Saturday, September 30, 2006

 Posted by Picasa

Symphony IED Jammer System

Defense contracts reported Thursday - MarketWatch: "Lockheed Martin Corp., Maritime Systems and Sensors (LM MS2), 9500 Godwin Drive, Manassas, Va., was awarded Sept. 27, 2006, a $19,000,000 firm-fixed-price, time and material letter contract, for production and delivery of up to 208 (ea) Symphony Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Jammer Systems; including field test sets, operator reference cards, antenna elevation kits, uploader software, user guides, tool kits, theater support, field service engineering, and system documentation for a 52 week period to meet urgent Department of Defense (DoD) requirements in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The Symphony IED Jammer System is a programmable, radio-frequency IED defeat system that is vehicle mounted. Vehicle mounted systems are one element of the DoD's Joint Counter Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare (JCREW) program. Work will be performed in Manassas, Va., and is expected to be completed by September 2007. Contract funds in the amount of $19,000,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-06-C-6363). "

[bth: $91,000 each]

Abu Aardvark: The classic torture joke

Abu Aardvark: The classic torture joke: "In all the discussion of the Bush administration's renovations to the Geneva Conventions, I'm surprised that I haven't seen anyone pull out this classic joke, which I first heard in Cairo circa 1991. Or maybe I just don't get out much, and everybody already knows the joke.

Either way, here it is:

An American CIA agent, an Israeli Mossad agent, and an Iraqi Mukhabarat agent are sitting in a bar. They start arguing over who is the best at intelligence, so they decide to have a contest: the first one to come back to the bar with a camel wins. The American rushes out, calls up the King's office, and says 'King, I need a camel - now.' Five minutes later, the King comes huffing and puffing up, delivering the camel personally. 'Thanks, your Royalness. You can go back to the casino now.' Grinning a cocky American grin, he saunters back to the bar with his camel... only to find the Israeli sitting in his chair, resting his feet on a camel. 'Dang it!' curses the American. 'How did you DO that?' Then the two sit back and wait for the Iraqi. Hours pass. Finally, they go out looking for him. They don't have to go far. He's in the back alley, torturing a rabbit and screaming 'Say you're a camel! Say you're a camel!'
Trust me, it used to be funnier. "
 Posted by Picasa

West 'will fail' without Pakistan

BBC NEWS South Asia West 'will fail' without Pakistan: "warned the West would be 'brought to its knees' without his country's co-operation in the so-called war on terror.

'If we were not with you, you won't manage anything,' said President Pervez Musharraf in a BBC Radio 4 interview.

He said the Taleban, not al-Qaeda, was now the focus of the struggle against militancy in the region.
'The greatest danger today is if the Taleban movement gets converted into a people's movement,' he warned.

Earlier this week Tony Blair assured Gen Musharraf a leaked paper condemning Pakistan's intelligence service did not reflect his government's view.

In the leaked report, a naval commander at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, had indirectly helped the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

In the BBC interview Mr Musharraf rejected these claims and said ISI's support was vital."

You'll be brought down to your knees if Pakistan doesn't co-operate with you. That is all that I would like to say. Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not with you, you won't manage anything," he said.

"Let that be clear. And if ISI is not with you, you will fail."

'Historic debt'

He also claims the US and Britain had a historic debt to pay as Pakistan had helped "win the Cold War" for the West.

He argued that the West's strategy in Afghanistan towards the end of the Cold War helped to create the conditions which led to al-Qaeda's rise.

President Musharraf said mujahideen fighters went into the area from all over the world and the West armed and trained the Taleban. He said Pakistan was then left "high and dry".

His comments develop arguments he has made over the past few days at meetings with US President George W Bush and Tony Blair and a speech given in Oxford.

Gen Musharraf said the Pakistani government's aim in the country's tribal border areas was to "wean the people away" from supporting the Taleban, pointing out that while al-Qaeda was mainly comprised of "foreigners", the Taleban's support was more locally based.

He denied the suggestion that the tribal elders with whom the government has forged a recent agreement are a front for the Taleban.

He said the tribal elders were the "only way" to establish support from the local population: "The army cannot get them on our side".

'Disappearances 'denied

Gen Musharraf also strongly denied allegations by the human rights organisation Amnesty International that some alleged terror suspects had vanished without trace.

"I don't want even to reply to that, it is a nonsense, I don't believe it, I don't trust it," he said.

Gen Musharraf said the authorities had detained some 700 people, but all of them were accounted for.

Of the leaked MoD paper, British defence officials claimed it was written by a junior official, was unfinished and had not been seen by anyone who actually makes government policy.

After two hours of talks on Thursday Downing Street said Gen Musharraf had accepted Mr Blair's reassurances.

[bth: I guess if Blair was willing to apologize and so on for 2 hours and Musharraf was willing to say such self serving statements in public and not be contradicted by Blair, well then perhaps its true - the west is that weak and ineffective. What a failure of leadership.]

Al-Zawahri: Bush a liar in war on terror

Al-Zawahri: Bush a liar in war on terror - Yahoo! News: "CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden's deputy described President Bush as a 'deceitful liar' in a new video statement and called a U.N. resolution to send peacekeepers into Sudan's war-torn Darfur region a 'Crusader plan,' imploring the Muslims of Darfur to defend themselves."

Can't you be honest at least once in your life, and admit that you are a deceitful liar who intentionally deceived your nation when you drove them to war in Iraq' ?" al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri said.

Al-Zawahri also criticized Bush for continuing to imprison al-Qaida leaders including one-time al-Qaida No. 3 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind who was captured in Pakistan in March 2003.

"Bush, you deceitful charlatan, 3 1/2 years have passed since your capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, so how have you found us during this time? Losing and surrendering? Or are we launching attacks with God's help and becoming martyrs?" he said.

"What you have perpetrated against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Muslim captives in your prisons and the prisons of your slaves in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and elsewhere is not hidden from anyone," he said. "We are a people who do not sleep under oppression and who do not abandon our revenge."

After conducting a technical analysis of the videotape, the CIA' concluded "with confidence" that the speaker is in fact Ayman al-Zawahri, said a CIA official who was not authorized to discuss the tape on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The nearly 18-minute statement, titled "Bush, the Pope, Darfur and the Crusades," was produced by al-Qaida's media arm, as-Sahab, and made available by the Virginia-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications.

Al-Qaida has released a string of videos to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, showing increasingly sophisticated production techniques in a likely effort to demonstrate that it remains a powerful force despite the U.S.-led effort against the group.

Al-Zawahri criticized the U.N. resolution to send peacekeepers into Darfur, where at least 200,000 people have died and some 2 million have been displaced since the start of a 2003 revolt by rebels from the region's ethnic African population.

"There is a Crusader plan to send Crusader forces to Darfur that is about to become a new field of the Crusades war," he said.

Al-Zawahri compared Pope Benedict XVI' to Pope Urban II, who in 1095 ordered the First Crusade to establish Christian control in the Holy Land.

The remarks about Benedict were an apparent response to the pontiff's comments this month that sparked outrage across the Muslim world. Benedict cited a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

"If Benedict attacked us, we will respond to his insults with good things. We will call upon him and all of the Christians to become Muslims who do not recognize the Trinity or the crucifixion," al-Zawahri said.

The IntelCenter said Friday's video was the 48th released by the al-Qaida Web site this year, three times more than last year's number — which had been the highest. It said al-Zawahri has appeared in 14 of the 2006 videos.

[bth: al-Qaeda is feeling pretty cocky it sounds like]

Nato unable to find Afghanistan reinforcements

Nato unable to find Afghanistan reinforcements - World - Times Online: "NATO yesterday failed to find any volunteers to contribute 2,500 reinforcements that are needed for combat duty in Afghanistan. "

After two days of talks in Portoroz, Slovenia, defence ministers from the 26-nation alliance said that nobody had produced the reserve force, first requested by Nato commanders more than three weeks ago.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, asked Nato colleagues to “step up to the plate” to help American, British, Canadian and Dutch forces currently engaged in fierce fighting with the Taleban in southern Afghanistan.

