Saturday, October 21, 2006

Video shows snipers' chilling work in Iraq - CNN.com

Video shows snipers' chilling work in Iraq - CNN.com: "CNN) -- Chilling scenes from a videotape made by insurgents show the work of snipers in Iraq, targeting and killing American troops, taking them down with a single bullet from a high-powered rifle.

The graphic video of 10 sniper attacks was obtained by CNN -- through intermediaries -- from the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the most active insurgent organizations in Iraq.

In one scene, U.S. soldiers mingle among Iraqi civilians on a city street as a U.S. Humvee with a gunner in its turret stands guard nearby."

From a distance, possibly hundreds of yards away, a sniper watches for his opportunity to strike as a fellow insurgent operates a camera to capture the video for propaganda purposes.

In the video, street sounds mix with male Arabic voices as the sniper and his spotter talk off-camera.

"People are around them," warns the spotter, who seems to be operating the video camera. "Want me to find another place?"

"No, no," comes the reply, "give me a moment."

And then, the crack of gunfire is heard and the soldier in the turret slumps forward.

"Allahu Akbar (God is Great)!" is the exclamation as the sniper's vehicle starts and they slip away.
The deadly tactic is one the U.S. military also uses to take out insurgents.

Retired Gunnery Sgt. Jack Coughlin was one of the top U.S. Marine Corps snipers in Iraq and has written a book about his experiences -- "Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper."

"I have over 60 kills," he told CNN's Gary Tuchman. "We seek out the enemy and eliminate them with precision fire."

Tuchman used Coughlin's critical eye to analyze the Islamic Army of Iraq video.

Coughlin said the time lapse between the sound of the shot and the man getting hit indicates the gunfire is coming from about 300 to 500 yards away and probably from a higher angle.

But Couglin said he's sure this team of at least three people has been trained well because they're so calm.

"They have their stuff wired," he said. "They know what they're doing." (Watch the ex-Marine describe snipers' deadly work -- 2:46)

The 20-year Marine veteran said the kind of body armor worn by troops in combat can be effective against a sniper's bullet, and he added that there are other ways to defend against the horrifying attacks.
"The worst enemy of a sniper is another sniper," Coughlin said. "Our snipers are hunting these guys -- I guarantee you this is happening as we speak."

Coughlin added that, in many cases, the best defense is a good offense.

Iraqi insurgents stage defiant parades

Iraqi insurgents stage defiant parades - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - Al-Qaida-linked gunmen staged military-like parades Friday in a string of towns west of Baghdad, underlining the growing confidence of Sunni insurgents in a part of Iraq where U.S. and Iraqi forces maintain a heavy counterinsurgency presence. "

Like the audacious show of force by up to 60 insurgents in the city of Ramadi on Wednesday, the latest parades — including two less than a mile from U.S. military bases — were staged in support of an announcement this week by a militant Sunni Arab group that it had created an Islamic state in six of Iraq's 18 provinces, including the capital, Baghdad.

The declaration was made Sunday by the Mujahedeen Shura Council — an umbrella organization of Sunni insurgent groups that includes al-Qaida in Iraq — in a video posted on the Internet.

Iraqi insurgents are not known to control any territory in Iraq, but the declaration appeared designed to counter the adoption this month of a law that paves the way for Iraq's mainly Shiite south to establish an autonomous region similar to a Kurdish one in the north.

Significantly, two of Friday's four parades — involving dozens of gunmen in the towns of Haditha and Haqlaniyah — took place less a mile from U.S. military bases, according to witnesses. There were no reports of clashes.

Besides Haditha and Haqlaniyah, parades were also held in the towns of Bani Daher and Rwah, all of which are in Anbar, a vast and mostly desert province where the Sunni insurgency has been fiercest since Saddam Hussein' 's ouster in 2003. Ramadi is Anbar's provincial capital.

In Haditha, where anti-U.S. sentiment runs high since Marines allegedly killed 24 civilians to avenge the death of one of their own last fall, masked gunmen riding in at least 20 sedans and pickup trucks paraded undisturbed in the heart of the town for about 30 minutes.

The town, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, has not had a police force for much of the past three years, and the U.S. military at a nearby base did not intervene.

The masked gunmen, who shouted "God is great," wore white overalls — a color that indicates their readiness to die. They carried assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.

The gunmen also distributed candy and new clothes to gathered children, a gesture to mark the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, which is due to start next week. Shops on the street where the parade was held remained open, and none of the shoppers appeared intimidated or worried by the presence of the gunmen.

Television footage of Wednesday's parade in Ramadi was widely broadcast, but U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Thursday he knew nothing about it.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said earlier Thursday that participants in the Ramadi parade were members of al-Qaida in Iraq and that they suffered unspecified losses in clashes with security and tribal forces following the parade, in which black-clad, masked gunmen took over a central street for 15 minutes.

The bravado shown by insurgents in Anbar serves to illustrate the problems faced by the U.S. military and their Iraqi allies in dealing with the rapidly deteriorating security in the country.

Israel accuses Iran of blocking release

Israel accuses Iran of blocking release - Yahoo! News: "UNITED NATIONS - Israel accused the Iranian government of paying $50 million to block a deal that would have freed an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants who crossed from Gaza into Israel on June 25. "

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman told the Security Council on Thursday that "we heard news" earlier in the day that Tehran bribed Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, "to sabotage the negotiations on the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit and prevent his release."

Gillerman later refused to divulge the basis of the allegation or provide details, saying only that "we have every reason to believe that the Iranian regime has bribed Khaled Mashaal."

Iranian diplomat Mansour Sadeghi told the council his government "categorically rejected" all allegations against his country made by Israel, dismissing Gillerman's allegations as "baseless and absurd."

He said Gillerman's allegations were an attempt to divert attention from Israel's "aggression, occupation and state terrorism," and its defiance of Security Council resolutions.

According to a report Thursday in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, which cited anonymous sources from a Western country, the deal was foiled when an Iranian delegation met Mashaal in Damascus and offered him $50 million to block it.

Mashaal, who lives in exile in Damascus, accepted the money and ratcheted up his demands for Shalit's release, the report said, deadlocking the negotiations.

"If this is the way in which Iran' threatens humanitarian situations," Gillerman said, "I shudder to think about the lengths to which Iran will go to undermine a diplomatic one, and achieve its dangerous regional aspirations and nightmarish and megalomaniacal dreams of nuclear capability."

Israel has long targeted Mashaal. In June, then-Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Mashaal, is a target for assassination for ordering Shalit's kidnapping.

Alvaro de Soto, the U.N.'s Mideast envoy, told the Security Council that Egyptian officials are leading diplomatic efforts to free Shalit "and report that a package is on the table designed to address both parties' concerns, but the captors say they seek additional guarantees."

The package reportedly involved a swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners jailed by Israel for Shalit.

After Pat’s Birthday

Truthdig - Reports - After Pat’s Birthday: "Editor’s note: Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin, who was discharged in 2005, has written a powerful, must-read document. "

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military. Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,

Kevin Tillman

Friday, October 20, 2006

Baghdad security plan 'failing'

Baghdad security plan 'failing' - Middle East Business news related to travel, food, hotel, real estate, health, oil and more: "The US military has said a security initiative aimed at reducing violence in Baghdad has failed to meet expectations and is being reviewed.

Military spokesman Maj Gen William Caldwell said there had been a 'disheartening' 22 per cent rise in attacks in Baghdad since the end of last month.

His comments came as a wave of bombings across Iraq killed at least 41 people. "

President George W Bush has said the surge in Iraq may be equivalent to the US experience in the Vietnam War.

Bush acknowledged that the escalation of violence 'could be' comparable to the 1968 Tet Offensive against US troops, which helped turn public opinion against the Vietnam War.

But, speaking on ABC News, Bush denied that the rising number of Iraqi and US military deaths in Iraq meant the campaign there was failing.

Launched in June, Operation Together Forward is a joint US and Iraqi security drive in which thousands of extra troops have been deployed in Baghdad.

The operation was seen as key to asserting the authority of the Iraqi government over all of the capital and eventually the rest of the country, paving the way for the withdrawal of US forces.

But Gen Caldwell said attacks on US troops and Iraqi forces in Baghdad has risen significantly in the first three weeks of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began in the last week of September.

'Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but it has not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in... violence,' he said.

Gen Caldwell said 73 US soldiers had been killed so far in October, which was heading towards becoming the deadliest month for US forces in Iraq for two years.

