Saturday, November 18, 2006

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Army official apologizes for mistakes - Probe of Canton soldier's death hurt by series of errors, family says

Beacon Journal 11/18/2006 Army official apologizes for mistakes: "The inspector general of the Army has apologized to the family of a Canton soldier killed by friendly fire.

He told the family Friday that ``anything that could have gone wrong, went wrong'' in the subsequent investigation into the death as well as in communication between the military and the family."

Peggy Buryj, mother of Army Pfc. Jesse Buryj, 21, said three officials, including Army Inspector Lt. General Stanley E. Green, met with her, her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Angela Sokol, for three hours.

Green did not want to comment on meeting with the family other than to say the death of Pfc. Buryj was discussed.

The family's search for answers in the May 5, 2004, death of the McKinley High School graduate brought them face to face in July 2004 with President Bush in Canton, when Peggy Buryj asked for help in finding out what happened to her son.

The Friday meeting followed an inspector general's investigation into the death launched earlier this year.

Steve Buryj said his son's death was described as ``a series of unfortunate events.''

The couple said the bullet that killed their son was not kept because it was initially believed he was killed by an insurgent.

``Because Jesse's case was not classified friendly fire, they disposed of all the evidence,'' Peggy Buryj said.

Buryj, a policeman with the 66th Military Police Company out of Fort Lewis, Wash., joined the Army in September 2002. He had married his high school sweetheart, Amber Tichenor, in October 2003.

After serving in Washington, D.C., the 21-year-old was sent to Iraq in February 2004.

The Army initially told the family that Jesse died when the driver of a truck tried to crash into a checkpoint in Karbala, Iraq. They were told Jesse fired several hundred rounds at the oncoming truck, saving the lives of other soldiers.

The truck hit the Humvee Jesse was in, the Army said, and he died of internal injuries on an operating table.

But the death certificate the family received said Jesse died within minutes after being shot in the back.

The family said Green told them Friday their loved one did die on an operating table several hours after he was shot. He was killed in a friendly fire incident when Polish troops opened fire on an insurgent's truck crashing through a checkpoint.

Earlier this year, a Polish Ministry of Defense spokesman said, ``although the issue of who fired the shot could not be resolved beyond all doubt, all available evidence indicated that it was highly unlikely that the shot was fired by a Polish soldier.''

The family said Green told them Friday that the Army believes the friendly fire came from Polish soldiers based on where Jesse was situated during the shooting. But the destruction of evidence makes an absolute determination impossible.

Polish Embassy officials in Washington could not be reached for comment Friday.

Holding a two-inch-thick report on her son's death in her hand, Peggy Buryj said the family is relieved the death has been fully investigated.

The government, she said, was sincere in its apology.
She said she knew from the start that the military's initial account was amiss.

``Does this make it right?'' she asked. ``Yeah. It has to make it right.

``Am I going to get old and nasty and bitter about this? No.''

She added the answers were a long time coming.

``All I know is my son was shot two and a half years ago,'' she said.

``That was wrong.''

Beauty queen trades crown for battlefield

Beauty queen trades crown for battlefield The Australian: "A BEAUTY queen from the US state of Minnesota is giving up her tiara and her title as Queen of the Lakes for combat duty in Iraq.

Jessica Gaulke, who was chosen as Minneapolis Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes in July, said she was trading in her crown for combat boots, because her National Guard unit has been activated for duty in Iraq.

'It's probably one of the hardest decisions I had to make,' the 22-year-old college sociology student told local media.

'But I'm proud to go out there and I'm proud to really keep the country safe.'

Ms Gaulke is due to head to Iraq in March as a diesel mechanic. Her last day as beauty queen will be on January 2, when she will take part in a parade.

She and her fiance are also due to get married on January 13, before she heads to Iraq."
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Russian women taught how to get their man

Telegraph News Russian women taught how to get their man: "What do you do if the majority of the men in your country seem so self-absorbed, feckless or dependent on the bottle that there aren't enough to go round?"

Russian women believe that they have found the answer, with growing numbers flocking to "bitch schools" that purport to provide a competitive edge in a dwindling market of suitable bachelors, or provide those already in relationships with the skills to bring their men to heel.

Twice a week, women stream into the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow. Four years ago, 129 people were killed there during a botched attempt to free an audience taken hostage by Chechen extremists. Today its backstage rooms are home to a night school run by Vladimir Rakovsky, a motivational speaker, and his wife, Yevgenia, who teach "bitchology".

In Russia, where feminism is treated with suspicion and its practitioners often regarded as lesbians, being a "bitch" is not what many in the West would assume.

A successful "bitch", Mr Rakovsky explains, is neither strident nor sassy, but demure, manipulative and aware of her own sexuality in order to get her own way.

"Bitchology is the theory, practice and technique of being successful in a man's world," he said. "A smart woman gets what she wants by pretending to be weak."

"A bitch should be strong and self-confident but should remember to use feminine wiles, such as her attractiveness and, whenever useful, she should try to come across as a helpless creature."
Lessons begin with the philosophy of "bitchology". The "bitch" should win favours by acting either as a helpless baby or, in rare situations, like an adult woman.

Then its off to the "school of seduction" in which the women learn to attract the most discerning of men by flaunting their sexuality. This week, students learned how to a work a room full of men just by dropping something, and picking it up, to "accentuate the most beautiful part of your body". "If it's your breasts, flaunt them, if it's your backside use it," Mrs Rakovsky, 21, told them.

Next week, she will focus on how to surreptitiously rub one's breasts against an unsuspecting subject. In the final lesson, the women learn the art of the striptease.

The Rakovskys' students swear by the technique which, according to one, gives every Russian woman what she wants: "Great sex, money and a man who looks after you."

Natalya, 33, said: "If I play the role of a baby, my man begins to take care of me. He behaves like he has to protect me."

While Russia's attitude to gender equality may seem baffling to many westerners, sociologists say it has to be understood in the context of its history.

In Soviet times, when sexism officially did not exist, women ploughed fields and work in factories. Today, many young women would prefer to shop or dine out. If their men can fund such a lifestyle, equality appears to be a sacrifice worth making.
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- Al Qaeda number two in Yemen may be freed

Khaleej Times Online - Al Qaeda number two in Yemen may be freed: "SANAA - A Saudi national suspected of being Al Qaeda’s number two in Yemen may be freed in December, despite his original jail term being confirmed Saturday by a court of appeal."

Mohammed Hamdi Al Ahdal was imprisoned on May 3 by a Sanaa court for three years and one month after the prosecutor had asked for the death sentence.

On Saturday an appeals court in the capital upheld the verdict, but a judicial source said he could be freed next month because of the time he has already spent in jail.

Ahdal, alias Abu Issam Al Mekki, has been in prison since his arrest in November 2003. He was found guilty in May of links to an attack on a helicopter owned by the American company Hunt Oil in 2002.

But he was acquitted of belonging to an armed group formed to attack foreign interests in Yemen and on charges of receiving Al Qaeda funds to finance attacks including the bombing of the French supertanker Limburg in October 2002 that killed one Bulgarian sailor.

The appeals court decision was greeted with cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) by Ahdal’s relatives in the courtroom.

Ahdal, born in neighbouring Saudi Arabia of a Yemeni family, was arrested in 1999 in Saudi and jailed for nearly 18 months there before being released.

He then went to Yemen and hid in remote villages in the eastern Maarib region until his capture in November 2003.

His trial began on February 13 this year in a special security court amid high tension after the escape from a Sanaa prison 10 days previously of 23 Al Qaeda members.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Sanaa has worked with Washington to clamp down on suspected Al Qaeda sympathisers in the impoverished Arabian peninsula republic.