“There was no offer of more troops. There were some encouraging signs but it is unlikely anything will be decided until our next meeting in Riga in November,” said a British official at the talks.

Although Britain has not ruled out sending more forces itself, it currently has more than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and is still deploying reinforcements pledged in the summer.

Mr Browne denied a report that senior officers had urged the Government to withdraw British forces from Iraq and to concentrate instead on winning the war in Afghanistan.

“It is not true that senior military officers have been pressing the Government to withdraw British troops from Iraq; that’s not the case,” he told BBC radio.

He also denied that splits had occurred at the Ministry of Defence over the conduct of the two operations.
“There is no division between us and military commanders about what we are doing, and we are doing a very good job there and we ought to be enormously proud of our troops there,” he said.

Britain has 7,200 troops in Iraq, concentrated in two southern provinces. British officials said that they hoped to hand over control of one province, Maysan, by the end of the year, leaving a British force in and around the main city of Basra.

But it is unlikely that all troops would be withdrawn until the Iraqi Army and police are strong enough to take over responsibility for security, a process that could take years.

[bth: NATO is very weak]

Al Qaeda Increasingly Reliant on Media

Al Qaeda Increasingly Reliant on Media - New York Times: "AMMAN, Jordan — On the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Omar received the call to jihad. Literally.

“There’s a present for you,” a voice on the other end of the phone said that morning, he recalled. It was a common code whenever his friends and colleagues wanted to share a new broadcast or communiqué from Al Qaeda over the Internet, he said.

Abu Omar, speaking on the condition that only his nickname be used, said he soon went to one of the Internet cafes he frequents in Amman and began distributing the latest video by Al Qaeda, alerting friends and occasionally adding commentary.AMMAN, Jordan — On the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Omar received the call to jihad. Literally.

“There’s a present for you,” a voice on the other end of the phone said that morning, he recalled. It was a common code whenever his friends and colleagues wanted to share a new broadcast or communiqué from Al Qaeda over the Internet, he said.

Abu Omar, speaking on the condition that only his nickname be used, said he soon went to one of the Internet cafes he frequents in Amman and began distributing the latest video by Al Qaeda, alerting friends and occasionally adding commentary."...

[bth: interesting discussion about how the internet is used as an organizing and information tool by al Qaeda sympathizers.]

Suicide Bomber Kills 12 In Afghanistan, Blast Was Second Major Suicide Attack In Kabul This Month

Suicide Bomber Kills 12 In Afghanistan, Blast Was Second Major Suicide Attack In Kabul This Month - CBS News: "(AP) A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a busy pedestrian alley next to Afghanistan's Interior Ministry on Saturday, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 40, officials said.

The blast was the second major suicide attack in Kabul this month, underscoring the rising danger in the once-calm capital as militants step up attacks across the country.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, Zemeri Bashary, said 12 people were killed, including two women and a child, and that 42 were injured.

Dr. Salam Jalali, a Public Health Ministry official, said 54 had been injured. He said the wounded had been taken to six different hospitals in Kabul, complicating officials' efforts to keep track of the casualties.
The explosion went off just before 8 a.m. on an Afghan work day, near a narrow dirt road where employees and civilians pass through a security gate. Shops, street photographers, and men who fill out Interior Ministry paperwork for illiterate Afghans make the area a busy cross-section of commerce and government. "... - Pearl father: Punish al Qaeda No. 3 - Sep 29, 2006 - Pearl father: Punish al Qaeda No. 3 - Sep 29, 2006: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- The father of murdered Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl said a top al Qaeda operative, accused by Pakistan's president of killing the young reporter, should be punished if his role in the crime is proven."

Former al Qaeda No. 3 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accused of masterminding the attacks of September 11, 2001, was blamed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in his book released this week for killing Pearl or taking part in his 2002 murder in Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi.

"It is important if he (Mohammed) had any part in the crime that he should be brought to justice," Judea Pearl said late Thursday in a telephone interview from New York.

Mohammed, a dual Kuwaiti-Pakistani citizen, was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan and had been held by U.S. authorities in a secret location until he and 13 other terror suspects were recently transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

Pakistani officials had not previously confirmed Mohammed's role in Pearl's brutal murder after his kidnapping on January 23, 2002. His remains were found February 10.

But in Musharraf's memoir "In The Line of Fire," released Monday, the president accused Mohammed.

"The man who may have actually killed Pearl or at least participated in his butchery, we eventually discovered, was none other than Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's No. 3," Musharraf wrote.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department confirmed it had evidence suggesting Mohammed played a role in Pearl's death. But it was not immediately clear if he would be charged.

Pakistani authorities convicted four people over Pearl's murder, including British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who faces the death penalty. The three others were sentenced to life in prison. All are appealing their sentences.

Sheikh's lawyer, Rai Bashir, said he plans to use Musharraf's book as evidence in his client's appeal hearing, saying it proves Sheikh was innocent.

But Pearl's father said Sheikh should also be punished for his role in organizing the kidnapping, as well as luring the Wall Street Journal reporter to Karachi by promising an interview with a militant leader.

Sheikh "has become the symbol of the (extremist) ideology now. People see him as a hero, but it is important to send a message to those circles of society" by proceeding with his sentence, said Judea Pearl.

Speaking days ahead of what would have been the reporter's 43rd birthday on October 10, Judea Pearl bemoaned the spread of Islamic extremism in the world.

"We are facing the same problem (with Islamic extremism) today, but probably more acutely than in 2002," Pearl said.

Judea Pearl said a new documentary titled "The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Death of Daniel Pearl," will air October 10 on HBO. The documentary follows the lives of Daniel Pearl and Sheikh before they crossed paths in Karachi.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

[bth: I think the Pearl family is absolutely right. Why isn't he brought to justice for his crimes?]

Friday, September 29, 2006

Taliban opens office at Pakistani bus stop

Taliban opens office at Pakistani bus stop The World The Australian: "IN a new embarrassment for peripatetic Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Taliban officials have opened an office in the capital of Pakistan's North Waziristan region, where Osama bin Laden is believed to have his headquarters."

The office, in Miramshah's main bus station, is said to be operating with the complicity of Pakistani authorities.

And Taliban office workers have organised a pamphlet drop calling on locals to contact them on all matters relating to law and order.

Yesterday's disclosure of the office's opening came as General Musharraf had talks in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and angrily rejected new charges of complicity between the principal Pakistani intelligence organisation, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

It also followed a frosty encounter between him and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, brokered by US President George W. Bush at the White House.

After their meeting, the three presidents appeared at a press conference and, while Mr Bush shook hands with each of his guests, General Musharraf and Mr Karzai did not even exchange glances, let alone shake hands.

On Thursday night, South Asia was alive with accounts of what was described as "an extremely frosty" encounter in Washington, during which Mr Karzai hammered home his conviction that Islamabad was not doing enough to deal with Taliban and al-Qa'ida activity within its territory, while General Musharraf declared it was doing everything that could reasonably be expected of it.

The Pakistani President insists that beyond whingeing about his country, all that neighbouring Afghanistan is doing is providing out-of-date information to Islamabad about the alleged location of Taliban and al-Qa'ida leaders in Pakistan. Mr Karzai has countered by accusing Pakistan of "training a snake that can also bite the trainer".

He insists that Pakistan's tolerance of pro-Taliban militants is contributing massively to Afghanistan's instability and the increasingly difficult challenge being confronted by NATO-led forces in his country -- including those from Australia -- battling the Taliban forces.

He has said that co-operating with terrorists is like "trying to train a snake against somebody else. You cannot train a snake. It will come and bite you".