The senior US commander in Iraq, Gen George Casey, has now ordered a review of the strategy.

The gloomy assessment by the US military will add to growing pressure on the Bush administration for some shift in strategy in Iraq, says the BBC's James Westhead in Washington.

But the White House dismissed reports that it was preparing for a change of course, with spokesman Tony Snow describing them as a 'bunch of hooey'.

The US comments came on another day of violence in Iraq. In Mosul in the north there were six separate suicide bomb attacks on Thursday alone.

In the deadliest attack, an explosives-laden fuel lorry blew up at a police station in the city.

Civilians bore the brunt of the attack, as many of the casualties were motorists waiting to buy fuel at a nearby petrol station.

Shortly after the blast, insurgents fired mortars and small arms and triggered more explosions in Mosul, killing at least three more people.

The violence prompted authorities to impose a six-hour curfew until calm was restored.

Correspondents say Mosul has witnessed a recent escalation of violence, with Sunni Arab insurgents battling US troops and the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

Attackers also struck in Kirkuk, killing 12 more people and wounding 70 when a car bomber targeted a crowded bank.

The blast tore though a crowd of soldiers who had gathered there to collect their salaries.

Elsewhere, at least 10 people were killed when a roadside bomb ripped through the Shia market town of Khalis.

Meanwhile, police in Baghdad said at least two officers and two passers-by were killed in the south of the city after a double roadside bomb attack on a police patrol.

[bth: what this shows to me is that, all other matters aside, we simply do not have enough troops to impose our will.]

CNN airs footage of Iraq sniper attacks

CNN airs footage of Iraq sniper attacks: "NEW YORK -- A CNN executive said Thursday the network's effort to present the 'unvarnished truth' about the Iraq war led it to televise portions of a video that shows insurgent snipers targeting U.S. military personnel.

The tape, which came to the network unexpectedly through contact with an insurgent leader, was aired first Wednesday night on 'Anderson Cooper 360' and repeated on Thursday."

In one instance, the tape shows a uniformed member of the U.S. military milling in a public area with Iraqis. A shot rings out. CNN fades the screen to black before the result - described as a victim falling forward - is visible.

It's one of 10 separate sniper attacks on Americans documented on the tape, which CNN technicians concluded was authentic, said David Doss, executive producer of Cooper's show, in a Web log entry describing the network's decision what to show.

CNN could not determine the identity of any of the sniper victims, spokeswoman Christa Robinson said.

Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware had been in contact through intermediaries with Ibrahim al-Shammari, a leader for the rebel group Islamic Army. Ware had sent al-Shammari a series of questions about the insurgency in Iraq, Doss explained.

In reply, al-Shammari sent two tapes. One reportedly showed him, with face concealed, responding to the questions. The other showed the sniper incidents, seemingly taken by the insurgents themselves, CNN said.

CNN understood that some critics might find that the tape had public relations benefits for the insurgency, Doss wrote.

"We also understood that this kind of footage is upsetting and disturbing for many viewers," he said. "But after getting beyond the emotional debate, we concluded the tape meets our criteria for newsworthiness."

The decision was subject to "hours of intense editorial debate" at CNN's highest levels, he said.

Doss said he had already received several angry responses from viewers of Wednesday's five-minute report, some wondering whether CNN was helping the enemy and others concerned that the tape was inappropriate for young viewers who may have happened upon it.

"Whether or not you agree with us in this case, our goal, as always, is to present the unvarnished truth as best we can," Doss said.

House Intel Chair suspends staff member

House Intel Chair suspends staff member - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON - House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra has suspended a Democratic staff member because of concerns he may have leaked a high-level intelligence assessment to The New York Times last month. "

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press Thursday night, Rep. Ray LaHood (news, bio, voting record), R-Ill., a committee member, said that an unidentified staffer requested the document from National Intelligence Director John Negroponte three days before the Sept. 23 story about its conclusions.

The staffer received the National Intelligence Estimate on global terror trends on Sept. 21.

"I have no credible information to say any classified information was leaked from the committee's minority staff, but the implications of such would be dramatic," LaHood wrote Hoekstra, R-Mich., late last month. "This may, in fact, be only coincidence, and simply 'look bad.' But coincidence, in this town, is rare."

A spokesman to Hoekstra, Jamal Ware, confirmed that a committee staff member was suspended this week. He said the staff member is being denied access to classified information pending the outcome of a review.

"Chairman Hoekstra considers security highly important, and the coincidence certainly merits a review," he said.

An aide to California Rep. Jane Harman (news, bio, voting record), the committee's top Democrat, did not have an immediate comment Thursday night.

The New York Times did not immediately answer a telephone message seeking comment.

Al-Sadr's Shiite Militia Seizes Control of Southern Iraq City - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Al-Sadr's Shiite Militia Seizes Control of Southern Iraq City - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Shiite militia run by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr seized total control of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah on Friday in one of the boldest acts of defiance yet by one of the country's powerful, unofficial armies, witnesses and police said."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dispatched an emergency security delegation that included the Minister of State for Security Affairs and top officials from the Interior and Defense ministries, Yassin Majid, the prime minister's media adviser, told The Associated Press.

The Mahdi Army fighters stormed three main police stations Friday morning, planting explosives that flattened the buildings, residents said.

About 800 black-clad militiamen with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were patrolling city streets in commandeered police vehicles, eyewitnesses said. Other fighters had set up roadblocks on routes into the city and sound trucks circulated telling residents to stay indoors.

Fighting broke out in Amara on Thursday after the head of police intelligence in the surrounding province, a member of the rival Shiite Badr Brigade militia, was killed by a roadside bomb, prompting his family to kidnap the teenage brother of the local head of the a-Madhi Army.

The Mahdi Army seized several police stations and clamped a curfew on the city in retaliation.

At least 15 people, including five militiamen, one policeman and two bystanders, have been killed in clashes since Friday, Dr. Zamil Shia, director of Amarah's department of health, said by telephone from Amarah.

The events in the city highlight the threat of wider violence between rival Shiite factions, who have entrenched themselves among the majority Shiite population and are blamed for killings of rival Sunnis.

Mahdi Army militiamen have long enjoyed a free rein in Amarah, the provincial capital of the southern province of Maysan. The militiamen often summon local government officials for meetings at their offices, and they roam the city with their weapons, manipulate the local police and set up checkpoints at will.

Since British troops left Amarah in August, residents say the militia has been involved in a series of killings, including slayings of merchants suspected of selling alcohol and women alleged to have engaged in behavior deemed immoral by militiamen.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Technology Review: Shape-Shifting Rovers

Technology Review: Shape-Shifting Rovers: "An innovative rover robot designed to explore planets and moons is undergoing final assembly this week in a lab at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The robot may also be useful in hazardous environments on Earth, its creators say."

Instead of driving, walking, or rolling around like other vehicles designed to traverse distant, rugged landscapes, the new rover changes its shape and topples along, veering a bit from side to side as it moves ahead. "We call it the drunken-sailor walk," says Pamela Clark, one of the designers of the project at Goddard and a professor at Catholic University of America.

The minimalist device consists of an adjustable frame joined together at key points called nodes. The thin struts connect to the round nodes to form a tetrahedral shape, with another "payload node" at the center to hold the computer systems and sensors. The robot moves by extending or contracting its struts to change its configuration and shift its center of gravity until it tumbles over, then begins the process again. Depending on the terrain, its overall shape can change from tetrahedral to cubic to nearly spherical or flattened out. Ultimately, it should be able to negotiate its way across deep crevasses and climb steep cliffs by shifting its shape as needed.

Tumbling by changing the center of gravity may seem like an awkward and ungainly way of getting around, but Clark says it's efficient and useful for dealing with obstacles, slippery surfaces, and steep slopes.

Last month, a small, single-tetrahedron version of the device had great success climbing the steep, rugged sides of Meteor Crater, in Arizona, in a test run. After months of tests in controlled lab environments, the device performed well despite extremely windy conditions. "We felt like we were about to be blown off the crater," Clark said. "It was a good test."

A larger, more advanced device made up of 12 tetrahedrons is now going through its final assembly in the lab, and it will be tested over the next several months. Clark says dividing up the structure into more tetrahedrons allows for much finer control over the shape and more efficient movement, with only minimal changes in the strut lengths.

Much of the work has been on the control algorithms. Clark says it's tough to think intuitively about a robot that moves without wheels. "When there are 26 struts, there are little games that you can play to think of clusters of nodes in making it walk," she said. Ultimately, the individual struts would be made interchangeable so they could be easily replaced in the field in the event of damage.

