Saturday, October 14, 2006


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Official: Guard Force Is Behind Death Squads

Official: Guard Force Is Behind Death Squads - washingtonpost.com: "BAGHDAD, Oct. 13 -- Iraq's interior minister on Friday rejected allegations that Iraq's police and military have played a major role in the death squads blamed for Baghdad's surging violence, saying that only a small number of all those caught in U.S. or Iraqi raids were members of the police or army.

Jawad al-Bolani, speaking to a small group of reporters in Baghdad, blamed the Facilities Protection Service, or FPS, a massive but unregulated government guard force whose numbers he put at about 150,000."...

Iraqi Colonel Who Bridged Sectarian Divide Is Killed

Iraqi Colonel Who Bridged Sectarian Divide Is Killed - washingtonpost.com: "BAGHDAD, Oct. 13 -- Operating between the insurgent Sunni Arab suburbs of Baghdad and the Shiite militia-dominated south, Col. Salam al-Mamuri and his Scorpion commando team were a rarity among Iraqi security forces, American and Iraqi colleagues said: a police unit fighting on both sides of the country's sectarian divide.

On Friday, a bomb blew apart Mamuri and an aide at the Scorpions' headquarters in the southern city of Hilla. The attack ended the life of a broadly respected commander who had been one of the longest-serving and longest-surviving men in a cadre of Iraqi army veterans struggling to restore law and order after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion."

Mamuri's comparative evenhandedness enforcing the law may have earned him an enemy within his own sect, the Shiites. Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani in Baghdad called it a "possibility and a probability" that the assassination was at least in part an inside job, because the killer was able to gain access to Mamuri's office to plant the bomb.

Mamuri had founded the Scorpion brigade soon after Americans arrived and had led it ever since.

Though the unit, whose commandos wore the emblem of a black arachnid, was known to locals as the Scorpions, successive deployments of U.S. Special Operations members and Marines generally called it simply Hilla SWAT.

The Scorpions were made up of about 800 men, most of them Shiites from Hilla. The unit, which Bolani called "one of the most important and vital of the Ministry of Interior," has remained relatively stable and cohesive since its early days, as other U.S. efforts to build Iraqi security forces have collapsed.

"The way I look at it, I am not here to serve Sunnis or Shiites. I am here to serve Iraq," Mamuri said in early May, in an interview in the office in which he was killed Friday. His close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair made him look a decade older than his 35 years.

His expression of neutrality was indistinguishable from those issued up and down the ranks of Iraq's predominantly Shiite police forces, many members of which are accused by Sunnis and Americans of a role in the country's escalating Shiite-Sunni killings. The difference, many Americans and Iraqis said, was that Mamuri acted as if he meant it.

"They are literally the only Iraqi unit under arms in the south that is completely independent of the political parties and the militias," a Special Forces intelligence specialist and medic said this year. "Everyone else -- the police, the army -- is playing ball for somebody. They won't."

An American Special Forces team leader who worked with the Scorpions for several months said, "We look at them as peers, we don't look at them as below us." As a matter of policy, Special Forces soldiers speak only on the condition of anonymity.

In Hilla on Friday, the commando leader's funeral dirge was the rattle of automatic-weapons fire, as the Scorpions shot into the air to mark Mamuri's death. Many residents of the flat, sprawling market town stayed indoors, taking shelter from the gunfire and fearing the killing would spark retaliatory violence.

"Ninety percent of the people are so sad about what happened, because the colonel was a very good man with the good people, but he was an iron hand against the outlaws," Hayder Foaud, a lawyer in Hilla, said by telephone.

Seven other officers were wounded by the bomb that killed Mamuri.

Capt. Muthana Ahmad, a spokesman for the provincial police force there, said the bomb may have been attached to a window of Mamuri's office. Others, including Abdul Kareem al-Kinani, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, said investigators believed the wreckage indicated that the bomb had been placed under his desk.

"This is correct," Ahmad said, asked whether authorities suspected that one or more of the commando leader's aides collaborated in the killing. "As you may know, infiltration has taken place" in Iraq's security forces.

Bolani told reporters that he had ordered an investigation.

Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, is markedly more peaceful than the towns on the capital's southern outskirts that serve as strongholds for Sunni insurgents. Shiite schoolchildren today sing the Sunni towns' names, such as Latifiyah, in chilling songs equating them with hell.

On the other side of Hilla is the almost entirely Shiite south, free of the brunt of Sunni insurgent attacks but the scene of growing clashes between militias and security forces loyal to rival Shiite religious parties.

Hilla residents said Friday that local forces of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr especially disliked Mamuri, more than ever after the Scorpions raided a Sadr office in mid-September. Sadr's militia, known as the Mahdi Army, is one of the most powerful forces in Iraq.

Shiite politicians and officials from the Shiite-run Interior Ministry frequently threatened to have Mamuri replaced. Several attempts were made on his life, including a roadside bomb attack on his convoy in late April that was blamed on the Mahdi Army.

Because of its makeup and the fact that it fought al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni-led insurgent groups, Hilla SWAT swiftly earned a reputation as a feared anti-Sunni force. It was heavily involved in the operations around Yusufiyah in April and May that led to the capture of several top al-Qaeda lieutenants and, the military later said, the eventual killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

But the unit cracked down as fiercely on Shiite militias, which Mamuri blamed this spring for what by then amounted to at least a half-dozen attempts to assassinate him. He barred militia members from serving in his brigade, despite intense political pressure from the provincial governor, who Mamuri said repeatedly pressured him to accept more militia members into his ranks.

"The militias consider us the only thing preventing them from completely taking over the south," Mamuri said in the spring interview. "They are bad for the country."

Mamuri rejected the idea of giving up in the face of the assassination attempts. "You can get killed in Iraq even if you sit all day in your house," he said. "What should I do, sit around and wait to die, or try to stop the people who are killing?"
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Baker's Panel Rules Out Iraq Victory

Baker's Panel Rules Out Iraq Victory: "WASHINGTON — A commission formed to assess the Iraq war and recommend a new course has ruled out the prospect of victory for America, according to draft policy options shared with The New York Sun by commission officials.

Currently, the 10-member commission — headed by a secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, James Baker — is considering two option papers, 'Stability First' and 'Redeploy and Contain,' both of which rule out any prospect of making Iraq a stable democracy in the near term."

More telling, however, is the ruling out of two options last month. One advocated minor fixes to the current war plan but kept intact the long-term vision of democracy in Iraq with regular elections. The second proposed that coalition forces focus their attacks only on Al Qaeda and not the wider insurgency.

Instead, the commission is headed toward presenting President Bush with two clear policy choices that contradict his rhetoric of establishing democracy in Iraq. The more palatable of the two choices for the White House, "Stability First," argues that the military should focus on stabilizing Baghdad while the American Embassy should work toward political accommodation with insurgents. The goal of nurturing a democracy in Iraq is dropped.

The option papers, which sources inside the commission have stressed are still being amended and revised as the panel wraps up its work, give a clearer picture of what Mr. Baker meant in recent interviews when he called for a course adjustment.

They also shed light on what is at stake in the coming 2 1/2 months for the Iraqi government. The "Redeploy and Contain" option calls for the phased withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq, though the working groups have yet to say when and where those troops will go. The document, read over the telephone to the Sun, says America should "make clear to allies and others that U.S. redeployment does not reduce determination to attack terrorists wherever they are." It also says America's top priority should be minimizing American casualties in Iraq.

Both Mr. Baker and his Democratic co-commissioner, Lee Hamilton, have said for nearly a month that the coming weeks and months are crucial for the elected body in Baghdad. More recently, Mr. Baker has said he is leaning against counseling the president to withdraw from Iraq.

Mr. Bush yesterday spoke approvingly of his father's old campaign manager and top diplomat, saying he looked forward to seeing "what Jimmy Baker and Lee Hamilton have to say about getting the job done."

The president also said he was not averse to changing tactics. But he repeated that the strategic goal in Iraq is to build "a country which can defend itself, sustain itself, and govern itself." He added, "The strategic goal is to help this young democracy succeed in a world in which extremists are trying to intimidate rational people in order to topple moderate governments and to extend the caliphate."

But the president's strategic goal is at odds with the opinion of Mr. Baker's expert working groups, which dismiss the notion of victory in Iraq. The "Stability First" paper says, "The United States should aim for stability particularly in Baghdad and political accommodation in Iraq rather than victory."

Mr. Baker in recent days has subtly been sounding out this theme with interviewers. On PBS's "Charlie Rose Show," Mr. Baker was careful to say he believed the jury was still out on whether Iraq was a success or a failure. But he also hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was "democratic" and one that was merely "representative."

"If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success," he said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. "Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative," the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

Both option papers would compel America to open dialogue with Syria and Iran, two rogue states that Iraqi leaders and American military commanders say are providing arms and funds to Iraq's insurgents.

"Stabilizing Iraq will be impossible without greater cooperation from Iran and Syria," the "Stability First" paper says.

The option also calls on America to solicit aid and support from the European Union and the United Nations, though both bodies in the past have spurned requests for significant aid for Iraq.

Because of the politically explosive topic of the Baker commission, the panel has agreed not to release its findings until after the November 7 elections. The commission, formally known as the Iraq Study Group, was created by Congress in legislation sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican of Virginia and close confidant of Mr. Bush's. Mr. Baker has said he will likely present the panel's findings in December.

UN pulls out of strife-torn Somalia | The World | The Australian

UN pulls out of strife-torn Somalia The World The Australian: "THE UN has pulled out its foreign staff from much of Somalia, as neighbouring Kenya appealed for international help in keeping tensions between Islamists and the weak Somali Government from exploding into war."...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Soldiers are accused of gun-running for drugs in war zones - Britain - Times Online

Soldiers are accused of gun-running for drugs in war zones - Britain - Times Online: "NINE British soldiers are facing a court martial for allegedly smuggling guns out of Iraq to sell for drugs and cash. Investigators fear that weapons and ammunition being trafficked by troops from war zones will end up in the hands of gangsters.