Leading Pakistani newspaper Dawn said the Taliban office in Miramshah, headquarters of the North Waziristan Agency, was there for "curbing crimes and antisocial activities" in the area.

The newspaper said announcements were made and pamphlets distributed in the town asking residents to co-operate with the Taliban in keeping peace in the agency, where bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are believed to have their operational base.

Apart from the public emergence of an organisation that is doing battle with -- and killing -- NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan, Dawn also reported that Pakistani military authorities have returned AK-47 assault rifles, books and other materials belonging to a seminary owned by Afghan jihadi commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Officials said security forces had raided the seminary a few months ago and seized arms and equipment as part of a crackdown on militants.

But under Pakistan's controversial September 5 peace accord between the Government and the Taliban, it was agreed that the Government and militants would return weapons and other equipment taken during army action.

So the jihadi commander has got his guns and his books back, thanks to the Pakistani army.
 Posted by Picasa

Remember That Company That Planted Good News In Iraq? So Does The Government, Who Hired Them Again | The Huffington Post

Eat The Press Remember That Company That Planted Good News In Iraq? So Does The Government, Who Hired Them Again The Huffington Post: "Good work is rewarded! The Lincoln Group, which you may know better as the PR firm that paid Iraqi newspapers to write positive articles about the U.S. military, has just been awarded a two-year, $6.2-million dollar contract to 'monitor a number of English and Arabic news outlets and to produce public-relations products like talking points or speeches for American forces in Iraq, officials said Tuesday.'

From the AP:

The idea, according to contract documents, is to use the information to 'build support' in Iraqi, Arab, international and American audiences for what the military describes as its goals in Iraq, such as destroying the insurgency and helping Iraqis build a democracy.

The list of news outlets to be watched includes The New York Times, Fox Television and the satellite channel Al Arabiya.

Last year there was controversy when it was discovered that the Lincoln Group had been planting positive articles about the U.S. military in Iraqi news outlets; after an investigation, no contravention of military policy was found. This contract apparently does not 'include any provisions to purchase favorable coverage or pay for favorable articles.'

Find more information on the Lincoln Group here."
 Posted by Picasa

Local Taliban open office in Miranshah, Pakistan - Irna

Local Taliban open office in Miranshah, Pakistan - Irna: "Wednesday with a promise to settle disputes and maintain peace in the area.

According to The News, the office was set up in the Razmak Adda area in Miranshah, headquarters of North Waziristan tribal agency.

A number of local Taliban were seen sitting there and moving around.

Miranshah journalists were told not to give news of the opening of the Taliban office.

A pamphlet was also distributed on the occasion. It asked the people to bring their disputes to the office so that these could be resolved peacefully.

The government had recently concluded a peace agreement with the militants, tribal elders and ulema of the Otmanzai tribes in North Waziristan. "

The accord led to the release of militants and local tribesmen, withdrawal of Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps troops from checkpoints and return of weapons and vehicles seized by the military during operations against the militants.

The tribesmen will also be compensated for human and material losses suffered by them as a result of the military operations.

The militants, for their part, promised to stop attacks against government installations, freed four FC personnel in their custody, and gave their word not to harbor foreign fighters and refrain from cross-border infiltration to attack Afghan and US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

It may be mentioned here that the local Taliban had also opened an office in Wana in South Waziristan after striking a peace deal with the government to assist the administration in maintaining peace in the area.

Sailab Mahsud adds from Tank: Masked gunmen riding a vehicle killed two tribesmen and injured three more in South Waziristan on Wednesday.

Tribal and hospital sources identified one of the dead tribesmen as Sher Ali. The second victim could not be identified. The injured men were identified as Nawaz, Sher Khan and Nasir.

Those killed and injured were stated to be supporters of a local commander of militants, Hannan Wazir, who, too, sustained injuries after being attacked in the Shakai area a few days ago.

Hannan Wazir, who reportedly wants all foreign militants, particularly the Uzbeks to leave Shakai, is now under treatment at the Frontier Corps Hospital in Wana. Two of his men were also wounded when he was attacked.

The sources said the five men, all belonging to the Khonikhel section of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, were riding in a car as they left Wana for Shakaiat at 2 pm.

They were attacked by masked gun seated in another vehicle at Konserai, near Tiarza, almost midway between Wana and Shakai.

The attackers escaped.

Meanwhile, a tribesman, Dost Muhammad, belonging to Kirkot near Wana was killed by unknown people.

The motive for his murder was not clear but his family said they had no enmity or feud with anyone.

A vehicle in a military convoy on its way from Dera Ismail Khan to Wana overturned near Chakmalai in South Waziristan, injuring 25 soldiers in a road accident. All the injured were Pakistan Army soldiers.

The injured were taken to the FC Fort in Jandola and 22 of them were then airlifted to Bannuin by helicopter for treatment.

The remaining three did not have critical injuries and remained in the FC Fort in Jandola for treatment.
There were also reports that around 12 students who were found eating during Ramazan in Spinkai Raghzai town in South Waziristan were put on donkeys and their faces blackened as punishment for not fasting.
 Posted by Picasa

Key quotes from the Britiish Defense Ministiry document

BBC NEWS Programmes Newsnight Home Key quotes from the document: "Key quotes from a leaked Ministry of Defence think-tank paper which alleges that Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, has indirectly helped the Taleban and al-Qaeda and should be dismantled. The research paper was written by a senior officer at the MoD-run Defence Academy. The Ministry of Defence have responded that the views contained in it do not reflect the views of the MOD or the government.

...The wars in Afghanistan and particularly Iraq have not gone well and are progressing slowly towards an as yet unspecified and uncertain result. "

The War in Iraq...has acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists from across the Muslim world.

The Al Qaeda ideology has taken root within the Muslim world and Muslim populations within western countries. Iraq has served to radicalise an already disillusioned youth and Al Qaeda has given them the will, intent, purpose and ideology to act.

British Armed Forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq - following the failure of the deal being attempted by COS (Chief of Staff) to extricate UK Armed Forces from Iraq on the basis of 'doing Afghanistan' - and we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts.

The West will not be able to find peaceful exit strategies from Iraq and Afghanistan - creating greater animosity...and a return to violence and radicalisation on their leaving. The enemy it has identified (terrorism) is the wrong target. As an idea it cannot be defeated.

The Army's dual role in combating terrorism and at the same time promoting the MMA and so indirectly supporting the Taliban (through the ISI) is coming under closer and closer international scrutiny.

Pakistan is not currently stable but on the edge of chaos.

[The West has] turned a blind eye towards existing instability and the indirect protection of Al Qaeda and promotion of terrorism.

Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism - whether in London on 7/7 or in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The US/UK cannot begin to turn the tide until they identify the real enemies from attacking ideas tactically - and seek to put in place a more just vision. This will require Pakistan to move away from Army rule and for the ISI to be dismantled and more significantly something to be put in its place.

Musharraf knows that time is running out for some point the US is likely to withdraw funding (and possibly even protection) of him - estimated at $70-80M a month.

Without US funding his position will become increasingly tenuous.
 Posted by Picasa

This Is What Waterboarding Looks Like

As Congress has debated legislation that would set up military tribunals and govern the questioning of suspected terrorists (whom the Bush administration would like to be able to detain indefinitely), at issue has been what interrogation techniques can be employed and whether information obtained during torture can be used against those deemed unlawful enemy combatants. One interrogation practice central to this debate is waterboarding. It's usually described in the media in a matter-of-fact manner. The Washington Post simply referred to waterboarding a few days ago as an interrogation measure that "simulates drowning." But what does waterboarding look like?