But the spectacular Al Qaeda prison breakout resulted in a chill in relations between the two countries.

Yemen is also the ancestral homeland of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, the head of Al Qaeda.
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New biometric passports can be cloned using £100 equipment sold over internet

New biometric passports can be cloned using £100 equipment sold over internet the Daily Mail: "Passports which have rocketed in value to make them more secure can be easily cloned using a microchip reader bought over the internet for less than £100. "

The revelation is a huge embarrassment for the Home Office, which has increased the cost of travel documents by 60 per cent in less than a year.

The rise to £66 paid for the introduction of a supposedly-secure biometric chip on the passport, containing the owner's personal details and an image of their face.

The idea was to make it harder to produce a copy of a person's travel document.

But it has now emerged that a simple microchip reader, purchased from the Internet for £95.73, can clone the information - including the photograph.

It could then be used to produced an exact replica of the travel document, complete with a new microchip.

Opposition MPs called for the three million biometric passports issued since March this year from the Home Office's new £60m production lines to be recalled.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Three million people now have passports that expose them to a greater risk of identity fraud than before.

"We need an urgent redesign of the biometric passport and a recall of all insecure passports once a new protected design is available."

The fiasco was exposed by the NO2ID campaign, which is concerned similarly poor security will dog the Government's £5 billion ID cards scheme.

They enlisted computer expert Adam Laurie to write a piece of software to suck such data from the chips - a task which took just 48 hours.

The software was then attached to the microchip reader, bought-legally from a UK-based company and dispatched within only four days. Three passports were then stripped of their data, which was loaded on to a laptop computer.

NO2ID said the Government had encrypted the data on the microchip to stop it being stolen - but had made basic mistakes.

Instead of producing a complicated code - the sequence of electronic numbers and letters which unlocks access to the information on the chip - they had simply applied a minimum set of rules published by the International Civil Aviation Authority.

These state the code should include the holder's passport number, date of birth and the document's expiry date - all of which would be clearly visible over the shoulder of somebody preparing to show it to a border guard.

The chip reader, once it knows the code, then has open access to steal the data which it contains.

Mr Laurie said: "The Home Office is using strong cryptography to prevent conversations between the passport and the reader being eavesdropped, but they are breaking one of the fundamental principles of encryption by using non-secret information published in the passport to create a 'secret key'.

"That is the equivalent of installing a solid steel front door to your house and putting the key under the mat."

Gus Hosein, an expert in information systems at the London School of Economics, said: "This is stupid technology. If chips can be cloned they will be used in counterfeit passports."

Phil Booth, of NO2ID, added: "The government is clearly derelict in its duty to protect the privacy and security of British citizens."

The Government opted to introduce the biometric passports after the US authorities - in the wake of September 11 - demanded new security measures on travel documents. Without the changes, any Briton wanting to travel to America would require a visa, causing chaos for millions of holidaymakers.

But it has since decided to make the passports the cornerstone of the ID card project, which is due to begin in 2008 or 2009.

As a result, the cost of a new passport has increased from only £42 in December 2005 to £66. The Home Office said cloning the chip 'doesn't matter'.

A spokesman said: "The information itself cannot be altered; the photo would still be the same so the copy would be of no use to an impersonator trying to use it fraudulently.

"Other than the photograph, which could be obtained easily by other means, they would gain no information that they did not already have - so the whole exercise would be utterly pointless."
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Islamic fanatics 'grooming students at 25 universities'

Telegraph News Islamic fanatics 'grooming students at 25 universities': "The threat posed by Islamic extremists 'grooming' students at British universities has been drastically underestimated by ministers, a leading academic warned last night."

Prof Anthony Glees, the director of Brunel University's centre for intelligence and security studies, warned that more than 25 campuses had been infiltrated by fanatics recruiting for so-called jihad (holy war).

His comments came as the Department for Education urged lecturers to be on the look out for impressionable youngsters who could fall under the influence of radical preachers.

In a 20-page report the department warns of "serious, but not widespread, Islamic extremist activity in higher education institutions". It asks lecturers to vet Islamic preachers invited on to campuses, ensure that "hate literature" is not distributed among students and report suspicious behaviour to police.

Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, said: "It is about all of us working together to identify and challenge what I think is a small minority who advocate extremism."

The report followed comments by Sheikh Musa Admani, a Muslim chaplain at London Metropolitan University and adviser to Mr Rammell, that he was aware of at least four universities in which students had been "groomed" by extremists. The minister said he could not estimate how many universities were affected.

But Prof Glees said: "The guidance is a step in the right direction, but I don't think the threat has been taken seriously enough.

"From my research I would say this issue probably affects more than 25 universities, not the small handful they talk of. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has radicalised many young men and I think an opportunity has been missed to take serious action against a very real threat."

He suggested extra investment should be made in campus security and academics should interview undergraduates to ensure that they were bona fide students.

Yesterday's report outlined real-life cases and how similar scenarios should be handled by universities.

This included students being seen logging on to websites showing "somebody making a home-made explosive device". In one incident, the report said, students had raised concerns about a speaker delivering a talk called "Terrorist or freedom fighter?".

The report said that in such cases, academics should investigate the preacher's background and consider expelling him from the university.

It also highlighted the case of a member of an Islamic society who complained that meetings had begun to "turn more extreme under the influence of a number of individuals who have recently joined". It suggested universities should suspend funding from groups found to have breached religious hatred laws.

"Should control of a college society or other group fall into the hands of extremist individuals, this can play a significant role in the extent of extremism on campus," said the report. "Taking control of Friday prayers, other prayer meetings and sermons and the use of charismatic radical speakers can be means by which extreme groups seek to spread their messages."

It said that some students, particularly those away from home for the first time, were vulnerable targets.

It suggested that some "quite rightly" wanted to explore their faith but then fell into the wrong company.

The report said universities – which are often rife with "ethnically segregated communities" – provided opportunities for extremists to "form new networks, and extend existing ones".

Its recommendations to counter extremism included creating "inter-faith boards" to promote events among religious groups, publicising how terror networks operate and explaining how students can report suspicions. It also said suspicious activity should be investigated and information shared between universities.

Faisal Hanjra, of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, said: "The guidance issued to universities and colleges, whilst improved from previous leaked drafts, will however not solve all the issues, nor does it give sufficient emphasis to concrete steps to improve good campus relations.

"Any implementation should recognise that demonising Muslims is unacceptable and dangerous."
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Iraqi forces raid Shia militia stronghold in Baghdad searching for hostages

Khaleej Times Online - Iraqi forces raid Shia militia stronghold in Baghdad searching for hostages: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - US and Iraqi forces raided a stronghold of a Shia militia in Baghdad on Saturday, searching for victims of a mass kidnapping from a government ministry, the US military said.

Iraqi soldiers backed up US helicopters swept through the Sadr City section of the capital after intelligence indicated that an armed group was holding some of the scores of Iraqis who were snatched from a Higher Education Ministry office building in Baghdad on Tuesday, the military said."

No individuals were killed, injured or detained,’ the military told The Associated Press when it asked if the coalition forces had found any hostages during the raid, which was called to rescue captives and disrupt kidnapping and insurgent cells in the area.

Police 1st Lt. Ziyad Tariq said the raid on two sections of Sadr City began at 2:30 a.m. and that three Iraqi civilians were wounded.

In other developments Saturday:

_Michael McClellan, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Baghdad, said coalition forces continued to search southern Iraq for four Americans and one Austrian who were kidnapped on Thursday when their Crescent Security Co. convoy of vehicles was hijacked near Safwan, a largely Sunni Arab city of 200,000 people.