The soldiers from the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment are accused of buying cocaine from gangs in Germany, where their unit was based. Royal Military Police have investigated claims that the alleged drugs were sold to other British troops still serving in Iraq.

A former security official involved in tracing the flow of battlefield weapons to the criminal underground told The Times yesterday: “This is happening far more often than the authorities choose to admit and it is hard to stop the practice.”

He believes that troops are adept at hiding weapons and ammunition among military hardware being shipped back to Britain.

The cache is dispersed among hundreds of shipping containers. If the arms are found the military cannot prove who owns them. If they slip through searches the smugglers collect and dispose of them quickly to drug gangs who are always in the market for weapons, the official said.


Investigators say that the weapons are worth more if ammunition is also provided.

An AK47 rifle with 200 rounds will go for between £2,000 and £3,000. A Glock pistol, which is used by the new Iraqi police force, will fetch more than £1,000, as long as there is ammunition, as that is far harder to get than the guns,” the source added. ...

Grandmother Mails Fruitcakes, Sues USPS

ABC News: Grandmother Mails Fruitcakes, Sues USPS: "WILMINGTON, Del. Oct 12, 2006 (AP)— Lucille Greene, an 88-year-old grandmother, takes baking and mailing about 30 family recipe fruitcakes as Christmas gifts seriously. Seriously enough that she sued the U.S. Postal Service for emotional distress after alleged rough treatment and accusations of being a terrorist from a postal clerk, according to her federal lawsuit.

In December 2002, Greene showed up at the Magnolia, Del., post office to mail fruitcakes to relatives and friends when, her lawsuit states, a postal worker asked her, 'What kind of explosives do you have in here?' before shaking the box.

In the lawsuit, she said others in the post office laughed at her, leaving her upset and in tears. She said she tripped over a concrete parking barrier outside and fell, breaking her glasses and chipping a tooth.
The judge dismissed her allegations two weeks ago, and her appeal for $250,000 compensation, because Greene had a prior eye condition, and contradictory testimony. "...

Al-Sistani's influence declining in Iraq

PennLive.com: NewsFlash - Al-Sistani's influence declining in Iraq: "BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani once wielded so much influence he seemed to single-handedly chart the post-Saddam Hussein political future in Iraq. Now, the country's top Shiite cleric appears powerless as Iraq edges toward civil war.

With dozens of Iraqis dying daily from Sunni-Shiite reprisal killings, the failures of al-Sistani's pleas for peace underline a major power shift in the Shiite establishment.

'Their political interests now outweigh religious interests,' said Mustapha al-Ani, a Dubai-based Iraqi analyst. 'To some extent, the need for al-Sistani's endorsement is no longer a prerequisite to gain power. Those with street credibility and a militia now have the power.'"

It's a major shift from the more than two years following Saddam's ouster, when Shiite leaders hung on al-Sistani's every word concerning politics. His opposition to U.S. plans for elections and a constitution forced the Americans to make dramatic changes. His calls for Shiites to avoid violence were largely adhered to.

But priorities for Shiite political parties have changed and their leaders no longer appear to feel the need to be seen to be closely associated with al-Sistani to gain legitimacy.

The swing has stripped the Shiite clergy, with the Iranian-born al-Sistani at its head, of much of its influence and given a lead role to followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who does not recognize al-Sistani's religious authority.

It is a power shift that does not bode well for Iraq's Shiite-dominated government or the U.S.-led military coalition as they try to contain the stubborn Sunni insurgency and the wave of sectarian killings that has swelled since last winter.

Al-Sadr's supporters are widely suspected in many of the attacks on Sunni Arabs. His militiamen, who staged two revolts against U.S. troops in 2004, also have clashed with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad and southern Iraq in recent weeks.

Al-Sistani has responded to the bloodshed with a mixture of resignation and a deep sense of disappointment, said an official who is in regular contact with al-Sistani in the southern holy city of Najaf.

"He keeps praying for peace," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. "He feels the pain every day, but he has no magic wand. He tells visitors every day that what's happening does not please God or his prophet and has nothing to do with Islamic teachings."

Al-Sistani's last public statement on the crisis in Iraq came more than three months ago, when after a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he publicly upbraided the leader for the government's failure to bring security.

Although al-Sistani has steadfastly refused to meet with U.S. officials, he counseled Shiites not to take up arms against the Americans. In 2004, he personally intervened to broker a truce that ended weeks of fighting between al-Sadr's militiamen and the U.S. military in Najaf.

In statements earlier this year, al-Sistani emotionally appealed for peace between the Shiite majority and the once-dominant Sunni minority.

The cleric, who is in his mid-70s and suffers from a heart condition, sets aside 90 minutes every day to receive visitors and well-wishers and without fail he urges them to work for an end to the bloodshed, said the official close to al-Sistani.

The visitors are mostly tribal chiefs or public figures but include less prominent Shiites. The flow of visitors shows that reverence for al-Sistani as a religious figure remains strong — but the continuing violence is a sign of his waning political leverage.

Iraq's main media give significantly less coverage to al-Sistani than they did a year ago. Portrait posters of al-Sadr in the streets of Baghdad as well as the mainly Shiite south now far outnumber those of al-Sistani.

Previously, Shiite politicians could hardly make a major decision without traveling to al-Sistani's office in Najaf to get his opinion or seek his endorsement.

When the United States tried to put off elections, al-Sistani's insistence on the vote — and mass protests he called for — forced a change of heart in Washington and elections were held in January and December 2005.

The January 2005 election produced a parliament that drafted a new constitution adopted in a referendum last October. A second election, for a full, four-year legislature, was held last December.

Al-Sistani was credited for the high Shiite turnout in all three votes. But the dismal performance of the two Shiite-led governments produced by last year's elections chipped away at his prestige since it was his support that brought them to power.

The governments' failures drove many Shiites away from moderates and into the camps of radicals like al-Sadr, whose militia — the Mahdi Army — controls Baghdad's teeming Shiite district of Sadr City and a string of Shiite towns across central and southern Iraq.

"After the elections and the referendum, people as well as the marjayiah (top Shiite clergy) expected life to be rosy, but all we got was trouble," said the official in contact with al-Sistani.

Vali Nasr, who lectures on Islamic affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., believes al-Sistani's involvement in politics hurt his standing.

"In some ways, his authority has gone down and he lost control of the political process," Nasr said.

Navy SEAL dropped onto grenade to save comrades

SignOnSanDiego.com > In Iraq -- Navy SEAL dropped onto grenade to save comrades: "CORONADO – Positioned by the only door to a sniper hideout in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor could have saved himself when insurgents lobbed a fragmentation grenade into the rooftop structure. "

The grenade hit him in the chest and bounced to the floor. Instead of running for cover, the 25-year-old gunner dropped onto the explosive and used his body to shield three fellow Navy SEALs in the room with him. He probably saved their lives, but lost his own.

Monsoor became the second SEAL to die in Iraq when he was killed Sept. 29. Two SEALs next to Monsoor were injured and a fourth, who was 10-to-15 feet from the blast, was unhurt. The four-man team was working with Iraqi soldiers providing sniper security while U.S and Iraqi forces conducted missions in the area.

“He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it,” said a 28-year-old lieutenant who sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs that day. “He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs lives, and we owe him.”

Four SEALs spoke to The Associated Press this week at the special force's West Coast headquarters in Coronado on condition of anonymity because their work requires their identities to remain secret.

The group remembered “Mikey” as a loyal friend, a quiet professional and a dedicated SEAL.

“He was just a fun-loving guy,” said a 26-year-old petty officer 2nd class who went through the grueling 29-week SEAL training with Monsoor. “Always got something funny to say, always got a little mischievous look on his face.”

Other SEALS described Monsoor as a modest and humble man who drew strength from his family and his faith. His father and brother are former Marines and he had a deep respect for other troops, said a 31-year-old petty officer 2nd class.

Prior to his death, Monsoor had already demonstrated courage under fire. On May 9 in Ramadi, the Garden Grove, Calif., native and another SEAL pulled a wounded team member to safety while bullets pinged off the ground around them. For his actions, Monsoor was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

Monsoor's funeral was held Thursday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. He has also been submitted for an award for his actions the day he died.

A 35-year-old chief petty officer said Monsoor was primarily a heavy gunner, but also worked as a communications specialist. As a team member, he more than pulled his weight, frequently carrying his Mk-48 machine gun and a large radio.

SEALs have been involved in the war on terror since its start, said Navy spokesman Lt. Taylor Clark. There are about 2,300 of the elite fighters, based in Coronado and Little Creek, Va.

The Navy is trying to boost that number by 500 – a challenge considering more than 75 percent of candidates drop out of training, notorious for “Hell Week,” a five-day stint of continual drills by the ocean broken by only four hours sleep total. Monsoor made it through training on his second attempt.

Clark said every SEAL is likely to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan at some point. He said the relatively low number of deaths among SEALs in Iraq was a testament to their training.

SEAL casualties have been higher in Afghanistan. In June 2005, 11 SEALs died when a helicopter was shot down while ferrying reinforcements for troops pursuing al-Qaeda militants near the border with Pakistan.

Five others have been killed in separate incidents in Afghanistan, Clark said.

The first SEAL to die in Iraq was Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc A. Lee, 28, who was killed Aug. 2 in a firefight while on patrol against insurgents in Ramadi.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Molly Ivins: Dear Leaders

Truthdig - Reports - Molly Ivins: Dear Leaders: "AUSTIN, Texas—Nobody else seems to be asking the obvious question about Susan B. Ralston, former administrative assistant to Jack Abramoff and, until last week, assistant to Karl Rove. She got hired by Rove at $64,700 after the 2004 election and then received a raise to $122,000. Why? I’ve never gotten a 100 percent raise. Did you? Is this common?