Below are photographs taken by Jonah Blank last month at Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The prison is now a museum that documents Khymer Rouge atrocities. Blank, an anthropologist and former Senior Editor of US News & World Report, is author of the books Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and Mullahs on the Mainframe. He is a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has taught at Harvard and Georgetown. He currently is a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic staff in the Senate, but the views expressed here are his own observations.

His photos show one of the actual waterboards used by the Khymer Rouge. Here's the first:

The crux of the issue before Congress can be boiled down to a simple question: Is waterboarding torture? Anybody who considers this practice to be "torture lite" or merely a "tough technique" might want to take a trip to Phnom Penh. The Khymer Rouge were adept at torture, and there was nothing "lite" about their methods. Incidentally, the waterboard in these photo wasn't merely one among many torture devices highlighted at the prison museum. It was one of only two devices singled out for highlighting (the other was another form of water-torture--a tank that could be filled with water or other liquids; I have photos of that too.) There was an outdoor device as well, one the Khymer Rouge didn't have to construct: chin-up bars. (The prison where the museum is located had been a school before the Khymer Rouge took over). These bars were used for "stress positions"-- another practice employed under current US guidelines. At the Khymer Rouge prison, there is a tank of water next to the bars. It was used to revive prisoners for more torture when they passed out after being placed in stress positions.

The similarity between practices used by the Khymer Rouge and those currently being debated by Congress isn't a coincidence. As has been amply documented ("The New Yorker" had an excellent piece, and there have been others), many of the "enhanced techniques" came to the CIA and military interrogators via the SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape] schools, where US military personnel are trained to resist torture if they are captured by the enemy. The specific types of abuse they're taught to withstand are those that were used by our Cold War adversaries. Why is this relevant to the current debate? Because the torture techniques of North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and its proxies--the states where US military personnel might have faced torture--were NOT designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques were designed to elicit CONFESSIONS. That's what the Khymer Rouge et al were after with their waterboarding, not truthful information.

Bottom line: Not only do waterboarding and the other types of torture currently being debated put us in company with the most vile regimes of the past half-century; they're also designed specifically to generate a (usually false) confession, not to obtain genuinely actionable intel. This isn't a matter of sacrificing moral values to keep us safe; it's sacrificing moral values for no purpose whatsoever.

These photos are important because most of us have never seen an actual, real-life waterboard. The press typically describes it in the most anodyne ways: a device meant to "simulate drowning" or to "make the prisoner believe he might drown." But the Khymer Rouge were no jokesters, and they didn't tailor their abuse to the dictates of the Geneva Convention. They-- like so many brutal regimes--made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised.

The legislation backed by Bush and congressional Republicans would explicitly permit the use of evidence obtained through waterboarding and other forms of torture. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other top al Qaeda leaders have reportedly been subjected to this technique. They would certainly note--or try to note--that at any trial. But with this legislation, the White House is seeking to declare the use of waterboarding (at least in the past) as a legitimate practice of the US government.

The House of Representatives voted for Bush's bill on Thursday, 253 to 168 (with 34 Democrats siding with the president and only seven Republicans breaking with their party's leader). The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. Its members should consider Blank's photos and arguments before they, too, go off the deep end.

U.S. says attacks cost Iraq $16 bln in oil exports

Reuters AlertNet - U.S. says attacks cost Iraq $16 bln in oil exports: "WASHINGTON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Iraq lost $16 billion in oil export revenue for about a two-year period and has not been able to maintain adequate electricity supplies due, in part, to insurgent attacks on the country's energy infrastructure, the U.S. government's independent inspector on Iraqi reconstruction said in a new report."

"A number of factors, including attacks, aging and poorly maintained infrastructure and criminal activity are adversely affecting Iraq's ability to develop a viable energy sector," said Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen.

"These factors have combined to hold down Iraq's oil exports and the availability of electricity," Bowen said in an unclassified summary released on Thursday of a still-classified audit report prepared in late July.

The report said Iraq lost a potential $16 billion in revenue from oil exports between January 2004 and March 2006.

Iraq's oil sector, which the Bush administration hoped would be a big revenue raiser to help rebuild Iraq, has been subjected to repeat attacks on its pipelines and oil export facilities. Iraq has the world's third largest crude oil reserves at 115 billion barrels.

Despite its huge oil holdings, Bowen noted, Iraq is paying billions of dollars to import gasoline and other refined petroleum products for its citizens.

The United States has invested about $320 million to improve Iraq's capability to protect its oil and electricity infrastructure, the inspector general said.

Bowen said the new Iraqi government must take "bold action" to protect the country's energy sites, and he noted Iraq's leaders are pursuing initiatives to enhance security and performance of the oil and electricity infrastructure.

Iraq's oil production averaged 2.2 million barrels a day in August, based on the latest estimate from the U.S. Energy Department. The country's oil exports have been running at almost 1.7 million barrels a day in September.

Those levels are far below pre-war conditions, when energy experts had estimated that Iraq pumped between 2.8 million and 3 million barrels per day and had a net oil export potential of 2.3 million to 2.5 million bpd.

Key to boosting Iraq's oil production is investment by foreign energy companies in the country's underdeveloped and undiscovered oil fields.

Iraq says it needs up to $20 billion in investment to increase its oil production to 6 million barrels a day.
However, many foreign oil companies are reluctant to do business in Iraq because of the country's ongoing violence.
 Posted by Picasa

Woodward: Bush concealing level of Iraq violence -

Woodward: Bush concealing level of Iraq violence - "...'It's getting to the point now where there are eight, 900 attacks a week. That's more than a hundred a day. That is four an hour attacking our forces,' Woodward said in excerpts of the interview released on Thursday before the release of his book on the administration, called 'State of Denial.'

'The assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon (saying) 'Oh, no, things are going to get better,'' Woodward added."...

Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say Iraq in civil war - Sep 28, 2006 - Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say Iraq in civil war - Sep 28, 2006: "CNN) -- Nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed consider Iraq to be in a civil war, a CNN poll said Thursday, and more people view the three major architects of the U.S.-led operation there unfavorably than favorably.

Iraq, particularly its capital, Baghdad, has endured months of Sunni-Shiite sectarian killings, and debate has simmered over whether the country has or has not entered into a full-blown or low-grade civil war.

Asked whether Iraq is 'currently engaged in a civil war,' 65 percent of the poll's respondents said 'yes,' and 29 percent answered 'no.' By comparison, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in April found 56 percent of the respondents believed Iraq was in a civil war, while 33 percent disagreed. (Read full poll results - PDF)

The poll found that most Americans polled -- 60 percent -- said they have a clear idea of what the United States is fighting for in Iraq, while 39 percent said they did not.

The same question was posed 39 years ago, when America was deeply divided over Vietnam. At the time, 49 percent said they had a clear idea of what the United States was fighting for there; 48 percent said no.

Of those questioned now, more people -- 48 percent of those surveyed -- considered themselves doves than hawks (44 percent). When the Iraq war began, the numbers were not that much different: 45 percent of those polled considered themselves doves, while 43 percent called themselves hawks.

The poll defined a hawk as 'someone who believes that military force should be used frequently to promote U.S. policy' and a dove as 'someone who believes the U.S. should rarely or never use military force.'

The poll's results came a day after a separate poll by the University of Maryland found that 71 percent of Iraqis favor a commitment by U.S.-led forces in Iraq to withdraw in a year. (Details)

As for the nation's leaders, half or more of the respondents of the CNN poll expressed unfavorable views toward President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The new poll found that 50 percent of those surveyed held an unfavorable view of Rumsfeld, while 35 percent held a favorable view. The poll found a five percentage point rise in his unpopularity since April. (Graphic: Rumsfeld approval rating)

By contrast, Rumsfeld's popularity was riding high in February 2003 as preparations were under way for the war in Iraq: 58 percent had a favorable view of him, while 20 percent did not.

Bush's popularity has risen since April, when 57 percent of those surveyed viewed him unfavorably, and 40 percent favorably. The latest poll found that 52 percent had an unfavorable view of him, while 46 percent saw him favorably.