Now the main focus will be on developing a variety of "gaits" that the device can use to negotiate different kinds of surfaces, terrains, and slopes. This involves figuring out how far each strut should extend and in what order. Clark has just worked out a control sequence for what she calls an amoeboid gait, which makes the device look as though it's slithering across a surface. "We set out to make the most efficient, low-to-the-ground gait we could," Clark said. "An amoeba moves by trying to extend itself horizontally, with not very much fighting of gravity, which turns out to be very important in this."...

Brian Hart's Introductory Remarks for Sen. Edward Kennedy at First Parish in Bedford, MA Oct. 18, 2006

[bth: The Town of Bedford had the honor of hosting Sen. Edward Kennedy at the First Parish on the Town Common on Oct. 18, 2006, the third anniversary of PFC John D. Hart's death in combat. It was indeed my honor to introduce Sen. Kennedy who had come at our personal invitation to be with us on this important date. Bedford has lost two sons in combat, PFC John D. Hart in 2003 and Lance Corporal Travis DeSioto in Nov. 2004. We had a lengthy and informative discussion on foreign policy and in particular about Iraq in a traditional New England Town Forum setting which has taken place at that location for nearly 3 centuries. It was a wonderful affair and honor on a sad day.]



Introductory Remarks for Senator Edward Kennedy
First Parish Church, Bedford, MA
October 18, 2006
By Brian T. Hart

Three years ago today, we were hit in the heart so hard, we gasped for breath.

This is a day to be among friends, to stay busy, thinking of others and to share the ties that bind.

Now with three years gone by, I have caught my breath and I want to speak from the heart about shared things – shared friends, shared pain, and a shared future for our country.

We want to thank the people of Bedford, our friends, who have helped us when we were sick and weary.

I see people here today that shared with us the most painful days of our lives.

We have shared deep, deep losses together, we have stood on this common ground and in this place of worship several times together, we have heard taps together – for John, then for Travis. We shook to the loud retort of rifles in salute and we shared together a moment in time at Arlington Cemetery with Sen. Kennedy in 2003 together when we buried our son John.

Sen. Kennedy told Alma it was best to visit Arlington in the morning – that it was a private time in a public place before the crowds arrived …..

A year after meeting Sen. Kennedy, Alma, Elizabeth, Rebecca and I and a few friends went down to Arlington, to visit John. By John’s grave in Section 60 were rows of freshly dug graves from Iraq and Afghanistan.

On that Sunday morning we stood alone on a green hill looking at white headstones in autumn. Senator Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy joined us with flowers – this small private group on a hill.

We shared a moment - a remembrance of loved ones buried there.

We share a small piece of earth, as we share today, a friendship and a deep and abiding love for this land.

Before I was born, Senator Kennedy knew what it was like to be a Gold Star Family. In 1944 as a young boy he felt his family reel from the death his older brother Joseph who had been killed after volunteering for a secret mission over the English Channel. Today his name is written on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Cemetery in Cambridge England.

When I was four and in Abilene, Texas, my mother plopped me in front of a small black & white television and told me to watch and remember and I did. The month was November, the year 63.

A few years later, I put a small transistor radio to my ear and heard, “Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby? Can you tell me where he’s gone? I thought I saw him walk up over the hill, with Abraham, Martin and John.”…

In our heart, we feel today like we felt then - that the country has spiraled off course.

We have got to make our country right somehow.

So it is fitting that we meet here today, at our invitation, to talk about what is lost and what is found and the knowledge that it is never too late to do the right thing.

We know that a country that can no longer properly equip its troops – where “too little, too late,” is the motto of defeat from a broken and corrupt procurement system is not right.

We know that torture is not about semantics, but about who we are as a people and what we stand for as a nation.

We know that liberators leave and occupiers stay.

We know as a people, we have been divided and deceived.

We know that it is wrong for 2% of the population to bear the military service of this country, rotation after rotation, while the rich enjoy tax cuts, and the poor in New Orleans live without hope.

We know we are off course.
We want to be proud Americans.
We want our country back.
We cannot be afraid.
We will not be silent.

We know in our gut, that an honest debate about the future of this country will not happen until either one, or both of the Houses of Congress are controlled by the Democratic Party.

It is with deepest humility that Alma and I want to thank you, our friends, for sharing our pain, and our struggle together.

It is with pride that we introduce to you one of the greatest Americans of our time, a man I am proud to call our friend, the Honorable Senator Edward Kennedy.

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: A New Decision?

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: A New Decision?: "Administration officials told me on Monday that President George Bush is likely to announce 'an exit strategy' that would draw down current U.S. force levels in Iraq.

'I think the dimensions of the catastrophe there has finally sunk in,' one administration source said.
He and two others I talked to refused to speculate on details of any withdrawal, but all said that Bush would begin public statements after the upcoming elections were completed."

But they did say that Bush is also becoming "increasingly pessimistic" about any military action against Iran. According to one, "Bush really wanted to mount an attack on Iran earlier this year -- he was really hot to trot," but military briefings brought home to him that attacking Iran did not mean eliminating its suspected nuclear sites but also having to destroy "Iran's entire retaliatory capability," in the words of one. This capability is formidable; U.S. intelligence sources say Iran has underground missile batteries southwest of Abu Musa with the HY-2 advanced version of the Silkworm anti-ship missile. There are also Scud-Cs which could hit any UAE ports, including those to the south and west of Abu Dhabi and they could also strike Dubai where U.S. naval sources currently dock at the port of Jebel Ali.Since the Scuds are long-range missiles, they don't need to be moved to the Gulf islands in order to hit targets on the Saudi side of the Gulf.The underground storage bunkers also store the newer Chinese-made C-801 and C-802 anti-ship missiles and it could easily transport them to Abu Musa if they are not already there as a few U.S. experts contend. The majority I spoke to felt they were there already.They could also be transported to places like the Tunbs, Sirri and other islands in the blink of an eye where they would be sheltered in bunkers.There is also the threat of Iran's Navy. It has much amphibious capability -- both flat bottomed ships and hovercraft -- and a brigade of marines, all of which it showed off in exercises in the spring of this year, meaning it could cross the Gulf at any point it chose to, say experts.

Iran has submarines that could be easily sunk, the Gulf being so shallow, and so Tehran would likely resort to its array of E-boats, mini-subs, combat swimmers, and fast missile patrol craft to wreak damage. Iran is also training fundamentalists from Egypt, the Gulf States, Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon at Iranian facilities, and would be likely to have a Fifth column in place in the Gulf States long before any conflict began. Iran's ability to do this quickly and effectively is pretty much taken for granted, U.S. officials said.One military analyst pointed out that in 1986-1988 when Iran's oil infrastructure was being savaged by Iraq, Iran responded by using fast interdiction boats like Boston Whalers, Boghammers as well as helicopters to launch attacks against Saudi and Kuwait shipping. Tehran could be expected to resort to this tactic again, experts say. If the United States began the bombing of Iran's conventional military forces, Iran might attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz before losing its chief military assets.

In Qatar, there is currently underway a $50 billion natural gas project funded mutually by Exxon-Mobil and the Qatar government. The United States is fast running out of natural gas, and the Qatar program would ship in new reserves to take up the shortage. But even though Qatar has assured Tehran that it does not back any action against Iran by the United States, Tehran has made it clear that Qatar would be heavily damaged in punitive attacks if the Bush administration starts a war.As one civilian military expert said, "Iran would be likely to do a great deal of damage in the Gulf before its assets on the mainland and islands were neutralized."

In other words, if attacked, Iran would respond asymmetrically, and any U.S.

Iran war would be more frightful, full of bloody slaughter and unintended consequences than current U.S. planners think. This is what is giving Bush pause.Cheney is still pushing hard for a strike, but Bush has become more skeptical of the vice president's ardor as he looks over the wreckage of Iraq, U.S. officials said.

Richard Sale”

[bth: if it helped their US election odds, I would not rule out a change in strategy announced at the eve of November elections either.]

Militia of anti-U.S. cleric goes on rampage in southern Iraqi city

Militia of anti-U.S. cleric goes on rampage in southern Iraqi city - iht,africa,Iraq Shiite Fighting - Africa & Middle East - International Herald Tribune: "BAGHDAD, Iraq The family of the murdered chief of police intelligence in the southern Maysan province struck back Thursday against his suspected killers, kidnapping the teenage brother of a local militia commander and vowing not to free him unless the culprits turned over, police said."