Islamic Companies, a previously unknown group, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, according to an Iranian-run Arabic-language satellite news station. It said the group released a videotaped message saying it was holding the five men and demanded the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the release of all prisoners being held there.

_Britain’s Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is expected to replace Prime Minister Tony Blair as Britain’s leader next year, made an unannounced visit to Iraq to meet with and Iraqi officials and British soldiers. In an interview with Al Jazeera TV Friday, Blair said the Iraq war has been difficult, but that British forces will remain in Iraq to fight the country’s insurgents and militias as long as Iraq’s government wants them to.

_The US military killed 11 insurgents and detained 24 suspected ones in raids in and around the Iraqi cities of Tikrit, Baqouba, Hit, Youssifiyah and Baghdad.

Tuesday’s mass kidnapping at the Higher Education Ministry in Baghdad was widely believed to have been the work of the Mahdi Army, the heavily armed militia of anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr.

It raised questions about Shia Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s commitment to comply with a Buo empty houses in the Sadr City Shia slum.

The mass abduction was seen as retaliation for the recent kidnapping of 50 Shias south of Baghdad.

The US military statement about the Sadr City raid did not mention this, but a rogue cell from the Madhi Army militia also is suspected of having kidnapped an Iraqi-American soldier last month.

Ahmed Qusai Al Taayie, a 41-year-old reserve soldier from Ann Arbor, Michigan, was visiting his Iraqi wife in Baghdad on Oct. 23 when gunmen handcuffed him and took him away.

His uncle Entifadh Qanbar has said he received a US$250,000 ransom demand from the abductors, through an intermediary. In turn, he demanded proof that his nephew was alive and well before entering negotiations.

The US military said at the time that that there was an ongoing dialogue’ to win Al Taayie’s release.
The difficulty the coalition are having in recruiting Iraqi soldiers and police _ and persuading Shia and Sunni ones to work together in a country verging on a civil war between the two Muslim sects _ was obvious on Saturday during a demonstration in Sadr City.

About 150 Shia policemen protested outside its main police station, denouncing Interior Ministry orders deploying them to a western side of Baghdad where Sunni insurgents are active.

The policemen held up banners saying they are committed to defending Sadr City, but no other areas of Baghdad.

We would definitely be killed over there,’ said 1st Sgt. Mousa Tuma Khadhim, 25, who added that he and his colleagues would disobey the deployment order.

We can’t work as policemen outside this Sadr City, and we won’t leave it,’ he said in an interview.

[bth: basically if the police won't deploy outside their neighborhood, it is hard to imagine any deployment to Anbar province. If the US doesn't have enough troops to cover Anbar and Baghdad and the Iraqi's won't leave their neighborhood, I'd call Iraq a failed state and perhaps we should focus on goals which are achievable versus those which are not.]

Note the virtual total destruction of this Bradley from an IED Posted by Picasa

Jihad's femmes fatales

New York Daily News - City News - Jihad's femmes fatales: "That's not a pregnant belly - that's a bomb.
The NYPD is warning business owners to be on the lookout for female jihadists who can hide explosives by faking pregnancy or sweet-talk their way past security officers."

"The threat posed by women is real, and it can't be overlooked," Rachel Weiner, an NYPD intelligence specialist, said at a security conference yesterday.

The warning was not in response to a threat against any specific targets in the city, but a general caveat for private security in light of the radicalization of women in other parts of the world.

"What this means is that we don't have the luxury of ignoring 50% of our population in assessing whether someone is a threat," Weiner said.

Cossor Ali, a young mother among two dozen suspects accused in a London-based plot to blow up U.S.-bound flights, intended to use her 8-month-old baby's bottle to hide a liquid explosive, authorities said.

Counter-terrorism experts noted that 19 of the 41 Chechen militants in the 2002 siege of a Moscow theater were women, part of a group known as the "black widows." More than 120 civilians were killed.

Experts said yesterday that female terrorists achieve martyr status among radicals. Wafa Idris, widely considered the first female Palestinian suicide bomber, killed one person and injured more than 150 in an attack in Jerusalem in 2002. She has a Palestinian summer camp named in her honor.

A growing number of female terrorists are housewives, scientists or even teens schooled in the U.S. and Europe, officials said yesterday, blurring the profile of would-be bombers.

During the NYPD Shield conference yesterday at police headquarters, cops also gave business owners tips on the general behavior of potential terrorists. The NYPD Shield is a security partnership between cops and private businesses designed to prevent terrorist attacks.

Peter Patton, an NYPD intelligence specialist, drew from an "Encyclopedia of Jihad" found at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, saying that 80% of jihadists' information is drawn from public sources.
They read newspapers and scour the Internet for maps and shareholder reports, he said. The other 20% of their information comes from taking panoramic photos of potential targets, casually interviewing security staff, examining surveillance equipment and traffic patterns onsite and observing product delivery schedules.

In one of the most startling parts of the multimedia session, Patton showed actual photos and video footage taken in 2000 by convicted plotter Abu Eisa al-Hindi, who was prosecuted under the name Dhiren Barot. Among his desired targets were the New York Stock Exchange, the Prudential building in Newark and the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington.

The wanna-be terrorist kept detailed notes, documenting in one building the exact number and location of surveillance cameras, uniforms worn by security guards and discrepancies in security for building employees and the public.

Hindi once sat at a Starbucks on consecutive days staring at one of the potential targets.

"He was trying to figure out the best time to launch an attack to inflict massive casualties," Patton said.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Carbon nanotubes: Saladin’s secret weapon

Carbon nanotubes: Saladin’s secret weapon: "Carbon nanotubes are no longer the proud boast of 21st century materials scientists. It appears their discovery was unwittingly pre-empted by mediaeval Muslim sword-smiths whose tough Damascus blades taught the Crusaders the true meaning of cold steel when they fought over the Holy Land.

Peter Paufler and colleagues at Dresden’s Technical University discovered carbon nanotubes in the microstructure of a 17th century Damascus sabre. Intriguingly, the nanotubes could have encapsulated iron-carbide nanowires that might give clues to the mechanical strength and sharpness of these swords."...

Rove May Leave Within Weeks Political Bulletin: Friday, November 17, 2006: "The rumors that chief White House political architect Karl Rove will leave sometime next year are being bolstered with new insider reports that his partisan style is a hurdle to President Bush's new push for bipartisanship. A key Bush advisor tells the US News Political Bulletin, 'Karl represents the old style and he's got to go if the Democrats are going to believe Bush's talk of getting along.' The advisor said a departure might come in 'weeks, not months.' A Rove ally, however, noted that he has a record of out-witting his critics."
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US wants to scale up military interaction with India: General

Zee News - US wants to scale up military interaction with India: General: "New Delhi, Nov 15: Ahead of a meeting of top defence officials of India and the US here tomorrow, a senior American General has said his country wants interaction between their armed forces to be scaled up to tactical and command post exercises. "

"We have to build on the success of our joint exercises and...Look at tactical and command post exercises," said Lt Gen Jeffrey Kohler, who heads the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Such a move would take interaction between the militaries from "unit-to-unit exercises" to a more tactical level, which would be in line with the new US policy that sees New Delhi as a major strategic partner of Washington.

The two-day Defence Policy Group meeting from tomorrow, to be co-chaired by India's Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt and US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edleman, will focus on issues like missile defence, strategic situation in the region and military-to-military contacts.

The US will make presentations to Indian officials on the situation in the area ranging from Middle East to Southeast Asia, with special focus on Central Asia and Afghanistan, Kohler said.