As for Cheney, 37 percent have a favorable view of him, compared with 57 percent who do not. In April, 35 percent saw him favorably, while 52 percent did not.

In contrast, first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emerged popular. The poll said 68 percent have a favorable opinion of the first lady, while 23 percent have an unfavorable opinion of her.

Rice's numbers are 57 percent favorable and 30 percent unfavorable -- the same favorable rating as in April, but she had a lower unfavorable rating -- 22 percent -- at that time.

The Opinion Research Corporation conducted the poll by surveying 1,009 adult Americans by telephone Friday through Sunday. The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Congressional analysis puts cost of Iraq war at $2 billion a week - The Boston Globe

Congressional analysis puts cost of Iraq war at $2 billion a week - The Boston Globe: "WASHINGTON -- A new congressional analysis shows the Iraq war is now costing taxpayers almost $2 billion a week -- nearly twice as much as in the first year of the conflict three years ago and 20 percent more than last year -- as the Pentagon spends more on establishing regional bases to support the extended deployment and scrambles to fix or replace equipment damaged in combat."

The upsurge occurs as the total cost of military operations at home and abroad since 2001, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will top half a trillion dollars, according to an internal assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service completed last week.

The spike in operating costs -- including a 20 percent increase over last year in Afghanistan, where the mission now costs about $370 million a week -- comes even though troop levels in both countries have remained stable. The reports attribute the rising costs in part to a higher pace of fighting in both countries, where insurgents and terrorists have increased their attacks on US and coalition troops and civilians.

Another major factor, however, is ``the building of more extensive infrastructure to support troops and equipment in and around Iraq and Afghanistan," according to the report. Based on Defense Department data, the report suggests that the construction of so-called semi-permanent support bases has picked up in recent months, making it increasingly clear that the US military will have a presence in both countries for years to come.

The United States maintains it is not building permanent military bases in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the local population distrusts America's long-term intentions.

But for the first time, a major factor in the growth of war spending is the result of a dramatic rise in ``investment costs," or spending needed to sustain a long-term deployment of American troops in the two countries, the report said.

These include the additional purchases of protective equipment for troops, such as armored Humvees, radios, and night-vision equipment; new tanks and other equipment to replace battered gear from Army and Marine Corps units that have been deployed numerous times in recent years; and growing repair bills for damaged equipment, what the military calls ``reset" costs.

At least one lawmaker, referring to reports of equipment shortages in the war zones and at US bases where troops are training for combat, says some of the spending is misplaced. `

`While we are spending billions in Iraq to build and maintain massive bases, we cannot [effectively] repair our abused equipment or replace it," US Representative Martin T. Meehan , a Lowell Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

The Pentagon, which had previously made public its own estimate of operating costs, has not released up-to-date war costs.

The Congressional Research Service report estimates that after Congress approves two pending bills, the total war costs since Sept. 11, 2001, will reach about $509 billion. Of that, $379 billion will cover the cost of operations in Iraq, $97 billion will be the price tag for Afghanistan operations, and $26 billion will have gone to beefed-up security at US military bases around the world.

Though the military's operational costs in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone up despite a level number of US troops, the report attributes a large portion of the increased spending to the military's ongoing preparations to sustain combat operations in the two countries for the foreseeable future.

For example, the report shows that under the category of ``procurement," the funds designated for ``resetting the force" -- replacing or repairing equipment damaged in combat and preparing for long-term fighting -- has jumped from $7.2 billion in 2004 to $20.9 billion in 2005, and $22.9 billion this year.

Separately, the Army has told Congress that it estimates it will need at least $36 billion more for equipment, while the Marine Corps has reported it needs nearly $12 billion.

Another major war cost is for infrastructure -- bases, landing strips, repair shops -- for the forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. These ``operations and maintenance" costs remained steady at about $40 billion per year in 2003, 2004, and 2005, but have spiked to more than $60 billion this year.

Those factors alone, however, are ``not enough to explain" the spiraling increase in operating costs, according to the report.

``You would expect [operating costs] to level off if you have the same level of people," said the report's principal author, Amy Belasco, a national defense specialist at the Congressional Research Service. `

`You shouldn't have as much cost to fix buildings that were presumably repaired when you got there. It's a bit mysterious."

The Pentagon has not provided Congress with a detailed accounting of all the war funds, making it impossible to conduct a full, independent estimate of how much Americans are spending in Iraq and Afghanistan -- or to predict what future costs might be.

``In congressional hearings, the Department of Defense has typically provided estimates of the current or average monthly costs over a period of time for military operations, referred to as the `burn rate,' " the report stated. `

`While this figure covers some of the costs of war, it excludes the cost of upgrading or replacing military equipment and improving or building facilities overseas, and it does not cover all funds appropriated."

Bryan Bender can be reached at

Iraqi Journalists Add Laws to List of Dangers

Iraqi Journalists Add Laws to List of Dangers - New York Times: "BAGHDAD — Ahmed al-Karbouli, a reporter for Baghdadiya TV in the violent city of Ramadi, did his best to ignore the death threats, right up until six armed men drilled him with bullets after midday prayers."

He was the fourth journalist killed in Iraq in September alone, out of a total of more than 130 since the 2003 invasion, the vast majority of them Iraqis. But these days, men with guns are not Iraqi reporters’ only threat. Men with gavels are, too.

Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein’s penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year.

Currently, three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried here for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. The journalists are accused of violating Paragraph 226 of the penal code, which makes anyone who “publicly insults” the government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison.

On Sept. 7, the police sealed the offices of Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel, for what the government said was inflammatory reporting. And the Committee to Protect Journalists says that at least three Iraqi journalists have served time in prison for writing articles deemed criminally offensive.
The office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has lately refused to speak with news organizations that report on sectarian violence in ways that the government considers inflammatory; some outlets have been shut down.

In addition to coping with government pressures, dozens of Iraqi journalists have been kidnapped by criminal gangs or detained by the American military, on suspicion that they are helping Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias. One, Bilal Hussein, who photographed insurgents in Anbar Province for The Associated Press, has been in American custody without charges since April.

And all Iraqi journalists have to live with the fear of death, which often dictates extreme security measures. Abdel Karim Hamadie, the news manager for Al Iraqiya Television, said he sometimes went months without leaving the station’s compound.

“The last time I went home was three weeks ago,” he said, showing off a small room adjacent to his office where he sleeps each night. “Before that, I spent three months at work. I used to hit my chair because I was so angry. But then I got a new chair.”

American diplomats here say they admire the dedication of Iraqi reporters in covering the war and the government’s efforts to create a democracy.

“Journalists here work under very, very difficult conditions,” said a United States Embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They are taking fire from every direction. They’ve got the defamation law hanging over their heads. They’ve got their political opponents gunning for them. They are trying very hard, and we want to encourage them.”

Under Mr. Hussein, reporters and editors were licensed and carefully watched. Even typewriters had to be registered with the government. During that time, some reporters got by on the conviction that their articles, about the government’s glorious new water projects or certain victory in the war with Iran, were at least patriotic.

“I never praised Saddam himself, never,” said Shihab al-Tamimi, 73, who runs the Iraqi Journalists Union from a battered old mansion here. “But I praised the project, for the good of the country.”

Now, Iraqi journalists still operate with considerable freedoms, at least compared with those in Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries, and many Iraqis have achieved a new level of professionalism by working closely with Western journalists. So despite the growing government pressure, the news media have become increasingly aggressive.

Ethical boundaries, though, often remain murky. It was disclosed last year that the Lincoln Group, an American public relations firm hired by the Pentagon, paid Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles on the American presence here and provided stipends to Iraqi journalists in exchange for favorable treatment.