Ali Qassim al-Tamimi was killed Wednesday by a bomb planted on the highway between Maysan's provincial capital Amarah and the city of Basra farther south. He was killed along with four of his bodyguards.

Tamimi is known to be a member of the Badr Brigade, a militia linked to Iraq's largest religious Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. The family maintains that the rival Mahdi Army of radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was behind his murder.

The showdown between the two Shiite militias has the potential to develop into an all-out conflict between the heavily armed groups and their political sponsors, both with large blocs in parliament and backers of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ruling coalition. It also could shatter the unity of Iraq's majority Shiites at a time when an enduring Sunni insurgency shows no signs of abating amid continued sectarian strife.

In response to the abduction, Mahdi Army militiamen deployed across the city, enforcing an impromptu curfew and

taking control of several police stations, according to police Capt. Hussein Karim and al-Sadr's media representative in Amarah, Aouda al-Bahrani. They also commanderred police vehcicles.

By late afternoon, the city was almost completely deserted.

Clashes erupted between the Mahdi Army militiamen and policemen defending the force's headquarters in the center of the city. Two policemen, two militiamen and four civilians were wounded in the fighting, in which mortars, rifle propelled grenades and assault rifles were used, according to Karim, the police captain.

The Mahdi Army commander in Amarah is sheik Fadel al-Bahadli. His brother, Hussein al-Bahadli, is believed to be 19.

Badr and the Mahdi Army have been at loggerheads for years, their differences primarily over control of cities and towns in the mainly Shiite south of the country. Ironically, both al-Sadr's political bloc, the so-called "Sadrists", and SCIRI are members of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The clashes in Amarah will almost certainly increase pressure on al-Maliki to act against the militias, which are suspected of involvement in sectarian killings now wracking the country.

Militias Splintering Into Radicalized Cells

Militias Splintering Into Radicalized Cells - washingtonpost.com: "BAGHDAD -- The young Shiite men, some wearing black masks, glided from house to house in search of Sunni Muslim men. They arrived at the two-story dwelling of Mohammed Hussein clutching a bomb, neighbors said. As his mother stood at the front gate, they detonated it. Shrapnel and glass flew, sending her to the hospital. A wall fell on a neighbor, sending him to his grave."

Hussein, who is Sunni, arrived home an hour later and immediately blamed a man called Aziz Dinar. Residents in this western Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriyah -- in Arabic, it means freedom -- said Dinar heads the local office of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and elements of his militia, the Mahdi Army.

"We know he is behind all the incidents taking place in Hurriyah," Hussein, 29, a civil servant, said with confidence. "He is the one who destroyed our house."

But in an interview, a leader in Sadr's movement in western Baghdad denied knowing Dinar. "This Aziz Dinar does not represent us in Hurriyah. There are other representatives," said Abdul Hadi al-Mohammadawi. "I have never heard of him."

In the void forged by the sectarian tensions gripping Baghdad, militias are further splintering into smaller, more radicalized cells, signifying a new and potentially more volatile phase in the struggle for the capital.

Iraqis and U.S. officials blame militias for mass kidnappings and slayings, for setting up unauthorized checkpoints and for causing much of the recent carnage.

Senior U.S. military and intelligence officials say they have identified at least 23 militias -- some are Sunni, but most are Shiite. Some are paramilitary offshoots of the Mahdi Army or have broken away entirely from Sadr's command structure. Others seem inspired by Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla movement.

"In some ways it makes it easier for me because I have digestible doses I can deal with that might not be reinforcing one another," a senior U.S. military official said at a recent briefing with reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But at the same time, it creates problems for me because it is harder to find them when they are splintered, to identify who they are."

The new breed of militias embody the changed texture of violence in the fourth year of war -- from attacks against Baathists and loyalists of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, to attacks on average Iraqis purely because of their sect or their wealth. They appear more localized and more ruthless than their predecessors. They deploy death squads and explode bombs to destroy houses. They have carved neighborhoods into fiefdoms, governing through fear and intimidation.

The fragmentation poses new obstacles to U.S. and Iraqi forces trying to quell the sectarian strife that U.S. commanders fear could plunge the nation into civil war. Militias have already replaced the Sunni Arab insurgency as the biggest challenge to U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq. Senior U.S. military officials privately acknowledge they do not have the manpower to conduct urban sweeps in every neighborhood or prevent areas they have cleared from again becoming havens of lawlessness and killing.

Nowadays, in some parts of Baghdad, it is not uncommon to hear residents blame small militias, criminal gangs, rogue death squads or assassins for their woes -- instead of Iraq's two major militias, the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades, an arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite religious party.

In the mostly Shiite neighborhood of al-Amil, the Haider Hamida gang rules. It has about 50 Shiite members, mostly young, jobless men from poor sections of the neighborhood, residents said. They orbit around shops, street corners and checkpoints. Many have ties to the Mahdi Army or are still members, residents said.

The gang is named after the pseudonym of its chief executioner, a short, skinny man in his early 20s with black hair and a thin moustache. Some residents said he was a member of a police commando unit.

Both U.S. and Iraqi officials have expressed concern over the infiltration of Iraqi police units by militias and death squads. Hamida is said to have killed at least 100 people in recent months.

"We started hearing about his gang after Samarra. They became active after this incident," said Majid Abu Sara, 43, a Sunni resident of al-Amil, who asked that his full name not be used because he feared for his safety. He was referring to the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, that triggered cycles of sect-based revenge killings. Most of the other splinter groups also emerged after the attack.

The Haider Hamida gang arrived at Abu Sara's parents' doorstep three months ago, he recalled. They placed an improvised bomb at the front door, near their car. Within seconds, the house and the car were engulfed in flames. Abu Sara's 90-year-old father, his 70-year-old mother and 10 other relatives fled out the back.

"They displaced them just because they are Sunni," said Abu Sara, describing the motive for the attack. "My parents have not gone back."

militias. He began to rattle off names -- "Iraqiya Hezbollah, Khadimiya Brigades" -- but an aide stopped him, noting that he was revealing vital intelligence.

In August, U.S. and Iraqi troops conducted house-to-house sweeps in the western neighborhood of Ghazaliya, part of its Operation Together Forward to bring security to the capital. At the time, U.S. officials asserted that there was progress in pushing out militias and insurgents, and bringing down violence.

But by September, after the sweeps, "we saw death squads at least come in," a senior coalition intelligence official said at a recent briefing with reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. The death squads had links to groups inside Iraqi government ministries, he said.

One reason for the militia splintering is that differences have emerged within Sadr's movement over his decision to join Iraq's political process. The senior coalition intelligence official said he knew of at least "six major players" who have left Sadr's movement because they no longer find him radical enough and see him as "too accommodating to the coalition."

Yet many of the new groups, described as rogue elements, continue to link themselves with the Mahdi Army.

"They will execute operations and obtain funding under the guise of Jaish al-Mahdi," said the senior coalition intelligence official, using the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army. "But they are effectively beyond his control," he said, referring to Sadr.

These groups represent a threat to Sadr's image and political aspirations at a time when he controls four government ministries and 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament.

"There are definitely lots of terrorists who have used the Sadr office to achieve their goals to ruin the reputation of this army which has struggled for the service of the people," said Mohammadawi. "The Sadr office is trying very hard to capture any terrorist elements which could harm the security of society and Iraq in general."

When gunmen in police cars and police uniforms raided the offices of an Iraqi satellite television channel, killing at least eight people, suspicion immediately fell on the Mahdi Army. Hours after the slayings, Sadr released a strongly worded statement warning that he would release the names and excommunicate any Mahdi Army militiamen who were conducting attacks against Iraqis.

The senior coalition intelligence official said he believed that Sadr was honestly trying to take control of his forces.

In neighborhoods such as al-Amil, the attacks have become bolder. Haider Hamida walks the streets without wearing a mask, said residents. Two months ago, he and some members of his gang stopped a car at a checkpoint and targeted a man who sold milk in the neighborhood, recalled Ahmed Abu Abdallah, another resident.

"Haider pulled him out of the car and they started hitting him with pistols on his head," said Abu Abdallah. "They put him in their truck and drove off." Later that day, the man's relatives found his body dumped less than a mile from the checkpoint.

U.S. officials are concerned that the Shiite splinter groups could reach out to the Shiite rulers in neighboring Iran for support. They share the same ideology, and Iran is eager to provide funding, said the senior coalition intelligence official.