"Sub-groups will discuss the situation in Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as Indonesia," he told reporters. As India and the US share similar views on strategic issues, they could work as "parallel countries interested in solving problems", he said.
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Counterterrorism Blog: Saudi Arabian Prison Escapees Reported Killed in Iraq

Counterterrorism Blog: Saudi Arabian Prison Escapees Reported Killed in Iraq: "Less than one week ago, reports began to filter in from Al-Qaida supporters claiming that two wanted Saudi Arabian terror suspects -- Abdelaziz al-Massud and Abdelaziz al-Falaj -- had been killed in clashes with security forces in neighboring Iraq. Though the Saudis have thus far been unable to confirm these reports, a video posted today on the Internet and marked with the logo of Iraq's Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) appears to do just that. The recording--which was not officially released by the MSC through its usual channels--features close-up footage of the corpses of the two men and pays homage to them as 'martyrs.'
Al-Massud and al-Falaj were among a group of at least eight terrorist suspects who managed to escape from a Saudi prison in Riyadh last July. Al-Massud had already attempted to travel to Iraq on at least one prior occasion in 2006 in order to join Al-Qaida, but was intercepted before he could cross the border by Saudi security forces. It remains unclear how the two wanted suspects were able to safely make their journey into Iraq despite being known terrorists -- although it raises serious questions about how secure Saudi borders really are.

Click to view still photos from the video c/o"
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Unleash the Shiites? - Los Angeles Times

Unleash the Shiites? - Los Angeles Times: "AS SECTARIAN violence rises in Iraq and the White House comes under increasing pressure to revamp its strategy there, a debate is emerging inside the Bush administration: Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot in with the Shiites? "

A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda cells.

But elements of the administration, including some members of the intelligence community, believe that such a tilt could lead to stability more quickly than the current policy of trying to police the ongoing sectarian conflict evenhandedly, with little success and at great cost. This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting.

The topic: Iraq.

The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward. Among those attending were President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor Stephen Hadley, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad.

One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias — or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.

To do so would be a reversal of Washington's strategy over the last two years of trying to coax the Sunnis into the political process, an effort led by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

It also would discount some U.S. military commanders' concerns that the Al Mahdi army, a Shiite militia loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, poses as great a threat to American interests as that presented by the Sunni insurgency centered in western Iraq's Al Anbar province. So what's the logic behind the idea of "unleashing the Shiites"?

It's the path of least resistance, according to its supporters, and it could help accelerate one side actually winning Iraq's sectarian conflict, thereby shortening the conflict, while reducing some of the critical security concerns driving Shiites to mobilize their own militias in the first place.

"As an alternative Plan B, it has the virtue of possibly being more militarily effective," said Thomas Donnelly, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "When you are trying to police [a civil war], all you can do is contain it," said Monica Toft, a professor specializing in ethnic conflict at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"Whereas if you're backing one side, there are not as many variables to control." But such a strategy brings with it significant dangers. Washington might pick the wrong leaders on the side it chooses to back.

Should it, for instance, continue to back Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri Maliki, or tilt in favor of his Shiite rival, Abdelaziz Hakim, and his party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq? Either choice could lead to more intra-Shiite infighting and violence. Or the strategy could drive Iraq's Sunni tribes to align themselves more closely with Al Qaeda.

And it seems certain to further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and erstwhile U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan — while strengthening Iran's hand in Iraq. Among the risks of an unleash-the-Shiites strategy is that if it were adopted, the White House would be unlikely to publicly acknowledge that such a choice had been made.

Like so much else that has contributed to the U.S. difficulties in Iraq, it would be a decision taken in the dark, outside the realm of public debate.
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Military may ask $127B for wars

Military may ask $127B for wars - "WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is preparing its largest spending request yet for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a proposal that could make the conflict the most expensive since World War II."

The Pentagon is considering $127 billion to $160 billion in requests from the armed services for the 2007 fiscal year, which began last month, several lawmakers and congressional staff members said. That's on top of $70 billion already approved for 2007.

Since 2001, Congress has approved $502 billion for the war on terror, roughly two-thirds for Iraq. The latest request, due to reach the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress next spring, would make the war on terror more expensive than the Vietnam War.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who will chair the Senate Budget Committee next year, said the amount under consideration is "$127 billion and rising." He said the cost "is going to increasingly become an issue" because it could prevent Congress from addressing domestic priorities, such as expanding Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who put the expected request at $160 billion, said such a sizable increase still "won't solve the problem" in Iraq.

Bill Hoagland, a senior budget adviser to Senate Republicans, said: "At a minimum, they were looking at $130 (billion). If it goes higher than that, I'm not surprised."

The new request being considered for the war on terror would be about one-fourth what the government spends annually on Social Security — and 10 times what it spends on its space program.

The White House called the figures premature. "They don't reflect a decision by the administration," said budget office spokeswoman Christin Baker. "It is much too early in the process to make that determination."

Before the Iraq war began in 2003, the Bush administration estimated its cost at $50 billion to $60 billion, though White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey had suggested in 2002 that it could cost as much as $200 billion.

Growing opposition to the war contributed to Democrats' takeover of the House and Senate in this month's elections. Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, an early critic of the war who lost his bid Thursday to be the House Democratic leader, vowed to use his clout as chairman of the House panel that reviews the Pentagon budget "to get these troops out of Iraq and get back on track and quit spending $8 billion a month."

"The war's been an extraordinarily expensive undertaking, both in lives and in dollars," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

The new request is top-heavy with Army and Air Force costs to replace and repair equipment and redeploy troops, Hoagland said. That's why the 2007 cost is likely to top the war's average annual price tag.

Overall, he said, "we're easily headed toward $600 billion." That would top the $536 billion cost of Vietnam in today's dollars. World War II cost an inflation-adjusted $3.6 trillion.

Leon Panetta, President Clinton's former chief of staff and a member of a bipartisan panel studying recommendations on Iraq for President Bush, said the Pentagon needs $50 billion to $60 billion to "restore the units that are being brought back here, to re-equip them and get them back to a combat-readiness status."

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Violence in Iraq Called Increasingly Complex

Violence in Iraq Called Increasingly Complex - "Attacks in Iraq reached a high of approximately 180 a day last month, reflecting an increasingly complicated conflict that includes sectarian clashes of Sunni and Shiite militias on top of continuing strikes by insurgents, criminal gangs and al-Qaeda terrorists, according to the directors of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency."

"No single narrative is sufficient to explain all the violence we see in Iraq today," Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Attempting to describe the enemy, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the DIA director, listed "Iraqi nationalists, ex-Baathists, former military, angry Sunni, Jihadists, foreign fighters and al-Qaeda," who create an "overlapping, complex and multi-polar Sunni insurgent and terrorist environment." He added that "Shia militias and Shia militants, some Kurdish pesh merga, and extensive criminal activity further contribute to violence, instability and insecurity."

In unusually harsh terms, the two intelligence directors spelled out how quickly the violence in Iraq has escalated this year, from about 70 attacks a day in January to about 100 a day in May and then to last month's figure. "Violence in Iraq continues to increase in scope, complexity, and lethality" despite operations by the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition, Maples said. He described "an atmosphere of fear and hardening sectarianism which is empowering militias and vigilante groups, hastening middle-class exodus, and shaking confidence in government and security forces."

"The longer this goes on, the less controlled the violence is, the more the violence devolves down to the neighborhood level," Hayden added. "The center disappears, and normal people acting not irrationally end up acting like extremists."

Although the Bush administration continues to emphasize the role of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Maples described the current situation as "mostly an intra-Arab struggle to determine how power and authority will be distributed," with or without the U.S. presence. Al-Qaeda and foreign terrorist numbers were put at roughly 1,300, while Hayden, pressed by senators, estimated the number of insurgents in the "low tens of thousands." Maples estimated the number of Iraqi insurgents, including militias, at 20,000 to 30,000, and said there are many more who supply support.