Even though the Iraqi news media have made strides, the journalists themselves are being killed at an extraordinary rate.

Since the Iraq war began, more than 130 journalists — most of them Iraqi — have been fatally shot, beaten or tortured to death, according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, the most prominent domestic advocacy group for journalists to emerge since the invasion. (The Committee to Protect Journalists, which requires more evidence to verify reported killings, lists 79 journalists and 28 news workers.)

Most of the victims — reporters, photographers and editors — were working for local newspapers and television stations.

Don’t be surprised if you wake up one day to find that I have also been killed,” said Habib al-Sadr, the chief executive of the government-financed Iraqi Media Network, the nation’s largest media organization. In the network’s office lobby, a display case holds the photographs of 13 reporters and editors killed on the job since 2003, including Amjad Hameed, the head of the network’s television channel, Al Iraqiya.

The road to democracy is not smoothly paved,” Mr. Sadr said during a recent interview in his office, cigarette smoke curling around his face. “It is filled with bombs.”

Despite the danger, Falah al-Mishaal, the editor of Al Sabah, the government-run newspaper in Baghdad, said he enjoyed his job now because he felt like a real journalist.

Now, we are free,” he said in an interview in late July. “We can write whatever we want.”

Three weeks after the interview, a man drove a minibus filled with explosives into Al Sabah’s rear parking lot and blew it up, killing two people and wounding 20 others.
September has been particularly deadly for journalists.

Safa Ismael Enad, a freelance news photographer, was buying film at his favorite print shop in eastern Baghdad on Sept. 13 when two men with guns walked in, fired two shots into his chest and dragged his bleeding body away.

Three days earlier, gunmen blocked Abdul-Kareem al-Rubaie, a designer for Al Sabah, as he traveled to work one sunny morning, and they shot him through the windshield. Last month, Mohammad Abbas Mohammad, a newspaper editor, was shot to death in western Baghdad, and Ismail Amin Ali, a blunt-spoken columnist, was killed on the street across town on the same day.

The disdain for truly free expression cuts across sectarian lines. The men who killed Mr. Karbouli after warning him to stop his critical reporting on the insurgency were almost certainly Sunni. The former governor of Wasit Province, and the judges and police officials who brought charges against the three journalists for questioning their ethics, were all Shiites.

In April, Mastura Mahmood, a young journalist for the women’s weekly paper Rewan, was charged with defamation for an article that quoted an anti-government demonstrator in Halabja comparing the Iraqi police there with the Baathists who once ran the country. She was arrested and then released on bail.
In May, a court in Sulaimaniya, in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, sentenced two journalists, Twana Osman and Asos Hardi, to six-month suspended jail terms for an article claiming that a Kurdish official had two telephone company employees fired after they cut his phone service for failing to pay his bill.

These cases show that Iraqi officials are quick to use the same kinds of onerous legal tools as their neighbors to punish outspoken media,” said Joel Campagna, the Middle East program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Last month, more than 70 news organizations signed a nine-point pledge supporting the national reconciliation plan of Prime Minister Maliki, promising not to use inflammatory statements or images of people killed in attacks, and vowing to “disseminate news in a way that harmonizes with Iraq’s interests.” Days later, the police barred journalists from photographing corpses at the scenes of bombings and mortar attacks. Since then, policemen have smashed several photographers’ cameras and digital memory cards.

At Al Arabiya, the Baghdad station shuttered by the Iraqi authorities earlier this month, the studio door handle is sealed in red wax and bound in police tape. (The door is adorned with a photo of Atwar Bahjat, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Samarra in February while reporting on the bombing of a Shiite shrine.)

Some news executives express support for Al Arabiya’s closing.

It is the right of the Iraqi government, as it combats terrorism, to silence any voice that tries to harm the national unity,” said Mr. Sadr, of the Iraqi Media Network.

Bush Criticizes Democrats on Terror War

My Way News - Bush Criticizes Democrats on Terror War: "BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - President Bush suggested Thursday that Democrats don't have the stomach to fight the war on terror, battling back in the election-season clamor over administration intelligence showing terrorism spreading.
'Five years after 9/11, the worst attack on the American homeland in our history, Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second-guessing,' Bush said at a Republican fundraiser.
'The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run,' Bush told a convention-center audience of over 2,000 people. The event put $2.5 million in the campaign accounts of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and the state GOP.

Democrats immediately disputed the charge that they would hold back in the anti-terror battle."...

New Woodward Book Says Bush Ignored Urgent Warning on Iraq

New Woodward Book Says Bush Ignored Urgent Warning on Iraq - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 — The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war. "

The warning is described in “State of Denial,” scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as disengaged from the nuts-and-bolts of occupying and reconstructing Iraq — a task that was initially supposed to be under the direction of the Pentagon — and so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls. The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that “Rumsfeld doesn’t have any credibility anymore” to make a public case for the American strategy for victory in Iraq. ....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

 Posted by Picasa
 Posted by Picasa

What Iraqis Want:once more with feeling

Abu Aardvark: What Iraqis Want:once more with feeling: "Back in late August, I reported some previously unpublished data from an April 2006 University of Michigan survey of Iraqi public opinion which showed that 91.7% of Iraqis did not support the presence of coalition forces in Iraq. Some debate ensued as to whether the question 'do you support the presence of coalition forces' was a viable proxy for 'do you want the coalition forces to leave.'

The Washington Post reports today on two more surveys of Iraqi opinion. First, State Department polling found that 'In Baghdad... nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout.'

Second, PIPA has released the results of its latest round of polling today, which will show that '71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends keep permanent military bases in the country.' Third, the Post mentions that 'The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were questioned favored an immediate withdrawal.'

So maybe that's the resolution of the earlier debate: there's 15-20% difference between those who say they do not support the presence of coalition troops and those who say they want the coalition troops to leave. Which leaves the core of the original point untouched: a large majority of Iraqis do, in fact, want American troops out as soon as possible.

The PIPA survey also shows that all Iraqi ethnic groups overwhelmingly oppose al-Qaeda, with 94% overall holding an unfavorable view of the jihadists. Those findings further support a point I've been making for a while now, that the prospect of al-Qaeda taking over Iraq in the wake of an American withdrawal is an unrealistic bogeyman which should not guide American decisions its Iraq policy.

[bth: can it be clearer?]
 Posted by Picasa

Karzai Showdown with Musharraf Tonight?

The Blotter: "ABC News has learned that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will demand that Pakistan take several specific steps to crack down on what Mr. Karzai calls the 'sources of terrorism' in Pakistan.
President Karzai and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf attended an unusual dinner at the White House this evening with President Bush. 'It will be interesting for me to watch the body language of these two leaders to determine how tense things are,' Bush had told reporters at a news conference yesterday.

The two leaders, who have both been in the United States attending the U.N. General Assembly for the past ten days, have been trading charges and counter-charges regarding their respective government's policies on combating terrorism. The border area between the two countries is believed to be the epicenter of global Islamic terrorism. "

Intelligence analysts believe that the leadership of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri, are hiding in the remote, mountainous areas. The Taliban is also believed to be operating a resurgent terrorist campaign that has killed hundreds of U.S., British, Canadian and Afghan military and civilian personnel in the past six months from the border areas.

President Karzai will ask that President Musharraf make firm commitments to: 1) Arrest senior Taliban leaders believed to living in Pakistan and coordinating the increasingly violent and effective insurgency across the border in Afghanistan; 2) Shut down the hundreds of extremist madrassas, or religious schools, that are producing thousands of potential terrorist recruits every year; and 3) Issue unequivocal support for the elected government of Hamid Karzai and make it clear that the insurgency in Afghanistan is not a legitimate "jihad" or "Holy War," according to sources close to the Afghan President.