"As time goes on, you're going to continue to see elements break off the organization and become sort of these semi-independent or independent players, but none of them remain independent for long," said the official. "They all find a sponsor."

In Hurriyah, Aziz Dinar acts as if he has strong backers. Residents said he has become wealthy through kidnapping for ransom and looting local stores. Poor youths from the neighborhood continue to sign up for his militia.

"He killed a couple of his own neighbors from his own street," said Hussein. "The whole area was surrounded by his men. They carried rocket-propelled grenades. The Iraqi army was in the neighborhood, but they did nothing.

"That day, he told people, 'I do whatever I like.' "

[bth: for months earlier this year the Iraqi government refused to accept US trained police but instead padded the payrolls with Shiite militiamen. So now we have death squads as police and no chance of creating a government with popular support or trust. I see no strategy that will work except segmentation of Iraq.]

Tables Turned for the G.O.P. Over Iraq Issue

Tables Turned for the G.O.P. Over Iraq Issue - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 — Four months ago, the White House offered a set of clear political directions to Republicans heading into the midterm elections: embrace the war in Iraq as critical to the antiterrorism fight and belittle Democrats as advocates of a “cut and run” policy of weakness."

With three weeks until Election Day, Republican candidates are barely mentioning Iraq on the campaign trail and in their television advertisements.
Even President Bush, continuing to attack Democrats for opposing the war, has largely dropped his call of “stay the course” and replaced it with a more nuanced promise of flexibility.
It is the Democrats who have seized on Iraq as a central issue. In debates and in speeches, candidates are pummeling Republicans with accusations of a failed war.
Rather than avoiding confrontation on Iraq as they did in 2002 and 2004, they are spotlighting their opposition in new television advertisements that feature mayhem and violence in Iraq, denounce Republicans for supporting Mr. Bush and, in at least one case, demand the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
“I support our troops and I voted for the war, but we shouldn’t stay the course, as Mr. Corker wants,” Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., the Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee, says in one advertisement.
Mr. Ford’s Republican opponent, Bob Corker, is shown against a backdrop of wartime scenes, saying, “We should stay the course,” a phrase that Republicans once described as a rallying cry for the campaign.
Taken together, the discussion on the campaign trail suggests just how much of a problem the Iraq war has become for Republicans. It represents a startling contrast with the two national elections beginning in 2002 with the preparation for the Iraq invasion, in which Republicans used the issue to keep Democrats on the run on foreign policy and national security.

The development also suggests that what has been a classic strategy of Mr. Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove — to turn a weakness into a strength — is not working as well as the White House had hoped.

“As the Iraq war gets more unpopular, the environment for Republican candidates erodes,” said Mark Campbell, a Republican strategist who represents several Congressional candidates, including Representative Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, who is fighting for re-election in one of the toughest races.
“Only in an election year this complicated can Republicans be happy that Mark Foley knocked the Iraq war off the front page,” Mr. Campbell said.

A senior strategist familiar with Republican polling who insisted on anonymity to share internal data said that as of midsummer it was clear that “stay the course” was a self-defeating argument.

At that point, the strategist said, Republicans started trying to refine their oratory or refocus the debate back to discussing terrorism, where Republicans continue to say they wield the stronger hand and where candidates are running advertisements that Democrats describe as effective.

Democrats, seeing similar data in their polls, advised candidates to confront Republicans aggressively, in the view that accusations that Democrats would “cut and run” would not blunt Democrats’ efforts to mock Republicans as wanting to “stay the course.”

“For the first time in modern memory, Democrats are actually on the offensive when it comes to national security,” said Matt Bennett, a founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic organization that has been briefing Democrats on discussing the war and national security. “It is really stunning.”

As of this week, party officials said, Democratic candidates in at least 17 of roughly 35 closely contested Congressional seats and at least six of eight Senate races considered close are running television advertisements against the Iraq war, presenting viewpoints that extend to calling for a troop withdrawal.
More broadly, Democrats in all parts of the country, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Mexico are embracing the war issue.

“It’s not just the Northeast and the West Coast,” Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said. “It’s places like Virginia and Tennessee. Iraq and foreign policy are to a large extent albatrosses around the Republicans’ neck this year. And they don’t know what to do about it.”

Republicans and Democrats said the White House effort to turn the war into an affirmative Republican issue was undercut by the increasing violence there, along with more American deaths that have brought the war home in the form of mournful articles in local newspapers.

That complicated the White House effort to present the Iraq war as part of the antiterrorism effort, and it has contributed to support for the war reaching record or near-record lows.

In the New York Times/CBS News Poll taken from Oct. 5 to Oct. 8, two-thirds of respondents said they disapproved of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war and 66 percent said the war was going somewhat or very badly.

In the poll, 45 percent said Democrats were more likely to make the right decision on Iraq, compared with 34 percent of Republicans.

The White House counselor, Dan Bartlett, said Mr. Bush had always emphasized flexibility in tactics to achieve victory in Iraq. Mr. Bartlett said the president’s recent added emphasis on adaptability had been prompted by the violence in Iraq and reactions to it, not because Republicans were on the defensive.

“The public sees what’s happening in Iraq, they see the persistent violence, and they want to make sure that we’re adapting,” Mr. Bartlett said.

He said the White House and the Republican Party were not about to cede the traditional advantages on national security to Democrats. Mr. Bush, he added, would step up his attacks on their national security credentials at campaign appearances in Pennsylvania and Virginia on behalf of two of the most endangered candidates, Senator George Allen of Virginia and Representative Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Bartlett said Iraq remained a winning issue in the broader context of the war on terrorism, which the party would continue to hit hard.

Mr. Bush tried to do that on Wednesday in an interview on ABC News, telling George Stephanopoulos, the interviewer, that when voters go to the polls on Nov. 7 “they’re going to want to know what that person’s going to do, what is the plan for a candidate on Iraq, what do they believe?”

When Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Bush whether the increasing violence in Iraq was similar to the Tet Offensive in 1968, the Vietnam War campaign that is often cited as turning American opinion against the war, Mr. Bush said such a comparison “could be right,” suggesting that terrorists were aiming for a similar result.

Mr. Bush’s aides said he would continue to criticize Democrats on the war even if his words were not echoed by Republican candidates the way they were in 2002 and 2004.

In this environment, several Republicans said they had given up on trying to win an advantage on the war and would be satisfied in at least wrestling Democrats to a draw on it.

“When you lay out arguments in a clear way, you can argue this thing to sort of neutral at worst and, possibly, a slight advantage,” said Russ Schriefer, a Republican strategist who is advising several candidates this year.

Mr. Schriefer said the best case that Republicans could make now was that “we can’t afford to leave until the job is finished.”

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which has polled extensively on attitudes toward the war, said Pew figures suggested that one hope for Republicans earlier in this campaign — that Democrats would be hurt if they were perceived as criticizing the war without offering a strategy for withdrawal — had not been borne out.

“They are not getting punished for not offering an opinion,” Mr. Kohut said. “The Democrats have an advantage on this issue, without having to say much about it.”

Republicans and Democrats said they could not name any examples of Republicans’ trying to use the war as a campaign issue.

But examples of the war being used by Democrats were abundant this week. In a debate in New Jersey, Thomas H. Kean Jr., the Republican challenger to Senator Robert Menendez, was repeatedly asked — 27 times, according to a statement put out by Senate Democrats — whether he would have voted for the resolution authorizing the Iraq war.

Mr. Kean refused to answer.

In Florida on Wednesday, Ron Klein, the Democratic challenger to Representative E. Clay Shaw Jr., an embattled Republican, attacked Mr. Shaw with an advertisement that said the congressman “even refuses to question Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.”

And in Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat who is making a strong challenge to Senator Lincoln Chafee, one of the six most-endangered Republicans, began running an advertisement urging the dismissal of Mr. Rumsfeld.

“Chafee refuses to call for his firing,” the commercial said.

[bth: A Congress that has one house or the other controlled by the opposition party - Democrats - is the only way to have a meaningful debate and hearings that means something about our current policy in Iraq. Unless that happens there will be no accountability and two more years of war with out plan or purpose in Iraq.]

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

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Fight The Fraud In Iraq

TomPaine.com - Fight The Fraud In Iraq: "Almost unnoticed, the Department of Justice on Tuesday announced the formation of an investigative task force to sniff out and prosecute fraud. The task force’s quarry is fraud associated with “contracting activity for national security and other government programs.” Yes, that creaking sound you hear is that of a barn door closing as the horses, ridden by newly enriched war profiteers, make their getaway.