AUSTIN, Texas—Nobody else seems to be asking the obvious question about Susan B. Ralston, former administrative assistant to Jack Abramoff and, until last week, assistant to Karl Rove. She got hired by Rove at $64,700 after the 2004 election and then received a raise to $122,000. Why? I’ve never gotten a 100 percent raise. Did you? Is this common? "

I know next to nothing about North Korea, but I know how to find out. People who do know the weird country have been worrying about it in print for six years now. (See articles in The New York Review of Books.) Eric Alterman picked this bit up in “The Book on Bush”: “The tone of [Colin] Powell’s tenure was set early in the administration, when he announced that he planned ‘to pick up where the Clinton administration had left off’ in trying to secure the peace between North and South Korea, while negotiating with the North to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weaponry. The president not only repudiated his secretary of state in public, announcing, ‘We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements,’ he did so during a joint appearance with South Korean President (and Nobel laureate for peace for his own efforts with the North) Kim Dae-Jung, thereby humiliating his honored guest, as well.

“A day later, Powell backpedaled. ‘The president forcefully made the point that we are undertaking a full review of our relationship with North Korea,’ Powell said. ‘There was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin—that is not the case.’ ”

This was pre-9/11, when Bush’s entire foreign policy consisted in not doing whatever Clinton had done, and vice versa. Also from “The Book on Bush”: “As former Ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and James Laney warned at the moment of Bush’s carelessly worded ‘Axis of Evil’ address, ‘Besides putting another knife in the diminishing South Korean president,’ the speech would likely cause ‘dangerous escalatory consequences, (including) ... renewed tensions on the peninsula and continued export of missiles to the Mideast.’ ... North Korea called the Bush bluff, and the result, notes (Washington Post) columnist Richard Cohen, was ‘a stumble, a fumble, an error compounded by a blooper ... as appalling a display of diplomacy as anyone has seen since a shooting in Sarajevo turned into World War I.’ ”

Remember Bush’s diplomatic interview with Bob Woodward in which he said, “I loathe Kim Jong Il!”

Waving his finger, he added, “I’ve got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people.”

Bush also said he wanted to “topple him” and called him a “pygmy.” How old were you when you learned not to antagonize and infuriate the local crazy bully?

Always a top diplomat. But I warn you, when Bush makes reference of this, as in “my gut tells me,” we are in big trouble. By any measure, North Korea continued to be more dangerous than Iraq.

I don’t see how this mess can be blamed on anyone but Bush, but I notice that a few Republicans have dragged out the shade of Bill Clinton because he tried to deal with North Korea. I would have thought there wasn’t much water left in that bogeyman, but I guess he is the straw man for all seasons among Republicans. Why doesn’t someone on Fox News ask him about it?

Meanwhile, our fiendishly clever president has dragged his daddy’s old family consigliore, James Baker, out of retirement to think of something to do about Iraq. A three-part partition is mentioned. History Professor Juan Cole on his blog explains why that’s a disaster, but I suspect that’s where the poor Iraqis end up anyway, followed by war with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and see works by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Cost of Doing Your Duty

The Cost of Doing Your Duty - New York Times: "During the recent debate over how to handle the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, the Bush administration made a lot of noise about its commitment to fair treatment for the detainees and its respect for the uniformed lawyers of the armed forces. Anyone who believed those claims should consider the fate of the Navy lawyer whose integrity helped spark that debate in the first place."

In 2003, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift was assigned to represent Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni citizen accused of being a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda — for the sole purpose of getting him to plead guilty before one of the military commissions that President Bush created for Guantánamo Bay. Instead of carrying out this morally repugnant task, Commander Swift concluded that the commissions were unconstitutional. He did his duty and defended his client. The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in June that the tribunals violated American law as well as the Geneva Conventions.

The Navy responded by killing his military career. About two weeks after the historic high court victory in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Commander Swift was told he was being denied a promotion. Under the Navy’s up-or-out system, that spelled the end of his 20-year career, and Commander Swift said last week that he will be retiring in March or April.

With his defense of Mr. Hamdan and his testimony before Congress starting in July 2003, Commander Swift did as much as any single individual to expose the awful wrongs of Guantánamo Bay and Mr. Bush’s lawless military commissions. It was a valuable public service and a brave act of conscience, and his treatment is deeply troubling.

The law creating military tribunals for terror suspects, passed by Congress in a pre-election panic, leaves enormous room for the continued abuse of prisoners and for the continued detention of scores of men who committed no crime. If their military lawyers are afraid to represent them vigorously, their hopes for justice dim even further.

The Navy gave no reason for refusing Commander Swift’s promotion. But there is no denying the chilling message it sends to remaining military lawyers about the potential consequences of taking their job, and justice, seriously.

Iraqi Dead May Total 600,000, Study Says

Iraqi Dead May Total 600,000, Study Says - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Oct. 10 — A team of American and Iraqi public health researchers has estimated that 600,000 civilians have died in violence across Iraq since the 2003 American invasion, the highest estimate ever for the toll of the war here. "

The figure breaks down to about 15,000 violent deaths a month, a number that is quadruple the one for July given by Iraqi government hospitals and the morgue in Baghdad and published last month in a United Nations report in Iraq. That month was the highest for Iraqi civilian deaths since the American invasion.

But it is an estimate and not a precise count, and researchers acknowledged a margin of error that ranged from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths.

It is the second study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It uses samples of casualties from Iraqi households to extrapolate an overall figure of 601,027 Iraqis dead from violence between March 2003 and July 2006.

The findings of the previous study, published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, in 2004, had been criticized as high, in part because of its relatively narrow sampling of about 1,000 families, and because it carried a large margin of error.

The new study is more representative, its researchers said, and the sampling is broader: it surveyed 1,849 Iraqi families in 47 different neighborhoods across Iraq. The selection of geographical areas in 18 regions across Iraq was based on population size, not on the level of violence, they said.

The study comes at a sensitive time for the Iraqi government, which is under pressure from American officials to take action against militias driving the sectarian killings.

In the last week of September, the government barred the central morgue in Baghdad and the Health Ministry — the two main sources of information for civilian deaths — from releasing figures to the news media. Now, only the government is allowed to release figures. It has not provided statistics for September, though a spokesman said Tuesday that it would.

The American military has disputed the Iraqi figures, saying that they are far higher than the actual number of deaths from the insurgency and sectarian violence, in part because they include natural deaths and deaths from ordinary crime, like domestic violence.

But the military has not released figures of its own, giving only percentage comparisons. For example, it cited a 46 percent drop in the murder rate in Baghdad in August from July as evidence of the success of its recent sweeps. At a briefing on Monday, the military’s spokesman declined to characterize the change for September.

The military has released rough counts of average numbers of Iraqis killed and wounded in a quarterly accounting report mandated by Congress. In the report, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” daily averages of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians, soldiers and police officers rose from 26 a day in 2004 to almost 120 a day in August 2006.

The study uses a method similar to that employed in estimates of casualty figures in other conflict areas like Darfur and Congo. It sought to measure the number of deaths that occurred as a result of the war.

It argues that absolute numbers of dead, like morgue figures, could not give a full picture of the “burden of conflict on an entire population,” because they were often incomplete.

The mortality rate before the American invasion was about 5.5 people per 1,000 per year, the study found. That rate rose to 19.8 deaths per 1,000 people in the year ending in June.

Gunshots were the largest cause of death, the study said, at 56 percent of all violent deaths, while car bombs accounted for about 13 percent. Deaths caused by the American military declined as an overall percentage from March 2003 to June 2006.

Violent deaths have soared since the American invasion, but the rise is in part a matter of spotty statistical history. Under Saddam Hussein, the state had a monopoly on killing, and the deaths of thousands of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds that it caused were never counted.

While the near collapse of the Iraqi state makes precise record-keeping difficult, authorities have made considerable progress toward tracking death figures. In 2004, when the Johns Hopkins study was first released, authorities were still compiling deaths on an ad hoc basis. But by this year, they were being provided regularly.

Iraqi authorities say morgue counts are more accurate than is generally thought. Iraqis prefer to bury their dead immediately, and hurry bodies of loved ones to plots near mosques or, in the case of Shiites, in sacred burial sites. Even so, they have strong incentives to register the death with a central morgue or hospital in order to obtain a death certificate, required at highway checkpoints, by cemetery workers, and for government pensions. Death certificates are counted in the statistics kept by morgues around the country.

The most recent United Nations figure, 3,009 Iraqis killed in violence across the country in August, was compiled by statistics from Baghdad’s central morgue, and from hospitals and morgues countrywide. It assumes a daily rate of about 97.

The figure is not exhaustive. A police official at Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad who spoke on the condition of anonymity said he had seen nationwide counts provided to the hospital that indicated as many as 200 people a day were dying.

Gilbert Burnham, the principle author of the study, said the figures showed an increase of deaths over time that was similar to that of another civilian casualty project, Iraq Body Count, which collates deaths reported in the news media, and even to that of the military. But even Iraq Body Count puts the maximum number of deaths at just short of 49,000.

As far as skepticism about the death count, he said that counts made by journalists and others focused disproportionately on Baghdad, and that death rates were higher elsewhere.

“We found deaths all over the country,” he said. Baghdad was an area of medium violence in the country, he said. The provinces of Diyala and Salahuddin, north of Baghdad, and Anbar to the west, all had higher death rates than the capital.

Statistics experts in the United States who were able to review the study said the methods used by the interviewers looked legitimate.

Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Program on Public Opinion and Health and Social Policy, said interviewing urban dwellers chosen at random was “the best of what you can expect in a war zone.”

But he said the number of deaths in the families interviewed — 547 in the post-invasion period versus 82 in a similar period before the invasion — was too few to extrapolate up to more than 600,000 deaths across the country.

Donald Berry, chairman of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was even more troubled by the study, which he said had “a tone of accuracy that’s just inappropriate.”

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Baghdad, and Donald G. McNeil Jr. from New York.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In Iraq, contractor deaths near 650, legal fog thickens | In Depth | Reuters.com

In Iraq, contractor deaths near 650, legal fog thickens In Depth Reuters.com: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The war in Iraq has killed at least 647 civilian contractors to date, according to official figures that provide a stark reminder of the huge role of civilians in supporting the U.S. military.

The contractor death toll is tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor on the basis of claims under an insurance policy, the Defense Base Act, that all U.S. government contractors and subcontractors working outside the United States must take out for their civilian employees.

In response to questions from Reuters, a Labor Department spokesman said there had been 647 claims for death benefits between March 1, 2003, and September 30, 2006. The Defense Base Act covers both Americans and foreigners, and there is no breakdown of the nationalities of those killed. The Pentagon does not monitor civilian contractor casualties. "

The death toll of civilians working alongside U.S. forces in Iraq compares with more than 2,700 military dead and, experts say, underscores the risks of outsourcing war to private military contractors.

Their number in Iraq is estimated at up to 100,000, from highly-trained former special forces soldiers to drivers, cooks, mechanics, plumbers, translators, electricians and laundry workers and other support personnel.

A trend toward "privatizing war" has been accelerating steadily since the end of the Cold War, when the United States and its former adversaries began cutting back professional armies. U.S. armed forces shrank from 2.1 million when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 to 1.4 million today.

"At its present size, the U.S. military could not function without civilian contractors," said Jeffrey Addicott, an expert at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "The problem is that the civilians operate in a legal gray zone. There has been little effort at regulation, oversight, standardized training and a uniform code of conduct. It's the Wild West out there."

FOG OF LAW

Two court cases slowly making their way through the U.S. legal system have opened a window on the legal fog hanging over civilians who work alongside the military and have become an everyday presence in conflict zones.

The legal cases involve Blackwater Security and Halliburton which field hundreds of civilians in Iraq. The two companies are part of a global industry estimated to bring in up to $100 billion annually.

The suit against Blackwater, the first of its kind in the United States, was brought 19 months ago by the families of four civilian contractors who were shot in March 2004 by insurgents who burned their bodies and hung the charred remains of two from the girders of a bridge in the city of Falluja.

Television images of the gruesome scene, with jubilant Iraqis shaking their fists, were beamed around the world and shocked the United States. Some military experts view the Falluja incident, which prompted a massive U.S. retaliatory assault on Falluja, as a turning point in the war.

The suit, for fraud and wrongful death, alleges that Blackwater broke explicit terms of its contract with the men -- Stephen (Scott) Helveston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona -- by sending them to escort a food convoy in unarmored cars, without heavy machine guns and in teams that lacked even a map.

The suit against Halliburton stems from the April 2004 ambush of a convoy of fuel trucks near Abu Ghraib in which six drivers working for a company subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root were killed and 11 injured. In September, a federal judge in Houston threw out the suit, saying his court had no jurisdiction because the decision to send the convoy had been "interwoven with Army decisions."

"The effect of this ruling is ... a legal gray zone in which Halliburton and KBR can act in any manner they chose," said T. Scott Allen, attorney for the families. "We will appeal."

A few days after the Houston decision, a U.S. appeals court in Raleigh, North Carolina, rejected a Blackwater petition for a rehearing of an appeal to have the case moved from a state court in Moycock where the company is based, and have it adjudicated by the Department of Labor, which decides Defense Base Act claims in the first place.

"The decision was clear: jurisdiction of this case rests with the state court," said Dan Callahan, one of the attorneys for the families of the four killed in Falluja. "This paves the way for holding Blackwater liable and establish guidelines and accountability for contracting firms operating abroad."

Where the case comes to be heard has enormous monetary implications: There is no cap on punitive damages in a state court and past judgments have reached staggering heights. Callahan, for example, won a $934 million jury verdict in a 2003 corporate litigation in California.

The Base Defense Act provides for maximum death benefits of $4,123.12 a month.

[bth: roughly 1 contractor killed for every 4 soldiers.]

Top Qaeda leader urges fighters to hit White House 

Top Qaeda leader urges fighters to hit White House Top News Reuters.com: "DUBAI (Reuters) - A man believed to be a top al Qaeda militant who escaped from a U.S. jail near Kabul was shown in a new videotape broadcast on Tuesday exhorting followers in Afghanistan to fight on until they attack the White House.

'Allah will not be pleased until we reach the rooftop of the White House,' Abu Yahya al-Libi was shown telling fighters in the tape aired by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.

The channel said the tape was one-hour long, showing footage of Libi urging fighters to train hard and even to try to acquire nuclear technology.

'You have to get well prepared by starting with exercise, and then you have to learn how to use technology until you are capable of nuclear weapons,' he said."

Libi was shown in the footage bearded and wearing a long grey Muslim robe while standing in front of a group of fighters.

Libi is believed to be the alias of Libyan Mohammad Hassan who along with three other al Qaeda militants broke out of the U.S. jail at Bagram Air Base last year.

Analysts say he is an influential militant preacher, better known for recruiting fighters than for actual combat.

Arabiya said the authenticity of the tape could not be verified, but experts had told its bureau in Afghanistan the video was filmed in the southeast of the country.

British troops in Iraq said in September they killed one of the four al Qaeda escapees -- Omar Faruq, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants -- in the city of Basra.

[bth: the sad part about this war(s) is that these maniacs are still running free after 5 years.]
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U.S. Gains in Parts of Iraq in Jeopardy - washingtonpost.com

U.S. Gains in Parts of Iraq in Jeopardy - washingtonpost.com: "BAGHDAD, Iraq -- For months, soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade fought in riverside towns of western Iraq, trying to clamp off the flow of foreign fighters and suicide bombers that commanders said were terrorizing Baghdad. Now hundreds of these same U.S. soldiers have been sent to deal with what U.S. officials say is an even greater threat _ rising attacks between Sunnis and Shiites in the capital itself."

Left behind in the dusty towns along the Euphrates River in Anbar province are fewer U.S. troops _ and fears that hard-won gains could be in jeopardy from a Sunni Arab insurgency that is far from defeated.

"Seeing the fruits of your labor lost is frustrating," said Capt. David Ramirez of the 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, who was sent to Baghdad from western Iraq.

The shift from Anbar to Baghdad underscores the problems facing the overstretched, 140,000-strong U.S. military force in Iraq.

To secure Baghdad, the Army had to extend the tours of thousands of soldiers from two brigades, including hundreds from the 172nd who had already returned home only to be shipped back to Iraq.

"We do not have sufficient troop strength to secure the entire country simultaneously," Andrew Krepinevich, a military analyst, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Trying to be strong everywhere will lead us to being strong nowhere."

Krepinevich said he had personally recommended drawing down forces in western Anbar to U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Vice President Dick Cheney's staff.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, defended the new strategy, saying it was necessary to "winning the main effort" in Baghdad.

Chiarelli insisted the troops were moved from the less violent parts of Anbar province.

However, four Marines were killed July 29 by a suicide truck bombing in Rawah even as U.S. soldiers were pulling out of that area.

Commanders in western Anbar have long complained privately that they do not have enough troops to control their area, which is about the size of South Carolina and includes notoriously violent cities such as Haditha, Rawah and Haqlaniyah.

"Any time you reduce forces it's a concern," said Marine Lt. Col. Norm Cooling, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment which is scattered across western Anbar.

Few dispute that the U.S. military had to do something about the deteriorating security in the Iraqi capital, which threatened to spiral into full-scale civil war.

The question is whether the U.S. has enough forces in the country to regain control in Baghdad while also preventing Sunni insurgents in the west from using the U.S. military drawdown there to gain strength.

About a third of the 102 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since Sept. 1 have been killed in Anbar, according to Pentagon reports.

"Where we're not, the insurgency goes there. That's just how an insurgency works," said Capt. Chris L'Heureux, 30, of Woonsocket, R.I., who was among those relocated to Baghdad.

U.S. commanders have also said that the reshuffling of forces makes it difficult to build trust among civilians and convince them to cooperate with American forces.

For example, five different U.S. units were based in the western city of Hit last year.

"It's been like a transient area" in Hit, said Lt. Col. Ronald Gridley, the executive officer for Marine Regimental Combat Team 7.

"In a counterinsurgency," he said recently, "you can't throw someone in there for 45 days and expect them to understand the communities, the different tribes, the different personalities involved."

[bth: what this tells us simply, is that we do not have enough troops in Iraq to stabilize the country.]
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Iraq envoy: U.S. oil investment waiting on legal changes

Iraq envoy: U.S. oil investment waiting on legal changes - MarketWatch: "HOUSTON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. oil companies are slowly building their relationships with the Iraqi government in anticipation of a new legal regime that will allow them to invest there, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. said Monday.

'I see very strong interest from U.S. energy companies in Iraq,' Ambassador Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida'ie told Dow Jones Newswires after a speech in Houston. "

The companies "have visited me at the embassy and expressed that interest," while "waiting for things to be put in place," he said.

The passage of a new investment law in the next two or three weeks and a new hydrocarbons law "within this year" will create the right conditions for major U.S. investments, he said.

U.S. oil companies are "already building up their relationship with the ministry of oil" and providing training to Iraqi technicians, said Sumaida'ie, who added that he would meet with Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) executives on Monday.