Asked about the brazen kidnapping in Baghdad on Tuesday of some 100 employees in the Sunni-led Ministry of Education by an apparent Shiite group in commando uniforms using Interior Ministry vehicles, Hayden said the CIA station chief in Iraq said it showed that the battlefield "is descending into smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory."

Hayden said he believes that the turning point in the fighting came in February with the bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra. The destruction of the revered Shiite site by Sunni-based al-Qaeda terrorists unleashed what Hayden described as "historic forces" that have created "the satanic level of violence" of today.

"Sectarian violence now presents the greatest immediate threat to Iraq's stability and future," he said.

Underlying the sectarian fighting are not only deep-rooted religious differences, but also the more recent political history of Shiite suffering under the iron rule of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni- and Baathist Party-dominated government.

The Shiites, who make up more than half of Iraq's population, now want to make certain they control the new Iraqi government and to assure themselves that the Hussein group never regains power. "This fear of a return to Baathism is almost palpable among Shia elites," Hayden said.

As a result, the Shiites have maintained control of the Interior Ministry and the police. "Militias often operate under protection or approval of Iraqi police [when they] attack suspected Sunni insurgents and Sunni civilians," Hayden said. In addition, "radical Shia militias and splinter groups stoke the violence."

At the same time, Hayden said, there are fissures within the Shiite groups, and their "power struggles . . . make it difficult for Shia leaders to take actions that might ease Sunni fears." Adding to the problem is Iran, which is supporting even competing Shiite factions. "Iranian involvement with the Shia militias of all stripes . . . has been quite a new development," Hayden said.
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ABC News: Dozens of Baghdad bus passengers abducted

ABC News: Dozens of Baghdad bus passengers abducted: "Nov 16, 2006 — BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Dozens of Baghdad bus passengers may have been kidnapped at fake security checkpoints, police said on Thursday, while government officials argued over whether staff abducted from a ministry had been tortured and killed."

Six missing minibuses were mostly taking Shi'ites across mainly Sunni west Baghdad when gunmen, some in uniform, pulled them over for bogus security checks, police sources said.

Fifteen people were grabbed from a city centre cafe after dark, police said. Nine were gunned down at a bakery, some of at least 50 reported deaths that underlined how little control government and U.S. forces have over the capital's streets.

Demands are growing in Washington to start bringing troops home, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and U.S. commanders face a race against time to build Iraqi security forces capable of stifling the sectarian strife between Sunnis and Maliki's majority Shi'ite Muslims that is pushing Iraq towards civil war.

Fissures are also opening in the six-month-old national unity government after dozens of civil servants were seized by men in police uniform on Tuesday.

The Sunni minister whose employees were abducted is boycotting the cabinet until they are found.
"There is no effective government," Higher Education Minister Abd Dhiab told the BBC, complaining of "anarchy."

Despite repeated insistence from Maliki's government spokesman that nearly all Dhiab's staff were free and unharmed, the minister told Reuters about 70 were missing and some of the others had been tortured, and others killed. Between 40 and 150 men were taken, depending on different official accounts.

Dhiab did not say how many hostages had died but said: "According to the people released, they were killed by torture."

"I can't believe I'm alive," one man freed told Reuters, describing the kidnappers as "very organized and taking orders."

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said five senior police officers who had been detained may have been involved. He also told reporters he suspected an "external power" had a role —

possibly referring to Iran, which U.S. and some Iraqi leaders accuse of supporting Shi'ite militias infiltrating the police.


The latest mass abductions took place throughout the day in the Sunni-dominated Adil district of west Baghdad, police sources said. They were now looking for passengers in minibuses carrying passengers to the nearby Shi'ite area of Kadhimiya.

"We don't know how many people may be involved," a source at police headquarters said. One officer said it may have been a reprisal for Tuesday's raid on the Higher Education Ministry.

The fate of thousands snatched by sectarian death squads is grim. Dozens are found dead each day. Many have been tortured.

One militia commander has been dubbed the "Shi'ite Zarqawi" for supposedly matching the late Sunni al Qaeda leader in ferocity. He is popularly said to torture with power drills.

The man, known as Abu Deraa, insisted in an interview with Reuters in his Sadr City slum stronghold he was being defamed.

"I would never mutilate a human being because Islam prohibits mutilation, even for dogs … Sunnis are as much my brothers as Shi'ites. My only enemies are the occupiers."

Speaking of his "great sadness" over the kidnappings, Maliki said on a visit to Turkey his government was planning measures to improve security.

"We will not allow revenge attacks," he said.

The freed hostage said he was held without food or water in a dark room with several others and beaten by men with batons on two occasions. He was never asked to detail his religion.

Briefing senators in Washington on Wednesday, the U.S. commander for the Middle East said Iraqi forces had responded well to the kidnap and police commanders had been dismissed. Gen. John Abizaid voiced optimism Iraq could be stabilized.

He cautioned against suggestions from newly dominant Democrats in Congress for setting a timetable for withdrawal but said the 141,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq were sufficient. Four more U.S. soldiers were reported killed on Thursday.

[bth: these folks are such worldclass liars its almost impossible to figure the kidnappings out. The ministry seems to report more dead than Americans can confirm were taken in the first place and if a "foreign power" were involved and this can be proven shouldn't this 'power' be named?]
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Thursday, November 16, 2006

ABC News: Americans Believed Captured in Iraq Ambush

ABC News: Americans Believed Captured in Iraq Ambush: "WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2006 — Four Americans are believed to be among 14 people kidnapped in an ambush of a convoy of contractors in Iraq near the city of Nasariyah, defense officials tell ABC News.

Coalition forces have been mobilized to find the people taken by the ambushers, the defense officials said. "
The incident took place this afternoon in a normally peaceful part of southern Iraq. A convoy run by a Kuwaiti-based company called Crescent Security Group was driving from near the Kuwaiti border to an Italian base near the City of Nasariyah.

Early in the trip, the convoy stopped at what looked like an Iraqi police checkpoint, military officials said. Initial reports say 19 trucks were seized and approximately 14 people, including four Americans detained.

There is still a great deal of confusion about whether the checkpoint was operated by real Iraqi police or by a Shiia militia, the officials said.

Nasariyah is the same place where Jessica Lynch was kidnapped in an ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in March 2003.
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The Blotter- Al Qaeda Recruitment Ongoing

The Blotter: "Al Qaeda continues to be able to recruit young Muslims willing to sacrifice themselves to attack American and Western targets.

And as ABC News found, much of that recruiting is taking place in Pakistan."

A yearly gathering in a field held this week outside Lahore, Pakistan, is one of the places where U.S. and Pakistani officials say al Qaeda has been able to find new recruits.

The gathering is attended by more than a million religious, conservative Muslims who belong to a group that opposes violence.

But intelligence sources tell ABC News that al Qaeda uses the setting as cover.

"It's where they, every year, they send operatives to recruit people, to raise funds and to plot attacks against the West," said Alexis Debat, a Senior Fellow at the Nixon Center and an ABC News consultant.

Pakistani officials say some of the al Qaeda meetings have taken place in a building compound on the grounds where access is closely guarded.

Debat took these pictures as he worked his way into the compound this week.

It was here two years ago in November 2004 that, intelligence sources in Pakistan say, two of the London subway bombers met with al Qaeda commanders.

"This is kind of the heart of this whole terrorist activity on the site; it's this compound," Debat says.

The gathering this week comes against a backdrop of raging anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, particularly following an air strike last month on an Islamic school suspected of training terrorists in northern Pakistan.