The federal government could have put serious accountability mechanisms in place years ago, when they made the fateful decision to invade Iraq and then put the reconstruction effort under the control of a handful of corporate titans. They did not, and we now are all too familiar with the consequences. While officials of such key companies of Halliburton have reaped record paychecks as a result of their getting billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts for Iraqi reconstruction, the reconstruction itself has been a massive disaster. Average Iraqi citizens have less access to electricity, gasoline and other basic services than they did when Saddam Hussein was in power. Meanwhile, as Los Angeles Times reporter T. Christian Miller has documented in his book on Iraq contracting abuses, Blood Money, billions in taxpayer money have never been properly accounted for and perhaps never will be. And, as he wrote Wednesday for The Huffington Post, “Not a single corporate executive or government contracting officer has faced the music in any of these cases.”

“It’s a Potemkin reform,” said Charlie Cray, director of the Center for Corporate Policy. “These guys have had every opportunity for the past few years to do something about it, and now all of the conversation has been about Republican pedophiles and they all of a sudden want to talk about what great oversight they are doing.”

The Justice Department announcement, of course, doesn’t even broach the flat-out incompetence that characterized the reconstruction. As just one example, take the new police academy building in Baghdad built by the Parsons Corp. under a $75 million contract. The House Government Reform Committee learned last month that the construction work on that building was so poor that human waste seeped from the plumbing through the walls.T

he Army Corps of Engineers just recently canceled that contract and others in the company’s Iraq work portfolio worth about $2 billion. Nevertheless, Parsons is at the same time getting a five-year, $15 million deal from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command to provide master planning for Navy and Marine Corps facilities in much of the world. That’s right: A contractor with a track record of failure in Iraq is getting yet more contracts.

Even the contractors’ campaign contributions can’t shield their Republican benefactors from embarrassment over their abysmal performance. Hence, even Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., chairman of the Government Reform Committee—who according to the Center for Responsive Politics has received $143,530 of the $1.8 million he has raised for his re-election from defense-related interests—was sharply critical at the late September hearing. While acknowledging that the perilous security conditions in Iraq exponentially increase the difficulty and cost of reconstruction projects, “a challenging security environment cannot excuse otherwise avoidable problems and preventable waste. …

According to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, we keep spending more and building less because cost estimates are still inaccurate, reconstruction priorities and funding allocations keep shifting, and contractor performance is not being closely monitored.” There is something more important than money at stake in this. As of Tuesday, 647 civilian employees of private contractors have died in Iraq, according to Reuters. Some of them have died allegedly as a result of defense contractor negligence.

Certainly the families of six workers who died in an ambush of a truck convoy believed that they had a case against Kellogg, Brown and Root, the Halliburton subsidiary they allege knowingly directed the convoy into an active battle zone where civilians should not have been directed. But last month a federal judge in Texas denied their wrongful death claim, on the basis that KBR was essentially acting as an extension of the Army and was thus beyond the reach of the liability that a private corporation normally has. The judge’s ruling, according to the lawyer for the family, T. Scott Allen, creates “a legal gray zone in which Halliburton and KBR can act in any manner they chose.”

That does not bode well for the families of four Blackwater Security workers who are also pursuing a wrongful death claim, alleging that the company was negligent in a 2004 incident in Falluja in which the contractors were shot and two of their bodies were filmed as they were hung from a bridge and burned.

On almost every level, the use of private contractors in Iraq has been a disaster. This week, concerned citizens around the country will use the Robert Greenwald documentary “Iraq for Sale” to stoke public outrage. The film draws on the testimonials of people who have been the witnesses and victims of contractor malfeasance. The Campaign For America’s Future is helping set up house parties where people can see the film and decide how they will respond. Organizing or attending a house party is a tangible way to make the issue of Iraq corruption a major one in next few weeks.

As the report the organization released last month on war profiteering in Iraq concludes, “The failure to plan and execute a sensible reconstruction in Iraq now leaves our soldiers stranded in a widening civil war, our allies dismayed and our enemies emboldened. Companies have profited from the Iraq fiasco. Profiteers have cashed in. But our country has been badly served. As citizens, we can’t provide oversight for the private contractors in Iraq. But we can hold our leaders accountable.”

Accountability could take many forms, all of which the Bush administration has resisted. Reforms similar to those that congressional Democrats have sought to put into law have been blocked by Republicans. Those reforms would mean that contractors guilty of fraud and malfeasance would be more quickly debarred or suspended and would face stiff penalties for war profiteering.

The scale of corruption and negligence—and its cost in human as well as financial terms—is such that whispering about a task force in a press release is not enough. Both the Bush administration and the Congress need to feel the wrath of an enraged electorate demanding accountability.

PFC John D. Hart range at FOB Bernstein in Iraq Posted by Picasa

How to turn the tide in Afghanistan

How to turn the tide in Afghanistan - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune: "KABUL NATO will fail to combat the growing insurgency in Afghanistan unless it shows the flexibility and determination to deal with three major problems simultaneously - all of which are the legacy of the American failure in Afghanistan over the past five years.KABUL NATO will fail to combat the growing insurgency in Afghanistan unless it shows the flexibility and determination to deal with three major problems simultaneously - all of which are the legacy of the American failure in Afghanistan over the past five years."

A few days ago NATO took over all military operations in Afghanistan from the Americans. But ordinary people in Kabul are fearful that the Taliban are on their way back to power and the international community does not have the power or desire to stop them.

To turn the tide in Afghanistan, NATO will have to act not just as a military alliance, but also as a political, economic and diplomatic alliance - something it has never done before.

Since the spring when 10,000 NATO forces took over in southern Afghanistan from U.S. forces, they have suffered three times the casualty rate of American soldiers, as a result of well-planned offensives by the Taliban.

Although NATO forces have killed hundreds of Taliban, there is no quick end to the insurgency in sight as the Taliban move skillfully from mass frontal attacks on NATO positions to one-man suicide attacks in Afghan cities.

Not surprisingly the public, Parliaments and news media in many NATO countries whose soldiers are dying in Afghanistan are up in arms, and demanding that their governments recall their troops.

In the past few days, Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Stephen Harper of Canada have said their forces will get the best equipment and support available (Canadian troops have suffered the heaviest casualties). But their people want answers to more obvious questions: Why are the Taliban back, when the United States repeatedly said they were finished? Why has Pakistan's military regime continued to allow Taliban leaders to live on its soil? Can NATO actually succeed?

Since 2001, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has failed to deploy enough peacekeeping troops, resources and reconstruction aid. NATO is only now rectifying that, spreading troops out to key areas in the south that have been hit by the insurgency and developing a more clear- headed reconstruction policy.

But NATO members have been slow to come up with the necessary financial aid and military equipment. Major reconstruction has yet to take place. Even in Kabul there is less electricity today than there was under the Communists in the 1980s.

In the long term, NATO forces in the south can only win if they are prepared to come in with enough aid and reconstruction to win over the alienated Pashtun tribes. NATO's military successes must become an economic lever that pries more money out of the European Union, the United States and the Muslim world.

The second problem is the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai, which has failed to come up with speedy and decisive decisions, promote good governance and clamp down on corruption and drug trafficking among its own ministers and officials.

As Afghans have become more and more critical of their own government, the Taliban find they can recruit extensively among disaffected people inside Afghanistan for the first time since 2001.

NATO has to play a critical political role in resuscitating the Afghan government and giving it the confidence to perform better.

Third, NATO has to play a diplomatic role in convincing Pakistan to stop pursuing a dual-track policy of supporting the war on terrorism when it comes to capturing Qaeda leaders, but declining to do the same when it comes to the Taliban. Washington has tolerated this dichotomy for the past five years because it placed little importance on restraining the Taliban, but NATO cannot afford to do the same.

In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sept. 21, General James Jones, NATO's supreme commander, testified that the Taliban headquarters was in Quetta, Pakistan. Yet President George W. Bush did not even bring up Quetta when he hosted a dinner recently for Karzai and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

The UN secretary general's latest report to the Security Council on Afghanistan says the Taliban leadership "relies heavily on cross-border fighters, many of whom are Afghans drawn from nearby refugee camps and radical seminaries in Pakistan." It lists five leadership centers for the insurgency. U.S. and NATO intelligence officials reportedly believe that at least three of those centers are based in Pakistan.

