said 1st Lt. Zeroy Lawson, the intelligence officer with a small U.S. Army unit that works in Sadr City and is responsible for helping train the Iraqi army there. "He goes after specific targets" of Sadr and the Mahdi Army.
Lawson called him Sadr City's agent "for external affairs," going across Baghdad in pursuit of Sunnis or any others seen as enemies.

Sadr and his top aides publicly disavow Abu Diri.

"He is not Mahdi Army, he is the head of the gangsters," Riyadh al-Nouri, a brother-in-law of Sadr's and a senior member of the Sadr movement, said in an interview in Najaf. "He is not Mahdi Army and never was. All he does is fight for his own reputation and his own crimes."

Little is known about Abu Diri's background. Baghdad residents commonly agree on a few details: His real first name is Ismail. He is in his early thirties, a father of two and a high school dropout, and allegedly was a forger during the rule of Saddam Hussein, according to ordinary Sunnis and Shiites and to officials of Iraq's Interior Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Even his appearance is unclear. A photograph purporting to show him, distributed on Web sites frequented by Sunni Arabs in Iraq, shows a bearded, reed-thin man in white civilian clothes and a red-and-white-checked turban, squinting against the sun on a city street, a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Three men who claim to be former bodyguards of Abu Diri reject that photo, however, and vouch for a different image of him: a short, stocky man, almost clownish, shown in a video distributed on cellphones and DVDs around Baghdad. The image shows a smiling man pouring a soft drink from a bottle into the gulping mouth of a camel.

Abu Diri meant the video to be a warning to Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, according to the bodyguards, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He aspires to capture and behead the Sunni politician and will sacrifice the camel to celebrate the day he does, they said.

Abu Diri's hideouts long included a far northeastern corner of Sadr City known as "the Lost 70s," after the area's street numbers and isolation, U.S. military officers say. Many mornings, after Baghdad's nightly curfew, U.S. troops find corpses dumped along the streets of the Lost 70s, a junkyard of rusted car hulks and trash, with rats that gallop along the sidewalks in daylight.

Iraqi and U.S. forces raided a house belonging to Abu Diri in Sadr City on July 9, marking the beginning of stepped-up joint operations against alleged criminals in areas under Sadr's control. Iraqi officials said the raid killed nine people. Abu Diri escaped and is believed to have fled Sadr City.

In interviews in Baghdad, the three men claiming to be former bodyguards of his said he carried out killings largely as a free agent, rather than under orders from Sadr's organization. Abu Diri used the fact that he had a brother with a high position in the Mahdi Army to play up his alleged connections with the militia, and had associates in the heavily Shiite Interior Ministry police forces, including its intelligence services, the men alleged.

Interior Ministry officials independently gave some of the same details regarding Abu Diri; some of the other details from the purported bodyguards could not be separately confirmed.

Asked why the Mahdi Army does not shut down Abu Diri's activities, Nouri said, "Like everyone, he has his own gangsters protecting him."

In Najaf, another senior Sadr official, Aus al-Kafaji, said, "We are looking for him ourselves."

Other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

Israel adds 2 nuclear-capable submarines - Yahoo! News

Israel adds 2 nuclear-capable submarines - Yahoo! News: "JERUSALEM - With the purchase of two more German-made Dolphin submarines capable of carrying nuclear warheads, military experts say Israel is sending a clear message to Iran that it can strike back if attacked by nuclear weapons. "

The purchases come at a time when Iran is refusing to bow to growing Western demands to halt its nuclear program, and after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

The new submarines, built at a cost of $1.3 billion with Germany footing one-third of the bill, have diesel-electric propulsion systems that allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines already in Israel's fleet, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The latest submarines not only would be able to carry out a first strike should Israel choose to do so, but they also would provide Israel with crucial second-strike capabilities, said Paul Beaver, a London-based independent defense analyst.

Israel is already believed to have that ability in the form of the Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which are buried so far underground they would survive a nuclear strike, he said.

"The Iranians would be very foolish if they attacked Israel," Beaver said.

German officials have said the contract for the new submarines was signed July 6, and the Jerusalem Post reported this week the subs will be operational shortly.

Israel, operating on a policy of nuclear ambiguity, has never confirmed or denied whether it has nuclear weapons. It is believed, however, to have the world's sixth-largest stockpile of atomic arms, including hundreds of warheads.

Iran so far has resisted calls by the
U.N. Security Council' to halt uranium enrichment, which can produce, among other things, the material for atomic bombs. The council set an Aug. 31 deadline that is accompanied by the threat of sanctions.
The dispute over Tehran's nuclear program revolves around Iran's insistence it wants to master the technology simply to generate electricity. Critics say Iran wants to make nuclear weapons.

The Dolphin submarine could be one of the best deterrents, Beaver said. The technology on the subs makes them undetectable and gives them defensive capabilities in the case of attack, he said.

"They are very well-built, very well-prepared, lots of interesting equipment, one of the best conventional submarines available," Beaver said. "We are talking about a third string of deterrence capabilities."

Michael Karpin, an expert on Israel's atomic weapons capabilities who published a book on the issue in the United States, said nuclear-armed submarines provide better second-strike capabilities than missiles launched from airplanes.

"Planes are vulnerable, unlike nuclear (armed) submarines that can operate for an almost unlimited amount of time without being struck," Karpin said. "Second-strike capabilities are a crucial element in any nuclear conflict."

In Germany, members of two opposition parties criticized the deal. Winfried Nachtwei, national security spokesman for the Greens, said the decision was wrong because Germany had obtained no guarantee the submarines would not be used to carry nuclear weapons.

"This red line should not be crossed," Nachtwei was quoted as saying by the newspaper Taz. "Otherwise it is a complete renunciation of Germany's policy of non-proliferation."

David Menashri, an Israeli expert on Iran, said Tehran is clearly determined to obtain nuclear weapons and "the purchase of additional Dolphin submarines by Israel is a small footnote in this context."

What also makes Tehran dangerous, Beaver said, is that it may not understand the consequences of carrying out a nuclear strike.

"They (Iran) have a belligerent leadership and that's why Israel is prudent in ensuring that it has that deterrent capability," Beaver said. "What they (the submarines) are is a very good insurance policy."

Note the hillbilly welding done on the rear door of this destroyed vehicle Posted by Picasa