The Iraqi oil sector has suffered from the turmoil that has submerged the country since a U.S.-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. Violence and the lack of a federal petroleum law has kept foreign companies at bay.

But oil majors are reportedly discussing investments in the Iraqi Kurdistan, where the security situation is better than in other areas, the region's oil minister said recently.

Baghdad, however, has long held that deals not approved by the federal government are null.

In the speech Monday, which was hosted by the Bilateral U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, Sumaida'ie advised oil executives to "get a foot in the door" in the areas that are currently safe, and "work your way outward."

The benefits of oil, however, belong to the entirety of the Iraqi people, he pointed out. Revenues will be allocated according to the regions' needs.

Any reconstruction efforts would be impeded by a U.S. retreat from Iraq, Sumaida'ie said. A withdrawal "would create a security vacuum" and "would suck in regional powers," he said.
-Contact: 201-938-5400

Note use of bulletproof windshield on this guard position Posted by Picasa

Army and Other Ground Forces Meet ’06 Recruiting Goals

Army and Other Ground Forces Meet ’06 Recruiting Goals - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 — One year after the Army failed to meet its annual recruiting goal by the widest margin in two decades, the Pentagon is to announce this week that the ground forces, and the rest of the military, all reached their targets for recruits in 2006."...

U.S. doubts Korean test was nuclear 

U.S. doubts Korean test was nuclear - Nation/Politics - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "U.S. intelligence agencies say, based on preliminary indications, that North Korea did not produce its first nuclear blast yesterday.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that seismic readings show that the conventional high explosives used to create a chain reaction in a plutonium-based device went off, but that the blast's readings were shy of a typical nuclear detonation. "

"We're still evaluating the data, and as more data comes in, we hope to develop a clearer picture," said one official familiar with intelligence reports.

"There was a seismic event that registered about 4 on the Richter scale, but it still isn't clear if it was a nuclear test. You can get that kind of seismic reading from high explosives."

The underground explosion, which Pyongyang dubbed a historic nuclear test, is thought to have been the equivalent of several hundred tons of TNT, far short of the several thousand tons of TNT, or kilotons, that are signs of a nuclear blast, the official said.

The official said that so far, "it appears there was more fizz than pop."

A successful nuclear detonation requires a properly timed and triggered conventional blast that splits atoms, setting off the nuclear chain reaction that produces the massive explosions associated with atomic bombs.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said assessing the validity of North Korea's claim of a successful nuclear test could take several days.

"We need to find out precisely what it is that took place yesterday, and that is something that's going to take awhile for the scientists and others to work through," Mr. Snow said.

"Nobody could give me with any precision how long it will take until they can say with certainty what happened."

Nuclear bombs make big waves, with clear signatures that make them fairly easy to detect, analyze and confirm that they were caused by splitting atoms. But smaller blasts -- as North Korea's appears to have been -- are trickier to break down, scientists told the Associated Press.

"It takes days, dozens of lab hours, to evaluate results. Now we can have only a rough estimate," said Russian nuclear physicist Vladimir Orlov of the Moscow-based Center for Policy Studies in Russia, a nonproliferation think tank.

Elements of the blast were detected by U.S. and allied sensors as it was set off in an underground tunnel in the north-central part of North Korea. U.S. intelligence agencies have been monitoring several tunnels thought to be nuclear test facilities and have not ruled out Pyongyang's conducting another test.

U.S. officials said the test was timed to coincide with several anniversaries in North Korea, including the end of mourning for the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's father, Kim Il-sung. The test was thought to have been linked to the commemoration.

North Korea's military thinks that joining the world's seven other acknowledged nuclear powers is key to preserving the power of the communist regime.

There were wide variations in seismic data of the North Korean blast. The French atomic agency estimated about 1 kiloton, and South Korea's geological institute said half of that. But Russia's defense minister expressed "no doubt" that North Korea detonated a nuclear test and said the force of the underground blast was equivalent to 5,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT.

"People have different ways of cross-cutting the data and interpreting them," said Lassina Zerbo, director of the International Data Center at the nuclear-test-ban preparatory commission, which is based in Vienna, Austria.

The Bush administration is pushing for the United Nations to adopt economic sanctions against North Korea that would include a blockade of all goods moving into and out of the country.

Key to the imposition of the tough sanctions will be support from China and Russia, two states that in the past opposed sanctions.

The most immediate impact of the underground test is that U.S. officials fear Japan will take steps to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Official North Korean press for the past several years has been asserting that the United States is planning a pre-emptive nuclear attack on North Korea over its secret uranium-enrichment program.

Intelligence reports from several years ago indicated that North Korea was engaged in a covert program to develop a uranium-based nuclear program with the help of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. The Khan network supplied centrifuges and nuclear-weapons design techniques to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

What U.S. officials have been unable to confirm is whether North Korea received small warhead design information from the Khan network.

Chinese-language documents on how to build a nuclear warhead for missiles were found in Libya and were supplied by Khan network associates. U.S. intelligence officials think Iran and North Korea received similar warhead design documents.

North Korea in July conducted flight tests of seven missiles including a long-range Taepodong-2.

U.S. officials think the plutonium for the pit of the North Korean device was produced by the reactor at Yongbyon, the regime's declared nuclear facility.

U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that North Korea has some 88 pounds of plutonium and that about 13 pounds were used in the recent test.

The remaining plutonium is enough for North Korea to make about six bombs. •Joseph Curl contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

Star-Telegram | 10/09/2006 | It just keeps getting worse

Star-Telegram 10/09/2006 It just keeps getting worse: "After all that came down on their heads in September, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans must be wondering if the situation can possibly get worse.

Sure it can. Chickens tend to come home to roost all at once.

As Republican congressional leaders scrambled to do damage control and distance themselves from any responsibility from the fallout that Rep. Mark Foley left in his wake, President Bush stumped out west praising the GOP stalwarts and attacking the Democrats as weak on national security."

Please.

On the same day that eight American soldiers were killed in Baghdad -- the worst one-day casualty toll in more than a year -- as they pursued the plan to make Iraq's blood-drenched center of gravity safer.

By shifting American troops out of their well-protected bases elsewhere in the country and giving them a job that the Iraqis and their government clearly cannot do for themselves, we have only given the murderers new and tempting targets.

The effort has been greeted with record-high attacks with roadside bombs and snipers at the more vulnerable American targets, and the sectarian slaughter only grows worse.

Those on the ground can be forgiven for thinking that the situation in Iraq is unraveling at a frightening pace.

At the White House, the president's political mastermind, Karl Rove, was scrambling to counter the revelations of former trusted court stenographer Bob Woodward.

Addressing Woodward's charge that the administration was in a state of denial of the reality on the ground in Iraq, White House spokesman Tony Snow declared: "We deny that."

To the president's oft-repeated mantra that he'd provide any and all reinforcements requested by his ground commanders in Iraq, one of those former commanders, Maj. Gen. John Batiste, replied: Not really. Batiste said that when he commanded the 1st Infantry Division, he begged for more troops and got none.

But to those experts who say we must reinforce the troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, consider that the top Army leaders have been telling anyone who'll listen that they may not even be able to meet current troop levels next year without extraordinary help from the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

Meanwhile, thousands of blown up and worn out Army tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees are backed up at Army repair depots, and Army leaders say they can't be fixed unless Congress provides $17 billion.

In order to meet the current 147,000 American troop level in Iraq, the Army has been forced to cannibalize units rotating home for much needed rest, leaving the United States with only two or three brigades, fewer than 10,000 soldiers, barely capable of responding to a crisis anywhere else in the world.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, traveling in Central America, brushed off a growing chorus of calls for his resignation or dismissal, his rose-colored spectacles firmly affixed to his nose. He told a conference of Latin American defense ministers that what's needed in this world to accomplish anything are coalitions of nations. Strange advice coming from the man who dissed our Old European allies on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

Meantime, the do-nothing-good Congress left town at a high lope to get out on the campaign trail and try to save their jobs and the Republican grip on the levers of power.

Before leaving, however, congressional Republicans did roll over a $20 million appropriation to finance a huge Iraq victory celebration in the nation's capital. They had voted the money for 2006, but there was, alas, no victory to celebrate this year. Ever hopeful, they made sure that the funds would be available in 2007.

They can't find enough money to fix all the broken war equipment or even to finance fully the $2 billion a week that the war is costing taxpayers, but the money will be there for the triumphal parades and fireworks displays when Johnny comes marching home.

One can only wonder what they've been smoking inside the Beltway. One can only marvel at the thought that any of those clowns has a chance at being re-elected when the polls before the Foley scandal put voter trust in Congress near the 20 percent mark.

They're lucky that "None of the Above" isn't one of the choices on ballots in November.
.

Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: jlgalloway2@cs.com

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jelly triggers German security alert

OptusNet News: "A small pile of leftover jelly discarded beside the road after a wedding party caused a large-scale security alert in Germany with biochemical experts, firemen and police called in to investigate.

'Passers-by called police after finding a pool of a flabby red, orange and green substance on the roadside,' a police spokesman in the eastern town of Halle said.

Fears of toxic waste led to the closure of a wide area after the emergency call on Sunday, and experts wearing chemical warfare suits spent two hours examining the gelatinous substance before deciding that it was jelly. "

"The fire brigade always has to assume a worst-case scenario," a spokesman said.

"We conducted a variety of tests and figured out it was jelly."