Eighty people were killed in the attack, and the former CIA station chief in Pakistan fears al Qaeda will use it to its advantage.

"The risk in Pakistan is always very high, and the recruitment is taking place all the time," says former CIA Director of Counterterrorism Robert Grenier, who is now with Kroll, a security consulting firm. "But after something like this has occurred, I would say the opportunities for recruitment are that much greater."

In fact, tensions are now considered so high in Pakistan that intelligence sources fear it will be difficult for the U.S. to launch any new air strikes inside the country for months to come.
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Pakistan softens Islamic law in favor of rape victims

Pakistan softens Islamic law in favor of rape victims - Asia - Pacific - International Herald Tribune: "ISLAMABAD: After months of debate, the Pakistani government pushed legislation through Parliament on Wednesday that would amend the country's rape laws, which have been vilified as unfair to women.

The vote, despite continuing opposition from hard-line Islamic parties, was a litmus test of President Pervez Musharraf's ability to bring actual reforms in his program of 'enlightened moderation.'

Under the existing ordinance, known as the Hudood laws, which were enacted in 1979 by the government of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, a woman must produce four witnesses to prove rape. A failure to do so could result in her being charged with adultery. That stigma alone keeps many women from bringing charges against their attackers."

The new legislation, subject to approval by the Senate and president, which are considered formalities, removes rape from the jurisdiction of Islamic law, which covers matters like marriage and divorce, and makes it a crime punishable under Pakistan's penal code. The new law does away with the requirement for four male witnesses and will allow convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence.

But an amendment to the new law, introduced at the insistence of Islamic scholars and backed by religious opposition parties, would make extra-marital sex a criminal offense, with penalties of up to five years or a fine equivalent to $166. Despite misgiving about this clause, human rights campaigners here generally backed the law.

The passage of the legislation came after months of drafting, redrafting and back-door negotiations between the government and opposition political parties, as vociferous protests by an alliance of hard-line Islamist parties stalled the legislation, which was first introduced in August.

Another attempt in September broke down amid vehement opposition by Islamists. Threats of mass resignations by an alliance of religious parties forced the government not to rush the legislation.

But on Wednesday, the government broke ahead and Parliament passed the bill in one sitting.

"We went through a long and lengthy process of consultation on the bill before its passage in the assembly," Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said.

Opposition members from hard-line Islamist parties boycotted the vote and walked out of Parliament as the legislation was put forward by Wasi Zafar, the law minister.

Members from the religious coalition voiced anti-Musharraf slogans including "America's friend is a traitor," alluding to the perception here that the laws were being amended to placate the United States.

The liberal opposition party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto supported the bill. Sherry Rehman, central information secretary of Bhutto's party, said her party "did not compromise with the government" but decided to support the legislation because it offered an emancipation and empowerment of women.
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Sectarian Strife in Iraq Imperils Entire Region, Analysts Warn

Sectarian Strife in Iraq Imperils Entire Region, Analysts Warn - "BAGHDAD -- While American commanders have suggested that civil war is possible in Iraq, many leaders, experts and ordinary people in Baghdad and around the Middle East say it is already underway, and that the real worry ahead is that the conflict will destroy the flimsy Iraqi state and draw in surrounding countries."

Whether the U.S. military departs Iraq sooner or later, the United States will be hard-pressed to leave behind a country that does not threaten U.S. interests and regional peace, according to U.S. and Arab analysts and political observers.

"We're not talking about just a full-scale civil war. This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups," growing into regional conflict, Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group, said by telephone from Amman, Jordan.

"The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body," Hiltermann said.

"All indications point to a current state of civil war and the disintegration of the Iraqi state," Nawaf Obaid, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adviser to the Saudi government, said last week at a conference in Washington on U.S.-Arab relations.

As Iraq's neighbors grapple with the various ideas put forward for solving the country's problems, they uniformly shudder at one proposal: dividing Iraq into separate regions for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, and then speeding the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"To envision that you can divide Iraq into three parts is to envision ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, sectarian killing on a massive scale," Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, said Oct. 30 at a conference in Washington. "Since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited."

"When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere, too," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Germany's Der Spiegel newsweekly recently. "It would be as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, only much worse. Large wars, small wars -- no one will be able to get a grip on the consequences."

In an analysis published last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Obaid said sectarian conflicts could make Iraq a battleground for the region.

Obaid described widespread interference by Iranian security forces within Iraq. He urged Saudi Arabia, which is building a 560-mile wall on its border with Iraq, to warn Iran "that if these activities are not checked," Saudi Arabia "will be forced to consider a similar overt and covert program of its own."

In Damascus, a Syrian analyst close to the Assad government warned that other countries would intervene if Iraq descended into full-scale civil war. "Iran will get involved, Turkey will get involved, Saudi Arabia, Syria," said the analyst, who spoke on condition he not be identified further.

"Regional war is very much a possibility," said Hiltermann, the analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Iraq's neighbors "are hysterical about Iranian strategic advances in the region," he said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad last month ranked Syria and Iran with al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the country's principal Sunni Arab insurgent groups, in terms of destabilizing influences in Iraq. Despite that assessment, the United States has not held substantive talks with Syria regarding Iraq since 2004 or with Iran since the war began in 2003.

Diplomats and analysts increasingly are urging the Bush administration to reach out to both countries as part of a regional approach to quelling Iraq's troubles. Former secretary of state James A. Baker III, leader of a panel preparing a set of policy recommendations for the Bush administration, already has endorsed the idea of seeking the help of Iran and Syria.

"The thing is, because Iran and Syria both have spoiling power in Iraq, if you could neutralize them," it would ease some of the many pressures within Iraq, Hiltermann said. But he said the two countries may demand a mighty trade-off: for Syria, U.S. help with its biggest stated aim, winning back the Golan Heights from Israel; for Iran, U.S. compromise over its nuclear program.

Hiltermann acknowledged the difficulty. "I'm saying it's required," he said. "I'm not saying it's possible."

In Baghdad's Shiite stronghold of Sadr City late last month, aides to one of the country's leading Shiite clerics held a rally to urge followers to bide their time until the American forces leave the country. The rally was called by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, a strongly anti-occupation figure whose bloc is a leading partner in the current Shiite-led government and who is one likely claimant to power should the Americans withdraw.

"Will America win?" a speaker in a brown turban demanded before the more than 1,000 protesters, as a brewing storm whirled dirt and trash and pelted ralliers with drops of cold rain. Loudspeakers shot his question back across the square.

The men thrust their fists in the air, shouting their answer out to a grim, gray sky: "No, no! America will not win!"

Between 2 percent and 5 percent of Iraq's 27 million people have been killed, wounded or uprooted since the Americans invaded in 2003, calculates Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

"This is civil war," he said.

Since midsummer, Shiite militias, Sunni insurgent groups, ad-hoc Sunni self-defense groups and tribes have accelerated campaigns of sectarian cleansing that are forcing countless thousands of Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad to seek safety among their own kind.

Whole towns north and south of Baghdad are locked in the same sectarian struggle, among them the central Shiite city of Balad, still under siege by gunmen from surrounding Sunni towns after a bloody spate of sectarian massacres last month.

Even outside the epicenter of sectarian strife in the central region of the country, Shiite factions battle each other in the south, Sunni tribes and factions clash in the west. Across Iraq, the criminal gangs that emerged with the collapse of law and order rule patches of turf as mini-warlords.

Since the war began, 1.6 million Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries; at least 231,530 people have been displaced inside Iraq since February, when Shiite-Sunni violence exploded with the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra, according to figures from the United Nations and the U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration.