America's refusal to address this issue has convinced Afghans that the West is not serious about ending the Taliban insurgency and securing Afghanistan. NATO has to change this public perception if it is to succeed.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia."
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AFGHANISTAN: ABDUCTORS DEMAND CONVERT IN EXCHANGE FOR ITALIAN REPORTER

AFGHANISTAN: ABDUCTORS DEMAND CONVERT IN EXCHANGE FOR ITALIAN REPORTER: "Kabul, 18 Oct. (AKI) - The abductors of Italian journalist Gabriele Torsello have reportedly said they will free him in exchange for an Afghan who converted to Christianity from Islam and obrained political asylum in Italy. Photojournalist Torsello, a Christian who converted to Islam, was kidnapped last Thursday while he was travelling from Lashkar Gah, the capital of the volatile Helmand province to neighbouring Kandahar - the two parts of the country where fighting between insurgents and NATO forces is fiercest.

Abdul Rahman was offered political asylum by Italy last March after escaping a potential death sentence for having rejected Islam and converted to Christianity.

He travelled to Italy after a a court judged him mentally unfit to stand trial on apostasy charges and released him and now lives in an undisclosed location.

Torsello's kidnappers asked for the exchange in a phone call to a hospital in Afghanistan run by Italian charity Emergency.

The kidnappers reportedly want the exchange to take place before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. "

Street sign on Kirkuk Air Force Base for Lt. David Berstein and PFC John D. Hart Posted by Picasa

Ten US soldiers killed in attacks around Iraq

The Raw Story Ten US soldiers killed in attacks around Iraq: "Baghdad- Ten US soldiers were killed in separate attacks around Iraq on Tuesday, the US military disclosed Wednesday. It said four soldiers were killed early Tuesday morning by a roadside bomb targeting their vehicle west of Baghdad. "

Three others were killed and one wounded during operations Tuesday in Diyala province, the military said. In three further separate incidents, a US soldier was killed when militants opened fire at his patrol in northern Baghdad, a soldier was killed during operations in al-Anbar province, and one other soldier was killed north of Baghdad when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle. The single-day death toll was one of the highest ever suffered by US forces in the Iraq conflict to date. Meanwhile in further violence Wednesday, a car bomb exploded in central Baghdad, inflicting a number of casualties, eyewitnesses reported.

They said the bomb apparently had targeted a police patrol which was in the process of bringing a defendant to court in the Andalus square. The number of casualties in the blast was not initially known.

In a political development, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the release of a cleric affiliated with anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr a day after his arrest by US forces, Iraq's official television station al-Iraqiya reported.

There was no immediate clarification of why al-Maliki ordered the release of the Shiite cleric Mazen al-Sa'edi, the office manager of al-Sadr's group in the town of Karkh. Al-Sa'edi was reportedly arrested by US forces Tuesday in the Sho'la district in western Baghdad, with media reports saying the Americans had suspected him of having directed kidnappings, killings and torture of Sunnis and Shiites and also attacking US forces.© 2006 dpa German Press Agency

[bth: 1. note this information is reported not by a US news service but by the Germans. 2. 10 soldiers on Tuesday is the highest ever. 3. note the otherwise lack of US news, photos, pictures of vehicles or type of engagement, 4. note the catch and release program against Sadrs forces. We have no chance of addressing his militia or the current civil war with this policy by the Iraqi government.]

Forty Taliban killed in battles

Forty Taliban killed in battles NEWS.com.au: "TROOPS in Afghanistan killed around 40 Taliban rebels in two encounters overnight, including a major battle near the Pakistan border in which Pakistanis and Chechens were among the dead, officials said."

The nearly five-hour battle was in Paktia province that borders Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal district where the government signed a truce with pro-Taliban militants last month.

The fight started when Afghan troops came under attack in the province's Barmal area on the border, the defence ministry said.

"The result - 24 enemy were killed, their bodies were left at the site and we have carried them to our base," ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.

"Among the dead there are Pakistan nationals, Chechens and people from other countries, as well as Afghans," he said.

Eight people were arrested alive, including three Pakistanis.

A military commander reported overnight that six Taliban and a soldier had been killed in a battle in Barmal. It could not be immediately confirmed if it was the same incident.

There is concern in insurgency-hit Afghanistan that the peace deal in North Waziristan has resulted in more militants crossing into the country to carry out attacks.

The US-led coalition said last month it had seen a 300 per cent increase in incidents in the area since a truce in North Waziristan was reached weeks before the September accord.

The accord saw the Pakistani forces scale down their presence in the area with the tribal leaders pledging to stop infiltration.

In the southern province of Uruzgan, a US-led coalition airstrike killed a Taliban commander and up to 15 other militants in an early morning raid.

Coalition aircraft dropped three bombs on an insurgent compound soon after 1am local time, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

"The aircraft engaged a known mid-level Taliban commander ... with three 500-pound bombs, killing him and 10 to 15 additional Taliban militants who had previously conducted ambush attacks on the Afghan National Army and ISAF," it said.

The separate ISAF and coalition forces together number about 40,000 troops. They carry out some of their operations together or with the Afghan security forces.

Police reported, meanwhile, that four Taliban were killed in an attack Monday in Grishk district in the southern province of Helmand.

And in the neighbouring province of Kandahar, the birthplace and core of Taliban activities, a truck driver supplying fuel for foreign troops was killed and his vehicle was set ablaze by militants yesterday, police said.

The incident in Kandahar's border town of Spin Boldak was the latest such attack targeting civilians helping the foreign troops who have been based here to help secure Afghanistan since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban government.

Also in Kandahar a district governor survived an assassination attempt overnight, police official Esmatullah Alizai said.

The district chief of Mia Nishin escaped unharmed when unknown assailants opened fire on his vehicle, wounding two of his bodyguards, Mr Alizai said.

Taliban militants have this year increased their use of a range of attacks used to terrorise Afghanistan, from suicide bombings to the murders of government employees.

Their insurgency has been its bloodiest this year, with nearly 3000 people killed - most of them rebels, sparking a bitter row between Pakistan and Afghanistan about the roots of the fundamentalist militancy.

YouTube and the cyber jihad 

YouTube and the cyber jihad - Editorials/Op-Ed - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "If you haven't heard of YouTube, you soon will. Just the latest innovation on the Internet, YouTube is a site where users are able to upload videos for all to see. The site is minimally managed, which is what gives YouTube such appeal. Anyone with a video recorder can now get online and be seen by anyone else with an Internet connection. Not surprisingly, YouTube's popularity has exploded, with millions of users and available videos. "

But that's where the party ends. Recently, columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin was informed by YouTube's operators that a video she had posted was deemed offensive and taken down. The problem is that the video didn't violate the few criteria YouTube says make it off-limits to users. Titled "First, They Came," Mrs. Malkin's video was a slideshow showing some victims of Islamist violence, much of it inspired by the Mohammed cartoon fiasco earlier this year. This is what YouTube operators called "inappropriate."

YouTube, however, doesn't monitor the videos users post. Instead, it relies on complaints from users and only then judges whether a video violates any of its terms of use. Now, who would be most "offended" by a slideshow of Islamist violence? Islamists, of course. As Mrs. Malkin quickly discovered after telling readers of her blog what had happened, hers isn't the first anti-Islamist video yanked from YouTube. At the same time, Islamists have posted hundreds of their own propaganda videos extolling the virtues of jihad, terrorism etc.

Previously, the Islamists' Internet jihad had targeted blogs compiled on Google News. After a few complaints, Google would inform bloggers that their site was considered offensive and wouldn't be listed on a search. The same thing has now carried over to YouTube. And guess who just bought YouTube? Google.

The war on terror is not just being fought on battlefields or within intelligence agencies. With the Internet, terrorists are able to attack us by cowing nervous Web site owners into submitting to their demands. When they can't scare Internet operators, they simply try to hack into a site and shut it down. As Mrs. Malkin rightly notes, in the case of YouTube, "instead of boycotting the site, we need to stay and fight." She has urged her readers to keep posting anti-Islamist videos to combat the terrorists' cyber-jihad.

Civil-liberties advocates are constantly warning about the dangers of censorship enacted by the government. What they have just as constantly overlooked is the very real danger of censorship enacted by private businesses fearful of Islamist rage. The only way to fight this assault on our freedoms is by not giving in as YouTube has.

Sudan 'backs' Janjaweed fighters

BBC NEWS World Africa Sudan 'backs' Janjaweed fighters: "The Janjaweed militia in Darfur are fighting with direct support and orders from Sudan's government, a man claiming to be a former member has told the BBC.