He says the newly-wed groom, who was pulled out of bed at noon following a tip-off, confirmed that the jelly, known as Jell-O in the United States, was a party leftover and agreed to clean it up.
- Reuters

The Existentialist Cowboy: Dispatch from the State of Delusion: exposing the myth of the American "mission" in Iraq

The Existentialist Cowboy: Dispatch from the State of Delusion: exposing the myth of the American "mission" in Iraq: "Bush will not only preside over a military defeat in Iraq, he has already ushered in a new era —the end of the 'American Century', the end of American ascension, the end of American empire. The new era is already characterized by increased nuclear proliferation and defiance, the decline of Democratic ideals and outright opposition to US interests all over the world. Much was made of the 'de-stabilization' of Iraq. More should have been made of the consequences of our failure. More attention should have been paid to the good will that Bush has now pissed away —perhaps forever. "

Bush's only argument in favor of staying in Iraq is itself the most damning indictment of his utterly failed and catastrophic administration. That argument was put forward by former Secretary of State Jim Baker to George Stephanopoulus on ABC: pulling out now will plunge the middle east into chaos and Iraq into civil war. But Baker failed to state the obvious conclusion: staying in Iraq will accomplish the same thing but at greater cost.

Iraq is already engaged in a civil war, a war made worse by the continued US presence. The Middle East is already inflamed. Our allies have already turned against us. The war on terrorism is already failed. The recent report of some 16 US intelligence agencies support that conclusion: the war on Iraq has made "terrorism" worse. When it became abundantly clear that an occupation — intended to last 90 days —began to unravel, Bush and Bushies came up with a seemingly endless string of absurd ex post facto rationales for the war in Iraq. Nevertheless, none were true; none addressed the issue! All were spin born of an article of GOP faith that the only thing that really matters is what you can trick or convince people into believing —even if it's a lie.

In fact, Bush never articulated an American mission in Iraq and declared its accomplishment prematurely. Rather, Bush took this nation to war without a mission. Bush took this nation to war upon lies, meaningless slogans, and various hoaxes —not clearly defined objectives! The occupation, we were told, was to last 90 days. Instead, after Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" and some four years of bloody occupation and now civil war, more headless bodies, most of them civilians, turn up every day. It is also increasingly clear that "terrorists" have little if anything to do with it. The violence is sectarian in nature, most certainly a civil war waged amid a growing guerrilla war against the illegal US occupation. This war was lost before it began.

Only in fairy tales is straw spun into gold —but the situation in Iraq has turned into an epithet much less attractive than mere straw. If Bush withdraws from Iraq, there is no lie, no spin, no re-framing technique that will make gold of the stinking mess that Bush has created and will leave dumped and unburied in Iraq.

Arguably —no country has been more widely emulated, if not admired, than the US. Though we often did not live up to them, the values we ostensibly advocated —individual liberty, due process of law, the rule of law, and the ideal of equality of opportunity —made of us a beacon of hope at a time when Adolph Hitler ground millions beneath his Nazi boot and Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist. Our prosperity was at once envied and resented. But we were forgiven because of our ability to change and face our problems however painful the result: the labor movement, the struggle for racial equality; the still unrealized dreams of equal opportunity regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or religion.

Until the recent wave of ugly, jingoistic, GOP posturing, we were open to debate and ideas. That is not to say that we never made horrific mistakes. Vietnam, for example, is a lasting shame and tragedy that need not have happened but for a fatal American flaw: hubris!

Today, that flaw is epitomized by George W. Bush, the ruler of the states of denial and delusion. The Mark Foley scandal —as repugnant as it is —is more so because it's the last straw. When millions have already said enough is enough, Foley pulls the rug from beneath the well-oiled GOP propaganda machine. Now —even George Will quips that Republicans must awaken each day with but one thought: "What can we do to offend the base?" Even Tony Blankley has been heard muttering that maybe the GOP ought to lose. Don't lose sleep over it, Tony. Just give us a free and fair election and count the votes. The people will speak.

Indeed, the Foley scandal —more properly, the cover up and handling of it by the GOP leadership —has proven for all time that the GOP mission since the ascension of Ronald Reagan, since the Contract with America, has all been an abominable fraud.TIME declares end of the Republican One-Party Reign of Error

A losing battle: our industrial base | IndyStar.com

A losing battle: our industrial base IndyStar.com: "American troops drive 10,000 Humvees in Iraq. But if the U.S. Army suddenly needed 10,000 more of the slab-sided trucks for the war, the Indiana factory that makes them could not soon deliver."

Tooling and machine shops that supply critical Humvee parts, such as extra-large 3.5-inch shock absorber bolts, aren't prepared to gear up output quickly.

"The industrial base just isn't there if we ever had to surge production,'' said Craig Mac Nab, spokesman at South Bend-based AM General, whose cavernous 1,100- employee Mishawaka plant is the Humvee's sole producer.

It's not only army trucks the U.S. might have trouble producing in large numbers.

For the first time since America emerged as a first-rank war and industrial power in the 1890s, some U.S. military planners openly doubt the country's manufacturers can sustain the nation in a major war larger than the Iraq conflict.

"What kind of superpower are you if you can't make what you need?'' asked systems engineer Sheila Ronis, a lecturer at the Pentagon's Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

The decline of the Detroit auto industry and the rise of industrial China have decimated a supporting cast of die, machine, mold and tooling shops, a metalworks industry centered in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.

For the same reason imported chairs, televisions and clothes fill American homes, imported parts appear in increasing volumes in military hardware. Imports cost less than homemade.

While no one is sure how many imported parts are used in weapons systems, a growing chorus of researchers and trade groups express concern. They warn the rise of imports and the demise of the metalworks trades threaten the nation's manufacturing base.

"If we needed to seriously increase our capacity for military goods, it'd be a real challenge,'' said Bruce Braker, president of the Tooling and Manufacturers Association. The trade group, in Park Ridge, Ill., represents 1,627 companies, down 25 percent in a decade.

Shakeout in Heartland

In Indiana alone, 20 percent of the 524 tool, die, mold and machine shops open in 1998 had closed by 2004, idling 36 percent of the state's 11,000 metalworks employees. Throughout the industrial Midwest, 1,991 metalworks plants closed and dismissed 80,000 workers in the same years, the U.S. Census Bureau's County Business Patterns reports show.

For three decades, union members have urged consumers to buy products made in the U.S., largely to save union jobs. Ronis, head of the consulting firm University Group in Birmingham, Mich., says the stakes are larger. She links Detroit's decline with national security.

It's a controversial point. Pentagon researchers regularly assess the nation's industrial base. Each year they deem it capable of supplying the armed forces. Even so, some senior commanders now echo Ronis.

"One area of utmost concern for the Defense Department and defense industry is manufacturing machine tools,'' wrote Lawrence Farrell Jr., a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, in the February 2005 issue of National Defense magazine.

"There is a compelling case to be made," he wrote, "that both the federal government and the private sector need to step up their investments in manufacturing technology, so we can remain competitive with economic powerhouses such as Japan, Germany and China.''

Experience evaporating

America has enough factories. What's inside is in short supply -- experienced manufacturing engineers and talented machinists, diemakers and other highly skilled workers.

"We could ramp up production if we had to, but the problem would be finding experienced machinists. They aren't out there anymore,'' said Sam Reed, president of Reed Manufacturing Services, a 40- employee Franklin machine shop that supplies diesel and appliance makers.

No one expects a sudden turnaround, despite the Japanese automakers' expansion. Even as General Motors, Delphi and Ford set out to shed more than 40 factories between them, Honda and Toyota are investing heavily in the United States.

In Indiana, the two Japanese automakers will spend a combined $780 million on new car assembly lines employing 3,000 workers at Greensburg and Lafayette.

New jobs will help the economy, although Ronis says the new auto plants won't shore up the U.S. industrial base. While GM and Ford dismiss engineers, the Japanese automakers will engineer vehicle powertrains in Japan and obtain critical tooling there. She is concerned the United States' battered metalworking trades won't recover.

Since 1933, the Buy American Act has governed defense procurement. Last year, U.S. suppliers netted $79 billion in Pentagon contracts, compared with foreign firms' $1.9 billion.

However, Ronis, a director of the foundation supporting the Pentagon's National Defense University, contends America's weapons components supply chain now runs to China, France, Germany, Japan and other nations.

That's because U.S. companies spend an undisclosed share of that $79 billion on imported parts. As a result, China supplies as much as 10 percent of the parts for the U.S. Army's M1 Abrams main battle tank, Ronis suggested.

Overseas orders

If overseas supply lines were disrupted, U.S. manufacturers could step in. In many cases, though, engineers could not quickly scale up production. Much of the factory manufacturing equipment also comes from abroad.

In 2004, a third of the new U.S. metalworking machinery was imported, along with almost 46 percent of the process control instruments and nearly a quarter of the relays and industrial controls, reports the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a trade group in Washington that studies imports and exports.
"Imports may be the thing to do, but no one has asked the question, 'To what extent is a strong U.S.-located manufacturing base still vital to U.S. national security?' " said economist Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. The conservative trade group, based in Washington, favors import restrictions.

Pentagon planners divide into two groups. One emphasizes what is called systems integration -- as long as we know where in the world to buy the machinery and components, the U.S. can put it all together here.

A second group prizes U.S. manufacturing prowess. Some of these target Wall Street. They say manufacturers outsource merely for lower prices to meet Wall Street profit goals. Instead, some military planners argue, U.S. corporations no longer should report quarterly earnings. And U.S. tax incentives should encourage production and innovation in the United States.

Despite Detroit's decline, some metalworks plants thrive. In Indianapolis, Major Tool & Machine avoids automotive orders and focuses on defense, nuclear and aerospace.

Still, Jim Flanagan, president of the expanding 310-employee company, sees the industrial trend.
"This country,'' Flanagan said, "is losing its manufacturing edge.''

Call Star reporter Ted Evanoff at (317) 444-6019.

Stoning Posted by Picasa

Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq's women

The Observer World Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq's women: "They came for Dr Khaula al-Tallal in a white Opel car after she took a taxi home to the middle class district of Qadissiya in Iraq's holy city of Najaf. She worked for the medical committee that examined patients to assess them for welfare benefit. Crucially, however, she was a woman in a country where being a female professional increasingly invites a death sentence."