These are not new issues. Although disputed by President Musharraf, both U.S. and Afghan intelligence believe that much of the senior Taliban leadership is living in Pakistan. For example, Gen. James Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, testified last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee that it was "generally accepted" that a Taliban headquarters was based in the Quetta region of southwestern Pakistan.

Of the roughly 10,000 madrassas, more than 2,000 are considered extremist by General Musharraf's own estimate. According to independent studies, such madrassas are controlled by radical religious or militant groups, the curricula are restricted to religious studies, and the instructors often foster anti-western and "jihadist" world views. Previous commitments by the government to reform the madrassas have yielded few results.

Regarding the legitimacy of the Karzai government, President Musharraf has said that he recognizes President Karzai as the leader of Afghanistan, but he has also made it clear that he feels that the Afghan government is not sufficiently representative of the Pashtun ethnic group that is dominant in the provinces on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of the Taliban are Pashtuns.

Musharraf has also been highly critical of President Karzai charging that the Afghan President does not grasp what is going on in his own country -- that the insurgency is entirely Afghan, and that it is fueled with drug profits in the burgeoning heroin trade in Afghanistan.
 Posted by Picasa

Georgia arrests Russian officers for spying and surrounds army HQ

Guardian Unlimited Special reports Georgia arrests Russian officers for spying and surrounds army HQ: "Georgia yesterday detained four Russian military officers and 12 civilians on espionage charges, marking a serious escalation in tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow. Georgian forces were late last night surrounding Russia's military headquarters in Tbilisi to demand the handover of another Russian officer.

Georgia's ambassador to Moscow was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry and given a protest note demanding the immediate release of the officers. The ministry said the detentions were 'an outrageous escapade'."

The Georgian interior minister, Vano Merabishvili, said the officers and their agents in Georgia were part of a "very serious and dangerous" spy network that had been involved in espionage for years. "They showed a particular interest in Georgia's defence capability, its programmes of integration into Nato, energy, security, political parties and organisations," he told journalists.

Mr Merabishvili said the detained officers were members of Russia's GRU army intelligence unit and had been planning "a serious provocation".

Colonel Alexander Sava, named by Mr Merabishvili as the leader of the spy ring, and Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Kazantsev were arrested in Tbilisi, while Colonel Alexander Zavgorodtsev and Major Alexander Barantsev were detained in Batumi on Georgia's Black Sea coast.

Mr Merabishvili said Georgian forces had surrounded the Russian military headquarters to ensure that the fifth suspect did not flee the country via "diplomatic channels". Russia still operates two military bases in Georgia, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union. The bases are due to be closed next year.

Mr Merabishvili said the officers were also accused of having been involved in a bomb attack in the town of Gori, 50 miles west of Tbilisi, which killed three police officers and injured 23 other people.

Relations between Georgia and its former imperial master have reached new lows since President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power after the 2003 "rose revolution" and sought closer ties with the west and Nato membership. The Kremlin retaliated this year with a ban on Georgian wine and mineral water exports, allegedly for public health reasons. In a speech to the UN general assembly last Friday Mr Saakashvili accused Russia of seeking to annex parts of Georgian territory by supporting separatists in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia supports the rebels financially and has installed hundreds of peacekeepers in the two regions, which are not internationally recognised but which have enjoyed de-facto independence since wars in the 1990s.

Tensions flared along the South Ossetia border in recent weeks, with Ossetian forces firing on a military helicopter carrying Georgia's defence minister and a skirmish on September 7 that left four dead.

[bth: were we not bogged down in Iraq and the media so distracted with celebrities, this might be news in the US, instead we have to go to the UK to read about it.]
 Posted by Picasa

New Poll: 71 Percent Of Iraqis Want U.S. Forces To Withdraw Within A Year

Think Progress » New Poll: 71 Percent Of Iraqis Want U.S. Forces To Withdraw Within A Year: "The Program on International Policy Attitudes released a new poll on Iraqi public opinion today which finds that seven in ten Iraqis want US-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year. Moreover, an overwhelming majority believes that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing. The poll was conducted during the first week of September. Here are some of its key findings:

– A large majority of Iraqis–71%–say they would like the Iraqi government to ask for US-led forces to be withdrawn from Iraq within a year or less. Given four options, 37 percent take the position that they would like US-led forces withdrawn “within six months,” while another 34 percent opt for “gradually withdraw[ing] US-led forces according to a one-year timeline.”

– Support for attacks against US-led forces has increased sharply to 61 percent (27% strongly, 34% somewhat). This represents a 14-point increase from January 2006, when only 47 percent of Iraqis supported attacks.

– More broadly, 79 percent of Iraqis say that the US is having a negative influence on the situation in Iraq, with just 14 percent saying that it is having a positive influence.

– Asked “If the US made a commitment to withdraw from Iraq according to a timeline, do you think this would strengthen the Iraqi government, weaken it, or have no effect either way?” 53 percent said that it would strengthen the government, while just 24 percent said it would weaken the government.

–Asked what effect it would have “if US-led forces withdraw from Iraq in the next six months,” 58 percent overall say that violence would decrease (35% a lot, 23% a little).
Read the full report HERE.

[bth: Iraqis want us out. So let's find the exit and leave per their request.]
 Posted by Picasa
 Posted by Picasa

Heralded Iraq Police Academy a 'Disaster'

Heralded Iraq Police Academy a 'Disaster' - "BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 -- A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.

The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed 'the rain forest.'"

"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress.

"The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."

Bowen's office plans to release a 21-page report Thursday detailing the most alarming problems with the facility.

Even in a $21 billion reconstruction effort that has been marred by cases of corruption and fraud, failures in training and housing Iraq's security forces are particularly significant because of their effect on what the U.S. military has called its primary mission here: to prepare Iraqi police and soldiers so that Americans can depart.

Federal investigators said the inspector general's findings raise serious questions about whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has failed to exercise effective oversight over the Baghdad Police College or reconstruction programs across Iraq, despite charging taxpayers management fees of at least 4.5 percent of total project costs. The Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that it has initiated a wide-ranging investigation of the police academy project.

The report serves as the latest indictment of Parsons Corp., the U.S. construction giant that was awarded about $1 billion for a variety of reconstruction projects across Iraq. After chronicling previous Parsons failures to properly build health clinics, prisons and hospitals, Bowen said he now plans to conduct an audit of every Parsons project.

"The truth needs to be told about what we didn't get for our dollar from Parsons," Bowen said.
A spokeswoman for Parsons said the company had not seen the inspector general's report.

The Coalition Provisional Authority hired Parsons in 2004 to transform the Baghdad Police College, a ramshackle collection of 1930s buildings, into a modern facility whose training capacity would expand from 1,500 recruits to at least 4,000. The contract called for the firm to remake the campus by building, among other things, eight three-story student barracks, classroom buildings and a central laundry facility.

As top U.S. military commanders declared 2006 "the year of the police," in an acknowledgment of their critical role in allowing for any withdrawal of American troops, officials highlighted the Baghdad Police College as one of their success stories.

"This facility has definitely been a top priority," Lt. Col. Joel Holtrop of the Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division Project and Contracting Office said in a July news release. "It's a very exciting time as the cadets move into the new structures."

Complaints about the new facilities, however, began pouring in two weeks after the recruits arrived at the end of May, a Corps of Engineers official said.

The most serious problem was substandard plumbing that caused waste from toilets on the second and third floors to cascade throughout the building. A light fixture in one room stopped working because it was filled with urine and fecal matter. The waste threatened the integrity of load-bearing slabs, federal investigators concluded.

"When we walked down the halls, the Iraqis came running up and said, 'Please help us. Please do something about this,' " Bowen recalled.

Phillip A. Galeoto, director of the Baghdad Police College, wrote an Aug. 16 memo that catalogued at least 20 problems: shower and bathroom fixtures that leaked from the first day of occupancy, concrete and tile floors that heaved more than two inches off the ground, water rushing down hallways and stairwells because of improper slopes or drains in bathrooms, classroom buildings with foundation problems that caused structures to sink.