There used to be a time when Sunnis and Shiites "were living like family. We were married to each other, we all had Sunni friends, we all had Shiite friends. It was all like a balloon that exploded," a gaunt, weeping Sunni woman said in her bare apartment.

Until this year, the 41-year-old widow and former teacher -- who would identify herself only as Um Mohammed, fearing retaliation -- lived in Husseiniyah, a Shiite district of Baghdad. But after Shiite militias forced all the Sunnis out, she fled to a too-costly, too-small place in the overwhelmingly Sunni neighborhood of Sadiyah, on the western side of the Tigris River.

The Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, two militias loyal to the Shiite religious parties now governing Iraq, had taken over her old neighborhood by this spring, she said. Mahdi Army officials commandeered the two rental homes she relied on to support herself and her children. They forced the Sunni tenants out and installed Shiite families, who paid her rent through the Mahdi Army office, at a greatly reduced price set by the militia, the widow said.

Letters placed at the doors of Sunni families -- sometimes with bloody bullets tucked inside the envelopes -- warned Sunnis to leave. Shiite boys as young as 10 took to wearing the black clothes of the militias, and they promised her 10-year-old son, Ahmed, they would burn him alive in his house at night as he slept.

Um Mohammed reluctantly took her only other child still at home, a 15-year-old daughter, out of school and married her off to an older man in Sadiyah in a bid to provide her protection among fellow Sunnis.

When Um Mohammed received a third letter threatening death, she and Ahmed finally moved to Sadiyah. Longtime Shiite neighbors sadly watched her leave but were too afraid of the militias to help her move, she said.

"I want to return to my home. But we are safer here," she said.

Across the Tigris River from Um Mohammed, another widow, Zayneb Khatan, a Shiite, sat in her equally plain new home. After gunmen shot and killed her husband in front of their home in the Sunni neighborhood of Cairo as he went to buy bread, Khatan fled with her 2-year-old daughter and the clothes on their backs.

"Some Sunnis are good," she said as she sat on a secondhand divan. "But I cannot say I will ever live among them again."

[bth: so screw Saudi Arabia, they tremble at Iran but do nothing constructive in Iraq - the same with Turkey. With friends like these who needs enemies?]
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Taliban, Al-Qaeda Resurge In Afghanistan, CIA Says

Taliban, Al-Qaeda Resurge In Afghanistan, CIA Says - "Al-Qaeda's influence and numbers are rapidly growing in Afghanistan, with fighters operating from new havens and mimicking techniques learned on the Iraqi battlefield for use against U.S. and allied troops, the directors of the CIA and defense intelligence told Congress yesterday."

Five years after the United States drove al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the CIA, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that both groups are back, waging a "bloody insurgency" in the south and east of the country. U.S. support for the Kabul government of Hamid Karzai will be needed for "at least a decade" to ensure that the country does not fall again, he said.

At yesterday's Senate hearings, devoted mostly to Iraq, Hayden and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, painted a stark portrait of a struggling Afghanistan and a successful al-Qaeda capable of operating on two battlefields.

"The direct tissue between Iraq and Afghanistan is al-Qaeda," said Hayden, who visited both countries recently. "The lessons learned in Iraq are being applied to Afghanistan."

Senators noted the increased use of roadside bombs and the relatively new phenomenon of suicide attacks, which had not been seen in Afghanistan before the Iraq war.

Hayden told the Senate panel that the Taliban, aided by al-Qaeda, "has built momentum this year" in Afghanistan and that "the level of violence associated with the insurgency has increased significantly." He also noted that Karzai's government "is nowhere to be seen" in many rural areas where a lack of security is affecting millions of Afghans for whom the quality of life has not advanced since the U.S. military arrived in October 2001.

Maples said the insurgency "had strengthened its capabilities and influence" with its base among Pashtun communities in the south, as violence this year has almost doubled since 2005. U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan began dropping earlier this year as NATO arrived to take over the bulk of the fighting.

Meanwhile, U.S. Special Forces continue to search for al-Qaeda bases in Afghan-Pakistani border areas.

The CIA director said that region has become a new "physical safe haven" that al-Qaeda uses as a "jump-off point for its guerrilla forays into Afghanistan."

Bush administration officials have repeatedly said that the battle against al-Qaeda has led to the death or capture of more than half of Osama bin Laden's top people.

Hayden said yesterday that "the group's cadre of seasoned, committed leaders" remains fairly cohesive and focused on strategic objectives, "despite having lost a number of veterans over the years." Bin Laden himself, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, continue to play a crucial role while hiding out somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Hayden said the organization had lost a series of leaders since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But the losses have been "mitigated by what is, frankly, a pretty deep bench of low-ranking personnel capable of stepping up to assume leadership positions." Hayden said the lower ranks are dominated by men in their early 40s with two decades of experience fighting.

The two intelligence chiefs said that al-Qaeda, through propaganda and attacks, has been increasingly successful in defining Afghanistan and Iraq as critical battlegrounds against the West.

"We have radical groups like al-Qaeda and its affiliates sponsoring terrorists, insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere that seem to be able to preempt governments and eclipse the moderate actors in the region. There remains in Iraq today a broad and vicious al-Qaeda offensive targeting us and innocent Iraqis," the CIA director said.

In Iraq, Maples said, al-Qaeda accounts for a fraction of the daily attacks. "Yet the high-profile nature of these operations have a disproportionate impact on the population and on perceptions of stability," he said. The death earlier this year of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, did not stop what Hayden described as an "al-Qaeda campaign of almost satanic terror" in that country.

In Iraq, Maples said, al-Qaeda has managed to "capitalize on the current cycle of sectarian violence, by creating the perception that its attacks are designed to aid and defend the country's Sunni minority."

Both men said a U.S. military failure in Iraq would effectively turn the country into al-Qaeda's next haven, providing the group with the kind of security it had in Afghanistan for years before 2001.

[bth: one might observe that regardless of what we do in Iraq, we cannot and are on the verge of, losing control of the situation in Afghanistan. Further, we have given al Qaeda a safehaven - Cambodia style - in Northwest Pakistan. It seems to me that the national debate about our wars on terror should refocus on what our objectives really are. Unilateral withdrawal doesn't mean that the bad guys are going to let us walk away. One obvious objective is to increase our EFFECTIVENESS and FOCUS on objectives that are really important.]
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General Warns of Risks in Iraq if G.I.'s Are Cut

General Warns of Risks in Iraq if G.I.'s Are Cut - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 — The top American military commander for the Middle East said Wednesday that to begin a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq over the next six months would lead to an increase in sectarian killings and hamper efforts to persuade the Iraqi government to make the difficult decisions needed to secure the country."

The commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, made it clear that he did not endorse the phased troop withdrawals being proposed by Democratic lawmakers. Instead, he said the number of troops in Iraq might be increased by a small amount as part of new plans by American commanders to improve the training of the Iraqi Army.

General Abizaid did not rule out a larger troop increase, but he said the American military was stretched too thin to make such a step possible over the long term. And he said such an expansion might dissuade the Iraqis from making more of an effort to provide for their own security.

“We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect,” he said. “But when you look at the overall American force pool that’s available out there, the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.”

General Abizaid also publicly said for the first time that the American position in Iraq had been undermined by the Bush administration’s decision not to deploy a larger force to stabilize the country in 2003. That decision was made after Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff at the time, told Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be needed. His testimony was derided by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the general was ostracized at the Pentagon before his retirement a few months later.

“General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, U.S. force contribution and Iraqi force contribution should have been available immediately after major combat operations,” General Abizaid said. “I think you can look back and say that more American troops would have been advisable in the early stages of May, June, July.”