As al-Tallal, 50, walked towards her house, one of three men in the Opel stepped out and raked her with bullets.

A women's rights campaigner, Umm Salam - a nickname - knows about the three men in the Opel: they tried to kill her on 11 December last year. It was a Sunday, she recalls, and 15 bullets were fired into her own car as she drove home from teaching at an internet cafe. A man in civilian clothes got out of the car and opened fire. Three bullets hit her, one lodging close to her spinal cord. Her 20-year-old son was hit in the chest. Umm Salam saw the gun - a police-issue Glock. She is convinced her would-be assassin works for the state.

The shootings of al-Tallal and Umm Salam are not isolated incidents, even in Najaf - a city almost exclusively Shia and largely insulated from the sectarian violence of the North. Bodies of young women have appeared in its dusty lanes and avenues, places patrolled by packs of dogs where the boundaries bleed into the desert. It is a favourite place for dumping murder victims.

Iraqis do not like to talk about it much, but there is an understanding of what is going on these days. If a young woman is abducted and murdered without a ransom demand, she has been kidnapped to be raped. Even those raped and released are not necessarily safe: the response of some families to finding that a woman has been raped has been to kill her.

Iraq's women are living with a fear that is increasing in line with the numbers dying violently every month. They die for being a member of the wrong sect and for helping their fellow women. They die for doing jobs that the militants have decreed that they cannot do: for working in hospitals and ministries and universities. They are murdered, too, because they are the softest targets for Iraq's criminal gangs.

Iraq's women live in terror of speaking their opinions; of going out to work; or defying the strict new prohibitions on dress and behaviour applied across Iraq by Islamist militants, both Sunni and Shia. They live in fear of their husbands, too, as women's rights have been undermined by the country's postwar constitution that has taken power from the family courts and given it to clerics.

'Women are being targeted more and more,' said Umm Salam last week. Her husband was a university professor who was executed in 1991 under Saddam Hussein after the Shia uprising. She survived by running her family farm. When the Americans arrived she got involved in civic action, teaching illiterate women how to read and vote, independent from the influence of their husbands. She helped them fill in forms for benefits and set up a sewing workshop.

In doing so she put herself at mortal risk. And since the assassination attempt, like many women in Najaf, she has found it hard to work. Which is what the men in the white Opel wanted. To silence the women like Umm Salam, who is 42.

'It is very difficult for women here. There is a lot of pressure on our personal freedoms. None of us feels that we can have an opinion on anything any more. If she does, she risks being killed.'

It is a story familiar to women across Iraq, betrayed by the country's new constitution that guaranteed them a 25 per cent share of membership of the Council of Representatives. That guarantee has turned instead into a fig leaf hiding what women activists now call a 'human rights catastrophe for Iraqi women'.

After a month-long investigation, The Observer has established that in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against, in some cases seeing their conditions return to those of females in the Middle Ages. In areas such as the Shia militia stronghold of Sadr City in east Baghdad, women have been beaten for not wearing socks. Even the headscarf and juba - the ankle-length, flared coat that buttons to the collar - are not enough for the zealots. Some women have been threatened with death unless they wear the full abbaya, the black, all-encompassing veil.

Similar reports are emerging from Mosul, where it is Sunni extremists who are laying down the law, and Kirkuk. Women from Karbala, Hilla, Basra and Nassariyah have all told The Observer similar stories. Of the insidious spread of militia and religious party control - and how members of those same groups are, paradoxically, increasingly responsible for the rape and murder of women outside their sects and communities.

'There is a member of my organisation, an activist who is a Christian,' said Yanar Mohammed, head of the Organisation for Iraqi Women's Freedom, who has had death threats for her work in protecting women threatened by domestic violence or 'honour' killings. 'She would have to walk home each day to her neighbourhood through an area controlled by one of the Islamic Shia militias, the Jaish al-Mahdi. She does not wear a veil so she gets abused by these men. About three weeks ago, one of them starts following her home saying that he wants a sexual relationship with her. He tells her what he wants to do, and if she doesn't agree he says she will be kidnapped. In the end he thinks that, because he is armed, because he threatens her existence, she will have to agree to a "pleasure marriage" [a temporary sexual union arranged by a cleric].'

Strong anecdotal evidence gathered by organisations such as that of Yanar Mohammed and by the Iraqi Women's Network, run by Hanna Edwar, suggests rape is also being used as a weapon in the sectarian war to humiliate families from rival communities. 'So far what we have been seeing is what you might call "collateral rape",' says Besmia Khatib of the Iraqi Women's Network. 'Rape is being used in the settling of scores in the sectarian war.' Yanar Mohammed describes how a Shia girl was kidnapped, raped and dumped in the Husseiniya area of Baghdad. The retaliation, she says, was the kidnapping and rape of several Sunni girls in the Rashadiya area. Tit for tat.

Similar stories are emerging across Iraq. 'Of course rape is going on,' says Aida Ussayaran, former deputy Human Rights Minister and now one of the women on the Council of Representatives. 'We blame the militias. But when we talk about the militias, many are members of the police. Any family now that has a good-looking young woman in it does not want to send her out to school or university, and does not send her out without a veil. This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. And no one is mentioning it.'

Women activists are convinced there is substantial under-reporting of crimes against women in some areas, particularly involving 'honour killing' - there is a massive increase against a background of pervasive violence - and that families often seek death certificates that will hide the cause. In regions such as the violent Anbar province, the country's largest, which borders Jordan and Syria, there is little reporting of the causes of any death. And activists complain, in any case, that they have been blocked from examining bodies at the Medical Forensic Institute in Baghdad, or collecting their own figures to build up an accurate picture of what is happening to women.

While attacks on women have long been the dirty secret of Iraq's war, the sheer levels of the violence is now pushing it into the open. Last week in Samawah, 246 kilometres (153 miles) south of Baghdad, three women and a toddler were killed when gunmen stormed their home in an unexplained mass murder.

Like Dr al-Tallal in Najaf, they were Shia Muslims in a Shia city. The three women were shot. The 18-month-old baby had her throat slit.

In the north, too, last week the killing of women became more visible, with the al-Jazeera network reporting that attacks on women in the city of Mosul had led to an unprecedented rise in the number of women's bodies being found. Among them was Zuheira, a young housewife, found shot dead in the suburb of Gogaly. Salim Zaho, a neighbour, quoted by the television station, said: 'They couldn't kill her husband, a police officer, so they came for his wife instead.'

It is one of the recurring narratives of murder told by Iraqi women. It is a violence that would not be possible without a wider, permissive brutalising of women's lives: one that permeates the 'new Iraq' in its entirety. For it is not only the religious militias that have turned women's lives into a living hell - it is, in some measure, the government itself, which has allowed ministries run by religious parties to segregate staff by gender. Some public offices, including ministries, insist on women staff wearing a headscarf at all times. A women's shelter, set up by Yanar Mohammed's group, was closed down by the government.
Most serious of all are the death threats women receive for simply working, even in government offices.

Zainub - not her real name - works for a ministry in Baghdad. One morning, she said, she arrived at work to find that a letter had been sent to all the women. 'When I opened up the note it said, "You will die. You will die".'

The situation has been exacerbated by the undermining of Iraq's old Family Code, established in 1958, which guaranteed women a large measure of equality in key areas such as divorce and inheritance. The new constitution has allowed the Family Code to be superseded by the power of the clerics and new religious courts, with the result that it is largely discriminatory against women. The clerics have permitted the creeping re-emergence of men contracting multiple marriages, formerly discouraged by the old code. It is these clerics, too, who have permitted a sharp escalation in the 'pleasure marriages'.

And it is the same clerics overseeing the rapid transformation of a once secular society - in which women held high office and worked as professors, doctors, engineers and economists - into one where women have been forced back under the veil and into the home. The result is mapped out every day on Iraq's streets and in its country lanes in individual acts of intimidation and physical brutality that build into an awful whole.

And so in Salman Pak, on the Tigris 15 miles south of Baghdad, The Observer is told, the Karaa Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior rounds up some Sunni men. Later some of the police return to the men's houses and promise their worried women to help find the missing men in exchange for sex.

In the Shia neighbourhood of al-Shaab in Baghdad, militiamen with the Jaish al-Mahdi put out an order banning women from wearing sandals and certain shoes, skirts and trousers. They beat up others for wearing the wrong clothes.

In Amaryah, a Sunni stronghold in Baghdad, Sunni militants shave three women's heads for wearing the wrong clothes and lash young men for wearing shorts. In Zafaraniyah, a largely Shia suburb south of Baghdad, the Jaish al-Mahdi militiamen wait outside a school and slap girls not wearing the hijab.

It is a situation bleakly recorded by the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq. 'There are reports that, in some Baghdad neighbourhoods, women are now prevented from going to the markets alone,' Unami reported. 'In other cases, women have been warned not to drive cars, or have faced harassment if they wear trousers. Women have also reported that wearing a headscarf is becoming not a matter of religious choice but one of survival in many parts of Iraq, a fact particularly resented by non-Muslim women. Female university students are also facing constant pressure in university campuses.'

'Since the beginning of August it has just been getting worse,' says Nagham Kathim Hamoody, an activist with the Iraqi Women's Network in Najaf . 'There are more women being killed and more bodies being found in the cemetery. I don't know why they are being killed, but I know the militias are behind the killing... We went to the mortuary here in Najaf, but the authorities would not co-operate in helping to identify the murdered women. There was one doctor, though, who told us that some of the bodies showed signs that they had been beaten prior to their murder.'