Galeoto noted that one entire building and five floors in others had to be shuttered for repairs, limiting the capacity of the college by up to 800 recruits. His memo, too, pointed out that the urine and feces flowed throughout the building and, sometimes, onto occupants of the barracks.

"This is not a complete list," he wrote, but rather a snapshot of "issues we are confronted with on a daily basis (as recent as the last hour) by the incomplete and/or poor work left behind by these builders."

The Parsons contract, which eventually totaled at least $75 million, was terminated May 31 "due to cost overruns, schedule slippage, and sub-standard quality," according to a Sept. 4 internal military memo.

But rather than fire the Pasadena, Calif.-based company for cause, the contract was halted for "the government's convenience."

Col. Michael Herman -- deputy commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Corps of Engineers, which was supposed to oversee the project -- said the Iraqi subcontractors hired by Parsons were being forced to fix the building problems as part of their warranty work, at no cost to taxpayers. He said four of the eight barracks have been repaired.

The U.S. military initially agreed to take a Washington Post reporter on a tour of the facility Wednesday to examine the construction issues, but the trip was postponed Tuesday night. Federal investigators who visited the academy last week, though, expressed concerns about the structural integrity of the buildings and worries that fecal residue could cause a typhoid outbreak or other health crisis.

"They may have to demolish everything they built," said Robert DeShurley, a senior engineer with the inspector general's office. "The buildings are falling down as they sit."

Herman said that he doubted that was the case but that he plans to hire an architecture and engineering firm to examine the facility. He also plans to investigate concerns raised by the inspector general's office that the Army Corps of Engineers did not properly respond to construction problems highlighted in quality-control reports.

Inside the inspector general's office in Baghdad on a recent blistering afternoon, several federal investigators expressed amazement that such construction blunders could be concentrated in one project. Even in Iraq, they said, failure on this magnitude is unusual. When asked how the problems at the police college compared with other projects they had inspected, the answers came swiftly.
"This is significant," said Jon E. Novak, a senior adviser in the office.

"It's catastrophic," DeShurley added.

Bowen said: "It's the worst."

[bth: so instead of training 1500 police we are training 800 because Parsons put us in a world of shit. The corp of engineers which was supposed to manage the project didn't, but no one will be held to account. Parsons wasn't fired, so they won't be held to account either. They just took the money and left. We are losing this war to our own incompetence.]
 Posted by Picasa

Cleric Said to Lose Reins of Parts of Iraqi Militia - New York Times

Cleric Said to Lose Reins of Parts of Iraqi Militia - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 — The radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has lost control of portions of his Mahdi Army militia that are splintering off into freelance death squads and criminal gangs, a senior coalition intelligence official said Wednesday. "

The question of how tightly Mr. Sadr holds the militia, one of the largest armed groups in Iraq, is of critical importance to American and Iraqi officials. Seeking to ease the sectarian violence raging across the country, they have pressed him to join the political process and curb his fighters, who see themselves as defenders of Shiism — and often as agents of vengeance against Sunnis.

But as Mr. Sadr has taken a more active role in the government, as many as a third of his militiamen have grown frustrated with the constraints of compromise and have broken off, often selling their services to the highest bidders, said the official, who spoke to reporters in Baghdad on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly on intelligence issues.

“When Sadr says you can’t do this, for whatever political reason, that’s when they start to go rogue,” the official said. “Frankly, at that point, they start to become very open to alternative sources of sponsorship.” The official said that opened the door to control by Iran.

Mr. Sadr’s militia — dominated by impoverished Shiites who are loosely organized into groups that resemble neighborhood protection forces — has always operated in a grass-roots style but generally tended to heed his commands. It answered his call to battle American forces in two uprisings in 2004, and stopped fighting when he ordered it. But as the violence in Iraq has spread, evidence of freelancing Shiites has accumulated.

After the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, bands of militants dressed in black, the favorite color of Sadr loyalists, drove into neighborhoods, kidnapping and killing Sunnis. Mr. Sadr, who was abroad at the time, returned home and gave a rare public speech calling on his followers to stop, even proposing joint prayer sessions with Sunni clerics. Still, the rampage continued.

In Basra, a province in southeastern Iraq, Mr. Sadr has less direct control over militiamen, and they have tended to operate to suit their own agenda. Local leaders there have said that he has disciplined some members and fired others, but with little overall effect. He has run through four different leaders in Basra, according to the intelligence official, and has even had to shut offices temporarily, when local leaders ignored him and acted on their own.

Mr. Sadr is still immensely powerful, with as many as 7,000 militiamen in Baghdad, the official said. And the cleric has turned that firepower into political might. His candidate list won about 30 seats in Parliament this year, one of the largest shares. The participation was a central goal for American officials, who tried for months to persuade him to stop fighting and enter politics.

Still, six major leaders here no longer answer to Mr. Sadr’s organization, according to the intelligence official. Most describe themselves as Mahdi Army members, the official said, and even get money from Mr. Sadr’s organization, but “are effectively beyond his control.” Some of those who moved away from Mr. Sadr saw him as too accommodating to the United States. Others saw him as too bound by politics, particularly as killings of Shiite civilians in mixed neighborhoods began to soar.

“They’re not content to sit there and just defend their family on the street corner,” the official said. “They want to go out and take on what they view as Al Qaeda or Baathists or both in aggressive measure.”

One example is Abu Dera, a fighter in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in the capital who used to be loyal to Mr. Sadr. Residents said that as he began to gain a reputation for killing Sunni figures, Mr. Sadr told him to stop. But he ignored the order, and now he is referred to as the “Shiite Zarqawi,” after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader who exhorted Sunnis to kill Shiites.

“He started against the Americans, but he moved on to killing Sunnis,” said Sattar Awad, a 29-year-old resident of the district. “People here look at him as a brave man.”

American forces are hunting for Mr. Dera, the intelligence officer said, but he has eluded capture.
Although the splintering has solved some problems for the American military, it has raised new ones. “In some ways it makes it easier for me because I now have digestible doses I can deal with,” said a senior American military official at a briefing on Wednesday, also in Baghdad. “At the same time it creates problems because they are harder to find when they are splintered.”

The splintering has changed the tone of the American military’s interaction with the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. In past years, American forays into the area would often draw a storm of grenade attacks. But recent American moves into the area have been carried out relatively peacefully: Mr. Sadr has not ordered attacks because the men being sought were freelancers like Abu Dera, the intelligence officer said.

The fighters’ defections have raised the troubling prospect of more avenues of influence for Iran, the senior intelligence official said. The official cited shipments of weapons with labels that trace back to Iranian weapons manufacturers as evidence that Iran was actively aiding groups in Iraq. And that assistance has not just been limited to Mahdi Army offshoots. “They’re not sure who will come out on top, so they fund everybody,” the official said of Iran.

Even Mr. Sadr, who fashions himself as the quintessential Iraqi nationalist, has reached out to Iran’s government, making a very public trip to Iran for talks early this year. He is also trying to reassert control over his power base at home, and to expand his influence, the intelligence official said. “What Sadr is looking for is discipline,” the official said.

He said Mr. Sadr had begun to increase his exposure in the northern city of Kirkuk and in Diyala Province, both mixed-population areas north of Baghdad where sectarian disputes have been on the rise. There, he is trying to appeal by casting himself as a defender of Shiites against Kurdish and Sunni Arab factions.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting.

[bth: I'd say what Sadr is looking for is cash, that's why he is meddling in Kirkuk and down south. As to the rest, it strikes me as frightening that Sadr is considered the man we can deal with. The other six look like lunatics or worse. So if we attack them, does that strengthen Sadr; our buddy that has attacked us twice since 2004?]