'Ali' said he had taken part in attacks on Darfur villages after they had been bombed by the Sudanese air force. "

He said he had seen ministers at training camps for the pro-government Arab militia.

Khartoum has always denied any links to the Janjaweed, who have been accused of war crimes against civilians in Darfur.

More than two million people have fled their homes during the three-year conflict.
'Military uniforms'

A man identified only as "Ali" told the BBC's Newsnight programme that Sudanese ministers gave express orders for the activities of his unit, which included rape and killing children.

The Janjaweed don't make decisions. The orders always come from the government," he said.

"They gave us orders, and they say that after we are trained they will give us guns and ammunition."

"Ali" - who is now seeking asylum in Britain - said the men who had trained them were wearing the uniforms of the Sudanese military, adding that Interior Minister Abdul Rahim Muhammad Hussein was a "regular visitor".

The former fighter said the majority of the victims were civilians, mostly women, and also talked of "many rapes" committed by the Janjaweed.

"Whenever we go into a village and find resistance we kill everyone," he said, but denied that he personally killed or raped civilians.

Hilary Benn, a British government minister who visited Darfur on Monday, said the man's evidence was "clearly very serious".

Mr Benn urged him to speak to investigators from the International Criminal Court.

Khartoum denials

The conflict began in the arid and impoverished region after a rebel group began attacking government targets, saying the region was being neglected by Khartoum.

The rebels say the government is oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.

Khartoum has always denied backing the Arab militias, saying the problems in its rebel Darfur region are being exaggerated for political reasons. President Omar al-Bashir has called them "thieves and gangsters".

After strong international pressure and the threat of sanctions, the government promised to disarm the Janjaweed.

But so far there is little evidence this has happened.

Monday, October 16, 2006

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Bereaved military families mark loss

Bereaved military families mark loss - The Boston Globe: "WORCESTER -- One by one, the photographs of Massachusetts service personnel who died in Iraq flashed on a large screen yesterday over the stage at crowded Mechanics Hall, pictures of smiling, confident warriors from Fall River to Springfield."

Below, the tenor John McDermott sang ``You'll Never Walk Alone," and 1,500 people, some dabbing their eyes, all respectful in their silence, watched the visual reminder of the price that war has exacted in the lives and limbs of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Organized by Korean War veterans from central Massachusetts, the memorial tribute honored 71 service personnel from the state who have been killed in conflicts since the Gulf War , and the families they left behind.

Nearly 500 members of those Gold Star families attended the service in what is believed to have been the largest such gathering in Massachusetts since the Iraq war began.

Two of the Gold Star parents were Brian and Alma Hart of Bedford, whose son, Army Private John Hart, died when insurgents attacked his unarmored Humvee outside Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2003. As the two mingled with other Gold Star parents at a luncheon before the service, the Harts spoke of how meaningful the tribute is to long-grieving families who often feel adr ift and unable to move on.

``To have us together is really important, because folks think they're alone," said Brian Hart.

Joshua Hamre of Enfield, Conn., whose stepbrother, Marine Captain John Maloney of Chicopee, died from a roadside bomb in June 2005, called the occasion a celebration.

``We're here for a lot of good people who are no longer with us," Hamre said.

Looking around the luncheon crowd, Hamre shook his head slightly. ``If this room had one family in it, it would still be too many," he said. ``That it's filled to capacity is overwhelming."

Inside the hall, the memorial mixed patriotic speeches, music, and reflections on those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Senator Edward M. Kennedy said that ``today's heroes . . . serve us faithfully, despite the pervasive dangers they face at every moment, despite the mounting casualties they endure, despite their lengthening deployments far from homes and families and friends."

Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke in soft, measured tones when he told the families, ``There are no words that any of us could possibly choose that would lessen your pain."

He said he hopes the tribute will ``remind you that we will never forget."

Pace also helped moderate a live video feed between families in the hall and two service people in Iraq, Lisa Marie Taylor, a Navy hospital corpsman from Oxford, and Army Staff Sergeant John Heenan of Rutland .

Francis R. Carroll of Worcester, 71, a Navy veteran of the Korean War who organized the tribute, said two years of planning went into the nonpolitical event.

``These people are coming with a lot of heaviness in their hearts," Carroll said. The intent ``was to create one day where they say, `Gee, somebody really cares what happened to my husband or my son.'

We just want to do our little part."

The service also honored the sacrifices of war correspondents, including Elizabeth Neuffer of the Globe, who died on assignment in Iraq in May 2003, and five other journalists who have been killed in Iraq and Pakistan.

Neuffer's longtime partner, Peter Canellos, the Globe's Washington bureau chief, said the journalists ``represent the very best of our profession." But journalists would not be human, he added, unless they questioned whether the ongoing mission ``was all truly worth it."

``We wish for the day," he said, ``when all such conflicts will end."

In addition, 26 former prisoners of war, dating to World War II, were recognized , including two from the Iraq war who were reunited on stage with the lieutenant who led the rescue mission.

Troops 'roll the dice' with push into Triangle of Death

Troops 'roll the dice' with push into Triangle of Death - CNN.com: "YUSIFIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- In the distance, explosions are heard -- it could be anything. The American soldiers don't even look up."

Their focus is on reading the land. To the untrained eye looks benign. But for them it is filled with clues and potentially deadly traps.

Sgt. Joshua Bartlett, 24 and on his second tour here, hacks through weeds with his machete. A few yards away, two other soldiers with sweat pouring down their faces dig away dirt with their knives. (Watch troops comb weeds looking for weapons -- 1:46 )

"Its like an Easter egg hunt, only you roll the dice every time you do it," 24-year-old Sgt. Frankie Parra says. He's half-joking as he stands over a pile of 60 mm mortar rounds freshly dug from underneath weeds in the fields and farmlands just south of Baghdad.

His deployments aren't getting any easier. On his third tour in Iraq, he's operating -- along with the men of Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division -- in an area known as the "Triangle of Death."

Four soldiers from this battalion have been killed on this volatile patch of land, just outside Yusifiya and 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baghdad, in the two weeks since Operation Commando Hunter began, and another 20 have been wounded.

The troops are pushing into fields and farmlands where there had been no regular U.S. presence for the better part of the last three years. In this same area, two American soldiers were kidnapped in a checkpoint attack in June and then murdered. (Full story)

The insurgency here has literally dug itself in. The soldiers are finding a gold mine of weapons caches 3 to 6 inches below ground. Intertwining canals lined with tall reeds offer insurgents plenty of cover ideal for snipers and ambushes.

"It's OJT -- on the job training," says the 30-year-old company commander, Capt. Shane Finn. On his second tour of duty here, he peers into the tall reeds looking for telltale signs that the enemy may be lurking nearby.

"I know that there is going to be something right around that corner," he says, pointing to the opposite side of the canal where some of the larger caches were found in the last two weeks.

Sure enough, carefully hidden in the weeds, the troops first find an AK-74, slightly smaller caliber than an AK-47, and magazines. "This looks like a spotter's position," Finn says.

Within minutes and a few yards away, the troops uncover mortars. Across the road, they find wiring, an array of crude triggers and, nearby, a "poor man's EFP [explosively formed projectile]." Basically a tube with plastic explosives, the directional charge is lethal.

"It looks like we interrupted someone planning on laying more IEDs [improvised explosive devices]," Finn says.

What they find on this day pales compared to what's been uncovered during the last two weeks. The troops are working on clearing an area no larger than 4 square miles (6 kilometers) and already they have found more than 100 weapons caches with enough material to make at least 1,000 roadside bombs.
The soldiers also discovered anti-aircraft machine guns (the 101st Brigade that previously operated here had at least two helicopters shot down); half a dozen sniper rifles, some with night vision capabilities; crude rocket-propelled grenade launchers and mortar launching tubes; and 55-gallon drums filled with liquid explosives.

All these men -- from the seasoned veterans to the fresh-faced privates -- display an upbeat attitude.

One would never think they were operating under circumstances in which a wrong step, an unlucky jab with a knife into the ground or an insurgent attack could cost them a limb or their lives.

In these fields, the troops say they are able to see the difference they are making -- each weapon found is a step in the right direction, each returning family and reopening shop offers hope.

As night falls and the relentless mosquitoes come out, the soldiers head back to their patrol base, a dismal two-story building they now call home.

They dine on MREs (meals ready to eat), read magazines by flashlight and sleep any place they can find a cozy spot on the ground. sorry, no shower.

They joke, give each other a hard time, and don't complain. In the morning, they will head back out again.