And so the painful lives of Iraqi women go on.
 Posted by Picasa

Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq's women

The Observer World Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq's women: "They came for Dr Khaula al-Tallal in a white Opel car after she took a taxi home to the middle class district of Qadissiya in Iraq's holy city of Najaf. She worked for the medical committee that examined patients to assess them for welfare benefit. Crucially, however, she was a woman in a country where being a female professional increasingly invites a death sentence."

As al-Tallal, 50, walked towards her house, one of three men in the Opel stepped out and raked her with bullets.

A women's rights campaigner, Umm Salam - a nickname - knows about the three men in the Opel: they tried to kill her on 11 December last year. It was a Sunday, she recalls, and 15 bullets were fired into her own car as she drove home from teaching at an internet cafe. A man in civilian clothes got out of the car and opened fire. Three bullets hit her, one lodging close to her spinal cord. Her 20-year-old son was hit in the chest. Umm Salam saw the gun - a police-issue Glock. She is convinced her would-be assassin works for the state.

The shootings of al-Tallal and Umm Salam are not isolated incidents, even in Najaf - a city almost exclusively Shia and largely insulated from the sectarian violence of the North. Bodies of young women have appeared in its dusty lanes and avenues, places patrolled by packs of dogs where the boundaries bleed into the desert. It is a favourite place for dumping murder victims.

Iraqis do not like to talk about it much, but there is an understanding of what is going on these days. If a young woman is abducted and murdered without a ransom demand, she has been kidnapped to be raped. Even those raped and released are not necessarily safe: the response of some families to finding that a woman has been raped has been to kill her.

Iraq's women are living with a fear that is increasing in line with the numbers dying violently every month. They die for being a member of the wrong sect and for helping their fellow women. They die for doing jobs that the militants have decreed that they cannot do: for working in hospitals and ministries and universities. They are murdered, too, because they are the softest targets for Iraq's criminal gangs.

Iraq's women live in terror of speaking their opinions; of going out to work; or defying the strict new prohibitions on dress and behaviour applied across Iraq by Islamist militants, both Sunni and Shia. They live in fear of their husbands, too, as women's rights have been undermined by the country's postwar constitution that has taken power from the family courts and given it to clerics.

'Women are being targeted more and more,' said Umm Salam last week. Her husband was a university professor who was executed in 1991 under Saddam Hussein after the Shia uprising. She survived by running her family farm. When the Americans arrived she got involved in civic action, teaching illiterate women how to read and vote, independent from the influence of their husbands. She helped them fill in forms for benefits and set up a sewing workshop.

In doing so she put herself at mortal risk. And since the assassination attempt, like many women in Najaf, she has found it hard to work. Which is what the men in the white Opel wanted. To silence the women like Umm Salam, who is 42.

'It is very difficult for women here. There is a lot of pressure on our personal freedoms. None of us feels that we can have an opinion on anything any more. If she does, she risks being killed.'

It is a story familiar to women across Iraq, betrayed by the country's new constitution that guaranteed them a 25 per cent share of membership of the Council of Representatives. That guarantee has turned instead into a fig leaf hiding what women activists now call a 'human rights catastrophe for Iraqi women'.

After a month-long investigation, The Observer has established that in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against, in some cases seeing their conditions return to those of females in the Middle Ages. In areas such as the Shia militia stronghold of Sadr City in east Baghdad, women have been beaten for not wearing socks. Even the headscarf and juba - the ankle-length, flared coat that buttons to the collar - are not enough for the zealots. Some women have been threatened with death unless they wear the full abbaya, the black, all-encompassing veil.

Similar reports are emerging from Mosul, where it is Sunni extremists who are laying down the law, and Kirkuk. Women from Karbala, Hilla, Basra and Nassariyah have all told The Observer similar stories. Of the insidious spread of militia and religious party control - and how members of those same groups are, paradoxically, increasingly responsible for the rape and murder of women outside their sects and communities.

'There is a member of my organisation, an activist who is a Christian,' said Yanar Mohammed, head of the Organisation for Iraqi Women's Freedom, who has had death threats for her work in protecting women threatened by domestic violence or 'honour' killings. 'She would have to walk home each day to her neighbourhood through an area controlled by one of the Islamic Shia militias, the Jaish al-Mahdi. She does not wear a veil so she gets abused by these men. About three weeks ago, one of them starts following her home saying that he wants a sexual relationship with her. He tells her what he wants to do, and if she doesn't agree he says she will be kidnapped. In the end he thinks that, because he is armed, because he threatens her existence, she will have to agree to a "pleasure marriage" [a temporary sexual union arranged by a cleric].'

Strong anecdotal evidence gathered by organisations such as that of Yanar Mohammed and by the Iraqi Women's Network, run by Hanna Edwar, suggests rape is also being used as a weapon in the sectarian war to humiliate families from rival communities. 'So far what we have been seeing is what you might call "collateral rape",' says Besmia Khatib of the Iraqi Women's Network. 'Rape is being used in the settling of scores in the sectarian war.' Yanar Mohammed describes how a Shia girl was kidnapped, raped and dumped in the Husseiniya area of Baghdad. The retaliation, she says, was the kidnapping and rape of several Sunni girls in the Rashadiya area.

Tit for tat.

Similar stories are emerging across Iraq. 'Of course rape is going on,' says Aida Ussayaran, former deputy Human Rights Minister and now one of the women on the Council of Representatives. 'We blame the militias. But when we talk about the militias, many are members of the police. Any family now that has a good-looking young woman in it does not want to send her out to school or university, and does not send her out without a veil. This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. And no one is mentioning it.'

Women activists are convinced there is substantial under-reporting of crimes against women in some areas, particularly involving 'honour killing' - there is a massive increase against a background of pervasive violence - and that families often seek death certificates that will hide the cause. In regions such as the violent Anbar province, the country's largest, which borders Jordan and Syria, there is little reporting of the causes of any death. And activists complain, in any case, that they have been blocked from examining bodies at the Medical Forensic Institute in Baghdad, or collecting their own figures to build up an accurate picture of what is happening to women.

While attacks on women have long been the dirty secret of Iraq's war, the sheer levels of the violence is now pushing it into the open. Last week in Samawah, 246 kilometres (153 miles) south of Baghdad, three women and a toddler were killed when gunmen stormed their home in an unexplained mass murder.

Like Dr al-Tallal in Najaf, they were Shia Muslims in a Shia city. The three women were shot. The 18-month-old baby had her throat slit.

In the north, too, last week the killing of women became more visible, with the al-Jazeera network reporting that attacks on women in the city of Mosul had led to an unprecedented rise in the number of women's bodies being found. Among them was Zuheira, a young housewife, found shot dead in the suburb of Gogaly. Salim Zaho, a neighbour, quoted by the television station, said: 'They couldn't kill her husband, a police officer, so they came for his wife instead.'

It is one of the recurring narratives of murder told by Iraqi women. It is a violence that would not be possible without a wider, permissive brutalising of women's lives: one that permeates the 'new Iraq' in its entirety. For it is not only the religious militias that have turned women's lives into a living hell - it is, in some measure, the government itself, which has allowed ministries run by religious parties to segregate staff by gender. Some public offices, including ministries, insist on women staff wearing a headscarf at all times. A women's shelter, set up by Yanar Mohammed's group, was closed down by the government.

Most serious of all are the death threats women receive for simply working, even in government offices.

Zainub - not her real name - works for a ministry in Baghdad. One morning, she said, she arrived at work to find that a letter had been sent to all the women. 'When I opened up the note it said, "You will die. You will die".'

The situation has been exacerbated by the undermining of Iraq's old Family Code, established in 1958, which guaranteed women a large measure of equality in key areas such as divorce and inheritance. The new constitution has allowed the Family Code to be superseded by the power of the clerics and new religious courts, with the result that it is largely discriminatory against women. The clerics have permitted the creeping re-emergence of men contracting multiple marriages, formerly discouraged by the old code. It is these clerics, too, who have permitted a sharp escalation in the 'pleasure marriages'.

And it is the same clerics overseeing the rapid transformation of a once secular society - in which women held high office and worked as professors, doctors, engineers and economists - into one where women have been forced back under the veil and into the home. The result is mapped out every day on Iraq's streets and in its country lanes in individual acts of intimidation and physical brutality that build into an awful whole.

And so in Salman Pak, on the Tigris 15 miles south of Baghdad, The Observer is told, the Karaa Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior rounds up some Sunni men. Later some of the police return to the men's houses and promise their worried women to help find the missing men in exchange for sex.

In the Shia neighbourhood of al-Shaab in Baghdad, militiamen with the Jaish al-Mahdi put out an order banning women from wearing sandals and certain shoes, skirts and trousers. They beat up others for wearing the wrong clothes.

In Amaryah, a Sunni stronghold in Baghdad, Sunni militants shave three women's heads for wearing the wrong clothes and lash young men for wearing shorts. In Zafaraniyah, a largely Shia suburb south of Baghdad, the Jaish al-Mahdi militiamen wait outside a school and slap girls not wearing the hijab.

It is a situation bleakly recorded by the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq.

'There are reports that, in some Baghdad neighbourhoods, women are now prevented from going to the markets alone,' Unami reported. 'In other cases, women have been warned not to drive cars, or have faced harassment if they wear trousers. Women have also reported that wearing a headscarf is becoming not a matter of religious choice but one of survival in many parts of Iraq, a fact particularly resented by non-Muslim women. Female university students are also facing constant pressure in university campuses.'

'Since the beginning of August it has just been getting worse,' says Nagham Kathim Hamoody, an activist with the Iraqi Women's Network in Najaf . 'There are more women being killed and more bodies being found in the cemetery. I don't know why they are being killed, but I know the militias are behind the killing... We went to the mortuary here in Najaf, but the authorities would not co-operate in helping to identify the murdered women. There was one doctor, though, who told us that some of the bodies showed signs that they had been beaten prior to their murder.'

And so the painful lives of Iraqi women go on.