The testimony, given to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, was the first by the American commander since August, and it followed several months of setbacks in Iraq that helped to fuel the Democratic victories in last week’s election. Skepticism among lawmakers from both parties was palpable, and the concerns of the lawmakers were reinforced by intelligence officials who testified later in the day and who painted a more pessimistic portrait of the violence in Iraq than General Abizaid did.

Among the Iraq policy reviews now under way is an effort by the Iraq Study Group, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, and a separate administration study ordered by President Bush.

Under the immediate initiative that General Abizaid described, the number of American military advisers working with Iraqi forces will be increased, with advisers to be assigned even to small Iraqi units with fewer than 200 soldiers.

“We need to put more American capacity into Iraqi units to make them more capable in their ability to confront the sectarian problem,” General Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It is possible that we might have to go up in troop levels in order to increase the number of forces that go into the Iraqi security forces, but I believe that’s only temporary.”

The next steps in Iraq were very much on the mind of lawmakers on Wednesday. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, cited the concerns of Marine Corps officers in Anbar Province in complaining that General Abizaid had not dispatched enough forces to defeat the insurgency there. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said the Iraqi government was not taking the steps needed to win the trust of the population and improve security.

In their testimony on Wednesday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said they agreed with General Abizaid that American forces were one of the few elements keeping a lid on violence in Iraq and that withdrawing troops would only increase sectarian violence.

But General Maples said that the violence continued to increase in “scope, complexity and lethality” and that it was “creating an atmosphere of fear and hardening sectarianism, which is empowering militias and vigilante groups.”

In all of Iraq, attacks against allied troops last month averaged 180 per day, up from 170 per day in September and 70 per day in January, General Maples said in written testimony. Daily attacks on Iraqi civilians averaged roughly 40 per day last month, four times higher than the average in January. General Maples also noted that recent operations in Baghdad had achieved only a moderate success, because after American officials had turned neighborhoods over to the Iraqis, “attacks returned to and even surpassed preoperational levels.”

Reinforcing this view, General Hayden said the C.I.A. station in Baghdad assessed that Iraq was deteriorating to a chaotic state, with the political center disintegrating and rival factions increasingly warring with each other. “Their view of the battlefield is that it is descending into smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory,” he said.

The two intelligence officials said Wednesday that there were only an estimated 1,300 foreign fighters in the country and that the number of Sunni Arab insurgents actively planning and carrying out attacks on American forces was probably more than 10,000.

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked General Abizaid how much time the United States had to bring down the violence in Baghdad before events there were beyond the control of the Iraqi government. General Abizaid said the answer was four to six months.

Securing Baghdad, the general said, was the main effort. But there are other difficult missions ahead, he said. One is supporting an Iraqi-led effort to disarm the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia nominally loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Another is securing Anbar Province, the seat of the Sunni Arab insurgency. General Abizaid said that to try to hold the line there, he had decided to dispatch a 2,200-strong Marine Expeditionary Unit. “Al Anbar Province is not under control,” General Abizaid said.

Many experts have advocated talking directly to Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq, an approach the Iraq Study Group is expected to endorse. General Hayden said that Iran’s ambitions inside Iraq seemed to be expanding and that Iran had been conducting a foreign policy of “dangerous triumphalism.”

David M. Satterfield, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq, told the Senate committee that the United States was prepared “in principle” to discuss the situation in Iraq with Iran, but the timing was uncertain.

“We are prepared in principle to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq,” Mr. Satterfield said. “The timing of such a direct dialogue is one that we still have under review.”

[bth: points that struck me in listening to the first two hours of this hearing. First, we do not have enough troops to secure Baghdad and Anbar province. Moreover we don't have enough in the military now in any event. Second, the Iraqi government does not want more US troops. Three, there are insufficient Iraqi troops, they are under trained, unpaid, under equipped and unable to function without US logistical support. Fourth, no one is willing to take on Sadr. Fifth, the heart of the insurgency is still Iraqi Sunnis but we are not able to dominate in any key area - Baghdad or Anbar. For whatever reason we have not increased to full capacity our training of Iraqi units; our embeds with them or our emphasis on training which seems key to any rational plan. Sixth, we are capturing insurgents and simply releasing them through a broken and corrupt Iraqi justice system. Seventh, with the exception of some police training in Jordan, none of our regional "friends - Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait or Egypt" are actually committing resources to train or assist in training police, public health or anything else. Our "friends" actually want us to fail or are unwilling to help. Eighth, Sadr et al has become Hezbollah Iraqi style. Nine, Abizaid and Satterfield haven't realized that the American public doesn't think this fight is worth the cost in blood and treasure.]

US plans last big push in Iraq

US plans last big push in Iraq Special reports Guardian Unlimited: "President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make 'a last big push' to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations."

Mr Bush's refusal to give ground, coming in the teeth of growing calls in the US and Britain for a radical rethink or a swift exit, is having a decisive impact on the policy review being conducted by the Iraq Study Group chaired by Bush family loyalist James Baker, the sources said.

Although the panel's work is not complete, its recommendations are expected to be built around a four-point "victory strategy" developed by Pentagon officials advising the group. The strategy, along with other related proposals, is being circulated in draft form and has been discussed in separate closed sessions with Mr Baker and the vice-president Dick Cheney, an Iraq war hawk.

Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers. This figure is far fewer than that called for by the Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain. But by raising troop levels, Mr Bush will draw a line in the sand and defy Democratic pressure for a swift drawdown.

The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.

Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"The extent to which that [regional cooperation] will include talking to Iran and Syria is still up for debate," said Patrick Cronin, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "Externally, US policy is focused on what is achievable. Some quarters believe Syria in some ways could be helpful. There are more doubts about Iran but Iran holds more cards. Some think it's worth a try."

Yesterday, a top state department official, David Satterfield, said America was prepared in principle to discuss with Iran its activities in Iraq.

Point three focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state.

To the certain dismay of US neo-cons, initial post-invasion ideas about imposing fully-fledged western democratic standards will be set aside. And the report is expected to warn that de facto tripartite partition within a loose federal system, as advocated by Democratic senator Joe Biden and others would lead not to peaceful power-sharing but a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations will include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.

"You've got to remember, whatever the Democrats say, it's Bush still calling the shots. He believes it's a matter of political will. That's what [Henry] Kissinger told him. And he's going to stick with it," a former senior administration official said. "He [Bush] is in a state of denial about Iraq. Nobody else is any more. But he is. But he knows he's got less than a year, maybe six months, to make it work. If it fails, I expect the withdrawal process to begin next fall."

The "last push" strategy is also intended to give Mr Bush and the Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said. "The Iraq Study Group buys time for the president to have one last go. If the Democrats are smart, they'll play along, and I think they will. But forget about bipartisanship. It's all about who's going to be in best shape to win the White House.

The official added: "Bush has said 'no' to withdrawal, so what else do you have? The Baker report will be a set of ideas, more realistic than in the past, that can be used as political tools. What they're going to say is: lower the goals, forget about the democracy crap, put more resources in, do it."

Addressing Congress yesterday, General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, warned against setting a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, saying it would impede commanders in managing US and Iraqi forces. Gen Abizaid spoke as the Senate armed services committee began re-examining US policy after last week's Democratic election victory. But Gen Abizaid argued against extra troops, saying US divisional commanders believed more pressure needed to be put on the Iraqi army to do its part.

Four-point strategy

· Increase US troop levels by up to 20,000 to secure Baghdad and allow redeployments elsewhere in Iraq
· Focus on regional cooperation with international conference and/or direct diplomatic involvement of countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

· Revive reconciliation process between Sunni, Shia and others

· Increased resources from Congress to fund training and equipment of Iraqi security forces